Hunting Season (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress Book 4)

By: Annie Bellet

The Twenty-Sided Sorceress: Book Four

I carefully glued another piece of rice paper beside the front door of Pwned Comics and Games, mirroring it with the one on the inside. The sigil on it was something I’d learned from an assassin named Haruki, and his memories assured me that this bit of magic would work like, well, a charm for keeping out vermin.

If only I could figure out how to modify it for keeping out witches entirely. The first plague Peggy Olsen and her coven had sent on me was to set off the sprinkler system in my shop. Fortunately, I’ve got wards up to protect my goods from water and fire damage, so mostly it was just the pain in the ass of cleaning up a thousand gallons of stagnant, brownish water. I’m not great at wards, but protecting something from the elements isn’t too tricky.

I couldn’t prove it was witches’ work that had caused the inexplicable malfunction in the sprinklers. But when you’ve got a coven of witches trying to run your ass out of town, every issue starts to look like a hex.

This week it was roaches. I hadn’t even thought to ward against insects. I own the damn building and keep it in shape and inspected. I mean, there’s a bakery next door, whose owner was possibly one of the witches. My roach problem was localized, my shop and apartment only. Thousands of the little filthy critters skittering around. The exterminator said he’d never seen anything like it outside of a big city. Around here he mostly dealt with wasps and ants.

“Back door is secure,” Alek said as I walked back into Pwned Comics and Games.

“Everything lined up?” I asked. When he nodded I knelt down on the floor and pressed my hand onto the sigil I’d carefully scratched right into the boards. Gripping my twenty-sided die talisman, I pushed magic into the sigil, imagining lines shooting out and conjoining all around my shop and the apartment upstairs. I’d mixed drops of my own blood into the ink I’d used to create the magic papers, a link between Haruki’s magical knowledge and my own actual sorcery. His ability to use the sigils and this kind of spell had relied on decades of careful study and many special ingredients in the creation of both paper and ink.

I didn’t need the bells and whistles to make magic work. Only my innate ability and the will to make it happen.

Power hummed in my head and a spider web of magic spun out between the various bits of paper, igniting them in purple flares. High-pitched squeals and pops resonated around the store as cockroaches of all shapes and sizes poured forth from the dark nooks and crannies of my shop only to burst into purple flame and vanish, leaving no trace but a pungent haze of smoke in the air.

“Lovely,” Alek muttered.

Wrinkling my nose at the acrid burned-toast smell, I looked at the front door, still seeing the tracery of magic. Nothing remained of the paper we’d secured around the shop.

“That was cool,” Harper said as she poked her head up from behind the counter. “No more bugs?”

“Universe willing, no,” I said, letting go of my magic. “We can reopen for business tomorrow.”

“The roaches going all vaporizy kind of proves it was the witches, right?” Harper asked.

“Who knows?” I said. “Can’t do anything about it anyway. The moment I retaliate, I’m an asshole proving everything they think about me is right.”

Alek slid his warm fingers under my hair and caressed my neck as he gave me a sympathetic look. We’d been arguing about this for weeks now, as the one-month “get out of town or else” deadline the coven had given me approached. I wasn’t leaving, but I didn’t know how to deal with the witches without being a worse bully. I could fry them all where they stood, though I only knew whom a couple of them even were. That was the point and the problem, however.

Alek wanted to go put the fear of giant Justice tiger into them. I had convinced him it wouldn’t do much good.

I was the bigger person here, both magically and morally. I had to be. I didn’t want to be Samir when I grew up, after all.

“Sucks,” Harper said. She looked at the clock and clucked her tongue. “I should be getting home, and it looks like you two need to get a room.”

I grinned and leaned into Alek’s solid heat. “Levi and Junebug still staying with your mom?”

“Yeah, she keeps trying to send them home, but not very hard. You know Mom, she loves having people around. She’s going to have to open the B&B again soon though.” Harper shrugged, the motion too casual.

She’d almost been killed by an assassin, the same one whose knowledge I’d just used to de-bug my shop. Her mother’s bed and breakfast had been damaged as well. None of us were quite sure how to handle the aftermath of the wolf council and Haruki’s assassination attempts. Alek’s mentor Carlos had told him that he couldn’t do their Sunday talks anymore, that things with the Council of Nine, the shifters’ gods, were on shaky ground right now as word spread that a Justice had tried to kill an entire building full of alphas. No one knew much but speculation was pretty wide about how that had even been allowed to happen. Faith could consider itself totally shaken, from what I could see. Even Alek’s, though he hadn’t said much about it since Carlos stopped talking to him.

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