Chapter 11 — Familiars
Oh, the things you discover in abandoned basements/chapters.
She passed a set of double doors with the intriguing sign 'Muggle Room' hanging above it. Like all the other rooms in this basement, it didn't appear to have been used in a long time. When Alexandra pushed the doors open and shined the light from her wand inside, she saw only dust and cobwebs in an empty room.
The more important part of Alexandra's exit from the basement is when she encounters Em again, and Em freaks out about Alexandra's having been down in the lower basements.
“No,” Em murmured slowly. “It also would not be the first time something from the Lands Below sneaks into the school, looking like a snake.”
Alexandra looked at the snake, which was still curled snugly around her wrist and forearm, and back at Em. “The Lands Below?”
Em shook her head. “Em has said too much.” She frowned. “Miss has still not explained what she is doing down here.”
“I got lost.” At least that wasn't a lie. “And I found this snake, and – what are the Lands Below, and what comes out of them looking like a snake?”
“Miss is not answering Em's questions.”
“Em is not answering Miss's questions.”
Em's eyes narrowed.
“Can you tell me if it's poisonous?” Alexandra asked.
“Miss picks up snakes not knowing if they is poisonous or not?” The elf blinked in astonishment.
“Well, it hasn't bitten me yet.”
So, the bit about the "Muggle Room" above? Yeah, I still don't know what that is. It's a bit of setting I dropped at the time for possible use later.
Nigel, on the other hand, was a long-term arc I had planned from the beginning. Not only did I know when he was first introduced exactly what kind of snake he was, but I had the final twist, the fatal confrontation with John Manuelito in book four, planned out way back this early.
It's nice when I actually get to execute one of my long-term plot arcs in the way I originally intended. I've had others that ended up not working out because the story or the characters went in an unplanned direction.
Alexandra lucks out with her inexplicable "Friend of Elves" special power (heheheh) which causes Em not only to not turn her in, but to bring her a cage to keep Nigel in.
Why did I name Alexandra's snake "Nigel"? It is actually a joke so obscure I can't even find any traces of it on the Internet. :O
Way, way back in antediluvian times when I was in elementary school, we watched one of those weekly kids' shows - Electric Company or Zoom or 3-2-1 Contact or something like that. And one of the little mini-dramas that took place over weekly 5-minute episodes was some story about a kid and his pet snake (which I think was actually a boa constrictor, and certainly not an Australian brown snake) which kept getting loose in libraries and cafeterias, etc., so he and his friends would be scrambling around trying to find it.
The theme song went something like: "Nigel, Nigel, where are you going?"....
Do you have any fragmentary childhood memories like that? Of no great significance, but just some scene or event or tune that has stuck in your head for years and years afterwards, even if you remember nothing else?
That's why I named the snake Nigel.
ARTISTIC INSPIRATION, yo!
So, in this chapter, Alexandra gets a new familiar, and then does something she very rarely does:
Alexandra took a deep breath, and said, “You were right. About everything.”
Constance and Forbearance finally looked up at her, their blue eyes showing surprise and concern.
“I was getting involved in things I shouldn't have been,” Alexandra mumbled. It was hard getting the words out – it felt as if her throat wanted to close around them – but the more words that came out, the easier it became. “I didn't mean any harm, I was just curious. I thought I could learn things without doing anything bad. I don't want to be Dark. I don't want anyone to think I'm Dark. But I was being stupid, and I didn't want to listen to you because I thought I knew better. I... I was wrong. And I'm done with all that stuff now. I swear.”
She still hasn't gotten very good at offering unconditional apologies, but every now and then, she does show she is capable of recognizing when she's been wrong.
Unfortunately, she then finds new things to be wrong about.
Shamed by Alexandra's example, Torvald and Stuart also quit the Mors Mortis Society.
Maximilian then sets up Alexandra and Anna for a uniform inspection early in the a.m., trying to get Alexandra out of the way because he knows the MMS is going to send Tomo to try to abduct her familiar.
Which brings up something that he proved several times, though Alexandra, once she learned who he was and then became smitten with big brother-worship never fully realized: Maximilian's moral compass never was quite straight.
Tomo, however, was unable to go through with it, and instead made a feeble attempt to warn Alexandra. Alexandra misinterprets this, and when Angelique's familiar Honey goes missing, draws the wrong conclusion. She thinks she knows who stole Honey and why, but she's only half-right.
This time, though, Anna holds her ground.
Alexandra opened her mouth, and Anna said angrily, “You always do this, Alex! You just decide to do things and run off and don't tell anyone!”
“You can't come with me, Anna.”
“Why, because it could be dangerous?” Anna's voice was rising, and Alexandra looked in the direction of Darla and Angelique's room. “Shh!” she pleaded.
“Are you going to Stun me, or Petrify me?” Anna whispered.
“Of course not!” Alexandra whispered back, appalled.
“Then I'm coming with you. Where are we going?”
When the two of them sneak downstairs, they catch Tomo on her way to the MMS meeting, and Alexandra finally learns the truth.
“No!” Tomo shrieked. “Please, don't!” Her face was full of terror. “I didn't! I didn't do anything! I got into your room but I couldn't! I don't want to hurt anyone! I couldn't even hurt that stupid snake! I don't want to be part of any of this! Please, let me go, just let me go! Don't hurt me!”
Alexandra lowered her wand, and stared at the frantic, terrified sixth grader, who was now sobbing uncontrollably.
“I didn't do anything!” Tomo wailed. “I hate all of this Dark Arts stuff! I didn't come to Charmbridge to learn how to torture and kill things! I just want to go home!”
Tomo's cries echoed up and down the dark corridor, but no one else seemed to hear. As Alexandra slowly released her grip, Tomo covered her face with her hands and curled into a little ball.
Alexandra and Anna looked at each other, and back down at the Japanese witch. Tomo's shoulders shook as she continued crying.
Until now, Alexandra only saw Tomo as an evil MMS member who had been harassing her best friend. This is one of her first experiences at seeing things through someone else's eyes - how she has terrorized and bullied Tomo, an eleven-year-old girl away from home for the first time and virtually without allies. And that her best friend wasn't so innocent.
“You put 'Jap monkey' on my textbook!” Tomo exclaimed indignantly. “I can read Chinese characters, you know!”
“Anna!” Alexandra was shocked.
“You started it!” Anna snapped.
“I did not! You acted like I was polluting your precious school the moment I arrived!”
“I didn't say anything. You started the name-calling.”
“I just said, 'What's your problem?'”
“You said, 'What's your problem, chink'!” Anna hissed.
The precise moment that the feud started and who exactly threw the first slur is irrelevant: Anna and Tomo are from two feuding cultures whose prejudices they unthinkingly absorbed, hence the two of them turning into instant enemies. And Alexandra, of all people, is the one to play peacemaker, using nothing more than her force of will.
“Look out for each other, and get out of here. Wait for me back in our room. Don't argue!” she snapped, as Anna opened her mouth again.
Cowed, the other two girls fell silent. Finally, Anna asked meekly, eyes downcast, “What are you going to do?”
Alexandra gritted her teeth. “I'm going to rescue Honey.” And she left Anna and Tomo in the corridor behind her. She followed the directions that Tomo's coin gave her, as its glowing arrows guided a tiny point of light deeper into the basements.
And off she goes to get into more trouble.
This was an eventful chapter, so not a lot of fluff in it, and it's the point where the plot started really taking off.
Those ugly Poser illustrations
This is also the point at which I started trying to illustrate every chapter with a Poser illustration.
The Poser figure I've been using for Anna has never been quite right. (It's one of the less well-supported figures and it was created by a Japanese modeler, so the morph dials aren't even in English.) And in this case, I should have given her an underrobe - she looks like she's just pulling on a robe after getting out of the shower. (Trying to keep dynamic clothing from slipping off shoulders and hips can be surprisingly hard in Poser's clothing simulator.)
I've always been happier with Alexandra's figure, though I keep changing her hair props because I can never get her hair quite right. Learning at least enough tablet+Photoshop to draw hair has been one of my long-standing and unachieved ambitions. I think the Tomo figure came out rather well, though I did have to do a lot of manipulation of her sleeves to keep them from looking like they were flowing through the concrete beneath her.
I used a basic dungeon prop for the corridor, and I rather liked the lighting effect I achieved.
This isn't a terrible picture, but the clothing props were mostly cheap freebies and it shows. And Alexandra needs socks.