Authors: Karen Mead
Random Acts of Sorcery
By Karen Mead
Text Copyright© 2014 Karen Mead
All Rights Reserved
Books in The Familiar Series
The Problem With Black Magic
Succession of Witches
Random Acts of Sorcery
To my parents, who will read this book someday when it’s available in convenient dead tree
format, and not on “that darned Kindle.” Also Dad, I’m sorry about the sexy parts, please skip those.
Sorcery at Silverhawk was an institution. No matter what you had to do to get there, you signed your name on the big metal clipboard taped to the wall and entered the weekly tournament in the hope of winning fabulous prizes. Even gamers who didn’t normally play collectible card games sometimes showed up, wooed by the owners’ tendency to give out packs and packs of Sorcery cards, and sometimes even video games, to those who placed well in the Sorcery tournaments. Though
Sorcery: The Happening
was played worldwide, if you were a fan, there were few better places to be on a Friday night than Silverhawk Games in Sterling.
Or at least, that was normally the case. Right now, it was kind of taking the wind out of everyone’s sails that all of the regulars were getting their hides shellacked by an elementary school kid.
Ethan Buckley was certainly polite, you had to give him that. No matter how soundly he was thrashing his opponent, he never gloated and always said “Good game,” after administering the killing blow. He also played fast, so you couldn’t accuse him of wasting anybody’s time. He did think about his moves, a thin line appearing between his brows on his small face, but after two or three seconds—tops—he would pick a card and the onslaught would continue.
While young Sorcery prodigies weren’t unheard of, Ethan was something new. Other young phenoms were brash and obnoxious, and the regulars silently cheered when a seasoned pro inevitably put them in their place. Except, all the old hands at Sorcery in the neighborhood had already taken a shot at Ethan Buckley, and they’d all lost too. It kind of bothered the players who were getting in the habit of losing to him all the time that you couldn’t even hate the kid; he was too profoundly decent.
Tonight, he was playing a deck that forced the opponent’s summoned creatures to attack each other; an unusual choice in a game where straightforward, high damage-dealing decks had long been considered the standard. It wasn’t a completely one-sided game, though. His opponent, a gangly college student named Mark, seemed to be able to keep summoning more and more creatures for each one Ethan’s machinations took out. Late in the game, he was starting to pull out the big guns.
ng 15 yellow points to summon an Ochre Manticore,” said Mark, slapping the yellow-bordered card onto the wooden table. “Ochre Manticore is immune to poison, and can’t be charmed by an enemy spell.”
“Can I see the card?” said Ethan, looking up from his hand for the first time in the match.
The boy stood up and bent at the waist to read the card upside-down from across the table, a large necklace popping out from under his shirt collar as he did so. The necklace was bright pink with black veins running through it, and seemed
an odd choice for a boy his age. Some of the regulars watching from the sidelines exchanged curious glances; maybe it was a roleplaying thing? Ethan had been very tight-lipped about his life outside Silverhawk, so they didn’t know what other hobbies he might have.
Ethan sat back down, a mildly irritated expression marring his smooth features. He picked up his hand again and began to consider his cards seriously, seemingly at a loss for what to play for the first time. He moved as though he was going to play a certain card, then stopped and reconsidered, his fingers still clenched around the black border. A few moments passed; the smell of stale nachos and cardboard seemed to intensify in the silence. Someone opened a drink, and the pop of the metal can followed by the fizzing sound of the soda seemed unnaturally loud.
Mark began to drum his fingers against the table. “C’mon, what are you summoning? You’re taking too long.”
Ethan ran his finger through his black hair, thinking; his hair was so dark it looked shocking against his pale, freckled skin. It actually looked unnatural, although none of the regulars could imagine why an 11-year-old boy would choose to dye his hair.
“I….” he started hesitantly, then began to cycle through the cards in his hand again.
Several of the watching players exchanged amused glances; was the Boy Wonder finally out of his element? Maybe som
eone else could win Friday Evening Sorcery for a change.
Just then, there was a buzzing
noise, and Ethan looked at his book bag, a look of surprise on his face. When he reached for it, Mark gave him a warning look over his cards. “No touching your phone during a match, you know that.”
“Uh, right, sorry,” said Ethan, looking slightly embarrassed and burying his face in his cards again. However, as he cycled through the cards one more time, he gave his book bag a sidelong glance, obviously curious what the call had been about.
Mark slammed his hand down on the table, startling everyone. “Summon something already! Don’t tell me you’re trying to run down the clock.”
. “I’m not!”
Running down the clock was one way to win in Sorcery, but it was generally considered bad form. For all his victories, Ethan had never won that way; in fact, he usually finished with
a lot of time left.
“Then what are you summoning?” said Mark through gritted teeth. Normally he wouldn’t be so impatient, especially when dealing with a kid, but Ethan was a legend; if the prodigy was having a bad night, and Mark had any chance of beating him, he wasn’t going to let it slip by. A little psychological warfare was fair game.
“I…” Ethan started, seemingly decided on a card. But before he could play it, something strange happened.
To the shock of the gamers surrounding the table, Ethan suddenly jumped up; it was an odd motion, like there was a string attached to his spine and someone far above had given it a good yank. He dropped his cards on the table, gasping for air. He threw his head back, panic obvious in his brown eyes for a fraction of a second, but then some kind of recognition seemed to dawn.
Mark, who had jumped back in surprise, swallowed hard. “Dude, are you okay?”
“I…have to go,” said Ethan, swinging his bookbag over his shoulder with a strange, jerky motion, like he had just remembered how his body worked. “I’m dropping, you win.”
“Summoned,” said Ethan breathlessly. Then he bolted from the table, leaving his cards behind. On his way out of the store, he knocked over a display of board games with his bag, sending the colorful boxes flying.
And that, puzzled players would relate to each other for months afterward, was the story of how Silverhawk’s most talented player finally lost a match, even though it was by default.
Cassie spun in front of the full-length mirror, wondering if the dress she was wearing was fancy enough for court. Now that she’d already made her splashy debut, Serenus had assured her that a “normal” dress was okay; she could just buy something off the rack instead of having him pay through the nose for
something specially-made like last time. Still, casual was a no-go at court, and the black dress she’d chosen was low on frills. A sleeveless black sheath that covered her from neck to ankle, the only adornments were a glittery belt and a few rhinestones at the hem. It was sleeveless, but the dress came with a matching short coat, so she would be covered if it got cold at night.
Cassie lifted the hem of her dress and watched the fake jewels glitter, frowning; did it even get cold in Las Vegas in March? Originally they’d been told that proceedings would be held in San Francisco, but the venue had been changed at the last minute to a fancy Vegas hotel. Something about one of the men who had recently met an untimely demise in North Carolina being involved with the venue selection committee, or something
like that. Killing demons could have unexpected consequences.
Of course, for the past month she’d been feeling inexplicably warm for large portions of the time, so it probably didn’t even matter what the weather was going to be like.
Miri skipped into the dressing room, dragging a bunch of multicolored dresses in behind her. She took a good look at the dress Cassie was trying on as she hung up her choices on a hook near the mirror.
“You look like you’re going to a funeral.”
“I do not,” said Cassie, then she bit her lip. “Do you think this is fancy enough for court?”
“If you have to ask, then no,” said Miri. She selected a dark green dress with beaded accents off the rack and held it up for Cassie to admire. “Now try this on.”
Cassie turned and looked at the dress; it seemed to be made of more negative space than cloth. “Uh, no, I don’t think so.”
Miri smiled a dangerous smile. “Try it on, or else.”
“Or else what?”
“Or else I tell people about the economy pack of Toaster Pies under your bed.”
Cassie exhaled and grabbed the dress out of Miri’s hands, annoyed. She had thought that dress shopping with the cheerful vampire was a better bet than going with Serenus again, but clearly she had miscalculated; Serenus didn’t know about her propensity to hoard junk food, or how much it embarrassed her. At least, she hoped he didn’t.
As she carefully stepped out of the modest black dress in one of the fitting room stalls, she considered how odd it was that Miri knew her so well. For reasons she’d never really understood, she’d never been close with the girls in her classes; her closest friend from childhood was Jay, and once Mike had transferred in during ninth grade, the three of them had become a trio and she’d pretty much given up on even trying to make girlfriends. Now, she had a friend who was in all her classes that she could go out shopping with, and talk about girl stuff with, but
that friend was also a vampire who was essentially being paid in magic to protect her.
Was Miri even really her friend? Or was she just a skilled bodyguard, good at acting friendly to take Cassie’s mind off the fact that she needed constant protection? It was a disturbing thought.
Not as disturbing as I look in this thing though
, Cassie thought as she finished zipping up the green dress. She had been right—there was a lot of skin showing where there shouldn’t be. The dress started from her throat, but a large cut-out at the chest showed off her cleavage, the bodice plunging deeper than anything she had ever worn before. The dress was backless, coming to a V at the base of her spine, and high slits up the sides of the skirt made sure that her legs showed whenever she moved. Her cheeks burned; this wasn’t a party dress, this was uppity lingerie.
“Miri!” she yelled, stepping out of the stall and slamming the door behind her. “Are you serious? THIS is what you think I should wear to court?”
“Oh!” said Miri, clasping her small hands together in glee. The vampire could look disarmingly childlike when she wanted to. “You look gorgeous in that!”
Cassie stomped up to the full length mirror and snorted; the very idea of wearing this thing where people could see her was ridiculous. “Where’s the rest of it? This is half a dress!”
“No, that’s the style!” said Miri, skipping up in front of the mirror and adjusting how the dress fit Cassie’s bodice. “You have crazy curves, that’s why you can pull it off.”
Cassie pulled away from Miri, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. “Curves are just another word for ‘fat,’ she said, looking down. “Someone as big as me shouldn’t wear a dress that shows this much skin.”
Miri clicked her tongue at that. “Oh, you silly. Look,” she said, taking Cassie’s arms and gently putting her into a model’s pose. “See, you’ve got an hourglass shape, so as long as the dress shows off your waist, which it totally does, you don’t look fat. Plus, you’re nice and firm, so you can afford to show some skin.”
Miri stepped back, admiring her handiwork with a quick nod. “When you get older and you start to get cellulite, yeah, then you’re probably going to want to slim down a bit. But for now
Cassie hopped down from the step and went back to the fitting room stall, unzipping the dress as she went. “Don’t talk to me about cellulite, Miss I’m-
gonna-be-16-forever!” she snapped, keeping her voice low in case anyone else was in the dressing room. “I’m taking this stupid thing off.”
As she undressed, she heard Miri come to stand in front of her stall. “You forget, I’m going to be wearing a training bra forever, too,” she said quietly. “I wish I could wear a dress like that someday.”
Cassie froze in the process of putting her jeans back on, chastened. She had always thought of her body as a liability, too clumsy and unwieldy to conform to the image of feminine beauty and grace. It had never occurred to her that being 90 pounds soaking wet was something Miri might actually dislike as well. Furthermore, while at least in theory Cassie could lose weight (not that she’d ever had much success), Miri was probably stuck in her current shape for as long as she lived.
“I’m sorry,” Cassie said as she exited the fitting room. “I was being stupid.”
Miri grinned at her, just barely showing her pointy canines. “Are you going to get that dress then?”
The two shopped for a little while longer, eventually settling on a dress that was somewhere between their tastes. Cassie found another black dress that seemed sufficiently slenderizing, had enough glitter and lace on it to appear fancy, and showed off just enough of her body to get Miri off her back.
“Yaaay, cleavage!” said Miri, clapping. “I’m sure Sam will find a way to thank me.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he really cares,” Cassie muttered as she zipped up the dress in its protective plastic covering. It bugged her when people talked about Sam like he was slobbering all over her, mostly because it wasn’t true and it called her attention to the fact that she wished it was true. He’d made it clear that at the very least, he didn’t find her unattractive, but she still found it difficult to believe that he was lusting after her.
She pursed her lips; it was probably more like he chose to find her attractive because he didn’t have much of an alternative. They had been kind of forced on each other, in a way, and there was no point in bemoaning it. If it weren’t for the familiar bond, for the bizarre situation they were now in with regard to court, he probably wouldn’t even give her a second look….
“Hey, what’s wrong?” said Miri, noticing that Cassie’s gait had turned into angry stomps as they approached the sales counter.
“Nothing,” said Cassie, practically throwing the dress she had chosen down on the counter. To her surprise, the revealing green dress was unceremoniously plunked down on the counter next to it.
She scowled at the redhead. “I am not buying that dress, Miri.”
“Of course you’re not, silly, I am. Put them both on this,” Miri told the cashier, slapping down a shiny gold credit card.
“I-I was gonna pay for my dress myself!” said Cassie as the cashier swiftly began to ring up the purchase. “There was no need for you to do that.”
Miri shrugged. “I know you don’t have a huge amount of money saved up. Consider it a gift.”
Cassie opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again. There was no point; Miri wouldn’t budge, and her credit limit on that card was probably higher than Cassie could even count. The Buckleys were loaded.
One day though, she was determined to buy a dress for herself. It would happen.
As they left Maude’s Dresses and headed back into the mall, Miri looked around and sniffed the air. “I smell waffles. Want waffles?”
“We just ate dinner,” Cassie pointed out. “Besides, I gotta get home.”
“Why?” asked Miri, browsing at a display in a jewelry store window as they passed. “I thought your parents were still under the super-anti-freakout spell.”
I haven’t done any practice tests for the SAT in weeks.”
“I don’t understand why you even care,” said Miri,
then took her phone out of her skirt pocket. After a few seconds, she stopped short, nearly tripping a couple of teenagers walking behind them.
Miri replaced her phone and fixed a serious look on Cassie. “We are to report to The Daily Grind immediately. They have the spell, and they’re going to be doing it tonight.”
“What spell?” asked Cassie, then she remembered. “You’re kidding.”