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Jun 13

Fated Magic – Chapter 19

Woo-hoo! I’m working on the last chapter now! After that, it’ll just be getting Fated Magic ready for publication. Want me to notify you when the book is published? Would you like a free advance copy for review? Contact me or sign up for my mailing list.

“Oh!” Emilia stopped short in the entertainment room’s doorway.

Dragovich, a spread of cards laid on the glass table before him, looked up. “Good evening, Emilia.”

She inclined her head in greeting. She was rarely caught by surprise, but this certainly qualified.

“Vadim.” She stepped into the room. “Pardon me, but what are you doing with my cards?”

“I’m telling my future. Would you like to hear?”

She studied the cards. He was using the full deck.

She settled in the chair opposite. “By all means.”

He pointed to the Emperor. “Here’s my enemy, Ilia Lebedev.” He pointed to another card. “And here, see the cups knocked over? He’s spilled what he knows. You can see he’s a fool, trying to juggle lives and deaths, but look. Disaster! A magic staff has cursed him. He was warned, but he makes the wrong choice. The curse strikes and there’s his body, in a coffin in church.”

He shifted his finger to another grouping of cards. “Now, this is his partner, Anthony Bernard. You see how he wakes at night after dreams of violent death.” He tsked. “Poor Bernard. Look. His friends throw down their weapons and walk away from him. One by one, his plans and operations fail. He’s weaker and more exposed than ever. The lot of the plotter and backstabber.”

Emilia had been prepared to point out the uncertainty of reading for oneself, but decided it was beside the point. It was clear he’d deliberately chosen each card for what he meant to convey.

“Very good,” she said. “Would you like me to try?”

He leaned back in his chair and swept a hand over the spread. “Go ahead.”

She decided to read them as she normally would, with Dragovich in the client’s place.

“Your spread has an abundance of Swords. You wish for solutions to conflict, to the clash of power and ambitions around you. What will happen, happens in the winter.” Weeks. She had a few weeks left to break from disaster. “You must ignore that which is unimportant and—”

Oh, dear. Another change card. Those hadn’t gone over well at all in her last reading.

“And?” he said.

“And be ready to switch strategies in an instant. Your energy is high, ready to propel you to new action.”

He sat back and nodded.

Emilia relaxed. This was nothing new. How many times had she tailored a reading to the client? But in her anger at Dragovich, she’d felt no need to sweeten or soften what she saw. If she hoped to move him, she’d have to do better.

She cocked her head and frowned at the cards. “These are unclear. This one shows an enemy vanquished. Here, a multiplication of difficulties. Now, a distrust of abilities. Here, a painful loss. And this one…” She tapped a final card. “An unwelcome surprise.” She looked up. “They tell me the situation grows more unstable. More difficult to predict.”

“Not helpful, Emilia.”

She transferred the frown to him. “It’s your spread.”

He grunted.

She returned to the cards. “There are hidden powers at work, ones that seek to overthrow you.”

“What powers?”

She walked her fingers across the cards. “There are three of them. They’re distant, but two will come to confront you.”

“The bosses in Russia. The bosses here bow and scrape to them. They kick profits up to them. But you know what they are?” He snorted. “Prison gangsters! Big fish in little, vicious ponds, but they think they’re men to be reckoned with. In my day, men would die before letting themselves be taken prisoner.”

“I don’t think it’s the same sort of prisoner, Vadim. This sort isn’t taken in war.”

“No. They’re locked up by courts and lawyers. Put into boxes by frightened weaklings.” He leaned across the table. “Can you see anyone doing the same to me? Can you imagine me allowing myself to be locked in a pen?”

“No, I can’t,” she answered with perfect honesty. “Even without your magic, I doubt you would submit to such usage.”

He leaned back again. “No. I wouldn’t.”

She bit the inside of her lip, thinking. “But if I may be so bold as to offer an observation?”

He gave a little go on wave.

“These people may not be of your caliber, but they do represent an increase in the forces marshalled against you. This is, I assume, not a desirable development.”

“You think I can’t deal with them?”

“I’m hardly fit to say.” She cocked her head. “Is this like after you reawakened? You’re lost and angry and wish for a fight?”

Here came the challenging stare. She met it calmly, waiting.

“Do you say I’m weak?” he said softly.

“I’ve said nothing of the sort. And may I remind you, sir, you did give me leave to speak my mind.”

He stared for a couple more heartbeats, then one side of his mouth slowly curled up. “Yes. I did. Please, go on.”

“What I say is that strength isn’t proven by collecting enemies.”

“Yet I can’t ignore a man who threatens me. That only encourages him.”

Did he threaten you?”

Dragovich opened his mouth, then hesitated. “No. After your reading, I confronted him. He confirmed what you’d said.”

“Exactly. Before that, he had no inkling you were aware of the threat he posed.”

He folded his arms, studying her narrowly. “Are you saying I should take action based only on what you tell me?”

“It gives you the greatest advantage. In Russia, did you never send spies among your enemies? Did you never act on what they told you?”

“Emilia, what are you doing?”

She folded her hands and took a long breath. “Do you know what I did today while you were gone? I read as many of your household as I dared. Shall I tell you what I saw?”

“Let me guess. Their violent deaths?”

She bent her head in agreement. “Shall I tell you of my attempts to warn one or two?”

His dark brows drew together. “Emilia,” he growled.

“I was met with anger. I was warned in my own turn, apprised of my ignorance and arrogance.”

He barked a sudden laugh. “Were you! Good.”

“Make no mistake, Vadim. These deaths, so many and so unnecessary, I will not allow.”

His laughter evaporated and his eyes narrowed. “And you mean to prevent them…how?”

“I mean to do everything in my power to help you.”

* * *

Vadim rocked back. God in Heaven. She took submission and turned it to triumph on her own terms. How could one so fragile, so powerless possess the savor of an equal?

He sat quiet a long moment, struggling to keep his amazement from showing and gather his wits.

“For the sake of my people,” he said at last.

“Yes.”

“And nothing more.”

She hesitated, uncertainty and trouble passing through her eyes. “For your sake, as well,” she said, almost too low to hear.

Why? he wanted to ask, but was sure she’d withdraw if he spoke.

She wet her lips and said into his waiting silence, “The fortunes I’ve told in the past have been those of ordinary people. People whose lives make only slight ripples in the sea of existence. Never those of lords, or men and women of consequence. I know—” She sent him an uneasy glance. “I see the forces at work are different in such circumstances. The push and pull of events are greater. The ripples of influence are waves that can swamp ships and drown shores.”

“Lovely words. But what do you mean?”

She touched her forehead and closed her eyes, clearly distressed. “I mean…I can see how your choices and actions affect the lives of many, not only a handful. I understand why you must do much of what you do. I can see…the honor you strive for.”

“Do you?” he breathed.

“Yes.” She opened her eyes, straightened a card on the table before her. “We’ve lived in different worlds. Yours pains and frightens me. It’s as unlike the life I’ve led as a garden is unlike the jungle. I know enough to realize that what it takes to live in a garden, won’t allow one to survive in the jungle.”

Vadim sat very still, barely breathing. That loyalty—that incredible loyalty that had made an English gentlewoman strike a Russian warlord, that had prepared her to brave a murderer for another woman’s sake—was his. Not through force, not through coercion, not even by seduction.

By her own choice.

He felt as he had as a young man, when one day his teacher, Father Ivan, had placed a jewel-encrusted chalice in his hands. He remembered looking down at the glittering treasure in the rough, dirty-nailed hands of a peasant youth. Then, too, he’d held his breath, marveling at the precious thing.

He drew a hand down his chin. “You won’t agree with my methods.”

“Very likely not. But if I see alternatives, I will offer them.”

“And if I choose not to take them? It won’t be easy for you.”

She let go a breath. “Yes. I know.”

Proud, Kisa had called her. Principled.

How much had this cost Emilia? He fought the impulse to challenge her—her certainty, her sincerity. Oh, he wouldn’t trust her blindly—he hadn’t lived so long or been so successful by making that kind of mistake. But he’d be a fool to turn down a gift so freely offered.

He picked up the card she’d said meant a distrust of abilities: three men standing under the arches of a cathedral. Holding her gaze, he turned it back and forth between his fingers, then laid it face down on the table.

* * *

“The architects have requested a meeting regarding the change orders on the Solea building,” Amanda said. Vadim took the letter she handed across her desk. “They’re concerned about—”

Behind him, the office door snicked open.

“Boss?”

Vadim turned in his chair. Roman stood in the doorway, nearly quivering with tension.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “I need to see you.”

Nodding once to Amanda, Vadim rose and followed Roman to the security office. Several grave faces met him there.

“What’s happened?” he said.

The men all looked at Roman.

“Lebedev is dead,” he said. “His car had a blowout and crossed the median. A semi truck hit him.”

Vadim rocked on his heels. Well, well. Seems Lebedev activated the curse. He should’ve listened to me.

“Convenient for us,” he said.

“Yes and no,” Roman said. “Petya Bezpalov has been shot, too.”

Vadim stiffened and narrowed his eyes. Like Roman and Alexei, Peter Bezpalov was one of his best men. “Is he alive?”

Roman nodded. “I think that was the point. Lebedev’s son, Tolya, walked up to him in a parking lot and gut-shot him. While Petya was lying there on the ground, Tolya told him his father said if anything happened to him, you’re the one behind it.” He blew out a breath. “Lebedev’s crew will be gunning for you now, boss.”

“No doubt,” Vadim said. “And whoever Lebedev counted as friends.”

Heads nodded all around.

Vadim paced. The house was safe inside his wards. No one here was in danger. He could ward cars, people attached to him. But he didn’t fight wars that way, if it came to it. Better to strike first and fast, terrify the enemy into more caution and respect.

“What do you want to do?” Roman said.

“Tell everyone on the street what’s going on. I don’t want anyone else caught like Petya was. If they see any of Lebedev’s people—or Bernard’s—in my territory, it’s open season. I’ll go see Garry. He’s been doing some research for me. I want to know what he found out.”

“You should take a couple of us with you,” Roman said.

“Not now.”

The men stirred and muttered in protest.

Roman frowned. “Boss—”

Vadim held up a hand. “I have my reasons. If I miscalculate… Well, you and Tolya Lebedev can decide if we’re even now.”

Roman grimaced, but shrugged in unhappy acceptance.

* * *

Emilia waited by the garage, a cool autumn breeze off the sea plucking at her skirt and hair. The sound of a racing engine coming up the drive echoed from the wall behind her. She frowned and craned her neck, wondering what could compel David to drive so fast.

The car that screeched to a stop wasn’t the little gold car she drove, but one larger and more formidable, crouched low over its wheels, with a long, aggressive-looking hood.

One of Dragovich’s men jumped out, slammed the door and ran for the offices. Another man, the balding one with a ponytail whose name she’d never learned, strode to meet him. The two spoke fast and low.

The ponytailed man looked up to find Emilia watching. He frowned and approached.

“Mrs. Dunmoor,” he said. “Why don’t you go inside?”

“I’m to meet David for my driving lesson,” she explained.

He made a short, irritated gesture. “David won’t be coming. We’re a little busy today.”

Indeed! “I see.” She swiftly calculated. “I was to meet Mr. Dragovich afterwards. Will he—”

“No, he’s busy, too.” He took her arm. She caught a glimpse of a gun under his jacket as he reached for her. “Now come on.”

Smiling, she gently disengaged her arm. “Of course. I do beg your pardon.”

She started back for the house. The ponytailed man turned and hurried back to the offices. Emilia waited until she heard the door close, waited a few more breaths, then followed him.

Dare she become invisible? She certainly could, but she didn’t fancy dodging edgy, snappy men with guns to indulge her curiosity. Instead, she cracked open the door to Amanda’s office and peeked in.

Amanda, also frowning, looked up from her computer. “Hi, Emilia. Everything okay?”

Emilia stepped in and shut the door. “I certainly hope so, but I fear not. I’m told David isn’t coming, and everyone seems terribly disturbed.”

Amanda nodded. “You’re right about that. I don’t know what’s going on, either. Even if I did, it wouldn’t be up to me to tell you.”

Emilia bit her lip. “Do you remember what you told me, about there being no happy endings in this business?”

Amanda sat up straight, turning fully to face her. “Do you know something?”

“I’ve seen things. Through my gift.”

Amanda nodded.

“At the risk of angering and offending you, I must ask you to consider something.” Emilia wet her lips. “I must ask you to watch, and listen. And if you learn anything that causes you alarm…”

Amanda got up and came around her desk. “Emilia, what are you saying?”

“I see…” She gestured generally toward the west. “…a storm gathering. I don’t yet know when or how it will strike, but I fear…” Under Amanda’s intense gaze, she faltered.

“Does Mr. Dragovich know this?” Amanda said quietly.

“Of course!”

Amanda blew out a breath and visibly relaxed. “And you don’t want me caught up in it.”

“I don’t want any of us caught up in it. But all I can do is watch, and warn…” She glanced away. “However little good it may do.”

“Thank you.” Amanda touched her arm. “It’s always a risk, you know? But I’ll try to come out in one piece.” She dropped her hand. “If I can. If I’m able.”

Emilia nodded, debated asking one more thing: If one day I say, you must go now, will you go? But that would only frighten Amanda more than she’d already done. And if she did her job properly, it should never come to that.

Taking an awkward leave, she hurried back to the house for her cards.

Sitting on her bed, her feet tucked under her, she laid a spread.

Destruction. The innocent. Vengeance. Death.

Emilia sucked a breath and stared down at the cards. “Vadim,” she whispered to her quiet room. “What are you doing?”

* * *

Garry provided Vadim with a wealth of targets. Number one was Lebedev’s real estate firm, where he kept his offices. Vadim left Garry hacking the cloud servers where Lebedev stored data for his operations.

In San Francisco, Vadim parked near the bottom of Telegraph Hill. A monochrome view of the San Francisco Bay opened between a newer apartment building and the hill itself, the top of the Bay Bridge disappearing into the fog. Wrapping himself in a spell of disinterest, he walked down the hill the few blocks to Bay Cities Properties.

The street was like many in the city, lined with townhouses and row houses and trees scantily clad in brown leaves. Vadim, hands in the pockets of his wool coat against the fog’s penetrating chill, stopped across the street from a red-brick building that might once have been a bank. It remained equally stately and imposing now, commanding its corner with an air of smug arrogance.

“Not for much longer,” Vadim muttered.

Reaching out his wizardry, he shaped the magic into a thin, hot stream, then guided it into the building.

Through the arched, mullioned windows, he caught here and there a spatter of sparks as some piece of electronic equipment exploded. He smiled as magic raced through the building, burning out every phone, every hard drive, every modem connected to the lines.

A moment more and the screech of smoke alarms cut the hum of city noise. Up on the third floor, someone flung open a window. Shouts and shrieks drifted out along with a cloud of smoke that stank of burning wire.

Vadim shaped the magic again. While he’d been learning about the modern world, so much of technology had seemed like magic, even to him. Indeed, much of it worked much like magic, using an untouchable ether for power and communication. And all so very conveniently susceptible to his kind of magic.

He turned his attention to the building’s electrical wiring. Still swathed in his spell, he watched as variously crying, cursing and coughing people in suits and dresses stumbled from the building. A few he recognized as Lebedev’s men. This time carefully modulating the magic, he directed it toward their cell phones. He almost laughed aloud when, shouting and cursing, they stripped off jackets or shucked out of pants, watching in bare-assed horror as their phones burned merrily in the clothes on the sidewalk.

Vadim punched power through every window in the building, blowing glass inward. People screamed and ducked and huddled, arms over heads.

When the sound of sirens echoed up the street, he turned and walked back to his car.

He drove across the Bay Bridge to a smoke shop in one of Berkeley’s seedier neighborhoods—a cover for Lebedev’s drug operation. A hangout for many of his people, too. Two tattooed toughs leaned against the wall, apparent loiterers, but after what happened at the office a few minutes ago, more likely guards. Behind barred windows, neon marijuana leaves glowed. More neon advertised PIPES – CIGARS – VAPOR. At such a place, no one would glance twice at the coming and going of so many shady-looking types.

Vadim didn’t bother with finesse this time, simply tossing a spell at the building as he walked past. The explosion inside the place set dogs barking and car alarms wailing up and down the block. The smoke that billowed through the roof and blown-out windows reeked of dope and cigars. He didn’t wait to see if anyone came out afterwards.

He drove north and took the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge across the bay, then headed back south on Highway 101 into Sausalito.

Lebedev’s home sat on a ridge that offered views of both the San Francisco Bay and the wilderness of the recreation area that took up much of the Marin peninsula. With a concealing spell over the car, Vadim drove past the house.

On the paved parking area beside it sat a couple of SUVs and a nondescript midsize car. The narrow street in front wound past other multimillion-dollar homes on one side, a steep, green-clad slope on the other. Vadim finally found enough of a gravel shoulder to pull off and park. He put an illusion over the car, making it appear a handyman’s van. With another spell to completely conceal his presence, he walked back down the road toward Lebedev’s house.

Fires and explosions were all very well, but when it came to Lebedev’s own home— Well, it deserved a bit more creativity. Standing invisible in front of it now, he considered.

Once, he wouldn’t have hesitated to simply put an enemy’s house to the torch, wives, children and servants inside be damned. Since then, he’d learned to be a bit more civilized. And anyway, Lebedev was already dead. No need for—he chuckled—overkill.

Unsheathing his power, Vadim went to work on the house’s foundations.

A loud crack and groan pierced the neighborhood’s pastoral quiet. Vadim withdrew the force he’d applied and waited. The house groaned again like an old horse. The chime of a window breaking came from somewhere. A loud creak and drag came, as of someone forcing a door open, then a babble of frightened voices.

Four women ran out onto the porch, one of them shepherding two school-aged children. Four men came behind them, three of them scanning the area— clearly Lebedev’s men. The fourth only looked around in confusion as he steadied the oldest woman—the children’s grandmother, according to Garry’s information.

Vadim returned to pushing on the house, crumbling concrete, twisting reinforcing steel, popping nails and bolts and anchoring straps. The house moaned and wailed like some great, injured beast, drowning out the screams of the women and children. One side collapsed in a greyish puff of dust, then the rest slumped as well. Then the whole thing slid down the steep slope in a tangle of broken boards, crazy-skewed roof and bent window frames.

The women and children gripped each other in a mutual clutch. Two of the men walked toward the ragged edges of the porch.

“Go on,” Vadim muttered. “A little closer.”

What was it in human nature that compelled people to look over an edge? Whatever it was, Lebedev’s men weren’t immune. Vadim gave the closest one a little magical push. The other two, of course, were equally obliging, lunging to catch at the first as he went shrieking down. Vadim sent them after, the last one pinwheeling his arms before he went over.

A chorus of screams rose from the clutching women and children. The fourth man, watching in horror, herded them all into one of the SUVs.

Vadim nodded once and walked back to his car, his spell of concealment tucked around him.

1 comment

  1. donbay2013

    Violence and death bursts from Vadim’s spells.Violence begets violence, but will Emilia’s efforts be enough? Will Emilia need help? Seeing the future is a gift of great value, but is it enough to head off disaster? Will another wizard help or hinder?

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