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May 14

Fated Magic – Chapter 17

What’s in the cards? Vadim doesn’t want to know, but he’ll find out in this new chapter of Fated Magic.

“I see my family next month.” A leavening of eagerness tinged David’s low, usually serious voice. He pointed through the windshield. “Turn right here.”

Emilia carefully steered the car around the corner as he directed. She’d driven all the way to town this morning and was now practicing on quiet residential streets. They were narrow, bordered not by curbs and sidewalks, but by every sort of greenery—twisted, red-barked madrone trees, angular cypress, fountains of pampas grass and lily of the Nile, hedges of privet or juniper.

“That’s wonderful, David!” She came to a stop sign and applied the brakes. She no longer made the car lunge into a stop.

“I have Christmas presents for them already,” he said. “I buy gold necklace and cashmere sweater for my wife and X-Box for my son. I get iPhone for my daughter, Kristina. She is eighteen next year. When they come, I’ll have Christmas tree to put everything under.”

“That will be lovely. But you know, the best Christmas present for them will be seeing you again.”

He ducked his head as if to hide his grin. “Yes. They’ll be my Christmas present, too.” He glanced up at the street sign. “Turn left here. There, see trash cans?” He pointed to the green and blue bins scattered along the shoulder. “We pretend they’re cars. You practice parallel parking.”

“Very well,” Emilia said more calmly than she felt. David had to right a few other trash cans after previous attempts.

Chatting ceased until they were headed home again. David talked of his plans after his family arrived, how they’d live in his present apartment while they looked for a house, the high cost of housing in the upscale coastal communities, how far he might have to commute.

“Easier after Yuliya gets job,” he said. “Mr. Dragovich will get her green card, maybe help find her job. She practices English all the time to be ready.”

They pulled up to the garage at Dragovich’s house. Emilia got out and waved as David climbed behind the wheel and drove away.

She’d thought hearing him talk about his family would make her sad again, but today, she felt only…wistful. Perhaps it was because of David’s happiness in looking forward to seeing them, all the bright plans he had in store.

She made her way toward the house. In the garage, she found the gardener and his young helper, Akil, cleaning and putting away tools.

The boy brightened when he saw her. “Hey, Mrs. Dunmoor! Can you tell my fortune again maybe?”

“Akil!” the gardener scolded.

Emilia laughed. The boy’s good humor was infectious. “That’s all right, Mr. Aquino.” She turned to Akil. “I’d be delighted. Tomorrow, perhaps, after lunch?”

“Sweet!” The boy gave the frowning gardener a sheepish grin and returned to his task.

In the office annex, she encountered Roman in the hallway.

“Mrs. Dunmoor,” He gave a nod of greeting. “Irina has a test at school this week. She should study, but she wants to help you.”

“Oh!” Emilia said. “By all means, tell her I said she must stay home and study. I will keep. The exam won’t.”

He gave a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Thank you. I’ll tell her.”

Roman continued on his way. Emilia, warmed by his genuine friendliness, went on hers.

She meant to go back to the house for a bite to eat for lunch, but found her steps dragging. She stopped, gazing down the hallway with its linoleum tiles and bare, dove-grey-painted walls, trying to pin down the source of her creeping unease.

There was no reason for it. The driving lesson had gone well, and her time with David had been pleasant. She’d had her usual chat and a cup of tea with Flora this morning, discussing an upcoming breakfast meeting of Dragovich and his men. Everyone she encountered had been friendly. There was no…reason…

But there was. What would happen to all these people if Dragovich died? If one of the other bosses she’d met took over his territory, someone like Baljic the butcher or Bernard the whoremaster.

She shook off the images that came with the thought and started forward again, her steps rapping like her heartbeat. At the last door, she knocked. A woman’s voice answered.

Emila opened the door and stepped in. “Good morning, Amanda. Will you be taking lunch soon? Might I join you?”

Amanda glanced at the clock on the wall. Her brows climbed. “No wonder I’m getting hungry. Sure. Let me make one more call, then I’ll be ready.”

Emilia waited in the breezeway. Amanda never asked her to leave when she was working, but Emila didn’t feel comfortable eavesdropping.

Amanda came out swinging her purse over her shoulder. “Where do you want to go?”

“I fancy dining al fresco. Perhaps, if you’re agreeable, we can get something from the taco truck on the highway, then eat at the beach.”

“Well!” Amanda said with a laugh. “Aren’t we becoming familiar with the area!”

“David and I have stopped there for lunch once or twice.” Emilia smiled. “A few minutes to settle his nerves.”

Amanda rolled her eyes.

Soon they drove along Scenic Road, the aroma of spiced meat and corn tortillas and lime sneaking past aluminum foil wrappers and into the car. Houses with huge picture windows and glassed porches and balconies lined one side of the road. On the other stretched a row of the ever-present cypress trees, their branches trained horizontal by the sea wind, a sandy path beside them. Then at the bottom of a shallow drop-off, the beach. Amanda slid her car into a parking space along the trail.

A pearly overcast turned the sunlight watery. They found a cypress tree growing parallel to the sand, just the right height for a bench, and unwrapped their lunch.

Wind played with loose strands of Emilia’s hair, teasing her cheeks and neck. She bit into her taco, savoring the bite of chile and the tang of lime on her tongue. Thank goodness fifteen years in India had accustomed her to spicy food.

“Amanda,” Emilia said after a while, “what happened when Mr. Dragovich took over this territory? Surely it couldn’t have been a simple matter.”

“Honestly, I don’t know. By the time I came on the scene, it was all done. But between what I’ve heard second-hand and on the news, it was quick and bloody. A lot of dead bodies and a lot of missing persons.”

“Like a coup d’état, I suppose.”

“Knock off the government and install your own? Pretty much.”

“The other man—Arsov, you said?—must’ve had his own people. What happened to them?”

Amanda shrugged. “I guess some of them got the same kind of choice I did. The ones close to him probably didn’t get the chance.”

The ones close. Like Amanda was close to Dragovich. Like Roman and Kisa were.

“One thing you find out early in this business,” Amanda said. “Loyalty is king. A boss isn’t going to put up with anyone who isn’t behind him a hundred percent—either because they want to be, or they’re made to be. He can’t afford to.”

Emilia frowned.

“I’ve heard the bad ones make people do some pretty extreme things to prove themselves,” Amanda went on. “As far as I know, Mr. Dragovich doesn’t do that.” She gave Emilia a worried glance. “Does he?”

“I—” I don’t know, she began to say, then realized what Amanda was asking: Emilia, having been kidnapped, clearly wouldn’t feel particularly loyal. “I was offered…an inducement.”

“An offer you couldn’t refuse, huh?”

“Indeed,” Emilia said.

They sat quietly, the rush and lull of the waves pulsing on the air, the cry and chuckle of gulls stitching through it.

Emilia took off her shoes and burrowed her toes in the cool sand. “If you could go back to your old life, your ordinary life,” she said, “would you?”

Amanda seemed absorbed in carefully wiping her fingers with a napkin. “Emilia,” she said at last, still looking down, “that’s not the kind of question you should ask anyone here. It could cause a lot of trouble. For you, and for the person you’re asking.”

“Oh! I’m so very sorry! I only asked because you’re like me…” Emilia trailed off.

Amanda finally met her eyes. “A legitimate person swallowed up by all this.” She sighed. “I know.”

Amanda gathered the remains of her lunch, the foil, the empty paper cups of salsa and sour cream, and stuffed it all into the bag the food had come in.

Finally, she said, “Would I like to go back to a straight life instead of being a crime lord’s personal assistant? Of course I would.”

She brushed sand from the tree trunk and leaned on one elbow. “I can imagine it. If one day Mr. Dragovich came in and said, ‘Amanda, you’ve done a good job. I appreciate it and I know you won’t cause me trouble, so I’m letting you retire from the business.’ I’d be doing somersaults. And I don’t know, maybe one day he will tell me something like that.” She sat quiet for a moment, looking out over the water. “But practically, the more likely scenarios for getting out of this aren’t pretty. There are no happy endings in this business.”

Emilia nodded. “Only bloody, terrible ones,” she whispered.

* * *

“You foresaw I’d come find you this afternoon, eh?” Dragovich said.

Emilia looked up from the spread of cards before her. Dragovich, wearing an open-collared shirt and jacket, stood in the entertainment room’s doorway. The afternoon light streaming through the window gave his pewter hair a golden cast.

She gathered up the cards with a practiced sweep of the hand. “Not at all. You haven’t yet asked who, when and where your doom will strike. It only stands to reason you’d wish to know.”

“Ha! Yes.”

He stepped into the room and shut the door, then paused a moment.

Emilia watched him. “Are you working magic?”

“A spell to prevent eavesdropping.” He sat in the chair she’d set on the other side of the table. “It seems strange that you have power, but can’t see or touch magic.” He pursed his lips. “Although you can disappear. How did you do that? Not using magic, I saw that.”

She wondered if it were wise to tell him.

“Of course, you don’t want to lose your one advantage,” he said, smiling.

“Not at all. It’s simply that in the present case, disappearing offers no advantage.”

“Situations can change.”

After her conversation with Amanda earlier, she didn’t particularly like the drift of this conversation.

She tapped her cards on the table, straightening them. “When I disappear… It’s rather like my gift, I suppose. In a reading, I open myself to the possibilities that flow all around us. To disappear, I open myself to the world around me. I take it into myself.”

“Will you show me?”

Again, she hesitated.

“What?” he said.

“I’m rather afraid you’ll try to do something when I do.”

He held up his hands, then tucked them under his arms. “I promise I won’t do anything.”

She smiled a little. She’d seen no evidence that he needed his hands free to do magic. “Very well.”

She took a breath, let it out slowly, and let her awareness sink into her surroundings. The slant of sunlight through the window, the way it highlighted Dragovich against the dimmer wall behind him, the shadow where his throat disappeared into the collar of his shirt, the pull of his jacket across his broad shoulders.

* * *

Vadim caught his breath. Just as she had at the farmers’ market, Emilia vanished in front of him. But unlike at the market, this time he could almost feel…something. A caress, the lightest of touches at his throat, across his shoulders, down his chest…

He felt himself responding, a growing tightness against his trousers.

He snapped open wizard’s senses, expecting to find her touching him in truth. No, the moonglow that was Emilia remained where she’d been, on the other side of the table Still, those whisper-touches continued as if something of her power brushed him.

He reached toward her, found her arm, her hands, the cool smoothness of cards held between them.

“Emilia.” His voice came out rough. “Stop.”

She blinked back into existence. Her dark eyes were wide, dilated. Her lips parted.

She broke from his gaze and drew back, suddenly businesslike. “I beg your pardon. It must be terribly disconcerting, to know I’m here and yet not see me.”

Disconcerting. Oh, yes.

He leaned back, trying to ignore the throbbing at his groin. “It wasn’t like last time,” he said casually.

Telltale color bloomed on her cheekbones. “Was it not?”

“No,” he said.

“What did…” Her tongue peeked out to wet her lips. “I suppose it might have something to do with my surroundings.” Her color heightened and she said quickly, “That is, whether it’s indoors or out, or something of that sort.”

He grinned. Or something of that sort. Maybe she opened herself to him this time? “It might be an interesting experiment. At night on the beach, say.”

Watching the struggle in her eyes, he waited for her response to his innuendo. What would it be? Outrage? Interest? Or pretended ignorance?

“I might escape you entirely,” she said, a little breathlessly.

“No more than last time.”

He wasn’t blind. He knew his effect on women. Emilia clearly wasn’t immune, as he’d seen the first time they met. But why was he so drawn?

So drawn that he refused to do what he would with any other woman who appealed to him, and simply demonstrate what he wanted. Why continue this delicate dance, like coaxing a shy animal to his hand?

“No,” she said, tapping her cards again. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I’m always right.”

“Are you indeed. Then you must have no further need of me.”

He didn’t know whether to laugh or growl in frustration. Then he saw the challenging lift to her brow.

“I wouldn’t call it need,” he purred, teasing right back.

She sniffed. “Of course not. Merely convenience.”

Was that more teasing, or distancing? “Never that,” he said seriously.

She gave him a long look. “Then shall we?” she said, holding up the cards.

He really wished she’d offered something else. Let him get this foolish desire for her out of his system.

He gave a little wave. “By all means.”

She absorbed herself in shuffling the cards, as if buying a little time and distance to calm herself.

“I’m not using the complete deck now. I want to get a general impression first,” she said. “Now you must understand my limitations with the question at hand.”

“What question is that?”

“I believe we were speaking of your doom?” She was, it seemed, determined to avoid further flirtation.

“My doom. Ah. Yes.”

“I can’t find the answer by reading you, since you won’t know.”

“I’ll be dead before I do.”

“Precisely.” A faint line appeared between her brows. “Yet the cards are open to interpretation, like dreams.”

“Like the dream that made you flee the wrong dragon,” he said. “Do you frequently have prophetic dreams?”

She didn’t answer for a moment, her attention on the cards. “I dreamt of the man taking Livy’s money from my trailer.”

“Ah! So that’s what had you worried. I didn’t know if you’d grown desperate, or ready to trust me.”

“Desperate, I believe.”

He wouldn’t allow himself to be disappointed.

“When I lay the cards for you,” she said, “I look to see how they fit with the possibilities in your future.”

“No mystical force influences the way they fall?”

She shook her head. “Let me show you.”

She shuffled through the deck, pulled out a card and laid it on the table. It was of a robed man with an infinity symbol over his head. “The Magus. This will represent you.” She pulled out another card. “The Emperor will represent your enemy, who will likely be another boss.”

He nodded.

“The Tower represents the disaster that awaits.” She laid a third card on the table. “Now we must find what links the three. Take a card.”

She offered the deck, and he slid out a card. It was of a white-robed woman wearing a moon headdress. He flicked it with a fingernail. “This is you.”

She looked up in surprise. “The High Priestess. Intuition. How did you know?”

Vadim raised a brow. “I’m a wizard, Emilia.”

She shook her head, as if that answered nothing. “Lay it down. Anywhere you wish.”

He put the card partially over the Magus.

“You put me between yourself and your future,” she said.

He frowned and reached to move the card.

“No, don’t. This is part of the reading. Take another card.”

“I won’t do this if you psychoanalyze me.”

“Your choices will speak to me, it’s true. If you prefer, I won’t speak until all the cards are laid.”

“Will that be any better?”

“That is your decision.”

Shrugging, he pulled out one card after another. The symbolism was sometimes obvious, but often not. The ones he could guess, he arranged deliberately: the Hanged Man covering the Emperor, Strength at the base of the Tower. Those not so obvious, he arranged by whim, watching Emilia’s face as he did. She gave him no clue.

At last, she set the deck aside, folded her hands under her chin and studied the spread.

She pointed at the Emperor/Hanged Man pair. “You’ve reversed the Hanged Man. You refuse to change your mind, thus enabling your enemy.”

He jerked up his head to stare at her. Did she think him a fool? He didn’t enable his enemies. He killed them.

“Here.” She tapped the card he’d placed above the Emperor. “This is your enemy. He considers himself a religious man. He’s rigid, and rules through force and fear, compelling his people to ape his beliefs.”

Vadim narrowed his eyes. Ilia Lebedev, maybe? He was said to be a devout man.

She touched the Tower and Strength. He’d put the Strength card crosswise at the Tower’s base, like a buttress. “Interesting. Upright is courage, reversed is weakness. This way is neither.” She cocked her head. “But here is Temperance.” She tapped the card near the pair. “Balance. The bringing together of sources of strength.” She tapped another card. “The Fool. Why did you reverse him?”

“He’s chaos,” Vadim said. “I don’t want to help him.”

“No. He’s new beginnings and faith in the future. When reversed, the path ahead is blocked.”

Annoyance pricked him. “You keep saying my future is set. That I’ll do nothing to change it. Why is that, Emilia?”

She straightened. “To warn you, sir. We all have choices in this life. Whether we exercise them or not is a choice of its own.”

He gave another wave. “No need for the ’sir.’ Go on.”

She almost visibly settled her ruffled feathers. “Above the Tower, you’ve placed Death. A transformation, a new beginning.”

“I meant it to be the death of my death. Isn’t ‘transformation’ another word for dying?”

“One needn’t die to be transformed.”

“I have no trouble with myself as I am,” he muttered.

She made a noncommittal noise. “You’ve reversed the Devil. To counter evil, I suppose?”

“Yes.”

“The Devil reversed represents conquering compulsions, breaking away from things that have restricted your life. Yet you’ve placed him far to the side. You’ve exiled him.”

“This is all nonsense,” he said, abruptly losing patience. “You tell me this and you tell me that, but it means nothing.”

“Does it? It seems you gain a great deal of meaning from it.”

“Don’t toy with me,” he said. “If you see something in all this, tell me.”

“You know what it says—that you refuse to step off the path to doom.”

“How can I, when you won’t tell me how?”

She laid a finger on Death. “This is how. You must do something completely different. Something you’d never have done before.” She touched the Devil, pulled him into the spread. “You mustn’t fear to change.”

A warning finger brushed up his spine. “You do what all women try to do to a man. Change him.”

“I don’t try to change you, Mr. Dragovich. Any changes you make must be by your choice, for your own reasons.”

“And you?” He poked the High Priestess card. “You’re between me and my future.”

“Yes. And you, yourself, placed me there.”

He picked up the card and flung it aside. “Not anymore.”

“Hmm,” she said. “Now she’s reversed. You won’t receive answers to your questions.”

He thrust to his feet. “Don’t try to maneuver me, woman.”

“If what I tell you offends you, then ask me no questions. I won’t be accused of base intentions every time you hear something you don’t like.”

She spread her hands to sweep up the cards.

He slammed a hand down on her wrist and bent over her. “Finish.”

Her face was within inches of his, but she didn’t flinch back. “To what purpose, when you think I mean only to manipulate you?”

“Because it’s what I tell you to do,” he growled.

“As you wish,” she said icily.

He let her go, but still stood over her.

She took the High Priestess card and turned it upright. He’d disarranged some of the other cards he’d set down. Those, she left as they were.

“You move forcefully to achieve your goals,” she said. “You know what you want and you take action to gain it, not shunning the consequences.”

“This is my fortune?” he scoffed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Her nostrils flared.  “Your judgement is sometimes clouded by illusion and the weight of the past. Your weakness is your certainty that you must do everything alone, on your own terms. Suspicion and distrust keep you isolated and will lead you astray—” She broke off.

“Well?”

Her eyes had gone unfocused. He’d never before looked directly into them when she read. They seemed to open onto an endless void, like a glimpse into infinity. Eerie lights glimmered far, far down. His nape prickled.

“A star glimmers on the horizon.” Her voice had changed, the gentle lilt submerged into something more powerful. “Hope. Glory. Triumph. But there is only a faint path past the fire, and beyond the fire, change and uncertainty, upheaval and darkness. The man who walks beyond the fire is not the man who walks before it. The man who goes into the darkness is not the man who emerges from it.”

“Emilia,” he said. “What are you seeing? Where are you?”

Her eyes remained locked on his, unseeing. “Fire won’t light the darkness. Fire will feed it. Division will feed it. Fear will feed it. Only by embracing fear will the star’s light shine.”

He hesitated, then reached out, caught her chin. Her skin felt too cool. “Emilia,” he said again, this time putting power behind her name. “Come back.”

“I can’t.” Her voice changed again, became high and desperate. “I’ve tried everything. I don’t know what else to do!”

He shook her a little. “Emilia. Come back!”

Her breath came in shallow pants. “Oh God, oh God. They’re killing them! They’ll kill everybody! I tried to stop it, oh God, I tried—”

He put both hands on her cheeks, leaned down and shouted into her face, “Emilia!”

She gasped and rocked back. “Vadim?”

He let go a breath. “Yes.” He dropped into his chair and leaned on the table, one hand still on her cheek. “Are you all right?”

“I feel sick again.”

“No doubt. What happened?”

“A vision…” She gripped his wrist. “Vadim, please. I know you think I want only to be free of you, but you must listen to me. Distrust me, believe my motives impure, but I beg you, listen to me.”

“Tell me.” He moved his thumb in a soothing arc across her cheek.

“If you die, you must know what will happen to your people. To Amanda. Tiff. Kisa, Irina.”

He clenched his jaw. “Yes. I know.”

“No matter what I may think of you, you must believe I wish no harm to befall them. For their sake, believe what I tell you.”

He searched her face. He could feel her pulse racing under his fingers where they rested under her ear. The desperation wasn’t an act.

“I will, Emilia. But I can’t promise to do as you say. I still make my own decisions.”

She bowed her head.

* * *

Emilia kept her gaze on the cards as Dragovich left the room to get something to eat. He’d scattered several in his anger, changing the meaning of some. The trio he’d placed below his card, the Magus, and hers, the High Priestess, remained unmoved.

The first, he’d laid down with a faint smile and a pointed glance: The Lovers.

The other two, he’d laid just below.

The World: understanding, unity, embarkation on a journey. The Wheel of Fortune: destiny.

She closed her eyes and gathered them all up.

2 comments

  1. donbay2013

    Several issues: 1) I was under the impression that wizards can’t be killed, only stripped of their power and locked in isolation, yet Vadim is supposed to die. 2) Emilia appears to be falling in love with Vadim. 3) Vadim is such a strong character that it would be a pity to lose him. There is a paradox here: Vadim is bad, but he will die if he becomes good. Meanwhile bad will grow in his place. 4) There’s a shadow of a hint that Amethyst may appear to save the day.

    This is good writing. There may be writers’ block, but there is growth taking place during the quiet period.

    1. Kathlena L. Contreras

      No, wizards are quite mortal. Only very long-lived. They can use magic to protect themselves, but they aren’t invulnerable.

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