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Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Good at Being Bad

For the first week, my chest is crammed full of rage, my might teeming with plans for revenge that volley with desire for excuse. On the second week, I’m so exhausted by my own emotions that they’ve dulled to a hollow murmur inside me, and I flinch anytime something draws my attention back to the real world. By week three, the truth finally sinks in: Soren Cain murdered me. He’s gotten me into this whole mess himself; if he hadn’t killed me, I wouldn’t have made a bargain. I probably wouldn’t even know him to begin with.

I think that’s the worst part—having to know him.

By week four, a sort of disgusted awe manages to overcome me. Soren Cain is an evil mastermind. He really is good, as far as being bad goes. This scares me, and I borrow a black tourmaline crystal from Tu to keep in my left pocket for protection. I smudge mine and Sab’s room with sage every night to the point that Sabbath has to bring in Tomorrow to rally a big enough threat.

“You can only vanquish so much negative energy,” Tomorrow snaps, swiping the burning sage from me and extinguishing it between two long fingers with a pinch. It curls up in the air in malice, black and writhing, and she stares at me with murder in her eyes. “This is overkill. And if you’re going that route, you might as well just let me kill him.”

This doesn’t make me feel much better. But by the time spring emerges, things start to change. The world distills back down to classes and homework, long nights studying at the Comet and cool mornings eating breakfast in the garden courtyards. I often catch Sabbath staring at Nik and I blush on her account, imagining what it’d be like to get caught looking at someone like that.

And then I think of Soren and the snowball fight, and I worry that I must have been far more of a fool than I’d ever realized.

By May, I’ve spent enough time being intimately familiar with Soren’s presence in a room just so I can ignore it, that avoiding him is second nature. It’s as if he’s the ghost now; if I happen to look at him, I see right through him. Nothing there.

But I don’t look. In fact, it’s been weeks since our eyes have accidentally met, weeks since my heart has lurched in terrifying response. I am so miraculously (perilously) close to forgetting about Soren Cain’s existence, that I can almost believe I’ve never even met him.

Until I walk into Exotic Plants & Fungi one Thursday to find him waiting. He stands by the slab I share with Tu, clearly in the wrong class. When I finally manage to find my bearings, I register that there are other unrecognizable faces here today, too.

Before I can back out of the room, Professor Spriggs veers around to the front of the class, spotting me. “Well hurry up, Mika. What are you waiting for? Onward! There’s much to do today.”

I trek up to the front of the room, avoiding the stare I can feel crawling over my skin. Why in the unholy cauldron is Soren here?

“Today we are lucky enough to have some of the Runes Brood join us!” Spriggs says, sounding delighted. “Professor Bloodburn and I have teamed up for today’s class, as we thought it might be quite nice for a joint lesson since we’re now far enough along that we can get into the more... well, ruthless plants.”

There’s a murmuring among my classmates and I spot Tuesday, who looks at me nervously. She’s paired off with some runer who looks more than capable of skinning her alive, but she seems far more concerned for me. Apparently, Soren is the last to partner up, and he’s intentionally waited for me.

Coming to stand next to him, I refuse to look over. Instead, I try to concentrate on Spriggs and the bleak, spindly Runes professor next to her who looks like he’s spent a lifetime living in caves amongst vampires.

“Does anyone know what this is?” he asks, his voice three octaves lower than any normal human’s. He unceremoniously holds up a tiny potted plant with a sprout that has just surfaced from the dirt.

None of the insecure alchemists are willing to speak up with the runers around. I spot Enzo across the room, glaring at the back of Soren’s head. I think for a minute that he’s just focused in on Soren’s tall form and is lost in his thoughts, but then his gaze maneuvers to me with a question in his eyes. I grimace and turn back to the front. Being partners with Soren is not preferential, nor is it good for the optics.

Bloodburn seems very disappointed none of us are willing to be know-it-alls today. Chances are also high that this is just his face. “Cain!” he barks.

I feel Soren hesitate. It’s a visceral thing inside me that squirms in the silence between the demand and Soren’s answer. When he speaks, I realize it’s the anticipation of hearing his voice.

“Runevine, sir.”

“Very good, very good!” Spriggs looks around, sad no one else seems to be celebrating the fact that someone in the room knew something she didn’t have to teach. She rolls her head around and sighs, the end of the year definitely putting a damper on her—apparently forced—high spirits.

“This will be on the end of year exams,” she spouts, “so you best pay attention to this lesson!” Snatching her own potted plant from a shelf, she holds it up and explains: “Runevines are a unique sort of species in the witching world, as they are borne of both magic and nature, and have been supernaturally bred throughout the ages. Can someone at least wager a guess as to their purpose?”

Enzo’s voice booms from the back of the room, much to my surprise. “Are they... vines that make runes?”

“Ah, we have a clever man.” Spriggs inclines her head in Enzo’s direction, giving him an eye. “Not just any runes, now! Each plant can be taught, from a young age, mind you, up to three runes to mimic. Over the course of several months, the vines grow to mimic the shapes, and once in place, these runes are nearly unbreakable! Now. We have baby runevines at their prime for training. You will see that you’ve been paired—one Runes Brood, one Alchemy.”

The Runes professor interrupts in his deep, slow voice. “Runers, you are to share your knowledge of the ancient ways with the alchemists—”

“And alchemists, you are to show these runers what you’ve learned about handling exotic plants and fungi this semester! Now, let’s get to it. Page 629 in your books will have the instructions.”

The discussion breaks away in a flurry of movement as students stand to get their plants and the murmur of discussion breaks out. Soren leaves to get the runevine, and then sets it down on the table in front of me, directly in my line of vision. I stare at the thing, pretending he doesn’t exist.

“What runes do you want to make, Mika?”

I withhold my eyes for as long as possible. “Is there a rune that will make you stay away from me?”

“Believe it or not, I didn’t coordinate this class grouping.”

“Oh, and I suppose you didn’t coordinate that we would be partners, either.”

Our vine is tiny, only a few centimeters of it have sprouted from the dirt. It has two small heart-shaped leaves growing from it. It’s the most uninteresting thing I could possibly be staring at, but I can’t stop. I finally understand why Sabbath has a fascination with staring at her hands when having an emotional crisis.

“Yes, there is.”

I have to literally snap my neck back in place to stop myself from instinctually looking up when Soren speaks. “There’s what?” I ask.

“A rune to keep me away. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll allow us to start with that one, as it may prevent us from being partners.”

“No problem here.”

I hear him swallow, and my hands become fists. I clench my eyes shut, hating the magic I feel quiver inside me at his nearness. Hating the way my insides feel raw and sensitive to his energy. His reluctance. His shame.

“Mika,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

It’s like I’ve been thirsty all these months, and he slides back in ready to give me a glass of water. They’re words I’ve longed to hear, even if they don’t change what happened. But as usual, Soren Cain is far too late.

I won’t drink water that’s actually poison.

“Your apology doesn’t mean anything. Let’s just get this over with.”

I reach for the plant, my finger slipping through it. I try again. My body feels awkward now as I try to hide my undead disorder once more.

“You’re running out of soulstabilis,” Soren notes.

“Observant,” I gripe. “I thought my soul was supposed to stick.”

“It is,” he insists. “You were born in Andromeda. Maybe our visit there confused it. I can have another batch ready—”

“I’m dealing with it, thanks.”

I’m not dealing with it. Not really. The only course of action I have is to go to Tomorrow. I’ll make her carve the rune on me, once and for all. I remember well enough what it looks like. I think.

“How much do you even have left?” he urges.

“Enough,” I lie. I ran out a week ago.


I hate it. I hate the way he says my name. I hate how that one word simmers with concern, and I definitely hate how much I want to believe he’s even capable of concerning himself with someone like me. His victim.

“Mika,” he says again, his inhale sharp with worry, “at least let me draw—”

“Stop talking,” I snap, my gaze whipping up. “Every time you help me, there’s a catch. My life, my magic, my soul. I have nothing left to give you.”

I glare at Soren. It feels fabulous.

Until it doesn’t—because I realize I’ve missed glaring at him. He is so easy to glare at that glaring at Soren Cain has become like an addiction, and I haven’t taken a hit like this in three months.

“I don’t want you to talk to me ever again,” I say. My voice is entirely solid, my conviction honed, my hatred for him refined to near-perfection. I am a solid pane of glass when he comes near me, the kind that’s been enchanted to withstand both spells and bullets. He can’t unlock me anymore.

And yet...

I look away from the blue sooner than I want to, whether because I want to keep looking or because I want to keep glaring, I’m not sure. The concern is so much worse in his eyes than it was in his voice, and I can’t stand it.

In the end, I let Soren pick the runes. He chooses the one that will make me better, and a power accelerant. Not shocking, that his desire to help me runs a parallel course with his desire for more magic.

He leaves the last rune up to me, and I choose one that traps any shadow walker who gets too close.

Heh heh, these runevines just might come in handy... pay attention, my Alchemists!

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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