The night before I complained about how I didn’t seem to have enough time to write and get things done, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That was the night before, ’cause last night was what I’d call an Enterprise night, because the final word count was 1,701 words, and that’s a registry number that I’ve known all my life. (True fact: the Enterprise‘s registration number came from the exact time the planetary cruiser C57-D dropped out of warp and into the Altair system in the movie Forbidden Planet: seventeen-oh-one hundred hours.)
I was cranking away because I was having fun. I also had to take a break about 9 PM because my fingers were getting tired. But still–good time, people.
Now, what were you saying, Annie? About . . .
(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)
It was the first day of Spells class, and Annie remembered the object inside the case—a simply action requiring they move it from one end to the other. She did it first, Kerry second. It was easy. And they’d done more of the same since then: moving objects around, side-to-side, and she levitated her spindle because Kerry asked.
The basics of moving small objects was easy for some of the students now—her for certain. Annie figured she could move just about any object—
Air was a substance that had pressure, that occupied space. It could be heated and cooled. It could be compressed and—
She now watched the homunculus advance on her slowly, not with fear but with growing curiosity. Air is an object, and you can use it in a spell, just like Air Hammer. You can used it against another thing or person. She stared at Kerry, weakening against the homunculus trying to bite him. If I can gather enough air . . .
She dropped the bokken and sprinted towards Kerry.
That’s called thinking on her feet–her slightly covered in blood and brains feet, but still . . .
So you get your air and then what?
Annie stopped a couple of meters from his head, where he couldn’t see her. She knew she had one, maybe two chances to pull this off, and if it didn’t work—well, it wouldn’t matter, the test would be over in a matter of seconds. She steadied herself, her eyes half-closed, not thinking of the homunculi a few meters from them, or the one trying to get Kerry—there was only the mass of invisible air coming together in front of her, piling up and growing thicker, compressing into a dense mass centimeters from her body. She imagined it, visualized it, and she positioned her right hand directly behind the ball of air she’d crafted. Annie reached for the energy needed to power this Art, waiting for the tremor in her shoulders whenever it came. There . . . All she needed now was her willpower, and the need to reshape the reality around her—
Annie opened her eyes and pushed the ball away from her, hard. The uniform of the homunculus ripped as if in a strong breeze as it fell away from Kerry.
Magic in this world is all about Visualization, Energy, and Willpower–VEW as Wednesday once said. It’s a matter of having a good imagination and seeing the effects once you power it up. But that willpower: you need it to Craft your Art, to reshape reality. If you can’t believe you can do it, then you won’t.
And then, sometimes, you gotta convince someone else they need to do it, too:
She rushed in and grabbed him by the arm. “Come on.” She helped him scramble to his feet, as he was having difficultly getting up. Annie guided him away while he was still in a half crouch, as the two homunculi were only a meter away by this time. After three stepped he was upright and keeping up with her as they ran to within a meter of the red line. Only once there did she step in front of him and hold his head in her hands. “Are you all right?”
Kerry fought for air, wheezing with each breath. “Yeah, I’m . . .” He exhaled hard, nodding. “I’m good, I’m good.”
Annie didn’t have time for Kerry to recuperate completely from his battle: there was too much to say, and not a lot of time. She only hoped he was cognizant enough to understand her idea. “Kerry, I need you to listen to me.”
He nodded again, but his head was bowed and he was looking at the floor. “I hear . . .”
“Kerry, listen to me.” He raised his head and looked directly at her. “Air. It can be used.”
His breath had slowed and there was attentiveness in his eyes. “Is that how you got that thing off me?”
“Yes. I crafted a ball of air and compressed it, then threw it at the homunculi.” Her eyes brightened as she saw how Kerry understood almost immediately. “We can use this to fight.”
This test, as I put it together, was all about team work. First it was all about getting together and bashing zombie skulls, but then you find yourself in a position where you learn something new and you figure out how to use it to your advantage. And when when you brainstorm in the middle of your test:
She nodded once. “There’s a spell: Air Hammer. It uses air as a weapon, forcing your opponent off balance or even hurting them.” She gave him a slight grin. “We can do the same thing. We can use it to fight these things.”
“Keep knocking them around, maybe lean to get a few shots at the head.” He stared of into space for a couple of seconds. “Or . . .”
Annie recognized this look—He has an idea; something to do with magic. He’s gotten this a lot of late. “Yes?”
He continued checking the homunculi as he spoke. “Could you craft this spell to work with a foci?”
She knew how Professor Douglas felt about foci, or at least how she felt about wands. But she’d said once that foci have their place, and they aren’t always a bad thing. And I’m certain Kerry isn’t talking about wands . . . “Yes, you could. Why?”
“Instead of creating balls of air to throw around—” He raised the jō and ran his hand along the pole near one end. “What if you put them here? Then you have . . .” He chopped downward with the jō. “Leverage.”
Annie smiled as she understood Kerry’s line of thought. “That localizes the effect, makes for a better weapon.” She looked over her shoulder at the bokken lying two meters away. “A cutting weapon.”
“It might just be.” Kerry checked on the homunculi, then quickly looked to his right. “Look, we could just step over the red line and be done with this, or . . .” He nodded towards the bokken. “Or we can give you idea a try.” His face broken into an enormous grin. “Personally, I’m all for trying you idea.”
“It’s your idea as well.” Annie scooted over and retrieved the bokken. “I’d like to try it, too.”
Kerry raised his jō. “Go on; I got your back.”
You got your ideas, you know how to craft your Art, there are zombies still shambling about on the field–time to get to work–
Bokken in hand, Annie slowly advanced on the homunculus, now only three meters away. She knew, as when she saved Kerry, that she’d have but one chance, maybe two, to craft this spell, but she was more confident this time that her Art was correct, that the spell would come off flawlessly.
She visualized air wrapping around the tip of the bokken, forming an invisible blade, one turned thin and sharp on the side facing away from her. She saw it in her mind becoming firm, a dangerous addition to her wooden sword.
A meter and a half away she stopped. Annie allowed the homunculus two step more, then she raised the bokken over her head and slashed into its skull with a strong blow.
It wasn’t the hardest Annie could hit, but with the magic used it wasn’t necessary. The homunculus’ skull split cleanly down the middle, with fake blood and brains spraying out along the lines of the cut and catching her in the hand, arm, and chest. She flinched but remained on her feet, while the homunculus crashed to the mat in a bloody heap.
Annie didn’t hear the gasps, groans, and yelps from the students on the sidelines: the only thing important to her was the now-still creature at her feet. She turned to Kerry, grinning broadly. “Do you know what to do?”
He held the jō ready. “Oh, I think so.”
She nodded towards the approaching homunculus on his left. “Your turn.”
–To some really bloody-ass work. And now they’re having fun: “Hey, I killed this one, let me see you do one!”
He doesn’t disappoint:
Kerry closed his eyes for a few seconds, getting the visuals in his head before heading towards his target. He knew the form he sought: with the jō there was little doubt what sort of magic he’d craft around the long pole. He took his time covering the four meters between him and the homuncuWalkers, then drew the jō back like he was carrying a bat.
“Okay, you . . .” He began his swing, but released his right hand and continued the follow through with his left. His swing was low and upward, and he caught the homunculus in the left shoulder. A large chunk of flesh and uniform flew up an away; Kerry drew back for another swing, and this time his attack was high and level, catching the homunculus just below the jaw line and severing the head three-quarters of the way from the neck with blood shooting outward in a flat arc, catching Kerry as it went down. He turned to Annie with a semi-bloody grin. “I’ll get this last one.”
Two down, two to go, and now Little Miss Dark Witch wants to get her kicks in another way:
Annie nodded and advanced on the fourth homunculus, only a few meters from her. She let the bokken slip from her hand because she wanted to do something different this time. She understood what she could do with a weapon, but she wanted to see what she could do with a different kind of magic . . .
She began crafting her air bubble, but this time she pulled in a little of the dark energy that was often used to fuel more potent sorcery. This was something Annie had worked with before in small quantities, and it didn’t shock her to feel the different surge of power that came with these spells.
She powered it into her bubble of air and held it before her good hand. She stopped just short of two meters from the homunculus, then willed everything into a tight, compressed sphere and pushed it into her target—
The spell powered through the torso, tearing away the shirt and part of the jacket and boring into the body. The head and shoulders pitched forward towards her as the body came apart with a loud squishing sounds and fell in pieces to the mat. Nearly all of Annie’s upper body and head was covered in blood and goo . . .
And directly across from her stood Kerry, looking much the same, having caught the aftermath of her attack as it tore through the homunculus. Seeing him holding the jō straight out as it was, Annie realized he must have raised it for protection, and whatever effect he’d used on his last attack tore off the head of her homunculus.
They’d both ripped it apart.
Kerry looked down at the gore covering his shirt, then tried to wipe it off his glasses. He looked at Annie with a strange, unfocused stare, then dropped his weapon, turned away, and vomited.
Oh, Kerry— Given everything she’d experience—the smell, the blood, the gore of the last minute—and now this, Annie couldn’t prevent her stomach from protesting. She lowered her head and vomited what remained of her breakfast as well.
Kids these days: how you gonna survive the Zombie Apocalypse if you can’t keep your breakfast down? Don’t you know that’s always the start of a good day?
Now, tonight, all I need to do is put the finishing touches on the scene, and she’s in bed. Which means when I finish this scene it’ll probably be the longest one in the story that’s all one, continuous scene, without little breaks in the action here and there. It’ll also be pretty much around seven thousand words.
But it only makes sense that this is a long scene, because today and tomorrow are, for Annie and Kerry, the most important twenty-four hours of their lives . . .