They arrived with a spray of sand and a wizardly bang!, a sound so uniquely identifiable in the Callahans' existence that Betty was out the door in an instant, calling, "Nita?" in querulous hope. Ponch, Kit's dog, shot past her barking his greeting bark, his pet-me-chase-me-give-me-biscuits bark, and if Nita thought you had to be a wizard to understand dogs perhaps it was only because Betty had never let her have a dog when she was growing up. "Oh, it's got to be them," Betty said to Harry, because surely Ponch wouldn't react that way to anyone else but then they made it to the top of the dune and saw two men down on the beach, one fending off a face-licking from Ponch, the other scuffing out a circle in the sand with his sandled foot.
"Hey, boy," said the one with Ponch all over him. He had a book in one hand; he knelt down on one knee to set it down on the sand so that he could apply both hands to scratching Ponch behind the ears. "Hey, Ponch," he said, softly, and Betty saw him get a dog biscuit from his pocket to give to Ponch. Ponch gulped it down and succeeded in licking the man's face.
"Hi," said the other man, the one with the large mustache. He had a book, too; he shifted it to his left hand so that he could hold out his right hand to Harry and Betty. "Sorry to drop in on you unannounced--I'm Carl, this is Tom, we're--you might say, we're Kit and Nita's mentors."
"The grown-ups who're wizards," Betty quoted softly, finding her husband's hand.
"You have news?" Harry asked. Betty tightened her grip without quite meaning to--
"No," Tom called from lower down the dune. "Nothing yet. They're still on their way to the peak, they haven't started the Song yet."
"How do you know?" Harry said. "Why would they tell you how they're doing, and not--" He paused, and bit off his words.
Tom and Carl exchanged glances, drawing even with each other at the foot of the steps up the Callahans' porch. Carl hefted his book. "They didn't contact us, not directly. As their Seniors, we've been monitoring their progress in the Book."
Wizard's manuals. The books both of them had were wizard's manuals--like Nita's and Kit's, red binding, gold letters on the spines, although the spines of both these books were broader than the kids'. Betty didn't understand that--Nita had said her book was bigger on the inside, more pages than it looked like, so why were these books bigger on the outside?
"We would have come anyway," Tom was saying. "We try to support young wizards if they choose to talk to their families. But with the Song of Twelve going on--if you'd like us to stay with you, give you news as we get it, we will. Or if you'd prefer to be left alone, we understand that, too."
"No!" said Betty. To hear what was happening to her daughter--not to have to sit and worry and wait-- "No, please come in. Of course you're welcome to stay."
Betty led them into the kitchen. The two wizards followed her, leaving their sandy shoes by the door, and Harry brought up the rear, latching the screen door behind them. "Would you like some lemonade?" Betty asked, pouring some without looking up.
"Sure," Tom said quietly, accepting a glass from her.
"Do you have any questions about wizardry?" Carl asked her. "If there's anything you want to know--about wizardry in general, about Nita's assignments--"
"How long have you been wizards?" Harry interrupted. Nita and Kit had told them plenty about what they had been doing, but these two men--they seemed so ordinary. Betty was curious too.
"Since we were about your kids' age," Carl said. "Most people who get called to it, get called around twelve or thirteen."
"So they're not--" Betty said, trying to find the words. "They're not special, they're not any younger than any others, they're not--taking on too much too early."
"All wizards are special," said Tom. "And yes, wizard kids get asked to take on a lot at young ages. It's part of the reason there are so few wizards: they have to be mature, responsible kids who can handle the kind of things that are asked of them."
"Why?" Harry said, sounding angry. "Why do you take them so young?"
"Not us," Tom said, putting a hand on Carl's arm--Betty could see him bristling a bit at the accusation. "We're not in charge of who gets called to be a wizard and when--that's something that happens between the individual and higher Powers."
"God," said Betty, because they'd said, they'd promised they hadn't made a deal with the Devil, and eventually she'd believed them.
"Well," said Tom, "most people, even most wizards, don't ever speak directly to the One, the Creator. It's generally assumed to be more glory than mere mortals can stand in the presence of and survive." And yes--if he'd said they dealt with God, Betty wouldn't have been able to believe that, not really. But that, she could believe. "We deal with the One's messengers fairly often, though, in both direct and indirect fashions. Powers you might call angels, in some of their forms."
"So you've met--angels," Betty said, cautiously.
"Once or twice," Carl said. "They don't always reveal themselves outright. They're usually around to drop us hints to guide us, rather than help us or protect us. Wizards are invested with power so that we can help and protect life all around us--that's our job more than Theirs."
There was another bang! outside, and Betty jumped, looking at Tom and Carl to see if they knew if it was the kids. "They'll still be out," Tom said kindly. "And they'll probably swim up when they come in, not teleport."
"Then who--?" said Harry.
"Hello?" asked a girl's voice at the screen door.
"One of our other charges," Carl said. "Do you mind if we bring her in?"
"Oh--I suppose not," Betty said, and finding her hands fluttering, poured another glass of lemonade to hand the girl when Carl led her in. "Hello," she said. The girl was about Nita's age, but with red hair that reminded Betty of Dairine.
"Harry," she said softly while Carl sold the girl a piece of next Thursday, "Dairine hasn't shown a whisker down here."
"She's probably up there listening to every word," Harry said.
"I'm going to go check on her," said Betty. She went upstairs and found Dairine laying on her stomach, hugging her pillow and kicking the air in controlled, angry jerks.
"It's not fair," said Dairine.
"Oh, baby," said Betty, sitting down on the bed next to her. She stroked Dairine's hair back from her face. Dairine allowed that for about two strokes before twitching away.
"I heard what they said about they don't choose," Dairine said. "I was going to ask them to choose me, but after that, there wasn't any point, was there? So I didn't come down."
"You just stayed up here sulking because you can't go risk your life like Nita," Betty said. There was a touch of sympathy in her voice because she did understand how hard it was for Dairine to watch Nita get the better of her at anything, but there was also a great deal of relief. Betty didn't know what she'd do if she had to sit at home worrying about both her daughters.
"Maybe I could start going to church," said Dairine. "Maybe if I prayed--"
"Oh, honey," said Betty, "I don't think it works like that. The last time Nita saw the inside of a church was Easter, same as you. I think--I think it's more how you live, what you do. I think they're wizards because they do good works, not because they proved they were pious."
"So I'm not good enough," Dairine said, hugging the pillow tighter.
"Dari," said Betty. "I didn't mean that. Maybe you're not old enough. They did say twelve or thirteen was normal, not eleven." And how had Betty ended up consoling her daughter that perhaps she would become a wizard, if she was patient? Well, make the best of it, she thought. "Maybe you're not mature and responsible enough," she added, teasing. "Maybe if you did your chores to prove how responsible you are--"
"Moooooom," Dairine said, and Betty had to laugh.
"Do you want to come downstairs and meet them?" Betty asked.
"Okay," Dairine said, like that was a chore.
When they got down the stairs the girl, the kid wizard, was gone, the screen door just slammed. A few moments later, they heard the sound of her teleporting out on the beach.
It was odd how that was a different sort of bang!
"We might want to set up a semi-permanent redirect," Tom suggested to Carl.
"Yeah, I can take care of that," said Carl, and went down the dune to speak a few words and vanish. That inverted bang! again, the one were air swept in instead of popping out.
Tom looked at Betty and Dairine. "If we're going to stay until they're done--until tomorrow, at least--we'll have to do a few more consults. Most of them should be able to find their way to us all right, but it wouldn't hurt to put an automatic rerouting on anyone headed to our place back in Hempstead."
"You live in Hempstead?" Harry said.
"Just down the street from you, actually," Tom said. "I understand the neighborhood kids call me Crazy Swale."
"Oh," Dairine said, as if she'd just figured something out.
"Neighbors," Betty said, feeling mildly dazed. "I thought--somehow, I thought--New York, maybe, Carl sounds it, or--"
"We're in charge of a fairly large area," Tom said, "most of the East coast and a lot of Canada, but no, we live down here."
"Oh," said Betty.
There was another bang!, and Carl reappeared. "You got the redirect set up?" Tom asked.
"Stings like a sonofabitch rubber band," Carl said, shaking his arm out.
"Where did you 'port from?" Tom asked.
"The living room," Carl said, sounding as if he were grumbling.
"Well, it would sting, at that range," said Tom, sounding amused.
"What was that about selling time?" Harry asked.
"Sometimes when wizards have assignments that are going to take longer than they can justify an absence to work or school or," Carl paused, smiling, "parents, they buy a little time, so they can deal with the wizard's work and then go back to their everyday lives like they were never gone."
"Have Nit and Kit ever--?" Betty asked. Ever deceived us like that? she didn't say.
"Once, on their Ordeal," Carl said. "They didn't put a lot of time on it, about a day, I think? Mostly they just didn't want you to worry."
"If they'd been--buying time," Harry realized, "we wouldn't have known they were up to anything at the beach."
"I get the feeling that maybe they wanted to tell you," Carl said. "They're going into the kind of danger that, well, you want the support of your family, if they'll give it."
"Man, and you guys kept yelling at them," said Dairine.
Betty felt her face go hot. They had, actually; Harry had outright forbidden Nita to go, at first.
"Nita knows you love her," Carl said quietly. "That's the important thing."
"Tell me about how you became wizards," Dairine said before the moment could get too sticky. Betty was almost grateful.
"About our ordeals?" Tom asked.
"No--about how you found the Book," Dairine said. "You have to find the Book before you can be a wizard, right?"
Tom laughed. "I don't think you're going to have any problem finding copies of the Book lying around, Dairine. You can look at mine, if you like."
"Oh--is that--a good idea?" Betty asked.
"I'm actually curious how much she'll be able to see it," said Tom, sliding his book across the table.
"It looks different from Nita's," Dairine said, stroking the cover reverently.
"She's still got the So You Want To Be A Wizard cover on hers," Tom said. "This is supposed to be a little less Judy Blume, a little more... omnibus Tolkien."
"I've read Lord of the Rings," Dairine said. "So has Nita."
"It's camouflage," said Tom. "It's just about making it look like a book we'd be caught dead with." He grinned at her. "Are you going to open it?"
Dairine gripped the book with both hands, grinning at him fiercely across the table. Betty felt her breath catch, and she looked at Harry. Harry shook his head, and Betty wasn't sure what he meant. She shouldn't? Don't stop her? Don't worry?
Dairine pulled the book open to a random page in the middle and read, avidly, looking more and more perplexed as she turned the page. "It's... some kind of King Arthur in space story?" she asked, sounding disappointed.
"Really?" said Tom. He turned the book around to look, and laughed. "This is a précis of someone's ongoing assignment. Arthur, yes, but not King Arthur--and yeah, he's got a project going on Venus."
"You mean--that's about a real wizard? Right now?" Dairine said. "Does it tell about what Nita's doing right now?"
"Yeah, their précis is self-updating," Tom said, taking his book back. "Let's see--they're still in Hudson Canyon--they've been fighting a lot of squid. No one's hurt badly, but they're getting pretty worn out. They should be at the peak soon, though."
"Then they have to--sing," Betty said.
"Right," Tom said.
And outside, there was another bang!
"It's like Grand Central Station out there," Harry grumbled.
"Not quite," Carl said, getting up. "I help maintain the worldgates at Grand Central and Rockefeller Center. Trust me, they're a lot busier than this."
Ponch was waiting at the screen door and loped out, barking, when Carl unlatched it. The girl wizard down the dune didn't seem to mind.
"Hello--who is this one? Not Annie or Monty--Ponch? I'm sorry, I don't have any biscuits. Do you eat human food?" she asked, unwrapping a packet of cheese crackers.
Ponch emphatically did.
Betty poured her a glass of lemonade and ignored Dairine's admonishment that they were going to run out if she kept giving lemonade away.
This girl had long, black hair falling straight on either side of her face. She looked like she might be Chinese, but when she thanked Betty, she sounded vaguely French.
She was, Betty realized as she listened to the consultation, Québécois, working on something to do with acid rain in the Great Lakes. "I know there's a kid up in Ithaca," said Tom, "who's gotten pretty good with the algae in the Finger Lakes, maybe she'd be able to help you out."
"Oh, yes, please," said the girl, and Tom looked up the name in his book and gave it to her, and she headed back out.
Dairine followed her, chattering surprisingly freely. "I'm Dairine, my sister's a wizard. Do you have any brothers or sisters? Are they wizards, too?"
The girl seemed startled, but willing enough to talk to Dairine. "Clare's a good kid," Tom told Betty. "Careful. She won't put any big ideas in Dairine's head that aren't already there."
Betty said, "That girl--Clare--she doesn't have a partner?"
"It's actually pretty rare for wizards to have partners," Tom said.
"But Nita and Kit," said Betty. "And the two of you--I thought--"
Carl was nodding. "Nita and Kit are really lucky to have each other. I was solo for about three years before I met Tom, and it's tough to go out there without anyone to catch you if you fall. But that's how most wizards work unless they have a specific project to team up on."
"Are you," Betty said, and stopped, not sure if she really wanted to ask the question. "I thought Nita and Kit were dating," she said, instead. "They told me no, that wasn't it at all, that all the sneaking around was wizard stuff. But wizard partners--when you say--I mean, you two said you have a place together, right?"
"Yes," Tom said.
"Is that a problem?" Carl said.
"Is it something your angels, your--Powers?--have a problem with?" Betty asked, because they'd told her, Nita and Kit had told her, that they were doing good work, that that was what wizardry was.
"Not that they've ever mentioned to us," Tom said.
Betty nodded. Well, they were gay. Gay wizards doing God's work. She glanced at Harry. His mouth looked a little sour, but he didn't say anything. "The kids, then--Nita and Kit--should I be worried about them--getting into trouble?"
"It's actually not that common for wizard partners to end up romantic couples," Carl said. "There's some problems with working together in life and death situations with someone you're that close to."
"We couldn't handle it until we'd settled down out of more--active assignments," Tom said. "Young wizards get a lot of the big stuff because you have the most power when you're young. While we were still doing that--no way. But eventually I went into theory and specialized spell construction, and Carl got the gig with the worldgates in New York, and wizardry stopped being quite as many explosions for us, and more everyday kind of work."
"Wizards are sometimes late bloomers anyway," Carl said. "They're too busy saving the world to be interested in dating."
"Yeah, you were what, twenty?" Tom asked, sounding as if he were teasing Carl.
"Oh, and whose fault was that," Carl answered cheerfully.
"Not mine!" Tom laughed.
"Tom's three years younger than me," Carl explained to Betty. "A lot of people thought we were kind of mismatched partners when we were young--a three year difference at twelve and fifteen works out to a huge difference in wizardly power. Besides that, when I met Tom, he was on Ordeal, and when you're on Ordeal, you're supposed to handle it on your own, not have older wizards tagging along helping you. But we worked together for five years before we--dated. I had this idea that I was going to wait until Tom was legal. Eighteen. I almost made it," he finished, sounded philosophical.
"I was an impatient teenager," Tom said. "Still--seventeen. Years away for your kids. Plenty of time. Nothing to worry about."
The bang! went off again, and Dairine rushed back up the dune. "Clare has an older brother who's a wizard!" she announced. "It does run in families!"
"Sometimes," said Tom. "Kit has two older sisters, neither of them are wizards."
"I don't care, I will be," Dairine announced, marching back inside.
"You might want to get ready for that one," Carl said. "She's going to be a firebrand, I'd bet."
"But not for a couple of years," Betty said, pleading. All of the sudden, there was something more scary than the idea of her babies having sex to worry about.
"It happens when it happens," said Tom. "And she's already seeing the manual for what it is. That might be just because she knows what it is, and it might not."
As the evening went on, Betty made dinner--a more elaborate dinner than she might have made if they hadn't had wizards in the house, but cooking kept her busy, kept her from needing to think when she didn't want to think. Tom and Carl both thanked her, and read updates from their books. When the song started, when one of the whale wizards dropped out and Kit took a role--
"Why can't Nita drop out?" Harry asked, sounding angry.
Tom closed the book abruptly. "The whale wizard--won't be a wizard anymore. And she jeopardized the whole working; if Kit hadn't been there to step in, it would have been a catastrophe, earthquakes all up and down the coast. And she's almost certainly going to die." He sounded sad and angry.
"All right," said Harry. "All right."
There was another wizard visitor at nearly eleven o'clock, whom Carl spoke to out on the porch to try to limit the interruption. The visitor was noisy enough to be heard anyway. He was complaining about something being wrong with the worldgates--Betty had almost, almost gotten used to that word. "I cannot get through to the Crossings from Grand Central," he said bombastically, "and then I try to go to Hempstead, wherever that is, and end up in Hamptons. The manual is giving me wrong coordinates!"
Carl sorted him out and came back in, saying, apologetically, that the wizard was from another planet and hadn't had to deal with the local worldgates much. "Grand Central's finicky," he said.
"From another planet?" Dairine asked.
"Go to bed," said Betty firmly.
Tom and Carl pulled an air mattress out of some kind of invisible pocket, but thankfully it was just an ordinary inflatable mattress and not some kind of wizardly mattress made of air. Despite Betty's offers to let them have the bedroom, they pumped the air mattress up in the living room and bedded down there.
In the morning, everyone was up too early--Dairine tumbled down the stairs at five and put coffee on and fed Ponch. "You shouldn't be drinking coffee, at your age," Betty said.
"It's not for me," said Dairine, and served the wizards. "What's the worst thing you ever fought?" she asked cheerfully.
"Well," said Tom, taking a long sip of his coffee, "the Lone Power, of course."
"That's enough of that," Betty said to Dairine. "Is there news?" she asked.
Tom opened up his manual on the table and paged to the précis. "They're getting to the very dangerous part of the Song now," he said quietly. "Nita's about to confront the Lone Power directly--she has the hardest part."
"My girl," said Harry. "Nothing too easy's worth doing."
"I'm getting pretty instantaneous updates now," Tom said, and Betty could see the text on his page flickering. Couldn't read it--Dairine had, but to Betty it looked like Greek and Arabic and Hebrew all mixed up. Why had Dairine been able to read it? "They're under attack--the whale wizard who dropped out, she turned. She's back with kraken. They're having to fight--if this puts the Song off too long--"
"I'm going to set up a group gating on the beach," said Carl. "If the coast starts to shake, we'll want to get out of here fast."
"Are you saying it could go bad?" Harry demanded. "The whole, the, everything they're trying to prevent, the millions of lives--it could happen?"
"There's a chance," said Tom. He shut the book. "Hope for them--have faith in them--but we need to be prepared. Come down to the beach with us. We'll need to ask you some questions to tie your names into the gating. Dairine especially, since Kit and Nita didn't do her name the other night for the moon trip."
"Nita could die," Dairine said. "Kit and Nita could die."
Tom looked her in the eye and said, "Yes."
They went down to the beach and Tom and Carl started drawing in the sand, asking Dairine where she was born and who her best friend was and what her favorite color was--a lot of the same inane kinds of questions Nita and Kit has asked Betty and Harry. There were moments of insane humor, such as when Tom started asking Ponch and faithfully recording his barks, for instance. There were moments of grimness, too. "Daughters, two, we hope--we'll have to double-check it when it's time--" Tom said, writing out Betty's name.
"She'll be my daughter whether she's alive or--not," said Betty.
Tom looked up, and said, "Of course."
"Where will we be going?" Harry asked.
"Oklahoma," said Carl. "There's another Senior that lives there, we'll need to coordinate relief efforts with our colleagues."
"I've got another update," Tom said, flipping his manual from the worldgate diagrams to the précis. "I've got--she's alive. They're both alive," he amended, and Ponch woofed. "Carl--"
"The Song?" Carl asked grimly, not stopping his work.
"The Song's finished. In full," Tom said.
"And they're both alive?" Carl said, looking up finally.
"What's going on?" said Betty.
"Someone--sacrificed himself to save Nita's life," Tom said haltingly. He was turning pages rapidly. "The Master Shark, actually--what was his name, you stupid book? What do you think I'm going to do with it, he's dead." Tom whapped the pages with his open hand. "Disgorge." And then, "Carl? Will you look at this and tell if I'm seeing what I'm seeing?"
Carl was already over Tom's shoulder, reading where he pointed. Betty stepped up to look, too, even though she couldn't read the symbols. "I don't understand. What does it mean?"
Tom's finger rested underneath a circle with an arrow pointing out, like Mars. "It means--it means--" He shut the book and turned to her. "Your daughter had a run-in with a Power--a Power that doesn't manifest very often, at least not in this form--"
"Try never," said Carl. "If It has before, I haven't heard of it."
"And that Power sacrificed its physical incarnation in order to save Nita's life," Tom said. "A miracle--that's what happened, Mrs. Callahan, a miracle."
"Oh," said Betty, because she couldn't quite take it in. There were things that even wizards found miraculous and one of them had saved her daughter's life. Harry was holding her hand and Dairine was hugging her around the middle and she couldn't quite do anything but weep in relief.
"I wonder if we should expect this sort of thing to happen more often, now," Carl said. He was scuffing out the spell diagram with his foot. "It'd change the whole ballgame."
"I don't think so," Tom said softly. "I think He was repaying a debt."
Carl nodded, and said, "Yeah."
"They'll be home soon," said Tom, and Betty realized he was talking to them, not his partner. "Sopping wet and dead tired--you'll want to get some towels--"
"Right," said Betty, not moving, because Harry and Dairine were still holding on.
"Do you want us to stay?" said Tom. "We can, but--you don't really need us for a family reunion. They're safe now. They just need to get dry and fed, and sleep it off."
Harry said, "But what do we say to them?"
Tom glanced at Carl. Carl smiled--they were both smiling--and said, "Tell them they did good."