Saturday Snippet: YGTBSM Edition

In which our heroes behold the next-to-last thing they want to see.

“Got it. I contain, then wait for your assessment.” That made good sense, and wasn’t too far from the 767th’s own procedures. Power flared again. Harp muttered something unflattering in Pashto. “Concur. From the green area ahead and right?”

Eyes fixed on the road, Harp nodded. “Affirm. I really hope we don’t have to deal with casualties.”

“No joke,” Tik-Tik sighed from his carrier. “Defender, sunset’s not until 1930, twilight 1954 to 2030.”

The blessings and curse of northern latitudes. “Got it.” They wouldn’t have much in the way of shadow power to draw from. Although, given the regional history, the nocturnal power flows here might be too exciting by half.

They’d stopped at a light, and Harp turned to study him. “You’re shadow workers?”

“Affirm. Trained by Shadow and Ears.”

Harp’s shoulders relaxed. “Thanks be to Danaa. That makes it easier. I worked with them in Southwest Asia a few years ago.” He shifted the car back into gear as a third pop of magic flared ahead. “A lot of sensitives are going to want to have words with yon eejit.”

“Concur.” Mike concentrated on recalling what he knew about wide area shielding and containment, while trying not to grip the lovely grey leather interior too tightly. Harp drove like a local who had spent too much time in Italy, meaning like a lunatic by Mike’s standards.

They turned onto a parkway that wound through trees before emerging on black volcanic rock and lush green grass. “Welcome to Arthur’s Seat Park,” read the sign in the parking lot. A stream of people rushed past them, going anywhere but into the nature area. “Not a good sign,” Tik-Tik observed as he got settled onto Mike’s shoulder.

“No.” Harp closed and locked his door. “Head up that way.” He pointed toward bare basalt pillars. “I can talk to the authorities if we have to.”

“Good.” Mike took off at a jog-trot. He glanced back to see Harp, and a police car where the Rolls had parked. That explains why no one honked at us. Harp caught up with them, then passed, stretching his legs.

The soldiers rounded the rocks of the geology park and skidded to a stop. “Blessed St. George!” Mike’s jaw dropped as he stared at a blunt-muzzled monstrosity in black and crimson. He went to one knee, fingers on the soil. Tik-Tik flowed down to the ground. He called power from Tik-Tik and himself, sending a shield out, around the giant beast. Ebony and dull crimson plates shifted, and black wings spread to half cover the cloud-swept sky. The dragon threw its head back in a silent roar and clawed the sky, revealing liquid scarlet fire flowing between the plates. The beast turned burning scarlet and gold eyes on them. “I thought those didn’t exist,” Mike managed to gasp, trying to gather his wits.

“They don’t. My uncle is going to be so pissed.” Harp pulled magic hard, so hard Mike felt it. “Duck!” A fireball raced past his ear and slammed into the beast. It absorbed the magic, or so it felt. “Oh [censored], I was afraid of that.” He sounded resigned. “I ‘censored] hate [censored] Mondays.”

Yep, he’s a Marine NCO a tiny bit of Mike’s mind whispered. The rest of his brain screamed at him to get behind concealment and Do Something. Tik-Tik bounced up and down like a long, furry ping-pong ball. Sorcery magic touched with something exotic passed from Harp along the ground, toward the looming monster. Mike didn’t try to follow the flow. The dragon raised one enormous stony red and black foot and slammed it into the ground. Mike imagined he could feel the ground vibrate. “Continue to shield?”

“Affirm. It’s a summoning that warped itself to match the ground. You’re on an old volcano. Some feckin’ eejit’s gon ‘t feel my fist, he is.” The Irish accent thickened, then stopped. “Vertical dispersal. I’ll undercut the pattern from here. Once that,” he waved at the dragon, “goes away, we’ll sort out the caster.”

“Do it, do it, before it burns someone or us or calls something bigger, do it do it.” Tik-Tik moved to stand across Mike’s feet, leaning on his shins. Mike drew more power and thickened the shield, tapering it in at the base, then up to channel any more eruptions away from the park and the city. Beside them, Harp murmured a rhythmic phrase. He repeated it as he clasped his hands and extended his arms, as if shooting a pistol. Green and gold power touched with bits of fire dove under the source of the magic, then spread. Harp unclasped his hands and spread them, palms up, lifting the magic up from the ground. The dragon shape collapsed. Mike grabbed the overflow, sending it to Tik-Tik.

“Ground it, Defender,” Harp ordered. “The stones want it.”

What the—? Never mind. The land absorbed the magic like a sponge, dispersing it harmlessly. Mike shifted all flow from Tik-Tik and into the old volcano.

Harp jerked his head down and clapped his hands together. His magic returned to him. He caught it and pulled it into two foci. “That’s done. You can lower the shield Defender, Tik-Tik.”

“Wilco.” Once he’d pulled the power back into himself and Tik-Tik, Mike said, “The prone individual is our problem?”

“Not for much longer. I hear the Garda approaching. But for the moment, yes. I promise, I won’t hurt him too much.” Harp started toward the flattened figure. Mike and Tik-Tik came along. “Her,” Harp corrected. The woman sat up, then leaned forward and lost her lunch. “Glad I won’t have her headache.”

“No shit.” Mike’s head pulsed once with the memory of his last bad overstrain reaction. “Tik-Tik and I will need food soon.”

“No problem. I’ve got recharge supplies in the car.” Harp stopped and folded his arms. He glared at the woman, and at the remains of the pattern burned into the grass. “Do you see what I see in the grass?”

Mike ignored the magic worker in favor of studying the pattern. Tik-Tik went closer, sniffing and twitching. He pointed to a half-visible shape. Mike circled to see that part better. Tik-Tik patted the dirt. “Boss, there’s no undershield. Remember what Al said two days ago?”

“Don’t want undershield for cthonic summoning,” the woman groaned. She sounded like Mike had felt after the fight in Houska. “Wanted an earth spirit.”

“Oh, ye got one,” Harp said. He glanced back, then moved to his right as a pair of police officers stormed up. “Good evening, sirs. Summoning that went wrong.”

The shorter of the two man—Ford per his name badge—scowled. “Who start—” He caught himself as he took in the woman on all fours. “Black Annie. Again.” He sounded resigned. “What devil inspired you this time?”

She leaned back so that she sat on her knees. She pushed dark brown hair back from her round face. “It’s not the Devil. It’s my rightful money I’m searching for, and you know it!”

The taller officer—Armstrong—looked at Mike and Rich, then came over to study the pattern. “That explains the dragon. Did you and your Familiar undercut the pattern?”

Mike shook his head, as did Rich. “No, sir. I shielded, then dealt with collapse and overspill as that gent undercut the pattern. He knows that area better than Rich and I do.” Carl had his ID out and was speaking quietly with Officer Ford.

“Good work.” Armstrong extended his hand, and they shook. “We’re part of the magic side of the Edinburgh Police. Got a call about uncontained power eruption in the park, followed by reports of the volcano’s dragon waking.”

Rich shook all over. “There’s not a dragon here, is there, sir?”

“No, but two novels and a local music video describe one, and you know how that works. May I see your ID, sirs?” Officer Armstrong shook his head as he photographed the pattern. “That’s Annie’s work, clear as day.”

After they gave their statements and got snacks, the trio adjourned to the pub. Mike raised his pint. “To quiet evenings?”

“To quiet. Slainte.” Carl took a long pull from his pint of stout. “I needed that. My uncle’s going to be irked.”

Rich, halfway through a fried potato wedge, licked his chops. “Your uncle doesn’t like dragons?”

“He doesn’t like people who call up dragon-like things. It’s a very long story, but he had to deal with someone who insisted on summoning very, very nasty abyssal and worse entities, then claiming that he’d proven that dragons existed.”

Mike savored another swig of his local ale. “I can see why that would leave a bad taste in his mouth.” He leaned back against the booth, making space as the waitress set down two very full bowls of cullen skink. “So, you wanted to ask about Mrs. Langtree’s recent paintings?”

Carl perked up. “Oh, yes. She’s still taking commissions?”

“Yes. She’s cut back recently because of a little health scare. It wasn’t anything really serious, but she and her business manager and her husband agreed that taking fewer cover commissions and portrait orders would be wise.”

They talked art and sales until the rest of supper arrived. Then all three tore into their meals, savoring shepherd’s pie, a Scots Burger with mixed beef and mutton topped with bacon and a fried egg, and one of the thickest plain burger patties Mike had seen. ‘The cook must think you’re cute,” he observed as Rich gobbled the meat.

“How can he eat all—?” Carl caught himself. “Never mind. I saw how much Rodney eats. And worse. What he eats.”

Mike sorted words as he had another fork full of shepherd’s pie. “I think they send any extra to a remote storage place or something. I don’t want to know. Civilization probably doesn’t need to know, either.”

“In Rodney’s case, I agree with you on both counts.” Carl took bite of burger. “Ah, since you’re new to Edinburgh. There’s an unspoken rule among the esoteric community—the real workers, not the wand-wavers—to avoid serious magic on both Arthur’s Seat and the volcanic formation under the castle and Royal Mile. Shielding, a little illusion, checking old things for possible curses and so on, those are all fine. But no major workings unless you have no choice.”

“What about that shielded area at the history museum?” Rich asked, then resumed devouring. Half the patty had vanished already. Mike used his fork to scoot the rest closer to the edge of the plate.

Carl sat back and had a sip of his pint. “That’s so shielded you could probably hold every spell challenge or duel in NATA history there all at once and no one would notice. Some archaeology stuff needs, ah, special care and defusing.”

“No s—,” Mike caught himself. “Kidding. You ever have to deal with some of the finds from the Carpathians and Danube Basin, or Mesopotamia?”

“Mesopotamia. Zero out of five stars, not only wouldn’t recommend but won’t do it again without half the rest of my crew assisting.” His scowl shifted to a little smile and he winked. “Besides, I found a doc who will swear on a stack of whatever book you want that ancient artifacts give you hives, fallen arches, and Nebuchadnezzar’s Revenge.”

He felt Rich’s disapproving glower. Mike grinned anyway. “Sounds good to me. How many times have you let the smoke out of your electrical system?”

“Only once. It’s not an MG, remember?” Talk returned to harmless topics, like beers, cars, and American football, the latter leading to a glower from a passing fellow customer.

 After they finished, and Mike paid, he asked, “If you don’t mind, why Harp?”

Carl smiled. “Comes from my other other job.” He began humming, and sang in a warm tenor, “Come by the hills to the land where fancy is free.” As he did, misty green hills appeared, and the scent of fresh sea air replaced city smells. The scene faded.

A bard. I’ve heard of them, but never met one. “Thanks. I hope we cross paths again with less excitement.”

“Agree on both counts.” They shook, then half-embraced. “Go Navy.”

“Sod off,” Mike replied. “Army all the way.”

Rich sighed as loudly as he could, “Boys, no fighting over religion.” The trio went their separate ways. Mike thought fondly of a third pint, then shook his head. He was meeting Alyssa at eight the next morning for the long-by-British-standards drive to Oban.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved


11 thoughts on “Saturday Snippet: YGTBSM Edition

    • Yes, more Carl is a good thing! I’m really looking forward to the release & devouring the book. /burp

  1. The local time may be sunset 2130, twilight 2154 to 2330, if it’s spring. Then twilight 0300 to 0440, dawn 0445, adding to the morning’s woes. Blackout shades or drapes let me get some sleep. Good engagement on the Seat, and a nice conclusion with police. Too many legends, myths, and imaginations at work on haunted landscapes to act otherwise.

    So Carl is a Bard? No wonder his uncle wants him for security as well. Few beings are more fearful to the Good People under the hill, and on his human plane even Bono had less copyright protection. He’d naturally refer to police as Garda, nice touch.

    • It’s early September. But yes, I was less than thrilled by how early the sun rose in mid-June. Something about having to be back in the hotel by 0500 to avoid direct sunlight, if it was a clear morning. OTOH there are no “tourrrrrists” out and about that that hour, just a few locals staggering home, and the boat crews.

      • Early September? No, then your times are about right. Could be worse – late April and May in the West and Inner Hebrides, with every New Ager and her sister trying to get on Iona for Beltane. Twilights at “bloody awful [Marine] time!

  2. “He doesn’t like people who call up dragon-like things.”

    Of course, considering the hints that we have had concerning Mr. Smith, he may also dislike somebody attempting to “summon” him. 😆

    Mind you, I suspect that the idea that “dragons don’t exist” in the Familiar universe may depend on “what is a dragon”.

    Meister Gruenewald’s father was a being that some might call a dragon. 😉

  3. Very well done introducing expanded roles for long term characters! Like the geographical accuracy quite a bit. Scotland, and later Norway, were fun in the summer, not so much in late January.

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