Magic Graves Page 22

Chapter One

Kaldar Mar stepped back and critically surveyed the vast three-dimensional map of the Western Continent. It spread on the wall of the private conference room, a jeweled masterpiece of magic and semiprecious stones. Forests of malachite and jade flowed into plains of aventurine and peridot. The plains gave rise to mountains of brown opals with ridges of banded agates and tiger eye, topped by the snowy peaks of moonstone and jasper.

Beautiful. A completely useless waste of money, but beautiful. If it somehow could be stolen... you'd need a handcart to transport it and some tools to carve it to pieces. Hmm, also a noise dampener would work wonders here, and this being the Weird, he could probably find someone willing to risk creating a sound-proof sigil for the right price. Steal a custodian's uniform, get in, cut the map, wrap each piece in tarp, load them on the handcart, and push the whole thing right out the front door, while looking disgruntled. Less than twenty minutes for the whole job if the cutter was powerful enough. The map would feed the entire Mar family for a year or more.

Well, what was left of the family.

Kaldar's memory overlaid the familiar patterns of states over the map, ignoring the borders of the Weird's nations. Adrianglia took up a big chunk of the Eastern seaboard, stretching in a long vertical ribbon. In the Broken, it would have consumed most of the states from New York and southern Quebec to Georgia and a small chunk of Alabama. Below it, West Egypt occupied Florida and spread down into Cuba. To the left of Adrianglia, the vast Dukedom of Louisiana mushroomed upward, containing all of Louisiana and a chunk of Alabama in the south, rising to swallow Mississippi and Texarcana, and ending with the coast of Great Lakes. Beyond that smaller nations fought it out: the Republic of Texas, the Northern Vast, the Democracy of California...

Kaldar had grown up on the fringes of this world, in the Edge, a narrow strip of land between the complex magic of the Weird and the technological superiority of the Broken. Most of his life was spent in the Mire, an enormous swamp, cut off from the rest of the Edge by impassable terrain. The dukedom of Louisiana dumped their exiles there and killed them when they tried to reenter the Weird. His only escape had been through the Broken. He travelled back and forth, smuggling goods, lying, cheating, making as much money as was humanly possible and dragging it back to the family.

Kaldar stared at the map. Each country had an enemy. Each was knee-deep in conflict. But the only war he cared about was happening right in the middle, between the Dukedom of Louisiana and Adrianglia. It was a very quiet vicious war, fought in secrecy by spies, with no rules and no mercy. On the Adrianglian side, the espionage and its consequences were handled by the Mirror. He supposed if they were in the Broken, the Mirror would be the equivalent of the CIA or FBI, or perhaps both. On Louisiana's side, the covert war was the province of the secret service known as the Hand. He had watched the two organizations clash from the sidelines for years, but watching wasn't enough anymore.

First, the Mirror woke him up at ten till five, and now he spent fifteen minutes waiting. Puzzling.

The heavy wooden door swung open soundlessly and a woman entered the room. She was short, with a sparse, compact body, wrapped in an expensive blue gown embroidered with silver thread. Kaldar priced the dress out of habit. About five gold doubloons in the Weird, probably a grand and a half or two in the Broken. Expensive and obviously custom tailored. The blue fabric perfectly complimented her skin, the color of hazelnut shells. The dress was meant to communicate power and authority, but she hardly needed it. She moved as if she owned the air he breathed.

Nancy Virai. The head of the Mirror. They've never met - he had not been given that honor, poor Edge rat that he was - but she hardly needed an introduction.

He'd spent last two years doing small assignments, challenging, but nothing of great importance. Nothing that would warrant the attention of Lady Virai. Anticipation shot through Kaldar. Something big waited at the end of this conversation.

Lady Virai approached and stopped at the desk four feet away. Dark eyes surveyed him from a severe face. Her irises were like black ice. Stare too long and you'd veer off course and smash into a hard wall at full speed.

"You are Kaldar Mar."

"Yes, my lady."

"How long have you worked for me?"

She knew perfectly well when he had started. "Almost two years, my lady."

"You have open warrants in two Provinces, which we quashed when you were hired, and an extensive criminal record in Dukedom of Louisiana." Nancy's face was merciless. "You are a smuggler, a conman, a gambler, a thief, a liar, and an occasional murderer. With that resume, I can see why you thought the Mirror would be the proper career choice. Just out of curiosity, is there a law that you haven't broken?"

"Yes. I never raped anyone. Also, I never copulated with animals. I believe Adrianglia has a law against that."

"And you have a smart mouth." Nancy crossed her arms. "As per our agreement with your family and the condition of extracting the lot of you from the Edge, you are now a citizen of Adrianglia. Your debt is being paid in full by the efforts of your cousin Cerise Sandine and her husband, William. You are allowed to pursue any profession you may like. Yet you came to work for me. Tell me, why is that?"

Kaldar smiled. "I'm grateful to the realm for rescuing my family. I posses a unique set of talents that the Mirror finds useful and I don't want to rely on my lovely cousin and William for the repayment of my debt. William is a nice chap, a bit testy at times and he occasionally sprouts fur, but everyone has issues. I would feel rotten being indebted to him. It would be taking advantage of his good nature."

Nancy's cold eyes stared at him for a long second. "People like you love taking advantage of others' good nature."

He laughed quietly under his breath.

" You lie with no hesitation. The smile was particularly a nice touch. I imagine that face serves you quite well, especially in female company."

"It has its uses."

Lady Virai pondered him for a long moment. "Kaldar, you are a scoundrel."

He bowed with all the elegance of a blueblood prince.

"You were born smart but poor. You view me as a spoiled, rich woman born with a gold coin in my mouth. You feel that I and those of my social standing don't appreciate what we have and you delight in thumbing your nose at aristocracy."

"My lady, you give me entirely too much credit."

"Spare me your bullshit. You revel in sabotaging the system, you hate orders, and you break the law simply because it's there. You can't help yourself. Yet two years ago you came to me with a bridle and a set of spurs and said, 'Ride me.' And in two years, your record has been strangely law-abiding. You've been good, Kaldar. Within reason, of course. There was that business with the bank mysteriously catching fire."

"Completely accidental, my lady."

Lady Virai grimaced. "I'm sure. I need to know why you're going through all this trouble and I don't have time to waste."

The problem with honesty was that it gave your opponent ammunition to use against you. One simply didn't hand a woman like Nancy Virai a loaded gun. Unless, of course, one had no choice. If he played coy now or tried to lie, she would see through him and order him out of her office. He would continue his rotation of small-time assignments. He waited two years for this chance. He had to be sincere. "Revenge," Kaldar said.

She didn't say anything.

"The Hand took people from me." He kept his voice casual and light. "My aunts, my uncles, cousins, my younger brother. There were thirty six adults in the family before the Hand came to our little corner of the Edge. There are fifteen now and they are raising a crop of orphaned children."

"Do you want the Hand's agents dead?"

"No." Kaldar smiled again. "I want them to fail. I want to see despair in their eyes. I want them to feel helpless."

"What is driving you? It's not all hate. People driven by hate alone are hollow. You have some life left in you. Is it fear?"

He nodded. "Most definitely."

"For yourself?"

In his mind, he was back on that muddy hillside drenched in cold grey rain. Aunt Murid's body lay broken on the ground, her blood spreading across the brown mud in a brilliant scarlet stain. He was sure that's not what he actually saw. Back in that moment, he didn't have time to stand and watch the blood spread. He was too busy cutting into the creature that killed her. This memory was false. It came from his nightmares.

"What are you thinking of?" Lady Virai asked.

"I'm remembering my family dying."

"How did you feel when they were killed?"


There. She had pulled it out of him. It hurt. He didn't expect it to, but it did.

Lady Virai nodded. "How well can you handle the Broken?"

"I swim through it like a fish through clear water."

She gave him a flat look.

"The Edge is very long but narrow," he told her. "The Mire, where my family lived, is boxed on two sides by impassable terrain. There are only two ways out: to the Weird and the Dukedom of Louisiana, or to the Broken and the State of Louisiana. The Dukedom uses the Mire as a dumping ground for its exiles. They murder any Edger who approaches that boundary. So that border is closed, which leaves only one avenue of escape, to the Broken. Most of my family had too much magic to survive that crossing, so it fell to me to procure supplies and other things we needed. I've traveled through the Broken since I was a child. I have contacts there and I've taken care to maintain them."

Lady Virai pondered his face.

Here it comes.

"So happens that I can use you."


"A few hours ago a group of thieves broke into the Pyramid of Ptah in West Egypt." Lady Virai nodded at the map, where the peninsula that was Florida in the Broken, thrust into the ocean. "The thieves stole a device of great military importance to the Egyptians. The Hand likely commissioned this theft. To make matters worse, the thieves were supposed to hand off their merchandise to the Louisianans and they chose to do it in Adrianglian territory. Their meeting didn't go as planned and now Adrianglia is involved and the Egyptians are threatening to send the Claws of Bast into our lands to retrieve the object."

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies