Talking Around the Shadows

Maybe it was something in the water; maybe it was something the air.  Maybe I could feel it coming in the night.  Maybe I’m stuck in a Phil Collins song that got heavy rotation after Miami Vice.  Whatever it was, it was like being back in NaNo Land, because I was on last night.  Extremely on.  Like I wrote two thousand, four hundred, and seventy-nine words in two different location over the course of about three hours on.

It may be a rambling mess, but it’s my mess, and I did it all on my own.

It also could have been because of something else that happened, but I’m keeping that a surprise until the end . . .

 

(All excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Two: B For Bewitching, copyright 2015 by Cassidy Frazee)

Annie and Kerry exchanged a quick glance. The knew the name well: Tanith Granstrom had been the object of a field operation everyone in the room had conducted for the Guardians in April of this year. It had been Annie’s and Kerry’s job to keep and eye on Tanith and, when the time was right, explain that she was no Normal person but was instead a witch on cusp of becoming Aware.

It was while Annie and Kerry were showing Tanith that they really were witches that they and Erywin, who was monitoring them from a distance, received an abort call from Helena, and soon found themselves engaged in a short but nasty fight with three Deconstructors who did their best to kill them, and were killed instead. Annie and Kerry was taken away to the CDC in Atlanta for treatment, and ended back at Salem a few hours later, while Tanith and her father Kaden were taken into Guardian protection.

During the Guardian debriefing that came a few days after the operation, it was explained to the children that Tanith would likely be “made to forget” what happened to her and her father during the operation, and while it wasn’t known at the time if she would ever come to Salem to receive schooling, but if she did, they’d never be allowed to discuss what happened to them that day in Kansas City—

There was no more wondering now: she would soon become a member of the student body.

 

Believe it or not, those four paragraphs took me about half an hour to write.  And the first one took about fifteen minutes and five tries to get it right.  Seriously, sometimes just finding the right words to start a transition is the hardest thing in the world.  And I know a little something about transitions, right?

Now let’s get the lowdown on the arrival.

 

Annie folded her hands and began rubbing the tips of her index fingers together. “When will she arrive?”

Helena tapped the display on her tablet. “Everything is on schedule right now. The Oceanic, East and Central Asian kids will arrive between eleven and twelve-thirty; the kids from the Americas will get here between fourteen-thirty and sixteen hours; and, as you know from experience, the Euro, African, and Western Asia kids will arrive between nineteen-thirty and twenty-one hours.” She pushed the tablet aside. “She’s arriving with the kids from North and South America, which should tell you something about where she was relocated.”

Kerry leaned forward a little. “She’s not coming under her old name, is she?”

“No. Her new name—which I’m sure you’d discover on your own eventually—is Kristiane Schoyer. From what I was told she didn’t change her appearance, but as part of her new identity the Guardians changed her birth certificate so she’ll fit in with the other eleven year old A Levels.”

Kerry glanced at Annie and Erywin before turning back to Helena. “Okay.”

Annie didn’t find that surprising: if the Guardians wanted her to blend in with other new students, rather than come up with a convoluted story about how she became Aware late—which is what drew in the attention of both The Foundation and the Deconstructors in the first place—they’d fix her legal age. Which means they likely did something to ensure she didn’t remember her real age— She addressed Helena. “What would you like us to know? Besides her coming here.”

 

For one, we now know when various A Levels show up at school, and what Tanith’s new name is–I mean, Kristiane’s.  That one little line is gonna come back at the end with great importance.  Just wait . . .

Helena was asked, and Helena answers:

 

Helena stood and came around to the front of the desk. She didn’t like sitting behind one when she spoke: it made her feel like she was hiding. She sat back against the top and kept her focus on the children before her. “I’ve already briefed Erywin on this, because she’ll have immediate contact with—Kristiane—once classes start—sooner if she is placed in her coven.” She folded her hands before her. “You’re not to attempt contact with her once she’s arrived. That shouldn’t be too hard with her being an A Level: she’s in the Fishbowl, and you’re both in the Pond for real now. The only time you should have contact with her is when it happens in the course of a normal day—like passing her in the Dining Hall, or on the grounds, or any number of venues here. If she approaches you for anything, the chances are she’s looking for information, or she’s asking a question, or she needs help with a lab. That’s stuff is normal, and in those instances you treat her like you would any other student.”

Helena glanced off to one side for a moment. “She doesn’t remember you or Erywin: the Guardians made certain of that. Otherwise they couldn’t risk letting her come here.”

Kerry quickly figured out the implications of the sorceress’ last statement. “Does she remember anything from her old life?”

“No. Her father and mother, yes, but everything else—living in Albuquerque; Kansas City; the event with the Deconstructors and being taken away to Atlanta—none of that remains. She’s been given not only a new identity, but a whole set of memories to go with that identity. The Guardian people who work on these things are good at their jobs, and they would make certain nothing remains of her old memories.”

Though she didn’t let the feeling show, Annie felt somewhat sad about this turn of events. She’d read about some of the things that these memory specialist could do, but she’d never realized, until now, how details these operations could become. “So even if we tried to tell her that we saved her life—”

“She’d think you were talking shite at her.” Helena gave Annie a piercing stare. “Not that you’d do anything that foolish—right?

“No—” She shook her head. “That would be a stupid thing to do.” Annie kept her breathing slow and controlled. “I’d expose myself if I did that.”

A slight smile played along Helena’s lips. “I like that thinking.”

 

Of course she likes your thinking, Annie:  that’s why you her favorite.  Annie is thinking like a Guardian:  don’t do stupid things that would give you away.  Walking up to Kristiane and saying, “Hey, remember me?  I saved your ass back in Kansas City,” would get you instantly branded as a crazy loser and someone who is way too dangerous to place back out in the field once again.  And that’s not Annie–or Kerry, as we’ll see.  And leave it to him to notice something . . .

 

Kerry agreed with Annie—he would never do anything as foolish as go up to Tani—no, Kristiane now—and try to get her to remember him, but there was something Helena said that caught his interest. “What do you mean by she could ask for help with a lab?”

Helena cleared her throat as she turned towards Erywin. “You want this one?”

The coven leader moved around in her chair so she could face her younger friends. “I have it on good authority that since you both have a bit of ‘free time’ during the day, you may get pulled in by a few instructors for minion duty.” She chuckled. “I know Wednesday is interested in having you help out in her regular B Level class, and I might ask you pop in for my A or B Level class—”

“Except on those days I might want you for A Level Sorcery.” Helena glanced from Annie to Kerry. “Once we start getting further into the year I wouldn’t mind having either of you help out. Annie, while you are the—” The right corner of Helena’s mouth curled upward. “—Dark Witch of this group, Kerry’s not far behind. And with you teaching him a little extra on the side—”

“He’ll become much better.” She looked to him, nodding. “I agree. And I’d be happy to help out.”

Kerry grinned. “So would I.”

“And just between us in the room—” Erywin automatically glanced towards the door as if she expected someone to enter. “Wednesday and Jessica are both asking about getting you out of normal classes so you could come and help out in a few of their classes.”

“That’s really . . .” Kerry found it hard to arrange his thought so he could explain what he was feeling. “I didn’t realize we were that much in demand.”

“This goes back to when you were invited into the advanced classes.” Erywin took a second to stretch her arm. “Even then the instructors were thinking about using you for minion work.”

Helena wiggled the finger of her right hand in time to an unheard beat. “Which means the instructors who’d like your assistance are doing so because they know you’re able to do the work. And Jessica’s one of those instructors—” She shook her head. “She never asks for minions. That should tell you all you need to know.”

 

You gotta wonder when these kids are gonna find time to snog.  Well, don’t wonder too long, because they’ll find time.  Still, it looks as if they’re being given a lot to do.  Regular classes, advanced classes, and now they’ve being asked to become lab minions from time to time.  And they have to teach each other what they’re learning in their advanced studies:  Kerry for Advanced Transformation, Annie for what she’s picking up on sorcery in the Black Vault.  Is there such a thing as burn-out at thirteen?  Maybe the school is conducting an experiment.  Or . . . maybe it’s a certain Guardian?  We’ll see, won’t we?

 

Helena stood and stepped away from her desk. “That’s all I have to say. I’ll let the proper authorities know we’ve had this discussion, and there shouldn’t be any need to bring this up again.” She cocked her head slightly to the right as the tone of her voice turned a touch darker. “At least I hope it doesn’t become necessary to bring this up again.”

Both children shook their heads, with Annie speaking for them both. “That won’t happen, Helena.”

“No, I don’t believe it will.”

Erywin stood at the same time as the children. “Just so you know—”

Kerry spoke first. “Yes?”

“The A Levels tend to stay inside either the Great Hall or the Pentagram Gardens after their E and As. It’s never been confirmed, but we believe The Phoenix does something to the student so they’re not wandering about the grounds for most of the day.” Erywin took a step towards them. “Holoč would have told you, but since we’re together now—”

He smiled softly. “Yeah.”

“You’ll see more than a few of them lounging in the Dining Hall when you’re eating; we’ll have a few sofas and chairs laid out for them.”

Helena chuckled. “We wouldn’t want them to go without resting all day.”

Erywin stood next to her partner. “While you’re inside the Pentagram grounds, don’t use any magic; we have to keep up the charade, remember?”

“We remember.” That made Annie wonder. “So that happened to us as well?”

“Yeah, it did.” Helena crossed her arms. “It’s a little unusual that you didn’t go off to eat with the other students, though.”

Annie didn’t see why that was strange. “I wasn’t feeling well, so we went to the hospital.”

“Yeah, but you did it on your own. Whenever Isis sends someone to the hospital, it’s usually for something along the lines of severe shock, or disorientation brought on by a concussion—”

Erywin joined in listing issues. “Maybe bleeding from the ears.”

Helena nodded. “Or a broken arm.”

“Or leg.”

“Or a fractured skull—”

“I see.” Annie frowned. “What you’re saying is not many go to the hospital because of an upset stomach and spinning head.”

The two instructors looked knowingly at each other before Helena replied. “Something like that, yeah.” She nodded towards the door, making it unlock. “Okay, you two: go out and do some wandering. We’ll see you later.”

 

So what you are saying, Helena, is that Annie and Kerry shouldn’t have ventured to the hospital, not with the maladies they had?  Interesting.  Is this some doing of The Phoenix?  Don’t know.  We may never know.  She’s a strange bird, you know.  It also sounds–from the injuries rattled off–that she likes to do a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence now and then.  It sounds like all she did to these two was scare the shit out of them.

It’s time to go and have fun, but you know Kerry the Killjoy:  he’s gotta wanna analyse everything.  This is no exception . . .

 

Once outside the office Annie began walking towards the stairs, but Kerry stopped her before she could go upstairs. “Would it be okay if we took the tunnels?” He glanced over his shoulder. “Maybe head up to Perquat’s Grove?”

Based upon Kerry’s body language, Annie suspected there was something he wanted—and it didn’t necessarily lay at the location where they spoke to Erywin, and Kerry learned of Annie’s long desire to marry him. “I would love that.” She joined him, taking his arm. “It should be beautiful today.”

They found the main tunnel leading north to the Polar Portal, the classrooms under the Observatory, and the cross-tunnel leading from the Firing Line and the portal leading up to Perquat’s Grove. The only time they’d taken this route was during the winter when there was too much snow on the main path to the Observatory; during this time of year, when the weather was beautiful and warm, the only people taking this route were those looking for privacy—usually with the intention of finding some intimacy, but sometimes all they needed was an opportunity to talk . . .

They’d walked about a hundred meters before Annie decided to give him a chance to open up and speak. She understood his moods, and when he had something on his mind, he often needed to know it was okay to speak. “What are you thinking about, my love?”

That was all the opening he needed. “What we did in Helena’s office—”

“Yes?”

“Do the Guardians really think we’d, you know—” He looked around in case there was someone close by. “Screw up and talk to her?”

 

Annie is the rock in this relationship:  she is almost never rattled, and when she is, it’s only because of her Ginger Hair Boy.  Deconstructors hell-bent on killing her?  Screw that shit, she’s throwing down.  Kerry, on the other hand, is the sometimes quivering emotional center of the relationship, and he not only lets those feelings get to him, but he also overthinks a lot of things that don’t require overthinking.  And he’s doing that right now:  he’s smart enough to understand they needed to know this stuff, but still . . . it feels as if the Guardians were keeping them after class for a talking.

Not so, Bro.  Listen to your better half . . .

 

She said nothing for about fifteen seconds, letting Kerry’s curiosity build. “I’ve read a little on the history of the Guardians—”

Kerry chuckled. “I’m not surprised.”

“My parents had a book on it, but there were a couple in the Black Vault that went into far more details.” She slowed her pace until they were almost shuffling along the large, empty tunnel. “They’ve always collected intelligence, but it wasn’t until the Deconstructors started becoming a problem in, I think, the late 1950s, that they started becoming an offensive force. From what I read, they were almost like a specialized military force during that time.”

“Like the SAS?”

“Exactly like that—only they also continued to gather intelligence. It was a dangerous life, given that they also spent a great deal of time going into the areas that the Soviet Union and the Chinese controlled. Anyone who stayed alive for more than five years was usually moved to an office.

“Deconstructors were almost impossible to find back then. The Foundation used to say that they lived in the shadows, and that only the bravest women would venture in to find them. That’s how the Guardians earned the nickname, ‘The Shadow Walkers’: they’re still known as that today.”

She pulled Kerry to a slow stop. It was safe here; if there were any students close by, they were likely on the surface, unaware there was anyone below. “Helena told me before we went home that, as far as she knew, we were the youngest team the Guardians sent out on a field operation. She was a C Level, a few months past her fourteenth birthday, when she went out on hers, and she only knew of someone going out who was a few month younger than her when they went out. She said that as leery as she’d been about us going out, the Guardians wouldn’t have sent us out if they didn’t believe we could complete a mission.

“There was a reason Helena called us in today: she was under orders. She told us, without actually telling us, that the orders had come from high up the line of command. She told us—her new name, something we could have found out on our own, like she said—but she told us instead.”

She held Kerry’s left hand tightly within hers. “She wasn’t giving us a warning, my love: she was giving us a briefing. She told us about her arrival today, and as she said, she’d report back to the proper people that we’d received the briefing, and that we understood to proper actions to take should we encounter here.”

A slight grin formed. “We were given that briefing because we earned the right. Because we walked into the shadows—” Annie pulled Kerry close and hugged him tight. “—and we were good enough to return to the light.”

 

“We were good enough to return to the light.”  They were, and they did.  Both played their parts, and played them well, and if Kerry hadn’t been–ah, hem–overthinking his part, there’s wouldn’t have been a need for Annie of the Broken Arm to go all murder time on the second Deconstrutor.

But she gets it.  They were given a briefing not because they’re a couple of kids and then need a bit of schooling–it was because they earned the right to a follow-up.  Not a warning, but a head-up that they’re gonna see this girl, and here’s what you wanna know.

I guess you could say they’re part of the club now.

So here is the book . . .

Coming along nicely, I see.

Coming along nicely, I see.

And I rolled through thirty-one thousand last night, which means I’m less than nine thousand words from–yes, let’s say it–this being a true novel.  And that’s going to happen sometime in Chapter Five.  Maybe about the time the kids are Remembering Memory . . .

Now, for the surprise I promised.  It’s not writing related, and it’s probably not something one would look at and go, “Meh, so?”  But I have a friend who knows a little of my past, knows I’m trans, and doesn’t care about any of that because I have cool friends.  She’s been going on for a few days about how she’s going to tie the knot, so to speak, and she’s looking at venues and the like for a ceremony next fall.  She’s telling people it’ll be a small, intimate affair, and she’s not looking to have many people show up, and I let her know I will be there, don’t worry.  And that’s when she dropped the bomb on me in private chat–

She wants me to be her Maid of Honor.

I have been in weddings before.  I was even a Best Man once.  If you told me back in 1976 that in 2016 I’d be someone’s Maid of Honor, I’d have probably thought, “What do they know that I don’t?”  Now I’ve got to start planing, and looking at dresses and shoes, and I’ll likely need a new wig by that time.  And if it’s held in one spot I suggested, then we’ll have a spa there to get our mani/pedis before the ceremony, and our make overs, and all that stuff before we get into the dresses–

Yeah.  I’m just a little excited . . .