Dragon Bound(3)

By: Thea Harrison


“Gracias,” said the witch, her voice bland.

Pia glanced down at the crystals in the case. They were so bright and lovely, filled with magic and light and color. What would it be like to hold one, to feel the cool, heavy weight of it sitting in her palm as it sang to her of starlight and deep mountain spaces? How would it feel to own one?

The connection snapped as she turned. She looked her own challenge at the other woman. “I can also feel the spells you have both on and in the shop, including the attraction spells on these crystals as well as the one that’s supposed to make your customers relax. I can tell your work is competent enough. I need an oath-binding spell, and I need to walk out of the shop with it today.”

“That is not as easy as it might sound,” said the witch. Long eyelids dropped, shuttering her expression. “This is not a fast-food drive-through.”

“The binding doesn’t have to be fancy,” said Pia. “Look, we both know you’re going to charge more because I need it right away. I still have a lot to do, so can we just please skip this next part where we dance around each other and negotiate? Because, no offense, it’s been a long bad day. I’m tired and not in the mood.”

The witch’s mouth curled. “Certainly,” she said. “Although with a binding, there’s only so much I can do on the spot, and there are some things I won’t do at all. If you need something tailored for a specific purpose, it will take some time. If you’re looking for a dark binding, you’re in the wrong place. I don’t do dark magic.”

Pia shook her head, relieved at the woman’s businesslike attitude. “Nothing too dark, I think,” she said in a rusty voice. “Something with serious consequences, though. It’s got to mean business.”

The witch’s dark eyes shone with a sardonic sparkle. “You mean a kind of ‘I swear I will do such-and-such or my ass will catch fire until the end of time’ type of thing?”

Pia nodded, her mouth twisting. “Yeah. That kind of thing.” “If someone swears an oath of his own free will, the binding falls into the realm of contractual obligation and justice. I can do that. And have, as a matter of fact,” the other woman said. She moved toward the back of her shop. “Follow me.”

Pia’s abused conscience twitched. Unlike the polarized white and black magics, gray magic was supposed to be neutral, but the witch’s kind of ethical parsing never did sit well with her. Like the relaxation spell in the shop, it felt manipulative, devoid of any real moral substance. A great deal of harm could be done under the guise of neutrality.

Which was pretty damn self-righteous of her, wasn’t it, coming fresh as she did from the scene of her crime and desperate to get her hands on that binding spell. The urge to run pumped adrenaline into her veins. Self-preservation kept her anchored in place. Disgusted with herself, she shook her head and followed the witch. Here goes nothing.

She really hoped that wasn’t true.

They concluded business in under an hour. At the witch’s invitation she slipped out the back to avoid more heckling from the protesters. Her backpack had been lightened by a considerable amount of cash, but Pia figured in a life-or-death situation it was money well spent.

“Just one thing,” said the witch. She leaned her curvaceous body in a languid pose against the back doorpost of her shop.

Pia paused and looked back at the other woman.

The witch held her gaze. “If you’re personally involved with the man that is intended for, I’m here to tell you, honey, he isn’t worth it.”

A harsh laugh escaped her. She hefted the backpack higher onto one shoulder. “If only my problems were that simple.”

Something moved under the surface of the other woman’s lovely dark eyes. The shift of thought looked calculating, but that could have been a trick of the late-afternoon light. In the next moment her beautiful face wore an indifferent mask, as if she had already mentally moved on to other things.

“Luck, then, chica,” the witch said. “You need to buy something else, come back anytime.”

Pia swallowed and said past a dry throat, “Thanks.”

The witch shut her door and Pia loped to the end of the block, then moved into the sidewalk traffic.

Pia hadn’t shared her name. After the first rebuff, the witch knew not to ask and she hadn’t offered. She wondered if she had TROUBLE tattooed on her forehead. Or maybe it was in her sweat. Desperation had a certain smell to it.

Her fingers brushed the front pocket of her jeans where she’d slipped the oath binding, wrapped in a plain white handkerchief. A strong magical glow emanated through the distressed denim and made her hand tingle. Maybe after she met with the shithead and concluded their transaction, she could take her first deep breath in days. She supposed she should be grateful the witch hadn’t been more of a shark.

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