Stealth Magic 401 – Viola Grace

Doing push-ups in the living space with forty pounds of books on her back was not the way she wanted to be caught by Argus. “You are supposed to read them.” She kept going through her set, and muttered through clenched teeth, “I know, but I got bored with that, so I am trying osmosis.” Argus crouched next to her, and she caught a very distinct lungful of the warm scent that made her cuddle with him at every opportunity. “You know that your kitten is on top of the books?” She grunted and shoved upward again. “I suspected. I keep getting snickers in my brain, and I am definitely not laughing.” She finished her set and collapsed on the rug, sending tomes of magic and her kitten to the floor. “So, how is the physical training going?” She muttered against the wool fibres, “Fantastic. Give me five minutes, and I will be ready to head out with you.” He chuckled. “You look half dead.” “I will wake the other half, I promise.” She pushed herself upright and gave him a quick kiss. Before he could make a grab for her, she jumped to her feet and headed up the stairs.

A magic wave scrubbed her skin clean while she peeled off her exercise clothing and yanked on her date-night outfit. Her domestic magic course had not gone to waste. Jeans and a lace-up shirt were just the things, and as she headed back downstairs, her familiar jumped onto her shoulder with a determined bit of claw work. You are not leaving without me. She sighed. Eventually, I am going to want to be alone with Argus. Not until you have graduated. Spoilsport. They are your rules; I am just making sure that you adhere to them. She made a face and kept going as if she didn’t have a fluffy chaperone on her shoulder.

He was right, they were her rules. She had decided early on that no man was worth interrupting her education, but every now and then, when she and Argus were cuddled and watching a movie, she wanted to try to have it both ways. “Okay, ready.” Argus smiled brightly, his appreciation glowing in his eyes. “This is going to be the best undercover operation I have ever been on.” She grinned and linked her arm with his. “Shall we? I have never been to a carnival before.” Mr. E wriggled with excitement. He was up for it as well.

“Never?” Argus’s shock was apparent. “Nope. How many times do I have to tell you that I have been sheltered by choice?” She waved at Reegar on their way out. “I suppose it still seems peculiar to me. I apologize.” His smile said he wasn’t particularly contrite. They walked to his SUV, and he tucked her inside. She buckled up, and Mr. E jumped onto the dashboard. Argus got behind the wheel and buckled in.

“He really loves to pretend he is driving.” “Yes. It is one of his favourite parts of modern life.” He started the vehicle and started the long drive to the carnival outside Redbird City. “Thank you for doing this, by the way.” She smiled. “The XIA is compensating me for my time via the Death Keepers. My rise to Master is really paying off.” He grinned as they went around the on-ramp toward the city. “How did the last mage guide tour go?” Imara smiled and leaned back.

“I am getting the hang of it. The repositories and memorial gardens are lining up to get me in, and the mage guides are doing the same.” “Is that good?” “It is very lucrative. It means that I will be able to afford a decent set of furniture when I open my office.” “You charge for taking the kids to the repositories?” She wrinkled her nose. “No, the mage guides don’t pay. The repositories pay the Death Keepers guild for my services and the rise in recruitment. There are teens taking the initial exams to determine aptitude for being Death Keepers because of the tours. Apparently, I make the tours less creepy.” He laughed.

“So, how are the guys? Are they upset that they aren’t with us?” “Oh, they are going to be there, but it would look a little odd if we all arrived in the same vehicle.” Imara nodded. “Makes sense, so shall I be all giddy or fawn all over you?” “Just have fun. When you have fun, your face lights up, and everyone around you catches your joy.” She blushed so hard she felt like her shirt melted. Mr. E was asleep on the dash, and his snoring distracted them both. He had a mature man’s snort in a tiny kitten’s body. “Are Ivor and Lio going to be here?” “Eventually. They will be arriving the moment that the sunset is firmly entrenched.

” She smiled. “Right. Good. Sorry, but I am imagining them together on a carousel.” Argus chuckled. “No, not a carousel. They are far more inclined to ride a roller coaster.” “I am imagining Ivar eating a toffee apple.” Argus snorted, and they kept the conversation light while they drove the distance to the carnival. She paused and stared once.

“Is that really Ritual Space?” “It is. Adrea is a charming woman who will not suffer anyone to abuse her property. She runs the place with an iron grip, and it is refreshing to know that she will uphold the law.” Imara looked at the structure of the fencing that would keep any standard mage from climbing over it for a peek. “That is serious fencing.” “It is. Few folks are stupid enough to try and get in. The rabbits are always on guard.” She widened her eyes with delight. “Rabbits?” “Bunnies.

The story goes that folks brought them in for fertility rituals, but the bunnies escaped before they could be sacrificed. They fled through the grounds and have absorbed the magic of all the improperly executed spells.” “Wow. Do they have a leader?” He chuckled. “They actually do. Aside from Adrea, they answer to a bunny named Blueberry.” “Wow. Good to know the chain of command if I ever need to go there.” “As you are in mage training, you probably will, at one point or another.” She grinned and looked back over her shoulder at the main entrance.

“Maybe.” The rest of the ride was her holding his hand as they approached the carnival with its visible structures in the distance getting larger by the minute. Mr. E tucked himself behind her hair as they got in line at the entrance. She looked around her in amazement. Being raised in Sakenta City, she didn’t have much experience with magical races, but time with Argus, Lio, and Ivor was helping considerably. The smells of the carnival were amazing. Popcorn, sugar, deep-fried everything, and the chemical tang of toilets designed for crowds. Argus paid for their entry tickets as well as a giant wad of ride tickets. Imara linked her arm with his and nudged him with her hip.

“So, where are we off to first?” “Did you want to play some games? Go on some rides? Get a snack? I would recommend the last two in that order, by the way.” She chuckled. “I am expecting a proper meal after this.” “Of course. Now, do you want to try your hand at a ring toss, or maybe darts at a balloon?” She wrinkled her nose and checked her pocket, pulling out a few bills. “I think that the hoop toss is about my speed.” “Hoop toss it is.” She smiled politely at the young man at the booth and said, “I would like to try, please.” He was bored, and he handed her three rings in exchange for two dollars. She glanced up at the wall of toys and then down at the pegs.

She looked at the ring, noted its imperfections, held it lightly, and threw it at the bottles in the centre of the booth. It sailed over the red-banded bottles and snagged on the black. “Winner!” She frowned. “What about my other two tosses?” He raised his hands and stepped back. She focused again and struck the second and then the third black rings. Lights and sirens went off. The teen was screaming, “Winner!” Imara blinked rapidly and looked at the barker. “What can I pick?” He reached up and was going to give her the lion, but she held up her hand. “The black panther, please.” The youngster grabbed the medium-sized toy with fluffy fur and huge green eyes.

“Thank you.” She smiled brightly and turned to Argus. Her date was bent over, laughing. She linked her arm with his and dragged him over to the darts. “I have something for Mr. E, now something for you.” It was another round of precision and checking the weighted darts, but she walked away with a lovely fluffy griffin for Argus, and he was still strangling himself with amusement. “Those are fun. Now can we try a ride?” He looked at his griffin and grinned. “Yes, of course.

What do you want to do?” She cocked her head up at the swings and wrinkled her nose. “I can already fly, so why not one of those ones that goes around backward?” And so, they walked amongst the other folks out for a fun afternoon and drifted down toward the ride that let out a siren and then swirled backward on a loop. She looked around and then she got excited. “Can we go on that one instead?” Argus looked down at her with his golden eyes resigned. “Are you sure?” “Yes. Yes, I am.” And with her heroic and charming companion resigned, they got in line for the spinning teacups. All Imara remembered of the ride was laughter flashed with a feeling of being rather ill. She leaned against Argus and made a face. “That was a mistake.

” “Yes, but it is one that you needed to make for yourself. Are you up for the haunted house?” She looked at him with her eyes narrowed. “Does it mean we have to pass the food stall?” “No. It is in the other direction.” “Excellent. Nothing like some fun and festive ghosts.” They got to the line, and she leaned against Argus. He wrapped his arms around her and ran his hands up and down her spine like they were a normal couple. When they were fourth from the front of the line, he lifted her chin on his knuckles. “Feeling better?” “Yeah.

Who knew that those little cups would make me and Mr. E so queasy?” Her kitten was clinging to the side of the panther she had won, between it and her body. He was still looking a little woozy. “They are famous for it, but you need to rack up these experiences for yourself.” She smiled. “Yeah, thanks for that. At least this one just goes around and tries to scare us.” “Yes, but a lot of couples use it as an excuse to make out.” “Is that a suggestion?” Her cheeks got pink, she could feel it. He smiled slyly.

“Merely a commentary.” Imara could feel the pull of a spectre, but it was hard to pin it down. There was shielding in the way. “I am going to feel so protected with you next to me, surrounded by all that metal.” He kept an arm around her and gave her shoulder a squeeze to let her know he was catching on. The line moved forward, and the couple ahead of them got into the car. Imara watched the attendant lock them in with a snug-fitting bar, and she leaned her head against Argus. If he was snug, she should be able to get out if she needed to. Their car came around, and she kept the stuffed animal and Mr. E between her and the bar.

Argus also slid his arm in between them and flexed as the bar came down. The result was that as the car started moving, Imara had room to spare. She cuddled up to Argus and smiled into the darkness, “Now, let’s see what we can see.” The shadows flexed and twisted around them, and Imara looked around curiously. She had never been in a haunted house before. She looked forward to being frightened. Chapter Two Imara ignored the flopping synthetic mummies, the flashes of crimson light, and puffs of smoke-filled air. There was something in the ride that was adding to the creepy ambience, and she had only touched something similar once before. Her senses went on the alert, looking for the accumulation stone. When spectres began to lunge out at her, she knew she was close.

Argus was flinching, but he didn’t break character. As a spectre of an old woman lunged at her, she screamed and burrowed close to Argus, curling her legs up and onto the seat. She pressed her familiar and the panther onto Argus’s lap, and when they were under the mount for the stone, she lunged upward and captured it. The spectres ceased immediately, and she resumed her seat next to Argus. “What was that?” She whimpered. “Sorry I am so jumpy. The ghosts scared me.” Mr. E climbed into her lap, and she pulled the panther in to cover him as they went from dim light and loud noises to red sunset and thronging crowds. The mechanism unlatched the restraint, and Argus left the car, taking her hand as he kept his griffin under his other arm.

He kept his arm around her as they walked down the steps. The attendant looked at her with a frown. “Is she okay?” “It’s her first carnival, and we started with the teacups. She’s enjoying the novelty.” The attendant laughed; they headed back to the midway at a slow and steady pace. Argus asked casually, “What did you catch?” “A stone that shouldn’t exist.” “Really? That is fascinating.” “Are they following us?” “Oh, yes. We are going to make the exit before they catch up though, or we would if you fainted.” She smiled and stumbled.

He picked her up and carried her through the exit, with folks murmuring in their wake. Out in the lot, he kept walking toward his vehicle, but the multiple feet scraping on gravel proved that they had, indeed, been followed. “Put the lady down and hand over the stone.” Argus turned with her in his arms, and he looked at the humans who were demanding the stone. “I am sorry. I don’t know what you are referring to.” “Your lady friend grabbed a stone in the haunted house. We need it back. It is a vital component of our operation.” Imara looked them over and didn’t see a Death Keeper in the bunch.

She murmured to Argus, “They can’t carry it.” “Why not?” “Not Death Keepers. It isn’t a soul stone; it is an accumulation of dying spectres. By themselves they are powerless, but together, they are a deadly force.” The leader of the men, a surly fellow, shouted, “Enough. Hand over the stone.” Imara kept her hand clenched, and she shook her head. “No. It’s fucking dangerous.” Argus slid her to her feet, and Mr.

E crept to her shoulder. She stood with her hands at her sides. “I am not going to give up this stone. I don’t want your deaths on my hands.”

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