"And now, child, I shall tell you just what happened in New York in 1965."
Hannah and I stood upon the shore at Staten Island and looked out over the churning sea.
There in the distance, a great high cloud was drifting towards us, utterly dark, casting a shadow of gloom and rain over the water.
"It's going to be a bad storm," I said, "But the city has handled storms. Why were we warned?"
"Look closely," said Hannah.
The storm flashed with lightning, and within, just for the moment, I could see a figure. A man whose feet were in the sea and whose head was at the clouds. And as the lightning flashed again, he looked a little bigger, a little closer.
"We're in serious trouble," I said.
"Then what do we do? What resources do we have?"
"We've got me with the blood, and yet...I've got a drop from everyone in Harlem. But Harlem isn't enough to defend the city. I need the whole city with me for this."
"What are you proposing?"
"Are you ready to use the New York Minute again?"
Time nearly stood still as we dashed up streets and down avenues. In every room in every building we searched, and found people and explained the situation and respectfully requested one drop of blood. And then we dashed on. Down alleys and into subway tunnels, through subway cars and into ticket booths, into police stations and fire departments, the mayor's office and the county clerk's office, the flop houses and the soup kitchens, the telegraph offices and phone operator stations, TV stations and radio stations and in every nook and cranny of the great city, we found as many as we could who were willing and able to give. Which turned out to be almost everyone. We had to leave the hemophiliacs out, and mot of the recovering hospital patients, and those who were drunk because we couldn't trust their consent. But by the time we made it back to Staten Island, we were carrying 15 or 16 big bottles in a big old bag.
We dumped them out onto the beach and sank to the ground in utter exhaustion.
"Dynamite job," I said. "Now let's see if this works."
One by one I opened each bottle and took a swig. By the second I was feeling perfectly refreshed. By the 7th I was feeling fit to burst with energy. Thereafter it was more difficult with each swig to restrain my power until I was ready. By bottle #15 I was scared that I WOULD burst.
But finally I was ready, and I let the claws out and the red scales run up my arms.
And suddenly I was taller than before. Then much taller, and taller still -- until my own head was near the clouds.
I roared, and stepped into the surf, wading out to do battle with the city's oldest enemy.
By consuming a drop of the life force of each citizen, I had gained a bit of memory from each of them. Little hopes and big hopes, big dreams and ambitions, all jumbled together in my head, but there was one thing they all agreed on: the figure striding towards me, Old Neptune, had long meant to destroy Manhattan. He had failed so many time before because Manhattan was extremely protected -- you have to get past Staten Island if you want to make it into New York Harbor.
And as he approached I could hear his voice in the storm.
"I hate New York City," blustered the old sea god. "Everything that comes out of Manhattan. Noisy ships. Filth running into my waters. Worthless television shows. I will sink Staten Island beneath the waves, and I will sink Brooklyn beneath the waves, and then I will come and sink Manhattan. And if you stand in my way, well, I'll sink you too."
"The blood of the city stands against you!" I said. "By Yankee and Stuyvesant the peg-legged, you shall have neither Staten, Manhattan, nor me!"
And there he stood before me, face made of cloud and body made of a billion sea shells. Old Neptune. He had a trident in one hand and a conch in the other, and he blew a loud blast upon the conch, and the wind howled, and the lightning flashed.
And I hit him in the shoulder with a house-sized fist. It chipped off a few of his seashells. "By Malcolm the Proud," I said, "I may not be able to throttle your neck made of clouds, but I can break you down!"
He thrust his trident at me. I dodged aside and caught it, then swung a fist at the center of his chest. He caught my fist and we became locked in a struggle of strength versus strength. On his side, he had the fury that builds and build and builds over centuries, until it blasts everything before it. On my side, I had the hope of the city spurring me on. We were about evenly matched.
But Neptune was older, and he knew how to wrestle better than I did. He began to bear me down, leaning on his great weight.
And then it hit me.
KABOOM. Lightning, bright and stinging and hot right in the face. In the seconds I was blinded, I lost my grip, and Neptune kicked me backwards. As my vision cleared I could see what he had summoned with his conch. An army of sea-foam horses and chariot-riders upon the waves, spanning the dark horizon. If Neptune didn't drown me first, they were going to overwhelm me and then overwhelm Staten Island. And here I was, having concentrated the full power of the city's people on one, easily-toppled person...
Or had I?
I'd only taken ONE drop of blood from everyone, it wasn't as though I'd taken all of everyone's blood. They were still alive. Still able to fight, if they chose.
I drew upon the connection within my mind to each resident of the city, and sent them the message: Rally to me, New Yorkers! Rally to the defense of your city!
What I expected is that they would all come out in boats, or stand on the beach and battle the oncoming horses. In enough time to meet them. I expected to drown before that happened.
What I'd forgotten is that Hannah had lent me a drop of her blood, and through that I was able to lend the secret of the New York Minute to everyone I'd called.
And so, just as I was about to sink into the waves, an an army of ten million people, all of them fast enough to race across the top of the water, charged past me and headlong into the enemy cavalry.
And I found my footing, rose up, and headbutted old Neptune right in the center of his chest.
He staggered for a bit, then regained his footing. But then he began to wobble again. Thousands of sea-shells were falling off him. Cracks spread throughout his carapace. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of shels began to fall into the sea. An arm broke off and hit the water with a crash and a roar. Neptune tried to jab his trident at me again, but I grabbed it and wrenched his arm off.
One by one the pieces of Old Neptune's billion-seashell shell crashed into the waves. One by one, more pieces of his true form were exposed, until he was just a wispy white cloud, floating there in front of me.
Then floating away.
And that was the last of Old Neptune's attacks upon New York City.
But it is not the last of my story.
For after I brought everyone back from the sea, and let all the scales fall off me, after I'd made my way back home and fallen into bed and fell asleep --
I awoke sitting in a chair in a clearing in the middle of the sunlit woods.
There were twelve bearded old White men in green robes sitting in chairs in front of me. And not a one of them looked happy.
"Miss Elizabeth Foster King," said one man, "Know that this is not a court of law. You committed an act that, while among the most heinous of all magics, is not proscribed by Law in any court in the world. It has been long since courts of law had anything to do with magic, and we would like to keep it that way. But you have, for the past six years, been practicing an extremely dangerous form of magic, pontentially drawing the ire of the Law, potentially drawing the Law to come down upon us as well. And yet, we hemmed and hawed, certain you would have the restraint to avoid going as far as you did."
"And...what did I do?"
"When you called upon the citizens of new York to do battle," said another man, "your blood connection to them caused the call to be one of mind control. You forced an entire city to fight. In an especially dangerous location, as well. Quite a few didn't make it back alive. You are responsible for the death of 43 people."
"And the life of ten million. Doesn't that count?"
"My good sirs," said Hannah, stepping into the clearing. "Please understand that Elizabeth was working under extreme duress, and did not fully understand what all she was doing."
The old men spluttered and harrumphed. "What! How did you find this location? We told the park to hide us as well as it could!"
"The Squoils led me," said Hannah. "And as much as you disapprove of my being here, I disapprove of your decision to interrogate my friend without benefit of counsel."
"This isn't a court of law -- "
"But it is intimidating," I said.
"Harrumph," said a third old man. "Well, yes, that was the point. To scare you into not trying to turn into a red demon again and doing who-knows-what."
"What if I'd panicked and done it anyway?"
"Then we might have seen fit to put you down," said a fifth old man.
Hannah huffed. "This is beginnig to sound a lot like an interrogation room, even if you keep insisting it's not a court of law. Well, if we're not under arrest, you gentlemen have no right to keep us captive here, and no ability. I can ask the Squoils to lead me and Liz out as easily as they led me in. What exactly can you do to stop us?"
"Nothing," said a sixth old man. "Yet. What we intend to do...the reason we brought you here, Elizabeth, all posturing and blustering aside, is to warn you that from this moment forth, there will be laws regarding all forms of magic. We will aim to prevent your sort of incident from happening again by teaching gifted children about magic well ahead of time. We will come down hard upon anyone who violates the rules, anyone who makes our little magical community look like a danger to its citizens." He locked eyes with me. "That includes you. Have I made myself clear?"
"Then," said a seventh old man, "We expect that you shall confine your work to Root magic and conjuring, and deal no more with blood. Go forth and know that we will be watching."
And Hannah and I rose, and strode to the edge of the clearing, where a large ragged squirrel met us. We followed it through the dark underbrush and away.
"Well," said Grandma King, "Now you know why nobody messes with old Grandma King. I just have to carry a bottle of dark wine around and call it blood, if I want to put the fear of God in someone's heart."
"But how did you manage to talk to the entire city, that one time?"
"Blood magic. Why do you think I followed you here? The Wizard Court was going to have my hide if I didn't skedaddle. Anyway...I hope my story was instructive. You asked me what you ought to do right now? Be careful. Take time to know what you're getting into, before you do it. Use what resources you have to look for all angles. I know that you inherited your recklessness and carelessness from me. I had six years I could have tried to figure out how Blood Magic works, and I didn't explore my possibilities before Crunch Time came. So I wound up mind-controlling a whole city. Don't make the same mistake I did. My indiscretion is the reason you've got Wizard Police running around right now."
"I'll try to keep myself in check this time," I said. "I've got contacts, I can wait for their word before moving. But once I get it I have to move fast."
"You have the freedom to be subtle here," said Nonna. "Use it wisely. And good luck."
I rose from the floor and hugged and kissed both of them, then stepped out the door, down the stairs, and out onto the street. Jo met me at the corner light and took me by the arms, and flapped the wings of her cloak. We rose into the moonlit sky.