Magick

Magick
Trish Milburn

September 2012 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-178-4

Book 3 of the Coven Series.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

 

Back Cover

The covens are coming for her.

But is she a White Witch, or a Dark Witch? In a war for control of the witch world, the answer will save—or doom—everyone she loves.

In White Witch, Jax gained friends she’d die for and a staggering power that threatens them all.

In Bane, Jax did the unthinkable and killed a supernatural hunter to protect her friends. She found herself lost in darkness and prisoner to the Bane, a secret society of witches sworn to prevent the use of the dark magic.

Now, in Magick, the powers of Jax and her friend Egan have been magically bound by the Bane. She must convince the Bane she can learn to control her power and become a White Witch in truth. She’s their only hope now that the dark covens have called a Conclave with one purpose—to kill this generation’s White Witchand anyone who has ever stood with her. If Jax can’t amass an army of her own, rebuild the trust of her friends and boyfriend, and find the White Witch’s elusive weapon against the dark, it may be too late.

Trish Milburn is a freelance journalist, lives in the South, and is a big fan of the outdoors and U.S. National Parks. When not writing, she enjoys hiking, nature photography, reading, traveling, watching TV or movies, and surfing the Web.

Visit her at: www.TrishMilburn.com


Reviews

 

"Magick is a fitting conclusion to the White Witch trilogy. Milburn does a wonderful job of combining teen angst with a truly adventurous supernatural story. This is a great read and it supplies a wealth of backstory for the white witch idea. I love the tie to the original Salem Witch Trials. It adds an air of authenticity to the story that set it apart from other series in this genre. I have a sneaky suspicion that this series is going to explode. I keep recommending it to my students and they have loved it!" -- Shawn Huffman, Arcadia High School Teacher

"Magick is a fitting end to a superb witch-related, young adult trilogy… Milburn has created characters the reader can really invest in; she has used a frighteningly interesting moment in history as the basis of her series and has pulled everything together into a well-written and fantastic series." -- Leisha O'Quinn, A Tale of Many Reviews

 



Excerpt

Chapter One

I wake not to flames but a windowless stone room. For an addled moment, I think I’m in the basement of the herb shop. A stab of pain hits me in the heart, and tears pool in my eyes. Fiona, the woman who’d found her way into my heart as a sort of surrogate grandmother, is gone. Dead. Killed by the man who should have killed me instead. I blink against the tears and look at my surroundings. The bare room isn’t the hidden repository of witchlore below Wiccan Good Herbs. It’s also not the cold, snow-covered ground where I lost consciousness.

Where I killed Amos Barrow. Where I gave in to the darkness inside me. Barrow shot his gun at Keller, the boy I love, and I lost my last shred of control after fighting so hard to not let that happen.

Fear shoots through me, stealing my breath. Keller. God, is he even alive? Did Barrow take everything from me? The urge to kill him all over again wells up inside me followed quickly by nausea.

My stomach churns, and I turn to the side to retch. When I’m finished, I can’t even lift my hand to wipe my mouth. I’m chained to a big, thick chair that reminds me of a medieval throne. My feet are as immovable as my hands, and panic surges to the surface. I try to draw on my power, but it’s not there.

Oh, God, what has happened to me? Where am I? More images settle into my memory, one of red-cloaked figures surrounding me just before I lost consciousness. The Bane. Had Sarah played me all along, making me think she was working with me until she and the other members of the Bane had the opportunity to take me out? Did they capture Egan, too? What about Toni, Rule and Adele? I swallow hard again when I think of Keller and wonder if my actions led to his death? I can’t live with that. Losing him, losing my friends would be so much worse than losing myself.

"Kellar!” I hope for a response, but all I get in return is an eerie silence, not even an echo of my shout. "Egan!” I call out all of their names, one by one, but still nothing.

I imagine them all being held in rooms like this one, slowly going crazy as I am. Are they wondering where I am? A horrible possibility settles in my middle like a cold stone. Perhaps they know exactly where I am and have left me here to whatever fate the Bane decides for me. After all, they’d watched me murder a man in the most vicious way. They’d seen me become the thing I most feared, what I’d warned them about—a fully engaged dark witch.

I fist my hands in anger and frustration, instinctively trying to draw on my magic. But there’s nothing, not the least inkling of power. While there have been many times I wished I could leave my power behind, now that it’s gone I feel too vulnerable.

I take in my surroundings again, panic swelling more with each breath. Is it possible the Bane already stripped me of my power? Is there a way to do so without using a Siphoning Circle? Is that what the burning in my arm was after I slumped to the ground face-to-face with Barrow’s corpse?

I look at my lower arm but can’t see the damage because it’s covered with my long-sleeved T-shirt. But it doesn’t matter. More than anything, I need to find Keller. I have to believe he’s alive. I can’t even think otherwise. I yank against the manacles holding my wrists and ankles to thick metal rings. I pull so hard that sweat beads on my forehead and my joints ache with the effort, but it’s no use. I’m helpless, at the mercy of whoever walks through the door across from me.

The tears finally spill over and track down my cheeks. Not knowing Keller’s fate is killing me.

But do I deserve to know after what I did? Do I even deserve to survive when I killed a man? Yes, he was vile, a murderer, a legendary supernatural hunter who took his job much too far, but that didn’t give me the right to take his life. But I had, and I still remember the horrible sense of glee I’d felt rushing through me as I did it. When I gave in to that writhing darkness that had been itching to consume me since I drew it from the earth, I’d done much more than kill a man. I’d ceased to care that using that level of magic would endanger my friends and bring the covens to Salem in all their awful fury.

I swallow against the surge of bile. If the covens haven’t already arrived, they will soon. And I have no confidence I can save my friends from the vindictive evil of my family, of Egan’s, of all the other dark covens. I am nothing more than a complete and utter failure.

I lean my head against the high back of the chair and stare at the timber beams running along the ceiling. I try not to hyperventilate as I replay the events of... whenever that was that I killed Barrow. I feel hollow and raw inside, like someone has scooped out anything that had ever been good about me.

Once I get my breathing under control, I scan the room again but see nothing but smooth stone, what I think are cedar beams, a solitary light bulb on the ceiling, and this monster of a chair. I’m desperate for some means of escape, but there appears to be none other than the door across the room from me, which is no doubt locked. Not that I could reach it now anyway. But I have to get out of here, find my friends, make sure they’re safe. I’ll take whatever punishment I must, even their hatred, but I have to find them first.

But there are no windows, no other furnishings, nothing on the walls. I have no sense of how long I’ve been here, no idea if it’s day or night. The minutes stretch, but nothing changes.

"Hello? Can anyone hear me?”

No one answers, and I worry that maybe this is all in my mind as I’m dying. Maybe I am still on the ground, moments away from death. Did Keller actually kill me as I asked him to? Were the red-cloaked figures just a hallucination brought about by my imminent death? I shake my head. That doesn’t seem right. I remember a stinging prick in my neck followed quickly by fire racing along my veins. Poison? So I’m lying in the snow with poison burning the life out of me. Maybe it’s a fitting way to go for a killer like myself.

A couple more minutes tick by, and the fog surrounding what happened lifts a little. I consider that I’m not dead, but I’ve instead gone stark raving crazy. I’m drifting through thoughts I don’t want to have when the door suddenly opens. At first no one comes in, no one is even visible. I’m still out of it enough to think that I’ve imagined it. I know I didn’t do it because I’m currently as powerless as Toni and Keller.

I’m beginning to think it’s one of the spirits Keller and his father hunt when someone appears in the doorway and starts walking toward me. I blink several times, trying to focus. As the woman draws close, I recognize her. Sarah Davenport.

Anger explodes out of me, surging against my restraints until they catch me. "You! You did this to me.”

"Yes.” Nothing more. No apology, no explanation, nothing.

"You betrayed us. Where the hell were you? We needed help!”

"No, you are the betrayer.” Her words hit me like a punch to the gut because I know she’s right. "Because of you, the covens will return to Salem. And when they do, more people will surely die.”

Fiona’s face flashes through my memory. Then Amos Barrow’s. Even my mother’s. All dead because of me, because of the ancient evil within me and all dark coven witches, an evil I can’t control. My insides twist at the idea of adding more people to that list. Are my friends already a part of that terrible tally?

I swallow hard and force the questions out. "Where are my friends? Is Keller alive?” I hear the desperation in my voice, know how vulnerable it makes me, but I don’t care. I have to know, even though part of me is frightened to hear her answer.

She eyes me with a cold stare. "Where was your concern for them when you let loose at Barrow?”

Sarah might as well have stabbed me in the heart. I swallow hard before I’m able to respond. "I’m not making excuses for what I did. I know it was wrong. But, please, tell me if they’re okay.”

Instead of answering my question, Sarah continues to stare at me with a look that says she’s deciding my fate. Anger wells in me, and I jerk against my restraints, trying with all my strength to draw on my magic. And still, Sarah does nothing but stare. I feel like a rat in a lab with a scientist watching my reaction to stimuli.

I stare back at her, and I don’t try to hide how much I hate her right now.

Sarah takes a few steps to the left. "Adele and Rule are safely back home.”

Why is she mentioning only them by name? My heart squeezes in fear.

"Toni? Egan?”

"Safe.”

"Keller?” My voice breaks midway through his name.

For a moment, I don’t think she’s going to tell me. Tears pool in my eyes at the thought that her hesitation means he’s dead. I shouldn’t look weak in front of her, but the tears break free and run down my cheeks.

"He’s fine. Barrow missed him.”

I send up a prayer of thanks and hope God can hear the prayers of someone like me. I notice Sarah still watching me carefully, and a new fear that she’s lying explodes inside me. After all, I don’t truly know this woman. I know deep in my gut that she’s kept things from me for her own purposes. Is she lying for the same reasons?

"How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

"You don’t, but I am.They did nothing wrong. They’re not the ones that set us up for our very own Armageddon.”

I jerk on my hand restraints again as if this time they’ll magically break free.

"You have no power, so you might as well stop struggling,” Sarah says.

I bite down on my anger, knowing I’m not entitled to it. A voice inside me whispers that Sarah may have done more to protect my friends than I have, that I’ve done nothing more than sign their death warrants. But I don’t know that. I can’t know that she’s telling the truth, not until I see the others with my own eyes.

As a little more of the muddle clears in my head, I notice she’s wearing a red dress and heels, very unlike what I’ve seen her wear at the library or when we worked together to try to access any white witch powers I might possess. Are those powers gone along with my dark magic? Did I blow my one chance to truly make a difference?

For some reason, my eyes focus on a bit of swirling piping around the collar of her dress. Something clicks in my head, the red.

"At the cemetery...” I squint, trying to remember if I’d really seen what I thought I had. "You were wearing a red cloak. So were the others.”

She nods. "I didn’t know whether you saw before the poison took effect.”

I start to reach for my neck, but my restraints stop me.

"It was necessary to poison you. It gave the darkness inside you something to fight besides us. In the state you were in, you likely would have killed everyone around you, no matter how you felt about them.”

"Why did you bring me here? Why not kill me?”

"We are not in the habit of killing others.” Unlike me. "And like it or not, I need you.” She crosses her arms. "You are here because you may still be able to help fix this mess you caused.”

I find it extremely hard to swallow when my mind manufactures a horrible image of the snow-covered ground blanketed with blackened, smoking bodies like Amos Barrow’s. No matter how much I long to be free, the Bane have done the right thing in restraining me.

Sarah takes a few slow steps closer to me. "The answer to one question will determine your future, yours and Egan’s. When the covens arrive, whose side will you be on? Ours or theirs?”

I open my mouth, but the answer is not as simple as it should be. Why does it even matter whose side I’m on? I’ve already proven myself unstable. If the Bane let me go and I regain my powers, will I be more of a danger to them, my friends and the rest of the residents of Salem than savior? If I find myself in the same situation, the intersection of the darkness inside me and my worst fears, will I react the same way? Or is there hope that I can become a true white witch and protect everyone I’ve put in mortal danger?

I look Sarah in the eye and don’t flinch from her hard, demanding gaze. "I don’t know. I want to say yours, but I don’t trust myself. I’m not sure I trust you either.” I lift my hands until the chains at my wrists tighten. "You obviously don’t trust me.”

"With good reason.” Sarah takes a slow step closer. "But as much as I hate being put in this position, I don’t really have a choice here. We need you. The covens are too powerful for us. If we are to have any hope of surviving this war with them, you have to fully access your white witch powers and learn to suppress your darker nature for good.”

I jerk my left hand up until the restraints catch me. "I can’t. I don’t have any power. Somehow you took it away.”

"The dark magic is still in you, but it’s harnessed. That’s why you can’t feel it, can’t access it.”

I look at her, confused. "You have a way of harnessing dark magic, and you haven’t done anything about the covens?”

"There are only a handful of Bane,” she says as she closes the distance between us. She jerks the end of my left sleeve up to reveal a silver bracelet with a Celtic double spiral, a bracelet exactly like the one she wears. "How are we supposed to get these on thousands of dark witches without getting killed?”

Disbelief and anger surge through me, fighting for dominance. "But you could have harnessed me sooner, kept me from killing Barrow.”

"Yes.” A moment of guilt flickers in Sarah’s eyes. "That was a mistake, not doing so, but we didn’t know if it would damage your white magic. We still don’t know.”

"This doesn’t make sense.” I nod toward her wrist. "You wear a bracelet, and you can do magic.”

Sarah lifts her arm. "Look at this,” she says. "Then look at yours.”

For a moment, I simply stare at her as if she’s talking in riddles. I shift my gaze to her bracelet, a twin to mine. But when I look at my own arm again, I realize what she means. She wears hers like a normal piece of jewelry while mine is actually a part of my body, fused to the skin. My stomach turns and my head swims, and I have to look away from where my wrist appears to be melded around the edge of the silver. I let my head fall back against the chair and close my eyes.

"We’ve made adjustments throughout the years,” Sarah says. "The Bane have learned to control our magic, but we still wear the bracelets to guard against us backsliding into dark magic. We’ve created our own spells, including the one that makes it impossible for you to take off that bracelet. It’s not just a device used to prevent dark magic. It causes your own body to work against itself and suppress the magic to where you can’t even feel its presence.”

I swallow down the nausea and look closely at the fusion of metal and skin. "How did you know this would work on me?”

"We didn’t, not for sure.”

I try not to think of what their Plan B probably involved if the bracelet hadn’t worked.

"You took a big risk,” I say.

Sarah nods. "We did, but we had to try to save you from your dark magic. We’re at the point of no return. We’re in new territory here, and I’m not going to stand here and tell you I know exactly how we need to go forward. But we have to do whatever we can to help you access your white witch powers.” She pauses and takes a deep breath. "I should have done more before, brought you here sooner.”

"What if the white magic is gone?”

"It can’t be,” Sarah says, sounding determined. "If it is, every member of the Bane dies. Your friends die. You die.” The way she says it lets me know that despite her earlier assertion, she and the rest of the Bane will kill me if I prove too much of a danger and the covens don’t end me first.

A tremendous weight settles on my shoulders at the enormity of the task before me. This is fate-of-the-world stuff, and I hold it in my hands. A huge ball of doubt settles in my stomach. How can I possibly believe I’m strong enough to defeat the covens now, after I’ve killed a powerless human? But what choice do I have but to try? I can’t just sit here a harnessed prisoner while the covens kill without remorse because of my defection, because they view me as a threat.

This situation is so far removed from what I expected when I ran away from home so I could live a normal life. Where I find myself bears absolutely no resemblance to normal, not even the normal I knew before fleeing my coven.

I started all of this with that one fateful decision. It’s up to me to end it. I may fail, but it won’t be because I don’t try.

"Okay,” I say.

"This will be harder than anything you’ve ever done.”

"Of that I have no doubt.” Nothing worth having ever comes easily. And a world without the covens’ threat to humanity, to my friends, is definitely worth having. "So what now?”

"Now we plan for the inevitable arrival of the covens. The Bane have stayed hidden for a very long time, but that’s going to come to an end.”

"Can’t you just stay here until they go away?”

"Do you really think they’re going to go away without finding you? If your white witch powers are still accessible, you pose the single biggest threat to the covens’ way of life. They’re not going to leave Salem until they root you out and kill you. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

I eye the bracelet melded to my wrist. "How do we find out if the powers are still there?”

"We take off the bracelet and pick up where we left off, only at a more accelerated pace.”

I shift my gaze to Sarah. "Do you really think that’s safe? What if I kill you and everyone else here?”

She points at the bracelet. "We’re not taking it off immediately. There’s a lot you need to know and understand before we take that step. We’ll go through what we’re going to do after the bracelet is removed before we even think about actually taking it off. We’ll take plenty of precautions.”

I shift in my uncomfortable seat. "What do you want me to do?”

"Remember everything we did before you decided to act as judge, jury and executioner.”

I flinch at the term "executioner,” but that’s exactly what I turned into when I killed Barrow. It was one thing to kill a dark witch, quite another to murder a human who had no power beyond the weapons he wielded even if he was a murderer.

"You let your rage rule you that night, and it had deadly consequences,” Sarah says. "We have to encourage the white magic to force its way to the surface, to override the dark and everything you were taught growing up. You have to learn very quickly what it took the Bane decades to control, plus master the full force of the white witch powers. That’s a tall order, but it’s our only hope of surviving.”

"How long before we take off the bracelet?”

"That depends on you.” Sarah takes a few steps across the room. "We’ve never done anything like this before, never had the opportunity, so we’ll be learning as we go, all of us.”

I wish I had learned everything I needed to know, and mastered my white witch power before I encountered Barrow. But wishing doesn’t do me any good now. "I’m sorry, about everything.”

Sarah turns toward me. "I want to believe you are, but words are empty until they are backed up by actions. Don’t tell me you’re sorry or that you want to do the right thing. Show me.”

"I will.” A surge of determination wells up within me despite the doubt pecking away at it like a vulture at a dead animal.

A knock sounds at the door, and Sarah goes to answer it. Amanda walks in with a tray of food and heads toward me. Her eyes are harder when she looks at me than Sarah’s, and I get the distinct impression that she doesn’t have the hope that I’ll redeem myself that Sarah holds. I can’t say that I blame her.

"You need to eat,” Sarah says. "What you’ll be doing in the days ahead will require strength.”

Instead of leaving me alone to eat the cheeseburger and fries, Sarah dives right into my training by going back over everything we’ve already been through in the days since she first agreed to help me. Of course I can’t actually feel my power right now since it’s temporarily in hibernation, but just hearing Sarah’s instructions, remembering what it felt like to move through the darkness inside me to find the light, helps to settle me and prepare me for what lies ahead. I want to rip off the bracelet and do it all for real, but I have no choice but to trust Sarah and her methods. Trying it my way had been a colossal failure.

Though there is no clock in the room, I feel as though the hour is late when Sarah finally gestures with her hands in a way that indicates we’re done for the day. As she heads for the door, the sudden fear that she’s leaving me here for good slams into me.

"Can I see my friends?”

"I don’t think that’s a good idea right now,” she says without hesitation.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s because she wants to ensure my cooperation, if she thinks it will cause me to relapse, or if my friends don’t want to see me and she doesn’t want to tell me that yet. It doesn’t really matter why. It all boils down to the fact that I can’t see with my own eyes that they are okay.

"Can you at least unchain me? My back is killing me.”

Sarah stares at me for a moment, then nods to Amanda, who crosses the room and unhooks the chains at my wrists then my ankles.

"Consider this a gesture of reward for your cooperation today,” Sarah says. "Do anything that we see as a threat, and they’ll be back on faster than you can take a breath. And next time your neck will be chained to the back of the chair as well.”

Anger makes me fist my hands, but I force myself to unfurl my fingers. One step at a time, I have to earn her trust and a little more freedom. One step at a time, I have to learn to trust myself again.

Without another word, Sarah and Amanda leave the room and lock me inside with my thoughts, my anxiety and my regrets.


 

 

Chapter Two

The world is on fire. I walk barefoot through a red-hot landscape, each step scorching my skin and drawing howls of pain from my parched, raw throat. The flames lick at my body, threatening to consume my skin, my bones, every last speck of my being.

And I deserve it.

Where else should a murderer filled to bursting with black, roiling evil be than hell? Still, I want to fight it, to convince fate that I’m not evil. That I can be good if I’m just given another chance.

Laughter assaults my ears like metal claws scraping across glass. I spin and see Amos Barrow standing on the other side of the flames. His face is charred beyond recognition, but I know it’s him. I’ll never forget that sight as long as I live.

But I’m in hell. That means I’m dead. God, I’m going to have to see that image for eternity. Tears streak out of my eyes but evaporate in the heat, leaving stinging paths along my cheeks.

Can I atone here? Is there anything I can do to make forever less painful? I drop to my knees and look upward, but I don’t see anything but a black void and the orange tinge of the flames. I feel as if I’m falling into that void. My heart thumps hard as I feel bits of myself slipping away. Terror shoots through me when I can’t remember my name. Who am I? Why am I here? I reach out in a blind panic and manage to latch on to answers.

Jax Pherson, that’s my name. I’m a dark witch. And I murdered a man, a human with no supernatural powers. Now I am paying the price. As if to put an exclamation point on that thought, the flames closing in around me catch my hair on fire. No matter how much I beat at the flames, they won’t go out.

"I’m sorry!” I scream. "I’m sorry! Please forgive me!”

Barrow continues to laugh, and I know the sound will drive me mad. And forever is a very long time to be crazy.

Suddenly, I can’t breathe. The air is too hot. Each time I try to inhale, flames ride the air into my mouth and leave me choking. Air, I need air. The edges of my vision begin to fade as I suffocate.

The darkness stirs within me, but this time it’s not enough. This time, I cry out in agony as I succumb to the flames.

I jerk awake gasping, desperate for air to fill my burning lungs. The flames, they’re so hot on my skin. Unbearable. I inhale in great gulps, and slowly I realize the air isn’t scorching. In fact, it’s quite cool. My skin isn’t melting. I’m not in hell. Not technically.

As more of the nightmare slips away, I force myself to focus on the ceiling beams. Gradually, reality replaces the dream, not that reality is a whole lot better. I’m still a dark witch, still a killer, and still a prisoner. But I’m not burning. Instead, I’m lying on a thin mattress in the corner of the dungeon-like room where the Bane brought me after I killed Barrow.

I close my eyes tightly, as if that might keep out the images haunting me. But it does no good. The details of the past few days replay in my mind, beginning with the horror of seeing Fiona Day’s body. Tears leak out of the closed corners of my eyes and roll down my temples into my hair.

Fiona became like a grandmother to me during our short acquaintance. Not only did she and her family provide Egan and me with information to help us understand our history as dark witches, but she also showed me what I might become if I could find a way to rid the covens of their dark powers. If I rid myself of that same power.

She was the kindest person I’ve ever met, a descendant of pre-Salem witch trial witches, which meant her family had not taken in the dark magic that fuels the covens today. Instead, they’d fled and become observers, keepers of a three-century repository of information about witches and Salem. She believed I was some sort of chosen one meant to end the covens’ evil reign for good. How wrong she’d been.

The sight of her lying there on the floor of Wiccan Good Herbs, a hole in her chest and her life’s blood pooling beneath her, turned a switch in me. The need for revenge swelled to the point of consuming me. Only now that the blackness had been suppressed inside me could I feel the oppressive guilt of what I’d done—not only killing Amos Barrow but also letting down Fiona.

I consider getting up, but the thought of not being able to go any farther than the confines of this barren room keeps me right where I am. I attempt to push the pain and regret and guilt away by replaying Sarah’s lessons about accessing my white magic. A couple of times, I think I can really feel it, even harnessed as it is. But that must be the fatigue playing tricks on my brain. No matter how much I try, I can’t focus for long. I wonder if I’ve ever been so tired, so lethargic. I can’t determine if it’s still the after-effects of the tranquilizer or if the events of the past several weeks have just finally caught up to me with a physical and mental KO.

But I can’t just fall into a restful sleep that will hopefully prepare me for the work ahead. Each time I drift off, I’m greeted with images I want to forcibly purge from my memory. I’d be willing to forget who I am if I could only stop remembering Fiona’s death. The sound of Barrow’s screams as I sent the equivalent of lightning bolts through his body. The look of pain on Keller’s face as he’d faced the very real possibility of having to put me down like a rabid animal.

I must fall asleep again at some point because I come awake with a gasp when someone touches my shoulder. A potent fear pulses inside me, a lingering effect of whatever nightmare I’m having this time. As sleep recedes, I notice Sarah rising to her full height beside me and taking a step back. I can’t identify the expression on her face, but I get the weirdest impression that part of it is sorrow.

"Another nightmare?”

I nod as I push myself up to a sitting position. "I can’t sleep without them. I guess it serves me right.”

"Perhaps.” She doesn’t sound entirely convinced, and I wonder what thoughts are going through her head. But I’m too tired to ask, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know.

"Time to work, I guess.” Although I don’t know how effective I’ll be when I feel as though I’ve been dropped off a skyscraper then run over by a really large truck.

"I think perhaps a shower and some clean clothes might make things a touch easier.”

At her mention of a shower, I realize there is almost nothing I want more than to scrub a couple of layers of skin off. It’s like if I can shed enough I can truly start over. With a grunt that would sound more at home coming from a person three times my age, I get to my feet.

"Once we leave this room, know that you’ll be no closer to escape. This facility is locked down.”

"Where would I go?” I ask. "Anyone I care about is probably in this building somewhere, and all I want is to see with my own eyes that they are okay. Even if they all hate me.”

"That’s all you want?”

I meet Sarah’s eyes and get the distinct impression that this question is a test just as much as me trying to control my power will be. "Make that the first thing I want. Then mastering my power and somehow earning everyone’s trust again. And finally defeating the covens once and for all.”

A part of me whispers that none of these desires will ever be satisfied. I don’t deserve my friends. I’ve proven my magic is stronger than my willpower. And if I can’t control myself, how in the world am I going to defeat hundreds, thousands of dark witches?

Sarah nods. "Good answer.” She gestures for me to follow her toward the door.

Once we’re outside the room, it looks totally different. Gone is the dungeon décor, replaced by plain white walls. The stone floor gives way to large blocks of gray tile. I never thought I’d appreciate generic drywall, but it’s so much brighter than the stone-and-timber room that I feel as though I’ve just been exposed to sunshine after being in a cave.

Sarah’s heels click against the tile as she heads down the corridor to the right. I get the feeling this Sarah of the slick clothes and high heels is the real Sarah Davenport, not the average, forgettable librarian. But if the Bane’s goal is to stay hidden, the public Sarah was much better at it. I wonder if perhaps we have that one thing in common, having to hide who we truly are in order to survive. Then I remember the vague image of her in that field beside the cemetery in those few moments after I killed Barrow.

"What was with the red cloaks?” I ask as I follow her. "Cloaks always look cool in fiction, but aren’t they a pain in the ass in real life?”

She glances over her shoulder at me. "A bit of homage to our founders.”

"Little Red Riding Hood?” I don’t know why I’m joking. I can only recall one time when I felt less like joking, and that was in the days after my mother’s murder. Maybe I’m not just dangerous but also truly unhinged. Really, who makes jokes when they’ve killed a person and face potential annihilation?

Sarah slows, allowing me to come alongside her. "Penelope.”

As in Penelope Davenport, one of the original members of the Bane.

Sarah’s answer surprises me, and I pull myself from my crazy thoughts and pay attention.

"Her grandmother gave her a red cloak for her birthday only weeks before the witch trials began,” Sarah says. "Once the accusers started pointing fingers, her parents told her to burn the cloak because it drew too much attention. Survival demanded witches not draw attention or seem too reclusive. They had to keep a delicate balance. So instead of burning the cloak, she hid it at the bottom of her trunk. She hoped that she might be able to wear it again once the hysteria passed.”

"But she never got the chance.”

Sarah shakes her head. "When her family accepted the dark power, she realized that the human accusers were the lesser of the two evils. Her grandmother spoke out against the new covens, and her own son, Penelope’s father, killed her for it. That’s when Penelope knew she had to disappear. When she left her family, she took the cloak with her in honor of her grandmother.”

For a moment I’m stunned by the story of Penelope’s grandmother, and in my mind the woman looks like Fiona. I swallow and blink against tears. My heart breaks that I’ll never see her again, never watch as she bundles herbs, never talk to her about what witches are supposed to be like.

"They were all so much stronger than me,” I say, wishing I had a tenth of the strength of those early witches who resisted the dark magic.

"Let’s hope that’s not really true.” Sarah stops outside a door. "They were fighting for their own survival. You’ll be fighting for the survival of us all.”

"No pressure there,” I say under my breath.

Sarah opens the room to reveal a bathroom. In case she might suddenly change her mind, I hurry inside and close the door behind me. When I notice clean clothes folded on the end of the vanity, I quickly pull off the ones I’m wearing and shove them in the trash can. I never want to see them again.

When I step below the flow of hot water and lather my skin, it feels better than anything I’ve ever experienced. At least until I start scrubbing so hard that it feels as if my skin really will peel away. But no matter how hard I scrub, the nasty feeling of being cloaked in darkness doesn’t go away. I lean my palms against the side of the shower, letting the water beat against the top of my head and flow down my back. I consider crying again, but all that will get me is a pounding headache and itchy eyes. Crying won’t bring me any closer to ensuring my friends’ safety, no closer to mastering any remnant of white magic I might possess. So instead of giving in to tears, I stiffen my spine and resolve to deal head-on with whatever comes, no matter how much it might hurt.

I also resolve that I will see my friends before I do one more thing Sarah and the rest of the Bane demand. They will have to give me what I want because they need me.

When I dry off and get dressed in a pair of loose, gray cotton track pants and a long-sleeved tee, I plunk down on the top of the closed toilet lid, not ready to face Sarah yet. I know every moment is of the essence, but I still take a few to settle the tasks ahead in my head.

My gaze lands on the bracelet encircling my wrist. I rub my fingertips along the surface, wondering how it can do what I’ve only seen a Siphoning Circle do before. Someone knocks on the door.

"Yeah.”

When the door opens, it’s no surprise that Sarah is on the other side. So far, she and Amanda are the only people I’ve seen. I realize I don’t know anything more than I did when I last saw her before killing Barrow. Well, there was the history of the red cloaks, but that doesn’t help me at all.

"How does it work?” I ask.

"They’re soaked in water with several evil-warding herbs then spelled.”

I notice she doesn’t mention which herbs or any details about the spell, but that’s not important right now. "Why does it look like my skin has grown around mine and yours doesn’t?”

"Because I’ve never lived as a dark witch. Your spell had to be stronger. As did Egan’s.”

I hate that Egan has been caught up in this mess because of me. I wonder if he’s chained as well, even though he did nothing wrong. I try to reach out with my senses to feel him, but there’s nothing there. Despite how frightening my power has become in recent days, I miss it. My heart aches that I no longer have that connection to Egan. He’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother, to a real, caring family. He’s the only coven witch I know who isn’t pure evil.

I can’t sense the presence of Keller, Toni or anyone else either. Is this what it’s like for normal humans all the time? Not having any core-deep connection ever? I don’t envy them this yawning emptiness where awareness used to be.

"I want to see him.” I say.

"In time.”

I slowly rise to my feet and face her. "No, now.”

When she appears as if she’s going to deny me again, I speak before she can. "The sooner you prove to me that my friends are okay, the quicker you gain my full cooperation.”

Sarah knows she’s going to have to give me what I want, and she doesn’t like it one bit. Without a word, she turns and walks away. Hoping I really have won this duel, I follow. After several twists and turns, she stops in front of a door and places her hand flat against a panel beside it. The lock clicks, and she steps back.

"Go ahead.”

I stare at her for a moment, considering this might be a trap set to return me to a room like the one where I was kept until a short time ago or even something worse. But when I wrap my hand around the doorknob and open it, I see Egan sitting in a chair at the back of the room, his feet propped on a metal desk in front of him. I’m so happy to see him alive and well that I don’t even care when I hear the door shut and lock behind me.

The moment Egan sees me, his eyes widen, the front of the chair drops forward, and he leaps to his feet.

"Jax, you’re alive.”

It touches me deeper than I would have ever imagined that he cares so much. Maybe he feels that same type of sibling bond that I do.

"Yeah,” I say as I walk toward him. "Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.”

He shakes his head as he stops a couple of feet in front of me. "I knew you would do this.”

"What?”

"Blame yourself.”

"It’s not exactly anyone else’s fault that Amos Barrow is dead.”

"From where I’m standing, it was his.”

My mouth opens in shock. "Egan, you can’t possibly condone what I did.”

"Do I think you should have killed a human? No. But he wasn’t without fault.” He pauses. "And neither was I.”

"You? You tried to stop me.”

"Obviously not hard enough.”

"You know you couldn’t stop me, not even if you used every ounce of your power. I was too strong, too far gone.”

Egan runs his fingers back through his messy blond hair as he paces toward the edge of the room. "None of this is fair to you. It’s too much power for one person to have to control.”

"It is what it is.” I stand still in the middle of the room, fighting the urge to hug him, to have some sort of positive human contact. "And if I can somehow manage to salvage my white witch powers and use them to stop the covens, it’s a weight I’ll find some way to bear.”

"So you still have your magic?”

"Yes and no.” I point toward the silver cuff bracelet on his left arm then at the one on mine. "This is the reason it feels like we have no power.” I tell him everything Sarah shared with me about how the bracelets work.

He lifts his arm and looks at the bracelet from all sides. "Damn.”

"That about sums it up.”

"I couldn’t even sense whether you were alive or dead,” he says.

"Me neither. It feels so—”

"Empty.”

"Yeah.”

Egan looks past me toward the door. "Have you seen the others?”

I shake my head. "Sarah says they’re fine, that Adele and Rule were taken back home.”

"That doesn’t seem safe for them.”

"I know, but I don’t seem to be in a position to do anything about it.”

Egan walks toward the door. "So what are they going to do with us?”

"I’m going to be learning to master my white magic, if it’s still there.”

Egan’s gaze snaps back to me. "They think it might be gone?”

"They don’t know. The bracelet could have snuffed it out, or I could have destroyed it when I killed Barrow.”

Egan turns fully toward me and crosses his arms across his chest. "I’ll help you any way I can, you know that.”

I do, and he’ll never know how much his support means, especially since I was afraid I might have lost him and the others forever.

"What are they going to have you do?” he asked.

"Learn everything I can about white magic, master my emotions, then eventually take off the bracelet and see if I can even be trusted to not kill everyone near me.”

We spend the next several minutes speculating about where we are, when the covens might arrive, if the Bane might release Keller and Toni and if we’ll ever see them again.

"It’s better if they send them home,” Egan says.

"I know.” Even if Keller can somehow dampen my dark urges and Toni can do the same for Egan, I still can’t help wanting them out of the covens’ path. I want them safe from the inevitable battle. And if I lose control again, I don’t want them to either witness it or potentially fall victim to my dark side.

Sarah returns with Amanda, the latter with a notebook and pen. "I need for you to tell me every single thing you know about the covens, their powers and their way of thinking.”

"That’ll take forever,” Egan says.

"How about we get that down to a day,” Amanda says and opens the notebook.

I step to Egan’s side and turn to face the two women. "Wouldn’t our time be better spent working on me learning to control my power?”

"We’ll work on that, too, but we need to be as well armed with knowledge as we are with magic. Successful battles come from well-thought-out battle plans and knowing one’s enemy.”

"And we can’t afford any more unfortunate accidents,” Amanda adds.

Sarah and Amanda grill us for hours, with only short bathroom breaks. Even when we eat a bit of fruit in the morning and turkey sandwiches around midday, the interrogation doesn’t stop. Egan and I cough up details about everything from the hierarchy of each coven to the extent of the dark magic wielded by the leaders down to the children. Sarah is particularly interested in every minute detail of the magic Egan and I possess.

"When will these come off?” Egan asks as he lifts his arm with the bracelet.

"When we think it’s safe.” Sarah doesn’t elaborate, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from making a snotty remark.

Finally, when I think if I have to answer one more question my head will explode, Sarah motions for Amanda to close the notebook in which she’s been taking copious notes. With a nod, they head for the door.

I take a step toward them. "Wait, where are you going? You said we were going to work on controlling the magic.” I still don’t see how that is going to be possible while that magic is locked down tight.

"We need to consider everything you’ve told us and strategize,” Sarah says.

I can’t help it. An ugly curse flies out of me as I throw up my hands. "We’ve talked until we’re blue in the face today. It’s time to take some action.”

"The last time you took action, a man ended up dead,” Amanda says.

I lunge at her before I think how it will look, but Egan grabs me around my middle and Sarah steps between us, extending her hands out toward us. "That’s enough, both of you.”

It gives me a small bit of satisfaction that Amanda receives a bit of a scolding, too.

"We’re wasting time yammering about family trees,” Egan says, echoing my thoughts as he releases me.

"The covens are all about families,” Sarah says. "From the very beginning, the family and control of that family has been the most important thing. We needed to know if that was still the case.”

Egan crosses his arms, frustration washing off him in waves. "Why?”

"Because it confirms that when the time comes, we’ll have to concentrate the majority of our attention toward your two covens. We can’t ignore the others, but yours will be the ones most determined to inflict harm.”

"I could have told you that,” Egan says.

"We like to confirm things for ourselves.”

I throw a rein on my anger. "Fine, it’s confirmed. But every minute we spend talking, it’s one more minute when the covens could be killing innocent people outside this building.”

Sarah’s face softens by a fraction, as if she’s glad to hear my concern for others. "We did a sweep of the entire area in and around Salem today. They’re nowhere nearby.”

"That doesn’t mean they’re not on their way.”

"No, it doesn’t, but the information you gave us today will allow us to ask the Latimers and their fellow observers to focus their attention in the right spots.”

"Don’t get them wrapped up in this any more than they are,” I say, some of the anger creeping back into my voice. That anger is fueled by my fear for my friends who aren’t protected by this facility.

"They’re going to help whether we ask them to or not. They told us as much.”

Again, Sarah and Amanda make for the door.

"What are we supposed to do now?” I ask.

Sarah turns back and simply stares for a long moment. "A bit of brainstorming. If you’re able to access your full power, consider how we might best attack the covens. If they bring a sizeable force here, even your white witch powers might be overwhelmed if you try to take them on all at once. We’ll have to find a way to attack them in stages.”

With that directive, the women vacate the room, leaving Egan and me to play generals.

After a few minutes of frustrated pacing, I tell Egan we might as well do as Sarah suggested. At least it might prove more productive than cursing our current helpless situation.

About the time my stomach starts growling, the door unlocks, and Amanda and a woman I’ve never seen before appear in the doorway. "Time to eat,” Amanda says, still not sounding like our biggest fan.

Egan and I give each other a quick glance before following the Bane down the hallway. After a couple of turns, she leads us into a dining room with a twelve-person oak table.

A gasp draws my attention to the far side of the table. Toni stares back at us with wide eyes that reflect no small amount of fear. It breaks my heart to see the girl I consider my best friend frightened of me.

In the next moment, my eyes find Keller’s. I’m so happy to see him tears of joy pool in my eyes, and I smile at him.

He doesn’t smile back.


 


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