Being the next of my Brian Northington stories. Enjoy. Or not. Possibly you'd rather go off and practise the trombone instead. Don't let me stop you. The last one is the post immediately before this, for anyone who hasn't read it, but wants to. The rest of the stories will follow at various points this week.
‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’
The words rang through the interior of P.Edgeborough and Co.’s warehouse as Brian forced them out. When Spider had offered to teach him his first piece of magic, he’d jumped at the chance. Now though, there were one or two things bothering him.
For a start there was what Cynthia, who couldn’t argue about him using her real name if Brian only did it in his head, had chosen to wear. There was enough padding that she’d have looked like some sort of American Football player, if those had been stunningly attractive redheads. It didn’t look like the outfit of someone who was feeling particularly confident. Nevertheless, Spider nodded.
‘Of course I’m sure,’ she said, and that was another difference. No American Footballer would ever have that cut glass accent that sent shivers down his spine. ‘I’m just also taking precautions in case you should happen to go all Sorcerers Apprentice on me.’
The precautions in question seemed to amount to a couple of fire extinguishers, a large blanket, a first aid kit, and a pile of cushions large enough for either diving into or hiding behind, depending on how badly things went wrong. Trouble the not-exactly-a-chameleon, Brian’s pet and unofficial shop nuisance, sat on top of the pile, happily copying a floral pattern.
‘I wish I knew how he did that.’ Brian said. ‘Chameleons should change colour to match their mood, not what’s around… mmph!’
Spider, who’d clamped her hand firmly over his mouth, looked him in the eye.
‘Brian, we’ve talked about this, haven’t we?’
‘Mmmph.’ Brian agreed.
‘No talking endlessly about lizards.’
‘Mmmph.’ It was true. She had told him. Brian had to admit that he liked talking about lizards quite a lot, well… reptiles in general really. Brian liked to think that it was a love that let him be the company’s perfect monster-catcher. Admittedly, the bit where he could persuade reptiles up to and including dragons to do as he asked also came in useful.
For some reason, though, Spider didn’t like listening to it. At least not after the first ten minutes. Brian found it very strange.
‘mmph.’ He reiterated. ‘mmm mh mmph ee aat mmph mmmph?’
‘What?’ Spider demanded, and took her hand away.
‘I said “but why can’t we wait for Peter?”’ Brian repeated. ‘I thought that…um… magic was supposed to be his sort of thing.’
‘It is, but I doubt he’ll be teaching you any time soon. Peter, for all that he’s a wonderful man, has the memory of one of your lizards.’
‘Actually… mmph!’ Brian had to admit that he liked having Spider this close to him, even if the effect was rather ruined at the moment by the layers of padding. Not to mention the grill of the helmet, which was pressing uncomfortably into his face.
‘Look, Brian, do you want to learn how to do this?’
Brian would have nodded if he could have.
Forty-five minutes later he was still trying. Spider seemed to be getting a little impatient. She’d taken up a position on the pile of cushions, and was pointedly ignoring the fact that Trouble had settled down on top of her head and gone to sleep.
‘Come on, Brian. I’ve repeated the words for you a dozen times now.’
The words were part of the problem. They, all right Spider, had selected a simple ‘eerily glowing light’ spell, apparently on the basis that there were only a few things that could go wrong. Unfortunately, it seemed to involve a long and complicated chant that Brian was having trouble remembering right.
‘Are you sure all this is necessary?’ He asked, trying to concentrate on the rock Spider had placed in a clear patch of floor. ‘It never seems this complicated when you or Peter do this.’
‘That, Brian, is because we’ve both been doing it a while. The words are kind of like… guidelines for your mind. Haven’t you noticed that they’re in Latin?’
Brian had to admit that he hadn’t. Except for the proper names of snakes, he’d never learnt any. He said as much.
‘Really?’ Spider asked. ‘They taught us it at school.’
Brian wasn’t about to point out that Cynthia Williams-Frothes had almost certainly gone to a rather posher school than Brian Northington. They’d probably had their Latin lessons while he was having extra Getting-Beaten-Up-For-Your-Lunch-Money. Spider didn’t seem to notice.
‘Well, the Latin’s kind of an arbitrary choice, on the basis that a few of the older books are in it. It’s not like it’s a language that shows up on every world, is it?’ Spider stretched, and Trouble jumped off her, looking reproachful. ‘The words are just something to hang what you’re actually doing on. When you’re better, which of course presupposes that at some point you’re going to make this work, you’ll be able to change them to suit yourself. That’s why half the evil-wizards in the multiverse have these horrible sounding incantations. It’s all advertising.’
Bizarrely, that made a kind of sense to Brian. It was like… his mind struggled to come up with a suitably scaly comparison, before settling on one.
‘It’s like how Trouble probably doesn’t really understand what I’m saying,’ he tried, ‘but he understands my tone of voice.’
‘Something like that.’ Spider agreed. ‘Not very much like that, admittedly, but if it will help you concentrate...’
Brian concentrated. He knew the words by now, or thought he did, mumbling his way through the syllables and hoping it didn’t make much difference. If he’d been looking carefully, he might have noticed a soft, golden glow coming from the stone in the moments before the one thing guaranteed to break his concentration happened.
‘Brian? Little Brother, are you in here?’
‘mumble, mumble, mumwasgl?’ Brian managed as Rachel rounded the corner, looking her usual image of platinum blonde professionalism in a suit that she was desperately trying to avoid bringing into contact with anything in the building.
‘So this is where you’re working. It’s very… oh, hello.’
Her gaze fixed on Spider with just a hint of a condescending edge. Spider didn’t seem to be paying attention, though.
‘Brian,’ she said, a frantic note in her voice, ‘you can’t just stop…’
‘Have I come at a bad time?’ Rachel asked, but in that special voice big sisters have to tell their brothers they’d better give the right answer. Brian did.
‘Not at all,’ he managed, ‘I’m sure this can wait…’
‘No, Brian, it can’t! Get rid of her. Now!’
Spider grabbed his arm as she said it, but she wasn’t quick enough. His sister had already taken hold of Brian’s other arm, leaving him stuck there between them.
‘There’s no need to be like that,’ she said, managing to inject both hurt and possessiveness into the words. ‘Honestly, Brian, if I’d known your little friend was going to be so rude, I wouldn’t have bothered. All I wanted was to pop by and say… what the fuck is that!?’
Since Brian had a feeling that no one, not even his sister, would show up to say something like that, he followed the direction of her stare. He soon wished he hadn’t. The rock was still glowing, but now it seemed white hot. Hotter. Hot enough to melt a hole in the floor. And through that hole, a huge yellow head and arm were trying to squeeze their way through.
‘What is that?’ Rachel shrieked again, but Brian didn’t answer. He was too busy watching as more of the creature pulled itself through the hole. In the absence of further information though, his sister did something that was probably a perfectly reasonable response to a huge monster climbing out of the floor. She started screaming.
‘Who dares to summon Mumwasgl?’ The creature roared over the screams. And then it didn’t have to. There was the sound of flesh striking flesh, and Brian whirled to see Rachel’s cheek bloom red where Spider had slapped her. Spider shoved her towards the pile of cushions.
‘Just sit there and don’t move.’
‘And be quiet!’
To Brian’s shock, his sister did so. The creature rising from the floor wasn’t nearly so obliging.
‘I said,’ it boomed, ‘who dares to summon Mumwasgl? And, um, could you give me a hand with this floor, I seem to be stuck.’
Brian thought about it for a moment, before looking over to Spider.
‘But,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean to.’
The yellow creature roared again, pulling at the floor.
‘Did not mean to? Did not mean to? You said my name, didn’t you?’
‘That wasn’t a name,’ Brian protested, ‘that was just a sound. What sort of a name is Mumwasgl anyway?’
‘And now it makes fun of my name!’ The beast struggled harder against the floor. Brian thought he saw it budge an inch or two. ‘I will crush thee. I will rend thee. I will…’
‘Do none of the above.’ Spider supplied, hitting the thing over its head with a broom. Which broke. ‘Well, that’s one more we won’t be selling to any witches. Honestly, they’re so fragile… don’t just stand there, Brian. Do something.’
Brian looked around for something he could do. He looked again at the section of molten floor, and an idea struck him. He snatched up the nearest of the fire extinguishers, pointed it at the creature, and unloaded it in its face. The thing screamed, and Brian had to admit that he did too, because so close to the creature was hot.
Spider joined in. The difference was that, when hers ran out, she started hitting the thing with it as it whimpered. Brian quickly gave it a go too.
And it worked. Admittedly, the creature couldn’t exactly move out of the way. Brian and Spider just had to watch out for the sweeping claws of its free arm as they pounded away. Finally, the creature let out another roar, more of a whimper really, and started to worm back through the hole. When only its head remained, it cast a baleful look around the room.
‘Curse you!’ it snarled. ‘Curse you all!’
It ducked back, and the hole sealed over without a trace.
‘So,’ Spider asked, still panting from the exertion, ‘how do you think your first attempt at magic went?’
‘Um…’ Brian thought about it, looked down at his burnt hands, and then over to where his sister lay curled in a ball on the cushions. She was, he noticed, staring at Trouble, who seemed to be experimenting with polka dots. ‘…not that well?’
‘Got it in one. Next time, don’t stop a spell without shutting it down properly. All that energy has to go somewhere. In this case, into summoning that thing. Which brings us nicely to our second point. Never, ever, make fun of some demon-thing’s name. It annoys them. Other than that, a pretty good first try.’
‘Pretty good?’ The words came from the cushions, where Rachel rose like an avenging angel. ‘Pretty good? I don’t know what you’re playing at, but this, this is just… wrong! You can’t do things like this, you can’t…’ She sank back into the cushions, and Spider put down the wand she’d just used.
‘Time for your second lesson, Brian.’
‘A second lesson?’ he asked. ‘Um… after everything that just happened?’
‘Definitely.’ Spider moved off into the stacks of apparently random objects that made up Edgeborough and co.’s stock. She came back inside a minute with a small, leather bound book. ‘Lesson two is kind of traditional. Memory spells. Otherwise known as how to make people,’ and here she gave Rachel’s unconscious form a look, ‘forget about lesson one.’