Lessone the Firste

“Magick is Intention and Power directed through Focus toward Result— Focus being the Artefact and the Worde.” — Lessone the Firste

**********

“Morning Quinn! How’s the world treating you today?”

“Just fine, Sam. How are you?”

“Dandy. Just dandy. Do you have any phones, cameras, or data storage devices on your person?” Sam recited the script.

“Just my book. Hope that’s OK,” Quinn showed Sam the padded mailer.

“Anything good?”

The Woad Warrior, Volume 3. It’s one of my favorite comics.”

“Maybe you can lend it to me when you’re done.”

“Will do, Sam.” Quinn collected her envelope and proceeded towards her booth. Glass windows on one side of the hallway looked into the secure documents warehouse, all tall steel cages and forklifts transferring pallets of records boxes from place to place. On the other side were long, narrow corridors lined with closed doors to the scanning booths. Quinn turned down the second hall and used her key card to unlock the fourth door.

Booth, sweet booth. It was a cubby barely large enough for the built-in desk, chair, computer, large scanner, and a metal cart loaded with the file boxes containing her day’s work. Mortimer Secure Document Storage and Management Services, aka Mortsec, provided secure storage, imaging, and disposal of corporate records. Her particular job was to scan paper records then code them into the database. Mortsec’s security policy prohibited electronic devices in the scanning booths, which meant no cell phones, cameras, laptops, tablets, or even a CD or DVD player. The only entertainment option available was an intercom mounted high on the wall that provided three music channels: classic rock, classic country and western, and a sports talk channel specializing in bush league teams and sports Quinn hadn’t heard of since high school gym. All three channels were regularly interrupted with pro-Mortsec pep talks and other announcements, indoctrinating the plebs into the proper pro-corporate mindset.

The job was boring, but it paid well and offered good benefits. Quinn had a mortgage, an appetite, and a husband she’d rather like to keep healthy. So she dealt with the daily tedium by smuggling books into her booth. As long as her books didn’t have a camera, microchip, or connectivity, Sam could be persuaded to look the other way.

Quinn sighed, arranged her staple puller and basket of binder clips, and prepared the first set of documents of the day.

**********

An hour later, with “Comprehensive Financial Projections – 2002 Annual Report – Volumes 1-7” loaded into the scanner’s input tray, Quinn opened the mailer. This job would take at least 30 minutes to scan.

“What the hell?”

This wasn’t The Woad Warrior: Adventures in a Post-Apocalyptic Cornish Hellscape! Salteris and Argentine College of Practical Magickal Artes blared in a sulfurous pseudo-Gothic font. The slick paper cover was printed to resemble ancient calfskin, and the sheer pretentious bad taste (not to mention the obvious typo in the title) did not bode well for the quality of the text within.

The printer had sent her the wrong book!

“Stupid on-demand printer. Stupid self-publishing industry. Quality control is a core business value, you know!” But it was this or listen a report on how the Lady Harriers played in their intramural frisbee golf meet. She opened the book.

“Welcome, Seeker! You have begun your Journey to View the Worlde with True Sight, to Delve the Depths of the Deepest Wisdom, to become the Master of the Mystical Pathes, to Understand the Oracular Silences, to Commande the Windes and the Dragones…”

Oh, god, the prose was even printed in purple. She skipped ahead.

“You have been Accepted to Salteris and Argentine’s College of Practical Magickal Artes. Utilizing this Grimoire, the provided Artefacts of Arcane Powers, and our Website, soon you will be using Magick to vanquish your daily Challenges, such as the Lacke of Money, Love, Respect, and Ultimate Power….”

Artefacts? The mailer contained a bundle wrapped in plastic.

“Your Artefacts include:

“—One (1) Magickal Wande”

This was an ordinary stick, half covered in loose, scabby bark and lichen. It looked exactly like the ones Quinn picked up before mowing the lawn.

“—Three (3) Coines of Power, inscribed with Glyphs and Sigiles”

There were three washers each about the size of a nickel. The “Glyphs and Sigiles” were round stickers printed with knotwork designs.

“—One (1) Crystal of Light”

A small piece of Arkansas quartz, sold for a dime in any rock shop.

“—And one (1) Orbe of Revelation.”

There was no “Orbe” in the bundle. There was a piece of pearly grey cardstock, printed with instructions to cut here, fold there, and tape all around to make an many-sided shape. Quinn was pretty sure she had seen something similar printed on a cat food box.

“Diligent Studye of the Lessones contained in the Grimoire and You will Learne to Command, Control, and Implore the Forces of the Cosmos. May the Light Guide Your Footsteps into a vaster Worlde….”

Quinn groaned. It was going to be a long day.

**********

Quinn succumbed to boredom before lunch and opened the book again. Lessone the Firste instructed her to use the Magickal Wande to direct her Intention toward the other Artefacts, all the while Solemnly Incanting Wordes of Power. There were practice exercises; using the Wande to repel or attract the Coines, to illuminate the Crystal, or to invoke the Orbe. Quinn groaned at the cheesiness (not to mention the bad spelling), and turned the page to Lesson the Seconde.

That page was blank. So were all the rest of the pages in the book.

“I hope like hell they didn’t charge my credit card for you, because you, my friend, are worth every penny!” she scolded the book, then frowned at the scanner, which was still chunking its diligent way through a 4-inch stack of paper.

“You would at least think a Grimoire of Practical Magickal Artes would have coin tricks.” Quinn turned back to Lessone the Firste and began reading it more carefully.

A spell, she discovered, was Intention (made of equal parts Belief and Desire), plus Power (the force of the Seeker’s Will, honed through years of Studie and Disclipine), directed through a Focus (an Artefact plus a Worde of Power). To move an object without touching it, she would envision the Desired Result, carefully Bounded by Metes and Limits, gather her Will, and poke at the object with the Wande, all the while saying in a loud, steady voice, “Yboiveth!”

Quinn poked the Wande at one of the Coines, saying in a loud, steady voice, “Yboiveth!” The Coine stayed stubbornly stationary.

“Yeah, didn’t think so,” she muttered, and read on.

“It is Common for Novice Seeker to Faile to Affecte the Object, because their Will and their Desire are not in Alignment, or because they lack sufficient Belief and Discipline. The Seeker must Cast Aside all Doubtes and Skepticism, and Truste that their Will will be Obeyed.” The book further instructed the Seeker to “Meditate well upon the Sole Desire, to Move the Coine.”

Quinn closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, and carefully visualized the Coine sliding across the desktop. Not much, just a couple of inches. When she had the image planted firmly in her mind, she opened her eyes, and pointed the Wande at the Coine. “Yboiveth,” she breathed.

The Coine moved. Not much, just a couple of inches.

“Holy shit!” Quinn whispered. The Coine had moved. The Coine had moved, all by itself!

No, not all by itself. By magic. Excuse me, by Practical Magickal Artes.

She tried it again with another Coine. It also moved, just a couple of inches. She pointed the Wande at her stapler, closed her eyes, and carefully envisioned the stapler moving to her hand.

Then it was in her hand. Quinn squealed in delight.

By the end of the day, Quinn had mastered each of the exercises in the book. The Crystal glowed when activated. As for the Orb, each side displayed a message: “It is certain,” “Outlook not good,” “Reply hazy, try again,” and so forth.

**********

Walking in her front door after the long drive home, Quinn was more tired than she expected and more than ready for a hot shower and dinner.

Josh was playing a game on the ginormous-screen TV that dominated the living room. “Hey,” he greeted. “Just a minute, I’m in the middle of a raid.”

Something smelled wonderful in the slow cooker. “I thought we were going to dinner with Todd and Angie tonight.”

“We were, but Todd’s Facebook says they were up all night with two sick kids. They haven’t cancelled yet, but…” Game noises stopped and Josh came into the kitchen. “I sent Todd a text and decided to make fajitas, just in case. We can always eat them tomorrow.”

Josh’s phone bleeped and he thumbed on the display. “It’s Todd. ‘Kids sick cant do dinner catch U later.’ So we’re on our own. We could still go out, or…”

“No, this is good. I’m pretty tired.” Quinn found the tortillas and began preparing a couple of plates. Josh grabbed the television remote and began scrolling through their Netflix queue.

“Josh? When did we become boring?”

“When we turned 30 and all of our college friends moved away or started having kids and we didn’t.”

“We need better friends.”

“We need to make some new friends,” Josh corrected. “Nothing wrong with the old ones, they’re just at a different stage of life. You could come to tabletop night at the Bat Cavern with me.”

Quinn groaned. “I hate the Bat Cavern. There’s never anybody there except mouthbreathers and neckbeards.”

“It’s not that bad. Some of the guys are pretty cool.”

“Would these be the guys who think the only good part of the Batman vs. Superman movie was Wonder Woman’s skimpy armor, or the ones who tell me the comics I like don’t count because something, something, Stan Lee, something?”

Josh threw up his hands. “I surrender. All I can say is in my own defense is hashtag-not-all-gamers. But that reminds me— your Woad Warriors book came today.”

“I was wondering what happened to that. They sent me the wrong thing yesterday.”

“What did they send you?”

Quinn laughed. “Let me tell you about my day…”

*********

“That is weird,” Josh said, watching Quinn move the Coines around the top of the coffee table.

“How does it work?” he asked.

“Dunno. Magnets, maybe?”

“If it’s science, it ought to be replicable.”

Quinn shoved the Coine again. “That looks pretty replicable to me.”

“Let me try.” In a few minutes, Josh had mastered the Worde and the Coine zipped obediently across the table. He tried using different words: “Move!” “Abracadabra!” “Leviosa!” None of them worked.

“How does it even know which word I’m saying?” Josh handed back the Wande and opened the Grimoire. “Hey! They have a website!”

Quinn hovered over Josh’s shoulder as he fired up his laptop and typed in the address. The website’s home page was as cheesy as the book cover— animated .gif torches and yellow on brown lettering that invited the user to “Create Thine Accounte.” Josh shrugged and typed in a user name and password.

“One moment please…” Suddenly the screen strobed a blinding array of colors.

“Whoa!” Quinn shielded her eyes and tried to blink away the afterimage. When she could see again, the screen read, “For security purposes, your aura has been recorded.

“Welcome, BadWolf33, to the virtual classroom of the Salteris and Argentine College of Practical Magickal Artes. Here you will complete your Coursework, turn in Assignments, and be earn your Rewards.

“If you have made it this far, you have been Deemed Most Worthy!”

As Josh clicked around the website he discovered most of the links were inactive. The forums were mostly locked except for the administrative and introductory boards.

“This is a game, right?” Quinn asked.

“Yeah, it’s a game. It looks like we’re locked into the training levels. We’ve got to level up to get to the good stuff.” Josh clicked a labeled, “Test Thy Mettle: Lessone the Firste.”

What followed was the weirdest online quiz ever taken. Some questions asked them to remember a line of poety, or state the color of the third item to their left. Others asked them to speak the Wordes clearly into the computer’s microphone and describe their effects. Some questions were unintelligible, others were irrelevant, and Quinn recognized at least four from the Meyers Briggs Personality Test. Mystified, they answered the questions as best they could, until the screen announced, “Congratulations, BadWolf33, you have Passed the Firste Challenge!” and logged them out of the website.

“Well, what was the point of all that?” Quinn hollered.

“Sorry, babe. There’s only one guy I know who can answer that. We’re going to the Bat Cave.”

**********

Quinn stuck close to Josh in the game store. In her experience, she was less likely to be hassled if she was obviously “with” someone.

“Hey, Josh.” “‘Sup?” several of the customers greeted him.

“Is Tim around? I wanted to ask him something.”

“He’s in back,” a neckbeard said. “Yo! Tim! Customer!” The pasty guys around a table stared at Quinn. One said something quietly, and his friends laughed. It didn’t sound like a nice laugh.

Tim came through a door marked “Employees.” He was a round middle-aged guy with, Quinn thought, kind eyes. She had always felt embarrassed by his customers on his behalf.

“I wanted your opinion on something,” Josh said. “Have you ever heard of this game?” He laid the book and Artefacts on the counter. “Salteris and Argentine’s College of Practical Magickal Artes.”

One of the mouthbreathers stood and approached the counter.

“I don’t think so. Where did you get it?”

“It showed up in the mail yesterday.”

Tim started leafing through the book. “Have you tried playing it?”

“A bit, but the manual only covers the first level. There’s a website, but most of it’s locked until we get the right access codes.”

“Well, it’s nothing I carry. Where did you order it from?”

“We didn’t. It just showed up.”

The mouthbreather leaned against the counter, standing far too close to Quinn. She edged away.

“Yeah, that can happen,” Tim said. “Sometimes game designers send out previews, hoping to drum up interest in their Kickstarter. Let me see what I can find out.”

The mouthbreather reached for the book. “Hey!” Quinn objected. “Back off!”

“I just wanna see!” he whined.

“See with your eyes, not with your hands.” The mouthbreather smelled musty, unpleasant, like socks that had been left in a gym bag. He stared at Quinn for a second, then held out his hand to Josh. “I’m John Q.” he said.

Josh, easy-going guy that he was, shook the proffered hand. “Josh. What’s John Q. short for? John Q. Public?”

“It’s Adams, if you must know. John Quincy Adams. It’s a family name.”

“Really? Because my wife here is a Quincy Adams, too! Quinn, meet John.”

John Q. glared at Quinn, who glared back. Then he gave a fake chuckle and said, “Yeah! Quite a coincidence! You know, I ordered a copy of that game. They must have sent it to you by mistake.”

Quinn shook her head. She didn’t like John Q. He was pushy and needed a shower and some clean clothes. Guys like this were exactly why she avoided the Bat Cave. “Nope. Sorry. We’re keeping it.”

“But it’s my game! You didn’t even want it! You got it by mistake!

“Sorry. You’ll have to ask them to send you another copy.”

“It’s mine!” John Q. began grabbing at the Artefacts. Quinn put up her hands to stop him and John Q. shoved her. Hard.

“Knock it OFF!” Tim bellowed. “That is ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, John Q.! You are BANNED from the store! Get the hell out before I call the damn cops!”

“That bitch stole my game!”

Tim was taller than John Q., and heavier, and had the authority of maturity. He grabbed John Q.’s arm and hustled him out the door. The gamers around the table laughed again. “We wants it, Precious! She thieved it from us, she did!” one of them called.

Tim came back in. “Look, I am so sorry. That should never have happened,” he apologized.

“Guys like that are why you don’t have any women customers!” Quinn told him.

“I’m starting a Ladies’ Night on Tuesdays. I hope you’ll come.” He offered Quinn a flyer. She didn’t want it, but took it anyway.

“Did you find anything about our game?”

“Not really. It must be pretty new. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, just in case.”

“Thanks. Josh, can we go?”

They were on their way to the car when Quinn burst into tears. The assault, John Q.’s unexpected viciousness, was freaking her out.

“Hey, it’s OK! It’s over!” Josh tried to hug her, comfort her, but Quinn pushed him away.

“You didn’t even say anything, Josh! You just stood there!”

“I’m sorry, babe, I am so sorry! I just kind of froze! I didn’t know what to do!”

Quinn was blubbering so hard she didn’t hear the engine revving until Josh grabbed her and pulled her out of the way of the speeding car. The car didn’t stop— it pulled a U-turn in the empty lot, tires shrieking, and drove at them again. Under the orange parking lot lights, Quinn could barely make out John Q. in the driver’s seat.

There was no place to run. Dashing to the relative safety of the sidewalk meant crossing the car’s path.

Josh swung his arm towards the car. “Yboiveth!” He shouted as loud as he could. The car lifted up of the ground and tumbled away from them, crashing through the plate glass window of the Bat Cave.

Quinn stared at the wreckage, then stared at Josh, the Magickal Wande in his hand. He stared back. They both had exactly the same thought.

“Holy shit!

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