Immisceo: Taken – Sneak preview

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Elmfirth, 19 years earlier



Fire curled in the old woman’s hand, bright and hungry as though it could already taste its next victim. Amara screamed at the sight of it.

‘Hush, girl,’ said the younger woman next to her. Her grip on Amara’s shoulder tightened like hooks in the girl’s flesh.

‘Please! Please let them go.’

The woman shushed her again and shook her. ‘Enough. Don’t make it worse for yourself,’ she scolded. She wrestled the girl to a standstill and glanced across the circle at the older woman.

‘It’s time,’ Rosamund said, flame held high. ‘You may say your brief goodbyes.’

The girl shoved against her captor, wrenching free. She lunged toward the circle’s centre, toward the waist-high pile of logs and kindling—toward her parents, bound against the pyre’s towering stake. Tumbling onto the wood-pile, the girl stretched out her arms in a futile attempt to embrace her weeping mother. A fist clamped in her hair and jerked her to a halt.

‘Don’t hurt her,’ the girl’s mother cried. ‘Please! She’s innocent.’

‘Innocent?’ Rosamund’s eyes widened in the dusky light and the flame in her hand flickered. ‘Her very existence is a crime onto itself.’

Amara’s mother shook her head. ‘No. Please, no. She’s just a child. It’s not her crime. It’s mine—’

‘And she will pay for it with her life.’

The mother wailed—a sharp, gut-wrenching howl that echoed in the wood-clearing and sent birds flapping skyward.

‘Enough!’ Rosamund barked. ‘If you’ve nothing to say save for your protest, let us be done with it.’

Amara shivered, wrapping her free arm across her chest and biting her lip to keep from crying. She studied the face of her father. His dark eyes bore into hers with intent. They flicked back and forth between hers and the face of the witch with the relentless grip on Amara’s shoulder. Amara frowned at him, wishing she had the power to read his mind.

‘Saba. Hand the girl over to Coen,’ Rosamund instructed.

Saba shuffled Amara along to the other side of the circle where a man stood waiting. The girl caught her father’s eye one last time, and words formed on his lips.

‘Touch her,’ he mouthed.

Amara blinked, comprehension lost on her as her father’s face disappeared from view. She stumbled, and Saba yanked her to her feet.

‘Look where you’re going, girl.’

She ignored the warning, glancing back at her father. His face was no longer visible, but his fists clenched repeatedly at his back. Not to escape his restraints, Amara realised, but as a message.

Almost too late, she laid both hands on her captor, clenching her small fists around the witch’s wrist, imitating her father. She flinched, startled by the new and compelling portal in her mind’s eye. Bright colours of energy swarmed under Saba’s skin. Hairs rose on the girl’s neck even as Saba wrestled against her, beginning to squirm easily out of the child’s grasp. But then Amara found it—the swirls of energy—dancing, translucent—and she clawed at them with her mind. She drew them into her, into her own hands, and Saba was locked in her grip. The girl pulled the swirling energy inside of her until she could feel the heat of it on her skin.

Her eyes flew open as she pushed the magic from her tiny outstretched palm, gasping as the flame ripped through the air toward an unsuspecting Rosamund.

The old witch flared orange and fell to her knees, the single flame in her hand engulfed in the raging fire of the rest of her. Her skin and flesh blackened and shrivelled, and as quick as the fire began, it was gone, a spiral of smoke curling from the pile of ash where Rosamund had stood mere seconds before.

Amara looked from the ash to the palm of her hand, her eyes wide. Saba shrieked, and the male witch behind them, Coen, rushed forward. Amara pulled at Saba for more magic, but the swirls were nothing more now than threads. She flung the witch’s wrist from her clutches and ran toward the pyre.

Heat cracked alongside her, missing her by inches, not flames but lightning. She yelped, covering her head on instinct. She scrambled toward the stake, propelling her small body over the wood, ignoring the ache in her knees as she fell against the logs again and again.

‘Go! Amara—RUN!’

She shook her head at her father through tears. ‘I won’t leave you.’ She reached her mother first, flinging herself against her body, whilst fighting the knotted rope at her mother’s back. Beneath her, smoke began to rise, and the union of wood and flame crackled in her ears. ‘No… No!’ She swerved behind her parents, plucking at the knot with shaky too-small fingers.

‘Amara! Run, dammit, run!’

‘I can’t untie them. I can’t do it,’ she cried, throwing her fists against the ropes.

‘Leave us!’

She shook her head again, stepping around her mother. Then she thrust herself between her parents, throwing her skinny arms across their waists. They wept as the smoke rose steadily, the encroaching heat driving Amara closer and closer between them.

A white crack of lightning snapped at her feet, and she screamed again. The spark caught, orange and yellow flames licking their way toward the stake. Amara made to stamp on them, but another whip of lightning struck, this time to her right, missing her elbow a fraction of an inch. She looked down into the stone faces of Coen and Saba: there’d be no point in pleading.

Her father howled beside her as Coen cracked another bolt of lightning, this time at her father’s side. A deep welt appeared on his arm, blooming with blood that dripped at an alarming rate onto the logs. ‘Please, Amara. Leave us. I beg you. Run,’ her father cried. A solitary tear streaked down his cheek, glistening in the light of the fire. ‘Go,’ he pleaded.

She cast long looks at both her parents. A tight ache blossomed in her chest as the fire began to roar in earnest behind her. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. Then she slipped around her mother for the last time and ran. She hurtled to the base of the pyre, hidden in the curtain of smoke as she tumbled to the ground. Her breath came quick and heavy as she pelted toward the thicket of trees on the other side of the clearing. She didn’t dare look back.

Night fell swiftly upon her, the smoke disappearing with the light, the glow of the fire dimming. But the final cries of her parents echoed in Amara’s ears as she ran. And they would continue to echo for a long time to come.






In the town of Elmfirth, the only thing worse than a meeting was a meeting with the Duciti. It foretold one thing: trouble. Luciana shut her eyes against the crowd and sunk lower in her chair. If she couldn’t be seen, maybe they wouldn’t call her name. Maybe this once, she would go unnoticed, be left alone, free to hide away and play human for a while.

Saba, Coen, and the new and youngest Duciti, Liam, stepped forward at the front of the town hall. Saba strode onto the podium with the airs and easy grace of someone in charge and took the stand.

Luciana squirmed in her seat. Saba’s presence alone presented a stark reminder: this was Coven Duty—Coven Law. Luciana could no sooner get out of this than she could pull the power from her body and gift-wrap it for the bastards. Served her right for having too much of the stuff as it was. And the Duciti took it to be their job to remind her—and often—just how big an honour it was to have ‘such power’. As far as she was concerned, they could take her power and keep it, for all the ‘duties’ they deemed necessary. In her opinion, not that they ever asked for it, the Duciti were little more than racist elitists with a penchant for barbarism. It was hard luck no one in over a thousand years had ever had the balls to inform them of it.

Saba shuffled her paperwork, her beady eyes darting around the room with hawk-like precision. She cleared her throat then spoke directly to the congregation. ‘Tobias North,’ she said without ceremony or introduction. ‘Come forward.’

The crowd murmured, turning their heads that way and this, seeking out Toby—a young, single farmer, as well-known for his potent Energy magic as for his market-fresh produce.

Luciana turned her head, daring to hope that poor Toby had packed up and left town. Mere seconds later though, Tobias North stood up out of the throng and, solemn-faced, trudged toward the podium.

Luciana sighed.

No one knew what was to be asked of the lucky selected two, only that the Duciti required a male and female, one from either coven, strong in every branch of magic. Whatever the Duciti had in mind was hardly anything to be excited about. It never was. Luciana knew better than to hold out hope for a rainbow and a pot of gold.

Saba nodded her head at Toby, and casually referred to her paperwork as if it were nothing more than the daily herald. ‘Excellent,’ she said, ignoring Toby’s obvious awkwardness as he hovered front and centre in the hall, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his sun-brown arms dangling idly at his sides.

‘Luciana Blaknall,’ Saba called.

Luciana started as if Saba had hollered in her ear. Expecting to hear her name was wholly different to actually hearing it, and despite prodding and gentle nudging from her neighbours in nearby seats, Luciana’s legs forgot their job.

‘Luciana Blaknall,’ Saba called again, and this time, someone next to Luciana all but shoved her upright. ‘Come to the front, Luci,’ Saba said.

Luciana cringed at the shortening of her name, then decided it was altogether beside the point. Her name had been called.

Whatever contemptible task lay ahead, she would be expected to smile, say thank you, and get it done. She trudged her way to the front, her stomach heavy, dragging on the floor behind her as she went.

‘Good,’ Saba crowed, giving a tight-lipped smile. ‘Excellent. We will see the two of you privately. Meet us in Room 2A if you please. The rest of you may leave.’

If you please, indeed. As if any of this was optional.

Saba, Coen, and Liam made their way to one of the internal doorways. Toby and Luciana lingered at the foot of the stage, silent, sombre, eyeing each other like two stray cats. The rest of the crowd began moving.

‘All that hullabaloo for virtually nothing,’ someone said.

Coven members knew their place: very much under the Duciti, minding their business and keeping their noses clean, out of fear if not respect. But they weren’t above showing their aggravation of a wasted afternoon, grumbling as they shuffled out of the town hall.

‘We should go, too,’ Toby said finally as the last of the crowd dispersed.

‘Yes, straight out of that door and no looking back,’ Luciana said, jerking her head toward freedom.

He sighed. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Best not keep them waiting.’ He placed his hand on her shoulder and steered her away, and with the pace of two prisoners being led to the noose, they set off to find Room 2A.

‘What do you think they want with us?’ Toby asked as they navigated the corridors.

Luciana shrugged. ‘Whatever it is, you can bet your farm it won’t be pretty.’

On reaching 2A, Toby hesitated, his hand hovering over the doorknob. ‘I don’t have as much history with them as you do, but I’ve heard and seen enough to know what’s what. Whatever’s waiting for us on the other side, let’s agree to stick together, yes?’

Luciana studied Toby’s face. The mop of black hair, long straight nose, and honest eyes the colour of burnt sugar. His thick dark eyebrows puckered as he waited for her to agree. She huffed at him instead. ‘It’s good sentiment, farmboy. But we may not have that luxury.’ She swept past him and opened the door. ‘Let’s get this over with.’

Six faces lifted and smiled in their direction as Luciana and Toby crossed the threshold. Two of the three Duciti from earlier hovered near the hearth, flanking Saba who sat behind a large, ornate desk. Three more perched serenely in lush armchairs around the room, cradling delicate china cups and saucers as if this were an intimate tea party.

‘Ah, finally,’ Saba said. ‘Would you care for refreshments?’

Luciana shook her head. ‘I’d care to know what this is all about.’

‘Excellent,’ Saba said for the third time in one session, indicative of anything but. ‘Then let’s not waste any more time. Both of you—have a seat,’ she said. ‘I will presume you know of the situation we have with Amara and her Outcasts. I suspect it’s no secret, even among the likes of a commoner’s daughter and a mediocre farmhand such as yourselves.’

Hardly the best way to induce camaraderie, but Luciana merely shrugged and Toby gave only the slightest hint of offence as he adjusted his stance in his chair.

Saba continued. ‘Amara has evaded capture for far too long, and she has built something of an army against us. We find ourselves in need of a weapon.’ Saba paused and fixed them both with an unflinching gaze. ‘That’s where the two of you come in.’

Luciana snorted. ‘You want us to go up against Amara and her band of misfits? Ha! It’s a suicide mission. You may as well kill us yourselves and save everyone the trouble.’

Saba warmed the nearby teapot with the palm of her hand before topping up her teacup. She added copious amounts of sugar and studied Luciana with raised eyebrows, stirring the liquid in her cup with the daintiest of spoons. ‘Please don’t tempt me, Luci. You’ve worn my patience thin on more than one occasion, but it seems we both will have to endure yet another.’

‘It’s Luci-ana, and believe me, I hate our little escapades at least fifty times more than you could possibly begin to fathom.’

‘Be that as it may, it’s your duty. Some of our strongest witches have met their ends, and we’re turning to the people. Your power is unmatched—except of course by ours.’ She swept a bony hand around the room, gesturing to the coven leaders. ‘Besides,’ she said, ‘this time you’ll have company.’

‘To do what, exactly?’ Luciana asked.

‘We need the two of you to marry,’ Saba said, ‘and your—’

‘To what?’ Luciana leaned forward in her chair.

‘Marry. Be wed. A rare exception to one of our most fundamental laws. You’ll make history,’ Saba beamed, as if enthralled by this notion. ‘We will allow, just this once, a union of both covens. The two of you—and your child—will be Amara’s undoing.’

Luciana let rip with a burst of laughter. She stood, pacing back and forth in front of Saba’s desk. ‘Assuming for a moment that what you’ve just said isn’t the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my or anyone’s life, and assuming I’d even consider going along with it, how in hell’s name would my getting married and impregnated achieve victory over Amara?’

‘Firstly, you have no choice in the matter. Secondly, you know as well as I, a union of our covens is forbidden for many reasons, not least of which is that an Immisceo witch has an unlawful amount of power at his fingertips.’

‘And you’ve now all decided you want one at your disposal?’

Saba shrugged and sipped her tea. ‘We need one.’

‘Then go out and find one!’ Luciana said. ‘We all know they’re out there somewhere—runaways. On the run from you lot, no doubt.’

‘Yes. Precisely why we’ve had trouble locating one willing enough to blow their cover.’

‘Who can blame them, with the price you place on their heads. And now with the task you want to throw at them.’

‘Yes. It’s unlikely one will come forward. More unlikely is gaining their trust. Which is why we must resort to this. The two of you will produce the Immisceo witch we need.’

‘What if the child we have isn’t an Immisceo? What if he’s born a Mimic? Do we keep going? Child after child after child? Like rabbits?’

Saba allowed a small smile. ‘We’d rather hope for a lucky strike. But yes, there’s every chance your firstborn will be a Mimic. But it will be handled. And we would hope that in due time, the odds will fall in our favour.’

‘When you say handled…’

‘I mean taken care of.’

‘By someone else?’

Saba gave an almighty sigh. ‘If you insist on transparency… any child that is not an Immisceo would be put to death.’

Luciana stilled. ‘This is… it’s…’ She faltered and tucked her dark hair behind her ears, trying to find an appropriate response that didn’t involve fleeing the scene. ‘You’re all… barbaric,’ she said. ‘You would kill innocent children? Children created at your command? I have rights. They’d have rights!’

‘Rights! What—human rights?’ Saba let out a derisive snort. ‘Not only would you suffer these powerless blemishes on our society, but you want to lump us together with humans? Rosamund would have fried you where you stand, girl, for such an outlandish suggestion.’

‘Let me see if I’m getting this right. The long and short of it is that I must produce children for the good of the covens, only to watch them all die?’

‘If those children are Mimics, yes. You know the law. Mimics are products of a crime.’

‘A crime you and the other Duciti would have me commit!’ Luciana crossed her arms over her chest as if it would shield her. ‘It’s madness,’ she said. ‘I want no part in it.’

‘It isn’t a choice you have the privilege of making.’

‘So you would have us—Toby and me—churn out babies one after the other just to throw them on the front line?’ Luciana shook her head. ‘No. I won’t do it.’ She rounded on Toby. ‘Don’t you have anything to say? Tell them! This is preposterous!’

Toby stared at her with wide imploring eyes and said nothing. He wrung his hands over and over before looking away.

‘Say something, dammit!’

He raked a hand through his dark crop of hair, his brow furrowed. ‘It is preposterous, I agree, but—’

‘There!’ Luciana said, her wide-eyed gaze trained on Saba. She stretched her hand toward Toby as if his agreement was all she required to get out of doing it.

‘But it’s our duty,’ Toby finished quietly.

Luciana stared at him like he’d grown six heads. Her ice-blue eyes flashed. ‘Like hell it is!’

Saba sighed and several of the Duciti shifted in their seats. One of them coughed. Saba placed her cup on the desk with a loud clatter and produced half a ream of paperwork from her drawer. ‘Stamp your feet if you must, Luciana, but you will do this. Arrangements have already been made.’ She plucked a quill from the desk and extended it to a horrified Luciana. ‘The only decision you need now make is this: will you do it with your freedom, or without?’ 






Luciana stalked out of the town hall with Toby at her heels. Her feet carried her along as if they knew something she didn’t, and Toby kicked up dust behind her, struggling to keep pace.

‘Don’t do anything rash,’ was the first thing he said to her.

She snorted. ‘Is there another way to react to this?’

‘You heard her. We have no choice. We’re obligated. Bound by—’

‘Bullshit!’ Luciana’s nostrils flared. She jerked to a halt and fixed Toby with a glare. ‘Were you awake in there? Did you not hear what she expects us to do?’

Toby withered beneath her wrath. ‘What do you propose as an alternative? Running?’

‘Exactly that.’

‘Or die trying, is that it?’ Toby said. ‘Are you willing to be a fugitive for the rest of your life?’

Luciana threw her hands in the air. ‘Beats being a puppet!’

Toby backed up several paces and Luciana tried to wrangle control of her temper. ‘Look,’ she said, as evenly as she could manage. ‘I can’t tell you what to do. By all means, go ahead with their ridiculous request. Just don’t expect me to go along with you.’

‘So, you’re leaving? Just like that? Do you think it’ll be so easy?’

‘Not likely—but I have to try. And you’re welcome to join me.’

Toby frowned, his expression grave. He absently kicked the ground with the toe of his boot, lost in thought. ‘This is a mess.’

‘Something we can finally agree on,’ Luciana said. ‘And if we go through with it, it can only get messier.’

‘You’re right. I know you’re right.’ Toby grimaced, his words at odds with his expression. He stood in front of her like a tall, awkward tree. ‘Whether this makes me more or less of a man for admitting it: I’m afraid, Luciana. The Duciti aren’t known for their mercy.’

Luciana nodded. ‘I understand. But if I do nothing, I might as well roll over and play dead.’ She reached out and gave his shoulder an awkward pat. ‘Good luck,’ she said. ‘Whatever you decide. And if you change your mind, meet me at the crossroads before sundown.’

She set off for home, pretending not to notice the intrigued glances and whisperings of folk in the street. A fragile sense of calmness spread through her at a glacial pace as a half-realised plan began to form in her mind.

It shattered as she drew level with her mother’s house.

On either side of the garden gate, like paradoxical guardian lions, stood two guardsmen, their distinctive yellow coats as much a mark of the Duciti Order as it was a cause for nausea on an already gruelling day. A third guard hovered outside the open front door, his thick-soled boots trampling the primroses on the garden path.

‘Need directions, boys?’ Luciana asked, opening the gate and swanning through. Neither one responded and Luciana forced herself to keep moving.

The guard at the front door had other plans. His hand flexed over the grip of his sword as he widened his stance and puffed out his chest. ‘State your business,’ he said, blocking Luciana’s entry.

A prickle of irritation ran through her. ‘I live here, imbecile.’

‘Ah, Ms Blaknall.’ The man drove his sword home in its scabbard and stepped to the side, all gruffness gone. ‘Just a precaution, you understand?’
Luciana balled her hands into fists. ‘A precaution for what?’ she asked, but the guard appeared to have conveniently lost his voice. She charged past him and came face to face with her mother.

Alice Blaknall shot a scathing glance at her daughter. ‘What have you gone and done now?’ she said.

Luciana clenched her teeth to stop a barrage of curses.

‘How many times have I told you, Luci?’ Her mother shook her head, her lined face weary. ‘Didn’t I warn you about getting mixed up in matters that don’t concern you?’

‘I waited for you at the Clock Tower,’ Luciana said, ignoring her mother’s rhetoric launch into a well-rehearsed lecture. ‘Where were you?’ she asked. ‘Why weren’t you at the meeting?’

‘Need you ask?’ Her mother threw a pointed look at the guard outside the doorway. ‘I’ve been entertaining your guests.’

‘They’ve been here all this time?’

‘Right after you left for the market this morning,’ her mother said, nodding.

‘And they’re not my guests,’ Luciana added.

‘Well, they certainly aren’t mine. What’s the meaning of this, Luci? You’re in over your head with this Duciti business.’

The guard turned at the mention of the Duciti’s name and gave both women a disapproving look of warning.

‘Don’t I know it,’ Luciana mumbled. ‘I’ll explain later.’

Her mother shook her head, the tidy grey bun on top of her head shaking loose with the motion. ‘No. You’ll explain now.’

Luciana blew out air between her teeth and took her mother by the wrist, bundling her toward the kitchen at the back of the house. The guard raised an eyebrow and nothing more.

‘The meeting,’ Luciana said, perching on a chair next to the hearth. ‘It was another Selection.’

A look of terror crossed her mother’s face. ‘For what?’

Luciana found herself smiling. A mirthless, incredulous smile. ‘A marriage.’

The older woman frowned. ‘What? Why?’

‘They want to unite the covens,’ Luciana said. ‘To create an Immisceo child—as a weapon.’

Her mother stared into the crackling fire without uttering a word.

‘And that’s not the worst part,’ Luciana went on. She leaned forward on her elbows and met her mother’s gaze. ‘They chose me.’

‘That’s why—’ Her mother pointed at the guard across the room and Luciana nodded.

‘By the stars, Luci!’ She took hold of her daughter and shook her by the shoulders. ‘What have you done?’

‘Something terrible in a previous life, I presume. That’s all I can put it down to.’

‘Now is not the time for flippant humour, child. What do you intend to do?’

Luciana looked toward the door and then back at her mother. ‘I have to leave,’ she said under her breath.

The older woman’s eyes went as round as two plates. ‘Openly defy the Duciti?’ She clapped Luciana across the back of her head. ‘Do you have a death wish?’ Her mother clutched her chest and cast a nervous glance at the front door. She shuffled toward the nearby kitchen table and took a seat. ‘You should never have started any of this,’ she said. Her hands trembled as she smoothed her hair back into place.

‘It was hardly optional, Mother.’

‘Maybe not today. But you placed yourself in their hands long before now.’

Luciana folded her arms across her chest and studied the fire. ‘And was it ever optional then?’ She kept her voice even for the sake of the guard, when all she wanted to do was yell.

‘You put yourself in their midst,’ her mother said. ‘You made a target of yourself when you needn’t have.’

‘And what would you have had me done? Sit idly by as Father faced everything alone?’

‘Yes!’ her mother said. ‘A thousand times, yes! It was his job. And he died anyway, child. Yet you persist.’

‘This again?’ Luciana shook her head. ‘Have you no feeling? Do you not miss him?’

Her mother bent forward, her eyes full. ‘On the contrary, Luci. I say this because I miss him. What’s to become of me if I lose both of you?’ She blinked back tears. ‘Has that ever crossed your foolhardy mind?’

Luciana turned away, full of shame. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Not half as sorry as I am. Haven’t you learnt anything since your Father’s passing?’

Another rhetorical question.

Of course she’d learnt things. She’d since learnt how to bottle her grief, and hide her fear, how to live with regret. Mostly, though, she’d learnt that the Duciti were not who they claimed to be.

‘I should go.’

Alice jumped up from her seat. ‘Over my dead body.’ She stood over Luciana as if her frail form alone could stand between her daughter and the stupid choice she was about to make. ‘Luci, if you go now, you’ll spend the rest of your life running.’

‘You sound like Toby.’

Alice gave her a quizzical look. ‘Who?’

‘My betrothed. Your future son-in-law.’

‘Well, I like him already. He’s right. And if you take a moment to think before you act for once, you’d see that, too.’

‘Maybe you should marry him instead.’

Alice said nothing, but she let out a long sigh.

‘I’m sorry, Mother. I shouldn’t have said that. But think about what you’re asking me to do.’

‘I’m not the one asking—I just don’t want you to live a fugitive’s existence.’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ Luciana shook her head, resolute. ‘Not when the alternative is ruining the life of an innocent child.’

Alice sighed again and ran a soft, wrinkled hand along her daughter’s cheek. ‘But you are my innocent child.’

Luciana leaned into her mother’s touch for a moment, then she rose and headed for her room. She stuffed the bare necessities into a tattered satchel and tucked a paltry handful of coins into the small leather pouch on her belt. She strode back into the main room. Wanting to avoid further protest, she gave her mother a stiff one-armed hug and started toward the front door. She paused at the threshold and glanced over her shoulder.

Alice stood in front of the hearth, teary-eyed and defeated. A look passed between them that said more than any number of farewells or I-love-yous could have expressed. Then, with a deep, bone-rattling breath, Luciana stepped outside.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ the guardsman said as soon as he saw her.

‘I’m meeting my future husband,’ Luciana said. ‘You should be thrilled.’

The guard scrutinised her. ‘This is the first I’ve heard of it.’

‘Can I help that you’re out of the loop?’

The guard bristled and Luciana raised her chin, careful to maintain eye contact. ‘Not on my watch,’ he said. ‘Get back inside.’

Luciana sighed. ‘I really hoped you wouldn’t say that,’ she said, then without further warning, she curved her arm through the air and sent the guard flying in a pale yellow stream of magic. The two guards at the gate charged forward, and inside the house, Alice cried out in alarm.

Luciana held up both hands and swirling ribbons of power streamed forth. She clapped her hands together and the two charging men butted heads, falling in a heap on the garden path.

Three more appeared from the side entrance and Luciana swerved, backing towards the gate. She stepped over the two unconscious men and ducked as one of the three conscious guards hurled his blade at her.

Another followed suit and this time, she turned the weapon mid-air and sent it hurtling back toward him. The man cried out as the blade pierced his shoulder. He stumbled backwards and hit the ground hard.

Luciana stretched out her arm and reached for the sword once more with magic. As she lined up the weapon with another of the men, a resounding clap of thunder split the air.

‘Enough!’ The sound of Saba’s voice demanded attention.

Luciana’s gaze whipped back to the house. The sight before her held her frozen in place.

Saba stood in the doorway, her hands crackling white with lightning, and in her clutches, was Luciana’s mother. Her eyes were wide, her mouth gaping open as Saba’s energy magic sparked and pulsed against Alice’s throat like a noose.

‘Looks as though I’m just in time for the party,’ Saba said, flexing her hand. Her magic glowed in a deadly synchronised dance across Alice’s skin. ‘Why don’t you come back in and join us, Luci?’

Luciana’s heart thudded against the walls of her chest.

‘Think carefully, girl,’ Saba said. ‘Are you willing to sacrifice your only parent for a child you’re yet to birth?’

Luciana looked to her mother, disgusted with herself for her moment of hesitation. She stepped forward and with a clenched jaw, raised her hands at her sides in surrender. The sword clattered to the ground in the same instant. ‘Let her go,’ Luciana said.

Saba smiled. ‘With pleasure.’

As the lightning crackled back into Saba’s palms, Alice tumbled forward, clutching her throat and gasping for air. Luciana rushed to her side and helped her mother up. The weight of what she’d almost done hit harder than a blow to the stomach. Guilt clogged her throat as she took her mother’s shaking hand in hers.

Alongside her, Saba let out a long exaggerated sigh. ‘Why must you insist on making everything difficult?’ she said, and turned on her heel, striding into the house as though she had every right to.

Luciana stared into the eyes of her petrified mother and weighed her options. That was when it dawned on her—
There were none. Her options were nothing more than illusions. There would be no running, she realised. Only dancing. And the Duciti were the ones pulling the strings.


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Shona Kaye is a self-proclaimed weirdo, proud bookworm, and author of Blood’s Veil and the fantasy series, Immisceo. Blogging here about books, writing, and occasionally, real life. Read more…

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