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Chapter 18 - The First Step

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When I joined him on the stairs, Cory had opened the front pocket of his satchel. The pocket unrolled to reveal a long row of smaller round pockets. It almost touched the ground and held hundreds of writing implements, from cheap pens and expensive art markers to chalk or oil pastels. He pulled a pristine piece of chalk from a pocket halfway down his thigh and handed it to me. “It’s far from the best tool to draw a ghost trap, but it’s the easiest for a Novice Mage to use. Please be careful, that’s a stick of what’s considered the best chalk in existence and the company is no longer in operation. There’ll be duals to death over the last piece.”

“Got it.”

He pulled a notepad and small pencil from the front pocket of his suit jacket. He drew a circle with a rounded pattern in the middle that was a cross between a cartoon flower and a pentagram. “I want you to draw this. Ideally on a piece of clean, hard floor.”

I carefully studied the sigil after he handed it to me. “There’s no clean floor in there.”

“What we're about to do isn’t ideal, but it’s a safer choice.” Cory handed me an A4 piece of black cardstock. “You may as well copy it out here. Draw another exactly the same on the palm of your hand but leave a slight gap, that can be closed in a small single stroke. Damage either with your sweaty fingers, and we die.”

He gave me a look so serious I laughed. “We die? I’m pretty sure it’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen.” I felt like a Kindergarten student doing arts and crafts. I carefully copied the sigil, drawing it in the same order Cory had. When I finished, he nodded at the door handle, and I opened the door.

He pointed to my hand, “Remember not to smudge that.” He had a small metal torch in his bag. When he shone it into the house, there was no sign of Nora Rowe.

“It’s been a month. How do you know someone hasn’t been in here?”

“This place is completely made of asbestos prefab. We had it declared condemned and placed magical locks on the entrances. The only people with permission to be here are you and I.”

“Every house in this part of town is built solely from asbestos. Sixty per cent of the houses in Dunn should be condemned.” I said. “This place is a dump, toxic waste included. Everyone raised here probably has permanent brain damage.”

“Please, focus.”

“Answer me this… why go to the effort of placing magical locks on the house but not remove the ghost?”

“You have to clean up your own mess.” Cory’s torch flickered for a few seconds, then went out. He clicked his tongue and shook the torch until it flickered back to life. The temperature in the room had decreased rapidly in the few seconds of darkness. “Sorry I need to buy a new one.”

“You need to buy a new one… Seriously?”

“It’s not high on my to-do list.”

I looked at him and mouthed, ‘She’s here.’

He stepped closer to me, stood on my foot and gave me a sharp look. “Let’s check the other rooms to make sure we have all those books. Mrs Gregory is rather mad at you for running out of here like a scared baby the other day. You know ghosts aren’t real, right?”

Scared baby? The prick was purposely trying to provoke me. I smiled at him and carefully checked the sigil to make sure I hadn’t smudged the chalk. The card stock was already damp between my sweaty fingers.

I closed my eyes for a few seconds and took a deep breath.

I could do this.

I had to do this.

I met his eyes, and he looked at the ground for a few seconds. After he looked up, I carefully dropped the card on the ground, thankful it landed face up.

We waited and pretended to have a mundane conversation as Nora Rowe slowly came towards us. Positioned against a door, wall, and the end of the hallway, there was only one way for her to approach. When she reached the sigil, I finished the chalk copy on my palm and closed my eyes. My focus turned to imagining her being gone, to making her disappear. She didn’t belong in this world; she had to go. She had to vanish.

She had to leave.

My ears popped.

Cory tapped my shoulder, and I opened my eyes.

She was gone.

“Maybe I can make something of you.”

I was careful to give him back the sweaty chalk in one piece. The whole be careful thing felt like a threat, and I didn’t want to see what would happen if I wasn’t. “It worked?”

“It’s not always going to be easy. Be sure the person was Mundane before you use that tactic. It wouldn’t have worked if she knew what a sigil was.”

“How does a Mortal leave a ghost?”

“Like I said, everyone’s capable of magic. Most of the time they’re created through sheer determination. Base level magic is created mainly through thought, the last of their energy powers it. The desire, wish, need to stay here. The last thing they want in this world is not to die.”

“It sounds sad when you put it like that.”

“It is.”

“That felt too easy.”

“Don’t get too big for your boots. It wouldn’t have been that easy if you were alone.”

I rolled my eyes. “I know that from experience.”

We walked out of the house and back to Cory’s car. “I feel like that was a setup.”

He turned to look at me. “I made it easy for you.”

“Easy for me?”

“I placed some runes in the hall.”

“Runes?”

“They’re on the walls.”

I grabbed the torch from his hand and marched back into the house. The walls were covered in letters… runes. They were hard to see, he’d written them in a marker almost identical to the colour of the paint. I sensed him behind me as I shone the torch around the space. “Why?”

“You need to learn the process one step at a time. I wanted you to focus on banishing her and learning a basic sigil.”

“What is it?”

“A spell. They’re letters. It’s an ancient magical language. Ancient Roman alchemists used this particular spell language.” He pulled a small spray bottle from the bag and sprayed a thin layer of mist over the walls. He carefully used a microfiber cloth to remove the marks. “Death Magic is my third magic, and my focus is on Necromancy. We will hit a wall, eventually. Hopefully not before I pass you on to the people who are supposed to be training you.”

“You could teach me some Necromancy,” I said.

“No.” He replied. “I’d be skinned alive if I did that without permission.”

“Everyone specialises in two or three types of magic, right?”

“Almost always two but I don’t get out much.”

“Unless you’re taking part in compulsory cult activities.”

He laughed.

“I want to learn Potion Craft. I used to watch Pop make potions, I find it fascinating.”

“You need to focus on learning one type of magic at a time.” He looked at his watch. “Let’s go get lunch.”

***

We drove the half an hour to Oak Breeze, a small coastal town ten minutes north of where Eli and I had our beach dates.

I joined Cory, who sat on a bird shit stained table in the beachside park. Development on this part of the coast was almost to the sand. I looked out at the ocean as I forced myself to sit down at the table. “Don’t you have a spell or something to clean this?”

“A slightly dirty table will not kill you, Dexter.” He bit into his chicken pie.

I started eating mine. “These are good.”

“I know.”

“But not an hour round trip out of our way good. There are three bakeries in Dunn alone.”

“I know. I live there too.”

“You do?”

“Yes.” The moment the pie was gone, he turned his attention to the cupcake he’d bought. It was simple, with pastel pink icing and rainbow hundreds and thousands. I’d always wondered who bought those things. My Grandmother would have called it a patty cake. He met my gaze. “Please stop judging my food.”

I laughed. “I can’t help it. It’s cute. It looks like something mummy would bake last minute for her daughter’s fairy birthday party. It’s not a grown man’s midday snack.”

“Who cares about how the food looks, the taste matters. Is your masculinity so fragile that someone eating a cute cake beside you makes you uncomfortable? I think this reflects more on you than me.”

“This is just another test.”

He smiled then ate the thing icing first like a toddler.

“Why are we really here?”

“You need a Grimoire and your own supplies.”

“A Grimoire?”

“Every Mage has at least one book to store their spells. Most get one for their thirteenth birthday to collect their high school spells. Almost everyone buys or makes themselves one after their high school graduation. They’re typically a thirteenth birthday present and represent the person a family thinks their child is. They’re most effective when they’re more personal than that.”

“Make it? I don’t have to make it, do I?”

“No. They’re most effective when hand made by the user, but most people don’t have the time to learn the skill.”

“As much as I love books, I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to hand bind one.”

“There are different levels to it. From binding pages to making the paper.” Cory said. “It’s actually really fascinating. The best Spellcrafters weave spells into the pages and make incredible works of art. I’ll show you sometime, they have a collection at the Agency.”

“A collection of Grimoires?”

“Donations from dead employees and tomes they’ve brought from academic institutions. Beckham University has the best collection outside of Nate Island if they’re to be believed.”

“Is this a magic town?”

“Yes.”

“Can I get one of the suits you lot run around in? They seem suspiciously versatile.”

“We can stop at the tailor shop.”

“Is that why people need permission to live here?”

“Yes.”

“So it’s like Morse Bay?”

“Morse Bay is an Alchemist town. How do you know about that anyhow?”

“It’s kind of a sensitive topic actually. Eli and I were taken there to fix your boss's handy work.”

“From what I recall, any damage done to you was self-inflicted.”

“Your Mother Fucker of a boss tried to kill my husband.”

“How many times do I have to go over this? They tasked us with abducting him for questioning. Killing a Lacy would be more trouble than it’s worth.”

“What exactly do you think Eli has done?”

“What do I think Elijah Lacy has done? It’s an extensive list.” Cory said. “He has this thing you see where he runs around in a domino mask like a fifties comic book villain and commits crime.”

“Because you’re one to judge.”

“I’m not a criminal.”

I took a sip of my water, “Of course not.”

“What was that? I can’t hear you when you talk into your drink bottle.” Cory carefully used hand sanitizer and a paper napkin to clean the cake crumbs from his fingers. “It sounded like you would keep beating that dead horse. I get it. My boss is your new arch enemy.”

“Today wasn’t quite how I imagined it. Okay.” I said.

“Surprisingly enough people are multidimensional and have lives that don’t revolve around you.” He pulled a thermos from his bag and poured some floral tea leaves into it. “Would you rather be running for your life from a demon? I’ll tell my favourite demons that you want to get off.”

“You’re not the sassy, smart arse you think you are.”

“I know, I’m a total loser. I try very hard to be weird because I want to be seen as interesting.”

“I want to know who she is.”

“Who?” He seemed startled by the change of topic.

“The ghost on the corner of Short and Main Street.” I frowned at him. “Did she ever try to hijack your mind?”

“Yes. It was quite annoying, like a mosquito buzzing around my ear.”

“Why wasn’t she considered a greater threat?”

“Because we don’t have the time and resources to take care of every issue. She was only a threat to the five Death or Life Mages that live in Dunn.”

“You said you were practically languishing in boredom like a Victorian heroine.”

“I can only do the jobs my bosses assign to me. If I try to play hero outside of work and someone gets hurt, that’s on me.”

“Think of this as a hobby, amateur sleuthing isn’t uncommon.”

“If I wanted to identify a ghost, I’d start with magical records. People skilled in magic are most likely to leave behind a ghost. To have her ability, she would have needed some Death or Life Magic skills.”

“I started looking through the records at the Town Hall, but I never got past the thirties.”

“Why did you think a girl in jeans and a leather jacket would be from the thirties?”

“I wanted to be thorough. How do you know what she was wearing?”

“I looked at her once.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You keep to our end of the bargain we made earlier, and I’ll help you solve this case.”

“Maybe I don’t need your help.”

“I know where to find a list of names and photos of all the Dunn Academy students since it’s founding.” He poured himself a cup of dark pink, delicious smelling tea. “This playing detective thing is just weird enough to catch my attention. I get to be Poirot.”

I looked down at his cup of tea. “Are you going to share?”

“I thought pink tea would be too feminine for your masculine sensibilities.” He took a long sip from his hand-painted porcelain cup. I did not understand how he carried the thing around without breaking it. He even had its matching saucer.

I placed my empty water bottle beside his thermos.

He sighed and poured some tea into my bottle.


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