Phantom Magic – Linsey Hall

Sun sparkled on the leaves at my feet, and birds twittered in the trees around us. The forest was alive, but not in a way that Snow White would like. “Do those chirps sound threatening to you?” I clutched the magical lava rock closer to my chest. “Yes.” Dr. Garriso’s voice was matter-of-fact. I laughed warily. “Perfect.” “Don’t worry. I know all the booby traps that the Collector set up. We’ll be fine.” He hesitated. “I think.” I grinned at him, glancing at his slight figure out of the corner of my eye. I rarely saw the professor outside of his book-filled office.

In his tweed coat and loafers, he didn’t look like he should be trekking through the woods with me in the outskirts of Magic’s Bend. But I needed his help, so here he was. The two of us were hunting down answers about the magical rock I’d stolen from my enemies, the Shadows, and I hoped that the mysterious figure called the Collector had some. “Thank you for taking me,” I said. “Of course. I’m just sorry that I couldn’t answer your questions about that rock there.” He nodded to the lump of cooled lava in my hands. “But I think the Collector might be able to help.” “I hope so.” We’d recovered the magical stone from the Shadow’s compound just yesterday, when I’d tried to stop them from creating the portal between Earth and the Underworld.

Unfortunately, I’d failed. Demons were currently spilling out onto Earth. We didn’t know how many yet, but it was sure to be a lot. And whatever they were up to—it wasn’t good. They were the “wreak havoc and cause hell” sort of demons. They’d been plotting their attack for centuries, and the day was finally here. And I’d helped them. I’d been forced to. So, things weren’t going great. We had to find the portal I’d helped create and close it before too many demons escaped.

Problem was, we had no idea where it was located. Fortunately, my Dragon sense had given me a lead that Roarke and I were going to pursue after I asked the Collector about the magical lava rock. We’d all agreed that this hunk of rock was important. It had powered the machine that had helped open the portal, but we had no idea how to access that power or what it could do. The magic that vibrated within it was more powerful than almost anything I’d ever felt. Even my dragon sense had tugged toward the lump of stone, suggesting that it was vital. So I’d gone to Dr. Garriso early this morning to ask him if he knew what it was. Dr. Garriso, resident scholar at the Museum for Magical History, knew almost everything.

He’d had no answers, but like any good scholar, he knew where he might be able to find some. “Stop!” His arm snapped out, and I stumbled to a halt. My gaze followed his, dropping to the ground in front of our feet. Though we walked through the deep woods outside of town, we were on a path. At my feet, vines twisted and writhed like snakes. They blended with the ground so perfectly that I’d almost missed them. I eyed them warily. “Good catch.” “I come here quite often.” He dug into his pocket and withdrew a little bag.

After untying it, he flung the powdery contents at the vines. They lay still. Mostly. We walked across. They shifted beneath my feet, making my stomach turn. “Would they drag us into the earth?” I asked. “Yes.” He glanced toward the trees. The chirping had increased in volume, like a thousand angry little birds shrieking their rage to the sky. “The Collector gave me protection from the birds,” he said.

“But you don’t have it. You must run now. Follow me.” He took off down the path, fast for a man in his seventies. I sprinted after him, wind tearing at my hair, as the chirping birds hurtled from the trees. Tiny bites of pain pinged against my back. The sparrows hurtled into me. Quickly, I adopted my Phantom form, letting the icy magic flow through me. It was a risk, since I hadn’t told Dr. Garriso that I was part Phantom, but I trusted him.

I’d helped save his life once, and he was the sort who would return the favor. The birds chirped, fluttering around my head, going for my eyes. They flew straight through my head, sending a shudder through me. Thank fates I’d shifted. These little bastards were vicious. They’d take an eye rather than look at me. A few moments later, we sprinted through a magical barrier that prickled against my skin. It was pleasant rather than painful, and I was grateful to realize that it wasn’t meant to stop me—just the birds. They stopped flitting around my head, so I pulled to a halt and returned to my human form. When I turned, they fluttered in place, a wall of feathers and beaks, shrieking and chirping as they glared at me with beady eyes.

Dr. Garriso panted beside me. “The Collector is very concerned with security.” I sucked a breath into my aching lungs. “I can see that.” The birds were effective guards. Tiny, but ruthless. They were even immune to my charm over animals. “Come now.” I followed Dr.

Garriso down the path, keeping my senses alert. The trees rustled around us, but there was no evil chirping of deadly sparrows. The path continued, leading us to a wall of trees. The gnarled branches twisted and twined around each other, forming an impenetrable barrier that cut off our access to the path. “Her home is just on the other side,” Dr. Garriso said. “This is a lot.” I indicated the branches. “Why is she so obsessed with security? Do people want her dead?” “No. I don’t think so.

But she does possess the largest collection of magical objects in the world. It’s the reason she is so knowledgeable. And the reason she is so paranoid.” “Afraid of theft.” Of course. So were we, at our shop. I could understand where she was coming from. “Exactly.” He stepped toward the trees. “Wait here.

” I watched as he approached the wall of twisted tree limbs. He reached up, his hands as gnarled as the wood, and ran his fingertips over different sections of the bark. If it was in a pattern, I couldn’t determine it. But after a moment, the trees trembled. The limbs untangled themselves and drew back, forming a gap that we could pass through. “Don’t brush the trees as you pass,” Dr. Garriso said. “Poison.” “It didn’t affect you?” He shook his head. “Immune.

” “How do you know the Collector so well? She’s allowed you unrestricted access to her place.” As soon as I asked the question, I knew the answer. He gave me a wry look. I blushed—we didn’t exactly have the kind of relationship where we talked about our sex lives—and preceded him through the trees and onto a neatly cultivated path. Rose bushes bloomed alongside the stone walkway that led up to an old Victorian house. The different sections were painted bright shades of blue. The yellow and white trim gave it a cheerful air. The porch was an expansive space surrounded by an intricately carved wooden railing. And it was covered in cats. At least a dozen of them—all colors and sizes—lounged on the railings or in little beds.

As a unit, they all woke and turned their heads to stare at me. Keen eyes studied us as we approached. “The Collector likes cats?” I asked. “Very much.” Dr. Garriso gave a melodic whistle, and the cats relaxed, returning to their slumber. “They’re her last line of defense.” “House cats?” “Deadly house cats. They’d eat your face rather than look at you.” A slender black cat with yellow eyes leapt off the porch and slunk toward us, her graceful gait making her look like she was doing a sinuous strut.

She rubbed herself against Dr. Garriso’s legs. “This is Mouse,” he said. “Doesn’t look very deadly,” I said. The little cat couldn’t weigh more than eight pounds. As if she’d understood me, Mouse bared her fangs and hissed. I had a sudden vision of her leaping for my throat. “My apologies, Mouse.” I nodded at the cat. “You’re very fierce.

” Mouse nodded her head, then butted Dr. Garriso’s leg again. He bent down and picked her up, then led me up the wooden stairs to the porch. Mouse watched me from over his shoulder, her enigmatic yellow eyes hard to read. The door swung open as soon as I stepped onto the front porch. Lurch from The Addams Family loomed in the door. It took a moment to realize that the tall, slender man was in fact not the weird butler from the old TV Show. “Yes?” His voice sounded like a heavy wooden door creaking open. Scratch that—this dude was definitely Lurch. “Bates, I’ve brought a visitor for Madam Melephonus.

” Of course the collector was called Madam Melephonus. It was the perfect name for a woman who hired Lurch as her butler. Bates inclined his head and stepped back, gesturing us inside. Mouse stayed glued to Dr. Garriso’s shoulder as he entered. Fortunately, the house didn’t smell like cats, though I imagined that Bates was very busy with the scooper to keep the place smelling like nothing more than lemon wood polish. “Touch nothing.” Bates’s voice boomed over me as I entered. “Aye aye.” I kept my gaze straight ahead so I wouldn’t bump into anything.

The hallway would have been wide if not for the shelves. They lined the walls from top to bottom, stuffed full of all manner of unique objects. The magical signatures clashed with each other, making it hard to figure out what was what. Dr. Garriso led us to a sitting room, which was just as full as the hallway. But like the hall, the space was ruthlessly organized. Madam Melephonus was no hoarder. At least, not the kind you’d see on a TV show. The place was interesting rather that cluttered and miserable. Mouse leapt off Dr.

Garriso’s shoulder as we sat on the delicate settee, and she took up a perch on a wingback chair. Then she set about cleaning her toes very intently. “Madam Melephonus will only be a moment,” Bates said. Dr. Garriso nodded. “Thank you, Bates.” I waited in silenced, my gaze dancing over every object in the room. Finally, a small woman in her early seventies entered the room. Her clothes were covered in sequins of all colors, and her spectacles were rainbow striped. Between the cats, the clothes, and the colored house, you’d think she was a flighty nutjob.

But when her sharp black eyes pierced me, I realized how stupid it would be to underestimate her. And I definitely believed that these cats would eat my face at her command. “Irv.” Her voice was light but resonant, the strangest combination that was magic in itself. “Who have you brought me?” Dr. Garriso’s first name was Irv? “A friend. This is Delphine Bellator.” “Bellator.” Her gaze went up and down my body. “That is Latin for warrior.

” I nodded. The name suited me. I held out the rock. “I was hoping you could help us identify this.” Her gaze flared with interest. “I could try.” She approached, so graceful that she looked almost like she was floating on air. She stopped in front of me, peering hard at my face, then at the stone, as if she were searching me for ill intent. “Is everything all right?” I asked. “I just like to know what I’m dealing with.

” She pinched my chin and scowled. “You are one of the Triumvirate. Destined to do your part in saving the world.” “How did you know that?” I pulled my chin away. “I know things.” She looked down at the stone. “Does this have anything to do with that?” “It might.” Finally, she nodded and took the stone from me. As soon as it left my hands, I wanted to grab it back. That stone was important.

I didn’t know why, but I knew it as well as I knew my own name. But it didn’t matter how important it was if I didn’t know exactly what it was or how to use it. From her crinkled brow, the Collector didn’t know either. “I’ve never seen such a thing.” “That makes two of us.” “Don’t be flippant.” She hurried over to a table set against a window and put the stone onto the puddle of light on the wooden surface. I grinned, liking the old bat, and watched her examine the stone with a jeweler’s loupe. “There is great power here,” she muttered. “But I know not how.

” Dang it. I’d been so sure that Dr. Garriso would lead me the right way. “But if you’ll let me keep it for a few days, I think I might be able to sort it out.” My mouth opened to deny her, but Dr. Garriso gave me a hard look. You wanted answers, it said. I did. And as much as I didn’t want to let the stone out of my sight, I didn’t have time to sit here and babysit it. Dr.

Garriso trusted the Collector, and I trusted Dr. Garriso. So… “All right, thank you for your help.” I rose. Mouse watched me with big, yellow eyes while Dr. Garriso stood. Madam Melephonus was too intent on the stone to turn to say goodbye. “I’ll see you Sunday, Ginger.” Ginger Melephonus? What a name. I just hoped she’d have answers for me.

An hour later, after we’d made our way back through the forest, I pulled Scooter up to the curb at Ancient Magic. The wind was brisk and biting this late in November, and I hurried in out of the cold. Nix was hunched over a pile of books, scowling at the pages. Her dark hair fell in her face, obscuring a black T-shirt that I knew must have some kind of cartoon character drawn on it. “Find anything?” I asked. “Not a thing.” She looked up and frowned. “There’s no mention of Oriamor anywhere.” “Damn.” Though my dragon sense had given me the clue that we needed to head east, toward Savannah, Georgia, I didn’t know what the heck I would find there.

“Cass hasn’t had any luck either,” Nix said. “She called a while ago. Aethelred knows nothing. Mordaca and Aerdeca have never heard of it.” Damn. If the seer didn’t know, nor did our Darklane friends, we were really screwed for info. “Then I’m going in blind,” I said. “Not the first time.” “Nor the last, probably.” “You find answers about the rock?” I shook my head and told her about Madam Melephonus.

As I was finishing up, the door creaked open behind me. I didn’t need to turn to know it was Roarke. Not only could I smell his intoxicating sandalwood scent, but I could feel his magic. It was like a comforting blanket wrapping around me. Probably because I knew he’d always use it to protect me. I turned, unable to help the grin that spread over my face at the sight of him. As usual, he was handsome as sin, with his dark eyes and hair gleaming in the light. The black shirt and black leather jacket he wore made him look like a romance novel hero. The tough kind who beat all the bad guys, but then had time for a nice dinner and long walk. Which was just my style.

“Any luck?” I asked him. He’d gone back to the Underworld while I’d been with Dr. Garriso, intending to dig around for information with some of his contacts. His brother, Cade, and our friend Emile, were off looking for answers too. “Nothing.” He approached and pulled me in for a kiss. It was brief, just the press of his lips against my own, but my head spun anyway. I couldn’t get enough of kissing this guy. He pulled back. “Not a single info-broker has heard a thing about a place called Oriamor.

” “So it’s old, then,” I said. “If no one’s heard of it, it’s been dead centuries. Millennia maybe.” “Possibly.” He frowned. “So you found nothing either?” “Nope. I’ve got no idea what we’re walking into.” “So, the usual, then?” I grinned. “Exactly.” “Want company?” Nix asked.

“I’m closing up for today. I can come with you, and we can check this place out together.” I turned to her. She’d stood, and yep—her T-shirt had a drawing of some kind of cat. A Japanese one. Gigi the cat, I thought it was. Though one might assume that a cartoon-T-shirt-wearing girl would be a pushover, the ripped jeans and motorcycle boots evened out her look. Combined with her fighter’s stance—she wasn’t called the Protector for nothing—she was a dangerous package. “Thanks.” I smiled.

“But no. Let’s stick to the plan. We’ll do the first recon while you keep researching. We’ve got invisibility potions from Connor that’ll let us lie low. If it’s just the two of us and there’s trouble, we can get out of there more quickly.” Roarke would just create an Underpath entrance, and we’d be out in a flash. She saluted. “Aye aye.” I turned to Roarke. “Ready?” “Absolutely.

Do we need to pick up the invisibility potions from Connor?” “Nope. He dropped them off this morning. He knows we don’t have a lot of time to spare.” Not now that demons were spilling out of the portal that the Shadows had forced me to create. I followed Roarke out of the shop and to his car, which waited at the curb in front of Scooter. As we drove, I explained to him what had happened with Madam Melephonus. “Sounds like an odd duck, that one,” he said as he parked near Mad Mordecai’s, our preferred Underpath entrance. “She was. But I liked her.” “You would.

” He grinned. “You like the odd ones.” “I like you, don’t I?” He laughed, then pulled me toward him and pressed a quick kiss to the top of my head. I pushed him away. “Hey, hey. No time for funny business. We’ve got to save the world from my screw-up.” “You didn’t screw up.” “Debatable.” I climbed out of the car into the chill winter air.

Roarke followed and we crossed the street. I handed him one of the invisibility potions. “Let’s not drink these until we know we need them. Who knows how long this will take.” “Good plan. Last thing we need is for it to wear off at the wrong time.” “No kidding.” Like all magic, the potion had its downside. Sneaking into a dangerous situation and then suddenly becoming visible was a giant bummer. By now, I was an old hat at traveling through the Underpath.

I followed Roarke into the smelly alley, took his arm, and stepped into the whirlwind ether that sucked me through space all the way to Savannah, Georgia. When we stepped out into the dark night, my lurching stomach finally settled. The air was cool here, though not as cold as it had been in Portland, and a heavy moon shined brightly on the cemetery in front of us. “Whoa,” I breathed. Sprawled out in front of us was the creepiest, most magnificent cemetery I’d ever seen. Massive oak trees dripped Spanish moss overtop of thousands of ornate headstones and sarcophagi. Barren bushes, long gone from their summer blooms, crouched near the gleaming white tombs. Crickets and other night bugs set up a racket as the leaves rustled in the wind. The scent of dirt and water were strong. “Where are we?” I asked.

“Bonaventure Cemetery. Largest one in Savannah. Famous, too.” “I can see why.” It was a place that was so beautiful, and so strange, that people would come from all over to visit. Weird people, but people. I was one of them. “At least it’s quiet.” “This isn’t Oriamor, that’s for sure.” He was right.

There were no demons, just an eerie chill in the air that I’d bet my trove was from ghosts. “No. But I don’t think we’re too far off. My dragon sense is pulling us toward the water, I think.” “We’re near a wide river.” “Hope we don’t have to cross. I’m not really up for a swim this close to gator territory.” My scare back in the Everglades had given me my fill. They’d been pretty friendly, but their teeth had been damned big. I set off across the uneven ground, trying to avoid stepping over graves.

Roarke followed, and we stuck to the paths whenever possible, but the most direct route was sometimes across the graves. Magic shivered on the air, something strange that I’d never felt before. It was dry and cold. Freaking creepy. “Horrible magic,” I muttered. “Ghosts.” Roarke pointed. I peered in the direction he indicated, making out the pale gray forms of ghosts in the distance. If I strained my ears, I could hear heckling. The jeering tones were unmistakable.

“Are those ghosts chasing another ghost around a sarcophagus?” I squinted, just able to make out a man dressed in a nice suit and hat, being chased by a group of people. The group was pissed, if their cries were any indication. “He must have been an asshole in life,” Roarke said. “No kidding. Made plenty of enemies.” We hurried on, skirting around the scene and leaving the angry ghosts to their vengeance. Whatever that guy had done to them in life, they wanted their piece of his hide. A massive obelisk loomed to our right, piercing the night sky like some dead guy’s version of a Ferrari or other status symbol. “Lotta rich dudes here.” The words had just left my mouth when I caught sight of a girl standing at the base of the obelisk.

Her back was to us, but she wore a thin blue dress and had long braids down her back. For a moment, I thought she was a ghost. But her dark skin shook some sense into me. She wasn’t nearly transparent enough to be a ghost. Not only was her silent presence a bit creepy, but eerie magic radiated from her, a signature that I’d never felt before. “Quickly,” I whispered as I hurried by her. I didn’t want to tangle with that girl. Not only was she possibly grieving—or doing weird magic—she was powerful. No need to borrow trouble. Roarke and I hurried as silently as we could, leaving the girl behind. I was so focused on putting as much distance between myself and the girl that I missed the prickly magic that raced over my skin. Magic crackled with energy as we stepped over an invisible tripwire. “Shit!” My gaze skated over our surroundings. For a second, nothing happened. Then a low, sonorous voice echoed through the night. “Be gone.”

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