For Micah 6:8 and his lovely wife. We all hope for swift and easy recovery.
Luther sighed and picked up the ledger. “Item number 43. Logged by Joyce Cunningham. Description: squished-looking doohickey. Observed magical effect: Turns stabby.”
I walked into the circle, removed the lid from the plastic bin, and peered at the contents. A dented sphere about the size of a basketball and made of twisted metal strips lay inside. They didn’t even bother packing it in the dust. I thought the plastic bin felt kind of light.
I turned the bin on its side, giving it a little nudge, and the sphere rolled onto the floor. It didn’t look like anything special.
“Where was this found?”
Luther checked the ledge. “Unicorn Lane.”
Oh boy. Long and narrow, Unicorn Lane retained power even during tech waves, as if someone drove a colossal dagger through the heart of Atlanta’s former downtown and the wound kept bleeding wild magic. Anything coming out of there had to be bad.
The sphere lay there, perfectly innocent.
“Right then. Deploy the diagnostic rod,” Luther said.
I retreated to the far edge of the circle, picked up the seven-foot-long metal stick that used to be a pool brush handle, and poked the sphere with it.
The sphere’s metal strips unrolled, sprouting metallic thorns that looked like fangs, and lunged at the stick, wrapping around it. Metal screeched as the thorn-fangs ground at it. Sparks flew.
Luther jumped off his chair, grabbed the nearest emergency crate half-filled with magic dust, and dropped it just outside the circle line. I swung the stick with the screeching metal thing at the top and forced it into the magic dust. Luther yanked the other crate and dumped the dust from it onto the metal sphere, burying it. I turned the stick, shaking it back and forth.
“Let go. Let go, you damn thing.”
Suddenly it came free. I pulled the stick out, and Luther slammed the plastic lid onto the crate and locked it in place.
Luther squinted at the crate. “Twenty bucks.”
“I can sell it for a hundred at least.”
“What possible use could it have?”
Luther glared at me. “You’re going to let this thing out there with the general public?”
“Hey, I’m a merc, remember? Of the two of us you’re the one with the duty to safeguard said public. I’m just after the money. Make me an offer.”
Luther opened his mouth and sneezed.
I froze. An odd green dust was drifting through the room.
“Luther, are you seeing this?”
He didn’t answer.
He straightened, his eyes blank behind his glasses.
The curtain of dust floated around him, licked the salt boundary of the circle, and stayed on the other side of it. I’d put a fair amount of power into that ward. Luther could probably break it, but he would have to pour a lot of magic into it. He could also simply walk into it, since I made it open to humans, but the dust didn’t like it.
Sarrat rested just under the table, out of my reach. Getting to my sword meant walking through the dust, which wasn’t a good idea considering Luther’s glassy stare. Running to the door was out of the question. I couldn’t let it contaminate the rest of the Guild.
Luther didn’t move. The green dust grew thicker. I could barely see the walls now. It shrouded the entire room in a soft diaphanous veil. The circle remained clear.
Luther opened his mouth. A puff of dust broke free from his lips.
“Traitor,” he said, his voice sibilant.