Two of Amara’s most experienced warlocks escort me to the dungeons beneath her mansion. My plan worked, but I’m trying not to let it show. It was a risky plan, but to quote Amara’s reasoning, it was the only way.
“Why am I the only one in shackles?” I complain to the warlocks as I pass wiccans that are free to move their hands inside their damp, dark cells. “Does she fear me?”
“It’s protocol for Harmons to be shackled,” a warlock grunts.
“But I thought the cells were spelled so that no magic can get out of them?” I say.
“Oh. Oh, she really does fear me.”
They very unkindly unlock a cell door and throw me inside. I stand with my back to them, glancing around my new home. There’s a bed, a toilet, and a drip. The drip is annoying. Almost instantly I grit my teeth.
“Hope you like your new bedroom, traitor,” the warlock says, in an attempt to goad me.
I wait until they are both gone before I try to stick my face out of the bars of the cell. I quietly call for Victoria, and when I don’t hear her respond, relief flows into me. If she’s not down here then at least she’s alright, she might had made it out. I hope she made it out.
“Hey, hey you,” a voice calls mysteriously. “I know you.”
Is the voice talking to me? I look left. A young man with dark hair and an over-grown beard has his face against the bars too, his face is darkened by dust and dirt, but he looks familiar.
“Theresa, right?” he says. “We were at school together.”
“Right,” I say. “Uh. . .”
“Joey,” he says. “It’s been a long time. I remember you from advanced potions class, I’d never forget the girl that made the entire class invisible to our professor.”
“Those were simpler times.” I smile to myself. “Childish fun.”
“Nah, not for you. You aced those classes. You were better than the entire class put together. You have Harmon magic, right? Isn’t it supposed to be equivalent to twenty covens? So, can you bust us out of here?”
I lift up my arms to show him the shackles and he bites on his lip in frustration. I offer him a frown. “Afraid not,” I mutter.
“Dammit,” he says.
“Why are you here?” I say.
“Not all of us agree with Amara’s ways,” he whispers. “I was helping mortals escape when this all went down, turned out that it’s not allowed.”
I scoff. “You’ve been here for five years?”
“Hence the beard.”
“What about you?” he says, eyeing me suspiciously. “You don’t strike me as the law-breaker kind.”
“I blew up Amara’s statue.”
“Bad ass. I bet she didn’t like that. Shame you didn’t hit the real thing.”
I stare at him.
“Kidding,” he laughs. “Well, not so much. If it were that easy it would have been done by now.”
“She has protection,” I whisper. “A thousand Elder’s magic worth.”
“Unlucky for us. All our lives we’re taught and programmed to devote ourselves to our Elder, that they will save us, help us, unite us. What a load of crap that turned out to be.”
I smile for a moment before meeting his eyes. “She believes we are in danger, from demons. And as ‘descendants of angels’ it is our duty to stop them. Do you believe that?”
“I stopped believing in gods and angels a long time ago,” Joey says. “I mean, we must get our powers from somewhere and from something, but where are they now? Where were they when the Slayers attacked my coven and slaughtered my parents? Do I believe in demons? Sure. But the rest? I think we’re on our own.”
“I didn’t know that,” I say, frowning. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago, just after we moved to Texas. I tracked the unit back here, and that’s when all this happened. Knowing those murderous leaches are still out there and I can’t get to them pisses me off more than anything else.” He starts pacing inside his cell, becoming angrier as he dwells on it.
“You want revenge.”
“Hell yes I want revenge. I want to hit them with a potion that melts their skin from their bones and then I want to watch them beg for their lives at my feet as their acidic blood boils the pavement.”
I want to tell him that vengeance isn’t the answer, but I can’t, because I’d be a hypocrite. Revenge is one of the reasons I’m here, it’s what I’ve been thinking about for five years. I remain quiet, thinking about how our pain has brought us here, to these dark thoughts and unforgivable motives.
“There was two of them,” he continues. “Male and female. The female had a tattoo of a scorpion on her throat and the male had a very specific blade. It was red with the engraved symbol of fire. He even boasted that it was unique when he stabbed my mother in the heart. I know I can find them. I know it. I just need to get out of here. Two more months and I’ve served my time.”
I sit on the bed, looking down at the shackles around my wrists. I don’t know what to say to him. I don’t want to talk him out of it, but I also don’t want to encourage him either. If he goes after the Slayers then he’ll have a target on his back for the rest of his life. Slayers are like one giant coven, if one is attacked, they all want vengeance. And I’ve heard no species can avenge like the Slayers. They never give up; they are merciless, fierce and focused. And the man that confronted me yesterday is their leader, they are afraid of him, he said as much himself, but what if he misreads that fear as loyalty?
How messed up is it that we have enemies we have never met? That even the Slayers at a young age are taught a hundred ways to kill us. What have we done to deserve that wrath? Is it our blood—DNA? Or are there forces in play beyond what we can see that is pulling the strings on everything we think we feel? If so, then I would like to meet them; these masters of our destiny, and I’d like to advise them on how much of an utter crap job they’re doing.
“Personally, I don’t believe in demons,” I say. “I’m not sure what the Slayers are, but they’re not demonic. I’ve met one and he seemed so. . .”
“Do not say human,” Joey says, his voice breaking into anger. “Of course, they look like humans, and talk like them and disguise as them. But that’s all it is, a disguise. It’s what they’ve been ordered to do. They can turn themselves into anything, even impersonate one of us. Never let your guard down and never let them trick you.”
“He didn’t trick me,” I say. “Well, he did at first. But he wanted me to know what he was, it was like he was proud. He chose me for something by letting me live, but I have no idea what it is.”
Joey stares at me. “I just assumed you’re alive because you’re a Harmon. He let you live?”
I nod. “I’m good but I’m not that good. He was different I suppose, he said he was the leader.”
“Of a unit?”
I shake my head. “Of the whole species.”
Joey falls quiet for a moment as he takes that in. Eventually, he squints into the air and rubs his fingers together. “If you met with who I think you met with, then you’re the luckiest damn person alive. You’re right, he let you live.”
“You know of him?” I say, edging closer to the bars.
“Damn right I know of him. I’ve studied Slayers, a lot. His name is never spoken so I don’t know it, presumably he gave you a false one, but from what I’ve heard of him, he makes Amara look like a mortal child.”
I laugh out unexpectantly. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” Joey nods in a very serious way. “Amara is terrified of him; we all are to a degree. If you want to get under her skin, you should tell her he’s in town. That would really put her on edge.”
“What have you heard about him?” I ask, not knowing why I’m so curious. I guess there’s nothing better to do down here, and learning this can’t make anything worse.
“I heard he took out five covens at once on his own. I heard that he’s a weapons master, that he can kill someone from over sixty feet away. I heard that he’s got a direct line of connection to the demons themselves, and they feed him power. I heard that he was the one that killed Amara’s mother, the previous Elder, by posing as an injured warlock and he keeps some of her bones tied to posts outside his home, wherever that is. There’s also rumours that he’s immortal and can only be defeated by the same creatures that made him.”
I raise an eyebrow. “The demons.”
“Yes. Very compelling stuff. If he remains in Arizona, lurking, then it will make my act of revenge difficult. I’ll have to rethink everything. Did he say anything about why he was here?”
“To find out what she’s planning,” I whisper. “He knows she’s making a move against the Slayers. She’s using us to do it.”
“Us, the Harmons,” I say. “She’s planning on holding rituals in two days to transfer our magic into her. My family will survive, reduced to mortalism, but I’ve been accused of treason so I won’t be making it out of the Summit alive. She’s going to kill me once my ritual is over.”
Joey rests his head face against the bars and breathes heavily. “It’s a smart plan. If I was a power-obsessed Elder wanting to make myself immortal and unstoppable, it’s what I would do.”
“Yeah, me too,” I say, raising my eyes. “We’re a threat to her, it’s a way for her to erase that threat but gain something great from it. It’s a win.”
“You didn’t blow up that statue on a whim, did you?” Joey says quietly, his eyes sparkling with realization. “You have a plan.”
“No,” I lie. “I don’t have a plan. I was going to be summoned to her anyway, I figured I’d do something memorable first.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“It’s the truth,” I lie, again. It’s not that I don’t trust him, I just can’t take the risk of anyone else overhearing. The prisoners down here will do anything to bargain for their freedom. “I have two days to try to make a plan, I know that much. But I have no idea how to even start.”
“Start with what you’re good at,” he says. “Magic. You are one of the most powerful witches alive now, you have to trust that. It’s why you’re here. It’s why she’s afraid of you. In what point of history has some dusty shackles ever stopped a Harmon?”
I smile, but it’s easier said than done. I hate being compared to my ancestors because they were brilliant and brave and I’m nothing close. They weren’t afraid to tap into their power, to unleash everything on their enemy, because they knew the bloodline would carry on.
There are only twelve of us left now. The Harmon line could end with us and so everything is at stake. Without Harmons, the balance shifts to the Elder. No other coven is strong enough to challenge her, no other coven can access a thousand ancestors from one garden. If Amara takes our magic, it is over. She will have the power to kill the Slayer species, and possibly the leader himself, and then she will grow bored of mortals and kill them all too. She will kill everything until the only living things left are our kind and the animals. How long until wiccans bore her also? How long until the entire planet bores her and she seeks to go in search of something else to take over and destroy?
I don’t know what else is out there. I’ve never given much thought to it. But if there are other lifeforms out there, other species that are living in peace and comfort, then Amara will find a way to intervene, and justify it by claiming it under her protection from the so-called ‘planet-destroying demons.’
I can’t think of that, it will distract me. This is the world we are in now, and Earth is the planet in danger.
For my sanity, I must focus on what I am saving and not what I am taking. It is my justification and it is the only one I have.
“None,” I whisper, turning to face Joey. “Nothing has ever stopped us.”