Prompt Short Story: Duty Bound (Interviews with a Sorceror #7)

CW: swearing; non-detailed talk of domestic abuse, guns, drugs, murder & assault; magical mind manipulation (not done in cruelty); mild violence and metaphorical mentions of violence; food/eating food mentions; brief alcohol mention; mention of sex 

You want to know about law enforcement, then? Specifically, how does ours work, and what happens when normie cops get involved. Alright. Explanation and a story, as ever. 

Magical law enforcement is pretty simple, really. They have the tools to work out quickly if someone is lying, guilty, involved, etc. Truth magic, mind reading, it’s all doable with magic. I’ve called these folk in loads of times to wrap something up, and they’re always happy to oblige. And I can provide my relevant memories and any physical evidence I picked up, and be on my way, civic duty all done. 

When there’s a case that’s not already being chased down by freelancers and mercenaries, or if one of us asks for their help, they get actively involved, but again, it’s not that difficult a job. They can track evidence, follow magical traces, all the stuff I also learned to do. So my 

interactions with them are limited and short, and only occasionally involve a half-hearted wrist slap for something they consider slightly out of bounds. 

Dealing with normie police, though. That’s…complicated. If magic’s involved, but a normie is also involved – as a victim, witness, or perp – then we have to do something to protect the secret. What we do depends on the situation. If we can offer what looks like an open and shut case by staging something, then we’ll usually do that. We can alter memories, so a witness didn’t see the magic part. We can offer any normie perps to their system, and we can wipe away traces of any magical perps as needed. So it’s all workable, but only because the magical law folk are both good and invested. 

Okay, so an example story…this one gets a little weird, but it’s good to show how this dynamic plays out. 

Way back in my earliest couple of decades of being a qualified sorcerer, I went out into the world after my stint in the Secret City and travelled, looking for paid work. I found it – the work is always there – and got settled into the idea of myself as a travelling work for hire guy. 

In one city – as always I’m not telling you where – I met a young lady I’ll call Daphne. Daphne was in trouble. I could see that from a single glance. I saw her, walking the opposite

way to me, on the other side of the street, and I felt her fear like a gut punch. Sometimes it just goes like that. And when it does, we can choose to ignore it, but as a rule we feel duty bound to help. It’s a whole sorcerer thing. 

I mean, it’s not innate, but it is something they sear into your brain in training. Sorcerers need some things to stop them from setting themselves up as demi-gods. Our egos, as you’ve heard a few times now, are pretty epic. But right into the very foundations of our 

learning, instead of lots of rules on how to or not to use magic (aside from the not telling it to people unless it’s necessary, and then remove the knowledge if you can thing), they lay the duty to help. They build us up on the idea that whatever we do for ourselves, we should always consider the effect it has on others. We do kind of pity the non-magical (ego again), but we know they need us to protect them, oftentimes from each other. If we see someone being harmed we should help. I like to call them innocents, but only because it’s funny to me. Nobody’s innocent. Somebody might be today’s innocent party, that’s all. 

They teach us to help those who need it. And that sometimes, more if you train it, you will start to see and feel the ones that need you. 

Not all of us do good, we’re not a mindless bloc after all, and I’ve shared some bad magic stuff with you already. A lot of us just stay in the Secret City, barely ever seeing the world. And most of us never really developed that extra sense – the tickle that grabs your attention, or tells you what’s coming, or that this person needs help. But it was one of the things I always knew I wanted, and it helps enormously with the type of work I usually get, so I studied it the whole time I was at the school. On the one hand, it’s a rare one who can catch me unawares. On the other, it can make moving through busy cities difficult. Everyone needs help, and it’s sometimes hard to discern who needs the kind of help I can give. 

But that’s why this story is a thing, anyway. They work real hard to counteract our megalomania with kindness – or at least the veneer of it. Doing a nice thing to bolster our egos? Definitely a thing. But I do try to do things just to be nice. Sometimes. 

So I screeched to a halt, almost leaving the rubber from my soles on the pavement, and did a quick u-turn, over to the opposite side. I saw her enter a small cafe, and went in after her. 

She ordered herself a coffee, and a grilled ham and cheese panini, her voice slightly reedy and shaky. Her hands shook as she took out her card to tap on the machine, and she chose the table most in the corner, most able to see everything. Now me, that’s a natural habit, same with lots of others. But it took her at least two minutes of hovering to figure this information out. Which meant it wasn’t a natural habit for her. 

I ordered myself a smoothie and a croissant, paid, and waited by the til. I offered to take hers and mine, and loaded up a tray. 

“Hi there, these’re yours, right?” I placed the tray on the table and smiled my most harmless smile as I sat down. 

Her eyes widened in panic, and she was getting ready to say something loud and

attention-calling. 

“I know you’re in trouble, and I want to help,” I told her, busying myself arranging our drinks and food, “Milk? Sugar?” 

She was a bit taken aback by that, and nodded. I took it to mean she accepted all three, and poured milk, added sugar, and stirred her coffee, before turning to sip at my smoothie. I ate in silence, nudging her panini to her to remind her to eat too, as she burned her lip on the coffee. 

When we were done, I spoke again, “Like I said I want to help. But to do that, I need you to help me by explaining everything, from the start. We can do that here, or anywhere else you’ll feel safe with me, but if you can tell me what’s happening, you have my word that I’ll find a way to fix it, and free you.” 

She studied me until I felt like a grimoire being studied by a student about to take exams on it.

Wait, that’s a terrible metaphor. Like a scholar studying a classical painting? Like an auctioneer checking for a fake? You know what, make something better up and pretend I said that.

Anyway, eventually she spoke, “I…don’t know why I believe you, but I do. I’ve not trusted or believed anyone in…god, it feels like forever. I don’t know why…you seem like I can trust you…” 

OK, full disclosure: I used a tiny spell. Nothing to alter her mind, of course, she was an innocent in whatever was happening and you don’t do that to innocents. But I did spell my words to instil them with the solid truth – that I was trustworthy, and would help her. She could easily have chosen to ignore it still, but it gave me a better chance of getting her to open up.

i haven’t forgotten your scolding about not giv8ng enough details about magic. I’m used to it, so  forget you normies aren’t. So, a spell like this I’ve probably cast thousands of times. It involves drawing strings out and forming them into the shape of my essence, then connecting it via more strings to a second shape, formed around the other person’s essence. The more strings you bind them together with, the more control you can have over their thoughts and emotions. You have to use this one carefully, because it is very easy to damage them – sometimes permanently. This one only needed a half dozen strings that I imbued them with calm, trust,and my honesty and desire to help. Enough to try and tip her my way, but not enough that she couldn’t easily choose not to.

She chose to trust me, but first she invited me back to her place. That was more trust than I was expecting right away, but she was just so desperate by that point, I think she was ready to spill her heart to the first person who asked. And when you’re that desperate, you’re willing to take some chances in order to fix it – especially when you mix that with her being lightly influenced into trusting me. We hopped in a taxi, and kept quiet while we rode; cos let’s face it, taxi drivers aren’t exactly renowned for their discretion. 

Her place was a crappy basement flat, beneath a three storey terraced house. The house itself looked almost decent, but the basement? It was unlivable. Just one room, with a toilet and sink closed off by a curtain. The walls were all bare brick, crumbling in places. The floor was cheap tile, cracked and broken, in some places showing the packed dirt beneath. Unlivable, but here she was anyway. Desperation was starting to seem too mild a word. 

She lit a fire in a stove whose chimney must have led up through the house, piling on wood until some warmth began to escape. The chill lessened slightly, and she provided us both with a cup of tea and a blanket each, as we sat on her only piece of furniture besides a portable hotplate – a sofa so broken down that my arse was almost touching the floor. 

What I’m saying is that this was a shithole that nobody in their right mind would choose to occupy, much less pay rent for. But again: here she was. So afraid of something, that this felt like her only option. 

“What’s your name?” she asked, blowing on her tea.

“Jack,” I told her. This felt like it would be something I wouldn’t want the normie world to link to anyone with my actual name, and in those situations , I go with something common and boring. 

“Jack. I’m Daphne.” 

“It’s nice to meet you, Daphne. I wish it were a better circumstance though.” She nodded gathering her thoughts. I added some strings to our connection to help her relax and let the words come. And come they did – flooding out like a dam had broken, and she couldn’t stop it up anymore.

“I had a husband. Frank. He was a bad husband. A bad man. I’ve read up on it so I know the terms and stuff. We met at a party of a mutual friend at University. He love bombed me, blinded me with gifts and praise and how I was his only, his life, his everything. I married him within 6 months, not actually knowing much about his work, his family, his friends. Not actually knowing the real him at all. But I got to know it all. 

“His work was the type that involved threats, guns, drugs and hurting people. I’m fairly sure he enjoyed that last bit, because it was also his hobby – he used to practice on me a lot. His family were either involved in this business, or nowhere to be seen. It was all or nothing, I guess, and the nothing ones were the people who refused to join him. He insulted them a lot. Nameless, usually, but they were all cowards and traitors. He made it clear that any attempt to leave him, or tell anyone else about his abuse, would put me not even on the side of the nothing, but in a place where nobody would ever find me. He’d isolated me from everyone I’d known before him, smooth as you like. They were against us, they wanted to break us up, he’d tell me. He’d manipulate arguments and situations until I believe him. I was alone, and he would kill me if I dared try anything. 

“So I stayed. I actually got him to pay for a cosmetology course, once I’d given up the idea of leaving. Neither of us said what it was for, of course. Just me wanting a hobby – not a job. Getting paid for my skills might give me ideas above my station, and I needed to be home to clean and cook and cater to his every whim. But we both knew what it was really for, and I did actually get pretty good at it. Got to practice on myself a lot.” 

She went quiet for a while. Drinking my tea, which was lukewarm by now, I waited for her to rouse again. After a few minutes spent staring at the floor, she continued. 

“But, you know, eventually something had to give. I ran back and forth in my little rut, keeping the house spotless, everything in place. Cooking whatever he wanted. Hosting his…associates. But he’d erupt in violence over nothing. Or he’d just calmly start telling me all the things wrong with me. Or he’d demand sexual favours – rarely intercourse, I think he preferred his mistresses and occasional prostitutes for that, which honestly I was grateful for. After a couple of years, he also started telling me about his day. We’d be getting ready for bed and he’d just start talking. 

“Little things at first. So and so had been a prick. Such and such a thing was late. But when my only reaction was silence, he started talking in more detail. After a while, he got to telling me about the people he hurt. The drugs. The guns. The gang turf fights. The

murders. 

“I couldn’t just sit there and listen to that. He wasn’t just giving people things that hurt them (and others). He was hurting, and killing, them himself. Even worse – he enjoyed it. Talking about him got him horny and, oh god, he’d make me touch him while he talked about it.” She shudders and falls silent again, but only for a moment this time. I sit perfectly still, not creating the slightest disturbance that might derail her. 

“That was too much. Hurting me was one thing – I believed his words by then, that I deserved it – but hurting and killing other people was just the end. I got desperate. I needed out, but more than that I needed what he was doing to be stopped. I needed him in jail, too, because he’d certainly kill me when he found out. But I had to tell someone. 

“I waited until he was out of town on ‘business’ for a couple of days. Then I packed everything I could fit – the little that was important to me, the few clothes I actually liked – into a bag, and I walked to the police station. 

“I told them everything, and I begged them to help me find a safe place to go. I was terrified. They put me in touch with a domestic violence shelter, and the kind ladies there took me in. They hid me, even, in a special shelter they had for people in real physical danger. Super secret. There was me, and two others there at the time. Jay was a surprise. She was tall, beefy, laugh like a truck horn – she even was a truck driver – but super gentle, meek even. She’d had her spirit beat out of her by her girlfriend. And there was Elle. She was gorgeous. Petite, everything about her was petite. Her figure, her size, her voice. But she projected so much love into a room. She told me right off that she was a trans woman – because I guess some fucked up weirdos have issues with trans women being allowed in these spaces – and that her boyfriend used to beat her to make himself feel like a man again, after loving her. It was fucked up in all kinds of ways, but we bonded. Elle and I used to swap makeup tips, and Jay let us practice on her. We’d hold each other as we told our stories and cried. We played board games and read aloud, and sometimes we’d all drag our mattresses out of our tiny bedrooms and into the communal living room, for a sleepover. 

“Those two were still there when I got to leave, their abusers were still at large. The police already had their eyes on Frank, so he got arrested the second he stepped off the plane home. At the same time the police arrested a number of his associates, and raided the warehouse where they kept goods and had their office. They found enough drugs and guns to put everyone away for a long time, but they wanted to be absolutely certain they wouldn’t ever leave prison. They needed my testimony, and they needed at least one body, to prove what I was saying. 

“So they got one of the weaker ones. A low-down goon who did as he was told – including killing or assisting with killing, and then disposing of, bodies. He took a plea deal – only go down for the guns and drugs, behave and engage with the rehabilitation and he’d get parole in maybe 20 years – and told them about various places where bodies were dumped. 

“Some were in the sea, some buried in rubbish dumps, some buried in concrete under buildings and roads…they found everything they needed. And all of them, except the guy who talked, went down for multiple life sentences. Jail forever.

“If that was the end of it, I wouldn’t be in a shithole dump like this, though. I didn’t care about getting his assets, but we had a joint bank account and a couple of houses, and once the forensic accountants were done they let me keep one house, and some of the money. I really have no idea how it works, but that’s what happened. I sold the house to the first offer, bought my own place outright, and started part-time work as a cosmetologist. Turns out, I really enjoyed it, and I was good at it. I even took a course on practical special effects with makeup – making fake injuries instead of covering them up appealed to me. I managed to get some work on tv and films – indie stuff really, but I loved it. And I divorced him! It’s not so hard, it turns out, when a guy like that is who you’re married to. 

“Then I got a surprise visit from my local police department. Frank and some friends had escaped. They’d somehow hijacked a bus taking them…I don’t know where. I don’t know how, really, paid off the guards maybe? I just know they’re loose, and Frank really wants to find me. There’s a price tag on me alive, a smaller one on me dead. 

“The police offered me a safe house, but I can’t trust it. I can’t trust that they don’t have, or won’t make themselves, a friend in the police that will tell them where I am. So I found the cheapest, pay in cash, under the table, my name is nowhere, not even on a lease because I don’t have one, place I could find.” 

Daphne gestured around the place. She was strong, this woman. Not because she held back tears, or because her voice barely broke. Because she had been beaten, abused, torn down, and threatened. She had lived under the threat of death for years. And when the chips were down, she did the right thing. Then when the asshole escaped his punishment, she left everything and lived in this crappy basement for months, trying to find a way out of her situation. 

Fortunately, she found me. 

She asked me how I could help, and I told her what I was. Obviously she didn’t believe me at first, but when I reheated the cold tea and floated over some biscuits to have with it, she changed her mind on that score.

Once she believed, she let me delve into her mind for traces of Frank. As she had nothing owned by him for me to trace, this was the best way. I found him, and I pulled the strings of magic into a shape that mimicked his. Once I had that, I backed out of her mind – careful at all times not to touch or move anything, only look, and only at what I needed. Still, I saw enough. More than enough. 

“You can’t see this,” I explained, “But I have a mimicry of Frank’s…uh…spiritual shape, for want of a better explanation. I’m going to send it to find its twin, and then I’m going to follow it. Once I have him, I’m going to bind him so he can’t move, get my law enforcement in to tidy things up a bit, and then they’ll call the police to have them come and get him. I doubt his buddies are far from him, either, so I’ll bind them as well for delivery. Once you’re safe again, I’ll be on my way.” 

“Good. Except, I’m coming with you.” 

I looked at her closely. I could say no. I could even spell her to stay here, without her ever realising it, and satisfy myself that it was for her own safety. Normally I would. But, call it my

youth or whatever you please, I didn’t think that’s what she needed. There was a deep, strong core of solid titanium running through this woman. It’d been scratched, dinged, even tarnished, but it was there. And with every word she spoke to me shined it up, just a little. 

Daphne needed closure. Seeing that man get taken away would help. Seeing our magical law enforcement team spell him first to remove any calls he might have out on her. And then, 

to never escape again – oh not to remove the desire of escape, no. He still needed to want the outside world. It was punishment this asshole needed, not rehabilitation. She needed to know, to see, and to trust, that she was safe. 

More than all that, though, I was angry. Nobody should be treated the way this asshole treated others. Not ever. I’m many things, and you’ve probably thought some bad things about me from some of these stories. Fuck, I’ll be the first to agree I’m kind of murky when it comes to morals. But I have never, and I would never, do any of the things that prick and his associates did. Drugs, guns, murder, violence, abuse… No. I wanted her to see this fucker brought low. 

When we were all done, I could carve out of her memory the bits where she’d seen magic, and let her live her life, remembering me only as some strange guy who helped her track down her ex-husband and return him to jail. 

So I just shrugged, and we left. 

For her, it must have just looked like I was following nothing. To me, there was a thread connecting me to my magical mimicry of Frank, which would grow stronger and clearer when we drew near. We walked until we found a taxi, and I promised extra if the driver would just go where I told her and ask no questions. She was ok with that, and again we rode in silence except for me giving orders for turns and roundabout exits. 

When the string began to glow, I stopped her, paid her the extra I’d promised, plus a nice tip, plus a quick memory spell so any recollection of us would be fuzzy. Nothing major or harmful, she just wouldn’t really remember us or where we went. It plays out like trying to 

remember the face of someone you met once, ten years ago, while drunk. And I needed to know she would never connect us to anything that happened here.

“Daphne, would you like to see the tracer thread?”

She nodded.

“I need to touch you – just gently – so you can share my Sight. Is that OK?”

She held out a hand, and I took it carefully and wrapped some strings around them and concentrated. When she gasped softly, I knew it was working.

“Every step from here is your choice,” I told her, and waited.

It took her a few minutes. She stared at the bundle of strings emerging from somewhere in my chest until her eyes watered. She tried to touch it, but her hand passed right through – I showed her mine did, too.

When she was ready, we walked the rest of the way, until we reached a condemned block of flats in a neighbourhood of…more condemned blocks of flats. I could see why. They were crumbling towers of hell. But for right now, that was good. The only people here were likely to be squatters, and they’d know to keep their heads down. 

A quick spell, and I had the lay of the land. Two guards on the stairs just inside, three more people hanging around inside, all probably in the same flat. Frank glowed around the edges for me. He was sitting on a sofa, one arm over the back, manspreading everywhere, looking like he was on holiday. Excellent. Time to start the entertainment. 

“You still want to come?” I had to check.

“I still want to come,” Daphne confirmed in a whisper. 

“Stay behind me, do exactly as I say.” 

She was white, her lips pressed closed, but her face was determined and she nodded. I moved on, casting a sneak spell to ensure nobody would hear us enter and make us difficult to see in the shadows. 

The guards were easy, a quick binding and silencing and they were down. 

The door to the flat with the three figures was closed, and I smiled to myself. Time to have some fun. 

“To the right, hug the wall, look round if you like but don’t move til I say.” Daphne did as ordered, and gave me a nod to say she was ready. 

I carefully returned the strings of both the sneak spell and the mimic, pulling more to sheath myself in true invisibility instead. Then I raised one boot and kicked the door open. 

The bang alerted them just fine. But when they looked, they saw nothing. 

I saw three men, all of them in shabby clothes – probably the best they could find on short notice. All of them were now standing, pointing guns at me and looking very confused. 

I moved inside, taking the guy on the right first. A swift kick to the back of the knee and he was down. I took his head, slammed it against the floor – barely carpeted, more concrete than thread – just hard enough to knock him out, and kicked the gun away towards the door. 

The other two now had the sense to scream, holding their arms up, guns pointed skyward, looking wildly around. 

I swept their guns from their hands and sent those towards the door, too. 

While that distracted them, I took the second not-Frank down with a stylish roundhouse to the side of the head (hey, I perform for me, not my audience), knocking him out cold and leaving a ringing in his ear that would probably last for days. 

Finally, Frank. He stood there, arms up, entire body wobbling as he trembled. The longer nothing happened, the more his breath became ragged and the more he shook. Just as I judged he was about to panic and run, I spun a quick spell, lifting him by his ankles and turning him upside down. 

Then I dropped the sheathing spell and motioned for Daphne to enter.

When Frank saw her, he began to swear. Even from his upside down position. So I sent some bindings to hold and gag him. 

“Now, now. Nobody needs to hear any of that nonsense, you sack of crap.”

He tried to speak through the gag, but quieted when he got nowhere. 

Watching a man try to glare intimidatingly at you while he’s both scared out of his wits and upside down is quite the thing, I’ll tell you. But I couldn’t enjoy this all day. 

“So, Franky, how would you like it if every blow, and every emotional cut you levelled at this lady was to bounce back to you, all at once?” 

Frank squealed and struggled. Funny how he didn’t want that back. I was starting to have fun, though. 

But Daphne was there, and she remembered why we’d come. 

“This isn’t ‘binding them and getting the police’, Jack. You said we would go straight to them and tell them what we know, as soon as they were bound.” 

I pulled back from Frank and nodded. This was her show, after all. 

“I need to get my people first, they’ll get here in a few minutes then we can leave. If you want to say anything to him, do it now.” 

Daphne took a long, hard look at her reversed ex-husband and shrugged, “What words is he even worth?” She turned her back on him and left the apartment, head high, that stench of fear gone. 

Gotta admit, my heart did a little soar when I saw and felt that. Good times. This lady was gonna live well. 

The rest happened as planned. My law people arrived, just as I was about to break and drop him on his head for fun. They sorted out his mental block and all the memories of him and his buddies. I went back to Daphne’s, helped her pack the little she had, and returned her to her front door. She invited me in for a night cap, a twinkle in her eye that hadn’t been there before. I knew that twinkle, certainly I did. She was free, and she had a particular kind of thanks she wanted to offer. 

I held her eyes for a moment, carefully carving out the magic and muffling the rest, then I left her with a kiss to the side of her mouth. 

I checked up on her a couple of times when I was in the region – always at a distance. She’d done good for herself. Runs a shelter now, too – for all genders. And her friends from that first shelter are running it with her. Were, I should say. I lost track of them after everything

fell, don’t know if they survived. If they did, wherever they are, I bet they’re helping people. 

So that’s the end of that story. And I bet you thought I was going to have sex with her. If you did, it means you still don’t really understand us. Or me specifically. 

Ah, nameless lady who asks me questions. I’ve come to enjoy making these recordings every couple of weeks, but I’m not sure what good they’re doing. I don’t see your world anymore. Are they published? Are people believing them? Are normies and supernaturals starting to notice each other? Is there any understanding at all? I’d love to know. 

Anyway, thanks for this question. It was nice to talk about doing a good deed for a normie that didn’t blow everything up in my face somehow. Thanks. Looking forward to the next one!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed my latest story. If you’d like these right to your inbox, please subscribe to the mailing list on the top right. If you’d like to support me, please share my stories around! You can also select one of the links to the right, and find commissions, writing blogs on via Ko-Fi. If you enjoy my work, please consider a donation or subscription, to help me out with daily living and more storytelling. Either way, thanks for your time, and come back soon!

"This isn't the way to the police department, Jack. You said we would go straight there and tell them what we know."

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