First four chapters of Broken Magic

Copyright © 2017 by India Kells

All rights reserved.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

The moon had risen high. So high, it illuminated the path leading into the forest like a welcome sign. Or a warning.

Valeria Lancaster arranged tendrils of her dark hair behind her ears before readjusting her coat, lightly touching her gun in the small of her back. Not that she would need it. Nor the silver blades tucked in her boots. They were only backups, tools for desperate situations. Just in case. Her fingers tingled as her power slowly surged inside her, reverberating on her companions who were slowly approaching, preparing for the hunt.

One by one, she felt them emerging from the edge of the forest; fellow witches and wizards surrounding her, walking the groomed lawn of the Lancaster Estate. They were all Enforcers, protectors of the Otherworld. Valeria didn't stir until one hand touched hers and wove their fingers together. Her mouth curved as she met the twinkling eyes of James Cooper. Handsome, strong and powerful, her fiancé had the uncanny ability to make her feel safe and grounded.

“Why are you so impatient, my love? You seem ready to run and catch those rabid dogs all by yourself.”

Valeria squeezed his hand a little tighter. She was glad he was present, eager and protective. With him beside her, she felt stronger. She needed his strength, his comfort, his simple companionship. More and more, in fact. When James was not by her side, it was as if there were not enough air to breathe, which was stupid, as there was plenty of oxygen for everyone on this planet. But when her father was in the vicinity, it was as if he sucked it all into his lungs, not leaving any for others, even less for her.

Or maybe the constant constriction in her chest was due to being the perfect daughter, the talented witch, the only child of a man who desperately wanted a boy, always striving for such an unattainable goal. Even as a child, barely able to grasp that very concept, Valeria sensed how being a female was lacking in her father's eyes. How could she become his rightful heir? How could she take care of the Lancaster legacy? And the worst part; she would never be Chief Enforcer, a role endorsed by the Lancaster males for centuries and denied to any female. If Lionel Lancaster, Chief Enforcer and rightful heir of the Lancaster dynasty, didn't produce a male child, the family, respected throughout the Otherworld, would lose part of its power and prestige.

“Stop that.” James tugged at her hand, bringing her closer to his body.

“Since when do you read minds?” He knew her too well, especially when her thoughts took a detour on a less than happy path. She breathed deeply and leaned against him, his arms naturally curving around her. It was such a paradox that a man who looked like an aristocrat with his clear blue eyes and beautiful classical face, could be so warm and caring. At a single glance, he looked like a pure magnificent sculpture, with not a strand of his black hair out of place. Only his gaze and his smile gave him away.

James kissed her brow and released her from his embrace to wink at her. “I don't read minds, I only know when you’re distraught or pensive, and that’s only the case when you think about your role as an Enforcer or your father.”

“Easy guess for you, after all.”

“Sweetheart, some day you will have to confront him about all that, or you will never cease to fight with him.”

Valeria sighed as she caught a glimpse of her father walking regally toward the group, his eyes scanning each and every one of them as if they were his own. “It has been an extraordinary battle to make him accept you and agree to our marriage. I would like to enjoy a little peace before I start another war.”

“I don't know if you’re a wise woman or a chicken sometimes, my love.” James winked again, and she pinched him lightly at his teasing.

As her father welcomed some of the Enforcers, Valeria glanced around, noting a couple of new faces; young witches and wizards from prominent families who were only starting in this prestigious role, who were unsure and scared, as she had been years ago. Often, they had been pushed by eager parents, after the insistent recommendation of Lionel Lancaster himself. Her father believed in a strong, even overwhelming, police state. He was the epitome of tradition and, although he respected the institutions in place, he was not beyond imposing his vision on others.

It made Valeria uncomfortable. They may be the police of their world, but there were so many more, other than witches, who could also assume Enforcer positions. Werewolves, faes. The one time she dared voicing her opinion to her father, he backhanded her, telling her that she had a sick mind, that dogs couldn't police their own and that was why Enforcers had to do it in their place. Valeria never thought about the others as inferiors, or less dangerous. Her mother may have supported her father officially, but privately, she opened Valeria to a new perspective, a mysterious and fascinating world. Ann Lancaster had a liberal mind, an inclusive one Valeria admired. Often, she imagined her mother like a gypsy in disguise, capable of fooling everybody, even her own stern father.

The more Valeria went to dispense law and order to others, the more she discovered ways of changing how her father saw the world. It tore at her soul, but who could make Lionel evolve, when his beloved wife and lacking daughter could not?

“My friend Enforcers, welcome. Thank you for your help in ridding this world of danger and making it safer for our loved ones.”

The small crowd was all ears. How could they not? Even as he grew older, Lionel Lancaster had an aura, a charisma like no other. He could convince and lead men with a single look. Where her mother had a warm, caring energy, her father had power.

“Our mission today is to locate and kill a werewolf pack deemed infected and now out of control. Each member of the Stonelake pack must be eliminated. Once again, let me remind you that ill individuals are stronger and more unpredictable than usual werewolves.”

An entire pack? Valeria frowned at the idea. Infection in werewolves, like any other magical beings, was when the stream of magic broke, overflowing the mind and causing the person to become berserk, out of control. Besides the fact that a rogue werewolf was dangerous, they could risk revealing their identity to non-magical beings. Humans. For centuries, they all hid their existence from the other people living on this planet. Apart from legends and movies, they all stayed carefully in the shadows. Treading a very thin line between their life in the ordinary world and this one.

Infection was not common to begin with, and nobody exactly knew what caused it. But for a whole pack to become infected, that was a first. Symptoms affected the behavior. Another sign was the eyes, turning blood red quickly, the delicate vessels inside them exploding from the pressure of the energy bombarding the body. At that point, there was nothing that could be done. The victim was condemned. If the Enforcer didn't kill him, his body would eventually shut down from the force of it.

Valeria didn't listen to her father blowing hot air at his captivated audience, as her mind reverted to past missions, when she noticed those wild, bloody eyes; when she had to end their lives and watch their souls slowly seeping out, partly relieved, partly desperate to stay a little longer on this plane of existence. So many times, she longed for a cure… for an answer. And when she delivered the final blow, her whole being wanted to take them in her arms and reassure the departing soul that everything would be okay.

“Now, we will go to the portal and each team will reach their assigned location. The pack is not far from our landing space according to our last report. Again, be careful and if you find them, send a signal.”

With a flourish, Lionel led the way into the forest until the troop arrived at a clearing. The trees formed a wide and perfect circle, encased by a clear sky filled with bright stars. The moon was still low, hidden by the foliage. The soft ground was replaced by an intricate pattern of stones, like a flowing mosaic. Torches surrounded the area. Valeria looked around as they all stood together. From that magic transport circle, they could travel to any place in the world. The only downside was that they had to find a similar circle in order to come back. Otherwise, they had to use a more traditional mode of transportation.

As her father started an incantation, one by one the others following suit, Valeria felt uneasy. Her eyes skimmed the dark forest surrounding them, although she knew there was nobody nearby. Why couldn't she shake off that feeling of unease? From the corner of her eyes, she sensed James’s questioning gaze on her. Power rose and swirled around them, around her, engulfing the circle, about to send them off on their mission. When James turned away from her to complete his part of the spell, she stepped out of the circle. A second later, she was alone in the clearing, alone and still very much uneasy.


CHAPTER TWO

The wind picked up and tickled the leaves, making it difficult for Valeria to discern any sound. For hours, she had walked the forest, following her gut feelings. Her feet knew where she was going more than her brain at the moment.

Her senses tingled, her fingers rubbing her palms restlessly, but she continued walking deeper through the trees. Something rushed at a distance. Something or someone. As she started to jog in that direction, she cloaked herself with an invisibility spell. It wouldn't hide her smell from a shifter, but if she stayed downwind, she would have an undeniable advantage.

The moon, now high in the sky, barely glowed through the thick canopy. Valeria didn't see anyone at first, but as she approached, two silhouettes stood out beside a tree. Voices carried, one male, one female, but she couldn't make out the words. One form, the smallest, helped the other to lie down. Then, the tone of the voices changed, like they were having an argument. Gradually, the smallest form ran away, disappearing into the forest.

Valeria waited for a moment before moving forward, the silhouette remaining motionless near the trees. A werewolf was there. She could feel it by its energy. Was it one of the Stonelake clan? The infected one? The Stonelake territory wasn't that far after all. Only one way to find out.

She was no more than twenty feet away when the wind shifted and the figure by the tree growled. No need for a cloak now. She released her spell and braced for an attack as she stepped forward.

As she expected, the form turned out to be male. He tried to push himself into a sitting position, finally half-leaning on the tree.

Unable to see his face, Valeria conjured a few illuminated orbs, surrounding the two of them. He would be able to see her expression, as she would his.

The growl sounded stronger and more menacing, so she stopped moving about ten feet from him. Light glowed softly as she examined the shifter. First, she checked his eyes, but apart from the electric blue confronting her, there was no sign of ruptured blood vessels in them. There was, however, plenty of blood on him. He had shoulder-length blonde hair and a light blonde stubble, which almost shone like the sun in the dim light. His skin had a golden glow, not brown as so many other tanned men, and his face was set, his teeth bared. She knew werewolves to be exceptionally handsome, and there was the proof in front of her. He didn’t have the same beauty as James, his was more savage, raw with an undeniable air of danger. He looked tall and very built, as much as she could tell from his position against the tree, and with the clothing covering his body.

Slowly, she crouched down. The stranger breathed hard, and she could see more blood glistening on his side through his cotton shirt.

“You’re wounded. Let me help you.” Valeria extended her hand, but the man moved back.

“I won’t hurt you.”

The blonde man half laughed, half-growled. “Don’t come near, Enforcer.”

“I promise, I’m not going to hurt you.”

The werewolf bared his teeth again. “Who do you think did this to me? I’m not fool enough to trust the word of an Enforcer when you’re deemed to kill us all.”

“You’re of the Stonelake clan?”

The man didn’t answer and tried to sit more upright.

As he moved, Valeria saw the trail of blood dripping from his side to his leg, soaking his jeans. Even for a shifter, it was obvious that he had lost a lot of blood. He needed help.

She took a step forward, and as he growled again, it was her turn to snarl, exasperated.

“Stop that! If I wanted to kill you, you would be dead by now. You’re not infected so you can live. And if you wish to live, I need to stop that blood.”

“It’s one of yours who wounded me, so you can fuck off.”

Valeria turned her head around, looking for fellow Enforcers. Bad idea. The man attacked, grabbing her neck with his hand. Her heart skipped a beat. Even diminished, she had forgotten how fast and strong a werewolf could be. For him, a small amount of pressure would crush her windpipe and kill her. He could, but he didn’t react. Kneeling in front of her, their faces inches apart, his eyes bore into hers. One gesture and she could end his life too, but something stopped her, urged her to wait for his next move.

A moment passed, then he surprised her. The man leaned his cheek against hers, rubbing it gently, before skimming his lips over her neck and inhaling deeply. His beard scratched her skin in a pleasing manner, both soothing and arousing. His hand stayed locked on her throat, but the other circled her waist, bringing her closer. Valeria counteracted his move by placing her hands on his chest. He radiated heat, and his heart thumped strangely underneath her fingers. The blood loss was affecting him, and, without thinking, she summoned her powers, pushing healing energy into his body. At first, he didn’t seem to notice, but when he did, he growled against her neck and his hand tightened around it, almost stopping her breath. Valeria coughed and tried to push him again. His hand loosened but remained firmly in place. The shifter faced her again.

“Stop that, Enforcer.”

“Let go of me.”

He smiled wickedly, causing her heart to beat faster. Before she could act, his lips were on hers. A close-mouthed kiss, but it ignited a fire deep inside her belly, flowing through her limbs. When he ended it, something felt odd, out of place inside her. She was about to speak when his attention was drawn behind her. Instantly, his eyes turned deadly, and he looked back at her, baring his teeth. At that very instant, there was no doubt about his intention. Her self-preservation acted for her, and she hit him with a burst of energy, knocking him back into the tree, rendering him unconscious.

She turned to see what had made the stranger turn deadly, when something smashed into her head, sending her into vulnerable oblivion.


CHAPTER THREE

Pain was the first thing coursing through her awakening body. The sensations were dizzying to the point of causing nausea, radiating from her skull to her shoulders, then back in a relentless rhythm. For a long moment, Valeria didn’t know if she was in a nightmare or simply coming back to the world of the living with less than enticing new perks.

Someone was holding her hand. She noticed it after a while, as it was the only sensation not causing her excruciating pain. The touch was light and soothing, allowing her to push back the throbbing and focus on her surroundings. It was the perfume of her mother that willed her to finally open her eyes.

“Mother?” Valeria may have voiced a question, but she knew without a doubt that her mother was beside her, her hand caressing hers. It took a moment for her eyes to focus, but there she was, her pixie brown hair and shining golden eyes, the mirror of her own, looking at her with an incredible smile of relief on her face.

“Valeria, my sweet one. I was so scared.” Her mother lifted her hand and kissed her palm before holding it against her cheek. “You’ll be alright now, I know you will.”

Valeria’s mind was fuzzy. She found it difficult to understand why her mother was crying and particularly why she was lying down in bed. Her body rebelled against her when she tried to sit.

“Stay still, sweetheart. I’ll help you.”

Her mother stood and lifted her arms before closing her eyes. She murmured words Valeria couldn’t understand, and the pain started to lessen a little, enough that she could take a deep breath and clear her head.

Her mother sat back and took her hand again.

“Mother, what happened? I don’t remember anything. That’s weird.”

Ann Lancaster nodded. “You had a bad blow to the head, and it may affect your memory for a while. Go easy on yourself. Do you remember the hunt your father organized? The gathering?”

Images of the clearing came flickering into her mind. “Yeah, some.”

“Well, we don’t know why, but your father said that you didn’t follow your team to the hunting site. When they noticed it, they came back as soon as possible and found you lying unconscious with werewolf blood on you.”

“What knocked me out?”

Ann shook her head. “We don’t know. We think it was the werewolf you were tracking. We hoped you would have answers.”

Valeria tried to sift through her memories. She remembered the werewolf, blonde with blue eyes, but not like James.

“James? Where is James?”

Her mother looked away. “I’m so sorry, my darling. When James’s team arrived at the hunting site, they were surrounded by werewolves. It was a difficult fight. He died, love.”

Valeria felt numb for a moment, until every part of her heart and soul were flooded by despair. “Dead? It’s impossible…”

She couldn’t cry yet; it was impossible to believe what her mother was saying.

The door opened, and her father walked in. He looked her up and down, assessing her condition and nodded. “Good to see you pulled through, Valeria.”

“Father.”

“Your mother has told you about what happened. I hope you understand the cost of your decisions. By not following your team, you left it vulnerable. What came over you?”

Valeria tried to search her memories again. “There was something in the woods, Father. I had to see it, to make sure it wasn’t a threat.”

Her father frowned. “Do you think I would leave the estate and your mother vulnerable, daughter? You had a part to play, you were part of a team, and you let them down. It cost a good man his life, and let dangerously infected creatures on the loose as we had to get back and save you. Meditate on that as you heal.”

Valeria watched him turn his back on her, unable to utter a word. Anger and pain prevented any response to explain her actions. But in the end, he was right. She had taken a decision that caused dire repercussions. James, her only love, her only safe harbor in a universe she despised, was now gone. Forever.

She didn’t see, hear or feel her mother beside her. She simply closed her eyes, shutting the whole world down and drowned in sorrows, the image of James smiling in her head.


CHAPTER FOUR

Days went by without Valeria truly realizing it. Events passed by, and it was as if she were a mere spectator, viewing them as through a movie screen. She had memories of herself hearing about James’s funeral, people coming and going, asking about her health, some others whispering about her sanity. At some point, her father closed off the estate to visitors, stranding the three as if on a deserted island.

The sun rose and set, again and again. Her body healed and her mind coped. Every night, she saw the face of James, pleading for her to come and save him. Every day, she tried to ignore the disappointed glances of her father. Her mother stayed close, taking care of her, soothing. Valeria couldn’t voice the turmoil inside her. Part of her knew she didn’t want to revert to her old self, her old life, and another mourned the life she could have had with James. Where did she stand now?

The more time passed, the more she doubted herself. Was it the solution? She didn’t know. Valeria was searching for a single glimpse of light, to help her find her way back. Or a new way, altogether.

One night, she went into the forest again. Alone. The moon was now only a sliver of light in the sky, but she knew her way. Her feet found the path between the trees, past the stone clearing.

The huge tree stood at the same place, immobile. Her instinct didn’t react; her fingers didn’t tingle as she let the memories flow again. The way the blonde werewolf had held her, how his face changed when he spotted a threat behind her. The fury on his face was a telltale sign that it was an enemy for him, and an ally for her. But who? Or what? The Lancasters had followers, friends. But most of them had been miles away, hunting. Who would have sneaked up on her in the woods without her noticing?

Taking a deep breath, Valeria kneeled by the tree and started weaving a memory spell. If she could examine her mind more, maybe she would see a detail that she had missed the first time. What intrigued her the most was the kiss. It wasn’t sexual, feeling more like a hidden spell. But she knew for a fact that werewolves or shapeshifters didn’t have this ability.

As the energy swirled around her, something felt wrong. It was as if she was losing control over the spell. Not once in her life, even in her apprenticeship, did she lose grip on her power. The world spun, and Valeria blacked out.

Or did she? Her cheek was resting against cool earth, the smell of leaves and moss filling her nose. She was lying on the ground, face down. A pounding headache increased when she pushed herself into a crouching position.

Valeria supposed she had faded away for a few minutes only, from the position of the moon in the sky at least. The forest was still silent, unmoving. When the pain in her head lessened, she stood up, noticing a burnt circle. About twenty feet across, the ground was scorched all around her, and she was obviously the source of the fire.

What the hell happened as she fell unconscious? From a very early age, magic had been a natural talent, a definite advantage of being born and raised by two very powerful sorcerers. Never in her entire life had she been overwhelmed by a spell, especially not one as simple as a memory spell.

Had she been indoors, she could have burned the house down. Valeria examined the ground, and couldn’t see any other explanation for the fire. She had to test this theory again. She walked a little further until she reached a place where rocks of several sizes lay. She kneeled before one and tried a simple incantation to move a smaller rock to the side. The spell started out smoothly until another headache exploded in her head, surprising her with its intensity. She battled to breathe through the pain and stay conscious. This time she succeeded, but when she opened her eyes, she found herself lying on the ground, surrounded by splintered pieces of rocks. It was as if her powers had expanded and made everything within twenty feet explode.

Holy hell! Steady enough, Valeria stood up and returned home. But could she reveal what happened? Was this a simple after effect of her concussion?

After some reflection, she decided to keep this to herself. Well, for now anyway. She would test it in a week.

A week passed, then another. Valeria felt dread settle in the pit of her stomach at the idea that she could become powerless, that she couldn’t control the very part that had defined her for so many years.

She debated every second whether or not to reveal this terrifying possibility to her mother. Each time Valeria had an opportunity, she hesitated and stopped herself, a horrible feeling twisting her gut in denial.

Her mother stayed close, and her father seemed to look at her as if he knew something was wrong but kept silent. Only observing.

Valeria’s anguish spiked so often; she barely walked out the door. The outside was becoming the enemy, or more accurately, the victim. What if there was a way she could lose control, not even aware of what she could destroy, or perhaps kill? She couldn’t let herself loose. It’s all she could think about. Until the nightmare gripped both her nights and days.

At first, she didn’t know if she was seeing reality - she had been trained to distinguish premonitory dreams from simple random images produced by her tired brain. This one was different. It felt more real.

She was back in the clearing on that night. Valeria wasn’t alone but surrounded by four people. One was her father with his disapproving glare, and another was James, gaping at her with a plea. Another was a dark, faceless figure standing nearby, and, in front of her, the stranger. His expression was intense, as if he wee trying to look into her soul. He didn’t move closer, but Valeria could feel the heat radiating from him. The faces blurred for an instant before the figures came closer, touching her, grabbing her. Even without seeing him, she felt her father tugging at her hair. James was plastered against her back, his arms around her waist, his mouth at her ear, asking her to come to him, over and over again. The blonde stranger was grabbing her neck, his hard body rubbing against her front, and the faceless figure was nearby, circling, a menace assessing the situation. The entangled bodies manhandled her with even more force, scratching, bruising, inflicting pain until she screamed. The scream changed as her voice morphed into that of her mother. Now, Ann Lancaster screamed in her head. A splintering sound, one Valeria would never forget. One that woke her up, in sheer panic.

It took her a moment to realize she wasn’t in her bed anymore. The carpet of the living room was soft against her skin. Dawn was barely piercing the night, a soft light glowing in the room, illuminating the furniture, the walls, and the carpet stained with the blood of her mother’s body lying beside her.

Valeria blinked several times, unable to process what she was seeing. She crawled toward her mother, ignoring the blood soaking her pajamas and staining her hands. She took her mother in her arms, screaming, hers the only voice reverberating in the room and inside her head. What did she do?

Her mother’s skin was still warm, and, when she touched her neck, a faint, but undeniable, pulse made Valeria’s own heart swell in relief.

Someone came running up behind her, and she lifted her head to see her father, white as a ghost, frozen at the sight.

“Father… Help, she’s hurt, I don’t know what happened.”

Her plea seemed to galvanize the old man into action. He crouched beside her and wove an intricate pattern into the air, above his wife. Wind blew briefly inside the house and Valeria could see her mother begin to breathe a little easier, her cheeks gaining some much-needed color. Valeria choked back a sob, but knew it wasn’t the time to lose it. Lionel took a deep breath and nodded at her daughter. “She’s stabilized, help me carry her into our room.”

They fumbled together but moved Ann as carefully as they could to her bed. Once in the bedroom, they assessed the damage to her body, noticing many bruises and scratches, as well as a wound on her side and her head. Valeria tasted bile when she saw the same injuries that had been inflicted on her in her dream, except for the two wounds Was this a coincidence?

Lionel healed most of them, careful as he skimmed the skin, closing the scratches. Valeria could see unshed tears in his eyes, as he took care of the head wound, reducing the swelling significantly. All Valeria could do was hold her mother’s hand, as she had done for her not long ago, and pray.

When he finished attending to Ann, Lionel sighed and sat on the side of the bed for a while, observing her, immobile. As Valeria looked around, she saw the blood on her stained clothing and the bed cover. An easy spell to remove it. One Valeria would not attempt.

“Will she be okay? Why isn’t she waking up?”

Lionel turned to her, almost with a look of surprise on his face, as if he had forgotten all about his daughter sitting nearby all that time.

“I don’t know. She’s fading away although I did everything I could to stabilize her. Head wounds are always problematic, and she’s lost a lot of blood.”

Lionel Lancaster wove spells, building up a sheer amount of power Valeria had seldom seen in her life. Desperation shaded his magic, making it swirl with added force around them in the room.

He wove repeatedly, until Valeria saw her mother become even paler, her breath slowly leaving her…. Until there was none.

Lionel fell silently to his knees, as if praying, until she saw his shoulders shake in a silent sob.

She couldn’t … could she? Impossible! No! Her mind screamed, but her body was motionless as if frozen inside. Feelings evaded her. Her mother was dead. She had killed her mother, and no emotion surfaced. She only sat beside her mother’s lifeless form, clutching her cooling hand as her father shattered in despair.

As a robot, her father finally stood up, wiping his cheeks. He straightened his clothes and walked to the door. Valeria couldn’t remove her gaze from her mother, immobile, so unlike her. Normally full of energy and chatter, it was unnerving to see her so still.

“Valeria?”

It has been too long since her father had used her given name with such a soft tone in his voice. She turned her head.

“Come with me, child.”

Valeria nodded and squeezed her mother’s hand before kissing her brow, still not realizing what had just happened. When she exited the room, she felt disconnected, as if her brain and body worked separately and her emotions had taken a break. She felt the drying blood on her hands and knees, the cold sweat on her neck and spine, how frozen her body felt, shivering, but she didn’t give a damn.

She turned the corner and followed her father to his study. Lionel was now by the window, a small glass with amber liquid in his hand. The sun was barely high enough to be called morning, but she could almost use alcohol too right now. When he sensed her presence, Lionel turned and looked at her. Without a word, he went to sit on the long brown leather sofa near the window and patted the place beside him.

Valeria mechanically went to sit beside him, and when she turned to him, words poured from her lips at an alarming rate. She couldn’t stop them. She couldn’t control the flow or speed. She detailed all the past incidents that occurred since the hunt, since her concussion. Lionel stayed silent, his eyes only on her, listening.

She didn’t know how long she explained everything. It couldn’t have been that long as, for most of the incidents, she couldn’t recall anything apart from what happened just before or immediately after. Once silent, and desperate to catch her breath, Valeria waited. Her father got to his feet and started pacing the study, back and forth, until he gulped the last of his drink, set the tumbler on his desk and finally turned to her.

“This is all very strange. What’s happening to you, I haven’t heard of anything similar before. Of course, others of our kind have been hurt or injured, even suffered a concussion as you did, but none of those injuries have influenced their powers or their control over them. What you’re talking about resembles more of a curse, Valeria.”

She swallowed. Curses were never to be taken lightly. Many of them were unpredictable and often difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of.

“To be cursed, I would have to be attacked by one of our kind. And I’m sure there would have been a magical leak of some sort due to it, one you or Mom would have picked up.”

Lionel nodded and rubbed the back of his head. “You’re right. There is nothing I can detect off you. And that … kiss from the shifter wouldn’t be able to affect you magically. I need more time to research what is happening. And time is not something we have right now.”

That made her blink. “What do you mean, we don’t have time?”

Lionel came back to sit beside her and took her hand. “A witch has been attacked and killed. I need to report it.”

Valeria stared disbelieving at her father. “What? What do you mean report it? I didn’t intend to murder my own mother! I don’t even know what happened to me, or what I did!”

Lionel took her hand, and she saw now how badly she was shaking. Valeria grabbed her father’s hand like a lifeline.

“Valeria, my darling. Listen to me. Something happened here, something that wounded your mother so badly she died. You know the rule; no witch can attack or kill another. Not without having Enforcers sent after them.”

“I didn’t do anything!” A part of her winced at her vehement tone. After all, could she be that sure about it? “Father, I didn’t hurt Mother. Not consciously, at least.”

With his free hand, Lionel cupped her cheek, forcing her to look deep into his dark eyes. “I know, daughter. I believe you. But as Chief Enforcer, I cannot change the laws for you. If the Enforcers capture you and you’re proven insane or dangerous, you will lose your freedom forever, you will be put away; a fate even worse than death. A mad witch cannot be left roaming this world alone. My child, there is only one solution. You must flee, hide until I can find a solution, find what ails you. If you flee, you’ll be accused of attacking your mother, but you will give me more time.”

“Father…” Her voice broke. Something inside her screamed to stay, to wait for the Enforcers and explain what happened. Another part knew that if she needed to find answers, she had to go.

Lionel took her in his arms, his voice rumbling with emotion. “I wish I could take your place. I wish there was something more I could do. But I’ll bend the rules for you. I’ll lie until we find a cure.”

Valeria heard his voice break a little. She closed her eyes and hugged him harder. “And what if you cannot find a cure?”

Her father drew back, and it almost broke her to see tears in his eyes. “At least, I will know you’re alive, my child.”

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