Magic in Disguise - Chapter 2 Sneak Peek

MAGIC IN DISGUISE

AGENTS OF A.S.S.E.T. 3

KATIE SALIDAS

CHAPTER TWO

All the eagerness she’d had to get back to work evaporated the moment Sage breached the threshold of Ava’s office. Her boss sat, busy as ever, behind the wall of her laptop, shuffling piles of paper from her overflowing inbox to another stack of documents towering on the other side of her desk. Ava either had not noticed them come in, or as Sage suspected, was playing a game of dominance.
“You wanted to see us?” Sage called out.
Ava’s head popped up. Her turquoise eyes narrowed as she inspected Sage from head to toe. If only Terras had been gifted with mind reading. Ava Masters had a poker face better than anyone Sage had ever seen. Mouth set in a hard flat line. No hints of a smile or smirk. No body language to signal intentions. Ava kept her posture neutral as her gaze traveled toward their target, Sage’s gloved hand.
“Shut the door and sit.” Ava barked the order, and Sage found herself jumping from sudden shock. Ava set down her pages and closed the laptop, then folded her arms and waited for Sage to do as she was told. Every movement felt calculated and controlled, more so than usual. Almost as if Ava had some apprehension about being in the room with Sage. But that couldn’t be possible. Ava didn’t strike her as the type who feared anything, and even if she did, no one would ever see it.
All the posturing left a bitter taste in Sage’s throat. Tests. That’s what this was. But what were they testing? How was she supposed to act?
Some days she regretted telling Mark she couldn’t work with him. Back home in Phoenix, he’d been a surrogate father. Never too busy to stop what he was doing, he’d always greeted her with warmth. He made her feel comfortable to come to him with anything. Ava held the same top-level position in the Vegas office, but her approach to being the head honcho was more despot than director. 
“Enjoying your vacation, Miss Cynwrig?” Ava’s tone was anything but casual.
 “I wouldn’t exactly call it a vacation.” Sage struggled to control the tremble in her voice. This felt too much like a trap. She turned sideways looking for Grey, but he hadn’t taken the other seat.
“It wasn’t meant to be.” Ava’s shrill reply worked like a slap to the face, refocusing Sage’s attention back on her boss. “Have you sorted out your domestic situation?”
“Do you need me in here?” Grey hovered near a chair as if expecting to be told to vacate it the moment his cheeks hit the cushion. “I can wait outside.”
“Sit, Mr. Maddox.” Ava pointed to the other chair with her perfectly manicured finger. “I’ll get to you in a moment.”
He responded immediately, like a well-trained pup, taking the chair and leaving Sage to wonder exactly how bad his week with Ava had been. Maybe she had gotten the better punishment after all.
Ava cleared her throat, and Sage snapped to attention.
“My domestic situation is…uh…being managed,” Sage answered. “I believe I’m ready to return to work.”
“You’ll return when I say.” Ava held out her hand. “Show me your palm, please?”
At least she asked nicely. Sage pulled off her gloves and held her damaged hand out for inspection.
Ava snapped it up with the speed of a viper and yanked her forward with such strength Sage nearly came out of her seat.
The poker face faltered. Ava’s expression shifted between curiosity and concern the longer she scrutinized Sage’s palm. She knew it was bad, but for her boss to let slip the control she had over her expression was truly telling.
Darkness, that had started as a small spot marking the place where the seed had embedded itself, had grown, slowly stretching out in all directions as it claimed new territory across her hand. The epicenter remained black as pitch, lightening a little across the recently deadened skin. Like bruises, her hand was splotched purple and blue. The outer areas of the seed’s reach had turned yellow, not quite succumbing to the darkness but clearly losing the fight. All of it a stark contrast to the creamy color of her undamaged skin. Her hand was dying. Slowly, but dying all the same. A truth Sage did not want to admit aloud. The black mark had grown from nothing in the space of a week, and she felt the scream of every nerve before being silenced. How long would it be before her whole body was covered by this cursed black mark? What would become of her when it did?
“I’m assuming there is pain to match the outward symptoms,” Ava said without an ounce of sympathy in her voice. “Manageable, I expect?”
“Better when I am clear of magic, not so much at other times.”
“I’d like to run a few tests.” Ava dropped Sage’s hand, letting it crash on her desk.
Grey leaned in, resting his chin on his hands. He could have warned her this was going to happen. At least give her a heads-up she was becoming a lab rat.
Falling into the trap of self-pity was too easy. Temptation she’d been struggling with for the last week. But maybe she’d been looking at it wrong. Maybe Ava didn’t know all. Maybe she needed to be the lab rat. Yes. Sage nodded to herself. Work toward a cure. Stay positive.
Ava reached to open the topmost drawer in her desk. “We need to see how that thing responds to stimulus.” She pulled out a crystal sphere, the kind of mystical see-into-the-future equipment that would be used in a fortune teller’s tent.
Sage almost made a Great Zoltar joke to lighten the mood, but caught herself before she stuck her foot in her mouth. Boss lady wasn’t the joking type, and Sage was already on the ‘problem child’ list.
Ava held it up, letting the light hit it, awakening an inner light within the sphere. Deep within the center, a tiny glowing ember of blue light pulsed. Magic. Hidden from mortal eyes, but clearly visible to the Terra. The seed pulsed within Sage’s palm, sensing the magic, burning with hunger. Even before Ava’s prompt for her to, “Touch it,” Sage felt the pull. As if the seed had already reached out and lassoed the orb, it drew her hand upwards to take hold of it.
She cringed, fighting against the tractor beam guiding her. The wrath of disobeying would be nothing compared to the pain in her hand, but still she struggled to willingly reach out and cause herself pain. Slow, deep breaths, in and out. Sage closed her eyes and gave in.
Zap!
Electricity jolted through her body. She yelped, yanking her hand back, and cradled it against her chest.
Ava picked up the crystal orb to inspect. She held it up in the light. The blue ember was no longer visible. “Let me see your hand now.”
Sage complied, holding out her palm for inspection. Residual echoes of the electricity still throbbed, sending pulses all the way up her arm.
“Not enough.” Tiny creases appeared on Ava’s brow. She pursed her lips as she closed in for a better look at Sage’s aching hand. “We need something more powerful.” Again, she dropped Sage’s hand, letting it smash down onto the desk.
“What are you hoping to find?” Sage asked.
Ava ducked down, opening the bottom drawer in her desk. “When I need you to speak, I will ask the questions, Miss Cynwrig.”
A snarky retort nearly leapt off the end of Sage’s tongue, but she held it back, turning her confusion toward Grey.
He looked just as uncertain as Sage. They exchanged confused glances and shrugs, further confirming that no one in the room had a clue what to do about her hand.
Ava popped back up from the drawer holding an ornately carved wooden stick in her hand. “Let’s run the test again.”
Sage wanted to refuse. She didn’t have a masochistic bone in her body, despite what everyone said about her always trying to kill herself, but knew her boss would only force her hand if she did. She took a moment to steel her courage, telling herself this is being done in the name of breaking the curse, though she didn’t doubt Ava was taking some pleasure in punishing Sage for her disobedience.
She sucked in a deep breath and readied herself for the pain that was sure to come.
Ava held out the wand. “Take hold of it, please, with your injured hand.”
The seed had already locked onto the magic. Like a magnet, it drew Sage’s hand. If she struggled, she could avoid touching it, but all she had to do was let go of control and the seed would guide her there. It throbbed hungrily, burning with an insatiable fire the moment she came close to the wood. Then it struck, the fiery stab like a white hot knife sliced through her palm the moment she made contact with it. Controlled by the seed’s desire, she gripped the wand tightly, her fingers wrapping around it, closing the connection. Invisible flames danced up from her hand, consuming her arm, her chest, spreading all across her body. She bit back a cry threatening to burst from her throat. Time distorted. Seconds felt like minutes. The seed lazily savored the power within the magical artifact. Sage was the conduit, feeling the magic flow through her and be incinerated. The seed was in control. She couldn’t release her grip if she wanted to.
Tears watered in her eyes. She held back from voicing her agony as long as she could, holding out until the power finally ebbed. She collapsed on Ava’s desk. The wand, finally free of her grip, clattered against wood.
“Are you okay?” Grey’s hand rested on her back. “You look like you’re about to puke.”
If he only knew how right he was, but the worst was over. She clutched her injured hand tightly to her chest, allowing small whimpers to escape as she panted through the remaining waves of pain and sat up again.
 “Do not mess up my office. If you’re going to be sick, use a bin.” Ava reached around her desk and pulled a trash can out.
“I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Just need a little air.” She took the trash can all the same.
“What you just… let’s call it neutralized, for lack of a better word, was The Wand of Wailing. It has been around for over a thousand years, wielded by many an Elemental druid.”
“Wait. Aren’t all elementals magic people?” Sage asked.
“Yes, dear, but wands are for focusing magic. After a time, they retain bits of power. They themselves become quite magical in their own right. We recovered this one last week. No need to put it in the archives now.”
Had Ava tried to make a joke? Sage couldn’t tell. Either way, she wasn’t in the laughing mood. Her body felt like an open wound, raw and tender.
“Let’s see that hand again, shall we?” Ava held her own out, waiting.
Sage allowed her boss to inspect it again, praying there would be no more tests.
“Very interesting.” Ava’s lip curled into an approving grin. “You see the black mark has reduced in size.”
Sage and Grey both leaned in to get a better look. Ava was right. The mark had not gone completely, but it had shrunk.
“What does this mean?” Sage asked, afraid to jump to a hopeful conclusion just yet.
“It would seem to indicate that the seed requires a certain level of magic to avoid drawing from your own.”
“But I have no magic.” Sage knew she’d said something stupid the moment the words left her lips. And Ava looked all too happy to be able to correct her.
“No active magic, no. You are by nature a creature of magic, Miss Cynwrig. Your power is in neutralizing. A very potent form of magic.”
“So it’s taking from me when it can’t take from another source?”
“It would appear so,” Ava answered.
“So we need to cut it out of her, then?” Grey jumped to his feet. “She’s had that thing in her palm for a week now, and look what it’s done.”
“And by feeding it magic, we have reduced the effect it has had on her,” Ava answered. “She’s in no immediate danger. However, as fond as you are of your blades, Mr. Maddox, we do not just slice people open on a whim. There may be consequences. This is unknown magic we are working with.”
“Do I get a say in any of this?” Sage asked, feeling as if she were being talked over rather than talked to.
“Only if your words add value to the conversation,” Ava replied sharply. “We already understand the impact this is having on you, as well as your ability to work. So if all you wish to add to the conversation is your desire to have it removed quickly, you need not speak.”
Sage slumped back in her chair.
“We do need to move quickly,” Grey said in her defense.
“I will take that into consideration. For now, Miss Cynwrig is to return home until further notice. See that she gets there safely. And when you have returned, Mr. Maddox, you will assist me in the records room. Dismissed.”




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