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Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Chapter Thirty

Beware the Unbonded Witch

“Well,” Soren sighs, disappointed. “I guess that’s it, then.”

“No,” I shake my head, refusing this outcome. I didn’t decide to look for answers just to be thwarted. “It doesn’t make sense. According to this, she was dead before I was born, before my mom could have left that message. There’s got to be something we’re missing.”

I step carefully to her grave, examining the stone. “There’s no birth date either which is weird, don’t you think?”

I look over at him, only to find his nervous gaze on me. He pockets the crystal carefully and sets his hand at the back of his neck. Dropping my attention back to the headstone, I wind around Pippa’s grave through the narrow spaces between the other headstones.

“Mika,” Soren calls, reservation gripping his voice. I hold up a hand, motioning for him to wait.

Bending low to check the backside of her headstone, I finally see what I think I’m searching for. It’s a small rune, about the size of a coin. Hurriedly, I wave Soren over and he looks around, making sure there’s no one around to catch his faux pas of climbing over graves. And climb he does—his tall frame is not made for weaving through ancient headstones, let alone doing so delicately.

When he settles into the small space between tombs with me, he squats, blowing out a breath that steams up in front of his face. His expression tightens and he lifts a finger to the stone, grazing the rune.

“I don’t know it—” His eyes widen as he glances over at me. “It’s a message.”

“A message? In a rune?”

“There are words that entered my mind when I touched it. ‘The Raresight between worlds’.”

I shake my head, not knowing what that could possibly mean. “Rare sight,” I repeat slowly, as if it will make sense. “Do you think it’s some sort of spell?”

“I mean,” he exhales again, breath clouding the space between us, “not really. But we can ask Tuesday when she’s back. I’m sure she’ll be happy to check the Shadekey for anything on a soul-tie, too.”

I nod, still staring down at the rune, determined that if I stare long enough it will explain itself.

“‘The Raresight between worlds’,” he mutters again. “Sounds more like an epithet to me. ‘Here lies a witch.’

“I’ve never heard of a rune on a headstone before,” I muse. “Did your parents have one on theirs?”

At first, I worry it’s an insensitive question, but I realize his slowed response is because he’s just thinking. “No, I don’t think so. Did your mom?”

I rise, beginning to jostle my way back to the open path. “My mom never got a headstone. There was no body left to bury.”

* * *

On the night before the students start making their return descent onto Spellfall, I go with Soren to untie the fifth knot. Speechless, I watch as he pulls the cord, and the room stirs with a gentle wind that brushes his blond hair.

Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath, and I wonder what it’s like to feel your soul rise to the surface, to wear it like a second set of skin, vulnerable and pervious to the intentions of others.

When Sabbath gets back the next afternoon, she’s rushed with excitement, looking between the two of us as if expecting news. My glaring eyes tell her to chill out, and thankfully, she gets the message. Once we’re alone, I give her the lowdown—Pippa Loxely is dead, and with her, possibly all hope of getting answers about this mysterious soul-tie. Like Soren, Sab immediately mentions the Shadekey.

But, the truth is... finding Pippa’s grave has left a part of me relieved. The last set of answers had been so paralyzing, that I’m terrified more clarity will only make things worse.

“It’s for the best,” I admit to her at dinner that night. “Maybe the answers aren’t being easy for a reason.”

“Mika,” Sabbath sighs, looking me straight in the eye. She knows I don’t particularly ever believe there’s a reason for anything. “Maybe it’s time for you to stop being afraid to know who your mom was, and to be who you are. Maybe the reason is that you need to persevere.”

I roll my eyes, but in the end, she convinces me to ask Tuesday over a late-night coffee at the Comet. Tuesday, being Tuesday, is all too happy to scour her family’s grimoire for rare and vague soul magic.

Which brings me here, sitting atop a pile of the common room’s floor pillows on Friday night, emotions trapped somewhere between the cruel hope and overwhelming dread that run rampant in me these days.

Opening the ancient-looking book in her lap, Tuesday lets out a disappointed little sigh. “Unfortunately, I was only able to find one thing about soul-ties,” she says.

Leaning in, I peer over her shoulder at the blank pages of the Shadekey as if I can read them myself.

“Here,” Tu says, waving her hand casually. Words scrawl themselves into the tome.

“How can you do that?”

“Since it’s our family grimoire, anyone in the bloodline can choose to permanently or temporarily reveal it. Morrow can see everything, too, since we both have Banks blood.”

“I thought you had to be a spellwriter to see what’s in a grimoire?” Sabbath asks. Her head is ducked low over the coffee table as she outlines a paper on the differences between ghouls and ghosts. Regrettably, my first-hand experience doesn’t provide enough data points, and she’s having to do actual research.

“You do have to be a spellwriter,” Tu answers, “unless it’s tied to your bloodline. That’s why it’s always good to keep a grimoire in the family.”

“There’s some skeevy stuff in there,” Tomorrow nods her approval from where she’s sunk into an oversized armchair, feet thrown over one of the arms. She’s practicing changing the color of the flames in the hearth, rotating it through the colors of the rainbow so that the room glows yellow, then green, then suddenly bright pink when she breaks concentration.

“‘Soul-ties,’” I read aloud. “‘Rarely formed, nearly impossible to break. Beware the unbonded witch. See Soul Claims.’”

I crane my neck back and sigh dramatically. “But what is it, and how do I get it to go away, and whyyy?!” I ask the ceiling. The ceiling, sadly, offers me no answer.

“‘Soul Claims.” Ever unfazed, Tuesday taps the page in front of me, and I look down to read.

Soul Claims are the most powerful type of witch bargain, as they are made with a witch’s magic itself, as opposed to a witch’s word, which is merely tied to magical consequences. Soul Claims most often involve deeply sacred rites. The following are known and practiced Soul Claims:

• The Tithing―A portion of a witchling’s power, surrendered. Practiced ritual by the High Council, uncontested.

• The Claiming―The fullness of a witch’s power, dedicated. Practiced ritual by the High Council, contested. For consequences of resistance, see page 892. To contest, see Witching Law 289, in which a witch claims a higher bond.

• Mysticism―Absorption into the absolute. Personal, ancient practice.

• Soul-Ties―Pairs, chosen by magic. See Page 564.

This must be where the Joneses got their initial suspicions of the Claiming, passed down from generation to generation. Handy indeed, a grimoire.

Except for me, right now.

The section goes on to list more Soul Claims, but I can’t stand the puzzle of this book any longer. “Let me guess, page 564 is what we just read.”

“Sorry, Mika,” Tuesday sighs.

Sabbath shakes her head, moving her face away from the book and returning to work. “Omens, the more I find out about the Claiming, the more terrified I am. ‘Consequences of resistance’...”

Tomorrow releases a single sarcastic laugh. “Now you see why Mother hates the Cains.”

“Also, they seem all too delighted to make it easy for us,” I note. A scoff sounds from beside me and I prod Sab. “Go back to your paper. No one asked for your opinion.”

“You only wish you hated Soren Cain,” Tomorrow says dryly, saying what Sabbath is undoubtedly thinking. I watch Sab grin down at her notes. She loves being right, more than any good Catholic should.

“Is there anything in there about blackfang venom?” I joke. “I have a quiz in Practical Magic.”

Tomorrow sounds surprised. “It’s so rare and poisonous, didn’t think they’d keep blackfang at Spellfall.” She now seems very interested in getting her hands on some.

“Oh, no,” I clarify. “We don’t have access to it, but it’s a suggested substitute in one of our quiche recipes. I just have to know how to revive a guest, in case I happen to get my hands on it for a dinner party in the future.” I frown. “Yeah, my professor has a penchant for near-death dining experiences.”

Tomorrow nods. “My kind of witch.”

“Don’t you think it’s kind of cheating if you use the book for school?” Sabbath asks.

“No. But I do think it’s kinda weird you’re concerned about the cheating instead of, like, the treachery.”

“Hmmm, hmm, hmm,” Tuesday hums as she flips away. “Ah, here. A rune.”

I mouth the explanation quickly to myself. “No, this one poisons blood with the blackfang venom. Oh, but look. Perfect.” I point to a rune that does the opposite. “Now I can just carve this into all of my quiches and voilà, no one dies.”

“Sounds like a lame dinner party.”

“Definitely not a killer one,” I agree with Tomorrow.

* * *

That Saturday, we gather in the abandoned classroom at sundown. The ritual can’t be performed until the full moon is at its highest point in the sky, but the potion takes a few hours to set in. We congregate around the sweaty cauldron, beads of heat pooling together and streaming down its sloped surface. A haunting feeling is collecting in the spaces between words, the danger of what we’re doing left unspoken. It has a tangible presence, though, like the feeling you get when someone’s following you… except, when you crane your neck around, you find no one there.

We repeat the mechanics of the séance all over again—smudging a room to cleanse it against unwanted spirits, salting the window sills and thresholds. We soundproof the room with a charm, and this time we make sure to perform the blood cleanse ritual that will subdue the mélange of magic in our blood, in the case of sneaky, magic-starved spirits.

It’s clear we’re all a bit on edge, holed up in a secluded room and doing something highly unwise, hoping that if it yields no results, then it will also at least yield no harm.

I look over at Soren as the six of us settle into the circle, bracing ourselves to consume this unpalatable concoction. Soren’s features are cool and collected while I feel manic in comparison. So manic, in fact, that if I try to hold out my hand, it shakes.

But I’m not the only one who’s afraid. It billows off of Soren—the sour ache of fear, the deep pit dropping in his stomach. And something else, something too big to understand, but painful, and beautiful, and afraid of its own worth.

For a moment, I wonder if it’s his soul.

Soren’s gaze locks with mine, and I smile with the bleak measure of encouragement I can muster. His eyes are unseeing though, his mind lost somewhere inside itself.

“Now, we go in the same order as we tied the knots—just a sip each, and then Soren will finish what’s left at the end,” Tuesday informs us, glancing back over the book.

“What’ll happen?” Nik asks.

Unfortunately for him, Tomorrow has been brittle since we got here, moodier than usual. “You got yourself into this, Nikolai. You don’t get to have regrets now.”

Nik throws up his hands as if defending himself from her outburst. “No regrets, just asking.”

“He’s a scientist,” Sabbath says defensively, glaring at Tomorrow. “He likes to know how things work.”

“On second thought, I’d actually prefer not to know how much danger we’re getting ourselves into,” Nik hesitates.

Tuesday excises a gentle breath, meant to lead us in a calming breathing exercise. We don’t bite.

“Shall we?” Soren asks stiffly.

Reaching into the cauldron, he ladles out the potion into each of the mugs Tomorrow nabbed from the Comet. The one Soren holds has a cutesy script spelling out “Arsenic” in sprawling letters. I hope this isn’t a bad omen—though, offering my own mug a second glance, if it is, we’re all in trouble. Cyanide, tubocurarine, and henbane are also keeping us company.

Looking down at my mug, I cringe. The smell alone is enough to ward off any students who might wander down these halls out of curiosity or ill intent—pungent with sulfur and rot, the faint fragrance of sage somehow only makes it worse.

Sabbath retches. Tuesday looks down grimly, the light of authority all but gone from her voice. “Ready?” she asks meekly.

A grumble serves as our communal answer.

We watch Soren lift the mug to his lips, and in one swift motion, it’s down his throat. A bitterness sweeps over his face and then it’s gone. I wonder what he’s endured in life that his features ricochet so easily, right back into this practiced hardened expression, despite swallowing something so nauseating.

Tomorrow is next. We each take our turns, and the reactions would be priceless if we didn’t relate so hard to each other’s disgust. Finally, it’s my turn. I lift the mug, pinching my nose, and tip the potion into my mouth all at once.

It’s a lumpy sludge on my tongue, and I try to forget it has a raw human heart in it—ugh, too late—as I push it back into my throat with a swallow before the avalanche of nausea hits. My whole body convulses, and I hold a hand over my mouth in case it comes back up.

“Could use some pumpkin spice,” Soren notes, looking over at me.

I’m laughing on the inside. On the outside, my eyes sting from holding in the vomit that’s bubbling up in my stomach.

I almost feel bad for Soren; there’s half a cauldron left, and he still has to drink it.

He doesn’t give it another thought. Taking each of our mugs, he doles out the rest of the potion, and one by one takes them like shots of perryberry juice. I’m tempted to be impressed, but halfway through, I have to stop watching.

“You okay?” Sabbath asks when he’s done.

Soren looks a little queasy, his face pale and eyes watery, but he nods.

“Now what?” I ask, setting a hand on my stomach.

Tu looks out at the moon pensively, which is only a quarter of the way into its arc across the night sky. “Now, we wait for midnight.”

To be completely honest, the highlight of this chapter for me is rainbow fireplace. Where can I get Tomorrow's powers, please and thank you?

xx Jessa


Copyright © 2019 Jessa Lucas

All rights reserved. This work or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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