The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 13
If you ended up here before reading the earlier chapters, you can return to Chapter 1 here
Conryu swung his bike into the parking garage and down to his space. He’d been tense the whole ride home and now his back and shoulders were killing him. At least nothing had tried to kill them on the road. He almost laughed. What was the world coming to when making a fifteen-minute drive without something trying to kill you seemed like a major victory?
Apparently even crazy wizards and lunatic cultists had their limits. Thank goodness for that. To top it off he’d forgotten to pick up his mother’s caramel corn.
He and Maria swung down off the bike and hung their helmets on the handlebars. Maria grinned. “I thought that reporter was going to have a heart attack when you kicked the helmet out of her hands.”
“I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I couldn’t help it. I was so sick of those people and their questions. My life is none of their damn business. Do you suppose she took the hint?”
“For a day or two maybe.” Maria took his hand and they walked to the elevator. “You should go straight home. Your parents are probably worried sick.”
“I don’t know.” Conryu hit the button for his floor. “Mom doesn’t usually watch the news on Sunday and since my phone isn’t ringing I bet she doesn’t even know what happened.”
The door slid shut and they started up. When they’d gone three floors Maria hit the emergency stop.
She kissed him, a long, deep kiss that left him struggling to breathe. Her hand slipped up under his shirt and ran over his chest.
He grabbed her wrists and gently pushed her away. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think?” She pressed closer.
Conryu took a step back, but he hit the elevator wall. There was nowhere to run and part of him didn’t want to. Another part, the rational part, didn’t want to screw things up with the best friend he’d ever had.
“I thought we talked about this last year. We said it was better to stay just friends. That anything more would be too awkward.”
“We did.” She lunged at him, forcing Conryu to spin around her and slip to the other side of the elevator.
There wasn’t much room to maneuver in a six-by-six box. She turned to face him once more, a hungry gleam in her eyes. “We were almost killed today. It was clarifying. I don’t want to die without being with you at least once. This is a no-strings-attached thing. If you want to pretend nothing happened after it’s fine with me.”
When Maria came at him again he didn’t dodge. Conryu caught her in a tight embrace. “It’s not okay with me. I love you. Whether as a best friend or girlfriend or both I’m not sure. But I know this: a quickie in an elevator is not how we’re going to end one phase and begin another. And we’re not going to let the stress of the moment ruin a lifelong relationship.”
Maria was shaking in his arms and a moment later tears soaked his shirt. He held her for a while, not saying anything.
She looked up at him and he smiled. “You okay?”
“I was so scared those shadow hounds were going to kill you. Then the zombies. Then when you were safe I felt so relieved I was afraid I might pass out. I guess the emotions got the best of me. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Conryu brushed the hair out of her eyes. “When warriors survive a battle the aftermath leaves them horny as hell. I read in one of Dad’s books that it was because in ancient times so many died in battle those who survived had an overwhelming need to rebuild the population. Personally I think it’s a mix of adrenalin and other hormones mingling and messing with your brain.”
They moved apart and he flipped the switch to start the elevator moving again. Maria smoothed his shirt, her hand lingering a moment on his chest sending a thrill through him. He took her hand and held it. He was only human after all and if she kept that up…
“What are you going to tell your mom?” Maria asked.
“About this? Not a thing.”
“You know what I mean.”
He shrugged. “The truth. Though I think I’ll leave the details to your mom. I don’t really understand exactly what happened anyway.”
The bell rang and the door slid open on Conryu’s floor. “You want to come in and hang out for a while?”
“No, I need a little time to collect myself and take a cold shower. I’ll see you at dinner.”
Conryu stepped out and the door slid shut, sending Maria up to the penthouse. He gave a little shake of his head and made the short walk to his apartment. What a day. It was only a little after noon and he was completely wiped out. Maybe he could take a nap, and a cold shower didn’t sound bad either.
He opened the door and found his mother sitting on the couch staring at the tv. Behind a hot, blond reporter was the carnival with the headline “Chaos at the Carnival!” A moment later Conryu’s face came on screen.
She spun. “You are never leaving the building again.”
* * *
Lin and Terra sat across from each other, each sizing the other up. They’d exchanged information and were digesting what the other had said. Lin had worked with the police wizard once before, but only briefly. He wasn’t certain about the protocol. Would she take the lead or would they each handle their own aspects of the investigation alone and compare notes occasionally?
He took a drink, trying to gather his thoughts. Wilbur had been kind enough to provide them with bottles of water at cost. The idea of not making a profit galled the man, but given everything that had happened he seemed to think he owed them.
“So what do you make of all this?” Lin asked.
“Beyond the fact that someone wants Conryu dead very badly, I’m not sure of anything. We can’t even confirm that the cultist and the necromancer are connected, though it seems beyond comprehension that they aren’t.”
“Agreed. The cultist, Mr. Call, had contact with someone on an encrypted forum the night before the attack. I’ll wager whoever that was is our link. What I’m curious about is, how did the wizard know Conryu would be here today? After the first attack there’s no reason to think he’d even leave home.”
Terra shook her head, sending her thick, grayish-blond hair flying. “I wondered about that myself. That trap was set a while ago, late last night or early this morning I’d guess. I’m not even certain whoever set it intended the trap for him. It’s entirely possible whoever’s responsible simply adapted whatever was already here to kill Conryu.”
Lin’s jaw clenched and he forced himself to relax. This was how it always went at the start of an investigation. He needed to be patient and do the job. “We need more facts and less guesswork. What do you say we go talk to the Carrigton brothers?”
“Excellent suggestion, Detective. We could sit here and bandy ideas back and forth until nightfall, but that’s not going to get us anywhere.”
Lin stood and waved to draw Wilbur’s attention. The carnival owner had been pacing and muttering ever since he’d learned the body of his friend was destroyed. Lin didn’t blame him. Finding out the body of someone you’d known for fifteen years had been used in a dark magic ritual would bother anyone.
Wilbur hustled over. His eyes were red from crying, though he appeared under control for the moment. “You two want to go meet the Carrigton boys?”
“Exactly right,” Lin said.
They followed Wilbur toward the far end of the carnival, past empty game booths and silent rides, out to what resembled a trailer park. Tractor trailers were parked beside campers with dozens of rusty pickups mixed in for good measure.
Wilbur led them to a small camper, maybe fifteen feet long, still hooked behind a pickup that Lin suspected was older than him. The only discernible color in it was rust. The carnival owner walked up to the slightly askew front door and knocked.
There was no reply or sound from inside. Lin reached for his gun, a twisty feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Hey!” Wilbur shouted. “Wake up, you two. The police want to talk to you.”
“Mr. Cullen.” Lin had his pistol out and ready. “Please step away from the door, sir.”
Wilbur stared at Lin’s gun, his eyes bugging out. “No need for that. Those idiots probably got drunk and passed out on their couch.”
“Mr. Cullen, please.”
Wilbur moved aside, shaking his head. When Wilbur had gone fifty feet and taken cover behind a heavy-duty haul trailer, Lin reached for the camper door. Of course it was locked.
“Let me.” Terra placed her finger on the lock and spoke some words in what Lin assumed was one of the magical languages. The lock popped open and she moved aside. “After you.”
Lin tugged the door open and went up the two iron steps into the camper. The place was empty unless you counted garbage. It only took a minute to clear the tiny trailer. There was nothing much to see beyond a mountain of empty beer cans, several equally empty whiskey bottles, and wrappers from the concession stands. The Carrigton brothers clearly didn’t live the healthiest lifestyle.
Terra hopped up the steps and grimaced. “This day just keeps getting worse. No sign of the brothers?”
“No. Once we have a look around I’ll have to get a description from Mr. Cullen. I need to call the crime scene guys out here too. I doubt they’ll find anything, but it couldn’t hurt to have them check.” Lin dug a pair of rubber gloves out of his pocket and handed them to Terra. They looked huge on her tiny hands, but at least she wouldn’t leave prints everywhere.
Lin called for the crime scene unit while Terra looked around. They would be there in twenty minutes, which gave them a little time to try and figure out what happened.
“Did you find anything?” Lin asked.
“No. Who lives like this?” She held up a dirty plate with what appeared to be dried cheese on it.
Lin shrugged. He’d seen worse in a flophouse downtown. “The techs will have a better chance of finding something than us.”
Lin left the camper. Wilbur was peeking around the corner of the trailer so Lin waved him over. Wilbur rushed to join him. “Are they okay?”
“I don’t know, but the trailer’s empty. What did the missing men look like?”
“Oh god, not the boys too. Are we cursed, Detective? My people haven’t hurt anyone. We just try to make a living the best way we know how.”
“There’s no curse.” Terra came down out of the camper. “I’d sense it if there were. What you have is a serious case of bad luck. Someone has decided to use your carnival for their own evil purposes.”
“I’m not certain that’s better,” Wilbur said.
“The description, sir?” Lin asked.
Wilbur slipped a bottle out of his pocket and took a long pull. “They’re twins, dark hair and eyes, usually in greasy overalls.”
Terra gasped. “You said they worked on the ride where we found your friend?”
“That’s right, why?”
“I guess there’s no easy way to say this. Their bodies were raised as zombies by the same spell that summoned the hounds. We were forced to destroy them as well. I’m very sorry.”
Wilbur wavered and Lin grabbed him before he fell. “We’re cursed.” He spoke so softly Lin almost didn’t hear him.
“Will you be okay, sir?” When Wilbur nodded Lin sent the carnival owner on his way.
“How is he?” Terra asked.
Lin shook his head. “How do you think? What in the world have we gotten into?”
* * *
Conryu hadn’t been able to sleep, but the shower and clean clothes had done him a world of good. He sprawled on the couch half watching some stupid cartoon. Maria had called an hour ago and said dinner was at seven. Dad sat at the kitchen table reading, content with washing his face and putting on a fresh shirt. Mom, on the other hand, had been fussing in the mirror since he hung up with Maria. You’d think it was dinner at the mayor’s mansion instead of a casual meal with people they’d known their whole lives.
It was now five of seven and if they didn’t step on it they’d be late. At long last Mom bustled out of the bedroom in a blue dress and pearls, her hair done up with some sort of clamps that looked like they could be used to extract a confession.
“Are you sure Shizuku wants us to come? We could have hosted them here.”
“Mom, relax. Mrs. Kane definitely invited us up. There’s probably some magic book or other she wants to show us after we eat.” Conryu clicked the tv off. “We ready?”
Mom grabbed her purse and the three of them made the short walk to the elevator. When they reached the elaborate penthouse door Conryu knocked. Maria opened it a moment later. The scent of meat and spices wafted out, distracting him from the red kimono she was wearing.
“Come on in.” Maria stepped aside and motioned them through.
Conryu went first, pausing to kick his boots off in the little depression just inside the door. Five paces beyond the entryway the apartment opened up into a dining room with a cherry table long enough to seat twenty. Six places had been set with pale plates and a selection of knives and forks. A bottle of red wine sat near the head of the table. A crystal chandelier lit the space and gave it an extra air of opulence.
“Is that Giovanni’s lasagna I smell?” Conryu asked, his mouth already watering.
Maria grinned and led them into the dining room. “Sure is. Mom didn’t feel like cooking so we ordered takeout. I assured her you wouldn’t object.”
Mr. Kane emerged from a side door, a bright if somewhat forced smile on his face. It was rare to find him in jeans and t-shirt instead of his usual suit. “Conryu, I trust you’re recovered from your adventure this morning. Connie, you’re looking lovely tonight.”
Mom scowled at him, prompting a hurried turn to Dad.
“Sho, always nice to see you.”
Dad nodded and they shook hands. “Everything under control, Orin? You’re looking a little rough around the edges.”
“Yes,” Mom said. “What’s being done to make sure my son will be kept safe?”
Mr. Kane winced. “I have my best wizard investigating. Rest assured she’ll get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, everyone please sit. Shizuku is putting the finishing touches on dinner and by that I mean transferring it from the delivery containers to nice plates. She’ll be along in a moment. Can I offer anyone a drink?”
Mom took him up on the offer instantly and downed her first glass in three big gulps. Mr. Kane refilled her glass without comment.
A couple minutes of forced chitchat came to a merciful end when Mrs. Kane emerged from the kitchen with plates full of Italian delicacies drifting behind her. Conryu had trouble deciding whether to focus on Mrs. Kane in her blue-and-gold silk kimono or the food. It was easy to see where Maria got her looks. The food settled on the table.
“Everyone, dig in,” Mrs. Kane said. “And no business talk until we finish the cookies.”
Twenty minutes and three helpings later Conryu licked the last of the sauce off his lips, savoring the tangy flavor. “That was awesome, Mrs. Kane. I’d fight shadow hounds every day if it ended with a spread like this.”
Mom almost choked on her wine. “That wasn’t funny, Conryu.”
He’d only been partially joking, but decided not to point that out. “Seriously, it was great.”
“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Kane gestured and spoke a short phrase in a language he didn’t recognize. The dirty plates floated off, leaving the table clean. “I suppose we’d best get down to business.”
Mrs. Kane filled them in on everything they’d discovered at the carnival and Mr. Kane chimed in with what Terra and Detective Lin had come up with so far. When they finished Mom was staring in horror and Dad’s eyebrows had drawn together, which was about as expressive as he ever got.
At last Mom asked, “What does it all mean?”
“We’re not certain,” Mr. Kane said. “The investigation is ongoing.”
“So what now?” Conryu asked. “I don’t really want to spend my whole summer vacation locked up.”
“I’m sorry, Conryu, but until we deal with whoever wants to kill you it’s best if you stay here where it’s safe.” Mr. Kane offered an apologetic shrug. “Please understand it’s not just you that’s at risk. If another attack should happen someplace even more crowded, innocent bystanders might be injured. We must consider their safety as well.”
That sucked, but Conryu understood his point. He’d have felt awful if anyone at the carnival had gotten hurt by monsters that were after him.
“There’s another matter to consider,” Mrs. Kane said.
“There is?” Conryu and his mom spoke at the same moment.
“Indeed. Your magical education is sorely lacking. The academy is set up with the expectation that all the incoming students will have a certain base level of understanding. That is something you’ll need to acquire in the next eight weeks.”
“Wait, summer vacation ends in ten weeks, not eight.”
“For first through twelfth grade it does,” Mrs. Kane said. “But for the academy and all the other colleges school starts early and ends late. Next year you’ll only have six weeks.”
“Great.” He glanced over at his mother who was positively beaming. “You seem happy all of a sudden.”
“This is perfect! You’ll be safe inside studying and I won’t have to worry, not with Shizuku’s magic protecting you.”
“Don’t worry.” Maria took his hand under the table. “I can help you study. A refresher will do me good.”
“I’d be happy to help as well,” Mrs. Kane said. “Some of the later concepts are complex. I have a job next month that will take me out of town for a week, but other than that I’m at your service.”
Conryu looked at the smiling faces staring at him and choked back a sigh. Eight weeks of intensely studying a subject he couldn’t care less about followed by four years of more studying it.