01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 9, 2022, Red Ages

I stomp into the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop, releasing some of my irritation at the darn prophecy and Jack.

Dragomira spots my flashing eyes. “Hah!” she barks. “So the lovers quarrel.”

“We aren’t lovers,” I protest vehemently. Unfortunately.

Jack grimaces, and Varg releases a short puff of air through his nostrils that sounds suspiciously like a snort. Whose side is he on, anyway?

Dragomira throws me a patronizing glance. “So you say. Bolt the door behind you and follow me.”

We make our way to the back room. Situated in the middle of the only open floor space, surrounded by rows of shelves containing all manner of magical goodies, is a high wooden stool. I toss my bag on the floor and take the seat, nervous about what’s about to transpire.

“What are you going to do?”

Dragomira gives me a magnificent smile, clearly happily anticipating this task. “First I’ll examine it with my eyes, my fingers, and then my other senses. Now, I haven’t all day. Unbuckle your vest and unbutton your blouse a bit so I can examine it.”

I give Jack a hard glare over her shoulder as though he arranged this just for his pleasure. His lips quirk the barest hint of a smile in response, and he can’t control the telltale signs of amusement in the crinkling corners of his eyes. I glare harder.

Once I’ve arranged my collar to afford as much modesty as possible while still giving Dragomira a view of my shoulders and the tops of my breasts, she starts circling me.

Her penetrating gaze takes in every minute detail of the necklace as her excitement and determination fill the room. She’s a woman who enjoys a challenge. She fingers the interlocking links and counts the dangling strands. She even counts the number of links per strand.

After several minutes of agonizing silence, she murmurs, “This was made around the beginning of the Red Ages. It most likely originated somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, and it’s clearly very powerful.”

“How can it be when it doesn’t work on me at all? My gift has actually been more powerful since I’ve had it on.”

“Hmm.” She sounds disbelieving.

“I’ll prove it,” I insist. “Think of an emotional event in your past.”

Dragomira steps back and tightens her face into an indiscernible mask, but a distinct wave of rage billows from her body.

“Rage,” I say. “Give me something else.” After a second, I sense tremendous loss. “You’re grieving. Do I need to continue?”

Dragomira shakes her head.

I shift in my seat, and my shirt falls slightly.

Dragomira’s sharp intake of breath draws my eyes to her face. She’s staring at my birthmark, a dot twice encircled, the outer circle is wavy like a sun sign. She mutters, “So this is the birthmark. Well, that makes sense now.”


Still gazing at my blemish, she speaks, almost as though to herself. “You don’t have a magic gift at all. Well, you do have the blue streak of hair, so you may indeed have a gift—but it certainly isn’t the power you’ve displayed while wearing this necklace. Your birthmark signifies many things, but what it most represents is that of the eternal soul.”

She peers at me intently now. “What you have, my dear Illustrissima is an awakened soul.”

My eyes lock with Jack’s from across the room as I ponder what that means, and a profound silence fills the air.

Dragomira sits down in one of the wingback chairs. I move to get down from the stool, but she stops me with a wave of her hand. “This will just take a moment. The Gifted have the ability to use magic, which is nothing more than the transferring or unlocking of energy. As I’m sure you know, the energy is always borrowed from one object and transferred to another in the magical act. The energy isn’t retained in the body, nor does it touch the soul.

“But Blue, you’re different. You don’t have to use the energy of any object. You are the energy. It’s more than that. Normally a soul is confined within the skin, and only a small amount of light escapes.”

Dragomira glances at Jack. “You can clearly see that her light fills the room,” she says. “It’s free, so to speak.”

She turns to me again. “Of course, if you allowed your soul to separate completely from your body, you would lose touch with your humanity and have a difficult time returning, so your soul must stay in residence. But you can shape it and use it at your will; it has no boundaries.”

I protest, “But my soul does have boundaries. I had to push so hard to get it out at first when I was in the crypt, and I was so tired that I had to pull energy from some source in the sky. I’m not sure, but it might have been from the Plane of Light.”

Dragomira purses her lips. “Perhaps you use your body as a reservoir or you don’t know how to fully access your power, but either way, you can perform your ‘magic,’ so to speak, with your own soul. Nevertheless, this necklace must come off. It’s pointless to speculate further until it does and we see what happens to your power.” She jumps off the chair to examine it again.

I suspect she has some interesting theories that I wish I were privy to. Even if my soul has no boundaries, my patience certainly does. I clasp my hands together, and Dragomira begins to probe the necklace with her mind. I’m surprised I can feel her energy pushing against my skin, sometimes forceful, sometimes as light as a summer breeze.

After a few minutes, she stands back, emanating a feeling of satisfaction.

“Did you unlock it?” I ask.

“Not yet, but I believe I know the way. Patience.”

Dragomira starts chanting in the same ancient language she used when I was first in her shop. Someone, whom we now assume to have been Blackwater, tried to penetrate her wards, which are the protective spells cast around her building. Just like then, her rich voice in its multitude of tones strikes a deep chord within me. She starts moving her arms in a silent language of their own in harmony with the rhythm of the chant. Her eyes seem to flicker with a golden light, and the room fills with the thrum of power, a gentle electrifying sensation. It seems as though the power is seeping through the walls and the floor. She’s pulling it into her.

The necklace grows hot on my skin, and the pressure in the room intensifies. I focus on Jack and Varg to distract myself.

Jack leans back in his chair, his eyes half closed, utterly transfixed by the situation. I like to call this his panther stare; he appears relaxed, but like silk over steel, he’s disguising his strength, lulling his victim into relaxation. And like the panther, he hides as he stalks, but is ever ready to pounce.

Varg grumbles low in his chest and bares his teeth menacingly at an unseen threat. The power of Dragomira’s ritual continues to weigh heavy in the air, but the room is still—except that strangely, Varg’s fur waves like he’s in the eye of a storm, as though unfelt wind blows on him alone. His eyes are intent on me and low rumbling noises continually emit from his throat.

Dragomira peers appraisingly at Varg, then dismisses him as she circles me, the cadence of her song quickening. She moves her hands in brief, rapid strokes, alternating between cutting sharply through the air and waving gracefully, sinuously. The crushing force of the power, the weight of the air, the electrifying tingles become almost unbearable, and Dragomira’s face breaks into a sheen of sweat as she whirls around me.

Abruptly, the air lightens and seems to evaporate from the room. A cracking sound snaps loudly from several directions at once as her cabinet doors shatter. The glass crashes to the floor, making a tinkling noise as the shards hit each other on the way down. The necklace latch bursts open and the chain slides off my neck and into my lap.

Jack and Varg rush toward us, and Dragomira collapses in the chair. I stand shakily with the Belladonna necklace grasped loosely in my hand. A strange sense of isolation strikes me, a colorless depression that I can’t name. I wave aside Jack’s unspoken offer of assistance and walk on unsteady legs to the comfort of the upholstery. I tuck the necklace into my bag, and with a deep breath, I sink into the chair.

“I feel so peculiar.”

“How so?” Dragomira prods.

“I feel somehow less, like everything is coming at me through a long tunnel,” I explain. “I think the necklace heightened my senses, and I’m back to normal now, but it doesn’t feel like normal anymore. It feels restrictive.” I sweep the three of them with my senses. “Yes, you’re all duller now.”

Jack glances at Dragomira with a question in his face, and she nods in return. I watch the exchange in frustration. “What?”

He eyes me with concern. “Your light is shining less brightly now. In fact, your aura is back to what it was before the necklace.”

Dragomira frowns. “The necklace was subduing magic that is currently at work on you. I think someone has spelled you and it’s constrained your soul. Do you know anything about this?”

I lean forward, shocked. “Constrained my soul? When would someone have done that? Blackwater wasn’t Gifted in that way.”

Jack asks, “Have you felt any unusual shifts in your senses? Was there a time when your senses were more powerful before the necklace?”

I puzzle at this and sift through my memories. “Maybe they were stronger when I was very young, at the orphanage.”

He runs his hands through his hair, enraged. “For Christ’s sake! I should have thought of that. The housemother, Anna Marie. For some reason she must have locked down your soul. Maybe that’s how she got the children to stop fearing you so much.”

My mind grapples with that, and the pieces click together. “Yes! She took me to the woods for a special picnic. She said we were going to sing songs so the kids would like me better. That’s exactly it!”

Dragomira seems skeptical. “Pull your chair over here. Let me examine this work.”

I drag the chair across the rough wooden planks until I’m directly across from her. She leans forward and applies a gentle pressure against my head. I feel a kind of light shifting feeling, like she’s sifting through some airy force-field on the surface of my skin that I never felt before. It makes me shiver.

Dragomira settles back in her chair. “This isn’t the work of a housemother. This is the work of a powerful sorceress. A finer weaving I’ve never seen from a human. She’s woven gossamer, gray magic around your soul to lock it in place.”

“Gray magic! But she wasn’t an evil sort of woman, I would swear it. She was the kindest housemother there.”

“Gray magic is not evil,” Dragomira scoffs. “That’s ridiculous superstition. It simply utilizes lower life forms that have already died of natural causes. It’s a mix of residual energy from life and the entropy that occurs with death. Gray magic is perfect for neutralizing life-force, which you have in abundance.”

“Can you undo it?”

She purses her lips. “Yes, I can undo it. It will be delicate work. But think on this. You say she had no bad intentions, yet she wove it around you. What do you think will happen to your light and your senses when we completely release your soul?”

Jack wears a contemplative expression that matches my mood. Holding his gaze steadily, I reply, “I think my light will become brighter and my senses stronger. It’ll be difficult, maybe even overwhelming at first. I’ll know more about people than I even know now, and it’ll make them uneasy. But I’m not a child who will accidently slip and tell people what I know. I won’t cause them to fear me like I did when I was young. And I’ll acclimatize over time to the stronger senses. That’s my best guess.”

Jack nods in agreement.

I turn to Dragomira. “Please do it.”

“Then come kneel in front of me.”

I do as she asks, and she lays her hands on the top of my head. I relax my mind to feel her work. This time there are no hand gestures, only a soft murmuring from the back of her throat. It sounds almost guttural but is so vibrant in tone that it reminds me of the scent of rich, dark soil just after a fresh rain.

Unexpectedly, I feel Varg’s warm, fluffy fur as he leans his head on my lap. I smile and stroke him as Dragomira combs through the surface of my mind and just under the skin of my body. It feels almost ticklish, like a feather brushing against my thoughts. She delves in and out with the lightest touch, and I can almost imagine her pulling threads loose as her low, rhythmic chanting progresses.

With Varg warm against me and Dragomira’s psychic massage, I grow sleepy after a time. With great will, I prop my eyes open to see Jack. He sits, watching closely with a tight expression on his face. He catches my gaze and smiles.

Suddenly, his pupils constrict and his eyes widen in alarm. At the same moment I feel a rush of, well, everything. Everything becomes larger, louder, and stronger. I can feel Jack’s worry with precision, and underneath I sense his affection, desire, and even reverence. I frown at the reverence part. That needs to stop.

My face must give me away because the next thing I know, Jack has controlled his emotions, and my attention shifts to Dragomira. She feels hopeful, good, and strong, but she seethes with an unquenchable, bitter rage underneath. I reel back from her, and noticing, she smiles a bitter smile.

“Don’t worry, Blue. That anger is not for anyone of this world.”

I’m tempted to open up my senses to examine her soul, but out of respect for her privacy, I refrain.

Instead, I turn to Varg. He issues a feeling of watchful concern, steadfast loyalty, and a wild, predatory magic that lies just beneath the surface.

I return to Jack. “What are you so worried about?”

He whispers, “Your soul light. It brightens this room like the sun glistening on a snow-covered landscape. It’s almost hard to see you through it.”

Dragomira scoffs. “You will survive, Jack. You’ll get accustomed to it like she will. If not, get sunglasses.”

She turns to me. “Apparently the housemother Anna Marie locked your soul light down with the gray magic to make it weaker. Whether she had good or bad intentions, we can only speculate. Then when Tobias Blackwater put the Belladonna necklace on you, he assumed it would restrain your gift—But because your gift isn’t a normal gift, but rather an awakened soul, all it did was counteract the spell that Anna Marie put on you. That’s why the Belladonna necklace served to make your senses stronger.”

The whole thing makes sense now. That explains why Blackwater thought the necklace would make it impossible to use my gift. “So the Belladonna necklace actually works?”

“Yes, it counteracted the magic that was suppressing your soul light.” She clears her throat. “One last thing, and then I’ll ask you two to leave so I can rest.”

Now I sense weariness billowing off her in gusts, as the euphoria from her accomplishment wanes.

She throws her hand up, frustrated. “Illustrissima. I gave you a knife and gave you its name. Yet when you needed it most, you didn’t call it.”

I’m perplexed. “Call the knife?”

“Yes!” she hisses. “You just need to call the knife, and it will come.”

“Are you serious?”

Her lips press firmly together and her frustration pours out of her like she’s dealing with the slow kid in class, and maybe she is. “Yes! When things have names they should be used. Call it. Now.”

Feeling silly, I do as she requests. “Guardian,” I call out. Nothing happens. I regard her curiously.

A smile plays over her lips. “Where is the knife at present?”

Jack answers, “It’s at my house. I forgot to bring it back to her. It was found at the crypt among Blackwater’s possessions.”

As he speaks, I see a flash out of the corner of my eye. Then thunk! The knife stabs the wood floor just next to my right hand. My eyes rest in amazement on my beautiful weapon with its sapphire-encrusted hilt still vibrating to and fro from the force of its landing.

A mischievous smile flits across Dragomira’s face. “Remember this, Illustrissima. Names have power.”

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