Chapter 1 of Blood And Stone – An excerpt

For a moment, I saw some comprehension on Terry’s face. He regained his composure and looked to his sister-in-law. “Patricia, you’re going to let a witch near your boy?”

“Get the gender right, Terry,” I said, pulling his attention back to me. “Witch refers to women. Call me a wizard, if you have to call me anything.”

Patricia cleared her throat. Somehow, that decreased the growing testosterone in the vicinity. “If he can save my son,” she said, “—then yes.”

Her voice was rigid as stone. Terry stared up at her, back to me, then to her again. He let me go and moved to join Patricia on the porch.

“If you help James, you’ll get your money.”

I hoped she didn’t see me flinch. Her words carried little warmth. Not that I could blame her. “Let’s get to it then,” I said.

Her home, unlike her voice, was the definition of warm and inviting. On the wall opposite the door were dozens of pictures, mostly of happy customers who boarded and trained their horses here. Terry and Patricia led the way. Off to the right of the entrance was the living room, all wood furniture with matching floral cushions and pillows. Beyond that was the kitchen and dining room. Everything looked well-maintained.

To my left were a set of double doors separating a trophy room and home office. There was a gun cabinet. It looked like the only things kept inside were hunting rifles, but there weren’t any animal heads on the wall.

Patricia led me through the living room and around to the back of the house. A long hallway waited for us, walls lined with family photos. A blonde boy, handsome with a goofy grin, took up most of them. He was strapping in the way only teenage boys can be: built but not overly so, tanned from days in the sun, and thoroughly impressed with himself. Near the start of the hallway I could see pictures of a man I presumed to be his father. He had the same square-jawed, wholesome face and sandy blonde hair.

“How long has he been like this?” I asked, scanning each photo as I passed them.

“Three days,” Patricia answered. “Malcolm tried what he could. Then he said I should call you.”

“Malcolm’s good people,” I said. She nodded but didn’t respond. Terry had taken up a position behind me, glaring as if he had heat vision. “I’m starting to think you don’t like me, Terry.”

“A man of God should be here,” he said, contempt peppering every word. “You don’t belong here.”

I would have been offended if it was the first time I’d heard something like that.

Patricia remained silent and led us to her son’s room. The bedroom was spacious. It was plastered with posters for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. A shelf on the far wall was covered in trophies, most of them for baseball. The right wall held a flat screen TV. A small shelf sat underneath this. It bore two gaming consoles and two dozen or so games. Against the wall next to the door was a computer desk. A laptop sat in the center of the desk, connected to a pair of monitors.

I set my cane against the wall across from the door. Magical items have an ambient energy field that sets off electronics. There was no need to blow out the kid’s systems while trying to help him.

James Masters was laid out on his bed, bound at the wrists and ankles with thick leather belts. Those were tied to each of the four posts of his bed frame. The skin around his restraints was rubbed raw. His breathing was shallow and rapid. The blond hair that seemed so vibrant in his photos was darkened by sweat and matted to his forehead. A rancid combination of body odor and urine assaulted my nostrils. Patricia and Terry, I imagined, had become numb to it.

“You made it, Nico,” a rich baritone said. I turned to see Malcolm Richards walking up behind Terry. He was wearing a sweat-stained white dress shirt, his crucifix hanging over a loosened tie. His tan slacks were wrinkled, probably from sleeping in them. Dark stubble dotted his broad face. Malcolm had friendly eyes, amber brown with yellow highlights around the edges. There was more gray in his brown hair than I remembered. He kept it cut close and clean, but I could tell it hadn’t been washed for a few days.

“Malcolm,” I said, offering my hand. He shook it with half-hearted vigor. “Three days?”

“I thought I could pull it out myself,” he said, his voice somber. “When I couldn’t, I tried to convince them to call you.”

“When was that?”

“After the first day.” He leaned against the doorframe. It looked like it was the only thing holding him up. “Took some convincing.”

I sighed. “Spirit’s got a foothold now. Usual exorcism won’t work.” I walked over to the foot of the bed and looked down at the boy. A wave of nausea came over me as my vision blurred.

Wizards have Vision, which lets them see things outside the normal range of perception. Mostly I see people’s auras, the spiritual energy that surrounds them. The energy also reflects their emotions. My Vision shows me things that are not of this reality, including spirits and ghosts, that kind of stuff.

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