One of the most vexing issues I had in writing Luminescence was where to start. Dramatically, I felt like it needed to start at the funeral, a few seconds after the ending of Penumbras. That was going to set up some of the conflict I had planned, and beyond that, it just felt right.
The problem came when I actually wrote it. The funeral scene was too crowded--everyone in the books was there. That meant there were way too many characters. Even people who had read and liked the other books found themselves feeling a little overwhelmed. So, even though it felt right dramatically, it just didn't work in literary terms. I fought it for a while, kept tweaking and adjusting, but ultimately I cut it and started the book later on--about a week after the funeral. Once I did this, everything else flowed much better. But it was hard because I liked this scene. But it got too clunky trying to introduce everyone and remind readers what happened.
Just in case any of you are interested, I'm including it here. It was actually two chapters.
Please note: because I took this out fairly early on, it was never polished, revised, or proofed. So read with that in mind.
THE LAST SIGIL
Conner Dell didn’t mean to blow up the substitute teacher.
To be fair, Lexa and Melanie helped with that, too—and they didn’t actually blow the guy up. Although, no one would have felt too bad.
He also didn’t mean to fry the power lines and zap every transformer in Nashville like popcorn in a microwave.
At the moment, he only wanted to get through Dr. Timberi’s funeral without bawling. And possibly get a comforting hug from Melanie Stephens.
Epic fail on the bawling. Conner fought a good fight, but surrendered to the tears as all the assembled Magi stood and shot streams of colored Light at the carved wooden chest.
Triggered by the Light, the chest opened and a gold swan sailed out. Made of Light, the swan was Dr. Timberi’s Last Sigil: a piece of his soul, preserved in the chest to deliver a final message to the mourners at his funeral.
As the swan sigil opened its mouth, Dr. Timberi’s warm voice filled the tent, talking about forgiveness and love. Conner huddled nearer his twin sister Lexa, her best friend Melanie, and Conner’s friend Pilaf. The Four Musketeers.
Loud sobs caught his attention, and Conner turned his head, surprised to see Melanie’s dad crying. Strange. Mr. Stephens had always seemed to hate Dr. Timberi.
Dr. Timberi’s words warmed Conner but also brought a feeling of growing dread because he didn’t want to watch what would come next. Since Dr. Timberi was dead, his sigil, the final fragment of his soul would fade. Forever.
Conner stared at the ground. Watching someone he loved fade away seemed like running his heart over a dull cheese grater. On the other hand, missing it seemed even worse. So, he looked up, in time to see the gold swan soar up into the air.
Conner fought the tears again and set his jaw, waiting for the sigil to fade. Every muscle clenched as a winter smog of bleakness spread through him.
But then everyone gasped. The swan did not fade. Instead, it turned a graceful loop-de-loop, soaring back down and right into Lexa, Conner’s twin sister.
As the sigil vanished inside of her, shock sprinted across Lexa’s tear-stained face. Confusion tripped along next, followed by a smile big and bright enough to guide Santa’s sleigh.
“He’s alive!” Lexa yelled as her smile blossomed even larger. “Dr. Timberi’s alive!”
Confusion spun Conner’s mind, twirling it to a dizzy state of shock, and he wasn’t alone. The whole crowd fell silent for a few whirls of Conner’s mind, and from their expressions, everyone else had the same things twirling in their minds. Shock turned to skepticism, followed by--
The tent exploded with activity as everyone grabbed on to hope. Mourners in colorful Magi robes ran around, buzzing and humming, like a hive of bees trapped in a giant kazoo.
It took only another half-a-whirl of his mind for the crowd to surround Lexa—and, by default, Conner, Melanie, and Pilaf.
“Lexa!” Colonel Lee Murrell arrived first. One of Dr. Timberi’s oldest friends and a high-ranking military office, his heavy Texa accent boomed through the tent. “I sure hope you meant to say Morgan’s alive, ‘cause that’s what all the movers and shakers in the Magi world just thought you said.”
“He is!” Lexa’s smile could probably be seen from space now. “He is!” And then, much softer, she added, “And he isn’t mad at me.” Conner wouldn’t have heard that if the growing clump of people hadn’t shoved them all together.
“Can you hear his thoughts?” Lee asked. “Like when we head-talk?” Head-talk was a form of telepathy the Magi practiced.
Lexa shook her head. “No. It’s not that direct or clear. But I can feel him!”
“Lexa, honey,” Lee said, “Are you positive? ‘Cause if you have any doubts at all—”
“No! I mean, yes! I mean, yes, I’m sure; no, I don’t have any doubts.”
Lee stared at Lexa for a minute, his sharp blue eyes shooting into her’s. She returned his stare, not blinking as the old solider interrogated her without a word. It seemed to go on longer than Latin class, but finally, Lee nodded. “I believe you,” he said. Then he grinned, “Time to go bust Morgan outta jail!” He flicked his hand, and his dusty brown robes faded away, replaced by a gray ninja suit, emblazoned in the chest with the emblem of the Magi: a silver crescent moon around an eight-pointed star. Another flick of his hand brought a worn leather belt with a turquoise buckle.
He threw up both hands and rays of dusty-brown Light shot into the sky, crackling and humming as they criss-crossed together, weaving into a massive rattlesnake—which was Lee’s sigil.
The Light-snake coiled and then shook its rattle. A few seconds later, a series of whistling shrieks filled the air as eleven colored comets blasted into the tent. The comets all flashed, fading into a person in mid-air. Each person executed a series of flips, dives and rolls, hitting the ground in a combat position.
“That’s the Twilight Phalanx,” Conner muttered to his parents. They couldn’t see the comets, but they still seemed impressed.
The members of the Phalanx all stood. Wearing the same gray suits, they saluted and took their places behind Lee.
“Morgan’s alive,” Lee barked, running a hand through the unruly bristles of gray hair on his head. “We’re gonna go get him.” The Phalanx cheered as Lee looked back at Lexa. “Lexa, you have any idea where Morgan is? Just say where, and the Phalanx’ll burn through the arctic or freeze the desert to get him back.”
“I don’t know,” Lexa said. “I know he’s alive, but not where—”
“Alexandra!” A tall woman with spiky gray hair and bright, fuchsia robes pushed through the huddle around the Four Musketeers. Hortense Benet, Director of the Adumbrator Office. If the Twilight Phalanx were the Navy SEALs of the Magi world, the Adumbrators were the CIA. Hortense was Dr. Timberi’s old rival in the Magi world. They’d been bitter enemies for years, since he blamed her for the death of his wife and the kidnapping of his son.
“Alexandra,” she said, “I must know everything, quickly. Have I your permission to examine your thoughts and memories?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lexa said. “Of course. But it’s Lexa. Please.”
Hortense dropped her hands on Lexa’s head and fuchsia Light swirled around them. As a Seer, Hortense could see the future and the past, but she could also see people’s experiences. Lexa had the same gift, although she was still trying to learn how to master it. She often had flashes of insight—thoughts and feelings she called theelings.
Hortense removed her hands, nodding. “Lexa is telling the truth. I can feel Morgan’s sigil inside of her.” She smiled—something that Conner thought looked out of place on her face. “Morgan is definitely alive.”
Conner realized it had grown silent only because the crowd began talking again, and that excited buzz came back.
Hortense clapped her hands and her sigil, a hedgehog, made out of fuchsia Light, appeared, then scurried away. “I sent that information to headquarters,” she said. “My people will begin to analyze it immediately.”
“Where is he?” Lee asked, and Conner noticed he was shaking, probably from the stress of delaying action.
“There is no indication,” Hortense said. “The message was very brief.” She paused. “Now, one possible way to find his location would be to attempt a sigil trace. If we extract Morgan’s sigil, from Alexandra—”
“—Just Lexa,” Lexa said. “Excuse me, but what did you say about extracting?”
“We must extract Morgan’s sigil from inside of your soul,” Hortense said. “Then we can potentially track it.”
Conner nodded. That made sense. They had done this once before—tracking a sigil to find a magus named Notzange who had been kidnapped by Darkhands—their enemies. The sigil trace had led them to Notzange, and also to Conner, who was also a prisoner.
“Potentially?” Lexa asked. “Have you ever done this before?”
“Not exactly but, it is very similar to other procedures.”
Conner felt Lexa’s growing hesitation.
Lex, Conner said, talking in her head, what’s the problem? The Adumbrators can track Dr. Timberi with his sigil and then the Phalanx will rescue him. Boom. He’s back before supper.
Lexa didn’t answer, but since their minds were connected, Conner could read her thoughts, as if he was thinking them himself.
The sigil’s presence inside Lexa pushed away her heavy guilt, allowing her to feel Dr. Timberi’s love and forgiveness in a deep, constant way. She also felt important and proud of the fact that Dr. Timberi’s sigil had chosen her—of all people--
Conner struggled to understand. Lexa would ruin Dr. Timberi’s chances of being rescued because his sigil made her feel warm and fuzzy?
You have got to be kidding! He snapped. This isn’t about you!
Lexa looked at him, apparently just noticing that they were sharing a mental link.
Conner! she said. Wait--
But Conner slammed the door between them shut, severing the connection. It was Lexa’s fault Dr. Timberi had been taken in the first place! Now, she could help him—and wouldn’t!
Conner clenched his fists and pushed them behind his back. He didn’t trust himself. How could she be so selfish?
What’s wrong? Melanie asked.
Thick anger choked his thoughts, and Conner couldn’t answer.
“Now, Lexa, let me explain how this will work,” Hortense said.
Excitement had replaced skepticism among the gathered Magi. Eyes that had been full of tears now glittered with hope.
“I’m sorry, I think I’d rather not extract it right now,” Lexa said in a very small voice.
“Excuse me?” Hortense asked. Everyone now looked as stunned as they did when Lexa had made her big announcement a few minutes ago.
Lexa took a deep breath. “I don’t feel good about it. I’m—”
“You don’t feel good about it?” Hortense’s surprised look plummeted into a frown. “You have critical information about an important Magus who has been taken by his mortal enemies, and you don’t feel good about turning that information over to the Director of the only agency that can possibly track him down? You don’t feel good about giving information that would allow the finest fighting force in the world to go rescue a man who has risked his life for you on more than one occasion?” For once Conner agreed with Hortense.
Lexa shrank under Hortense’s fierce glare. Sweat dripped down her face, replacing the tears that had been there just a few minutes ago.
“Really, Alexandra,” Hortense said. “Considering you are responsible for Morgan being taken, I would think—”
“Just hold on right there!” A tall man pushed through the crowd of Magi robes, sticking out in his non-Magi business suit. Brent Dell—Conner and Lexa’s father—shoved his way up to Hortense.
“How dare you!” His voice sounded like it did when a ref made an unfair call on Conner. “Who do you think you are? Do you have any idea how this child has suffered? Of the guilt she’s been dealing with? What kind of person tells a thirteen-year-old girl that it’s her fault someone she loved was hurt?”
Conner and Lexa’s mom appeared, elegant in her black funeral dress and pearls. “Brent’s absolutely right! Where do you get off talking to our daughter like that?”
Now Hortense found herself on the receiving end of two angry stares “ Are you the head Magi anyway?” Conner’s mom asked. Unlike Lexa and Conner, their parents were not Magi.
Hortense drew herself up to her full height. “I am the Director of the Magisterium’s Office of Adumbration and Intelligence—”
“You’re a big bully! That’s what you are,” Conner’s mom said.
“Who’s in charge here?” Conner’s dad asked. Nervous silence oozed through the tent. “I said, who’s in charge here?”
“That would be me, I believe.”
Hortense’s head snapped over her shoulder, and Conner followed the movement with his eyes. He tried not to look shocked as a tall African woman glided through the crowd. Like all the other Magi, she wore colored robes. But hers seemed to be woven of living rainbows, shifting and changing color each time she’d moved.
“Notzange!” Lexa called out.
Notzange was the magus they had helped rescued a few months back, and she and Lexa had a special bond.
“Your Eminence.” Hortense bowed, and all the other Magi did the same. Lee stuck his head out from behind Notzange and winked at Lexa. I went to go get the boss, he said, in a private thought for Lexa, Conner, Melanie, and Pilaf. She’s the only one Hortense will listen to. You four might want to bow or curtsey, though. Notzange’s had a promotion since you saw her last. Meet Her Eminence, the Supreme Magistrate.
Melanie watched as Lexa dropped into an elaborate curtsey—well rehearsed over years of curtain calls.
“Hello Lexa.” Melanie would have recognized the elegant, mahogany tones of Notzange’s voice even without her regal bearing.
“Conner, Melanie.” Notzange nodded and smiled at each of them. “It is good to see you all again.” She embraced Madame Cumberland for a few seconds, then walked
to the table with the carved box that had held Dr. Timberi’s Last Sigil. She put her fingers to her lips and then touched the reliquary, smiling a fond smile.
“Who’s that?” Conner’s friend Pilaf whispered—louder than would have been preferable. He could hear—but not speak—Magi head-talk.
Her name is Notzange Kimburu, Melanie answered. She was the magus who trained Madame Cumberland. She got captured by the Darkhands a few months ago and Lexa helped find her, then we all helped rescue her. I guess she’s the head of the Magi now. Like the pope or the president.
After a minute by Dr. Timberi’s chest, Notzange turned to face Lexa and her parents. “I understand that you asked for the presiding authority?”
“Yes, we were,” Mr. Dell said. “This woman was bullying my daughter—”
“Alexandra has Morgan’s sigil inside of her, Your Emminence,” Hortense said, interrupting. “I wanted to extract it—”
“She told Lexa it was her fault Morgan got taken!” Mrs. Dell added.
Notzange turned her head in a slow circle from the Dells to Hortense. “An unfortunate choice of words.” The coolness in her gaze seemed to deflate Hortense. Notzange continued. “I am at a disadvantage since I am not entirely sure what happened. I was detained on important business and missed the Remembrance Ceremony. Mona, perhaps you can enlighten me?”
As Madame Cumberland explained what had happened, Melanie’s parents pushed their way through the crowd.
“What’s going on?” Melanie’s dad whispered.
“Dr. Timberi’s sigil went inside of Lexa,” she whispered back.
“What does that mean?” her mother asked.
“It means Dr. Timberi’s still alive,” Pilaf said—without whispering. “His sigil is part of his soul. If he was dead, it would have faded. Which everyone expected it to do. Since it didn’t fade, it means he’s alive. And now it’s inside of Lexa.”
“You mean a part of his spirit is in Lexa’s soul?” Melanie’s mom asked.
“Yes,” Melanie whispered before Pilaf could answer in his not-very-soft-voice.
“Your Eminence!” The words jumped out of Hortense and Melanie thought she might explode. “If we extract that sigil, we can try a sigil trace to find Morgan’s location. As you know, the sigil trace was very effective in locating you a few months ago.”
“Yes, I remember,” Notzange said. “And Lexa, you object to this?”
Lexa looked uncomfortable. She curtsied again. “I’m really sorry. Really, really sorry. But I don’t feel good about it.”
“Excuse me,” Conner’s dad said. “A few months ago, Morgan told us that you all couldn’t do anything without our consent as parents.”
“That is true,” Notzange said. “The Light will not allow it.”
“Well if Lexa doesn’t want you to extract this thing, then I won’t allow it. Period.”
“You stupid, foolish man!” Hortense’s self-control crumbled like a sandcastle in front of the tide. “
“Enough!” Notzange’s voice had the sharp crack of breaking ice. “Silence, Madame Director!”
A silver thread of Light shot out from Madame Cumberland’s head, weaving around Notzange’s temples. After a brief, private thought conversation, Notzange nodded. Then she looked at the Dells and Hortense. “This situation has escalated in an unfortunate way,” she said. “Now, Lexa, Madame Cumberland tells me you are a budding Seer
and that you often have flashes of insights, thoughts and feelings.”
“Yes, ma’am, I call them theelings.”
“And, these theelings have been proven correct in the past?”
“Come and walk with me for a moment. In the meantime, I think it is best that everyone return now to their business.” She looked at Hortense. “Madame Director, I suggest you return at once to Magisterium headquarters and begin searching for Morgan’s whereabouts through your normal means. I will follow up on the matter of the sigil. You are dismissed.” She looked at all the assembled Magi. “You are all dismissed.”
Hortense clamped her mouth shut, looking as if she were biting broken glass and rusty nails.
Why is she so mad? Melanie asked Lee.
Hortense has never been exactly warm and fuzzy, Lee said. But when Notzange got chosen as Supreme Magistrate, she got downright nasty. It hurt her pride pretty bad to be passed over. And now, she just got embarrassed by a thirteen-year-old in front of the Who’s Who of the Magi world.
Hortense streamed away in a fuchsia comet of unusual heat and brightness. All the other Magi followed, leaving only Melanie’s parents, the Dells, Pilaf, Madame Cumberland, and Lee.
“Colonel, did you have something to say?” Notzange asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, “I do. An awful big group just heard a heavy-duty secret. And a big group keeps a secret about as good as a good as a hound dog can fly. Word’s gonna get out, and when it does, Lexa’ll be a pretty big target. The Darkhands won’t want any lose ends that might lead us to Morgan. I’m requesting permission to put an around-the-clock detail on her and her family.”
“That is wise, Colonel,” Notzange nodded. “Permission granted. But I want those who are not on duty out searching for Morgan. It is a great gift that he is alive and we must not take that lightly.”
“Yes, ma’am!” He saluted, then jumped up into the air. Before he landed, his body stretched out and faded into a dusty brown comet, which shot of the grounds of Mockingbird Cottage. Lee’s comet whistled as it passed through the Shroud—the barrier of clouds that surrounded the Magi sanctuary, making it an island in time and space.
“Now, Lexa come and walk with me.” Notzange led Lexa down the sloping grass, away from everyone else. Evening had turned to night and the darkness of the yard was now broken only by flashes from the fireflies and the Lucents—baby cherubim—tiny beings of Light who flitted through the yard.
As Notzange and Lexa walked, Conner’s angry thoughts burst into Melanie’s head. Oh my gosh!
Hearing Conner always made her heart jump ahead, then back a few beats.
What’s wrong? Melanie asked Conner. She’d asked that same thing a few minutes ago, sensing his anger, but he hadn’t replied.
Lexa! he shouted. Of all the times to be a drama queen! First she gets Dr. Timberi captured and now she won’t do the one thing that might help them find him!
Melanie didn’t reply for a few seconds. For some of the last summer, they’d been—well, they’d been growing close to each other. Then everything had gone wrong. Not just between her and Conner, but between all of them.
But a few minutes ago, everything had seemed to get better. They had sung together—one of Dr. Timberi’s favorite songs. As they sang—and cried—Melanie felt that all the drama of the last summer faded. Now, however, it seemed to be rushing back, more vivid than ever.
Melanie hesitated to say anything. Her relationship with Conner had just started to return to normal, and she didn’t want to endanger that. Still, she wanted to be fair to Lexa.
“That’s not her drama queen face.” Pilaf said. Not in a whisper, but a little softer than before.
“What?” Conner asked.
“That’s not her drama queen face,” Pilaf repeated with complete calm. “I heard what you said.” Pilaf could hear any Magi head-talking, even private conversations no one else could hear.
What do you mean, Pilaf? Melanie asked. And maybe keep it down a little.
“Look how tense Lexa looks,” Pilaf said in a soft voice. “And a minute ago, her voice got really small and meek. When she’s doing drama queen, she sticks her chin out and she uses big words and long sentences and she tends to strike dramatic poses. She’s not doing that. In fact, I think she was about to cry.”
Lexa and Notzange walked back into the tent. Notzange looked at everyone and smiled. “I apologize for Madame Benet’s outburst. She should not have said those things. Mona and Colonel Murrell both advised me to trust Lexa, and my conversation with her leads me to the same conclusion.”
Conner muttered something.
Notzange looked at Mr. And Mrs. Dell. “I have not met you properly.” She extended her hand. “I am Notzange Kimburu.”
The Dells shook her hand and introduced themselves, and then Melanie’s parents did the same thing. Melanie thought that Notzange stared at her dead for a few seconds longer than anyone else. Then she turned back to Lexa.
“Lexa, you must not be troubled. What happened to Morgan was a great tragedy. But it was not your fault. And remember, he made the choice to go with Lady Nightwing. You cannot take responsibility for that.”
As Melanie remembered that awful night, her emotions all flooded into her eyes—which grew misty.
“You must be Olaf.” Notzange walked to Pilaf now, smiling down at his pale, blinking face. His eyes seemed even wider than normal behind his glasses.
“Everyone just calls me Pilaf, ma’am.”
Notzange smiled. “I understand you have shown some interesting symptoms latelym leading to questions about whether you are a magus.”
“Pilaf,” Madame Cumberland said, “Her Eminence is the only Magus alive who can tell if someone will Kindle. It’s a very rare gift and she’d like to test you.”
“Really?” Pilaf’s voice got so excited, the last syllable was nothing but a squeal.
“I am sorry I did not come when your abilities were first manifest. It has been a very busy few months. But we will rectify that now.” Notzange put her long, gnarled fingers on Pilaf’s head, holding them there for what felt like a very long time. When she removed them, she frowned in a thoughtful way. “You will not Kindle, Pilaf.”
Pilaf’s lips quivered and water rose in his eyes, filling the space behind his giant glasses until his eyes seemed to be swimming in twin goldfish bowls. He forced the brightest, most artificial smile Melanie had ever seen and said, “Yeah, I didn’t think I would.” He smiled harder. “I was just curious. I knew I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t really want to be a Magi anyway—”
Notzange put her fingers under his chin and lifted his face. “My dear, your gift is unique, even singular. I feel something inside of you. Great power. You are special, Pilaf. Very special. Guard your gift well.”
A giant grin cracked Pilaf’s face, a smile so real and big Melanie thought the corners of his mouth might meet.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I must return to the Magisterium. There is much to do. Good-bye.”
Notzange threw her arms wide open and violet light appeared, spinning around her. Within a few seconds she became a comet and then flew off through the clouds with the distinct whistling sound.
Madame Cumberland smiled at everyone. “Well, shall we be going?” She started up the hill that led to the house, with everyone following behind her.
No one said much. Lexa looked upset and Melanie noticed her darting furtive looks at everyone. Conner looked like a violent storm had taken up residence in his face. She’d rarely seen him look that mad—and when he had, it hadn’t been a good thing. Pilaf still grinned, mouthing something to himself. Melanie watched long enough to see that he was repeated what Notzange had said. Over and over.
Mr. And Mrs. Dell seemed tense. And her dad looked pinched and harried. She couldn’t identify the expression he had.
Only Melanie’s mom seemed relaxed. “Wonderful news about Morgan,” she said r as they came to the back of the house, past well-manicured flowerbeds stuffed with flowers.
“Well, here we are,” Madame Cumberland said. They stopped on the driveway in front of the white Victorian house. She pulled a key out of her pocket, then twisted it in the air in front or her. The air shimmered, then parted, opening like curtains.
“I’ll meet you at home,” Conner growled. He ran a few steps, blurring into a red comet that blasted off, whistling as it passed through the Shroud.
“Me too.” Lexa ran, blurring into a bright yellow comet after several steps. Melanie noticed that it took Lexa a little longer to stream than normal.
“Do you want to go with your friends?” Melanie’s mom asked, accidentally plunging a dagger into the heart of Melanie’s self-esteem. Streaming—turning into a comet—happened to be one aspect of Lightcraft Melanie hadn’t mastered yet. Her mom didn’t know that because regular humans couldn’t see Lightcraft. So they didn’t know anything about it. Plus, her dad tended got mad when she talked about Magi stuff. He’d never liked Dr. Timberi to begin with, and when Melanie had Kindled he’d really freaked out.
“I’ll stay with you,” Melanie said. “I don’t want Pilaf to feel left out.”
“That’s very sweet of you,” her mom said as they stepped through the curtains into the Otherwhere.
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