Above the constant nattering, she heard a familiar voice.
‘…Of course, that’s not my real name. My real name is Rita Brown, but I hated it to be honest. I dunno, what do you think?’
‘Yeah, I like Ruby better.’
‘Ruby?’ Valorie called out.
‘Hello?’ she heard. ‘Val? Is that you, Hon?’
‘Ruby! Where are you?’
Ruby rushed towards her, hugging her. ‘What are you doing here, Val? Charley said you couldn’t come with us!’
Valorie broke out of the hug, a little uncomfortable. Nobody called her Val except her parents. It was strange to be called Val by someone she hardly knew.
‘I need to come,’ she explained. ‘I can’t just leave you guys to it.’
Ruby looked hesitant, but then nodded. ‘Fair enough. Don’t come running to me if Charley finds you, though. He’s angry enough as it is.’
Valorie nodded in return. ‘Where’s everybody else?’
‘Can’t find them,’ Ruby said, twisting her hair through her fingers. ‘This whole thing hasn’t been organised very well. Bit of a shambles. Still, we’ve found each other OK, haven’t we?’
‘Yes, we have. You look very nervous.’
Ruby stared at her. ‘I am scared stiff. I can’t breathe properly. This is a real fight, isn’t it? I mean, people are really, actually, maybe going to get hurt. Oh God.’
Valorie hovered, not sure what to reply to this. After all, what Ruby said was true.
‘Good luck,’ Christophe said from behind her. Valorie turned to see him wave briefly at her before walking off with his cousin.
‘OK,’ Ruby said. She was evidently shaking with nerves, but trying to appear brave. ‘While we wait for the boss to tell us what to do, we might as well practice. Fat lot of use my powers are going to be. But anyway. Do you want to practice?’
Valorie looked around at the mass of moving bodies. ‘I don’t want to start projecting,’ she said as respectfully as she could. ‘I want to kind of keep my feet on the ground, you know.’
Ruby nodded furiously to disguise a particularly violent shiver. ‘Sure.’
People moved around them, flowing past, trying to find each other. Some Wizards nearby were practicing their own moves. A spell shot past Valorie and she squealed.
‘I always get a bit claustrophobic in big crowds,’ Ruby said, still shaking. ‘I know that’s probably unfair to proper claustrophobic people, but I just get really, you know, constricted? I prefer big wide spaces. You know?’
‘Yeah,’ said Valorie, trying to make her feel better. ‘Not too big, because I just feel quite intimidated by big spaces.’
‘Not me. I like them.’
‘OK.’ Valorie smiled faintly at Ruby, who smiled back. Valorie looked at her shoes, trying not to listen to the increasingly worried-sounding throng, trying to stifle her yawns. She stared at the sky instead.
A loud horn blast sounded. They both jumped, and the crowd were suddenly silent. Valorie peered around, looking for the source of the noise, and then Charley’s head appeared above the heads of the others.
Valorie watched with a faint interest as his face bobbed over the surface of the heads.
‘Wizards of the World,’ he began, and there was some inappropriate whooping hooting from the middle of the group. Charley ignored this.
‘Today, we unite against a powerful enemy, Adam Quinn. Before, he was a possible threat. Now he has killed over forty people. This one Wizard presents a negative image of not only all of us, but the Wizards that come after us. We cannot let this happen!’
Now there was some more widespread whooping and cheering. Valorie clapped politely, for it was a good opening speech.
‘Use your powers in any way you can,’ he continued,’ no matter how insignificant you consider them to be. If we work as a single unit, I have no doubt that Adam will fall before us.’ More cheering. ‘I ask only this. If there arises a situation in which we must all use our powers together, please cooperate with my instructions. We cannot be sloppy.’ Silence. ‘We cannot be half hearted in our attack. The winning side in any battle is the side that refuses to give up. Have hope, fellow Wizards.’
A short pause while everyone took this in, and then more cheering. It must have been an impressive sight, Valorie thought. Ruby was smiling beside her, and she didn’t seem to be shivering as much.
Charley nodded. ‘Now, these two people are Edina Orson and Simon Thomas.’ He gestured to the two, who rose for a moment to Charley’s height and waved, unsmiling. ‘The three of us will lead you all to Adam. Simon can lead the way; he and I will take two groups of thirty; Edina will take a group of forty. Please stand still and we will call you to your groups.’
Valorie shot a nervous glance at Ruby, who shrugged helplessly. Valorie crouched down, hoping not to be spotted.
Charley had barely begun to call people towards him before another loud noise pierced the night air.
It was the sound of an explosion.
Ruby shrieked and ducked. Valorie ducked too, and sensed the collective movement; the whole crowd moving as one to fling themselves at the ground. Some weren’t quick enough and caught the full force of the blast. For her part, Valorie felt only hot air streak over her head.
The blast subsided. There was momentary silence, and then screams and lamentations as the people looked up and saw what happened. Valorie did not look up, not even when she felt Ruby stiffen beside her. She had clearly seen, but Valorie didn’t want to see. She didn’t have to see anything to know that Adam Quinn was standing just a few meters away.