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Wand: A Fantasy of Witches, Wizards, and Wands

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In his first year at the Adirondack Institute of Magic, Nick is recruited to help create the world's first wand. Without this ultimate warlock's weapon, they will lose the battle against the fantastic and dangerous mythics.

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

Chapter One

Nick Hammond cast a spell over a pair of cuties sitting across the food court.

A cute blond smiled. She was totally crushing on him already. The ginger wasn’t far behind; another minute under his enchantment and she’d probably come begging Nick for a date.

But he would never find out. Before he could finish weaving his spell, the old Rule of Magic sprung unbidden before Nick’s eyes: Don’t invoke what you can’t banish.

It was not the first time he’d Seen it. The Rule had an annoying habit of cropping up at the worst possible moments (like when he was laying the Hammond charm on thick). It seemed to act like a psychic warning sign flashing before his third eye.

Looking around for signs, he spotted his folks cooling their heels in line at the Pizza Shack. They’d insisted on feeding him before shipping him off to the Adirondack Institute of Magic; Nick could not interpret this as dangerous—unless the food was poisoned. Further scanning of the mall failed to provide evidence of danger, until he spotted a man in a white suit lurking behind an Apple kiosk, staring at him with all the subtly of a third-rate spy.

Caught in the crosshairs of Nick’s penetrating hazel gaze, the man gave up his charade and sauntered over to the journeyman wizard’s table, passing the cuties on his way.

“Good morning,” he said.

Nick peered around the man, saw that his spell over the girls had fizzled. He sighed, gazed up into the man’s plastic features. “I know you. You’re that geneticist guy at Genucorp, right?”

“That’s right,” he beamed. But before the man could commence with whatever spiel he had simmering in his mind, Nick interrupted.

“Didn’t my mom get a restraining order against you?”

The geneticist waved this aside as though he was merely declining a pickle, and then looked over at the Pizza Shack. The Hammond’s were still in line, shuffling ever closer to the cashier. He dropped into the seat beside Nick, unbuttoning his suit coat on the way. The getup did not have a single wrinkle or smudge of any kind; every crease was factory perfect. “We don’t have much time. You’re parents don’t want me telling you this, but I created you—”

“I know,” Nick shifted in his seat to steal another peak at the girls over the man’s shoulder. “They told me that, like eighth-thousand years ago. They paid up. Want me to thank you, too?”

Like magic, a business card materialized in the geneticists’ hand. He slid it across the table. “Take this. Keep it from your parents. If you ever get tired of everyone at Hogwarts lying to you, and you want answers, come see me at that address. I think we might be able to help each other out.” Here the man leaned in close, because he’d just caught the eye of Mrs. Hammond, and she was storming their way. “I can tell you things.”

How did this buffer know about the magic school in the Adirondacks? “Wait, what things?”

Lips peeled away, revealing a set of pearly whites. The geneticist said, “Well, for one, I may have created you in a lab . . . but I did not engineer your gifts, and you did not inherit them from your parents either. Someone else made you into a wizard.” He stood and backed away so quickly that his chair crashed to the floor.

“What did we tell you?” Mrs. Hammond rushed toward the geneticist, her purse flying behind like a contrail. She whipped out her cell and ordered it to summon the police.

“I was just asking the boy a few questions,” the geneticist held his hands up, palms out.

Mrs. Hammond was not having it. “Get away from our son! You have no rights to him.”

Mr. Hammond meanwhile had rounded the table and grabbed hold of the geneticist. Without a word, he started dragging the man out of the food court as Nick looked on, completely discombobulated. Out in the atrium Mr. Hammond shoved the geneticist up against a column and loomed, his mouth close enough to bite the other man’s right ear off.

Of course, Nick couldn’t hear them over the prattle of the shocked gawkers (many of whom were Tubing viral-worthy clips of the unfolding scene), but it was clear his father was giving the geneticist a piece of his mind. It looked to be a jagged, thorny piece, too.

Ten minutes later Nick was marching toward Borders on the second story of the mall, a cat carrier in one hand, his mother ahead of him leading the charge. She’d whisked him away before the cops had arrived, leaving Mr. Hammond to explain the sticky situation downstairs.

“Mom?” Nick asked, pausing in his stride outside the glass doors. “Why do you and dad hate that guy so much? I know he looks like Mr. Peanut in that stupid suit, but without him you’d still be cursed, and you wouldn’t have been able to have me, right?”

Mrs. Hammond cringed, as she always did whenever anyone referenced ‘that blasted voodoo curse.’ She muttered the dreaded ‘It’s grown up stuff’ line before breezing into Borders.

It was Nick’s turn to cringe—and seethe and boil and rage. Parents never answer questions.

Entering the store a few ticks later (after he’d calmed down a smidge), Nick found his mom standing in the back corner under a shiny red placard declaring READING IS MAGICAL, chatting it up with a man sporting one of those mangy soup strainers on his face, lingering strands of chestnut losing a battle with the salt and pepper curls. The man seemed to take up even more space than his bulky frame had any right to, almost as if his mere presence was diminishing everything around it by proximity. A Borders personnel tag was pinned to the man’s jeans vest.

Nick’s shoulders drooped. He shuffled over to the odd couple, planting his feet beside his mother’s before sending his gaze up into Soup Strainer dude’s eyes.

“Ah, and here we are,” the man’s voice rumbled out of his mouth, sending vibrations through Nick’s chest. “This must be Nicholas. We’re all very excited you’re finally joining us.”

On first sighting the man, Nick had decided he wouldn’t like him. But now, boring into Soup Strainer dude’s dark peepers, he sensed his carefully crafted shield of teenage angst begin to crumble and fall away. A charm, perhaps? He lowered the small carrier holding his tomcat Severus, and shook the man’s calloused mitt, which swallowed his own. “It’s just Nick.”

“Honey,” Mrs. Hammond said, “this is Agabus Duchaine. He has agreed to show you around the shops for me while I get some things for home. He’s going to be teaching at the Institute this year. You are very lucky. When I was a girl, his picture was hanging in just about every young witch’s locker.” Here she patted the vest covering Duchaine’s beefy chest. “I had such a crush on him, but of course he was always off on some dangerous mission with the other warlocks, hunting some backwoods sorcerer or overzealous dabbler—”

“Lisa!” Duchaine hissed, renovating his tone and stance from calm to menacing in a blink.

Mrs. Hammond pressed a hand over her loose lips. “Oops, sorry.”

Duchaine finished a quick scan of the store. The grin reappeared. “No worries. No one heard you.” Withdrawing a tarnished old pocket watch, the man inhaled, making a sound like a choking snake. “Almost ten o’clock. We better get down the chute before they close it up at the bottom. Old Marley wouldn’t make exception for the Grand Vizier himself,” Duchaine cracked, and then belted a deep laugh at his own joke.

While the man was speaking, Nick eyed his chest. Dangling on a silver chain, the jewelry, clearly an amulet, was about the size of one of dads old half dollars, and looked to be made of lapis lazuli, an angry dark blue gemstone. Someone, most likely Duchaine himself, had carved sigils into the gem; to the buffer it would appear as a sort of rounded crossword puzzle. To Nick and any other practitioner of the Arts, it was a cleverly disguised hexagram used for protection against possessing spirits.

“Excuse me, do you know where the vampire books are?” a tween girl asked Duchaine, appearing out of the stacks and cutting into Nick’s musing.

The warlock sighed and waved vaguely. “Most of that twaddle is over in aisle seven, under Paranormal Romance.” Once the tween was gone, Duchaine muttered, “Buffers and their vamps. I just don’t get it.”

After making sure no one was watching, he shoved on the wall beneath the READING IS MAGICAL sign. A six-foot by three-foot section opened up into darkness. The man shoved Nick inside. Then, with a delicacy bordering on the obscene and which made Nick want to gag, he proffered his hand and led Mrs. Hammond in after Nick.

Duchaine managed to duck and squeeze his massive frame into the booth after them, and shut the wall/door. As soon as it was closed tight, a light flicked on overhead, revealing a silvery slide at their feet, the bottom stretching out and down beyond sight.

“Age before beauty,” Duchaine said, shifting around Mrs. Hammond to settle before the slide. In the process he stepped on Nick’s cross trainers. No apology. He didn’t seem to notice—even when Nick yelped in pain. After plopping down, the warlock looked back up at Mrs. Hammond, sporting a hairy grin. “No worries, I’ll catch you if you go too fast.” With that he shoved off, propelling his bulk down the slide.

Alone with his mother and Severus, Nick said, “Well that was disgusting. Good thing dad wasn’t here to catch you flirting with that Hagrid wannabe. He’d flip a switch. Seriously mom, what do you see in that bearded wonder anyway?”

“Oh, he’s just an old crush,” Mrs. Hammond explained. “No harm done.”

Nick said, “How did that geneticist find out about the wizarding community?”

Three or four different expressions flitted across Mrs. Hammond’s face before she settled on a particularly nasty scowl. She then nestled down at the edge of the slide and, back to Nick, said “We’ll talk about it later.”

Nick growled as he watched his mother slide away. He knew all too well what adults really mean when they say ‘We’ll talk about it later.’

“Okay Severus, you’re next. Don’t be a scaredy cat now.”

The tomcat meowed a sarcastic retort but did not hiss when Nick pushed his carrier down the slide. Following him, he tensed up for the journey down. A silent thrill filled Nick, surging up from his stomach as he descended; he was finally about to join the magical community. Darkness—alleviated only by sporadic rays of light filtering in through vents—retreated as he approached the bottom.

Like a manufactured sunrise, the small underground wizard shopping center unveiled itself.

The hewn rock ceiling loomed twenty feet up, jagged with tool marks. Gaslights sent dancing shadows over everything; raw halite and gobstones glittered under its watchful eye.

Nick’s mom was waiting for him at the foot of the slide. She handed him a wad of cash. “I’ll hang on to Severus while you shop. I just need to check out Wicca, Candles, and Beyond. Your father wanted me to pick up some altar candles.”

Nick blinked. Since when does Mom do anything cool for me?

And then it hit him: all his recent questions must’ve made her anxious to distance herself. Fine, Nick thought, I didn’t really want you tagging along anyway, Mom.

Duchaine gestured wide, taking in the various shops and the street congested with novice, apprentice, and journeyman witches and wizards. “Welcome to Border City.”

“I thought it was called Border Sidhe?” pronouncing it ‘shee’ and pocketing the money.

Duchaine led him away from Mrs. Hammond and the slide, out onto the cobblestone street. “That’s its official name, yes,” the big man said, careful to step over a crack in the lane that was teaming with ants. “But over time so many kids pronounced Sidhe city instead of shee that it caught on. Here’s your first stop.” He pulled up short before an ancient wooden doorway. The few remaining chips of peeling paint were so faded that you couldn’t say what color it had once been, and the web of cracks in the trim made it seem a miracle the board didn’t just shiver out toothpicks as patrons passed by.

Duchaine drew a pack of Spearmint gum from his jeans front pocket, unwrapped a stick and deposited it past the beard into his mouth. “Hopman’s Herbs and Gems should take care of your ingredients list. But whatever you do,” he leaned down and chewed in Nick’s ear “don’t eat any free samples. You won’t leave the toilet for a week. Trust me.”

Nick nodded. “Thanks for the heads up.”

As he entered the ancient shop, Nick felt a slight psychic resistance, as if he’d run into a sheet of cellophane, but the sensation soon passed, leaving him with a petty residual headache. A ward, he mused, wondering why they’d set up the magical barriers down here. What were they trying to keep out?

Nick coughed. The place reeked of dried spices, cut flowers.

Trying not to inhale too deeply, he set about scanning the dozens of old-school wooden barrels in search of the ingredients on his list. It took him fifteen minutes to locate and gather everything, bumping into young adepts in the busy shop. By the time he’d found the last one, mugwort—used for heightening awareness during divination—Nick was coughing up a lung. With tears in his eyes he grabbed one of the five-ounce glass vials nestled on a shelf above the bins, and plunged it into the barrel of ground herb. Unlike with all the other herbs and essences he’d crammed and packed into vials, Nick didn’t bother bogarting extra mugwort. Instead he swiftly scooped up a few ounces and dashed over to the counter to pay for his items.

Three intolerable minutes later he bustled through customers on his way to the door. Vision blurring, he tried employing pranayama to steady his wheezing, but was familiar only with the theory of the yogic breathing techniques, not the practice, and so he continued coughing. On his way out he bumped into the doorway. It partially disintegrated. Duchaine watched with obvious concern as Nick dropped his paper bag of purchases and gasped for clean air. It took two whole minutes to get his breathing under control.

“Asthma?” Duchaine asked, spitting out his gum.

Nick shook his head. “No. I must be allergic to something in there.”

“I’d have gone in for you,” Duchaine said, “but me and Hopman, we had words awhile back, you see. Ugly words. Loads of ’em.”

“Yeah, thanks anyway,” Nick mumbled.

“What’s next on the list?”

After wiping his eyes one final time, Nick checked the list. “What the heck are regalia?”

A deep rumbling sound emanated from the big man’s gut, boiled up through his chest and throat, and burst from his mouth in the form of hearty—and slightly startling—laughter. “That’ll be your school uniform.” Duchaine proceeded down the cobblestone street, past the kids fighting over who got to prime the ancient water pump, laughing and pointing at a warped window, behind which stood a mannequin sporting truly revolting duds.

“Uniforms?” Nick roared, nearly initiating a second attack of the wheezes. He snatched up his bag of jars, stuffed it in his backpack and rushed to catch up with Duchaine. “Whoa, wait a second. No one said anything about any stupid school uniform.”

“No?” Duchaine looked genuinely shocked. “Your acceptance letter should’ve.”

“Well it didn’t.” Nick assured him. “I think I’d remember if it mentioned we had to wear . . . frigging . . . puffcake regalia.”

Duchaine scratched his noggin and chuckled again. “That would be Ussane’s idea of a joke. He’s head of Dorm Necromancy, and the one who sends out the letters. In your case he, ah, he might have a bit of a . . . never mind. No worries. Why don’t you let me hold your pack and you run along and get yourself fitted for a uniform?”

Just then an ancient-looking witch raced up to them, silver hair flying in all directions. “Oh thank the fates you’re here, Mister Duchaine.”

“What is it, Mistress Mary?”

The old witch reached up and gripped Duchaine’s beefy arms. “I just saw a glimmerling! It was in my shop. Oh, please hurry. You have to banish it before it wrecks my entire store!”

With placating gestures the warlock bent down and looked calmly into the old woman’s wild eyes. “I promise you, it was not a glimmerling.”

“No, but it was. It saw it!”

Duchaine smiled kindly. “It was probably heat waves from a vent. It is very difficult to see a glimmerling until it has animated a physical object. Anyway, they are confined to the Preserve.”

But the old woman would not be assuaged until Duchaine agreed to investigate, leaving Nick alone and wondering what the heck a glimmerling was. The sight of a gaggle of girls walking by sufficiently distracted him—for the moment. After favoring them with the old squint-and-grin, Nick proceeded toward the uniform store. A ramshackle row of red-painted wooden letters nailed to the pointless roof advertised it: Boris and Balkin’s Regal Regalia.

With a deep breath, and hesitating only for a moment, Nick plunged inside. Apprentice witches and wizards were grouped in two’s and three’s around the circular racks. The sight of a buxom girl twirling in her uniform for her girlfriend just outside the dressing room arrested Nick’s entrance. The young witch was clad in a snug gray sweater with the Institute’s insignia emblazoned over her heart, a skirt coming down to just above her kneecap, with knee socks below, permitting a peek of several titillating inches of flesh between the two. For a few ticks Nick gawked at the girls. It wasn’t until they caught sight of him and scowled that he remembered to breathe. A gust of wind escaped his mouth.

“I’ll be right with you, young master,” an elderly male voice called out.

A few minutes later Nick sighed outside the boys’ dressing room, old man Balkin sizing him up. It was a wonder the man could use the tape measure at all with those gnarled fingers. It looked like someone had broken his digits ages ago and the old man had never bothered to get them straightened out.

Balkin began wheedling information out of Nick, with the deft skill wielded only by old barbers and even older tailors. Nick, who usually employed a tight-lipped reserve when it came to his famous origin, did not appreciate the old man’s questions, wishing Balkin were daft rather than deft.

“They say you possess the ability to combine and master all the Branches of magic,” Balkin gushed, creaking to a standing position. “Is that true?”

Nick was opening his mouth to offer a white lie when he caught sight of a boy staring at him from the Big and Tall section. He was built like a linebacker in training. If he was a student at the Institute, no matter his age, he would be without a doubt the biggest in the school. Nick stared back. Tilted his head. Scrunched his eyes. Big boy did not shy from his gaze.

“Mister Balkin?” Nick said. “Do you know who that is?”

The old man lowered the tape measure from Nick’s shoulders to follow his gaze. On spotting Big Boy, Balkin sighed. “Oh. That’s Bruno Groothius. You want to keep your distance from that boy. Trouble follows him like flies on manure.”

Bruno toddled away. Nick didn’t see him again for ten minutes, until he had ordered his new uniform, accepted the temporary soft leather jerkin, and was heading for the door.

Big boy materialized in the doorway, blocking Nick’s path. There was no other exit, and Bruno was too big for Nick to squeeze by. Seeing no alternative, he took a deep breath to center his chi and to tune into his surroundings. “Hey,” he said. “I’m Nick Hammond—”

“I know who you are, prick.”

Nick thought: so, that’s how it’s going to be, eh? Fine.

Carefully positioning his feet at right angles—just in case his plan went south—Nick closed his eyes for two seconds before opening them and scanning the immediate vicinity, the first gesture to sense malicious intent, the second to make sure he wasn’t being duped by his own admittedly raw magical senses.

“You got a problem with me?” Nick asked, trying to keep the smile out of his voice.

Bruno swaggered up to him, looming huge and ugly. Like a monster out of a myth.

“Yeah, I got a problem. My dad says your magic is unnatural and that you shouldn’t be allowed to train with us real wizards. And my mom says you’re an abomination. Cooked up in some lab by buffer alchemists, like some weird Frankenstein.”

“They’re called geneticists, and I believe you mean Frankenstein’s monster,” Nick pointed out, not bothering to keep the mocking tone out of his voice. He was silent for a few ticks, stretching out the moment, reveling in amusement. “Your folks sound like a couple of morons.”

The moment Bruno’s eyes went supersized, Nick pounced.

He’d been trying to pinpoint the school bully since entering Border City. His father had warned him to expect a certain amount of bigotry due to the unique circumstances surrounding his creation, and had provided Nick with a wardstone ‘In case spit comes to spell’. Wardstones were designated Class Three Magical Paraphernalia, meaning they were legal but that the purchase of such items was highly regulated and restricted to practitioners 21 and over.

Nick had dug the acorn-sized black ball out of his pocket the moment Bruno appeared.

Whisking it up to his mouth, he whispered the incantation ‘Confusio incantationis,’ infusing it with his will and intent, just as his father had taught him, while also making sure his lips met the cool smooth surface of the compound. His saliva and the incantation both acted as catalysts for the combustion in an alchemical process he didn’t fully understand.

Bruno had been in the midst of a linebacker charge, but on sight of the wardstone he plowed to a halt and swiftly turned around, scrambling for the door. Before he could escape however, Nick whipped the stone at his broad sweat-stained back.

With the exploding sound of cannon fire the wardstone transmuted on contact into an expanding cloud of noxious black gas.

On the toss Nick had run backwards, and barely made it in time to minimum safe distance as the cloud spread inky black tendrils in a gangly twenty-five foot blanket of poison. As the wardstone used his transferred biomagnetic energy—or bioplasma—to fuel its transformation, a draining sensation, like instant fatigue, knocked the wind out of Nick, forcing him to his knees. He clutched a rack of robes he’d knocked over, and snuck a peek at his very first victim.

Visual proximity was down to three feet.

For the next several minutes Nick was forced to endure the deafening remonstrations of Boris and Balkin. While they blathered on, fuming, the cloud began to dissipate behind them. Eventually he was permitted to leave. He reached Bruno just as Duchaine and a couple of Mage officers were opening the door and dragging the beefcake out into the street.

Outside he faced Duchaine’s wrath.

“What were you thinking, using one of those things on a student?” the warlock bellowed as about fifty witches and wizards looked on. “Do you know you’ve broken the law, using a Class Three object against an unarmed wizard? It’s pretty much a given you’ll be expelled. Alchemical grenades are illegal for students to use!”

“Well, technically none of that matters,” Nick hazarded.

Duchaine practically morphed into a living ’What the!’ statue. “Excuse me?”

How to proceed? Nick wondered. With delicacy, he decided. “I didn’t buy the wardstone. I’m underage, so I can’t be prosecuted by the Coven Court for using it. And I haven’t been sorted into a dorm in the Institute yet, so technically I’m not even a student of the Institute.” Here he shrugged. “They can’t expel someone who isn’t a student.”

Duchaine took a few moments to process all these excuses. He then grabbed the boy by his right bicep and hauled him a few feet away from the scene. Nick started dragging his feet, forcing Duchaine to release him. “Let me go back to Bruno.”

“Why?” Duchaine grunted. “So you can finish the job? You want to place a curse on him now too?”

“I need to apologize.” When the warlock played the statue card, Nick continued, “I’ll be good the rest of the trip. I promise.”

“You’re just lucky I like your mother,” Duchaine finally said, hands on hips.

Though Nick didn’t agree, he was wise enough to bite his tongue on this point. Sometimes you just have to let adults think they’re right.

He ran back to Bruno. The Mage officers had lifted him to his feet with a couple of grunts and a few groans. They’d probably performed a bit of pranic healing on him and were now just a bit weaker for the effort. As Duchaine took the officers aside to try and secure Nick’s freedom, Nick stood before Bruno.

He offered his hand. “I’m sorry . . . about what I said about your parents, I mean, not that bit with the wardstone. You did kinda ask for that.”

Eyes still swimming, his head no doubt pounding from the aftereffects of the gas, Bruno merely gawked at Nick.

He dropped his hand. “I get it. You’re the school bully, so you feel the need to torment the new guy. How’s it feel to be a walking talking cliché?” Nick gazed straight into Bruno’s eyes, ignoring the crowd milling around them. “Nobody likes bullies.” He paused to let this sink in. “Did you ever consider thinking for yourself? You told me what your dad said. What your mom thinks about me. But what do you think? Do you even have an opinion?”

Bruno scowled.

Nick leaned in a smidgen closer, and then said, “Let me hang with you.” He smiled, displaying the finest teeth science could engineer. “Maybe we can help each other think up some new stuff, show our parents a thing or two. What do you say?”

Slowly, almost as if it was acting against his wishes, Bruno’s hand rose and grasped Nick’s. His grip was firm, straining the line between mild discomfort and pain, his mitt large and thick, yet surprisingly soft. “They say you’re smart. How’re you at symbols and sigils?”

Still grinning, Nick said, “I know that the Pythagorean Mysteries—or mathemagicks—linked all their teachings to geometrical symbols, the most important and essential to defensive magic being the Pentagram. I can write the Enochian alphabet from A-a through T-h—”

Bruno held up a hand. “Okay. Shut up.” He scrutinized Nick, who thought the expression made him look constipated. “Every year I fail Symbols and Sigils, and I have to take an extra two weeks of summer school.”

This time Nick held up a hand. “Sure, I’ll do your homework—if you teach me the ins and outs of the Institute. And, you’ll owe me a favor. One day I’ll ask you to do something and it might not make sense, and it’ll probably be risky, but you’ll owe me, so you’ll do it.”

One final shake on it and the boys dusted themselves off. This was dynamite. Nick’s Plan was already falling into place. Grimoirium here I come. He might not even need to try and figure out how to create personal wards now. And, despite still being drained from performing that bit of offensive magic, Nick was brimming with vitality.

The boys went their separate ways, Bruno back to his goons, who looked put out, and Nick back to Duchaine. They met up with Mrs. Hammond an hour later, after Nick had procured his mortar and pestle and various other magical paraphernalia at Bali Wick’s Practical Magic Shoppe, and purchased his school books at Spellman’s Spellbook Depository, wondering why all these shop owners seemed to have such perfectly apt names to name their stores after.

On their way to the exit, Nick looked up at Duchaine. “How old is Border City?”

The warlock shrugged. “A few centuries.”

Nick said “That’s amazing.”

Duchaine led them down a dark lane. A splintered and warped wooden sign displayed its unfortunate name: Accident Alley. “A few of the pilgrims who came over on the Santa Maria were wizards—Druids, actually. They set it all up. Course, when the developers came in to build the mall a few centuries later, the DME had to step in and mesmerize a few rankled buffers, steamroll over their complaints. But, that’s what they’re there for. This way, Lisa. You first.”

Duchaine held open an old metal door that was probably white once upon a time but was now the shade of ancient book pages. Mrs. Hammond walked through. Once she was inside, Duchaine closed the door and kept it shut for several ticks. A sound like a gurgling toilet seemed to trigger the warlock back into action. He opened the door for Nick. “In you go. No worries.”

Nick hesitated. The air from the other side smelled suspiciously like a men’s restroom.

“Better snap things along,” Duchaine urged. “We got a line forming behind us.”

On peering around the big man’s body, Nick observed that indeed, a line was forming, and its occupants all looked antsy. He took a deep breath and then, holding it, plunged past the grimy door; it slammed closed behind him, the shock of it forcing the breath from his lungs. Nick hoisted his overloaded backpack onto both shoulders, staggered a moment under its weight, and then stepped forward. He caught the soft glow of gobstone light illuminating a concrete stairway just in time to avoid tripping onto the first step.

As he took the stairs, obscenely worn on the right hand side from centuries of ascending foot traffic, Nick was pleased to find things getting brighter and brighter. Unfortunately, at the same time the air was becoming fouler. Reluctantly clutching the wooden railing—polished to a glass-smooth finish and dampened by the sweaty palms of climbers—he made his way up.

He stopped counting treads after the forty-third.

At the end of eternity he reached a door, and shoved.

He stumbled into a bathroom stall. Brilliant artificial light assaulted his eyes. Behind him the door automatically cranked closed, dragging with it a decidedly befouled and poor rendition of a toilet. Out of base curiosity Nick leaned over the rim—and discovered that the imitation throne came complete with an imitation clog. At least, he hoped it was a fake. Could be that some little novice wizard had stumbled in here and just couldn’t hold it any longer.

Still recoiling in disgust, Nick flinched as someone pounded on the metal toilet/door.

“Alright, keep your panties on.” He exited the stall, noting the laminated OUT OF SERVICE sign taped to the other side. The public restroom reeked of urine; faucets leaked, urinals hung stained and streaked with rust. “Charming.” On his trek through the bathroom, Nick marveled at the women’s hygiene vending machine bolted to the wall near the sinks.

Duchaine caught up with him, tumbling out of the inglorious Border City exit, and swiftly shuffled Nick out. As the warlock rushed him into the mall and on towards the exit, where his mother stood waiting with Severus, Nick glanced back at the restroom door. It was labeled Unisex, what he thought of as the ‘Other’ bathroom.

Once out into the brisk September air under nickel-colored clouds, Nick took his cat carrier from Mom and griped, “I can’t believe the exit to Border City is a transgender bathroom.”

“Disappointed?” Duchaine said with a grin, while his mom gave him The Look, probably in response to his biased comment. Duchaine dug a large folded pink sheet out of his back pocket. “Well, it is a bit un-magical, I suppose. Back when I was a student, before the mall went up, this area was a nice private bone yard. The exit was a mausoleum surrounded by elder trees. Course, that was before the mythics arrived.”

Before Nick could ask about mythics, a bus pulled up to the curb and Duchaine herded the dozens of milling teens inside. A couple minutes later he stepped down, checking off something on the pink sheet. The bus pulled away from the curb. A second identical bus rolled up. After saying goodbye to their folks, the rest of the students climbed aboard.

Nick dropped a handful of cat food into Severus’s cage and faced his mom, head down.

“You behave yourself, and listen to Mister Duchaine,” Mrs. Hammond ordered, crinkling her paper bag purchases. She leaned forward, as though stepping in for a hug. She did not hug him, but merely lowered her voice so the other parents standing around and the students watching from the bus wouldn’t overhear. “Agabus Duchaine is the one who’ll recruit you for the W.A.N.D. Project. Remember what your father and I told you. It is absolutely essential you do what he says, and find a way to help them solve the issues with their Project.”

Nick hefted his backpack, grabbed hold of the handle on Severus’s carrier, and shuffled over to the waiting bus. He hoisted himself up onto the first step and turned around.

Mom called out, “Don’t look so gloomy. You’re going to love the Institute!” She waited until he’d taken a window seat and the bus had coughed to a start, to add, almost as if she’d forgotten, “I love you!”

Duchaine finished checking off his student manifest and then plopped down into a seat near the driver. Taking in the packed bus, he bellowed over the chattering teens, “All right everyone, let’s try and keep it down. We’ve got a three hour trek ahead of us, and if you keep distracting Driver Jensen, he might just accidentally drive off a steep cliff and kill us all horribly.”

With that cheerful note ringing in his ears, Nick settled deep into his bench seat and stared vacantly out the window. The bus cruised along the streets of Philicity, urban bustle eventually morphing into rural vineyards, separated only by the occasional wheat field beside the New York State Thruway.

A couple hours later, Cooperstown shrinking behind them, the bus hit a deep pothole. The violence of hitting the divot at 65 woke Nick from another of his warning-angel daydreams. Before he was even fully awake, an ear-piercing shriek tore the memory of the dream from his mind and stirred the rest of the passengers. Everyone turned their heads, directing their eyes toward the source of the scream: a tiny girl with crimson ribbons in her braids, screeching at the back of the bus.

It wasn’t hard to see why.

There in the aisle beside her was a pile of spanking-new textbooks. Only they weren’t acting like proper books should act. They were twitching, moving, as if by magic. Nick had never heard of this flavor enchantment.

Within seconds the books had assembled themselves into a vaguely human shape. Smaller spell books comprised the limbs, hinged by their spines where joints would meet on a real person. Larger tomes—histories of magic books—made up the torso. A skinny brown hardcover floated horizontally where the head should be, its covers flapping like jaws. Now a cohesive body, the book-creature started wobbling down the aisle, smacking the heads of students too shocked to veer out of its way in time.

“It’s a glimmerling!” a few of the older students declared.

As it approached, Nick experienced a moment of pure elation, followed swiftly by a flash of dread, and then his skin flushed; all surefire indicators that he was in the presence of otherworldly magic. In this moment he had a flash of inspiration: could this thing be a mythic?

Driver Jensen jerked the bus to the right and slammed on the brakes. The creature lurched and stumbled, nearly falling apart. As the glimmerling reasserted its mystical control over the books, Duchaine shot to his feet up front and leapt off the bus. Forty seconds later he returned from the storage compartment, carrying a large metallic net. The tiny, close-cropped links shimmered and clinked. Like a foghorn, Duchaine’s voice boomed over the hubbub. “I need some rue!”

Nick thrust his hands into his pack, swiftly dug out the tin of rue leaves purchased in Hopman’s. Raising it aloft, he called out, “Right here!”

“Good man,” Duchaine wrestled with the net, getting into position. “We only have about sixty seconds before it figures out what we’re doing and decides to disanimate. Once it does that, we’re SOL. So take three leaves, burn ’em in your mortar, and when I say, cast the embers over the books. Understand?”

Nick nodded, already diving back into his pack in search of the mortar.

“When I tackle it,” Duchaine continued, looking up the aisle at the students scrambling away from the glimmerling “I want you four to grab the circlets at the edges of the net, and pull like your lives depend on it. Understand?”

Two boys and two girls recoiling near the mythic nodded as the creature spat a few crumpled up pages of spells. Duchaine crouched, offered a forced grin. “No worries, kids.” Five seconds later he yelled, “Do it, Nick!”

Having already placed the crumpled leaves in the mortar and lit them up real quick like, Nick scooted over, stood up in the aisle and cast the aromatic embers over the backside of the glimmerling’s book-body. The artificial mouth opened wide in a silent scream as the mythic swung around, slamming a little hand/tome into Nick’s left temple.

He twirled, and blackness crept over the edges of his vision.

While Nick smashed face-first into his bench, the glimmerling stumbled, losing cohesiveness. A couple of its book/limbs dropped to the floor. Despite the sleep-inducing spell Nick had just cast over it, the mythic was fighting tooth and nail to retain its current form; books sailed from its assemblage, smashing into students and crashing through windows. Duchaine bellowed the command and tackled the mythic.

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Further Recommendations

dpierce1710: I haven’t been able to put the book down.

eandnlynn: Enjoying the book just want to read more

Stephanie: Eine sehr gute gestaltwandlergeschichte, ich liebe solche Geschichten

Leslie Suttles: Sweet love story. Was slightly disappointing that the only sexual encounter prompted was the SA and nothing showing she was able to move past it

ina: Auch das 2. Buch ist fantastisch geschrieben

Tine75: Tolle spannende Geschichte🥰freu mich schon auf den 2ten Teil😍

ivasulovic: Loved it! It was a warm story, romantic and erotic, I loved the way story developed and the pace it took. I wish there was more to read.

Saloni Acharya: The whole series is so good. It’s like you can’t keep it down without reading it the whole way and then start the next one. Time flies and you don’t realise it’s late night and you have to go to sleep 😂. The characters are awesome with strong plots and love every couple. 😍🥰

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Beatriz Selene: I like the way the writer wrote the novel, it keeps you want to read more and more.

nzamanokuzola840: I loved every moment of it plz continue to be the great writer you. Thank you so much for taking us on this magical journey.

Mharms: It is nice that it is a serial of stories, book to book. The storyline is fast moving through history.

marilyn: It's awesome to hear about all these shifters finding their fated mates. I can't wait to hear more about them. I also want to hear about the cubs. And for Daryl to find his mate.

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