A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 1d: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS
Melissa merely smiled back at me, with one of her quiet, yet knowing smiles. “Get some rest first,” she suggested. “You have a big day tomorrow, and it’s already…” She glanced at her wrist, realized she wasn’t wearing a watch, then looked towards the clock in the room. It had stopped working some months ago for lack of fresh batteries. “It’s 2am?”
Her fingers snapped. “Oh, right, we’ve had this conversation before. Honestly, we should just take that clock down and be done with it.”
“It’s 8pm,” I said, holding up my wrist and pointing to my own watch.
“There you go then,” Melissa concluded. “Bedtime. I’ll join you. Not in the physical sense, admittedly.” With a quick wink, she grabbed a file folder of sheets off her desk and retreated into her bedroom.
“It’s hardly joining me if you stay up in your own bed working,” I called out to the closed door.
She didn’t respond. I hadn’t really expected her to.
Giving up, I had some dinner and made my own preparations for an early bedtime, but I ended up staring at the ceiling for a good hour. Trying to determine what I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life. There wasn’t much time left to decide on a direction.
At this point, some of you might be wondering how I could have fallen for someone like Melissa. Given how that attitude was pretty typical behaviour for her, while I aim to be non-confrontational. Two things to bear in mind here.
First, it ramped up over the space of several years of living together, during which I got to know certain things. Like how, deep down, Melissa did care about the people around her… she simply couldn’t be bothered to conform to society’s expectations of how a person should act, and preferred to distance herself from the unpredictable. And second, I admit it, from the beginning I was physically attracted.
Could I have looked elsewhere for such companionship? Maybe. I did have a fling with a girl when we were both in second year, but she started moving way too fast, wanting me to move out of the place with Melissa after less than two months of dating. That wasn’t in the cards.
I think part of me also became accustomed to Melissa’s weird quirks and mannerisms over time, things that made others give the self-proclaimed witch a wider berth. To the point where I worried I would miss them.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there was a time when I was put off by the fact that witches are something of a target for the supernatural. But around the same time I realized that rooming with Melissa made me a target even if we weren’t going out, she realized that I was of assistance with the human side of the equation. Also, she’s even said she finds me attractive… though I think it’s a spiritual attractiveness. I’m not the kind of guy who stands out in a crowd.
At any rate, at this point I could walk us through the graduation ceremony, but we all know how unbelievably boring those things are – minus the thirty seconds or so during which the person you know is actually receiving their congratulations. So I’ll hit the highlights:
1) I got my degree, and my parents got photos.
2) Melissa came, and wore a shimmery green dress with strappy sandals that had my jaw drop. (She really is more of a jeans and T-shirts girl, even wearing them to her own graduation. So it was nice that she made an effort on my behalf.)
3) Amy came, and returned the pendant to Melissa. Her dress was blue. We agreed to meet again the next morning before she left town, to discuss the results.
Then the five of us all went out for a late lunch, and while I doubt my mom and Melissa said more than five words to each other, no conflicts erupted. Later, there was an evening of just people from my faculty, with Melissa as my date. But we don’t generally do public displays of affection, so maybe the others thought she was there in more of a professional capacity. Who knows.
Either way, we finally got home sometime close to midnight. Melissa immediately went to check on Amy’s pendant, which she’d dropped into a glass of water earlier that afternoon.
“Somnibulus demon,” Melissa concluded, turning and holding out the glass so I could see it. The water inside was cloudy, as she reached in to pull out the pendant and dry it off on a corner of her gown.
I collapsed onto the couch, and tilted my head back so I could still see her at the desk. “Is that bad then?”
“Depends,” Melissa said, rather indelicately hopping up to sit on said desk as she looked at the pendant again. “They feed on dream energy. Usually no, not a problem, in fact one can even be beneficial when they take away a particularly bad dream. Those are the times when you can’t remember why you’re freaking out in the morning. Of course, it works both ways, sometimes they take good dreams too.”
“Mmm. How do they fit in with the idea of supernatural balance?” I asked.
For the record, this balance is actually one of the key truths in magick – spells cannot be performed on the unwilling, not without severe karmic backlash. That’s part of the reason wizards wouldn’t be terribly useful in a war… toss a fireball at someone not willing to be torched, and while they may be singed, it’s the caster who would, on balance, end up worse off.
The loophole for success is passive acceptance – if said victim had thought they were capable of simply shrugging off the fireball or something, they could not truly be classified as unwilling. It’s one of the main reasons why powerful magick users haven’t tried to fix humanity or take over the world or anything like that.
At least, that’s the way things are supposed to work, according to Melissa. Over the last several hundred years though, the karmic backlash has not been occurring as it should. Which, you might imagine, means those witches and wizards who are keeping to their principles, and requiring permission to magick someone, have it rather more difficult. Seeing as their rivals, be they other witches or actual demons from a neighbouring realm, aren’t seeing the usual repercussions from not playing fair.
“There’s often a tacit acceptance on the part of a person to not remember certain dreams,” Melissa explained, idly swinging her legs. “Where things get murky is if the demon keeps returning to the same person over and over. Said person then tends to have persistent trouble sleeping and/or recurring dreams. Somnibuli generally don’t risk that kind of action without some tangible benefit, which implies the presence of a third party.”
“A third party… is that why you asked about Amy’s celebrity status?”
“Precisely,” Melissa said, tossing the pendant into the air and catching it in her palm. She jumped off the desk again. “Something – or someone – has hired the demon in order to peer into, possibly even direct, Amy’s dreams. Why? I don’t know. But given that it needed to be someone with knowledge of magick, I wagered it wasn’t anyone in Amy’s immediate circle of friends, ergo, a deranged fan.”
“Lovely,” I said dryly. “What do we do about it?”
“Well, there isn’t much we CAN do, unless we know who’s behind it,” Melissa said, a hint of irritation creeping into her tone as she returned the pendant to storage. “And since you said Amy publishes on the internet, for all we know it’s someone in outer Mongolia. Honestly, WHY does everyone refuse to recognize the ‘world wide web’ for the pain in the ass it truly is?”
I smiled despite myself. “The internet’s not as bad as all that.”
“So you keep telling me.”
“Okay Mel, look at it this way. If this fan is going to the extent of hiring demons, they’re probably not managing to stay completely anonymous,” I pointed out. “We can search through the comments on Amy’s website, as well as her email, for anyone with a supernatural or dream fixation.”
“Pain in the ass,” Melissa insisted with a grumble, crossing her arms. “This person still might be in outer Mongolia, and I don’t do trans-pacific flights.”
“You know teleportation spells,” I reminded. “And surely there’s other witches willing to help out who live out there.”
“Could be, but I don’t speak outer Mongolian.”
“Half the time you witches talk in latin anyway.”
Melissa threw her hands up. “James, why do you always make it so difficult for me to stay annoyed with technology??”
“Because it’s weird when you start to lose your cool like that. Besides, you and that dress doesn’t equal angry. You and that dress equals sexy.”
A hint of colour came into Melissa’s cheeks. “Which is precisely why I don’t wear them. Also, I know where you’re going with that thought, but you’ve been drinking. You’re not thinking clearly.”
I sat up straight. “Hey, how do you know where I’m thinking?”
“It comes with the job.” She smirked a little. “Plus, in the last twenty eight hours, you’ve been presented with the options of staying with me, or hooking up with an old flame. I’m fairly certain I know what one point of comparison is going to be.”
“Having said that,” she continued, “it is important for you to recognize that, with each of us having had our first sexual experiences with the other, any judgment is liable to be impaired. Furthermore, you must know that the stance I have taken on remaining here with my agency is not going to be swayed by the two of us having one additional mmmmlph–”
Her trailing off would be due to me standing up as she spoke, walking over, tilting her chin up, and kissing her. After a moment, I pulled back. “Talk about sex in a detached way all you like, it won’t change my feelings for you,” I said, quietly.
Melissa looked back up at me, colour now fully in her cheeks as her breathing came a little faster. “Promise me you won’t regret anything in the morning when you’re sober?”
“I’m hardly drunk on two glasses of wine.”
I leaned in again to kiss her cheek. “I promise.”
“Also, still calling the top,” she asserted.
I smiled. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Uh, okay, I deleted a couple paragraphs there. Maybe I still left in too much, but I think it helps with our characterization?
Of course, I’m now wondering if I’ve managed to alienate everyone who came here looking for a supernatural thriller… which would be bad, since I’m now about to alienate those who were keen on this tale turning into some kind of love triangle. (Or maybe I’m just rewarding those who sat through the context? I don’t even know. Note to me, I need to fix this in editing.)
My point being, we were able to track the fan who sicced the Somnibulus demon on Amy.