The Book of the Dead

It’s a wonder what two and a half hours will give you.  If you’re me, seventeen hundred and forty-eight words, because that’s what I’ve written this morning for the first scene of Chapter Twenty-Four.  Here I am, down at the local coffee shop, and I’ve been rocking out on ABBA (stop laughing) and pounding out the words.  The scene is not only finished, but after a week of writing it’s a few hundred words shorter than the last chapter.  Really, this is not only the most I’ve written in one sitting, but this is the longest scene I’ve done in some time.

My numbers don't lie.

My numbers don’t lie.

What I’ve done is finish up Helena’s Death March, only in her case she does know about death and being dead–and, as we’re slowly learning, being in the Land of the Dead.  And with her mention of the Veil, we start getting into the final part of this discussion of the deceased–

 

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

Once again Kerry was confronted with a term he’d never heard. “What’s that? Is it like the Curtain?”

“Yes and no. Yes, it’s a demarcation boundary, but no, it’s nothing like the Curtain.” Helena’s tone darken. “The Veil is the edge of our known universe. Once you’re through that you’re out into the space where all the universes reside.”

“The Multiverses.” Kerry was familiar with this concept since it was a popular one in science fiction. “So there are multiple universes?”

“Yes, billions. From what I understand we’ve reached some of them through astral passages that pierce the Veils, but there’s almost no information on those explorations.” The right corner of his mouth turned upward in a half-smile. “As you can imagine.

“But it’s not the universe that are important—it’s the space between. That’s where all the pure magical energy resides, and that’s the one place an astral form can exist without fear of Dissipation. In science, or science fiction, terms, it’s super space; in our experience, it’s where all the dead go for as long as they like.” She spoke in hushed tones. “It’s what we call the Void.

“Everyone who’s ever lived, Normal and Aware, eventually end up in the Void. They haven’t a choice: without the energy there to sustain their astral form, they’ll Dissipate and become background energy. Here you’ll find no heaven or hell: those don’t exist—at least not the way they’ve been discussed by Normals.” Helena stopped acting as if she was involving Kerry in a conspiracy and began speaking in a normal tone. “See, the Void is nothing but magical energy, and since the Aware still know how to bend that energy to their will, they can and do. Over there on the other side of the Veil, you don’t have to worry about running into gods—you pretty much are one.

“It’s said that once you’ve figured out how to pull energy into your form, you can reenter any universe, or even create one of your own. Spend enough time dead, and you can come back and wander around in the physical realm, even. Some Foundation scholars who study these things believe that all the myths pertaining to the various pantheons are actually re-tellings of encounters with the Aware who’ve returned from beyond the Veil and began passing themselves off as deities. It’s entirely possible.”

 

There you go:  when you die, you go to the Void, and there you get to hang with everyone who’s ever lived.  Just imagine that party if you can.  And here is the upshot of being a witch:  you can do things in the Void that all the regular folk can’t.  That pretty much makes you a god, and with that comes the speculation that all the gods and goddesses of mythology were Aware who came back to this universe and decided to set up shop.  And if you don’t like this universe–hey, there’s billions from which to choose!  It remains to be seen if Kerry starts telling Annie, “If someone asks you if you’re a god . . .”

Kerry has a question, and it’s a good question–

 

Though Kerry had never believed in things like deities, Helena’s explanation began opening his mind to how various mythologies may have came about. “How do we know this? Did these, um, things eventually tell us?”

Helena sank into her chair turning grim once again. “If one knows what they’re doing, they can reincarnate—”

He leaned towards Helena’s desk. “Reincarnation’s real?”

“It’s real, but from what I understand it’s difficult as hell. Also, it’s a bit of a crap shoot, because you’ll likely return as a Normal, and once you’ve lived as a witch, it’s rare that you’re gonna want to go through another life being unable to do magic. And apparently, the only ones who can remember the full experience—” She shrugged. “They’re the ones who returned Aware.”

“This is all . . .” Kerry slowly closed his eyes. “There are people who lived here who moved into the space between the Multiverses and created their own universes.”

“Pretty much. There’s some speculation that Dante may have actually somehow entered the three realms he wrote about in The Divine Comedy. It’s entirely possible that someone who knew him found a way to show him the worlds he wrote about.” Helena gazed off to one corner of her office. “Some people think the stories we have of angels and demons come from sightings of Aware who’ve returned. Though when it comes to demons—” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Those are real.”

Kerry’s eyes grew wide. “Are you kidding?”

“Nope. Why do you think we teach Daemonology to some people?” For the first time Helena chuckled. “That’s a discussion better left for another time.”

 

I’ve been asked now and then if there is such a thing as reincarnation in my world, and there’s your answer:  yes, it does.  And angels and demons may be nothing more than dead Aware who’ve come back to do things here, but no one really knows–but demons are real?  Yep.  When will you learn more about that?  When the kids hit their D Levels.  Sorry.  Sure I am.

Now that we know what’s beyond the Veil, it remains to be seen . . .

 

“I agree.” Though it was starting to feel a bit morbid, Kerry wanted to return to the original discussion. “Did you go beyond the Veil?”

A silence fell over the room as Helena changed up her train of thought. “I headed towards the Veil. I felt it getting close. I even expected to find my Portal—” She smiled again, heading off the expected question. “It’s an opening through the Veil, and you’re supposed to recognize it right away as it was something important to you while alive. I did a lot looking for it: I thought about the way I died and all the stuff I did as a Guardian; I thought about my family; I thought a hell of a lot about Erywin. I did all that—but I never found my Portal. Just before I felt it was gonna pop up—” She slapped her hand upon the desk. “I was in a bed with four witches standing watch over my body.

“Found out later they’d worked on me at the hospital for about twenty minutes trying to resuscitate me, and when it became apparent that wasn’t going to work, they sent me to a Resurrection Center, which is a place where there are witches who are really good at bringing people back to life—and if they can’t do it, they get the Necromancers after you.”

Kerry didn’t like the sound of that last. “Necromancers?”

“Witches who not only can walk into Astral Realm, but who know how to pierce the Veil and physically enter the Void so they can find your form and haul it back to the real wold.” For a moment Helena appeared uncomfortable. “Those assholes are scary. Not only can they walk the Void, but they know how to manipulate dead bodies in this world and make them do their bidding.” She shook her head. “Led a team in charge of bringing in a rogue Necro once. When we finally ran her down the crazy bitch threw a couple of dozen zombies at us—total Walking Dead shit.” She managed a light chuckle. “Good thing Annie and you are seasoned zombie hunters.”

Kerry found the concept of being sent out to kill real zombies fairly interesting. “That could be kinda cool in a way.”

“Until you have to do it and you realize they’re trying to kill you for real.”

 

In the last novel Coraline hinted at Resurrection Centers and Necromancers, and while I gave you a little bit of a fill-in on them, Helena confirms this and lets Kerry know that Necromancers can raise the dead, but during one operation she had dozens of zombies tossed at her.  Kerry seems to find the idea of going out zombie hunting kinda fun, though he’s never had to deal with a few dozen shambling his way.  Like Helena says, he could quickly change his tune when he figures out they’re trying to turn him into Walker Chow–

"Better work on your sword skills, you little ginger shit.  We're coming for you and your girlfriend!"

“Better work on your katana skills, you little ginger shit. One day we’re coming for you and your girlfriend!”

Now that he has all this background out of the way, there’s just the aftermath of Helena’s death to cover.

 

He quickly got back on subject. “So how long were you dead?”

“Forty-two minutes.” The chuckle returned. “I know what you’re thinking, no need to comment. There’s something you need to know, though: what I went through that second time, it’s not something they do for everyone. The Foundation wanted me back because they’d just lost a hell of a lot of people in an attack, and they needed to know everything I went through in the lead-up to the meeting. I was the only one from the WTC attack they did this for: everyone else—” She slowly waved her head in the air as if she were slicing it in two. “They stayed dead. And if I hadn’t been in charge of security, I would have as well.”

He let that information sink in for a few seconds. “I understand.” He let out a long, slow breath before speaking again. “When you die and you go over, are you like how you are now?”

“You mean, do you look the same there are you do here?”

“Yeah?”

“Yes, sure. Your aura is a representation of the physical you, so how you look here, you’ll look there.” She tapped her thigh. “Over there I still had my legs; I’m sure I will if I die again.” She slowly moved forward, leaning against her desk. “Kerry, what’s really on your mind?”

 

Yeah, Kerry:  what’s really on your mind?  Helena’s knows by now there’s some crazy spookiness happening here, and she’s hoping to get to the bottom of it.  With the Ginger Hair Boy, that’s easier said than done.

 

He was unresponsive for a bit as he seemed to stare off into space. He snapped back to reality with a quick shake of his head. “Like you said, I’ve come close to dying a few times, but until last month I never really thought about what would happen. I figured you’d know.” Kerry finally turned his gaze upon the sorceress. “I hope this didn’t bother you.”

“Not at all.” She set her right index finger under her lower lip as a slight smile formed. “Hey, us Sentinels gotta look after each other, yeah?”

He did a quick double take. “Sentinels?”

“It’s what we—the Guardians—were almost called at one point. It’s kind of an unofficial nick among us.

He stared off to his left. “Am I really a Guardian?”

“You can knock that shit off—” Helena rested her weight against her desk as she continued in a low, comforting tone. “You know you are.”

 

Yeah, knock it off, Kerry.  Helena wouldn’t be telling you this shit if you weren’t part of the family.

 

He chuckled as he began nodding quickly. “I kinda figured that, but it’s nice to hear.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

Kerry got up and looked around as if he was unsure what to do next. “I guess I should head over to the Areodrome; maybe Isis and Annie wanna go flying.”

“Perhaps.” Helena came from behind her desk as Kerry zipped up his coat. “Kerry, you can come and see me any time you like—” She stood next to him, trying not to come off as intimidating. “ But if you ever want to speak with Erywin, you can always see her, too.” She turned a warm smile upon the boy. “She’d like speaking with you.”

Kerry smiled back. “I like speaking with her, too.”

She patted him on the shoulder. “You should find some time for her then.”

“I will.” He glanced downward for just a second. “I’ll see you tonight, I guess.”

“I’m sure we’ll run into each other at the Madness.”

He turned and headed for the door. “Thanks for the time, Professor.”

She crossed her arm. “Helena.”

“Helena.” He smiled for the first time since showing. “Thanks. See you later.” He spun around and header out of the office.

Helena waved the door shut and stood where she was for many seconds, considering the now-completed conversation. There were many things she knew she should do with what she’d heard, and what she suspected, but given there was possibly something else to factor into what had just transpired, she decided that notifying people on the West Coast wasn’t required—nor was there a need to speak to the third member of their little Salem Guardian family.

There was, however, a growing feeling that her brunch with Erywin was going to focus on a certain student . . .

 

Just like Kerry you now know what awaits the Aware when they go to the Great Beyond.  But this also raises a hell of a lot of other questions.  Like, what are ghosts?  Are spirits nothing more than returned Aware?  And what the hell is The Phoenix?  Is she also a returned Aware?  Would she kill you for asking?

It might take some time, but there is an answer for everything.  And, in time, I may even tell them.

Peeking Behind the Curtain

Here’s Cassie once more, having survived another Christmas alone.  It was a day filled with lots of napping, walking a mile down to the local art house to see The Danish Girl, then taking a slow, peaceful stroll back home in a light rain, enjoying the experience.  I capped the night off by watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special, getting a good cry in at the end before heading off to bed.

Notice there’s little mention of writing.  That’s because there wasn’t any:  after getting in my five hundred plus in the morning, I decided naps and visual entertainment were more important, and that’s what I did.

Along with the whole lady walking in the rain thing, which I wholly enjoyed.

Along with the whole lady walking in the rain thing, which I wholly enjoyed.

But this morning, I’m eight hundred and seventy-five words into the scene, and I’m certain I’ll do more this afternoon and tonight because I’m getting into the groove on what’s happening.  Helena’s opening up on what happened to her after everyone died during The Foundation meeting at the WTC.  We now know that she was also among the dead, but obviously Helena’s also some kind of Marvel superhero, because she didn’t stay dead, otherwise she’s never be able to tell Kerry about all these different things.

And while she’s getting into the whole “This is what happened to me the second time I died”, she gives Kerry a little lesson on what she knows of the structure of the universe.

 

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

Helena cleared her throat. “Our universe consists of two parts: there’s the Physical Realm, which is where everything we see and feel exists, and there’s the Astral Realm, which is like an onion skin over everything within the Physical Realm. It’s from there that we draw out energies to do magic, so needless to say without it we wouldn’t have witches in this world.

“Naturally these realms don’t overlap, and the membrane that separates them is called the Curtain. When we talk about ‘Pulling back the Curtain’, we’re talking about looking into the Astral Realm. When you use Aura Sensing or Aura Reading, you’re seeing the part of us that sits on the Curtain, and therefore exists in both realms. When you use Astral Sight or Astral Protection, you’re seeing beyond the Curtain into that realm, though—” She gave a slight smirk. “It’s only once you start using Astral Walking, where you leave this realm and move physically into the other that you see the Astral Realm the way it really appears.”

Kerry was astonished by all that Helena was saying. Annie and he had yet to delve into everything pertaining to astral magic. “Deanna teaches all the astral stuff, doesn’t she?”

“Adric and I teach some as well, but Deanna’s really the Queen of the Realm. She’s the only one here who’s able to walk into the Astral Realm—that’s something neither Adric or I know.” She slightly shook her head. “Nor is it something that I want. There are things in the Astral Realm that react badly to people from the Physical Realm.”

 

We know Annie and Kerry are learning Aura Reading, because that was mentioned a long while back.  Once they get that down they’ll know if people are telling them the truth or if they’re BSing them, and can even work that little bit of magic on their parents.  While Annie’s folks can hide the true nature of their auras from their Darling Little Sorceress, Kerry’s parents won’t be as lucky, and there’ll come a time where Mama and Papa Malibey ain’t gonna be able to bullshit their son any longer, which probably won’t go well for them.

While some may have suspected that Deanna was good when it came to things like seeing auras, Helena conforms, for the first time, that she’s really the one who knows her way around the Astral Realm.  And while I usually don’t do this, here’s a big River Song-sized spoiler:  it won’t be long before we see Deanna take a stroll through the Curtain.  Since Helena just Chekhov’s gunned the whole “Deanna’s the only one here who can walk into the Astral Realm”, it wouldn’t do not to show her doing just that.  I’m sure you’ll see it coming when it does come.

Kerry decides to drag the convo back onto the original track, which was . . .

 

Kerry was able to quickly infer various points from this conversation. “But you’ve seen what the Astral Realm really looks like.”

There was a half-smile on her face as she kept her gaze locked on Kerry’s. “Yeah.”

“Because you were there after you died.”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Your aura is really nothing more than a byproduct of the electrochemical activity within your physical form—with magical energy from the Astral Realm making the auras of the Aware more brilliant than those of Normals. Your aura stays anchored to your physical form, constantly renewing because of the activity in your brain and body. If you know what you’re doing you can make your aura invisible to others, or make it look like your a Normal, but while you’re alive it stays with you at all times, save when you’re doing Astral Projection.

“But when it comes to dying . . . You can’t destroy energy, and that included the energy found in your aura. When you die your aura no longer remains connected to your physical form, so it falls completely into the Astral Realm. It still looks like you because it’s an aspect of your physical form, but there’s more.” Helena leaned forward and lowered her voice slightly. “Since your brain is little more than a big electrochemical processor, when your aura pops up in the Astral Realm after you die, it brings with it all that you were when you were alive: your thoughts, your memories, and your skills, even the magical ones. It’s you, totally uncoupled from whom you were when you were alive.”

She shrugged. “I’m sure some would way it’s your soul, but it’s really a lot more than that. It’s a different form of energy now, and it’s self-aware. You know you’re dead, but you can feel, your senses work, and all of your emotions are still there. You’re sort of alive, but not—it’s a completely different state of existence.

 

There you go:  there is life after death, though it’s not life as we know it.  You’re pretty much a big ball of Wibbly Wobbly Astral Wastral . . . stuff.  Only this ball of stuff can think and remember and pretty much do all the stuff you did when you had a physical form.  As Helena says some people might think of this as a soul, but it’s more than that–especially if you’re a witch, as you’ll eventually discover.

So what is it like being an uncoupled astral entity?  Well . . .

 

“When I say I woke up on the other side of the Curtain, that’s exactly what it’s like You open your eyes and for a moment you wonder what’s going on, and then you recognize all the brightness and it hits you that you’re dead. When you’re an astral being you see the realm as it really is: all bright pastels and neon, like you’re standing in the middle of New York or Honk Kong in the middle of the night, and it’s turned into a gigantic Holi festival cranked up by a thousand. It’s an incredible feeling—and once that’s so sad at the same time, because you know where you are, why you are there, and that you’re not going back to whatever you had before.

“I was unable to move for a few moments. I knew everything I’d had, everything I’d been, was gone, and there was nothing to do but move forward and face was coming next. You can’t stay in the Astral Realm for long, not at first: only a few people know how to renew their astral form at that point, and if you stay too long there, you’ll Dissipate—” She held up her hand before Kerry could ask the obvious. “Your form will lose cohesion and come apart, at which point you’re simply energy on the astral winds becoming part of the overall universe. No, if you want to stay as you are, you need to leave the realm behind and move into the space between the Multiverses. And to do that, you need to go beyond The Veil . . .”

 

The Veil?  What is this shit, Mistress of All Things Dark?  You’ll find out–just as soon as I write that part.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come with a lot of naps first.

And Another Death to Go

Finally getting going after all this time; it’s been a slow morning of getting up, eating, writing, napping, doing something else, napping, and so on.  This Christmas Day has been a dragging day, and I feel I was lucky to get written what was written.  But I did write, even though I was told I should take a break.  But five hundred and thirty-nine words when I’m half-asleep and I’ve no coffee–that’s a pretty good deal as far as I’m concerned.

"I've written a little bit here, so . . . just a quick nap and I'm ready to go again.  I think.  Zzzzzzz."

“I’ve written a little bit here, so . . . just a quick nap and I’m ready to go again. I think. Zzzzzzz.”

What do we have here today?  Well, Helena starts getting into her Worst Day Ever, which is the day she happened to be in the north tower of the World Trade Center when it was attacked.  Some of this we already know, and what she mentions here was partially covered last year at this time, when Helena was thinking about something she did when she was about to do that same thing again . . .

 

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

Helena leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling for a few seconds, remembering as she gathered her thoughts. “I wasn’t real happy with the meeting location: I wanted something more secure, but I was overridden left and right. Given that, I made the best of the situation and made sure everyone had a safe jaunt local set up, just in case we needed to clear out in a hurry—” She chuckled quietly. “Which we did.

“We were only a couple of floors below where the tower was hit. Everything went to hell fast: ceiling exploded, hellfire rained down, all that. I got a warning only seconds before—” She shook her head. “That part’s all screwed up—just know that I was warned to get out, and the warning shook me enough that I lost seconds doing my job right.

“Anyway, the plane hit and people started dying fast. I grabbed two women and jaunted out, but not before we were struck by a part from the plane. The woman on my right died right away: she was cut in half at the hips and everything inside cascaded out. The woman on my left lived because we jaunted before the part got to her. Me?” Helena looked down and frowned. “I wasn’t quite as lucky. I lost both legs about mid-thigh just as we were jaunting—”

Kerry couldn’t keep the surprise and shock off his face and out of his voice. “You’re— Really? I didn’t know.”

“Yeah. Magic and prosthetics keep me walking, and no one who doesn’t know can’t tell, but it’s not like having the real thing. Now you know why I always wear my skirts a little long: even though the legs look natural, you can see the interface lines were they join with body. I’m a little self-conscious about that, as you can imagine.”

“Does Annie know about this?” Kerry couldn’t imagine that Helena hasn’t already discussed this with her.

“She does: we talked about this a few months back.”

Kerry nodded. “Okay. What happened after the attack?”

 

Now is the first time Kerry learns of Helena’s maiming, and we learn that Annie has this similar conversation months before–probably on Tuesday night when Kerry was busy learning how to turn rats into cups, which Jessica totally doesn’t do.  Though she has changed into a cat before–a really big cat . . .

And this sets up something that Kerry’s never heard before–

 

“Yeah, that . . . My safe jaunt point was just off Washington Square Park. There we were: one alive, one dead, one dying. The uninjured woman paused just long enough to fire off a message that we were coming in for medical attention, and she jaunted us—the dead woman included—to out hospital in London.” She grimaced as she shook her head. “It didn’t do any good: I died about a minute after we arrived.

“This time I didn’t die like the first time. The first time I was like going to sleep and not dreaming. This time, though . . .” For the first time the grimness vanished and a faint smile drew across Helena’s face. “I woke up on the other side of The Curtain.”

“The Curtain?” This was a term Kerry had never heard before now. “What’s that?”

“I know I shouldn’t get into the cosmology of the universe; that’s something that you start to dove in your D and E Levels. But—” Helena shrugged. “Without telling you how everything works, you’ll never understand what I’m saying. Besides, you’re an advanced student when it comes to magic, so why not learn this now?”

 

The Cosmology of the Universe.  Kerry’s about to get a lesson in the way everything works, and that’s going to move into a lesson in life and death, because if you’ve been keeping track, Helena mentioned something about waking up somewhere that probably wasn’t her bed.

Given food and coffee, I’ll probably show you where real soon . . .

One Death Down

Happy Christmas Eve, or as the old people used to call it, Mōdraniht, which was a night where women were honored and perhaps even had a celebration or two to thank those around them for the consideration they had to push all those little love goblins out of their bellies and into the air.  Of course The Church banned it, because it was some old pagan hoohaw that they simply could not abide by, so we hear stories now about how a sacrifice or two were made at night to appease the Matres and Matronae, who were protective female deities.

So if you’re looking to have kids, say something nice to the Matres and Matronae, and who knows what will happen next.  Yeah?

Slowly this long scene is starting to take place, and trust me, it is a long scene.  But given that I’m averaging about five hundred words a night, it’s taking it’s time getting out.

Four days, two thousand words, you do the math.

Four days, two thousand words, you do the math.

There were no reasons for writing only six hundred and forty words beyond being tired as all hell and fighting to stay awake after I got home from having dinner.  It really was a whole lot of that, and even after I woke up it took a lot of effort to get out of the chair and want to sit and do something.

But I did get up and pen–can you say “pen” if you’re writing into a computer?–Helena’s first real brush, not with death, but with dying.  And it’s a good one.

 

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

She rubbed her hands. “Right: death. You wanted to know, so here you are. I’ve died twice. The first time happened back in June ‘96. I was part of a six-member group on an operation down around Cartagena, looking into rumors that the Deconstructors were using the same rail line as the Mina el Cerrejón to move goods from the north flanks of the Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta to Puerto Bolivar and back. We figured the transports were taking place near the main plant outside Albania, but we weren’t going to find out unless we did a little snooping around.

“I wasn’t in charge of the group; I wasn’t even the second in command. I was just one of the grunts put there to back up the women running the show. She wasn’t that bad, but this was the second major field op she’s commanded, and she acted at times like she had no bloody idea what to do when we were out and about. Needless to say, I wasn’t getting warm feelings in the pit of my stomach when we started venturing out into the wilds of Columbia.

 

The area Helena is talking about is here:

I love that Goggle Maps can take you anywhere!

I love that Goggle Maps can take you anywhere!

Mina el Cerrejón are those gray areas in the lower left of the picture, around Albania, Hatonuevo, and Papayal.  Those areas are huge open pit coal mines, operating in northeastern Columbia, right on the border with Valenzuela and far away from where most people live.  And the straight road that goes north all the way to the ocean?  That parallels a private rail line that is used to ship the coal to a huge port at Puerto Bolivar, which happens to be one of the largest ports in all of South America.

I actually researched this while writing.  I knew I was going to have her “hit the shite” somewhere in Columbia, and while they started in Cartagena, the ended up getting tagged about half way between that city and the view above.

And she remembers most everything–

 

“Day three, and we’re roaming about south of Río Ancho, and all day I’ve got the feeling we’re gonna hit the shite hard. I’m telling the leader what I think, but she’s telling me to piss off, ‘cause she feels everything is status quo. After the third warning I decide to go at the problem sideways and start hitting up the second-in-command, but just as about to tell her what I think—bam! Her head explodes, there’s blood all over me. She’s down, fifteen seconds later another member goes down, and it’s on.

“You know how this sort of thing goes, ‘cause you been in a fight like this. Spells are flying everywhere, and it’s us or them. Deconstructors are everywhere, and I take out three in about a minute.

I’m setting up to take out a forth, and suddenly there’s the bright flash . . .” Helena’s demeanor turned wistful as she sat back. “Next thing you know I’ve got lights in my eyes and people looking over me. Found out later that we managed to zap all the bad guys, but one other person got smashed in the process—and some bastard got in behind me and hit me hard enough to get their spell through my shields even though it killed them in the process. He hit me hard with an Electrify, which is why I saw the flash.

“The two survivors scoops up me and the last person killed, and jaunted us off to the regional HQ in Valencia, Venezuela, and got us right into the hospital. They were able to revive the other woman right away, but me?” She shook her head. “I was dead for six minutes, not that I knew. For me I just went from flash to flash: as far as I was concerned no time at all passed.”

Helena swiveled her chair back and forth a couple of time. “That was the first time; really, not that big of a thing. Second time I died . . .” She pressed her face against her fist. “That was a lot different.”

 

Really?  How different?

 

Just the way Helena’s mood changed up told Kerry that there was definitely a great deal more to this next story. “How so? What were you doing?”

“I was in charge of security for a large meeting of various Foundation supervisors.” She drew in a slow breath as she stared at the surface of her desk. “Things went—bad.”

Kerry kept his tone as soft as possible. “Did Deconstructors attack you?”

“You could say that—” She looked up. “The meeting was in the north tower of the World Trade Center.” Her snort was almost impossible to hear. “You need a date?”

He shook his head. “No.”

 

Of course Kerry doesn’t need a date, because he instinctively knows where this is going, and so do the readers, because it was just about a year ago–26 December, 2014, actually–that I wrote about how Helena was maimed during the attacks on the WTC.  And now, it seems, we’re going to discover that something a lot worse happened to her as well, because she’s here to talk about how she died–

And in talking about death, we’re going to learn a whole lot more.

Beyond Because

First off, Happy Solstice, first day of winter, shortest day of the year.  Around here that happened about twenty minutes before midnight, or twenty-three forty-two, as my kids would say.  But winter is here, so we’re ready for all that comes with that–

Any moment the winter wonderland I've promised every year should pop up.

Any moment the winter wonderland I’ve promised every year should pop up.

However, it’s raining like hell outside right now, and will throughout the morning.  Because it’s 44 F/7 C outside right now, and it’ll get up to about 60 F/15 C by midday.  I blame my witches.  They’re probably behind this.

Speaking of those little rascals, they didn’t get a lot of page time last night, but there were good reasons.  First, I had to work, then came home and took a very short nap before heading out to get my nose re-pierced.  After that happened I ran over to buy my weekly food supply, and then stopped off at Panera to finally get dinner.  By the time I returned home it was inching towards eight-thirty, and I was tired and dealing with a brain full of mush.

I did have time to snap a couple of pictures, however.  Um, yay?

I did have time to snap a couple of pictures, however. Um, yay?

What eventually happened was I managed to rip off three hundred and forty words before deciding I wasn’t really going to get much most than that down, because my fingers weren’t working real well, and most of the time I was back spacing to fix something I messed up.  That happened, right?  Sure does.

What did come out is a section where Kerry and Helena begin their dialog, and we discover why he’s there . . .

 

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

Helena motioned him forward. “Certainly.” She waved the door closed the when Kerry was about half-way to her desk. “What’s up?”

“Oh, you know.” He looked down again, shaking his head. “I just thought . . .”

She didn’t have to play Twenty Questions with this boy: Helena saw there was something on his mind. “Come here and sit down.” She waited for him to unzip and hang up his coat and sit before going on. “You want something to drink? I’ve got water, but I can order something from the kitchen.”

“Naw, I’m good.” He looked around the office like he was there for the first time. “I think this is the first time we’ve ever been alone.”

“You’re right.” Helena sat in her chair and smiled back at the boy sitting across from her. “Normally it’s your significant other sitting in your seat.”

“That’s sort of why I’m here without her—”

Helena leaned forward against her desk. “What’s bothering you?”

“I—” He shrugged. “I don’t know, just feels like there’s some strange stuff going on in my life of late.” He sighed, seeming to fold in upon himself for a few seconds before sitting up straight. “Last month, when we did puppeteering for the first time, you did the big snap on us—”

“I remember that.”

“When I was over I asked if that’s what dying’s like—”

“I remember that, too.” Helena nodded slowly. “I told you it wasn’t.”

“You said it was a lot easier.”

Helena sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her torso. “I remember saying that, yeah.”

Kerry inverted his gaze as he asked his next question. “You know that for a fact?”

Helena said nothing for almost fifteen seconds. She was fully aware of what Kerry wanted to know, and she was also aware of what he ultimately interested in hearing. “I do.” She relaxed, trying to put him at ease. “You want to know if I’ve died before, don’t you?”

Kerry waited nearly five seconds before giving his simply reply. “Yes.”

 

Let’s talk about death, shall we?  That’s exactly what’s going to happen, and once they start, you’re going to learn a few things about this world that you may not have expected . . .

The Hard and the Soft of It

Hola, survivors of U.S. Thanksgiving.  I made it through the day yesterday, heading down to Maryland to relax with friends, then back up to The Burg for a late-night brow waxing before heading home to call family.  Yes, busy day all around.

And you know what that means:  no writing.  Not yet, at least.  I did it yesterday morning, and you saw that, but I didn’t write before going to bed because I was just too tired.  Now, since I had a two hours drive down yesterday, and two hours back, I had plenty of time to figure out things with my kids, and even lay down a couple of scenes, one of which will get played out in the next book.  Wait, am I really talking next book?  Yeah, I am.  I’m strange that way.

I also started thinking about Motre spells and how they could be looked at in the same way martial arts is examined.  Why is this and what am I talking about?  First, they why, and it came from a comment from my friend and fellow blogger renxkyoko, who made this statement the other day:

 

Just a lame observation……

Annie’s is more feminine…. I mean, ribbons ? He he
And Kerry’s is manly…. I mean, a sword ?
I guess it’s natural instinct. They gravitate towards what they prefer, deadly shadow ribbons for a girl, and a sword for the guy.

 

Now, I don’t see those as either feminine or masculine traits, because a lot of women in fiction where fighting is involved use swords–several animes would tell you so, I’m sure–whereas there are certain martial arts films where you see guys doing a lot of deflecting and misdirection.  And this is where I start looking at Morte spells where they are seen as hard and soft disciplines.

To lay it out quick and dirty, a hard martial arts style is often defined as power coming from the outside the individual, using fast, strong, direct attacks against your opponent, while a soft martial arts style is usually defined as power coming from within, using relaxed, slow, indirect defense against your opponent.  In terms of martial arts, Shaolin Kung Fu, Eskrima, and Karate would be considered hard styles, while Tai Chi, Aikido, and Hsing-I are considered soft styles.

The different spells are used different ways, just as in martial arts you have different ways of pretty much doing the same thing.  When Annie did her Morte demonstration she used ribbons to bind–soft restraint there–and then used magic to turn one’s body against itself:  in short, she bleed out her opponent.  She could be seen as a practitioner of a soft style that didn’t require any outside attacks, and given that her signature Morte spell is Exsanguination, the way she goes about killing someone isn’t going to be all that flashy or noticeable:  just look at how she took out the female Deconstructor during the Link Bridge battle.

Kerry went full-on external using Electrify as his signature spell, and even went a step further by showing he could craft an electrical sword.  We can guess why he started learning Electrify:  because he’d seen it used within various entertainments in geek culture, and if you haven’t figured it out, that’s also one of the reasons he was initially drawn to transformation as a magical form as well.  At this point in his schooling Kerry is going with what he’s seen, knows, and loves, but he’s still young–I mean, he’s not even a teenager yet, right.

At the same time the kids known how to change up their styles.  First, look at how Annie fought her Judgement Trial.  Everything was external, full of deadly Air Hammers and an Electrify kill shot.  She had to because there wasn’t room for subtlety:  it was go or blow, and Annie doesn’t not blow when it comes time to show her stuff.  She also had a point to prove:  mess with me and I’ll put you down hard.  It was a bit different from the point she made in her Morte demonstration, which was, “If I want to take you out, you won’t see me coming.”

Kerry is still learning his styles, but now that he’s learning Exsanguination he’ll change up when the need arises.  Remember, Annie’s had a few years to develop her signature Morte spell:  Kerry’s only been working on this stuff for about a year.  When he took out the homunculi during his Exsanguination training it became an “Ah, ha!” moment for him, when he learned that for some spells overthinking–or over attacking–isn’t what’s needed; sometimes you just kick back, flick your finger at someone, and let the magic do the rest.  Now, Helena mentioned that Kerry knows the same stuff as Annie, but you can bet all his fellow B Levels remembered from that class is how he lobbed a zombie head in their direction.

And one last thing that I find interesting.  Helena has been played up as a major bad ass, and rightfully so.  And yet, we know Kerry has killed someone, Annie has as well, so has Erywin, and it’s been implied that Maddie and Jessica killed people during the Day of the Dead attack.  Now, we’ve heard that Helena has killed people, but have you seen her throw a Morte spell?  No.  One day I’ll have to write up the time she killed a student . . .

So, there are my musings for the day.  Tomorrow I’ll have more for you to read–

And I expect this to be the look on some faces while they do.

And I expect this to be the look on some faces while they do.

Taking the Dark to the Next Level

It’s a slow going morning, that’s for sure.  Last night I went out to our local Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is one of those unofficial holidays that have popped up over the decades.  The TDR is meant to shed light upon those transpeople who were murdered during the past year, and those who killed themselves because there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel–and if you’ve followed the blog, you know I’ve had a few of those moments myself.

The event sees the names of the known dead read off, and this year, my first, I read the second of twenty-five names.  It’s not meant to be a happy moment; it’s meant as a reminder that just by being who I am my chances of being murdered increase by about fifty percent over the odd of ciswomen, and those odd literally double for transwomen of color.  Which is why when someone tells me this is a “lifestyle choice” I now ask them on the statistics of people who were killed because they were hispters, or who killed themselves due to being discriminated over their preference to drink PBR.

But it’s not my intention to bring you down today, not after finding out it’s World Hello Day.  So hello!  Let’s get to the writing.

I didn’t write anything last night, and this morning I haven’t exactly burned up the keyboard today.  However, I do plan on writing throughout the day between doing the wash and getting lunch and taking a nap:  all the normal stuff, you know.  But what I have written–ah, shit.  Yes, it’s not some happy time stuff, that’s for sure.  It’s just under three hundred words, but it’s going to set the mood for this scene like few others have set one.

What am I talking about?  This:

 

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

Unlike normal Mid-Level Sorcery classes, the B Levels assembled at the Firing Line instead of starting this Thursday morning at The Witch House. Few of the students were happy with the change—the walk to the Firing Line wasn’t any shorter than their normal walk—and some students got lost in the tunnels on their way to class, as they weren’t certain of the route to the building.

No one was certain of why the change of venue occurred, for the message detailing the change showed up as an email sent just after the previous evening’s dinner. Then again, few bothered challenging the thoughts and intentions of the Head Sorceress, as that usually led to grief the questioning student didn’t desire. More that a few students pointed out that it was better to say nothing and play to her whims than speak up and find an angry Kiwi glaring from a few centimeter beyond the tip of your nose.

At eight sharp Professor Lovecraft walked into the main section of the Firing Line where the students had been asked to gather. There was a low mummer among her students as a few commented softly on the sliver-colored sweater she wore under her ever-present leather duster, and that she had her black jeans tucked inside her high-heeled boots, something she only did on those occasions when she wanted appear extra menacing.

She stood before the gathering of students and regarded them for almost ten seconds. Finally she stuck her hands firmly within the pockets of her long coat and clicked her tongue before addressing her class. “Today I’m going to show you how to kill another person.”

 

Hey, good morning, kids!  Did you have a nice breakfast, ’cause I’m certain I can make a few of you toss that shit before class is out!

"Yeah, bitches:  time to show you what I do best."

“Yeah, bitches: time to show you what I do best.”

Before this scene is out you’re gonna know a little more about sorcery and these crazy death spells, and that’s what I’m gonna be working on today–

So you’ll have a bit of easy reading for your breakfast tomorrow.

Yanking the Strings

Well, now, things have become rather interesting.  I mean, I really took my time writing this last night, and thought that I wasn’t really getting anywhere, that this was going to be a short segment to the scene . . .

And eleven hundred words later I had not only finished the scene, but surprised myself.

This scene got huge fast:  just a word short of thirty-two hundred words, or about half the size of the last chapter.  And it could have been longer, much longer, because of something that gets stated in the scene, but that’s gonna get left for another chapter.

But that’s the future–what about the now?  Well, how’s this for starting 2013 out right?

 

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

Ramona waved the reflective air away. “As I said I didn’t cook these up as much as I might have others, therefore there isn’t a reason for genitalia and other physical accessories. The only reason Annie has a semblance of breasts and hips is so we can tell one of you from the other.”

“Meeks seens.” Since Annie didn’t understand much about the process of creating homunculi she didn’t want to get into a long discussion with Ramona on too many details, but thee was one thing that left her puzzled. “Wuh doan wu huv huir?”  (Makes sense.  Why don’t we have hair?)

Helena motioned with her hands. “Annie, come here.”

Annie shambled towards the sorceress. “Ur wu gunna du sumthin?” (Are we going to do something?)

“Yes, we are.” Helena gently took the girl by the shoulders and slowly half-turned her until she was looking more at Ramona than Kerry. “Though this is going to be a bit difficult—”

She nodded. “I undurstun.” Annie managed a weak smile. “Wuh du yu wunt meh ta du?” (I understand.  What do you want me to do?)

Ramona answered the question. “At the moment, nothing.” She turned towards Kerry. “I’m sorry.”

As much of a puzzled look as Kerry could possibly manage appeared upon his face. “Hue cun?”  (How come?)

 

Yeah, how come, Teach?  How come you’re sorry, Ramona?  Well . . .

 

“Because—” A jian, the straight double-edged sword from China that the professor preferred over a katana, appeared in her right hand. Using her Speed Gift she accelerated herself and brought the sword around so fast that it was almost impossible to follow. The sword caught Kerry’s homunculus just above the left ear and sliced the top of his skull off with little difficulty.

Annie sensed Helena moving around behind her as she watched the destroyed homunculus collapse. Her instincts kicked in and her limited training took over as she started to throw up a defense screen while turning to face the Head Sorceress. While they would have been simple matters in her normal body, her puppet didn’t allow her to perform the same way. Only a quarter of a way into the turn her legs buckled and pitched her toward the the floor, and her shield never appeared because she was unable to perform magic.

She watched as Helena stood over her, the sorceress’ face calm and emotionless. She flicked a finger downward and Annie felt pressure quickly building in the sides of her head only moments before there was a sharp taste of blood as it gushed into her mouth—

Annie’s eyes popped open as she shook and spasmed within her harness. The rig room was filled with moaning—most of it came from her right, but she recognized her own guttural cries joining his. Her body felt as if someone had smacked her across the chest and back hard, while her head throbbed with dull pulses of pain. It was a few seconds before she realized she was on the verge of hyperventilating, and she let herself go limp as she struggled to keep from passing out.

The door flew open and Helena and Ramona hurried into the room, each heading towards the person they’d worked with on the main floor. While Annie said nothing as Helena approached, Kerry screeched out a question in a high-pitched, emotional tone. “Why did you do that?” He struggled in his rig, shaking and breathing hard. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Despite her pain Annie chuckled as Kerry swore at the instructors. She glanced up at Helena as she gasped out her words. “You made him mad.”

“I don’t blame him.” Helena lightly touched the side of Annie’s head as both rigs pitched up slightly so the children could see the instructors without being lowered to the floor and removed from the contraptions. “You feeling okay?”

 

Ramona is Chinese, and she loves her jian, which if you’ve watched any good Chinese martial arts movie, you’ll know what they look like–

In Kerry's case, he got to see one up close and personal.

In Kerry’s case, he got to see one up close and personal.

Ramona’s Speed Gift means that for a short period of time she can move about five times faster than a Normal human–and given that at regular speeds she’s lightning fast, that means even the regular Kerry probably wouldn’t have stood a chance.  He’s learned a bit in a year and a half, but he’s no match for Ms. Hidden Dragon of Witches.

Annie knew what she was doing, and if she were back in her own body she might have stood a chance–instead she got her head blown off for her troubles.  A long time ago in a post far, far away, Helena spoke of how she used to practice a certain Morte spell on chickens, and because she wasn’t that good, she’d literally blow their heads right off their bodies.  Well, guess what, Annie?  You got to be a chicken–

 

“I’m fine, just—” Annie closed her eyes whiles she breathed deeply three times. “Just shaky.”

“Good.” She looked to her left. “How you feeling, oh significant other?”

Kerry let out a long, harsh sigh. “I don’t feel like I’m passing out, if that means anything.”

“It means you’re going to live to fight another day.” Helena stepped back towards the center of the room, with Ramona close by. “Standard practice for first-time puppeteers is to have them experience a snap-back, and the easiest way to do that is destroy their homunculus.” She nodded towards the woman on her left. “Ramona did what she does best, as did I?”

The martial arts instructor nodded. “Now you know the real reason why I didn’t cook up those puppets as much as normal.”

Annie was more interested in what Helena did to her rather than concentrate on her original statement. “What did you use on me?”

“Blood Hammer.”

“I thought so.” Annie closed her eyes and shuddered. “It goes fast.”

“Rushing all the blood into someone’s head does the job quickly.”

Kerry, however, remained fixed on the reply to his first question. “What’s a snap-back?”

“It’s what happens when you lose your connection to your puppet and your consciousness is tossed back into your own head.” Helena gripped one hand in the other and began to rock from side to side. “A small snap happens when you’re controlling your reentry into your head and you’re dumped back into your mind for one reason or another. They hurt, but it’s more like an annoyance than anything else. What you experienced was a big snap, when everything goes to hell and you get dropped back into your body feeling like someone dropped you off one of the coven towers.” She shrugged. “Like with a lot of stuff we do, if I told you this was coming you’d have been waiting for it to happen, and it’s better if you experience—”

“Like we would in the field?” Annie finally released her last sigh. “Yes?”

“Absolutely.” She chuckled. “Always better you learn it like this than elsewhere, yeah?”

The mood returned to normal, though Kerry semi-stared off towards the far wall. He finally spoke after a little more than five seconds of silence in a soft and dreamy voice. “Is that what dying’s like?”

Helena exchanged glances with Ramona as the two were about to discuss something. The sorceress turned slowly towards the boy. “No, it isn’t.” She looked down and away from both children as she completed her answer. “It’s a lot easier.”

Before either student could speak she looked up, smiling. “Okay, enough of that bullshit. Ramona and I are gonna get the next two puppets ready, and I promise these will be far more functional.” She looked about the room. “Let’s have some fun now, shall we?”

 

There you are:  teach the kids that suddenly losing the connection to your puppet hurts like hell–and dying is easy.  And now that you’ve seen what it’s like to almost die, let’s have fun!  That Helena:  she knows how to party.

Then again, if you’re training kids at the ages of, well, really, eleven and twelve the year before, to be Guardians, you ain’t gonna lie and try to gloss over stuff.  After all, Annie and Kerry have already seen that shit gets real on the streets, and Deconstructors don’t care about your age:  if you stand against them, you’re something to be eliminated and that’s that.

Chapter Twenty-One is half-way done:

Which could be a tag line for a movie if you think about it.

Which could be a tag line for a movie if you think about it.

And the next scene is Helena-heavy again.  Time for Death, you say?

You just wait.

Bechdel-Wallaceing Down Memory Lane

Ah, the sweet smell of Wednesday.  It’s hot and muggy outside, but tomorrow it’s not going to get out of the upper 60s and rain all day.  Maybe I’ll wear my purple dress tomorrow, because why not?  It’s like this when you walk to work, right?  All the time.  Best enjoy this, ’cause in a few months it’ll be snowing and cold and I’m gonna need a pair of rubber boots to wear, ’cause I damn sure don’t want to do it in flats.

Now we have writing, and a strange title for today’s post.  The title refers to the Bechdel-Wallace Test, a litmus test for female presence in fictional media. It’s named for Alison Bechdel, creator of the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, which she credits to idea first put forward by her friend Liz Wallace.  The rules are simple:

 

1.  The story includes at least two women
2.  Who have at least one conversation
3.  About something other than a man or men

 

Booyah.  Simple, right?  You’d be surprised.  This is mostly applied to movies, but it can be applied to any sort of fictional media.  And you get a lot of funny results.  Most of the Harry Potter movies/books fail this test, but Starship Troopers passes because of one conversation.  Now, I’m not gonna point out that the movie Bikini Car Wash totally passes this test, because to do so points out that you shouldn’t take stuff like this so seriously that you revolve your whole story around whether or not you can pass the test by hitting the required marks–that’s known as gaming the system, and it’s easy to do.

I don’t try to game, however.  I let my work stand on it’s own merit.  I will say, however, that I do pass the test, though the first novel has Annie talking about Kerry a lot to Deanna on  a couple of occasions, but that was because a lot of the story was about her working to get back his memories.

"Let me tell you about my boyfriend. He doesn't remember me from our dreams, and he thinks I'm really another girl he fell in love with, but . . . not. Pretty clear, huh?"

“Let me tell you about my boyfriend. He doesn’t remember me from our dreams, and he thinks I’m really another girl he fell in love with, but . . . not. Pretty clear, huh?”

There have been a lot of other conversations, though, that weren’t about Kerry.  Annie and Helena talking about Shadow Ribbons; Isis and Wednesday talking about going outside The Pentagram; Wednesday and Erywin talking about getting comms and sensors back on-line; Erywin and Helena having a number of conversations; Helena threatening Maddie about being a mole for the Guardians. And the conversation below:  Annie and Deanna getting into a little school history.  Which is always fun . . .

 

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

“Fortunately for everyone Wanda was affable and well liked, which was considered a change from a few of the school’s overly-strict instructors. And given her age, she tended to identify with the students, which they loved. And as a seer she was good: from what I read two-thirds of her visions tended to be accurate.

“But . . .” A large smile began forming on Deanna’s face. “You know how Normal entertainment tends to portray seers as being eccentric, sometimes to an extreme?”

“Eccentric or insane.” Annie tended to stay away from popular books and movie that had ridiculous or hurtful portrayals of witches, and in particular hated the stereotype of the seer who was anti-social or crazy. While she knew it wasn’t Normal artist’s fault that they’d never knowingly interacted with witches, it was still bothersome that they were played for the lowest common entertainment value. “I don’t care for either.”

 

Seers coming across and eccentric and crazy in popular fiction?  Think they have a certain witch in mind?  Probably.  A nice little touch I love is showing how the people at Salem react to the way their kind are represented in different forms of media popularized by Normals.  Think Deanna doesn’t get pissed every time she sees a woman staring into a crystal ball?  Think Erywin nearly blinds herself rolling her eyes every time she sees witches standing around a bubbling cauldron?  Think Helena hasn’t gone all Elvis on her television whenever there’s an evil sorceress in a program?  They know how they’re seen–either played for laughs or decked out as pure evil–and even when someone comes close to getting it right, they shake their heads and mutter, “For heaven’s sake, we own TVs–we’re not living in the 19th Century, you know!”

But, you know, every so often someone does fit the image . . .

 

“Neither do I, for obvious reasons. However, stereotypes exist for a reason, and it seems Wanda was one of those exceptions. According to the diaries from the time, every vision was a Pronouncement, and she made a huge deal out of each one: standing up, spreading the arms, tossing back the head, and speaking in a really loud voice.” Deanna almost shouted out the last few words to give them the emphasis she wanted. “And it was likely to happen at any time: in class, during meals, during celebrations, even in the middle of the night. That’s why she got the nickname Crazy Wanda, because there was nothing subtle about the way she brought her sight to the attention of others.

“However, given that she was a great instructor, the staff and students put up with her, and she not only became a mainstay, but by the early eighteen hundreds she was being considered as a coven leader. Then Imbolc, 1803, came around, and that is how all this—” Deanna held out her hands and looked about the office. “—came about.

“The diary of the Ceridwen Coven leader stated that right in the middle of the Imbolc feast Wanda stands up and begins speaking of her vision. In this one, she states that the school must build a second building for divination studies just to the east of the current structure, and it must be completed and ready for the next school year, or—as she stated—’The whole of the establishment will be consumed in flame and agony’.”

Annie was torn between grimacing and laughing. “That’s quite a vision to proclaim: give Divinations their own building, or watch the school burn to the ground.”

Deanna nodded. “And what bothered the school staff was her sixty-six percent success rate on visions. The school’s one hundred and thirtieth anniversary was happening that summer, and they wanted a school—and students—there to witness said anniversary. So . . .” She raised her eyebrows as she turned her eyes towards the ceiling. “Here we are. They broke ground right before Beltaine, and they completed the building the first week in July. Wanda got her building—and an office—and the school didn’t burn down.” Deanna sighed. “Everyone was happy.”

 

I should try that with my job:  “If I don’t get a raise, FIRE AND BRIMSTONE, YO!”  Yeah.  I’d get shown the door real quick.  Probably would help if I could turn people into newts . . .

Now you know why there are two buildings out at Memory’s End.  And all’s well that ends well, right?

 

Annie leaned against the wall. “So how long did Wanda teach here after this was built?”

Deanna’s mood began to shift and turn dower. “Four years.”

“Did she go back to The Netherlands after that?”

“You could say that—” Deanna looked down for a moment. “She died 2 November, 1807, right after the Samhain celebrations.”

Given the way Deanna’s mood changed Annie was almost afraid to ask the cause of the young seer’s death. “What happened?”

“She killed herself.” Deanna paused just long enough for Annie to get over the shock before continuing. “She came out here early in the morning with a potion—which is what they called them back then—and her body was found right before lunch. She gave no reason for her suicide: all she left behind were instructions on who would get her books, that she wanted her body immolated, and that the ashes were to be dropped into the Maas River a bit upstream so they’d flow past her home town on their way to the sea.”

With the end of the story the mood in the office changed dramatically. “That doesn’t seem right. How could she kill herself?”

Deanna came over and touched Annie’s shoulder reassuringly. “It’s not the first time it happened, and certainly wasn’t the last.” She glanced to her left. “A total of five instructors of divination have died in this office, four by their own hands—the last one killed herself in 1964.”

 

Well, that’s a bummer, but it was one I expected, because when I set Wanda up in the notes I wrote “1770–1807” next to her name.  She didn’t make it to forty.  And, you find out, that’s not unusual out at Memory’s End–or at the school . . .

 

“That’s so . . .” Before coming to Salem she’d knew nothing of the dark side of the school save for whispered comments about The Scouring, and though the Day of the Dead attack was horrible, she believed it to be an exception. “I don’t know how you can work in an office where people killed themselves.”

“It doesn’t bother me.” Deanna softly chuckled. “Besides, this place is drenched in blood. The school is going to be three hundred and thirty years old next summer, and in that time nearly six hundred people—staff, instructors, and students—have died here—”

“You’ve seen a lot of that, haven’t you?” Annie was very much aware of Deanna’s involvement in The Scouring, how she managed to lead a majority of her covermates out of Åsgårdsreia Coven before it was destroyed by a Deconstructor attack, even though they hadn’t studied the event in history yet.

“More than I’ve cared to see.” She slid her hand behind Annie’s shoulder and directed her out of the office. “Let me show you something—”

“What?”

Deanna led them towards the stairs going to the first floor. “One of my favorites places here.”

 

Let’s hope the place Deanna wants to show Annie is a happy one, because I managed to end almost a thousand words of writing on a real down note.  Not to mention that she pointed out that nearly two people have died each year at Salem for the duration of its existence, and that’s a strange bit of history to keep in mind.  In Annie’s first year at the school ten people died, and that number was nearly fourteen, and that’s a hell of a way to start off your magical instruction.  And even though it was pointed out that Deanna was involved in saving a lot of people from her coven during The Scouring, she’s leaving out that something like thirty were killed when Åsgårdsreia Tower exploded–yeah, right up in flames it went.  Not a pretty sight.

Maybe tomorrow there’ll be happy time.  Pretty sure we could all use it.

Pretty Little Kill Machines

Here I am, sitting in the car dealership at eight-forty in the morning, getting new tires on my ride in preparation for the return to Red State Indiana next Saturday.  There are so many things running through my mind at the moment, and I’ve been up since five getting them sorted.  I’ve written, I’ve sent off birthday wishes, I’ve thought about what I’m going to say here–oh, and it’s an anniversary of sorts today, for sometime today, right around noon is my guess, I’ll take my twenty-forth hormone injection, and that will make one year down, baby.  I’ll make sure to get pictures, trust me.

Also, for comical relief, I post this text transaction of an eleven year old girl burning down her boyfriend for hanging out with another girl.  When I saw this yesterday the first thing that came to mind was, “This is why Annie doesn’t have a mobile phone.”  After all, I wouldn’t want her going crazy on Kerry after she went through the trouble of buying his Starbucks, ’cause as we know, Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino equals True Love, and one does not screw with the heart of a girl who goes to those lengths to show said love.

Then again, she doesn’t need a mobile to go all Dracarys on someone:  Annie knows how to toss real fireballs.  When she burns you down, it’s literal as hell . . .

Wednesday mentioned to our lovey dovey couple that people in their level may be afraid of them, it brings to mind a certain scene where these two went nuts on a few Walkers in the middle of a test, and Annie’s reaction to people recoiling in horror from them was short and definitive.  Wednesday knows all about that test:  she saw the video, and it was one of the reasons why she pulled them into Advanced Spells.

Believe it or not, Wednesday knows the feelings of which she speaks, as she’s been there–

 

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

Wednesday slipped a cover onto her container. “Just like you, people felt intimidated by me—and there were a lot of people who were scared.”

“Of you?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

Wednesday grew serious for the first time either of them could remember. “Because I killed someone.”

The minions exchanged looks, but it was Annie who responded. “That was during The Scouring, right?”

Wednesday nodded. “Yeah.” She smirked. “I killed the Head Sorceress.”

Kerry seemed almost ready to gasp. “You did?”

“Yeah. I was heading back to my cover and he confronted me, my coven leader, and a friend of mine outside the tower. He killed both of them using Blood Hammer and was about to do me when whipped up a spell.” Wednesday looked away for only a moment, then looked directly at both children. “I created a vortex around him and flayed him to death with dirt and little rocks. It’s not the best way to go out, but . . .” Her jaw clenched. “He deserved that.

“The next school year, I was a D Level and was asked to do my minion duty then—though we didn’t call it ‘minion duty’, we were just lab assistants. I was helping A Level and things we okay until about the start of October, and then it was like a switch was flipped; no one wanted my help for anything. Isis told me later that she’d heard word got around about me killing the Head Sorceress, and people—especially the A Levels—were suddenly scared of me. Even the B and C Levels started tip-toeing around me. It was like I’d went from ‘Wednesday the Good Witch’ to “Wednesday the Killer Bitch’ overnight.” She shrugged. “I eventually took that year off from helping out in the lab because it bothered me that no one wanted my help, and I had to deal with the why of the situation.”

She moved closer to her students and spoke in lower tones, as if conveying wisdom that she wanted only them to hear. “I know Helena likes to cultivate a bad ass rep, but that’s the way she is: she’s never given a shit if anyone likes her, particularly the students, because she’s not here to be liked—she’s here to make good sorceresses.” Wednesday paused long enough to give her minions a warm, gentle smile. “Yeah, there are a few people who won’t ever like you for one stupid reason of another, and more than a few who’ll be scared of you because of your abilities and actions, but you can’t let it get to you—” She gave them both a comforting pat on their shoulders. “It’s not personal: it’s just the way things are.”

Wednesday levitated both closed containers to the open storage cabinet in the corner and closed the door. “One thing you gotta remember when you’re teaching—”

Kerry glanced at Annie before responding. “What’s that?”

“Do you want to be liked? Or do you want to be effective?” Wednesday chuckled. “Just a slight bit of paraphrasing there, but in the end, it’s true.” She held out her hands. “It’s lunch time and I’m buying. You coming?”

 

Annie looks up to Helena, and being the Good Dark Witch means she strives to keep a little fear wrapped around her presence.  Sure, Kerry killed a bad guy, but everyone save a few people think it was one of those accidents that just happened.  Most of Annie’s “Bad Witch” rep comes from going after Lisa in the middle of The Rotunda, and getting extremely chummy with The Mistress of All Things Dark.  If any of the students really knew what Annie has done in the last year, they’d likely stay the hell out of her way–

You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

Shoot Down the Firing Line

Right before midnight there was a hell of a storm here in The Burg, and one bit of lightning went off that must have been right above the apartment, because the flash and bang were almost simultaneous.  Great way to see the first half of the summer out, right?  Doesn’t make for good time trying to get to sleep, however.

So the last two days I’ve skirted with the thousand word limit.  The day before last I had nine hundred ninety-eight; last night it was nine hundred eighteen.  Close, but not quiet there.  However, those thousands add up after a while, and with three more scenes left in Chapter Nine, I have a good shot of ending Act One right at eighty thousand words, especially since I crossed seventy-five thousand, four hundred words last night.

This also means that, sticking with my two weeks per ten thousand schedule, I’ll finish Act One in the upcoming week–right before I have to leave The Burg and head back to Indiana for some personal business.  I could even start Act Two while on the road.

But what about the end of Act One?  Where is Kerry?

Ginger Hair Boy got snapped at by Chestnut Girl, and neither are pleased that it happened.  But that’s the breaks when you’re training hard, and all the training, and learning, are in your hands.  Best then to take a time out . . .

 

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

“Yeah, you did.” Kerry chuckled. “Because it’s true.” He reached across his body to pat her hand. “Can we take a break?”

She tugged on his arm. “Let’s go sit in the viewing gallery.”

There were a dozen chairs in the viewing gallery, each big enough for a single person. Kerry chose one against the wall opposite the entrance. He held tight to Annie’s hand. “Sit with me.”

She eyed Kerry, then the chair. “There isn’t enough room for us both.”

“Sure there is—” He sat and patted his thighs. “Join me.”

Annie held her hands tight against her belly. “You want me to sit on your lap?”

“Sure.” He glanced up through the top of his glasses. “It’s not like you weigh a lot.”

She slid into his lap, chuckling as she wrapped an arm around his neck. “This all right?”

“You’re fine.”

“As long as you’re comfortable, my love.” Annie rested against his shoulder. “What’s bothering you?”

“I don’t know.” He slowly slipped his arm around Annie and held her close. “I just don’t get why it’s so hard—I know I’m seeing it correctly in my head.” He sighed. “How did you figure out the right visualization for blood coming out of the body?”

“Well . . .” She leaned in close and whispered. “I have some experience with blood coming out of the body.” She kissed the side of his head. “Like now.”

Kerry’s eyes rolled up for a second before turning just enough to see Annie’s face. “Oh, yeah: I forgot.” He snuggled his head against hers. “I did check this morning, Sweetie—”

“I know you did; you always do.” A soft sigh slipped out from between pressed lips. “You always make me feel good.”

“Except I got you upset.” Kerry began to smile as he felt his frustration slowly drain away. “I didn’t want to do that; I don’t like doing that.”

 

Once upon a time Kerry mentioned to Nurse Coraline during “The Talk” that he was aware of Annie’s cycle–and isn’t it a good thing he didn’t mention that to his mother?  I’d also mentioned that, knowing Kerry, he probably went and set it up on a calendar somewhere, so he’d know when Annie Dim Red Tides were upon high.  But noticed:  he didn’t blame her snapping at him on that; he says he knows he made her upset, and he’s chilling on anything else.

But there’s something else afoot here . . .

 

Annie shifted her body so she didn’t cause Kerry too much discomfort. “You didn’t, love: not really. I was—” She set back several centimeter so she could better see his face. “It was as if I could feel your frustration. And as you grew more frustrated—”

“—It affected you.” He chuckled. “I could feel it coming off you.”

Annie didn’t want to discuss what she felt from Kerry, or what he felt from her: she wanted to discuss the reason why they were here, and what she thought might be the source of Kerry’s frustration. “May I make an observation?”

He chuckled. “You can make as many as you like.”

She sat up, no longer leaning against her soul mate. “Whenever you’ve had this—problem—in the past, it’s not because you don’t know how to craft the spell: it’s because you’re over-thinking the spell.”

Kerry pushed himself back deeper into the chair, his expression changing as he eyed Annie. “Like the first time you spoke with me in Spell Class a year ago.”

“Yes—” She nodded slowly. “Just like that time.”

“Yes.” He leaned back and stared at the ceiling for several seconds as he remembered the time a couple of weeks after the start of Beginning Spells, when Annie took him aside and explained the difference between being a technical and a natural witch. How being a natural witch meant not seeing magic as a series of steps one needed to craft in order to perform a spell, but more of a feeling that magic should just happen a certain way . . .

Kerry slowly pressed the palm of his right hand into his forever. “Ohhhh . . .” He closed his eyes and exhaled. “I’ve been so stupid.”

 

You are stupid, Kerry–stuuuupiiiidddd!  Yep, with a little help he thinks he’s got it.  And what is “it”?  Pretty much what you think it is–

 

She slipped off his lap and stood. “Let us go then—” She helped Kerry to his feet. “My love.”

They reentered the test area and Kerry proceeded directly towards the table with the practice torsos. He examined the torso on the right as if he were looking for flaws and imperfections. “I think I got this.”

“Do you?” Annie stood slightly behind him and to his left. “Do you really believe you know this?”

He glanced over his shoulder. “Yes—” He turned and stared at the torso for about fifteen seconds before slowly drawing back his left arm, keeping his hand close to his side. He held it there for a few seconds, then pushed it forward, twisting his hand around palm-upward once his arm was fully extended.

The moment Kerry’s arm became fully extended, blood began running from the torso’s nose, then started to pour from its ears and eyes as the chest and arms turned red with blood oozing from the pores. The pulsing heart began slowing as the light grew lighter. Ten seconds after the Exsanguination spell hit the torso, the light faded away as the heart ceased beating.

He turned to Annie, a huge smile stretched from cheek-to-cheek. “I do.”

She returned his smile as she began bouncing on the balls of her feet. “What changed?”

“Over-thinking.” He turned back towards the torso. “Way too much.”

Annie stepped next to him and took his hand. “How so?”

“By doing what I did back at the start of spells class, Sweetie. Here I’ve been thinking about Exsanguination the same way oxygen moves from the cells through the walls and into the tissue . . . I was trying to work the spell the scientific way, and it was all wrong.” He gave her hand a squeeze before throwing his arm around Annie’s shoulders. “This time I just thought about blood pushing through everything and pouring out into and through the body—” He shot an excited glance Annie’s way. “You put enough blood into the body, and even if it doesn’t ooze out of every pore, it’s gonna come out somewhere eventually. Right?”

 

One might say there’s no science in magic, and for the most part they’re right.  And even as good as Kerry can be at times, he still slips back into old habits–which is what happened here.  He’s trying to come up with some strange ideas of how the blood permeates the arterial membranes, when what he needed to see is blood being drawn out of someone’s body.  He figured it out, and he wants to move on–

 

“Yes, it will.” Annie turned and gave him a hug. “I knew there was something like that holding you back.” She leaned back, her face beaming. “It’ll take about ten minutes for the torso to soak up the blood, so you can use the other one—”

He shook his head. “No.” He looked over Annie’s shouldn’t. “I want to try the homunculus.”

“You do?”

“Yes.”

Annie backed away slowly, her eyes fixed on Kerry while she teased him with her words. “You do the spell right one time—”

“And I know I can do it again.”

She straightened her back and shot a stern look his way. “Farm Boy, I had better see his homunculus dead.”

He did a quick half-bow. “As you wish.”

 

Sure thing, Princess Buttercup:  you get that blue cabinet open . . .

 

Annie skipped over and planted a quick kiss on his cheek before turning towards the cabinets. “Let me unlock the door—”

“Not the blue.” His eyes shifted to his right. “The red.”

A moment of uncertainty passed over Annie’s face. “You really want a Tracker?”

“Why not? It’ll give me an incentive to get the spell right.” He rolled his shoulders, getting loose. “I mean, the worse that can happen is it’ll touch me and the enchantment will knock me out, right?”

“Right as rain.” She unlocked two of the red cabinet doors and began walking back towards Kerry. “I’ll get hidden so it doesn’t track me, then open the door.” Annie glanced to her right and examined Kerry’s mood. He’s not the least bit nervous—just like when we were in Kansas City. “Are you ready?”

He sighed out his eagerness. “Yes.”

Annie vanished from sight; five seconds later one of the unlocked doors opened and the homunculus stepped out.

Kerry was well aware of how these things worked. An enchantment keep the homunculus from noticing anything until they were about two meters from their cabinet, at which point they locked onto anything breathing. They’d continue following people around until they were either put down, or they came into contact with a person—at which point an enchantment carried by the homunculus rendered them unconscious, often with a variety of special effects.

As had happened many times during A Level Self Defense class, the homunculus detected Kerry after taking a few stepped away from the cabinet. The teenage-sized humanoid, attired in a light-blue paper coverall, headed towards him in a slow walk. He wasn’t fooled by their slow, steady movement: thought he was only four meters away, if he didn’t move the homunculus would be upon him in about ten seconds.

Having a Tracker coming his way put him under pressure to act—and to make everything work right.

He took a single step backwards as he visualized the effect the spell would have. He drew on the dark energy needed to power the spell. His crafting nearly complete, all that remained was to exert his will upon his crafting, and . . .

Kerry kept his hand close to his side this time, pressing his palm in the direction of the homunculus. Blood began flowing from the ears and nose, but it didn’t gush as it had with the practice torso. Now three meters away, the homunculus staggered slightly, but the lose of blood was only enough to slow the creature in its forward advance.

He took another step backwards and quickly re-crafted. He wasn’t rattled: his mind was clear and worked through his VEW steps rapidly. He drew in a breath, held it as he prepared himself, and pointed at the homunculus as if he were ordering it to sit.

Blood squirted from the nose, ears, and eyes. Red spots began appearing across the coverall as blood flowed from the pores, and small streams of blood flowed down the legs and dripped over the ankles. The homunculus took three staggering steps and slipped to the right, crashing to the floor. It twitched twice then lay still, leaving Kerry to stand over the homunculus and stare down at it in much in the same way he’d once done to a student during A Level Sorcery class.

 

Standing over a student in Sorcery Class?  Maybe one who is writhing in pain on the floor?  Yeah, that’s the Dark Kerry we’ve seen before, and he’s finally back.  He’s not only got this, but he knows something else:

 

Annie appeared at his left, having dropped her light bending spell. She hooked her right arm around his left. “I would say that was a successful use of Exsanguination.”

Kerry humphed. “It wasn’t perfect.”

“No, it wasn’t. Took you about twenty, twenty-five seconds to drop the target.”

“Yeah.” As much as he wanted to celebrate his accomplishment, he knew what was necessary. “I want to do it again.”

“I thought you might.” She turned him until he was facing her, then kissed him on the lips. “You’re becoming like me.”

“I’ll never be as good as you.” He kissed her back. “But I do want to get it right; I don’t want a repeat of the Link Bridge.”

Annie nodded. “Neither do I.” She pulled him closer. “Like it or not you are like me.”

“And I know what you would do—”

“Do you?” She nodded and released his arm, then hung both arms around his shoulders. Where the other kisses were quick and playful, this time she kissed him slowly and with enormous passion. My dark witch has learned his lesson

She broke the kiss but kept her eyes close as she breathed in his exhilaration. “Were you thinking of something like that?”

Kerry kissed her on the nose before glancing towards the red cabinet. “That was great, but . . . you need to set up another Tracker for me.”

Annie lightly pushed away from Kerry and performed her own little bow. “As you wish.”

 

Nothing like using a metaphor for “I love you” while learning spells designed to kill people, right?  One could say they are entirely too happy about this success, and a few people would be right:  they are happy.  There could be a myriad of reasons why, but sealing off the Firing Line for these two to wreck havoc was probably done not so much to keep them from being distracted, but to keep other students from seeing that they might just be having a little too much fun.  There’s also the kissing parts, too–at least this time they’re not covered in blood.  (I would still love for someone to draw that picture of them embracing after the zombie fight.)

So here we are:

Closer to the end, for sure.

Closer to the end, for sure.

And I’m really shooting for finishing this act up next week.

But first:  minion duty.  Maybe.

The Altered Path

It’s been an interesting time last night and this morning.  It seems that I’m too tired to write at night, but on these weekends I’m getting a lot of writing done–although “a lot” is probably a misnomer, as I’ve only written eight hundred words in ninety minutes.  Not exactly Stephen King-level wordsmithing, but I suppose if I kept it up like he does for an eight to ten hour day, that would work out to almost sixteen hundred words every three hours, and around five thousand in ten hours.

Not bad, if I should say so myself.

But this was a tough scene to write, because Annie’s suppose to say things to Kerry, and say them in a rather nice way that doesn’t make her come off like a Bulgarian Bitch.  She needs to tell him something important–one of my astute readers has already figured out what–but she has to do it in a good way, and as we’ve already seen, Annie can be fairly blunt at times.  Except when it comes to her Ginger Hair Boy, then she sort of pulls back and tries not to let him have it too hard, while at the same time saying, “No, Kerry:  bad Kerry.”

But first off:  did Kerry deliberately kill that Deconstructor in Selena’s Meadow back when he thought he was safe from being eating by one of Cthulhu’s Minions?  And how did Annie figure out that she things Kerry smoked the dude on purpose?  The answer is pretty easy, actually . . .

 

All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, 2015 by Cassidy Frazee)

Kerry continued staring at his hand being held by Annie. He finally responded in a whisper much like hers. “How did you find out?”

Annie pressed her cheek against his for a moment before pulling back. “I figured it out.”

“When?”

“The Monday following the attack, during Flight Class.”

Kerry slowly turned so he was looking at Annie. “How? How did you figure it out?”

“Remember how I was waiting for you to come out of the locker room before the daily briefing?”

“I remember.” That was one of the few moments about that class that Kerry did remember completely. He’d felt so strange changing into his flight gear, which a few days earlier had been covered in blood and brains, and given that he was given a lot of space to as he changed made him wonder how the class would go for him. “It was a strange day.”

“It was indeed. You didn’t know it at the time, but Emma walked out right before you did. Everyone in the room knew what had happened to her, but only about half stopped what they were doing and watched her take her seat. It wasn’t like when you came out—everyone stopped talking. I don’t think you realized how quiet the Ready Room became right then, because you had pulled into yourself.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I was trying not to pay attention.”

“I know. You weren’t looking at anyone as we headed for our seats—but I was. I caught the few stares focused on you, could sense what they were thinking. I also saw Vicky . . .” Annie paused, taking a moment to breathe and think. “When Emma came out, Vicky was looking at her like she was happy that she’d survived her ordeal and has returned to fly another day.

“But when she looked at you— I caught her expression for just a second, but it was enough. She looked like she knew something about you, like there was a secret she was holding, and she was afraid someone else would find it out.” Annie lightly ran her fingertips over the back of Kerry’s hand. “She was sad and worried all at once—and the moment she realized I’d seen her, she shifted her expression back over to what she’d shown when Emma walked out.

“While we were sitting in the briefing, I remembered a moment we’d had back in the hospital after Emma wrecked you racing. Coraline said to Vicky, ‘I know you checked the flight data,’ and I realized she would have done the same thing with your broom the moment it was recovered from Selena’s Meadow. She would have wanted to see where you’d traveled, where you hid after you nearly crashed, she’d want to know everything. The fact she had the information that got us here proves she did.”

She inched closer to Kerry, pressing against his arm as she comforted him. “I know she would have examined your path when you tried to return to The Diamond, and when you tried getting away from the Abomination . . . and right before you ran into the Deconstructor. She would have noticed if you’d actually flew straight into him, or if you’d changed your path towards him . . .” Annie rested her head against his shoulder. “She would have seen that you altered your path, that you flew towards him, that you chose to hit him.” She kissed him on the cheek. “That’s how Vicky knew, and that’s how I knew.”

 

Annie is bright, and she’s observant.  She’s also aware of the emotional baggage that her soul mate carries around, and she tries not to add to that if at all possible.  The fact that she thought she’d figured all this out six months before and had kept it to herself shows she didn’t want to burden him with more troubles.  She probably would have said something had he started freaking out with night terrors and the like, though it’s likely that Coraline and a few others knew the truth along with Vicky–if that truth did indeed exist.

And did it?

 

Silence filled the clearing as Kerry removed his hand from Annie’s and slid his arm around her shoulders. “I saw the guy pretty well, because I’d looked over my left should to see what was happening behind me, and when I turned back there he was—standing with blue flame in his hand.” He pulled her closer. “I knew one of the other two people was Jessica; I was using low light on my goggles and I could tell by her height and complexion. I didn’t know who the other person was: one guy had cold fire, and he was getting ready to use it on Jessica and whoever she was helping.

“If I’d kept flying straight I’d have flown between them. I didn’t know if I’d been hit; it wouldn’t matter, since I could have flown over them. I did know that he was going to hit and burn them, and I knew what cold fire would do, so he was going to kill them. And I couldn’t let that happen, so . . .” He twisted and reached across his body so he could hug Annie with his other arm. “I shifted my path to the left a little. I didn’t think I was going to hit him in the head, though: I thought I’d hit him in the shoulders or chest, something like that.”

Even with her face buried against his flight jacket Kerry could feel Annie smile before chuckling. “What is it?”

 

I’ll get to the “What is it?” in a moment, but there’s the truth:  Kerry saw the guy, knew one of the people in his firing line was Jessica, and he altered his path to intercept, as any other flight jock might say.  Tough choice to make, and there weren’t a lot of options open.  And there’s another fact that plays out here:  If Kerry had tried to run and leave that scene of death and destruction behind, would he have lived?  Or would he have had a Morte spell thrown at him as he tried to jet away into the darkness?  Even I can’t say, because I wrote the scene the way it was written, and there’s no need for speculation.  So it is written; so it is done.

Now, what was Annie chuckling about?  Well, not what you think.  She gets there, but only after laying out her own truths:

 

“I’ll tell you in a minute.” Annie relaxed and rested against Kerry. “You knew early on that I was a witch, but I never mentioned that I wanted to be a sorceress because I didn’t want to reveal too much, or confuse you.” She turned her head, rubbing her cheek against his. “And as you’ve likely guessed, I want to be a Guardian. I thought about the possibility when I was teaching myself Exsanguination, and once we were asked to do the field operation, I wanted it to be more than a possibility: I wanted to make it real.

“I know what it means to be a sorceress, and when I started learning a Morte spell I understood that one day it might be necessary to use it—and if so, I couldn’t hesitate using it, because my life could depend upon its use.

“To be a sorceress means to use spells against other people: we learned that the first day of Sorcery class. It means you may find it necessary to use Morte spells against Deconstructors, Berserkers, and those people who turn on The Foundation and go rogue. It means you have to stop them, any way you can.” She pressed her head against his shoulder. “It means if it becomes necessary to kill someone, you have to do so without hesitation.”

 

Ambitious Annie, almost a teenager and knowing what she wants to do with her life.  It probably also answers the question of whether or not she’d have gone on the field operation had Kerry said no.  Then again, we don’t know if she would have said yes had Kerry said no–and one day I’ll actually give the answer to that question.

One day.

But Annie’s not finished:  now she gets to the most important part of her conversation with Kerry–

 

Annie twisted away from Kerry and sat directly in front of him, cross-legged. “During our battle on the Link Bridge you hesitated. I know you know this, because you’ve already said you’ve thought about the battle, and you understand your actions. I don’t know if you hesitated because you were unsure if you could craft the Electrify spell properly, or if you were, as you say, trying to do too many things at the same time.” She reached out and took Kerry’s hands, the one he’d kept sitting in his lap, and set them against her legs. “Or, lastly, it could be you hesitated because you knew you’d need to take his life.”

“Kerry—Erywin was down, I was down, it was you and the Deconstructor. You know what they’re like, you know what they’ll do to us: they’ll kill us without hesitation. Which is what he tried to do to you, and would have done to Erywin and me as well. My love—” She gave his hands a squeeze. “If I had been knocked out instead of stunned, you would be dead. You’d be dead, Erywin and I would probably be dead. Even if we hadn’t died, I’d have had to deal with loosing you, and that’s something I don’t wish to contemplate.

“This is why I asked if you want to be a good sorceress, because if you want to be good, you can’t ever hesitate like that again. Because the time will likely come again when your life, and perhaps the lives of others, will depend on whether you’re good or not.”

There it is:  she lets him know that he could have died and maybe gotten them killed at the same time.  You know, last year at this time, Kerry was probably sitting down for dinner, maybe having a favorite dish because it was his eleventh birthday, and while he was munching on his cake he was thinking that he was gonna see Annie in his dreams and she’d have a birthday kiss for him.  Quiet a difference from sitting in a tiny clearing hearing about how he almost died and maybe, just maybe, almost caused the deaths of the people with him.  Not exactly the sort of birthday goodness one would expect.

What is the end result of this conversation?  This:

 

Annie moved close enough that they were nearly sitting in each other’s laps. “I don’t expect you to walk my path; I know there are things you want to do that I won’t, and there are things I want to do that you won’t. But . . . you have the abilities of a great sorceress, and it would be a shame to let your skills go to waste.” She leaned closer. “Do you want to be a good sorceress?” She closed in, brushing her lips against his cheek as she whispered. “Do you want to be my Dark Witch?”

 

Annie is pressing home her question, and doing it as nicely and sweetly and . . . well, in a way that should leave Kerry with no misconceptions that she’s angry–it’s pretty much the opposite.

And he gives his answer–

 

Kerry sat there breathing slowly, his eyes half closed, his hands locked tightly around Annie’s as he considered her questions. He didn’t wait long to give his answer. “Yes.”

She didn’t pull back from her place so close to him. “Are you certain?”

“Yes, I’m certain.” He swallowed hard and sighed twice before continuing. “I screwed up; I know I did. I hesitated because I wasn’t certain I could craft Electrify, and . . .” He shook his head. “I screwed up: I won’t do it again.”

Annie had to extinguish all her doubts, however. “It wasn’t because you were afraid to kill him?”

“No. I knew he’d kill us: I knew they would all try.” He turned his head just enough so he could see Annie so close to him. “I can do this, Sweetie. I can.”

“I know you can.” Annie kissed him on the cheek. ‘Do you know what I was laughing about before?”

“No, what?”

“The Day of the Dead, you left from here and ended up risking your life fighting a monster you’d never seen before, all to save someone’s life. And ten minutes after that, having been chased all around the school—tired, frightened, scared you’d never see me again—you made a quick decision to save two more people.  You did so without hesitation, and you did so at the risk of your own life again.”  She touched his arm. “You thought like a Guardian, my love.”

 

And that is the truth:  Kerry did risk his life to save several people that day, and in both instances he could have been killed.  Hell, he faced getting killed three times that day, and while he might not have thought his last action was going to put him in the hospital, he didn’t know for certain.  He acted in each instance without giving it a lot of thought.

Now . . . just so it’s addressed, one could argue Annie used her feminine wiles to manipulate Kerry into choosing to do something that he’s really mature or emotionally stable enough to handle.  After all, Annie was pretty touchy-feely with the, “Do you wanna be my Dark Witch?” question, and it’s easy to see how someone could say, “She totally used his hormones against him!”  It’s possible, but I could argue that Annie’s not that manipulative, and she’s never tried that on Kerry before.  Or maybe she has, but she’s been a lot more passive-aggressive about it, and this is the first time she’s known she’d have to push him hard to get him to do something without making it look like she was trying to get him to do something . . .

Maybe Annie's a Overly Attached Magical Girlfriend?  Do we want to find out?

Maybe Annie’s an Overly Attached Magical Girlfriend.  Do we want to find out?

I do know the answer to this question, too, because I know what Annie’s thinking.  But here’s where the pain comes in:  that particular question will never get answered at any point during their attendance at Salem.  But it is answered–

When both of them are in their thirties.

That’s not that long to wait, is it?