There are days, glorious, coveted days, where the planets align, peace is abundant, and life is grand. Those were the days I used to live for, days where I’d only need me, a cup of chai, a good book, and some freshly charged crystals. Then there are days that start off bad, devolve into horrific, and keep sinking. Today was shaping itself into one of those days, and it wasn’t nearly over yet, no matter what the sky or the clock said. I’d want to die, but it was a little too late for that.
Sami reacted first. “We’re gonna die!” she wailed. “You’re dead! I’m gonna die! I don’t wanna be haunted or dead oh God dear Lord please don’t let me die,” she whimpered. She slid back to the floor, drew her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, and proceeded to rock back and forth in a ball.
Okay, then. I snorted my displeasure at her display of becoming unhinged in her general direction. I had to remind myself that I still needed her, that she could still be useful to me, that on good days, I even sort of liked her. Sami wasn’t the problem –not the whole problem– so I turned my attention to the person who was.
I watched as the youth climbed through the window, waited while ze positioned hirself in front of me, and then pounced. “Explain yourself,” I demanded of my uninvited guest. I reached for a thread of power, and panicked when I felt nothing. My brow furrowed, and I wondered if my power didn’t transfer as completely as I’d assumed in the alley; the that I had been running on fumes and was now empty crossed my mind. I covered my confusion by crossing my arms across my chest, fixing a fierce glare to my face, and tapping my foot against the floor.
Ze snickered. “Riiight,” ze drawled, “because it’s always a good idea to give your enemy information that might help them.” Ze lowered the black hood covering hir face, exposing short, spiked, black hair; droopy hooded eyes, that I’d heard called “bedroom eyes” in my youth; skin the color of warm caramel that I’d never taste again since I no longer taste buds, marred –enhanced, rather– by small flecks of scars, as if ze had suffered from a childhood bout of chickenpox; soft, juicy lips that were begging for kisses. A young face, for certain, but not as young as I’d originally assumed.
“I see.” And I did understand, but that didn’t stop me from itching to suck my teeth and roll my eyes and get loud and combative with hir. I had to stay cool; one of the things I learned very early in my training was that whoever got angry first lost. “Will you at least tell me what drew you here?”
Ze pouted and pretended to think. “What’s in it for me?”
I forced my eyebrows back into their proper places. “Fine. Sami? Sami, get off the floor, stop being useless. Where’s the binding chain?” With links forged of enchanted steel, the binding chain was a difficult thing to break. Difficult, not impossible. Depending on skill level, one could be incapacitated for mere minutes, or spend the rest of their life as an immobile prisoner. I’d stolen it from Atlantia when I ran away..left..graduated from The Circle’s Academy for Young Spellcrafters, which all of the attendees knew simply as “The Academy”. An involuntary shudder ran through me as memories tried to surface in my brain. Not that I had an actual brain, or muscles that shuddered, or flesh that quivered, but the sentiment stood. The chain was a hinderance at best, a death sentence at worst; anyone with good sense –and knowledge of it– would steer clear of it.
My guest apparently had that knowledge, and I had to wonder how as ze threw hir hands up in a defensive gesture. “Alright, alright. I give.” Ze looked upward, as if searching for inspiration, or a lightening bolt, or maybe even my mother’s hand reaching out to snatch me back to her domain where she could properly discipline me. I snorted again, louder this time. Like that would happen.
“My name is Kenzie. I was drawn here by the curse.” Kenzie paused, clearly struggling with how much information to share with me.
I threw my hands up in annoyance. “That curse isn’t even an hour old yet! Besides, it’s contained; I’m paying the price for both myself and Sam-” but Kenzie was shaking hir head.
“Not your curse,” ze said. “Her curse.”
“Huh?” Sami and I said in unison. I half-turned, bringing her into my line of vision. She’d stopped rocking, and sat on the floor, a bewildered and shocked expression spreading across her features.
Kenzie shrugged. “I’m assuming it’s the spell that killed you. She cast it. Are you sure you trust her enough to be soulbound to her?”
My sputter turned to giggles; soon, I was doubled over, slapping at my knee. Loud, honking guffaws left me in bursts, and tears gathered at the corners of my eyes, which should have been impossible, but what the hell. The entire day, specifically the last handful of hours, had been a lesson in not discounting outlandish possibilities.
“I get it,” I squeezed out. “She sent you, didn’t you? Damn, but I didn’t think she was this upset about my skipping the reunion last year. She sent a student hunter to get me.”
Kenzie raised an eyebrow. “Who?”
I flapped a hand at hir. “Oh, come on. You’re going to tell me that my mother didn’t send you? Everyone in The Circle knows that I’m Atlantia’s biggest disappointment.” Kenzie’s mouth worked, and a look of such sincere shock settled on hir face that I stopped laughing. “Wait. You didn’t know? You’re from The Academy, right?”
“You..you…” Kenzie choked, swallowed, paled, coughed, and took several steps in a direction away from me. “You are The Head Mistress’s child? I-I-I..didn’t realize! My-my apologies!” Ze dipped her quickly, then muttered,”I should go. I can’t deal with this. This is beyond my grade level.”
I frowned. “Not only did you not know I’m Atlantia’s daughter, you say this is beyond your ‘grade level’?” I narrowed my eyes. “Are you really in the testing phase for Huntership, or did you lie to me?”
Kenzie mumbled something.
“What?” I stepped closer, and Kenzie stepped farther away.
“I lied,” Kenzie admitted. “I’m only in my second year at The Academy. But,” ze continued, seeing my irritation, “I’ve aced all of classes so far, my grades are in the top three in the entire school, and your apprentice there really did invoke a curse.”
“And you were drawn by this alleged curse?” I asked.
Kenzie’s mouth twisted. “No,” ze admitted with a sigh. “I wasn’t ‘drawn’ to that alley. I was already there.” Kenize squeezed hir eyes closed then turned slightly away from me. “I live there.”
My brow wrinkled. “In one of those buildings?” I considered this. The alley opened up to the back doors of several establishments: a bank, a bookstore, and an office suite, which is the rooftop we had used for our spell.
“No. I live there, in the alley. If you look at the back of ‘Look! Books!’, there’s a storage shed propped up against it. The owner, Ms. Khanz, lets me live there and use the bathroom in her shop in exchange for stocking the shelves and sweeping and stuff.”
I blinked at hir, alarm bells ringing in my ears. “How do you go to The Academy, then? Where are your parents? How old are you?”
Kenzie whirled around to face, thrusting hir chest in defiance. “A scholarship, plus some…creativity on my application lets me stay in school. I haven’t seen my parents since I was 9, and I’m 15 now, so it’s almost legal, as long as nobody snitches.” Kenzie shrugged. “I figured I could find out what was going on here, and use that to boost my chances of graduating and getting my magic license earlier. I didn’t know you were The Head Mistress’s daughter, I swear! You can’t turn me in!” The smooth, self-assured youth I’d seen earlier had fled; in its place was a scared kid. I carefully considered my next move.
“The Queen of the Blues is my mother,” I admitted, figuring I’d start with the truth. “I’m Kiera Blue. But you don’t owe me any kind of genuflection or anything, especially not now.” I ran my hands across my face, taking comfort in the fact that it remained solid under my touch. “This is such a mess,” I said, “and I’m tempted to blame everything on you, Samilla,” I threw over my shoulder. Sami gasped in response. I didn’t bother to look at her. “As for you, Kenzie, coming here might have been the biggest mistake of your life.”
“How so?” ze asked, wrinkling hir brow.
“You said, when you arrived, that you could be my best friend or my worst enemy. I’ll give you that,” I said with a slow nod, “but the same could be said of me. My mother has not gone quite as far as disowning me, but she has banished me from The Circle for the crime of invoking a binding curse. She is sending a Hunter against me, and my soul is at stake. You may have damned yourself by involving yourself with me.” I rubbed my hands together. “But now that I know your secret, Kenzie, you don’t have too many choices.”
Sami gasped again. “But I didn’t invoke a curse! Did I? It’s not my fault,” she mumbled. I ignored her, and Kenzie was too busy easing away from the dangerous gleam that I’m sure was in my eyes to pay any attention to anything other than me.
Kenzie took another step back, and bumped into the wall. “What do you mean?” Ze gulped audibly. I almost smiled.
“I can turn you in, have your powers stripped from you, and your mind erased, or…”
“Or you stay here, learn from a Master Spellcrafter, and help me figure out what the hell is going on.”