Below is the final 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
Jeroan hated flying.
It wasn’t bad, leaping ten feet into the air when he was playing ball and using some magic to boost him up toward the basket. That kind of flying—the temporary kind—was okay. But Jeroan preferred to keep his feet on the ground most of the time, where he felt like he had more control over things, instead of relying on someone else to keep him from crashing back to Earth.
Yet there he was, flying at night once again, this time on the back on an invisible dragon.
White clouds hid the frozen, dark world from him, and icy wind battered him in the face. Mags had reluctantly leaned against him for warmth, and he could hear her groaning from the cold and occasionally letting loose a swear word. She was shivering so hard that Jeroan worried she’d shake herself off her perch. They were both invisible on the back of Alexander, and he was winging it as fast as he could to the north.
Jeroan was about to call out to the big beast to see how much longer it was going to be, but he didn’t want to distract him from his flying. He also had a bad feeling that the dragon might not know where Newfoundland was. They could be flying to Alaska or Antarctica for all he knew. He didn’t know if dragons had some sort of GPS that humans didn’t know about, but he really hoped this dragon did.
Shivering and holding tight to Alexander’s scaly neck with hands that ached from the cold, Jeroan watched the clouds streak past underneath them for another ten minutes, thinking about the awful flight away from Dubuque he’d endured last November, with Mexico on one side, holding him up, and York on the other. This flight was colder, but not so nightmarish. At least he knew Alexander wouldn’t purposely drop him; with Azure’s big henchman that had always seemed like an option.
Finally, he couldn’t stand it any more.
“Alexander,” he stammered, lips numb and face frozen. “How m-much l-longer?”
Of course, the dragon didn’t answer. Instead, he twisted his head impossibly far around until he was looking Jeroan and Mags in the face. Alexander exhaled hot, smoky air at them for almost half a minute, thawing them both out. He never slowed his beating wings a bit.
“Thank you,” Jeroan whispered, enjoying the full use of his lips again.
“Yeah, thanks for the the warm-up, big guy,” Mags said in a groggy voice from behind him, as if she’d just woken up. Could the girl have somehow fallen asleep, two thousand feet up, on the back of an invisible dragon? Jeroan wouldn’t have been surprised.
Now that he could feel his fingers again, he reached down for the eGadget in his jeans pocket. He wanted to check their location on the map app on his smart phone. But when he touched the hard rectangle of his eGadget through the fabric of his jeans, he remembered that the battery was complete dead.
Jeroan swiped at his watering eyes, getting the wetness off his face before it froze there. According to Kelley, the gadgets were the key to using magic, and they could be the secret to bringing magic back. But he wasn’t sure about that. He thought about how, back in the conference room with Mom and Dad, Azure had convinced everyone magic was gone.
“Magic is ending,” Azure had said in his oh-so-confident voice. “For you as well as for myself. He is pulling it to him as he tries to return from his exile. The Druid, that is. Consider yourself lucky to let magic fall away from you, for the Druid would otherwise use the taint of magic on you to track you down, and then he will dispose of you.”
Jeroan cringed now, thinking about how Mom and Dad had nodded along with everything the bald guy had said.
The taint of magic… he will dispose of you…
He cringed again as he remembered how quickly Moammar had cleared out half the room just by waving his new dampener around.
And he had walked up to Moammar and turned the backstabbing Sorcerer into a pile of black dust. Jeroan had done some disposing of his own.
I killed him, he thought, closing his eyes tightly as the guilt ate into him. This was a guy who may have been my distant relative—one of our ancestors. And I barely even had to think about it before I did it. How messed-up have I become, thanks to magic?
Maybe magic really is tainted, and I’m lucky to be done with it.
With his legs gripping Alexander tightly—and already hoping for another burst of hot air from the dragon to warm his quickly-freezing self again—Jeroan felt the small, reassuring rectangle of the white book inside his coat pocket. He still hadn’t finished reading the whole book. Every time he tried to get to the last page, he’d find more entries to read. The book seemed to grow warm against his chest as he thought about it.
Jeroan thought back to that pile of dust in Mom and Dad’s leather chair.
How, he asked himself, had I managed to do that to Moammar—to disintegrate him—if magic really was gone?
The realization gave him hope, just as Kelley had gotten her hope from the gadgets in the conference room.
Jeroan felt a sudden change in Alexander under him. The dragon had slowed the mad pumping of his wings. Jeroan leaned closer to Alexander’s invisible neck, suddenly aware once more of how high he was.
A heartbeat later, Jeroan and Mags let out matching gasps of shock as they dropped suddenly through the moonlit white clouds. They were above a long, dark coastline on the left, with the white-capped ocean waves to the right. Alexander followed the rock-littered strip of gray sand below them that stretched out in a direction that Jeroan guessed was north. Ahead of them was the bright glow of a city, and Alexander was aiming for it.
Guess the big guy didn’t need directions to Newfoundland after all, Jeroan thought, relaxing a bit more.
Before he could draw another breath, however, the night sky exploded with bright bursts of blue energy. It was like lightning shooting up at them from the sandy beaches far below.
Not Blood Sorcerers again, he thought as he wrapped his arms as tight as he could around Alexander’s tree-trunk neck and hugged for dear life. They can’t have followed us, again.
“Hold on, Mags!”
He knew the girl was still behind him, because she hadn’t stopped swearing since the blasts of energy started cutting through the darkness toward them. Meanwhile, Alexander had tucked his wings to his side and pointed his white noise straight down. At some point the dragon had given up on being invisible, and Jeroan now felt extra vulnerable to go along with his swirling sense of vertigo as they dropped.
A blast of blue light exploded not three feet from Jeroan’s face, and he nearly toppled off the diving dragon’s back.
A Word, Jeroan thought. I have to use a Word to protect us.
But nothing came to him. It was the parentals’ conference room all over again.
“Jeroan!” Mag screeched. “Get us outta here!”
“Stop yelling at me! I’m not driving this dragon!” Jeroan shouted over his shoulder, losing his balance as they continued to plummet toward the ground.
“Alexander,” he yelled, hoping the dragon could hear him over the rushing wind. “What’re you doing?”
The magical fireworks had stopped—for now—but the sandy beach below them was still coming up to greet them. At the last second, just before he crash-landed on the dunes, Alexander spread his great wings with a sound like flags unfurling.
They glided to a stop in the sand just a few feet from an unlit pier that reached about half a mile out onto the dark, fishy-smelling water. They could’ve flown right into that thing, it was so dark.
Jeroan had a bad moment when he rolled off Alexander’s back and couldn’t find his fellow passenger.
“Mags!” he shouted, turning in a circle too quickly. His legs—kinked up in the past hour or so from riding on the back of Alexander—gave out on him, and he fell onto the cold sand. He narrowly missed hitting his head on a huge brown rock bigger than the dragon’s skull.
“Relax,” Mags said from behind him. “I’m right here. I’m like a cat; I landed on my feet. Unlike some people…”
She tugged on his coat until he got back to his feet. His legs were uncramping at last.
Jeroan stood up, listening to the waves rising and falling at his back like a series of small explosions. He could hear something else there, between the crashing of the waves.
“Did you hear that?” he asked Mags as they both looked down at the incredibly shrinking dragon. Alexander was downsizing fast. In a few more seconds, Jeroan figured, the exhausted dragon would be pocket-sized again.
“Shhh!” Jeroan held his breath and ignored the cold, wet wind in his face. “It sounded like… voices.” He turned to look at the darkened pier. “Coming from up there.”
“Probably the doofuses who were shooting at us,” Mags said. “At least they let up and stopped.”
“Yeah,” Jeroan said in a low voice as he tiptoed down the sandy beach. “But that means they can still do magic. So, shhh.”
Alexander darted awkwardly into the air, looking like a gray, bat-like ghost. In his exhaustion, he flew clumsily up and down until he found a home on Jeroan’s shoulder. Jeroan fought the urge to peel the little white dragon off him, but after a moment, he found the dragon’s presence comforting. At least until he looked down and saw Mags glaring up at him.
“My dragon,” she whispered. “You thief.”
“Come on,” Jeroan said, nodding at the pier rising up out of the wet darkness above them. “Let’s go see who’s up there.”
They made it about ten more steps before a raspy, familiar voice called down at them from the darkness, saying, “Glad you got my hint to come here, youngsters.”
At first, Jeroan froze at the sound of the old man’s voice, but by the time the man had finished his sentence, he had charged up the last few feet of beach and pounded up the steps to the rickety old pier. Mags was just a few steps behind him. They passed by an old shack nailed to the floor of the pier and then, in the moonlit shadows at the end of the pier, Jeroan could just make out two figures there. Jeroan recognized the person on the right. Archie.
As Jeroan and Mags walked toward him, the old man’s wild white hair caught the moonlight, and a blue glow filled his eyes. Jeroan felt an automatic lurch in his belly at the sight of that blue light. The old guy stood up and placed an incredibly long fishing pole against the wooden side of the pier.
“Ah, me,” Archie said. “I wasn’t expecting anyone so soon. Well done, you three.”
We found him, Jeroan thought, wanting to do a fist bump with Mags and yell with triumph. My hunch worked!
Cautiously, Jeroan and Mags stopped a few feet from Archie. There was something odd about the man next to the old Sorcerer, and it started with his clothes. The guy looked to be in his mid-forties, with a bright orange stocking cap on his head and a small, pointy beard streaked with gray covering his chin. Despite the cold, the man was wearing just a white T-shirt—short-sleeved—along with long, neon-yellow shorts and flip-flops. His T-shirt had a faded, iron-on image of a man surfing through the starry universe instead of on waves.
The brightly dressed stranger didn’t bother getting up to greet them. Instead, he kept his focus on the taut line of his fishing pole, even as the bitter wind whipped the pole from left to right.
“Welcome to Newfoundland,” Archie said, his eyes still giving off a hint of blue light. He clapped Jeroan on the back with a sturdy smack. He patted Alexander’s head and touched Mags on the chin before she could say or do anything to stop him.
“And this is my good friend Mazwell,” he continued, gesturing at the man in the chair. Mazwell grunted without ever taking his gaze from the water below. “We’ve been talking about the Druid for a few hours now, getting caught up. And rested up.”
“Bet that was some chat,” Mags said, waving at Alexander in an attempt to get him to jump onto her shoulder. “Does that guy even talk?”
“Only when needed,” Archie said, but Mazwell had already turned his beat-up lawn chair so he was facing the water instead of them. “So you better listen when he does.”
“Was it you guys,” Jeroan said, remembering their rough welcome, “who attacked us? Was that your welcome wagon surprise or something?”
Archie put a hand to his white beard and tugged on it, as if trying to wake himself up. He coughed once, and the hint of blue light covering the top half of his whiskery face went out. Jeroan exhaled with relief.
“That was Mazwell’s defense systems,” Archie said with a sheepish smile. “Guess we forgot to shut them off, eh? Those things haven’t been activated in years.”
Alexander exhaled a loud, irritated cloud of smoke at that.
“Sorry about all that,” Archie added to the dragon, and then he gave Jeroan and Mags a tired smile.
“Anyway,” Jeroan said, hunching forward for warmth as the wind pounded its way down the pier and into his face. “How did you end up here, and where’s everyone else?” He took a step closer to Archie without even realizing it. “Or did you just look out for yourself and bail on the others when Moammar showed up?”
Archie laughed, not a booming laugh like Jeroan had heard from him before, but a more subdued, almost tired chuckle. Jeroan noticed Archie was leaning pretty heavily on the wooden piling that supported the far end of the deck. It looked like the old guy hadn’t gotten completely rested up yet.
“I’d been keeping a bit of a lookout,” Archie said, “in my head, for my old friend Moammar. We’ve been through a lot, so the connection between us has always been relatively easy to make.” Archie cleared his throat and gazed at Jeroan across the shadowy pier. “Even after he was disintegrated back at Stonehenge.”
Jeroan kept his face stony, determined not to cringe. Mags elbowed him, as if wondering if he was going to ‘fess up. He refused to acknowledge her or give any sort of emotion.
Mazwell slowly let out more line on his fishing pole, grunting and sharing a knowing look with Archie before turning back to the ocean.
“I had a feeling,” Archie continued, “that he’d be joining us back at your parents’ office. Moammar tends to jump from one side to another, just like I used to do back during the Civil War. But the difference between us was this—I changed sides so I could help more people in the never-ending battle of powerful versus powerless. Moammar changed sides in his futile attempt to try to always be on the victorious side. I’m afraid he chose poorly this time.”
“Mo-mo,” Mags muttered. “What an idiot.”
“Hush,” Jeroan said, distracted. He felt a rush of awe for the old man in front of him. What else did Archie know? What else could he do? “So what happened to you when Moammar showed up?”
“I whispered a few Words of Binding over everyone in the room I could reach. Even you kids, but it didn’t seem to take, at least not on all of you youngsters. Or it’s possible Moammar’s dampener distorted everything in that room, or perhaps Michael had some sort of—”
Archie paused and looked over at Mazwell, but the big guy was still staring at his fishing pole and nothing else.
“Ah, but I digress. The important thing is that we’re all safe.”
“All of us?” Jeroan said, and then swallowed. “Even my parents?”
“Yes, they were safe,” Archie answered without a moment’s hesitation. “That much I know for sure. But I can’t guarantee how long they shall remain safe.”
“Why?” Jeroan was shaking, and even if it wasn’t below freezing out here, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. The events of the past day were catching up to him, big time.
“I can’t see them any longer. Mazwell’s connection to them was broken. But I do know where they were sent, and where Maria and Yishi ended up as well. Either my Words of Binding, or Moammar’s dampener—or both things, working in tandem—split us all up and sent us to the far corners of the world.”
Jeroan sighed. “They’re in Australia, aren’t they? Mom and Dad? They’re with this Druid guy, right?”
Archie nodded. “I saw them there earlier tonight. Back when I first arrived here, and Maz showed me where they were in his pool. Before it froze over.”
“Pool?” Mags said, looking from side to side. “Oh, you mean the ocean.”
“Not at all. He has a smaller version of what our friends Cynthia and Ishmael had at their shack, up at the mouth of the Mississippi. It’s in there,” he added, pointing at the shack. “But it’s frozen shut now. I think someone caught on and—”
A loud series of splashes erupted from the water below them, stopping Archie in mid-story. Mazwell got to his feet at last, his long fishing pole bent now like a hook. He’d hooked something big.
Alexander squeezed Jeroan’s shoulder, creating five punctures in Jeroan’s heavy winter jacket, and then the dragon leaped up with a screech. Alexander was five feet long by the time he made it to Mazwell’s side, as if he was going to help the big guy pull in the big fish he’d snagged.
With a couple more grunts and a lot of wild reeling, Mazwell jerked his bent pole back three more times, and then his arms suddenly relaxed. A heartbeat later, with a swooshing of air, something large, black, and dripping with water flew up from the water and landed on the wooden floor of the pier right in front of Jeroan.
Alexander screeched one more time at the half-drowned creature that Mazwell had pulled in.
“Welcome back,” Mazwell whispered in a deep, drawling voice, talking to the wet and gasping person slowly sitting up in the middle of the pier, “Tanya.”
* * * * *
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