Bloodlines: The Fiery Heart - part four -

9. února 2014 v 14:42 | Lola Kiss |  Beletrie
I noticed then that the trees in the yard were oriented in a circle. The witches formed another ring within it, in front of a stone altar bedecked with incense and candles. Maude took up a position by the altar and indicated that I should kneel in the center, in front of her. A breeze stirred around us, and although I tended to think of overgrown, misty, deciduous forests when it came to arcane rituals, something felt right about the towering palms and crisp air.

It had taken me a while to come around to joining, and Ms. Terwilliger had had to assure me a hundred times that I wouldn't be swearing allegiance to some primeval god. "You're swearing yourself to the magic," she had explained. "To the pursuit of its knowledge and using it for good in the world. It's a scholar's vow, really. Seems like something you should be on board with."

It was. And so, I knelt before Maude as she conducted the ritual. She consecrated me to the elements, first walking around me with a candle for fire. Then she sprinkled water on my forehead. Crumbled violet petals spoke for the earth, and a wreath of incense smoke summoned the air. Some traditions used a blade for that element, and I was kind of glad theirs didn't.

The elements were the heart of human magic, just as they were in vampire magic. But like with the Moroi, there was no nod to spirit. It was an only recently rediscovered magic among them, and only a handful of Moroi wielded it. When I'd asked Ms. Terwilliger about it, she hadn't had a good answer. Her best explanation had been that human magic was drawn from the external world, where the physical elements resided. Spirit, tied to the essence of life, burned within us all, so it was already present. At least that had been her best guess. Spirit was a mystery to human and vampire magic users alike, its effects feared and unknown-which was why I often lay sleepless at night, worrying about Adrian's inability to stay away from it.

When Maude finished with the elements, she said, "Swear your vows."

The vows were in Italian, since this particular coven had its origins in the medieval Roman world. Most of what I swore to was in line with what Ms. Terwilliger had said, a promise to use magic wisely and support my coven sisters. I'd memorized them a while ago and spoke flawlessly. As I did, I felt an energy burn through me, a pleasant hum of magic and the life that radiated around us. It was sweet and exhilarating, and I wondered if it was what spirit felt like. When I finished, I looked up, and the world seemed brighter and clear, full of so much more wonder and beauty than ordinary people could understand. I believed then more than ever that there was no evil in magic, unless you brought it upon yourself.

"What is your name among us?" asked Maude.

"Iolanthe," I said promptly. It meant "purple flower" in Greek and had come to me after all the times Adrian talked to me about the sparks of purple in my aura.

She held out her hands to me and helped me up. "Welcome, Iolanthe." Then, to my surprise, she gave me a warm hug. The rest, breaking the circle now that the ritual was over, each gave me one as well, with Ms. Terwilliger being last. She held me longer than the others, and more astonishing than anything else I'd seen tonight were the tears in her eyes.
"You're going to do great things," she told me fiercely. "I'm so proud of you, prouder than I could be of any daughter."

"Even after I burned your house down?" I asked.

Her typical amused expression returned. "Maybe because of that."

I laughed, and the serious mood transformed to one of celebration. We returned to the living room, where Maude traded tea for spiced wine, now that we were done with the magic. I didn't indulge, but my nervousness had long since disappeared. I felt happy and light... and more importantly, as I sat and listened to their stories, I felt like I belonged there-more so than I ever had with the Alchemists.

My phone buzzed in my purse, just as Ms. Terwilliger and I were finally preparing to leave. It was my mom. "I'm sorry," I told them. "I need to take this."

Ms. Terwilliger, who'd drank more wine than anyone else, waved me off and poured another glass. I was her ride, so it wasn't like she had anywhere to go. I answered the phone as I retreated to the kitchen, only a little surprised that my mom would call. We kept in touch, and she knew evenings were a good time to get a hold of me to chat. But when she spoke, there was an urgency in her voice that told me this wasn't a casual call.

"Sydney? Have you talked to Zoe?"

My mental alarms went off. "Not since this afternoon. Is something wrong?"

My mom took a deep breath. "Sydney... your father and I are splitting up. We're getting a divorce."

For a moment, the world spun, and I leaned against the kitchen counter for support. I swallowed. "I see."

"I'm so sorry," she said. "I know how hard this will be on you."

I thought about it. "No... not exactly. I mean, I guess... well, I can't say that I'm surprised."

She'd once told me that my dad had been more easygoing in his youth. It was hard for me to imagine, but obviously, she'd married him for some reason. Over the years, my dad had grown cold and intractable, throwing himself into the Alchemist cause with a devotion that took precedence over all other things in his life, including his daughters. He'd become harsh and single-minded, and I'd long since realized I was more of a tool for the greater good in his eyes than his daughter.

My mom, on the other hand, was warm and funny, always willing to show affection and listen to us when we needed her. She was quick with a smile... though she didn't seem to smile so much these days.

"I know it'll be emotionally difficult for you and Carly," she said. "But it won't affect your daily lives that much."

"I pondered her word choice. Me and Carly. "But Zoe..."

Zoe's a minor, and even if she's off doing your Alchemist work, she's still legally under the care of her parents. Or parent. Your father intends to file for sole custody so that he can keep her where she is." There was a long pause. "I plan to fight him. And if I win, I'll bring her back to live with me and see if she can live a normal life."

I was stunned, unable to imagine the sort of battle she was proposing. "Does it have to be all or nothing? Can you guys share custody?"

"Sharing might as well be giving it to him. He'll wield the control, and I can't let him have her-mentally, that is. You're an adult. You can make your choices, and even if you're established on your path, you're different from her in the way you go about it. You're you, but she's more like..."

She didn't finish, but I already knew. She's more like him.

"If I can get custody and bring her home, I'll send her to a regular school and maybe salvage some sort of ordinary teenage existence for her. If it's not too late. You probably hate me for that-for pulling her from your cause."

"No," I said swiftly. "I think... I think it's a great idea." If it's not too late.

I could hear her choke up a little and wondered if she was fighting tears. "We'll have to go to court. No one's going to bring up the Alchemists, not even me, but there's going to be a lot of discussion of suitability and character analysis. Zoe will testify... and so will you and Carly."

And that's when I knew why she said this would be so difficult. "You guys will want us to choose one of you."

"I'll want you to tell the truth," she had said firmly. "I don't know what your father will want."

I did. He would want me to slander my mom, to say she was unfit, just some homemaker who fixed cars on the side and couldn't possibly compare with a serious academic like him, who provided Zoe with all sorts of education and cultural experiences. He'd want me to do it for the good of the Alchemists. He'd want me to do it because he always got his way.

"I love and support whatever you feel is right." The bravery in my mom's voice broke my heart. She was going to have more than family complications to deal with. Alchemist connections extended far and wide. Into the legal system? Very possibly. "I just wanted you to be prepared. I'm sure your father will want to speak to you too."

"Yes," I said grimly. "I'm sure he will. But what about right now? Are you okay?" Stepping away from Zoe, I had to acknowledge how life-altering this was for my mom. Maybe their marriage had become painful, but they'd been together for almost twenty-five years. Leaving something like that was a big adjustment, no matter the circumstances.

I could sense her smiling. "I'm fine. I'm staying with a friend of mine. And I took Cicero with me."

Thinking of her spiriting our cat away made me laugh, in spite of the solemnity of the conversation. "At least you have company."

She laughed as well, but there was a fragile quality to it. "And my friend needs some work done on her car, so we're all happy."

"Well, I'm glad, but if there's anything you need, anything at all, money or-"

"Don't worry about me. Just take care of yourself-and Zoe. That's the most important thing right now." She hesitated. "I haven't spoken to her lately... is she okay?"

Was she? I supposed it depended on how you defined "okay." Zoe was thrilled that she was out learning the Alchemist trade at so young an age but arrogant and cold toward my friends-just like anyone else in our organization. That, and she was a constant, looming shadow over my love life.

"She's great," I assured my mom.

"Good," she said, her relief nearly palpable. "I'm glad you're with her. I don't know how she'll take this."

"I'm sure she'll understand where you're coming from."

It was a lie, of course, but there was no way I could tell my mom the truth: Zoe was going to fight her, kicking and screaming, every step of the way.

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