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Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Chapter Forty-Six

Kicking Butt and Avoiding Flames

“What is the core property of an aardvark gizzard? Please include examples of draughts which heavily rely on this ingredient.”

I stare blindly down at the question, watching the point of my pencil shake above the paper. I can’t concentrate. Impending doom will do that, even when the stakes are as high as a final exam.

Aardvarks. I have learned so much about them this year—pretty magically potent creatures, actually—so why can’t my mind settle on the right answer?

The answer to this second question is coming to mind a lot easier than the exam’s: Soren’s mendicant eyes, charged with desperation as his fingers clutch at me.

Don’t you ever do that again.

My grip on my pencil is firm. Even being able to take this exam is an ability I owe him. I tap my pencil against the page with frenzied energy until Fallon Farrow steals an angry glance in my direction.

Dipping my head back down to the page, I stare at the words again. Racking my brain, I finally scrounge up an answer from the recesses of memory, watching my answer spiral out of the perimeters of the question.

Aardvark gizzards are not powerful in and of themselves so much as what they contain, I scratch onto the paper with a level of confidence I don’t feel. Myrmecophagous mammals, aardvarks are the only known predators of cultwood termites, a magical subspecies of the average termite. Cultwood termites are most often used in the perambula draught, which permits witches to pass through solid boundaries such as walls.

Or, you could just die, I want to suggest. Magically proven based on this primary source right here!

Despair wrapped up in guilt sinks like a rock in my stomach. My gaze keeps wandering up to the towering clock mounted on the wall, and I watch the seconds tick by, feeling each of them pass over me and wondering what sort of ominous object Soren's dumped on me.

No. Nothing good can come of a gift from Soren Cain. And yet...I continue to trust myself with him, unwilling as I am. And I continue to save him.

Will I save him?

Wrenching my eyes from the clock, I swallow. Forty-five more questions and half an hour left.

“Which creature’s innate magic is famous for having inspired spells meant to replicate its healing and purification abilities?”

I may not have learned caution this year, but at least I learned a thing or two about unicorns.


“One crisis averted,” I say, stomping into our room where Sabbath stares down at her rosary. “I don’t need to worry about coming back to Spellfall next year, not because I will be full-on dead, but because I will have flunked out.”

Pfft, you didn’t fail,” she says, still in the stare-off with the beads in her lap.

“You’ll just have to take my word for it. What’re you doing?!”

With a deep breath, she dramatically lifts the chain and a pair of scissors. “We need something to use for the amulets.”

With a single snap, her rosary now lies in two pieces.

“SABBATH!” I shriek. “God will smite you!”

She snorts. “He really won’t.”

“But they’re your rosary beads.

“And they were already broken. All I’m doing is repurposing them. God repurposes broken things all the time.”

She snips again and again, her vision for this little arts and crafts project already clearly conceived.

“Won’t you mess up its, uh, spiritual properties?” I ask, leaning against the edge of my bed.

Sab’s eyes roll. “The beads aren’t supernatural, Meeks. They’re symbolic. Look.” Setting the scissors aside, she holds up the different strands. “Five decades and the pendant. That’s six—an amulet for each of us. It was perfect.”

“I don’t know how or why a necklace has time magic, but it's good that you can do math, Sab. Means at least one of us probably passed our exams.”

Moving to our closet, Sabbath tucks the chains into the pocket of the white robes we’re required to wear for the Claiming. “I’m thinking garlic, mustard seeds, bayleaves.”

A smile curls onto my lips. For the first time in the History of Ever, Sabbath is doing alchemy properly. Garlic and bay leaves repel evil, and the mustard seeds act as a fail safe. If something unsavory does slip past, they'll absorb it so that our bodies—or souls—don't. “You’ve come so far from your days of confusing tongues and toes. You definitely passed your exams!”

"Let's hope," she sighs. "I'll admit, it takes a very studious mindset to break so many rules correctly."

“Look at us, being all bad for a pair of good witches,” I grin. “Kicking butt and avoiding flames.”

Sab gently sets aside the pieces of her rosary and glances down at a checklist she's cobbled together. "I wish we'd had another week to study for survival. There's so much left to do—we still need to perform plenam to finish the amulets properly. And how's the runevine?”

"The runevine will be ready. We can use it to trap shadow walkers, or up the strength of our spells."

"You can you it to stay whole. So it better be ready."

"It will be, Sab." Trust Soren to make sure of it.

I move to the window seat and fold my legs up against my chest. Sabbath joins me, pensive as she gazes out the window. Spring has come to Stillwood. Spellfall's resident magical forest sits at the horizon, thick with shades of green and all its countless secrets.

I nudge her with my toe. Sure, we all might die or go to witch jail soon, but I have some very important questions that need answering first. “You gunna tell me what’s up with you and Monsieur Castigan, or am I gunna have to keep waiting for it to come up?”

“Oh,” Sab drops her chin, a sad smile coming to her face. “Nothing to report.”

I’ve given her weeks of space, waiting to see if she’ll ever divulge her side of the story from the night I spent puking up all my laughter. “So like, ‘nothing’ as in you totally weren’t holding his hand after Enzo's party, or...?” I poke her with my finger. “Saaaaaaa-bath. Sabbath!”

“You were pixied,” she retorts. “You aren’t a reliable witness!”

“Classic Soren Cain evasion,” I nod, “it’s unfortunate that you’re so impressionable.”

She huffs, eyes flashing up to me and then back down. “We were pixied.”

“I’m still not hearing any, um, facts.”

Wringing her hands, Sabbath finally looks up at me. “Nothing happened because I freaked out about being under the influence of laughing juice, and then he freaked out about maybe taking advantage—” She cuts herself off and stares down at her clenched fingers.

“What, of your hands?” I prompt.

“Of my ‘heart,’ he said.”

“Omens, Sab. Nik is too good for this world. Marry him and have little vegan Catholic witchlings. For me. Please.” I give her a look that says what a perfect godmother I would be.

She clears her throat, thoughts aligned exactly. “Mika. You would make a terrible godmother.”

“But I’d be the perfect auntie.” Rolling my eyes, I tap her knees. “He. Likes. You. You. Like. Him.”

She peers out at the silhouette of Stillwood, lost in some sorrowful corner of her mind. Sometimes, I worry that Sabbath legitimately considers running off to a convent one day, so I hold myself personally responsible for finding her the warlock worthy of her. In the meantime, I find ways of corrupting her so that she remembers what fun we have, and doesn't abandon me or the hope of hot married shenanigans one day.

I guess it's lucky I have the fact that she’s a witch working in my favor. They probably don't let us into convents anyway.

"I just think—" Sabbath hesitates.

"It's me, Sab. I'm not going to judge you," I say quietly.

"You don't have to. I judge myself."

"I know. But tell me anyway."

Her gaze fixates on something above my head, eyes glistening. "I still have feelings about Callum. It's not like it was before—not feelings for him. I think, maybe all this time, I have been blaming my—"

"Nope," I declare. Sabbath is not allowed to finish that sentence, because it's dumb and I won't let her say it. "Good witches know better than to take the blame for bad warlocks."

She swallows, eyes finally wandering down to my face. "I know he made his choices, and those are a reflection of who he is." Her lips begin to tremble and I set a hand on her knee, waiting patiently for her confession. "But I blame myself for trusting him. For not seeing that he didn't want me. I blame my own lack of judgement because I saw what I wanted to instead of the truth. And now, how will I ever see the truth? It's like my gut has lost its compass."

"Oh, Sab." My voice is hoarse, my eyes tearing up.

She takes a deep, wavering breath, " So even if I like Nik—"

"Which you do—"

"Which I really do," she sobs in sudden agreement, "how do I know he's not an even worse mistake than Callum?"

"You don't, I guess. You can't ever know what will happen. We aren't seers. But Sab...Nik would never do what Callum did."

She swallows, dragging a hand over her face to wipe away the tears. Deep shadows color the skin beneath her watery eyes. The last few days have taken a toll on all of us, but I hadn't realized how exhausted she looks until now. "That's part of the problem," she finally says. "Nik's so good. And funny, and brave and smart. We're so different as people...and yet I already have this sort of love for him as my friend. I don't want to ruin it. I don't want to be unwise with his heart when I've been so unwise with my own." “One day, you’re going to have trust yourself again,” I tell her. "Yeah, it will probably be before you're ready. Before it feels right. You have to decide to do it anyway, Sab. Decide that your heart is strong and your instincts are worth something."


I stop her with the shake of my head. "This is about my best friend Sabbath. She's a good, funny, smart, and brave witch. I love her. She doesn't deserve to be haunted by a love that didn't honor her. Is it my personal opinion that Nik would be lucky to have her? Three thousand billion percent. But more than anything, she's lucky to have herself.”

"Some things aren't worth the risk," Sab finally breathes.

My jaw tightens. My hand squeezes her knee. "And some things are."

“Would you really let Soren be evanesced, Mika?” she asks suddenly.

“What?" I balk. “Wait. Stop. You can't sneak attack me with a subject change like that.”

"I thought we were talking about lots of things at once," she sniffles, a rueful grin forming on her face.

I’ve been trying very hard to ignore this question as it's tumbled around my subconscious for the last few days. It's been almost doable, too, between the panic of final exams and the invasion of the body snatchers. Now, the question stares me straight in the eye as Sabbath waits for an impossible answer from me.

I take a deep breath, but my words sound helpless when I finally find them. “I don’t know what to do. Everything has a catch. If I don't save Soren, I'll lose my chance at ever unbinding my full conjuring magic. I mean, I don't even want to unbind my magic, but—I—"

I'll lose Soren, too.

I could never in a million years say this aloud, because I hate myself for thinking it. Still, Sabbath nods like she understands not only the words I haven't said, but how much space they seem to take up in my heart.

"If I do save Soren," I process, "I'm basically sealing my own fate. There is a cataclysmic madness waiting for me on the other side. All of my worst fears about myself will come true."

"You could legitimize the soul-tie," Sab proposes quietly.

"And tie my magic—my soul—to someone who murderer me? Like, forever, Sab?" I exhale, overwhelmed. "I know I exhibit a remarkable tolerance for poor life choices, but even my poor choices have standards."

Hopelessness crowds in on me, and I wait for Sabbath to spout out something wise that will fix everything. Today, she seems out of such tricks.

I shake my head. "Even if I knew legitimizing our bond was the right thing to do, I don't know how. It's not like there's a manual on soul-ties, and we're out of time. I can't save him, even if I wanted to. I don't know how."

Sabbath looks like she wants to say something, but instead she decides to almost cry again.

“Sab,” I pull her into me. “It’s going to be okay.” I don't mean it, but I say it with such conviction that I nearly believe myself. "It will. Everything is going to be fine."

“You thinking that right now makes you the most ridiculous person I’ve ever met.”

“Well, that’s shocking. I thought I’d earned that honor years ago. Besides, you’re, um, a more reasonable level of frantic than I expected for someone who’s about to prance into a forest and sign their magic away to Not-God.”

"I may have a working scheme for that."

"You? A scheme?"

"I've learned a lot about maniacal plotting this year," she responds dryly. "I'm not sure it will work, but it sounds like more of a plan than you have. Have you opened Soren's gift yet?"

I eye the thing Soren gave me, where it sits with a strangely ominous innocence atop my desk. I haven’t entirely decided to throw it out just yet, but I have indefinitely relegated it to the role of paperweight.

“Please open it," Sabbath sighs. "You will feel so much better once the mystery is gone."

"What if it's something terrible? Soren Surprises have a reputation for being better left unrevealed."

Her response comes slowly, and so softly that I'm not sure I hear her correctly. “Soren cares about you, Meeks.”

“You of all people, Sabbath,” I shake my head with a slow, pained blink. “He did this to you too, you know.”

“I know,” she comforts, wrapping an arm around me. “He messed up. Bad. What he did to you—the risk he took with your life, the chance he took on my power—it makes me angrier than I can even find words for. At the same time, letting one terrible mistake define someone...” she trails off, and I look over to her.


“It’s like what they did to your mom.” Sab stands and moves with purpose to my desk in the corner. When she returns, she presents Soren's gift to me. “I know you. It's going to bother you until you know what it is."

I scoff, but take it from her anyway. The thing's decently heavy as it weighs down my palm. I’m pretty sure it’s just a stupid rock, and the only reason I can figure Soren might give me such a thing is if he wished I inflict vengeful property damage to his windows. Too bad they’re on the ninth floor.

I jerk the séyès paper away from the object with a huff, but pause when I see writing scratched into it.

What flower is afraid to bloom, Mika? And what bird is afraid to fly?

Sabbath leans in, muttering the words to herself. She pops her chin up to me. “What’s that mean? Is it a poem? Did he write you a poem?”

No, it's so much worse than that. It was my mom's favorite proverb—the one I told Soren about all those months ago when we decided to be uncharacteristically vulnerable with one another. Somehow, he knew the part of if that I'd forgotten.


My eyes fixate on his neat scrawl, drinking in the words and the rush of emotion that comes along with them. “It's something I told him about once," I say, barely aware of my own voice. "It means that no one should be afraid of their own power. Afraid to grow into their destiny."

I grit my teeth. Soul-tie or not, Soren hoards so many pieces of who I am without my permission. What else has he withheld that's mine? What other secrets about me is he saving up just so that he can deal them out as he wills?

Unfastening my eyes from the page, I finally turn my attention to the thing sitting unwrapped in my lap. It is indeed a rock—but not just any rock. It's roughly hewn, a deep charcoal speckled with white. My eyes roll so far back that I’m sure I look like I’ve become a white-eyed necromancer.

“What? What's wrong?” Sabbath tilts her head, eyeing the gift and then my expression.

“Remember that stupid volcanic rock it took me eons to raise essence on at the beginning of the year? Basalt. It's literally the most annoying kind of rock someone could have given me, second only to the annoyance of receiving a rock in the first place."

“I don't get it.” Sab scrunches up her nose.

“Probably it’s some dumb metaphor.”

“For what, though?”

I shrug, turning the rock over in my hand as I simmer with irritation. Frankly, I'm probably giving Soren too much credit. A metaphor seems like an emotionally superior concept for him.

“Oh,” Sab pipes up, “maybe he’s saying he finds you very rough around the edges. Or maybe it’s about how, like, hot and cold you two are, but a promise that you're solid in the end. You know, like lava.”

“Cutting up your rosary has definitely changed you. God took your brain away.”

“Oh! Oh, I know.

I stare at Sabbath, willing her to stop talking. She does not.

“What if he’s telling you he lavas you," she enthuses.

I never get to ruminate on this very disgusting idea because light flashes from the basalt. I drop my gaze to see shapes and lines snaking across its surface, but it takes me a moment to realize what I'm actually looking at.

The moment I understand, the rock drops from my hands and hits the wooden floor with a hollow thunk.

"Unholy seerforesaken caldrons," I curse.

“What?!” Sabbath reaches carefully for the basalt like it’s a searing coal and examines it. “A rune?” She offers it back to me. “I don’t want it!” I cry. It glows brighter the closer it gets to my hand, lighting up the matching lines of the scar burned into my palm. “Set it down, like, way over there,” I point.

Reluctantly, Sabbath crosses the room to place the basalt gingerly back on my desk. When she returns to my side, her frown has already asked her next question.

“Soren transferred his rune to the stone," I explain, horrified. "The rune that unbinds my powers.” I know for a fact that my mom was a Runes Brood legend. That rune was meant to stay on Soren Cain, and it would have taken exceptional magic—and almost certainly excruciating pain—to transfer it.

Sabbath’s quiet, and I finally look over at her. She’s chewing the inside of her cheek but slides her eyes to me, words careful. “He wants you to be able to make a choice about your magic, without it being tied to his fate."

It sinks in that Soren has surrendered the last of his leverage. His fate as a shadow walker no longer has to be intertwined with my magic or my future, and he'll face the High Council without holding who I am hostage.

He has given me my choice back, so that I can remain average, and sane, and all my own.

So that I can bloom—fly—in my own time.

Sab looks at me. “What are you going to do, Mika?”

Oh man. There's so much happening in this chapter. There are about a bajillion "planted" goodies not only for this book but for the series as a whole! I am definitely writing this story with the intention of it being an entirely gratifying re-read. Tee heee heeeeeee.

xx Jessa


ASA...JGHST (As Soon as Jessa Gets Her Sh!z Together)

SMALL UPDATE: I am alive, I swear! I'm in Paris, and I've been quite busy sharing the city with some close friends, trying to hit some work deadlines, and occasionally eating snails. It's been SO fun and also SO busy, *but* I want you to know that I have not forgotten about Mika or YOU!

Trying to balance rest with the pursuit of creative inspiration? HAH! Challenge accepted.

Thank you for your patience, my fiendish friends! I hope to give a full update via email soon :) HUGS!


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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