MAGIC FOR A PRICE
Book 9 – Allie Beckstrom
I never expected cookies at the end of the world. Some other more violent dessert perhaps, like volcano cake or devil’s food or heck, maybe even zucchini muffins since everyone knows zucchini is evil. But cookies? Those are happy life-goes-on desserts.
And that was exactly what my best friend, Nola, was cooking. By the truckload.
Two days ago I had led a small group of magic users, who were also my friends, in a magical battle for the safety of the people and magic in Portland, Oregon against Jingo Jingo—a powerful and mad Death magic user. The only reasons they’d needed me, Allie Beckstrom, to lead them were one: we were on the run, and two: our backup for the fight—Hounds who, like me, tend to work in the shadier corners of the city tracking down illegal spells—would listen only to one of their own.
Magic had been poisoned—a problem we still haven’t solved—and it was spawning the Veiled: ghosts of dead magic users who were infecting and killing the living. Not that anyone in the Authority would have believed us about any of that. We had fought Jingo Jingo, and the entire Authority—the secret group of people who decide who uses magic and how.
None of us had gotten out of that fight unscathed. Some of us would carry those wounds, and the things magic had done to us, for the rest of our lives.
Jingo Jingo was dead but we still hadn’t come up with a cure for magic.
Which was why we were all here at Kevin Cooper’s estate. We had to find a way to cure magic before Leander and Isabelle, two undead and superpowerful magic users who made Jingo Jingo look like a fluffy puppy when it came to madness and magic, showed up to kick what was left of our asses.
Generally not a situation I’d expect to be celebrating with cookies.
“Nola,” I said. “What’s wrong?”
“Allie!” She bent in front of the oven, her honey-colored hair pulled back in a long braid, a plain white apron tied at her waist. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
She drew two sheets full of cookies out of the oven and turned toward me. “Nothing’s wrong. Cookie?” Her freckled cheeks were pink from baking, her hair doing that cute curl-thing around her face from the heat. But she wasn’t smiling.
I stared at the cookies on platters, stacked in step-mountain pyramids across the counter tops, and filling bowl after bowl in rounded domes. Chocolate chip, sugar, gingersnaps, oatmeal, and something that looked like red velvet.
“You bake when you’re worried. You bake a lot when you’re really worried.” I pointed at the heaps of cookies. “What’s wrong? Really.”
She shrugged one shoulder and expertly slid the spatula under a black-and-white crinkle cookie, depositing it on the cooling rack.
“Nothing,” she said. “Well, nothing new. To you, anyway.”
I took a drink out of my water bottle and waited for her to continue.
All this violent and secret magic stuff was new to Nola. I was afraid my friend wasn’t coping with this new knowledge with her usual aplomb.
Finally, I asked, “Is it Cody? Is he okay?” Nola had taken Cody in about a year ago. He had gotten mixed up with a lot of the wrong people and ended up with his memories taken away and his mind broken. We’d done what we could to heal him a couple of days ago.
Still, it was strange to see her without him by her side.
Nola stopped sliding cookies onto the rack and turned to face me.
She frowned, looking worried, which I supposed was better than exhausted or injured. “He’s still trying to get his footing, I think,” she said. “Since Zayvion joined the two parts of his . . . soul . . . or mind . . . or memories?”
I shrugged. She jabbed the spatula at me. “That. That sums up everything.”
“The shrug. You just take all of this in stride. Like it’s normal for a young man to have half of his mind and soul or whatever broken in two. One part of him nothing more than a ghost, the other part of him alive and struggling to do the simplest things. And then it’s normal to shove those two pieces of him back together again so that he’s someone different, even though he’s the same.”
“It’s not normal,” I said. “It’s just I’ve been aware of this level of magic and magical cost and retributions for months. You’ve only found out about it. It takes a while to get used to it all.”
“You could have told me.”
“About the Authority?”
Ah, so this was what had sparked the baking explosion.
I relied on Nola. Magic had always made me pay the price in pain like everyone else who used it, and then it had taken a chunk of my memories for good measure. I’d lost fewer memories lately, but if what Jingo Jingo had said about my father, Daniel Beckstrom, was true, it was possible people—like my dad—had also used magic to take my memories.
Nola had always been the one to give me back my memories when I lost them. For her to be able to do that, I confided in her and told her everything that was happening in my life.
Everything. Even the uncomfortable stuff . . . until I met Zayvion Jones, got framed for my father’s murder, tangled with the secret organization of magic users, and realized telling Nola everything I was mixed up in might just get her killed.
“Why didn’t you?” she asked.
I dragged my hand back through my hair, trying to tuck it behind my ears even though it was too short to stay put.
It was strange to think that it had been only two days ago we’d been fighting for our lives in St. Johns. Fighting against the very people who were going to be gathering now, here, to try to stop an even bigger threat.
Leander and Isabelle. We knew they’d possessed the Overseer, the one person who held the highest and most powerful position in the Authority.
Which meant they had every member of the Authority in the world at their beck and call.
All we had was us.
Well, and cookies.
I didn’t know who was going to make the decisions about what to do next. Maybe Victor Forsythe, who had been my Faith magic teacher, or maybe Maeve Flynn who taught Blood magic and was also my friend Shamus Flynn’s mother. Hell, it could be twins Carl and La, since they’d stepped up to serve as spokespersons for the Authority right after the battle with Jingo.
Whoever it was, they’d have a plateful of hard choices in front of them. Like how to stop Leander and Isabelle. And how to convince every other magic user in the world that two dead people were possessing the highest ranking magical official in their organization.
“Must be a big reason if it’s taking you that long to answer.” Nola scooped dough that smelled like peanut butter onto the sheets.
“Not really,” I said. “I’m just . . . not at full speed yet. On anything.”
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “Maybe you should get some sleep before the meeting?”
“No. Maeve wants to talk to Zay, Shame, Terric, and me to see how we might use the disks to cure magic. And I want to see how Shame and Terric handle magic now.”
“Since the fight. When they . . . died for each other using magic.” I said it as if that explained everything. Only it didn’t really explain anything. Not to a woman who had spent most of her adult life living in a small town on a large farm without magic.
“Zay and I are Soul Complements,” I said. “We can make magic bend the rules of what it will and won’t do. All Soul Complements have that ability. I think that’s why it’s so rare to have two people linked together in that way. When you use magic together like that, you can do things other magic users can’t do. Usually deadly things.”
“How many Soul Complements are there?”
“In the world.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never asked.”
For the briefest moment, a parade of faces flashed behind my eyes. Memories from my dad, who was possessing a corner of my mind. Memories of people he knew—Soul Complements. Men and women, young and old, from a variety of different ethic backgrounds, all smiling in that over-the-moon-in-love kind of way. Several of the faces carried with them Dad’s emotions, and I was surprised he thought kindly of these people. Maybe even cared for many of them.
“Maybe a dozen pairs?” I continued. “I know of Zay and myself, and probably Shame and Terric, though Shame refuses to be tested to find out if he and Terric are a match. Chase and Greyson were Soul Complements too. I haven’t met anyone else, although now I kind of wish I had.”
“Chase?” she asked. “Zayvion’s ex-girlfriend?”
“Is Greyson still alive?”
“No. Leander killed him. Killed him, and used him to kill Chase.”
“Allie,” she breathed. Nola was no stranger to death. Behind her country girl manners, she was no shrinking flower. Still, her gaze was heavy with the knowledge that Leander, on his own, had already successfully killed two Soul Complements.
“It hasn’t always been this way,” I said. “Maeve and Victor told me that things aren’t usually this death-y in the Authority. It’s just since my dad died . . .”
“And possessed you.” Again with the even gaze.
Oh, there was no way I was getting out of this now.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you. I mean I couldn’t just call and say, ‘Hey, Nola, guess who’s in my head? My dead dad! Yes, he’s still a self-centered jerk, yes, he still wants to rule my life, but you know, no biggie.’ It just sounds too crazy. You would have thought I’d really lost it. I tried to get rid of him. More than once. Thought that when I did I could tell you he was gone, and it wouldn’t matter if you believed me or not. But now . . . he’s been helpful lately. I guess.”
“Do you trust him?”
I thought about it for a second or two. Dad had been quiet in my head since the battle. I could still feel his awareness there in my thoughts, his wintergreen presence, but he wasn’t getting in my way, wasn’t offering suggestions. Other than that sudden flash of his memories, it was like he was observing and meditating, resting up for a big effort of some kind.
And he might be very wise to be doing so.
“I don’t know. It’s weird. I want to trust him.”
Nola’s eyebrows went up and she smiled a little. “Really? You, the rebel child?”
“I told you it was weird. But since he’s been dead, we’ve had to work together. He’s been . . . respectful. Mostly. But he’s still done things that . . . that I don’t like.”
“So you don’t trust him?”
I sighed. “I guess I should at this point. But, no. Not with every fiber of my being.”
“But you trust Zayvion.” It wasn’t a question. It didn’t have to be. She knew.
“Down to the last drop.”
“So when you use magic together, as Soul Complements, you can make magic bend the rules,” she said. “Can Shame and Terric do that too?”
“If what they did out on the battlefield against Jingo Jingo is any indication, yes.”
“Is it more dangerous to use magic that way?”
“I guess so. But magic is always dangerous. Zay and I try not to cast together like that because when we do, we sort of get lost in each other’s minds.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It’s not. At all. But it’s hard to let go of him and want to stay breathing in my own body when I’m wrapped up in the man I love.”
“Oh,” she exhaled.
She was such a romantic.
I took a drink of water to cover my smile. “We’re okay. Zay and I are pretty good at not using magic together in ways that make us do something . . . disastrous.”
“Well, Leander and Isabelle were Soul Complements. They were the first pair ever discovered. A few hundred years ago they used magic to torture, kill, and destroy anyone who disagreed with them throughout the world. The only way the Authority stopped them was by breaking magic into two forms—light and dark—which drastically changed how it can be used.”
“Wait,” she said. “A few hundred years ago?”
“After breaking magic, the Authority killed Leander, and broke Isabelle’s mind. But apparently that wasn’t enough. They found their way back from death and possessed people. And now they want all the magic, which we won’t let them have, and all the world, which we won’t let them take. They’ll be headed this way to go all apocalypse on anyone standing in their way.” I gave her a smile to try to take the sting out of all that.
“Is that was this is then? An apocalypse?”
“Naw. Not with all these happy cookies to eat.” But my smile faded, and I ran my fingers through my hair again, nervous. I may talk a big game, but the truth was I was scared out of my pants to have to face Leander and Isabelle again.
“Maybe,” I said quietly. “If we can stop them and send them both back to death, maybe it won’t be the end of the world.”