A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 5d: OF ZOMBIES AND ZEALOTS
Melody was immediately moving, reaching out for Melissa. Melissa was having none of that.
She leapt to the side, up onto one of the thrones, using it as a launching pad to spring for some ceremonial fencing swords that were just out of her reach. (Sometimes her height is a particular drawback.) Snaring one, she brandished it in self defence, waving her palm along it to check that it was an effective weapon, and not merely decorative. To be clear, preventing a witch from speaking doesn’t prevent her from spell casting, it merely prevents the ability to focus magick for the more intensive spells.
“Magnes,” Melody stated.
Melissa felt the magnetic pull as Melody tried to relieve her of the blade. She allowed for a slight pull, then turned the trajectory into a spin, and flung the blade at the elder blonde witch. As Melody was forced to deflect, Melissa ran back for the entrance.
“Volo.” Melody flew up into the air.
Melissa was overtaken before she could get out. Which was when her hand came up out of her bag, throwing a handful of backup salt into Melody’s face. As Melody flinched, concentration broken enough to make her return to the ground, Melissa made up the couple extra steps.
She grabbed one of the spears from the zombies who were only now untangling themselves at the entrance.
But there were more zombies closing in from all sides. Melissa saw she had no viable escape other than back through the large throne room. She took a second to clear her throat before charging back in.
The spear being mostly wood, it kept Melody at bay temporarily. Melissa needed to find the access point to the hidden room ahead.
“Aduro,” Melody intoned, and Melissa’s spear caught fire.
The brunette smirked a little at that, having hoped for just such an attempt to disarm her. Holding her bag in her hand to act as a fire buffer between her palm and the spear, she maintained her grip and ran backwards, to a tapestry. Using the flames to set it ablaze, Melissa then waved the burning shaft of wood about, to keep any newly arriving zombies at bay.
Perhaps realizing that she had just given Melissa a MORE dangerous weapon, Melody’s next summons was “Aqua”.
Again, anticipating something of the sort as soon as Melody opened her mouth, Melissa was a hair faster. Perhaps trying to make up for her earlier hesitation. She threw the blazing spear towards the entranceway, making the zombies back up. That the water then condensed and fell upon her, instead of the spear, verified that all Melody’s spells were area based, and cast in her direction, as opposed to actually on her person.
Another clever loophole. Melody wasn’t performing magick on the unwilling, Melissa was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Reaching out, the now slightly dripping witch ripped the still burning tapestry down from the wall. Concluding that her arms and shoulders were soon going to have a hard time forgiving her, she ran back for the thrones, still using the fire as a buffer.
Now Melody hesitated. Or perhaps merely concluded that she had time to think of another plan, as Melissa seemed to be cornering herself.
‘Come on, come on,’ Melissa said in her head, and possibly would have been muttering it aloud if she’d had the capability.
She saw the scuffmarks on the floor. It had to be due to the hidden door scraping on the stonework. The only remaining question was how to open it.
Unfortunately, at that moment, her luck ran out. Before she could figure out the door, there was the sound of someone clearing his or her voice on the upper level.
“What,” the voice rumbled, “is happening here?”
It was Mortum.
With Zamboni’s words, the attention of everyone in the park shifted from him to me. I was pretty sure he hadn’t set out to make my Agency (technically Melissa’s) into this lightning rod for her status, but asking me whether I had propositioned Melissa and/or was pulling her strings? Had managed to do just that.
“Melissa’s not the marrying type,” I shot back at the waiting Zamboni.
Which I immediately knew was the wrong response. First, it didn’t deny that I might have asked her, and second… it made me wonder myself whether Melissa was, indeed, inclined to stay single. For the first time since Amy, at the start of the summer, I found myself wondering how far things were going to go between Melissa and I.
“Perhaps she’s merely not the type to marry YOU,” Zamboni said, far too smugly.
Did Zamboni have a point? Why hadn’t Melissa or I touched on this subject yet? We’d merely returned to our status quo. For weeks now, nothing had changed.
I was forced to do more self-reflection. At what point do you know you’ve found ‘The One’? More to the point, hadn’t I already answered that question? My debating three months ago with Amy had led me to choose Melissa.
But I hadn’t returned to her with a ring and a promise.
Of course, Zamboni seemed to be in this for the magick lifestyle, and Melissa had feared as much of me when I first came back. And while I wasn’t about to run off with another witch, if Melissa were to give up the Agency, would I feel any disillusionment? I supposed there was an answer for Zamboni in that.
“Melissa’s married to her job, anyone who knows her knows that,” I fired off.
Except this was a job which would go away in three weeks – as either the supernatural would be a reality, or it wouldn’t. There would be no need to have an agency to balance things out. And without the job, what were we? Still a couple? What would Melissa’s next project be after the Agency? Would she want me along? Would I still want to be a part of her life if we weren’t solving supernatural crimes?
“Sorry, what?” I said, realizing I’d missed Zamboni’s latest retort.
“I said you have no reason to be speaking for Melissa here,” Zamboni repeated, narrowing his eyes. “Her job should speak for itself. Frankly, you do not even seem capable of investigating the supernatural without her. Can you perform magick?”
I grimaced. Well, lying wouldn’t help. “I can do illusion.”
“Please,” Zamboni sniffed. “Anyone can do that. No, you couldn’t conjure up a rose even if your life depended on it. You are a mere puppet, the only question is whose. Perhaps Melissa conjured you up herself, to keep suitors like me at bay, hm? Or to keep give the factions here a red herring to investigate?”
He attempted to push past me again. “Come, Melissa, let us ignore this fool and be joined. It is time.”
I reached out a hand to stop him. “Melissa is not going anywhere with you.”
“And who’s going to stop me?” Zamboni said, managing to make his voice even colder than mine. “You?”
“Perhaps,” I answered, even as I realized I was getting way out of my depth. “Don’t underestimate me. I’m full of surprises.”
“That’s true enough,” Trixie/Melissa muttered.
It was Zamboni’s turn to pause, perhaps wondering just how far I’d be willing to take this. “Very well,” he said slowly. “Let us say I agree to back off, and even give up my explosives… it would be under condition that YOU marry Melissa. After all, if she is so fond of you, doing this will avoid further meddling by me or anyone else.”
“Y-You can’t guarantee that though,” I protested, hating the quaver in my voice.
“Can’t I?” Zamboni smirked again. “You merely do not wish to finish things. Come, I have the priest. You shall be married in my place. Unless Melissa wishes to speak up for herself, for once? Rather than letting you continue to speak?”
My expression sort of froze, as I directed my gaze back towards Trixie/Melissa. She returned the look with a very Trixie-style expression that I found I could only interpret as, ‘You idiot’.
After all, the more she spoke, the more likely the deception would be uncovered. But I couldn’t play along and marry Trixie. Even if it were somehow judged to be marriage by proxy, Melissa hadn’t given consent. Nor could I admit now that this wasn’t Melissa, as Zamboni was liable to simply blow the whole place up. But then, what was the alternative?
For a moment, I felt like I needed Melissa’s guidance more than ever, and wished that I could have been with her just then.
Quick as a wink, Melissa yanked an adhesive scroll out of her pocket and slapped it onto the wall, before turning and standing in front of it.
Melissa could see him now, coming down the stairs. Mortum was a slightly portly man, balding, maybe Melody’s height, currently dressed in a black bathrobe. He quickly sized up the situation.
“Fascinating,” he concluded, expression almost a smile. “I haven’t had an unexpected visitor get this far in over fifty years. Someone, go and hold her. And my dear, if you resist, I assure you I have no qualms about throwing the person who fails me into that fire you’ve prepared.”
Melissa could think of several choice things she wanted to say to the man at that point, but perhaps fortunately for him, she still couldn’t speak. So she merely stood there, fists clenched, as two type I zombies, a male and a female, moved in to restrain her by the arms.
“Now then,” Mortum continued, upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, “we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. The easy way involves you explaining to me why and how you came to be here. The hard way involves me zombifying you and getting the same information that way. Though I suppose that way is easier for me.”
Melissa’s eyes narrowed. Mortum flashed a smile. “Aha, yes, rather seems a bad idea to let you speak just now. I suppose that wasn’t really a decision I’d let you make anyway.”
He gestured at Melody. “We’ll let my most powerful spirit split it’s attentions between you two witches then. See what it can learn. Maybe it will even find itself a new home. Melody?”
The blonde witch took a step forwards as the other two zombies held Melissa firmly to prevent her getting away. The brunette’s eyes darted left and right, but she saw no possibility for escape there, and a slight struggle showed she wasn’t about to break free.
Melissa decided she had no choice but to fixate her gaze on Melody’s hand, as it drew closer and closer to her. Wondering when the zombi spirit would jump into her head.
Trying to stave off desperation, I looked from Trixie/Melissa, to Zamboni, to the priest. It was upon seeing the priest that something Zamboni had done a short time ago fully registered, and the solution hit me.
With that, I felt a surprising amount of inner calm.
“Perhaps you are right,” I said to Zamboni, “it would be proper to ask Melissa’s opinion here.”
I turned again to the image of my girlfriend, whose Trixie-expression immediately morphed from ‘You idiot’ to a concerned ‘What are you doing?’ I smiled reassuringly.
“But before we do that, you should know two things, Zamboni,” I continued. “The first is that she has been working with a protégé of her’s, Trixie, on an amazingly complex technological device, called Rixi. Mel, could you perhaps give us a demonstration? Have it call up some scrolls for a containment spell, say five or six?”
Trixie/Melissa eyed me before reaching into her jeans pocket and pulling out the device she I knew she’d grabbed before departing. She never goes anywhere without it. “Rixi, containment scrolls,” she said into it.
“All right,” Rixi said brightly. “Accessing.”
I glanced back at Zamboni, who was now starting to look suspicious, and the priest, who was looking confused.
“Yeah, Mel’s been working a bit too hard lately, she’s starting to sound like the tech,” I pointed out, as the glowing sphere deposited scrolls into Trixie/Melissa’s hand. I quickly took them from her. “It’s rather interesting though, the design wasn’t merely based on Siri, what were those other animated television shows that Trixie said she had been watching? I never remember.”
Trixie/Melissa eyed me as I began to walk to the gazebo. “Magical Lyrical Nanoha and Martin Mystery,” she admitted quietly after a moment.
“Those were the ones,” I said, as I slapped a scroll up onto one of the beams of the gazebo. “Never have found the time to get into what she calls anime, but I hear it’s fascinating stuff.”
Trixie/Melissa had to have known by now that I was stalling for time. Given how my memory wouldn’t let me forget those trivial little details, which we’d discussed during our first dinner, all those weeks previously. But would she see what I wanted her to do, or more importantly, when I wanted her to do it?
“Stop wasting time,” Zamboni cut in, apparently cluing in to the delay tactic too. I picked up the pace of my circuit of the gazebo as Zamboni continued, pasting up the scrolls. “We’re here to decide who is going to marry Melissa, not what her friend watches on TV. Is there even a second thing we should know?”
“You aren’t listening to me,” I shot back. “Marrying Melissa is merely why you’re here. And you’re trying to pull me into it to, almost like as long as it happens, you get paid. Is that tuxedo even yours, or is it a rental?”
“It is MINE,” Zamboni sighed in annoyance, reaching up to adjust his bow tie. “Now stop stalling or I swear I will activate the explosives.”
“Very well,” I said, raising my index finger. “The second thing then. It involves a case I was part of, one regarding a young lady named Danielle. Saving her included the use of a latin phrase, ‘die dulci fruere’. Do you perchance know how to spell that?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I gave Trixie/Melissa a pointed look. She DID remember what she’d said about the case less than an hour ago, right? Her eyebrows went up, and I knew she understood.
“It’s a rather meaningless latin phrase,” Zamboni was answering. “Which has nothing to do with those scrolls, but which I’m about to interpret as a threat.”
“Here’s the thing then,” I finished. “You say this moment is a turning point, which some spirits foretold. That may well be true. I’m sure it’s why the most devout are staying to watch, even now. But I don’t think YOU are meant to be part of this turning point, Zamboni. Because you aren’t even brave enough to carry the explosives yourself.”
I immediately shifted my attention from Zamboni to his priest, snatching the bible from his hands before he had a chance to prevent it. As I suspected, the book was a lot heavier than it should have been.
“Trixie!” I called out, throwing the object into the gazebo.
Trixie/Melissa raised her voice slightly as she completed the latin chanting that she had been doing under her breath. She raised both her hands, creating the necessary mystic gesture.
“Fac ut gaudeam!” she concluded.
The papers which I had placed around the gazebo lit up with a bright glow, just as the book hit the ground. There was a massive explosion.
And that’s when I realized I’d made a mistake.