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The Legacy of Androva Series

New Book, New Series, Twenty-Fourth Chapter 📜

In this chapter, Luca tries to convince Cass to make a trip into her past. Devin has helped him by providing a date, time, and place of particular significance. Luca also recalls when he made his own contract with the Spell Tracker, and we get a better idea of the penalty that's in store for him if he fails to meet the terms.

You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-three via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading 💕.


24 A Contract

We returned to the exact moment we’d left. Devin went to class reluctantly, saying it was only the thought of his college application forms making him do it.
I retreated to a quiet corner of the library and sent Cass a message.
Heard you were sick. Hope you’re OK?
She didn’t reply for a long time. Well, she didn’t reply for twenty-three minutes, which felt like an incredibly long time from where I was standing. Excuse me, pacing.
No. Sick. Like you said.”
It wasn’t the best of replies, but it wasn’t the worst either. She hadn’t told me to go away.
When do you think you’ll be better?” I asked.
Why?
I hesitated. I didn’t want to promise something I had no intention of delivering, but I had to convince her.
Why?” she asked again. At least she’s interested.
I’m ready to test something,” I replied.
My mom?” Cass’s message appeared almost instantaneously.
Not quite. Like I told you, this is new for me. I need to check something first.”
She made me wait again. I put the phone back in my pocket, hoping it would be more likely to buzz if I weren’t looking at it. I stared at the nearby book spines for the hundredth time. When my phone came to life it carried on buzzing. She’s calling me. Shit.
“Hi!” I said, way too enthusiastic. My voice echoed in the space between the shelves and I screwed up my face in embarrassment.
“Er… hi,” she replied. “Can you talk?”
“Yeah. I’m just in the library,” I said, lowering my voice to a more appropriate volume.
“What do you mean—check something?” she asked, getting right to the point.
“Um. Traveling within your own lifetime is a much bigger risk. You could end up changing all kinds of things,” I said.
“Duh,” she said. “That’s the point.” She paused, and I heard the sound of a door closing. “Look. Without wanting to sound pathetic here, I’m not doing so well. I feel like everything is closing in on me. All my usual coping strategies aren’t working.” Another pause. “I want to…” She trailed off, then tried again. “I…”
Her breathing sped up. I waited, powerless to help her, holding my phone so tightly it creaked with the strain.
“I want to see my mom,” she said in a rush, her voice wobbling. “I don’t want to check anything or test anything. I’m not going to demand an explanation. I just want to see her and ask her what I need to do to get her to stay with me.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said before I could help myself.
“And then I’ll fix it,” she went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “I’ll fix it, and I’ll keep it fixed, and everything will be OK again.” Her voice took on a defiant tone at the end as if daring me to disagree.
“Well…” Don’t mess this up. “I get all that. I do. But I also want it to work. Wouldn’t it be safer to try with something less important first?”
A short silence. My own breathing was coming shallow and fast. I was terrified for her. She was so close to having her contract enforced. I didn’t know what to say to keep her on the right side of its terms. Don’t take her. Don’t take her yet. Please.
“Like what?” she asked eventually. I leaned against the shelves, weak with relief.
“Like… how about we go back to one of the times you had a blackout and see what really happened?”
“Oh. That’s… not a bad idea.”
“Great! I mean—good. That’s good. Do you think you’ll be back at school on Monday?”
Cass sighed. “Yeah. Assuming I feel less like a walking corpse by then. But… the work on the house isn’t done. It will be another week before I can stay behind.”
“I know that.”
I had a counterargument ready. Thanks to Devin, I didn’t need to use concesso. I didn’t need to look at her life path. Our trip to Rome and his conversation with Leander had given me enough clues for now. Devin was also going to give me the date, place, and approximate time of the most important conversation Cass denied she’d ever had with her brother.
“I might have shouted the information at her a few times to get her to remember,” he’d admitted. “It didn’t work. But at least it means it’s engraved on my memory so I can tell you.”
As I spoke to Cass, I did my best to sound relaxed even though my hand was aching from clutching the phone so tightly. After our shouting match by her locker the day before, the last thing I wanted was for her to feel under pressure. “I know that,” I repeated. “But it will be like when we went to the Globe, remember? We’ll return to the exact same moment we left.”
“Oh.”
“It’s up to you,” I added. “Whatever.” Stop talking, Luca.
“OK. I mean… yes. Let’s do it on Monday.”
I did my best not to sigh too loudly with relief.
“Monday,” I agreed. “Er… I hope you feel better.”
“Thanks.” She disconnected the call.
I sat down on the floor and leaned my head back against the shelves. I wished I were in the guardians’ library so I wouldn’t have to steer my way through the life lessons from memory. I was an experienced guardian, but I wasn’t infallible. It was unheard of to complete an assignment without support.
I’ll just have to be the first, won’t I?
All life paths were unique in the combination of lessons and potential outcomes they contained. There were hundreds of lessons and thousands of scenarios.
However, the criteria for success were hard-and-fast. The magic did not permit deviation. No matter how chaotic the earthbound dimension might appear, there was an underlying logic and system of rules no magician could escape. Succeed, and you are rewarded. Fail, and you pay a penalty. A penalty you signed up for by engraving its terms into your magic.
Most penalties weren’t too bad and were also rarely paid. Magicians following regular life paths usually graduated. If they failed in one incarnation, they would likely succeed in one of the subsequent ones.
It was the extraordinary life paths that had a higher failure rate. In order to practice as a Spell Master or a Healer, a magician had to prove his or her worth by risking everything. Those professions were revered for good reason. The potential penalty was severe when you made a deal with the Spell Tracker. It was supposed to deter magicians more concerned with reward than sacrifice.
Of course, rules were no more infallible than I was. Loopholes inevitably existed. The High Council had no spells in place to prevent what I had done because they never considered a guardian might choose to do such a thing.
I had willingly contracted with the Spell Tracker, the enforcer of life-limiting contracts. I had offered myself in exchange for one chance, on his terms, to save Cass. I didn’t regret it. No matter what.

      *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

“I want to discuss a contract,” I said.
He raised one eyebrow. “The pleasing thing about my contracts, Luca, is that there’s nothing to discuss. The terms are fixed. And I enforce them.”
The Spell Tracker turned back to his map, signaling that he was done talking to me.
Most of the wall behind him was covered in dimension-fabric, glowing with dots of colored light. As he moved his hand across a section of the map, threads extended outward from the lights toward his palm. He frowned, closing his thumb and slender forefinger on a particular thread and pulling on it.
“Hmmm. Sooner than I’d expected,” he murmured. The dot of light at the end of the thread was flickering. Faint. A magician about to fail his or her life path. “Let’s see,” he continued, stepping back. His surroundings shimmered. The earthbound dimension became visible as an overlay of energy, surrounded by symbols from the underlying spells. The magician whose contract he’d been checking had no chance. One casual gesture from the Spell Tracker and his earthbound covering collapsed.
While I watched, magical energy escaped from the earthbound body. As soon as the heart stopped beating for long enough, the binding spell lifted. The transfer from one dimension to another was disorienting but relatively fast.
It never failed to impress me. Magical dimensions operated on a much higher frequency, and the covering acted as an anchor to keep us earthbound and oblivious. As soon as that anchor detached, our consciousness and our magical form were free to return.
For a split second, the magician was filled with joy at the reminder of where and what he was. Then he saw the Spell Tracker. “No,” he said, backing away. “Please, no.”
The Spell Tracker tilted his head as if considering a strange new species. “Are you going to resist your contract? Because that would be wonderful.”
The magician continued to move backward. When he reached the doorway his expression flickered, hope and fear mingling together. He was so close. Two steps and he’d be outside. Has he forgotten? The Spell Tracker’s chambers had only one point of entry and exit. Just one doorway. Except… not just a doorway. It was filled with a thin layer of the Spell Tracker’s magic. Harmless to most magicians, myself included. But if you belonged to him you could not pass through it.
The magician stepped into the doorway and screamed. His body struggled, trapped inside the magic. It went on and on. Pain and terror swirled around me and I made a small noise of protest.
“Luca,” said the Spell Tracker. “I didn’t realize you were still here. Please leave. I have work to do. Christopher wasn’t even one of your assignments, was he?”
“I don’t just want to discuss a contract. I want to enter into one. With you.”
The Spell Tracker blinked. He huffed a short laugh. “Is this a joke? A test? Can I expect one of the Master Mages to walk in and rank-strip me for even entertaining such a thing?”
“I’m serious. I need a physical covering and I need to be invisible to the other guardians. You’re the only magician with the skills to enable that scenario.”
 I also knew that the magical core of a Light Mage was the one prize he wanted most and also the one prize he was unlikely to acquire. He considered my words while his victim continued to suffer behind us. I wanted to intervene, but I knew I would make things worse if I did.
“Very well. I’m intrigued. Let me just set things up with Christopher here, then I’ll listen to your proposal.”
“Setting things up,” as he so casually put it, involved taking Christopher into one of the holding cells and transforming it into his worst fear. This fear would then play out on a kind of magical loop, over and over, refining itself based on feedback the terrified Christopher would unwillingly provide.
The construct was unique for each victim, usually involving extreme physical and emotional pain, followed by death. Or not. Depending on which the magician feared most. Sometimes they had to watch it happen to someone they loved. Other times someone they loved would appear as their executioner. If a magician didn’t know what their worst fear was—if they were kidding themselves they didn’t have one—no matter. The Spell Tracker, as a Shadow Mage, knew how to find it and bring it to life.
Occasionally, magicians attempted to resist the illusion, believing their mental strength was equal to the task of repelling the Spell Tracker’s magic. But his particular brand of personalized torture overcame all obstacles. He loved the fear. He savored it. It was his reward for taking on a job the High Council had decided to delegate almost as soon as they’d created it.
The rewards for graduating as a Spell Master or a Healer were many, and the associated life paths had to be tough to ensure only magicians with the right qualities succeeded. Magicians on the make paid the penalty. In the earthbound dimension, without magic or memories, no one can fake it.
That penalty was the forced removal of a magician’s magic, and there was only one method with a one hundred percent success rate. Enter the Spell Tracker. He weakened the conscious mind to the point of surrender so the bond between magic and magician would be faint enough to shatter.
Of course, no magician’s life lasted very long without their magic. It was a death sentence in all but name—something the High Council refused to openly acknowledge. The harvested magic was recycled and the victims were returned to their families to die.
We sat in front of the dimension-fabric. I refused the Spell Tracker’s offer of refreshment. The holding cells were at the other end of the hallway leading off the main chamber, but I could still hear Christopher’s sobs, and they were escalating. He was pleading for mercy, not yet accepting there was none to be had.
“Interesting,” said the Spell Tracker. “Very… interesting. He is one of mine, you say?”
He glanced at the map and I nodded. “I came across his energy signature in the life path records.”
The guardians’ library contained copies of all life paths. We were permitted to cross-reference our assignments when their lessons were codependent on other magicians’ choices.
“Came across?” he repeated, smiling. “Don’t lie to me, Luca. There’s no point. Our contract will not permit it. How many years have you been searching for him?”
“A long time,” I admitted.
“Yes, I thought so. Go on then. Show me.”
I stood up and reached out to his map with my magic. We had our own map in the guardians’ library, but, in the same way his showed only those magicians contracted to him, ours was customized to ensure each guardian could only use it to locate their own assignments.
There. I found him quickly. A school in North America. I closed in, exploring the layout and committing it to memory. I wanted to take a look at his physical covering, but the Spell Tracker stopped me. “That’s enough,” he said.
I sat down again, waiting while he examined the energy signature I’d identified. “What is this magician to you?”
“I don’t understand…”
“I want to know everything, Luca. If this opportunity means that much, you’ll tell me.”
I hesitated. His eyes narrowed. “You know the High Council does not permit me to access the life paths of guardians.” His voice took on a sarcastic tone. “We must protect the delicate Light Mages from the big bad Spell Tracker.”
“He… he was the reason I became a guardian.”
The Spell Tracker lifted a finger to his lips as if to press away the faint smile that appeared. “Indeed? This is too perfect,” he murmured.
He stared at me with an expression I couldn’t decipher. Excitement? Anticipation? I pushed away my misgivings. His reaction was to be expected. This was the contract of his dreams.
“I accept,” he said. “Maximum penalty. And I’ll do my best to ensure you pay it.”

2 comments:

Anke said...

Oh wow I didn't know you post your books' chapters here!

Alex C Vick said...

Only the Light Mage Series :-)
(The Legacy of Androva is in Kindle Unlimited, so I can't post more than a chapter or two from those books)

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