First Chapter of "Witches' Brew" by BR Kingsolver
Book 3 of the Dark Streets Series
By BR Kingsolver
Copyright 2018 BR Kingsolver
Sitting in my office surrounded by a mountain of paperwork, I dutifully tried to read and understand my tax return. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but Kathy, my accountant, insisted it was something I had to get done by Friday, on the pain of ‘or else.’ Considering that Kathy was a foot shorter than I was, and probably couldn’t lift my sword with a crane, I wasn’t sure what ‘or else’ might be, but I wasn’t in a hurry to find out.
It was a bright spring day, the sun was shining, and the Fairies had ventured forth from their winter hibernation. Their chatter and singing made a nice backdrop as they cast a happy mood on the day.
I was almost finished with the tax return and my list of questions for Kathy when the Fairies went crazy, and not in a good way, the noise outside escalating to an ear-piercing level. My first thought was that the neighbor’s Labrador retriever had managed to broach my wards again. I thought the animal had learned its lesson. The last time I’d seen it, it looked like a pin cushion covered with Fairy spears, galloping home with its tail between its legs.
A fancy black car pulled into the nursery, and two men in black suits got out. The Fairies attacked in mass. I watched with interest. They hated most predators, especially dogs and cats—except for my friend Isabella—but they usually either liked or ignored people. The two fellows were persistent, however, dodging Fairy spears and bursting into my office. They smelled like dogs. I watched silently as they ignored me while pulling little six-inch spears out of their clothing and various parts of their anatomy. The longer they ignored me, the more my irritation increased, and the more my estimation of their intelligence decreased. Being rude to an Elf was a classic way of committing suicide, but they did have my curious attention.
Finally, one of them finished wiping blood off his face and hands with his handkerchief and said, “You got some nasty little friends out there. Be a shame if someone sprayed them with pesticide, ya know?” He had a bit of a West Virginia twang to his voice.
“Whatever you want, Harold Vance should know better than to send you here,” I said. “Tell him to call me.” Vance was the alpha of the largest Werewolf pack on the east coast, and the major crime boss in the Washington, D.C., area. He was a landscaping customer of mine, even after we had a little run-in the previous summer.
“We ain’t with Vance,” the thug said. “He’s on his way out. So, if you want to do business safely, you’ll be dealing with the Savage River pack from now on.”
They were both young, but my estimation of their intelligence fell even further. Age can impart wisdom, but in my experience, sheer stupidity was incurable.
“And why do you think my business needs protection?” I asked.
He sneered at me and made a show of looking out the window. “You got a lot of money tied up in vehicles and machinery. Greenhouses are kinda fragile, ya know? And a fire would do a lot of damage to all those trees. Even if you got insurance, you’d be out of business for a while. A little preventive insurance would probably be a good idea, ya know?”
I stood. I was at least six inches taller than he was, and as I towered over him, I thought his eyes might pop out of his head. I took two steps to round the desk, and entangled my fingers in his hair. Another two steps, dragging him along, brought us to the door. He missed the doorway, and his face slammed against the wall. Blood gushed from his nose.
His buddy moved toward me and reached under his coat, but he was too slow. I grabbed him by the throat with my other hand and squeezed as I lifted him off the floor.
I carried them outside onto the porch. The second Were clawed at my forearm, his face turning a deep red. It irritated me, so I cracked their heads together, then carried them down the steps to their car.
“Tell your alpha that if any of you puppies ever show up around here again, I’ll hang your heads on my gateposts. And I’ll blame him for anything that happens here, even if you’re not involved.” I hoped their alpha was brighter than they were. Elves don’t threaten, they promise.
The second guy was turning rather purple by the time I released him, and he slumped to the ground, gasping raggedly for air.
I slammed the first guy’s face into the windshield hard enough to crack both the windshield and his face. Then I let go of him, and he fell in a heap. His face was a real mess, and I was so angry it was hard to resist the urge to kill them both. I stared down at him, trying to get my temper under control. Then I decided, what the hell, and kicked him. If felt so good that I kicked him again.
I walked over to the second idiot and kicked him just for practice.
“Now,” I announced, “I’m going back into my office for a box of matches. If you’re still here when I get back, I’m going to light this car on fire and then call the police.” I leaned down close to the guy I had just kicked and said, “Do I make myself clear?”
Of course I didn’t need matches to start a fire, but I took my time sauntering back to the office and straightening my papers. I heard the Fairies launch another assault, and then a couple of minutes later the Weres’ car started, and they drove away. Instead of the matches, I grabbed a bottle of spelled wolfsbane extract, went outside, and sprinkled it across the nursery entrance between the gateposts while chanting a spell. When I was finished, I sketched a rune on both gateposts, then said the Word to invoke the spell.
I wasn’t worried by the thugs’ threats. Before, I hadn’t blocked them from driving through the front gate when it was open. My wards would protect the nursery and the Fairies from anything the idiot Weres might try. That taken care of, I made myself a calming cup of herbal tisane and returned to the damned tax return.
I’d been away almost six months, and although my landscaping business didn’t need me in the winter, everything went into overdrive once the trees started budding. Of course, the parts of the business I liked—such as, working with the plants and planning gardens—came with the baggage of owning the business and having to deal with that side of it. Planting, hiring, evaluating existing clients’ needs, and working with new clients—were all of sudden importance.
The world had changed a bit while I was in Europe with Cassiel, but I’d been so busy I hadn’t noticed. We spent the winter traveling around, and then attended my cousin’s hand-fasting in Ireland.
I had flown back to the States from there, but he ran into visa hassles. So strange. As a realm walker, he could cross to another dimension anytime he wanted to, but Earth’s governments thought lines drawn on a map were so sacred that they wouldn’t let him cross that imaginary boundary.
I told him he should have put ‘Heaven’ as his place of birth on the visa application instead of ‘Alfheim.’
When he finally got it straightened out, I drove out to the airport to pick him up.
On our way back to Georgetown, we passed a mall advertising a new store—Witches World. I smiled and pointed it out to Cass.
He looked puzzled. “What about it?”
“Cass, there hasn’t ever been anything like that before.”
“Oh. I guess I’m used to seeing shops like that in other realms.”
I cooked dinner at home for him that evening, with candles and the good china. I had even sewn a new sexy dress for the occasion. I couldn’t believe how much I missed him, and it had only been a couple of weeks.
Cassiel attempted several times to call his sister, who lived in DC. She, like him, was a Paladin and a realm walker. Her phone message indicated that she was indeed in another realm. He let me listen to it once. This is Nareena. I’m on an out-of-this-world vacation. Leave a message, and I’ll ring you up when I return. She had a beautiful voice.
Since he didn’t have another option for a place to stay, I happily told him he could stay with me as long as he liked. I spent a couple of days showing him the museums and the sights around Washington, then I turned him loose on the city when I returned to work on Monday morning.
That evening I saw a commercial for the Witches World on television, advertising potions, charms, herbs, alchemical and ritual devices and apparatus.
Cass looked it up on the internet. He didn’t have the problems with computers that I had. It turned out that a group called the Sunrise Coven had leased a defunct bookstore and opened the business.
The following day, I insisted on going to check it out. The mall had been on the decline for some time. The coven had moved into a space abandoned when a nationwide book chain went bankrupt. On first impression, I was extremely disappointed. It looked like a Halloween store, full of costumes for kids’ parties, and souvenir schlock for tourists and delusional wannabe witches. However, some of their goods were legitimate, although overpriced. I could feel the magic emanating from some of the charms and potions, and the simple fact of the store’s existence and the number of people in the store were telling. Seeing magical items sold openly shook my world a little.
“Do these love potions have a money-back guarantee?” I asked one of the shop girls, a young witch of limited power.
She laughed. “Oh, no.” She pointed to a sign that said, “All sales final. No refunds. Results may vary, depending on many factors.”
“That isn’t very encouraging,” Cass said.
The girl shook her head. “A love potion only serves as an attractant. If the person is interested, it will sharpen their interest. If it really made anyone fall in love with someone, that would be a compulsion spell, and only black magic delves into that sort of thing. We only deal in white magic.”
“I’ve never seen a store quite like this,” I said.
She preened. “We’re opening another store in Alexandria next month, and the coven elders plan on having ten stores open by the end of the year.”
“I’m surprised there would be such a market,” Cass said.
“Oh, yes, witchcraft is all the rage. I worked for a store up in Baltimore called Magical Secrets, but when I joined the Sunrise Coven, I moved down here. This is much larger.”
“What do you think?” Cassiel asked as we left.
“I want to see the store in Baltimore.” So, we drove north to Baltimore.
Magical Secrets occupied an old rowhouse facing the Inner Harbor in a popular area with lots of bars, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques. The first floor had potions, tinctures, extracts, teas, spells, charms, and other prepared goods. I was impressed with the selection. No love potions or other fake come-ons. On the second floor, we found supplies and apparatus for spells and alchemy.
I grew a number of specialty crops. My training as an alchemist allowed me to turn such crops and other items into extracts, potions, and poultices that had value to a certain clientele. I had supplied witches within a day’s drive of Washington with such goods for thirty years.
One friend of mine in West Virginia portrayed herself as an herbalist and spiritual healer. She was all of that, and one of the most powerful Human witches that I knew. I brought her herbs and flowers, and she traded me wild plants and fungi she gathered in the West Virginia hills. I also mixed a number of healing potions for her. I wasn’t a healer, and some of the recipes she gave me didn’t respond to my magic. That wasn’t a problem, as I would extract and mix the ingredients, then take them to her to spell.
“I might have found another customer for some of what I grow,” I told Cassiel as I surveyed their selection of healing herbs.
The rowhouse had three stories, so I started toward the last stairway. As I put my foot on the bottom step, I felt a veil part, and I realized that someone without magic would never see the stairs. The magical bazaar in Dublin and some other cities had an entrance similarly hidden.
The top floor had far more exotic ingredients for sale, such as mandrake root, wolfsbane, nightshade, dried insects, snake venom, and other-worldly plants and animal parts. There was also a selection of minerals, such as malachite dust, silver powder, and hematite. I could see why this section was protected. They had enough toxic ingredients to poison the whole city.
The sales ladies on the first two floors hadn’t paid us much attention, but the witch on the third floor was different. I judged her to be between fifty and seventy, with streaks of gray in her long black hair. She was still pretty, but she would have been beautiful when she was young. Her dark eyes narrowed as they followed us around the room.
“What is your interest?” she asked after a while.
“I’m an alchemist and apothecary,” I answered. “I see why you have this room shielded.”
“You don’t approve.” Her tone made it a statement, not a question.
“I neither approve nor disapprove,” I said. “It’s not my place. I use a lot of these ingredients.” I motioned toward the mandrake root. “They are usually more difficult to acquire.” And although the shop’s prices were high, when you figured in airfare to Europe or Asia, I usually paid more.
“Kellana Rogirsdottir?” she asked.
I turned in surprise. “Have we met before?”
A hint of a smile curved her lips. “No, but the TV newscasters said the Dragon woman lived in DC. I don’t imagine there are too many green-haired elves in this area.”
I shook my head. Of course, Romanian TV had cameras on the Dragon that landed in the middle of Bucharest. So, when we returned her eggs, our faces were broadcast around the world.
“You know,” I told Cass after we left the store, “I never wanted to be famous, and it’s a pain in the ass sometimes.”
He chuckled. “Stop rescuing the world, and you won’t have that problem. Don’t worry, your fifteen minutes of fame will soon fade away.”
We watched a movie on TV that night, one of those that runs an hour and twenty minutes but with the commercials takes three hours. Twenty minutes of movie followed by twenty minutes of commercials until you’re about ready to scream. A commercial came on that sounded at first like an online dating service.
Tired of being lonely? Being afraid? Living in the shadows? You don’t have to be alone anymore. There is strength in numbers and acceptance from those like you. Call 555-202-1234. The Raven Coven welcomes witches and wizards, no matter your gift, no matter your strength. You don’t have to live alone in the shadows anymore. 555-202-1234. Find out what acceptance and the power of a coven feel like.
“Did you see that?” I asked turning to Cassiel.
“Mmm-hmmm,” he replied. He had his nose buried in a book.
“Huh? Sorry, Kel, I wasn’t paying attention.”
“It was a recruitment commercial for a witches’ coven.”
“Hmmm. Wonder if they’re for real.” He still didn’t act like he was paying attention.
The movie came back on. Cass set the book in his lap and paid attention to the TV again. I had a feeling the female star interested him more than the plot. I waited until the next commercial break, and when he started to pick up his book again, I snatched it away.
“No. I want you to pay attention to that commercial when it comes on again.”
But it didn’t. Not during that commercial break, nor the others following it.
It wasn’t the first strange commercial I had seen since returning from Europe. The third anniversary of the Beltane that changed the world was approaching, and Earth was beginning to settle into a new normal.
The following morning at breakfast, I turned on the TV to get the day’s weather forecast. Instead, I saw a young blonde woman with a microphone breathlessly talking about a murder. She was at the scene where the body had been found in a wooded area on the west side of the Potomac.
Something in her voice caught my attention. She seemed really rattled. As I listened, I noted that she said the police didn’t want information on the cause of death disclosed. Over the previous three years, I had seen a difference in the language used when reporting on a normal murder as opposed to one with a paranormal cause. I understood that. A drug dealer getting shot was something Humans understood. They were less matter-of-fact about a person who was torn apart by a demon.
The reality of magic, paranormal beings, and creatures from other realms was starting to take hold. Humans might not have liked their new world, but they were past denial. Demons materializing on main street and eating your next-door neighbor tended to get people’s attention.
- Updated: 17 February 2019