Just before Joe Smith died…
The dork cast a spell that so far I hadn’t been able to undo. The nature of the spell made my jaw clench and my hackles rise. It made me feel trapped and locked in place… the good news? I was with the man I’d wanted since that moment he first remarked that my name sounded like it belong on a pirate.
Or whatever it was he said about my name. Something magical yet purely non-magical. If that makes any sense.
The bad news? It took the gleam right off the relationship. If I wasn’t careful, I’d easily grow to resent Hank.
I couldn’t use my innate sorcerer magic without Hank around. And Hank couldn’t use his mage abilities. We had to be together for our magic to work. It was some kind of last minute punishment from Joe just as he was being sucked into the portal to hell. Like he was annoyed I wasn’t marrying him, that I’d picked Hank over him. It was an in-your-face Dred. You’re picking him over me? I’ll show you.
At least, that’s how it felt to me.
Hank and I had worked it out—the distance between us couldn’t be over one hundred yards. Once we got outside that distance, our magic fizzled like a burned out sparkler.
You could say that it was irritating to discover that magic adhered to such a strict mathematical formula.
How’s that for not even remotely magical and inexplicable? Magic, trapped into equations!
…just like Hank and I were now forever trapped because Joe Smith was dead. Or at least… gone.
The two of us were an equation now. Like those playground, elementary school teases that kids emblazoned on their notebooks or the bathroom stall doors, Dred plus Hank equals true love. Dred and Hank, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s…
Anyway. Love shouldn’t feel like drudgery. Should it?
To top it all off, Hank and I had bound ourselves together as partners in a recovered Flamehearts ritual to see if it changed anything, if it changed us, if it gave us some heretofore lost magical power that could aid us in our Flamehearts duties.
At this point, Hank and I were stuck together whether we liked it or not. And changing any of that would either require divine intervention, someone with the magical fingerprint of Joe Smith, or—I wasn’t sure—perhaps plunging into the netherworld or hell and grabbing a certain someone by the neck and strangling him within inches of his life until he reversed his damn curse.
Phoebe was still around somewhere. We hadn’t yet found the crazed woman (she was in love with Joe, which, as far as I was concerned, made her insane). My newest hope was that if we did find her, she could reverse Joe’s curse over Hank and me. I hoped she was linked magically to him because of how long he’d held her in his thrall.
Something hopeful. Something possible. Anything but being neutered by Joe’s curse.
I let out a huge sigh as I remembered everything I was dealing with. On the bright side, we’d staved off the end of the world and pushed back the tentacled demon known as Mosgrah—I’d learned that one from my father, Heimdall.
And at the moment, we were getting through the sandstorm just fine despite how vast the reach of it was. It spread throughout the entire region. It seemed we would never find the edge of it. Flying away forever wasn’t really an option, so I began to consider what our next move should be.
I could just imagine how intimate I would be experiencing sand right then if not for the spell of protection around us. I fed the pink bubble-shield mana continuously to keep it going. That ability was something I’d inherited from one of the many goddess mothers who’d somehow “blessed” my father. I could see prana, or life force flows, and I was able to draw them into me at will to fuel the magic I cast.
“We’ve lost the orcs on their thunderbirds, I think,” Hank said.
It was loud outside the bubble, but inside, there was a strange muffled quiet.
“Good riddance,” I answered.
“What’s next? We take… Fluffy… down to Charlie’s Angel and ditch the winged horse and get back home?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t want to just leave him in the middle of a storm and he won’t fit in the van. We owe him a better plan than that,” I said.
Biting my lip, I considered. I had connections in the area, I just needed to be able to see where we were but the storm blotted out details. I could only make out the murky outlines of distant objects.
“I’m taking us lower to see where we are. I might have a plan.”
“Good, because I don’t.”
“You never have a plan,” I teased.
“Why would I need one when my partner is a genius? I do have one plan—to keep my hair till I die. That requires low-stress. Leaving plans up to you is part of my plan.”
I chuckled as I guided and nudged Fluffy down. Soon we could see the outlines of the geography around us. Everything was faint, but the pegasus took it slow and stayed above anything that looked too solid.
I knew where we were going and I took the time to guide Fluffy just above the interstate, which was empty as far as I could see. The faint outlines of tractor-trailers, RVs, and cars appeared at the edges of the freeway where they’d pulled off to let the storm pass.
By the time we got to our destination, all three of us were exhausted. Late afternoon had arrived, though it felt like nighttime due to the eerie light of the haboob. We both dismounted and began rearranging our clothes and stretching. My rear was numb from how long I’d been on the pegasus.
“Where are we?” Hank yelled. The storm still howled all around us. To do our next step, I was going to have let go of the shield.
“Ready to get blasted by the sand?”
“No, I’m not,” he shouted. I stared at him as we both stretched our legs. Hank ran his fingers through his hair. He bent over to touch his toes, gasped and straightened, giving me a look. “My leg muscles weren’t made for riding horses.”
I bit the inside of my cheek to hold back the quip—you know about what he should ride instead.
“Fine. Wait here a minute. Or, actually,” I said, eyeing the distance between us and the front porch of the house. “Come up to the stairs with me.”
Fluffy clomped along behind me and I climbed the five stairs up to the front door and pounded on it. The wind was calm inside my bubble of protection.
As soon as the door swung open I dropped the spell and the wind pushed me toward the blonde woman standing in the door. I relaxed, feeling a sense of home settle on me at the sight of her.
“Dred! What are you doing here? It’s like the apocalypse out there! I was like, was that the door? No way. No way would anyone I know be out in this storm. Get inside! Wait—” her blue eyes widened in shock and she pointed at the sidewalk leading to her half-moon driveway. “Is that a horse? Did you arrive on a horse?”
“Yeah, Edith, it’s a horse,” I shouted as she came out onto the front porch despite the gale. Thanks to the spell of the Veil, she was seeing Fluffy as a horse, not a pegasus. I glanced at him. He was fighting being lifted up by his folded wings with each gust. Turning back, she pulled the door shut behind her. “You have somewhere he can stay till the storm passes?”
She looked me up and down. Her gaze flickered back to the pegasus. “Of course. Meet me around back.” She turned to go back inside, then glanced over her shoulder. “I just have to grab some shoes. Can’t wait to hear the story about what the hell you’re doing out in a sandstorm. On a horse. With some random man I’ve never seen before.”
I turned to Hank and cast the spell of protection around the three of us as soon as Edith was gone.
Hank shook his head and fixed me with an admiring stare. At least it struck me as admiring.
“I should have known. Another cousin?”
I smiled and started toward the back of Edith’s property with Fluffy following me. “I have like thirty.”
Read chapter 5 the moment it’s released.
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