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Mutants & Masterminds: The Unlikely Prophets - Prologue: Larissa Taylor - The Open Book


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He that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.

- Dr. Isaac Barrow

It was a new day.

Boston wasn't bad, as cities went. If you kept your head down, you could get pretty far. The local magistrate, Jamie Barnett, was liked well enough by his subjects. There were rumors swirling that he was due for a replacement from Order Central, but rumors were all they were, for now.

Larissa woke to her alarm. It was a special day for her. It was the last day of school before semester break, and all of her grade 4 class would be moving up to the 5th. She'd see them around the school, and even still teach a few in the more advanced grades, but it was the end of the line for them as a single class. Normally it was a good feeling, only occasionally bittersweet; sending them further along into the world, hoping they'd make it, hoping they didn't need her any more.

This year was different. She wanted it to be tomorrow. Tomorrow the break would begin, and there would be no more kids and no more lessons. Tomorrow she could finally let the weight of it hit her. She'd put it off for weeks, not wanting to take time off this close to the end, not sorting through all the things in the attic just yet, but tomorrow...

Tomorrow, there would be no more putting it off. Her father would still be dead.

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Larissa didn't let herself dwell. She focused on the immediate; getting out of bed. Getting into the bathroom. As green eyes locked with green eyes in the mirror over the sink, it occurred to her just how good she was at not thinking about things. How practiced. Her father's motto had been 'Know thyself.' Did she?

She put it aside. There was no time to deal with it now. Larissa was vaguely aware that, even to herself, her mind was becoming like an iceberg...with a tiny crag that jutted out from dark waters to represent her consciousness, and a massive looming dangerous bulk concealed below the surface, full of vicious, ship-sinking jags that cut her to ribbons if she stepped incautiously. And getting bigger all the time. She knew it, but added that knowledge to the mass under the surface because there was nothing she could do about it right now. Reality was what it was, and she was a mote within it, cast about by forces far outside her control. Powerless, all she could do was keep her head above water and function day to day.

Once school was out, and she had some more time.

She found herself finishing breakfast hurriedly. Had she showered? Yes...she vaguely remembered the water coming down on her. As she rinsed the bowl and put it out to dry, she saw herself as a mad editor, frantically editing and redacting the book of her life as she was living it. Trying to get to the next page and so trimming down and rushing past the page she was on. Leaving her with a life of empty pages.

In which case, why have a book at all?

The thought brought Larissa up short for a moment...but there was no time. She'd just make it in time to prepare for class at this rate. So she filed that worry away for later, and got in her car and left for work.

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The thank-you notes from the kids were adorable. Larissa read each one out loud. That took up the hour.

"Thank you Miss Taylor for helping me with my verbs. I think verb is a funny word."

"Thank you Miss Taylor for the gold star. My mom put it up on my fridge and she is very proud of me."

"Miss Taylor I think your necklace is real pretty."

"Thank you for teaching me not to use that word any more."

The last one, Larissa hovered on. She always read and re-read each of these before she read it out loud, to auto-correct for spelling and grammar and make sure she pronounced everything correctly. So no one noticed her taking a little extra time on his one, as a tiny ball of rage sat in her stomach.

The word was 'baton.' In place, the kids were to use the word 'club.' It was a word that had been removed from the curriculum by the Order. No one knew why, and no one was inclined to ask.

She read it out loud, keeping her voice even, biting down on the frustration caused by them taking away a word. The others were easier. None of them mentioned her father, because none of them knew. The world was bad enough, and these kids didn't need her problems as well as their own.

She was sitting at her desk, collecting a few notes, when there was a knock at the door. It was Assistant Principal Iris Lang, a chirpy, bubbly woman who tried to be everyone's friend and succeeded every once in a while. "Hi Lari! Can I bug ya? It's about next semester's curriculum."

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Lari...a nickname since she was a kid...looked up from her resk and gave Iris a tired, smile. She beckoned her with a wave of her hand.

"Sure, come on over. I'm just getting my stuff together here. What about the curriculum?"

She had a feeling she already knew though. There'd be another baton. Or another event or idea or term that they wanted teachers to 'gloss over' or 'de-emphasize.' Education was slowly swirling down the drain, like molasses in the sink. Drip by drop the subjects and concepts one by one into the abyss. Next year's students would learn a bit less than this year's...who had learned substantially less than she herself had learned when she was in this grade.

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Iris coughed. "Well, it's a budget thing. In the Phonics section, where they refer to the Shepard Method? Well, it's... uh, it's not the Shepard Method any more. They're calling it the Williams Method now. And, uh... there's no budget for new textbooks, so the board's asked us to go through the books with a..." She looked away. "With a little black marker."

She didn't say anything for a stretch. "Look, uh, I can do it for you. You've had a bad week..."

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Lari stared at Iris. "Renaming Shepard Mathod isn't exactly a budget change," she pointed out. It was stupid, she knew...Iris didn't have any more control over it than she did.

It was just...the ocean that iceberg was under was only so deep. Eventually the ice would hit the bottom, and wouldn't have anyplace else to go but up.

"So what, we just go into the book, cross out 'Shepard' and write in 'William' by hand over it? Why is it being renamed anyway?"

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"It's a budget thing because they don't have the money in the budget for new textbooks, I guess. And yeah, they want us to write the new name in. I don't know why they changed the name. Maybe whoever Shepard is got them upset..."

There was silence for a long moment.

"Not like there's much anyone can do. Look, that's a problem for later on. You can head home if you want. I'll take care of things here, okay? We all really appreciate you sticking with it this past week what with... well, with your father."

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Larissa sat back in her chair and rubbed the bridge of her nose. He kept bringing it back up. As long as she could keep going, she could keep putting it off. While there was still more work to do, she could justify it. The thought of going home now was terrifying. It felt like she was in the shadow of some vast, looming thing...something that would be unleashed the moment she had nothing left to do; to distract herself with.

"I'll do it," she said, looking away. "It's my class, it's my responsibility. When do you need to see them by?"

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Larissa stood up and picked up her canvas bag by its straps. She kept her school things in there. She brought it at the beginning of the year...now she was leaving with it.

"All right. It'll give me something to distract myself with." She forced a wan smile. "Mind helping me get the books into my car? If we can get it all in one trip, that'd be great. I'm in for a late night as it is."

It turned out, they could.

Later, when she arrived at the house her father had lived in, the house she'd grown up in, she left the schoolbooks in the trunk. For nearly half an hour she just sat under the porch and looked out at the front yard. It was growing fast, untended now. She should mow it. Trim the flowers back behind the fence. Trim the tree so it didn't overhang the driveway. Care for it.

But it wasn't hers now, if it ever had been. Property, with rare exceptions, was ceded to the state; to the Order, regardless of will and testament. It was necessary as part of the strict controls they kept on housing, zoning, population, and any number of other important indexes. She wasn't here to claim her inheritance. She was here to clean it up out of this house, before it got evicted.

And time was wasting.

With a heavy sigh, she picked herself up out of the chair on the porch, and went in to start organizing stuff into boxes.

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Larissa had the television on as she worked. She was sorting through a pile of photographs, settling on one of her as a baby. Even back then, she was into books, albeit a very simple (and water-proof) one. The baby version of her waved her book triumphantly. The adult her felt less triumphant, staring back across the years.

On the TV, Aqua - or a cartoon animated version - saved an ocean-going vessel from being capsized in the midst of a lightning storm. The announcer informed the audience that that was how Aqua first came to the attention of the Order, that this gentle sea-water-composed giant was a friend to everyone who sailed the seas, able to make a body out of any large enough pool of seawater.

There was an awkward overdub of the word 'baton' that Larissa noted as she put the photo away. Then the Day's Lesson started up. "Remember, kids, if you're in a lightning sto - "

Then the image seemed to scramble, as if the signal was interrupted. Then the visual was replaced by the little-seen face of the Order's economic and sociological engine: The Mathemagician.

There was silence as the Mathemagician stared out of the TV set. With a start, Larissa realized that it wasn't just silence on the television. There was silence all around her. The city was paused.

Attempts to speak didn't seem to work. Larissa felt a tightness in her throat. And then, the Mathemagician spoke.

who are you?

Then there was a song.

" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344">

To call this song 'haunting' did no justice. It seemed to stop the whole world. Nothing was frozen - the wind blew, the sun shone - but the whole planet seemed to take a collective breath.

The song lasted a few seconds. It also lasted forever. Time lost all meaning in its embrace. The song crescendoed, and built, and crashed to its climax, moving mountains with notes. It faded away, leaving Larissa feeling different. Like everything in the living room of her soul was moved six inches out of place.

why are you here?

The Mathemagician's final words hung in the air. The world started up again.

"-rm, curl up into a ball and put your bum in the air! It'll go through your bum onto the ground and miss all your important stuff!"

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Larissa stared at the TV set, completely poleaxed for what must have been a good five minutes. She hesitantly reached for the remote to turn it off, then changed her mind. What if he said something else?

She waited. Nothing else happened. The Aqua show melted away into the evening news. No more glowing green figures with flaming heads appeared. No more unearthly music, or strange questions.

Could he see me? That's impossible, even for him though. He might be able to put his face in my screen, but even he'd need a camera or something to look out of...wouldn't he? Not to mention, what would one of them want with me?

Is was the last that confounded her the most. Well, that and the weird feeling left over from that music and experience on TV.

Who are you? Why are you here? The questions didn't even make sense, when she thought about them. Her face and name were on file...and if he knew where to appear to find her, how could he not know who she was? As for why she was there, it wasn't obvious to someone who had access to all the data on her dad's time of death and the current property reclamation orders? Why ELSE would she be here?

No...this was stupid. Maybe it was some kind of glitch. Even superhumans had to make mistakes sometimes. Maybe everyone on the block, or in the world, had seen that and were now trying to figure it out. Any second now her cell would ring and her dad would call saying he just saw the damndest thing. Except that it wouldn't, because he wouldn't.

Which brought Larissa back to the task at hand.

After a moment's thought she headed upstairs to the attic. She needed some time away from the TV.

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Larissa was so lost in memories that she didn't notice it until it became impossible not to notice, which was at the attic hatch itself.

She stood there on the ladder, and frowned. Fire? That was the first thing she thought of. There was smoke curling around the side of the hatch. A thin stream of it.

But it wasn't normal smoke. It glowed slightly. And it wasn't spreading like normal smoke would, it was more like a tether. A tether to... to...

She looked down. The smoke was attached to her necklace. Which was also glowing.

She looked up, at the attic hatch. She flipped the latch and threw it open. She took the ladder's rungs two at a time and emerged into the attic, and the smoke-like trail led into a box full of books, like everyone who has an attic had in their attic.

She walked over to it, feeling drawn. She slid the lid open. She pulled out a book.

The book was locked, with a small disc-shaped lock that was unlike anything she'd ever seen. It was also thick. It was also very, very, very old. There were symbols on the cover.

She'd been through this box. She could swear she had. This book hadn't been in there. She could swear by it. But there was dust on it, dust that seemed to match the other books in there, and there was a dust-coated crease in the books it'd lain next to. It had to have been in there. So how could she have missed it...?

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By the time she got upstairs, Larissa was holding the necklace out like a lantern in some old movie. Her hand was trembling, and was still trembling when she pulled the monstrous book out.

Monstrous was the word. Not because it was BIG, though it was, but because it was hoary and ancient. Leather stretched over wood for the cover. Thick yellow coarse-grained paper with torn edges inside. They didn't make books like this anymore. They hadn't made books like in centuries.

The mystery of why she hadn't seen it before seemed secondary to why her Grams' necklace was glowing and smoking smoke that also glowed and leading her straight to it. Slowly, like a kitten batting at something new and unknown, she held the necklace out so it was there next to the book...though not quite touching.

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There was a sound, like an electric razor. There was a pulling sensation. Then the amulet was sucked onto the disc-shaped lock.


It rotated in place, and the lock popped open. So did the book. Something slipped out of the cover - a letter? It fell to the floor. Larissa barely noticed it, because she was taken by the book.

The letters inside glowed, and flashed past her eyes. The pages of the book fluttered, and her eyes darted back and forth, reading more symbols, more runes, more formulae... if formulae was the right word for something you assembled with only your mind. Her head hurt just from looking, but she couldn't stop herself.

Faster and faster the pages turned, until it all blended into one, and then -

The book reached the end. It snapped shut, but did not lock itself. And now Larissa could understand the letters on the cover. It described what she held as the Book of Keys.

She could remember bits and pieces of what she'd read. Some of the keys... yes, that was a good word. Keys. One spoke of a blast of raw eldritch force; another of an invisible barrier; another, a spell that would freeze the mind. All of which were impossible... but all of which she knew, regardless.

The Keys to the Universe.


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The instant the Book's hold on her released, Larissa snapped back away from it as if a tether had snapped. She fell back onto her rear and actually skidded a few inches. For a second she just sat there, dazed; completely overwhelmed by the flood of knowledge. The dissonance was profound. The truths revealed clashed with everything she thought she knew, but they were irrefutable. Slowly her conscious mind caught up with it...bit by bit it assembled what the Book was telling her and synthesized it with more conventional understanding to create a paradigm; a framework that could hold it all.

The growling of her stomach was the only thing that alerted Larissa to the fact that time was passing, and in great quantity. It was dark now, not just twilight, and her back and wrists were aching from her awkward posture.

Even so, before she got up, the Book...and it would forevermore be capitalized in her mind...caught her eye. When she'd dropped it, it fell closed. In her eyes though it still glowed strongly with a light that wasn't quite light...potent and engorged with magical power. It had not yet taught her everything, she realized. That initial contact was broken, but she could still learn from it. If she chose to.

With a shaking hand, Larissa reached for the tome, and hesitantly opened it again. Whatever had happened before didn't happen again. It opened, but normally, like any book would. No rush of magic power, no sudden vision of learning spells that taught her things in moments when it might take months or years normally. Maybe the Book's capacity to do that was limited...or maybe her capacity to withstand it was. She took it downstairs with her. By the time she was half done eating dinner she'd started reading a few pages at a time. With three bites of her microwave lasagna left, she had forgotten all about food and was deeply engrossed.

It was the chirping of birds that snapped her out of this one. When she looked over at the window, she realized there was dim light shining from outside. Sudden panic swept through her. It was nearly sunrise! She only had a few hours to finish packing up her father's stuff!

Larissa jumped out of her chair...and then paused thoughtfully. She was thinking mundanely. But from what she'd just been reading, there could be another way. A quick search turned up a magic marker, which made her chuckle a little. She started scribbling on the attic door, consulting the Book frequently to reference which symbols and which marks to use. One of the precepts of magic was "as above, so below." It was the principle that symbol and reality were connected...that on some level they were one. It was the first law of sympathy, and the second law was that "blood calls to blood." Cryptically phrased, but it meant that like objects...things that were similar in critical ways...experienced sympathetic bonds. Magically, they could be the same. Interchanged. A door, for example, could be made into another door, because on some level all doors shared that essential "doorness." All you had to do was draw on that, shape it to your design using symbolic references that would make the door more similar to the target door...until a critical threshold was reached.

She stared at the door for a moment, and jumped as the marks she made suddenly flared with strange heatless light. Color spread out over the surface of that attic door, until it looked smoother, darker brown. The wood grain changed. The knob was different. It looked exactly like the door to her bedroom back at home now.

Larissa opened it...and the view beyond was that of her bedroom. Her heart caught, and she forgot to breathe. She poked a finger through, but nothing extraordinary happened. Her finger poked into her bedroom, then was yanked back.

She didn't need to pack. She could just shove everything through into her bedroom. It'd still be a lot of work, but not so much she couldn't do it before the reclamation inspection crew arrived.

Leaving the door open, she got to work.

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The work took very little time.

As Larissa worked, moving books and possessions back and forth between her house and this one, she had time to notice the little details. The frame of both the door that led into her house and the door that led into the attic were still there, and so were both doors. Both had to be opened to pass through.

By the time she was done, all of her father's worldly possessions were in her house. She turned to close the door, and then stopped at a letter on the floor. A bit of memory bubbled up; it had been inside the Book when she'd opened it – either that, or stuck to the cover.

She picked it up, unfolding it. It was handwritten, in cursive script.

Click to reveal..
Edward Taylor -

Your donation of rare and notable texts to the Tokyo University's historical studies department is vastly appreciated. I of course understand why you would choose to, as your last letter put it, 'hang on to a few that were dear to your heart.' I of course do not need to warn you of the dangers of hoarding any documents on the ban list; the New Order's eyes are many and sharp.

Work finds me well. I am adjusting to being a father to my son Kenshin. I feel the same anxiety that all fathers doubtlessly do, the hope that I will bring Sanada Kenshin up properly, to honor his family. I know things are different in America but I am sure that parental anxiety is universal. If you ever become a father I look forward to saying 'I told you so.'

We will have to get together next summer. I look forward to arguing with you.

- Sanada Yoshitsune

Tokyo, Japan

December 2013

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Saneda Yoshitsune...

She quested in her memory for the name, even in passing, but came up blank. He hadn't mentioned him that she could recall. And the date! 2013!

Didn't that mean this book was...or the letter at least...

A chill of fear crept over her. Materials like this, from the period that had vanished, or from too close to it, weren't supposed to exist. Getting caught with something would be really bad.

And yet...and yet...

What if Yoshitsune was still alive?

Someone who might be able to explain the Book, and why her father had had it...if he had, in fact, had it...in the attic. She read the letter again, and decided.

A moment later she was at her computer, doing a phone number search for 'Saneda Yoshitsune.' To narrow the field a little she also looked for Yoshitsunes that were local to her area.

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