Jungle Witch

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Chapter 8

The following afternoon, Ebony stepped out of her father’s manor to follow Abhay and Naveen to the Mista family’s house in the Western District. Abhay had ordered several of his soldiers to push the mob away from the gates, for which Ebony was grateful.

She had made arrangements that morning, should the soldiers fail to hold back the mob efficiently. Never would she trust her safety and well-being to a human soldier.

The mob fell silent as she walked towards the gates, flanked by Abhay and Naveen.

Her body tightened, and she began to wish she hadn’t convinced Raj to stay behind for this trip. The crowd outside the gates had grown since that morning. She knew then that she had to break the curse soon or the number would be large enough to negate the fear they had of her.

“Now whatever you do, don’t use magic,” Abhay warned her as he reached out to open the gates. “It will only make things worse.”

Ebony nodded as she restrained the urge to snap at him to keep the gates shut. The moment the metal doors swung open, the humans began shouting. She blocked it out as best she could. And, it worked until a rock hit her.

“That does it,” she grumbled and whirled around on her heels.

Taking a deep breath, she released a sound that was more animal than human. Anyone who knew birds would have recognized it, but to the humans around her, it was merely proof she wasn’t one of them.

At first, nothing happened. Then the sound of dozens of ravens began echoing off the stone walls. They flew out from the city and gathered around the tops of the buildings and blinked their beady eyes at the humans below.

One of the humans pointed at the ravens. “See. Even the gods disapprove of her presence here.”

Ebony rolled her eyes and gestured with her left arm. The flock leader, Razorbeak, flew from the top of the gate to her shoulder.

“Pitiful humans think the gods are actually concerned with something as small as this?” Razorbeak cawed a little snidely.

“Well, you do represent Thanatos,” she reminded the bird, referring the God of Death and one of the nine Great Gods.

Her talking to the bird, caused the humans to murmur in shock and disbelief.

The raven threw his beak in the air and gave a laughing caw. “Which is why you asked us to help you.”

“Naturally.” She smiled. “Thank you for the assistance.”

“This is interesting. We will stay around this nest for you,” Razorbeak replied with a shrug.

By nest, he meant the manor, but she didn’t comment on that. For a bird, any dwelling was a nest. Razorbeak flew up into the air and over towards Bura’s Manor, taking his flock with him. All of them began roosting along the roof and the top of the wall surrounding the yard.

Ebony looked at the humans, who were now being very silent. Giving a final smirk, she turned and walked away. Abhay and Naveen followed behind her without making a single comment about what she’d done.

She glanced over at Naveen and just watched him as they walked. With each step he became more and more withdrawn. His shoulders began to slump, as if he was carrying a huge weight. He kept glancing at the sun. Every step was taken like his ankles were weighed down by rocks. In short, he was walking like a man going to his execution.

A twinge of sympathy bubbled up in her. She still hadn’t found her father’s journals, so she had no clue how to suppress the curse.

The sympathy turned to mild frustration. When she’d told Naveen that she hadn’t found the journal this morning, he’d stopped talking to her altogether. Not that she minded too much - he was an annoying brat - but she needed some answers.

“Nameen, what has been done to break the curse?”

He glared at her before looking away from her with a “humph.”

Shrugging, she picked up her pace a little until she was walking next to Abhay.

“Commander?” Now that she’d established that she didn’t hate Abhay, she actually sounded polite.

He glanced down at her.

“What has the Mista family tried already? I mean, as far as dealing with the curse magically?”

“As you know, they’ve tried other wizards, but none of them could do anything. The only other thing they attempted was to use darnots, but that didn’t help much either.”

Now, she was curious. “What happened?”

“At first, we thought it worked. When the one marked for the change was within range of the darnot’s suppressing powers, he or she didn’t change.”

Abhay gestured towards the west as they approached the dome building, known as The Hall. It was positioned in Rivera’s center and served as the governing center of the entire city. All of the major roads leading from the city gates and the manors met at this building.

“However,” Abhay continued, “the moment they moved out of range of the darnot’s powers, they changed into the monster.”

“Have you ever tried using a darnot after they’ve already transformed?” she asked.

“What good would that do?” Naveen demanded sullenly.

Ebony tried to keep herself calm, but Naveen always made that difficult. “It could suppress whatever active magic there is after you’ve transformed, Naleen.”

“It’s Naveen,” the boy growled in annoyance. “What do you mean by ‘active’?”

“I mean that what the darnot suppresses is any actively used magic.” Her tone turned matter of fact. “For example. You have two wizards in a room together. One uses power to create a fire and hold it in his hands. The other creates a fire in a fireplace filled with wood. Then a darnot comes in. The only fire that will go out is the one being held in the hand because it’s being fueled by magic, while the other is now being fueled by the wood.”

Naveen looked even more confused. “What did she just say?”

“She said that some magic is turned off while other parts are turned on,” Abhay explained. “The darnot’s suppressing abilities only works on the parts that are turned on.”

The commander turned down the West Road that would take them straight to the Western Manor.

“Why didn’t she say that?” Naveen grumbled.

“I did,” Ebony replied. “You’re just an idiot.”

“We haven’t tried that,” Abhay interrupted before Naveen could make any retort. He hoped that the two would have learned to start getting along. Unfortunately, his student and Ebony seemed determined to misunderstand each other. “Do you think we should? It would take a few days to bring a darnot to the city.”

Ebony shook her head. “That won’t be necessary.”

Abhay glanced at her curiously. “So you don’t want to try it?”

“I’ll take care of it.”


“There’s more than one way to suppress power,” she said a little evasively. There were some things she still wasn’t ready to share with anyone, even Commander Abhay.

They walked the rest of the way in silence. Her mind working through possibilities of what she could try, should all else fail.

Nearly half an hour after they’d left the Southern District, the Western Manor came into view. She heard someone shouting, “Send the witch back where you found her.” Looking up she saw a mob gathered in front of the manor, though it was smaller than the one in front of her manor.

The moment the mob saw her, they stepped away from the gates like she had the plague.

Standing just inside the gate was a little girl that was about twelve years old. The girl had dark hair and eyes typical of the humans in the area. Her skirt and shirt were both white with a blue flower pattern. Around her waist was a light green sari with an end thrown over her left shoulder.

“Hello, Kali,” Abhay greeted.

“Papa sent me to bring Naveen straight to the basement,” the girl informed him, though she was staring at Ebony.

“Lead the way then.” To Ebony, Abhay explained, “Kali is Lord Devdan’s youngest daughter.”

Ebony merely nodded her head in greeting. She wasn’t entirely sure what to say anyway, so remaining silent was probably best.

They followed Kali up to the manor. The Mista family was the richest family in Rivera, which meant they owned the largest house in the city. Like her father’s, the walls were mostly made up of windows - another sign of the Mista’s wealth.

Abhay opened the door’s for her. The house was dark and every sound seemed deafening in the silence. The only thing that moved was the shadows as the sun continued to sink below the horizon.

“Where is everyone?” Ebony asked.

Abhay opened another door that revealed a set of stairs leading down into the cellar. “Lord Devdan sends everyone but family away during the transformations.”

That made sense, she supposed. The political balance of this city was based on money, and the Mista family had most of it. This curse could prove to be detrimental to keeping their spot at the top of the political food chain.

“I have to go now,” Kali informed them a little sulkily. “I’m not allowed in the basement.”

She took off down the hall, while Abhay led Ebony and Naveen down the stairs.

At the base of the stairs, Ebony began to hear other voices coming from a room on her left. One concerned voice sounded like Lord Devdan. She didn’t recognize the others, but they sounded just as concerned.

“...has to be strong enough to hold him,” Devdan was saying.

As she stepped into the room, she saw that Devdan, Indra, and one other man with a walking stick were all standing around an enormous cage made of thick wooden bars. Some of the bars looked newer than others, and she saw enormous claw marks in the older wood.

Suddenly she was glad she’d left Raj back at her father’s manor. He may could handle a normal bear, but a fight with one strong enough to cause that kind of damage could seriously injure him if not kill him. She rubbed at the snake wound around her wrist like a bracelet, wondering if she should have left Venom behind too.

The man leaning on the walking stick saw her first. “Is she the witch?”

Ebony’s back stiffened. “I am not a witch. Why does everyone insist on calling me that?”

“Because they’re ignorant of magic,” Abhay placated, hoping she would calm down. He could feel the changes her magic caused when anger aroused it. To the injured man, he said, “She’s a wizard, Roshan.”

So his name was Roshan, she thought, examining him more thoroughly. He wasn’t wearing a shirt so she could see the bandage wrapped around his waist, indicating a serious injury of some kind. He was very pale and had nothing but pain in his eyes.

“So that’s a yes.” Roshan looked her up and down. “She doesn’t seem that terrifying.”

“And you don’t seem like a jack ass, but you are,” she returned, still steamed about the witch comment.

“Fair enough.” Roshan gave her a small grin before turning to Naveen. “Alright, boy. Lose the clothes and.....”

“You want me to strip with her here?” Naveen interrupted. He was pointing at Ebony with a horrified expression on his face.

“You humans seem so touchy about nudity,” Ebony commented with a shake of her head. “I had someone complain about me undressing when I was in the dress shop.”

“It’s called modesty,” Naveen informed her snidely.

“What good is that?” she asked in exasperation. “I swear, I’ll never understand humans.”

“And I’ll never understand you,” he returned.

“Enough,” Abhay interrupted. He was starting to feel like a parent. “Naveen, you know that you’ll get to wear a wrap around your waist so just do what Roshan ordered.”

Abhay’s tone was mild, but Naveen saw the disapproval. The commander may be a fair man, but he didn’t like it when anyone complained. Hoping to make up for his mistake, Naveen stepped into the cage and began taking off his clothes.

Ebony would acknowledge a certain level of curiosity. Growing up surrounded by animals did mean she had very little human contact. The only times she’d seen any human males had been the few times a caravan had been brave enough to come through the jungle. Then again, this was Naveen, the jerk.

She decided to give him a semblance of privacy by turning away from him and found herself facing Roshan. “So, why is he taking off his clothes?”

“Because he’ll get bigger as he transforms, and the clothes will get torn during the process. There is a short period of time when the skin is raw and tender. The tearing of the clothes hurts like nothing else does.”

She frowned. Magic didn’t normally change the mass of anything, just the form. The only exception to this had always been the lycanthropes - more commonly known as werebeasts - and morphs, which was what made them unique from anyone else who could shape shift. It would have had to take a very powerful wizard to defy conservation of mass.

“He’s done,” Roshan commented.

Ebony glanced over her shoulder and saw Naveen locked in the cage. Around his waist was a plain white wrap. To her surprise, he actually had some muscle on his scrawny body. So, being Abhay’s trainee actually meant he worked.

“This is my cue to leave,” Roshan said as he turned towards the door.

She looked at him. “Why?”

He looked down at his injured side. “Dad doesn’t want to risk me getting any worse until this has a chance to heal. Tell the truth, I’d like to let it heal before I have another bear encounter. The last one nearly killed me.”

Using the walking stick, Roshan made his way up the stairs. Lord Devdan followed him. She heard them murmuring at the top for a moment, then the tapping of the stick as Roshan walked away.

“Devdan will stand guard outside the door,” Abhay explained to her. “Just in case Naveen escapes the cage. We’ll be able to shut and lock him into the basement before he can get to the door.” He gestured towards Naveen’s oldest brother, who was standing across the room from them, “Indra, you, and I will all keep watch down here.”

“Why does anyone stay down here at all?” she asked him curiously.

“To keep an eye on the one in the cage. We don’t want him to get hurt.”

She nodded, keeping her eyes on Naveen. The boy looked like he was in pain.

The last of the sunlight died away. Naveen winced then screamed in agony. His eyes began to glow as red as fresh blood. In the darkness, his transformation gained another layer of terrifying as muscles bulged and expanded. She could hear the cracking and snapping of bones as they shifted into a new shape. The screams turned to growls and fur began to sprout from his skin. Within minutes, there was a huge brown bear standing in the cage.

She tweaked her vision so that she could see the curse. Now that new parts of it were active, she could see a little more of the curse and how it was woven together. Well, woven wasn’t the right word. It was a chaotic mess. Everything was tangled so that they couldn’t easily be separated from each other, making it all one very big, very dangerous spell.

“What a mess,” she whispered.

The transformation magic was slowly dimming into the background, now that whatever triggered it was gone. She could only see that the trigger was very complex and somehow tied to the sunset.

With the transformation part gone, the only currently active magic was the insanity that was causing the aggressive behavior. Looking at the bear made her think of a badger that she’d seen with a disease Sith called the madness. The badger had been drooling uncontrollably and would attack anything in sight. The disease was so terrible, that Sith had merely killed the animal to put it out of its misery. Did the wizard model this curse after the madness of animals, she wondered?

Ebony started walking around the cage, looking for any sign that would help her. The creature didn’t even speak in bear, just a bunch of meaningless growls and roars. There was no recognition in his eyes for anything, not even Abhay.

“Naveen?” she called, wondering if he would even know his own name.

The bear just snarled as he took a swipe at her, hitting the bars instead.

The rattling of the wood jerked her out of thought. His long, sharp claws dug four gashes into the bars. She stared at the cage as the bear drew his paw back again for another swipe.

“Are you sure this will hold him?” she asked Indra.

The second paw hit the bars with a loud thwack.

“Of course,” he said confidently.

Another thwack, followed by a frustrated roar. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Another roar of frustration.

She watched the bear’s argument with the cage for nearly half an hour before asking, “What do we do if it doesn’t hold him?”

“Run, but don’t worry. It will hold.” He didn’t sound as sure as he had earlier.

Thwack. The whole cage rattled this time. That didn’t reassure Ebony at all. She watched nervously as with each thwack of a paw, the cage shook more and more. After nearly two hours of watching him argue with the cage, she saw that a board was coming loose at the top.

“It won’t hold,” she shouted over the bear’s roars. She shoved Indra towards the stairs. Thwack. “Run. Now.”

He either trusted her judgment or saw the same thing she did, because he ran for the stairs. Abhay was shouting to Lord Devdan to get ready. Indra had just started up the stairs when they heard the sound of wood cracking.

Ebony looked over her shoulder. Naveen had broken two of the bars and was swiping at a third now. Another loud crack echoed in the room as the third bar broke. He was forcing his way out of the cage now. She turned back around to see Indra frozen on the stairs.

“Go, moron,” she shouted, shoving him up the steps. They’d never make it up in time now. An idea occurred to her. She shoved at the commander. “You next. I’ll stall.”

“You can’t,” he objected. “A soldier couldn’t.”

“Just trust me. Go.”

She turned towards the bear and prayed to Solon that this would work. Bracing herself she held her hands in front of her, palms facing each other. A black sphere formed between her palms the size of an apple. Energy cackled through the room like lightening as she focused all her attention on the bear charging towards her. With one final prayer, she shot the sphere at Naveen.

The bear was still coming, raising a huge paw. For one terrifying instant, she thought the magic hadn’t worked. Then the red gleam in his eyes faded, until she was staring into Naveen’s normal brown eyes. He came to a sudden stop and looked around in confusion.

“Where am I?” he asked in a bears grunts and growls. “Is it over?”

“No. You’re still a bear,” she replied, trying not to show how relieved she was. “Look down.”

“Ahhh,” he shouted the moment he had. “Why do I still have paws?”

“Because the day isn’t over yet. I just temporarily gave you back your mind.” She shouted up the steps, “Its safe for the moment. Help me with the cage.”

Abhay was the first one back down. He looked at Naveen then at Ebony. “How is this possible?”

Uncomfortable, she dodged the question. “No time to explain. Help me get him back in the cage.”

“Why does he have to go back?” Lord Devdan demanded. He and his son Indra had come down together. “He’s not a danger now.”

“Because this is only temporary,” she snapped, irritated with him questioning her.

“Then make it permanent,” he snapped back.

“I can’t right now.” She pointed towards the bear. “Like it or not, he will be insane again in about half an hour. Now either help me do what we can with the cage or leave.”

“Father, try thanking her,” Indra intervened a little hesitantly. “This is more than anyone has ever managed.”

Devdan took a deep breath. “You’re right, of course.” He looked at the cage. “But there’s no way we can fix that.”

“That’s why I said help. I can manage to fix it enough for the rest of the day with magic.” She examined the cage. “But I’ll need to focus on the magic, so you’ll have to lift the boards back into place.”

The three men got to work. Naveen even helped, using his weight and height as a bear to hold the top of the wooden bars in place. Once the all the bars were where they were supposed to be, Ebony nodded with satisfaction.

“Good. Now just stay like that for a moment.”

She held out her hands again, this time, palms out towards the cage. Her body and the cage began to glow a soft silver color. Slowly she released the magic, careful to keep the casting of it at a constant pace. Another one of her father’s lessons was how to cast a single spell over a long period of time so that she wouldn’t tire or use too much magic. A necessary skill for someone of her background, a hybrid of magic.

Finally, she lowered her hands. “You can let go now.”

Slowly, the men and bear stepped away. The bars all stayed in place.

“Amazing,” Indra said reverently.

“I melded the wood together, and that’s not all I did.” She glanced over to Naveen. “Naveen, smack it with a paw.”

He looked at her uncertainly. “The last time I hit the cage, it broke. Are you sure you want me to smack it again?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“You can understand him?” Devan asked in amazement.

“Of course.” She turned the focus back to the bear and added, “Naveen, please.”

Naveen looked surprised by the ‘please’ and the use of his real name. Ebony couldn’t blame him. She could admit that she’d been less than gracious to him. In her humble opinion, he deserved it. But now that she’d seen the curse his family lived with, she could understand his stress a little better. So she figured, the least she could do was be a little more tolerant of his temper...but only a little.

He slammed one huge paw against the bars. The cage rattled, but no claw marks appeared in the wood.

“It’s stronger now,” she explained. Ebony backed up until she was leaning against a wall. She didn’t want them to see how tired using those spells had made her. “This isn’t permanent either. If I were you, I’d invest in a new cage tomorrow.”

“Naveen, you should get in now,” Abhay said, holding the cage door open.

The bear stepped in and sat in the center. “I wish I could keep my mind for the rest of the night at least.”

“I’ll see what I can do about making this a permanent thing,” she promised. A little of her sympathy escaped into her voice.

Abhay was looking at her very carefully. “Maybe you should go rest. What you’ve done tonight couldn’t have been easy.”

There was nothing she would have liked better, but she couldn’t let them see her weakness. “I’m fine.”

“You’ve done us a great service today, Ebony,” Devdan told her. He even sounded sincere. “I’m glad that we were right when we assumed you could find your father’s method for suppressing the curse.”

“I haven’t suppressed the curse,” she objected.

“But you’ve come closer than anyone else ever has since Lord Bura.” Devdan looked at the cage. “Are you sure the bars will hold?”


“Then Abhay is right. You should go get some rest. As long as the cage holds up, we can handle things here.”

Deciding that she didn’t have the energy to argue with him, she made her way up the stairs. She saw Roshan standing at the top, leaning on his crutch.

“You managed something tonight?”

She nodded. “Ask them. I’m going back to my father’s manor.”

“He’s dead, you know. Lord Bura, I mean. He’s dead.”

“Of course I know.”

“Then why do you call it his manor? Shouldn’t it be your home?”

She shook her head. “No. It will never be home again, and it can never be anything other than Lord Bura’s house. At least, not to me.”

Without another word, she left the Mista’s manor. The streets were all empty, since most people would be tucked away in their homes for the night. She wondered if the crowd would still be gathered outside Bura’s Manor.

As she walked, she kept an eye out for a bird to take a message to Sith. She’d gotten all the way to the southern district before she found an owl nesting in an attic.

“Wise One, may I speak with you?” she called out to him, careful not to say anything insulting.

Sith often described them as a bit pompous, because ever since they’d heard humans talking about how wise they seemed, the owls developed a liking for being called wise one. This was especially true for the older owls. She’s learned early on that if she wanted anything from an owl, she had to sound extremely respectful and polite.

The owl flew down to her on ghost like wings, landing on her right arm.

Venom was very careful to keep well hidden on Ebony’s left wrist. Some owls like snakes a little too much for her liking.

“What can I do for you, Young One?” the owl hooted in the very formal speech of his species.

“I wish to send a message to Sith the Basilisk,” she replied formally. She hated talking this way. “And, was hoping you would be kind enough to deliver it.”

“Of course. All creatures know that you are trying to make The Sanctuary,” he replied using the animal’s term for the jungle, “a safe haven for us all. Even those of us outside will do what we can to assist.”

“Thank you. The message is, ‘I’m in need of more magic. I’ll either need to return to the jungle to gather it, or a magical beast will have to come to me.’”

“I will take it to him,” the owl promised.

Ebony lifted her arm to act as a spring for his take off. The owl flew away on his ghost wings towards the jungle.

“I hate owls,” Venom hissed, slithering up to Ebony’s shoulder now that it was safe. “They actually eat snakes.” The snake sounded insulted by the very idea.

“Rats feel the same way, but they also hate you.”

“I never said owls didn’t have good taste in other foods.”

Ebony laughed and started walking again. She was about to go around a corner that she hoped would take her back to her father’s manor, when she heard a very familiar voice. Peeking around the corner, she saw Jay leaving one of the taverns. The handyman was gently propelling an older man who was singing badly and waving a bottle around.

“Low places full of happy people drinking all worries and blues away,” the man sang way off key and a little too loudly. “Where we don’t need anything from shoes to problems.”

“Quiet down,” Jay was telling the old man. “Some people are trying to sleep.”

She tilted her head. The singer was stumbling around like an animal with the madness. “What’s wrong with him?”

Jay jumped a little before looking at her. “Oh. I didn’t notice you. Sorry.”

“Everyone gets prettier with every sip,” the old man continued to sing at the top of his lungs.

They both ignored him.

For the first time, she noticed that the usually easy going and cheerful Jay wasn’t either of those things. He was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes and there was tension in his shoulders. If she had to describe his mood right then, it would have been resigned and tired. What she found most surprising was that she actually cared. She missed him smiling and insisting that he take care of things.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “I need to get him home.”

She looked over at the old man. He was taking a long swig from the bottle before singing another verse of his very strange song. “Here we all love a good drink as we sing our worries and blues away.”

“Who is he?” she asked curiously.

Jay looked as if he was going to snap at her for a moment, but he let out a long sigh instead. “His name is Gotam.” He hesitated, then added reluctantly, “He’s my father.”

She looked at the old man. He did have a strong resemblance to Jay, now that she was looking for it. His dark hair was longer than Jay’s and a bit scraggly. Whiskers covered his face, indicating he hadn’t groomed lately. There were dark hallows under his eyes, like a man who hadn’t slept in days.

Gotam seemed to notice her for the first time and grinned. “Why hello there, pretty lady. Why don’t you sing with me?” His voice turned sing songy. “Sing pretty lady.”

When he stumbled towards her, she noticed the smell and covered her nose as she stepped back. She’d never smelled anything so bad in her life.

“Make him bathe,” Venom ordered, burying herself in Ebony’s thick hair. Because she smelled with her tongue, she could literally taste Gotam’s scent. “It’s terrible.”

The hissing sound must have attracted Jay’s attention because he glanced around. “What was that?”

“Nothing” Ebony answered. She gestured towards Gotam, who had gone back to singing. “What’s wrong with him? Is he contagious?”

The man stumbled towards her again, waving his bottle around. She instinctively stepped away. He really reminded her of an animal with the madness, which was spread through the saliva. Could humans even get the madness?

“Not contagious,” Jay answered evasively. He seemed almost ashamed.

She frowned, dodging the old man again. Was he trying to hug her or something? “I’ve never seen a human act this way before. What is wrong with him?”

Jay grabbed the man and made him sit on the ground so he would stop trying to hug Ebony. He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. “My father is a drunk.”

“I am not a drunk,” Gotam objected, looking offended. He ruined his defense first by slurring the words and then by hiccuping.

She ignored the old man. “Drunk? Like as in wine and ale?”

“Yes.” Jay finally met her gaze. “Don’t worry. It won’t affect my work.”

“Why would it?”

He looked surprised then smiled a little. “I keep forgetting that you’re like me.”

“What?” Now she was even more confused than ever. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about now.”

“Most people expect others to be like their parents.” He looked over at his father who was now taking another long swallow from the bottle. “You’ve probably heard the phrase, ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’”

She nodded as a hateful gleam fill her eyes. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard that one. It was one of the things the humans screamed at me as they ran me out of the city.”

“Yeah well, they use it on each other too. Most assumed I would be just like him. A useless drunk.”

Since she had no idea what to say to that, she remained silent.

“I should get him home before he passes out. Good night, Lady Wizard.”

“Why don’t you use my name?” she asked suddenly, surprising herself.

“Because you’ve never told me what it was,” he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“But you know what it is.”

“Of course I do, but I figured if you wanted me to use it, you would have told me what it was yourself.”

For a long moment, she merely stared at him in silence. To be understood and respected by a human was something completely new to her. Even Abhay, for all his strangeness, didn’t understand her.

Finally, she held out her hand. “My name is Ebony Desai, protector of Basilisk Jungle and daughter of Lord Bura Desai.”

He took her hand. “Nice to finally meet you, Ebony. I’m Jay Sharma, a handyman.”

It almost made her smile. Almost. Despite her acceptance of him, she wasn’t quite ready to admit she liked him. Still, she wanted to know more about him. It was funny how much a mutual understanding changed her thoughts about Jay.

“I’ll help you with your father. I have just enough magic to sober him up, if that’s okay?”

“Sure. Why not.” He looked at his father with a grin. “Some cold water ought to do the trick.”

She turned to Gotam and held out her hands. With a slight drop of the temperature just above Gotam’s head, she pulled about a bucket of water out of the air. Once she decided it was cold enough, she dropped it.

“Great Gods that’s cold,” the drunk objected shaking himself off. Gotam looked around blearily. The happy drunk was gone, replaced with a broken man. “What’s going on? Who’s the girl?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Jay replied, walking over. He grabbed his father’s arm and pulled the old man to his feet. “We need to go home.”

“I don’t want to go home,” Gotam whined. “I need another drink.”

“You’re still drunk, I promise.” Carefully Jay directed Gotam towards their home. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Ebony.”

She nodded in agreement. Once he was gone she sighed. “First Abhay now Jay. How many times am I going to decide a human isn’t really so bad?”

Venom draped herself around Ebony’s shoulders. “I’m sure you’ll get yourself oriented again as soon as we return home.”

“I wish Sith where here,” Ebony admitted, stroking a hand over Venom’s smooth skin. “I’m so confused, and the world keeps shifting on me so I can’t get my balance again. I just want everything to make sense.”

“A good nights sleep will help,” Venom assured her. “We should hurry or Raj might worry.”

With one last sigh, Ebony turned and continued towards her father’s manor.

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