Get ready to fall into this excerpt from The Boom Bands, a short story in the Ustari Cycle—the gritty supernatural series about blood magic, power-hungry mages, and one clever Trickster trying to outsmart them all.
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I STEPPED OUT INTO THE RAIN, which was coming down as a wall of water, making the dark streets even darker. I pulled my thin, well-worn jacket close around my neck and put my head down against the chill. I’d been wet and cold before. The key to survival was to keep moving, keep your blood pressure high. Which complicated things because that was fucking exhausting. If you loitered in places, people chased you off, and being in constant motion lulled you into a trance after a while.
I had a lot to think about. Murray the Fell had given us the bank details, so I thought I’d take a walk past it, poke my head in. I wasn’t a bank robber. I was a Trickster; I bled a little and cast a spell and made people like me, borrowed money from them, and walked away. Or I bled a little and cast a spell and made a dollar look like fifty, and bought groceries. I bled a little and cast a dozen spells a day and staggered home broke and shivering, weak from blood loss. I didn’t bust into bank vaults and steal ancient artifacts.
But Murray had offered me five hundred dollars to be his Scribe, and that was easy money. Most idimustari you met had learned five spells somehow and that was it. They could blind you, Charm you, kite a dollar, and maybe do some tricks, but anything subtle—anything with real power—was beyond them. Some Tricksters had more ability, sure. My old gasam, Hiram Bosch, was technically ranked ustari, a full mage, but he was really one of us, grifting his way through life. But most talented Tricksters, even ones at Hiram’s level, were awful with the Words. Larding up on unnecessary verbiage, taking endless seconds to speak ten Words to accomplish what could be done in four. That’s why Murray wanted me. He wanted his little gang to get in and out as quickly as possible, and for that he needed spells that worked right the first time, could be spoken quickly, and used as little gas from Redix as possible—not because Murray the Fell gave two shits if the big woman bled out and died while we were doing his dirty work, but because chances for success were better if we were efficient, if we were organized.
I wasn’t bleeding anyone directly, I told myself. I was writing spells. I was composing. If someone took that spell and bled Redix or someone else with it, that wasn’t me.
I thought of Mags. I’d been hard on him. He’d bled people, and he’d come up with excuses why it was okay that weren’t so different from mine. A wave of dizziness hit me, and I stumbled, going down on my knees, hard, into a puddle. There was a sound, suddenly, booming all around me, something loud and painful, like a buzz saw an inch from my ears.
Headin’ out for the hills, where the boom bands play!
I shook my head and looked around. The street was empty. The rain poured down. I was shivering from the cold. Slowly, I got to my feet and started walking again. Five hundred dollars was a lot of motivation.