Chapter Five: New fires and old flames
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
The wyrm’s fire blazed around the screaming Calpurnia, even as Geoff closed the distance between them. The vegetation around her caught fire, lighting up the area.
Its fireball expelled, the wyrm pulled back, rising to more than twenty feet over the grounds it had incinerated. To Geoff’s utter astonishment, there was a figure standing where Calpurnia had been, and it was not Calpurnia! In the light of the fires, Geoff could see it was a very tall woman, rather young, looking very out of place in a skimpy designer dress more suitable for a wild Hollywood party than confronting a wyrm. There was something huddled at her feet that might be Calpurnia.
This unexpected young woman was paying no attention to Geoff, Instead she looked up at the wyrm. With fury in her voice, she yelled, “YOU HURT MY MUM!” And she smashed her fist into the wyrm’s face.
Geoff blinked and shook his head. He couldn’t have seen that! The woman might be six feet tall, but the wyrm towered over her. No way she could have struck it in the face. But somehow she had. Or, Geoff reflected to himself, I’m going crazy.
The wyrm seemed to have no doubt of the matter, though. It let out a pained bleat, and abruptly pulled back into the waters. In moments it was gone.
Calpurnia might have been a bit out of practice when it came to rescuing people, or throwing rocks, or even doing magic. But some things just stick with one. Marcus Satterthwaite, Calpurnia’s infamous first husband, had been in the habit of tormenting her by subjecting her to various hazards. And one of his favorites had been to throw a ball of fire at her. So, after the first trip to the hospital, Calpurnia had learned quickly. She had learned that protecting one’s self from the fire was not enough. One also had to protect one’s self from the heat, and from the oxygen deprivation that came with fireballs.
When the wyrm attacked her, Calpurnia automatically threw up her spells to protect herself from a fireball. And she tried to scrunch down into a tight ball, so the spell’s spherical surface area was as small as possible and it would be harder to breach. Unluckily for her, her left foot decided to cramp at just that moment, and she fell flat on her back. The unfortunate foot shot out through the surface of her spells and into the dragon’s fireball. And that is what caused Calpurnia to scream.
Geoff ran up to where the tall stranger was, meanwhile casting a spell to put out the grass fires. At a glance he could see that it was indeed Calpurnia at the stranger’s feet. The tall woman had bent down and was examining Calpurnia. It looked to Geoff as if Calpurnia was severely burnt on one leg. The cooked odor of flesh almost made him gag. He decided it was time to call in a favor, fast. So he whipped out his cell phone and placed a coded distress call on it.
The strange woman glanced up at Geoff, and in a plaintive voice said, “I hope that phone message was something about getting my mother a doctor.”
Geoff nodded with a tight smile on his face. “Better than a doctor.”
Right on cue, a magical teleportation window opened next to him. A short busty blonde walked through it, carrying a large bag and wearing only a white dress shirt that barely reached her thighs and was badly wrinkled as well. She immediately saw Calpurnia writhing on the ground in pain and dropped down on her bare knees to get a closer look at her. Without looking up, she asked, “What happened?”
Geoff replied, “Wyrm’s fireball caught her.”
The blonde shook her head. “Damn. Magical venomous fire. Lucky she’s alive.” She pried open her case and started looking through it. “I take it the wyrm’s gone for now.”
The tall woman laughed. “It’s not coming back unless it wants another punch in the face.”
The blonde pulled out a large syringe with a long needle on it. Looking over to the tall woman, she said, “Hold her arms.” To Geoff, she said, “Hold her legs.” And when those two had complied, she raised up the needle and plunged it deep into Calpunia’s abdomen, pushing down on the syringe to inject the contents into Calpurnia’s system.
All the while, Calpurnia had been trying to control her cries of pain, but this was too much! She let out a series of anguished yells. The blonde pulled out the needle. Almost immediately Calpurnia’s cries were cut off as her whole body was wracked by convulsions. The blonde used her hands to keep Calpurnia’s torso from twisting away. To Geoff’s and the stranger’s surprise, the blonde began singing, “Ooga-chacka-chucka, ooga-ooga-chacka,” before launching into a rendition of “Hooked on a Feeling,” and indicating by looks that she expected the other two holding down Calpurnia to accompany her singing. They did, hesitantly at first, feeling silly all the time. But by the time the song was finished, Calpurnia’s convulsions had ceased.
The tall woman holding down Calpurnia’s arms complained, “Was that song somehow supposed to help cure me mum? ’Cause I didn’t feel any magic coming from it.”
The blonde, searching through her bag, came up with another huge syringe. She replied, “Nae. I just use it to keep people’s minds busy and to time how long the antivenin takes to work. By the time the song’s over, either it’s worked, or the patient’s brain cells are dissolving.” She leaned over to look Calpurnia in the face and asked, “Do you vote Tory?”
Through her tears, Calpurnia shook her head.
The blonde smiled. “Guess your brain cells are still intact.” And with that she sat up and plunged the second needle into Calpurnia’s abdomen. This time, instead of a scream, Calpurnia only gave out a grunt. Within seconds her eyes glazed over, and she began faintly humming a tune from her youth. The blonde smiled and looked up at her two impromptu assistants. “Neo-ether, a healer’s best alchemical friend. You two go away for a while. I get nervous when people watch me work, and,” turning to the tall woman, “if she’s your mother, you’d really rather not see how I’m going to treat her.”
Geoff let go and pulled at the tall woman. “C’mon, let’s go. Samantha knows what she’s doing, and your mother couldn’t be in better hands.”
The tall woman gave Geoff a suspicious glance, but allowed herself to be led away, not without a backward glance or two at Samantha and Calpurnia. In an undertone, she hissed at Geoff, “How many girlfriends do you have?”
Geoff was puzzled by the question, but tried to dispose of it as best he could. “Samantha’s an ex-girlfriend.” To himself, he added that some ex-girlfriends were definitely “ex,” while others were still more than simple friends, and Samantha fell in the latter category, even though they both knew they’d never get back together.
And then Geoff saw a figure beyond the tall woman, off to the right, just sitting there. Wondering what was going on, he headed over, the tall woman trailing behind him.
It was Jacintha. She was sitting upright, her mouth open, her eyes staring blankly at nothing in front of her. Geoff made to give her a shake, but the tall woman held him back. “I think I know what’s wrong. Let me look at her,” she said. Geoff gave way, and the tall woman kicked off her high heels, bent down, and stared Jacintha in the face for some time before stranding up again. She turned to Geoff. “I’ve seen this before. Someone tried to enthrall her, and as a last ditch method of resisting, she shut down her brain, everything except the involuntary stuff that keeps her alive.” She laughed. “She must be an American.”
Geoff acknowledged the point. “How do you know?”
“This only happens with Americans. Most people, when they shut down their brains, they’re getting ready to have sex, not trying to avoid it. But Americans somehow seem to go both ways. Bloody Puritans.”
Geoff made a reasonable surmise. “You’re Calpurnia’s daughter Ursula, aren’t you? That’s why you know so much about this. You’re a cambion.”
Ursula nodded. “Guess Mum’s been talking.”
(Only the reader will be puzzled by this. Geoff hadn’t seen the shorter, younger-looking version of Ursula that visited Calpurnia earlier that evening. And Calpurnia had seen her youngest daughter switch back and forth in physical appearance from looking almost sexless to looking as if sex was all she had in mind. That is rather natural for a cambion, after all.)
Geoff pointed at Jacintha. “Any idea of how to get her brain going again?”
With a smile, Ursula replied, “Nothing to it.” She gave a light tap to Jacintha’s head. “I’ve done this before. Some American guy pulled this on me. I woke him back up, and then I seduced him properly.” Ursula’s tone was a bit smug at the end.
Geoff watched Jacintha closely. Nothing happened. He looked over questioningly at Ursula.
Ursula was not put out at all. “It takes time. You know, the human brain takes 25 years from birth to fully mature. You think it’s going to wake up and restart again in a minute? Ten minutes, maybe half an hour, she’ll have some awareness of her surroundings and be able to walk. An hour or two or three from now, she’ll be rational. Weird thing is that her short-term memory will be in shambles. She won’t remember any of this. She won’t be able to tell us who was trying to enthrall her. You’d think she’d remember that.”
An hour later, and in Calpurnia’s bedroom, Samantha Cameron clasped her bag shut and stood up. “I’m through here. Time to go.”
Geoff glanced at the drugged Calpurnia and stood up as well. “I’ll walk you to the door,” he said.
Both he and Samantha knew she could just teleport out of Calpurnia’s bedroom, but Samantha let Geoff escort her into the hallway and across the kitchen. As they arrived at the landing before the front door, Geoff said, “Thanks for making a house call.”
Samantha shrugged. “I’m a healer.” The draft coming from under the door reminded her that the only thing she was wearing was a shirt she’d tossed on when Geoff called. She had a moment of self-conscious embarrassment, and then dismissed it. She’d worked in the nude when she had to, and Geoff wasn’t fool enough to take her attire for an invitation.
Keeping her thoughts to herself, Samantha shook her head and looked up at Geoff. Time to be professional. “Your friend Calpurnia there, her foot will be completely regenerated and healed in three days. But that’s not just me. She had some sort of major regeneration spell already on her. It’s just as well she did, because otherwise the boiling blood would have caused much more damage further up the leg.”
“She said something about having been ill for many years.”
Samantha shook her head again. “‘Ill’ is an understatement. No one sets a spell like that for anything short of damage to most of her body.
“And then there’s the American. Turning off her brain like that was a desperate move. But it requires training, Geoff. She’s not quite the amateur you think she is.”
Geoff offered a sad smile and a nod. He’d made a mistake. Now he wondered just what it would cost him.
Samantha disliked making Geoff sad. He might be an ex-lover, but there are ex-lovers worth cherishing, and Geoff, in her opinion, was one of them. Which was going to make the next thing she had to say rather embarrassing, particularly being barely dressed as she was. Steeling herself, Samantha looked Geoff straight in the face as she said, “And the cambion. Oh, I’d like to put her on my examining table. You just don’t get a chance to study them very often. I’d just be afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the exam before she seduced me.”
To Samantha’s surprise, Geoff’s smile went from sad to cheerful. He even laughed a little. “Glad you said it, Sam. She’s been doing it to me, too, and I was wondering if I was getting soft in the head. I don’t think it’s intentional, but with a cambion, how do you tell?”
“Right.” Samantha felt greatly relieved. And then she gave Geoff the inquisitive look of an old ex-lover. “I notice you’ve been very careful not to explain all of what’s going on. Is this another ‘secret’ Council assignment?”
Geoff didn’t hesitate. After all, he trusted Samantha. “Yes, and the stupidity is that they have me here under my own name.”
Samantha chuckled at that. Then her face grew serious. “They’re going to be royally pissed when they find out you called me in.”
As far as Geoff was concerned, Samantha’s affiliation with Frank McCarthy was not an issue. So he shrugged. “Let them be. By the time I tell them, it won’t matter. In four days’ time, Will and Kate come visiting Great Yarmouth, and if the wyrm is still running loose, your presence here is going to not be worth bothering about.”
Samantha smothered another giggle. “Wouldn’t do to have Kate enthralled and ditch Willy to take up with an overgrown eel.”
In mock anger, Geoff replied, “Be off with you!”
Samantha shook her head, and teased him in return. “Not without a kiss.” She didn’t worry at all about what she was wearing as Geoff put his arms around her and they exchanged the sort of kiss that reminded them both of the good times in their past, without allowing themselves to get carried away in the present. Once they both let go, Samantha teleported herself back to her bedroom without another word. Dropping her bag and taking off her shirt, she flopped back into bed and was asleep in moments.
Geoff remained on the landing, pondering his situation. He spared a few more moments to think of Samantha, and then dismissed her from his mind. There was work to be done. His assignment was not going well and getting unnecessarily complicated. His English associate would be on crutches for three days while her foot regenerated. The American photographer, who was almost certainly some sort of spy, probably knew too much. And after making sure that her mother was okay and giving Geoff the itinerary of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Ursula had vanished before his eyes. Geoff had no idea if she would come back or would be of any further help. Cambions were generally unpredictable that way. As one of his old teachers had once said, cambions were even unpredictable in being unpredictable.
Four days, Geoff thought to himself, to stop that wyrm before it could cause a disaster so public there’d be no covering it up. Worse, if that wyrm decides to turn south instead of north, it could wipe out the Royal Family, take up residence in the Tower of London, and destroy the City as a financial center, along with killing millions of people. Geoff tended to regard both the bankers and the Royal Family as quaint parasites, but he didn’t want to see them displaced by a fire-breathing one.
Well, Geoff may not think much of them, but I don’t want to see the next generation of royals go up in flames! But enough of them. Where is Jacintha? And are Geoff and Samantha going to hook up again, because the way they look at each other, I have to wonder. The answer to this, and other questions of importance, will all be in the next chapter!