Waking up dead is a terrible feeling. It helped that I’d already been dead before I blacked out and woke up again, but it sure as hell didn’t make it any more fun. It starts with a sense of wrongness, slides into panic, and then concludes with a bang of understanding and a rapid dawning of horror. My eyelids felt like they were made of lead bricks wrapped in steel while my body, or lack thereof, felt oddly disconnected from reality. Lo, I heard a voice in the darkness, and it said─
“I know you’re awake, Kiera; stop faking.” Whatever temporary peace I’d found fled at the sonorous admonition of my mother.
“Five more minutes,” I mumbled as I ran a check on my brain functionality. My nostrils flared and my brows drew downward together in a deep v-shape as I prodded a Book-shaped absence in my mind. My eyes flew open and, before I could fully process my intended actions, I was off the floor, across the room, and in Atlantia’s face. “What have you done?” I snarled. “What have you done?”
“What was necessary,” she responded in a very clipped and cold voice. “Your survival─our survival─depends on you getting your body back and meeting Blue when she returns. I need you at your best. You are useless to me as this random collection of memory and energy.”
“Not. Your. Decision,” I hissed through clenched teeth.
Her face softened. “You are my child─”
“I am your insurance policy,” I spat. “Don’t try to make it sound good now.”
There are things a child should not forget about their mother. There are things a Master Spellcrafter should not forget about the person who taught them. In my somewhat irrational anger, I forgot that I shouldn’t forget, and found myself sucker punched in the gut and tossed twenty feet backward. In the movies, the action heroine manages to either twist in midair to land cooly in a calculated crouch, or simply slides a mere handful of inches away with the force of the blow, digging in her heels to stand her ground. I, however, landed in an embarrassing heap with my butt in the air and my breath cut off by the pressure of my boobs. I heard someone─Kenzie? Sami?─gasp in the background. I wanted to reassure them that I was fine, that if Atlantia really desired to hurt me, she would have─oh. I glanced down at the floor that was suddenly a great distance away from my dangling feet.
“Ungrateful brat,” my mother spat. Her fingers worked rapidly, drawing complicated runes and sigils in the air. Her mouth moved in tandem with her hands, and fear prickled the back of my neck.
“You know what, Ma? Let’s just talk about this, like the rational adults we are. I am positive that we can reach some sort of compromise.” I swallowed hard. “We can work this out, if we just try,” I warbled. She raised an eyebrow, but did not slow her motions. I felt the air around me thicken and grow solid. Invisible vices clamped down on my wrists and ankles. “Mommy,” I whimpered.
“Know your place, welp!” Her voice cracked across my skin like a whip. I was growing dizzy, and the world had been turned on its side. Oh, wait. That was me; I’d been turned on my side and was being spun around in circles. My life flashed before my eyes, and that actually made me feel sicker than all of the spinning.
“Cease and desist your dramatic overreactions,” Book whispered into my mind. “I am mostly unharmed.”
“I have descended deeper into your subconscious, where Atlantia will have trouble detecting me. Were you concerned for my well-being?”
“Nope,” I denied hotly. “Not all all.” I breathed deeply, feeling Book’s presence just under my skin, figuratively speaking, of course. Power flared along my spine and burst from my limbs, halting my mother’s spell in its metaphorical tracks. A brief struggle ensued; with a snort, Atlantia released her hold and dropped me to the floor.
“You will see things my way soon enough,” came my mother’s cryptic words as she swept from the room.
Alone with my apprentices, I put my head in my heads and wished, for once, that I could simply seep through the thick carpet and vanish. My head throbbed in annoyance, and I couldn’t tell what state of matter I was currently in. Kenzie moved to my side, but I waved the kid away, focusing instead on Sami, who was staring blankly at the place Atlantia had stood with a look of sick mourning on her face. My inner clock told me that it was late in the evening. I was tired, and I assumed my companions were as well.
“We’ll deal with this in morning,” I announced, “provided that she doesn’t kill us all in our sleep.” To Book, I said, “You’re going to show me everything I need to know about breaking compulsion magic, and you’re going to do it now. I can’t leave Sami under her control, and I can’t afford to be overpowered by her again.”
“Yes, my lord,” Book intoned.
I rolled my eyes, then rolled over on the floor and curled into a ball, awaiting the flood of instruction and the intense, core-warming feeling that came with it. I had a lot to learn, and if my mother’s mood was anything to measure by, I was running out of time to learn it.