Virga

Virga: Act 6A

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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 VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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.”

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Virga: Act 5E

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 5e: OF ZOMBIES AND ZEALOTS

Melissa tensed, watching the possessed witch as her hand extended closer. She felt her throat go dry, knowing the timing would be critical. It was as Melody’s hand came within a centimetre of younger witch’s wrist that Melissa uncurled the fingers of her opposing hand, and snapped her fingers.

The tracking spell, which had been laying dormant in the orb room behind them, was sparked into action one last time. It immediately ballooned out, the little glowing sphere’s radius increasing exponentially fast as it passed right through the walls, through the floor, ever expanding until it made contact with Melissa herself. Then, having located it’s mistress, it enveloped her and collapsed back down, taking her along with it.

Fortunately, only physical forms could be pulled right through the wall, not the Zombi spirit presence. The distance was also only good for a radius of about ten metres, which was why Melissa hadn’t tried that from the start.

Melissa could practically hear Mortum’s roar of rage through the stone. But she wasn’t done yet.

Reaching again into her bag, she pressed another scroll against where the door seemed to be on this side, the twin of the one she had put up earlier. Ensuring that the mechanism would not function either way. Which would give her, she judged, between three and five minutes.

She then extended her hand, palm up, and made a small spark arc between her pinkie and thumb, looking towards the other occupant of the room. “Do you need a zapping?”

“No,” Melody said slowly, rubbing her palm against her temples. “No, I think I’m finally clear of it. How did you know that ripping me away with that spell as the zombi spirit tried to jump, would clear it from both of us?”

“I didn’t,” Melissa said frankly. “I wasn’t even sure you’d be caught in the field. But I was on a tight timeline and had made the tracker spell generic to witchcraft, as opposed to my unique witch scent, so there was a chance. Figured I might as well try. Seeing as even you didn’t deserve that fate.”

“Lovely. Was it also a guess that you’d be able to talk and perhaps subdue me once you got out of that room?”

Melissa shook her head. “That, no. I knew your area spells were confined to the throne room. I tested it early on by clearing my throat just the other side of the entranceway.”

“Aha. Clever.”

“I know.” Melissa lowered her hand. “Though I’m glad I don’t have to zap you. Invoking that emergency measure has severely depleted my casting ability. I’m not ashamed to admit that you nearly had me… I don’t remember the last time I felt that vulnerable.” She moved to start poking around the chests in the room to find the orb.

Melody pursed her lips. “For spells, I can back you up temporarily.”

“I’d hoped. Going to escape with me too?”

Melody sighed. “No. Thing is, I’m here voluntarily.”

Melissa blanched, turning back. “Are you INSANE?”

“Possibly,” Melody said with a half smile. “But oddly enough, I did this because of you.”

***

At first, the explosion only expanded out as far as the scrolls on the gazebo posts, scorching the interior. But then, with nowhere else to go, the force was directed upwards, to the roof. Where I had placed no scrolls. So kind of a big mistake.

“No, no, nooooooo,” Trixie/Melissa said. And while there was a tinge of panic to her voice, I interpreted the cry as more of a command than a scared shriek. She seemed to be spinning one hand in the air.

Moments after the top of the gazebo popped up, before any flames could burst out, it spun back down. Once again containing the burning fireball. The fire continued to blaze brightly for two or three more seconds, before fizzling out, I presume due to a lack of oxygen.

Trixie/Melissa lowered her hands. The pieces of paper ceased their glowing. The roof of the structure completely collapsed, leaving everything as a smoking ruin.

There was a moment of silence.

“I DID it,” Trixie/Melissa said, fist pumping into the air. “Variable sided containment. First try. Take THAT, Missy! Ha ha ha!” She began to dance around on one foot.

“Missy?” Zamboni questioned, looking towards the witch.

Trixie/Melissa froze, then looked at me, I shrugged, and she made a few canceling gestures to restore her actual appearance. Zamboni was caught off guard, and fell silent. Or possibly it was the look of Trixie’s original clothing as she jutted out her hip that silenced him, I don’t know.

“Fac ut gaudeam?” I asked of the redhead. It hadn’t been the phrase I’d used to cue her.

“Yeah, we can tag whatever we like onto that particular spell,” Trixie explained. “And roof aside, I’ll admit, that was a good plan. Lucky that I’d sometimes listen when Missy droned on about you, and so I realized what you were talking about, hm?”

“No,” the priest said, having fallen to his knees. “No, this is not possible. I checked all the variables. For whatever reason, the Chosen One was at her most vulnerable right now! I knew we could take her power through marriage, we had merely to…” He jabbed his finger out at Trixie. “How are you not Melissa?! I verified her presence, I went so far as to determine her unique magick scent, and I sense it here with us, even now!”

Trixie looked towards the priest. “You do, huh? Well, you know how anyone who gets real close to a witch, and doesn’t have a magick odor of their own, ends up giving off a stronger version of that same scent?”

“Yes, but it takes years for someone to…” His voice trailed off. And he looked at me.

Trixie also turned. “Actually, priest here raises a good point, James. If you’ve been having sex with Missy to the point where you can apparently fool the church with her odour, maybe you SHOULD propose already.”

I became flustered. I didn’t feel like raising my sex life was very fair in front of an audience.

“H-Hey!” I objected. “It’s spell proximity that does it, not sex. At least, Melissa said it can be transmitted without sex, and I can’t even pick up on this scent thing, and Melissa merely gets all enigmatic about it when I ask. Can we not do this here? I mean, this guy isn’t even a real priest.”

“Ahem, I really am,” the priest said in annoyance. “The marriage needed to be valid.”

“Yeah, he’s a wizard priest who guaranteed me either a magick wedding or a spectacular suicide that would put me in the history books,” Zamboni put in, finally finding his voice. He began undoing his bow tie. “You said there was no way they’d identify the bomb, dude. What happened to your mystic cloaking whatever?”

“Obviously it’s working, the factions were baffled,” the priest shot back.

“Oh, I never sensed anything mystically,” I felt compelled to add. “You told me where the explosives were yourself, Zamboni. When you gestured at your priest friend earlier, telling me to reveal my game? You almost made him drop the book. Once it registered with me why he’d looked so panicked, the rest fell into place.”

“Son of a–”

“Zam,” the priest cut in warningly. “Not now.”

“Fine, fine.” Zamboni put his hands on his hips, then leaned in towards Trixie. “Hey, nice work with the gazebo. You’re sexy too, would you be game for a marriage? We’ve got the priest right here. You could really put one over on ‘Missy’ that way.”

“Gah,” Trixie said, leaning back and crossing her palms over her chest. I realized then that her learning in towards him had not been intentional. “NO. I am not as desperate as you, and may I never reach that level. Just marry the priest yourself if you want into the covens so bad.”

Zamboni sputtered at that, but it seemed he didn’t have anything coherent to say.

“So,” I said to the priest. “Before we go, want to reveal how many others here were in on the scheme?”

He shot me a look. “Pardon?”

“The factions here,” I elaborated. “Some must have the same information as you. About the turning point. So they let you two try in order to see whether worship, arguments or crazy vendettas had the stronger case for getting her.” I gestured, only to notice that our audience had thinned considerably in the time since the gazebo had more or less imploded. “The answer being none of them.”

He grimaced. “As if I would tell you if I had anyone working on the inside.”

“We don’t need you to tell us anyway,” Trixie scoffed, before bellowing, “HEY!” That immediately got the attention of everyone still around. The redhead looked out at the scattered groups of people in the park, before pointing at me.

“Check it out,” she continued. “He’s not even Melissa and he took these marriage guys down. Look at him! No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else, now he doesn’t have anything to lose. So, if you’ve got any silly little plans about going after Melissa again… do the smart thing.” She put her hands on her hips. “Let somebody else try first.”

She began to march out of the park. I decided that was a good enough exit, and hurried to catch up. “Nice little speech,” I muttered to her as we headed out. “Didn’t recognize the material, Douglas Adams or something?”

She whipped her head in my direction so fast a twintail nearly hit her in the face. “You didn’t recognize Doctor–” Off my expression, she smacked her palm hard against her face. “Oh GOD, it’s like I’m living with a couple of luddites.”

I didn’t follow up. Frankly, I was more worried about whether Melissa had truly reached some sort of vulnerable turning point, not here, but in Mortum’s castle.

***

“Hear me out,” Melody added, as Melissa’s jaw clenched. Obviously she did not like the implication that she had somehow driven another witch to become a zombi.

“Listening,” Melissa said, though she turned her attention back to finding the orb.

“Almost fifty years of witchcraft,” Melody said. “Fifty years. And you were the first to ever make me pull out my last resort ‘Ultima’ spell. The first witch to force my hand to the extent I felt I should vanish, giving up everything I’d made for myself to that point, and you were barely twenty years old.”

“I’m crying for you,” Melissa deadpanned back.

“That made me angry, but more than that, it made me curious. So I looked into you, Melissa Virga. Turns out you’re on the path to be one of the Chosen Ones.”

Melissa

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“Been there, doing that,” Melissa said, spotting an orb. She reached for it, only to discover it was a decorative snow globe. Albeit one you could trap people inside. She tossed it aside, allowing it to smash on the ground. “Or have a plan for the decision, at least.”

“We’re within the window?” Melody said in surprise. “I suppose more time has passed than I realized. But no matter. Discovering that fact helped me to come to terms with the knowledge that, while my habit of bleeding essence away from the recently departed did not violate the letter of supernatural balance, it did violate the spirit, as it were. You, a Chosen One, had judged me, and found me wanting.”

Melissa paused in her searching. “Please don’t talk about me like I’m some sort of God. I never went around intentionally judging anyone.”

Melody shrugged. “Religious upbringing, it’s how I speak.”

“Get to the point,” Melissa suggested.

“Very well. I decided I should atone, and become more of a force for good. Meaning I tracked down the person on the planet who was the worst form of necromancer, namely Mortum, and signed up to be one of his underlings.”

Melissa rested back on her haunches, staring at the blonde witch. “Which brings us back to the INSANITY. How are you a force for good by willingly allowing an undead spirit to possess your body?”

Melody smiled again, this time darkly. “With my background, Mortum accepted me. And since it was a willing zombi partnership, the spirit would occasionally extend itself away, secure that it could return. Allowing me breathing room, with the chance to study it, to understand it. Not act, I grant. Not then. But I knew that the time had to come when someone would free me, giving me the chance to turn the tables. To do something about this, something that would put to practice all I had learned about the way an individual’s will is suppressed by a zombi spell.”

A shiver ran up Melissa’s spine. “Then you know how to free them,” she deduced. “You know how to free them all.”

Melody’s smile became a bit unhinged. “Mmm hmmm. I have a NEW Ultima spell.”

Melissa’s eyes again flickered around the room, the witch suddenly not sure whether to congratulate Melody, or run screaming from the room. “Do I want to know?”

“Let’s just say that if you were forced to do something for a long time – a very long, long time – you’d want a break. And if you didn’t get it, you might very well lash out at the one who’s been forcing your situation upon you. Assuming you have your will restored.”

“O-kay,” Melissa said slowly.

Melissa turned back to the latest chest, and after another moment of inspection, pressed a jewel in the front. A secret compartment opened, and Alicia’s orb popped out. The brunette witch grabbed it, and placed it into her bag, even as a thought struck her. “Alicia’s person on the inside… that’s you, isn’t it.”

Melody nodded. “As I say, I had occasional breathing room. I was never sure when or where it would happen, but sometimes, the spirit would extend itself away, and I could get out a brief message to the rightful owner of that orb.”

Melissa licked her lips, trying to figure out what she should say here. Being casually dismissive felt wrong. So she considered what I might say, in her place.

“Look, Melody, you’ve obviously sacrificed a lot here. Maybe more than you realize, more than you should have. Promise me you’ll get checked out by a doctor or something, after depleting yourself with your last resort spell?”

“Of course,” Melody said, her light tone not exactly a guarantee.

“Melody, look at me.” The older witch managed to focus back on Melissa. “Doctor.”

“Of course,” she repeated, though this time seeming surer of herself. “And thank you for shaking me out of my complacency years ago.”

Melissa frowned. “For the record, I was more in the wrong than you were, that day,” she admitted. “I let things get too personal, and allowed my emotions to run away with me. I am sorry. Especially if things came to this, because of that.”

Melody shook her head. “I was too clinical back then, too detached. We witches, we cannot allow ourselves to operate in either mode for too long. Can we?”

Melissa again thought of me. “Yeah. Learning that.”

“You will make the right decision, in the end. For all of us.”

Melissa almost answered ‘I hope so’, only to have it hit her why her parents’ plans would ultimately fail. It was a turning point. She knew then that she would need to know more about her destined role, and she was running out of time to do some proper research.

And at this point, you’ve probably divined that it was Melissa who gave me this account after the fact, not someone else. But while she was about to escape, our problems were only going to get more difficult.

END ACT 5

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Virga: Act 5D

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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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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.

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 5C

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 5c: OF ZOMBIES AND ZEALOTS

Trixie looked startled, her twintails bouncing cutely in the process. “Oh, of course. So obvious, I should have realized. Except it’ll have to be me who transforms into Missy, yeah?”

I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of her being there, looking like my girlfriend. Particularly given her earlier thoughts about Zamboni, and possible jealousy issues towards Melissa having been picked. “I don’t know, Trixie.”

Trixie

TRIXIE
Commission from Sen Yomi

“James, I have to use a low level version of the illusion spell, or it’ll register a mile away,” she explained. “That means no vocals. So unless you’ve gained the ability to talk like Melissa in falsetto, you’re out. Plus, ever since throwing your name on this agency? Your identity’s been twisted up with Melissa’s. You coming along wouldn’t be seen as weird. Me there plus ‘Melissa’ too would put people on their guard.”

She made sense. “I suppose,” I said. “But you don’t really sound like Melissa either.”

“I’ll mumble and pretend I have a cold,” the redhead countered, already starting to pour a circle of flour around Melissa’s desk chair. “Honestly, me or you, what’s the difference?”

Even setting aside my concerns over ‘Trixie/Melissa’, I realized I was still worried about Trixie being in the thick of the action all of a sudden. “Just want to make sure… you really wouldn’t rather back me up from afar?”

She looked up at me then, and frowned. “I won’t freeze up.”

I raised my hands. “I didn’t say you would.”

“Don’t get all protective and caring of me either. You’ll make me hate you more, over how we can’t have a relationship.”

I rubbed my forehead. “I just want to make sure you’re doing this because you want to, not because the situation seems to require it. Okay?”

Trixie sighed, dropping the flour sack onto the floor. The circle was ready. “Fine, well, you got a plan C?” she asked.

“Not yet.”

“Then it’s fine.” She grabbed one of Melissa’s personal items from the desk and then jumped up into the chair, crossing her legs to prevent her short, plaid skirt from revealing too much. “I really am doing this to see what it’s like living in Missy’s shoes for once. We good?”

I wasn’t sure if that was a satisfactory answer, but even my plan B wasn’t solid in my head. “Okay, just make sure the spell makes you look like you’re wearing something Mel would wear.”

Trixie smiled impishly, and started to chant in Latin.

***

Melissa peered out from the alcove she’d selected as a hiding place. She saw nothing.

The coast should be clear now, she reasoned, all the way to the vicinity of the throne room. As to whether she’d be able to work her way back out… well, one thing at a time. She attuned herself again to her tracking spell, which had continued to move on ahead, at the edge of her awareness, and used it as a reference.

She then set out, moving quickly but quietly. Maybe ten minutes later, she was only a corridor away from her destination.

Two steps past the suit of armour, she registered her mistake. Melissa quickly jumped forwards and rolled on the ground, narrowly missing the axe that had been swung down at her.

“That was stupid,” she muttered to herself. Of course armour could contain a body. Still, it was armour. Obvious weakness. She came up on one knee, and readied the electrical spell at her fingertips.

Then paused. Once burned, twice shy.

Could a type III zombi animate a suit of armour? If THAT was the case, she couldn’t touch it at all, lest the spirit jump to her. But maybe this was a simple enchantment, and not even a zombi?

It was readying another swing of the axe. She couldn’t risk the touch.

She switched her focus from her fingertips to her palm, holding it out as it to say stop, while at the same time intoning, “Caecus!” A bright flash of light lit the corridor in front of her, and the swing of the axe went wide.

The armour could apparently be blinded, therefore had eyes of a sort. Hence not a simple enchantment. Melissa didn’t waste time with a follow-up, hopping back up onto her feet and racing down the corridor in her initial direction.

She should be able to get into the collector room around the back of the throne room, and then seal herself inside temporarily. Buying time to work out an escape. But that plan went awry too, when a person with vacant eyes stepped out of a side passage, seemingly investigating the noise.

Seeing Melissa, it blocked her way.

Melissa reached back into her bag, fingers connecting with the end of the rope inside. She yanked it out, calling out, “Ligatio!” as she threw it at the zombi that stood before her.

It had started to extend its arms, only for the rope to magically wind around it, pinning its arms to its sides. That allowed Melissa to edge to the side of it. Then, reasoning that they’d expect her to continue on her current path, she ducked back down the side passage from where her opponent had emerged.

With her presence known, stealth was becoming less and less of a concern. Given her location, she decided to go for broke.

Three more right turns would let her hit the throne room dead on. Unlikely that Mortum was hanging out there this late at night, and from there, she could still get into the room with the orb and barricade the entrances.

Heading for her third right turn, an obvious type II appeared from the left. Obvious, as no living being could have a chest wound that large. As such, she decided to risk a tactile spell.

By stopping short in her run, it couldn’t correct as fast, and almost plowed into her; Melissa extended her index finger. “Dormis!”

The zombi with the chest wound fell to the side; she didn’t waste any thought on whether the undead could dream or not. Fifteen steps became ten, then five – yet at the main doors, there were two more, now registering her arrival and holding up spears.

Two was the number she’d hoped for.

“Everro!” Melissa called, making a hand motion from left to right. The one zombi got yanked sideways into the other, both of them falling to the ground in a cluster of arms and legs. She pressed her advantage.

“Fit via vi!” was the spell, with both palms now out, her fingers interlaced. The hinges on the double door buckled from the force blast, and when Melissa slammed into the wood with her shoulder, the opening yielded to her weight. Even so, Melissa wagered she’d need an ice pack when this was all over.

As soon as she burst into the central room, with its stereotypical columns, raised dais and additional stairwell curving up one side, she was looking for a way to access the hidden area that she knew existed behind the thrones.

As such, she missed the woman with the long blonde hair standing in the corner until it was too late.

Or rather, Melissa noticed her within two seconds of entering, but was then frozen for the critical extra seconds that she’d have needed to cast a spell. She knew this woman.

“Melody,” Melissa breathed out.

“Qui tacet consentire videtur,” Melody intoned, raising her finger and pointing.

The elder blonde witch, the one who had once consulted with an old classmate of Melissa’s, who had once suspended me upside-down in a position of peril, and who had once caused Melissa herself to suffer a breakdown after summoning a recently departed spirit, stood in Mortum’s throne room.

She was now a type III zombi. Who had just taken away Melissa’s voice. A fact that my girlfriend became acutely aware of, when she found she was unable to cast a protective shield.

***

As we started down the stairs of the apartment building, I looked at Trixie again. The illusion made her appear exactly like Melissa, right down to the pair of tight jeans.

“So, how we gonna play this then?” the witch chirped, thrusting her smaller chest out at me. Reinforcing the fact that she didn’t have Melissa’s voice or mannerisms.

I looked away. “We determine how this lunatic is going to blow up the park, and defuse his explosives or the situation before he can marry you,” I stated.

“Duh. Can you be a bit more specific?”

“I’m still working out the details,” I admitted. “Thing is, the faction side of this worries me. Why would they let Zamboni get this far?”

“What, you think they’re working together?” Trixie/Melissa asked.

“Alicia did say the groups wouldn’t be working at cross purposes for much longer.”

“Yuh huh. I bet Alicia said a lot of stuff to rope Missy into going on her mission.”

I sighed. “Maybe. Just… follow my lead, okay? And please don’t say things like ‘yuh huh’ or ‘duh’ when you look like that. It’s all kinds of wrong.”

Trixie/Melissa smirked. “What if I call you an idiot instead? Hey, curious, would it be a turn on for someone who looks like Missy to call you that?”

“Trixie…”

“Call me Mel,” she giggled. She briefly grabbed for my arm, but my reaction must have told her that she’d crossed a line, and she quickly disengaged. “Sorry. Look, I won’t say that stuff because I’ll have made it look like Missy’s lost her ability to speak or something. That said, since your thinking’s stalled, I reserve the right to improvise.”

I nodded. “I guess that’s fair, but don’t take any undue risks.”

We headed to the park, after making sure our protective charm necklaces were still in place under our shirts. We weren’t about to get stabbed in the back without warning. It was just starting to grow dark, making for a bit of a gloomy atmosphere; the sunset seemed to be mostly red.

The park, I discovered, also had a lot more people in it than we might have expected… some I recognized as previous attempted guests at the apartment. Had they simply not been in this park when I walked this way? Or had they somehow used illusion to seem different?

Of course, given Zamboni’s ultimatum, maybe a lot of them were here now to catch a glimpse of Melissa, which would be more difficult at most other times. I hoped no one would try to take a shot at Trixie/Melissa, or all hell might break loose. That is, assuming they weren’t all working together somehow.

Crazy marriage guy turned out to be hard to miss. He was standing with a priest close to the park’s centre, next to the gazebo.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t one of those guys who looked that crazy. Sandy blonde hair, hazel eyes, reasonably good looking, dressed in what seemed like a rented tuxedo, complete with white bow tie. He simply drew the attention of everyone around him.

The priest nodded at Zamboni, for reasons that would make more sense later.

“Aha! Aha!” Zamboni shouted at us, as we stopped short a couple paces away. He shook his finger in the air. “See, I knew the true Chosen One would not let her brethren come to harm. See how well I know you? We are destined to be together.”

“Right, well, we’re here now, so why don’t you put away whatever detonating device you have as a show of goodwill,” I said. It looked like the guy had even put some flowers around the gazebo, which I supposed was a nice touch.

His gaze fully turned from Trixie/Melissa to me, becoming a glare. “Who are you?”

“James Conway. I run a supernatural agency, and I speak for Melissa in this case. Who are you?”

“I am the Great Zamboni. Surely you’ve heard of me?”

“Right, yes. Ice to meet you.” (That just slipped out.) “So, let’s defuse the situation, okay? Give me the explosives.” I stepped closer and extended my hand.

Zamboni shook his head. “I will not give up my insurance until me and Melissa are joined in wedlock.”

Trixie/Melissa must have rolled her eyes or something, because he then moved to try and step around me.

“Melissa,” he continued, “the time is near. You must pick someone. Surely you don’t want to face your decision alone?”

“Look,” I continued, keeping myself between Zamboni and Trixie/Melissa. “Even assuming that’s true, we don’t need a shotgun marriage yet. Let’s reschedule.”

The priest let out a grunt. Zamboni laughed.

“Fool,” Zamboni said. “This is the time that was foretold to me by the spirits from the other realm. It is the turning point, the moment when Melissa’s fate is realized. Of course we shall do this now!”

I exchanged a quick glance with Trixie/Melissa, wondering if I’d missed part of a conversation, before turning back. “Zamboni, check your calendar, you’re about three weeks early.”

The blonde man glared at me again, then waggled his finger. “You mock. But I don’t mean this is the decision of the Chosen One itself. I mean this is the turning point. And the presence that is here, within me, will help Melissa sift through the data to make the proper decision when it is time. I know it.”

He lifted his hand to his heart. Were his feelings the presence he meant? I belatedly wondered if this was a case of possession, kicking myself for not thinking of the possibility sooner.

“I don’t need a guy like you in my data,” Trixie/Melissa piped up in a rasp.

“A marriage here is out of the question anyway,” I broke in quickly. “Melissa’s parents aren’t even here. They would want to attend such an event.”

Zamboni’s eyes narrowed as his gaze was again brought back to me before he could address Trixie/Melissa. He peered. “You know of her parents? Ah, yes, yes, I can see that now. It took me a moment, but you see yourself as my rival, James. Yes? You wish to be the one sifting through Melissa’s data?”

Trixie/Melissa snorted. I had to agree, somehow that sounded dirty, but I’m not sure if it was from his tone or my mind.

“I am merely her business associate,” I stated.

Trixie/Melissa started coughing violently.

Zamboni now looked ticked off. “I am not a fool. You care for her. I know now. Curious though.” He stepped back and made a wide gesture with his hand, almost hitting his priest in the process. “Perhaps you could reveal your game to everyone here? After all, could it be that YOU have proposed to her already, as I have? Is this why you claim to speak for Melissa, hmm?”

He caught me off guard with that one.

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 5B

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 5b: OF ZOMBIES AND ZEALOTS

“Come on up,” I said to Danielle.

Trixie gaped at me. “Really? We want someone like that to realize Missy’s away?”

“We can pretend Mel’s sleeping, or will be back soon,” I answered. “Danielle Timins, she was involved in my first case here. The one I documented online. I’m curious about what she wants now.”

Trixie frowned. “First case… the invisible friend thing? Where you nearly blew up a building on campus?”

Apparently this was another of the cases that Melissa had mentioned to her cousin during my three-week absence in May. “That’s the one.”

“Okay. And you’re sure that this is the same person, not some sort of illusion? And that she hasn’t joined a faction in the last four years, like maybe the stabby-stabby one?”

“I… euh…”

TRIXIE
Commission from Sen Yomi

“Once an idiot, always an idiot,” Trixie sighed, rolling her eyes. She glanced at her palm, as if debating smacking me upside the head, like old times. Instead, all she said was, “I’ll hang around long enough to keep you out of trouble.”

I opened the door for Danielle.

Trixie immediately fired off with, “What faction are you representing?”

Danielle shrank back. “Oh, um, I do have scriptures explaining why the human race isn’t ready for supernatural incursions,” the blonde said timidly. “Based on what I remember of my own experi—”

“Rationals.” Trixie slammed the door in Danielle’s face and turned to me. “Told you.”

“B-But that’s not why I’m here!” Danielle called out from the other side.

I sighed. “Trixie, let her back in?”

She shot me a look. “As if we don’t have enough on our plate already?”

I crossed my arms. “And here I thought you were eager to help the Agency out with more than just the engrams.”

“This IS helping,” Trixie said. “Isn’t it?” She searched my expression, then frowned and reopened the door. “Fine. Make your case for sticking around in ten seconds or less, Danielle.”

Danielle reached to push her glasses up higher on her nose. “There’s a guy in the park down the street who says that if Melissa doesn’t show up in the next hour to marry him, he’ll blow everything up.”

I did a double-take. “He’ll what now?”

“Huh. Blow the PARK up or blow MISSY up?” Trixie questioned. I turned to see if she was making fun of the situation, only to realize she was doing up the half of her blouse buttons that had been undone. She was taking this seriously.

“Blow the park up,” Danielle clarified. “The one where a lot of us faction people have been hanging out. Trying to figure out how we can get the upper hand on the other groups.”

“Wait, all the factions are there?” I asked, looking back at her.

“Sure,” Danielle answered.

“I figured you all had to have a home base,” Trixie mused. “Okay, sorry for slamming the door on you. Question though, how is him blowing up your base a smart move?”

“He’s not part of any faction,” Danielle insisted. “Or if he is, he’s some hybrid. He showed up about five minutes ago with that crazy ultimatum. And a priest, for the marriage. And our rudimentary magick shows he does have explosives. So we’re at a bit of a loss as to what to do.”

“Did you sneak out to come get us?” Trixie asked.

Danielle shook her head. “I was nominated, as a Rational person who had once seen Melissa, and could thus maybe gain her sympathy. Even though I don’t remember much about my case, they thought you’d at least let me in.”

“In that, they were right,” I realized. I looked to Trixie. “You know, the fact that Melissa just left can’t be a coincidence,” I pointed out.

“A-duh,” Trixie retorted. “Way to not be an idiot for once, though minus points for saying that with Danielle still here.” She turned to the blonde. “It’s fine. Run along and we’ll fix things within the hour time frame this guy gave. Unless you have other useful information?” She made shoo-ing motions.

Danielle started wringing her hands. “Are you sure? When is Melissa due back? We don’t even know where this guy’s explosives are, and a lot of people in the park are hanging around to see what happens, rather than being smart and running away.”

“It’s fine,” I said, to back Trixie up. “Though, you might want to be one of the smart people who leaves the area. Okay?”

Danielle nodded, her glasses slipping down once more. “A-All right then. I’ll pass on the message. Oh, if it helps, the guy called himself the Great Zamboni. That’s all I’ve got.”

I closed the apartment door as she headed down the stairs.

“Okay,” Trixie said, tugging up on her dark stockings. “I figure that Mortum guy used Alicia’s orb, and sent this Zamboni to keep Missy busy here, so that she wouldn’t be messing around his castle. But the message was a bit late.”

“Though it could be coincidence,” I suggested. “Maybe this marriage guy was planning to blow up the park regardless, and he wants Melissa there for it, to get her in the blast. He doesn’t exactly sound balanced, he might be full of crazy instead of worship.”

Trixie nodded. “No kidding. Anyone considering marriage to Missy can’t be balanced.”

She smirked. It took me a second to parse why, and as I did a double take, she extended her tongue impishly back. At least the earlier conversation hadn’t made things awkward between us.

“Either way,” Trixie stated. “I’ll put my intimacy cravings on hold to help you with this.” A flash of uncertainty appeared. “Unless you don’t want my help. Since I guess this will be field work and a half.”

“No, I’ll need the help,” I assured her. “Since my back-up plan is going to require magick casting, and that’s your department.”

Trixie nodded. “Cool, you have a plan. This, I want to hear.”

“We have almost an hour, so it involves doing some research, while hoping Melissa’s able to complete her mission particularly expediently.”

“Uh.” Trixie didn’t look impressed. “And your back-up plan…?”

I exhaled. “Well, Plan B involves getting some flour from the kitchen.”

***

I’ll now relate to you some of what happened with Melissa. You’ll find out in the end whether I know this from her directly, or through other means.

When Melissa first arrived, she was forced to blink a few times to adjust to the lower light levels. In the end, she didn’t like what saw. There had been three possible points for her arrival, as Alicia had said her informant couldn’t guarantee placement.

One was down in the dungeons. Another was an arboretum-style room. The last was at the top of one of the towers, where she now seemed to be. Where there was only one point of entrance or egress, unless you counted flying. (The dungeons, funny enough, had two.) With no alternative, Melissa crouched and hurried down the stairs before her, hoping not to encounter anyone on the way. These being the same stairs she would need to take to get back out.

One of the main reasons Melissa had known this would be difficult, was because she had to avoid casting any particularly powerful spells in order to avoid detection. Ironically, casting invisibility would only serve to pinpoint her position. Another drawback was the fact that Melissa didn’t want to attack any zombies if she could avoid it; she’d already resigned herself to the fact that she would need to obtain Alicia’s orb before attempting to free them.

After all, she could only be sure all of them were released by blocking, or otherwise incapacitating, the magick of Mortum. Which implied removing any advantage he might have. Alas, since (according to Alicia) the orb itself was kept in a sealed off storage room behind the throne room, a face-off might become inevitable.

Fortunately, Melissa was in luck – there was no one in the vicinity of the stairs. As she reached the bottom, she opened her pack to remove a small jar, which held the tracking spell she had prepared earlier. It appeared as a tiny glowing ball of light, and once Melissa had unscrewed the lid, the spell fluttered out and down towards the ground.

It remained there for a moment, hovering, before shooting off down the hall. Melissa attuned herself to it, before setting off in quiet pursuit.

It was upon peering around the third corner that she caught sight of her first zombi.

It was a male, perhaps in his thirties, looking none the worse for wear (outside of his tattered clothing), thus likely a type I or type III. He’d been slowly walking through the hall, facing away from her.

Another misconception I should dispel here is that zombies always move slowly. They tend to do that when they’re on a routine patrol (who wouldn’t get bored and go on autopilot?), but they can speed up if they have to, just like a normal human.

Melissa now searched her memory, to recall what Alicia had mentioned about security patrols. The majority of the interior squad was type II (no need to feed those ones), while the majority of the exterior squad was type I (despite the remote location of this guy’s castle, there was always the possibility of them being seen by the public, or one of his collector guests).

So the fact that she’d passed the perimeter, and yet this wasn’t a II, meant it was one of the inner guard. Melissa was closer to the throne room than she’d realized. The specs hadn’t been entirely accurate.

Moreover, given the position of that zombi, and the other information she had, she reasoned that she’d have to work her way back out and around. Then wait a full half hour before a window of opportunity opened for getting through.

Melissa’s tracking spell was already out of sight, but it remained close enough for her to draw a bead on it. She wasn’t in any hurry. Or so she thought, not knowing what we were facing back home.

***

“Flour from the kitchen,” Trixie said, dropping the sack onto the desk and then looking at me expectantly.

“Right,” I sighed. We were down to twenty minutes left. “So you didn’t turn up anything useful on this Zamboni guy?”

I’d spent my time combing through Melissa’s files for any reference to him, or any similar cases in the past, and had come up empty. My eidetic memory had implied as much at the start, but there’d been a couple places where I’d wanted to be sure. I’d left the internet in Trixie’s hands.

Trixie leaned forwards against the desk. I saw she’d unbuttoned part of her blouse again, whether as a conscious decision or otherwise. “I didn’t find anything I saw as useful,” she said. “But here’s the rundown, on the off chance you spot something.” She smirked. “First, Zamboni’s not the manager of an ice rink, much to my surprise.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Yeah, I’m going to have to curb a desire to pun,” I admitted.

“Maybe don’t,” Trixie said. “What little there is on the guy shows that he can get riled up when he’s made fun of, which in turn leads to him making mistakes.”

I frowned. “Do we want a guy with explosives to get riled up?”

Trixie shrugged. “I said MAYBE don’t.”

“Noted. Anything else?”

She seemed to hesitate. “He’s a regular guy with bare minimum magick who’s aware of its existence, and as such is constantly looking to hook up with a witch. Which is why I did find cursory information. But his lovers don’t seem to satisfy him, or he accuses them of ulterior motives, and so he keeps bouncing around, from one witch love affair to another. Never finding a lasting relationship.”

“Ah.” I wondered if Zamboni had been exposed to magick the same way I had been. Trixie seemed to want to say something else though, so I kept staring at her.

Her mouth tightened. “So even an idiot like you can see there’s a bit of a parallel in my own life? Fine. Look, I won’t turn out like that. Whereas he’s sleeping around trying to find his place in the magick community, I’m just trying to find my place in the world. And whereas he’s thinking he’s finished because he’s found a Chosen One, I’m just going to keep going until I make, oh God, I’m not as pathetic as this guy, am I? Please say I’m not.”

I couldn’t tell if her attempt at a smile was her joking or being sincere.

“You’re not,” I assured her, honestly. “After all, you’d never blow people up to find yourself a boyfriend.”

Trixie almost facepalmed. “James. Seriously. The explosives aren’t for Missy, they’re because he’s decided that, after all this time, if she ISN’T his doorway in, nobody else WILL be. She’s no longer a girlfriend, she’s his Chosen One. His final solution. Much like how I’ve decided that anyone who wants me must have ulterior motives, making me wonder if I shouldn’t just build an AI boyfriend.”

“Uh. Wait, what? Are you making an AI along with everything else?” I said, not sure about the timing of this conversation.

“No, idiot, I’m too busy helping you and Missy first.” Trixie glanced down, apparently realizing her button popping had been distracting, and she started to do them back up. “Look, don’t worry about having this conversation with me, James. You’re no good at it. Suffice to say, I’m realizing I shouldn’t coerce people to walk my path, even if it’s obviously the best path, because I’m so smart. People have to be themselves, and forcing otherwise means things will blow up in my face.”

“Right. You’re not like Zamboni though, seriously.”

“I’m glad you think so.” She gestured at the sack she’d brought. “Now explain to me why we are throwing flour at the guy?”

I seized the topic change. “Right,” I said. “We don’t throw it. The plan is, we put that in a circle, and then you work a transformation spell to make me look like Melissa.”

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Virga: Act 5A

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 5a: OF ZOMBIES AND ZEALOTS

“This is somehow several degrees worse than what I’m thinking, I guess,” I said at last.

Melissa looked startled, as if she’d forgotten I was even there. She looked towards me. “Sorry, James. But yes. A zombi is the ultimate perversion. Using witchcraft to turn a body into a puppet for one’s own purposes. There are laws against that sort of thing in our trade.”

“Aha. Obviously this is different from the classical ‘eat your brains’ kind of zombie.”

“Hollywood strikes again,” Melissa said with a shrug. “Also, zombi, fast i, only the plural uses an e.”

It also says something that she had to tell me that. I was pretty good at the language of the supernatural by now, yet zombies had never come up in all of our time together.

She went to sit back down at the desk, which I think was to prevent pacing back and forth. I waited until she was ready.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“There are three types of zombi,” Melissa began at last. “In the first case, a regular person, or occasionally animal, has their willpower totally supplanted by the spell, basically becoming a slave in their own body. Their actions are totally controlled by the caster. In the most dire of cases, the body can die because even though the brain knows they should be drinking water, the body received a command not to do so.”

My eyebrows went up. “That’s terrible.”

Melissa’s voice was clipped. “It gets worse. The second type of zombi involves reanimation of a dead subject by forcibly tying their spirit back into their body. This tends to warp and taint the spirit, be it slowly or quickly depending on the actions the zombi takes – and again there’s nothing the individual can do about it.”

Here I understood Melissa’s apparent revulsion. She strongly believes that once a death has occurred, that individual has passed into another state of being, if not another realm. Thus it’s unhealthy for us to use supernatural means to tie them to our mortal plane of reality, messing with the natural order of things. To do so is at best irresponsible, and at worst, can compromise the deceased’s spiritual existence.

She’s indicated that some ghosts and specters were not originally evil when they first chose, or were forced, to remain on Earth.

In fact, that one time I saw Melissa break down and cry? Was when she was forced to briefly call upon a recently departed spirit, in fighting an older witch named Melody. I’m not sure she’s ever fully forgiven herself for that one, though it did get me out of a potentially life threatening situation. It was one of the first cases that I chronicled.

“Do I even want to know about the third type?” I asked.

“Well, they’re perhaps the most dangerous, while simultaneously being the least horrific, as far as I’m concerned,” Melissa said. “Creating the third type involves enslaving a spirit, rather than a body itself, and requires at least passive acceptance on the part of the spirit. But said spirit is useless without a body, so it can take over whatever is available – temporarily. It can jump, and in fact must, once human immune systems kick in. But for hours, even days, it can supplant the will of whoever’s body it likes the most at any particular time. It is sometimes able to control multiple bodies at once. You don’t want one of them touching you.”

I thought about this. “Seems a bit like using magick on the unwilling,” I admitted.

“Alas, the dead don’t really have an advocate for what they want or don’t want,” Melissa said. “And a person not being satisfied with their life is often enough of a wedge for the zombi spirit.”

She finally couldn’t sit still any longer, standing and starting to pace despite her best efforts. “Incidentally, it’s that last zombi type that gives rise to the belief of zombies spreading an infection, and the lack of their own will that has people believing they seek brains. It’s more that a zombi seeks to regain control of their own brain. The whole practice is absolutely despicable, and I cannot believe that it’s still going on in what we laughingly call a civilized society.”

I looked a little more closely at Melissa. “Did you accept this mission in order to retrieve Alicia’s orb, or in order to free the zombies?”

She gave me a look, and I knew it was the latter.

“But if there are laws against this sort of thing, can’t you or Alicia notify the magick authorities?” I protested.

“I’m guessing this Mortum doesn’t publicize the scope of what he’s doing. Alicia probably only knows because of her person on the inside, and for that matter, this orb is probably giving the guy an advantage as well.”

I nodded slowly. “Well then, I’m going in there with you.”

“No.”

“Mel, we do these things togeth—”

“Not this time!” Melissa repeated loudly. Then her gaze softened and she reached out to take me by the shoulders. “It’s too dangerous, plus Alicia specifically stated that I’m the focus point. The only one who can slip under the radar.” She smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to go in unprepared.”

I tried to think of a good objection.

“Damn it, what’s all the shouting about?” came Trixie’s annoyed voice. Her twintails appeared as she opened her door and poked her head out. “I’m about to do some delicate work here, constructing a memory circuit using what feels like stone knives and bearskins. Do you mind?”

“It’s about zombies,” Melissa said, looking towards her cousin.

Trixie’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, fuuuuck. Spill.”

***

Melissa left us the following evening. She had already coordinated with Alicia by that point, so that she would have some idea as to the layout of Mortum’s castle and the size of the force she would be dealing with. She refused to share the information with me or Trixie.

“So what if we have to charge in and rescue you?” Trixie had asked earlier that day. “We won’t have your map.” The techno-witch had surfaced to find food, and found Melissa putting things into a backpack.

“You won’t need to charge in,” Melissa retorted.

“Uh huh. You know, being this Chosen One doesn’t make you invincible, yeah?” Trixie pressed. “There’s others who can take over, or whatever.”

“Of course I know that. The same way we both know field work isn’t something you excel at,” Melissa fired back. “So back off.”

Trixie glared. “Low blow. In return, maybe I should get in contact with your parents and tell them how often you’ve been sexing it up with James, against their advice?”

“At least I’ve had sex with a guy in the last three weeks, unlike you,” Melissa said. “Are your silly tricks not having their desired effect this month?”

“Whoa. WHOA,” I interjected from across the room. I’d been looking at Wing’s accounts. That had escalated too quickly. “Mel, decorum!”

Trixie’s face had become red, with either embarrassment or anger – or both. I’m not sure. “Wow, sorry for caring,” was all she snapped before going back into her room and slamming the door.

I approached Melissa. “You must know that was uncalled for.”

Melissa pressed two fingers to her forehead. “Right. Right, sorry. This zombi thing has me on edge. If you talk with Trix later, apologize to her for me? Please?”

Insisting to Melissa that she apologize herself felt like a conversation for later, particularly when Alicia herself came by to create the circle of salt for us shortly thereafter.

Know that it wasn’t strictly necessary for Alicia to do that, but she knew where the corresponding circle would be on the other side, as laid by her inside informant. Which would help to ensure safety on the return trip.

“Okay,” Melissa concluded, just before 8pm. Meaning after 1am European time. She had dressed in black for the occasion, within her usual motif – jeans, T-shirt and running shoes. “Give me at least two hours before you start to worry.” She shouldered her backpack.

“Kind of hard to schedule my concern,” I pointed out. “Besides, is there anything I can do when those two hours are up? That I couldn’t do now, that is.”

Melissa seemed about to wave me off, only to change her mind. “You could have Trixie contact the witch authorities,” she allowed. “Since at the least, I should have made it more difficult for this Mortum guy to disguise his zombi hordes by then.”

I nodded. “Please be careful, Mel.”

She simply grinned back, though the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Always.” Melissa leaned in for a quick kiss before moving into the salt circle. “Alea iacta est,” she muttered at last. And she vanished.

Less than a minute later, Trixie came out of her room. She was wearing a barely buttoned up red blouse and a short plaid skirt with long, dark stockings, meaning she’d changed from the more conservative outfit (for Trixie, at least) that she’d worn earlier in the day.

“Missy gone?” Trixie asked.

“Yeah,” I confirmed. “And she said she’s sorry about earlier.”

Trixie crossed her arms under her breasts, seemingly to push them up a bit, while leaning back against the wall. “Sure she is. Because you told her to be.”

“She is,” I insisted. “I mean, I know you don’t see us a lot of late, so maybe you couldn’t tell, but Mel is pretty on edge about this zombi stuff. Probably the Chosen One stuff too. Let’s talk again once this is over.”

“Uh huh.” Trixie looked me up and down. “Missy’s part of the reason I’m not getting any, you know,” she blurted out.

I stared. At Trixie’s face, for the record. “O-kay?”

“You heard her call me out on not bedding a guy lately, huh? She was right, of course. I dunno what the hint was, but her perception is as acute as ever.”

“I wasn’t going to bring it up.”

“No kidding, that’s why I’m bringing it up,” Trixie continued. “My last major Friday date was three weeks ago. Turned out to be one of Missy’s Worshippers. He was trying to use me to get to her. Ask me how I knew.”

“Um.” Playing along seemed safest. “All right, how did you know?”

“Any normal guy would be fine with nailing me back at his place. Ergo, insisting that we do the deed here, in this apartment, was a huge red flag. And yes, maybe he lived with his parents, the way I used to. Or it could’ve been a kink.” Trixie took a deep breath. “So I swiped his wallet when he wasn’t looking. Had pictures of Missy in it, and a membership card for some fan club. Can you believe it? What an idiot, keeping that stuff on hand while trying to pick me up.”

“Uh, yeah. Look, Trixie, I’m… not sure why you’re telling me this,” I admitted.

Trixie lowered her arms to push herself off the wall. “Well, aside from the fact that it’s a pretty good bit of field work on my part, who the HELL else am I going to tell? Besides, Missy’s life is interfering with mine in more ways than one… and I’ve wanted to get that off my chest.”

I think Trixie’s got it down to a science, using the word ‘chest’ at the same time as she does a heel bounce, to naturally draw the eye down. I still fall for it. “Fine,” I said. “Now could you at least… not do that, for right now?” I asked, gesturing.

“Oh, sure, because I can turn off my personality on a whim,” Trixie shot back. She stamped her foot. “Never mind all the work I’m doing for Miss Chosen One. Without any reward to speak of, aside from the work itself, I might add. Just screw Trixie, except of course I’m NOT getting screwed lately, I’m lonely as hell, and nobody cares!”

I now realized her eyes were misting over. My first instinct was to give Trixie a hug, except I worried that would result in mixed signals. “I-I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t notice.”

“Of COURSE you didn’t,” Trixie said. She rubbed her arm over her eyes, as if to clear them. “Because you’re the wonderful kind of idiot. But Missy obviously deduced it all, and didn’t care. That’s why I’m upset. Damn it, why am I helping you two idiots out again?”

I was swiftly feeling all kinds of awkward in this conversation. “Because you know Mel cares, even though she doesn’t express herself very well?”

“Cares about YOU, you mean. Maybe I should have just let her fan club into this place after all, might have taught her not to ignore me.”

“I’m, um, not sure that would have solved anything.”

Trixie stared at me. “You still don’t get it, do you. The big reason why I’m telling you.”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “No?”

“Agh, IDIOT,” Trixie groaned, sliding her palm down her face. “Look. I thought I was finally fitting in here, James. Sure, I’m a bit of a third wheel, but I was helping out, right? With my skills? It seemed like that. Finally, the fact that I’m so smart, or so shallow, or so witchy, or so whatever, wasn’t a barrier.”

“Is this about field work again?”

Trixie pursed her lips. “Only partly. It’s about how despite being a part of this, I still craved intimacy. Which I thought I could fulfil through… you know. But now this job is screwing that up. I mean, don’t misunderstand. I won’t leave you now, not when I’m so close, but damn it, I need to be held. And to not wonder if it’s happening because I know Missy.”

“Um.” Again, I wondered if I should give her a hug. “Held, or groped? Because as a friend, I could manage the first…”

“James, connect the dots, it’s kinda the same thing for me,” she interrupted. “Which is why I’m going out now, dressed like this, despite Missy’s life possibly being in danger. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s an attempt at self-care. You get it?”

I nodded. “Okay. You have needs too, I get it,” I agreed.

“Good.” She didn’t immediately make any move for the doorway. “James… I AM helping you both out, right? With more than just the engram work? You still like having me around?”

I didn’t get a chance to answer, because that’s when the protective wards downstairs tipped us off to the presence of a new arrival. When I went to look, I saw a blonde woman with short hair, wearing glasses. She looked vaguely familiar.

“I need to talk to Melissa,” she said into the monitor, seeming a little out of breath.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Danielle. Danielle Timins.”

I knew that name. She’d been involved in my first ever Virga Mysteries case.

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