While Jessie was in the air Kyle moved the light in front of her, shut his eyes, and flooded it with power. Jessie had probably been expecting him to try to hit her again. He hadn’t because even mid-air she probably would have twisted enough to avoid it. She hadn’t expected the flash so it blinded her.
He followed through on his advantage by stepping out of her way then setting off a chi burst right beside her. At last, dazzled, and shoved off course, Jessie landed badly. She yelped. Perhaps she’d twisted her ankle slightly. More importantly, from Kyle’s perspective, she had to take several stumbling steps to stay on her feet. It left her facing away from him, and he doubted she knew it.
He was so low on magic that he made a pathetic human jump forward attempting to get her in a choke hold. That was a mistake. Jessie was either playing possum, or she sensed him coming. Either way, just as his arm should have swept around her neck she ducked, and twisted under him rolling him over her back. That left Kyle slightly off-balance stumbling backwards away from her. He would have recovered without any problem, but Jessie then drove her shoulder into his stomach. The force of the blow, and the pain it inspired, doubled him over and put him further off-balance. Jessie grabbed his still outstretched arm then sort of tugged him off of his feet, onto her back, and sent him tumbling over her in a movement that he couldn’t track.
The world tumbled dizzily for a moment, and then he was on his back looking at the lights of the gym ceiling. He’d lost hold of his magic and his spells had collapsed. Jessie was kneeling above him. Her hair hung down in his face, her eyes were bright, and her breath came rapidly making her chest heave. She wore her ninja outfit, which was loose and made of some sturdy fabric, but Kyle still appreciated the situation.
Of course, that was no coincidence. He’d agreed to spar with Jessie for three reasons. First, he’d been using martial arts as a form of exercise for a long time. This was a logical extension of that. Second, people had actually tried to kill him and he needed to be able to handle himself in a fight. Third, TV had suggested to him that sparing with an attractive female was likely to lead to a scene in which the two stars of the show would end up glistening with sweat and pinned up against each other while someone’s bosom heaved.
Kyle was not disappointed.
Then Jessie leaned down and nipped him hard on the nose. She didn’t bite with quite enough force to draw blood, but she was close. Instinctively, Kyle tried to twist away, but she had his arms pinned and he couldn’t get any leverage. Things were going off script.
“Healing spell! Now!”
A strange sort of look washed over Jessie’s face. It was a blend of blankness and concentration, and she usually wore it when she was reaching inside herself for the spells coded into her DNA. She must have found the healing spell that erased the mental effects of her combat spell because her face relaxed for a moment then she jumped off him blushing furiously.
“Sorry! The spell has some really strange instincts sometimes! I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“Just my pride. What sort of instincts?”
“Oh, well, you put up a pretty good fight so it thought… It just does strange things to my brain, OK?”
Kyle would have liked to press a little, and maybe flirt some, because he half wondered if that hadn’t been a love nip of some sort. Unfortunately, the moment had passed, Jessie’s expression had soured as she spoke. She really didn’t like to be reminded how rapidly the magic in her body could take away her mental stability.
Flirting had been a problem in general. Kyle had thought he’d started to sense a spark with Jessie a few months previously after they’d gone up against an insane Archmage together. Unfortunately, both of their lives had changed so much, he hadn’t had time to do much about that. He’d been busy with his magical education, and Jessie had been doing odd jobs for Charles. Those jobs had involved a considerable amount of traveling.
“So, are there want ads out for two other angels, or what?” Kyle posed the question as he stood.
“Um, what? Is that some sort of lame pick-up line? If it is, it’s about half a year too late. You should have used it in the bar when we first met. Well, you should have used it if it’s one of those bad-enough-to-be-good ones. If it’s just bad enough to be bad you should forget you ever knew it.”
“No!” Kyle couldn’t help but sound a little defensive. That was his other problem with flirting; he stank at it. “You’re running around doing covert jobs for a guy named Charlie. Like, Charlie’s Angels, but there’s only one of you.”
Jessie gave him a lopsided grin, “Oh it’s a joke so bad that it’s bad.” She started walking to the elevator and he followed.
“Alright, but he does send you on all these secret missions where you fight bad guys.”
“They’re not really secret and I don’t exactly fight bad guys.”
He shrugged, “Alright, so what were you just doing?” They arrived at the elevator which was still sitting in the gym. Private elevators were a little strange, Kyle found, in that they stayed where you left them. In any public building, when you punched the elevator call button, you kind of expected it to take a minute to get to you. In Charles’s mansion it was always just waiting. That made logical sense, of course, but it felt kind of wrong. It was just too convenient.
“I was fighting bad guys this last time. I was out at Pando stopping some Sorcerers who wanted to steal its sap.”
They had climbed into the elevator and started up, so Kyle’s voice echoed a little as he asked, “Some what?”
“Sorcerers. I guess it’s a kind of magic that isn’t practiced very widely anymore, but Charles called it that. What you do is you eat something, mostly it’s some plant or animal but I guess there are ways to mix up a potion, that has a spell in it. Then, when you get magic together it goes into the spell and the Sorcerer can do it even if they don’t know a thing about magic.”
“That’s strange, but I suppose it would work.”
The elevator reached the ground floor of the main house and they both made their way off.
“Oh it worked,” Jessie said. “People threw fire at me. I call that proof.”
Kyle could see it. To use magic, all you really had to do was focus energy through a spell’s trigger. You didn’t have to be the inventor of the spell. You didn’t even have to understand it very well. You just had to put the magic into the trigger. Any symbolic system that could store, convey, and express information could be a trigger. DNA qualified and there were plenty of naturally evolved spells in the world. So if you ate a plant with an interesting spell, and pulled magic into your body you’d have control of that spell.
Now that he thought about it, he realized you could probably do the same trick with a trigger in the form of a potion mixed up according to the alchemical or medical theories of previous eras. He knew, for example, that alchemists had associated gold with permanence. That’s why they’d believed there was a philosopher’s stone that would be able to make lead into gold and grant immortality. Both things were, at least on a symbolic level, the same thing. If they’d had enough such symbols then they had a system that could support triggers. Someone would have to discover a spell first, of course, and bind it to the trigger, but thereafter the alchemist could give it to anyone who could focus magic and they’d be able to do the spell without even knowing the trigger. That would be a big draw in the Pre Compact, pre widespread literacy, era.
Of course, that scenario also pointed out the down-side of the idea. Alchemists had probably been pretty into mercury. It was a cool metal after all. If that was the case, then it would be important in their spells. However, the magic wouldn’t automatically make it safe to drink. For that matter, a lot of plants were pretty toxic. These days, an autocaster would deliver all of the same benefits plus a possible connection to a magical battery without the poisonous downside. Kyle could see why the practice had died out.
Which made the next question logically obvious, “What kind of group would want to cast magic like that?”
“I’m glad you asked,” Charles said, utterly surprising Kyle who hadn’t even realized he was in the room.