Time moves ridiculously slow when you’re stuck in a situation you wouldn’t wish on your most hated antagonist. In my case, time had dropped to the ground, executed a perfect back spin and windmill, then struck a classic b-boy pose to the audience’s applause. In my mind’s eye, I was 17 again, except with much more wisdom and significantly less breathing.
We crowded into Atlantia’s sitting room. Sami, regardless of how much I teased, taunted, or hissed, remained in that disturbing submissive position. Kenzie wandered around the room, cooing at books and artifacts. The kid snuck touches and pictures every moment it appeared no one was watching. Atlantia settled into her blue leather recliner “throne”, and I cowered, I mean, laid in wait, just inside the doorway, fighting the compulsion to beg for orders. The driver had the most sense of any of us; he turned tail and fled the moment we cleared the driveway.
Suspiciously, I eyed my mother. It wasn’t like her to be so calm. And when did she start to look so old? Lines pulled her mouth downward and tightened her eyes. She was, in this moment, every bit the aging monarch, and I felt just a little bit sorry for her, being past her prime and all.
“Welp,” she snarled at me. “Sit. We have much to discuss.” She pointed at the spot near her feet, where I was expected to kneel.
Nope. Not feeling sorry for her at all, the old hag. “I’m fine, thanks. Though, if it’s not too much trouble for you, could you please release the hold on my apprentice? I might need her.”
“She is linked to your soul, which, if I recall, means that she is linked to me through you, thanks to that very handy imprisonment spell on my gates. I believe you know the one I speak of.” Oh. So, she had noticed my prank, just decided not to do anything about it. Whoops.
“Eh…right.” I scratched the back of my neck in slight embarrassment and laughed weakly. Atlantia and I both knew that this was a direct challenge. If I backed down, she’d control me and use me for whatever nefarious purposes she could dream up. If I found a way to undo the soul-bond without killing Sami and damning myself out of existence or unraveled the seal on the gates, my mother would lose face and possibility control.
And so would I. The backlash of all of those random ghosts freed at once could unleash enough power to level the city. We’d both lose big. It would be better to suck it up and do what she wanted. That wasn’t in my nature, however. I would fight to the bitter end, even if it killed me. Again.
Sighing, I tried to think. Atlantia was the closest thing to the source of all magic. She was a direct descendant of the first known Master Spellcrafter, if her story was true. I, being her only child, should have been at least as powerful as her. Sweat dotted my brow. If my concentration slipped for even a second, she’d win. Mentally, I nudged Book; it only sniffed and lifted its metaphorical nose is the air. I ground my teeth together. The safest thing to do was probably agree to the little jaunt she’d planned to Blue’s village and leave everything on hold until after we’d made it back. If we made it back.
“Okay,” I drawled. “Stalemate. This is good.”
Atlantia raised one perfectly arched eyebrow in my direction. “I see,” she commented with pursed after a short pause. “We leave in the morning. Tonight, we lock down your power and begin preparations for the ceremony.”
I choked. “We’re gonna do the what for the who now?” I blinked. “Ceremony? What ceremony?”
“You do want a body, do you not? I assumed that, when you arrived…”
“Oh. Right. Ceremony, though? I thought it was all pretty scientific, you know? ‘Here’s a false body, let’s shove you in it.’ You mean it doesn’t work like that?”
My mother rubbed a hand across her face. She looked tired, and I felt guilty. I’d made her life difficult in my years, hadn’t I? “No, it does not work quite that way. Your ashes and your,” she waved her hand at my form, “body need to be joined together. You did bring your ashes, did you not?” She waited a beat, then continued, unperturbed. “No matter. Once that is complete, the flesh-shell will manufacture itself around your-” she gestured again, searching for a word. “-substance.”
“Huh? But my ashes and spirit are already –OW! What the frickin’ frack is your problem?” I glared, inwardly, at the grimoire in my head. Book had jabbed me, sending a sharp, taloned pain through my brain and left eye.
“Do not give away all of your secrets, foolish woman,” Book chastised me. “She does not need to know the details of how I came to be.”
“Why? Wait, what? What are you talking about? ” I demanded, swiftly ignoring the amused looks of everyone in the room. Only I could hear Book when it was in my head, and I tended to forget that that speaking to Book made me look just a few sandwiches short of a lunch buffet.
“Have you forgotten?” My arm throbbed once, twice, three times, reminding me about my physical link with Book. “My physical form is made from what used to be you. If you allow your ‘ashes’ to be pulled from you, it won’t be you; it will be me.”
“And you have a problem with that?”
Book smirked. “Not at all. But you should. If I am pulled from you, then joined to you-”
“I’ll never get rid of you,” I muttered. “We’ll actually be one person, like, forever? Forever ever?”
“As fascinating as it is to see you carry a conversation with yourself, Kiera Octavia, we must move on. Time is not our friend.” As usual, Atlantia managed to insult me and sum up the situation at the same time.
“Um…you know what? I’m hungry. Anybody hungry?”
Kenzie, who had been staring at me with narrowed eyes, smirked. “I see what you did there,” the kid chirped. Nudging Sami, whose eyes were blank and lifeless, Kenzie announced, “I’m hungry. Who’s up for takeout?”
Atlantia pounded a fist on the arm of her chair. “What is this nonsense?”
I grimaced. “There may have to be a slight change of plans here, Mommy Dearest. I can’t get into that body just yet, you see.” I turned my back to the woman who birthed me and stretched. “Is my room still here? Maybe I should lie down for a bit.”
I took two steps and froze. Icy tendrils of fear wrapped around my ankles and wound their way up my spine. I felt the Book’s mark on my arm flare to life; Book itself was jibbering in my head, but I heard not a word of it. A cold fist squeezed my dead heart, and I shuddered.
“You. Will. Obey,” my mother growled in my ear. “By the dawn, you will heed my words. I command you, blood of my blood, sleep!” Sudden darkness choked off any protest I might have made, and suddenly, I was falling.