Dealing in Magic, The Leira Chronicles Book 5
By Martha Carr & Michael Anderle
The local Austin offices of the Paranormal Defense Fund were starting to feel more like a command post to Leira and less like a warehouse. Even Hagan was getting used to the virtual screens that hung over the center of the cavernous building. He was standing under them over by the couches, doing his best to figure out how to read them but having no luck.
“It’s an alphabet like any other.” Lois was there from the D.C. bureau of the PDF to give them an update. “You’re holding a basic list in your hand. A cheat sheet for godsakes! I made it for you myself!”
“It’s more like Morse code than an alphabet.” Hagan squinted, trying to remember the patterns. “Agh, no good!” He threw up his hands.
“Well, for Pete’s sake. You barely tried!” Lois waved her wand and slowed down the ticker. “Try again!” she commanded. She had a soft spot for Hagan or she wouldn’t have bothered barking at him.
Leira had her head down at her desk situated across the large open area, studying a map of the Midwest farming area but it was just an excuse to run the pieces through her mind again. More corporations were busy planting seeds from Oriceran even after Perrom had stopped the large conglomerate Axiom and torn apart their labs. Their old supplier, Rhazdon was gone and in hiding somewhere on Oriceran. But someone had taken over for her and was still selling to corporations who could pay.
There were a lot of satellite photos that said the crops were spreading to other places too.
“Are we sure this is a bad thing?” Hagan looked over at Leira. It was nice to see her sitting next to Correk again. Funny how easy it is to get used to someone. She didn’t say much about his absence the entire time he was gone but Hagan noticed she had been sliding into some of her old habits. Talking less, kicking ass more.
“General Anderson calls it a bad thing, so we call it a bad thing. We’re enforcing the rules.” Leira glanced up at him but went back to looking at the map. Something about the way the crops were sprouting up. There’s a pattern here.
“You don’t question authority? Come on, and I’m going to finally lose the rest of that weight and run a marathon. Don’t kid a kidder.”
Leira looked up at him with a dead fish look. Hagan smiled. “At last! I feel better.”
“Now can we get back to the screen?” Lois sent a small jolt with her wand to his soft belly, making Hagan yelp.
“What the hell was that for?”
“I miss Patsy. Go figure. Now focus.”
Leira shook her head. “Does Perrom know anything?” She looked up at Correk. He insisted on coming with her and helping with a case. Anything to get out of the guest house and see the sights in Austin again. He said he’d done enough sitting still for a lifetime. The troll stayed behind to watch reruns of Alf on TV Land.
“I haven’t asked him yet. What? I just got back here. I’m not opening portals this week. We can figure out some of this on our own.”
Leira narrowed her eyes and looked at him more closely. Are you okay? She wanted to say the words out loud but knew he would bristle. “If I buy you Reese’s cups with the Reese’s pieces inside them will you do it?”
“I already knew about those and I’m not a child. Great, now I’m hungry.” He wheeled his chair closer to Leira’s desk and lowered his voice so Hagan and Lois couldn’t hear them.
“I’m fine. Light Elf promise.” He made an X in the air with a white light that sizzled and faded.
Lois gave up and waved her wand, fixing the screens so Hagan could get a readout he could understand. “There. No magic required.” Lois stood back and admired her handiwork.
“Seems a little strange to see you without your sidekick.” Hagan raised his eyebrows and gave her a smile. They became fast friends ever since the run in with a few of Rhazdon’s younger followers.
“I was on my way back from PTO when the assignment came through. Patsy agreed to watch the office a little longer while I swung by here.” She shifted, looking up at the screen so Hagan couldn’t see she was trying to keep a few things to herself. No need to mention Oriceran or portals or watching a friggin dragon come to life.
“Do anything fun?” Hagan looked over at the vending machine across the room, trying to talk himself out of walking over there.
“Oh for heaven’s sake. How do you ever fool a suspect in an interrogation. You’re as bad as Patsy!” Lois swung her wand in a series of small circles. A Baby Ruth chocolate bar flew across the room and Hagan neatly caught it as he looked a little sheepish.
“Must be why we get along so well,” he said, tearing off the wrapper. “Where do Witches go to take a load off? If you don’t mind me asking.” He was doing his best to chew and talk at the same time.
“I saw some old friends. Agnes and Salem. Just hung out together, caught up.” Saved a few lives, fought off Rogue Dragon worshippers. Regular vacation like any other. Like I never left the Silver Griffins.
“What’s that nasty burn on your arm? Looks pretty fresh.” He squinted to get a better look.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Fire breathing dragons in Oriceran. Just like Vegas. Lois let out a snort.
“Vegas! I love that place. You ever been to Sam’s Town? Not quite on the strip but a real deal! And a water and light show right in the lobby! Rose loves the place.”
“Okay, spill it.” Correk crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow at Leira. “Why are you working so hard over finding out who’s trading Oriceran seeds for cash? I get it, it’s an order from the general. But you’re a little too intent on this, especially given we’re supposed to be chasing artifacts.”
“It was something I saw,” whispered Leira, glancing over at Hagan.
Correk looked over his shoulder and back at Leira, surprised. “You didn’t tell Hagan? What did you see?”
“Strangest thing. Didn’t know what to make of it and I wanted to get a little more information before I stirred up trouble. We went out to look at some of these crops while you were gone. Just a reconnaisance mission to gather information and I found this on the ground.” Leira opened her desk drawer and reached in the back for a small box. She opened it and showed Correk the contents. Inside was a dead cicada that was half wires and parts.
Correk scowled when he saw it.
“It gets weirder. Pick it up.”
Correk looked at her and Leira held the box closer. “Go on. It’s the best way to explain it.”
Correk picked up the cicada between his fingers and felt a familiar hum in his fingers. He started and dropped the bug back into the box. “It’s part artifact,” he hissed, leaning in closer to look at the dead bug. Hagan and Lois looked up from what they were doing but Leira softened her expression and lowered the box. They went back to looking at the virtual screens.
“Creepy to the power of ten, right? I wanted to tell Turner Underwood but the general said the whole seed thing was top secret, highest clearance. I wasn’t sure that included a thousand year old Elf. But I’ll tell you, if you hadn’t come back I would have told him anyway. I mean, I know it’s just a bug but someone fused an artifact to a living thing. What if this is a prototype for something else? I know I’m just part human but I’ve been around these parts long enough to know we’re a rather creative bunch and sometimes we stray off the ranch and do some eerie shit.”
“It’s a bug.”
“I know, Correk. I just said that and you can see that. Your head okay?” Leira looked at him, concerned.
“Stop that. I mean it’s a bug. It’s a listening device. I’ve seen these before. The Wood Elves have been known to use them. Never knew who or what was making them. Rumors were that they got the parts from the Dark Market and used magic to put it all together.”
“Magic has to be involved somewhere. But what if they aren’t the ones who made them?”
“Did you only see one of them?”
“Not sure but I thought I saw some flying in a small swarm but they were too far away to be sure. I haven’t told the general yet either.”
“What are you waiting for?”
Leira hesitated. If I can’t tell Correk… “I remembered seeing something like this once before but it took a little digging to be sure.” Leira dug around in the back of her desk again and pulled out a silk pouch.
“How much contraband is in that desk drawer?”
Leira grimaced and ignored the jab. She opened the pouch and carefully shook out the contents into the palm of her hand. Out rolled another cicada, teal blue and a deep emerald green with fragile wings. It was partially fused to metal. “This one is a lot older. At least five years old, not sure.”
“Where’d you get that?”
Leira cleared her throat and looked up to be sure no one had wandered any closer. “In Nana’s boxes. This one is hers. I remember seeing it when I was going through her things before but I never picked it up. I thought it was some of her new age jewelry and I stored it away.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“I’m volunteering my services.” Lois stood in front of Correk and Leira, tapping her government-issued wand in her hand. Her mouth was twisting into a sour purse as she stopped herself from saying anything more, yet. Let them go next.
Leira started, dropped the cicada quickly back into the pouch and putting it in her drawer, sliding it shut with the palm of her hand.
“What about Patsy? And I thought you wanted to stay close to home to be near Earl?” Leira spit out the words in a hurry trying to gather her wits. She sat back in her chair, doing her best to look calm. Lois eyed her carefully.
“You could use my help. This artifact race is getting out of hand. Time I came out of retirement.”
Correk stood up, stretching his back. He still felt an ache in his muscles some of the time. “Why now? You’ve been retired from the Silver Griffins for some time. That’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it? Going back out into the magical field.”
“And then there’s the PDF.”
“Enough, kids. I outrank both of you on both worlds and I can think of all these reasons myself.”
“Humor us. Why now?” Leira leaned her elbows on her desk, doing her best to forget about what was in the drawer.
“If you must know, I didn’t have much left to believe in before you two showed up on the scene like some kind of caped crusaders.”
“Dibs on Batman…” Leira said it as fast as she could.
“I’m not agreeing to even being thought of as Robin.”
“I’ll be Commissioner Gordon.” Hagan had wandered over to their desks. “Looking up at that screen gives me a crick in my neck after a while.” He massaged the back of his neck.
“If you’re trying to get me to rethink things, it’s not working. My mind’s made up.” Lois tapped the desk hard with her wand.
“Careful, she’ll zap you with it.” Hagan held up his hands in protest. “So you know, this is our usual intelligent patter.”
“Hagan has a point. We solved a few cases but the Silver Griffins have been doing kind of the same thing for a lot longer.”
“Not like you two. And the way you go at any problem, I haven’t seen them do that in years. Wasn’t till you gave them a run for their money chasing after that necklace that they got up off their asses and scrambled.” Lois let out a cackle. “Was kind of fun to watch Lacey Edwards hop to!”
“What was it like in the old days?” Leira was grateful for the distraction. Correk settled back down in his chair and Hagan sat on the edge of his desk.
Lois always did love a captive audience. “Well…” She held out her hands, waving them around as she talked, sliding her glasses back up her nose every few words. “I’m a little older than I look, you know. Way back was waaaaay back.” She waved her hand over her shoulder. “Things were simpler then. The humans, bless their hearts, they didn’t have many gadgets of any kind. Boy, they were easier to fool then. If some of them saw something peculiar…”
“You mean magical… and for the record, I’m one of your stupid humans.” Hagan smirked and folded his arms over his chest, resting them on his stomach.
“I never said stupid. You don’t know what you haven’t seen or heard yet. Put your feathers back down. Where was I? Oh, right, humans. We would make up some story about aliens and distract them with some nice geometric patterns in a few corn fields. Was big fun! Or make a nice, pretty light in the sky. That worked really well too.”
“Still does sometimes.” Leira laughed and gave a crooked smile.
“Not quite as easily though. Humans have grown cynical and now that the prophets have given up the whole shebang and exposed magic. Well, no putting that one back in the bottle. Just as well, though. Never told you what exactly got me to retire.” Lois rolled her eyes and pushed her glasses up her nose. “Along about the 1950’s, humans figured out how to split atoms.”
“You are older than you look.” Hagan looked Lois up and down, trying to estimate her age.
“Stop with the wandering eyes or I zap you good this time.”
Hagan immediately looked Lois in the eyes with a blank stare. Correk covered his mouth with his hand, trying to hide a smile.
“All these interruptions!”
“We won’t interrupt you again… Go on, go on.” Leira waved her hand, encouraging Lois.
Lois closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“It’s like she’s getting into character,” whispered Correk.
Leira smiled and hushed him. “I want to hear this one.”
Lois’ eyes popped open.
“Oh geez!” Hagan started, sliding off the corner of the desk. His hand reflexively went to his gun. “Sorry, false alarm.” He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead.
“That first atom bomb test, the Silver Griffins freaked out.” Lois leaned forward like she was telling a good ghost story. “That was its own kind of dark magic. We were on high alert and looking for some kind of way to put a stop to it. But there was disagreement among the ranks and clicques formed. Witches and Wizards started keeping secrets from each other and our mission got a little screwy. Instead of protecting magic and magical beings and humans from all that magic, we were working against each other and worrying about how to stop the humans from doing something even worse. The crises passed but by then all that secrecy had become a bad habit.”
“Couldn’t you have stopped them from splitting atoms with a little magic?” Leira raised her eyebrows.
“My dear, magic is not the answer for everything. Almost everything but actually human beings are quite clever at times. Sometimes they come up with things that magic on Earth can’t quite contain, especially when the gates are closed. There wasn’t enough magic around to stop them. Now, if the gates were open… different story.”
“Still doesn’t explain why you left.” Correk sat forward, intently listening.
“I caught a good friend in a lie that almost cost me my life along with a few other good Silver Griffins. No, I’m not giving up names. It was a long time ago.” Lois got a faraway look in her eyes still full of pain. “Let’s just say that ambition mixed with a little righteousness and magic can poison even the most thoughtful Witch or Wizard. Anyway, that was the breaking point for me. I had enough and by then, Earl wanted to settle down. Let me tell you, that man was too hot to ignore. Still is!” Lois fanned herself, breathing a little harder.
“I have to ask and I know it’s none of my business. Earl even know you’re here?” Leira waited in the silence that followed. Never fill the dead air space.
“It’s a good marriage, you know. That means, yes, he knows all about this trip.” And the one to Oriceran, bless that man. Lois gingerly touched the wound on her arm. That tale is a story for another day. “Let me spell it out for you and make this easier. One, I’m not exactly asking. I know, I know, I said it was an offer but I’m way too pushy to take a ‘no’ and just leave. Two, you are doing things for the right reasons… at last! I’ve waited my share of time to see that happen again. Leira you rush in no matter the odds and Correk you’re right there by her side. Even Hagan and he’s got to bring a gun to a magic fight! It’s inspiring! None of you stands around and worries about what to do next cuz you’re already out there doing something! I want to be a part of that and this old body still has a lot of gumption left in it. You’re not leaving me out of this. I’ve waited too long.” Lois was shaking her head vehemently, waving her hands.
Hagan took notice of the wand waving in the air, ducking and swaying with each swoop. “Come on, there has to be some rule about waving that thing in the air. It’s worse than a loaded gun!”
“Calm yourself, Felix! Any Witch worth her wand knows how to keep a lid on it.” Lois pushed her glasses back up her nose and straightened out her cardigan, pulling down the edges at her waist.
Leira waited a beat to see if Lois was done. “So… you’re in.”
Correk put out his hand. “Welcome, friend.”
Lois broke into a smile, grinning as hard as she could, pressing down her chin. “Didn’t realize this would mean so much to me! Well… shoot.” She held out her arms, waving her hands at them. “Come on, group hug.”
Hagan drew back a little. “Really?”
“Come on, it’s inevitable. Even if I have to use my wand.”
Correk leaned toward her to pat her arm but Lois took him by the arm and gently pulled him to his feet, grabbing Leira with her other hand. “Nearly lost both of you,” she muttered into Correk’s shoulder, squeezing them both tight. Hagan sat back relieved, waving from the safety of his desk.
“Alright,” said Lois, finally letting go. “Time to get to work. What artifact are we racing to next?”
Leira thought about the two bugs in her desk and pushed the thought aside. Later. “There’s a report of some artifacts being located in the foothills of Arkansas but we’ll need to move quickly. There are reports of others moving toward the location.”
“Well, then, let’s get a move on. Been itching to use my wand in another battle. Good times!”