The story behind Destructive Magic
After I finished Elementary Magic (the first book in the Relic Hunter series), I realized that Coyote was one of my favorite characters and I wanted to spend a little more time exploring his motives and personality. The idea of a mythical creature who meddles in the lives of mortals is as old as storytelling, so I wanted to give it my own twist. What would it be like if a powerful spirit like Coyote were to encounter one of our modern day humans? It would be a fun ride – and that is really at the heart of my writing.
Arienne isn’t amused by all of Coyote’s antics, but she does have a soft spot for him – even though he manages to push her buttons and make her more likely to do foolish things. He’s also her champion because everyone needs someone to push them to do better, be more, and take bigger risks. Then there’s the annoying fact that everyone needs someone to bail them out of a jam every once in a while – the problem is Coyote causes the jam and sometimes he leaves Arienne to figure it out.
The story begins like this:
I walked through the fields and admired the sunlight slanting through the trees. My new home was in such a peaceful and serene setting that it always made me happy. The mailbox was installed at the end of the dirt path that I called a driveway. I loved the morning trek to the mailbox more than I ever thought possible.
I pulled open the metal door to the mailbox and peered inside. The package I’d been waiting for had arrived and excitement surged through me. I pulled the small package out and jogged back to the barn where Basir and I lived. He would still be sleeping, having given in to his nocturnal nature since our move to the new home.
At the kitchen table, I tossed the bills aside and grabbed a pair of scissors from the metal bucket I used to hold my office supplies. I slit the packing tape and opened the box, letting myself feel the rush of anticipation – the box contained a whole new identity for me.
The small cards were brightly colored with flowers and garden tools. Garden Magic Landscaping Service – Make your garden magical. Arienne Cerasola – proprietor. The new business cards were exactly what I had wanted.
It was a fresh start. No more job interviews that ended in “we’ll be making our decision in a few days” (translation, “you’re not getting the job”). I would be self-employed; no more worrying about getting fired (again). No more finding magical items or meeting magical beings who tried to trick me. No more worries about killing someone who was trying to kill me. The last thought sent a shiver of remorse down my spine.
I focused on the cards again – I needed to break the habit of dwelling on the past. My future was printed in front of me and while it wasn’t exactly a dream job, I hoped I’d be able to use my earth elemental magic to make a living that wasn’t quite as dangerous as the other magical occupation I had tried. I might as well find some use for my witch side. Preferably a use that wasn’t quite as risky as my last foray into the magical world.
I stuck one of the cards to the refrigerator with a magnet. Basir would see it when he woke up. The barn I was converting was still mostly unfinished, but it was peaceful and felt like home. I decided I could spend some time gathering wild herbs on the land that surrounded the barn while I waited for Basir to wake up. I loved wandering my property and I pulled my canvas tote off the rack by the door and headed outside.
The tiny Berkshire Mountain town we had decided to settle in suited us. It was close to the major cities, but remote enough to offer us the relaxed and private lifestyle we wanted. Basir was thrilled with it, and I felt more comfortable than I had in a long time. There was no need to worry about where we were going to end up next. No more fear about the United Coven and Alliance tracking us down. Since I wasn’t exactly practicing magic, they were ignoring me. That was a good thing.
If they were ignoring me, then they didn’t know that I had killed one of their warlocks in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. There was an up-side of being considered completely inept – the Alliance would never think I was powerful enough to do that. I planned on keeping it that way.
I ran my hand through my copper colored hair and tilted my face toward the morning sun. So I’d have a few more freckles; it didn’t matter. I was about to become a landscaper, so I’d have an outdoorsy glow to me from now on. I’d tan to a very pale, freckled honey shade, just like I had when I worked as a field archaeologist – back before my magical talents started leaking out and creating disaster for me. Jeez, I released one little demon (okay, it was a nasty demon) but I managed to contain it (by collapsing a ruin, but still – it was contained), and yet nobody wanted to hire me as a field archaeologist. Go figure. My Ph.D. was totally useless and I was forced to start over.
The past was the past, I decided, as I bent to pick a few shoots of wild onions. I would focus on the present and the future, no more lamenting things! When my fingers closed around the onions, a whisper of magic came through the ground. The hair stood up on my arms, and a shiver traveled the length of my spine. I looked around at the meadow and squinted into the woods. It had been a few months since I’d felt anything magical…and I didn’t like the sudden reappearance of it.
I bent and picked a few more onions, crouching to hide my face. I took another look around and I didn’t see anything threatening, but my senses remained on edge. I tucked the onions into my canvas bag and walked toward the barn, keeping my stance relaxed despite the panicked little warning alarm in my head.
I bent again at a clump of clover, and pretended to pick the white flowers off the stalks. I laid my other palm on the ground as if to steady myself and tuned into the waves of energy around me.
I felt it more clearly that time. Something very powerful was nearby. The hair on the back of my neck tingled, and a cold fear knotted my stomach. If I concentrated, I could almost feel something watching me. I gathered what energy I could from the ground and readied myself. I would need power to put up any sort of fight.
I walked on, meandering toward the barn and concentrating on looking calm. I bent every few steps as if to pick a bloom, and laid my palm against the earth. I could feel the magic coming through the ground, and I carefully sipped from the currents so as not to tip off whatever lurked in the woods. If I drew in a large amount of power, it would be obvious that I was preparing for an attack. I needed to keep the element of surprise.
I had worked for days on a concealment spell to shield my property from view and memory. I had woven the energy around the perimeter into a sort of magical fence that would give serious unwelcoming vibes to anyone who crossed it. It wasn’t called an offensive/defensive barrier for nothing. Yet something was lurking in the woods. Something that shouldn’t have been able to cross the barrier.
I walked a little faster.
The prickling sensation on the back of my neck intensified and I quickly reviewed all of the spells I knew I had some chance of performing should I be attacked.
It was a depressingly short list.
I cast a protective bubble around myself, drawing the currents of energy out of the earth and knitting them around my body. I channeled a little energy into the amulet I wore around my neck, just for good measure. I wondered if there was an expiration date on amulets or if I should have recharged it somehow.
This magic thing really wasn’t working out too well, considering that I had an intruder on my magically protected property and I didn’t know if my amulet would work. It wasn’t exactly a good time to be thinking about those details, and I made a promise to myself to try to plan better in the future; or to be at least be a little more prepared.
I could feel whatever was in the woods watching me. I looked down at my arm and saw the translucent hairs on my forearms standing straight up. My entire body seemed to buzz with fear and I tried very hard to keep a clear head. Panic couldn’t possibly help.
I looked at my wrist, pretending to check the time. My watch was on the kitchen table in the house. As if remembering I had someplace to be, I hoisted the canvas bag onto my shoulder and set off back toward the barn. My pace was a little quicker, fueled by the rising terror I felt in my chest.
Something rustled the leaves behind me.
I didn’t turn, but I quickened my pace to a jog. A wash of magic brushed against my skin. Whatever followed me was way more powerful than I was. I ran faster, spurred by the adrenaline and the prickles of fear on my skin.
Leaves crunched behind me and I felt my pursuer gaining on me. The sounds of panting echoed in my ears, magnified by magic or fear. The air was suddenly charged with electricity and I tried to grab it to add it to my own reserves, but I felt hopelessly inadequate at the task. I ran even faster, pulling on the currents of energy desperately to fuel my body and my magic.
A scream was trapped in my throat. I was too far from the barn. I could only just see the roof over the next rise. I didn’t realize I had walked that far! I ran full out, throwing the canvas bag down and pumping my arms, trying to draw oxygen in over the knot of dread in my chest.
My own feet crunched through the tall grass, and I heard and felt something gaining on me. The thrashing sounds behind me grew louder as if clamoring to be heard over my own ragged breathing. I could see the siding on the barn, and make out the furniture on the patio. I pushed my tired limbs faster.
Almost there. Come on, Arienne! Move your tail!
The sounds behind me suddenly ceased and a choked sob escaped from my throat one second before something crashed into the center of my back.
I fell, arms outstretched and slammed onto the ground. I tumbled into a summersault and reached for the power in the earth. I grabbed frantically at it, trying to channel it into the amulet I wore. I rolled onto my back, eyes wide with terror and looked directly at the sharp teeth of my attacker. Its jaws were opened as if to tear out my throat, and a scream exploded out of me.
The creature’s pink tongue lashed out and licked my cheek.
Small paws were planted firmly on my chest, and I tried to dodge the wet nose and even wetter tongue that licked every inch of my face. My hands grasped thick fur and I braced my arm against a furry chest.
I tussled with him for a moment, the scream turning to a giggle as he licked me like a big friendly dog. Coyote rolled away from me and instantly shifted into his human form. Tawny hair curled around a handsome face and he wore familiar buck skinned breeches. As usual, he preferred to be shirtless and he grinned roguishly at me. “Ah, my little witch! I found you!”
It took me a minute to gather my wits about me. Found me? I felt a spark of indignation in my chest and I drew in a ragged breath before I trusted my own voice.
“You stalked me and you nearly scared me to death.” I panted. I closed my eyes briefly to try and regain a little composure. My heart thudded against my chest and my head began to pound from the tension.
“I see you’ve been working out.” He drawled, leaning over and pinning my arms above my head. “You’re much faster than I expected. I almost had to run to catch you.”
He leaned down and nibbled my ear. “Did you miss me?” He whispered, nuzzling his face against my neck.
“Not nearly as much as you think.” I replied, struggling against him and squirming to get up.
“You’re no fun.” He groused, licking my cheek one last time before rolling off me and resting his head on his arm. “So how have you been?”
I sat up and glared at him, sputtering, “This is a social call?”
He smirked at me and his golden brown eyes were filled with laughter.
“Perhaps.” He replied.
“Then perhaps you should have tried knocking on the door. Running me down in the field is…” I searched for an appropriate word…but all I could come up with was: “Rude.”
“Ah, the property is warded, is it not? That must have alerted you.” He grinned, knowingly and pointed vaguely around my land. He tucked his arms behind his head and stretched out, looking at me with a grin on his face.
I sputtered for a second. Sure, I knew something was there, but…I shook my head and blew out a lungful of air. I glared at him “The wards didn’t help very much, did they?” I bit out. I tried to concentrate on breathing, but the panic I had felt didn’t go away. I had been terrified of just such an event for months. I stood and turned my back on him so he wouldn’t see the fear I lived with, the one that woke me up in the middle of the night.
In most of my nightmares, it was the warlocks from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey who chased me down. On my last magical adventure, I had killed one of them, but in my dream he just kept coming at me. No matter how fast I ran, he gained on me until I woke up screaming. When I bolted upright from the dream, Basir fluttered down from the rafters and tried to comfort me, but there’s only so much a three pound owl can do to make me feel safe after a nightmare. I took two steps toward the house, trying to dismiss the thoughts that nagged at me day and night.
From behind me, Coyote laughed. He grabbed my arm and spun me around. I tried to break away, but he pulled me to him. I resisted as much as I could, but he was stronger and he gathered me into his arms and pressed my face against his shoulder.
“Arienne, my little witch. You’re simply not that good.” He whispered, kissing the top of my head.
I pulled away and stared at him, uncomprehending.
“You’re powerful, sure.” He said, gathering me to him again. “You’re just not quite powerful enough to have killed someone.” He chuckled and pulled at my earlobe with his teeth.
I leaned my head back and pushed at his chest. “What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t kill him! You simply…erased him.” He released me and waved a dismissive hand in the air.
Erased? Somehow that sounded much worse.
Coyote plunked himself down on the ground and plucked idly at the grass. He lay back and laced his hands behind his head, smiling up at me. “You channeled the energy into that silly rock. He cast a paralysis spell at you, your amulet re-bounded the spell and the rock magnified it. He just…went blank. I suppose if he were using lethal magic you might have killed him…does that make you feel better?”
I thought about that for a moment and the emotions warred inside me. Relief washed away horror before being squashed by insulted. I glared down at him. I’m not that good? I had erased a warlock, and he says I’m not that good? And he didn’t bother to tell me until now? I had spent MONTHS thinking I was a murderer!
“Honestly, woman! Are you never happy?” Coyote stood up and linked his arm with mine. “I didn’t have to tell you at all.”
He pulled me in closer to him, and I kept my mind blank so he couldn’t read my thoughts. He snorted and hauled me around so we were facing my house.
“This is the part where you invite me into your lovely…um, barn.” He said, chuckling. He threw his arm around my shoulder and steered me back to my home.
“Why would I do that?” I asked, still irritated.
“Because I have a small mystery for you.” He said, half dragging me toward the barn. “And you owe me.”
When I read the first review of Destructive Magic, I was so blown away that the reviewer picked up on a sub-theme that I knew I was writing, but didn’t realize I had managed to convey with such clarity that a casual reader would be able to pick up on it. Here’s an excerpt from the review:
…I like that though [Arienne] seems to be continually underestimated and looked over, instead of forcing her magic to prove something, her heart wants to do the right thing.
Arienne is determined, tenacious, and honorable – but she’s not the best witch to come down the pike. She does work harder than anyone else and it is that trait which makes her a force to be reckoned with in the magical world. Isn’t that true about real-life as well? It’s not always the most talented person who gets the glory, but the hardest worker and the one with the focus and vision to get things done – but even then things don’t always work out the way they should. I wanted Arienne to have the deep belief that as long as she works hard and thinks things through, she’ll be able to succeed. I think that’s a survival skill as well as personality trait worthy of admiration.
Years ago, someone told me that who you are as a person will come out in everything you do. If you don’t believe that you can succeed – if you don’t put heart and soul into it, then you won’t be successful. That’s not saying that you can’t have moments of doubt and disbelief, but in the end you have to see your potential and live up to it. There are times in life when you have to do what’s right and not what’s easy. That is a lesson we all need to learn again and again; it is a lesson Arienne learns many times throughout the Relic Hunter series.
I hope you join me on this journey and leave me feedback – I write because I love to do it, but I am always interested in the experience of my readers. I love it when people post comments on this blog or reviews on the site where they purchased the book.