It was noon before they got to the zoo, bus scheduled being what they were, Once there, Anne followed Cordelia glumly. Anne was soothed by talk and Cordelia refused to join in or listen. She walked the zoo grounds in patterns, not looking at any of the animals, eyes on a zoo map.
"Can I get a hot dog? I'm starved."
"Yes. Stay there. I'll join you."
"I don't know where one is, exactly."
"You'll find it. I'll find you."
Anne left Cordelia to her pacing. She found a vendor nearby, but passed him to find a snack bar farther on. It was less comfortable, but she was in a grumpy mood and wanted Cordelia to have to look.
She didn't. When she came, she sailed straight in without looking around. She might have been blind. She sat and began to mark the map.
"We're going to walk a labyrinth pattern. I had to find one that would fit around the local barriers. We'll have to walk through a couple of flower beds and hop a short fence, but we won't go into any compounds. We start here and end here."
"They'll think we're nuts, but what else is new? Hey, that's the reptile house."
"Just outside it. Ready?"
"Sure. Let's go."
"Ignore your mood. Labyrinths always breed despair or anger or whatever is most likely to stop you."
"So this isn't just me?"
"No. Not entirely. If you've never done magic at this depth before, you're probably also nervous."
"I'm doing magic?"
"You're me focus. I tie the spells to your mother through the "curse" she has on you. It will be uncomfortable. You'll feel very sticky. Your talent will react to the flow, but it will be easiest for all of us if you can keep yourself still."
"Relax and be a drain pipe, huh?"
"Beats a leach field."
"Never mind. I'm sorry to be so distant, but this is hard for me. That's why we're doing it so quickly. I almost decided not to do it at all. I still might back out. You'd never know. It just wouldn't work, and it might not work in any case."
"What! Why?" The hot dogs in Anne's stomach started barking and straining at their leashes.
"I'll tell you when it's over. . . when it works."
Anne frowned, but nodded. "Let's go," she said. They went.
The center of the labyrinth was the crocodile pond. Anne fidgeted, cramping with emotion as Cordelia waited stonily for no one to be watching. Elsewhere in the zoo, a flower bed was two hot dogs richer.
At last they were unobserved for a moment and Cordelia lobbed the rat into the pond. It was immediately swallowed.
"Whoah!" Oh, I can't believe what a relief that is!" Anne smiled at Cordelia, buoyant again. "Let's get some hot dogs."
"Yes. Then we have to find a place to hide."
"Yes. We have to pull one of her teeth tonight."
"Excuse me? Pull her tooth? Are you nuts? And how do you know it's a her?"
"It's a her because that's the point to all of this. See that pile of vegetation? That's her nest. Her eggs are in it. The composting action provides heat, which a crocodile can't provide, while the mother guards the nest. Crocodilians are the only reptiles to exhibit mothering behavior."
"The family: crocodiles, alligators, caimans, garials . . . Alligators have all of their teeth in their mouths. You can't reach them when their mouths are shut. But a crocodile's shout has a jag in it. A couple of teeth stick out even when the mouth is held shut."
"Held shut? And who holds it shut?"
"You do. I'll be holding the spelled pliers. Holding a croc's mouth open is hard, because its biting muscles are strong. But its opening muscles are weak. In fact, they mostly tilt back their heads and let their jaws fall open. It's easy to hold it shut, or it would be if there weren't the rest of the croc to deal with. Still, the rat should help."
"Are you nuts?"
"Do you want to back out? The tooth is necessary. And getting it will be easier than using it."
"Sure. Two witches against one little lizard?"
"Less than twelve feet. Maybe you are only dabbling in the craft because you want a stronger family life."
Anne glared at Cordelia. This time it was Cordelia who smiled. "I don't want to do this. If you back out, I'm relieved."
"Let's get those hot dogs."
It was harder than Cordelia had said, but easier than Anne had feared. They did it on firm, open ground, Cordelia distracting and leading the beast and Anne pouncing when it walked by, ignoring her. She used the hold Cordelia had explained and only had to wrestle it for a few hours before Cordelia was able to stroke its belly and quiet it.
"That was ten minutes, tops. But you did well."
"What? How did you know what I was thinking?"
"Patch. There. He has an invasive mind. And he's rude. Now hold her mouth. She won't like this. Remember we have to wrestle her still again and maneuver her over to the fence before we let go. She's not spelled."
"Why does she hold still?"
"She likes belly rubs. Now turn her head and hold on tight."
The first wrestle may have only lasted ten minutes, but it was a good two hours before they had both the tooth and the mother of hatching reptiles positioned by the fence. Cordelia climbed the bars, then leaned back to give Anne a hand to grab. Anne decided to stand on the croc's shoulder and nose.
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"This will lift me up higher. I'll be farther away when I let goooo!"
Anne yodeled as the croc stood and flexed, ready to buck her off. Without thinking, she released and jumped, landing high up on the fence. She paused to relax, thinking herself safe.
"No!" Cordelia yelled, hauling Anne up and over. The croc's jaws snapped where her legs had been. The two women collapsed on the safe side of the fence.
"You didn't say they could jump," Anne panted.
"I said don't stop once you let go."
"Is it over?"
"This is. We have a few more things to collect, but nothing dangerous. Then we calculate the best time for the spell. Then we cast it."
"And this was the easy part?"
"You have no idea. A spell of this magnitude - it will feel like I'm tearing out the heart of the universe by tearing out my heart, and yours, and your mother's. Reality doesn't shift easily. Neither does illusion, come to that."
The women stayed flopped where they'd landed until their breathing slowed. They were wet and scraped and bruised and exhausted. They smelled of crocodile and rotting vegetation. Only fear of cramped muscles got them up and stretching before much time had passed.
"If I swell where I'm bruised, I'll have to buy a D cup."
"What time does the next bus leave?"
"Are you nuts? No, forget I asked." Anne hauled a soggy, battered bus schedule out of her back pocket and walked to the nearest light. Many minutes later she declared, "None of the ones that stop here are still running. There's a bus due on Main in half an hour, but that's at least a two mile walk."
"Witchcraft," said Cordelia, "helps build strong bodies twelve ways."
Anne shook her head and wadded up the schedule. "That sounds like a commercial," she said, heading for the locked main gate.
"It was," said Cordelia. "You're just too young to have heard it."
They argued all the way to Cordelia's apartment over who got the first shower. In the end, they piled in together with their clothes on, washing and stripping and hanging things out to dry in an uncoordinated duet. They stumbled to the futon couch wrapped on towels and almost didn't have the strenggth or wit to lay it out before sprawling on it and falling asleep.
"You know," said Anne in the morning, as Cordelia tended her wounds, "the saddest thing was that we weren't the shabbiest or smelliest people on that bus."
"She is proud of herself. Proud of you both. She is afraid for her mother." Patch flipped his feathers.
"Your mother probably felt us walk the labyrinth. And there's a connection between her and the tooth, now. It may feel unsettling."
"Will it hurt her?" Anne was subdued.
"Physically, no. Emotionally, she will feel a pang when her cursing pipeline is disconnected. I'm told all mothers feel that pang when they realize their baby is grown."
"No more than that?"
"In the end. While the spell is being case she will feel an echo of what we feel. Which is one of the reasons we'll be sure to do it while she sleeps. That will dampen the effect."
"Will she worry over your scrapes and bruises?"
"Nah. I get these all the time." Anne smiled.
"She is proud. She is proud."
"I'd better scoot. She'll freak if I miss school."
"Drop by after, if you can. I'll have a list and a spell schedule."
"It's going to feel good to have this over, you know? You have no idea what it's like."
"No. I don't."