Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Five Part One

Trigger Warning: Violence!!!

The next morning was the doctor. If I had listened to Kayla on the drive there, I would have realized we weren’t going to school.

Instead, we drew up to the hospital. It was squat, dirty cream colored, and essentially a glorified square. There was some attempts at grass and greenery, but it remained a cement cube in a city.

The doctor was somewhat like that. He was dusty, old, white, and seemed to just stare at me. I tried to tell him about the man in green. I tried to tell him about the board game. The words choked up in me and I didn’t know how to start. How to begin, how to let it out.

I found tears streaming down my face and I pulled a tissue from the box.

“I’m upset,” I managed to say.

I got excused from final exams. My marks would be tallied from those of my year. I left the office, threw my tissues into the garbage, and sat in the waiting room with my unicorn. Kayla had said to wait for her here. She was doing some phone calls and would be with me soon.

I looked up when the door opened. It was not Kayla.

“Hey,” said the big man that was recognizable even without the ski mask or suit. He was in plain clothes and had a chiseled face that spelled danger. “Let’s go.”

AS the door swung shut behind him, I saw several other men out there. They had come for me in force. All four of them, for one little girl? Cowards. What more did they want from me? I had probably already digested the card and rendered it useless.

I guessed then that they wanted my death. They wanted to punish me for destroying the card. To make an example of me of sorts.

Well. I rose to my feet without thinking. I glared this big man down. Coward.

To my right, across the waiting room, the secretary was busy with her official business, picking up the phone to dial someone. I took a deep breath.

“Come, on,” said the man in a dangerous intone.

I marched out the door, a cold sense of purpose coming over me. I wanted revenge. I wanted to slaughter, main, kill, so badly it felt like I would burst from it. It was like a rising tide, a super-sense coming over me and making me tingle all over, like a volcano about to blow.

Out of the door I walked into the other three men. One placed a hand on my shoulders and, as a group, they began walking me out of the building.

“Hey! Hey!” Kayla had not been far, was just down the hallway. I heard her cry from behind us. In a glance over my shoulder, I saw her begin to run towards us, phone in hand and eyes wide. I could hear her shoes clop-clopping, but the men were faster. The one who had me by the arm took off, darting forward. I was lifted up in his arms. My unicorn fell out of my grasp, tumbling away.

In a blurr I saw the ceiling, was pressed into the mans’ shirt- and saw the two other men stay behind.

Something snapped in me. They were going to hurt Kayla. Innocent, stupid Kayla. My rage boiled over.

I heard myself screaming, and began kicking. I kicked the man who was carrying me in the face. I bit his hand. He did not slow. The exit sign flashed above us, and we were darting down the stairs.

I thrashed, but was over his shoulder now. The second man was in tow, and now we were bursting out the stairs into fresh air.

In the sprint across the flimsy grass, I screamed for all I was worth. I thrashed, bit wildly and gouged my fingers into eyes. The man stumbled. I was thrown and landed in a tumble and scrape on the asphalt.

I was on my feet, the world reeling into sharp focus. There was the man before me clutching his bloody face, another marching towards me, and two more coming out of the building.

Then, to the left, observing, the man in the green cloak.

I drew my keys from my pocket and gripped them tight. I was going to take out eyes. I was burning with my success, was powerful in my rage.

“I’m going to make sure you can’t hurt anyone else!” I heard myself declare. In a rush my vigilante streak was coming out. I’d get them for what they had done to mother. I’d get them so bad.

The man in green was walking over, just slightly faster than the other men. “Get behind me,” I heard him say as he stepped between me and them.

I hissed between my teeth, jumping to the side just in time to see the men collide.

The first man threw a punch, and the green-cloaked intruder dodged, then punched the first in the gut.

I gaped as the henchman doubled over. I was unhurt. The figment of my imagination was… fighting? I stood there and watched as the medieval man threw punches and my kidnappers landed on the asphalt.

Then, he turned to the man who was clutching his face. Bloody and still covering his face with a hand, the wounded man tottered up.

I screamed. “Kill him!”

The green cloaked man did not. Instead he stood back as the wounded man tottered towards the car. He was going to get away!

With a yell, I lunged forward, keys in hand like a knife. The wounded man grabbed my wrist and threw me at the car. I slammed against the back door. Hands gripped at me, and I was yanked forward and back, jolted between the two men who wrestled for me.

“Let her go!” growled the medieval man, and the henchman gave up. With a shrug he threw me towards the other, and jumped into the car. With a rev of the motor, he backed up the car out of the parking spot. I was pulled back and away, turned into the folds of the green cloak. In the distance, I heard the car driving away.

I squirmed and was let go. Stepping back in a stumble, I looked up at my rescuer. He was frowning down at me.

“You’re real!” I declared.

He paused. My gaze jumped from him to the henchmen on the asphalt. Where were my keys? Right there, where the car had been. I grabbed them up and –

“What are you doing?” the man asked, grabbing my shoulder to stop me.

I wrestled myself free only to be grabbed again. “They’re unconscious!” he insisted. “Don’t attack them!”

I wrestled, but he held me back by the scruff of my collar. I was almost out of my jacket when I heard the wailing of a siren. Security!

Then, I fell forward so suddenly that I hit the ground on my hands and knees. I looked up – and the man in green had vanished.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Four, Part Two

I woke up in the hospital. There was white all around me, the curtain was drawn around my bed, and there were voices in the distance. Uncle’s voice.

I looked myself over. A tube in my arm, bruises all over my arms and ugly hospital gown on me, but I was okay. I felt all my limbs.

“You’re alright,” a voice said from beside me.

I startled, and stared at the man who had seemingly appeared. Or had I not noticed him?

It was him. The white man in the green cloak and medieval clothing. He smiled thinly at me. “You’re going to be fine,” he said with a slight nod of the head.

I wanted to scream, but I was frozen. The man sighed like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Hands clasped before himself, he leaned forward.

“You ate the card,” he said calmly.

I stared, trembles beginning to run all over my body.

“You’ve brought the worlds into a collision,” he said in that same calm tone.

I took in a breath to scream- but wasn’t able to put it out. I just choked on the air and stared, wide-eyed.

He rose to his feet. “Going home is going to be hard. But,” he drew my unicorn from under his arm and held it out to me. “I think we can work through that.”

I screamed. He winced, taking the unicorn back as he covered one ear with a hand.

The curtain was swept back. Nurses appeared, uncle and Kayla in tow. But as I gasped and they asked whatever the matter was, the green man had disappeared. He was gone – unicorn with him.

///

I wanted to go to my home. Kayla said I could, but Uncle didn’t think it would be wise. “I need to go get the school papers,” Kayla fibbed, as if she couldn’t get them any other way. “Is there anything you want from the house?”

I shook my head, crossing my arms over my chest. I wanted my unicorn. I wanted- too much. I shouldn’t be greedy.

Now I was in Uncle’s living room. The cousins were at football and uncle had taken a break from me to go with them, leaving Wanda and Kayla with me. Kayla seemed to think getting out would do me good, Wanda wanted me to eat supper in my pajamas and just sleep.

Kayla was saying something, but I turned on the TV, turning the volume up. Kayla pressed her lips together and heaved a sigh. It reminded me of the one the man in green had done. Where was he? How come no one saw him?

“Where’s my unicorn?” I asked, hoping there was some logical answer.

“I don’t know,” said Kayla softly as she rose to her feet. “Listen -”

I looked pointedly at the TV. No listen.

Kayla turned to Wanda. “Need anything? Want anything?” she asked.

“No,” Wanda said with a thankful smile, shaking her head.

So Kayla left. After a few moments of TV drama, Wanda rose and took the remote control from me. She dialed the volume down. “Hun,” she said. “We’re all just trying to help.”

I took up a pillow and hugged it to my chest. My eyes stayed glued to the screen. On it, housewives were debating over something. They were about to fight.

Wanda cleared her throat. “We’ve spoken to the police.”

“We told them you were attacked and they think -” she paused. I stared at the TV. “If there’s anything you can tell them,” she said “It might help.”

I sniffled, but the housewives were throwing hands up and having tantrums.

“The case is – it seems,” she paused and looked at me with that focused adult look. “Your father may have gotten into gang troubles.”

The words crashed over my world. Gang troubles? No. Not father. It was the board game. How come no one would believe it? Because I hadn’t told me. But-

I looked at her. She came into sharp focus- and I saw something shift behind her.

The man was there. Green, brown, and a blonde mass on top.

I froze. My skin turned to a fine sheen of ice.

“Listen,” Wanda was leaning towards me. “If there’s anything you remember that you thought was strange, anything identifying about the men who attacked you-”

Behind her, the man drew out my unicorn and set it on a bookshelf. With a nod at me, he turned and walked away into the kitchen.

Wanda came sharply into focus again. She was saying something, but I couldn’t understand what.

I sat back, curling into myself. The world was shaking around me.

I wrapped my arms around myself, and the world sunk into black.

I came to with the smell of coffee and donuts. Kayla was mopping my forehead with a cold cloth that was too wet, droplets running over my head. Wanda was sitting on a couch, coffee in hand and looking dejected.

“Hey!” Kayla said in a too-cheerful tone as I sat up. There was an open box of donuts on the coffee table.

I looked around. Where was the man? And there he was, sitting in the stairwell, arms crossed and watching me. Again, he just nodded.

It sunk into me like a crashing wave, what had earlier shaken my world. He wasn’t real. He didn’t exist. I had been wrong.

I stared at him, determined to will him away. If he was a figment of my imagination, I could destroy him.

Kayla was saying something about my school exams and having exemptions. I would have to see a doctor. I stared at the man. He watched me back with a frown.

“Did you hear me?” Kayla put a hand on my shoulder.

“No,” I said harshly. I was distracted by the man. By the unicorn that was now on the shelf. By everything in this horrid world.

“Okay, well, you rest,” Kayla said with a teary smile. “You just -”

I got up and marched out of the house. Barefoot I went out the front of the house and marched into the grassy center. I sat down on the bench, head hanging down. Then I told myself not to slouch and straightened. The man in green was walking out of the house towards me.

“Go away,” I hissed between my teeth. “Go, away.”

He arrived to just before me. Much like my cousins had, he crouched down before me. Unlike them, he didn’t just crouch, instead sinking down onto one knee like a knight in mythology.

“I’ll follow you,” he said, in that way that said he meant every of those three words.

I stared at him. “Go, away.” Because he didn’t exist. He was my mind reacting to trauma. He was just me freaking out. “Get- gone.”

Frowning, he rose to his feet.

From way back at the house, Wanda came out in her shoes. I shifted my focus back to the man – but he was gone.

“You can’t stay out here,” said Wanda as she reached me, arms crossed against the cold.

I hung my head and stared at our feet.

Lage’s Game ~Chapter Three, Part One

Mom was shot. She was in surgery now, locked away behind doors I was not allowed past. I sat in a plastic chair, my unicorn on my lap. I was splattered with blood, mom’s blood.

The police said this was unusual. They claimed I could not be right. There could be no correlation between the three break-ins.

“There was no board game listed as stolen in either of the previous break-ins,” the officer, a white redhead, had told me. “It’s not on record. Maybe it wasn’t valuable enough to be mentioned.”

But he seemed doubtful. More than likely, I knew he was thinking, was that I had imagined the whole thing. I had been a child, then.

But I was an adult now. And I knew that what they had been after was that card. Card which, if all things stayed true, had probably been thrown away with my room’s possessions a year ago.

“Hey,” said my uncle, appearing beside me in the starched white hallway. He was wearing a blue button up shirt and pants, his suit jacket missing. His head was shaved, his beard neatly trimmed. “How are you?”

I stared resolutely ahead.

“Okay,” he said gently. “Listen, we’re going to go home to my place, okay?”

I shook my head. Mom was here. I had to keep an eye on her.

Uncle looked around, as if searching for direction. He looked back at me, direction obviously not found. “She’s going to be okay.”

I glared at him.

“Come on,” he said. “Come to my place. We’ll sleep by the phone. The minute she’s out and okay, they’ll let us know. Then we can come back and visit. Okay?”

I shook my head. But he took me by the arm and hauled me to my feet. “Come on,” he said sternly.

I wanted to scream. Tears began running down my face and I braced myself, not wanting to go. I had to stay with mom!

But he dragged me, and after a hallway, I gave in. He was stronger than me. But I would sleep by the phone. I scrubbed my tears from my face and marched with my head held high. I would make sure mom was okay.

///

Mom was in a coma. The news came in at one in the morning that she wasn’t waking up, and might never. Uncle did his best to explain it to me gently, but it was what it was. She, too, was gone, off in an unreachable place. She might never come back, and now, I didn’t expect her to. Father had gone, why wouldn’t she?

Anger burned in me. It was like hot coals in my stomach, under my skin. My blood felt hot. I wanted a gun. I wanted to shoot them in the heads. But no one in my family owned a hunting gun, and there was no way to find ‘them’. According to the police, they were an antiques and collectible theft ring, and usually did not commit murder.

“It’s exceptional, really,” the cop had said as if in awe. Awe at what, I wanted to ask him. Did he think it amazing and commendable to murder people, like some statistic in a video game? Or were these deaths already like Stalin had said, just a statistic?

“You can stay with us for a while,” Uncle had said as he sat on the bed beside me in his dishevelled clothes. “We’ll take you home to get some things.”

I did not want to. I wanted to go home and be with mom. It felt like if only I went home and waited like usual, mom would come home, claiming she had been late from the grocery or something like that.

But I knew that was foolish, so I just sat still and held my stuffie.

“Come on, let’s have some breakfast,” uncle’s wife said from my other side. “How about pancakes?” She was trying to sound cheerful. I hated cheer.

The pancakes were like sandpaper in my mouth. I sat at one side of the table, squished beside my two cousins. They kept looking at me like I was some bomb set to explode. Their mother kept trying to talk to me. I ignored them all. Mother was gone.

After the farce of a breakfast, uncle drove me home. “I can go in and get you your things if you’d rather,” he said as we parked.

I yanked open the door and marched out as an answer. There was a caution tape all around the doorway, and an officer posted there. The scene was too familiar. I knew too well what to do, showing my ID to be let in as uncle explained that we were here to take some things from my room.

A cop escorted us through the crime scene, our living room, and to my room. There, I stopped in the middle of my room and froze. All thoughts flew from my mind.

For an instant, I heard mom screaming. I heard the footsteps. I spun- and was faced with my uncle. “Here,” he was saying. “Let’s take some clothes, okay? How about that?”

I looked around my room. My very still and quiet room.

Okay, I told myself. I scrubbed the tears from my cheeks with a trembling hand. Set my unicorn on the bed to supervise. Then I took out my duffel bag from beneath my bed and shook it out.

A card fluttered out of the bag and landed down before me, between my feet and my uncle’s. He had his back to me, was digging through my dresser drawer, and saw nothing. I looked down at the black card with a diamond at its center.

No shit.

I stooped down, snatched it up, and put it in my pocket. Then, I held out my duffel bag for my uncle to fill with clothes.

When they came for me, I was going to burn it before them. There.

Author’s Rant SPOILERS

Wow! ‘Lage’s Game’ is such an intense story! I find myself sitting (more like, perched) on the edge of my chair, wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

I certainly didn’t see the mom getting shot coming. I was a paragraph away when I was like ‘hey, what if the mom gets shot?’. And I was all ‘NO! enough drama so far!’. But, it happened. The story won, haha. Also I would totally see my mom trying to beat up anyone who threatens her kids so hey, shoutout to my badass mom.

Now I hope y’all are wondering where Lage actually comes into this story, seeing as he’s part of the title. He will arrive, don’t worry. The card gets re-discovered (somewhere? I haven’t figured out where yet.) and we get into the real magic then. As I have said to anyone who listens (and really, I can rant about my writings) this story is like a mix of Jumanji and Card captor Sakura (which I have not watched, by the way, only been told about it), influenced by Locke & Key -the comic book.

My brother had bought me several copies of Locke & Key several years ago, when I was still very much trying to cope with my ptsd. It was so difficult to read those books, as there was so much violence in them. But they were so good, so well done! It was impressive, and I feel like something from that series is inspiring me with this story. I have not watched the Netflix adaptation and do not want to, because I’m sure it’ll scare me shitless.

Jumanji also scared the hell out of me as a kid, so hey. I guess I’m drawing on lots of scary things for this story.

I’m also drawing on a dream I had (which is what started this whole story), which I very scantily remember now. It was basically the first half of the first chapter with the discovery of the boardgame, featuring something about summoning Lage, and something about two women in the anime with a weapon that only women can wield. Sounds sketchy? Yeah! I have very little idea where this story is going but if you follow this blog you’ll know that that’s how I like it haha.

Anyways, I’m also wondering how I can go about promoting this story. I will try and post most of the rough draft for y’all to read for free, of course, but I’m hoping to sell it’s final version at some point. Any ideas on how to reach a broader audience? Social networking is something I really suck at, and so I’m pitching out to you friends for any ideas! Would you like to see goodie giveaways if I hit said amount of likes? Would you like to see goodie giveaways in return for fanart/promotion?

Pitch me your ideas! I can’t wait to hear from y’all! If you don’t want to drop a comment, email me at mdaoust245@gmail.com! I really want to hear from you all so don’t be shy!

Read the latest from Lage’s Game Here

Welcome to Circlet School ~ Chapter Five, Part Two

A philosopher somewhere probably said that life started with its first breath. Well, then, so did this ritual. With a grand breath that sounded draconic, the madam inhaled and then exhaled loudly.

She was planted summoning style, feet planted shoulder width and hands raised at her side. Her head was flung back like she was trying to suck in the whole sky. She was now wearing both the circlet and her hooded cape. White sage and incense cones smoldered in the cauldron, crystals strategically placed around our circle, along with the sticks, sorry – staves. A small cloth lay before the fire pit, named ‘altar’. There was the goddess and god figurines on it, the wand, and the stacks of candles and the drum.

We were also each holding a candle, looking like dutiful minions in a cult movie.

With a final exhale that, I’m telling you, sounded quite like a dragon sighing, she drew the hood over her head so it covered the circlet she was wearing. She stepped to the altar and picked up her shaman’s drum and beater. Stepping back to her stand at the head of the circle, she spoke to us all. “We are now about to do something very dangerous. We are going to do a banishing.”

Alright, I may be just an itty-bitty lil’ Gardenerian, but I’d seen my fair share of banishings in my witchy life time. They weren’t dramatic. Often, they were understated and simple affairs that were mainly effective.

This, I realized, was not to be the case with today’s ritual.

“In this ritual, you may see things, feel things. You may even be attacked supernaturally!”

Oh great. Way to set a calm and unprejudiced mood.

“I ask you all to hold the ranks! Do not be afraid!” Despite her previous fear-mongerings. Sure. “I will prevail!”

Yeah, su-ure.

She held up her drum – then seemed to change her mind. “We will now cast the circle,” she announced.

Putting her drum down, she picked up her wand. Turning her back to us (and thereby facing Sapphire who was sitting safely away and watching) she raised up her wand and declared “In the name of the Goddess and God!” and she swept down her wand to point out at the ground. Then, head held high, she began marching around our circle, clockwise (of course).

She muttered something as she walked, but a wind was stirring, sweeping her words away from me. And frankly, I wasn’t quite captivated. I was feeling sleepy, like I had missed my afternoon coffee. Which, I realized, I had missed. No wonder I was sleepy. Hmm. Would I be able to get it soon?

But the madame had reached the beginning of her circle again. “The circle is cast!” she proclaimed, raising her wand for a hero pose similar to that of Amethyst’s previous ritual. I wanted to groan. What was it with the hero-posing?

Seemingly chuffed with excitement, she stepped up to the altar. Dropping down her wand (ouch!) she scooped up the salt. “I cleanse this circle!” she bellowed, throwing salt over her shoulder. “May no harm come here! May no evil happen here! By the power of the goddess, the god, the powers within and without, the fairies, the dragons, the elementals and djinn, I proclaim it!”

Then she set the water back down and picked up the water. Again, she bellowed “I cleanse this circle, by the power of Elohim, the Astarte, the Danu, the Morrigan! The many and the one, be with us here now!”

Say what? Who was she summoning? All that at once?

Now she set down the water and picked up the white sage. Then she checked her pockets. “Does anyone have a lighter?” she asked.

There was a rustle of pocket-checking around the circle. “No,” we all had to admit.

“I do!” called over Sapphire, rising from her chair.

“Oh,” with a light laugh the madame turned around, holding out a hand. Sapphire tossed over the lighter. It struck the madame in the forehead. Whump.

“Sorry!” Sapphire called over, sitting back down. The madame rubbed her forehead but was just a little stunned. Now ignoring Sapphire, she turned back to us.

“I cleanse this space,” she declared, somewhat not as loudly as the other two times. “By the power of three, the triple blessings, and so mote it be!” She clicked the lighter and waved the white sage bundle over the flame. “Eli, Mogroth, Djinn of the east! By your power, I cleanse this space!”

She thrust the white sage up into the air. Tingles rose over my arms. I hated to admit it, but her summonings were working. I could feel presences. Chaotic presences, lurking around like they were cautiously wondering what the hell they were doing here.

“Now,” setting the smudge bundle down, she plucked up her drum and drum beater. “We shall begin our trance. Be not afraid, for I am a seasoned shaman.”

And then she began to beat her drum. It was rhythmic at least, and I began to feel a lull in my senses. I felt drowsy, relaxed. I didn’t even notice that she had began to hum along with her drum. Then she began to shout.

“Evil that hath come to this place! Michael before me! Evil that hath come to this place! Michael behind me! Evil! Michael, I demand you to stand between me and this evil! To destroy it completely!”

I jolted. I felt, very powerfully felt the presence of the archangel. Whether you believe it to be a thought-form, archetype of whatever, it was there. It was fiery, it was powerful, it was pissed off.

“Oh, evil of this land! Great horrors that have been committed here! I summon you, great evil!”

Dimly, in the back of my mind, I wondered why she’d had us hold these candles. Had she forgotten about them?

“Great Evil!” wailed on the madame, summoning something for sure. My arms were tingling with goosebumps. I felt a very, very, pissed off presence. It was strong, like iron, and very angry.

It seemed to be standing straight at the opposite end of the circle from the madame and her archangelic protection. Which, unfortunately, was directly where I was. So this mass of anger and fury was directly before me, with no angelic protection on my side.

Dear sweet Goddess, I thought grumpily in my foggy mind, protect me from this idiocy.

“Great evil! Murderer! Accuser! Ha-shaitan you are called!”

Holy crap, I thought, who the fuck is she summoning now?

“Iblis you are called!”

“The great fallen one you are!”

Now, I felt a greater, more powerful, entity taking place. No longer were we dealing with our genus loci, or spirits of the place. These were cosmic spirits, great ones with great thought-powers amassed.

“Michael!”

“Jibreel!”

“I command you! I compel you!”

An icy wind had picked up. Were we near a farm? There was a nasty smell on the wind.

“Great powers of good, forces of the universe!”

Good goddess! This woman was really going all out!

“We battle side by side! We combat the forces of evil!”

The wind whipped up, snapping our clothes tight against us.

“We will crush this evil that has manifested here! We will destroy it! Michael to the front of me! I command you to destroy this evil! Rebuke it! Crush it under your heel!”

Then, definitely taking the whole yelling thin up a notch, she bellowed “Eli eli, lama sabacthani! Destroy it!”

The wind snapped again. I felt a sudden void. The great nastiness was gone, whoever it had been. Leaving behind the fiery angelic presence … and a smaller, not quite cosmic sort of evil.

Because, you see, she summoned both the nastiness of the land and the spirits of Shaitan and Iblis. But she only banished the second one.

Crap, I thought as she began crooning. “Oh angels, great voice of the beyond, we thank you for your help! We bow to you, we sing your praises!”

The drumbeat stopped too suddenly. It felt like a lurch, like I was about to fall over.

Arms held out, drum aloft, she continued singing the praises of the ‘good’ who had defeated the ‘evil’. I felt quite sick. So much so that Paulette was suddenly helping me stand.

Completely clueless to my nausea, the madame waxed on and on. Then, lowering the drum, she finally noticed me. “Oh!”

I waved my fingers at her. “Just a little dizzy.”

She paused, looking like a deer in headlights. Then, shaking her head, she put down her drum and picked up her wand. Striking the hero-pose, she called out “Oh great beings! I release you all!”

Well, that was another giant energy vaccuum. Anyone who had been left behind/summoned but not used, left as fast as if their pants were on fire. Again, I felt dizzy.

Dimly, I heard her calling out to the circle that it was now open, and we were all basically free to go.

I plunked straight down, Paulette squeaking. Grumpy as could be, I set the unused candle down before me. There. This was over.

Drawing my knees to my chest, I decided that I needed a good grounding. That and maybe some space. Which, coincidentally, was not happening.

“Are you okay?”

“What’s the matter?”

“How do you feel?”

Legs swarmed around me, including the big skirts of the madame. Then, a pair of gray suit pants.

“Move,” said Sapphire in that cold tone that got shit done.

Suddenly there was space around me and I could breathe again. “Here,” Sapphire was crouching before me, holding out a granola bar and Crystal’s water bottle. “Take this.”

Behind Sapphire, the madame was waxing on to an avidly listening Crystal that “We just can’t predict who they will attack when you try and banish them.”

“Fuckin’ shit,” I muttered under my breath, scowling as I chowed down on the granola bar. I didn’t consider myself as a terribly sensitive soul, so, in my books, that ritual had been shit. Yeah, she’d gotten energy stirring. But in my opinion it was like calling ‘stirring the pot’ the same as making perfume. One stinks. One doesn’t. Point finale.

Still crouched before me, Sapphire smirked. “Need some more?” she asked, drawing another granola bar from her corgi’s harness pouches (which I hadn’t even noticed were there).

“No thanks,” I muttered savagely before taking a sip of water. Then I handed it back to her. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” she said with a smile as she rose to her feet. She offered a hand, and I took it to get up.

“Promise me we’re done with the stupid rituals,” I muttered to Sapphire. She winked at me. Then, we turned and rejoined the group.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Two Part One

After the Lion King movie I retreat to my room, leaving the door slightly ajar. Like this, I am able to hear the reassuring tones of mother and the cousins talking around the kitchen island. I burrow under my blankets with my stuffie and stare at the walls. The light from my window played on the wall, the tree on the front lawn lending moving shapes to it.

I watch as the light slowly dims and dims some more. The shadows grow thicker and still the voices talk on. It’s a dangerous time now, the evening. That’s when it had happened, the evening.

I must have fallen asleep. When I wake, there are no more voices and everything is dark and still. My heart is pounding in my chest and I think that something is wrong. It didn’t even occur to me that it could not be happening again.

I hide in my bed, shaking. I hear no sounds. Was mother dead? I screw up my courage, and take my unicorn stuffie with me just to be sure.

I pad through the house. It is dark, but I know the way. I make my way across the kitchen, to the living room that is dimly lit by a single light. There, mother is sprawled on a couch, dead.

I freeze. No! Mother! But again, as with the man, I cannot move. It is only when mom snores that I realize that she is merely asleep. Oh.

Feeling a rush of relief, I look around. Nothing of our new setup is disturbed. The TV is still there. There has been no break-in this night.

I let out a sigh, dropping my stuffie to the end of my arm. Before mom, on the coffee table is a bottle of wine and one glass. But there is also the board game, spread around as if she’d been searching through it for something. I pad forward, wondering what she was searching for. The rule book? The reason behind the numbers on the cards?

I find myself beside the board game, just out of reach of my mother. She is somewhat alright. No wound on her that is fresh or bleeding. But even so, with the shadows her bruises look garish and her face distorted. I turn to focus on the board game, not wanting to think of mother’s bruises and how she got them.

The cards are spread across the board, fanned out carefully in three rows. There is the language cards, the people, and the items. At the top of it all sits the d20.

A thought strikes me. There was nothing left here of value except for this board game. Whoever came tonight, during the night, they would be coming for it. Maybe this game, maybe this was the real reason for the break-in. Maybe it was all about this game. After all, why was it hidden in a wall?

I scoop up the cards, piling them neatly back into their stacks. I place them back into the box with the dice. Then I fold up the board and place it all together in there snugly.

Determined, I take the board game back to my room with me and my stuffie. Burglars left children alone. They had left me alone, locked in my room. If they came back, they wouldn’t hurt me, that I knew. So I had to keep the board game with me, safe.

I tuck myself back into bed. I was hungry for supper, but it was too late and mother wasn’t about to wake up. I knew I could go into the fridge for a snack, but the sound of the door opening and its light might wake her. Besides, now that I was back in bed, the rest of the house was too large and vulnerable. I couldn’t leave the somewhat safety of my bed, not again. The burglars would be here soon.

I press the board game’s box against my chest, half tucked under my pillow. It would be safe with me.

For some time, I watch the shapes on the wall, the shadows of the tree from outside. I watch, and listen. Every breath shallow and too loud. I listen, and wait.

Then, a click of a door being unlocked.

I freeze. Did I hear what I thought I’d heard? Really? Were they back?

Another click, the door being softly shut. They were back.

My heart has stopped. Ice covers me. They’re here for the game, they’re here for it.

In a cold rush, I realized I’d made a mistake. They were never going to stop until they got what they wanted. They wanted the game, it was too precious to leave behind. They knew it was here.

I hear a muffled shriek. Mother. She’s whimpering.

“I don’t know where it is!” she cries out.

I had to think.

Whump. Thud. Mom is crying.

I sit up. Heart is pounding again, too loud. I had to give them the game. I had to save mother.

The box is in my lap. It’s the last thing from father.

Thud! The sound of mother hitting the floor.

The world turns black.

A muffled shriek bring me back to my senses. There are footsteps all over the house. Thuds all over of things being knocked over. The basement- they were in it. They would see the hole in the wall.

I step out of the bed, covered in ice. Determined, clutching the board game to me, I walk across my room. The floor is so cold against my feet. I push the door and it stops against something, someone.

“Stay in there, kid,” a man’s voice growls out.

I push on the door again. The door jerks open and a huge man is facing me. All in black, face covered in a ski mask. He laughs.

“The kids’ got it!” He reaches out. I clutch the game to my chest, taking a step back. “Give it here,” he says, chuckling. Another big man appears behind him.

Mother starts screaming.

I hand out the game. Just take it and go.

He takes it, his hands gloved in black too. He hands it to the other man, who nods. “Good kid,” the second man said while taking the game. Then they close the door to my room.

I come to with a light being flashed in my eyes. A blanket is on my shoulders. Police are everywhere. The lights are on, chasing away the dark. In the living room, I hear mother talking through sobs, her voice high-pitched. There are so many other voices, but I hear hers above them all.

The EMT is talking to me, patting my shoulders. I stare at him.

Then, blackness. They are shaking me gently when I come back to.

“We’re going to go to the hospital, okay?” the EMT is saying kindly. “We’re going to go.”

I turn to my bed. My unicorn. I couldn’t leave the house without it.

The Emt walks with me as I go to my bed and pick up my stuffie – and a card falls out from its grasp. It was probably lying on it, but in my head right then, it seems as if my unicorn had been holding the card, keeping it safe.

The card flutters down to my feet, but I recognize it. The only card with a black backing dotted with a diamond. The ridiculously overpowered card.

In the back of my head I think that the game is probably ruined without that card in it. I hope it is. No rule book, no trump card – I hoped it was now unplayable.

Leaving the card on the floor, I was turned away and taken to the hospital.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter One; Part Two

We find ourselves sitting in the living room. It feels empty, hollow, despite my cousins having arrived. They’re in their teens, big almost-men that are on the football team. Their hair is braided back in braids like mine. They looked up to father. Were often borrowing his books and listening to him tell them what university was like. Now they sat there with forced smiles and eyed me nervously.

From at the end of a tunnel, I hear mother come in with drinks. As usual, she chides not to get it on the board, her words strained. The board?

I look at the coffee table between us all. On it sits the thin board game box, green and luscious looking. The lettering was golden and glittering, the letters triangular shaped and strange.

“This a new game?” asked Fred, the beefier of the two, but also the kindest. He’s wearing a button-up shirt and looks ready to go to church. I dimly wondered if this counts towards community hours for them.

Mom sits down on the couch beside me. Fred and Ali are on the two chairs across from us. So often, Father would sit here and counsel them…

I hug my softie to my chest, bowing my head. I felt empty, torn, and hollow. Mother is saying something about how this is an old game, just something we “dug up in the basement,” she said with a grin towards me.

I look up from my softie with a smile. Or at least I thought it was a smile. It makes mother cringe. She passes a hand over my hair and sighs.

“So! Let’s play!” says Fred, looking at me with supposed excitement and happiness in his eyes. It hurts me. How can he be happy? How dare he?

I looked down to stop my quivering lip. I watch dimly as the lid of the box is shimmied up carefully, revealing its interior.

“Ohhh,” coos Fred, Ali leaning forward. Mother leans forward too, a frown on her face.

There was several stacks of cards, a folded up board, and one dice. A d20.

“There’s cards,” says Fred, looking at me. “You like cards, don’t you?”

I nod, pressing my lips together as Fred takes out each of the card stacks and places them carefully on the coffee table. Next comes the board, still folded and gray in its backing. Then the dice. Then – “Where’s the instruction booklet?” Fred asks, and mother frowns. She leans forward, peering at the stacks of cards and the board.

“Maybe?” she unfolds the board, shaking it in case the instructions are trapped in there.

“No, not there,” and she sets the board down, turning to the cards. My eyes widen as I take in the sight of the board. It is an old folk-style image of a forest, viking-styled weaving of knots all around the edges. There is images of a castle, of a village, and – no path?

Fred and Ali are each sifting through a stack of cards along with mom, who is talking. “It came with a stack of VHS,” she was saying. “At worst if we can’t find the instructions, we can watch those, can’t we?”

I nod, squeezing my stuffie to my chest. But I wished for us to have the instructions. The board looked beautiful, intriguing. And the cards – I leaned over and watched as mother flicked through them. They were brightly colored and featured pictures that filled the card. They were styled like ancient carvings, some featuring items, others featuring persons.

“Oops!” Ali said as a card jumped out from his shuffling. It fluttered across the coffee table and landed face down before me. The backing was black, with a diamond image in the center. Leaning forward from the couch, I flipped the card over.

The image was that of a carving in wood, sort of like a totem pole but in an entirely nordic (or was it celtic?) style of carving. Beneath it, there was written “Lage, Type: Player’s Companion Stats: 900/100”

900/100? That seems stupidly high, I thought. Deciding that this was a stupid game, I handed the card wordlessly back to Ali.

“Thanks,” he said as he took it. I didn’t answer, squeezing my stuffie to my chest. My eyes dropped back down to the board. It was so pretty. Why would it have an overblown statistic like that? Maybe I just didn’t understand. Maybe … I leaned over the coffee table, peering at the board, my chin resting on my unicorn.

This must be a rare collector’s piece, I thought to myself. That’s why father would have stored it away so preciously. Probably so that I wouldn’t touch it, or so someone wouldn’t steal it.

Still, I thought, bricking it away seemed a little excessive.

I tried to focus on the mystery of the bricking and not think of Father. But tears began to stream down my face.

“Hey,” mom handed me a tissue, voice soft. “Hey, it’s okay.”

It wasn’t! But the last thing mom needed was a temper tantrum. So I took the tissue and wiped my face quietly.

As I balled up the tissues in my fist, mom set her pack of cards down. “Well,” she said. “There’s no rules. How about them, huh?” She looked playfully at me, so sad and desperate at the same time. “Want some retro anime?”

“Sure!” Fred rose as he set the cards down. “Need help setting it up?”

“Yeah sure,” mom said, rising to her feet. “I haven’t used the vhs player in ages.”

While they began fussing over the cords of the TV and Ali was instructed to bring in the box in the kitchen, I looked at the stacks of cards.

Carefully, I flipped over the top card from Ali’s stack. It pictured a scythe. The next was a book. The next a shoe. So these were items.

I moved on to mother’s stack of cards. The top card featured an image of heiroglyphs. The next, arabic script. Languages? Hm.

Then Fred’s stack. People, all of them. A pharoah’s sculpture, a celtic rock carving named Morrigan – probably inspired by the goddess.

I flip more cards over. I was wondering if there were any from Africa. There usually wasn’t in board games, especially not old ones. But maybe in this one, it would be different.

The card stack toppled over, but I’d have sworn I hadn’t knocked it. The cards slide out across the board, fanning out so their backs are revealed. There are red ones, blue ones, and I spot a black one. It alone has a diamond on its back.

I pluck it out, and the picture of Lage is there. And that ridiculously high number. Setting the cards back in a stack, I begin comparing their numbers. These seemed all to be under a hundred for their first number, such as 80/100 or 60/100. Which would make sense, if it was a percentile. But 900/100? I frowned at Lage’s card again.

Placing a hand on the board to steady myself, I held up Lage’s card to the light. Sometimes cards had finicky light tricks going on – but this one was probably too old for that.

I lowered the card- then froze. Out of the corner of my eye, there was a new shape stepping out of the kitchen. But mother and my cousins were both to my left, fussing over the TV.

Frozen in horror, I tried to lower the card but couldn’t. I was stuck, body turned to ice. The shape stepped closer. I wanted to scream, to alert mom and the cousins, but couldn’t. It was all going to happen again, I thought. This time, it would be my cousins killed.

Leather brown boots stepped near me. A tall shape, green, loomed over me. Then it crouched down at my side. A brown hunting gloved hand rested on my knee. A face framed with a green hood peered at me, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the card. They were just a blurr.

“Greetings,” a man’s voice said, gentle and musical.

I screamed. The card fell from my fingers. I spun, jumping up and away from the man.

“What is it?” mother yelped. My cousins rushed over, crouching next to me. I stared around, at the empty space where the man had just been.

I- I saw- I stared around wildly.

“There’s nothing, what is it?” Mother asked again, crouching next to me. To my cousins she said “Maybe go check the doors and windows please? She gets anxious about them.”

“Of course,” Fred said, and with a nod at Ali, they left to check the house.

But he was here. In here. Again. An attacker. Would he kill the cousins? What was he here for? Father’s collectibles had all been stolen that day –

Except this one. My eyes dropped to the game. He must have come for the game! The last piece of father, the last thing he owned here.

Mother was rubbing my shoulders. “It’s okay sweetie, there’s no one,” she was saying. “There’s nothing, it’s okay.”

But she was wrong. Someone was here. Right here.

“Here,” mom hands my unicorn to me. I wrap my arms around it and press it to my chest. Stepping over the card on the floor, I walk slowly to the kitchen. Every step brings me closer to the thief, where they must be.

I scream again when Fred steps out of the kitchen and almost into me.

“Hey!” he bends over with a big grin on. “There’s no one. Nothing at all.” Then, catching a look from mom, he crouches down. Everyone looks less threatening when they crouch down below your eye height.

Ali arrives behind him, beaming as well. “Nothing!” he says.

So he left. Ran out the door. A nonviolent burglar. Not one hell bent on violence. Chased away by the fright of two black men. I look down at the floor.

Mother takes my shoulders and turns me back to the living room. “How about the Lion King?” she asks. “You like that movie!”

I did. Before.

But I sit on the couch because mother doesn’t need a tantrum. I will watch the movie because she needs me to be quiet.

“Oh, a card dropped,” Fred says too cheerfully, picking up the card I’d been looking at when the man came to me. He sets it on one of the piles of cards, the wrong pile.

I pick it up. Lage, a character card. It belongs with the other character cards. Mustn’t get them mixed up. Father always said it was good to keep games all orderly and organized.

“That way it’s easier to pick them up again,” he’d say with a smile as we sorted cards into piles.

Mechanically, I sift through the other cards. A pharoah’s statue, a celtic sculpture. I stick the Lage card, overblown with its numbers, straight into the middle and set the other cards atop it. There. Organized.

Then, I sit back and watch the beginning of the Lion King.

Welcome to Circlet School ~ Chapter Four Part Two

“Next,” Sapphire nodded to the security guard, who was at my other side.

“Well,” he said, leaning back and puffing himself up. “I did say that a fire extinguisher should have been nearby, and I’m going to repeat that. And I think it’s a downright bad sign for an altar to go up in flames-”

And I just tuned it out after that. He wheedled on and on, saying how safety should always come first and not actually sounding sad or thoughtful at all. After five minutes, he finished with “yeah, safety.” And then he smiled as if he’d actually said something.

Next was the phys ed teacher, Maria. “You know, I’ve got native ancestry,” she said boldly. “Not sure from which tribe, but definitely in there somewhere, way back where.”

Always a good start to anything. Claim ancestry to back up your claim.

“I think it was the shell that did it,” Maria continued. “You’re not supposed to burn it in a shell. It’s offensive. I think there’s a connection there between burning offensively and your shrine catching on fire.”

“But it was white sage!” Amethyst declared, as offended as could be. “It would have purified-”

“Not your turn to talk,” muttered Sapphire, still writing.

“It can’t be that!” finished Amethyst, crossing her arms over her heaving bosom.

Maria held up her hands. “Just taking a native’s perspective on it.”

“This was a residential school,” said Sapphire cautiously. “Perhaps we need to be extra cautious to be respectful of native traditions. There has been enough harm to them committed on this land.”

Maria nodded righteously, but Amethyst burst up. “But it was not disrespectful!”

“Sit down. Next,” demanded Sapphire.

Amethyst thumped down, face crinkling with restrained tears.

Bjorn was next. He mumbled that it was ‘quite the fire’ and that he ‘wasn’t sure what to make of it’, which was all lies. Except for it being a big fire. That it had been. But not having an opinion? Despite his big beaming smile at the end, the guy was obviously just not wanting to tread on toes.

After Bjorn was Crystal, who went on a similarly cautious walk-around of the issue. Then there was – MoonRaven, our nurse.

“I think it shows a deep disturbance in the psyche of this place,” she said with a nod. “Definitely wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some native burial grounds here or something.”

“Children were sometimes buried on the residential school lands,” said Sapphire with a nod, scribbling away.

Great! So now it was official-ish! We were on a native burial ground. Just perfect.

I barely heard the thoughts of Ivy, Sapphire’s secretary, but Paulette drew herself up with gumption. “I think we didn’t exercise perfect caution, and it bit us in the butt,” she said defiantly.

Amethyst looked away angrily.

“We are all to blame in some part,” she went on to say. “But good ritual is like math. I know math, and so ritual,” she paused “I think I second what Thunder said. It didn’t quite go right. We ought to look inside instead of just outside. What did we do that made them, the spirits, want to set our stuff on fire?”

Not just ‘our’ stuff, but Amethysts’ stuff specifically, I noted silently to myself.

Then, it was Amethyst.

Sapphire designated her with a hand, and the entire table held its breath. Probably, even the wood of this table literally stopped being porous for a minute. That’s how the energy was in the air right then.

Amethyst stood up, clearing her throat. Pen still scribbling, Sapphire said “You can sit down,” in a very flat voice.

Amethyst sat down with a face. Sapphire completely ignored it, still jotting down stuff. Then she looked up, just to see the whole table holding its breath and amethyst staring angrily at Sapphire.

Sapphire straightened, shaking out her hand. “It’s your turn to talk. So talk.” Let us have it, she seemed to say. I braced myself mentally, deciding that I would keep in mind that Amethyst was a … fully fledged adult who ought to be in control of her emotions? Eh, oh well. Good luck to us all.

Amethyst sucked in a breath, then said with a broken voice damp with tears “I can’t believe you all have been attacking me!”

Sapphire kept a very neutral face, but she wasn’t writing this down.

“I, held that ritual,” Amethyst was breathing in heaves and starts. “Out of the goodness of my heart!”

“We weren’t questioning that,” started Paulette, only to be interrupted by Sapphire.

“Not your turn,” Sapphire said flatly, still not writing anythign down.

“I, do NOT see the point of all these ad hominem attacks!” Amethyst wailed, tears beginning to stream down her face.

“They were not ad hominem attacks,” said Sapphire matter of factly, clasping her hands over her notepad.

Amethyst wasn’t listening, gulping and sobbing. “I did my best! And you,” here she looked directly at me “Attacked me! After my shrine burned! And you!” she glared at Sapphire. “you brought us all to this evil infested place!”

Sapphire raised just one eyebrow in a very unimpressed way. It was sexy as hell. But now was not the moment to dissolve into a pile of goo at her feet.

“I can’t imagine the sorts of trauma that the children who come here will have to endure!” she wailed. “This place is dangerous! Haunted! And you,” she looked around the table “Will blame them for their own problems!”

Amethyst rose up to her feet, glaring Sapphire down. “I can’t believe this place! I can’t believe you!” she shrieked at Sapphire. “I am a high priestess! I know how to do ritual! And you are all doubting me-”

“Actually, it is because you are a high priestess that we are holding you responsible for the results of your ritual,” said Sapphire tartly. “You led a ritual that, according to some of us, may have been poorly done. Surely if you weren’t powerful your mistakes wouldn’t have had such a catastrophic result.”

Was she- trying to compliment Amethyst? Was she? Was it working? Amethyst was standing there, mouth ajar.

Sapphire looked down at her paper, tapping her notes with her pen. “Your ritual’s result was dangerous, and seems to have greatly upset you. However, it is not an attack against your personality or powers or will. I think everyone here will agree that you did it out of goodness and concern. We all appreciate your presence, I am also sure. I think that, what I have mainly heard around this table, is that your ritual’s disaster was caused both by your own accident as well as the spirits of this land. The spirit’s actions are not your fault.”

Amethyst sniffled. Sapphire pressed on. “No one here wants to attack you.”

With a sob, Amethyst plunked back down onto the bench. It squeaked loudly, or was that her?

“We are all worried,” Sapphire insisted. “The way the ritual ended was a powerful sign. I think what we need is to work together to solve this issue, instead of letting it divide us.”

Amethyst nodded with another squeak. She held out her arms for a hug from Sapphire. Sapphire cleared her throat. “I uh, not the hugging type but uh?”

“Group hug!” declared Crystal, lurching up from her spot.

Oh, good Goddess. Cries of ‘Group hug!’ went up, and the table mobilized itself. Like a swarm with Amethyst as the wounded bee, everyone rushed to coagulate around her.

I sat there, me and Sapphire exchanging a look while everyone else patted Amethyst and exchanged body warmth. I shrugged. “Not a hugger,” I said. Sapphire nodded, smiling awkwardly at this display.

After a few moments of hugging and patting and laughing through tears (in Amethyst’s case) everyone took their places again.

“Alright, we have one more person to hear from, then we brainstorm solutions,” said Sapphire before handing ‘the floor’ to the woman sitting at her right.

The woman, who I recognized as the detention teacher, merely shrugged. “I think it’s all been said,” she said warm-heartedly. “I really hope we can find a working solution, and make sure that this place will have good luck and protection going on.”

Everyone nodded and hummed appreciatively at that.

“Alright, good,” Sapphire said with determination. Flipping through her notebook, she drew a packet of cue cards from the back and set them before herself. “We are now going to try and find solutions.”

Everyone leaned forward eagerly.

Once again, the air was full of suspense. Possibilities! Endless opportunities!

“So,” Sapphire flipped through her notes. “It seems like we need to fix whatever it was that caused the upset. Maybe a ‘we’re sorry’ sort of ritual, to pacify the spirits?”

There were hums and haws around the table. I nodded vigorously. Sapphire wrote in large ‘we’re sorry’ on a cue card and set that before herself. Then she took another and, while talking, wrote ‘banish’ on it. “We could banish all negativity-”

And that, that’s where it went screwy, if you ask me.

“That’s what we need!” declared Amethyst, gasping in awe at her own revelation. “A banisher!”

“M-hmm,” said Sapphire, “we can-”

“No, we bring in a real expert!” exclaimed Amethyst.

Sapphire just looked at her, shoulders heaving in a sigh.

Amethyst waved her hands as if ushering us all to lean in and share this secret. Except she was now talking super loud and fast. “I know a lady! A real witch! And I mean- she teaches!”

Uh, okay? You’re saying that to a room full of teachers, but okay?

“M-hmm?” Sapphire set down her pen, face completely nonplussed.

“We can have her come and – we don’t even need to tell her what we think! She will just,” Amethyst swept her arm sideways as if clearing the table to spite the floor. “Everything! Clean it all! She’s intuitive!

“Oh, that could be nice!” chirped in Crystal.

Aurora nodded.

“A real expert!” claimed Amethyst. “And she’s cheap! Only a hundred an hour!”

“A hundred an hour?” asked Sapphire tartly.

“Oh yes!” said Amethyst. “That’s cheap!”

I … wasn’t so sure. Neither were several others. And yet – Amethyst was passionately ranting on, declaring this woman a ‘friend in the Goddess’ and a ‘good, strong soul’ and a ‘really skilled banisher’!

“It won’t hurt to try,” suggested Bjorn.

Sapphire raised her eyebrows.

“I will message her!” Amethyst began rifling in her bosom and pockets. “If she’s available, we must have her come before the children get here-”

“If we decide to call upon her,” said Sapphire tartly.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” said Paulette slowly.

Aurora nodded. “Sometimes a blank slate, without judgment, is the best thing.”

Sapphire nodded slowly while Amethyst typed away at her phone. “This is an emer-gen-cy,” said Amethyst, probably narrating what she was typing. “We need this woman straight aways!”

Sapphire raised an eyebrow. “And, what accreditations does she have?”

“Oh!” Amethyst raised her hands. “She does it all! Fairy reiki, dragon summonings, elf shamanism, elder channeling, you name it!”

Sapphire, to her credit, kept on a very composed face. “Elf shamanism?”

“Yes!”

Uh.

Sapphire stared off into the void as if somehow broken. “Hmm,” was all she said.

I tried to rescue this situation. “Well, I’m sure that if we were to put our heads to it, we could do another ritual that would fix things.”

“I’m not leading another ritual,” said Amethyst tartly.

Sapphire looked to Aurora. “You could, if you’d like. Or I could.”

Amethyst looked pointedly at Aurora. “How experienced are you at banishing? It can get gritty sometimes!”

Aurora kept her cool. “I haven’t led many rituals.”

Amethyst, eyes bulging, pointed to her phone. “This lady has seen it all! Demon summonings, oh!” the phone buzzed and Amethyst grinned. “She says she can be here today!”

“Alright, all in favor of this raise your hand,” said Sapphire grimly, as if she already knew the outcome.

Most of the table raised their hands, to my surprise.

“Hmm,” said Sapphire grimly. To Amethyst, she said “So where was this lady trained?”

“Oh, she’s intuitive,” said Amethyst. “Do I tell her to come?”

Sapphire smiled grimly, like she was telling someone to nail her inside a coffin. “Yes. Do it.”

img_20200518_191530_5901418745261696850283.jpg

Welcome to Circlet School ~ Chapter Four Part One

I slept awfully that night. An oppressive force soaked through my troubled dreams, and I woke in the middle of the night with the feeling of a weight on my chest.

‘Sleep!’ an angry voice in my head order. ‘Go to sleep you little rat!’

‘Yeah, I’m trying!’ I thought back angrily before flipping over and pressing a pillow over my head.

After that, I slept like a rock, but a rock that was at the bottom of a river, covered in turbulence and being crawled over by bottom feeders and creepy crawlies like that. It was deep, but unpleasant.

I couldn’t remember what had made it so unpleasant when I woke up to the sound of someone else’s alarm going off. No pleasant chimes and chirping of birds from my phone. No, Bjorn’s beep-beep was a full five minutes of sleep ahead of mine.

I wanted to throw a pillow across the room. Five minutes of sleep stolen from me! Five! Whole! Minutes!

Deteremined to get my night’s worth of shut-eye, I put the pillow over my head and rolled over. Blissful rest sifted over me for maybe, oh, a minute? Just enough for me to feel rested and charmingly happy. Then, a woman’s wail belted out, complete with crystals and chimes and healing twang-twangs in the background. I couldn’t recognize any words, but I was sure it was from some chakra awakening disc or something.

I bolted up, smacking my pillow over my legs. No sleep! No sleep for me!

Grumpy beyond reasoning, I rolled out of bed. Grabbing up my stuff, I made my way to the communal men’s bathroom where I had an aggressive shower. About halfway into it, I realized I was throwing a tantrum over five minutes of sleep. A bit ridiculous, if you asked me on a normal day.

So I tried to calm down. I figured this was leftover bad vibes from last night, both from the ritual and my strange sleep. Why would a spirit try and wake me up, only to tell me to go back to sleep? Weird.

I visualized white light coming down from the water spout, hosing me with cleansing properties and washing all my nastiness away. Relaxing, I just stood there and rested, feeling blissful and spiritually happy.

It worked for about five minutes. After that, for whatever fucking reason, the water turned ice cold in a snap. Maybe it was on some sort of timer that was meant to save hot water or something like that. Well, it worked. I got out of there, cursing and swearing under my breath like a very unhappy christian.

Once more in a bad mood, but doing my best to control it, I slapped my clothes on over my damp body and left my hair to its thing and marched out of there.

I got out of there, head down and scowling to myself. There was the math teacher and Sapphire milling around while Crystal and Aurora were lazily making their way to the showers.

“Shoes,” was called after me, and I half smiled to myself before shutting myself into my room. There, I passed a hand in my hair – my very gooey hair. My very, very, conditioned hair.

“Fuck!” I exclaimed, realizing that while I had let the water bathe me from the face down, I’d wholly forgotten to rinse out my hair. Which, by the way, had some very manly conditioner in it. It was supposed to make my hair flex and do push-ups on its own or something.

But I was hell-bent on not going back into the shower, sulking it like a child and feeling like my very adult patience was already running thin. So I toweled off my hair, hoping that that would be enough.

Hint: it was not. But I wasn’t in the habit of checking my reflection before leaving my rooms or apartments. Usually, my hair was fine from the bathroom reflection → where I had obviously not done a check-up, now had I?

Deciding that I was going to be patient and kind today whether I wanted to or not, I left my room, locking it as I went.

“Hey,” said Crystal, walking up to me. She was also freshly showered and just leaving her room, smelling like palo santo and had a big grin on to boot it. But over her shoulder, I saw Amethyst approaching, solemn and dressed in black with no silver.

“Hmm,” I said, deciding that this was going to be an interesting day.

It was. Amethyst walked with me and Crystal and Bjorn, emanating an air of solemn drama. Crystal tried to smile and comment on the beauty of the day (which was beautiful. All sunny and stuff.), but Amethyst gave her a cold stare. Crystal muttered that it was a beautiful day anyways, and that was that. We made our way to the eating hall, where the other teachers and staff were trickling in.

Breakfast was a muted affair. At least it was for me – until someone commented on my hair. I lifted my head at that.

“Done something to your hair?” asked – what was her name again? The math teacher. Paulette! She was sitting across from me in boho styled clothes, her mousy hair in a shoulder-length frizz.

Frowning, I reached up to my hair. It was still slick, but should have dried by now. I made a face. “I forgot to rinse out my conditioner,” I muttered under my breath. Then, with another face, I asked “Does it look that bad?”

She began to giggle hysterically. I couldn’t help but grin at myself.

“Just don’t do that when the students are here,” she said, half-laughing. It made me grin more. Life was fine, I decided. There was stuff to laugh about- and then a loud voice clearing made our faces drop.

Amethyst was standing imperiously, looking around the table as if we were all about to be judged by herself.

Sapphire set down her spoon with a severe expression. “This can wait until after breakfast! Can’t it?”

Amethyst trembled in outrage. “Food is the time to discuss openly-”

“It is a time to rest,” said Sapphire tartly. “And we want everyone’s attention on the issue, not on their food. People might want to take notes.”

“Cakes and ale is always a time for discussion-”

“This is not cakes and ale, this is,” Sapphire looked down the table. “Soy milk and fruit loops. So sit down.”

Amethyst thumped down, eyes teary. She sniffled in a miffed way. I was grateful for the reprieve. I did want to eat in peace.

“This is going to be fun,” muttered Paulette to me as some small chit-chat rose around the table. I raised my eyebrows and nodded.

All too quickly, my bowl of cereal and toasts were gone. Trays were taken away. We were all sitting back down at the table, and Sapphire had taken out a notebook and pen, bearing a painstakingly patient expression.

“Very well,” she said, with the air of a long-patient military commander about to hear about all their troops’ shenanigans. “The floor is open. We will-” Amethyst shot up to her feet. Sapphire’s eyes narrowed but she continued, lifting her right hand “Go around the table starting from my right-”

“Counter-clockwise?!” demanded Amethyst as if this was an outrage.

Sapphire lowered her right hand to lift her left. “Starting from my left. But that means you’re almost last to speak,” she said pointedly at Amethyst.

Amethyst sat back down, nodding like a martyr. Sapphire looked down at her notebook. “So. Here’s how we will proceed. First we are going to discuss our thoughts on last night’s episode. Then, once we’ve all voiced our worries and impressions, we are going to try and brainstorm some ideas. Resolutions.”

Everyone nodded. “Sounds good,” chirped Cheryl.

“So, you have the floor.” Sapphire turned to Aurora, who was directly to her left. I realized with a dismal twist in my stomach that there was only Aurora and Cheryl, then it was my turn to speak.

Aurora took in a breath. Her makeup was on a savage point, all hued in red and purple, her corset laced tightly and her hair in a dramatic updo. But for all that explosion of personality, she was quiet for a moment.

“I think, theoretically, that last night was a disaster, in many senses,” she said. “We definitely started off from a space of impurity, hence the chaos happening, but by allowing such destruction to happen, we’ve made the situation worse. I think. And,” she took a pause, starign down at the table before herself. “I think that there definitely needs to be some action taken. Last night was an improbable coincidence, but I do think it was a sign that something is wrong. Personally, I do not have a big ‘radar’. I don’t sense much. But I do know that such things are often signs from the beyond. So,” and then she shrugged in dismissal. “That’s that.”

Sapphire nodded, scribbling away at her notebook. “Any particular fears? We will get to how to fix this later, for now we’re just focusing on expressing ourselves.”

“Well, I think I speak for everyone when I say,” she looked at Amethyst “that we are all terribly sorry for your loss. Those were cherished pieces for you, and it’s a huge loss to lose a statue, never mind several.”

The table nodded all around (even Sapphire) and Amethyst bowed her head tearily.

“Thank you,” said Sapphire. Then she gestured to Cheryl with a hand. “Cheryl?”

Cheryl inhaled like she was dragging on a cigarette, fingers pressing over her lips. Then she shook her head and let it all out. “It was a bloody frickin’ disaster. I don’t know what went wrong, but that’s bad vibes right there. If there wasn’t any to start out with, there certainly is now. How do fix it, I don’t know,”

“We’ll be getting to that later,” murmured Sapphire.

“Yeah, well,” Cheryl made a face. “We’ve got work to do. That’s where I stand.”

Sapphire nodded and jotted down some more stuff. Then she pointed at me with a palm.

I wanted to hide under the table.

“Uhm,” I fidgeted, then clasped my hands before me on the table. Staring at them, I tried to make sense of everything I felt. “From the perspective of someone who was helping to run the ritual last night,” I paused again, hoping this wouldn’t go over too badly. “I think that perhaps the ritual didn’t go over well.”

There was a pause. Eyebrows raised as if to say ‘you think?’ and I realized I’d probably missed the point.

“What I mean, is, uh, I think something about the ritual made it all go down in flames.”

There was a loud gasp from Amethyst. Everyone else cringed or remained neutral as best they could. Amethyst gawked and looked up and down the table. I cringed so badly.

“I’m sorry, but it didn’t,” oh gulp “feel? Quite right. I uh-”

“How can you say that?” squeaked Amethyst.

Sapphire held up a hand. “Keep on, Thunder.”

I cleared my throat and stared down at my hands. Focus, focus. “I think, and this is maybe just my opinion,” but I doubted it, but I also doubted anyone else would speak up on it. “that the ritual was poorly executed in some way, and that this discord of energy-”

Another outraged gasp.

I barrelled on. “This may have been what caused the fire to get going. It was definitely a sign, but a sign of what? We’ve got to think beyond black and white, bad and good. So, I think we should really, critically, think about ‘why’ the altar went up in flames.”

There was a dramatic pause. I looked around, watching the stiffly poised faces around me, and the shell-shocked look on Amethyst’s face. “I’m done,” I muttered.

“What are you saying?” shrieked Amethyst. “That it’s my fault?”

“Not directly,” I muttered, but the damage was done.

“How can you say that?!” Amethyst shrieked, up on her feet now and trembling with indignation. “I worked so hard on that ritual! I asked you to officiate! I tried so hard, even placing people correctly-”

“Please sit down, it’s not your turn to talk,” said Sapphire dryly.

“Am I not allowed to defend myself?” Amethyst railed.

“You haven’t been attacked. Sit down,” was the command.

Amethyst plunked down, breath heaving and tears barely restrained.

Welcome to Circlet School ~ Chapter Three Part Two

The fire licked up the oil, and I jumped back. Amethyst screamed, and suddenly the chair was a fire pit, flames jumping a foot in height.

“Move!” Sapphire was at my side, drawing us back from the fire. “Get back! There’s water in there!”

“My- my – my,” Amethyst tried to reach at the fire, but Sapphire was herding her away. I took the cue and backed away, ushering everyone else to back away. I didn’t quite get what Sapphire meant by the water thing, until I heard the ‘pow!’ of the mason jar of sacred water breaking.

With a giant hiss, the flames burst three feet higher and out to the sides at the contact with the water. It was an inferno.

The chair collapsed sideways, tipping everything onto the grass in a haphazard pile. Having learned our lesson this time, we all backed away even more. But the theatrics were done with. The chair smoldered, the horrid smell of burning plastic filling the air. Amethyst sobbed, hands pressed over her nose and mouth, eyes spilling over with tears as she watched her shrine material burn.

Ouch. Yeah. Nevermind the emotional attachment, there was hundreds of dollars worth of material that had just gone up in flames. During her own ritual. Ouch, ouch.

Trying not to think of all the emotional disaster, I turned to Amethyst. She was sagging against Sapphire, who looked like she didn’t know what to do, but was still holding up Amethyst.

I whisked over to Amethyst’s side. “Dismiss the fire and air,” I said gently. “That’s going to help. Maybe some things can still be salvaged.”

Like a snowman in hell, but hey, it did the trick. Amethyst drew herself back up and, in a tremulous voice, she said “I dismiss you, element of fire! In perfect love and,” here she sobbed “perfect trust.” And then she seemed to pull herself together a little more, repeating the phrase for the element of air. She detached herself from Sapphire and, pointing out her finger, drew back in the circle. Then, stunned, we all stood and watched the smoldering fires.

“A fire extinguisher,” said the security guard, nodding his head. “That’s what we should have on hand.”

“Definitely,” said Sapphire coolly, in a tone that said ‘thanks, Watson’.

Amethyst peered into the rubble. There was no salvaging those poor statues. They had been plastic, and were now twisted lumps of charred yuck. The white sage was still burning with a tiny flame, the shell beneath it cracked. The pyramid was still alive, at least. So was the polymer clay decorations that had been on the wand, which was completely gone.

“Well,” Crystal put an arm around Amethyst’s shoulders. “At least they weren’t summoned into the statues yet.”

Amethyst nodded, eyes tearing again.

“Wow,” muttered Aurora. “I’ve never heard of this sort of thing happening.”

Sapphire was having none of it. “Oil catching fire? Happens in every kitchen. Now-”

“This is a sign!” wailed Amethyst, drawing herself up to glare at Sapphire. “My statues have been burned!”

“Oil catches fire,” said Sapphire tartly.

Well, that drew scowls from even me. Calling this an accident was, well, a bit like saying someone accidentally slapped you in the face. Sure, it can happen, but…

“Alright, look,” Sapphire held up a hand. “It’s late, and we’re all upset. Let’s go to sleep. Meditate on this, collect your thoughts, and we will see what needs to be done tomorrow, alright? How about that?”

Grim nods were held all around. Slowly, we all began to trickle away. I hung back with several others to walk with Amethyst, murmuring comforting words to her. Crystal did the best of it though, an arm around Amethyst and telling her not to worry. “We’ll sort this out,” she said, as if murder had just been committed.