My eyes begin to open. I am so exhausted that I have to force them again and again. I remember everything, it all hits me at once, with no room in between. I turn over so that I’m laying on my back and it’s then that I notice the boy in the corner of the room. Curtis is reading a book, invested in it actually. I slowly look further around the room. I’m somewhere I don’t recognize. I’m on some kind of mattress, though I’m not sure if I’m on a bed, and this chamber is isolated and dark, possibly below ground. There is a desk against one wall with a candle stick and a chair, and an odd-looking grandfather clock against another. I stare at the ticking hands that place the time at 7:00. Although, it’s unclear if it’s morning or night. My head begins to hurt and I wince.
“Hey, you’re awake.” I hear the book close. “Don’t try to move too quickly, take it easy.”
I touch the crystal, my mind blowing up with images of the explosion.
“I can’t believe you took that,” he says. “It’s dangerous. I tried to remove it from you but it appears it won’t be removed by force.”
“Where’s Sophia?” I say, moving my hands away. “Is she alright?”
“I don’t think now is the best time-”
“Curtis, is she alright?”
He just stares at me. From all the way over there in that little, damn armchair.
“No,” I whisper. “She’s not. . . she can’t be. . .”
“She’s alive,” he says. I gasp with relief. “But she’s. . . um. . . it doesn’t look good. I injected her with Crasuel, it’s a healing drug that I invented, it can almost cure almost anything. It stopped her organs from shutting down but she’s. . . she’s in a coma.”
“But she’s going to be alright though?” I demand. “She has to be alright.”
“I don’t know, Theresa. None of us know. All I know is that the longer I look at her the angrier I get, so I can’t be there anymore.”
“I need to get out of here,” I say. “I need to see her.”
“No, Theresa, lay back down.” Curtis blocks me from leaving the mattress, and I don’t have the strength to fight him. “You need to rest. You’re not strong enough yet.”
“Listen to him, the kid knows his stuff.” I know that voice, but I don’t have the energy, or the stomach, to look at him. “Leave us.”
“I’ll bring you some water,” Curtis says, before abiding to his orders and leaving.
I remain sat at the edge of the mattress, rubbing at my temples as the headache returns. I don’t remember why I passed out, I don’t remember being injured, I don’t know how it happened. I remember casting the spell to open the crystal’s magic, and I remember hitting Amara with everything I’ve got, but it still doesn’t feel enough. What if all I did was make everything worse? What if Sophia dies in vein? I never imagined I’d care this much, but I can’t deny that I do.
“We need to talk,” Sam says, pulling the armchair over so he can sit directly opposite me. I sigh and move up the mattress, turning away from him. “You haven’t been truthful with us about the extent of your power and it’s becoming a concern.”
“How long was I asleep?” I whisper.
“Almost two days.”
“And Amara? W-what happened to her?”
“She’s still alive. But you hit her pretty hard. Whatever you did, it caused her to retreat. We haven’t heard anything since.”
“Then how do you know she’s alive?” I stare at him, and he stares back. “Right, you know everything, don’t you? So, you knew that she’d be waiting outside the castle for us? You knew that she’d corner us and stab Sophia? If you know everything, Sam, then why didn’t you know that huh?”
“I know that you care for Sophia and you’re upset, but be very careful with what you say right now.”
“She needed you,” I say, my voice shaking with every breath. “But you were more concerned about your stupid pride and fighting a pointless battle than being there for her.”
“What happened to Sophia wasn’t-”
“You sent her back there!” I shout. “You sent both of us back there when you knew Amara was here. You put her life in danger because you didn’t trust me! After everything I did, you still didn’t want to be seen fighting with me on your side. And now she’s paying the price for that.”
“You’re right,” he says. “It was my mistake and I’ll have to live with the consequences. Sophia is strong, she’ll wake up.”
“The last time I saw you, you said that we were going to send Amara a message,” I say. “What message was that? Because from where I’m sitting, she doesn’t even need the covens, if anything she’s humouring them. The more of them you kill, the more power you give her. If enough of them die, she won’t even need mine anymore, and you played right into her hands.”
“Maybe, maybe not, that whole night could have gone differently but we can’t change it. What you did, it’s never been done before, and I’m here to ask you to join us. We need your help.”
“So, you saw that I can survive a fight with Amara and suddenly I’m worthy?” I bite on my lip in anger. “Go to hell.”
“I was just there.” He stands from the chair, the shadow of a giant looming over me with intense, serious eyes. “The demons are aware of Amara’s status and they’re concerned, no they’re paranoid. If I don’t get a handle on this then this, all of this, will fall to them. They will be forced to rise and take Amara out themselves. If that happens, we’re all screwed. They haven’t stepped foot on a planet in a thousand years, and I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of those touched by them.”
I start to take this seriously, turning my head to look at him. “Yes.”
“Trust me, they make her look like childsplay. I’d convince them to do it if I just thought it would end with Amara, but it wouldn’t. They won’t stop until every wiccan or potential wiccan was dead.”
I swallow at the word potential. He’s talking about pregnant humans carrying unborn wiccans.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “Why would you care about that? You hate us.”
“Do you know anything about the beginning of our species?” he demands. “Angels came here to create you, demons came here to create us, over time this world became a training ground for a future battle that both sides aren’t ready for. If the demons declared war on the wiccans, they’d declare war on the angels, and in retaliation the angels will come back and attack us. It'll be a bloodbath with countless mortals caught up in it.”
I roll my eyes. “You sound like Amara.”
“I used to be a sceptic too.”
“I became the Malachi. And I became the messenger between this world and the underworld. If you had seen a fraction of the things I’ve seen down there, then you would never be the same person again.”
“I already feel that way,” I admit. “But I don’t want to hide away or be ashamed of having a power that I can use to help. I am the only person in the world that has survived one of her strongest attacks and that has to mean something.”
“You want to practise,” he says, almost sighing. “I can’t allow that. You can join our discussions, offer advice or useful information, but when it comes to magic, it’s a no.”
“Fine,” I say. “So, when Amara comes back with a spell strong enough to get in here, because she will, am I allowed to use my magic then or should I run that by you first?”
“You beat her the other night without any practise.”
“I didn’t kill her though!” I burst out angrily. “I didn’t even scratch the surface. If you want to protect your people, then put me at the front line.”
“I’ll think about it.”
He walks over to the doorway to leave. I clench on my teeth. I need to get it out now or I don’t think I ever will, I watch the clock ticking away for a few seconds and then I turn my head to him.
“One year,” I say.
“What?” He stops at the doorway with his back to me.
“Amara gave me a warning, and I believe her. We have one year until everything is gone.”
“Then we have one year to find a way to kill her.”
“No, Sam,” I whisper. “She wasn’t talking about herself. She was talking about them.”
From his silence, he knows who I’m referring to, and I’m grateful for that because I’d rather not say the word. He leaves without saying another word. Whether or not he believes me is up to him, but I have no reason to lie; and neither did Amara. If she wanted to try to turn me against the Slayers then it would make more sense for her to team up with me than kill me. Maybe that’s what she’s thinking now. After seeing what I did and how I did it, maybe her entire agenda has changed. The crystal wouldn’t allow her to take it, despite it technically belonging to her, and I don’t know what that means for me. I still have the mystery power without it, but it’s so much easier to access it when wearing the crystal; it enhances everything. It is a power that doesn’t come from this world, and that makes it the ultimate weapon against anything that isn’t of angel blood. Sam hasn’t worked this out yet, but Curtis would have.
When he returns with my water, I take the opportunity to voice my concerns, and regrets to him. I take a long sip before I pluck up the courage to start it.
“I might have done something that I shouldn’t have,” I say, as Curtis sits back in the armchair. “Amara was too strong and I couldn’t fight her alone.”
“You used the crystal.”
I nod. “And now she knows that I have it. I’ve either become her greatest ally or her greatest threat. I wasn’t a threat to her until the other night, I was just a Harmon witch under the protection of Slayers. I think I’ve just changed everything.”
“Maybe showing it to her wasn’t the best of ideas, but there’s nothing you can do about that now. It saved your life, it saved Sophia’s life.”
“It did more than save our lives,” I say. “It made me invincible to magic, Curtis.” I turn and glare at him. “Amara used the same instant fire manifestation on me that she did to my mother, and it did nothing. Can you imagine if she got her hands on it?”
“That’s exactly why we need to destroy it.”
I hang my head. I know he’s right; the crystal is too powerful and too dangerous to risk the implications of it being taken from me. But, without it, I wouldn’t have been able to force Amara to retreat.
“I know,” I say. “But it’s ancient, we don’t truly know anything about it. Destroying it could open up a thousand more problems and that’s assuming it can be destroyed. Isn’t that why you haven’t told Sam about it yet?”
Curtis sighs. “It might be your friend, Theresa, but it’s a weapon against us. We have no clue about the full extent of its power. All I know is what I’m learning. The crystal is neutral, otherwise it wouldn’t have attacked an Elder created from its magic.”
“Neutral?” I say.
“Between whatever Amara is, and whatever you are.” He smiles, trying to disguise the offence of that. “Though, it certainly prefers you.”
I rub the crystal between my fingertips. “Why though? I don’t have Elder magic; I’m not born from a goddess. Amara should have been able to take it, but she couldn’t.”
“You’re the last Harmon, the last living vessel of restoring balance between species. The crystal recognises that, it’s bonding with you. If you continue to use it, your power will be uncontrollable.”
“No,” I say. I start lifting the chain, gently pulling it over my head. “Nothing is worth that.” I hold it out in my palm, stretching my arm towards him. “Whatever magic I have; it has to come from me. I can’t let myself be corrupted like the other Elders. Hide it, destroy it, I don’t care. Just keep it away from me.”
Curtis takes it in his hand and swiftly places the crystal inside the pocket of his blazer. I feel different without it. I feel lighter and more vulnerable, as though a part of my body isn’t working correctly. I meet Curtis’ warm eyes and I go to speak, but we’re interrupted by a scream.
“Curtis! It’s Sophia! Come now!”
Along with Curtis, I stand quickly to my feet and I ignore his demands to get back in bed. I try to keep up with him, but walking is excruciating and I have to cling on to the walls to keep my balance. My entire body is bruised, and I’m pretty sure something that I didn’t notice before is broken, but limping in pain is better than staying one more second in that dreary room.
I push myself up five flights of stairs, following the distant running of Curtis’ shoes. He has small feet, so it’s more of a patting. That pat guides me through endless, dark hallways and up steep and slippery steps. Finally, I arrive on a bright, lighted hallway that I recognize as the hallway of Sophia’s bedroom.
Her door is wide open and there is a crowd of bodies outside of it. I slow down, panting, and I use the wall to move forwards.
“What the hell are you doing here?” someone demands.
“Leave it, Anna,” Megan says, pushing through the crowd to reach the doorway. “We’ve got enough to deal with.”
Megan goes inside the room, and I’m not sure what to do. I edge closer to the doorway, glimpsing a lifeless Sophia in her bed with Sam and Curtis at her side, before the door slams closed. My back collides with a wall and I slide to the ground.
“Are you enjoying this, witch?” a voice says. “Sophia is dying because of you.”
“Helping a witch against Amara? What was she thinking?”
“I told you she was going mad. This proves it. Now she’s going to die a pointless and agonizing death.”
“We don’t know that. Stop speculating, Milasia.”
“If Curtis can’t fix her, then who the hell can? Be realistic you idiots, Sophia is dead.”
I can’t take it anymore. While they bicker against the wall, I push myself up and I pull down on the door handle. I enter the room slowly.
“You’re shaking too much! Keep your hand steady!”
“I can’t keep my hand steady because I’m completely terrified.”
I close the door behind me, and it doesn’t even startle them. They all stand around her bed. Sam holds Sophia’s shoulders down while Curtis hovers an enormous needle over Sophia’s heart. Sophia’s eyes are closed, her face is pale and her shirt has been ripped open revealing faint stab wounds all over her torso. Curtis pushes the needle into her chest, bringing it out quickly.
“What’s happening?” I demand to anyone.
“Hey, it’s Theresa, right?” a voice says. I look over to see a woman I’ve never seen before walk around Megan. She has fiery red hair, bright blue eyes and is considerably smaller than any other slayer I’ve met. “I’m Mabel.” She begins to stir me towards the door by my shoulders. “Let’s go outside and talk.”
“No,” I say, struggling out of her hold. I rush back to Sophia’s bedpost before Mabel can stop me and I watch in silence as Sam places his ear to Sophia’s chest.
“She’s still not breathing,” he hisses.
“Her heart’s stopped, of course she isn’t breathing!” Megan cries. “Do something!”
Sam begins pumping against her chest with his hands, but to no avail. Curtis has completely given up and is now sinking in a corner and crying. With no hospital equipment it’s hard to tell what her status is, but the slayers seem to know as though they’ve seen people this close to death a thousand times.
I suddenly try to imagine this castle without Sophia, anything without Sophia. She stood up for me when no one else would, she became my voice when I was too scared to speak and she understood me on a level that no one else ever has. I owe her my life, and I cannot let her die without trying to repay that.
I turn my head around the room as Sam continues to give CPR, and I walk over to her desk that’s on the balcony walkway. I pick up a small, metallic plate, wondering the impossible.
“Stop,” I say, rushing back inside with the plate.
“Will someone get that witch out of here!” Sam yells.
“It’s not going to work,” I say. “You need an electric current.”
“We’re all out of defibrillators, witch,” Sam says. “If I stop, she dies.”
“No, Sam,” Megan whispers, placing her hand on Sam’s arm. “She means us.”
“You can generate an electric current to her heart,” I say, rushing to put the plate beneath Sam’s hand. He stands back and stares at me. “Through this.”
“A plate?” he says. He turns to Curtis. “Would that work?”
“Only one way to try,” Curtis says, getting back to his feet and drying his eyes.
“I don’t think I can,” Sam says, placing his hand on top of the plate. “Too much and I can burn her insides.”
“Too much and you can turn her to dust,” Mabel mutters.
“You can do it,” Megan says. “For Sophia.”
“She’d do it for you,” I say.
Sam looks down and then closes his eyes. I wrap my hands around her bedpost, my head beginning to spin. I hold my breath along with everyone else as Sam’s hand glows blue, getting brighter and brighter. I hear the crack of the plate first, before Sophia’s entire body jolts. He did it in one go. No one knows if it’s enough. The room is becoming darker and spots are clouding my vision. Megan leans over and places her finger into Sophia’s throat.
“That was as much as I could do without killing her,” Sam says, doubtful of his own power.
I can see the burn on Sophia’s chest. It’s a circle of bloody, ripped flesh as though someone has peeled over her skin with a razor. Sam is looking at it too, at the damage he has done, feeling more guilt than hope.
“I can feel a pulse!” Megan screams. “She’s alive. You did it, you did it!”
Watching Sophia breathe gives the whole room light. Their cheerful exclaims echo into the hallway and everyone is cheering as they burst through the door. Sophia’s eyes begin to open slowly, her head turning slightly as she tries to resurrect. While so many others fight to crowd her, I’m pushed to the side of it all and I drift aimlessly to the back of the room.
“Sophia? Can you hear me? It’s Curtis. Please open your eyes.”
“Are you sure she’s even alive?” Milasia mutters. “Maybe she died again.”
“Shut up, Milasia,” Curtis growls. “Sophia, it’s okay, you’re okay. Please just. . . yes! Yes!”
Sophia wakes up. Very slowly. I smile to myself. In a world like this, it’s rare to witness a miracle, and this was definitely something along those lines. She tries to speak, but Curtis silences her with his hand, talking to her instead.
Even though I want to see her, and to thank her, I’m now the outsider again. I leave the room, finding comfort in the quiet hallway. Now Sophia is alright, I’m more aware that I’m not alright. A sharp, defined buzzing begins in my eardrums and I cling on to the wall once more as they begin to spin around me. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, Curtis never mentioned any injuries, but I feel as though I’ve been hit by a car.
I’ve suddenly got company in the hallway.
“That was impressive,” Sam says. “I never would have thought of doing that.”
“It’s nothing,” I say. “It could have gone just as badly as it did right.”
“You trusted your instincts, I respect that.”
“You saved her life, not me.” I clench on my teeth, my face pressing into the wall. It’s painful to even keep my eyes open. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.
“What’s up with you?” he says.
“Nothing, I’m fine,” I lie. “I need to go lay down.”
“Theresa.” His hand falls on my shoulder and I glare at it. “Something isn’t right. Your eyes-”
“Every spell has consequences,” I whisper. “I am being handed mine with the wrath of a hundred Elders thrown in. I can handle it.” I shake my shoulder and he steps away. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was concerned. “Be there for Sophia, she needs you. Don’t let her down again.”
He blinks at me in shock. I have no idea why I said that or where it even came from, but I mean it. I turn away and I stumble down the hallway. So much has happened in the last few days and from the moment I opened my eyes, I was changed. I can feel that change within me, I can feel a greed—a crave—for something I can’t explain. I’m stronger, braver, I faced the covens on the bridge and I won. I faced Amara and I won. The slayers no longer appear threatening to me, if anything I am ready to dish out home truths and take their retaliation.
I am becoming something hardened and cocky. I don’t like it, and maybe that’s why I’m afraid to accept this pain. I enter Sam’s bedroom quarters around the corner and I lay down among the blankets next to the fireplace. It’s only then that I realise my mind is trying to show me something and like the fool I am, I succumb to it.