They kept her locked up. And after two weeks inside this trailer, Lu scarcely even remembered the scent of pine. She missed her home, her friends, her family. But mostly, she missed having control.

Her captors told her when to eat, when to sleep, and if she protested, they threatened to hurt Nika. By now, Lu was aware that her sister-friend hadn't been taken, but that didn't mean she never would.

So Lu cooperated. Begrudgingly. Especially when the red-haired witch came to teach her magic. Especially when she distracted Lu with ceaseless jabbering.

"...I understand your pain, Luiza. Truly. I, too, have been parted from a loved one for a long time."

Lu gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the sound of Tatiana's Romanian accent, reaching out with an invisible piece of herself.

It latched onto one of many currents that ran through the world, undetected by non-witches. These currents were, according to Tatiana's teachings, a combined force of natural and supernatural energy. In every violent hurricane, every comet flying past the earth, every shift of tectonic plates, there was a wellspring of power to draw from.

This particular task should have been easy, but Lu was new to magic. She'd barely wrapped her head around its existence, so channeling star power to light up the trailer was no effortless feat.

"My husband," Tatiana continued dreamily.

Lu glanced to where she sat on a small dining table, a strand of scarlet hair coiled around her finger. Her medieval skirts draped all the way to the floor.

"He's a great sorcerer, with equally great ambition. Some say that's what got him killed. But it was the dark magic that claimed my husband. In a way, it claimed me, too. A dangerous thing, dark magic. Once we break this curse, you should stay away from—"

"Would you shut up?" Lu snapped.

The thread between her and the stars snapped, too. Her grip on the light, on the latent magic in her veins, vanished.

Tatiana stiffened.

Lu dropped her head into her hands. Konstantin's journal lay on the floor in front of her. She absently scanned its foreign words and images.

"You must learn to work with distractions," Tatiana instructed. "When we break the curse, there could be a battle raging around you."

Lu studied the woman for a moment, then found herself asking, "Why do you spend so much time with me?"

A curt laugh. Lu waited for her to answer.

With a sigh, she said, "You are the only civilized person here, apart from myself, and the only one I can tolerate speaking to. And then there are the lessons, of course."

"If you don't even like the Volkari, then why do you help them?"

Tatiana rested a hand against her throat, running a finger over the golden chain of the necklace she never took off. Lu hadn't seen the ornament that dangled from it, but she knew Tatiana cherished the trinket as if it were a dear friend.

"I have my reasons," she said, her voice as hard as those arctic-blue eyes. Then she cleared her throat. "Now get back to work. We won't have as much time tomorrow, so we need to make the most of tonight."

"Why? What's happening tomorrow?"

Tatiana examined her nails. "I'll be gone, visiting a hedgewitch for supplies. Once I acquire them, we'll begin practicing the spells for the ritual."

Hedgewitches. They were members of the Serafi race who'd left Daemonstri society either by force or by choice. They were practicing witches. Rebels. Rogues.

Lu had once believed them to be madmen and fanatics, since they claimed that magic was still alive and thriving. But now she knew that they'd been right, and the Ministry had annexed them from society to silence the rumors they created.

"This ritual," Lu said, fingering the corner of a page in Konstantin's journal. "Why can't you do it alone?"

Tatiana's features hardened. "My abilities have been...compromised. Magic doesn't always work for me. Not like it used to."

"Why?"

An exasperated breath. "You ask too many questions, witchling. Back to work. Now."

Shoving away her curiosity, Lu sat up straight, closed her eyes, and reached out with that invisible hand. It felt like being stretched from both ends, and she wondered how many more lessons, spells, and cryptic stories she could take before magic—and Tatiana, the alpha, the Ministry, everything—ripped her apart. 

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