Shade Preview - Chapter 1

Sometimes I wish I had the power to render myself deaf.

It’s a typical Thursday night at Scorch’s Grill and Pub, and the karaoke regulars are in full voice, complaining about the wait time between their turns in the spotlight. No matter how often I tell them as a bartender I have nothing to do with the rotation, the unlucky body behind the bar owns the shoulder to cry on when things aren’t going their way.

“I’m sorry Joe. Can I get you another beer?” I shout over the music to one such complainer. He gives me an exasperated nod and shrugs. As I fetch his beer from the cooler, I feel my phone vibrate in the back pocket of my jeans. I have only one number set to notify me of messages: my partner at my other job.

I hand Joe his beer and pull my phone out to look at the message:

GARY’S AT IT AGAIN. MOVING AT 11:30. I’LL PICK YOU UP. -F

I roll my eyes and sigh. I sometimes hate my bartending job; I hate my other job just as much, if not more. I text back:

STOP SHOUTING AT ME, YOU’RE NOT MY MOM. See you later. -S

I smile to myself, waiting for the snide reply I know is coming, and am not disappointed:

YOU SHOULD CALL YOUR MOTHER. SHE WORRIES ABOUT YOU. -F

I laugh out loud at that, and respond:

SCREW YOU. -S

To which I immediately receive:

STOP SHOUTING AT ME. ;) -F

“Jerk,” I whisper to myself, my smile growing as I put my phone back in my pocket. My younger brother Flynn is also my partner at my other job. He can be a real pain in the ass at times, but he’s usually a sweetheart I can’t stay mad at for very long. I say usually because he does have his little brother moments where I want to strangle him.

With the beginnings of a karaoke-induced headache starting to creep into my skull, and now a pressing mission to tend to... I already know it’s not going to be a good night.

My name is Shade Blackmore though that’s not the name I was given at birth. My brother and I are mages. When we’re not working our day jobs (or for me, my night job), we are Regulators for the Mage Guild. I’m a shadow mage, and Flynn is an arcane mage. There are many different types of mages, too many to list. We mages aren’t exactly common, but we’re not that rare either. We look just like everyone else and hold jobs just like everyone else. The difference is we were born with magical abilities. We belong to an entirely separate world, hidden right alongside your “normal” world. Our job as Regulators is to make sure our world stays hidden. At all costs.

There are two other magic guilds: the Warlocks and the Creatures. I think the latter want to be called ‘Entities’ now, claiming the word ‘creature’ is somehow negative or something. To be honest, I don’t follow the politics too much. Warlocks are different from mages in that they use magic, whether it’s through a spell or a magical item, but they don’t possess natural magic within themselves. Creatures (or Entities - I’ll get it right at some point) consist entirely of magic and can’t be seen by non-magical humans. Occasionally we’ll hear a rumor of select humans who can see certain entities, but the general populace has no desire to believe in such things. Humans who see entities are invariably labeled as crackpots and lunatics, and human society deals with them as they do every other crackpot and lunatic in their world. Nothing much needs to be done on the Entity Guild’s part.

Each Guild has its own magic training, investigations, and regulation enforcement departments. There are only a few hard and fast rules that get top enforcement priority, the main one being DO NOT get yourself noticed by humans. In other words, don’t get caught using your magic. For some of us, this lesson is impossible to learn. No matter how powerful a person’s magic might be, you can’t fix stupid. There are varying degrees of punishment, depending on the offense. Getting noticed has a strict three-strike policy - strike three, and you’ve earned the ultimate punishment: death. You’d think that a pretty strong deterrent to getting caught, but as I said - you can’t fix stupid.

I head to the back room to tell my boss, Mike, I have to leave early. He’s pretty good about it if I have a mission, but he hates karaoke night with a passion; so I know he won’t be happy. I find him hunkered at his desk in the small back office with a pencil jammed between his teeth. He’s pounding on an ancient adding machine; the paper tape curling over the edge of the desk and dangling halfway to the floor. His curly red hair is always unruly. It seems particularly chaotic today, sticking out in random spots; and making him look even more scatterbrained than usual.

“You know, they have these new-fangled things nowadays called computers that could make your life so much easier...” I say, knowing as I speak it’s going to ruffle his feathers even more. I quickly reconsider. “Sorry, just kidding.” I flash him an angelic smile before he can get too angry.

“Very funny,” he says aiming a sharp glare at me, but then his lips start to curve upward; so I know my smile worked. “What’s up?”

“Duty calls, I’m afraid,” I say, taking my phone out and waving it at him. “Flynn’s coming to pick me up shortly.”

“Really? On karaoke night?”

“I know, I know,” I say, empathizing with his misery. It isn’t my favorite night to work either, but I feel bad leaving him to cover my shift. “At least everyone’s only partially drunk, and they haven’t gotten to the Bon Jovi songs yet...”

“Boy, you really know how to comfort a guy,” he says, tossing his pencil onto the scattered papers on the desk. He sighs heavily before standing, resigned to his fate. “You tell your brother if I have to hear one, just one, bad Bon Jovi cover, I’m going to make him come and sing for the whole night next week.”

My eyes widen at the thought. “Can we make him do that anyway?”

“Good god no, he’s a horrible singer. On second thought, don’t tell him anything. Just go do your darned Guild business, and get out of my bar.” He shoos me away with exaggerated flailing arms, making me back out the door of the office to avoid getting smacked by a sharp elbow. Mike is an air mage, and I can feel a light breeze start to push gently against me as I exit.

“No need to push. Geez, I’m going. I’m going!” I say.

I grab the few bills that are in the tip jar by the register, wave a sheepish goodbye to a sour looking Mike, and head out the side door to wait for Flynn.

With a little bit of time to kill, in the side alley where no one can see, I try to distract myself from the upcoming mission by practicing my illusion magic. As a shadow mage, I control both light and the lack thereof. I’ve been working on altering my appearance with subtle shifts of light and shadow, but it’s hard to do without a mirror or reflection of some kind to see the results of what I’m doing. For all I know I could look like I have one eye or no face at all. The thought unnerves me, breaking my concentration, and I wave the magic away. That’s one of the problems with illusion magic - it takes a lot of concentration to hold. With most shadow magic, it’s a quick thought or movement, and the light and shadows bend to your will. Crafting illusions is very detailed, though. It takes ultra-skilled precision, which is something I don’t yet have.

An illusion is considered neutral magic, meaning in itself it can’t cause harm. Theoretically, I could make myself appear to be someone else, go rob a bank or murder someone in broad daylight, and the person I impersonated would obviously take the blame. That would definitely be considered a dark magic purpose. Or, again theoretically, I could rearrange light and shadows to create a mobile for a baby’s crib to soothe his or her crying. That could be considered a light magic purpose. The act of creating the illusion is neither light nor dark. It just is. It depends on the magic wielder as to how it’s used. A lot of magic is like that. Neither light nor dark, but in the right or wrong hands, it can have different outcomes. And different consequences. All mages have the power to use light, neutral, and dark magic to varying degrees. It’s what keeps us Regulators busy.

I hear Flynn pull into the parking lot behind the bar. It’s not hard to miss him. Over the rumble of the engine, he’s got what sounds like Led Zepplin blaring from the car stereo, and he’s trying to sing along. ‘Trying’ being the key word. I jump into the passenger’s seat and quickly turn the music down.

“Dude, what decade were you born in anyway?”

“Don’t call me dude, dude.”

“Oh my god, grow up.”

“You grow up,” he grins as he pulls onto the road. I can’t help but roll my eyes. Brothers.

“So what’s Gary up to now?” I ask, trying to get us both focused on the mission ahead.

“Guess.”

“Not the lottery again...”

“Yuppers. The guy can’t help himself.”

“Please tell me this is only the second time...” my stomach drops as I say the words, realizing it’s not.

“Nope. Third time’s a charm,” Flynn says, his voice now flat, his eyes focused on the road ahead.

I shrink back into my seat, wanting to let it swallow me up whole. Subconsciously I start to pull the darkness from inside of the car around me like a shroud. It starts as odd angles of light and dark but then stretches and transforms into a cloaking mist around me, hiding me completely from the outside world. I haven’t done a third-strike since...

“Don’t worry about it Shade,” Flynn says. “I’ll handle everything. You just watch my back, cool?”

I don’t respond and keep the dark around me, hugging myself. My mind can’t help but flashback to the last time we had this sort of mission nine months ago. I was so confident then. So cocky, and high on my power. We were on our fourth third-strike that month, and I got sloppy. I had acted too fast, not caring about the consequences. I saw movement and struck without thinking...

 

Amy L. Boukair is a short story author, published novelist, and an occasional poet. Her first self-published novel - the time travel romance Indigo, was well received by readers and reviewers alike from around the world. She is currently working on a new urban fantasy novel Shade, which is planned for release in late 2017.

 

Copyright (c) 2016 Amy L. Boukair