Magic Rising, page 1
Damnation Books, LLC.
P.O. Box 3931
Santa Rosa, CA 95402-9998
Magic Rising: Dragonfly
by Jennifer Cloud
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-266-2
Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-267-9
Cover art by: Dawné Dominique
Edited by: Alison O’Byrne
Copyedited by: Sherri Good
Copyright 2010 Jennifer Cloud
Printed in the United States of America
Worldwide Electronic & Digital Rights
1st North American and UK Print Rights
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any form, including digital and electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Publisher, except for brief quotes for use in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Richard, Mina, and Amelia
She tried to hold her head high as she walked down the stone corridor. Her footsteps echoed, announcing her presence in the deserted hall of the boarding school. She noticed an uneasy rhythm to her walk, no doubt a sign of fear. Of course she had every right to be afraid. Niam would likely kill her for her transgression. Well, he went by Midnight here. They were all stripped of their names. It was the first thing they stole from a person before trying to remove all of their humanity.
Deirdre had never heard her name called in school. She’d been dubbed Dragonfly. Her mother thought it less gruesome than the other alternatives. Somehow her mother made her special with that name.
Midnight’s room was a few feet further. Deirdre felt her breath catch in her throat as his door came into view. She hated going into that place. Midnight was a sadistic bastard in every part of his life, especially with his women. Thankfully she wasn’t of an appropriate age or she might face a worse punishment than death. She already had the body of an adult, but her age saved her from Midnight’s games. He played horrible games.
“Come in, Dragonfly.” The door flung open before she touched it.
The teachers all had apartments in the main building. Each decorated it to their specific tastes. Midnight’s was adorned, as always, with women. They flocked to him, finding him handsome, charismatic, or perhaps it was the allure of his power that made them want to degrade themselves. A myriad of flesh, naked, writhing, filled her vision. Midnight stood in front, a smile plastered on his sharp features. Clearly he’d been enjoying himself before her arrival. One woman lay on the floor. Her backside was crossed with red stripes, blood oozing from the wounds. Midnight still held the whip in his hand. It dangled limply and Deirdre wondered if he also didn’t stay a bit limp unless blood was shed.
She stepped through the threshold and felt a pulse of power or perhaps it was her imagination. She couldn’t be sure any more. The only facts before her were that Midnight still held a whip in his hand and she really didn’t want to be there.
“Come further inside.”
Deirdre cleared the door and listened to it slam shut behind her. No one touched it. At Stone House, unusual occurrences were the norm. Magic wasn’t a thing of games but a show of dark arts put on display for pupils.
On the few occasions she was permitted to leave the building, she found the outside world strange and dull. Right now she could use a little of the dull. Normal people didn’t have orgies or hold whips. In the outside world drums didn’t signify a sacrifice. Homes had punishments that didn’t leave scars.
“You performed poorly.” His voice was sharp, loud in the small space.
She didn’t speak. Speaking out of turn would decrease her chances of surviving this ordeal. As it was, her transgression would be very costly.
“Why did you spare Machine?” His lips set in a hard line, looking like a gash of red on his pale face.
“Killing him seemed to be a waste. He could always be trained to do better. Perhaps a gifted teacher such as yourself could help him.”
“Look at me.”
Deirdre looked up. It was hard considering two women were pleasuring each other while a third was tied awkwardly to the wall. Thankfully, Midnight still wore his pants, but no shirt or shoes. She could see the winding scars over his chest. They were white, old, marks from something that should’ve killed him. From what she’d heard, he should’ve died many times. Too bad he hadn’t.
“Maybe you’re the one who needs to be retrained.”
He came closer, touching her long dark hair. He always touched her hair and she hated it. All contact from him was unwelcome but she couldn’t say anything. She could only stand there and wait for what would come next.
“Tell me, honestly, why did you spare him? Were you seeking my attention?”
She considered the battle. She had bested Machine in a matter of four moves. Her blade held at his throat as he looked up at her. Machine wasn’t a pretty boy or charming or anything that should gain her interest. He was a nerdy boy simply trying to please the only family he’d ever known. This was the advanced class. He knew it. The expectations weren’t a surprise.
When Deirdre had looked down at Machine, she no longer saw the nerdy boy playing at being a soldier. She saw her mother. It had to be a psychological malfunction. She knew her mother was long since gone, burned in a pyre. Still, she saw her mother’s face looking up at her much like it had been that perilous day.
Maybe the simple truth was that she didn’t want to be a murderer. No, that wasn’t true. She wouldn’t mind killing Midnight. She guessed the reality of it was that she no longer cared about living.
She didn’t want to be here. She wanted a life outside these walls. When her mother lived, they’d talked about starting a security company. They’d toyed with the idea of escape from this cult and a new life on their own. Now she had no mother and no hope.
Her heart thudded faster and she feared Midnight could hear it hammering in her chest. She tried to slow it but the women behind him were moaning and Midnight’s eyes stayed on her. The effect of his stare increased her desire to run and run. He would catch her though.
“I apologize. I truly hoped he could be retrained.”
Midnight lifted the whip. “Too bad you’re not yet of age. I would enjoy teaching you many things. Now I have to think of a punishment.” His smile grew wider, the white teeth more pronounced. His black hair framed his face, making his features appear unnaturally pale. “Oh, wait. Your seventeenth birthday is next week. You’ll be of our acceptable age.” He touched himself. “I’ll save your punishment for then. We’ll both enjoy it more.”
He started laughing. Deirdre should’ve waited to be dismissed but she couldn’t stand the sight of him. She turned and ran to the door. He didn’t stop her. His laughter increased as if her fright pleased him. No doubt he would make her pay for leaving without being dismissed, along with any other sins.
She threw open the door and ran down the hall. As she reached the staircase that led to her room, the building shook. Wooden crossbeams groaned, lights tumbled, shattering at her feet. Somewhere, people screamed. An explosion made the building tremble again. The smell of smoke and charred wood filled the hall. For a moment she stood there smelling it. Her eyes burned. It became hard to breathe. Heat billowed through the structure. She wanted to stay and face whatever this was. Fire. Death. Rel
So I am a coward, she thought as she ran up the stairs and away from the flames she heard crackling too close to the main hall.
She would be trapped in her room if the fire spread. Of course deep down she prayed it would spread. She wanted to see the flames erode the building into nothing. She didn’t have the strength to watch it though.
Deirdre made it to her room and looked out of the window. Fire spread throughout the grounds. All of the closest buildings were burning. Orange-yellow flames licked toward the sky, hungry for more to consume.
“This is how it should be. This is how it should die.”
Ten years later
The promise of a dangerous evening lurked beneath the façade of power and social grace. It was the only interesting element to this soirée and the reason behind Deirdre’s company handling the security.
Dozens of couples danced through the reception hall of the swank Cotters Restaurant. Dull smiles stayed plastered across their faces while they moved with the classical music. A group of people clothed in black played live for the attendees of tonight’s event. They sat on a raised stage of white marble while music drifted down from their instruments to the dancers. If any of the guests were displeased with the social event, none showed it. Of course that might’ve been some sort of social faux pas. People were always supposed to be impressed and entertained by the lady of the evening, Tamara Haas.
Deirdre had to admit that she felt out of her element in Tamara’s world. She’d never been blessed with sophistication. She could topple a man to the ground in two moves but had no idea how to dance, much less which fork to use in a formal situation. Men asked her on dates. Many thought her long brown hair and slender body were appealing. Others were drawn to her pale, creamy skin and dark brown eyes. She never felt comfortable in social settings though. She’d never considered herself dainty or even feminine. Most basic interactions seemed foreign, as if she’d been dropped into a world where she would never really belong.
In a way she was jealous of the couples swirling before her eyes. They dressed in long lovely gowns, seemingly from a storybook. Not one hair strayed, nor did make-up run from its proper place. It almost looked as if the people weren’t real. This could be nothing more than a movie where nary a misstep could be seen.
As she watched, she felt her body involuntarily swaying in time with them. She had to wonder what it would be like to be held, to let another lead her around the floor. It must feel magical to be part of that scene. No. Not magical. She didn’t like magic.
Deirdre shook her head and stared into the ballroom. She had to focus, not daydream about things that couldn’t possibly happen.
She watched them, trying to reach out with her senses and pick who among them would attack her client. None showed any signs of trouble. The only palpable tension came from a few younger women, dancing with much older men. There were no guests who stuck out or behaved erratically. No wallflowers stared with menace at her employer. So far, it was another dull party.
This was one of the few establishments in the seaside town of Lawrenceton that could handle a star-studded event. Although the little community had become a playground for the rich and reclusive, it maintained small town charms instead of becoming a glossy mirror to New York. Some restaurants catered to more intimate settings and others had a family atmosphere. The trendy places of the larger metropolises never made it into Lawrenceton. For whatever reason the rich turned to the current “in” spots located far away, the basic need for real life brought them to this town.
The rich, however, always demanded special treatment. This was the main reason for her security company’s success. Even if the police department had trouble acknowledging it, people of power had unique troubles. All of which Deirdre’s company could handle. They managed to protect and serve without leaking the details to the press, something the police department here always failed to do.
Word of mouth brought Deirdre all her clients. She never asked where someone had heard about Security Specialists. She assumed that cocktail parties included gossip beyond designer dresses and social lives to that of protection. However her reputation was passed to others, the rumors of her skill had brought Tamara Haas to her company asking for protection from a stalker.
Deirdre knew the situation here would prove challenging considering the huge turnout for Tamara Haas’ party. Everyone in this town loved a good party, especially when they were able to rub elbows with their idols or increase their social network.
The ultra-modern restaurant, positioned near the ocean with long, wide windows overlooking the waves, was aesthetically pleasing. A circular drive, complete with valet parking faced the road, while side doors led to decks for smokers or guests wanting to escape the crush of the gathering. In other words, it created an ideal opportunity for a desperate stalker to hide and find the right opportunity for murder. There were too many entry points to secure. Already a killer might be within inches, playing nice, waiting for the right opening.
Music rolled off the walls. The heavy burgundy curtains dampened the sound to a dull roar making the undercurrent of conversation prevalent below the concert. A few glasses clinked while uniformed waiters made rounds with hors d’oeuvres and free flowing champagne. Everyone looked so nice, sophisticated in their tuxedos and long gowns created by designers only the rich discussed.
The room appeared to be filled to capacity. Deirdre’s crew worked each exit and key surveillance points throughout the restaurant. They blended perfectly as waiters, guests, and parking attendants. No entrance or exit area had been left unguarded.
“Where are you?” she whispered out loud.
Deirdre had a feeling the stalker would strike tonight. The opportunity was too inviting. He could attack and disappear back into the crowd before anyone realized what had happened. Her instincts were rarely wrong when it came to these things and her instincts screamed for her to be on guard.
She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the atmosphere. Again, she came up with nothing but a pack of partiers feigning more delight than they actually felt.
Deirdre watched Tamara Haas across the room. Her client was a lady of the theater, or an actress, although Ms. Tamara Haas never called herself an actress. While too young to earn so much respect, Tamara remained unaffected by the whims of Hollywood. Somewhere in her mid-thirties, perhaps ten years older than Deirdre, Tamara did not know a single person who would demean her or her work. It was weird to have someone set on such a pedestal.
Tamara’s hair was coiffed high on her head, creating an ebony tower with a few dark tendrils carefully placed around her face to accentuate her deep blue eyes. She was no shrinking violet. The woman demanded attention and dressed the part with a heaving bosom and barely enough lilac cloth in her dress to keep it contained.
Deirdre wanted to give the area another sweep. Stepping into the adjoining hallway, she checked for any guests close enough to hear her or watch her actions. A couple of women giggled as they walked by her. No doubt they’d been partaking in some drugs to liven up the evening. Deirdre waited for them to leave the area.
She was the only waitress wearing an apron over her black slacks, one with pockets wide enough to hide her nine millimeter pistol. The radio receiver fit snugly inside her ear, making it nearly invisible while the main unit was clipped neatly in the cloth. Reaching into the apron, she lifted out a small transmitter, meant to be worn at the mouth, but it could be seen during close conversations forcing her to keep it hidden until it was necessary to communicate with her crew.
“Front? Any sign of our target?”
“No.” Mark’s southern drawl came through with a terrible crackle.
“Nothing.” Sabrine spoke quietly as if there might be a crowd nearby retrieving their cars from the valet.
“Clear. I mean nothing.” Lee never got that right. She’d trained him personally. ‘Clear’ was onl
“Nothing suspicious,” Tech replied.
Deirdre couldn’t check the other members of her crew for risk of exposing their position. One lone waitress stopping throughout the room to talk to other employees would be time consuming and obvious to anyone watching for a trap.
She had used everyone in this job, a total of thirteen guards and one computer tech, instead of her usual two or three regular agents. Most of her employees worked on a job by job basis. They were reliable, as long as they knew the pay was good. Sabrine and Tech were the only salaried staff and the only ones who didn’t need supervision.
Tech was a constant, no matter what the job. This time she had him situated in a side room, converted to an office, directly linked to the monitors that showed every corner through an elaborate camera system. Everyone at the party was on video. She always liked jobs to be recorded in case it turned nasty or the cops stopped being cordial.
Where are you? She waited, watching the crowd. Come on. Where are you?
Suddenly the atmosphere inside changed. A sensation similar to electricity swept over her like it always had when things were becoming interesting. She stepped from the hall and scanned the room. There were too many people to keep a proper visual. Deirdre felt the room’s energy change though; someone was here who didn’t belong.
With determination, she gave the room another scan. There wasn’t a single man out of place; each director, actor, backer, and several ex-husbands had been invited. The room bloomed with A-listers, wanting a moment for casual conversation with the popular diva.
From the corner of her eye, Deirdre caught a glimpse of a large black woman dressed in a bright blue gown making her way through the crowd. To Deirdre’s practiced eye, the woman’s shoulders were a little too broad and her steps had an awkward gait as she made her way through the guests.