Do You Believe in Magic?
When Cassie opened her eyes, she was on the floor. Finn hovered above her looking panicked. “Are you all right? What happened?”
Cassie put a hand to her head. “A path…” she murmured, still only half-awake.
“What are you talking about?”
Slowly, Cassie sat up. Her head was reeling, strange images still echoing in the back of her mind. “I think I was dreaming.”
“You were unconscious.” Finn glanced back up at the book, sitting innocently on its stand. “It looked like you were electrocuted.”
“Don’t be ridiculous; I’m fine. I just…I was…” Cassie rubbed her face with both hands. “I must have been hallucinating or something. How long was I unconscious?”
Finn stood up. “Only a few seconds.” She offered a hand and pulled Cassie to her feet.
Cassie brushed her clothes off. “Guess my Mom was right when she said it was dangerous.”
“The big question is how,” Finn said. She ran her hand along the length of the stand, looking for wires.
“Uh…I think we’re still stuck on what.” Cassie was looking down at the Book. Its cover, where before the gold script had only spelled gibberish, now bore the title “In Record of the Soul of Light.” Quietly she repeated the words aloud. They sounded almost holy.
“What?” Finn looked at the book too. “Nothing’s different,” she said. “You’re saying you can read it now?”
“I don’t know how,” Cassie said. “It just…it’s in English now.” Hesitantly, she reached out a hand and touched the cover with the tip of her finger. Nothing happened.
“Maybe it fried your brain,” Finn said. “Be careful.”
Cassie ran her hand over the leather, feeling the texture of the raised lettering, solid as if it had never changed. “Well it seems harmless now. Maybe it wasn’t the book.” Before when she touched it, she’d been overwhelmed with power, like a jolt of energy flowing straight into her heart. But now it was simply a book, its binding warm from the afternoon sun, pages crisp and written in English. Cassie lifted the cover and let it thunk against the stand.
Finn craned her head over Cassie’s shoulder to look at the first page. “All I see is more of that weird language.”
A block of text in the same flowing script was centered on the page. “I can read this too,” Cassie said. “It looks like a poem. Maybe it rhymes in the original language.
I am the light in the darkness
A beacon to see the way home
I am reprieve to the wanderer
I am order and law
Seek the aid of the bright ones
And bravely for you shall they fight
Flowing outward with hope through the stars
To preserve them forever in kind
As she finished the last line, a cold shiver ran through Cassie’s body. Her limbs filled with a tingling sensation, like a slow trickle of adrenaline. Cassie shuddered.
Finn glanced at her, but didn’t say anything about it. Instead she said, “I guess that was pretty, though I don’t really understand it. What do you think it has to do with anything?”
“Let’s see.” Cassie turned the page. The edges of the paper were decorated with stars and swirling designs. The first letter was dropped and pasted on in gold leaf. Cassie touched it delicately. “In the beginning there was nothing. And then, everything. In Origin, the universe swelled and grew, and soon it was filled with life. However, the Creation was not complete. Without sealing, the energy would not connect to the people, and their lives would remain unbalanced. But each man is given his choice. And thus were created the Three...” Cassie looked up. “What the hell is this?”
“Dunno. Sounds like some kind of new-age bible.”
Cassie scanned the open pages. “It goes on and on about magic and the Designators, and the Progression of Creation. This is science fiction stuff.”
“Well I guess it goes along with this potions lab,” Finn gestured to the other side of the room. “Your grandmother must have really believed in all this.”
“Looks like.” Cassie shook her head. “I knew she loved fairy tales, but I never realized she took it this far. The question is, why would Morris want me to find all this stuff? If she left me a spellbook, then what exactly is the truth I’m supposed to be finding?”
Finn ran her hand down the edge of the Book. “Maybe it depends on what you mean by truth.” She looked up at Cassie. “Do you believe in magic?”
“I…I don’t…” Cassie had listened to Gran’s stories all her life. Faeries and dragons and magical kings, and none of it had ever been real. But those visions? They were real. As real as if she’d lived them. Then there was that rush of power from the Book, the shiver when she’d read from it, words translating themselves, doors opening on their own…Cassie reached up and pulled her necklace from under her shirt, holding it tightly. She’d seen now what magic might do—armies of men throwing the power of the gods at each other. Gran had believed. Could those visions really come true?
Cassie shook the thoughts from her head and slammed the Book shut. “It doesn’t matter if magic is real or not,” she said. “We came here looking for the truth, and that’s what we need to focus on.” She picked up the Book. It was surprisingly light for its size; she cradled it awkwardly in the crook of her arm. “I say we take this sucker home, and confront my mom with it. We need to find out what Gran was doing, and what my mom is trying to prevent.”
“You think she’ll actually tell us?”
“I have no idea. But even if she doesn’t, we can always do some reading. There’s gotta be something in here.”
“And then some,” Finn agreed. “Come on, let’s get out of here. This place is starting to give me the creeps.”
Kenneth L’Athea sighed loudly as he sunk down in the driver’s seat of the rented pick-up truck, fiddling with the brim of his new baseball cap. He’d bought it mostly to hide his distinctive hair, not bothering to notice which American sports team was emblazoned across it in plastic embroidery. The same went for the black t-shirt and dark jeans he’d donned for the occasion—conventional, blending-in clothes. He even wore itchy and uncomfortable contacts to cover up his Athean eyes. So much trouble so that no one would be able to point to him and say, “that man doesn’t belong.” And all of it gone to waste.
Sitting beside Kenneth in the passenger seat, Alton Morris was the most conspicuous man ever to go on a stakeout. Not only was he sitting on his knees on the seat, half leaning out of the open window with a pair of binoculars, but he was dressed like a Persian rug salesman in a bright purple tracksuit.
“You do know,” Kenneth said in a dry voice, “that when they finally come out of the house they are going to immediately see you doing that.”
Morris rounded on him. “You said if we parked across the street they wouldn’t see us.”
“Yes, if we sit inconspicuously,” Kenneth said. “They’ll still notice you if you make a big production about spying on them.”
Morris huffed dramatically, unfolding his legs and sliding back into the seat, the seatbelt somehow still strapped around him. “We are not spying. We’re just making sure that Cassady is following my plan. It’s for her own protection.”
“Sure it is,” Kenneth muttered under his breath. He looked up at the Brewell mansion looming over Morris’ shoulder. The attic light was off. Audrey’s granddaughter and her friend would be coming out any minute now. “Look, I told you when I agreed to come with you, you have to defer to me when it comes to stuff like this. I know more about the culture here than you do.”
“That’s only because some of us don’t have the leisure time to sit around and read travel books all day,” Morris said.
Kenneth chose to ignore that. He put a hand on Morris’ shoulder, keeping him in his seat as the front door opened and the two girls emerged. When Cassie flicked on the porch light he saw the large, leather-bound tome sitting plainly in her arms. “Ok, she’s got it,” he said. “That was simple.”
“She is the rightful guardian,” Morris said solemnly. “And the Book will lead her back to her rightful place among our people.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Kenneth said. “Though I can’t believe she’s just holding it out in the open like that. She must have no idea how important the thing is.”
Morris shook his head. “She won’t have had time to glean much from it. The text is dense. We’ll wait a few days for her to get acquainted with the Book before we contact her again.”
“If nothing goes wrong.” Kenneth leaned forward to squint through the windshield. “Is that really her? She looks so…young. Way too innocent to be OH SHIT!” With sudden fervor Kenneth threw himself over Morris, causing the man to grunt and exclaim something rude in Renalian. Kenneth ignored this as he stretched his arm out through the window as far as he could, praying that he would make it in time…
Both girls screamed as light flared around them. Cassie dropped the Book and threw her hands over her head. When the arrow hit the shield it not only caused the dome to flare angrily, but a high pitched peal, like the ringing of a giant bell, sounded into the night, echoing off of the houses in the distance.
Morris stopped his protests against Kenneth’s presence in his lap. “What was that? How could they have gotten to her this quickly?”
With some effort Kenneth pushed himself back upright and fumbled for the door handle. “They must have found out where the Book was. Please the gods they don’t know it’s her yet.” He practically fell out of the truck and started running as soon as he got his feet under him.
Cassie threw herself to the ground like a bomb was going off above her. Finn, to her credit, let loose a particularly volatile string of swearing. However, whatever had just exploded around them faded as quickly as it had appeared, leaving them cowering on the front walk totally unharmed. With buzzing ears, Cassie lifted her head and looked around the yard. It was as dark, deserted, and utterly un-dangerous as it had been just a few moments ago. As her eyes readjusted, Cassie saw something lying on the ground a few feet away. She got to her feet and took a few hesitant steps forward. There in the grass was a barbed arrow, its shaft inlaid with ink so dark it stood out even in the night, repelling what little light there was.
“Who are you?” Finn demanded beside her. Cassie whirled to find a young man skidding to a stop a few feet away.
As he straightened, Cassie could see he was quite tall, and not much older than herself—perhaps nineteen or twenty. He looked strangely familiar, though Cassie couldn’t place him. He wore a bright red and blue patriots hat pulled so low that it bent the tops of his ears outward. Because of that, Cassie couldn’t quite see his eyes, but his large aquiline nose still stood out on his face, as did his slightly pointed jaw. His left arm had a long white scar on it that snaked from his wrist all the way across his bicep.
He ignored Finn’s question. “Are you two all right?” He looked wildly around as if he expected attackers to leap out of the trees.
Cassie reached out her hand. The barrier that had flashed around them before was still there, solid as a wall. Where her fingers brushed it, purple light appeared, sparking along the invisible surface, but cool to the touch. Cassie let her hand fall again and looked up at the tall boy. “Did you do this?”
“I almost didn’t make it.” He paced around the circumference of the shield, looking out in the direction the arrow had come from. “You’re lucky I was close by or you might have been in real danger.”
“But who are you?” Finn insisted. “Why were you close by and what…what is…what happened?”
He didn’t answer as he stooped to examine the arrow on the ground. He waved his hand over it and the dark light of the symbols on the shaft grew, if possible, even darker, turning the grass around the arrow grey in comparison. “Dogs,” he growled under his breath, looking back up at the darkness outside the illumination of the porch lights. He stood and turned toward the street. He started to shout but suddenly laughed instead.
Cassie followed his line of sight to a truck parked on the other side of the street. “Is that…Morris?”
Morris clearly could not figure out the workings of the door handle. Or the seatbelt apparently. With the seatbelt still fastened over his chest, he was attempting to slither out of the truck’s open window. His bright purple windbreaker twisting around him, he looked a bit like a clown. Cassie couldn’t help but laugh as well.
The tall man sighed. “Guess I should go untangle him. Will you two be all right?”
“We’re in a bubble, what could happen to us?” Finn said.
“Right.” He looked a bit sheepish. “Be right back.” And he trotted off as quickly as he could.
“I don’t know anything anymore,” Finn announced.
Cassie knelt down and picked up the book, running a hand over the cover to make sure it hadn’t been damaged when she’d dropped it. It was unscathed, but her hands were shaking. She hugged the thick volume to her chest. “Well it looks like we settled that ‘does magic exist’ debate. Unless I’m dreaming again. Do you think he’ll let us out of here?”
“I don’t know,” Finn said. “If he’s with that Morris character, then they probably came here to make sure you showed up. But that still doesn’t explain aack—” Finn cut herself off with a yelp.
A dark figure emerged from around the corner of the house. Movement in the shadows hinted at others, but only one man stepped into the light surrounding them near the front steps. His cruel smile seemed to obscure his other features. All Cassie could tell was that he was dressed in black, with the hood of a cape pulled up over his head. It didn’t lie across his scalp just right, as if there were something else underneath it. It looked almost like horns.
“What now?” Cassie tried to sound confident, but she took a wary step back nonetheless.
“I didn’t believe him when he said it,” the man said, still with that absurd grin on his face, “but my men never lie. I was going to kill him for failing to kill you, but I suppose I can understand his mistake.” His dark eyes flicked toward the truck where Morris had become so tangled that it seemed the seatbelt was the only thing keeping him from tumbling to the asphalt. The tall boy was trying to shove him back into the car. “The infamous Athean heir.” The man shook his head. “Should have known he’d come running to your side the second the old witch bit it.”
When he turned his gaze full on her, Cassie felt cold inside. With a quaver in her voice she said, “Who are you? Why are you here?”
The man let out one great “ha”. “If you don’t even know that, then you certainly aren’t going to be able to stop me, are you? So why don’t you be a good girl and hand over the Book? You can pass it right through, this magic won’t affect a thing like that.”
“And why on Earth would I do that?”
“On the off chance you don’t believe that thing is worth dying for,” he said with a shrug. “Do you?”
Cassie looked down at the Book in her arms. It was a simple question. She knew, in that vague way one knows things one doesn’t actually understand, that there were things in the world worth dying for. But a book? Why did she feel, more strongly than she’d ever felt anything in her life, that this Book was one of those things?
Finn answered for her. “If you’re willing to kill for it, then it must be worth something. If movies and video games have taught me anything, when men like you get a hold of magical objects like this, it’s never a good thing.”
The man laughed. Guffawed really. It sent shivers up Cassie’s spine. “Awfully astute for a blind one,” he said as if it were a grand complement. Then suddenly his head shot up and he leaped to one side. Cassie didn’t see what had happened but she certainly felt something rushing by her. Was it another arrow? Or perhaps something even less understandable? Either way, she was immensely relieved to see Morris and the young man striding toward them. Morris had one hand raised straight in front of him, his purple jacket still twisted around his chest.
“Your master still afraid to show his face in the open, Dog?” the tall boy shouted. He and Morris drew even with Cassie and Finn’s bubble and halted. Morris walked around the invisible perimeter to stand on the side nearer the house, like an honor guard. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” the tall boy went on. “If I were that ugly, I’d hide at home too.”
The Dog laughed again, less fully this time. “If my master had to come on an errand like this himself, he wouldn’t be very good at his job then, would he? I’ve been sent here to fetch, just like you.”
The tall boy took a step forward but Morris shouted, “Kenneth, don’t. One shouldn’t dance with a lowlife like this.” He leaned forward and spit at the ground at the Dog’s feet.
“Big words for someone who can’t seem to work a simple car door,” the Dog shot back. He turned to Cassie. “Come girl, do you honestly want to throw your lot in with these fools? Get out while you still can. Hand me the Book.”
The tall boy, Kenneth, walked hastily forward through the barrier, positioning himself in front of Cassie. “You don’t get to talk to her.” He snarled.
Morris drew closer too, toward Finn. “Leave now, with whatever men you have, and we’ll spare your lives.”
The Dog raised his hand. “You seem confused as to who has the upper hand here.” Two men walked out of the shadows, stopping on either side of him. Cassie glanced over her shoulder where three more men arranged themselves a few feet apart, effectively surrounding her and the others. When she turned back around, the Dog’s grin was even wider. “Last chance to give me the Book and walk away,” he said.
Cassie looked down, startled. While her hands had stopped shaking, now the Book itself seemed to be vibrating in her hold. As she concentrated on it, the pages seemed to glow. Not too bright, but enough to shimmer hazily against her skin. Somewhere on the fringes of her consciousness, she could hear what sounded like music. She closed her eyes and the notes grew stronger, began to form a thin melody.
Before Cassie could make any sense of the tune however, she was jolted back to the present. Literally. The ground had shaken once, violently, and cracks were starting to form along the circle that protected them. Finn fell to her knees. “See?” the Dog said, no doubt continuing the conversation Cassie hadn’t listened to.
Kenneth turned toward Cassie, Finn, and Morris. “Brace yourselves,” was all he said.
The next thing she knew, Cassie was falling, her stomach jerking into her throat. Finn screamed. The purple light that marked Kenneth’s barrier shone solid all around them, a perfect sphere lifting from the ground. All four of them hit the bottom of it and slid towards each other. Cassie tripped over Finn and fell soundly on top of her. She just barely managed to keep her hands around the Book.
When the purple light disappeared again, it was Cassie who screamed. They were floating at least ten feet in the air, without anything even seemingly solid to support them. Cassie and Finn pulled themselves apart, kneeling in the bowl of the shield. Cassie marveled at the bits of purple light still flaring where they physically touched the magic.
“Just going to hide in your shell then?” the Dog shouted up at them.
“Seems to be working pretty well,” Kenneth called back.
“Good, keep taunting them, that’ll help.” Morris’s grumble was only loud enough for the four of them to hear.
“Well I need to buy us some time to figure out—” Kenneth was cut off as he was thrown forward onto his stomach. Cassie slammed into Finn again and Morris hit the side of the barrier. Fire flared at the bottom of the shield, bright orange flames licking at the magic, searching for a weak spot. The man to the Dog’s right raised his hands again, more fire dancing between his fingers.
“Let’s see how long your endurance lasts, boy!” the Dog yelled.
“So much for buying time,” Morris said. “What’s the plan?”
Kenneth laid his hands flat against the side of the barrier and the purple light flashed again. He must have strengthened it because the second fireball did not shake their perch as much as the first. “I can hold on for a while, but he’s right, it won’t last forever. I say we get out of here.”
“To where?” Morris demanded.
“The only place they can’t follow,” was Kenneth’s answer.
“They’ll never make that,” Morris argued, waving a hand to indicate Cassie and Finn. “It’ll have to be closer.”
“They’d be right on our tail if we go anywhere else. We’ll have to pool our powers and hope it works.”
“If you two are proposing to do magic just to “hope it works’ I’m going to have to ask for a different plan,” Finn said as they were buffeted by another bout of flame. The bottom of the barrier was growing uncomfortably warm.
“She’s right, we shouldn’t attempt a jump like that with first-timers,” Morris said.
“I can use the Book.” Even Cassie was surprised at herself for saying it. All three of the others turned to stare at her. “It’s…singing to me. I think I can use its power.”
“A song.” Kenneth looked to Morris. “Do you think it’s the right one?”
Morris considered for a moment before saying with resolve, “I trust the Book.” Another fireball battered them. The Dog seemed to be barking orders at his men, but Cassie couldn’t quite make them out. Morris put his hand on Finn’s shoulder and instructed her to do the same to Cassie.
Kenneth, keeping one hand on the barrier reached out and grabbed Cassie’s arm. “Sing,” he instructed. “Morris and I will add what we can. Just make sure to call on the Tome.”
Cassie nodded and closed her eyes. More shouting came from below and the floor of their floating sphere was warmer than ever. Finn’s hand on her shoulder was shaking, while Kenneth’s grip on her arm was noticeably weak. Cassie tried to pick out the thread of melody in her mind. She hummed the first few notes until she felt confident in the rise and fall of it, and then softly added words. It was as if she was making them up on the spot, or maybe she had known them all along. The song came to her lips unbidden, though she understood little of what she said. Morris, his voice a surprisingly sweet alto, joined in, matching his notes with hers. Warmth flowed from one person to the other and especially from the Book in Cassie’s arms. Finally she stopped, the song ending itself on a high note. Cassie opened her eyes just in time for the world to go black.