It’s the first day at a new house. Justine has a chore to do. (Toffee 16. Do-it-yourself)
| Justine slammed the hammer on the floorboard.
“I’d just like to add that this is a very bad idea,” Maxwell said, shaking his head as she dug the claw end of the hammer under the loosened board and pulled. “It’s a very old house. It has it’s own carefully balanced energies that-“
“That I need to channel and harness before it blasts the top off my head. There’s no spell casting like spell casting with an untapped and uncontrolled power source surging at unexpected moments. And So! I am going to take it apart and put it back together with a little piece of me tying together all the little threads of it. Capishe?”
“I understand what you are doing. I can even understand why, although it isn’t how I would have done it. I just feel compelled to point out to you that this is a bad idea.”
“I thought only I could compel you to do things.”
“Not all the time,” he sniffed, affronted.
“Uh-huh. Look, are you going to be helping today, or are you just gonna sit there being a pain in the ass?”
“Pain in the ass.”
“Ah. Marvelous.” The board came free with a wrenching squeal, and Justine tumbled back into the wall. Maxwell snickered, and she brandished the hammer at him.
“Careful there, you. I’m still the boss of you, and if I don’t sign off on your advancement you’ll be stuck here forever.”
“And you’ll be stuck with me forever.” She laughed.
“If I’m pissed enough to keep you, I’m pissed enough to make you suffer for every instant. You are mine to shape, which means discipline. Which you haven’t gotten much of. So don’t fuck with me. Now. Recite your lesson from yesterday.”
“Aw. Justy, no one-“
“Did I ask you, apprentice?” He huffed, and blew his bangs out of his eyes. He glared at her, straightening his back.
“The Lines of Power cross the world at apparently random intervals. They combine and cross in intricate patterns, creating columns of power. These columns can only be tapped by the very strongest sorcerers- like you. Anyone untrained, weak of will, or just not strongly enough attuned to the Power can be killed trying to tap into the Columns. No one knows what the columns do, exactly, although the popular theory is that they maintain the distance between the worlds, like the sort of columns that hold up roofs and things.”
“’Roofs and things’? I don’t remember that particular quotation.” He stuck out his tongue as she yanked up another board.
“Anyway. The Lines of Power aren’t as strong as the Columns, so they don’t kill nearly as many people. But they’re still dangerous, and should Not Be Trifled With.”
“I can hear the capitals. Way to go.”
“Trying to alter the paths of the Lines is a project that should only be undertaken by a full Coven. It requires an HUGE amount of power, and is very dangerous. And anyway, it’s easier to move to where a Line already is than more it to you.”
“Case in point- us, in our shiny new house.”
“Justy, there’s nothing shiny in this house. Even the magic’s caked with grime.”
“Well, that’s why we’re gonna clean it up. Today’s lesson is the follow up to yesterday’s: The Lesser Lines of Power. You see, my young apprentice, Lines of Power do not travel randomly. Nothing in the universe is as random as it looks. Everything- you, me, this house and the road outside- all of it has Lines through it. They are small lines. The ones through us are larger than the one that goes through to road, of course. And the ones through a Mundane are somewhere in between. The Lines build up where lots of smaller lines are gathered, or have been gathered. Like when you always take the same path across the yard. Eventually, the grass is going to wear away and leave a dirt path. If there were lots of people in the path, it would start to get broader and broader. That’s how the Lines of Power form.
“So... will there be one forming here? Because of us?”
“We’ve already had an effect on it. Sorcerers have a kind of metaphysical gravity- we pull things to us. When you start feeling the lines, you’ll see that they get sort of fuzzy when you’re close to them- and that you start to feel very, very peppy. You start pulling a little bit of energy without even thinking about it, just being close to a line.” She looked up as she wiped the sweat from her brow, and laughed at his expression. “No, no. Not enough to burn you out. Never more than you can handle. Not from a passive transfer. But don’t you dare go pulling on lines without me. No matter how important you think it is, it isn’t. You are no good to me as a charred husk. Got it?”
“Yes, Justine. You know, you’re crotchety.”
“Gee, thanks. That’s just what I always wanted. To be crotchety. Now come stick your head down in here.” She pointed down into the dark hole, and he glared at her. “Go on!”
Maxwell rolled his eyes, got down on his knees, and peered cautiously into the hole she’d opened up.
“It’s dark. Big discovery.” She laughed.
“You’re a pain in my ass, little buddy. Sit up.” He rocked back on his heels, and she grabbed a glass jar with a purple calico print and the word ‘Jam-errific!’ on the lid out of one of the cardboard boxes piled near the ratty sofa. She twisted off the top and stuck her fingers inside, scooping out some of the pearlescent gloop inside.
“What are you gonna do with that stuff?”
“This.” Justine lunged, pinning him to the floor with one hand and smearing goop across his unprotected eyes with the other.
“AAAAAAAAH! OH, GOD! IT HURTS! IT HURTS! AAAAAAAAAAH!” She rolled off and let him thrash, clawing at his face.
“Tell me when it stops hurting, okay?”
“OH, YOU BITCH! WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME? AAAAAH! AAAAH! STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!”
“I’m not touching you.” She rummaged through the boxes, tracking down the tools of her more esoteric trade. She traced a circle around the hole with chalk, and plunked the fat candles at the Quarter Points. She hummed as she lit the candles and the smudge stick, wafting the perfumed air down into the foundations of the house.
“No. But you’re still a bitch.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Try sticking your head in there again.”
“Are you nuts? I’m not-“ Justine pointed firmly into the hole, and Max rolled warily onto his belly to peer down into the black.
But it wasn’t black.
There, deep under the basement floorboards, was a pit of color. Brilliant light swirled, a riotous rainbow of radiance, up through the rest of the house in chains of colored flame. He stared, slack jawed, as the threads of light twisted and coiled willy-nilly across the floor and up the walls, branching out into the open air like briars growing in wildly sped up video. And like the briars, the cords were covered in dangerous looking spurs like gleaming thorns.
“What is it?”
“That’s magic. The Lesser Lines of Power. Look at your hand.”
He twisted his head, pressing his cheek against the warped wood as he stared at his hand pressed against the floor. There were threads in him, too, but they weren’t a rainbow. They were a coppery orange, knotted into tight coils as they covered every inch of his skin. The house’s multihued fingers were snagging on him, the smaller thorns snagging on him like burrs.
“It’s got me!” She chuckled.
“Yeah. And there’s no telling what it might do if you start pounding out spells while it’s attached. Safer for everyone if it’s tied away where it belongs. And questions?” He rolled over, and finally looked directly at her.
“Holy crap!” He was wearing a strange cat suit of coppery cords. She was a gleaming column of pale gold light, no one thread distinguishable from the others. The house’s grasping tendrils slid off of her like rainwater on glass. She laughed.
“Well. That, yes. Anything else?”
“I can’t even think with this going on.”
“We’ll rectify that in time. Right now, I need you to get in your circle so I can harness the house.” Spooked into obedience, Maxwell rolled over to his own chalk circle, adjacent to her own but separate- if her containment failed, he would still be shielded against the apocalyptic rain of magical energies that would result. He tucked his long legs up to his chin and looped his arms around his knees, watching her as she hopped down into the hole she’d made and double-checked her circle. She could be careless sometimes, she burned dinner on a fairly regular basis and kept losing her keys, but Justine Bloodwood took no chances with circles. Apparently satisfied, she charged the chalk runes, and before his eyes the fine white powder came to brilliant life. The constantly shifting threads of magic stopped, and seemed to turn to her, considering.
Justine wasn’t one for long, wordy chanting or spells made of poetry. She much preferred magic she could see and feel, magic she could shape between her hands like a wad of clay, giving it form with gesture and will. She gathered the thin stripes of color, holding them between her fingers like a girl making a friendship bracelet. Actually, it was just like that, Max saw as she started to braid the cords together. As she worked, she twined the thinnest strand of her own white-gold energy around the braid, and as it fed out of her hands and back into the general morass of magic permeating the house, every part took it’s own thread from that strand, until the whole room shone with her light. She didn’t stop, still patiently pulling energy up, braiding it, and allowing it to disperse back into the house. Maxwell watched her with one eye, and the clock with the other. It took her more than an hour to finish seeding the house’s accumulated energies with her own, making the house an extension of herself. Finally, though, she finished, and let the energy relax back into its usual flow. She gathered the energy back from the runes, pinched out the candles, and rubbed out the runes on the floor. Laboriously, she heaved herself up from the hole and lay on the wooden floor, spread-eagled and exhausted.
“Are you okay?” Maxwell peeped timidly. What she’d shown him today was far, far beyond the bookwork and simple spells she’d taught him. The enchantment in the glop from his eyes was fading, and she was only dimly haloed now. Even so, according to the books, most sorcerers could only charge a single room, maybe two, to create a workspace in their home. Other than that, you just had to cross your fingers and hope you hadn’t accidentally distressed the house’s energies. Justine took a deep breath, and exhaled as though it was only her breath keeping the roof from collapsing in on them.
“I’m a 200 year old Victorian with creaky stairs, a leaky roof, and a new hole in my basement. Do you know how it feels to have a turret? It’s disconcerting.” Max considered, decided that someone who was a house probably wasn’t going to be all that aggressive, and smudged out the chalk runes. Nothing exploded out of the floor to eat him, and he heaved his own heavy sigh. He crawled across the floor on his hands and knees and quickly packed the candles and things into the box Justine had brought them down in. The movers had piled everything else in the ‘Formal Parlor’, whatever that meant. It just looked like a room with a big fireplace to him. Maxwell sorted out the boards, laying them back in their places. Justine would nail them back into place when she was feeling better.
He looped her arm around his shoulders, lifting them both up and heading for the stairs. They both needed a good night’s sleep before tomorrow's horrors came.
Tomorrow they had to unpack.