Authors: Jen McConnel
Tags: #teen, #young adult, #magic, #curses, #paranormal, #fantasy, #witch, #witches, #spells, #science fiction
Justin opened the back door as soon as I jumped the privacy fence surrounding his yard. His eyes blazed with curiosity, and I could feel protective energy radiating off his skin. I tried to smile at him as I slipped inside, hoping I had made the right choice. I needed to talk to somebody, and no matter what hadn’t happened between us at the prom, Justin was still the person I trusted more than anybody else. If I was being honest, maybe I’d admit that I texted him because a part of me wanted him to leap to my defense and prove that he still cared about me, which was sort of silly, really, but I couldn’t help it if I had a romantic streak. I could, however, keep those thoughts to myself.
He closed the sliding door behind me and sealed it by drawing a pentacle in the air. I almost saw the line of energy; he was getting stronger since his declaration of White magic. My skin tingled, and I felt myself being pulled toward him like a magnet. I took a careful step back, trying to get a grip on my emotions. I hoped Justin wasn’t feeling as awkward as I was, but he acted calm and collected. Had he forgotten that he had sort of proposed to me before I went Red?
He put a finger over his lips, and I nodded. We slipped upstairs silently and shut the door to his bedroom. Justin again sealed the door, this time with a gesture I had never seen before. I studied the white light as it faded, but I couldn’t quite make out the shape. I made a mental note to ask him later if that was a White magic thing. When he turned to face me, his eyes were shining with excitement, and I felt my own heart speed up in response.
“So tell me what’s going on.”
I smiled, despite the empty pit in my stomach. Justin’s straightforwardness had been one of the things that attracted me to him the year before, combined with his casual sense of comfort. When Justin moved, there was a sensual grace in his step, but whenever I watched him, it was clear that he was oblivious. There weren’t many Witches who weren’t at least a little bit arrogant, but Justin was humble even before declaring White. It was one of the things I loved about him, although I’d never admit that out loud. Instead, I focused on the matter at hand.
“I’m a Red.”
He nodded, unsurprised, and I realized that word of my unconventional choice had probably circulated around the school on the heels of my expulsion. That annoyed me, but I didn’t think now was the time to get defensive about my privacy.
I took a deep breath. “I think I’ve found out what that means.”
He leaned forward. “What?”
“Reds control chaos. There are never more than three Red Witches at any given time, because they are so powerful.” I felt my cheeks flushing; Justin was a powerful Witch, and I was making it sound like I was better than him. I’d always accepted that the boy I’d fallen in love with was more powerful than I was, but everything had been flipped on its head. He didn’t look offended, though, so I pushed on. “Reds have been responsible for some of the worst events in history. Helen of Troy was a Red, and we all know how much better she made her world.”
Justin snorted with suppressed laughter, and I smiled.
“The three Witches in
really existed, and they were all Reds. Reds aren’t allowed to know each other anymore, because every time the Reds have gathered in history, chaos has gone spinning out of control.”
“You can’t control chaos.” Justin was quiet, but his words were powerful. I paused for a second, considering.
“I don’t really understand it all yet, but I think you—I mean I—can. I think Red magic exists to shape the chaos that happens. There will be chaos in the world no matter what; it’s a primal force, and we can’t ignore it.”
Justin nodded thoughtfully, but I could tell he wasn’t sold. I sighed. I hadn’t wanted to tell him what had happened that morning, but he needed some kind of proof that what I said was true.
“Red Witches might not control it, not fully, but they can manipulate it.” I told him about the car and everything Hecate, Pele, and Persephone had said to me. Then I told him about the writing in my book. His eyebrows drew together and he looked worried.
There was a long silence as he digested what I had said. I fiddled with my sleeves, worried that I’d said too much. Mom hadn’t been freaked out, but what if Justin hated who I’d become? I watched him nervously.
When he finally spoke, his words surprised me. “Why are you here, Darlena? Don’t you tell Rochelle everything? She’s the one who taught you to hex, so why isn’t she helping you deal with this?”
I shook my head. “I trust Rochelle, but … ” I struggled to put my fears into words. “She’s a Black. I don’t know if she’s declared or not yet, but there’s no other path for her. I want to learn to control my magic, to filter out harm, and I don’t think Rochelle would … ”
“ … be cool with that,” Justin finished for me as I trailed off, and I nodded, relieved that the words came from him. I hated thinking ill of my best friend, but something in my gut told me that she wouldn’t be too concerned with controlling chaos. Even so, that wasn’t the real reason I’d come to Justin. I kept hoping he’d open his arms and embrace me, but he was staying a careful distance away. Still, any help would be better than none, so I waited for him to think about everything I’d said.
He stared at me for a long minute. “If this is all true”—I heard the slight emphasis he put on the word “if” and had to fight down my anger—“you are really dangerous.”
I jerked my head, but his eyes were smiling. Maybe he was just trying to tease me, but his words were true. I was dangerous, and I hated it.
“I don’t want to be a pawn. These goddesses have already started messing with me, and I don’t want to give Pele victims or stir things up for Hecate. Red magic may be primal and under their control, but I’m not, right?” My voice cracked with emotion, but I didn’t care. I wanted Justin to tell me that I wasn’t trapped. If he said I could handle this mess, I’d believe him.
Justin stared at me for a long moment before he answered. “Energy is never good or evil; it just is.”
I nodded eagerly. I had been thinking the same thing, and I hoped it applied to Red magic as well as the other three.
He continued, “If you use the power in a negative way, you will create negative things. But—” He paused, raising his eyebrow. “—I can’t think of a way that chaos could be good.”
I chose my words carefully. “Maybe I should try to make it as harmless as possible. After the thing with the car this morning, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. What if I could limit chaos? People would still get hurt, but what if I could pick who would be hurt, and choose as few people as possible?”
Justin shook his head, looking worried. “It’s not up to us to decide. Remember the Rede, Darlena: ‘An’ it harm none, do what you will.’ If you start believing you can choose who lives and dies in this world, you’re going to go crazy.”
I voiced my worst fear. “But then what is the point of having Red magic? Why am I a Red if there’s really nothing I can do besides blow things up?”
Justin was silent. I flopped down on his desk chair and gritted my teeth, determined not to cry. If I cried, he might feel sorry for me, and I couldn’t bear that thought. He hadn’t seen me cry the night we split up, and I wouldn’t let him see that now if I could help it. My emotions swirled around in my chest, but gradually I felt the tears subside and sink down my throat without falling. I swallowed, tasting salt water and snot, and tried not to make a face.
After what seemed like an eternity, Justin spoke. “Darlena, I’m sworn to the White path. It is my duty to uphold life and goodness. If you do have power over chaos, I should encourage you to stop all chaotic events entirely, for the good of mankind.”
He turned and began pacing, not noticing my gaping jaw. Before I could figure out a counter argument, he sighed heavily.
“However,” he said, sounding defeated, “chaos formed the universe and exists outside the laws of good and evil. It would be evil for you to use your power for personal gain. But—” He looked at me expressionlessly. “I think it would be evil for me to refuse to help you. You came to me for comfort, and I owe you that. Not,” he added quickly, “because of anything we had in the past, but because as a White I am sworn to help all who are just. And Darlena, you might be crazy, but you’re never unfair.” He smiled broadly, and I felt an answering grin spread across my face. Justin could make any situation seem better.
I jumped up and hugged him without thinking. He still smelled the same, like pine trees and campfire smoke, and I melted into his warm embrace. He held me for a moment before I reminded myself that he’d made it clear he didn’t want to be with me last spring. I broke away, tugging on the hem of my shirt for a second so I had an excuse not to meet his eyes. “So what do we do?”
Justin studied me, and I could tell he was sifting through everything I’d told him. “First,” he said, “we need to figure out what your territory is. When Pele showed up, she mentioned boundaries, didn’t she?”
I looked at him, startled. “Yes. But why would territory matter?”
“If there are three Red Witches, you can’t all control the same chaos, right? You’d have to work together for that, and you said you are forbidden from meeting the others. So you must each be in charge of a territory.”
That made sense, and I was annoyed that I hadn’t thought of it myself. “Should I meditate on a world map and see what I come up with?” My question was meant to be sarcastic, but Justin didn’t notice my flippant tone.
He shook his head earnestly and turned on the small TV sitting on his dresser. “I have an idea. Watch the news. Concentrate on changing whatever they’re talking about.”
The reporter on the tiny screen looked morose as she talked about an uprising going on in the Middle East. I stared at her and the video clips, concentrating on redirecting chaos. The reporter switched to a story about a hurricane in the Caribbean. I looked at Justin. He shrugged, but pointed to the screen. I watched the images, concentrating on changing the force of the disaster. I tried to think about calm weather, happy people, and peace treaties. Nothing happened.
Frustrated, I flopped down on the bed. “It didn’t work.” I sulked, punching a pillow once without much effort. Justin sat next to me and put his hand on my knee.
“But it might work. Those news stories had already happened. Maybe you need to focus on things right before they happen.” I tried to listen to his words, but I was distracted by the tingling warmth where his hand was touching my leg. Just when I thought I had myself under control around him, he did something small like that and I started to fall for him all over again.
I looked up into his brown eyes. “How? I’m not clairvoyant!”
“No, but, Darlena, sometimes people can predict chaos. Think about it: hurricanes don’t happen out of the blue, and wars are always somewhat expected. So maybe we need to start paying attention to the things that are almost chaos, and see what kind of change you can bring.” He finally took his hand off my knee, and I tried to ignore the surge of disappointment that swept through me.
“So we just watch the news and wait? This doesn’t seem like it will help very much.”
Justin sighed. “I know. But do you have a better idea?”
I didn’t. I was out of ideas, but doing something had to be better than nothing.
I sifted through my thoughts on the walk home. If there were three Reds, as I had been told by the strange golden writing, then it would be ridiculous for the Reds to have control over the same things. It made sense that the division of power would be geographic, but the world did not easily divide into thirds. As I puzzled it out, a fear crept into my mind: what if the Red Witches were divided by power, not location? I had already begun to understand that there are many types of chaos; what if we each only had power over one of those types? If my power wasn’t localized, Justin and I wouldn’t get anywhere with our plan.
I tried to recall some of the other things that had been written in gold ink in my book. Usually, I have a great memory, but everything I had read that afternoon seemed fuzzy, as if I had been sick when I first learned it. The indigo twilight was darkening to black when I let myself into the kitchen, and Dad pounced on me as soon as I was inside.
“Where have you been, young lady? Your mother and I have been worried sick!” Mom was sitting at the table, in the same seat she had crumpled into that morning. She didn’t meet my eyes, even when I crossed the room and stood right in front of her. She just kept staring at the object in her hands, and I stared at it too. It was her athame, her ritual knife, the blade still sharp after a lifetime of use. I’d only ever seen the knife once, when she threw a ritual for me when I turned thirteen.
I had just gotten my first period, which, in addition to being a real pain in the ass, is the event that marks a turning point in a female Witch’s power. Mom tried to downplay the cramps and invited over a bunch of her friends to celebrate my first “moon blood.” Mom had used her athame that night to stir the honey into the water in the ceremonial chalice. She had handed the cup to me, still holding her knife, kissed me on both cheeks, and said, “May you never hunger or thirst.”