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Updated: Feb 7, 2022

Chapter Forty-Three

Half-Willed, Half-Learned

Desperate, I beg for people not to let me leave with my murderer, but the pleas are swallowed up by a disgusting gurgle as vomit launches up my throat.

We barely make it to the hall when I throw up. Soren scoops my hair back, fisting it behind me as I retch against the wall, the sound punctured by sad giggles and drunken hiccups. I try to swat at him, but he doesn’t budge.

At last, the heaving falls into a respite long enough for me to be ushered back to my room. Here, Soren sits me down on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. The outrageous spelled laughter has broken down into squeaky sobs.

Before I know it, my face is in the toilet and Soren Cain’s fingers are in my hair again. They brush up against the back of my neck—the same fingers that once drew the rune meant to kill me, the same hands that meant to poison me now comforting me as I’m poisoned.

If I hadn’t already been puking up laughing juice, I would’ve been puking up my heart.

I must spend an hour or so like this, cheek to the toilet’s rim until I heave up the last of the liquid death, body tensed with the strain of having Soren so near.

“Why?” I finally ask, when the spinning dulls to lightheadedness. I’m bathed in sweat, dark makeup crusty around my eyes.

“Why what?” he asks.

“Why do you sit with her?”

In my right mind, this wouldn’t be the first question I’d ask. But in my right mind, I wouldn’t be asking Soren Cain questions at all.

“Why do you sit there with her,” I repeat, “looking miserable, letting her think it’s okay to have everything she wants?”

Lifting my head from the toilet seat, I watch as he cocks his head at me. He still has a tight grip on my hair, despite the fact that I think I’m done barfing. I’m too exhausted to fight him away.

“Because Amandine has one of the most influential families in the witching world, Mika,” Soren finally says. “Many of her relatives have sat on the High Council. Her family is full of Spellfall legacies, and Spellfall has the best reputation among the schools, in terms of integrity.”

I snort, because integrity and Amandine should never be mentioned in the same paragraph.

Hand falling roughly from my tangled hair, Soren looks over at me hopelessly. I can follow along with his logic well enough, but I want to hear him say it.

“So?” I declare.

His jaw works, his eyes become desolate. For the first time, I witness what might be Soren’s shame overcoming his pride. “I thought, if I at least had favor in Amandine’s eyes before it was too late, it was some small chance at protection.”

I think back to that first night when I caught my first ever glimpse of Soren Cain. He sat there with Amandine, giving her his shiny dimples. Having been awarded those dimples a few times this year, I wonder now if he’d perfected a fallacious smile, molded himself into something so pliable that anyone who wanted to see desire in his eyes might.

The feeling wrenches something open in me and I swallow back the need to puke again. “You were always planning on us failing,” I say, “from the very beginning. It’s why you keep going back to her. Nothing is ever real to you. Everything is tactical.”

“No, Mika,” Soren shakes his head. “I am strategic because, from the very beginning, I realized the potential for far too many things to be real.”

When I can’t find a proper response, he pleads with me again. “Mika.”

I snap. “Stop it! Stop saying my name!”


Because every time you say it, you break my heart a little bit. The heart that literally stopped beating because you killed me.

“Because you sound like you’re begging, and desperation doesn’t look good on you,” I retort, repeating Tomorrow’s line to Amandine.

I mean for the borrowed insult to sound harder, crueler, fuller of the anger I have every right to feel. Instead, it just sounds empty.

“What did you use?” he asks quietly.

“Banshee’s breath. Not so great with laughing juice, turns out.”

His sigh is ragged, tired. “Mika, I told you I could help—”

“I don’t want your help. I hate you, Soren,” I say, embarrassed by how weak the claim sounds. The problem is that I have spent a lot of time hating Soren Cain, but it seems impossible that I will have the pleasure of truly hating him forever, no matter how hard I try.

He opens his mouth, but I stop him. “It’s my turn to talk, Soren,” I choke out. The words are sloppy, exhausted, but I persist. “It’s dehumanizing, to know I was your sacrifice. Humiliating, to be paraded around Paris none the wiser to your schemes. You make me feel unsafe in my own home, and you’ve absolutely destroyed my trust. So, there’s nothing left in the world that I could ever want to say to you. Nothing left for the two of us to solve.”

Apparently, I always have quite a lot to say to him, however. Before all of this, I know he would have made this observation. Right now, though, he sits there in an infuriating silence, head between his knees, hands clasped like he’s praying.

I clench my teeth, enraged. “Look at me, Soren. Don’t be a coward.”

Slowly, he moves his eyes up to mine, and my magic sparks, twining around each finger, ready to burst from my body. If this is what happens in my anger while I’m average, I’m terrified to find out what my anger would look like unbound.

The blue shivers along his hands too, his magic my mimic. I fist my hands, willing the sensation to suffocate.

Our eyes bore into each other—our old contest. There’s so much time to make up for after so little eye contact these last few months. Sadness crosses his face and he lets it linger in his expression, pushing back his usual compulsion to bury his true thoughts.

“I lied,” I say quietly. “At the Solstice Ball. I am afraid of you, and I always have been.”

Soren’s brows dip. “Why?”

“Because there are no limits to your selfishness,” I answer. “And you should always be afraid of a person like that.”

“I really believed Sabbath could bring you back,” he says quietly.

“Just because she could resurrect me doesn’t mean we avoided suffering the tragedy. You broke me, Soren. And you broke Sabbath.”

“I showed her who she really is.”

“No,” I inhale. “You showed us who you really are.”

“Mika?” a timid voice calls from the doorway.

Turning, I find Sab standing there with Nik, my name hanging on her lips. Her hand unthreads from his as she stares down at the two of us on the floor.

Casting a last glance over at Soren, I realize we’re both total messes. “If you are truly out of words for me, then I’ll leave,” he says quietly. He looks at me as if pleading with me for more of my anger.

“Leave,” I agree.

Wiping a hand over my mouth half-heartedly, I watch him stand brusquely. His frame cuts through the doorway, brushing past Sabbath, who turns, staring after him, wide-eyed.

Leaning back against the wall, I close my eyes, tired of watching Soren Cain walk away. From the next room, I hear the door click shut as Soren closes it behind himself with finality.

* * *

As Sab warned, overusing the banshee’s breath has some awful side effects—namely, sickening migraines and turning my skin green. However, petrifying the Flammulina velutipes worked like a charm. For the next few weeks, I live a blissfully self-medicated, shadow-walker-free life.

Miraculously, I have survived long enough to reach the final push of classes. The Midsummer Solstice marks Spellfall’s last day, and on that night, all seventh-years will undergo the Claiming.

In Exotic Plants & Fungi, I notice that nearly overnight, the runevine Soren and I worked on in May has tripled in size, towering over the others. Curling up into the air, the tendrils and leaves bend into beautifully shaped runes.

I spend a long time scowling at the plant, until I realize that this must be why Soren taught it the power accelerant... so that once the plant learned it, it, too, would benefit from the rune’s power.

Spriggs catches me noticing it the last day of class and nods appreciatively. “You two did a lovely job. It will probably be ready for reaping in a week. Make sure to take some home with you for the summer to plant in your own garden.”

One week.

I just need to buy myself one more week, and then I’ll be able to clip an illecebra rune from the runevine and tuck it into my pocket.

This gives me the courage I need to begin weaning myself from the banshee’s breath. With the headaches worsening day by day, I determine I must reserve my doses for the purposes of making it through exams.

Sabbath reminds me over and over that I’m stubborn to the point of idiocy, and she’s clearly right because I’m too stubborn to believe her. I’m certain my soul just needs a little while longer to remember where it belongs, but her doubtful looks grow warier each day. I remind myself of the promise I made her, the night she brought me back from the dead: I will always be there to laugh with her.

The runevine will work. Everything will be okay.

Everything has to be okay.

On the night before my Magical Mixology exam, sleep comes in restless bouts. When it finally finds me, I dream of my soul floating above my body, the spirits from All Hallows’ Eve fighting over it to decide who gets to eat which part. They jeer in my ear as they tug on my legs, prod at my arms. Their grip on me in the dream is so fierce that I launch awake, gasping for breath, certain for a moment I’m back on the platform in Purgatory.

The silent darkness greets me, and I sigh deeply. Outside, the Eiffel Tower glitters with the beginning of a new hour and I swallow back my fear. All is still and quiet.

Until I sense eyes on me and hear a presence stir in the shadows. Out of the black emerges the face of a shadow walker, his arms reaching for my leg. I stiffen in anticipation of his touch, and he drags me from the bed, a shriek ringing from my mouth

The light clicks on and Sabbath jolts up. “Mika?!” Finding me on the floor, she crouches low to help me up. “How did you get down here? What happened?”

But my eyes are trained on the person in the corner, the one she can’t see. It’s the shadow walker from outside the library. The one who knows my name.

Casting a desperate glance at my nightstand, I realize I forgot to take my daily dose of shadow walker repellent before I crashed into tonight’s nightmarish slumber.

“What do you want?” I snarl at the thing, the hint of a whimper cracking my voice. I know what he wants, though; he wants my skin. If him yanking me from my bed is any indication, this shadow walker should have no problem taking it.

I back away slowly, reminding myself I have the power to believe he can’t harm me. Belief, however, is a strange thing. Half-willed, half-learned, I’m not convinced belief is ever wholly a decision.

“Took you long enough to wake up,” he growls. “Do you know how many nights I’ve tried to get you up? You’re useless.”

Sleepy voice laced with panic, Sabbath looks around the room. “What is it, Mika?”

“A shadow walker. Right there.” I point to the window seat where the guy sits. “Please just leave me alone,” I demand, glaring at him.

“There are more like me now,” he says. “And they want you.”

Sab tugs at my arm, frightened. “Go away,” she shouts blindly into the room, making eye contact with a bookshelf. I swear the shadow walker almost smiles.

“They’re gathered in Stillwood, waiting for the Claiming.” His eyes grow wild, and I push myself to a stand, tensed in case he comes at me again. “I got away. I couldn’t go to her, they know she sees me, so I’ve been hiding—” He looks over his shoulder frantically.

My hand fists. “What are you talking about?”

“Will you—will you please at least tell Tuesday I’m sorry? I haven’t been ghosting her.”

My expression wavers, fingers unfurling. I can’t tell if this is a trick, and I look to Sabbath as if she knows what’s going on. Her eyes plead with me for explanation.

Swallowing thickly, I look back to the shadow walker sitting in the window.

Zach?” I ask quietly.


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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