Adam Quinn had lost Charley. He’d tried returning to the man’s house, but he wasn’t there. He must have known that he’d look there first. Adam grunted his displeasure and slumped down on the doorstep. He banged on the drainpipe.
There was a rattling sound, and a key fell out of the pipe. It almost fell down the drain, but Adam lurched forward and caught it, the bare ends of his fingers gripping the key.
He pulled it out slowly, and tried the key in the door. It opened.
He looked inside. The room was nothing like he remembered it. When Charley had taught him, the room was stylish and understated – a fern in the corner, pictures of family and friends on the wall.
Now there were shelves covered in jars full of bugs, and Tupperware tubs full of more bugs for the bigger bugs to eat. There were coloured stones, bits of potpourri, incense sticks, as well as a large purple sofa, and a poncho hanging over the back of a chair.
Adam stepped into the room, examining every detail. He lay down on the rug to examine the intricate pattern, and then got up to stare at the ceiling, which had been painted to look like a cloudy sky. Opposite the door into the living room was a desk. On it was a computer, several cacti, a lava lamp and a notebook. The bookshelf next to that held tomes such as ‘Karma Karma Karma’, ‘Practicing your dissipating skills – a guide’, ‘How to understand people’, and ‘Strange and unusual insects.’
Adam examined the notebook, curious as to what was inside.
It was all memos and notes – the old man’s mind was obviously falling to pieces.
‘Remember to get poncho dry-cleaned’
‘Sign off for new order of crickets’
‘Ask Valorie about her thoughts account.’
Thoughts? What was that? Was that a computer thing or what?
Adam’s eyes moved over to the computer sitting on the desk. It obviously hadn’t been used. The screen was covered in a layer of dust, in which Charley had written – ‘Warning – this computer is very dangerous. DO NOT TOUCH.’
Adam stepped forward and wiped the dirt off with his sleeve. Then he logged on. The computer let him in straight away. He grinned. Clearly Charley had no idea how to set up a password. He seemed to be unaware of what a computer was actually for.
Logging onto the Internet, he checked Charley’s bookmarked sites. They included an online book review site, the site of a local hairdressers, a place for ordering away for insect food, and a page on Thoughts.com.
Adam clicked the mouse. The page was a group called Wizards Unite.
He read the group description, picking out the key words – Charley Aether… captured… fighting the forces of the Government…
The post was a few days old, and Charley was obviously not still being held captive, but that, Adam thought to himself, was hardly the point. Here was a person who knew Charley well. This ‘Valorie’ could help him find his old teacher.
He allowed himself a little chuckle, thrilled with his own genius, and started typing.
Mere hours later, Valorie also sat at her computer, looking back through her comments on Thoughts.com. One comment intrigued and puzzled her.
‘Who is this?’
She read it again.
‘Who is this?’
She looked at who had sent the comment. It was by somebody called ‘TheQuinnster.’
Valorie gasped. Could this be Adam Quinn?
She looked at ‘TheQuinnster’s’ profile page. There was no picture and little information there. It said he was seventeen and studying at college. It had to be Adam Quinn.
Valorie knew it was just a coincidence, but it still creeped her out. She still got the shivers when she thought of the way he had stared at her in the marketplace.
He was online right now, so maybe…
No. Charley would absolutely forbid it. She couldn’t talk to him; he was the enemy. She absolutely –
Valorie found she was typing before she could stop herself.
Hello Adam Quinn. Do you want to talk?
Five minutes went by. Then a reply message flashed up.
This is Adam Quinn. Who is this?
Before Valorie could reply, another message followed.
Oh, I know you. You’re the founder of Wizards Unite. Yes, I was interested in talking to you about what your group does, exactly.
Valorie thought. The group didn’t actually do anything yet. The general idea was that one day pretty soon, all the Wizards in the world would meet in a nearby pub or something, and go and overthrow the Government. But Adam Quinn was the new danger here, not the Government. Should she tell him to bog off and leave him alone?
Er, well, you read the group information, didn’t you? You know what this group’s about.
Yes. You want to rescue Charley Aether, don’t you? That means you know him, presumably. Are you related, or just a friend?
This was quite bad. Adam didn’t know they were trying to get him yet, but now he knew that she was in contact with Charley.
There was no point pretending. She typed back.
I’m a student of his.
I was a student too. Unfortunately he dismissed any power I had, and we parted company. But now I need him. Can you tell me where he is?
Valorie shook her head. Did he really expect her to hand over information just like that? His excuses were pathetic. Dismissed his power. Charley had told her that Adam threw a TV at him, and that was the truth.
Why do you need him? Where are you, anyway?
Then Adam returned with another message.
I’m at his house, I’m using his computer, but he’s not here. I need your help to find him. It’s important.
Valorie wheeled the chair backwards in shock. Adam had broken in. She couldn’t believe it.
Get out of his house.
Adam eventually came back with –
Furiously, Valorie typed back.
I’m not telling you where he is. Charley told me you were dangerous, and I believe him.
A response rapidly flashed up.
I’m not dangerous. I just don’t take any nonsense from anybody.
Oh yeah, like that charity collector I suppose, Valorie typed, and sent it.
Adam didn’t reply for over five minutes. Growling, Valorie left the computer desk and scurried downstairs. Her mother was making a cup of tea.
‘I’ll do that, Mum,’ Valorie offered, taking out another mug for herself.
Valorie made two cups of tea, and took one up to the computer room with a few biscuits. She placed them on the desk, and returned to the computer. A message was waiting for her, and she opened it up.
You’re the girl at the market. I saw you there with Charley.
Valorie gulped nervously, but ploughed on, typing her next message.
I’m looking in Charley’s notebook… it says ‘Ask Valorie about her thoughts account’. So you must be Valorie. Hello Valorie.
Valorie hung her head, wondering how she was going to explain this to Charley and Eddie. She typed back.
Why do you care who I am, anyway?
I was quite shaken when I saw you at the market. You remind me of Sophie. She was my old girlfriend, but she died. I miss her terribly. You have the same hair, the same eyes. It was like seeing a ghost.
Valorie didn’t quite know what to say to this. Eventually she asked,
How did she die?
A few moments, and then,
I stabbed her to death. I was going to point a rod at her and erase her mind, but I was too angry. She loved another man, and she was disloyal to me. I had to kill her with my bare hands. Over the last few months, she’s grown into a lovely plant, which I keep in my living room. It’s the only thing left of her. Poetic, you might say. Almost beautiful. Are you impressed?
Valorie had been ready to sympathise with Adam – anyone who loses someone, no matter how bad a person they were, misses that someone terribly. Her Mum had taught her that when she was very young, at her Grandma’s funeral. Valorie hadn’t wanted to talk to her crotchety old grandfather, who spent the entire funeral complaining about the seating arrangements and the draughty windows, and the terrible food.
Her mother told her that Granddad was acting like this because he was sad about his wife dying, and no matter how cantankerous he was, he needed as much love and kindness as everyone else. Valorie had gone to hug him, and he’d hugged her back, and managed to drop his grouchy persona long enough to properly pay his respects.
But murder was different. It was the most disgusting thing in the world, and in Valorie’s eyes, it was unforgivable.
You’re a bad person, she typed back, her eyes burning into the screen, her fingers flying across the keyboard, and I don’t want to talk to you anymore. I don’t know what you want with Charley, or what your plans are, but I’m never going to help you. NEVER! Do you understand?
Adam typed back.
I thought you’d be on my side. All I want from Charley is his guidance. I know you both feel passionately about stopping this Watch List, and so do I. We’re united against the same cause.
That doesn’t make any difference. We don’t want anything to do with you. Leave me alone.
Valorie away from the computer, feeling a bit shaky. Her mind kept tripping over itself. She attempted to go over the preceding situation in her head.
She had talked to Adam Quinn. Adam had asked her to help him find Charley, but she hadn’t. Adam had found out her identity.
Valorie sat with her head in her hands for several minutes.
Summoning up all the courage within her, Valorie decided to change the group description once again.
Wizards of the world, I write to update you on the current situation. Charley Aether had, fortunately, been retrieved from the grasp of Derek Williams and Arthur O’Hanlon.
However, an additional threat has just appeared. The two men who captured Charley Aether wanted him to take down Adam Quinn, an extremely powerful and potentially dangerous Wizard. He has been suspected of killing his friend and girlfriend. What is more, he has proved to be very angry with the Government, and we don’t know what he’ll do next. For the moment, Adam Quinn poses a bigger threat to us than the Government.
Charley Aether can’t take on Adam Quinn by himself. He needs help. Ask yourselves, would you be willing to fight?
Adam rose from his computer chair, smiling mischievously at the screen. He had found an accomplice of Charley’s – a girl called Valorie. She sounded just like Sophie had once been – sure of herself, resolute, full of valour. It was a little disturbing, but Valorie really did remind him of Sophie.
Behind him, the insects in the jars began to chirp and whistle, but Adam paid them no attention.
He thought. This was Charley’s house. He had Charley’s location, he knew how to contact his friend Valorie, he knew how to get through to the Government.
Two hostages would be better than one. Taking hostages would be so much easier than having to resort once again to magical means. In many ways, Adam disliked his tremendous power. It seemed like the only way he could get people to listen. He was pleased that now, he had a chance to prove that he was more than just an awesome Wizard. He could be dangerous in other ways.
Tossing his head back, Adam laughed, laughed from the very pit of his stomach.
Then he heard a noise, and turned.
Behind him, all the insects in the jars were fighting to get out. They were banging on the lids of their jars or tubs or cages. As they fought to be free, they clicked their mandibles in anger, asserting their dominance. The noise was astounding.
Adam backed slowly back towards the front door.
‘Good buggies. Good bugs.’
There was a great clanging, and a cloud of mantises broke free. The cage clattered to the floor, and they swarmed forward. Adam screamed and tried to run, but the mantises flew at him, landing on his coat and biting at his skin. He screamed again, scrabbling round the table for the key. His fist clenched around it, and he ran to the door, flailing his limbs. He burst outside, hoping the insects would give up, but they didn’t. They kept biting, wings buzzing. Adam glanced down and caught one staring at him with tiny, contracted pupils.
Adam dashed down the road desperately, and about twelve feet from the house, the mantises gave up and flew as one, back inside. Adam stood where he was, trying to breathe normally again, and was sure he heard the clank of metal, almost as if they had somehow let themselves back into their cage.
Adam convulsed, as if shuddering off a million swarming bugs, and spun on his heels, walking away as calmly and composedly as he could.