Auckland Allies

By Mike Reeves-McMillan

Fantasy, Thriller

eBook

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514
5 mins

 

I had just finished tattooing around my left nostril and was checking the effect in the monitor when my phone rang.
I started in surprise—just as well I had put the tattoo needle down—and picked up the phone, cursing under my breath. I could have sworn I’d switched it off.
Sure enough, the little plane showed at the top, but the caller ID told me “Sparx”. That explained it.
Sparx was another practitioner—hence the craft name—but his powers ran to electronics. He rented the other office space above the New Age shop, next to my craft studio. We’d referred a few clients to each other. He’d also helped me rig up the camera and monitor that I used to tattoo myself, without asking any questions about why I needed a camera that could pick up ultraviolet.
I suspected he might have a thing for me, which wasn’t mutual. He’s one of those bony, sloppy nerds, and habitually wears wrinkled monochrome clothes, a long black ponytail, a little goatee, and a hangdog expression. As far as I was concerned, Justin Timberlake wouldn’t have had to bring sexy back if Sparx hadn’t taken it away to begin with.
I answered. “What?” I said in a “this better be good” tone, the calm of my working trance shattered.
“Tara,” he said, “You have to get out of there.”
“What?” I said again, questioning this time. “Sparx...”
“Listen to me,” he said. “I just got a tipoff from a client. He was warning me, but it’s really to do with you. Someone’s put out a hit on you.”
“Sparx,” I said, “are you high? I’m a Maker. I’m not political.”
“Look, I know this guy. I’d take the warning seriously. Besides, a lot of people on the upper slopes of the power law graph consider what you and I do political. You know, empowering the little people down in the long tail. I got the impression, in fact, that that might be the problem.”
He had a point. Probably one of my clients had used something I sold them in a way that annoyed someone dangerous, and that had spilled over onto me. Magical politics can get complicated. Or very straightforward, sometimes.
“All right,” I said, “assuming that, for the sake of argument, what are you suggesting I do?” I put the phone on speaker, broke the working circle with my ritual dagger, and started packing away the tattoo kit in its box, my hands working at high speed. I have a “fast hands” spell that enables me to do practiced movements rapidly without losing accuracy, and I use it all the time.
“Your studio isn’t defensible,” he said.
“How do you know?”
“Business premises. Same as mine. Can’t ward it strongly enough to keep out the kind of mage they’ll send. You need to be in a home.”
“My sister has been saying that for years.” I’d worn a silk robe for my ritual, one I’d had a clothmage friend embroider to my design, but now I stripped it off and hurried into my usual daywear: jeans, cobalt-blue long-sleeved T-shirt, flat-soled martial arts shoes. I slipped the dagger into its soft leather sheath and tucked into the back of my belt. My jacket would hide it. A decorated clip already held back my shoulder-length dark-blonde hair. It helped with the fast hands spell.
I kept talking as I dressed. “Thanks for the warning, Sparx. I owe you one.”
“Wait,” he said. “My place is closer than yours.”
“Sparx,” I began.
“No, listen, there’s no time to argue. Grab what you can’t do without and meet me outside.”
I glanced around, hooked a couple of amulets off a display stand, shrugged into my jacket, undid the do-not-disturb spell on my studio door and flung it open.
Sparx stood outside, wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. When he saw me, he did something to his watch, I assumed hanging up the phone. He’s the kind of guy who’s had a smartwatch since before they were cool (and looks down his nose at these new Apple ones). As we hurried down the old wooden staircase, he pulled on a pair of tan leather fingerless gloves with circuitry worked into them and metal bracelets that locked around the wrist end.
I shot him an inquiring look as I tossed him an etched stone amulet, which he slipped over his head without more than a brief glance. Sparx knows my stuff. These would protect us from one direct magical attack, maybe two, depending on the practitioner.
“Tasers, sort of,” he said, waggling his gloved hands, and I nodded.
“You’re prepared for something like this?”
“Not as prepared as I’d like, but I knew it might happen someday.”
I nodded. The thing about magic is that it attracts people who like power. They’re not always nice people.
Kat waved to us through the window. Speaking of nice people, I thought. Kat’s the fluffy little hippy who keeps the New Age shop. I put up with her vague earnestness because she’s my best source of referral business, and because it would take a lot of effort to dislike someone like Kat. I definitely didn’t want anyone breaking up her shop because of me.
I’m not sure she believes in insurance, for one thing.
I led Sparx around the back to the alley where I parked Maria, my classic Vespa. I had restored her myself, working certain designs into her in the process, under the azzuro chiaro paint job, and she ran better than when she came out of the factory. I scowled at Sparx when he gave her a sceptical look. Sparx took the bus to work, but I wasn’t going to endanger innocents by getting on a bus, and we couldn’t wait in any case.
“Shut up,” I said, “and get on.” I pulled on a pair of light gloves over my pale, burnable Irish skin, despite the overcast winter sky. It was one of those Auckland days where the light is grey and headache-inducing. Still lots of ultraviolet coming through the hole in the ozone layer.
“The horn,” he said. “It has a rubber bulb.”
“Yep. No electronics anywhere on her.” I unlocked the seat and pulled on my helmet, the black one covered in gold Celtic designs. It would protect my head from anything short of direct artillery fire, though unfortunately it wouldn’t do the same for the rest of me. I passed him the white helmet with the daisies. He gave me one of his woeful looks, but put it on.
“Why is no electronics a good thing?”
“Because there are people like you.”
“Nobody is like me. I stand alone.”
I snorted, and swung myself onto the seat. “You will if you don’t get on the scooter,” I said, and started it as he climbed hurriedly on behind me. “Watch where you put your hands.”
As we puttered onto the road, Sparx said, “Those martial arts shoes.”
“What about them?”
“Do you actually do martial arts?”
“Tai chi,” I said. He sighed, and I gunned the engine, insofar as you can gun the engine of a forty-year-old 125cc Vespa.

We didn’t take the most obvious route to Sparx’s place, but there was a street we had to use or go ten minutes out of our way, and I decided to risk it. I did activate my tattoos, though.
Nobody knew about the tattoos, not even Sparx. They were an idea of my own, and so far it was working out. Starting on my hands with Celtic spirals, a pattern of knotwork ran up both arms and across my shoulders, then up my neck, where it branched to loop around my ears, eyes, and—as of that morning—left nostril. All in ultraviolet ink, but I knew where they were, and they united the magic in several different parts of my body, meaning I could shift it to where it was most needed. I don’t have much magical whammy (that’s a technical term), not compared to some, but I make up for it with skill and hard work. It’s amazing how much you can do with a small amount of power, well directed.
Right now, my mediocre talent was focused into my eyes, watching out for signs of other people working magic.
Two nondescript men in button-up black shirts, black jerseys and black trousers stood opposite each other on the sides of the road, just as it passed a small block of shops. I wouldn’t have given them a second glance—they didn’t have any magic showing—but something about the way they looked at me and then each other, and their similar clothing, roused my suspicions. I slowed Maria, narrowing my eyes, just as they pulled a clothesline taut across the road at the height of my chest.
I slammed on the brakes and turned into the skid, aiming for the man on the left, whose eyes widened. Sparx clutched at my waist and made an inarticulate noise. I shoved him off me as we screeched to a stop, my right shoulder pressed against the still-taut line.
“Get the other one,” I yelled, and headed for the left-hand man, drawing my ritual dagger from behind my back where Sparx had been crushing the handle into my right kidney. The man let go of the rope and took to his heels. Even at Maria’s speed, that clothesline stunt could have killed us both, and I was seriously vexed. I gave chase.
Most people, apparently including Sparx, think of tai chi as a gentle exercise to help Grandma improve her balance, so she doesn’t break a hip tripping over the cat. What they don’t realise is that it’s basically kung fu slowed right down.
I sped it up again.
With the help of my tattoos, I poured enough power into my ritual dagger to make it, for about a second, a tai chi sword.
A second was enough. I could have killed the guy, but apart from the ethical and legal issues around that, it would have tainted my dagger, and I didn’t have a week to spare to make another. I struck him with the magical part of the blade, and chose a nerve plexus rather than, say, his heart. He went down in a twitching heap, and I spun round.
Another twitching heap across the road was our other attacker. Sparx, with a self-satisfied look, was changing batteries on his taser gloves.
“Come on,” I said, and we piled back on Maria and roared off before anyone could come out to investigate the ruckus.



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