Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.
Tristan Montague has had his ability to cast magic broken.
When his confrontation with Edith and Verity leave him unable to access his magic, he must seek out another technique to regain his access.
He must learn the Restoring Palm.
Now, together with Simon and the help of a dark mage, they must seek out someone who knows the technique and is willing to teach it to Tristan.
They must find the Caretaker.
Together they must evade Verity, who believes Tristan and Simon are going dark.
To Verity, the only solution to darkness is erasure and elimination—a solution they intend to unleash before Tristan can restore his magic.
Release date: December 28, 2022
Publisher: Bitten Peaches Publishing
Print pages: 254
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Orlando A. Sanchez
We’re all broken.
Some in ways that are easily seen, others in subtler ways, invisible to the naked eye. Monty was in the second group. His brokenness wasn’t apparent, but I could tell something was off. He was out of sorts and grumpy.
More than the usual.
Which meant he was just this side of dangerous.
“I think it looks dignified,” I said, going for diplomacy as Monty shared a glare and scowl with me. “Now you can be a proper Englishman with a walking stick and everything. Isn’t it all the rage in London, or something like that?”
“You’re off by a few centuries,” he answered. “Walking sticks—unless weapons—are not fashionable. I am a mage; I don’t need additional weapons.”
“Because you are a weapon?”
“Precisely,” he said, looking at his new staff. “Or at least I was.”
The pity party was in full swing.
“You’re still a mage,” I said. “Even with a staff. Maybe you can start a new trend? Something hybrid in the world of mages—a wizage? Half-mage, half-wizard, but total destruction. Best of both worlds.”
“I’m not going to dignify that description with an answer,” Monty said, stirring his tea. “Wizage, indeed. This is humiliating.”
He again glanced over at the staff resting against the wall in the kitchen and scowled again before focusing on his tea. The runes along its surface pulsed slowly.
It had only been a few days since our last encounter with Verity and Edith at the Cloisters. I shuddered at the memory. Edith had managed to sever his access to his magic when he used the Interrupting Palm—a technique designed to…well, interrupt.
Somehow she had used the technique to break or interrupt his connection to magic. It would have been great if we could have asked her how to reverse his condition. There was only one small problem: she had been reduced to ash, and then her ash had been reduced to atoms.
He hadn’t lost his magical abilities; she had merely placed an obstacle between him and his power. I imagined it was like being physically able to lift a tremendous amount of weight but then being limited to only lifting a tenth of it while knowing your true potential was much greater.
It wasn’t a visible trauma, but it was still just as powerful. He felt…lesser. Like he wasn’t magical.
He was wrong.
He was still magical.
Now he was just magical and extra cranky. Aria had given him the staff to assist with the casting, and he was not pleased.
In fact, his crankiness had shot up to a twelve on a ten-point scale. I sat in the reception area, looking across the open space as he fluctuated between seething and sulking in the kitchen.
Peaches, my faithful and trusty hellhound—recently upgraded to the “Mighty Peaches” by the Midnight Echelon, a scary group of black-ops Valkyries—was sitting by my feet and lightly snoring. I knew he was mostly awake because every so often he opened one eye, chuffed, and checked on Monty.
<Why is the angry man sad? Did he eat some bad leaves?>
<Monty doesn’t eat bad leaves. He’s having trouble using his magic.>
<Trouble? Why? Is he too weak? Did he break it?>
<Something like that. It’s not a matter of strength; it’s a matter of access. He can’t access it easily right now. His connection has been blocked.>
<If he ate meat, he could have all the access. Meat can make him strong enough to get the access. He could break the block.>
<I don’t think that’s how eating meat works.>
<He should try it. Then he wouldn’t be so sad. Should I lick him?>
<Don’t think so, boy. It won’t help in this case. He needs a special technique.>
<I could speak. That could help.>
<Could help us become deaf, you mean. No speaking right now. He’s already aggravated. Shattered windows won’t improve his or my, mood.>
<He could make me some meat. Frank says grifting is the gift that never ends.>
<It’s giving, not grifting. You really need to stop speaking to that lizard.>
<He’s my friend. You still speak to the angry man even when he is angry. Friends don’t stop speaking to each other, even when they are wrong or angry.>
<Good point. Let’s see if we can cheer Monty up.>
He chuffed again in response.
“What makes it humiliating?” I asked, pointing at the staff. “You can still access your magic. The only downside now is that you have to do one-handed finger wiggles.” I wiggled my fingers in my best mage-casting interpretation. “Sounds like a fair compromise.”
Monty stared at my superior finger-wiggling skills but was clearly unimpressed. Some mages can’t appreciate talent even when it stares them in the face.
“I do not do finger wiggles, one-handed or not,” Monty snapped. “Many of the casts require two hands, for your information.”
“The last time this happened—”
“There is no last time,” he said, cutting me off, frustrated. “This is not a shift in power. If anything, this is a hampering, a reduction in my power. One where I am forced to debase myself with that…that…thing.”
He pointed at the staff leaning against the wall in the kitchen. As far as staves went, it was impressive. It was a short, black staff around four feet in length. The top of the staff—what I assumed to be the top—was wider than the rest of the body.
It reminded me of a shillelagh—a magical, dangerous-feeling shillelagh. I could tell it was Australian Buloke, because the wood it was made from was identical to the door in the Randy Rump.
As I examined it further, I could see that every inch of its surface was covered in the softly pulsing violet runes. The runes flowed along its length, making my eyes hurt if I tried to focus on them for too long.
I didn’t know if Aria had made the staff, or simply had it in case of mage emergencies. All I knew was that it had a massive energy signature that made it hard to ignore.
“I still don’t see the issue,” I said after taking a sip from my massive cup of Death Wish, pausing to bask in the javambrosia goodness. “You need the staff to do your thing, so you use the staff. I may not be a mage, but I do know that any creature we are facing isn’t going to be picky about how you formed the orbs that are about to end its existence, are they?”
“Are they what?” he answered, distracted. “What were you saying?”
“Will your orbs be any less powerful because you used a staff?”
“On the contrary. Using a staff runs the risk of imbuing my casts with an excess of energy,” he said. “I could overcompensate and create orbs that are too powerful.”
“What?” I asked. “Are you serious?”
“Deadly serious,” he said. “One of the reasons it takes so long to train as a mage is due to the time it takes to hone the body and mind to become a focus. A mage has to attune the energy all around him.”
“So, what you’re saying is that mages have to become one with the forces of energy all around them?”
“Yes, and don’t,” he warned. “I’m not in the—”
“Mages must become one with the Force?” I asked. “Does that mean I can eventually become a Jedimage?”
“Actually,” he said, still looking into his cup, “at this point, you’re more of a mage than I am. You don’t need a staff to access your casts, meager as they are—while I do.”
I gave it some thought and quickly crushed the smile that was threatening to spread across my face. Would I be the kind of friend that would rub salt into his open wound of imposed wizardry?
“Well, that may be true,” I said, tapping my holster, “but considering that the last cast I was part of almost obliterated the Cloisters and New Jersey, I think I’m going to stick to more conventional weapons in the near future.”
“Conventional weapons? Really?” He looked up at me and stared. “Conventional, like your blade?”
“Ebonsoul is mostly conventional.”
“Of course, the same way your creature is mostly a normal dog,” he said, extending his arm. The staff floated in the air for half a second before flying into his open hand a moment later, which was impressive.
“How did you do that if you can’t access your magic?”
“The staff is keyed to me,” he said, and gestured with his other hand, making the liquid in the cup begin to steam. “What you saw was the inherent energy within it being activated, not my access to energy.”
“My access is blocked, but I still possess the energy in much the same way you possess your conventional Ebonsoul,” he said. “Except that, unlike the Sorrows or your weapon, I cannot store this staff within.”
“Ebonsoul is conventional, in the larger context of things I’ve seen.”
“There is nothing conventional about you, your weapons, or your creature. You should accept that by now, O Marked One.”
“I have, really,” I said, waving his words away. “You know what you need? You need to get out. There’s a new spot a few blocks away from the Randy Rump. Supposed to have good food and decent music. More bar than restaurant. It’ll be good for you to get out among other people who aren’t trying to actively kill or melt you.”
“No, thank you,” Monty said with a shake of his head. “The last thing I intend to do is visit a bar that is bound to be loud, full of drunken idiots and modern music that will seem to have been written in an alien language by a toaster oven.”
As I said, he was feeling extra cranky.
“I think you’ll like it. It’s a Spanish fusion place,” I said, trying to sound convincing. “It’s called the Fandango.”
“Which is precisely what a trip there would be. Once again, I decline.”
“True—wouldn’t want to risk getting you in a good mood,” I said, then glanced down the corridor at Dex’s room. “Besides, Dex might show up this century.”
He raised an eyebrow in my direction before looking down the corridor to Dex’s room.
“He’s certainly taking his time,” Monty grumbled. “I do hope this source of his is reliable.”
“What time did he say he was getting here?”
Monty looked at his watch. He had downgraded to a Patek Philippe Calatravone Ref. 570 from his usual Grandmaster Chime. I wondered if it was because he felt his status had diminished from mage—that should be Mage, capital M, to mage, lowercase.
I didn’t dare say the W word within earshot. Even thinking it was risky.
I could live dangerously; I just didn’t want to get blasted by an orb before breakfast. I didn’t understand how he could wear those timepieces outdoors. In my opinion, they belonged in some watch-museum vault, not out and about, risking them to major damage. As I’ve realized, though, you can’t spell damage without mage.
“He said ten,” Monty said, looking up. “But you know my uncle. That could be ten our time, give or take a few hours…or days.”
“He sounded serious and upset,” I said. “I don’t think he’ll be late.”
“Well, after you cast that storm blood—”
“I cast?” I asked, incredulous. “I seem to recall it was a joint cast.”
“Incorrect,” he said, lifting a finger. “You used your siphon, and stabbed Edith—in the side, if I recall Quan’s words correctly.”
“True,” I said, remembering the moments before Edith nearly sliced through me. “Remind me to send Piero a thank-you letter.”
“He will most likely require our presence,” Monty said. “A letter would be insulting. As would that jacket.” He looked at my current outerwear. “We can use the trip to get you a much needed new wardrobe and give him our thanks in person. He would have heard about the incident in the Cloisters by now.”
“How?” I asked. “Is there some kind of supernatural network I’m not aware of?”
“Yes, and you are aware of it,” he said after taking a sip of his tea. “This ‘supernatural network’ has certain nodes, or hubs of meeting and communication. You have met a few.”
“Ezra—and his establishment—are a font of information, both current and arcane,” he said. “Many beings visit him to provide or gather information.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “Aside from the food being delicious, I noticed there are some shady characters at some of the tables when we visit him. Where else?”
“More like who, not where,” he said. “There are few beings strong enough to have a fixed point in time and space and also act as points of communication.”
“So they move around?”
“Makes them harder to track…and kill.”
“The other two would be the Transporter,” he said. “I’m certain you remember her.”
“Roaming the subway of this city is hard to forget, yes,” I said. “That, and payments in chocolate have a way of sticking in your memory. I never realized chocolate was a currency. Who’s the other one?”
“The other would be Piero,” Monty said, taking a moment to inhale and thoroughly bask in the aroma of his Earl Grey. “Aside from your vampire, he is one of the most powerful and influential vampires in this city.”
He seemed to be getting in a better mood as he slipped into professor mode. Most mages enjoyed explaining how things worked—the problem was understanding what they were explaining.
“But he went on an extended vacation when the Blood Hunters were in town,” I said. “Why?”
“The Blood Hunters are still in the city,” he said. “They haven’t left. They’ve just stepped deeper into the shadows.”
“Seems to be plenty in the shadows of this city,” I said. “I wish some of these beings in the shadow would stay there—permanently.”
“Indeed. Piero’s absence was more for his clan; I have no doubt that Piero on his own would be difficult to dispatch without a sizable force of determined and powerful individuals.”
“That’s why he can have a restaurant and everyone leaves him alone?” I said. “That, and his new head of security. No one in their right mind wants to face a Gorgon. At least I wouldn’t.”
“Which is why a letter would be an insult to his station in the hierarchy of this city,” Monty added. “His position as a node of communication demands a visit to his location…in person.”
“So basically he’s a vampire mafia Don?” I asked with a chuckle. “We have to go pay our respects…or else?”
“I’d refrain from making that reference in his presence,” Monty said, his voice serious. “Piero’s influence and presence has far-reaching implications for maintaining peace in this city. After what occurred at the Wordweavers, a visit is warranted.”
That meant we’d have to go to his new restaurant and face the Gorgon security again. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing her or her flaming sword anytime soon.
I shook the image from my head and continued.
“I recall you and Quan being next to me when the storm blood was cast. When we cast the storm blood.”
“Again, incorrect,” Monty said after taking another sip from his cup. “You declared yourself to be Edith’s end—a bit melodramatic, I might add—and proceeded to absorb the energy she unleashed. At that point in time we were merely your support.”
“You didn’t seem like support when that lightning blast dropped on her head,” I countered, lowering my voice. “That seemed more like judge, jury, and executioner.”
I had been concerned about how Edith was killed.
Granted, she had been ready to wipe us off the face of the planet, but it still seemed a little dark, even for Monty. I hoped the use of the lost elder blood rune hadn’t affected him to the point of going over to the dark side.
I didn’t enjoy the thought of facing a Sith Monty. What if he felt that was the only way to get his full ability back? That could become a problem. Facing off against a dark Monty sounded like the worst possible day ever. Verity would be justified in hunting him—us—down.
“She was going to kill us,” he said, matching my tone. “There was no room for mercy with her. We both issued the same judgment.”
I recalled the moment when I pronounced death on Edith. It was a surreal moment and felt more like the storm blood speaking through me, than my actual thoughts—even though I agreed with the judgment.
“Death,” I said, nodding. “That’s what scares me. In that moment, we passed judgment. Who are we to pass any kind of judgment?”
His expression darkened for a few seconds.
“I understand,” he said, before taking another sip of his tea while staring at me. “I really do.”
“Do you?” I asked. “Because we lightning-flambéed Edith. Both of us. If Verity ever needed evidence of us going dark, all they need to do is look for the scorch mark that was once a master venomancer.”
“We are not going dark,” Monty assured me. “We made a judgment call in the midst of battle. The situation was in flux and there was no time to second-guess our course of action. What if we had surrendered to her? If you had surrendered your blood?”
I knew the answer.
“Every magic user on this plane would be at her mercy,” I said. “She would kill because she could, and no one would’ve been able to stop her because of the Dragon’s Breath. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“I would be worried if you did,” Monty said, looking at Dex’s door again. “We have a guest.”
“Finally,” I said. “I hope he’s dressed. Last time—”
“It’s not my uncle,” he said, putting down his cup. “Get ready.”
“Get ready? Why would I need to get ready? Is he wearing clothes?”
I felt her before she stepped into the apartment. A cold shiver gripped me and squeezed. Thoughts of running for my life raced through my brain as a figure stepped through the door and into the corridor that led to the reception area.
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