Dealing in Magic, The Leira Chronicles Book 5
By Martha Carr & Michael Anderle
Louie was on the trail of a rare artifact, adrenaline rushing through his veins. He loved the chase as much as he loved getting there ahead of everyone else. And he loved winning. Nothing sweeter.
He let out a loud peal of laughter as he raced along the cramped trail carved out between the two cliffs of a mountain range near the Land of Terran. Louie was running at a fast clip, ducking sideways in the narrowest passages, small rocks raining down on his head. His favorite leather pouched was strapped across his shoulder, banging against his back as he moved.
A large blue angel lizard ducked out of a crack in the wall, it’s jaws opening as Louie quickly pressed his hand against one side of the passage and his foot against the other, rising just high enough to miss the sharp snap of the razor-sharp teeth. The lizard’s tail swung high in the air and caught the edge of Louie’s pant leg, easily slicing it open. A momentary flash of concern came across his face as he grabbed onto a rocky handhold, swinging up higher. His leather pouched swung behind him, slapping his back as it swung down again.
A puff of blue and green gas floated up from the lizard as Louie held his breath, pressing his arm against his face to avoid the momentary paralysis from breathing in the fumes.
“Damn flesh eaters!”
He landed further down the passage and his scowl was quickly replaced by his usual grin as the lizard ran back inside the bowels of the rocky carving. “Still here.” His hand pressed against the thin metal box nestled inside of his shirt and he felt the startling hum shoot through his hand again. Pure source.
The box was part of an estate sale from an old Wood Elf who lived on the edge of the Dark Forest close to the ocean. Louie bargained them down on a tray of old crystals that he instantly recognized as rare. They would have been worth all the haggling by themselves. Louie knew some of them dated back to a time when there were other Elves who roamed across Oriceran and Atlanteans were everywhere. A time before the last gates were even open.
Primeval, he had thought and made himself breath evenly as he fingered them. He felt lightheaded and woozy all at once and gently put the stone back down. Fucking A. That is a rush. It had been a long time since a relic gave off that much energy.
It was a gift of his that he could absorb energy from artifacts so easily and not get burned.
But these stones were different. They weren’t burning anyone else who picked them up. They weren’t doing anything. He watched from across the room as an Elf picked up a stone and turned it over in her hand, dropping it back into the box, uninterested. Bored even. Louie’s mouth dropped open and he looked at the Elf more closely and back at the box. Is that dude that powerful?
A young Gnome stopped in front of the box and let out an interested grunt. Louie sidled closer, ready to snatch it out of his hands if necessary. He waited, anxious to see what happened next. The Gnome picked up a different crystal and held it up to the light, even licking the stone.
Louie made a face, scowling as he watched the Gnome inspect the stones. Finally, the Gnome shrugged and dropped the crystal casually back into the box. “Junk,” he muttered, moving on to another room.
Louie went back to the box and picked up the same stone, holding it by the edges. It was still wet. He grimaced as he dropped it into the palm of his other hand and shut his fingers tight. It felt like the top of his head was going to float off and the room started to spin but he held on, waiting to see what would happen next. That was Louie. He wanted the whole ride.
There was a loud pop in his ears and he felt the surge of magic in his belly, rushing like warm liquid up through his chest and out his arm, stopping at his closed fist. He grit his teeth and forced himself to look around to see if anyone else had come into the small alcove where the box was sitting but he was alone. Fuck it! I’m hanging on!
It started as a low-level mixture of voices in the background. He had whipped his head to the left and then the right, trying to catch the sounds of the voices, just missing a phrase. His hand began to vibrate violently, shaking his arm. He looked down, watching the symbols race across his skin, trying to read them as the voices grew, blending together until they became a unified voice. His jaw was clenched tighter, trying to contain the energy, feeling like it could explode out of his skin as he realized what he was hearing.
“Holy fuck…” he had whispered. The symbols were speaking to him, out loud.
They were guiding him, and telling him what was to come. A thousand voices covering a thousand possibilities until they blended into one voice, pointing out the best option. A hard shudder passed through his body, startling him and his hand opened, dropping the stone. The pulse of energy instantly faded, seeping back down into the ground. Every muscle in his body ached and he still heard a ringing in his ears. “What the hell was that?”
His heart was beating hard as he dug through the box, feeling the energy pulse through him momentarily, every time he brushed up against one of the crystals.
Buried at the bottom was the box.
He kept going, traveling further into the mountain, keeping an eye out as best he could for anything else that crept or crawled. There were others on his trail, trying to get to the rumored prize ahead of him. Or at least track him long enough to let him take all the risk and steal it from his later.
The deeper parts of the mountain were left untouched by anyone with any common sense. Too many poisonous snakes, and giant spiders that spun their prey into sticky webs, or lizards that could crunch bones with their teeth lived in all the cracks and crevices.
But Louie wasn’t known for his common sense as much as he was for his cunning. The moment he held the box he knew something was up. It radiated energy and was a powerful battery, a relic. He barely contained his excitement as he paid for the crystals, sliding the box back down to the bottom of the box.
He got to a fork in the passage where both directions led deeper into the mountain. One passage going north toward the ocean and the other headed west. He quickly pulled out the box and flipped it over in his hands, a jolt of magic coursing through his veins. The symbols lit up along his arms and his eyes glowed as he spun the box in the palm of his hand. Faster and faster it twirled, becoming a blur, until it let out a high-pitched whine and symbols emerged through the copper-colored metal.
Louie knew what it was at once the first time the box started spinning.
A map. A fabled fucking map. It still took his breath away. His eyes bugged out when he saw where it led, straight into the mountains through the most dangerous and uncharted stretch of rock.
No one went there, even the Gnomes who lived in surrounding caves and everyone knew there wasn’t much they shied away from. But the narrow passageway they had nicknamed Dead Man’s Crawl was one of the few exceptions. Occasionally a harpy could be seen soaring over the deep fissures in the rock, eyeing a decaying carcass. The harpy would swoop in, disappearing from view, letting out a strangled cry until the sky went quiet again. The Dark Forest was friendlier territory than the twenty mile stretch of the Dead Man’s Crawl.
Louie waited till the map appeared. It only took a few seconds, which was longer than he really had if he wanted to keep moving and avoid death or at least mutilation from something with claws or fangs that was probably already watching him, sizing him up. “North!”
He moved straight ahead, rapidly jumping from rock to rock as the ground grew damp and sandy. He jumped onto a smooth, round rock and felt his foot sink lower, into the sand, almost throwing him off balance. He teetered, jumping quickly to the next stone as the smooth rock behind him stood up and a snapping turtle’s head appeared and let out a growl. “Even the turtles have attitude.”
All of it was worth the price of admission. Louie had been around scavengers and thieves all of his life and had heard tales from when he was little about the cache of artifacts and relics that were imbued with a lost tribe of Elves who had disappeared off the planet. The legend was that the artifacts possessed the power to open a gate early and hold it open. Some said the relics could even open a gate to the world in between or give the possessor the ability to conquer any army. There was even a rumor with legs that talked about living forever. No one knew for sure and most thought of it all as myth because no amount of magic ever helped turn up a single clue. The only part of the story that seemed to be the same no matter who was telling it was that the treasure lay somewhere inside Dead Man’s Crawl. The rest was thought to be imaginative rumor or an outright lie.
Not Louie. Stranger things have turned out to be real…
He leaped over the next string of rocks, barely clearing them and landed two-footed on the other side. The wet sand and mud swirled under his boots, quickly giving way as the ground gave away in a rush, sucking him into the whorl with a loud slurping sound.
“Nyaaaaaaah!” He let out a gurgled yell, cut off as he snapped his mouth shut and disappeared into the ground, the mud swallowing him up.
He fell ten feet in the darkness, landing on hard rock, rolling across the ground. “Oof.”
He rubbed his side, checking his ribs and got to his feet as quickly as he could. It didn’t pay to take too long to gather his wits or even act like he might be wounded. Bad enough he could taste blood on his tongue. He stood up, quickly checking that the box was still intact, and spread his feet, pulling in magic to light the complete darkness. “Experius!” His voice echoed off the walls as he waved his wand. He sent out beams of light in every direction that refracted off the walls in different colors and came bouncing back toward him, sparkling against the rock.
He turned in a circle in the twelve-foot square chamber, dazzled by the light show. “The magic can’t penetrate the rock…” Louie stepped closer and touched the walls, smelling the familiar odor of ozone mixed with something unfamiliar. “What is that?” He looked up and saw that the ground above was quickly reshaping itself, blocking out the sky. “That could possibly be bad…”
Louie moved cautiously around the room, examining all the cracks, pressing on different areas, looking for weak spots. Nothing was giving way. “This is either gonna be one hell of a hero story or a shit show with an audience of one.” He stepped back, his hands on his hips. “Come on, dude. You’ve faced worse than this. Steady.” He held up his wand and twirled it, a flame appearing on the end that flickered, bending to the right.
“Air pocket…” He made his way in the direction the flame was pointing and looked more closely at the wall. “Grandma Petey you are about to be proud of your little boy. I remember what you told me.” He put up his hands and spread his fingers, pressing them firmly against the wall. “Of course, I thought you were blowing smoke up my skirt at the time… Okay,” he muttered, repeating his grandmother’s old adage. “I come from a special line of Wizards with more than meets the eye. When in trouble breathe deeply and hold on to trouble. Grandma, I’m feelin you.”
Louie cleared his mind and relaxed his shoulders, pressing against the wall. There was a warm rush of energy that slowly crawled its way up his legs, making its way through his abdomen, filling every space inside of him. “What the fuck? Grandma Petey, who were you doing the horizontal boogie with? No Wizard can pull off shit like this! Whooaaaaa…” Louie looked down in amazement and saw a purple glow surrounding his body as the magic continued to spread up his chest and through his shoulders, moving out through his arms. “I’m not sure if I’m peeing right now or not. Fuck, totally worth it if I get something out of this place.”
He looked up at the wall as the energy got to his hands. “Alacazam motherfucker,” he whispered and pressed harder against the wall. The purple glow poured into the rock, becoming liquid, filling every crevice until a section of wall glowed from within and started to move. “A goddamn door. What kind of crazy ass magical beings could pull off this magic act?”
The door slowly scraped open, grinding against the floor and sides until it was wide enough for Louie to slip through to the other side. As soon as he did, the door slammed shut, becoming one with the stone around it again, the glow receding into darkness. “That was worth the price of admission.” Louie rubbed his side and grinned from ear to ear.
He pulled out his wand again and waved it, lighting up the chamber as his mouth dropped open and it felt like the air was rushing out of his lungs. “I…can’t…believe… It’s true.”
Three yards in front of him was a set of large brass vases with large handles three feet tall, surrounding a large carved stone. On top of the stone was a sword with a gold handle. “Kind of been done before. The whole sword in the stone thing. Little cliché guys!” Louie looked up, shouting in the cavern as his voice echoed back to him. “Okay, no time like the present.” He clapped his hands together and made his way over to the stone, watching where he was stepping. “Grandma Petey, if you can hear me, I could use a little help right now. What was the other part of that story? Right about now, I’m sorry I tuned you out and went fishing. Let’s see. Something about lots of tests… or was it traps?”
Louie stepped closer as the ground beneath his feet lit up and a vase moved aside. Louie nodded his head. “That’s got to be a good sign, sure. Okay, thank you Grandma Petie. I owe you one.” He licked his lips and his mouth felt dry. “World’s worst game show.” He took another step closer to the sword and directed the light from his wand to shine directly on it. Inscribed in the handle were three infinity symbols entwined around an artful J. “Fucking mother lode all in one handy relic. The stories are real. Love it when a myth comes together.” Louie could feel his face flush with excitement. A relic from the Jasper Elves would be priceless and powerful.
He took another look around the chamber, still standing between the large metal vases, careful to move as little as possible. “What was the rest of that story? Sea monsters. No, that was something about Trevilsom Prison. No harpies. Death was in there somewhere. I distinctly remember Grandma Petey saying death. Of course, she threatened me with that a lot. Love the old bat. Damn. Would love to phone a friend right about now.”
Louie bit his lip, figuring his odds as he studied the sword and the stone. “Don’t suppose there’s some kind of spell or riddle or some kind of shit like that. Inky, blinky and bob.” He repeated an old children’s spell, bolstering his courage, trying to make up his mind. Back up to study some more or grab the sword and run.
“Hell with it,” he said raising his hands, just as bats flew out of the slimmest of cracks, expanding as they hit the air, flying straight at Louie, pecking at his head. “Son of a bitch!” He swatted at the creatures, slamming one to the ground as the rest continued on their way, seeping into cracks in the far wall. Louie gave off a shudder, wiping his hands on his pants. “Bat goo. What next?”
Before anything else could happen, Louie reached over and pulled on the sword, expecting resistance but the blade easily came out of the stone, letting out a clean, high-pitched note in the still air. “Weirdly disappointing, unless I’m now the ruler of somewhere on Earth.”
He held the heavy sword up in front of him, the tip reaching high enough to scratch against the ceiling. The handle vibrated in his hands, giving off a familiar glow. “The same as those crystals that kept scorching the customers. Interesting.”
The sword vibrated faster and faster, giving off a series of notes as the ground beneath Louie’s feet began to rumble. “Holy shit!” Louie grabbed the handle with both hands, doing his best to hold on to the sword. “A hundred-pound vibrator with razor sharp edges is a little too far into the kinky side for me. Granma Petey would not approve.” He was shouting as he strained to hold on to the sword. Slowly it started to tilt toward his head and the finely-honed edges came closer to his face.
Louie let out a roar and dug into his resolve, squeezing his eyes shut. The purple flow of energy quickly returned, sliding through him, helping him to finally steady the sword and hold it over his head. Every muscle in his body ached and he felt a sharp spark pass through his back, sweat pouring off his face. He smiled broadly, turning the sword in his hands to look at every side. “Third test and rocked it!”
The smile slid off his face as the rock dissolved into dust along the floor of the cavern and the dirt around Louie’s feet turned into thick green vines covered in thorns that wasted no time sliding up his legs, piercing his skin, making their way toward his waist.
“You have got to be kidding me! Every goddamn children’s fairytale come to life with an ugly twist!” The vines squeezed around his middle making it harder for him to breathe.
Louie slashed at the vines with the sword, focusing his energy as the sword easily sliced through and the vines withered and turned to black, falling back toward the ground as quickly as they reached up to tear him apart. “Anything else?” He yelled as loud as he could, letting out a roar from deep inside his chest. The echo died down and the room was still. An odd sense of peace passed through him and his mind cleared. He took quick stock of his injuries. There were small punctures in Louie’s hands and along his legs, and bruises on his head from the bats, and his ribs were still tender from the long fall.
“Grandma Petey you may have downplayed things a bit.” He looked at the large urns vases and thought about taking one with him, pursing his lips. He put his hand closer and felt the shock of electricity pass through his hand. “Maybe not this trip.”
Louie held up the sword and went to the farthest wall, pressing the tip of the sword against the rock. “Worked once, will work again.” Nothing happened. He let out a frustrated sigh and leaned against a nearby wall as it swung open and deposited him on the other side, landing on his ass, barely holding on to the sword. The door swung shut again and he found himself back on Dead Man’s Crawl with no idea how he got there. He got to his feet, covered in a fine silt down the back of his pants.
An army of fire ants the side of his fist came marching toward him, their pincers clicking loud enough to drown out any other sound. Their shells were known to be as hard as steel and their poison an instant death. Running was usually the only option.
Without thinking, Louie raised the sword and swung, cleanly cutting the first row in half as the others quickly retreated. “What the…” He looked at the sword and wiped the ant slime off on the vines growing up the side of the wall. “That’s supposed to be impossible.”
Louie’s imagination spun with the possibilities the sword was offering to him. He fashioned a holster for the sword from a belt, wrapping the leather around the handle, close to the hilt as he made his way out of Dead Man’s Crawl. He had the treasure he was hunting and was done for the day.
“Thanks Grandma Petey,” he shouted, as he ran through the narrow passage, twisting his body to fit, the sword banging against the side.