(The Scarab Eater’s Daughter is the 3rd instalment of the Sister Witches Urban Fantasy series. Told from the point of view of Alderose Brodeur, oldest of the three sisters, it releases on May 21, 2020. )
Read Chapter ONE here
Focus. The words that would seal the pentacle within the circle as I drew the final line eluded me. I undid the thick braid hanging down my back and shook out my hair. Goosebumps marched up my legs and arms. I squatted, arranged my hair over my shoulders for warmth, and searched hard for the invocation I wanted to use.
It would help if I knew what I wanted beyond Make me powerful enough to defeat the three-faced fae.
I took in a long, slow breath through my nose, released it through my mouth, and did the adult thing. I tempered my need for revenge with discernment and patience and let the words of invocation flow along my raised arm to the tip of the athame in my hand. I drew a small pentacle in the air as I recited each line.
Powers of the East. Rising sun. Illuminate my path. Light me from within.
Powers of the South. Rising waters. Draw me into your flow. Guide my steps.
Powers of the West. Rising winds. Sweep away clutter. Grant me clarity.
Powers of the North. Ever-present Earth. Ground me. Connect me to my roots.
Light from the candle sitting at east spread around the circle, kissing each of the next three flames clockwise in unhurried succession. I sucked in a breath at the beauty of the rising magic. The five lines of the pentacle began to glow too. I forgot about my chilled skin, centered my butt over the compass, and crossed my legs. After placing my mother’s ceremonial knife in front of me next to the beaker—which would do double-duty as the chalice—I slowly, deliberately, withdrew my blades from the duffel bag. One by one, I arranged them in a circle around me, their points facing away.
I became the center of a metal-petalled flower. The glowing circle of activated talc sent its light upward, not out, building a translucent wall. Reflections wavered across my blades. Lifting my chin, I could barely make out the patterned tiles of the pressed tin ceiling.
Focus. I un-stoppered the beaker, gathered bits of crumbling soil in my fingertips, and scattered them in between each blade. From earth, I went to air and to my breath, using the brass compass below me as my focal point. I drew my breath up my spine and exhaled it down, touching my awareness to the polished bit of metal, to the fanned out blades, and to the bits of dirt. Within a few more breath cycles the latent power of the metal under and around me coursed through my vertebra, sending a warm stream of power flowing through my bones. That flow continued into my pelvis and chest, down my legs to my toes, out my arms to my fingertips. I leaned right, then left, forward then back, touching one fingertip to each of my blades and drawing blood each time. I flicked my fingers, scattering crimson droplets over my blades and my skin and the bits of dirt.
As my intentions solidified, the magic that was always present within my cells, even when I was running on empty, became visible underneath my topmost layers of skin. Radiating from the inside out, I called on the fire of the forge and I called on my blood to act as flux.
I called on the metals bonded to my magic.
I called on my ancestors.
Like my father, I reclaimed Unbinding as my base skill.
Like my mother, I vowed to use my skill in service to those who needed me most.
Clasping a dagger in both hands, I raised my arms above my head, piercing the floors above until my awareness danced across the rooftop, witnessed only by the starlit sky. The next exhalation drew me down, down, into the soil far below my seat. I took another breath, which shot me back up to the rooftop. Circled by light, infused with fire, grounded in the combined magics of my parents’ lineages, I freed the words collecting in my throat.
“I hold the dark.
I seek the light.
Let my blades strike true.
Let me seek what’s right.”
I wasn’t sure where those words came from. They weren’t my father’s words; these were my words and they felt right for me. True for me. All day long, I had been too close to the edge, too eager to open the door to my murderous intentions, and I’d let myself be guided solely by revenge. I needed this magical, spiritual grounding.
“So mote it be,” I whispered.
My awareness flitted across the rooftop. The tip of my blade sought the stars. The wind picked up velocity and blew across my weapon, honing the blade’s edge and adding its own magic. Though my arms grew numb, I couldn’t lower them. Because inside the vacant, unlit part of me, I knew I was searching. I knew I had to hang in there, reach higher, dig deeper, wait longer.
My heavy eyelids had sealed shut but my eyes felt open. The faces of my parents flickered in the wall of light in front of me, then disappeared. Hands—cool and weightless—placed themselves over mine where I gripped the dagger’s handle. Another set of hands cupped the back of my head and my forehead.
Find your third eye. Use it.
For one brief, brilliant moment I knew where every part of my body was in space. I knew each of those parts was seamlessly connected and capable of reacting instantly to external conditions and internal commands.
I was calm. I was centered.
I knew my parents loved me. And I knew my parents were together, wherever they were.
I sucked in that moment of bliss like a desiccated sponge dropped into a bucket of water, and the moment I did, my parents’ spirits left. The force of their departure dropped me like confetti from the stars to the rooftop to the hard wooden floor of the shop.
I opened my eyes. My spine was on fire and the world was tilted on its axis.
No, I had fallen over. And my girlfriend was crouched outside the circle with a very worried look on her epically gorgeous face. Clutching my dagger in one hand, I pushed up to sitting and waved feebly at Sidan. “How long was I out?” I asked, rubbing my other hand down my face and wiggling my jaw.
“You literally just fell over. I was watching you from outside the door and I wasn’t going to interrupt but your hair is perilously close to that candle.” She pointed to my left. The wick in the candle in question was also close to setting fire to the wooden floor.
I stared at Sidan. She’d dropped the glamour she wore in the human realm and was dressed in her travel uniform of body-hugging leggings, suede boots, and a long-sleeved shirt. Every article of fae-made clothing was close to her natural, faintly purple-gray skin tone.
“What are you doing in Northampton? How did you get in here? I double-bolted that door.”
“We had a date,” she said, settling back on her haunches. “And those bolts are human-made.”
“Oh.” I’d forgotten we were supposed to meet at my apartment in New York City. Which meant Sidan didn’t know about the past weekend going off the rails, or about my father. I dropped my gaze to the blood-dappled petals of my blades and to the clumps of dirt on the floor and in the beaker. Small balls were moving around inside the glass.
I stared, unsure what magic had been triggered by the ritual and while I tracked the balls as they tumbled about, I told Sidan everything.
I started with the meeting on Friday afternoon with the estate attorney that had brought me and my sisters to Northampton in the first place. She reminded me I had let her know about the trip beforehand.
I told her about our demon friend, Kostya, sent by my uncle to investigate the death of the shop’s caretaker, Serena. And the arrival of Alabastair, the necromancer and portal keeper tasked by my aunt to deliver my mother’s emerald and gold ring. And then most startling of all, Rémy, the elemental water mage whose appearance triggered a series of events, starting with the delivery of a forty-eight-hour deadline to find his beloved.
“There’s so much more,” I added, “and the worst of it is that after everything that happened, while we were celebrating bringing Gosia and Zazie and Rémy together…my father… My father was killed right in front of us.” The retelling of that last chapter sent waves of grief up my body, from my gut to my throat. I realized the fire in my spine had cooled. I was shaking.
“Rosey, close the circle and come here.”
I rolled onto my feet, blew out the candles in reverse order, thanked the elements, and scrubbed a doorway in the line of powdered talc. I left my weapons where I’d placed them. As soon as the low wall of light dropped to the floor and flickered out, Sidan stepped into the circle and picked up my clothes.
“Let’s get you dressed first,” she said, gently leading me out. My fingers were icy. I fumbled with getting my legs into my pants and tucking in my stretchy sweater evenly, and then with the button fly. When I finished, Sidan took me in her arms, and finally, finally, I cried. “Shh, shh, sweet Rós. Tell me more.”
“I want your help. I need to get into the fae realm.”
“Why do you need entrance into my lands?
“Because it was a fae who killed my father.” I told her what I knew of One-Becomes-Three. How she’d beguiled Gosia into thinking they were allies and confidantes. How she’d used that trust to gain access to Gosia’s daughter, Zazie, in order to snatch her. How the mother and daughter were a rare kind of Magical known as the melusine, and that the three-faced fae worked for someone who was collecting those rare Magicals through kidnapping and other means.
I was exhausted by the time I finished. Sidan wrapped me tighter in her embrace. “Alderose, can you listen to me?”
“You cannot go into the fae lands in the state you’re in. You’re radiating grief and anger and other intense emotions and you stink. Literally.” I sniffed my wrist. I thought I smelled like me. Maybe a certain amount of rage was my baseline.
“Also,” she continued, “there’s only so much you can hide when you’re relying on temporary glamour spells like the one I put on your favorite pants to camouflage your daggers. Those spells have to be fed constantly. True fae will see behind my work within seconds, so you can just forget about going undercover in my land unless I’m with you every moment.”
She tightened her grip on me, as if to ensure her warning had sunk in and stayed.
“I’m debating what to tell my sisters,” I said. There had been talk of meeting at the hotel and doing something for dinner.
“You can’t tell them the truth, that you want to go after the one who killed your dad and that you want to leave like…now?”
I shook my head and shrugged my shoulder. “I don’t know, I feel like we should talk about what to do with…with his body and organize a memorial service and…” A fresh wave of sorrow cut off my ability to speak. Sidan rubbed my back.
“Is there a chance either of them would want to join you?” she asked.
“Uff,” I said. “Probably? But I’d feel responsible if anything happened, and my guilt load is already critical. And on top of everything, Clementine got zapped with the family curse and now she’s got her own deadline to deal with it.”
“They may be your younger sisters, Alderose, but they’re grown women too. They can decide for themselves.” Sid popped her butt onto the table, hooked her toes around the back of my knee, and drew me closer. “And what do you mean about Clementine getting zapped?”
“The Brodeur Family Curse,” I said, crossing my arms. “A long time ago, an ancestor on my mother’s side wanted to find her true love, a shaman intervened, the witch had to make a promise—which she might have forgotten—and all I really remember is that each of her descendants has the potential to be cursed by the Demesne.”
“And what is this Demesne?”
“You recognize your true love the moment you first meet and supposedly you both fall to your knees and are consumed by passion and live happily ever after.”
Sid stared at me and said nothing. The reason for the loquacious fae’s silence sunk in. Neither of us had gone to our knees the first time we’d met. That had come later, in turns, when we were peeling off each other’s clothes.
She finally said, “Looks like I’m not your one true love.”
I wanted to close my eyes. Go to my numb place. Sidan’s intense gaze challenged me to stay present to this fledgling thing of us. “Do you want to keep seeing each other, Rosey?” She continued to speak as I fought the urge to shut down. “Or do we call it quits right here, right now? I’ll still help you, but—”
“Neither of us has said the M word, Sid.”
She looked taken aback. “Whoa. Marriage, Alderose?” Embarrassment—or maybe it was anger—added a flush of magenta to her cheeks.
“Oh!” Sidan laughed. The tension between us dissipated. “Come here, witch. You know how I feel about monogamy and I know you don’t want to hear me rant on about humans and patriarchy and outdated relationship structures.”
Relieved, I melted into Sid’s embrace. She planted a friendly kiss on my cheek, shifted her weight, and lifted me onto the table beside her. “You’re going to have to deal with your emotions before I bring you into my land. Either that or figure out how to bottle those feelings up nice and tight. We’re talking industrial strength lockdown. You’ve got enough stuff stewing in here”— she tapped the center of my chest—“to unleash a plague of locusts. Take all that anger and sorrow and guilt and distill it. When the situation calls for you to release it, do it with precision. And when you do, I hope I’m not on the business end of whatever weapon is in your hand.”
My body had gone still. Sidan and I hadn’t been together long, but her ability to read me was both terrifying and a turn on. I was about to plant a kiss on her mouth when my phone vibrated inside my hip pouch. I slid off the table and dug through the duffel bag.
Beryl had sent a text. “HELP NOW”
“Where are you???” I typed.
“At the hotel. Bring your knives. HURRY.”
I hit the call icon and held the phone between my shoulder and my ear. I needed two hands to buckle the pouch around my hips. Sid slipped her finger through one of the belt loops on my pants and drew me closer. Beryl picked up on the first ring. “Alderose,” she said, “are you on your way?”
“Almost. What’s going on?”
“It’s the girl. Zazie. She’s going into her change and everyone’s freaking out. We need to get her to the biggest bathtub we can find. Or a protected pool. Tía says Uncle Malvyn has both of those at his estate and—”
“B, slow down. Why do you need me there?”
“Because Zazie needs a bodyguard while they transport her through the portals.”
Yeah, they needed me alright. “I’m on my way.”
“What’s happening?” Sidan asked once I set the phone down.
I paused pulling on my jacket. “I apologize for switching gears so fast. I was really hoping we’d get to kissing when my phone rang.”
“We’ll make time later. Fill me in.”
I did, while tightening the laces on my boots and stuffing my weapons and the things I’d collected in the laboratory back into the duffel. “I’m not sure how long this will take,” I added. “At least twenty-fours, maybe longer.” I strode back to the circle, brushed the clumps of dirt into the beaker, and pressed the rubber stopper into place.
“Alderose. Stop a sec and listen to me. You’ve had a really hard couple of days. You’re in a rush to take your revenge, when what you need to do first is just be there for Beryl and Clementine, for the rest of your family. Physically, like you’re about to do now. And emotionally.”
I nodded while I packed. Sidan paced behind me. “Don’t even think about entering fae land without me. Bury your father, grieve with your sisters, sharpen your blades, strengthen your magic. Gather whatever iron tools you can find. I’ll ask the kinds of questions that’ll get us information, not trouble. And I promise I will do everything I can to help you find who murdered your father and bring them to justice.”
“Thank you, Sidan.”
“You’re welcome, Rós. You know how to get in touch with me. Unless I come across something vital, I’m going silent. Don’t take that to mean anything other than the best way for me to help you right now is for no one to know that I’m connected to you or your sisters.”
I stopped what I was doing, stood up, and brought Sidan’s face to mine. For a moment, I smelled the rage and grief she mentioned rising off my skin, along with dirt from the cellar, candle wax, and molten metal. Around all of that floated her particular scent. She’d mentioned the name of the flower she often wove into her hair, but it didn’t grow in the human realm and I forgot it. Lifting my heels, I threw my arms around her neck and found her generous lips.
When Sid was done kissing me, a sliver of doubt almost pierced my resolve to leave. She was the one to disentangle our tongues and arms, say it was time, and wave goodbye. I savored the sight of her striding across the street, glamoured to look like she was just another college student meeting friends for pizza and ice cream.
I hefted the filled duffel bag and locked the door behind me. Getting the thirteen-year-old daughter of a water mage and a melusine to British Columbia had become my top priority.