Below is the next excerpt from my new contemporary fantasy novel, A Lasting Cure for Magic.
These books make up the Contagious Magic series of novels; the first three form a standalone trilogy.
So, without any more needless banter, I’m taking you back to the ongoing adventure:
A Lasting Cure for Magic
Polly was the first to speak up.
“Just let him go,” she said, sitting with her arms crossed tightly in front of her chest. She caught Kelley’s eye and pointed her chin at the closed conference room door. “Let him go off and try to be a hero on his own. That’s what he always does, isn’t it?”
The big room felt warmer with all the charged gadgets in front of them, though Kelley wondered if it wasn’t her shame at Jeroan abandoning them that had raised her own temperature.
She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped. I’m through apologizing for my brother, she told herself. And I’m really done chasing him around this city.
“At least he took that dragon with them,” Mexico said, relieved. “I’m through with dragons.”
“He took Alexander?” Kelley said. She’d been softly tapping her eGadget on the table in front of her, itching to get back to grabbing any of the residual magic left inside this pile of gadgets in front of them. “Really?”
Jimbo glanced around the room. “Hey,” he said. “Mags is gone, too.”
“What?” Polly yelled.
She jumped to her feet and checked under the table herself, in the spot where her little sister had spent most of the evening, and then she started hurtling a series of curses at the absent Jeroan.
“Just hold on a sec,” Kelley said to Polly, who had stood up and was headed for the door. “Jeroan and Mags will be all right. Maybe they just—”
“Wait,” Mexico said in a booming voice.
Polly jerked her hand off the doorknob as if it was hot.
Mexico pointed at the table, where the roaches looked like they were dancing on a pair of hot frying pans instead of a pair of gadgets. The two critters had gotten the dampeners fired up, and both screens showed different, glowing readouts.
“Kill the lights,” Mexico said to Polly.
“But my little sister—”
“—isn’t going anywhere,” Mexico finished for her. “We can’t go running off half-cocked like this. One thing Azure taught us was that knowledge is power. Let’s see what York and Orleans have found for us. And then we can go out and corral those missing siblings.”
With a frustrated sigh, Polly clicked off the overhead fluorescents. But instead of plunging the room into darkness, the room exploded with color, as the two dampeners gave off bright green and red lights that bounced off the windows, the walls of books, and the ceiling.
“Awesome,” Jimbo whispered. His face next to her was glowing red, while Mexico’s was bright green from the dampener’s lights.
Magic, Kelley thought, almost weak-kneed with relief. They’d found some magic.
“York and Orleans were able to get the dampeners rebooted,” Mexico said. He had the hint of smile on his face that made him look as excited as Kelley felt. “Nice work, guys,” he said to the roaches. “I should’ve turned you jokers into bugs years ago.”
Kelley looked at the two small screens of the dampeners in front of her. Each screen showed a different green-hued street map, zoomed in so far it was impossible to tell the location.
Kelley leaned forward and saw a tiny set of constantly changing numbers in a corner of both screens. The numbers on Mexico’s older dampener were blockier, and seemed to advance more slowly than the smooth numbers on Moammar’s newer dampener, but the story they told seemed to be the same: this was a time-lapse. The changing numbers was the month and the day, from late November (11/28, 11/29, 11/30), through December, and quickly running up to the present day (1/2, 1/3, 1/4…).
As the numbers spun past, tiny red dots broke out over both maps like chicken pox, in a dozen, then two dozen places on each dampener. The roaches scurried from one red dot to another, using their tiny legs to zoom in and out on the maps, leaving small, detailed pop-up maps in their wake. Kelley wished they’d show Dubuque so she could see if any red dots were blooming there.
And just as quickly as they’d spread over the maps on both phones, the red dots started turning a strange purple color. The numbers stopped at 1/20 on both dampeners. Today.
“What?” Jimbo said. “Are those things malfunctioning?”
One by one the red dots turned black. Without the bright green and red lights from the dampeners, the conference room was quickly growing dark, and cold.
“Ah, man,” Mexico said, moving in so close to the glowing dampeners that a few locks of his curly black hair almost brushed against Moammar’s smooth gadget. He tapped the side of it but didn’t pick it up. “Azure wasn’t kidding.”
Kelley felt a chill creep up her spine. She should’ve known better than to get her hopes up.
“Magic’s going away,” she whispered. “And we’re watching it happen.”
“No,” Jimbo said as Polly pounded a fist on the far end of the table. “Can’t be.”
“Wait—” Kelley began, but Mexico was reaching for the other dampener.
The gadgets went dark when the big man scooped them up in one big hand.
“Come on, man,” Polly shouted from the other end of the table. “Why’d you do that? We were just getting somewhere.”
Light from the moon bounced off the river outside and lit the room with an eerie pale blue glow. Kelley squinted at Mexico, who was pocketing the gadgets and plucking the roaches off his lapels. With his back to the windows, his face was hidden in the darkness.
“You kids don’t need to get involved with this kind of magic,” he murmured. “This is for your own good. You all should just go on home and let the last remnants of it leave you. Forever.”
“Yeah, right,” Jimbo said after a few moments of stunned silence. “And should we just pretend that my grandma and Kelley’s parents and the others weren’t just yanked out of here by one of those dampeners in your coat pocket?”
“Let me tell you a story,” Mexico began.
Polly let out a Mags-style series of curses as she stood up and turned for the door again.
“I got a little sister to find,” she said. She reached for the door again. “I don’t have time for stories.”
“Suit yourself,” Mexico said. “But knowledge is power, remember.”
Something in Mexico’s voice made Polly hesitate.
“Fine,” she said. “Make it quick.”
Mexico rested his back against the window, a roach on each broad shoulder.
“This was a year after my training with Azure had ended, and I had started pounding the pavement for him with one of the more experienced operatives. This was, what, 1975? 1976? I was partnered up with operative Jersey, another former football player just like me.”
“Football?” Jimbo blurted out. “I figured you were basketball material, all the way, man.”
Mexico ignored him.
“We went overseas for the first time to contain an outburst in Antarctica, of all places. Took us forever to get there by plane, then helicopter, then dogsled. Beautiful land, just white mountains, white glaciers, white snow. And a renegade magic user making trouble for the few people living up there and doing their research and trying to make the world a better place. He was using his magic to melt glaciers, like he was the human version of global warming way back then.
“My new partner Jersey thought this was going to be any easy takedown, so he let the new guy—me—take the lead. Big mistake, and it cost Jersey his life. When I failed to block off all the renegade user’s magic, he sent me flying half a mile away. And then that magical terrorist turned around and blasted Jersey deep into a glacier. Jersey’s probably still there, today. Soon as I regained consciousness half a mile away, I called in all the Blood Sorcerers I could for backup and to try to help Jersey, if he’d survived that attack. And even then, I barely got out of there alive. Azure had to zap up there to take the guy down himself, personally. Not my best day there, up in Antarctica.”
Kelley shivered, thinking of glaciers and frozen operatives.
“Okay…” Polly said. “And the moral to your story is… what? Don’t mess with wizards in Antarctica?”
Frustrated, Mexico made a fist on the table.
“The point I’m trying to make here, my impatient and immature listeners, is this: do not underestimate the strength and experience of your elders. Your parents, Kelley. Your grandmother, Jimbo. Azure as well.” He pointed across the table at Polly. “And your ancestor, miss. Maria Haze has handled much worse in her career as a Sorcerer.”
“Wha—” Polly said. She reached over and flicked on the lights, and everyone but Mexico groaned and put their hands over their eyes from the sudden brightness. “Miss Haze is my… how?”
“I noticed the resemblance right away,” Mexico said, not even blinking fast in under the fluorescents. “You have the same eyes. And the same blood connects you all. Even Moammar. What’s left of him, anyway. You are all connected by blood, except for Archie. I can’t figure out where he fits in with all of you kids.”
They sat in silence in the dark for a long, uncomfortable moment.
Kelley rubbed her lip, thinking of Mexico’s story and all she’d learned about Maria since she’d met the woman a few months ago. She was Polly and Mags’ great-great-great-great-aunt, somehow? How could that be possible?
Glancing over at the pile of black dust, barely visible in the moonlight through the window, she figured if Moammar could be her and Jeroan’s distant cousin, then just about anything was possible.
As she thought about Jeroan turning Moammar into a pile of dust, Kelley felt a sudden chill. She pulled her coat closer around her and felt a small square of heat radiating out from the inner pocket of her coat. She reached into her coat pocket for her copy of Words of Magic.
Maria had made sure I brought this little white book with me, she thought. The one she knew I’d stolen from her store. Her now-empty store. Why? Why that book?
“Maybe there are some clues about Maria and everyone else in here,” she said, mostly to herself, as she set the tiny white book on the table in front of her.
“No more stories,” Polly said, standing at the door and bouncing with impatience. “I’ve gotta find Mags before we can do anything else.”
“Let me see that book,” Mexico said, moving next to Jimbo and making the poor guy cringe all over again.
Kelley felt pulled in too many directions. She wanted to look at the book, and she felt a sharp pang of jealousy to see Jimbo and Mexico thumbing through it. But she was also afraid it would suck all them in, and they’d lose hours reading about Sorcerers and apprentices from long ago.
She glanced under the table, but all she saw was Azure’s nasty hat and a forest of chair legs. Alexander the dragon had disappeared as well.
And there were still all those gadgets on the table, fully charged, waiting for her to channel and use whatever magic might still be in them. All she had to do was pick one up.
“Go to the back,” Mexico was saying to Jimbo, trying to get him to turn pages faster. “That’s where we’ll get the latest entries. If the book has been keeping up with current events, that is.”
“Current events?” Kelley squeezed her eGadget in her hand.
Meanwhile, Polly turned the doorknob with a loud click.
“Polly,” Kelley said, and then a muffled shriek came from somewhere in the building. It was cut short, abruptly.
“That was Mags!” Polly shouted as she whipped open the door and let it bounce off the wall of books.
Kelley reached down, grabbed Azure’s hat, and tossed it to Mexico. He caught it without looking up from the book.
“Hold onto that for me, will you?” she said, standing up with a sudden head rush.
Blinking away the dizziness, she quickly gathered up all the gadgets from the table before following Polly out of the conference room. She’d gotten all the gadgets except for the two dampeners that Mexico still had in his possession.
She left the office a few steps behind Polly, just as another shriek erupted from the front of the building. This one didn’t sound like it came from a little girl, however.
“Oh crap,” Kelley whispered as her feet pounded down the steps toward the building’s lobby.
“Mags!” Polly yelled, two dozen steps ahead of Kelley. “Hang on, sis!”
When she hit the first floor landing, Kelley caught a glimpse of Mexico and Jimbo with her little white book in his hand, coming after her and Polly. They wore matching looks of surprise on their faces, as if they’d just woken up. They must’ve gotten pulled into a good entry in her book.
She followed Polly down to the ground floor, ran through the empty lobby, and burst out the front door into the cold.
Polly stood in the middle of the street, looking straight up.
Kelley looked up and saw a giant white dragon flying up into the night. The dragon screeched one more time as it gained altitude, pumping its huge wings like mad. The dragon had one—no, two—riders. Within seconds, the dragon and its passengers were gone, disappearing into the starlit night sky.
Or maybe Alexander had simply turned himself and the others invisible. It was one of his many skills.
“He did it to me again,” Kelley whispered, each panted word sending a plume of steam back into her face. “Jeroan bailed on me, again.”
“What the freak,” Polly gasped. “That was Alexander, right? With Jeroan riding him?”
“Can’t you use your…” Polly began, then her face went red. “Um. Your twin magic thing. To talk to Jeroan? See if Mags is with him, and if she’s okay?”
Kelley finally caught her breath.
“No need for that. I saw her sitting behind Jeroan on the dragon’s back.” Kelley swallowed cold air and breathed out steam. “Before they went into stealth mode.”
“Man, it’s freezing out here!” Jimbo shouted. He and Mexico had finally caught up to them in the middle of the street.
Kelley barely felt the wind in her face and blowing open her jacket. That wasn’t Jeroan’s style, to want to take anyone with him, especially someone as feisty as Mags. And if he did anything to hurt my dragon, she thought, I’ll…
She jumped when something tugged at her wrist. Something cold.
It was Jimbo’s hand.
“Let’s go inside,” he said in a calm voice. Kelley noticed he hadn’t let go of her, and he was about to knock her eGadget from her hand. She didn’t remember pulling that from her pocket, but she must have done so on the way outside.
Behind Jimbo, Mexico was slowly walking back toward the office entrance.
“Hold up,” Kelley said. To her shock, Mexico actually stopped. “I’m not going back in there.”
“Come on,” Jimbo said. “Let’s get out of the cold—”
With a smooth twist of her hand, Kelley wriggled free of Jimbo’s tight grasp. She turned on her eGadget, and the world blurred for an instant as it lit up.
Kelley felt a buoyant thrill of hope. If this was residual magic, she’d take it.
“Get over here, Mexico! And you two,” she said to Polly and Jimbo, “get your gadgets out. I think I got something here.”
A distant rumbling sound filled the air from the street at Kelley’s back. From the corner of her eye, she caught the glint of headlights far off in the distance, but she refused to move from the road.
Mexico held both dampeners in one big hand as he joined them, though he was watching the approaching headlights with a good bit of concern in his eyes.
“Power them up,” Kelley said, moving in close to Polly’s camera and Jimbo’s cell. A familiar wave of heat pushed away the winter wind, and she smiled at the blue glow covering her friends’ faces from their powered-on gadgets.
“Hurry up,” Mexico said. “We’ve got a car coming. A big one.”
Kelley heard the loud mutter of the engine, and could’ve sworn she recognized the sound. But she didn’t dare turn around, not with magic returning to her eGadget.
“Think of Australia,” she shouted over the roar of the approaching car. “Think of us getting there. Use your gadgets.”
A big green blur took shape behind the headlights in Kelley’s peripheral vision. A familiar, big green blur.
“Australia!” she shouted. “Go there in your heads.” She lifted her eGadget and put it next to the the camera, cell phone, and two dampeners also being held aloft. “Now!”
Thinking only of the shape of Australia she’d seen in maps, Kelley closed her eyes as bright white light shot out of all five gadgets, blinding her along with the bright lights of the car thundering towards them all.
When Kelley opened her eyes, they were no longer in the middle of a street. They now stood in front of what looked like a strip mall in Australia, far away from downtown Dubuque.
* * * * *
Back to A Lasting Cure for Magic
Read Chapter Four