Clarissa Douglas heard the phone chime from the nightstand and mentally growled in anger. This was ridiculous -- they needed to let her husband have one night's sleep in peace! He'd been called out four times in four days now in the middle of the night. You know your husband is exhausted when he wants you to sleep with him by wrapping your body around his and willing him to sleep.
Now, lying on her back, she rolled over and again put her hand on his shoulder in silent communion. The phone chimed again. Peter said in a clear voice. "Tell them -- I am indisposed. Then hang up." His voice was sodden with sleep, but desperate.
Both of them were Type A personalities; both loathed the idea of letting someone else give excuses for them. They couldn't stand not going out if called. He'd called in once for Clarissa, four years before, when she'd been pregnant. In the end it hadn't helped, but that wasn't from Peter's lack of trying.
Now she struggled over his body and groped for the phone as it chimed a third time.
"Clarissa Douglas," she said evenly. The voice that answered was known, but totally unexpected.
"Clarissa! I'm glad it's you. It's Mac."
He sounded funny, like he'd run to catch the phone himself.
"I know who you are, Mac," she told him dryly.
"Clarissa, it happened again tonight. It's bad, Clarissa, it's really bad."
She sighed. As a scholar-mage she was intrigued by unusual magical phenomenon, in particular the slow, steady mutation of those abilities in people. And there was one area of magic she was fascinated the most, the one that used to be unknown, but only in the last hundred years had rare individuals been able to conjure.
Four weeks before someone had cast what scholars like her called a "Mutandis" spell -- one that altered inanimate objects. The first had been discovered by a shopkeeper who'd come in on a Saturday morning and found his shop a crumpled ruin. Forensics teams determined that it had been reshaped into a minaret, like out of the Arabian Nights.
Two weeks ago, also on a Friday night, an intrusion alarm had been triggered in another commercial structure, this one a furniture store. The spell that defended the building hadn't been much of a spell, and had simply called the Night Watch. When the police arrived on the scene, the building looked like a miniature of a Gothic cathedral.
And now, the third alternate Friday in a row, yet another Mutandis spell.
"Go ahead," she told Mac as she settled back in the bed.
"A Night Watch officer felt a vibration, as he was walking his beat down by the Sixth Street Bridge, along the river. He looked and saw a very large warehouse start trying to change shape again. He called it in, and his sergeant arrived just as the warehouse fought back. It's a custom's warehouse, Clarissa, and they have millions of dollars of insured goods inside. They have a protective spell conjured by Wolford and Kingsley. It's a very strong spell.
"Robin, David and I went to the site ... oh God, Clarissa, I've never seen anything like it in my life."
If Clarissa had wanted to use one word to describe her former mentor James MacDougal, it would have been "unflappable." Now he seemed completely flapped.
"Robin reached out and touched the spell just for a second. She had gotten up to within a hundred yards of the warehouse, David was about ten yards further behind her and I was back at the safe line, a quarter mile away, with the Night Watch officers.
"She called that she thought that the spell was childish, and that she was going to try calming and soothing. It seemed to work at first -- the pace of change slowed dramatically. Then -- Clarissa, oh God! Robin's dead. So is David.
"It was like a petulant child striking out in fury at someone who'd told it 'no.' There was this dark shape that seemed to come out of nowhere. It was a giant hammer and it mashed her flat. David screamed and tried brute force on the spell. It was, if anything, worse. He exploded, Clarissa. He just blew up like a human bomb.
"I lifted my hand to try to ward us at the safe line and ... it took my arm. Like some giant beast of the night. Chomp! And my arm was gone above the elbow. Thank God, the Night Watch was there and a dozen of the city's firefighters by then."
Clarissa swallowed. "Mac..."
"I'm at City General," he reported, his voice back to it's usual self, as if he was telling her the weather. "I called the Executive Councilor for Magic in Capital City and he's going to send a team at once, but they won't be here until first light. Clarissa, it's really bad. Really, really bad. The Wolford and Kingsley spell jerks the warehouse back to the way it was, and the other spell forces it back. The whole area is shaking and vibrating. There were already fires in other buildings when they brought me here.
"The fire captain is reluctant to let his men get near the area -- two of them are here in the hospital with me, and a half dozen of the Night Watch.
"Clarissa, I have no right to ask this of you, but I talked to Inspector Morgan -- you remember him -- he's with the City Watch Headquarters these days. He arrived while they were working on my arm.
"I asked him if he'd accept you as a representative of the Executive for Magic. Please, would you go? Just stay back, stay safe, and see what you can learn?"
"Of course, Mac. You take care, and I'll send you reports, okay?"
"Thank you so much, Clarissa. This is going to be very bad ... please, take extra care. For everyone's sake."
"I will, I promise."
"I have to go into surgery now," Mac told her. "The doctors are insisting."
"Good luck, Mac."
Instead of trying to put the phone back on Peter's nightstand, she sat up and dropped it off on hers. She looked over at her husband fondly. Peter had fallen right back to sleep and was resting peacefully. She walked around their bed and leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. "If Mac had no right to ask me to do this, I have even less right to go out the door without waking you. If I did wake you, you'd either want to come or sit here awake and worrying. There's nothing you can do, my love." She kissed him again and walked over to her dresser.
She opened the bottom drawer and fumbled for the backpack that had been the mainstay of her life for a dozen years. B. P. Before Peter, before pregnancy. There was no point in showering, brushing her hair or teeth, none of that was going to matter shortly. She tossed her nightgown on the bed, settled the backpack on her shoulders and wrote Peter a short note saying she'd been called out.
Nude, she walked to the back door of their house, and changed just outside. Three hundred years before, those such as her had been killed on discovery as an abomination. It was all well and good to say it was a reaction of fearful people in the growing presence of magic.
Werehain was the general term for those like Clarissa, and even now many people were uncomfortable with it. There had been too many legends brought from home, that trip now nearly fifteen hundred years in the past. Legends that had persisted all of that time, and if anything, had grown of late as magic took more and more of a grip on the Kingdom of Man.
The curse, she thought, of books. Books were fascinating things for scholars, but the fact was that they preserved the bad as well as the good.
A few seconds later a German shepherd lightly sprang over the back wall and into the alley. The dark shadow lengthened her stride and began to eat distance.
Twenty-five minutes and four miles later she pulled up a half mile from the Sixth Street Bridge. The fires and activity were visible ahead of her, so she changed back in the shadows, then donned jeans, blouse and sturdy, but soft, boots.
She walked the along the river embankment to the cluster of men there, who only occasionally popped up to look over the top of the stone embankment above the river wall. Off to her right the river was dark in the night, close to a mile wide at this point, but contained within the river wall.
Reaching the group, she recognized Inspector Morgan and went up to him. He looked at her, and then back in the direction she'd come. "Scholar Douglas, you are one lucky woman."
"It about a minute or so, that damn protection spell is going to go off again. Didn't any of my men down that way try to stop you?"
"I saw them," she said looking him in the eye. He knew what she was. "They didn't see me."
"Well, if you're in the area between the warehouse and the river when the spell triggers, you would have gone down. We've sent a sixteen men to the hospital. At first we thought the vibration..."
She could feel the vibration, she could feel all sorts of things around her as the warehouse tried to fight the spell attacking it.
The ground shook violently and she had to stand with her legs spread wide, as if she were on the deck of a ship, or risk losing her balance.
The inspector ignored the shaking of the ground. "We thought the vibration was just causing them to fall and hit their heads. Except we couldn't find anyone who'd stayed standing, and now I hear from the hospital that those men are seriously messed up."
"Messed up in what way?" Clarissa asked.
"The doctors have no idea. Their internal body chemistry is screwed up, and they are suffering from hypothermia..." he shrugged his arms helplessly. "It's a warm and muggy evening, with a steady breeze from the east ... how do you suffer from exposure on an evening like this?"
.... There is more of this story ...