Hellbound Guilds & Other Misdirections
Agent Kit Morris. Has a nice ring, doesn't it?
It's a big step up from "wanted criminal" or "that weird con-artist guy with weirder psychic powers," both of which recently applied to me. But my promotion to MagiPol agent comes with a few drawbacks.
First, supremely talented and effortlessly gorgeous Agent Lienna Shen won't agree to a dinner date with me. Second, my new assignment has pitted me against a guild with very bad taste in pets. Third, those pets are demons, and those demons want to kill me.
My psychic magic is great for conning people. It doesn't do jack shit against hellish orcs. If I screw this up, my dinner date will be with a demon—and I'll be the dinner. Even better, I kind of suspect this supposedly straightforward assignment is actually the tip of an unholy iceberg of power-hungry malefactors bent on destroying all law and order in the city.
I should probably mention that last part to my boss.
More series in the Guild Codex world:
The Guild Codex: Spellbound
The Guild Codex: Demonized
The Guild Codex: Unveiled
Release date: June 4, 2021
Publisher: Dark Owl Fantasy Inc.
Print pages: 346
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) creative magic (1) emotionally riveting (1) entertaining story (1) epic storytelling (1) great world-building (1) imaginative (1) terrific writing (1) unputdownable (1)
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Hellbound Guilds & Other Misdirections
Vincent Park was my nemesis.
I don’t say that lightly. I’d made the odd enemy in my twenty-two years on this planet, and as a foster kid, I’d encountered more than my fair share of supreme assholes—but I’d never had to cohabit a cubicle with any of them.
“Kit,” Vincent said firmly.
His perfectly manicured mohawk of glossy black hair, fondness for sticky notes, and know-it-all attitude had sat three feet from me for eight hours every workday since I’d become an employee of the MPD. Today was no different.
“It stands for Magicae Politiae Denuntiatores,” he’d corrected me after I’d jokingly called us fledgling Magic Police Department members on our very first day. “It’s Latin.”
That was the moment I knew I hated him.
“Kit,” he repeated with more emphasis.
Well, that and the cargo shorts. Vincent wore cargo shorts every single day. That alone should tell you everything you need to know about him. A blizzard worthy of The Day After Tomorrow could hit and in would walk Vinny with his multi-pocketed shorts and frost-tipped leg hairs.
“It’s the pockets,” he’d told me when I’d asked. “Do you know how much stuff I can carry in these pockets?”
I’d shrugged. “About two half-legs’ worth?”
“What do you have in your pockets, huh?” he’d demanded with more intensity than the topic merited.
“I could save your life with what I carry in my pockets.”
That was how things operated with Vincent. He was always trying to one-up me in every little thing. Even pockets.
“Kit!” he half shouted, pulling me out of my reverie.
Swiveling on my cheap mesh-backed office chair, I found my cubicle mate standing three feet away. His warm taupe complexion was normally on the fair side, but at the moment, he seemed conspicuously pale.
I offered a polite smile. “Yes?”
He pointed wordlessly at his desk. More specifically, at his black computer mouse sitting neatly on a pad emblazoned with the MPD’s severe and unimaginative logo—just like the organization itself.
I glanced at said mouse and repeated, “Yes?”
“There is a spider,” he said slowly, as though I might not comprehend the words otherwise, “on my mouse.”
“Oh yeah, I see that.” I turned back to my dual monitors.
“Is that a problem? I didn’t take you for an arachnophobe.”
“Arachnophobia is an irrational fear of spiders.”
“Ah. And you don’t think you’re being irrational?”
I spun my chair back toward him, eyebrows raised. He wasn’t wrong. Any product of natural selection would fear the enormous, eight-legged, yellowish-brown monstrosity with a ten-inch leg span straddling his computer mouse. It was, to be exact, a giant huntsman spider.
Vinny stood a long step back from his desk, glaring at me as though it were my fault his sixteen pockets weren’t giving him the courage to move any closer.
Our eyes met, and I could practically read his whirring thoughts. He knew I was responsible. For weeks, he’d come back from lunch to find his desk in an impossible state—covered in strange substances, broken in half, shrunken to a fraction of its size, recolored like an inverted photo. And every time, he’d stubbornly sit in his chair and attempt to work, proving that my insubstantial Psychica “hallucinations” were harmless.
Not that they always were. Just last week, I’d practiced my new Funhouse warp on him, throwing his half of the cubicle into a rough facsimile of the mirror realm from Dr. Strange. He’d made it through almost three minutes of clumsy filing before getting so disoriented that the act of reaching for a refracted, upside-down stapler ended with his left leg stuck in a drawer.
Keeping one eye on the spider, he gave me a look dripping in derision, pulled his chair out, and dropped into it. As he reached for his keyboard, the giant huntsman twitched one leg. He flinched.
“Don’t like spiders?” I asked conversationally.
He gritted his teeth. Not once in our mythical Jim Halpert/Dwight Schrute battle of wills had he asked me to drop a warp. It was a pride thing, and so far, he was winning.
Today I would win the war.
“Nobody likes spiders, Kit,” he replied, jerkily typing in his password. “Spiders are inherently unlikable creatures.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s true,” I countered. “This one isn’t poisonous or dangerous to humans in any way. And her name is Biscuit.”
“You name your illusions?”
Technically speaking, my warps aren’t illusions. If you took a video of one of my manifestations, nothing would show up because they don’t exist in the physical world. They only exist in the minds of the people I target.
For example, when Captain Blythe had caught Vinny manically swatting at a swarm of flies buzzing around his head on our fifth day as cubicle mates, all she’d seen was a flailing recruit—at which point she’d loudly ordered me to stop interrupting my coworker’s productivity. That’s how Vinny learned I’d been tormenting him all week.
And so our war had begun, though relegated to lunch breaks so I didn’t cut into his work. Funny enough, Blythe knew I was still using him for warping practice, but she’d never updated her orders.
Suppressing a gleeful Dr. Evil grin, I watched Vincent deliberately tab through a spreadsheet as though his mouse was an inefficient technological relic he’d never intended to use anyway.
My attention shifted as Lienna’s head and shoulders appeared above my cubicle wall—and sweet Flying Spaghetti Monster, was she a sight to behold. Warmth lit her brown eyes, which always had a sarcastic roll chambered and ready to fire. Half a dozen bracelets clinked charmingly as she folded her arms on top of the flimsy wall, rings adorning her delicate fingers and beads hanging from her ponytail of thick raven hair.
“Hey boys,” she greeted, then caught a glimpse of Vinny’s new eight-legged decoration. “Wow, nice spider, Kit.”
Vinny’s jaw flexed. He lifted his hand as though to grab his mouse and prove my warp didn’t scare him. I tensed—but he dropped his hand back onto his keyboard.
Lienna stepped into our cubicle, her ponytail swinging as she leaned over Vincent’s slim shoulder to get a better look at Biscuit. “That’s a really good spider. So much detail. Have you been studying arachnids?”
I leaned back in my chair. “I’ve been visiting the pet store down the street. The owner’s pretty cool.”
Vincent’s gaze darted from Lienna to me. “You know I know you can target more than one person at a time.”
“Ready for this afternoon?” she asked as though Vinny hadn’t spoken. “Your big exam is in an hour.”
“His retake.” Vincent hammered the tab key on his keyboard. “He failed his first exam.”
“Second time’s the charm,” she told me encouragingly, again ignoring my cubicle mate. “You aced the written exam. Ninety-six percent is what I heard.”
I grinned at her. “Did you look up my score?”
“Of course not. But Blythe may have mentioned it.”
“I got ninety-eight percent,” Vincent announced as though we would care.
I arched my eyebrows at Lienna. “Did she mention it in a ‘I knew he was a smart, capable guy and that’s why I offered him this job’ way, or in a ‘I’m surprised that dunce knows how to write his own name’ way?”
“Ah. Um …”
We both knew it was the latter, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “I have a better idea what to expect with the exam this time, so—”
At that whipcrack of a voice, Lienna, Vinny, Biscuit, and I all snapped to attention.
A tall woman filled the opening of the cubicle, her presence assailing us in a rolling tide of stern dissatisfaction at the existence of lesser beings. Gentle waves of soft blond hair framed her lightly tanned face, probably for the sole purpose of luring the gullible public into thinking she might be of a soft, gentle, or blond disposition.
Captain Blythe casually shifted the ten-pound stack of folders on her arm as her laser stare burned a hole through Lienna’s forehead.
“I need to speak with you in my office immediately.” The blue beam of reckoning shifted to me. “Morris, I’ll be waiting for your exam results later. Don’t disappoint me again.” Her attention switched to Vincent. “Park … why is there a spider on your desk?”
Vincent went rigid as his gaze flashed to the eight-legged behemoth inches from his hand. He was well aware that Lienna was a frequent spectator and occasional accomplice to my illusory games, but he was also certain beyond the slightest, tiniest, most infinitesimal sliver of a doubt that I would never, ever mess with the captain.
Which could mean only one thing.
He and Lienna simultaneously realized that Biscuit was not a figment of anyone’s imagination, and they lurched violently away. Lienna tripped over my feet, lost her balance, and sat heavily on my lap. Vinny shoved back so hard his chair tipped over. He fell into the cubicle wall, and with a loud snap, it broke free. He, the chair, the wall—and somehow, his keyboard—crashed to the floor.
Startled by all the movement and noise, Biscuit scuttled across Vinny’s desk and hid behind his phone. Silence fell over the bullpen as every agent looked over at the ruckus.
My cheeks ached from the effort of suppressing a jubilant grin.
Blythe’s hard stare bored into me. “What did I say about interfering with Park’s work?”
I glanced at the big clock on the wall. “Lunch isn’t over for another two minutes and twenty-six seconds. So, technically …”
Her eyes sharpened in a way that made me brace for a telekinetic chokehold, but she merely growled, “No pets in the office, Morris.”
She snapped a glance at Lienna, still seated on my lap. Her lips thinned. “My office, Agent Shen.”
Folders cradled in one arm, the captain swept away. Lienna sprang off my lap, shot me a glare, then rushed after Blythe.
I let my triumphant grin bloom. Could that have gone any more perfectly? Not only had I won, but I’d won with witnesses. Ultimate glory!
As the regular noise of the bullpen resumed, I pulled a plastic container the size of a small aquarium from under my desk. Cooing reassuringly, I coaxed Biscuit from her hiding spot and into her temporary home. She squashed herself into a corner, imitating Lienna’s glare—but with four times the eyes. Could this sassy spidey do an octo-eye-roll a la Agent Shen too? Maybe a Kumonga joke would generate one.
“I can’t believe that thing is real,” Vinny muttered as he righted his chair.
“Wanna pet her? I don’t think she bites. No promises, though.”
He mouthed two words at me, one of which was four letters and not very polite. My, my.
I set Biscuit’s container in the middle of my desk where she’d be in Vinny’s line of sight while he repaired his cubicle wall, then sauntered off into the greater bullpen. Time for my lunch, which I’d delayed to babysit Biscuit while she’d made friends with Vinny’s computer mouse.
The bullpen was the epicenter of everything interesting that happened in the Vancouver precinct. It contained two dozen cubicles and twice as many workstations, though only maybe sixty percent of them were claimed. A pair of glass doors at one end offered a glimpse of the lobby, but I headed in the opposite direction, ducking into the high-traffic hall that connected the rest of the main floor with the bullpen.
The nostril-abusing stench of microwaved fish wafted from the staff room, and I pulled up short. What briny asshole had flouted the cardinal rule of communal microwaving? As I hesitated in the doorway, debating whether to make a run to the coffee shop on the corner or hold my breath long enough to retrieve my lunch from the fridge, a familiar voice poked me in the ear from farther down the hall. I peered toward it.
Blythe and Lienna. They’d stopped to talk to an older male agent. Getting waylaid in the halls was standard around here, but the way Lienna was standing, a few steps behind Blythe with her shoulders drawn in and hands twisted together, was a lot less standard.
Concern blitzed through me. I flicked a glance at my surroundings, found no one looking my way, and with a quick thought, dropped an invisibility warp on every mind in my vicinity.
Vincent and Lienna, and even Blythe herself, were convinced I wouldn’t mess with the cap’s mind. I actually wasn’t sure why they thought that. Did they assume my new job title had transformed me into a more honest and upstanding citizen overnight?
I mean, yeah, it had—fractionally.
As I headed toward the chatting trio, Blythe waved off the older agent and continued down the hall, Lienna following like a beautiful but uncharacteristically anxious shadow. The security cameras could still see me, but I wasn’t worried about that; as long as I didn’t act suspicious, security wouldn’t even notice.
I trailed them to Blythe’s office, debating the whole way whether I should back off. Whatever this was, it wasn’t my business. It probably wasn’t even anything important. Maybe Blythe wanted to propose a trade in a fantasy football league they were both secretly part of.
On second thought, Blythe involving herself in anything that used the word “fantasy” was absurd.
The captain strode into her office. Lienna hesitated in the hallway, unintentionally giving me a helpful two seconds to catch up.
I was going to stop there. Really, I was. I didn’t want to deceive Lienna or hear something I’d regret. Honestly, I didn’t intend to follow her any farther.
Except, as she hesitated with her face turned away from Blythe, her teeth caught her lower lip, biting down so hard the soft pink skin turned white. For that brief moment, she looked small, scared, and too young for the title and responsibilities she carried.
Then she drew in a steadying breath, pushed her shoulders back, and stepped into the office—and I stepped in right after her, unable to leave her to face Blythe alone.
Not that my presence would help since she didn’t know I was there.
I scooted straight into the corner of the office. The first time I’d set foot in here, I’d been blown away by the shattering of my expectations. I’d one hundred percent anticipated towering stacks of folders piled to the ceiling, or a futuristic filing system that rotated in and out of the walls like something from an evil genius’s lair. Or at the very least, a high-voltage power receptacle where she plugged herself in to charge her android batteries.
Her office had none of those things. It didn’t even have a regular filing cabinet. There was a low bank of cupboards beneath the window behind her for storage, some framed achievements and certificates on the wall, and a single photograph on her desk showing three people: a somewhat younger Blythe, a woman who could be her mildly de-aged twin, and a little girl about five years old. Sister and niece, I assumed, though they could easily be three robot clones she kept in storage.
Lienna shut the door, and as she faced Blythe, doubt assaulted me. It would be excruciatingly awkward if either woman discovered my unwelcome invasion. I glanced at Lienna’s collection of necklaces, topped by a cat’s eye pendant that could block my psychic magic from her mind with a quick incantation. Yeah, I really should have thought this through before committing.
But then the captain spoke, and her somber words slapped all regrets out of my head.
“Agent Shen.” She braced her elbows on her desk, her ever-present stack of folders beside her. “Your time at this precinct is over.”
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