Disclaimer: blood, death, disturbing
Part 1 is here
Sage ran through her house. ‘Pretty lights’ might have seemed fun and harmless to April, but Sage knew better. She really hoped there was still time.
“Come on, Slow Coach!” Tarragon had called over his shoulder as he’d skipped through the long grass without a care in the world. “We don’t have all day!”
Sage knew Wyatt. She knew he’d head straight to his room when he wanted to be alone, but she’d give him no chance – she’d break the door down if she had to. The second she set foot in her kitchen, however, the sheer force of his energy nearly knocked her hair off.
It was so eerily familiar that it stopped her dead.
“We have… exactly… all day,” Sage, in a bonnier, bouncier version of herself, panted heavily as she tried to match the pace of her son. He’d stopped a few paces away and grinned at her.
“I don’t know, Mother,” he teased. “I think you’re mostly spent already.”
“Oh! You cheeky little thing,” Sage gasped, finally catching her breath and catching up. “Tarragon,” she said, trying to sound firm. “Are you sure you’re ready for— oh!”
Sage hadn’t seen Tarragon’s attack coming! She flinched against the bolt of lightning that her son threw forth, revelling in the strength of it. She had always been a powerful witch, but her son was something else. A level of raw magical ability the likes of which the coven had rarely seen.
And she had made him!
“Oi! You little scallywag!” she laughed, drawing up from the belly of the earth. “I wasn’t ready!”
“I was born ready!” he laughed, running through the long grass and dodging her efforts to retaliate. “Catch me if you can!”
Sage fought her way through the pulsing energy in the room to find her boy – her beautiful, precious boy – was curled up on the floor, his hands pressed over his ears, his mouth agape in a silent scream.
She could barely see his face at all through the sheer amount of blood that had erupted from his nose and mouth, staining his already tattered t-shirt and making her wonder, for one horrible, gut-wrenching moment – if she was too late.
The initial to-and-fro had been exhilarating and far more evenly matched than Sage had been anticipating from her newly initiated, teenaged son. Sage had gradually increased the ferocity of her actions, channelling greater energy into every attack and watching in awe as Tarragon fought to match her like he’d been doing this for years.
Alight with energy, he flashed her one of the grins that made the old ladies weep and the village girls swoon and then, all of a sudden, he dropped to the ground.
Sage paused, mid-cast, alarmed by this tactic, and then her face melted into a smile. Typical Tarragon. He wasn’t winning by standard methods, so he was resorting to trickery. Wherever did he get that from?
“Tarragon,” Sage murmured. “I know that if I come over there, you’ll pull some sneaky manoeuvre. You can’t kid a kidder.”
There was nothing she could do. Nothing anyone could do. Once a witch had tipped into overcharge, she’d learned, they would soak up more and more energy until… until…
Sage lowered herself to the ground; her creaky old joints unable to hold her up anymore. The residual energies were causing her skin to dry out, flake and itch. She could only imagine how it felt to be engulfed by them.
She reached out a shaking hand to her son’s face and he immediately shot back, pressing himself against his bedroom door.
“No!” he cried. “What are you doing? You can’t touch me!”
She ignored his pleas, desperate to soothe him. Using what little strength he had, he batted her hand away. “No!” he gargled adamantly through a mouthful of blood. “I-I…” he took a deep breath but he seemed to be inhaling very little air, his words raspy and thick. “I can handle it.”
“Let me help—”
She shuffled closer, fighting against the force of his magic, desperate to envelop him in her arms. He shuffled back a little further, leaving scorch marks and bloodstains on the floor as his raw magic consumed him. She could sense him trying to transportalate, watched the accelerated blood flow as he did so.
“Stop trying to cast,” she ordered. “Wyatt, you need to discharge—”
“You don’t think I’ve fucking tried that?!” he sobbed, banging his fist on the door. “Shit! Shit!” He clearly misread her hesitation as offence, for a moment after his outburst he broke down into tears. “Mum, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that. This is all my fault. I made this tea, and I made it too strong, and that douchebag… Mum, I just had to do something—”
“Oh baby, no. It’s not your fault.”
Sage had been fidgeting anxiously with her dress for the whole forty minutes they were deliberating and had worn through the fabric in her worry. Beside her, her husband Warren was studying his fifth item, turning it over in his hands and making inquisitive noises.
“This is exquisite,” he murmured. “Whatever do you suppose it is?”
“I don’t know,” Sage hissed. “Like I didn’t know what the others were. Put it down before you break it.”
“I won’t break it.”
Sage watched him turning the thing carefully in his hands. His calm and mildly aloof nature was one of the things she liked so much about him but right now, it wasn’t what she needed. “How can you be so relaxed? There is something wrong with our son.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Wyatt,” Warren insisted, but he sighed, flipping his gaze up to meet his wife’s. “And even if there was, what is the point in worrying, Sausage? What will that solve?” he asked quietly. He tapped his chin and pressed a tab on the side of the unidentified relic, causing it to emit a high-pitched squeal. “Oh!” he gasped. He tried to muffle the object with his shirt but when that failed, he whacked it off the counter until it fell to pieces and fell silent. “Ah. I hope that wasn’t expensive.”
Sage rolled her eyes, just as the door to the back room opened, allowing Ma and Adonis, the coven’s medical advisor, to enter the room.
“Well?” she asked, hope still welling inside her despite knowing in her heart exactly what they would say.
Ma shook her head. Blunt as she always was, there was no sugar to coat her words, “He’s the same as his brother. Perhaps even a little worse.”
The bubble of hope in Sage deflated to a flaccid balloon. She had been expecting this, how could she not have? She’d known it before he was born, how while carrying him her spells released with a little more flourish, how easy it was to go too far.
This was all her fault. “What’s wrong with me?” she whispered, to no one in particular. “Am I cursed? Is my blood tainted?”
Ma huffed and looked at the pile of debris near her counter that Warren was trying to hide. “Why do you think you have a botched bloodline? There’s another common denominator in the equation of your sons, Sage.”
“Warren?” Adonis scoffed. “The man who tried to conjure a plate of cooked chicken the other day and ended up with a live duck? I highly doubt he’s genetically capable of magic of this nature. No offence, Warren.”
“Whereas you, Sage,” Adonis announced. “You clearly are.”
Sage stopped the ground tremors she hadn’t realised she’s been casting with an embarrassed pout. “I can control my magic. It’s not the same. I don’t sneeze and conjure unstoppable thunderstorms!”
“Perhaps little Wyatt can control his magic?” Ma suggested. “He is only an infant. Maybe if we start now, teaching him the basics—”
“He’ll be dead before he’s five. He is an accident waiting to happen, a disclosure we cannot afford,” Adonis sneered. “No. The only thing he should be learning is how to dispel his energy, at least until we are sure that he can handle it.”
“I disagree. I think that if we teach him to cast safely from the very start—“
Adonis interrupted, “But what if he can’t cast safely? You saw the boy, Marigold. Even the slight shock of my cold hand on his back caused a charge! It’s not normal!” he insisted. “It’s downright terrifying!”
“Then we’ll desensitise him to cold, or to fear, or to hands! Watcher,” Ma muttered in exasperation. “Send an electric bolt and spare me from this nonsense.”
“Desensitise a boy who has the power to destroy everything around him!” Adonis gasped. “Marigold, have you succumbed to senility? The boy is unstable, a danger to himself and to others—-”
“So he made a little storm—-”
“He caused a monsoon! It took weeks to remedy the damage, and I don’t just mean the infrastructure. Marigold, your people are afraid, and we need to show that we have addressed their concerns. The boy needs control and continuous monitoring. I’ve half a mind to prescribe a stay with my sister in Granite Falls. No people around, lots of permeable ground. Might be exactly what we need, come to think of it…”
“Banish a baby?!” Ma spluttered. “For a few raw magical oopsies?”
Warren, who had been silent while his fellow witches argued around him, lifted his head at this point. “There’s no need to banish my son to a hermit camp. You’re a smart guy, Doctor Adonis, you must have another idea.”
Adonis puffed his chest out a little at this. “Actually I do. I suggest that we restrict Wyatt’s energy until we are satisfied that he presents no danger. There are potions we can mix to subdue him, methods we can discuss to relax him. It would require a heavy hand, someone to monitor him around the clock, especially while he’s young—”
“I can do that, no problem,” Warren said breezily, rocking on his heels. “We can be prison wardens, right Sausage?”
Sage was surprised at Warren’s keenness to enforce any kind of restriction, but she herself had only been a heartbeat from offering the same. If a couple of decades of limiting Wyatt’s magic was what it would take to keep her baby safe, to enable him to be part of their community, then she welcomed it with open arms.
She nodded fervently in agreement, much to Ma’s disapproval.
“I disagree with this, let it be noted,” Ma muttered.
“Of course you disagree, it’s not ideal,” Adonis said. “But you and I both know that the coven won’t tolerate another incident on your watch, High Priestess.”
Adonis studied the couple for a moment, ignoring Ma’s death stare, before straightening up and draping his coat over his arm. “Very well. If no further objections?” he paused for dramatic effect, eliciting an eyeroll from Ma. “It shall be done. We shall restrict Wyatt’s magic until the day he is mature enough to deal with the consequences.”
“Stellar,” Warren said with a goofy grin. “So, what do I, doc?”
Adonis ruffled at this too-casual address and stood up straighter. “Accompany me to the clinic, Mr. Harper. We’ll discuss the finer details and how this will work in practice.”
“Sure,” Warren grinned, but didn’t say a word more, taking the doctor’s arm and allowing himself to be transportalated.
“Thank Goddess that quack has gone,” Ma huffed, the second the pair were gone. “What a load of codswallop. Restrict the boy! I ask you! Great acting there, Sage.”
“I wasn’t acting, Ma.”
“I’m doing what I need to do,” Sage replied weakly, in response to Ma’s stunned silence. “I know it’ll be hard for us all and it’s not fair, but… I can’t risk it… after Tarragon…”
“I understand that,” Ma said evenly, “But this is not the way. Birds don’t belong in cages.”
“The coven fear him…”
“You care too much about what the coven think.”
“It’s only for a few years—”
“Is it?” Ma challenged. “Will you be ready to let him in ten years? Twenty? A hundred? Or will the fear of losing grip you forever?”
In the distance, Sage heard Wyatt begin to cry. He never did like being alone for too long.
Softened by Sage’s wilting resolve, Ma’s voice became gentle. “Sage, you are upset and afraid. I understand that. I do. Please listen to me. Wyatt will try to fly, whether you permit it or not and you know that. It’s what our children are put here to do; to challenge us and drive us up the wall. Let the coven think you’re onboard, if you wish to save face, but allow me to train the boy to use his gift wise—”
“Tarragon burned to cinders right before my eyes and you think I’m going to allow Wyatt to do anything that might lead him to the same fate? It’s not a gift!” Sage choked back both a sob and a tremor as Wyatt’s soft cry became a wail and a freak rain shower blighted what had been a glorious summer’s day.
Ma inclined her head towards the window; a look of concerned awe twisted her features. “Look at that. Look at it! Bucketing down! He could do great things, he could help so many people…”
“He could kill us all.”
“So could I, so could you! So could a mortal with a trained pack of lions—”
“The answer is ‘no’,” Sage said firmly. The earth quivered beneath her feet and the rain continued to lash against the windowpane as Wyatt grew more frantic. “I’m not taking any chances. Not this time. Now if you’ll excuse me; my baby needs me.”
Sage’s fingers stroked across her son’s cheeks. Her flesh seared against the heat of his own. Despite this, despite it all, she sensed him start to relax a little. He was clearly no longer seeing her, but he began to follow the shadow of her touch; a flower seeking the sun.
“Mum,” he whispered. “I’m so scared.”
She locked her baby into her embrace, and he nestled close, seeking the comfort of her bosom as he used to when he was a small boy. She gently tickled him behind his ear, something he’d always liked, and traced his tattoos down to his shoulder. She remembered the day he’d come home with his first inking. It was supposed to be a skull, but it had looked more like a mango with a wonky face.
Sage drew circles on Wyatt’s shirt, swirling the magic around her fingertips, her pulse quickening. She stared at the strand she’d extracted, felt it pull itself away from her, back towards her baby, seeking its most hospitable host: an overcharged witch.
Sage immediately grounded herself. She knew this was insanely risky. If she tried to draw more energy it could fail, it could simply be absorbed by Wyatt and kill him quicker.
She settled herself on the ground and took a deep breath, summoning everything she could. At first, all she felt was the energy surging through her legs and instantly transferring to Wyatt. Sweat began to pour from her, adding to the already huge mess on the flooring. Her own body temperature began to rise, and, just as she thought her plan was failing, the floor beneath her began to shake.
In her embrace, Wyatt’s breathing had slowed. He steadily fell heavier in her arms until was completely still. Sage froze, breath held, wondering if all she’s succeeded in doing was speeding up his demise, when Wyatt shifted, his jaw pressing awkwardly into her sternum. He began to snore.
Sage slowly exhaled. She rocked him, singing a lullaby she was making up on the spot as her head began to throb and spin. Dabbing delicately at her damp nose, she was not surprised to realise that she, too, appeared to be bleeding.
It was working.
Oh Goddess. It was working.
“I love you, my sweet boy,” she whispered, regretting not saying that during every conversation they’d ever had. “I’m so proud of you.”
He didn’t respond other than to drool on her blouse. She continued to idly draw the charge from him, watching with both joy and horror as it began to leave him more readily, drawn instead to her. Her hands shook with the effort. her body was molten. The fabric of her blouse melted to her skin.
The energy was so thick in her little kitchen that she could barely see straight. What had started as a ringing in her ears was now a deafening roar.
But she wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop.
She ran her hand down Wyatt’s back. Down and up, singing her nonsense little song as she did so feeling the energy wrap itself around her throat.
She felt her limbs grow heavier and heavier with every pass, with every handful of magic she absorbed, with every inch she shuffled closer to the dark.
The roaring in her ears became sudden silence and everything became unusually still.
It was over.