Act 1: Chapter 7, Part 2

Posted on October 08, 2017

In Which Angie Makes the Call

Angie. First Day of School. Time to Really Do Some Magic.

Angie murmured for another minute or so, then ceased. She reached out, taking up the eggshell Ryan had brought her, placing it in the chalice. Then she transferred the three sprigs of saffron—a pretty good all-round gift for spirits, at least anywhere saffron doesn’t normally grow. Lastly, a piece of paper cut into a hopefully perfect pentagon, a High Fredonian1 sigil painted upon it, which was little changed from the Old North Europic rune it was descended from. As she placed these items—the link, offering, and focus for power, respectively—she worked out how to phrase and correctly conjugate her request in High Fredonian.

Then, the last step, Angie picked up a twig from an alder tree—its grey bark a dark shadow in the candlelight, smooth beneath her fingertips—which she hoped was still living at this point; she supposed there was always the chance it had died in the summer heat, but at least there hadn’t been any crazy storms that year that made it more likely. If this didn’t work, she’d have to check to see if that tree had fallen. She inserted the end of the twig into the flame of the altar candle, watched as it charred and then lit. As she did, she began chanting her request, which, translated into regular Common, was, “Ms. Rhodo Rendron Rainflipper, I request your counsel and assistance upon an urgent matter. Please, if you could, hear my call and attend me at your earliest convenience.” It was times like this Angie was thankful to be a fledgling sorcerer to whom spirits reacted well; someone with neither their own magic to lean on nor the interest of the spirit world would have had to put much more work into this, to have a more complex call chant that might have needed to be dozens of sentences long and far more formal.

As Angie chanted, she placed the burning end of the twig down into the chalice, touching it to the paper with the rune on it, setting it aflame. Flames flared up from the mouth of the chalice in an instant, expanding so fast it was almost a small explosion, far more than all the items in the cup could have possibly fueled, including the entirety of the twig. The flames burned hot and bright, the regular reds and oranges of flame shot through with unnatural streaks of green of the same shade as Angie’s eyes. Angie felt a streak of relief shoot through her, jolting through her as if her veins were electrified. Looked like this was working.

Angie continued chanting for three more repetitions, as the flames burned bright and disconcertingly high, nearly as high again as the chalice itself, casting stark light across the trees, reflecting in the apples, and driving the shadows of the trees into a far deeper darkness. Then, in a heartbeat, the flames died completely, leaving just the candlelight. Thick grey smoke started billowing out of the mouth of the chalice, far more than the contents could justify. Impossible in its speed, within a handful of heartbeats, the smoke seemed to be filling up the grounds, thickening around her; it was already making it hard to see anything past the circle of candlelight, obscuring Ryan and the house almost completely.  

Only it didn’t smell like smoke. It smelled like mist and ozone, and brought with it a sense of foreboding, like the air before a summer storm, one of those days when the clouds looked bruised and yellow and the light was flat and strange, and you knew in an hour rain was going to be hammering everything and the wind would be trying to pull down trees for its own amusement. The smoke, or mist… no, the storm cloud thickened around her more, until it was so thick she could only dimly see the candles at the north edge of the ritual circle.

Then the wind came, tearing out of the north, rising from almost still to strong enough make her lean back, bending her like a willow tree, even sitting cross-legged as she was, and making her squint as it blasted her face. It tore through the cloud, ripping it away in moments; it blew out the circle of candles and toppled her chalice, and apples pattered out of the trees like rain. The altar cloth, though, was unruffled, and the altar candle stayed lit and steady, as did the blue and the yellow candles in the circle. A twisted shape emerged from the darkness, bouncing and rolling straight at her, bouncing right over the candles and landing in the center of the circle. She flinched, anticipating the next bounce carrying it into her face.

Then the wind was gone too, in an instant. She opened her eyes, and a huge owl, nearly four-feet tall, stood on the shape, which proved to be a hefty, gnarled branch that should have scattered her candles like bowling pins and slammed right into her, which would have been a real unpleasant experience. Instead, the owl was there. It didn’t look like any regular owl species, but a sort of amalgam of a number of local species; a face like a barn owl, white with a dark border around the face; the long feathered tufts of a long-eared owl; the coat pattern like that of a spotted owl, brown with dappled white spots.

Then the owl opened its beak, and, in a voice most people would probably find disconcerting, said, “Whooooooooo calls me? Whooooo?” It was not in any way a human voice, but sounded pretty much like an owl would if it were capable of human speech, which was weird and borderline creepy, even for Angie, who prided herself on her high creep tolerance. She could tell that it wasn’t her magic that allowed her to understand it; it was speaking normal Common, and anyone else who spoke Common would have been able to understand it just fine.

Angie hesitated, staring at the owl. She’d met it before, of course; she’d been out trying to find useful pieces of storm-wrecked trees, which were best fresh. The owl, Ms. Rainflipper, had decided to inquire as to why she was out in the storm, and they’d had a short but pleasant conversation about the differences between human magic and that which the owl commanded. Now Angie was worried it didn’t remember her, and she didn’t know how this would go without that pre-established relationship. Spirits had pretty good memories in her experience, which she assumed had to do with not using meat brains to think, but maybe her experiences so far were not universal.

As the silence stretched on while this flashed through Angie’s head, the owl started making this little chuff-chuff-chuff noise, which Angie realized after a second was laughter. “Oh, I’m just kidding Angie dear, just a little owl joke. I remember you,” Ms. Rainflipper said after a few moments of this.

Angie blinked, then a laugh burst out of her throat despite herself, and she found her smiling back at the owl. Obviously it was a pretty bad joke; baseline, real amateur stuff. But she found it very funny and rather sweet that the spirit had thought to make it. The Venn diagram of human and spirit senses of humor didn’t, as a rule, tend to overlap much, and so the spirit was probably pandering.

  • 1. An artificial language of power, first developed by a collaboration of Fredonian Union universities in the late seventies, as an alternative language of power for Fredonians for whom Fredonian Common was their native language. Up to that point, the languages of power used by Fredonian wizardry tended to be Elder English and High Latin. High Fredonian’s developers constructed the language out of the vocabularies of many other languages of power, focusing on those related to the vernacular languages which formed major components of Common, in imitation of how Fredonian Common has formed out of many other vernacular languages. Each year the developers work with vernacular linguists to introduce new vocabulary from languages of power corresponding to the everyday language vocabulary that has recently entered Common’s lexicon. One side effect of this that High Fredonian has one of the largest glyph and sigil sets in the world, second only to Unified High Guānhuà.