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Chapter 5 -- Valerie and Emily
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

I spent Sunday watching television and surfing the Internet. The latter was for purposes of research, and I found some things I wanted to discuss with Mark. I decided not to bring up "work" related subjects until tomorrow, though, as the evening promised to be stressful enough for him anyway.

Mark and Emily arrived late in the afternoon, and we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and ate them with potato salad (which I found I did not like) and baked beans (which I do like). We made inconsequential conversation, trying to sound happy and carefree before Emily, but the tension in the air felt like a malevolent spirit.

Then we had ice cream and cookies, and the mood did lighten somewhat. We dallied longer than we should have over dessert, but the time at last came for Mark to take Emily to her mother.

We said our goodbyes at the front door. Emily gave me a hug, and as I returned it I silently released the special Kinetic Shield to protect her. Then Emily hugged Mara for an extended period. Eventually Mark convinced her to go, and she walked away crying "I'll miss you Mara" over and over. It broke my heart, as I know it did Mara's.

Well, it was time. I stepped back out of sight of the door, and released one of my Invisibility spells. As quietly as I could I went down the sidewalk. Mark was putting Emily in her carseat in the back of his two-door car, by way of the passenger-side door. As I approached he said "Emily, I left my keys in the house. I'll be right back." He left the door open as he went back, and I slipped into the seat as quietly as I could.

It was a tense and silent ride to Valerie's house. Emily wasn't crying but she was red-eyed and very looked very sad. Mark's jaw muscles worked rhythmically as he tried not to look toward me.

Mark opened the passenger side door for me and I slipped out of the seat as quickly as I could. I brushed past him as I went; he was looking toward the house, as if stopped by a sound. It takes a lot of subterfuge to transport an invisible man.

He turned and got Emily out as the front door opened. Valerie was beautiful, as Mark had said, but the look on her face was unreadable. Mark walked up to the house hand-in-hand with Emily, who just looked at the ground the whole way. Valerie ignored her ex-husband and squatted down to Emily's level. "How's my little girl?" she cooed, and at that moment she appeared the perfect loving mother. Emily smiled a tentative smile, and Valerie took her other hand.

Mark said, "Here's her bag. I did all her laundry, so it's all clean." Valerie took the bag without a word and turned back to the open door of the house.

Curse me for a novice! I had to really move to beat her through the open door, but I made it. Valerie noticed the wind of my passage and looked around, then evidently dismissed it from her mind.

"How was your weekend, honey?" she asked Emily as she closed the door. "What did you and Daddy do?"

"It was good, Mommy. We went to the zoo and saw the ephalants and ostriches and really big snakes like the man on TV has!" Emily had a big grin and evidently was no longer afraid; I relaxed a bit and moved quietly into an out-of-the-way corner.

"You wouldn't play with snakes, would you honey?" asked Valerie.

"No, Mommy, 'cause they might bite me." The little girl turned on the television, which was already on a cartoon channel, and sat down on the floor to watch. Valerie took the bag of clothes up the stairs and out of sight, so I settled down on the floor and waited.

After a while a commercial break came on the television, and Emily jumped up and went to the table at the end of the couch. It had a drawer, and from it she got a small paper bag, much wrinkled, and a handful of coloring books. She took the items back with her to the middle of the floor, dropped the books, and then dumped crayons out of the bag. Finally she sat down and began to color.

Valerie returned shortly, and immediately began yelling at Emily. "How many times do I have to tell you not to dump those crayons out on the floor? Take them out one at a time! And look, you left the drawer open! Are you as stupid as your father?"

"Sorry, Mommy, sorry sorry sorry" Emily said as she quickly began scooping crayons back into the bag. "I'll clean up the mess, Mommy, I promise."

"You better. I'll be right back and I better not see any mess, you understand?" I wanted to jump up and help Emily, but I forced myself to relax; I was here to protect Emily, first and foremost, and to observe Valerie. Emily wasn't in physical danger yet.

It was hard not to jump between them.

Valerie left the room as her daughter worked furiously to pick up all the crayons. She then put away the coloring books and the paper bag, shut the drawer, and jumped up on the couch, where she sat, legs straight out and hands on her knees, and watched the television with a serious but worried expression. She had just begun to relax when her mother returned.

Valerie came in smiling, and said "It looks much better in here, honey..." Then she obviously saw something in front of the coffee table. From my vantage I couldn't see it, but I realized Emily must have missed a crayon when Valerie's face turned to a fearsome angry grimace. Without another word she walked quickly to the couch, grabbed Emily by the arm and began to spank her hard. As the little girl began to cry Valerie screamed, "You don't pay a bit of attention! You must be stupid! I knew when Mark started seeing you again you'd get this way!" She continued screaming like this, her face a mask of rage, as she struck Emily over and over.

A mage can usually sense the condition of his spells when he is close to them, and in this case I could sense the Kinetic Shield. Just as I had planned, only a tiny part of Valerie's strike force was getting through to Emily; enough to sting, and make her cry, but not enough to bruise her. Valerie began to sense that she wasn't hurting Emily as much as she expected, and this increased her rage. Her screaming became incoherent as she increased the speed and force of her blows. The Kinetic Shield continued to hold, and would for a long time yet.

Yes, it was hard for me not to intervene at this point, but I knew that Emily was not really being hurt and I needed to know more about Valerie's mental condition. I often wonder if I should have stepped in sooner, though.

Valerie's rage was truly awesome now, and she gave up hitting the girl. Instead, she took her by both shoulders and began to shake her.

The Kinetic Shield was no help against that. I stood, made a mystic pass with my hand and spoke a word, and both mother and daughter fell like marionettes with their strings cut. Valerie had been squatting, and fell backwards, hitting her head on the carpeted floor, but I judged she was probably not hurt. I stepped forward and caught Emily as she fell.

They were asleep, of course. I didn't want either of them to know what had happened to them. It was fortunate that the spell worked because I broke my fragile Invisibility spell when I cast it. I laid Emily on the couch, then sat beside her to rest.

My heart was racing and I was drenched in sweat; you'd have thought I had run a race. The scene I had just witnessed had really affected me. I wanted to hurt Valerie, to repay her for what she'd done. I sat there looking at her as she slept. She was moving in her sleep...

That wasn't normal. She seemed to be dreaming, but those affected by the Sleep spell normally didn't dream. At least, I'd never seen it. My interest was piqued... how was this happening?

Then I remembered my new spells. I got up and took Emily upstairs. Though I hadn't been there before, it wasn't hard to identify the little girls room. I laid her on the bed and covered her with a quilt I found folded there.

Back down in the living room, I found Valerie still writhing, her lips moving silently. I probed the Sleep spell with my mind and found it still at full strength.

I looked out the window, releasing my Mystic Vision spell to find the Ley lines. The only line I could see wasn't close, but I had prepared a Tap spell at fairly high power for such a contingency. I released the Tap, then turned to the sleeping woman and began casting the Dream Contact spell.

I hadn't used it before, but I had been the victim twice. I knew that the caster could force the target to remain asleep, and control the images the target saw. When the spell was complete I found myself looking into a diner.

It was night, evidently, and the only people in the brightly lit diner were Valerie and... Valerie? There were two, sitting together at a table, having a conversation. One was spectral in form, the other solid; the spectral Valerie seemed angry, while the solid one looked sad.

The spectre said, "He's a cheating fool! I can't believe you still love him!"

"I do," said the sad one. "Why was he so bad to me?"

"It's in the genes, you stupid bitch. Just look at Emily, she's just as bad!"

Tears ran down the face of the solid Valerie. "I love my little girl," she said weakly. "I hate having to hurt her."

"It's the only thing the silly twit understands!" Suddenly the spectre looked around. "We're being watched!"

How did she know that? I hadn't manifested myself yet, or taken any active part. I was just watching.

"There!" she screamed, pointing right at me. I looked down and saw my body; she had somehow manifested me herself. "It's that new boss of our idiot ex-husband! What's his name?"

"Solo," answered the solid one. "Solo Jones." She sounded... hopeful?

The spectre grabbed the solid woman then, and in a mind-twisting motion they merged. Valerie (the only one there was now) jumped up and pointed a finger at me. "What are you doing here?"

"Trying to understand you, Valerie. You have a problem."

"Bull. You're spying on me!" She reached behind her and pulled out a large handgun. Before I could react she fired it at me, twice. The searing pain felt very real.

I severed the connection, awakening from my trance with a start. I was more sweaty and more exhausted than before, and I felt a phantom pain in my chest. Valerie was still asleep, but as I watched I saw a self-satisfied smile appear on her face. Then she quieted at last.

What just happened?

I realized I hadn't closed the Tap. Stupid of me; someone using Mystic Vision could trace me by it. I quickly prepared another Tap spell, then an Aura Reading spell, and finally dismissed the Tap.

Unlike the Dream Contact spell, I had actually cast the Aura Reading a couple of times, right after I mastered it. I was able to see Mark's bright aura, which seemed to me to be a bit turquoise, and Mara's was blinding bluish-white. I couldn't see much of my own aura, and I discovered it didn't reflect in a mirror, so I asked Mara to help. I gifted her with the same spell, then cast Mind Reading on myself so I could look through her eyes.

At last I was able to see the taint on my aura which priests and priestesses had been telling me about since I fled from Ket. I could see the dark streaks, like shadows, over my potent greenish aura. I wasn't surprised that my aura was powerful, as any mage will build up his aura day by day just by working magic. The taint, though... I wondered then if it would ever be erased.

I broke from my mental wandering presently, and released the Aura Reading spell. At first nothing seemed strange; Valerie, I saw, had an aura about as powerful as Mark's, though hers seemed to have a peachy cast to it.

Then I saw it... atop her head, just right of center, a roiling darkness like smoke. I walked around her to get a better look, and saw that the darkness emanated from an irregular patch perhaps three inches front to back and two inches wide. It made my blood run cold to look at it.

What was it? What could make such a mark in a specific part of a person's aura? As I thought it over I began to realize it must be a tumor or abscess of some kind, just inside the skull.

With this realization my anger and near hatred toward Valerie faded like fog in the morning sun. She was, truly, a victim here. The pressure of the thing in her head upon her brain obviously was responsible for her erratic actions.

My next thought was, of course, of my ring. Though it worried me to do so, I cast another Tap, and quickly prepared its replacement. Then I took off the ring, knelt beside her, and lifted her right arm. As I did so I saw that she had several bruises on the inside of her forearm, and I realized then just how hard she had been hitting Emily. I slipped the ring on her finger and waited, watching with the Aura Reading spell.

The ring seemed to have no effect on the dark spot, but as I watched the bruises faded quickly. I let the ring have several minutes before I gave up and dismissed the Tap. If it had been healing her I would have been able to see some change right away, even if the healing would actually take hours to complete.

This left me with no plan of action, so after a short time I got up, found the phone and called Mark. It wasn't the first time I'd used a telephone... it was the second. Her phone was cordless like the one that Mark had purchased for the office, and it worked much the same way, so with little difficulty I got connected with my friend.


"It's me," I said, trusting that he would recognize my voice. "I need your help. Valerie is very sick, but I doubt we can convince her to see a healer."

"Doctor," he corrected automatically. "Where is she now?"

"Asleep on the floor. Emily's asleep upstairs. They won't wake up for a while."

There was a pause, then: "I'll be right there. Don't go anywhere, and don't touch anything. Let me in when I ring the bell, though."

"Okay," I answered, and there was a click, so I turned off the phone and hung it up. Did he have a plan? I hoped so, because I didn't.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005