Nathaniel Hood is the most powerful wizard in New York City. As the appointed Watchmage, Nathaniel is tasked with regulating, protecting, and providing justice to the overwhelming mass of magical creatures immigrating to New York.
When an obscenely wealthy couple's baby is stolen, Hood suspects mystical involvement. Read on as the Watchmage plumbs the depths of the magical underworld that lies beneath the "streets paved with gold."
And that's just the first story arc...read on for goblin terrorists, Sidhe mobsters, cruel mages, and a colorful cast of heroes, villains, and every day New Yorkers in one of the most tumultuous times in the city's history. Show Less
I am on my belly. The ground beneath me is blood red carpet. I cannot feel it, I hear it rubbing against my scales. I walk—no, slither—along the long passage, tasting the stale, indoor air with my tongue. I come to a long, mahogany door. It is closed but not locked, and I push it open with my hooded head.
The room is dim, only a shielded candle lights the room. A crib made of black wood dominates the room. Hideous shrieks come from the crib, the cries of a baby. There is a woman inside, impossibly tall; everything is impossibly tall. She is dressed like a servant and is trying to quiet the baby. She does not see me.
I hiss. She looks down. I taste the fear, feel the vibrations of a scream building in her throat, but she meets my gaze. Her eyes relax, and she slumps bonelessly to the floor.
I slither up the side of the crib and look inside. He stops crying. The baby is beautiful, perfection in form. I understand why my master wants him. I wrap myself around him. The baby is beautiful . . .
I may be the most overworked man in New York. Over one million people live in my city, and more come off of the ships every day. Each of them brings their hopes and dreams of a new, better life. They also bring their nightmares, the things behind the door, the crawlers and changelings and child-grabbers, the things that live on both sides of the Veil. Those are my business.
My name’s Nathaniel Hood, though that’s not my true name. As Watchmage of New York City, it’s my duty to identify, regulate, and assist these creatures, whether they be noble Sidhe or filthy Troll. Every major city has a Watchmage, but no city has ever grown like New York. Frankly, I’m tired.
I was stealing a nap in the study—the Tribune resting comfortably on my lap--when the doorbell rang, waking me from disturbing dreams. My butler Hendricks answered it, and I listened to his murmurs echo down the hall. Footsteps followed, growing louder and they reached the study, and I rose to embrace my guest.
“Jonas,” I said as he entered the study.
“Hello, Papa,” he said as he embraced me.
Jonas is a stout man of thirty years, with black hair and eyes like his mother had. He wore whiskers down to his jawline, partially hiding a scar along the jaw that he refused to tell me the origin of.
Jonas sat down in a chair next to me. I offered him a cigar and brandy, and he gratefully accepted. I drew the elemental energies into me, fueled it with Chaos and focused it with a thought. The tip of his cigar came alive with flame. Jonas breathed in the rich smoke and exhaled slowly, savoring the earthy flavor.
Even though Jonas is my son, I only appear ten or fifteen years older at most. The magic inside of me keeps me young, though Death should have had me a hundred years ago. I was born in the year 1703, over 150 years past, the first person born of the New World with the Chaos Seed inside of him.
Jonas sighed. “This city is going to burn like Gomorrah in Summertime. Each day is worse.” He fingered a loose button on his vest. I noticed that he was wearing his patch, a square of copper that made him a detective in the newly formed New York Municipal Police.
“What manner of filth and deplorable acts are itching your darkside this afternoon?”
“There’s an Ottoman dignitary in town. The sultan’s son, I think. He brought at least four dozen people with him, not to mention their servants. They practically bought out the top floors of Astor House.”
I poured myself a brandy. “Trying to drum up support for that muckup in Crimea, I wager.”
“Naturally, and naturally the damn Turk and his entourage want to visit Five Points.”
I chuckled. “Naturally. One look and they’ll beg to be back at the war.”
“If they find their throats slit in Five Points, I won’t weep. And this morning we received a message from John and Edna Vanderlay. Their newborn has been kidnapped.”
This news caught my attention. The Vanderlays had roots in Manhattan deeper than even mine. They were landowners in the village of Harlem along the river, away from the fort. I was born when it was Haarlem, so I knew their ancestors well. Terrible people, simply terrible. I’ve encountered John and Edna around town. They’re no better than the stoneless striplings that harassed me in my youth.
“Any ransom?” I asked.
“Not at all, and it’s been almost a day. If he’s looking for money, he’s the worst kidnapper in history. What truly bothers me is this: The woman’s blaming the Hebrews in the Seventh Ward. She claims that they stole her baby to make their bread from the blood.”
“That story died out in the Old World. No sane man would still believe that.” I poured myself a second snifter of brandy, filling it to the rim. Some might say that to fill it completely defeats the purpose of the glass. I say that the purpose of the glass is to hold my liquor, and then I drink another.
“And yet, they do. The Seventh is too close to where the gangs live. If any of those apes catch wind of this, it could be a massacre.”
I sighed. I knew where he was going with this.
Jonas downed the rest of his drink in one pull. “Papa, before you say no—“
“Not the best way to ask for a favor.”
“You can see who the killer is. You can find the baby.”
I shook my head. “My duties are strictly limited to the mystical.”
“Yes, I remember. Fairies and Goblins and Vampires and the like. But don’t fairies steal children?”
“Changelings, yes, but they replace them with one of their own.”
“Even so . . . I need your help. One detective to another.” He looked at me with hopeful eyes. They looked so much like his mother’s.
“I surrender,” I said. “Shall we be off now, then? I’d like to finish my drink.”
“Yes, before it grows dark . . . thank you, Papa.”
“You knew I can’t resist you in the end. Now, about these clothes . . .”
I was well enough known about town that for me to go poking into the Vanderlay’s affairs would be scandalous. I wouldn’t let that stop me, I just needed a disguise.
Again, I drew on the energy from the Chaos Seed. I gave the power shape--visualizing exactly what I wanted—and I let fly like, an arrow of intent. All this I did in less than a breath. For lesser mages it might take half a minute. They might even have to speak words or draw runes in the air to help focus their power. After one hundred and fifty years, such things seem trivial to me. If I ever need to chant words or waggle my fingers to control a spell, I must be conjuring something truly mighty, and you best take cover.
I wanted something imposing, so I grew in height to about six foot and broadened my shoulders. My house clothes changed their cut and darkened—a forest green vest and black sack coat and clean trousers. I held my hand out nonchalantly, released my intent, and my cane and hat flew across the room and into my arms.
“You flare for showmanship astounds me, Father. You should be in the theater.”
“Maybe I have. I’ve been alive a long time.” I popped the hat onto my head. It was a ratty thing, black with a broad, folded brim, but I never went anywhere without it. It belonged to my master, and carried decades of residual chaos energies. Like me, the magic inside of the hat kept it from falling apart. The cane, of course, was all mine, the symbol of the Watchmage, recognized and feared in every Gnome’s hollow and under every Troll’s bridge.
I stepped closer to Jonas. “Take my hand. I’ll whisk us to Vanderlay Manor.”
Jonas held his hands out and stepped back. “Never, Father. Never again. Let’s take the rail road instead. It’ll be faster than a carriage or omnibus.”
“But not faster than magic,” I said. Jonas made a sickly motion towards his stomach. “Fair point. Let’s be off, then.”
I let Hendricks—who was completely unfazed by my appearance—know that we were off. Hendricks is a student of magic as well, though without a Chaos Seed, he can never be a true wizard. He will never be able to channel enough energy to fuel more than a thunderstorm, some pretty illusions, or maybe a lucky hand at cards. Still, he was happy with what he had, and served me in exchange for further knowledge.
Jonas and I walked from my manor by Turtle Bay along what the City gridded as Forty-Ninth Street. We passed some of the land that I owned: a small pig farm that a Pooka—Veil Dwellers that have animal faces and fur—family rented from me, a general goods store owned by an old Gnome and his human wife, and a small church. I also owned a couple of the new-fangled factories in the Lower Wards, down within the New York that I knew as a child, when Bowling Green was for playing lawn bowls, not for drunks to sleep off a hard night.
Beyond my land, the city became a tangle of omnibuses with overworked, swaybacked horses, carriages, and saddled riders weaving together an ode to madness. Coal smoke hung low like a black ceiling. I thought of clean air and a breeze blew the smoke around us away. It’s no surprise that Jonas was against taking an omnibus; with turmoil like this, it’s easier to walk.
We stopped and waited at the Fourth Avenue rail road, just an avenue over from the very large, park that the City is constructing in its center. I personally donated a considerable amount to the project. Once the park is finished, it’ll be the home to dozens of Gnomes, Pixies, and Pooka, and Tammany Hall won’t have a clue that they paid for it.
After a few minutes the hum of steel wheels came from the Lower Wards. I looked, and a carriage pulled by four horses rolled quickly and comfortably along the steel rails. We got inside the carriage and told the coachman our destination. He flicked his reins and the carriage rolled comfortably down the avenue.
Harlem had not changed as dramatically from my youth as New York City had, but there are many more slaughterhouses, breweries, and general goods stores than there used to be. The Vanderlays lived in a very old, very stately manor with a lovely view of Great Barn and Randalls Islands. Their rose garden was the envy of the elite.
I knocked on the brass knocker on the door and stepped back to let Jonas speak. Their butler answered the door, with all the stiffness and arrogance one would expect from a Vanderlay servant. His demeanor softened some when Jonas introduced us as Municipal Detectives, and he invited us in.
“The Master and Mistress are terribly put out by this affair. I shall summon them at once.” The butler left Jonas and I alone as he went to announce us.
Before I could properly explore the entrance hall, the Vanderlays were upon us. Mr. Vanderlay stepped forward to shake Jonas’s hand.
“Ah, Detective Hood, have you any news?” he said to Jonas. Vanderlay was tall and thin, more stork than man. He had to lower his head awkwardly to look Jonas in the eye. Jonas nodded in the negative, and Vanderlay’s eager eyes lost their luster.
Vanderlay turned to me. “And you are . . .”
I held my hand out to shake. “Detective Dupin,” I said with an inner wink, referencing a story that a dear deceased friend of mine penned several years back.
Vanderlay shook my hand. “Pleased, Detective. My house and servants are at your disposal.”
“Wonderful. I’ll have a glass of port.”
“But . . . you’re on duty . . .” Vanderlay protested.
“Trains run on coal, ships sail on wind, I work on a good port . . . or whiskey, if you mind.”
Vanderlay looked to Jonas, who nodded. The master of the house acquiesced and sent his butler for my drink. I asked if we could examine the nursery, but Mrs. Vanderlay interrupted.
“I told you who took my baby already. It was the Hebrews. They took our precious Stewart and we’ll never see him again.” Tears rimmed her red eyes and one took a great plunge down her cheek.
I didn’t need my crystal ball to tell that something was amiss with the missus.
“Mr. Vanderlay, we need to examine the scene of the crime.”
“I understand,” he said, brushing his lady aside. “Follow me.”
Vanderlay led us up a grand, red carpeted, staircase, his wife in tow. At the top of the stairs, I froze. The angles were off—not as steep—but this was the hall from that horrid dream of mine. We followed Vanderlay to the nursery, and each step we took confirmed my thoughts.
“Might Detective Hood and I have some privacy? We must examine the room undisturbed.”
Vanderlay frowned and his wife scowled, but they relented and waited in the doorway.
I immediately walked to the empty crib, a masterpiece of mahogany and silver. “Jonas, look for any methods of entrance,” I whispered. “And try to stay between me and this Vanderlays. This might appear . . . unusual to them.”
Jonas examined the wood on the doorway, conveniently blocking the parents’ view, while I went to work.
To students of magic, the presence of magic can be felt with effort, but to those that have the Chaos Seed, magic and magical creatures can be sensed days, even weeks after its release. It has a certain smell or taste to it, and every type and tradition had its own flavor. I tasted sand and salt and spices. It was the scent of cedar and frankincense.
There was something else though, something quite powerful and of a similar, but ancient flavor. It wasn’t in the room, but when I focused my attention on it, the scent was overpowering.
It all matched my dream, except where was the nanny? I called Jonas over. “The good wife may be right. This is Levantine magic.”
“Similar. It wouldn’t be hard to believe that a Jewish mage wielded it, though there’s only one in the city, and it's hard to imagine him involved. Bore the husband with questions. Ask where the nanny is. I need to speak with Mrs. Vanderlay.”
Jonas herded Vanderlay away. His wife started to follow, but I interposed.
“My pardons, Mrs. Vanderlay. I have some questions for you about the men that stole your baby.”
She frowned, her pale white skin creasing at the wrinkles. “If you must, Detective.”
“Why do you think that your baby was taken by Jews?”
She huffed. “Isn’t it obvious? This is what they do. It’s one of their demon rituals.”
I stifled my snicker. “Uh . . . yes, well . . . is there any other reason? It seems odd that out of the one million people in this city, they would target you. Why not an immigrant family? No one would miss one of their children.”
Her entire face seemed to pucker. “I do not know what you are insinuating, Detective, but I dislike your tone. I have very powerful friends, Mr. Dupin, watch what you say.”
She was proving difficult. Luckily, I have other methods.
“Forgive me, Mrs. Vanderlay. Hmm . . . if I might ask, what was your maiden name?”
“Caldwell, though I don’t see how it is relevant.”
“I see. Edna Caldwell Vanderlay.” I channeled a slender finger of energy and scratched on the door to her mind. She let me in. People are far too free with their true names.
“I will ask again. Is there a more personal reason that you believe a Jew to be the culprit?”
“No . . . yes. My husband and I, we traveled to Palestine, Acre and Jerusalem last year. I bartered a keepsake there, a small roll of faded cloth in a silver case. The man said that the cloth was very old, and I had no reason to doubt him. Last week, an old Hebrew man offered me ten thousand dollars for it. Naturally I refused. My husband makes it a point never to do business with the Hebrews. This is his revenge.”
“Did this man give you a name?”
“He called himself Manuel Klein.”
“I see. Thank you for your help, Mrs. Vanderlay. That’s all I need for now.”
She looked up at me again. The stress of the past days--not to mention my mental intrusion--was obviously wearing her down. I wondered what she looked like when she wasn’t grieving. She probably had great ankles.
“Please,” she said. “Find my Stewart, but if you can’t, punish the horrible man that took him. Make him suffer the way that I suffer. Make him cry my tears.”
“I’ll do my best, madam.”
Though I never got my drink, I thought that the visit went well. Jonas and I left Vanderlay Manor just as the Sun painted the Western Sky with fire. Since the coming of the steam ships and factories, sunsets have been quite vivid. One notices such things when he one hundred and fifty years of reference.
“Vanderlay told me nothing, just that they went to the Holy Land last year,” Jonas muttered as we climbed into the railroad carriage. “And that the nanny—the only witness—is locked up in Bloomingdale Asylum. Did the good wife reveal anything?”
I said nothing for a long time, only stared out of the carriage at the dirty yellow haze that hung over the city, thickening as we ran South. I watched the people gathered around the neighborhood pump, pushing and yelling at each other like animals. I sighed.
“Rabbi Klein, in the Seventh Ward, is involved.”
“Are we going there now?”
“I’ll call on him tomorrow. It is late and I am old.”
“Rabbi Klein? You think the missus is ri--”
“It is late, Jonas. I am old.”
We returned to my manor past sundown. I slipped out of my disguise as easily as some men slip out of their sackcoat, but perhaps too soon. Just before we reached the protective ward around my property—a ward that kept any Dwellers from entering without permission—I sensed the presence of one . . . no, two of them.
“There’s no sense in hiding from me,” I called out into the darkness. Jonas turned to me, not seeing what I had seen. “You might as well show yourself.”
A pistol blast answered my call, with another right behind. I brought a shield of hardened air up around Jonas and myself. I heard Jonas grunt and curse. I was a moment too late, Jonas went down to one knee. His right arm torn and bleeding.
One hundred and fifty years of life tends to put the everyday in perspective. It’s hard to lose your temper over something when you’ve lived through plagues, cannon fire, and creatures of nightmare. But Jonas is my only living son. I felt something unbuckle in my brain. It was restraint.
I pointed my cane at the gas light behind the creatures. The lamp exploded, knocking the creatures to the ground and lighting the scene like Vesuvius lit Pompei, just before the lava came.
They were short, hulking, ugly creatures, even while wearing their human disguises. I saw through their illusions easily. They were called Redcaps, and they were among the most obnoxious of the Veil Dwellers, often working as muscle for hire. They got their name because they dip their hats in the blood of their victims. Each dip made their cap a brighter red. Both of their caps were deep crimson, like a streetwalker’s lips.
I walked forward, menace on my mind. The first Redcap got to his feet and fired his Pepperbox again. I brushed the bullet away with a wave of my hand. I pointed at the gun and it crumbled in his hand. I curled my hand into a fist and slammed it down. The Redcap fell to the earth.
Taking another step forward, I threw my hand in the air and the Redcap flew. Three more times I repeated the motion, smashing the creature down until I felt his grip on our realm loosen. As I reached him, he faded from view, returning to the other side of the Veil. He wasn’t dead, but it would be months until he had the strength to return.
While I was punishing his partner, the other—apparently smarter—Redcap tried to crawl away. I focused my intent, and a fist rose from the ground and grabbed his leg. Another thought and the fist was ablaze.
The thug screamed from the fire. I stepped to him and kicked him in the ribs.
“Where is the baby?” I said, assuming that the ambush was related.
The Redcap spat and said something foul.
I jammed my cane into his wrist and removed his pistol. My cane is made of cold iron, perfect for dealing with Dweller ruffians. “What a rude little creature you are. Do I need to repeat myself, or do I leave you to burn until you fade away?”
He growled. “Forget the baby, Watchmage.” He sneered, but I knew that he was in agony. The cold iron on his skin burned in his very essence, not to mention his seared leg.
“Believe me, I would, but it happened in my city. I have a duty.” I poked him in the ribs with my cane, and he screamed. “Where is the baby?”
“Let it go, Watchmage. You’ll never find it in time, and you’ll get yourself killed.”
I started to ask who sent him, but I already knew the answer. Instead, I released him from my magic. “Tell your boss to set out a nice wine. I’ll be calling on him tomorrow.”
He smirked, but made no threatening move. I was already returning to Jonas—who was walking towards me—when I heard the thug scamper off.
Jonas grumbled as I examined his wound. “Too many ruffians with pistols these days, and a Volcanic too. How can I hope to stop them with just a club?"
I waved my hand over the wound and released my intent, channeling the energy inside me into my son’s flesh. The arm quickly knitted together until there was no hint of injury besides his torn jacket. “Stay at the manor tonight. You need to rest.”
Jonas agreed and we returned to my manor, where Hendricks brought us a nightcap. Hendricks is a teetotaler, and thinks that I am too fond of the drink, which makes me want it even more.
I went to bed early. I knew that I would need all of strength for the coming day, when I will harpoon the belly of this white whale of a city itself. It should prove an interesting day.
The chase is on! Who is Klein, and what connection does he have to the missing baby? And who sent the Redcaps to silence Nathaniel and Jonas? These questions and more will be answered next week, in Chapter 2 of The Watchmage of Old New York.
Hi everyone. I'm not usually the kind to hold out his hat, but--let's face it--writing is a very time consuming job, and not one that pays well. Too often writers, musicians, artists, etc have to ply their craft for free. Magazines and venues counter that it's "good publicity" while making money on the artist's hard work. This is not fair and needs to change.
Jukepopserials is progressive in that it does pay its writers. It has also set up a donation system, where readers can "tip" the writers for good work. If you like what you're reading, consider throwing a dollar or two into the tip jar. You're not just supporting your favorite artists, you're saying that you respect art and that artists should be compensated for their hard work.
Thank you very much.