"Is he brain-dead?"
I sat in a chair next to the bed of the man Pantagruel had clobbered. The infirmary around me was mostly filled with curtains around beds. It wasn't a large infirmary, and there weren't many beds, but then, maybe the injuries Wizards sustained were rare and severe. I'd caught a glimpse of someone through an open curtain, and in that brief moment it looked like their eyeballs were in their ears.
Doctor Thatcher had drawn the curtain closer around the victim and informed me fairly sternly that I was never to look in upon those cases. I withered under her gaze.
The infirmary itself was...on a floor of the building. I wasn't entirely certain which, because when we'd brought the man in we hadn't walked up any flights of stairs, but this afternoon I'd walked up two flights of stairs to reach the place. Perhaps the infirmary lowered itself to the floor of whatever person was injured. But then, if this was the third floor, why was there a field on our level through the window? A field of grass and flowers, waving in the wind. A nice touch, I supposed, and the rest of the place was stone walls that lit up a honey glow in the afternoon sunlight.
Aurore and Sean were standing over the man, studying him through their Wizard Glasses. "Brain operations look normal to me," said Sean."No sign of trauma to the head."
"But he's in a coma," said Dr. Thatcher. "A magically-induced coma of some sort. Look closer, Sean. See there the thin purple filaments, barely visible? They're wrapping around the brain tightly..."
I rose, and left, deciding that it was better to leave the work to the professionals.
I stepped out into the hall. The archway of the courtyard stood before me.
The statues of the fallen heros stood within, glaring down upon the courtyard. Perhaps they wished to protect their own graves -- or to protect those who wished to partake in the pace of the graveyard. A few smiled.
From behind one of the statues, a familiar hand and arm appeared, and beckoned to me.
"That's something I wanted to ask you about," I said, as I approached the statue. "How exactly you manage to teleport so easily when Ms. Sani tells me it's really difficult and dangerous."
"That's why I love my cloak," said Aurore, as she stepped out from behind the statue. "One of my favorite spells. I can go anywhere in the world with just a twirl -- " She twirled her cape around her and vanished. There was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and there she was. "All I have to do is see the place in my mind, and I can go there. Nauru is lovely when the flies aren't in season. Ah...but we have certain things to discuss, Pat the Curious."
"Like what?" I folded my arms across my chest.
Aurore lifted her hands to the statues and muttered a few words. Each turned outward, one by one, until we stood in the middle of a rectangle of sentinels.
"There," said Aurore, "we can talk freely for a while. Now, let's talk about you. Sit, please." She gestured to one of the benches. "Ooh. Cold stone."
"Not for me," I said. "Maybe the benches like me."
"Yeah," said Aurore, "Yeah, that's what I wanted to ask you about."
"Oh?" I crossed my legs.
"Sam and I were talking last night about when we all went to the suburbs. When you somehow got the sidewalk to fling us over the trees. You said you bent down and whispered insults to it."
Aurore leaned forward and put her hands flat on the bench, looking right into my eyes. "So, I wanted to know how you learned to do Anamistic magic. And how on earth that led you to Chicago and the Wizard Academy."
I huffed. "I told you I would explain this when we all went to Myer's Bar. And not before then. Why are you so impatient to know? Are you jealous? Do you want me to teach you how to sing with all the voices of the mountain?"
Aurore's nostrils flared. "Do not mention that movie, Pat. Not in my presence."
"I can imagine why you dislike that movie," I said. "I mean, look at you. Dark hair, tan skin, but you've got such a French name. 'Aurore D'Aubigny.' and you're here in the Great Lakes region. What else could you be but the last of the Huron?"
"There's no last of the Huron, Pat, there's still a fair few thousand of them. Don't buy into the romantic Vanishing Noble Savage bullshit. And I'm NOT Huron."
"So what are you?"
"I am...not interested discussing the matter right now. Especially since were were talking about you. But since you don't want to talk before you know about me..." She rose. "Fine. Go to the library and catch a book. Try to find out what you can about Acadia and the French Canadians, and then when you want to talk to me respectfully we can begin our conversation again."
The library of the Wizard Academy has two big rules. Rule 1, you can't go into the stacks without being accompanied by a librarian. This is because young and frisky books roam wild in the stacks, a rather large population, and the ones that contain spells of power are extremely dangerous. The ones about economics will try to trap you in confusing conversations so that the spellbooks can sneak up on you. The books about carnivores will hide high in the top of the stacks, higher than you can see, and drop upon you, stunning you and leving you vulnerable to the spellbooks. The books about fruit will lure you with the sweet scent of candy and then they'll stick your feet to the floor and then -- well, you get the idea.
Rule number 2: No artificial light after dusk. The books need darkness to breed. If you want to try to find a book after dusk, ho ho ho, good luck, sucker. Try begging the librarians to accompany you. They'll hurriedly cross themselves and tell you plainly that the stacks are closed and locked.
The library is on the fifth floor of the building -- that's where the door is anyway. Its ceiling is either the sky, or an incredibly clever moving painting. The far wall -- actually, every wall is far. The first time Sam brought me to the library, he told me that nobody had ever actually found the far edges. How do you assign call numbers for that? The call numbers are there when the book is born. How do the librarians know where to return the books? They just let them run into the stacks and shelve themselves. How do the librarians handle late fines? There are none. You have to struggle to keep a book past its due date -- they will break down your door if it is locked, and they will return to the library come hell or high water. If you actually manage to keep a book pas tits due date, the damage to your belongings is considered sufficient punishment.
How do the librarians get more books without risking peril? Simple. They've got a captive breeding program going in the circulation offices. The head librarian, Dr. MacGillicuddy, thought of it a while ago. She said, you know what, maybe we can tame these books, maybe we can domesticate them. So now you have to go into the circulation offices if you want to find a book without risking your life.
I went up to the desk and asked if they had anything in the back room about Acadia. The fellow at the desk said, "Let me see," and he futzed around a while on his computer, his face growing more and more worried all the while. Finally he said, "tell you what, I'll call someone to get you the book about Acadia." He looked back into the office and said, "GRACE! We've got a request for the Encyclopedia Acadia! It's about two miles down the PS 801-803 stack."
A short lady with curly hair stroed out of the office, donning her cloak as she did so. "Getting late. Last run of the day. Wait here." She dashed into the stacks and was gone.
I sat in one of the comfy chairs a while, as the sun began to set, and I examined at the great reading space. A nice birdseye maple floor over a rather wide area. There were desks here and there, comfy chairs arranged in circles facing each other and facing outward, there were long tables and there were short tables. And around it all in a rectangluar ring stood the stacks.
I heard a snarl and a rustle, and Grace reappeared, her eyebrows singed off and her face streaked by dirt. She stumped over to me, handed me the book roughly, then stumped back into the office, without a word.
I knocked on Aurore's door. "Hey, Aurore," I said, "I read more about Acadia. Can we talk now? I'll tell you a bit more about me this time, I promise."
The door opened. "Hey, Pat," said Sean. "Nice to see you again."
"Oh hi, Sean" I said. "I didn't realize I was disturbing your visit."
"Visit? Oh! Heh. Heh."
Aurore appeared behind Sean, and opened the door wider, beckoning me inside. I noticed that the room felt slightly more crowded than mine -- there were three desks, and three chairs, and three beds, in the amount of space that was supposed to fit two people. Not that the beds got in the way too much -- they were all pushed together on the far wall.
Aurore sat in one of the chairs. "Take a seat," she said, "And tell me what your book said about Acadia."
I dropped my book bag next to a chair, sat down, and grabbed the book. "Alright," I said, opening to the section on Cape Breton. "Apparently it was -- "
"This is the forest primeval," said the book. "The murmuring pines and the hemlocks -- "
I shut the book and placed it back in the bag. "Right," I said. "Acadia. French trappers lived there and the English kicked them out, and they all went to Louisiana and became Cajuns."
Aurore tapped her foot.
"Oh, right. Uh, the people that lived there before the French. Wabanaki? Mi'kmaq? There was a lot about a guy named Henri Membertou. I thought Indians couldn't grow beards -- "
"Wabanaki," said Aurore. "That's the key. The Wabanaki Confederacy. Membertou was the most famous chief of the Mi'Kmaq and converted to Catholicism and his people had a lot of intermarriage with the French Catholics and...but that's beside the point."
Sean leaned over the back of a chair. "They liked the Irish too."
"You come in later," said Aurore. "The point is, the Acadian region is basically the maritime provinces of Canada and a bit of Quebec."
"And...you grew up on some kind of Wabanaki reservation, then, in Nova Scotia? Is that what you're saying?"
Aurore snorted. "Oh, if only. If only. No."
"When I was brought into the house of Master Grosvenor," said Sean, "Aurore was there already."
"I was placed in the house of Master Grosvenor when I was three years old," said Aurore. "Master Grosvenor, who lived in a grand wooden house in the middle of the Hundred Mile Wilderness of Maine. He'd all the food he needed there, and he could heat his place as easy as anything, and so forth. No need to talk to anyone at all. When I saw Sean for the first time, it was...I mean, it's not like I thought other people didn't exist. I just...hadn't thought of them in a while.
"Besides my father. I remember my father. I remember going fishing with him out on the bay. But all I remember him saying is 'The tides on this bay are the strongest in the world, my child, you must always respect and fear them.' I remember the little house by the water, and the smell of fish curing in the smokehouse.
"And the storm. His canoe washed up on shore without him in it. The house was washed away. That was odd. Both the house and the smokehouse were built on fairly high ground. The smokehouse survived. The waters never touched it.
"Master Grosvenor said that the person from Child Welfare found me sitting on the dry rock, calmly eating smoked fish. I think I expected Dad to come home at some point and re-build the house or something. I'm told I fought fairly hard to stay in that place. Who knows. I just remember sitting in a chair in some office, and then...then I was riding on a big carpet in the air towards my new home. Big new house made of wood, five stories at least, a round tower on each corner and a deck on the roof for stargazing. And the interior was lush. Thick carpets. Massive staircase. Ancient wood paneling. And outside, a wide lawn, and the woods. I could lose myself in the woods and force Master Grosvenor to come find me. And he laughed, when he did, and told me that I'd grow up to be a mighty magical Grosvenor like him. I grew up under the name he gave me -- Aura Grosvenor."
Aurore fell silent.
"And how did Sean enter the picture? Sean, are you an orphan as well?"
Sean folded his arms. "Let's just say I'd like to be. Let's say, Master Grosvenor's house was the one place my parents were never going to find me. Let's just say, if you're stumbling through the snowy woods with light leaking from your fingers, and the sound of condemnation and hellfire still ringing in your ears, stumbling across a girl who's twisting rocks in her bare hands is a welcome sight."
"Although it wasn't exactly a welcome sight for me," said Aurore. "You were the first person besides master Grosvenor who I'd seen in eight years. Imagine growing up being told that the outside world is dangerous and scary! Imagine believeing it wholeheartedly because your father was washed away in a storm! And here comes this pale-faced stranger out of the woods. I'd met bears and I'd met wolves, but Sean scared me more than them."
"And after Master Grosvenor accepted me into the house with smiles and a mug of hot cocoa, you hid in the attic for a week. Yes."
"You were the crack in Master Grosvenor's foundations," said Aurore. "Either the outside world was dangerous, or you belonged in his house. The more I got to know your laugh and the flourish of your spells, over the years, the more I wondered how much Grosvenor hadn't been telling me. So I started to do some...independent study. Investigation. This was, of course, before Wikipedia, and Grosvenor only had one computer that he kept mostly to himself. And all I had to go on was what my father had told me -- "the strongest tides in the world." Where was that? Where had that been? the Master had not told me. I had asked, and he had said the outside world was no concern.
"The key, then, was to get that computer. Sean said there was this thing on it called "internet" that had all kinds of information. More than what the master had. Master's library was locked by strong spells, and he only left fiction lying around the house. Gloomy fiction. I never read a book from his hosue that didn't have everyone die at the end.
"So how to get the computer? The first attempt was at night. Sneaking. The classic way. Except that we got caught by a guardian shadow outside the computer room, and marched back to our beds. The second attempt was a bit of levitation, hopefully being able to float ourselves OVER the shadow and into the room. No such luck. The guardian grabbed our shadows and called for the master again. When master Grosvenor asked us why we wanted the computer, though, that was an opportunity. I said I wanted to learn how to code.
"So I was granted access to the computer, and whenever the Master was out of the room and not supervising my progress, I would go to Google and search for anything related to tides. "Strongest tides" was a lot of places, but the only place even close was the Bay of Fundy.
"Not that I knew where to go from there. I knew only that I was not Grosvenor's child, not by birth, not in looks. He was a pale man with Blonde hair; I was a tan girl with dark hair. I'd been removed from somewhere around the bay of Fundy. But who lived around the bay, then? Who were the people I'd come from?
"And then one night, sitting in front of the fire and watching the snowfall through the windows, Sean told me about his own heritage. Irish, by way of Maine. He said -- "
"I said the Irish and the Indians were friends, once. I said the Indians were willing to mingle with all the people that the English treated like crap. Escaped slaves, poor Irish, whoever. A great legacy of the Wabanki. My ancestors hailed from a little town in Maine on the coast. That's what I said."
"And I had no idea what he was talking about. Indians? Irish? English? The diferences between the peoples were meaningless to me, for they were all peoples from the outside world, and I had never seen any of them. So I said, is Master Grosvenor one of these Indians? Are you?"
"And I laughed", said Sean, "And said that I was from an Irish family. And that Grosvenor sounded like an English name. I said that Aurore looked like an Indian. I also said that she couldn't be, because she'd never shown me her war bonnet or her totem pole or her bow or anything like that."
"Which terms went over my head as easily as 'English' and 'Irish'", said Aurore. "But, here was a lead. Indian. Plus Bay of Fundy. Plus Maine. The next surreptitious check of the Internet revealed that there were these people called the Passamoquody, living in Pleasant Point, Maine, right on the bay of Fundy. I must have come from there."
"So that was a thing. Not that I made much of it for a few years. There was spellcraft to learn and woods to explore. And yet, there was also the internet, and continued fragmented research got me more and more worried, because there was this thing called the "Indian Child Welfare Act" that was supposed to keep Indian families and communites together. Something like, if an Indian household can't keep the kid, the law tried to make sure that whoever adopts the child is part of the same tribe. So How the hell had I wound up with a man named Grosvenor, stuck in the middle of the Hundred Mile Wilderness?
"So I started asking Master Grosvenor where I'd come from and why he'd adopted me. He said, oh, I plucked you from the mud and brought you here to my domain because I wanted to protect you, child, and teach you how to become a mighty Grosvenor like me, and how could anyone have left you there alone in the cold, be grateful that you too were not washed away in the storm. Like that. Every time I asked him about the situation he said the same thing: he had saved me.
"And then I was dumb enough to tell him that I'd been checking the Internet and learned about the Passamoquody, and could I vist them, please. His response was to revoke my computer access. Thereafter, whenever I went for long walks in the woods, the trails always deposited me back at the house, even though if they'd been straight as an arrow and I hadn't taken any turns. I guess that was his answer: his world was better than anywhere else I could be or ever could have been.
"I was filled with but one desire, then: to get the hell out. Preferably taking Sean with me."
"Not that I wanted to go," said Sean, "because a cushy life learning Wizardry was better than my previous experience. In point of fact, when I learned you were learning spells of concealment and silent passage, I almost ratted you out to the Master. We were, after all, gaining in power and skill, and that's hard to let go of. So why did I hesitate? I must have been fond of you by that point. We'd known each other for a while now. Hard not to become fond of the people you work with for so long, especially at that age."
"You said you wouldn't rat me out," said Aurore, "But you still didn't want to leave. The Master had promised that someday, when we were ready, when we were gods among mortals, then we would be allowed to walk among the masses freely. I do think he was concerned for our safety. And that convinced you, for a while, despite my urgings, until I finally said, look, how are we going to be safe out there if we don't actually understand the world we're walking through? Espcially now that we've lost internet access? I said, think about it -- if we're literal gods among mortals, then the only way we'll know how to solve our problems is with magic. What happens if we actually have to do something mundane? What happens if we lose our abilities? We can't just go wrecking stuff. What if we wind up relying on the Master's guidance even more? What if he never really lets us leave his company? That's assuming he even lets us leave this estate at all!"
"I said we ought to stay there for a while and play it safe," said Sean. "I was convinced that no harm could come to us from the world outside, not in Grosvenor's domain. But then...one winter night, when we were coming in late from a long hike...something happened in the sky that we had no frame of reference for."
"Curtains of light," said Aurore. "Shimmering and twisting through the sky. We hadn't known the sky could do that. We didn't have a clue what was going on. Do you know, there are many people living near the Arctic Circle who fear the Northern Lights? They think that the lights will snatch them up into the sky and carry them off to the realm of the gods. They have seen them now and then, and not been taken, but still they fear.
"Imagine our terror upon seeing them the first time. Imagine our hope. This was something Grosvenor had not told us about. This was something from the outside world that he could not control. Frightening as it was, it was also beautiful, like a mighty storm, or the tides of the bay of Fundy. It was...the Sublime.
"If there was such beauty available in the world outside, why not look for it? And so we both resolved, there in the snow, to leave the Hidden Mansion of master Grosvenor, and strike out into the world.
"And it was, on that night, that our cloaks came into their power. For it was on that night that the Master confronted us, and demanded to know about the internet searches I had made -- about the Passamoquody, and the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the Bay of Fundy. Apparently neither he nor I had known how to clear our internet search history! When I demanded to know why Master Grosvenor had flouted the Indian Child Welfare Act and taken me from the Passamoquody, he told me that his actions were prefectly legal -- that you'd had no family, and the Indian Child Welfare act only applied to children that were removed from their existing families. I said, what about my relatives? My elders? What about everyone besides my father? And he said, and I quote him directly, 'Oops.'
"Well, that tore it. I told him I was leaving right then and there. I said, 'My name is not Aura Grosvenor. My name is Aurore, for I am now outside your world and beyond your control.' And he said, 'ho ho, that's what you think.' And he'd thrown purple tendrils at me, presumably to bind me. Ah, but that was when the cloaks came into action. For Sean, in the same instant Grosvenor unleashed his power, threw himself between me and Grosvenor."
"I had my back to Grosvenor," said Sean, "Hoping that the cloth would block the tendrils in some manner, or deflect them. And it did. Because the cloak turned into a dome covering me and Aurore. A solid dome."
"And I said to Sean, 'let's blow this popsicle stand.' I wasn't sure how that was going to work if we were still stuck there with Grosvenor hurling fire at us -- but in my desperate wish to escape, the iamge of the Aurora Borealis entered my mind, and -- "
"And suddenly we were floating above the earth's atmosphere," said Sean. "Being bombarded by cosmic rays. If I hadn't figured out in that instant how to do the shield again, if Aurora hadn't figured out how she'd teleported us, we both would have died."
"The next thing I thought of was that old smokehouse," said Aurore. "And what do you know, there we were. And the Smokehouse had fish in it. And there was a new house, a bit higher on the rock, and there was a man standing in the doorway."
"Your father," I said.
"Bingo. He'd been washed overboard in the storm, but he'd swam to a rock and eventually made it back to the shore. And he'd found me gone, and he'd asked around, and I hadn't been there. He'd asked the police, and they told him I'd been scooped up by Child Welfare and removed to...and the record just said 'House in the Woods, Hundred-mile wilderness, Maine.' He and the Passamoquody had been looking through those woods for years without finding me.
"Imagine his joy when he heard the girl on his doorstep explain that she had just escape from a house in the middle of the wilderness.
"And Sean and I stayed with him and the Passamoquody for a year or so. Fishing and reading books about the world and stuffing our heads with knowledge from this newfangled 'Wikipedia.' And it should have been a happy life from then on. And yet... it wasn't. For one thing, I faintly resented my people for failing to find me in time, and then for failing to save me from the house of Grosvenor. I know, I know they all tried, but...the pale-faced Wizard defeated them. Why had they no wizards of their own?
"I grew restless again. I wanted to know what Wizards were, and where to find more. I wanted to be able to teach my people about Wizardry. I wanted to see the world. And, truth be told, I couldn't really get into the songs and dances of the Passamoquody. I had not grown up learning them. The ways of my own people were strange to me.
"I fear that Grosvenor took from me something that I cannot regain.
"So, after that year, I decided it was time to travel. On foot. Might as well have some fun, right? Find adventure upon the way. And I took another name to myself -- D'Aubigny, after the famous swashbuckler. And I set out west...as all Americans do, I suppose, once in their lives. Sean, for his part, wanted to stay with the Passamoquody."
"But how could I resist the sound of adventure?" said Sean. "You, Aurore, are always dragging me to the next place when I want to find somewhere to settle."
"You're the one who insists upon shielding me. Anyway, the story of that journey is one you can ask Sameer. For now, I would ask you, Pat, how and why you came to this place, and who you are. I have told you my story. Now you tell me yours."
The sun had long since set, leaving the lights of the street to illuminate the room. None of us had thought to turn on the desk lamp while Aurore was recounting her story.
"It's very late," I said. "I should be be getting back to my room and preparing for tomorrow -- my tutor wants to teach me how to handle sheep."
"But," I said, "I can tell you this much: if you ever want to talk to the gods, come to me and I'll do my best to intercede on your behalf."
"That's...fascinating," said Sean. "And now that Aurore has told her story, it's reminded me of that poor man in a coma -- I wondered why those filaments looked familiar. Pat, I look forward to speaking with you again."
He did not look at all jovial, as he led me to the door.
I guess I had phrased that wrong. Oh well. Maybe he'd be less angry in the morning.