My mind rises with the simplicity of the dawn. The light hits my face, warming my skin, and I open my eyes slowly while blinking. I just lay there, watching quietly as Sam stands with his back to me rustling through his closet. He is shirtless and that doesn’t bother me, it’s a pleasant sight to be greeted with first thing. My eyes linger on the light scars that cover most of his back, they’re more like slashes, as though he’s been whipped. His wounds have healed but those scars remain, and I wonder how he got them. His body tells me more about him than he ever could tell me himself. He’s been hurt, he’s overcome the hurt, and he’s stronger for it. Well that’s what I tell myself.
“Are you just going to sit there staring at me or are you going to get up?” he hisses as he quickly throws a shirt over his head. He hasn’t even turned around.
“How did you know I was awake?” I say.
“Your breathing changed.”
“Right,” I say, slowly sitting up. “I’ve got to wait for Sophia anyway.” I see him extracting something like a rope from the closet and he folds it around his arm. “Is that why you get up so early? To see to the horse?”
He freezes, and for the first time he turns around to stare at me. “What did you just say?”
“The horse,” I say. “The one in the yard. I saw it the other day. He yours?”
“You saw the horse?”
“Either that or I was imagining him,” I say. “I didn’t take you for the pet kind.”
“He’s not a pet, and don’t ever go near that horse again. Not unless you want to be ripped to pieces.”
“Ripped to pieces?” I laugh. “He was friendly. Wait, w-what is he?”
“You don’t want to know. He was a gift from the demons. If he didn’t show you his true form then that means he didn’t view you as a threat, which is impossible.”
“Right because I haven’t got anything better to do around here than go threatening horses.”
“Just stay away from him, that’s an order.” Sam locks eyes with me at the door, as though his order is more dramatic that way.
As he exits, Sophia arrives, and his bad mood doesn’t even phase her. She’s probably too used to it. She ignores it completely as she walks inside carrying a pile of dark coloured clothes.
“Good morning,” she says, annoyingly chipper. “I thought Sam’s clothes would be a little too big for you so I brought you some stuff.”
“Thanks,” I mutter.
“Well, what are you waiting for? There’s a lot to do today, let’s go.”
“Like what?” I demand, meeting her harsh stare. “Walk around shackled to you and eat breakfast with a bunch of people that hate me?”
“No, no shackles,” she says. “I promise. You are free to walk as freely as you want. As for the breakfast, well most of them don’t come down for another hour or so, it should give you enough time to use the bathroom and choose something you want to eat. It won’t be bad, today is going to be a good day, I can feel it.”
“Really?” I say. “Is Amara dead? Is the world back to normal? Can I walk into town without being hunted as a witch and chased with pitchforks?”
Sophia takes a deep breath and drops the clothes on the floor. I’m being stubborn and mardy, but I have every right to be. She sits at the end of my blanket bed, forcing me to tuck my legs in.
“So, what’s the alternative?” she says quietly. “Sit here all day and isolate yourself to the point of madness? I get why you don’t want to go out there, I do. To me, it’s my home, walking it is what I do every day, but to you it’s your prison. It feels like your prison, and you’re scared of everyone you’re going to see. I’m trying to adjust to that, so just tell me what will make it easier.”
“I don’t know what’ll make it easier,” I admit. “I just feel powerless. I feel like I’m frozen, paralyzed, and I can’t move. And I don’t see an end to it.”
“There is an end to it. I’m not very good at understanding feelings or giving advice but I’m trying my best. I will be right beside you, the whole way, the whole time. I know it sucks, but you’ve got no other choice. We’ll take it one step at a time okay? First you get dressed, and then if you’re up to it, I’ll take you to the bathroom. How’s that?”
“I’m not a child,” I hiss. “I shouldn’t have to be escorted to the bathroom.”
Sophia smiles, turning to grab the clothes. She drops them in my lap. “Then what’s the problem?”
I smile back at her, sighing as I feel through the shirts and underwear sets she’s gifted me. I guess they’re not that bad, and they’re all I’ve got. I stand up and I walk over to the corner while Sophia turns her body completely to the wall.
As I dress, she still doesn’t stop talking.
“So, today, after you’ve maybe or maybe not eaten, I was thinking we could go up to the roof and practise some more spells. Sam and Megan are out all day in meetings and secret missions around the world, and the rest are occupied with tasks so we’ll probably have the whole place to ourselves. Feels like a perfect opportunity for you to unleash some steam, huh?”
“You’d do that for me?”
“If I was a witch, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being forced to not do magic. It’s in your blood, it’s who you are, and I’m not scared of you.”
“Really?” I say. “Not even after the other day in the yard?”
“That didn’t make me fear you, Theresa, it made me mad at you. And if anything, I want to see the source of power that could break through our forcefield. Amara can’t even do that.”
“I’m not going to show you anything like that,” I sigh. “That power, it’s dangerous, and I can’t ever use it again. If we do this then it’s just spells and normal witch stuff, alright?”
“Yeah, alright,” she says. “If you say so.”
“I’m ready,” I say, moving my worn clothes next to my bed. I have no idea what to do with them, but Sophia’s already scooping them up as she stands.
“You look great,” she says. “That shirt suits you way better than the other.”
The shirt I am wearing is almost identical to the other one. Low-cut, black, with thin straps that could snap at any moment, but I don’t tell her that. I just smile and head towards the door.
“I’ll bring you some comfortable clothes to wear later tonight,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of them. Sweaters, sweatpants, even gowns. You wouldn’t believe how big my closet is.”
“I can believe it.”
“I know it must seem that we’re worlds away from the human world and what you’re used to, but you’d be surprised, we’re more adaptable than other units to the modern era.”
“Really? You have wi-fi?”
She stares at me. “No.”
I laugh. “Yeah, that would require electricity.”
“Who needs electricity when we can power just about anything with our minds?” she says. “The heat of the water, us. The food we cook, us. We do it all.”
“Everything except clean,” I mutter, ducking underneath a spiderweb as we turn the corner of the hallway.
“Well that’s Mable’s job, but she’d rather go AWOL thirty times a week than do the one thing she’s useful at.”
“Harsh,” I say. “Is it this one?” I gesture sarcastically to the door with a bright green ribbon tied around its handle.
“Yes, don’t be long. Also, there’s a green tub in the cupboard labelled mouthwash, it’s mine, please do the world a favour and use it.”
I flip her off as I enter the bathroom. She’s right though, my breath stinks. It beyond stinks. I use the toilet and begin to wash up, as I splash water on my face I try to tell myself it’s just one more day. If I can make it through today, then I can make it through tomorrow. There’s no mirror in here and I’m grateful for that, I don’t want to see myself at my lowest. I don’t want to see that I’m the lightest I’ve ever weighed, because I can already feel my ribs through my shirt. I can already feel the line of my jaw sharpen as my cheekbones become more visible. I hardly even ate last night, I couldn’t stomach much, but if I don’t start eating regularly then I’m only going to get weaker.
I join Sophia in the hallway and as promised she walks at my side through the castle. When we turn the corner again, and I dodge the same web, I hear the slamming of a door and swift movement catches my attention. Milasia sees us at the same time that I see her, and I hold my breath as we approach each other.
“Keep your head high,” Sophia whispers. “She’s like a dog, don’t make eye contact.”
“Why are you coming back from the bathroom?” Milasia demands. “Did it use my toilet?”
“It’s not your toilet, Milasia, I share the bathroom too,” Sophia replies calmly. “And so do Megan and Sam, if you’ve got a problem with it you should take it up with them.”
Sophia’s answer to dealing with Milasia isn’t just disagreeing with her, but it’s also charging into her shoulder and provoking Milasia into a full-on fight breaths away from me. I am pushed into the wall as Milasia grabs Sophia by her wrist and twists it behind her back. Sophia’s face is smacked into the opposite wall and Milasia holds the back of her neck, stabbing her knee into Sophia’s spine. Sophia let’s out a whine of pain and then elbows Milasia in the stomach, twisting around to kick her down the hallway.
“You think you can take me?” Milasia says, biting on her lip in anger. “I’ve beaten you in every training session to date. You think the real thing is any different?”
“Try me,” Sophia hisses. “Get back, Theresa.”
I don’t move a muscle. I stay next to the wall, convincing myself to stay out of it, but I don’t think I can. Milasia is a bully. She’s resentful, hateful and an all-round dangerous person to be in touching distance of, but I’ve never backed away from a fight in my life, and I’m not about to start now.
“I’d rather the witch get involved so I have an excuse to slit her throat,” Milasia says. “What can you protect if you’re unconscious?”
Sophia sees red and charges. I hold my breath as the two collide and clash at full force. Watching two slayers fight is incredible, almost mesmerising. I’ve never seen anything like it. The way they move, like shadows. The way they run, like predators. They fight at such a speed that I can hardly focus on it, they become blurs of muscle and skin as they throw each other around the hallway. The walls bang and tremble, the noise grows so loud that it must echo for miles.
Finally, the blurs come to a stop. Milasia has Sophia pinned against the wall by her throat, and Milasia is holding a blade to her stomach.
“You haven’t got the balls to kill me,” Sophia spits at her. “You’ll be thrown in the dungeon until you’re too old to remember why you’re there.”
“Maybe it’s worth it.” Milasia clicks her tongue, pushing Sophia’s struggling body further up.
“Let her go,” I say.
Milasia looks at me for one moment and grins. “Or what? I’ve killed more witches than you’ve met, you can’t do nothing.”
I step away from the wall. Sophia might not be my favourite person in the world, but I’m not naïve to the fact that I owe her my life. My thoughts drift to dark places as I summon the power that has been waiting deep inside of me for a chance to surface. Maybe it’s because I’m angry, but the power is working differently than every other time I’ve used it. This time, there is no gateway, there is no pathway, there is no nice and fluffy feeling at the pit of my stomach. There is just power. Raw power. In the palm of my hands. It radiates across my whole body.
Because she hasn’t heard me chant, Milasia thinks I’m not a threat. The blade she holds begins to twist through Sophia’s shirt and I realise that she will actually do it. She’ll kill one of her own to get to me.
“I said let her go!” I scream.
The power releases itself like a laser beam. I focus on Milasia, willing her away from Sophia, and the power follows my will. Milasia’s face drops when she sees me, but it’s too late for her to react. The power grabs her, pulling her at a force too strong for her to fight, it flings her at the wall and then upwards to the ceiling, her spine crashes into the stone and her body flops to the ground.
“What the hell is going on up here!”
“Theresa,” a voice calls my name. “It’s okay, you can let go now, I’m safe.”
The power withdraws back into me, and I become myself again. Sophia is in front of me, looking at me in a way that scares me. Over her shoulder, I see Megan and Sam charging towards us from the end of the hallway. Sophia guards me as she turns to face them, but they’re more concerned with the injured slayer on the floor.
Sam walks towards Milasia, who is coughing as she attempts to stand, and kicks her arm.
“Get up,” he commands.
“That witch attacked me!” Milasia screams as she looks at me through her damaged, fried hair. “She tried to kill me!”
“Stop being dramatic, Milasia,” Megan says. “I’m sure if she wanted to kill you, you’d be dead.”
“What the hell are you trying to say?” Milasia demands. “That I can’t defend myself? Well I can, and I’m going to kill her.”
“Sam,” Sophia whines, as Milasia charges forwards.
Sam grabs Milasia mid-strike and pins her arms behind her back. Milasia struggles for hardly a second before succumbing to Sam’s grip.
“You want to tell me what’s going on, Sophia?” he orders.
“Theresa was just defending herself,” Sophia says. “And me.”
“What do you mean and you?” Megan says, her eyes boring into Milasia. “What does she mean?”
“I have no idea,” Milasia says. “I was just walking down the hallway and the witch attacked me. I was doing nothing. It was unprovoked and vicious.”
“Liar,” I say. Sophia attempts to stop me by pulling on my arm but I can’t hold it in. “She attacked Sophia. She tried to kill her. Yes, I used my magic, but it was to save Sophia’s life.”
“Sophia?” Sam calls her name, but Sophia is a world away. “Is this true?”
“It’s true,” Sophia whispers.
“You absolute idiot!” Megan roars, charging to stand in front of Milasia. “Do you know what the penalty is for turning on your own? Do you know what Sam will be forced to do? We don’t need this!”
“I. Don’t. Care!” Milasia screams back. “You want us to eat with it? Walk with it? Share bathrooms with it? Look at what the witch did! It’s dangerous, and you know it. You all know it. She used a power on me that I’ve never felt before, and she didn’t cast a spell. Not one word left her mouth. Explain that!”
“She used it on me too,” Megan says. “And it sucks. But whatever the hell Theresa did doesn’t excuse you trying to kill one of your own! If you ever touch her again then Theresa will be the least of your damn worries.”
“Whatever,” Milasia says. “Witch protectors are just as bad as the witch. Any other slayer would slaughter Sophia if they saw them together.”
“You’re not any other slayer,” Sam says. “But you damn sure are gonna be punished like one.” His eyes go up to us. “Get back to your day, and don’t say anything to the others. This never happened, alright?”
“Alright,” Sophia says.
“You’re coming with me. It’s time we had a little chat.” Sam yanks Milasia by her shoulder, twisting her around to yank her down the hallway.
When Milasia is gone, I finally relax. I’m hoping that everything that just happened could somehow be forgotten, but by the look on Sophia’s face it isn’t going to go away any time soon. She saw me use the power, she saw it possess me and take over me, she even coaxed it out of me. I have no idea what it looked like, but the expression of terror on her face hasn’t disappeared yet, and it could be around for a while.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s go get breakfast.”