Amazed at the mystical ball of green light that grows in my right palm, I begin to feel its magic flow through my fingers and up my arms. The sensation prickles my skin, sending goosebumps over the surface. Thoughts, not my own, call softly in my mind, telling me to focus.
Standing by the river in the midafternoon summer air, I concentrate on drowning out the rush of water and the chirps of birds, hanging out in the treetops. A breeze whispers across my face, and I feel the strands of my dark hair tickle my nose and cheek, but I don’t allow it to distract me. I keep my eyes closed, focused on nature’s language.
I admit, I didn’t think it would work. “It’s never felt this powerful before.”
“Shh, no speaking,” my mentor, Sage, says. She stands in front of me, and I feel her cup my hands into hers. “Now, hold it there and focus all your energies into the sphere. Then when you’re ready, picture what you wish to see.”
Sage is a light witch and the leader of the Ashburn coven. The same coven my mother, Sonjah, belonged to before they exiled her from the circle after my father died.
I wish for the universe to show me an image in my head—a destination anywhere but here. There are rumors that Storm Castle protects people like me. Maybe that’s where I’ll go. I haven’t a clue of the way, so I ask the spell to lead me in that direction.
Like a roadmap, lines begin to appear, then the colors form, as though someone is creating a painting in my head. Soon trees develop, followed by smaller details such as flowers, rocks, and grass. Then in the distance, a silhouette of buildings reveals itself, but these structures are different than any I’ve seen. “This isn’t what I imagined in my mind at all. Something must be wrong.”
“Why do you say that?” Sage asks, sounding confused.
“I don’t recognize any of it. This place is different from the pictures I’ve seen in books.” I feel my concentration slipping. This unknown place begins to bring me fear, and I don’t understand why. Is it because of the new surroundings it’s revealing? With my eyes still closed, I ask Sage, “Can you see what I see? Are the images from my mind transferring to the ball of light?”
“It hasn’t come through yet,” she answers. “Have patience, my student. It will show you a road that you must seek soon. You need to wait for the signs.”
Panic settles in. “Signs, signs, signs,” I say frustrated. My focus breaks, and I open my eyes. “That’s all you ever tell me. Look for a sign.” The glowing sphere disappears. “Sage, I can’t take another moment staying with her. She’ll kill me before ever letting me go freely. You know that. This spell isn’t working.”
“Of course, it’s working,” Sage counters. “Or was, until you severed the exercise.” She takes my hands in hers again. “Try once more. This time, let it all go. Release the tension, the worry, and just concentrate. Throw out all the negative energies—” Sage stops. “Hang on a second, I have an idea.” I watch her look up toward the sky. She nods as though speaking to someone in the clouds. “That’s an excellent idea.”
“Who are you talking to?”
A laugh flutters from Sage. “The element of wind, my student. If you listen closely, you can hear her speaking.”
“I think I did earlier when the sphere was growing in my hands.”
Sage smiles, reassuring me. “See? It is doing exactly as intended—you just need patience. Use the natural essence around you as your focal point. Like the whispering of leaves, or the sound that water makes as it flows downstream, even the birds. They can help you listen, too.”
“But the vision that was revealed… I don’t recognize any of it. I mean, there are plants, trees, and buildings I’ve never seen before.”
“Maura, it makes perfect sense why you don’t understand. You’ve never stepped outside this estate other than to school and back.” She gently squeezes my hands. “Whatever this revelation is revealing, it’s the future path before you. Like I said a moment ago, the spell is performing exactly how it’s intended to.” She stares into my eyes. “Shall we try once more?”
I nod and close my eyes. Her confidence replaces my anxiety.
I hear her breathe in deep. “Inhale with me,” she says.
I apply my breathing to align with hers.
“Good. Hold it there. Don’t lose your connection. Picture in your mind the image and anchor it. Then try again to transfer your thoughts to the glowing ball of light.”
Nodding, I breathe in deep, and refocus. Tightening my lips, I say, “Right.” Keeping my eyes closed, I relax my shoulders once again and center my energies to my core.
“That’s it, position all thoughts. Feel yourself drift. Allow the ambience of energy to take control and embrace the aura around you.”
The steadiness of my breathing comes back, flowing in rhythm. “None of what I see makes any sense, though.”
Sage softens her voice. “That’s what this spell is supposed to do. I’m trying to teach you to expand your possibilities. Use the energies of nature. As I said, listen to the breeze, the songbirds, the water—it’s all a language showing you what your mind is having trouble seeing.”
Again, the same picture as before crosses my thoughts. This time in more detail. “The colors are vivid, and the streets are lit with life. I feel the sensation of happiness and hear laughter from many people.”
“Don’t speak, Maura. Just allow the reflections and feelings to flow to the light in your palm.”
I nod, continuing to focus. Oh, how I wish I could be happy like the individuals here in my vision. I see snow falling, and the streets are filled with people walking from shop to shop, with bags in their hands, and the streetlamps are glowing with a rainbow of colors.
“Open your eyes,” Sage says with enthusiasm.
I see her wide smile and follow her gaze to my hand holding the glowing globe.
It’s revealing in detail everything I pictured in my mind. “I did it.” My heart skips a beat. After months of practice, I finally did it.
“Now,” Sage begins, “very carefully try to expand the ball of light in front of you, large enough for someone like us to pass through.” Putting her fingers to her lips, Sage says, “Wait for it to show—”
“Maura?” We’re interrupted by my mother. Her call is faint but still closer than we would like.
My glowing ball disappears, my anxiety returns, and my heart begins to beat fast. The hope of knowing how close we were to escaping just shattered into a million pieces. “What’s she doing here? How did she find us?”
“I don’t know, but our magic session is over,” Sage says. She gathers her satchel, slings it over her shoulder, and backs away into the thick woods. “Your mother grows stronger as the full moon approaches. I didn’t anticipate she would come this far into the forest. We can try later.”
“If we have the chance. You said so yourself, Sage, the moon grows stronger each day.” Fear consumes me, knowing that this may have been my last-ditch effort of running away. There will be zero chance of me recreating the portal gate any time soon. It took too much of my energy.
“All she needs is a strand of your hair. That’s how she found you—us.”
My hairbrush comes to mind. I specifically left it behind because it reminded me of the day this evil wraith stole my mother from me. “When will I see you again?” I ask, concerned.
“Never mind that now. I know where to find you.” My mentor’s face shows fear. “You need to go. She mustn’t see us together, or she’ll tie me to a stake.” Sage steps farther into the thick brush, and the leaves provide some camouflage. She merges with nature, becoming invisible—an inherent ability given from the Elementals. Each light witch is born with one trait. I still wonder if I have one myself, as I’m a half-light witch.
I can’t have Mother seeing my backpack, or she’ll know I’m planning an escape, so I hide my possessions in the hole of a nearby tree trunk. My mother calls my name again, and I rush up the riverbank, but not before getting my boots and the rim of my skirt dirty. She’s going to be angry. I know it.
I run out into the meadow clearing to see my mother scowling in my direction. “What are you doing over there?” Her cold stare sends a shiver down my spine.
“I was picking flowers down by the river.” Behind my back, I conjure a bouquet. It was one of the first things that Sage taught me how to do. “I grabbed these along the way,” I say, pulling the flower arrangement from behind my back. Will my attempts to deceive her work? If she knew I was practicing light magic—
“I see.” She interrupts my thoughts, sending a dubious look and lifts her chin. Her face is stern as she narrows her gaze. “Why do I have the distinct feeling you’re up to no good.”
My nerves tingle. I know full well she doesn’t buy a single word, yet I maintain the lie, adding, “It’s a hot summer’s day, and I wanted to dip my feet in the river. I know you said I’m not to go beyond the boundaries of this field, but Mother, I’m telling the truth.”
I hand her my conjured bouquet of daisies, lavender, and yarrow, hoping she doesn’t sense they aren’t real and made of light magic; however, I’m afraid she’s going to sense their aura, anyway. Dark witches have a way of knowing when light magic is around. Because I’m a half-light witch, maybe that will be enough for her to dismiss the idea that I conjured them. If anything, it might reinforce her determination that I practice dark magic, like the rest of the Shadow Raven coven.
Mother grabs them from my hands. “Is this what you have been wasting your day on, child? Picking flowers and playing by the riverbed?”
My breathing eases. She doesn’t suspect the conjuring. That makes me a little suspicious because she doesn’t miss anything.
She squints, inspecting the blossoms, then drops them at her feet. “These plants are used for white magic. What have you been doing? Maura, have you gone completely mad? Yarrow and daisies? I can deal with the lavender. We use it in several spells but the others?”
Oh no, she knows. The white magic—as Mother refers to it—is made from light witches, and she has been hunting light witches for the last ten years of my life. She tells me I’m a dark witch, and I need cleansing from white magic. She herself was born a light witch, but ever since the day she fought the demonic wraith in the mirror of my room, she has changed, and grown malevolent.
That was the beginning of the end. My life, forever altered. The kind, loving mother I remember disappeared when the wraith took her soul. Sure, she looks like my mother, talks like her, and even carries the same mannerisms, except for one difference—I don’t feel the love of a nurturing mother anymore. Those feelings are gone. Martha, my nanny, who I’ve grown to love, along with her husband, Ted, and his son, Jesse, became my surrogate family. Jesse is a brother I’ve never had. He may not be my blood, but he’s still my sibling. They live with us at the manor. Most of the other staff members have gone.
Sure, Mother has the occasional spouts of rage, and once in a while sends me and my brother to our rooms, even Martha’s spent the night in the barn a time or two. Mother is indeed cruel, but we really have nowhere else to go. These lands have been left barren, it hasn’t rained in months, and even the river down by our home has dried. It has narrowed down to a trickling creek.
The winters are even more harsh. Sure, it snows, but it’s never the four seasons other families experience. Hot summers and cold winters. I think I could count on my hand how many times it rained in the last three years.
In public, Mother touts herself as Sonjah Shadow Raven, the Mistress of Raven Manor, but behind closed doors, her true colors show bright, like the wraith who tried to take hold of my soul all those years ago. She doesn’t know I know. That’s why I see Sage. She knows how to save my mother. I’ve tried for years seeking a solution to her curse, but I’ve come up empty handed. I bumped into Sage about five years ago right before my thirteenth birthday. I’ve come to the realization though, that to save my mother, I must save myself, first. That’s why I attempted to conjure the portal Sage was helping me create.
A gentle breeze kicks up as though warning me to be careful. Sage taught me that, too—the language of nature.
Mother peers around the meadow. “Come, you’re missing your lessons, and it appears you need more studies.”
In our house, it is forbidden to learn any other sorcery but black magic. I don’t want to be a dark witch, and although I’m quite good at it, I don’t wish to harm others. I’ve resisted for as long as I can, but because this is my senior year, I can no longer keep up with the façade. Mother insists I learn the way of Shadow Raven’s House, as she has voiced that it’s my duty as a Shadow Raven heir to assume the responsibilities when the time comes.
I trudge after her, and within seconds I hear a murder of crows cawing. This is her way of seeking if what I say is true. If they see Sage in the woods, then my mother will surely know I lied. She curls her fingers tightly around my left wrist, pulling me forward, and I stumble, nearly falling over a rock.
She glares at me, as though it’s my fault for being clumsy. “Keep up, child. We wouldn’t want the crows choosing you as their next meal now, would we?” She continues to tug me along the path, maintaining a tight grip.
“You’re hurting me,” I complain.
“I’ll hurt much more than your wrist if you don’t keep pace with me, Missy.”
I stumble again, and a stab of pain shoots through my arm as she drags me forward.
This estate we live on, used to thrive with luscious plant growth and grazing animals, but Mother took care of that, too. Most of the farm animals are gone—sold so we could survive, and the hired help moved on when we could no longer pay a wage. It’s a wonder we survived this far. Martha tends to a small garden along the side of the house, and we still have chickens and one cow for milk, but other than that, we’re all trying to survive the plagues of the last war. Most of our planet has lost our magical powers with many witches having to start from scratch, rebuilding their favor with the Elementals.
We reach our front porch, and she hauls me up the steps. “To your room.”
I race through the front French doors, taking the stairs that lead to my bedroom, two at a time. The faster I can get out of her sight, the better. A part of me hopes she will forget I exist, but I know full well that will never happen.
My father wouldn’t have approved of the way she treats me. He started our coven, Shadow Raven, before I was conceived. He was born a dark witch, which is how I inherited black magic. My father believed that just because you’re born to evil parents that doesn’t necessarily make you evil. He told me the story once of how he escaped his coven years ago, creating the one we have now, Shadow Raven. But he’s dead and she killed him. Although I can’t prove it, something inside of me knows the wraith possessing my mother took his life. One way or another, I’ll free my real mother from this demonic control. It’s too late for my father, but I will bring back the coven the way he wanted it to be, not the way my faux mother has it now.
In the meadow, Mother mentioned I need more studying. Does this mean she’s taking me back to Raven Academy for summer school? I hate that place. It’s a school where the young dark witches go to hone their craft. Father started the school long ago to bring light and dark witches together. He believed that people have choices, and perhaps bringing the covens together would bring peace. After he died, the light witches were expelled. This school year will be the first year that dark magic will be the only sorcery practiced.
All summer long, she’s been teaching me about cryptic spells that dark witches perform. She says she wants me to be prepared for my senior year.
Sage’s teachings have counteracted the dark magic trying to grow inside me, that much I know. The irony is my mother was born a light witch. She’s supposed to be good. I do wonder, though, if behind those eyes, the real Sonjah bears witness to all the atrocities her possessed soul has carried out.
I also wonder if the demon possessing her is frustrated that all the magic she’s taught me is counteracted by all the light magic Sage is teaching me.
After today, I fear that she will hunt Sage down.
Copyright © 2022 Emmy R. Bennett
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