Disbelief: refusal or reluctance to believe, usually punctuated by the raising of an eyebrow, a twisting of the lips, and a kissing or sucking of the teeth in certain communities. Often, it is accompanied by shouts of “Nuh uh!” Do not confuse “disbelief” with its cousin “unbelief”; the latter is defined as skepticism or refusal to believe matters of faith and/or religion, specifically. As there was no god before me, dashing my understanding of my family life to the ground, I was in no danger of the rumored punishments from a rejected deity. I was, however, in severe peril. If death by glare was indeed a possible thing, Kenzie would have killed me in this life, my afterlife, and my prophesied rebirth.
“YOUR family is the reason I don’t know mine?!” Kenzie’s voice, normally so cheerful and pleasant, rose to shrill heights.
I winced and threw up my hands in placation. “Whoa, there, kiddo. It’s not like I personally had anything to do with it. That aside,” I said, turning to my mother, “are you some kind of cradle-robbing cougar? You’re a crone! Assuming my sperm donor was human, he was, what, more than 600 years your junior?”
“Is that really point?” Kenzie hollered.
“Thank you, Kensington. Yes, Kiera; is that truly the point?” Atlantia ground out.
“Don’t avoid the question, you witch!” I stabbed my finger at her and demanded hotly. “I feel so…squicky now.” I shuddered. “Seriously. You’re basically a…a pedophile. Or something.”
“Stop your prattling, brat!” my mother roared. “If you weren’t my child…” She let her threat trail off into the ether, and I wisely clamped my jaws together. Remembering some of the discipline I’d received as child, I hated to imagine what she would have done to me had I been some random, snot-nosed kid off of the street.
Jelly shook her head, either in amusement or annoyance, and flapped her free hand at her grandchild. “Dying ain’t so bad,” she rasped. She coughed once, thumped herself across the chest, then raised her bottle to guzzle. Swallowing, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and set the bag down at her side with a thunk. “It ain’t,” she stressed, seeing Kenzie’s frown. “You might not believe it, but I had me some serious juice.” Seeing our blank looks, she added, “That’s energy for doin’ magic, you young’uns. You coulda powered a city with the juice I had.” Her eyes glazed over, and I knew that she was no longer in the room with us, but gazing at some far away point in time.
“Conflict.” All eyes swung toward Sami, who’d been eerily silent for a long while now.
“Heh?” I got up on my knees and strained toward my apprentice. “What’d you say?”
“Conflict. Conflict kills. Betrayal is death. Death to betrayers,” she intoned. My eyebrow went up in alarm.
“Okay, truce,” Kenzie offered, “cuz this seems much more important right now. I don’t know what’s up with her, but I think she’s broken.” The kid jabbed a thumb at Sami, who was rocking back and forth, as if in pain; her hands crept toward her ears, fingers curled into claws. She dug into her flesh, her nails drawing bloody streaks on her face.
“Alright, party’s over,” I snapped. I leapt to my feet and pointed at my mother. “You are going to fix this.”
“This is hardly my fault,” Atlantia defended herself calmly.
“Yes, it is!” I shouted. “You sent her to me. You made these weird, backroom deals with the people that want to wipe us from the realm! Heck, you even slept with one! You slept with him, and once he’d served your purpose, you killed him!”
“He killed Jelia,” she hissed. “You have no idea of the events that you are barking about. He killed my best friend, the woman I swore a blood oath of sisterhood with!”
“That’s no excuse!”
Jelly raised as hand. “As I am the injured party here,” she started, then chuckled. “‘Injured’, eh? I made a dead joke. “ She cleared her throat. “Look, I’d had a bad night when I died. I was drunk and in a rough part of town. He got the jump on me. I was distracted; he wouldn’t’ve had a chance otherwise. He took me back to their headquarters, stopped my heart, made the Exchange as I watched, and stuck me in this book.”
“How’d they get the book in the first place,” I asked, “and why does the Queen Bee here have it now?”
Jelly scratched her nose and sheepishly said, “Cuz I had snuck it out in my bag.” My mother gasped, and the ghost turned to her. “I was mad, alright? Stupid Elder’s Circle, talkin’ ‘bout my ‘impurities’ and ‘taints’ and all that jive.” She made finger quotes in the air around the troublesome words, then dropped her hands to her lap and shrugged her thin shoulders. “I thought I’d get them back, hit ‘em where it hurt. I didn’t mean to drag so many people in it with me. Lanta picked it up after I died, I guess, and brung it back here.”
Atlantia’s shoulders slumped. Where she’d merely looked tired before, she now appeared utterly exhausted and defeated. “I never knew,” she croaked, her voice thick with emotion. “I thought he betrayed me. All this time, and I thought─”
“I know,” Jelly wheezed. “And I’m sorry for that. I really am.” Her shoulders shook, as if she was crying. Kenzie’s mouth turned downward and hir chin trembled, in empathy. Ze scooted closer to the ghost and lifted an arm, most likely to drape across her quaking body, then hesitated, clearly wondering if ze could actually make real, physical contact with the soul of hir grandmother. It was awkward to observe, and pretty painful, so I looked away, focusing my attention on Sami instead.
“Hey! Sami!” I called out. “You okay over there?” She glanced up, and locked eyes with me. I immediately wished that she hadn’t. Her gaze was vacant and cold; there was nothing behind those eyes.
“With flesh and blood,” she said, her fingers twitching in my direction, “I name my price and claim my prize. Souls twinned and bound, our fates as one. Kiera Octavia Blue, I name you true.” Her hands began to move in a way that I found disconcerting and familiar.
“Uh oh,” I muttered.
Sami wasn’t finished yet. “Now die with me, progenitor of the end. May your ashes be scattered, never to rise again.” She closed her circle in the air, activated her spell, and sent it toward me. I felt the room temperature increase drastically before it truly registered in my brain what it meant.
Sami had just released a fireball, and it was headed right toward my face.