There are five steps to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most people cycle through the the first four a handful of times before landing on acceptance and beginning the healing process. Foresight wasn’t one of my powers, but even I could see that acceptance was long way off from where I standing.
I growled at Sami, replaying her words over and over in my head. She sat before me, head held high, gaze lowered, eyes shiny with unshed tears. My fingers twitched, and my hands trembled. I heard Book inside of my head, screaming at me to calm down, but that didn’t matter to me. Nothing mattered to me at that moment, except a fuzzy thought that I had been betrayed, and a cold, hard feeling at the center of my un-being that nagged at me to kill the traitor.
“Fight it,” I heard Book call over the growing din in my head. “Do not let the darkness invade you. You are tainted enough with evil as is.”
“What are you talking about? No, never mind. Just shut up,” I snarled at Book. Sami jumped, her open mouth snapping closed at my words, thinking that they were meant for her. I watched her shoulders droop in defeat, and considered correcting the thoughts she was projecting loud and clear.
I took several deep –and once again, unnecessary– breaths in an attempt to tamp down my rage. My vision flashed red, then white, then red again. I was shaking with the effort of holding myself back. I heard Book sigh.
“And who do you think you are supposed to be? Lyssa? Sekhmet? Please do not say Kali.” Book made a snorting sound. “Get a grip on your rampant emotions! You have work to do.”
My anger left me in a whoosh; the rapid diffusion left me utterly and hauntingly empty. Still shaking, this time for a very different reason, I ignored the fallen chair and settled into the one next to it. I propped my elbows on the table and cradled my face in my hands. Sami peered at me over the top of her bulky frames, trying to gauge my mood. My gaze met hers; whatever she saw made her flinch and quickly look away.
“Tell me, Samilla Turner… Samilla… Turner…” I sat back in my chair, arms slipping off of the table. “Is that even your real name?”
“It is,” she muttered, then cleared her throat. “It mostly is, anyway. The name I was given at birth is Samilla Sojourner. No middle name. The way of my mother’s people is that girls follow their mother. Boys have a choice when they come of age. My parents had many disagreements about me, and they divorced when I was four. I was given my father’s name after my moth-” Sami cut herself off and looked away. “-after my parents split up; my father raised me.”
“Why? Don’t the laws of this country still favor giving custody to the mother?”
“They do…unless you live in the Deep South and your mother has been branded a ‘witch’ by the town council.” She used to fingers to make air quotes around the word, and shuddered as she said it.
“I see,” I said. I’d heard the stories –all of us in The Academy had received a thick binder, full of first- and second-hand accounts of what happened to spellcrafters that strayed, along with a list of places never to visit under the threat of local imprisonment– but I’d never believed them. I doubted any of us did. I flapped my hand at Sami. “Go on,” I urged.
“Publicly, he was a councilman in our town, a highly paid and well-respected one. Privately, though, he was a high-ranking, card-carrying member of the Cabal of Light.”
“The witch killers?!” I shrieked. “Your father and his cronies are the boogeymen of all spellcrafter children’s nightmares!” I narrowed my eyes. “You deliberately came after me.”
“Yes,” Sami admittedly quietly, “but not for the reasons you think I did.”
Sami sighed. “I never had any formal training. When I turned 11, I had my first period. My powers…manifested during that same time. My father was faced with the possibility of branding his own daughter, and possibly losing his position…or hiding it to keep up appearances. I wasn’t taught to control my power, but to suppress it. He fully expected me to join the Light and take down my own kind.” Her voice shook, along with her hands. “But Hunting was something I could never grasp; my power was too strong, too…wild to be used that way. Throughout my high school years, he made me sit in on Light meetings, acting as secretary. I began to make to copies of the minutes, one for them, and one for me. That’s how I learned about The Blue Sea Circle…and you.”
“Keep going. Get to the part where you infiltrated my home and killed me.”
“I don’t know how to convince you that that wasn’t supposed to happen!” Sami’s voice rose, and she slapped her hands on the table in front of her. I felt the faintest stirring of sympathy for her, but steeled myself against showing any outward sign. Within moments, she had calmed, not without a visible internal struggle, and continued with her tale. “The Cabal of Light have something of a treaty with The Blue Sea Circle. The Light agrees to only Hunt witc-spellcrafters,” she hastily corrected herself, “that surpass the limits of moral and physical laws, while the Blue Sea Circle promises, not only to divulge the names of those who break the treaty, but also to never aid, abet, teach, or train a young spellcrafter without explicit parental permission. The Light has files on all of The Academy’s students.”
“So Kenzie might be in more trouble than I thought,” I said aloud, forgetting myself for a moment. At Sami’s questioning look, I cleared my throat and waved it away. “Never mind. Is there more?” I answered my own question. “Of course there’s more. You said you needed to trap my soul.”
Sami sighed again. “The Light has invented a way to ‘purify’ the evil of powerful witches, they claim. You, next to Atlantia, are…were…the most powerful Master Spellcrafter this side of the Mississippi, maybe in the country, or even the world.” She swallowed hard. “My father told me that if I managed to capture your essence, he would allow me to formally attend The Academy’s Adult Education courses with no interference, and allow my to return to my mother’s people. But they tricked me! They…tagged me, cursed me, with an interference script.” She worked her arm hurriedly out of her sleeve to show me the faint lines of a jumble of incomplete sigils tattooed just above the curve of her left breast, right above her heart. “Every spell I cast will backfire.”
“And you knew this. You knew this, and still allowed me to trust you with my life?” I roared.
Tears sprang to Sami’s eyes. “I really didn’t mean to kill you. I was supposed to put you in a state of suspended animation until your soul could be cleansed and returned. With you dead, officially or not, the deal with my father is off, and I’m cast in the role of a treaty breaker!”
“And my mother…? She knew?”
Sami bit her lip as tears slid down her face. “She knew. I had to get her permission to train under you. She told me where to find you, and called off the mage guards that have protected you since you left home.”
Sami looked up me. “You weren’t supposed to die.”
“Not that part!” I spat. “What mage guards?”
“Atlantia has been aware of your every move since you left The Academy. You were never far from her grasp. She allowed you your freedom, hoping that you would choose to return when you were done with whatever it is you left home to do. She actually hoped that I could convince you.”
I slumped in my chair, horrified, greatly annoyed, and not at all surprised.
My mother had been spying on me, and she’d sent Sami to me in her stead.