FROM MARTHA >>> Snippet #4! RULE OF MAGIC, Book 4 is just A WEEK AWAY! Wednesday, September 27th! In the meantime, today is RELEASE DAY for DARK FOREST with SARAH NOFFKE and .99 cents for just 24 hours. Okay… here’s that snippet… Enjoy!
Leira found Hagan in the food court brushing small bits of taco shell off his shirt. “You caved.”
Three young privates in uniform walked by and started when they saw Hagan’s jacket.
“PDA, cool dude,” said one of the young men, shaking his shaved head. “Didn’t even know that was a job.”
Another tall, muscular young man held up his hands. “No public displays here. You guys really take that seriously.”
Hagan snorted and held out his hand. “Thank you for your service,” he said, not bothering to explain. He pulled his hand back and brushed a small bit of salsa on his pants before putting his hand back out. “Thank you for your service,” he said to the young woman, shaking each of their hands. Leira smiled and nodded at the group as they walked up to place an order at the taco truck. The woman glanced back over her shoulder before placing her order. On a hunch, Leira pulled in just enough energy and saw the glow surrounding the woman. She’s a witch. Good to know. Leira took a look at Hagan. “How many?”
“Just three, which for me is good news. Stress eating,” he said. “It’s progress not perfection or I’d be screwed.”
Leira took a long look at him. “You can say no if you want. If this whole magic thing is turning out to be more than you bargained for you can take a pass. Totally understandable.”
“Fuck no, Berens. I haven’t felt this juiced since I was a young detective. I got sucker punched. It happens! Glad we saw those kids. They’re just kids, you know. They’re taking much bigger risks. I’m an old fart with a few tricks still up my sleeve and can still do some good. Hell, I’m doing my small part for Mother Earth.”
Leira tried to give him a dead fish look but a half smile crept across her face. “Come on, we have a case to get to and it’s not good to be late.”
Hagan followed closely behind her. “Have to admit those tacos really hit the spot. Puts me in a better mood. These jackets are a little ridiculous but I doubt your average college kid would even get the joke. Rose got a kick out of it though and then so did I, if you know what I mean.” He let out a snort as he got to the car.
“Never change, Hagan.”
“Pretty sure that’s not possible. All the grooves are already in the record.”
Leira and Hagan found themselves standing in a basement in the upscale neighborhood of Travis Heights behind South Congress Avenue.
“I didn’t even know there were basements in Austin. The bedrock stops most people.” Hagan was talking in a low voice even though there was no one to bother. The young man on the ground had been dead for days and was puffed up to almost twice his size from all the moisture in the basement. “Damn flies. You’d think winter would kill them off.” Hagan swatted at them as they flew around his head.
“First good frost they’ll leave for a few weeks.” Leira crouched down to look at the body.
Captain Napora came down the wooden stairs, trodding heavily on the risers. “Nice to see you Berens, Hagan. Knew we’d see each other again. Didn’t think it would be so soon. Nasty business.” He stood besides Leira, his hands on his hips. “Third one we’ve found like this. An infinity symbol cut into his neck. Other than that the killer leaves no clues. Very careful. I don’t believe we were meant to find the three bodies, either. Makes me wonder how many we haven’t noticed. The brass insisted we bring in the Feds and I thought of you two.”
Leira glanced up at Hagan standing behind the Captain. He shrugged with his hands out. Leira couldn’t do much beyond take a look at all the details. Not wasted time. Can still learn a few things. Worked all those years when I didn’t know what I could really do.
The Captain leaned forward, peering over her shoulder.
“Sir? You’re blocking the light.” She looked up at him and waited till he took a few steps back.
A detective appeared at the top of the stairs. “Captain, you have a phone call. They said it was urgent. Sounds like someone who outranks me by more than one star.”
The Captain hesitated but took the stairs two at a time calling over his shoulder, “Keep me in the loop!”
“Will do.” Hagan took a deep breath and walked closer to Leira.
“You’re not going to breathe down my neck in his place, are you?” Leira finally managed a perfect dead fish look at him.
Hagan arched an eyebrow and drew his mouth into a thin line. “Nope, just going to be a part of the case, which will require me to be more than the pretty boy in the background.” He stared at Leira waiting for her to answer.
“Good point,” she finally conceded. “Sorry about that.”
“Getting a little big for your magic britches is all. Would happen to anyone.” He pulled a white handkerchief out of a back pocket and wiped his forehead, sliding it back into his pocket. “That carving was done after the guy died. Just a signature. I’m betting this is human shenanigans. Not magical.”
“You’d win that bet. No magical trail. But here’s a weird twist.”
“More than one human. It’s obvious. Look at the way the stairs are bowing but aren’t broken. Doubt they could have taken the weight of someone big enough to carry that body without splintering.” Hagan looked at the dead body. “He has to be two hundred pounds easy. We’d be talking about someone treading on a step with at least four hundred pounds. The wood would have cracked easily. Then there’s how neatly that kid is laid out. No bruising on him. Nothing’s broken. That would take a linebacker. He had help. They carried him down lengthwise distributing the weight. And he’s not from here. Doesn’t live here all the time, anyway. Look at those Timberland shoes. That’s expensive cold weather gear. No one in Austin would invest in boots like that.”
“You’ve still got it.”
“Old human beings can still pull off a few things.” He grimaced and stood up straight, stretching his back.
“Watch the stairs for me.” Leira pulled up energy from the wet ground, through her body as the fiery symbols appeared on her arms and her eyes glowed. She watched the movement of the energy left behind, snaking back and forth and felt the thin thread of darkness woven through the stream. She shut her eyes and sent her energy out ahead of her, letting it follow the trail, feeling it in the center of her being as the two streams traveled across town to an old church that was turned into a restaurant. More streams appeared. “This dead guy isn’t from Austin.”
“They haven’t officially identified him yet.”
“He’s not. This was done as a ritual. Humans trying to play at being magical. That infinity symbol is a sign of their cult. They think they’re creating zombies.”
“That’s not really possible, is it?”
“I doubt it’s possible for ordinary humans but these days I don’t rule out things quite so fast. There’s no magical trail so they didn’t have an artifact. I’m going to go with no and conclude they’re homicidal idiots. I think I have their meeting place. It’ll be the best chance to catch most of them.”
“Most… Let that sink in. What is wrong with people? How do we break it to the Captain up there?” He shook his head.
“I’m thinking we don’t. We tell the general and let him pass along the news however he sees fit. There’s not enough in this basement to give anyone anything substantial but I recognize the restaurant.”
“You sure you don’t want to try and talk to any dead bodies?” Hagan waggled his fingers. “Try and raise the spirits?”
“I’m not even sure how I did that the first time but I’m going to go ahead and guess it’s not a good idea to try and do on the fly. We have enough information. Let’s get out of here.”
“Make your call.”
“You would have figured all of this out on your own.”
“No shit. But you got the address a lot faster and maybe with a few less bodies. Don’t you worry, Berens. There’ll come a time when ol’ Hagan will be the deciding factor. I’m in this for a reason. I can feel it in my gut. Make your call. The Captain will be back down here at some point and then you’ll have to wait. We need someone on that building pronto.”
Leira called the general and told him everything she knew. A special team surrounded the restaurant in under an hour and took five people into custody with enough evidence on their laptops to charge them with several counts of murder. Leira drove Hagan home and stopped in front of his house, the motor idling.
“You know I’m still figuring out how to handle all of this.” Leira draped an arm over her steering wheel. “I was kind of an ass back there.”
“Only a small one and I know and it’s a lot. You get a pass once in a while. It happens. We’ll get our rhythm back in no time. Until then I’ll remind you not to hog the playing field. I guess I take the rest of the day to do what I want until they call again, huh. You take care of the paperwork?” He waved his hands in the air.
“Don’t keep doing the magic hands. You’ve never seen me do that even once.”
“It’s our shorthand. It works. You have to admit you know just what I mean.”
“Till the next case. Yes, I’ll do the paperwork. Good news is, I don’t have to hide how we’re doing it.”
“We should stop by the warehouse some time, check in.” He opened the car door and grunted as he stood up, hitching his pants back into the right spot.
“Furniture won’t be there till next week. Not much point just yet unless you like sitting at a card table and staring at me.”
“Point taken.” He leaned down so he could still see Leira. “Good start to this whole thing. Makes up for the magical brawl earlier. Lost one, won one.”
“I prefer to think of that first one as a draw.”
“Fair enough. Call me when we’re up again.”
“Keep your phone with you. I have a feeling it won’t be long.”
“Roger that,” said Hagan, as he shut the door, giving a short wave and turning to the stairs.
Leira watched him go inside before she pulled away from the curb. That damn necklace will turn up again. When it does, I want to be there.
Charlie Monaghan finally calmed down enough to look like his old self. Everything hair in place, a smile at the ready and his hand out to shake. He waited patiently in a back room of the Capital Grille at 42nd and Third in New York City. It was the perfect place for the select chief executive officers of the most influential conglomerates in the Western part of the world to meet. Centrally located near several foreign consulates, making it easier for the gentlemen to make their way to the restaurant. The spot was already a favorite among the different embassies and no one would have wondered at seeing so many gather there on a frosty winter morning.
The black Lincoln Continentals glided to a stop in a neat line in front of the dark brown building with a flat facade and darkened windows that was unassuming. The street out front was regularly swept on the hour and the windows washed daily to maintain a certain a certain sense of order the rich and powerful expected.
Charlie pulled the meeting together in record time in just a matter of days. He made the phone calls himself, using every favor and leveraging every bit of inside knowledge he had of the different companies to get the hand-picked group assembled. Langston Rogers was already settled in a chair near the top of the table, waiting patiently, just as Charlie instructed him.
Charlie rehearsed his part with him over the first two days, locked in the library with all of Langston’s findings, going over everything. Langston showed him every artifact and relic he had in his possession, along with the video he took when traveling through Peru. Each new bit of information about Oriceran left Charlie more energized. He was determined to gather a team together from around the world. No one can win this race ahead of us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned. The meek never inherit much of anything.
A doorman was there at the ready at the entrance to the Grille, opening car doors and quickly ushering each carload of a CEO, his chief financial officer, several assistants and at least one beefy bodyguard into the the Grille. They were escorted down the slim hallway that ran the length of the restaurant back to the meeting room already set up with coffee and breakfast. An open bar was at the ready for later when the negotiations would become more difficult.
Charlie took on his usual role, clearly in charge of the day’s events. He stood near the coffee, smiling graciously and shaking hands, his diamond cufflinks twinkling. He was wearing a bespoken dark blue suit that fit his frame neatly without looking tight across the shoulders when he talked with his hands, and a new silk tie with his school crest that was neatly tucked into his jacket. “John, good to see you! How’s your wife, Alice? Get yourself some coffee.” An interpreter stood by his side, waiting patiently as he greeted the handful of CEO’s from foreign countries. But Charlie was fluent in several languages and rarely needed help. He always liked to be prepared, just in case. No opportunities left on the table. That’s what the entire meeting was about today.
A revolution to change our way of life for the better. A new source of energy that’s already in a race with others. We will liberate as much as possible, as quickly as possible into our possession and figure out a plan of action as we go forward. It was his opener to grab their attention.
A new challenge was presenting itself and Charlie was going to make sure they were all prepared to take advantage of it. It was his goal in life and had served him well. The power of magic on Earth is real and is only going to grow stronger.
The first report came across his desk at the beginning of the year but Charlie wrote it off as a hoax or a scheme to get rich people to part with their money. The explosion of ideas rolling around in his head was keeping him up at night, gleeful at the opportunities. Then Langston Rogers emailed him. Still, he balked. What sane man believes in magic?
But he would need a way to harness it all. That would take contracted cooperation from others, especially if he was going to convince magical beings to help change the world and build up the economy all at the same time.
Humans turned out to be easier to get on board than he expected. Give them a middle class life, get their loyalty in return forever. It was only recently with all the layoffs that there were a few sour articles in the press and comments in social media. Charlie smiled harder, determined not to think about it. Magic. There’s fucking magic in the world.
“Phillip, glad you could make it. Sorry you had to miss your son’s soccer game. This is important. I’m sure we all see that.” Priorities. He smiled, all of his even, white teeth showing and creases forming around his eyes. Everyone made a point to go up and say hello, making polite conversation for a moment before moving on to a safer part of the room. Everyone understood a basic business rule. Get in Charlie Monaghan’s way and pay the price.
He was already leading the most influential and lucrative conglomerate in the world under the name, Axiom.
Under his reign, Axiom was run as lean and efficient as possible, investing everything in research and development, and replacing as much human power with robotics wherever it was feasible.
His favorite saying was that everything that came out of the ground was eventually modified by Axiom, helping people on their path to a better life. Service and compensation. No reason I can’t do both.
The companies across the Axiom enterprise controlled sixty percent of the crop production in the world for both people and livestock. Other companies that relied on his genetically modified soy beans, corn or wheat took the deal they could get with Charlie and went home. Nobody liked to negotiate with Charlie longer than absolutely necessary. Every minute longer was usually at the expense of something from their side of the table.
Charlie nodded to his private secretary who announced in his booming voice, “Gentlemen, if we can get started. Take your seats.” The chatter in the room eased as everyone quietly took their seats. Only the most confident took seats closest to Charlie and Langston. Charlie remained standing and took a beat, clasping his hands in front of his chest, looking slowly around the room for dramatic effect.
He launched into his opening lines, watching the reactions as he spoke. Good. Shock and awe.
“Before we get into the weeds with the details, a short demonstration.” He could feel his heart beating faster again. Excitement was overtaking him. He nodded to Langston who slowly rose and carefully removed the metal circle from its engraved box. This time he placed the ring on a table set up two feet from the top of the large oval table, away from the others.
“Okay, first…” Langston looked up nervously at Charlie who shook his head. Not what we practiced, right… Langston took in a deep breath and wiped his hands on his pants.
He took out the brass pipe and struck the ring in the exact pattern and stood back as it spun fast enough to create the portal. Gasps were heard in the room.
“Is that a virtual screen?”
“Did you create an internet with just that metal thing?”
“Wait, is that a window?”
Langston confidently put his hand through the portal, moving a nearby frond. His hand shook slightly as he listened for any sounds of the Gardener. One of these days my luck is going to run dry.
A loud rustle startled Langston and he quickly withdrew his arm, his eyes growing wider, making many in the room lean back into their chairs. A large bird with iridescent blue and white feathers dove through the portal, spreading its wings in the boardroom, flapping the air over the heads of the CEOs and letting out a large squawk before gliding easily back through the portal.
“That’s enough, Langston. Close it up. I think we’ve made our point.” Charlie sounded giddy. It couldn’t have gone better. “That is what some are referring to as magic. Using the laws of physics to alter the environment. We used it to give a glimpse into another planet. A world called Oriceran where this so-called magic is in the air. It’s commonplace. But it gets better…”
Langston smiled at his side. Charlie was using his scattered speech, tailoring it to fit the room. I was right to trust him.
“There are those among us here on this planet, on Earth who can do this because of their DNA. The energy flows through them and out into the environment, harnessing a kind of power.”
“Magic.” Langston opened his hands, smiling.
Charlie drew his smile tighter. “Even better, these creatures who look like us…” He patted his chest, letting the idea sink in for everyone else. “They stored a lot of their power in different inanimate objects creating relics and artifacts that act as conductors or batteries. There are thousands of them scattered throughout the world. This wheel is one example.”
“Wow.” A silver-haired man gasped as he touched the wheel sending a jolt through his body. He sat back in his chair, his eyes wide.
“But there’s a catch. We’re not the only ones who know about the existence of this stored magic. The race is already on, gentlemen. We need to not only catch up but run right past them. It’s in everyone’s best interests if we control the story rather than let someone else write it. To do that we will need to hire the best history professors and archaeologists out there and go on the biggest scavenger hunt seen in modern times.”
“With very real consequences.” A rotund middle-aged man spoke in a clipped British accent. “I’m going to assume you’re already contracting with your top choices.”
“Yes, Pearson. The first teams are already out in the field.”
“We’re here to finance this venture.” Pearson pursed his lips, leveling his gaze at Charlie.
“Co-finance and mutually reap the rewards.” Charlie nodded at his private secretary. A thumb drive with their individual name on it was placed in front of each CEO. “Legal papers to look over and sign, as well as much more extensive background on Oriceran and the artifacts. You’ll find it’s to your benefit to be on the inside of this venture. This is going to change everything we know about our lives but unlike past inventions or discoveries, at a much faster pace.”
“I’m in, of course.” Pearson raised his large hand, waving away the questions of others sitting next to him. “Don’t be foolish. Charlie Monaghan wouldn’t bring a half-baked idea to the table. The details will be worked out. I appreciate the opportunity.” He scooped up the thumb drive and rose to leave. “I’ll be in touch as soon as possible.”
Pearson hurried out, his entourage in tow and found his way as quickly as possible to his car and driver. He waited until he was securely settled in the backseat before he called Lacey Trader. “You were right. The race is on. Protect the vault by any means necessary and do what you suggested all along. I was wrong. Send out the Silver Griffins worldwide to find whatever artifacts they can and bring them back. I’ll finance whatever you need.” He hung up and sat back, taking in a deep breath.
He reached into the side pocket of the door and pulled out the long, elegant wooden case, opening it up and pulling out the rosewood wand. He touched the tip to the thumb drive extracting the information and tapped the closed laptop in front of him. “Send it to Lacey.” He touched the wand to the thumb drive again, turning it to dust.
Thirty years of being undercover as a wizard among the more influential humans was paying off.
“Everything alright, Boss?” The young wizard looked in the rearview mirror at Pearson.
“Yes, Manfreid, it’s unfortunately going just as we predicted.” And we’ll do our best to control this crash as much as we can.
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