It’s a god damn shame, though Karl Spangler as he watched his partner of three years pace like a hostile beast in a cage, that I’m not Norvita’s type. She is stupidly hot when she’s mad. It makes a man want to do bad things to get that kind of attention from her. Her jewel encrusted hands gripped tightly on her firm sculpted hips just above the belt line of her low rise jeans. He watched enviously as her fingers pressed into warm brown skin. Her full pillowy and liquored lips pursed into a pouted scowl that smeared her blackberry colored lipstick just a little under her lower lip. She threw her head back shaking out her shiny black hair as her arched spine pushing her perfect breasts out making them look larger than they were. However, the sexiest thing about an angry Norvita Patel was her eyes. When she was mad her rich Harrapan eyes danced like Kali in the fire light of a funeral pyre. She can make the blood rush downward when her eyes sparked with malice. No wonder she and Carson fought all the time. Even I want to throw something at her when she’s this angry just to see if she’d rip me apart and…
Oh no, can she hear me think this?
“I don’t understand what is wrong with you idiots!” Yelled Norvita Patel with a distinct New England accent that ripped apart ear drums with piercing staccatos and made your heart beat that much faster. Their perpetrators huddled together in terror of the ninety pound girl.
At least Karl was safe.
Karl ran his weather beaten fingers over the stained, old and dog-eared copy of Mages and Monsters. This series of role play books were very popular in Gaiman Heights. This is largely due to is simplified combat system and it’s compatibility with other books put out by the same publisher which included Forever Midnight and Hymn of the Lesser Gods. It was also published by a local company which was a great source of pride for the geek community. Karl never quite understood the appeal of tabletop role play games. What was so wrong with a simple board game? Why did things have to have to be complicated with math and dice? Did people need to slip out of their human skin and into a shape of imagination? He didn’t see the point in disappearing into another world with wizards and monsters. Real life, he thought, is so weird that disappearing into a fantasy world of monsters and magic didn’t seem like much of an escape. Karl had been thrown into the unseen world against his own devices. If he could escape it, it would not be to the land of ten sided dice.
It’s why he preferred P.D. James to Anne MacCaffery.
Karl and Norvita had worked the domestic unit of the Normalization Enforcement Squad of the Department of the Arcane for the last three years. Before that, Karl had been a detective with the Gaiman Heights Police Department. He came under the employ of the Department of the Arcane after the incident in the West Hills District of Gaiman Heights. The Incident cost Karl his gold shield and almost his life. I’d go into more detail but that’s a story for another time and probably another book.
Norvita didn’t have a colorful back story like Karl’s. Hers was more simple and typical ---she was your average psychic from Gaiman Heights. Norvita was a third generation psychic having inherited the gift from her father. Her father had, in turn, inherited the gift from his father, the Legendary Swami Patel. Norvita put her hands on her temples as her eyes flickered with pain.
“I can feel something that was big, hungry, and super magical escaped from here.” Her legs shifted their weight viciously. “Fess up geniuses.”
Karl looked up from his inspection of the role play tomes to watch Norvita’s ham fisted interrogation of their suspects. She had far too much fun reveling in the terror of her quarry. Karl’s face turned to a sick flat expression as his fingers danced over the oldest book in the pile. The feel of the soft tanned leather was all too familiar to his practiced fingers as he picked up the book.
You know you’ve been doing the job too long when you can recognize human leather by touch.
This situation was getting old fast for Karl to the point of being boring. Every Thursday for the last year the magic sensors at the Department of the Arcane went off. That meant a potential exposure of magic to mundane world could have occurred which is a major problem for the Department of the Arcane. Exposure of magic is the leading cause of unveiling, to become aware of the supernatural world, of a mundane person. Every time this had happened during the meeting of the Seventh Street Guild who were more than likely doing something foolish.
Norvita was getting more agitated the longer they stayed with them. Karl watched her as his jaw went slack. She slowly paced again as her shoulder blades rose and fell like a predatory cat. On days like these Karl felt like he was back in his beat cop days busting up illegal gambling games. Between the psychic partner and the Seventh Street Guild, he almost missed those days. He held up the human leather bound book up to eye level.
“You boys need to explain to me why there is an Assyrian Grimoire among the Mages and Monsters books.” Said Karl in his slow farmer’s draw. He wasn’t from Indiana but he did sound like it.
Karl rubbed his eyes. He felt tired like Richard Decker from Blade Runner. The leader of the Seventh Street Guild lowered the hood of his Guild Cloak. He stared at them through thick glasses that he pushed back onto the bridge of his nose. Norvita cringed at his sheepish grin.
“It’s not a grimoire?” Said the Guild Master.
“Then the book bound in human skin and sown with hair is what?” Karl flashed a steely glare over the rims of his bifocals that could have stopped a bus.
“T-T-Tuesdays with Morrie?” Stuttered the guild member wearing the striped shirt and Viking helmet.
Norvita turned her head to one side resting her chin on her shoulder. She stared at Karl out of the corner of her eye. When Norvita felt frustrated from a situation, she often broadcasted her feelings on a low telepathic level. She was never terribly aware that she was doing it. To people who didn’t spend time with Norvita, like the Guild, this was often dismissed as a mild skin irritation and watery eyes. Karl, on the other hand, having spent more time with Norvita was more perceptible. Paired with his own agitation, her broadcasting left Karl with his skin pricking with irritation. His fingers curled into a tight fist. She turned back to the Guild.
“Karl,” His named rattled around in his brain like a striking diamondback. Her voice dropped three octaves behind a telepathic hiss ripping at Karl’s skin. The room grew darker as a storm rolled into the room. “Let me hurt them.”
Karl weighed his options. There was a chance that Norvita was bluffing. However her voice had dropped to the Dune register. That was fantastic evidence in the opposite direction. This didn’t end well.
“No, Norvita.” Karl said reluctantly. He hated playing good cop to a nineteen-year-old bipolar psychic. This did nothing for his confidence. “But if people don’t start talking to me, I will be unleashing her on them.”
“And I will be starting with…” She lazily lifted her finger and pointed at them. She slowly moved it between the group of roleplayers. She stopped on the shortest one in the Guild. She liked his wig. “You.”
The shortest one looked at her finger. His lower lip quivered and his knees shook. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. Karl was amused and strangely aroused by the amount of terror commanded by Norvita.
“It was Sam’s idea!” Blurted out the shortest one in a fit of terror.
“Way to go, Timmy!” Yelled Sam defensively as his felt armor jiggled.
“Boys!” Karl raised his voice half a decibel. Karl never yelled. He was the father of two and knew that yelling had never, ever, yielded correct results. It never worked to quiet a group of people. The guild immediately hushed up. “What happened?”
“Well,” Said the Guild Master picking at a pizza roll stain on the front of a T-shirt that had the logo of a popular super hero franchise. “The party approached the cave lair of Frente the black wizard. After doing a spot check, they heard enchanting lute music. The half orc fighter rolled investigate and then poke the bush where he thought that the music came from. He then hit the bush with a stick.”
“Which I still dispute.” Said the half orc fighter. “I have a plus six in investigation, Trevor.”
“And a two in intelligence, Darren.” Said Trevor the Guild Master. “You don’t have the wherewithal to use the scientific method. So, he provoked the manticore at the mouth of the cave.”
“Manticores don’t guard caves.” Said Karl after searching the wealth of his knowledge about the occult and the mythical world that resided in his brain. It was a helpful tool in his day to day job but made him a bore at dinner parties.
“That’s what I said!” Yelled Sam.
“And I told you, stately paladin, that the manticore wasn’t guarding the cave. He was living in the woods around cave after making a pact with the wizard to eat wayward travelers.”
“And I said that made less sense.” Said the guild member with the guitar. “Manticores are aligned lawful evil. By your admission, Frente is chaotic evil. Why would that type of evil align with the other?”
“Which would you prefer?” Asked Trevor. “An engaging story or some story that is so caught up in its own rules that it chokes your creativity?”
“Creativity is fine,” Retorted Sam. “But you aren’t being creative. You just throw out random monsters because you can. Trevor, you do this every week!”
“Nerds!” Norvita called out piercing their cerebellums on an esoteric level. Everyone got very quiet for one minute. “This doesn’t explain why there is major structural damage to a colonial style home or why I just got a big whiff of fairy dust. Fess up, someone has been doing some unsanctioned magic.”
“Well, the party made a successful saving roll to resist the seductive call of the manticore.” Continued Trevor the Guild Master. “So they decided to attack the beast. We rolled for attack order and the bard was up first. Since Zach rolled the bard, we all know what happened next.”
“Oh, die in a fire, mage!” Yelled Zach as spit flew off his lips. The expression is an old insult used in mage circles. Karl never understood why that was the highest form of mage insult. Sure, dying in a fire was bad but there were worse things to wish on someone.
“What happened?” Karl asked again impatiently.
“I rolled a one.” Zach said meekly. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
Norvita quirked a perfectly shaped eyebrow in confusion. For a moment the irritation ceased. Karl unclenched his fists as he calmed down.
“Karl,” She whispered. “What does that mean?”
“In a standard table top role play game a botched roll is a one.” For someone who didn’t like role play games, he knew a great deal about them. That’s a little inconsistent and hypocritical of him or bad story telling. Since, I don’t want to take the blame for it; I’m going to blame it on Karl. “In a combat roll, it’s considered an epic fail. Not only did Zach fail but he failed tremendously.”
“Boltair the Sage Bard of Willshire tried to lull the manticore into slumber. Instead, the manticore heard a battle cry calling his mother a hippogriff.” Said Trevor the Guild Master. “The manticore was not only threatened but also insulted. So, it impaled Boltair with its scorpion like tail thus leaving him alive but in an extreme amount of pain. The manticore then swished its tail throwing the bard like a rag doll. Then, it released the bard from its tail and violated Boltair with the tail, giving the party ample time to enter the cave.”
Trevor sighed sadly.
“That’s when the argument started.” He continued.
“About the tail rape?” Asked Norvita in blind confusion.
“No!” Said the Guild in perfect five part harmony. Karl and Norvita looked at each other bracing for the explanation.
“From where I was standing the manticore tail couldn’t have hit me.” Responded Zach.
“The manticore has a plus three in range.” Interrupted Trevor the Guild Master. “It could have!”
“No Trevor, it could not!” Retorted Zach. “The creature books say that it has a strike of two and a range of three. That isn’t the same.”
“Nerds!” Yelled Norvita sensing the thought train derailing again. People got very, very quiet yet again. “Do I need to take my shirt off and bounce up and down to get you jack wagons to focus on what happened?”
“Don’t push it.” Said Karl preventing any would be shenanigans. “Her boyfriend is a vampire. You see as much as a side boob, he’ll rip out your throats.”
Trevor the Guild Master heaved a sigh of dejection at being denied the chance to see a topless girl.
“In an effort to settle this dispute,” Said Trevor. “We called forth the manticore from the Void. When it arrived it freaked out and ran off.”
“You summoned a merciless killing machine from the Void to settle a dispute on graph paper and then lost it.” Karl summarized. I guess you didn’t need to read those last few pages. I hope you did though. I worked very hard on them. “Did you even have a plan for containment this time?”
“We had a plan.” Said Sam hotly.
Karl looked over his glasses at him. He folded his arms across his chest. Sam fidgeted as intimidation emanating from Karl overtook him.
“Timmy was supposed to put the binding collar on it. Instead, he wet his jorts.”
“I got scared!” Yelled Timmy quickly in his defense. This wasn’t the first time that Timmy had lost a creature and probably wouldn’t be the last time either. With that kind of track record, you would think by now they would be more cautious on who they let do the binding. “I was like “OMG! A MANTICORE! WTF!” and I panicked.”
“And that led to the manticore escaping?” Norvita let out a low growl. “Karl, let me at them.”
Karl let out an exasperated sigh. Juggling Norvita and her mood swings was one thing but plying homeroom monitor to these idiots was taxing for the former lawman. He should let Norvita rip them apart. It would save everyone a headache. However, if he did that, they would be in violation of the pre-emptive clause in their contracts. This was outlined in the employee handbook given to every new employee of the Department of the Arcane. The new employees receipt this book by signing an agreement to the terms and conditions for employment. I only mention this contract because the signing of this contract is in blood and has led to the strict enforcement of the code of conduct. So while it would be amusing and satisfying to watch Norvita reduce the Seventh Street Guild to the mental equivalent of giblet gravy, it would lead to their immediate termination from the Department of the Arcane. Literally, the earth would open up and swallow them both whole. Karl decided that he didn’t want to spend eternity frozen in the Abyss.
He’d rather deal with the slings and arrows of the job than have the deep crows eating his liver.
“Norvita,” Said Karl slowly. “Go follow that ethereal trail so we can do something about the manticore.”
“But.” Norvita protested.
“I’ll deal with the Guild.” He assured her.
Norvita’s lower lip quivered as she tried to pull her face into a cute pout. Karl didn’t flinch. Nortiva might have been a psychic but Karl was the father of two. Tantrums and manipulation didn’t work on him. Not even a little bit. When Novita realized she wasn’t going to win, she stomped up the decimated steps. Karl sighed again as he carefully removed his glasses. He set them on the table amongst the pencils and twenty-sided dice. He rolled his fingers in small circles that pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Guys,” Started Karl. “I’m getting real sick of coming out here every week because you guys have an argument over a spell or a creature or whatever. It wastes our time and makes you look stupid. Here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to be seizing your grimoire and role play books.”
The Guild let out a collective groan. Karl suspected that they were more upset about their role plays books being confiscated than the grimoire.
“And I will be calling your moms. Timmy, yours especially. You can get them back after you report to the Department of the Arcane’s office and take the Responsible Use of Magic Seminar. It’ll take an afternoon.” Instructed Karl. He shook his head disappointedly. “And while I’m thinking about it, guys, you’re forty-years-old. You guys are successful businessmen. Timmy, you’re the CEO of a fortune 500 company. Darren and Zach, you guys are the chief researchers for Du Pont. Sam, you own two thirds of a major software company. Trevor, I don’t know what you do for a living.”
“I’m the Editor in Chief of Alternative Realities Publishing.” Said Trevor the Guild Master. Alternative Realities Publishing was the producers of a series of role play books including and not limited to Mages and Monsters.
“Beyond that,” Continued Karl. “You guys are a powerful order of mages. Yet, you still live with your parents. Every week, instead of working out or going to a bar, you’re here in a basement, playing a fantasy game. You’re mages who can do half the things in these books without thinking about it. Boys, during this time, do me a favor and get a life. Find a girl. See a movie. I don’t care. Do something that isn’t this. Please don’t let this.” Karl held up the Guild Master’s Guide using it as a metaphor for all things he highlighted in his talk. “Stand in your way to enjoying a normal life. Any questions?”
Trevor the Guild Master raised his hand.
“Yes?” Asked Karl.
“Do you think that Norvita would go out with me?” He asked Karl.
“No.” Is all Karl said.
After speaking with the Guild Master’s mother and collecting every piece of gaming paraphernalia, Karl carried a banker’s box to his Crown Victoria. He tossed the contraband into the back of the car. Norvita’s fingers flew rapidly over the QWERTY keyboard of her trendy cell phone. She proped her shoeless feet on the pale coffee stained dashboard. When she acted like the immature girl she was, it reminded him of his Annabell. Largely, because his eight-year-old daughter was better behaved than Norvita. Karl tapped on the passenger side window before lowering his bulky frame into the driver’s seat.
“You should have let me deal with them.” She said not looking up.
“And leave them with the brain power of tapioca pudding?” Asked Karl rhetorically.
“No, I think not. So did you find out anything on the manticore or have you been updating Facebook this whole time?”
“No,” Said Norvita defensively. She rolled her pretty eyes. “I was able to track it to the end of the block before I lost it. We’re really far too late to get to it in this part of town. I was texting Weston to see if Gaiman PD had any reports of a wild animal attack.”
“You need to leave that boy alone.” Said Karl. “You’ll drive Detective Lewis nuts.”
Norvita stuck her tongue out at Karl’s words in agitation. Weston Lewis had been Karl’s partner when he was walking a beat for Gaiman PD. Weston Lewis had also found Karl after the incident. He knew a little more than the average flat foot about what really happened in the dark corners in the back alleys of the city. When things got weird, Weston Lewis would pass it on to the Department of the Arcane. It also meant that he fed information to Karl and Norvita, especially Norvita. Weston Lewis had been in love with Norvita from the moment he laid eyes on her. Norvita knew that and exploited his feelings every chance she got. Karl found it rather disgusting. He pushed a hand through his graying hair.
“Did he see anything come across the blotter about an animal attack or any odd activity in the Primrose neighborhood?”
“No, our fell beastie hasn’t eaten yet.” She paused. “What do manticores eat?”
“Anything.” Said Karl. He furrowed his brow as he accessed the information locked away in his mind. “They prefer man flesh and the love a fighting meal. That doesn’t explain why the Guild wasn’t eaten.”
“That’s easy.” Said Norvita lowly. “The Guild aren’t real men.”
“Norvita, they summoned a beast from the Void.” Growled Karl. “It’s going to be scared and hungry. The only thing I can’t think is that there was a more powerful being that the manticore would prefer.”
Karl chewed his lower lip in deep penetrating thought.
“Do we have a list of registered mages and witches within the Primrose neighborhood?”
Norvita held up her phone and shook it at Karl sarcastically.
“What do you think I do all day?” She asked. “We can start here and work up.”
“Norvita, sometimes you can be an ignorant slut,” Karl pointed out. “and sometimes you’re a genius. It’s like playing Russian Roulette.”
“Well,” She said brightly. “at least I keep you on your toes.”
“Let’s go clean up after the Guild.” Karl sighed as he turned on the ignition. “Why do they do this? The world is already too weird to escape into a fantasy world.”
“Karl,” Norvita said softly. “Why do you read murder mysteries?”
“I like the books.” Said Karl in deep thought. “They’re a bit of an escape.”
“And the heroes do things that you can’t.” She said. “It’s the same idea. The game represents things that they can’t do in our society. They can wield magic and fight vicious monsters without their Order or even us busting it up. It’s a release. You didn’t grow up in the life. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“Norvita, your grandfather is Swami Patel.” Point out Karl. “You didn’t grow up in the life either.”
“Karl! Not the point!” Norvita reached her agitated staccato. “The game takes them back to a more lawless time for mages!”
“I don’t think mages ever had a lawless time.”
“Fine,” He sighed. “Where are we heading first?”