Small Magics – Ilona Andrews

Sometimes being a kid is very difficult. The adults are supposed to feed you and keep you safe, but they want you to deal with the world according to their views and not your own. They encourage you to have opinions, and if you express them, they will listen but they won’t hear. And when they give you a choice, it’s a selection of handpicked possibilities they have prescreened. No matter what you decide, the core choice has already been made, and you weren’t involved in it. That’s how Kate and I ended up in the office of the director of Seven Star Academy. I said I didn’t want to go to school. She gave me a list of ten schools and said to pick one. I wrote the names of the schools on little bits of paper, pinned them to the corkboard, and threw my knife at them for a while. After half an hour, Seven Stars was the only name I could still read. Choice made. Now we were sitting in soft chairs in a nice office, waiting for the school director, and Kate was exercising her willpower. Before I met Kate, I had heard people say it, but I didn’t know what it meant. Now I knew. Kate was the Beast Lord’s mate, which meant that Curran and she were in charge of Atlanta’s giant shapeshifter pack.

It was so huge, people actually called it the Pack. Shapeshifters were kind of like bombs: things frequently set them off and they exploded with violent force. To keep from exploding, they made up elaborate rules and Kate had to exercise her willpower a lot. She was doing it now; from outside she looked very calm and composed, but I could tell she was doing it by the way she sat. When Kate was relaxed, she fidgeted. She’d shift in her chair, throw one leg over the other, lean to the side, then lean back. She was very still now, legs in jeans together, holding Slayer, her magic saber, on her lap, one hand on the hilt, the other on the scabbard. Her face was relaxed, almost serene. I could totally picture her leaping straight onto the table from the chair and slicing the director’s head off with her saber. Kate usually dealt with things by talking, and when that didn’t work, chopping obstacles into tiny pieces and frying them with magic so they didn’t get back up.

The sword was her talisman, because she believed in it. She held it like some people held crosses or the star-and-crescent. Her philosophy was, if it had a pulse, it could be killed. I didn’t really have a philosophy, but I could see how talking with the school director would be difficult for her. If he said something she didn’t like, chopping him to tiny pieces wouldn’t exactly help me get into the school. “What if when the director comes in, I take my underwear off, put them on my head, and dance around? Do you think it would help?” Kate looked at me. It was her hard-ass stare. Kate could be really scary. “That doesn’t work on me,” I told her. “I know you won’t hurt me.

” “If you want to prance around with panties on your head, I won’t stop you,” she said. “It’s your basic human right to make a fool of yourself.” “I don’t want to go to school.” Spending all my time in a place where I was the poor rat adopted by a merc and a shapeshifter, while spoiled little rich girls jeered when I walked by and stuck-up teachers put me in remedial courses? No thanks. Kate exercised her will some more. “You need an education, Julie.” “You can teach me.” “I do and I’ll continue to do so. But you need to know other things, besides the ones I can teach. You need a well-rounded education.

” “I don’t like education. I like working at the office. I want to do what you and Andrea do.” Kate and Andrea ran Cutting Edge, a small firm that helped people with their magic hazmat issues. It was a dangerous job, but I liked it. Besides, I was pretty messed up. Normal things like going to school and getting a regular job didn’t hold any interest for me. I couldn’t even picture myself doing that. “Andrea went to the Order’s Academy for six years and I’ve trained since I could walk.” “I’m willing to train.

” My body tensed, as if an invisible hand had squeezed my insides into a clump. I held my breath… Magic flooded the world in an invisible wave. The phantom hand let go, and the world shimmered with hues of every color as my sensate vision kicked in. Magic came and went as it pleased. Some older people still remembered the time when technology was always in control and magic didn’t exist. But that was long ago. Now magic and technology kept trading places, like two toddlers playing musical chairs. Sometimes magic ruled, and cars and guns didn’t work. Sometimes technology was in charge, and magic spells fizzled out. I preferred the magic myself, because unlike ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine-whatever percent of people I could see it.

I looked at Kate, using a tiny drop of my power. It was kind of like flexing a muscle, a conscious effort to look the right way at something. One moment Kate sat there, all normal, or as normal as Kate could be, the next she was wrapped in a translucent glow. Most people’s magic glowed in one color. Humans radiated blue, shapeshifters green, vampires gave off a purple-red… Kate’s magic shifted colors. It was blue and deep purple, and pale pearl-like gold streaked through with tendrils of red. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen. The first time I saw it, it freaked me out. “You have to keep going to school,” freaky Kate said. I leaned back and hung my head over the chair’s back.

“Why?” “Because I can’t teach you everything, and shapeshifters shouldn’t be your only source of education. You may not always want to be affiliated with shapeshifters. Down the road, you may want to make your own choices.” I pushed against the floor with my feet, rocking a little in my chair. “I’m trying to make my own choice, but you won’t let me.” “That’s right,” Kate said. “I’m older, wiser, and I know better. Deal with it.” Parenting, kick-ass Kate Daniels’s style. Do what I say.

There wasn’t even an or attached to it. Or didn’t exist. I rocked back and forth some more. “Do you think I’m your punishment from God?” “No. I’d like to think that God, if he exists, is kind, not vengeful.” The door of the office opened and a man walked in. He was older than Kate, bald, with Asian features, dark eyes, and a big smile. “It’s a view I share.” I sat up straight. Kate got up and offered her hand.

“Mr. Dargye?” The man shook her hand. “Please call me Gendun. I much prefer it.” They shook and sat down. Adult rituals. My history teacher from the old school once told us that shaking hands was a gesture of peace—it demonstrated that you had no weapon. Since now we had magic, shaking hands was more a leap of faith. Do I shake this weirdo’s hand and run the risk that he will infect me with a magic plague or shoot lightning into my skin or do I step back and be rude? Hmm. Maybe handshakes would go away in the future.

Gendun was looking at me. He had sucker eyes. Back when I lived on the street, we used to mob people like him, because they were kind and soft-hearted and you could always count on some sort of handout. They weren’t naive bleeding hearts—they knew that while you cried in front of them and clutched your tummy, your friends were stealing their wallets, but they would feed you anyway. That’s just the way they moved through the world. I squinted, bringing the color of his magic into focus. Pale blue, almost silver. Divine magic, born of faith. Mister Gendun was a priest of some sort. “What god do you believe in?” I asked.

When you’re a kid, they let you get away with being direct. “I’m a Buddhist.” Gendun smiled. “I believe in human potential for understanding and compassion. The existence of an omnipotent God is possible, but so far I have seen no evidence that he exists. What god do you believe in?” “None.” I met a goddess once. It didn’t turn out well for everyone involved. Gods used faith the way a car used gas; it was the supply from which they drew their power. I refused to fuel any of their motors.

Gendun smiled. “Thank you for responding to my request so promptly.” Request? What request? “Two of the Pack’s children attend your school,” Kate said. “The Pack will do everything in our power to offer you assistance.” Huh? Wait a minute. I thought this was about me. Nobody said anything about the school requesting our assistance. “This is Ms. Olsen,” Kate said. I smiled at Gendun.

“Please call me Julie. I much prefer it.” Technically my name was now Julie Lennart-Daniels-Olsen, which was silly. If Kate and Curran got married, I’d be down to Lennart-Olsen. Until then, I decided Olsen was good enough. “It is nice to meet you, Julie.” Gendun smiled and nodded at me. He had this really strange calming thing about him. He was very…balanced somehow. Reminded me of the Pack’s medmage, Dr.

Doolittle. “There are many schools in the city for the children of exceptional parents,” Gendun said. “Seven Stars is a school for exceptional children. Our methods are unorthodox and our students are unique.” Woo, a school of special snowflakes. Or monster children. Depending on how you chose to look at it. Magic didn’t affect just our environment. All sorts of people who once had been normal and ordinary were discovering new and sometimes unwelcome things about themselves. Some could freeze things.

Some grew claws and fur. And some saw magic. “Discretion is of utmost importance to us,” Gendun said. “Despite her age, Ms. Olsen is an experienced operative,” Kate said. I am? “She understands the need for discretion.” I do? “She has a particular talent that will make her very effective in this case,” Kate said. Gendun opened a folder, took out a picture, and slid it across the table to me. A girl. She had a pretty heart-shaped face framed by spirals of red hair.

Her eyes were green and her long eyelashes curled out until they almost touched her eyebrows. She looked so pretty, like a little doll. “This is Ashlyn,” Gendun said. “She is a freshman at this school. A very good student. Two days ago she disappeared. The location spell indicates she is alive and that she hasn’t left the grounds. We’ve attempted to notify her parents, but they are traveling at the moment and are out of reach, as are her emergency contacts. You have twenty-four hours to find her.” “What happens after twenty-four hours?” “We will have to notify the authorities,” Gendun said.

“Her parents had given us a lot of latitude in regard to Ashlyn. She is a sensitive child and her behavior is often driven by that sensitivity. But in this case our hands are tied. If a student is missing, we are legally bound to report it after seventy-two hours.” Report it to Paranormal Activity Division of Atlanta’s police force, no doubt. PAD was about as subtle as a runaway bulldozer. They would take this school apart and grill all of their special snowflakes until they melted into goo in their interrogation rooms. How many would fold and confess to something they had not done? I looked at Kate. She arched an eyebrow at me. “Interested?” “We would give you a visitor pass,” Gendun said.

“I will speak to the teachers, so you can conduct your investigation quietly. We have guest students who tour the school before attending, so you wouldn’t draw any attention and the disruption to the other children will be minimal.” This was some sort of Kate trick of getting me into this school. I looked at the picture again. Trick or not, a girl was hiding somewhere. She could be hiding because she was playing some sort of a joke, but it was highly unlikely. Mostly people hid because they were scared. I could relate. I’d been scared before. It wasn’t fun.

Someone had to find her. Someone had to care about what happened. I pulled the picture closer. “I’ll do it.” MY STUDENT GUİDE was a tall dark-haired girl named Brook. She had skinny legs, bony arms, and wore round glasses that constantly slid down her nose. She kept pushing them up with her middle finger, so it looked as if she was shooting the bird at the entire world every five minutes. Her magic was a strong simple blue, the color of human abilities. We met in the front office, where they outfitted me with a white armband. Apparently they marked their visitors.

If there was any trouble, we’d be easy to shoot. “Okay, you follow me and don’t touch things,” Brook informed me. “Stuff here is randomly warded. Also Barka has been leaving little tiny charges of magic all around the school. You touch it, it zaps you. Then your fingers hurt for an hour.” “Is Barka a student?” “Barka is a pisshead,” Brook told me and pushed her glasses up. “Come on.” We walked up the stairs. The bell rang and the staircase filled with kids.

“Four floors,” Brook told me. “The school is a big square, with the garden slash courtyard in the center. All the fields, like for soccer and football, are outside of the square. First floor is the gymnasium, pool, dance studio, auditorium, and cafeteria. Second floor, humanities: literature, history, sociology, anthropology, Latin—” “Did you know Ashlyn?” I asked. Brook paused, momentarily knocked off her course by the interruption. “She did not take Latin.” “But did you know her?” “Yes.” “What kind of a student was she?” Brook shrugged. “Quiet.

We have an algebra class together, fourth period. I thought she might be competition at first. You have to watch out for the quiet ones.” “Was she?” “Naaah.” Brook grimaced. “Progress reports came out last week. Her math grade was seventeen. One seven. She only does well in one class, botany. You could give her a broom and she’ll stick it in the ground and grow you an apple tree.

I took botany last semester and she beat my grade by two points. She has a perfect hundred. There’s got to be a trick to it.” Brook squared her shoulders. “That’s okay. I am taking AP botany next year. I’ll take her down.” “You’re a little bit crazy, you know that?” Brook shrugged and pushed her glasses up at me. “Third floor, magic: alchemy, magic theory—” “Did Ashlyn seem upset over the seventeen in math?” Maybe she was hiding because of her grades. Brook paused.

“No.” “She wasn’t worried about her parents?” When I got a bad grade in my old boarding school, Kate would make a trip to the school to chew me out. When I got homesick, I’d flunk a grade on purpose. Sometimes she came by herself. Sometimes with other people. Boy kind of people. Of whom I promised myself I wouldn’t be thinking about, because they were idiots. “I met her parents on family day. I was in charge of Hospitality Committee. They are really into nurture and all that,” Brook said.

“They wouldn’t be upset with her. Fourth floor: science and technology—” “Do you have lockers?” “No. We have storage in our desks in the homerooms.” “Can we go to see Ashlyn’s homeroom?” Brook stared at me. “Look you, I’m assigned to do this stupid tour with you. I can’t do the tour if you keep interrupting.” “How many tours have you done so far?” Brook peered at me. “Eleven.” “Aren’t you tired of doing them?” “That’s irrelevant. It’s good for my record.

” Right. “If you don’t do the tour this time, I won’t tell anyone.” Brook frowned. That line of thought obviously stumped her. I worked my iron while it was hot. “I’m here undercover investigating Ashlyn’s disappearance. If you help me, I’ll mention it to Gendun.” Brook puzzled it over. Come on, Brook. You know you want to.

“Fine,” she said. “But you’ll tell Master Gendun that I helped.” “Invaluable assistance,” I said. Brook nodded. “Come on. Ashlyn’s homeroom is on the second floor.” ASHLYN’S HOMEROOM was in the geography class. Maps hung on the walls: world, Americas, U.S., and the biggest map of all, the new magic-screwed-up map of Atlanta, complete with all the new additions and warped, dangerous neighborhoods.

A few people occupied the classroom, milling in little clumps. I took a second to look around and closed my eyes. Nine people in all, two girls to my right, three boys farther on, a girl sitting by herself by the window, two guys discussing something, and a blond kid sitting by himself at the back of the class. I opened my eyes. Missed the dark-haired boy in the corner. Oh well, at least I was getting better at it. Brook stopped by a wooden desk. It was nice, large and polished, the sealed wood stained the color of amber. Pretty. None of the places I ever studied at were this nice.

“This is her desk,” Brook said. I sat down into Ashlyn’s chair. The desk had one wide drawer running the entire length of it. I tried it gently. Locked. No big. I pulled a lockpick out of the leather bracelet on my left wrist and slid it into the lock. The blond kid from the back sauntered over and leaned on the desk. His magic was dark, intense indigo. Probably an elemental mage.

He had sharp features and blue eyes that said he was up to no good. My kind of people. “Hi. What are you doing?” “Go away, Barka,” Brook said. “I wasn’t talking to you.” The kid looked at me. “Whatcha doing?” “I’m dancing,” I told him. Ask a dumb question… “You’re breaking into Ashlyn’s desk.” “See, I knew you were smart and you’d figure it out.” I winked at him.

Barka made big eyes at Brook. “And what if I tell Walton you’re doing that? That would be a spot on your perfect record.” “Mind your own business,” Brook snapped. “He won’t,” I told her. “He wants to see what’s inside the desk.” Barka grinned. The lock clicked and the drawer slid open. Rows of apples filled it. Large Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, green Granny Smith and every color and shape in between, each with a tiny sticker announcing its name. Even a handful of red crab apples the size of large cherries, stuck between Cortland and Crimson Gold.

I had no idea so many varieties of apple even existed. None of them showed any signs of rotting either. They looked crisp and fresh. I concentrated. My sensate vision kicked in. The apples glowed with bright green. Now that was a first. A healthy hunter green usually meant a shapeshifter. Human magic came in various shades of blue. Animal magic was typically too weak to be picked up by any of the machines, but I saw it just fine—it was yellow.

Together blue and yellow made green. This particular green had too much yellow to belong to a regular shapeshifter. Most shapeshifters were infected with Lyc-V virus, which let them turn into animals. Sometimes it happened the other way and animals turned into humans. The humanweres were really rare, but I’ve met one, and the color wasn’t right for them either. Human-weres were a drab olive, but this, this was a vivid spring green. “What kind of magic did Ashlyn have?” Brook and Barka looked at each other. “I don’t know,” Barka said. “I never asked.” Whatever she was, she didn’t advertise it.

Totally understandable. Seeing the color of magic was an invaluable tool for law enforcement, for mages, basically for anyone who dealt with it, so much so that people actually made a magic machine, called an mscanner, to imitate it. My magic wasn’t just rare, it was exceptional. I was a hundred times more precise than any existing m-scanner. But in a fight, being a sensate didn’t do me any good at all. If I walked around telling everyone about it, sooner or later someone would try to use me and I had to use other means than my sensate ability to protect myself. It was easier to just keep my mouth shut. Ashlyn could be that kind of magic user, something rare but not useful in combat. Still didn’t explain her obsession with apples, though. Maybe she was using them to bribe her teachers.

But then her grades would be better. The shorter of the three girls to our left glared at me. Her magic, a solid indigo when I came in, now developed streaks of pale celery green. Normally the magic signature didn’t change. Ever. Except for Kate. Hello, clue. I pretended to look at the apples. “Did Ashlyn have any enemies?” Barka picked up a pen and rolled it between his fingers. “Not that I noticed.

She was quiet. A looker, but no personality.” Brook pushed her glasses up at him. “Pervert.” The girl took a step toward us. “What are you doing?”


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