Po rubs at his still stinging eyes, the tears haven’t fallen yet, it’s more a nervous tick at this point. Clarissa looks at him with concern writ huge on her face. She glances towards the living room, but rushes over to him instead of going after Danny.
“Are you okay?” She whispers it, but Po doubts Danny would hear her if she shouted.
Po nods forcefully. “I wasn’t expecting it to be this bad. I thought…I hoped he was past this.”
“At least he’s calm.” Clarissa darts a look over her shoulder. “That’s good, right?”
Music booms from the living room, causing them both to jump. Po might have screamed, he’s not sure, it was drowned out by the music if he did. Clarissa looks at him and gives a slight smile. She reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. Po holds up his phone, Mr. Carver’s number on the screen, all he has to do is hit the call button. Clarissa nods, they slowly walk into the living room.
The Carvers have a surround sound setup in their living room. There are speakers mounted in the corners of the room with a few tower speakers scattered about too. Danny stands in the middle of the room, hands up in front of him, face straining, pushing on the air in front of him, looking for all he’s worth like he’s trying to move something that isn’t there.
“I can see the music.” He shouts at them. “If I concentrate hard enough I can make it visible.”
Danny stands there dumbstruck. Watching his friend strain at nothing, hearing him talk about seeing things; Po’s heart drops into his stomach, he’s breathing too fast. The words ‘he’s seeing things’ loop through his mind, they make him dizzy. He turns away from the scene, unable to see his friend like this. There’s a pain in his hand. Looking down he sees his fingers white, wrapped around his phone, his whole hand shaking.
He brings the phone up, ready to call Mr. Carver.
Clarissa hits his shoulder, Po jumps from the contact, forgetting for a moment she was even there. He looks at her, she hasn’t taken her eyes off Danny. She still doesn’t look away as she paws at Po’s shoulder, finally getting a grip and turning him around.
Po turns to see Danny still straining at the air. He’s about to look away again, when something shimmers in the air around Danny’s hands. Po blinks several times to clear his eyes. He decides there’s too much going on for him, between Danny, the blaring classical music, Clarissa. Po takes a step back, wanting to get outside so he can call Mr. Carver in peace.
There’s a burst of static from the speakers. When the music comes through again, there’s golden lines pulsing through the room.
Po stops moving, stops breathing, his mind seizes. The world seems to lose its color, everything but those golden lines. They pulse with the music. Po cocks his head, the lines don’t pulse with all the music just the percussion. Danny reaches out, grabs at something, and red lines appear in the air. They vibrate with the violins.
Still holding the lines, Danny twists around and smiles at them.
“How are you doing this?” Clarissa shouts over the music, a smile splitting her face.
“I told you, with magic.” Danny lets go of the golden lines, they fade slowly, reaches out, and the green of flutes appears.
“Stop it.” Po pants where he stands. His voice doesn’t carry past him.
Clarissa moves up to the flute lines, tentatively reaching out and touching them. Her fingers go through them with nothing happening to them, she runs through the line, giggling as she does. She turns around with a grin barely contained by her face. “Nothing happened.”
“Why would it?” Danny shakes his hand around, and the line wobbles back and forth, but the music is unaffected. “It’s just a visual representation of the music you’re hearing. It’s a harmless Glamor.”
Po takes four sharp breaths to fill his lungs. “Stop it.” He pushes the words out, but there’s no force behind them.
Clarissa runs back through the flute lines, and over to stand next to Danny. “Show me another one.”
Danny lets go of the violins, reaches out, and brown lines, humming with the oboes, appear in room. “They remind me of chocolate.”
Clarissa laughs. “They do, don’t they?” She reaches out and twiddles her fingers in the oboe line.
“Stop it.” Po finally finds enough voice to be heard. Danny and Clarissa turn to look at him.
“Po, what’s wrong?” Clarissa takes a step towards him, her joy muddied with concern for him.
Danny stands there grinning. “Isn’t this great?”
“I said, stop it!” Po runs over to one of the tower speakers and throws it to the floor, the sound fades from it, but the room is still too full. Po races to a wall mounted speaker and jumps for it. He only manages to push it facing the wall.
He tries to jump for it again, but arms wrap around him from behind. “Po, stop.” Clarissa’s voice in his ear is panicked.
Po pulls himself out of her arms and jumps for the speaker again. As soon as his feet leave the floor he feels hands on his back, and he’s smashed against the wall.
“Po, don’t do this.” Clarissa’s voice in his ear, her breath is warm and steady. “Danny’s not crazy.”
“Isn’t he?” Po push back off the wall. When he feels Clarissa move away from him, he turns to look at her. “What’s that mean then? Huh?” He looks her directly in the eyes, and he can see how confused she is. “That’s means magic is real, does it?” He takes a moment, hoping she’ll answer him. “That means the world is crazy.”
“I was just as surprised as you.” Danny steps next to her. Po realizes the music is off. Danny gives him an apologetic smile. “Not that the symbols meant something, I’ve always believed that. I mean, I was surprised when…” He waves his hand around in the air. “You know.”
Po looks at his friend. For the first time in years, he doesn’t know what to think about him. Best friend. Crazy friend. Magic friend.
“I need to go.” Po pushes off the wall walking out of the living room.
“Po, don’t.” Clarissa runs after him. At the front door, she reaches out and grabs his arm.
He wrenches his arm away. “Don’t touch me!” He spins around to glare at her, eyes wide and unblinking.
She takes a step back. “Po, this is good news.” He lets out a bark of a laugh. “Danny isn’t craz-”
“Stop saying that!” Po steps towards her, closing the space between them to almost nothing. Clarissa holds her ground. “Magic isn’t real!”
“What if it is?” Clarissa’s voice is a rush of air, barely audible. Her gaze turns distant as she says this, a smile slowly growing on her face. After a moment, her eyes focus again and she leans in, nose-to-nose with Po. “What if it is?”
Po steps away, back hitting the front door, panic rising in his chest. “It isn’t.”
“Excuse me, Clarissa.” Danny steps out from behind her, steps up to Po. He smiles at Po, and for a moment Po remembers his best friend before the journal. Without really wanting to, Po relaxes some. “Rough day?”
Po almost screams at him, feels the urge boiling inside of him. Instead, he forces a jittery smile onto his face. “You could say that.”
“You were worried about me.”
“Of course I was.”
“You’re so protective, it’s one of the things I love about you.” Danny reaches out to put his hand on Po’s shoulder. Po’s whole body tenses, Danny’s hand hovers over his shoulder for a second or two before coming to rest on it. When Po doesn’t feel anything but the weight of his friend’s hand, he relaxes. Danny gives his shoulder a light squeeze. “I’m seeing auras, flashes of symbols around people. When I answered the door, I saw a horseshoe on your chest.”
“Great, so I’m your good luck charm.” Po squirms under Danny’s hand, but Danny doesn’t move it.
Danny lets out a low chuckle. “Of course you are, but the horseshoe is also a symbol of protection. You’re a protector. You’ve certainly protected me over the years.” Danny looks him in the eyes. “Even from myself.”
Po looks down at the floor. “I don’t know if I can live in a world with magic.”
Danny squeezes his shoulder again. “I know I can’t live in a world without my best friend.”
Po’s head darts up, he stares into Danny’s eyes, searching. “Do you mean that?”
Danny nods. “Say the word, and I’ll never bring up magic, or symbols, or the journal again. I’ll put it all away.”
“You never have before.” Po shakes his head in disbelief.
“You’ve never asked me before.” Danny smiles turns reassuring.
“You…you’d do that for me?” Po reaches up and grabs his friend’s arm.
“I’m not going to lie; it’d be hard as shit. The way this feels is awesome. It’s not just physical, but knowing I know something about the world no one else does is a kick.” A snicker escapes his lips. He clears his throat, the smile dropping from his face. “But yeah, if that’s what you want.”
The boys stand there looking at each other. Their history, all the years they’ve known one another, filling up the space between them. Po takes a deep breath.
“Do I get a say in this?” Clarissa’s annoyed voice, comes from behind Danny.
Danny half turns, stepping to the side, so both him and Po can look at her. “Of course you get a say.” Clarissa smiles and nods. “Club rules, majority vote wins. I’m voting with Po.”
Clarissa’s expression immediately turns sour. “How is that fair?”
Danny shrugs. “That’s democracy.”
“How could you do that?” Clarissa crosses her arms. “You’re the one who translated the symbols. You’ve been doing magic all day. You said yourself, that it feels great knowing something about the world no one else does.”
Po looks from Clarissa to Danny, watching his friends as they debate this. He watches Danny nod, only years of experience with him allows Po to catch the twitch of Danny’s eye, indicating he’s sad.
“I said it would be hard as shit.”
“See.” Clarissa flings her hands into the air.
Danny’s eye twitches again, but he doesn’t raise his voice. “Let me ask you a question.” Clarissa nods. “Do you trust Po?”
Surprise strikes Clarissa dumb for a moment or two. “Of course I trust Po.” Clarissa looks past Danny at Po. “You’re my best friend.”
“Would you say he’s got the best judgement out of the three of us?” Danny continues like this is an interrogation.
Clarissa shakes her head from side to side and shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe? He’s the most mature, I guess.”
“Okay.” Danny crosses his arms across his chest. “So, I’m not going to do this without my best friend. The person we both agree has better judgement than both of us.”
Clarissa opens her mouth to say something, closes it, opens it again. She taps her foot for a minute or two, clearly she’s trying to think of an argument. After a minute, she sighs heavily. “Fine. You know what I want to do, but I’ll go along with the vote.” She stares at Po. “What do you say, Po?”
Po feels panicked again, being on the spot. He’s only seen a look this intense on Clarissa’s face when she’s taking tests. He looks to Danny. Danny still has his arms crossed, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. Po wonders how he could be relaxed right now. He thinks maybe it has something to do with his fate being in someone else’s hands. Po can’t believe his friend trusts him so much. He takes a deep breath to steady himself.
“You know,” Danny speaks without opening his eyes. “Even if we decide not to do this, there’s nothing stopping you from learning magic on your own.”
Clarissa has been slouching, but at Danny’s suggestion she stands up straight, arms dropping to her sides. Po can see her mind working already. He knows she’s thinking about what books she’d need, and where she’d need to go to find them. He knows that’s what she’s thinking about, because that’s what popped into his mind as soon as Danny said what he did.
“Okay, let’s do this together.” The words are out before Po can stop them.
Clarissa looks at him, confused. “Are you sure?”
Danny smiles and pushes off the wall, opening his eyes to look at him. “We don’t have to.”
Po shakes his head. “No, I want to.” Clarissa smiles, her eyes lighting up. “But the first time something crazy happens we stop. Okay.”
Danny reaches out and squeezes his shoulder again. “Of course.”
Clarissa shakes her head. “It’s magic. Define, “crazy.”
Po shrugs. “Someone gets hurt. If someone gets hurt, we stop.”
The smile drops from Clarissa’s face. “Yeah, okay.”
Po swallows several times, mouth dry. Immediately he wishes he could take back the decision. His eyes dart from Danny to Clarissa, both so excited. Some of his regret over the decision melts away, knowing that if they didn’t do this together Clarissa would probably do this by herself. The tightness in his chest doesn’t lessen with the consolation though.
Po tries to take a deep breath, but only pulls in half as much air as he wants. Coughs rattle his chest. Danny and Clarissa look at him with concern. He waves his hand in front of him. “I’m fine.” He takes a slow breath to calm himself. “How do we do this?”
Danny looks to both of them, grinning. “Wait here.” He runs upstairs.
Clarissa stands at the bottom of the stairs, tapping frantically on the railing. Po’s hand cramps again. When he looks down, he sees he still has his phone in a death grip. He shoves the phone in his pocket, fingers aching when he lets go. He concentrates on breathing. Danny pads down the stairs too soon for him.
“Okay.” Danny flips through the pages. “I was looking over this part of the book last night.” He turns the book around to show them. Po doesn’t move from the door, afraid to get close to the journal now that he knows it’s real. He can make the symbols though, still confusing as ever.
Clarissa reaches out and touches the page. “Which part is this?” She looks at Danny questioningly. “This isn’t a part we normally focus on.”
Danny nods. “It isn’t.” He turns the book around to look at it. His eyes gloss over, go distant.
After a moment, Clarissa reaches out and pokes him. “Danny?”
“What?” Danny starts, looks from the book to Clarissa. “Sorry.” He shakes his head, walks into the living room. Clarissa follows him, looking back at Po, motioning him to do the same. Po sighs, pushes off the door, and follows his friends back into the living room. “This isn’t normally a section we look at, no.” Danny continues. “But after what Christine and Riley said yesterday I started re-thinking what we knew about the book and the symbols.”
“Wait, Christine was right about the symbols?” The joy in Clarissa’s voice is unmistakable. “Wait, Riley was right about something?” As is the disbelief.
Danny holds up his hand. “I’m not going to tell him.”
The gesture, the comment, is so “Danny” it brings a smile to Po’s face.
“So, as it turns out the book might be written in code.” Danny closes the book, keeping his finger in it to hold his place.
“You mean other than being in symbols?” Po can’t help speaking up. Since he got Danny’s text the world has felt on fast forward. He keeps looking for a way to slow it down.
“Yeah, besides that.” Danny doesn’t seem to have caught the sarcasm. “It’s like Christine said: symbols are symbols because they’re universal. So, I looked back at my notes and applied her theory that the writer of the journal layered in meaning.”
It’s hard for Po to pay attention to what Danny says. Half his brain keeps yelling at him that magic isn’t real. Another part of his brain keeps waiting for Danny and Clarissa to break out laughing, the whole thing a gag somehow. A tiny part of his brain believes Danny, it hasn’t made up its mind on whether magic being real is good or not.
“…That’s when I translated the sentence: Follow the light.” Danny smiles at them. “I didn’t know what that meant at first, and then I remembered what Riley said about the blank pages and the reflective pages being a code.” A look of distaste comes over Danny’s face.
Po wants to yell at him. To say: ‘If you don’t want your business known by people, you shouldn’t talk about it in front of them.’ He doesn’t speak up, realizing it’s just a way to derail the conversation, put it on a track that’s more comfortable for him.
“…book is written in sections. The sections following the flashes are real.” He opens the book up and shows them the pages again.
Clarissa’s face scrunches up. “That’s like a third of the way through the book.”
Danny nods. “Yeah. It’s behind a section that starts with a blank page.” Danny closes the book and sets it on the coffee table. “I think the sections after the blank pages are fake, intentional gibberish.” He shrugs at them. “I’m not sure. I have to double check.”
Clarissa nods in agreement.
Po’s brain won’t stop screaming at him. “This doesn’t make sense. Yesterday, you were you, and today you can do magic? Just like that? Overnight?”
Danny smiles at him. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Explain it to me.” He glances at Clarissa. “Explain it to us.”
Danny holds up his hands defensively. “Okay. It was late by the time I figured everything out, but I didn’t want to stop.” He shoots Po a look that says, you know how I am. Po nods. “I was translating a section, it’s about connecting with primordial power, I was half asleep. At some point, I must have fallen asleep, but the symbols didn’t go away. I dreamed about them. When I woke up, things were different. I was different.” He holds his hands up in front of his face, moves his fingers around. “I can understand the symbols, and other things. The book mentions connecting with power on a subconscious level. So, I hypnotized myself, put in key phrases to help me access the power.” He smiles at them, shrugs again. “It’s not so much that I know magic, but I have access to a pool of power. I can manipulate it to do things. Not much at the moment, but I’m sure with practice-”
“And this is what you want to share with us?” Po still can’t believe what he’s hearing. “You want to hypnotize us?” Po remembers when Danny became obsessed with hypnotism, a couple years after finding the journal. Danny jumped on anything “mystic” back then. It never seemed to work when they tried it.
“I kept the books. I’ve been practicing. Why do you think my grades are so good?”
“Hypnotism?” Clarissa laughs.
“Not hypnotism per se, but the study of mental-ism has helped me improve my memory.”
Clarissa’s face scrunches up again. “You’re cheating?”
Danny shake his head at her. “It’s not cheating. I’ve maximized the potential of my mi-”
“Shut. Up.” They look at Po with open mouths. “You want to hypnotize us.”
After a moment, when he doesn’t continue, Danny nods. “I want to put you into a trance state, through which I can guide you to the power I’ve accessed.”
“You sound like a cult leader.” Po rubs at his chest, the tightness still hasn’t gone anywhere.
Danny wiggles his fingers at him. “Join me. Join me.” He laughs. “It’s not like that, bro.”
“It’s never worked before.” Protests keep popping up in Po’s mind.
“We were young. I didn’t have magic before.” Danny’s smile deepens. Po’s getting tired of seeing his friend’s face like that.
“I’m up for it.” Clarissa steps in front of Danny. “Hypnotize me.”
Po’s gut twists, an acid taste fills the back of his mouth. “Do me first.” Po steps around the couch and sits down.
Clarissa glares over her shoulder at him. “Why can’t I go first?” She narrows her eyes at him.
Po looks at her, doesn’t want to say, but she doesn’t look away. “In case something goes wrong.”
Her eyes go wide. Po’s guessing it hadn’t occurred to her that something could go wrong.
“Nothing’s going to go wrong.” Danny reassures them.
“Then it won’t be long, will it.” Po settles into the corner of the couch, tries to get as comfortable as he can.
“You don’t have to this.” Clarissa is back to glaring at him. “I told you, I can take care of myself.”
“Yeah.” Po meets her eyes. “And sometimes that means letting others take care of you.”
Again, surprise rushes over her features. Her face flushes, Po will deal with her anger later. She turns away from both him and Danny. “Fine. You win this time.” She walks out of the living room.
Danny looks after her and then at Po. “Chicks, right?”
Po wonders just what it is she thinks he’s won. “Yeah, right.”
“Okay. Are you comfortable?” Danny’s voice is suddenly serious. Po nods. “Good. Do you remember how this goes?”
Po nods again, closing his eyes, and breathing deep and slow. He concentrates on his body, relaxing every part of it. Everything relaxes quickly, until he gets to his stomach. It’s been doing flips and heaves for a while now, and it takes more than a few seconds to calm it. He’s surprised by the amount of tension there is in his shoulders. Relaxing his back, he falls deeper into the couch.
“You look relaxed.” Danny’s voice comes at Po soft and steady. “You’re in the first trance state.” Po thinks he hears Danny move, but he’s not sure. His first instinct is to open his eyes and look, but he curbs it. If he doesn’t trust Danny this isn’t going to work. “I want you to focus on the sound of my voice. Let everything else drop away.” The world goes quiet for Po. “I’m going to reach out and touch you. Don’t open your eyes.” Po feels Danny’s hand take his, he doesn’t move it off his lap though. “You’re doing fine.” Danny applies a steady pressure on Po’s hand. “I want you to sink lower with me. I want you to imagine your limbs are made of stone. Your arms. Your legs. They’re so heavy you can’t move them.” Po imagines his limbs are stone, cool, gray, and heavy; just like that he can’t move his body. “Good, you’re in a deeper trance state. But we’re going to go deeper. I’m going to take you deeper.” There’s that steady pressure on his hand again. “You’re going to feel warmth spread from my hand into yours. You’re not going to worry about this. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m just helping you get into a deeper trance. I’m helping you connect with what I connected with.” Danny’s hand heats up, almost uncomfortably so. Po tries to move his hand away, but his arms are still made of stone, so they don’t move. The heat lessens, entering Po’s hand and shooting halfway up his arm. He feels his muscle twitch involuntarily. From there the heat seeps upward, to and then past Po’s shoulder. It passes into his chest, and his middle begins to fill up. “I want you to take as much of the warmth as you can.” Po takes a deep breath, imagining he’s sucking the warmth into his body. It plummets into his stomach, pools there for a moment, then rushes into his legs. Four more deep breaths and his entire body is warm. Sweat breaks out on his skin, everywhere at once. “That’s good.” Danny’s voice sounds strained. “I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, I want you to open your eyes. I want you to observe the world. I will continue to talk to you, to guide you, but I want what you see to take priority.” In the state Po’s in, all he can do is accept everything Danny’s saying. “Nod your head if you understand.” Po nods his head. “Good. One, two, three, open your eyes.”
Po languidly opens his eyes. Danny sits on the coffee table in front of him, still holding his hand.