The power of friendship. The power of love. And the just-waking power of a Mathematician so potent that it can end forever the vile and violent existence of a tyrannical unbeing.
The Prayer of Ammalinaeus
The four bullies grinned evilly down at Yaeko.
“Well, look who it is!” said the leader, a redheaded boy with a severe crew cut and wearing extremely baggy navy blue chinos that hung well down his hips, exposing a wide band of plaid boxer shorts. “It’s Cripple!”
The other boys stood motionless, leering.
She hesitated, then went to move around them. The leader stuck out his foot, jamming it against the front wheel, stopping her progress.
“Where are you going?” he sneered. “You’ll leave when we tell you.”
Something deep, deep inside her sang danger in a way that she had never felt before. The realization cast her mind into darkness, prepared her for instant action. She backed up, glaring harshly at the gangbangers before her. Almost certainly they were looking for Melody—and without knowing it, Melody would be walking straight into them in just a matter of moments.
“We don’t want nothin’ with you, Cripple,” muttered the leader. “We’re looking for your friend, Spaz. Spaz Pinkie Panties. She’s the one we want. We have some … unfinished business with her. We know she’s here. We want to ... talk to her.”
The other boys snickered.
The leader grinned, but only for a moment. “So … where is she? She hidin’ from her just desserts?”
Melody will be here any second, Yaeko thought, adrenaline burning through her veins. And then she’ll be in great danger. They must be here to settle the score with what happened to that fat jerk yesterday….
The janitor, Senor Alvarado, was gone, was in the math hallway, many hallways distant. He wouldn’t hear her scream. And since this was Wednesday, the late-start day of the week, she knew he was probably the only janitor in the entire building. And teachers were probably another hour from arriving.
She had to act—now.
Without warning, she burst forward, running over the toes of the same boy she had the last time they met, crashing an instant later into the knee of the leader. Both bullies staggered backwards. The other two boys jumped out of the way. She burst forward again, but the leader, who was rubbing his knee, glared at her and swore. He righted himself and kicked her front wheel to a jarring halt.
Without a word, he backhanded her. The pain arced across her head in a stinging burst of stars. Next moment she felt blood running freely from her nose and mouth.
She jerked her chin up defiantly, her eyes watering and filled with silent fury.
The leader laughed.
“Tora! Tora! Tora!” he yelled. “Yo, look at the slant! Thinks she’s all that!”
She glanced abruptly between the bullies and into the blackness beyond. She screamed to no one, “Melody! Run!”
In unison the gang turned to look—
The kid with the tracks of Yaeko’s wheelchair over his sneaker was closest. Her left hand flashed out, rapier-quick. She grabbed his groin tightly and yanked down with all her might. She launched herself forward in the next instant, flying out of her chair and into the chest of the redheaded leader, crawling up him like a furious black widow, clawing viciously for his face, his cheeks, his eyes—
The gang leader fell on his back, Yaeko on top of him. She brutally scratched one of his eyes—it was bleeding, she could feel the warm, slick liquid on her fingertips—and now she punched him without thought, as fast and as hard as she could. He screamed, “GET OFF! GET OFF!” The other boy was on his hands and knees and vomiting; he gulped for air, hunched over a putrid tan puddle, his head hanging limply between his arms.
But the two other gang members rushed to their leader’s aid, and with some effort they stripped Yaeko—who was still punching wildly, mindlessly—from the boy’s chest. They threw her to the ground. Someone kicked her in the stomach—another kicked her forehead … She curled around herself instinctively, her arms clutching for the dead weight of her legs, trying to bury her face in her thighs. She sucked air, unable to get any past the back of her teeth. The leader lurched to his knees, then to his feet, where he joined his friends, brutally kicking and stomping her. One bully knelt, started punching her as hard as he could, aiming for her head, her neck, her ears. Wheezing for air, the pain of each blow like being struck with a large stone, she felt herself slipping fitfully into unconsciousness, her thoughts focused only on her best friend and the unspeakable horrors that awaited her.
“You—filthy—slant!” the leader yelled between vicious kicks and stomps.
One of the boys tired of kicking Yaeko and went to do wheelies in her wheelchair.
Another left the pummeling with a yawn, spied the violin case in the wheelchair’s back pouch, snatched it, and removed the beautiful Stradivarius from its home. He slashed the bow across it, yelling, “Hey, listen!” The sounds being rent from it were plaintive and desperate, an angel crying for help….
Yaeko sobbed under the continuing blows. The Stradivarius was dying ...
The leader quit kicking her. “Lemme see it!”
She was barely conscious. She couldn’t see from one eye; the other was swelling shut too; her nose and right cheek felt broken; her skull throbbed; her ribs and abdomen flashed agony with each sucking, gurgling half-breath. One boy kicked her still, his foot slamming into her hands, which now covered her face, or aiming for her exposed abdomen…. She was cut and bleeding in at least half a dozen places…. A small pool of warm blood had formed under her head, matting her hair to her ear, to her neck…. She lay in a twisted heap, but could still barely see out of one eye. She just managed to peek between her fingers—
—and watched as the leader took her bow and snapped it in half over his knee, tossing the two pieces contemptuously over his shoulder. He then yanked Izumi’s last gift to her, the beautiful Stradivarius, out of the grasp of the blond boy with the nose stud—the strings made one final gasp of life, a sickly twanging that hurt Yaeko much worse than the inhuman punishment she was still receiving—and smashed it into the brick wall behind him, once, twice, three times. She spasmed with each smash, as though she and the violin were one, as though its destruction meant hers as well.
The violin exploded into splinters with the third crash. She yelped, sobbing. The leader continued bashing the fingerboard into the wall, seemingly caught in some sort of uncontrollable rage-inspired seizure, until only a small chunk of the wood remained, the strings hanging from it like wiry sinews pulled violently free of the rest of the body. With a yell of victory, he tossed the mutilated piece on the floor and then spat on it, his left eye closed, swollen grotesquely from her attack. The long scratches on his face bled freely, his good eye wild. He looked like a murdering psychotic. The other boys were taking turns on her wheelchair, crashing it into the wall, turning it over, doing wheelies, laughing.
Someone was spitting on her.
The leader. He leered down at her.
“Hey! You guys remember that Monica Wilson chick last year? The beach? Last summer?”
A murmur of recognition echoed in the hallway. One boy laughed: “Yeah, she dropped out! Guess we had too much fun with her!”
“How ‘bout we give the cripple here a little of that fun, eh?” The leader stared down at her maliciously. “How ‘bout it, Cripple? Then maybe you’ll think twice about punching your betters.”
He reached for his belt buckle.
The other boys laughed and stared, their eyes gleaming sinisterly, hungrily….
The boy wearing an oversized yellow basketball jersey and a baseball cap worn sideways glanced up from the wheelchair. “Hey, there she is! It’s Spaz Pinkie Panties! Now we can have some real fun!”
The leader, looming over Yaeko, looked up too, grinning monstrously. “It’s two-fer-one time, boys!”
Yaeko, with what remained of her failing strength, screamed at the carpeted floor, spitting blood, “Melody, r-run! RUN!” She brought her head up—it felt as though her neck were broken, the pain halting her motion before she could complete it—and opened her one good eye. Melody was walking towards her from out of the gloom … but calmly, purposefully, patiently even, as if taking a serene stroll about the block. She was very clearly not frightened in the least. Her eyes—
A huge surge of agony coursed through Yaeko’s hips, the exact same pain she had felt at the end of the Pier the first time she visited it. She curled involuntarily into herself, her half-full lungs emptying with a spastic cough; she drew herself to her limp knees, fighting desperately to stay conscious….
Melody’s dark eyes had transformed. They appeared as deep blue glowing rings surrounding her irises, making them look like black coals dredged straight out of hell. That blue was surreal, otherworldly—and yet somehow very familiar—and just to look at it gave Yaeko such anguish that she was forced to shut her own, her hands over them, as if trying to protect herself from a blinding atomic explosion.
The leader muttered, “What the—?”
Melody strode within the wreckage of the shattered Stradivarius and patiently raised her right hand, palm up.
The leader, as if by magic, floated off the ground.
“What the hell?” he yelled. “Whoa! HEY—!”
He looked down at his legs, past his unbuttoned, baggy pants, his scratched and bleeding face wide with surprise, his one good eye huge. He hung still several moments before floating even higher, until his head was just inches from the ceiling. He gasped, unable to believe what was happening to him. His accomplices were frozen in place, staring, open-mouthed.
Melody’s eyes flashed a violet hue tinged blinding white, just like lightning. She flipped the palm of her hand over in an abrupt and decisive gesture, and pointed stiffly with her forefinger. The leader flew backward as if an invisible hook from the trophy foyer had snatched him about the waist, his limbs and head snapping straight back from his curled abdomen. He emitted a whistling, fleeting, horribly desolate shriek of terror as he disappeared, smashing back first into the large glass cabinets a millisecond later. The ensuing explosion sounded like a stick of dynamite thrown into a china shop, showering the bullies and Yaeko with shards of flying glass and splintered wood. The sounds of crashing metal and tinkling glass faded quickly into a deadly serenity more fearsome than a battlefield full of screaming wounded. The leader was nowhere to be seen. The black silence of death, final and infinitely calm, issued coldly from the trophy room.
The three remaining boys spun around to gawk at the glowing-eyed girl calming surveying them.
Yaeko had opened her eyes to a bloody squint. She whimpered, “M-M-Melody?”
Melody took three more steps into the center of the mayhem, her arm back at her side. She was still as an executioner, her presence like a black hole, sucking all life, all light into it. The glowing blue rings surrounding the irises of her eyes evenly and unblinkingly surveyed the smashed violin lying in bits all around her; those alien eyes studied Yaeko for several seconds, almost indifferently. She turned to face the three remaining thugs, who gaped at her as if she were Frankenstein’s monster. She suddenly raised her arms like a hawk about to pounce on her prey—
—Her eyes! —
—Agony surged through Yaeko’s hips again … She hid under her arms, screamed, “MELODY!—”
The boy in the wheelchair flew out of it. He yelled, “Hey!” and grabbed one of the chair’s armrests on his way up, half-lifting the chair before releasing it—it came crashing to its side, the top wheel spinning slowly—the other two boys were flying too, lifted magically amid startled protests, drifting overhead in a lazy circle—
Melody dropped to one knee, slapped her palm hard to the carpeted floor with a muffled pop—
—the boy that had been wheeling about in Yaeko’s wheelchair came crashing to the floor head first, his sudden velocity as through he had fallen out of an airplane miles above the ground. He bounced grotesquely, landing limply; he twitched twice, his body smashed into jelly, no bones. The other boys yelled and screamed, sickened by the sight, frightened out of their minds.
Yaeko came to her elbow with great difficulty, crying in pain, wiping away the blood that kept streaming into her blackened eyes, the good one of which had almost swollen closed too.
Her best friend stood in the center of two flying bullies and the destroyed Stradivarius, her arms raised to shoulder level, held out at her sides, elbows slightly bent. And then Yaeko saw that it wasn’t indifference that glowed blue in Melody’s eyes, but a rage beyond rage, a fury expressed with the absolute certainty that nothing could stand in its way—and that which did deserved what was coming to it. Melody stood, no longer a slight, pretty, middle-school girl, but a force of nature, the eye of a monster hurricane. She turned in place as if she massed tons, a mighty tempest about to make landfall….
Yaeko’s remaining assailants flipped over themselves, completely helpless, yelling and cursing. Melody focused on one of them, bringing her arms slowly, patiently in front of her. The boy she was zeroing in on was the one whose groin Yaeko had grabbed earlier. Melody’s arms came up higher—her eyes flashed—Yaeko screamed—
Brilliant silver lightning erupted from Melody’s outstretched fingertips, crackling into the skull of the bully. He shrieked—only for a split second—catapulting into a bank of lockers like burning tissue paper thrown from a tornado, the silver lightning feeding into him. He struck with such force that the lockers crumpled inward like aluminum foil, forcing several on the periphery of the impact to explode open. Papers and notebooks blew out, some on fire, arcing over Yaeko in a shower of yellow sparks, black ash, and fluttering, floating white. Melody stood in the center of the maelstrom, untouched, sending deafening silver electricity into the smashed lockers, into the bully, who was somewhere in there, unseen. Finally she quit. The air was flush with the sweet, pungent odor of ozone, as though it had just rained.
Melody slowly turned to face Yaeko’s last assailant.
The bully pleaded with her:
“P-P-Please stop. Please. We didn’t mean nothin’ … we were just teasin’, havin’ some fun … Please … Please stop! I’m gonna be sick. I don’t want to die—”
Melody’s eyes flashed—her arms came up—the boy wailed, “NOOOOOOO!—”
A large, heavy, gentle hand fell on her shoulder, followed by a deep voice with an Irish accent. The voice said:
“That’s quite enough, Melody.”
Melody whipped her head around—the flying boy fell hard on his back; he scrambled to his feet to run, but then simply froze in place, as if suddenly encased in ice—
Her eyes flashed upon Mr. Conor’s bearded face, giving it a momentary ghostly violet glow. Her teacher said, “Whoa—” He brought his hand up between them, as if to shield himself. “Whoa now … calm down … it’s over now … Close your eyes, Melody…. Go on … go on, do it …”
He slowly lowered his hand. Melody closed her eyes, though with obvious enraged reluctance; the violent blue rings surrounding her irises were clearly visible through the thin membranes of her eyelids, rings now cast blood-red by her own flesh, giving her an even more terrifying appearance.
He said, “I’m your friend—remember me? Mr. Conor? Breathe slowly, my dear … that’s it … that’s it, there you go….”
He took a moment to glance around at the devastation, his visage grim.
“A Mathematician has been here,” he said ominously. “A very powerful, very dangerous Mathematician.” He gave a mirthless chuckle. “Guess it makes no sense to ask how the proof’s coming along.... No—I told you to keep your eyes closed—”
The voice that came out of Melody frightened Yaeko into whimpering, for it contained such demonic rage that it sounded utterly alien. “I cannot close them. I will not!”
Melody’s eyes blinked open, blue and brilliant. Twin parallel streaks of yellow fire suddenly appeared on the hallway floor, racing directly towards the last boy, who stood, frozen and terrified; streaks of fire which disappeared just as suddenly, leaving behind smoking black trails—
“Close your eyes!” Mr. Conor ordered. “Do you understand me? Breathe in, breathe out … do as I told you. Do it! Breathe, Melody … keep your eyes closed. Let the aecxis go. Accept, Melody. Do not open your eyes until you have done so, am I clear? Do not move. Understand? Nod if you understand. Go on, Melody … nod.”
Her cheeks peeled away from her front teeth, exposing them, her grimace pulled to the limits of her face’s musculature. She was breathing very heavily, as if she had just run a grueling race. After a long time she jerked her head up and down.
“Good. Stay here. I must help your friend—and these poor little bastards stupid enough to muck with a bloody Mathematician.”
He hurried over to Yaeko. “Hello …” he spoke gently to the crumpled heap lying tightly curled and silent at his feet. He dropped to his knees, picked away the glass shards, wood splinters, and pieces of partially burned paper that had rained down upon her. He cautiously reached for her head. Yaeko flinched away. “I’m here to help,” he offered quietly, “I’m here to help.”
He gently touched her face, just above the bridge of her broken nose. Blood had matted her pretty black hair flat to her neck, had clotted in scarlet streaks across her pummeled, discolored, and swollen cheeks. “You must be Yaeko,” he said, smiling. “Look into my eyes, Yaeko. Can you do that? There you go … that’s it … Keep looking…. Starting to feel better? Yes? That’s good, Yaeko, that’s good ...”
After another minute he carefully picked her up and carried her to the nearest wall, gently propping her up against an undamaged locker not far from where a bank of them had crumpled inward and were now emitting a gray, foul smoke. The odor was like burning trash mixed with the stench of smoldering hair and flesh. Nearby was a putrid circle of puke, which added to the nauseating stench. Yaeko’s nose crinkled in disgust. She started crying.
Mr. Conor turned away, muttering “… must work quickly; why the bloody hell the fire alarm hasn’t gone off is beyond me ...” He stood back and crooked his index finger slowly. Something large moved next to her, from within the twisted locker wreckage. She flinched with fear. But when she tried to move away her ribs yelped in pain. It felt as though they all had been shattered.
She looked and whimpered, sickened, turned her face away—
The boy’s body emerged from the rubble, his entire top half blackened and smoking. The smell of burning flesh was suddenly omnipresent. The corpse floated limply, trailing burnt papers behind it, its arms and feet dragging across the carpeted floor. It settled at Mr. Conor’s feet.
“My goodness,” whispered Aedan Conor.
He knelt next to the unrecognizable, hairless head, charred and fissured with red, oozing cracks, a skull whose eyes had been burned out, whose nose and ears were missing, and gently touched it. After a moment he stood.
He turned without warning and yelled, “I told you to keep your eyes closed!” And now Yaeko could hear Melody crying too … Her sobs were desperately lonely, fading into the uncaring gloom of the hallway.... She wanted more than anything to go to her, to hold her....
Mr. Conor stepped into the trophy foyer next to the music room. She could only see his wide back for several moments. Then he backed up slowly.
Trailing him was the leader, whose corpse was unrecognizable, a grisly pulped mass of flesh and blood and bone covered in shards of glass and impaled by several trophies. The body floated towards Melody’s math teacher, and Yaeko, who cursed herself for being unable to tear her eyes away from the hideous sight, was unsurprised that Mr. Conor was just like Melody, a … Mathematician. That he possessed incredible, otherworldly powers like she did. Mr. Conor backed up until he was even with the first dead bully he had retrieved; he lowered the leader until both boys’ corpses were shoulder to shoulder. He bent to one knee and touched the bloodied mass.
Melody sniffled loudly.
—The first boy suddenly lurched back to life, sucking in a huge lungful of air, his back arching high off the floor. Somehow, miraculously, his eyes had returned, were open and staring, his skin still blackened and charred.
It was no ordinary scream. It was a hideous soul-chilling shriek torn out of a human being in hellish pain. He screamed and writhed like a victim receiving electric shocks in a hot box, but seemed otherwise physically constrained, his new eyes huge, his newly pink mouth wide open, his restored nostrils flared, his hands, also miraculously new, clutching spasmodically at the floor.
Yaeko went to plug her ears—and it was then she felt a tremendous rush of heat steal through her entire body, starting at her head and flooding down, like being immersed under a warm shower. The sensation was enormously pleasant and relaxing. Miraculously, her eyes were opening, the swelling in her face rapidly abating, the throbbing pain in her nose and front teeth dissolving away. After one more twinge of agony from her ribs, that soothing touch washed through them, causing her to sigh involuntarily. She watched, her blood-red mouth open, as open cuts and scrapes along her arms healed right before her eyes. The warmth surged to her injured elbows (she didn’t know they were until just then), and then into her hands, making her fingertips tingle. After another moment it migrated into her hips, where it stayed for a long time. Her toes suddenly itched furiously, then twitched. She inhaled sharply. The twitch was a full six inches each way. A sensation like electricity then ran down her thighs, making her skin crawl with gooseflesh. She realized at that moment, and quite incredulously, that she was completely healed.
Mr. Conor moved the third boy next to the others. All three howled now, the very cacophony of hell. Yaeko felt sure the entire school could hear it, that the janitor would come running at any moment. But there was no sign of movement in either direction of the darkened hallway.
Why were they yelling? Were their injuries so severe that to heal them would create enormous pain? Or—was Mr. Conor torturing them? The screams went on and on. Yaeko covered her ears and glanced at Melody.
Melody stood silently, visibly shuddering, as if she were trapped in a frigid Arctic breeze without any protection. Her hands were balled into tight fists and pressed deeply into her belly; her head was down, her eyes closed, the otherworldly blue rings no longer glowing red through her eyelids. Her mouth was clamped shut, her jaws rigid and quivering. She appeared to be holding her breath. Yaeko ached from the need to go to her, to hug her, to assure her that all would be okay, Mr. Conor was here now, it would all be okay.... Her overturned wheelchair was across the hallway and behind Melody’s teacher, who stood over the three recovering bullies, watching them. The fourth thug stood just to Mr. Conor’s right, frozen in the exact same position as before.
Yaeko shuddered. Mr. Conor, standing there in the gloom with his arms crossed, looked like the angel of death. His severe eyes peered unblinkingly downward, his cold demeanor almost like that of a brutal sorcerer enjoying the sight of his subjects in terrible, unendurable anguish.
After another minute the boy that Melody had bounced off the floor suddenly stopped writhing and wailing and came unsteadily to his feet. He glanced at Mr. Conor with a terrified expression, tried to bolt—
—and froze in place.
The leader tried the same thing, but when he got to his feet he slipped and fell in his own pool of shrapnel-choked blood. When he rose he appeared ghastly, a sight from a
horror film. Then he too froze in place. The last boy to recover was the one
who had been sent spinning into the lockers with Melody shooting silver
lightning at him. He stood, half naked, his skull completely hairless. His
flesh was sunburn-red, his new ears and nose almost scarlet, the chunks of
blackened flesh that once covered him having shed onto the floor, leaving a
disgusting flaky black ring. Then he too froze still.
“That’ll do,” said Mr. Conor with ice in his voice. He looked each of them over, slowly, as if inspecting sides of beef, and then went to Melody. After a few seconds he reached out to her, running his fingers through her long brown hair. He said quietly: “The war you wage is your own, Mathematician. Just accept who you are—and the battle will be won.” He studied her, an eyebrow raised, his chin cocked slightly to one side. “Accept, Melody,” he whispered. “Become who you are….”
He took a step back from her. He gazed slowly about the gloomy hallway, surveying the devastation surrounding him. Presently he shook his head, whistled tonelessly. “Unbelievable,” he said. “In all my life, I’ve never seen such capacity manifested so quickly. Even I—” He cut himself off.
He glanced down at his feet, as if just becoming aware of something very important. He stood in the middle of the scattered splinters that were once Yaeko’s beautiful Stradivarius. He studied them for a long time, his devilish eyebrows coming together very slowly….
He turned his head to stare at Yaeko, his green eyes inquisitive, probing. He whispered, “Your name is … Yaeko.”
From the bank of lockers, Yaeko nodded nervously.
Mr. Conor stooped and picked up a small splinter of the demolished Stradivarius. He stood and examined it for a long time, twisting it slowly between his thumb and forefinger. “I find myself unable to believe this, that you are still alive,” he finally said. “Watching you … listening to you … what you could do with this instrument … It takes me back to a place of awesome beauty, a place I—”
But he didn’t finish the thought. After a time he knelt and placed the splinter back on the floor, as though it were a sacred archeological find of some kind, and stood. He looked at her, his eyes filled with wonder. He said:
“That you still live ... is a genuine miracle. Melody’s new powers are another. I may be crazy—but let’s see if there is room for yet one more miracle today, shall we?”
The four bullies still stood frozen in the exact same positions as before. Not a peep came from them.
Mr. Conor peered down at Melody.
“Open your eyes.”
Melody’s eyes opened slowly, unsurely, in fluttering stages. Eyes that took in the destroyed violin and bow; eyes that peered into Yaeko’s own; eyes that looked upon her friend’s face to see the streaks of blood and matted hair …
Eyes that flashed blue-white again—
“Close your eyes,” Mr. Conor ordered. “Do it now.”
Yaeko whimpered in pain.
Melody grimaced, shut her eyes. The red glow had returned.
“My goodness, Melody,” he said, “what rage you have inside you! Do you see the aecxis?”
Melody trembled silently.
“Answer me.” Mr. Conor’s voice took a distinct edge of command to it, a force that jerked Yaeko to attention, a voice used to getting instant obedience.
Melody nodded almost spasmodically.
“Y-Yes,” she cried.
“ … and b-b-black. It’s f-flashing …”
“You are angry.”
“I already know why, but tell me anyway.”
An inhuman voice answered. “THEY HURT YAEKO! THEY WERE KICKING HER AND SPITTING ON HER AND CALLING HER ‘SLANT’ AND ‘CRIPPLE’ AND THEY DESTROYED HER VIOLIN—”
Mr. Conor was surprised by the speed with which Melody suddenly spun about, opened her eyes. The brilliant silver lightning that had spurted from her hands now crackled directly from her gaze for the bullies. With an inhumanly swift sweeping gesture with both of his arms, Mr. Conor dispersed it just as the bolts reached the closest of them. The lightning arced up and away from the gang, vanishing harmlessly into the ceiling. The white ceiling panels lifted as though from a strong gust of wind, thumped back into place.
“Shut your bloody eyes!”
Melody screwed her eyes closed, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.
—It’s okay, Melody … I’m okay. I’m okay, I promise … We are One, Melody. Remember? We are One…. I’m okay, serious …—
Aedan Conor turned, surprised, and glanced at Yaeko. He had heard her whisper … but it was as though she had just done so right into his ear, directly into his brain. For a moment he doubted he had heard it at all: she was too far away. His eyes widened in surprise when he heard another distinct whisper—a different voice, a voice tortured by grief, a voice not issuing from an open mouth:
—Your violin, Yaeko. Your violin …—
—It’s okay, Melody. I can get a new one. It’s okay, I promise. I—
Yaeko stopped when she noticed Mr. Conor smiling at her. He put a finger to his lips. Her eyes grew wide, as though she’d just been caught doing something mischievous. He brought his stare to Melody, who was no longer shuddering, whose blood-red rings had disappeared from behind her closed eyes.
He said softly, “Do you want to fix the Young Master’s violin ... Apprentice?”
Melody hesitated for a moment, taken aback. She nodded. “Y-Yes ...”
“You must search your soul. Is there anything in this world you want more?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mr. Conor, I’m s-sure,” she sniffled. “Please help me fix it. Please.”
He stepped around to face her. He put his large hands over her clenched fists, which Melody had brought up and held tightly over her eyes.
“Lower your hands,” he ordered.
She dropped her hands, which were swallowed completely in his.
“Now listen to me very closely. I want you, with all your being, with all your heart, with all your might, with everything in your soul, to visualize Yaeko playing her violin. Can you do that?”
After a few seconds, Melody nodded.
“Are you picturing her?”
She nodded again.
“Is she happy?”
“Go into her happiness.”
“I—I d-don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do. Listen to me. Listen very closely. Go into her happiness.”
There was a prolonged period of total silence. Teacher and student stood facing each other amidst the devastation; Yaeko noticed that Mr. Conor had closed his eyes too. Finally he said, “There you go, Melody…. There it is…. Glorious…. Isn’t she magnificent? … Look how happy she is, like the violin is part of her very spirit….”
After another period of silence, he said, “Unclench your fists.”
Yaeko saw that Melody was no longer shaking, and that that familiar, slight smile had formed once more on her pretty mouth. Melody whispered, “The aecxis—!”
“Yes. Incredible, isn’t it? It is a very special, very rare aecxis. It comes into existence only in the presence of true love, joined and completed by at least two very powerful Mathematicians toward a single holy purpose. It will not come unless that purpose is holy. It is known as the Prayer of Ammalinaeus.”
In Melody’s mind’s eye was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. It was an aecxis—a new one. Large and spherical and translucent, it looked just like the planet Saturn. Its rings were starlight-white and brilliant, full of millions of tiny question mark-like aecxes in a stately dance around the sphere. The sphere rotated slowly. There were spectral whirlpools like clouds over it, black in their centers, spinning speedily one second, barely moving the next, like currents and eddies in a clear mountain stream, and just as pleasant and calming to look at.
In the very center of the sphere stood (stood!) Yaeko. She was playing her violin upon a darkened stage before thousands, standing—yes, standing!—by herself, the silhouette of an orchestra just behind her, her eyes wide with joy, her face impassioned and fiercely alive. The violin she held indeed seemed a part of her very being….
Mr. Conor held on to one of Melody’s hands as he moved by her side, facing away from her, his eyes still closed. Seconds passed in expectant silence.
He spoke. “Now, I want you to visualize the shattered violin. But do so in love, Melody, not in anger. Understand?”
Melody nodded, the corner of one side of her mouth rising slightly …
And it was then that Melody heard a gentle voice deep within her being:
—We are One, Melody …—
Aedan Conor instructed, “Repeat after me, Melody Singleton:
“What we join together
in the light of Ammalinaeus
shall endure forever.”
in the light of Ammalinaeus
shall endure forever.”
Melody spoke in a monotone voice, as if reading from a text:
“What we join together
in the light of Ammalinaeus
shall endure forever.”
in the light of Ammalinaeus
shall endure forever.”
“Let the Prayer of Ammalinaeus go, Melody Singleton.”
As if choreographed, both Mr. Conor and Melody opened their eyes simultaneously, their arms rising like the wings of a parent bird with his child’s, together …
The hundreds of pieces of Yaeko’s shattered violin suddenly floated off the floor, startling her. They drifted to the center of the hallway, large pieces here, small bits there; they joined in mid-air, mending just like the pencil had in the music room only two days ago. The smaller pieces, and those covered in blood, and those burned by Melody‘s rage merged with the bigger ones, the still-recognizable ones ... The bow came back together, floating serenely, happily nearby. Yaeko’s eyes brightened with tears; her beloved best friend and Mr. Conor stood in the middle of floating debris that slowly became whole again, their arms raised, their eyes soft …
—Oh Melody! —
… and with her next breath Yaeko Mitsaki felt as though she could breathe forever, the breath of an entire planet, the sigh of a happy sea breeze floating lazily along an infinite pier: a breeze that carried the song deepest within her heart of hearts. The breeze felt flush with completeness, with perfection, with an ecstatic joy that transcended language. It played along Yaeko’s tingling spine as she watched, in utter awe, as the Stradivarius was made whole again. It floated towards her now, perfect, along with the healed bow; both settled into her outstretched and disbelieving grasp…. The precious wood felt alive, felt warm….
For a long time Melody and her math teacher remained unmoving, as if unwilling to let go of whatever coursed through their beings to perform this astonishing miracle. When Mr. Conor finally came out of his reverie, he turned about and said to the girl next to him: “I am in the presence of greatness, Melody Singleton. You are ready to join me, but you are not ready to accept who you are. And that will surely destroy you, as well as everything around you. And that includes Yaeko. I have much to teach you … perhaps too much. I fear my task is even greater than I first assumed it to be.”
And with that he bent and kissed the top of her head.
He turned his attention back to Yaeko, smiled at her.
“We give you back your violin—Young Master.” He inclined his head. “Like your music, it is now indestructible—and just as eternal. This is the power and the promise of the Prayer of Ammalinaeus. There are now no bullies, no guns, no cannons, no hate, no army that can scratch the instrument in your grasp. Set fire to it and it will remain unburned. Drop a nuclear bomb on it and in the center of the blast crater will be your violin, unharmed. It has been made indestructible by your unconditional love of it—and by your friend’s unconditional love ... of you.”
Yaeko gawked at the Stradivarius in her lap. Her breath had caught in her lungs. The instrument gleamed, even in the half light of the hallway. It didn’t have a scratch or blood stain on it. She glanced up to see Mr. Conor smiling at her. In a state of disbelief and shock, she managed just enough presence of mind to lower her head in a low bow. “Thank you.”
“Thank your friend, Yaeko Mitsaki. Without her love, this would not have been even remotely possible.”
Melody stared at Yaeko, as if just discovering what she had done, her face broadening slowly into a brilliant smile. Yaeko went to say, “Thank you, Mel—” but was unable to, for Melody had run to her, falling to her knees and swarming her under a suffocating hug.
They held each other for a long time, silently.
Mr. Conor turned to face the motionless gangbangers.
He approached them like the shadow of death, dark and huge and absolute. He stared at them one by one, as if saying something to them telepathically, each of them in their turn. Minutes passed like rusty razor blades being drawn slowly across soft forearms. The green in Mr. Conor’s eyes was deadly. Yaeko could see it plainly when he turned to stare at the last boy, the one who had escaped Melody’s rage.
He brought his arm up suddenly, and the boys seemed to sag into themselves as they regained the use of their muscles. They gawked at him, terrified.
“Run,” said Mr. Conor.
Melody heard their collective whimper—and then the bullies tore down the hallway together, panicked and screaming in terror.
Mr. Conor watched them go, a devilish eyebrow raised, and then he strode towards Melody and Yaeko, who were huddled together like puppies, their own eyes huge.
“I believe we have just seen the last of Mr. Heffledorf’s quaint little gang,” he said matter-of-factly. “We’ll likely never see them again, anywhere. I’ve seen to it that they will find themselves compelled to confess their many misdeeds, including this one, to those authorities most interested in hearing about them. They’ll find themselves unable to lie, because if they do—and they’ve been warned—they’ll suffer just as they did right here. Justice prevails today. They’re very lucky to be alive.”
He glanced at Melody.
“I called your mother this morning. She told me what happened yesterday—or at least what she thinks happened, that is. She also told me you were taking the day off and were on the way here. I thought I could catch you before you disappeared for the day. I’m very glad I did.”
He brought his gaze to Yaeko.
“Miss Mitsaki,” he inclined his head slightly, “with all due respect, you look terrible. I’m sure your—?”
“Guardian,” whispered Yaeko.
“Of course. And I’m sorry, Young Master. Allow me to say that much. I’m sure your parents are watching over you now.”
Yaeko bowed her head once more. “Thank you, Mr. Conor.”
“I’m sure your guardian will be alarmed at the sight of you. Shall I call her first?”
Yaeko shook her head. “She’s working the rest of this week. She’s a flight attendant and won’t be home until this weekend.”
“Mr. Conor…?” Melody’s voice was a desperate plea.
“I—” But Melody couldn’t finish the thought. She started crying again.
“You’re scared,” said Mr. Conor.
She nodded fitfully.
“You should be! Your terror may be the only check on the awesome power you wield. I don’t want you to let it go just yet. There will be a day when it will no longer be necessary. For now, unfortunately, it is.”
“But I don’t want to be scared!” cried Melody.
Mr. Conor kneeled, cupping Melody’s wet face in his strong palm. “I’m here,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere—okay? I’m your friend … and teacher. I will always be here for you. That is my promise. You must learn not to allow your rage to overcome you, Melody. You must learn to let the aecxis go.”
“But … but what is it?” she sniffled.
“I will explain … but it will have to wait. I think it’s time you both got going, before a janitor or another teacher stumbles into this hellacious mess.” He rose to his feet.
“But … don’t go! I’m so scared!”
He went to answer, but then:
—I’m here, Melody. I’ll be here for you. I promise too …—
Yaeko held her best friend closer as she sobbed into her shoulder. Mr. Conor said, “Of that I have no doubt, Young Master.” He nodded knowingly at her. “It is tragic we should meet under such circumstances, Yaeko Mitsaki. But allow me to express my joy at having done so nevertheless. Two years ago it felt like a part of my soul died when I heard the news.”
Yaeko held Melody and said nothing, making only the slightest of nods to acknowledge Mr. Conor’s words.
He said: “I’m here for you, Melody Singleton. I won’t abandon you. That is my pledge and my promise. And your best friend is here too. Let your anger go and you will be okay. Let it go. That will be your second lesson, even harder than the proof, I reckon. Understand?”
Eventually Melody moved her head up and down, her nose buried in Yaeko’s matted and blood-caked hair.
“Good. Now get going. Do you need help, Yaeko?”
“I can help her,” came Melody’s muffled voice.
“Then make haste,” said Mr. Conor. He bowed. “Ladies … try to have a good day off …”
And with that Melody’s geometry teacher turned on his heels, vanishing quickly into the gloom of the corridor.
Minutes later they emerged from the school into the cool morning air. At Yaeko’s home Melody waited as her best friend closed the door to her bathroom; moments later the sounds of running bathwater could be heard.
Her mind raced wildly as she paced back and forth in Yaeko’s room. The events of this morning were so momentous, so overwhelming, that they bled together, repeating and repeating in her mind’s eye, as though she were in a race car zooming around a tight track, a car with the gas pedal glued to the floor.
She had rescued her best friend: she had killed three boys using the power of a symbol that was spiraling out of her control. She was—a killer? She … was a killer. A killer. She forced the thoughts from her brain, only to have them tear back seconds later. Mr. Conor saved us, she thought; he saved Yaeko; he saved me…. Otherwise, would I be in handcuffs, in jail? Mr. Conor came for me. What would’ve happened if he hadn’t come? It only occurred to her then that Mr. Conor had come to their rescue completely healthy, that despite the freakish seagull attack just this past weekend, he was completely normal, as if the attack hadn’t happened at all. Had he healed himself the same way he had healed Yaeko and the bullies? What was the extent of his own powers?
Yaeko suddenly emerged from the steam-filled bathroom, startling her, a contented smile on her face and a large blue towel wrapped around her slight form, a smaller yellow towel hiding her long black hair, twisted securely over it and draped over the back of the wheelchair. Exchanging smiles, Melody left to let her best friend dress. When the bedroom door opened ten minutes later, she forgot her manic thoughts entirely. Yaeko had been brutally beaten, her violin destroyed. The violin and bow were now sitting in her lap, whole and perfect again; and here was Yaeko—whole and perfect too. Her long black hair, which was still damp from the bath, framed her face beautifully. It suddenly occurred to Melody that Yaeko had never appeared handicapped or disabled to her in any way. Now, as Yaeko hefted the indestructible instrument as she placed it back into its case, Melody was struck at how she seemed less a musician wielding violin and bow than a great hunter wielding bow and arrow.
“Come, Melody,” said Yaeko softly. “It’s time I show you something.”
They were on the Pier, making their way along the center of its length, moving steadily towards its end a thousand feet away.
The marine layer was an imposing white wall miles offshore. The sea was like indigo glass, calm and secretive. The sky above them was turquoise and cloudless, the faded and smeared silver sliver of a new moon setting just over the top of the restaurant’s tower, beckoning them. The blue light in the tower grew brighter as they approached. Melody had never seen it on, except at night.
The Pier should’ve been bustling with humanity. It was not.
It was as though the entire structure—and the beach on both sides of it for as far as she could see—had been abandoned. They were completely alone.
They had come to the Pier together countless times. They had painted here, had taken silly photographs of one another here, had licked ice cream cones here while watching surfers zip through the curls of incoming waves. It was here, at the end of the Pier, Melody standing close to Yaeko, that they had watched many a glorious sunset in quiet and shared reverence. It was here they celebrated their joys and commiserated over their sorrows.
But this visit was very, very different. And not because of the lack of people or the daytime presence of the blue light in the restaurant’s tower. No, this visit was extraordinary because in the year they had known each other, Yaeko had never played her Stradivarius for Melody here, on the Pier. But here Yaeko was at her side, at the very end of the Pier, removing the gleaming violin from its case and bringing it to her chin, bow at the ready.
A violin recreated and made indestructible by Melody’s love.
Yaeko took a deep, deep breath, as if steeling herself, and then smiled weakly up at her best friend.
“Close your eyes, Melody.”