Authors: Diane Duane
Tags: #Animals, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Action & Adventure, #Wizards, #Nature, #Marine Life, #Sea Stories, #Whales
Book 2 of the Young Wizards series
Summer Night’s Song
Nita slipped out the back door of the beach house, careful not to let the rickety screen door slam, and for a second stood silently on the back porch in the darkness. It was no use. “Nita”—her mother’s voice came floating out from the living room—“where’re you going?”
“Out,” Nita said, hoping to get away with it just this once.
She might as well have tried to rob a bank. “Out where?”
“Down to the beach, Mom.”
There was a sigh’s worth of pause from the living room, broken by the sound of a crowd on TV shouting about a base that had just been stolen somewhere in the country. “I don’t like you walking down there alone at night, Neets...”
“Nhhnnnnn,” Nita said, a loud noncommittal noise she had learned to make while her mother was deciding whether to let her do something. “I’ll take Ponch with me,” she said in a burst of inspiration.
“Mmmmmm ...” her mother said, considering it. Ponch was a large black and white dog, part Border collie, part German shepherd, part mutt— an intrepid hunter of water rats and gulls, and ferociously loyal to his master and to Nita because she was his master’s best friend. “Where’s Kit?”
“I dunno.” It was at least partly the truth. “He went for a walk a while ago.”
“Well ... okay. You take Ponch and look for Kit, and bring him back with you. Don’t want his folks thinking we’re not taking care of him.”
“Right, Ma,” Nita said, and went pounding down the creaky steps from the house to the yard before her mother could change her mind, or her rather, immersed in the ball game, could come back to consciousness.
“Ponch! Hey Poncho!” Nita shouted, pounding through the sandy front , through the gate in the ancient picket fence, and out across the narrow paved road to the dune on the other side of the road. Joyous barking began on the far side of the dune as Nita ran up it. He’s hunting again, Nita thought, and would have laughed for delight if running had left her any breath. This is the best vacation we ever had...
At the top of the dune she paused, looking down toward the long dark expanse of the beach. “It’s been a good year,” her father had said a couple of months before, over dinner. “We can’t go far for vacation—but let’s go somewhere nice. One of the beaches in the Hamptons, maybe. We’ll rent a house and live beyond our means. For a couple weeks, anyway ...”
It hadn’t taken Nita much begging to get her folks to let her friend Kit Rodriguez go along with them, or to get Kit’s folks to say yes. Both families were delighted that their children had each finally found a close friend. Nita, and Kit laughed about that sometimes. Their families knew only the surface of what was going on—which was probably for the best.
A black shape came scrabbling up the dune toward Nita, flinging sand in all directions in his hurry. “Whoa!” she shouted at Ponch, but it was no use; it never was. He hit her about stomach level with both paws and knocked her down, panting with excitement; then, when she managed to sit up, he started enthusiastically washing her face. His breath smelled like dead fish.
“Euuuuw, enough!” Nita said, making a face and pushing the dog more or less off her. “Ponch, where’s Kit?”
“Yayayayayayayaya!” Ponch barked, jumping up and bouncing around Nita I in an attempt to get her to play. He grabbed up a long string of dead seaweed in his jaws and began shaking it like a rope and growling.
“Cut it out, Ponch. Get serious.” Nita got up and headed down the far side of the dune, brushing herself off as she went. “Where’s the boss?”
“He played with me,” Ponch said in another string of barks as he loped down the dune alongside her. “He threw the stick. I chased it.”
“Great. Where is he now?”
They came to the bottom of the dune together. The sand was harder there, but still dry; the tide was low and just beginning to turn. “Don’t know,” Ponch said, a bark with a grumble on the end of it.
“Hey, you’re a good boy, I’m not mad at you,” Nita said. She stopped to scratch the dog behind the ears, in the good place. He stood still with his tongue hanging out and looked up at her, his eyes shining oddly in the of the nearly full Moon that was climbing the sky. “I just don’t feel playing right now. I want to swim. Would you find Kit?”
The big brown eyes gazed soulfully up at her, and Ponch made a small beseeching whine. “A dog biscuit?”
Nita grinned. “Blackmailer. Okay, you find the boss, I’ll give you a biscuit-Two biscuits. Go get ‘im!”
Ponch bounded off westward down the beach, kicking up wet sand. Nita headed for the water line, where she shrugged off the windbreaker that had been covering her bathing suit and dropped it on the sand. Two months ago, talking to a dog and getting an answer back would have been something that happened only in Disney movies. But then one day in the library, Nita had stumbled onto a book called
So You Want to Be a Wizard.
She’d followed the instructions in the book, as Kit had in the copy he’d found in a used-book store—and afterward, dogs talked back. Or, more accurately, she knew what language they spoke and how to hear it. There was nothing that didn’t talk back, she’d found—only things she didn’t yet know how to hear or how to talk to properly.
Like parents, Nita thought with mild amusement. If her mother knew Nita was going swimming, she’d probably pitch a fit: she’d had a terrible thing about night swimming after seeing Jaws. But it’s okay, Nita thought. There aren’t any sharks here ... and if there were, I think I could talk them out of eating me.
She made sure her clothes were above the high-water line, then waded down into the breakers. The water was surprisingly warm around her knees. The waxing Moon, slightly golden from smog, made a silvery pathway on the water, everywhere else shedding a dull radiance that made both land and sea look alive.
What a great night, Nita thought. She went out another twenty paces or so, then crouched over and dived into an incoming wave. Waterborne sand scoured her, the water thundered in her ears; then she broke surface and lay in the roil and dazzle of the moonlit water, floating. There were no streetlights there, and the stars she loved were bright. After a while she stood up in the shoulder-high water, watching the sky. Back up on the beach, Ponch was barking, excited and noisy. He can’t have found Kit that fast, Nita thought. Probably something distracted him. A crab, maybe. A dead fish. A shark…
Something pushed her in the back, hard. Nita gasped and whipped around in the water, thinking, This is it, there are too sharks here and I’m dead! The sight of the slick-skinned shape in the water stopped her breath—until she realized what she was looking at. A slender body, ten feet long; a blowhole and an amused eye that looked at her sidelong; and a long, beaked face that wore a permanent smile. She reached out a hesitant hand, and under her touch the dolphin turned lazily, rolling sideways, brushing her with skin like warm, moonlit satin.
She was immensely relieved. “Dai’stiho,” she said, greeting the swimmer in the Tongue that wizards use, the language that she’d learned from her manual and that all creatures understand. She expected no more answer than buzz or squeak as the dolphin returned the greeting and went about its business.
But the dolphin rolled back toward her and looked at her in what seemed to be shock. “A wizard!” it said in an urgent whistle. Nita had no time to answer; the dolphin dived and its tail slapped the surface, spraying her. By the time Nita rubbed the salt sting out of her eyes, there was nothing near her but the usual roaring breakers. Ponch was bouncing frantically on the beach, barking something about sea monsters to the small form walking beside him.
Nita waded out of the breakers. At the water line Kit met her and handed Nita her windbreaker. He was smaller than she was, a year younger, dark-haired and brown-eyed and sharp of face and mind; definitely sharper, Nita thought with approval, than the usual twelve-year-old. “He was hollering about whales,” Kit said, nodding at Ponch.
“Dolphins,” Nita said. “At least, a dolphin. I said hi to it and it said ‘A wizard!’ and ran away.”
“Great.” Kit looked southward, across the ocean. “Something’s going on out there, Neets. I was up on the jetty. The rocks are upset.”
Nita shook her head. Her specialty as a wizard was living things; animals and plants talked to her and did the things she asked, at least if she asked properly. It still startled her sometimes when Kit got the same kind of result from “unalive” things like cars and doors and telephone poles, but that was where his talent lay. “What can a rock get upset about?” she said.
“I’m not sure. They wouldn’t say. The stones piled up there remembered something. And they didn’t want to think about it any more. They were shook.” Kit looked up sharply at Nita. “That was it. The earth shook once...”
“Oh, come off it. This isn’t California. Long Island doesn’t have earthquakes.”
“Once it did. The rocks remember... I wonder what that dolphin wanted?”
Nita was wondering too. She zipped up her windbreaker. “C’mon, we have to get back before Mom busts a gut.”
“But the dolphin—“
Nita started down the beach, then turned and kept walking backward when she noticed that Kit wasn’t following her. “The ball game was almost over,” she said, raising her voice as she got farther from Kit and Ponch. “They’ll go to bed early. They always do. And when they’re asleep—“
Kit nodded and muttered something, Nita couldn’t quite hear what. He vanished in a small clap of inrushing air and then reappeared next to Nita, walking with her; Ponch barked in annoyance and ran to catch up.
“He really hates that ‘beam-me-up-Scotty’ spell,” Nita said.
”Yeah, when it bends space, it makes him itch. Look, I was practicing that other one—“
“With the water?” She grinned at him. “In the dark, I hope.”
“Yeah. I’ll show you later. And then—“
“Uh-huh. C’mon, I’ll race you.”
They ran up the dune, followed by a black shape barking loudly about dog biscuits.
The Moon got high. Nita sat by the window of her ground-floor room, listening through the stillness for the sound of voices upstairs. There hadn’t been any for a while.
She sighed and looked down at the book she held in her lap. It looked like a library book—bound in one of those slick-shiny buckram library bindings, with a Dewey decimal number written at the bottom of the spine in that indelible white ink librarians use, and at the top of the spine, the words SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD. But on opening the book, what one saw were the words Instruction and Implementation Manual, General and Limited Special-Purpose Wizardries, Sorceries, and Spells: 933
Edition. Or that was what you saw if you were a wizard, for the printing was done in the graceful, Arabic-looking written form of the Speech.
Nita turned a few pages of the manual, glancing at them in idle interest. The instructions she’d found in the book had coached her through her first few spells—both the kinds for which only words were needed and those that required raw materials of some sort. The spells had in turn led her into the company of other wizards—beginners like Kit and more experienced ones, typical of the wizards, young and old, working quietly all over the world. And then the spells had taken her right out of the world she’d known, into one or the ones “next door,” and into a conflict that had been going on since time s beginning, in all the worlds there were.
In that other world, in a place like New York City but also terribly different, she had passed through the initial ordeal that every candidate for wizardry undergoes. Kit had been with her. Together they had pulled each other and themselves through the danger and the terror, to the successful completion of a quest into which they had stumbled. They saved their own world without attracting much notice; they lost a couple of dear friends they’d met long the way; and they came into their full power as wizards. It was a privilege that had its price. Nita still wasn’t sure why she’d been chosen as one of those who fight for the Worlds against the Great Death of entropy. She was just glad she’d been picked.
She flipped pages to the regional directory, where wizards were listed by name and address. Nita never got tired of seeing her own name listed there, for other wizards to call if they needed her. She overshot her own page in the Nassau County section, wanting to check the names of two friends, Senior Wizards for the area—Tom Swale and Carl Romeo. They had recently been promoted to Senior from the Advisory Wizard level, and as she’d suspected, their listing now read “On sabbatical: emergencies only.” Nita grinned at the memory of the party they’d thrown to celebrate their promotion. The guests had been a select group. More of them had appeared out of nowhere than arrived through the front door. Several had spent the afternoon floating in midair; another had spent it in the fishpond, submerged. Human beings had been only slightly in the majority at the party, and Nita became very careful at the snack table after her first encounter with the dip made from Pennsylvania crude oil and fresh-ground iron filings. She paged back through the listing and looked at her own name.