Well, the votes are in, and the title Fortunate Magic for the newest Land of Enchantment book got a thumbs-down. My personal favorite is Omenous Magic, but voter’s choice is Fateful Magic. So Fateful Magic it is for now. Here’s the next chapter. To read from the beginning, start here.
Vadim pushed up from his chair and paced. The thick carpet hushed the agitated tread of his boots. Through the open window behind him, a hot inland breeze flicked the papers on his desk.
“Tell me, Nikolai,” he commanded his servant. “How is this of value to me? What possible use can I make of what you tell me?”
Niko curled and uncurled his fingers, a small gesture of nervousness. Not surprising given the statement the man had just made. Few people nowadays admitted to believing such things.
“I thought it would be funny,” Niko said, not quite pleading for Vadim’s forbearance. “Get my fortune told. Maybe afterwards, show her all the places she went wrong.” He ran a hand down his chin. “Boss, she didn’t get anything wrong.”
Speaking rather too fast, he detailed the fortune teller’s words, counting out points on his fingers.
Vadim gave a small, mocking smile. “Surely she couldn’t have meant pimping, pushing and protection. Sales and insurance are common enough to include most anything.”
“I know,” Niko said, ruffling a little, then caught himself. “I thought the same thing,” he went on in a more respectful tone. “But I could tell she wasn’t thinking ‘salesman’ and ‘insurance.’ I could see it in her face. You know how it is, how they look when they know who we are, what we do. She didn’t want to say what she’d really seen. Then…then she said I’d learned a truth. How could she know I decided she wasn’t just spouting shit?”
Vadim turned to the window, clasping his hands behind him to hide his excitement. Beyond the glass, a carpet-like lawn, sculpted bay and yew trees, glossy jasmine vines starred with white flowers rolled away to the high wall that enclosed his property.
His mind worked, turning over thoughts like stones. He’d be reborn into an age that had left magic to children, madmen and imposters. How humbling it had been! To find his power considered nothing but hokum or delusion. To realize that the name Vadim Dragovich, the Dragon of Russia, had been forgotten, lost to centuries and distance like everything he’d built.
He’d had to start again with nothing but his wits and wizardry. It had taken some time and much care to conceal his true nature, but once more he had money, influence, power over men. But to know the future…
Ah! What he could accomplish with a seer!
“You believe her,” he said, still thinking.
“I wouldn’t’ve said anything if I didn’t. I’m telling you, this one’s the real thing.”
Vadim nodded slowly. Seeress or sensitive, the woman might bear looking into. “Then I suppose I’ll just have to go see for myself.”
* * *
“Omigod!” Livy said. “Do you think he was with the Russian mob?”
Emilia frowned. “No, he wasn’t with any mob. Only his lady friend.”
They were eating dinner in Emilia’s trailer, a vegetable stew with the rustic loaf she’d bought at the bakery this morning. The savory aroma of the stew and the earthy one of bread filled the tiny space, even as the bowls, plates and butter dish covered the tiny table’s worn Formica.
“No—mob, like in organized crime, where they run crime like a business,” Livy said. “Didn’t you have that in India?”
When the subject came up, Emilia explained that she’d been living in India for the last fifteen years—which she had. Well, as long as one didn’t count the two hundred or so years she’d been out of the world. It often helped explain the gaps in her knowledge.
“Oh, Yes, like the Thugees.” She used her spoon to toy with a chunk of potato. “They were the ones who murdered my husband.”
Livy reached out a quick hand. “Oh, Emmi. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. How—?” She caught herself.
“How could it have happened with my foreknowledge?”
“No, never mind. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s all right,” Emilia said, patting Livy’s hand. “It was a long time ago.” Longer ago than Livy knew. “I can speak of it now. The Company called him to the interior to assess an area for its spice farming potential. Of course I felt the danger, but George insisted that a large, armed party would deter any would-be attackers.” She stirred her stew. “Of course he could scarcely plead off the assignment because his wife had a vision.”
Livy shook her head. “Then I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you you’d better be careful. You don’t want fool around with people like that.”
“No, I know. But the fellow mustn’t have found me worrisome. He gave me a hundred dollar tip.”
“Huh! You didn’t, you know, pick up anything?”
Emilia tore off a piece of bread. “Nothing to make me worry for my safety.”
“I guess that means a lot more than it would for most people.”
Usually. It wouldn’t comfort Livy to know that.
They ate in silence a few minutes, darkness growing swiftly under the trees that sheltered the trailer. Crickets cheeped outside, and faintly, on a trick of the wind, came the rush of the surf.
“You haven’t told me what you found on the beach today,” Emilia said to lighten the mood.
“Oh! After your Russian mobster, I completely forgot. Here…”
Livy pushed out of the banquette. She opened her crocheted purse and produced a Zip-Loc bag. She laid it on the table in front of Emilia.
“Take a look at that.”
The bag looked rather the worse for wear, opaque, crusted with salt and smelling of seaweed. Sand sprinkled the table as Emilia opened the crinkly, brittle plastic.
She gasped. It was filled with bills, curled and moist, but otherwise undamaged. Those she could see were hundreds.
“Livy! How much is here?”
“A lot,” Livy said. “I was afraid to count it all. I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t have anyplace safe for it, and I need to think a while before I decide what to do with that much money.”
“Perhaps you might open a bank account?”
Livy made a face. “Then I’d have to explain where I got it, and then they’d take it away from me.”
“I see.” Emilia filed this information away for future reference.
“Maybe you could keep it for me?” Livy said. “Just for a while. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’d be all paranoid if I stashed it at my place. I know nobody will ever look for it here.”
Emilia bowed her head, unaccountably troubled by the idea, but unwilling to refuse. “If it will make your mind easier, of course I will.”
“I really think you should have a share of it. If you hadn’t told me I’d find something good today, I probably would’ve thought it was just another piece of trash.”
A chill brushed Emilia. “No. This was no future I made.” Not this time.
“No, Livy. This is yours. I had nothing to do with finding it.”
Livy laid a hand on it. “What would you do with it, if it were yours?”
“Good heavens! I can hardly say.”
“Isn’t there anything you want?”
“What I want…” Emilia suddenly felt every year of her misplaced centuries. “I would so much like to belong again.”
To no longer haunt the edges of life like a stray dog.
Into Livy’s perplexed silence, she explained, “When George was alive, we had parties, outings, b—” Balls, she almost said, but quickly changed it to, “…dances. We had visitors, or went visiting ourselves. After he died, of course everything changed. Then, since I came here… Well, I suppose you could say I feel terribly out of place.”
“You’re nice,” Livy said. “And everyone who knows you likes you. But I never hear of you doing things with people.” She wet her lips, then blurted out, “You’re illegal, aren’t you? Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
Emelia squelched an unexpected urge to laugh. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Couldn’t you— Don’t take this wrong, you’re my friend and I’d hate to lose you. But couldn’t you go home again? You must still have friends back in India. What about your family in England? Your sisters.”
“Oh, Livy, if you only knew how impossible that is.”
“Are you sure?”
Emilia sighed. “Surer than I am of anything.”
* * *
The dragon returned to Emilia’s dreams that night. It circled on wings the color of rain, its shadow covering her, rippling across the beach ahead. She ran.
The sand dragged at her feet, slowing her. A cliff loomed ahead, sheer stone plunging into the surging waves. The dragon’s shadow grew. Its wingbeats sent plumes of sand skyward. Its breath beat hot against her back. The cliff loomed closer, the stretch of beach narrowed, narrowed, glassy water on one side, seething waves on the other, nowhere left to run—
Emilia jerked upright in bed, panting. The dim walls of her trailer enclosed her. Cool air and the smell of damp woods breathed through the open window beside her. The sea sighed in the distance, a rush, a lull, another rush.
“No.” She knotted her fingers in the covers. “It can’t be. It can’t be.”
The last time the dragon had haunted her dreams had been in India. How could she dream it here, now?
Perhaps it was no more than a dream, a simple conjuring of her imagination. Except…
Ice trickled down her spine as realization hit her. That beach was here, where the river ran into the Pacific Ocean. How many times had she seen that very cliff rising out of the sand as she walked with Livy, that same strip of sand that ran between the ocean and the river’s mouth? The very beach she’d dreamt of centuries ago and half a world away.
“No,” Emilia whispered again.
She didn’t believe in fate. She’d seen too often the mutability of the future, how a single word, a careless choice could change a life’s path. But this—
Back in India, rumors had been thick about the Dragon of Russia, the mysterious overlord who held sway in the savage backlands between Russia and India. It was said places from Omsk to the Kashmir sent him outright tribute. There were whispers that he was the unknown buyer slowly taking over the opium trade…and that he controlled other trades even more unsavory. There were whispers quieter still, that he was no ordinary warlord.
Then, five years after George’s death, the dreams had begun. The dragon hunting her, its shadow growing ever closer, the heat of its breath crisping the foliage around her as she ran.
In waking life, she ran for help straight to the man who would rip her gift from her being, plunging her into centuries-long darkness.
To awaken to find the same dream awaiting her here, this smacked of fate. As if time and distance meant nothing, for the dragon would hunt her no matter how far and how long she ran.
Outside, the crickets suddenly fell silent. The breeze fell and the sound of the sea died away.
Emilia rubbed her arms, though the air outside now felt warm and damp and heavy as a predator’s breath.
She quickly cranked the window closed, slipped out of bed and padded the four steps to the door. Yes, the lock was set. But the tiny space with its thin walls and low ceiling seemed no more protection than an eggshell against the night—
And what it might conceal.
* * *
Foresight was much like a jungle, with its onslaught of sights, sounds, smells. Was that a cobra, or a vine swaying in the breeze? Was that scream a monkey, or a panther? So many impressions and feelings to filter, to accept or discard. One had to learn how to decide what was warning, and what was wraith.
By the light of day and several days’ worth of distance, Emilia convinced herself that the dream of the dragon was only that—a dream.
It was no surprise that she might dream of the beach here, a small snatch of foreknowledge. But the dragon? She couldn’t think what it might represent. What could possibly threaten her both here and so long ago in India?
She sniffed and shook her head at herself. No, the dream had led her astray once. She wouldn’t allow it to do so again.
This morning, the fog pressed down, a grey gauze curtain that dulled color and damped sound. Cars’ tires made a soft hiss on the glistening road. Reminding her of her childhood in England, the fog soothed and comforted her, made her feel less outcast and alone.
She made her way past real estate offices and shops, cafes and inns, her bag over her shoulder and holding her skirt with one hand to keep the hem from the damp.
She paused to cross the highway. A car rolled to a stop and the driver put a hand out the window to wave her across. She dipped her head in thanks and crossed in front of the car.
The driver’s gaze breathed heat across her skin. She glanced aside, but between the pearly light and the sweep of windshield wipers, could see little but that the driver was a man. Without choosing to do so, she hurried the rest of the way across. The car’s engine purred and it rolled away up the highway, its taillights dissolving into the fog.
Emilia shook her head at herself again.
By the time she’d made her way to the farmer’s and crafts market, the sun was a shimmering disk peering through the mist.
The market’s paved lot was a bustle of activity. Vendors set up tables and booths, calling out instructions to helpers and greetings to other vendors. Pickup trucks rumbled, backing trailers into their usual spots.
Emilia walked past them to her own spot. Cari already had her van open and was hanging her dried flower arrangements on cream-painted pegboard.
“There you are,” Cari said. “I wasn’t sure if you’d come today, with the fog and all.”
“It won’t last much longer,” Emilia said. “Here, let me help you with that.”
Emilia put down her bag and hurried to Cari’s van to help her unload and set up. That was the exchange for Cari hauling Emilia’s folding table and chairs. It simply wasn’t practicable for Emilia to carry them a mile or so along the highway.
A breeze rose, carrying the scent of damp cedar and gradually pushing the fog out to sea. Colors woke out of the grey, fresh and glistening and new. A strip of blue water appeared beyond the beach, ending in a grey wall.
Cari settled in a chair. “Oh, this is perfect. We’ll have a good day, I think.”
In her spot next to Cari’s, Emilia pulled a cream and gold damask cloth from her bag and draped it over the well-worn folding table. Looping paisley cushions onto the backs and seats of the chairs, and she had a respectable setting for her consultations.
She turned her face to the sun and smiled. “Yes, I think we will.”
The produce stands were busiest early in the morning, with locals coming for cauliflower in gold and white and purple, preserves gleaming in their jars like rubies and amethysts, fresh flowers, nursery plants, home-baked goods. For the crafters, this was a time to chat and do their own browsing and shopping. A couple of regular clients sat down for a reading, but Emilia mostly watched the people passing by, chatting with those she knew by name.
As the hours passed and the day warmed, the tourists began to appear and the market grew busier. It was, Emilia was given to understand, somewhat of a weekend destination for day-trippers from the Bay Area cities, to the south. She’d seen those cities only briefly after she’d reawakened, endless, overwhelming concentrations of noise and bustle and humanity. She’d passed through as quickly as she was able.
This, though, was pleasant, letting the cities come to her. She watched young couples with their arms around one another, families of children sucking on honey sticks, beautiful women with immaculate manicures and perfect hair on the arms of silver-templed men.
She was reading for a ponytailed woman when a sense of watching brushed her. Her seeing abruptly jumbled.
She shook her head, blinked then stammered to a stop.
“What is it?” the woman said, leaning forward. “What do you see?”
A man’s hand, reaching for me…
“A moment,” Emilia said and glanced around.
A few people were indeed watching her, as they usually did when trying to decide if they wished to consult her: Two middle-aged women whispering together. A young girl bouncing on her toes and tugging at her mother. A big man in sunglasses and a jean jacket at the booth across from Emilia’s table, where Kristie sold her watercolors of the ocean and beach.
As her gaze fell on him, he smiled. That smile was like an unexpected step in the dark—her stomach dipped and she sipped a quick breath. No nudge of her gift, but pure, startling attraction.
He turned back to the paintings and she could breathe again.
She gathered her scattered wits. “Forgive me,” she told her client and focused on her seeing once more.
* * *
Her name was Emilia Dunmoor. Officially, she didn’t exist. Vadim had ordered his best man to investigate her. He’d come up with—nothing.
She had no birth certificate. No driver’s license. She didn’t own a car. No bank accounts or credit cards. No telephone. She hadn’t gone to school anywhere. She’d arrived around a year and a half ago, renting a tiny trailer that sat on the property of an elderly couple whom she assisted with light tasks. She paid her rent and utilities in cash. She was quiet and polite and thought well of by everyone who knew her but seemed to have only one close friend, a woman named Olivia Rolfson who made driftwood sculptures to supplement her meager Social Security check.
The less he learned, the more intrigued Vadim became. She was like the wraith she’d appeared in the fog as she’d crossed the highway in front of his car this morning.
He watched her now.
She was too delicate for beauty, with large, dark eyes in a small face and feathery hair the color of owls’ wings. She wore a full-sleeved blouse that hinted at an attractive figure beneath and long skirt and shawl reminiscent of days long past. Along with her gentle English accent, the clothes gave her an air of…otherness, of being out of place and time.
She was indeed sensitive—his watching earlier had caught her attention even while she was absorbed by her cards and customer. Her gaze had travelled across the people nearby to land unerringly on him. For an instant he’d felt that she could see right through him, lay bare his soul. It shocked him, shook him, and to his dismay, he turned to escape that too-keen regard. He strengthened his ward spells and added one to fend off magical sight, then prowled among the crowd until he regained his equilibrium.
Now, he would see what she was. And if she was indeed as valuable as Nikolai thought she might be.
* * *
Between customers, Emilia kept catching herself looking for the man. He’d disappeared for a time, but she eventually caught a glimpse of him far down the row of booths. At last, he approached again and stood a distance away, eating nuts from a paper cone. She read for two more people while he watched, trying to keep her mind on her work.
He’s gathering courage to ask for a reading, she thought, then scolded herself for the flutter that went through her at the thought.
She wasn’t immune to men, after all. But to allow herself to grow close to someone, to allow him to learn her improbable past… How could it ever be possible?
It wasn’t. She’d realized that long ago.
No matter. When he approached and took off his sunglasses, her heart beat foolishly quicker.
She’d already noticed he was big; now she saw he was a study of contrasts: unforgiving cheekbones above the sweet curves of a mouth, dark slashes of brows over velvety brown eyes, hair like smoke-streaked pewter framing a face that looked too young for more than a handful of grey hairs.
“How much to tell my future?” His voice was soft and rich, rolled and rounded by a Russian accent.
Alarm spiked through her, but she squelched it. Not every Russian accent belonged to a criminal. And really, she did hear them occasionally—this was a tourist destination. No need to jump every time.
“Twenty dollars for fifteen minutes,” she said.
He thrust out his lower lip, considering, then sat down. She had to tilt up her face to look into his.
“What do you wish to learn?” she asked.
“Ah, but that’s in your hand.”
He smiled. “Nearly, perhaps.”
“Well, you must let me have it then.” Was she flirting? Oh, dear. She was.
“With pleasure,” he purred, flirting in return.
He extended his hand across the table. Before he turned it over, she saw a crisscrossing of scars on the back. She’d last seen scars like that in India, on a soldier whose company had seen close action in the desert hills in the north.
She took his hand in hers. It was large with surprisingly graceful fingers. She lightly ran her fingertips over the palm and fingers, enjoying the feel of a man’s strong hand in hers. She scolded herself for taking such shameful advantage of the situation, resettled in her chair and opened herself to her gift.
His life unrolled before her, deep and wide as a river. A current of images, impressions, emotions sucked her down. She thrust free and blinked back into the world.
He was watching her curiously. She cleared her throat, took firmer hold on herself and tried again.
This time she was ready. The current still roiled, tugging at her, but she only skimmed the surface. Her inner vision seemed oddly…patchy, as if something blinded her sight like dazzling reflections on water. Once again, she returned to the present.
His smile this time was condescending. “Reception is bad today?”
Emilia’s face heated. “Forgive me.” It was the second time today she’d had to say that. “This is quite…unusual. May I try again?”
“Do my fifteen minutes start over?” Again, he seemed to mock her.
“Of course,” she said with as much dignity as she could summon.
She would not be made a fool of. She breathed deep, closed her eyes.
Her usual method wasn’t working, but there were other ways to see, deeper ones that took her further from the everyday realm. The visions she received there were more powerful, more consequential, but for all that, more mystical. Most customers wanted a reading they could understand, not the enigmatic words of a seer.
The noise of the people around her faded. Her awareness of the man before her, the feel of his hand in hers, the wind tickling the loose hair at the nape of her neck, all tattered away.
* * *
Vadim didn’t allow himself to shiver at her touch. He preferred his women more robust. It seemed absurd that this one, with her small hands and gentle voice, should affect him this way.
She bent her head, abandoning herself to her gift. He straightened. God in Heaven! What power poured through her! He leaned closer, brought his other hand to the table near hers.
She was silent a long moment, her breathing deep and slow. At last she spoke.
“You’re a man of great power.” She still spoke with that gentle English accent, but there was a potency in her voice now. “Men once trembled at the sound of your name, but now you move in shadow. Shadow will avoid the shadow rising in the east.” She paused. “If it is not faced, it will overwhelm all before it. But more than one must challenge it. A sword of four blades will cut it down. Trust. Steadfastness. Cunning. Ruthlessness.”
She sat quiet, three of her breaths spilling warm into his open palm. “There is fear here,” she said. “You fear that what happened once will happen again.”
The hair on the back of his neck and arms rose. So easily did she breach his wards. He had to fight the impulse to tear his hand from hers.
“Fire,” she said. “A dragon blazing against the sky. A great battle. Terror. Agony. Then darkness, hunger, pain. Your power gone, devoured—”
Her fingers spasmed around his. Her head jerked up and her eyes blazed into his. “You.” Her voice was soft again, but now shaking. “You’re a wizard.”
She thrust his hand away and disappeared.
* * *
Emilia knew only one trick that might save her. She opened herself completely to everything around her.
An old servant had taught her, in gratitude for the vision Emilia had shared of her son’s fall and injury. Because of that vision, they’d been able to reach the young man in time to save him.
Memsahib, the servant, Bishakha, had said, with your husband gone, there may be a time when you need to save yourself. I wish to give you a gift. Let me show you how to vanish like the wind.
Now, as Bishakha had taught her, Emilia became the warmth of the sunlight streaming down. She made herself part of the happy chatter of people browsing the booths, the piping voices of children. She took into herself the scents of dried eucalyptus and lavender and salt air. She reflected the whirl of a wind spinner, the flutter of a potted plant’s leaves. She was no longer Emilia, fleeing a wizard, but a fragment of this moment, this place, as invisible as the air around her.
Leaving her cards, her bag, every dollar she’d earned today, she ran into the crowd.
* * *
Vadim shot to his feet, knocking his chair over backwards. He spun, searching for her, but the woman, Emilia, was gone. The market around him carried on as before, no excitement, no murmuring or pointing or craning of necks as one would expect if a woman had just dashed frantically through the middle of so many people.
He narrowed his eyes and opened wizard’s senses.
Had she transported herself? No, a spell that strong would’ve left the magical ether roiling in its wake. In fact, there were no signs of spells at work at all. The ether eddied and flowed as it naturally did.
She had to be here.
Drawing up his power, he called a spell of stillness.
Everything around him stopped. The breeze fell as if throttled. Silence swallowed the babble of voices. Two little girls froze mid-stride, their hair fixed flags behind them. A dropped cup hung inches below a young man’s hand. Vadim scanned the scene, but the fortune teller was nowhere in view.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he sang softly and worked a finding spell.
No tug came in response. It was if the spell reached for something that didn’t exist.
Sweat sprang out along his hairline and down his spine. The spell of stillness was no small working, and he’d cast this one wide. He didn’t have an unlimited amount of time. And if he kept it in place too long, the ordinary folk would notice something amiss soon enough.
He pushed a breath through his nose, thinking. If she hadn’t used magic, and she wasn’t here, where could she be?
He opened himself to the magic once more, that ether that surrounded and permeated everything, that was part of everything, created by all that lived or had once lived. Living creatures glowed especially bright to his wizard’s eye. He turned slowly in place, studying the constellations of humanity, of dogs and birds, plants and insects. And there, among the shimmering sparks of people around him burned one even brighter, a moon among the pinpricks of stars.
“Ah!” he said and looked again through mortal eyes.
Two women walked side by side, one’s mouth open on an interrupted laugh. The other frowned, her head turned as if someone had brushed past her.
Vadim looked once more with magical sight. Three glows, not two. And there, where the second woman glanced, gleamed that third, brighter fire.
He threaded his way through the frozen crowd. He reached for the glow that inhabited that seemingly empty spot, touched the soft weave of a shawl, the angle of a shoulder beneath.
“There you are,” he said and sent a spell of sleep through his fingers.
The fortune teller reappeared beneath his hand, then crumpled as he separated her from the spell of stillness. He caught her as she fell, swung her up into his arms.
She was lighter than he expected, a small, slack bundle of long skirts and shawl and soft woman. A whiff of lavender and eucalyptus rose from her.
He carried her through the booths and unmoving people to his car, settled her into the passenger seat and buckled her in. When he started the car, he released the spell of stillness. All around, movement and sound blossomed again.
Vadim pulled out of the parking lot and drove to the Coast Highway. He turned south for the long drive home, his prize slumped in the seat beside him.