Justine gets a Message.(Prompt Rum Raisin 11: Messenger)
|Justine hummed as she stirred her coffee. She was lying on her belly on the plush purple rug that, no matter how many times she moved, graced the floor of her inner sanctum. The room looked like a printing press had exploded- newspapers littered the floor around her in a rough circle. She shook her head in irritation.
“No, no, no. Why can they not make movies worth watching, hmm? Is there a rule that it all has to be pointless drivel? The boy’s gonna get the girl, the epic evil will be defeated, gross commercialism and poor body image will be perpetuated, and good old fashioned American know-how will save the world when science fails. See? The end. You have now seen all of this summer’s blockbusters. Saved us twenty bucks or so.” Max sighed.
“Why can’t you just shut up and swallow, like a normal person?”
“When was I ever normal?” She planted her hands on the carpet and lifted herself half off the floor. “No, really. Normal? You associate me in any way with normal? I’ve been slacking off. Alright, I’m gonna need 200 balloons, twelve cans of whipped cream, and a dozen hamsters.”
“What the he- No. No, you are not normal. Please just go back to bitching at the paper. Here. Read the funnies. Please?” He shoved the brightly colored section of newsprint on top of the Entertainment section. She laughed.
Sundays were special in her house. Breakfast made itself (Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon) and she and Max curled up in her room to read the paper and keep the world at bay. It was safety, and warmth, and family. She had missed family before Max had found his way to her. Overwhelmingly, to delve into the occult secrets of the universe meant surrendering anything like a normal relationship with anyone. She had been lucky. Max had blundered into her first, instead of getting passed around by disinterested parties like some hideously kitsch but disorientingly expensive trinket. She smiled into the beams of sunlight slicing through the curtains, desperate for their warmth to banish the cold in her stomach. Bad things happened the unsupervised underage sorcerers. She ran her fingers through the rug’s plush pile, thinking about all the old friends she hadn’t heard from for longer than she liked to think about.
Something smacked solidly against the window, and the wards flared. She leapt to her feet, cursing herself for getting caught unarmed in her pajamas. Max opened his mouth to ask a question, and she made a chopping motion with one hand. She prowled over to the window, and the wards glowed reassuringly. They weren’t broken, which either meant someone weaker than she was, or not trying very hard. She pressed flat against the wall, peering cautiously around the curtains. She’d been fooled by a seemingly weak attack before.
The window box was dead in the encroaching cold, and the pale crumpled stalks of the flowers that had once grown there were being crunched under the weight of a flailing bird. Max laughed against her shoulder, and she nearly disemboweled him, jumping in surprise.
“It’s just a bird!” The starling sorted itself out and glared at the window. It puffed itself up, strutting irately on the brick sill. It jeered at them, clearly put out. Max laughed again, and Justine swore vehemently.
“What’s wrong?” Max asked. “I mean, it’s just a-“
“Nosey bastards.” She grabbed his arm and hauled him away from the window. “I want you to go to your room and pull all of your wards up. Everything, hear me?”
“Do you want me to hide under the bed, too? It’s just a bird, Justy! Chill!”
“It is not just a bird. And the bed thing might not be a bad idea. Just go and hide, and don’t come out till I come for you. If-“ She raked her fingers through her hair. “If I don’t come back, I want you to go to Isaac’s house. Alright?”
“Wait, if you don’t come back? What-?” She shoved him out the door.
“No time. Just go! Hide!” He loped off down the hall and she head his door close and felt the wards go up around his bedroom- his windowless bedroom, tucked safely into the center of the house. He was completely enveloped in her, wrapped safely in a blanket of her own power. He was as safe as she could make him. She took a deep breath and opened the window.
Cold bounded through the open window, and she wished she were wearing something heavier than a tank top. On the other hand, she was unburdened by heavier clothes. The starling hopped inside, and as it swept past her it started to grow. By the time she had turned around, the bird had taken the form of a woman, tall and pale with long black hair and longer black robes. Her swirling cloak was dappled with the gray spots of the Messengers.
“Poor luck to turn away a Messenger, Bloodwood.” Even in her human form, her voice was shrill and grating, and her head twitched constantly to get a better eye on her surroundings.
“And if I’d turned you away, I might be concerned. But you might have noticed that I let you in. So get on with it. What’s your message?”
“No Message. A Summons.” Justine wished again that she had a weapon on her. She started to gather Fire slowly, slowly, in her throwing arm.
“A Summons? Who would Summon me? I’ve got no business with the others. I thought I made that plain enough already. Or should I send that Message again?” The Messenger gulped. It was bad luck to turn a Messenger away, but killing them was nearly a death sentence. When she had first been declared a full sorceress, she had turned away the first Messengers who came from the major players in the socio-political structure that held the magical community together bearing promises of protection and alliances. The more persistent suitors had gotten boxes of dead starlings shipped to them until they’d given up and left her alone.
“No, Master Bloodwood. No, I believe that Message was received. Not well, of course. Quite a stir, it caused. Most inappropriate.”
“Tell me what you came here to tell me and get out!” Her right hand was sweating. The tips of the left were numb with cold. When the Messenger spoke, her shrill voice had a strange sonorous quality to it.
“Master Justine Bloodwood, you are hereby formally Summoned to the Chambers of the Council of Elders.”
“Your testimony is required.”
“My testimony? Testimony for what, you damnable bird?” The Messenger shook her head and gathered her skirts.
“That, I know not at all. My Message is delivered. I return to the place of silence to wait for song.” As quickly as before she leapt and became a bird, diving out the open window and taking to the sky. Justine swore and relaxed her hold on the Fire, letting it flow back into its normal patterns. She shut the window and started to gather up the papers. The Messenger had left a token on the floor- a silver coin. She watched it out of the corner of her eye as she stacked the newspaper on the battered old coffee table with the fishes carved on the corners, but she didn’t touch it. She opened her closet, and considered the formal robes that Dershire had gifted her with. They were long, and flowing, and covered with glittering gilt embroidery. They’d only been worn once. She’d never gotten the bloodstains out. She wondered if wearing them, like threatening the Messenger, would be sending too strong a signal.
Justine closed the door and leaned against it. She could still see the token on the floor. She could still feel Maxwell down the hall. She could still taste pancakes. She wondered if her life was always going to be mundane moments cut short by terror and rage and pleas of temporary insanity. She grabbed her bathrobe off the armchair Max had been ensconced in and the knife from its hiding place in the blue vase. She took a deep breath and wished, again, that someone else were doing this instead of her.
Justine took a deep breath, and stepped forward, planting the ball of her bare foot on the silver coin.
There was a rush of wind and the smell of deserts, and the room was empty.