Magic crackled in the air around him. Iridescent powerstrands swirled around his ankles, sinuous and snake-like energy which he and other wizards like him could manipulate into anything animate or inanimate. But not here. He was too exposed and vulnerable.
Lethargic thunder rumbled overhead in a long, drawn out moan, a precursor of the cold front arriving from the west. Feeling the pressure to hurry, Pierce Billova climbed the back stairs two at a time toward his attic lair.
No visitor to his exclusive Boston home had ever come upon the staircase unexpectedly. It was hidden by more than the door in the kitchen which blended so carefully into the wall as to be considered invisible.
Both were concealed by magic.
The sun had set less than an hour before, and the moon, a powerful force for magicians, waxed full. Outside, black nimbus clouds hung heavy, throbbing, as if desperate to release their revenge on the city. The storm, when it came, wouldn’t be anything for the history books. Not a hurricane or enough to raise flood waters, just a good, soaking October shower, the kind his Midwestern grandfather had called a frog-drowner.
With his trained inner eye, Pierce could visualize the extent of the front. It wasn’t only the people of Massachusetts who would be grabbing their umbrellas in a few minutes. There would be windshield wipers working furiously as far away as Tallahassee. When he was in the mood, or when the need was great, he could control the weather with a wave of his hand and a firmly spoken command.
Weather sense was one of his stronger abilities. Yet he had not originated this storm. Someone else was dabbling where he or she shouldn’t, creating a massive imbalance and this storm was a consequence. If it wasn’t controlled or contained, the external manifestations would only grow worse.
Pierce felt the small hairs on his arms rise and his blood surged in response to the violence outside. Lightning flashed. A spare two seconds later, thunder rattled the windows, strong enough he could feel it in the soles of his feet. His anticipation grew. The storm’s arrival only heightened his urgency to practice his arcane art.
There was an ugly, festering imbalance in the forces he studied. Energy could not be created or destroyed, that much physicists got right, but it could be manipulated. Huge chunks of powerstrands, magical energy, were disappearing, a void far too massive to be the result of anything but evil corruption.
His path was almost pitch black, except for the glow of powerstrands that lapped at his feet. They shimmered in brilliant colors, as if in another lifetime, they had been neon lights advertising a wide selection of beer brands. It had taken five years of apprenticeship before he was able to see his first. Now, as much as they were tools, they were also companions.
When he reached the door to his attic lair, he held his right hand out, fingers splayed over the knob, feeling with his heightened senses the warding spells he had set. They were undisturbed. Still the hint of something insidious, something evil that shouldn’t be there invaded his consciousness. Lightning flashed again, as if telling him to heed this disruption. There was nothing sedate about the thunder now. It cracked in a loud explosion directly above.
The powerstrands at his feet were unconcerned; a few, the yellow ones, frolicked like puppies. A sharp stench of evil reached his nose, a scent of something burning, or a conglomeration of things rotting. The trace vanished quickly, leaving him to think he had imagined it, or it came from the storm, or more likely he brought the disturbance with him. As much as he looked forward to plying his art, this was no pleasant task he set for himself.
His palm tingled in anticipation and his pulse raced. When overcome by rare fits of whimsy, Pierce could easily imagine the wards on the doorknob welcomed his return to his secret base. He could almost believe the energy itself was sentient, recognized in him a master, one of the very few on this planet they could communicate with.
Silently and with a minimum of movement—broad, crass actions were indicative of amateurs—he twisted his hand near the knob without actually touching it. The powerstrands sidled, one over another, releasing their knot. On well-oiled hinges, the door slid open.
He stood on the threshold, breathing deeply. If he were ever asked, he might say this was his favorite part of his career, the anticipatory moment before he curled his first powerstrand, before he changed matter and energy. His lungs filled slowly. He held the air, savoring the trace hints of herbs and magic, and since he was an indifferent housekeeper, more than a little dust.
Then, feeding the rush of desperation which brought him here in the first place, Pierce methodically stripped off his clothing, leaving shirt, pants, socks and jockeys in a heap on the floor, and slipped, naked, into the silky, long black robe he wore as a master wizard.