Three weeks ago I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble. Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. Here’s the final installment.
Something metallic crashed below, and the floor vibrated. The hairs on the back on my neck rose. The crowd sensed it as well, people looked around, eyes wide, no doubt wondering what the noise was, and why the floor trembled. For a Normal, the arcane was that sense you were being watched, and when you twisted around, there was no one and no thing there. It was the sudden chill in a warm room, or scent you couldn’t quite recognize. I was more attuned to matters magical than that, but I was still the equivalent of a woman in the pitch black house holding a tiny flashlight trying to find locate mice scurrying around.
Worse, without mana, I didn’t have a hope in hell of binding whatever it was.
The building shook. I heard another distant boom below.
I had a very bad feeling about this.
I needed mana, and fast. I had to use my costume. Hate it or not, I had no choice.
Cute Guy wandered in my field of view. I waved at him, tried to look enticing. Blech. Another item to write on the I-hate-myself list. He came over.
“Hi, Carl,” I said as he came over. My dimples must be working over time. He looked flushed.
“Thanks for letting me in,” I said, trying to do a sultry voice. Geez, I sounded like an over the hill sex kitten who’d had too much whiskey and cigarettes. Still, Carl wore a dopey grin, looking like a teenager who realized he was about to get lucky. My un-dress and the mana it focused because of his attraction to me had that effect. The un-dress was a mirror reflecting back on the emotional energy that in turn drew mana. I know, complicated, but that was the arcane for you.
Something crashed outside, and screams erupted. Cosplayers and volunteers snapped their heads around. Nervous questions rose all around me.
Carl had turned to face the door. “I’d better go check,” he said, and started to head toward the door.
Damn it. There was no time. I grabbed Carl’s arm and yanked him over to face me in a full body contact, which in the leather near nudity I wore, meant lots of bare skin against his thin tee shirt. I pulled his head down to mine and kissed him, full on the lips. No time to waste.
He froze, then relaxed and melted into the kiss. It was like dark chocolate. Hey, I love dark chocolate, so sue me if that’s my reference.
The crystal tiara crackled with energy and my skin tingled. Mana, sweet Cassandra, mana poured into me, and from me into the tiara’s crystals. They needed energy to hold energy. Like I said, the arcane was complicated.
Here I just thought Carl was a cute guy, but there was a deeper attraction between us, helped no doubt by my un-dress’s trashy appeal. Somewhere a geezer wizard leered. I pushed the thought from my mind.
A faint crash in the distance. I broke for air from the kiss with Carl. I heard voices raised in question in the hall outside the grand ballroom, some shouting, but not the cacophony of fear and more fear I would have expected if something big and nasty had thumped into their midst.
I released Carl and sprinted toward Tully. Okay I tried to sprint toward Tully but the devil’s own high heels tripped me up and I did a full face plant, banging my left hand. Pain shot up my arm. Damn it, I knew better than to throw out an arm when I fell. Tuck and roll, Wanda used to say as she watched me fall again again in the obstacle course. Screw it. I crawled as fast as I could on my hands and knees. Pretty hard to do with my left hand hurting. Please, wide world, let it just be a sprain.
“Tully” I shouted.
He turned, took one look at me and doubled over in drunken laughter. I crawled forward another two feet before the pain hammering my left arm proved too much.
Someone pulled me to my feet.
Carl. “You need some first aid.”
“I need to reach my friend.”
He smiled and I felt myself grow hot. Cursed un-dress. Okay, maybe it was more than the un-dress, but that was my excuse and I was sticking with it. My left hand didn’t hurt so much all of a sudden.
“First things first, huh?” Carl said.
“Something like that, yeah.” I pointed at Tully. “I need to speak with him. It’s important.”
He didn’t argue, he didn’t barrage me with questions. He helped me over to where Tully stood, chatting up his new found posse.
“Hey, Liz,” Tully said. “Just tellin’ my pals here about that time in Astoria we got ambushed by those toad men and their human muscle. Or was it those human sorcerers and their toad men muscle?” He rubbed his head. “Things are a bit blurry at the moment.”
Giggles erupted from his posse. Great, Tully was spouting off secrets.
The floor vibrated again.
“Could you excuse us for a moment?” I said to Tully’s posse.
I pulled him aside with my good hand. “Spilling secrets?” I hissed. Another thing to have to worry about. The first rule of Magic club was don’t talk about Magic club. Duh.
“They all like it,” he said. Looked like he was finally reaching the collapsing into a sound sleep part of his drunk.
I palmed the stone cold packet.
High pitched laughter echoed from overhead, laughter on helium, laughter that could etch glass.
The ballroom lights flared and then went out all at once, plunging the room into darkness. People began talking all at once. I brought the stone cold packet up to Tully’s big mouth. I still needed him to locate what had just gotten loose, and to help me subdue it. Assuming the packet didn’t fall apart before it reached his mouth. Squeeze packets, the newest thing from the bright minds in Alchemy.
The packet exploded in my hand, powder puffing against my skin. If only the contents had been a jell I could have rammed my fingers down Tully’s throat. I fumbled for the other packet in my left boot, found it.
The packet slipped from my fingers. Damn it!
High pitched laughter again from overhead. I wanted my hands around a little windpipe, squeezing, only gremlins breathed through the sides of those pointed heads of theirs.
Smart phones flicked on all around, throwing out little windows of light from screens, followed a moment later by pinpricks of bright light. I snatched the packet from the floor.
Emergency lights flicked on.
“Open wide,” I said, and squeezed the packet’s contents into Tully’s mouth. “Swallow.” He did.
He belched, an epically loud belch that echoed off the ceiling. That was the stone cold for you.
“Gremlins,” I pointed at the ceiling. Tully stepped up beside me, lifted my right arm and guided it. I flexed the fingers of my left. Still hurt, but that’s was just tough. A binder’s got to do what a binder’s got to do I always said. There! A gray shadow hung from a open ceiling panel. I made a lassoing motion with my left fingers, pulled with my right. The crystals in my tiara were warm against my head, sucking mana from the gremlin. I could see his little mouth form an O of surprise, he toppled and fell.
“On it,” Tully said and snatched the gremlin from the floor, tucked it into his coat. “Rat catcher, in action!” He said. His posse giggled. Jack Strange always said that in the comic book when he nabbed a shadow creature.
Tully pointed my right arm at another open ceiling panel. Rinse and repeat as I drew mana from the second gremlin and Tully fetched and secured again. Not my typical binding procedure, but the un-dress’s mana harvesting changed the equation, hate it or not.
“You’re hurt,” Tully said when he rejoined me. Yeah, Captain Obvious strikes again.
“Costume not exactly made for running.”
He looked embarrassed and guilty at the same time.
I took pity on him. “Gremlins switched your drinks earlier.”
The door by the grand ballroom’s stage flung open. Something huge was outlined in the doorway.
“And for our next act, the return of Mister Pissed Off,” I said.
“The Troll Lord escaped?” Tully shook his head. “I can’t believe he escaped.” Like I said, Captain Obvious strikes again.
The Troll Lord stomped into the room. He looked like a scaled version of the Incredible Hulk, only in brown black rather than bright green. He raised his huge fists and bellowed.
Shit, we were going to have a helluva time covering this up, assuming we managed to get out of it in one piece. I needed a lot of energy for the binding, and I might have to improvise with a conjuring. I needed steel cables to bind that thing.
I frantically scanned the room, That was when I saw the Kaiju Wrangler costume leaning against the stage. That was one of those not OSHA approved costumes where you had to be strapped in, like a medieval suit of armor. I bet the cosplayed inside I had panicked, tried to run in the dark, and passed out when the Troll Lord showed up.
How about that? A ray of sunshine just burst forth.
“Gotta do the Jack Strange act again,” I told Tully. “Go on, ham it up.”
Tully didn’t miss a beat. “I am the warden of the night,” he shouted, striding toward the Troll Lord. Wow, hang on there big fella.
I gulped. I needed more mana but didn’t have it. Unless.
“Tully!” He turned, and I blew him my sexiest kiss.”
He blinked in surprise, and then blushed. I felt that energy. Boy did I ever. An instant later Tully whirled back to face the Troll Lord as it bellowed again.
Conjure me a cable, I muttered under my breath, pointed at the line hanging coiled on the Kaiju Wrangler. Conjure me a vessel, I muttered, made a pass with my hand, willing the suit to come to life.
It did. Tully gestured at the Kaiju Wrangler just in time. “Warrior of light, I summon thee!” He shouted.
The suit took two steps forward, One of its hands grabbed the now silver cable, which I motioned for it to throw. The lasso surrounded the troll lord just as it was about to charge.
“That’s enough of that,” I said to myself. This was going to hurt, but I already had an enter point for the pain. My left hand. I twisted it. Binders use their own pain to add in the binding, and I had a ready supply. I twisted my writst, pain shooting up my arm, and the cable twisted.
The troll lord bellowed, then stiffened as the binding took hold.
“I vanquish the foe,” Tully said, another Jack Strange trademark slogan.
I clapped. “Great cosplay!” I shouted, encouraging others to join in by my enthusiasm. I held my breath.
Applause broke out, scattered at first, then growing louder.
It worked. Barely. We still needed help from the local Sweepers to cover up the fiasco, but it worked. The troll lord was back on ice, this time heading to the silos with two very annoying and too powerful for their britches gremlins, and Tully and I weren’t headed to the silos. Thank the wide world for that.
We did get sent off to Pasco to deal with a shadow plague, but that’s a different story, and I’ll take mucking about in the dark in the boonies over being stuck guarding the silos any day of the week.