Fire is a versatile thing. It cleanses. It destroys. It is hot, yet can be perceived as cold. It comes in a variety of colors: blue, yellow, orange, red, white. It is an amazing thing, almost living, that is found in nature, and can be recreated by man. It is also extremely terrifying when it’s flying toward your face, in closed quarters, at approximately a thousand square feet per breath.
I frantically waved my arms around in the air. I probably looked like I thought I had wings and was trying to fly, my limbs are flapping so hard. Trying to call on my power didn’t occur to me; my only thought was that I finally had a body─of sorts─again, and I wasn’t going to let Sami burn it. Again. And given Sami’s track record of making spells go horribly wrong thanks to her curse, I felt that I was totally justified in thinking the worst.
“Ooooh weee!” Jelly Bean crowed. “That ain’t good. I’d duck, if I were you.”
“Not. Helping,” I snarled through clenched teeth. Surprisingly, Kenzie is the one who answered my plea for action.
The kid stood, swiftly and calmly. A bit hesitantly, ze sketched a basic Cease spell in the air, set the circle, and whipped hir palms out toward the fireball. The burning ball of heat wavered, reversed directions, then fizzled out with a whimper, leaving behind the smell of scorched hair and reminding me fiercely of Saturday afternoons in the kitchen, where Atlantia would attack my head with a metal comb.
The dead woman in the room─who was, for once, NOT me─applauded loudly. “Kid takes after me! Hot damn.” She turned to me. “Didja see that? Lookit my grandbaby. Hot damn!” She slapped her thighs in pride and mirth, jiggling the muscles. “I wish I had me a camera.”
“Samilla!” Atlantia snapped. She said something to my apprentice in a tongue I never learned but had heard many times in my life, usually following statements like “Have you lost your mind, child?” and “I swear, you don’t have the sense the Goddess gave a goose.” Sami wilted under my mother’s harsh barks, much like I used to, and the vacant gaze in her eyes dissipated slightly. A wrinkle appeared in her brow; she looked to be performing painful mental gymnastics, but the danger of her blowing me up had passed.
Kenzie, on the other hand, had grown disturbed. The teen stared down at slender, brown fingers as if they’d grown fangs and scales. “I did that?” I heard the youth whisper. “I…did…that?” The kid sounded both horrified and awestruck. Some people might consider them the same thing, but I knew better. Kenzie was coming into hir true power, and it was a terrible, beautiful thing. Personal experience counted for a lot in coloring my perceptions of situations like these. I wanted to reassure the kid, to tell hir that false, annoying platitude of “everything’s going to be fine!” but I didn’t want to kid to find out the truth, hunt me down, and punish for me lying at such a delicate time. Truth was, ze’d be feeling the backlash of such a display of power in about─
“AHHHHHHH!” Kenzie screamed and sank to hir knees.
It never fails.
I turned to my mother’s window. “So, you were saying? About my sperm donor and how you mercilessly dispatched him from this world, cruelly robbing me of a father’s influence and comfort?”
“Must you be so overdramatic, Kiera? My decision to ‘dispatch him’, as you call it, required neither your consent nor your input. I was not certain that I was with child until Mikilas’s ashes had been scattered from here to the southernmost pole.”
“Mikilas,” I repeated, rolling the unfamiliar name in my mouth, tasting, making it mine. “So that’s his name?”
“We met at a cemetery, if you can believe my words. He and a few of his friends were drunk and playing at being Hunters. Of course, their version of the Hunt included chasing half-clad females around ill-cared for grave markers.” She sniffed loudly, completely disregarding my question, and plunged into her tale. “Jelia had been invited to the party, and begged my accompaniment. At the time, I was impersonating my own daughter.” She shook her head. “I could not allow ordinary humans to know my true age and name, let alone that I was the headmistress of the Academy. Every so many years, I would ‘retire’ and name my ‘daughter’ my heir.” She sighed. “Meeting Mikilas that night was the first time I had ever considered actually having a child.” Her voice grew soft, and was filled with some emotion I could not easily name. It made me uneasy, hearing my mother speak of her past in such a way. I couldn’t tell, though, if the dream-like quality of her tone was related to whatever love she may have felt for my father, or the idea that she had once wanted a child. Seeing as how she slew the bearer of my paternal DNA and just short of despised me, perhaps her mystery emotion was closer to regret than nostalgia.
“Spare me the details of your tortured love affair,” I grumbled. “I would like to eat at some point without vomiting. Hey! Does this body need to eat? Can I─dare I say it─drink coffee again?” I fidgeted, my excitement building. “Oh, gloriously sweet and hot caffeinated beverage, I hear your call!”
“FOCUS!” Atlantia bellowed. Her order slammed into me, knocking back and jerking my head toward her. “There is more important business to attend to.”
“What could possibly more important than coffee?” I asked, flabbergasted. I shrugged. “So you killed a guy. I’m sure he wasn’t the first.”
“Dare you be so callous about the death of your sire?”
“It’s not like I knew him,” I pointed out, “on account of you killing him and all.”
“Once again, you derail my explanations, the very explanations you claim to desire! I am beginning to think, Kiera, that you are not interested in the truth at all.”
“Your version of the truth? Not so much. The absolute truth? Yes, please.”
My mother’s eyes narrowed. “You accuse me of lies?”
“I accuse you,” I said, drawing myself up to a respectable height, “of omitting facts that place you in a crappy light. I accuse you,” I went on, “of withholding vital information. I accuse you, mommy dearest, of orchestrating this entire fiasco! You already admitted as much. Okay, you’re, like, a thousand years old─”
“I am not! I have yet to reach 700!”
“─so, clearly, you’ve been around the block a few times in your life. You know how this works. You’re the only child Blue gave birth to, rather than all of the babies she twisted and ‘gifted’ her magic to. I’m just saying, Ma. You know way more than you’re telling. You claimed that you’d give us, me, answers, but you’re still playing things close to the vest.”
“If you would stop your interruptions, you wayward child,” she began, but I cut her off.
“Oh, please! You’ve had years to tell me everything. And now, you’ve had days to bring us all up to speed. I might get a little distracted at times, but can you blame me? I’m dead. Or at least was dead, and will be again soon, if I’m getting this right. Right?”
She stayed silent for so long that I thought she’d fallen asleep with her eyes open. When she spoke again, it was in a very reserved tone. “Blue is alive. She’s asleep, but she’s alive. And, you were right, when you called yourself my insurance policy. You are going to wake up Blue, and the three of us, together, will usher in a new age of magic. The first thing we’ll do,” she said, leaning forward with a sneer twisting her lips, “is kill all the Hunters.”