Written in Blood (Part 2)
A 2nd Generation Whateley Academy Story
Written in Blood
Chicago, Il, Sunday late afternoon, July 24th, 2016
Marcus had a nice kitchen table, one which was solid oak and looked as though it had never really been used. I sat at the table, across from Marcus, though neither of us really said anything. I appreciated the fact that Marcus didn’t bother trying to make small talk, because I wasn’t in the mood for it. Ever since this morning, I’d been hiding out in the guest bedroom, and it was only the promise of dinner that finally lured me out.
Dinner was a deep dish sausage and onion pizza from Mama Carlotti’s, which was one of my favorite foods from one of my favorite restaurants. On one hand, I didn’t feel like eating, but on the other…I was really hungry and that pizza looked delicious. I was pretty sure that the menu wasn’t a coincidence. Marcus was clearly trying to cheer me up, and though I couldn’t really feel very enthusiastic at the moment, I still appreciated the attempt.
“I almost forgot,” Marcus said, getting up and going to the fridge. He came back a few seconds later and set a brown glass bottle in front of me. It was a bottle of Black Cauldron, a locally brewed root beer that I really liked.
“Thank you,” I told Marcus, smiling faintly. He really was going out of his way to try making me feel better.
But as I reached for the bottle, I saw my hand and froze. My skin was pure white, like chalk or fresh snow, the exact same color that my grandmother’s had been. I winced at the sight and the reminder of what was happening to me, though it was hardly a surprise. My skin had been like this for several hours now. After a moment, I scowled and continued eating.
As we ate dinner, I silently cursed my hair, which had grown much longer than what I was used to and kept falling into my face. Between that and seeing my skin, it was hard to focus on the food, though I tried. Marcus kept glancing at me, while trying to appear as though he wasn’t, but it was obvious that he was a bit startled by my changing appearance as well.
Once we’d finished eating, I stared at the leftover pizza, thinking that my dad would have been happy to eat the rest of it, because he loved Mama Carlotti’s pizza too. Paige and my mom…not so much. These thoughts just depressed me, and I suddenly wondered how long it would be before I could eat pizza without being reminded of my dad.
Just then, I noticed that Marcus was staring at me with a worried expression. As soon as he saw me looking back at him, he announced, “I’ve been thinking…”
If Marcus had said that last week, I might have joked, “Did it hurt?” However, I wasn’t really in a joking mood and I had a hard time imagining that I ever would be again, so I simply responded, “Okay.”
“You aren’t safe here,” Marcus stated, catching me by surprise. “Not anymore.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, suddenly getting worried.
Marcus was silent for a moment, then he explained, “Whoever ordered the hit, they went through a lot of trouble to take out the Lady and all of her heirs. If they find out that you’re her successor, then they might target you.”
“What?” I gasped in surprise, followed immediately by fear. I glanced nervously towards the door.
“The truth is, you’re in a great deal of danger,” Marcus continued in a grim tone. “And not just from whoever hired the Messenger. When you inherited your grandmother’s power, you also inherited a lot of her enemies. In fact, there are probably a lot of people who’d jump at the chance to take you out, just to hurt the Family.”
I gasped at that, my eyes going wide. “But I didn’t do anything…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Marcus told me with a shake of his head. “No matter what you do now, some people are going to see you as a threat…or a potential threat. It comes with the territory. And a lot of them will want to take you out while you’re young and inexperienced. While you’re still an easy target.”
All I could do was stare at Marcus with my mouth dropped open, gaping like an idiot as I absorbed his words. It seemed that every time I thought that things couldn’t get any worse…they did. “But,” I started to protest weakly. However, I was smart enough to realize that my protests wouldn’t mean anything. After all, I’d grown up in a family that frequently had to use a bodyguard for protection. I wasn’t a stranger to the idea that my family might be targeted, just to the idea that I myself would be considered important enough to bother with.
Marcus gave me a sad look. “I know this isn’t easy to hear, Bryan, but you can’t take your safety for granted anymore. You can’t afford to.” I nodded weakly, knowing he was right. Then he gave me what was intended to be a reassuring smile. “But don’t worry. Keeping you safe is my highest priority.”
I nodded at that, having no doubt that Marcus would do everything he could to keep me safe. I actually felt a little reassured by that, though I was still pretty shaken.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is get you out of here and somewhere a little safer,” Marcus said as he got up.
“My…my mom had wards around our house,” I pointed out, though I had no idea if the wards would still be working with her dead.
Marcus shook his head at that. “Not safe enough.” He paused for a moment, then mused, “Normally, I’d say that the Lady’s mansion would be our safest bet. I mean, the place is damn near a fortress…” Then he paused again, and from the dark look that passed over his face, he was clearly remembering what had happened the last time we were there. “Unfortunately, she took down some of the defenses for the party…and then that Messenger bastard walked right through the rest as though they weren’t even there.”
I stared at Marcus, shuddering at the idea of going back to grandmother’s house. After that massacre, I didn’t think I could bring myself to ever go back there, much less feel safe. “Then where?”
Marcus was silent for a moment, then he gave me a faint smile. “The Lady…your grandmother had a safe house set up for herself, in case of an emergency. The only people who know where it is are the Loyal…and probably Tessa. That should be the perfect place to lay low and keep you safe.”
Normally, finding out about a secret hideout that almost no one knew about, would have filled me with curiosity and excitement. But now, I just felt tired, and perhaps a vague sense of hope that I’d be safe there.
As soon as we were finished with this conversation, Marcus put the leftover pizza away and then we began packing up a few things to take with us. It was pretty quick and easy for me since I didn’t have much, just a single box of clothing. Marcus, on the other hand, came out with a great big duffel bag, one which rattled a bit when he moved. I knew the Loyal bodyguard well enough to guess that it was probably filled with weapons.
“You’ll need to avoid drawing attention,” Marcus told me, right before he handed me a jacket with a hood. It was the middle of July, and way too warm outside to wear something like this, but I understood his reasoning. The long sleeves and hood would hide my white skin and hair, so I reluctantly put it on.
A minute later, Marcus and I climbed into his car, a dark blue sedan, and began driving around. I wasn’t sure where we were going, because Marcus didn’t say anything. He just kept looking into the mirrors and turning down different streets at random. I’d seen him do this routine before, when he was chauffeuring my family to a meeting, so I knew that he was keeping an eye out to see if anyone was following us, and trying to lose them if they were.
Eventually, we pulled into a parking garage, then quickly changed cars before continuing on our way. After this, Marcus seemed to relax just a little. “Things are going to change a great deal for you,” he told me, though he didn’t take his eyes from the road. Then he grimaced slightly before adding, “Even more than they already have.”
“I guessed as much,” I said quietly, trying to keep my voice calm and even, though I’m sure it shook a little anyway.
Marcus turned to glance at me, giving me a steady look before saying. “You’ll need to learn how to watch your back and keep your guard up at all times, and not just from your enemies. You’re going to suddenly have a lot of new friends too, but they won’t all be as friendly as they seem.”
I nodded at that, understanding exactly what he meant. Though I’d never been a direct part of it, I was fully aware of Family politics, usually from listening in as my mom talked about them. I’d seen a little of the political maneuvering, and the brown-nosing in order to earn my grandmother’s favor. In fact, I’d even seen people kiss up to Paige and my mom, to a much lesser degree. However, it was hard to imagine that anyone would ever do that to me, especially since I’d spent most of my life being ignored.
Marcus glanced at me again, giving me an odd look, though he didn’t say anything else. Instead, he let me absorb what he’d already told me as we drove the rest of the way in silence. We arrived at our destination a short time later, a small house that blended in with all the neighboring houses. It looked like a nice quiet neighborhood, not the sort of place you’d expect to find the infamous White Lady, which was probably why my grandmother had picked it.
Marcus pulled up in the driveway and parked right in front of the house. There was an attached garage, but it was closed and I assumed from where we’d parked, that Marcus didn’t have a remote for it. As he got out of the car, he announced, “You’ll be safe here.” He glanced towards the house across the quiet seeming street and added, “There’s a retired superhero who lives there and keeps an eye on the place.”
“A superhero?” I asked in surprise.
“He and the Lady had an understanding,” Marcus responded with a faint chuckle. “She funded his retirement and paid for his grandkids to go to college, and he just makes sure the neighborhood stays nice and quiet, which he probably would have done anyway.”
“That…makes sense,” I said, looking across the street and wondering who the hero was…or had been. Considering the fact that my family was involved in some less than legal activities, I’d made a point of keeping up with who the local heroes were.
Marcus nodded at that, looking sad as he commented, “Your grandmother was pretty good at making those kind of arrangements.”
Just then, a flicker of movement drew my eye towards the front door, and to the large white raven that was perched on the overhang above it. Lenore fluttered her wings and let out a loud ‘caw’ before she fixed her attention on me, staring with a strange intensity and awareness that I never would have expected from a bird. After several long seconds, she ruffled her feathers, shook herself, let out another loud ‘caw’, and then flew off.
Though I didn’t want to admit it to Marcus, I was actually a bit spooked to not only find Lenore already here, but also by her strange behavior. I felt a faint chill run down my spine as I realized that I hadn’t seen her since the other night, nor had I given her any thought. I took a moment to look in the direction she’d flown off in, then I shook my head and started for the door so we could get inside.
Chicago, Il, Monday morning, July 25th, 2016
Sanctuary had been my ideal bedroom, larger than what any of my friends had and decorated to suit my personal tastes. My current bedroom was no Sanctuary, but I had to admit, it was very nice.
The master bedroom was more than twice the size of Sanctuary, and it was tastefully decorated with a lot of antique furniture, which included a beautiful desk that took up one corner, an intricately carved wardrobe, and of course, a king sized bed that had been incredibly comfortable to sleep in. Off to one side there was a walk in closet, filled with clothing that my grandmother had left behind, and I even had my own personal bathroom.
When we’d arrived last night, Marcus had insisted that I take the master bedroom, which had seemed strange to me since he was the adult and I was just a teenager. However, he’d reminded me that as my grandmother’s successor, this was now MY home. That had been a bit of a surprise, though actually one of the easier ones to swallow.
The rest of the house was pretty nice too, even though it was only about half the size of the one I had lived in until very recently. There were three bedrooms, including the master bedroom, two bathrooms, and a decent sized living room and kitchen. And though there was a basement as well, the door was locked so I had yet to see what was down there.
At the moment, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, having just woken up a few minutes ago. I hadn’t actually slept very well, but that was due more to the nightmares than the unfamiliar bed. And though I felt tired, it was more of an emotional tired than physical.
I stared down at my hands, at my pure white skin and the strange rune mark that now decorated the back of the right one. My fingers looked different, a little longer and more delicate, and I was sure that this wasn’t just my imagination. Last night, I’d noticed other changes occurring to my body besides the pigmentation and growing hair, though they hadn’t really been noticeable enough to be sure. However, this morning, my body had definitely changed more, enough so that now there was no doubt I was still changing.
When I finally climbed the rest of the way out of bed, my hair fell into my face and I had to brush it out of the way. It was an annoyance, and I made a mental note to get it cut short again, though I wasn’t sure if that would do any good. Since my hair had grown due to magic, it might very well just grow right back again.
I staggered into the private bathroom, immediately going to the sink and splashing some cold water on my face in order to help me wake up. A few seconds later, I looked up into the mirror above the sink and stared into a reflection that was not my own. I had pure white skin, pale silvery eyes, and long white hair, all of which I’d expected to see. But last night before I’d gone to bed, I’d noticed that my reflection not only looked freakishly pale…but also a bit feminine. Now, that impression had definitely become more pronounced. The face staring back at me looked like that of a girl.
After staring at my reflection for several long seconds, I looked down at my chest, which had become a bit swollen, with soft puffy flesh that was starting to form on each side. I’d already noticed this upon waking, but now that I saw my face, it put the swelling into perspective. I was growing breasts.
The mirror above the sink wasn’t the only one available to me. I’d noticed an old fashioned, and probably antique, standing mirror in the bedroom. I used that one to get a better look at the overall picture. My whole body had subtly changed, making me look extremely androgynous, though with my face and the newly developing breasts, it definitely leaned towards the feminine side.
“Only a woman of the correct bloodline can inherit her power,” I whispered, repeating a simple fact that I’d known for most of my life. I gulped at the realization that I wasn’t really as much of an exception as I’d thought. By this point, I was so tired of being shocked and horrified that I almost felt numb to discovering this latest addition to the nightmare that my life had become.
I was vaguely relieved to note that in spite of my changed appearance, Little Bryan and the boys were still there. Unfortunately, I had no idea of how long that would remain true.
As I stood there, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t taken a shower since before all this had happened…since before the party. The fog of grief thickened in my soul at this reminder of what had happened to my parents, though I was too emotionally drained to really start crying again. Instead, I staggered back into the bathroom and climbed into the shower, trying to ignore the changes in my body as I mechanically washed myself, almost as though I was on auto-pilot.
Once I was finished with my shower, I discovered the joys of having long and soaking wet hair. My hair now ran down to my shoulder blades and seemed to hold water like a sponge. Even after squeezing it out in the tub and then running the towel over it, it remained a wet and heavy mess. The growing frustration of dealing with it was enough to even cut through the emotional fog.
Eventually, I got dressed, though my clothes didn’t quite fit right, which was a clear reminder of how my body was changing. Still, I tried not to dwell on that as I finally left the bedroom in order to find something to eat. However, when I reached the kitchen, I was surprised to find Tessa was there, making breakfast.
“Good morning,” Tessa greeted me, giving me a momentary look of surprise which she immediately covered up. “We have much to discuss, and I have much to teach you, but I think that can wait until after breakfast.”
Tessa continued with what she was doing, though she kept giving me quick glances, obviously taking in just how much I’d changed since yesterday. However, she avoided either staring or saying anything, probably because that would be rude. And as my grandmother’s personal assistant for so many years, Tessa had a lot of experience in being polite.
A short time later, Tessa served breakfast, which consisted of crepes that she’d stuffed with a mixture of spinach, cheese, and chicken. They were absolutely delicious, and I actually felt a little guilty for enjoying breakfast. Marcus had appeared at the same time the food was ready, so the three of us all ate at the table, though no one really said anything.
Finally, once we’d finished eating, Marcus gave me a steady look and frowned slightly. “It seems,” he said carefully, glancing to Tessa and then back to me, “that you aren’t going to be the first White Lord.”
I winced slightly at those words, even though my changes were clearly the elephant in the room. Until now, I’d been a bit numb to my latest changes, though having them pointed out to me that way somehow made it all feel more real…and more awkward. I squirmed self-consciously in my seat.
“No,” I said quietly, unable to look Marcus or Tessa in the eyes.
“If you would, please take care of the dishes,” Tessa told Marcus, giving him a faint look of disapproval. “I believe that it is time for Bryan and I to have our discussion.”
“Sure thing,” Marcus said, getting up and grabbing the dishes.
While Marcus was doing that, Tessa and I went to the living room and sat down. I was nervous and self-conscious, and though a large part of me wanted to run back into the bedroom and lock the door behind me, I also had a lot of questions and Tessa was here to answer them.
“I know that this is probably quite overwhelming for you,” Tessa told me with a sympathetic expression. “And though I wish I could give you more time to acclimate to your situation, time is of the essence. Your life and the existence of the Family will both depend on what we discuss.”
I gulped at that, then gave her a weak smiled. “No pressure or anything.”
“No pressure,” Tessa agreed with a faint smile. Then her expression turned completely serious again and she said, “To start with, your grandmother was a very practical woman. She knew that she had many enemies and had long since made plans for the event of her own death, even though she was not certain as to who her successor would be. In her will, she states that approximately half her assets are to be dispersed to Family accounts and a number of specified individuals. Her successor is to inherit everything that remains.”
I gasped at that, staring at Tessa in surprise. Though I’d somehow inherited Grandmother’s power, I hadn’t realized that she’d leave me her money as well. Until now, I hadn’t really thought about what would happen to her money, and had just assumed it would go to Uncle Andre or be absorbed by the Family. I blinked, not sure what to think about this.
“However, as you are still a minor,” Tessa continued, “you will not have access to most of these funds until you come of age. A limited fund has been established to pay your expenses, and a guardian will be assigned to manage it for you until you reach the age of eighteen.” Then Tessa paused, giving me another sympathetic look. “I’ve taken the liberty of looking at your parents’ will as well, and it seems that you are their sole beneficiary.” I just nodded numbly at that, but Tessa wasn’t finished. “A Family lawyer will take care of the details for now.”
Tessa paused again, giving me a minute to absorb everything she’d just told me. As it was, so many things had been hitting me, one after another, that I didn’t know what to think or feel. And every time I thought about it…really thought about it…I just wanted to curl up into a ball and start crying.
While we were sitting there, Tessa pulled out several crystals of different colors, the same ones she’d used to look me over yesterday. “Do you mind if I examine you again?” When I gave my agreement, she looked at me through the crystals one at a time. Once she was finished, she said, “Admittedly, your latest changes are somewhat…surprising.”
“You’re telling me,” I grumbled.
“This shouldn’t be possible,” Tessa insisted, looking just a little confused. “Your family legacy never should have been able to go to you. You shouldn’t be able to hold the power…yet somehow you are.” She let out a sigh and shook her head faintly. After a few seconds of just sitting there with a thoughtful look, she told me, “You do understand that you haven’t just inherited your grandmother’s wealth and power. You’ve also inherited the mantle of the White Lady. And from the way your body is changing, it seems that you are becoming the White Lady in more than just title.”
I winced at that, but gave a faint nod. “I…I know.” I held up my hand, staring at the white skin and the rune on the back of it. How could I not know?
“Whether you like it or not,” Tessa continued, “you are now the sixth White Lady. This means that you have become VERY important to the Family. The Family cannot survive without you, and because of that, certain things are going to be expected. You need to understand your role, as well as the duties and expectations that come with it.”
I gulped, feeling like a lump of lead had just settled into my stomach. I hadn’t wanted to join the family business because I didn’t want to be a criminal, but now it looked like I wouldn’t have much choice. Thanks to this strange power I’d inherited from my grandmother, my entire future was being planned out for me. I felt trapped.
“Unfortunately,” Tessa told me, not seeming to notice that I was frozen like a deer in the headlights, “you have never received any of the training and preparation that the other heirs were given.”
“Unfortunate,” I mumbled, thinking that this was an enormous understatement.
There wasn’t anything fortunate about my life anymore. Well, I guess most people would probably think that suddenly becoming wealthy and gaining some kind of magic power was really good, but at the moment, neither felt real. In fact, they felt more like complications and problems than anything else.
I stared at Tessa and gulped. “I…I’m supposed to run the Family?” The idea seemed absolutely ludicrous. I wasn’t even old enough to have a driver’s license, so I certainly wasn’t qualified to run the Family.
“Not immediately,” Tessa quickly assured me, giving me another faint smile. “As with your financial inheritance, your position will be on hold until you reach eighteen. Until then, you will choose a regent to speak to the Family on your behalf. In this one way, your age will actually be a benefit to you. You’ll have time before you have to assume your full responsibilities.”
“But for just about everything else,” Marcus added as he came into the living room, “your age will be a major disadvantage. Everyone will see you as weak and vulnerable, and that is the absolute last thing you want your enemies to think.”
With that, Marcus set a glass full of brown liquid on the coffee table in front of me. I picked it up and took a cautious sniff, realizing a moment later that it was root beer. I took a sip and was pleased to note that it wasn’t just any root beer, but Black Cauldron root beer.
“I fear that Marcus is correct,” Tessa told me with a frown. “Your age, real gender, and lack of experience, will all be seen as weaknesses…and not just by your enemies. This will make it difficult to build trust and support within the Family as well.” Tessa paused again, giving me another thoughtful look before adding, “This is where those expectations become important…”
With that, Tessa began to give me a long lecture on what was going to be expected of me as the White Lady, and how I could use those expectations to my benefit. For almost an hour, she talked about image and how I could control mine in order to project the appearance of being confident and in control, how doing this could make things easier not only for me, but also for the Family. By the time Tessa was finished, I realized that her entire speech came down to the idea that if I dressed and behaved the way people expected of the White Lady, then they’d assume I had the power and control of that position as well.
I sat there through the entire speech, feeling an odd mixture of emotional numbness and dread. There must have been something of a dazed look on my face, because Tessa gave me a gentle smile and said, “I know this is a lot to learn, and that it won’t be easy for you, but it is necessary…and absolutely vital that you learn as quickly as possible. Your life may very well depend on how well you can keep people from seeing you as an easy target.”
Marcus had been quiet for most of Tessa’s lecture, leaving the room for large parts of it. However, he’d come back a couple minutes ago and nodded agreement. “Whatever you do, you don’t want your enemies to see any weakness. They might take it as an invitation.”
“And not only your enemies,” Tessa added grimly.
“I…I think I understand,” I responded quietly.
I absently reached up to lift my glasses and rub the bridge of my nose, only to pause as I remembered that I wasn’t wearing any glasses. I didn’t need them anymore. I mentally added that to the ‘plus’ column about my situation. The ‘negative’ column was MUCH longer.
I frowned, having noticed that during the entire lecture, Marcus and Tessa had both simply assumed that I’d be the White LADY…that my becoming a woman was set in stone and inescapable. In fact, they were both starting to act as though I already was. And admittedly, I knew that they were right.
About a year ago, I’d overheard Grandmother talking with Aunt Clarice and Nicolette, and she’d said that once someone inherited her power, they could not simply abdicate and pass it on to the next in line. Once the power went to her successor, it would bond to her, becoming a permanent part of her being for the rest of her life, however long that ended up being. Whether I liked it or not, there was no going back. However, understanding this intellectually and accepting it emotionally were two different things.
“The Loyal and other guards will protect you with their lives,” Tessa told me while Marcus nodded agreement. Neither needed to point out that sometimes that wouldn’t be enough. I’d seen that with my own eyes. “But you need to learn how to defend yourself…to use the powers you have inherited.”
“Magic,” I stated, feeling a faint chill run down my spine.
“Correct,” Tessa responded with a faint smile.
My mom was…had been a practitioner, and though she never did anything flashy or impressive, she’d never tried to hide her magic from me either. There were numerous times when I watched her cast spells around the house, usually to improve our home security in one way or another, and I’d always been curious about how it all worked. When Mom had begun teaching Paige, I’d been jealous of that, of the fact that my little sister was learning magic while I would never be allowed to do so. After all, the Family didn’t teach men how to do magic…only women.
Grandmother only took female apprentices, and her Hands followed her example, though it hadn’t always been that way. Long ago, back when Uncle Andre had been a boy, Grandmother had taught a couple men as well. But unfortunately, they had problems taking orders from a woman, and once they thought they were powerful enough, they’d tried to take over the Family. That hadn’t worked out very well for them, and afterwards, Grandmother had decided not to teach magic to men anymore.
“You’re going to teach me magic?” I asked, feeling a stirring of excitement at that.
“What I can,” Tessa agreed, apparently noticing my slightly improved mood because she seemed faintly amused. “Your family legacy is magical, though I don’t know how all your powers will work. The Lady only shared this information with her heirs…with her other heirs, so I will teach you what I know of magic and how it works, but you will have to discover the rest for yourself.”
I nodded at that, staring down at the back of my hand and the symbol that was now a permanent part of my skin. Then I frowned, thinking about the powers I’d supposedly inherited, though so far, I hadn’t noticed any powers, only these freaky changes in my body.
“Do you know what essence is?” Tessa abruptly asked me.
I hesitated a moment, not wanting to admit that I’d listened in on a couple of the lessons that Mom gave Paige. “It’s...magical energy,” I answered awkwardly, hoping that I didn’t embarrass myself too much. “I once heard Mom say that essence is sort of like fuel for magic spells…”
“That is better than I was expecting,” Tessa admitted with a faint smile. “One of your grandmother’s abilities was to gather essence more quickly and easily than any Hand. This meant that she had more essence to work with, and could therefore, perform greater acts of magic.” She paused for a moment, her expression turning dark again. “She shared this extra essence with her Hands, allowing us to use it when we performed our duties for the Family.”
I stared at Tessa, suddenly understanding why the White Lady was so important for the family. It wasn’t just that my grandmother had been the leader of the Family, she’d also been the source of the magical energy that the Hands used. Without the White Lady to provide them essence, all of the Hands were weaker, hence the whole Family was weaker.
Tessa was oblivious to my realization and continued her explanation. “You are already drawing essence, just as the Lady used to do. For now, this essence is being used to fuel your transformation, but when that is complete, you should have access to the essence you draw. That means, you must learn how to hold your essence so as not to lose it…”
With that, Tessa began my first lesson in magic, which was similar to some of what I’d overheard Mom teaching Paige. Instead of teaching me how to cast spells, Tessa spent several hours lecturing me on how essence and magic really worked, which was followed by hours more working on meditation exercises.
Chicago, Il, Tuesday July 26th, 2016
I was leaning back in a comfortable chair, with my Darius Shepard book in hand, and a glass of my favorite root beer sitting beside me. Normally, this would sound like the ideal situation and a great way to relax, though I certainly didn’t feel relaxed at the moment. I’d read the same page three times now, and I still couldn’t remember a single thing it said. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t relax, even though I’d never needed the distraction of a good book more.
My whole body…my whole life had changed in ways that I never would have imagined possible for me, and every time I saw my own hands and their unnaturally pale color, I was reminded of this fact. Of course, my entire body served as a reminder, as did nearly every movement I made.
By the time I woke up this morning, most of my body had finished changing. When I looked in the mirror, I no longer looked androgynous at all. I looked like a girl, with small B cup breasts, a slender waist, and a lithe build that made me think I looked like I could be a dancer. There was no way that anyone who saw me would ever think that I was a boy.
Of course, I barely even qualified as still being a boy, and I wouldn’t even have that for much longer. Little Bryan was still there, but barely, and the boys had disappeared entirely. At the rate I’d been changing, I had little doubt that I’d be fully female by dinner.
And though it made me feel extremely self-conscious, I was even wearing girl clothes now. Yesterday, my own clothes had become increasingly uncomfortable and ill fitting, so when Tessa had arrived this morning for my lessons, she’d brought a bunch of new clothes with her. These were clothes that she thought would be more appropriate to my new body and station, and as much as I wanted to argue, I couldn’t because I knew she was right.
“At least it isn’t a dress,” I muttered, looking down over the slacks and blouse I was wearing. They were definitely girl clothes, though they looked semi-professional rather than cute or sexy. I could live with that.
My thoughts turned to all the clothes that my grandmother had left in the walk in closet, though none of them would do me any good. For one thing, Grandmother’s style was old fashioned, lending itself to dresses and the kind of clothes that I imagined Hollywood starlets might have worn, decades before I’d been born. And for another thing, her clothes didn’t actually fit me. I might resemble my grandmother a great deal now, but I certainly wasn’t an exact copy.
After reading over the same page for the fourth time, I finally closed my book and set it aside, realizing that it was pointless to try reading right now. Since I couldn’t focus on reading, I closed my eyes and ran through some of the mental exercises that Tessa had been teaching me. Supposedly, once my powers kicked in, these exercises would help me to control whatever essence I gathered. I’d spent half the morning practicing them with Tessa, and the other half learning things about the Family that I hadn’t known, as well as where I was supposed to fit in.
About an hour ago, Tessa had finally ended the lessons, at least for the moment, saying that she had some other business to take care of but that she’d be back sometime this afternoon in order to continue. Though I was grateful for the opportunity to relax and read, or at least try to, I realized that at the same time, I also wished we could get back to the lessons. If nothing else, Tessa kept me too busy to worry much about everything that was happening.
I ran through the mental exercises several times, then I opened my eyes, took a long drink of root beer, and got up. Marcus was sitting on the couch, loading bullets into a clip while occasionally glancing out the window. He looked at me with an unreadable expression before giving a faint nod. I nodded back, then went back to the bathroom.
When I pulled down my pants in order to relieve myself, a knot of dread formed in my stomach at what I found. Little Bryan was almost entirely gone, and my new plumbing was nearly formed, at least on the outside. I reluctantly sat down to pee, though I was shaking the entire time. It was almost done. In just an hour or two at most, I’d be a girl. I almost felt sick to my stomach at the realization. I’d known it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier.
As soon as I was finished, I pulled my pants back up, trying not to think of my new parts and how wrong everything was. But when I washed my hands and looked into the mirror above the sink, an eerie looking girl stared back, almost mocking me with my fate. I’d lost my family. I’d lost any choice in my own future. And now, I’d lost my own body. A boiling mass of fear and confusion swirled around inside me, but it was rage that momentarily bubbled to the surface.
“NO,” I snarled as I punched the mirror. The sharp explosion of pain through my hand snapped me out of my anger, making me let out a loud cry. “No…”
My hand hurt like hell, and though I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d broken any bones, I’d obviously cut myself. Crimson blood leaking out of several cuts across my knuckles, standing out even more clearly against my white skin. I just stared at my hand for a moment, feeling ashamed for behaving like that. Tessa had just spent half the morning telling me that I couldn’t do afford to do anything that might make me look weak or not in control. Like what I’d just done.
Suddenly, Marcus burst through the door with his gun drawn. His eyes instantly swept the room and settled on me. I winced and cringed down, quietly saying, “I had an accident…”
Marcus glanced to the mirror and then my hand, grimacing a little as he did so. “I see.” Then he gave me a sympathetic look and reached for my hand. “Let’s get this cleaned up…”
After washing the blood off my hand, I was surprised to see that the cuts had not only stopped bleeding, but they were closing up and vanishing as I watched. Marcus didn’t say a word about the cuts or how they were healing, though I noticed that he didn’t seem surprised by this. Unfortunately, the rest of the pain in my hand didn’t vanish quite as quickly, but it didn’t hurt quite as much either.
“I can’t say that I have any idea of what you’re going through,” Marcus finally said, putting a gentle hand on my shoulder. “What I do know is that sometimes life throws us curveballs…”
“Or smacks you in the face with a baseball bat,” I muttered bitterly.
Marcus gave me a wry smile and continued, “You can’t always control where fate leads you, only how you choose to deal with it.”
I scowled and gave Marcus a flat look, wondering if he got that off a fortune cookie or something. However, I knew he was just trying to help, and I appreciated that. Just like I appreciated the fact that he was here at all. After everything that happened, and after everyone I’d lost, I wasn’t going to take that for granted.
For a brief second, I thought we were going to have one of those touching moments where we ended up hugging, but Marcus just flashed me a grin, gave me a gentle punch on the shoulder, and said, “Next time you need to blow off some steam, let me know and we’ll find a healthier way to do it. Maybe the shooting range.”
“Okay,” I agreed, staring down at my still aching hand.
We went back to the living room, and the moment I stepped out of the hallway, I heard a loud ‘caw caw’. My eyes immediately shot to the white raven that was standing on the coffee table and staring straight at me.
“How did you get in here?” I asked in surprise since all the doors and windows were closed and locked.
Lenore didn’t answer, nor had I really expected that she would. Instead, she ruffled her feathers, then bent forward and used her beak to poke at a book that was sitting on the table in front of her. She looked up at me before poking the book again. At that point, I realized that she was intentionally bringing the book to my intention. It was a large leather-bound book that had definitely not been there a short time ago.
“Did you bring this?” I asked Lenore.
She just stared at me intently. When I reached for the book, she backed up a little. And once I picked up the book, she nodded approval, let out another ‘caw’, then flapped her wings and leapt into the air, flying straight at the front window…and through it as though it wasn’t even there. I stared at the window for several seconds in surprise, before shaking my head and turning my attention to the present she’d left me.
Marcus had just been standing back, watching without saying a word. However, once Lenore was gone, he gestured to the book and asked, “So, what did the bird bring you?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, curiously staring at the cover.
In the very center of the front cover, there was a complicated pattern embossed with silver metal, and then in a circle around this pattern, were a series of strange symbols which looked like they might be writing, though it certainly wasn’t any language I’d ever seen before. When I tried to open the book a moment later, I found that I couldn’t. It was as though all the pages were glued together.
“That’s useful,” I muttered, absenting wondering what Robert Langdon would do in this situation. Of course, as an expert in symbols, he’d study the markings on the front and try to solve the riddle, so I decided to try that.
I looked over the symbols again, this time studying them a little more intently until abruptly I felt something click inside of me. Suddenly, the symbols all made sense and I could understand them just as easily as if they’d been written in English. Written around the central pattern on the cover were the words ‘PLACE YOUR HAND HERE IN ORDER TO UNLOCK’.
“I…I can read this,” I said in a whisper.
With that, I did as the book instructed, placing my hand right on the strange pattern. I immediately felt a tingling along my palm, and a moment later, I was able to open the book without a problem. The pages inside were filled with the same strange language that had been on the cover, and I could read that just as easily. I just stared at the book in amazement, especially as I read the first page.
MY SUCCESSOR, I KNOW NOT IF YOU HAVE BEEN PROPERLY PREPARED FOR THAT
WHICH YOU HAVE INHERITED, OR IF IT HAS COME UNEXPECTED. IF YOU HAVE
NOT, DO NOT FEAR, FOR THIS JOURNAL WAS WRITTEN FOR THAT VERY PURPOSE.
THIS JOURNAL CONTAINS OUR HISTORY AND AN EXPLANATION OF OUR POWERS, THE
GREATEST OF WHICH IS THE WRITTEN WORD. THESE PAGES ARE WRITTEN IN A
LANGUAGE OF MY OWN CREATION AND IS KNOWN ONLY TO THOSE WHO INHERIT OUR
POWERS, SO DO NOT SHARE THIS LANGUAGE WITH EVEN YOUR OWN HEIRS. KEEP
THE BOOK SAFE, ADD TO IT WHEN NECESSARY, AND ENSURE IT IS PASSED TO
It was then signed,
“What is it?” Marcus asked curiously.
“I think it’s a how to book,” I told him as I gently flipped through the pages.
“A how too book?” Marcus repeated, giving me a curious look. “For what?”
I hesitated a moment, then gave Marcus a wry smile. “For how to be the White Lady.” His eyes widened at that. “It looks like a How to be the White Lady for Dummies.”
“You’re kidding me,” Marcus exclaimed, giving the book a skeptical look.
I shook my head, then sat back down into the comfortable chair, staring at the book with a mixture of curiosity, excitement, and nervousness. Ever since my body had begun to change, I’d been filled with questions, and there was no doubt that this book contained some of the answers. However, I was actually a little nervous about what I might find in the book as well.
After the introduction page came a short section that served as a translation key for the language that the book was written in, not that I really needed it since I could somehow understand the writing anyway. However, as I looked it over, I saw that it was mostly just the alphabet of the language, as well as a number of other symbols and their meanings, and the rules of how to use them. I didn’t need any of that in order to read the book, though the instructions seemed more geared towards teaching me how to write it.
Next came a section that immediately caught my full attention. This was the history of my family legacy and the origins of the power that I’d inherited. I read through the history three times, trying to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. It explained a great deal, though also provided a number of new questions, and I was so caught up in this that I almost forgot about how freaked out I was just a short time ago.
According to the book, my family legacy began with an old man, a scholar who spent his life studying magic and becoming a powerful sorcerer. But in the process of gaining this power, he’d made several enemies, and one of them attacked the old man’s home while he was gone, killing his apprentice and servants. There was only one survivor, a little girl named Roselle, who was the daughter of two of the servants.
Roselle was spared because she was just a kid, but apparently, that didn’t stop the attacker from putting a curse on her instead. It seemed that he wanted her to serve as a warning to the old man, so he cursed her to be deaf and mute. Afterwards, old man tried to cure her, but he couldn’t break the curse.
The old man felt responsible for Roselle, so he adopted the girl as his granddaughter and began to teach her. He started off with reading and writing so that she could communicate again, then moved on to other subjects. After a couple years, he became sick with something that his magic couldn’t cure, and decided that before he died, he wanted to ensure Roselle’s safety.
Shortly before his death, the old man cast a number of powerful spells on Roselle, ones that would help her, protect her, and give her the power to defend herself from his enemies. The spells worked, but they interacted with each other in ways that hadn’t been intended, resulting in the unexpected side effect of her skin and hair being bleached white. At the age of twelve, Roselle became the first White Lady.
“And I thought I got it young,” I muttered the first time I read that part.
One of the spells that the old man had cast on Roselle, to compensate for her curse, was a translation spell that let her read nearly any language. As soon as I read that, I immediately realized that this was how I was able to understand the strange language that the book was written in. Apparently, after the old man died, Roselle had used this ability to continue her education, reading many of the books in the old man’s collection, especially the ones involving magic. She couldn’t recite spells like he did, but she learned that there were other types of magic she could use, such as rune magic.
Roselle became a powerful magic user herself, specializing in runes and glyphs, spells that involved symbols and writing rather than being spoken. And eventually, she made plans to pass her power down to her own successors once she was gone. Most of her powers were due to the spells the old man had cast on her, ones she could not duplicate, and which would vanish when she died. Of course, Roselle found a way around this. Using her own magic, she bound herself with even more spells, permanently tying them all together.
According to Isabelle, my ancestor who wrote the book, by fusing the spells together and passing them down, the magic began to change and become something quite different than the collection of spells it had begun as. Even she didn’t know quite what the magic had become, though she did note that Roselle’s curse had been caught up in the mix, or at least a shadow of it had been.
‘THOUGH WE CAN SPEAK AND HEAR,’ Isabelle wrote, ‘WE ARE DEAF AND MUTE TO MAGIC, NO MORE CAPABLE OF SPEAKING A SPELL THAN ROSELLE HAD BEEN.’
After this, I started reading the next section of the book, which also captured my full attention. This was a list of the ‘gifts’ that the old sorcerer had given Roselle, and which I had just inherited. I was amazed as I read through the list, though I was only halfway through it when Tessa returned to continue my lessons.
Chicago, Il, Wednesday July 27th, 2016
I sat at the dining room table, with a half dozen books spread out in front of me. One of them was written entirely in Spanish, but after staring at the writing for just a second, it came clear to me and I was able to read it with ease. The same was true for the books in Russian, German, Sanskrit and Chinese. One of the books was written in some language that I’d never even seen before, and had absolutely no ideas of the origins, but I was able to read that one as well.
“The Lady…the former Lady could read just about any language,” Tessa commented, watching me with a curious expression, “but I’d always thought this was a learned skill, not one of her powers…” Then she abruptly began saying something to me in Spanish. And though I could recognize what language it was, I had absolutely no idea what she was saying. She seemed to notice the blank look on my face and nodded to herself. “So, you can read the language, but not understand it when spoken…”
I nodded at that, having already figured a little of this out last night. Just because this translation ability let me read any language, that didn’t mean I suddenly knew how to write in that language. It wasn’t really any surprise that it didn’t extend to the spoken language, especially considering the ‘curse’ that supposedly made deaf and mute to magic.
Last night, I’d spent a great deal of time reading through the book that Lenore had brought me, trying to make sense of what I’d become. One of the parts that I’d studied the hardest had been the one that described all the ‘gifts’ the old sorcerer had given Roselle, and which had been passed down to me. The ability to read just about any language was one of those gifts, and would probably be a very useful one, though it wasn’t the most impressive…not that I’d actually tried those yet.
According to the book, five of the spells the old sorcerer had cast on Roselle, had been ones that would let her briefly call upon the power of the elements so that she could defend herself from threats. Back at the party, when I’d seen my grandmother sending waves of fire at the Messenger, I was pretty sure that this was what she’d been using. And though I had yet to try this myself, I could feel it inside of me, five mental switches that were just waiting to be flipped.
The other ‘gifts’ were less flashy and far more subtle, but apparently, no less impressive in their own way. Besides translation, there was also a powerful healing spell, which I’d already seen in action when I’d injured my hand. Within a minute of the injury, all of the cuts had completely vanished, and half an hour later, there had been no indication that I’d ever been hurt. Apparently, this was also responsible for my grandmother’s long life and extremely slow aging.
I realized now, that if my grandmother had been able to get away from the Messenger, she might have been able to heal from the wound he’d given her. She might have been able to survive, though she’d given up any chance of that in order to try killing the Messenger and his daughter. I just wished she’d been able to take the Messenger with her, because it sickened and even scared me to think about the fact that he was still walking around.
The final ‘gift’, which Tessa had been the most fascinated by when I told her, was a spell that gathered essence in order to recharge the other spells. According to Tessa, this essence was what I’d be tapping into in order to cast my magic spells, once I learned a little more control.
While I was considering this, Tessa let out a cough to get my attention and gave me a pointed look. It took a moment for me to realize that I was sitting with my legs spread apart, as I normally did, but which Tessa insisted was ‘unladylike’. For most of the morning, she’d been correcting my posture, the way I sat, and just about anything else, so that I’d come across as more feminine and ladylike. She tried to be gentle about the corrections, but the fact that she was doing it at all was patronizing, insulting, and as much as I hated to admit it…necessary.
Whether I liked it or not, I was now a girl…at least physically. And as much as I hated that fact, there was nothing I could do to change it. I didn’t even have the luxury of being a tomboy. Because I was the new White Lady, I had to present a certain image, and if I failed to do that…I would probably die. So as humiliating as it was, I went along with what Tessa was trying to teach me, because learning to be a girl was better than the alternative. So with that, I took a deep breath, closed my legs, and then sat up straight, trying to have a ‘ladylike’ posture. I felt like an idiot, but Tessa nodded faintly in approval.
Just then, Marcus came back into the room, checking in on us as he had been about every fifteen minutes since Tessa had arrived. I was pretty this was due to a mixture of boredom and curiosity. After all, babysitting me like he’d been doing couldn’t be very exciting.
Since Tessa and I were taking a bit of a break, Marcus asked her, “So, what’s the latest news?”
“With Charles gone,” Tessa answered carefully, glancing towards me since she was talking about my dad, “his assistant, Eric has stepped up to take over the finances. Andre is helping him out for now.”
“Good,” Marcus responded with a nod. “Did you talk to Andre about…?” He looked to me, leaving the words unspoken, though Tessa obviously knew what he was talking about.
“Yes,” Tessa told him, giving a sad smile as she did so. “He agreed.”
“What?” I asked suspiciously.
Marcus and Tessa shared a look, but it was Marcus who said, “Everyone knows that there’s a new White Lady, but so far, we’ve only told one other person who you are. Andre. The truth is, if everyone knew that you were the White Lady, they’d…” He paused, giving me an apologetic look.
“It would not go well,” Tessa admitted with a sigh. “It would be difficult enough getting the Family to accept a teenage girl as the White Lady, and we all knew that Nicolette or Paige might inherit. But for a boy…a former boy, who is both untrained and unprepared…”
I stared at Tessa for a moment before nodding my understanding. We’d already talked about this a couple days ago, about how important it was to present an image of confidence and power. That would be extremely hard to do, perhaps even impossible, once everyone learned who I really was. As soon as the word went out that I was the White Lady, the sharks would start circling.
“Marcus and I have discussed this,” Tessa carefully explained, “and we found a solution. One that will help protect you, and buy you the time you need to build your power and support.”
“How do we do that?” I asked, looking back and forth between Marcus and Tessa. From the way they were acting, I was pretty sure that plan of theirs was going to be something I wouldn’t like. Of course, I didn’t really like anything about this entire situation, so that was to be expected.
“We don’t tell anyone who you really are,” Marcus stated. “As far as everyone else is concerned, Bryan was shot during the attack and died of his injuries a couple days later. Instead, we tell everyone that back in the day, Andre had a bastard kid that no one knew about, and that you’re Andre’s granddaughter. Andre has agreed to go along with this and will confirm the story.”
Tessa nodded at that. “At the same time, I will notify the Family that the previous Lady knew of your existence, and that she was keeping you hidden as a secret heir.”
“That…that sounds like something Grandmother would do…would have done,” I responded. Tessa smiled faintly, obviously agreeing.
I was a bit surprised by the suggestion, and a little shaken. I’d already lost everything else, and now they were asking me to surrender the last of my own identity, that I pretend to be someone else entirely. There was barely anything of the old me left as it was. I clenched my fists, not sure what to say, or even if I could bring myself to speak if I did.
“This way,” Tessa continued in a gentle tone, obviously realizing that this was difficult for me, “you will be a mystery to Family and enemies alike. No one will know how much you may have been trained or what you are capable of. Most will not risk acting against you until they know more, which will give you time to build your power and enforce your position.”
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” Marcus pointed out gruffly. “The unknown encourages wariness, and we can use that.”
“The Family leaders are demanding to meet the new White Lady as soon as possible,” Tessa told me with a frown. “I’ve been holding them off so far, but we don’t have much longer. Perhaps only a few days. We will need to build your new identity before then.”
“I see,” I said quietly. My voice was shaking a little. I took a deep breath, trying to keep my voice steady as I added, “I guess I’ll need a new name.”
Tessa smiled faintly, apparently relieved that I’d agreed to go along with this. I didn’t want to change my name…to change my entire identity. However, I realized that I already had. Since I’d turned into a girl, I certainly couldn’t keep calling myself Bryan. I was going to have to get a new name anyway. In the end, I’d already lost so much of my old life that this was only a tiny bit more in comparison.
Marcus and Tessa began to discuss what we needed to do, making plans without bothering to really consult me. Since I didn’t know how to contribute, I just sat back and listened in, though I quickly got bored and my mind began to wander.
My eyes went to the books that I’d been testing my new translation abilities on, which led me to think about my other ‘gifts’, the ones I had yet to try out. The ones I was the most curious about where the elemental spells, which I could feel in my head, teasing me with just how easy they would be to activate. I mentally poked at one of them, then suddenly it activated.
“Uh oh,” I gasped, instantly realizing that I’d just made a big mistake.
An instant later, every one of my tattoo marks blazed to life with a silvery white glow, and to my surprise, a new one appeared on my right palm. When I stared at the new symbol, my power translated it the same as it had those books, and I knew that it meant ‘AIR’.
Suddenly, a hurricane seemed to erupt around me, with a powerful wind blowing all through the room. The books went flying off the table, as did nearly everything else nearby. Marcus and Tessa were both thrown back with yells of surprise, and then, just as quickly as winds had appeared…they vanished.
I just stood there for a moment, feeling shocked, horrified, and excited all at the same time. Then as I looked at the stunned Marcus and Tessa, confirming that they were all right, a single word slipped from my lips. “Ooops…”
Chicago, Il, Thursday late morning, July 28th, 2016
I stepped into the living room, feeling self-conscious about how I looked and the feminine image I presented.
When Tessa had arrived at the safe house earlier this morning, she immediately began preparing me to meet the Family leadership, even though the meeting wasn’t scheduled until tomorrow. Tessa was going to present me to my grandmother’s lieutenants, the people who actually ran the day to day operations of the Family. And though I’d met most of them before, they would have no idea of who I had been, and it was imperative that I make a good ‘first’ impression. According to Marcus and Tessa, this would help determine whether they’d give me their support, or attempt to undermine me.
After spending several hours being lectured on what to expect and how I should behave, I entered into the next stage of my torment…a makeover. Tessa styled my hair a bit, making it look nicer, and then she put a little makeup on me. She kept the makeup light and subtle, but assured me that it made a difference and would help me appear a little older and more mature than I really was.
Next came the clothes, which were only a little nicer than what I’d been wearing yesterday. I had on a pair of slacks, a blouse, and a business type jacket over the top of it so that I looked very professional. The shoes had a slight heel to them, but no more than what a pair of cowboy boots had, so I didn’t have a problem walking in them. And of course, since I was being presented as the new White Lady, the entire outfit was completely white.
The moment I saw my reflection in the mirror, my mouth dropped open and I gaped, hardly able to believe that this was me. Sure, the color of my skin and hair still made me look a bit eerie, but I also looked beautiful, professional, and even a few years older than I actually was. This was the new White Lady that the Family was going to be introduced to.
In spite of the fact that I now looked perfect for the role I had to play, I didn’t feel all that pleased or excited. Instead, I just felt miserable. A stranger was staring back at me from the mirror, and I felt that unbelievably creepy. And even worse than that, my entire body just felt WRONG. Every movement I made seemed to remind me of that fact, and instead of trying to correct that wrongness, I was forced to accentuate it instead.
I wanted to run back into the bedroom and lock myself inside, but I knew I couldn’t do that. “Show no weakness,” I reminded myself, remembering what Marcus and Tessa had been teaching me. Tomorrow, I had to come off as being strong and confident, so I needed to practice looking that way now.
When I stepped into the living room, letting Marcus see me like this for the first time, Tessa stated, “Poise and confidence,” as a reminder for me to correct my posture and the way I moved. I didn’t say anything in response, though I did stand up straighter. A few seconds later, I sat down in a chair, careful to keep my legs closed the way I’d been taught.
“You look lovely,” Marcus said, giving me a faint bow. “My Lady.”
“Thank you,” I responded politely, trying to hide how uncomfortable I was at being treated like that…especially by Marcus.
“You do look quite lovely,” Tessa told me with an approving smile. “And as long as you are able to present yourself in this fashion, I believe the others will take you seriously.”
I nodded at that since the entire point of this act was so that people would take me seriously as the White Lady. If they knew who I really was, they’d dismiss me out of hand the way they always had before, but now… Now I was a mysterious young woman of unknown power, who they might see as being worthy of succeeding my grandmother. In this case, looks were definitely deceiving.
While Tessa gave me more advice on how to pull this off, Marcus got up and left the room. When he returned a minute later, it was with a glass of root beer for me.
“My Lady,” Marcus announced with a flourish as he presented me with the drink, smiling faintly as he did so.
“Thank you Jeeves,” I responded with a faint smile of my own. Two could play that game.
Marcus burst out laughing. “I’ve been called a jerk, an asshole, and a thug,” he told me with a broad grin. “And back when I had my stache, I’ve even been called Mario. But this is the first time anyone has ever called me Jeeves.”
Tessa watched this with an amused look, and once I’d had a drink of my root beer, she said, “Our meeting with the Family is tomorrow, but I would like you to continue working on your mannerisms until then. But for today, we do have an appointment for this afternoon as well, one that may help us understand how you were able to inherit your power.”
“Really?” I asked a little eagerly.
I stared at Tessa for a moment, almost hungry to have that question answered. After all, my grandmother had always insisted that only a woman of her bloodline could inherit the power once she was gone. And in the book Lenore had brought me, Isabelle had talked about the succession, confirming what my grandmother had always said. She went into some technical explanation, which all seemed to come down to the fact that when the old sorcerer had created the spells, they had been specifically designed to bond to a woman.
According to the book, the magic of the White Lady simply couldn’t bond to a man. It was impossible. Yet somehow, I’d inherited the power anyway. I felt a certain frustration and anger at the fact that, what was left of my life, had been destroyed by something that was supposed to be impossible.
“We have plenty of time before our meeting,” Tessa told me, giving me a thoughtful look. “For now, I think we can work on your magic. You still have a great deal of work to do on containing your essence, but you still have enough available that I think we can actually start on spells.”
“Really?” I asked, almost as excited about that as I was about the idea that I might finally get some answers.
“Yes,” Tessa told me, seemingly amused by my excitement. “But I think we should practice somewhere a little safer…”
Tessa looked to the dining room, which had been a total mess after I’d accidentally unleashed my power yesterday. I cringed slightly, more than a little embarrassed about that mistake. Fortunately, I already knew where we could practice instead. We’d discovered it last night, a few hours after the ‘incident’.
I stood up, only to have Tessa cough, a gentle reminder about my body language. I rolled my eyes in frustration, though I still tried to stay aware of my movements so that I could act the way someone would expect of the White Lady. It was a real pain in the butt, especially since I had to pay constant attention to how I moved, and it all felt so unnatural.
We went over to the basement door, which had not only been locked, but had also been magically sealed until last night. Apparently, my grandmother had put a magical lock on the door that worked the same way as the one on the book did. All I had to do was put my palm on the right spot, and the door opened.
The basement was a single large room with a concrete floor, though the concrete had been stained and polished so that it looked more like granite. A lot of symbols and complicated patterns had been drawn all over the floor, walls, and ceiling, and when I stared at them, I could understand what some of the symbols meant, but now how they all went together or what they did.
About a third of the basement had been set up as an office, with a desk and several book shelves. The rest of the space had been mostly empty.
“This is a magical safe room,” Tessa explained to me. “The entire house is heavily warded, but this room is on another level. As one of your grandmother’s Hands, my duties include placing and maintaining wards and protection spells on any properties owned by the Family, but the ones in this room are well beyond my skills.”
I looked around the room, taking in all the empty space and agreeing that it looked like the perfect place for me to practice my new powers. If I did end up doing something like what I had last night, there wasn’t much down here for me to accidentally destroy.
“Your grandmother specialized in runes and glyphs,” Tessa said, gesturing around the room at all the symbols that were painted everywhere. “And as you also have a number of glyphs on your skin, it seems that this would be an appropriate place to start.”
A minute later, we sat down at the desk, which had several runes carved into the surface. Tessa dug through the desk and found some blank sheets of paper, as well as a large collection of pens, pencils, chalk, and even some old fashioned quill pens. After a moment of consideration, she settled on a marker.
“There are many kinds of runes and glyphs,” Tessa said as she began the new lecture. “These may look like random symbols, but they are each part of a language, and each has its own meaning. If you understand these runes and how they work together, you can express complicated ideas or instructions.”
“Like the alphabet,” I commented, getting a look from Tessa that silently urged me to continue. “Each letter represents a sound, but if you know all the letters and how they work together, you can write a whole novel…”
Tessa nodded in approval. “Correct. But before you can write the works of Shakespeare, you need to know the alphabet and the rules, and that is where we are going to start.” She paused at that, then explained, “Writing only works because the writer and reader both understand what the symbols represent. Without this shared meaning, the letters are merely scratches on paper. The more who know these symbols and what they represent, the more power they possess.”
“Thee runes we will work with are ancient and have great power,” Tessa stated, giving me a flat look.
“But you just said that the more people understand the symbols, the more powerful they have,” I pointed out what I saw as a contradiction in what she’d just told me. “And I don’t think many people know what they mean anymore…”
Tessa smiled faintly, as if pleased that I’d brought up that point. “The power of these runes comes not in how many know them now, but in how they have been used since the history of their creation. They work due to the laws of precedence and similarity.”
Before I could ask what those laws were, Tessa began drawing a symbol onto the sheet of paper. Once she was finished, she held the paper out so that I could see the symbol.
“Fire,” I said, immediately seeing what the symbol meant.
“Very good,” Tessa told me. “I see that your translation gifts work with runes, which should give you a great advantage in learning them. It is no wonder your predecessors were masters of this magic.”
I squirmed a little self-consciously at that. “Thank you.”
“I think Elaine would be proud of you,” she started.
I winced at that, because I was sure that if my mom knew that I’d become the new White Lady, she wouldn’t have been proud of me. She probably would have blamed me for stealing Paige’s future from her, regardless of whether or not Paige was still around. I loved my mom, but I was under no illusions of where I stood in her priorities.
Tears started to form, but Tessa probably assumed that they were tears of happiness from the compliment. I wiped the tears away, trying hard just to keep from crying more.
“Right now,” Tessa continued with the lecture, “this glyph holds potential power, but it is dormant, waiting to be called forth. You do this by focusing on the meaning of the symbol and your intent while you charge it with essence.”
Tessa touched the symbol she’d drawn on the paper and a moment later, it suddenly burst into flames. Even though I’d been expecting this, I jumped back. For a moment, I feared that the whole desk would catch on fire, but the wood didn’t look the least bit charred. Obviously, the desk had been protected.
“This was a primary rune,” Tessa explained as she pulled out another sheet of paper and drew the same symbol. “According to your grandmother, what she called the primary runes were from one of the oldest written magical languages on Earth. They represent simple ideas and do not combine well, but they are powerful and good for a beginner.”
After this, Tessa asked me to duplicate what she’d done while demonstrating the fire rune. I sat there with a pen and piece of paper, carefully copying the symbol from the second one she’d drawn. However, when I was finished, something wasn’t right. When I looked at the symbol, it didn’t say ‘fire’ to me like the other one did. In fact, it didn’t say anything.
Tessa was watching me with a carefully controlled expression. “Are you going to charge the rune?”
I stared back at the rune for a moment more, knowing that I did something wrong, though I didn’t know what. After a few more seconds, I saw a faint mark on Tessa’s rune that I’d somehow missed on mine. As soon as I copied that mark, it suddenly said ‘fire’ to me.
“You corrected it,” Tessa said, looking rather pleased that I’d caught myself. “I was certain you’d miss that.”
“It seems I have a built in spell checker,” I commented as I reached to the rune I’d just drawn, carefully focusing on ‘fire’ while pushing some of my essence into it. A moment later, the rune burst into flame and I jumped up excitedly, exclaiming, “I did it…”
“Yes you did,” Tessa agreed proudly. “Your first spell.” She hesitated a moment, then admitted, “I studied under your grandmother for months before I reached that point.” Then she gestured to the stack of paper, giving me an almost evil look as she announced, “Now you will continue to practice this rune.”
To be Continued