The kettle sat on the stovetop, giving off the absence of sound that always had seemed somewhat unfair to Enk. At the end of the kettle’s job, it stood up and crowed, and right near the end, there was that rattle and bubble that anticipated the whistle, but nothing anticipated the rattle. It was metal, getting hot, and water also getting hot. Surely, somewhere in Enk’s young mind, he’d reasoned that should make some noise. If he was going to write about it, he’d refer to the ‘creak’ of the metal, or the rattle of it as it settled on the element, but that’d be a lie. Most of his life he’d thought that the kettle should make some more noise than it did, and not once had he ever sat, in such silence, watching it, and realising that it didn’t.
It was much, much easier, no, more desirable, no, easier, to sit glaring at the kettle, as four feet away from him, his mother had one of the most animated, intelligent conversations he’d ever heard her have.
“No, no, the meaning doesn’t matter,” she said, holding her hands spread, as if she was trying to hold a very tricky stack of dishes and guide it into a nook in the sideboard. “The meaning of any individual word in an incantation isn’t… there, it’s in how the pattern… um, where is my codex…”
Innogen stepped back, shaking her head, mimicking the gesture for just a moment, before spreading her arms and twirling the fingers of her hand, drawing it back like she was guiding a wave, or some sort of clever tai chi maneuver designed to unleash the vole of many secrets. “I don’t think the codex would be of any use at all. Doesn’t it talk about magic as a drop-”
“A drop of water in a glass desert, yes, yes,” Mother said, leaving the room and raising her voice to compensate – too much at first, then not enough. Vanishing into the study, she raised her voice. “It’s possible that you were just at a confluence point when-”
“Auntie Shahnna,” Innogen said, following her out of the kitchen. “There are zombie hamsters in your front yard. There’s… there’s like, I was summoning lightning. Not teasing a drop of anything, it was right there and it was all around. No incantation, no hours of focus, no fetish, no sigils, no – just there.”
“I’m sorry, dear, but you’ve got to be hallucinating…” came the older voice, drawing back through the living room, from too soft back to uncomfortably loud, before she stepped back into the room. “There simply isn’t that much magic in the world to create lightning – I don’t think there ever has been-”
Innogen’s nostrils flared. Her eyes sparkled, deep blue, then green – and in that position, hands drawn back, without a word, a whisper, an incantation or a prayer, a long blue arc of lightning, crackling and buzzing, whispering and dancing.
That had a sound that started as it built up. It had a sound that resonated in the jaw before it crackled in the ears. The energy seemed to be burning air, which in turn pulled in more air, which dragged in, in a whirling spiral towards Innogen’s hands.
It was barely a second, before she closed her palms and eyes, and the crackling arc of blue faded, dulled out. Enk could still see it – still see sparkling spots of white and blue and purple and huge dull patches that shifted colours in his vision as he squinted his eyes shut, desperate to try and recover the ability to see but unwilling to do something like rub his eyes or wince in pain. The gasp of breath that ran through him seemed to take forever.
Halfway through that arrested gasp, though, came a louder one. Enk had a mother who was honestly more curves than line; uncharitably, she was fat, but charitably she was Rubenesque, with lots of extra Ruben. When she dragged in a breath, it seemed to suck the paint off the walls.
“Innogen!” she blurted. “You wonder!”
Somewhere three feet and a thousand miles away from Enk’s arm, the kettle began to boil. Enk couldn’t help but notice just how bitter this was making him.