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   Chapter 3 Wildwood The Society Book 1

Wildwood: The Society Book 1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 24597

Updated: 2018-03-13 11:26


Chapter 3

She swallowed hard and deliberately did not think about the missing underwear. Instead, she walked swiftly to the door and threw the deadbolt, feeling infinitely safer with it drawn. While the thin little bolt might not keep every predator at bay, she had tied the lock to a somewhat more sophisticated shielding spell. Once the lock was in place, the shielding went into effect. A shifter may be stronger than a normal human and for all she knew was capable of snapping her deadbolt like a twig, but if he tried it without a mage in tow to counter the effects, he would sizzle like a sausage. The image of singed fur in her mind made her feel a little better.

Ivy picked up her discarded clothing, shaking out the bits of glass that were stuck to her sweatshirt. She knew there was no way she would be putting it back on without a good wash. Somehow it seemed dirtier than a simple trip outside, or even the shattered vase, could make it. She set the clothing to the side and swept up the broken glass, carefully watching where she placed her bare feet. When she thought she had gotten all but the smallest slivers, she put the broom away and took a damp cloth to the wooden floorboards. The wet cloth glittered with the tiny fragments it picked up. Satisfied she had gotten up all of the glass possible, she dried the floor and put everything away.

Ivy glanced over at her reading chair, but even though her curiosity was intense, she pushed thoughts of retrieval aside for the moment. Instead of moving to the chair, she gathered up her clothing and dumped it in the washing machine. She put everything, including her shoes in the machine and then tugged off the t-shirt, adding it to the mix. She left the items there and went to take a quick shower, hoping it would make her feel cleaner.

Once showered and wearing fresh clothes, Ivy had to admit she felt much better. She gathered up the rest of her laundry and added it to the items the washing machine already contained. She poured in a capful of detergent, closed the lid and turned the machine on, checking to make certain the water temperature was set to cold.

While the water was running she put the plastic bottle of detergent back on the shelf next to the dryer sheets and picked up one of two glass jars the shelf also contained. Both jars held small pouches that resembled tea bags. One of the jars was labeled Wash, while the other was labeled Dry. She pulled the Wash jar down and extracted one of the tea-bag pouches. She put the jar back on the shelf, lifted the lid of the washing machine slightly and tossed the small pouch inside.

Ivy smiled to herself as she lowered the lid again. She glanced back at the jars. Not that many of the small bags remained. Soon she would have to make a new batch. "And won't that be fun, " she said to herself, thinking of the different herbalists she would have to visit, dividing up her purchases so that no one would know exactly what went into her mix. Even though the subterfuge annoyed her, she was quite proud of the pouches themselves. The pouches, containing selections of magically enhanced herbs bound together by a spell, may have looked simple and innocuous, but Ivy considered them one of her greatest triumphs.

For years mages had looked for ways to remove tracers, trackers and other spying spells from themselves. Such things were easily woven into cloth and damnably hard to detect by anyone other than their creator. More importantly, they could be set with the barest touch of casual physical contact. Even shifters, who had no magical ability of their own beyond the changing of their forms, could set the basic spying spells in place once a mage created them. That meant it wasn't merely mages you had to watch out for if you were worried about someone tracking your movements.

Being the paranoid lot they were, mages had for centuries assumed every other mage was spying on them and in response proceeded to spy on every mage they came across. They claimed self-defense and in the process of defending themselves, ensured that the number of active spying spells always remained high.

While she had seen only the two shifters searching her clothing, there was no reason that they could not have placed some kind of tracker while they searched, especially when her back had been turned. The problem with attempting to remove the trackers was that most were fairly resilient. Some blockers could be soaked into the tracker. These blocked it as long as the garment or other piece of cloth remained wet. Once the item dried, the spell would become active again.

Ivy had figured out a system that didn't just temporarily block the spell, but managed to disintegrate it completely, removing it from the cloth. It relied on a two part system, one which blended with cold water in the washing machine binding to the spell, and one that worked with the dry heat of the dryer to shatter it.

"And unlike most attempts that leave you guessing as to whether there was a spell on the garment in the first place, if there was one present then all the lint in the lint trap will be dyed a deep magenta, " she said feeling pleased with herself. Admittedly the dyed lint then had to be burned so no trace of the spell remained. She had forgotten to clean out the lint trap once and as a consequence had been forced to buy a new dryer as the remnants of the destroyed spell had reformed as something completely different and invaded the drum. Given the invasion, she hadn't even been able to dispose of the dryer in a normal fashion. She had been forced to rent a van and drive it out into the middle of nowhere. There, she had blasted it with enough heat to not only destroy the mutated spell, but to turn the dryer into half melted slag. The effort had knocked her out for three days and was not something she wanted to repeat.

The color change was also one of the reasons her closet contained no red clothing. A few months after she perfected the system, a red sock in the wrong laundry basket caused her a week of high paranoia. She shivered, having no desire to repeat that nightmare again. Given her schedule had not brought her into contact with any mages or shifters prior to laundry day, she had been forced to consider other options. Her suspicions caused her to investigate her neighbors more thoroughly than she was comfortable with, and she decided that some people's secrets she didn't need to know.

"I still have a hard time with Mr. Ferguson, " She said to herself as she went to the bedroom to get a thick pair of fuzzy socks to wear as slippers around the apartment. She was always afraid she might say something when she saw him at the building's monthly co-op board meeting. Finding out that her polite, mild-mannered neighbor spent his free time crafting obscene porcelain figurines had been quite a surprise. Ivy had found the figurine's cherubic faces paired with their pornographic positioning more puzzling than obscene and she found herself fighting the urge to ask him about it every time she saw him.

"Not exactly something you ask over Mrs. Donaldson's lemon bars, between discussions of the pet policy and Deana James' presentation on appropriate holiday door decorations, " Ivy said to herself. She walked back into the living room and spotted the kitchen chair sitting in the center of the room. She frowned and went to the kitchen.

Ivy opened the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a spray bottle filled with a shimmering sunshine yellow liquid and a clean dust rag. "Never hurts to be thorough, " she reminded herself. The spray bottle looked as though it contained a mix of ground up pearls dumped into artificially bright lemon juice. While the concoction was infinitely more complicated, it had a scent similar to lemon scented furniture polish, a container of which she also kept in the cabinet under the sink, but rarely used.

While this concoction wouldn't remove a tracking spell, it would let her know if one had been placed on an object. It acted more or less like the spray detective shows used to show bloodstains on carpet after it had been cleaned. Thankfully it did not require a black light, the markings appearing on their own. If no markings showed up, then the chair, or whatever else she sprayed, was clean. If they did, she would have to either go through the long drawn out process of stripping the wooden chair down, something that also stripped the varnish from the wood and often left a deeply pitted surface behind, or get rid of the chair.

Getting rid of the chair was infinitely easier and one of the reasons she had a very mismatched set of kitchen chairs. Each had been picked up cheaply at the local thrift store and was composed of only wood or metal which was less susceptible to holding trackers than fabric.

"And since Russell is the only one who touched the chair, I'll know who placed the tracker if one appears." Ivy opened the spray nozzle and found herself hoping that she didn't find any trace of a tracker on the chair. She realized she was reluctant to think of Russell as only a Council agent, even if he was only her occasional business associate.

"It would certainly put a damper on my fantasies, " Ivy thought to herself. Alone, she could admit that Russell frequently played a starring role in them. "Not that I would ever admit that to anyone, " she said as she began spraying the chair. The spray came out as a pearlescent mist and instead of beading on the wood, the chair seemed to drink in the mixture.

She sprayed the seat back and seat of the chair and stepped back to watch. She glanced at the wall clock to mark the time, and waited the requisite minute and a half. Nothing appeared. Ivy turned the chair around and sprayed the back. Again she stepped away and waited for ninety seconds. Nothing. She sat down on the floor and repeated the process with the legs. When they turned up clean, she flipped the chair over and checked out the bottom of the seat.

"No trackers on the chair, " Ivy said with a smile when she was confident she had searched every part of it. Her fantasies could remain intact. She used the rag to wipe the chair down out of habit, even though very little of the liquid was left on the surface. She put the chair back at the table with its unmatched brethren. Ivy glanced around the room looking for anything else the shifters might have touched.

"The niche, " she reminded herself. It was the only thing she had yet to deal with. The niche had been designed to hold a telephone and phone book and still had a plastic connecter located towards the back even though Ivy had never connected the line. She sprayed everything down, figuring the spray wasn't all that likely to damage the plastic. She again waited for a reaction. There was none and Ivy sighed with relief. Disposing of a kitchen chair was one thing. The niche was built into the wall and would be somewhat problematic to scrub down appropriately without making an enormous mess.

"Which luckily I do not have to do, " she reminded herself. She returned the spray bottle and rag to their home under the sink. Ivy closed the cupboard door and drummed her fingers on the counter, deliberately not looking into the living room at her reading chair. Knowing the flash drive was there was like having an itch she knew she shouldn't scratch, at least not yet. While her clothing was in the wash, she couldn't be certain that she was unobserved until after the clothes had gone through the dryer as there was always the possibility of a free floating tracker in the apartment.

"Half an hour to wash and forty-five minutes to an hour to dry, " Ivy reminded herself. She knew her clothes would be dry before the hour was up, but also knew her concoction worked better if the neutralizer ran the full hour. She looked out of the window. The rain was still coming down, but she was certain there was snow mixed in.

"Not going back outside today, " she told herself. Cold and wet were not her favorite things, as much as a fire mage cliché as that was. "So we counteract the cold wet with dry heat, " she told herself. "I'm almost out of bread anyway." Decision made, Ivy pushed away from the counter

and took down her large mixing bowl. She started taking out the ingredients for her normal loaf of sandwich bread and saw the box of raisins she had picked up on her last grocery run.

"I haven't made cinnamon raisin bread in a while, " she reminded herself as she picked up the box. "And I have the time." As always, cooking helped to steady her, the act of putting fire, even if it was the electrically generated sort, to use for her comforting something deep inside. The rest of the world seemed a step removed as she measured and sifted, stirred and poured. As she worked, her insides settled a bit. She set the dough to rise and realized that her apartment was still rather cool.

"Not good for rising dough or fire mages, " she told herself as she moved to the thermostat. She turned on the heat and wrinkled her nose at the scent of the heater's first use of the season. "I changed all of the filters, " she said, reminding herself that nothing was in fact burning despite the smell. Ivy glanced out of the window. There was definitely snow mixed into the rain now. In fact, it looked as though the snow was beginning to overtake the rain.

"Probably better get a coat out for tomorrow, " she thought as she moved to the washing machine. The rinse cycle had stopped and she transferred the clothing to the dryer. She added the dry herbal packet to the machine, closed the door and adjusted the settings to the highest heat possible.

"Luckily it's just jeans and t-shirts in this mix, " she thought as she pressed the start button. Her sneakers thumped as they whirled around. She didn't think they would take too much harm from either the heat or the beating. Satisfied that step two was in motion, Ivy went into the bedroom and opened her closet door. Tomorrow, regardless of the weather, she would have to present herself to the Shadow Council.

"Jeans and t-shirts won't cut it, " she reminded herself. While the Chambers family had routinely stayed as far from the Council as possible, the rules for presentation were drummed into all of them and needed to be followed. As Ivy pushed her more casual attire to the side, she could practically hear her grandmother's voice in her head reminding her of the appropriate image to present.

"Sober and respectful, but not mournful, " she muttered as she looked through her clothing options. Ivy remembered that looking as though one was going to a funeral when dealing with the Council was considered rude. She shook her head. Admittedly, the last time she had been summoned to the Shadow Council, she had been dressed for a funeral.

Ivy had a flash of memory of herself, Rose, Max, Danny and Alex led from their grandmother's gravesite mere moments after the priest's final benediction. They were escorted to a dark car by men with dark sunglasses and taken directly to the Shadow Council. After the ruling they had been allowed to return to the house, dealing with gathered mourners and kindly offered covered dishes, most of which they wouldn't have the chance to eat, before beginning the process of packing up to begin their separate lives. The Council had made it very clear that they considered themselves generous in allowing that much.

"I don't have that excuse for funeral wear this time, " Ivy thought deliberately pushing both the memory and a black dress aside. The remembered anger at their callousness she swallowed down, as it would do no good now. She had to look calm and collected in front of the Council, all feelings locked away.

"Go for modest, but not puritanical, " Ivy remembered the additional advice, continuing to search her clothing, focusing on the moment. Nerves were once again dancing in her belly as she thought of the Council summons.

"That should work, " Ivy thought as she pulled a suit made of a wool cashmere blend. "Should be warm enough." The suit's skirt was a tailored A-line that came to her mid-calf, so she thought it would count as demure. The color was a dark gray with royal blue piping, so she thought it counted as sober, but not funerary as well. "Not bad at all, " Ivy thought, pulling it from the closet. She hung it up on the hook on the back of the bathroom door.

She returned to the closet and after debating for a moment she chose a blue shell to go under the suit jacket rather than either the black or gray ones. She figured with gray shoes it would still look sober and respectful. "And the blue will let me get away with the black coat, " she added.

She pulled the black cape like coat from the closet. It had a 1950s sort of vibe and she always felt rather glamorous wearing it. "Perhaps a broach to dress it up, " Ivy decided. "Nothing expensive though." She remembered her grandmother's admonition to never look either too poor or too prosperous in front of the Council. Well-tailored clothing meant that you were putting your best foot forward and showing the Council respect, diamonds meant you were bragging.

She took her box of costume jewelry to the kitchen and set it on the kitchen table. The first rise of the sandwich bread was done and she punched it down and set it to rise a second time. The cinnamon raisin didn't need a second rise, so she moved it from bowl to loaf pan and slipped it into the preheated oven to bake.

Task complete she washed off her hands and settled herself with her costume jewelry. As always the box was a jumbled mess. No matter how many times she sat down and untangled chains, as soon as the box was closed everything became tangled again. "If this were a cop show, the detectives wouldn't be able to tell if this was an attempted robbery or not." She said shaking her head at the mess. "I suppose I had best not be murdered under mysterious circumstances then."

A fresh burst of wind fairly whistled around her building and Ivy looked back to the window. Fat flakes of snow were pouring from the sky like damp duck feathers. This was not the lazy swirl poets liked to compose odes about. This was a full on winter storm.

Deciding she ought to figure out what was going on, she took her box of jumbled jewelry and moved to the small living room area. She set the jewelry box on the coffee table and picked up the remote control for the television. She turned the tv on and flipped around until she saw something featuring local weather. She set the remote down and sat down in her favorite reading chair. She shifted the decorative pillow and frowned theatrically in case she had somehow missed any active tracking spells.

"I wonder how that got there, " she said to herself. She shrugged and placed Albert's flash drive on the coffee table as though it were of little concern. A free floating tracker could only last an hour at best so she decided caution was called for. She would not be certain everything was gone until after the dryer finished running.

Ivy began to sort through her costume jewelry, untangling chains and pairing up earrings as she looked for a broach to liven up her ensemble, all the while ignoring the flash drive. She tried not to think about the meeting too much as she was actively doing all she could to prepare.

On screen, the weatherman predicted doom and destruction with a gleam of excitement in his eyes. "It's the weather equivalent of a seven car pile-up I guess, " Ivy said as she watched the weather man point out lines of blue on different maps moving from national, to regional to local.

"And that could mean anywhere from ten to fifteen inches overnight folks, so bundle up and don't go out if you don't have to. Back to you Trina, " the weather man said. The camera switched to a perky blonde whose extra white teeth gleamed under studio lights.

"Thanks Bob, that's good advice, " she said looking to the side at Bob as he resumed his seat at the news desk. She turned back to the camera, addressing the audience directly. She shivered theatrically for the at home audience. "Brrrr, I know I'll be staying at home tonight with a big mug of hot cocoa. But for eyes on the scene, we go now to our own Doug Adams who is coming to us live from City Park. Doug?"

"Thanks Trina, " the man Ivy assumed was Doug said. The screen showed him walking in front of a snow shrouded park. He talked about a winter wonderland and the magic of the first snowfall, before cutting to images of the city's department of transportation where large dump trucks filled with sand were starting to pull out of the parking lot.

"When exactly did we start covering snowstorms the way we used to cover wars?" Ivy thought as she unknotted a thin silver chain. On screen a man she assumed had something to do with the city pointed to sections of a map like a general ordering troops. Her grandmother had favored the radio for announcements and Ivy remembered huddling around the kitchen table with the others waiting desperately to hear if their school was closed for the day as they ate their oatmeal. That they were eating oatmeal on a potential snow day was a given. It was the only breakfast food their grandmother believed had the stick-to-the-ribs quality that snow demanded.

As they waited, Alex would always cross one set of fingers on each hand and then his thumbs so he had three sets of digits crossed, believing one was not enough luck, but two were unlucky for some reason she couldn't remember, making three the ideal. When she thought of the television at such times it was always just the weather man, Ernie Hessleman, letting them know what was coming their way while school and other closings scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

They were all familiar with Ernie as he routinely visited the school to talk about the science of weather and the cool technology he got to play with at work. There had even been a couple of field trips to the station after the new Doppler system was installed. He had shown it off to the visiting school groups the way most people showed off their newborn children.

As she looked back up at Doug's coverage of the city's storm preparedness, she saw that closings had begun to scroll across the bottom of the screen. "I guess some things don't change, " she said with a smile. She wondered if she would get lucky and have her summons cancelled due to weather. She put the tangled chains down for a moment and crossed her fingers and her thumbs, repeating Alex's school closing good luck charm. For extra emphasis she repeated his mantra.

She looked skyward. "Please, oh please ohpleaseohplease, " she said, blurring the words together as he had always done. "I promise I won't even throw snowballs at Silas Kensington." Satisfied she had done all she could, Ivy uncrossed her hands and continued sorting through jewelry.

"I wonder what happened to Silas anyway?" Ivy thought as she untangled a chain and laid it out on the coffee table far from the snarl of metal she still held. Silas had been her brother's greatest rival growing up. He was the Lex Luther to Alex's Superman. Although it was often debatable which was Lex and which was Superman, neither being known for their attempts to triumph over the forces of evil. He and Alex competed at everything and they were close enough in skill for the outcome of every activity to be debatable. When they ran track, the odds were fifty-fifty over who would come in first and who would take second. That one of them would be first and the other second was never in doubt.

Ivy shook her head wondering what was wrong with her. She never thought about the past. Nothing good ever came of it. She would have one brief flash of humor and then the reality of the separation would sink back in, seeming a heavier burden than before and sending her into a black funk where depression mixed with anger for days.

"It has to be the summons stirring everything up, " she decided. The timer dinged on her bread and Ivy got up to pull the loaf out of the oven. Noticing that the sandwich bread dough had again doubled in size, she punched it down and put it into the greased loaf pan. She brushed an egg wash over the top and slid it into the oven. Ivy moved the cinnamon raisin loaf to the rack to cool, promising herself a slice as soon as it was cool enough to cut without flattening from the pressure of the knife.

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