Authors: Karen Mead
Succession of Witches
By Karen Mead
Text Copyright© 2013 Karen Mead
To my brother Adam, even though he keeps lobbying for a Cassie-free book.
Table of Contents
Sam had been staying at Bob’s Motel on the outskirts of the city for almost seven months, which was a record even for him. He’d lived in cheap motels before, but usually he foun
d an apartment before the three-month marker. However, his first few attempts to find an apartment in Sterling had been fairly nightmarish, and at some point, procrastinating on further apartment hunting became living at Bob’s for the forseeable future.
It wasn’t all bad. The place was cheap, but the maids did a serviceable job cleaning the place, saving him the effort of cleaning up after himself. There was a free continental breakfast of all the stale cereal you could eat, which might not be very appetizing but would do in a pinch. Most importantly, the room did have one really comfy reading chair, the importance of which was not to be underestimated.
While it could get noisy at night, at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon the place was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Or a bunch of library books, which was what Sam was currently trying to levitate. Taking on a familiar had done what no amount of nagging from Dr. Serenus Zeitbloom and his mother could accomplish: motivated him to practice his magic. He had realized that if he wanted to get Cassie to stop being scared of him, it would probably help if he was a little less scared of himself.
There was a painfully loud
as the Sterling Public Library’s copy of
War and Peace
banged into the ceiling. Sam winced; he shouldn’t be using the works of Russian authors for levitation practice. The book stuck to the ceiling for a moment before falling, and Sam managed to get his hands under it before it hit the carpeting. A banging on the ceiling from the room above made it clear that the hotel wasn’t entirely empty; someone up there wasn’t keen on the noise he was making. Sam knocked gently on the ceiling, hoping the guest above him would take it for the nonverbal apology it was.
After he knocked, he heard a soft thumping noise coming from the wall behind him, from behind the bed. Sam raised
an eyebrow; no one was staying in that room. Maybe one of the maids was in there.
He ran his fingers over the worn cover of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, wondering what he was doing wrong. For some reason, it was easier to move the book in big, sweeping movements
. Trying to get it to hover just a few inches above the table was what had led to smacking the book into the ceiling. With the big movements, it was just a general release of energy that he didn’t have to think about much, but getting the book to hover required summoning flows of air to manipulate it, and that just didn’t seem to work.
Though some magic could work around the laws of p
hysics, in general it was much easier to work within them. That’s why he knew he must be summoning some kind of wind to power the book’s flight, but he couldn’t see it. In theory, he should be able to see the threads of air energy keeping the book aloft, but he barely saw anything. He could feel that they were there, but when he tried to concentrate on them, it all became a blur.
If he had tapped into Cassie’s magic anytime recently, he’d probably be able to see every single serpentine thread. As far as he knew, familiars were just supposed to provide fuel for spells, not make you significantly better at them. It was one of many ways in which his familiar was atypical, and while he wanted to know why, now was not the time to worry about it.
War and Peace
back on the table and picked up a much lighter book, actually a children’s book; he’d picked it up because the mermaid on the cover reminded him of Cassie for some reason. Concentrating on lifting the book ever so slightly, he managed to levitate it above his palms for a few seconds before he had to release it and let it fall back onto the table. It was either that, or give in to the temptation to throw it really hard again.
Sam rubbed his eyes, trying not to give in to frustration. He’d all but ignored his magic for close to a decade; it wasn’t exactly a shock that his attempts to attain more precise control over it weren’t going well. The problem was that he didn’t know what he needed to do to improve. Should he just try to levitate his library books over and over again and hope to see improvement, or was it a total waste of time?
On a whim, he turned and squatted to retrieve the room’s copy of the bible from the lowest drawer of the night table next to his bed. Maybe working with something heavier would be easier, and the motel’s copy of the Holy Scripture was one of those large, annotated versions that was actually bigger than
War and Peace
. Feeling the weight of it in his hands, he threw it towards the table.
“Stop!” he yelled, managing to summon enough air pressure to stop the book before it fell. For a second, Sam could see the currents: funnels of translucent gold and silver that danced in strange patterns, leaving shimmering dust in their wake….
For some reason, the Holy Bible then exploded in a shower of sparks and singed paper. The force of the explosion pushed Sam down on his backside as smoke enveloped his part of the room. Coughing, he rose to his feet to see his motel room decorated with ribbons of paper from the destroyed tome—and worse, his other library books. When the bible had gone, it had taken all the other books with it, though the table was mysteriously unharmed.
He muttered a made-up word quickly, his marker for time reversal, and the pieces of the destroyed books flew back to the table and began reassembling
themselves, paper and leather spines twisting together in a display that was strangely intimate. Within a moment, the books were intact.
That was his life in a nutshell: fail at a task from Magic 101 that a small half-demon child could do, then reverse time to fix his mistake, something only a handful of living demons would even attempt. He’d done a local time reversal, only affecting the room he was in, but he could do much more. He knew from last fall’s adventures that his effective range was miles.
He heard more thumping from the wall next to his bed. Whatever the maid was doing in there, he hoped she would be done soon.
At this rate, he wasn’t going to be a good master for any witch, let alone Cassie. He went to take a look at the mermaid book again, trying to figure out what it was about the female on the cover that reminded him of his familiar (since aside from her dark hair, the drawing of the fishtailed woman looked nothing like the girl he knew), and stopped in his tracks when he realized the book had changed. In fact, all the books had: they were covered with some kind of soot, and once he saw it he could smell subtle, but noxious fumes as well.
“Dammit!” he yelled, not even caring that he had cursed. This happened at random times. Sometimes using magic on an object would do nothing, sometimes it would change the mass or weight, and rarely everything would be covered by this disgusting substance, the residue of black magic. Levitating a book wasn’t a black spell by any stretch of the imagination, but apparently all of Sam’s magic was black by definition; even when he was doing something white magic could easily do, he still ran the risk of dark aftereffects.
He tried to brush the powder off the cover of the mermaid book before it could eat through the paper like acid and destroy it, but pulled his hand away quickly; the stuff was burning to the touch. Not only had he cursed his library books by accident, but the stuff was unusually potent. He wouldn’t have risked the books, but he hadn’t seen the residue in years and he’d honestly forgotten it was a possibility. Or maybe he’d just fervently hoped he’d outgrown it.
Suddenly he felt a chill; he knew he should count his blessings. Imagine if the spell he’d use to freeze time in the city last October had triggered a rare aftereffect…the possibilities were too terrible to even contemplate. Did he avoid an aftereffect that time because his magic was more suited to bigger spells than little ones? Or did he just plain get lucky?
Shielding his hand with an old undershirt, he knocked the books off the table to save
its clean wooden surface. The threadbare carpeting below was probably beyond help anyway— let the magical soot eat it up like candy.
As Sam made his way toward the bathroom to get a towel to wipe off the table, two sharp bangs from behind the headboard of his bed startled him. He turned towards the far wall, tense. He no longer harbored any illusions that it was the maid.
He considered casting a spell so he could see through the wall, but given how working magic had gone tonight so far, he decided to quit while he was ahead. It was getting late, and it was almost time to go find that godforsaken club downtown where Dwight’s band was supposed to perform.
Still, Sam thought as he changed into a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt, he could be sure of two things:
He wasn’t going to be able to take out books from the Sterling Public Library anymore.
Something was trapped in his wall, and it wanted out. Badly.
“See Mom, Mike and Jay are here with me, just like I said! And there are no mysterious older men to be found!”
Cassie turned her phone’s camera to Mike and Jay, sitting across from her in the red vinyl booth, both of whom smiled and waved at Annette. When Cassie turned the phone back around, her mother’s stern expression had softened slightly.
ut remember what we discussed. You are to come home immediately after the show on the #6, and for God’s sake, don’t drink anything! Don’t take anything that anyone gives you, either!”
“We can’t, Mom,” said Cassie, pointing the camera down so that Annette could see the square, neon green badge hanging from a lanyard around her neck. “See? These ugly things are Under-18 badges. It means we can’t buy drinks, and if anyone tries to give us a drink they get kicked out. They’re kind of hardcore about it.”
Annette looked pacified for a fraction of a second, then her brow creased with worry once again, her eyes focusing on the pale oval of skin visible below Cassie’s collarbone in her black velvet shirt. “Where did that shirt come from? I don’t remember buying you that shirt. Who bought you that-“
Cassie hit the button to end the video call, annoyed. Her mother wouldn’t believe her later when she claimed that the call was dropped, but Cassie had been an obedient enough
daughter lately that she doubted Annette would make a huge issue of it—well, not huge for Annette, anyway. Other than going to school and work, and tonight’s parent-approved trip out to a Sodatown club to see Dwight’s band perform, she hadn’t gone anywhere unsupervised in months.
Cassie put her phone back in her shiny black purse, wondering once again at the strange world of logic her mother seemed to inhabit. Annette’s first thought when seeing Cassie in un-Annette approved attire was always “Who bought you that ____?” As though the idea that Cassie had bought something with her own money from her job at the coffee shop never occurred to her. Any unfamiliar purchase was suspected to be a romantic gift from some unsavory admirer until proven otherwise.
Of course, after she found that $3,000 dress that a demon gave me in my closet, maybe it’s not such a crazy idea,
Cassie thought, frowning at the memory of how uncomfortable it had been to try to come up with an explanation for that one on the spot. Maybe that was what was so bizarre about Annette: she was naturally so melodramatic about everything that once Cassie’s life had started taking supernatural turns, she went from sounding crazy to often being right.
A skinny girl i
n a fishnet T-shirt with frizzy, dyed-blond hair walked past the group, raising an eyebrow at the sight of Jay doing homework in a spiral notebook at the booth. It was Emo Night at The Warehouse, and everyone was wearing some kind of quasi-goth attire. Cassie herself had acquiesced to the theme by wearing the new black velvet blouse that had so disturbed Annette—which, Cassie noted to herself, was only a little low-cut and not at all slutty—sheer black pants, and her shiny black platform boots.
So maybe she wasn’t particularly
goth, but at least she was wearing black, which some people claimed was very slenderizing; Cassie was convinced that these people were liars. In any case, she had done more to blend in than Mike and Jay, who were both wearing their typical T-shirts and jeans.
“Is that a new amulet?” Mike asked, looking up at her over his phone as he browsed the web aimlessly. “
I don’t remember seeing it before.”
Cassie quickly tucked the silver locket into her blouse, where it clinked against the original protection amulet Sam had made for her in the fall. “It’s not an amulet, just a necklace. My Grandma got it for me for Christmas.”
“If it’s not magic, then why are you hiding it?”
“I’m not,” said Cassie firmly. Sometimes the fact that Mike tended to notice everything was really inconvenient.
Mike shrugged, apparently not that interested in the saga of Cassie and her jewelry. “I can’t believe you’re doing chem here,” he said, turning his attention to Jay next to him. He had to project to be heard over the general noise level of the club. “We get special passes to see a show at a club, and what do you do? Bring homework.”
Jay continued contemplating the problem in front of him, tapping the eraser of his pencil on his chin.
“Yeah, so what? You have a special pass to be at a bar, and you’re just playing with your phone. That’s sad.”
Mike snorted, but put his phone back in his pocket. “You can’t even compare the level of patheticness between those two things, don’t even try,” he said, but Cassie could tell he was a little chastened; Jay had a point. They’d all been excited about the fact that Dwight had gotten them all special passes to get into a club, but
since they’d gotten there 20 minutes ago, they’d done little but sit in the booth and stare at the people gyrating on the dance floor.
They couldn’t ord
er anything, and the 200 or so scantily-clad people dancing and drinking huge quantities of amber liquid out of huge tumblers seemed perfectly happy to ignore them. A band was playing, dutifully covering a full menu of ‘90s hits, competently but without much emotion. Secretly they hoped that Dwight’s band, NCWP, would be a lot better than the opening act.
Cassie frowned, watching Jay attack his homework with gusto. He had changed recently, and she wasn’t sure she liked it. Pointing out that Mike was also acting lame in his own way was something he never would have done a few months ago; the boy she knew would have gotten whiny and defensive. She was pretty sure that becoming a part of Sam’s entourage was responsible for his new attitude, but beyond that she wasn’t sure.
She studied the club, feeling voyeuristic and thirsty. Near the stage, a girl in a tiny, black-sequined minidress danced suggestively in front of a well-muscled man wearing nothing but black jeans, and she felt herself color, wondering if the two of them were even listening to the music. There was a reason she hadn’t given Annette a very thorough view of the club during their video chat.
“What does that name mean, anyway? NCWP?” she asked, tearing her eyes from the dance floor with effort. The sexualized dancing made her uncomfortable, but it was compelling in a train wreck sort of way.
Mike’s eyes reflected the strobing, multicolored lights that flashed through the club as his face settled into his most familiar, irritating expression: he knew something she didn’t, and she knew that he knew it. And he knew that she knew that he knew…or something. There were definitely a few levels of smug knowing in there. “Are you sure you wanna know? It’s pretty bad.”
“How bad?” she asked, reaching out instinctively for a glass of water and reminding herself for the umpteenth time that she couldn’t be seen drinking anything at all. “Like, will I lose all my respect for Dwight?”
“Not all of it. Half, maybe two-thirds at worst,” Mike reasoned, having to nearly shout to be heard as the band blasted through the chorus of some rock anthem Cassie couldn’t remember the name of.
“I’ll deal. Out with it.”
Mike grinned devilishly. “Not Concerned With Pants.”
Cassie just looked at him for a moment. “Not.
Concerned. With pants.”
“Khalil told me. Apparently, when the band started, they couldn’t get their drummer to show up for practice. And then the first time he did show up, he was still in his boxers, and he was like ‘You can have me with pants, or you can have
me on time for practice,’ and they were like, “Not concerned with pants, dude,” and it became this thing where-“
“Okay, too much information,” said Cassie, groaning. “I can’t believe Dwight agreed to that.”
“He was outvoted…oh, hey.” said Mike, then Cassie sensed a presence behind her right shoulder. She turned to see Sam approach their elevated booth, turning gracefully at the last moment to avoid an obviously drunk woman wearing kitty-ears on her head from crashing into him. The catgirl giggled a slurred apology, pulled her drink up to her chest and ran back in the direction of the dance floor.
“Talking about NCWP? Dwight isn’t happy about it,” said Sam. “He knows it’s stupid, but once they booked a few gigs under that name, it couldn’t be helped. Can I sit?”
“Oh uh…sure,” said Cassie, scooting over on the bench to make room for him. “I thought you weren’t coming.”
He shrugged as he settled into the booth. “I wasn’t, but Khalil insisted that I go.
Something about how it was important that I ‘see Dwight in his natural habitat.’”
“And Khalil was willing to close up shop all by
himself for that? That’s cool,” said Jay, his eyes practically glowing with hero worship as he looked at Sam. Cassie had a feeling no more chemistry homework was going to be done tonight.
Mike looked at Sam and Cassie sitting next to one another across from him, seemed to come to a decision, and gently elbowed Jay in the ribs. “C’mon, you think you can help me find where they hid the bathroom in this place?” he asked.
For a moment, Jay looked like he was about to protest, then he followed Mike’s gaze across the booth and his own eyes widened in understanding. “Oh, sure. I think I saw it on the way in.”
Cassie glared at them as they scooted out of the booth one at a time. “Only girls go to the bathroom in pairs.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” said Mike.
Cassie groaned as they disappeared into the crowd. “Real subtle, guys,” she mumbled. Everyone in the entourage knew that Sam and Cassie had been avoiding each other, and knowing the court was breathing down their necks for Cassie to make progress with her witch training, they’d been trying to find excuses to leave them alone together so they could work it out. Usually, it was done with at least some modicum of finesse.
“What was that? I can’t hear you over this….music,” said Sam, sounding as though he’d meant to condemn the sound around them as something else entirely.
“Nothing,” said Cassie, looking down at her hands and feeling miserable. Even if things weren’t so awkward between her and Sam, this would be an uncomfortable position; with him sitting on her side of the booth, if she turned to look at him, they would be right in each other’s faces, but if she looked at the table, then it would make it extra-obvious she was avoiding his gaze. For now, she opted for looking at the table, noting with an almost artistic disinterest that the swirls of the dark wood paneling were rather pretty.
She couldn’t see Sam’s expression, but she felt the vinyl shift as he fidgeted in his seat. “Yeah, I’m sure it was nothing,” he said sharply. “Look, you can’t avoid me forever.”
She licked her lips, nervous but somewhat pleased that he’d at least addressed the 600-pound gorilla in the room. “You’re avoiding me too.”
“Only because you started it,” he said, and spread his hands flat on the table. She decided she liked his hands; they were large and masculine, without becoming the veined, sinewy monstrosities that some men had. It was with some effort that she tore her gaze away from studying his long fingers.
“I started it? What are we, five now?” she said mockingly.
“You know what I mean. I was trying to give you some time to come to terms with…with what happened. But we can’t go on like this.”
At that, she did look at him. This close, she could admire the contrast of his dark eyes and brows against the natural pale blond of his hair, and noted with surprise that she could see the beginnings of stubble at his chin; she’d never noticed any facial hair on him before. Then again, she’d probably never been close enough before.
“You mean, you wanted to give me some time to get over the fact you tried to torture someone to death with magic? Sorry, might need some more time on that.”
Sam dropped his gaze and gritted his teeth. “That’s not fair,” he said. “Cassie, I didn’t plan to
At that, the otherwise lethargic band broke into a spirited drum solo, and the sounds of percussion and screaming from the dance floor drowned out whatever Sam had been trying to say. It was just as well; anything he could come up with would have sounded to Cassie like a flimsy excuse. She knew what she had seen, and what she had felt.
She also knew she didn’t really have a choice. If she didn’t make progress in her training soon, the court would do something horrible— they’d think nothing of taking her away from her parents, faking her death, and giving her to some other power-hungry demon to train. Intellectually she accepted it, but in practice, she never felt ready to deal with Sam. So she’d kept stalling, hoping the day would dawn when she wouldn’t hear an echo of his curse whenever she looked at him; it hadn’t come yet. And now they were seriously running out of time— the next court date was in less than two months.
They sat in uncomfortable silence while the band finished their set and began packing up their instruments. When the cheers and screams of the audience had subsided, Sam cleared his throat and tried again. “Look, can we discuss this later?”
“What’s there to talk about?” Cassie snapped as Mike and Jay returned to the booth. She didn’t want to think about that night ever again if she could help it, and she certainly didn’t want to hear Sam try to explain away his grisly part in it.
Mike had a big smile on his face as he slid into the booth, which faded as soon as he took in the mood at the table. “Dwight should be on soon,” he said shooting Cassie an annoyed look. She glared back; why would he assume this was all her fault?