Hexomancy by Michael R. Underwood
Fan-favorite urban fantasista Ree Reyes and her crew of Geekomancers—humans that derive supernatural powers from pop culture—take on their biggest foes yet in this fourth book of the Geekomancy series.
When Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until Eastwood—a fellow Geekomancer—is killed.
What follows is an adventure packed with epic battles, a bit of romance, and enough geeky W00t moments to fill your monthly quota of adventure and fun.
Time to Face the Chiptune Music
Most months, the Midnight Market hosted a grand auction, where members of the Pearson Underground put up items of magical significance for sale. Bids came in the form of barter, and the process could get as nasty as the hotel queue for San Diego Comic-Con.
But tonight, with the trial supplanting the auction, the crowd was as big as ever. Bigger. Pearson had lost three of its own last month, and while people in the Underground seldom all saw eye to eye, they looked out for one another. Lucretia hadn’t done a great job of making friends along the way, even outside Grognard’s crew.
The steel-eyed and silver-haired Auctioneer stood atop the podium, still wielding her gavel like a badge of office. She’d preside over the trial, since she was as close as Pearson got to an impartial observer.
Eastwood took the lead, with Ree second and Grognard pulling up the rear. They strode down the aisle, making their way to the front table opposite Lucretia.
Ree still wasn’t sure why they couldn’t have just bound
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Lucretia into fixing all the damage from Grognard’s and been done with it, but every community had their own method of self-policing.
She just hoped that it would actually work. Lucretia wasn’t the sort to go into a situation without at least a few trump cards up her crinoline sleeves.
The three took their places at the table, and after a minute of audience rumbling, the Auctioneer raised a single gloved hand and the crowd went silent.
That was power. Ree’d never spoken to the woman outside the context of an auction. I should change that. It never hurt to have friends in high places. Too late for the trial, though.
The Auctioneer’s voice filled the cavernous room, seeming to come from all sides. It was either magic or a well-hidden PA system.
“Welcome, everyone. We are called here today to resolve the matter of serious charges leveled against one of our own.”
The auctioneer looked at Lucretia. “Lucretia d’Fete, you stand accused of indirectly causing the deaths of three members of our community: Tomas, Alexi, and Siobhan. You also stand accused of direct assault on Eastwood, Grognard, Ree, and Drake Winters, as well as damages totaling fifty thousand dollars to Grognard’s Grog and Games. How do you plead?”
Lucretia waited a moment, as if savoring the silent anticipation. “My actions were right and just. If Tomas, Alexi, and Siobhan were stupid enough to get in the way of the justice
I am to mete out for Eastwood’s crimes, then that is regrettable, but I deny culpability. Those and any other actions were taken in pursuit of my mandate as a Strega, and are above reproach.” “You are not above reproach, Lucretia. It is right here, waiting for you.” The Auctioneer spread her arms, indicating the crowd.
“I will now hear testimony from the accusers.”
Grognard stood, leaving his halberd on the table, point directed at Lucretia. He took center stage below the platform, looking at the crowd.
Filling his lungs, Grognard began. “Last month, on the second Saturday, I had eighteen patrons in my store, most participating in a Vampire: the Eternal Struggle tournament. Some of you were there with me. Ree Reyes, Eastwood, Drake Winters, Uncle Joe, Chandra, Shade.” As Grognard listed off the names, Ree watched the heads nodding in the crowd. Even Uncle Joe had cleaned up for the trial, though his version of cleaning up appeared to be putting a cabbie’s hat over his comb-over and wearing a new T-shirt.
“Around nine PM, the lights went out. The breaker sparked when I tried the fuse box, and the office door was locked and warded, surpassing my own wards.”
Grognard walked to the right, approaching the crowd. “I closed down shop, and most of the patrons left, in groups and on their own. Minutes later, they returned with gnomes hot on their heels. We provided refuge, and for the next several hours, fought off wave after wave of monsters trying to break down my
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doors and kill everyone inside. Ree, Eastwood, Drake Winters, Chandra, Uncle Joe, and even Abigail Wickham joined the defense, in a display of heroism and teamwork that reminded me why I founded Grognard’s Grog and Games: to bring people together to relax and celebrate our shared interests.”
Ree’d heard Grognard talk a lot on that Saturday, but not this much. This was rehearsed. How many times had he practiced this speech? A hundred? Her boss was many things, but a public speaker was not one of them. Especially outside of his bar. Keep going, boss.
“Later in the evening, something caused my merchandise to come to life and attack everyone in the bar. Miniatures, board games, weapons, and more. Nearly my entire stock put to the task of trying to kill me. Thanks to the ingenuity of Drake Winters, we were able to break the animation curse, but not before we were forced to destroy hundreds of pieces of merchandise to protect ourselves.
“I assumed it was the same thing that caused the monsters to come knocking, and I was right.” Grognard walked back and stood in front of Lucretia. “During a lull in the fighting, this flew under the front door.” Grognard held the note aloft for all to see. He stepped back and handed it to the Auctioneer, who read the note aloud.
“The note reads:
By now you will have had the fortune of enjoying the first phases of my vengeance for your despicable affront and robbery last fall. As revenge is a dish best served cold, I decided to inflict my fury on all those who would associate with you, including the nurse- maid Grognard, with his childish clubhouse; your erstwhile upstart apprentice; and, well, whoever else happens to be around.
I thought it might be appropriate to turn your little ritual tools against you. Perhaps robbed of your crutches, we will see what you’re truly made of.
I look forward to gazing down on your bloodied broken corpse and reclaiming that which was stolen from me. And then I will leave you out in the street as a message to all in Pearson that to cross Lucretia d’Fete is to invite death and ruin.
With coldest regard, Lady Lucretia d’Fete”
A couple of gasps and a few boos leaped up from the audience. That’s what I like to hear. This should be an open-and-shut case, so why is Lucretia wearing that I-know-something-you-don’t-know
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The Auctioneer set down the paper and nodded to Grognard. “When we finally cleaned out the rest of the monsters, Eastwood and I, then Ree and Drake, pursued Lucretia, leaving the others to hold down the fort. Around the corner from my store, we were transported into Spirit, into some kind of labyrinth, again via Lucretia’s magic. We pursued her through the maze, facing several more life-threatening creatures and situations, and finally captured Lucretia and her accomplice, Abigail Wickham. Wickham confessed, and Lucretia admitted that the entire evening’s destruction had been her doing, all because Eastwood stole back the Claddagh ring he had rightfully
won in the Midnight Market last October.”
“Lies!” Lucretia said, bolting to her feet. “Eastwood’s death was foretold! The river of fate must be corrected. It is my sacred duty. This entire trial is a sham.” Lucretia turned to the assembled audience. “I have been a part of this community for more than a decade. I have been protecting you all, keeping the eddies of fate from carrying this city and its people off course. And now Eastwood stands before us, when his own crimes against the city have been unpunished. He contributed to the suicide of four youths, ready to offer them up to the Thrice- Retconned Duke of Pwn! But where is his trial?”
And there it was. She’d been planning to flip this on Eastwood the whole time. Had she wanted to get captured? If she wanted him tried, she could have just made the accusation and skipped
the whole Jumanji act. But this way she got to have her chaos and eat it too.
Eastwood stood. Great, this is definitely not spinning out of control. “I’m not on trial, here, Lucretia. And this river of fate is just a bunch of go-se you dreamed up to justify your revenge!”
“Silence,” the Auctioneer said, gavel striking the table and echoing throughout the chamber like a thunderclap.
Eastwood sat, but Lucretia remained, her arms crossed, defiant. Woman knows how to stick to a story, I’ll give her that.
“You will be seated, both of you, and allow Grognard to finish his testimony.” Lucretia had a short stare-down with the Auctioneer, then sat.
“Please continue,” the Auctioneer said.
Grognard took a breath and talked past Lucretia to the crowd. “Lucretia submitted to a giese to not attack me or any of the others, and that she would report to the Midnight Market for her trial. She has held to those terms, and now here we are. Three people dead, my shop in ruins, and a self-confessed killer in your midst.
“Thank you,” Grognard said, and then sat.
The Auctioneer left time for people to whisper and harumph and boo and hiss. Ree wanted to be a part of the latter but managed to restrain herself this time.
See, Dad? I do have self-restraint!
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“Lucretia, you may now give your testimony.”
With a smile, Lucretia answered, “No testimony is needed. I request trial by combat.”
The crowd erupted into another round of chatter and jeering. Eastwood snarled, then coughed, reaching for his handkerchief again. As the primary accuser, he’d be the one matched up against Lucretia. And given the fact that he was currently chilling in Sicktown, odds were not looking good, even with his probably superior fighting skills. Her hexes could make his weapons malfunction or turn him into a flopping slapstick farce. The only way she’d found to beat Hexomancers was to throw so much at them that they couldn’t Hex fast enough to
The Auctioneer slammed the gavel again, this time without the crack of thunder. “Silence. We respect the right to trial by combat, though typically, that right is requested before testimony begins.”
Lucretia’s grin ticked one size bigger. “Grognard had been preparing that little speech for so long, I didn’t want to deny him the chance to tell his little tale. But Eastwood is my accuser, so I will face him in combat to prove my innocence and worth to this community. And to bring him to justice for his crimes.”
“Not so fast, sister,” Ree said, standing this time. “Eastwood’s in no condition, so you get to fight me.”
“No,” Eastwood said. “I can handle her.” Eastwood stood, then wavered and slumped back to the table, undercutting his
point just a little.
Ree caught her former mentor and set him back in his chair. “Sure thing, boss. That sounds like a great idea.” Ree reached into her jacket and produced her lightsaber. “So, we just do this right here and now?”
“I wish,” Grognard said.
Lucretia’s smile was approaching Cheshire dimensions.
The Auctioneer’s booming voice called out, “Trial by combat. As the challenger, Lucretia, you have the right to choose the weapons.”
“I thought Duello went the other way,” Ree said.
“We don’t use the Code Duello,” Grognard answered. Lucretia turned so she could face the crowd and Ree at once.
“Since Ree was such a fan of our last jaunt to Spirit, I choose a game of Incarnate. Best of five falls.”
“No shit, Incarnate? I didn’t take you for a FPSer,” Ree said. Incarnate had taken the video game world by storm just a month ago, a next-generation game even before the Xbox One and PS4 went to market. It played on the current gen, but just barely. PC was a far better bet. It pitted rival sorcerers against one another on massive battlefields, with NPC foot soldiers and archers on each side. But the casters were the real challenge, with each player customizing their set of spells and foci.
The primary resource in the game was mana. Each spell cost temporary mana, which was paid into a larger Incarnation pool. The mana pool regenerated constantly, but slowly, requiring
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players to be tactical with their spell casting, choosing between keeping magic on hand for emergencies and casting more to get a temporary advantage and/or to fill the Incarnation pool.
When a player’s Incarnation pool was filled, they could unleash their Incarnate spell, which summoned a magical construct capable of laying waste to entire brigades by itself. Ree’d heard the game had originally been conceived as an SF mecha combat setup, but moved to fantasy to set itself apart from Halo and the like. Since her cash flow made a dripping faucet look like a raging river, she’d played only the Incarnate beta, and only that one weekend.
“Where are the rigs?” Ree asked. There were no computers on hand to complete the fantasy redux of The Wizard that she suddenly found herself in and was not-so-secretly excited by.
“Oh, my dear. I’ve gotten you confused again, it seems. We won’t be playing on computers. We’ll be doing the fighting ourselves . . . in Spirit.”
Lucretia sleight-of-handed out two marbled orbs, each the size of a baseball. Ree’s was blue, Lucretia’s red.
Not interested in taking anything handed to her by Lucretia, Ree turned to Grognard. “So we’re doing this Tron-style?”
The brewmaster nodded. His voice was thick with annoyance. “It is her right as the accused to set the challenge in Spirit. The precedent goes back to the days when Shade was the young gun in town, throwing down with Street Samurai in the early days of the Wild Wild Web.”
Eastwood forced his way through a coughing fit and grabbed Ree by a lapel, pulling her close. “How much do you know about this game?”
“I played a couple days of the beta.”
Eastwood’s eyes went wide, then he collapsed forward into another coughing fit.
“This won’t be like noodling away at a controller on your couch,” Grognard said. “When you play in Spirit, you feel the pain, the wind on your face, the shock in your legs when you land. It might as well be real.”
Eastwood sucked in air to delay a coughing fit, then continued. “The pocket dimension is a simulation, so dying there won’t kill you. The Auctioneer will make sure of that. She’ll be watching very closely. But you better fucking believe that Lucretia will find some way to cheat. You have to beat her, and you have to
do it clean, otherwise the ruling won’t stick.”
More coughing. Ree grabbed Eastwood’s hand, trying to hold him still. A few moments later, he recovered, still flushed.
“Lucretia’s going to go long-distance, I can just about guarantee. The way you move, you’ll want to close, use utility spells that will let you keep your troops alive and close the distance.” He pulled a piece of grease-spotted thermal paper from his coat and started scribbling notes.
“Here’re your options for spell selection. Your troops will respawn on a timer.”
Eastwood tried to keep going, but the Auctioneer coughed
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audibly. Ree took her seat.
“Kick her ass, okay?” Eastwood added. “Let’s be done with this yen su de go-se.”
Ree squeezed Eastwood’s hand once more, then stepped toward Lucretia, seated a few paces away. “I catch you cheating, and I’ll pull your organs out through your nose and parade you around as a crinoline mummy. You get me?”
“Armor yourself with all of the smugness you can muster, child. The game doesn’t care about how angry you are. Besides, you’re the hotshot Geekomancer—this should be easy for you, yes?” Lucretia held out the blue orb.
Ree grabbed the orb, then passed it between her hands, feeling its heft. “I’ve been around this scene long enough to know that you’d never pick a battleground you didn’t know by heart, Lucretia. But I’ve spent more time behind an FPS HUD than some pro gamers,” she said, stretching the truth like taffy. “Let’s do this.”
A few folks stepped out of the crowd and pulled the tables away, leaving two chairs facing the crowd. Shade, recovered from the injuries he sustained during Lucretia’s attack, worked a control pad, and above, a massive projection screen descended on the far wall, behind the Auctioneer.
“Why don’t we use this to watch movies all the fucking time?” Ree asked.
Grognard chuckled. “The bulbs to work these cost about a thousand dollars apiece in alchemical components, and last
“Only two grand? I’d kick in,” Ree said, all bluster and no moolah. She took her seat, Lucretia beside her. If it weren’t for the mounting pressure, the fear of unfamiliarity, and the dead certainty that Lucretia was about to cheat worse than a hungover frat boy in Chem 101 with answers printed on the inside of his vitaminwater label, she’d be excited. She’d dreamed of going inside a video game ever since her dad had shown her Tron as a kid.
The Auctioneer stepped in front of them, holding a yellow globe of her own, half again as big as the other two. “Red player, are you ready?”
“Ready,” Lucretia said.
“Blue player, are you ready?” “Ready,” Ree lied.
The Auctioneer raised her arms. “Prepare for Incarnation.”
The orb in her hand grew hot, and she felt crushed inward and expanded outward at the same time.
“Game on!” she shouted as her world went blue.
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