by Xenophon Hendrix
Mom looked nervous when Mary and I told her our plan. "Are you sure you'll be safe?"
"How can I be sure of something like that? But I'm not going to cower at home while the band of morons who decided to pick a fight with me roam freely. I just hope they've learned to leave me alone."
Mom look troubled but finally said, "Look out for your sister."
I got to ride my new bike for the first time, other than up and down the driveway. I liked it, and Mary no longer had to hold back when we were riding together. She also had graciously taken the two guitar books I was returning and put them on her spring rack. A rack was going to be the first thing I added, I thought. Even though they weren't exactly cool, they certainly were handy.
We took the slight detour to go by Kirsten's house. She wasn't out, but Pam was, so we said hi and talked for a couple of minutes. Was it my imagination, or was she looking at me more attentively than she used to?
Could be, thought Ursus. You certainly have raised your status within your tribe, and it's a big change in image for you.
Before, I had the image of nerd. Now, I have the image of dangerous nerd.
Don't knock it. That's exactly what we magicians are. A wizard who isn't a nerd at heart is a dead wizard, at least eventually. As for dangerous, you used your ability righteously, not to threaten or intimidate. Everyone will have noted that.
I have the strength of ten, for my heart is pure.
I wouldn't go that far.
At the library, I returned my books and found another guitar book, one that wasn't on the shelf my last trip to the library. This one had the music for hundreds of songs in both standard notation and a notation especially for guitars, called tablature.
Ursus wanted to find some information about contemporary magical practice, if there was any. The magic described in The Iliad and The Odyssey had intrigued him, and he hoped to learn if anyone was currently writing about magical techniques that actually worked.
The card catalog indicated that there were a number of books on magic tricks, but only a few on actual spell casting. We went to the single shelf. The library allowed one person to check out no more than four books at a time on a given topic, so we selected one called Witchcraft in the Contemporary Empire and Spells for the Modern Witch both by the same couple, who claimed to be practicing witches themselves. We also found The Book of Hermes by a man who said he was a ceremonial magician. Finally, we selected The Demon Prince, supposedly an English translation of an ancient grimoire.
This looks like it's all about summoning demons. Do they actually exist?
Ursus accessed his memories for our benefit. He also examined Arthur's conception of a demon. He thought, there are many beings that inhabit the metaphorical dimensions. Some of them are by our lights evil or treacherous and fit your concept of a demon.
Arthur asked, what's a metaphorical dimension?
As Ursus answered, we gained access to his memories. Every node has a variable number of physical dimensions and metaphorical dimensions. The nodes that humans can visit always have three spatial dimensions. They usually also have multiple metaphorical dimensions that are not physical. If, for example, the Elysian Fields described in the Odyssey actually exist or existed, they would almost certainly be or have been located in a metaphorical dimension.
Faerie? Arthur asked, thinking about some of the fantasy that he'd read.
Yes, you get the idea.
Do you think the Elysian Fields might really have existed?
They might have, or they could just be a story.
Could we go there, like Odysseus?
You now are talking more along the lines of shamanism, rather than wizardry, but I have some skill in that, too, and I have visited metaphorical dimensions.
We were treated to another flood of memories as Ursus recalled highlights of some of his journeys. He continued: One can often go to a metaphorical dimension physically, but usually only for a relatively short period of time, because the human body is primarily physical. One can also leave one's body behind and go on a visualized journey in an imaginary body, which often works just fine for traveling in metaphorical dimensions.
Anyway, thought Ursus, getting back to the topic at hand, I don't have a lot of hope for any of these books, but they might help me guess how close the magician's on this node are getting to effective practice. Of course, magic is often secretive business. Those who are actually able to accomplish something might not be publishing anything.
Is there any way to detect if anyone other than us is using real magic?
There are many things we can try, but we have to build up this body's magical endurance, and I have to integrate many years of ingrained techniques with its nervous system. Perhaps, though, we can try a little simple scrying tonight before bed, if you're game.
I'm more than willing. I love this stuff.
I was sure you would be, and I know you do. It's in the genes. While we're here, we should get another book on mythology, something other than Greek. Myths are a powerful source of metaphor.
I found a book on Norse mythology and another on Egyptian before I went in search of Mary. She had a couple novels in her hand, and she was looking at a book on how to play the chord organ. "I thought that if you can learn guitar from a book, maybe I could learn something about music, too."
"Check it out and try."
At the checkout counter, the librarian gave me an inquiring look, but she didn't say anything. I guessed she didn't see too many kids signing out spell books.
We had too many books to fit on Mary's rack, so I carried some of mine in one hand. As we passed Danny's place, he called out to me. "Hey! They've let you out." He, Mike, and Terry were working on what I presumed was the pedal car. I was eager to see it.
"Yeah. I'll be back in five minutes," I called.
I dropped off my books and told Mom my new destination. "Is it all right if I stay out until supper?"
"Be careful coming home in the dark."
"I'll stay on the sidewalk." Mary came with me.
When we arrived at Danny's, I told my friends that no one was being charged with anything. "I would throw their asses in the juvie home," said Danny.
The pedal car was already looking impressive. It was going to be a three-wheeler with a single wheel in front. Each seat was getting its own chain, crank set, and individually adjustable gears. It looked like he had cut up at least three bicycles plus some electrical conduit--I reminded myself not to ask where he got it--to get the materials he needed for the basic frame. He was still building the rear axle in shop class.
"Are you getting class credit for this?" I asked.
"It must be nice, getting credit for what you were going to do anyway."
"I get credit for some of my art projects, too."
"Superior planning. The shop teacher said he'd give me an A for the marking period if I did a good job, plus, he's been giving me advice."
They were currently making the seats from carefully bent conduit. Later, Danny planned to cover them with mesh. The seats were going to be attached to a welded conduit bracket that could slide along the tubes connecting to the rear of the bottom brackets. Secure them with hose clamps, and the pedal car had adjustable seats. "Slick as greased weasel shit," said Mike.
"Have you been hanging around with my mom?"
"Not lately. Why?"
"That sounds like something she might say."
I helped a while by being gofer and auxiliary holder. Mary took over Jenny watching duty. When the time to leave drew near, Danny said, "Hang on a second." He went into the house for a minute and came back carrying a base drum and a kick pedal. "Keep this in your basement."
"Where did you get it?"
"I traded a bong I made from a quart beer bottle plus some homegrown."
"You growing weed?"
"Then where did the weed come from?"
"I reupholstered a bike seat for Tommy Labatt."
Oh, of course. I should have learned not to ask Danny those types of questions. "Are you sure you want me to take this home?"
"Yeah. I figured we could use it when we jam." Mike and Terry were looking pleased.
"Ek-skellent," said Mike.
"Thanks a lot, man," I said. "It ought to beat the crap out of smacking billiard balls together."
I balanced the drum on my bike seat and slowly walked it home. Mary walked her bike with me. "You guys are really getting into music," she said.
"Yeah, I'm glad. It's a lot better than sitting around trying to think of something to do."
I was far enough ahead with my homework that I didn't bother doing any that night. When Mike and Terry came over to practice, Terry said, "Mom is impressed with the dedication we've been showing. She said that if Mike and I keep practicing every day for a month, she'll get us lessons."
"You already have about two weeks in. Two more to go."
Mary came downstairs with us and sat in front of the chord organ while she looked at the book she had borrowed. Mike, Terry, and I by then had gone through the fifteen basic open chords and were now working on speed while maintaining precision. Because of the presence of Ursus, I was making faster progress than my friends were. They were learning things from scratch, whereas I was just training the connection between my brain and fingers for something I already knew. Consequently, I had been working on melody and barre chords on my own a little, but had not yet taught them much about the subjects.
"You need to fret all of the stings at once with your index finger." I showed them. "It hurts at first, and I still can't consistently press down on all of them."
Terry, who had their guitar, tried it. "Ow."
"Yeah. We're going have to build up the muscles in our hands and stretch them out some before we can play barre chords." I demonstrated, not that well, the E-shaped barre chord and the A-shaped barre chord. "Don't expect for them to sound good for quite a while, but you should add them to your practice sessions so that you can start strengthening your hands."
We worked on barre chords for several minutes. "Let's try a song." Mike currently had the Prestor's guitar. "Terry, keep a slow beat on the drum." I counted if off for him. "One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.
"Mike, just use the C and the G7 chords. Four strums on the C followed by four strums and the G7, and then just keep repeating. If you miss a switch, just skip a chord and catch up with the beat.
She looked up, "Huh, what?"
"When Mike is playing the C chord, you hold down the C button on the chord organ with your left hand. When he is playing the G7 chord, hold down the G7 button."
I let them play through a few measures, and then started in with a simple melody I had been practicing that Ursus knew, called "The Shepherd's Lament," if one translated the title into English. It used just the two highest strings and sounded weepy. Mary looked happy to be participating with the rest of us.
We went through it several times with Mike on the electric and several times with Terry on the electric. I then showed them the two-string melody until they had it memorized. We slowed the song even more, and I did the chords while they did the melody.
Ursus asked, do you notice anything?
The manna is closer.
Oh, wow, it was. Our mental collective tried calling it in as we played the chords. The manna came nearer, but we couldn't quite reach it and draw it in. Still, it was exciting.
There must be some way to exploit this, thought Ursus. We're going to have to begin experimenting.
We managed to practice for about two hours before the Prestor's went home. "Thanks for letting me take part," Mary said.
"Now that we're actually starting to learn some songs, you can participate whenever you want. Practice what's in your book, and maybe you can do more than play chords.
"Will you do me a favor?" I asked.
"I'm going to be attempting some magic stuff. Will you call me just before 10:00?"
I did about twenty minutes of stretching before I went upstairs to find something to put water in. I dug out an aluminum-foil pie pan that someone had saved. Mom came into the kitchen when I was filling it at the faucet.
"What nonsense are you starting this late at night?"
"I'm going to try scrying."
"What in hell is that?"
"I'm going to stare into this water and see if I have visions."
"You have some weird-ass ideas. You know that?"
She looked at me a moment before she asked, "Are you on drugs?"
"Nothing other than my morning vitamin."
She shook her head. I carried the pan downstairs and sat it on an old rag on the table. It was easier to go into trance every time I did it. Once I reached the state, I called manna and cast and purified the circle. Then I pricked my finger and put a single drop of blood in the water. I went back into trance, called manna, and slowly fed it into the water while I gazed upon it.
Some vision was trying to form, but it never clarified enough to reveal what it was. I kept concentrating and feeding it manna, though.
Someone gave me a shake. "Arthur, it's almost ten." It was Mary. "I called from the top of the stairs, but you didn't answer."
I hadn't felt the time pass. "Thank you. I was far gone in trance." I felt tired, but not as tired as when I cast a major spell for my current level of ability.
"You were just staring at the water. Did you see anything?"
"Not really, but I think there is something to see. I just need to practice."
I had a tiny bit of manna left and gave it to Mary as I brushed past her heading for the stairs. She smiled. The magical energy did make one feel good.
We had a productive day, thought Ursus. I'm highly interested in exploring the manna calling properties of music on this node.
Have you seen that happen before?
Yes. Music and chanting can attract manna. Things that draw people into a group with a single shared focus often do so. Religious ritual can, for instance, even when no apparent god is listening. A focused group can accomplish some powerful magic.
Possibilities started to run through our brain. Ursus felt pleased as we drifted off.