Home > Dark Arts and a Daiquiri (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #2)

Dark Arts and a Daiquiri (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #2)
Author: Annette Marie

Chapter One

“This house,” the landlord declared, “is not haunted.”

Lifting my sunglasses off my eyes, I peered at the sweating man. His baggy shirt stuck to his beer belly and his bald head shone in the afternoon sun. Had I somehow implied I was concerned about paranormal activity? Because I definitely hadn’t asked about any hauntings.

At my dubious look, he realized his mistake.

“There are rumors—I mean, a few people have—that is …” He deflated. “It’s not haunted.”

Uh-huh. I perched my sunglasses on top of my head and surveyed the property. We stood in the backyard of a tired bungalow that wore its recent renovations like a venerable old lady done up in clown makeup. The back fence had been painted white, but the peeling underlayer was already lifting the new coat off. The postage-stamp yard had been sodded with green grass, and a new pergola sat atop cracked patio stones, but a monster-sized spruce dominated the space.

Blowing my bangs off my forehead, I scanned my printout for the rental. “Is this yard shared with the people upstairs?”

“Technically, yes.” He wiped his hands on his baggy gym shorts. “The main level is rented, but they travel a lot.”

“Hmm.” I waited a moment to see if he’d offer up anything else. “Can we go inside?”

“Oh yes!” He waved enthusiastically. “The door’s unlocked. Go ahead and take a look around.”

I glanced at my apartment-hunting wingwoman. Sin scrunched her face, arms folded over her teal sundress, the airy fabric almost the same color as her wavy hair. With a shrug, I headed for the back door and she followed behind me. The landlord, blotting his face with a crumpled tissue, stayed where he was.

Once inside the drab entryway, Sin snorted loudly. “What is with the weirdo count on this outing? The first landlord invited you to move into his house instead of the apartment. The second lady asked seven times if you were a natural redhead. Now this guy? Ugh.”

I started down the stairs to the basement. “You forgot the creeper at the bus stop who tried to snatch your purse.”

“The one you called a swamp donkey?” Sin smirked. “And threatened to shove into traffic?”

“Funny how he decided he didn’t need to take the bus after all.” I stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh, hey. This isn’t half bad.”

The simple open layout showcased a basic kitchen with cheap appliances in one corner, a living room with a fireplace and a long window that let in a surprising amount of light, and imitation-hardwood floors throughout. Excited, I checked out the bathroom, bedroom, and tiny laundry room. Returning to the empty, echoey living room, I spun in a slow circle.

“This is really nice,” I gushed, unconcerned by the lackluster finishes. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, and having spent the last ten months sleeping on my brother’s sofa, I was ready to overlook anything less than holes in the walls.

Which, unfortunately, had been included in all the apartments we’d viewed so far, along with complimentary mold, cockroaches, and suspicious odors. That wasn’t including the batshit crazy landlords. Did normal people not dabble in real estate investment, or did all the well-adjusted landlords have tenants already?

“It’s clean,” Sin observed. “Running water. Heat. Wait, does it have heat? It’s cold in here.”

“Well, it is a basement.” I flapped my printout. “It says all utilities are included in the rent. How sweet is that?”

Sin wrinkled her nose suspiciously. “It’s too cheap. There’s got to be something wrong with it.”

“Maybe there’s a hobo living in the crawlspace.” I pointed at a half-height door tucked in a corner of the living room. “That’s a crawlspace, right?”

We crossed the room and I crouched at the door, Sin leaning over my shoulder. I pulled it open. Inside was nothing but impenetrable darkness.

“Use your phone’s flashlight,” Sin suggested. “There must be a light switch or—”

Chill air whispered over my skin and all the hair on my body stood on end—then arctic wind blasted me in the face.

I recoiled, crashing into Sin’s legs. She landed on her ass as the wind howled out of the crawlspace, whipping dust through the room. My printouts went flying and we scrambled backward on our butts with the papers spiraling toward the ceiling.

The darkness in the crawlspace leaked out from the doorway and pooled on the floor like ink. Shadows writhed and something pale materialized in the threshold—a skeletal woman on her hands and knees, toothless mouth gaping, empty eye sockets dribbling black blood.

I took one look at the moaning specter and screamed like the sissy girl that I am.

Sin let out her own terrified shriek as the ghostly woman dragged herself out of the crawlspace, her long hair trailing on the floor. She stretched a hand toward us, blackened fingers curled like claws, and icy gusts lashed at our faces. Still screaming, Sin grabbed my arm, her fingernails digging into my skin. Sharp pain cut through my panic.

I jammed my hand into my pocket and whipped out my trump card—yes, a literal card.

My trusty Queen of Spades was more than it appeared: a sorcerer’s artifact embedded with a spell that reflected magic. Was there any magic here to rebound? I had no idea. Would it work on a ghost? Also no idea. I wasn’t a sorcerer. I was a crime-of-convenience thief and I had only the vaguest notion how to use the card.

But it was the lone magical defense I had, so I thrust it at the phantom and shouted, “Ori repercutio!”

The air rippled and the gale-force wind reversed direction. It slammed into the woman, flinging her back into the crawlspace. Her head hit the door frame with a whack.

“Ow!” she squeaked.

Sin’s scream cut off. In unison, we launched to our feet. We weren’t screaming anymore, but I for one was even more freaked out. The woman was too solid to be a ghost, but holy freaking shit, that body did not belong to a living being—papery skin clinging to bones, empty sockets for eyes, stringy hair down to her knees.

The ghost woman sprang up, raising her hands like claws. “Begone from this place,” she moaned. “Begooooone … or else!”

I tilted my head toward Sin, not daring to take my eyes off the not-a-ghost. “Hey, Sin. Is that … a vampire?”

“No.” She pulled a handful of vials with colorful liquid contents out of her purse. “Not even close.”

Selecting a bottle, she dropped the others back into her bag and unscrewed the top. A hideous smell like burnt iron singed my nose.

“No!” the woman shrieked—except she didn’t sound like a woman anymore. Her voice was two octaves higher and painfully nasal. “Don’t!”

Sin held out the bottle threateningly. “Show us your real form or I’ll drench you!”

“Noooo! Go away!” The woman stomped her foot. “Stupid humans! This is my house!”

Raising her hand higher, Sin started to tip the bottle.

“Uuuuugh. Fine.” The woman threw her hands up—and her body melted. It lost solidity and shrank, then reformed into something new.

The creature was dark green with skin the waxy texture of pine needles. Even with twigs sprouting off its large head in place of hair, it barely reached my waist, and a mixture of spruce branches and pine cones hid its torso. Thin arms and legs stuck out of the twiggy mess, its hands and feet comically oversized.

Its eyes, narrowed angrily, dominated its face, the crystalline green irises unnaturally bright and entirely lacking pupils—just giant green orbs.

The creature pointed an accusing finger at us. “This is my house! Leave or I’ll turn you into bean sprouts!”

I cleared my throat. “Okay, not a vampire,” I said to Sin. “What is it?”

“This,” Sin replied grimly, “is a faery. Some sort of woodland sprite.”

“Ah. I see.” Faery. Got it. I pursed my lips. How come no one had ever mentioned faeries before? What the hell!

“Why aren’t you listening?” the faery demanded. “I said get out, you stupid mud-slinging apes!”

“Whoa, whoa.” I put my hands on my hips. “What did you just call us?”

“Apes! Dogs! Slimy worms! Hairless monkey fre—”

Sin tilted her reeking bottle and the faery jumped back.

“No! Keep that away from me!”

“If you don’t want me to dump this all over the house,” she threatened, “then show some respect.”

“Respect,” the faery sneered under its breath. “Who would respect talking leaf shitters who can’t even—no no no!”

The faery plastered itself against the wall as Sin advanced with the anti-faery potion. She glanced back at me, scowling. “The rent on this place is probably so cheap because this dingbat has been terrifying all the potential tenants with its The Ring impression.”

Remembering the landlord’s declaration, I shook my head in disbelief. “Not haunted, my ass.”

“Well, it’s an easy fix. We’ll just bring a witch out to exorcise the faery and—”

“Nooo!” the faery shrieked in its grating voice. “This is my house! Mine!”

“It’s a human house!” Sin yelled. “Go back to the forest!”

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