Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book 6, Chapter 15: Séance For A Supply Closet

If you're old, like me, you remember Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels with great fondness, up to the point where she decided that what she really liked to write about was pseudo-Masonic rituals.

I mean, I guess if you're going to write your obsessions, it beats being a pervert, but who cares what order the wards are touched in?

Book 6, Chapter 15: Séance For A Supply Closet

“So what did you guys do for the weekend?” Rose asked.

“I cannot believe we had a whole weekend off,” Dora said.

“I know,” Rose answered. “So boring, right?” 

“No, no it was not,” Bruce said. 

“So what did you do?” Twelve asked.

“Skyrim, Kerbal Space Program and Faster Than Light. You know that. You were there.”

“Busted!” Dora interrupted.

“I was not. I mean, okay, I was. For, like, a few hours. But I spent all Saturday stuffing envelopes at the campaign headquarters. Contributing, you know? We’re going to take the state back in 2015. I know it! Were you really playing games the whole time I wasn’t there?”

“Yeah,” Charlotte interrupted. “I thought you were stalking the mean streets, looking for answers.”

“We were,” Bruce said. “Honest!” Charlotte couldn’t help staring into his face at that, mock serious, and trying not to break out laughing. “Tell ‘em, Rose!”

“We spent all of Sunday following up on that Killburnist homeless shelter,” Rose said. “Gosh, what a waste. Just a bunch of earnest twenty-somethings talking about how there should be a Killburnist homeless shelter, so they should ask for donations, only first they have to have a committee to decide who is going to ask for donations.” Rose pitched her voice like she was trying to imitate someone, doing a terrible job, as usual. “Point of order, Madam Chair. Oh, are we doing Roberts Rules of Order? How about Consensus Decision Making? We should have a vote. Yes, a vote on how we’re going to vote. At the next meeting. When we’ve decided whether to keep the records on OneDrive or stay with Dropbox.”

“Serves you right for eavesdropping on boring people,” Dora answered. “You know if you’d spent all your time at the mall, like me and Char Char –Char Char and I—you’d have something to show for it.”

“Mall?” Brian interrupted. “That’s so materialistic!”

“Oh, come on,” Charlotte tried not to sound defensive, because that kind of worried her, too. “It’s a month to Chinese New Year. I need a new outfit. My brother needs a new outfit, and if I don’t get it, Kumi will. Also, Dora was totally enabling. Besides, I spent most of the time meditating and doing drills with May and Uncle Henry. And homework.” 

“Homework? What homework? It’s a week since New Year’s!” Brian protested. 

Dora swung into the middle of the group, which was headed down the school corridor, practically empty in the middle of their combined spare hour. At the apex of her swing-wobble (swobble?), she put her shoulder playfully into Brian’s. “You’ve met Charlotte’s Aunt, right, dude? Mrs. Wong? Sometimes known as the Dragon Lady? That woman reads ahead in the textbook so there’s always homework.”

“Yeah, yeah, but—“ Brian began.

It was odd, Charlotte thought, that their march down the hall had slowed down at just this minute of a Monday morning. “Rose?” Charlotte asked, looking over at her friend.

Rose wouldn’t meet Charlotte’s gaze. “Is this procrastination?”

Rose didn’t answer.

“Because we said that if you weren’t comfortable doing it. . . “

“And I said that I wasn’t comfortable doing it, but that I would.”

Charlotte didn’t say anything, didn’t trust herself to say anything. Poor Rose. 

Rose stepped up to the half-open door ahead, angling so that she could be seen from one end of the room within, but not the other, then knocked against the wall.

A pause. “I have to go, guys. I have to, I have to, I have to do a thing,” came Michael Snow’s voice from within.

Something, almost like a weight, only not really a weight, and more slippery, settled over Charlotte’s shoulder. They weren’t invisible, yet. It would be a waste of time to try that on the Dark Ninja, anyway. But Brian was getting ready to cast a cloak. 

Michael came out into the hall. He had his phone in his hand, was trying to stare at it, and at Rose at the same time. It had to be, Charlotte thought, telling him to play it cool, because it was only a little obvious that he was happy as a puppy dog at seeing her.

“Hey, Mike. Do you want to skip your makeup lab, and hit Dairy Queen?” Rose asked. 

Michael looked at Rose, and at her friends. “This is this is” He trailed off.

“Yeah, the guys are going to check out the supply closet, and we don’t want Burcato to know. It might complicate the investigation. Doesn’t mean we can’t go for lunch.”

“You’re. . . “

“Yeah. I’m being a manipulative bitch. But, please, Michael. This was my idea, all the way.” The thing about Rose was that she was smart as anything, but she was not a good liar.

Michael held out his phone. On it, in letters big enough for everyone to read, his AI assistant spelled it out. “High school is complicated. Go.”

“I am going to go, because Rose asked me,” Michael said. “You guys better not do anything bad.”

“We won’t,” Charlotte said, willing Michael to trust her. But he just stared back at her.

Ouch. When you’ve lost the special kids, you might as well just start kicking puppies, Charlotte thought.

Rose disappeared. The rest of the team stood around. Charlotte couldn’t help hearing the nervous shuffling. “Does she still like me?” Michael asked, abruptly.

Silence. Charlotte wanted to say, “I think so,” but couldn’t think of a way of putting it that didn’t sound like more manipulation. 

At last, Twelve spoke. “Oh, come on. Be brave and put it out there.”

“What does that mean, John?” Trust Michael to actually use Twelve’s incredibly weak “John Doe” alias.

“He’s trying not to say, ‘man up,’” Bruce explained. “Because that would be gender normative.”

“Look who’s talking,” Dora muttered.

“Okay, I get it,” Michael said. “I’ve got to, I’ve got to, court Rose. I, I don’t know if I can do that, though.”

“Just be yourself,” Bruce said.

“Or, better yet,” Dora interrupted, “Be the Dark Ninja. That’s who you are, too, Michael.”

Michael’s faced brightened. “Be the Dark Ninja, okay.” Then his voice went down. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Just try, Michael. For Rose,” Dora urged.

A blur, and Rose reappeared. “Okay, I ordered.”

“I didn’t tell you—“ Michael began.

“I know your order,” Rose answered. “You can always be mad at me if I got it wrong.”

Michael disappeared down the hall. Dark Ninja, all the way.

“Okay, listen up, everybody,” Brian said. “We’re down to just the three werewolves in class. This is a remedial lab, while the rest of the Acting Class is on a field trip. That means I can build my cloaking spell on a pretty powerful chassis, the Simple Spell of Protection Against Werewolves. Werewolves are very powerful, but that’s balanced off against some pretty serious weaknesses. You play on those, you can get some pretty powerful effects. We can walk across the classroom, open the supply closet, walk right in, and do the usual mystical mumbo-jumbo with the burning candles and the chanting, and they won’t notice a thing. But don’t push it! I can’t tell you what’ll break the cloak, but this is magic, and weird things can happen. Shut up, single file, walk quietly, no looking around until we’re in the closet.”

“He said, ‘in the closet,’” Dora snickered. “Because we’re not getting into some hot werewolf on werewolf action.”

“Wait,” Charlotte said, her gossip sense rising strong within her, “You don’t think?”

“How do you think they got infected with werewolfliness?”

“If someone says ‘Not that’s there anything wrong with that,” Brian began, “Pow! Fireball to the face.”

“Okay, okay, Pride dude. We are a tolerant team,” Dora said. “When two werewolves love each other very much. . .”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” Charlotte said. “Cast the spell, and let’s get on with it, before this turns into a Saturday Night Live sketch.”

“It’s not very funny,” Bruce pointed out. “So it’s already a Saturday Night Live sketch.”

“Topical!” Dora answered.

“Maybe in 1975. Right, Charlotte?”

For a second, Charlotte wondered if Saturday Night Live had actually been around in 1975, and felt unaccountable old. There was that old comic book where Spider-Man fought the Silver Samurai on the set, after all. Okay, no, she wasn’t old just because she could remember 1975. “Brian, cast the cloak. The rest of you, follow me, single file. We’ve been going at this all backwards, assuming that Killburnist magic was in play, without confirming it. This is our one chance to get into that supply closet without being spotted by half of the Acting class. I want this nailed down.”

Walking across a classroom, with the three werewolves struggling with grease brushes and mannequin heads while Mr. Burcato’s Teach For America intern sat at the desk surfing Craig’s List (Charlotte couldn’t help peaking as she went by, no matter what Brian said) was weird. Creepy, a bit. It reminded you of what sorcerers could pull off, and you’d never even know. 

And then, they were in the supply closet. It was a big closet, especially for the main school, built with 1960s functionality, instead of the crazy-quilt Old School Building. There was, just barely, room for Charlotte, Brian and Dora to kneel in front of Bruce and Twelve. 

Brian thumbed the flashlight app on, on his phone, then set it between his knees so that it gave just enough light for him to work. Then he pulled his backpack around in front of him and took a plastic Ziplock bag of tea candles out. Pulling it open, he quickly arranged the little, metal discs in the shape of Killburn’s holy symbol. “Dora?” He asked. 

An open flame, golden in colour, appeared on Dora’s finger. Needfire to light the candles. Bruce said that Dora’s needfire was as good for magic as the regular needfire the ancient manuals called for, and it didn’t require fiddling around with a flint and wood shavings. Brian pushed a splinter of lightning-struck elm into the flame. Elm was hard to come by in these parts, apparently, but there was nothing else for magic in Philadelphia. 

The wood caught, and Bruce dipped the splinter to light the tea candles in a weird and deliberate order, counting in High Moracian as he did so. It might have been the first time anyone had spoken those words aloud in seventy thousand years, and it left Charlotte feeling even more like a particularly self-conscious hippy. But when Brian hit the last candle, the light from it was a weird, sky blue, instead of the comforting, red-orange flames of the other candles. 

Brian let out a sigh of relief. “Okay, this is going well. Everyone, the chant.” The seven word Prayer to Kilburn was the only thing the modern age knew about the old Skyfather that it had learned in the last five years. It had been found, carved on a stone, thrown from Mt. Etna in a recent eruption. Which was probably the reason there were all the crazy Killburnists around these days. 

Whatever. Charlotte chanted. And again, and again. Seven time, and, on the seventh, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. 

“Oh, Skyfather, we come before you with no burdens for you to bear, with our whole hearts. Accept this, our offering.” Brian put the acorn squash, stuffed with quinoa-acorn meal stuffing and succotash, on the ground. Good thing Dora’s Mom was taking a gourmet cooking course at Walnut College. “And grant us the boon of knowledge, which is your gift.”

Now all of the candles glowed blue.

“Has this place been hallowed by your sacred power?”

Dancing blue light filled the supply closet.

“Was it in this age?”

The dancing continued.

“Was it in the last two months?”

Blue flames that did not burn ran up and down the wall. 

“Was it someone from the Campus Crusade for Kilburn?”

The blue light winked out, leaving the group in darkness lit by the candles and Brian’s phone.

“We have asked too much, and accept your rebuke, Oh Skyfather. Bless us, for we have sinned.”

The blue light came back, and, for just a moment, the heatless flames played over their heads.

“Now come on,” Brian said. “The cloak is only going to last another minute or two!”

They were in the hall a moment later, just in time to hear the bell go. 

“What a waste of a spare.” Dora put her hands on her hips and looked at the sky. “All powerful Skyfather, you know I don’t like Sudoku. Just tell us who sabotaged Professor Paradigm’s gauntlets already. And if it’s not too much trouble, could we have a map to where Auralia is? Kthnx Bye.”

“L.O.L., Dora,” Brian said. “L.O.L.”

Dora turned around and arched an eyebrow at Brian. “Got a point, Magic Elf Boy?” 

“You want answers all laid out for you? We’re already going to be late for Science class. If you don’t well, as long as it’s Shining Darkness stuff, you’re all, like, the first to say, ‘You guys look away ‘till I tell you. You can’t handle this esoteric stuff like me.”

Dora lifted a finger and jammed it into Brian’s chest, genuinely angry. “That’s not the same thing at all. Don’t. . . I mean, there’s a reason that people people joke around about made-up Elder names like Cthulhu instead of talking about the Kings of Edom. . . “ She stopped, putting her hands to a white face. 

Charlotte put her hand on her Dora’s shoulder. “If your mouth was going to get you into trouble with us, Dora, it would have happened a long time ago. But, you know, Brian has a point.”

Dora ‘s face reddened as the blood came back. “Maybe, sort of. Just don’t be getting the idea that there’s something cool in back of the Shining Darkness. Because, in the end, that’s what we’re all trying to stop.”

“What?” Bruce asked. “All of us?”

“Everyone,” Dora punched her hand, as if to say, ‘I really mean it, you guys.’

“Even the dead? Even Takofanes?”

For the second time in an your, ancient magic stood up on little bug feet and crawled up Charlotte’s neck. 

“What?” Dora and Brian said together, sounding genuinely puzzled.

“Okay, never mind, then,” Bruce threw his hands up in the air. “I was just thinking out loud.”

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