woman, some said, had escaped the first witch trials.
the ancient one had consorted with the sorcerers of
and Ptolemy. This small town, however, perched on the
shores of Lake
Superior, was bedrock practical and most of the townspeople
the notions with a skeptical snort and muttered:
Zolton favored none of the theories. One learned more with
an open mind.
Any tale was suspect until verified, and locating the gold
fact took digging through a bushel of muck. Tonight,
end up with only grimy shoes.
heâ€™d had to comeâ€”the irresistible habit of his private
The e-mail had mentioned mages.
of his foolâ€™s errands werenâ€™t so miserable, though.
shoulders against the skin-biting cold, he reluctantly
pulled one bare
hand from his jacket pocket to knock at the log cabin
kidnapped the sound of his knock and flung it to the
Adam rapped again, frowning at the dark cabin. He was
Grimaldi had set the time. Heâ€™d given up his New Yearâ€™s
bloody well better answer.
gust found a path through the boles of the pines and
him like a dervish on speed, sucking out heat and moisture.
ran through Adamâ€™s bones, as he knocked a third time.
he hated the cold. His blood had thinned from the years in
wind attacked again, penetrating his coat, accompanied by
howl as piercing as a dragonâ€™s call. Adam spun toward the
saw nothing within the black trees. He stilled, listening
to the creak
of wood. The noise had vanished. Still, he pulled a small
from his inside pocket and recorded the scene. The sudden
drops of sweat
froze to his forehead as the wretched cold reclaimed
more attempt, then he was through. After stowing the
camera, he lifted
his hand for another knock, more forceful this time, when a
inside interrupted him.
Zolton from New Orleans New Eyes." He buried his
fist in a
pocket. So, St. Jude, patron saint of impossible causes,
door screeched open. Faith Grimaldi stood in the entrance,
and wearing a shapeless red caftan. Silk, he noted
absently; the mage
enjoyed her comforts. Her pewter-shaded hair was a trimmed
her face more wrinkled than the last known photo of her,
years ago. Then, sheâ€™d already looked like a pug, and time
supposed to be a woman." Her strong voice revealed nothing
only a hint of accent and accusation.
on another assignment, and you said the matter was urgent."
his brows, adding challenge to his smile and shifting the
from why heâ€™d taken Natalieâ€™s place in this forsaken
you prejudiced against a man simply because of the
took a chance, quoting back her own words with the
substitution of man
for woman. Despite the precious little he knew about her,
theme hinted at her disdain for stereotypes.
eyes narrowed. "Youâ€™re a cheeky one."
it matter, so long as NONE covers your story?"
than you know." Her gaze fixed on him, and Adam felt a
prick of pain
in his chest, as though heâ€™d been touched by a surgical
it, she actually had some power! Unlike most of his leads,
not be a fizzle.
his gaze latched to hers, he concentrated on who he was
today: a curious
chronicler of the bizarre, editor and owner of NONE,
paper some called tabloid and others called bible.
probe in his chest stabbed deep and unexpected. He pressed
back a gasp
of pain. "Trying to do me in, love?" he murmured.
confusing," she admitted with a frown. "Murky. No, not
parts I see are clear. Itâ€™s the parts I canâ€™t see that
one should be laid bare to a stranger."
laughed, genuinely amused. "Except my targets, of course.
Am I to
be allowed in? Itâ€™s beastly cold out here."
strange howl recurred. Fear spasmed the wrinkles in Faithâ€™s
and he spun toward an unseen threat. A finger of redâ€”Fire?
Aliens?â€”flared out, then vanished. Heâ€™d taken one stride
when Faith grabbed his wrist. With unexpected strength, she
backward. "Get in!"
took the invitation. He crossed the threshold, noting the
some unseen barrier. Faith, apparently, had more protection
realized. Curiosity, and, hell, admit it, hope, rose
soon as his arse was inside, she slammed shut the door and
old-fashioned lock and a shiny new deadbolt. She then
her breath, as her hand pressed against a carving of a
When she spun to face him, her face contorted with
fear. "Were you
didnâ€™t see any lights after I left the highway." He thought
"No, I wasnâ€™t followed."
we have time, then." She gave a small sigh, revealing the
of age. "Follow me, Adam." She led the way deeper into her
studied his surroundings. The dĂ©cor intrigued him. Heâ€™d
backwoods cabinâ€”hewn wood and handmade quiltsâ€”or mystical
but there was nary a patchwork, crystal, copper pot, or
vial of fragrant
oil. Instead, the room evoked the tropics, with soft
in bright colors and a profusion of plants.
was also beastly hot and humid. Adam flicked away a bead of
then stiffened as a flash of black caught the corner of his
his hand shifted to his waist, where a weapon was normally
Bother, heâ€™d left both gun and knife in the car. He hadnâ€™t
any trouble from a woman whoâ€™d asked for a visit, and heâ€™d
the weapons might disturb her.
gave a high-pitched chuckle. "Thatâ€™s not the danger, at
to me. My pet smells you. Galanthis, meet our guest." When
whatever it was, refused to show, she shrugged. "She picks
Come, Iâ€™ll show you why I asked you here."
followed Faith down a short, unlit hall. She pushed open a
and again, he felt the tingle of a protective barrier,
sourceâ€”technical or supernaturalâ€”eluded him. Perhaps it was
might be a hermit, but she was not doddering. A fact heâ€™d
the other side, he gave a low whistle. "Which Circuit City
you think magick was stuck in the thirteenth century? That
couldnâ€™t apply to a modern world?"
I did, youâ€™ve shown me different."
her sharp glance sheâ€™d caught the subtle evasion, but she
allowing him to look his fill. Despite the roomâ€™s crowded
was cooler here, air-conditioned to counter the heat-
At the center of the room stood a scarred round table, one
enough to have befitted the legendary Arthur. A single
pushed up to the table served as seating for the open
was a top-of-the-line Mac.
and arcana. The table portioned the room into schizophrenic
reflection of his hostess?
smaller piece contained classic magickal paraphernaliaâ€”a
oils, books, herbs, quills, crystals. A brazier emitted a
of smoke, scenting the room with the aromas of lavender and
fingers itched to pull out his camera, to record the
details, but that
faux pas would earn him a quick exit. Instead, he tried to
what he could.
other side of the room was a geekâ€™s wet dream. The Mac plus
computers, a plasma TVâ€”52 inch, heâ€™d wagerâ€”a flat screen
on the wall, virtual-reality goggles, all wireless. Mage
here," she ordered, rotating the chair to face the wall
to follow her lead, he sat, and then jerked up as a tube of
leaped into his lap, just missing the family jewels. Ready
to swat the
threat, his hand paused as he realized the attack came from
sable ferret. Its dark eyes gazed at him curiously, while
made itself at home by crawling up his arm.
shy Galanthis, I presume?"
bother our guest." Faith tugged the ferret off him, but as
she set Galanthis down, the ferret slid away to crawl
inside his pant
leg. "Sheâ€™s inquisitive."
rather have her on my shoulder." He tugged the ferret from
and hoisted her up. She promptly stuck her nose into his
the tickling sensation, he looked quizzically at the
monitor. All he
could see was a blur of colors. "What am I supposed to
"Put these on." Faith held out the virtual-reality goggles
pair of gossamer gloves, which looked as though theyâ€™d been
from a spiderâ€™s web.
struggled to don the gloves. Bloody things tangled worse
cling wrap. At last he got them on, donned the goggles, and
the light from the monitor screen columned outward,
enveloping him in
its surreal glow. As he sat in a swirling rainbow, he heard
low and keying the Mac laptop behind him. Suddenly, the
and a virtual library popped into focus within the column
gave a low whistle, covering his rising excitement with an
"Impressive." Swiftly, he scanned the titles; some he was
with; others not. Grimoires, ancient herbologies, modern
power, neuromancy, applied MEMS techâ€”the library was as
the room. An eternity wouldnâ€™t be long enough to study them
out that brown book, the one on the upper shelf," Faith
her voice faint.
spied the book she meant. Testing, he reached out. Only his
the cyber library. The sensation was dizzying, crawling
around in his
stomach like motion sickness, but by focusing, he
motion to the disembodied hands and pulled the book off the
ran a hand across the seemingly solid book. It was old,
pages that had somehow escaped the destruction of time and
Ages. He could feel the brittleness of the pages, smell the
it real?" he breathed.
you think Iâ€™d allow anyone to touch it in solid space?" she
existed, and yet it didnâ€™t, preserved by some technique he
yet understand, a meld of magick and technology. Newsman
as the twin thrills of discovery and curiosity fired. The
might be a fizzle, but this library made the trip
to page sixteen," she ordered.
turned the pages, occasionally needing to close his eyes
when the dizzying
nausea threatened. The snuffling of Galanthis on his
with the musky ferret smell, helped to ground him.
book was a collection of predictions, unknown ones, unlike
Nostradamus. Page sixteen was difficult to read, written in
elaborate script, the words fading in and out of focus, but
he got the
gist. "It predicts that the slaughter of the mages will
usher in destruction
byâ€¦is that chaos?"
general prediction of Armageddon?"
a specific kind of chaos, like the eruption of Vesuvius or
myth of the fire-spewing Chimaera."
of the mages? Old news: Fifteenth-century European witch
Salem witch trials, the Inquisition?"
you read what occurred in Papua New Guinea a couple of
years ago? The
women who were burned with metal rods on suspicion of
did. Isolated incident of ignorance and jealousy."
symptom of a continuing mindset. Open the safe on the
looked around the virtual library and saw a keypad. That
there before; somehow Faithâ€™s command had made it
the safe door swung open, the cyber library vanished with a
be replaced by the dark maw of a safe. Inside was a fuzzy
stack of colored
the top red one," she ordered.
the folder was an array of newspaper articles. One was from
but the others were from regular newspapers scattered
across the country.
He remembered the subject of the NONE article. Heâ€™d
the chap was careless with gasoline, but theyâ€™d found
to run it as a bizarre case of spontaneous combustion.
he thumbed through the remaining articles and obituaries.
the disappearance, or death, of a local citizen. Reading
focusing on the typeface difficult, but he caught the names
each had been a practitioner of magick.
the years of his quest, Adam had had occasion to meet each
found them of varied temperament, varied skill. He hadnâ€™t
they had died, however. Mage deaths. A good story for
could play the random events into a conspiracy.
was Faithâ€™s angle? As he screened the articles for added
he asked, "Have you told the police?"
department? There are eight different jurisdictions. And
the FBI didnâ€™t
take seriously a conspiracy theory to kill crackpots." The
her voice was real.
what I hoped."
mages die. Why think these are connected?"
drowned in the breath of the dragon. And now it wants
dragon. He stilled, the moment becoming a timeless vacuum,
stomach muscles clenched at the coincidence. Unbidden,
the echo of another womanâ€™s last lucid words: "The
Faith as deluded as his sister? Was St. Jude offering a
that led nowhere?
the file back in the safe," Faith commanded.
his brain had unthawed, perhaps heâ€™d grown accustomed to
perhaps Faith had adjusted the resolution or was playing
him. Whatever the reason, as he replaced the file, the
stack below came
into sharp relief and atop the folders lay a CD case. The
label on the
CD was a rainy-day gray, with two words stamped in deep
blue: Abby Zolton.
bloody hell. He snatched up the disk, his heart racing
against his throat,
sweat, cold, and nausea forgotten. Only the snores in his
ear from the
snoozing Galanthis kept him grounded.
the safe snapped closed, leaving him back in the library,
the disk in
his glowing hands. Could he get the disk out of this
View the photographs? Carefully he tried pulling the disk
"This diskâ€”" he began, his voice rough.
he could finish, a high-pitched tone knifed from the
computer fitted against the wall. "Security breach,"
shouted a mechanical
a banshee shriek, Faith spun toward the breached computer.
diskâ€”vanished. She began typing at a speed that seemed
for her gnarled fingers. "Viper, you led them into my
I didnâ€™t!" He flung off the goggles, and peeled off the
Faith ignored him, concentrating on the computer screen.
red and blue hexahedron burst onto her computer screen, and
replicating into a caterpillar of sparks. It erased her
erupting from the screen in an electric stench. The twist
the Mac laptop connected to the wall monitor, gathering
the hell is that?" He leaped to his feet, and Galanthis
his shoulder. He grabbed the ferret in one hand, then set
on the floor.
mage-born computer virus. They know about the library."
head of the virus incarnation bounced off the Mac, unable
Faithâ€™s guards. Instead, it burrowed into the third
computer and flashed
into the screen, filling the pixels, erasing the merry
lines of the
strange virus also deposited a single red-glowing
hexahedron in the
room, and the remnant began spreading in reality. Adam felt
labor for breath. The growing thing ate up breathable air,
it with ozone and burnt electricity.