Blinding light consumed Jonathan throwing him momentarily into a realm of pure white. When the light subsided, his eyes came into focus upon the concern gaze of a man before him; it was Occam Cobb. The remaining world around came into view.
They were in a room, a fairly big one. It appeared very elegant garnishing a large king-size bed. Several pieces of furniture sat around the room glowing in an ostentatious brown that was similar of the walls around. The sweet aroma of fruit and honey graced the air.
Upon seeing Occam, Jonathan swiftly embraced him, clinging tight. He shook endlessly not letting go with tears streaming down his face. Occam held a confused and yet guilty look on his own face.
“It’s alright, lad,” he said calmly, rubbing his back. “You’re safe now.”
After several minutes, he pried the boy loose from his chest, promising another set of assuring words for his safety. He left into another room momentarily where Jonathan could hear the sound of water. Shortly after, Occam returned with a wet towel in his hand. He gently brought the towel to Jonathan’s face, who felt a sharp pain when he did.
“I’m sorry,” the man replied to the boy’s cringing. “But your nose and lip is bleeding.”
Words finally returned to Jonathan. “Where are we?” he asked, weakly.
“In a hotel, not too far from the Theatre,” Occam replied still applying the towel to his face. “I know what you’re thinking right now,” he continued. “I know you must have so many questions.”
Jonathan remained silent, looking down at his arms which were plagued sparsely with purple bruises. The imprints of fingers and even full hands could vaguely be seen embedded among them.
“I also understand,” Occam continued, “that it might be a lot to take in. It’s how I felt when I first ventured there.”
Jonathan’s ears seem to perk up. “And where is there?” he asked.
Occam became motionless. After a minute, he sighed and made his way to the bed to sit.
“I suppose you deserve an explanation,” he said softly. “In my early career, before all the fame, before I had a single cent to my name and the name Occam Cobb was but just that, I traveled the world. Back then, I was an ambitious one, eager to find better ways to improve the little tricks I had mastered. You see, my boy, I know what it feels like to endlessly search one’s mind for an idea to create true wonder in people’s eyes,” he continued. “What I did come up with didn’t seem flashy enough; they were all just foolish little tricks, child’s play really, pardon my words.”
He paused for a second to run his hand through his hair.
“I wanted to show the people real magic. I craved for it so much that I was willing to do anything to get it. Unfortunately, I found what I was looking for,” he went on. “I had a rather wealthy friend, who was in debt to me. In return for his assistance, I was willing to consider the debt paid. So he funded my travels, including any guides or translators that I needed. My travels brought me to the heart of the east where I stumbled upon an old underground site. You should have seen it, my boy. It was truly magnificent, almost like an underground city, going on for miles. We could’ve spent a year down there and still barely crack the surface of learning all of what truly was there.”
A smile was across his face when he explained this, but soon it faded.
“Then, we found the library. With my translator, we learned what the place was and who had created it through the library’s recorded texts. The place used to be the home of cultists, who worshiped and conducted rituals down there. I of course wasn’t interested in any of that. What did interest me were the ‘incantations’ they conducted. The cultists were able to perform miraculous things: they were able to cloak themselves, bend the elements, even open doors to other worlds.”
Occam went silent again for a while before continuing.
“I should have heeded my guide and my translator’s warnings, but like the fool I was, I didn’t want to hear it. I coerced them to reveal the secrets onto to me. After that day, everything changed. Oh I wish I could correct that fateful day. I learned a great deal of dark magic at that time, some of which you have seen in my performances.
“However, the most noteworthy one you know to be the ‘Occam Transporter’. This simple act involves opening a door to another world as noted. In that world, time doesn’t exist. It normally takes me what would be about an hour’s time to traverse from one door to another in that world, but back in this world, a mere second is all that elapses. You’ve experienced this world for yourself. You’ve felt its… exceptionalism, haven’t you?”
Jonathan swallowed hard at the mention of this.
“The door to that world can be opened by rendering a series of knocks in an unique pattern. This pattern derives from the ritual conducted by the cultists.”
“I-I don’t understand,” Jonathan interrupted softly. His intervention startled the man a bit. “Why would they want to enter a world like that?”
Occam frowned, not answering initially. “If you recall, I mentioned that the cultists conducted their rituals and worshipping in the underground city. They worshiped what they referred to as the Teneborsi. Roughly translated as ‘the dark, shadowy ones.’ ”
A strong shiver quickly crept down Jonathan’s back. His memory donned on the figures he had seen earlier before Occam managed to pull him back. He was grateful his eyes were not able to view them clearly, but even so, the image of their obscure forms even darker than the world itself still brought faint tears in his eyes.
“In that world, the Teneborsi dwell. In the texts, we found out they taught the earlier cultists how to use dark magic. In the end, the cultists began to worship the beings. In return for their knowledge, the cultists conducted sacrifices to them.”
“Sacrifices?” Jonathan repeated. “What kind of sacrifices?”
Occam paused for a moment, before continuing on, ignoring the question.
“I began the study of the Arts, learning as those cultists of past had done so. Soon, I was able to devise a way that would suit a performance in front of audiences without divulging the fact that I really was using magic.”
“I don’t understand,” Jonathan brought up. “I saw you… in that place. Those things noticed me, but they didn’t notice you.”
“Trust me, lad. They did more than notice you. Teneborsi are greedy brunch, lad. They would sooner fight among themselves to obtain their prize,” Occam explained. “They act as simple observers… only in the beginning. When the time is right, they pounce trying to beat the other from reaching their target.”
Jonathan gulped ever harder.
“They don’t notice me because I veil myself in the same manner as the cultists. They had special material so that beings would know who the sacrifice was. I had this material applied to all of my clothes, although it doesn’t last very long. I’ve done the same with my shoes, I’m sure you noticed my glowing footprints.”
Jonathan took a second to glance down at them.
“A brutal bunch,” Occam continued, “but those people were cunning enough to use special incantations in their footwear. This allowed them to find their way back from the darkness,” Occam concluded. “There you see, now you know all my secrets.”
“True,” Jonathan replied, “but there’s just one thing you haven’t answered.”
Occam’s frown returned, knowing the question already.
“The sacrifices, am I right?” he asked.
Jonathan simply nodded.
The magician took another long solemn sigh. “I am not bad man, I assure you. What I do, I do without choice and in complete discontent,” he started. A few tears began to swell up in his eyes. “The veil for my clothes… it only lasts a short time.”
A tear began to roll down his cheek.
“And those… things, they cornered me one day. They threatened to… what they would do to me I cannot put into words.”
His face was now in his hands and he was balling out in tears. Jonathan didn’t know what to do, but for some reason his body reacted placing his hand on the man’s shoulder for comfort.
“They asked me to send them others in my place. If I did so, I could use their realm for whatever I please,” he continued from his hands. “More so, they would leave me unharmed.”
“How did you…?” Jonathan began to ask, but stopped in his words, realizing the answer for himself.
“That’s right, my boy,” Occam replied, looking up. “The second part of my transporter act. When I ask for the audience to volunteer, I’m really asking for a ‘sacrifice’ to those fiends.”
Jonathan backed away from the man. His thoughts sprung on all the people he had witnessed volunteer for the act. He even recalled wishing he could be a part of the act.
“What happens to them?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Occam replied solemnly. “The cultists’ texts only mentioned that they couldn’t take the light of our world; it’s too bright for them. I simply know that people enter that world, but what returns in their place isn’t a human being anymore.”
Another shiver fell down Jonathan’s back.
“What do they want?” he asked.
At that moment, Occam gave Jonathan the most frightening look he had ever seen from the man; it was look of pure uncertainty.
“I do not know,” he replied.
The awkward silence between the two lasted for minutes before Occam finally rose to his feet. He walked over to a table in the corner and proceeded to pour himself a glass of bourbon. The silence continued as he sipped on the glass slowly staring off into space.
Finally, Jonathan spoke out unable to coup with the quietness. “You should stop this.”
Occam appeared unfazed at the words as if not hearing them. Jonathan repeated his words. In return, Occam chuckled to himself.
“If only it were that simply, my boy,” he replied.
“But it is,” Jonathan insisted. “You can’t keep handing over these people to them; you’re killing them.”
“They are killing them, lad, not I. I am simply a courier,” he said, sipping his glass without looking back.
“Handing them over makes you as much a killer as them.”
The words didn’t seem to sit well with Occam. He threw his glass into the wall before running up to the boy and grabbing him.
“I am no killer! I’m nothing like those things! They do it, it’s all them, it always was!” His eyes blared like a madman, peering deep into Jonathan’s as he shook the boy.
Seeing the fear engulf the boy’s eyes, he swiftly released his grip.
“I’m sorry, lad,” he said shamefully. “I can’t do what you’re asking of me. Every time I enter that world, I am reminded of the horror I do. I can feel them touching me, feel their sorrows seep upon my face… I’m sorry. My hands are tied, and I don’t know what to do.”
Jonathan placed his hand on his shoulder.
“You once told me to never forget why I loved magic, that my love for it would be the reason enough to help me through the rough times. What this is, isn’t magic, it’s evil,” he said calmly. “You know what to do.”
The man calmly looked at Jonathan pulling away soon after.
“I’m sorry, child. I cannot to do what you ask of me.”
With that answer, Jonathan reached into his pockets pulling out the two decks of cards, his worn out one and the newer deck given to him by Occam. He handed the cards over to Occam who returned a puzzled gaze. Afterwards, he slowly walked over to the door.
“It’s my life or theirs, child,” Occam muttered weakly with a trembling lip.
Jonathan opened the door, turning around to the man. “I know. I also know you lost your love for magic. You used to be Occam Cobb the greatest magician in the world. You were my idol. Right now, it’s your life you love the most. If this is where true magic takes you, then I’m done with it,” he said coldly, shutting the down behind him, leaving the man alone.
He took his time walking home. While he did, he recalled the words his mother pushed on him the days before. She knew one day he would get over magic. Somehow inside, he knew she would be right, but deep down, it wasn’t the reason he thought he would do it for.