Semiautomatic Sorceress Book 1 : Southwest Nights
It's not as much fun to massacre group of people when you have to worry about government and police interference.
Lyssa pulled up to an army of police surrounding a sprawling two-story house with a huge lawn. Trimmed palm trees surrounded the house. They also ran beside a pool she could see even from the front.
The whole place screamed “expensive.” Maybe the old woman’s doctor lived there, or the man who’d created Dance Master DJ Supermix.
“We’re moving on up in the world, Jofi.” Lyssa grinned. “Every time we do a job lately, it feels like it’s at a more expensive place than the last.”
“Is it better to battle enemies at more expensive places?”
“Beats the dives and gangland scum we mainly fought in San Diego, though people get angrier when you break things at expensive places.”
Cops looked Lyssa’s way as she pulled off to the side. No one made any attempt to stop her as she slowed her bike and wove between their cars. She pitied the poor men having to sit there under the cloudless sky, with the relentless Arizona sun punishing them for their forefathers’ sin of being arrogant enough to build a city in the middle of the desert. Her regalia protected her from the worst of it, but the cops were all sitting out there sweating from both the stress and the heat.
Lyssa sought a particular target. She spotted a handsome, clean-cut, dark-skinned man in a dark suit standing to the side behind some police vans, Agent Damien Riley of the government’s Extraordinary Affairs Agency.
The revelation of sorcery to the public at large had accomplished its least impressive and most easily predicted feat: increasing the size of the government bureaucracy. The American government had had no problem accepting the supernatural. It was just another thing for them to regulate. The poor IRS was still grappling with how to tax certain aspects of sorcery, but the EAA agents manned the frontlines, advising and monitoring the contracted Sorcerers and Sorceresses of the Illuminated Society.
A police lieutenant stood next to Damien, barking orders into a walkie-talkie. He shot an annoyed glance Lyssa’s way.
Damien waved her down as she approached. “You took your sweet time getting here, Hecate.”
“Too many red lights,” she joked. “And frightened old ladies.”
“Do you stop at red lights?” Damien asked.
“Sometimes. It’s not like I can lie and say it was the other Hecate on her shadow bike.”
Lieutenant Lopez’s scowl deepened. Lyssa resisted a constipation joke.
Damien knew her identity, but the treaties that kept the Illuminated Society under control in most countries also ensured the right to privacy to any Sorcerer or Sorceress who didn’t want their identity publicly revealed.
Though, when she thought about it, leaked identities weren’t much of a problem, even in other countries where she might expect it. She had to give the Society’s Elders credit for that. They must have held more leverage than she realized.
“Shouldn’t we get to the task at hand?” Jofi asked.
“Sure,” she whispered. She nodded toward the house. “What’s the situation?”
Damien put his fist to his mouth and coughed. “I think Lieutenant Lopez should handle that. I’m just here to oversee.”
“To make sure I don’t accidentally summon a demon and release him on a golf course?” Lyssa snickered darkly. “You don’t want to see a bunch of golfers running faster than Olympic sprinters?”
Damien frowned at her and folded his arms. She couldn’t help it if the EAA didn’t have much to do other than clean up after the Illuminated. He needed to get over it.
Lieutenant Lopez turned her way, wrinkling his nose like he smelled something awful. “I don’t want you here, Sorceress.” His jaw tightened as he took in her appearance. “Let’s make that clear upfront.”
“And let me make it clear I don’t care much,” Lyssa replied. “I was ordered to come here by my Elder. That means someone contacted the Society and begged them to send a Torch.” She hopped off her bike. “A contract is active, and I’m required to execute it to the best of my ability.” She gestured grandly with both arms. “So I’m here. Trust me, I’d rather be at home.”
Lopez grunted as he looked her up and down. “You’ve got stuff around you. What the hell is that?”
“Shadows and darkness.”
The cop grimaced. “Shadows and darkness?”
“We’re straying from why I’m here. I assume it’s not to scare some partying teens straight. That might be fun, though.”
Lopez muttered something under his breath before clearing his throat and speaking louder. “The mayor’s riding the department’s ass about this. That’s why you’re here, but I don’t want you to think we’re too comfortable with your kind. Remember that when you’re in there doing your hocus pocus.”
“My hocus pocus involves a lot of beatings and shootings, Lieutenant. I just do it better than you can.” Lyssa shook her head. “I’m glad I didn’t waste energy hurrying over here at top speed if you’re going to take this long to explain things. I can go back home, and you can send it by carrier pigeon. I’ll write back a letter with my response and transport it via dogsled.”
She didn’t have time for this. Damien needed to do his job and expedite things.
“You think you’re all that, don’t you, Hecate?” Lopez asked, sneering.
“I think I’m a Torch of the Illuminated Society,” Lyssa replied. “I think I’m Hecate the Night Goddess, controller of darkness sorcery. And I think you should stop wasting my damned time.”
Lopez’s nostrils flared. He glanced at Damien, who shrugged. Nearby cops watched with rapt attention, their attention turned away from the house. It wasn’t every day a skeletal masked Sorceress with dual holsters got in the face of a police lieutenant.
“Okay.” Lopez rubbed the side of his nose. “We’ve got Jorge Alvarez and a lot of his main boys in that house. We weren’t expecting him in town, but we got a tip he slunk back in. He’s got massive balls to come back here.”
“Why weren’t you expecting him?” Lyssa asked.
“Because he pushed too far a couple of days ago.” Lopez inclined his head toward the house. “And the feds have three dead FBI agents that can be pinned to him. The feds will be here soon, but the chief wants this resolved before that, so my captain wants it resolved before that too, which means we’re going to do just that.” He pointed at her. “And that’s where you come in.”
“Let’s take a step back. Jorge Alvarez?” Lyssa shrugged. “Am I supposed to know who that is?”
She did her best to put a face with the name. A local politician, maybe? Familiarizing herself with the area was coming along slowly, but it didn’t matter that much. Samuel was the main one giving her orders, and his area of responsibility was a lot larger than the Phoenix Metro Area. Most of her jobs since becoming a Torch hadn’t been in or even close to her home city.
Lopez scoffed. “The big bad Society Torch doesn’t know the name of a major cartel player? I thought you were supposed to be magical Special Forces? I guess TV adds ten pounds of badass to everyone.”
Lyssa stomped over to the cop, slamming her boots down on the pavement for extra emphasis. He backed away, his hand drifting toward his gun.
“Hey, everyone, just chill.” Damien waved his hands. “We’re all on the same side here. No reason to get rough.”
“Are we?” Lopez asked, his fingers twitching near his gun.
“Don’t antagonize him,” Jofi said. “That will lead to an unpleasant and unnecessary confrontation.”
“He’s antagonizing me,” Lyssa whispered. “I need to let this guy know who’s boss.”
“Your relationship with Elder Samuel is already strained. An altercation with the local Shadow authorities won’t strengthen it.”
“But it might make me feel better.”
Lopez watched her, his jaw tight. If he could hear her, he probably thought she was a nut talking to herself. Like everyone else, including most Sorcerers without spirit sorcery and normal humans, he showed no indication of hearing Jofi. This was one of the few times she wished the spirit were telepathic.
“I’m not a cop, Lieutenant Lopez.” Lyssa raised her voice. “I’m not Special Forces in the military of any country. I’m a Torch of the Illuminated Society. I destroy what I’m hired to destroy on orders from my Elders. I don’t care if you’re having some problem about that, so cut the BS and get to the point. Otherwise, stop wasting my time. Or maybe the feds will show up and decide they’ll handle Alvarez their way. And trust me, if you drew on me, you wouldn’t like how I rearranged your face.”
Lopez licked his lips and inched his hand away from his gun. His eyes darted back and forth as if he were checking for reinforcements. Others watched, but they kept their distance, some looking at the ground as if they’d be safe if they didn’t make eye contact with Lyssa.
“Do we understand each other, Lieutenant?” Lyssa asked.
“Yeah. Alvarez is garbage.” Lopez grunted. “If you can help clean him up, we’ve got no beef. Drug smuggling, murder, trafficking, and I bet the bastard doesn’t pay his light-rail fares, either.” He took a couple of deep breaths and wiped his brow, then pulled out his phone and tapped before holding up a picture of a fierce-looking man with slicked-back hair and an evil gleam in his eyes. “This son-of-a-bitch is cocky enough to murder FBI agents and stroll back home like he had been on vacation.”
Something felt off about the whole situation. The cop was right; ruthless killers were as common as glass, but the kind of criminal who rose to a position of authority in a cartel combined intelligence with ruthlessness.
Alvarez had to know the police would come for him. It was almost as if he wanted a shootout. Maybe he’d come back from his latest trip with some new toys, like a grenade launcher or a machine gun for his best Scarface impression.
“I get it. He’s not a great guy.” Lyssa snapped her head toward the house. “But I’m curious. After your little loving tribute to me, why does this require a Torch instead of a SWAT team?”
Lopez’s constipated look returned. “The mayor wants, in his own words, a better liaison with all you witches and warlocks.” He made air quotes around the word “liaison.” “He says we need to know what you’re capable of, now that we’ve got one local. We know this is a bad dude, so might as well throw you in there and let you turn him into a toad before we pitch him into a six by eight cage.”
“I’m not a witch. I’m a Sorceress, Lieutenant.”
“Isn’t Hecate technically the goddess of witchcraft?” Damien asked.
Lyssa growled at him. He backed away with his hands in front of him and an apologetic look.
“And the night, magic, ghosts, and other things, too,” he added hastily.
Lopez snorted. “Sure, sure. I don’t care. Witch, Sorceress. Whatever.” He gestured at the house. “Go in there and get ‘em, Hermione. Bust them up.”
“Very funny. For a guy who was going to wet himself before, you’re awfully cocky now.” She stepped toward him. “And like Agent Riley said, I’m Hecate.”
Despite her correction, she harbored zero doubts that Lopez didn’t know exactly what he was doing by calling her by a fictional witch’s name. Maintaining a good relationship with her Elder didn’t mean putting up with whatever crap someone wanted to shovel onto her. Lopez was already on her list of people getting a nasty fruitcake for Christmas.
Lopez glared at her, but he didn’t do a great job of concealing his shaking. “I bet you wear that freaky mask because you’re an old hag under there.”
“Not exactly. Would you like to know?” Lyssa snickered. “Maybe I’m a zombie under here. Maybe I’m nothing but a skull, or I’ve got snakes for eyebrows.”
“I’m not an idiot.” Lopez tried to keep the quiver out of his voice.
“Could have fooled me.” She shrugged.
“Now, you listen,” Lopez growled. “I don’t—”
“Hecate,” Damien snapped. “Just let it go. And you, too, Lieutenant. She’s right. The city of Phoenix requested a Torch, and the Society has sent one. Let her do her damned job.”
Lopez ignored Damien and stared at Lyssa. “All your magic’s in those special clothes, right? But not every one of you uses a mask. That’s got to mean more than you say. We can’t trust your kind to tell the truth.”
Lyssa saw no reason to clarify that regalia enhanced rather than supplied the innate sorcery essence of an Illuminated. Essence manifested at puberty and reflected the fundamental nature of their powers, like her darkness sorcery.
The average person didn’t understand that sorcerous abilities all related to that essence. While a trained and clever Sorcerer could do far more with their ability than a person from Shadow society might expect, there were still limits.
A smart Sorcerer worked within their conceptual limits rather than waste effort trying to copy techniques from different essences. No matter what, Lyssa was never going to be tossing fireballs around.
Regalia offered other special powers, usually protection and healing in general, as well as specific abilities, such as Lyssa’s Night Goddess, which enabled her to see in the dark. Each costume was unique and bound to a Sorcerer or Sorceress in a Rite of Passage Initiation ceremony three years after they came into their powers post-puberty. Compatible essences and regalia types informed the theoretical choices. Some regalia wouldn’t bind to a given Illuminated.
It wasn’t as if the Society had been going out of their way to conceal all the details of sorcery, but they also didn’t see a reason to kill every rumor and misunderstanding among Shadow society during the transition between secrecy and openness. Information asymmetry could be a useful weapon.
“Go read a book if you want to know about regalia.” Lyssa pointed at the house. “My orders include paying attention to what you have to say. What level of force should I limit myself to?”
Lopez sucked in a breath before nodding at the house. “It’s not supposed to be a massacre. You might not have to follow the same rules we do, but even if this guy is a total piece of trash, we want him for trial and to roll on the rest of the cartel. Same thing for his lackeys. If we end up with a house full of corpses, that’s only going to set the cartel back a little while. But if we get enough of these guys to spill their guts, the feds can do some serious damage.”
“You should have picked someone else if this is about keeping everyone alive when they’re trying to kill me.” Lyssa shrugged. “Finesse isn’t my forte.”
Damien sighed. “It’s not like there’s a Rent-a-Sorc app, Hecate. No one’s saying you should let yourself get hurt. Just keep it reasonable and give them someone they can interrogate.” He motioned around. “We need to get going on this before it’s too late. Notice what you don’t see?”
Lyssa looked around. “No media?”
Damien pointed at a helicopter overhead. “I could only do so much about the choppers and drones. I’ve been busting my butt to keep them away from here with EAA tricks, but that’s not going to last long. We’d like this over before every teen with a phone shows up to get selfies with the #SemiAutomaticSorceress.”
“Semi-automatic Sorceress?” Lyssa asked. “Did you come up with that yourself? I kind of like it.”
Damien frowned. “Can you clear out the building?”
“Sure.” Lyssa looked at the house. “Distract the idiots in the house in a big way in five minutes. I’ll open the front door when the cops should join me.”
Lyssa headed toward trees on the border of the yard. She’d need the time to strengthen her defenses. Whoever was watching the outside for the cops would have spotted her. She didn’t go out of her way to hide her arrival, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t get inside without them knowing about it.
Five minutes would be good. It was enough time for the criminals to spread the word inside that a Sorceress was coming. She’d get paid and receive credit with the Society for clearing out the house either way.
“Engagements with only hostiles are always easier,” Jofi said.
“You’d think.” Lyssa patted her holsters. “But I don’t know if you’ll get to play today. It’s not supposed to be a ruthless clearance job.”
She could control herself. It wasn’t like she couldn’t, like certain other Torches she knew.
“At least I’m not Aisha,” she muttered, shuddering at the thought of a prodigy Torch she hadn’t seen for months and hopefully wouldn’t see for many more. “Time to be a professional.”
I was hoping they would provoke Lyssa so we could see what she could really do. Don't worry thought tomorrow March 12, Semiautomatic Sorceress: Southwest Nights, will be available to all readers. Until then head over and pre-order it today.