Built on the bones of an ancient city, modern-day Everstrand is where master mage, Rowan, has set up his enchantment shop. When not hanging out with his werewolf best friend, Caleb, or studying, he dabbles in herbology and the controversial practice of blood magic. A prodigy who has already earned two masters, Rowan’s bound and determined to reach the distinction of grandmaster, a mage who obtains a masters in all five Schools of Magic.
Shaw works for the Inquisition, the organization charged with policing the magical races collectively known as magicae. Recently, it has come under scrutiny as magicae begin to disappear and reports of violence increase. With secrets of his own on the line, Shaw is willing to risk everything to find out just what is going on behind all the locked doors.
When Rowan and Shaw are entangled in each other’s worlds, it becomes evident that their hearts are as much at risk as their lives. They must find the truth and stop a conspiracy before it’s too late.
A Mage’s Power
Casey Wolfe © 2018
All Rights Reserved
The city of Everstrand came into view when Rowan’s dirt bike broke through the last of the forest. The engine whirred as he caught a little air over a bump, wind whipping at his blond hair. He laughed, leaving dust in his wake. Spring was fast approaching and Rowan was enjoying the sunshine and warming temperatures perhaps a bit too much.
The dirt roads leading from the Sacred Timber, where he lived, gave way to the paved roadways of civilization. Rowan much preferred the solitude of nature to the bustle of Osterian’s capital city, so it was just as well he tended to keep his trips there to a minimum.
Not that the city was completely horrible. It was ancient, and a lot of the original structures had been well-preserved as the city expanded over the centuries. The Everstrand Mages Guild was part of the oldest section. It sat on a broken piece of land that was enchanted to float in the air above the Grey Tides—visible even now. Chains kept it bound to the cliffside so that it didn’t drift away.
Rowan needed to stop by the Guild at some point, but he wanted to go to his shop first. One wouldn’t think he’d be able to make a living by being open a few days out of the week; however, an enchanter’s services were always a valuable commodity. Considering Rowan was the sole master enchanter in the entire city offering his services to the public, he wasn’t worried about losing business.
Having timed his arrival after the morning rush, Rowan had no problems getting to the shop. He cut through a few narrow side alleys to the Orchard Street Mall. He loved that it was all outdoors, restricted to foot traffic only, instead of a typical mall complex. It gave the area a certain charm, with the unique facades and plentiful landscaping.
Rowan parked his bike in the section reserved for vendors, permit tag sealed in place with magic to prevent theft. Satchel strap over his shoulder, he made his way down the cobblestone paths, past shops of every size and type.
Nestled between a bookstore and a pastry shop—that he frequented probably more than he should have—was Charmed to Meet You. Even now, the name made him cringe a little. It had been his late grandmother’s suggestion, and with no counter-name in hand, Rowan had relented. It seemed he was stuck with it too—at least his customers thought it was cute.
Once inside, he flipped on the lights and tossed his satchel onto the counter. He shrugged out of his brown leather jacket, hanging it on the rack. The weather may have been breaking, but riding his bike still required protection from the chill. It was nice enough to open the windows, which he did with a flick of his hand. A breeze swept inside, the fresh air swapping out the stale from over the weekend.
It was a small shop, designed more as a work space than a storefront, with all the shelving behind the counter holding his supplies. There were no displays or little charm trinkets lying around. Everything he did was custom. Let them go to a kitschy tourist trap if they wanted some run-of-the-mill good luck charm. He had better things to do.
Already finished with current orders, Rowan decided today was a good day to work on his own projects. He sat on his stool and pulled a thick book from his satchel before stowing the bag under the counter by his parchment, ink, and quills. It might have been old-fashioned of him, but he enjoyed the feel of a quill in his hand and handmade paper under his fingers—his grandmother’s influence, no doubt, as she had been the one to give him his first grimoire filled with parchment. After that, a notebook and pen simply wouldn’t do for anything involving his magical studies.
“Now, where was I?”
One of the few things he’d taken from his grandmother’s cottage was her magic books, but he hadn’t been able to read them until recently. Even looking at them had invoked powerful memories of her, and it was far too heartbreaking to consider. They had sat around, gathering dust, for the last half-dozen years, and Rowan thought it was about time to get over it. Thus, he’d begun pouring over her old grimoires and spell theory books in earnest.
Naturally, no sooner had he gotten settled, his cell phone chimed. It turned out to be his best friend, Caleb, and Rowan wasn’t surprised at the inquiry: “Lunch today?”
Rowan smiled while typing out a reply text: “Of course.” As though Caleb didn’t come out to Rowan’s cottage enough, the werewolf was always on him to hang out when he was in town. “Now hush. I’m studying.”
The returned zipped-lip emoji made Rowan laugh. “Damn wolf,” he said affectionately, shaking his head as he set the phone aside.
Not that the silence lasted long. From the back of the shop, Rowan heard a soft meow. He turned to find the brown tabby cat that roamed the neighborhood, slipping through the window and landing gracefully on a stack of books. “Hey, Badger.”
The cat meowed again, making his way along the shelves before jumping onto the front counter. Badger purred, rubbing his head against Rowan’s arm, demanding attention. Rowan scratched behind the cat’s ears. He certainly was an animal magnet.
Badger had shown up in the shop one day when Rowan had opened one of the back windows to vent the smoke from a failed experiment—not one of his prouder moments. Rowan had no desire for a cat, but he couldn’t just throw the guy back out into the wet snow either. Thankfully for Rowan, the cat didn’t exactly want to be kept.
Badger came and went on his own whims, although it seemed he’d picked up Rowan’s schedule and was sure to drop by to see him. Rowan figured part of it had to do with the fact he was keeping meat treats around. Not that he minded. Badger was a quiet, comforting presence who mostly took advantage of the warm, dry place by curling up on the counter and napping.
Caleb had saddled the cat with his name. Rowan wasn’t planning to name him—after all, he had proven to be his own animal—but Caleb had pointed out they couldn’t keep calling him “the cat.” Badger should have been thankful Rowan vetoed Whiskers.
The bell above the door announced the arrival of a customer, one of Rowan’s regulars. Most of Marian’s requests were idiotic, but he wasn’t about to turn down her money. If she wanted to keep wasting it at his shop, that was fine by him.
“Rowan, hon, there you are,” the older woman gushed, coming up to the counter. “Did you get my message?”
“I actually just got in.” Rowan may have sounded apologetic, but he wasn’t in the least. Marian had the habit of freaking out over nothing and believing she needed magical interference to deal with every little challenge. Think of the money, he reminded himself.
“Oh, I am in desperate need of your help. It’s my neighbor. The old fool has been trying to curse me.”
Rowan had to hold back an exasperated sigh. This was going to take a while. He closed his book regretfully.
“Curses are serious business,” Rowan said. “Are you sure?” Despite his words, he was already moving toward the shelves. They were set perpendicular to the counter, so he was still able to see Marian as he searched for various things he would require.
“I’m certain,” Marian insisted, as Rowan knew she would. “It’s my garden! Everything is just…dying. It was fine one day, and the next…” She threw her hands in the air, which was apparently supposed to mean something.
Rowan hummed in false agreement. “Yes, that does sound serious. Have you thought of reporting it?” Humoring her didn’t mean he couldn’t take a few jabs at her expense.
“Heavens, no. Those fools don’t do a thing. You should know that, dear.”
Rowan rolled his eyes. This is what I got a masters for?
It wasn’t the first time he’d thought it, and not even with Marian’s ridiculous requests. There he was, the youngest mage ever with a masters degree—now two—and he was humoring people who needed to keep plants alive despite their lack of green thumb, prevent a neighbor’s dog from shitting in their yard, or protect from griffin attack—because somebody told them they were rampant in the south of Osterian where they planned to vacation. Money was money, though, so Rowan stomached the inane requests and prayed for those that were a good use of his time.
“Do you think you can help me?” Marian asked, before cooing at Badger. He was thoroughly unamused, relocating himself to one of the shelves near Rowan. “He is such a beautiful cat. It’s so precious how he follows you.”
“Yes, he is,” Rowan agreed, Badger rubbing his head against his shoulder. “And, yes, I can most certainly help you out. If you have more shopping to get done, I can have it ready in about an hour.”
Marian clapped her hands together. “Oh, that’s wonderful. I do appreciate it.”
“No trouble at all.” He kept the fake smile in place until the door shut behind her. “One charm to stop you from murdering your own plants, coming up,” he griped. Looking at Badger, he raised a brow. “Why is everything a curse or whatever with her? I swear I don’t understand mundanes.” He spoke of those without magic.
Badger meowed as if he understood. Rowan smiled at him, gathering up the supplies he needed to make the charm in question.
He turned to another shelf, pausing when he saw the potion sitting there. “I forgot about this.” Rowan had been dabbling with potion-making lately. Despite not being an actual School of Magic, herbology—like divination and runes—was an offered course at many guilds. While anyone could learn such skills, magic could often enhance the effects.
“This…wasn’t exactly the color I hoped for,” Rowan admitted, turning the small glass bottle over in his hand. The sickly green liquid sloshed around, unchanged. “So much for that.”
He may have been something of a prodigy—passing his apprenticeship at eighteen, and earning his first masters at twenty-one—but he was far from great at all areas of magic. Likely, his grandmother would have kept him on track, except she’d died shortly after he opened Charmed to Meet You. She missed his second masters at twenty-four, and without her around to scold him, he’d spent the last four years messing around here and there with all sorts of other magic—including intensive study in blood magic—without truly settling on a new course of study.
Perhaps two masters would have been more than enough for any mage to have, but not him. He was bound and determined to reach the distinction of grandmaster, a mage who had obtained a masters in all five Schools of Magic. First, he needed to get through his next exam.
The cafe Rowan frequented with Caleb wasn’t far, merely a couple of blocks away in a small square. There was no point in taking his bike, especially when it was such a nice day.
He regretted that decision the moment he spotted an Inquisition knight. “What the hell are they doing around here?” he grumbled. In the next breath, he scolded himself. “I’ve been listening to Caleb’s stories too much.”
For the last fifty years or so, most countries had an Inquisition presence. The organization was not technically a part of their governments, rather, an entity authorized by their respective countries. Their purpose was to deal with crimes involving magicae—those races with magic—or to help those in need of rehabilitation.
As of late, various Inquisition temples—as they called their headquarters buildings—were coming under fire. Accusations of cruelty toward magicae were followed by whispers of kidnappings. The way people told it these days, if the Inquisition took someone, they were never heard from again.
Rowan dismissed most of the rumors as folly. If they were really holding so many magicae without cause, the governments surely would have stepped in. The claims of abuse of power, beating suspects, and the like, well, Rowan had no way to explain those away quite so easily. Whatever the case, he would rather avoid the members of the Inquisition.
Apparently, that would be impossible, as Rowan watched the knight’s attention zero in on him when he crossed the street. It wasn’t as if he were an elf or vampire, but his unusual violet eyes still had the habit of giving him away. Any hopes that he would be able to move on without a confrontation were dashed when the knight decided to step in his path.
“Excuse me,” Rowan said, attempting to sidestep him.
“No, you can stay right there,” the knight replied. As the name suggested, the official dress the knights wore resembled the heavy cloth armor of their medieval counterparts. Rowan found it anything but dashing, rather a testament to how backward the organization was. They admired men who used to kill dragons for the hell of it; how was that good for magicae? “Give me your ID.”
Rowan’s brows lowered. “I don’t have to do that.”
“Sure you do. I asked for it, didn’t I?”
Rowan scoffed. Clearly this boy assumed no one paid attention to the law. “Do you suspect me of a crime, Knight…?”
“Dansforth.” He sneered. “And I haven’t decided yet.”
That was it. Rowan was having none of this guy’s haughty attitude. He wasn’t typically a confrontational sort, but when push came to shove, Rowan wasn’t afraid of holding his ground. “Then have a nice day, Knight.” He forced his way past, only to have his bicep grabbed. Nostrils flaring, Rowan spun around, eyes no doubt glowing with the fire that filled his belly.
“Knight Dansforth!” an authoritative voice barked. “Release that man at once!”
“Sir!” Dansforth did as he was told, jumping away like he’d been scalded. He saluted the man who approached—this one an inquisitor. Whereas the knights were the general law enforcement of the Inquisition, inquisitors were their investigative branch. They held the power within the temples and were not to be crossed.
“There a reason you felt the need to put your hands on someone?” He may have been shorter than Rowan by a few inches, but the inquisitor had more mass on him. The cream, long-sleeved shirt underneath the fitted, leather armor of his station didn’t hide his muscle. Currently, all of that coiled power was at least being directed away from Rowan.
“Sir, he refused to—”
“Give you ID,” the inquisitor finished, his voice holding an accent that pegged him a foreigner. “I’m aware.” He turned to Rowan, looking him over. “I apologize on behalf of this git,” he said candidly. Dansforth’s lips pursed, but he wasn’t about to speak out of turn again. “Saying he’s new isn’t an excuse,” the inquisitor continued. “I’ll personally be filing a misconduct report when I return to the temple.”
It didn’t do much to smooth out Rowan’s proverbial ruffled feathers. “Knights like that are what’s giving you a shit reputation,” he pointed out.
“Well, hopefully we can correct that misconception, yeah?”
Rowan felt a prickle against his skin that he knew to be magic. Not everyone—even magicae—could sense it, but being a mage certainly meant he could. Except, that didn’t make any sense. The Inquisition had strict hiring policies. Everyone in their ranks was mundane, which of course, did nothing to dissuade the claims of bigoted behavior on their part.
A calm washed over him, like a soothing touch barely there against his consciousness. “Maybe,” Rowan murmured, meeting the inquisitor’s gaze for the first time.
His eyes were a sparkling blue-green, a few bits of his slicked-back, dark-brown hair falling in front of them. He had a strong, square jaw, highlighted by the scruff of a beard. Rowan was surprised the Inquisition allowed him out like that, but then, the inquisitors always had some leniency.
“As ironic as this is…” the inquisitor continued, “I’m going to need your ID. When I write my disciplinary report, I need to put your name in it. Not that anyone is bound to call you and ask you to verify anything.”
Sighing, Rowan pulled his wallet from his pocket and flipped it open to show the ID in the window screen. “Figures.”
The inquisitor’s lips quirked into a brief smile before he schooled his features and jotted down a few things from the ID into a little notepad.
“Thank you,” he said with a nod. “Again, I apologize. Hope you have a better day.”
It was there again, that sense of ease. Rowan only nodded, pocketing his wallet as he hurried off to meet Caleb before he started to worry.
Shaw watched as the mage left, noting the quick glance over his shoulder at them before he disappeared around the corner. Rowan, his ID had said.
Typically, Shaw didn’t step in when he caught knights pushing the boundaries of the law. As an inquisitor, he was above them in rank, yes, but they were also a separate division. He had enough to worry about without dealing with the overzealous knights in the city.
Something about Rowan had made him react. Shaw’s natural protective instincts flared, and he’d found himself confronting the brash young knight. He could have written it off as saving Danforth’s skin—after all, Rowan had looked about ready to flay him alive—but that wasn’t it at all.
No, it was Rowan’s presence. It had called to him. As cliché as it sounded, that was the truth of it. Drawn in, the feeling intensified when Shaw had looked up into those bright eyes. They’d been glowing at first, easing back into a deep violet once Shaw gained control of the situation.
Now, he had Rowan’s information copied into his notepad, tucked safely away in the pocket of his short-sleeve jerkin. Shaw wasn’t about to pretend it hadn’t been for self-indulgent reasons. Rowan was a tall drink of water in painted-on jeans. His lavender shirt complemented his eyes and his blue-gray overshirt had been left unbuttoned to show off a trim waist. A sharp jawline and a shock of blond hair falling in layers against his cheek had added to the hard stare Rowan had landed him with. Shaw had practically melted into goo right there on the sidewalk—damn it.
Shaw glanced over to find Dansforth standing there, appearing none too happy with his intervention. “Is there a problem, Knight?” he asked, a bit of danger in his tone.
“I was doing my job…sir.”
Shaw’s lips curled into a sneer. The man was being just this side of insolent. “I’d watch your step, Knight. I’m not filing a report on this. But I can change that at any time.”
Dansforth immediately relaxed his stance, leaning in toward him. “I thought you were clear on your next course of action, Inquisitor.”
So, now he’s showing respect. Shaw barely held back from rolling his eyes. “Well, he don’t have to know that, now does he?” He brushed it off, turning to leave. “Continue your patrol, Knight.”
In truth, if Shaw were to write up the report, nothing would ever come of it. The Inquisition took care of their own, first and foremost. Something as incidentalas this would have been thrown in the garbage. If anything, it would create a target on Rowan’s back, and Shaw refused to be the one to put it there. The magicae in the city had enough issues without the constant harassment the Inquisition brought them.
He wasn’t in a position to do anything about it, so instead, he did his job. As an inquisitor, Shaw was afforded more freedom than the average employee, and he wasn’t about to risk that by making too many waves. If he could help magicae in the process, then it was all worth it.
Shaw returned to his issued car, having been on his way there when he’d passed by that little scene Dansforth had caused. He had been out contacting a potential witness for a case and, unfortunately, it was time to get back to the temple.
In his opinion, Everstrand’s headquarters was unnecessarily opulent. It had been constructed nearly thirty years back, but in the style of the castles and cathedrals of old. Its location in the historic Southern District, however, made it blend in rather nicely, as if it had always been there.
Shaw pulled into the employees-only lot behind the building, thankful to avoid the entrance at the front of the massive structure. It was all too much for him: the grand facade, the high-vaulted ceiling, and the paintings adorning the walls. It was easily the most nauseating part of the temple.
There was even a giant tapestry, complete with dragon-slaying, that paid homage to the Inquisition’s roots. From famed dragon killers to experts on all things magicae, it seemed every rising government had a consulting Inquisition presence. However, consulting turned into full-on law enforcement fairly quickly once they proved themselves capable of the task.
The rest of the temple, while still feeling grand and out of time, was far more subtle. Long parapets led to towers at the corners of the building. There was a final square tower in the center, which jutted out above the rest. The inquisitor offices were housed there, along with the rest of the high command.
Slipping through the back entrance, Shaw nodded politely enough to those he passed. He hadn’t exactly been around long enough to make friends. Honestly, he didn’t even want to. Most of the people who worked for the Inquisition were undeniably assholes with a point to prove—bigots just seemed to go hand-in-hand.
He had a job to do, so Shaw would grin and bear the rest of it. He knew he could make a difference, given time. As each day dragged into weeks, however, he wondered if it would be worth it in the end, if anything would come of it.
Vaughn emerged from his office, spotting Shaw in the hall. “Inquisitor Shaw,” he greeted with a faux smile. “Anything to report?”
“When there is, you’ll be the first to know.”
Shaw walked right by. He refused to kiss Vaughn’s ass like the other inquisitors did. Assistant High Inquisitor had gone to Vaughn’s head, in Shaw’s opinion. No, the sole person he would even think to watch his step around was Meredeen—head of the inquisitors, and second only to Zane.
Slowing, Shaw looked over his shoulder to see Vaughn turning the corner. He waited a moment before rerouting to Vaughn’s office. Clicking the door shut behind him, Shaw gave the room a cursory glance. He would have to make this quick.
After kicking the computer chair out of the way, Shaw pulled a flash drive from a small pouch inside his boot. He slotted it into the USB port, waking the computer in the process. He needn’t worry about passwords; the program in the flash drive ran encryption-cracking software automatically.
Shaw let the drive do its job, turning his attention to the rest of the room. There was paperwork everywhere, along with stacks of folders filled with potential information. There was no way Shaw had time to go through it all.
Instead, he pulled a scroll from the hidden pocket inside his jerkin. Unrolling it exposed a spell written in Runic, which translated to “reveal that which is hidden.” A brief glow radiated from the scroll when he pressed it to the wall. Light washed across the floor, ceiling, and everything else within the room.
Shaw looked around, hoping to find any indication that the spell had found something. Unfortunately, he was left with nothing. He pulled the now blank scroll from the wall and shoved it back into his jerkin.
The computer chimed softly, signaling the end of the download. Shaw pulled the flash drive out, reset the chair, and returned the drive to its hidden pouch, before slipping back into the hall completely unnoticed.
Dean Rosenthal twists speculative fiction inside out. His new wave sci-fi looks ahead at possibilities of tomorrow—super-slick machines, synthetic people, travel in the wink of an eye—yet takes inspiration from classic space opera of the 60s and 70s. As an explorer of the human condition, he considers himself an archeologist of consciousness, and writes for those who sometimes feel out of place on this peculiar planet of ours…