Dealing in Magic, The Leira Chronicles Book 5
By Martha Carr & Michael Anderle
Mara waited until Eireka left for a hike through the Barton Creek greenbelt with Donald before opening a portal to Oriceran. She watched from a window as they drove off, making sure there were no last minute thoughts from her daughter to rush back in for something forgotten.
As soon as their car was finally out of the apartment complex’s parking lot Eireka went to her room and quickly got out of the comfortable jeans and pullover. She slipped into leather pants and a long tunic that came to her knees and boots and braided her hair in the back.
“Need to look the part.” She looked in the mirror and smiled, satisfied with the results. “Ought to do it. Nothing that says a Nana can’t be a badass.”
She got down on her knees next to her bed and reached under the mattress right by where her head usually lay. She pulled out a pouch of Oriceran money and an embossed card with the royal seal, putting all of it in a leather satchel that she slung over her shoulder.
“Okay, one more time with feeling.” She cupped her hands and pulled in energy through the ground and up through her feet, forming a ball of light and singing into it, slowly opening a portal that hung just above the bed.
“Aw crap. That’s not a good sign.” Mara got up on the bed and stood on her toes peering through the portal, making sure the other side was at least close to the ground. “Still a little rusty,” she grunted, as she pulled herself through the portal, rolling into the other world along the floor of the Dark Forest. “Dammit all to the world in between!”
She picked herself up, brushing off dirt and twigs as the portal closed with a crack of sound, sending out a spray of sparks. “Not exactly the way I was hoping to start this trip.” She got her bearings and realized she was close to where she was trying to land and felt better about her magical abilities. Harder than it looks to keep opening those damn things.
The forest hummed and buzzed and tweeted with the sounds of a million creatures but no one seemed to take notice of her entrance. She set off through the woods as an oversized butterfly flew overhead, fluttering her hair with its wings. Yellow puzzle beetles scurried along the ground across her path, opening and closing the top of their shells in different patterns, revealing a singular red dot beneath.
“Good to be back.” Mara waited for the beetles to pass and breathed in the air, feeling the surge of magic from Oriceran seep through her feet and fill her veins with its energy. She shut her eyes and rolled her head around, relaxing her shoulders. The grey in her hair started to fade, turning jet black as the magic restored her skin. She started walking again, picking up to a jog before breaking into a run, laughing as she easily leaped over an old fallen tree blocking the path. A luminescent snake reared up its head from the other side of the tree, snapping just a moment too late to catch her heel. It coiled back down into a glowing, writhing mound and slithered under the tree into the warm earth.
Mara finally found the road just beyond the Light Elves castle and hurried along toward the Dark Market. There was a stream of people heading in and out of the market and the aisles inside were bustling, people elbowing each other to get closer to the tables. Mara made her way to a table in the back where a short, round Wizard was selling human technology powered with Oriceran crystals. A silvery gecko was perched on his shoulder, its small tongue darting in and out, keeping track of the crowd.
An elderly Elven woman was arguing with him over the cost of an old iPhone with a sliver of rose quartz. He was about at the end of his usual spiel, throwing up his hands in defeat, finally agreeing to slightly more than he had wanted all along. He let out a dramatic sigh and shook the Elf’s hand. “You got me! You wore me down,” he said, with a congenial smile. He held his hands up in protest. “Don’t often meet such a hard bargainer like yourself.” He deftly wrapped up her purchase, taking her money with his other hand and completing the transaction in seconds. The Elven woman took the package from him, smiling as she walked away.
“Another satisfied customer.” Mara arched an eyebrow, drawing closer to the table.
The Wizard glanced up, an oily smile on his face ready for the next interested buyer. The smile quickly fell away when he saw Mara standing there. “Son of a bitch!” He slapped his hand on the table. “You again! I told you I don’t know any more than what I said the last time you were here.”
“Hello, Harry. You didn’t say anything of interest the last time I was here or the dozen times before that.”
“And yet here you are again. Not too good at taking a very strong and plainly obvious hint, are you?”
Mara steadied herself and pulled in just enough energy to send out a stream, encircling Harry. “You know what I am and what I can do.” Her eyes gave off a low glow.
“Don’t do that shit here!” He batted his hand at her, turning his back, smiling at a group of Witches passing by. “Hello, nice to see you ladies.”
The energy rode up his back and down the front, making Harry wiggle, shaking a leg. The women looked back, smiling and talking.
“Very funny, Mara. A child’s trick.” The gecko ran to the edge of his shoulder, peering out at Mara, flicking its tongue.
“I need to know if the rumors are true. Did they find the lost artifacts?”
Harry threw up his hands and hung his head.
“Save the theatrics for the suckers, Harry. Tell it to me straight.”
“You’re kind of a bitch, Mara. Do you realize that about your personality?”
“I’ll take it as a compliment. Just means you don’t like losing an argument to a woman.” She leaned in closer and whispered, “A female Jasper Elf.”
Harry drew back, his eyes widening and his face flushing from anger. “What are you trying to do? Get us both hauled off in front of the king or the prophets? Those don’t exist anymore, remember?” He hissed the words at her, spit dribbling down his chin. “Just be glad you pass for Light Elf and no one thinks to question it. Your kind scares the shit out of everyone, even a partial one like you. Even more than that old chick, Rhazdon! Boy, now, there’s a weird and twisted tale! You have no gratitude for being able to pass, if you ask me.”
“Things change. Turns out there’s something more powerful than a Jasper Elf if you mix the DNA just right.” Mara grimaced, sending a spark through Harry’s back to get his attention. “Yes, I’m that kind of bitch, Harry.”
“You certainly are! Alright, alright. I heard that someone near and dear to you is on the trail of their old artifacts but no one takes it seriously. We’re talking thousands of years since the last Jasper Elves were seen and every relic hunter I know has been after that trophy ever since. Power beyond what any other creatures could. Hey, wait… what did you say about more powerful? Come on, Mara, don’t kid a kidder. I’ve been around for a few moons.”
“You’re right, Harry. Now, a name. What’s the rumor and who’s the hunter?”
Harry let out a snort. “Your old friend, Jackson. You remember him, don’t you? Oh wait, your daughter left him waiting at the crossroads about, what, twenty-five years ago? Story’s always been that you had a hand in that. Yeah, sure, he’ll be thrilled to hear from you.”
Mara set her jaw and took a step back, thinking over her options. This is an unexpected wrinkle. Damn. Jackson.
Harry was still prattling on. “Of course, if the rumors are true maybe he actually will see something in it, like a sign from the cosmos. Work that angle with him. Okay, get out of her, away from the table. I’m working here and if you can’t tell, you’re cramping my style!”
Mara gave him a cold, hard stare. She needed the rest of the information and was tired of playing with Harry. Leira’s powers were growing and maturing. Eventually, someone was going to wonder why she was so powerful. Mara wanted to make sure Leira was well armed before that happened. She was tired of playing nice. “I’m not leaving this time without more. Where can I find Jackson?” The symbols appeared in a thin line up her arms, flipping over faster and faster, turning an icy blue.
Harry stumbled backward, sweat appearing on his lip. “Shit! You’re taking a big risk doing that here. There’s still a few who know the legends.” He ran his hand through his hair, looking around quickly. “You have to ask his protege. He’ll know where to find him,” he blurted out. “The Wizard just outside the tent. That loudmouth, Louie. He keeps track of him most of the time.” Harry turned to wave at a Wizard he knew. “Learned every trick he knows from Jackson. Don’t know what he sees in the kid, but to each his own.” He turned back but Mara was already gone, digging her way back to the front of the tent. The symbols long faded.
She got to the front of the tent and looked to the right. Louie’s table was empty and he was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s gone. You just missed him. Said he got a hot lead and just took off.” A tall, elegant Wood Elf wearing a long jacket with tails and brass buttons was leaning against a tent pole. All four irises were focused on Mara. “It may be days or even weeks before he pops up again. Depends on when he takes the prize. Young man doesn’t give up easily when he smells a profit.”
Mara clenched her fists, breathing deeply. So close. There may not be weeks if Leira continues to grow. Not enough time. She forced herself to smile. “Do you know where I can find Jackson? The Elf?”
“He doesn’t tend to hang around the Dark Market. Calls us all amatures.” The Wood Elf’s lip curled as he spoke. “But I’d guess he’s with Louie. There’s a whole team of creatures that run with them. Off to some remote part of Oriceran, most likely. On a dig.”
Mara left before the Wood Elf could say anything else. She wasn’t interested in making new friends at the Dark Market. I’ll have to find another way. She hurried back toward the forest, ducking in as the floating castle began to appear over the horizon. She could see a large crowd gathered as she turned into the woods, hurrying to a spot, deep enough to hide the sparks.
“Calm down and breathe, girl. One thing worse than an Elf with too little energy is one with too much and not enough practice. Don’t need to send yourself back to the world in between.” She blew out her breath and shook out her arms, holding out her hands to form a ball of light. “Breathe.” The portal opened easily and grew steadily, showing the inside of her apartment, and this time, was floating near the floor. “That’s more like it.” Mara stepped through easily and waved her hand behind her, shutting the aperture, the sparks flashing around her. “Damn. Jackson. That’s going to be one awkward conversation.”