Read on for a sneak peak of chapter 1 of The Cauldron Born!
Dropping the box with a huff, I cringed at the sound of clattering glass inside. Hoping I hadn’t just smashed one of my best potion bottles, I straightened up and surveyed my new apartment. The late summer sun streaming in from the window picked out little orbs of light in the cloud of dust I had just unearthed, giving the room an illusion of glitter. I smiled. Home sweet home. After months of searching for flats I had finally clapped eyes on this place and knew immediately that it was The One.
The building was a creaking, old Victorian town house split into four studio apartments. The basement apartment belonged to my new landlady, an old crone in the literal sense of the word.
My place was piggy in the middle on the second floor. Small, but perfectly formed, it had only one bedroom, if you could call the area separated by the dividing screen a room.
The kitchen area was made up of wooden cabinets and shelves where I could store all my cookbooks and grimoires, as well the many jars of herbs, plants and other ingredients I used for making potions and remedies. There was a centre island, which would double as my dining table, and a rack where I could hang all my copper saucepans and dried herbs.
Best of all, there was a balcony, perfect for a miniature witches garden. For approximately the 85th time since I had viewed this place, I daydreamed of all the plants I could grow in the little window boxes and how easy it would make my potion brewing.
My phone buzzed insistently in my pocket, snapping me out of my happy reverie.
“Hey Jack, what’s up?” I answered.
“Hey, Carrow. Sorry to bother you on moving day but I have something I think you should take a look at.” Jack was never one to linger on niceties when there were more important matters at hand. He also had a habit of calling people by their last names, although in my case it made sense. Cardinal just isn’t that snappy.
“That’s OK, I’m almost finished with the boxes. Do you have a case?” I toed a scuff in the warm honey wood floorboards, distractedly.
Jack was a sort of supernatural bounty hunter. His job was to find and, in many cases, kill non-human criminals for the human police, who didn’t have the resources to cope with super-powered offenders. I’d become his go-to witch after helping him out with a tricky goblin case a few years ago. Before that, I’d been happily setting up my own business selling spells, potions and herbal remedies. That was still my main job but the occasional assistance on Jack’s hunting cases made for a profitable side line. A girl has to eat, after all.
“I’m not sure yet but it looks like it. The police seem fairly convinced it’s a supernatural crime so it’s not in their jurisdiction. The body of a young woman has been found in one of the old warehouses by the river. It’s most likely a murder but there’s a whole ritual set up here. Circle, candles, the whole nine yards.”
I instantly snapped to closer attention. Preternatural murder cases were mercifully rare.
“My thinking is it could be one of yours, maybe a black magic sacrifice? Or it’s possible that it’s some sort of lesser demon but that’s about as far as I’ve got,” Jack continued.
I tried not to be offended by the “one of yours” comment. Jack was mostly human, although he had witch ancestry. The fact that he didn’t have any of the powers to go with it was a bit of a sore subject for him.
“Isn’t the Black Magic Unit looking into it? It sounds like their sort of thing,” I said, trapping the phone between my ear and shoulder, freeing my hands to unpack the box I had just brought up.
The Black Magic Investigation Unit was a fairly new invention of the Witch High Council, set up to deal with serious magical crimes. They were nicknamed the “supernatural bomb squad” as they were mostly called out to diffuse particularly lethal black magic charms but they also investigated cases where witches were murdered using magic.
“I rang them but apparently they don’t consider this case serious enough to warrant their attention.” Jack’s tone betrayed a hint of contempt.
“In fairness, they’re still only a small team. I doubt they have the resources to deal with half the crimes that get sent their way,” I offered, juggling three different size of cauldrons to stack in the cabinet.
“Well, that’s where we come in. I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me figure out what I’m looking for when you get here.”
“Shouldn’t be too tricky. If there was any sort of magic used at the scene I should be able to get a signature from it, at least find out what flavour you’re dealing with.”
If a witch was the culprit it would be up to Jack and me to track them down and hand them over to the local Witch Council to decide their fate. Most supernatural communities liked to police their own. Witches had specialist prisons for particularly dangerous criminals which I supposed made us that little bit more civilised than many of the supernatural species, who would have just killed them.
“Flavour? That’s one way of putting it,” Jack chuckled. “The warehouse is just over the river from your new place. I’ll text you the postcode. How soon can you make it?”
“Give me ten minutes to get these last few boxes from the car and I’ll be on my way.”
As I was racing out of the apartment a rushing blur of black coming up the stairs startled me. Dropping my keys to the floor, I brought my hands up and prepared to defend myself, if necessary. Before I had the chance, the blur came to a stop, solidifying into the form of a man.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, swooping to pick up my forgotten keys and holding them out to me. He had to stoop pretty far, considering he was over six foot tall.
A giggle sounded from behind him and, peering around, I saw that there were three others with him, one other guy and two girls. They were all pale, mid to late twenties and slightly Gothic looking. The other guy clutched a half empty whiskey bottle in one hand, his other arm slung around one of the girls. Judging by the whiskey and the giggling. it seemed like they were just rolling in from a night out. Since it was now after ten in the morning, I’d say that was quite impressive. Turning back around I took my keys from the first of the revellers.
“It’s fine, you didn’t scare me. I was just surprised, that’s all. Thank you,” I said, trying not to sound as mortified as I felt at my overreaction. I’d been taking self defence classes since I’d started working with Jack and they may have made me a little bit paranoid. Although, helping Jack with murder cases probably wasn’t helping either. Regaining my composure, I assessed my would-be attacker. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes but the smile he offered me was charming enough to melt a girl into her boots. Or perhaps that was just me. At least now I knew how he had moved so fast. There are only really two types of people who wear sunglasses inside: wannabe rock stars and vampires. While the all black clothing could have suggested the first, the slight flash of fang when he smiled and the speed with which he’d traversed the stairs marked him as the latter. If I was to lower my metaphysical shields I knew I would feel that intoxicating sex-and-death energy that was pure vampire.
“Have you just moved in?” he asked, gesturing to my closed door.
“Yeah, today, actually. I was just getting the last of my boxes.”
“I see. Do you need a hand?”
“No, thank you, I’m almost done.” I moved past him and headed for the stairs.
“See you around then,” he called after me, heading for the stairs which led to the top floor flat.
I managed a quick smile before hurrying down the stairs, keen to finish up and get to Jack’s crime scene. I tried to push aside the embarrassment of being taken by surprise like that. You would think I’d be more used to vampires, being best friends with one. The thought of Raven’s reaction when I told her I had a vampire neighbour brought the smile back to my face. Vampires are known to be kind of territorial. Although, knowing my best friend, she would probably be more interested in nailing him than staking him.
When I got the last few boxes up the stairs, the vampire and his companions were gone. Before I headed out the door I made a half-hearted attempt to brush some of the dust from my scruffy moving clothes and smooth down the unruly tangle of my curly red hair. Fortunately, the bag with all my everyday work supplies was already packed and waiting for me. Sweeping it onto my shoulder I set off across the river to the address Jack had texted to me.