The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 14

If you ended up here before reading the earlier chapters, you can return to Chapter 1 here

 

Orin reached the Department lobby and headed straight for the coffee machine. The secretaries hadn’t arrived yet so he was forced to make a batch for himself. He yawned as the coffee dripped into the pot. At least it would be fresh; Orin seldom got a fresh cup of coffee at work.

He rolled his shoulders, trying to work the tension out of them. The murders and magical chaos were wearing on him. Not to mention he felt terrible about Conryu being stuck inside for his whole vacation. Maybe he could arrange some guards to watch him during a day trip or something.

To cap off his mountain of problems he’d promised the Department’s full cooperation to the police commissioner on an early morning call. Not that he had a ton of resources to offer. Despite the name, the Department of Magic only had four wizards on staff and only two of those were especially powerful.

The attacks had left the city on edge. In addition to keeping him safe, Orin hoped that if Conryu stayed out of sight it would calm the public. The coffee stopped dripping and Orin poured himself a helping in a paper cup.

“I’ll have one as well.” Terra strolled over. She appeared fully recovered after her adventure at the carnival. Only a slight shadow under her eyes betrayed any weariness.

Orin handed her his cup and fixed himself another. He’d been so intent on his thoughts he’d never even noticed her come through the door. When they’d both taken a good long drink he asked, “Any news?”

“Not yet. Detective Chang is working through statements taken from the carnival workers, but who knows how long that will take and nothing may even come of it. There’s nothing left of the spell that summoned the shadow hounds so that’s a dead end. I’m not sure where to go next, Chief.”

“Let the detective do his work. When he has something I’m sure he’ll let you know. Meanwhile, we have another test to administer. Is Clair in yet?”

“Her car wasn’t in her spot, but it’s early.” Terra finished her coffee and tossed the cup. “Are you really going to go through with this? I’m telling you she’s not involved with the Society anymore.”

“I trust you as much as I trust anyone outside my family and I still made you wear the ring. Even if I didn’t harbor doubts about Clair I’d make her do it, just to be safe.”

“I’m not sure if I should be pleased by the compliment or annoyed by your stubbornness.”

“Be pleased; your annoyance isn’t going to affect my decision in the least.”

She finally cracked a smile. “Fair enough. It’s not like you’re treating her any different than the rest of us. I’ll let you know when she gets in.”

Orin left Terra contemplating a second cup of coffee and headed up to his office. One good thing about getting in early, the halls were quiet.

“Orin!” a thick Scottish accent called from behind him.

He turned to find Angus marching toward him. Orin wanted to slam his head into the wall. So much for the quiet. “Let’s go in my office and have a seat, Angus.”

“Certainly, certainly.” The professor followed Orin into his office and sat in the guest chair. “Is the boy okay? If anything happens to him my work will be ruined.”

Orin slumped in his leather chair and blew out a sigh. Nice to see Angus had his priorities straight. If he never had to listen to another word about Angus’s precious research it would be a fine thing. “Conryu isn’t hurt and I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear you were concerned. Was there anything else?”

Angus stared off into the middle distance. “It’s the Aegis of Merlin. The great wizard’s spirit is protecting his successor. This is more proof of my theory. Just watch, Orin. I’ll be vindicated and all those who laughed at me will have to eat crow.”

“If you say so. Now I have work to do.”

“Oh yes, I remember what I wanted to ask you now. When can I talk to him again?”

Orin shrugged. “That’s up to him. If Conryu wants to talk to you I don’t care, but I’m not going to order him to.”

“That’s fine. Maybe I’ll head over to your building later and try my luck.”

Orin nodded. “Fine, just don’t make a nuisance of yourself. Conryu’s a good kid, but if he makes up his mind to, he’s more than capable of throwing you out.”

“I saw his display Saturday. I assure you I’ll be on my best behavior.”

Angus mercifully took his leave. Too bad he had to foist him off on Conryu, but getting the obsessed professor out of the office for the day would be a relief.

An hour later Orin was halfway through the weekend reports when Terra poked her head into his office. “She’s here.”

“Come in.”

Terra and Clair stepped into his office and stood in front of his desk. Orin knew his wife and Clair had their differences, but he tried not to let it influence him.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Clair adjusted her badge then tucked her hands inside her sleeves.

Orin took the ring of compulsion out of a locked drawer in his desk and held it up. “Everyone that knew about Conryu’s press conference has been cleared of involvement in the attack except you. Put the ring on and state that you had nothing to do with the attack on Conryu.”

“Is this because of my history?” Clair asked. “I assure you I haven’t had anything to do with the Society since I graduated.”

“Everyone did it, me included. I have to be sure, Clair. It’s not personal.” Orin slid the ring across his desk to her.

Clair looked at Terra, who nodded. She slipped the ring on. “I had nothing to do with the attack on Conryu Koda. I haven’t been in contact with the Le Fay Society since I graduated from the academy.”

Orin nodded, surprised and pleased that he was wrong about Clair. She took the ring off and handed it to him. “Thank you. I’m glad you didn’t have anything to do with it. Unfortunately, now I have no idea who might have been behind the attempted murder.”

“Oh, god.” Clair’s hand went to her mouth. “There’s one other person who might have known.”

“Who?” Orin returned the ring to the locked drawer. He’d take it to storage later. “I questioned everyone that was in the room when we decided to hold the press conference. I didn’t even tell Maria and Shizuku about it beforehand. You were the only other person outside the group who knew about Conryu and could have found out about the press conference.”

“What about Mercia?”

“Who?” Orin couldn’t for the life of him remember someone by that name.

“The wizard who discovered Conryu. Mercia Bottomley, she’s one of my testers. She was in the room when we determined Conryu had wizard potential and it wouldn’t have been difficult for her to learn about the press conference. The invitation was sent through the unsecured server.”

“I totally forgot about her,” Orin said.

“As did I.” Terra grimaced. “With everything that’s happened I never gave her another thought after Orin sat her in that chair in the corner. She simply faded into the background.”

“Mercia’s good at that,” Clair said.

“We need to speak to her at once.” Orin stood up. “Where is she?”

“She called in sick this morning,” Clair said. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now I don’t know.”

“Damn it! How could we have been so sloppy?” Orin paced and only the fact that he was bald kept him from pulling his hair out. “I assume her address is in her personnel file. You two get over there and bring her in. I don’t care how sick she is.”

* * *

The Department car raced down the narrow streets, dodging pedestrians and squealing around corners. Terra kept a white-knuckled grip on the handle above the passenger-side door. Sweat plastered her gray robe to her back. The broken air conditioning combined with Clair’s driving had her drenched. Clair slammed on the brakes and cranked the wheel, fishtailing and screeching the tires of the sedan.

Horrified onlookers stared for a moment before running for their lives. Terra knew just how they felt, but she didn’t have anywhere to escape to. If they ever went out on an assignment together again there was no way Clair was driving, she could give Terra directions.

“Would you slow down?” Terra said. “I’d like to make it there in one piece so we can bring Mercia in for questioning.”

“Chief Kane said to hurry. Besides, I haven’t had this much fun in years.”

“I don’t think he’s in this big a rush, now slow down before you kill someone.”

“Spoilsport. We’re almost there anyway.” Clair slowed to an only somewhat reckless speed and made a left down Bleak Street. Young men hung around in doorways, wearing tattered clothes and sometimes going shirtless to better display their tattoos. Scantly clad women, girls really, cuddled up against the thugs.

“Are you sure this is where she lives?”

“We don’t pay the testers very much, it’s probably all Mercia can afford. Maybe that’s why she betrayed us.”

“She could have just asked for a raise,” Terra said. “What are we looking at, power-wise?”

“Between three and four hundred. We only use the weakest wizards for testing, mostly because they can’t do much else, magically speaking. She only works two days a week as it is, that’s why I was surprised she called in sick. I had her scheduled for two more schools today.”

Clair slammed on the brakes in front of a four-story tenement covered with graffiti, bringing them to a screeching halt. The designs painted on the walls appeared geometric and intricate, somewhat like magical runes, but their meaning was lost to Terra, assuming they had any meaning.

They climbed out and locked the doors. Terra put her hand on the hood and chanted a simple warding spell. Anyone that tried to steal or vandalize their car would regret it.

“She’s in Apartment C on the top floor.” Clair headed for the rusty door.

“Of course she is. What do you want to bet the elevator doesn’t work?”

“Even if it does, I wouldn’t use the elevator in a place like this.”

Terra couldn’t argue with that. The lock on the front door was missing and the glass had been smashed out. Not very secure, but then again there was probably nothing worth stealing inside.

Clair shoved the door open and after a quick search they found the stairs, steep narrow things made from rusty metal. At least they didn’t sway or rattle when Terra stepped on them. Sometimes you had to be grateful for small favors.

When they reached the top floor landing Terra was panting and her heart raced. She really needed to get out of the office more and into the gym. To make matters worse Clair didn’t even seem out of breath.

Terra straightened, determined not to show any weakness. “Shall we?”

Clair nodded and the door whined when she pushed it open. Crumpled-up newspapers, rotten food, and other things Terra didn’t want to look too closely at littered the hall beyond. God almighty, what a mess. And the stink, ugh. If this was the best a Department tester could afford, Terra would advise Orin to give them both a raise.

Terra muttered a simple wind spell to circulate fresh air around her nose and mouth. She took a deep breath of clean air. Much better. Clair continued on down the hall, seeming untroubled by the garbage.

The younger wizard stopped in front of the third door and knocked. “She’s cast a simple ward. Probably a prudent precaution given the neighborhood.”

Terra nodded in silent agreement. The city should tear the building down and start from scratch.

A minute passed and no one answered the door. Clair knocked again. “Mercia! We need to talk to you.”

Still nothing.

“Do you want to break the ward or should I?” Clair asked.

Terra motioned toward the door. “Be my guest.”

Clair crossed the fingers of both hands then crossed her arms at the wrist. She spoke the first words of a basic magic negation spell and the hall grew darker. Liquid shadow gathered around Clair as she chanted. When she finished she threw both hands toward the door and uncrossed her fingers, releasing the gathered dark energy.

Her power lashed out, striking the ward and blowing it apart. The light returned to normal and Clair reached out to push the door open. The moment she touched it the wood crumbled to shavings and the doorknob clattered to the floor.

She looked back at Terra, who shrugged. “You might have used too much energy.”

“That was the weakest breaking spell I know.”

“Your modulation needs work. You could have weakened the spell further by chanting softer or only crossing two fingers instead of all four. It doesn’t matter. We can pay for a new door out of petty cash. Let’s grab Mercia and get out of here.”

Dim light filled the apartment. Heavy drapes covered the small windows and when Terra tried the switch nothing happened. She cupped her palm and whispered, “Light,” summoning a glowing white globe.

The empty living room gave no clues about the woman living here. What sort of person didn’t even have a chair and tv? The kitchen was just as empty as the living room. A single door on the opposite wall led, she assumed, to the apartment’s lone bedroom. If Mercia was here that’s where she had to be.

Terra went to the door and toed it open. The bedroom held a single, small end table situated right in the center. It was the first and only piece of furniture in the place. Sitting in the center of the table was an undecorated gold ring.

Terra reached for it then paused and spoke a simple detection spell. The ring registered as magical, but there was no trap. She picked the ring up for a closer look. It was smooth, with no visible runes. That was fairly common if you didn’t want the world to know you had a magical item.

“That’s Mercia’s. She said it was her mother’s wedding band.”

“Unless her mother wore a magic ring I think we can safely assume that was bullshit. Just like this address. No one’s lived here in a long time if ever. I wonder if anything Mercia said on her employment form was the truth.”

“What do you think it does?” Clair asked.

Terra shook her head and pocketed the ring. There was no way to know what it did until she returned to the lab and ran a proper analysis. They went back toward the living room. This whole trip was a waste of time. The moment they passed through the bedroom door a tingle of power ran through Terra.

A black energy field filled the door frame leading out into the hall. Something moved in the darkness, almost like the fluttering of wings. Identical energy fields covered the two small windows.

“It’s a trap!” Clair raised her hands and chanted a light barrier spell.

Invisible energy swirled around them, ready to block anything that might present a threat. For a moment nothing happened then the glow globe Terra had conjured winked out, plunging the apartment into complete darkness.

She chanted the spell a second time, but the light energy was swallowed the moment she summoned it. Terra frowned and switched to a fire spell. If she couldn’t conjure light from her aligned element they were in big trouble.

Terra’s fire globe burned away some of the darkness, creating an oasis of light in the pitch-black room. She cast the spell a second time, brightening the room further. Despite the increased light there was nothing to see, only the bare floor and bare wall. A deep snarl came from the bedroom, at least she thought it came from that way. The light didn’t extend far enough to reveal the doorway.

“What was that?” Clair asked.

“Nothing good, you can be certain. How did you do in combat training at the academy?”

“Middle of my class. Nothing outstanding. I took a job in the testing division because I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with situations like this.”

“I transferred to R&D for the same reason. Looks like we’re both going to be disappointed.” Terra caught a hint of movement. At least she thought she did. It could have as easily been her imagination. “We need to go. Can you maintain the barrier while we move toward the hall door?”

“I think so.” Clair chanted again and the light flashed as the spell adjusted to its new parameters. “We can move when you say.”

A black form separated itself from the greater darkness. It looked vaguely humanoid, but lacked a face, and the body stretched beyond human proportions with long, skinny limbs ending in oversized clawed hands and feet.

The figure rushed toward them, claws extending as it drew closer. It lashed out, striking the light barrier and getting hurled back into the darkness.

“Was that what I think it was?” Clair’s voice trembled.

“If you thought it was a Faceless One then yes.” Terra marveled at how calm she sounded. There was a shadow demon out there trying to kill them and she managed to appear unconcerned.

The Faceless One appeared out of the darkness again, slammed into Clair’s barrier and was sent flying.

Clair groaned. “Every strike hurts me through the light I called. Its claws are tearing the barrier’s essence apart and me along with it. How do we stop it?”

“I believe it’s bound to the room. Once we’re clear we can destroy it from a safe distance. Let’s move.” They eased closer to where Terra thought the door waited.

“What if it’s not?”

“Then we may end up setting the creature free in the city. The danger’s minimal since it’s still morning, but once night falls all bets are off.”

The Faceless One made another run at them and was again repulsed by the barrier. Clair’s knees wobbled and Terra caught her before she fell.

“One more of those and I’m done.” Pain and exhaustion filled Clair’s voice.

They were running out of time.

A moment later the door to the hall appeared in the light of Terra’s fire globes. At least the door frame appeared. The opening was filled with dark energy. Terra reached out to touch it and immediately jerked her hand back. It would melt the flesh from their bones if they tried to force their way out through that.

Their only chance was to unravel the spell and she doubted the Faceless One would give them the time.

“What’s above us?” Terra asked.

“This is the top floor. There shouldn’t be anything above us.”

“Good.” Terra chanted in the language of fire, sending more power to her fire globes.

The Faceless One attacked again and was sent flying. The light died and Clair collapsed behind her. They were defenseless now.

Terra finished the spell and hurled the twin balls of flame at the ceiling. They detonated on impact, blowing a twenty-foot hole in the ceiling. Bright morning sunlight shone down into the apartment, stabbing the Faceless One with golden shafts.

The shadow demon threw its head back in a silent scream of pain. Its essence began to burn away at once. Terra sent streams of fire hammering into it to speed its dissolution. A minute later the creature was gone, along with the darkness barriers over the remaining window and hall door.

Terra glanced up at the hole she’d made. Some of the exposed timbers smoldered and several splintered ends burned with enthusiasm. She hissed and snapped her fingers, snuffing out the flames instantly.

Clair scrambled to her feet looking pale, but otherwise unharmed. “That was too close.”

Indeed it was. If Mercia had warded the ceiling as well as the windows and doorway their little adventure may have ended much differently.

“No three or four hundred power level wizard set up all this. Either Mercia had help or she pulled an even bigger one over on us than I first thought.” Terra glared around the ruined living room.

They left the destroyed apartment and went out into the hall. Clair slumped against the wall while Terra dug out her phone. She needed to let Lin know what had happened. Hopefully he could convince his superiors this was connected to his case and she wouldn’t need to deal with another cop.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 14. Click here to read Chapter 15

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