Chapter Ten

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I sifted through my thoughts on the walk home. If there were three Reds, as I'd 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'd 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'd 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'd handed the cup to me, still holding her knife, kissed me on both cheeks, and said, "May you never hunger or thirst."

The ceremony had been really special, but I hadn't seen the athame since. I knew enough about magic to know that no Witch brought out her most precious magical tool just because she was worried about her daughter. Something big had happened, and part of me didn't want to know what it was.

I looked between my parents, unsure who to ask. "What is it?"

Mom sighed. "Hecate dropped by. Again." I glanced at her sharply, but given Dad's lack of reaction, he had clearly already found out about the whole thing with the car. I drew a deep breath, trying to steady myself. Hecate had been around a lot lately, but while that was strange, it shouldn't have been enough to throw my parents into the state they were in.

"And?"

"She warned us not to let you go out on your own. She implied that the car might not have been the only close brush you'd have with chaos." Mom's voice was calm, detached, but my dad was turning purple and I could practically see the steam coming out of his ears.

"I was afraid of this, but your mother tried to tell me she could watch you. What happened tonight?"

I wanted to tell them everything: about the book, about the plan Justin and I were hatching, about what I'd learned about being a Red. But fear and anger bubbled up together in my throat, and I tossed my head in defiance.

"I'm just trying to understand what I am. Don't you get it? Everything has changed and I don't know where I fit anymore." I kept my hands clenched tight to my sides, afraid that if I opened my palms, I'd conjure up the Red magic that I had used that morning. No matter what I was, I wouldn't hurt my family, not even accidentally. That was one thing I could control.

Mom and Dad stared at me in shock. I didn't usually fight with them; I used silence as my weapon until they forgot we weren't getting along. I turned on my heel, ran up the stairs, and crawled into the sanctuary of my closet.

I had just shut the closet door when the tears I'd been struggling to hold back all day finally burst out of me. I sobbed into the skirt of the dress I had worn to prom with Justin, not caring that the black tulle was coarse and itchy. There was a gentle tap on my bedroom door, and I held my breath.

"Darlena? May I come in?" Mom's voice was muffled by the clothes surrounding me, but I let my breath out in relief. I couldn't talk to Dad when I was upset like this, but I thought I might be able to handle Mom.

"Just a sec." Snuffling, I scooted out of the closet and sat down next to my bed. I hastily rubbed at my face, trying to wipe away the evidence of my meltdown. Mom was already worried enough about me; she didn't need to know I'd been crying on top of it all. "Come in."

The door opened, and Mom flicked on my light as she shut the door behind her. She paused for a moment when she saw me but didn't say anything. Sinking to her knees beside me, she sat quietly. Her shoulder bumped mine, and I impulsively reached over and took her hand. She squeezed my fingers and turned my hand palm-up. I watched with interest as she began tracing the lines on my palm with her fingertip, muttering to herself. Her beautiful auburn hair fell in front of her face, masking her from my view. Then she cocked her head to one side the way Xerxes does when he's thinking about jumping up on a window ledge, and I had to fight back the urge to giggle.

Her eyes met mine, and I sobered. "Things won't be easy," she said solemnly. I nodded. I'd already realized that. She placed something in my still-upturned palm, and I was startled by the feel of it. A glance confirmed my suspicion.

"You can't give me this!" I held her athame gingerly, feeling the magical energy stored in the blade. "It's your most powerful tool!" It felt like her, warm and strong, but I knew the blade was sharp. Mom was like her knife, I realized with a flash of intuition: simple but deceptively powerful.

"But you need it more." The weight of her words settled over the room like a curse, and I shuddered. She kept speaking in a quiet, sad voice. "I am sworn to Demeter, Darlena. Above all else, she is a mother. She was willing to sacrifice the world in her grief at losing her daughter. I don't," she choked, "want to lose you, so shouldn't I be willing to sacrifice a knife if it will keep you safe?" She stroked my cheek with her finger. "You are my beautiful child, and I'm afraid I won't be able to protect you anymore."

I hugged her close, the athame still clutched in my hand. Neither of us rushed to break the embrace, but finally Mom pulled me back and looked at me hard.

"Remember," she said, "declaring a path is not the same thing as swearing to a goddess. You do not belong to Hecate. When you finally choose a patron—" Her eyes glistened with tears when she said this, "choose someone who can shape your life. Hecate would not be the best choice for you." I nodded silently. I'd been worried since meeting the goddess that she already took my allegiance for granted, when I wanted nothing more to do with her. Like I'd said to Mom the other day, I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with a patron at all.

"You don't walk my path, but you're still my daughter. I will stand by you, and if you keep my blade, I think I will be able to help you." She kissed my forehead and got to her feet. I rose to stand with her and realized that my eyes were level with hers. When had I gotten so tall?

"Thank you. For everything, but thank you especially for this." She nodded and stepped out into the hall, gently closing the door behind her. I still felt fragile, like a soap bubble, but Mom's words had reminded me that I wasn't alone. I had her, and I had Justin. Maybe Dad would even come around eventually, but if nothing else, I was sure he wouldn't stand in my way. I fell asleep with the knife beneath my pillow, and for the first time since I met Hecate, I didn't have any nightmares.

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