UNMAKE (Spellhounds Book 2), page 24
Car doors closed ahead of me. I didn’t look up. Tiny green sprouts had pushed up between the bricks, their leaves small enough to fit on the end of a pin. They’d survived, somehow. Eked out a place between the cracks of a structure that wasn’t made for them. Had they made those cracks themselves, or had they simply taken the opportunity when it arrived?
A pair of polished black shoes appeared in my line of sight, followed by knees, arms, and shoulders as the man crouched in front of me.
“Jaesung Park, right?”
Slowly, my head weighing a million pounds, I lifted my eyes. Enforcer Randolph crouched before me. I’d only seen him at a distance, and the effect of his symmetrical face set me to sitting upright. He looked like an elf. Fuck. Maybe he was an elf. I didn’t know anything for sure anymore. Except that he was looking at me, waiting for an answer.
I nodded, and as I did, Eric walked up with Officer Blue Eyes and two more enforcers in tow. Either they’d left a few back to clean up the mess, or they’d lost someone.
Randolph glanced back at Eric. “This the kid? The one Gwydian tagged?”
Somewhere beneath the fog of shock, there was a tiny ping of worry. My gaze shot to Eric. What had Randolph meant by tagged? De Vries was staring at Eric as well, as though he wasn’t sure what was being discussed.
Eric nodded, and apparently saw the panic slowly waking in my eyes.
“Gwydian talked while he was here,” Eric said. “I confirmed the report. Randolph knows.”
De Vries’s brows lowered, but he didn’t speak. I stared at him, brain clicking back into gear. Sluggishly, I put my hands on my knees and stood up.
We were close in height, but he was a weight class higher, all of the extra power concentrated in arms and shoulders. I clocked this difference, and again, it slid through my brain without making a lasting impression. It didn’t change what I was going to do.
I think everyone realized it a second too late.
My fist hit him across the jaw. I felt the slice of a tooth over my knuckles, the shudder of impact on bone and flesh. Hands grabbed me, two sets of them, and De Vries’s fist was clutched in the collar of my shirt. His teeth were bloody as he bared them at me, the fury of a fight flashing hot in his eyes.
I wanted him to hit me back. I wanted him to demand a reason for hitting him. I wanted Eric to let me go, so I could beat the shit out of the asshole who had started us down this road. It was his fault Helena was inside now, beyond my reach, maybe forever.
But he didn’t hit back, and he didn’t ask why. Slowly, the lightning in his gaze dimmed, and his breathing evened out. De Vries unclenched his fist from my shirt and stepped back, spitting blood onto the ground. Randolph stepped between us.
“Park! Get a fucking hold on yourself!” he said. “You will not improve things for Helena if you lose your shit on the people trying to help her.”
I swung my attention to Randolph, fresh fury swelling in my brain. “He is NOT trying to help her!” I managed. “That...he’s the one who-”
“You didn’t see the trial,” Eric said beside me. “I don’t like him any more than you do, Park, but he’s on our side. On hers. At least, more than most of the Guild.”
I wrenched my arm out of Eric’s hold and knuckle-wiped my nose.
De Vries seemed to be sucking blood off his teeth, which was at least satisfying. The pain in my hand was satisfying too.
“I thought the Guild would want me dead if you knew,” I said.
Randolph frowned, stepping up onto the lowest stair. “Largely, yes. The current mandate is to take spellhounds dead or alive. Until you, there weren’t any who had not also committed atrocities while under the control of or duress from Gwydian. Your situation’s a bit different. We weren’t even sure you’d try to transform, so we kept the secret, hoping to lessen the impact on your life. As long as you kept your shit together, we were going to keep your secret.”
“My shit was fine until this asshole blew the whistle.”
De Vries snorted.
“Sir,” Eric said, stepping forward. “I’d like to request permission to train Park.”
Together, Randolph and I said, “As what?”
Eric crossed his arms, tan fingers drumming on his jacket sleeve. “As an Enforcer.”
Randolph leaned back, chin dipping in disbelief. De Vries’s face twisted in confusion. I mostly just felt blindsided. I didn’t have magic. How was I going to be an Enforcer without magic?
“Helena and I worked together with her in hound form,” Eric said. “Granted, she could still cast, but that wasn’t the major advantage. Jaesung is intelligent, physically adept, resilient, and cool in a crisis. He-”
“He should be a police officer,” De Vries said. “A regular officer. The Enforcers are sorcerers, and he isn’t one.”
“No,” Eric said. “But he can’t use his shapeshifting skill as a police officer—he won’t have the freedom. If I work with him, he could be a real asset to the Enforcers. He can track and can destroy magic circles, just like the other spellhounds. And you saw him—he has the right protective instinct.”
Randolph’s fists were on his hips, resting above the holsters for his guns. He narrowed his eyes at me, scanning me up and down as though there were some psychic aura around me that he could read and use to determine how bad an idea this was.
“I can see what you’re saying,” he granted. “But there’s a flaw.” He met my eyes solidly, and it felt suddenly like I’d been called on in class when I hadn’t been paying attention. “Would you be loyal to the Guild if Helena is sentenced to death?”
The question was an insult. I let my contempt bleed into my voice as I answered him. “My loyalty isn’t on the table. And if she’s sentenced to death, I’m going to fuck all your shit up.”
I expected Randolph to sneer. I half wanted him to grab me, drag me inside where Helena was and lock me up to be taken with her to tribunal. Instead, he just gave a dainty snort.
“I thought so. Well, Eric,” he said, glancing at him. “Still want to train him?”
“This is not a good plan,” De Vries said.
“No one asked you,” I said, a little mad he wasn’t slurring more.
Eric’s mouth formed a grim line, and he looked at me. I saw his jaw work. “You’ve got a future in law enforcement, if you want it. You’ve got the instincts for it, and if you’ve proved anything to me over the past few days, it’s that you’re not content to sit back and let other people take the risks.” He shook his head. “If you want out of all this Magic bullshit, I can get you in a local BLET course and you can be a normal cop. But this is your future, kid.”
I didn’t know what to think. I turned slowly, gazing up at the door Helena had thrown me out of. “Will I be able to help her?”
“I know a way you can,” Randolph said. “In fact, I’m going to make it a condition of your training.” He crossed his arms and fixed his gaze on Eric, who looked concerned, but nodded.
“I’ll approve this Enforcer training,” Randolph said. “But first, the two of you are going to hunt down the last spellhound still at large.”
My heart plummeted into my stomach like a weight.
“Helena’s cousin, Morgan.”
It was night when I arrived in Istanbul, escorted by a small squad of strangers with Enforcer tattoos. We’d taken a private plane, chartered by the International Guild. I hadn’t needed a passport, and I didn’t know how we made it into Turkish airspace, or who owned the small, private airstrip where we landed.
I walked down the stairs, carefully, because my hands had been confined in a set of handcuffs. I smelled grass and fumes, but there was something about the air here—something in the quality of it that told me I was Somewhere Else.
Five Sorcerers waited for me. They were a range of ages, though the two youngest appeared to be in their mid-twenties. A middle-aged woman in a tunic, leggings, and hijab stepped forward, her tawny eyes ring
A minute later, the transfer was done. One of the twenty-something men took my arm, and the other said a quick word that I didn’t understand—maybe “sorry”, but maybe not—and put a black bag over my head.
We rode in a car. Then we got out of the car and walked. Then we rode in another car, which smelled heavily of one consistent driver. A personal car.
At last, we got out, and I was told to keep my eyes down. The bag was removed from my head. I saw wet flagstones and smelled the unfamiliar spices of foreign food. I sensed lights and people, a thrumming city, but there was something distinctly…ancient about the feel of this place. Like it had a million years of ghosts.
Nowhere in America felt light that. Well, nowhere I’d been.
The Turkish woman approached me with a black scarf, which she wrapped around my head and shoulders in an imitation of her own hijab. Only she pulled mine a bit lower, covering my eyebrows and blocking off what little view I might have had of the buildings above and around me.
My escorts fell in on either side, with one behind and two in front. Every instinct screamed at me to look around, to get my bearings in this foreign-smelling, ancient-feeling place. I needed to see where I was, so I could navigate, locate the strategic points of cover and escape.
But I kept my eyes on the woman’s shoes, determined to do nothing to earn their disapproval. If I wanted to beat the Guild, I first had to stop fighting it.
The sorcerers led me into a side alley and through a door locked with magic. I assumed it was a mandala, but I didn’t catch sight of it as they ushered me inside, and down a narrow set of weathered stone steps.
They were uneven, with shallow depressions in the center of each step were centuries of feet had tread. Below us, I heard the shushing sound of running water, magnified by the echo of a large underground space. When we reached the bottom step, I chanced a glance upward and saw…
Columns, illuminated from below with small baskets of coal. Arches that intersected in geometric patterns like the ceiling of a chapel. And all around us were long trenches of water, black surface rippling. The air was heavy and wet, and I couldn’t see the source of the rushing sound.
The word ‘cistern’ leapt to mind, called up from some history textbook or internet article read years and years ago. It might have been wrong, but it made sense. Constantinople had surviving aqueducts from its Roman times, and the water from those had to collect somewhere, like artificial aquifers.
We walked through this place for several more minutes, and I was soon grateful for the hijab keeping my neck and shoulders warm. The air down here was cold, and the humidity only seemed to intensify that chill.
I couldn’t help but count turns, memorizing the path they led me through as well as I could without looking any higher than the knees. The well-lit columns fell behind us, leaving us to walk in the illumination of a single flashlight. The floor seemed to be sloping back up very slightly, and the sound of rushing water was fading.
Then we arrived at a second door. Between the two sorcerers in front of me, I saw bands of iron etched with mandalas and other magical forms I’d never seen. I recognized a hamsa, an evil eye, a Celtic triskele…
Orange power flashed bright, and the sorceress in front of me pushed open the door. I followed them into a narrow passage bordered on either side with actual barred doors—the kind you might expect from a dungeon.
There were other people down here. I could hear them breathing and moving around beyond the cell doors. There was also the incongruous flickering blue of a television set. I looked up as the sorceress opened a cell door.
It wasn’t covered in dirty straw, like I’d half expected. The floor was layered in a number of old rugs, and there was a simple screen at the back which I assumed hid something more advanced than a bucket.
The bed was narrow, but looked clean enough, and there was even a desk with a few books in Turkish and a small TV set.
I wanted a sketch book, but there was no way they’d give me something like that.
I took a steadying breath and nodded. I could do this. I turned around and met the sorceress’s eyes. She nodded at me, and I nodded back.
A moment later, the door to the cell was closed. I watched a mosaic of mandalas light up around the room, sealing me in as the group slid out, leaving behind only a single sorcerer to guard the door.
I blinked in the sudden darkness, the spell light making spots over my eyes. I heard the other prisoners—prisoner? I couldn’t tell quite how many there were—moving in the cell opposite.
“Well…this is a surprise.”
The voice was rusted from lack of use, but I would know it anywhere. I still heard it, every time my brain coughed up terrors to play out in my nightmares.
My destroyed night-vision returned gradually, but I didn’t need it. He was there, the unburned parts of his face illuminated by the blue light of the television screen.
Gwydian smiled at me through the bars.
Yeah, that’s where it ends. Sorry! (Kind of. Muahaha.) Despite the cliffhanger ending, I hope you enjoyed UNMAKE.
Reviews help me get the book into the hands of more readers, so if you’re up for it, shout it out.
Were you surprised? Do you hate De Vries? Love him and think he’ll change? Do you like Jaesung’s POV? Do you think Krista is a wizard?
I also love hearing from you by email. Have questions? Dog biscuits? Keyboard smash stand-ins for whale-noises of agony? Hit me up: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Also by Lauren Harris
The Spellhounds Series
The Millroad Academy Exorcists Series
(Young Adult Paranormal Novellas)
EXORCISING AARON NGUYEN
THE GIRL IN ACID PARK
The Binded Lands Series
For a list of Lauren’s published short stories, visit www.laurenbharris.com
I wrote this book in a fugue state in November 2017, during which Lauren Nicholson (my pet librarian) fed our three feline overlords, washed some dishes, and occasionally poked her head into my room to make sure I wasn’t dead. Best human ever.
Much as I like writing De Vries, I have trouble thinking like a man with the Javert-like tendency to overdo Lawful/Good. Luckily, Adryn Erickson makes a disconcertingly good Consulting Villain.
Thanks to beta-readers Martin Spernau, Stephanie Burnside, Leon Robbins, and Jason Kivela.
Finally, I will never release a book into the wild without first passing it through editing by Kelly Fisher and copy-editing by Rosemary Tizledoun. These two ladies are typokemon masters. SWIDT?
About the Author
Lauren was raised by an impulsive furniture mover and an itinerant TV News professional in a string of homes up and down the East Coast of the United States. Eventually settling (sort of) in Raleigh, NC, Lauren befriended a band of whimsical nerds who found themselves de-facto beta readers for her scribblings.
After graduating from UNC-Greensboro, where she studied English and Classics, Lauren moved to Tokyo. While there, she studied Japanese, taught ESL, and fell in love with the hot drinks section of the vending machines.
Now, Lauren Balances a career in Cardiac Ultrasound with her passion for writing and other creative pursuits. She is an assistant editor at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show magazine, and her narration can be heard on Audible.com, Escape Pod, and Apex Magazine Podcast.
For more information, and a free short story, check out
Lauren Harris, UNMAKE (Spellhounds Book 2)
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