Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
|A Felony of Birds|
|Time Wars & other SciFi Tales|
| ||Read more Samantha Berg stories!|
Samantha Berg and the Mystical Mcguffin
My electricity fairy was starting to get pushy again.
Let me back up. My name is Samantha Berg. You may remember me from such adventures as...actually, you don't remember me from any adventures. I also don't know who I'm writing to in my own log book, but no matter. On the off chance I've gone and died and you're reading this now, the Johnsons came by my office a few days after the last little “incident”, covered my medical fees, and paid me a good sum of money to not tell anyone what had happened.
I promptly took this sum, lost half of it on a bad investment when it turned out the house had wards up against ritualist interference with the roulette table, and used the rest to pay bills for a few months. Sadly, the money was running out, and my electricity fairy was quite insistent that she wouldn't come next month if I didn't placate her with funds I didn't have. If some business didn't come in soon, I'd have to go back to pawning ritual items to pay my bills.
This is all to explain why, when a particularly twitchy man walked into my office without knocking at around four in the afternoon, I didn't promptly throw him out on his ass. He was short and scrawny, about as tall as me with a sort of bulging eye look that gave him the same facial expression as a frog. He wore a finely tailored suit that only served to show off his stick-like figure. It was like someone had tried to make a scarecrow to place in a fancy dress party. He didn't even bother to take off his hat before talking.
“Samantha Berg?” His voice was like nails on a chalkboard, and his eyes darted around the room as if constantly on the lookout. I found myself glad I was dressed for business today, even if only because I hadn't done laundry.
“That's what my door says. Have a seat, what can I do for you?” I gestured to the chair in front of my desk, in the hopes that the man would sit down and stop twitching so damn much.
“No thanks, I'll stand. I need a ritualist, and you're the only one who'd consent to see me on such short notice.” I hadn't actually consented to see him, but I supposed that arguing the point now wouldn't do me any good. I sighed, stretching my feet out under my desk and gesturing to a tray with two glasses and a bottle of whiskey.
“Alright. Drink? Calm your nerves while you're telling me about the job.” I reached out to take the top off of my ice bucket. With a quick hand, I used the metal tongs to put ice into one of the glasses.
“No thanks. I'm already calm.” That gave me pause, because he really seemed to believe it. Which only served to make me need the drink more. I pulled the cork off the bottle, and poured myself a glass before replacing the bottle.
“Ok, have it your way. I don't need to share my good whiskey. So what's the job? I'm presuming you need it done soon, since you said something about short notice. I charge extra for rush jobs, I'll let you know up front.” I sat back in my chair and took a sip of my drink. The man reached into one of his inside coat pockets, and pulled out a small stack of bills. These he threw onto my desk. They made a light thud sound, and the bank paper wrapped around them indicated a sum quite large to be carrying around in your breast pocket.
“I don't think that'll be a problem, Ms. Berg. I have an item coming in by zeppelin tonight that I need warded. I need a full ward, and I need it done as soon as the zeppelin lands. And there might be trouble, so you should be prepared for that.” His eyes kept darting around, but my eyes stayed on the stack of money. There was silence for several moments, until he realized that I hadn't looked up at him yet. “Five thousand more when you get the job done.”
That made me look up, and with a furrowed brow.
“For a rushed full-warding when there might be trouble? Try ten. No one can handle that kind of threading without a robe, and you can't get a quality robe for under three thousand.” Truth was, I already had a robe. Bought it with my sudden glut of Johnson money. He didn't need to know that. The corner of his mouth twitched, and his bulging eyes flickered around the room for several moments before he growled in the back of his throat.
“Fine, fine. Whatever. Be at pier twenty three at nine tonight, and be ready for trouble. If you're not there...” He looked like he was trying to come up with a threat, but was not actually used to being all that threatening. “...Just be there!”
With that, he turned and left in the same rushed way he came. I shook my head, before taking another sip of my whiskey. I knew full well that this job was going to annoy me. I just hadn't realized at the time exactly how annoying it would be.
* * *
It was eight forty five when I finally stepped out of the cab and onto the pier. The robe felt rough and coarse against my skin, but that was the point. Robes were mystically enhanced cloth designed to mitigate and spread the strength of magical threads. Normal clothing is often ripped and burnt to ash during ritual threading, which is why smart ritualists work naked. If one is trying to hold and adjust too many threads at once, however, the threads could rip and burn flesh to ash as well. Thus, a robe. My revolver sat fully loaded in a special pocket, alongside a penny-charm for luck that was more emotional support than magical backup.
The night was dark and foggy, and I could feel the wetness clinging to my robe. The street lights, already dim from being in the pier district, did little to actually pierce the heavy cloak of darkness and mist that made even walking difficult. I could see the old newspapers stuck to the side of the road, the wetness of the fog turning the week old paper to sludge. The light from the street lamps glowed a dull red, and the lingering smell of zeppelin oil insisted on making itself known. My gun was heavy in its pocket, and the bouncing only made me realize how much I appreciate my shoulder holster. I also missed my hat, since it was one of my primary tools for keeping my mass of curls under control. Thankfully the wetness of the fog kept it plastered to my forehead. At least it wasn't flying everywhere.
“You came. Good. I was starting to worry.”
I turned quickly, to look directly into the bug-eyes of my current employer. The fog wasn't doing anything for his appearance, and in fact only served to make him more creepy. The lighting played around his bugged out eyes, the shadows seemed to deepen the crevices of his face, and his voice was just the right tone to suggest he had something sinister in mind without suggesting precisely how sinister it might be. I suppressed a shudder by running my hand through my mop of hair.
“I'm never late on a job. Says so on my business cards. So, I realized on the cab ride here that I didn't actually get your name. Or what this item is. Or a lot of other information I'm going to need in order to put this ward up.” I didn't actually need his name to put up the ward, honestly. I was just curious. While you might think that I should know these things before I agree to a job, I'll point out that a lot of people don't want people knowing they hired a ritualist. There's a certain understood secrecy in the magic trade, and names aren't usually a part of it. He twitched around for a moment before apparently deciding it was safe to tell me.
“Terrence. Terrence Green.” I knew that name.
“Of Green Shipping?” That would explain how he had a zeppelin coming at this time of night. Green shipping was a well known shipping company in the city, specializing in zeppelins. They weren't the only zeppelin shipping company in town, but they were one of the better rated. The man nodded.
“Yes. Of Green Shipping. When I was traveling through the wetlands, I happened upon...an item. A small golden statue. I don't claim to be any kind of magic user, but it had an aura strong enough to suggest that it was a very powerful magical item. I wanted to stay with it, but my assistants suggested to me that I fly ahead and ensure its safe arrival and warding. That's where you come in.” He adjusted his hat, his eyes continuing to look everywhere but right in front of him.
There are two kinds of mystical items, for those mysterious readers of my logs who don't already know. The first kind are made by magic users for short term use. A magic user connects threads to an item, the item feeds on the power of the thread, you use the newly empowered item. Threads naturally heal themselves, however, so these kinds of items don't usually last very long. A particularly skilled mage can make one last for a couple of years, but the enchantment always fades.
The second kind is more lasting, but requires more power to create. The longer lasting kind of item has threads added during its creation, thus making its magical nature an inherent part of the item. The details of how to do this aren't very important since there's no way to do it that doesn't permanently drain your connection to the threads a little, so very few people do it. Whether or not this particular item was an actual magical item remained to be seen, but it wouldn't affect my work either way. More powerful threads were slightly harder to ward, but far from impossible, and particularly powerful threads made me feel a good kind of tingly for hours afterwards.
“Ok. So how long do you want the wards for? There's only so long they can be set up before they degrade and become useless.” I wasn't lying there. Most individually set up wards are designed for short term use. More powerful ones could be set up for longer uses, but they'd still need to be gone over. I presumed that Terrence had wanted something powerful thrown up quick, and would worry about the future strengthening later.
“As long as you can manage. Just work quick, I don't want anyone getting thing. I worked very hard to find it myself.” His gaze still flicked about the darkened pier like a gazelle in the midst of a lion pack. Which made me wonder why he hadn't hired any guards. I thought to ask about that, but before I could, the sound of the zeppelin pressed against my ears.
I looked up into the sky to see the large ballooned machine float gracefully through the air. The older models used a kind of steam engine to keep motion, but the newer models had a magic based surondium burner to keep the engine running, and some kind of gas I could never remember the name of to keep it afloat. I'd heard they used to use hydrogen, but there'd been a problem with explosions. Live and learn. The downside of the newer models was that they created air pressure around them as they flew. This wasn't a big deal when you were inside the bubble, or when the zeppelin was afloat, but people with sensitive ears could get a little woozy when the zeppelins landed.
I watched the balloon ship touch the landing pad at the end of the pier, settling down like a duck on its nest. The machine made a hissing noise as the balloon began to collapse in on itself, and the turbine slowed to a stop. The wind caused by the whole landing was freezing, a byproduct of the engine exhaust, and it made me wish I'd worn something underneath my robe. Even underwear would have been nice. Experience told me, however, that ash riding up in special places was not an experience I wanted to have tonight.
The landing process took about five minutes, after which the side door of the machine opened. Two large men stepped out, rifles at ready as they inspected the area. After several moments, one of them made a gesture towards the door. A third man came out, moving like a dog that just swiped a tasty morsel for itself. I wondered absently how much Green was paying these guys to keep them from making off with his new toy, mostly because if it was more than I was making I was going to try to squeeze him for more. In the third man's arms was a medium sized wooden crate.
The man moved towards Green and me, setting the crate down with a thud. With a fluid motion, he produced a crowbar, and popped the lid off. The wood cried out like a kicked puppy as the nails were ripped from their place, and the lid fell to the ground with a clatter. I saw Green's face light up like a five year old on Christmas morning at the sight of his precious little item. I wish I could use a different descriptive term, but gaudy was the only word that would cover it. It was a little larger than the size of my hand, and made of some dark golden colored metal. Not gold, it didn't shine right for that. Possibly just normal iron dyed a golden color. The bird itself was a small sparrow like creature, its wings spread in flight, its beak open as if trying to take a bite of something. All around the base of the statue were embedded gemstones that looked more like cheap plastic than anything of worth. There was a mystical feel coming off of it, but nothing worth writing home about. The bullets in my gun were probably more enchanted than this statue was.
“Well?!” Green's sudden outburst made me jump. I covered by reaching into one of the robe's pockets and pulling out three candles. “Isn't it marvelous? I had to have my men battle demon-commanding tribals to get it!”
I wish he hadn't told me that. That just made me worried I'd be dealing with more imps and guard demons. Just because they were illegal to summon didn't mean people weren't going to summon them. I consoled myself with the fact that the tribals were out in the wetlands, and wouldn't be coming to Sonyar City any time soon.
With a gentle hand, I reached into the crate and picked up the statue. It wasn't particularly heavy, for which I was glad. The second my hand touched it the guards pointed their rifles at me, getting their hackles up like a dog who's unsure if you're going to give them a treat or kick them in the face. I gave them a look and continued my work.
It took me about ten minutes before I was in-tune with all the threads coming off the statue, and there were a lot of them. A full warding involves dampening the threads attached to a thing, weakening and severing the item's ties to the physical world. Since threads of magic heal and correct themselves over time, these threads would eventually come back. While they were dampened and severed, it was a good deal harder to track the item down. People would forget that it existed, evidence of the item would get lost in drawers and accidentally tossed out with the garbage, and people attempting to search the threads for it would come up to a dead end.
I was good at my job, my mother trained me well. Under normal circumstances I would have been finished with the warding in a little over half an hour, not including set up time. But if this had been normal circumstances I wouldn't be making this log. The first thing that caught my attention was the item's own mystical thread. It was some kind of mind-affecting magic, to which I was immune. Most ritualists are due to the way we handle the threads. It was a curious energy, though, and something about it made me want to find out more. I might have even spent time studying it had the second thing not caught my attention.
I felt an odd, yet familiar, energy coming from one of the mundane threads attached to the statue. Curious, I quickly followed the thread backwards, sensing where it led and what might be at the end. That's when I figured it out.
“...this thread's been ripped.”
That caught Green's attention. He looked at me with a questioning look, but I was already moving for my gun.
“There's a ripped thread. I'd bet you twice my pay that you've got a spellboy tracking this down right now.” Spellboys, one of three kinds of mages, affected the threads by ripping them from their place and directly using their power. It was the most crude form of threadwork, resulting in backlash as often as working. Still, it was powerful, and I didn't relish fighting someone that was likely coming prepared.
“...What?!” Green did not look happy. I felt as not happy as he looked. I pulled out my gun, the heavy weight of the thing making me feel better. If I hadn't been busy paying attention the the feel of the gun, I might have noticed the fireball flying through the air before it hit one of the guards.
I sprang into action immediately, grabbing Green and diving to the ground. With a quick motion, I grabbed a handful of the wet threads from the fog, wrapping them around my benefactor and activating them mystically. A shield of moister air sprung up around him, covering him like a dome. I just hoped it would protect him from any incoming fire. I didn't need to lose my pay this early on.
“Stay here!” I yelled at him as I got back to my feet. The ground was rough and cold on my bare feet, and the idea of fighting made me as mad as a caged wolverine. I turned my gun in the same direction the second guard was firing, and promptly cursed at what I saw.
A scrawny man, fully clothed but lousy with ripped threads. His eyes burned with a Spellboy's fire, and a quick count told me he was holding almost twenty threads in him. They snaked and trailed in the darkness like a glowstick dancer, waving around his body and causing a St. Elmo's Fire like effect. I saw him invoking a thread as he held his hand out, the bullets from the second guard's rifle bouncing off the shield.
“You are really fucking with my chance at good money, dammit!” I yelled at the man as I set myself to fire. His gaze moved towards me briefly, and I pulled the trigger. The enchanted bullet activated, and a small blue ball of energy went slicing through the fog. The man reached quickly to his shoulder, tugging on another thread, and proceeded to flicker. The bullet went right through his body, leaving me to curse. I hated it when spellboys utilized smoke threads.
I began to move, not wanting to give him a clean target, and reached out to grab a thread from the fire that had been thrown. Without giving much thought to it, I wrapped my fingers around the thread and whipped it at him. Fire exploded from my fingertips, snaking and spiraling through the air in a quasi-directed way. It wasn't particularly strong flame, since the thread had already been used once, but it was hot enough. Sadly, the spellboy had already moved, and the fire did little more than look impressive.
Frantically I looked around for the spellboy, but it was way too foggy and dark to get a clear sight. Which is why I wasn't surprised when the second guard yelped in pain, and dropped. I turned and pointed my gun in an attempt to find a target, but it was like finding a black fish in a murky pool. I saw motion but nothing else. Spellboy must have used a darkness thread to hide himself, and it must have been a strong one.
I looked around at the massive web of glittering threads that sat around and through me, trying to find something to help. If only I'd needed to mystically use fog, there'd have been plenty of that. Finally, an idea came to me. Summoning every bit of energy I had within me, I grabbed every light thread in the area. They burned, but I was used to the burn of magic. With a motion and a word I threw all the threads in every direction, making the most powerful flashlight I could.
It worked just well enough that I could find the St. Elmo's Fire. Near the box with the statue. Fuck. I raised my gun, pointing it at the spellboy.
“Back off before I blow your brains out!”
I should have just fired. He grabbed the statue, and the next thing I knew I was being shoved back by a powerful wind. It whipped at my hair and lifted me off my feet, and I could have actually counted seconds before I hit the ground. I faceplanted with a thud, a sharp pain shooting through my nose. I felt the warm, wet blood trickle down my lip, but I ignored it in favor of getting quickly to my feet.
The statue was gone. I could see the empty box from my position. The two guards were dead, one of a stab wound in the back, the other burnt to death. Before I had a chance to inspect any more, however, Green's nails-on-the-chalkboard voice interrupted my thoughts.
“You lost my statue! I paid you to keep it safe!” Green was on his feet, already moving in front of me, his scarecrow hands flailing in the air from his upset. “Mark my words, you won't get one red cent until my statue is back in my hands!”
“Chill! I did a lot better than your hired guards!” I snapped at him, wiping the blood from my face with the back of my sleeve. I tenderly inspected my nose, finding it sore but unbroken, and then inspected the scene. The spider-web of threads sat tangled and knotted, and I knew full well it would take a few days for the magical signs of battle to fade. Sadly, I couldn't just track down the statue itself, because the spellboy had come after I'd weakened almost all the threads connected to the thing. There would be nothing for me to follow.
Then the dead guards caught my eye. The burnt to death one smelled particularly bad, but I ignored it as best I could. The second guard, however, had what I needed. The knife. A quick check told me that the connection was weak, but it would be stable. Murder weapons tended to stick to the murder for a good, long while. Which made me wonder why he'd left the thing in the first place, but I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. There was a lingering question about where the third man went, but that was less pressing at the moment.
I moved to the guard, wrapped my fingers around the hilt of the knife, and tugged. It slid out with a wet slurp, making me think of pulling a stick out of the mud. It wasn't as bad as the aftermath of a demon attack, but I still hated the smell of blood.
“What are you doing?! Find my statue!” Green's voice wailed at me. I took a breath to keep myself from yelling at him.
“I'm working on it!” I needed to stop by my office first. No way I was getting into trouble without at least a pair of underwear. I thought about how to hail a cab, but then a thought occurred to me. I turned to Green. “It'll go a lot faster if you give me a ride back to my office.”
* * *
“So let me get this straight,” I said as I pulled my cigarette case from my coat pocket. The silver case caught the reflection of a red-tinted street light as I popped open with a thumb flick. “You don't know what the statue does. You don't know who owned the statue other than “a bunch of tribals”. You didn't plan for transport other than “hire three guards and get it on a zeppelin as quick as possible”. And you can't even so much as give me a clue as to who the hell that spellboy was. Is this what you're expecting me to believe?”
“I just...I had to have it!” Green's statement was a rather pathetic sounding wail, causing me to sigh. I plucked a cigarette from my case, and placed it between my lips. Moments later the tip was aflame, and I was breathing the harsh, gritty smoke into my lungs. I presumed the statue was having some kind of effect on him, but seeing as I hadn't had the time to fully inspect the thing's thread I couldn't tell what.
“Alright, alright. Just keep driving.” We had stopped by my office, and after twenty minutes of searching and ten minutes of getting dressed, I'd decided to make Green drive me towards the spellboy. I'd had to call in a favor from a friend on the force to clean up the landing site, which annoyed me to no end. I'd wanted to keep that favor. So I was making him drive me mostly out of spite. I realized after about seven minutes that it probably wasn't all that smart, since if Green died I wouldn't get paid, but what was done was done.
I gave directions through the city, telling Green to turn right and left and go straight as I followed the thread. I'd like to say that my first inkling that something had gone wrong was an intuitive gut feeling, or some vibration along the thread I was following. I'd be lying if I said that, but I sure would like to say it.
As we pulled near the spot where the thread ended, I saw the flashing lights of two cop cars. I cursed under my breath, and told Green to pull over. He did so, and I was out of the car as soon as it was safe, moving towards what was very clearly a crime scene. Yellow caution tape was wrapped around a section, cutting it off from public nuisance about as well as a citronella candle cut off the attack of mosquitoes. I pushed through the gawkers gently, doing my 'I'm someone important, really!' act that tended to work well enough. This time was no different.
I got to the police tape, and laying on the sidewalk in the midst of it was my spellboy. He was a little too far away to judge the cause of death, though I took the chalk outline around his body as a pretty good sign that he had been murdered. I checked around for the police, found them distracted, and made my way under the tape as if I was supposed to be there. The plan seemed to work as I closed in on the body and knelt down in order to inspect it closely. The plan fell apart when I felt a heavy hand on each of my shoulders.
“Well if it ain't Berg,” came a voice on my right. That immediately identified who it was.
“Well if it isn't Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumbass,” I responded, not looking up. I'd wanted a better insult, but most of my thought process was built in trying to find out whatever I could before I got kicked off scene.
“Strong words from someone just caught trying to mess with a crime scene,” came a voice from the left. Yep, it was both of them.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumbass, otherwise known as the Foley boys, were twin brothers whose entire reason for being on the force was the fact that their father was the chief. They had been police officers for seven years now, and neither had been promoted past a beat cop. Which should tell you precisely how incompetent at their jobs they were. I stood up, thankful that their hands dropped off my shoulders, and turned with an annoyed look on my face.
“I'm on a case, you two. Bugger off.” I hoped very strongly that this would get the two fratboys off my back. No such luck.
“Not for the force, you're not,” replied Mark Foley with a smirk. I snorted in response.
“How about you two just let me take a look at the body, and then I'll be out of your hair. Seem fair?” I didn't want to deal with these two, but I did want to find out how the guy died. Whether or not they'd found the bird was also on my list.
“How about we toss you in the clink for crossing police lines?” Mick Foley responded. This was not my night.
“Alright, look. I'm seriously on a case here. Help me out, and I'll give you twenty bucks.” Twenty bucks I didn't really want to give up, but sometimes you had to hurt a little to get a job done. Mark and Mick looked at each other for a moment, and then Mark shrugged.
“Forensics says he tripped and fell on a couple of bullets,” was his response. I knew enough to translate the statement as code for 'he was shot but for one reason or another we don't feel like devoting the manpower to finding the shooter'.
“Anything on him?” Mick arched an eyebrow at me, and I quickly followed up with the answer to his unasked question. “Ritualist, remember? Find lost things?” Mick nodded, and Mark spoke.
“Just his clothes. Forensics said there were a few threads on him, too. Anything else?”
I shook my head, and shoved a twenty into Mark's hand before heading back over the police tape. Like so many times in my life, I was out of leads, out of options, and out of luck. I slunk back to Green's car, and slid into the passenger's seat.
“Well?” he asked expectantly. I shook my head.
“Guy was killed. No bird on him. And considering I warded the hell out of that thing, it's going to be near impossible to track down.” I did not say this with a happy voice.
“But...I paid you good money to find that statue!” Green sounded absolutely distraught, like a child who just discovered that his teddy bear had been stolen, Santa Clause wasn't real, and his mother was cheating on his father with the Easter Bunny all at the same time. I almost pointed out that all he'd actually paid me to do was ward the damn thing, but I didn't have the heart. Instead, I sighed with resignation at the only other idea I had.
“...Fine. Take me to Fifth and South Westarion, drop me off, and then wait for me to call you again. Got it?” He nodded, and then began driving.
“I'm serious,” I added. “You stay at home and do not get involved until I call you. Period.”
* * *
My stop was a dank alleyway that smelled of trash and stale urine. Well, not really. I just had to get through the alleyway to get to my stop. I headed through the dim light that was thrown by the red light bulbs on the walls, trying to ignore the smell or the sound of hookers plying their trade.
After a longer trip than I wanted, I got to a large steel door embedded in the wall. I raised a fist, and knocked three times, four times, once, and then twice, getting annoyed all over again that my various contacts had to make themselves difficult to reach. I counted the seconds until the door finally popped open, and then pushed my way in.
I made my way down a dank stairwell, the dim lighting on the wall feeling completely inadequate for safely navigating the place. The stairwell fed me into a basement filled to the breaking point with books and junk. Old car parts, electronics that had at one time been magically infused but had long since lost their charge, and items that were made for rituals far beyond the standard street use were strewn across the floor in far more haphazard a way than one would consider safe. Books were stacked and piled in such a way that suggested recent use, even if they had a thin layer of dust upon them from not being touched for months.
In the center of these piles was a short, squat man with long, stringy hair and thick glasses. The glasses were currently the only article of clothing he had on, but since the only flames that surrounded him were two bunsen burners and a butane lighter I couldn't tell if he was actually in the midst of a ritual or if he'd simply gotten a wild hair up his ass. The door had opened, however, so I presumed he didn't mind the interruption.
“Billy. I need to find something I did a full ward on.” My experience told me that if I gave Billy too much information, he'd get distracted by stuff that wasn't important and then I'd never get his nose out of a book.
Billy's gaze shot up at me, as if he was surprised to see me. He jumped up to his feet, hopped gracefully past the flames that surrounded him, tripped over an old radio, fell to the ground, tucked and rolled back up to his feet, spun twice as he stumbled forward in an attempt to catch his footing again, and finally planted his feet right in front of me before giving me a big hug.
“Sammy! I had this amazing dream where you had come to find the longitude of the Great Whale!” He paused for a moment, adjusting his glasses as a thought came to him. “Though it turned out the Great Whale was kind of a dick.”
In case you're wondering, no, I had no idea what the Great Whale was.
“That...that's great, Billy. Let's focus. I did a full ward on a statue. The statue got stolen right as I finished the ward. I traced the guy who stole it, found him murdered. I can't grab any threads from that area because it's a crime scene. I need another option.”
Since I'm sure you're wondering, Billy was an old family friend. He'd been learning, discovering, and tinkering with the deep secrets of magic and the ethereal plains for so long that his mind wasn't exactly in one piece. Still, I wasn't sure anyone else in the world had as much pure knowledge of magic than Billy did, so when I was at a loss, Billy was where I turned.
Billy pondered my question for a moment before moving to another section of his basement. He reached under a pile of wrenches, and pulled out a small, leather-bound notebook. He flipped through it quickly, pursing his lips, and shook his head.
“Did you rip them or disengage them? No, don't answer that, I know better. What kind of item was it?” He didn't even look up from the book he was flipping through as he asked.
“A gaudy statue. It had some kind of magical affect on it...” a thought occurred to me at that point. “Wait. I hadn't disengaged it's magical command. It was a mind-control command, but I didn't really get a chance to inspect it. Is there a way to target on that?” Normally, command threads aren't possible to use as location threads. Trying to do so simply causes you to be hit with whatever magic the thread contains, even if you'd normally be immune to such things like a ritualist is to mind-control. If anyone would know a way around that, though, it'd be Billy.
He seemed to ponder my words for a moment, and then promptly tossed the journal over his shoulder with an uncaring hand. He leaped upon a different pile of trinkets like a frenzied animal. I saw him toss aside penny-charms, strange wooden boxes with wires sticking from them at odd angles, and weapons both old and new until he finally found what I presumed he was looking for. He sat up, holding up his find triumphantly before jumping to his feet and stepping back to me.
Into my hand he placed a pair of worn opera glasses. I could feel a slight magical pulse shoot from them as they touched my bare skin. They were made of brass, and had clearly seen better days. I arched my eyebrow at Billy, but he just looked at me with a proud smile. I sighed, and put them to my eyes.
Through the specs, the world looked a good deal different. As if I'd tuned myself, I could see the threads webbing through the area, creating a gentle golden aura around everything. Experienced as I was, I could quickly single out various threads of specific types, and decided that the specs were showing me actual threads instead of some flight of fancy.
“Alright. Useful, I suppose, but I'm not sure how...”
“Tell it to find a thread.” Billy was practically wiggling with excitement.
“Right. Uh...glasses. Find...my enchanted bullets.” I knew where those were, so it was a good test. As soon as I gave the command, the world through the specs blurred. As the blur eased, the golden glow of threads began to disappear. Finally, only one thread remained. The thread connecting me to my enchanted bullets. I lowered the specs, my jaw dropped, my eyes wide.
“Sweet beings of the ethereal, Billy, where did you get these? What, did some wizard bind a ritualist's soul to these things or something?” The look on Billy's face immediately told me I didn't want the answer to that question. “Know what? Never mind. Thanks, Billy. I'll get these back to you as soon as I'm done.”
“Take your time,” Billy said with a shrug. “The thunderbirds are in their slow season, so I've got plenty on my mind.”
I didn't ask him what the thunderbirds were.
* * *
I practically jumped up the stairs out of Billy's study, thrilled at the opera glasses he'd given me. I was good, but clearly the glasses could focus on threads far more quickly than I ever could. Thus, they were my salvation, or at least my ticket to getting a full paycheck.
I came out of the alleyway, only to see Green's car idling on the curb. I did a double take, unsure if I was more surprised or annoyed. He must have pulled around the block and then stopped to wait for me even though I'd told him to go home. For a moment, I thought of ignoring him. Then I figured that if he wanted to get himself killed, I might as well make use of his car. I moved to the passenger's side, and slid in.
“Did you find my statue?” were the first words out of his mouth.
“No. But I found a way to find it. Give me a minute, and then drive where I tell you.” I put the glasses to my eyes as I spoke, and then commanded them to focus on the command thread coming off the statue I worked on earlier. Once again, the vision blurred and slowly cleared, finally focusing on a thread. I also realized the glasses were showing me a location different from the one where I was. After a moment of thought, it occurred to me that the command thread wasn't the same as a connection thread. It would only go so far, so I was probably seeing the end of the area of the spell's effect.
I looked around with the glasses, trying to get an idea of where I was looking. Grayed buildings and cars passed in front of my eyes, until I found a somewhat rusty street sign. That was all the information I needed. I began giving directions to Green, who dutifully began driving. He didn't make any conversation, not even to ask how I knew which ways to go. I appreciate that in a client.
He followed my directions rather well, only needing to backtrack once. I'd have been impressed with how much he wanted that statue if I hadn't been so focused on getting us where we were going. The thread didn't seem to be moving any, which told me that whoever had the thing wasn't moving either.
We got to the edge of the thread, and I continued to give directions until we got to a large building in the business district. The thing would naturally be in an area where people might care about why you're sneaking around in the middle of the night. I directed Green to stop a block away, and got out. Green followed, but I was too tired to chastise him for it.
“It's inside that building. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to get past the lobby guard, even if the doors will open this late at night.” I spoke with a reserved tone, hoping that Green would give this whole thing up as lost. Green seemed inclined to do no such thing.
“It'll be open. This part of town, lots of people work at all hours. Part of the gig. Which building?” I pointed without thinking, and Green strode forward with far more sureness and competence in his step than I'd seen him display thus far. I chose to believe this was because he was more comfortable in the business district than being led around by the nose by a ritualist, and followed.
We stepped into the building, the lobby of which was rather utilitarian. Even the potted plants and the artwork looked as though they'd been chosen for efficiency rather than decorative purposes. Green looked at me expectantly, and I tried to follow the thread. It led upwards, through the elevator. Likely following the path it had been carried. Of course, the elevators were stationed behind a large guard desk.
Green didn't hesitate upon finding this out. He strode up to desk, reached into his pocket, and pulled out several bills. These he slapped down on the desk in front of the guard. The guard blinked at them, and then blinked up at Green curiously.
“It was time for your break, wasn't it?” His nails-on-the-chalkboard voice seemed more commanding than it had before. While still annoying, I could more easily see him as the C.E.O. of a major shipping company. The guard seemed to ponder the money, and then gave a light shrug as he took it and pocketed it. Green turned and looked at me, which was all the incentive I needed to keep moving.
The thread took us up to the twelfth floor. The elevator opened into a wide room, filled with cubicles. I pushed past Green and continued following the thread, my gun feeling heavy in its holster. More than one person had already died for this thing tonight, and I didn't relish the idea of adding my life to those statistics. I decided then and there that if I got shot, Green was getting charged triple.
The thread led us to a closed office door. Before I could discuss plans with Green, he charged ahead. My eyes went wide with shock as he reached out, threw the door open, and moved in with a frantic, stumbling step. I reached out to grab him, but it was too late. The damage had been done, the door was wide open, and Green was already shouting accusations of thievery and demands for his statue.
The office was decorated in a far more posh style than the lobby. The desk was large, and made of a rich brown wood. The curtains that hung in front of the windows were made of a thin fabric that glittered in the artificial lighting of the room. I wasn't certain, but the couch looked to be made of leather. Behind the desk sat an older man, his hair graying and bald, dressed in a suit that likely cost more than a year's worth of rent. Sitting on his desk in front of him? The statue.
He looked up with shock as Green charged the desk. It was clear to me that the old man had foolishly failed to consider the possibility that someone might charge into his office in a screaming fit at almost one in the morning. He reached out to grab the statue at the same time Green did, and the two men began to fight and squabble over the thing like two pigeons over a crust of bread. The sight filled me with both pity and relief. At least no one was pulling a gun.
Their squabbling did give me a chance to more closely inspect the command thread, so I took it. It seemed odd that so many people would want this thing so badly, to the point of murder even, while so many others didn't seem to care. I followed the statue with the opera glasses as Green and the other man struggled about the office. They crashed into the wall, stumbled over an office chair, and rolled on the ground in their attempt to rip the statue away from one another.
I realized what the thread was doing just as Green managed to rip the statue out of the older man's hands and kick him away. The man stumbled back towards his desk, and Green scrambled up to his feet. He clutched the statue tightly to his chest, a mixture of cradling it lovingly and trying to protect it from the mean man who might take it away again. My own thoughts were taken up by what, precisely, to do with this command thread. I was fairly certain they wouldn't let me strip down and connect with the threads, but I hated to pull a spellboy.
The older man angrily reached into his desk drawer and produced a revolver, and my decision was made for me. I reached out my hand, and with a motion and a word grabbed hold of the command thread. I felt the magic burn inside my hand as I yanked on it, and was knocked off my feet from the backlash of the rip. My hat flew off, and I just barely managed to keep hold of the opera glasses. The worst part, though, was feeling an intense desire for that damn statue.
It faded as I pulled myself to my feet, reaching out to grab my hat from where it had landed. The older man's face twisted in confusion, as if he could not for the life of him figure out why he'd been so willing to do what he'd been about to do. It made sense to me. Shooting people over a gaudy statue was pretty dumb. Especially once the command thread making making people want it at any cost had been severed.
The older man began to lower his gun. I didn't need another sign that the getting was good. I grabbed Green by the shoulder, and yanked him out of the office. He followed, clutching that damned statue the entire way.
* * *
The wrap-up was far easier than my previous case had been. Green had been so thrilled to have his statue that he gladly paid what I demanded. I had thought the severing of the thread would make him not want it, but apparently the man loved gaudy statues of birds. I got the opera glasses back to Billy without any problems. Even my hand healed up without incident. The only loose thread had been the third guard, but that had been tied up when he tried to return to Green for the rest of his pay. It hadn't worked, naturally, but it had given me a chance to figure out why he hadn't been so enticed by the statue. Turned out it affected people more the more important and powerful they thought they were.
For once, everything was looking up for me. Well, until I tried to figure out how to bypass the casino's wards. That, however, is a story for another log.
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Berg saves the day again!
Great story, waiting for more!
Another Samantha Berg story! Completely awesome.
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