Adam left SIH with mixed emotions. While he showed promise toward becoming a Spiritualist, his Path clearly departed from the normal way SIH taught. Still, it was something. It was hope.
When they returned to Madame’s, Adam boasted to his friends: “I can do something nobody has been able to do before! I can hear Spirit Formations!”
Alfred and the others were both excited and confused: “That sounds neat, but what are Spirit Formations?”
“Uh, they’re the things Spiritualists use to fling fireballs around and do all the other cool stuff!”
Their eyes widened with wonder: “Wow. I thought it was going to be a while yet before you could do that! Fling some fireballs for us!”
“That’s not what I said!”
It took Adam a while to sort out the confusion. They were all just too excited to properly understand all the complicated stuff. Vivienne grinned as she watched on. She then said: “Don’t forget Adam, you will need to put in a lot of work for this.”
Adam nodded: “When can I go back?”
Vivienne shook her head: “Probably not until next week. Catherine said she would let us know if she can find anything that will help your unique situation. Until then, you have to study like anyone else. She said you could bring someone to help you write notes down. I imagine it would be a little embarrassing to be the only one bringing his mom to school, so we should find someone to help you.”
Adam inwardly groaned. He was not feeling exuberant at the thought of actually studying. While he was in mental anguish, Franklin quickly raised his hand: “Can I go!?”
Vivienne quickly answered: “No, I’m pretty sure you’re just hoping to learn how to fling fireballs around. You need to actually pay attention to class and help Adam study. Do you really want to do dull school work? That’s all it’s going to be.”
“Uhh.” Franklin now seemed off-put by the idea.
“So, we will need to round up some parchment and ink as well as someone who can help you study, before you can go back to SIH.”
“Okay,” Adam said, right before his stomach started to rumble.
Vivienne chuckled: “It’s getting late. Before anything else, let’s get some dinner!”
A few days later, Vivienne had found her prime candidate for helping Adam. She brought Adam to a room where they were going to talk. Vivienne enthusiastically spoke: “She seems to be good at studies. She has accepted one of Madame’s higher education programs that it offers to its orphans, and she has gotten excellent grades. She’s also close to your age, so it shouldn’t be too awkward going to SIH together!”
A thought suddenly came to Adam, to which he shuddered: “It’s not Susan, is it? Please tell me that it isn’t Susan.”
Vivienne laughed: “Of course it isn’t. She’s a few years older than you, and she clearly lacks the drive for study. No, her name is Helen.”
Adam gave the name a thought. ‘That name sounds familiar.’
The answer came to Adam as the door to the room opened. Jannette walked in saying: “I snagged Helen’s interest with a new study opportunity. I’m sure you’ll make her gobsmacked when you tell her what she’s to help Adam with! Oh… she appears to be already.”
Helen stood by the door, slightly stunned. Adam quickly piped up: “Mom, remember how I told you Susan took me into the women’s bath while someone was in there? That was Helen.”
Helen’s face started to turn red at the memories. Janette looked at the two of them thinking of what to say when a look of enlightenment passed over her: “Oh! Helen, is that why you sometimes leave the room when Adam enters?”
“What!?” Adam was surprised at this news. He had wondered why he had never seen Helen since that day. It was apparently because she was totally avoiding him! Jannette tutted at Helen: “You know he didn’t even see a single freckle on your bare skin. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Helen got grumpy: “You think that matters! It was still embarrassing to be bathing with a boy in the room!”
Adam stood up from his chair: “I’m sorry.”
“Well, I never got the chance to say that until now. I’m sorry that I was in there.”
Helen gave a gentle sigh: “It’s not your fault. I just can’t help but feel embarrassed…”
Vivienne had no idea what to say to either Adam or Helen. It didn’t seem Helen was holding anything against Adam and her feelings were well justified, so there really wasn’t anything else to say. In the moment of silence that followed, Janette clapped her hands together: “Well, back to the main topic. Adam needs some help keeping notes and reading study material while he tries to become a Spiritualist. Would you like to help him?”
“Wait, you want me to help Adam study at SIH!?”
Janette nodded: “Yup. If you want, you can also test to see if you can become a Spiritualist. The chances, though…”
Helen initially showed some interest, then it seemed to fade away. She shook her head: “Let me think about it first.”
Helen then walked away. Janette was then left gobsmacked: “Wai-”
Vivienne stopped her; “It’s fine Janette. Let her come to her own decision. She’s probably still not comfortable around Adam, and that is understandable.”
Janette pouted: “I thought for sure she would jump at this.”
Vivienne couldn’t help but laugh at her old friend. Even if she was the Madame now, she still seemed a child at heart. She then turned to Adam: “We’ll wait for Helen’s response. Even if she says no, there are others who could help you. I just thought she fit best. Concentrate on your flute lessons for now, and we’ll sort everything out soon.”
For today’s flute lesson, Julianne was giving Adam a test! He was to play a couple of songs on his own, up on the second floor of Madame’s! Adam felt a little nervous as she led him to the spot he would take. Julianne chuckled at how stiff Adam looked: “You’ll do fine, Adam. The next few songs are set, and you know exactly which ones are playing. As long as you perform like you have practiced, you’ll get through this without a problem!”
Adam could only nod to Julianne, unable to voice his agreement. Thoughts churned in his head: ‘I want to treat this the same way as I did at The Dancery, but Madame’s is just so much more…. Professional. I don’t want to mess up!’
Julianne looked ahead to the musician they were going to take over and frowned. The booth next to the musician seemed to be occupied. After a moment of thought, she decided to continue with the test. Turning to Adam, she said: “Looks like we’re adding one more variable to your test.”
Adam jumped at this: “T-there’s more?”
“I’m not truly including it as part of the test, but it is something you will need to pay attention to. The booth next to where you will be playing is occupied. One of the duties of the musicians up here is to pay attention to what is going on in the booths. If things seem to get rowdy, there is a rope near to you that you can press down on. This will cause a curtain to swing that will alert the bouncers to come and check things out. If anything does happen, signal the bouncers with the curtain but keep playing like normal! You can’t do much on your own, and we don’t want to cause an out of control scene. The bouncers are quick and can handle these things discreetly. I’ll be nearby paying attention to it on my own, but I would like for you to try and pay attention to it as well.”
Adam and Julianne relieved the musician that was currently on duty. Julianne quickly showed Adam where the rope for the curtain was. It was close to the floor and within reach. Adam really only need to put his foot out and step on the rope to get it to move. Behind him was the booth that was occupied. The heavy tapestries enclosing the booths blocked a lot of sound. However, there were gaps between the hanging tapestries. The placement of the tapestries had been planned in such a way that a gap was conveniently located by Adam. This would allow any musician on duty to more easily hear and see what was going on in the booth.
Julianne nodded: “I think you’re all set. I will be hanging around nearby, but you are going to be on your own! Good luck!”
As Julianne walked away, she stole a glance through a gap. Two men were downing drinks like no tomorrow, and they apparently had enough coin to pay for a dancer in addition to the booth. The girl dancing appeared fairly young. ‘I’m going to need to keep a close eye on them.’ She thought.
After Julianne walked away from him, Adam took a deep breath to try and calm his nerves. Listening out, the next song started to play, and Adam found his spot to join in on the music. As he continued to play, Adam became a little relieved; ‘I didn’t mess up my entrance!’
Adam put his focus on listening to the other musicians. He needed to match their tempo and the crescendos of the song. As he did this, slurred voices drifted over to him from inside the booth; “Hic, I dink dey just shanged mushishans. Wash dat a blind kid?”
‘They’re drunk!” Adam thought.
The men then tried to lower their voices, though they were still loud enough for Adam to hear: “Hic, you dink we can cop a feel on da girlie widout gettin caught?”
Adam nearly stumbled over his notes. ‘What are they going to do!?’ Adam wasn’t sure what ‘cop a feel’ was, but he was certain it was bad! Quickly, he stepped on the rope a few times to signal the bouncers.
Julianne had placed herself so she could kinda see the dancer inside the booth. She noticed Adam’s warning curtain moving. She stood up from where she was sitting, uncertain what was happening. She then briefly saw a man roughly approach the dancer she was watching. Mixed feelings of relief and worry washed over her. Relief that Adam had quickly caught what was happening and worry about the dancer. The bouncers would arrive within twenty seconds, so there really wasn’t enough time for the men to do anything irreversible, but to the dancer, it would surely feel like an eternity!
Adam briefly heard a girls voice; “What-” It was then quickly muffled as someone covered her mouth! Adam stopped playing as he recognized the voice. They had been talking just a couple of hours ago; it was Helen!
The men continued in voices they thought were too low for Adam to hear: “Hic, Don cha worry girrlie, we ain’t gunna take dish too far.”
Adam heard a muffled scream from Helen and couldn’t take it, he rushed into the booth; “What are you doing!?”
“Hic, Wash you doin here kid? Yaz shupposed to be playin yer mushik.”
Adam was starting to get not only mad, but annoyed by these two. Especially the one that could only say yeah! In as stern a voice as Adam could muster, he said: “Let her go.”
Despite them not complying, Adam was relieved to finally hear the ‘yeah guy’ finally say something else!
The slurring guy added in: “Hic, now shoo!”
The slurring man tried to push Adam back with what little strength he could muster. Adam was startled by the sudden assault, but only need to put one foot back to steady himself and keep from being pushed back. Hansen’s exercises had helped his balance, and a half-assed push by a drunk wasn’t enough to knock him over.
Adam cast a frown before him and stepped forward and pushed in the direction he had felt the slurring man push against him! The slurring man was not expecting this and was easily tipped back: “Whoa!”
He fell back into his friend, and their hold on Helen was broken! She quickly scrambled away as two looming forms entered the booth. A familiar gruff voice said: “Let us take it from here, Adam.”
Hansen and the other bouncer easily restrained the two drunken men. Slurring man was berating yeah man; “Hic, Why didn you shtop me!? You know I’m drunk!”
Hansen couldn’t help shaking his head at the two as he took them out. Adam looked around, unsure of where he should face; “Helen, are you alright?”
“I-I’m fine.” Came a shaky response.
Julianne quickly walked in: “Adam, Helen, are you two alright?”
Adam nodded his head while Helen was unable to find her voice again. She simply nodded after being unable to voice herself. Julianne came over to comfort her: “Here, let me take you to your room. I think you can take the rest of the day off.”
Adam had finally finished up his test with Julianne. She had come back after taking Helen to her room. She had been pleased with Adam’s performance, but heavily scolded him for interfering with the two men harassing Helen; “What if one of them had a knife and stabbed you instead of shoving you!? The bouncers were not more than a few seconds behind you. You should have just left it to them!”
While Adam understood what she was saying, he didn’t regret trying to help Helen. He wasn’t sure he would do again, though, now that he thought about the potential of being stabbed. Julianne then put the nail in the coffin on the subject; “I’m also going to let Vivienne know about this. I’m sure she’ll have some choice words of her own to share.”
Adam inwardly groaned; ‘Mom’s going to chew me out! I’ll never do it again!… probably.’
Julianne dropped Adam off at the dormitory, before heading back to continue her work at Madame’s. With a heavy sigh, Adam went inside while wondering how long it was until dinner time. Adam didn’t get too far in before he heard a couple of arguing voice quickly approaching: “Helen, you need to take someone with you! I have to go to work soon, so I can’t go with you. You really shouldn’t leave on your own after what happened.”
“But I want to go somewhere to relax and forget about it, Susan. There’s no place better.”
“I know, but-”
“-hmph, fine! I’ll take him with me then!”
Adam’s hand was suddenly grabbed as Helen pulled him along. “Happy now!?”
Helen didn’t wait as she stormed off with a stunned Adam in tow. Susan shook her head before storming off in a different direction with an idea in mind. Adam wasn’t sure what to say as Helen’s delicate hand firmly pulled him along. After a minute, Adam finally said: “Uh, where are we going?”
Helen’s quick paces slowed: “Sorry that I dragged you without asking, it’s just that I had to get out of there!”
Adam wasn’t entirely sure what the men were trying to do to Helen, but she obviously wanted to escape the fresh memories of what happened. He tried to smile at her: “It’s fine, just lead the way! I’m just curious about where we’re going.”
Helen’s grip became gentler as she led him forward; “We’re going to The Hill Garden. It’s a hill that has gardens built into it. It’s rather peaceful there. I often go there to relax.”
“Sounds like fun!” Adam replied.
The Hill Garden was around a twenty-minute walk from Madame’s. The hill was a steep man-made mound that rose fairly high. A paved path snaked its way clockwise up the hill at a lower grade than the hill. There were many well-maintained flowers along the path with plenty of trees to enclose the area and make it feel private. There were a few vista points higher up that allowed one to take a breathtaking view across Hessler. From the very top of the hill, one could even see over the walls of Hessler!
Adam was surprised when they entered the area. Even though Helen had said it was peaceful, he hadn’t expected the sounds of the city to quiet down as much as they did. It also made him realize just how loud the city was and how used to it he had gotten.
After walking along for a short while, Helen pulled them off the path to a flat grassy area that she liked. She sprawled herself out on the grass and let out a relieved sigh. “This is my favorite place here. A little off the path and around a couple trees, it’s hard to be seen from the path.”
Adam nodded: “It’s really nice here, thank you for taking me.”
For a moment, the two of the just bathed in the peaceful quiet of the park. In the relative silence, one could hear squirrels chattering away, birds calling to one another, and leaves gently swaying in the trees. Adam couldn’t help a sudden surge of questions: “So, you dance at Madame’s then? I thought you had higher education or something.”
Helen nodded her head: “I am still going to school, but I also still need to work at Madame’s to pay for my schooling. I don’t have too much work, though. Personally, I love studying, and this is one of my favorite places to relax and read a book! Sometimes, though, I just want to get up and move, and there’s nothing quite like dancing to get you moving!”
“That’s neat. It seems you get to do what you really like.”
It seemed Helen was equally passionate about dancing as she was about learning. No other questions came to Adam’s mind, but he didn’t like sitting there doing nothing, so he pulled his flute out and began playing a gentle tune. At first, Helen wasn’t sure what to think about Adam playing his music. His questions and music weren’t quite the peace she had come here for, but she quickly found she liked the song. It wasn’t a beautiful peace he was playing, it was just… nice. And it seemed to somehow fit with the garden. Closing her eyes, her mind drifted with the music.
A little while later, she opened her eyes as she heard heavy footsteps coming through the grass. Giving a disgruntled groan, she said: “What, are you here to bring us back?”
A gruff voice responded: “I’m just here to ensure the protection of the both of you.”
Adam had stopped playing when he also heard the footsteps. Now recognizing the voice, he said: “Hi Hansen!”
Hansen nodded; “Adam.”
“How did you even find us here?” Helen asked.
“Just followed the music.”
Hansen didn’t say anything more and just loomed where he stood. Helen gave an exasperated sigh: “Let’s just go back. I can’t tolerate all these people in my spot!”
Helen got up and helped Adam to his feet before taking his hand and leading the way forward. Hansen silently followed behind. After a few minutes of walking, Helen asked: “Adam?”
“I… I think I’ll help you with your Spiritualist studies.”
“Really!? Thank you so much! It might be difficult, though. I don’t even really understand what I’ll be studying.”
Helen sweetly nodded: “It’s fun that way! Studying is about learning the stuff you don’t know!”
What once been awkward between the two due to the bath incident, had turned happy and accepting. An unbidden thought suddenly popped into Adam’s head; “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask someone; what does brothel mean?”
Silence followed for a moment as Helen’s face turned red. She smacked Adam upside the head: “Don’t make me take back my offer to help you study!”
Adam was absolutely stunned. He rubbed the back of his head as he grumbled: “It was just a question.”
Hansen couldn’t help letting out a chuckle.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.