In magical worlds, people need magical protections.
Excerpt from Chapter 9:The (not so) Wicked Witch:
“Come in and sit Ashraf,” Galina said as she stepped aside to let Ash enter. “I have made tea and vatrushka.” Galina was in a good mood. She was always extremely hospitable to those she allowed to enter her home (apparently it’s an Eastern European thing), but the rumours said that she made the vatrushka with one of the original ancient Slavic Tribal recipes that she had acquired by mysterious means, possibly by being there at the time. You always knew how happy she felt to see you by what deserts you got with your tea. Anything shop bought was not a good sign. Ash followed Galina through the apartment to her parlour. She settled uncomfortably in one of the antique chairs while Galina poured the tea and cut the cake. “You said you are here for some of my protection charms?”
“Yes, I’ve heard they’re some of the best.”
“I’ve heard you’re avoiding the Harlem pack.” Ash sprayed tea on herself. Galina eyes danced with amusement.
“Not avoiding as such,” said Ash. “More trying not to owe too many favours to one person.” Galina’s smile said she wasn’t buying it.
“You know that I do not trade in favours, so what have you brought me?”
“I have brought you news of a necromancer operating in New York,” Ash crossed her fingers and desperately hoped it would be payment enough.
“Interesting,” Galina contemplated the possible value of Ash’s news. “I had heard you were asking about necromancers. Are you sure that is what you have found?”
“I’m about 98% sure,” Ash said with confidence she didn’t have. “I can’t be 100% sure until I confront her about it.” Genuine surprise flashed across Galina’s face.
“You intend to confront the necromancer?”
“Yeah. How else can I make sure she’s not up to something?” Ash suspected she saw approval in Galina’s eyes. Galina’s posture became more formal as she put down her cup and turned fully towards Ash.
“This information is acceptable payment for two protection charms.” Ash had hoped for more but two made a good start.
“What level of protection do these charms provide?” A shark smile flashed across Galina’s face.
“You are not as naïve about the ways of the Community as I was led to believe,” said Galina.
“A few mistakes early on have forced me to educate myself,” the ‘or die’ remained unspoken, but heard by both.
“Good. I have one skin charm that will protect you from injury up to the point of death dealing injuries, and a wearable charm that will protect you from outside influence.” A skin charm! Ash had been told that powerful skin charms were no longer possible. The nature of charms meant that the spells used to power them weakened each time a witch used them to create a new item. Good charm casters constantly experimented with new spells, and spells for skin charms were notoriously tricky to experiment with. The human body is a complex system, adding magic to the mix often makes a recipe for disaster. Not to mention how complicated it got when you factored in the biology of other species. How do you make a skin charm for someone when their skin isn’t always the same? “However if you wish to purchase the skin charm there is a caveat.” Ash ought to have known that she wouldn’t get such a powerful charm for information that Galina would have eventually discovered on her own. “If I give you the skin charm you must provide me with all of the information you have on the necromancer as well as updates as you acquire more information.” That wasn’t as bad as Ash expected.
“The caveat is acceptable,” Ash said. “If you have email I can send you the information I have when I get home.”
“I will write down my address before you leave,” said Galina with a smile. “Now if you’ll follow me.” Galina rose from her seat and Ash followed her through to her workroom. The rest of the apartment looked perfectly normal, except perhaps for the overabundance of antiques, but Galina’s workroom lived up to what you expected from a witch. Bookcases filled with jars of unnameable ingredients, workbenches covered in equipment that looked like it belonged to a mad scientist, mystical symbols and sigils everywhere, and hundreds of old books. Ash caught a glimpse of greenery through the balcony door and turned to look at what appeared to be a full garden. On the 19th floor. She didn’t know how Galina managed it, but she suspected that the door didn’t in fact lead to the balcony, because wherever the garden existed it looked overcast and it was sunny outside. Galina led Ash over to a small, high table with a casting circle inscribed into the top. “Where would you like the sigil for your skin charm to appear?”
“It will be visible?” Ash felt unsure about having a visible skin charm. Her parents would freak out if they saw it, and she wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of the charm leaving an indelible mark on her skin.
“Yes. It is not worth making it invisible,” Galina said with a shrug.
“On my upper arm then I suppose,” Ash rolled up her sleeve and offered Galina her arm. She pulled on it to make Ash’s upper arm lie in the middle of the casting circle.
“This is going to hurt.” Galina said as if pain was simply a side effect of life.
“How much?” Ash started to worry.
“Depends on how much time you have. If you have an hour or two I can tattoo it on. This will hurt less. If you want it straight away I’ll have to carve it in, or brand it on.” Ash appeared horrified by her options, but Galina clearly didn’t mind either way. “I’ll heal it immediately afterwards meaning the pain won’t last long, and it will scar neatly.” As if that made it better. Ash checked her watch to see how much time she had.
“Do you know when sundown is?” Ash asked.
“Sunset is shortly after seven.” Ash looked at her watch again. It was nearly five. If she choose the tattoo option she wouldn’t be able to make it home before meeting with Alex and Daisy. On the other hand she wasn’t too fond of the idea of Galina carving a sigil into her arm, and she wasn’t even going to consider a brand. Ash seriously considered whether or not she even needed a skin charm. Surely even Fae weddings can’t be that bad, and Daisy and Alex would be with her at the meeting tonight. Who was she kidding? Without strong enough protection she wouldn’t even make it to next Friday let alone long enough to worry about the wedding. The full gravity of the situation she found herself tangled in hit her suddenly. What started out as idle curiosity, had snowballed into something she wasn’t sure she could back out of. She needed to do something, but the path she had chosen already looked pretty rocky, and she anticipated thorns before the end of the day. Galina cleared her throat.
“I guess a tattoo,” Ash said as confidently as possible, but they both heard her voice shake. “You may have to wait until tomorrow for the information on the necromancer though.”
“That will be fine,” said Galina with a kind look on her face. “Would you find us some chairs while I gather my equipment.” Ash grabbed some nearby stools while Galina found her tattoo equipment and drew up the template for the charm. To Ash, it looked like a snake nearly formed into a circle with cuneiform patterns instead of scales, surrounded by runes that Ash didn’t recognise. “Do you have a personal sigil?” Galina asked. Ash nodded and drew her sigil on a piece of paper for Galina. She based it on the way she wrote her name in Perso-Arabic script. Galina added it to the template in the gap between the snake’s head and tail. With the template done Galina began mixing up the inks in a massive pestle and mortar. Ash stopped watching after Galina added something that wriggled. “Are you ready?” Galina asked. Ash nodded and put her arm back in the casting circle.