Authors: julie ann dawson
“I’ll have to remove the charm to talk to her,” I say. “Which means Vivika can eavesdrop.”
“When you want to call your mom, tell me. I’ll…I’ll call mine. If I remove some of the wards in my room she’ll manifest to talk to me physically. I can keep her distracted so you can talk to your mom.”
“I am truly sorry that you have been forced into this, young man,” says Brynwolf. “This is exactly what we did not want when the original order to terminate was made. But even the Nine are not infallible. Thankfully, they know that and adjust accordingly.”
“Yeah, lots of people are sorry these days.” Houston collapses into a chair. “So we
going to kill her, right? This isn’t going to be one of those ‘oh, let’s just lock her away and let some future generation deal with her when she breaks out’ bullshit, right?”
“No, the plan is to end her permanently.”
“Houston, I know you are furious in the moment, but are you really going to be all right with this? Regardless of everything, she
“She stopped being my mother when I realized she tried to kill Harlan. If I’m honest, she stopped being my mother long before that. Besides, she’ll kill you to preserve her own power. And you’ve been more of a mother to me than she ever was. If I have to choose, I stand with you.” He looks up at me and bites his lower lip before saying, “Not to imply that you are old enough to be my mother or anything. You are way too young to have a son my age.”
“And there is the Houston I know and love,” I say as I walk over to him and give him a kiss on the forehead.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be vital,” says Brynwolf. “We will only get one chance at this. The charm will protect you from Chana Magus reading your thoughts, but it won’t be enough. If Houston is willing, I can teach him a talent that will allow him to alter his aura. Chana Magus shares the same weakness many powerful witches do; she will always trust her magical power over mundane sources. Block your aura from her and she will rely on her powers of observation to read your body language, voice inflection, eye contact. Any of those might give you away as she will no doubt grow increasingly paranoid as we get closer to Sahmain. But let her see a false aura that reflects what she wants to believe; that her son loves her and trusts her, and she will act accordingly.”
“That is a
ability, Lord Advocate,” I say. “And how widespread is that talent among psions?”
“Madame Warlock, if I didn’t know any better, I would say you sound a bit like a Justicar. It isn’t a talent generally taught to those below Rank Two, for the very concerns your question so artfully implies. But we have an extreme situation here, and Houston has demonstrated both the innate ability to learn and the good sense to be discreet in other sensitive matters.”
I read through the folder of evidence while the Lord Advocate works with Houston on developing the false aura talent. On occasion, I look up from the folder to see what they are doing. Altering your aura is an ability many demons develop to better hide among humans and send demon hunters off on false trails. As a demonologist, I can normally notice subtle cues that would alert me to something being off. But even that specific training isn’t perfect and takes a great deal of concentration. I wonder if any of the Justicars are even aware of this talent among psions? Steve would flip out, because his job is hard enough already without learning that a rogue psion might actually be able to completely change his or her aura.
It takes several hours for Houston to learn the talent. I check in with Eric at the shop. Anastasia had called to see if she could come in early, as school let out everyone at noon because the heater went down. It’s early October, not a blizzard in December. They close school because the temperature drops below 70 degrees in the building? But on the bright side, I’m glad Eric told her to come in. This is busy season for an occult shop and we
leave him there alone.
When they finish the lesson, the Lord Advocate asks to speak with me privately for a moment. Houston starts to protest, but the Lord Advocate says, “I have things to say that are for her ears first. If she chooses to tell them to you at a time in the future, I leave that to her as she is your patron. Even now I have an obligation to recognize the protocols of the apprentice-patron relationship.”
“And what protocol would that be?” Houston huffs.
“Protocol M32-194-2485-7661-9392, if you want to know the specific protocol. I can have someone send you a copy of the three volumes for your perusal, if the reading interests you.”
“Nah, that’s good. Maybe when I prepare for my next trials.”
After Houston leaves, I say, “I don’t know all of the protocols off the top of my head, but generally the M series protocols have to do with accounting and dealing with government agencies?”
“He doesn’t know that. And it did get him to leave.” I chuckle. He shrugs. “I didn’t want to call in the Esteemed to find the exact protocol. Shoot me.”
“So, about the Star Wars clues…”
“I was trying to figure out how to safely contact you and I saw Houston often makes Star Wars jokes on his Magelite page. He’s a geek with an inquisitive mind. I gambled that he would figure it out.”
“Seemed like some fairly obscure clues, though. Unless, of course, the person putting together the clues was a bit of a geek himself.”
He smiles. “When I was twelve, my psionic powers began to surface. I was terrified. My parents weren’t witches and I knew nothing about magic. Things would spontaneously catch on fire, or things would move based on my emotions. I started picking up surface thoughts and hearing voices. Then my dad took me to see
in the theater. And I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was a
“I begged my dad to take me to see it again and again. On the third time, there was an old man in a wheelchair seated in the aisle next to us. In the middle of the movie, my dad got up to go use the restroom. That was when the old man leaned over and said ‘I can train you in the Force’ and he lifted a piece of popcorn out of my bucket with his mind.”
“So that is how you met your Yoda?”
“Tomas had been aware of me for months and was trying to determine how best to make contact. It is very difficult for psions, you know, because so many of us do spontaneously develop our powers out of nothing. We don’t have the family ties that can help us understand what is happening. I was a very scared little boy. He reached out and helped me. Which brings us to Houston.”
“There is something else troubling you?”
“It took him three hours to learn the ritual.”
“Well, he is new to the craft.”
“No, no. Nancy...er..Madame Warlock. That is a ritual that usually takes
to master. No matter how powerful his mother’s imprinting on him, it is highly unusual for a psion to just absorb knowledge like that. That is the sort of speed you normally find with hereditary magic.”
“His father wasn’t a witch.”
“Are we sure who his father is?”
“You think Vivika was having an affair or something?”
“She hated her husband. She only tolerated him I assume because she wanted a child. I wouldn’t think adultery would be so outlandish a sin considering who we are talking about.”
“I think at this point, even if his father was a witch, that the last thing Houston needs is more family drama.”
“I don’t disagree. But it is possible his father never knew about him. And it might do the young man some good to at least have the option to find out, should he decide to pursue it. Or at the very least, to not spend the rest of his life thinking
of his parents were murderers. And regardless, when this is over, I would like your permission to take a more active interest in Houston’s training. With his natural talents and your training, he could make a fine Justicar one day. And I think that might suit him. He has a deep desire to do good. I would like to make sure that he gets that chance if he wishes it.”
“Thank you, Lord Advocate. I think when all of this is over, that would be a wonderful idea.”
Mother’s aura flares bright red as she reads Brynwolf’s letter. By the end of the letter, she’s cloaked in a shroud of Hellfire. I am so glad she’s still in the astral plane. I don’t want to have to replace the carpet. “
Give me thirty minutes to call up a few mariliths and I end this right now.
“Mother!” I point at the ceiling. Houston is conversing with his mother to keep her from prying while I speak with mine.
“It isn’t a problem, Nancy. They owe me favors.”
“Okay! All right. We do this your way. I’m going to go talk to your grandmother. After I figure out how to restrain her. She’s where you get your temper from.”
“And she always insisted I got it from you.”
Mother looks up at the ceiling and scowls. “
Sahmain can’t come fast enough.”
She vanishes off to go find Nanna.
I go into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I hear Houston coming down the stairs and set up a cup for him. I can feel Vivika’s presence lingering across the Veil. She’s attempting to ward herself, and if I was not already so on edge I might not have realized she was still listening. “How is you mother holding up?” I ask as he comes into the kitchen.
“As good as can be expected.”
I hand him the cup. “How are
“I’ll be glad when this is over.”
“So what did you two talk about?”
“Mom wanted to know how things are going with me and Risha. She said she wants to meet her when this is all done. What psion wouldn’t want to meet
Grand Madame Vivika, right?” Houston sits down at the table and rubs his face. “It was so weird. Having a…normal?...conversation with her. All of those years she was never around to talk to. All those times when I needed her, and she wasn’t there. Now I’m talking about my girlfriend with my dead mother and she has this expectation that she has the right to be involved in these things.”
I squint at him. I’m not sure if he realizes she is still listening. Then he sets his jaw and glowers. He knows. He
her to hear.
“She talks about how she’s always been there for me, but floating around
isn’t the same as
. Where was she when April died? Where was she then when I really needed her? Where was she when Aunt Ruth was blaming me for April being sick? Where was she when I was crying myself to sleep as a kid because I thought nobody wanted me around? Just
.” And then to drive the dagger in a little deeper, he adds, “I wish she was more like
Houston’s hair moves as if a hand brushed his head. He twitches from Vivika’s touch. Her disembodied voice vocalizes, “I’m sorry” before she finally leaves us alone.
In a Bind
The first time I saw the young woman drop one of the books in her arms, I had Eric give her a hand basket to carry them in. The second time she dropped something, I had Houston find her an actual cart. The third time, I noticed she was shaking.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
“What? No…I mean, I’m fine.” She’s pale from lack of sleep and she takes several quick breathes to try to gain some semblance of composure. I glance at the books and items in her cart. She has three books on ghosts, two books on poltergeists, a book on wraiths, a how-to guide on house cleansings (along with the associated house cleansing materials), and the latest edition of Jack Darren’s
Living with the Dead
, a popular series about people who willing live in haunted houses. All of it is really watered-down for mundane consumption and usually only bought for the entertainment value. But when someone buys them all at once…
“When did you buy the house?” I ask.
“What? I didn’t buy a house.” She looks at the cart and flushes red from embarrassment. “I need to
a house. And…I don’t think I can sell it as it is.”
“You boys got the registers?” I ask. Houston waves an affirmation. “Why don’t you come into my office.”
“Oh, no. I’m…I’m just browsing.”
“I’m a professional. And talking is free.” I put my hand on her cart and gently coax her over to the office. She sits down on the sofa against the wall instead of the chair in front of my desk. I close the door and offer her something to drink.
“I’m not crazy,” she says in that voice people use when they are trying to convince themselves more than you. “I don’t want you to think I’m crazy.”
“I operate a new age shop. It is highly unlikely there is anything you can say that would make me think you were crazy.” I pour her a glass of water and hand it to her. “My name is Nancy.”
“Amber. Amber Courtland. I inherited my grandmother’s house. She died last month.”
“My condolences. Do you think your grandmother is still in the house?”
“No, they buried her. Oh, you mean…ghost. No, I don’t think it is her. I think it is something she left behind. Does…does that make sense?”
“Yes. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened.”
“Really? I mean, I suppose that should make me feel better. But…I don’t know what is happening.”
I sit down at my desk and log in to WitchNet and perform a search for Courtlands. “Why don’t you just start at the beginning? What was your grandmother’s name?”
“Candice. Candice Courtland.”
“Paternal grandparent then?”
“Yeah, is that important?”
I add Candice to the search parameters. “It could be. I just want to make sure I get all the information so I can help you prove you aren’t crazy.”