Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 21

Disaster and Dissent

Really, I wrote this thing months ago. I had no idea then that so much of reality would end up so much like fiction. No, there wasn’t any kind of supernatural occurrence at the most recent regatta, but boy was there a lot of bickering afterward.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 21

Just as the boats reached the finish line, chaos broke out. The two of them were dead even with each other, and when their bows touched the line, it erupted in a wall of fire. I heard the sharp crack almost instantly and realized that a sheet of lightning had come down and struck the boats. This, surely, couldn’t be mere chance. I looked up, and I saw massive clouds gathering directly overhead. “Run!” I shrieked, both audibly and not. Betsy was already headed for the stairs, and I was immediately behind her; the others were slower to respond, having not heard my mental alert previously. Betsy and I dived down the stairs just as the fireball erupted on the roof, propelling Howard and two novices after it, on top of us. The flames stopped in the doorway; apparently, this was where a stronger level of protection took over. We lay, stunned, in the stairwell, looking at the sheet of fire that had presumably incinerated whoever hadn’t made it through the door. This was the most brazen attack so far, and the most destructive. The Others had breached the security of the school in an effort to get to me. I wondered why they would also attack the two racing yachts.

“It was probably a distraction,” Betsy said. “With your attention out there on the race course, you weren’t supposed to notice the building attack on yourself.”

Once again, I had been nearly killed, in a place that was supposed to be safe. And this time, other people had been killed as part of the attempt to kill me. Was my life really worth all of those others, no matter how powerful I was?

“Sarah, you have to believe in yourself,” Betsy said. “Right now, the only person who has the power to keep you safe is … you.”

Slowly, we got up and assessed our injuries. Betsy and I had several bruises, and she had hurt an arm – I hoped it wasn’t broken. Howard had fewer bruises, since Betsy and I had served as a crash pad for him, and the two surviving novices had no bruises, but they both had burns on their backs, in one case severe. That one was a boy, probably about twelve – about the age Betsy had been when she suffered her burns. She cradled him in her good arm, careful not to touch the charred skin.

Eventually, I heard feet coming up the stairs, and I wondered why it had taken so long. Then I realized that with the fireball in the harbor, where everybody was looking, nobody noticed the nearly simultaneous one on the roof of the abandoned yacht club, behind the crowd’s backs. It would only have been later, when somebody realized that nobody had come down from the roof, that our own situation would have been noticed.

Jackson came up the steps two at a time, showing that he still had some of the stamina he had developed in the past as a football player. “Sarah, are you all right?”

“Some bumps and bruises, but I’m still alive,” I said. “What about everybody else?”

“We lost a dozen of our very best, most talented, near-graduation wizards,” Jackson said. “It rather stunned us – why would the Others do that, unless it was to weaken the rest of our powers to make up for their not being able to reach you? And then it occurred to me that you were up on the roof, and maybe they did reach you – when I looked up, all I could see was rising smoke.”

“We lost a few novices up on the roof, too,” I said. “And we have a couple of injuries as well. This kid’s in serious condition, and Betsy’s arm is going to need attention.”

Jackson and Howard helped the rest of us down the stairs, to the school’s infirmary, situated at the lowest, deepest level of the school caves, with the strongest protection, both magical and physical, available. The school doctor had a talent for pain relief on top of her medical training, and soon Betsy – who had suffered a seriously sprained wrist but no broken bones – and both of the injured novices were feeling much more comfortable.

Because of the infirmary’s high level of protection, Jackson decided that it would be safest for me to stay there rather than in my regular room that night. I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea – if the Others’ attacks were to penetrate this far in search of me, wasn’t I endangering the entire school?

“You have to stay down here,” Betsy said. “It’s your best chance.” Interesting, I thought, that still, she seemed to be the only one to hear my thoughts. I wondered why she could hear me and nobody else could. “Maybe we’re in tune with each other,” she said. “Maybe I’m meant to be your sidekick.”

“Gabrielle to my Xena?” I asked out loud.

“That about suits me,” she replied.

Jackson gave us a puzzled look. “I can do telepathy,” I explained to him. “Just, at the moment, Betsy’s the only person who hears me.”

“Well, roommates have been known to form close ties,” Jackson said, “especially here at this school where sometimes the magical forces in the aura may make kindred spirits draw toward each other. Speaking of which, Sarah, it looks like we really need to work on the next two levels of spells, those of attraction and repulsion. Repulsion is especially going to be important, since it’s what protects us all.”

“Can I do all that, even if I don’t have a grip on illusion or telepathy yet?”

“It isn’t usually done that way, because it’s easier to learn one thing at a time, but in your case, I think a crash course is in order. We may also have to shortchange the lessons on control and hope you get a chance to catch up on those later. We just don’t have any time to waste.”

“Isn’t being out of control dangerous?”

“It is, but right now, leaving you unprotected is even more dangerous. The Others are forcing our hands.”

I yawned. I realized I was exhausted, and now that the adrenaline of the response to the attack was fading, I was having trouble following what Jackson was saying. I sat down on the edge of Betsy’s bed, barely able to sit up; she propped me up with her good arm.

At that moment, more people came crashing into the infirmary – teachers and older students, carrying three people whom I recognized as the three novices that I’d assumed had been incinerated on the roof, a teenage boy and girl, and a middle aged woman. They were severely burned, but they were alive. “We went up on the roof to check the damage,” Howard said. “We thought everybody up there had been killed, but they weren’t.”

The teenagers were unconscious, but the older woman, if delirious, was able to add to the conversation. “Big bubble,” she gasped, “cold air … blew out the fire …” She passed out.

Did I do that? I wondered. But before Betsy could answer, I was asleep.

When I awoke, I was tucked into the bed, and Betsy was sitting by the side of the bed. My mind was fuzzy, but there was something familiar about the whole situation … I fight off the Others and someone who loves me sits and watches me sleep off the exhaustion … Where did that déjà-vu come from? My mind was still cloudy; I needed more rest.

“Yes, Sarah, get more rest,” Betsy said. She reached out her good hand and took mine. “Yes, you saved those people, and you kept the whole building from burning down, which if it had happened might have spread to the whole school. But you’re safe now. I’ll watch you now.”

“Thanks, Gabrielle.”

“You’re welcome, Xena.”

The next time I awoke, I felt much stronger. My mind was much clearer. Betsy was still at my side. “They’re having a conference, and they want you to be there as soon as you can be,” she said.

“I’m ready,” I said.

Betsy led me to the small ceremonial room, where about two dozen people were meeting around a large, round table. I recognized a few – Jackson, Runyon, Sylvia – but the majority of them were strangers. I started to take a seat at the table that had clearly been reserved for me, but then I realized there wasn’t a seat for Betsy. I pulled a seat from the wall up to the table so that she could sit next to me.

“This is highly irregular,” said a skinny old guy in a suit that might have fit him well twenty years ago when he had some muscles, clearing his throat. “Harrumph, pahhrumph, shouldn’t this council be restricted only to those who are actually qualified to make these decisions?” With his big buck teeth and his snorting, and his Southern accent, it seemed likely that this was one of the horse wizards of Kentucky, which meant this wasn’t an ordinary council, but a council of the leaders of all of the wizard rings.

“These are highly irregular times,” Jackson replied. “And if you were to restrict this table only to those who are officially qualified, Sarah herself wouldn’t be here.”

“Well, isn’t she the source of the problem?” the older guy asked. “After all, if she hadn’t come along, wouldn’t we just be doing the usual do-si-do with the Others, instead of dealing with all of these attacks?”

“No, we’d be losing ground to them,” Jackson replied. “We’ve been losing ground for many years. Sarah’s powers will allow us to at least keep even, and maybe even gain something.”

“But look how much you have lost in the attacks on her!”

“But think about how much more we would have lost if we didn’t have her!”

I found it a bit bizarre – I’d never before found myself reduced to a commodity or resource, to be argued about as if I didn’t have a will of my own. Was I just so much property that the different factions could argue about controlling?

“Excuse me!” I heard Betsy yelling, waving her hand in the air like an eager third-grader who knew the answer the teacher was just dying to hear. “Excuse me! Did anybody ever ask Sarah what she wanted?” Betsy, shrinking-into-the-wall shy Betsy, ever ashamed of her scarred face, ever trying to avoid making waves, was doing just that.

“What does it matter what she wants?” the old horse guy asked. “She’s the one who caused all of the problems in the first place. I’d say it’s her duty to do what’s needed.”

“And what, pray tell,” Jackson said in a very quiet but intense voice, “is what’s needed? Kill herself, so we can continue in genteel decline while chaos takes over the world around us? Let us lay a heavy-duty guilt trip on her so she serves us, albeit resentfully, for at least a while?”

I didn’t want that kind of burden, but I realized that there was a different kind of burden that I did have. I could not abandon the effort, abandon the Wizards, abandon all of the people who had been my family. I wasn’t serving the cause out of guilt; I was serving all of those who had served me.

Betsy once again spoke up. “Sarah’s tired. But she’s still strong, and she will always do the right thing. Trust her. I do.”

The old horse guy wasn’t the only one at the conference table to snort at that remark. The word of a moderately talented novice wizard-school student doesn’t exactly carry much weight in a council of international wizard leaders. And I knew that, even though there shouldn’t have been, there was a mistrust of Betsy simply because of her deformed face. But I saw the look in Jackson’s and Runyon’s eyes, and I knew that both of them did take Betsy at her word. Thank you Gabrielle, I thought, and Betsy turned and winked at me.

“What’s needed right now,” I heard myself saying, “is for me to learn the spells that I need to learn in order to deal with the Others. If I can’t defend myself, then I am indeed a danger to everyone around me. If I can defend myself, I can defend other people as well.”

“We really don’t have a choice,” Runyon said. “We brought this girl into our circle, and we can’t abandon her now. We owe it to her.”

The debate continued for a while longer, but in the end the committee reached a consensus that the best course of action would be to let me continue in my training.

After the meeting, Runyon came over to me. “Pierre told me to tell you he misses you,” he said. “He knows there’s been something going wrong here, and he knows it’s got something to do with you, but he doesn’t know any more than that; we’re trying to keep as much as possible under wraps. He’s not on the inner council.”

“Shouldn’t he know more than that?” I asked. “It’s going to tear him up not knowing I’m all right.”

“I can let him know that much, at least,” Runyon said. “But, while he’s a strong wizard, he’s not strong enough, and the Others may use him to get to you – they’ve tried to in the past. It’s best if, for the time being, you avoid contacting him, at least not until you develop powers to protect him; it’s safest for him that way.”


Blogger Tillerman said...

Can't wait to see where you're heading with this "Xena and Gabrielle" twist.

Wed Mar 01, 01:11:00 PM MST  

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