Below is chapter two of 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 knew where to go.
He didn’t know how or even why he had to go there. It probably made more sense to head to Australia to find that black hole in the water next to the coastline. But no, not the land down under—that seemed too obvious. Plus, he just had a feeling about this other place.
And he couldn’t stay in that stuffy, smelly conference room any longer. Not with Moammar’s ashes constantly getting stuck in his nose, and the smell of Azure’s sweat and Archie’s b.o still lingering in the air. Not with Kelley and the others looking at him like a total failure for not getting magic to come back (something he still expected to happen, at any second, dang it).
It was past time for him to go out on his own.
Back in Mom and Dad’s office, he’d wanted to tell Kelley that going to Australia was a mistake, that if the Druid really was there with the parentals and Azure and the other old folks, he’d be waiting for them to walk into his trap.
But nobody wanted to listen to him, not after his colossal failure to do any magic earlier. He’d even thought about calling Archie, who Jeroan had hoped was still using Polly’s pink phone, but after trying three times to make a call, his eGadget’s battery was utterly dead.
Even if his phone did have a charge, he couldn’t have called Mom and Dad, because they’d left their Blueberry phones on the conference room table. And he doubted the two old ladies, Maria and Gran, even knew what a cell phone was. So there was no way of knowing where they were, or if they were still alive.
So as usual, Jeroan had to come up with his own plan to get where he needed to go. Which was why he’d let Mags take Moammar’s dampener from the table next to him, while in return he’d snagged the little dragon from her shoulder. She’d been too distracted by the dampener and the chitchat that had broken out at Kelley’s end of the table to even notice Alexander had disappeared.
And then—using the sneaking skills he’d picked up at Azure’s Center, hiding out from the three operatives every day—Jeroan had slipped out of the conference room while everyone was busy gathering up their phones and cameras for his little sister’s harebrained scheme.
You don’t take a knife to a gun fight, he thought—another of Dad’s favorite sayings. He tiptoed out into the hallway, holding the squirming dragon in both hands. This fight was going to take more than some cell phones and a camera. It was going to require something bigger and more powerful.
Which was why Jeroan borrowed Mags’ little dragon, Alexander. That dragon was going to get him where he needed to go. Fast. And take out anyone that tried to stop him along the way.
But first he had to convince Alexander to do just that.
“A black kid and a tiny white dragon walk out of a lawyer’s office,” Jeroan whispered as he rushed down the steps leading to the front entrance. It really did sound like the opening to a bad joke.
By the time he got to the darkened lobby, Alexander had grown, and Jeroan was huffing and puffing from carrying him. The critter was no longer a miniature dragon half a foot tall, but easily five times that. Jeroan could barely hold onto him anymore.
Thinking fast, trying to remember all the tips from the various books about dragons he’d read back at the Center, Jeroan set Alexander down on a table near the front doors before he dropped him.
A dragon is loyal to a fault, the book had said. You just have to earn its trust, and then give it an important job to do.
Jeroan rubbed his hands together in the chilly lobby and looked Alexander in the eye. I hope this works for dragons that used to be wind-up toys, too.
“Y’know, Alexander, we’ve been through a lot together,” he began, talking in a soft voice as his breath steamed in the cold air. “That time in the operatives’ crappy old van, and helping those folks on the riverboat.”
Jeroan swallowed hard, hoping Alexander didn’t remember all the details from that night. Crushing the music box he’d taken from the hand of Jimbo’s grandmother hadn’t been his finest hour.
“And you’ve done a great job taking care of my sister and Polly’s little sister, too.”
Alexander looked Jeroan in the eye. If dragons had eyebrows, Alexander would’ve had one of them raised right now. He puffed hot smoke in Jeroan’s face, so far looking pretty unconvinced.
Jeroan bit back a cough from the second-hand dragon breath. This wasn’t working.
He was about to continue his trust-building exercise with the now four-foot-tall dragon when he heard movement behind him. He half expected silver-haired Tanya to leap out of the shadows of the lobby with her band of Blood Sorcerers. Glancing around at every inch of the lobby, he waited a few seconds before saying anything else. He didn’t hear anything more. Just the hammering of his blood in his ears and the annoyed puffing from Alexander’s nostrils.
Must’ve been the building settling or something, Jeroan thought. So long as the place doesn’t come down around my ears like Azure’s Center did. I don’t have any magic in me to deflect any debris this time.
He turned back to Alexander, expecting to have to look down at the dragon. But the dragon had continued to grow as Jeroan let his fears distract him. Alexander was now gazing down at him, and from that height, Jeroan could see the impatience in the creature’s narrowed, black eyes.
“I know,” Jeroan said. Time to get to the point with the dragon. “I know you were tasked to take care of Mags, and Kelley before her. But I, um, I mean, we—Kelley and Mags and me—we have a more important… quest for you.”
Alexander’s dark eyes went bright with an eerie light that seemed to come from deep within the skull of the former windup dragon. The shadows of the lobby went scampering away from that light.
The books had been right about that word, Jeroan thought. Quest was almost as good as a magic Word to Alexander. He now had the dragon’s full attention, and hopefully a good bit of his trust.
Jeroan started talking as loudly and as quickly as he dared.
“Alexander. I need you take me to a real Sorcerer, not one of those back-stabbing Blood Sorcerers that are always jumping us. This Sorcerer’s name is Mazwell, and he’s an old friend of that Archie guy. Archie told us that this Mazwell guy lives in Newfoundland.”
Alexander looked Jeroan in the eye for a good ten seconds. Jeroan didn’t dare blink, even when the creaking sound came from the steps again. He forgot to breathe.
This was the big test—yet another one in a night full of them. Jeroan had failed his most recent test, back in the conference room, but the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that it had all been a setup. Everyone had failed the magic test that Azure had put them up to.
At last Alexander blinked and looked away.
Jeroan clenched his fist in victory. He’d done it. He’d tamed the dragon.
But his victory was short-lived when he turned to see what had distracted Alexander.
Standing in front of the stairs with a look of pure rage on her dirty face was Polly’s little sister, and she looked ready to scream.
“Mags,” Jeroan said in what he hoped was a calming voice. “Take it easy, girl.”
“That’s my dragon, you dirtball.” She rushed toward Jeroan, but Alexander gave her a warning growl. Mags stopped short.
Jeroan hadn’t expected that. He almost felt bad for Mags, just for a second.
“What did he do to you, Alexander?” she whispered.
“Easy, big guy,” he said. “Mags isn’t going to do anything stupid. Right, Mags?”
“But… How…?” Mags looked mad enough to start swinging, but her bottom lip was quivering like she was about to start crying. It was easy to forget the girl was only eight.
Jeroan heard more rumbling from above. Either Kelley and the others had realized he’d slipped away, along with the dragon and now Mags, or there was another Blood Sorcerer ambush about to happen.
In either case, it was time to get the heck out of this place.
“Alexander and I have important business to take care of, okay? We’ll be back soon. Maybe.”
Mags reached up a tentative hand to pet Alexander, who had stopped growling and seemed to be smiling at her again.
“Just the two of you?” she asked Jeroan, patting the dragon’s soccer-ball-sized head. “That doesn’t seem too smart. ‘Specially since you can’t do no magic no more.”
“Right,” Jeroan said. Thanks for reminding me, he thought, biting back what he really wanted to say to this little brat. “I don’t remember asking for anyone’s advice on this.”
“So who’s gonna take care of Alexander?”
Jeroan let out a loud laugh. He clapped a hand over his mouth when he heard a door slam from upstairs. He nodded at Alexander, and the dragon hopped off the table with a loud thump and followed him like a giant puppy toward the glass door leading outside into the darkness. Mags followed them a few feet behind.
“He’s a dragon,” he said over his shoulder to Mags. “I’m pretty sure he can handle himself. And we’ve gotta go. Now. Tell the others we’ll meet up with them in Australia, and we’ll be bringing some backup.”
Jeroan had his hand on the door leading outside, with Alexander nudging him on his way, when small hands grabbed his jacket and pulled.
“You can’t leave and take my dragon!” Mags shrieked.
“Knock it off!” Jeroan tried to wriggle free of Mags, but she was on him like a little tick, holding tight. “We’ll be out of everyone’s hair this way. Leggo, Mags! Don’t make me lose my temper here.”
While Jeroan did his best to get the girl off him, Alexander took matters into his own paws. He got his big head under Mags and flicked her onto his wide back. Mags squealed all the way, until she landed with a grunt, followed by a triumphant laugh.
“Looks like Alexander wants me to come along,” she said. Her face was flushed red from her exertions. “Frickin’ awesome.”
Mags patted the dragon’s neck, and Alexander let out an earsplitting shriek of joy.
“I don’t believe this,” Jeroan said, looking at the blackness of the street outside. He didn’t want anyone else on this so-called quest. Especially Polly’s loud-mouthed, snot-nosed little sister.
“But you guys need me,” Mags said from her new perch. She sniffed loudly in the shadowy lobby. “Gotta have someone who can watch your stupid back.”
Jeroan put a hand on the cold glass of the door. He fought the urge to bang his head against it.
“Like right now,” Mags said. Jeroan looked back and saw Mags urgently pointing at the stairs behind her and Alexander. “Time to go, hero.”
Jeroan caught a glimpse of Polly coming down the steps, followed by his sister, and that was all the motivation he needed. He pushed open the door, caught a face full of icy wind, and charged squinty-eyed out into the dark, with the dragon puffing hot smoke onto his shoulders with each step.
He skidded across the snowy sidewalk and turned to look up at Alexander and his passenger. Mags was grinning wildly and holding tight to the ridges on the dragon’s back. It was dark out here—their short fight with the Blood Sorcerers had knocked out at least two street lights, and the stars above Mags’ head glittered brightly in the cloudless night sky.
Jeroan exhaled a big plume of warm air as he led Alexander out into the middle of the quiet street.
He felt his spirits lift after the chaos of the conference room. Mags had watched his back for him, just now. That was more than he could say for everyone else lately. He had to give the girl a little bit of credit for that. Just a little.
He climbed aboard the dragon, perching himself in front of Mags. Without hesitation, Alexander pumped his wings three times and lifted them off the ground. Jeroan let out a surprised laugh.
Maybe Mags was right. Maybe he did need someone to rely on, someone who was almost as tough as he was. Possibly, with Mags, he’d found someone even tougher… if that was possible.
“Let’s head to Newfoundland,” he called to Alexander over the growing wind that was already numbing his ears and nose. “Can’t be that far, right?”
Alexander shrieked once more, in a tone that sounded like agreement to Jeroan’s unfeeling ears.
He glanced down at the office shrinking fast below him and saw his little sister come running out the front door with Polly and her other friends. They looked about four inches tall from his perspective high above. They couldn’t do anything about his escape other than watch him leave.
He laughed again, and then nearly screamed when the dragon went invisible. He hadn’t expected that. He hunkered down lower onto Alexander, and Mags grabbed his coat and cussed like a sailor until she calmed herself down.
Within a minute they were passing high above the icy river, and blasting ahead into the cold, dark night. Closing his eyes and holding on tight, Jeroan seriously hoped they were headed north into Canada and far-off Newfoundland.
* * * * *
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Read Chapter Three