Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

Virga: Act 6F

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6f: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

Post-Epilogue-Thing:

Hi! Trixie here. I’ve now read the whole “Balancing Act” novella that James wrote, as I assume you have too. Thanks for getting this far! This is why I feel you should know the real ending. You can thank me later.

For the record, I do maintain that James was an idiot. Yet to a certain extent, Missy was also an idiot, so in the end, they truly were made for each other. Right?

It’s sorta like that anime about “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”. Except Missy only got to be a God towards the end. Well, and James truly loved her, and Missy knew things were supernatural, and okay, bad comparison. Bah, look, I’m no writer. Anyway, here’s the deal.

TRIXIE
Commission from Sen Yomi

I found this manuscript on the computer in James’ room (formerly Missy’s room), finally exploring there after the third day that he didn’t return home. Yes, his computer was password protected, and yes, I’m that good at what I do. Hence how this whole story has been added to the other three cases he published online. You’re welcome.

Now, while I’m not 100% certain, and James could be dead in a ditch somewhere, I’m pretty sure I know what happened to him. It’s why I got him to sign the Agency over, and more to the point, why I said he’d better hold on to that ring.

Because the idiot didn’t seem to clue in to the fact that it would take Missy time to recharge herself from doing an ‘Ultima Ratio’, to the point where she could actually bring him along to join her. Like, a lot of time.

I didn’t tell him, because I didn’t want to raise false hopes. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure she’d be able to get enough power within the three-month window for those space-time fractures on either side of her decision. It sure came down to the wire.

Anyway, he’s gone, and so yeah, good for her. For both of them, that is. I like to think that being able to home in on the ring helped Missy out, along with my having written James’ engrams to Mixi as a test run.

Meaning I did a good thing. I really am that smart, yeah? More mature than I was at the start of all this too. Just saying.

And that’s the real end. You’re welcome.

Oh, unless you care about little me? The buxom witch Trixie, who seemed to be such a puzzle for James to figure out? It’s so tempting to give my real name, instead of this one that James created.

Seriously, had I been a MALE character picking up every Friday night in a bar, I doubt any of you would have given it a second thought. As a lady, am I not allowed to seduce people or something? Damn stereotypes. Or maybe it’s because I was a techie? And they’re not supposed to behave the way I do? Because that’s also bad stereotyping, and shame on you all.

At any rate, I’m doing reasonably well for having lost the only group of people where I felt I was finally fitting in. (Did you even think of that? Did you? Yeah, thanks for asking.) Thing is, I’ve got their Agency here, and I’ve been recreating my Rixi, and okay, I might have met someone at Missy’s ‘farewell celebration’ too, which is leading to a stable relationship.

Could be a guy, could be a girl, could be an elf, you don’t know. It’s not an AI though, is my point. Maturing, as I said. Also, it’s not a relative. Seriously, ew, who went there? Oh, and if I find anyone shipping the three of us main characters at once on any fanfic boards, you’re getting a piece of my mind.

Okay, so that’s the end.

Except now I’ve gone and ruined the poetry of it, huh? And I dunno how to rewrite all this to end it more like how James did last part.

Know what? For all his faults, the guy did craft a pretty good story.

Hmm, fine, let’s consider this. If something magically wonderful happens, you probably have Melissa to thank. If something completely contrary to the supernatural balance happens, you probably have James to thank for distracting her and Mixi at an inopportune time. Heh.

Yeah, I have no idea if ascended beings can make out, but if a mysterious baby appears on my doorstep sometime in the next few years, maybe I’ll have my answer.

Hell, they’d better not do that while I’m single, I don’t think I could handle being a single mother. Shoot, making this about me again.

So really, really, that’s the whole story. Of Melissa and James.

You can stop reading now.

 

For serious.

 

Are you still there?

 

 

Okay, yes, dammit, it’s true that I’m going to miss those idiots. You happy now? Go leave a comment on this blog now or whatever, I’m gone.

 

TRUE END

Previous INDEX Author’s Notes->

Virga: Act 6E

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6e: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

“Because,” Melissa answered. She bit down on her lower lip before continuing. “Because I wanted to be sure. James, remember when I visited Alicia? It was to use the orb that I’d retrieved for her. The one that allows a person to look into his or her own personal future.”

I felt my heart beating faster in my chest. “Do I want to know what you saw?”

“I saw more than one thing,” Melissa admitted. “Which isn’t something that’s supposed to happen. Even yesterday, I’d held out some hope for the variation. That there would be a way to mentally train myself, so that Mixi would be sufficient.”

Trixie pursed her lips. “And what more did I need to do? Should I just take my wondrous creation back?”

Melissa shook her head. “Don’t misunderstand, I needed all that you’ve done, Trixie. But it has to be more. And when I finally realized what my role was in all of this, I… I wanted to put off saying my goodbyes for as long as possible.”

I felt a knot forming in my stomach. “Mel?” I said, not liking where she was going with that.

“The orb also let me see the key reason for why I was chosen,” she continued in a rush. “Setting aside my fanaticism with supernatural balance, it goes back to my lineage. There is more power in me than I realized, more power than my parents themselves are aware of. Enough for me to do more than observe the Earth. I have the power to see other realms, James. Other possibilities. Things that I’m not sure Mixi can handle yet.”

“I want to be offended by that, but you’re freaking me out,” Trixie remarked.

Melissa sighed, and held Mixi up. “This device is perfect for maintaining the supernatural balance, which is what we designed it to do. But it can’t recognize when exceptions are needed, or adjust for the rules that exist outside of our realm. A human element is required. One that knows how things have changed over the centuries.”

Trixie flinched. “You really ARE going all ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ on us here, huh?”

“I don’t know what that means,” Melissa admitted. “I will say that the burden will be considerably lessened with this device operating. It’s only, necessary adjustments cannot be made by someone bound in this space-time, and the transition out will only happen when the fractures align. Which will be soon.”

I found my voice again. “So you’re leaving,” I said. “And you knew this yesterday.”

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Melissa took a step forwards. I took a step back, suddenly not sure I knew her anymore. After all, if it had been me, I would have spent more time with her. I would have celebrated the rest of the time we had together, not retreated, not kept silent and worked on things by myself!

Her expression did something of a sad crash. “It’s not that I didn’t think you’d understand,” she murmured. “It’s that I didn’t want to make things different between us.”

“Except you did,” I insisted. “You retreated from me!”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. “I… damn, you’re not wrong. Oh James, I messed up, and now everything is aligning, so I can’t make it right. God, I wish I’d given us more time!”

When I remained silent, Trixie spoke up again. “Okay, so bye, take care of yourself then,” the redhead chirped. “Maybe tweak the stars in my favour a bit? Seeing as you’re running off with not only my prototype Mixi but the original device I had to base it on?”

Melissa looked over. “I can’t play favourites, you know that,” she said. “Otherwise I’d do something to fix this now.”

Trixie smirked. “Just testing you. You pass. You’re normal, and probably not possessed. Albeit you’re more flawed in terms of relationships than I realized, because James has a point. So how are you going to use the next sixty seconds?”

Melissa winced. “I… don’t know.” The part of the roof where she was standing started to puddle a bit, like it was turning into pudding. She returned to looking at me. “I hope you can forgive me in time,” she whispered.

It was that comment which shocked me back to my senses.

Maybe I would have spent time with her, but Melissa, she wasn’t me. That was the whole point; it was why I enjoyed her company. More to the point, Melissa was normally so blunt and straightforward, and here, she’d been evasive. Because of how much she’d cared.

Perhaps, in the end, I’d sort of sabotaged myself? Encouraging Mel to listen to her emotions over the last several years? Meaning she’d said nothing until she’d been sure, and then even beyond that, had found herself unable to open up. Unable to be blunt with me any more.
But all of that, it didn’t matter. Damn it all, I still loved her.

“Just tell me one thing,” I said, thinking back to the conversation we’d had in her parents’ pantry. “Do you really want this? Do you really want to be the one forced to monitor magick in and around the entire world?”

Melissa’s lips quavered. “I do now,” she admitted. “I thought I wasn’t ready, and maybe I’m not. But to see it all laid out – this is what I’ve been trying to do with the Agency, James. But now I can do it on a cosmic scale! Outside of this framework of reality, I could even affect events before they happen. And I want to make that difference.”

“Then you should do it,” I concluded. “And I’ll support you in that. Because I love you. And in the end, that means there’s nothing that needs forgiving.”

Melissa seemed to blur a bit, and it took a second for me to realize it was because I’d started crying. She smiled at me. “If it helps, James, in a sense, I won’t be gone. I’ll be everywhere.”

I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. “It helps.”

A tear ran down her cheek. “I should have been with you last night. But I was worried that, if I was, I’d have second thoughts. I’m sorry.”

“No regrets,” I insisted. “Though, can we at least hug before you fade out, or whatever?”

I opened my arms tentatively, and Melissa threw herself into the embrace. She buried her face into my shoulder for a moment. “There’s a letter,” she murmured. “For you. In the filing cabinet. Trixie has others for my parents. Whether you read your note or not, know that I do love you. Please know that.”

“I love you too,” I assured her. “Now go and show the whole world why.”

I stepped back. Then I noticed what seemed to be a slight inconsistency in the air behind her. Like a bit of a tear in space. This might be the last time I saw her.

And yet, I was briefly distracted by Trixie moving into my peripheral vision. Staring at me suspiciously. I tried to ignore her.

“Okay,” Melissa said, letting out a long breath. “Here it goes.”

She threw her hands out to the sides and looked up into the sky. “Let the balance be restored, and then become attuned to those on Earth… let my power synchronize with the wills and desires of everyone out there… though let me retain my sense of self as take on the mantle of – Libra Magica. ULTIMA RATIO!”

I knew then what it must have been like for Melissa to observe Melody. I dare say that must have been her basis for this spell. Sparks shot out from her, thousands of them, millions, most firing off into the distance, but some seemingly dropping down through the top of the roof.

Attuning themselves to everyone, and feeding the information back to the Chosen One, even as I saw the rip opening larger behind her. She was going to transition.

That’s when Trixie kicked me REALLY hard in the shins.

“OW!” I said, looking over at her in befuddlement.

“You COLOSSAL IDIOT,” she bellowed back at me, hands closed in a pair of fists. “If that’s a ring in your back pocket, you better damn well GIVE IT TO HER BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

Oh yeah. I’d almost proposed again that morning, but I hadn’t gotten up the nerve before Melissa had left the kitchen. I’d figured it would keep until after this was all over.

Now it really was all over. But Melissa herself had said that she didn’t want things to be different between us, not in these last few days, hours, minutes, seconds. Right?

Unless she’d been waiting for the ring.

Trixie kicked me again, and damn it, it hurt. I rounded on her, only for her to jab her finger almost right up my nose. “I SWEAR to GOD, if you don’t move your ass RIGHT NOW James, I am going to turn you into a CHICKEN.”

I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps Trixie had managed to use that tone that gets people to obey without thinking about it. Maybe there’s something about the Virga lineage. Or perhaps it was the chicken reference, which reminded me of the clause in my initial rental agreement with Melissa. But then, maybe I simply didn’t need as much of a nudge as I thought I did.

Before I realized it, I was stepping forward and saying, “Mel!” As her gaze refocused on me, sparks still flying from her body, I pulled the box out of my pocket, opened it, and unexpected words spilled from my lips. “Take me with you!”

Melissa’s hands moved to her mouth as she gasped. “You actually did it. You bought me a…” Her voice sounded like it had a bit of an echo to it. I’m not sure if it trailed off, or if I missed a word.

“Opal. Your birthstone,” I said. Perhaps redundantly, but her body seemed to be growing brighter, and I wasn’t sure she could see. “Mel, this ring means we do these things together.”

“It’s too late,” she protested. “I can’t.”

“Then take the ring at least.”

Her gaze shifted to be one of sheer determination. “No, keep it with you. Remember I love you, and please think of me when –-”

The brightness was so intense now that I found I was forced to blink.

Leaving Trixie and me standing alone on the roof, with Melissa’s unfinished sentence hanging in the air. Gradually, the chain link fence reconstructed itself into iron.

***

Epilogue:

So that’s everything. You’ve now read the story of how I chose Melissa over my childhood friend, only to lose Mel again before the end of the summer.

I think I’ve now been through the traditional five stages, from denial, when Trixie had to practically drag me off the roof three hours later, to acceptance, that being in the form of writing all of this down. Tomorrow will mark exactly three months since she transitioned. There are only a few little gaps that probably need filling in. Well, plus a massive edit job on this whole tale, but let’s deal with that later.

First, the letter Melissa left for me. It said a lot of what she had stated on the roof, maybe because she hadn’t been sure how long she would have to explain things. Several times, it also said ‘I’m sure I’m not explaining this well but I hope you can understand’. It concluded by saying that she will always love me, even always be a part of me – and added in a small postscript, that I should check in with Amy about her lamp.

I did. It had apparently reverted back to being a knife, some time during the three days following Melissa’s ascension. (I’ll use ascension for lack of a better term.) I’m not sure if that was supposed to mean something, but resuming contact with Amy was something of a comfort. Maybe that had been Mel’s intention?

After all, Amy had seen some of what was out there too, giving me someone to talk to aside from Trixie, and it was Amy’s suggestion that I write all this down. She’d apparently looked up those prior three cases online, and thought that I had a good thing going.

The second thing to mention is our parents. In the end, I think mine understood Melissa’s decision to leave, if not the specifics of the magick involved. My mother in particular I think wanted to deride Mel, but they never did so in my presence, and they haven’t tried to set me up with anyone new in the time since.

As to Melissa’s parents, I think her letters to them explained things much as mine did. They’ve even sort of accepted me into the family, despite Melissa’s ultimate rejection of the ring I’d offered to her. There wasn’t a memorial service per se, since Melissa wasn’t dead, but they invited me to a celebration of her life.

Then finally there’s the actual matter of supernatural balance, and the Agency. The latter remains in my name, but at Trixie’s insistence, she’s become a co-owner on paper, with access to the accounts and everything.

I didn’t see the harm. In theory, there will be fewer cases involving people, as things rebalance. But maybe other witches or beings will find it useful, as they adjust to the new (old?) reality out there.

I’m not sure how long I’ll stay. I haven’t quite worked out my future yet. Part of me thinks I should sell the ring I bought for Melissa and move out of the apartment. Part of me cannot bear to part with it yet, particularly not after Melissa’s last words, and Trixie has insisted I keep it as a reminder, at least for a while yet.

I do still have the option of journalism. Maybe there’s a witch faction that runs a newspaper? Or maybe I’ll turn this into a proper novel. Either way, in the end, I guess I’m just glad I got the chance to tell Melissa’s story.

And you know, maybe, just maybe, if you wish really hard for something, and it’s something that can be balanced out in the grand scheme of things… Melissa will hear you, and it will happen.

Just like magick.

END…?

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Virga: Act 6D

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6d: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

“Fine, fine,” Trixie said, seemingly not picking up on Melissa’s mood. She reached out to grab me by the arm. “Come on, James, you get to be my first guinea pig.”

I hesitated, largely because I wasn’t sure about Trixie’s state of mind. “Uhm, you know my magick experience is really limited, right?”

Trixie’s smirk was back. “It’s fine. You don’t need any inherent magick for Mixi to see what’s going on in your head.”

“Ah. And you don’t want to eat first? Or shower?”

“Nope. But you can picture me in the shower, if you think that’ll help get your neurons firing, James.” She wiggled her eyebrows, and then her hips.

“Trixie…” Melissa said warningly, though it was almost resigned amusement at this point.

I somehow found my gaze back at Trixie’s chest again. I don’t know how she does it. “Trixie, look, you’re not going to be pulling fetishes out of my head, are you?”

Trixie giggled madly. “Not on a test run, but OOH you’re giving me so much ammunition to potentially tease you with. It’s almost criminal, to take advantage of your naivete this way.”

“Yeah, um, so maybe don’t do that?”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Yes, fine, look, listen. I’m doing an impossible thing that no one’s ever done before. Humour me NOW, before I crash and need to sleep for a day straight.”

I resigned myself to my fate. “Be gentle?”

Trixie laughed once more and dragged me into her room to affix medical patches to my temples. All I really have to say about the process is that it was somewhat long, though not the three hours she’d deemed for the final run. It was also completely painless, and seemed to satisfy Trixie that she’d done what she’d set out to do.

Almost immediately after, the redhead passed out, face down on the floor.

When I finally left Trixie’s room, Melissa was gone. She’d left a sheet of paper on the desk saying she needed some air, and some candles. I toyed with the ring in my pocket for a moment, then went to prepare dinner.

***

That night, I realized that Melissa seemed to be withdrawing from me. Whether it was a conscious decision on her part or not, I didn’t know, but we remained on opposite sides of the bed.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

The next day, early on, she set up what she needed for her spell in our room. Namely some orbs, candles, and I think the rib of a small animal. She then requested absolute silence for when the technology spell actually took place.

Trixie was still asleep (apparently she hadn’t been kidding about sleeping for a day), while I took the opportunity to go to the main room and look out the window. To see if I could catch the flash when Earth’s entire technology grid was flipped off, then almost immediately back on again.

I’m not going to tell you when this happened. There’s a slim chance that making it public would get Annie in trouble, as I could still say here that her information was a bit off, and Melissa calculated the difference.

I mean, okay, I’ve been changing everyone’s names, so I suppose I could change the time of the event and give you that in the narrative. But it seems rather pointless.

I will tell you that the magick involved ensured that nothing would need to power cycle back up, so maybe it was that moment when your radio cut out, or when your computer seemed to freeze up, or when that light in the hall seemed to flicker as you were preparing for bed.

Two seconds, maybe less. I fancy I saw it, but only because I knew exactly when to look for it.

There were no complications.

By that I mean there was nothing reported in the news related to this. There were complications as far as Melissa was concerned. The most immediate consequence being her emerging from the room looking rather pale.

I quickly got her a glass of water and asked if there was anything I could do to help her out. She shook her head. “It was an eye opening experience, that’s all.”

I paused, then led Melissa out into the hallway, away from any surveillance. I then crouched a bit to look her in the eyes, and made sure she was looking at me before speaking again.

“Mel, this is me you’re talking to. I can tell something has upset you. What’s wrong?”

Her lips grew tight. “It’s that there are cracks,” she said after a moment. “In the fabric of space-time. Which is why other realities knew about me, they caught a hint of the spell I just performed. I also got a sense of…” She shook her head. “I can’t describe it.”

“You mean Merlin?”

Melissa shook her head. “James, please don’t press me on this.”

I nodded. “Okay then. You’re sure there’s nothing more I can do?”

Melissa stared past me for a moment, then refocussed. “I need to see Alicia. I’m suddenly scared that there’s not enough time left to do what I need to do. I swear I’ll tell you if there’s anything you can do to help me with it though, okay?”

She smiled at me then, and leaned in to kiss me. For a moment she sank into it, and into my arms, and seemed to me like things were normal enough.

But when she drew back I saw there was still something lurking behind her gaze. With a quick apology, she was immediately running down the stairs, off to Alicia Wing’s store. I think she would have done so regardless of whether the store was actually open at the moment.

To this day, I’m still not sure what Melissa had really caught sight of during her spell.

There’s a well-known quote by Friedrich Nietzsche that comes to my mind: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

I hoped Melissa would be all right. Again, I found myself fiddling with the ring inside my pocket.

***

Two days later, meaning one day short of the big day, I was sure that Trixie knew something too. I called her on it while Melissa was out.

“Don’t keep being an idiot, James,” she retorted. “Your girlfriend wouldn’t tell me anything that she wouldn’t also tell you.”

Something in her tone had me reading between the lines. “Might she have told you something BEFORE telling me though?”

The redhead flinched at that, even looking a bit guilty. “No?”

“Trixie, tell me what you know,” I said, becoming a bit scared. I’m not sure why that had been my first reflex. Can men have intuition too?

“Nothing!” Trixie insisted, only to amend, “I’m sure it’s nothing. Just, I have some messages to give to Melissa’s parents after tomorrow.”

“After her Decision Day.”

“Right.”

“Related to the fact that she’s refused to respond to their messages? The ones insisting that the spell worked, and that she can stop worrying about everything?”

I really hadn’t been sure what to make of those. Had Merlin been re-energized? Had he not been, but false flags had been thrown up to make the casters think the spell had worked? Did Melissa need to do something to help him out? Or were Melissa’s parents simply outright lying to her, so that she wouldn’t do anything rash?

Trixie had no answers. “I dunno,” she said, shrugging. “Melissa sealed the content into envelopes.”

I stared at Trixie. She wouldn’t meet my gaze. That was definitely new. “Then do you think the spell her parents were doing worked?”

Trixie sighed. “Damn it, James, I don’t–” She cut herself off. “Look. All I know is Melissa thinks her task is actually greater than ever. She even asked me to try and cut down on the three hour window for her virtual self. Don’t ask me to explain why. I’m tech-girl, she’s the supernatural balance expert.”

“And there’s no problem with Mixi and the neural net?”

Trixie’s expression morphed into something that said to me ‘There bloody well better not be after all the effort I put in’. Her lips merely said, “Nothing I’m aware of.”

I dropped the subject.

In retrospect, I must have been preoccupied. I didn’t pick up on the fact that not once did Trixie call her cousin ‘Missy’ on that day.

Melissa didn’t come to bed that night.

When I saw her the next morning in the kitchen, it didn’t seem like she’d actually slept. On the one hand, this wasn’t unusual, since she never did have a good sense for time of day. On the other hand, shortly after I entered, she headed out of the apartment again. So she had to be avoiding me.

I can’t be certain, but I think that was the night when Melissa wrote the message for me.

***

Melissa was back by noon, in order to undergo the process of putting her engrams onto Trixie’s neural net. It only occurred to me then that I wasn’t entirely sure how the decision-making process was going to occur.

Somehow I’d visualized Melissa casting a spell, with an image of Merlin appearing and asking for her final answer… and that wasn’t it. Of course, I’m not sure Melissa herself had known until three days prior, as I suspect she would have said something to me otherwise. As it was, she merely said we’d be headed to the roof of the building in a little while.

The roof door was normally kept locked. Obviously not a problem in our case.

Melissa walked out first, holding Mixi. I followed after her, and Trixie hung back behind us. My girlfriend walked all the way to the edge of the building and looked out, through the protective chain link fence that someone had erected. She then turned and let out a long breath.

“Okay James, you deserve this explanation from me in person,” she began. “The choice I’m faced with here is the chaos that would come from magick becoming common, and being wielded against those without consent, versus the strict regimen of magick casting backlash and a severing of ties with other realms.”

I nodded. “I sort of assume you’re looking at the strict regimen though,” I said. “Given how you’ve got Mixi there to implement it.”

She licked her lips. “Yes and no. Thing is, while the latter system might have worked 1500 years ago, I’ve been forced to conclude that it needs updating. All systems must change to adapt to the changing times, I know that now. And Merlin, if we still refer to the originator of the system that way, was aware of this possibility. In fact, the more recent shifting in the supernatural balance hasn’t been due to corruption, or lack of energy. It’s come from two other things.”

“Powerful things, I presume,” Trixie said from behind me. “Given how that chain link fence seems to be morphing into cheddar cheese or something before our eyes.”

Melissa glanced back over her shoulder only briefly. “That’s blowback from what’s about to happen. In retrospect, the proximity of me and other Chosen might have been a catalyst for a couple of the more curious incidents. Like Amy’s lamp. As to the two things being powerful, I suppose that depends on your point of view.”

“These are the things you saw during that fraction of a second when we didn’t have technology, isn’t it,” I divined.

Melissa nodded. “Correct. The first thing is the fact that there are now several billion more people on Earth than there once were. It makes tracking the flow of magick more difficult. The second thing, even more problematic, is how the original system doesn’t understand how to adjust for all our scientific advancements. It seemed immensely relieved for that one second when it didn’t have to.”

“So the Internet really is a problem.”

Melissa ran her fingers back through her hair. “Not a problem. An additional variable. That’s what I really didn’t understand until a couple of days ago. How much the system needs to be updated.”

I exchanged a glance with Trixie.

“Fine, I’ll ask her for you,” Trixie said, reading something in my expression. She stepped up next to me. “Melissa, if you’ve known for a couple days, why only tell us all the details now?”

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Virga: Act 6C

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6c: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

Annie Potts looked about the same as I remembered her – a whole foot taller than Melissa, with dark hair to her shoulders, on this day wearing a casual dress in green. Her apartment wasn’t huge, but seemed to be the right size for her, her cat Tabby, and a wide variety of plants that extended onto her balcony.

Gardening struck me as being a new hobby for her, and I said as much.

Annie grinned. “Yup!” she asserted. “That’s my new thing, been growing my own herbs, along with plants and flowers. Selling some of them too, as the couple years since graduating haven’t been good for finding stable work. Particularly since I prefer non-technological jobs. But I get the occasional contract here and there to make ends meet.”

“You’ve kept up with spells too,” Melissa said with a measure of surprise. “I wondered if you might have given that up, to try and keep from being discovered again.”

Annie put her hands on her hips. “Okay, spill. How did you know I was casting?”

Melissa shrugged. “No deduction, per se. Not even a scent. Just a vibe. From you, from Tabby, even from the plants.”

“Ah.” Annie adopted a more neutral pose. “Well, and I did avoid it while I was still in school,” she replied, “But once I was done, and then unemployed for six months with no interest in pursing personal relationships, I needed some other ways to fill my time. Plus I was hopeful of there being a good job interview spell or something. Instead, I latched on to communications.”

“Communications?” I wondered. “Are there magick phones or something?”

Annie chuckled. “Not that I know of. But that brings me to why I wanted you to drop by. I need your opinion on something.”

After pulling down the shade on her window, she ushered us over to her kitchen table, where she had laid out what looked like some homemade variant on the ouija board.

Melissa was immediately walking around it, crouching down to see it at eye level, and standing on her tiptoes to get an overall sense of it.

“You’ve been trying to contact other realms,” she concluded at last. “Surprisingly professional setup. Did you search the web for this?”

“No, I still avoid the web for magick,” Annie admitted. “It’s my grandma who gave me some advice. We’ve connected more since my graduation, and my growing interest in spells. She told me that I had to be very careful not to create an open connection, and that I had to have a sense of where I was going to be transmitting. I’ve been pretty careful.”

Melissa tilted her head to the side, as if she was trying to divine exactly to whom Annie had been speaking. “So you’ve been talking to…?”

“An elf.”

Melissa nodded. “Right, makes sense. This flow is connected to that weak point at the North Pole.”

As to me, I was startled. “Hold on. There’s actual elves at the North Pole?”

“No, no,” Melissa said, gesturing vaguely as she continued to admire the setup. “Though that was a logical place for their realm to gain access, as a number of regular humans already have the belief of elves existing up there, even though the elves they picture are very different from the real thing.”

“So they don’t have pointed hats and help Santa,” I reasoned. “Are they more like Tolkein elves then? Because I only ever saw the movies.”

“They are long lived, and can be beautiful, but are mostly my height, with no dark vision,” Melissa said idly. She turned her attention back to Annie. “Who is it you’re talking to then? While most elves aren’t evil per se, a number can be particularly mischievous.”

Annie smirked. “Iantneth has a similar opinion of humans. I really only speak with her about fashion, relationships, daily life stuff – though she’s been instructing me a little on how to grow better herbs.”

“Aha, that explains the magic I sensed from the plants,” Melissa concluded.

“So, be straight with me. This seems safe and all?” Annie said, hesitantly. “I mean, I’ve spoken to my grandma about it, and sent pictures, but it never hurts to have a second opinion from someone in the know who’s actually here.”

Melissa looked once more under the table, then stood up and shrugged. “I don’t see any problems with this. Have you noticed anything strange?”

Annie breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I noticed a pine tree had morphed into an oak tree last week, only a block away. I figured it was unrelated, but…” She gestured vaguely.

Melissa pursed her lips, then nodded. “I have been aware of a few incidents like that of late. Don’t worry, it’s not you. We’re approaching a sort of supernatural turning point.”

I was reminded then of Melissa’s knife turning into Amy’s lamp three months ago. “Could talking to other realms be upsetting supernatural balance even more though?” I wondered. “Not exclusive to Annie, I mean.”

Melissa shook her head. “No, the balancing issues are related to the weak points that these devices exploit. It’s those areas which can allow entities though, and these visitors cause much more of a problem than what’s more akin to a radio transmission.”

I nodded. “Meaning, going after communication tools is a bit like shaming someone for not using a reusable bag, when the plastics industry is really at the core of things.”

“I guess?” Melissa mused. “Except it’s more like you’re reusing a plastic bag in the first place. Things won’t get worse than they are already.”

“A-Am I doing a bad thing then?” Annie asked. “Because I’m getting confused.”

Melissa waved Annie off. “No, no, you’re fine. This setup isn’t even electronic at all, is it?”

Annie shook her head. “Nope.”

“Okay. So do you use electronics at all?” Melissa pressed. “To the point where your grandmother might have told you when NOT to use them next week?”

Annie now looked very confused, which led to me jumping in with an explanation of the problem we were facing. I left out the Chosen One aspect, playing up the secret spell part, and wrapped it up by remarking, “Ideally we’d want you to find out the time without making it clear that that’s what you’re asking.”

Annie pressed her index finger to the side of her mouth. “Funny you say that. Iantneth said there would be some sort of disturbance in our realm coming up, so I can use that as a basis. I was planning on driving around town next week on another job hunt too… so yeah, I can probably get Grandma Lindy to spill something.”

“I’d need the exact second,” Melissa reminded.

Annie nodded. “After your help back in University, I’ll see what I can do. And if it doesn’t pan out, I’ll try to let you know sooner rather than later.”

“We appreciate that,” I said, reaching out to shake her hand. “And hey, let us know what herbs it is you’re selling, in case we need a supply of anything.”

Annie grinned. After a few more quick pleasantries, and Melissa declining the offer of home brewed tea, we headed on our way. I sensed she was turning a new thought around in her mind, and called her on it shortly thereafter.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“Well,” Melissa admitted. “It occurs to me that with the balance fully back in place, and the other realms cut off, potentially beneficial conversations like the one between Annie and Iantneth would be lost as well.”

“Ah. Throwing the baby out with the bath water?”

“Not quite so crude, and we do need a way of preventing the bad from getting worse. But it makes me wonder about loopholes… would Trixie’s AI be able to handle those, even with my engrams?”

“It might depend on whether it was something you’d thought of before they got mapped,” I reasoned. “Do you think many would come up?”

“I don’t know. I’m realizing more and more that there’s a lot I don’t know.”

“Maybe some of the literature from the rational faction could help,” I quipped.

Melissa made a face. “I tuned out a lot of the faction stuff. This sort of decision calls for an opinion that hasn’t been biased one way or the other, after all.” She paused. “I guess it’s harder to ignore the occasional benefit when you see it in person, that’s the only problem. Makes me wonder if there’s a lot of others like Annie out there, who need to see that there’s a good side to being a witch.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I simply let the matter drop.

We heard back from Annie within 48 hours; she was able to give Melissa the precise timing that she needed. It would be early in the morning, three days before Decision Day. That is, the day her final decision would need to be rendered… assuming the reinforcement spell failed, which Melissa was certain would happen.

Melissa started to prepare for her own spell. Me, I got a ring, and decided to propose to Melissa one day before all of that went down.

***

Unfortunately, while I had the ring, and some phrasing in my mind, what I didn’t have was control over the other circumstances surrounding me.

It happened about five minutes before I felt I’d have the nerve to drop down on one knee, as Melissa sat looking over some papers at the main desk. Guess I should have been braver. As it was, the delay meant Trixie’s door burst open first. She bounced out, and practically off the walls, she was bursting with such enthusiasm.

“It’s DONE,” Trixie shrieked. “I DID it. I am like a TECH GODDESS, ha ha ha!”

“The artificial Melissa?” I said, startled. “I didn’t think you’d be ready for another day or two.”

Trixie grinned at me. “I haven’t slept in a while. That helped.” She bounded back into her room, then emerged, holding up what might have once been an iPhone. “The new Rixi is ready! I shall call her Mixi. Missy, I’ll need you for a couple hours now, to deal with the memory engram side of things.”

I fidgeted with the ring still in my pocket. “Um, Trixie, you don’t want to sleep first?” I suggested.

Trixie’s hair was rumpled, to the point that she had a single twintail, versus a ponytail. One of her knee high stockings had fallen nearly to her ankle and she’d made no attempt to correct it, and as to the rest of her clothing, I could see stains from either sweat or drool, which was completely out of character for her. She had definitely been pushing herself.

“Nope!” Trixie chirped. “I am SO ready to put this to the test. To cement my brilliance in the history books. Today’s the day, James! So, Missy? Let’s get to it.”

Melissa hadn’t even looked up yet. “It will have to wait until after tomorrow’s spell.”

The redhead’s gaze took on a slightly murderous tinge off Melissa’s casual response. “Are. You. FUC–”

“It’s not that we don’t appreciate EVERYTHING you’ve done, Trixie,” I cut in swiftly. “And the fact that you have things ready in advance of your own timelines is amazing, particularly in light of some of the challenges that you’ve been telling us about along the way. It’s just, I think Melissa needs some time herself now in order to get more in tune with the spell she needs to cast herself.”

Of course, there was also the matter of my proposal, though given Melissa’s reaction to Trixie, I was fast thinking I might want to hold off on my revelation as well.

“It’s not a matter of tuning,” Melissa said idly. She looked up for the first time then, and sucked in her lower lip briefly as she diagnosed Trixie’s expression. “Of course, what you’ve done is AMAZINGLY AWESOME, and worthy of praise.” Her gaze shifted from Trixie to me. “People still say ‘awesome’, yes?”

“Ugh, forget it,” Trixie said in exasperation, flopping down onto the couch and throwing her shoulders back. “It’s enough that I’ve done it, that James appreciates it, and that you’re not lashing out at me for being smug. Adding extra flattery on top would be weird, particularly when it sounds like it might be sincere. That’s not the Missy I know and love.”

Melissa half smiled. “I may still get you a cake. Or some cheesecake. The thing is, the new memories I’ll be gaining in the next day or two may be critical for decision making on the part of your device. I don’t want there to be any chance of corruption between my mindset now, and what my mindset might be like on the day I have to decide.”

Trixie crinkled her nose cutely. “No biggie, I can wipe the engrams if necessary. It’s a feature, for testing purposes. Though I grant that would be easier to do with a completely different person.”

“Meaning you could test it on yourself for now?” Melissa checked.

The redhead crossed her arms. “Playing to my vanity? Mmm, I’ll allow it. But honestly, as a test run, it’d be better for me to have a measure of separation from the data.” She turned to me, and grinned almost wickedly. “So I’ll co-opt James. Then purge and overwrite with yours later, Missy. Speaking of, what kind of waiting period are we talking about here?”

Melissa ran her fingers back through her hair. “How much time do you need, from starting to pull in my memories, to complete implementation? Bare minimum.”

Trixie looked back. “For serious? Bare minimum? Three hours. But that would cut it awful close, and it would be better to allow for the case of needing a reset.”

“I’ll try to give you more time,” Melissa concluded. “Though it seems like, the closer we get to the event, the more I’m starting to doubt myself, wondering if I’ve missed an alternative along the way. Please bear with me?”

She smiled, a bit sadly it seemed to me.

I decided that today was definitely not the day to propose.

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Summary of 2019

Hello, my readers! Life has been busy, as you can tell by this site’s wrap-up post for last year (2019) happening in the middle of February 2020. Full time work, and family time including my one year old daughter, are keeping me very busy. (As was being very sick at the end of December.) But I have wanted to take a look back for a while now, as I have a few things to say.

First, Virga’s Mystery’s “Balancing Act” has now been running for over a year; it began at the end of January 2019. I had debated splitting it up partway with another “Epsilon” story, but found myself with very little free time in the summer, and opted to use that time to finalize edits instead.

Yes, there was a bunch of editing that took place for “Balancing Act” from its July 2012 origin. Notably separating it into parts, giving Trixie more personality to do her own thing (rather than tying her to James), and generally explaining more about the world I’d touched on in the early cases (in particular during the big time skip).

However, Melissa Virga’s story will be ending shortly. Meaning something new in April 2020. That will likely be a return to “Epsilon”, as my schedule is gradually easing, but it could still be more runs of old writing. Do you have a preference? If Epsilon, will people will be interested enough to vote?

That said, I am pleased that I’ve maintained the posting schedule of every two weeks, ever since I shifted to it in July 2017 (during “Epsilon 4”). So if you want reliability, I’m here for you. But see more on site statistics below.

TIME UNTIED

HEATHER BRIGHT
Commission from Mouds_art

Secondly, work on my sequel to Time & Tied is still progressing… very slowly. Here’s a picture of Heather Bright, which I commissioned when I somehow made it to Anime North 2019. She’s the new time travel tech for Carrie, now that they’re at University. Many of the characters like her are in my head, even if their words are slow to hit the page.

As a quick reminder, my early writing for “Untied” dates from 2014, before I had even posted up Carrie Waterson’s first stories. I restarted from the top for NaNoWriMo 2017, managing 39,372 words by early December. I did edits for it the summer of 2018, splitting it into four files. November 2018 saw an additional 29,225 words, and by January 2019 we were at 6 files and over 65,000 words.

There wasn’t much writing time beyond that, as I went from part-time back to full time work. Still, November 2019 added another 33,373 words meaning we’re almost at 100k – and we’re almost at what I’d envisioned as the halfway point. So it seems we’re looking at a run of at least 4 “Books” again (as I did with the Time & Tied), assuming it all goes as planned.

A reminder that I can’t release the first part until the second is done, as the time travel aspect means some earlier scenes might need redoing. But that’s fine, as certain secondary characters are finally showing more of themselves, meaning I can give them more personality in those early scenes too.

To be clear, this is my priority as far as fiction writing goes (I’m not including non-fiction efforts for the Time Travel Nexus), which emphasizes how much little time I’ve had in the past year for writing at all. And reading, for that matter. I’m behind on other blogs, and I haven’t done much with Comic Tea Party in over half a year. Thank you for your patience.

As far as coins go for 2019 – read “Time & Tied” if you don’t understand why this is interesting – I got 3 toonies, 1 loonie, 9 quarters, and 4 dimes. That’s a total of 17. (I had 16 until Christmas, when I got an additional quarter driving home.) No nickels, which made me wonder if they minted any, but I got one as change just yesterday, so they’re out there. There were also special D-Day commemorative toonies, but I only got one as change in early January, so it’s not pictured.

I’ll probably keep an eye out for 2020 coins. Inflation is still a thing, meaning they’re still printing more money.

STATISTICS

Finally, as I said above, I maintained a post every two weeks through 2019. That meant 27 new posts (including the extra “Behind the Scenes 5”), for a total of 315 postings to the blog overall. So, how do the statistics look overall?

My pageviews for 2018 totalled 2,429… and we’ve backslid to 1,492 for 2019. Granted, I have barely had time for any promotions. I auto-tweet out the current parts, and post them to my Facebook writing page whenever I remember. I did add “Balancing Act” to the Web Fiction Guide listing, and it came up in mid-May on their front page, but that’s about it.

Granted, that listing did help break up a rather impressive stretch of decimal views, which had been going on for over a month.

Decimal views means less than 10 views (in this case, under 5 views) per day, for 30 days. Because WordPress turns the scale into decimals. It actually happened twice in 2019, once for March through to May, and then again for October through to mid-December. Is that impressive? I mean, it’s likely something others cannot claim to have experienced in the fifth year of their blog being around.

My most popular day for 2019, as far as I can tell, was May 28th. That day saw about 52 page views. Most days had less than 15. Strangely, there’s been 9,249 spam messages blocked for the duration of the blog; I’m not sure why they’re so interested.

How many people have read through all of Virga’s story? Act 2A (from April) has only 16 views, while Act 5A (from November) has only 9. But that 9 is fairly consistent with the page views of posts afterwards. (Granted, last week’s posting has 3 views so far.) As to comments, I had 3 for the whole of 2019 (6 if you count my replies). Thanks to mathhombre (March/Sept) and chaosbeast (Nov).

The posts with the most hits (aside from the indexes) were Virga’s Act 1A (77 views), TT1 “Timely Discovery” (72 views), and Epsilon 3.1 “Data Integrity” (38 views). Those were followed by other Virga entries beyond 1A. Kind of nice that some of my older posts are getting looked at, even if people aren’t continuing to read. Top countries (over 100 views) were the US, Canada, and for some reason, Sweden. Thanks for coming out!

I believe that concludes everything I’d wanted to say. If you’re running your own website, hopefully it’s doing better. At any rate, I’m pleased about my consistency, and given the opportunity I wouldn’t have changed my priorities.

Final questions, would you like to see another “Epsilon”? Are you still interested in hearing about progress on “Time Untied”? And will you miss Melissa’s story at all? Feel free to drop a comment to let me know. Either way, hope you stick around, and thanks for reading.

Virga: Act 6B

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6b: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

I considered Melissa’s request. “We might be able to get Trixie to run some calculations on when technology would best be shut down,” I suggested. “That avoids your parents completely.”

Melissa shook her head. “I have no doubt she could do it, but I don’t want to distract Trixie at this point. She’s got less than two weeks to finalize her work on the neural net. Besides, I need to know the spell’s exact time, down to the second. It won’t be easy for her to get that precise.”

I thought again. “Your parents might have it written down somewhere. If we were to visit them again, I could distract them, while you look.”

“They’d see through that,” Melissa sighed. “And I’d probably end up arguing with them even more, which I’d rather not do.”

“Since you might storm out in a huff?”

She attempted to elbow me in the ribs. “One time, ONE time I act immature in front of them, and you’re there, so you’ll never let me forget about it, huh? No, it’s that my Mom is pretty stubborn, so even presenting a proper case to her now will be pointless. Stooping to the level of subterfuge, that would not fly at all.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “So maybe you can try your case on someone else? Trixie’s parents? Other witches?”

Melissa clasped her hands behind her back as she spoke. “Except then I might have to get into the whole Chosen One situation. I don’t think it’s wise to mention the spell to anyone who doesn’t already know about it. In part because other witches might not like that I… I’m starting to have second thoughts about my unilateral decision to restore supernatural balance.”

I stopped walking. “Really?”

She also stopped and looked at me. “Really. Is that so strange?”

“Sort of,” I admitted. “I mean, you cut right to the heart of the matter in the beginning, and you don’t usually second guess yourself.”

“It’s not second guessing so much as realizing I might not have had all the data I needed to form my conclusion in the first place. In particular, Merlin’s take on everything. Hence, wanting the spell information.”

“Huh.”

I resumed walking, and she again fell into step beside me. “I guess this doesn’t make much sense to you,” she said after a moment.

“No, it kinda does,” I reassured her. “I was just thinking of more alternatives. And while there’s only four witches aside from your mother involved in the re-energizing spell, there must be TONS dealing with the tech problem. Can’t we track down one of them specifically? See what their calendar looks like in the couple days before Decision Day?”

“Kind of? There are a few names I’m aware of. Thing is, I don’t personally know any of them. Aside from the one in France, whom I vaguely recall from a fancy dinner when I was young. And with him, I wouldn’t know how to get in touch without my parents finding out. While for anyone else, being contacted out of the blue would simply be suspicious.”

“Someone geographically closer would be best,” I granted. “We could maybe sneak into their place when they weren’t around.”

“Again with the subterfuge, I hate to resort to that. Of course, two weeks doesn’t even give me the time to figure out where they all are, and then do further research to narrow down which ones might be sympathetic to me if we’re caught.”

I rubbed the back of my neck. This was definitely as big of a problem as she’d thought. “Can we play the odds? I mean, the majority of witches casting this anti-tech spell, they’d be older, yeah? Against new inventions? Maybe we can use that to narrow things down.”

Melissa frowned. “James, that’s ageist. Who’s to say they’re not younger? In fact, the older witches and wizards might not properly recognize some of today’s tech.”

“Oh. I figured the spell would be doing the recognition.”

Melissa rubbed her nose. “Another good point, I don’t know the exact spell involved here. Agh, if only my parents would simply TELL me!”

“Okay, calm down,” I soothed. “Consider, we can at least eliminate the techno-witches as casters. I mean, can you honestly see someone like Trixie willingly participating in a spell to cut technology out of her life, even for a second? Imagine if something went wrong, and they couldn’t get it back! Chaos!”

The brunette witch smirked. “Possible point. But that really doesn’t narrow things down. There’s a lot of witch groups.”

“Okay, let’s turn it around then. How many of the other groups might be friends with techno-witches, and inclined to give them vague warnings. Like ‘Bad idea to use your technological devices at a particular time on this day’ sort of thing.”

Melissa stopped to lean back against the nearest building. “That’s a good line of reasoning. Slightly modified, since a witch would be more inclined to warn a family member, versus another member of another group.”

“Okay, great. So now we’ve got something.”

Melissa grimaced. “All we’ve done is trade the problem of tracking the spell casters for the problem of tracking their families. It’s no easier.”

“No, see, we don’t try to track the families down,” I countered. “We go the other way. We check for witches and other people we know in the area, possibly through our old case files, and then see which of them are most likely to be connected back up the line to the technological spell casters on your list.”

Melissa tilted her head. “Bit of a long shot.” She smiled. “But it’s a good line of reasoning, and one that I hadn’t considered. Thanks, James. Let’s try it.”

I waved my hand in the air and made a slight bowing motion. “Any time.”

We resumed our walk. Melissa seemed to be heading in a circle back towards our apartment, implying to me that she hadn’t really had a destination in mind, she’d only wanted to have the conversation. So I decided to bring up the other topic on my mind.

“So, uh, by the way, I looked more into the idea of a Chosen One getting married,” I admitted.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Melissa nearly stumbled in her walk. “Yes. Right, sorry, I hadn’t forgotten about that issue either.”

“It’s merely been lower priority?”

Melissa winced. “Don’t put it like that. There’s been a lot on my mind. I actually need to prepare my own communication spell to run at the same time as the tech shuts down.”

“Right, I get it,” I yielded. “Thing is, Zamboni and his priest friend were gambling on their service being at a particular time, using I suspect a particular set of phrases. There really isn’t anything to prevent you being married, if that was something you were still interested in doing.”

Melissa said nothing at first. Then, “Okay, so honestly? The more I thought about it, the more I figured what would come after a promise of an engagement is an actual ring. So if you’ve done the research into it being okay, I mean, you already know I love you and all, so, ah… I guess the next move is yours? Unless I’ve missed a social cue.”

I’m sure I flinched. “That’s… a really good point. I’m sorry. I guess I just… I’m sorry.”

Melissa looked at me again. “You thought that now might not be the best time? Because engagements can last for years, you know. Unless you’d wanted to get married next week? Since that would be more of an issue.”

“No, no, I don’t mean to rush this,” I insisted. “It was more like, I guess I wondered if there were certain magick aspects that I had to make sure to follow through on, given our particular circumstances. Uh, seems not?”

Melissa looked away. “In the end, I really am still just a regular girl.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. I’m sorry.”

Melissa shook her head. “Stop apologizing. I mean, sure, there are little things to know. Like, I’m keeping my last name. That’s a simple witch truth, we do it even if legal documents pretend to say otherwise. But there’s nothing to stop… that is, don’t let my situation keep you from acting like you normally would. Okay?”

“Right.”

I felt like I’d really messed things up this time. Not sure what else to say, we finished the walk back to the apartment in silence. I resolved to find Melissa a ring.

***

That night, Melissa came up with a short list of possible casters for the tech spell, which we could cross-reference with our files and local supernatural individuals. The name Lindy Sermo struck a chord almost right away. It took another day before I was able to find the link.

It was an old case, very old. The second one I’d been involved with, in fact. And I hadn’t been there when the lineage spell in question had been performed, I’d only seen the paper after the fact. But the page was still there, in our files.

I showed it to Melissa the next morning, when we went for another walk.

“Lineage spell,” was her first remark, glancing at the page. “Given names, the proper ingredients, and the permission of the person involved, you can track the origin of certain genetic qualities. Such as witchcraft. How does this old sheet help us?”

I pointed at the name at the top, one Annie Potts. “We know her.” And then my finger traced two generations back, to Lindy Sermo.

Melissa stared. “I’ll be darned,” she realized. “You’re right. I would never have made that connection. Annie’s mother never wanted to practice, didn’t even keep her last name. So the magick information was never passed on to Annie, and she also took her father’s name. Good work, James.”

“Thank my memory,” I remarked. “Also, in a sense, Annie’s ex-boyfriend, who had created that online file, which acted as a beacon for the spirits to go after Annie herself, bringing her to us.”

“Let’s NOT thank him,” Melissa corrected. “Even if he was Odi et Amo.”

For your reference, Annie had been a victim of stalking by an Internet entity, who had sensed her spell casting potential. Annie – who must have sensed her own capabilities too, based on her cat and choice of reading material – had ultimately helped in casting the spell to vanquish the entity.

“The only question is whether Annie and her grandmother are close,” I concluded.

Melissa chewed on her lower lip. “They can’t have been that close back then,” she deduced. “Since Lindy never spoke to Annie about magick prior to her association with us. But perhaps, if Annie decided to continue doing witchcraft on the side afterwards…?”

“I figured there was no harm in looking her up and asking.”

Melissa nodded. “Agreed. As I recall, she was a year ahead of me… except she wasn’t keen on technology either, thus probably won’t be easy to track on the web. One might hope she’s still in this city, of course.”

I nodded. “I didn’t turn up anything on an initial search. I thought I’d talk to you before checking in with Trixie’s bag of, er, tricks.”

“Mmm. Unless finding the spell itself, this should be a simple enough job for Trixie, if she’s not at a critical point in her studies. Rather than disturb her unexpectedly, do you know if she still surfaces to eat?”

I considered the last few days. “Eat, yes. Though I’m less sure about her showering, and I think she even had some of your shrimp and asparagus soufflé the other night without complaint.”

“She must be getting close, it’s making her more manic,” Melissa mused. “I’ll see if I can turn up anything first.”

Melissa got a list of a few ‘A Potts’ from the online phone book, which she planned to call the next morning. I happened to see Trixie later that day, wearing the same cropped top, skirt and stockings that she’d been wearing for two days. I mentioned the situation, in passing.

Trixie apparently was pleased to have an easy diversion for a few hours, as the next day, one of the names was circled in red with a smiley face next to the phone number.

We were in luck. Annie didn’t mind the call “to check in”, even if it was years later.

Okay, so she was briefly concerned about there being some new entity in the area that might menace her, and I slipped up in terms of saying it was Melissa’s Agency, but once we got past all that, Annie was more than happy to invite us to drop by to talk.

And by that I mean she said she wanted Melissa to take a look at something. So we headed right over that afternoon.

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