top of page
NocturnalAlchemyBanner.png
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Facebook

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Pumpkin Scry

That night I dream about her.

She’s swathed in blue flames, singing a lullaby that sounds like home. And then the song slides into a shrill cry, and my mother blasts backward, vanishing into the darkness.

I wake in a cold sweat, feeling overheated despite the cool nights of the château in midwinter.

Startled and bleary-eyed, Sabbath clicks on the lamp between our beds. “What is it?” she asks, her voice steeped in sleep.

Sabbath is the lightest sleeper on the planet—with her as a roommate, I’ve never been allowed to get away with having a single unanalyzed nightmare.

Pushing myself back against my pillows, I curl my knees into my chest, sobbing. I tell her everything about the binding and the bond. About seeing my mother’s face, just the way I remember it. She listens patiently, nodding in the moments I need affirmation, and staring wide-eyed in the moments I need her revelation. She’s like a charm, absorbing the emotions I need to offload so that I don’t have to carry the shock of them anymore.

“So, it’s all, like, a lot,” I finish, holding my hands up in the air uselessly.

“That is a lot,” she agrees drowsily.

“I don’t want this, Sab. I don’t want this responsibility. I just want to be me, boring, anonymous—”

Sabbath snorts. “Don’t you dare say average.”

“Why did you snort? That wasn’t nice. Average is like... my brand, Sab.”

She sighs, and I’m certain that if she weren’t so tired, she would take this moment to throw a pillow at me. “You died. You have a special magical bond with a boy. You have pink hair! Your whole life is telling you that you aren’t average, Mika. Start listening to it.”

“My life, or you?”

“Ha. Well, I basically am your life, so.”

I blink back a runaway tear with a deep inhale. “Soren told me the same thing.”

“For once, he’s right about something then.” Sab pauses, carefully searching her mind for her next words. “Are you going to try to find her? This Loxely person?”

Honestly, I haven’t gotten that far. The questions are still coalescing into a blank space in my mind where I’m overcome by shock. “I guess I have to.”

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. How do you feel?”

“Tired,” I confess, rolling to my side and stretching out again. She mimics me, my perfect mirror. “And glad I’m not going home.”

“Oh, Meeks.”

“I can’t face Dad and Gran with this secret. He’ll see it in my eyes—that I’ve seen her. That I have questions about her.”

Sabbath smiles. “I’m sure he’s been waiting most of your life for you to ask them.”

Glancing at her dubiously, I sigh. “That’s sweet, but you don’t really know my dad.”

“I know he loves you,” she reminds me. “And I know that, even though everything went wrong, there was a point in time when he loved your mom, too.”

My mom and Luca Cain must have known when they were at Burnbright that they shared this strange, compulsive bond. Somehow, it comforts me to know that my parents ended up together despite it. It’s evidence of their choice, against bad odds.

Dawn is coming just outside, the stars vanishing with the coming light. Soon, the château will be a flurry of bodies and suitcases, and then it will fall into deafening silence.

Silence does sound nice.

I nod, closing my eyes. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

The last thing I remember is Sabbath laughing sleepily. “I think it is morning. But goodnight anyway.”


* * *

By noon the next day, most of the students have evacuated the halls of their higher magical education in favor of going home for the holidays.

I reach for Sabbath. “Miss you already. Come back.”

“Be careful,” she warns. “Send Olive if you need anything. And take notes for me, I don’t want to miss anything important.”

“Okay, okay,” I laugh, the sound hollow because thinking about the things I found out last night still makes me feel a bit sick.

Sabbath gives me one last look before slipping out the front doors of Spellfall and falling into the dwindling stream of students exiting through the fountain.

Afterward, I catch Soren in the banquet hall for midday tea. Deep shadows stretch beneath his eyes, his hair in more disarray than usual. He looks as exhausted as I feel.

He nods as I sit, and I take a sip of coffee.

“I’m glad I don’t have to face my dad,” I admit. “I’m a coward.”

Soren smiles, but today it looks a bit like a grimace. His dimples still puncture his face though, and I chastise my heart for noticing. “You’re the farthest thing from a coward, Mika.”

My gaze drops down to my coffee, where I stir the spoon in idle circles and watch the cinnamon curl into odd shapes. “I’m not sure you’ll still agree when I tell you the next part. I think I want to keep my powers bound, Soren.”

He shrugs. “We continue as planned, then.”

“With the dark, dangerous magic that puts your soul in immortal peril, you mean?”

“It’s either that, or cutting the rune into my shoulder and doing the rites.” He must see the panic that streaks across my face, because he frowns. “Immortal peril it is.”

Relief washes over me.

A few others are scattered in the banquet hall, all that remains of the student population. Already, I miss Sabbath. Christmas is in three days, and the first knot has to come untied on Christmas Eve.

Watching Soren carefully, I let myself feel for just a moment how much I like the look of those muscles underneath his tight sweater every time he lifts the mug to his lips. Is there any part of me that wouldn’t be terrified to awaken a more volatile bond between us?

And then I find myself looking at those lips. I quickly move my gaze up to his eyes as he observes me from over his coffee, bemused.

Just sitting here with the guy is beginning to become overwhelming, and finally I can identify the feeling—my magic, calling to his every time we’re in the same room. It rumbles inside me like a train at a distance, headed in a sure direction. I want to stop it in its tracks, set an explosion on a bridge, or take apart the railroad—plank by plank if I have to.

A small part of me rears up, asking if I don’t first need to understand it.

“Yes?” Soren asks, and I realize I’m still staring into his eyes.

“Sorry.” I shake my head like I can erase the last thought from my mind. “I think I need a few days.”

His brows dip ever so slightly as he sets the coffee down carefully on the table, looking up at me. I think maybe I’ll need to clarify—a few days in the silence, a few days away from you

I don’t need to.

He understands. “Of course. I’ll take care of the first knot.”


* * *


I spend most of the next two days in the library, pouring over anything I can find about soul-ties and the Claiming. It’s nice to have the entire place to myself, but despite the concentration and lack of competition for books, the school library seems determined to disappoint this year.

Soren respects my wish for space, and I only see him when we’re tasked with tearing down decorations still hanging from the ball. Novaleigh’s parents have gone on an Aruban holiday this year, and a younger girl from Transfiguration named Tazmin has also stayed for the break, so I sit with them during meals. They stare off at Soren where he sits alone, looking handsome and aloof, and totally fine with his solitude.

The one time my attention wanders in his direction, I find him looking at me, and I drop my eyes quickly.

On Christmas morning, a knock resounds on my door. Tipping it open slowly, I find Soren standing on the other side. For some reason, relief surges over me—being alone got old really fast. Stepping aside, I let him enter.

“I assume you’ve had enough time.”

I don’t know where he’s getting this assumption from, other than my guilty look the night before, but I let it go. It’s Christmas, after all, and my assumption is that even Soren Cain doesn’t want to spend it alone.

“Did you take care of the knot?” I quickly begin clearing my shameful pile of worn-but-not-dirty clothes from the floor and throwing them as discreetly into the closet as possible.

I see him nod. “Do you think it’s working?” I ask.

“Yes. I could feel it.”

“What’d it feel like?”

He grows thoughtful a moment. “Like holding your breath for a long time and then gasping for air. It’s... priming the soul for transference. Like essence.”

“Untying the knots brings up your essence,” I process, following his logic. “And the potion we each drink?”

“It’s the final touch that brings the soul to the surface. We can’t do that part until the night of the ritual.”

Agreeing, I nod thoughtfully. It wouldn’t do to walk around with all your sensitive spiritual bits hanging out.

My eyes fall to his hands as he holds out a small wrapped package with a bow. Guilt washes over me. “I didn’t get you anything,” I say, looking up from the gift.

“It’s not really for Christmas. It’s for everything else.”

“Did you get something for everyone else, too?” I challenge.

He smiles lazily, the dimples appearing when even the slightest glimpse of amusement arrives on his face. “No. But they aren’t here for Christmas, are they?”

“You said it wasn’t for Christmas.” Smirking, I tug at the string with a huff, and when I rip the paper away, I find he’s gotten me—

“Pumpkin spice spirits.” I chuckle. “When did you even get this?”

He looks pleased with himself. “I went into Paris a few days ago to get another bottle of Anima spiritus. For the potion. I don’t think you’ll need it again, at least you shouldn’t. This, however,” he gestures at the pumpkin-shaped bottle in my hand, “can be added to any brew to give it a ‘festive and full-bodied burst of pumpkin spice flavor.’”

“It’s very on-brand. Thank you,” I say, offering him a shy smile.

If everything goes as it’s supposed to, Soren is right—I should be totally back to normal soon, no more soulstabilis ever again. But, at least if it doesn’t work, I will now be well equipped to feed my basic witch addiction.

“I hope my soul knows where it belongs now,” I nod.

“Hopefully mine will soon, too.” He sighs.

When Soren pulls the next items from his pocket, I freeze, unsure I’m ready for what he’s proposing. I might never be.

“We can do a location spell for Pippa Loxley,” he says while I warily eye the glinting crystal and aged map. “If you want,” he amends gently.

Exhaling, I draw the logic out of his suggestion. “We won’t know if we can trust what my mom said until we know more.”

“Exactly.”

Soren lays out the map on the floor, spreading it flat and I sit cross-legged next to him. “Would you like to do it, or shall I?”

“You do it,” I suggest, catching his eye. “I’m—I’m nervous for some reason.”

His lips curve into a smile, as if to offer comfort, and he lifts the necklace. “‘Scry, scry, we wonder where, as the pendant searches the air. Scry, scry, comply with our mission, show us the witch Pippa Loxley’s position.’” He looks across at me. “I’m no Tuesday Jones, that’s for sure.”

Cracking a smile, I reply, “I don’t think anybody could be, honestly.”

Our eyes dart back to the map, where the crystal guides Soren’s hand. It gleams as it edges along the paper, its point dipping down to graze the surface, stilling on Paris.

“Well,” I begin, looking up at him with a surprised expression. “That’s good, at least? She’s in the city?”

“That’s lucky.”

“Okay, so now we just need to go again—” I stand, looking around. “One sec.”

Running to the door joining Cecily and Isolde’s room to ours, I slip through it. Hanging on the wall is a map of Paris that Isolde has framed and put above her bed. I sigh. Francophiles.

Pulling it from the wall, I leap off her bed and run back to Soren. We gently remove it from the frame and repeat the process, the crystal directing us to the 20th arrondissement in the east end of the city, north of the Seine.

We exchange a look. “Père Lachaise. Maybe it’s because it’s Christmas?”

He nods at me. “I’m sure that’s why. We should go then.”

“Yeah,” I mumble, a sinking feeling coming to my stomach. “Let’s go, before we miss her.”

Bundling into our coats, Soren helps me untangle my hair from my scarf and we head out the door.

It’s been snowing, and the front lawns don a thick blanket of white. An impromptu snowball fight breaks out as we start down the gentle slope toward the fountain, fistfuls of white flying overhead. A tightly packed snowball collides with Soren’s face.

We’ve entered a battle zone.

Laughter bursts from me. It’s suddenly hilarious, how his expression hasn’t moved once, and even more hilarious when it does transform—shifting from stoicism, to shock, to the impishness of a man who realizes he has entered into a competition.

Soren swivels around, at the ready, searching for the source of the snowball that struck him. A head dips just behind a bush, and I realize—unsurprisingly—that this fight has been started by a bunch of left-behind first and second-years.

If I were them, I’d be afraid.

Just kidding. I’m me, and I’m afraid.

Soren ducks down, narrowly missing another ball catapulting from the other side of the walkway as laughter rings through the air. We are being mocked. Soren doesn’t waste any time; gathering snow into his palms, he fuses the loose snow together into the most compact, perfectly formed snowball of all time. Launching it into the air, he watches it arc perfectly through the sky, crashing into something on the other side of the bushes. I hear a soft grunt.

“Soren,” I warn, “they’re just kid—”

I’m interrupted by a war cry, and then we’re assaulted by an onslaught of snowballs. Soren takes most of the blows to his back and he stumbles forward in shock. I’m having flashbacks to the demon arrow-birds, and seeing the reaction on my face, Soren bolts for me just as a glistening sphere of white enters my peripheral vision.

We slam into the wet ground with an oomph as a snowball streaks above our heads. Soren has landed on top of me, his scarf tangled, my pink hair matting into the snow. He winces as more snowballs pummel him in the back, and I peer up at him in awe, realizing that he’s saved me from an attack launched by ten and eleven-year-olds.

Truly a man of honor.

It is now that I realize Soren is not an ice sculpture. His body is hard against mine, yes, layered as it is with coats and scarves and sweaters, but he’s far too warm to be made of ice. The breath he casts on my face heats my cheeks, and in spite of this discovery, the moment itself does feel frozen.

That is, until we hear the giggles.

“They’re laughing at us,” I whisper.

“Let the world laugh.”

“You can laugh with it, you know. It’s kind of funny, honestly. Mister Grumpy Warlock.”

“I laugh,” he grins.

He’s so close to me and I wonder, if we didn’t have an audience, if this would be a moment capable of changing things. Before I can think too long on it, Soren grunts and pulls himself off me, extending a hand.

“The next to throw a snowball is the first to go down,” he growls out to the kids, who’ve resumed their hiding now that the grouchy seventh-year is back on his feet. Soren does look a bit murderous, I admit, as I take his hand. He brushes the snow off the front of my coat, and I’m surprised by how thoughtless and instinctual the act is.

Turning on his heel, he squints out into the sea of snow as if looking for a fight. That’s when the last snowball strikes. Soren whips around, eyes blazing. He spots the kid, who looks like an unruly twelve-year-old, face peppered with freckles and red hair that’s hard to miss against the white of the snow.

Looking him square in the eye, Soren points meaningfully. “Bad call, kid.”

“Don’t be such an easy target!” the kid shoots back.

“What a little demonwart,” Soren mutters.

I smirk, because I realize now that this is a game. I’m watching Soren Cain have fun.

He bends to the ground and forms another one of his first-year-pummeling snowballs, but this one is big, like a cannonball. He carves a little rune in it, one side of his mouth twerking up in concentration, and then curling even more into a satisfied half-smile.

Soren is so enjoying this.

He heaves the snowball up. “This’ll teach ‘em,” he vows, hurling the menacing thing into the air.

The rune must have enchanted it to fly because the snow-cannonball makes a beeline for the kid, who yelps and starts running, much to the amusement of his friends.

Soren ushers me away from the scene of the snow massacre, putting a snowy glove on my back for a moment.

“Strike two,” I say, peering over at him, unable to help the smile.

“Strike? I didn’t realize you were keeping track of your grievances,” he replies dryly.

“Oh, I’m keeping track of the times you surprise me,” I clarify, “by being cute.”

“Cute?” He seems disproportionately affronted by the statement, and I trudge forward in the snow, not letting him see my smirk.

“Stop,” I warn. “Or else I’m going to have to give you another strike for being so offended by the idea.”

The shouts behind us escalate, and I turn to see the kid in the distance, arms flailing in the air just as Soren’s enchanted snowball takes him down in one fell swoop. It thumps into his back and the kid squeaks, bowing forward as he falls dramatically into the bed of snow. His friends’ voices tumble with laughter at their comrade’s unfortunate demise.

“What was the first strike?”

“When you cared about losing your pink-haired alchemist to the noxnight berries.”

I lock eyes with Soren and realize I’m smiling. His face is so cold, his cheeks tinged with red, his eyes striking in the daylight. I’m afraid that if I keep looking at him, I’ll blush. So, I return my gaze back in front of me and we make our way silently to the fountain.


* * *


“Une minute,” the woman’s sing-song voice counts down the arrival of the metro.

When it slides up to the platform with a screech, we hurry to pack in tight as the warning bell bleats overhead. Rammed up against last-minute Christmas shoppers with panic painted across their faces, Soren reaches for me as the metro jolts to a start and I tip forward, precariously close to falling into the lap of an irritable looking woman.

A few minutes later, we surface from the underground, skipping up the steps to street level.

It’s a labyrinth of a cemetery, Père Lachaise. The biggest in Paris, and maybe the most visited in the world. It’s beautiful in spring, the gardens bringing colorful life to an ancient place of the buried, but in winter it’s grey and desolate.

Without a word, we make our way down the snaking cobblestone pathways lined with weeping veiled women and mausoleums. Most of the trees are naked, bowing over the graves as if to protect them from the snow that’s lightly falling. It doesn’t often snow in Paris, and even today it doesn’t stick to the ground. Instead, it dusts the world like a cake, powdering the landscape with sugar. Pops of red greet us, scattered among the cemetery where family members have come to leave seasonal offerings.

Soren holds the crystal out, dangling it in the air in front of us. It’s not busy today, but we’re as discreet as possible as we wind down the paths, letting the crystal lead us directly to Pippa Loxley’s location. I hold my breath, offering a prayer that I can only hope is heard.

It isn’t.

We come to a standstill in front of a small, unexceptional headstone crowded between much bigger ones.

Carved into it is a name with the epitaph:


Ici Repose

Pippa Marie Loxely

Mort à Paris le 18 Fevrier, 2002.


“Here lies Pippa Marie Loxley—” Soren translates.

“Died February 18, 2002,” I finish.


THAT SNOWBALL FIGHT!!! Gets me every time. That is all.

xx Jessa



Commentaires


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.

bottom of page