Never in my life had I bothered to appreciate phrases like “it happened in slow motion” or “it was like watching a movie” when they were applied to real life events. I’d always thought them mere excuses and justifications for people’s inactivity in the face of catastrophe. Most humans don’t do fear well, and for the first time, I’d realized that I was one of them.
I froze as approximately twenty pounds of stone shattered around me and spattered me with shards. I could do nothing to ward off the assault beyond lift my hands and let them creep toward my face to protect my eyes. My skin stung in the places that were hit. I was vaguely aware that someone was screaming, but my chest and throat hurt, so it couldn’t have been me.
It was me screaming, only it was more of an enraged, “SAMILLA!” that spewed forth from my mouth, bounced out of the broken circle, and echoed around the room. My voice summoned a violent gale of wind to clear away the debris. As it passed, I caught a glimpse of Sami’s face, and she was … smiling? I must have imagined it, because she leapt toward me, eyes full of tears and terror.
“Master!” she wailed. “I am so sorry! I thought for sure that this time I could control it properly!” She squeezed me tightly, once, then pulled back to examine me closely. “Are you injured? Is that blood? Let me clean these cuts for you! I am so sorry!” I thought she was overdoing the concerned apprentice bit, but I let her lead me from the workshop and back up the stairs to the bathroom. I thought nothing of her giving me first aid treatment, though, later, it would dawn on me that she was not injured.
Finally tired of Sami’s fluttering ministrations, I smacked her hands away and stood from my seat on the closed toilet lid. “Enough,” I told her. “It’s not like I’m dying.”
An unreadable expression flickered across Sami’s face, but vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “Of course not, Kiera. Don’t say anything foolish. I need you to … stick around … for a while.”
I jerked out of my reverie and eyed Sami’s snoring form with suspicion. That niggling feeling was back in my mind, and the low clamour of an alarm rang through my skull. I knew … well, I didn’t really know what I knew, but I knew that Sami was deeply involved. Vowing to get to the bottom of the Sami mystery, I moved on to tackle next one: what happened to my magic? There was only one place that I could possibly find an answer for that, so I stood, threw a glance toward my apprentice’s sleeping form, and walked to the door that she had been gracious enough to leave open for me.
I padded swiftly and quietly down the hallway and into the kitchen. Thankfully, Sami had listened when I’d told her to open all the spaces I might need; the door to my basement workshop stood open. I reached for it, sighing as my hand sank into the wood and stopped just shy of passing through it all together. The fact that I did not pass completely through the wood, as I did not sink into Sami’s bed, gave me a bit of hope. Perhaps I could work on eventually harnessing and manipulating my unlife energy to move things? With a slight spring in my step, I descended the stairs to the heart of my home.
My workshop was in the shape we’d left it, minus the rock dust. I assumed that Sami had swept up while I took a shower to rid myself of the remaining bits of alfalfa, yarrow, and aloe. She’d rebuilt the circle, too; I was shocked that she’d remembered the exact pattern I’d laid out the first time. It was beginning to dawn on me that Sami was significantly more proficient that she pretended to be, but I’d deal with that later.
I moved to the incomplete circle, inhaling and exhaling slowly, though I didn’t need to. I had to keep reminding myself that I did not, nay, could not, breathe anymore, but it was a hard habit to break. I cracked my neck, rotated my shoulders, and planted my toes firmly in the hard-packed dirt that made up the circle floor. I spun one complete turn, bowing to each of the cardinal points. Mentally prepared for failure, I lifted my palms, and willed the Earth’s energy to me.
It shot into my hands and feet, burning a stinging path up through my limbs and scrambled to find purchase inside of me. I gasped at the overload, happy for once that I was already dead because that meant my heart wouldn’t explode inside of my chest. I heard a few jars on the shelves behind me shatter under the overwhelming pressure that was building in the room. I twitched and clenched my teeth, trying to hold it, but in the end, it escaped me, sinking back into the ground beneath my feet. Trembling, I calmed myself, and tried it again. This time though, instead of an overload, I felt only a trickle of power brushing at my senses, and it faded almost as quickly as it manifested. Dejected, I dropped to a sitting position and drew my legs close to me.
From what I could understand, I still had the ability to pull power from the Earth, but only once every so many hours, and then I had to let it recharge. That was both good news and bad news. Good, because it meant that the magic had not completely abandoned me. Bad, because it meant that I could not craft any major spells or defend myself if needed.
“Well, that’s just great,” I huffed to my books and herbs. “This life after death thing is completely overrated.” I took their silence for agreement and rambled on. “Yeah, sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But now, see, I have to wonder what I got myself into. I still have stuff to teach Sami, now there’s Kenzie, who seems like a nice bo…er…gir…hn…kid, and I’m due to have a Hunter on my trail thanks to Mommy Dearest? UGH!” I threw up my hands in annoyance. “Life after death sucks.”
A thump from across the room pulled me from my pity party. I lifted an eyebrow and pursed my lips, knowing that I was alone, so things shouldn’t be falling off of shelves on their own. Unless I had mice. Or really, really big roaches. Or spiders. Or…
“Aw, heck no,” I snapped into the silence. “I’d better be the only walking dead around here,” I said. “This is my house!” When there was no answer, I stood, dusted off my butt, and took stock of my books and supplies. On the east wall, there was a large gap on the bookshelf, and the missing book was lying on the floor, conveniently opened face up and ready to be read. My right eyebrow joined my left one at my hairline as I crept closer. I made sure to scan the immediate area for suspicious shadows, skittering legs, or cold spots. Seeing and sensing nothing, I leaned down to squint at the pages that were practically begging to be read. I happily obliged.
“From a high point … body should be encircled … chalked the runes around … Hey, wait a second!” I dropped to my knees and gaped at the words I was seeing. “This is…this is about the transmogrification of souls!” I shouted. “Not to mention, this ritual seems very fami – aw, heck naw!” I groaned. “I’m going to kill Sami!” Forgetting that I couldn’t pick up the book, I reached for, and my fingers sank deep into the paper, burying my hand up the wrist. I struggled to extricate myself, but the book held me fast. Imagine my horror as I felt a tingling begin in the buried part of my arm. I pulled harder, swearing and cursing, until a bolt of pure energy raced up through my veins. I stared at my arm, watching in frozen fascination as runes and sigils wound their way up my arm, disappearing into my skin.
From inside of my mind, I heard a foreign presence whisper, “Seek.”
My head snapped back with the force of the invasion. My vision swam, and I found myself cackling like a madwoman. “Aw, hell naw!” I choked out.