Sorry it’s late! Enjoy.
Symptoms of shock appear to be contradictory, at least on the surface. Skin should be sweaty, but cold. Pulse should be shallow, but racing. Go deeper, and things begin to make sense: staring, fixed eyes; unresponsiveness; weakness; dizziness. Treatment of shock, to the best of my knowledge, does not include striking someone across the face, but what did I know? I slapped Sami so hard that I heard her teeth rattle in her skull. I didn’t have time to recover from the recoil because right then, Kenzie slapped me so hard that tears formed in the corners of my eyes.
“Why’d you hit me?” I whined, clutching at my smarting cheek.
“Same reason you hit her, I’m guessin’,” Kenzie replied through pursed lips.
“But that hurt!”
“At least you’re not bleedin’.”
Gobsmacked, I spun my head away from Kenzie and looked closely at Sami. Not only was her cheek beginning to swell, a single drop of blood had escaped her nose and was making its way across her lips. She didn’t seem to notice, which was probably a bad thing. Her mouth was still moving, and I strained to hear what she was saying.
Electric fingers danced up my spine. I knew those words. Panicked, I glanced through the window, and very nearly crapped myself at the sight of the metal gates slowly opening.
“Eep!” I squeaked and shuddered. “Let me out of this car, Kenzie!” I pounded a shaking fist on the clear divider, desperately seeking the driver’s attention. “I can’t go through those gates, man! Unlock this door and let me–OH!”
A cramp seized my midsection. I gasped as it spread outward, reaching for my silent heart and empty, dead womb. Kenzie’s brows drew close in concern.
“Er, Master Boss Lady? Are you feelin’ okay?”
My teeth chattered, and I could feel my fingers and toes turning blue with cold. “Let. Me. Out. Gates. Barrier. S-S-Sami…spell. No…s-s-spirits. Hallowed ground.” Just speaking the words sapped my strength, and I felt myself growing weaker. Luckily, Kenzie was able to piece together what I was trying to say.
“Yeebus Cheesesauce!” the kid exclaimed. “Going through those gates might sever the bond with Sami and kill you before we can get to the Headmistress?”
“Not. Kill.” My head felt like lead when I tried to shake it. “Power. Under her control. Chained.”
Kenzie pulled a plump lip in between tiny white teeth and frowned harder. “Well, that’s not good.”
“You think?!” I wheezed. My mind churned in time with my insides. Even from where I sat huddled in the back, I could see the sigils etched into the metalwork. I could read them, as well, though I didn’t need to. I knew all too well what they said, because I’d put them there. It had been my first major assignment, and, as it turned out, the last thing I would do before Atlantia let me run away.
There had been complaints, I remembered, about unbound, mischievous specters drifting in and out of the walls, wreaking havoc with spells and lessons, and playing dirty tricks on the students and staff. My mother bullied me into finding a solution. I found one, and included a bit of a prank in it. My own twisted sense of humor was backfiring on me because no one had bothered to change my original spell in the time that I’d been gone.
How awesome was that? My breath hitched as another cramp made itself known. Not awesome. Not at all.
“Um, Kiera? Should I like, break the glass or something? Cuz I don’t think the driver dude is gonna let us out. Oh. We’re moving. Nevermind.” Kenzie flicked a gaze from me to Sami and back again. “You know, you guys don’t look too good.”
I stopped listening to the kid and tried on focus on something other than either the thinning blond between Sami and myself, or the intense pain in my gut. I was in-between planes of existence, though, technically, I was all dead, do not pass go, do not collect $200. As the vehicle rolled through those cursed gates, my body began to flicker, and Sami whimpered audibly.
“It hurts,” she complained, and I clamped my lips together rather than retort a harsh, “No shit, Sherlock,” in her direction.
We sailed through the gates without a noticeable worsening of our conditions, and continued the drive up to the Headmistress’s private residence, right in the middle of the Academy campus. Atlantia’s house also contained the academic main office, and was always staffed by a crew of no less than five near-Master level spellcrafters. There were spells and closed circuit cameras everywhere, which made it exceedingly difficult to sneak around. How I missed all of that when I ran away –was allowed to run away– escaped me.
Swimming in memory, I choked a little on the sudden rush of air when the driver opened the door. I hadn’t noticed that we’d pulled onto the massive circular driveway of my childhood home, nor that we’d stopped moving. The silence around us was eerie. I squeezed out a dollop of power and pushed; we were inside of a secrecy spell. Whatever we were about to discuss, my mother didn’t want anyone other than us and the people she trusted to know about. Instead of being comforting, it was downright terrifying, and I wondered if I’d have enough time to compose my mostly last words and fling them out into the world. Aside from the videos of my death that I was certain had gone viral, I had nothing concrete to mark my passing.
That was a damn depressing thought, and it made my head hurt just thinking about it.
I shuffled along the walkway after Kenzie, who took in the sights wide-eyed. I knew the kid had been here at least once before, but probably not unescorted, and certainly not greeted by the Queen herself. My mother waited at the top of the stairs like royalty. All she needed was a big hat and a scepter. Maybe something with a venomous spider on top, just for decoration.
“Child of my loins,” Atlantia’s voice clapped across my ears.
“Mother of my darkest dreams,” I muttered in return.
There was a small commotion behind me. I whirled unsteadily, only remaining on my feet because Kenzie’s hand shot out and snatched out my elbow. Surprisingly, I remained solid enough to grip. Nodding in gratitude, I carefully tilted my head to see what Sami had done. I looked out, and then down.
Sami had gone down on one knee, bowed her head low, and lifted a hand toward my mother. “My Queen,” she solemnly intoned.
“Oh, bugger,” I sighed.