you remain at this residence. You are, without a doubt, a capable spellcaster in your own right. But how long would it take you to prepare such spells from scratch? And this is only after hours of painstaking research. We at Wizard Home Security have done this tedious preliminary work for you.”

Broahm opened his mouth to get a word in, but Sulton pressed on quickly with his sales pitch.

“And we can customize the tone of your package to enhance whatever sort of reputation you’ve been cultivating. A wizard’s public image is everything, after all.”

Broahm raised an eyebrow. It had not occurred to him to have any sort of public image other than professional wizard. “How do you mean?”

“For example, if you want to perpetuate a sort of kinder, gentler image, we can fix you up with a capture gem to take intruders prisoner. If you’d like your potential clientele to see you as a bit more sinister, we can incinerate intruders. No problem. Nothing tells the public better that a badass powerful wizard lives here than dumping a pile of bone ash into the gutter where everyone can see. Burglars will think twice.”

“Seems a bit harsh.”

“Consider your empty cupboard,” Sulton reminded him.

“Good point.”

“Others prefer a guardian option.”

“You mean like a vicious dog or something?”

Sulton shook his head. “Nothing so mundane.”

“A vicious bear?”

“You’d have to feed and take care of a bear,” Sulton said. “I usually suggest a zombie. Or a skeleton.”

“I’m not paying for a zombie.”

“A zombie will simply stand there until it’s activated,” Sulton said. “No fuss. No muss. Stick it in a closet. I know one guy, he makes the zombie stand in a corner holding a candle in each hand, makes a nice lamp while waiting to repel intruders.”

“I said I’m not paying to animate a zombie. Those can be tricky, expensive spells.”

“Ah, but that’s the beauty of the zombie, sir,” Sulton said. “We can get you one secondhand.”

“Oh, come on!”

“It’s true,” insisted Sulton. “A wizard or priest raises one to perform a task—usually murder some chap— and then when the task is complete there’s still this perfectly good zombie cluttering up the place. No extra charge to you, sir. All part of the service.”

Broahm tugged at his beard again. He’d already made up his mind and was just deciding how to begin the bargaining. “Well . . . sixty is outrageous. Thirty.”

Sulton tsked and shook his head. “Sir, for that price I’d have to cut too many corners, and I don’t dare risk my reputation on a shoddy job. But it is my slow season, so I’m willing to make you an incredible bargain at fifty.”

“I do need some additional protection,” Broahm admitted. “That much is obvious. But it’s not like the Titans of the Underworld are coming to knock down my door. Surely we could do it for forty.”

“Forty-five,” Sulton said.

“Deal.” Broahm grinned.

They shook hands and discussed the details.

THREE MONTHS WENT by, and in the middle of a particularly bitter night, during a howling snowstorm, another intruder woke Broahm out of a deep sleep.

Technically, the house maiden had awoken Broahm, not the intruder himself.

“There is someone downstairs,” she said in a soft voice. The house maiden hovered over his bed, ghostly and glowing.

The maiden was a fake consciousness modeled to look like a house servant. She floated around Broahm’s five-story home, keeping an eye on things. Broahm had admired Bortz’s house maiden enough to add her as a supplement to the security measures Sulton had installed.

Broahm’s residence was an octagonal tower on the edge of the Wizard’s Quarter, a stone’s throw from the city wall. He’d picked it up for a reasonable price when the elderly former resident had decided to chuck it in and head for a warmer climate.

“What?” Broahm rubbed his eyes as he kicked off the multiple layers of quilts and furs. “Who is downstairs?”

“I’ve never seen him before, milord,” the house maiden said. “An intruder.”

“Go see what he’s doing, then come back.” In cold weather like this, Broahm slept in his robe and socks, so he had only to pull on his short boots to be dressed. “Hurry.”

“Yes, milord.” The house maiden disappeared through the floor.

Damn it! Broahm had scoured the town and the outlying areas, every little obscure market he could find, to replace the stolen wizarding ingredients in his cupboard, and now here was another burglar already—

In a flash, it came to him. Prying eyes and keen ears had been keeping tabs on Broahm, watching as he replenished his precious materials. Some sly villain knew he now had a full cupboard again and had been waiting to strike. And to add insult to injury, Broahm had not activated the security system.

In a mere two weeks, the security system had become a cumbersome nuisance. Clients coming and going during business hours meant he either had to go through the tedious ritual ten times a day, or leave the system off during business hours—which was what he eventually started doing. It didn’t take long for Broahm to become complacent, and it wasn’t long after that he started to forget to activate it after closing. Often, he would already be in bed, warm under the covers, when he would remember, and more often than not he was simply too cold and lazy to get out of bed again.

The house maiden, at least, was a part of the system that could be left in operation all the time. If not for her, Broahm would have slept right through the second burglary.

He grabbed the twelve-inch dagger from his bedside table and slipped it into his belt. No time to consult his spell book. He’d have to go into action with the half-dozen spells already clunking around in his brain.

The house maiden drifted up through the floor again. “He’s standing in the foyer, milord, looking at the hallway through a glass circle he’s holding up to his eye.”

A wizard’s loupe. Broahm muttered a curse. If the burglar had as rare an item as a wizard’s loupe, then that meant he was a spellcaster himself, or, at the very least, highly familiar with the ways of wizards. He would have to engage this prowler with caution.

Broahm felt like such a lazy fool. If only he’d taken the three minutes to perform the ritual over the small, silver wolf’s head nailed to the front doorframe downstairs. The wolf’s head was the size of a peach, with small garnets for eyes, a wide-open mouth, and sharp fangs within. In an emergency situation, Sulton had explained, Broahm could simply prick his finger on one of the wolf’s teeth to activate the magical protections. His blood would identify him as the rightful resident while all others would fall victim to the dwelling’s defenses.

It was too bad Broahm had cheaped out. For an additional fee, he could have had an identical wolf’s head affixed to the doorpost in his bedroom. But noooooooo. He had to save four gold pieces and was now screwing up his courage to do battle with an intruder.

He sighed. No time to cry about it now. He had to man up and deal with the problem. He mumbled the syllables to his first spell, and they flew out of his mouth as an unintelligible garble. He took an experimental step. No sound. No squeak of floorboards. Good, the silence spell was working perfectly. Too bad an invisibility spell was so complex and hard to memorize, but being able to move silently would be some advantage.

“Keep an eye on him,” he told the house maiden. “Tell me immediately if he moves beyond the first floor.”

“Yes, milord.” She dissolved back through the floor.

Broahm drew his dagger and eased down the stairs. The floor below his bedchamber was his workshop. He kept going to the floor below that—a sitting room, storage, a guest chamber. He passed by another floor—sitting room, dining room, places to entertain clients and guests—and started down the final flight of stairs to the first floor.

The first floor consisted of a generous entranceway, the kitchens, and a servant’s quarters should Broahm

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