The Widening Gyre
The Widening Gyre
A Jadis Story
by Bek D Corbin
The Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom, New York Chapter House
March 4, 2007
Randall Pierce looked across the black oak counter and gave the next member a rare smile of genuine welcome. “Lady Jettatura!” he purred, “Welcome back! I trust that you enjoyed wintering in the Adriatic?”
Lady Jettatura smiled back. She was a sleek, dark, regally attractive Mediterranean woman in her (apparent) early thirties, dressed in a style that had one foot in high fashion and the other in classic chic, and she exuded the sort of high-handed elan that European nobility aspires to. “It was uneventful, Pierce,” she said noncommittally. “Not like here, I understand?” she looked around the lobby appreciatively, taking in not so much the eclectic clientele as noting the sheen of high maintenance on the furnishings and fixtures.
Pierce smiled smugly. “We did our best, as we always do.”
“I see that you even got most of the blood out of the fretwork.”
“Most?” Pierce shook his head with satisfaction. “ALL.”
“Very good,” Lady Jettatura cooed appreciatively.
“And how long will you be staying with us this time?”
“Only a week or so. Mostly to make arrangements, maybe contact a few old friends.”
“Shall I arrange an appointment for you in the Infernium? I might have to shuffle a few things around, but if you are on a schedule…”
Pierce’s arrangements were interrupted when a tall, strapping, yet attractive and well turned out blonde woman in traveling clothes marched up to the counter and slapped it for attention. “I need rooms,” she said in a brusque German accented voice.
“Tilda?” Lady Jettatura asked, slightly surprised.
“Cosima?” The two black mystics traded light hugs and air-kisses in the best manner of sophisticates. “And what are you doing here?”
“I’m on the Executive Board for this Chapter House,” Lady Jettatura answered. “And what brings you to New York?”
Pierce cleared his throat and favored Countess Tilda Arvidsen, a.k.a. ‘The Troll Bride’, with smile of strictly professional courtesy. “Ladies, since you obviously want to catch up, why don’t you sign in, and take your discussion to the cocktail lounge? I’ll have a boy take your bags up to your rooms.”
The ladies smiled and nodded, and started in the direction of the cocktail lounge. Then the Countess remembered something. She picked up the whining fluffy little dog that she had on a leash from the floor and handed it to Pierce. “Puppy Bomb,” she explained. “It’s been active for about a month, so it would be best if you had it detonated.” Pierce took the whimpering lump of high explosive and gave it to a concessionaire, with an order to take it to the blast chamber.
“Puppy Bomb?” Lady Jettatura asked. “Aren’t accessory dogs a little last year?”
“A trifle. I’m hoping that my baby Jean-Armand will have something a little more cutting edge for me, when I go up to Whateley.”
“You’re heading up to Whateley?” Jettatura asked with the merest hint of interest creeping into her voice.
“Ja.” The Countess lit up a cigarette and blew out a plume of smoke. “Some interesting business or another that needs a mother’s touch.”
“And where’s Marcel?” Marcel St. Michel-duChantraine, a.k.a. ‘The Hexmaster’ was the Countess’ husband and the father of Jean-Armand. In mystic circles, they were known as something of an ‘Odd Couple’, and famous as the ‘Battling Bickersons’ of the supervillain community. Still, somehow they managed to be a very effective team in the cutthroat world of black market mystic artifacts.
“Marcel? He’s still in Baden-Baden, the little worm. ‘Enjoying the peace and quiet’, as he insists on putting it.” The Countess realized that she was answering too many questions. “And are you resuming activity in New York, after that unfortunate incident with the Atlantic Heritage Foundation last November?”
“Eventually,” Jettatura admitted as she toyed with the orange slice in her Manhattan. “But at the moment, this is just a layover, as I head westward.”
“Oh? And who will you be gracing with your presence? Dr. Merlin in Chicago? The White Witch in Denver? Or the Golden Mandarin in San Francisco? If it’s the Golden Mandarin, please do break something for me. Preferably something vital.”
“Oh, I’d love to oblige you, Tilda, but I’m not going THAT far west. I’m only going as far as Cincinnati.”
The Countess froze for a telltale second. “Cincinnati.” Another telling pause. “You’re going to look up the Green Witch again? Already? Really, Cosima,” she said with patent insincerity, “why are you wasting your time with that trumped up little Nth-rater?”
“Well, she may not be in the league of, oh say, the Magus, but the Green Witch isn’t anyone to be sneered at. Indeed, she has an absolute genius for getting power items away from their wielder. She got between Lord Hellfire and that sword that he was so proud of, she wrinkled the Nighthag’s Ba Stone right off her neck and Deathrune’s ring off his finger… And speaking of rings… Didn’t she get those cunning enchanted wedding rings away from you?”
Tilda narrowed her golden eyes, but managed to keep her civilized veneer intact. “She managed to get between me and my prize, if that’s what you’re saying.” In truth, the loss of those two rings hurt the Countess far worse than she’d ever admit. She was Trow bred, born and fulfilled. There were less than a hundred Trow in all the world more pure-blooded or powerful than she was, and most of them were royalty, so pure that they couldn’t withstand the touch of sunlight. But that meant that she had needs. She needed to drink the blood and eat the flesh of humans. Not as cinema vampires did, merely to live, but to keep her mystic power strong. But for the feast to be truly fulfilling, she had to enter into the sacred bond of matrimony with her meal. Centuries ago, she had worked her way into the hearts of Jarls, and consumed everyone at their wedding feast. But twenty years ago, she’d entered into a wedding pact with Marcel St. Michel-duChantraine, and she’d agreed that she would never harm the man, nor act against him, nor consume his flesh, should he die under other circumstances. As a wedding gift, he’d given her that pair of rings, which replicated the bond of husband and wife between wearers. With those wondrous bands, she’d been able to feast on men who’d been mere one-night stands, rather than the usual drawn-out courtship. Ah, good times. So good that she’d even been able to stand Marcel’s company for weeks on end without screaming at him.
But then that tricky little bitch the Green Witch had gotten the rings away from her, when she’d been mixing business with cuisine. And in a second-rate provincial little backwater like Cincinnati!
She could still feed, but the blood and flesh simply weren’t as sweet or fulfilling. Ymir’s Blood, she hadn’t had a decent meal in YEARS! But she’d rather rip her own heart out of her chest with her bare hand and throw it in the fire, rather than admit that to Lady Jettatura. “It was annoying, I’ll allow you that, but it hasn’t slowed me down. I’d love to get them back, and if you can arrange it, I’ll be more than willing to negotiate an option on them.
“Indeed,” she added significantly, “I will soon be in a position to offer value for value.”
“Oh? Has another old trail turned up new tracks?”
“Better. You know my darling little Jean-Armand is at Whateley?”
Lady Jettatura raised an elegant eyebrow.
“Ja. He has passed along word that the *ahem!* ‘angel’ that caused so much fuss here recently has shown up there. And more. Indeed, if what sweet little Jean-Armand says is right, the source of all that mithril that’s been coming out of Asia recently has relocated to Whateley.”
“Oh? They’ve located the athanor, and removed it to Whateley?”
“Not quite, Cosima,” the Troll Bride smirked. “But between that and another factor, I will soon be in a position to arbitrate the flow of an unprecedented number and quality of artifacts.”
“Oh? What grade?”
“That is all that I can say at the moment. Still, I would go so far as to say that I could offer you an option on certain products, in exchange for a similar option on my rings, should your latest effort turn out better than your previous attempts.”
Lady Jettatura gave the Countess a polite, if brittle, smile. “Oh, don’t put yourself out, Cosima. I’m not going after the Green Witch this time. No, I’m just… laying the groundwork for a later effort. The best laid plans are often long-laid plans, and all that. Things need time to take root, grow and ripen. Of course, if anything does come of it, I’ll remember about your rings.”
“Pity,” Tilda said. “Still, I’ll get in touch with you, when my arrangements come to fruition.”
Then Randall came and told Lady Jettatura that her rooms were ready for her. Both black mages left the table feeling that they’d scored minor victories on the other, and smugly enjoyed imagining the other’s face when she realized how badly she’d lost.
* * * * *
Jadis was on her cell phone putting the last touches on a deal, when she noticed Kerry Ellison standing at her elbow. She dotted the last I and crossed the last T, and hung up. “Hey, Angel. What’s up? Come to see what life is like on the Dark Side?”
Kerry gave her a wry smile. “No, as a matter of fact, I’ve come to make a deal with the devil.”
“Sorry, but Carson said that I had to give back all those souls. Damned seller’s remorse.”
“It’s not like they were using them,” Kate said in her usual dry tone.
“I’m serious,” Kerry said. “We have a problem, and we think that you’re just the person to help us handle it.”
“’Us?’” Jadis asked with an eyebrow raised in curiosity.
“Not here,” Kerry said. “I’ll let her pitch it to you.”
Jadis and Kate followed Kerry from Shuster Hall to Kirby Hall, sailed through the secret door there, and went down to the more secure levels of the sub-complex. As they walked, Kerry informed someone that they were coming. Kerry punched a security code into a pad, letting Jadis and Kate through an ultra-secure gate. And from there, they entered a reasonably-sized, rather sparsely furnished room with metalworking tools. Both Kate and Jadis had seen the silver (literally!) haired Hindi girl in passing between Mystic Arts classes, and recognized her from the MA program gossip as the girl who was the source of all that wonderful mithril that people had been all abuzz about. The other metal-haired girl was dressed in a tank top and jeans and a billed cap, and was covered all over in metallic blue ‘tattoos’. The tattooed one was idly playing with a chisel in a way that suggested expert intimacy with the tool. “Nice workshop,” Jadis said, observing the usual niceties.
“It could use more chains,” Katrina noted.
“Chains DO give a forge a nice, homey touch,” Jadis agreed.
“They get in the way,” Eldritch snarled. “Look, we have a problem, and we’re hoping that you can help us, She-Beast.”
“’We’?” Jadis echoed. “So… it’s true… An Artificer IS among us…”
Eldritch’s face froze. “How do you get that?”
“Oh, Nephandus has been yapping at us for the past week or so about a body of enchanted works of incredibly high quality, that nobody’s heard of before. Not a lot, and nothing really complex… but still, made of a very high quality mithril, potently charged… and crafted by a true master. Workmanship of a level associated with legends… like Girudir… or Wayland… or the Trow… or the Artificers. Not a lot of it… just enough to suggest that this craftsman has only been working since… say… the beginning of the school year? Say, since Seraphim here showed up? That would account for the mithril – everyone in the Mystic Arts program knows about Silver here. But where would a Smith, a True Smith, a Wondersmith, come from? Out of nowhere? Only the Artificers just drop out of the sky like that. Like I said, Jay-Arm’s been chewing our ears off for the past week. And then his mother shows up. And now you three want to talk…” Jadis leaned against a wall, stuck her tongue in her cheek and raised her eyebrows inquisitively.
Eldritch growled silently. “And that’s the problem. Nephandus and his cougar-from-hell mother! Not only does she know about me, but she has a wad of paperwork that she claims proves not only that I’m not a real person, with RIGHTS, but I’m HER PROPERTY!”
“Her… property?” Jadis asked.
“Wow, that’s pushy, even for Jay-Arm’s mom,” Kate added.
Jadis rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Okaaayyy… and how is Madam St. Michel-duChantraine getting around the picky little issue of slavery being ILLEGAL?”
“That’s what those stupid documents are about,” Eldritch snarled. “According to those documents, they’re verifications made in 1903 of historical Church documents going back to 1300 or so, that the Jarl of Schwartzborg was in possession of a dangerous golem, ‘unnatural construct in ye forme and seeming of a young maid, with hair of chased steele, covered, every inch, with pagan markings’. It goes forward to state that this ‘golem’ could become violent and dangerous if not under the command of the Jarl of Schwartzborg, but as it was a marvelously proficient metal smith, the Church gave permission to maintain the golem to the Jarl and his family in perpetuity.”
“Let me guess,” Jadis said wryly. “The originals of these alleged documents were lost when the Nazis occupied Denmark during the War, right?”
“They say that I’m a fucking MACHINE!” Eldritch shrieked.
“For some reason, this Mrs. duChantraine thinks that Cait’s dangerous, and she wants to do something to those tattoos,” Kerry added.
“Maybe the big guns she keeps has something to do with it,” Sakti added in an undertone. “This duChantraine woman claims that the Nazis stole the golem and used it during WWII, and that the OSI, the American Intelligence arm during the war-”
“Then it would be the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services,” Jadis suggested.
“Whatever. They or the SEO-”
“I think you mean the SOE, the Special Operations Executive.”
“Well, when you’re talking about these ABC services, you do have to keep them straight.”
“What EVER! They sent one of those war movie commando raids into Germany to steal the golem and get it away from the Nazis, and they brought the golem to America, and didn’t return it to Denmark, despite some treaty about the recovery of Nazi war loot.”
“Mrs. duChantraine says that everything that Cait and Sakti and I have made together is her legal property,” Kerry said. “And she wants your buddy Jay-Arm put in charge of everything that the three of us make. He gets the lion’s share of the money, and he says what we make, when we make it and who gets it.”
“And what does Carson say about all of this?” Jadis asked warily. Even the daughter of Dr. Diabolik didn’t cross Whateley’s formidable headmistress lightly.
“Carson isn’t involved in any of this,” Eldritch snarled. “Hartford says that there’s some sort of conflict of interest involved, and she’s handling everything.”
“AND? Hartford’s as slippery as they come! She could give my father a run for his money, if she put her mind to it!”
“Hartford wants us to commit all our earnings, current and future, into some sort of ‘protected fund’,” Sakti said. “It would create some sort of shelter trust for our money, in case Nephandus’ mother gets some sort of legal decision against us. It would also require that Cait be registered as some sort of ‘disputed property’-”
“The trust would be administered by the school, until Kerry and I graduated,” Sakti finished.
“Does Missuz duChantraine know about this Trust idea?” Jadis asked.
“No. She’s still hammering away at the R&D confidentiality rules, trying to get confirmation that Cait is or is not a demonstrably living organism. She says that Cait is some sort of magically animated stone statue, and as such she isn’t a person, let alone a student.”
“Bitch tried to mess with my tattoos, right there in the office!” Eldritch snapped with venom.
“You didn’t slug her or anything?” Jadis asked sharply.
“No. Though God knows that she did everything except spit in my EYE!”
“Sounds about right,” Kate said.
“Excuse me?” Kerry asked confused. “Why would Mrs. duChantraine want Cait to haul off and pop her one?”
“It’s part of her MO,” Jadis explained. “The duChantraines work the black market in mystic artifacts, using a business in fine art and antiquities as a cover. Despite the fact that they obviously can barely stand each other, they’re a surprisingly good team. Mr. duChantraine’s a black mage and the brains of the outfit. Madam duChantraine’s handle is ‘the Troll Bride’. The word is that she’s surprisingly tough, and a damn canny hand-to-hand fighter.”
“The… Troll… BRIDE…?” Kerry asked dubiously.
“Well, there’s an old Scandinavian legend…” Jadis waved that aside. “The point being, that Jay-Arm’s mom is pushy as all get-out, and she has a skin thicker than a rhino. Her specialty is getting up in people’s faces and irritating them until they do something stupid. Then Mr. duChantraine jumps on that, whether it’s a matter of a legalism or some sort of magical edge that he can use. Is Mr. duChantraine here? Short guy, kind of dumpy, dark, balding, trim beard, dresses like it’s still the fin de siècle?”
“Well then, my guess is that Madam duChantraine will just keep badgering you, hounding you day after day after day, constantly pushing your buttons until you either give in, or you do something stupid, like attack her. If you attack her, she’s GOT you. I’m not exactly clear on what this bit about you being a golem is, or what the deal about the tattoos is all about, but if you give her an opening, she WILL find a way to glom onto everything, while complaining at the top of her voice about how she’s getting shafted.”
“Jadis, we can’t let Nephandus get control of Cait! Beside the fact that he’d completely screw up everything we’re doing down here, it’s just plain WRONG!” Kerry wailed.
“Why not take Hartford up on her offer?” Jadis asked cagily. “If it’s under the school’s control, then Missuz duChantraine wouldn’t dare try anything funny. And even if she did, between them, Hartford and Carson could tie her in knots.”
“During a coffee break,” Kate added.
Eldritch scowled, and Kerry shook her head. “No. Miss Hartford’s hiding something behind some sort of empathic mask. I don’t know enough about the whole empathy thing to get past it or read anything from the paperwork, but think about it: if she wasn’t pulling something, why would she hide behind an empathic mask? Jadis, we need the money! My family took it in the chops when we hadda pull up stakes and leave Glassboro! In order to avoid leaving a money trail, we hadda sell off everything we had for cash, and my dad took a BATH from it. And to keep people from finding them, it’s gonna be at least two, maybe three years before he can get back in business. Right now, I’m the sole provider for my entire family! And that sorcerer who’s mentoring my brother, Ray? He’s not exactly doing that pro bono, y’know.”
“So? From what Jay-Arm let drop, any one of those doo-hickeys that you been turning out starts at two mil, and goes up at an alarming rate from there.”
“Split three ways, with a 7% cut for the school-”
“Seven percent? I thought the school had a stock 1% cut, to avoid shafting the students.”
“That’s for mainstream products and services,” Eldritch stated. “This stuff goes to the Arcane Underground, which means that besides the usual, there’s security and other things that the school has to provide, to make sure that our buyers don’t try anything funny. And, let’s face it: there’s never been a school that wasn’t a money pit. They need the money too.”
“Yeah! You know all those scholarships that the school gives out?” Kerry asked. “Well, I don’t got one of those. I’m WORKING my way through school. And my brother Ray. AND his college. And college for my little brother and sister. And I’ll probably wind up helping my Dad get his new business started. And I got relatives that I never even heard of before looking for us, probably to put the touch on us.”
“And then there are TAXES!” Sakti moaned. “American taxes! Then Indian taxes! Do you know what percentage of the gross the IRS has attached to this? And the Medawhile- Medawall- whatever- that TRIBE who’s renting out the land the school is on is getting a cut! If either Nephandus or Hartford get control of our money, the odds are that we’ll get just enough that we can’t complain that they’re starving our families!” Silver looked measuringly at Jadis. “You’re one of the Bad Seeds, She-Beast. Can you talk Nephandus into backing off? Maybe you have some sort of blackmail or other leverage you could use to get this bitch off Cait’s back and out of the rest of our hair?”
“Blackmail?” Jadis responded. “Some. Leverage? More. Enough to get between the Troll Bride and one of the Artificers? Not a chance in hell.”
“The word is that the Troll Bride is hundreds of years old,” Kate added. “And there are some very nasty rumors about how she does it. Jay-Arm’s dropped some mentions here and there about some connection to the Trow. They’re nasty. And she’s a mage. Not a very powerful mage, but a mage with centuries of experience. She’s probably got tricks that Jadis and I haven’t even thought of. And, if she’s Trow, then she’s probably pretty tough in a stand-up fight as well.”
“Then you can’t help us?” Kerry asked, her golden eyes wide and tragic.
“I didn’t say THAT,” Jadis said. “I just mean that it won’t be simple. Missuz duChantraine has a lot of experience and a ton of tricks, but to be honest, she’s not really all that bright. And for the last twenty years or so, she’s been letting Jay-Arm’s father do the thinking, while she concentrates on being obnoxious. I have a few ideas on how to get around her, but it will take calling in a few favors, throwing up some dust and possibly getting on the wrong side of the duChantraines or Hartford, maybe both.”
“So, in other words, you’re shaking us down too.”
“No, just value for value. I’ll be taking a material risk with this, so I’ll be expecting a material reward for it.”
Jadis peered curiously at the brooch that Kerry was wearing on her blazer. “And what is that lovely little trinket, hmmm?”
“This?” Kerry reflexively fingered the brooch. It was a knot-work design of six interlinked circles with three sets of wings extending from them, and six small red crystals worked among the circles, done in a lustrous silvery metal. “Oh, this is something that we whipped out as our first combined project. Cait heard that I’d been having problems coping with all the emotional input that’s going on all the time around here, so she hammered this out in a couple of hours. It creates a sort of emotional ‘baffle’ that protects me from being overwhelmed, keeping some of the emotional energy stored so that I can use it later if I need it, while shunting off the excess and blunting the edge of the harsher emotions.”
Jadis raised her eyebrows. “That’s… that’s pretty impressive. And you all just whipped this up in a couple of hours? Your first time working together?”
“You know we did,” Cait said sharply. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have known enough to ask in the first place.”
“You want my brooch?” Kerry asked.
“Good Lord, no!” Jadis assured her. “So, how much did you pay for it?”
“Well, it’s been appraised at being worth roughly two million dollars,” Kerry admitted. “Not that I can sell it…”
“And how much of your take are you being dinged for it?”
“Nothing. There’s a loophole in the policy; all that kicks in the second that we hand what we finish over to the school.”
“The theory is that, as minors, we’re not working for the school,” Sakti explained. “As such, what we do with the products of our ‘extra-curricular activities’ is completely up to us. But if we choose to SELL our products, we have to go through the school, presumably for our own protection. But if we don’t sell our work, well, the school can’t tell us what to do with it. I found out about that when I gave that maidensilver kukri, the one that I made by accident by stabbing the Arch-Fiend, to Chaka. It wasn’t a sale; it was a token of gratitude. The same applies to Kerry’s brooch.”
“Exxcellleennnttt…” She-Beast purred, her ‘diabolik’ smile on her face.
“What are you asking for, Diabolik?” Eldritch asked with a suspicious look on her face.
“I don’t know,” Jadis admitted. “I haven’t thought of it yet.”
“No WEAPONS,” Eldritch said in a tone that brooked no guff. “Nothing that could be used to endanger the school.”
“Weapons?” Jadis snorted. “You underestimate me grievously, young lady. No, whatever it is, it will be harmless. Useful, but harmless.” She smiled winningly. “So! Do we have a deal? I get the Troll Bride off your collective backs, in exchange for a custom-made wonder, to be decided later, with a written receipt from all three of you, stating that it is, as you put it, a ‘token of gratitude’, and hence not subject to school policy. Or tax.” She stuck out her hand to seal the deal.
“I won’t make anything that will be used against the school,” Cait hedged. “What happens if I refuse to make what you ask for?”
“Then I come up with something else. I’m the daughter of a mad scientist; I pride myself on my creativity. I’ll just keep pitching ideas, until we find something that we can agree on.”
Eldritch nodded, and shook Jadis’ hand.
On their way out, Jadis chuckled and rubbed her hands. “Oh, Kate, we are gonna have FUN with this one!”
“We?” Kate asked, “You have a mouse in your pocket? You’re getting a nifty whatever you ask for out of this; why should I get involved?”
“Because it will mean messing with Jay-Arm and his mother. And Jay-Mom is buds with YOUR mom. Which means that you get to mess with THREE people you can’t stand, all at the same time.” Kate just stared icily at Jadis. “Okay, okay, you can use whatever it is that I have them make, when I’m not using it.”
“And what WILL it be?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve already got a couple of ideas, but something like this only comes along once in a blue moon. Whatever it is, it’s gonna have to be CLASSIC.”
“The scam or the prize?”
* * * * *
It was getting on towards dinner before Jadis’ arrangements were complete. Once she was sure of her last connection, she put away her smartphone and went to set the ball in motion.
Madam duChantraine was sitting with her son and the rest of the ‘Bad Seeds’. She was a tall, valkyrie-esque woman, beautiful and intimidating at the same time in the classic Nordic manner, with long blonde hair that was a shade lighter than her son’s. As she alternated shoveling impressive amounts of food into her mouth with chatting with the other students and complaining about the accommodations, the Countess fussed over her son, making small adjustments to his clothes and hair and giving him little kisses. Anyone else might have been embarrassed by this public outpouring of maternal affection, but Jean-Armand was soaking it up.
As the Countess fussed with Jean-Armand’s hair, Jadis asked innocently, “So, Contessa… you’ve got the Artificer pretty much under wraps?”
“JA,” Tilda said smugly. “The academy is being very stubborn, but that Hartford woman is having a very hard time admitting that this ‘Eldritch’ is not the golem that the Nazis stole from my family.”
“Or, at least the Schwartzborg family,” Kate said dryly, hinting at the fact that while Mdm. duChantraine held the title of Countess Schwartzborg, she had married into the title.
As Tilda bridled at the jibe, Jadis said, “I don’t think that it will be that easy, Countess.”
“With all due respect to your father, Jadis,” Tilda smirked, “this is what I DO.”
“Care to bet on it?”
“Bet?” a predatory gleam entered Tilda’s eye.
“I’m willing to wager the five cultured power gems that Jay-Arm lost to me earlier this year that you walk away from here without the golem.” Jadis held Tilda’s gaze with a smirk of her own.
“I love a sporting proposition,” Tilda purred. “I’ll wager, oh…”
As the Countess mulled over her prospects, Lindsay (on a nudged cue from Jadis) asked, “Countess, what’s that brooch you’re wearing?”
“This? Oh, it’s a minor treasure that Jean-Armand’s father gave me for an anniversary present. It’s a talisman that makes being scryed and spied upon by magic harder. Ah yes! Perfect! I’ll wager this against those gems you swindled away from my poor little Jean-Armand.”
“Mama!” Jean-Armand whispered into his mother’s ear. “This is NOT a good idea! Jadis loves to play what Americans call ‘sucker bets’ on people! That’s how I lost those gems in the first place!”
“Oh. Really? Watch and learn how it’s done, zaubermaus.” Tilda leaned over with a toothy smile. “So, Jadis… care to add a Sorcerer’s Contract to the wager?”
Jadis’ golden eyes glittered. “Why not? I KNOW that I’m going to win.” She sketched the diagram for the Sorcerer’s Contract in the air and held out her hand.
“Nice to see that the sporting blood hasn’t petered out of the current generation,” the Countess gloated as she pumped Jadis’ hand. In an ordinary mortal, the grip would have broken her hand. “Now, tell me, WHY do you think that I won’t get the golem?”
Jadis grinned. “Because, you’ve already LOST. From what Jay-Arm’s been saying, the products of that golem are worth millions, if not tens of millions a year for the school. There is NO WAY IN HELL that Hartford is going to let that out from under her thumb.” Mdm. duChantraine let out a dismissive snort. “Look, Countess, after Carson, Hartford is the person who handles most of the Academy’s business. THINK about the people that she handles on a routine basis. We are NOT talking about lightweights here. We are talking international-level heavy hitters, people used to bulldozing over others to get what they want, and she keeps them minding their P’s and Q’s. If she’s been playing all meek and mild on this, it’s because she’s got something cooking. She’s playing for time to set something up, and I think I know what it is.”
Jadis grinned. “Countess, the rules have changed! The old post-WWII and Cold War rules have been passé for over ten years! Maybe you were too busy to notice. They’ve been declassifying tons of documents, and a lot of stuff that was ‘cut your own throat before reading’ is now subject to the FOIA. That means that old OSS documents regarding highly classified stuff have been declassified and are now regarded as ‘Historical’. YOU have to prove that either the OSS or the SOE grabbed your alleged golem from the Nazis, or that at least, the Ahnenerbe seized such a treasure. And remember, you’re dealing with NAZI ARCHIVES here; the Nazis wrote freaking everything down. If you can’t produce evidence, hard evidence, not just documentation – and, let’s face it, Countess, after that fiasco in Barcelona, your credibility as regards forged documents is shaky at best – you have no chance what-so-freaking-ever of walking away from here with that golem. You’d need a provenance, physical proof with corroborating archival backing, that such a golem existed, that it was the property of the Schwartzborg family, and that it was one of the Artificers. After that, the holes in the Third Reich’s records work for you. After all, both the OSS and the SOE guys had nasty habits of walking off with sparkly trinkets in their pockets, if HQ didn’t know about them.” Jadis finished with a smug smile.
“Yes, I know how it is,” Tilda smirked back. “So young, so smart, so sure that you know everything… Give my best to your father, Jadis, and do let him know that I hope he won’t hold against me taking those power gems back from you. But a wager IS a wager, No? Come, Jean-Armand! We have a wager to win!”
As Tilda and her son clipped away, Jean-Armand whispered, “But Momma, Jadis has a point… Hartford has a reputation for being a real ball-buster. If she’s playing nice now, it’s probably because she’s setting something up that could completely discredit our claim!”
“Of course she does,” Tilda replied with a smirk. “Jadis isn’t Dr. Diabolik’s daughter for nothing! Jean-Armand, you make me sad! Jadis wasn’t making a bet with us! She was trying to cut a deal! If it was merely a bet, she’d keep her peace and laugh when we walked into Hartford’s office with some damning proof waiting for us. Instead, she carefully outlined our problem, and suggested a perfect remedy. Which she would only do, if she already had something on hand that would fit the bill perfectly. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t know exactly what Hartford’s waiting for. She’s setting us up, and in her own good time, she’ll make her pitch, when she thinks that she can set whatever terms suit her. BUT, like most novices, she’s forgotten a major point.”
“She wouldn’t make the offer, unless she had whatever it is, at hand. To offer something she didn’t already have under wraps would be too risky. That means that it’s here at Whateley. And that means that if we find whatever it is before Hartford plays the ace up her sleeve, we can trump that ace, without playing Jadis’ game. We know that it’s here, on campus. We just have to find it. This is not a problem.”
“We Bad Seeds have a special locker in Dunwich that we keep in common,” Jean-Armand suggested.
“Which would be the last place she’d keep it,” Tilda disagreed. “No, now we ask ourselves the question, ‘if I was a smart-alecky schoolgirl who thinks that she’s smarter than everyone else, and I had a rare mystic treasure that I can’t let anyone know about, WHERE would I hide it?’ COME Jean-Armand! It’s time to beat the Devil’s Daughter at her own game!”
* * * * *
“No, Amy, it’s all right,” Jadis grinned into her cell phone. “I’ll make sure that nothing comes of it. It’s just one of those things that happen every so often here at Whateley, you should know that by now. Oh, I’m not upset, I appreciate you being honest and calling me like this… Yes, I’ll keep my word, I always do… Ta!” she flipped the phone shut and sighed, “God help me, I wish that I didn’t enjoy yanking the Capes’ chains so much…” She moved a peg on the ‘pegboard’ that was built into the base of the brass instrument on the bistro table in front of her, and made a note on the pad. The brass instrument was a squat drum, about 10 inches across by 3 inches high. It was constructed along the lines of ship’s compass, only with five needles floating one on top of each other, and five concentric rings of glyphs and symbols that the needles pointed to. Each of the five rings could be minutely adjusted by dials built into the compass.
“Jadis, should we be OUT here?” Lindsay asked plaintively, holding a cup of hot cocoa where Pern could get an occasional sip. “It’s COLD, and it’s LATE, and I don’t want to be late for my curfew!”
“Not to worry, Linds,” Jadis assured her. “I’ve arranged with Mrs. Nelson for you to be a little late. I need you – or, more accurately, Pern – to do a little something for me.”
“And what am I getting out of this?”
“Do you remember last November? When you-”
“Okay, OKAY!” Lindsay pouted a little. “And what IS that thing you’re looking at, anyway?”
“It’s called a ‘Sorcerer’s Compass’,” Kate replied as she took a sip of herbal tea. “Sorcerers can evaluate, keep track of, or manipulate events by manipulating the mystic ‘cords’ between people, places and objects. The classic sorcerer’s problem is keeping track of all the ‘threads’ that are involved in their working. That’s where the compass comes in. Each of those pegs has a ‘fate cord’ associated with one of the things that Jadis has going down. The pegs influence the needles, which are drawn to the appropriate glyph on the ring on its level. Different combinations of glyphs mean different things, so the knobs adjust the positions of the rings.”
“You’re manipulating someone with that thing, Jadis?”
“Not directly,” Jadis said peering at the compass. “Just keeping track of things.” Suddenly the needles spun around wildly. “Huh. I wonder how SHE got involved in all of this?” Jadis looked out into the night, and spotted a small figure in a red parka trotting through the dark, clutching a package to her chest and looking around frantically.
Jadis let out whistle. “Hey! Clover!” Clover stopped in her tracks and looked at Jadis like a deer caught in the lights of an oncoming truck. Jadis crooked a finger at Clover, beckoning her closer. Clover froze. Jadis raised a commanding eyebrow and crooked her finger again. Clover gave in and trudged forward. “Hello, Clover. You’re out past your bedtime. Again.”
“Weellll…” Clover started to dissemble.
Jadis cut her off. “You’re not supposed to have that package, are you?”
“Package?” Clover peeped, eyes startled and wide, clutching the package to her middle. “What package?”
“You REALLY don’t want to get caught with that package, especially when you’re out after your curfew.”
“I’ll tell you what. Give it here.” Jadis held out her hands for the package.
“Palantir’s already in enough trouble as it is, she doesn’t need for you to be found with this.” Jadis held out her hands again, and this time Clover put the package in them. “Okay, you’re off the hook. SCOOT!”
Clover gave out a gleep of relief and scampered off into the darkness. Jadis watched Clover trot off with a touch of amusement. She checked the compass again, shifted a peg and made a note on her pad. Then she pulled out her cell phone and made a call. “Hello, Lorenze? She-Beast here. You’re looking for a certain package that’s gone astray. Bubbie, tonight is your lucky NIGHT!
* * * * *
Madam duChantraine touched the charm to the door of the Melville dorm room. “Jadis is cautious,” she commented to her son. “For a schoolgirl to have such precautions on her room? Now, for what honest reason would a young girl have so many wards and alarms on her door, hmm?”
“Jadis says that she doesn’t want the Spy Kidz or the Capes riffling through her things, or worse, trying to plant ‘evidence’ on her,” Jean-Armand explained.
“It was a rhetorical question, schatzchen,” the Countess reproved her son. She pushed the door open. “No one home. My, my, I DO wonder what Jadis could be doing out and about so late,” she said with an ironic touch that suggested that she knew all-too-well what Jadis was doing. “Oh. Now I see what Jadis is hiding: a truly atrocious taste in plush unicorns.”
“No, Mama, I think those belong to her roommate, a girl called ‘Superchick’.”
“Superchick?” Tilda echoed. She gave a gusty sigh and put it out of her mind. She pointed at the large Queen Anne wardrobe. “Is that it?”
“Yes, Mama. I’ve tried to get into it once or twice, but the best I could do just set off a trap that sprayed me with some foul-smelling gunk that drew flies like bees to honey. It took me a week to wash it out of my hair…”
Tilda put a monocle up to her left eye and examined the wardrobe. “Not bad…,” she admitted. “Very nice work - for a gymnasium girl. The traps are keyed to the opening sequence. If you get the sequence wrong, the wardrobe opens up into one of the preset trap locations, rather than the storage locations. But, like most beginners, she makes the mistake of assuming that no one’s seen this trick before. She’s set the opening sequence to Morse Code!” she chuckled. “Well, it does have the advantage of simplicity.” She reached out and tapped out the Morse Code for the letter ‘A’. Nothing. Then the Countess tapped it out again. Still nothing. Then she tapped out the code for the letter ‘B’.
The wardrobe doors suddenly flew open, and a wind sucked them both into the wardrobe, the door slamming shut after them.
Out in the woods near the school, the two duChantraines appeared in mid-air five feet over a frozen-over pond, one that loomed large and painful in Don Sebastiano’s memory. The pond was, indeed, frozen over, but the ice was thin, and their weight falling from that height easily broke through the ice, depositing them in the chilly murky water. Jean-Armand struggled, but he managed to pull his mother out of the water before she drowned. He summoned his walking stick back to him and used it to cast a spell that dried first him and then his mother off, as she hacked up some of the dirty water that she’d swallowed. Then he cast another spell that warmed both of them up.
After she finished coughing, Madam duChantraine swore viciously in Old Swedish. “If that trumped-up little half-Croat javla fitta thinks that she can scare me off with kuksugande trick like that, she doesn’t know who she’s dealing with!” With that, she trudged off as though wading into combat. Jean-Armand didn’t follow her and waited for a moment. Then his mother returned, and he silently pointed her in the right direction to get back to the school.
* * * * *
The Countess hit the ground with a thud, but Jean-Armand floated to the ground as lightly as a feather. “Mama? Are you all right?”
Tilda struggled up off the ground. “Why that arrogant little-” she snarled a list of very angry-sounding but quite obscure Nordic curses up at Melville cottage. “How DARE he?”
“Mama, he DID catch us going through his collection of antique Greek relics. We should count ourselves lucky that my disguise spell held, and he’s not going to Security.”
“Bah! Like he’d go to Security! And where does a 17-year-old BOY get such a collection of antiquities?”
“Well, Imperious does have his methods. Admittedly, I doubt that they’re legal, but that’s not the point. The point being that Jadis didn’t hide anything among Jason’s things. As I told you she wouldn’t. She-Beast is far too clever to put anything valuable where Imperious could lay claim to it.”
The Countess looked at the pendulum that she’d been using and snarled at it. “Stupid! Useless! JUNK! There’s SOMETHING going on at this school, I can SMELL it, I can TASTE it! Something’s being kept away from me! That-” Tilda swore venomously in Old Swedish again for three minutes straight, and then threw the pendulum down on the ground and jumped up and down on it. “That scrawny little bitch Diabolik is behind this! She’s baiting me! She’s taunting me! She knows that she has what I need, and she’s deliberately keeping it just out of my reach! I’ll wring her scrawny neck and MAKE her tell me where it is!”
“Mama, I’m sure that you’re right about Jadis playing games with you, it’s precisely what she would do,” Jean-Armand said consolingly. “So, stop playing around, GO to her and cut the deal. Get it over with. Pay her price, and get the provenance. I’m sure that Jadis’ terms will be quite reasonable. She usually is… once she’s won,” Jean-Armand finished sourly.
“NEJ!” the Countess snarled.
“You’re only making it worse, Mama. The longer you fight it, the harder Jadis’ terms will be.”
“NEJ! I’ll get her to tell me where it is, if I have to break off her pipe cleaner legs and beat her to death with them!” The Countess squared herself and chugged off in the direction of Melville’s main entrance.
“Threats won’t work, Mama! Jadis is tougher in a fight than you are, and she knows that she doesn’t have to fight you! If you threaten her, she’ll simply go to Security, and there goes all our credibility!”
The Countess ground her teeth and glared at her son. Jean-Armand was uncomfortably reminded of certain legends regarding Trow methods of population control.
* * * * *
Jadis watched as the needles for ‘Passion’ and ‘Conflict’ spun madly around the dial of the Sorcerer’s Compass. “Okay, I think that she’s ready. Time to tell her the tale.”
“Jadis?” Lindsay asked as she prepped Pern, “How can you be keeping track of Mrs. duChantraine like that? I mean, that pin that you had me finesse her into betting is supposed to stop stuff like that!”
“Very good, Lindsay,” Jadis said in a teacher-like tone. “I can do this due to two points: first that pin works by preventing ‘fate threads’ and magical probes from attaching to her, sort of a very specialized magical force field. But, when we made the Sorcerer’s Contract to bind the bet, I directly forged a link with her. That link is what I’m using to keep tabs on her. Secondly, she put the pin up as a wager; in magical terms, she’s provisionally surrendered ownership of it to me, which means that even if I didn’t have the direct link, I could still keep tabs on her through the pin. Is it ready, Kate?”
“Ready,” Nacht said as she finished altering the last bits to the last page. “There. If she doesn’t get too good a look at it directly, we’re golden.” She folded the pages and handed them to Pern, who took them in his mouth. “Break a leg, kid.”
Jadis was peering at the compass. “Aaannnddd… Enter stage left, followed by a clown…”
Jay-Arm came trotting after his mother, who stomped around the corner of the cottage. They spotted Jadis and Katrina, who were standing by the side door, looking intently up into the night sky. The Countess stopped Jean-Armand, and kept him silent, as it seemed that the two girls hadn’t noticed them. Then a small dragon-seeming creature dropped out of the night sky and landed on Jadis’ arm. It was carrying some folded papers in its mouth, which it gave to her. Jadis cooed her thanks to Pern and gave the dragonet a small treat before sending it back without the papers. Jadis looked fondly after Pern as it winged off into the night. She didn’t seem to hear the Countess as the older (MUCH older) woman snuck up behind her. The Countess snatched the papers out of Jadis’ hand from behind. “And what’s THIS?” the Countess said with a triumphant snipe.
“None of your BUSINESS!” Jadis snarled back, grabbing the papers from the Countess. The two wrestled for control of the papers as Jean-Armand (who wondered which of them would maul him worse if he got in the middle of them) watched. Jadis finally resorted to putting on her ‘Beast Skin’. In that form, she easily tore the papers away from the Countess. When Tilda started to make threatening noises, Katrina stepped up into the larger woman’s face and glared icily into her eyes. Two minutes, later, thoroughly shaken, Mdm. duChantraine backed down a little, and Jadis resumed her normal seeming. “Really, Countess! When you’re ready to stop playing games and get down to business, let me know!” She tucked the slightly mangled sheets of paper under her arm and went to the side door, waving Kate in ahead of her.
“I wonder what those papers were.” Jean-Armand said quietly, once he was sure that Jadis was out of earshot.
“As do I, schatzi,” Tilda purred. “Fortunately, I have ways of finding out.” She held up a few scraps of paper, which had been torn from the corners of the documents that Jadis had just wrestled away from her.
* * * * *
In one of Jean-Armand’s secret labs (that he was renting from Jadis), he prepared some paper with an alchemical solution under his mother’s direction. “NOW,” she said with authority, “We find out what your little friend Jadis has up her sleeves…”
The Countess rubbed one of the scraps of paper that she’d torn from the document that Jadis had been holding against the clean sheet of paper. As if making a rubbing from an engraving, an image appeared on the paper. She translated hurriedly from the German on the paper, “Ah… ‘Imperial Ministry of Antiquities… 1890… report concerning validity of claim regarding manhood gift to the Kaiser Wilhelm… alleged Viking dagger… alchemists confirm made of mystical alloy variously called ‘gray steel’, ‘true silver’, ‘moon silver’ or ‘mithril’… 42.57mm long precisely… edge stays razor sharp even without honing… markings conform to those reported on dagger of similar description listed in regalia of Frederick II…’ Ymir’s Blood, why haven’t I heard about this? ‘Monastery… Kyffhauser… Thuringia… Frederick Barbarossa? Dominican records, describing the King’s regalia ascribes the origins of the dagger variously to Wayland or Durinn or to a mysterious entity known only as The Artificer’… ah! ‘Recommend keep provenance most secret. Suggest that Kaiser not told of discovery, as he has most likely already forgotten the matter.’ Well, of course! The inbred idiot would probably sleep with it, if he knew!” Tilda looked up, greed and triumph blazing in her eyes. “Yesss… perfeeccttt…” she purred. “The only way that that twit Diabolik would have this document would be if she somehow got into that famous vault of the school’s, and lifted this along with the knife… a treasure, all in its own right… there’s no way that Carson would let Hartford near the Artifacts list, it would be too tempting… So, a letter, detailing the return of the dagger to the Schwartzborg family for a vaguely referred to ‘service to the Kaiser’… Yes! Perfect! Jean-Armand! First, warm up that delightful forgery-creating thingamabob of yours, and then get to work on a spell that will find a mithril knife of these dimensions with these characters on it!”
* * * * *
As the sun came up over the Presidential Mountains, Madam duChantraine asked her son, “Well? Do you have anything YET?”
“NO, Mama,” Jean-Armand said with a yawn. “Nothing.”
“Are you SURE that it’s working right?”
“YES, Mama, I’m SURE. It’s such a simple working, with such straightforward *yawn!* definitions, that there’s no way that we couldn’t find a mithril knife of that length with those markings. Please… Mama… it’s morning already! I have to get ready for classes!”
“We’ll get a cup of coffee and make one more pass over the campus before we give up for the morning. BUT, the moment that classes are over, we start looking again! Remember, Jean-Armand, you are an Arvidsen! We NEVER give up!”
“Mama, I’m a St. Michel-duChantraine.”
“Only on your father’s side, and that doesn’t count.”
* * * * *
Jadis carefully copied the characters from the sheet of paper onto the black leather with a magic marker. Then she removed the masking tape, with a completely different set of symbols on it. “THERE. That’s three points of correspondence, not counting proximity. That should be more than enough for Jay-Arm to find. Here you go, Silver, see to it that this gets back to its rightful owner as quickly as possible.”
“I don’t understand,” Sakti said, picking it up. “You can’t even SEE the markings against the black leather.”
“Yes, but they’re there, and that’s the important thing.” Sakti shrugged in non-comprehension and left it slide. Jadis smiled and turned to Caitlyn and Kerry, who also obviously didn’t understand.
Kate beat her to the explanation. “The first set of glyphs, on the masking tape, concealed it, on the off-chance that whatever Jay-Arm came up with was actually good enough to track it down. Now, with the concealment runes off, and those new runes on it, he can’t help but find it.”
“Why is it so important the he find it NOW?”
“You’ll find out,” Jadis purred. “As will Jay-Arm and his mom. But, now we come to the really important part of the morning.”
“I’ve decided what my payment’s going to be.”
Caitlyn stiffened. “No-”
“Yes, yes, I know, I know. No weapons or anything that could damage the school. Now, I admit that I had a few ideas about weapons, things that controlled other people’s minds, things like that… But get real! This is WHATELEY! Anybody could make those things here! I’ve not only got an Artificer on tap here, but I’ve got a supply of primo grade mithril and an epic attuner as well… I had to kick it up a few meta-levels, and I think that I’ve come up with something that you’ll agree to, and will do myself – and Kate and Lindsay – more good in the long run than any of those things.”
Eldritch lifted an imperious eyebrow. “I’m waiting, Diabolik.”
“I want… a Ley Line tap.”
“Well, there may be a better term for it, but I haven’t heard of it. It’s generally agreed that the basis for the ‘Wizard’ mutant trait is a quantum shift improvement in whatever it is that taps into ley lines, essence pools, power sites, altars, and all like that. I’m a level 3 Wizard, which means that I could have wiped up the floor with the likes of Alistair Crowley, Ephias Levi, and the rest of those Golden Dawn weenies. But here at Whateley, I have to bust my hump, just to be an also-ran. What I want is a tool which will allow me to access mystic energies more efficiently, most likely ley lines, but I know better than to tell an Artificer her craft. Nothing really epic, just to, say, equal the effect of a Level 5 Wizard. Anything above that would be asking for trouble. There! Useful, not directly threatening, not a weapon or a means of enslaving the will of others. So? Is that a commission worthy of the Artificer and her two lovely assistants?”
Eldritch leaned against one of the workbenches, folded her arms across her chest and chewed it over. She looked at Sakti, and then at Kerry. They held a silent conference of looks, and then they seemed to come to a decision. Eldritch nodded. “Okay, Jadis, that’s reasonable. I think that you’re setting yourself up for a pack of trouble, once word of this gets out, buuutt… the worst that will come of it will be that Carson confiscates it until you graduate. Of course, you realize that this is a difficult, very exacting effect that you’re talking about. Beyond the basic tap, the device will need buffers, regulators, interface points-”
“So, how long will it take you?”
“We should have it ready for you by Seven o’clock tonight. Hey, we have classes, y’know.”
“How much material will you need?” Sakti asked.
“I’ll have to figure it out while I’m working, but I should need a dowel 18mm thick by 420mm long.”
“Well, I haven’t shed in a couple of days,” Sakit mused. “Didn’t want that bitch grabbing some and say that it was left to her by her great-great-grandother or something.”
“You mean ‘grandmother’,” Kerry corrected her.
“No, I said ‘grand-other’ and I meant it.” Sakti reached down and rubbed her hand across her thigh, creating a thin pole of mithril. She handed it to Kerry, who charged it, and handed it back to her. Sakti repeated the process on her other leg, had that charged by Kerry, and repeated until she had a dowel of metal at the right dimensions. She handed it to Cait. “Will that do?”
Eldritch examined it. “It’ll do.” She picked up a hammer and tongs, and took the dowel to one of the anvils. “I won’t need you two for this part. It’s really basic, foundation-laying stuff.” She started pounding on the dowel.
“In that case,” Sakti picked up the black leather case, “I’d better get this to its rightful owner.”
* * * * *
The Countess followed Jean-Armand’s tracking devise like a bloodhound on a trail. “Mama,” Jean-Armand groaned as they entered Shuster Hall, “WHY would Jadis hide this dagger in the main school building?”
“Because, she’s keeping it close at hand! She knows that we’re on the trail, and she wants to be able to move it again between classes, to keep the trail confused!”
“Mama, WHY would my technomantic verities correlator suddenly pick up the dagger NOW?”
“Because, she’s made a classic novice’s mistake! She’s moved the dagger so many times, that she’s invalidated whatever was keeping it concealed from us!”
“Mama, why would she conceal something, if she doesn’t know that we know what it is?”
“Shush, Jean-Armand! She’s made a classic novice’s mistake! She’s left it in one place for so long, that now I’m certain of where it is!”
“I thought that moving it around too much was the classic novice’s mistake.”
“SHUSH!” Tilda bulldozed her way through the crush of students as they were idling in the halls between classes, brusquely ignoring the complaints of the students as she shoved them aside. Finally, the correlator indicated that the dagger was inside the locker in front of her. “Ah-HAH! Of course! How obvious! How inconspicuous! How innocent!” The Countess sank her fingers into the sheet metal door of the locker and ripped it open (in a real sense, Whateley does operate on the Honor Code – and an extremely nasty code of retribution). She ignored the pictures and articles and so forth taped to the sides of the locker and pushed books and papers and other student’s trifles aside until she found a large dagger in a black leather sheath. “HAH! Nice try, Jadis. But there’s no prize for second place, in this game.”
“Ex-SKUZE me?” said a young – if very ticked off – female American voice. “WHAT do you think you’re DOING?”
The Countess turned to see a lovely, lithe African-American girl of maybe 14 or 15, with large amber eyes in a face of feline beauty glowering at her. “You’d better have a damn good explanation for this, lady!”
“I’D better have a good explanation? I’D Better?” Tilda roared. “YOU are the one who’d better start explaining, you little THIEF!”
“THIEF?” The girl’s face went from tense to hard, and a glint entered her amber eyes.
“Ah, Mama, this is NOT a good idea…”
“YES, thief!” Tilda, venting all her frustration of the night’s thwarted efforts, marched up to the girl, grabbed her by the lapel and slammed her against the lockers. “Did you honestly think that you could steal a Schwartzborg family treasure from my poor little Jean-Armand and not be found out? Did you think that I wouldn’t come all the way here from Europe to see that JUSTICE was done?”
“Justice?” the girl snapped, “Hey, BITCH, that is MY KNIFE, and get your grubby mitts OFF of me!”
“YOUR knife?” Tilda scoffed. “HAH! THIS is a sacred treasure of the noble house of Schwartzborg! Who do you think the authorities will believe? The Countess Shwartzborg? Or a nasty little Nig-”
* * * * *
The Countess went flying through the thick wooden double doors, upside down, and landed ten feet past them, hit hard and rolled to a stop. Chaka was a blur, hand-springing through the wreckage of the doors with a snarl of pure rage. As they usually did, students gathered around and watched the fight, without exerting themselves to stop it. Indeed, most of their energies were applied to critiquing the two combatants’ techniques. “Give the big blonde this – she can take a licking and keep on kicking!”
“Yeah, but her form’s all off – she’s using wide sweeping blows, standing on freaking high heels. She’d have a better chance of hitting Chaka if she closed her eyes and swung randomly.”
“Chaka must be pissed – she hasn’t told a single bad joke.”
“Oh, very nice! Triple feint, leading into a grapple-”
“Which Chaka promptly turned into a throw.”
“Well, yeah, but still a nice bit of business. Oh, she’s getting serious now – she’s got Chaka and she’s biting!”
“How can she keep biting while Chaka’s kicking her like that?”
“Whoops, here come the Betas, to break it up…”
“MAN, I didn’t even have time to get a bet down!”
* * * * *
The Countess chugged into Carson’s office, her disheveled hair, torn clothes and one broken heel in no way making her seem any less formidable. “THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!” she stormed. “I am ROBBED, I am INSULTED, and now I am ATTACKED!”
“Attacked?” Chaka shouted, yanking her arm from Stormwolf’s grip. “SHE broke into MY locker, and when I called her on it, SHE jumped ME!” This led to a high-pitched screeching session as both Chaka and the Countess yowled at each other like a pair of cats.
“QUIET!” Carson shouted. “What happened?” Both Tilda and Toni immediately started yammering their side of it, when Carson shushed them again. “You! Explain!” she pointed at the Countess.
“I sent THAT!” she pointed at the sheathed knife that Mindbird was holding, “to my wonderful boy Jean-Armand, the provenance that PROVES our family’s attested RIGHT to the golem that this ramshackle pesthole is keeping from us! When I get here, I learn that this-” she erupted into a fusillade of venomous Swedish.
“I think all that’s Viking for ‘Nigger’,” Chaka sneered.
“-STOLE our heirloom dagger and hid it from us!”
“Excuse me?” Carson cut in, “Golem?”
Drawing herself up stiffly, Madam St. Michel-duChantraine spelled out her claim to the Artificer ‘golem’ and produced her ‘proofs’ in the form of several forged documents, that dovetailed neatly with certain certified documents in certain Danish, German, French, Swiss and Finnish archives.
“And that dagger?” Carson gestured. Mindbird brought it forward and placed it on her desk.
“THAT is physical proof of the truth presented in these papers,” the Countess said grandly. “The provenance that… person… tried to run off with, no doubt inspired by some magpie instinct. When I tracked it down, she tried to murder me in plain sight. She WILL be turned over to the authorities and charged with grand larceny and attempted murder.”
“Chaka?” Carson asked, leaning back in her chair.
Chaka folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t know anything about any of that. All I know is that I just put MY knife in MY locker, and the next thing I know, Goonhilda here is ripping the door off my locker in broad daylight! When I complained, she jumped me with my own knife, and she starts woofing about calling the cops, and using the ‘N’ word.”
“Why did you have this knife in your locker?”
“Silver asked to borrow it. She said that someone she was working with was interested in the way that it had been tempered and wanted a look at it. She’d just returned it, and I didn’t have time to take it back to my room, so I stashed it in my locker. Next thing I knew, Vickie Valkyrie is ripping the door off my locker and talking trash!”
“Silver? Is this true?”
“Yes, Mrs. Carson,” Sakti said, stepping forward. “Eldritch wanted to examine the blade to study the effects of the tempering on the moonsilver. Given that it was Foxfire who provided the original tempering, we wanted to examine the effects before engaging her for tempering experiments. And, well, whether the quenching with demon’s blood was a necessary element or just a refinement, you understand. I had just returned the knife to Chaka, and we were going to our classes together, when we heard the sound of metal rending, and then, well, it was more or less as Chaka said.”
“The silver girl…” Mdm. duChantraine murmured. “I see that you two are in cahoots, and you’re trying to swindle my family out of that which is rightfully ours! How could you have learned about the provenance, if you didn’t wheedle it out of our golem, who could be the only one who knew of its existence? For this-”
“Madam duChantraine?” Mrs. Carson said politely but firmly, “That’s quite enough.”
“ENOUGH?” Tilda raged, “NEJ! I WILL NOT STAND ASIDE AS YOU CODDLE THOSE WHO WOULD PLUNDER MY FAMILY’S PRECIOUS LEGACY!”
“Ah, plunder…” Carson purred with a malicious smile. “You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Eiserne Jungfrau?”
“‘Eiserne Jungfrau’?” Tilda echoed, bewildered. She muttered, “Wie konnte Sie das wissen?” Then she peered curiously at Carson, and her face fell like a soufflé in an earthquake. “Gott in Himmel…” she gasped.
“Nice to see YOU again, after all these years, Rusty,” Carson said through an acidulous grin. “Not to worry, I’m not going to call the Wiesenthal Foundation – yet – Academy Neutrality and all that. Now, I am going to cut you a HUGE break, Rusty, and assume that you’re honestly mistaken about this golem business. But I can assure you that Eldritch is not, I repeat NOT, double-underscore NOT, the golem that you’re looking for. Caitlyn Bardue is very much her own person. Now, as for this knife that you say that Chaka stole-” Carson held up the knife, still in its black leather sheath.
“No matter WHAT you claim about the golem, THAT blade belongs to the Schwartzborg family!” Tilda held her ground. “I have positively indentifying documentation that will withstand the closest scrutiny, and be supported by independent verification from no less than SIX sources.” She thrust her handful of papers at Carson.
Carson took the papers from the Countess and looked at them. “There’s a problem here, Rusty. These papers claim that your dagger is over six hundred years old. But I happen to know that THIS dagger is less than six MONTHS old. It was created in unique circumstances, and that creation was witnessed by three Academy students, an Academy Instructor and an Academy graduate, who all signed statements to the fact, which included the gifting of this knife to Chaka.”
“IMPOSSIBLE!” Tilda thundered, “That knife has runic markings that are unmistakable and perfectly identifying!”
“Really? You know, Rusty, these papers are very thorough… Good old Prussian accuracy and all that. But you’d think that a document that thorough and precise would mention…” Carson started to unsheathe the blade, “…that it was a kukri.” The reddish tinged - and unmarked - blade was the classic and distinctive curve of the kukri, the blade made famous by the Ghurkas of Nepal.
The Countess’ mouth hung open, her eyes bulged in helpless confusion and she made a noise like a strangling turtle.
“SO, what we have here is that you broke and entered into a student’s locker – by the way, you WILL pay to have that locker repaired – stole a unique object evaluated at three-quarters of a MILLION American dollars, attacked the student when she tried to stop you, and recklessly accused said student of stealing her own property. I’ll admit that Chaka’s reaction was unwarranted, but then she IS a freshman; YOU on the other hand, are an adult, and you’re supposed to know better. Your claim as regards Eldritch is patent hogwash. Madam duChantraine, I think that you’ve worn out your welcome. You will leave. Now.”
“But I was ATTACKED!”
“No, YOU attacked, and you were beaten as a result. Normally, beating a visitor, let alone a parent, would be grounds for immediate expulsion-”
“HEY!” Chaka interjected.
“BUT, given the circumstances: the breaking into her locker, the theft of her kukri, the slander as to alleged theft, the physical attack, and the, ah, ‘N word’-”
“The possibility of rabies,” Chaka muttered.
“I think that we’ll give expulsion a pass, and give her the most fearsome punishment that we have, shy of being expelled. Chaka, for the next week, you will report to Hawthorne Cottage, and you will be at the inmates’ convenience, doing whatever is needed. I think that you’ve heard of… Diz Aster?”
“NO!” Chaka gasped, “Not… Diz Aster…!”
“DETENTION?” The Countess shouted, “That little hellion almost crippled me, and she gets detention?”
“After THIS nonsense,” Carson said, waving the forged papers at the Countess, “you should count yourself lucky that we allow Jean-Armand to keep attending. Neutrality doesn’t cover trying to enslave one of the students. I’ll allow you the dignity of seeing yourself off campus.”
* * * * *
When Tilda limped out of Carson’s office and into the corridor with Jean-Armand in tow, Jadis was waiting for them with an amused smirk on her face. “Really, Countess! Did you honestly think that I’d have something that valuable lying around without suitable camouflage… and decoys? Now, if you’d just gotten off your high horse and cut a deal with me, none of that would have had to have happened.”
The Countess gave Jadis a predatory smile. “I wouldn’t be so smug, Jadis. What would your headmistress say, if someone told her that you’ve somehow managed to break into the school’s mystic artifacts vault, hmm?”
“She’d say that that was nonsense, and I’d agree with her.”
“Then HOW did you get the knife that you had those old Imperial documents for?”
Jadis smiled superiorly. “You may recall that a few years back, my father made a raid on Bremen, in Germany. Besides the other stuff that he usually rips off, he raided the chapterhouse of the Sonnenorden on a commission from… someone. The commission was very specific, and well, Dad does bring me little surprise gifts from his raids every so often.”
Tilda slumped a bit. “Very well… you win. Just… tell me… Where DID you hide the Kaiser’s dagger?”
“Well, hiding it on campus would have been silly, what with you tearing up the place. But we Bad Seeds have a secure locker in Dunwich, which we keep in common. I’m surprised that Jay-Arm didn’t tell you about it.”
Tilda shot Jean-Armand a withering scowl that he returned with a ‘told you so’ smirk. She let out a gusty ‘oh well’ sigh and turned to leave. “Ah, excuse me? Countess?” Jadis stopped her. “A bet IS a bet.” Jadis reached over and plucked the pin from Mdm. duChantraine’s lapel. Tilda gave Jadis a last glower and stomped out of the hall.
When the Countess was well out of earshot, Jean-Armand said, “Nicely played, Jadis. Mama will never let herself admit that you played her like a fiddle from the word ‘go’.”
“Why whatever are you talking about, Jay-Arm?” Jadis asked as she affixed the pin to her uniform.
“Jadis, it was obvious that Eldritch and her two assistants would go to someone to get my mother off their back. Trusting that Hartford would protect them without any strings attached would be a fool’s game, and everyone knows it. And I’m not surprised in the least that they went to you, the Bad Seeds’ fixer, to fix it for them. Your ploy with Chaka’s blade was… quite adept.”
“Oh?” Jadis arched an eyebrow. “If you were onto me so soon, why didn’t you wise your mother up?”
Jean-Armand chuckled. “Jadis, I love my mother dearly, but even I have to admit that she can be a bit much. If she managed to secure not only the Artificer, but the Silver Maiden and the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen, all by herself, there would be no living with her! Besides, if there was the slightest chance of really extricating the Artificer out from under Carson, my father would have been here, and it would have been a very different story.”
Jadis nodded. “Okay, I’ll admit that I’m curious. Jay-Arm, WHY isn’t your father here? I mean, I was surprised when he didn’t show up. A chance for a coup like this, I’d have thought that the Hexmaster would have been chomping at the bit.”
Jean-Armand snorted. “Because he knows better. I don’t get along with my father very much, but I DO respect the man – or, at least his cunning. Besides the difficulty in getting the Artificer away from Carson and Hartford, he knows that brokering black market mystic relics is one thing, but commanding things such as have been coming out of Eldritch’s workshop is a completely different matter. If word got out that we controlled the Three Maidens, the only thing keeping groups like the Sonnenorden or the Grand Hall from taking them away from us over our shattered bodies, would be that horrors like The Keeper or Verdigris or-” Jean-Armand made a gesture to avert evil, “-Baba Yaga beat them to us. My father knows the value of keeping a low profile.”
“Then why did he let your mother come here to try?”
Jean-Armand shrugged. “He probably just wanted her out of his hair – what there is of it – for a week or two. Maybe he wanted to spend some quality time with his mistress. Besides, he probably thought that dealing with Eldritch would teach mama a little humility.”
Jadis raised an eyebrow. “I thought that you were all het up to get your mitts on Eldritch.”
“I was. Then she shoved my head into a toilet and duct taped it there. Jadis, I don’t know what Eldritch IS, but she is NOT an Artificer. The Artificers are docile, obedient constructs that exist to obey their masters. And Eldritch is about as docile as a great white shark in a feeding frenzy. Even if she didn’t find some way of ripping me to little bits, those Outcast Corner freaks she hangs out would. Jadis, do be a dear, and pass along that I’m willing to leave Eldritch in peace, if she’s willing to do the same for me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have classes to get to.”
* * * * *
Silver drew mithril from her arm in a long slender thread, and passed the thread over to Kerry, who kept the metal pliable with a preliminary application of energy, and in turn passed the metal over to Eldritch, who wound it around the dowel, hammering it into place. Every so often Eldritch paused, and allowed either Sakti or Kerry to ‘spot weld’ a bit, and affixed the ‘weld’ with a chiseled sigil or rune. Eldritch had already worked eight cultured power gems into the structure.
“So, the duChantraines are out of the picture?” Eldritch asked as she hammered at a bit.
“Yeah,” Jadis said as she watched with fascination at seeing a legendary master at work. “The Countess is persona non grata, you’ve scared Jay-Arm off, and from what Jay-Arm said, his father figures that you’re too big-league for him. Which just means that, in time, you’re going to have to cope with people who are even meaner and nastier than Jay-Arm and his family. But they weren’t the real problem; the real trick was rigging it so someone else took the heat from Hartford for getting it kicked up over her head to Carson.”
“Don’t worry about Hartford,” Eldritch said as she did some fine tooling.
“There’s something that you don’t hear very often,” Nacht said wryly. She leaned forward. “Why does it look like a vajra?”
“Because that’s what works,” Eldritch grunted.
“What’s a vage-ruh?” Misty asked.
“A vajra is a design that you see a lot in Hindu and Buddhist art,” Jadis explained, never taking her eyes off of Eldritch’s working. “It’s supposed to be a thunderbolt, which is the symbol of the flash of inspiration that accompanies enlightenment. Don’t worry about it, Misty. That’s the short version, there’s a LOT going on.”
“Oh-kaaayyy…” Misty was getting used to being slightly confused around Jadis. She figured that it was good for her.
Eldritch fussed with the final part, that sort of ‘tied off’ the whole ensemble, had Silver ‘spot weld’ it shut, and fixed it with a final glyph. “Okay, Kerry, this is your part.” Kerry stepped forward with a deep centering breath. She focused, and a halo appeared around her head. A small golden orb appeared over her breast, and she caught it between her hands. She set the sphere directly in the center of the vajra. The two ‘mouths’ at either end of the rod glowed with power, and then the sphere briefly blossomed into a radiant chrysanthemum-like flower around the vajra. Iridescent streams of energy from nowhere flowed through the vajra, lifting it up off the anvil that Eldritch had been working on. It settled into a pearlescent sphere around the vajra.
“Okay, it’s all yours, Jadis,” Eldritch said. “I’ve keyed it to you, but you have to attune it to yourself by yourself. Others will be able to use it, but it will be keyed to YOU. No one else will be able to use it as easily or effectively as you will.”
Jadis stepped up and reached into the glowing orb around the vajra. The sphere resisted her for a moment, but then her hand penetrated. She gripped the thunderbolt, and there was a brief hiss, as of meat hitting a hot griddle. The sphere flared, and Jadis and the vajra were briefly wreathed in light. Jadis laughed. “Yes! I can feel the POWER!” With a look of avid glee on her face Jadis let out a laugh that was uncomfortably close to Standard Supervillain Laugh #2 (the manic cackle of triumph). “Yes! With this power, there is NOTHING that can stop me!”
Eldritch felt an icy chill go down her spine. What had she unwittingly unleashed, giving this tool to a girl who was called The Daughter of the Devil?
“I AM SO GETTING AN ‘A’ ON MY MYSTIC ARTS FINAL THIS YEAR!”
Misty asked Eldritch, “Do you do unicorns?”