Home > What the Hex (Hex #2)

What the Hex (Hex #2)
Author: Jessica Clare

I look up from the book in my lap, annoyed that one of the servants has bothered to disturb me in my study. Putting aside the treatise on the casting benefits of various types of dried beetles as spell components, I eye my housekeeper. “Is there a problem?”
She gestures feebly toward the front of the house. “It’s happening again.”
My annoyance disappears immediately, replaced with surging anger and frustration. I jump to my feet, racing out of my study and down the hall. “Where?”
“M-mailbox,” she calls after me. “Dorothy found a dead bird in your mailbox.”
I storm out the front door and into the neighborhood. My house is in a little suburban community of other witches and warlocks, because it’s easiest to have neighbors that won’t call the police on me at all hours. I scan my lawn and the driveway. Nothing seems amiss, but the mailbox is hanging open. Biting the inside of my cheek, I manage to keep a bland expression on my face as I stalk toward the curb. One quick glance inside the mailbox shows that Dorothy did not lie. There’s a dead dove inside, nestled atop my mail.
That weasel.
I knew he’d come after me, especially after I’d just stolen his prized library. It’s an affront that can’t go unrecognized. Still, to frighten my housekeeping staff feels petty. He’s lucky they’re well aware I’m a warlock . . . even if they’re not aware that I’m a stifled one.
I pull out the dove, irritated. The breast of the dead bird has been painted with runes, and I’m sure if I opened it up and examined the contents of its stomach, I’d find laurel leaves and a pebble from a hero’s grave. It’s a specific sort of spell that my nemesis is casting, one designed to break my wards and make my house vulnerable to others. This isn’t the first time that my old master Stoker has tried this sort of stunt. Ever since I left his service, he’s tried to have me killed.
However, it is the first time he’s cast a curse at my current house. The house I’d had built to my specifications ten years ago, after I’d been forced to move from the last one because Stoker had found me again. He wants to make my life hell.
And since I can’t cast to protect myself, the only thing I can do is avoid him.
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have stolen his books.
Ten years ago, I thought moving would solve my problems. My enemies would no longer have my address, and I’d finish the rest of my probationary period out under the radar. It’s clear that Stoker won’t rest until he finds me, and it doesn’t matter how many times I move. The man’s held a grudge for 250 years. Of course he’s going to attack me while I’m vulnerable.
Well, no more. I’m not retreating. I’m done hiding. I made the first move, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s retaliating. Still, a dead dove is a little . . . over the top.
I take the dead bird inside with me and hand it to the housekeeper, who makes a sound of protest. “Get rid of that.”
“But, sir—”
“I’ll be in my study.” I head for the bathroom, wash my hands, and then walk back to my study, locking the door behind me. I want to go down to my laboratory, but I never go when the help staff is here. No one can know about the secret door I’ve had built that leads down to my lab and my trove of stolen spell books. For now I have to wait.
I take a deep breath, thinking through everything I need to get done. New wards around the house—that’s the first priority. An obfuscation spell to hide my address from anyone looking it up online. Each spell will wear me out for at least a week. All of them together and I’ll be out of action for well over a month. Without a familiar to act as my power source, I’ll be forced to rely on my own limited pool of energy. That means everything will take twice as long to cast and will leave me vulnerable. I can’t pay another witch or warlock to do it for me, because they’ve been forbidden to assist in my casting. It’s part of my “punishment.”
Only ten more years to go.
The thought is a dismal one.
Maybe I should start out with scrying, I decide. See what exactly Stoker plans—
A loud chirp echoes in the room.
My eyes snap open, and I look at the “mailbox” atop the mantel of the fireplace. An envelope is inside, delivered by mystical means. It’s the only way my old master—my other old master, the one that’s not trying to kill me—communicates with me. I stride over toward it and tear the wax seal off the back of the envelope, reading the contents of the letter.
Stoker is on the move. Be aware.
I crumple it and toss the notice to the ground. “Thanks for nothing, but you’re a bit late.”
There’s nothing better than a well-established routine.
I love knowing what to expect. I love everyone playing their individual part, and watching it all come together. Maybe that’s me romanticizing even the mundane aspects of life, but the best kind of progress happens when the system works like a well-oiled machine. That’s why I don’t mind the weekly meeting of the Society of Familiars. Some people might find it boring, but I love it.
Well, most nights I love it. The current president of our society is . . . a bit difficult to listen to for long periods of time, if I’m being honest. I stifle a yawn as Derek Chapman bangs a gavel on the meeting table and then drones on. “Any other news to discuss before the society?”
It’s silent.
“Anyone? Anyone?”
I glance out at the gathered audience. There are twenty people here tonight. There should be all fifty of our local members out there, but a lot of them lose faith and stop attending, or they come around just enough to renew their dues and then disappear again for another year. I’m doing my best to make coming to society meetings more fun, but sometimes it feels like an uphill battle since no one else is putting in effort. I don’t blame them for feeling down about things. It’s hard to keep being positive when year after year, there’s no opportunity to apprentice. But I believe in positivity, and I’m sure our situation will change at some point. We just have to keep on.