The First 1000 Words of Spell Caster by Clara Coulson

Check out the first 1000 words of my new urban fantasy novel, Spell Caster!


The magic circle ignites with a violet flare that casts a harsh glow across the bare concrete walls. The intricate webbing of symbols around the circle’s perimeter begins to pulsate, bright to dim, dim to bright, as the activation words flow off my tongue, pinging each of the symbols one at a time as if I’m striking keys on a piano in a quick, precise cadence. Halfway through this process, known as sigil winding, the object in the middle of the circle is enveloped by a violet haze. As I’m closing in on the last few strings of tongue-twisting words, the object begins to noticeably change form, growing denser, juicier, more delicious looking.

Finally, I reach the last sentence, a long, complex closing sequence that bridges the gap between the starting and ending symbols. I raise the pitch of my voice to finish on a high note, urge the energy arcing from my outstretched hands to the grounding points of the circle to “close the circuit” of the spell. I speed through the last few syllables, mood lightening as I see victory on the horizon, and just as the final gasp of completion rolls off my tongue…

The hamburger catches fire and burns to a crisp.

Then the sprinkler in the ceiling comes on and drenches the room. Again.

“Goddammit!”

I stomp over to the pipe bolted to the wall and turn the lever that shuts off the sprinkler. Wiping water from my face and ignoring my heavy, damp clothes, I slink to the circle drawn on the floor in rapidly disintegrating chalk lines, searching for the place where I messed up. Because it wasn’t the words this time. After sixty-five repetitions of this spell over the last four days, even I can’t get the words wrong. No, I must’ve written one of the symbols incorrectly, or smudged something as I was drawing and damaged a vital piece of the temperature regulation element.

The symbols unfortunately fade to white smears before I can find the problem though, so I’m left scowling and crossing my arms, like indignation will make anything better. Until I run out of steam and just stand there, gazing sadly at my poor burned burger, now a soggy, charred disk that can’t even be called meat.

Oh man. I was planning to eat that for lunch.

Sighing, I backtrack toward the front of the room, where the single sprinkler doesn’t quite reach, and retrieve the towel I keep on hand from my duffle bag. This is the eighteenth time in the last three weeks, since I started practicing magic, that I’ve set the sprinkler off. When Riker had the thing installed, I’d laughed at him and told him I wasn’t going to burn the building down, that an extinguisher would do instead. He’d slapped me with his trademark death glare and told me he wanted to make extra sure I couldn’t possibly in a thousand years burn up his shiny new DSI fortress. And I was going to accept the sprinkler like a good little minion.

I’d accepted it with a pout.

And now Riker is laughing at me from his fancy commissioner office.

Because clearly, I am a walking fire hazard, and—

The door to the storage room swings open, letting bright hallway light into the dimmer space. Desmond and Amy are in the hall, and they both grin when they see me scrubbing my wet hair with the towel. Amy steps into the room and gets a load of the puddle on the floor, along with the black hunk of cow meat that I really wanted to slather in hot cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and ketchup. At the horrid smell of smoke mixed with dank water, she scrunches her nose and says, “What the hell were you trying to do? Make a stink bomb?”

“I was trying to cook a hamburger. Medium,” I admit.

Amy stares at the remains of the burger for a few seconds. “I think you missed medium by about three thousand degrees.”

“I noticed.”

“What happened this time, Calvin?” Desmond asks. “Another construction error?”

I retrieve the spell book from my bag and open it to the bookmarked page to review the circle design. “Must’ve been. But I don’t exactly know what yet. I guess I’ll reset and try again.”

“I don’t get it.” Amy rubs her boot across a lingering chalk line, wiping it out of existence. “You shot a lightning bolt at that vampire bitch and made it look easy. Why is this so much harder?”

“Because indirect magic is a precise art.” I raise my right hand and flex the muscles a couple times—the scars have been gradually healing over the past few weeks, but there’s still a ways to go before the internal damage is well and truly fixed—and then snap my fingers. A small violet spark leaps from my fingertips, and a bright yellow flame grows from it like a flower from a bud. The flame is about the size of a baseball, rippling with the currents of air blowing from the vent in the ceiling. “This here is direct magic. Comes right from the source. Immediately makes things happen. But it’s pretty imprecise, and extremely limited in some ways. Indirect magic is where the real ‘science of magic’ comes into play.”

“That means using circles and mediums, I suppose?” Desmond says.

“Right. You use magic circles and physical objects to focus energy in more nuanced ways so you can perform complicated, multistep processes. Like cooking food to exact temperatures in a matter of seconds.” I let the flame dissipate by cutting off the flow of magic exiting through my fingers, and the hum of power that always wells up under my skin when I draw my energy from within my soul fades to a faint tingle. “As you have no doubt learned from my numerous failed experiments these past few weeks, indirect magic is, in fact, as complicated as rocket science.”

“Not an excuse.” Amy returns to the door. “You got good grades in school. You even graduated from high school early. If you can get into Stanford, you can cook a damn hamburger using your magic juice.”

“I mean, I agree with you.” I stuff the book back into the duffle bag and sling the wet towel over my shoulder. “But it’s going to take a lot more trial and error before I start getting most of this stuff right. It’s like learning how to draw realism and do theoretical calculus at the same time.”

“I guess we now know why regular practitioners spend so many years in their apprenticeships.” Desmond steps away from the door, farther into the hall. “I wish we could get a teacher for you.”

“You and me both.” I zip the duffle bag closed and pick it up by the strap. “So, I’m guessing you guys didn’t show up for a social visit, since it’s still technically my ‘desk hours.’ What is it, eleven thirty?”

“There about.” Desmond gestures for me to follow him. “And yes, we have a case. Ella would like you on it, since you’ve mostly been doing auxiliary-level work for the past few weeks. When you aren’t down here, learning magic in a closet.”

“Ha!” Amy saunters out of the room. “Ella just wants you to move up from training wheels to a kiddie bike with one speed. Nothing major. We caught a pretty standard-looking murder. One body. Various gruesome injuries. No obvious signs of a break-in. First team on the scene says it looks like a practitioner’s work, maybe a nasty curse cast from a distance. Victim’s a total normie. No obvious connections to the supernatural.”

“So maybe a personal dispute?” I step out into the hall and follow the duo to the elevator. “An actual crime that isn’t entwined in a world-shaking conspiracy?”

“Looks like.” Desmond taps the up button on the elevator pad, then cocks an eyebrow at me. “You should perhaps not look so cheery about the situation when we interview the family, Calvin.”

“Oh, sorry.” My shoulders shake as I try to hold in a laugh. “Am I smiling?”

“Yeah,” Amy says as the elevator doors roll open, “about a murder. Like a weirdo.”

“Sue me.”

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