Magic of the Gargoyles Excerpt
Magic of the Gargoyles Excerpt
With one last twist of a filament of earth magic, I fused together the delicate seams of the quartz tube. Slumping forward, I braced my elbows on the table and rested my cheekbones on my palms, cupping my weary eyes in darkness. Six down, six finicky tubes to go. The specifications of this project taxed my substantial skills with quartz magic, which was the point. This project would launch my business and prove that even though I was only a midlevel earth elemental, my quartz skills were equal to or better than more powerful full-spectrum elementals. These fussy tubes would fund the down payment on the lease for the shop I coveted in the Pinnacle Pentagon Center. I could finally quit my demeaning job at Jones and Sons Quarry, be my own boss, and begin a career creating one-of-a-kind quartz masterpieces I could take pride in.
My entire future rested on these fragile vials, and they were due tomorrow at four.
Dull pain pounded my back muscles. Night had crept over the city while I worked, and my jerky movements as I stood and stretched were reflected in the semicircle of bay windows in front of my worktable. Purple smears of exhaustion beneath my green eyes were exaggerated in the dark windows, and my pale face floated above a dirt-smeared navy shirt. I checked the clock: almost midnight. Sixteen hours until my deadline, and eight of those would be taken up by my Jones and Sons workday. There was no time for a break. If anything, I needed to work faster.
Groaning, I redid my ponytail, tucking shorter wisps of strawberry-blond hair behind my ears before giving my hard wooden chair the stink eye. Mentally chanting Pinnacle Pentagon to motivate myself, I reached for another seed crystal.
Frantic tapping shook the glass in the balcony door. I pulled the door open, knowing it was Kylie, my best friend and the tenant who shared my second-floor apartment balcony. “I really can’t talk. I need to finish—”
“Help! Help! They’ve got—”
Something small and hard slammed into my stomach. I staggered backward into my chair and crashed to the floor. A small boulder skipped across the wooden floor and smashed into the wall.
“You’re a human!”
I shrieked. The voice came from inside my room. I twisted, scrambling onto my bed.
Against the wall, the rock moved.
Beautiful blue dumortierite quartz veined with green aventurine twisted into a winged panther no bigger than a house cat. A pissed-off, solid-stone, magical, winged house cat. A gargoyle—no, a baby gargoyle. A hatchling.
Her eyes glowed feverishly. Long polished blue claws gouged into the floor when she launched into the air. Her agile stone wings unfolded with a soft gritty sound.
I lurched backward across the bed until I was pressed against the wall. The mattress shook when the hatchling pounced on the space I’d just vacated. Sharp claws bunched in my yellow bedspread. She raised her muzzle, mouth open, and sniffed the air.
I eased toward the foot of the bed, readying my escape into the hallway.
“It’s you! Your magic smells so good. I thought—”
My magic has a smell?
The gargoyle’s eyes darted to the open door, then back to me. She arched her stone back and hissed at me, the sound dying to a hair-raising growl. The tip of her stone tail slashed back and forth, gouging my wooden headboard.
“I need help.”
“My help?” Gargoyles—even baby gargoyles—didn’t interact with midlevel elementals like me, and they certainly didn’t ask for our help. “There’s a full-spectrum elemental just—” I started to point up the street but froze when she snarled at me.
“No other humans! Before it’s too late.” The gargoyle’s words were smooth coming out of her rock throat, with just a hint of a lisp from her tongue working around enormous teeth.
I stared into her glowing blue eyes, seeing past the bared fangs and agitated movements, reading her fear for the first time. I reached for her, then pulled my hand back when she shied from me.
“Too late for what?”
“You can save him. Hurry!”
“Save him? Save who? If someone is hurt, I can send for a healer.” Where were this gargoyle’s parents?
“No. I need you.” Large blue eyes implored me. “Please!”
A thousand reasons I should find someone else to help the gargoyle crowded my mind, but the hatchling’s urgency was contagious. Someone was injured. I didn’t want to waste time arguing with her, but was I really the best choice? I could work earth, but healing usually took someone talented with all five elements.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to get—” someone stronger? I started to ask, but she cut me off with another sharp, “Please!”
Gargoyles were creatures without guile, and this baby was obviously terrified for someone’s life. If she thought I could help, I had to try. I took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s go.”
The gargoyle whirled and launched for the open doorway, moving with the silent fluidity of a flesh-and-blood panther.
“I’ll take the stairs,” I said. I snatched up my shoes and coat and raced to the door.
My studio apartment was one of four on the upper floor of a converted Victorian house. At midnight, everyone else in the house was asleep, just the way my landlady Ms. Josephine Zuberrie liked it.
As I sprinted down the stairs as quietly as possible, shoes in hand, I reviewed everything I knew about gargoyles. It wasn’t much. Gargoyles favored those strongest in magic—full-spectrum pentacle potential, or FSPP, elementals. When they chose, they could enhance a person’s magic, but I’d only heard of them doing so during large-scale rituals conducted by five linked FSPPs. Despite being creatures of earth, they were not partial to any particular elemental magic; instead, they were attracted to a person’s strength of earth, wood, air, water, or fire magic.
Which is why, as a midlevel earth elemental, this was the first time I’d spoken with a gargoyle.
I eased the front door shut and dropped my shoes to the porch, wiggled my feet into them, and yanked the laces tight. When I spun around, the gargoyle dropped from the roof to the porch railing, almost clipping my head with a heavy rock wing. I swallowed a startled scream.
“Hurry,” she trilled. With a squeal of protesting wood, followed by the crack of stone smashing into stone, the gargoyle leapt from the balcony to the sidewalk ten feet below. Wincing, I raced down the porch steps after her, praying to be out of sight before Ms. Zuberrie investigated the racket.
By the time I reached the sidewalk, the gargoyle had almost a block lead on me, moving unexpectedly fast for such a small creature made of stone. In wing-assisted leaps, she bounded into the darkness. I sprinted headlong down the center of the deserted street, chasing the sporadic glimpses of panther-shaped dumortierite in the puddles of lamplight. The baby gargoyle kept me in sight, but only just. My lungs and legs burned after the first five blocks. My vision tunneled to the broken asphalt and gargoyle in front of me. I didn’t notice when the lamps ended, only that the dark blue gargoyle was harder to see, and by the time I did take in my surroundings, we were deep in the blight and I was lost.
The blight was the oldest part of the city, long since abandoned by the wealthy and middle class, left to crumble and rot, along with its impoverished residents. It was a seedbed for crime and a haven for the immoral. Doorways glowed with protection spells and menacing traps. Unseen eyes tracked me from the shadows.
Alarm skittered through my body, giving me fresh energy. Ms. Zuberrie’s neighborhood was on the fringes of the blight—holding it at bay, according to my landlady—and her endless repertoire of blight tales gave me nightmares. To be here, at night, alone, was sheer insanity.
A high-pitched sound, like an animal being gutted alive, echoed through the hulking shadows of old warehouse buildings, setting my neck hair on end. I slowed, having lost sight of the gargoyle. Menacing shapes loomed in the darkness to either side of the desolate road. I identified each item as I jogged past—empty trailer, rubble from a collapsed wall, enormous splintered wooden ward—trying to reassure myself.
Someone rounded the far corner of the warehouse at a sprint, coming right for me. There wasn’t time to hide. I crouched, heart in throat. Before I could gather my magic, a wide-eyed, scrawny boy tore past me. He glanced once over his shoulder, but it wasn’t at me. I watched until the darkness swallowed him, then turned with new dread back in the direction he had come—and the direction the gargoyle had disappeared.
Voices bounced off the warehouse walls, footsteps following. I sprinted for a pile of rusty barrels and crouched behind their bulk. Seconds later, a horse-size fireball blazed down the street, scorching the pavement and casting sinister light on the graffiti-crusted buildings. I tucked into a tight ball, shielding my face from the heat and my body from visibility.
The fire hit a stone wall at the end of the street and burned out. Blinded, I blinked to clear the flaming afterimage. Whooping and shouting reverberated off the metal walls.
“Enough! Save it for the splinter-heads.”
I peeked between the barrels. Five guys rounded the corner, a dozen fist-size glowballs darting chaotically around their heads. Three men followed. No, more. A whole gang. They milled together less than ten feet from where I hid, body-slamming each other and loosing war cries, all caught up in the same high. In the dizzying, erratic light, I could make out two important details: Every single one of them was dressed in bright orange Fire Eater gang colors, and all of them were linked with a potent amplification spell.
Easing back to my heels, I curled into the tightest ball possible. Fire Eaters ruled half of the blight, and updates of the city guard’s ongoing attempts to contain their violent acts were featured prominently in the headlines of the Terra Haven Chronicle. From the size of that fireball and the amount of magic resonating among the men, I could predict tomorrow’s feature story.
I didn’t even think about touching my magic, fearing they would sense it. I didn’t breathe. I maintained my cramped huddle until the men rounded the far bend in the street. Only then did I let out my breath and suck in a new one. I waited until I could no longer hear even an echo of their voices before I uncurled.
I jumped and clutched my heart. The gargoyle leapt from the rooftop above me and raced around the warehouse wall where the Fire Eaters had emerged. I shouldn’t be here, I told myself. This is a horrible, horrible mistake. But I’d promised the baby gargoyle I’d help. I couldn’t turn back now.
I rounded the corner and froze.
Moonlight bathed the expansive loading dock, illuminating an elaborate chalk pentagram the likes of which I’d never seen before. Someone had drawn five pentagrams, one atop the other, each skewed a few degrees so that every angle had five points. In the center was a small lump of rock. The dock was empty of people. The tiny gargoyle paced the edge of the mutated pentagram’s circle.
I edged forward, squinting at the lump in the center of the pentagram. My toes kicked something small, sending it clanging into the warehouse’s collapsed metal roof. I spun, checking my surroundings. I was still alone. I scanned the shadowed ground. Focus talismans—candles, rocks, glass, wooden carvings, crude fans—were scattered in every direction. There were enough for fifteen people, not the traditional five. If I hadn’t just seen a mob of Fire Eaters with the power of linked FSPPs, I wouldn’t have believed this mutated pentagram was anything other than graffiti.
I wove a standard five-element test sphere. It popped into existence in front of me, then flattened to a pentagram the size of my palm, each side glowing with the magic of its specific element. If any harmful magic remained, especially a trap, it would alert me before I blundered into it.
I floated the glowing pentagram safely across the chalk twice before I let the small star dissipate. I crept toward the lump. In the moonlight, it was impossible to make out its form. Kneeling, I grabbed fire, forming a ball of light. A small sun burst into existence above my head. I gawked.
Light was the most basic fire spell, one I used every day. My glowballs were never larger than my cupped hands—any bigger and they were too weak to produce light. Yet the sun above me was larger than my head, and I could see molten flames arc within it, twisting and turning hypnotically. It was like I’d jumped from mildly talented to FSPP.
“Impossible,” I breathed. The chalk pentagram was bathed in daylight. Was this strange design the reason for my enhanced powers? Had the Fire Eaters’ spell left charged fire elemental magic I couldn’t detect within the circle?
The lump of rock moved. I stumbled backward, tripping and landing on my butt. The sun cast sharp shadows across the rock, the flickering fire within it making the rock look like it quivered. Slowing my breathing, I extinguished the sun and replaced it with a manageable ball of soft light, keeping an eye on the rock. When I realized what I was seeing, I scrambled forward again.
The rock opened its toucan-shaped mouth and released a high-pitched cry that wrenched my heart. The baby gargoyle didn’t look to have the strength to lift its thick neck, and its long, spindly tail lay lifeless.
“Can you save him?”
I jumped, having forgotten all about the gargoyle panther. She pawed at the chalk circle, careful not to cross it.
My caution morphed to horror when I realized the significance of the hatchling’s placement. Using a magical creature as a pentagram focus drained the creature of its own magic and its life. Rumors said the average magical creature doubled a person’s power when used as a focus, but gargoyles were natural elemental enhancers when they chose; a scumbag who used a gargoyle as a focus would get a far greater boost. The idea was repulsive in theory, enraging in reality. It was black magic, punishable by nullification.
I examined the injured gargoyle closer. Unlike the panther-shaped hatchling, this one’s body was mostly rose quartz, with sporadic coils of blue dumortierite. Jagged patches marred his otherwise smooth sides, and his entire stomach looked like raw, unpolished crystal. Acting on instinct, I reached for earth energy, refined it to resonate with quartz, and probed the baby gargoyle as if I planned to work the quartz. The sensation was like trying to capture an echo. The gargoyle was quartz, but he was also so much more: He was alive. I twined fire around the earth magic and trickled wood, air, and water into the mix until I had the right magical resonance. I pressed the mixture into the hatchling. A backlash of pain and fear ricocheted through the magic—not from my actions, but from the horror the gargoyle had already endured. The gargoyle’s feet and wings ended in acid-eaten, eroded lumps. Gasping for breath, I eased my magic out of the hatchling. My stomach heaved, but there was nothing to vomit.
When I glanced up, I met the healthy gargoyle’s eyes, seeing her anguish and anger. “I don’t know what to do,” I said, swiping at wet cheeks.
“You have to help him.”
“I don’t know how.” Helplessly, I stared at the suffering gargoyle. His movements were weak. He was dying, drained of magic and in so much pain.
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