Mike was flying.
Over a field of moving colors he flew, at tremendous speed. Below him, lines of bright colors ran along at a speed equal to his. Millions upon millions of these lines ran, intersected, collided, and bifurcated; each line exploding into thousands of new lines every second. The constant detonation of color was a sight to behold.
Mike realized that, while he couldn’t stop or even slow down, he could turn and look back. Behind him there was no movement, and no color. A massive trail of stone grey lines, like fossilized remains, extended behind him into infinity.
What was ahead of him though, was chaos.
The lines rammed themselves into a Gordian knot of unthinkable proportions. That the massive tangle of lines didn’t stop the waterworks completely was miraculous. Yet the knot always remained about the same distance away; both knotting and unknotting itself at the same time.
Mike looked down and saw that he was connected to the blue line right below him. Upon just looking at it, the blue line pulled him down into itself. Mike was not startled, as this felt totally natural and nonthreatening.
He descended into the blue, and found himself suddenly in the basement again. Only he was floating over his own body. His body, despite his absence, looked quite busy.
It was erasing the chalk circles of containment around the monster’s box, in a systematic fashion. It had already eradicated the first four outer circles and the writing around them. It still had several left to go. The monster’s eyes were clamped shut in this effort.
It’s trying to free itself, Mike thought, and it’s using MY body to do it!
Mike still had time to think. His body’s slow and lethargic movement demonstrated the creature’s difficulty at controlling it.
It’s manner was to smudge one circle at a time; going around and around the box, running Mike’s hands over each. A slow and clumsy process that made Mike wonder if there was a magical reason for doing it that way, or if the monster was just being anal retentive.
Mike doubted the latter.
Perhaps the right step, he thought, was to regain control.
He floated himself down over his busy body, and tried to reoccupy his own space.
Immediately, a force stronger than Mike pushed him harshly out of his own skin. Mike was thrown back and passed through the wall of the basement. The effort of pulling himself back into the basement was substantial.
Mike saw his body collapse as a shadow slipped out of it.
It was the monster’s spirit, or essence, or mental force; Mike wasn’t sure what the hell the terms were, but understood the basic concept. It had lost it’s grip on his body, when it had expelled Mike out. It now floated back, to re-enter.
Oh no you don’t! Mike thought, and hurled himself toward his body to beat the beast to the punch. The two collided into his body at the same time, causing the body to react with spasms as they fought for control. The result was that both lost their grip, and the body collapsed once more.
The two shadows now faced each other across Mike’s body.
This was going to be a fight.
When it was time for the tray brigade to go up and retrieve the dirty trays and dishes, Edward decided not to go up again (not that Egann would have let him if he wanted to).
He had not yet had a chance to study the crystal egg.
Nor would he, for awhile. The tray brigade returned with a mountain of dirty dishes, silverware, and trays to be washed and dried. If that wasn’t enough, Mr. Balooda was making his rounds, supervising work, punishing laxity with severity, and spreading his brand of good cheer all over the first and second floors.
When he came around to the kitchen, he walked regally about, looking over their clean-up work. When he left, everyone breathed easier.
Donna took a team to clean up the dining room. Alixa went along with her, leaving Edward and two others to toil with the dirty dishes. Egann and the remaining members of the kitchen team cleaned up everything else: the floor, the ovens, the countertops, the appliances, etc. When someone finished a job, they were put to work on something else. At no point was anyone allowed a moment’s rest.
Once all the work in the kitchen was finished, the team was scattered to different parts of the hotel, to other work.
Mike and his enemy fought hard.
They knocked each other through the walls, into the earth, and out of the hotel. When one was busy trying to get back, the other would seize control of the body. Not for long, though; as the ejected one would soon get back in and slam the other out.
The basement was getting dark, but both opponents could see everything in it with spectral clarity. The beast was down to the last five magic circles.
Mike realized that his efforts to retake his body were exhausting him, as was getting back into the basement every time he was thrown out of it.
There was no use trying to take back control of his body; his only chance lay in holding back the creature’s work on the circles until morning came, and he was let out.
Mike had many hours of battle ahead of him, and already he was beginning to tire.
Evening found Edward polishing the furniture in the entrance hall and the foyer. When he got around to working on the front desk, he noticed a lull in traffic in the area, and decided to take a moment to inspect his ill-gotten egg.
He crouched down beside the front desk, and took the egg out of his pocket. It was the one with the miniature Sarrgoset Hotel encased inside of it.
The crystal was flawless; solid, except for the tiny hotel frozen in its center. Edward wondered how such a thing was made. Then, some movement in it caught his eye.
In the third story window of the miniature, a tiny figure passed by; then returned, to look out at him.
It was a miniature Mr. Blessure.
The sudden sound of Balooda’s loud voice startled Edward so badly, that he dropped the egg. It didn’t break, but rolled around in a wide arc, to the back of the front desk.
Balooda was close, but was busy browbeating some kid for sloppy work. Edward had only a few seconds to retrieve the egg before Balooda passed by him to enter the hall that led to his office.
Edward crawled around to the back of the front desk in time to see the egg roll with a mind of its own down the hall, through Balooda’s open office door, and right under Balooda’s desk, where it finally came to rest.
“Oh shig.” Edward said.
The office was empty right now, but there was no way he could get to the egg before Balooda arrived. He would have to come back for it later, when Balooda left his office again.
He just hoped to hell Balooda didn’t find it first!
“What is it?” Zedda asked Mr. Blessure.
He was looking out the window with a furrowed brow.
“It’s gone now,” he answered, “But for a few seconds there I had the intense sensation of being watched, from out there somewhere.”
“Should I be concerned?”
“Perhaps. There was a definite presence there. Some veil of invisibility hid it from my eyes. A few seconds more and I could have broken through, but it was gone too fast.”
“If it happens again….”
“If it happens again, I’ll pierce it’s veil, drag it’s mind out screaming through it’s eyes, and devour it’s sanity before I send it back.”
“Yes, that should about do it,” said Zedda, “But right now, I think it’s time to feed our fledgling Conjuura.”
She referred to Callie, who lay asleep on the couch. They had found her this way upon their return from supper.
Zedda handed Mr. Blessure a list.
“Call these up.”
Mr. Blessure took the list, and departed.
Zedda shook Callie awake.
“It’s time, Conjuura.” she said.
Mr. Balooda passed Edward without noticing him, entered his office, and closed the door.
Edward tarried as long as he dared, then gave up and went on to other jobs. He wondered how long the egg would remain undiscovered.
As for him, he ended up working in the laundry room with Egann and Ray. He suspected Egann wanted to keep him under his watchful eye, in case he attempted another ill-advised fact-finding mission.
They worked in silence, until Mr. Blessure’s booming voice came down from the second floor balcony.
“The following will come to the top floor with me: Alan, Alixa, Connie, Daniel, Fred, Grigg, Junu, Lannie, Myra, Rosie, Sorret, and Tupra.”
“Oh hell…” said one of those working in the laundry with them.
“Sorry Fred,” Egann said.
“I just went the other day!” Fred groused, “Zedda must be messing with the rotation again, or something.”
Fred left the laundry room.
“What’s going on?” asked Edward.
“Zedda’s gonna feed.” Ray said, “Every day is brain-drain day for someone, around here. Although it’s been awhile since she’s called up so many of us at one time.”
Edward remembered the hungry look on Callie’s face and shuddered, thinking: I don’t think she’s gonna feed alone this time.
“What does Zedda get out of it?” he asked.
“Wow---freshman question.” Ray said, “You’re better at these, Egann; you answer that.”
“Well, firstly,” Egann said, “She gets information about you; she sees your memories. But, I think, that’s mostly incidental; what she gets from it is power, pure and simple.”
“Yeah, but even that is incidental at this point.” Ray cut in, “What need does she have of any more power? She’s HAD her revenge on Murgent already. Several times over, I would say. So why is she still here? Why does she need us?”
“My guess is that she never intended to stay this long,” Egann said, “But got fat and cozy here; what with a constant supply of tormented kids to feed off of---“
“Enter Mr. Balooda to keep us all in a constant state of misery for her.” Ray added.
“Also, I think she gets some kind of euphoric high out of it.” Ray continued, “I swear, every time I’ve seen her do it, she gets this blissed-out look on her face.”
“I think she’s addicted to it.” Egann said, “And that has her as trapped here as we are. That’s why she’s still here. That’s why the status will remain quo as long as she and the Morrtogs can hold it.”
“Ironic, yet depressing.” Ray said, “So does any of that answer your question, kid?”
“More than I expected.” Edward replied.
Indeed, the discussion only deepened his worries about Callie. If she began feeding on the children of Murgent, like Zedda, she would become as addicted to it as Zedda. He and Mike could lose her forever. Time was running out quickly, and he realized he couldn’t save her on his own. With Mike currently unavailable, all he had were these two: Egann and Ray. But could he trust them?
There was no longer any choice.
“I have to tell the two of you something,” Edward said, “I have no one else to turn to…”