Chapter Nine: No one is happy in this chapter
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
Jacintha froze. Later, she rationalized it as the proper response: show no motion, make it hard for the wyrm to see her. The simple truth was that she was terrified. A subconscious echo of what had happened to her the previous night disabled her, left her absolutely unable to even think about what she was doing.
And then the wyrm looked away, and Jacintha could think again. Her only problem was what to think. What does one do about two wyrms loose in Breydon Water?
She heard a whisper. “Get pictures of them, Jackie.” She looked over to her right, where Geoff was looking through binoculars at the wyrms.
The word “pictures” set Jacintha back into professional mode. She stripped off her night goggles and picked up her camera, the fancy one she’d been given for this project, and powered it up, while orienting it toward where she’d last seen the wyrms. Jackie’s sense of direction held true: the moment the viewfinder’s night vision came on, she saw the wyrms at the edge of the frame. She shifted the focus, used a minor spell to steady her arms so that she wouldn’t move them while taking pictures (she thought of that as the “tripod spell”) and began shooting. And while all this was going on, she spared a moment to feel relieved that Geoff hadn’t noticed her freeze.
Jacintha managed to take four pictures. And then, somehow, one of the wyrms detected what she was doing. It turned to face her, and with a roar came surging out of the water right at her.
Bathsheba Kingsley lay on the floor of her apartment, contemplating the structure of reality, at least insofar as it impinged on her mother. The floor was her preferred place for this type of thinking: it symbolically brought her “down to earth.” Given this quirk in her thinking, one should not be surprised that she never did her thinking while sitting on the toilet.
In her head, Bathsehba organized the puzzle that was her mother’s situation. There was a fire-breathing wyrm, a Council assignment that Marcus Satterthwaite had somehow arranged, and the Later East Anglian Chronicle, all connected to her mother.
“Reality is overdetermined” was Bathsheba’s slogan. Physics took care of the natural world, while people always acted from multiple motives. The problem for Bathsheba was not figuring out what people would do, for that was usually obvious when she understood their motives. Her problem was keeping track of all the people involved. And in this case a wyrm as well.
Marcus Satterthwaite, she could see, was the key on which this puzzle turned. If she could change his course, the rest of the puzzle would fall into place. However, that posed a problem, for Marcus Satterthwaite had gone to great lengths to avoid Bathsheba ever since the business with the green man. If Bathsheba was going to affect Marcus, she would need an intermediary, an agent on whom she could rely.
With a smile, Bathsheba realized that the very way she had stated the problem identified how to resolve it, as so often happened. She knew just the person who would do what was needed: Marcus’s intended victim the time he summoned the green man. Getting out her phone, Bathsheba rang up a familiar number.
Gertie Forbes had a slogan, too. It was “Always be ready to shoot whatever threatens you.” Jacintha remembered it well. So she dropped the camera without a moment’s hesitation, plucked the rifle out of its case, set up a head shot, and fired!
To her consternation, the bullet missed the creature’s head, as near as she could tell looking through the rifle’s scope. But it must have hit something, for the creature roared and belched fire into the sky. Concentrating even harder, Jackie took another shot at the head. Again, somehow, she missed it. But the creature didn’t so much roar as screech in pain and dropped back and down into the water.
Torn between being pleased she’d dealt one of the wyrms out of the picture, while still being baffled that she couldn’t hit the creature’s head, Jackie panned left, looking for the other wyrm in the telescopic sight. Nothing (she panned more to the left) . . . nothing (panning) . . . nothing (panning) . . . holy shit! It’s almost on top of us! Whatever her inner feelings, Jackie refused to panic, and placed two carefully aimed shots at the creature’s head.
Abruptly, she was knocked over. She could feel the heavy thud of the wyrm’s feet as it approached. Something heavy dropped on her, crushing her.
Calpurnia was feeling sleepy. Healing spells took a lot out of one. But she wanted so badly to finish reworking her translation of Thomas’s bastardized Latin. She’d unraveled the mystery of the fabric, thanks to Bathsheba’s concordance. Now if she could find her way to the solution for where the laying of the wyrm had taken place, she’d know how to solve this problem altogether. Well, she admitted to herself, except for how she could get close enough to the wyrm to lay it without it killing her first.
And then she sat bolt upright. There had been a sound. She’d faintly heard it. It was from a long way off. But the disturbance in the magical field that went with it was what had really got her attention. The wyrm! Calpurnia yanked her phone out of her pocket and rang Geoff’s number. And then cursed her phone when it went to voicemail.
Marcus Satterthwaite chuckled to himself repeatedly on his walk back to his hotel room in Edinburgh. He had been hugely entertained by that ass Chisholm having to choke down his words when the meeting had resumed. Marcus had even tormented the fool further by asking Chisholm to concur in Marcus’s praise of MacAlpine. The man’s blood pressure must have risen to the point of popping!
More importantly, Marcus was happy with the problems he was causing in both the Scots and English Councils. He was fairly sure that other fool, the senile chair of the Scots Council, Charlotte Wallace, had no idea how much dissension he was fomenting among her magicians. And the English Council, as usual, was clueless. Wallace might be senile, but Amos Baker, the chair of the English Council, was as stupid without the excuse of age.
And then Marcus came to a dead halt outside his room. His ward on his hotel room was gone. There had to be someone in his room.
Although visitors to the Scots Council were not supposed to be armed, Marcus had been carrying a blasting rod, and now pulled it out and made it ready. Someone was about to suffer maximum injuries short of death, if Marcus felt kindly toward them.
He reached for the door knob . . . only to have the door open by itself. Looking in, he could see that a light was on. Whoever it was, they certainly didn’t lack chutzpah. Holding his rod ahead of him, Marcus boldly advanced into the room. He feared no man, and no magician, either.
The intruder had made no effort to hide, but was standing facing out the front window of the room. She was tall, very tall, thin, dark hair with a hint of red reaching down to her waist, and dressed entirely in black. Before Marcus could say a word, without turning around, she said, “Put that phallic symbol away. It is most inappropriate in this context.”
Even before the words had been spoken, Marcus’s joy had died within him. He knew this woman, knew her all too well. And her presence here meant all of his plans were at risk of blowing up in his face.
Unhappy though all these people were, there was yet one person unhappier still. And that was Flo Thursby. She had come to her lover with another picnic basket of food, only to find that he came in the company of another wyrm. Flo really couldn’t tell a male wyrm from a female wyrm. But she had assumed her beau was male, so she naturally assumed his companion was female. And that made her jealous.
The wyrm’s enthrallment was a powerful bit of magic. Flo was unable to see the absurdity of her love, that she was being used. Such ideas could not cross her mind while she was enthralled. But the wyrm’s spell took no account of jealousy.
Flo had tried to play games with her wyrm, refusing to acknowledge her rival, saying she would give her wyrm the food she had, and then hiding it behind her back. She wanted her wyrm to understand how much he’d hurt her. And she wanted to make the other wyrm feel insignificant and unwanted.
Then the shots had rung out. The other wyrm had fallen back into the water, and her own had come crashing out of the water in all of his magnificence to hunt down those who dared try to harm him. Flo turned and watched. She heard more shots, but in the dim starlight could still see her wyrm charging across the ground. Without any pity, she condemned the humans who had dared attack her lover.
A warm breeze struck the back of her neck, and the next moment her view was cut off as something wrapped itself around her. It was warm and moist. Flo tried to push it away, but it tightened on her. And then she felt a burning on her skin and in her mouth. She barely noticed that she was being lifted off the ground as the burning turned to agonizing pain and as it spread from her mouth into her lungs.
Whether it was suffocation or the venom destroying her lungs, Flo Thursby was dead by the time the “other” wyrm swallowed her down its gullet. Jealousy, as it turned out, had engendered more jealousy.
Well, this chapter certainly abounded in unhappy people (and phallic symbols). At least Flo isn’t unhappy anymore. But Calpurnia doesn’t feel any the better for cursing her phone, and has just remembered that’s a really risky thing for a magician to do. Meanwhile, who’s the mysterious woman who’s ruined Marcus’s day? How badly hurt is Jacintha? All this, and more, will be addressed in the next chapter!