Jessie and Kyle worked, and kissed, a bit more in the basement. Jessie said she felt something in her spell shift a few more times, but she wasn’t able to localize it. Eventually they decided that was probably reasonable. The nature of the spell meant it might it wouldn’t necessarily be fixed in place.
Given that his first idea had worked, if only a little, Kyle’s confidence was somewhat restored, so he decided to try the more mundane means of locating the spell. To that end, he went shopping. It took him most of the day to get the equipment he wanted, but in the end he was able to find it all in town. The skateboard, scale, twenty pound plate, and marking chalk were all easy. The IR camera was a lot harder but, oddly enough, not the trickiest item as only one store in town sold them and that store didn’t have much selection. The hardest bit was the pipe and cable locator. He spent a lot time dithering over various models trying to figure out which features could be twisted to fit his purposes and which ones weren’t important.
There was one pleasant surprise to the whole trip; the cost of the items was apparently fairly meaningless. Kyle hadn’t checked his bank balance in months. It hadn’t been possible while on a Caribbean island, and it hadn’t been practical or necessary while playing spy. Still, he’d been a bit worried the IR camera might stress his budget.
He needn’t have. His checking account balance now looked like a respectably fat retirement fund and the cost of the camera was basically rounding error. That lifted his mood even further, and he attacked the basement with gusto once he returned to the Children’s temporary lair.
* * *
Everyone was in the basement except Jessie who had gone off on some errand she didn’t explain to Kyle.
Kyle wasn’t certain why everyone was in the basement, he had only wanted Alison there but every member of The Children of Atlantis that lived at the house had gathered and they were all waiting for him to say something with more or less attentiveness. The women, Jen, Fern, and Alison were all sitting on the couch like they’d gathered for the first day of class at a new school and the teacher had walked in late. Murrow and Alexander were playing a foosball game at the table in the far end of the room, and Bob and Lynn were talking.
At least they had been doing those things. They all stopped and looked up when Kyle walked down the stairs. He stopped to and looked at them, “Um, everyone is here?” No one answered that question in the form of a statement so Kyle directed it a little more pointedly at Alison, “Did you want everyone here?”
She raised her eyebrows, “Don’t look at me. When I saw everyone I thought you’d gathered them.”
“Well, I only asked Fern and Jen here.”
“I asked Lynn,” Fern said while staring down at her lap, “I thought it would be best to get all the magic users together.” She shot a quick look and a nervous grin at him then returned her gaze to the floor.
“I got Bob,” Lynn volunteered.
Everyone looked at Bob and he held up his hands defensively, “I got nobody.”
“We were playing before you all got here. If this is a wizard only party we can go.” He was sneering slightly as he said that.
It didn’t sound like the most sincere of offers. Still, Kyle had no idea how much the other Children knew about the Impossible Room so he looked back at Alison. She didn’t answer just instantly but rather seemed to consider. Kyle was mostly watching Murrow as she did that so he was able to see the sneer tighten and harden a bit as he waited for the verdict. “No, it’s fine. The Children of Atlantis certainly do not hide magic from one another. There was no point in telling everyone about the room while we were still researching it, but if you’ve got it working…”
“Right, so I’m doing this with an audience, I feel like maybe I should have brought props.”
“You drew all over the walls,” Lynn observed, “that’s like a start. It’s also maybe Joanna be hard on our security deposit.”
“It’s just chalk line; it’ll rub right off.”
“Oh, cool, is it supposed to be something? Or is it more of a geometric abstract?”
Kyle looked at the marks he’s put on the walls. They represented everything he’d been able to detect with his equipment. There were green lines running around the base of the walls intersecting the outlets and in a couple of spots, jumping up through a light switch and on to lights. Then there were parallel blue and red lines higher up. Here and there, Kyle had smuggled patches of blue or red on the walls as well. In other places there were black dots, usually arraigned into lines that ran up the wall. “This is the stuff inside your walls.”
“I like it! Cool title. Very evocative, if a bit darker than I would have gone with for an installation like this.”
Pretty much everyone looked a Lynn and Kyle wasn’t certain if any of them could tell if he was kidding or not. Kyle shook his head and then forged ahead. “No, I mean it’s literally the stuff in your walls. Since the Room still exists on some level I was hoping it would have a real physical effect on the world and with the right equipment I’d be able to detect it so I used equipment normally intended for construction work to ‘look past’ the walls. The green is electrical wiring. The red and blue lines are pipes; hot and cold respectively. Well, the smudges are just hot and cold spots. That’s probably down to air currents or uneven patches in the insulation. The black is other stuff that makes sense to me. It’s mostly nails and braces on studs.”
“And the yellow?” Alison asked. “I presume that’s stuff that doesn’t make sense to you?”
Kyle looked around at the yellow. Unlike the other lines they didn’t pay much attention to the structure of the house and really could have been abstract art. There were four symbols drawn on the walls. One looked like the moon. He hadn’t recognized the others: one might have been an eye with a triangle around the pupil, one was two lines the lower one of which bulged downward in the center, and final one was an arch composed of complex spirals. They were located on the compass points of the room. “Right. I think I got more than just a side effect of the spell. With the IR camera I think I got something that we’re supposed to interact with. Those are things that are, a tiny bit warm, and slightly mess with magnetism, but beyond that I can’t guess what they’d be doing or what we’re suppose to do with them.”
They all looked at the room for a few seconds without speaking, then Jen jumped up and yelled, “Oh my god!” Then she out of the room.
Kyle looked after Jen for a moment before turning back to Alison, “Um, what’s that about?”
Alison shrugged, “I have no idea.” Then she smiled, “You’ve done great work here. I know I may have come off as skeptical; that was because I was skeptical, but you’ve proven me wrong. You really are committed to the effort. Did you traced everything in the house?”
“I had a trick that allowed me to focus on this room,” Kyle answered. Then he changed the topic before Alison could get focused on his ‘trick’, “Does this give you what you need to open the room?”
She laughed, “This? No, it mostly confuses me. You’ve drawn Alchemical Symbols up there, and that’s not right for a spell we’re looking for.”
“I didn’t make them up!”
“I’m not accusing you of that. I hope, if you’d made them up you would have done a better job of it, but they’re still very wrong.”
Kyle looked back at the symbols and tried to figure out what Alison meant by that. Charles had mentioned Alchemy in relation to some spells, but hadn’t yet taught him about it, as such his understanding of the subject was about the same as anyone else: sketchy. “I thought alchemists made some spells.”
When Alison answered her voice had taken on such an authoritative tone that Kyle wondered if she’d ever been a TA or something before she left school. “Oh, alchemists made a host of spells. The problem is in a couple of different parts. First is the term ‘alchemists’ is a bit problematic. It’s a layman’s term for a whole set of disciplines, philosophies, and pee boiling, mercury poisoned lunacies that started as early as Hellenistic Egypt, existed on several different continents, and persisted as a very well respected field as late as the mid 17 hundreds! Given the shear breadth of the traditions if you want to have even the slightest clue what a given alchemist wanted to do with a spell’s trigger you need to know the era, region, and sometimes even philosophical subset of ‘alchemy’ they practiced.”
“Oh,” Kyle said and then he looked back at the yellow symbols on the walls, “so you’re saying I haven’t helped all that much?”
“Well, that gets at the second problem. We shouldn’t be seeing alchemical symbols here at all! I’m not really an expert, I only had one elective in Alchemy back in school, but Robert Boyle was one of the pioneers of the scientific method and a chemist. So, he spent a lot of time saying, ‘You can’t just say wiz is yellow, and the sun is yellow, so to make phosphorus you’ve got to boil it at noon. Try to disprove that theory. Boil it under the moon.’”
Lynn snickered at that and Alexander cracked a smile. Murrow, oddly, still looked a little sour.
Alison shrugged at the laughter, “They, to the extent there was a ‘they,’ really were a bit obsessed with urine. As they saw it, it is yellow, and gold is yellow and gold doesn’t rust and they wanted to live forever and urine comes from the body so maybe that was a connection they could leverage to live forever. Eh, it was a simpler time. But then a line got drawn between Chemistry and Alchemy. Chemistry actually discovered things and Alchemy went into decline. By the late 17 hundreds and early 18 hundreds, when the underground railroad was getting rolling, Alchemy was less popular than it is among modern day mystics.”
She looked at the symbols again and shook her head, “Plus these symbols don’t make any sense. That’s the moon, or silver,” she pointed at it, “they were seen as related. That’s precipitation or condensation,” she nodded toward the two lines, “as in forced by a chemist, not the weather phenomena. That’s quintessence,” the eye like seal, “which everyone had different theories about. And that,” she pointed at the last symbol, “isn’t anything.”
“And you’re certain that’s all relevant in this case?”
“Certain? Heavens no! But it’s the nature of classical magic. Even if the trigger to a spell is well documented it’s important to really really understand it before you use it, in case the spell doesn’t do what a modern person would think. That can be ugly. When you’re trying to recreate the trigger from scraps like we are in this case…”
Kyle considered that, “Well, I don’t know if this helps or hurts but those marks are all part of the spell. Or maybe I should say ‘a spell.’ They’re drawn in energy and they’re being continuously produced by some sort of low level spell. They shouldn’t have any shape if they’re just a byproduct of the Room. Someone made them that way on purpose.”
“It’s important,” Jen announced sailing back into the room. “Look at this!”
She held up a piece of paper and everyone looked at it. It was a color copy of another document. The original had, apparently, been old and in less than stellar condition as it was yellowed and broken in the image. There was a man in the center depicted with his arms and legs spread, around him were a square and a rectangle overlapping but not centered on one another such that the rectangle touched the circle in four places. At each point of contact one of the symbols from the wall was drawn. Finally there was text around the outside of the drawing, but Kyle was too far away to read it even though he, like everyone else, had drifted closer when she held it up.
“I found this very early on in my research, but I’m not certain I ever even showed it to Alison and Fern. I mean, it was in my files, but I didn’t think it was relevant. You see, the identifiable symbols are academical, but alchemy is all wrong for the spell we’re researching because…”
Murrow cut her off, “We got that speech while you were out.”
“Oh,” Jen said sounding a bit disappointed. “Well, anyway, I’m pretty sure those symbols are the trigger for the room. The text around the outside says, ‘Be ye worthy direct ye energy into thee spell and secrets will be revealed.’ That also didn’t make any sense when I read it, because it’s not a trigger. By definition there is no spell before you trigger the spell. Now though….” This time when Jen trailed off it was to let the room come to the obvious conclusion.
There was a long moment of silence that Lynn eventually broke, “So what, we just flair raw magic at the walls?”
“That would be bad for our deposit,” Bob observed in a wry tone.
Alison had taken the paper from Jen and was studying it. “You know, this is drawn a bit oddly. On our walls, the symbols line up with compass points, and even if that wasn’t true I’d expect more regularity in this sort of graph.”
It was Fern who figured out the pattern and spoke up about it, if spoke up could be applied to the rather shy murmur she adopted, “I don’t know if it’s important, but it’s not random. The figure’s hands and feet each point at a symbol. They also each point at a word.”
“Oh right, that’s smart!” Lynn said eliciting a smile from Fern. “The left foot points at ‘secrets’ and the symbol for ‘darkness’. Right foot is ‘revealed’ and ‘precipitate’, and right hand is ‘energy’ and ‘quintessence’. It all sort of follows.”
“So maybe the ‘energy’ that we’re summoning goes into the spell that’s creating the ‘quintessence’ symbol,” Jen asked.
“Maybe,” Lynn said, ‘I wonder if we should worry that the left hand is pointing at ‘worthy’?”