The Master Magician
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Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she's kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She's discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own-an ability long thought impossible.
While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician's exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony's past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.
The whimsical and captivating follow-up to The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician, The Master Magician will enchant readers of all ages.
Release date: June 2, 2015
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Print pages: 224
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The Master Magician
Charlie N Holmberg
Ceony, wearing her red apprentice’s apron over a ruffled blouse and plain brown skirt, stood on her tiptoes on a three-legged stool and stuck a square of white paper against the east wall of the Holloways’ living room, right where the wall met the ceiling. The family was celebrating Mr. Holloway’s awarding of the Africa General Service Medal, and had submitted a request to hire the local Folder—Magician Emery Thane—to fashion the party decorations.
Of course Emery had passed the “frivolous task” on to his apprentice.
Ceony stepped down from the stool and backed up to the center of the room to survey her work. The large living space already had most of its furniture removed for the sake of the elaborate decorations. Thus far, Ceony had adhered twenty-four bearing squares to the wall and plopped large sheets of plain white paper around the room, cut according to the measurements Mrs. Holloway had sent via telegram.
After ensuring her bearing squares aligned correctly, she said, “Affix.”
Twenty-four long sheets of paper leapt up from their looping coils on the ground like hares darting through a field, each surging toward its appointed bearing square and latching to it. The heavy sheets sagged from their bearing squares until Ceony called out, “Flatten,” and the sheets adhered to the walls like wallpaper, evenly coating the room in white. Minus the stairs on the north wall, of course.
Mrs. Holloway had requested a jungle theme to reflect her husband’s brief campaign in Africa, and so Ceony—after referencing several books on the subject—had written the requisite spells on the backs of the large paper sheets and Folded the tips of their corners accordingly. Now she only had to test her design.
“Portray,” she ordered, and to her relief each sheet darkened into hues of green and brown, coloring and morphing the same way a paper doll would. Dark swathes of hunter green cast shadows against the walls, and brighter mints and chartreuses gave the appearance of light pouring unevenly through leafy canopies threaded with vines. Wisps of olive formed patches of long, wild grass amid shades of umber and mahogany in the uneven soil near the floorboards, and the song of a red-throated loon called between fluttering bug wings in the distance. At least, Ceony’s best rendition of a red-throated loon. She had never actually heard one before, only guessed on the sound based on what bizarre African birds she had been able to find in the zoo.
Ceony circled the room with small steps, taking in her massive illusion, a live mural created from the magic of her own hands. Every thirty seconds a long-eared mouse skittered between two trees, and every fifteen seconds leaves and vines rustled in a gentle breeze. Despite not holding paper, her fingers tingled with it. Spells like these never ceased to amaze her.
She let out a long breath. No mistakes—good. If she couldn’t perform illusions like this one flawlessly now, she’d never pull them off when she tested for her magicianship next month. She planned to take the test within a week of her two-year anniversary as Emery Thane’s second-and-a-half apprentice.
Retreating to the front door, Ceony crouched over her large tote bag of spells and pulled out a wooden case filled with starlights, which Langston, Emery’s first apprentice, had taught her to Fold so long ago. The small pillow-like stars were no larger than a farthing, and all had been Folded using amber-colored paper, although the merchant who sold the paper to Ceony had listed the color as “Goldenrod.” Ceony had Folded dozens of the stars over three days’ time, until her fingers cramped and she feared early arthritis. She had then affixed a small zigzag of paper to the back of each star, also amber.
She dumped the starlights onto the darkly polished floorboards and commanded, “Float.”
The starlights all turned zigzag side up and glided like bubbles to the ceiling. Ceony ordered them, “Glow,” and the starlights burned with a soft internal fire. Once the Holloways extinguished the electric lights, the room would take on an eerie and somewhat romantic radiance.
Ceony animated small paper butterflies that would flutter about the room, as well as triangular confetti across the floor that would shift around guests’ feet, giving the illusion of blowing wind. She had even Folded and enchanted paper napkins for the dinner, which would glow turquoise and read “Congratulations Alton Holloway” when the guests unfurled them. She had considered including the occasional ghostly story illusion of an elephant or lion, but she would need to stay during the party in order to read the spells. That, and she feared some of the older guests might react poorly. Just a few months ago she’d read an article in the paper about a grandmother who’d had a heart attack after seeing a mirror illusion of an oncoming train by the theatre, an ill-advised advertisement for the new American play being performed there. It would surely ruin the party if a guest attempted to shoot a paper lion.
As she released animated songbirds with the instructions to only fly close to the ceiling, Mrs. Holloway came down the stairs and let out a startled cry, which was fortunately followed by a wide, tooth-filled smile.
“Oh, it’s astounding! Just magnificent!” she cried, hands pressed to her heavily powdered cheeks. “Worth every pound! And you’re just an apprentice.”
“I hope to test for my magicianship next month,” Ceony said, though she beamed under the compliment.
Mrs. Holloway clapped her hands twice. “If you need a recommendation, dear, I will give you one. Oh, Alton will be so surprised!” She turned to the stairs. “Martha! Martha, leave the laundry a moment and come see!”
Ceony grabbed her bag—much lighter now—and bowed out of the home before her customer’s excitement could grow too out of hand. The decorations needed no further maintenance, and Mrs. Holloway had prepaid by check earlier that week. Emery would no doubt let her keep the entire sum—a considerable sum—though apprentices usually had to work for free, minus a monthly stipend. She would send most of the money to her parents, who had finally moved out of the Mill Squats and taken up a flat in Poplar. Her mother, especially, hated receiving “charity,” but Ceony could be just as stubborn.
Crouching on the walk outside, Ceony pulled out a sheet of paper and created a small glider with oblong wings, then wrote in its center the address for the intersection at the end of the street. Bringing it to life with the command “Breathe,” she whispered coordinates to it and released it to the wind. The little glider flipped a loop and took off southward.
Slipping her bag over her shoulder, Ceony started down the walk, her simple brown skirt swishing about her ankles, her two-inch heels clicking like shoed horse hooves against the ground. This was a ritzy suburb of London, with a great deal of green space between its houses, half of which were guarded by elaborate stonework or wrought-iron fences. A few were adorned with Smelter-worked ornamentation, such as elinvar pickets that rotated in response to passersby and brass gate locks that unlatched themselves when an expected visitor drew near. The year had matured enough to erase all lingering signs of winter, and May flowers bustled up in tidy gardens beyond the fences. A few had even managed to grow in cracks where the walk met the cobblestones, in utter disregard of the precise order of the neighborhood. A breeze tousled a few stray hairs from the French twist holding back Ceony’s pumpkin-colored mane. She tucked them behind her ear.
A few minutes after Ceony reached the corner of Holland and Addison, a buggy pulled off the road and up to the curb. Ceony bent down to peer through the glassless passenger window.
“Hello, Frank,” she said, “I haven’t ridden with you in a good while.”
The middle-aged man grinned and tipped his bowler hat toward her, the small glider she had Folded pinched between his index and middle fingers. “Always a pleasure, Miss Twill. Heading toward Beckenham again?”
“Yes, please, to the cottage,” she said, moving to the back door. “No need to get up,” she added as Frank reached for the driver door’s latch to help her in. She slid into the backseat quickly and patted the seat before her to signal she was settled. Frank waited a moment for traffic to pass before pulling out onto Addison Avenue.
Ceony leaned against the backrest as the buggy made the forty-five-minute trip back to Emery’s cottage. She watched the city flash by her window, the houses gradually moving closer together and shrinking in square footage, the streets and walks filling with more and more civilians carving through another day. She saw a baker airing smoke out of his small shop, boys playing marbles in a narrow alley space, and a mother pushing a stroller while a young boy held on to the pocket in her skirt. This last sight made Ceony think of one of the first spells she had ever learned, a fortune-telling spell called a “fortuity box.” She would never forget what she’d once seen in one—a warm, blessed image of herself standing on a flowering hilltop with two children, presumably her own. The man standing beside her in that vision had been none other than her assigned tutor. There was a stigma attached to the very idea of a romance with her mentor, of course, which was why Ceony had confided her secret concerning the paper magician to no one save her mother, who had only met Mg. Emery Thane once.
Eventually the city died away, and Frank drove the buggy up the familiar dirt path toward the cottage, dotted with spring-green trees along the way. Ceony averted her gaze from the river beyond it. A small river, but one that unnerved her still. Twenty months ago Ceony had worried that she and Emery would have to leave the quaint, country-esque cottage behind for the sake of safety, but with their enemies either dead, jailed, or in a perpetual state of being frozen, danger had decided to leave them alone. It was a relief, if for no other reason than that Ceony surely wouldn’t be ready to test for her magicianship if she had to battle for her life every ninety days.
Reaching into the purse nestled in the corner of the tote bag, Ceony slid her fingers over the round surface of a makeup compact, tracing the engraved Celtic knot on its surface. She shouldn’t make light of her past . . . adventures . . . even in fanciful thoughts. The cost had been steep. She swallowed a bitter taste of shame.
The buggy pulled up to the cottage, which from the road looked like a dilapidated, towering mansion infested with poltergeists, complete with self-made wind and cawing crows. The “haunted house” was Emery’s favorite illusion to put about his home, more so than the barren plot or the quaking graveyard he had tried out last March. Ceony’s protests had made him take it down after two weeks. Or perhaps it was the milkman’s heart arrhythmia that had ultimately convinced him.
The illusions were Folded about the fence, so their spells vanished as soon as Ceony stepped past the gate, revealing the house as it was: yellow-bricked with a porch Ceony and Emery had painted russet two weeks ago. A short stone walk bordered a garden of paper daffodils, and a flesh-and-blood starling clung to the ivy hanging over the office window, shrieking at the small paper dog sniffing too close to its nest.
“Fennel!” Ceony called, and the paper dog lifted his head to seek her out with his eyeless face. He barked twice, a wispy, papery sound, and bounded down the path toward Ceony, leaving prints in the dirt between the tiles. A few months ago, he would have barely left a mark, but Ceony had given him plastic bones back in February. It had taken months of study to learn how to form the bones and joints so that they’d move with Fennel, though the Polymaking spell that held them together had been simple enough to master. She had done the magic in secret, of course. These were studies best kept quiet.
The dog jumped at Ceony’s feet and propped his front paws on her shoes, wagging his plastic-reinforced paper tail wildly from side to side. Ceony stooped down to scratch him under the chin.
“Come on,” she said, and Fennel ran ahead of her to the front door, where he waited with a whipping tail, his nose buried in the doorjamb. When Ceony opened the door, Fennel ran to the end of the hall and back, then dived into the perfect clutter of the front room, where he immediately began chewing on a wad of stuffing protruding from the sofa’s most threadbare cushion.
Ceony headed first to Emery’s office, a rectangular room filled with shelves bearing stacks of paper of varying thicknesses, colors, and sizes. The ivy over the window gave the room a dark-aquamarine light, almost as if the cottage were submerged beneath the ocean. Emery’s desk sat across from the door. Heaps of paper, a wire note holder, glue and scissors, half-read books, a jar of pens, and a vial of ink littered the desk’s surface, though littered may not have been the best word to describe it. Every item fit into its neighbors like a puzzle, and nothing was askew. Only a fraction of elbow room to work in, but the desk, like everything in the cottage, looked as immaculate as a mess could look. In all her twenty-one years, Ceony had never met a hoarder so tidy. At present, the room was empty.
Behind the desk hung a wood-framed corkboard, upon which Ceony and Emery both pinned work orders, receipts, telegrams, and memos, all neatly spaced from one another, fitting together like brickwork. Emery’s doing, of course. Ceony pulled Mrs. Holloway’s decoration request from its brass tack and took it to the dustbin, but first commanded it, “Shred.”
The work order tore itself into a dozen long pieces and fluttered into the dustbin like snow.
After leaving the office, Ceony closed the door behind her so Fennel wouldn’t make a mess and passed through the kitchen and dining room to the stairs leading to the second floor, where the bedrooms, lavatory, and library were situated. Her room was the first door on the left, and she stepped inside to drop off her tote bag.
The room looked much different now than it had when she arrived two years ago. She’d moved the bed to the far corner near the closet and set her desk by the window, since she spent most of her time in her room there, either Folding or writing the occasional paper when Emery went on an academic whim. She’d stained the floorboards a deep cherry during a spout of boredom last winter, and her own paper creations adorned the walls and ceiling, much the way Emery’s decorated the wainscoting of the kitchen and dining room. Tiny paper dancers dressed in elaborate ballerina skirts seemed to dance down one wall, and an assortment of premade chain spells hung from the other. Paper carnations with spiraling petals, alternating red and blue, framed her window; fringed paper garlands in the same colors bordered her closet door. Paper star ornaments with twelve or eighteen spikes hung on string from the ceiling, varying in size from half a fist to a dinner plate. Paper feathers cut from women’s magazines, a mobile of animated sea horses, and starlights ringed her nightstand, upon which sat a vase of red paper roses Emery had created for her twentieth birthday. A four-foot-tall paper cutout of London occupied the wall space at the head of her bed like a giant snowflake—a gift Emery had made for her two Christmases ago. Paper clouds hovered near the door, and baby-pink paper pom-poms sat upon a two-shelved bookcase where Ceony stored her textbooks.
All of the décor had accumulated over one year and eleven months’ time; it wasn’t until Ceony’s baby sister—Margo—visited in April that Ceony realized she had created something of a wonderland.
A crinkled envelope rested on her pillow. Abandoning the tote bag, Ceony approached it and felt its contents: the rubber buttons she had ordered from the Magicians Today catalog. She stashed the small package in the bottom drawer of her desk, where the book Precise Calculations of Fire Conjuring was hidden, along with certain other materials she preferred to keep out of sight, and trotted to Emery’s room.
She knocked, opened the door, but found the space empty. The library as well.
She heard a thump overhead.
“Working on the big spells again,” she murmured to herself, opening the door to the set of stairs that led to the home’s third story, which made up in height what it lacked in floor space. Emery didn’t work on his “big spells” often, but when he did Ceony could count on him being absent for entire twenty-four-hour periods.
He’d finished his seven-foot-long paper-puff-shooting “elephant” gun in March, which he donated to the boys’ orphanage in Sheffield. She wondered what absurd idea he’d put his hands to now.
In the farthest corner of the third floor, Jonto—Emery’s paper, skeletal butler—hung by a noose from a nail in the ceiling, hovering over a mess of rolled paper tubes, tape, and symmetrical cuts of paper. Emery, donning his newest coat, a maroon-colored one, stood on a stool beside him, affixing a six-foot-long bat wing to Jonto’s spine.
Ceony blinked, taking in the sight. She really shouldn’t be surprised.
“I thought I had a few more years before I saw the angel of death,” she said, folding her arms under her breasts. “Even just half of him.”
Emery teetered on the stool and glanced over his shoulders, both hands holding up the stiff paper that would form the end of Jonto’s left wing. His raven hair danced about his jaw as he did so, and his vivid-green eyes gleamed like afternoon sunlight.
Even now, Ceony could lose herself in those eyes.
“Ceony!” he exclaimed, turning back to his project and finishing his work with the wing, “I wasn’t expecting you back for another hour!”
“Her requests weren’t as complicated as we feared,” Ceony said, a smile teasing her lips. “Care to explain why you’re making a dragon of Jonto?”
Emery stepped down from the stool and rolled his shoulders. “I had a solicitor today.”
“Selling shoe polish,” he said. He rubbed the stubble at the base of his chin. “Decently priced, I must say.”
Ceony nodded. “And so Jonto needs wings.”
He smirked. “I haven’t had a solicitor since I moved here,” he explained. He brushed bits of paper from his coat and pants and crossed the room, passing by the second version of his giant paper glider, as Ceony had lost the first one. “Apparently the place’s facade isn’t nearly as menacing as it used to be. I blame Joseph Conrad’s popularity for that. And since we’ve decided against the graveyard, I thought I’d have Jonto, or the ‘angel of death,’ as you so aptly put it, terrorize further inquisitors away.”
Ceony laughed. “You’re going to keep him outside? What if it rains?”
“Hmm,” Emery said, stroking one of his long sideburns. “I’ll have to make the wings detachable. I think it’s a viable option, though.”
He smiled, more in his eyes than in his mouth—the most genuine of smiles—clasped Ceony’s shoulders, and chastely kissed her on the mouth.
“Now,” he said, tucking that stray piece of hair back behind Ceony’s ear, “what do I have to do to convince you to make kidney pie for dinner?”
“Kidney pie?” Ceony repeated, brow raised. “Do we even have kidneys?”
“As of this morning,” he replied.
Ceony covered her mouth in feigned shock. “No. He didn’t buy groceries by himself, did he?”
“I had to meet with the Praff board. For apprentices,” he said with a shrug. “The boy I paid to pick up everything did a fine job.”
Ceony rolled her eyes, but her smile stayed. “All right, but I’ll have to start on it now. And I’m not gone yet, mind you.”
Emery squeezed her shoulders before releasing her. “They do like to stay ahead of things. Graduations have been a mess since Patrice left.”
Ceony nodded. Mg. Aviosky had resigned from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined a year and a half ago, after being offered a position on the Magicians’ Cabinet, Department of Education.
Excusing herself, Ceony headed back to the first floor, where an anxious Fennel sat by the stair door, waiting to be let up. The kidneys had been wrapped in paper and tucked into the kitchen icebox, which had a cold confetti spell cast over it. Ceony brushed off pieces of round confetti from the package and set to work. She rinsed the kidneys until the water ran clear, then fried them in a saucepan with bay leaf, thyme, and onion. She diced and mashed tomatoes while they cooked, but had to substitute a bit of vinegar for the mustard, since they were out.
With nothing urgent in her study roster, Ceony decided to break some eggs and whip up a crème brûlée for dessert; one of Mrs. Holloway’s maids had mentioned the dish was being served at the party, and now Ceony had a hankering for it. She beat the cream, egg yolks, and sugar until her arm ached, then poured the pudding into two ramekins, which she set in the oven next to the kidney pie.
When both dishes had finished baking, Ceony pulled them out and set the table. Listening for Emery’s footsteps and hearing none, she opened the cupboard where she kept her cookbooks and, from the binding of French Cuisine, retrieved a small matchbox, which contained a few matches and a ball of phosphorus. Palming it in her left hand, Ceony grabbed a wooden spoon with her right and said, “Material made by earth, your handler summons you. Unlink to me as I link through you, unto this very day.”
It was not the first time Ceony had severed her supposedly unbreakable bond to paper, nor was it the second. She set the spoon down, pressed her hand to her chest, and said, “Material made by man, I summon you. Link to me as I link to you, unto this very day.”
Finally, she lit a match and murmured, “Material made by man, your creator summons you. Link to me as I link to you through my years, until the day I die and become earth.”
She then grit her teeth and stuck her fingers into the flame. To her relief, it didn’t burn her, which meant she had bonded to it. Pyres were immune to fire they created themselves—a nice perk to the magic, needless to say.
Her skin tingled from the flames, a surprisingly pleasant sensation, until the match died out. She stuck the matchbox into her apron pocket. She’d need the ball of phosphorus to break her bond to fire, once she finished using it.
Opening the oven door, Ceony coaxed forward a spark with the command “Arise,” then pulled forth a small flame at the tip of her index finger with “Flare.”
Pyre magic was the last materials magic Ceony had tested for herself, for one slip could injure her or burn down the house. She had tried out her first spell with her feet submerged in the bathtub. Fortunately, she had only suffered a rather nasty blister. Now she confined herself to small, novice spells.
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