Author's Note: Magician's Integration has started.
by Xenophon Hendrix
Once the battle was over and my extreme focus receded, I again became aware of my surroundings. I was lying face down in snow, which wasn't surprising. I probably was in one of the filthy snow banks that lined both sides of the road. That thought grossed me out enough that I immediately tried getting up.
I heard a male adult voice say, "He's coming around."
At the same time, I felt a hand on my back and a different male adult voice say, "Don't move, guy, you might be hurt."
I turned my head sideways and back to see who was talking to me. He was wearing a fire department uniform and squatting down. I took stock of my physical condition. I felt cold from lying in the snow, but I didn't feel any pain. I kicked my legs a bit to make sure they worked and flapped my arms. "I'm fine," I said. "The snow broke my fall. Let me up."
"Wait until the paramedics check you out."
"I'll be a lot happier letting them check me out if I can get out of this snow."
"Stay put. The kids who came to get us said you were unconscious for several minutes."
"You were," said a female voice from behind me. I recognized it. It was the girl from the group of three kids I had played and sung for. They must have turned west when they got to the end of Weiner. I concluded that we had approached the corner of Cord and Silver at the same time. Because I had been traveling a lot faster on my bike, that was entirely possible.
"Yeah, dude," said the shorter boy. "You like drove right up into the snow bank and flew over your handlebars. At first we were laughing our asses off, but when you didn't move, we came over to check you out."
"We asked if you were all right," said the tall boy. "When you didn't answer, we went to get help at the fire station."
"These two dummies," said the girl, "were going to roll you over, but I told them they shouldn't do that."
"I feel fine," I said. "Hey! How's my guitar?" I started trying to reach behind myself.
"Your guitar is fine," said the fireman. "Just settle down. The paramedics are here." I decided to cooperate for the time being.
"What's your name?" asked a third male voice, presumably a paramedic.
We don't want these people to be able to identify us, thought Ursus.
"Tony," I said.
"Do you feel any pain, Tony?"
"Can you wiggle your fingers for me?" I wiggled. "How about your toes?" I wiggled them, too.
"Turn your head from side to side." I did it. "Was there any pain or discomfort?"
"Now move it up and down."
"No pain," I said as I complied.
He started poking around my back. "Any pain?" he asked.
"OK, I'm going to take this guitar off so I can check you out better."
I didn't want to give up custody of my guitar. I needed to get out of there, and I didn't want to have to abandon it. I waited until there were no hands upon me and surged to my knees all at once. "See? I'm fine," I said as I continued to get to my feet.
"Let me do my job, kid." He now had a grip on my arm.
I took the opportunity to look around. I had been in a snow bank by a driveway. The paramedics had driven the ambulance over from the nearby fire station. Two firemen were standing in the street. One paramedic had my arm. Another stood in front of me. The three teens were watching from the driveway. Someone had dug my bike out of the snow and put it up on its kickstand--the kids, probably.
The paramedic had given up on taking my guitar for the moment and was now probing the front of my torso. "Any pain?"
"Nope." I saw the two firemen turn and start to head back to the station.
The paramedic took out a penlight and was about to shine it in my eyes. Once he let me go, I took my opportunity. I screamed, "My brother's bike! He's going to kill me!" as I ran toward my bicycle. I continued to accelerate as I grabbed the handlebars and pushed the bike. Once I had a gap opened up between everyone else and me, I swung a leg over as quickly as I could, kicked the stand out of the way, and pedaled for all I was worth. I went south down Silver.
I heard someone yell, "Hey!" My actions must have taken everyone by sufficient surprise, because no one stopped me. I knew that as soon as the adrenaline wore off I'd feel weary from my battle with the demon, so I needed to keep the pump going as long as I could.
We have a hard choice to make, thought Ursus. If the demon managed to kill his minion, our best course would be to find a pay phone, call the police, and say we heard female screams coming from the magician's house and that there are a couple of bodies in his freezer. But if we do that and the magician isn't dead, he'll find a way to summon the demon again, even if he is in prison, and we'll be worse off than we were before.
So we need to make sure he's dead, I concluded.
That's right, Ursus said.
You mean we have to kill him if he isn't already dead, Arthur thought as we turned onto Sire.
I'm sorry, Arthur, Ursus thought.
After facing the demon and learning about the magician's crimes, I now agreed completely with Ursus. The law wasn't equipped to handle the situation. I felt sympathy for Arthur, though. He was only eleven. Eleven-year-olds shouldn't have to make such heavy decisions.
I turned onto Weiner and a few seconds later turned onto the magician's driveway and rode all the way up. Without hesitating, I got off the bike and pushed it along the walk at the side of the house. I then pushed it through the wooden gate into the backyard and right through the snow as if I had every right to do what I was doing. I didn't stop until I was behind the house. Fortunately, the magician had a redwood privacy fence around his entire backyard. All the better to conceal nefarious deeds, I supposed.
How likely is he to still be alive? I asked as I turned my guitar around front. It looked undamaged.
The demon was weakened when he destroyed our protective spell, thought Ursus, and we weakened him some more when we defeated him. He might very well have failed.
Shit. I began to play the guitar. You did a great job last time, Arthur. I need you to hold on to the manna again. Arthur collected the energy until I could contain no more.
I took off the guitar and hung it from the bike. I still had on my ski mask. I put my gloves back on and then took the bottle from the rack. I wiped any fingerprints off it before slipping it into a coat pocket.
I looked around the planting near the house until I saw a big flowerpot filled with dirt and the brown stalk of a dead plant. That should serve. I went to pick it up. Damn, it was frozen to the ground. I stood back and kicked it until it broke loose.
I lifted the pot up over my head and heaved it through the sliding glass door at the back of the house. I retreated several steps to make sure I was out of the way of the falling shards. Once they had quit collapsing, I pushed out a large piece that hadn't fallen on its own and then walked into the family room while trying to avoid the worst of the glass. I could hear a female voice crying and screaming for help.
When heading for a fight or a possible fight, it's best to bring a weapon. I had the pop bottle, but I wanted something better. I crossed the family room into the kitchen and picked up a chair by the back and seat. I then headed toward the girl's screams.
I had just about reached the basement stairs when the magician appeared at the top of them. He looked bruised and battered, was bleeding from several places, and he had a big knife. "You! You made my master turn against me!"
Before he quit yelling, I charged and speared him with two of the chair legs. Another rule for a fight: hit first.
He went tumbling backwards down the stairs. Unfortunately, he had grabbed on to one of the chair legs before he fell, so I either had to let it go or fall down the stairs with him. I released my weapon and followed him down the stairway on my feet.
The magician was on his back. He was still alive and moving when I reached the bottom. Both his knife and the chair had flown out of his grasp and were halfway across the basement. The girl I had observed in my scrying was tied naked to the altar. She was frantically trying to pull herself loose.
Yet another rule: don't give the other guy time to recover. I felt Ursus take firm control of our body. He felt utterly grim and determined. I walked up to the magician, jumped into the air, and came down on his torso with the heels of my heavy winter boots. It's a killing move.
I stumbled off his body, but I caught myself before I fell. Blood was running from the demon-summoner's mouth. To be sure, I kicked him in the temple and stomped on his skull until I felt something give. I heard Arthur screaming in my head, and he lost his control over our manna, but it didn't appear that we were going to need it.
I didn't want to use the magician's knife and thereby smudge his fingerprints. I dug my athame out of my trouser pocket and opened it with my teeth so that I didn't have to remove my gloves. I walked up to the girl on the altar and cut her loose. She covered herself with her hands as best she could and cowered away from me. Between sobs, she gasped out, "He, he was going to sacrifice me."
I forced my voice lower than it naturally was. "I heard your screams and came to help." That was yet another lie. I hadn't heard her screams until I was already inside, but if the police caught me, it would be better if the authorities believed I had acted to save an innocent. "Call the police, and tell them everything that happened here. There is broken glass upstairs. Be careful."
I turned around, walked back up, went outside, slung my guitar, and left. On the way out of the yard, I scuffed my feet a lot and tried to stomp on my bicycle tracks. Maybe no one would notice them. Leaving the girl alone was cold hearted, but she had appeared afraid of me--right then, I was afraid of myself--and sticking around or letting myself be identified would be bad. With luck, she would describe me as older than Arthur was.
I felt utterly exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to find some place to curl up. Keep going Ursus ordered. Head away from the fire station. I followed the subdivision streets east until I came to Wool, then I followed Wool north until I came to Cord. I crossed on the corner with the light, and some idiot making a turn almost ran me down. I was so tired I hadn't seen him. Even the close call, though, wasn't enough to wake me up more than a little.
I was sorely tempted to turn west and head straight back to Bradley, but I decided it was safer to go north. I rode on the sidewalk beside Wool until I came to Normal. Then I went west until I came to Bradley, and headed for home from the north rather than the south. When I went past Danny's house on Twine, I saw that Mike and Terry's bikes were there, but no one was outside.
I put my bike away in our garage. I fished the pointing device out of the pop bottle, breaking the toothpick in the process, but that didn't matter anymore. I put the bottle back in the case I had taken it from.
I didn't play any hiding games with my guitar--I was too tired for that--I just walked inside carrying it. No one saw me come in, anyway. I laid the guitar on top of the dryer as I took off my coat and boots. "I'm home," I called.
"How was your bike ride?" Mom asked.
"What did the junior high look like?"
"Much like a light-industrial factory, or perhaps a minimum security prison."
I went downstairs, and Mary followed me. "The magician won't be bothering us again," I said.
She started to say something.
I interrupted. "No questions. No details. Ever. And never say anything to anyone. Ever."
Mary looked me in the eyes for a few seconds, and then nodded her head.
I reached out and gave her a tight hug. When I released her, I said, "I badly need to rest. Tell everyone about band practice, please, if you haven't already, and wake me a couple hours before supper. I want to spend some time with Aunt Kate and Andy before they go home tonight."
"OK," she said.
I flopped onto the couch and cried myself to sleep.
Author's Note: I have started posting Magician's Integration. Please do read the Author's Note and Warning before you decide to invest time in the new serial. Comments and progress reports can be found on my blog.