“I don’t make deals with spirits,” Sebastian said, pushing the journal away. He realized a moment later the journal was Master Ellard’s and snatched it from the spirit’s hands.
“You haven’t even heard what I’m offering,” Ezra said with an exaggerated pout as he circled around them.
“Whatever it is, it’s not worth it,” Haley said. “Nothing good comes from dealing with spirits.”
“Well, alright then,” Ezra said, shrugging. “I just hope you’ll be able to care for poor little Alicia on your own.”
“What do you mean?”
“It should be obvious by now.” Ezra approached the desk and leaned against it with both hands. “Gaston Ellard is gone, spirited away by who knows what. Without him, your apprenticeship will end, unless you can find another kind soul to take you in as your master. Without your apprenticeship, you go back to being a gifted young man, wasting away in poverty, and Alicia goes with you.”
“And you can keep that from happening?” Sebastian hesitated. “Just what are you offering?”
“My help. I will give you what you need to find Lord Ellard.”
“And what do you want in return?”
Ezra spun toward him and grinned. “I need a job done, and something tells me you’re just the man to ask.”
“What is it?”
“I need you to find a man. Gaston Ellard.”
“That’s it?” Sebastian blinked. “You want... huh?”
“I need you to find your master. In exchange, I’ll help you find your master. Everybody wins.”
“What do you get out of it? Why do you want me to find him?”
“Well, it’d be a lot of work to find him on my own, wouldn’t it?” Ezra sighed. “I’m just not as young as I used to be.”
“But why do you want him found at all?”
“We were working together on something.” Ezra circled the desk, sweeping his hand over the piles of journals and notes. The mirror behind the desk caught his eye and he paused to smile at his own reflection. He turned back to Sebastian, absentmindedly brushing his fingers through his hair. “He is and always has been one of the best. For a human.”
“Why would Master Ellard be working with someone like you? He always told me not to trust spirits.” Sebastian glanced at Brooks as he spoke. The cat floated helplessly in the corner, unable to balance inside the frictionless bubble.
“That does sound like something he’d say.” Ezra said, slowly stroking his chin. “Not that I can blame him. I mean, he knew me.”
“Why don’t you just find him yourself?”
“I’m busy. There’s a whole world out there. Deals to make, lives to ruin, candy to steal. I can’t go running off every time a geezer gets himself kidnapped, can I?”
“Is that all?” Sebastian asked, crossing his arms in what he hoped was a defiant pose.
“You don’t believe me?”
“I told you already, I don’t trust spirits. This tower is protected by some of the most powerful wards ever artificed, some of which are directly aimed at beings like you. Just coming in here couldn’t have been easy, which means this is important to you. Even if it weren’t, finding Master Ellard should actually be easier than slipping past the Academy’s defenses.”
Ezra clapped his hands once, beaming. “Oh, I can see why he likes you. The truth is a can’t find him, and I have no idea why. It’s like he vanished from this plane of existence.” Ezra stepped out from behind the desk and offered his hand. “So, do we have a deal?”
“What, no contract? No signing in my own blood?” Sebastian asked, arms still crossed in front of him.
“Do I look old fashioned to you? I save the contracts for buying souls.”
Sebastian looked back at the bubble in the corner. “What do you think, Brooks?”
“Oh, he can’t hear you. It’s soundproof.” Brooks noticed the group watching him and barred his fangs at the spirit. “He doesn’t like me very much.”
“I’d like his opinion on the matter.”
“Oh, that’s an easy one.” Ezra waved his hand dismissively. “If he could hear us, he’d be saying, ‘don’t take the deal.’ Of course, we both know you will.”
Ezra leaned in closer. “Because there’s a little girl with no parents, waiting for her big brother to come home and tell her everything’s going to be alright.”
”Don’t listen to him,” Haley said, touching Sebastian on the shoulder.
“Hush. Let him make the decision on his own.”
“For all we know, he's behind your master's disappearance.These deals are never what they seem,” she continued.
“You know what they say about spirits. When someone makes a deal and becomes a witch, they’re cursed. Pain and misery follows them around, and it kills them in the end. Just like it did with Haley’s mother. That is the risk of accepting my help. What’s the risk of turning away?”
Ezra offered his hand again.
“You live in one of two worlds, Sebastian. A golden world where magic has ushered in a new industrial age. The rich get richer. The quality of life improves. Things are possible today that would have been a ludicrous dream ten years ago. Here in the shining capitol of industry, where even an apprentice will never go hungry.”
Ezra tilted his head toward the closest window. “And outside this brilliant city, the poor get poorer. You promised, didn’t you? You promised her that she’d never have to go back to that.”
A moment passed in silence, and Sebastian took the spirit’s hand in his own. “I’m going to find him. If that’s all you’re asking for, then you can help.” Haley sighed beside him.
“Excellent. To begin, I have two presents for you. The first is the mirror.”
“The mirror?” Sebastian asked.
“Yes, I believe Gaston already gave it to you?”
“Yeah. But it’s broken. I don’t even know what it does.”
“That makes two of us, but he’s been obsessed with it for the past few days. I think there’s a reason he wanted you to have it. Second is her.” Ezra waved a hand in Haley’s direction.
“Sorry, what?” Sebastian asked.
“Her. She’ll help you. Investigate, fight, get you coffee, whatever you might need.”
“The hell I will,” Haley snapped. “He might be dumb enough to trust you, but I’m not. I’m not going to have anything to do with this.”
Ezra held a hand up, opening and closing it rapidly as though to mimic a mouth. “How about I make you a deal?”
“Why does no one hear me out first?” Ezra sighed. “I promise it’s a good one.”
“I’m sure it is. That’s exactly why I’m not—”
Haley cut off. Her mouth moved for a few more times, trying to form words, but she was completely silent. She clutched at her throat, eyes wide with panic.
“What did you do to her?”
“I told her to shut up,” Ezra said. “Compelled might be a good word.”
“Spirit’s don’t have that kind of power.”
“They do when they’ve made a deal with someone.”
“Haley didn’t make a deal,” Sebastian said. “Her mother did.”
“I know that.” Ezra whipped his hand forward and a roll of paper unfurled in his grasp. “I made quite a profit on that one, too. Good for one firstborn child.” He moved closer to Haley, turning the contract up so she could see the signature.
“Surely you didn’t think this power came freely? You must have known there was a price. But I’m not without sympathy. I’ll make you a new deal. Help Sebastian, and I’ll tear up your mother’s contract.”
Haley glared silently at him and tried to snatch the contract away. It vanished before she could touch it.
“Glare at me all you want, it won’t change anything. Right now, I own you, and this is your only chance to change that.” Haley glared at him a moment longer before shaking his hand.