‘What is it you wanted to talk to me about today?’
Valorie had been persuaded to meet Charley again after school. They were now standing in a crowded market place in the town centre. People shuffled past, occasionally doing a double take at Charley’s orange-yellow poncho and bright blue flares.
‘We’re going to practice your skills of etheric projection here.’
‘Here? But -’ Valorie yawned ‘- why here? It’s packed.’
Charley nodded. ‘I know that. It’ll give you more room to move around, and more opportunity to grab things.’
‘Well, yeah, but, like I said, it’s packed out.’
‘So? The Wizards will know we’re just practising, the Mortals won’t be able to see you.’
‘No. They’ll just see you, talking to thin air.’
‘Fair point. Oh well. Nobody’s paying attention to us anyway.’
‘I think they are, actually. Couldn’t you just once wear something normal?’
‘No. OK. Do you need to look into my eyes anymore, or will you be able to manage?’
‘I can manage,’ she said.
‘OK. Off you go then. Concentrate.’
Valorie concentrated, staring off into the distance, staring at nothing in particular. She concentrated just enough, felt the pulling behind her belly and WHOOSH – she was out once more.
‘OK,’ said Charley to Valorie’s empty shell. ‘Just move around a bit, warm yourself up.’
Valorie swished her etheric presence around, rather half-heartedly. She floated right through an old lady and accidentally knocked her bobble hat off. It rolled down the street . The old lady made a surprised noise, and waddled off to pick it up.
Does that count?’ Valorie tried to say, but all that came out was that same bubbling sound she’d heard last time. Charley, however, seemed to understand.
‘It doesn’t count,’ he said, smirking. ‘You didn’t do it deliberately.’
‘Unfair,’ Valorie said, but it came out again as bubbles.
‘Can you do it deliberately?’
The old lady squatted down, picked up her hat, and placed it snugly back on her head. Valorie followed her, swooped right in front of her face and batted a hand on her hat.
It moved again, and the old lady stopped, looking more surprised than ever. She felt around her head nervously, and looked up at the sky, frowning at a flock of birds that were passing overhead.
Valorie managed a weak smile. ‘It moved,’ she said in a bubbly sort of way.
‘I suppose it did. Can you grab it off her head? Try that?’
The old lady looked suspiciously at Charley. ‘What did you say?’
‘Nothing, ma’am. You carry on.’
‘Humph,’ she said, and kept walking, occasionally glancing overhead.
Valorie dived down over her head again, and reached out – and her hand passed straight through. As usual. Valorie growled in frustration and let herself go, whizzing back into her own body. She staggered, but Charley grabbed her arms and pulled her back on her feet.
‘I can’t do it,’ she moaned. ‘I’ll never be able to do it, I can’t grab, so what’s the point in trying?’
‘You can do it.’
‘No I can’t! We’ve been doing it for weeks and I still can’t do it. Why bother?’ Valorie said, backing away from him. ‘I’ll obviously never be as powerful as you!’
Charley started towards her, but Valorie turned and tore off round the corner.
‘Valorie! Come back!’
But she kept running. Charley jogged after her, past groups of people, a small gang of teenagers hovering out the bottoms of their milkshake cartons, and around the statue of the man with one arm in a sling, and finally caught up with her. She’d stopped at the corner.
‘Now what was all that fuss -’
But Valorie held up her hand. She was looking straight ahead, not moving, and not saying anything.
Adam Quinn strode irritably down the street, jangling his house keys around in his coat pocket. The next step in his plan was to find an old friend. This friend had powerful influence, and was key in his plan to get the Government to listen. His old friend was a respected citizen – sometimes doubted, but still respected. They’d listen to him. And if that failed, he would hold him captive until the Government agreed to his demands.
The only hitch in Adam’s plan was whether he could find said friend. Did he still live where he used to? And if not, how was he supposed to contact him? This old friend didn’t like him very much. None of his friends actually liked him. It was so unfair.
Charley passed charity shops, takeaways, shoe shops, and cafés. There were a few people around him, but the further down he walked, the more people there were. They flocked past him, towards him and around him – everywhere. He noticed sourly that they were all keeping their distance. Why did nobody like him? Why couldn’t just one person in the world actually like him? The anger churned up inside him, boiling and bubbling inside him. Nobody liked him. Nobody cared – not his stupid parents, not Joe, not even dear Sophie.
‘Excuse me, sir? Would you be interested in donating to the Red Cross?’
A short bald man in glasses was suddenly blocking his path, holding out a donation box.
Adam lost his temper. The rod flew into his hand and he aimed point-blank into the man’s chest.
Valorie pointed, but already Charley could see what she was staring at. There was a bald man up in the air, spinning round and round at half the speed of sound. His glasses had already flown off. Another man stood underneath the first – a red-haired man with a firm black rod pointed towards his victim.
There were screams from the crowd of people. Some of the women had run away, including the old lady. She ran past Valorie, clutching her bobble hat.
‘Who’s that?’ Valorie gasped.
‘The man with red hair is Adam Quinn,’ Charley murmured back.
‘The student? Are you sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure. Who else could it be?’
‘No, I know, it’s just I always thought he’d be older.’
‘No. Still in education. He’s changed his hair since I last saw him, but that’s definitely his face.’
Valorie stared across at him. He was still spinning the unfortunate man around and around above his head. Most of the market crowd had scattered, and the space around him became clear.
Adam finally began to tire of this game. His anger spent, he brought his wand, or whatever it was, back down. The bald man fell to the floor and didn’t get up.
‘Come on Valorie,’ Charley said, a hand on her shoulder. ‘We have to go now.’
Adam put his rod away.
‘We have to go, come on.’
Then Adam looked up. He saw Charley and his eyes flashed.
‘So there you are,’ he said, turning towards him. ‘My old tutor.’
‘Adam Quinn,’ Charley said, stepping back uncertainly. ‘It’s been a long time.’
Adam smiled. ‘I’ve been searching for you. I have a proposition to make,’ he said.
Before Charley could formulate an answer, Adam’s gaze turned to Valorie. Both eyebrows rose. He took a step back, squinting, examining her closely.
‘Who’s this?’ he asked faintly. ‘Aether, who is this?’
Valorie felt his stare and looked away. Charley tugged her backwards. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
This time, Valorie obeyed, letting Charley pull her away. When she sneaked one last look, she saw him still standing, looking at her.