The Security Consultant

The Security Consultant
(A TG Urban Fantasy Story)

Author Note: Magic has always existed and is now openly acknowledged. 10% of the population is magically sensitive and 5% can actually be taught to cast spells. Only about 1% has the ability to earn a Magic-User 3rd Class license. In a country of 300 million there are potentially 3 million professional practitioners. However, it takes hard work and training to develop that raw talent. There are currently in the United States about 1 million licensed practitioners. Of that 100,000 are rated 2nd Class, with about 10,000 1st Class Magic-Users, and there are only 300 Master-Class Magic-Users in the entire country.

The power of magic is rising how humanity reacts will chart the course of civilization of the next thousand years. An Age has come to an end, and a new Age has arrived, and as yet no one has noticed.


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Chapter 1
An Unexpected Visitor
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I pulled my 69 Dodge Charger into the parking lot behind the converted warehouse on N. 1st St and opened the door feeling the chilly spring air of St. Louis wash across my face. Getting out of the car I popped the trunk and picked up the bags from my recent shopping trip. It was Monday, and it also happened to be the first really nice spring day. It seemed like the whole world was in a good mood. The building’s main entrance was a short walk from my parking spot, so I took my time walking up to my office enjoying the crisp air and sunshine.

The warehouse had been converted a few years back during one of the city’s urban renewal phases, now it housed two floors of offices and shops. I liked having my office in with all of the mundane shops, even if I did get some of the random foot traffic. It was the price I paid for being in this type of a building. All in all, it was a good set up. As a small business owner, (I am my only employee) I had to open and close the office, this didn’t bother me since I’ve always been okay with being by myself. I reached the front door and as expected the lights were out. The sign in front read:


Alastar L. Donegal,
MAA, MU-2C, Security Consultant of the Arcane

I had to smile slightly at the pretentiousness of the sign, but if you’re gonna advertise you have to give the public a reason to come inside. I set my bags on the tiles, held my hand up twisting my fingers in a quick gesture and with a slight trickle of magic I spoke the Key. I felt a surge of magic and the wards around my place of business dropped. I then reached into my pocket and pulled out the mundane key to the office and unlocked the door.

Once inside I went to the small side room of my two room office. This room served as a place to store magical components and was just large enough for a small summoning circle. I put away the magical supplies from my shopping trip and returned to the main office. I went over to one of the windows along the west wall and opened it to allow my familiar access to my office, coincidentally, allowing in some of the fresh spring air. Next I fired up my computer. The office held a pair of slightly worn secondhand couches facing each other with a coffee table between. My desk sat off to the side so I could see customers as they entered the office. Beside the desk was a small refrigerator with a coffee pot on top. I got it going since coffee is one of my addictions.

I glanced at the door and spotted my reflection, I’m a normal looking American male, thirty years old, of Irish descent. Standing 6’1” and just under 190 lbs I’m in pretty good shape, I run and lift a couple of times a week, and on Saturday’s I attend a judo class. I’ve got sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, and I’ve never had trouble finding female companionship, although, I’m currently between girlfriends. I spotted the sign again not really needing to read it and snorted. MAA, most people nowadays knew that stood for a Master’s of Arcane Arts, of which I’m reasonably proud, the Magic-User 2nd Class license aggravated me.

I come from a long line of Magic-Users, not hedge wizards or hex witches, my ancestors were real wielders of Arcane Power. Magic has always been around, but during the Renaissance those who practiced it went underground. Humanity was pretty hostile to anything different and potentially dangerous and we, as a community, are both. We’d been successful in hiding from the mundane world until the cold war and J. Edgar Hoover and the damn FBI. Once Hoover had found out about us, he’d tried to black mail the American Magical Community into assisting in the containment of communism as our patriotic duty. Now the American Guild of the Arcane, (AGA) is as patriotic a group as you can find, but black mail did not sit well with the Elders. So in 1955 they had announced our existence to the world. There were a couple of tough years, however, humanity had grown over the centuries and now we’re able to practice openly. Funny how things work out, I thought sitting down at my computer.

I had a 2nd Class license, but this was mostly based on my Master’s Degree and the skill I’d demonstrated during the practical examinations. The sad fact is that I’m a runt magical speaking. This made me the black sheep of the family. Even though both of my parents were classified as Magic-User Master-Class, the only classification above a 1st Class License, I’m only a mid-grade Magic-User 3rd Class in terms of magical muscle. There are only about a thousand Masters worldwide. I’ve an older brother studying in the United Kingdom, he’s already a licensed Magic-User 1st Class, and has completed his studies for a Ph.D. in the Arcane. Within a year he should be taking the tests for Master Class level. My Father passed away during a magical experiment gone wrong when I was a small boy so I don’t remember him much. My Mother is a proud, cold, analytical woman and no matter how hard I studied or how many hours I spent at one magical exercise after another, I failed to live up to her expectations. So even though my mother lives in one of the better suburbs of St. Louis I don’t see her all that much.

The smell of coffee distracted me from my depressing thoughts so I poured a cup and sat down behind the computer to do some research. I had two clients today. The first would take me into west St. Louis to look at some guy’s house. He wanted an estimate on some practical wards for home defense. The second was set up for 1 pm and would take several hours. I would be installing the wards I’d been crafting for almost a week now. These would go into a business building downtown. As a Security Consultant for the Arcane this is what I did. I specialized in the crafting of wards and protective glyphs for people. It didn’t take a lot of power. It took years of study and you had to understand ley-lines if you wanted to succeed. In fact you almost had to be an artist when it came to the actual crafting and setting of the ward net. I had over the last five years gained a reputation as one of the best in the mid-west.

I was ready for my afternoon client although I need to do some research for the one scheduled for 10 am. I glanced at my watch. I had 45 minutes before I had to leave, enough time to do some preliminary research, I decided. I logged onto the Guild website and started hitting the star charts and plotting ley-line positions. I silently thanked the guild, they compiled all this data, made sure it was current and accurate, and made it available, (for a fee of course) to those professionally practicing the Art.

Before I got too caught up in my research I figured I should check on Edgar, my familiar. Edgar is a crow, (I know don’t even get me going about the name, he picked it for God’s sake!) who, having been cooped up all winter, had wanted to stretch his wings. I live in a small house in College Hill which is about 4 miles as the crow flies from my office. I’d built a large roost from an oak tree inside the office next to the window and when Edgar got tired he knew how to get into the office.

I closed my eyes and I recited a quick cantrip sending out a wisp of power that allowed me to see what Edgar was seeing. I could tell he was soaring effortlessly about half way between my house and the office. Satisfied that he’d be fine I released the spell and returned again to the research that I suddenly realized I was trying to avoid.

“Come on, Alastar, this is how you pay your bills” I said to myself in a weak attempt at motivation.

At that moment I felt a slight jarring at the outer wards to my office. Not an alarm, a notification that another practitioner of the Art was about to enter. I don’t get that many Magic-Users visiting my office. I’ve got a few friends, most of whom are much more powerful than me, who I see socially so this was unusual. The door opened and in walked a very attractive woman. She was dressed in a grey business blazer and white blouse with a matching grey skirt, nylons, and sensible low heeled shoes. The outfit said serious professional. Her hair was black as midnight and her skin was extremely pale, but her eyes took my breath when they flashed a startling shade of blue. I prefer women with a bit of cleavage and this was the only area where she fell slightly short in my estimation. Overall, I wouldn’t kick her out of bed!
“How can I help you Ma’am?” I asked standing up and walking around my desk.

“Are you Mister Alastar Donegal?” She practically purred walking toward me one hip at a time.

“Yes, Ma’am, what can I do for you?”

I involuntarily took a step back and actually bumped into my desk. I felt my face flush as my backward momentum caused me to sit on the edge of my desk. What the hell is going on? I’m no Casanova, but I’m not some virgin either. I can usually at least talk to a beautiful woman. She stopped a couple of feet from me and looked me up and down, slowly, like she was sizing me up for something.

“I heard that you’re the best, . . . … at runes, wards, and magical security.” Her voice had a slight accent, French I guessed, and was almost hypnotic. I nodded not trusting myself to speak.

“I need your, . . ah . . . services and am prepared to compensate you handsomely.”

“Can I get your name, Ma’am? And . . . uhm . . . would you like a cup of coffee?” I felt stupid, all of a sudden, for offering her coffee. God what was I thinking? With a smile she turned and flicked her hair over a shoulder and then glanced back at me.

“Yes, please, cream and sugar.”

I was torn between watching her backside as she moved over to the couch and getting the coffee. Manners won out and I poured two cups, picked up packets of cream and sugar, and brought them over to the couches. I sat down across from her and placed the coffee on the table between us.

“Now, Ma’am, what’s your name and how can I help you?” I managed to stammer feeling like I’d just accomplished something.

“Well, you see one of your clients is my ex-husband, and he has some property of mine. I intend to get it back and was hoping that you’d be willing to work an accommodation.” As she said this she leaned forward picking up a packet of cream and added it, along with two packets of sugar, to the coffee. It took a full second before what she said penetrated my brain.

“Ma’am what type of property and why can’t you go to the police? I mean if he has something of yours, well, that’s what the police and the courts are for.” I stumbled through my speech barely able to pull my gaze up to meet her eyes.

“I know that your wards alerted you, I’m a Magic-User, like you. This is not something for the police. It’s about the Art. I want you to give me the Keys to the wards. That’s all I need and I’m prepared to pay you very handsomely.” She was now staring at me intently the coffee she’d been playing with untouched.

At this I felt ill, I’m not the best person around, but I’ve got my standards. If I sold out one of my clients, no matter if it was justified, I’d be out of business.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I can’t help you.” I said, actually regretting it.

“Are you sure we can’t find an accommodation?” She asked raising one exquisite eyebrow.

“I won’t sell out one of my clients. If your ex-husband stole something from you then you need to go to the police. If it’s an artifact maybe the Guild can help you recover it. I can’t do what you’re asking.” At this I stood up and walked toward my desk. I was about half way there when I heard her say.

“I’m sorry too, . . .oh, would you have a look at this?”

I turned around in time to see that she had followed and was only a couple feet behind me. She lifted one hand and drew a glyph in the air that glowed for a second between us. I’m not the most powerful Magic-User, in fact I’m pretty wimpy, but I’m well trained and very knowledgeable. As soon as she started drawing her glyph I spoke a word of activation, I was wearing a shield ring that would deflect most magic. I’d also woven into my belt several crystals, where every morning and evening I stored power. I tapped one of the crystals by touching it with my off hand and poured its energy into the ring I held up between me and my attacker. Abruptly the air between us was distorted by the shield I’d activated.

I was barely in time, whatever spell she’d used slammed into my shield with the force of a Mack-truck. I felt it shudder and hold. I activated the second ring on my right hand while touching another crystal with my left. This ring designed to use telekinetic force to bind an opponent. I wasn’t strong enough to work this without augmentation and the power from the second of the six crystals woven into my belt flowed through me. The power lashed out and she blocked it with a negligent wave of one hand. I felt the ring burst and fall off my finger. Holy shit, who am I fighting? Before I could try another spell, she spoke a Word of Power and my shield was shredded, and I was seized in a telekinetic grip.

“Look into my eyes.”

I felt a force grip my head and turn it to face her. Her blue eyes seemed to blaze with power and I felt myself being pulled forward. There was a strange tearing sensation and suddenly I felt like I’d been snapped free and was sucked down into a pair of blue whirl pools. Then I blacked out.


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My awareness started to return slowly. I could tell I was stretched out on something soft with my hands bound together in front of me. My ankles were also bound together and I was gaged and blindfolded. I had a headache to beat all headaches. For a moment I felt anger well up inside me. This woman had walked into my office and subdued me without working up a sweat. I was always weaker than everyone else in my family and my mother had been against me working as a security consultant for this reason. She thought I was too weak to work professionally in the Art and had wanted me to stay on the estate pursuing a more academic career. Laying here bound and gagged it felt like she was right, and that pissed me off.
Think Alastar, think! I admonished myself. Okay, I can’t speak a cantrip to release my bonds. I can’t make any gestures that leaves purely thought magic. As skilled as I am, I suck at mind magic. I started controlling my breathing and focused on my hearing. Was the woman still in my office?

For several minutes I lay still and listened. She must be gone. However, I heard a slight rustling from behind my head. Slowly I started to piece together a picture. If I was on the couch by the wall then Edgar’s perch would be behind me. I took as deep a breath as I could with the gag and drew on my magical power. For a second I nearly lost the connection between me and the magic because of how startled I was. I’d tried a light drawing of power and in answer I’d received, for me, storm of energy. I calmed down and reduced the flow of power. Now came the hard part, I wasn’t able to speak the cantrip out loud, so I’d have to recite it in my mind while using my magic to strengthen the bond between me and Edger.
Slowly the room came into focus. I was perched by the window and felt very happy with myself since I’d had a great flight. Now if only there was something to eat. I managed to push back a bit and separate my thoughts from Edgar’s. I focused on getting him to look at me. At first Edgar was confused looking around the room, but at last he settled on the human shape on the couch.

I now knew that there was no one else in the room so cautiously I reached up toward my face. Even though my hands were bound I was able to push the blind fold up away from my eyes. The light was bright and blurry and I had to blink several times before my vision cleared up. Weird, I thought, colors seemed much clearer and brighter like there were dozens of shades where I’d only perceived one or two before. I didn’t want to waste any time so I started working on my gag. That bitch had stuffed a piece of soft plastic in my mouth before she tapped it shut. I ripped the tape off and spit out the rubber mouth piece.

Once I could speak I pulled in more magical energy. I was less surprised this time at the overwhelming response and focused on the words. The spell rang out in a clear woman’s voice and suddenly my hands and feet were free. I didn’t know where that voice came from and figured it must be my mystery lady back for round two! I jumped up and drew in as much power as I could and looked around. I saw nothing but an empty office just Edgar and me.

“What the hell?”

Again that voice! Sort of like my mystery lady’s only slightly different. I glanced down and received the greatest shock of my life. Pushing out from my chest were two distinct mounds.

“I have breasts?”

I reached up with both hands and squeezed the flesh on my chest. I felt a breast in each hand and the unique sensation of a pair of breasts being squeezed. For a moment I was too stunned to react then I slowly continued my exploration. I moved my hands to my throat and my questing fingers found soft skin, a long neck, and then a smooth chin with no stubble. This can’t be happening I thought to myself. I stumbled over to the mirror hanging above the refrigerator and saw staring back the face of the brunette who’d attacked me. I reached up with one hand and felt her face and saw the woman in the mirror copy my movements perfectly. I felt the hand touching my lips and knew this was real. I stumbled to the chair behind my desk and sat down. When I did I noticed the bounce of extra flesh on my chest and for the first time an absence of my old friend between my legs. I started to hyperventilate, I felt dizzy, and my vision swam. What the hell had just happened to me? Why would this woman change me into a copy of her? For that matter why would she put me into her clothes? I took several deep breaths, get a grip Alastar, what would your mother think if she saw you? I suddenly felt ashamed. This was just a transformation spell I needed to focus and prioritize.

At the St Louis Academy of the Arcane, we’d been forced to learn several spells designed to shape-shift. I, of course, didn’t have the strength to use those spells and had to figure out a way to augment my power. I learned to store magic in things like crystals and then tap them in class to cast the necessary spells. I’d passed, but everyone knew that I was the weakest Magic-User ever to earn an MAA. However, when it came time to change into a copy of yourself, if you’d been born in the opposite gender, I’d claimed I didn’t have the power. I showed the instructors I could cast the spell perfectly and knew the theory. But, I’d claimed, I didn’t have the strength to cast it. As a result I’d gotten partial credit which was fine with me since the idea of being female was one that I was totally uncomfortable with. Now sitting at my desk in this strange woman’s body I wished I’d not chickened out because those lessons would have come in handy.

I took a deep breath. Okay, she made me into a copy of her, and put me in her clothes, why? She wanted to get into either one of my clients houses or places of business so maybe she’d changed into a copy of me. If she did then she probably needed my clothes. Although why change me into a copy of her? Duh, I thought, because she wanted only one Alastar running around. If she knew that I didn’t have the power to shift on my own, then I certainly wouldn’t have the power to break her spell transforming me into a copy of her. She’d also taken my belt with the crystals where I stored additional magical energy. I was effectively stuck until her transformation spell wore off. Why didn’t she take her clothes? Leaving me naked with no way to change back would be a pretty good tactic. I shuddered at the thought of being stuck, naked, in a female body, in my office.

Okay, priority one, I need to alert my clients that someone wearing my face would be trying to gain access to their building. Unfortunately she never said which client. I logged onto my computer, noticing how different it was to type with long finger nails. I did a quick search of my former clients with magical abilities who were divorced and wealthy enough to rate this kind of attention. I came up with three names.

I almost made the mistake of picking up the phone and calling each client. Instead I went into my storage room and pulled down one of the spell-books from its shelf. As I did I realized that I could barely reach the book. Obviously I was several inches shorter right now. I needed a simple spell to change my voice. It took about ten minutes to find it and then I went back to my desk. I once again opened myself to the magic around me and felt a torrent of energy. This could be very addictive, I thought, and then cast the spell. I felt the tingle that told me it had worked and then said.

“The rain falls mainly on the plain in Spain.”

At the sound of my normal male voice I jumped and spun around, “yes!”

Of course this maneuver in my unfamiliar shape caused me to lose my balance and I hit the floor hard on my newly-padded rear end.

“Damn it!”

I climbed to my feet rubbing my soft, sore, butt and tried not to think about what it was I was feeling and sat down behind my desk. I picked up my desk phone and started making calls. I figured they thought I was crazy when I introduced myself and explained that there might be a person using magic to look like me attempting to gain entry.

“Don’t worry,” I explained for the third time, “this person only looks like me. He doesn’t have the Keys to your Wards. If you leave the wards up and he’s stopped then he’s an imposter and you should then call the Guild.”

After my last call I checked the clock and saw that it was already late afternoon. Between the attack, the time I’d spent unconscious, and then calling my clients I’d completely missed both of my appointments. Oh well, it’s probably for the best.

“I can’t exactly go looking like this” I muttered.

For a second I considered calling my mother. She’d be able to break the spell with ease. But the thought of her seeing me in this body and the satisfied smile, she had too much class to say “I told you so,” stopped me. No, whatever happened I’d figure this mystery out on my own. Besides transformation spells required a continuous feed of power or they wore off. In theory I just had to wait several hours and I’d shift back to my natural form. I figured the next step was to go to my house and use one of my grimoires to break the shape shifting spell or if all else failed, wait it out. After that I’d alert the guild authorities so they could start looking for my imposter.

My clothes were gone and my mystery woman hadn’t left me her purse. I opened the drawer to my desk and sighed with relief when I saw my car keys were sitting where I always left them. I shushed Edgar out the window and walked to the door and stopped when I saw my reflection in the glass. Oh, God, I was going to have to go out in public like this. I felt totally humiliated! I’d been ambushed and transformed in my place of business like some barely competent hedge witch. At least no one who knows me has seen me like this, I thought, and with that stepped out into the mall.

I retraced my steps to my parking spot feeling greatly relieved when I saw my car sitting there waiting for me. I’d figured the car would be there when I found my keys still in my desk drawer, but seeing it was still a relief. I opened the door and tried to climb in and noticed that the skirt I was wearing made getting into a car the way I usually did impossible. I turned around so I could settle my butt into the driver’s seat and then swung my legs in and under the steering wheel. Now I realized I was too far back and had to slide the seat forward so I could reach the pedals. Finally ready I started the car taking comfort in the familiar growl of the engine. The drive took about ten minutes with heavy traffic this time of day. I was pleased to see my small two bedroom house come into sight. I pulled into my driveway and pushed the button that opened the garage door and felt the wards around my house activate. The car suddenly stalled.

“What the fuck” I said out loud confused.

This is my house I created those wards myself they’re designed to recognize my body’s physical essence. No matter what form I’m in that essence, like a magical genetic signature, doesn’t change. Confused I spoke the Key and sent a trickle of energy at the ward net and felt the field drop. Once inside the house I let Edgar in and then I kicked my shoes off and headed down to my basement where I’d built, at great expense, my sanctum.

My basement might as well be out of some novel. It’s long, the entire length of the ranch style house. I’ve got a summoning circle built into the cement floor. Along one wall running the length of the basement is a floor to ceiling set of built-in book shelves containing most of my magical archive. Along the far wall is a large desk with a computer and a flat screen TV. I suddenly felt like a weight had been lifted, ever since the attack I’d been jumpy. Now, in my place of power I felt safe. Okay the first order of business is to identify the spell that was used to turn me into a woman. Then figure out the best way to break it. I pulled down a magical reference book and flipped to the section on transformations.
After twenty minutes of study I started casting. My house is built on a ley-line, (not one of the large powerful confluences, just a small line) which helps tremendously if you’re a magical weakling. For the first time since I moved in I didn’t need to touch the ley-line I had more power at my fingertips than I’d ever imagined. My initial spell told me that my body was free of any curses, hexes, charms, or spells. I cast the next, and the next, and the next, each spell was designed to identify any active magic on my body. After nearly an hour of straight casting I felt exhilarated instead of exhausted, like I usually would have been, but disappointed and confused.

Okay, Alastar think, there is no active magic on this body. So she couldn’t have used a transformation spell. I woke up in her clothes, why? The amount of power I can now draw is easily ten times what I normally can.

“Holy Shit, she did a soul swap!”

The realization hit me like a bucket of cold water. Spells like this are considered sorcery and are the darkest of black magic. They rip the soul of the subject out of its natural body and move the soul into a new form or an object. Every time this sort of spell is cast the person casting it loses a piece of their own humanity. Unlike a transformation spell, my mystery woman had used a spell to rip my soul out and put it in this body. I was now for all practical, physical, and magical purposes, the mystery woman.

Well, at least that explained the clothes. She hadn’t changed them she’d just left me in the clothes she’d been wearing. At this I started to giggle uncontrollably. Here I was worried about why she’d put me in her clothes when there were bigger questions. After a minute I stopped laughing and tried to focus on the problem. Why would she want to be me? Obviously not to steal my magically power, . . . …. wait the wards. She’d wanted access to one of my clients and since I wouldn’t give her the Keys so she took my body. I was a living breathing Key for every ward I’d ever created.

I shivered at the thought of black magic. Generally speaking magic was a tool and the intent of the person using it determined if it was beneficial or harmful. There were a couple of exceptions. Blood Magic, which fed on the life force of the sacrifice; necromancy, which dealt with the bodies and souls of the dead; and sorcery, which used the souls of living sentient beings as a source of power and a tool; each of these types were considered illegal by the Guild and they damaged the soul of the practitioner. The idea that she’d used this type of a spell on me made my skin crawl.

My stomach growled, and I glanced at the clock on the computer and saw that it was almost 8 pm. This body needed food and I need to think. How do I stop this bitch? I went to the kitchen and got some left over pizza and a bud from the refrigerator and plopped down on my couch. I was once again startled by the way my chest bounced and the empty feeling between my legs. Trying to ignore my body I bit into the pizza and grimaced at the greasy taste. What the heck, I love cold pizza! I took a drink of beer and felt my stomach churn. Okay this body was not going to tolerate greasy pizza and beer.

“Lord why have you forsaken me” I asked the empty room. “Pizza and beer are two of your most blessed culinary combinations?”

Edgar looked at me from where he’d been sleeping perched on a roost by the kitchen. I regretfully returned the pizza to the box and found some cold cuts and bread. With my stomach settled enough to finish dinner and I thought about my problem. I desperately needed information. Just then a strange new sensation caused me to pause. After a second I realized I was feeling pressure in my bladder. I grimaced, it looks like it’s time to learn how to pee sitting down. This was a practical problem I’d have to master if I was stuck in this body for any length of time and it shouldn’t have surprised me. I went into my bathroom and couldn’t help staring at myself in the mirror. I was now about 5’7” much shorter than I was used to and there was no doubt about it, I was stunningly pretty. I hung my jacket on the hook behind the door and then hiked up my skirt and pulled down my panties and hose. Next I settled on the toilet letting out a little yelp due to the cold seat. It took me several tries experimenting with clenching up and relaxing muscles until I figured out how to make this body tinkle. The warm flow of urine and the feeling of relief that came with it were very similar I thought. I remembered to wipe and then flushed the toilet and put my clothes mostly back in there proper position.


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Chapter 2
The Chase
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There are several ways to get information and Magic-Users have extra options. However, there is always a price for information. I decided to start with the internet since the price there was the lowest. I went to a Guild news site and started flipping through articles for the last few days to see if anything would pop. After about 30 minutes of what felt like fruitless searching I froze. In the social section there was an article about the famed researcher Magic-User Master-Class Bernard Livingstone from Boston who was visiting St. Louis to display his latest crafting. The article showed a picture of his wife Molly and daughter Morgana the resemblance between the two made it easy to see that Morgana took after her mother. What caught my eye was the fact that Morgana’s face was the same face I’d been staring at in the mirror 40 minutes ago.

I scanned the rest of the article and was somewhat surprised to learn that Morgana was just 18 and had recently graduated from a private all girls’ high school that specialized in teaching magic. I would have put her in her mid-twenties, I guess make-up and/or a minor glamor could have made her look a few years older. Armed with this information it didn’t take me long to find where they were staying. Now I had a lead on whose body I had, but I still didn’t know why Morgana would want to trade bodies with me. The story that she needed to get into an ex-husbands office or house was obviously a lie.
I also realized that just because I had a hotel it didn’t mean she’d be there. In fact the odds were good that she wouldn’t be at the hotel. So, time to start with the mojo. For the first time in my life I felt like I had an edge in the magic department. I spread out a map of St. Louis on the floor in my summoning circle. I then went to my bathroom looking for my hair brush. Most of the magical community is pretty careful about things like hair, nail clippings, and bodily fluid since these things have a resonance that can be used for several types of castings. I, much to my Mothers annoyance, had never been all that good about destroying these things. Today that worked to my advantage since I found several hairs.
I returned to the summoning circle and tied a paper clip to a string and then wove two of the six hairs through the paper clip. Chanting a quick locator spell I pushed energy into the casting. God, I felt strong!

“Crap!”

The paper clip had turned a bright red from the power of the spell and burned off not only the hairs, but the thread. It fell onto the map and burned a hole straight through.

“Damn it!”

I snatched the map up before it could catch fire. On my second try I pushed the thinnest trickle of energy into the paper clip and was rewarded by it spinning around a couple of times and then jerking down to touch the map. The location was along I-70 forty five minutes outside of St. Louis the exit looked like it would have a hotel.

“I’ve got you now, you body thieving bitch.”

I stood up headed back up to the main floor of the house. For a moment I considered calling my mother. She would probably know the Livingstone’s, (there aren’t that many Magic-User Master-Class practitioners running around) so it would be simple to meet them with her and get to the bottom of this situation. Almost as soon as I thought about calling mom I rejected the idea. She would just use this as another example of why I shouldn’t be professionally practicing magic and try to convince me to move back onto the estate. No, I needed to solve this myself. I needed to prove that I was as competent as the rest of my family.

Before I left I took the time to adjust my wards, if Morgana was walking around in my skin there was no way I was letting her into my house. I reset the wards to only drop upon the activation of the Key. Edgar flew over to my shoulder and we headed to the garage. I figured my first stop should be the hotel where Morgana’s parents were staying. I needed to try to understand what was going on with their daughter hopefully they’d be able to help. The Chase Park Hotel was about a twenty minute drive and not really in the direction I needed to go to confront Morgana. It would be almost 9:30 pm before I got to the hotel but I decided I didn’t care.

Driving the Charger in a woman’s body felt very different. The skirt and women’s shoes made it harder to use the manual transmission. Since this body is shorter not only did I have to adjust all the mirrors and the seat, but I had to get used to sitting much lower than I was used too which affected my field of vision. At least Edgar settled into his usual spot in the passenger’s seat. When I arrived at the Chase I was annoyed at the cost of parking, I mean come on, a buck for an hour on the meter at 9:30 at night? Then the walk into the lobby made my feet start to ach. Why in God’s name do women buy uncomfortable shoes? And my shoes didn’t have ‘real’ heels just low two inch ones.

“Ugh.”

When I walked into the lobby, despite my preoccupation, I could sense something was wrong. I paused for a second and looked around. There was far too much security and the police car out front wasn’t normal. I walked toward the front desk and spoke a charm under my breath designed to make anyone I talked to want to help me. It wasn’t strong enough to qualify as a compulsion just a simple spell designed to influence. The clerk looked like he was in college and working nights at the hotel. I tried for a sexy sophisticated walk, caught a heel, and stumbled stupidly. At least I didn’t fall over, “damn it!” I muttered under my breath.

“Hi” I said feeling like the source of sophistication. Not. “I, . . . um . . . locked myself out of my room. My name’s Morgana Livingstone.”

I tried to pull my shoulders back and push my chest out. Hey, if you got’em you might as well use’em. I could almost see the spell take effect. The clerk seemed to fixate on my chest for a second. Then instead of asking for my room number or identification said, “sure thing Ms. Livingstone.” Okay maybe he was under a different kind of influence.
“Ah, call me Morgana,” I said fluttering my eye’s at him.

“Here you are. You’re on the 19th floor, room 1922. Let me just make you a new key card. Oh, I’m so sorry about your parents.”

For a second it didn’t register my parents? I decided to just keep my mouth shut.

“Here you go, will there be anything else?”

“No, thank you, you’ve been very helpful.”

I turned and walked away toward the elevator my heels click clacking away. I felt totally self-conscious. I wondered what the heck was he talking about as I rode the elevator up to the 19th floor. I approached room 1922 cautiously and then spotted yellow police tape across room 1924 the next room down from mine. Shit, if the Livingstone’s were all traveling together, Morgana being eighteen, probably had her own room. And from the look of things her parent’s room was the scene of a crime, damn, damn, damn!

I swiped my key and walked into a plush room and spotted a connecting door to one side. Yes, they’d gotten adjoining rooms! I moved further into the suite and saw a king sized bed, living room, walk-in closet, and huge bathroom. It was easy to see why this was a five star hotel. I started checking the dresser when a loud yawl interrupted my search. A huge calico cat darted from the closet and leaped at my face screeching as it attacked. I reacted instinctively and caught it just below the throat. The damn thing scratched my forearm and surprised by how much this hurt I dropped the cat.

As soon as it landed it launched itself at me again, I was more prepared this time and spoke a Power Word for sleep. The magic slammed into the cat, but the crazed beast fought it off. Holy crap, it crouched hissing and spitting all of its fur standing on end. After a second it attacked again and this time I brought my shield spell up. The cat bounced back from the shield giving me the time I needed to cast a stun spell. I’d just learned my lesson so I poured about twice as much power into the spell. Energy flashed across the room and the cat landed on its side out for the count.

“What the hell!”

I felt my knees turn wobbly for a second as the adrenaline hit my system. I took a couple of deep breaths to re-center myself and then went over to check on the cat. It was breathing then as I watched it, it shuddered once and died. I felt my legs collapse and I settled on the floor next to the dead cat. I didn’t understand. My first spell should have put the cat to sleep when that didn’t work the second spell shouldn’t have been enough to kill it. Suddenly it dawned on me this was Morgana’s familiar.

Not all Magic-Users have a familiar. In fact it’s kind of rare these days. Usually if you’re from an old school family, sometimes teenage girls, or if you’re like me and a weakling, well you need every advantage you can get. At the moment I wished I hadn’t left Edgar in my car. Trying to ignore the cat I started searching again this time starting with the luggage. There were several days’ worth of outfits, casual, formal, and exercise clothes. I felt a surge of excitement when I discovered Morgana’s purse. Now I had a driver’s license as well as her cell phone. I glanced briefly at missed and recent calls, but nothing rang any bells. I spotted a computer case and decided to look at it later. I took a quick look in the bathroom found a magical travel kit, with some basic spell components, and some things which were specific to female Magic-Users. If I was stuck in this body for any length of time this would come in handy.

Now I focused on the door that connected the two rooms. I knew that the Guild would be sending over its own Investigator if there was a crime here which, from the police tape on the door, I thought was likely. I decided to try mundane methods of entry first. I opened the door only to see another door with no handle. Obviously this door could only be opened from the other side. I used my key card and tried to slide it down between the door and the door-frame and was surprised when I was able to jimmy the door open. I went into the room and I instantly sensed death. I opened my third-eye and examined the room, looking for any magical clues, or active spells.

The third-eye refers to an ability that all Magic-Users have and use to look at the world of magic. The mundane world appears as a shadowy black and white to the third-eye, but anything with magical power shows up in color. Another aspect of the third-eye is that it cuts through illusion and shows true shapes. It can also show hidden glyphs and spells and is useful for certain types of research.

I quickly figured out that there were no active spells in the room and that two powerful practitioners of the Art had died on the bed. I was careful not to touch anything as I looked around. After about 10 minutes, when I hadn’t turned up any clues, I returned to Morgana’s room and shut both doors behind me. If they’d been murdered it wasn’t by magic. I sat down on Morgana’s bed and tried to think. First she’d used an illegal spell to swap souls with me. Next she had killed her parents. Check that probably killed them. I realized that I had no proof of murder, but it was way too coincidental for some kind of natural death. What if I had it backwards? What if she’d killed her parents and then swapped with me? It would be a great way to keep me occupied. I might even get arrested and charged. I would eventually be able to prove my identity. Although it would take a Magic-User Master-Class and some very advanced magic to do it. Still I’d be cleared, eventually. In the meantime I’d be out of circulation for a couple of days, maybe longer. The whole time Morgana would free to do whatever it was she was trying to do. Could she be so cold hearted as to kill her parents just to delay me? Why not just kill me? I looked down at the dead cat and had an epiphany. Familiars, they bond mystically with their masters. It was a powerful connection which only death could break. Typically familiars either went into a catatonic state until they died of starvation or they went ferial attacking everything and everyone until they were put down. Edgar was in the office right about the time of the swap. What if she decided not to kill me because of the trouble my familiar would make? My office was in a relatively public place all it would take was for building security to come investigate the noise and she’d be the prime suspect in her own death.

Of course there was also the possibility that she wanted her body back. All of this left me with more questions than answers. For example Morgana wasn’t dead, she was in my body so why had her familiar gone ferial? This, of course, brought me full circle to the original question, what was her motive? She’d obviously lied about the ex-husband so why did she want my body? All of this speculation left me frustrated and with more questions. Nothing so far seemed to fit. From what I’d been able to read the Livingstone’s were a happy, adjusted, and powerful magical family. I doubted she’d kill her parents just to distract and delay me.

I stood up shaking my head feeling my hair swish back and forth. I needed to head out to the place where Morgana was holed up. But first I decided to take as much of her stuff as I could. I had no idea if or when I’d be able to swap back so I spent the next couple of minutes packing up her toiletry kit, make-up, clothes, and computer. I had it all packed into a suitcase, computer case, and hanging bag. I then pricked the index finger of my right hand and using my blood drew a rune on each piece of luggage. Next I tried a spell I’ve used before with lots of augmentation. This time I had plenty of magical muscle and the spell activated shrinking the objects I’d marked. When the spell ran its course each piece of luggage was small enough to fit inside my new purse.

I slipped out of the room and walked toward the elevators. Before I left my place I’d grabbed a ring that I’d spent several months crafting. The ring held only one spell and would work with the barest trickle of power. It was another way to husband power if you’re a skilled weakling. The spell was better than invisibility in my opinion. It was a spell of un-notice. It was designed to trick the senses into not reporting to the mind that the person wearing the ring existed. I’m not very good at mind magic, but I’m a great craftsman and this spell was directed at anyone sensing me via any of the five senses. The ring had a weakness, if I was actively casting a spell anyone with magical sensitivity would feel my presence and the spell of un-notice would break. It was also completely ineffective against security cameras. So I needed to be careful not to cast any more spells until I was out of the building. I activated the ring with ease.

Walking through the lobby I noticed a black Buick pull up behind the police car in front of the hotel. The Guild Special Agents that got out sent a shiver down my spine. They could be here to look at the crime scene or they could be here because they’d gotten a tip that I was here. Shit! I sat down on one of the couches in the lobby and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. After a second I remembered to put my knees together. Stupid skirt. The special agents along with the uniformed mundane police entered the hotel and headed over to the front desk. After a brief conversation all four disappeared into an elevator. As soon as the elevator doors closed I was up and walking out of the hotel. I got to my car without incident and started the engine. For a couple of seconds I just sat there. What had I gotten myself into? Maybe it was time to go into the Guild and tell them what happened. After all I hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact I’m the victim. Then I thought about my reputation as a security consultant. No, my clients wanted secure wards and they wanted privacy. They would not be happy if I brought a bunch of unneeded law enforcement to their doors. I again thought about my mother and the fact that I was always a disappointment. I decided that I’d handle this myself. I’d head up to the hotel I’d scryed earlier and try to find Morgana and bring her in myself.

The drive out gave me time to think. I’ve always been good at runes, wards, and protective spells. I’ve worked hard at combat magic because the exercises are supposed to increase a Magic-User’s strength sort of like lifting weights. Only I never really got any stronger. Now I had plenty of magical muscle, I thought with a sarcastic grin. This brought up a new question, why would Morgana give up her strength? What if she didn’t know I was a weakling? I mean a normal Magic-User 2nd Class isn’t wimpy. If it was to gain access to a location that only I could access then that made sense. She’d now be stuck in my body, unless she had a plan to compensate for the loss of power. Then it dawned on me, Bernard Livingstone, the article had talked about his latest creation. He’d figured out a way to enchant the power of a ley-line into a crystal. If you held the crystal it would be like standing on a ley-line wherever you were. It wouldn’t run out of stored power the way my crystals did and it could triple or quadruple a Magic-User’s strength. If she’d stolen her father’s research then she’d remain strong while in my body. The idea fit, but I knew there was something else I was missing.


**************

It was almost 11 pm when I pulled into the parking lot of the Motel 6 just off the highway. I opened the door and released Edgar to do a reconnaissance. Next I used the last two hairs from my hair brush wrapping them around my index finger and tied a knot. I used the barest whisper of power and cast the spell, “like to like” and spoke a Word of release. I felt a slight pull on my finger, not toward the motel, but around the back. I did a sending to Edgar directing him to head out that way and started walking. Focused as I was on tracking down Morgana I tried to ignore the differences in my physical body. All of a sudden I couldn’t seem to ignore them. Breasts swinging one way and hips the other, I felt physically small and weak. If it weren’t for the magical power that sang in my veins I’d be worried about some guy jumping me. Behind the motel, my spell told me to start walking into the woods.

“Why is it never easy?” I muttered.

If you haven’t tried walking through soft loamy dirt in heels, even two inch heels, I’d recommend against it. After a couple of minutes I pulled my shoes off and held them in one hand grimacing every time I stepped on a stone or a stick. After about five minutes of walking I couldn’t see because the trees now blocked all light from the motel and the road. I used a cantrip and caused a ball of glowing light to hoover above my head. That’s weird I thought usually when I use witch-light it’s a light purple color now it was a light blue. As I walked I thought about the difference between the ways a physical body must filter magic. It had changed one of the color manifestations of my power. If I was still in school it would make a great research topic.

Abruptly I realized that I’d reached my destination. Directly in front of me loomed a large tree and the spell pointed right at it. I sent my witch-light over to it with a mental nudge. Once the light got close enough to the tree I noticed a dark stain on the bark. With a deep breath I opened my third-eye. What I saw was a glowing purple glyph on the tree. I didn’t recognize the glyph but I knew my signature color when I saw it. I stepped forward, eager to look at it more closely, when my familiar screeched a warning. Not being the most powerful Magic-User has ingrained in me some defensive instincts. Instead of turning and trying to bring up a shield I dove forward into a headlong roll just like I practiced in the Dojo. It saved my life, because with a crack of thunder a bolt of lightning shot from my left slashing through the space where I’d been a second ago and struck a tree set it ablaze.

I jumped to my feet feeling my chest move around in a distracting way, I ignored the sensation, and I focused my senses in the direction of the attack. I drew in as much power as I could hold and it was a vast amount of power. I could feel my eyes blazing and the air around me began to crackle with static electricity as my hair started to stand up. I Looked back in the direction of the attack and saw another tree with a glyph in purple now fading. I recognized rune as a simple lightning strike. Once a Magic-User got in range it would activate and blast once. It was the kind of mindless rune magic I hated, because it could hurt anyone that came by similar in the mundane world to a landmine.

Then the ground beneath my feet irrupted, and a cold claw like hand grabbed my ankle and jerked my foot out from under me. I went down backwards and tried to control my fall by slapping the ground to dissipate the energy. In front of me climbing from its fresh grave was a male corpse. I rolled to my feet twisting my ankle free as I moved while trying to get some separation between me and the monster. I need to be able to see what it was I faced. The creature blazed with dark energy. There was no doubt in my mind I was looking at a zombie and one newly made. I brought up my body shields with a word and then held out my hands feeling my power cover them. My whole body was encased in a shield I’d personally designed. The shield consisted of three layers, each layer separated by less than a centimeter, and each layer angled slightly from the one above it. The design was to allow me to deflect spells or physical attacks while using the least amount of power possible. Now, however, I burned with power.

The zombie stepped forward and swung its right arm in a wild raking move. I ducked the swing and stepped to the right. As I did this I reached up cupping its chin with my left hand. I stepped behind it with my left foot and grabbed the back of its head with my right hand. Then with all the force I could muster drove it over my hip smashing the back of its head into the ground in a move known as Irimi-nage. The skull shattered like an egg. I wasn’t sure if this was because of the force of my throw or the magically powered muscles and body shield I’d used but the end result was the same. A Zombie without a brain to tell its limbs what to do is just a corpse.

Edgar perched in a tree to my right let out a caw of approval, and started to preen himself. Glad you approve I thought sourly. The stench from the corpse was pretty overwhelming. Holding my nose to stop a gag reflex I’d never had before I looked closely at the rune on the tree. I’d never seen anything like it and with a sinking feeling I realized that it had been written in my body’s blood. Which explained why my tracking spell had brought me here I thought angrily. I quickly memorized the rune and then returned to the corpse. I went through its pockets, barely able to keep my dinner down and was surprised to find a wallet and a passport. I hesitated for a second and then opened my third-eye, again, examining the corpse for magic. What I saw startled me. On the zombie’s forehead previously invisible was the same glyph that had been on the tree.

I called Edgar to me and walked off a good hundred paces and then turned back to the trap. For a second I didn’t want to think about it what I needed to do. This was something I didn’t want the Police or the Guild’s special agents to find. My blood or rather blood from my body had been used in the creation of black magic and necromancy. I had a spell I used to light fires in my fire place. It was great because I’d modified it to be as efficient as possible. Fire is a powerful, cleansing element, when you burn something to ash if the fire is hot enough you can destroy almost all physical and magical traces.

Drawing as much power as I could and I cast my spell. I’d expected a fire, what I got was a fire storm. A spark of light darted from my open hand to the tree with the glyph. When it hit it exploded into a column of flame that nearly 40 feet into the sky. And like a tidal wave the fire rolled out running rapidly toward me. I barely had time to raise my shield before the flame swept past. Almost as quickly as the fire started it collapsed and died. The thing about magical fire is that it needs magic to sustain it, lacking more power as a source of fuel it had died. The area where the trap had been was nothing more than a 40 foot circle of ash. With a small burst of power I put out the secondary fires my spell had started and then turned back to the motel. As I stepped out of the woods I activated my ring of ‘un-notice’ and promptly stepped on a sharp stone in the parking lot.

“Damn it!” I swore hopping up and down.

Limping back to my car I realized that I’d dropped my shoes during the fight, and now they were nothing more than ashes.

“I’m not with it tonight.”

I drove toward St. Louis and my little house for almost twenty minutes before I stopped at a Burger King and order a chicken value meal to go. After I’d collected my food from the window I pulled around behind the restaurant and parked my car just as a wave of nausea hit me. I barely managed to get my car door open before I vomited. I sat there shaking and trying not to think. The smell of the food I’d purchased didn’t help my stomach at the moment.

Good God, what the hell was going on? What had I gotten myself into? So far today I’d either seen or been the victim of body theft, sorcery, murder, black magic, and now necromancy. I sat still gripping the steering wheel with two hands and focused on breathing. After the nausea subsided I started sipping my diet cola and concentrated on what had just happened. This had obviously been a trap, either set for me or for anyone investigating what was going on. Again, I thought about going to my mom or to the guild, but rejected the idea for the moment. Mother would just use this as another example of my short comings, and the guild would systematically contact each of my clients. No I had to get to the bottom of this myself. I needed to prove that I was just as capable as the rest of my family.

"Who was the dead guy?" I wondered out loud.

I grabbed the passport and opened it. I read the name, Ambrose L. Grosvenor for some reason the name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Now that my stomach had settled a bit I decided to try to eat. As I ate I let my mind wander and abruptly remembered in a flash of insight. Ambrose Grosvenor, was a criminal, he’d been convicted of practicing illegal magic including sorcery, blood magic and necromancy. It had been a case study in my ethical use of magic class when I’d been at the University. He’d been paroled about a year ago after having served his sentence in an English prison. I guess he’d never practice illegal magic again since his body was now nothing more than ashes.

I started up the Charger and headed home, as I drove I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something obvious. Why would Morgana kill Ambrose? Then her parents and swap with me? Why the elaborate trap? I mean as an artist the lightning was inspired since both glyphs must have activated at the same time, lighting is a quick and simple spell obviously the power to reanimate a corpse must take a few seconds. By distracting me with the lightning Morgana had set me up for the zombie to take me down. Then I had my second epiphany of the night.

What if Morgana was a victim? Ambrose had been out of prison for a while. What if I was his target all along? What if he’d uncovered an ancient black sorcerer’s spell for swapping souls? This would give him a powerful and unique ability. He knew that I was an impotent Magic-User. Bernard Livingstone two weeks ago had announced his breakthrough and Ambrose needed it. He needed it because in my body he wouldn’t have enough power to cast his soul swap spell. So Ambrose tricks Morgana and takes her body and kills her in his body. Now in Morgana’s body he kills Morgana’s unsuspecting parents and locks up her familiar which would have gone feral with Morgana’s death. He then takes the crystal he needed to augment his power in my body. Ambrose then arrives at my office pretending to need my help. It’s a public office, in an office building with lots of people. He swapped bodies with me and in flies Edgar. Now he’s got another familiar who will go crazy if I’m killed and he can’t afford a public scene so ties me up and leaves.

So Ambrose now in my body has a crystal that augments his power by a factor of four and doesn’t run out of stored energy like my crystals do. Knowing that sooner or later I’ll come looking for him he set this trap, designed to either kill me or take me out of town for a couple of hours. Not to mention the fact that now that I’m in Morgana’s body and I might get charged with the death of her parents. The final piece that made me certain it must be Ambrose all along was the fact that he’d spoofed my tracking spell. It should have at least shown me two possible locations for him, instead it had pointed only to the Motel 6. That took real skill, skill that an 18 year old girl recently graduated from high school, no matter how strong, wouldn’t possess.

“Holy shit,” I muttered.

It all fit as farfetched as it was it somehow struck me as right. Suddenly my vision blurred poor Morgana just 18 years old and she had been tricked and murdered. I took a deep breath and focused on the road God how do women deal with these emotional swings? This brought me back to my original question. What the hell did he need my body for? What home or building did he need to get into so badly that he would go to this length? If I could figure out what he was after I could catch him in the act. I knew I’d get no answers out here on I-70 so I hit the gas and accelerated toward my house and all of my files.


**************
Chapter 3
Revenge
**************

It was well after midnight when I pulled into my driveway, I almost forgot to speak the Key, but got it out before my wards stalled out the car again. Once in the house I reset the wards and then headed to the cabinet where I kept my whiskey. I needed a drink.

My head hurt, this had to have been one of the longest days of my life. After downing the two fingers of Jameson in a single gulp I spent the next thirty seconds sputtering. Obviously Morgana was not used to whiskey. I could tell that I was exhausted, physically, emotionally, and magically. I made another sandwich and then went to my bedroom. I set my purse on the dresser and pulled out the three items I’d en-spelled earlier. It was simple to break the spells. I watched the drops of blood vaporize and the luggage and computer case returned to their normal size. The idea of sleep was almost irresistible. For some reason I knew I couldn’t afford to rest. I felt like I was in a race against Ambrose and so far I was losing. I took Morgana’s toiletry kit to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, washed my face, and pulled my hair back into a pony tail and turned on the shower.

As I waited for the shower to heat up, I removed the clothes I’d been wearing all day. I soon realized that Morgana’s sense of smell was far better than my own. God, I stink I thought to myself. I tossed her clothes to one side and looked in the mirror. I was captivated. Her flawless face had high cheekbones with a slightly up turned nose and chin that came to a delicate point. But it was her beautiful blue eyes that stole my breath. Her skin was very pale and her nipples bright pink. Looking down at the crotch I saw a small well-trimmed triangle of hair.

“I think I’m in love” I said out loud and wondered if that made me a narcissist.

With the water hot enough I climbed into the shower. The first thing I noticed about Morgana’s skin was that it’s far more sensitive than my own, the second thing I noticed was that I was crazy if I thought her breasts were too small. The third thing, well, you get the picture. I could have stayed in the shower the rest of the night contemplating the feeling of soapy slick female flesh. It took longer than I thought it would to dry off. I’m used to vigorously rubbing the water from my skin. But after feeling the abrasiveness of my towel, I understood why women blot the water off. I’d managed to keep my hair mostly dry by putting it up so I headed back to the bedroom and opened Morgana’s luggage. I found a pair of pink sweat pants and black t-shirt with small letters across the chest that said, “If you can read this you better buy me a drink.” Setting these to the side I found a bra and panties. The panties slide up my legs and settled snugly around my crotch and hips. God, that feels weird I thought. I’d always been a boxer guy and having material fit so snugly was weird. Next I picked up the bra, just as I’d seen my last girlfriend do I turned it around backwards clasped the hooks. I then spun it back around and slipped my arms through the straps. It still took me a few seconds to adjust my new and still foreign appendages into the cups. After this the sweat pants and t-shirt felt almost normal.

Feeling refreshed and more awake, I headed to the kitchen to get some coffee going. The best thing about my Keurig was that I had a hot cup of coffee in my hand in a few seconds. I now headed to the basement to do some research. I figured I’d start by looking at the data base with all my files.

“Let’s see, sort by magical rating.” I thought to myself.

The name at the top of the list caused me to stop. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Evaline Mor Donegal, Ph. D. AA, Magic-User, Master-Class. About three years ago I’d rebuilt and redesigned the wards on my mother’s estate. My family was easily the most powerful, magically speaking, in St. Louis and we had a vault full of ancient artifacts, whose purpose only mother knew. But anyone going after my mother was suicidal. She was superbly skilled and magically speaking she was one of the top 20 Magic-Users in the United States. Very powerful and skilled Magic-Users also had the ability to slow down the effects of time, they are not immortal, just very long lived. My mother was at the height of her power and she looked like she was in her early thirties and would be very difficult to take down. Ambrose would be a fool to mess with her.
I decided to try a different approach. I started up a search engine looking for all the information I could find on Ambrose L. Grosvenor. I let the computer do its thing and went up to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee and returned to the basement. By this time I’d found several articles and even a Guild sponsored Wiki page with info on Ambrose. Born in Breast, France in 1942 he was the son of magical parents. He had been a gifted student of 1st class power. According to the articles he had a dark side and was caught practicing or trying to learn illegal magic. In 1970 his parents had gone missing, authorities had been unable to figure out what had happened. In 1972 he’d been caught in London, England trying to steal an artifact related to blood magic. The object was an ancient stone (obsidian) Athame whose properties had never been thoroughly documented. During the investigation it was discovered that he’d been practicing illegal magic for years. I was stunned to see a picture of my mother in the audience at his sentencing back in 1972.

When I read this I realized I’d been doubly a fool. I’d seen that Athame, it was in the family vault. My mother, because of her expertise on ancient artifacts, was often asked to do research or act as a consultant by the Guild in fact she was now a Guild Elder and sat on the St. Louis Guild Hall Council. She could have been the Guild Hall Grand Master if she’d wanted the title. Unless I was totally mistaken that dagger was at my family’s estate.

“OH MY GOD, that son of a bitch has been planning all along to use my body to steal the Athame of Tartarus, from our vault.”

Saying it out loud suddenly made me realize that it was not only logical, it was possibly the only explanation for what had been going on. I rushed to my home phone (Ambrose had taken my cell when he stole my body) and called my mother’s private number. After several rings voice mail picked up, this was not unusual since my mother never seemed to be able to remember to carry her cell phone with her while at home. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was after two a.m. She usually stayed up late but there was a good chance she’d gone to bed by now. Whatever was going on I needed to get over to the estate as quickly as possible. I rushed back to my bedroom and grabbed a set of Morgana’s cross trainers and her purse and headed to the car. I only stopped long enough to allow Edgar to land on my shoulder before I ran out. At this time of night there was very little traffic and I stomped on the accelerator. I also poured energy into my ring of un-notice and focused on extending the field out around the Charger. I didn’t have time to deal with cops tonight and for once I had the magical strength to really use this ring. It still it took me almost 30 minutes to get to my mother’s estate.

As I approached the grounds I felt the wards humming with power, I spoke the Key with a push of energy and felt the Charger slip between the wards. I pulled my car to a stop in front of the main entrance and darted toward the steps taking them two at a time. The front doors were closed and locked for the night. It only took me a second to speak the Key that unlocked them and focused as I was on reaching my mother I almost didn’t notice Edgar when he landed on my shoulder. I dashed into the house feeling at home. If there was one place I knew it was this house. I hit the steps to the lower level running. When I came out onto the hallway I raced to the far end. This was where the stairs were that lead to the vault, if something had happened it would be here.

As I rushed down the hallway toward the stairs I saw a body crumpled in the hallway. When I got closer I realized it was my body. I knelt next to it feeling for a pulse. Slow and steady I felt the heartbeat. Okay, but who was in my body? I decided not to take chances and cast a spell to bind it. Now I headed deeper into the vault going slower trying to be ready anything. The outer glyphs were down, not a good sign. I descend the stairs slowly and cautiously. Once at the vault level there should have been a set of wards to stop me, but these had also been deactivated. I raced along the hallway not knowing which chamber to check, yet feeling with a sense of intuition that I needed to head to the back of the vault. I opened the last door and inside I saw my mother in her favorite black and purple bathrobe, her dark red hair loose, holding a stone Athame. All the protective spells in the chamber had been deactivated.

“Ambrose, put that down you murderer!” I shouted, charging forward. Unfortunately, Ambrose in my mother’s body lifted a hand and a wall of force came into being between us.

“Ah, Alastar, how have you been? Are you enjoying your new body? It is much better than your old one, no?”

His slight French accident seemed so out of place coming from my mother’s mouth. I didn’t respond to his taunt, instead spoke a Word designed to slice through a shield spell. It was another spell I’d re-designed to be as efficient as possible to compensate for my lack of power. At the moment I had plenty of power and I used every bit of it. I felt Ambrose protective shield come apart under my assault. Before I could do anything else she lifted the dagger and made a vertical cutting gesture and the fabric of reality was torn open in response. With a grin Ambrose stepped into the breach and waived at me with one hand.

“Tat-ta darling, I’ll see you soon.”

Before I could cross the room the hole had sealed itself leaving me and Edgar alone in the vault.


**************

The sun was peaking over the horizon, when I finally closed my eyes. After Ambrose escaped I returned to where my body was lying passed out. I removed the binding and with a word levitated the person I assumed to be my mother and using one hand pushed her to her room and dropped her, fully clothed, onto her bed. Then I went around the estate and reset all of the wards to answer only to the command Key not to a body signature. By the time I was done the sun had crested the horizon and I was exhausted. My mother’s room is huge and besides the bed there is a full couch, love seat, recliner, and coffee table. I stretched out on the couch and closed my eyes. I thought it would be difficult to fall asleep but I was out almost as soon as my head hit the cushions.

I woke up with a start, feeling magical bonds wrap around me. Unable to move my arms I opened my eyes and glanced toward the bed where I’d left my mother. Mid-morning sunlight was streaming in from behind a tall figure holding an old world styled wand. The wand was pointed at me, which explained the binding.

“Mom, is that you?” I asked trying to shake the sleep from my brain.

“I am not your mother, Morgana. What are you doing in my house? And what did you do to my magic?” Demanded the figure in a cold voice!

“Mom,” I said feeling irritated, “I’m not Morgana Livingstone! I’m your son Alastar. Ambrose Grosvenor stole Morgana’s body, then mine, and now yours. Release me, please” I added feeling annoyed. After everything I’d been through I was in no mood to put up with my mother’s dominance games.

“I, … I’m in Alastar’s body?”

For the first time, in my memory, my mother, Evaline Mor Donegal, Magic-User, Master-Class sounded unsure of herself. Ignoring me for the moment she walked over to the large mirror hanging on the wall and stared at herself. With her free hand she touched her face, then her chest, and finally a quick check of her groin. Turning back to me I could see that she was red faced and flustered. This was another first. I’ve never seen my mother anything but calm and in control, even when she was angry her control never slipped.

“Mom, let me up I can explain what’s happened.” I said as gently as I could.

With a gesture of the wand she released me and I sat up. I felt like crap. I wasn’t sure how much sleep I’d gotten but it hadn’t been enough. I’d been slinging magic around yesterday like I’ve never done in my life. That much magic would have taken me a year to build up and store. Mom sat down on the couch opposite me crossing her legs feminine fashion, grunted, and quickly readjusted to a position that accommodated my male parts.

“You said you’d explain?”

With that I launched into an account of what had happened to me yesterday. She sat quietly listening as I went through the events and my deductions. She only interrupted once to ask about the zombie and made me show her the rune I’d memorized. After I finished talking she sat quietly, not moving, I recognized this as something she did when she really wanted to consider an issue.

“I need to report this to the Council of Elders.”

“Mom, do we really want to make this situation public knowledge?”

“I said the Guild Council of Elders, not the public. Ambrose is a criminal and ever since he was paroled we’ve had him under surveillance. A week ago the agent assigned to watching Ambrose disappeared and Ambrose dropped out of sight. It alarmed the council enough to put out a quite notice for all Master-Class Magic-Users to be on the lookout for him. None of us thought he was this powerful, daring, and lucky. If what you’re telling me is accurate,” when I started to protest she held up her hand. “If you’re right then he’s a serious threat. The soul exchange spell alone makes him one of the top criminals in the world. Then there is the theft of the Athame, that knife can be used in several different rites all of which are trouble.”

What she didn’t add was that in her body he was even more powerful than he’d been in his original body and that power was augmented by the artifacts he’d stolen. Standing up, she offered me her hand, this felt odd since I can’t remember the last time my mother offered to help me up. I took it and once standing she said.

“Alastar I’ll need your help. I’m not strong enough at the moment to do the sendings required to call a meeting of the Elders. You’ll have to activate the orb, although I’ll do the talking.”

I nodded not trusting myself to speak. Seeing my mother in my body was weird, on so many levels, her having to ask me for magical help made me feel like the world was upside down. On the other hand I felt hugely relieved that she wasn’t lecturing me about not coming to her for aid as soon as I’d been attacked.

Mother’s sanctum was only a short walk from her bedroom. As we approached the doors she spoke the Keys to lower the wards and nothing happened. With an irritated look, she took a deep breath, and I felt her focus and pull in a tiny amount of power and then release it repeating the Key. The wards dropped and we entered her sanctum. I couldn’t help smiling, since I was behind her and she couldn’t see me, at her having to deal with my handicap. This experience might actually bring my mother’s ego down a peg or two and should help me once we got back into our proper bodies.

Mother’s sanctum was a circular room with large skylights. Around the room there were several enormous book shelves, and in the center the most complex pentagram/summoning circle I’d ever seen. My mother had spent years building up the power in this place and it contained cases with staffs, wands, and enchanted jewelry. With all of this even in my body, my mother was far from helpless. Did she really need me to work her communication spell? Probably not, but why waste a crystal, or ring when I could help? It was far smarter to save the power stored here for when it was really needed.

Evaline walked over to a small side table covered in black velvet cloth and pulled off the cover. Once the table was revealed I could see that embedded in the center was a large crystal. Mom looked at me and then gestured toward the crystal.

“Alastar all you have to do is direct enough energy to activate the crystal, once activated I’ll cast the spell and do the talking.”

I shrugged my shoulders feeling the unfamiliar shifting of my chest, “sure.” I focused on the crystal and briefly opened my third-eye. I instantly saw what she wanted me to do and sent a tendril of power toward the crystal. In response the crystal began to show a swirling cascade of color inside. At this Mother started chanting and gesturing when she finished I felt her pathetic surge of energy. It was enough and the crystal flared with white light.

“I am Evaline Donegal, Magic-User, Master-Class, and Senior-Elder-in-Good-Standing of the St. Louis Guild of the Arcane. I summon the American Guild of the Arcane, Council of Elders to an emergency meeting. I will host at my estate in St. Louis the emergency is about Ambrose Grosvenor. He has just stolen the Athame of Tartarus. The session will begin at 7 pm US CST.”

With that she broke the connection. I’d never seen this particular sending orb but from its basic design I guessed that each member of the Guild’s Council of Elders had a similar orb. The message mother had sent would flow to each linked crystal and the message would be locked within until the owner came and listened to it. Kind of like an answering machine only much more secure and one that required a level of magical skill and power to operate.

With this task done, my mother suggested we find some breakfast. I was starving and quickly agreed. We carried our food out onto the back deck overlooking the lawn. Breakfast was filled with awkward silences and attempts to make conversation.

“Do you think we should tell the St. Louis Guild Hall what happened?” I asked having finished eating and feeling the need to fill the silence.

“Not until after we talk to the National Council.” She replied, “in fact I’d like you to stay on the estate today. The local police and the Guild may have a warrant out to bring you, … Morgana Livingstone, that is, in for questioning. I’d really rather that not happen at all, but if it happened before tonight’s meeting getting you out of jail could be challenging.”

“So we’re just going to sit here while Ambrose run’s loose doing God knows what? Mom he’s got your body! He could be anywhere in the world right now pretending to be you. We have to do something!”

Mother nodded, “your right, once we’re done here I’ll make some phone calls and send out a couple of additional magical messages.” She said sipping her cup of coffee as though she didn’t have a care in the world.

“How can you be so calm?”

“This isn’t very different from a transformation spell.” My mother replied looking at me with an amused half grin. “Come now Alastar you honestly don’t think that this is the first time I’ve worn a male form?”

I sat there sputtering as she took another sip of coffee. After a minute I said, “you know there’s another thing I don’t get. Why did he take your body? I mean he had mine, so he had access to the house and the vault. Why attack you?”
For a moment I didn’t think she’d answer, and then finally after an internal debate she replied.

“I think there are two reasons. Revenge and power.”

I remained silent, knowing my mother would continue if I didn’t interrupt.

“I didn’t think much of it when he showed up on the grounds. I thought he was you, and even though you don’t visit much you’re always welcome. We had a quiet dinner and since you didn’t seem to be talkative I chose to respect your privacy.”
Now mother was staring off into space as she talked, like she was watching the past events instead of recounting them.
“I returned to my sanctum after dinner, I’ve been working on a broad area weather spell and I wanted to look at the results of some of my recent research. Around midnight I went to bed. I was almost fully asleep when the warding from the room within the vault where the Athame was stored went off.” She paused to look at me, “you see that knife is very dangerous, once I stored it in the vault I placed a special set of wards on the room. They are keyed to me only, well, to my body’s physical essence.”

“You never told me you had set up additional wards.” I interrupted feeling hurt that she hadn’t trusted me.

“I’ve set up layers of security on this property that you’ve had no reason to know about.” She replied looking at me and not seeming the slightest bit concerned.

“Shall I continue?”

I nodded my head and bit my lip to stop from saying anything.

“I put on a robe and headed to the vault. I saw Ambrose, who I thought was you, coming up out of the vault looking like he’d been up to something. I stopped him and accused him of trying to break into the Athame room. At this he laughed and said that this was probably a better revenge. We looked each other in the eye and he cast his spell. It’s a very quick spell since I didn’t get a chance to bring up a shield. I also never expected an attack from my son.” Again she was staring off into space.

“You said there were two reasons?” I asked. “I understand the power of the artifact, but revenge?”

“Yes, he must have deduced that he’d need to be in my physical body to get into the chamber. By stealing my body and leaving me in yours, he is revenged on me for the role I played in his arrest in London.”

I felt my cheeks burn, because I knew what my mother meant by her comment. What she didn’t have to say, was that Ambrose by leaving her in my body had effectively stolen her personal power in addition to the artifact.

“Mom, how are you connected to this guy?” I asked.

She looked away staring off into space. “Before you were born, before I’d even met your father, I was studying abroad. It was a fashionable thing to do, for young, powerful, Magic-Users in the 1970s. I was in London studying at the Royal Academy of the Arcane when I met Ambrose. You’ve got to understand that in those days he was very charismatic. We had some similar interests and started meeting to talk about research. We even dated for a while.” With this she paused to look away before she continued. “After a few months I realized that he was headed in a direction I thought was unethical. We started arguing and I finally broke off the relationship. The night he tried to steal the Athame I was in the Academy’s archive and thought I saw him. I went after him curious and wanting to talk to him. I saw him break into the section reserved for powerful magical artifacts.” She now looked down into her cup of coffee remembering. “I called the authorities and then waited for them to arrive. Ambrose was on his way out and so I stopped him pretending that I wanted to talk to him. It worked and while we were talking security arrived. The problem was that when they tried to arrest him, he overpowered them. So I took him down. That was the first time I’d ever been in a serious magical duel.” She paused to look over at me. “The rest of the story is a matter of record. Ambrose was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced for the use of black magic, breaking and entering, attempted theft, and some other charges I can’t remember. I never saw or heard from him again until last night. Although, I thought he was you at the time.” After her speech we sat in silence for a while both of his thinking as we looked out on the back lawn.

“Why have I never heard about this before?”

“Alastar, you’re a good son, but there are many things I’ve done that I’ve not told you about. And there are many other things I will never tell you.” She stood up, “I need to get cleaned up. I believe you kept a few sets of clothes in your bedroom?” When I nodded, she paused before heading to my old room to say. “You said that you left Morgana’s luggage at your place? Ask Steven (the butler) to have Morgana’s luggage brought here. You’ll be staying at least overnight.”

Yup, that was my mother, even in my body she was giving orders and assuming I’d obey. I had to let out a sigh, since even though I wanted to rebel, what she’d suggested made sense. I stood up and went looking for Steven.


**************
Chapter 4
It’s all about power
**************

The day passed pretty quickly, after getting Morgana’s luggage I’d showered for the second time in this body. This time I’d indulged my curiosity to a point just short of masturbation. Once out of the shower I dressed in a set of casual clothes from Morgana’s luggage brushed out my hair and used one of the magical beauty aids that was considered a minor illusion and had the same effect as make up. Not that Morgana needed much. Then I went in search of my mother and found her in her sanctum on the phone. Once I came in she asked me to help out with a few magical sending’s. This kept me occupied until lunch. I left my mother, who was now focused on researching something or other, and went to the kitchen. I had bowl of soup and a sandwich for lunch on the back deck and tried to enjoy the spring day. Edgar was out with me swooping and flying around obviously relishing the weather.

Bored, I figured I should test out the magic ability of my current body. So I went to one of our training rooms. The great thing about these rooms was that you could really cut loose magically. There were spells on the room designed to keep castings inside and yet allow me to see what I could do. What I learned that afternoon shocked me. I’d always had an affinity for elemental magic, earth, air, fire, water, metal and wood. I could still work elemental magic, but it was no longer an affinity. Instead, I discovered I was more in tune with celestial bodies and ley-line magic. The movement of the planets, stars, sun and moon were something Morgana’s body was very sensitive too. There must be a genetic tie, I thought. Because I could sense the lines of magical power that ran through the earth in a way I’d only read about. I suspect that Morgana’s Dad had also been sensitive to ley-line magic considering his research. I was also much more gifted at mind magic than I’d been before. The second thing I learned was that I was powerful!

This body easily had the strength to be a Magic-User Master-Class all Morgana had needed was the knowledge and skill. I had plenty of both which made me wonder if I could take the tests and did I want to give up this power? I was still very uncomfortable with this body but having this kind of power was new and addictive. To my chagrin, I discovered that even the best training room with all kinds of protective spells can be over loaded if the person getting the workout is strong enough. After accidently putting a crack in the floor I decided I’d trained enough for the moment. While I’d been testing my abilities I’d failed to notice that I’d become drenched with sweat. I felt damp along my back and sweat running down between my breasts. Talk about weird sensations, I thought, as I headed back to my room.

Once clean I still had some time before dinner. I noticed that Steven had brought Morgana’s computer as well as her other things when he delivered them from my house. Curious I powered up the machine and learned that like so many other powerful Magic-Users she’d utterly failed at cyber security. She didn’t even have a password on her PC and her e-mail account took only a few minutes to hack (the password was Gandalf. . . . really?).

I started poking through her e-mail and didn’t notice anything odd until I saw a series of notes between her and a person called ALG. I saw that she’d gotten in touch with this guy via a mutual friend and was looking for some rare spell components for a difficult spell she was attempting to master. ALG had arranged a meeting three days ago shortly after she’d arrived in St. Louis. This had to have been the setup Ambrose had used to steal her body. What caught my interest was the address. It was for a house in a well to-do area of St. Louis. Did Ambrose have a residence here? Or did he have friends or accomplices working with him? What if he’d never left the city?

To stay here after the crimes he’d committed would take confidence and arrogance. I figured that Ambrose, from everything I’d read or heard, had plenty of both. I knew I had to check this out, and that my mom would forbid it. She’d tell me to wait until after the council meeting. It was only 5 pm and I had no interest in sitting around listening to a bunch of old men and women talk. I expected that I’d have to repeat my story over and over, and that I’d be poked and prodded (magically speaking). I headed to the vault. Mom kept some really powerful artifacts and magical tools in the vault in addition to other less powerful items. These other tools might come in handy if I found and was forced to confront Ambrose. I stayed away from the older, strike that, the ‘ancient’ stuff and instead focused on the things I knew how to use. A pair of wands, a couple of rings, and a set of earrings (I now had pierced ears so I might as well use them). I then returned to my room and changed into jeans, cross trainers, (with pink trim, ugh!) a long sleeved black blouse, and a black jacket.

Sneaking off the property was much easier now than when I’d been a teenager. Thanks in part to my un-notice spell and my much greater strength in using it. Of course the fact that my mother had given the staff the day off, after Steven returned with my things, didn’t hurt. She didn’t want to have to do a lot of explaining about why she was in her son’s body. With Edgar riding shotgun I headed back into St. Louis.

“Ambrose, you sorry SOB, if you’re still in St. Louis you’re about to regret it.”

I arrived in the area to find that the address was in a gated community. I pulled up to the gate and the security guard stepped up to my window.

“How can I help you Miss?” For a second I didn’t know who he was talking to and then realized I was now the ‘Miss.’

“I’m here to visit some friends” I said and made a quick gesture and subvocalized the Power Word for beguilement.

“Okay Ma’am, go on in” he responded returning to the booth and hitting the button that opened the gate. Once inside I drove around until I found the address and then drove past it, stopping two blocks away. I knew that I needed to approach this cautiously. I sent Edgar into the sky to watch from above and activated my ring of un-notice. I walked back toward the house and realized that I could see my breath on the cold evening air. I scanned each of the houses looking for a place where I could duck around behind them. I figured it would be better for me to work my way around behind the place where I thought Ambrose was hiding in my mother’s body. From the street, when I’d driven by, the house had been dark. I spotted a sidewalk winding around behind one of the houses and used it to cut through one of the neighbor’s backyards heading to the rear of Ambrose’s house. There was a tall privacy fence separating Ambrose house from its neighbors. Edgar informed me there was no one in the backyard so I risked detection and levitated over the fence.

Once inside I found a well-manicured English garden. Most of the plants hadn’t started to blossom yet, but spring was on its way. I made it undetected to the back side of the house and started looking for a door. After a couple of minutes I found it and looked around. With no one in sight I cast a spell to unlock the door and slipped into the house. I didn’t want to risk a witch-light, but knew I couldn’t afford to stumble around either. So I cast a spell designed to allow me to see better in the dark. It wasn’t as good as a witch-light would have been, in the interest of stealth, I’d have to make due.

I was starting to get worried all of this spell casting pretty much defeated the effectiveness of my ring. After satisfying myself that everything was okay I headed deeper into the house. I made it to the kitchen when I heard a noise behind me. I started to turn and felt my head explode. Standing behind me was a guy holding a police baton, it descended again, and everything went dark.


**************

I woke up groggily my head aching unable to move. The first thing I noticed was that I was naked. The second thing I notice was that it was damn cold. I’m not normally very shy about my body, but being naked in a female body seemed like a much greater violation than it would have in my natural form. I was bound with magic unable to move or speak floating about a foot or two off the ground. The only thing I could move was my head. I was able to tell that I was outside in some sort of clearing and the moon had just risen.

“Ah, you’re awake, excellent.”

The sound of my mother’s voice came from my left and for a second I felt comforted when I heard it. Then Ambrose stepped into view. My mother has long dark red hair and a great figure. She can easily pass for a woman in her thirties. Ambrose had dressed her body in a loose ceremonial robe tied at the waist with a rope. Her hair hung free to her waist and she was bare foot. In her hand she held the Athame and once she was sure that I could see her, she gave me a wicked grin I’d never seen on my mother’s face.

“It took you long enough to get here I thought I might have to go kidnap you if you didn’t read the e-mails I left.”

When I didn’t say anything Ambrose made a gesture and loosened the magic holding my mouth shut. “You bastard, my mother will be here soon and you’ll regret what you’ve done.” I said trying to sound brave.

Ambrose’s laugh, sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard my mother make, it was a cackle filled with insanity, and it made the hair on my arms stand up.

“Evaline has almost no power. I could swat her like a bug, my dear. Instead of thinking about your mother you should be wondering what I want with you.”

Feeling like I needed to keep her talking I said. “Alright I’ll bite, what do you want with me?”

Ambrose lifted the Athame, “I intend to perform the Rite of Iapetus and for that I need the blood of a virgin, freshly shed upon the Athame of Tartarus. You Morgana Livingstone are a virgin and therefore crucial to my plan.”

I felt the blood drain from my face, and I closed my eyes to block out the sight of my mother laughing manically. I don’t know how long I hung there with my eyes closed, but when I opened them I saw that Ambrose had moved away. I could hear her talking with someone although I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I took a deep breath and opened myself to the magic around me, and found pain. I’m not sure how long I screamed but my throat was raw when I stopped, Ambrose was once again standing in front of me grinning.

“Ah, I see you’ve discovered what happens if you try to draw magic while wearing a Collar of Binding.”

Even though I couldn’t move I felt for the first time a metal collar around my neck. I’d read about this device, it was used by the Guild to contain criminals with magical abilities. No doubt Ambrose was familiar with it from his days in prison.

“Whatever you’re planning won’t succeed, mother has called the Council and once they arrive they’ll track you down and you’ll be back in prison where you belong.” I blustered weakly.

“That is where your wrong, my dear,” Ambrose said sweetly. “I want you to be able to appreciate what I’m about to do,” and with a wave of her hand I was spun around and found myself, still bound, facing a dirt clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a large concrete slab with a pentagram carved into the stone surface. Kneeling to one side were a man and woman, it was hard to figure their ages since they both had their faces pressed into the ground. Ambrose walked around to the woman and whispered into her ear, the woman then stood up and held out her hands palms up. In two quick slashes Ambrose cut her wrists open with the Athame. As soon as the blood started to flow the woman walked to the circle encasing the pentagram and began to fill the trench with the blood leaking from her wrists.

Next Ambrose turned to the man, “watch her” he said gesturing at me. “If she tries anything subdue her.” Ambrose then went into the center of the pentagram and settled into a lotus position and closed her eyes.

Well Alastar you’re in trouble now, I thought, no magical power, stuck naked, in a female body, about to be sacrifice in some dark ritual. For a second I felt like laughing at the ridiculousness of my situation then I felt a wave of despair well up inside of me. My whole life I’d been weak, almost powerless, no one had ever thought I’d amount to much. My pathetic Magic-User 2nd Class license was an embarrassment to the family. I felt tears leak out from under my eyelids. Was this how I was going to die?

At that moment I felt something snap inside of me. It was true I’d always been weak and no one had ever given me a chance, yet I’d built a life and a solid reputation based on skill and intelligence. So what if this stupid collar blocked me from using power, that was almost normal for me. The more I thought about it the more I wondered. Magical devices like this required a high degree of specialization and skill. Unless Ambrose had stolen one, which was unlikely, then he’d have probably crafted it himself. Perhaps it was flawed? Very carefully, I focused on drawing the smallest trickle of power. I felt the magic and no pain. Blocking out the sounds of the woman as she whimpered and crawled around the circle, I pictured my version of an open lock spell. This was a spell I could perform un-augmented, but only because I’d changed it so much that it took very little power to cast. After what seemed like hours, I felt like I had enough power and whispered a single word and sent my spell at the lock on the collar I wore. There was a flash of pain for a second as the spell activated and then the collar fell away. I didn’t waste any time, I drank from the torrent of magical energy available to me, and cast a spell that shattered my magical bonds.

I fell to the ground and barely had time to roll over before the unnamed male was on me. He tried to straddle my prone body but I got my legs up and around his waist in full guard. This didn’t faze him and he reached down with both hands started choking me. Because I’ve always been a magical weakling I’ve compensated with training. I’ve studied several Martial Arts over the years. I grabbed his right wrist with both of my hands I put my right foot into his hip and pushed up. He twisted slightly to my left trying to keep his balance while choking me. This allowed me to lift my left leg up and hook my calf under his chin, and using the power of my abs and legs, I flipped him onto his back with his right wrist still trapped by both of my hands. This caused his elbow to be stretched across my right thigh, in a classic arm bar. I pushed up with my hips and cranked down on his wrist with both hands, the resounding pop of his elbow breaking told me I’d been successful. I immediately rolled away and got to my feet. The guy let out a bellow of pain and clutched his broken arm. Unfortunately the noise had gotten Ambrose’s attention and her eyes blazed with power as she looked at me.

“Be still” she said.

I felt mental shackles wrap around my mind and almost panicked. I’ve never had any talent for mind magic and this type of attack would normally have been very effective against me. Morgana, however had a natural affinity for this type of magic, so I used every bit of focus and natural ability I now possessed and fought. Abruptly the mental pressure from the spell dissipated.

“Now, bitch! I’ve had enough of you.”

I cast a magic missile spell, a simple construct of pure magic, with every bit of power I could now put behind it. Ambrose caught it on an up raised hand. My next attack was fire, I’m very skilled with fire, and even though this body wasn’t particularly strong in elemental magic I was blazing with magic. The result was an inferno. Ambrose in my mother’s body floated up and out of the blaze, holding the Athame in one hand and a glowing red stone in the other.

“Curse you! I’ll eat your heart for this!” Ambrose raged.

Only then did I comprehend that the spell I’d just cast had not only destroyed the pentagram Ambrose had been planning to use, but I’d accidentally killed the woman she’d been controlling. For an instant I thought I’d be sick, I’d just taken a human life. Ambrose lashed out with lighting and I raised my shield in response. As soon as the lighting hit my shield I realized that the stone Ambrose was holding must be the artifact that Bernard Livingstone had created, because she was much stronger the me.

“Well this is nothing new,” I thought to myself as my shield deflected the attack. I started casting in earnest.
In a magical duel, there are several things that come into play. Each Magic-User’s individual power is a factor, along with skill, knowledge, creativity, the number of spells that the Magic-User can control at one time, and lastly luck. Within seconds I was operating six spells simultaneously. I’ve got a rare give for this, most 1st Class Magic-Users can hold two or three active spells at once and a master must be able to operate at least five. I’d never had the power to really see what I could do, but now in Morgana’s body fighting for my life, I completely cut loose.

Ambrose matched me, spell for spell.

She had me beat in power, but my spells were designed with the assumption that I was weaker than my opponent and compensated for it. I’m not sure how long the contest lasted as I lost all track of time during the fight. Abruptly Ambrose broke through one of my defenses and hit me hard enough to cause me to lose focus. With that I lost control of one spell after another and the next thing I knew I was bound once again unable to move. Panting Ambrose looked at me with a vicious glare.

“When I sacrifice you, I’ll hold you’re still beating heart in front of your fading sight and take a bite out of it before you die.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it!”

The strong male voice rang across the clearing as a group of no less than seven Magic-Users flew into view. In the lead was my mother in my body. Around his waist a belt of crystals blazed feeding him power, and in each hand he held a wand tipped with a glowing crystal. Ambrose threw up a shield which the Elders blasted through. I felt the magical bonds around me dissolve as Ambrose was forced to concentrate on defending herself. I managed to land and roll to the side without hurting myself.

The assault lasted for only a few seconds before Ambrose used the Athame and made a quick slash behind her tearing a hole in the air. As she went through my mother hit her with a spell and Ambrose dropped something. Then she was gone and the hole sealed itself behind her. Silence fell across the clearing. I felt my knees give out and hit the ground hard, for a second the world seemed to spin and then everything went dark.


******************

I woke up with sunlight hitting me in the face. I groaned and rolled away realizing that I was in my own bed, or at least the bed I’d used growing up, and that I was still in a woman’s body so the nightmare from the last 48 hours was real. At first I tried to just stay there, but the demands of my bladder made me get up.

Once I was up there was no point in going back to bed so I brushed my teeth and took a quick shower. After drying off I put on panties, a t-shirt, (I decided I didn’t have the patients for a bra this morning, er ….afternoon?) and a soft fuzzy bathrobe I found draped over a chair in my room. I then went down to the kitchen looking for coffee. Once I got there I found Chelsea, mother’s cook, working on dinner. Chelsea took one look at me and said, “your, … mother wants to see you in her study Alastar.”

“Can I at least get a cup of coffee before I go?” I whined.

Chelsea has always had a soft spot for me, she smiled, “sure honey.”

Armed with coffee I went to find my mother. When I entered her study I could see the light from the late afternoon sun streaming through the windows. Evaline was sitting behind his desk reading from a very large book. As soon as I entered he put the book aside and stood up.

“How are you doing Alastar?” The concern in his voice was touching.

“I’m fine, what happened after I passed out?”

“Before I tell you that can you tell me how you ended up in that clearing? Particularly, after I told you to remain on the estate.”

As he said this he gestured to a pair of leather chairs sitting in front of the fireplace at the far end of the room. I flushed with embarrassment and decided that I wasn’t going to apologize. If I hadn’t interrupted Ambrose he might have finished his ritual. Once we’d both settled into the chairs I launched into my story. There were several points where my mother nodded as though what I was saying fit in with facts he already knew. When I finished I looked down at my now empty cup of coffee and sat in quietly on the floor.

“I suppose you’d like to know what happened here.”

When I nodded he continued, “I didn’t know you’d left the estate, the Elders started arriving and once we had a quorum I called the meeting to order. I told them what was going on and the first thing they wanted to do was verify my identity. After a bit of spell casting they were convinced I was who I said I was, so they wanted to talk to you. We went to your room and found it empty.”

At this he frowned at me, but instead of lecturing me he continued. “We returned to the main study to discuss what to do next. About that time Edgar began beating against the window. I let him in and he flew around the room raising a tremendous ruckus. We are all knowledgeable enough about familiars to know that you were in trouble. I asked for volunteers to help rescue you and once I had a team I armed myself with as many tools of power as I could wield at one time and we all flew after Edgar, he led us to you. You owe your life to your familiar son.”

For a moment my mother paused to look fondly at Edgar who had flown into the study through an open window during this conversation and landed on the back of my chair.

“We arrived in time to see a spell battle of epic proportions. I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone wielding the amount of power Ambrose was throwing around during that duel. I thought you’d be dead before we could get there, yet somehow you stood in the center of that storm toe-to-toe with her.”

He shook his head, and for the first time my mother looked at me with respect, and maybe even a little pride, in his eyes. I had to look away because I felt a lump in my throat and I could feel my eyes watering. Stupid girl feelings, I grumbled to myself. I was also feeling guilty I realized. I’d had nothing to do with mother losing his body and power, yet I felt guilty. If I’d gone to him sooner maybe we’d have been able to prevent this from happening.

“Just as we got there Ambrose broke through your defense and bound you. She may have been supercharged but she couldn’t take all of us at once. So she fled like the coward she is.”

“But this doesn’t really settle anything. She still has the Athame and the stone, she’ll just set up the rite in a new location and we won’t be able to stop her.” I said feeling frustrated.

“Yes, and no” my mother said. “You see the ritual she’s trying to do, can only be done a couple of times per year. Also she dropped this,” and with a flourish he held up a stone the size of a golf ball that was ruby red. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the stone that Ambrose had taken from Bernard Livingston to augment her power.

“Without this stone there are only a dozen places in the world that offer the confluence of ley-lines she’ll need to power the spell. We will of course watch each of those locations and have strike teams waiting during the time she can perform the ritual. In the meantime the Guild will be hunting her with every agent and resource available.” As he said this he grinned. “Odds are she’ll be captured before she has another opportunity to perform the rite.”

I sat quietly thinking for several minutes and then asked, “so what about us? Are we stuck in these bodies?”

For the first time my mother looked uncomfortable. “Soul swapping spells are illegal for good reasons. Even if we had Ambrose in custody and petitioned the Elders to change us all back it might get denied. Every time this type of magic is used a part of the humanity of the person casting the spell is destroyed. If it’s done often enough there is nothing left but a psychopathic monster. But the fact is Ambrose is at large and we can’t, at least for the moment, swap back. My advice to you, DAUGHTER, is to get used to that body. It’s probably going to be yours for the rest of your life.”

“But what about you” I asked, “how will you preform your duties without your power?”

My mother lifted up her hand holding the stone, “with this I’m not as powerful as I used to be, but I’ve the strength of a Magic-User 1st Class. With my skill and knowledge the council has already agreed to recognize my status as a Magic-User Master-Class. Although, I can no longer function as an Elder,” he said with a strange tone before he looked away. Then he shrugged. “With dedication, study, and training I suspect that I’ll get by. Perhaps I’ll even be able to figure out a way to make your magical talent stronger. Oh, the masters that witnessed your duel with Ambrose have all agreed to vote you honorary Master-Class status pending your completion of the tests.”


**************

I spent the next couple of days at the estate, but it felt too weird for me to stay for very long. Everything seemed bigger and I kept bumping into things, miss-judging my reach or physical strength. One high point was when I walked in on my mom in a training room working on the same spells I’d slaved on for years. The ones that she’d insisted would increase my magical strength. From what I could see she was just as weak as I’d been. This particular exercise involved using telekinesis to lift weights. Mom had always claimed I lacked focus. So watching her struggle to lift less than I had the last time I was home in my natural body gave me a feeling of satisfaction. It was a form of poetic justice, yet it was also at least partly my fault he was in this situation. Feeling conflicted and a little guilty I quietly backed quietly out of the room.

Since I was living, temporarily, on the estate I took advantage of the training room and spent most of my time checking out my new abilities. I also made good use of the library to brush up on celestial and ley-line magic. Being so much stronger than I’d been before gave me a new feeling of pride. Then I’d remember what it had cost my mother and I’d feel guilty. After all the years of listening to her lecture me to try harder and feeling like a failure it was satisfying to see her struggle with my handicap. But at the same time I loved my mom and didn’t like seeing her weak. All in all it was a dichotomous week. By the end of the week I found myself in my Charger headed back to my house. I’m still not sure how I feel about being female, and a virgin, but I know I love having the power of a Master Magic-User.


**************
THE END
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