This is from the urban fantasy book I finished, set in an alternate version of our world where, thirty-two years from the start of the book, humanity discovered magic and magical creatures. Some people, witches, can wield magic, but most people are unchanged. How would human life go on with magic in it? How would you cope with tiny, multi-colored dragons eating our cities’ pigeons, nereids in the water pipes, or a pixie dropping a water balloon on your head while you’re walking to work?

This is a condensed version of the first ten pages, skipping over a flashback that provides some backstory.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The witch looked around the disarray of the fast-food restaurant. “I think you have a pixie working here.”

“Not another one,” the manager, Albert, moaned.

“They get around,” the witch, Althea Raven, said. She told her clients she was from the northern reaches of Washington. In reality, Amy Reed had been born eight hours away in Junction, Texas. Her parents didn’t approve of her abilities, so she’d moved to Atlas, which stood on the intersection of two ley lines, providing a powerful source of magic for the witches and fey who lived there.

“I thought maybe it was a curse, or a poltergeist,” Albert mumbled.

“No.” Albert squirmed, looking away from her piercing blue eyes. With her high cheekbones, sharp nose, and the curve of her lips compressed into a thin line, her eyes looked particularly forbidding framed by the black waves of her hair. At five foot eight inches, she could look down on the bald spot on the top of his head. “What’s gone wrong?”

“Well,” Albert fidgeted, “At first it was small breakages – spatulas, glasses, the phone… Then the computers went down, the fridge broke, and the grills kept turning off. Yesterday, a fryer exploded.”

Althea wished he’d called before someone had gotten hurt. Pixies weren’t usually malicious, but they had a skewed idea of what could harm mortals. She smoothed the small braid she wore in the front of her hair, today decorated with a small quartz crystal. She’d changed her dishwater blond, stick-straight hair with a spell, and bought a wardrobe of bright, flowing garments before she moved to Atlas, to look more like a witch to her clients. “You hired a pixie,” she repeated.

Al sighed deeply, “Do what you have to.”

Althea told Albert to line up his employees, and traced a silver glyph to dispel illusions. She paced down the line of people, looking for the flicker of a faltering illusion, but reached the end with no conclusive results. Which meant the pixie’s illusions were too strong for her to pierce, which was unlikely since she was so strong in truth sensing, or that the pixie wasn’t here.

Althea turned to Albert. “Who isn’t working today?”

“Well, Jeff’s in the hospital, so just Leigh, Natalie, Tom, and Faye.”

Althea groaned at the last name, an obvious pun. It was easy to forget that non-witches often knew next to nothing about the magic world. “Faye’s your pixie.”

Albert objected the extra expenditure of Althea returning the next day, but she stared at him with icy blue eyes until his protests sputtered into silence. Early the next morning, Althea stood behind the front door. Glowing bright silver by her head, the glyph to dispel illusions floated in the air, waiting. The glyph for a shield spell shined emerald beside it.

She triggered the glyphs as soon as the woman who fit Faye’s description stepped through the door. The plain-looking woman dissolved into an ethereal lavender-winged being, with feathery antenna above cynically arched brows. The pixie regarded Althea with an unreadable expression, huge lavender eyes peering through a cascade of blonde hair. Althea tensed, waiting to see how the pixie reacted.

The pixie only laughed, her amusement ringing out in delicate crystalline tones. “Well cast, witch. I am discovered.”

“I don’t mean to spoil your fun, but you’re hurting people,” Althea said.

“Do you want to me to grant you a wish? I do so admire clever humans,” the pixie regarded Althea the way a trainer might look at a dog that had learned a particularly difficult trick.

“I’m content as I am,” Althea said. “But I thank you for your kindness in thinking of me.”

“Oh, how sad! You know better.” The pixie’s eyes sparkled with laughter.

“Anyone who knows the fey knows that pixies have the strongest sense of humor,” Althea said.

“Too wise for me! And I would have so loved to play a trick on you! Ah, well.” The pixie traced a shimmering deep violet glyph, and disappeared into the portal it opened.

Althea released her glyphs, absorbing the magic back into herself. “She’s gone.”

Albert came out of his office where he’d been cowering. “Gone?”

“Gone,” Althea confirmed.

“Who’ll pay for the damage?” Albert asked now that the immediate danger had passed.

“You, I imagine,” Althea replied dryly, “You might want to be more careful about what you hire in the future, or at least not wait so long to ask for help.”

“But-”

“She wouldn’t have paid you back, you know. Be thankful no one died,” Althea said, and left before he could speak again. She leaned against the wall just outside the door, waiting a little less than a half hour before her patience was rewarded. When Rob walked out of the restaurant, she called out to him. “Wait!”

He turned, and regarded her with puzzled brown eyes, “Yes, ma’am?”

“You mean no…” she paused, searching for an inoffensive word, “extraordinary mischief?”

“Ma’am?” The puzzlement increased.

“When I used that spell yesterday…” She paused again. “I know what I saw, Fair One,” she finished as politely as she could.

Rob’s expression of bemusement disappeared. Faint amusement replaced the façade of confusion. “Well done, mortal. I’m called Lorendyl.”

“Althea Raven,” Althea said. “I must ask if you wish the people of this city harm.”

“I do not,” the elf replied. “But I shall see you again, I believe, witch.” He strode off.

Althea looked after the elf, musing on his last words, which sounded like a promise. She shrugged—she couldn’t control his actions. The elf would likely move on now that he’d been discovered, though she wondered what he’d been doing here. Unlike the minor fey, the major fey rarely visited the mortal world. When they did, it wasn’t for pranks, but something big and often unsettling.

*  *  *  *  *

After finishing the forms for Al’s, making a note about the elf, and pushing around paperwork while playing Tetris, Althea took a long lunch break. Sprawled on a park bench, she breathed in the smell of the flowers, half-asleep in the late afternoon sun. Then some whisper of intuition made Althea roll off the park bench. She propped herself cautiously up on her elbows, and looked around. The park was empty of anything but birdsong and a few insects. Feeling foolish, Althea rolled on her back. A flash of sapphire lightning set the back of the wooden bench ablaze.  “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.”

Deep purple smoke roiled in the path before her. Althea got to her feet, watching as a slim figure appeared in the slowly dissipating fumes. The last wisps cleared away to reveal a female elf. Elves, slender with long limbs, reminded Althea of spiders. The elf currently fixing teal eyes on her looked as if Althea were a clumsy insect blundering into her web without the good grace to be edible. “I see you survived my little surprise. I expected you might, Witch of Atlas.”

“What?” Althea asked. “How do you know me?”

“From Lorendyl,” the elf said scornfully. “He is certainly weakening if you can pierce his illusions, mortal.”

Althea didn’t tell the elf that she hadn’t pierced the illusion – just made it flicker. She doubted the fey cared. “Perhaps I’m stronger than I appear.”

The elf sneered, the ugly expression failing to mar her icy beauty. She drew lines of blue-black fire as she began a spell. Althea frantically pulled power and threw it – not into a shield that the elf could easily break, or into an attack that would never touch her opponent, but at the spell itself. The elf’s slanted almond-shaped widened as the chaotic energy bomb detonated within the spell she was carefully constructing, destroying it before it was finished. “How did you do that?”

“I’d like to know that also,” a male elf stepped out from behind a tree, his ash blond hair hanging to his waist in a complicated array of braids and ties.

“Lorendyl!” the female’s pale skin, white with a faint blue undertone, flushed faintly and briefly.

“Vonn,” Lorendyl returned, smiling faintly. His slanted elf-eyes, a bright yellow-green the color of new leaves, held no emotion. Althea blinked. This was the fey she’d surprised at Al’s, and another fey who likely knew him well. “Well, Witch of Atlas?” Lorendyl asked, moving closer. Althea heard a faint clink and noticed spiked lengths of chain in his hair.

“Human magic’s less structured—and less predictable, so it can destabilize nonhuman magic.” Especially elven magic, she thought, made of powerful, but delicate edifices of glyphs.

“Really?” Lorendyl purred, “You must demonstrate this theory.”

“You will have to do without that opportunity,” Vonn created an angular jet-black glyph.

Lorendyl frowned, and drew his own emerald glyph, which flared as the jet-black one dimmed. The two elves traded spells, explosions throwing up clods of dirt around the combatants, sparks flew, lightning struck, and small tremors shook the ground. Althea dodged a lightning bolt, and decided to try something desperate. Since elves lived in the shallows of the emotional ocean, she drew a silver glyph that focused the strongest emotions, and hoped the spell would work. She hurled the spell at Vonn, which splattered on the elf’s shield, silver droplets sinking in and infecting the elf’s magic. The fey woman lifted a long-fingered hand to brush her pewter hair out of her face, expression faintly puzzled, and then suddenly screamed.

“What did you do to her?” Lorendyl asked, his yellow-green eyes curious.

“I defended myself,” Althea said.

“And you’ll do the same if you feel threatened by me?”

“If I have to,” Althea didn’t want to find out how quickly the fey woman would recover. She hurried to her car and climbed in.

“I see we’ll have to postpone our discussion, witch,” Lorendyl said. As Althea drove away, she saw the male elf moving toward Vonn, his face empty of emotion, and shivered.

“Call office,” Althea told her car phone. “Hey, I’m not feeling well after lunch. I’m taking the rest of the day off and  may be late coming in tomorrow. Have a good day, Sherry.”

At her house, Althea dropped her purse on the kitchen counter and grabbed a box of cookies. She stuck a bag of popcorn in the microwave, collapsed on the sofa, and turned on the TV. Several hours later, Althea headed to bed, hoping she would pass the night dreamlessly. She’d work off her junk food comfort binge at the gym tomorrow morning before work.

*  *  *  *  *

Althea whisked her car along the road, humming off-key along with the song on the radio. It’d been three days since her encounter with the two elves, and she was beginning to feel less haunted.

Thump! Something heavy smacked on the roof of her car.

Althea swerved, nearly going off the road. More thumps sounded from above her, as if something was crawling around up there. She heard a scraping noise, then silence, and pressed the accelerator to the floor. The car lurched into a higher gear, gaining speed. Thumps sounded from above her –whatever was on her roof wasn’t giving up. She rounded a curve at high speed, fighting for control.

A flash of purple caught her eye as her uninvited passenger nearly fell off. Althea looked behind her, saw no traffic, and stomped on her brakes. Tires squealing, her car lurched to a halt. Something large hurled past her windshield and crashed to the road before her. She took a deep breath, and then shifted her foot back to the accelerator, curved her path to avoid hitting the creature crumpled in the road.

Suddenly her unwanted visitor bolted in front of her vehicle. Strong hands gripped her car, which shrieked to a halt. Slanted amber eyes with cat-like pupils stared at her through the windshield, set in a face too angular to be pretty, even without a grimace revealing a mouthful of sharp predator’s teeth.

“Oh, shit,” Althea said. As if to underscore her mood, it began to drizzle.

Those hands tightened on her car’s hood, the metal protesting as it bent. “I am not pleased with you, mortal.” The dragon’s tail lashed behind him in counterpoint to the threat in his voice.

Althea stared wide-eyed at the seven-foot-tall dragon, who glared back at her. Muscles rippled under his golden skin when he moved, spreading purple wings wide behind him like a hawk hunching over its kill. She wondered if it was too late to drive away. Before she could, the dragon opened her passenger door and got in. She had a brief hysterical thought about how uncomfortable it must be for him to sit on his wings and tail.

“Drive,” he commanded.

Althea stared at him, pulse racing so hard she thought her heart would burst.

“Drive, human, or I will change to my true form and carry you and this contraption away.” The dragon looked at her. “The exertion might make me hungry.”

Althea wordlessly stepped on the accelerator, and sped down the road. “Where-” her voice came out barely recognizable, a breathless squeak. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Where are we going?”

“To meet someone,” the dragon replied. “Turn here.”

Althea desperately ransacked her memory for information about dragons, trying to recall any weakness. Dragons were shape-shifters, but were unwilling to give up their advantages in strength, speed, and their heightened senses in assuming a purely human form. They felt emotions just as strongly as humans did, and were especially quick to anger. Althea sighed. She was going to die.

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About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

2 responses »

  1. […] secretary (paperwork enforcer/lunch partner/crazed customer barrier), is introduced in this excerpt. She’s important, but a support character, so I haven’t yet found the space to write […]

  2. […] following story is in the same world as the excerpt from my urban fantasy novel Witch of Atlas. I’ve also posted several related stories (all […]

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