Gargoyles and Graves Cover

Gargoyles and Graves

Magic & Mystery: Book Twelve

Chapter 1 Preview

Nothing could’ve prepared me for the challenge of wand shopping with two kids. Though Ellie and Blaise, my twins, are normally well behaved, something about the excitement of a wand shop brought the wildness out of them both.

“Blaise, don’t touch that!” Beau shouted at our son as he reached for a wand displayed on top of an open box at his eye level. I was grateful that Beau came with me, but looking back on it now, we probably should’ve left the kids at home with Grandma. Live and learn.

“Why? I’m so bored,” Blaise whined and stomped his feet.

“Because I said, and because we all know what you like to do with wands,” Beau answered, and I had to stifle a laugh. When he was a younger shifter, Blaise had a teething phase, but he’d finally grown out of that, so I didn’t think we really needed to worry.

“Look at this one, Mommy!” Ellie shouted, standing on her tiptoes and pointing at a wand sitting in a fake hand on top of the checkout counter. “It looks just like your old one.”

“Yeah, it does,” I said with a pang of sadness as I played with Ellie’s reddish-brown pigtails and looked over the wand she’d found. From its white finish down to its somewhat short length, the wand really did look like mine.

But it couldn’t be, because my wand was given to me by Heath Highmore, the old Head Warlock of Moon Grove, many years ago. At the time, he told me it was rumored that Lilith, the very first witch, once wielded it, and that it’d been passed down for generations. I still couldn’t believe I’d broken it. Not that it was my fault, but still.

“Am I going to get my own wand someday?” Ellie asked.

“You sure will,” I said, though I wasn’t looking forward to it. Raising twins was enough of a challenge, so rolling magic into the equation made me nervous. But it might still be fun to teach Ellie — in several years, when I was sure she wouldn’t blow her hand off.

“Good afternoon,” a warlock in deep blue robes said as he drifted over to us. He wore a grey beard cropped close to his face and a warm smile. “Ah, Ms. Clarke. I didn’t recognize you!”

“That’s a first,” I said, and the warlock laughed. These days, everyone and their mother in Moon Grove knew who I was, for better or worse.

The warlock glanced down at Blaise, then Ellie, and frowned. “It’s a bit early to be shopping for a wand for your children, isn’t it?”

“Oh, uh… I’m not shopping for them. I’m actually looking for me.”

The warlock raised his eyebrows at me. “I see. Have an accident?”

“Something like that.” Actually, a crazed warlock had stomped my wand to pieces, but I didn’t need to share that with the shop worker.

“It happens to the best of us, eventually. Are you in the market for anything in particular?” the warlock asked as he drifted off behind the counter made up of glass display cases. Several wands sat inside behind magical lock and key, but none of them had a price listed, which probably meant they were expensive.

“Give her something made from a dragon’s heart!” Blaise shouted, and though Beau shot him a glare, the shop worker laughed.

“I’m afraid those are rather rare, little one. Of course, if that’s something you’re interested in, Wendall’s Wands can find it. I’m Wendall, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Wendall. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m looking for. My last wand was pretty rare too.”

“Ah, yes, white yew with a core of vampire blood. I’ve heard Lilith herself once carried it,” Wendall said and smiled at the look of surprise on my face. “You aren’t exactly a low-profile individual, Ms. Clarke, and I’m a wand connoisseur, so of course, I’ve noticed your wand.”

“Whoa, vampire’s blood? Really?” Blaise asked as he crossed the shop in a hurry, suddenly interested.

“Blaise, watch out!” Beau shouted after him, but not fast enough, because Blaise was already on a collision course with a wand display that stood taller than him. He crashed into it, sending it and its contents tumbling to the ground in a shower of magical pops and sparks.

Horrified, I dashed over to Blaise and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized the display hadn’t landed on him. The wands that littered the floor around him continued going off angrily, though, so I yanked Blaise up by one arm and carried him away in a hurry.

“I’m so sorry!” I shouted to Wendall, but he didn’t seem bothered as he pulled his own wand from a pocket in his robes and waved it at the mess. The stand magically righted itself, and the wands soared through the air back to their place on its shelves just as a young witch walked into the shop.

She was at least twenty years old, but she was dressed like she was twelve. Her tye-dyed robes made it look like a unicorn had thrown up on them, and she wore her blonde hair in a big bun on top of her head, held in place by a cat print scrunchie. Gaudy bead bracelets lined both her wrists, giant pink baubles flashing from each.

“What the spell is going on in here?” the witch asked, then her eyes shot wide open as she caught sight of me. “No way, you’re Zoe Clarke! Like, the Zoe Clarke! Can we get a selfie together?”

“Uh, now’s really not a good time,” I said as I lowered Blaise back to his feet.

“Okay, okay, but at least give my followers a quick hello,” the witch said and pulled a phone from her pocket so fast I almost missed it. She spun around, aimed the phone above her head, and tapped a button on the screen. “NOW STREAMING” flashed across the top.

“Hey, guys, welcome back to Just Deux You! It’s ya girl, Vanessa Le Deux, coming to you live from Moon Grove with the one and only Zoe Clarke!” she said to her phone, then flashed a quick peace sign and turned the camera on me. “Say, hi, Zoe!”

“Uh, hi,” I muttered, annoyed.

“Hi, Vanessa! I love your show!” Blaise chimed in, jumping up to get into the frame. Wait, how did Blaise know who she was when I didn’t?

“Thanks, little dude!” Vanessa said and bent down to give Blaise a fist bump. “Always cool to see I have followers across the magical world!” she said to the camera with another peace sign and an exaggerated sticking out of her tongue. “So, Zoe, you in the market for a new stick of death?”

“Uh, no, not exactly. Look, Vanessa, it was nice to meet you and all, but I think we’re gonna get going,” I said and started to herd Blaise away from her back toward Beau and Ellie, who’d darted over to her dad in the commotion. I certainly wasn’t a stranger to being in the spotlight, but I didn’t want to drag my kids into it, and least of all with this increasingly strange witch.

“Yeah, sure thing! It was, like, a total honor to meet you. Hey, listen, I’m gonna be in a town for a couple weeks. I’m working on a little series about one of Moon Grove’s extra special communities. I’d totes love to chat with you about it sometime since I’m sure you’ve got all kinds of tea,” Vanessa said.

“We’ll see about that.”

“Fire!” Vanessa shouted and stuck the phone’s camera back in her face. “I’m sure your little man already knows my handle, but for those of you watching at home who don’t, it’s @JustDeuxYou. That’s ‘do’ with an ‘e-u-x’!”

“Let’s go while she’s distracted,” I whispered to Beau.

“What about your wand?”

“It can wait. Come on,” I hissed, so he and I ushered the kids out of Wendall’s in a hurry. I mouthed an, “I’m so sorry” to Wendall on the way out, but he barely seemed to notice thanks to the whirlwind that was Vanessa Le Deux.

“Mommy! I can’t believe we just met Vanessa! She’s super famous!” Blaise shouted as soon as we were outside.

“And she’s even prettier in person than she is online!” Ellie said, jumping up and down while she held Beau’s hand.

“Oh yeah? And just how do you know her, anyway?”

“She’s the biggest streamer on Bewitch!”

I leaned over to Beau. “What the spell is Bewitch?” I whispered, feeling certifiably old for even having to ask.

Beau shrugged. “I dunno, some new video thing the kids are obsessed with. They watch it all the time.”

“And you don’t think to pay attention to what it is?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him.

“It’s harmless stuff, Zoe. I’ve seen it a couple times. That Vanessa girl travels around and asks people inane questions about their lives.”

“So, she’s like a travel blogger or something?”

“Yeah, more or less.”

“Well, I guess that’s not so bad,” I said, though I couldn’t help wondering why Vanessa had apparently become such a big deal. From what I’d seen, she was almost a caricature of herself. “I bet she doesn’t make a lot of friends behaving like that though.”

Beau grimaced. “No, probably not. Anyway, I’m just glad Blaise didn’t break anything beyond repair.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Blaise grumbled, staring down at his feet.

“It’s okay, buddy. You just really need to do a better job of watching where you’re going. I know you get excited, but that’s even more reason to keep your eyes peeled.”

“I will from now on, I promise,” Blaise said, and I didn’t doubt the poor kid meant it. Ever since he’d grown into his abilities to shift and Beau started teaching him how to control it, the two of them had grown closer than they’d ever been. These days, it seemed like Blaise would do anything his dad told him, simply because it was Beau who’d said it — not that I was complaining. I loved our son to death, but there were certain things I just couldn’t help him with.

“What’s with all the gargoyles out today?” Beau asked as we walked back toward our house. I hadn’t noticed them until he said anything, but once he did, I noticed them everywhere. On the roofs, stomping among the people on the streets, and guarding pretty much every door.

Moon Grove’s gargoyles served as de facto bodyguards and security for most of the rest of the paranormal population. I had several assigned to me when I served as Head Witch, but since I resigned several years ago, my encounters with them had dropped dramatically — until then.

“Good question. Is there a big event going on today we don’t know about?”

Beau scrunched his face up to think, but eventually shook his head. “I don’t think so. Channel 666 would be covering it if there was.”

“Then it’s probably because of, well, everything else that’s been going on around here lately,” I said, leaving out the part about our Head Warlock getting murdered for the sake of the kids, even though they had to know what happened by now since everyone was still talking about it.

The Council, an elected body representing every paranormal community in Moon Grove, had decided not to hold an election to replace Paxton Rathmore, our last Head Warlock, until things in town had cooled down. It was the right call, but people were still on edge after how close we’d come to losing Moon Grove itself after Paxton’s death.

By the time we got back to our house in the Witches’ Quarter of town, the twins had calmed down from their run-in with an internet superstar, but my mind was still racing. That didn’t improve when something Vanessa had said popped back into my brain. She’d told me she was in town to profile one of Moon Grove’s communities, and with all the gargoyles patrolling the streets, it didn’t take a magical master to figure out which group she was talking about. As far as I knew, gargoyles didn’t live anywhere other than in Moon Grove. I’d never learned why, but then again, I’d never thought to wonder.

“You okay?” Beau asked as the twins tore through the house looking for their great grandma, Elle, no doubt to tell her all about what’d happened at Wendall’s and who they’d met there.

“Yeah. I just can’t get that Vanessa girl out of my head.”

“Zoe, she’s just an internet thing. Don’t worry about it too much.”

I wanted to believe him, but I’d learned the hard way over the years to listen to my gut, and since it was screaming at me about Vanessa, I reached into my robes for my phone and tapped into my message thread with Jaina, my new business partner. We’d formed our own independent news publication together, The Crescent, and I thought I might have our next story unfolding in front of me.

>>Me: Hey, we just wrapped up at the wand shop. No luck. Anyway, you busy? If not, do me a favor and find out everything you can about Vanessa Le Deux.

Jaina responded right away.

>>Jaina: That streamer girl on Bewitch? Why?

>>Me: Just a hunch. We ran into her at Wendall’s Wands a bit ago, and there are gargoyles everywhere today. I’m pretty sure something’s up, I just don’t know what.

>>Jaina: Interesting. All right, I’ll see what I can dig up.

>>Me: Thanks. I’ll be at the office soon.

>>Jaina: See you there.

I jammed my phone back into my robes and went in search of Grandma Elle and the twins. As predicted, they were in her room at the back of the house. The twins sat on the floor in front of Grandma’s favorite rocking chair, excitedly bouncing up and down and telling her everything.

“Yeah, and then Blaise knocked down a shelf of wands, and I thought Daddy was going to kill him, but Mommy yanked him off the ground and the old warlock fixed everything!” Ellie told her grandmother.

“And then Vanessa Le Deux walked in!” Blaise shouted, lifting off the ground with excitement.

“Vanessa Le Who?” Grandma asked, and I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. At least I wasn’t alone in not knowing who this alleged online sensation was.

“Vanessa Le Deux! You know, from Just Deux You on Bewitch? I’ve showed you so many of her videos already, Grandma!” Blaise said, and Grandma Elle looked up to smirk at me.

“Well, you know me, Sugar Cookie. I can’t remember my own name most of the time, let alone some youngin’s,” she said and flashed me a wink.

“Hey, Grandma. Are you okay to help Beau watch the kids for a bit? I need to go to the office.”

“Of course, Sugar,” Grandma said. “You know what that means, kids! While Mom’s away, it’s time to play!”

No candy or sweets tonight, please,” I said, and Grandma motioned like she was zipping her lips.

“No promises,” she said, and though I worried I might be coming home to two completely wired kids, I left her in charge and kissed Beau on my way out of the house before he had the time to question or stop me.

Time to figure out just what the spell Vanessa Le Deux was up to, because I had a feeling she knew something the rest of us didn’t — and I was determined to find out what.

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