The Wizard’s Shield

The Wizard’s Shield by Karen McCullough
Originally Published
As: Magic, Murder, and Microcircuits
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Length: Novel (90,000 words; 234 pages)
Tagline: To solve a murder and retrieve a stolen magical shield,
a pair of wizards journey into a dangerous, magical underworld, where the weapons
of choice might be guns… or lightning bolts.
A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past
invents a shield to ensure he’ll never again be tortured almost to death.
The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a
device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve
the device or destroy it.
When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell
and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover
it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and
injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate
balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none
of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard
learns how to use it for his own ends.
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The rush of a sudden, fierce wind
outside drew her to a window to watch the shrubs and palm trees flapping wildly.
Sand blew over the pavement and splattered against walls and trees. Dead leaves,
loose papers, and other debris danced in the air. A livid, purple-tinged darkness
turned the day grotesque. Tendrils of indigo-shaded power floated along with the
dark storm clouds.
A flash of lightning seared its way
from sky to ground just beyond a row of houses across the street, followed closely
by a crack of thunder that rattled the windows.
A man and woman hurried three small
children along the boardwalk that led over the dune from the beach to the street.
They toted coolers, bags, boogie boards, and buckets. The youngest trailed a towel
flapping behind him in the wind. More lightning zig-zagged from sky to ground, not
far away. Ilene sucked in a sharp breath.
The father looked up and flinched.
Fear tightened his muscles as he dropped a cooler and turned around to snatch up
the straggling toddler. His voice carried over the rushing wind. “Get to the
van. Quick!”
He nodded toward a vehicle parked
down the street. His wife and two older children raced on ahead.
Ilene’s hands clenched into fists.
Too much energy crackled in the air. It wasn’t directed at the family, but that
didn’t guarantee they wouldn’t get hurt by it. Collateral damage. Some of the more
ruthless mages cared little for who else was affected by their activities.
Two flashes hit nearby, one right
after the other. The child let out a frightened wail as his father, bent low over
him, dashed off the wooden walkway and down the street. Even they could sense the
danger building.
Ilene couldn’t trust their fate to
chance. She roused her own power, feeling for charged particles in the area. Gathering
them in, she rolled and pushed them into position, building a lattice of force around
the family. It wouldn’t keep out the wind or the rain–she could have done that
with air, too, if she’d had time–but it should keep the lightning from reaching
them. For the moment, that mattered most.
Even at a distance, the rush of oppositely
charged particles prickled in her brain. The growing polarization signaled an impending
What formed out there made her gut
clench in fear. It was so close to the father and child the hair on their bodies
must have been standing on end. The man looked around wildly, searching for shelter.
The panic in his eyes radiated across the fifty feet or so that separated them.
Would her barrier be enough to protect
them? The ground charge was forming so close it could jump right through it if she’d
left even a small opening. Ilene reached out toward the building charge differential.
Playing with lightning was tricky business. Choosing her positions carefully, she
pushed in various weak spots to move the polarizing field.
It sucked a lot of energy out of her
to divert its course. Her ribs and head ached as she herded protons in a subatomic
cattle drive to get the charge well away from the family. Those minuscule bits of
potential energy were every bit as ornery and uncooperative as cows were reputed
to be.
Even as the bolt formed, she didn’t
know if she’d succeeded. Her breath stopped in her throat for a long, long moment
as she waited.
The streak of lightning followed the
diverted path to the beach, a safe distance away.
The man ran to the van, getting there
just moments behind his wife and older children. He pushed the toddler into the
back seat and ran around to the other side, while his wife slammed the rear door
and got into the front. Ilene didn’t let out the breath she held until they were
all safely inside the vehicle. She released the protective field. The van’s headlights
flicked on and moments later it chugged off down the street.
More lightning singed the sky. An
inflatable ring rolled down the street like a runaway tire. Ilene shuddered, though
it wasn’t entirely the weather that set it off. The storm was a natural thing, but
someone–a powerful wizard–was using it.
Using it to attack. The island or
the house or its occupants. Brilliant, livid streaks of orange and red mixed with
violet and deep blue swirls riding with the clouds. The smells of ammonia and ozone
and peppers burned her nostrils.
Lightning flashed brighter and closer.
Dangerously closer.
The grumble of thunder grew almost
constant. The rushing downpour of rain added to the chaos and noise. Driven by the
wind to blow almost horizontally, it splattered against the window in big drops
that spread out, then slid down the glass like groping hands trying to claw their
way in.
Something was out there. The swirls
of lividly hued power grew deeper and more intense. It rode on the storm in frightening
concentrations. Why here, though?
Additional Excerpt:

About the Author

Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published
novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous
awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie
finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett
Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies
and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance
genres. She has three children, three grandchildren, and lives in Greensboro, NC,
with her husband of many years.

Find Me Here