Talk of the Town: Not Who You Think

It took a few weeks, but I reached another milestone last night: I finished Part Three in the novel.  It didn’t take a lot–just a little over eight hundred words–but that was enough with the scene the bed, finish the chapter, and set the part aside.

All those First Drafts looking nice and pretty.

This means it’s time to move on to Part Four, which means I’m into the last part of Act One. It also means I’m into the first of the chapters, Chapter Twelve, that need to be laid out now.  Chapter Eleven was the last chapter in the book which I plotted out, and now it’s necessary to move on ahead and start laying out scenes.  Tonight I’m likely going to do that for Chapters Twelve and Thirteen and perhaps lay down a few scenes for the remaining three chapters of Part Four.

Yeah, I got some work ahead of me. But it’s not like I don’t know what’s coming…

Speaking of that–not knowing what’s coming, that is–let’s move a little further along in our conversation between Ramona and Helena and see what they make of the Great Musical Zombie Killing:

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

“How do you think I felt when Isis braced me last night?” Ramona leaned forward in her chair. “And then this morning she tells me additional things, like it’s a Do or Die test and there’s going to be music played. I didn’t understand that at all.”

Helena snorted. “And what was with the music? Who the hell picked that song?”

“I assume someone in San Francisco. I mean, if anyone wants to know what sort of music Kerry likes, all they need to do is go out to his YouTube account and take a look at his playlists. It’s all public, so it’s not like anyone would need to go out there snooping about in secret.”

Helena rubbed her eyes as she considered Ramona’s remarks. “It’s goddamn stupid, if you ask me. I’ve never seen a test conducted that way.” She tilted her head back and let herself go slightly limp. “Gabriel must’ve been tripping bear balls when he put this test together.”

Ramona stared across her desk at Helena for about five seconds before she shook her head. “That test was not authorized by Mr. Gabriel.”

 

First, we now know that Kerry has a bunch of public playlist on a YouTube account–which makes him sound just like a certain author we all know.  Well, it is cheaper than paying for Pandora or Spotify, though one day Kerry likely will start doing that.  (As to whether or not Annie has Pandora and/or Spotify, I think we already know the answer to that question.)  Second, this is the first time we’ve also heard Helena use an expression like “tripping bear balls”, which is an unusual thing for her to say, but not completely out of the question.  It also makes me wonder if she is somehow related to Cheryl Tunt…

Lastly, though, we see that Helena is just too close to the problem and can’t see something that Ramona picks out immediately: that a person she’s had dealings with in the past concerning Guardian affairs didn’t do something she thinks he did.  And Ramona’s reasoning?

 

Helena sat up long enough to recross her legs and throw her left arm over the back of her chair. “What do you mean?”

“I mean it doesn’t seem like his style.” She tapped her index finger against the tip of her nose several times as she thought. “I’ve only had to deal with the gentleman a couple of times, but everything I’ve seen leads me to believe that he would never authorize a test like the one we had this morning. His style is classical, while the one we saw today—” She gave a quick shrug. “Totally modern pop.” Ramona lay her right hand on her desk and tapped it for a few moments. “Did you recognize any of the names on the emails you received?”

That was an easy question to answer as there was only one name on Helena’s email. “I recognized the name on my email right away: I’ve been dealing with her for six years.”

“There’s been three or four people I’ve had to deal with in the last six years and only one of their names popped up among the three I saw on the email they sent me regarding additional requirements for the test.” Ramona gave her head another shake and tapped her fingers on the desk once more. “Between that and the conduct of today’s test, I don’t think I’m entirely off base when I say I’m not sure the old guard is still in place in San Francisco.”

Though Helena wasn’t ready to agree with all of Ramona’s assessment, her comments concerning Mr. Gabriel and how it seemed unlikely he would’ve authorized the test they witnessed today did ring true. Though Helena didn’t work directly for SOP—she was actually a member of Field Operations Division, or FOD, which some wags in the Guardians said was the acronym for “Forced on Operation and Died”—she had plenty of opportunities to cross from one department to another, and had had more or less a cordial relationship with Gabriel for little more than a decade.

This meant she knew something of the way he conducted himself, as well as the way he conducted business as the director of San Francisco SOP, and Ramona was right: there was no way he would’ve authorized today’s test. His idea of a test would’ve been far more traditional—possibly more homunculus on the test area at once as well as a shorter time period in which to achieve goals. But he would’ve never set this up as a Do or Die operation, nor would he have allowed music to be played—at least not the music they heard today.

Helena was about to say something when Ramona interrupted. “Did you notice Isis playing around with her tablet throughout the test?”

 

Once you establish yourself as having a particular style, it’s easy to notice when that style changes.  With most of these witches, style change doesn’t come about easily, so something drastic occurs one can assume that someone new is calling the shots.  That’s what Ramona noticed right away, probably because while she’s had dealings with the Guardians, they’ve been limited.  This would make any change in procedures stand out rather dramatically.

And for the first time we find out which section of the Guardians Helena works for: Field Operations Division.  She stated before that she’s done work for SOP, but they are not the boss of her–at least not directly.  Because of her injuries we know FOD doesn’t put Helen out in the field as much as in the past, and when she does go out it’s usually in a supervisory capacity.  Which may or may not be all right with Helena, but there’s little she can do to buck her bosses at this point.  Besides, like it or not she’s collecting a paycheck from both the school and the Guardians, so why complain?  And, being at the school as she is, she’s usually the first to see new talent. Like, you know, a couple of kids who arrived at Salem two years ago–

With these questions out of the way close again quickly on the end of this conversation…

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The Kali Test: Required Rules

Good morning, everyone, and Happy Cosmonauts Day!  Yes, today’s the day that humans–particularly Yuri Gagarin–and space shuttle Columbia first went into space.  But in a certain history that I’ve created, this is also the day–a chilly, wet day–in 2013 that Annie Kiralova took her final solo flight.  And right about now she was waking up and getting ready to head down to the Flight School for breakfast of steak and eggs.

What a lucky girl.

Yesterday you may have noticed that I re-blog post.  That post was to commemorate that two years earlier I had started Book Three of my series, B For Bewitching.  Which means it seems like it was a good time to finish the current seen I’m excerpting now and move on to the next.

And right here it is.

It turned out to be almost five thousand words long, which makes it one of the longest scenes of written a bit.  But that’s because there’s all sorts of stuff going on inside and that takes time to get out.  And it also puts me five hundred words closer to the end of Part Three.  Which is good because the next part of the novel gets really interesting…

So, we’ve seen some of the pretest shenanigans, but they’re done–so let’s move on to the next part: the rules. You know there have to be rules.

And there are:

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Walking past the half-dozen cabinets at the far end of the Manor’s floor, Annie and Kerry made their way towards Ramona. Both were dressed in the loose top and pants worn by all students in the Self Defense classes, Annie’s hair was tied back in a pony tail, and as usual both were barefoot. The biggest difference in the outfits these two wore was the color: most of the time the uniforms were white, but Annie’s and Kerry’s were black. Helena was aware that Ramona only ordered this change if she was certain and upcoming test was going to get bloody.

Both students came to a halt facing Ramona and bowed. Ramona returned the bow, then turned and faced the rest of the students, addressing all in English. “If I may have your attention, please?” The talking subsided and vanished as every student did as instructed. “I thank you all for coming out to the Manor on this early Sunday morning. As such, I would like to remind you all that you are invited guest, and as such I expect you to show a modicum of decorum for the event we are about to witness.

“What will happen in the next few minutes is an officially sanction Foundation test. It has not been requested by the school, but rather by an outside agency associated with The Foundation—”

Helena instantly noticed the glances exchanged between a few of the students and took this to mean that the rumor she had heard through the last school year about Annie and Kerry being somehow affiliated with the Guardians was considered by some students to be a bit more than a rumor. Now was not the time to give the matter any concern, so she returned her attention to Ramona’s introduction—

“—and as such they have stipulated guidelines under which they wish this test conducted.” Ramona pointed to the six cabinets at the opposite end of the Manor’s large training area. “Each of those cabinets contains a homunculus. Annie and Kerry are required to combat six homunculi in each phase of the test.”

 

Helena shouldn’t seem that surprised that kids are passing knowing looks when they hear of a “Foundation outside agency”, because most of the kids have put two and two together and figured out that Annie and Kerry are likely doing some sneaking and peeking–and who the hell knows what else?–with Helena and her merry gang of Guardians.  Maybe she isn’t surprised.  Maybe she knows that these kids know more than they’re letting on, but she doesn’t care.  As she’s said before, a bad ass rep is a good thing to have, and having a bunch of people come out to watch you kill fake zombies improves that rep even more.

Now for the actual rules:

 

She turned to her two students who were now eyeing her hard. “There are eighteen homunculi which you are required to defend against in three separate phases. In the first phase you may only take Mano Mano actions along with any spells you are capable of crafting. In the second phase—” She pointed to the small weapons racks against the walls on her left and right. “You are permitted to use these weapons along with the live hand and magic. In the third and last phase you maybe continue to use Mano Mano and magic, though the only weapons you may use are those which you craft out of mystical or dark energy.

“The first phase begins when the homunculi at the far end step across the white line.” She clapped her hands twice and the cabinets opened, revealing the homunculi inside. As everyone had seen before they shambled out slowly before stopping at the edge of the far white line. “As soon as they cross the line six more will appear and wait their turn to engage. Each phase will only begin when all of the homunculi of the prior phase have been dispatched.

“This is also a timed test. It will last for minutes, though the test itself should take up approximately three and a half minutes of that time. All three phases of the test must be completed before the music ends—”

For the first time since greeting their professor Kerry spoke. “Music? We’re getting music?”

Ramona nodded. “Yes. Our instructions were to play a particular song during the test that lasts just short of four minutes.” She gave him a stern look as a way of warning him not to speak out of turn again. “Do you require further elaboration?”

Kerry shook his head. “No, Professor.”

 

First off, some clarification.  The term Mano Mano is an expression used in Kali that means “hand-to-hand”.  And that is exactly what they do in the first phase: they fight only with their hands and with magic.  The second expression, used in phase two, is “live hand”.  This indicates that in some instances you have a weapon in one hand and your other hand is empty. It is the empty hand which is your live hand, and that means you can use that against her opponent along with your weapon.  Kali was actually developed as a weapon-based martial arts and the hand movements used reflect the same movements used for weapons.  This means it is heavily based upon muscle memory in terms of how one faces their opponent and disables them.

Now we see some additional shenanigans as well. Helena put in a cook order for twelve homunculi: instead, there are eighteen, which means Ramona received a different order when she sent off her acknowledgment to the Guardians.  And while Annie and Kerry are out fighting, they get to listen to music!  Some of you may remember that a few months back I said I was focusing on a scene where a particular song was played as the scene played out.  Guess what?  Here’s that scene.

And now for the last of the rules:

 

Ramona nodded once to show she understood, then continued. “As defined in the instructions, this is considered a ‘Do or Die’ test.” Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Helena’s head whip about at the mention of the test condition, but Ramona paid no attention. “A safety enchantment will go up at the red line, making it impossible to step out of the testing area as a way of ending the test.

“Therefore, the conditions for the completion of the test are simple. If one of both of you are subdued by the homunculi before time has expired, you fail. If you have not dispatched all homunculi before time has expired, you fail. If, however, you destroy all eighteen homunculi before time has expired, you pass. There are no other situations that will allow a pass.” Ramona scrutinized both her students. “You understand the conditions as explained?”

Annie responded with a curt nod. “Yes, Professor.”

Kerry looked down for a moment before meeting Ramona’s gaze. “Yes, Professor.”

“Excellent.” Ramona pointed to the rectangular outlines on the floor a few meters from where they stood. “Please take your positions.” She turned to face the now over fifty students who were waiting for the next few minutes unfold. “The test will begin momentarily.”

 

Do or Die.  No, doesn’t sound a bit overly dramatic at all.  Nor does it sound all that grave–

Yeah, who are we kidding?  Someone in the Guardians decided they were going to make this test fairly difficult, and the only way my kids are going to beat this test is if they beat–or as Ramona says, destroy–their eighteen undead opponents.  Yes, it sounds like the guardians are piling a ton of crap onto my kids, but believe me, there is a method to their madness.

And tomorrow you’re going to get see that madness played out.  For tomorrow begins Phase One…

The Kali Test: Surprise Setup

Last night was another thousand word session,  my first back-to-back writings in about a month, and I nearly brought this scene to an end.  Almost, but not quite.  I’ll probably finish it up tonight.

But we start The Kali Test, as I call it, right here and now.  Although I warn you, it’s probably going to be Wednesday before you see the kids kicking ass.  Which means tomorrow are the rules and today–today is the setup…

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

The moment Helena entered Gwydion Manor she noticed something was different—specifically, instead of there being the half dozen or so students who normally took Advanced Self Defense class on Sunday morning, about forty students were standing around looking as if waiting for something to happen. Though she didn’t often come out to watch a self-defense class, she knew the only time these sort of crowds appeared in the Manor was when a judgment trial was about to take place.

And she knew for a fact that nothing that was about to happen in the next fifteen to twenty minutes had anything to do with the judgment trial.

Helena spotted Ramona off to one side of the testing area speaking with a student. She spotted someone else: Isis was here, standing about six meters away an examining something on her tablet display. It wasn’t normal for her to be here as it wasn’t necessary for her to be present during this or any test. Unless, of course, she was here to check out something that was needed for the test, like equipment she may have installed—

The moment she saw Ramona heading in her direction Helena raised her head to gain her attention. The martial arts instructor headed for her directly and greeted her with a slight smile. “Glad to see you made it.”

“Wouldn’t have missed this for the world.” Helena stepped closer to to her fellow instructor and turned so her back was towards the majority of the milling students. “What the hell is going on? Why are all these students here?”

“Oh, this.” Ramona looked around and switched to Esperanto to answer the question. “You can thank Isis for this. Apparently she sent out an email before breakfast inviting students to the Manor to watch a training exercise.” Her left eyebrow raised slowly as she turned her gaze in the direction of the Chief of Security. “It certainly wasn’t my idea.”

Helena was surprised to hear this, as it was unusual, if not out of the ordinary, for Isis to interject herself in daily classwork. The Chief of Security never became involved with the instructor’s classes unless there is a security concern that needed addressing—and even then she herself rarely became involved. Unless…

She pointed in the tall woman’s direction. “What’s she checking on her tablet?”

 

So what better way to kick this test off than to make it a public spectacle, yeah?  It seems like a hit as well, since about a third of the student body has shown to watch Annie and Kerry beat up on the newly created undead, which means no pressure at all.

There’s also something else going on here–

 

Ramona nodded toward the test area. “Look out there; what you see?”

Helena tried to follow Isis’ gaze and immediately notice what was drawing her attention. “Damn, there’s a lot of Spy Eyes in the room.”

“Two dozen.” Ramona crossed her arms as she glanced over at Helena. “I was told last night after the Midnight Madness that one of Isis’ people going to be out here installing them for the test.”

Helena turned back toward Ramona, not caring if any students saw her speaking. “Why the hell would she be out here installing all these Spy Eyes?” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Additional instructions.” Even though she was speaking in Esperanto Ramona kept her voice low so that the conversation didn’t travel beyond the two women. “When I sent off that acknowledgment the other day, I received additional instructions in return.”

“On?”

“I’m not permitted to tell you until after this test.”

Helena felt her jaw tighten. “What is this shite?”

Ramona held up a hand. “Not only did I get instructions, but Isis received them as well; I only found out about them last night after the Midnight Madness when she and I were walking back to the Instructors Residence.” She held up her tablet. “This morning she gives me additional instructions on how this test is to be conducted: I’ve had about fifteen minutes to review them.” She lowered the tablet to her side and returned to speaking English. “It’s all that damn compartmentalization: they don’t want one group aware of what the others doing, all the way down the line.”

It was impossible for Helena to argue, for she was certain Ramona was correct. She knew the Guardians were far more secretive than any of their other contemporaries in The Foundation, but this sometimes led to the same sort of secrecy taking hold in each of the individual headquarters. And when it came to the Special Operations and Procedures Division, better known as SOP, they were known for sometimes taking secrecy to a new level.

But what bothered Helena the most wasn’t that Ramona and Isis were given separate duties after they were told of the test, it was that someone in San Francisco had decided that it wasn’t necessary for Helena to know about these changes.

She was about to ask Ramona another question when self-defense instructor nodded at something behind Helena. “Here they come.”

 

Spy Eyes are magical little floating cameras that can be thrown up to monitor just about anything–like, say, a flight by A Levels to nearly two miles above sea level.  Here, two dozen are being used to keep track of the test, and that’s…  well, it’s a lot.  Someone doesn’t want to miss a beat.

And now we get an idea of why Ramona probably said, “That’s interesting.”  Someone high up out in San Fran didn’t want Helena to know about changes in the test.  And Isis did the same to Ramona.  That damn compartmentalization the spooks love so much is being used like mad here, and pretty much all the players are feeling the effect.

Now Annie and Kerry are here, so listen up:  the rules are gonna get laid down…

All That the Guardians Want

Well, we are here again getting ready to delve into my kid’s lives.  Although this is one of those scenes where neither of them are actually here, they’re just spoke about like the stars they are.

This is the last part of the first scene where the big Kali test is set up.  We’ve heard what is needed and realize what is at stake.  However, that doesn’t mean our Self Defense and Weapons instructor is happy–

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

She leaned back in the chair, interlaced her fingers, and gave her arms and shoulders to stretch. “You do realize that this is the week I start cooking up all the homunculi for next Friday’s class?”

Helena appeared slightly amused. “The Great Zombie Killing lesson, am I right?”

“The one and the same.”

“While I understand that you need to cook up a few for all the new students to try and kill, one, it’s not as many as we need to cook up for Sunday and, two, the Guardians give zero shits.” Helena chuckled. “What the Guardians want, the Guardians get.”

Ramona snorted. “Which is what they always get.”

“Absolutely.”

“All right, then.” Ramona knew that any protesting from here on out was nothing more than bitching and it wouldn’t change the outcome of the request. “I suppose I could turn up the time enchantments a bit so we can get these dozen done in the next twenty-four hours. I really hate to do that—”

“Because why? You’re afraid of wearing out the APs faster?” Helena was aware that the majority of the homunculi creation was performed by Salem’s housekeeping staff, which meant it was all being handled by one of the schools APs. “They’re not going to notice if you crank up the enchantment to twenty times over normal; to them it makes no difference.” She sat back in her chair and began forming her fingers on her thighs. “What’s up your arse this afternoon? You usually don’t react like this when I put in a request.”

Ramona fidgeted in her seat delete before answering. “It feels like San Francisco’s up to something again and you know I don’t work well with all this secretive bullshit.”

 

Yesterday reader and blog follower renxkyoko told me that she thought the Guardians were being a bit unfair with Annie and Kerry.  Well, here we have Ramona feeling as if San Francisco–the HQ who have ordered and will oversee this test–are kinda being sneaky shits about something.  Wow, spooks being, you know, spooky.  That’s like unheard of, you know?

Helena knows how to handle this:

 

Helena’s tone softened: she didn’t want to give Ramona the idea that she was upset with her. “I get tired with it as well, but I tend not to let it bother me as I’m used to their crap.” She leaned forward slightly as she smiled. “Not the first time it’s happened, certainly won’t be the last.”

That’s certainly true.” Ramona tapped her tablet. “I’ll start work on this right away; I should have the first of the homunculi cooking before dinner.”

“Excellent.” Helena rose from her chair and began backing away from Ramona’s desk. “By the way, that request has an acknowledgment notification. Make sure you respond to let San Francisco know that you’ve received a request and you understand.”

Ramona flashed her best bitch face before scoffing loudly. “I have done this before, Helena.”

Helena realized her faux pas immediately. “I apologize; wasn’t necessary for me to say that.”

Ramona nodded once. “Apology accepted.” She smiled the show there were no hard feelings. “I’ll take care of this. See you at dinner.”

Once the sorceress was gone and the door to her office closed, Ramona sat back in her chair and sighed. She wasn’t upset with Helena, though it did same as if during the past week all the instructors were slightly on edge. She felt it had something to do with the A Levels, who appeared to be a little slower than normal when it came to learning to craft even the simplest spells. Ramona didn’t notice much in her Beginning Self Defense class, but every night at dinner there was always one instructor who was somewhat frustrated with the progress of their new students.

She wouldn’t let it concerned her. We’ve started out the year with slow students before and in the end we’ve managed to train them up properly. She tapped on her tablet bring up to request so that she could acknowledge its receipt. I’m certain this year won’t be any different than the others. Ramona checked the box indicating she’d received cooking request and sent it off to San Francisco.

She was in the process of bringing up something else on her tablet when there was a ding notifying that she’d received an email. Her face scrunched up as she saw it was an acknowledgment to her acknowledgment. “What the hell?” She opened the message and quickly scan the contents, Ramona’s confusion changing to amazement as she read. The moment she finished Ramona sat up and slowly ran a finger along her right cheek bone. “Well, that’s certainly interesting…”

 

Annnnnnnnnnnnd, it looks like the spooks are being spooky.  What does this mean for the test?

You’ll start finding out tomorrow.

Rules and Ridiculous Regulations

Well, there’s some good news to go along with this post.  I’ve written almost 1100 words this morning, and in doing so made it almost two-thirds of the way through Annie’s and Kerry’s Kali test.  And let me tell you, it is a bloody mess.  Given that they’re being tested and a somewhat public situation, anyone who decides to call either of these kids out after this has either got to be really good at what they do, or a complete idiot–or maybe a little of both.  Honestly, I can’t wait until I get to this point in the story so you can see my kids unleash hell.

It’s going to be glorious.

Once more, however, I’m sort of making up for the fact that I haven’t written in the last two days. Both Friday and Saturday night I was out listening to live music at the coffee shop down the street.  It was kind of a nice break, but at the same time there was something I should’ve written and I won’t be able to get to it until tonight.  That’s on me and I should know better.  But sometimes you need to just step back and recharge, and that’s what I’ve been doing of late.

Okay, maybe I unwound too much yesterday…

 

I still had fun hanging out, however.

I can’t quite get to that fight yet because I’m still in the process of setting up the rules.  We know Ramona is one of those helping set up the rules; but who is it who’s come to visit her?  Well, who do you think?

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Ramona looked up and found Helena Lovecraft standing in her doorway, a tablet in her left hand. It was rare Helena carried her tablet with her and it usually indicated she wanted to conduct some important business with you. “No, not at all.” She waved the sorceress inside and waved the door shut. “What’s on your mind?”

Helena sat and made herself comfortable. “Got a request from my friends in San Francisco.” She placed the tablet on remote his desk and pushed it towards her. “It’s a cook order.”

A “cook order” was Guardian slang for the creation of homunculi, as they needed to be created in molds, prepared from materials they gave them a human-like appearance and feeling. She tapped Helena’s tablet to hers, transferring the document to her machine, then performed a quick scan. Her eyebrows shot up as she looked up. “They want a dozen by tomorrow night? What for?”

Helena retrieved her tablet. “Scroll a little further down; you’ll see the Guardians want to conduct a self-defense test during the Sunday class. The email indicates they want them to go up against a dozen homunculi.” She shut the tablet off and set it aside, leaving it floating in the air next to her. “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”

 

Never let it be said that the instructors at Salem didn’t have their own little territories marked out, and when someone from outside their territory decides to come in and start rearranging things a bit, people get testy.  Ramona is well aware that Helena is only passing along what the Guardians are asking, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it.

And this goes double when someone else tries to put her at ease–

 

Ramona snorted. “Allow me to be the judge of what is and isn’t a ‘big deal’ around here.” She sat back in her large, plush chair. “And why do they want to conduct this test during my class? I could easily hold it Sunday afternoon.”

“Except they don’t want it Sunday afternoon, they wanted Sunday morning.” Helena shrugged. “Who the hell knows why San Francisco asks for these things? When they want something, we deliver.” She slowly crossed her legs and rested her hands against her knee. “Remember, it was the same way when we set up the puppeteering rigs. They told us they wanted to test them, but they leaked out the details little by little, so that we were still scrambling around right up until a few hours before Annie and Kerry showed up.”

Ramona couldn’t fault Helena’s logic. While not a member of the Guardians herself, as the person in charge of helping develop the fighting skills of students at Salem, she was often asked to evaluate students and, as in the case with teaching Annie and Kerry how to Marionette, she sometimes work directly with them to carry out their instructions.

But that didn’t mean she liked having to cater to every whim that came out of the Guardian’s North American headquarters in San Francisco. She felt that often they were too secretive for their own good and there were times when it seems as if the secrecy involved keeping members on their end from understanding the purpose of a test.

 

The interesting thing to take away from this exchange is that Ramona doesn’t seem all that surprised by all this BS Helena is pushing her way.  We know she knows Annie and Kerry are doing things for the Guardians because she was involved in the puppeteer tests and there wasn’t any way Helena could spin that off as anything but.  If anything, if seems she’s been called upon to do their bidding once in a while, because if you’re gonna get kids ready for the battles ahead, who better to do so than the Mistress of Ass Kicking?

Now we know the Guardians can be an annoying group of shits.  How annoying?

I think you’re about to find out.

The Final Solo: Head East

In what was one of my better writing days yesterday, I finished off the scene I started Sunday morning with another thousand word run that early evening, and then sat down to do about nineteen hundred words of snarking backup work for recaping the season finale of The Walking Dead, which Rachel will get out later today and to which I’ll add my thoughts after that.

But there was writing.  A lot of writing, though trying to imagine all the stuff happening in the my novel isn’t an easy thing as I’m pulling all the stuff out of thin air and getting it down on the page for you.  In finishing this, however, I realize that I’m now more than mid-way through Chapter Thirty and closer to the end of Annie’s solo flight than I am to the beginning.

I'm certain there's some kind of synergy here, but the coffee hasn't kicked in so I'm blankin' my butt off.

I’m certain there’s some kind of synergy here, but the coffee hasn’t kicked in so I’m blankin’ my butt off.

I left my kids hovering off a bunch of rocks off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine staring out into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and now Annie is gonna want to find out what Kerry meant by his last statement . . .

 

(All excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Two: B For Bewitching, copyright 2015, 2016 by Cassidy Frazee)

Annie squinted out towards the east and widening ocean. On a clear day, at their altitude, Annie figured they could see close to fifty kilometers, but in this weather she estimated she could see perhaps a third of that distance. “Why do you believe that?”

He sat back in the saddle and crossed his ankles. “When it comes to your flights, everything with Vicky and Isis has been push, push, push. They said the night solo was supposed to be your third solo, but—” Kerry shook his head. “It always felt like BS to me. Vicky always tried to make it sound like that flight wasn’t that hard—”

“It was more difficult that it appeared, I know.” Annie rolled part-way on to her side, a floating position she found comfortably when resting. “The few times we flew at night during Basic Flight taught me that seeing things at night are not as easy as seeing them during the day. It’s easy to get lost in the dark.”

“And it’s easier to get turned around when you’re overflying a city and everything looks the same at night.”

“I don’t believe there was ever going to be a ‘second’ solo flight—” Kerry rocked a little back and forth. “The night solo was always going to be the second flight ‘cause Vicky wanted to give you something that wouldn’t be easy, and that was the best way to make the situation difficult.”

Almost as if she were waiting for the right moment to speak, Vicky cut into the conversation. “Salem Final Solo, this is Flight Deck. Ready for your next objective? Over.”

Annie flipped around so she was upright once more. “I’m ready, Flight Deck. Over.”

 

We return to a feeling that Kerry has had a couple of times, and that is everything is a test, but in their case, those tests are usually a hell of a lot harder.  Annie and his walking tour of London was a test; sending them to Kansas City was a test; and now, the second solo flight was never one that was “moved up”, it was always meant to be that way.  Add to this all the stuff with them being asked into advanced class, being able to tutor each other in a couple of magical disciplines, Emma’s and Kerry’s finally flight back from Canada during the first overnight, and the puppeteer work over at The Manor, and it does seem as if these kids are being given a hell of a lot more to do that the other little witches.

But that’s something to be told later.  Right now Vicky’s on the air and talking:

 

“All right, then.” The air went silent for a moment; when Vicky returned she once more sounded as if she were reading information verbatim. “You are to remain on IFR from now until you return to the school. Your next objective will require you to be in position within a specific time period. I will give you the heading, your altitude, the distance to the object, and the time needed to reach your objective, requiring you to calculate your speed. As your Band’s in-flight calculator was disabled for his test, you need to do this calculation manually.

“Here are the specifics: you will set off on a heading of eighty—that’s zero-eight-zero—degrees and maintain an altitude of three hundred fifty meters for the duration. Distance to objective is ninety-five kilometers; your time-on-target is twenty minutes. Your objective is an orange marker hovering at an attitude of two hundred meters above sea level. It has an active tracking system your Band will detect when you are within three kilometers of the marker. Are there any questions? Over.”

Annie exchanged glances with Kerry, whose expression indicated he had at least one question. “Flight Deck, this is Starbuck actual. Is this marker outside the school’s one hundred kilometer local detection range? Over.”

They both could imagine Vicky nodding as she answered. “That’s correct, Starbuck. You’ll be outside our local detection range. We’ll still be able to communicate via the radios—we just won’t know where you are once you’ve reached this marker. Over.”

“Roger. Please stand by.” The look of concern was still in his eyes as he spoke with Annie. “They’re not going to know where we are once we’re out that.”

She tried to alleviate his concern with a smile. “I know. And I imagine most of this part of the test is outside that range.”

“That’s my guess, too.” He chuckled as he shrugged. “Not like it’s gonna make a difference.”

“No.” Her smile brightened. “Going to have to go there if I want to complete the test.” Annie turned back to the comm. “Flight Deck, this is Salem Solo Flight. Questions asked and understood. How much time do I have to calculate my speed? Over.”

“You have five minutes, Athena, starting now. Over.”

 

They are headed out to sea, just as they thought, and they’re even gonna end up flying off the school’s radar, so to speak, as they near their first objective.  What does this leg look like?

In case you're wondering, this is their route.

In case you’re wondering, this is Annie’s route.

There you go.  Between Isles of Shoals and this marker in the middle of the ocean, there’s a whole lot of open and empty water to cross.  And just so you have another reference, down in the left hand corner, where you see the word “Rockport,” the school is sitting on the “R”.

They are a long way from home and going out even further.  Not only that–

 

“Roger. Please stand by.” She turned to Kerry. “She’s giving me way too much time to figure this out.”

He laughed. “Oh?”

“Vicky probably wants me to rest a little more because this calculation is easy.” Annie straightened her body as she gripped her hands before her. “Twenty minutes is a third of an hour. Distance is ninety-five kilometers, so twice that is one ninety, and adding ninety-five to that is two hundred and eighty-five kilometers an hour.” She curled her legs slightly while relaxing. “Going three hundred kilometers an hour will get us there with time to spare.”

“And if we haven’t found the marker in twenty minutes—”

“Then I did something wrong and went off course.” Annie placed her right hand next to her head. “Flight Deck, this is Salem Final Solo. I’m ready to proceed to the next objective. Over.”

Annie was certain she heard Isis said something over a muted comm because Vicky laughed for a couple of seconds before responding. “Okay, then, Athena. You have one minute to get underway.

Notify when you are so we can start the clock. Over.”

“Roger. Over.” She slipped her balaclava back into place over her lower face and glanced at Kerry. “Up for some high speed flying?”

Kerry recovered his face as well. “Totally.”

“Then we shouldn’t waste time.” Annie checked her hood and gloves. “Flight Deck, this is Salem Final Solo. We’re preparing to depart in fifteen seconds. Over.”

“Roger, Salem Final Solo. Counting down now. See you in twenty. Over and out.”

Annie leaned slightly forward, preparing to depart. “You ready?”

Kerry nodded from under his hood. “Yep. Let’s do this.”

Annie nodded back. “Let’s.” After the fifteen seconds passed on her clock she waved her right arm forward and sped off on her proper heading as fast as she could will herself. In less than twenty seconds she reached three hundred kilometers an hour and settled in behind the windscreen her Band set up.

Kerry pulled into position close behind and to Annie’s right. Now that they were at speed he could only be heard over the comms. “How’s ‘bout some music?”

She rolled slightly on to her side for just a moment so she could see Kerry better. “I’d love music.” She slid back into position after only a second, seeing she lost neither her heading or altitude. One of Kerry’s songs began playing, something that began with a long, droning synthesizer and the singer lamenting that the city streets were empty—

Given where they were headed, the streets to her destination were certainly empty.

 

Not only are they heading sixty miles/ninety-five kilometers out to sea, but they’re doing it at three hundred kilometers an hour/one hundred and eighty-six miles an hour, which is sorta like race car speeds, right?  Annie has cranked it up before, but nothing this fast.  But she’s in a test, and when you test you get tested.  And this is how she’s getting tested, by heading out into the unknown at high speed.

And what song is Kerry playing as they leave?  Why, Electric Light Orchestra’s Turned to Stone, which begins with a lyric about how the city streets are empty.  Just like the ocean, am I right?

They’re on their way.

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.