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Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Chapter Forty-Five

Six Death Wishes

We exchange a look with one another, Sabbath speaking first. “You think Lathan Cain wants to sacrifice a whole class of witchlings to build an army of shadow walkers?”

After a considerable pause, Soren turns from the fire. “If I know my uncle, he doesn’t want to build an army, he wants to strike preemptively—bring the shadow walkers here so he can siphon their magic. Take out the enemy’s forces, gain their magic for the Council. It’s a game of deception.”

“Two bats, one stone,” Sabbath whispers.

Soren looks at me like he needs me to believe him. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

I swallow, eyes finding the tangling flames in the fireplace. They hiss and writhe, the sound mingled with our haggard breath. “The Claiming is in a few days and we could be wrong about literally all of this. How are we supposed to make a plan?”

Nik casts a glance at Soren. “Zach said the shadow walkers were training, right?” he prompts.

“Yes, I did,” Zack nods.

“He did,” Soren reiterates.

Nik inhales through his nose. "What point is there in training if your presence is nearly non-existent on this plane? They're definitely planning on having access to bodies and magic, whatever their purposes."

“If the Council and Shadowmancer are planning something together,” Soren interjects, “my uncle isn’t foolish enough to take them at their word. He’ll have a backup plan. Council members armed with their own kinds of magic. Forces waiting.”

In the witching world, “forces” can only mean one thing: reapers. Rarely seen, reapers are mysterious, dangerous heralds of death, and the sort of thing that only the most masochistic of witches hopes to witness.

“Omens,” Sabbath swallows, voicing my exact sentiment. “Reapers?”

They don’t really have a middle ground, reapers; they’re highly trained necromancers who’ve largely had the humanity excised out of them. One intentional slice of their scythe, and they can cleave a soul from a body instantly. I don’t know if I should feel better or worse at the idea of these guys being the backup plan to what is supposed to be a very normal, very average rite of passage.

"We need a plan," I announce.

If Soren is right—and I’m saying this with a high level of skepticism, here,” Tomorrow adds, “our options are almost exclusively to be claimed, possessed, or killed. We don’t need a plan. We need an escape strategy.”

“We can’t do that,” Sabbath balks, “leave our friends to suffer an unknown fate! We need to protect as many seventh years as we can!”

“You wenches are my friends,” Tomorrow says. “The rest of the world can burn.”

I would feel honored hearing Tomorrow Jones articulate such feelings of affection if she didn’t sound so angry about it.

“Wait, wait, wait. Why don’t we just tell an adult? Thorncaster?” Sabbath asks, head wheeling around for backup. “You all can’t seriously be suggesting that we deal with this ourselves.”

She has so much faith in our logic that she doesn't even phrase it as a question.

“Our proof is circumstantial,” Soren replies.

I nod bleakly. “Based on things we only know because we’ve broken, like, way too many rules.”

“First, we’d get in trouble,” Tu nods solemnly.

“Then, they’d send us straight to juvenile Gloomgate,” Tomorrow finishes. “We’d be torched.”

“I guess I’d lose an ‘all in favor’ then,” Sab grumbles, eyes slinking to Nik questioningly.

His hazel eyes meet hers and I feel that gaze all the way down to my toes, even if it wasn't for me. “I was with you,” he shrugs. Sabbath blushes.

“No,” Soren announces with a sigh. “No, this is up to us. We have to be the ones to deal with it.”

Nik frowns. “One problem.”

Zach coughs indiscreetly. “I think he miscounted.”

When no one responds, Nik looks around with big eyes. “The shadow walkers will be needing bodies, and our working theory is that the High Council plans to give them ours.”

“Amulets." Tuesday eyes Nik knowingly. “Basic, but very effective. There’s also a chance...” She exchanges a hesitant glance with her sister, pressing her lips together.

Finally, Tomorrow alleviates Tu’s caution with a reluctant sigh. “Another of Mother’s theories. That there are ways—if one is properly charmed and armed with cleverness—that a witchling could avoid being truly claimed by the High Council. Mother believes that unclaimed witches have been slipping through the cracks unnoticed for a long time.”

“What, just pretending to be Witches of the Covenant?” I scoff.

“No. And yes. Just...” Tomorrow gives a lingering eye roll, nostrils flaring with her unwillingness to share. “Ensuring that their own magic is returned to them, and can be used in whatever way they deem to use it. Theoretically." Tomorrow tosses an uncharacteristically vulnerable look Soren’s way and I realize that amulets have been the Jones twins’ plan all along.

They’ve just surrendered a treacherous workaround to the nephew of the High Chancellor. My skin crawls as I glance toward Soren, gathering my fingers into stress-induced fists. For Soren’s part, he doesn’t look devious or even particularly stoic at this revelation. He simply frowns, uncertain. “An amulet against soul magic, you think?”

My fists loosen just a bit.

Tu nods vigorously. “Sure, if infused with strong enough magic. Plenam, for instance. The item used for the framework of the amulet needs to have significant mystical properties, of course.” I clear my throat incredulously. “And where are we going to find something like that?”

“A piece of a scythe?” Zach ponders. “Wood from the bleeding tree? A religious arti—”

Sabbath inhales sharply, eyes wide. “Let me handle the amulet. I have an idea.”

“That makes two of us..." I say slowly, an epiphany forming. "I have some runevine that will be ready next week.” Reluctantly, my eyes edge toward Soren, sliding up his face until I’m peering into those stupid blue eyes.

“Our runevine!” Tu exclaims gleefully. “I thought it wouldn’t be full-grown for months!”

“He taught it a power accelerant," I say slowly as I stare at Soren.

For some reason, I expect him to brag about how he’d been right. Instead, he dips his head in my direction, approval in his tone. “Good idea, Mika.”

“Had find some way to leverage my Basic Alchemist talents,” I say dryly. Quickly averting my eyes from his, I turn to the others. “In the meantime, enchant your robes for the Claiming. All of you. We’re going to need our pockets to be hidden and very, very deep.”

“There’s a joke there somewhere,” Nik mutters, eliciting a silent chuckle from Zach. “Only me? Okay.”

Sabbath eyes Nik with pursed lips, but Tomorrow snorts. “I’m sure Zach thought it was funny. Anyway, this is a really poorly thought out plan.” She continues blithely, arms folded as she toes a large rock sitting by the hearth. “There’s about a ninety percent chance we’re about to get ourselves killed.”

“It’s the only plan we have,” Soren says. “We don’t really know what’s going on, and we won’t—”

“Until it’s too late,” I finish. “Probably. Judging by our luck, anyway.”

“Oh,” Tomorrow shrugs, “I didn’t say I had a problem with it. But I just wanted to point out the obvious in case any of you were too stupid to believe this could possibly work.”

Zach cackles. “Tell Tomorrow I miss her.”

“Zach—” I start. I abruptly cut myself off when Soren's words overlap with mine. Our eyes find each other's, mine irritated and his amused. He doesn't finish the message, so I do. “Misses you," I breathe.

Finally, I manage to drag my eyes away from Soren, only to find Tomorrow giving me a bemused look. “That was for me, right? Or did my speech about death inspire a misguided change of heart about a certain murderous warlock?”

I make a disgusted face at her. “It wasn’t really what I’d call a speech.”

She nods. “Excellent non-answer, Mika.”

I’m about to retort when Tuesday cries out, her gaze fixed on the place where Zach stands. “Oh! I see you! Zach, I see you!”

Launching at him, Tu throws her arms out as tears stream down her face. She comes to a sudden halt before the part where they should embrace. “I was so worried.”

“My Tulip!” Zach coos. “I missed you. Don’t cry.”

Reaching a ghostly hand up to her cheek, Zach seems undeterred by the fact that he can’t touch her. It’s strange to witness a bond that clearly surpasses life and death turned into such a charade. It really makes a witch question the rightness of reality.

“Will you be there?” Tu asks.

“Wouldn’t miss it if I were dead. You’re not getting rid of me anytime soon, Tuesday Jones.”

I look over at Soren, a question in my eye. Do we tell her?

With the way he slants his eyes at me, nostrils slightly flared and brows stern, I’m getting the message that now is not the time to drop the news that Zach is a shadow walker on an unsuspecting Tuesday.

“Ten seconds, Zach," she whispers. Her eyes trace his face like she's memorizing everything about him.

He smiles. “But if you live to be 100 years old, that’s still over a million more seconds with you. I’ve done the math many times.”

“It's true, I'll be an old crone one day! Though, you seem to be aging nicely for a ghost.”

“You could always die in a week. Join me a little ear—” “Zach?” Tu cuts him off, grasping desperately at the air. Her desperation is thick after so many months of his absence. I can still see him, of course, standing there sadly as she claws at his invisible shirt, but I try to imagine what it’s like to watch the person you love vanish right before your very eyes.

“It’s okay, Tu,” Tomorrow slings an arm around her shoulder. “He’s still here, even when you can’t see him.”

I give Tu a little affirmative nod. Inhaling slowly, I take in the room. Despite the poetic firelight, we aren’t amounting to much even by my clearly low standards. Mused hair, fraying pajama pants, questionable magical skills, and tenuous relationships. The exhaustion is hitting, coherent thoughts grinding to a halt. There’s too much panic and sleep deprivation swirling in the air to make much logical sense of things right now.

We're a makeshift alliance, and we are so not prepared to save a whole class of witchlings. But maybe if we are willing to try, we'll save our friendship in the process.

Words ripple into my mind. You have drawn each other, Pippa said. Gifted among your peers.

I want to laugh at the prophetic words which my brain decided to pluck from my memories.

Maybe, in the end, I want to retort to an imaginary Pippa. But right now, we’re still the same seventh-year toadholes who went and botched up some shady soul magic.

And now? We’re about to take on our governmental body, their pet reapers, and possibly an otherwordly baddie in the process.

A part of me can’t help but feel like this whole situation is some sort of karmic punishment for the sins of my mother. And if not that, a magical boon laid at my feet. To be completely honest, I'm not sure which is worse.


***


An hour later, we drop back through the sputtering portal with half a plan and six death wishes.

My fingers ghost out, sinking into Soren’s as we land back in the Comet. I rip my hand away the second the light peters out. He watches me shake out my arm, tentative.

“Mika...”

I whirl on him, a potent concoction of fear and exhaustion getting the better of me. “Just because we’re saving the world together doesn’t mean you and me are okay.”

“I know. But you—”

“No more of your lectures, Soren. I don't want them!”

I do not want to insist, for the billionth time, that I’m fine when we both know I’m not. I do not want him to pretend he gives a bat’s crap about me. All I want is for Soren Cain to leave me alone, despite whatever mixed messages I seem to be handing out with my eyes.

He reaches for me as I take a step back, but my body slips away. I can feel it dissolving as Soren snatches at the air where it should be, relentless.

“Stop it,” he snaps at me, as if I can stop myself from disappearing.

My anger pulses, body flickering back into the right dimension just as Soren goes in to seize me. I try to tear myself free, but am instead dragged closer. Unnecessarily close.

“Don’t you ever do that again,” he breathes in my face. “Disappear like that.”

The words sting somewhere near my heart. They’re nearly identical to the ones I said to him in Andromeda, and it occurs to me suddenly that we are so close to becoming Zach and Tuesday.

I try to arrange my features into a scowl, but they waver. Soren’s grasp on me is tight, both our bodies tense. I’m still ready for a fight. He reaches for me instinctively, forcing my sleeve up and drawing the rune with his fingertip. His touch shoots chills up my spine, and the magic works instantly; my lungs swell, air releasing from my lungs instead of passing right through them.

And now the cycle of my disappearing act starts all over again.

“I didn’t want you to do that,” I hiss. An angry tear slips down my cheek, because I am both relieved and enraged that Soren has such power over my life.

“It’s a simple thing for me to do, Mika.”

He sounds disproportionately angry with me and I look away. Funny, that after all we’ve been through, I’m still here, back at square one: refusing to make a deal that will save my own life. But I’m not begging him to keep a life he meant to take. I won't grovel.

"I don't care how simple it is. It's the fact that it's you."

Frustration rises in Soren's voice. “This is about your pride? You’re”— he fumbles his words, shock forcing them through his lips— “you’re dying, Mika.”

Maybe pride isn’t worth death. But what worth is a life if it's subjugated to someone who cares nothing for it?

“You still don't get it, Soren. I was supposed to have a choice! I was supposed to be able to choose myself instead of this. This... dependancy. This stupid bond. Yet I keep finding myself here. Me. Needing you.”

“I need you.”

I know he does. But I’m not a very willing savior at the moment. Even if I were, I’m certain I wouldn’t be a very good one.

He breathes deep, shaking the tension of our argument from his voice. “Look, I have something to give you, and I need you to at least be alive enough to take it.”

Grasping my hand like he’s afraid I'll vanish if he doesn’t hold tightly enough, Soren plants something heavy in my palm. He folds my fingers over the object, and I glance down to see that it’s wrapped in simple séyès paper.

“I don’t—”

“You don’t want anything from me,” he finishes for me. “I know. But this isn’t from me. It’s already yours. It’s the choice you deserve.”

I swallow, begging my resolve to kick in so that I don’t look up into those eyes. My resolve has fled the scene, however, leaving only instinct in her wake. Instinct draws my gaze to Soren’s, and I sit there in it, watching the emotions dance through his eyes and wondering how I’ve missed them for so long.

I have the strangest urge to cry. My anger has waned, words resigned. I just look him in the eye and say what’s true. “You did this to me,” I whisper.

This seems to be enough.

Soren releases me and I stumble backward out of his arms, body still tense with my urge to flee. Opening my mouth to say something else—a biting final remark, surely—I find that the words never arrive. Instead, my mouth snaps shut and I turn to leave, clutching his offering between my fingers.

In a matter of days, I am probably going to die. If I want my soul to have a fighting chance in the afterlife, I need to decide whether or not I will be responsible for Soren Cain being evanesced.

Right now, I'm feeling much more inclined to go the way of my mother: unbonded and unhinged.



SO. MANY. FEELS. What made you most emotional in this chapter? I always think it's Tu + Zach as I'm re-reading for edits, but by the end I'm feeling Sorka haaard. Mika, stop being stupid! HE PROBABLY LUVS U, BOO.

xx Jessa


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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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