Risky Magic

Part One: The Accident

It smelled of cinnamon and smoke. The cinnamon came from the scented candles. The smoke from everything else.

“And the fireball came through that window over there?”

A. Haverford Gibbons, sinewy dark hair thinning by the minute, gestured at a gash in the side of the brick-and-mortar walls of the candle factory wide enough to wrangle cattle through. The minefield of twisted glass knots below suggested that there used to be a window there.

“Yessah. The first fireball, anyway. A couple others came through the roof.” The gruff, overalled factory owner waggled a fat finger at the gaping skylight above, through which a roasting summer sun poured down. “And then the one with the moustache, the Count, he raised Rog, my foreman, from the dead and Rog started disassembling some of the machinery into a weapon.”

“And did Rog do any damage?” Hav asked.

“Not really. He was very polite about it, like he felt all guilty about being a zombie, y’know. Even swept up the spare parts into a trashcan, which was a little hard, cause the fireball had taken his arm, ya see,” the owner pantomimed sweeping with one arm, and then shuffling a dustpan, and then sweeping again. “But then he got hit by a second fireball.”

Haverford—Hav for short—sighed, readjusting the thin, wire-rimmed glasses that hooked his ears. He took precise, clean notes in his pressed black notebook. Precision was important in this job. It was the details that ensured solvency.

He counted the figures internally. This would be expensive. The machinery could be replaced easily enough. But the structural integrity of the building seemed jeopardized. A probing finger tested one of the support beams, which wobbled like gelatin. Both he and the factory owner shared an eyebrows-at-the-roof-of-their-foreheads stare as they waited to see if the wobble would collapse the entire frame.

Death by rubble would at least have been a relief from his financial troubles. They would have to raze the building from the ground and begin anew. And then there was the liability for the zombie. The lucky cremation would cut down on funeral costs, but he had a widow. The whole ordeal would easily burst through the policy ceiling.

“Would you like some coffee?” The owner asked.

Hav nodded. “With a pinch of sugar and a dash of whiskey if you have it.”

The man laughed. “Just the sugar, I think.” He stepped carefully over with a tin cup, brimming with rich brown, smelling faintly of burning. Or maybe that was just the innards of the building, deformed and cooked. Hav hated that smell, couldn’t separate it from the memories that it carried. Why did it always have to be fire?

Archwizard Frizzell Fantastic had only moved to Huddleton six months ago but the damage toll he had racked up had been substantial. Sure, it was nice that the necromancers and warlocks and blood demons that used to occasionally pop up and possess or sacrifice or torture their poor denizens were being rounded up and set ablaze. But did the Archwizard need to level a city block to do it? Was it worth trading the occasional ghoul attack for this constant rain of fire?

And why did they keep having to be his buildings. Why couldn’t the good Archwizard explode a factory insured by the white-heeled toffs over at Zane, Zephyr, and Zotts? Even their slogan was aggravating—We Don’t Sleep at Night, So You Can. But no, it seemed every crime the damned wizard managed to foil happened to be inside of, or adjacent to, or within the vicinity of a property covered by his policies. And Frizzell Fantastic had to set them alight to stop it.

Hav closed his little, black book of figures and sipped the coffee again. It tasted strong and sour, just like he enjoyed it, just like Margery used to make it.