Magic Currents (Cursed Angel Collection), page 6
“Which neighborhood did you move from?” Amy asked, tossing Lorenzo a flirty little smile.
“Edge of SoHar,” he said, naming the South-of-Harbor area.
I wasn’t sure if it was the truth or not.
“Oh, do you know the Howes? They’re long-time business associates of mine,” she said. “I’m in botanical retail. Culinary spices. Second biggest seller in The Colony.”
I held back a tiny smile. She was trying to impress him. Amy’s business was her life, and she was proud of it. Rightfully so—she’d worked hard to get where she was.
“You don’t say,” he remarked mildly. “I’ll keep that in mind next time I want to whip up a lamb leg roast.”
I snorted a laugh at the thought of Lorenzo in the kitchen, and when Amy shot me a sharp look, I had to cover with a cough. I’d only just met Lorenzo, but I knew his manner well enough to see that he was being ironic.
Back at the Royal, Lorenzo accompanied us into the lobby. I slowed, trying to think of a reason to stay behind and speak to him that wouldn’t encourage Amy to linger.
Fortunately, one of the warlocks from the meeting saved me. It was the older man whose grandson was close to coming into his magic.
The bearded man tapped Amy on the shoulder. “My wife likes a stock of ginger powder to sprinkle in her morning brew, and she’s all out,” he said. “Could I trouble you for more?”
Amy cast a look at Lorenzo and then her eyes flicked to me, but she nodded. “I’ll make a packet and run it by your room.”
We bid each other a quick goodnight.
She glanced at me and Lorenzo over her shoulder once more before she disappeared into the stairwell. I could tell she was assuming something about the two of us. I’d have to correct her thoughts later. Lorenzo was handsome, but that certainly wasn’t my focus at the moment, and Amy was welcome to him if she wanted him.
He and I moved toward the dark dining room, waiting for the other residents who’d attended the meeting to disperse.
I crossed my arms, eyeing him in the weak light. “I intend to keep my promise, but you need to understand that I have to be careful.”
He pulled out a cigarette and struck a match to light it.
I looked pointedly at his hands. “There’s no smoking in here.”
Ignoring my admonishment, he took a long drag and then blew the smoke upward.
“First thing you need to do is collect the venom from a very special sea creature,” he said.
I squinted at him. “A sea creature? Why can’t you do it yourself?”
“Because, sweetie,” he said, his annoyance undisguised. “I need you to use your water magic. The serpent lives at the base of Black Rock.” He cringed as soon as he said it.
Black Rock was an obsidian-colored crag of an island that jutted up out of the ocean about a mile offshore. Eight-foot-long lizards, the huge venomous perenties, lived on it and preyed upon any creature that dared to approach.
The Rock wasn’t just dangerous to wildlife. The few times anyone had attempted to escape The Colony, their boats had been mysteriously pulled into Black Rock to crash violently upon its shore, where the people were paralyzed by the perenties’ venom and then torn to bloody shreds. Anyone who attempted rescue met the same fate. Many believed Black Rock held demon magic from the Watchtower. Fishing boats always kept well clear of it.
A sick feeling rose from my stomach. I was already seriously regretting ever getting tangled up with this man.
“You’ve got magic. Are you afraid of water?” I narrowed my eyes. “No. You’re afraid of snakes, aren’t you?”
He shuddered and looked green around the gills.
“What’s so special about this creature?” I demanded.
“It’s an enchanted sea serpent,” he said shortly. “We need the creature’s venom, which holds its magic. It’s the only thing that will work against the Demon Lord.”
That shut me up. The Demon Lord was half human, but he’d been alive for over two hundred years—far longer than anyone with human blood could survive naturally. He’d been gorging himself on the hearts of witches to extend his lifespan. Women like me had served as his personal bloody fountain of youth since he was a young man.
“But the first Demon Lord was slain, and that didn’t break the curse of the Watchtower,” I said. “So presumably killing his son won’t do the trick, either.”
“Aren’t you a swift one,” he said.
I gave him a withering look.
“You’re right,” he said. “There’s another step or two, but let’s worry about those after we have the sea creature’s venom.”
I dropped my arms to my sides and leaned in, shaking my head. “Nuh-uh. Tell me the rest.”
He leaned in, too. “You’re not in charge here, sweetie. I’ll tell you the rest when I’m damn well ready.”
He dropped his cigarette and snubbed it out with the toe of his boot, and then wheeled around and began stalking away.
Irritation shot through me. “Then maybe you’ll just have to wait another hundred years and hope a new water witch comes along,” I hissed at his retreating back.
He scuffed to a halt and slowly twisted to look at me over his shoulder. “You wouldn’t keep your people under the curse of the Watchtower just out of spite.”
We stared at each other for a second or two, and then he turned and left.
My shoulders sagged. He was right, of course. I was going to do it, and we both knew it.
WHEN I FINALLY made it up to the flat, Chelle was already in bed and asleep. I touched her forehead and found it cooler than before, but the dark circles under her eyes and her shallow breathing still had me worried.
“Did she take her medicine?” I whispered to Kira. Her long, straight hair was darkened by the damp of her shower. The other girls were finishing their nightly bathing routines and getting their school bags ready for the next morning.
Kira nodded. “Dinner and showering seemed to wear her out.”
We both cast worried looks at the bundle of blankets that hid all but Chelle’s face and the tangle of her hair that spread over her pillow. Since Kira and Karen had come to live with me, the twins had regarded Chelle as their adopted older sister, and her illness had seemed to hit them the hardest.
I could feel Chelle’s magical potential as if it hovered around her, haunting her like a ghost. She was very near the time of her magic coming in. Shells, if it would only hold off a few more days until she was just a little stronger. If she wasn’t up to controlling it, and it spiraled outward—no, I couldn’t think of that. I squeezed my eyes closed in a long blink, shoving my worries down and smashing them into a tight ball.
I slept restlessly that night, tossing and waking as strange images of serpents and lizards invaded my dreams.
The next morning, my eyes were gritty and my brain foggy from poor sleep. After seeing the girls off to school, showering, and grabbing a quick bite from the dining room, I left for the Lead Feather Pub, already anticipating a full mug of Peter’s strong coffee.
When I rounded the last corner before my destination, I nearly plowed into Lorenzo. Cursing under my breath, I stepped back and pierced him with a look of annoyance.
“What is it?” I asked, irritated that he’d taken me by surprise. “My shift starts in a few minutes.”
“I’m aware of your schedule,” he said, and plucked a cigarette out of a rusted tin he’d been carrying. “Meet me at the estuary, that spot where you like to shed your clothes, just before sunset. We need to do it before it’s full dark but after the fishing boats have come in for the day.”
I tried to avoid thinking about the fact that he’d seen me naked.
My heart jumped into a fast trot. “We’re doing it tonight?”
One of his eyebrows lifted. “Did you have something else planned? Something more important than breaking the Watchtower’s curse?”
“I’ll be there,” I grumbled, masking my nerves behind p
I trudged past him toward the Lead Feather.
“Oh, I know you will,” he called after me, and gave a little laugh that turned into a cough.
In spite of my outward mood, my insides twisted. I still had no idea exactly what I was going to face. Would I have to wrestle some huge sea snake into submission? Coax it into giving me a sample of its venom? Kill it and drag it back to The Colony by the tail?
Toward the end of my shift, I was surprised to spot Lorenzo sitting at the bar. Two empty shot glasses sat in front of him, and a third was filled with amber liquid. I wondered if he used some sort of warlock magic to counteract the effects of his drinking habit. The amount of alcohol he downed would have pickled most mortal livers long ago.
I paused next to him on my way to the kitchen, one hand balancing a tray piled with empty baskets, their paper liners nearly translucent with oil.
“I thought we were meeting at the estuary,” I whispered at him.
I wished Lorenzo had kept to that plan. I felt Peter’s eyes on us from the other end of the bar, the questions in his mind. Even if he was just being protective, I wasn’t really in the mood for offering explanations about Lorenzo.
“Needed to wet my whistle before our little adventure,” Lorenzo said. “Seeing as how I’m the one who’ll be staying on dry land. Get it? I need a little wet to last me through the dry.”
He chuckled at his bad little joke, and I spared him a glare before I continued to the kitchen. I set down my tray and began peeling the used papers from the baskets.
Peter appeared at my shoulder. “Is he harassing you, Vicki?”
“No.” I smoothed my expression and looked up at Peter. “It’s okay.”
“Who is he?” Peter pressed.
“He’s, uh, a very distant cousin on my father’s side, it turns out,” I said. “He sought me out with some inquiries about some of the crossover in our family tree.”
Complete fabrication, but The Colony’s population was plenty large enough for a previously unknown relative to appear. Plus, I hoped that presenting Lorenzo as a blood relation would ease Peter’s subtle but still clear sense of competition. After all, Lorenzo was handsome, and though he appeared older than me, he was still young enough to be in the range of eligible suitors.
“Oh!” Peter’s brows rose a bit and then his face relaxed. “Well, why didn’t you say so?”
He looked through the window between the kitchen and bar at Lorenzo, as if seeing the warlock in an entirely new light. Perhaps searching for any family resemblance.
“I wasn’t sure at first if what he claimed was true,” I said.
Peter held up a hand. “Ah, perfectly reasonable.”
He drifted away, whistling to himself.
I let out a long, quiet sigh as my thoughts flitted to Armand. If only he hadn’t been captured and forced into service to the Demon Lord. My life would be so very, very different right now.
I returned my order pad and pen to a grease-marked box in the kitchen and untied my apron. Lorenzo was still at the bar, now with four empty shot glasses neatly lined up like toy soldiers in front of him. He was perusing the newspaper, but began folding it up when he saw me coming.
Peter gave us a chipper little wave as the warlock and I turned to leave the Lead Feather together. The late evening sun was hidden behind the buildings that blocked the western horizon, the low angle stretching the shadows. I inhaled deeply, clearing the stale, fried-food aromas of the pub from my nose.
“I told Peter you’re a distant cousin, just so you know,” I said to Lorenzo.
He slid a glance over at me and smirked. “That oughtta make him happy. He seems pretty keen to get under yer skirt.”
I shot him a disapproving look, and he responded with a chuckle-cough.
“And you seem bent on bringing on some incurable disease as quickly as possible,” I said, slanting my glare down at the cigarette he’d just lit.
“Nah.” He looked down at the glowing ember. “Smoke and drink won’t take me down. It woulda happened already. Centuries ago.”
I squinted. “The only way that could be true is if you’ve joined in with the Demon Lord’s gluttony.” I lowered my voice to barely a whisper. “Witch hearts are the only means of postponing your mortal end. You don’t seem to be one of the Lord’s inner circle.”
“The heart blood of witches isn’t the only means to immortality, sweetie.”
“Then how’ve you done it?” I asked, playing along with his ridiculous claim.
“I was born immortal.”
I snorted. “None of us is born immortal. Except full demons like the first Lord. And besides, you look like any regular mortal human.”
He gave me a hard, appraising look. “If I showed you my true form, your brain would fry like an egg on a griddle.”
A sharp laugh escaped my lips. “I think you might be insane.”
“And yet, here you are. Clearly you believe there’s some seed of truth to what I’ve told you. That, or you’re curious enough to find out more.”
I pressed my lips together for a moment, looking down at the cracked cement of the sidewalk. “There are certain things you’ve said . . .uncanny knowledge you seem to have about my unique skills. But maybe I’m just playing along on the hope that there is some truth to your claims. That you actually know how to break the curse.”
I tilted my gaze up at the Watchtower that loomed darkly above The Colony. The seat of the Demon Lord. Was he up there now, anticipating the next time his mouth would be bloodied from another witch’s heart to feed his gluttony?
My chest tightened as I imagined my mother being forced before him. How long had she waited in the House of Light at the foot of the Watchtower, compelled into servitude and knowing that the only thing awaiting her was a violent sacrifice? What must have gone through her mind at that final moment?
I blinked several times, trying to clear those terrible images from my imagination.
“Something upset you,” Lorenzo said quietly, smoke puffing from his lips.
“My mother was taken to the House of Light many years ago,” I said, my voice low. I wasn’t sure why I told him.
“Ah, you’re a Watchtower orphan?” His voice was surprisingly soft. Maybe even sympathetic.
I nodded. “Like so many others.”
“Then you have an even more personal reason to break the curse and end the Watchtower’s tyranny.”
I thought of Armand, and all the other witches and warlocks who had been taken by the Demon Lord. The young people, like Chelle and my other girls, who would live their entire lives in secrecy and constant fear if the curse continued. My sadness began to coalesce into anger, an emotion I rarely allowed myself because it had always seemed so fruitless.
“It’s personal for many reasons,” I said, my voice hardening. I glanced at him as we left the narrow streets of town behind and angled toward the harbor. “What’s your reason? Besides wanting to avoid becoming a Hunter?”
Lorenzo wasn’t part of the Underground as far as I knew, so I assumed he had no special passion for protecting young witches and warlocks. Yet he was bent on taking down the Watchtower and breaking the curse. I had to admit, the apparent dichotomy in his interests piqued my curiosity.
He stopped to drop a spent cigarette and turn the toe of his boot on the end of it, and then pulled out his ever-present tin for another. I paused, too, watching him and trying to assess whether he was using his cigarettes as an excuse to come up with a story to feed me.
He lit the fresh cigarette, and with it pinched in one corner of his mouth, said, “I was banished here four hundred years ago. I have to break the curse so I can get the hell off this farking, Godforsaken wasteland of an island.”
I crossed my arms. “Your claims just keep getting wilder. Now you’re over four hundred years old?”
He let out a gruff laugh. “Hardly. I’m much older than that.”
Just as I was about t
Boots pounded and shackles clanked. Hunters. Several of them.
Cursing under his breath, Lorenzo began to glow silvery white. A disc of light appeared in his hand, and he flung it. I peeked around the shed to watch the disc streak at half a dozen Hunters. Two more discs followed in quick succession, and each burst against the faces of the Demon Lord’s men.
My hand flew to my mouth as I let out a squeak. Blinking at the afterimages of Lorenzo’s magic, I expected to see the heads of the Hunters blown off. But the men had collapsed on the ground, their heads apparently still intact.
Three more discs followed, one for each Hunter that still remained standing. In a matter of seconds, all six of them had crumpled to the ground in a loose heap, limbs splayed out every which way.
“Shells, you didn’t kill them, did you?” I asked, horrified.
“Nah,” Lorenzo said irritably. He stalked forward and began pulling the Hunters’ shackles off their belts.
I crept out a few steps, my heart still pounding. “What are you doing?”
“Locking them up so they can’t follow us when they come to,” he said.
He snapped one shackle around each Hunter’s ankle, and then locked the shackles to each other. An unexpected giggle threatened to bubble up my throat as I imagined the men waking up and trying to move as one chained-up mass.
I quickly sobered as reality settled back in.
“This is bad,” I said. “The Watchtower wouldn’t send six Hunters unless they suspected a serious threat. And when these men wake up . . . This is very, very bad.”
Lorenzo was still kneeling next to one of the Hunters. He tilted his face up at me, his cigarette still dangling from the corner of his mouth. “Would you have me kill them, then?”
My brows drew together. Hunters served under the Demon Lord against their will, but if they were truly brainwashed, their former selves completely erased, was it really wrong to kill them? They wouldn’t hesitate to take me, Amy, Chelle, or any of the other witches I knew. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that Hunters were innocent in some sense. My heart still clung to the hope that Armand wasn’t totally lost.