"Once..." Cheryl answered, eating a cookie. "I think, come to think of it, it was right after my twelfth birthday. Same as you."
"What was she like?" Lizzy asked.
Cheryl shrugged. "Nice I guess. Kind of weird, though. One of the first things she did was pull out some weird crystal and tap me on the forehead with it. I don't think she liked me very much I guess."
"Crystal?" Lizzy mused. "Maybe she's one of those 'Hippies' I hear about on the news. Some of them are into crystals as a means of catching and channeling spiritual power."
Cheryl snorted. "You know so much about it maybe she'll get along with you just fine. You turning into some sort of crystal power hippie, Lizzy?"
"I am not!!!" Lizzy protested. "I just try to keep an open mind!"
"That's a good sign." a new voice broke into the conversation. Lizzy and Cheryl's mother Patricia entered the room; with her was speaker of the interruption, a smartly dressed woman with brown hair who, Lizzy noticed, looked a lot like Mom. Lizzy was also intrigued by the pin in her lapel, a circle bearing a mark that looked like some kind of angular, backwards capital "P". "Open mindedness is a commendable trait."
Patricia coughed nervously. "You remember Cheryl from before. Tegan, this is Elizabeth. Lizzy, my cousin, Tegan Fielding."
Lizzy shook Tegan's hand. "Nice to meet you, Miss Tegan."
"And you, Elizabeth."
"Everybody calls me 'Lizzy'"
"Cheryl..." Patricia said, placing a hand on her older daughter's shoulder. "Let's wait in the other room. Tegan needs to talk to Lizzy alone, just like she did you."
Cheryl shrugged. "Whatever." The two left, but not before Lizzy spared her mother one nervous glance.
"Nervous, Elizabeth?" Tegan asked.
Lizzy blinked. "Actually...yes. Maybe I shouldn't be, but even though Mom knows you, and Cheryl's met you before, I don't know you."
Tegan's eyes narrowed. "Understandable. Tell me...is it because I somehow seem strange to you?"
Lizzy looked confused. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Tegan stroked her chin, and then muttered something under her breath, making a strange little gesture with her other hand.
"What's that?" Lizzy asked.
"Just clearing the air around me, in a way." Tegan said enigmatically.
"You do well in school?" Tegan asked.
"You probably know the answer to that already." Lizzy countered. "My Mother could have told you that."
"She could have." Tegan nodded. "But I prefer to ask you directly. It's you I'm interested in, after all."
"Why?" Lizzy asked. "Why are you so interested?"
Tegan smirked. "We are family, after all. Sadly, due to my...profession, I haven't been around very much. Think of it as a bit of making up for lost time."
Lizzy was still suspicious, but decided not to prod any further. For the moment. "Well, I'm in the top 10% of the class. Do okay in science and math, but my best subject is history." Lizzy failed to suppress a slight smile of pride. "Won a debate with the teacher last week."
Tegan chuckled. "A historian and debater...oh, could this be any more perfect?"
"What does that mean?"
"You sound a lot like I was at your age." Tegan stroked her chin again. "You don't seem to have a disruptive aura...but the Gentle Gift does run in our bloodline." Tegan reached into her pocket. "Only one way to confirm or rule it out..."
Lizzy's eyes went wide. "That's the crystal Cheryl told me about, isn't it?"
Tegan smiled slightly, holding up the six-inch long prism of transparent glass. "Yes."
"What does it do?"
"You might think of it as a kind of tuning fork." Tegan answered. "If touched a certain way against someone having a certain kind of harmonic, it resonates. We use it to detect people with that harmonic."
" 'We'?" Lizzy asked.
"You noticed that word." Tegan grinned. "Good. But I'm getting ahead of myself." Tegan held the crystal, and gently tapped Lizzy's forehead with one end, just as Cheryl had described.
For a second, Lizzy thought nothing had happened. But then she noticed a sound...like a ringing in her ears. And then the crystal began to glow in a soft white light.
"Oh, very very good..." Tegan smiled. "Very good indeed."
"What..." Lizzy found the words trying to stick in her throat. "What does that mean?"
Tegan put the crystal back into her pocket, and reached into her satchel. "It means, Elizabeth, that you possess a great potential. One I've been hoping to find. Your sister has many fine qualities, and great potential in her own way, but this particular...Gift...is one she does not share with us." Lizzy wasn't sure what all of this meant.
Tegan gestured and muttered again, and this time Lizzy noticed something. Like the world around her...muffled just a little. The sound of the Edward Bear song Cheryl had turned on in the next room acquired an odd tinny echo. But on the other hand, when Lizzy looked back at her mother's cousin, she felt different. Like somehow warmer, friendlier...or at the very least somehow she wasn't making Lizzy nervous anymore.
Tegan extracted some papers from her satchel. "I want you to look at something, Elizabeth. I'm hoping you will consider this--it's a place I know that will help you discover that potential. Help you become the person I think you are meant to become."
"Experience the Magic of Learning"
For only a second, she rued the passing of the dream she was having--a pleasant one involving, as many had over the past three years, a certain man of her acquaintance, one with the most soulful eyes she'd ever seen--but cast the thought out of her head quickly.
There was a frightful shout of bloodlust and rage, followed by a crashing noise.
Dear God... she scrambled out of her bed, gesturing. A robe jumped off of the dresser and into her clutch, where she quickly wrapped it around her nude body. Is it even possible that something is attacking here?!?!
It seemed absurd.
She grabbed one more item, a staff that would help focus her mystic energies.
The Archmage...if something is here, they must be after the Archmage...
She ran out of her room, down the staircase to the grounds of the Covenant.
Intellectually, she knew she wasn't really on the Great Arber, the highest mountain in the Bavarian Forest in Germany. The spot she was standing on would be dominated by a German radar station if it was. But it helped to think of it as such--because the regio was patterned off of that location as it was centuries before Liz was born.
She concentrated, trying to cast an Intellego spell that would help her discover what was happening. Intellego was one of her better techniques; her senses stretched out...
Surrounding the covenant, some distance outside it--just outside the bounds, she knew, of its Aegis--but surrounding it totally, was an army. Some of them were in armor, some in rags, but all were quite clearly dead, most nothing more than skeletons.
Her contemplation broken by heavy footsteps behind her. She turned to face a creature that had a lizardlike head, leading to a long spiny neck, attached to two spindly arms and a muscular body with four legs; the creature looked like nothing so much to her as a weird cross between a dinosaur and a centaur.
But undercutting the horror of the site was the combination of the creature's bright purple skin, day-glow yellow boots on each of its four feet, and the garment serving as a headband that looked like nothing else as much as a black strapless DD-cup bra. The creature made a confused oooh-ing noise.
"Dulk?" Liz asked the creature. "What's going on? Has the Archmage awakened?"
"Dulk not know." it replied. "Dulk not like this. Bone men scare cows."
"Knowing Styx, he's probably running to the Aegis to taunt them or something..." Liz shook her head. "We really should try to check on the Archmage. Where's..."
She turned to the sound of a crash, and very heavy footsteps. A skeleton in black plate armor, carrying a large ax designed to resemble a dragon strode toward Liz and Dulk, with two thinner, less armored skeletons (one wielding a sword, the other a quarterstaff) just behind it. "[Well...]" a sepulcher voice said in Vulgar (very Vulgar) Latin. "[Now we're getting somewhere...]"
Dulk's pupilless eyes blinked. "Dulk think he know you...Dulk..." Dulk screamed and ran. "Stalker!!! Dulk not like you!!! Run Lady E! Very very bad!!!"
"[Eight hundred years and still stupid as mud I see.]" the "Stalker" skeleton chuckled. "[I'd think little Wizzo would have gotten better help by now]"
"[Do not move any further]" Liz warned the three, brandishing the staff.
Stalker made a dismissive snort. "[And now Wizzo has his chambermaids defending his hovel? Pathetic. Destroy her.]" He gestured to the two shambling skeletons.
Liz pointed with the end of the staff. "Perdo Corpus!"
The two shamblers exploded into clouds of dust, leaving nothing but their weapons and scraps of clothing. Stalker flinched, a groan of surprise and pain escaping from his skinless mouth.
Shit! Liz thought to herself. How high a Might score does this bastard have?! That barely penetrated! She stepped back, adopting a defensive stance the Archmage had taught her. What in the hell is this thing?
"[A maga...]" the skeleton growled, the dismissive tone vanishing from its voice. "[Perhaps I slightly underestimated the boy...]" He advanced on Liz, swinging the ax.
She managed to defend from the first few strikes, but with an angry growl he attacked the staff itself, splintering it, then delivered a kick that sent her staggering back into a wall.
She tried to shake off the daze...her Parma had kept her from getting the worst of the attack...Spont something...quick...but what...
He grabbed the neck of the robe she was wearing, and hoisted her a foot off the ground. "[Though I see some things haven't changed--little Wizzo did have a way of surrounding himself with some fine strumpets. The stuck up Frank. The lesbian werewolf. The blonde harlot with the high forehead.]" The skeleton paused. "[And especially sweet little Arlana.]"
The tone in Stalker's voice at the last reference gave Liz the creeps.
"[Sadly, I no longer have the urges of a living man, so the lush charms of your body are of no use to me. I will give my regards to your master soon enough.]"
The skeleton reared back to deliver the death blow. Liz's mind raced. This certainly wasn't how she saw her life ending...
There was a feral screech, and something slammed into the armored skeleton, staggering it. His left arm jerked back as he staggered; his grip proved stronger than the cloth of Liz's robe, but it lost the battle to hold her and she ripped free of it, dropping to the ground.
"[Fell beast!!!]" Stalker shouted, as a black cat howled and hissed as it continued to attack the monster's exposed skull.
Liz crouched. She knew this opportunity wouldn't last long. She reached within herself, fanning the flames of her inner power. Her hands twirled dramatically, adopting the gestures of Form and Technique devised by Bonisagus himself over twelve hundred years before. In the loudest, most booming voice she could muster, she spoke the incantation. "LEAVE THIS PLACE, FOUL ONE!!! REGO CORPUS!!!"
A battering ram of mystic force slammed into Stalker; as the black cat jumped away, the skeleton was sent hurling far from the Covenant, screaming obscenities as it flew, crashing into the nearby forest some two hundred yards away.
Perdo ("Destruction") wasn't her best Technique, but Rego ("Control") was
Liz gasped for air from the exertion. She looked at the cat. "Tarantula" she said. "Is the Archmage aware of what's happening?"
The cat shook her head.
"We should get to him, and..."
Tarantula shook her head again, and walked over to something on the ground, which she had brought with her but had to drop to save Liz from Stalker. The cat pointed at it with her front left paw.
Liz picked it up. "A return stone?"
The cat nodded.
Liz exhaled, regarding the small necklace--a chain ending in a polished stone about the size and shape of a silver dollar, bearing the Archmage's device--a runic symbol resembling a backwards letter "P" (A device that Liz and all of her Hermetic ancestors shared, it having been passed down from the Archmage's only student). "You think I should leave--go get help."
The cat nodded again.
There was a crash, and an angry howl. Stalker was on his way back.
Liz hurriedly grabbed Tarantula, disoriented, for just a second, by the tickle sensation of the furry animal pressed up against a very sensitive area of her again-naked anatomy. Where do I go then?
Magvillus? No...they'd spend at least two weeks debating about whether to start a committee to issue a report on whether the matter should be investigated.
I can't go to Father Portenza--his bosses would need just as long to debate the matter, and they would be even less likely to help.
A group of specialists that have extensive experience dealing with demon-level threats. Someone I've worked with before. The Archmage has worked with before. And...
She didn't want to admit how much she wanted to see them again. One in particular.
Thing is, the return stone can only take me to a place I've been. I've never been to New York, so...
Lord Stalker burst back into view, fire coming from his empty eye sockets.
Liz closed her eyes Or it can take me to one person I know, wherever they are. The stronger a connection I feel the better...
A face appeared in her mind's eye. Wide, soulful brown eyes. A friendly smile. A topping of short copper hair.
Take me to Ray Stantz
The world around Liz Hawthorne and Tarantula the cat dissolved into a violet mist.
The scandal erupted after Lucretia was interviewed in the last issue of Celebrity, where she told about her son, describing the childhood of "Little Percy" (Percival Bottomsby III) as one of privilege--her husband, Percival Jr, is a shipping executive for East Industries. "Little Percy never wanted for anything" Lucretia said. "And he can play an accordion with such skill it can make a man cry. I wonder if he'll use that in his little band act."
Wink, fearing for the potential hit to sales of the 2 Crew's latest CD, I Wuz Set Up By the Man, responded with the aforementioned expletive-laden statement. He went on to say "Look, I don't know where she got this from. I told everybody back when our first disc dropped--I was raised in the hood by a crack whore, and don't even know who my father is. I had to steal and kill to survive. So stop asking about this. And I weren't never that good with the accordion either."
I Wuz Set Up By The Man is a Subsidy Records release.
Oh boy... Ray rolled his eyes. I remember when those guys first hit big. I told Peter I'd never be able to criticize his 'love song' ever again...
He sighed and put down the Celebrity.
"Hey! Doc Stantz!"
Ray looked up to see a twenty year-old Japanese woman, her long hair gathered into a ponytail.
"Hey, Mariko." Ray said brightly. Mariko Fuyuno was in his post-grad engineering course, and of course the best student in the class. She was the same age as a college sophomore, but Ray knew she'd actually earned her first degree at age 17. Second fastest college grad I've ever known. "What's up?"
"I just saw you sitting there by the fountain, and it's kind of a neat coincidence." she replied. "I was just listening to the radio, and they were playing a certain Ray Parker Junior song I think you're familiar with. The DJ even mentioned it was ten years ago today that the Ghostbusters started."
Ray was stunned. He'd been so busy with the end of the semester finals, and putting together his project plan for the summer, he'd just about forgotten. "Wow. You're right. June 8, 1984." His face scrunched. "No, wait a minute, I think that DJ's wrong. The movie came out in 1984--we actually opened up a year earlier. And it was June 9."
Mariko sat down next to him, and picked up the discarded Celebrity.
Ray sighed. "Wow. It's just amazing how these things sneak up on me sometimes." He took a pen out of his pocket and started to chew on it. "Ten years...man, it's tough feeling old at age 34."
" Scandal! MC Wink Accuses Mother...' " Mariko started to read.
"Saw that one already." Ray chuckled. "You know I actually met those guys once? Case back late 1990--a Tiamat cult was trying to put subliminal messages in the background music at one of their concerts."
"I think somebody already did that--it's the only explanation why anybody listens to that crap. Oooo, now this one is interesting." Mariko read. " 'Psychic Milton Anglund says he saw, in a vision, that former NFL star OJ Simpson will be murdered by his ex-wife, but the media will ignore the story.' "
"I think Peter had that guy on his show once." Ray mused. "He predicted the world will end on Valentine's Day 2016"
"Bummer." Mariko responded. She was quiet for a few seconds. "So you gonna call any of them later? Because you know who..."
"Yeah, yeah, hah hah." Ray nodded. "I'll probably call Peter after dinner, if he doesn't call me first. Winston's sometimes on flights, so you never know. Janine...well, I never know what I'm going to get when I call her. Sometimes she's happy to hear from me, other times she's dumping her problems on me and it's like I'm bothering her."
"You know, all this time, Doc, and I never asked about Spengler."
"I'd rather you didn't." Ray sighed, shaking his head.
Mariko's pant pocket began to ring. She took out a beeper. "Huh. Little sister wants me to call her. I guess I better not keep her waiting--I swear, she can somehow make those enormous puppy dog eyes work even over a phone line." She got up and started to walk away.
Ray sighed again. Fifteen years ago, if a woman like her talked to me I'd probably have fallen head over heels. Of course, she would have either fallen for Egon or been a notch on Peter's bedpost...
He gathered his garbage and stood up; he'd managed to take three steps away from the fountain...
...Before the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
There was a flash of brilliant purple light for only a fraction of a second; a strong scent of ozone; and an enormous splashing noise from behind him.
He turned to the fountain; there were still swirling mists, and a out of the water, sputtering from the unexpectedly aquatic nature of her arrival, Ray was shocked to see, was a woman wearing the water she'd just landed in--and absolutely nothing else.
And in a fraction of a second, as parts of his animal brain were already responding to the signal of "NAKED WOMAN!!!", came the recognition that it wasn't just any woman. Standing there, gathering her wits, nude as the day she was born, was one of the most beautiful women he'd ever met in his life, like something out of any number of erotic fantasies he'd had since meeting her three years earlier.
The word stuck in his throat, like he was afraid of being wrong. Of breaking the spell. "Liz?!" he finally croaked.
Liz Hawthorne. Lady Enlightenment.
She opened her eyes wide, mutual recognition--pleased recognition--dancing within them. "Ray!!!"
She grabbed him, and hugged him tight.
Ray definitely felt his temperature rising, and found himself fighting a series of physical reactions.
It's just about then that she seemed to realize the full context of where she was and her own state of dress--or lack thereof. " oh my god " she muttered, face turning as bright red as Ray's own. She crossed her arms over her naked (and spectacular, Ray guiltily noted) breasts and sunk back into the fountain. "Er...a little help here, Ray?"
Ray managed to shake himself out of his reverie after a mere five seconds. He quickly took off his lab coat, and held it out, turning around to allow her to stand and quickly wrap it around herself.
"Okay." she said. Her immediate modesty now secured, she started looking around.
Ray looked at her again, his face still red, but he was starting to come back to his senses again.
She looked confused. "Where are we? This isn't New York, is it?"
He shook his head. "Palo Alto. Stanford University. It's where I've been since..."
She stumbled a little as she stepped out of the fountain. "It's so...empty...the Archmage had said there'd been aftereffects from the Zodiac incident, but..."
He helped her steady herself. "I have like a million question, but this isn't really a good place to go into it. We don't get too many naked women in the fountains here, so somebody's probably going to notice and call campus security--probably be best we get out of here before that happens. C'mon, I'll get you to..."
There was another commotion in the fountain, and a very annoyed series of hisses; a drenched black cat pulled herself indignantly from the water, sneezing as she stood on the edge of the fountain.
Ray recognized the collar the cat was wearing. "Tarantula? Master Eventides' cat?!"
Liz exhaled wearily. "I think we both have a list of questions, Ray." She looked around, muttering something. "I think that little bit of rego imaginem will help us not get noticed until we get to...where ever we're going, but I'm not sure..." She shook her head. "I can't believe how...empty of quintessence this place feels...it's like trying to cast a spell through cement..."
Ray picked up the wet cat. "Right this way."
The wizard, the former Ghostbuster, and the former familiar quickly left the area, the discarded Celebrity magazine the only sign they'd ever been there.
Reference made to material from Ars Magica, created by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein-Hagen; now owned by Atlas Games save a few concepts owned by White Wolf Games.