The seventh grain - Close the cage
Some things in life are sent to test us. That’s how the age-old saying goes, but it never serves to offer comfort or a valid explanation of why bad things happen to reasonably decent people. At times it is a build-up of small events, at others there’s a large one that knocks people over so they struggle to get back up. For Iona, it was both.
A hospitalised cousin, an incarcerated aunt, and a family that were so far away their presence was being felt less and less. The more time she spent in the city the more she began to feel alone and isolated. She could handle the everyday mundanities of customers and their woes, what she was beginning to feel anxious about was the silent, shadowy enemy that moved in the margins, and her new hostility with the two largest groups in the city. The Tulloch family had always been an island that only a select few were permitted on, one had to be born into it to truly belong, but what they had failed to realise was that islands were only safe if you didn’t leave. In the city, hundreds of miles away from home, the only protection she had was herself and the shop. Despite her hubris, leaving made her uneasy.
It had been a mundane few weeks of quiet. Customers came and left, purchased and inquired, and for a brief few days she could allow herself to believe everything was fine. One day, begun like any other, the shop melted away before her eyes, turning into a dark, dingy room with a scent strong enough to make her wince in pain. There was dark paint on the walls, a few meaningless symbols here and there, and posters of bands stuck off-centre on top of each other. The floor was strewn with clothes, damp towels, books, tapes, and other bits of youthful miscellany. On the bed sat an adolescent, legs crossed, gaping at her with wide eyes and even wider mouth.
“Holy shit, it worked,” he gasped as he stared holes through her.
Confusion blurred her senses as she frantically tried to get a grasp on the situation she found herself in. What had worked? Why was she in a teenager’s room? Where had the shop gone? Who was this child? Scrutinising him more carefully she observed the greasy, shoulder length hair, dyed unsuccessfully black with wheat roots clearly showing, baggy black t-shirt with another strange word and symbol on it, paired with ripped jeans that served to make him look like a child in his father’s suit. What captured her attention the most was the book lying open in his lap. Large, leather bound, and singing out to her like a morning bird, was a book with wrinkled pages and magic oozing from the worn spine.
“What have ye done?” she questioned with alarm.
“See for yourself,” he motioned to her wrist.
Slowly she lifted the limb and felt a weight drag it back down. Sitting against her bone was a large iron shackle, a few links of a chain hanging from it before disappearing into the air.
“What is this?” Iona demanded, anger growing.
The teenager opened his palm and showed her a key, of the same dark metal as the shackle on her wrist. There was a hole on the side of the iron cuff, and glancing at the key she realised they were a perfect match.
“You’re my servant now,” he beamed happily.
Iona had never wanted to hit a child, but the urge to harm the one in front of her was overwhelming. Servant? What did he mean? Pushing past him she went to peruse the book he had carelessly abandoned on the bed. It was opened at a page with a spell she had only ever been told about with revulsion. She had been under the impression all possible copies had been destroyed, or accounted for, but here one was, staring up at her triumphantly. A spell to enslave a witch was not something to be laughed at. It was almost, always, dangerous for both involved. She looked at the iron shackle despairingly, and then turned her full and heated gaze to the teenager.
“Take this off me,” she commanded as calmly as she could manage.
“Why should I? It took me days to get it to work.”
“This isn’t a game, lad, what you’ve done is dangerous.”
“I don’t think so,” he shrugged and brushed past her to close the book.
Despite her own misdemeanours at his age, she couldn’t remember being so nonchalant and obtuse. She was well acquainted with the ins and outs of enslaving spells like this one, which meant she was painfully aware she couldn’t do anything to harm him, or release herself. From all corners, she was well and truly stuck. The teenager turned around and surveyed her.
“I was afraid you were going to be a man,” he announced casually, “you’re not as fit as I was hoping, though.”
“I’m also not as forgiving,” she warned heatedly.
“You can’t harm me,” he accused, pointing to the book, “it says so in there. You have to do everything I say until I release you.”
“Or until your power runs out. I’m assuming a lad like ye doesn’t have much, and it takes a lot to tether a witch like me. I’d give ye a day, maybe two before ye tire out.”
She didn’t like the smile that spread across his features, one of pure, horrific, triumph.
“I’m not a witch, so I have no power,” he quickly bent to the ground and scooped up a red stone, thrusting it in her direction, “but I was told that this does.”
Red beryl was the rarest gemstone in existence. It commanded up to tens of thousands of pounds per carat mined. It also happened to be one of the most powerful. Like the Morrison’s pearl, it gave mortals the ability to cast spells, and apparently ensnare witches. It took a lot of power to enslave a supernatural being of any ilk, but if someone anchored the spell to the gemstone’s power then they wouldn’t have to worry. Iona was well and truly trapped.
“Told by whom?” she seethed.
She didn’t really need to ask, and suspected that the answer would be as vague as all of the others she had received on the topic. Her provocation of the shadow had been batted back, and she had lost.
“They said you’d be curious,” he mused, “and that I was to tell you that they would see you soon.”
If she didn’t kill whoever it was at first sight then she would be an idiot. After all of the trouble they had created for her they had better come prepared to that rendezvous.
“Enough about them,” he huffed, “let’s talk about what you’re going to do for me.”
She scowled in return, but knew she had no choice.
There had never been a more repulsive name than Blair Cox. Every time she heard it the anger boiled inside of her. Thankfully, for a teenager, the boy was relatively dim-witted, and seemed unfamiliar with the witching world, a fact she wasn’t complaining about. His first ask for her had been to rid him of his chronic acne, and to give him a toned physique. A potion or two had granted his wishes and he seemed content. The next wish was a lot of money, and then a car. She could grant riches, but she could not grant a driver’s licence to someone who wasn’t yet seventeen. He said he didn’t care and so he got the car, and his first trip to the police station, and his first bailing out, all before dinner. Iona had been using magic since she could walk and never once had she used it to get herself out of trouble with the law. It wasn’t meant to be used for such trifling matters.
She took great pleasure in telling him that love could not be procured out of thin air, and he would have to try and win the heart of the girl he liked the mortal way. After a week of casting spells to do homework, get him out of trouble, and prematurely age him she was at the end of her already thin patience. It couldn’t continue. Slipping charges was one thing, but the way he was going he would soon realise there was almost nothing she couldn’t grant. The wish to stop bullying may one day turn into, make the bully pay, or kill the bully. Power corrupts even the young, and she was sure his newfound sense of omnipotence would destroy him.
One day, as they were both in the park, she noticed the direction of his gaze. A group of people, much the same age as him, were sitting under a tree drinking and gossiping, daring and teasing. Before she could launch into the warning that she couldn’t make people fall in love with him he spoke up.
“I want that blonde girl on the end to come over here and kiss me.”
Taking away a mortal’s free will; another sin. She was surprised it had taken this long.
“What if she doesn’t want to?” Iona implored, hoping to provoke some better sense.
“Who cares? I’ve told you what to do, now do it,” he commanded angrily.
Sighing heavily she turned to the young girl and silently apologised. Just as she was bid, the young blonde stood up and left her friends, heading straight for Blair who stood waiting eagerly. Iona walked away to observe the scene in disapproving silence. Instead of watching Blair live out his first kiss, her eyes found their way to the group the young girl had left. There was one boy in particular, stocky and well-built, who had white rage in his eyes. Iona was beginning to think it may not have been the girl that was the immediate draw.
“Miss Tulloch?” a familiar voice came from her side.
Taking her eyes from the unfolding teenage drama she turned around and was met by Albin Morrison.
“It is you,” he surmised, “this is the last place I thought to see you.”
“It’s not my usual haunt,” she conceded drearily.
“I saw you with that young man,” he motioned to Blair who was still enjoying his first experience, “is he a relative?”
She shook her head tersely, “he’s a problem.”
Turning her gaze back to Blair she saw the distance between him and the stocky boy closing rapidly. Iona stood and observed as the girl was taken away from Blair and thrown none so gently out of the way. The stocky lad got close to Blair’s face, pushing him and throwing intimidating words. When she heard commands in her head she scowled, but had no choice but to obey. Both Iona and Albin Morrison watched as Blair Cox beat the stocky lad half to death.
“What’s going on?” he queried, “why would you do that?”
She thrust her wrist in his direction and saw his eyes widen in recognition.
“What can I do?” he asked earnestly.
For a moment she was taken aback. Why would he offer to help her? After everything that had happened at the Morrison mansion, everything she’d done to Harold Morrison and his ilk, why did he care what some teenager made her do? Iona decided very quickly she wasn’t in a place to question his altruism.
“Come to the shop at nine tonight,” she uttered desperately before walking away and re-joining Blair just as the police arrived.
The hours ticked by as she waited in the shop for the clock to show the right time. The second hand clicked smugly as it ground down the time before a knock came at the front door. Carefully she made her way to the threshold and cracked the door. Expecting to only see one Morrison brother, it was hard to hide her surprise when she saw two waiting outside in the gloomy, amber tinted night.
“Come in quickly,” she suggested, stepping out of the way.
To their credit it didn’t take both long to act, and the two bundled into the shop as she closed the door firmly behind them. If her family were to ever find out that she had let immortals into the shop then Duncan’s punishment would be a light one.
“Should I be worried?” Leif queried through the murk.
“Follow me,” was all she said.
Carefully she led them to the back room, the one reserved for customers, mortals in need of her help, and now for her. The lights were on, Duncan’s stone, and the tome of curses were hidden away, but the bunches of herbs were still hanging up drying, small glass bottles held strangely coloured liquid, and some reference books on herbs lay open on the worn wooden counters.
“Why are ye here?” Iona directed at Leif.
“Albin told me what happened and I made him bring me along.”
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, the events that took place in the Morrison mansion still fresh in her mind.
“Why?” she pushed, stubbornly.
“To see if I could be of any help.”
“Why would ye help me?” she demanded angrily.
Her hackles were up. All of the suspicions she’d entertained about the middle Morrison brother were threatening to erupt. It had never made sense, he had never fit in with any image she made for him. He had been nothing but helpful since she arrived in the city, and all she had ever paid for it was one small favour.
“Albin, could you leave us for a moment?” he asked his younger brother gently.
Albin didn’t need to be told twice and he silently left the room back into the main shop floor.
“Harold and I are not the same person,” he began, “what happened between the two of you has nothing to do with me. He asked for something unreasonable and faced the consequences, and I don’t hold what happened against you. Harold conveniently forgets that others live by a set of rules that he doesn’t.”
She remained sceptical, but after remembering that Leif had intervened during that same encounter she began to relent. Her muscles began to relax and she stifled a great sigh. Who was she to be picky about who helped her? She would happily grant Albin and Leif as many favours as they required if they could break her bond to Blair Cox.
“I would gladly help you any time you asked,” he added, “beyond the bounds of give and take.”
There was something in the way his voice changed, or the way his gaze shifted that made her falter. The moment was soon gone when the door knocked gently and Albin re-joined them. She was thankful for his interruption.
“Sorry,” he shrugged, “I don’t much like it out there. Who knows what I might touch.”
“Nothing that could kill ye,” she confirmed, hiding the smirk from her lips.
“Albin said some boy has chained you,” Leif encouraged.
She held her wrist out and felt the icy kiss of the iron, hear the chains clink together in a sluggish, slow tone.
“May I?” he motioned to her limb.
She nodded her acquiesce, and held out her arm for him to inspect. Gently he grasped her hand and began to examine the iron shackle, turning it around on her skin, tracing his fingers over the chain, and rubbing his thumb over the keyhole.
“How long have you been like this?” Albin asked.
“Nearly a week,” she sighed.
“I don’t understand how this happened,” he admitted, furrowing his eyebrow, “I thought it took a lot of power to trap an old magic witch. He only looked mortal to me, how can he be doing this?”
“He’s anchored the spell to a red beryl. It supplies all the power needed to maintain the spell, whilst that wee shit reaps all the benefits,” she growled.
“Red beryl is rare,” Leif piped up, still inspecting the iron cuff, “where could he have got it?”
“The mutual acquaintance of your brother and I.”
Both of the brothers looked at her questioningly, which in turn surprised her. Surely they had met the mysterious benefactor who had given Harold Morrison the Leslie pendant?
“Do you know them?” Albin was the first to ask.
“I was hoping ye had seen them,” she admitted.
Leif shook his head before the cuff recaptured his attention, “Harold was very vague about where he’d gotten that relic from.”
“Even more so than usual,” Albin agreed, “and we don’t usually ask. Going back to the young lad, he’d need a spell to do this, wouldn’t he? Was that provided for him as well?”
She nodded, remembering the leather book he smugly reminded her of.
“It certainly looks like you’re surrounded by enemies,” Leif surmised, a small smile on his lips, “it’s a good thing you have two allies here.”
She threw him a disbelieving look, causing his grin to deepen. He still held onto her hand, and slowly ran his fingers over the smooth, darkened iron.
“I presume breaking this won’t release you.”
“Ye can’t break it,” she answered, “it’s more of a metaphorical shackle, a representation of my servitude. To break the iron, ye have to break the spell.”
“And how do we do that?” Albin queried.
“Can’t you just kill him?” Leif piped in, earning him a disapproving scowl.
“If I kill him then I die,” she confirmed, “and it’s against clan law to harm mortals.”
“Even when they do this?” Leif checked, jangling the chain.
“He can only be about sixteen or seventeen, brother,” Albin interjected, “nothing better than a child. We all make mistakes at that age.”
Iona commended the youngest Morrison on his balanced mind. She didn’t presume to think that all of the Morrisons were as tyrannical and selfish as the eldest, but Albin seemed calmer, and held a silent air of wisdom about him that she hadn’t seen during their first few encounters. A sudden gentle brush against the skin at her wrist made her inhale sharply with surprise as she whipped her head back around to Leif who still observed the shackle It appeared rather than focusing his attention on the iron band, he now traced his eyes around the markings on her arms. She remembered he had shown some interest in them during their first meeting.
“How can we free you from this bond?” Albin queried.
“There are two ways. First is retrieving the key he keeps that will unlock the shackle, and the second is to destroy the stone the spell is tethered to.”
“Can he release you of his own will?” Leif checked, gently returning her arm.
She nodded, “if someone can persuade him.”
Iona was sure that no amount of charm would get Blair Cox to release a magical genie that granted his every desire.
“So we just go and steal the key,” Albin surmised, “where does he live?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted with frustration, “I’ve only been summoned there once, and I’m not familiar enough with the city to know where it was. I know what school he attends.”
“I can find his address if you tell me his name and where he attends school,” Leif offered, pulling out a similar phone to the one that she had destroyed before.
Iona didn’t question the morality or the ethics of telling him the name and school of a teenager. Her patience was at an end, and she was so desperate to be free that she was sure there weren’t many limits on what she was willing to do. If they wanted to harm Blair then they would have to wait until she was finished with him first. She gave the information willingly and watched as Leif stepped outside and began to phone someone.
“Do you truly not know who did this, or who gave my brother that relic?” Albin queried, concern lining his brow.
She shook her head, “I don’t know anything about them, only that they’re getting closer.”
“Are they like you?”
“They’re better,” she sighed.
It had been easy to notice from the first time she had tried to see them. Iona wasn’t strong enough yet to erase herself from future eyes, or past ones, but that person was, and no doubt much more. As angry and frustrated as she was, if they ever came face to face she had lingering doubts that she would be able to defend herself, let alone defeat them. Unease had slowly escalated into fear and a horrid sense of vulnerability.
“How is Olivia?” she inquired, trying to take her mind off her darker thoughts.
“I swear I haven’t seen her since that night,” he promised, panicked, “not in that way. I was going to ignore your advice at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that you were right. Harold always says that loved ones are weaknesses, and that they can always be used against you. I never saw the spiritualists as an enemy until they harmed Olivia. My brother’s enemies will always be my enemies, and when I realised how dangerous that could be for her, my stubbornness disappeared. It was difficult at first, but I believe it’s for the best.”
“Sacrifice is never easy,” she conceded, “but if ye care about someone then ye want what’s best for them. Your family connections may always bring ye trouble, and unfortunately there’s nothing anyone can do about that, but ye can protect those ye care about from it.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to protect her if it wasn’t for your help,” he admitted earnestly.
“Ye can consider us even now.”
He nodded and smiled at her. Iona had always observed that the youngest Morrison brother had a certain sense of juvenility about him, which at times jarred against the air of wisdom and knowledge. It was hard to dislike him, or even feel suspicious, but now she felt a niggling sense of sympathy. He didn’t appear to be vindictive or spiteful, and he had proven that he wasn’t selfish, yet he was made to sacrifice his happiness for the sake of his brother. She was no stranger to the problems that family brought with it, but she felt that he had been dealt a fouler hand than most.
“Can I ask what the relationship is between you and Leif?” he inquired gently.
In one of her more unguarded moments she thought that she would like an answer to that question just as much as he did. It didn’t seem as though it should be complicated, but it took her a few moments to form an answer.
“One of give and take,” was all she said.
Iona didn’t mention that he had been feeding her information in return for one single favour, or how uneven the score was between them. The give and take that Leif Morrison had coined between them didn’t really seem to encompass everything that had gone on. Their earlier exchange still lingered, and began to confuse her. What else would he have said had he been given more time? What had he meant that he would help her over and above give and take?
“You don’t have to lie,” Albin offered kindly, “I won’t judge you.”
“There’s nothing else going on,” she blurted, “he’s been informing me about matters in the city, and I’ve helped him find someone. That’s all.”
As it slipped from her mouth even she wasn’t convinced. She felt Albin’s questioning gaze on her and found she was uncomfortable in thinking too much about it. Having it exist in the corner of her mind, only having Leif show up occasionally, was easy to take for granted, and to never spare more than one passing glance at. However, what he’d said before, the way he’d said it and the way he’d looked at her, that small encounter had thrown everything under a new light. One that made her hesitate.
“I only asked because I thought it was more,” he trailed off pensively.
“What would make ye think that?”
“My brother doesn’t interject on many people’s behalf,” Albin explained, “I was as surprised as Harold was when he intervened in the mansion. Leif also doesn’t seek many people out, not by choice, but you said that he’s been telling you things you want to know. All of it made me think there was something deeper to your relationship.”
Iona swallowed a growing lump at the back of her throat. He was wrong. There was nothing more going on between her and an immortal. What could there be? They were useful to each other, and although Leif hadn’t called in as many favours as he was owed, it didn’t mean that one day they wouldn’t be even.
“It’s just a business relationship,” she confirmed, “It can’t have escaped your notice that there aren’t many people in this city who’d be willing to help me. I need to have at least one connection.”
“I see,” he nodded slowly, but she could sense from his tone that he didn’t.
The door swung timely open and Leif came in, replacing the phone back in the breast pocket of his jacket.
“I have an address,” he confirmed, letting a smirk lay on his lips, “and I have a plan.”
Spells were a tricky thing. Curses, enchantments, blessings, and charms, all were complex at their core, like a thousand branches of a tree overlapping and meeting, separating and spiralling off. It took work to cast one, and even more concentration to maintain it. Some were purposefully made with loopholes, ways to get around them, whilst others had them unintentionally built in. Given its dangerous potential, Iona had done a lot of studying on enslavement spells. At the time she had internally questioned why she had to know so much about them when they were practically extinct. Now she realised with frustrating certainty. With spells there was no such thing as absolute extinction. They were copied down in so many diaries, books and tomes that it was impossible to know the location of every one of them. It became worse when there wasn’t just one variation but twelve, or twenty, or more. All of the time she spent in the family library trundling over pages with microscopic writing, and hand-written notes in the margins, was not time ill spent.
Enslavement spells were difficult at the best of times, and even harder to maintain. Depending on the power of the witch one wanted to capture depended on the concentration and equipment required to maintain the chains. The owner of the spell received a key to the shackles, what a lot of people failed to realise was that the key was the deed to the witch. If you no longer had the deed, then you no longer had the witch. It was implied in the title of the spell that the witch was enslaved to the person who cast the spell, but just like the genie in the lamp, it was the person who possessed the lamp itself who could command the mythical being inside.
Leif Morrison appeared outside the shop early the next morning, before opening. Iona hurried to let him in, fearful he would be seen.
“You’re early,” she hissed.
“There may be a small problem,” he admitted.
She raised her eyebrow in questioning.
“My man couldn’t find the key.”
Iona cursed the teenager. She hadn’t returned to his house since she had first been summoned there, and had also never seen the cursed key since.
“It means he probably keeps it on him,” Leif continued, “we did, however, find the red beryl.”
He procured the stone from his pocket and held it out for her to inspect. The light had been so dimmed in Blair’s room that she hadn’t had an opportunity to truly marvel at its beauty. It was raw, hewn from the earth as an uneven chunk, with an uneven number of sides, but corners worn smooth. It had been through many hands in its day, and she could sense the same natural humming coming from it that she used to be able to hear back on the main estate. It was given many names, and heard as something different by every practitioner of old magic. For Iona the song of the earth was gentle, mellow, but not without its crescendos. To still be able to hear it so clearly from a mineral showed its power.
“We can destroy this, and then you’ll be free,” he announced.
“Ye can’t!” she exclaimed, causing his brows to furrow, “it’s far too powerful for that. I didn’t realise it before. That beryl is capable of many more things than containing me. Destroying it would be sacrilege, and almost impossible. To eliminate something like this would need an equally powerful witch, and I can’t destroy it due to my involvement.”
Leif stopped to think, plunging the quiet shop into a thoughtful silence. Iona didn’t ask how he had managed to retrieve the red beryl, or who he’d gotten to do such a thing, and she found she was more at peace ignorant of the methods.
“If he’s no longer in possession of the object that’s fuelling the spell, does that change anything?” Leif queried.
“Change it how?”
“You said that there are two ways to break the spell, either by using the key, or destroying the stone. Doesn’t this mean they have equal weight in regards to maintaining it?”
Iona began to contemplate. He had a good point. Each object could affect the spell, so what happened if the two were under different ownership?
“I think it might be based on the principle of shared ownership. If someone is in possession of either object then they share in the benefits of the spell,” she theorised, suddenly feeling a sickening sense of vulnerability as she looked at the stone in the hands of an immortal.
“So, he couldn’t use you to harm me?” he queried.
She shook her head.
“Then I think it’s time for a confrontation,” he announced, taking her by the hand and placing the beryl back in his jacket pocket, “I know how adept you are at those.”
Before she could say anything in objection, or to defend herself, she was being led out of the shop and along the street.
Leif Morrison had arrived at the shop so early in the morning that the school bell had yet to ring. She recognised the building due to the amount of time she’d spent in or near it, helping Blair Cox get out of detention, subduing his teachers or other students, or get away with not receiving any homework to do. They watched from across the street as the pupils all filed lazily through the gates, with untucked shirts hanging out and loose ties flailing in the wind. Both kept their gaze sharp for Blair, who could easily blend into the crowd given the monotonous sea of uniforms.
“Do you trust me, Iona?” Leif asked abruptly, turning to face her with an unreadable expression on his features.
It was the first time he had ever called her by her name, and for some mundane reason that was what she chose to focus on in an attempt to ignore the question. Trust? Did Tullochs ever trust anyone who didn’t share their clan name? Did she trust Leif? Yes. She realised that now. Despite the teachings that had been drilled into her since childhood, despite her natural tendency to be suspicious, and over and above her previous obstinacy that he had his own agenda, not once had he let her down, or done anything that would make her suspicious.
“Yes,” she answered simply.
To her surprise he looked taken aback by the answer, as if he were expecting the opposite one, but simply nodded and motioned for her to stay where she was. Slowly, her gaze followed him as he crossed the road and smoothly went up to a pupil, who she immediately recognised as Blair Cox, and separated him from the rest of the gaggle. Together they crossed the road, and as soon as the teenager saw her waiting his step faltered, and his brows drew together in an annoyed frown.
“What are you doing here? I didn’t summon you,” he spat.
“We’re here to negotiate,” Leif announced, pulling out the red beryl.
“W…where did you get that from?” Blair sputtered, “take that from him,” he directed at Iona.
She glared murderously but let Leif have his fun. A pang of happiness jolting through her blood as she realised her theory of shared ownership was correct.
“I’m afraid with this in my possession, we have an even command,” he stated smugly.
Blair scowled petulantly, “what do you want?”
“I want you to give me the key, and in return you can keep this red beryl. I presume you know how valuable it is?”
Iona started. What was he thinking? If he returned the red beryl then what was stopping the shit from casting another spell, something that could cause more damage? He had asked her to trust him, but she was beginning to get a niggling feeling she may have been too brisk. Blair began to contemplate, tearing his eyes between the glistening red beryl and Iona’s equally heated gaze. She couldn’t tell in those moments if he was going to agree to the deal or not.
He shook his head tersely, “money runs out eventually. I don’t care about that stone, it’s just a means to an end. You can keep it if you want to get her to do your bidding as well. I don’t mind sharing.”
“I’m afraid I do,” Leif admitted.
A sneer ingrained itself onto Blair’s features, one so unbecoming that it had Iona worried. She had thought that the power she allowed him to benefit from would go straight to his head, and she had been right. What Blair didn’t know was that his opponent, in this case, was someone he had no chance against.
“There’s nothing you can do, she’s mine and I can tell her to do whatever I want. I’m never giving you the key, so you can just keep the stone.”
Leif moved so quickly even Iona hadn’t realised until she felt a small breeze brush against her cheek. In an instant he was back at her side dangling a black cord in his hand, the small iron key oscillating unevenly from side to side. When Blair Cox realised what had happened, he staggered back, clutching at the collar of his shirt. Leif had been right in his suspicions, Blair had kept the key near him at all times, hidden beneath his baggy t-shirts and school wear.
“I gave you a chance, Mr Cox,” Leif explained, taking her wrist and fitting the key inside the iron shackle, “and I’m afraid to say that she’s certainly not yours.”
As soon as the small key was turned in the lock the iron shackle fell from her wrist and dissipated into the air with the shadow of a rippling sound. She had her freedom, after a week of torturous enslavement, and she was wrathful. As soon as the iron bracelet was gone she focused her attention on Blair Cox, the arrogant, pathetic, spiteful shit who had thought it was a brilliant idea to enslave a Tulloch witch. She would ensure that the lesson was well and truly learned.
He began to claw desperately at his throat as his breaths came in short, sharp snatches. His eyes bulged and his greasy skin began to turn a violent shade of crimson as he attempted desperately to breathe. Iona brought him to his knees, his skin now tainted an unbecoming violet. Suddenly, someone’s hands took her own and she heard a voice far away call her name.
“Iona, Iona,” it repeated, every syllable more desperate than the last, “look at me, Iona.”
Begrudgingly she turned her gaze to Leif Morrison who stood holding both of her hands in his, forcing her to look directly into his grave stare.
“You know you can’t kill him,” he reminded gently, “he is just a child who didn’t know any better. Ending his life won’t teach him anything.”
Iona knew he was right, and the reasonable side of her began to fight against the wrathful opposite. The anger that was quick to engulf her had made her many enemies, some she regretted and others she didn’t, but she knew that killing this foolish teenager would land squarely in the pile of regrets. Relenting, she loosened her grasp of Blair Cox’s throat.
“If I ever see ye again, or hear that you’ve cast any other spell, I’ll finish the job,” she warned the lad, who gasped frantically for air as she released him.
Quickly he managed to stagger up and haul himself back across the road, retreating behind the boundaries of the school where he must have thought he was safe from her wrath. Breathing steadily, she looked back at Leif, and knew she should thank him for stopping her. She allowed herself to admit that she probably would have killed the lad if he hadn’t been there, but something inside prevented her from uttering those two simple words. Gently he returned her hands, and dug around in his pocket for the red beryl. Both knew how powerful it was, and Iona slowly began to realise that he had known Blair wouldn’t have accepted it in exchange for her freedom; you couldn’t place a value on infinite wishes. She saw the awed way in which the middle Morrison brother gazed at the impressive stone, and began to dislike the way her thoughts were headed.
“Ye can keep the beryl,” she announced begrudgingly, “but it means that everything is even between us.”
He stopped gaping at the beryl and met her gaze curiously, unsure if she was in earnest or not. It was no small gesture for her to relinquish such a precious, powerful artefact, and if her grandparents were to ever find out she shuddered to consider the punishment. However, her previous conversation with Albin Morrison had shed light on things she would have preferred to keep in the dark. There was a debt between her and Leif. He had given her information and she hadn’t really paid for it. His first favour had been a minor one, but what if one day it wasn’t? As much as she trusted him, she didn’t trust his brother not to find out about their arrangement. She would not be an Olivia, reaping the consequences of Harold’s enmity with the spiritualists, and she would not be manipulated into siding with the immortals because of her connection to Leif. The immortals could not cast spells, and so the red beryl would be in relative safety in their care.
“I appreciate the gesture,” he told her, a smile pulling at the corner of his lips, “but it’s better kept in Tulloch hands.”
He took her hand and pressed the stone into it, curling her fingers around it gently.
“Iona, there’s no score or debt to settle between us,” he explained clearly, “I’d like to think that our relationship reaches beyond that now. I’ll admit, I helped you at first in the hopes it would prove useful in the future, but I haven’t helped you for selfish reasons in many months. It’s not favours and precious gems that I want.”
Perhaps it was something in the way he said it, or something in the way he squeezed her hand, whatever it was sent her heart thumping in her chest. Friends didn’t grow on trees, and people that she trusted were even rarer, much like the red beryl that now lay in her hands. However, eventually, one was bound to appear before her, and she found that she was relatively ill-equipped to accept it.