|I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
||[Jan. 4th, 2006|11:52 pm]
"Excuse me sir, can I help...Niel?"
Billy paused for a moment, as if he wasn't sure. I had to give the kid a raised eyebrow. I'd known his mother before he was born, and he had difficulty recognizing me? "No Billy, I'm his uncle out to kill him. I don't look that much older, kid. Is your ma here?"
The young man smirked at the sarcasm. "Good to see you too, gramps. What you here for?"
I fingered the piece of paper in my pocket, and wondered what she would know about it that I didn't.
"A question for Sara, about a spell. I won't be long."
"Oh, the mumbo-jumbo? Figures." He shrugged. "She's in Maternity right now, like always. Her shift actually ends in fourty-five minutes. I'll tell her you're around; wait here." Splendid, more waiting. Well, it wasn't like Synthia was going anywhere.
He took off, white uniform against white walls. Billy had been Sara's exact opposite in personality, and had no interest in magic. I was probably the only one surprised when he chose to follow Sara into the medical professions. He certainly resembled her enough in looks; same long lines of the face, same red hair she used to have. Sara'd work the maternity wards till she died, and her arts could make that a long time from now; personally I was waiting until he started to gray in the hair just to see if people would start mistaking him for his mother. That would be amusing.
"You're thinking of something funny, Niel. What's with the grin?"
I started suddenly, then exhaled deeply. She always did this. "Ancestors' mercy, Sara, could you not sneak up on me like that? Next time you'll send me to the cardiac ward."
"Good thing you're always calling on me at the hospital; not far to go." The older woman chuckled. She was old enough to my aunt, and yet I looked like her older brother. Damn.
"Your concern is touching as always, Sara. Life treating you well enough?"
She started to walk towards her ward, I followed. "Oh I've been enjoying a lovely day at work, with the babies, clean deliveries all around. Then some grizzled OIS bastard walks and comes asking me question about magic for an investigation. Don't try to deny it Niel; it's not my birthday or Billy's, and you're too uptight to be on vacation. What Machine business do you want me to help you with now?"
"How do you read me like that?" I shook my head. "I might as well have signs on my forehead. I'm pursuing a suspect; he used some impressive spells to give us the slip so far."
Sara stopped cold and gave me a look. She was one of many old friends who did not approve of my line of work. "Nielthunn Zagy, please tell me you are not so stupid as to try and ask me to help you turn in one of the few walkers on my Path to your silly tin cans."
I shook my head again, not grinning this time. "Certainly, Sara, I'm not that stupid. Honest. He's not the source, and we don't know what source he's channelling. We're not even sure if he knows the source. And personally, I don't think he's channeling it - it may be acting independent of him."
She began to walk on. "You're pulling my leg, Niel. Not one of the Powers Recorded could pull off something like that. Come on, we'll see in my office."
We'd arrived at the maternity ward. As we entered, she turned to a little bureau by the door. Wetting her index finger on her tongue, she dipped it into a little bowl full of red powder and made a mark on the centre of a wooden symbol carved into the bureau desk. The symbol was that of a motherly woman, in long robes, with her hands held out; red stained her palms where Sara had obviously marked them numerous times before. She was at the centre of a circle, surrounded by symbols from old languages. The mother-circle symbol appeared on numerous bits of paper stuck to the walls of the ward, and sometimes appeared on the few charms hung from the ceiling. They were adorned with bits of herbs, twigs, animal fur, berries, cloth scraps, and inks and powders of many different colors. As we walked through the maternity ward, several times she walked into the nurseries to check on her charges, cooing and smiling. I wasn't going to stop her. She was the most maternal person I know. Through the glass, I could see each crib had its own personalized little charm.
I knew what her charms and wards were capable of. Many called her a superstitious old biddy, but in all the time I knew her Sara had never lost a single child in her care, nor a single mother to childbirth. Premature births, delivery by surgeries, defects, illness, it didn't matter. Dome 9's central hospital was a good place to have babies.
Eventually we came to her office. The door, desk, and chair were all wood. She sat down, bid me the same, and turned to me. "Very well, Niel. Tell me what great and terrible magic your criminal has to keep the Machines trembling at night."
"First off, he's run for hours, at a ridiculous speed. I can't give you numbers but no one's in that kind of shape."
"And what if he was channeling his family? I hate to pick at old wounds, but you used to be quite impressive." She looked apologetic; I waved it off.
"Ancestral magic can't make a man invisible to Machine cameras. And it can't help a man survive for days, possibly longer, on the Outside. We have evidence he's done both."
She scoffed. "Nonsense! There's no magic that can do that, period. Those kind of charms are lost. And you said he escaped. Are you going to tell me he vanished into thin air?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. A spell of vanishing was cast. Teleportation, phasing - I don't know. He's just gone and we don't know where or how." I reached into my pocket.
"Oh please. You could craft and channel for longer than I've been alive and not have the power to cast a spell like that. Are you sure he didn't irritate some null master?"
"No dust, Sara. And it smelled like your kind of magic."
"Hah. I think you're just - " and there she was cut off as she caught the Scent of the Power that had been marked on the piece of paper I found, that I was holding out to her. A few seconds, and she suddenly jerked away from it as though I was holding a viper. She studied it for a few seconds more, eyes narrowed, and gave me a questioning look. I held it out to her, gesturing, and she took it with trembling hands.
"...Heavens, Niel! Was this Touched directly?"
"Just on the street corner, Sara."
"Impossible! But...it's strong, Niel! Too strong. And just a bystander object too! There's nothing like this left - this casting came from one of the Old Sources. It's Name and Aspect are lost to our records." She examined it a while longer. "I'm sorry, but I don't know where or what your fugitive's source is."
"You can, however, help me look." Here I tried to appeal to her soft side. It didn't help.
"And why, tell me, might I help you apprehend someone who could explain to me magic like I have not seen in all my years?"
"Because you are a curious old woman, Sara, and you would love to see your path come back into some of the power it used to have, and you know that I would tell you everything I found out, Machine orders be damned."
She raised an eyebrow at me. "Now who's reading who, Niel?"
She sighed, and turned to her desk. Out she pulled a little cloth pouch. She bid me wet my finger with my saliva, dip it into some blue powder, and mark the inside of the pouch with it, after which she did the same with some white powder. Into the pouch she put a small feather, broken in half, some herbs, and little stone that glittered. Then she took needle and thread, and carefully sewed it shut. Putting away her charm ingredients and sewing tools, she brought the pouch close to her lips, and I could barely hear her whisper the invocation.
"I humbly beg for his right to search for you, in my name."
Looking suddenly tired, she handed me the pouch. "Keep that close to your heart, and go looking, Niel. You can now search with my authority. It will lead you as best as it can."
I nodded, and put the pouch into the inside shirt pocket on my jacket.