....I am having trouble not making fun.
Chapter 4, 38: Doesn’t Everyone Love the Genealogical Chapters?
“Did you know that a study has shown that December is a bad time for field sports in Philadelphia, Charlotte?” Rose’s voice came from some distant place overhead, but that was because Charlotte was huddled on the little bleacher on the side of McNeely Field, where the Tatammy cricket club’s teams practiced
Charlotte pulled her windbreaker down around her knees, because the heck with stretching it, she was cold. Too cold to be in the mood to banter with Rose. But, “No! That study must be flawed.”
“On the contrary! A scientific, statistical survey has shown that it is freeze-your-butt-off-cold on an average of 22.7 December days. Therefore, everybody should be shopping at the mall, and not whaling away at a stupid-ass cricket ball.
Charlotte scanned the field. It was getting towards the end of the Friday afternoon practice session. That meant that the drama class was batting to each other. In practice, that meant that Madison and Eve were standing around, talking trash, surrounded by the Pack, while Mario bowled and Mike Snow batted. Which meant, even more in practice, that Mario was doing his best to knock Micheal’s head off. Or his feet or his knees. Or anywhere, really. Mario had this problem where he confused cricket with a movie, and that movie was There Will Be Blood.
And Rose was joking, which wasn’t usual for Rose, and that meant that Rose wasn’t like she usually was. Because she was watching this, and she was super, super tense. Idly, Charlotte hit send on her phone.
[Charlotte to Dora]: Rose is worried about Mike. Conclusions!
She toggled silent. It was most def not nice to text behind Rose’s back, but as long as Rose wouldn’t talk about what she was thinking, her girlfriends were probably okay trying to figure out how to talk to her about it. Charlotte figured. Charlotte was feeling guilty.
[Dora to Charlotte]: U think Deep Thoughts!
[Charlotte to Dora]: I am so smrt! I am so smrt!
Charlotte hit send. The olds were always quoting The Simpsons. That was probably what graduate school was like. All full of Gen Xers talking in quotes from The Simpsons. It made her feel all grown up and mature to quote from a television show that hadn’t been cool since she was, like… Actually, thanks to time travel, Charlotte had no idea how old she’d been when The Simpsons was on TV. Maybe she could look it up on Wikipedia?
“You guys are texting about me, aren’t you?” Rose didn’t sound annoyed, though. She also didn’t bring up what they were obviously talking about –Rose’s thing with Mike Snow—because that was what Rose wouldn’t talk about. Even though it was obvious that she was still tots in love with Mike. And couldn’t admit to herself that the smartest girl on Earth had a thing for a special kid.
Oh, Rose.“Uhm, Dora made me do it?”
“Oh, that Dora. She’s in so much trouble. Wait’ll I get my hands on her.”
“What’s left over,” Charlotte waved down at the field, where Madison and somehow drifted up to Dora while she was texting.
“Hey, princess,” Madison’s voice came from the field, “Where did you get that phone? Nerdstrom’s?”
“Same place you got that outfit. Internet joke catalogue. Just under phones, and not …sexy Halloween costumes.” Dora could have said something besides ‘sexy,’ but she didn’t, because she wasn’t going to get down on Madison’s level.
Madison, of course, didn’t care. She pirouetted, just in case anyone hadn’t noticed just how short the “Catholic School Girl” skirt she was wearing actually was. “Some of us prefer not to dress like dorks.”
“Ooh! One sick burn after another!” Dora was going for the “Holding up a sign reading ‘Sarcasm’” effect.
“I’ll give you a burn!”
“Do you,” Dora said, clearly and slowly, so that everyone could hear, “Want a piece of the Maid of Gold?”
Mario, about to pitch, rolled the ball back into his hand, stood up, and looked over at the confrontation that had so suddenly sprung up. Michael dropped his bat, and Twelve, Brian and Bruce, who’d been huddle on the other side of the bleachers working on their fantasy league, stood up together.
Charlotte raised an eyebrow. Strictly, this was the time for her to step in. “Everyone, let’s call this practice early and get in out of the cold.” It was the best she could come up with off the top of her head. It didn’t single out Madison, and it gave her motivation. Presumably she was as cold, or colder, than anyone. She’d have to figure out how to get everyone home, given that the mini-bus from school wasn’t coming for another half-an-hour, but even if they couldn’t figure something out, the mall was just across the way, and, well, for one, it was a mall, and, for another, it would be a way warmer place to hang out while they waited for the short bus. Heh.
Eve stepped in from the side, taking Madison by the shoulder, and whispered, “Hey, want to hit King of Prussia, hon?” Charlotte felt a surge of gratitude towards the bikini-clad Empyrean shaman girl. It was crazy gratitude, in that Eve had been stabbing Charlotte in the back, sometimes literally, ever since they met last year, but it was still gratitude.
Madison turned to her friend. “I’m not done here!”
“Madison…” Charlotte’s Eight Spirit Dragon training picked up the cues that showed that Eve had tightened her grip. Oh, girl, Charlotte thought –tried to project, really—well intended, bad move.
Madison shook her friend’s hand off with angry force. “I’m not crazy!”
She was off the rails, Charlotte realised. Charlotte might be only fifteen, but she’d already figured out that when people said that to nobody, it was because they were talking to someone who wasn’t there. And that is never a good sign.
Charlotte weighed talking, decided not to try. It made her feel a coward, but she honestly had no idea how to talk people in this state down, and she’d tried before. She also knew that if Madison started a fight, like, really, really obviously, the consequences would hang on her. The drama class team would get kicked out of the Teen Super Cricket League, which would be a good thing, and there might be an opening to talk meds, which would be even better. Auntie Ma said that what Madison needed was lithium, not sympathy and Auntie Ma usually knew what she was talking about.
So Charlotte was tense as she stepped down off the bleachers and headed over. She was going to have to be way more two-faced than she like being to get this moving in the direction it needed to go. Way, way more two-faced.
Only instead of Charlotte intervening, it was Professor Paradigm, appearing out of nowhere.
Or, well, Mr. Burcato. Because you couldn’t call Mr. Burcato “Professor Paradigm” without getting sued or something.
“Madison,” Mr. Burcato said, “I hope that you are not in any way provoking these girls. They are violent, and dangerous, and we do not want you to react to a provocation, however outrageous, and for it to be misunderstood as an altercation. This girl’s father is the principal, you know.”
Charlotte was surprised at just how offended she was at the implication that Dora was every trouble-making preacher or principal’s daughter rolled into one. Too offended even to be impressed that Mr. Burcato had managed to dress himself properly today, in a neat, teacher’s style tweed jacket and pants. Charlotte couldn’t help being envious of the snug warmth of it, and reminded of Mr. Delver. Even Mr. Burcato, however, wasn’t so lame as to wear one of those corduroy ties. “Reacting to a provocation? Seriously? We can’t turn around at the Library without this girl firing a chaos blast at us!”
“Miss Wong, I understand where you are coming from, but I assure you that you are simply misunderstanding the cultural norms of your host country.”
Charlotte looked at the man through narrowed eyes. He did not just go there. He just didn’t. Only, he did. She almost said what she thought, before drawing breath and saying, instead, reasonably, “That is certainly one way of seeing things. A more accurate way would be that Madison is a member of the Paradigm Pirates, and is trying to get in the way of our investigations.
“Ah,” Mr Burcato said. “Well, Professor Paradigm is one of the under-appreciated geniuses of our age. One has to regret his methods, and I certainly would not approve of my students getting involved with him, but I must say that if he is carrying out an investigation at the Library, he will have better resources than any that your group can muster, and a more important goal. Professor Paradigm’s concern that reality itself is somehow askew is deeply, profoundly correct at every level. Why, you need only look at the youth unemployment rate, the stubborn persistence of the zero bound in monetary policy, the odd waxing and waning of magic levels in this world of ours over the last few millions of years at least—“
That was where Charlotte had to interrupt the windbag. “Sir, I can assure you that we’re looking for something important, and for a very good reason. If your . . . Professor Paradigm, is looking for it, too, we should be cooperating, not fighting.”
“Not when you intend to hand your findings over to a thoroughly corrupt and co-opted order. Look at your friends!” Paradigm waved his hand. “A principal’s daughter, a boy billionaire. Look at you, with your fashionable clothes and your nice house, a. . . ” He looked confused, as though he’d stopped talking when he realised what was going to come out of his mouth next.
“A Chinese-American Princess?” Dora asked, harshly. “Is that what you were going to say? This is all about class?”
Bruce had come up behind. “My family might be rich, but that doesn’t change the fact that Takofanes wants to destroy all life on Earth. And he will, unless we find Auralia to stop him.”
“Oh, there you go again. It’s all about sides for you. The side of life, the side of death. Meanwhile, both sides just ignore the real issues. Honestly, if you just talked to Takofanes, made some reasonable concessions to his concerns, we could that focus on the important matters of our time. . .”
“If you’re worried about unemployed kids, why not try to fix that, instead of ‘reality?’” Twelve sounded angry as he spoke.
“Why—“ But whatever Mr. Burcato was about to say, didn’t get said. Because in that moment, and just like Mr. Burcato before him, Miss Grey teleported into the midst of the students.
Teleporting teachers. If there was one pet peeve Charlotte had about Tatammy High, it was that too many teachers there could teleport. Sure, Miss Grey could also read minds, but she was way more polite about doing that.
‘Mr. Burcato,” Telantassar the Grey said, nodding to him. She looked like she’d taken time out after class to change, because her floor-length, flowing green gown with hourglass-cut brown blouse was above and beyond anything even she would wear at school. “I believe it is about to snow, and some of the students have appointments. I think it might be a good idea to bring this practice to a close.”
Now that she mentioned it, the air did feel even colder now. Though, Charlotte thought, if Miss Grey wanted it to snow, it would snow. That was kind of one of the perks that went with being an Elven mage straight out of the Old Red Aeon of Kal-Turak the Ravager.
You had to wonder what kind of pension deal the teacher’s union had for a seventy-thousand year old high school teacher.
“Ah—“ Mr. Burcato began. But then stopped. Instead he waved his hand in the air, perhaps as some kind of signal that he agreed. Madison began to say something, but stopped. Probably because she’d got some kind of private message, Charlotte figured.
“Mr. Burcato, while you may find it boring to finish a conversation, it is common courtesy to the rest of us to do so.”
The expression that crossed Mr. Burcato’s face was priceless. At last he said, “Yes, I quite agree, Miss Grey. We’ve done more than enough practicing today. I have enough room in my van to give everyone a ride home, if that would be suitable.
“Oh, no,” Miss Grey answered. “That wouldn’t be safe. I’ve brought my own vehicle. I will give the Grade 9s a ride, and you can take the drama class. I’ll text the school.”
Ancient elves, texting. As they did.
Charlotte and her friends didn’t need any more invitation than that to bolt for Miss Grey’s Prius minivan. A few flakes of snow were falling now.
“Ah, Charlotte?” Miss Grey’s voice held her back.
Charlotte came into step with Miss Grey. Miss Grey crooked her elbow, and Charlotte took the ancient elf’s arm, as though she needed a steadying hand. Actually, the elf’s feet glided on the ground as though they really did not have to touch the earth to get their support, more elegantly even than a kung fu fighter or a master shooter. Charlotte thought about that comparison because Miss Grey reminded her of Scout. Just like everyone and everything reminded Charlotte of Scout right now.
Miss Grey’s hand fell lightly on Charlotte’s bracelet. “Ah.”
Charlotte stole a glance at her teacher.
I feel remiss in not approaching you earlier, Charlotte, but I had some research to do.”
“So what does your research tell you?”
“It tells me about the boy that put this on you. For with the spells I have prepared, I feel him now, more strongly and more clearly.”
“Aye.” With that one word, Miss Grey washed away, and was Telantassar the Grey. “He is Elven blood of old.”
Charlotte nodded. Of course. Brian was half-elven, and Telantassar’s best magic student. Why was she even telling Charlotte this. And why was some part of her feeling disappointed?
“Don’t be surprised,” Telantassar continued. “It is not quite so uncommon as you think. But the bracelet… When I say ‘old,’ I do not minimise. I have not felt the weight of ages in anything like it on Earth since I last beheld the Black Sword. And that was made by Thanoro Azoic, in the age before there was life on Earth.”
“So, like, in ancient Martian times?”
“A surprising but interesting hypothesis. And, indeed, there is much on Mars of that age, obviously enough.”
“Funny there was nothing about Mars in The Silmarillion.”
“God knows I tried to interest John in it, but he preferred writing his pretend Bible. Which at least was a better handling of the material than the mess Clive made of it.”
“So what’s the connection with Auralia?”
“That, dear, I cannot say. It is up to you to discover the truth of the matter. And if it is anywhere to be discovered, it is in the Library of Babylon.”
Somehow, Charlotte was not surprised to find their overnight bags, neatly packed, in the back of Miss Grey’s Prius, when they got in. It was as though someone had planned for them to go directly from the practice field to the gate, and on to Babylon.
In spite of their early arrival, it was dark in Queen’s Hill when the team passed through the portal into the Victorian December of that neighbourhood. Charlotte took a moment to rub her horse’s nose and slip him an apple before Dora summoned her to the door leading to the stone walkway to the side entrance of Smythe House.
But when they reached the door, it sported a huge, ivy, Christmas wreath, and instead of welcoming them in, Hartwell was waiting, bundled up in a heavy woollen jacket, with a scarf and a beaver top hat over top, almost barring the door, but with a cheery smile on his face.
“Ah, the young masters and mistresses,” he boomed, in the miraculously rain-free but cold Queen’s Hill air. “I was so afraid that you would miss the occasion, but here you are, right on time!”
“On time for…” Charlotte prompted.
“For a First-Friday-of-Advent celebration at the Galloping Goose! Right this way and down the street a block-and-a-half!”
“Is that actually a thing?” Bruce asked.
“I assure you, Master McNeely, it is what you youngsters call a ‘thing.’ It is more than time for you youngsters to truly enjoy the very best that Queen’s Hill has to offer in the Christmas season, with all our guests together, for once! We may also hear some joyous news of Miss Smythe and Mister Goethe, if I may be so bold as to let the cat out of the bag. Or, one of the cats, at any rate.” Hartwell looked at Twelve with a look of such utter, cherubic innocence that Charlotte would have ordered a pizza right there if phones worked in Queen’s Hill.
“Now,” Hartwell continued, “We must away, for the serving of the Christmas pie will not wait on you. Four-and-twenty blackbirds, ahoy!”
Charlotte peeked a look at Twelve. He was turning as green as the copper dome on the centre of the house opposite.