And! This is the first day oh...12 weeks I haven't felt like pooh. That's right. I said pooh. I don't feel like barfing or sleeping for twelve hours. I might actually make some cookies. Maybe play some Dr. Mario. (small goals, people, small goals.)
Anyway, here is the next chapter of Becca's story. I realized I left you all in kind of a lurch. Elsie just smooched Kevin and all sorts of crazy things are about to happen. Hold onto your hats.
Malcolm stepped onto the porch. “It’s taken care of,” he said heavily to Alva. She sighed, going to him and touching his arm gently.
He nodded. “The whole school. Mostly children.”
I shivered as he looked to me. “I don’t know how you two made it out,” he said. “Not with that many of them.”
“I almost didn’t,” I admitted.
His gaze was measuring. “I would like to speak with you more, Becca,” he said slowly. “This evening. You are staying the night?”
“I don’t know.” I said. “Kevin…” I turned, looking for him. Just in time for Elsie to give a shout of laughter, throw her arms around Kevin once more and kiss him full on the mouth.
Kevin drew back from her embrace, laughing as he unwound her arms from his neck. She tossed her hair, hands on her hips. I flinched as Kevin looked up and met my eyes across the lawn. I turned back to Malcolm.
“I think so,” I said coolly. “I doubt Elsie will let him leave until they’ve had a chance to talk.”
Malcolm was watching them over my shoulder. “Yes. You could both use a night of safe rest, I’m sure.”
“There’s food,” Alva said. Her arm slipped around my shoulder. “Come, Becca. You didn’t finish your dessert.”
The last thing on earth I wanted just then was something sweet and fattening. Back in the kitchen, I ruthlessly dunked a cookie in a glass of milk and stuffed it in my mouth.
The others of the party passed through, some pausing long enough to eat a bowl of soup, others waving before leaving out the back door.
“Do they live here?” I asked Alva.
She shook her head. “Only the students.”
I glanced to the ceiling. “Where are they?”
She looked to me in confusion. I smiled a little, trying to make light of how creeped out I was. “I went to school and it was never this quiet.”
She laughed. “Oh. They’re out on a field trip.”
One of the many knots of tension in my belly eased. “Good,” I said, relieved. “I thought… I mean, it reminded me of that other school…”
She shivered. “Sorry, I should have told you. No, our children our safe and very much alive. They went to Bolivia.”
I blinked. “Bolivia?”
“They are studying the Sky Paintings.”
She wound away on her explanation, describing the phenomenon. I normally would have been interested, but Kevin and Elsie walked in the kitchen. Kevin snorted at something she said and came to the table.
He moved to the side I was sitting on, his hand gripping the back of the chair next to mine. He met my eyes for a moment, a question in them. Or maybe an explanation. I wasn’t sure, so I kept my face blank. He sighed a little and sat, taking the bowl Alva handed him eagerly.
“Thanks,” he said around a mouthful. “I’m starving.”
Elise sat as well, across from him. “What happened?” she asked, her voice dropping to a serious tone.
Kevin grimaced. “Same as any Stopped beings. There were just so many of them.”
Elsie reached across and touched his hand. “I’m sorry.”
Kevin’s shoulder lifted in a shrug, his spoon already scraping the bottom of his bowl. “At least we released them.”
“Any hint what happened?” she asked, looking between Alva and Kevin. Me, she was ignoring completely.
Kevin shook his head, draining a glass of water. “No,” he said. I wondered why he was lying to protect Strenton. He had been free enough with his accusations with me. Did he still think Strenton was the cause or the reason? “Probably just an accident.”
Elsie’s lip trembled. “It’s terrible,” she said, her violet eyes huge and wet with tears. “Poor little things.”
Kevin grunted. I knew how he felt. I was sad for their deaths, but there had been nothing pathetic about them yesterday. Only hunger and hate.
I sat and watched as they talked. Every now and then, one of them would glance my way. Finally I stood.
“I’m pretty tired,” I said loudly. “You wanted to talk to me, Malcolm?”
He nodded, breaking off his conversation with the twitchy man. “Yes. Let’s go to my workroom.”
Kevin stood as well.
“No,” Malcolm said, holding out his hand. Kevin looked to him in confusion. “I wish to speak to Rebecca alone.”
There was a few moments of silence. Kevin slowly sank back down to his chair, his brow furrowed. He turned to look at me, but I glanced away.
“Becca?” Malcolm asked. I hurried after him, feeling everyone’s too bright eyes on my back.
Malcolm’s work room was nothing more than a small office set across the hall from the front room. He smiled at me as he held the door open, waving me inside.
I sat in one of the squishy chairs grouped around the large desk and waited tensely.
“Kevin is protective of you,” he commented, launching into a topic I did not want to discuss at all.
I said nothing. I had no answer.
“Why did he agree to accompany you on this Quest?” he asked, refusing to drop the subject.
“I asked him,” I said. “I needed help and he said yes.”
Malcolm sat across from me, his face resting on his chin. “Tell me of these dreams.”
I did, detailing them in the order I had had them. “Something is coming. I don’t know what. But everything is going die.”
Malcolm sighed and rubbed his face. “Becca, that’s simply impossible.”
I stayed silent again. I refused to be budged. Malcolm caught sight of the stubborn set to my face and smiled a little.
“I know you’ve been told that. Let me rephrase. It should be impossible. The amount power needed…” he shook his head wonderingly. “It’s unfathomable. Even if all the practitioners in the whole world joined together, there wouldn’t be half as much power as you would need. And I mean no disrespect, Becca, when I say that your life is not worth that much power.”
I grimaced. “I know. That’s why I want to stop it.”
He chuckled then. “But here’s the thing. No matter what the Department of Paranormal Studies headlines in the New York Times, we are no closer to ‘understanding’ magic than we were a thousand years ago.” He made a fist and when he opened his fingers again, a small, shimmering ball of light floated above his palm. “We don’t know what it is, where it comes from, where it goes, or how it is made. Why can some people access it and others can’t? We don’t know that either. There are hints of a link to genetics, but eighty percent of the predictions based on genes are wrong. It doesn’t follow the normal laws of energy, it doesn’t work the same way twice and it doesn’t work the same for any two people. It is mostly a matter of will.”
I sighed, blinking. Why was it when magic people talked, there was nothing I could do but listen? Did that make me weak-minded? That anyone with a hint of power could simply talk to me in a soothing monotone and I would do whatever they wanted?
“And unfortunately,” Malcolm continued, waving his hand so the ball of light winked out. “Someone’s will can change the purpose of even the most benign castings. A person with minimal natural ability can work astonishing things and an extremely powerful practitioner can suppress their power until it burns through them and kills them.”
I swallowed nervously.
“Will power is everything,” He said. “That’s how you escaped.”
“From that school,” he explained. “You should have been caught. Kevin was already outside. You shouldn’t have been able to fight them, not that many and not that strong. Why are you suppressing your magic?”
I stared at him. “I’m not magic.”
He gave me a disgusted look. “Please, Becca. I’ve been teaching for eighty-seven years. Don’t insult my abilities.”
My brain lurched between two impossibilities. One, that this man who looked maybe in his thirties was a hundred years old. And two, that I was magic.
“All my tests came up negative.” I said hoarsely.
“Didn’t I just tell you that most times the tests are wrong?” he snapped.
“Kevin said…” I stumbled a little, but recovered. “Kevin said I wasn’t magic.”
Malcolm snorted. “He is young, inexperienced and enamored with empirical evidence.”
He sighed and reached across to pat my hand. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. It’s no one’s business but your own.” His eyes narrowed, clashing with the comforting weight his hand made on mine. “But now I have to ask: are you holding back your curse?”
I snatched my hand away, furious. “Am I holding it back?!” I demanded. I shot to my feet, my fists clenched. “I’m trying let it happen! I would rather die than let the whole world be consumed! How dare you accuse me of that?”
Malcolm said nothing as I panted. He made a placating gesture. “Sit, Becca.”
I did, slamming down to the chair so hard my teeth rattled.
He eyed me some more. “When did you meet him?”
“Who?” I snarled, seething.
“A few days ago,” I said, my anger draining away. I was too exhausted to keep up a temper. “I went in to the CMR for some testing and he was there.”
“And you’re sure you’ve never met him before?” Malcolm insisted.
“I’m sure,” I said shortly. “Why?”
Malcolm laughed. “Because he’s in love with you.”
I didn’t have the energy to deny even that ridiculousness. I put my hand in my hands and sat silently. Malcolm chuckled.
“Maybe I should temporize. Empirical evidence is not the only thing he is enamored of at the moment. He may very well fall out of love with you. And considering, as you so aptly pointed out, you need to die very soon and most likely violently, that probably is for the best.”
I lifted my head enough to scowl at him. He smiled wickedly. “Maybe it’s a good thing Elsie is here.”
I took a deep breath to keep from shouting anymore. “If I was magic-”
I ignored him and continued. “I would have hated having you as a teacher.”
Malcolm laughed at me. I stood and went to the door.
“You should tell him,” He said softly. I shot a glare at him and left, slamming the door behind me. Glad there were no small children to disturb, I stormed upstairs, stomping on the floorboards until they creaked in protest.
“Becca,” Kevin said as I rounded the corner of his bedroom door. He was sitting on the bed, Elsie perched on the desk. “What did Malcolm want?”
“Nothing.” I said evenly. “I’m really tired.” I added pointedly.
“Of course,” Kevin said at once, jumping up. “Come on, Elsie. I’m sleeping just down the hall, if you need anything, Becca.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll rest a bit and see if the Speaking tells you anything.”
“Good night, Kevin.” I shut the door in his face and jabbed the lock.
Not bothering to undress, I stretched out on the bed and put my face in my pillow.