Monday, December 10, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 16 – Mages and Magick

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She was standing there, all bare skin and terry cloth, looking for all the world like she had just stepped out of an Herbal Essence commercial. Milo blinked and smiled. “Well, hello there, Madeleine. We starting with dessert first?” He pulled a bouquet of tulips from behind his back and held them out to her.

“No, no, I had to take another shower,” she chuckled. She grabbed the bouquet by his hand, fingers touching his, and pulled him into the house with a soft kiss. She smelled nice, definitely that fresh out of the shower scent, all baby powder and vanilla. “I would’ve been ready,” she paused, contemplating him. “I know you’re a mage, but how good are you at detecting other people’s magick?”

Odd question. He shrugged. “Depends wholly on the type of magick used and how much power was put behind it. Why do you ask?”

Madeleine took a quick look around the living room. “Not here.”

“What…?” he started to ask when she grabbed his hand and lead him into her master bathroom. She closed the door behind them and stilled in that way that only the undead can do, like every fiber of their being just stopped. “Madeleine?”

“Do you feel anything in here?” She leaned into him, her words a decibel above a whisper.

He refrained from telling her just what her proximity was doing to him, thought about baseball and math, and swallowed hard. “You mean magick stuff?” He thumbed toward the doorway. “The stuff you were asking about out there?”

She nodded.

“Um, give me a sec.” He closed his eyes and sorted through the layers in the small room. There was the living, mundane layer of leftover steam and hair and body products. Beneath that was a more ethereal layer. He could feel her power there, a cool azure pool of it with no ebb or flow, like the glassy surface of a pond on a windless day. His own power glowed red hot, like an iron waiting to be struck, crawling like tendrils through the space. Deeper he pushed into the ether, but though the colors of their magicks merged and mingled, brightening in the new plane, he could see nothing else.

Milo blinked several times and pulled himself out of the sight. “There’s nothing, Madeleine.”

She exhaled, the relief visible on her face and across her shoulders. “Good. Would you mind doing that for the rest of my house?”

“Um, may I ask why?” He leaned against the door. “It’s not like you could have a stalker.”

The vampire looked at him, curious, head cocked to the side, one eye brow raised. “No? You don’t think I could have a stalker? Because, what? I might eat them?”

Milo crossed his arms and nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

She smiled, curiosity to amusement. “There are other things in this world, you know. Of course, you know. Things that are a little big for my stomach to handle.”

“And…you think one of them is after you now?” As the words came out of his mouth, he was reminded of the fairy duke at the store and his warning. He was man enough to admit that he did not mind having a bad ass woman on his arm tonight. Just in case. But if she was being stalked, was there some connection? And if it was by something bigger and badder than the woman he wanted to date…

He shook the thought out of his head. “Madeleine, what’s going on?”

She sighed and sat down on the toilet. The mage started to sit on the floor, but given the vantage point within the open scope of her towel, and the fact that he really did want to know what was going on, he decided standing was a better option. She told him about the demon wearing a bad Girl Scout suit, and about her ex—not to be confused apparently to the guy she had set on fire a couple of weeks early—but the most curious part for them both was how this Patrick fellow knew about their plans.

“You haven’t been out all night?”

She shook her head. “Not since I was with you.”

“Hm, what about your cell phone?”

Madeleine raised a brow at him again. “Seriously?”

Milo raised both hands in defense. “Hey, the sooner we eliminate the mundane human stuff, the sooner we can move on to the not so human stuff.”

She sighed and handed over her cell phone. “I don’t even know what to look for.”

The mage smiled at her. “That’s all right. I do.” He dismantled the piece and examined the innards. The usual suspects all lay in their proper places, unaltered, undiminished, whole. He floated his hand above the exposed parts and pushed a little magick over it, but nothing glowed, nothing hummed. The wiring, the tech, just lay quiet, mundane.

He reassembled the phone and handed it back to the vampire. “No bugs, supernatural or otherwise.” Milo stood up. “You stay here, and I’ll check out the rest of the house.”

Madeleine stood up. “Um, no. Even if I can’t see what’s going on, this is still my house, and I want to know. No, let me get into something less, er, distracting, and we can do a room by room check. If that’s okay with you.”

It was not as if she was really giving him a choice, but… “Sounds like a plan. Let me step out of here, and out of your bedroom, so you can get dressed.” He stepped out before she could say anything, and after he closed the door behind him, he exhaled and closed his eyes.

What he was about to endeavor to do would drain him. The paranoid part of him screamed the same foolish nonsense it had the night before, and he shoved it away. Madeleine seemed distressed, genuinely upset over the idea of this Patrick guy spying on her in her own home, and by magickal means, no less. That thought alone sent shivers up his spine. Mundane human spy crap did not affect supers the way that other supers’ magick did. Every touch was like a finger print that could be traced back to the caster. Good for them, to find out who was doing this. Good for the bad guys, because in order to track it, Milo would have to leave a fingerprint of his own that they could easily follow back to him.

Damn Duke Alistar! As a mage, he understood paranoia. There were always going to be people seeking to take down stronger mages for their own personal gain. And when you were as powerful as Milo had managed to get in the short breadth of his life, you learned to look over your shoulder when that first shiver of offensive magick tickled the hairs on the back of your neck. But this, this was something different.

Probably because he knew there was a price on his head. Add in Madeleine’s own distressing situation, and yeah, well, they were looking like a pair of really big targets. And if a vampire, who was easily the bigger bad ass in her own right, was afraid of what she was proposing to be true, well, that did not bode well for either of them.

But amidst all the paranoia, that terrible, strangling feeling that something evil this way comes, there was a spark of anger. The mage did not like being threatened, but to have those he liked (or wanted to date) endangered in kind, the whole guilt by association insanity, just pissed him off. He preferred his enemies to attack head on, but given the sheer nature of the dark side, it was to be expected that they would no do so just because he wished it.

“But it would be nice,” he sighed. The bedroom door opened, and she stepped out in a cute little red tube top that flowed to her hips over pair of black slacks. “You look amazing.”

Madeleine blushed. “The dress I was wearing early was nicer, but the stench of sulfur doesn’t really come out, and it’s kind of a buzz kill. Hence the shower, and,” she gestured at her new outfit, “the costume change.”

“Probably for the best,” Milo mused. “I don’t think they’d let us in with you wrapped in towels.”

She smiled a wicked, naughty curl of lips. “Oh, you’d be amazed what I can get away with.” She winked at him and laughed. “That was silly. Sorry. I’m just, I get weird when I’m freaked out.”

He nodded. “I get that. Completely. So, let’s get the weird part over already so that we can get on with the good stuff. What do you say?”

“I think that’s a good plan, sir.”

He gestured up the hallway. “Lead on, m’lady.”

“You just want to look at my ass,” she teased as she started up the hallway.

“Nah, but it’s a nice perk.”

The hallway emptied into a spacious living room with higher ceilings than he had pictured standing outside. “Your own personal brand of magick?” he asked her, pointing skyward.

“Yeah, well, no, not mine. I didn’t do it. But I paid for it to be done by a lovely Mexican brujah shortly after I moved in.”

He dropped his sight to the second level and saw the intricate pattern of the creator’s magick zig zagging the actual ceiling. “She’s good. Very good.” Out of the corner of his eyes, something skittered across the wall. “Don’t move.” He moved over the carpet in smooth, normal steps, keeping the thing visible in his peripheral vision.

“I don’t see anything,” she whispered.

“I wouldn’t either, without my mage sight. Just trust me, okay?”

She did not reply, and he did not want to turn his head, lest he lose whatever it was he was tracking, so he trusted she was doing what he had asked. A foot from the wall, he raised his left hand. “Come to me,” he whispered. In his mage sight, he could see a funnel of power pour from the center of his palm, red, electric, like a tube of lightning. And when it hit the wall, it started to ripple outward along the paint and into the sheetrock and mortar.

The creature stopped dead in its tracks. From his new eyes-forward vantage point, Milo could make out a rectangular body about two inches in length and an inch wide with three spindly legs on each of the longer sides and two long antennae like animated pieces of hair protruding from what must be the head. Its magick tasted like metal and earth, which would have made more sense had the metallic part not been so much more prevalent than the earth.

Bugs were earth, through and through, with some of the deeper crawlers stained with a little metallic tinge, since base metals wound through the layers of rock, sediment and dead dinosaurs. This ‘bug’, and he used the term loosely, felt like the opposite. One of the ripples washed over it, and it let out a mechanical squeal.

“What the hell?” He pushed a little more magick through his hand, and the rippling intensified. The creature shuddered, and Milo could hear a buzz. Not like a bee or any other insect he had ever heard, but more akin to the sound of his computer running at home. “Come!”

The bug attempted to escape, but the funnel had grown too strong, and in a flurry of legs and squeaking, it slide backwards through the wall and then the funnel, until it landed with unceremonious smack into the middle of his palm. It squealed again, getting its legs underneath it, and Milo crushed it with his fingers.

Dark purple ichors spilled from between his fingers, but Madeleine caught the drops with a towel. He gave her a curious look.

“You have no clue how much money I spend getting this carpet cleaned.” She wiped the outside of his hand. “Here, for the rest,” she said, handing him the towel.

“Thanks.” He unfurled his fingers slowly over the towel, and with the pointer finger of his free hand, pushed apart the pieces of the bug. “That’s amazing.”

She peered over his shoulder. “Is that what I think it is?”

He poked at one of the still-twitching legs. “If you’re thinking tele-mechanics, I’m going to have to agree.”

“Tele what?”

“Tele-mechanics. It’s an intricate form of magic that allows you built something mechanical and give it life, animation. This thing wasn’t really live, per se, but it was alive enough to wander through the walls without you being able to detect it. See this?” He pushed a small clear circle off his hand and onto the towel. “That’s a lens. And these,” he circled a series of wires, “led from there to the main body,” he flicked open the carapace, “where we have the processor and the transmitter. Whomever created this is brilliant. Devious but brilliant.”

Little wisps of magic issued from the mess, and in an instant, the towel was on fire. In his hand. Milo resisted the urge to drop it on the carpet, and pulled power from the little inferno--even magickal fires need oxygen to burn—and soon found his outstretched hand covered in foam. He looked up and saw Madeleine smiling sheepishly from behind a small fire extinguisher.

“Um, fire is bad for me,” she shrugged. “It’s kind of like breathing for you, my need to put fires out.”

“Like a rhino?” An apt analogy at the moment, given the creature’s proclivity to fire stopping.

She chuckled. “Yeah, I’m very much a rhino.” She handed him a new towel. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” Milo wiped the foam and the underlying ash from his hand. “Thing is, there’s too much magick in the walls to sustain just this one bug, and one bug could not be everywhere in the house at one time.”

The smile slipped from her face. “So you think there are more.”

He appreciated that she did not make it a question, and nodded his agreement. “Time to go hunting.”

Continue: 17

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