Fairy Blade Unmade

fairy blade unmade

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chapter-1

drop-cap-reg looked around the cottage for some sign of the small black cat.

Starlight, her own cat, a tuxedo with mismatched eyes and a star in the third-eye position on his forehead, gazed at her, radiating irritation and displeasure. Reg looked down at the bowl Nico had knocked to the floor, scattering popcorn everywhere.

“What happened?” she asked Starlight.

He stared back at her. What did she think had happened? Did she think that he had somehow been involved in the incident?

Reg shook her head. “I know you didn’t do it. But did he mean to? Or did he just—was it just an accident?”

Starlight’s gaze didn’t shift, nor did the emotions hanging around him like a dense cloud.

“Where did he go?”

Starlight broke her gaze and looked around. He stopped, ears pointing at the couch. Reg walked over to it, then got down to her knees to look underneath.

Nico, all black with blazing yellow eyes, crouched under the couch and, when she got down to his level, hissed at her, putting his ears back.

“I didn’t threaten you, why are you hissing at me?”

He hissed again, just to make sure she understood what would happen if she reached under the couch and tried to pull him out. Reg already knew; the scenario had been repeated enough times. She had scratches all up and down both arms from previous attempts to pull him out of a hiding place, down from the drapes, or out of some situation he had gotten himself into. He was not a cat who appreciated any interference or help.

Starlight had spoiled Reg. She hadn’t ever had another pet, not even a goldfish. Despite his quirks, Starlight had been a pretty easy animal to deal with. He might like to get her out of bed too early, make demands about the kind of food he wanted, and bite her ankles if he didn’t like what she was doing but, dealing with Nico now, she understood what an easy cat Starlight had been. She’d had no idea how antagonistic a cat could be.

“Why did you knock down the popcorn?”

He stared at her. His aura was red, as it often was. She had trouble sorting out what he was feeling. Confusion? Anger? Fear? She sometimes had the feeling that Nico’s emotions were much the same as Reg’s had been when she’d been a child in foster care. Hypervigilant, always afraid of what was going to happen next, unable to trust adults no matter how nice they might seem on the outside. Because all adults betrayed her sooner or later. If they didn’t do something to hurt her, they were disappointed in her behavior, or they told her social worker that she needed more therapy. Or medication. Or hospitalization. Even the nicest foster parents were still trying to force her into a different mold, an unnatural fit. Reg had been the typical square peg people tried to jam into a round hole.

Was that what she was doing with Nico, expecting him to be like Starlight? Was she expecting his behavior and personality to be like a cat who was much older and had grown up in a different set of circumstances and had a different personality or needs from Nico’s?

Before the arrival of the nine kattakyns, the magical black cats that the Witch Doctor had sent his self into, Reg had assumed that all cats were the same. People talked about them as if their natures were all the same. But she had found the nine identical black cats were not identical at all. They all had completely different personalities, some of them sleepy and some of them energetic, with different affinities for magical or psychic gifts, preferring different activities and social contact even when Nicole (pronounced NEE-cole in her owner Francesca’s charming creole), the cat who had adopted them all as her own kittens, expected them to do the same thing—taking a nap, play hunting, or eating.

Nico was particularly distractible, always off doing something different from the rest of the cats. Chasing Reg’s shoelaces when it was time to sleep or hunting for mice when there was food in his bowl. Then, of course, he would want to eat in the middle of the night and was very vocal and insistent that he be fed immediately.

Francesca was Nicole’s owner and had taken on the job of taking care of the kittens. But Nico was getting to be too much for her and Reg had agreed to take him for a few days to see if she could do something with him. She had been pretty sure it was just a matter of persistence and paying attention to catch him being good, but he was wearing her down too. She was no longer sure that she was going to be able to do anything with him.

Officer Marta Jessup came back from the bathroom. She looked at the popcorn all over the floor and at Reg, on her knees in front of the couch. “What happened?”

“Well, that’s just what I was asking him, but he isn’t in much of a mood to discuss it.”

“You know he’s a cat, right?” Jessup inquired.

“I know. But that’s no excuse.”

“Do you want me to pop some more?”

“I don’t know. You can check in the cupboard to see if there is any left, but I don’t think there is.”

Jessup shook her head. She went to the kitchen and looked through the cupboards.

“You see?” Reg said to the cat. “You ruined our girls’ night. We were going to do popcorn and a movie, but how do you do that without the popcorn?”

“We could have something else,” Jessup suggested as her search petered out. “There’s a bottle of wine and some pretzels.”

Reg grimaced. Who knew how long they had been in the cupboard. Wine might improve with age, but that was when the bottles were properly stored in a cool cellar, on their sides and turned regularly, or whatever you were supposed to do with wine. Not when you just shoved it into a warm cupboard in Florida and hoped for the best. And the pretzels might have been there from the time she had moved in. She couldn’t remember buying any. Sarah, her landlord, lived in the big house at the front of the lot. She might have purchased them, but usually, the stuff that Sarah bought for her was nutritious. Sarah tried to get Reg to eat properly instead of just snarfing down convenience foods whenever it was… convenient. But Sarah might have bought pretzels for herself and then decided she didn’t want them, so she had gifted them to Reg.

“How about in the fridge? I think there might be ice cream in there.”

Jessup opened the freezer door and pushed a few unidentified packages around.

“Yes, there is ice cream,” she agreed, pulling out a couple of small tubs. Reg was of the opinion that if she bought the small, expensive containers, she wouldn’t eat as much and wouldn’t put on weight, but she had already noticed her skirts starting to get tight. She gave herself the excuse that she had been too skinny before, living hand-to-mouth and barely keeping herself off the streets, but she had a suspicion that if she were to weigh herself, she had put on a bit more weight than she hoped.

“Why don’t you get the popcorn cleaned up, and I’ll dish up the ice cream,” Jessup suggested.

Reg sighed and got back to her feet. There was no point in dragging Nico out from under the couch. He would scratch her, and she wouldn’t be able to explain to him what he had done that was wrong. He would growl and yowl and try to squirm out of her grip and, eventually, she would just let him go. He would slink off to pout in some corner. Or back under the couch.

She got out the broom and dustpan and started to sweep up the popcorn.

Starlight, who had an irrational fear of brooms and dusters, immediately bolted, running to hide in the bedroom.

Then again, Reg didn’t know much of Starlight’s history. His pathological fear of brooms might be totally logical. Maybe a previous owner had hit him with one. Or maybe witnessing Sarah beating down the garden with a broom as she tried to chase Nicole out of the yard had traumatized him.

Who was to say what a cat thought or why they did the things they did?

When Reg was finished cleaning up the popcorn, Jessup presented her with a large bowl of ice cream, several scoops of different flavors, complete with a spoon. Reg sat down on the wicker couch and sighed in satisfaction. She regretted the loss of the popcorn, but she couldn’t deny the comfort of a bowl of ice cream.

Jessup sat down beside her, and they turned on the TV.

chapter-2

drop-cap-while Reg was trying to train Nico to be a good kitty, Davyn was training her.

As Reg had grown up, any sign of psychic or magical gifts that Reg might have shown had been quickly beaten down. People didn’t like unexplained things and, when something didn’t make sense, they would alter their memories to a more logical explanation. The things that Reg heard in her head were easy to pass off as a wild imagination in the early years or psychosis as she got older and should have been leaving her imaginary friends behind. Reg being able to find lost items was easily explained; not that she had a gift for finding lost objects, but that she was the one who had stolen them in the first place.

When they saw something that wasn’t easily explained, like glass breaking without anyone touching it, their memories were revised. The window hadn’t just broken spontaneously, but Reg had thrown something or hit it with something. Other things that happened when she was upset were easily explained as violence originating with her temper tantrums and uncontrolled anger issues. A child obviously couldn’t break things or fight someone without touching them, so she had touched them. And that was what everybody remembered.

Since she had arrived at Black Sands, things had been different. Instead of people denying what was going on and telling Reg that it was just her imagination, they told her that the voices in her head were the spirits of people who had passed on and that things breaking or falling down when she was angry were not just bizarre coincidences, but telekinesis. She had thought that the reason she was so good at fortune-telling was that she could cold-read people really well, but the witches and warlocks that she had met in Black Sands told her that she had actual psychic gifts.

While they had encouraged Reg to use her gifts, no one had ever trained her in any of them. They had given her bits of advice or told her that she could do things she didn’t think she could, but the idea of someone training her to control and develop her innate gifts was new.

Davyn, the leader of one of the warlock covens in Black Sands, happened to be a fire caster—among other gifts—and having seen in Reg the signs that she shared this gift, he had taken her under his wing to teach her to use the gift without putting herself or others in danger.

“You don’t want to be practicing fire casting without any instruction,” he had told her. “That’s just going to lead to injuries. Either to you or those around you. Or maybe you just burn down the cottage.”

Remembering the way that the box of Yule candles had burst into flame when she had tried to send out her fire, Reg had been quick to agree. She didn’t want anything like that happening without an experienced fire caster there to help her.

“You can teach me how? Is that… something that is done? Do I need to sign a contract with you or pay a retainer…?”

“Younger practitioners are traditionally mentored by those who are more experienced,” Davyn assured her. “You don’t have to sign in blood or mortgage your soul.”

Reg had been a little worried about something along those lines, so she nodded in relief, laughing it off. “Okay, good. But I’m not exactly that young. I mean, I’m adult, I’m not a kid.”

“You are younger than me.”

Reg found it difficult to assess the age of the magical practitioners around her. They all seemed to possess a youthfulness that belied their actual age. She would think that someone was fifty, only to find out that they were centuries old. She didn’t think that Davyn was centuries old… but she believed that he was older than he looked, which was maybe his late thirties or early forties, like Corvin. Of course, Corvin too looked younger than his age, though she wasn’t sure how old he really was. It was disconcerting.

“Besides,” Davyn went on, “mentoring doesn’t have anything to do with your chronological age, but with how long you have been using your gifts, or how much training you’ve had.”

“Which is none.”

He gave a grave nod. “A situation that needs to be remedied, especially with a fire caster. I’m surprised you haven’t had any serious accidents in the past.”

Reg nodded, frowning.

“Maybe you have, but you just haven’t told me about them,” Davyn suggested.

“No. I mean… not that I can remember. When I was in foster care, there were a few kids who were firebugs.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Firebugs?”

“Kids who light fires. They would do it whenever they were feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Like kids who cut themselves. It’s a safety release valve; helps them to feel better.”

“I see.”

“Not because they were fire casters; just because it made them feel in control, and to put on a show for people. They liked the attention. Seeing how much they could do without getting caught.”

“You seem to be very well-versed in the situation.”

“Well, yeah. You get to be if you live in the same house with one of these kids. You have to be aware of where they are at all times and what they are doing. You can’t assume that just because things are quiet, you are safe. A fire can cause a lot of damage or injury before people discover it.”

“Yes, it can.”

“So I had to know about them. Why they did it and what to watch for. So I could help and get an adult if anything happened.”

Davyn held his hands a foot or so apart, and slowly conjured a ball of fire between them. Reg watched it intently, feeling it call to her gift. She wanted to hold it and control it, to add to it.

“Are you sure that the other kids in your house were firebugs?”

“What?” She turned her attention to Davyn’s face with difficulty, having a hard time prying her eyes away from the fire.

“Are you sure that it was one of the other children who was a firebug, and not you?”

Reg blinked at him. “Of course I’m sure.”

“Were you ever around when they lit a fire?”

“No. Not there in the same room.”

“So you never saw one of them light a fire.”

“No. But why would they do it while I was there? They would hide it from me.”

“Did they admit to lighting the fires?”

“No.” But that was a ridiculous idea. Any kid would deny it. They didn’t want to get in trouble.

“Then how can you be sure that they did it?”

“Because they were firebugs.”

“Maybe you were the firebug. But you didn’t light fires in the room you were in, because that would get you in trouble. So you sent it out farther away from you. And someone else took the blame.”

“No…”

He squeezed the fireball into a smaller space, compressing it between his hands. Reg reached out to take it from him, eager to handle it herself.

“You went your whole life without lighting a fire?” he challenged.

“Of course I’ve lit fires. But just… the conventional way.”

“And you never got in trouble for it? Or had one get out of control?” Davyn passed the fireball to her slowly, his movements small and deliberate.

Reg held the fire between her hands, feeling the warmth radiating from it. Not dangerously hot. She didn’t fear that she was going to burn. It just felt… friendly and healing. Like sitting next to a fireplace on a chilly day. Or roasting marshmallows over a campfire. That warm, safe, welcoming feeling.

“Reg?”

Reg tried to focus on Davyn again. He had asked her a question, but she wasn’t sure what it was. “Sorry, what was that?”

“You’ve never lit a fire that got out of control?”

The burning that came to Reg’s cheeks didn’t have anything to do with the fire in her hands. “Well…”

Davyn chuckled. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Maybe more than once?”

“I’m just… really good at lighting fires. If you wanted someone who could light a campfire at a youth camp or in a furnace that kept going out… I would be the one to call.”

“Because you’re really good at lighting fires.”

“Yeah.”

“Even with damp wood? Even when others had tried and hadn’t been able to get it going?”

“Yes.”

“And every now and then, maybe it’s gotten a little bit larger than you intended it to?”

“Yeah, maybe. But… I was just a kid. Kids don’t know…”

“I think you did know. You might have wanted to control it and keep it small, but you also wanted to burn. You wanted the fire to get bigger and bigger, and to consume all of your problems…”

The ball of fire in Reg’s hands flared. She tried to keep her focus on it, to make sure that it stayed small and in control. Davyn’s hands hovered around hers, not touching her, but shadowing her position and taking back some of the control over the fireball.

“Don’t,” Reg protested, “I can do it.”

“One step at a time. You need to learn to keep your focus.”

“How am I supposed to do that when you’re talking about fires getting out of control?”

“I want you to feel the difference between when you have the fire under control, and when you let go.”

“I didn’t let go.”

“You were close. You were losing control.”

Reg made the ball smaller, trying to show him that she was still fully in control. The fireball quieted, letting her take back her control. Just like that. She could control it. It only took a little more focus. And Davyn not talking about how many other fires she had lost control of before.

It wasn’t possible that the firebugs she had known in foster care hadn’t really been firebugs. They had a history.

Didn’t they?

It wasn’t like her foster mothers had ever sat her down and told her about their history of fire setting. There had been discussions about staying safe and monitoring what was going on in the home, about everybody playing a part in keeping the family safe. But talking about the history of another foster child would have been a breach of confidentiality.

“Stay focused. I want you to put your hands together.”

Reg inched her hands closer together. The fireball stayed steady, glowing between her hands.

“All the way together.”

Reg wasn’t sure what would happen if she did that. Was it possible that she would get burned? Would Davyn tell her to do something that would be dangerous to her? She cast a sideways glance at him. “All the way?”

“Press them together, palm to palm.”

Reg was anxious about pressing her hands into the flame, but she had seen Davyn press the fireball into Starlight when he was sick and needed healing. It hadn’t hurt him. She took a deep breath and pressed her hands closer and closer together. Eventually, the flames were licking at her hands, but it just felt like the warm tickle she got when she passed her finger quickly through a flame. She had loved that trick when she was a kid, scaring the others by passing her finger right through a fire. Was that something all kids did, or just those with an affinity for fire casting?

She looked at Davyn. He nodded. She kept moving her hands closer to each other until the palms were pressed against each other, the flames disappearing. She didn’t know whether she had smothered the fire, or if it was still there, inside her hands. She looked at Davyn for his next instruction.

“Good,” Davyn approved. He didn’t tell her to do anything else.

Reg parted her hands slightly to see if the ball of fire was still there, between her hands. Her hands glowed a little, but the flame was gone.

“You can safely take the flame within yourself, if you are properly focused,” Davyn advised.

“What if I’m not focused?”

“Then it might be a little hot.”

Reg grinned. It wasn’t really funny, but she couldn’t help smiling at his dry tone.

When the training session with Davyn was over, Reg saw him to the door. In the beginning, she hadn’t been sure whether to allow him into the cottage. She’d had bad experiences with Corvin, another warlock, and was leery of inviting any others into her home. Nobody had warned her to stay away from Davyn as they had about Corvin, but what if there was some reason they wouldn’t tell her he was dangerous? Sarah and others had neglected to inform her that Corvin could take away her powers if she allowed him to because it was a taboo in the community. What good did it do to tell her to stay away from him without telling her why?

Maybe other women would have heeded the warning without knowing the reason, but Reg had never been one for blind obedience. She liked to make her own choices based on what she knew and experienced for herself.

And nothing had prepared her for what she would face with Corvin.

“I’ll see you next Wednesday, then,” Davyn confirmed.

“Right.” Reg had made sure to write it down in the appointment book on her kitchen island so that she wouldn’t forget about it or schedule a psychic reading for the same time. “See you then.”

“No practicing on your own.”

Reg hesitated. How was she supposed to get better if she didn’t practice? If she only practiced once or twice a week when Davyn was there, her progress would be at a snail’s pace. She could advance much further if she could put what she learned into practice during the week and be ready to learn new things when she met with Davyn instead of going over the old ground.

Davyn raised one eyebrow and gave her a hard look. “No practicing on your own,” he repeated. “You are not to do this without another fire caster present. You want to burn the whole place down?”

“I wouldn’t. I can control it. I did really well today.”

“You did well. But you needed to be reminded to focus, and you needed extra control more than once. You are not ready to practice solo.”

Reg felt deflated. She thought she had done well.

Davyn patted her on the shoulder. “You will be able to in time,” he promised. “Just not yet. You’re still a toddler. You’re not ready to go running races and climbing the monkey bars.”

“Toddlers still get to practice toddling. Walking.”

“Give it time. This is a safety issue, Reg. Promise me you won’t.”

What would he do if she refused to promise? Or promised but then broke her word? He couldn’t exactly stop her from doing what she liked once he was gone. She stared past him, not meeting his eyes. “Fine.”

“You will not play with fire until I come Wednesday?”

“What constitutes playing with fire?”

“Reg!” His voice was exasperated.

“Can I light candles?”

“No.”

“Not even with matches?”

“No.”

Reg rolled her eyes and folded her arms.

“Not even matches, Reg.”

“Fine.”

“What you can work on is meditation. The better you control your thoughts, the easier it will be to keep your fire under control.”

“I don’t like meditating.”

“Use your crystal ball. Get Starlight to help you. If your mind is going every which way, you will not be able to keep your focus on your fire.”

“Okay. I’ll try.”

“Good. See you Wednesday.”

He finally walked out the door. Reg stood there, watching him take the pathway up past the big house to the street where his car was parked.

A shadow darted across the yard toward her. With a yelp, Reg jumped back, slamming the door before it could reach her.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Fairy Blade Unmade

By P.D. Workman

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