“Here we are,” Grace said as we stopped in front of the conference room door. She looked at the note in her hand. “’A panel discussion on the magic in music moderated by Mensan Shirley Starke of Valkyrie Publications.’”
“Who else is on the panel?” I asked. I switched her harp to my side closest to the wall so it was out of the way of passers-by.
The voice was pure music, yet came off like a deodorant jingle.
Grace’s face froze. Then she forced a tight smile.
The Greek Muse Euterpe looked every bit as you’d expect her to. Her long silvery blonde hair didn’t have a strand out of place and when she flipped it--as she often did--it made a subtle sound like harp strings played at just the below the level of human hearing. Her eyes were large and gray, her skin flawless, and her figure of--pardon the pun--Classic proportions. Her smile was as tight as Grace’s. Both ladies wore Green dots on their buttons, yet neither moved.
Good thing. Judging from the tension between them, any embrace was going to be a wrestling move.
Euterpe did her flip-thing--C resolving to A minor. “Why, look at you! Here! Still a nun! I suppose that should be expected. Always the serious type, preferring an ethereal God to a real man. Just as well, I’m sure. But why, oh, why did you choose an order with such dreadful colors? And they’ve made you hide your hair. I suppose that’s for the best, but why?”
“My beauty is in the Grace of God. But you, Terpie! Looking same as always.” Grace’s false sincerity was like nails on a chalkboard and she clutched her cross tightly. For a moment I imagined them as dragons, circling and hissing with wings half-unfurled. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or intervene. I decided to compromise by clearing my throat. Yeah, I know. How Mundane.
Terpie’s eyes flew to me and her face assumed a pout usually reserved for looking at guinea pigs. “Oh, look! It’s carrying your harp!”
Now it was Grace’s turn to intervene. “And you brought your lyre. Still stringing it with your own hair, too.” Then she added to me, “It helps her get a good tone.”
The Greek Spirit of Music’s face tightened a notch, and Grace pressed her advantage. “I haven’t heard any new compositions from Brandon lately.”
Again, Terpie’s grin seemed just a bit more strained, but all she did was run her fingers through her hair--four octaves of C. “Yes, well. It will be such an interesting panel--for them, of course. And yourself. Coming?”
“I’ll catch up.”
“You always did. Toodles!” She waved her fingers in the air like a sorority wanna-be and sauntered into the conference room.
Toodles. Somebody studied the Faerie Book of Mundane Slang. I turned to Grace, who was muttering a prayer for strength. I waited until she was done, then handed her her harp. “Sure you don’t want me to go with you?”
“What? No. We could both do with knowing more about Mundane forensics.” She smiled a genuine smile, though there was still a little strain in it. “I’ll be fine. Terpie and I were in college together and we…have a history.”
“College? What’d she study?”
“I never said she was a student.” She sighed and muttered, “I told him she was bad for him in the long run. He had talent. He didn’t need a Muse.” Lost in her thoughts, she went into the room without saying good-bye.
Grace was right about the Forensics lecture. There was a lot of good information, enough for me to drive Captain Santry mad with suggestions when we got back, which was worth the trip alone. Nonetheless, I decided to corner Bryant at another time and left during the Q&A to be at Grace’s room before her panel was done.
I got there just as people were filing out. The Faerie were talking and chuckling, but the Mundanes were silent. Stunned, even. So stunned, they simply filed past my six-foot, quarter-ton scarlet-and-black bulk without even a glance. I finally heard one guy say in a hush, “That was…” and his friend, “Yeah.”
After the last person emerged, zombie-like, from the room, Grace came out. Her habit was rumpled and her wimple askew. Some of her red hair was singed. Wisps of smoke escaped from her harp case.
She was smiling with satisfaction.
She straightened out her habit and tucked in her hair. “How was the Forensics lecture?” she asked as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
The doors opened, and Euterpe came out, her saunter gone, clutching a section of her torn peplos with one hand and holding a harp with two snapped strings in the other. Her hair looked like she’s been to a hairdresser on drugs. Her eyes looked black and smudged--I hadn’t realized she wore make-up. Her expression was somewhere between shocked and seething, but as soon as she saw Grace, she straightened and shook herself haughtily. Her hair, appropriately, played B-Flat and became perfect, as did her makeup. Her dress repaired itself. Again the two smiled their insincere smiles.
“It was so good to see you,” Grace volunteered first.
“Oh, we simply must do this again sometime,” Terpie oozed. “But let’s not wait another 10 years. I’d just cry to see you with more wrinkles.”
Grace held out her hands. Terpie took them, and they did a half-hug/air kisses.
“Please tell Poly I pray for her.”
“I’m sure that’ll mean as much to her as it does to me. Toodles!”
I peeked into the conference room. Sitting at a harp was, I assumed, Ms. Starke, her expression as dazed as those of her fellow Mundanes. She kept staring around her as if expecting to see something other than the usual disarray of a used conference room, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.
Unless you could sense magic. The arcane aftermath was enough to make my scales stand up and my lips curl back.
“Harp music,” I heard Ms. Starke mutter. “I just wanted to talk about Faerie harp music.”
I turned to my partner, my question obvious in my expression.
“I think Terpie had an interesting time,” she said gaily.
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(c) Karina Fabian. World Gathering first appeared in serial in The Prairie Dawg