Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 18 – Circé
<(Chaka) Holy voyeurism, Batman! I wonder what the odds are of these losers just happenin’ to turn up totally by chance right after Hera zapped you one.>
<(Lancer) I’m on it. I’ll be there in no time.>
<(Phase) Just follow the path toward Kirby and look for the giant weather balloon sized boobs.>
I muttered to Toni, “I am going to find something merciless to do to Majestic for this.”
Toni grinned, “Think she’d like a magazine subscription on cooking meat?”
“I already have a couple ideas on that,” I replied.
“I just bet you do,” she smirked.
Unfortunately, I needed to deal with Peeper and Greasy, who already had film footage of the new, extremely-unimproved me. <(Phase) We can’t take off until all film footage is erased.>
Peeper came forward with his wireless mike and stared right at my breasts. He didn’t even attempt to look me in the eye. He smirked, “Well, if it isn’t the formerly flat Phase, now also known as Balloon Boob Babe. Tell us Phase, how’s it feel to be the best endowed girl in a school of totally hot babes? In fact, I’d like to know how they feel right now.”
I gave him a shocked look and said, “You wouldn’t dare!”
If I hadn’t been so pissed at Majestic – and just generally surly because of everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours – I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I did. I took a deep breath as I spoke, so my breasts bulged upward, and I leaned forward slightly.
Then I went disruption light.
Even knowing what my powers could do, and knowing how many bad things had happened to him because he couldn’t behave, Peeper decided to go for the gusto. He reached out and grabbed a handful of hooter.
Unfortunately for him, it was my hooter. Fortunately for me, I was disruption light, and he couldn’t actually grab me by the breast. That was a good thing, because my anger and frustration were already somewhere around Code Orange, and I might have ripped his arm off.
As soon as his hand passed through my intangible form, he yanked his hand back and screamed in agony. It was a high-pitched squeal like something you would expect from a five year old girl, and it made my nape wish it still had some fine hairs that could stand on end. He collapsed onto his back and curled up around his arm.
I wheeled on Greasy, who was at least smart enough to recognize a threat. He turned and ran.
<(Phase) Box him in.>
Chaka took off. She must have used her ki to speed herself up, because she looked like she was running at about three times Greasy’s speed. She zipped over and blocked his path.
Greasy slammed on the brakes, only he was lugging around a significant fraction of his own weight in electronics, and he fell onto his face.
I Phase-leapt to where Chaka was standing, and I did a quick light-heavy-light flicker as I ran my finger along the seams of Greasy’s vest. Then I lifted the back side of the vest off him. The vest was holding all his gear in pockets and at clip-points, so I was holding his video recording equipment. I wadded it up, went light, shoved it into the space where my chest was, and went heavy again. The sting told me that I had effectively disintegrated his equipment.
Then I did the light-heavy-light flicker with my arm as I passed my hand through his videocamera, leaving nothing in my wake. When I was done, he had two pieces of hardware: the top inch of the camera, and the bottom two inches of it. Neither was a functional unit, or anything close to one.
“My camera!” he whined.
I said, “If you ever decide to stop filming unwilling girls and unfortunate victims, I’ll buy you a new one. Now then, do you want me to do to you what I did to your buddy?”
Greasy glanced over to where Peeper was still in the fetal position and screeching. “No! No way!”
“Then stop following Peeper and start acting as the conscience he so obviously lacks.”
I stomped over to Peeper and loomed over him. “Now I want you to stop harassing people just because they have boobs and butts. Do you understand that you could have ended up with a disintegrated hand if you had grabbed me at the wrong time?” He nodded miserably. “Then think about this quote. ‘If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.’”
Peeper slapped his other hand over his eyes and screeched as if I were about to do the plucking for him.
I admit it. I considered it for about a millisecond. I was pretty angry at him. I was pretty angry just in general, and I was angrier because Majestic and Imperious had set this up to humiliate me or perhaps get me to do something permanent to Peeper, and I was even angrier because Peeper couldn’t or wouldn’t exercise even the minimal control that Beavis and Butthead possessed. But the idea of gouging out someone’s eye, no matter the provocation, made me want to throw up. There were some things that I didn’t think I would ever be capable of doing.
That didn’t change the fact that Peeper was really pushing his luck on a campus full of superpowered women, some of whom would have no compunction whatsoever about plucking out his eye. Or ripping off his dick. Or tying his arms and legs into pretzels. Or things even worse.
<(Chaka) Emergency handled. Everybody can go back to Defcon 1.>
<(Generator) Wait. Is Defcon 1 the worst, or is Defcon 5 the worst?>
<(Chaka) I thought the movies always had Defcon 5 as ‘time to drop the big one’.>
<(Lancer) That’s wrong. Defcon 5 is normal readiness. Defcon 1 is ‘push the button’.>
<(Generator) PUSH THE BUTTON, MAX!>
<(Phase) Lancer is right. Defcon 1 is maximum readiness.>
<(Fey) Can we stop using terms we don’t know what they mean?>
<(Chaka) Fine. From now on, Defcon 1 means we need maximum force stat. Defcon 5 means go back to your homework.>
<(Shroud) And why do they say ‘stat’?>
<(Lancer) Guys, this is not a chatline!>
<(Phase) It’s a shortened form of the Latin word ‘statim’, which means immediately.>
<(Shroud) Wow, now it actually makes sense.>
<(Generator) Yeah, because who needs to yell for some medians and standard deviations in an emergency room?>
<(Tennyo) Where’d you learn about stats?>
<(Generator) Workshop. Lots of stats when you measure how your experiment did. Bunny explained ‘em to me.>
<(Lancer) Come on, can the seven!>
<(Generator) And why do they say ‘can the seven’?>
<(Tennyo) Okay, you broke him. So stop it.>
<(Lancer) And I still have to go back and explain to Lily why I dumped her for a big emergency that was… not.>
<(Phase) Tell her the truth. We knew Majestic and Imperious were behind it, so we had no idea how big a response we were going to need.>
<(Chaka) Yeah, one a’ these days, we’re gonna have to open up a can on them.>
<(Phase) You DO know that they have to be after something that can empower them so they get back to their Greek gods levels of power, don’t you?>
<(Chaka) Oh GREAT.>
<(Lancer) How do you know that?>
<(Phase) People tell me things. Then I make a few inductions based on some knowledge of ancient Greek myth. Plus, can you seriously see Jason and June NOT busting their butts to get a lot more powerful? They used to rule the known world. Now they’re stuck as high schoolers who have to listen to people like Quintain.>
<(Chaka) Of course!>
<(Fey) Elementary, my dear Watson.>
<(Lancer) Okay, everybody off the Spots.>
<(Generator) Aye aye, captain!>
Toni looked at me and said, “That wasn’t me!”
We walked on toward Kirby, while I pulled out my bPhone. “Hello, Security? This is Phase. I would like to file charges against Peeper. Assault and battery.”
I went through the usual rigmarole that was inherent in a system that had to cope with a brick filing charges against someone without physical powers.
“Are you sure that you mean assault and battery?”
I sighed loudly, “Yes, I am. I do know what ‘assault and battery’ actually means in a legal sense.”
“And you want to press charges against Peeper even though you are one of the campus bricks, and he has baseline strength and quickness?”
I sighed again, so he could hear it. “Yes. I am significantly stronger than Peeper when I’m at maximum density, but I was not anywhere near that density when the actions took place.”
“And are you coming directly to Kane Hall to file your report?”
I deliberately sighed again. “No. I have a critical appointment I can’t avoid. After it is over, I shall come by Kane and file the report.”
“And what kind of appointment is more important than filing a Security report over a crime?”
I told him, “I have an appointment with Circe. She told me the only grounds for missing it would be if I were on my death bed.”
“Circe? Let me see… Okay. We’ll expect you as soon as your meeting with her is over.”
I wondered briefly if they had a list of teachers and staff who were so important – or so demanding – that they were given special dispensation to run roughshod over the Whateley Security rules. Since I was already doing just that, I considered that perhaps one only had to be a big enough pain in the ass that it wasn’t worth their while.
After all, they already had to put up with Hartford and everything she made them do – or not do – for the Alphas and any Alphas auxiliaries she felt like protecting. I also had acquired intel that Hartford was the unofficial ‘school adviser’ for the Masterminds, as if they were a normal school club. That information was definitely sub rosa, even if Stopwatch had to know that Heartbreaker was getting really tired of the way he treated Jello. Granted, Heartbreaker wasn’t the only member of the Masterminds who might spill valuable intel on the group to me. I had an in with the bookie network, which meant that Hazard might trade me information for funding or connections. I knew Haywire from martial arts class. Dash had been pleading for me to use my other connections to find out the time for his next combat final, so he could finally use his powers in a final. Jello thought I was a lot nicer than Stopwatch. So any of them could have given me the intel. Stopwatch also had to know that I had a powerful mage on my team, so it was possible that the intel had been pulled right out of his cerebrum when he wasn’t looking. Nikki wouldn’t do something like that, but someone like Stopwatch wouldn’t believe that.
After I finished talking with Security, I started thinking about my next problem.
Toni interrupted my train of thought, “Hey Ayles, I thought the quote was about plucking out ‘thy right eye’.”
“Oh, that’s a different line. I was quoting from Matthew 18:09. The King James version goes ‘If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.’ What you’re thinking of is Matthew 5:29. ‘And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.’ That wacky Matthew had a thing about eyeballs.”
She thought for a second and then said, “Hey, you know what? I oughta take an hour and read all of the New Testament just so I can quote it like that the next time Grammy’s friend Miz Fletcher is on our asses about stuff. Unless she’s on Vince’s case.”
I said, “Good luck on that one. She probably has her own favorite version of the Bible from which you have to quote in order to be righteous enough.”
She just said, “I can’t believe you say stuff like ‘from which’ when you’re just walkin’ around talking. You have got ta be the weirdest kid in Poe.”
I gave her my haughtiest tones. “We prefer to consider ourselves the most distinctive individual in Poe.”
She laughed out loud.
I focused once again on my next problem. So I called Fey on my bPhone.
“What’s up, Ayla?”
“How do I get to Circe’s office?”
“Easy. Basement level, west side of Kirby. There’s a glamoured door that looks like a wall. Go through it and you’ll be in the hall where all the Mystic Arts profs have their offices.”
“Okay, the word ‘easy’ does not go with that description,” I complained.
“You’ve got Toni with you, right? She can help.”
I objected again, “Wait. This time, you used the words ‘Toni’ and ‘help’ together.”
While she laughed, Toni complained, “Hey! Watch it, homegirl.”
I asked, “How much of Nikki’s side of the conversation did you hear?”
She looked a little abashed as she admitted, “All of it. I used my ki to jack up my hearing.”
Well, it wasn’t the first time she had done something like that. It wasn’t even the twentieth time. I knew she did it fairly regularly, even if I couldn’t figure out how she could make it work. I just flipped my bPhone to speakerphone and said to Toni, “Do you think you can find the glamoured door?”
She shrugged casually. “People walk through it all the time, right?”
“Natch,” said Nikki.
Toni said, “So all I have ta do is look for where the lines of ki from everybody goin’ down the hall has a bunch of lines that just turn right into a wall. Right?”
Nikki agreed, “Right. Okay Toni, there’s no doorframe or doorknob on the hall side. Just put your hand on the door and apply some ki. That ought to make it swing open, but away from you. Then just walk through.”
I asked, “And how am I supposed to get through the door when you or Toni isn’t around?”
Nikki said, “It isn’t blocked with a magical forcefield. You can go light and just walk through it, as long as you know where it is.”
“That makes sense,” I admitted.
“It makes sense?” Toni asked. “Then Nikki must’ve got the idea from someone else!”
Nikki laughed and said, “I’ll get you for that one.”
“You just keep tellin’ yourself that, white girl. I figure if I read that book to Koehnes a couple more times, she’ll defect and-”
“And go over to the Dark Side of the Force?” Nikki snarked.
Toni just laughed. If I had said something like that, it would probably have come off like a racist crack. Toni tried a Darth Vader voice for which her lilting tones and mild Baltimore accent were utterly unsuited, “Luuuuuke. Come to the dark side of the Force. We have sparkly princesses.”
Nikki laughed delightedly and said, “Okay, if you two have any trouble, just call me back.”
“Roger that, Scarlet Witch,” Toni grinned.
And with that jape, we hiked into Kirby Hall. I wasn’t really fond of the architecture. It was one of those pseudo-Tudor style buildings that obviously couldn’t be that old, and didn’t make an attempt to preserve the less convenient aspects of the Tudor style. It also didn’t fit with the architecture of anything else on campus. Not that Whateley was all that consistent when it came to architecture. You only had to look at the Crystal Hall where it was slapped onto the back of Schuster Hall to see that.
Still, Kirby Hall was the source of a great deal of speculation around campus. The Mystic Arts Department and the Psychic Arts Department shared the building, along with some assorted specialized staff. But according to school legend, the Psychic Arts Department was still insisting that the Mystic Arts department had much better offices and classrooms and work areas… but couldn’t prove that claim because they couldn’t find said rooms.
Of course, campus rumor also had it that I was part of a nefarious Goodkind plot to destroy mutantkind by infiltrating the school. So I didn’t believe everything that I heard.
Still, the glamoured door to get to the offices of the Mystic Arts faculty did tend to reinforce that concept. On the other hand, if I were a member of the Mystic Arts faculty and I wanted to make the Psis think I had amazing rooms surreptitiously hidden all through Kirby Hall, I would just put a glamour and a spell on the door into the faculty offices.
We walked down a stairwell to the basement level, and walked around to the west side of the building. There didn’t appear to be a sign directing passersby to the Mystics Arts Department offices. I just watched Toni.
She was staring at the floor. I assumed that she was looking at the flows of ki all over the place. I knew from some of the arguments between Nikki and Toni that the lines of ki in the earth seemed to match up with some ill-defined subset of the ley lines Nikki could see. And I knew that most of the ley lines left by people matched up with the lines of ki Toni could see in people. So I assumed Toni was looking at lines of ki that were the trails of students who had wandered through the halls.
She led me around the curve of the hallway, until she stopped and turned to face a large, blank wall. If I hadn’t heard the rumors, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the wall. But, given the rumors, I viewed a large expanse without a classroom door as possibly suspect.
Toni pointed at a spot on the wall and said, “Okay Ayles, right here. We got lines of ki turnin’ and goin’ straight into the wall, which as you might surmise isn’t natural.”
I memorized the exact placement of the potential doorway on the wall, and went light. Then I carefully stuck my hand through the wall. I was expecting to run into a magical wall that would eject me like Shaquille O’Neal blocking an attempted layup by Peeper. Nothing happened. It felt like I was reaching through a regular door. I couldn’t feel any sort of magical barriers.
I withdrew my arm and went normal. Then I checked the wall with my hands. Nope, it still felt like ordinary wall. There was no sign that I could detect that there was a door there.
Okay, time to put my faith in my friends. I took a breath, ignoring how my boobs rose dramatically. I went light and floated forward.
As soon as I was past the ‘wall’ I could see I was in an ordinary room. Okay, it was really nice for what was obviously an atrium where two secretary’s desks sat. The flooring was a nicer material than the linoleum-like plastic outside. The walls had a better paintjob, and the pictures on the walls weren’t cheap reproductions designed to take up space.
<(Phase) Hey Chaka, I’m in.>
<(Chaka) So far, so good. I’ll go get you something to wear that isn’t made by Berlin Tent & Awning, and I’ll leave it for you. If I can’t get the door open, I’ll leave it on the floor outside.>
<(Fey) Oh for Pete’s sake! If you can’t get the stupid door open, I’ll come over and bring the thing in for Phase. Okay?”
<(Phase) Thanks. That would be appreciated.>
<(Chaka) These wizards. They always gotta make a big deal outta everything.>
<(Phase) And they’re always showing how mature they are.>
<(Fey) Oh, nyeh to you too. Now behave, or I’ll bring you a dress.>
<(Phase) I always behave. I am the essence of good behavior.>
<(Chaka) Don’t forget, she’s No Fun Guy!>
<(Phase) Signing off.> After all, there was little point in getting into an insult battle over the Spots.
I checked my bPhone, and I was still six minutes early. And my lengthened hair was annoying me. It was draping down the sides of my neck, and tickling my shoulders, and making the back of my neck itch. It was occasionally falling onto my face. I momentarily wondered how women put up with long hair, even though I knew anyone could get used to long hair over time.
I pushed my hair back off my face and walked down the hallway. I didn’t have far to go. The department chair had the first office. And there it was. The sign said:
Current Department Chair
No, only until I can foist it off on someone
I did wonder if the third line was referring to the department leadership. I also wondered if it was a joke.
The sign changed.
Current Department Chair
Yes, that was a joke
I managed not to smile. I did wonder just how powerful a spell it was. What if I wondered who was the real head of the Syndicate…
The sign changed again.
Current Department Chair
I’m only a spell to answer simple questions for the secretaries
Rats. Having an oracle I could routinely consult would make life a lot easier. I could ask for the identity of any supervillain we were facing. I could ask who was Hekate’s Master. I could ask who ratted me out to The Necromancer back in January. I could ask whether quantum gravity was fundamentally correct. I could ask…
The door opened. Circe glared at me. “Come in, Miss Goodkind. And please stop stressing my door spell. It’s only designed to handle about two dozen simple questions from the department secretarial staff, and asking it for answers it couldn’t possibly know will eventually break the spell.”
I opened my mouth to ask if she was reading my mind.
“No, I was not reading your mind. But I was looking at how the spell was fracturing. I have no idea what you were pondering, but you are certainly not the first person who has tried to treat it as their own personal Delphic Oracle.”
I stared at the door and wondered how to turn on the computers on the desks. The sign changed again.
Current Department Chair
You already know the answer to that
She looked at the door, then at me. She sighed, “Yes, the most common answer is that the secretaries and student workers already know how to do whatever it is, they just want someone to pat them on the head and tell them to go ahead and do it.”
She looked at me, and I found myself looking at her. I hadn’t realized it before, but Circe was short. She had a commanding presence, but still she couldn’t be more than 5’2”. Granted, being 5’2” probably made her ‘tall’ way back when she was twenty years old. She must have been wearing really high heels the last time I met her. I glanced down, and I saw that she was wearing moccasins. Not Native American traditional moccasins, but tiny leather moccasins.
She was looking at me, as well. She finally said, “Are we going to have to institute a dress code for our meetings?”
I sighed, which made my breasts bulge noticeably. “No ma’am. This is the problem I was talking about on the phone. Thanks to a little mishap with Jobe, I’ve grown. All over. At the moment, the part of me which is still growing is… obvious. I have no clothes that fit. I came over here with a massively oversized sweatshirt and a glamour to make it look like I was wearing some kind of cloak. But Majestic disintegrated the sweatshirt and destroyed the glamour, just moments before she led Peeper and Greasy to me.”
Circe frowned darkly. “You do know just what Majestic and Imperious really are, don’t you?”
I nodded. “I made a few inductions back during fall term, and they turned out to be… something I could back up with further information. My friends and I have had to deal with the New Olympians since then. Some of them are more reasonable than others.”
She scowled, “Just be wary. They may currently be far less powerful than they were in my day, but I am not assuming they will stay that way. Not now that they have appeared in an era when some human bodies are powerful enough to truly contain the power of a god.”
I said, “I intend to be careful. I have a lot of enemies, and I’m taking precautions against all of them.”
She nodded. “But it will be some time before you can wield magics powerful enough to use against someone of Majestic’s power.”
I admitted, “That’s essentially what I expected. What I’m hoping for is the ability to wield something I can use as a distraction or a subtle assist along with my powers and my other holdouts.”
She smiled a little. “That is good. Too many beginning mages think that they will only need to dally with magic for a few weeks to suddenly begin wielding forces like Fey does.”
I winced inwardly, because I now knew a bit too much about the cost of wielding forces like Fey did.
As we walked into her office, I realized that it was a bit larger than I had anticipated. The room was a large rectangle with the longer walls off to my sides. Directly in front of me and to my left was what could be a conversation area. There were two couches facing each other, with one armchair on each side of a conversation box. All along the wall on my right were built-in bookcases loaded with books, tomes, scripts, parchments, amulets, and dozens of mysterious objects. On past the conversation area was a wooden table large enough to seat twelve, which I assumed might be a meeting table for the department. And off in the far right corner was a small computer desk with a small writing table on its left.
It occurred to me that Circe might not even think in terms of working at a desk most of the time. In ancient Greece, only sons of the wealthy really ‘went to school’, and even they didn’t use desks, since almost everything was supposed to be committed to memory instead of written down. Girls didn’t have that sort of opportunity. And Circe had probably been apprenticed to some old mage who didn’t think in terms of what was then ‘modern’ Athenian education anyway.
She led me over to the couches. She sat in the one facing the door, and gestured for me to sit opposite her. She curled her legs up under her, and she began, “I don’t take an apprentice very often. Not anymore. There was once a time where I might have five or six apprentices at a time, but that was a very long time ago. Now? I have only taken around half a dozen apprentices since World War I.”
“I’ve heard about some of them,” I mentioned. “May I ask why me?”
She said, “I have stopped taking apprentices because they wanted the position. For a couple centuries, I have taken apprentices because I saw something in them. Because I had a vision involving them. And I had a vision involving you. Some day, I may even tell you what that vision was.”
“But not today.”
She nodded tersely. “Not today, and not anytime soon. Do not bother asking. When I think it’s the right time, and not before, I will tell you. Learning too much of a vision always leads to misinterpretation and attempts to force the vision to happen. This is never good. And my visions never come with the spinning newspaper image from movies so you can see the date and time and the key issues in a big headline. No, they come with a great deal of ambiguity and vagueness and interference.”
I didn’t mention that the ‘spinning newspaper’ trope from old movies hadn’t been used except in parody for decades. It was probably ‘new’ as far as she was concerned.
She said, “We will meet here every Saturday at one, except over the Easter holidays, when I foresee you being off the campus.”
I said, “I currently have plans to be gone from Sunday to Sunday. I’ll be in New York City in a large suite, if you want to come out and have our regular Saturday lesson there.”
She smiled slightly, “I imagine you will be busy enough without me intruding.” Then she put her hands together and said, “You will often be busy with one thing or another, but I will insist on you meeting me here for our regular lesson.” She glanced at my chest and said, “And infirmity will never be an excuse for missing a lesson. When I was young and apprenticed, I learned that this is important. We are not all-powerful Wizard-7’s. We have to learn control and concentration and focus. When I was young, I was… assaulted. For several weeks it was all I could do to crawl off my pallet and limp to my mentor and do my work. But I did it, and it made me stronger.”
“That which does not kill me makes me stronger,” I quoted.
“Sometimes it makes us weaker in dark, twisted ways,” she disagreed. “But I will not allow that to happen to you, just as my mentor did not allow that to happen to me. Now I have asked a number of faculty members about you. So let me ask you some questions. First, what is the origin of the word ‘mentor’?”
I said, “It’s from Homer. When Odysseus left for the Trojan Wars, he put his foster brother Eumaeus and the elderly Mentor in charge of his son Telemachus. When Odysseus’s palace was filled with suitors for the hand of Penelope, Athena came to Telemachus in the form of Mentor, so the suitors wouldn’t realize what was going on. She encouraged Telemachus to stand up to the suitors, and to go abroad to find out what had really happened to Odysseus. Because of Mentor’s role in Telemachus’s life, and the way Athena posed as Mentor, the name has come to mean a wise man who hands down wisdom to a student or apprentice.”
She nodded. “Very good. That’s not what really happened, but oftentimes the story that we remember is more important than the truth.”
I asked, “Have you ever seen the movie ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’?”
She smiled slightly. “Yes. When it was in theaters. And I see your point. Sometimes the lie that everyone believes is more important than the reality. When it comes to matters of belief and theurgy, you will find it can be painfully true. If Majestic was your trusted ally, she would have a number of related stories to tell.”
I guessed, “So you don’t want me to call you ‘mentor’.”
“Correct,” she said. An old word for teacher is διδασκολοσ. You may call me ‘didaskaleh’ when you ask me a question. Or merely Circe.”
Man, I would love to have her teach me ancient Greek too. Like I had the spare time.
She said, “You are just starting out in the introductory concepts class. But I gather you have already read all the textbook, along with all the recommended extra readings for the term.”
I nodded, “It was fairly easy, when Nikki had all the auxiliary texts on her shelf in her room.”
She went on, “Then you are far enough along that we can begin. Magecraft is an art. It requires practice and diligence and training, as surely as sculpture or oil painting does. But it is an art of the mind. Anyone can accrue Essence. It only takes patience. Even ordinary untrained baselines may accrue Essence in their day to day activities. Keeping Essence is far harder. Even people with the ability to collect Essence usually waste it. Every time you gamble, you may lose Essence. Every time you interact with a probability Warper or a reality Warper, you may have Essence stripped away if you lack the focus and concentration. Every wish you make, whether vocalized or not, is likely to cost you Essence. Prayer in church may or may not cost you Essence, depending on your relationship with your god or gods. You can lose Essence through your dreams. Through carelessness or inattentiveness. As long as you’re not a level three or four Wizard, you can waste Essence far easier than you can gather it up.
“That is why our first lessons will be on focus. You need to learn to concentrate on maintaining any Essence you have, and you need to maintain that concentration all the time. When you can maintain that level of focus even in your sleep, you’ll be ready for the next steps.
“Not that we will sit around and wait for that moment. We will work on every step of the process. But learning actual spells and learning to cast them will be the least of your efforts. I found out from some of the other staff that you can read ancient Greek and your Latin is quite good. Also, you have a photographic memory. So, once you can collect Essence and maintain your pools of Essence and manipulate your pools of Essence, then you will be able to use that Essence.
“But you are going to have the kinds of difficulties I seldom see in a true mage. You know that magic is real, and you have seen it, but you have not yet internalized it. You still see yourself as a businessman. A corporate officer. Someone who operates in a baseline world of Einsteinian science. And your will has sustained you in this, despite everything that has happened to you in the past year. Your will is an inner strength. It will one day be a great advantage, but until you overcome your own inner strength, it will interfere with your training. So we will concentrate on mental techniques for acquiring and maintaining Essence until you can do it without thinking about it. This will be hard and tedious and frustrating at first, but once you make the necessary breakthroughs, the rewards will be worth the effort.”
I said, “You’re the expert. Is this why people resort to necromancy or theurgy or blood magic? They want or need a shortcut?”
She thought for a moment. “In some cases. In other cases, they use those styles of magic because that is what they were taught. And some use those styles because they can access more power. In the days when the Greek gods were in power, theurgy was direct, and powerful, and incredibly dangerous. Even if you were successful, you could draw the attention of a god or demigod, and that might be an even bigger problem. More than one mage who called upon Zeus then had to deal with the consequences of Zeus’s attention, which might be beneficial, or might mean that your wife was suddenly pregnant without your help. Still, having a demigod in the family could also work in your favor.”
I asked, “Is that why The Necromancer uses black magic and blood magic?”
She said, “I can’t give you an exact answer. I can tell you that he has benefited greatly from dealing with beings beyond our mortal ken. It may be that this is what his teacher showed him. It may be that this is what works best for him. And, given his family history, it may be that this is his destiny, however much he might have tried to avoid it.”
Eww. Possibly being condemned to work with the darkest magics because your family’s descended from Great Old Ones? Lovely. I so needed to talk to Sara and Nikki about that. Especially if it could have nasty consequences for Sara’s future.
I said, “I have yet another question. The auxiliary readings made gathering Essence sound rather like earning money. At least, that was the way I saw it, but then I have a rather different point of view from most of the other people who might read the material. Is that a reasonable analogy? And how far can I push it before the analogy breaks disastrously?”
She grinned, “I don’t know. How far can you push that analogy?”
All right, she doesn’t get to say I didn’t warn her. I started out, “First, we can accrue Essence through the sweat of our brow. Just like ordinary wage earners. Then we can squirrel it away under our mattress, or we can fritter it away on junk food and caramel lattes. Only most people can’t stay away from the junk food, and end up with no money.”
“So far, your analogy holds up.”
I continued, “But a realistic person doesn’t hide their money under the mattress. They put it in a bank where it can earn interest, or they put it in the stock market, where it can in theory earn a higher rate of interest, even if there is more risk involved. Do those have analogues?”
She smiled, “Yes. Once you get to the point where you can retain your Essence without it leaking away, you can learn some basic spells. There are a number of spells that require Essence to power, but then let you use the rest of your Essence like… a savings account. The Essence accumulates with interest, and the more Essence you have, the more you can accrue. So it really does work like a savings account. But there are more powerful spells that would let you get more Essence even faster, under ideal circumstances, but they become riskier the more powerful they are. You can end up losing all or most of your Essence in a big fireball that won’t do your physical body much good either. Or you can attract the attention of beings from other dimensions who view mages as little more than Essence-laden snacks that are also fun to play with.”
“So, extra-dimensional cats,” I nodded. “Let me push the analogy even farther. Let’s suppose I want a lot of Essence right away, and I can risk having less to spend later on. Can I go to a large source of Essence, say… Fey, and ‘borrow’ Essence from her with an understanding that I have to pay it back on some regular schedule? And what would happen if I refused to live up to my end of the agreement?”
She said, “Hmmm… Magical borrowers and lenders. That’s a lot less common, but I have seen it. The fundamental problem is that borrowing Essence involves a sorcerer’s contract, either explicitly or implicitly. If you go to one of the true Sidhe and ask to ‘borrow’ some Essence, you commit yourself to a sorcerer’s contract with one – or more – of the Sidhe. And that can be extraordinarily dangerous, even if the Sidhe you personally know isn’t like that. It gets a lot more dangerous if you don’t make that contract explicit, because the more powerful mage may make the contract favor him – or her – a great deal, and if both parties ignore the form of the contract, it may have unpredictable consequences.”
I thought of something. Chou and Clover. I asked, “What about a trade? Let’s say, one rescues the other, and the other returns the favor with some Essence?”
She said, “As long as the exchange can be considered ‘equivalent’ by one or both parties, that can be it. A simple trade or swap can fulfill the sorcerer’s contract without further effects. But it may not. If the two parties don’t know enough to think about the effects of a sorcerer’s contract, they may not know how to check for after-effects.”
Oh crap. I tried to control my expression, but I made a mental note to talk to Nikki about checking to see if Chou and Clover were having any after-effects from that little trade back in the fall.
I asked, “How complex are magical contracts going to be? And how exorbitant is the interest?”
She frowned, “They can be remarkably simple, and they can be fantastically complex. With some beings, they can have thousands of implicit clauses that are part of the nature of the creature. For example, a sorcerer’s contract with something like a Great Old One can involve millions of possibilities through time and space that may never even be possible, or may have already occurred. And that’s the implicit parts. This is why no sane mage will willingly make a contract with something like that. You might be accidentally putting your entire world into slavery without your knowledge. You might be condemning your entire family tree to a horrible death. A proper sorcerer’s contract with one of the true Sidhe is going to be extremely complex because of the magical nature of the Sidhe, whether an individual faerie wants the complexity or not. You always want all the details spelled out and verified by both parties.
“And the ‘interest’ you pay can be… painful. When I was young, I demonstrated certain magical abilities. Summoning fire, calling animals and communicating with them… My father was worried. My mother was hoping I was one of the demigods and would protect the family. A mage came and convinced my father I was a demon. I was given to the mage with an agreement that I would never come back to endanger the village. I was entered into a sorcerer’s contract without my knowledge, and I spent years being trained. The ‘interest’? I was essentially indebted to my ‘master’ for as long as we both lived. At first, I was a slave, but as I grew more powerful and more skilled, I became his favorite weapon. Ultimately, I had to kill him to escape the contract. That was the flaw in his contract: I couldn’t kill him directly without suffering hideous torments, but there was no penalty for arranging something that killed him as long as I didn’t do it through magic or physical means. I paid an assassin to do it. However, I intend to teach you about sorcerer’s contracts before we agree to one for this teacher-student arrangement, so you won’t have to resort to something so drastic. And painful. For those of us who make a decision to use what writers like to call ‘white magics’, doing something as ruthless as hiring an assassin to murder your mentor has nasty consequences.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I muttered. “We talked about loans and interest. What about banks?”
She looked up at the ceiling for a couple moments before she said, “Yes. I believe the analogy still holds. You need a really large guild or union of like-minded mages, though. The only one I think ever worked was one in Spain in the Dark Ages. A guild of mages formed with the idea that they could pool their Essence in a magical ‘bank’ and get what you would probably call ‘a higher rate of return on their investment’ because they would be working with a much larger pool of Essence when they did the ‘interest accumulation’ spells. I think it even worked for several months.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Bank failure? Embezzlement? Bank robbery?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “All I do know is that most of the… umm… bank officers were found dead, and the guild dissolved with a great deal of anger and threats. I heard about it second-hand from more than one source, but I never learned what really happened.”
“Okay, then what about inheritances?” I tried.
“Now, that I do know about,” she said. “Inheritances work much the same way whether they are magical or financial. When you inherit Essence from a dead relative or mentor, it is yours. There may be some sort of cost involved to free the Essence from whatever links or strictures it once had, but it is yours. And inherited debts work the same way. If your mother owes a magical debt and designates you as her heir, and she then passes away, you inherit that debt and must repay it.”
“Hmm, it sounds as if it would be an effective way of dealing with an untouchable enemy. Accrue a huge magical debt to something really nasty, designate your enemy as your heir, and commit suicide.”
She nodded, “Except that you cannot designate just anybody as your heir. It would need to be either a direct descendant or very close relation, through the Law of Similarity, or else someone who agrees to accept the debt as part of a sorcerer’s contract. And for a large debt to a dangerous being, there would have to be a substantial reward for accepting the contract. There have been some legendary inheritances like that, passed down from mother to daughter. Some of them have been inherited debts, bringing all manner of problems and curses down on the head of the inheritor.”
I tried once more. “Okay, can I extend the analogy to a magical stock market? Magical derivatives based on magical stocks and bonds?”
She frowned slightly. “I do not know enough about stock market derivatives to say for sure. But I would think a magical stock market could be done… in theory. It would take a larger magical community than a magical bank, and would require a lot more magical protections. But if someone like you someday developed it, I could see it running. If we have dozens of spells that can accrue Essence at different rates, and many of them produce fluctuating accrual depending on a host of observable and unobservable things, then you might be able to get a large number of mages to bet on them. To try to pick which ones would yield more Essence sooner, and to switch back and forth, selling ‘stocks’ in different Essence-gathering spells, or trading the stocks. It… might work.”
I nodded. That sounded like it would require a massive magical community, and a lot of trust. Still, it sounded like the finance analogy was a reasonable way to view Essence, at least until I learned a lot more. And I was going to have to be really careful about approaching someone like Fey for a ‘loan’. Apparently, Palantir and her little buddies were even more idiotic in their quest for free Essence than I had realized.
She leaned back and rested her arms on her thighs. “Do you have any other questions?”
I admitted, “Yes. I have a list.”
She smiled slightly. “From what I have heard about you, I am unsurprised that you would.”
“May I ask who told you about me?”
She smiled a little more. “You may ask, but I won’t be answering that question.”
That was fair. There were certainly questions she might ask me that I wouldn’t be answering. I asked her, “Okay. First question: what have the campus wizards learned about that ley line circle that Bladedancer destroyed?”
She frowned slightly. “Not as much as we would have been able to discover if they had left the circle alone and gone back for appropriate backup from campus security and the Mystic Arts department.”
I pointed out, “Whoever created that circle left enough guardians that they wouldn’t have survived the attempt. Bladedancer didn’t even have time to call for help on her team communicator. If they hadn’t destroyed the circle, they would have died, and the circle would still be an unknown threat.”
She said, “I agree. But that circle used magics that even I don’t know. That could mean we are facing a threat from Mythos realms. And as such, it really is important that we learn whatever we can. The department has had a lot of arguments about this, and we are currently divided. However, I think that Hekate is a clear link between this and what happened to Cavalier and Skybolt. Which would mean that Fey’s conjecture is correct. Someone has access to Mythos magics, and hasn’t gone insane from exposures to them. Other wizards here find that difficult to believe, simply because our experience is that it doesn’t usually work that way.”
I gave her a raised eyebrow.
She continued, “It doesn’t. The few wizards who have been exposed to Mythos magics – or demonic writings that would provide links to Mythos magics – tend to have truly distinctive side effects. Insanity, tears in inter-dimensional walls which require extreme measures to contain, horrible metamorphoses into otherworldliness, or even worse, having parts of their bodies transform, while other parts remain human. Or apparently human.”
“Is that what happened to Fubar?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” she dodged. “I wasn’t on campus when it happened, and there was only one witness who survived. Fubar himself. It took weeks to stabilize him, and he continued to have hallucinations for some time even after the doctors got his body stabilized. So even his descriptions of what happened aren’t completely trustworthy. But we believe that something got out of one of the Class X sites near campus, and it took him and everyone with him to drive it back into wherever it came from.”
I tried again. “So what do we know about that circle?”
She pursed her lips. “We know that it was a very subtle, very dangerous working. It affected ley lines all over campus, making people more belligerent and less able to talk through their problems. It probably contributed to the number of fights and incidents of bullying, and it may have had direct effects on the one person on campus who has belligerence as a way of life.”
In case you didn’t know, the word ‘belligerent’ comes directly from the Latin. The word belligerant meant ‘waging war’, and it came from the word bellum, which meant war. I asked, “Do you mean Counterpoint?”
“Yes. It is possible that his behavior was… exacerbated by the spell. Unfortunately, it is also possible that his behavior was moderated by the spell.” She shrugged slightly. “At any rate, we have been able to tell from the remains of the circle that Hekate definitely performed the spell with a human. Not a demon or a being from one of the Mythos realms.”
I checked, “Not a demon? Not even a demon posing as a human?”
She looked at me. “No. It had to be a human. We also know that the human acted as her teacher, and he had Hekate ‘sign’ the spell with her true name to invoke it. That was probably part of a complicated ploy to incriminate her at some later date, or to entrap her in some way.”
I asked, “So do you have any kind of profile on Hekate’s Mentor? Male or female, young or old, insane or lucid…”
“Or none of the above,” she said. “He – and I say ‘he’ only because ‘it’ is not helpful – could be either gender, any age, black or white or Asian or anything else, mutant or baseline… He’s a very powerful, very experienced mage. If he’s insane, it doesn’t show anywhere we could see. Based on the circle, there’s an immense attention to detail. And also there’s a strong magical ability to mask his signature.”
“Where could he have gotten the spell?” I asked.
She frowned again. “That’s the problem. We don’t know of any humans who have this kind of knowledge. If he’s made a pact with a demon or with Mythos beings, we haven’t seen a sign of it. There are plenty of people at Whateley right now who have long histories of magic use, either directly, like me, or handed down through family lines. My first thought when someone brought up this problem was Hera, but this is magic unlike anything I ever saw from the Olympians.”
I asked, “Was your second thought Fey, or was it Carmilla?”
She didn’t even flinch. “Both, along with Tennyo. All three have deep connections with ancient forces. These are connections that ordinary mortals cannot truly comprehend. Carmilla has clear connections to more than one Great Old One, and Fey apparently has connections to the ancient powers of the true Sidhe. Tennyo? We still haven’t been able to find out more about her, but Earth Mother was able to learn from The Grove that some aspect of Tennyo is incredibly old, and The Grove is afraid of her.” She watched me and said, “And you know this already. I’m not telling you anything new or surprising.”
“I have no idea what you mean,” I lied.
She kept staring at me. “Fascinating. All three of them have confided in you, or perhaps your entire team. That means that you have knowledge that Hekate’s Mentor would kill to acquire. We need to work on your mental shields as soon as you can maintain enough Essence to keep them up all the time. Or at least, all the time you’re awake.” She continued, “No, I’m not reading your mind, or I would know what they told you. I’m merely reading your body language. You’re quite good at controlling your face and your body. Most people need years of practice to do what you’re already doing. But I’ve been reading people for thousands of years. Anyone should be shocked to hear what I told you, but you simply didn’t react. You already knew.”
I admitted, “I’m a Goodkind. I’ve been trained since I was a child. That training also is responsible for the attitude I tend to express.”
I decided I wasn’t yet ready to trust her enough to tell her some of the things that might (or might not) make her more supportive of my friends. Particularly if there was a real possibility that Hekate’s Mentor was someone she knew. Maybe even a member of the Mystic Arts department. Or an established student in the department. There certainly were plenty of students who had lineages that could have explained the knowledge of Hekate’s Mentor. Hexette came from a long line of witches; Skinwalker and Stormwolf both came from long lines of shamans; a large chunk of the Bad Seeds had supervillains with magical abilities as ancestors; and they weren’t the only kids at Whateley who were possibilities.
Instead, I asked her, “Are there magical forensics to trace magical signatures, or to analyze traces left at magical crime scenes, or to create behavioral profiles of magical criminals?”
She stared at me for a couple moments. She finally said, “No apprentice of mine has ever asked me that. I assume you have been looking into the science of criminal investigation, or at least watching television shows about it. As far as I know, there is no such thing as magical forensics or magical behavioral analysis. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t invent the fields once your studies have evolved far enough.”
I continued on down my mental list. “I’m done for the moment with investigating that circle. Now I have some wider-ranging questions.” She waited patiently. “What can you tell me about World Trees?”
She laughed in surprise. “I certainly didn’t expect that. You’re aiming very high for sources of Essence, considering that you can’t maintain a pool of it, or manipulate it yet.”
I admitted, “I don’t think I’ll still be alive the next time a viable World Tree exists, but I’m interested in sources of Essence for Fey.”
She asked, “Have you considered that giving such a power boost to one of the Sidhe might be a very bad idea for humans?”
“I did think it over. A lot. And I think that Nikki is on my side, and given what I have seen, she’ll be able to keep other Sidhe under control. Also, given the sorts of things we seem to be running into already, providing her with a power boost is probably a good thing for the planet as a whole.”
She asked, “Have you considered that this might be a task that requires millennia to complete?”
I said, “That was one of the first things I considered. It doesn’t really matter to me if I’m around to enjoy the benefits, as long as the accomplishment does in fact benefit people.”
She smiled, “That is a lot more mature than I see in most high school children. Now then. As far as I know, no World Trees have existed for at least centuries – if not a lot longer – before even I was born. The myths and legends suggest they existed well after humans became capable of telling stories. From what I have been able to figure out from assorted legends, there must have been at least one on each continent, although I don’t know about Antarctica. And I have no idea what happened to them. Resurrecting a World Tree would require someone like you or Fey to find the seeds of such a tree, then magically nurture them until they could become saplings, then protect them for centuries as they grew. I suspect the pollution of the modern world might be enough to kill them off before they grew to any useful size, and I don’t know if they’re vulnerable to ice ages or not. But I believe they once existed, along with other things we hardly remember anymore. And you might bring back the ‘other things’ at the same time, which might be a big problem.”
“Thank you. Everything you’ve said agrees with other information sources. So I’m treating it as a long-term goal for Fey, and an unattainable goal for me personally. Next, can you tell me your opinion about the arguments about magic vs. devises? Are devises just magic done by guys in labcoats, or is magic just a kind of devise done by people who don’t understand science?”
She grinned, “Are you sure you want to hear an opinion from one more antiquated wizard?”
She corrected me, “That would be ‘yes teacher’ or ‘yes didaskolos’, please.”
She said, “I have been watching the advent of devising for a long time. At first I thought it was just another offshoot of alchemy. But now I think it is more complicated than that. Alchemy is very obviously an application of magical principles, while devising is not. For a long time, magic simply meant that a person was doing something that others did not understand. The power came from somewhere incomprehensible, and was used in a way that looked impossible, and resulted in something no one else could understand how it could be, except… magic. Now we have some powerful ideas about where the energy for magic comes from, and how it is used, and how it is usable. And, whether the scientific community believes it or not, some of those ideas came from careful scientific study of magical principles and magical laws, as done at first in secret by mages who thought that Newton’s ‘science’ was just more magic.
“When the first devises appeared, I simply assumed what all the other mages were saying. It looked like magic. It acted like magic. It must be magic. And perhaps it is reasonable to treat it like a new branch of magic. But it is also reasonable to treat any given style of magic as devising using really different tools.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Are you saying you think the lunatic camp is actually right? That magic and devising are different, parallel objects?”
She said almost primly, “Just because Doctor Destructoid acted like a raving lunatic most of the time doesn’t mean he couldn’t be right sometimes.”
I checked, “Does that mean that devising uses Essence too?”
She said, “I don’t think so. And not all branches of magic use Essence. But all of them use energy and transmute the energy into something ‘unbelievable’. Otherwise, people write it off as ‘science’.”
“I need to think this over. That wasn’t the answer I was expecting,” I muttered.
She smiled, “I’m glad that this time I’m the one who is surprising the other person. Now are there any more questions?”
I said, “Just one. If some branches of magic use Essence and some use something else, can I learn several styles of magic, or will I be restricted to spells within one style?”
She said, “I am only going to teach you styles of magic that come from a pursuit of Essence. That is going to include some spell-based magic, some nature magics, possibly some alchemy depending on your gifts… But I am most certainly not going to teach you anything connected with Mythos magic or blood magic or black magic or chaos magic. And I don’t know how to do devising, so I can’t teach you that.”
I said, “That’s what I had in mind. I only want to know enough about black magic and blood magic that I can effectively counter them in a battle. Somehow I see myself running up against The Necromancer again before long.”
“Is that precognition, intuition, or deduction?” she wondered.
“Deduction. We’re pretty sure Darrow is now tied up with Hekate and her mentor, and he’s made very personal attacks at Fey, Silver, and Carmilla. Plus he tried to kill all my friends at my birthday party, and when he arranged the mass jailbreak in Boston, he had weapons specifically designed for Tennyo, Fey, and probably Lancer. That tells me we have his attention. Having a supervillain personally interested in you is never a good thing.”
She nodded briskly. “Good. Some planning and being proactive is always better than waiting to be caught in a trap. Now then, let’s get some real work done. Let’s sit on the rug in the middle of the room.”
We got up off the couch, and she had me sit seiza on the rug. She sat in lotus position facing me. She said, “We’re going to work on some meditation exercises first. You’re going to have to learn how to maintain the needed concentration all the time, even when you’re asleep. And you’re going to have to learn to believe you can do all of this.”
I asked, “You mean internalize it, as opposed to just think about it?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Most teens are pliable. Malleable. You’re not. You’ve spent your life forcing yourself into a rigid mold, and you’re still in it. So working with you is going to be more like training a fifty-year-old moneylender. And believe me, doing that once was enough.”
I refrained from making a comment, or asking who she had in mind.
“Now close your eyes and concentrate… Visualize your body, sitting there, filling with energy… Feel the energy of life… Feel the energy around you… Each of the cells within your body has its own role, its own life, but every cell in your body needs energy, and every cell can absorb this energy… Inhale slowly and pull energy into your lungs… Hold it… Exhale slowly but hold the energy within you… Hold it… Inhale slowly…”
We did what I recognized as box breathing and basic meditation for quite a while. Maybe it was working, because I really lost track of the time.
She finally stopped and had me move back to the couch. She said, “You’re doing what I asked, but you’re not really believing it will work like I said. We’re going to have to work on this a lot, until you can break through this… rigidity that is so much a part of you.”
I sighed, “I’ll do what you want, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll change overnight.” I glanced down at my chest and said, “Despite what you’re seeing.”
She said, “Practice this every morning and every evening, and we’ll see how we’re doing next Saturday. Maybe we can add to the meditations, and maybe we’ll just need to refine this one.”
“Okay.” I didn’t have anything really intelligent to add to the discussion.
She stood up and told me, “Now I want you to do some research and put together a list of ten simple spells you want to learn first. These will need to be basic spells that can be empowered without vast reservoirs of Essence handy. Then I want you to put together a more sophisticated list of at least ten spells you feel you really need.”
I pulled out my notebook from my utility belt, and I handed her two more sheets of paper.
She managed not to let her jaw drop open. “You… This is really good. Students don’t usually think this far ahead. I need to review these lists and evaluate them. I’ll have comments for you next Saturday.”
“Thank you. Didaskaleh, are we done for the day?”
She nodded slightly, “Yes. and I assume you won’t need any help getting here next Saturday?”
I said, “Not at all, unless I’m at the point where my breasts outweigh the rest of my body.”
I walked out of her office and through the secretaries’ lair. On this side, the door looked more normal. It looked like a steel security door with a host of glowing amulets hanging from it, so I assumed the Mystic Arts department was having an entertaining time confounding the staff of the Psychic Arts department.
The door didn’t have a doorknob, but it had a metallic plate where the latch would be. I put my hand on it, and the door swung inward. I stepped out into the hallway, to find myself about twenty feet down the hall from where I had been when Toni had helped me find my way in.
“Hey! Where’d you come from?” Jinn squawked. She was about sixty feet further down the corridor, floating in mid-air and making her cape billow in a non-existent breeze, probably just for practice. Or to freak out passersby. Or to do something so insane that I was unable to think of it without a rash of wacky hints.
She flew over to me and said, “Hey, Chaka gave me the lowdown. Okay, she called it the down-low, which sounds a dozen times cooler. And Fey took a cape I was making for Bunny and put a spell on it so it oughta hold up to some magical stuff.” She shoved her hand into her abdomen and pulled out a black cloak.
Believe me, it’s a lot more disturbing than it sounds to watch someone thrust their hand into their guts and yank out a large object. But it was also really disturbing, because I couldn’t envision a cloak made by Jade for Bunny that wouldn’t be pink with glittering sequins.
“Thanks. I didn’t expect it to be black,” I admitted. I also didn’t expect it to be sequin-free. But I had apparently gotten one break.
“Oh, it wasn’t. But Lancer got pretty cranky about it, so Fey changed the color too.”
<(Phase) Lancer? Fey? I’ve got the cloak. Thanks for insisting on the color change. I mean it.>
<(Fey) Lancer’s off the Spots for a bit while he’s having some ‘private time’ with Lily. But you can thank him at dinner. And you would not have been happy with the sequined rabbit hopping across the front of the cloak.>
<(Chaka) Hey, homes. You need ta get over to Kane and file those reports. Then we’re gonna go see Carson and watch her yell at Peeps and Maj.>
<(Phase) On my way.> I slipped the cloak over my head and headed toward the stairs.
Jinn frowned, “Good. That Majestic is such a dorkhead.”
“Not a poopyhead?” I teased.
“No, she’s way too mean for that. I totally should give her an ultra-mega-wedgie.”
I said, “No, you definitely shouldn’t. She’s one of the people on campus who might be able to read your PK copies without trying. That would be bad.”
“Eww. Yeah. Okay, I’ll think about other stuff to do to her.”
I told her, “Don’t bother. I already have something to do to her. And it’s just as petty as what she did, only I’m hoping it’ll be a lot more annoying.”
“Really?” She perked right up. “Tell me, tell me, tell me! I gotta know! Is it more creepy magazine subscriptions?”
So I told her. She cackled all the way out of Kirby Hall. Particularly, while I was on the phone to Trin & Macintyre.
I went light, and we flew over to Kane Hall. We stuck to her best speed, since I seemed to need a bodyguard more than I needed to make haste. After all, I had been in Circe’s office for hours. My stomach was already asking for more nutrition, and my throat was dry.
It occurred to me that I just needed to get the right Whateley Security officer for my report filing. I smiled to myself.
We landed to the side of Kane Hall. Even at Jinn’s twenty-eight miles an hour or so, I couldn’t turn a corner cleanly enough to curve around the building to the front door. I mean, I could have made my hand go heavier and sharply veered off to the side, but I probably would have sliced through the basement levels of the building instead of gracefully curving around to the front and landing on the doorstep. I could veer if I had to, but I still had all the grace and accuracy of a bomb fragment. It was really aggravating, because I had been practicing in secret when I could. And I still sucked at it. Everyone else on the team had perfect form and graceful maneuvers, and I was more like Bomber. I could in theory go faster than anyone else, but I couldn’t turn unless you gave me the flightpath of a Boeing 767 passenger jet laden with passengers and baggage. One with very fussy passengers and very delicate baggage.
We strolled around to the front door, although Jinn spent a portion of that ‘stroll’ floating a couple inches off the ground and working on her ‘robot’ dance moves. “What do ya think? Robot enough?”
I thought it over and said, “You need to work a little bit more on making the individual segments move at slightly different times, so it looks like it’s running on a slow computer.”
She nodded. “Oh yeah, I can do that. Like I do when I’m the vacuum cleaner or the metal ‘devises’ or the lounge chair.”
“The lounge chair?” I asked suspiciously.
“Oops. Pretend I didn’t say that.”
I insisted, “I think I need to know more about the lounge chair before I’ll be willing to pretend I could forget.”
She faked a sighing sound. “Well, there’s a couple lounge chairs downstairs so Poesies can sun themselves outside when it gets warm out? And Shove has been talking about how she’s claiming one of ‘em so she can work on her tan as soon as it gets hot out? So we figured it would be really funny to turn her lounge chair into a robot. While she’s on it. So… we’ve been practicing some. And now it won’t be as funny because everybody’s gonna hear about it. And if you tell Tennyo she might tell me not to do it.”
I told her, “I’ll think about it. But even if Billie tells you not to, it’s pretty likely Belle will do something even better.”
She grinned, “Ooh, I should go talk to Belle! Maybe we can switch off on the pranks!”
I did sigh, since I knew I had probably just made things worse. Nice going, Goodkind. I merely said, “Don’t make things worse with Shove if she’s behaving. We’re trying to slowly wean everyone over to our side.”
She frowned, “Really? ‘Cause I hear stuff when I’m not hanging around with you. And people hate your family, and they don’t trust you. There’s people around here who are more scared of what you and your family are up to, than they’re scared of all the Bad Seeds put together. And they have Jobe and Damien Faust and Render.” She glanced at me and added, “And your buddy Jadis.”
I walked over to the front desk and said, “Hi. I’m Phase. I came in to file a report and file charges against another student.”
“And I’m her bodyguard!” Jinn said helpfully.
The security officer at the desk gave Jinn a raised eyebrow and then moved his focus back to me. “Sergeant Buxton put a note into the system that we expedite the process for you when you came in, and Lieutenant Trout should be here any moment now to take your statements.” I could see that he was somewhat suspicious about how a student was in so tight with Payola Platoon.
He also didn’t ask why a student was walking around on campus with a bodyguard, although he pretty obviously wanted to ask. I had a feeling he would have, if the note from Buxton weren’t in the computer system already.
I said, “You don’t need to pull one of the lieutenants off duties to take a statement. I can talk to anyone.”
He glanced at his monitor. “Sorry kid, but when you put in a file, and Buxton drops notes on it, and then we get a delay from Circe, you don’t get me takin’ your statement. You’re lucky it’s Trout, and not Everheart or the chief.”
I made a conscious effort not to shrug, because I didn’t want to start my soccer balls jiggling again. “Either of them would be okay. I’m an equal opportunity interrogatee.”
Lieutenant Trout chose that moment to appear from the back, in his usual overly-suave style that made him come off as somewhat oily. “Phase. I’m glad you could make it. If you could follow me?”
He turned and strolled off into the maze that was the corridors of the security offices. I went heavy before I followed, so my chest wouldn’t bounce all over the place. Then I carefully went back to normal density once I was in his office, so I didn’t break his chair when I sat down.
He asked, “Can I get you anything? Some coffee? Some water? A soda? Buxton’s got some chocolate in his office he’d be happy to share with you…”
I yielded to my stomach. “Can I get a large glass of water? And some of that chocolate?”
He flipped on his intercom and barked an order to someone in his platoon. Then he cordially asked me, “Circe put you through the wringer?”
“It’s her boobs!” Jinn volunteered.
I groaned, “All these problems are related to my breasts. I grew overnight.”
He said, “I noticed you’re about five or six inches taller than normal, and you’re not wearing heels. And the bulges under your cape are pretty… noticeable.”
I muttered, “Yeah, being the kid with the biggest hooters on campus has never been on my bucket list.”
“Me neither,” he smirked.
I spent half an hour filing the complaint against Peeper, and filling out a second complaint against Majestic for destroying the sweatshirt and Toni’s coat. People tend to think that ‘assault and battery’ means that you beat the holy snot out of some poor unfortunate. No, that’s more likely to be felony assault. Technically, assault and battery is a verbal threat plus any physical contact that is unlawful and unpermitted. If you talk tough to a policeman and then ‘accidentally’ bump into him as he goes past, oops, you have just done enough to be arrested for assault and battery.
Trout kept making Metler go fetch me comestibles. After the water and chocolate, it was a couple cans of soda and a sandwich from the vending machine in their breakroom. I didn’t complain, because I was really hungry and I didn’t see a lot of alternatives. But the sandwich was pathetic. The roast beef was almost adequate, but the lettuce was wilted, the tomato slices were tasteless, the mayonnaise was out of a jar and too thickly applied, and the bread was getting soggy from the assorted ingredients. At least a vending machine was incapable of destroying cans of cola.
When we were finally done, Trout called Metler again and had him play messenger boy.
“Hello, officer Metler,” I smiled at him, just to be polite. I was depending on his cooperation and reliability for several things, so mistreating him would be stupid.
He looked at Jinn and said, “Shroud, right?” She nodded. “Your sister is here waiting for you.”
I figured that was a good thing, because Jinn’s charge was going to run out sooner or later.
Metler turned his head to face me. “Phase? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you need to go see the headmistress now. I’ll walk you over.”
“Great,” I muttered. “I can’t wait.”
to be continued