The Witch With No Name
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People change, I mused, still wanting to believe Ellasbeth wasnt involved. Maybe we should have left little pieces of our DNA on the ceiling.
There was no time. Trents response was so fast I knew hed been thinking about it, too.
The TV was back to commercials. I was kidding, I said. At least she cant take Ray.
The mention of his adopted daughter seemed to bring him back, and Trent worked himself out of the cushions. Quen would kill her if she tried, he said, clearly uncomfortable. He stood, turning the TV off and frowning at the newly black screen.
Sighing, I wiggled my way to the front of the couch and managed to get up. My God, the thing was a comfort trap. Come on, I said as I took his hand and tried to lead him away.
What? Where? he demanded, following obediently.
I shrugged as I looked over my shoulder at him. We cant do anything, and playing dead was the entire point. Lets go look at my moms studio.
His fingers slipped from mine, and he set the remote down, reluctantly turning from the TV. They arent even at the airport yet, and youre in her spelling cabinet?
Somehow I found a smile. You never poked around in your moms spelling cabinet when she was gone?
My heart seemed to melt when Trent smiled. It was laced with worry, distracted, but it was real, and it meant a lot. I knew how hard it was to want to fix something and have to wait.
I stole all my best revenge spells from my mom when I was in junior high, I said as I hiked up my robe and took the carpeted stairs. I swear, I think she left some of them out for me to find. Like the one that gave you zits or made your voice break?
And hard to trace since hormones were already jumping around, I said, hesitating when we reached the top step. It was a huge, open corridor, windows letting in the light and the sound of surf. My mom was cool, and she believed in plausible deniability as a way to find justice in the dog-eat-dog world of teen angst.
Trent eased to a halt beside me. Which way?
I felt a light pull to the right. I couldnt even tell you what it was. The scent of ozone, maybe? The faint vibration of an uninvoked circle? Here, I said, following my nose past open windows all the way to the end of the hall. The sound of surf became louder, and quite unexpectedly the outer side of the hallway opened up to a sun-drenched corner room.
Wow, Trent said as we slowly crossed from the carpeted hallway back onto tile, the floor a beautiful mosaic of white, black, and teal laid out in spirals and circles. It would be my favorite room just for that, but it got better. Several benches, each having an overhead rack or fume hood, gave it the look of a lab. There were several built-in burners, a waste zone, and one corner devoted to live plants. One tinted-glass cabinet against the interior wall held herbs, and another books. I assumed the ley line stuff was in cupboards. An open, ultramodern-looking hearth took up a corner. From the hook hanging down from the high ceiling it was functional, but I think Takata used it as a place to sit more than my mom to stir spells at by the number of magazines piled up beside the pair of comfortable chairs between it and the wall. There was an empty coffee cup on the table between them, and a sheet of music half hidden under the rug.
This is fantastic, I said, fingers running enviously over the magnetic chalk-ready slate counters as a smile of delight eased the tension from my forehead. I could tell there were no electrical lines, no pipes, no phone, no TV, nothing to break a circle. It was a fortress by way of lack, like an island.
So, you think you can work here? Trent said, beaming at my awe.
I nodded, eyes on the open notebooks with works in progress carefully detailed in my moms handwriting. She was spelling again, and it made me feel good. Absolutely.
Trent went to the spelling library, his fingers running over the spines with the fondness he reserved for the horses in his stable. Rachel, your mom has been sandbagging. She has a fabulous collection.
I fingered the key in my robe pocket, knowing that anything I could ever want would be here. Trent knew the charm, and I could tweak it so Ivy could invoke it as needed. The rest would fall into place. Finally something was going our way.
Its going to take some trial and error, though, Trent said, surprising me anew with his stubble and disheveled appearance.
Smiling, I leaned against the counter, hardly able to wait to get started. It was a beautiful room, a pleasure to work in. Maybe we should get dressed first if we want to save the world.
Trents grin was wide as he came back, tugging me to him. And a shave, maybe. Sounds good to me. I love watching you work.
I swayed into him, my eyes on Takatas little piece of the room and wondering if Trent was going to claim it, but by the gleam in his eye, I thought not.
He was going to help, whether I wanted him to or not, and that was the best feeling in the world.
The sound of the water through the open windows echoed my intent as I sat cross-legged atop the slate counter within a protective pentagram and carefully etched an ever-smaller spiral into the bottom of the tiny bottle. I barely breathed, my entire world cycled down to the golden glow of glass and the thin tracing of silver flowing from the stylus. The shushing of the waves was the heartbeat of the world, ever present, seldom noticed, and linking every moment together from before there was life to now.
To say it felt as if I was connected to the all, to everything, was an understatement.
I reached the center. The stylus lifted, but I didnt want to move. I was content, still, and I knew with an unshakable certainty what was important and what wasnt.
Ivy, I thought, and a stab of fear broke through my muzzy peace. A drop of silver quivered at the tip of the stylus, and I held my breath as I moved the pen from the bottle.
I thought I lost you there, Trent said, startling me, and I looked up, smiling even as the silver dripped onto the counter.
I should take a break, I said, handing him the bottle. Beside me were over a dozen rejects making me feel guilty about using my moms silver ink. It wasnt exorbitantly expensive, but we couldnt melt the silver down and reuse it either. They had to be trashed, bottles and all.
Saying nothing, Trent put the bottle under the scope modified to look at odd-shaped things. I stretched for the ceiling. My back cracked and my legs protested as I slid to the edge of the counter and my feet hit the tile floor. The sun was past its zenith, not close to setting but still making a brightglare on the water that reflected in with a wavy, relaxing pattern. Good? I said around a yawn, and he pulled back from the scope. I rather liked his smile.
Looks good on the scope, he said, taking the bottle out from under it. Lets see if it resonates.
This was the real test, and I watched his focus become distant as he somehow put his consciousness into the spiral. He began to whisper the elven words to resonate along the silver, and I shivered as I felt a slight pull when my soul recognized the summons.
Perfect. Exhaling in a puff, he came blinking back to me. Take a look. The lines actually glow.
Flustered, I shook my head when he extended it. Ah, no thanks, I said, then added when he gave me a questioning look, I might attract more attention than I want.
Mystics? Green eyes expressive, he put the bottle in my hand. Your aura lost most of its sparkle yesterday. I think you slipped them. Theyre probably halfway to St. Louis.
My lips parted, my relief surprising in its depth. Seriously?
He nodded, and I took the bottle, smiling at the thought of the mystics stymied and slowly crossing the same terrain that we had last year. Exhaling, I tried to put my awareness into the bottle. It was kind of like focusing on my navel, and I whispered the words of invocation. Tislan, tislan. Ta na shay cooreen na da.
The world became less important . . . and a remembered soothing numbness stole out from between the cracks of reality, rising up to envelop me, dissolving me in the words slowly spinning in the circle of sound and lassitude.
Until a sharp jerk pulled through me. My head snapped up, and I blinked as I stared at Trent. He was right in front of me, his hands on mine still wrapped around the bottle. Concern, quickly hidden, flashed over him.
I take it back, he said, using more force than expected to yank the bottle away. Dont do that again.
So it works? I was breathless, and I unkinked my hands and rubbed at their stiffness.
I think you almost put yourself in there. Brow furrowed, he set the bottle on the opposite counter where there was no chance of mixing it up with the discards. I think it works fine, but Id still put a drop of blood in it as an attractant.
I nodded, not as pleased as I thought I would be. My intent was to help Ivy, but what if it worked on pulling healthy souls from healthy people, too? Crap on toast, had I just reinvented a demon curse from an elven one? Maybe this isnt a good idea.
The clatter of flawed bottles shocked through me as Trent ran a hand over the counter to dump them into the same box wed found them in. I see what youre thinking, he said, the box going back on the counter. A faint smile on his face, he came close. I didnt lose myself. I think its only because you scribed it. Or maybe because youve been centering yourself all afternoon drawing spirals. He squeezed my shoulder to bring my eyes up to his. Its not going to pull anyone in without an attractant.
I suppose. My thoughts turned to the question of whose blood I should use. Ivys was what her soul was used to, but mine might be what her soul longed for.
You did good, he said confidently as he slid the unused bottles to the back of the counter. My mom had a most excellent spelling area. Wed used about a third of it, spreading out to help minimize possible contamination. It was getting late, and I squinted at the lowering sun as my stomach rumbled. Wed been here all day, not even breaking for a real meal, though Trent had raided the kitchen to bring up cider, sliced apples, and more strawberries. My eyes drifted to the empty plate by the fireplace. My mom had a little piece of heaven here. She deserved it.
Its a great spell, Trent said, concern furrowing his brow at my continued silence. I think you should register it before someone else copies it.
A flash of pride pushed my anxiety out. We dont even know yet if it works. Flustered, I took a salt watersoaked rag and began to wipe down the counter. We had no real way to test it, but my thoughts turned to Ivy as I slowly cleaned the counter. If I didnt have two bottles, shed only give hers to Nina.
My eyes went to the sun, still fairly high over the water. It was dark in Cincinnati. I can make another one before the sun goes down, I said softly. I knew Trent wanted to get out on the beach, but I didnt know how long this interlude of peace would last.
Weve got time. Leaning in, he gave me a quick kiss before taking up the box of waste bottles and starting for the stairs. I bet theres a grill somewhere. I can make kebabs and rice.
My cheek was tingling from where hed kissed me, and I touched it. Mmmm, sounds good. This shouldnt take long. I can chop veggies.
Nodding, he headed down the open hallway, box of bottles in his arms.
The sound of the ocean became obvious again, a heady warmth radiating from the sand coming in with it. My hands were damp with salt water, and I went to rinse them. Id have to redraw the pentagram for the new charm. I knew the recitation words by heart now after having done this for each of the flawed bottles. It wasnt just the bottle that made this work, but the twenty minutes prep work of intent and sympathetic magic that went along with it.
Hands dripping, I reached for a paper towel with Halloween bats and tomatoes on it. A quiver rippled through my chi, shocking me to stillness. From nowhere, malevolent intent spilled over me. The shush of waves slowed, ebbing as the sound of ancient drums pulsed within me, rising, ebbing, coming back even more insistently with thoughts of revenge and the intent to punish. Focus blurring, I reached for the counter. The sensation of hatred rose until it leaked through my aura to sheen like an evil sweat. It was an attack . . .
Dizzy, I stumbled into the counter, hand to my middle, a sparkling, breathless pull shifting through me as if searching, looking under the puddling black smut on my aura for something. My eyes widened as I felt the searching intent wrap around my chi . . . and take me with it.
Stop! I thought as I yanked myself back, panicking as the alien sensation redoubled its effort, assaulting my soul with more demand. The drums fell back to my core, and I gasped as ancient rhythms beat out a punishment and my fear opened cracks for it to delve deeper.
Let me go! I screamed when the curse fastened on a different part of me. It was an attack, looking for something in me to trigger its full strength.
Get out! I demanded, but I couldnt wrap my will around it. It was like smoke, evading me as if I wasnt even there. I reached for a ley line, shocked when it slipped my grasp. It was damaged from a thousand years of earthquakes, and I didnt have the knack of cradling it to me like those who lived on the coast did.