Cursed Magic- Chapter One
The tree branch beside me fell with a thunderous crack.
Shit. That was close.
“Do you see them?” Luken, one of my best friends and fellow witch, called out.
Oliver cursed, then said, “I don’t, either.”
The three of us couldn’t see each other, but thanks to a spell Oliver had found, we had a supernatural communication system running for this. Cell phones required service. Even those ear things that security people used needed electricity.
Service and electricity were two things we couldn’t guarantee when going up against other witches. A simple spell could wipe them all out.
“Hold on,” Luken whispered, bringing me to a stop. I didn’t move, tried not to breathe too loudly, and assumed Oliver would be doing the same. “Fuck.”
A slew of words that, put together, created a spell followed.
I took off in a run in the direction I’d last seen Luken. The woods were so dense that I couldn’t even see the light from his magic until I was closer. Oliver popped out of the other side.
The two of us began our own spells, the magic zipping from our fingertips.
We didn’t have wands, we had words. Still, certain spells created a flow that emanated from us. A bright white or blue, usually.
I grounded myself to the elements so each spell I casted would have more power. The wind picked up, swirling much like a tornado. When Luken and Oliver realized what I was doing, they joined in. Their magic mingled with mine as the three of us carefully inched closer to create the triangle. Between all of our magic, the two dark witches in the clearing didn’t stand a chance.
The swirling wind encapsulated the spells they were throwing at us. It also thinned the air. I’d started this spell just to contain them but soon both dropped to the dirt and didn’t move.
“Fuck.” Luken’s voice was as breathless as mine felt. “I hate this shit.”
“By ‘this shit,’ do you mean the shadow coven?” Oliver asked with humor in his voice.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I don’t think any of us exactly love the fact that we have to chase these assholes down when they get too close.”
“You know they’re dead, right?” he asked.
Nodding, I quickly wet my lips. “Yeah. I don’t love it, but what else were we supposed to do? Though, to be honest, that wasn’t my plan when I called on Air.”
Oliver turned to me and crossed his arms over his chest. “What did you plan on happening, then?”
I shrugged and threw my hands up in the air. “Make sure you two didn’t die.”
Luken snorted as he began walking toward the two witches on the ground. “Because somehow, you wouldn’t be affected, right?”
I gave him a wide grin. “I am the strongest witch here.”
“Fuck that.” Oliver scoffed.
“Yeah, I don’t think so, buddy,” added Luken.
“It’s OK that both of you are wrong.”
The two of them chuckled while I followed them.
We stood over the bodies of the witches, both of whom were young, male, and very, very dead.
“Guess we have to call Michael,” I told them.
“Not it!” They both called out at the same time.
None of us wanted to call the head of the council, but it had to be done. We had protocols to take care of this sort of thing and there were a couple of higher-level spells that might allow the council to get some information on the dead.
I could’ve performed the spell. Hell, any of the three of us could have, but not a single one wanted to flirt with necromancy. That was a nasty business that we’d happily leave to the elders.
“You guys are assholes.” I pulled out my phone and placed the call so that these bodies wouldn’t be lying here for some random hiker to find.
It was one of the ways we kept Echo Valley as a whole from discovering that a coven of witches lived among them.
“You work tomorrow?” Luken asked as the three of us headed back toward town.
The cleanup crew was on their way and there was no reason for us to stick around.
“Guess I’ll see you at the garage in the morning,” Oliver called out as he took off toward his car.
It was already morning if you wanted to get technical, but I could still get a few hours of sleep.
I was going to need it, considering the old car waiting at the garage in the morning.
Three hours wasn’t enough but it’d have to do.
The coffee I downed like it was air helped a little and I knew the caffeine would kick in quickly. Then it was off to work.
Two hours later, I’d been working on the longest screw to ever go into a car in the history of cars. It was so long that it was like the thing was trying to screw me and as I kept turning the head, it probably wasn’t going to be long before I felt it brushing against my skin.
The damn thing was so hard to get out that I figured the threads at the end had to be stripped. Though how that would happen, the gods only knew.
The chatter around the garage was like background music to me at this point. I’d grown up around this place since it was my dad’s garage, but it was also sort of a fortress of solitude where the men didn’t watch their words unless a customer came in.
Sure, the guys talked about whom they’d gone out with last night. We knew when sex happened and all of that, but my dad wouldn’t tolerate any of us being disrespectful to women. It was his thing. If he knew that anyone had done or said anything about a woman that was “off-color,” as he put it, there would’ve been hell to pay.
His sister had disappeared when he’d been younger and they’d never found her. I figured it had to have something to do with that, but he wouldn’t talk about it. Neither would his parents. She was gone and that was all the information that I was going to get.
“Miller,” Luken McCormack called out.
When I pushed out from under the hood, he waved me over. Neither of us looked or acted like we’d been out until three this
morning dispatching a couple of dark witches.
I had to grab a rag off the bumper of the car for my very greasy hands before heading over to him.
Luken and Oliver Coleman were my closest friends, though I’d known Oliver longer. We’d started kindergarten together, while
Luken had come to Echo Valley in high school. Still, the three of us had formed our little trio while Oliver and I had helped Luken learn his magic.
His mother had hidden the fact that he was a witch, so when he’d gotten to town, he’d been out of control. Bad shit had happened anywhere he was. He’d had no idea how to control it. The council had put him under our care and tasked us with teaching him the basics.
We were naturals at teaching, I supposed, because, in no time, he was a seasoned witch.
“What’s up?” I asked him.
Luken and I were the same height, same size. The only difference was that his eyes and hair were dark. Sometimes his eyes were so dark, I couldn’t make out the pupil. While my hair was a medium blond and I had these weird, icy-blue eyes that neither of my parents had. Ladies swooned for them, but they were so clear, they could be off-putting, even to me, when I glanced in the mirror.
A genetic anomaly that happened to witches sometimes, my mother had told me. And I wasn’t the only one. Our coven leader, Michael, had the same blip in his DNA.
“The council wants to see you.”
“Fuck,” I muttered.
That usually meant you were either in trouble or they had a job for you to do. Neither of which was a particularly exciting option at the moment. I just wanted to finish the car and be done for the day.
It was late enough in the afternoon that if I’d finished up with this car, Tommy, our boss, wouldn’t have me start another just to leave it for tomorrow. I’d probably clock out, be gone, and have a shower and a beer before seeing what Oliver and Luken wanted to do tonight.
“What do they want?” I asked as I walked back to the sink to clean up. Since our boss was a witch too, he knew that when the council called, you went. Didn’t matter what else you had going on.
Our coven was a light coven. Light magic was good magic. Dark magic was bad. That had been drilled into our brains since the beginning. Each of us had chosen the light and it had been clear it was a choice. It was a whole thing.
There was so much going on that we didn’t know about, it was hard to guess why the council might call you in.
Right now, I’d heard rumblings about untrained, unaffiliated descendants of the Salem witches and the Michigan witches, but that was all I’d heard. Rumblings. I seriously hoped the council wasn’t about to send me off to train another newbie. Talk about a headache. I’d rather snuff out shadow coven witches than start over with a new one.
Or I was perfectly happy to stay home and fix cars.
“They didn’t say,” Luken explained. “Danna called and said they wanted to see you.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong or sort of wrong in a while, so it’s got to be a job.” I groaned internally.
“Yeah.” He sighed. “It’s probably just a job. Not a big deal.” Though he didn’t sound convinced, which meant I wouldn’t be, either. Not until I talked to them
“You want to walk or drive?” I asked.
We weren’t far from the council building and if Luken was called to bring me in, then he’d have to go there with me. Have to at least watch me go through the door. It was the buddy system so that no witch would consider ignoring the summons. They always sent a friend to escort you. Because if you took off, the friend would get in trouble too.
It was easier to just follow the rules. Following the rules lengthened whatever leash the coven had on you. They didn’t control us but there was an understanding by being part of the coven and that included you being there when they needed you.
“May as well walk. It’s a nice day.”
I nodded, let my dad know that I’d been summoned, and headed out.
We took a right on the sidewalk but didn’t rush. Hey, the summons meant I had to go there and I couldn’t waste time. It didn’t mean we had to full-out run.
“What do you think they want me to do?” I asked him as we made our way. “Gather some supplies for a ritual? That’d be the easiest thing they could ask.”
Luken snorted. “Probably not. Why wouldn’t they just have one of their underlings do that?” “Underlings” referred to those who wanted to be on the council one day who worked for them now basically as interns.
Fuck, they worked those witches to the bone.
“Some of them just started. Maybe the council doesn’t trust them yet.”
He raised an eyebrow at me then shook his head. “You’re kidding me, right? The underlings might’ve just started, but they grew up here, remember? If the council didn’t trust them, they wouldn’t be there.”
We passed Luken’s apartment building and then took a left.
The sun was high and to the outside eye, Echo Valley looked like any other small town in America. It just happened that this small town was the settlement of the largest light witch coven in the United States. Maybe the world. I didn’t know. My parents didn’t talk about other covens and neither did the council. At least not to me.
“You see Oliver this morning?” I asked when we turned onto the street of the council building.
“Nope. You know he needs his beauty sleep.”
“Hey,” he said before I could form a response. “Didn’t you go out with what’s-her-name the other night?”
I groaned. “Don’t remind me.”
How easily I’d forgotten the most boring date of my life with Morgan. She was nice and all that, but there’d been zero attraction once we’d gotten to know each other a little. And that went both ways.
“That’s what I get for dating a non-witch,” I added. He knew that it’d been shit.
“Yeah, but can you imagine if we only went out with witches from our coven?”
I snorted. “Not really. One of us would end up dating Mildred Cunningham.” She was the oldest member of our coven, and she didn’t do much magic anymore.
It didn’t help that I wasn’t about to have a relationship with anyone and that might’ve been the problem with my last date. It was like the universe was telling me to never give my heart to anyone.
No one understood my weird take on love, as they called it but it was a feeling I couldn’t shake. I grew up in a stable house with parents who were devoted to each other. They’d never had any more kids after me, though I didn’t know why and thought there was probably a story there.
But the idea of being in love didn’t appeal to me. It was like a lump in my chest that I couldn’t explain but I was a firm believer in trusting your gut and mine told me that a relationship wasn’t in my future.
“What’s taking you guys so long?” Danna was standing outside of the council building with her dark hair pulled back into a bun and her arms over her chest, her pale skin extra bright in the sunlight. The impatient tap of her foot against the sidewalk told me she’d been there since she’d made the call, as if I’d magically appear in an instant. It was cute though. Here she was a good five inches shorter than me, weighing maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet, yet she looked like an impatient elementary school teacher ready to give me a talking down.
We’d gone to high school with Danna Payne and hung out in the same group. Luken also may or may not have hooked up with her senior year. OK, he had, but I wasn’t supposed to know that. Now Danna worked with the council and was the newest and youngest member of the council.
She’d wanted on the council more than anything else when we’d been kids. It’d been her one goal, even though it sounded like a damned nightmare to me. To her, it was a chance to make a difference for our community. If we weren’t witches, she’d probably run for president one day.
“‘So long’?” I asked. “We headed right here after he got the call.”
She shook her head as Luken shifted his weight. Whatever had happened between the two of them had left things slightly uncomfortable. “Rough day?” he asked.
“Not exactly.” She sighed then pinched the bridge of her nose for a few seconds. “More long than rough.”
“That’s what she said,” I muttered under my breath, making her laugh loudly.
Danna was incredibly pretty with big, light-brown eyes with specks of gold. I didn’t know why I knew that detail about her, but here we were. The kindness she exuded, to everyone except Luken, was the best part of her. If she and Luken had gotten together more permanently, I wouldn’t have been mad about it.
“What’s going on in there?” I asked once she’d settled down.
“Waiting for you. Once we’re done with you, we’re done and I’d love nothing more than to not spend the rest of my day hanging out with these old guys in dark rooms. I’m kind of over it for now.”
“Hey.” I snapped my fingers as she and I started walking toward the door.
Luken could come in—well, not into the room with me, but into the building—he’d just chosen not to once we’d crossed the threshold. If he had, he’d risk getting sent on another job that could keep him away for months. That had been the agreement when we’d joined the coven as adults. Everyone had to do their share to keep the thing working.
“I never heard if you convinced them to bind the mind-reading garbage.” It was something she’d mentioned when she’d first gotten the invitation to work with the council, but she hadn’t mentioned it since.
Certain members could read minds. Michael specifically and it was creepy as hell. Danna had told me one night at a party that she was going to suggest they bind it since so many of us found it unsettling. Since she was a new member, it probably wouldn’t have been taken well.
“Right.” She stopped and turned so that the two of us were in a little huddle and no one else would hear us. “No one is supposed to know, so if you tell Luken, he has to be aware of the fact that he can’t tell anyone else. But yes. I convinced them to bind it. It was really only Michael anyway, so he fought it, but I told them I didn’t think it was fair for one person to know our every thought when we didn’t know his, especially when it came to voting for what’s best for the coven.”
“He went for that?” Luken asked.
“I said that as a condition of joining the council it was either that or he was required to teach us all how to do it. And since they had to have another permanent voting member, and no one was volunteering…” She wet her bottom lip. “He chose the binding with the condition that we not make the entire coven aware because he thinks people will be more apt to deceive us if they think he can’t hear their inner thoughts.”
“There’s always a truth spell.”
“That’s what I said. So, it’s done.” Her brown eyes settled on me. “You’re safe with your thoughts, but I promise you, this isn’t a big deal. Just something that needs to be done.”
It took my eyes several moments to adjust to the contrast of the darkness from the bright sun outside. Why they kept it so dim, I had no idea and Danna must not have, either, because she groaned and rubbed her own eyes.
“I swear to you,” she whispered. “When the old crew dies out and I’m in charge, we are at least going to have forty-watt lightbulbs in this place.”
I snorted. “You want to be in charge one day?”
“Yes. Now that I’m in this, I want the coven to be taken care of and I want to see some change.” She glanced at me then focused back down the hall. “You, Oliver… Luken… You can all help me and we can bring this coven into the twenty-first century.”
“Or at least the twentieth.” Because our coven still had so many old ways. While some of them were good, we were modern-day witches. We didn’t need dark, dank meeting places. “Hey.” I stopped her from opening the meeting room door made of thick wood so that no one could eavesdrop right outside.
“What?” she whispered back.
“Where’s your robe?” I asked her.
For as long as I could remember, the council wore these long, black robes in the meeting room. But Danna was entering in her flowered skirt, sandals, and tank top.
“It’s not required and think of it as me bringing us into the present.”
Then she pushed through. It was weird to think that this young woman, only twenty-one years old, was powerful enough to push back against the council that had been running our coven for so many years. Michael, I was told, had joined around twenty years ago. Since we weren’t immortal, we all knew that the council as it currently was would come to an end probably all at once, given that the other four were all around the same age.
I stepped in after her and while she scurried over to the long table, I took a seat in the lone chair waiting for me. The room had no lights on, but about a million candles illuminated the area. Again, trying to make everything even creepier than it needed to be.
Maybe they didn’t realize the rest of us wouldn’t hate coming here if it didn’t look like a medieval torture chamber.
“Thank you for coming, Miller.” Michael, the oldest-looking and head of the council greeted me.
As if I had a choice was how I wanted to answer, but instead, I said, “Of course.”
“As you know, we have a lot that needs to be done at the moment. The shadow coven is growing and becoming a bigger problem.”
“How do I fit in?” I asked, daring to keep Michael on track.
His icy eyes settled on me. His hair looked like someone had brushed white paint through it and there was nothing about him warm or welcoming. Thank the gods he couldn’t hear my thoughts anymore. That was a witch skill that should have been bred out a long time ago.
“We need you to shadow…” Danna looked down at the paper before her. “Hazel Reilly.”
Fuck. “Uh… not a good idea.” And Danna would’ve known that, given that we’d been in the same class since kindergarten.
Danna held back a smile. She was enjoying my discomfort, but she knew that Hazel hated my ass and I wasn’t too fond of her, either.
“Are you saying you won’t do this?” Michael’s voice boomed in the quiet room. Danna raised an eyebrow.
It was nice having a friendly face amongst the not-so-friendly ones.
“I’m not saying that, but she hates me. Like, really hates me.”
“There have been other witches who have hated each other, yet they find a way to work together,” Danna countered. “Nobody said you have to be best friends.”
Yeah, there was no chance of that happening. I might not have stabbed her with a pencil like Oliver had done to one of our classmates—on accident, of course—but there was no love lost between Hazel and me not seeing each other for ages.
I only wished that when they said “shadow,” it just meant to watch her, but I knew better. I’d have to interact with the one person on this planet who hated my ass the most.