On December 16th1992, forty-three women around the world gave birth at the exact same moment. Why, one may ask, is this a noteworthy event? Surely many hundreds, if not thousands or millions of women are giving birth at any given moment. Statistically speaking, it would be more unusual for no women to be giving birth.
Ah, but you see prior to that traumatic moment none of them had been pregnant: it was an epidemic of virgin births, the like of which hadn’t been seen since Jesus. Or Anakin Skywalker. The children born in that moment were special: they had magic.
Martin Chatwin, an eccentric billionaire, resolved to adopt as many as possible to form the elite crime-fighting team the ‘Brakebills Academy’. He managed to get seven of them. Seven magicians. Seven young minds to mould. To educate. To break. Because it turned out that Martin Chatwin was not the best of fathers, and each member of the erstwhile crime-fighting family ended up broken in their own way.
Eschewing all forms of contact not related to their studies or their training, he assigned them numbers in lieu of names and left the actual raising of them to Fogg, a hyperintelligent and long-suffering chimp whose mind he had artificially augmented, and Jane, a robot mother, nanny and nurse rolled into one whom he had based on his estranged sister as a final ‘take-that’. Eventually, on their tenth birthday, Jane gave them names.
As each of them grew older, they began to develop their own specialised form of magic, which Martin encouraged in every way possible. After all, as he discovered, magic is pain.
Number One, Alice, was a bright and powerful child. Although slight in frame, she was able to use her magic to augment her strength so that she became super-strong. Although she had one of the keenest minds in the family, after The Incident she left to guard the Ancient repositories of knowledge hidden in the wildest depths of Canada and disguised as a second-hand bookshop.
Kady was Number Two, a fact that Alice never let her forget. Her proficiency was with Battle Magic, although she was equally talented in the ancient art of Punching-people-most-often-Alice. Her favourite weapons were her knives and she always had at least three on her at any given times. As a child she knew that she wanted to protect people, to see injustice in the world and correct it as true superheroes do. She was quickly disillusioned.
Margo was perhaps one of the most memorable of the Chatwin siblings, a fact that pleased her to no end. By staring into her eyes, so innocent and doe-like that her brother granted her the moniker ‘Bambi’ age seven, she was able to compel people into doing what she wanted. Needless to say that ability served her well when she moved to the West Coast to become a star, finding the false-idolatry of millions of fans easier to obtain than a genuine compliment from their father.
Fundamentally Eliot was telekinetic. That’s what he liked to tell people his powers were. But really, what he could do was see ghosts. An ability that he learnt of when, age fourteen, he killed Logan Kinnear their then-housekeeper’s son whose bullying tendencies were not only known to Martin Chatwin but encouraged. It was only after Eliot had inadvertently smashed the heavy chandelier in the front hall into Logan Kinnear that he started to see the dead, chief among them the bloody form of Logan. He quickly sank into the drugs and the drink to escape them and never climbed back out.
Penny… well Penny was always contrary. He was the only one of the siblings to name himself, scornfully rejecting the offered ‘William’ from Jane and renaming himself Penny after the penny arcade that they sometimes sneaked out to. He only realised later that it was predominantly a girl’s name, but by then it was too late. In any case, the laughter didn’t last for long as his ability to Travel meant that nobody in the house was safe from swift retribution. He disappeared age thirteen and never came back: Kady likes to think that he got and was living the high life in Australia somewhere.
Quentin…Poor Quentin. Obsessed with his fantasy tales, he longed to withdraw into obscurity. But he couldn’t. Because he was Their host. He called them Fillorians after characters in his books but the rest of the world called them horrors. Eldritch monsters. Lovecraftian menaces. And apart from a very small subset of the population who sent him erotic letters, the generally population was happy enough to condemn him for his power. He didn’t last to adulthood, and perhaps, were some of the family asked, they would say that was for the best. Quentin included. Eliot would argue against it, but as Eliot would often make these arguments to thin air no one paid him any mind.
Finally, Julia. Number Seven, the last and least as classified by their father. With no powers of her own she often felt like an outcast among the family, forced to watch from the sidelines as her siblings engaged in their own heroics. When she was young and less cynical, she would dream of escaping to a foreign land with Quentin, her co-conspirator, and Penny, their method of transport. Perhaps one day the three of them would slip sideways into an alternate world where all of her family could be happy and together, and she could be included. When Penny disappeared and Quentin died, the dream died with them. She retreated into her room and her music, the eerie strains of the violin echoing through the house until late at night.
With such a violent and messed-up childhood, it’s unsurprising that most of the Chatwins got out as soon as they could, slipping off one by one and never looking back.
They escaped into the real world and tried to make lives for themselves, always haunted by the spectre of their childhood (literally in Eliot’s case).
But then… Then Martin Chatwin died. And as one by one the five survivors learnt of his demise they realised: they would have to return. Back to the Academy. At least one last time. And so they did.
What they didn’t realise: they would have to band together to survive. Because, unbeknownst to all but one of them, the apocalypse was coming. And they had to stop it.