SOUTHWEST NIGHTS BANNER

 

Semiautomatic Sorceress Book 1: Southwest Nights

 

They say diamonds are a girl's best friends but in this case, two black pistols are this girl's best friend.


 

A little vibrating mirror ruined Lyssa’s day. Trouble was coming, and it was barely past noon.

She sighed and set down her pint of strawberry ice cream before pulling out the small pink compact that was her leash as a Sorceress. Some people were so rude when a woman was having a snack.

“I’d thought he’d let me settle in,” she muttered and stood. “He’s been working me like a dog these last six months, even before the move.”

Her living room remained mostly bare, with a modest TV hanging on the wall, a couch, and an IKEA end table. Her feeble decoration was limited to a sad-looking ficus. She’d just moved to this apartment in Scottsdale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.

Outside, rocks and cacti formed her front yard. At least she didn’t need to water the plants.

Lyssa wasn’t like her foster mother, Tricia, who also was a Sorceress. Tricia focused on plant-based sorcery.

“Elder Samuel?” replied a low but calm and reassuring male voice, interrupting her thoughts. “That’s whom you’re referring to?”

The sound came from no direction, though she could hear it clearly. No one but she would be able to hear it, but covering her ears wouldn’t block it. The source of the voice, the spirit Jofi, was sealed in a physical vessel locked in a safe concealed by sorcery, but she could still make his voice out with ease.

“Yes, Samuel.” Lyssa frowned. “He told me he was going to let me settle in. He promised me after that whole hostage rescue thing on Labor Day. I think he’s pissed at me.”

Samuel was an Elder Sorcerer and served as an annoying combination of Lyssa’s boss and the regional governor. He wasn’t the kind of man who stopped by to discuss the latest viral video. Any contact from him meant work. 

“You don’t feel two weeks was enough for settling in?” Jofi asked. “And did you expect to have Labor Day off? I’ve often observed you don’t follow conventional human patterns.”

Lyssa rolled her eyes. “It’s the principle of the thing. He’s the one who promised.”

“You seem settled every time you clean me. I don’t understand why you’re so frustrated with Elder Samuel. Or why you think he’s upset with you.”

“He’s probably still mad about that herbs and spices joke.” Lyssa snickered. “He doesn’t want me to relax. It’s a petty punishment for a hilarious joke.”

“Perhaps teasing him about his resemblance to a fictional character isn’t worth it if it will result in punishment, but I don’t always understand your sense of humor. Please take no offense.”

“I don’t need lessons in what’s funny from you, Jofi.” Lyssa snorted. “You’re a spirit bound to two guns, not a spirit of comedy. Of course, you don’t understand. Trust me, he’s an old man with white hair who walks around in an all-white suit. Jokes about secret herbs and spices are spot-on. It’s like he’s begging for it.”

“His appearance is a product of his regalia,” Jofi replied. “I imagine all Elders would strive toward their maximum ability when conducting official duties.”

Lyssa didn’t want to admit Jofi had a point. A Sorcerer could use their abilities without their special enchanted costumes, their regalia, but only at the cost of significant power. Disguises also cost power. 

“Sure, sure.” Lyssa waved a hand dismissively. The finer points of mocking her boss with fried chicken mascot jokes were wasted on Jofi. She always let his deceptively human voice trick her into forgetting his true nature. “Let’s get the pain over with.”

Lyssa flipped open the compact, ran her finger across the mirror, and murmured the activation incantation in Lemurian. The surface grew cloudy and glowing yellow words appeared, written in the familiar dense, swirling script. Even at thirty years old, her dreams remained haunted by the many childhood hours she’d been forced to spend learning the ancient language.

She was never sure if Samuel used the enchanted compact mirror as an additional security measure or if it reflected his hidebound traditionalism. When she suggested he make it resemble a phone, he’d looked at her like she’d cracked open a portal to the darkest pit of an evil dimension lacking any sanity or goodness.

Samuel could accept a compact mirror, even a pink plastic one. He might not admit it, but facing the realities of modern living should be on the top of the list for every Sorcerer or Sorceress. How could they call themselves the Illuminated if they were afraid of technology?

His security measures wouldn’t remain effective. Ever since the existence of sorcery had become public knowledge five years ago on M-Day, what had once been secrets shared only among the smallest of circles were slowly becoming public knowledge all over the world. That included the otherwise long-forgotten language of the lost continent of Lemuria.

An east Phoenix address appeared in the glass, complete with a ZIP code. Lyssa didn’t have to leave the area. It took a moment for her to translate the rest of the message.

You are engaged as an officially sanctioned Torch of the Illuminated Society. United States Extraordinary Affairs Agency coordination is in progress. Limit activity per Shadow authorities’ desires. This order is for immediate implementation. Only Shadow enemies are anticipated. The contract is Society-bound.

The Sorcerers and Sorceresses of the Illuminated Society loved their titles and labels. They were another way to separate themselves from the vast bulk of humanity. A person wielding sorcery was an Illuminated. A normal human was called a Shadow.  

Lyssa was special in a way. As a Torch, she was akin to Shadow Special Forces operators. She was trained in combat sorcery and given the latitude necessary for the violent suppression of threats as identified by the Society.

Some Illuminated referred to her as an elite, but others claimed her becoming a Torch was inevitable and one step away from nepotism. She came from a long line of Torches, including her parents and her older brother. 

Lyssa stared at the message. The official order jogged a memory. She’d forgotten. How could she have done that?

She’d been distracted by the move. Her parents had died in the line of duty when she was a young girl. She’d come to terms with that, but then her brother vanished when she was a teenager. The fifteenth anniversary of his alleged death was approaching.

The Society insisted he was dead. She refused to believe it. 

Lyssa could never let herself forget. She was the only one left who cared. For now, she needed to concentrate on her job. The best way to honor him until she found him was to become the ultimate Torch.

“A local address and pointing me at the cops to handle some normal people?” Lyssa forced mirth into her tone. Maybe she could fool Jofi. “He couldn’t have called me to tell me? He’s already accepting modern times. It’s not like they had ZIP codes back in the old, glorious days of hidden sorcery.”

“Elder Samuel has his reasons, I’m sure,” Jofi said. “He has many decades of experience.”

“You’re right.” Lyssa stood. “His reason is he’s a fossil. Television didn’t exist when he was born. World War I had just ended. That might not mean a lot to you since you’re ageless, but it does to me.”

“Why? I’m curious. I don’t ask to be obstinate.”

“Because it’s hard to trust fossils to lead us into the new age, Jofi.”

Criminals used phones without getting caught. A Sorcerer should be able to contact a Sorceress without an elaborate arcane item and an ancient language. 

The Illuminated Society had allowed technology to advance too quickly while failing to develop the necessary countermeasures. It was inevitable they would have to emerge from their hidden dens spread around the world. They’d decided it was better to do it on their terms rather than wait for eventual discovery.

Their powers didn’t justify being stuck in the past. Too many things had changed over the millennia, but the Elders and the Tribunal who ruled her kind acted as if all the Illuminated still lived on their lost continent.

Sometimes Lyssa wondered if her people accepted that Lemuria had been lost for ten thousand years. The center of the Society’s power, the hidden island of Last Remnant, had been settled after the fall of Lemuria.

“It’s fine, Jofi.” Lyssa took a deep breath. “I’m annoyed, but I’ll live, and we both could use some exercise. And you’re right, he wouldn’t call out a Torch to mess with me. I hope the job’s useful.”

“Does it matter?” Jofi asked.

“Sure. I might bitch, but I get the warm fuzzies when I save people from gun-toting lunatics.”

Lyssa walked into her bedroom and over to a wall in her closet. She ran her hand over the wall while imagining a series of thick black ropes untwisting. A rectangle faded into existence, appearing shadow-like at first. It soon solidified into a safe door.

Her last line of defense was rather mundane, a keypad lock. She tapped in the combination, humming the tune she’d used as a mnemonic when she memorized the code.

“It’s time to play, Jofi. You ready?”

“I’m always ready.”

Inside the deep, wide safe, two black pistols lay crossed near the side, along with small boxes filled with enchanted rounds and magazines marked with strips of colored tape. A wrapped bundle of black clothes and holsters was piled on the opposite side. A skull-like mask sat on top. The clothes formed her regalia, that of the Night Goddess.

Lyssa yanked off her jeans and shirt and tossed them on the floor before pulling out the dark regalia inside the safe: a long dark coat over black pants, shirt, boots, and gloves. She tugged out a metallic mesh vest and slipped it on before her coat. It wasn’t part of her regalia proper, but she had picked it up from a friend in Vegas.

The regalia offered decent protection, but the more passive armor she wore, the better chance she had of surviving without being dependent on constant sorcery. The dual holster went on before the rest of the clothes.

With concentration, she could change the regalia’s appearance to resemble a normal outfit, though she’d lose some of the physical protection and sorcerous enchantments accompanying its true form. It also helped not to scream “Sorceress” to her own kind. They weren’t all her friends.

There was nothing wrong with the Sorceress and the woman separating themselves when not on the job. Not everyone needed that, but sometimes a person needed to remind herself she wasn’t the Grim Reaper when she spent so much time in a skull mask.

Elaborate raised sigils covered the regalia’s pieces. They were hard to see without close inspection. 

Although the look of the outfit invoked shaped dark leather, that was the product of how the outfit had customized itself when Lyssa had first bound it. The secrets and true nature of the material had vanished with the fall of Lemuria.

Lyssa grabbed the mask and slipped it on. It covered her face entirely, replacing the pretty dark-haired woman with a nightmarish mix of evil biker Goth chick, the Grim Reaper, and Santa Muerte. A thin layer of wispy, twitching shadows outlined her body, darkening and obscuring her features even more. Lyssa Corti was gone. Hecate the Night Goddess had replaced her.

She filled her pockets with magazines before holstering the pistols. Sorcery had its place, but guns cast a death spell all their own. Though, she was cheating with the help of enchanted bullets.

“You doing okay, Jofi?” she asked.

“I’m fine.” 

His voice was louder because his physical form, the two pistols, now lay right next to her body. Having a spirit bound into her guns was another cheat.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Lyssa replied.

A bright yellow Ducati Panigale V4 racing bike was parked inside her garage, ready for her. It wasn’t a motorcycle that allowed a woman to keep a low profile, especially one dressed in such an attention-getting way outside of Mardi Gras, Halloween, or a comic book convention. As much as she loved her bike, working the job meant keeping Hecate and Lyssa separate. 

She mounted her bike and gripped the handlebars, imagining obscuring clouds flowing over it. They appeared and consumed the bike, replacing it with a gray and black chopper, her Dark Mantle disguise. No one on the planet could mistake Hecate’s ride for Lyssa Corti’s Ducati.

She grinned. “Too bad I didn’t end up as the Sun Goddess. That’d make this easier.”

“At times, I wonder if you ended up with the right regalia,” Jofi replied.

“Gee, thanks. I was joking.”

“I know.”

“Sometimes I can’t figure out if you really don’t understand human jokes or if you’re messing with me.” Lyssa shook her head.

She cast another spell, this one requiring more concentration. She layered thin strands of shadow, mentally sewing and weaving, along with a whispered chant. Her bike and body faded from view, becoming insubstantial until only a tiny, thin patch of darkness remained. The dark form flowed through the cracks in the garage, staying close to the ground as it moved toward the street. 

Lyssa hit the road. She couldn’t move as fast as she would have liked since using the thinning spell took more power than most of her techniques, even with the help of her regalia and Jofi. She was grateful she lived in a neighborhood with a lot of trees to provide cover, which was rare in Scottsdale. She needed a hidden tunnel like the one at her old house. 

Once clear of her block, Lyssa ended the thinning spell and returned to her normal size. She kept her wraith form, which made her a full-sized shadow flowing along the side of the road. The bright afternoon sun made her more conspicuous. People would notice her, but they wouldn’t know who she was.

A child playing on the street cocked his head and looked her way. He seemed more curious than afraid.

Lyssa didn’t care about the occasional sighting. She’d traveled all around the county using the wraith form to ensure everyone knew Hecate called Maricopa County home. She’d even spent half-days in Tucson and Flagstaff the previous week to expand her reported range of terror.

Without her full safety spells and rituals being in use, traveling hidden too far along city streets was a good recipe for dying in a wreck. She released her cloak near a corner, popping into existence as she approached the intersection and stopping at the red light.

She didn’t expect any cops to track Hecate down to give her a ticket but giving the locals fewer reasons to dislike her might help her in the future. No cop would ever fully trust a Sorceress with a hidden identity, but her time in San Diego had shown that she could pull them almost all the way with effort. 

An old woman walking along a nearby sidewalk stopped and looked her way, then shrieked and clutched her hands to her chest. “I’m not ready to die! I’ve been doing everything my doctor said to lower my blood pressure. I’ve even been doing the Dance Master DJ Supermix game my grandson gave me for exercise.”

It’d been a while since someone had mistaken Lyssa for Death. This many years after the revelation of sorcery on M-Day, she was always surprised that people didn’t assume anything strange they saw was the result of sorcery. There might not be many of her kind around, but they were talked about and featured on the net and TV.

“I’m not here for you.”

Lyssa’s voice was pitched low and distorted by her mask. Her feminine silhouette was unmistakable in her outfit, but the mask and tone changes added enough questions about her identity to allow her to live in a normal house without reporters or assassins showing up and ruining her strawberry-ice-cream-and-reality-TV time.

“Oh, thank you.” The old woman moaned gratefully. “I promise to keep doing what my doctor says.”

“You do that. And call your grandkids more. Thank your grandson for the game.”

“I will.” The woman nodded, relief spreading on her face.

Lyssa sped toward the address. Samuel’s message had said she needed to head out immediately, but it hadn’t mentioned an expedited arrival. Getting there wouldn’t take long without a spell. With luck, she wouldn’t need to kill anyone.

__________

I think Lyssa enjoys scaring innocent bystanders a little more than she would like to admit. Stay tuned because the next snippet of Semiautomatic Sorceress Book 1: Southwest Nights is coming your way. You can pre-order today, and on March 12th, 2021 your book will be automatically loaded onto your reading device.

 

 

Southwest Nights e-book cover