The next morning, I sit at the end of the table in the kitchen staring into the darkness of my coffee. Wearing a baggy sweatshirt and jeans that Sophia gave to me, I try to disguise my presence underneath the hood, hoping any breathing person within hearing distance can take the hint that I’d rather be anywhere else than here.
“Since when does it drink coffee with us?”
I ignore Milasia’s question and I keep my eyes down. I’m surrounded by Slayers, but it’s not my safety I’m concerned about.
“Hear that?” the voice says. “You’re an it to them. They’d kill you within a blink of an eye if he let them and you know it.”
I rub my temple.
“Sit down, Milasia, you’re just in time,” Sam says. He stands against the wall with Megan at his side, both of them look sheepish.
“For what? For the little witch over there to get more of us almost killed? How do we know she didn’t work with Amara to injury Sophia? Huh?”
“She isn’t a threat to us,” Sam says. “She’s working with us to find Amara’s weakness.”
I slowly lift my eyes to meet his, and my stomach twists. He has no idea how close I came to ending his life last night, he has no idea how much I wanted to, just for this to end.
“Fine.” Milasia drops into a seat at the other end of the table, she folds her arms and glares right at me. “I’m listening.”
“We’ve already explored every possible weakness Amara could have,” a Slayer protests, I remember her name as Veronica. She is Russian and her accent is incredible. “You have units around the world risking their lives for information and nothing comes of it.”
“Those units don’t have me,” I say quietly. “If you don’t know her weaknesses then it’s because you’ve never met a witch willing to share them. And trust me, torture won’t get you far.”
Milasia scoffs. “I’d give you ten minutes.”
“It’s not you that the covens are afraid of,” I say, ignoring her once again. “The truth is, they’re afraid of the Elders. Amara, and all of her ancestors before her. It is in our. . . beliefs that when we die our souls join the realm of the Elders to receive our eternal reward for our services. If the last act we make in this world is betraying Amara, then it is also in our beliefs that we will be eternally punished.”
“Sucks for you then,” Milasia mutters. “That’s if you are betraying her.”
“Amara murdered my coven,” I say. “She turned my mother to ash right in front of my eyes, so yes, I am betraying her. I might face eternal agony for sitting here at this table, but as long as I leave with the world a better place than it is today, I don’t care.”
“You’re betraying all of us.”
“So, what are her weaknesses?” Megan demands.
“I’m warning you.”
“I. . . she. . .”
The faces of the people around me fade to nothing, one-by-one they vanish from their seats, leaving only one person sat at the other end of the table. Her pale and intimidating face startles me and I cannot hide it. It’s happening again.
“You’re really starting to get on our nerves,” Amara says. “They picked you to match me but you’re as weak as a child.”
I shake my head, blinking to myself. “It’s not real.” I repeat it over and over. Even when I hear her dark laughter, even when I hear her chair slide backwards and her shoes tap against the laminate flooring.
“How real does one have to be to get through to you?” she says. “For the first time in our history we have a chance to take out their species for good. You know they don’t stand a chance against me; you know you don’t. It’s going to be messy and whatever plan they’re working on is going to fail.”
“Get out of my head,” I hiss.
“I’ll spare this unit, you have my word, Sophia and the others will be safe. It’s just the leader they want. Kill him and I’ll spare them. If not, then I’ll bring hell to your door.”
“No. I won’t do it.”
“You don’t have to go for the compromised attack again. Slayers are trained to fight spells, witchcraft, they’re not trained to fight you and me. We puzzle them, infuriate them, and we can beat them.”
“How do you work that one out when even you’re terrified of Sam?” I snarl at her. “If he was easy to kill, you would have done it already.”
“I didn’t say it was going to be easy. But all you have to do is reach inside your head and find that hidden power, once you have it in full force, nothing can touch you.” She chuckles. “Even I couldn’t fight against it. You wounded me, and that’s rare. But I guess the safest option could be another snooze attack. He didn’t exactly sense it, right? If you want to be boring and safe then wait until he’s had another exhausting day and do it.”
“Theresa.” Amara drops into the chair next to mine, her eyes are calm and peaceful, but the way her lips twist into a threatening grin makes me sit straighter. “I’ve told you nicely, I’ve given you a few scary warnings, but this is your last chance because you’re testing my patience. I can get to you anywhere, even in here, and I can make you see whatever I want you to see. So, I am going to say this one last time; kill the leader.”
“Like I said last night, do your worst,” I say. “I’m not scared of you or your hallucinations, and if it’s the last thing I do I am going to protect every last witch or warlock from ever being controlled by your kind again.”
“You think you can play god with a species?” she laughs to herself then bites on her upper lip. “You think the covens will listen to you? A teenage witch?”
“You were a teenager when you were crowned Elder, and they certainly listened to you. They shouldn’t have to be controlled by the fear of you, no one should.”
“This isn’t just about them, this is about everyone, humans included. I am trying to save them. And don’t even get me started on your new endeavour to spill our secrets to the species we are born to destroy! How careless and stupid can you be? If you breathe one word to them about us then there is no going back. You will be punished severely.”
“Like having to speak to you right now isn’t already that punishment?” I say. “You’re dead. So, stay dead.”
The face of Amara changes in half a second. Vienna takes her true form; her blonde curls twirl all the way down to the table. “I am descended from a goddess, Theresa, I am more powerful than the boundary between life and death. But you, merely born from angel blood, you are quite the mystery. Such a mystery in fact that your mother hid that memory from both of us.”
“I don’t give a damn about gods and angels, I care about the people out there right now, being killed and tortured by the ones that worship you. I care about mortals. The ones that can’t protect themselves, the ones that don’t deserve to be a part of our messed-up genetics. If killing Amara is what has to happen for them to get their freedom back, then I choose that path.”
“And what if it’s Sam that has to die?”
I swallow and lower my eyes. “I’m hoping no one has to die. But even if someone does, then that shouldn’t be my choice. I didn’t ask for this.”
“You asked for this the moment you threw that potion at Amara’s statue. You tried living the quiet life but it wasn’t for you, you couldn’t just stand back and watch anymore. That’s who you are, and I respect that. But you fail to see the bigger picture. You are naïve to what the Slayers really are. Your blood connects you with your coven, with wiccans, and with us. You are a witch, and you are duty bound to remain loyal to that.”
“I’m not duty bound with anything.”
“Harmons!” she shrieks, charging to the back wall. “Our protectors. Our advisors. Well that sure proved to be a pain in the ass. You have no idea how damn close you are. No witch has ever. . . no Elder has ever. . .”
“Gotten this close to the Malachi?” I ask.
She nods. “His energy is the strongest because the demons protect him. Evil protects him. It surrounds him like a portal, sucking everything good around it. You can’t sense it?”
“No,” I say. “I don’t sense anything. I mean, he scares me a little but that’s just the normal reaction from anyone that he comes into contact with.”
“Sam Falcon is the most feared Slayer in our history and hundreds have come before him. He even had me afraid. And now Amara. He is in constant contact with the demons, feeding them information about this world on a weekly basis and you don’t think that makes him dangerous?”
“Of course you don’t. Why would you? He saved your life. In a twisted way you think you owe him. But he didn’t save your life, Theresa. He’s keeping you alive because you’re useful, and when you’re not, you’ll be as dead as me.”
For the first time since I began thinking about ending Sam’s life, the reasons are beginning to make sense. I hate to admit it, but she has a point. Whoever Sam is, and whatever he’s capable of doesn’t matter, what does matter is that he’s feeding information to creatures that could invade our world at any moment. I’ve never been interested in believing that such things exist, or why they do, but now I’m in the middle of it, it’s hard to ignore. Especially when it’s being talked about all the damn time.
Suddenly, I’m thinking deeper into it. Do the demons know I’m here? Are they ordering Sam to keep me alive to squeeze secrets from me? Has he been under their control all along? Not long after I woke up from my coma, Sam told me he had just been to see them. What if he told the demons about my fight with Amara and they want to use me as a weapon against the covens?
I take a deep breath.
“Sam is the enemy,” Vienna whispers softly as she re-joins me at the table. “He is a dangerous and calculating individual. He will do anything for the Slayers to survive, including using you. You’re vulnerable, Theresa. You’ve just been branded the last of your coven, every wiccan is looking for you, you’ve been plucked from your home, your life, and have been forced to exist in this dull and terrifying castle. You might think you’re strong, but you’re not as strong as you show them. I’m trying to help you.”
“By torturing me?” I say, wiping a tear from my cheek. “How is that helping me?”
“You know I’m right, about Sam. You sense it. You’ve always trusted your instincts, right? It’s what every Harmon does. What are they telling you to do?”
I clench my teeth and I play with the arm end of my sweater. I don’t want to be the one to make the decision, I don’t want to even be included in the decision, but I have no choice. I just need to know that I’m doing it for the right reasons first.
"You can't trust him," she says softly.
"I can't trust you either."
She blinks at me for a moment. She's shocked by that. Interesting.
"You have the spirit of an Elder," she whispers while reading between my eyes. "We are the only ones that disagree with each other. And I do disagree with how my daughter handled things on Earth. I defended her in the palace because I can't have the others losing faith in her. But Amara will be punished for what she did to your coven, and the mortals."
"Yeah, I took it from their reaction that your dead family weren't aware of what she's done," I say, I suddenly begin laughing. "That sentence sounds ridiculous."
"Killing our own has never been taken lightly. However, Amara is very close to achieving what our kind has been fighting to achieve for centuries. We are the good ones, Theresa. Forget about Amara and who she's become, but focus on us, your true family. For so long we have fought the Slayers because they are capable of horrific, evil things. I'm afraid you haven't been involved in their world long enough to see that. These Slayers, the Malachi's unit, they're masters of manipulation, and they won't show their real nature until after they are done with you."
"They're not manipulating me." I smirk. "They've threatened to kill me many times. Very openly."
"Yet they haven't," she says. "There must be a reason for that."
I wriggle my nose and sigh. "I won't help them kill witches."
"You already have. That day on the bridge? I see everything. I see your power, it's bright within you. But you are aiming it at the wrong side. You cannot defeat my daughter, she's too strong now, and I understand that is what drives you. Revenge."
I hold my head in my hands. I'm beginning to feel frustrated, not just with Vienna but with everything. Is she right? Am I so focused on avenging my mother that I haven't even realized that I'll literally do anything to get there? Including fighting my own kind, including trading information with Slayers on how to kill them. At first keeping the Slayers on side was about survival, but it's past that now. I can't take back what I did on the bridge, but I can learn from it.
"Killing Amara won't bring your family back," she says. "You'll just be sending her to me where she will still have influence over you. And in the mean time, ancient creatures will rise and obliterate what's left of the covens. So what are you gaining?"
"And if I kill Sam, the demons might still rise and avenge him."
"We are prepared for that. That's why it's essential that you and Amara work together. Without a leader, the Slayers will be running scared. With your powers combined you can attack them in their mortal state, but you won't have long to do it."
"That's why you need me to kill him?" I stare at her in shock. "To lure them here?"
"They're coming no matter what. Wouldn't you rather have the advantage of knowing when? Without the Malachi they're blind, weakened. At least this way the wiccans and the mortals stand a chance. Can you imagine if he stood beside them and fought with them? His skills and their power, there'd be no hope."
I pinch my eyes closed for a long second to picture it. The world in chaos once again, blood running along the streets, the sky turning black with fear. It is a war that will see the end of humanity, and us along with it. If I choose to stay out of it, everyone dies. If I choose to fight with Amara to stop it, everyone could live. I don't know how it came to this, something big changed along the line, and I can't stop it.
“How?” I whisper. “How do I do it?”
Vienna takes a gasp of relief. “I can’t help you with that. It has to be when you’re ready. You must gain his trust first, make sure he’s compromised again, and then strike.”
I just nod.
“Good girl.” Her hand touches mine but I feel nothing. Literally nothing, as though she’s just part of the air. “You’re about to change history. There’s something important about Sam you must know though, if-”
My body jolts as voices erupt throughout the room. Vienna is suddenly gone, and everything is back to normal. The first face I see is Sophia as she hugs her cousins, and then I see Curtis behind her. He stares right at me so I look away and I focus on my fingers.
“Damn, I haven’t been in bed that long have I?” Sophia chuckles as Megan embraces her.
“Long enough,” Megan says.
“Well I’m back now,” Sophia says, to everyone. “I’m still a little sore so I won’t be out in the field for at least another day but-”
“Three days,” Curtis says.
Sophia rolls her eyes. “But I just couldn’t miss this badass kill-Amara meeting. So, how are we doing it? Because I am ready to take that bitch down.”
“The witch was just about to spill all the juice on that.” Milasia crosses her arms and smirks at me. “She got a little tongue tied though.”
I’m very confused, and I’m trying my best not to show it. How did time not move forward? I must have been talking to Vienna for at least half an hour. But what confuses me more, is why did she cut it out when she was just about to reveal something important? What changed? The only change I can see is that Sophia and Curtis arrived.
Curtis. The same person whose presence forced Vienna’s delusion to leave in the library. Is he doing this? How can he?
“It’s good to see you, Theresa,” Sophia says.
The entire room falls silent.
“You too,” I say.
“Let’s talk after, okay?”
I nod, and then I look at Sam. He’s watching me. He’s waiting for this, for the moment I betray my Elder and give away everything I know about my kind.
“Amara doesn’t have any weaknesses,” I say. “None that I know of, anyway. I’m sorry if I’ve misled you into thinking otherwise but I don’t really know that much.”
“Bullshit,” Milasia hisses. “You’re wimping out. Just tell us.”
“Theresa, do you have useful information or not?” Megan demands. “Because if you don’t then I fail to see why you’re even sat at this table.”
“Because she’s a guest, Megan,” Sophia says. “And she’s entitled to sit in the kitchen.”
“If the witch can’t help us then why is she here, Sam?” a Slayer asks.
“Because it’s my choice to have her here,” Sam responds.
“When are you going to see sense!” Milasia yells, banging her fist on the table. “This witch attacked me. She nearly killed me. She put Sophia’s life at risk, not to mention the hundreds of covens out there right now waiting to pick us off one-by-one! Why are we entertaining the idea that it can be on the same side of us? When has a witch ever been on the same side of us? It’s probably learning all it can about us so it can share our secrets with Amara.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Milasia,” Sophia says softly, turning to glare at her rival. “You weren’t there. None of you were. Theresa stood up to Amara and she was braver than anyone in this room faced with that situation. Maybe you should reevaluate your own loyalties to this unit before you accuse others.”
Megan clears her throat. “We’re here to talk about Amara and planning our next move, so can we-”
“Excuse me.” Milasia rises from the table slowly, leaning over Sophia’s face. “I should check my loyalties? Is that what you said? You? The one that defends a nature freak!”
"Yes, you should, because your loyalties certainly don't lie with this unit or you wouldn't be trying so desperately to go against something that can save us."
"Save us? You're mental, Sophia. Like actually deranged. You shouldn't even be allowed to speak."
"You're the one that shouldn't be allowed to speak!" someone yells.
Suddenly, the red-headed woman from Sophia’s room bursts through the door while tying her hair into a ponytail. “I know I’m late, I lost track of time training. Woah, what’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Sam says, anger building in his voice. “Nothing is going on because we can’t even make it through a damn meeting without bickering like children! I’ve got better things to do than stand around listening to this crap.”
Sam leaves the room, forcing Megan, his second-in-command, to defuse the tension brewing between Milasia and Sophia. Getting Milasia to sit back down is probably one of the hardest things in the world to accomplish, but Megan does it. With just one glance, Milasia surrenders, and I wonder if it’s out of fear or respect.
“Listen,” Megan says. “We haven’t got a lot of time until Amara knocks down our shield and slaughters every one of us to get to that very witch you are all so sure shouldn’t be here. We should be uniting, not fighting, and Sam is running out of patience with you, Milasia. Either you shut the hell up or you no longer take part in our discussions. Is that clear?”
Milasia nods, scowling at me as she does.
“We’re meeting with five units today to try and work towards building an army, but it’s proving difficult convincing them to do anything when we don’t even have a solid starting point. One thing is clear, a war is coming. We feel it and Amara feels it. The only way to win that war is to have Theresa on our side. She has to trust us, whether that’s trusting us enough to tell us information or to fight with us when the time comes, but your judgemental remarks aren’t helping. Get it together!”
After Megan leaves the room, they’re not far behind. I’m not even sure where they go or what they do, I’m not trusted to know that part of their world. Suddenly, there’s only Sophia and Curtis left. And both of them are grinning at me.
“What?” I say.
“Curtis told me about the hallucinations,” Sophia says. “So that’s why you were acting weird and bolted on me, huh?”
I shrug. “I guess.”
“I’ve been at the receiving end of those bad boys, I bet you’re glad they’re gone.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Why are you both looking at me like that?”
“It dawned on me earlier that I promised you something and didn’t deliver,” she whispers. “Mainly because I got blind drunk and had to go to bed. You catching on?”
I begin to smile. “Seriously? Now?”
“Right now,” Curtis says. “Let’s go do some magic.”