Corrupted Magic is the second book in the Grimoire Society of Dark Acts series, and I’m publishing the first three episodes here on my blog FOR FREE! Each week, I’ll publish a new episode, so stay tuned! If you want access to each episode as it’s published (a week earlier than here) or if you’d like to read the whole book, join my Patreon at any level—it’s pay-what-you-like.
What it’s about:
Grimoire Society of Dark Acts’s hard-won defeat of the brutal Harpe brothers should have been a relief… But through a forced double blood-binding, Gertrude disappears right in front of their eyes. The Ruin Rats, a vicious magical street gang, is out for Dark Acts’s blood. Knox calls on the deadly gang from his past for help, but is the physical cost too high to pay? As if that’s not enough, a new corrupt form of magic is throwing the entire magical universe off balance.
Episode 2: Damage Done
Anne shook her head at Carmichael as he opened his mouth to say something more to Knox, looking like he was ready to argue, but he caught Anne’s motion out of the corner of his eye. His mouth closed slowly. He looked down for a moment before meeting Knox’s eyes again and saying, “Your magic will enable you to disable them. I assure you of that.”
“Good,” Knox grumbled roughly. “That’s all I’m askin’. I’da thought I’d proven myself by now.”
So there is some kind of hesitance on Carmichael’s part because of something that happened in the past…
Anne put her hand on Knox’s shoulder, and his head turned so fast toward her, it was like a dog’s warning before biting. She didn’t flinch. “Let’s focus on contacting the Dead Rabbits for now. I can write the letter to them if you’d like to dictate.” Being that Knox was illiterate, it seemed even his most secret communications would have to be shared with others. That had to be hard.
Seeing Knox pause uncomfortably, Humphrey volunteered. “If you feel more comfortable with a man, I’ll write for you.”
Knox looked at him, and a slight smile pulled at the left corner of his lip. “Yeah.” He gestured toward the door. “Let’s get it over with. Now.”
Anne didn’t seem offended by Knox’s choice. She had probably just wanted to break up the tense conversation between Carmichael and him anyway.
Carmichael turned to the Grimoire on the table. “Perfect. Anne and I will begin formulating our conditional magic. We’ll be crippled by Gertrude’s absence, but I’m sure the Grimoire can guide our rune maven through any basic potions we might need.”
Anne’s face scrunched and she partially turned her head away, her eyes narrowed. Apparently she didn’t agree.
“Perhaps what we discovered in the Harpe brothers’ magical realm—how I was able to use their artifacts—could help us,” Finnegan suggested.
“Where is there stationary I can use?” Humphrey interjected.
Carmichael motioned carelessly behind himself toward the door. “In the library.”
Humphrey left the dining room, Knox following with heavy steps. Climbing the stairs, Humphrey couldn’t help but recall how Knox had nearly been torn apart by the Lightside Society of Truth’s darkened magical realm as he tried to save two helpless children, Finnegan, and Humphrey himself. How could Carmichael doubt a man like that? He had done it without question, and he’d done it particularly when Humphrey—a newcomer, someone Knox didn’t know well at all—had gotten hurt.
I’ll make it a point to talk to Carmichael about this later. His stubborn streak might be showing itself again.
They reached the first floor and made their way into the library through its heavy and ornate door. Humphrey stood inside, looking around, but didn’t see where stationary would be kept.
Silently, Knox moved to the farthest wall, which had a slim row of built-in bookshelves next to a thin window, light streaming in from the bright day outside.
Knox started pulling out seemingly random books, just like Carmichael had done in the alcove where they could access the Vale of Galdur. When he finished and stepped back, the slim area moved backward with the smooth sound of stone on stone, stopping when there was a tight—at least for Humphrey—entryway to a dimly lit room.
“I thought you couldn’t read,” Humphrey said. “You pulled out all those books. They probably spell something, don’t they?”
“Just memorized ’em is all,” Knox said. “But they’re supposed to spell ‘write’.”
“And how is that spelled?”
“So you can spell then.” Humphrey gave him an encouraging smile. “That’s a start for our lessons.”
Knox let out a small puff of air through his nose, his lips tugging up slightly. “You’re tryin’, Humphrey, I’ll give ya that. Guess you’re kinda right, too, even if it is only one word out of a million.” He nodded at the entrance that had just opened.
Humphrey moved toward it and turned sideways to fit himself through, but his small potbelly dragged against the stone. He frowned, trying to suck in as much as possible.
“Tell ya what,” Knox said. “You teach me to read and I’ll help ya get rid of that gut.” He backhanded Humphrey’s stomach a little too hard.
Nobody ever said Knox was delicate with his phrasings or gentle with his hands.
“I’ll take you up on that,” Humphrey said. Finally he made it past the wooden bookcase backed by solid stone.
Inside were more stacks of books scattered around on the floor of the small stone room with no adornments on its walls. A writing desk stood centered along the wall in front of Humphrey, the room lit only by a purple crystal in a sconce on the wall, which brightened the farther they moved into the room.
Humphrey pointed at the crystal. “How—”
“Anne and Gertrude.”
Humphrey still had a lot to discover about magic.
He approached the writing desk, a fancy-looking roll-top with gilt bronze adornments decorating the mahogany wood in various places. The largest golden design glinted in the crystal’s light on the smooth curved wood that hid the writing area of the desk. It was the same design as on the round table in the second parlor where Humphrey had thrown the dice. He winced, remembering how the group had needed to bring him down from his addiction once he’d had another taste of gambling.
Refocusing his mind to stop the heat of embarrassment from running through him at the vivid memory, Humphrey noticed what the biggest gilt design on the roll-top was: six sixes paired off, each pair’s curved lines meeting in the middle, their ovals on the outside, facing each other to form the leaves in a clover-like pattern. Dark Acts’s symbol.
There were five drawers below the writing portion of the desk, around where Humphrey would sit—two that would be on either side of his legs and one that would sit above them. Three drawers topped the roll-top. The whole thing was crowned by a slab of green and white marble.
Humphrey pulled back the simple wooden chair, almost out of place among an ornate desk and a crystal, and sat down, looking at the keyhole on the roll-top. All drawers also needed a key.
“You could just touch it,” Knox said as he sat down in the other simple wooden chair to the desk’s left. “Gertrude enchanted it like the rest of the house; it’ll respond to you.” He pulled out a flat leather-topped wooden pullout from the side of the desk and leaned his elbow on it.
Humphrey put his finger over the keyhole and heard the sound of the mechanism unlocking. He rolled up the cover and was unsurprised to find a mess of everything from maps to letters strewn across the red leather writing surface in no particular order.
“What should I do with all this?”
Knox squinted at it for a moment. “Carmichael’s stuff. Just…” He reached over and swiped the majority of it off to the side and let some of it flutter to the floor. Glancing down at the papers on the floor, he purposely placed his shoe over the map.
“Carmichael has some sort of problem with giving you certain kinds of magic?” Humphrey asked, touching the pad of his finger to different locked drawers inside the roll-top in his search for blank stationary.
“He’s rememberin’ a time years ago and he won’t let go of it.”
When Knox didn’t continue, Humphrey asked, “So you did originally have your own magic? Or you never did and you’ve always used enchanted objects?”
Knox looked down at his lap, and his jaw tightened. “I wasn’t always a good guy, Humphrey.” He paused, and the silence felt physically heavy. “The ceremonial dagger I have…Carmichael and Anne enchanted it, but it’s my magic they enchanted it with. I…asked ’em to remove my magic from me. I didn’t think I could be trusted at the time. So Anne used her magic to remove mine, and now it’s stored in my dagger. I asked Carmichael to attach a price for when I use the dagger and its magic. I was the one who wanted to relive what I’d done as a price for its use; I thought I deserved it.”
Humphrey leaned toward Knox. “You asked them for that? But you suffer so much.”
“I told ’em what I did…it happened before they met me. That’s what Carmichael’s rememberin’. That’s what he’s always gonna remember.” Knox ground his foot into Carmichael’s map on the floor.
Humphrey took a chance. “Does it have to do with Chester? The person you visit in the Vale of Galdur?”
Knox ignored the question. “But now with my ol’ gang comin’ in…” He slouched back in his seat and stared up at the ceiling, then suddenly flicked his gaze to Humphrey as he sat up straight again. “You gotta promise me somethin’. If they get outta hand, if they get too dangerous, you gotta help me put that magic back inside me.”
“I don’t know how to do something like that.” I’d rather know first what Knox did to permanently lose Carmichael’s trust in his magic. It couldn’t have truly been that bad…could it?
“I can tell ya how.”
That was a surprise. Humphrey hadn’t thought Knox would know the finer details of magic, just how to wield weaponry that contained it. He’d certainly never spoken up with all the complex magic the rest of them had done.
“Promise me,” Knox repeated. “I gotta have some kinda assurance that I can take ’em down if they do what I know they’re gonna.” He held out his hand for a gentleman’s shake on it.
Humphrey stared at it for a moment. He had no reason not to trust Knox. In fact, Knox had saved his life more than once. It seemed foolish and insulting not to trust him. Then again, the last promise Humphrey had made had upset Carmichael—the binding promise to Orla. But it had all turned out well anyway.
Humphrey shook Knox’s hand with a tight, warm grip, feeling the other man’s calloused palm against his own softer one. “I promise.” And remembered too late that nothing is ever quite what it seems in this magical world; the bright spark that sent a painful shock through his whole hand told him so.
Humphrey is really good at stepping in it, mostly because he’s still naive, not very good at thinking ahead to what magic might be used on or against him since he only knows so much about it. Dark Acts’s roll-top desk is designed after a real 19th century French Empire roll-top – it exists exactly as I wrote it! It’s on my Pinterest if you’d like to see it, on the Grimoire Society of Dark Acts board. I add inspiration there that includes real 19th century objects, photos, and general inspo. You can follow me there: https://www.pinterest.com/cstratoswrites.
I’ve been dying to put crystals used as light sources in something I wrote, anything! Finally I had the perfect opportunity.
As for the French Empire roll-top desk, here it is:
It’s so stunning!
And obviously you can tell I have a love for hidden areas based on where the access point for the Vale of Galdur is and now where the writing desk is located. Who doesn’t love a good secret room hidden behind a bookshelf? When I was considering where I wanted to put the writing desk, I knew it had to be in the library, but Humphrey would have seen it when he’d been in there before. Voila! The idea of another hidden room. Perfect for hiding secret correspondences from anyone who might visit the house.
Hope you enjoyed this episode! If you’d be so kind, head over to Vella and like this episode—it’s free! Also follow the story—it helps more than you know. https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B0B7GGRRQ7
Let me know if you enjoyed this episode! If you’re not a patron yet, keep up with this weekly serial with my pay-what-you’d-like system. Got $1? Good enough. Join my Patreon!
© Christie Stratos 2022