Read The Magic Catcher Online

Authors: Cassie Clarke

Tags: #romance, #fantasy, #magic, #young adult, #ya, #dragon adventure

The Magic Catcher

BOOK: The Magic Catcher
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THE MAGIC CATCHER

Cassie Clarke

Copyright © 2016
by Cassie Clarke

All rights
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form without express written permission from the publisher,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles and reviews.

ONE

They were
coming.

Weren’t
they always? Ever since she could remember, they had chased her
kind. They’d stayed away when she was in her prime – she could have
obliterated them with a wave of her hand, after all – but word had
got out that her magic was weakening. It made her an easy
target.

It also
made her an urgent target. Because soon she wouldn’t have any magic
left for them to take.

Aprestine slipped back into the shadows, pulling her cloak
further above her head and trying not to shiver. It was beginning
to rain, the first few drops spitting against her face like little
needles of ice. Part of her was glad for the fortuitous change in
weather; if the cold ocean wind wasn’t enough to send the magic
catcher indoors for the night, perhaps the rain would.

The
wheels of the catcher’s cart clacked as it manoeuvred down the
cobbled streets. From her position in the alley, she could only see
its shadow, the only real giveaway it was there at all was the
light swinging from side to side as the lantern that hung from the
roof of the cart rocked back and forth in the winter
breeze.

Deniz
was empty at this time of night. The curfew had been in place for
the past few months, the citizens of the coastal town forced to
empty out of the inns three hours earlier than they were accustomed
to. Aprestine had expected a riot when the Mayor announced the new
law, but most people were happy with the decision.

Fear
could do that to you.

The
strange disappearances had started a year earlier. Children
snatched from their beds. Women taken on their wedding night. Men
plucked from the pavements as they stumbled home in the
dark.

Aprestine shouldn’t be out this late. She was deteriorating
rapidly, her magic failing her, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able
to defend herself from whatever was taking the citizens of
Deniz.

She
certainly wouldn’t be able to defend herself against the magic
catchers. They had no magic of their own - they always sold on the
power they stole for a hefty price - but they were skilled with a
blade. A blade she might not be able to outrun. Not
anymore.

Some of
the Denizians blamed the catchers for the disappearances. Almost
all of those who’d been taken were witches, warlocks, or were born
with the potential to be one. But that wasn’t how the catchers
operated. All they were after was the power. If they had to kill
you for it, so be it, but they weren’t in the business of murdering
anyone if they could help it. Not on a regular basis. Not like
this.

This was
something else.

Aprestine shook her head, and waited for the magic catcher to
pass. She couldn’t let herself worry about what was plaguing Deniz.
She had enough problems of her own. She shouldn’t even be in the
coastal town, not really, but she felt fatigued at the very thought
of crossing the fifty mile distance to the city of Ezeth, which was
where she really needed to be. Besides, there were opportunities
here.

The
catchers were hunting her. But she was hunting them as
well.

They had
what she needed, as loathe as she was to admit it, and the magic
they possessed was just what she needed to make the journey. She
only needed to find the opportune moment, a chance to catch one
off-guard, and then she could-

A shadow crossed her path and she inhaled sharply. The
catcher couldn’t have found her, surely? She’d been so careful,
hiding out of sight from everyone and everything. No, the catcher’s
cart was still moving at a steady pace, it can’t have been him -
but there, just to the left of her, there was
something
. She span around, about to
slide her dagger out of its sheath, but her attacker was too quick
for her. They forced the inch of knife she’d managed to bare back
into its case, and her heart stilled as a set of fingers clamped
around her arm, dragging her backwards, further down the alley. A
hand pressed itself against her mouth.


My, my, what do we have here?” A voice whispered in her ear.
“A lady out past curfew, all alone?”

Aprestine jabbed her elbow into the stomach of her captor,
and he grunted in surprise. She whirled around, punched him in the
nose and made to flee, but he recovered faster than she had
expected and he pushed her against the wall on the other side of
the alley before she could throw him off a second time. The
moonlight, finally free of a passing cloud, bathed his face and
Aprestine gasped in recognition.


You!”
She pushed him square in the
chest. “What are you doing here?”

The man was not a magic catcher, but he
did
work for them. His name was
Marcus, and she’d considered him a friend, once upon a time. Until
he’d betrayed her, revealed her whereabouts to the catchers, and
she’d had to flee before he’d given her what he
promised.

He’d
promised her the jewel. Or at least the magic she needed to get to
it.

Rage
tore through her veins, and she couldn’t help but shoot a spark of
magic at him, a tiny blue missile of power that, if she was honest,
would barely make him flinch. He dodged it anyway – she tried not
to feel flattered that he still thought she could harm him -
twisting his body so that the projectile flew past him and into the
wall. It melted into the brick without even causing the slightest
rumble, which only enraged her more. In her prime, she’d have
brought the whole building down.


Now,” Marcus said. “Is that any way to treat an old
friend?”


You are
not
my friend.” Aprestine said, practically spitting the words in
his direction. Her hands trembled, and she folded her arms, tucking
them under her armpits so he couldn’t see.


If I wasn’t your friend, I wouldn’t have come looking for
you.”


Why, so you can sell me out again?”

Before
he could retort, Marcus’s head snapped in the direction of the
entrance to the passage. “Did you hear that?”


No.” Aprestine said. “If you’re trying to change the
subject-”


I’m not.” Marcus said. “I thought I heard…come with me.” He
grabbed her hand and pulled her as far as he could down the alley.
They hit a dead end and he span them round so she was against the
wall, facing him, shielding her from the view of anyone who
happened to pass by.


What-”

Marcus held a finger to her lips. “For once in your life,
Aprestine, could you just
try
and be
quiet
?”

Aprestine pouted but said no more.


Marcus?” A voice sounded from the entrance to the
ginnel.

Marcus
grimaced. Flashing her a look that suggested she would continue
being silent if she knew what was good for her, he turned to face
whoever it was who had recognised him.


Tony, my old friend.” Marcus’s voice was cool, level, but
standing this close to him, Aprestine could feel the tension in his
upper arm. She knew, with absolute certainty, that this Tony
was
not
his
friend. She peered around Marcus’s shoulder to get a better look at
the man, and instantly wished she hadn’t.

Tony’s
hair was jet-black, just like Marcus’s, but that was where the
similarities ended. Tony was missing an eye, several teeth, and had
the misfortune to possess a crooked, pointed nose that made him
resemble a hawk.

His
unfortunate appearance was not what sent chills up Aprestine’s
spine. No, the thing that made her nearly whimper with trepidation
was the lantern that he held in his hand. A catcher’s lantern. If
he were to open it, mutter an incantation, it would start to suck
away the remaining magic that she held inside her.


Who’s this?” Tony said, nodding his head towards her. “A
present for me?” He shook his lantern vigorously, causing a flurry
of blue sparkles to fly around inside before settling back at the
bottom again. Aprestine was torn between pity for the poor witch
who had lost her magic, and desire to have it for her
own.


No.” Marcus said. “Just something I got for myself.” He
pulled Aprestine closer, wrapping an arm around her waist and
pressing his face against her hair. To Tony, it would look like he
was simply nuzzling her neck as he whispered in her ear, “Play
along.”

In her
element, Aprestine tittered, tossing a mane of auburn hair over her
shoulder and fluttering her lashes in Marcus’s
direction.


I can smell magic.” Tony said. His engorged nose sniffed the
air. Marcus’s gaze slid towards Aprestine for a fraction of a
second.

“’
Course you can.” Marcus said. “Got a collection of my own,
right here.” He lifted his coat to reveal a lantern hitched to his
waist. Aprestine fought back a gasp.  It was filled to the
brim with magic, more than she’d ever seen in one lantern before,
the whole thing glowing so brightly it illuminated every inch of
the alley, from the drains blocked up with leaves to the cracks
that snaked up the walls of the two buildings they stood between.
It must be worth thousands. How had he got it? What had he
done
to get it? There
was only room for a fraction more magic inside it, and she became
dizzyingly cold with fear at the thought that he might be
expecting
her
to
be the final donor. She tried to pull away from him but his grip on
her waist tightened, his fingers digging through the fabric of her
dress to keep her in place.

Tony
frowned. “Awful lot, you got there.”


Got lucky.” Marcus said. “Dying old wizard just gifted it to
me.”


That mean you selling?”


Not today.” Marcus said. “Got big plans for this stuff, you
see. More than you could afford.”

Tony
licked his lips. Aprestine could almost see the cogs turning in his
head. The amount of magic that hung from Marcus’s side was more
than most catchers could collect in a year, and it would fetch a
sizeable sum on the black market. Pathetic lords and ladies would
pay ridiculous amounts for even the smallest slice of magic. It
would only last a few days, but during that time they could pretend
they were powerful, smiting down their enemies or entertaining
their friends with silly parlour tricks. The whole thing was
distasteful, in Aprestine’s opinion.

Tony
wanted the magic. But Tony was half Marcus’s size, and he didn’t
have anyone by his side, the way Marcus did. Tony looked at
Aprestine, and her lips curled upwards, daring him to try and take
her on. Even if he did think she was a commoner that Marcus had
picked up in a brothel, it was still two against one, and it was a
fight he couldn’t win. His shoulders sank as he accepted defeat,
but his dark eyes still glinted with animosity. Aprestine
swallowed.


Alright then.” Tony said, nodding at Marcus. “You know where
to find me if you change your mind.”

He
shoved his hands into his pockets and walked back into the night,
whistling carelessly. He seemed to be walking slowly on purpose,
and Aprestine’s eyes narrowed as she watched him saunter out of the
passage. When he was finally out of sight, she sighed in relief
before shoving Marcus away.


Where on earth did you get all that?” She asked, gesturing
towards the lantern. “You’re not one of them now, are
you?”

Marcus
was a hired assassin when she’d met him. He worked for the
catcher’s every now and then, but only when it was someone they
didn’t think they could take on their own. He could have been a
catcher in his own right, but he’d always said the profession
didn’t sit quite right with him. Aprestine had warmed to him
immediately, which was a mistake. She’d told him she was magical
herself, thinking she could trust him to keep her secret safe, and
he’d immediately gone and asked the catchers whether he should kill
her.

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