Rise of Magic releases on Monday, September 14! Until then, check out this sneak peek to hold you over!
Leira sat on the back porch in the dark, sipping a cold long neck. The night was quiet except for the sound of cicadas and crickets blending together and the occasional rat rummaging through the trash cans a few doors down.
She glanced up at the dim light in the Moss’ bedroom window and wondered if Angel was waiting up for Matt to finish running in shifter form. “You never know what’s going on behind closed doors.”
Correk pushed open the screen door. “What are you doing out here? It’s almost midnight.”
“Enjoying the break in the action. I figure there’s not going to be a lot of them. I’m going to take each one when I find them and relish them.” She leaned down and picked up the beer sitting on the floor. “I saved one for you, just in case.”
“I’ll choose to believe that was for me,” he said, taking the bottle. He sat down next to her and balanced a boot on the rail of the porch. “Have you heard from Lily?”
“I got the agreed signal from her at about six o’clock when she was on her way home. She’s fine so far. Lois, on the other hand, is not too happy with us.”
Correk cleared his throat and took a long swig, resting the bottle in his lap. “We’ve put too much on one young witch.”
“Lily chose to stay at Fleeker. We need to honor that and stand next to her.” Leira’s phone buzzed and she took it off the banister where it was sitting. “Blocked number. Hello General.” She waved at Correk as he kissed the top of her head and headed inside.
“How did you know? Was that a magic thing?”
“No, I just had a feeling.” Leira checked her watch. “Another late night call. We have to stop meeting like this.”
“Trouble seems to like the late night hours. I have another job for you if you’ve got the time. It’s an odd one, even for you.”
“Now you’re just flirting with me.”
The general chuckled and let out a sigh. “I’ve missed talking to you, Leira. You manage to keep a sense of humor in the middle of mayhem.”
“The swearing helps too.”
The general laughed. “Both may be needed for this job. There’s an old abandoned cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany in a place called Isola del Giglio. It hit the rocks, and no one has wanted to spend the money to break it up and haul it away. The ship has been rusting there for a good ten years and had become a home to lobsters and crabs, till about three months ago.”
“What happened three months ago?”
“A new kind of underwater creature took over the ship with a sidekick and they are using it as their home base. Are you familiar with the legend of Atlantis?”
“I’ve met at least one magical from Atlantis. But she walked around topside.”
“Yes, well there’s far more than one magical under the sea. Mermaids, Draksa. They’re some kind of underwater dragons, if you can believe that. Vermillions look like Elves till you get to their face and then there’s gills and a fin on top of their head. There’s a reason for this zoology lesson. A Vermillion has taken over the ship and has a bonded Draksa. Can be a pretty aggressive creature. Use extreme caution. The pair is using the ship as a staging area to raid the nearby city and scare the inhabitants.”
“Why are you getting involved in another country’s problems?”
“It doesn’t work like that anymore. Magic coming back connects all of us and we’re learning how to work together. Italy doesn’t have someone like you and if it gets out that the ocean is full of magical creatures that don’t always play nice it’ll be Jaws all over again. Everybody with a boat will head out to take care of the problem.”
“Plenty of people will get hurt.”
Correk came back out with two more bottles and handed one to Leira, sitting down on the banister. He leaned back to get a better view of the alley and noticed the shifter in the shadows at the other end. He nodded in that direction. “Matt’s trying to come home,” he whispered.
Leira glanced up toward the Moss house and saw Angel step back from the window. “What exactly do you need me to do? Are you asking me to arrest these goons?” asked Leira, getting up and taking Correk’s hand. Correk opened the screen door and held it for Leira.
“I’m asking you to bring them in to face justice,” said the general.
“That’s different. It brings up a lot of questions. How are you going to bring magicals to court? Isn’t that the Silver Griffins territory? Fuck, what kind of black site are we talking here?”
Correk arched an eyebrow and stopped where he was, suddenly listening more intently to Leira’s side of the conversation.
The general sucked in air through his teeth. “We have a deal with the Silver Griffins to turn over bounties to them to send to Trevilsom Prison. We’re going to do our best not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Look, I’ll address the elephant in the room. No experiments just because we have them and they’re not human. You have my word.”
“Yeah, but do I have the word of every other government official?”
“You can be there when Lois and her crew take them. They will be nearby for backup if you need them, but I’m guessing you won’t.”
“That’s a lot of confidence in one magical against a crew.”
“I didn’t say that. You’ll see. I’m sending you the coordinates. You leave immediately before they raid the coastline again and someone finally gets some good footage of them that we can’t explain.”
The general hung up abruptly and the coordinates just as quickly appeared on her phone. Leira frowned looking at them.
“What was that all about?” asked Correk, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The general has another job for me. But this time it’s gonna be a slip ‘n slide with some creatures from under the sea.”
They both looked up at the sound of talking from the alley, standing still as they listened to the distant hushed voices. Leira’s forehead wrinkled, stepping closer to the screen door.
“Angel is a lot tougher than I gave her credit,” whispered Leira, as she gently shut the back door. She leaned over and kissed Correk. “I’ve got to go.”
“Hang on, take the troll with you. It sounds like his kind of assignment. For me… take him for me.”
Leira opened a portal to the coordinates and stepped through to a small boat tied behind the large rocks where the old cruise ship was listing heavily to the starboard side with part of its deck below waters and rust appearing in all the joints.
The boat rocked gently as Leira stepped through, the sharp wind off the ocean catching her in the face. She shook off the blast of cold air as the portal closed, the sparks fizzing and dying into the water.
“You okay in there? It’s show time.” Leira looked in her pocket at the troll, still curled up giving a big yawn and stretching a paw over his head. “This should be a fair match. Two for two unless there’s a bonus evil doer in there.” She scooped out the troll and set him on her shoulder, stepping onto the rocks and swiftly moving over the top, staying low.
Magic swirled into her feet, rising up through her body, the symbols lighting up on her arms. She got to the crest of the rocks and saw the Draksa at the bow of the ship, balancing on the chrome balustrade just above the waterline. Its silver wings were open and shining under the moonlight, and it was stretching its long neck, snapping at large flies.
“A dragon?” muttered Leira. “That has to be the Draksa.”
Yumfuck let out a low growl, sniffing the air. “The Vermillion is close by too. I can smell him.”
“Why didn’t I ever see Vermillion on Oriceran?” Leira watched the Vermillion roar, flapping its wings.
“Most of the ones on Oriceran are in Trevilsom. They’re from this planet, from Atlantis, but there aren’t many left of them. Kind of like Jasper Elves but with less of a sense of humor.”
She looked over at the small troll on her shoulder. “You’ve really grown into a great warrior. Come on, let’s go kick some scaly ass.” Leira started to crawl up the rock but something wet and muscular firmly grasped her ankle. She dropped flat against the rock, a small fireball in her palm as she rolled over, her eyes glowing.
A mermaid was half out of the water, a hand still around Leira’s ankle, her other hand with a finger pressed against her lips and on her wrist a tattoo of two S’s intertwined. Floating just behind her were three other mermaids, their long hair in braids floating behind their heads.
The mermaid gestured to Leira to follow along the rocks to the left and the back of the ship. The others bobbed under the surface, glimmers of silver or blue moving underwater toward the far side of the ship. Leira followed, picking her way across the rocks, the troll hanging onto her shoulder, bounding up and down.
The ocean spray was making her shoes damp and the rocks slippery.
They got to the edge of the rocks, the sea lapping at the ship. A mermaid with dark hair pointed at a thick chain that hung down from the side of the boat where the anchor used to be connected, and then up at the deck tilted into the air.
Leira looked up, her eyes glowing and set an intention. Find the Vermillion. A thread of magic crept up the side of the ship and over the edge at the top, showing Leira the layout.
The mermaids exchanged glances, clustered together at the surface, wondering what was happening.
The Vermillion was sitting on a hatch cover with peeling grey paint, his elbow on his knee and his chin resting in his hand. There was a tall red fin along the top of his head and webbing between his fingers. He was tossing a glowing ball of iridescent blue glob up and down in his hand, staring toward the coast. “Jameer,” he shouted, “How do you feel about a night out?”
The Draksa spread its wings and lifted into the air, flapping in long, quick motions with its legs dangling beneath. It landed close to the Vermillion on the uneven deck of the flying bridge, digging its claws in just above where the Vermillion was resting. “I could use a few new baubles.” The Draksa filled its chest with air and lifted its head to roar, the sound echoing over the open water. Lights blinked on in windows along the shore.
Jameer breathed in again but stopped midway, snapping its jaws shut and looking around, the leathery wings opening and closing.
“What is it?” The Vermillion stood up, looking around but didn’t see anything. Leira’s energy swirled in on itself, hidden as it went around him, brushing up against his magic, taking measure of the creature. It was the closest Leira had ever let her magic get to an enemy without their notice and to her surprise it was working.
To a point.
The Vermillion grew agitated and stomped over to the edge of the ship, looking down. All but one of the mermaids ducked under the water in time, but one was just a second too slow, her tail flapping against the water, sending out ripples. The Vermillion’s irises widened from slits into spheres, zeroing in on the water below.
“Jameer, looks like we’re doing a little fishing first. There are nosey intruders. You feeling a little hungry?”
The Draksa flew down by the Vermillion’s side, his claws around the balustrade, peering over the side. “Did I ever tell you I’m a pescatarian?”
“You’re a damn liar,” said the Vermillion, loading up a spear gun. “I saw you take down that deer last week.”
“That was last week. You going old school? What’s with the spear?”
“It’s gotten too easy. I’m bored.”
Leira pulled back her energy and looked down at her arms. There were a few different outcomes. “Not going to be as easy as I thought,” she whispered to Yumfuck.
“Sounds like an adventure. Let’s take down these wannabe rules of a rusty bucket.”
“Well said, like a poem.” Leira gave a crooked smile as she pulled herself up the side of the ship by the heavy chain, her magic staying just ahead of her. Yumfuck held onto her shoulder like he was surfing a wave till they got just below the top of the ship. He began to grow, coming over the top and catching the Vermillion off guard.
“Aloha motherfuckers,” growled the troll, a large paw swiping at the Vermillion, leaving deep claw marks in his arm and loosening his grip on the spear gun. The aquatic Elf screamed out in pain, dropping the weapon and leapt overboard into the water far below, pointing his toes and holding his one good arm across his chest.
The Draksa flew at Yumfuck’s head, its claws outstretched but Leira saw him coming and got off a fireball that hit him in the chest just beneath his left shoulder. The wind was knocked out of him and he spiraled toward the water, pulling his wings in at the last moment to prevent them from breaking.
“You think that was it?” Yumfuck looked over the side.
“No, I think they took the fight below the surface.” She looked up at the troll. “You stay here. You’re not meant to be fighting underwater.” Leira got up on the edge of the ship.
“Neither are you.”
“We don’t know that, and I’ve got a feeling the mermaids are outmatched. I’m not leaving them alone.”
“If I start turning blue, I’m jumping in.”
“Deal.” Leira crossed her arms over her chest, the symbols spinning and dropped into the water. She sunk down four fathoms, the glow from her eyes glowing in the dark waters. She looked up toward the surface and started to kick for the top to get air, but a hand yanked her sideways. Leira turned, ready to fight but found herself looking into the eyes of one of the mermaids.
The mermaid put her hands on Leira’s jaw, gently forcing her to open her mouth. Leira’s eyes widened but she did it and the mermaid blew bubbles across the short span. They drifted into Leira’s mouth as the mermaid sung a spell that floated around Leira, wrapping her tighter and tighter.
“Can you hear me now?” asked the mermaid.
Leira nodded her head slowly.
“Stop holding your breath. You can breathe in the water for the next few hours. Go ahead, do it. We don’t have much time.”
A thin stream of fire shot past their heads, streaking through the water and briefly illuminating their faces. The flash startled Leira and she sucked in water, expecting to choke and was surprised as her lungs filled and then pushed out the water again, seeking more. She gulped it in as another flash of heat sizzled in the water even closer to her head.
“Time’s up!” said the mermaid, grabbing Leira by the hand and pulling her along as they swam toward the fire blasts. “You’re a Jasper Elf, right?” asked the mermaid over her shoulder, her wide tail moving up and down, pushing them through the water. “You can do this. Use your magic. Don’t fight it or try to figure it out. That will only slow you down. Stop thinking and just go.”
“You clearly don’t know me.” Leira shook her head, surprised that sound came out of her mouth and getting a laugh from the mermaid. The smile quickly disappeared, and the mermaid pulled her down deeper as fire streamed over their heads, spreading out in a fan.
“Let go of what you think and go with your magic. You can do it,” said the mermaid. “I’ve got to go help my sisters.” She let go of Leira’s hand and blew out a stream of bubbles, propelling herself faster through the water, her tail creating a stream behind her.
Leira could hear Turner Underwood’s voice in her head. Get out of the way and be willing to fit yourself to the energy.
She set an intention. Let me help. The energy rolled around her and she started swimming, pushing through the murky waters. Finally, she saw the glint of silver ahead, the tail of a mermaid flipping and caught sight of the Draksa, its claws out, pulsing water toward a mermaid. The mermaid was transformed with long talons and sharp teeth, her tail curved to her right, pushing back just as hard.
The Vermillion was holding another mermaid by the neck, leering as he pulled back, fire forming in the deep waters. Nearby a mermaid floated, her head down and her hair covering her face.
Leira felt the magic lurch forward, taking hold of her and for a moment she felt the choice. The magic didn’t care which way she went. Choose to let it reach out or choose to control it, make it fix what she saw as the problem.
She felt herself let go and the magic ripple out and a calm came over her. The waves of energy pounded away at everyone in its path, pushing them all apart in a widening circle, bruising their bodies. Leira outstretched her arms, fire forming in her palms. She smiled just a little as the fire shot through the water and found its first mark.
The Vermillion spun like a top, choking on the bubbles, blood droplets clinging to them. The Draksa cried out, a sharp note echoing through the water, but Leira didn’t take back control, the energy washing over him, pushing him further down, the pressure building around his wings.
The last they all saw of the creature was his face barely visible in the darkness, it’s mouth open in a scream and the barely visible sound of snapping bones in his wings.
Leira felt the energy returning to her, diminishing as the Vermillion’s chin dropped forward and his arms floated up in the direction of the surface, the bloody bubbles following the same path.
Two of the mermaids took the arms of their fallen sister and began to swim away. Leira looked up toward the surface and started to kick but the last mermaid stopped her.
“There’s something I want to show you. As a thank you and because someday you may need it, Jasper Elf.” She gestured for Leira to follow and began to swim in the direction of the departing mermaids, deeper underwater. Leira looked back toward the surface again.
“The troll will wait. You’re bonded. He won’t leave without you,” said the mermaid, turning back and swimming faster.
Leira pushed through the water but she wasn’t keeping up and looked back again toward the surface. Maybe this adventure is over.
A whoosh of water moved around her as the mermaid returned, her tail curving around to push at Leira’s back. She grabbed Leira by the arm and pulled her along with her, zipping through the water past schools of colorful fish and underneath a shiver of hammerhead sharks.
The darkness became more complete till all Leira could see was the hand on her arm, pulling her through the water. But it wasn’t long before they got deeper, and the light began to return. Only a glow at first, but then growing as they approached a way station. Leira let out a stream of bubbles in astonishment.
Below her was a platform made of leftover steel plates from sunken ships remade into something useful once again. The platform stretched out for a hundred feet and different magicals bobbed in the water just above it. In front of it were tracks laid across the ocean floor. The lights above the platform blinked twice and everyone looked to their left, leaning slightly toward the tracks.
“You have an underground railway…” Leira watched, fascinated, feeling the same wonder she had felt when she first passed through a Starbucks wall.
A train car came streaking along the tracks, coming to a halt in a flash, the doors opening with a quiet whoosh, creating ripples in the water. The magicals swam onboard, some grabbing on to a metal pole as the doors closed again and the train took off again, moving so fast it was a streak in the water and gone again.
“You have allies down here. We know of the stories about you. If you ever need us, understand we can get to you or help you get somewhere unseen,” said the mermaid. “Our rail system connects all waterways, everywhere and is unknown to magicals who walk around up there.”
Leira felt a chill roll across her back and she moved her shoulders, a spark of hope settling in her chest. “Wolfstan Humphrey doesn’t know about you.”
“If he’s not a wet magical then no, this Wolfstan wouldn’t know about us. Even the Silver Griffins up there don’t know about this. But like I said, we’ve heard the stories and we know things are changing. You are going to need us, maybe to tip the balance in the right direction. We’ll be here if that happens and you find you need us.”
“Thank you. I’m going to tell the new Fixer, just so you know.”
“Oh, the Fixers always know about us. Turner Underwood is an old friend.”
“That lovely bastard is a never ending well of cool secrets.”
“It takes time, but your Fixer will get to be like that too. Come on, I’ll help you get back to your bonded troll.”
“His name is Yumfuck and he’s my friend. A really good one.”
“Unless of course you want to take a ride on the train. I could get you as close as Port Arthur.”
“No, I’ll go back the way I came, but thank you.”
The mermaid took her hand and moved her tail, pushing them through the water. “I’ll have you back before you know it.”
The water pushed past Leira’s body as they rose toward the top, the bottom of the rusty ship tilted to one side finally coming into view.
Just before Leira’s head emerged above the water, the mermaid circled Leira’s head with her hand, removing the spell.
“Leira, you’re back!”
Leira looked up to see the super-sized version of Yumfuck leaning over the side of the ship, his claws leaving scratch marks on the side.
The mermaid surfaced and waited as Leira climbed the anchor chain toward the top, pulling herself over the side. She looked back in time to see the mermaid wave and flip over, her tail slapping the water.
“Are you okay?” Yumfuck looked her over, pawing the top of her wet head.
Leira pushed away his paw and gave the troll a crooked smile. “There are more wondrous things in this world than I have the ability to imagine. I think I kind of get why Turner liked being the Fixer so much. It wasn’t just that he got to see so many hidden things. It was because of those things he knew the world was worth fighting for.”
“That’s deep.” The troll smiled, showing his large, pointed teeth.
“It’s like you’re permanently set on comic relief.”
“It’s kind of my thing. Where is the Vermillion?”
“No more. He’s part of the sea now.”
“And the Draksa?”
“Ditto, and the mermaids lost one on their side. I’m not sure how the General will take it, but sometimes there aren’t a lot of options. Let’s go home.”
The troll shrunk back down to five inches tall and Leira scooped him up, putting him in her wet jacket pocket. He settled in against the soggy pocket as she started the climb back down to the boat.
“Why don’t we open a portal and leave the boat?”
“Government issue. They’ll want it back,” said Leira, feeling an ache in her shoulders. It had been a long night. “We’ll be home before you know it, Yumfuck. I’ll even make you s’mores over the stove.”
“Ooooh, with the big, fluffy marshmallows.”
Leira grunted stepping into the boat, stretching her leg back to find her footing. “Fine, but this time you can’t go to bed before you wash off the s’more.”
Sirius sat in the mid-century leather office chair, one foot propped on the desk, pursing his lips. “I need a place to hide.”
Wolfstan turned back from the window overlooking the Washington street below and arched a brow, coldly observing Sirius. “Have you ever thought about running your family more like a business? It would appear that a lot of your trouble has been that you’ve let emotions rule the day. There’s no accountability, no management system, no quid pro quo.”
Sirius slowly moved his foot off the desk and sat up straighter, scowling. “I didn’t come here for leadership tools. I did my best for you and now I need to go to ground and get out of the line of fire.” He fanned his fingers in the air. “Live to fight another day and all.”
“You did not perform as expected.” Wolfstan tapped his chin with a well-manicured fingernail. “Your balance sheet shows a debt. You want my continued help, you’re going to need to pay your debt.”
Sirius let out an exasperated sigh, adjusting his cashmere coat. “I have a feeling this will be a far greater assignment than any debt.”
“It’s all subjective.” Wolfstan’s expression grew cold. “I need you to bring me a few magicals. A baker’s dozen should do.”
“What do you want with magicals?” Sirius swallowed hard, feeling his stomach sour.
“I’m advancing the cause of magicals everywhere before the gates open completely.” Wolfstan tilted his head slightly. “But in order to get to the destination, a few volunteers will be needed to further the cause.”
“I’ve heard about this place.” Sirius twirled a finger in the air. “You’re doing some kind of Frankenstein experiments.”
Wolfstan pounded on the desktop and ran a fingernail noisily across the wood leaving a slight scratch. “I am promulgating science and making sure of our place here on this world. My place is to lead us there. Yours is to get what I need or die trying.”
Sirius felt a chill across the back of his neck, magic humming through his arms the way it always did when he was in dire straits. But this time he knew better than to move a muscle.
“There’s a particular magical I want, Sirius. A shifter that you created. An alpha who has settled here named Matthew Moss. His genetics may hold the key for me to figuring out how to make everything work together.”
“That should be easy enough.” Sirius curled his lip. “Shifters aren’t really magicals.”
Wolfstan let out a sharp laugh. “Jealousy is always ugly. Just because they’ve formed an alliance with your replacements, don’t get your feelings hurt.” Wolfstan tapped the desk again. “Don’t be lazy this time and underestimate your adversary. My assistant has something for you that may help. An ointment we’ve developed that will destabilize their DNA. Use it judiciously. Matthew Moss runs with his pack most nights through Rock Creek Park. Usually around midnight they transform back to their human selves to head home. That will be his most vulnerable moment. Don’t fail me, Sirius. Or you will have to find a place to hide from me.”
“And if I bring you the magicals you need? I may have a sister I’ll throw in as a bonus.”
“Then I will help you to find a new identity that will be undetectable to everyone. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
Sirius felt the sense of dread settle in and take hold of him deep inside. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said, earning a smile from Wolfstan that made the chill blow back across his neck.