Prison spells were a relatively common form of magic. All three of the magic schools had a version, and they all shared the same absolute truth. Without being initiated into a school of magic, they could not be broken from the inside.

Allie had swept the house five times trying to find a weakness in the structure of the spell that would allow her to break free. She’d managed to break the mechanisms that sealed the labs, freeing Jack and allowing them access to Dell’s notes, but that was all.

“It’s been twenty minutes since Goldie called us and we’ve had no luck with escaping,” Don said. She was laying on the floor by the front door, having come to rest after attempting to drop kick the front door open. “We should check in on them. I’m more than a little worried.”

“I’m concerned as well,” Jack chimed in. He’d been looking through Dell’s notes with a deep level of focus after something caught his eye. “I would normally be confident in an elder mother fighting a single warlock in close quarters, but this man has gone beyond the norm in every way.”

Allie pulled her phone out. She’d need to call Malcolm soon as well. If Goldie had bad news, or worse, didn’t answer at all, it wouldn’t lead to a very bright future for this town.

Allie’s phone began to ring, taking the choice to call out of her hands. She braced herself and tapped talk.

“Hello?” Allie said.

“Miss Piper?” It was Goldie, but she sounded strange. She almost seemed like her mother.

“Goldie?” Allie asked.

“Yes. It is me. I am sorry. Dell took Lucian. He beat my mother, and he had found our safe room.” Goldie’s voice carried a strange weight now. The twinkle was gone. “Lucian surrendered himself to keep me from dying. I am sorry, but we could not protect him.”

“I see. Is your mom-” Allie stopped. The shift in Goldie’s personality and speech patterns all but screamed what Amber’s fate had been.

“She was forced to shed her vessel. I am reclaiming it for her.”

“That’s something at least.”

“I can feel her, you know? My mother? I can feel her will. I believe she is trailing the mage. I can follow her. Follow her to the mage.”

“Okay. Just hold on. We will be there as soon as we can. Stay safe, okay?”

“I will,” Goldie said. “Also, Miss Piper? Allie?” Goldie seemed to be struggling to maintain herself. “There is something inside that man. Something so wrong and impossible it made my mother and me sick when she drank from his soul. I’ll see what I can get from my mother’s body, but she’d vomited up whatever it was. I did not know we could do that.”

“Neither did I,” Allie murmured. “Talk to you soon.”

“Right.”

The called ended. Allie stared at the phone for a moment, lost as to what to say. She turned to Jack who was looking at the floor. His hands were clasped, and he was taking deep, measured breaths. He turned back to Dell’s notes and resumed his reading.

“Bad news?” Don said, also taking note of Jack’s reaction.

Allie nodded. “I’m gonna call Malcolm. He needs to get here faster.” Allie said as she began to dial.

The phone didn’t finish its first ring before it was answered. “Yes?” A grave voice on the other side said.

“Is this Malcolm? This is Allison Piper.”

“Hello, Agent Piper. What have you found?”

“We have confirmed our Mage is a man named Dellinore Wagner. We’ve stepped into a trap in his house and can’t escape it. We also know that the mage has taken the boy Lucian away from a Greater Lilith who was safeguarding him.”

“That is unfortunate,” Malcolm said with a heavy sigh. “Commander Nix was fairly clear about what we were to do if we lose ground on this. Lucky for you, we will be there in about forty minutes. Do you know where the mage is?”

“We do not, but our Lilith has a daughter on site who says her mother’s wisp is following the mage. If we can get out and get to her, we could track them like that.”

“Alright. Text me an address. We’ll be there soon.” And with that, the call ended.

“So, we’re waiting?” Don asked as Allie put her phone away.

“Sounds like. We might as well make the time productive. Let’s see what this guy has in his notes. We might find something that will give us an edge.”

“I think,” Jack said as he held up a stack of notes, “you will find the string of abnormality with this man has nothing in the way of a regular start. Nothing here will give you an edge to exploit. Everything here is impossible.”

Allie walked over and took the stack of notes from Jack. They were covered in musings and seemed more like the scribbles of a madman. The most prominent writing was a break down of a magical phrase. Even saying such things, or attempting too, was dangerous if one didn’t know the effects and proper pronunciations. The primary thing that stood out was the interweaving of celestial. The language of angels, demons, and pretty much anything that called itself a god.

“You can read that?” Allie asked.

“If I couldn’t at my age, it would be pretty sad,” Jack replied. He tapped the papers with the back of his hand. “This phrase is a modification of the one used to contain and control souls that nature mages commonly use. In and of itself, it’s a pretty safe, albeit challenging, phrase to use that draws on the user’s soul to power the magic.

“The thing about this phrase is that it uses Celestial to substitute the parts that would normally be changed in the case of a sacrifice. It’s a theoretical phrase that shouldn’t work. It’s as old as Byzantium. I’ve seen numerous insane mages trying to do this, and it never works.”

“What changed?” Don said as she rolled to her feet.

“That’s just it. Nothing changed. This guy is treading well-worn ground and somehow got a different result. When I founded the Children of Contrition and found that some of my clan would use nature mages to conduct some of their business, I found it necessary to study nature magic deeply. I’ve seen this too many times. This magic doesn’t work. You can’t mix nature magic with celestial magics, neither heavenly nor infernal.”

“So what does this tell you?” Allie asked, the hairs on her neck standing up.

“That this guy is breaking the rules of magic itself and that something more powerful than those rules is allowing that to happen.” Jack put the papers down. “I don’t know what we are fighting anymore, but I know it’s not just some mage.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Lucian felt some relief when he left the animal control building with Dell. Leaving meant Dell was going to keep his word not to hurt Goldie. Lucian hadn’t thought much beyond that. He knew that Dell wanted to kill him, but that was because that’s what he’d been told. He hadn’t just killed him though. Dell had walked Lucian to his truck and strapped him in with care. He’d asked if Lucian was comfortable. He was driving at a reasonable speed. He was still smiling. Was this what a killer acts like?

“You have questions?” Dell asked.

Lucian regarded at his captor for a moment before answering. “Why are you doing what you are doing?”

“Do you mean specifically? or in general?”

“Both?”

Dell rubbed his chin. “I suppose specifically; to protect myself. In general; for power. Both things are born out of compulsion, however. Does that make sense?”

“Not really.”

“Okay, how about this. If one lifts weights they do it for a lot of reasons, right?”

“Right.”

“One might want to be strong or just look good. Often power is its own reward. If one wants spectacular results, something has to suffer. Most bodybuilders eat a huge amount of meat. That means they are responsible for a lot of animals dying in their pursuit of power. Correct?”

“Yeah. I suppose.”

“What I do is no different. I only kill those who directly contribute to my power unless I have to do otherwise to keep myself safe. Your special soul will contribute to my safety. Once I take your soul into myself, I will be impossible to track. I will be safe to study and further hone my power without having to kill more people than is absolutely necessary.”

“So, if I die, it will keep people safe?” Lucian got that part. In just one day two people had died for him, and even before that, Rowan was killed because of him. His mother was always scared of something, and he thought that was the life he was going to live as well. One of perpetual fear.

“Well, it will certainly cut down the killing I’m forced to do. Your death will also allow me to prove a magical theory that, until now, no one has ever been able to make work. I will be one of the greatest mages in history, and you will be the accelerant that drives my meteoric rise.”

“Amber almost beat you. The others will stop you, even if you kill me.”

“They will have to get out of the trap I left for them. I will admit, it was rather slapdash, but I’m really just trying to slow them down. This whole situation went hard left when your friend died instead of you.” Dell said with a chuckle.

“Rowan,” Lucian said sadly.

“That was a mistake, to be sure. I didn’t need to kill him. If it’s any comfort, he didn’t suffer as he died. Dying in your sleep is painless.”

“He drowned,” Lucian said. The matter of fact way Dell brushed off Rowan’s death made him deeply angry.

“That’s true, but he was asleep when it happened, so my statement is still true.” Dell pulled into a large lot surrounding a long warehouse. The section of town had little in the way of buildings beside warehouses and a couple that looked like factories.

“Where are we?” Lucian asked.

“That a secret. It’s a bit too important to say, just in case.” Dell put his hand on Lucian’s back. He began to whisper to himself again. “Sleep,” he said finally.

A powerful wave of exhaustion hit Lucian like a hammer to the head. His vision spun, and he felt a little sick. As the darkness took him, he found himself wondering if he’d be able to see his mom again. He had so many questions for her.

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