The slam of the door jolts me awake. I rub my eyes as I stand up at the balcony. I have no idea what time it is, but the sky is now black and every star is out. I walk through the doors yawning, and to find Sam rustling through his closet.
“You still want to help?” he says, not looking at me.
“Now?” I mutter. “Yeah, I guess. What’s going on?”
“There’s a large coven boarding a plane in California in. . .” He checks his watch and stares at me. “Ten minutes. They’re landing in London to join others and to form an army that’s going to march at this castle tomorrow. We take out this plane, no army.”
I stand so still that I begin to paralyze. We. He said we.
“How do you know that?” I whisper.
“I know everything,” he says. “The slayers over there, they’re in wiccan territory, they won’t make a move on a coven that large. If the coven gets over here, it could mean big trouble for us. They don’t usually come this close to the castle, so Amara must be pretty confident.”
“Why do you need my help?” I say. “You have an entire unit at your disposal.”
“I don’t want them involved in this,” he says. “And like you said, they’re exhausted. Whatever’s on that plane, it’s being used against us. If you’re really on our side then now is the time to prove it.”
I unfreeze and step forwards. “Okay, I never said I was on your side. I said I’m against Amara and I’d help you fight her. I am not fighting the wiccans, and I definitely won’t help you kill them.”
“Are you that naïve?” he demands. “You do know they’re on their way here to kill you. You know that right?”
“What happened to them thinking I’d be dead?”
“And then you pulled the escape stunt and left the force field,” he says. “She sensed you. She knows you’re alive. And she’s about to send everything she’s got to our door.”
“Murder is against everything we are,” I say. “I can’t believe she turned them into this.”
“I don’t have time for you to fight with your conscience,” he says. “I’m leaving right now, and if you can’t stomach something like this, then you’re never going to be able to face the war.”
He has a point. They’re never going to leave me alone. For the rest of my life, Amara is going to send witches after me. Whether they have a choice or not, what am I supposed to do? Let them kill me? For the sake of my morality? It’s my fault that this is happening, if I hadn’t left the castle that day then Amara would still assume me dead and she would have waited the slayers out over time. Sam holds his transportation star in his hand, readying himself to leave.
“Wait,” I say. I take a deep breath and I walk towards him. “If I die this time then you better hide my body somewhere good.”
He smirks. He doesn’t say anything he just holds out his hand. His hand is huge, twice the size of mine, and he grips it at full force. I relax my body as much as possible, but my nerves are hard to ignore. For the first time, I can feel the transition. It isn’t painful, but it’s extraordinarily uncomfortable. My particles detach into the air, I can still think, but my brain is scattered into a million pieces, all of them containing so many thoughts that it’s difficult to keep track. I’m thinking about how I’m going to be useful, I’m thinking about forgotten spells and reteaching myself on how to aim them correctly. I’m thinking about how I’m not trained for anything close to what the slayers are trained for, and that I might mess everything up. Thinking while my body is airborne is easy, but the moment my particles begin reattaching is something else entirely.
They snap back to me like rubber bands. I become dizzy, disoriented and I can no longer remember what I’m doing. My hand reaches out and grips a wall, and I use it to balance myself as I start to feel sick. My vision is blurry, but I just make out the outline of Sam quietly yelling in my face. My ears ring and I cover them, clenching my teeth together.
He shakes my shoulders, his mouth repeating my name over and over again until the ringing stops and I can hear him.
“I’m okay,” I say, blinking as I try to step away from the wall. “I think. Wait, nope.” I drop back to the wall, my legs almost falling from underneath me.
“Get it together,” he says. “The dizziness will pass the more you walk it off, so come on.”
He takes my arm and drags me forwards. I don’t know where we are, it looks like a tunnel. I can hear traffic above us, we’re below a bridge. He orders me to get low, and we approach the end of the tunnel, ducking behind some barrels. It’s then that I see the outline of a woman, crouching behind the barrels too.
“It’s about time,” Megan says, turning to stare at us. “What’s she doing here?”
“The witch could be useful,” Sam says, taking binoculars from out of Megan’s hands. “How many?”
In the distance, across the runway, I see the plane. Many people are there, wheeling crates up the ramp, while others just stand around it, looking out. The sun is just beginning to set here, so it’s still light enough for this to be dangerous.
“I counted ten,” Megan says. “They’ve been loading crates for the past twenty minutes.”
“Let me see,” I say, holding out my hand.
Sam passes me the binoculars without so much as a grunt. I hold them up to my head, focusing on the crates. They’re marked with an ‘X’ and are the same crates that I saw in Amara’s mansion.
“What are you thinking?” Megan says.
“I’m thinking explosives,” he replies. “Ten wiccans aren’t enough for an army; she’s planning something else.”
“Yeah, like blowing our country off the map,” Megan says. “She knows the biggest resistance is there, especially with mortals.”
“So how are we supposed to blow a plane up without blowing ourselves up?” Sam demands.
“I think I have an idea, if-” I begin.
“There’s only ten,” Megan says. “We could take them out before the plane takes off.”
“I wish we knew what kind of explosives we’re dealing with,” Sam sighs. “For all we know, they could be nuclear.”
“So maybe it’s better if-” I say.
“If she was planning on nuking our country, wouldn’t it be wiser to send air missiles? Why bother with a plane at all?” Megan says. “Something feels off about this, Sam.”
“I agree, but that plane is taking off any minute and we can’t risk it leaving. . . where the hell are you going?”
As I start to leave the comfort of the barrels, I turn back around and look at them. “I have an idea. Just stay here. And don’t freak out.”
“Freak out about what?” Megan demands.
I take a deep breath and I start chanting a spell, my hand wavering over my face. My clothes begin to change, replaced with a long, red cloak and my hair grows shorter, lighter, and my body bigger. It’s the first time I’ve ever cast the impersonation spell and I have to put aside how delighted I am that it worked.
“Are you insane?” Megan growls.
“Is my voice hers?” I ask, holding a hand to my chest.
“Yes, but this is insane. Sam, do something.”
“You better know what you’re doing,” Sam says.
“I do,” I say, turning back around. My voice lies easily, but my hands won’t stop shaking as I approach the plane.
I keep my head high; I walk more confidently; my eyes are low and as intimidating as I can master. The wiccans notice me immediately, and they stop loading the crates, staring at me in confusion.
“Elder,” a man says as he walks away from the plane to greet me. He is large, with tanned skin and trimmed dark hair that is half shaven. I’ve never seen him before, what if he expects me to say his name? There are five more crates left to be loaded, and I gently drift over to one, getting closer and closer. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in England?”
“England?” I say, attempting to hide my shock.
“Yeah, carrying out your attack on the slayers?” he says. “That is why we are here, isn’t it?”
I freeze for a moment.
“So far there is no sign of the leader or his unit. Are you certain he received the message?”
I can’t help but glance over to Sam. This is bad. This is worse than bad. My hand reaches the crate and I lift the lid up without hesitation. It’s empty. The crates are empty. It’s a set up.
Suddenly, a woman runs over to us, I recognize her, her mother was a friend of my mother’s. I remember working on spells with her, I remember calling her my friend once.
“We’ve clocked movement from behind the barrels at the tunnel,” she says. “They’re here.”
“You should go,” the man says, staring right at me with suspicion. “They can’t see you here. We’ve got this under control. We’ll keep them distracted until we have your signal.”
“Distracted,” I whisper to myself. “The castle. Sophia. No.”
The power returns, knocking Amara’s appearance out of me. As the spell reverses, I have no choice but to fight. I stand as myself, my eyes narrowing, their expressions growing more frantic by the second.
“Theresa,” the woman, Deana, says. “I thought you were dead.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I say, my attention drifting to the other eight wiccans that are starting to crowd me. It confuses me that they think that, but up until a minute ago I assumed they were being ordered to go to England to kill me. Nothing is as it seems. The coven is guarded, but they aren’t showing murderous intent towards me, they’re as shocked as Deana.
“She isn’t one of us anymore,” the warlock reminds Deana. “She’s a traitor.”
“According to Amara,” I say.
“You were on trial for treason,” Deana says.
“What is treason?” I demand. “It’s anything Amara wants it to be. She killed my coven for being a threat to her rule, not for anything plausible. You have to see that she’s-”
Deana and the warlock jump backwards at least two feet as Sam and Megan appear either side of me. All ten of them crouch over like jungle cats, their teeth snarling and their hands in the air, their eyes are only on them, watching their every move, their every breath.
“Stand down,” I say to them.
“Not likely,” Sam mutters.
“Look, we don’t have time for this,” I say. “I think Amara’s targeting the castle. The crates are empty. It’s a set up to draw you away.”
Sam looks at me for one second before clenching his teeth and angrily locking eyes with the warlock.
“Go,” he demands. “Check it out, wake them all up if necessary.”
“You better be right about this, witch,” Megan hisses as she turns away and vanishes.
“You really want to do this?” the warlock teases. “You’re a little outnumbered.”
“Sam, this is what they want,” I whisper. “They’re trying to keep you distracted. They’ve been ordered to.”
“Shut up, witch.”
The coven is becoming restless, their backs bending even lower. There’s too many of them, I know that, and Sam knows that, but he doesn’t show that fear.
“How can you stand beside one of them?” Deana demands. “How can you fight your own people?”
“I don’t want to fight you, Deana,” I say. “I don’t want to fight any of you. But Amara is hunting me. She will never stop hunting me. She won’t stop until she’s got every witch, warlock and mortal under her control. We’re rising up against her, we’re fighting back. And I suggest if you want to live, then you do the same.”
Deana looks to the warlock and he bares his teeth at her.
“Don’t tell me the witch is making things complicated for you,” he snarls. “Those that stand beside slayers are our enemy. Those that try to kill our Elder are our enemy.”
“She’s a Harmon, Vee. Fighting her is above our paygrade.”
“And he’s the Malachi,” Vee says. “But we agreed to that, didn’t we?”
“No,” she says, her eyes softening as they look at me. “I’m not Amara. I won’t kill my own.”
I smile at her, and she smiles back. For a moment we’re children again, running through the grass in my yard, laughing at the falls we endure, teasing each other with legends and destinies that were always out of our reach. It’s been years since those simplicities were real, but the trust is still alive. And then, everything changes. There is a gunshot, a bang so loud that it throws me backwards. Deana’s eyes are wide, her mouth open with blood, until the last thing she ever hears in the world is her own body hitting the pavement. The shooter storms to the front, a warlock that is twice as big as Vee and a thousand times more deadly.
“No!” Vee screams. “What the hell did you do!”
“I did what you wouldn’t,” the warlock says. “Does anyone else have a problem with killing a Harmon? No? Good.” He points the gun at us. “This isn’t personal.”
Sam throws himself at me as the gunshot sounds off again. We roll across the ground, his arms shielding my head as lighting bolts blast out of his hands. He grabs me and pulls me up, pushing me by the waist towards the barrels. I run towards them as bullets fly at my feet, and it’s only when I reach shelter that I realise Sam is nowhere to be seen. I pat down my entire body, fearing the adrenaline might be concealing the pain if I was hit.
I stick close to the barrels, running along to the edge of the tunnel as the wiccans pursue me. I turn around while I run, glimpsing Sam in the distance fighting with one of the warlocks. They’re too far away to see clearly, but I see the warlock fall to the ground before I turn back around. I arrive at the bank of the tunnel, a wall made of unstable rock that leads to the highway. I start climbing as I hear them charging behind me, my hands grip gaps in the wall pushing my body further up, and further into danger. I lose balance as I misplace my foot, and a hand grabs at it. I look down to see a red-haired witch with her hand clawed around my boot. She yanks at it, trying to pull me off of the wall.
“You’re mine,” she says.
I clench my teeth angrily and I hold on to the wall with just my left hand, allowing my body to swing through the air. I lift my right foot high enough to stamp down at her face, kicking her with so much force that she loses her balance and falls to the ground. The fall isn’t high enough to kill her, and she’s on her feet within seconds. I start climbing again, faster this time, and my hands reach for the relieving freedom of the edge.
I pull myself up onto the grass, dusting off my hands as I run along the side of the highway. When I realise I’m on a bridge, I stop halfway, panting as I lean over it. The wiccans are still behind me, I’m not sure how many, but they’re running at me with no surrender. Suddenly, two black range rovers skid across the middle of the bridge, they stop as their front ends meet, and a further dozen wiccans emerge out of them. As I look behind me, the same thing is happening. They’re blocking me on the bridge, they’ve got me cornered.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I pant, as I circle my head around the small army.
The line of wiccans towards the bank start chanting, and in a second I’m on my knees, holding my hands to my ears as I hold in a scream. I feel my body becoming warmer as flames form a ring around me, trapping me within a boundary I cannot cross. The warlock that shot Deana walks past the others, he comes straight to me, unafraid and almost smug.
“And you are the one they say has the power to kill the Elder,” he laughs. “You’re just a little girl playing with things out of your league.”
I reach into my pocket and I take out the pendant. I begin to stand.
“Make the spell stronger!” the warlock screams. “What are you doing, idiots!”
“It’s the strongest we can get it!” someone yells back.
The fire is still around me, but I withstand their spell of pain. It lessens and lessens until it’s just a twinge in my head. I place the chain over my head, my fingers rubbing against the crystal as it starts to burn from the fire. That’s when I see Sam. He walks right next to the fire, his eyes connected with mine, his face stunned that I’m doing that. They can’t see him, but I can.
“I’ll do it myself,” the warlock hisses. He casts the fire spell angrily, his eyes narrowing at me. The lightest spark flares against my leg, but it doesn’t hold.
I’m mad now. I’m furious. My entire body burns with the blood of a power I cannot control, but there is no time to be scared of that. I will the flames away, and my barrier falls. I step out of the scorched ring.
“Impossible,” the warlock says.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to piss off a Harmon?” I say.
In an act of desperation, he lifts the gun, his finger pulling around the trigger. I take the gun away from him, it leaves his hand and travels over the bridge. In my mind, there is only myself and the warlock here, if I only focus on hurting him then I don’t have to face the reality that I may have to kill the dozens of others.
The warlock takes a breath to speak, but I wipe him out. As the wind carries him away, Sam circles back and stands beside me, facing the opposite way.
“I underestimated you,” he says.
“Were you hoping they’d kill me for you?”
“I was hoping you’d draw them out, and you did. She’s not targeting the castle, she’s targeting us. She assumed the others would be here, these wiccans were positioned to take us out. She isn’t going to make a move on the castle until she hears word that I’m dead.”
I realise how right he is when several more cars join us on the bridge. This is an ambush, one that Sam could easily get us out of if he didn’t have the stubborn streak of never running from a fight.
“There’s too many,” I say. “We can’t do it alone.”
“We’re not alone. It’s time to send Amara a message.”
I nod my head. And the only thing I can hear is running, as the army of a hundred wiccans descends upon us.