Sylphide

Book one in La Sylphide.

sylphideredoCould you kill a god?

It’s been six weeks since Allish Statia, former prima ballerina at the Mersetzdeitz Ballet, broke her leg during the last performance of La Sylphide. In that time, she has healed (mostly), relaxed (a lot), and taken advantage of her husband’s willingness to order take-out on most weeknights.

Then someone breaks into her apartment and points a gun at her.

Using the wind elemental powers few knew she had, she is able to subdue the man. But he is only part of something much bigger—and much more dangerous.

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Chapter 1

She was not a murderer.

The man was unconscious, not dead.

He lay in the middle of her apartment, crumpled face-down on the floor. The dark mahogany floor gleamed under the apartment’s stark lights. Crisp, bold frames decorated the walls, recording her dance career in black and white stills, show posters, news clippings, and awards. In the corner, the dormant television reflected the scene in a dull, convex perspective.

Allish took a step closer, the wood creaking under her bare feet. Adrenaline thundered through her veins, making her bad leg shake beneath her. Behind the man, the front door was still open. The outside light created a scalene patch of white against the inner wall.

The air was dead still. She knew that for certain. As a wind elemental, Allish could feel it.

Magic. That was how she had knocked him out. Honestly, she’d been surprised it had worked—everything had happened so fast. It wasn’t as though she practiced her powers regularly. In fact, she usually ignored them.

She peered closer, trying to see his face. His hat had fallen forward off his head, blocking most of his features. A trickle of drool dribbled down his chin. She watched it ooze to the floor.

Shit. What the hell was she doing?

Allish backed up and shivered, replaying the last minute in her mind.

It had all happened so fast—too fast, she thought. One second she’d been reading a paperback at the breakfast table, and the next? There was an intruder knocked out on her floor.

Allish shivered again. She groped for the edge of the breakfast table. Rain ticked hard onto the floor-to-ceiling window behind her, and the windstorm groaned against the glass. Chimes, outside on her balcony, rang madly in the gusts.

He was a young, twenty-something-ish man with the broad, solid physique of someone who’d been in the military. His jeans were muddy at the hems, and his dark-blue ball cap had some sort of silver insignia emblazoned across it. The heavy, practical work-boots had been silent when he’d entered. The room’s spotlighting reflected off the smooth, dark wooden floor around him, desaturating the color from his clothes. His jacket, slick with rain, dripped a slow puddle onto the hardwood. He did not move.

A draft tickled across her collar bone as she stared. Her hands shook.

The chimes grew quiet in a sudden lull. Slowly, Allish bent to retrieve the phone she had dropped, never taking her eyes off him. His gun rested about a foot from his limp hand, its muzzle glinting dangerously.

She felt cold.

If she hadn’t heard the front door unlock…

Allish lifted her gaze to the still-open door. Her husband—and only roommate—never entered through the front door. He was a mage. He teleported.

Ivern headed the Council that oversaw all elemental magic in Mersetzdeitz. As one of the most powerful wind mages in Mersetzdeitz, he had a large store of magical tricks up his sleeve, none of which Allish could do. That was one of the main things that separated the mages from elementals like her—Allish could manipulate the element but she could not perform any spells. She doubted she ever would.

Mages had not been born on this world; they’d crash-landed on it, fleeing the destruction of their home world in sleek, inter-dimensional ships.

Magic hadn’t even been on this world, before them. Not really. It was only afterwards—when the defense centers of her world had lowered their guns, when the peace-talks had agreed on most things, when the mages and elementals had begun to mingle with the locals, to naturalize—that her people noticed new powers awaken in themselves.

Allish had been one of the first. One day she’d woken up with the ability to control air. But she was the exception rather than the rule. Out of fifteen million people in Mersetzdeitz, only around one hundred had developed powers.

The mages had expected this. People like her were like white blood cells in a world-wide immune system. When the foreign magic touched down, her world’s latent magic had begun to stir. Elementals like Allish were the first sign of mutation among the population. Just like a body fights off an infection, her world could fight off an invasion.

At least, that was how they’d explained it to her.

The Council kept the whole matter secret. A wise move, given the anti-magic sentiment that had been gaining strength over the last twenty years. Looking at the downed man, Allish was grateful for the secrecy. What would have happened if he’d known about her powers? This was no common robbery. Whatever this was, it was deliberate. He had invaded her home. He had pointed a gun at her.

He had known her name.

She drew in a ragged breath, front teeth chattering together. Her shoulders shook.

Allish activated her phone with a swipe of its screen, trying to keep her hand still as she keyed in a number.

She almost missed the second man walk in.

He was older than the first, and the hallway light cast a burglar’s shadow on the wall behind him as he moved. A dark baseball cap—marked with the same insignia as the first—shadowed his eyes as he followed his gun into the room, aiming it at the floor. His windbreaker rustled, not as subtle as the other man’s almost silent entrance.

Swish, swish, swish.

Allish held her breath, watching, her finger poised over the “Call” button. Out of the corner of her eye, she gauged the distance between her and the next room. Too far. He hadn’t seen her yet, but that would change if she moved. Besides, the door didn’t have a lock.

He stopped when he saw his partner. Allish saw his lips tighten. Her phone’s screen blinked out in her hand, caused him to look up.

Their eyes met.

Her breath rattled out. With a sense that was not touch nor taste, sight nor sound, but acted more like thought and emotion, she pulled on the magic that had wakened in her shortly after the mages’ descent.

Outside, the wind rose. Her chimes went mad. The glass groaned.

If she could just take his breath away…

His expression grew taut. Perhaps, unlike his fallen partner, he would not assume she was defenseless. Even without knowing about her magical abilities, her marriage to Ivern likely made the sudden wind activity suspect.

He took a step forward, keeping the gun aimed to the floor. Old, dark wood groaned as he stepped forward.

My name is Marcus O’Reilly. I’m a private detective. Could you tell me what happened?”

Allish flinched. His voice sounded loud in the quiet room. She couldn’t tear her gaze off the gun in his hand.

The room narrowed as she backed up. Her heel hit the glass wall behind her, pain shooting up from the lingering injury in her shin. She hissed through her teeth, leaning on the table for support. Her element dragged at her energy much more than it had before.

Are you all right? What’s wrong? Did he hurt you?”

In her mind, the chimes drowned him out. They knelled in her ear, light and sweet, fast and chaotic. Her eyes were on the gun. Light darted up the muzzle’s edge as it wavered in his hand.

Allish’s fingers clawed at the glass. Her breath faltered as she pulled harder on the air.

For a second, she couldn’t breathe.

Then, the muzzle swayed, tipped.

The gun clattered to the ground and the man flopped on top. His head hit the ground with a thunk that made her wince. Whiplash lolled it over. Crushed to the floor, the bill of his hat slowly pushed the cap from his balding head. Then that too became still.

She pressed her back against the inside of the rain-soaked glass. Cold seeped through her blanket and into her skin. Her bad knee shook.

Allish studied the gun handle poking out from under the man’s chest.

This could have gone a whole lot worse.

She reactivated her phone with a swipe and hit the “Call” button.

Ivern answered on the first ring. “Allish? What’s wrong?”

Of course he knew something was up. He had spells all over this apartment—magic-detecting spells. Of course, magic-detectors didn’t detect guns. It would have been her magic that set them off.

She heard voices in the background. Was he in a meeting? Her throat felt dry.

Allish?” His voice rose an octave.

She fought to unglue her tongue.

Trouble. There’s two men—” She choked, tears pricking her eyes. “Get here, now.”

She heard his breath catch. The receiver crackled, switching to dead air. Something she’d heard from him before.

Teleportation played hell on cellular connections.

Allish set the phone down on the table, fumbling the last inch. Her gaze swept back to the unconscious men. She hugged herself tighter and waited.

The chimes were silent again. Rain spiked against the window. The two men did not move. Around them, warm-toned spotlights formed archways on the white walls, showcasing the framed posters of her old ballet recitals. Dramatic, artistic photographs of her danced around the room.

Pain still twinged in her bad leg. The muscles shook. Somehow, Allish thought the shake had less to do with her injury and more with the adrenaline.

Ivern’s arrival was preceded by a change in the air pressure. Without her element, she might not have noticed it. His magic made her fingers itch.

He appeared in the kitchen to her right, popping out as if from behind a magician’s curtain. His white work-shirt stood out against the hard black appliances and storm-gray countertops. Although the darkness diffused the color from his light brown hair, his eyes, as they found her by the window, retained their lightness. Grey symbols twisted across his pale skin like smoke—remnants of his spell. If she’d looked, she might have seen similar symbols scurry across the floor.

Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

In answer, she directed her stare back to the men on the floor.

The air went dead still. Her chimes were silent.

Who are they?”

Don’t know.”

Did they hurt you?”

No.”

They paused as the first man groaned. Ivern’s power pulled at the air again, and the first man’s gun skidded away from him like a planchette across an Ouija board.

Is there another gun?” Ivern asked.

He’s on top of it.”

Shit.”

Allish had a feeling that her husband had little desire to get close to the men. He steeled himself and stepped forward. As the first man began to move, Ivern grabbed him by the jacket shoulders, dragged him to the wall, and propped him up. The second man joined the first, his head lolling onto his chest.

Ivern stepped back, rubbing rainwater on his jeans.

What if they have back-up guns?” she asked.

He fished a phone from his back pocket. The number he keyed in was a speed-dial.

Lis? I need you here. My apartment.” He switched to his old language, and its foreign syllables jangled in Allish’s ears: “Gibn mae abroka.”

He replaced the phone in his pocket.

Allish felt the air change again. A second mage materialized by the front door, wearing the severe black and gold of the Mageguard.

The newcomer—tall, with short black hair and eyes almost as light as Ivern’s—moved with the careful grace she’d seen only in fellow dancers and trained soldiers. He crouched down, took a moment to study the felled men, and then looked to Ivern.

Bind them,” Ivern said.

Lis nodded. Allish felt a surge of heat from him as he leaned toward the first man. A fire mage, perhaps? Three symbols, each glowing like embers, pulsed on his hand. When he pressed them against the man’s forehead, red-orange lines flashed down the intruder’s skin, trailed down his cheek and neck, and vanished under the jacket collar. A second later, they reappeared from the ends of the jacket’s sleeves, splitting at the palms to capture each digit in their light.

Another spell Allish couldn’t do. Still, she couldn’t complain. She could make a pretty mean gale, if she wanted to. Not to mention defend herself from unwanted guests.

The older man had started to drool. Allish moved into the kitchen, putting the island between her and the four men.

How did they enter?” Ivern asked.

Through the door. I heard it unlock.”

Ivern glanced back. His element stirred. The door slammed shut.

Lis, I’m not sure if I want this on record or not. We’ll play it by ear. Allish? Tell us what happened.”

He came in first. Said I needed to go with him, pulled a gun. I knocked him out. Was just about to call you when the other guy came in. He didn’t actually threaten me, so I don’t know what’s going on. Actually, I don’t know what’s going on with either of them.” She paused, catching her breath. Lis never took his eyes off the two men. “I think the first guy’s military or something. He moved too well.”

You and your dancer’s eyes. Ah, I see he’s awake.”

The first man’s eyes opened with a wince. His eyes flicked over his surroundings. When they found Ivern, his memory appeared to come back. He said nothing but his skin paled.

Hi,” said Ivern. His voice was too cheerful. “Who are you?”

Depends who’s asking,” said the man. His voice was hoarse, the words sluggish.

A second later, he was choking. Smoke-colored symbols crowded the man’s neck.

Ivern turned to her. “Do you want to leave for this?”

Allish winced at the gagging sounds, watching the man’s eyes squeeze shut. Above him, a large poster showed her dancing a pas de chat, arms extended in a mimicry of wings, head tilted down toward the man. The black and white contrast made her seem particularly unholy.

You will torture them?” She winced as her sentence slipped into the same grammatical pattern of her mother tongue.

Not overly. If it comes to that, we’ll move.”

Great. Moral ambiguity. Allish leaned on the counter-top. Ivern’s shirt was wrinkled around the collar, and his broad shoulders were tense under the fabric. The photographs’ spotlights limned every stray hair on his head. The man continued to gag in the background.

I’ll stay,” she said.

Ivern released the spell. The man sputtered and coughed. Every breath wheezed.

Who are you?” Ivern asked again.

The man mumbled something.

Louder, please.”

Seth.”

And your friend?”

The second man was still unconscious. His legs were slightly bent, damp jeans stretching over his knees. The windbreaker protruded over a sagging gut.

He’s Marcus.”

Seth, face half in shadow, switched his focus to Allish. She stiffened, holding his gaze. The chimes knelled outside.

How did she—?” Seth’s question was cut off with a sputter. Ivern watched him choke, his face impassive.

I’ll ask the questions,” the wind mage said.

When Seth made no further comments, Ivern directed his attention to Marcus, who was still unconscious.

Allish, how long’s he been out?”

Three minutes?” Allish guessed.

Perhaps a bit too long. She moved around the island, steadying her hand on Ivern’s arm. Marcus looked older than she’d thought. Without the hat, she could see the silver in his hair. Wrinkles lined his eyes.

Lis?” Ivern prompted.

You’re better at revival, sir.”

Fine.” Ivern slid off the counter. Symbols snapped onto his skin, crawling with a storm’s energy. A charge built in the air as her husband walked forward. Seth watched him, visibly tensing.

The discharge thrummed through the air, hitting Allish’s lungs like waves of sound. Marcus jerked, heaved, and threw up. Seth swore.

What happened?” Marcus’s voice slurred. Like his partner, the man’s eyes locked onto Ivern. Leftover symbols still clung to the mage’s skin, diffusing like cloud. Vomit dribbled down Marcus’s jacket. Allish wrinkled her nose as the smell hit her.

I knocked you out.” All three looked over as she crossed the few steps to Ivern’s side. Her accent curled around the vowels as she spoke. “I took the oxygen from inside your lungs and put it elsewhere.”

Marcus turned paler. Despite anticipating it, she didn’t rejoice in his fear. Instead, she felt tired. She pressed her shoulder into Ivern’s. He pressed back. His eyes remained on the men.

What were you going to do with her?” Ivern’s voice was sharp.

Marcus opened his mouth, closed it. Allish wasn’t sure he had recovered.

Do with her? Nothing. We were only to observe.”

Observe? Allish frowned, casting a sidelong glance at Ivern. Did he have a new enemy?

Observe by breaking and entering?”

No. That was not the plan.”

What was the plan? Why were you observing us?”

We’re private detectives. We have been keeping a quiet eye out for a couple of weeks now, but Seth here watched too much shoot-em-ups last night and—”

Hey! You told me she would know the most, if only we could talk to her!

A couple of weeks? Allish threaded her hand around Ivern’s arm. His skin was warm. He took her hand in his automatically.

So you decided to try B and E? With a dash of assault?” Marcus said.

I only wanted to solve our problem.”

That is not how we solve problems.”

Seth opened his mouth to speak, but the look on Ivern’s face stopped him. His smile was just a little too dangerous now. In the silence, they all heard the storm groan against the windows.

You are a private investigator?” Ivern addressed Marcus. “Who hired you?”

Marcus shifted, winced as a red-orange symbols flared on his face.

Don’t know.”

You don’t know who hired you? Isn’t that usually a good thing to find out, in your line of work?”

There was a lot of money.”

All the more reason.”

You’re right.” Marcus visibly regretted this job.

He did say he was a private detective, when he first came in,” Allish said. “And he didn’t point his gun at me.”

Ivern studied Marcus. In the light, his pale eyes took on an eerie tone.

What was the job?”

We were to find out what we could about you, observe you, take pictures if we could.”

And how much did you find out? Who else knows?”

Us, the client, and whoever they shared that information with. I have reports in my office.”

And you know nothing about this client?”

I know that they are rich.”

Right.”

I-I will find out about them.”

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Ivern rubbed the bridge of his nose. Even after twenty years of wearing contacts, old habits died hard.

I don’t.” Marcus said. Allish glanced at him. Despite being shaken, she saw the resolve beneath his fear. His eyes fixated on Ivern and, although his hands shook, he didn’t let the fear paralyze him. “I’m good at my job. Without Seth here, you would not have known I was investigating you. I can find out who hired me.”

Allish’s bad leg shook as Ivern slid from her arm. When she bent to rub her knee, she caught Seth watching. She narrowed her eyes in his direction. That stare put her on edge. She was glad when Ivern began a new spell, snapping Seth’s interest away.

All right, you’re on. But your investigation of Allish and myself has ended. I will come by tomorrow to pick up all you have found.”

He was relieved. “You’re letting us go, then?”

Another ill-themed smile formed on the mage’s face. “No. You will be transported downtown until we find out what inspired Seth to attack my wife.”

Three other Mageguard arrived. It took fifteen minutes for a fourth to bring an automobile. Ivern put tracking spells on both men, etched in the same graphite tint as his other spells. When he picked up the phone, Allish limped into their bedroom.

The sheets were cool when she slumped onto the bed. The outside door stood ajar, leading to the covered balcony. Its draft stirred the nearby tablecloth. As she massaged her aching shin, she listened to the wind. In here, she could hear the chimes more clearly as the storm thrashed their strings. A couple of loose panes in the balcony’s windows rattled. The lights flickered. Maybe they’d have a power outage tonight. They hadn’t had one of those in a long while. The building creaked around her, and the air stirred the hairs on her skin. When the bells quieted, their absence made the room a little too silent.

Ivern’s voice was muffled by the door. He made several phone calls, clinking dishes and opening the refrigerator as he puttered around the kitchen. By the time he had finished and found her in the bedroom, he had a half glass of rum and coke in his hand. Without a word, his free hand brushed around her shoulders and pulled her closer. She leaned her head into his neck.

He murmured into her cheek. Something about keeping her safe. She didn’t hear, too busy following the trace of his fingers on her shoulder.

You okay?” The words hummed through his chest.

She did not answer immediately. A gust of wind rattled the panes.

Yeah,” she said. “I’m not alone.”

I’ll always come, Allish.” He murmured into her ear this time. “You know that, right?”

She nodded. She knew.


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