Searching For Magic
Chapter 9

Nancy, it turned out, had been given a cameo locket with the symbol inscribed in it. As soon as she'd put it on, she was under Craig's spell. He'd given it to her when they met up at the diner. Nancy, desperate for approval and love, and too inexperienced to realize that things weren't right, never questioned a thing. She hadn't meant to walk off the dock - Craig's magic made her think that it went on for several more feet.

Once Omar took the necklace off, she was no longer under its influence. Her memories were dim, but she knew that Craig had tried to kill her. We told police that he'd tried to strangle her on the dock, but in the struggle they'd both fallen in. We dove in to help, Craig refused to let go, and I grabbed a bottle; and things played out from there.

It worked. Nancy was sent to the hospital, while Omar and I assured the medics that we were fine.

Some days later, I went out to Patricia's house and I knocked on the door. I had to tell her exactly what had happened. When it opened, I looked at her face. She looked tired and drained.

"Ms. Mitchell," I said, "I think you heard that your colleague, Craig McNealy, recently passed away. And that it happened while he was attempting to murder your former student, Nancy."

She nodded. "I heard," she said, leaning against the doorframe and crossing her arms. "Why?"

"Because..." I said, "I looked up the kind of magic Craig used. Found the spell in a copy of one of the books you have. And you know what I found? I found that it wouldn't have worked if Nancy's mind wasn't so susceptible. If her self-worth hadn't been under constant fire." I paused. "This isn't even the first time Craig's done this, either. He targeted and picked off at least two other vulnerable girls." I narrowed my eyes. "And you helped him do it. You and Sarah. I hope you think about that for awhile."

Omar was right. They were all responsible.

I turned around and walked away. I don't know whether Patricia ever changed. I never saw her again after that.

Nancy recovered soon, at least physically. Mentally, that was another story. She'd been traumatized by the experience and had nightmares from it, and sometimes she had bouts of blaming herself for being too naive to realize what Craig was doing. So me and Omar kept in touch. Sometimes one of us would stay on the phone with her all night, just keeping her company and reminding her that it wasn't her fault and she deserved better. We also encouraged her to get therapy.

I continued to study and practice magic. I also worked on finding a way to deal with the lake spirit. We couldn't have it finding somebody new to find victims for it. By April, I'd figured out a solution. Now usually, taking down a powerful genius loci - for that's what this was - required a lot of power that I, a very inexperienced magic user, didn't have. But that was fine.

I'd done research on the lake, and I found that a few decades back a young woman had drowned. And then the next month, so had another one. It was an unfortunate coincidence, but that's all it was. However, afterward rumors started circulating that there was something that lived in the water that fed on young women. It seemed the story caught on with some of the locals, whose collective belief caused the creation of an unusually malevolent genius loci.

One quiet May afternoon, I went down to the lake. I had, it turned out, a particular knack for magical communication. I sat down at the edge of the dock and reached out with my mind - not to the lake monster, but to the other figures in the legend: the women who'd drowned. I could feel a presence there, faint and dim; they were weak in comparison to the monster. Little wonder, because people's attentions were so often captivated more by monsters than by the people whose lives the monsters had ruined.

Who are you? a presence asked.

You can call me Firebrand, I said. The name was one I'd picked off the cuff because I was told that you shouldn't give your name out to any old spirit, just as a precaution. I have a proposal I'd like to make.

What is it?

The other spirit in this lake, the monster, is powerful because people think of him more than you. But I think it might be possible to change that, and give you the upper hand. And, I hope, you could be guardians. Stop the monster from making deals with anyone.

The response was immediate. Yes.

Now that I had my answer, I just had to get the right people together.

Ronnie was great at writing music and lyrics, so he wrote the song. Layla had the right voice, so it was decided that she'd perform it. Eddie was pretty all right at guitar, once he had a little practice. And Omar was charming and persuasive, so he got everybody booked to perform at the summer festival.

It was a balmy August evening when Layla stepped out in front of the crowd to sing a new legend: the one where three spirit maidens kept the monster bound and chained beneath the waves. Ronnie's music and lyrics were incredibly catchy, and with very little effort the crowd was singing along. The song was liked enough that they went on to record a single, and it got played on local stations.

There weren't any mysterious drownings after that.

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