Chapter 1.2 – In which Percy is conned


Month 9, Day 27, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Three weeks earlier, Percy’s life was still normal. Or, as normal as it could get for someone with luck as bad as his.

It was the end of his shift at the bakery, he had been sent on an important delivery of some delicate pastries, and Percy was lost. “I’m going to be late!” he muttered to himself, turning in a circle before re-reading the scrap of paper that held the address he was supposed to deliver to.

His family had only lived in Gilbratha for a few months now, and Percy had yet to learn his way around, despite his best efforts. The city was too huge, and none of the streets had simple, easy-to-remember names like “First,” or “Second,” or even “Main.”

His stomach rumbled from the tantalizing smell of the pastries seeping out of the container in his arms, strong enough to cover up some of the stench of poop that seemed to waft off of the cobbled street. Percy did his best to ignore both the scent and the clench of his stomach. If he stopped by the bakery in the evening, the owner would let him take home whatever hadn’t sold for a good discount. His little siblings were always ecstatic when this involved something sweet.

“You, boy! Are you lost?” a woman’s scratchy voice called

Percy looked up and took a quick glance around.

“Yes, you!” A hag across the street pointed at him. She was seated on a carpet spread out on the side of the road, her craggy skin forming deep wrinkles as she displayed her sharp teeth to him in a broad smile.

Percy raised a hand to his mouth, as if he’d blurted something rude. “Wait, is it rude to call her a hag?” he muttered to himself. The word was initially just a label for their mostly-humanoid species, but over time had grown to become an insult.

“Come here, boy!” the woman urged, waving him over.

Percy carefully looked both ways, twice, while listening for any signs that fast traffic might be heading his way. Two weeks ago, he had been pushed off of a canal bridge by a Crown noble who lost control of their horse-drawn carriage. Hearing no shouts or screams, and seeing nothing to indicate danger, Percy stepped carefully into the road, his stride deliberately overshooting the built-up muddy ice at the edge of the sidewalk, which was deceptively slippery and at the perfect angle to send someone shooting off their feet.

Percy made it across without incident. “Hello. Do you think you could help direct me? I’m a little lost. And I’m running short on time.” He held out the slip of paper with the address on it to her, then pulled it back, “Oh, can you read? I can read the address for you if you—”

“You get lost a lot, don’t you?” the hag interrupted him.

Percy blinked at her, the slip of paper still awkwardly outstretched between the two of them. Had he offended her? His thoughtless tongue was always getting him in trouble. He shouldn’t just assume people couldn’t read. “Well, I guess I do. I find myself lost slightly more often than the average person, probably?”

The hag peered at him, holding up a scuffed monocle to her eye and squinting to hold it in place with her leathery, bark-like skin. “Are you under a curse, boy? I’m seeing dark signs.” She nodded to herself, smiling as if this was a pleasant surprise, then intoned ominously, “Oh yes, very dark.”

Percy frowned. How rude to say something so horrible with a greedy smile! “No, I’m not.”

“You are,” she insisted, waving a hand over his whole body vaguely. “Super dark.”

Percy squinted. “Maybe you need to get your monocle cleaned. That’s just the color of my skin. And it’s not even that dark.”

The hag snorted at him and snatched away the monocle with a glare, as if he was the one that had offended her! “Something must be wrong with you, boy. You’ve got horrible luck. You can’t be that oblivious, surely?”

Percy deflated somewhat, because though he wished for nothing more than to be the kind of normal person who could live the kind boring life where pots never fell on them from balconies, he couldn’t deny the truth.

“After all, you’re literally covered in misfortune.” She waggled her eyebrows and repeated, “Literally.”

The smell of the street wafted into his nose again, and Percy groaned as he looked down at his feet. The lingering smell was not the street itself, apparently, but his shoes. “Oh, I’m sorry. Can you smell that? I stepped in dog poop.”

The hag shook her head smugly. “That’s not dog poop.”

Percy tilted his head. “Not dog poop? What do you mean, it’s obviously—” His eyes widened as he stared down at the stinking brown material caking the bottom of his shoe. “Oh, ugh! No!” There was only one other type of poop that was so similar to dog poop, but smelled even worse. Human poop.

“Yes,” she insisted.

Luckily, Percy was carrying a second pair of shoes in his backpack of standard supplies, which he could put on just before he got to his delivery’s address.

“And things could get even worse if you don’t take measures to correct your fate.” She waved at the various goods in front of her, trinkets and talismans and little pots filled with unknown substances.

“I just want to get directions,” Percy said. Would he be forced to buy one of her talismans before she helped him? He was quickly running out of time.

“You’ll never make it to that delivery without a little help,” she predicted balefully, another mean smile showing off the gaps between her browning teeth.

“How did you—” Percy cut the question off. Obviously, the woman had just made an educated guess. He probably didn’t look rich enough to have bought so many pastries from such a fancy shop for himself, and if he had he would probably know how to get back to his own house. There might even be some obvious clue like flour dust in his hair.

“I have eyes that can see, boy,” she muttered, looking down at her wares. “Improved chances of meeting your true love? A nightmare suppressant? Very good protection against stubbing your toes in the dark?” She shook her head, pursing her thin, spit-shiny lips. “No, none of these for you, I think.”

Percy actually found the anti toe-stubbing talisman to be quite interesting, but she had already moved on.

She reached into her robe from the neck area, pulling a talisman in a silk pouch from some hidden pocket inside. A moth that must have been trapped against her skin fell out from the angled collar, dropping to her lap. It flapped pitifully, and then somehow managed to flutter away, leaving a print of wing-dust on her clothing.

Percy shuddered convulsively, wondering if the hag actually hadn’t noticed, or was just pretending to be oblivious. He imagined the feel of those disgusting wings, scratching legs, and feathery antenna against his own skin, and felt a tingle as all the small hairs on his body rose up. Even his scalp itched as his short-cut afro trembled with the sheer force of his revulsion.

The woman offered him the talisman pouch. When he hesitated, she leaned forward, grabbed the hand holding the address paper, and shoved the pouch into his grip. “This will help. General good luck, to counteract your general bad luck. Quite strong. Only eight silver.”

Percy knew he wasn’t as sophisticated as people who had grown up here, in a big city, but he wasn’t a total country bumpkin. He recognized a possible scam when he saw one. He lifted the talisman to toss it back to her, but something about its soft fabric, the shimmering glyphs embroidered into it in tiny, complex designs, and the gleam in the hag’s eyes made him hesitate.

Hags were known to work with karmic magic. Supposedly, they had a natural predilection toward balance, enforcing it through curses and hexes, which was maybe why their spell arrays used so many hexagrams. Percy was no thaumaturge, but he had heard this bandied about and thought it made sense. On the other side of that, they were also supposedly skilled with good luck charms. But despite how much of a dent eight silver would put in this week’s wages, it seemed rather cheep for a general good luck charm of any strength.

That, more than anything, made Percy suspicious. “Are you sure it’s actually potent? Or is it about to run out of power, or something? Making this delivery on time isn’t worth eight silver to me.”

“It’s a perfectly good talisman. Very…tenacious, I assure you. It just doesn’t match up well with most people. In that way, you could say that you’re lucky to have found me today.” She winked.

That decided it. This was definitely a scam. Percy was never lucky. He tossed the talisman back to her and turned to find someone else to ask directions of.

He hadn’t made it half a block away when someone slammed into him from the back, hitting him so hard that he spun around. The container of pastries flew out of his hand, and Percy watched it tumble through the air and crash into the street even as he himself hit the ground with jarring force.

The woman—because that was who had run into him—didn’t even stop. Didn’t even apologize. She just sprinted on, then ducked into an alley with a frightened glance over her shoulder.

Percy climbed back to his feet, meeting the eyes of the hag, who gave him a condescending sneer, her long nose held high in the air.

“I told you so!” she called out to him, both delighted and patronizing.

After once again checking for danger, Percy hurried into the street to retrieve the pastries. A quick check showed that at least half of the delicate confections inside had been broken or smashed. They were still edible, of course, but not presentable for whatever rich person’s bruncheon they were made for.

Percy re-sealed the container and looked up at the grey sky, resisting the urge to scream and stamp his feet in frustration. His boss would blame him for this. Perhaps he would even take the cost of out Percy’s paycheck.

With a deep breath in through his nose and out through his mouth, Percy stomped back toward the hag. “I’ll take the talisman,” he said, digging in his skinny coin purse for a single gold crown.

But then a cacophony of copper-nailed footsteps pounded up the street. The coppers were looking for something. Or someone.

The hag watched them even as she shoved the talisman into Percy’s free hand once more.

The coppers slowed, questioning people, and Percy caught a few stray words. They were looking for a woman, and something about a book. “Ah! That rude girl who ruined my pastries!” Percy muttered.

As the coppers grew closer, the hag spoke in a rush. “To activate it, all you need to do is pluck one of your hairs and drop it inside the pouch. Seal it back up again tight, and enjoy.” Then, she dropped down, rolled up her carpet with all of her wares still inside, and tossed the bundle over her shoulder. “Nice doing business with you!” she said, before sprinting away with surprising speed.

Percy stared after her with astonishment as her retreat drew the coppers’ attention and sent a couple of them chasing after her.

“You didn’t give me my change,” he realized belatedly.

And here, we have jumped back in time to the beginning of Percy’s story. I think you all can guess who the rude, pastry-ruining woman is. If you can’t, that means you need to read A Practical Guide to Sorcery!

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Chapter 1.1 – In which Percy attempts to re-gift an award


Month 10, Day 19, Monday 11:00 a.m.

“Taking the law into your own hands is never the answer, Mr. Irving,” Lieutenant Robards repeated, sitting down across from Percy at the interrogation table.

Percy nodded rapidly, then pushed his glasses up as they threatened to slide off of his face. “I completely agree, sir. I can only plead temporary insanity brought on by panic. It won’t happen again.” It had been a huge mistake to chase after the thief. He still believed that everything after that hadn’t been entirely his fault, but he knew how it looked.

The older man sighed. “At least you have the maturity to admit your mistake without making excuses. And despite the foolishness of placing yourself in such a position, your results do speak for themselves. Such skill is impressive for one your age. Or your size.”

Percy didn’t bother reiterating that he, in fact, had no skill.

“That doesn’t make it better,” Percy said. “Any number of things could have gone wrong.” His mind flashed with dozens of different ways he could have been seriously maimed or killed. “If I had been just slightly unluckier…” He shuddered at the thought.

“Most boys your age have trouble grasping unrealized consequences. That is why, normally, I would protest much harder against what is about to happen. But with you, I hope that receiving rewards for your recklessness will not encourage more of it. I do understand your outrage at witnessing such blatant villainy, as well as your desire to help. I hope that in the future you can channel that heroic nature toward more appropriate channels. Perhaps one day you could even join the coppers. We could use more good men.”

Percy flushed at the praise from such a competent, charismatic leader like Lieutenant Robards. If Percy had imagined a perfect future version of himself, it would have looked remarkably like the older man. Dark brown skin beginning to wrinkle just enough to be taken seriously, a sure stride and confident gaze, and an ambition based in the surety of his own self worth.

But even such nice compliments couldn’t distract Percy from his finely-honed sense of foreboding. “What do you mean, ‘what’s about to happen?’”

“The Assistant Ambassador to the Public is on his way down to meet you. They plan to give you an award for excessive bravery. It’s more of a publicity stunt than anything—something to raise commoner morale and allow some of the goodwill you’ve earned to rub off on the Crowns. There’ll be a newspaper article and a photograph of you shaking hands with the Ambassador, or something.”

Percy shook his head rapidly. “No, no, that’s too much. I mean, I didn’t even really do anything. You and your partner were the one to make the arrests. Can’t you take the award?”

Lieutenant Robards stared at him in silence for a couple seconds. “It’s a civilian award. I’m not eligible. And while extra public recognition is always useful to stack up toward my next promotion, Shelleck and I literally only walked in and slapped on the handcuffs. Doing the bare minimum of our job isn’t something we can or should be rewarded for.”

Before Percy could argue further, the interrogation room’s door opened, and Copper Alma waved a somewhat portly man in a thick wool suit inside, giving Percy a quick grin and a wink before she shut the door behind him.

Lieutenant Robards stood and bowed, so Percy quickly copied him. “Assistant Ambassador. Welcome.”

The other man waved his hand. “Oh, no, please call me Mr. Rouse. Perhaps once I’m no longer an assistant I’ll go by my title.”

Percy wasn’t totally clear on the etiquette, but Rouse was definitely the name of one of the Thirteen Crown Families. Introducing himself as Mr. rather than Lord probably meant that he was from a branch line, or otherwise far from inheriting the crown. Either that, or he was simply a fan of the more informal address that was becoming popular among the younger crowd.

Mr. Rouse turned to Percy, looking him up and down critically. “Is this the lad of the hour, then?”

Percy shuffled awkwardly. He knew he looked horrible—filthy, missing one of his shoes, and covered in freshly-bandaged minor injuries, including the rather deep scratches on his cheek and forearms from the chicken incident.

Introductions were made all around, and Mr. Rouse shook Percy’s hand enthusiastically. “Have you heard the good news yet, or shall I be the one to share it?”

Percy tried to smile politely. “I’ve heard. I’m sorry that you made a trip all the way here for nothing, but I have to decline any awards.”

“What?” Mr. Rouse’s jovial expression slipped. He looked to Lieutenant Robards as if hoping the other man would tell him this was a joke, and then back to Percy. “Why would you do something so foolish, boy?”

“I don’t think I should be rewarded for putting myself in danger. What kind of example does that set for other people my age?”

Mr. Rouse gave a forced laugh. “Oh, you’re too humble. You did a great thing, young lad! Practically doing the coppers’ job for them, I say! People will love to read about it.” He raised his hands as if framing a newspaper title. “Young boy takes out local thieves’ ring, single-handed!”

Even the idea made Percy nauseated, and he shook his head rapidly.

Mr. Rouse frowned. “I assure you, there’s no reason to hesitate. Why don’t you sit down and we can discuss this?”

Percy clenched and unclenched his fists at his side, but returned to his seat. “It’s not just that. I might have been partially responsible for the theft in the first place.”

Lieutenant Robards shook his head wryly.

“At the very least, I didn’t try to stop them until it was much too late,” Percy amended. “The truth is, catching them didn’t even make up for all the damage done to Mr. Schubert’s store. And some of the artifacts were damaged. This really, really isn’t something I deserve any kind of reward or recognition for.”

“Oh, don’t be so modest. You did more than anyone could have expected from a boy your age, and I’m sure no one holds the incident against you. It’s not as if you were an actual accomplice…right?” Mr. Rouse looked to Robards suspiciously.

“He was not.”

“Well then, what’s there to worry about? Lad, are you aware of the ten gold reward that comes with the medal? If you feel so bad about it, you can donate some of your winnings back to this Schubert. Oh, but if you plan to do so, you must let us know about it beforehand so we can mention it in the article.” Once again, he lifted his hands while imagining a newspaper. “Brave and selfless!”

The offer of gold gave Percy pause, but only for a moment. He could earn ten gold in a couple months of work at his part-time job. “But I didn’t even mean to beat them up. I was actually just trying to escape when I realized what I’d gotten myself into. The way they ended up was an accident,” Percy protested weakly.

“Oh, pish posh! It was all in the heat of the moment. They wouldn’t have treated you any better if given the chance, lad.”

That hadn’t been what Percy meant at all, but it did give him an idea. He brightened, then tried to control his expression with something more solemn. “But that’s just it. I used excessive force on them. Whether they were criminals or not, there was no chance for the law to judge and sentence them. I’m a civilian, and I don’t have the authority to make arrests anyway. Taking the law into your own hands is never the answer,” he said, repeating Lieutenant Robards’s earlier admonishment.

Robards’s lips twitched, obviously recognizing the words.

“Also!” Percy added with a sudden epiphany, “Isn’t that actually a crime? Violence, disturbing the peace, and, um…vigilantism? How can you give a medal to a criminal?” He wilted a little after he said it. Sometimes, he spoke without thinking. It was a tendency that only worsened when he was nervous. If they really did charge him, it might be even worse than being rewarded.

Mr. Rouse stared at him, nonplussed.

Lieutenant Robards raised his eyebrows. “But I thought you said it was all an accident? Force used in self-defense while trying to escape?”

Mr. Rouse snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Aha!” as if he had just caught Percy in a trap.

“There is also such a thing as a citizen’s arrest,” Robards added. “Though in Lenore, those are usually reserved to situations where you are preventing immediate danger to yourself or others. A good solicitor would definitely argue you were only preventing danger to yourself and the livelihood of another. Even if I were to charge you with a crime today, which I do not intend, you would be very unlikely to be convicted or sentenced.”

Percy looked helplessly between the two men, then down to the scuffed surface of the table between them. He searched for any other arguments to use, but it was futile.

Lieutenant Robards cleared his throat. “However, perhaps Mr. Irving is worried about something else. It seems likely that the thieves were giving a tribute of their earnings, a tax of sorts, to the Morrows. If Mr. Irving’s name and image were to be publicized, he could face gang retaliation. However much an honor this medal would be, I’m not sure it’s right to put the boy in danger.”

Percy tried to keep his ecstasy from his face. Lieutenant Robards was a saint, blessed with insight and kindness.

“But surely the Morrows wouldn’t be so petty?” Mr Rouse asked.

Robards sighed wearily. “It would be an issue of saving face. Retaliation might be even more likely simply because of the unusual circumstances. Three men defeated by a teenage boy?”

Mr. Rouse sputtered. “W-well, even so, shouldn’t the coppers protect him?”

Percy shook his head sadly. “The coppers can’t stand on guard beside me constantly. And I have a family, you know. Younger siblings. I’ve got to think of them first. I really cannot accept your good intentions, though I thank you very much. If that’s all, I really have to be getting home soon. My mother was expecting me hours ago.”

Mr. Rouse puffed up and tried to argue, but with Lieutenant Robards now on Percy’s side, the round man was soon deflated.

Percy’s statement had been given and his wounds treated—for free!—and so Lieutenant Robards escorted him to the station’s front gate. “I must ask,” the older man said. “Your desperation to get out of the ambassador’s accolade’s seems somewhat excessive. It might make one suspect that you had some other reason to keep your involvement a secret.”

Percy blinked at him. “Like what?”

“Say, perhaps, you were involved with the criminals, and betrayed them, and are now worried about a much more pointed retaliation.”

Percy laughed, but quickly sobered when he saw that Lieutenant Robards was serious. “Oh! No. Well…the real reason is—” Percy looked left and right, leaning in closer and lowering his voice. “My mom would kill me if she found out how recklessly I acted. I would never hear the end of it.” He shuddered visibly.

“Your mom,” Lieutenant Robards repeated in an inscrutable tone.

Percy nodded rapidly. “Yeah. She’s way more scary than the Morrows.”

This is the new side story set in the Practical Guide to Sorcery world. You may recognize Percy from PGTS Book 3, where he made a cameo appearance.

Currently, I plan to post chapters once a week on Monday, at around 5:30pm MT. Unlike PGTS, once future chapters become Patreon-exclusive, they will not unlock a few weeks later for everyone, at least until the after the book is finished.

However, I do have plans to serialize this story for free to those on my Inner Circle Newsletter, as another potential way to access it.

When the book is finished and edited, it will become available for sale on all bookstores, in ebook, paperback, and audio formats.

In the next TCC chapter, we will jump back in time to the start of Percy’s story.

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