Warped & Wired: Chapter 2
Portia pounded down the nearly deserted sidewalk, slid around a corner, and shot forward into the connecting alley. The footfalls of heavy pursuit echoed her own feet. Golliger apparently wasn’t into sharing, even though the tangle of gold and diamond jewelry clutched in her hand was a mere fraction of the stolen bounty sitting in their briefcases. She supposed they could be upset because she’d literally picked the necklaces right out of their greedy hands. The corner of her mouth cocked remembering their faces when she had snatched the mess right out of the open briefcase.
Her grin soon flipped to a frown. She had run herself right into a dead end. Blank-faced buildings flanked her on either side and a tall brick wall faced her. And her friends were closing in behind.
Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it, that only left…through it.
She shoved the glittering tangle into her pocket then thrust her fingers into the brick wall. The chill of cold space slid down her spine. Taking a breath of concentration and fortification, she grasped the edges of space and tore an opening in the wall. Her small, faintly lit apartment opened up before her. She stepped through the portal and into her cool living room. The portal whooshed shut behind her just as the footfalls turned into looming shadows. Angry shadows.
Portia sighed and dropped the necklaces on the kitchen counter. That should take care of the rent for the next few months.
Now for food.
She peered into the empty cupboards, wishing they weren’t as bare as they looked. She hated going to those giant grocery stores. So many options—how was a person supposed to know what they were going to be hungry for the next day? The next week? Using her portals to make several trips was too conspicuous; making one big trip was too difficult. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. If only she could just conjure up whatever she was hungry for. Her condition however, had yet to wear off, forcing her to live the sub-standard, single American lifestyle.
She hated it.
A noise at her back turned her head. “Mother.”
Gemesta Greyleesah crossed her arms and stared down at her through narrowed amethyst eyes. Despite her rigid body language, she looked like she was about to be burned at the stake. Or at the very least be brought before the Inquisition. Her light-skinned face looked liked it had been whitewashed, making her pitch-black hair and the W-shaped mark on her forehead stand out even more. “What are you doing here?”
“We need to talk,” her mother finally answered.
“I thought you were in Cairo with Aunt Gertidia?” Portia forced her best “good daughter” tone, avoiding her mother’s statement.
“I just flew back.”
“Why?” Portia turned and began rooting through the empty cupboards.
“I told you. We need to talk.”
“About what?” Portia shoved a box of salt around in the cupboards, trying to sound busy. The few times her mother had used that tone, the news hadn’t been good. Often it had led to boiling arguments. The last one had ended with Portia leaving home to live this sub-standard human lifestyle.
“Portia, look at me.”
The corner of Portia’s eye caught her mother raising her hands. The next second, her mother had quickly etched a complicated shape in the air. Instantly the cupboard filled with a large assortment of groceries, knocking Portia’s arm out and into her face.
Portia turned, hands on her hips. “Thanks for the food, but why are you giving me something now?”
Her mother clamped her lips together. “If you insist on rooting through those cupboards, you might as well have something to root through. Besides, I would rather you look at me and not the cupboards.” Her mother folded her arms across the front of her flowing gown. “I know you may still be angry with me…”
Portia studied her nails. “That’s the understatement of the century—”
“I was only trying to do what was best for you.”
“Or what wouldn’t take much effort on your part.” Portia slammed the cupboard door.
“I did not come here to be lectured by you.” Her mother rose up two inches above the ground and glared down at her. “I came here to tell you about your father.”
Complaints and scoldings died on Portia’s tongue. “Father?” She opened another cupboard door, blocking her face from her mother. “What about him? He’s dead. You said he died in a fire before I was born.”
Oh. Of course she had. Why wouldn’t her own mother lie to her? Again.
“Your father…is alive.” Her mother floated back to the floor.
Portia stopped her pointless rummaging and stared at her mother. “So why have I never seen him?”
Now it was her mother’s turn to avoid eye contact. “We…are not married. Anymore.”
Portia’s eyebrows shot up. “What? You mean you…what do the humans call it…divorced?”
Her mother nodded. “It was his idea though,” she added quickly. “I wanted to make it work. But human customs and ideals are so different.”
“Wait. What do you mean ‘human’?”
Her mother sighed and fixed her gaze on the floor. “Your father was…human.”
That statement hit Portia so hard she nearly fell against the refrigerator. Her tongue felt like it had withered in her throat.
Human? Her father was human? Impossible. Unacceptable. That could only mean…she was human too; or at least half human. No. It couldn’t be.
The last conversation—or rather argument—Portia had had with her mother came back to her. Parts of it at least. It was something about Portia’s inability to cast spells. What had she told her mother? Because of her condition, she might as well be human? Now those words were going to haunt her.
Portia looked at her mother; she seemed to be waiting for some kind of response. “So then my condition, Aetherical Delay. That was a lie, wasn’t it? You just made that up to cover the truth and hide your disgrace from everyone, didn’t you?”
“What was I supposed to do?” Her mother stepped forward as if challenging Portia. “Against all Wryter rules and traditions, I marry a human. He discovers the truth about me and leaves. Do you think your grandmother, or anyone else for that matter, would have accepted me back into their good graces if I had told them the truth? Perhaps alone, but with a child? A mixed-blood child?”
Portia slammed the cupboard door in front of her so hard the knob snapped off. Everyone believed that her mother had run off with another Wryter who had then perished in a building consumed by the Wryter’s bane: fire. This was too much.
“I cannot believe I am hearing this,” Portia stomped toward her mother. She barely resisted the urge to slap her. “You stupid, arrogant, self-centered witch!”
“Portia!” Now her mother looked like she was going to slap her. And rightly so, Portia supposed. Calling a Wryter a “witch” was an extreme offense. Right now though, she didn’t care.
Portia took a deep breath, trying to cool her temper. “So you married a human. Why?”
Her mother shrugged. “Humans are not all bad, Portia. He was a very brilliant, very special young man. Besides, he did not know I was a Wryter at the time. I planned to tell him, but the opportunity never presented itself. I hoped that if I were to give up magic and live like a normal human, he would never need to know.”
“What about the mark?” Portia pointed to the mark on her own forehead. The emblazoned W was common to all Wryters. One of the few things left distinguishing Wryters from humans in appearance.
”The same masking spell your grandmother taught you.”
Portia clenched her jaw. Her grandmother had indeed taught her how. She had taught Portia how to do nearly everything. Unfortunately, Portia could never actually cast a single spell. That’s why her masking spell was thick black bangs.
“He still found out obviously.”
Her mother swallowed hard. “A few weeks after our honeymoon, he saw me using a repair spell on a rare Chinese vâse we had received as a wedding present. Everything came out.” Tears glistened in her mother’s lavender eyes. “Then he left.”
Portia restrained herself from hugging her mother. She’d gotten plenty emotional for one day. “So why are you telling me this now?” she snapped instead.
“I thought you had a right to know.”
“It took you forty-two years to decide? What were you doing all that time? Feeling sorry for yourself?”
“I think your father is in trouble.” Her mother flicked a finger past each eye, magically removing any trace of the tears.
“So. What, are we supposed to rescue him?” Portia asked. “I can’t fly if you recall.” She didn’t bother telling her mother about her portal ability; it wouldn’t do her much good anyway. “And don’t Wryters generally stay out of human affairs?” She also didn’t mention that she’d been violating that rule by interfering with Golliger’s gang activities for some time. It was a fun way to pick up some extra cash. And it wasn’t like she kept the stolen goods; she always returned them for the posted rewards.
“I need… I mean, I thought you would want to see your father.” Her mother gave her a stern look.
She did have a point and Portia considered it. For two seconds. “Why? He’s human. And he’d be an old man by now. Besides, he doesn’t even know about me.” She wasn’t sure if she even wanted to know a father that had deserted her and her mother. Especially one that was human. Humans were fragile, short-lived, illogical and selfish. The worst part was their boastful “knowledge” of things which they really knew nothing about.
“Seventy-four,” her mother replied. “Your father would be seventy-four now.”
“See? He’s old.”
“I am two-hundred and sixty.”
Portia shook her head; her mother was completely missing the point. Portia was forty-two, yet for a human she didn’t look a day over twenty-one. Wryters aged much slower. Thankfully, she at least had inherited that Wryter trait. She couldn’t imagine only living for a mere eighty to a hundred years as humans typically did. “Look, if you think humans are so wonderful and you want to see him so bad, go yourself.”
Portia opened the refrigerator to see if her mother had stocked it as well, but when her mother didn’t respond, Portia looked up again. Her mother’s head was tilted and one eyebrow was raised. Portia knew that look. She may have only lived with her sporadically over her forty-two years, but she knew that look. The time for arguments had ceased. The decision had been made with Portia’s protests duly noted. Portia tried one more tactic before surrendering.
“You know I can’t fly,” she repeated. “You said yourself I’m half human. It’s impossible for me to fly.”
Her mother swept her arms in an arc, brought them together and then pulled them apart, a long wooden staff materializing in her fingers. “This was my first staff, a phoenix rod. It is not much, but it will allow almost anyone to fly.” She rubbed her fingers across the carved name “Gemesta” replacing it with Portia’s name. Then she handed the staff to Portia.
Portia took the staff. It was dark cherry, wrinkled and knotted with centuries. It was about as tall as she was with a tip that bulged out, five craggy claws protruding from it. It seemed to weigh as much as a lead pipe and Portia couldn’t imagine flying on it, but it was the first staff Portia had ever owned. She almost felt sorry for the way she’d treated her mother. The staff was a Wryter’s most valued possession. It served as support, as weapon, and as a way to channel energy when casting simple spells and combat spells. Every staff was unique; created and imbued with magic powers by its owner.
“Do you still have your flight gown?” her mother asked, distracting Portia from her admiration of the staff.
“Yes, it’s in my closet, but I…” Before Portia could finish, her mother had waved her hands in an elegant motion and instantly Portia was dressed in a long flowing gown of black, maroon, and red. Then, with another complex sweep of her hands, her mother transported them onto the roof of Portia’s apartment building. So much for argument.
“All right, get on.” Her mother pulled her own long white staff from thin air. “Just like your grandmother taught you.”
Yes, her grandmother. The grandmother that had been her primary instructor in all things Wryter. Portia frowned and pointed the clawed end of the staff down between her legs, straddling the center of the staff. Her mother floated beside her, sitting side-saddle. “Are you ready?”
“No,” Portia snapped. Who would be ready to fly thousands of feet in the air on a wooden stick?
“Do not worry. Just concentrate, think Up, and you should be fine.”
Reassuring advice. Portia would’ve been nervous enough if she hadn’t just found out she was half human. Taking a deep breath, Portia jumped into the air. She waited for her feet to crash back to the hard roof. Instead, she felt cool air rush past her. She opened her eyes and nearly screamed as clouds dropped past her. She thrust the staff down to stop herself, but instead she plummeted like a lead arrow. Yanking the staff back up, she jerked up, narrowly escaping a collision with the roof itself. She wobbled up and down several times before finally steadying herself in a neutral position.
Her mother gracefully floated over to her. “See, that was not bad. For your first take off.”
Portia didn’t reply; she was still waiting for her stomach to land and her heart to stop bouncing. Her mother veered off to the left, and Portia followed suit, almost falling off her staff.