A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms
Жанр: Фэнтези про драконов
Год издания: 2019
“Hell no!” Jenks rose in a flurry of copper-colored sparkles. “Just forget it. Ivy, forget it! I’m not doing this!”
While Ivy snarled at Jenks that he would or she’d jam him through a keyhole backward, I wobbled to the table and slumped into my chair. Ceri was so odd, seemingly as innocent as Joan of Arc but as accepting of black magic as if she sat at Lucifer’s feet and did his nails every other Wednesday. They were all black, and she didn’t see anything wrong with them? Come to think of it, Joan of Arc had heard voices in her head telling her to kill people.
Ceri’s hand on my shoulder pulled my head up and I stared. “I, uh,” I muttered. “I kinda expected they were black, but you didn’t seem to be having any problem making them, so…” I looked at the remainder of Jenks’s potion, wondering if he quit now whether he’d be okay.
“He needs this curse.” Ceri gracefully sat so I couldn’t see Jenks and Ivy arguing at the far end of the table. “And the smut from one or two is trifling.”
Matalina zipped in through the pixy hole in the screen at one of Jenks’s sharp squeaks, bringing the smell of the spring noon with her. Her yellow dress swirled prettily about her ankles when she came to a short stop, her expression inquisitive as she tried to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t seem to get enough air. Trifling? Didn’t she get it?
“What if I only use them for good?” I tried. “Will they still stain my soul if I only do good with them?”
Matalina’s wings stopped and she dropped three inches to the table, losing her balance and falling, to bend a wing backward. Ceri exhaled in obvious exasperation. “You’re severely breaking the laws of nature with these curses,” she lectured, her green eyes narrow, “far more than with earth or line magic on their own. It doesn’t matter if they’re used for good or bad, the smut on your soul is the same. If you mess with nature’s books, you pay a price.”
My eyes flicked past her to Matalina and Jenks. The small pixy woman had found her feet, and she had a hand on Jenks’s shoulder as he hunched over his knees. He was hyperventilating by the look of it, pixy dust shading to red sifting from him to pool and spill onto the floor. It swirled in the draft from the window, and it would have been pretty if I hadn’t known that it meant he was severely stressed.
Ivy’s lips were a thin line. I didn’t understand why she was arguing with him. I didn’t expect him to go through with it if it was a black curse. Damn it, Ceri had been calling them curses all along, and I hadn’t been listening.
“But I don’t want my soul to go black,” I almost whined. “I just got rid of Al’s aura.”
Ceri’s delicate features went annoyed, and she stood. “Then get rid of it.”
Jenks’s head came up, his eyes looking frightened. “Rachel is not a black witch!” he shouted, and I wondered at his hot loyalty. “She’s not going to foster it off on an innocent!”
“I never said she should,” Ceri said, bristling.
“Ceri,” I said hesitantly, listening to Matalina try to soothe her husband. “Isn’t there another way to get rid of the reality imbalance than to pass it to someone else?”
Clearly aware of Jenks ready to fly at her, Ceri calmly went to her brewed tea. “No. Once you make it, the only way to get rid of it is to pass it to someone else. But I’m not suggesting you give it to an innocent. People will accept it voluntarily if you sweeten the deal.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Why would someone voluntarily take my blackness onto their soul?” I said, and the elf sighed, visibly biting back her annoyance. Tact wasn’t in her repertoire, despite her kindness and overflowing goodwill.
“You attach it to something they want, Rachel,” she said. “A spell or task. Information.”
My eyes widened as I figured it out. “Like a demon,” I said, and she nodded.
Oh God. My stomach hurt. The only way to get rid of it would be to trick people into taking it. Like a demon.
Ceri stood at my sink, the morning sun streaming about her making her look like a princess in jeans and a black and gold sweater. “It’s a good option,” she said, blowing at her tea to hasten its cooling. “I have too much imbalance to rid myself of it that way, but perhaps if I forayed into the ever-after and rescued people stolen and still in possession of their souls, they might take a hundred years of my imbalance in return for the chance to be free of the ever-after.”
“Ceri,” I protested, frightened, and she raised a soothing hand.
“I’m not going into the ever-after,” she said. “But if the opportunity ever arose that I could help free someone, will you tell me?”
Ivy stirred, and Jenks interrupted her with a hot, “Rache is not going into the ever-after.”
“He’s right,” I said, and I rose, my knees feeling weak. “I can’t ask anyone to take the black I put on my soul. Just forget it.” My fingers encircled the remainder of Jenks’s potion and I headed for my dissolution vat. “I’m not a black witch.”
Matalina heaved a sigh of relief, and even Jenks relaxed, his feet settling into a puddle of silver sparkles on the table, only to jerk upward when Ceri slammed her hand onto the counter. “You listen to me, and listen good!” she shouted, shocking me and making Ivy jerk. “I am not evil because I have a thousand years of demon smut on my soul!” she exclaimed, the tips of her hair trembling and her face flushed. “Every time you disturb reality, nature has to balance it out. The black on your soul isn’t evil, it’s a promise to make up for what you have done. It’s a mark, not a death sentence. And you can get rid of it given time.”
“Ceri, I’m sorry,” I fumbled, but she wasn’t listening.
“You’re an ignorant, foolish, stupid witch,” she berated, and I cringed, my grip tightening on the copper spell pot and feeling the anger from her like a whip. “Are you saying that because I carry the stink of demon magic, that I’m a bad person?”
“No…” I wedged in.
“That God will show no pity?” she said, green eyes flashing. “That because I made one mistake in fear that led to a thousand more, that I will burn in hell?”
“No. Ceri—” I took a step forward.
“My soul is black,” she said, her fear showing in her suddenly pale cheeks. “I’ll never be rid of it all before I die. I’ll suffer for it, but it won’t be because I’m a bad person but because I was a frightened one.”
“That’s why I don’t want to do this,” I pleaded.
She took a breath as if only now realizing she had been shouting. Closing her eyes, she seemed to steady herself. The anger had been reduced to a slow shimmer in the back of her green eyes when she opened them. Her usual mild countenance made it difficult to remember that she had once been royalty and accustomed to command.
Ivy took a wary sip of her coffee, her eyes never moving from Ceri. Kisten’s shower went off, and the ensuing silence seemed loud.
“I’m sorry,” Ceri said, head down, the sheet of her fair hair hiding her face. “I shouldn’t have raised my voice.”
I set the copper pot on the counter. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Like you said, I’m an ignorant witch.”
Her smile was sour and showed a mild embarrassment. “No, you aren’t. You can’t know what you haven’t been told.” She ran her hands down her jeans, soothing herself. “Perhaps I’m more concerned than I want to admit about the payment I carry,” she admitted. “Seeing you worry about one or two curses when I have several million on my soul made me—” She flushed delicately, and I wondered if her ears were a tiny bit pointed. “I was most unfair to you.”
Her voice had acquired a noble cadence. Behind me, I heard Ivy cross her legs at her knees. “Forget it,” I said, feeling cold.
“Rachel.” Ceri hid her hands’ trembling by clasping them. “The blackness these two curses carry is so small compared to the benefits that will come from it: Jenks safely journeying to help his son, you using a demon curse to Were so as to retain the title of David’s alpha that you deserve. It would be more of a crime to let these things remain undone or slip away than to willingly accept the price to have them.”
She touched the pot of remaining brew, and I eyed it with a sick feeling. I was not going to ask Jenks to finish it.
“Everything of value or strength has a price,” she continued. “To let Jax and Nick continue to suffer because you were afraid makes you look…unconscionably timid.”
Cowardly might be a better word, I thought, looking at Jenks and feeling ill, knowing that I had a curse inside me just waiting to be put into play—and I had done it to myself.
“I’ll take the black for my curse,” Jenks said abruptly, his face hard with determination.
From the table came Matalina’s tiny hiccup, and I saw fear in her childlike features. She loved Jenks more than life itself. “No,” I said. “You’ve only got a few years left to get rid of it. And it’s my idea, my spell. My curse. I’ll take it.”
Jenks flew up in my face, his wings red and his face severe. “Shut up!” he shouted, and I jerked back so I could focus on him. “He’s my son! I take the curse. I pay the price.”
There was the sound of my bathroom door opening, and Kisten ambled into the kitchen, his shirt rumpled and with a sly smile. His hair was slicked back and his damp stubbled face caught the sun. He looked great, and he knew it. But his confidence faltered when he saw Ivy unhappy at her computer, Jenks and Matalina clearly distressed, me undoubtedly looking scared with my hands wrapped around my middle, and of course Ceri’s exasperated expression as she once again found herself trying to convince the plebeians that she knew what was best for them.
“What did I miss?” he asked, going to the coffeemaker and pouring what was left into one of my oversized mugs.
Ivy pushed her chair out and looked sullen. “They’re demon curses. It’s going to leave a mark on Rachel’s soul. Jenks is having second thoughts.”
“I am not!” the small pixy shouted. “But I’ll kiss a fairy’s ass before I let Rachel pay the price for my curse.”