Scene 14 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Evening
“Uno!” Viv said smugly, setting down a red seven.
“Damn it! We can’t let her win!” Tristan declared. Then he sighed. “And yet…” he began drawing cards from the deck, his hand expanding until he found a red three to set down.
“I think we can get her still,” I said, playing a blue three. “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have any blue cards, so if we can just stick with blue…”
“Blue…” dad muttered, paging through his cards – he had been hit with a stack of draw cards earlier in the game and hadn’t gotten through them yet. “How about this?” He played a blue draw two.
“And another,” Percy grinned, adding one of his own.
“Perfect!” mom said, playing a third draw two. “Deal with that, honey!”
Viv grumbled as she drew from the deck. “Humph. So close…” She tossed one of her newly drawn cards, a red ten, onto the pile. “Betrayed by my own brother,” she complained.
“It’s about to happen again, too,” Tristan added, playing a blue ten, and she glared at him. The little twerp just stuck his tongue out at her, and she returned the gesture.
“Blue, blue, blue…” I murmured, glaring at my pair of green cards. “Now I’m having trouble.” I draw a card from the deck, saw that it was blue, and played it without really paying attention to what it was.
“Well you deserve to,” Viv sniped playfully. “I would have won and freed us from the hell of playing Uno if you hadn’t said blue!”
“If we’re in hell, at least we’re in hell together,” Tristan observed.
“I wouldn’t want to be in hell with anyone other than my family, certainly,” mom agreed.
“I would rather not be in hell,” Percy remarked.
“Too bad,” I teased. “You’re stuck here with us.”
Viv glanced at dad. “…dad, you okay?” she asked, and I realized that he hadn’t played yet, just staring at his cards in confusion.
“…have we played this before, Morgan?” he asked. “I don’t remember the rules…”
My heart sank as I realized what was happening. Viv, meanwhile, softly said, “Yes, Arthur, it’s called Uno. Right now there’s a blue five at the top of the deck, so you need to play a card that’s blue or a card that’s a five.”
“Right…” he began looking through his cards as mom put a gentle hand on his shoulder, and absently leaned his head to rest it on her hand. “Like this one?” he had found a blue reverse card.
“Yes, like that one,” mom confirmed.
He played it. “Thanks, Morgan. Must have had a late night, I guess,” he said with a roguish grin, waggling his eyebrows.
“…of course, Arthur,” Viv said quietly.
It was hard on her, I knew, when dad mistook her for her mother. He rarely made such mistakes with the rest of us – although he had once thought I was Morgan’s brother and chased me out of the house – probably because the rest of us were boys, but with her… if Morgan wasn’t around when he had a moment and Viv was, it was almost guaranteed. She went along with it, as Devon had recommended, but I knew that it bothered her.
“Your play, I think?” dad said to Percy, sitting next to him.
“No, you played a reverse card,” he gruffly explained. “The order is reversed, so it’s Dom’s turn again.”
“Ah, that makes sense.”
“And that means I’m back to hoping for blue,” I sighed, beginning to draw from the deck. “I realize I brought this on myself, but still…” After a few draws I found a wildcard, and played it. “Green.”
Tristan immediately played a three. “Uno!” he said cheerfully, although I could tell his cheer was a mask to cover his discomfort with dad having had a moment.
Viv glanced at Tristan appraisingly. “Hm… what do we think, gang? Does he have any other greens?”
“…why?” I warily asked.
“Well, I could change the color, or I could not.”
“I don’t think so,” mom said, narrowing her eyes at my youngest brother. “Honey, what do you think?”
“Hm… go for it, dear,” dad said to Viv. “You know best, I’m sure.”
“Got any greens, oh dear brother?” my sister asked, playing another reverse. Tristan’s turn again, and if he had any greens…
“Sure do!” he grinned, playing a green nine. “I win!”
“Good job, kiddo!” dad said, offering a high five. Tristan gave it to him, then lurched into his lap to hug him. “Oh! Careful there, Tristan, your old man’s kind of fragile!”
“Nonsense, dear,” mom denied, smiling at the sight and doing nothing to help him escape from my younger brother. “You’re as-” She was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Who could that be?” dad wondered.
“It’ll be Devon,” mom told him, beginning to rise. “They called earlier about coming to check on you, tonight, remember?”
“I’ll let them in, mom,” I said, hopping to my feet before she could finish standing. “I’m about done for tonight anyway.”
“I’ll come with you,” Viv eagerly added, and I rolled my eyes – her crush was so obvious – but didn’t protest.
Scene 15 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
“I’m gonna do it tonight, Dom,” my sister said to me as we walked to the front hall. “I’m going to ask them out.”
“Are you sure, Viv?” I asked. I had never gotten the vibe that Devon liked her the way she liked them, and I wanted to avoid her being heartbroken when they said no. Plus, Devon was 30-something, and my sister was only 21 – I didn’t want to kick their ass if they said yes. “They’ve probably had a long day at work, this might not be the best time…”
“I’m sure,” she said firmly, and from her tone I knew that I would never be able to dissuade her. “I fought Loki a few months ago, I think I can ask out the person I like.”
I put a hand on her shoulder, and although internally I sighed, out loud I just said, “Then do it. They’d be a fool to turn you down.”
A moment later, we reached the hall, and I swung the door open, revealing the petite, curvaceous doctor. “Evening,” they said with a tired smile, folding up the umbrella that they were sheltering under as they stepped inside. “How’s Arthur holding up?”
“He mistook me for mother, and forgot the rules to Uno,” Viv frowned, “but he got back on track pretty quickly. Pretty average, really.”
Devon nodded. “I know it’s hard, but you’ve all been doing an incredible job caring for him,” they promised us.
“What brings you here, doc?” I asked as we began to walk back to the game room.
“Well… you know that I was trying to put together a spell to help your father, based on research that Arthur Peregrine had forwarded me, right?” they said, and I nodded – they had been working on it since the end of October.
“Did you finish it?” Viv asked excitedly.
“Well… no,” they admitted. “But! Peregrine contacted me again and gave me a mystic diagram for a version of the spell a few months ago. It’s kind of ridiculously complicated, but I’ve been practicing, and I’m confident that even if it doesn’t work, I at least won’t make things worse.”
“That’s wonderful news!” I said with as we reentered the game room.
Scene 16 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
“What’s wonderful news?” mom asked.
“I have a new spell to try that might help,” Devon told her. “If I perform it right, it should disentangle the magical residue left behind by the artifacts and let me get at the Alzheimer’s directly with the usual spells for it. And if I do it wrong, it won’t make anything worse.”
“That is good news,” dad agreed. “I’m willing to try it.”
They dug in the shoulder-bag that they were wearing for a moment before producing a set of paperwork contained in a plastic sleeve. “I’ll need you to sign these, and then I can get started.
“Were you going to bed?” Percy asked me as Devon began to prepare for the spell, drawing complicated glowing sigils into the air around dad, using a large ruler, a protractor, and a plum line to get them in exact positions even as he watched with interest.
“Yeah, but this is more interesting.” I didn’t have much hope of it actually working, if I was being honest – nothing else had, and Devon didn’t seem too confident either.
“You should get mom,” Tristan suggested, and I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Mom’s here already.”
“Mother would want to know about new magic being performed in the house,” Viv agreed.
I sighed. “I’ll get her.”
Scene 17 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
It was probably around the time to pull Morgan out of her wing anyway, I reflected as I walked. She had been in there for close to a month now – while her initial experiments with Excalibur hadn’t kept her from the rest of the family, because she had failed too often to get really excited about it, she had recently figured out a method to use it relatively safely, and hadn’t emerged since, spending a great deal of time scrying in order to fill out the information we had stolen from the MLED servers.
“Morgan!” I called when I reached the entrance to her wing, knocking. “Devon is here with a new spell to try on dad!”
She didn’t respond, and I frowned. Normally Morgan could be reached from anywhere in the house – she had monitoring spells set to alert her if anyone was calling for her. Even if those had been taken down for some reason, her wing of the mansion was small enough that she should have heard me in person. “…Morgan?”
Nothing, and I was starting to get worried now. I opened the door and entered, and saw that most of the lights were off – not unusual, she preferred to have as few distractions as possible when she was working complex magic – and a faint glow was coming from under one of the doors. “…mom?” I whispered.
Still nothing. I tentatively approached the door and opened it, to see…
Morgan, her eyes wide, sightless, and watering slightly. She held an ornate dagger that could only be Excalibur in one hand, a bright tracery of glowing sigils in the shape of a gauntlet wrapping around her arm up to the shoulder. Her other hand was clenching repeatedly at her leg, nearly drawing blood. Sitting on a table in front of her was a mirror, its surface filled with colorless light and smoking rising from where it touched the wooden frame.
I swallowed. Morgan was scrying, which explained what she hadn’t heard me – her senses were entirely absent. But… she had never looked quite like this while scrying before. It looked like she was crying. What on earth was she seeing?
I couldn’t let her put herself through this and, thankfully, I knew how to stop it. If she was using Excalibur, then she was scrying through wards that she wouldn’t be able to see through on her own, and taking it from her should result in her being cut off.
I glanced around, looking for something to protect myself from the damn thing, and found nothing, so instead I just pulled off the flannel shirt I was wearing. I wrapped it around my hand before taking Excalibur by its blade and pulling it from Morgan’s white-knuckled grip, thankful that my football coach was so insistent on grip training. I dropped the dagger on the table, then draped the shirt over the mirror for good measure.
Morgan came back to herself slowly, blinking a few times as her senses returned to her, and she began crying in earnest as she saw me. She lunged for me, and I hugged her as she began sobbing desperately.
“What is it?” I asked, my mind racing as I thought of all the horrible scenarios she could have seen. “What did you see?”
“…three months,” she whispered.
“We only have three months before they go after her,” Morgan said, horrified. “Just to get to us.”
“Go after who?” I asked. “Morgan, what-”
She pulled back, sniffing, and murmured something that made a tissue fly to her hand so she could wipe her face. I waited while she cleaned up, and finally explained, “I was scrying on the Ambrosia Company. They… they can’t find us through the Kovals’ wards, but… their daughter isn’t under those wards.”
“The Kovals’ daughter,” I said, frowning as I tried to remember. Viv and I had used to play with her, when we were kids, but I didn’t think I had seen her in ten years. “…Holly? Was that her name?”
Morgan nodded. “Yes. And they know exactly where to find her.” She took a breath. “Apparently, Holly Koval is Loki,” she told me. “And if we don’t show up in the next three months, Ambrosia will go after her.”
I swallowed, flashing back to the artistic girl I remembered playing with and connecting her to the young hero who had nearly stymied us at the MLED Compound. “Threaten her to make the Kovals take down our wards…”
“Exactly. And then they’ll take Arthur’s armor, and Excalibur, and… and then it’s all over.”
“…three months, you said?”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Whatever our next move is, we only have three months to make it.”
“Well then,” I decided, “we’d better start planning.”
If you enjoy my writing, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. If you can’t afford a recurring donation, you can make an individual donation through Paypal, or purchase one of my books. You can even support me for free by voting for Paternum on TopWebFiction every week. The more I make from my writing, the more time I can devote to it, which will improve both the quantity and quality of my work.