Courtyard of the Morning
Atalen ya Doaka
“He said he wanted me to recruit the boy,” he muttered as he rang Ian’s door for the third time. He tried to activate the crystal messaging system, also to no avail. Almost in disgust, he trudged toward the cafeteria. The ocher, almost off-white colored dust of the plaza puffed up in small clouds with every step he took. His nose was very dry inside and he avoided rubbing it for fear that he’d have a bloody nose. Nose bleeds were so common here in this dry climate. And he was very thirsty.
He picked up a small pebble and threw it with more fury than he thought he felt. No, he was mad at Ian. It hit the stone veneer with a smack that Professor Locminé could have heard from her office. Finally, he arrived at the darkened, T-door leading to the cafeteria. He entered and found himself face to face with the very, curly-haired person he was seeking, standing next to a very nice looking student of the female persuasion.
“Davic!” Ian said his pique apparently now spent. He was back to the good humor he was known for. “Fancy meeting you here!”
Davic eyed him not quite sure their earlier argument was over. “Dude, do you know how hard it is to find you?” he asked entering and smelling the freshly baked bread. “And why don’t you answer your crys . . .” He looked at his acquaintance’s wrist. “Oh! You’re not even wearing it! I left you like three messages.”
“I don’t like for people to bother me. If I answered every call I got, I’d never get anything done. Unless I was in the mood to party and then I’d . . .” He kissed the young woman he was with and said: “After I get rid of this Bozo, I’ll come find you, OK?” She smiled and said her good-byes. Ian turned, “This had better be worth it.”
“Ian, we gotta go to a funeral,” said Davic, picking up a mug and pouring lemonade from an Anasazi style pitcher. He walked toward a set of cushions and sat.
“What? Whose?” He towered over his acquaintance.
“Hamet Aslanov was assassinated last night. And since he’s Muslim, his funeral is today.”
“Johnson’s friend in Rutul? What are we going for? We’re just students,” asked Ian finally sitting near Davic.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. But the Professor said we’re in his entourage.”
“As bodyguards. How’s your defensive library?”
“What!? Why don’t you take Ricardo? He’s so much better at this than me!”
“Don’t worry, Ian. Ricardo is coming. But, we’ll need three to form a circle around Johnson.”
“Oh. I’ll need a copy of your overrides, then. Who will maintain the mana spike?”
“You.” Davic nodded, still leery of his friend’s mercurial nature. “You make the best ones and since you haven’t seen this new circle override, Ricardo and I will do the setup. A friend of Professor Locminé’s made it for Johnson. Here,” he pulled out a copy and handed it over for his acquaintance to inspect.
Ian took the ethereal ball of light and spread it wide, running his finger gently along the golden rongorongo glyphs and reading aloud. “Mana from the spike. . . That’s a lot of mana for a circle, fifteen p/b?”
“Yeah, it is. Can you make and maintain that big of a spike?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ve done it several times.” He continued with his reading. “. . . spread around those to be protected, over the top and under the bottom . . . Are we expecting an attack?”
“Yes, we got some intelligence that LeDuc will attack the funeral party. . .”
“Oh, that message Retta sent talked about that!”
“You know, LeDuc is getting very strange. Johnson thinks he’s got a cult of personality going.”
“Oh, look at this,” he said still pointing out the glyph encrypted pattern. “It subverts any mana, sub-atomic, or molecular intrusion, shifting them to the side. I think this could stop a cruise missile. And make the interior invisible to the exterior.” He reached for his crystal and, finding it missing, said on the way out the door, “I gotta go to my dorm.”
“Yes, to get dressed . . .” called Davic, “. . . in your cleanest cloak!” He gathered up the pattern from the air where Ian had left it to float in the slight breeze and put it in his crystal as he followed him out to the plaza.
Davic had his head bowed in respect, observant but not saying anything in a time of morning.“It is time to proceed to the cemetery, Dr. Keith Johnson, friend of my father’s,” said Hamet Aslanov, Junior, the new patriarch of the clan. “The Funeral Prayer, is complete. My family and I will lead.” He pointed to the men and boys standing near the front of the room. The women, young girls, and toddler boys stayed seated on the rugs around the back.
Ian looked to Davic and then back to the women for an explanation. “Muslim women do not approach the grave site. This is men’s business.” Davic nodded the top of his head to the side and continued his whisper. “Their three female mages will guard them, here. The danger is on us at the grave.”
Junior stepped back to the center of the well-known front room, past the traditional woven rug on the wall covered with weapons, horns of the wild mountain goat, and musical instruments, to the bier where lay the close friend of both Johnson and LeDuc. In his native Rutul language, he softly spoke to the pall bearers. Davic thought he looked suddenly weary with the business of running the extended clan. They lifted his father’s washed body, now wrapped in a shroud. A young Rutul mage, chosen for the safety of the family and friends of the deceased, opened a portal. The brightness was almost a violation of the darkened chamber. The flickering mana cast multiple moving shadows reminiscent of candlelight.
The Imam, Junior, those bearing the bier and the male Muslims present stepped through the portal. “Silent respect,” said the Professor to his students. Davic nodded and followed out to the mountainous landscape. The most shocking thing was that everything, yes everything, was green. The mountains were green clear to the top and those tops were very high. The cemetery was green. The valley below them was green. But the sky was the most intense blue imaginable, far bluer than that at Atalen ya Doaka or even the Motu. Davic could see Junior’s compound a few miles down the hillside.
Ian seemed to ignore the scenery; he was ready and had raised his left hand toward the sky as soon as he, the last to leave, stepped through. A ball of mana light appeared in his hand. This he threw at the ground. A pole of light left his palm to embed itself down, down nearly a mile underground to tap into the source of mana. “This is huge!” he whispered. “And the motu is bigger?”
Silently, quickly, Ricardo and Davic unfurled the pattern they’d examined and practiced at the Institute earlier. Through subtle finger movements, they expanded it to billow up, covering the two of them and then the professor to the side and then Ian who was standing behind him.
The pattern now resembled the top half of a globe and expanded quickly; faster than the eye could see it rushed into the ground and formed a sphere around the grave, encircling all the men at the funeral. Ian grabbed a light tail and squeezed his spike. Nearly-white light shot along the lines of the pattern and shone with an eye hurting brilliance, then disappeared only to be replaced with the sort of rippling one sees above a road on a hot August afternoon.
All sights of the town and even the light of the sun disappeared within the rippling circle. The golden glow of mana-light now lit the darkness. The sounds of the cattle and birds in the distance silenced, drowned in the humming of the barrier. They were protected, in stillness.
Junior and his close relatives removed the bier from their shoulders and placed it on the ground. They lay his father on his right side in the grave so that his face looked toward Mecca, and spoke in a high Arabic. A tinny voice translated into Davic’s ear “In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah.” They undid the ties holding the Kafan shroud at the head and feet. They then put the wooden bier itself which had been made for this purpose on top of the body and adjusted its location until it was stable and then filled the grave with earth.
With the grief of a lost child for his father, Junior reached into the pile of dirt beside the grave itself and pulled up a handful which he placed on the top of the earth over the grave. “From the earth did We create you.” At the second handful he said, “And into it shall We return you.” And with a broken voice, he threw his third handful of dirt and said: “And from it shall We bring you out once again.”
One by one, each member of the funeral party approached the grave and threw in three handfuls of dirt with the same Arabic chants. Last came the Professor who bowed his head and threw in his dirt. His accent of the old tongue was in a perfect Egyptian, far different than Junior’s, as the Professor had used a mana override to learn the language and the other had learned it as a boy, there in Dagestan from those who had their own dialect of the sacred language.
“Keith, my friend,” said Junior with great emotion, “we will make du’a of supplication for the deceased while he is being questioned by the Angels. You may go if you wish.”
“We will guard; you pray.” He lowered his head and listened to the mourners call out to Allah. He did not look at the students, particularly at Ian who had held the mana spike for so long. He was sure the boy’s arm would be trembling with exertion before much more. But, he was steady. The prayers ended.
“Quickly, so we won’t be exposed. Back to the house!” At Junior’s signal, Ian dropped the spike and the sphere of mana winked out admitting the light of the afternoon sun in an eye-searing flash.
The Rutul mage had prepared well and fast. He threw down a spike of his own as soon as the protecting circle was dropped and activated a portal back to Junior’s living room.
Junior’s mage stood before the portal, puzzled by what he saw. He screamed out as a deep sucking sound drew air from around him. His long hair and cloak flapped in toward the living room, pulling him in with it. Then just as suddenly, the air changed direction. And with the sound of a huge animal roaring, thick black smoke curled up out of the mana portal and ignited in a ball of bright, orange fire. The mage, now aflame, was thrown back onto the grave. Just as suddenly the fire went out, leaving the column of smoke billowing out the portal with tongues of flame interspersed in the blackness.
The mage lay broken and still burning. The spike slipped from his charred fingers and the portal dissipated. Three of Junior’s men, standing to the sides and guarding an open aisle for Junior, suffered similar fates. Five more were seriously seared. Junior, however, was lucky. He was closest to the head of the grave, farthest from the portal. He stood trembling in the wreckage of his clan. “I will open a new portal, but safely.”
Davic tapped his own crystal and drew out a rarely used pattern. He replicated it twice and tagged the replicates onto each of his sleeves for his friends to find easily. He threw down a spike and activated the pattern in his hand. It created a small portal to the bottom of the nearest body of water, in this case, the Samur river. Modulating the size of the mana flow regulated the size of the portal and the amount of water in the jet in his hand. He lightly sprayed the singed and burning men, putting out the flames. Ian and Roberto came up by then and snagged the patterns off his sleeves and followed his example.
“We gotta get into the House!” “We’re exposed.” “They need our help!” called the mages from the Institute over the top of each other.
Junior pulled a pattern and threw a spike. He held the portal to the side. There was a second, but smaller, backdraft that shot harmlessly away from the men.
Soon the three of them stepped to the portal. Davic released his spike and threw down a new one inside the house. His colleagues followed suit and they began hosing down the interior.
“Boys!” called Johnson over the noise of the inferno. “Come help me begin first aid.”
Even after the incident at the funeral, Ian was excited about being at the Motu. It was his first visit as he kept reminding Davic. He ran from one rock and cranny to another while Davic sat on the bench staring dumbly out to sea. He was too physically exhausted and emotionally drained to be moved by the greatest wonder of the mage universe.
“All those dead bodies,” he sighed, closing his eyes momentarily. He placed his head in his hands, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. He stared downward at the igneous rock that made up this islet. He felt the mana of the place and by breathing it in he felt the pull his mentor had mentioned the first time he visited the rock.
One of his many retro-patterns, the one just prior to his firefighting activities, seemed to flash in his peripheral vision. He tugged at it and let the ambient mana of the isle surge through him, restoring his body and energy levels.
“Hey,” called Ian, less than twenty feet away. “Did you see that current in the mana?” He looked to the pattern in Davic’s hand. “Ah, I see. Don’t get too used to doing that. It’s addictive, they say. But I think you really needed it. That or a week’s sleep.”
“They assassinated Aslanov, knowing we’d go to the funeral, knowing we’d be tied up at the cemetery and leave the women and children all gathered at the house! The whole thing was a trap to kill Johnson.”
“Yeah, but they missed him! And us,” said Ian sitting down on the unoccupied end of the bench. “I don’t think Johnson was really their target.”
“What? Isn’t it obvious?”
“Since when has LeDuc been known for the obvious? No, Johnson wasn’t their target. All his friends are.”
Davic sat up straight. “He’s trying to put a wedge between Johnson and his friends?” he nodded at Ian’s logic. “Aslanov was LeDuc’s most outspoken critic . . .”
" . . . and Johnson’s most famous friend. ‘Look what happens to Johnson’s friends!’ he seems to be saying. ‘We’ll get you; we’ll kill your family!’”
“And everyone who knew you!” Davic added.
“Speaking of someone who knows you, I feel sorry for Retta now. She must have been manipulated into that whole spy thing.”
“You think so?” Davic tapped the crystal at his wrist and activated a menu. Fifteen or so glyphs lined up on the left. He flicked through the rongorongo glyph of a man sitting, with his right side to the viewer, and his hands raised as if supplicating. The glyphs in the menu merged together in a pale, golden glow that reformed into another set of glyphs, lined up from the left and ending in an uneven line at the right.
“There it is!” he smiled, poking his finger through one. Soon the ghostly image of Retta floated beside the moai to their right.
“I hate you, Dr. Johnson! You and Davic! Always preaching how to use our power. What is the point of having it if we can’t use it to our advantage?” The tinny voice-over made her sound shrill and petty, almost a parody of her and not the real thing. “Director LeDuc sends warning of a planned attack on the Rutul settlement in the Caucasus. His men will die.”
A slight movement of Davic’s right eye, so slight that one would have missed it unless prompted, stopped the image. “I can’t believe I missed that!” he said. “Look at her fingers.”
“LeDuc sends warning of a planned attack on the Rutul settlement in the Caucasus. His men will die.” The thumb and first two fingers twitched slightly.
“She is sending a message to me!” cried Davic. He rotated the image of Retta. It grew much larger. She was now facing away from them out to sea. The image was as large as the moai, and like the statues, she was buried up to mid-thighs. The palm of her hand was plainly visible.
“LeDuc sends warning of a planned attack on the Rutul settlement in the Caucasus. His men will die.” The thumb and first two fingers extended away from the hand and then tapped together, twice.
“That’s a ‘no’ in Sign Language. She and I used to chat, covertly, in class.” Davic smiled and leaned back, holding onto the front of the bench so he wouldn’t topple over backward. He played the passage several more times. “Look, she signs ‘No,’ as she says the word ‘men.’ And it was the women that were killed, not the men. It was there the whole time and I didn’t even see it. Subtle, Retta,” he said with a surge of admiration for her.
“And Hot Retta!”
“I hate you, Dr. Johnson! You and Davic!” Again the ‘no’.” But this time, it was during the word ’Davic.”
“Oh no! She likes you!” Ian slapped his forehead. “Now I’ll never get to hook up with her!”