The Proving Ground

Adam, a man made of dirt

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Dissonance in the Key of Us
An Enchantress’s word, her will enforced, is charged with energy and intention. Verily Ka, twenty-five years old, urban magic practitioner extraordinaire, knew the dangers of inertia. From a completely mundane standpoint, if she continued to lie on this low, yellow couch for very many more days, she would lose her coveted day job and also begin to smell. Smell worse, rather.

Junior-most amanuensis of a half-crazed Poet-Priest, Verily knew even the brilliant, broken M. Leland Kenningur would notice her absence sooner than sooner. She sat up and ran a milk-chai brown hand through thick waves of lustrous black hair. Her skin felt hot and tight, but when she looked at her arm, it was covered in goosebumps. A steady draft blew from one of the darkened rooms.She smelled cinnamon in the air.

Even after almost a month on the couch in her too-large apartment, she looked immaculate. Her skin and hair felt much oilier than they looked. Her teeth when she ran her tongue along them were fuzzy. She stretched her arms out and up in a chiming cascade of bangles as she arched her back and shook out her locks.

Come on, girlie, your first act of magic for the day will be to stand up. All of a sudden, nothing happened. I will you to stand now. She focused on the floor between her knees, and a trans-oceanic superwave of magical energy rose from the depths and fizzled out before somebody noticed it. From the center of my being, grounded in the soil that isn’t actually beneath my slippered feet, I draw up the energy and charge it with my intention to rise up as I sing the enchantment, “Stand, woman!”

Verily’s legs shook and she rocked back and forth on the couch several times. She strained and grunted and threw her arms forward, eyes pinned to the deep plum-colored velvet leaves papered to the wall in front of her. Sweat glistened from her tan brow. She gripped fistfuls of her disheveled sari and heaved! Her body shuddered with effort.

With a gasp ending in a grunt, Verily fell back onto the couch. What the hell? She called frantically to her familiar, “Kerumerrumchuck!”

A small creature, furred and furious, rocketed into the room from parts unknown. Her cat, who only ever responded to his full name, scrabbled up the back of the couch and clung too tightly to her knees. He gave her one solidly crazed viridescent eye and yowled fiercely.

“This really is serious, darling Kerumerrumchuck. Please would you go to the Sanctuary and report that I am having difficulty getting out of bed?” Verily asked.

The sleek, black cat curled up at the edge of the couch and emanated dense walls of purr. Emerald eyes narrowed and his head went to his paws.

Verily couldn’t even be annoyed, though she was somewhat confused. Why hadn’t anybody come by to check on her? And since when did her familiar ignore her requests?

“Kerumerrumchuck Valthusobialuv Ka, please do as I say and go!”

The black cat rose, turned once in place, and leapt off the couch, never touching the ground but disappearing all the same. Verily surged forward again, straining against the force that held her to the couch, and fell back with a frustrated squeal.

She looked around, suddenly aware of how dark the apartment was, blanketed by a muted unsound. What was this uneasy feeling? She shifted where she sat, figuring that if she couldn’t get out of the couch by force of will, she would have to trick her feet into stealing her away.

Her toes wiggled forward as she patted down her sari, searching for a pin to keep her hair in place. She thrust her hand into the couch cushions, thinking surely she could find something useful in there, and flipped onto her stomach to reach it. She pulled a long peacock feather hairpin knotted with black hair out of the deep recesses of the couch triumphantly and shouted, “Ha!”

Verily threw herself back from the low, yellow couch and crab-walked down the hall past black doorways to the bathroom with the hairpin in her teeth, muttering all the way. When she got to the door, she kicked it open fiercely and lurched forward, clinging to the counter with her elbow in the sink. The lights were off by she could still see her face. She stared at her ice blue eyes in the mirror. Blue?

The face she saw was so intimately familiar. The upturned nose was red and sore looking, and Verily knew under the running mascara would be red-rimmed too. She took in thin hair, short-cropped on the sides and braided into a platinum topknot high on her crown. Milky white skin was tight over sharp cheeks and collarbones and her veins showed green-blue.

A once clear, high voice made hoarse and low in recent days spoke from her lips. She stared into her own face, searching, “Hey babe. I haven’t gotten off the couch in at least a month. I haven’t eaten much lately. I don’t know how to do life anymore. I miss you so much. I—”

Verily couldn’t look any longer, turned away so she didn’t have to face the struggle. She sobbed, and the voice was her own.

“Don’t miss me—I haven’t gone anywhere! I’m right here, with you!”

Verily turned back to the mirror to plead with the reflection. The pale eyes filled with sorrow as she sighed. The voice was calmer now, said evenly, “Verily, I know you’re with me, but you cannot stay. There is much to be done and you know it.”

“But I want to stay! I’m so afraid!”

“Darling, so am I. I cannot fathom this world without you. I never even prepared—you were supposed to be here forever!” And there it was. The anger that burned at the churning ache in the center of her stomach. She collapsed on the floor, staring into darkness, whispering, “You were supposed to. You were.”


“Get the cat. I’ll get the girl,” intoned Maestro Kenningur softly to his remaining Principal.  He covered the altar and let the cinnamon incense burn out.  This had been a delicate performance, and he’d needed his best company for it. Before she was killed, Verily shone on the stage, a Key Enchantress of the Chor. Now his favorite Key was dead and the Balance was maintained, but the work struck a hollow, sour chord.

Humming to himself to keep warm, the magical primo uomo of North America remembered that he was also just a man. He felt defeated, kneeling and cradling Galina’s cold form. Her lips were blue and her eyelids looked bruised. It would be many days before the Chor could heal his Ice Princess, but she would never Chant a principal part again. Maestro Kenningur stroked her platinum braid. She knew the risk. What a waste.


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