The Witch With No Name
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Thanks, Donald, I said as I slid up onto the seat, feeling both welcome and awkward. My mom was out of the room, and I leaned in across the bar. Hey, try to keep her from making my funeral into a circus, okay?
Trent snorted, turning it into a cough as he took the chair beside me. The waffles steamed, but he reached for the coffee instead. Takata smiled, his big teeth and wide lips almost a shock as I saw myself mirrored in him. Ill try, but you know how she gets.
I sighed, my wandering gaze finding three bags and Takatas guitar sitting next to the door. Enthusiastic, I muttered, then blinked when Trent took his fingertip out of his mouth, smiled, and poured a dollop of syrup into his coffee. Must be the real stuff.
You get your drive from her, Takata said, and I met his eyes when he reached across the counter and gave my shoulder a squeeze. It looks good on you.
Thanks, I said dryly, not sure if it was enthusiasm or desperation that kept me going. I usually didnt put syrup on my waffles, but seeing Trent enjoying himself, I dribbled some on, needing to shove my robe sleeves back out of the way as I cut dough into pieces.
Takata hustled to take Moms bag, and from the corner of my eye I saw the front of Trents main building on the TV. The banner, KALAMACK PIE SLICING UP SOUR, ran below it before it went to commercial. It was official, then. We were dead.
I took a bite of waffle, leaning forward as the syrup dripped. If this was dead, then sign me up.
About time you got out of bed, sweetheart! my mom called cheerfully, then gave Takatas orange pants and striped shirt a disparaging look. A pang went through me as I saw the little clues we learned as children telling us that our mother was leaving to do grown-up stuff: her hair was brushed into a professional topknot, her heels clicked smartly on the tile, there was a blush of heavier makeup, and her jewelry was just shy of extravagant. Her expression was eager and her motions deliberate. I knew when I gave her a hug good-bye that shed smell of her favorite perfume. Suddenly I wasnt hungry.
What are your plans for today? my mom said as she fixed her scarf, not oblivious to my mood but ignoring it like always. Use the house as if its yours, she said before I could even frame an answer. Theres a boat at the club, and the sweetest row of shops in town.
Ah, I need to do some spelling, I said, giving Trent a thankful glance when he gave my fingers a supportive squeeze under the bar.
Mmmm. My mom paused, then strode forward to take a key from a rack behind the pantry door. Ive got a studio upstairs. Its nice and sunny up there. Help yourself.
I took the smooth, small key thinking it looked like it would open a file cabinet, not a door. You keep it locked? I asked hesitantly, remembering my mom liked to experiment. She was quite good, and Id been told on more than one occasion that if it hadnt been for Robbie and me, she could have been one of Ohios premier spell spinners, the elite few who have the knack of creating new spells by modifying existing ones.
Just the expensive stuff. My moms eyes were on Takata as he came back in, this time wearing something a little more subdued but still clearly retired rock star with metallic socks and red shoes. Thank you, dear, she said as she adjusted his wide collar, then turned to me. Ah, ignore whats under the sink, okay? Ive been meaning to take care of it.
Sure . . . I tucked the key in the robes pocket, exchanging a questioning look with Trent before I spun on the stool to watch her getting ready to leave. My plate was on my lap, and I picked at a piece of waffle. Im working on something for Ivy. God knows when Ill have another day off again from saving the world.
I had meant it to be sarcastic, but my mom nodded, totally serious. A car had pulled up outside, and Takata headed for the bags. Use what you need, my mom said as she checked inside her purse. That woman needs a little goodness in her life. If you cant find what you want, Ive got an account in town at Jacks Imagineering. She looked up, breathless and alive, and I set my plate down and went to give her a hug.
Youre the best, Mom, I said as my arms went around her, and I was a little girl again, watching her leave for a job interview or rare overnight trip. Thank you.
She blinked fast, eyes bright as she pulled away. Just looking after my little girl. Gotta go! See you later, sweetheart. Enjoy! Dont show up until after the funeral, okay? Oh, and Ill tell Robbie. Dont worry about it. Hes going to be pissed. She hesitated. That you played dead, not that youre really alive.
Good to have that clarified. I glanced at Takata. He was laughing. Okay. Ill try.
Trent stumbled as my mom jerked him into a loud, noisy hug, and I edged sideways over to Takata. Id hugged him only a couple of times, and he still felt tall and awkward to me, his arms holding me with a hesitant firmness before he rocked back, face having a touch of sadness for opportunities lost even as he stood in my life again. Youre doing good.
So are you, I said, meaning it. Shes happy, and Id love you for that if nothing else.
Head down, he smiled as he looked at my hands in his. Dont wait too long to come out of the woods, he said, his gaze coming back to mine with a wise wariness. Too many people depend on you to stand between them and the rest.
I knew what he was saying, and I nodded even as Trent reached between us and shook his hand. The two of them exchanged words that really didnt matter apart from the meaning behind them. It was weird and sort of uncomfortable as Trent and I stood in white robes and with sticky fingers in an extravagant house that wasnt ours and watched my parents leave.
The car drove slowly through the winding curves until it was lost behind skinny evergreens and boulders the size of my car. The silence of the house soaked in, and I heard the wash of the water for the first time. No one knew we were here except for Bis, and he was sleeping. It felt like Sunday, but no Sunday Id ever had.
Well? I said as I turned, startled at the figure Trent cut before me. I saw him so rarely with such a thick stubble. He had the remote in his hand, and I wasnt surprised when he pointed it across the huge room and unmuted the TV. It was showing a mix of familiar and unfamiliar reporters in front of Trents gatehouse. The big names were there this time along with the local, and I frowned. Even the Washington Inderland Press.
. . . the continuing investigation into Kalamacks supposed death, the woman was saying, and I followed Trent back to the sunken living room and the cushy white couches.I recognized some of Trents security people, and I felt bad for their stricken expressions.
Longtime associate Rachel Morgan has been called into question as the I.S.s main suspect, despite claims that she perished along with Kalamack during an organized vampire hit.
What! I exclaimed, bouncing back up before my butt had even hit the cushions. Me?
Trent shushed me, upping the volume.
But until a body can be found, or Rachel Morgan herself, this theory will remain a wishful thought by I.S. personnel.
My breath puffed out. The press knew it was bunk and that was half the battle.
Oh, Rachel. Im sorry, Trent whispered, and my head jerked up, my stomach clenching at the image of the church now on the TV. It had been taken from across the backyard and it showed the entire back end burnt and black. The original stone of the church was covered in soot. Ivys grill still stood sadly under the big tree beside the picnic table.
I think the original structure is okay, he said, and I realized hed taken my hand and I was sliding into him as our weight pushed on the cushions. Im so sorry. You know well rebuild it. Before the first snowfall.
No one was in there, I thought, eyes closing as I remembered my spell books. Those would be hard to replace. And the picture of Jenks and me in front of the Mackinac Bridge. All my ley line stuff. Everything that Trent hadnt stuffed into my shoulder baggone.
Im okay, I said, though I felt like throwing up. At least I hadnt done it. It had been someone else. Landon . . .
Though the I.S. denies allegations that Morgan and Kalamack were the victims of backroom deals and assassination, its interesting to note that the deaths of Morgan and Kalamack fall closely alongside the elven dewar coming forth with a magical-based method to restore souls to the undead, something Morgan and Kalamack publicly touted as dangerous.
We did? Surprised, I glanced at Trent. He was flushing, his lips pressed in irritation.
I issued a statement, he said, eyes riveted to the TV. Your name came up, but I never said anything about you agreeing or disagreeing.
I was used to the press getting things wrong, either through carelessness or intentional bashing, and I turned back to the TV. A frown pinched my brow at Landon being interviewed before the FIB building. The banner ELF HIGH PRIEST, SAHAN, LANDON ALEXANDER scrolled under it. The sky was bright and his hair was shifting wildly under that funny ceremonial hat. The sun in his face made him look older. My eyes narrowed. Now that I thought about it, that hat of his looked a lot like one that Newt favored. Son of a bastard, I muttered, and Trent grimaced, trying to hear.
The newly evolving elven community is pleased to offer a way for a long-suffering demographic to find peace and wholeness.
Bull! I shouted, and Trent pointed the remote again, upping the volume.
Im personally delighted that with a collective show of union and direction we can help another species find a permanent, healthy balance that weve only recently found ourselves, in great part due to Kalamacks efforts.
I tensed. Did he just say the vampires killed us because we stabilized the elf population, and that hes trying to make up for us shifting the vampires down a rung on the power ladder?
Trent nodded, his elbows on his knees, making his robe fall open. Be careful, Landon.
Again I was reminded of Davids threat, and I stifled a shiver. Landon had the backing of the dewar and enclave, but Trent . . . Trent had practice at doing the ugly thing.
The reporter had taken the center of the screen again, clearly wrapping up. The sudden disappearance and probable death of Kalamack has left lawyers from many fronts scrambling for control of Kalamacks continually dwindling assets, a prospect that promises to be tied up in the courts for years as obscure contracts and entitlements suddenly emerge.
The rims of Trents pointy ears turned red. But ask for their silence, and you have to buy it. I dont want to do this anymore.
I glanced at him, knowing he loved the power plays, the intrigue. Meanwhile, the announcer said as the TV went back to a shot of the newsroom, daughter Lucy Kalamack will remain in the care of Ellasbeth Withon at the Kalamack estate.
What! we both shouted, and Trent reached for his phone, his hand slapping into his robe instead.
Ellasbeth Withon has been fighting for legal custody of Lucy for nearly a year, since Kalamack secured custody of the then three-month-old. Ms. Withon is also a person of interest in Kalamack and Morgans disappearance.
She has the girls, Trent rushed, and I felt his fear slip through him, turning him tense.
Trent, breathe, I said, pulling him back down when he tried to stand. Look at me. Its okay. Panic rimmed his eyes as they finally met mine. It sounds as if they havent left the compound, I said, scrambling to keep him thinking, not reacting. He was safer to be around when he was thinking. It might not even be true. Quen might have Ellasbeth locked in a closet for safekeeping and just be feeding that tripe to the press to explain why shes there.
Ellasbeth Withon had this to say when she invited us onto the grounds, the newscaster said, and we both turned to the TV, our hands joined.
Or maybe not, I breathed as I saw Ellasbeth sitting in the greenhouse, Lucy eating a cookie on her lap and Ray patting the table and the sparkle of pixy dust there. I will not believe that Trenton is dead, she said, her chin raised and her professional speaking skills making her seem just scared enough and deserving of sympathy. He was with Morgan at the time of the fire, and if anyone can keep him alive, she can. Until he comes back, I will keep our girls safe.
She was looking right at the camera, and I shivered. She was talking to Trent.
Trent was as pale as his robe, and he sat back, almost vanishing into the cushions. I knew he wanted to call Quen. It might destroy the illusion that we were dead. Wed never be able to flush Landon out. We had to wait.
Maybe she had nothing to do with it, I suggested, remembering her silence when I told her not to call back for at least four hours. She hadnt called back at all. Had she been trying to give him the room I told her he needed, or had she been trying to keep him asleep until the sun rose and we couldnt jump out?
Trent silently fumed, and I gave his hand a squeeze. You dont know shes working with Landon, I said, and his eyes finally came back to me.
No, but she can play it very cool, he said. She wont move until shes sure were dead or her lawyers have a way to take Lucy.