Chapter 24 ♕
What was going on here?
I saw the witches had started a heated argument, but that faded into the background when I closed my eyes and turned my attention to something else. I took a deep breath, then shut out even the slightest trace of sound, making it dead silent.
Something was going on in my head and I wanted to know what it was. For a moment I simply waited, hoping something would happen. When that didn’t I was about to open my eyes again when I felt something. It was subtle, so much that I would never have noticed it if I had not focused my full attention on it.
It was a bit like that feeling when you squinted your eyes too long and then saw strange light patterns. But that was not what this was right now. This was different.
Just as I had always been able to sense whenever someone on the street was throwing sideways glances at me, I felt that I was not alone now.
“Who are you?” I asked.
There was laughter. But it was soft and almost unnoticeable. But I did hear it. “Can you show yourself to me” I asked.
It went quiet again and for a moment I thought it was gone, but then the patterns of light that had danced before my eyes seemed to merge into something. The silhouette of a girl. When the light had diminished to a level that allowed me more discernment, my jaw dropped slightly.
It was my own reflection looking back to me.
I had spent an incredible amount of hours looking at myself in the mirror, wishing for a different look, a different color of hair and eyes. But through those endless hours of looking at myself, every little detail of my face was engraved in my memory, and while the resemblance between us was infallible, we were not the same.
Everything about her seemed more intense. Her eyes had a deeper color. Her hair was the color of fresh blood, while mine was more like autumn red. She was absolutely stunning.
“Who are you” I asked again.
My voice was noticeably softer, as if I couldn’t believe this was all actually happening. But how could I? How could I ever admit that my own reflection was looking back at me, without a single mirror around.
The other me tilted her head and looked at me intently. “If you really want it translated into words that badly, you could say that I am you,” she said.
I almost lost my balance and fell over hearing those words.
She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s really not strange considering we were born the same person”.
Her, my, voice sounded amused, almost light-hearted. I shook my head in disbelief and opened my mouth to speak, but not a word came out, so she spoke again.
“We were one at birth. We were meant to have the same name, the same thoughts and dreams. But our parents knew what our future brought us, so they found a way to separate us. The witch part was separated from the human part. I was separated from you, caught and thrown away somewhere you couldn’t reach and I couldn’t leave. As a result, we could not develop together and I had no choice but to form my own consciousness,” she said and I heard the emotion behind those words.
I said nothing.
I swallowed several questions that came to mind. Like if she knew who our parents were and what kind of future she was talking about that awaited us. But instead I turned to the one that seemed most important to me at the time.
“You said we should have gotten the same name, but we didn’t. If that’s the truth, what is your name then?” I asked her.
That seemed to surprise her. Apparently she expected me to have a myriad of other questions. I saw the look soften in her eyes and her chin dropped slightly, indicating that she was feeling more comfortable.
“My name is Caera,” she said.
A smile found my lips. “Carea” I said, “in Latin that name means, she who is a friend”.
“I chose that name for myself” she awnserd.
“It suits you” I said, “I think you made the right choice”.
I smiled at her and she did the same. We took a step towards each other and looked each other in the eye. There was so much we didn’t know, so many questions unanswered.
“Why now?” I asked, and apparently she knew exactly what I was referring to, because she answered immediately.
I didn’t mean to, but somehow I blamed her. Why had she waited so long to reveal herself to me? If she was there sooner, I wouldn’t have had to go through all those bad times alone. She could have been there for me. We could have been together.
“There was no other way,” she said, “I’m a witch, Magnolia. I need a power source to perform magic. You were never aware of the supernatural world before all of this. You never came in contact with magic, so there was no way for me to reveal myself to you. I was simply too weak. I awoke when you first came into contact with my kind,” explained Caera.
The night of Bethany’s birthday, I thought.
That was when all this had started. That was the first time I had experienced the feeling. Then I had felt her for the first time.
“When the moment presented itself I took that witch’s magic to strengthen myself. The fact that I took the magic from that girl Giselle is the only reason I can talk to you now,” Caera continued. She seemed guilty, as if she wouldn’t have done it if there had been some other option.
Everything was slowly starting to become clear now.
“In that case, I’m glad you did,” I said. She looked at me in bewilderment, as if she couldn’t believe I would ever approve of an action like that. “Listen, Caera, I have always known that something was missing in my life. I thought that feeling would go away after I met Alaric, but even then the feeling remained. But now,” I said and stopped talking.
The rest did not need to be said out loud. I could tell from her face that she knew exactly what I was trying to tell her. I accepted her. I reached out my hand to her for her to take. I accepted her and hoped she could do the same to me. Her hands were in mine and I felt warm, welcome, at home.
“Will you stay with me” I asked.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she promised, “never again”.
When I opened my eyes again I saw that the discussion between Giselle and Nesita was still going on, as if not more than a second had passed.
I felt Caera close, as if she was covering my back. In that moment I felt safer than I ever had. We seemed more balanced now, as if we were side by side instead of one in the foreground and the other oppressed. It was nice.
I took a deep breath and straightened up. “If I may intervene for a moment,” I said, with both witches now looking at me, “I think I’m starting to understand how this whole game works, but we’ll save that for another moment. Now I would like to be helped out of these chains so that I can go home. For whatever Giselle may suggest, I am absolutely not what you are looking for, nor do I care what you are looking for”.
I honestly had no idea what they were talking about. I knew nothing about a so-called magical object or what exactly I was dealing with. All I knew was that I had to get out of here as soon as possible and get back to Alaric. It was strange, but I almost wanted to save my life for him, rather than for myself.
I knew what he had been through. He needed me to keep the balance. He was on his way so well. I even saw no progress between him and Max. I refused to be the reason all of that would disappear.
Both women stared at me. Nesita still had that crazy look in her eyes and Giselle seemed suspicious of my new attitude. It was true that I felt safer with Caera behind me and showed that very clearly.
“To be clear, it makes no difference whether or not you are what we are looking for. You’re not going anywhere. Either we are going to torture you and send you back to your mate in small parts to keep tormenting it endlessly, or we are going to sacrifice you and regain our magic for the next thousand years. But in either case, do you leave this place. So I suggest you make yourself comfortable” Nesita said.
She had a point there, I thought reluctantly.
Then Nesita turned to Giselle. “Aside from her appearance, what other explanation do you have that she must be our new source of magic,” Nesita snapped at her. The flame at the door flared up briefly. Apparently their emotions were also linked to their magic.
It was clear that she was getting impatient and tired of talking about the whole situation. Personally, I would also get nervous if something as important as my magic depended on it. Giselle also saw her commander losing patience, so she answered quickly.
“When we attacked the castle, she stepped forward and, with a simple word, flattened all of our magic. None of our sisters could do anything,” said Giselle, “that must have meant something”.
When I thought back to that, I didn’t have an immediate answer. I felt that Caera had no explanation for that also. She added that maybe we had something to do with it after all, but I refused to believe that.
“Is that all?” snapped Nesita to Giselle, “Raisa appeared that night too. Who says she didn’t cause that. No one really knows the limits of her magic. You have given false hope to the entire coven that we were saved. What a disappointment you are, Giselle. Always has been”.
Nesita threw the words into Giselle’s face as if they were poisonous. A small part of me almost felt sorry for her, especially when I saw the look on her face. Broken.
Nesita turned her back on her sister and began to walk back and forth through the room, lost in thought. Then suddenly she stopped and turned to us. Her face had such an insane expression that I almost wanted to step back.
“I think I just came up with the solution to all our problems. We continue with the offering ceremony. Whether or not she is our new source of magic makes no difference. When the forefathers accept her, we have our new supply of magic in our hands, if not. Then she will still die a painful death and our goal will have been achieved in any case and the king will suffer extremely,” said Nesita.
Giselle stood in front of her sister and looked her straight in the eye. “The king has his entire watch looking for her, including himself. It’s all just a matter of time before he’ll find her,” she said.
“Nobody knows where she is,” Nesita waved her sister’s words away, “especially now that we’ve dealt with that disgusting wolf”.
I gasped, and the witches both looked directly at me.
“What did you say there?” I asked.
It took them a while to realize what I was talking about, but then they started grinning. They seemed completely delighted.
“Had you not yet reached that conclusion, Your Highness” said Giselle, “it was you we wanted all this time. There was no reason to leave loose ends hanging”.
My world began to collapse. I tried to keep thinking clearly. I heard Caera call my name, but her voice didn’t make it above my own thoughts. How could I not have thought about it before. He had been in danger all along.
“Where-” I began, gasping between each word, “where is Rowan”.
My thoughts went too fast for me to keep up. I shook my head. Refused to believe it. Images passed my eyes so quickly it gave me a headache. My memories of him. Our first meeting. How he had stood there. Completely relaxed, without a problem in the world.
“You must be the person everyone whispers about”.
Our conversation in the infirmary.
“I think you belong here, Magnolia. I think you are exactly what this kingdom, including it’s king, has been waiting for. It may take you a while to see that for yourself, but it will come. I know that for sure”.
Then it was a stream of memory after memory.
How he helped me pack my whole life in boxes.
How he had known exactly when I wanted to talk, or sit next to each other in silence.
How he defended me against William.
Our conversation in the car, seconds before the accident.
He had never found his mate. And now, because of me, that would never hap... Giselle was right in front of me now. She leaned forward so her mouth was inches from my ear.
“He fought bravely,” she continued, “to the last second, to his last breath, he tried everything to escape, to save you. But it was pointless. He had signed his death warrant when he decided to come near you”.
She stood up for a moment to shake her head with a sigh. Tears had now entered my eyes and were streaming down my cheeks. I felt my heart being torn, broken.
“You could have saved him, you know. Spare him from all this, but instead, he is now buried feet deep underground. And all because of you,” she whispered.
Her voice was lost in the scream that left my mouth. It filled the halls, penetrated the walls and bounced off the stone. It multiplied, but no matter how loud it was. It didn’t compare to the feelings in me. The guilt, and the loss. I betrayed him.
And this was all my fault.