Authors: Sydney Bristow
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Edited by Laura Kinglsey
Cover Design by Damonza
“Fear not, child,” said Zephora, the ancient sorceress who inhabited my mother’s body. “I created an enchantment centuries ago prohibiting all creatures from harming me.”
“What about Serena?” Alexis asked, pacing the carpet in her living room.
Hearing my name, I felt vulnerable and exposed because my spectral form stood between them. In the past, when I’d astral projected, Zephora had sensed my presence. Maybe she hadn’t noticed my proximity because I’d arrived only seconds ago, and she hadn’t had an opportunity to detect a change in the atmosphere. Of course, I could only guess my nearness somehow disrupted the environment because I had no idea how Zephora knew I’d inhabited the space around her before. After all, she’d somehow managed to incarnate during each of the past four centuries. Too much about Zephora’s history remained elusive.
Although I’d astral projected a few times, I wasn’t an expert at using that ability, and I wouldn’t know how to determine if Zephora had done likewise in my presence. Witches could discover the general whereabouts of another witch in their line, but I could only pinpoint their exact location after astral projecting. Since only Zephora and I had the ability, neither Alexis nor Celestina could do likewise. Regardless, I’d visited Alexis’s home in hopes of finding out if Zephora and Alexis planned to attack me. Both of them regarded me as a threat who might tear Celestina away from colluding with their nefarious schemes.
Perspiration dotted her forehead, and her body quivered slightly, despite having strapped her arms around her chest. Apparently, Zephora continued to suffer from drug withdrawal, which may have made it impossible to detect my soul signature. So far, she gave no indication she’d sensed my presence, whereas she had done so in the past. Since I had yet to comprehend how many abilities and how much power Zephora commanded, I didn’t know if she could harm my astral form so I had to be alert in case that happened.
“My sister wants you dead,” Alexis continued.
“That may be,” Zephora said, “but does she have the ability to kill me?”
“Hell no!” A wide smile stretched across my sister’s face. She lifted her arm, raising the bottle of caramel flavored vodka, and took a huge gulp. She exhaled as though forced to hold her breath to avoid inhaling a putrid scent.
The last time my sister and I spoke, she seemed unconvinced our mother had died. Now, however, she appeared resigned to the fact Zephora had claimed Delphine’s body as her own. Only one explanation sufficed. Alexis’s ambition to increase her power had overridden her respect for our mother. Alexis never showed any indication she’d loved our mother, only respected her supernatural abilities and the authority with which she used them.
Either that or Alexis had shielded herself against the mourning process by consuming even more liquor than usual. Then again, she didn’t seem the least bit tipsy as she took another swig from the bottle. Her eyes were alert and she didn’t slur her words, both indications she had a clear head. In any case, because she willingly conferred with Zephora, the sorceress must have somehow convinced my sister to work alongside her.
That truth pierced my soul. While in a spirit-state, I had no access to physical responses such as taste, touch, or scent, but upon learning my sister had chosen to side with an evil spellcaster, if I had inhabited my physical form, my gut would have twisted with agony. How could she have thrown in with someone who actively sought to destroy humanity and usher in a new reality, one where supernatural creatures ruled without opposition?
On second thought, I recalled a conversation where Alexis had defended our existence as witches, stating we were born with these supernatural abilities for a reason, and we should embrace our heritage. Just as important, she asserted we were better than humans, and we should take advantage of every opportunity to use our gifts to better our lot in life. I guess that now translated to,
hey, Zephora, let’s rule the world!
“Fear not, child,” said Zephora again, this time with a fixed smile that reminded me of every photograph of a clown who had a painted on smile. “Your sister fits into my plans. We shall deal with her at the appropriate time…and not a second before it.” All trace of wickedness left her countenance, replaced by a flat expression, void of humanity.
The devious intent made my soul quake. Hearing Zephora had plans for me, I drifted backwards a few feet, making it obvious I’d lost control of my spirit-state. I steadied myself with the knowledge she had no intention of attacking me just yet. Unfortunately, that begged the question, when would Zephora carry out her nefarious plans? Tomorrow? Next week? A month from now? The uncertainty once more made my soul shiver as though a gust of wind passed across me.
Despite Zephora’s conviction, Alexis didn’t look convinced. “But you said if anyone with supernatural powers dies, the curse binding them to follow whatever you say is broken. Serena died, so—”
“Those in our line have always had free will,” said Zephora. “I can only sway those with paranormal abilities outside of our line.”
I appreciated that Zephora couldn’t use mind-control to force me to follow her every edict. I supposed this rule went alongside the one preventing the elders in our line from hurting those who succeeded them, although that rule didn’t apply to those younger than their forbearers.
Zephora, probably wondering if Alexis had questioned her authority, glared at my sister.
As the seconds ticked by, Alexis looked like a cursed doll – utterly still and emotionless, yet somehow harboring malicious intent. Moments later, my sister sniffed, about to chuckle at the sorceress’s ability to manipulate her, but before Alexis could even open her mouth to refute her, she lowered her gaze to the bottle of vodka, as though desirous of taking a sip to settle her nerves, if only she could muster the confidence needed to appear unafraid. A nervous tick made her right eye twitch.
I’d never seen my sister so uncertain, so hesitant. I almost felt bad for her, but the whole colluding-with-evil thing kinda put me back on track. Still, I had to admit Zephora had so much presence that I now comprehended how others granted her absolute respect. Luckily for me, I didn’t stand in Alexis’s shoes. A second later, a new thought hit me, and I realized that at some point in the future, perhaps even sometime soon, I
be standing before her…and I couldn’t afford to bow down to her.
My soul filled with dread and doubt. I’d been a witch for less than a week. How could I defeat the most powerful witch who ever existed? Rather than allow my thoughts to spiral down into an abyss of inferiority, I decided to remain on task to find out whatever else I could about Zephora’s plans.
“No,” Alexis said finally, still not meeting Zephora’s gaze. “I’m not questioning you.”
The sorceress nodded, a fickle smile hovering on her lips. “Very well. Now then, we must set our attention toward enacting my plan. In order for it to succeed, we need Celestina to view matters from our perspective.” She bestowed a direct gaze on Alexis. “Child? Meet my eyes.”
Alexis slowly lifted her gaze until she did as requested.
“How shall we proceed with this endeavor?” asked Zephora.
“Celestina is very…stubborn.”
“Indeed. It is a common trait among the best of witches. How shall we go about securing her allegiance?”
“My daughter gets lonely. She likes to be included in discussions.” She took another sip, and the dose must have filled her with confidence…or maybe the buzz just comforted her because she spoke with aplomb. “She wants to feel important. Like many kids, she wants to be an adult.”
“Excellent. Then we shall call upon her.”
Zephora released an irritated sigh. “Now, Alexis! Retrieve her so she can take part in our discussion.”
Alexis spun around and headed down the hall toward Celestina’s bedroom.
I watched her go. How could Alexis carry on knowing her mother had died, only to find another entity had slipped into her body? The liquor surely dulled her emotions, but how could she continue looking at her mother knowing she no longer resided there? When Zephora did the same trick and taken possession of Grams’s body, I needed to focus with all my energy to remain poised and pretend not to notice. It had been a torturous exercise in futility, but I’d managed to succeed only because Grams had demanded I do so in hopes of keeping Zephora off balance.
Before that, however, I had adjusted to a similar oddity when I found out I had an identical sister. It was bizarre to look at yourself and know your mirror image didn’t belong to you but someone else. Still, the situation differed in that, Alexis had always been…Alexis, whereas Delphine’s body carried on, yet someone else had taken control of it. I still couldn’t wrap my mind around how Alexis disregarded her feelings with such ease. On second thought, I marveled at how my sister could displace her thoughts to carry out any given thought or measure in order to fulfill whichever conclusion she favored.
When I turned around, I discovered Zephora staring directly at me.
My soul jerked upwards as though someone had slammed their hands down on my shoulders. Had she seen me? Was that why she looked into my eyes? On second thought, if she had seen me, she would have acknowledged me in order to show her superiority, but her facial muscles didn’t so much as twitch. I had to assume she was unaware of my presence. That settled me down a bit and made it easier to concentrate.
“What’s going on?” asked Celestina from behind me.
Without even blinking, still staring right through me, Zephora smiled as Alexis and my niece entered the living room. “Please accept my apologies,” she said and stepped…right through me in order to approach the only family members I had left. The moment she passed through my soul, I felt a chill that made me quiver. I suspected the wintry sensation stemmed from her evil nature. I would hate it if her frigidity clung to my soul.
Once Zephora went through me, she stopped and slanted her head to the side, as though to question what had caught her attention. A second later, however, she returned her attention straight ahead of her.
Just as I’d felt her soul, I presumed she’d felt mine, which must have alerted her to a disturbance in the air. Although a suspicious individual, Zephora hadn’t turned back to identify what had caught her attention. Had she felt my presence, but preferred not to make that information known? My uncertainty kept me on high alert.
“Your mother thought you might wish to take part in our conversation,” Zephora told my niece.
I swiveled around to watch the proceedings.
When Celestina set her gaze on Zephora, she halted. Her eyes went wide as though she’d just stepped on a rock while barefoot. Had she done so because seeing Zephora shocked her? If so, it meant Zephora had just returned to the house for the first time since the other day, when Alexis still thought her mother was alive. Now, to see Zephora inhabiting her grandmother’s body, Celestina must have realized Alexis had accepted Zephora into their lives. Either that or my niece…saw me as well.
It made sense considering she’d seen me in my spirit form before. We’d actually chatted during that instance. Maybe Celestina was trying to absorb both of these possibilities. Therefore, I could understand her shock. At least she wouldn’t have to face her mother and Zephora alone. Although I couldn’t affect the proceedings between them, I hoped my moral support would comfort my niece, to let her know she wouldn’t have to experience this attempt to corrupt her essential goodness…alone.
Celestina looked sideways at her mother.
“I believe you now,” Alexis said. “I realize Mother is no longer with us, but Zephora is the most powerful witch who ever existed. She
Zephora raised a finger as though Alexis had forgotten an important detail. “Correction: the most powerful witch who will
exist.” She slanted her head to the side and allowed a gentle smile to appear as she bunched her hands into a ball against her abdomen.
“See?” Alexis placed her palm on Celestina’s head. “She’s here to help us.”
“Help us?” my niece asked, scrunching up her face, her eyes full of mistrust. “How?”
“To train you,” Zephora said.
“Every witch needs a mentor.”
“I don’t need one,” she said flippantly, as though anyone would have known the same. “Mom needs it more than me.” She spun around. “I’m going back to bed.”
Had Celestina tried to dissuade Zephora from following through with her plans because she disagreed with them, or because she considered Zephora as unworthy of the respect Alexis paid her? I couldn’t tell. My niece had displayed more than the three abilities that witches in our line had access to, and maybe that fact increased her self-esteem and made her feel that Zephora needed to earn her respect, not the other way around.
“You shall not!” Zephora shouted in a deep and menacing tone.
My niece expected to walk away, but Zephora’s stern voice made her stop so abruptly that when she planted her foot onto the carpet, she almost fell forward. Luckily, she regained her balance and aborted an attempt to keep moving.
Zephora gritted her teeth. “It is rude and inconsiderate to turn your back on one of your elders in the middle of a conversation.”