In which our protagonists contemplate the mayhem waiting in St. Margaret of Scotland. . . .
Monday evening, André returned Deborah’s phone. “The next time, it will be permanent.”
She gulped. “Yes, sir.”
“However, you are not getting the minivan keys back. Because it is going to be replaced.” He wrinkled his nose. “I can’t find parts for the engine that don’t cost more than the thing’s worth, and that’s wholesale. And I’m not dropping the engine and replacing it with a racing engine.”
Confusion surrounded Deborah like a cloud. “Who—? Wait, Hi wanted to do that?” Her voice went up at least an octave. “Race the minivan?”
Lelia flapped the dishtowel at her husband’s Familiar, who briefly sported a faint halo illusion. “Yes. Egged on by a certain Familiar who is not a lemur.”
“Yeah. I wanted him to cut the top off and turn it into a Vannagan or a camper van so I could go to that safari park in Ohio,” Tay grumped.
Confusion flipped to a horror. Deborah made warding-off gestures from at least two different cultures. Lelia felt inclined to agree. The prospect of Tay and Rodney on a road trip . . .
“Ahem,” André gave all of them a sour look. He began counting on his fingers. “Deborah, do not abuse the phone. I will take you to school, or your mother will. As soon as your mother knows her schedule, she will see about picking you up, or you will need to carpool. We’ll cover gas for carpool.” After four he stopped, looked up through his forelock at the ceiling, then remembered. “Oh, yes. The minivan will be replaced with something used, safe, and dull.” He pushed the forelock back out of the way.
Deborah and both Familiars drooped. “Hey, I bet we can find a sports car in primer. That’s a dull finish!” Rodney exclaimed. He and Tay raced from the kitchen, no doubt intent on mayhem. Deborah followed. Her parents sighed.
Lelia gave her husband a sympathetic look. “I’d suggest swapping them for Rosie, plus their food to make up the weight difference, but the Jones know them already.”
“Dark my lady, I fear every magic worker on the planet knows of them, and gives thanks to whichever deity they do or don’t follow that they are not us.” André held up one finger. “Except Mike. He’d offer to trade.”
It was her turn to make warding-off gestures. He gave her an evil smile, then followed the others into the living room. As she started heating water for tea and getting popcorn-making things assembled, she heard his voice. “I have no problem with that sports car. No, the second one, with the custom flame paintjob.”
“But boss, it doesn’t have an engine, and it’s not for sale!” Rodney’s protest echoed down the hallway.
“Which is why I have no problem with it.”
And the rental agreement doesn’t allow lawn ornaments in public view. Why someone would want lawn ornaments not in public view had always puzzled Lelia, but she shrugged and measured oil into the popcorn pan. There was always “that one guy” or gal.
André took Deborah to school the next morning. “You are going to sleep in,” he’d told Lelia the night before. “I’m serious. Because I’m not going in to Fernandez Auto-Mods until after ten on Wednesday, so you will have to take Deborah to school that morning.”
Love, you are working too hard. After so long, she’d stopped trying to persuade him to slow down. “Yes, dear.”
“You agreed without protest. I should be worried.” She’d kissed him, ending the discussion.
Now Lelia hunted through the big freezer in the garage, looking for aging meat and anything with freezer burn. “What? Mystery meat soup it is.” She straightened up, a package of meatus unknownius in one hand and a large freezer bag of veggie blend in the other. The mixed chopped vegetables dated to fall, three years before. “You thought you’d hidden yourself, but I win,” she informed the package as she bore it in triumph into the kitchen.
“Normal people don’t talk to frozen food,” Tay observed from the hall doorway. She gave him a firm look. “As I said.” She shook the paper-wrapped chub at him.
The mystery meat proved to be sausage. She added a hand-full of rice to the soup, stirred it, then retreated to the living room to look for a book. “Tay, do you remember if André’s book about finding spell elements is in the locked case or in with the others?”
“No, yes.” She glared over her shoulder at his nest, and the lemur tail dangling over the edge of his nest. “Meaning no, it is in the general case now. He moved it once both Mrs. Schmidt and Mistress Cimbrissa said Deborah needed to know how to identify and locate spell-associated injuries.” He moved, or at least the silvery-white tail moved. “Not my fault if my mage is imprecise.”
“Thanks, Delphic oracle,” she muttered as she hunted through the titles, tomes, and pamphlets until she found the correct book. The black spine stood out from among the green and light-brown herbals and plant books. Lelia pulled it off the shelf and set it on the couch. She went back to the kitchen to get some water before she settled in to read.
She skimmed the introduction and the usual warnings and cautions. “Right, as if we ever have time for that.” Setting up a full circle, shielded, and wards, and a pattern to warn off Elementals if needed? Maybe Kit had the resources and time, since he tended to work after the excitement was over. Mages in general, shadow mages in particular, did everything on the fly, or so it felt. “Probably just as well.”
Tay climbed down the carpeted lemur tree and sashayed over to the couch. She felt orange eyes staring up at her. “What’s just as well?” he asked before jumping onto the couch to flop against her.
“Not getting the time to think and prepare before we tackle trouble, most of the time.” She turned a few pages, then drank a third of her water. “This bit is about how to shield so that it won’t interfere with looking for evidence of spells.”
Her Familiar wiggled a little, then sighed. “You do think and prepare, just not the way she’s writing about. You and Shadow are always thinking about ‘what if someone attacks now? What if she is a shoplifter? What if Pisicagheara needs back-up?’ It’s just not surface-level anymore. Do you consciously find all the doors in a club or store?”
“No, I just do. You never know.” They’d had to use the last-ditch exit at Two Bats once, and she’d fled the grocery store out the back once, when that gal pepper-sprayed, then attacked the checker she thought had stolen her husband. “But point acknowledged.”
Two chapters later, just before she threw the book down on the cushion on frustration, Lelia found what she needed. “OK, here we go.” She read under her breath, then stopped. “So, in Lelia-English, since I know what Beaker and Spots, Shadow, and I already did, and since we were the only ones casting spells that had effects inside St. Margaret’s, Shadow and I should be able to sift out things that taste like shadow-magic. Anything else is what we’re looking for, since Beaker will be with us, and he can identify his own work.”
Tay nodded. “Right. You know Spots’ magic as well. Pisicagheara will probably be more help than Beaker. Beaker, well,” the silver-bleached round ears twitched, and Tay sniffed. “Yeah. He’s not used to excluding spells. He can tune them out once he identifies things, but if things are as messy magically as Shadow is thinking, Beaker will miss subtle, even blood-path subtle.”
“And blood-path can be subtle. It’s usually not, but it can be.” I don’t want to have to track down a subtle blood-path worker. I’m not that patient. She leaned forward and tapped the wood of the coffee table, just in case. Then she turned back a few pages. “This spell,” she tapped it, then turned the book so Tay could read. “Can Pisicagheara use the touchstone even if Shadow or I’m working this one?”
Tay nodded vigorously. “Oh yeah. That’s usually how it’s done, with the Hunters. Raabe and Imperotessa are working magic through either Pisicagheara or the Senior Hunter, or another clan magic worker is doing her thing, while the Hunters use a touchstone to confirm what needs to be dealt with. Outside spells don’t effect the touchstone unless they are being used against the stone’s owner. Owners in this case.”
“That makes sense. The stone can’t hold magic, because Labradorite leaks too badly, and the mount is silver shielded with silk, and kept in silk.” She’d never seen the Senior Hunter use the touchstone, but she’d never Hunted with him alone, only with Arthur as well as Arthur’s brother. She nodded, then went back to her earlier place, and finished the chapter, and the next. “OK, I think I know what to do, besides supporting Shadow and Pisicagheara, and trying to keep Rodney from tracking ash all over the pickup, if there’s still ash in the church.”
Tay leaned away from her, orange eyes wide, and pointed at his chest with one paw. “Are you insinuating that my associate would deliberately track something onto a black fabric interior?”
“Insinuate? No.” She stood and set the book on the coffee table. “Observe, remember, and anticipate? Oh heck yes.”
“Um, yeah. And this is Rodney, so he’ll probably get his brush full of ashes, too.” Tay sounded resigned. “Rich would just roll in everything and leave paw prints on the ceiling beams.”
Do I hear envy? La, la, la don’t even think about it! Too late—she had a momentary vision of Tay cavorting in the Gothic arches and beams of the ceiling. She took her glass to the kitchen for a refill, and so she could stir the soup. She added a small dollop of minced garlic, then girded her loins and armed herself to scrub bathrooms.
That night, André helped her into the pickup. “I told Deborah that if we’re not back by ten, she’d better be in bed when we do get home.” He made certain that they had both recharge bags, plus the truck bag, then closed the door. “She was working on geometry proofs.”
Lelia made a face, tongue stuck out, nose squnched up. “Ick. That’s when I bailed out on school.” Granted, the cultural flip from Catholic to hard-core Protestant hadn’t helped matters. She’d gotten her GED later, as part of her probation terms.
Her husband gave her a patient look, then turned his attention to driving. Their Familiars stayed quiet. Riverton had suffered a wave of stupid-driver syndrome, setting André on edge. Was it something in the air, or the surge in road construction causing people to stress out and act like idiots behind the wheel? Yes? Well, parking had never been something Riverton possessed in surplus, so that didn’t count.
They circled St. Margaret of Scotland twice before Kit Wilmington moved a barricade for them. They parked next to his official vehicle. A large pickup festooned with scratches, at least four custom tool-boxes, and a paint job that screamed “I’m a work truck!” lurked off to the side. André parked, then peered left and right. “I wonder where your boss—”
“Ahem.” Lelia tipped her head to the side. Arthur materialized from a patch of shadow. He was dressed for a Hunt, as were she and André. Arthur moved without making a sound, flowing from shadow to darkness to concealment. Some day he’s going to do that, and I’ll have a heart attack. Then he’ll be sorry. Or be furious if she keeled over between October fifteenth and Christmas and left him to deal with the holiday rush. She got out of the truck, collected Tay and the two main recharge bags, and followed the men to where Kit stood. André rechecked Rodney’s protective paw covers, then straightened up.
“This way,” Kit said. He led them around the corner.
Merddyn and Rosie waited by the north door. She wore paw covers like Rodney’s. “I have a key,” Merddyn told them. “The support cribbing is up already. That’s all that’s been done, other than removing the largest and most dangerous of the debris once the Fire Marshal and Beaker said it was safe. We,” he petted Rosie’s head, “didn’t sense anything obvious, but we didn’t look, either.”
“That’s not my strength,” Rosie murmured, downcast. “I’m sorry.”
Beaker rubbed his chin. “That you didn’t notice anything is helpful. I’d rather know that we didn’t miss anything and that there wasn’t obvious residue going in.”
Rosie perked up. “Um, it’s been empty, sir.”
Merddyn tipped his ball cap back, then folded his arms. “No Elementals at all. Not even the usual air Elementals that wander in through open doors, or the like. Nothing.”
Lelia glanced to André, then to her boss. Pisicagheara frowned the slightest bit, the only sign of grave concern. Beaker made an interested sound, then nodded and pulled the door open. “If you don’t mind,” he told Wizard and Stripes, “we’d like to look around on our own for a few minutes.”
Wizard shrugged. “We’ll wait for you to open the door again. It will give us a chance to check some things without overly-curious onlookers.” He sounded patient.
(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved