Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Letter Home

Spike leaned on one elbow, pondering the parchment.  She hadn't written home since the term started, and this was one term she really didn't want her parents calling in to find out what was going on.  She sighed.  They know me too well, she thought.  Any time it gets too quiet . . .

So, a note and a trinket would suffice to keep things quiet.  She hoped.

Dearest Mats and Atyets--

School proceeds apace; I am looking forward to returning home to Schadelthron for the break. Yes, even though you will undoubtedly set me among the roving felinity to help watch over the clowder. I have been a mentor this term at Hogwarts; herding cats holds no terrors for me. Jesper should only know how lucky he is.

I enclose this cushion top made in purple.

I hear you ask why purple, when the House livery here is green and silver. Purple is the color of school unity, to remind us that while we have been sorted into towers and dungeons, we are all still here in this together. Much like the herd of cats--each one going his own direction, but gently guided into cooperation.

Totenberg thanks you for the fruitcake you sent. I have attempted to talk the house elves into leaving him the bones from the kitchens to chew on, but after that unfortunate incident with Tinker last term, they are still somewhat wary.

To the greater honor and glory--
-- Nikolevnischka “Spike” von Schaedelthron

Sunday, July 21, 2013

One God, Two God

It was mid-terms at Hogwarts, and Muggle Studies had focused on Comparative Religions in the Muggle world. So many to choose from, like a box of chocolates from Honeydukes! So many varieties of Dark and Light, although, confusingly enough, each one claimed to be the sole source of Light.

For mid-terms, each student had selected a Muggle religion to study in depth, and created a shrine for their chosen deity. Naturally, this had interesting results, as faith and magic intertwined. The smell of incense lingered in the air, and the winged rainbows from Miranda Softshanks’s presentation of Limpidia still fluttered in the corners almost an hour later.

Belvina Pascoe was just concluding her presentation. Her shrine was polished green marble carved with an eyeless face. ” … demanding everything from his followers, and offering very little in return. Except power, and glory where it can be snatched.” She dropped a raven’s feather into the brazier atop the shrine, and the smoke formed into a fanged and gaping maw before it blew away. “Not surprisingly, Crom is no longer worshipped as such, except by the small, scattered, nomadic tribes of the Cimerrians.” She turned and took a small bow before resuming her seat next to her project.

Professor Poole applauded. “Nice work, Miss Pascoe. And next we have Spike.”

Spike stood up next to her shrine, which was covered with an obscuro. She pointed her wand and snarled, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Ia! Ia!” The mist resolved into a writhing mass of black snakes to reveal:

“Dread Cthulhu is still worshipped in Muggle Innsmouth, although it is not entirely clear whether this is purely deity-related, or more ancestor worship. He is formally considered to belong to the group of gods referred to as ‘The Many-Angled Ones,’ beings of near pure mathematics.

“He is said to send dreams to his followers of the terrors to come when the stars come right once more, and he ascends to power over the Earth. Their minds are slowly consumed by contact with his particular psychic energies … yes, Professor Ethelbard?”

“Why don’t you tell us about the blanket square, Spike. And the beer.”

Spike looked at the square.

She scratched her head. “That’s funny … I had made a simple concentrically striped square because after a long hard day, even a squamous and rugose sanity-devouring horror from beyond time and space likes to chill out with a cold brew and a warm binkie. I don’t get what could have happened …”


“Yes, Professor?”

“Meet me in Professor Gorre’s office, please. Usual time.”

“During Quidditch practice? But … yes, Professor.”

Begonia Hoddington coughed as she stood up next to her shrine, a drifting tattered yellow veil. Silvery liquid dripped thickly from the hem, somehow disappearing before it hit the floor. “Leave the beer. Xuthal of the Dusk is propitiated by grain sacrifice.” She poured a small puddle, and the veil dropped hungrily to consume it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

For Your Friendship, Concluded

He laughed, a bitter laugh that hinted at a snarl concealed.  A growl lightly coated with black humor.  “You gots de justifications in place.  Now all you needs is the speech that ends with ‘Fools!  I will crush you all!’ and you be ready, hey?”

Spike flinched.  She'd had enough family history to know that anything that started out that way presaged a very bad end indeed.  But she'd also sworn an oath, promised with her life's breath that she wouldn't tell about the newly hatched Order of the Phoenix Reborn.  And anyone who'd take one oath lightly, she thought, and in that, she had it.

"Sascha, I promise that if I were able to explain what I was doing, and why I was doing it, why I had to use the bird the way I did, that I would."  He raised an eyebrow, and she took his hand.  "But to do that, I would have to break another promise.  That would leave us in a bad way, because . . . because I think if you knew what I was doing, you'd feel compelled to stop me -- or at least to make me promise that I'd conscript my behavior to the safer paths -- and how could you trust my word after that?"  His ears laid back flat against his head for a second, then moved back to neutral.  "If you see another way, please help me find it."

"So . . . necessary, was it?"  She nodded, showed him the bandage on her finger where she'd drawn the drops of blood to finish giving it the right smell.  He looked at it closely, seeing the tiny red fleck that had come through the gauze.  The fire in his eye died, and his shoulders slumped. "Necessary like the monster you building for the OWL?"

She sighed, shook her head.  "The OWL . . . the OWL is because I can.  Yeah, hubris, I know, I know.  'Fools! I will crush you all!' and all that.  This . . . this really does have a higher purpose in mind, and there's a team counting on me.  Watching out for me.  I'm responsible to others who will help me stay on the straight and narrow.  I think . . . I think that if I could tell you all about it, you three would be proud of me."  Scared out of your minds for me, terrified of what Atyets would do if you slipped and I fell out of your hands like an egg on the flagstones,  but proud.

He leaned down, picked a flower, turning it over in his huge square hands, examining the tiny florets carefully.  Running one finger over the texture of the petaled bells.  "So.  Promise me one thing."

"If I can."

"When you can talk about this, do.  Tell all three of us.  We can watch you, guide you, but we gots to know where you going.  And right now, it looks like you going a very bad way indeed."

"Right off the cliff, where the villagers wait below with torches and pitchforks."  She stood up, brushing the leaves and mulch off her robes.  "I promise.  If and when I am free to tell you about  . . . what I'm doing and why, I will."

Later that night, as a token of her promise, she crafted a square out of purple. Purple for unity, purple for hyacinths, purple for a bruised heart, and hung it on the wall by the door to her rooms.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

For Your Friendship, Part Two

Outside the castle, at the end of the bridge over the lake, Spike took a deep shivering breath.  Where would Sascha go, to think things over?  To be alone for a time.  Where would I go?  And in that thought, she had it.  The hyacinth glade.

Some time ago, probably before the time of the Second Wizarding War, someone with a gift for wild Herbology had planted little grape hyacinths in a sheltering grove of oak trees.  Just enough sun to let the little flowers live, enchanted to keep them warm and blooming year-round.  Even in the deepest winter, the little glade was sweet smelling and warm, with no snow on the ground.  You had to know where it was; the track led you all around the Forbidden Forest to the side furthest from Hogwarts.  Sascha had picked up a boulder from the south field and carried it on one shoulder, "borrowed" some tools from a dusty broom closet, and carved himself a reasonable seat there where he could enjoy the flowers.

Spike herself found it restful and peaceful, the lovely purple and green, the filtered light gently coming through the trees, the candy scented air.  A good place to bring parchment and quill to chew on a particularly knotty problem, drafting and redrafting a solution to something that did not have an easy answers.  Like now, for instance.

She squared her shoulders.  Nothing to it, but to do it.  Easy to say, harder to live.  When she found a hatchling spider on the path, barely the size of her hand, she nodded and bade it an absent good day.  Thinking she would rather be confronting Aragog than going to have this conversation.

His back was to the path where it entered the clearing, his bright apricot blond ringlets bound with a bit of ribbon.  Black today, to match the piping on his charcoal grey livery.  Tomorrow, it might well be lime green, to go with the violet.  Sunset orange, with the blue, or cream with the hot pink.

He'd heard her coming, she could see it in the way he was sitting, tensed and alert.  Probably smelled me, too.  The gentle breeze had been at her back for the past several minutes, prying gently at the cardigan she'd pulled over her robes.  She took two steps to her left, to approach from the good side, and called, "Sascha?"

He turned his head, and she could see tear tracks down that cheek.  "Little mistress.  Beg pardon if I don't get up."

She came closer, walking slowly.  "Sascha, I'm . . . I'm sorry."  He turned away, staring off into the middle distance, and she crouched next to his stone chair.  She looked up into his face, which seemed barely less cold and hard than the rock he perched on.

"What for?"  His voice was hoarser than usual, gruff with emotion.  "Just a bird, yah?  A thing to be used and thrown away."

She put a hand on his knee, and a moment later, leaned her head against his leg.  "I'm sorry because of what I didn't know; sorry because of the things I can't tell you. I hurt you in ways I don't really understand; I betrayed some of what you thought of me."

"Thought mebbe you would help.  Doing work late at night all alone in the labs below the Pit with the other animals, thought mebbe . . .  ah, don't matter what I thought, do it?  Just big stupid lump of muscle, a brick.  Useful tool, to be used and  . . ."

Spike felt hot all over for a moment, the world skidding into redness.  Did he really think-- and then she recalled the history lesson she'd just learned.  Yes.  A thing to be used.  Like a brick being used to fortify a wall, to keep a door open, to open a window.  Didn't Atyets often mutter "That's what the Hounds are for?" when a minister would advise of some peacekeeping that needed to be attended to in one corner or another of the dukedom?

But and but and but . . .  These were her Hounds, these three whose faces were more familiar than her parents', certainly than her own.  "Ah, by all the gods, Sascha, I wish there was something I could say, some way I could explain that the bird wasn't just useful.  That its end had a higher purpose -- but isn't that what they all say?"  She looked up at him, and now he had turned to look back down at her.  The metal embedded in the scars not covered by the eyepatch gleamed dully in the light.  "That the end justifies the means?"