“This one,” he pointed out the forth and sixteenth page before shuffling few further and taking the twenty fourth one out. Steven and Marc exchanged exasperated looks while he searched for the last one. “It fell down once,” Efren explained quickly, “I didn’t have time to put it back together.”
“When was that?” Steven asked with sarcasm dripping from his tone.
“Last summer?” He shrugged, he really didn’t remember.
“He isn’t that bad.” Marc intervened before Steven could add anything. “His flat was squeaky clean. Except when it comes to official documents, you have to keep him away from those, ‘cause he is so damn careless with those.”
Efren’s fingers stopped and his eyes widened in disbelief. He looked up just in time to see Steven’s face lit up.
“You heard about my contract, right?”
“I burnt my buns, I couldn’t believe he’d signed it!”
They both laughed openly before they took a quick glance on the side, where Efren stared daggers at them and their humor cooled.
“I found the last one.”
Efren ripped it from the pages and gave it to Steven. He banged the book shut before resting his chin on top of it, clutching to it as if Steven would take it away again, but instead, Steven shuffled through the four pages, searching and spelling names of the drugs listed in various stages of the ritual.
“These are high end chemical compounds! How did you get your hands on them last time?” He tried and failed spelling another name. “You have to go through EPA to get that!”
Efren looked at him from his papers and chuckled, the effort making his eyes burn with tears. He’d done his research couple of years back for them too, but he never expected anyone know them so well to know how hard it was to get some of them.
“That’s why you study herbalism most of your life. Many of them can be found in plants or soil, some need to be boiled down to get the concentration right, some need to be distilled through vinegar for the reaction…” He coughed.
“Ok?” Steven nodded, trying to wrap his head around it. “So…” he drawled. “If I get you the pure stuff we don’t need to go searching river beds for Excalibur?”
Another chuckle made Efren cough. “If I kiss you, will you turn out to be a prince after all?”
“Why, thank you, little brother, but I don’t wanna know.” Steven scuffed. “Cedrick, get me Turley on the phone.”
“It’s weird seeing him so into it.” Efren said, when Steven was ready to go. “He acted like a brick up until now, when all it seems he needed was to focus on something else aside his own problems.”
“I wish you’d come to me earlier.” Marc said quietly, when he took his place next to Efren, gripping the towel between his fingers he’d used to wash up only a moment before. “Then it wouldn’t be him at all. I would be doing this for you, if you’d allow me.” Efren could feel its dampness close to his fingers. He gave Marc a quick nudge with his nose, hoping he’d get how sorry he was. There were only so many times one could use words and he really regretted not going to him at first.
He leaned against his shoulder and closed his eyes, feeling his mind rest and soaking up the calmness surrounding his friend. He wanted to stay like this forever while he fingered the pages in his hands, his mind forcing him to study the rhymes instead.
The front door closed and everything became quiet.
“I’m sorry, but, uh,” Marc continued, sighed and tossed the towel on the table before grabbing the pages from him, “you should be practicing lines instead of sleeping now.”
“But I feel tired.”
“Honestly, I don’t care. I want -” he paused, then corrected. “I need you alive, by my side.” He pumped Efren’s shoulder. “You were right.”
“I was?” About what?
“I don’t want to explain to Pearl that someone important to her has died, so you better pull yourself together and do your best to stay alive.” He let out a loud huff. “So! What is this anyway? Magic, is it?”
“Well, how would you explain it then? It does have spells and everything. Prayers? Chants? How do you call them?”
“Words!” Efren pushed up his chin up, rested his cheek on his shoulder and pointed out the first line in fading letters out to him. He spelled it out and Marc listened, his focus back on Efren’s voice. “It’s not magic, not in that sense anyway. The sounds your vocals make help you focus, that’s all. No real magic.”
“It would sound better if you’d skip the explanation and just call it magic.”
“No.” Efren’s enthusiasm died a little. “The way I see it, the magic is not about the illusion you see once without knowing how it happens. Magic is knowing, how to create that illusion times and times again after finding out, what it is. Like rainbows – if you don’t know, how it works, it’s an illusion. After you learn how to make it with prisms, it becomes magic, a skill that makes you independent of your surroundings. These spells are like that – they are tools to help you focus on the task at hand, not prayers to deities. Like fine tuning a brain.”
He raised his eyes from the paper and froze, realizing he was only inches from the intense stare Marc was giving him.
“Then it’s magic.” He murmured, leaning closer. Efren could feel the smile forming on his lips. He wanted this, bad.
“Isn’t that nice?” they heard Cedrick’s voice coming from the front door and Marc pushed Efren away, blushing something fierce. Cedrick continued his way to the kitchen and settled some paper bags on the kitchen counters as if he hadn’t seen the awkwardness. “So what kind of warehouse do you have in mind?”