After another night filled with nightmares, Sophie overslept. When she finally woke and looked blearily around her bedroom, she could tell by the angle of the light along the edges of the blinds that the day was no longer new.
The day had, in fact, not been new for some time. Her stomach took a nosedive as she snatched up her alarm clock. Damn it. Her technology curse had struck again. Resorting to an old-fashioned wind up clock hadn’t helped in the slightest, and the clock’s hands had stopped at 4:26.
Ignoring the flare of aches in her shoulder, abdomen, and right thigh, she shoved upright and limped into the living room to check her cellphone. The screen confirmed what she already knew. She was horribly late.
Now she was faced with a choice that no coffee drinking witch ever wanted to face. She could either fix coffee or throw her runes for a quick reading before she showered and left for her meeting.
A good night’s sleep had become a thing of the past, and boy howdy, she really needed that caffeine. But leaving her apartment without doing a reading had become unthinkable. Not since the shooting. She never missed throwing the runes in the morning for whatever message, good or bad, the reading might be able to tell her about the day.
She could cancel the meeting, and for a moment temptation tugged at her. Part of her wanted to drink coffee in the dark with the curtains shut while listening to the distant sounds of LA traffic, but that was how she had spent most of the last month since being released from the hospital.
She needed a new game plan for how to approach life, and she wasn’t going to find one in the shadows of her apartment. The only things lurking here were memories, second guessing past actions, and regrets.
Getting out in the fresh air and talking to someone she didn’t know might not solve any of her problems, but it would be a step outside her door. A step somewhere else. Maybe even a step in the right direction.
So. Coffee or reading.
Choosing was painful, but after leaping into the shower, dressing and taking five precious minutes to put on make up and capture her long, curling hair in a loose knot at the nape of her neck, she sat at the small kitchen table with a folded, embroidered tablecloth and the worn velvet bag that held her rune stones.
She paused only a moment to glare at the stupid, time-consuming percolator sitting on her stove. She had bought the pot to replace the stupid Keurig that had stopped working a few months back.
Turning to the business at hand, she unfolded the small tablecloth. She had stitched the gold thread embroidery on the royal blue cloth herself. The project had taken her weeks. As she didn’t embroider as a regular hobby, the symbols didn’t look exactly professional or even, but the detail was meticulous, and every stitch was imbued with the invocations she had whispered as she worked on the cloth.
She used the small tablecloth for only one thing. As she carefully spread it flat, magic unfurled, changing the air above it where it lay. Holding the bag of runes in her right hand, she placed her left palm at the center of the cloth and centered herself.
Before the shooting, she would have just left without throwing the runes. The thought caused her to hesitate. It was not the best idea to rush through a reading, and she was going to be late as it was.
But no. Sometimes things change irrevocably. You turn a corner, hear a new song, read a book, fall in or out of love, or look at a painting in a different light.
Or you get shot several times.
Then, no matter how you try, you can’t unsee or unexperience something to make life what it used to be. The river always poured downstream.
She poured the runes into her hand, concentrated on her near future, and tossed them gently onto the cloth. Watched them tumble. They were pretty, made of polished rose quartz with the runes etched into the stone and painted gold, and they showed showed brilliantly against the rich, blue cloth.
She preferred Nordic rune stones over divination cards with painted pictures, because the stones opened the right mental pathways for her. The images that came to her mind were true divination, not images created by some unknown commercial artist.
Concepts tumbled and shifted in her mind as she watched the stones roll to a stop. Raidho, for travel. Thurisaz, destruction and defense. Hagalaz, destructive, uncontrollable forces. Dagaz, the stone for breaththrough. Then she let her gaze go unfocused as she stared at the pattern they made.
That was when the visions came, when the combination of her attention as she gazed on the rune patterns created windows into fate.
Silence, in her small apartment. Distantly, she heard the dead clock began to tick again.
She listened to the breath she took. Let her eyelids fall in a blink.
As she opened her eyes again, she caught a glimpse of a strange landscape. A new wind blew through the apartment, ruffling her hair and bringing with it a faint, acrid scent like smoke.
The scent meant violence and danger. Like other messages the wind brought to her from time to time, it wasn’t a physical scent, but intuitive, and all too familiar
Adrenaline spiked, causing a ghost of fiery pain to ripple through her body, localized in three places, her left shoulder, right thigh, and just under her ribs on the right side. As she pressed her hand to her abdomen, the figure of a man appeared.
He was turned away, so that she looked at dark hair, the long, strong line of his neck, and broad shoulders.
He stood so close she could have reached out to touch him, and oh my gods, all that Power he carried. How could one physical body contain it all? It was as if his skin thinly veiled a lightning bolt. He wasn’t human. He couldn’t be. He had to be one of the Elder Races.
So vivid, so close, making everything else around her pale by comparison. Even though she knew better, she lifted one of her hands and reached toward him. The man was only a vision. He wasn’t really here, in her apartment.
Then he turned his head, and he looked straight at her.
No. That had to be an illusion. He couldn’t be looking at her, not in her vision, stimulated by a spell of her own casting.
She received the impression of a strikingly handsome face, the planes and angles so sharp they appeared cut from an immortal blade. His glittering dark eyes held an indomitable will and a chilling ferocity.
Power shifted as he brought his body around to face her. So smoothly, he moved, with a killer’s grace that was purely inhuman as well and caused the tiny hairs at the nape of her neck to rise. He held a sword, clenched in one fist, and the long, wicked blade dripped with crimson blood.
The sight slammed into her, along with a realization.
He turned to face her.
He saw her and turned to face her.
Shock rocked her back in her seat. She parted her lips to say something. Whoops, or maybe hi there. Or, I’m sorry.
The kind of thing you would say if you accidentally dialed a wrong number, or stepped on someone’s foot, or got your psychic wires crossed.
Or interrupted a deadly immortal creature in the middle of a killing….
While she stared, the male’s fine cut nostrils flared. He flung a hand out toward her, fingers flared, his own cruelly beautiful mouth shifting as he spat out a word. A lightning bolt of Power flared out at her. She felt it coming, a spear of pure, sizzling malice.
That wasn’t supposed to happen in her vision either. What if it hit her?
Before she had fully formed an intention in her mind, she grabbed the edge of the magic cloth and yanked. Stones flew around the kitchen, breaking the pattern.
The vision shattered so hard it left her head aching, or maybe that was an echo from the psychic attack the man had flung at her. He vanished, along with the landscape. The lightning bolt never landed, although the image remained burned into her retina.
Her heartbeat galloped like a runaway horse, while adrenaline pounded through her veins. As her vision cleared, she pressed shaking fingers against equally unsteady lips and looked around the familiar landscape of her apartment, letting her gaze touch on each detail in an effort to ground herself.
What the royal fuck was that? She had never experienced anything like that, and she had been practicing magic for as long as she could remember. Had the vision been so vivid it simply overwhelmed her sense of her immediate physical reality?
It couldn’t have been real.
Her head said no, but her gut said yes. He had behaved exactly as though he had seen her. She had sensed his Power, felt the attack flare toward her like a thrown spear. Her gut had no doubt that if that spear had hit, it would have injured her, perhaps severely.
What did it mean?
It took several breaths for her to regain her composure enough to leave. A dull throbbing took up residence behind her eyes. She strode into her bedroom, opened the small closet safe, pulled out her gun and tucked it into the concealed carry pocket of her purse. As she left the bedroom, she glanced one last time at her percolator with a deep sense of bitterness.
Man, she chose wrong.
She should have had that cup of coffee.