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! This is the last free episode, so join my Patreon at any level—it’s pay-what-you-like—to continue the story. You’ll get access every Friday, days before anyone else.
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 3: Inviting Trouble
When am I going to learn that a promise isn’t so simple as giving my word?
“Did you just bind me to my promise?” Humphrey asked, yanking his hand and shaking it out from the shock Knox had sent through it. Orla’s promise binding hadn’t been painful.
“A promise don’t count for much unless you’re bound to it,” Knox said. “Least I got someone on my side now.”
Humphrey frowned. “I think everyone’s on your side; no one’s against you. We’re allon the same side.”
“That ain’t the way I see it.”
Perhaps this was part of the problem. Perhaps Knox had a black and white way of seeing “him” and “them”, “them” being everyone outside of himself. When he’s in this state of mind, it’s Knox against the world.
Humphrey sighed and finally opened the right drawer with the stationery. The Dark Acts sign was hand drawn in the top right corner. He opened an alabaster agate stationery box, removed the fountain pen, opened the plain inkwell, and dipped his pen. “Tell me what you want to say.”
Knox picked up the map off the floor, now lightly stained with the dirt from his shoe. “I’m not allowed to say the words I wanna say. They been banned from this house.”
Humphrey chuckled. “Come now, let’s write something simple and direct and get it over with. No point spending more time on it than necessary.”
“No greeting,” Knox said, his eyes carefully watching the stationery. “Nothin’ respectful like that. And no flowery writin’. And just put what I say, like I say it.”
“All right, I understand. Go on.”
Knox leaned back against the chair and lifted his eyes to the ceiling, his shoulders slumped forward, limply hanging the map between his spread legs. Even in his posture, Humphrey was starting to more clearly see the side of Knox that came from a gang; the look of a proper gentleman did not come naturally to him.
“Ain’t gonna apologize, so don’t bother skimmin’ this letter for that. Need you jacks to face the Ruin Rats here in Boston. Bowery Boys ain’t nothin’ compared to these hard nuts. Got a reward beyond anything we ever talked about. Come to 129 Beacon Street in Boston for it or else this territory’s gone and so’s the reward. Got an Irishman on my side you wanna meet, plus a few other pards. And got somethin’ else for you jackals too. Expectin’ ya in two days, no less, else ya forfeit the reward.”
Humphrey finished writing and asked, “What’s the reward?”
Knox chuckled low. “Temporary magic’s enough, ain’t it?”
“And what other thing are you going to give them? You mentioned something else at the end.”
Knox paused, turning the map around in his hands without looking at it. “Somethin’ between me ’n’ them.”
That couldn’t be good. I’ll leave that one alone so when Carmichael inevitably asks me if I knew about whatever Knox is planning, I can honestly say no. I’m in enough trouble with my binding promise. “Do you have any kind of signature they’d recognize?” He offered the pen to Knox, who looked down at it as if it carried typhoid.
“No signature—that’s my signature.” Knox looked at the map in his hands, his eyes roaming the page. “P’rhaps since nobody’s down here with us, you could teach me to read a little now.” He sloppily tossed the map onto the desk as Humphrey folded the letter and put it into an envelope. “Diagram oughta be easy. I already know what it says by heart, just can’t read it.”
Humphrey turned it so it was right side up and read a little of what was on it. This wasn’t a map of Boston like he’d assumed when he’d barely given it a glance. One big circle was split into a few equal pieces, various symbols and abbreviations within each one. It was all done by hand, colors differentiating each area from the next. “Who made this?”
“Who ya think? Carmichael and the Grimoire.”
The top read “The Magic Societal Universe: 1847”.
“Is this…is this all the Grimoire societies out there?”
Knox nodded. “There’s more than Grimoire and Lightside societies though. Look at it close. It’s every kind of society and all the known ones. Maybe they’ve got a new one in the Grimoire itself; this one’s three years old.” Knox frowned and leaned forward, pushing around some papers still on the desk and dragging one out. Another diagram, this one from 1849. “What’s he doin’ down here? Comparin’? What’s he doin’ that for? Things are changin’ and he ain’t tellin’ us?”
“Don’t jump to any negative assumptions,” Humphrey said, seeing Knox was quickly getting worked up. “I’m sure there’ll be an explanation. For now, let’s review one of these diagrams and start you on your way to literacy.”
Knox sat back in his chair, but it was obvious he wasn’t focused; his arms were crossed, a deep line forming between his brows. Now might not be the best time.
“Actually…perhaps we’ll try again when things are calmer,” Humphrey suggested. “We could talk to Carmichael instead and—”
“No,” Knox said harshly. “I’m just realizin’ why I gotta learn to read fast. Could be a lotta stuff I don’t know about that nobody’s told me, all ’cause they know I can’t read it.”
Now he was getting paranoid, and all because of his old gang coming back—that was really where all this stemmed from. Or so it seemed.
“Knox, I really don’t think they’d—”
“Let’s get goin’,” Knox insisted.
Humphrey paused, staring at the diagram. The imminent contact with Knox’s old gang seemed to be causing agitation of every kind for him, distrust that hadn’t necessarily been earned. Perhaps by teaching him something, Humphrey could put Knox’s mind at ease that he could absolutely trust at least one person without question.
“All right. Well, let’s start simply. You know the letters for the word ‘write’,” Humphrey started. “Point out each of those letters on this diagram and prove you know them.”
An hour later, Humphrey had learned more about Knox than Knox had about reading.
Apparently, this bulldog of a man always knew more than he let on. That was the rule, not the exception.
Knox had a better handle on the alphabet than he’d said, only needing help naming a couple of letters. He could read them pretty decently on the Societal Universe diagram. The real challenge was explaining to him how to tell what letters were pronounced what way in combination and separately. It helped quite a lot that he already had this diagram memorized; it was the perfect pronunciation study guide.
“Don’t make sense to me why ‘g’ and ‘u’ together don’t mean nothin’; it’s the same sound for ‘guild’ as ‘grimoire’. That’s cabbage-headed,” he’d said, and Humphrey had agreed. It was indeed a bit stupid.
The sound of the library’s heavy door clicking open and then closed was followed by unhurried footsteps directly to their hidden writing nook.
“Tough letter?” Finnegan asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the stone entrance.
“Nah. Here it is, ready.” Knox grabbed the envelope off the desk and handed it to Finnegan.
“Good, I’ll send it right away.” Finnegan took the envelope, flapping it against his opposite hand. He eyed Knox and Humphrey, then looked at the diagram, seeming like he was going to say something. He must have thought better of it, looking down at the letter in his hand instead. “We’ve got some ideas as to how to retrieve Gertrude and some about the temporary magic too. When you’re ready, come in.”
Hurried, confident footsteps stomped across the floor, and Finnegan flattened his lips as if he knew what was coming.
Carmichael poked his head in, his body following soon after. “What are we all doing in here? Is this some sort of conference? Come now, no time to spare.” His eyes caught on the letter Finnegan held. He pointed at it and looked at Knox. “Is that it? Ready?”
Knox nodded without uttering a word.
Carmichael shooed Finnegan with his hands. “Go then, send it off. Hurry! We’re down a Grimoire member, now’s no time to dilly-dally.”
Finnegan pushed himself off the stone, glancing one more time at Knox before he walked away.
Carmichael clapped at Knox and Humphrey. “What does it take to get you rogues moving?” He spotted the diagram on the desk. “I’ll take an educated guess that Knox is the one who caused this disorganization of my organized things.” He bent to pick up a couple of papers that were still on the floor.
Knox stood up in front of him. “You’ve been studyin’ the diagrams.”
Carmichael straightened and looked at the few papers, putting them in some particular order. “Yes, I have been.”
Knox waited, and when Carmichael said nothing more, Knox crossed his arms and said, “And when were you gonna tell us things are changin’?”
Carmichael let out a huff. “When I was sure, not before. I could be wrong, it’s hard to tell.”
“They either match or they don’t.”
Carmichael’s mouth skewed to the side. “It isn’t quite that simple.”
“Then tell me how it’s complicated.” Knox didn’t move a muscle.
Sighing heavily, Carmichael tossed the papers onto the writing desk and then came over. Humphrey backed his chair away from the desk and to the side, watching what Carmichael was doing with the two diagrams on the desk. He pulled out a third from the messy pile: 1848. Placing them in date order, he pointed generally across them.
“Things are moving. Nothing new has generated yet, but the societies are moving around—just a little, but they are. I can’t tell if it means new societies are slowly being created or if it’s something else entirely. I asked the Grimoire, but the answer was silence. Either it doesn’t know or it can’t say.”
Knox studied the diagrams. “What about 1850? This year’s is missin’.”
“The current year’s is always in the Grimoire itself…” It sounded like Carmichael had something else to say.
“There seems to be a space opening up in the Grimoire societies section. Seems to be.”
Knox finally uncrossed his arms. “Over the course of years?”
“I…I don’t know. It’s by the edge of the section, so it’s either that or…a brand-new category starting to emerge.”
Knox’s eyebrows flew up. “One, not two? For balance?”
Carmichael flattened his lips and looked at the ground. “That’s what worries me.”
Knox still wore anger on his face, even with Carmichael’s show of vulnerability. Well, vulnerability for Carmichael.
“At least it’s out in the open now,” Humphrey said. “It’s better to deal with it as a group rather than alone, don’t you think?”
Carmichael’s eyes flicked to Humphrey’s. “I suppose.” Forever stubborn.
Knox pointed an unwavering thick finger at Carmichael. “This is what worries me. You gotta tell me exactlywhat’s happening with the Dead Rabbits. If ya don’t…I’m outta here.”
Humphrey stared at Knox. Surely he couldn’t mean that, he was just upset. Right?
Carmichael gave a puff of a laugh. “Don’t be absurd, Knox. You wouldn’t.” Knox didn’t respond. “We’re not only brothers in the Grimoire, we’re friends.” With further silence, Carmichael’s constant expression of certainty wavered.
Knox took slow steps forward as he said, “You ain’t a friend if ya don’t tell me everything ya know about ’em. And you ain’t nothin’ to me if yer keepin’ secrets about ’em once they’re here, givin’ ’em more to fight with than me.” Knox held unwavering eye contact with Carmichael and stopped so close to him, even the ever-confident taller man, the leader of the group, put one foot back as if he wanted to move away. “Yer filth if ya don’t trust me after all the years I’ve spent provin’ myself to you.” Knox’s hands were tight fists.
Carmichael nodded slowly, his flattened hands moving in a placating motion Knox couldn’t see, they were so close to each other. Softly he said, “It isn’t you I don’t trust. Of course I trust you. I never meant… Perhaps I haven’t been clear at all—that’s my own fault. It isn’t you, it’s your magic. Just that, nothing more.”
Knox tilted his head but didn’t back down. “We’re one and the same. That’s how magic works.”
Carmichael shook his head vigorously. “That’s just it, old chum. You aren’t. Your magic still holds the personality of the man you were when you led the Dead Rabbits. But you have changed for the better.”
Led the Dead Rabbits? Not just a member but a gang leader?
Knox relaxed a little. “How’s that?”
“Because you removed it from yourself at the height of your darkest time,” Carmichael explained, finally taking the step backward he’d clearly been wanting to. “Your magic is still in that darkest hour, but you’vemoved past it. Your magic couldn’t change with you because of your separation from it.”
“So yer sayin’ my magic’s…”
“Tainted by all your worst sins.”
The writing set Humphrey uses to write Knox’s letter is real! Wherever I can, I love using objects, places, and characters that really existed. With the introduction of the Magical Societal Universe diagrams, I was looking to start broadening the magical world in this series. This will be a crucial part of the book and series going forward.
Here it is, the alabaster writing set! Once I included the real French roll-top desk in all its luxurious gorgeousness, I had to use a truly beautiful stationery box, and I managed to find one I thought was perfect for the job.
I was very surprised at how plain the ink bottles and pen were that went with this box, but I stuck with them instead of making them fancy to match the box. I’d prefer to be historically accurate than not, and once I decide to use something like this, I usually feel I need to stick with the details.
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© Christie Stratos 2022