A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 6a: OF MELISSA AND JAMES
Melissa’s escape from Mortum’s castle went the way you might have expected. She was headed for the remaining working door from the secret room, when there was the sound of keys.
“Our time’s up,” Melody said, stepping away and cracking her knuckles. “Move fast, I’m not sure Mortum will survive this, and there is a non-zero chance that his death will cause the castle to crumble.”
“Oh, good,” Melissa sighed, as she adjusted the strap of her bag.
The door was thrown open, and Mortum himself stood there, flanked by a few zombies, and looking seriously pissed off. “You bitches,” he snarled. “Any last words before I blast you both into dust?!”
“Two,” Melody stated. She threw her arms out at a forty five degree angle. “Ultima ratio.”
Sparks seemed to fly from her body then, energy sparks, as if she were being electrocuted. Her body even twitched, as the light show passed out through the walls, not unlike Melissa’s tracking sphere had done before. This time with more sparks being generated by Melody’s body to replace them.
Mortum, seemingly unimpressed, lowered a staff he was carrying, pointing it at the witch like a weapon.
The zombi next to him reached out and pushed the staff back up.
Mortum turned in surprise to look the zombi in the eyes. Then he realized he actually WAS looking said zombi in the eyes, and not staring at the blank look he was used to. According to Melissa, Mortum first seemed confused, then scared. Then very scared.
“Braiiiins,” the zombi whispered, finally able to speak on its own.
Melissa judged that was the most opportune time to duck down and push past the group. She fled without looking back, encountering more than a few dead and undead bodies moving in the opposite direction, under their own power. Whether they were homing in on Mortum, or on Melody’s light show, she wasn’t sure, nor did she particularly care.
Her destination was the circle of salt on the turret, and safety. She destroyed the circle on our end as soon as she arrived.
I leaned back in the desk chair. “So you think Melody survived? And saw that Doctor?”
Melissa sighed. “Probably? I hope so.” She circled her shoulder around and then put her ice pack back on it. “Remind me never to ram into doors again.”
“Never ram into doors again,” Trixie chirped. She was lying on the couch, chin resting in her hands as she kicked her legs back in the air. “I’d make another Doctor Who reference too, but neither of you would get it.”
Yes, in the end, Trixie hadn’t gone out to find herself a date for the night, electing to wait with me for Melissa’s return. Perhaps handling the factions and the explosion had given her enough of a rush, or perhaps she was turning over a new leaf after learning about Zamboni. I still can’t read her very well.
Melissa looked over at the redheaded witch. “I’ll save an exasperated remark at you for a later occasion, on a day when you didn’t recently comport yourself with aplomb.”
We had given Melissa the rundown on events here, before she told us her story. In case there was any sort of immediate fallout from the failed marriage to deal with, though it was seeming less and less likely.
“Do you think using big words means I won’t realize that’s a compliment?” Trixie asked, grinning. “Also, apology accepted for being a jerk to me earlier.”
Melissa simply half smiled back before looking back at me. “I wonder if the factions will resume devouring their own tails now. Or better yet, decide I’m untouchable.”
I ran a hand back through my hair. “They’ll definitely think twice about messing with the Agency, at least. And by extension, you.”
Melissa nodded. “That’s good.” She paused. “And in the end, they were right. The evening was a turning point for me. In that I figured out why my parents’ spell will fail.”
I blinked. “Right, so you said. What was that about, exactly?”
“What Melody said to me. About the will of the zombies.”
I searched my memory for when that might have occurred in the story she had told me. “You mean the bit about wanting a break after being forced to do something for a long, long time?”
“And lashing out at anyone who doesn’t give it to you, yeah. Because I’m thinking Merlin or whoever needs a break. Giving him more power to last longer won’t help in that case, particularly if someone’s already tried casting this spell at him in the past.”
“Guess we should start thinking of a plan B, huh?” I joked, looking to Trixie.
To be clear, the three of us had all been pretty careful not to link Trixie’s neural net project with Melissa’s prophecy decision, just in case word got out, and people tried to prevent Trixie’s efforts. So we were pretty confident in our backup plan.
“We might want a plan C,” Melissa murmured then, which surprised me.
“Hey! I’m going to manage this virtual Missy thing for you,” Trixie said, sitting up. “Granted, I’m a still wee bit hazy on doing it in the necessary time frame, but don’t write me off so quick, damn it.”
Melissa shook her head. “That’s not what I meant.”
“No?” Trixie looked back and forth between Melissa and me. “Oh, fine, fine, hint taken to leave the room and get back to work.”
“Melissa wouldn’t hint,” I pointed out. “You don’t need to leave.”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “I’m going off your expression more than anything, James.” She pushed herself up off the couch. “You two talk. Because you both have stuff to say that the other person needs to hear. And I do want to work more before I sleep.”
With a grin reminiscent of the time she’d left me alone with Amy, Trixie went back to her room and closed the door.
Melissa cleared her throat. “Well, and Trixie’s not wrong. Because here’s the problem, other realms have now come up a couple of times. Except when my virtual self picks supernatural balance, they’re supposed to be cut off. So how could that Culicinae vampyre have known about me and my family?”
I decided to go with Melissa’s topic, even as I parsed what Trixie had meant in my case. About our relationship. “He’d been in our world for a while,” I reminded. “Could have researched.”
“Virga is hardly the first thing he’d feel like looking up,” Melissa insisted. “No, the only possibility that occurs to me is that we’re coming up on an event that’s so cataclysmic, its effects reverberate back through time across neighbouring realities. Which may simply be the decision, but could also be our methodology for it.”
“That’s unsettling. Could things go that wrong?”
“I don’t know.” Melissa shifted her ice pack. “Maybe I’m overreacting. But it’s why I’m considering a plan C.”
I looked at her for a moment. “Well, we’ve still got some time to figure it out.”
“Some.” The brunette tugged lightly on an errant strand of her hair. “I need to revise my last resort spell too, I think. That will take a bit of time.”
“What? Why, what’s wrong with the one you have?” It occurred to me then that I didn’t even know what was involved in the spell she already had – there had never been an occasion for her to use it.
“Things change. Another feeling I have.”
“All right, well, let me know if I can help.”
“I will. Don’t worry, it won’t be like it was with the zombies.”
Melissa smiled, then lapsed back into silent thought. Since it was probably verging on 2am by this point, I almost left her that way, but given how Trixie had alluded to the other issue, I couldn’t get the marriage idea out of my head. Except, how to approach it?
She seemed to sense my hesitation after a few minutes, looking back at me. “Sorry, something else?”
“No,” I said automatically. Then, “Actually, yes.” I reached back to rub the back of my neck, suddenly wondering if I should have delayed this talk until I’d gone out to buy a ring or something.
“The marriage thing,” I finally blurted out. “Part of me wonders if I should propose to you right now, but another, larger part of me doesn’t want that sort of personal element to mess up your psyche at this rather critical time. In particular if it would make you lose your Chosen status somehow. So, I won’t. Unless, I should. Um, I love you.”
I think I botched that rather completely.
Her cheeks began to tinge red. “I… I love you too. You know that. But wow, marriage? We’re not even twenty-five yet.”
“Too soon, right. Sorry.”
She quickly shook her head. “Oh, I don’t mean… that is, I never really saw myself as the marrying type until I was at LEAST that old. But then, I never pictured that I’d be in line to choose the fate of the supernatural until I was over twice that age. So I’m not sure what to — wait, James, was that actually a proposal?”
Her expression implied worry over not reading me properly. Honestly though, I wasn’t sure what I meant either. “I think it was a promise of a proposal. I mean, as crazy as Zamboni’s scheme was, it did get me thinking. About us.”
“I see. And you’re thinking that you’d want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
I looked at her again, seeing how tired and exhausted she was after her overseas encounters, and yet how she was still beautiful despite that. How she was so much better looking than any other girl I’d ever met. And I thought about how I wished I could have been there for her, doing something when she was being attacked. I might well have sacrificed myself so that she could have escaped unharmed.
Of course, all that I actually managed to say in response was, “Yeah.”
It must have come across sincerely though, since Melissa’s face was definitely red now as she looked away. “Golly. That’s the nicest thing anyone… but it’s probably something we should revisit when this Prophecy stuff is over. Right? I mean, for all I know, the worship faction put a whammy on you out there.”
“It’s not that.”
She turned back to me, looking adorably flustered. “I know. Trying to make a joke. Came out lame. My sense of humour is still a work in progress.”
I smiled back at her. “It is late. Promise we’ll revisit this within the next three weeks, at least?”
Melissa nodded. “I’d like that.”
I nodded back and started to turn away, only to have her drop her ice pack, approach me, and pull me into a rather passionate kiss.
I was more than happy to oblige. In fact, by the time she pulled back, my hands had started to wander. “I’m too overwhelmed to enjoy this now,” she rasped near my ear.
I squeezed. “I reserve the right to pick up here later.”
She smiled. “Mmm hmm.”
We were late to breakfast the next morning.
The very next day, we returned Alicia’s orb. It occurred to me that she’d known about the turning point too, but I had no idea whether she’d manipulated the situation with Melissa to take advantage of the situation. She was even more cagey than usual, so I don’t think we’ll ever get an answer there.
Another week passed, uneventfully. I went by the park at one point, but aside from some efforts to repair the gazebo, presumably by the city, I didn’t see anything there of concern. Only the more devout faction members were lingering, and they didn’t seem to have a plan.
It was the following Monday that Melissa suggested to me that we go for a quick stroll. I accepted. She got to the point right away, and it wasn’t about the marriage situation. “I think my parents have been listening in on us again. Somehow.”
I frowned. “What makes you say that?”
“I contacted them,” Melissa admitted. “Because I wanted to know when they were planning to run their ‘suspend technology on Earth’ spell. And they wouldn’t tell me.”
“Oh. Well, is there a reason we need to know that?”
Melissa grimaced. “That’s the same question they asked. And yes, there is, because the loss of tech would give me the chance to be more in tune with the supernatural, possibly even Merlin himself.”
“Oh,” I repeated. “So, what, do they believe we’re going to use that time to implement the results of Trixie’s efforts?”
“That’s what I wonder,” Melissa said. “They certainly know we’re at cross purposes. Mom went so far as to imply that I wanted to sabotage their spell, and gave me a whole lecture about knowing what’s best for me.”
“That must have been fun.”
“Oh yeah.” She looked up at me. “So, I’m going to need your help, to figure out the details of their spell, without them knowing.”