Patton was stepping out of the port-a-potty when he saw Rich’s BMW convertible turn into the driveway and start working its way over the gravel, trying hard to keep the stones from flying up and chipping the paint. The top was down in spite of the cold April morning air.
“Morning, Patton. Can I buy you breakfast?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Bring that paperwork the sewer contractor gave you.”
They headed over to Jay’s Diner, Rich’s hair flying in the wind while Patton hunched down, wishing he’d been brave enough to wear his motorcycle helmet. His head was freezing! Why wasn’t Rich’s?
They sat in the booth and Rich pulled a napkin from the dispenser and gave the table an extra wipe just to make sure no syrup had been missed, then held out his hand to Patton.
“Margaret told me you’re having some issues with your contractor. Let me look at the contract and see if there’s something we can do to either move things along faster or reduce your expenses.” Patton handed over the contract and Rich spread it out on the cleanest, driest spot on the table and started reading.
“She also told me they’d made you into their Staff,” he said without looking up. “Why would you want to do that?” Then he glanced up at Patton.
“I started setting things on fire, by accident, yesterday. They convinced me that it was the only way I’d be able to control myself until I learned to control my new powers.” The waitress interrupted just then and took their orders. When she’d gone he continued.
“I didn’t know what else to do! This magic stuff is taking over my life, ruining my sleep, and scaring the crap out of me! Are you saying becoming their Staff was a bad move?”
“Not necessarily bad, but certainly unusual. Both you and the Coven are taking risks, you know. It requires blending auras, which changes everyone involved.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“You noticed? You can see auras?”
“I don’t know about auras in general, but I can certainly sense theirs. At least when we’re touching.”
Rich was real quiet for a moment, the contract forgotten. Then he asked, “What’s she like? Margaret, what’s her aura tell you about her?”
Patton could feel Rich’s eyes on him, projecting a power that would detect the slightest deception. “She is powerful, and scary. Deadly toward her enemies, but equally protective of those she’s chosen as friends.” He gazed back into Rich’s eyes. “I think she’s decided you’re a friend.”
Rich let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and went back to studying the contract. “I’m not sure what to tell you about this. It’s all boiler plate, but it’s pretty solid boiler plate. You’re going to have a hard time fighting this because of a few days’ delay. If I were you I’d wait until after the cleanup.”
Their food appeared, and between bites Patton asked, “What about the cleanup?”
“That’s where contractors frequently mess up — they neglect some aspect of cleaning up the job site after the job’s done. You might catch him then, but otherwise I think you’re just going to have to use the outhouse a few extra days and pay the man when he’s done.”
“Thanks for breakfast,” Patton said as they pulled into the driveway.
“Hey, no problem! Sorry I didn’t have better news about the contract.”
“So it goes. Thanks for looking at it anyway.” He started to get out of the car.
“Say, you mind if I come inside? I’ve got something else I want to show you.” They both got out of the car and Patton led Rich into the house. “Do you have any candles?” Rich asked. Patton dug some out, along with a candle holder.
“Let me show you how to light a candle,” said Rich. He demonstrated by causing the one in the candle holder to ignite. Then it magically went out.
“Here, give me your hand and I’ll show you how this works.”
“You need to hold my hand? Sounds kinda gay to me!”
Rich laughed. “No, it simply allows me to transfer the knowledge of what to do directly to you. It’s the way pretty much all magic is taught.”
“No spell books?”
“Spell books only work when the Mages have the same belief system and similar magical backgrounds. That’s why the so-called Books of Shadows sold on the Internet are so bogus. The purchaser needs to have the same beliefs and similar background as the author. And, of course, the buyer has to be a Mage, too. That combination basically never happens.”
Patton held out his hand and Rich took it, and Patton felt a strange tingle as knowledge flowed into him. Rich spoke to him about material composition and energy flow and ignition temperature, and while he spoke the knowledge of what that meant to a wizard flowed into him.
“Here, now you try it.” Patton struggled to direct energy to the candle, and was rewarded by the candle exploding, covering everything in the room with wax. “That was a little too energetic,” commented Rich, and he went over how to regulate the amount of energy being transferred. They set up another candle and tried again. It took several more tries before Patton was successful at lighting just the exposed wick of a candle, and then Rich showed him how to lower the temperature of the flame until it went out.
“Be careful about putting out flames that way,” said Rich. “Absorb too much energy too quickly and you’ll get burned, or at least your chi will.”
“Chi? What is a chi?”
“It’s the reservoir of magic inside you that you use. Magic to ignite the candle comes from your chi, while the energy pulled from the flame goes into it. If your chi overflows, it feels like a burn. If it gets too low you feel tired and can’t perform magic. If it goes completely empty you die.”
After Rich left Patton wandered into the back yard and surveyed the job site. He was glad rain wasn’t predicted for the next few days. His imagination could see the back yard turning into a muddy swimming pool, and the mountain of construction debris washing its way down the driveway and into the street. He kicked at a rock in frustration.
Something about the rock caught his eye. It was about four inches in diameter, and seemed to be remarkably round, although the dirt and clay clinging to its sides obscured that fact. Patton bent down and picked it up.
In the few places not covered by clinging dirt there seemed to be symbols etched into the rock. Patton knocked some of the clumps off and more strange symbols appeared. He wondered what they meant, if anything.
Patton carried the rock inside to the kitchen sink, knocking the bigger chunks of clinging clay and gravel off along the way. Inside he dug out a plastic pan, put it in the sink and filled it with soapy water. He also dug out the bristle brush he used to clean the grill. He tossed the rock in the pan and let it soak while he dug a beer out of the refrigerator.
He developed a rhythm as he worked to clean off the rock — pick up the rock, scrub it for a few seconds with the brush, drop the rock in the pan to soak, drink some beer and repeat. Every now and then he inspected the rock closely to see how things were progressing and see if he could make some sense out of the figures.
There was one spot on the rock that seemed pitted. Patton attacked it with the brush and caught a glimpse of something glittering at the bottom of the pit. He took another swig of beer and attacked the pit a little harder.
The brush snagged in the pit and knocked the rock out of his hands. Patton reached to try and catch the rock, but it hit the floor and shattered like an egg, revealing a crystal ball inside. Then the crystal exploded, throwing Patton through the window and halfway to the street. He wound up unconscious and covered with cuts, bruises and pieces of his kitchen.
The fire station was only a couple blocks away and not five minutes later there was a fire engine and a rescue truck in his yard. The firemen broke in his kitchen door and only quick reactions kept them from winding up in his basement, for most of the kitchen floor was gone, replaced by a huge hole. Many of the kitchen cabinets were missing as well, converted into a pile of rubble in the basement, including the kitchen sink. Water was spraying all over from the broken pipes, knocking down any dust that had been stirred up. There was no sign of fire, so they turned off the water to the house and concentrated their efforts on the body in the yard.