Reign of Mist – D.G. Swank

Everyone hates their sisters, at least a little. That’s what I’ve always told myself. “Phoebe, can you please turn down the TV?” I asked for the third time as I stood at the kitchen counter. “I can’t concentrate.” I was tweaking my butternut squash and portabella mushroom hash recipe for my YouTube cooking show, making notes on the amount of apple cider vinegar for the next batch. The dialogue in the Hallmark movie my sister had on in the living room was making me nauseous. “I already turned it down,” she grumbled from the other room. “If I turn it down any lower, I won’t be able to hear Quinton propose to Katrina at the square dance. He has the perfect proposal planned.” She practically sighed the last part. Phoebe was a sucker for a good romance. I rolled my eyes so hard I gave myself a minor headache. “Oh please. All those movies are the same. Why do you waste your time watching them?” Especially since you have the real thing, the tiny jealous monster inside me growled.

While Phoebe had only been with her mage boyfriend for two weeks, they were both head over heels in love. Sickeningly so. The man had practically moved into our small house, and I was beginning to choke on the testosterone overload. Brandon Cassidy was all man—tall, beefy muscles, and an ego large enough to suck all the oxygen from the room. We’d known him in high school. His reputation for going through girls like tissues had been legendary, which was why I’d threatened bodily harm when high school junior Brandon had expressed a sudden interest in my little sister. To my shock, he’d stayed away. I’d had a few contemplative moments over the past couple of weeks, wondering if my interference had unfairly cost them ten years together, but Brandon’s news about the Book of Sindal had ended my short bout of self-recrimination. The Valerian Small Council —the governing authority for witches and mages—had decided to take the book from us and move it to a “secure” location while they decided its ultimate fate. But rather than defend our right to protect it at the farm, he’d agreed with their ruling.

Whelans had been guarding the Book of Sindal for literally hundreds of years, protecting the world from a tome containing deadly and evil spells. But two weeks ago, the book and Celeste had been taken from us by the Dark Set, a group of mages who planned to use the book to steal magic from witches. And while the Valerian Small Council had assured us that they didn’t blame the Whelan sisters for the theft, they claimed they needed to reevaluate the protections for the Book of Sindal to make sure everyone was protected, including us. It all sounded practical and logical, but I couldn’t help worrying that something sinister was afoot, despite Brandon’s assurances that the book was well guarded by the Protective Force, the magical world’s police force. In my heart of hearts, I felt I’d made the right decision about Brandon Cassidy all those years ago. He’d been an asshole then, and despite the way he was treating my sister now, I wasn’t convinced he was a changed man. Phoebe had been upset too, but Brandon had convinced her that moving the book was the safest option for all of us. Celeste, already driven to the brink of insanity by her unique expression magic, had lost it, saying the book had chosen her and they couldn’t be parted. It was taken anyway, of course, and none of us knew where they were keeping it. Celeste hadn’t spoken to Brandon in over a week, which made things more than a little awkward when the four of us were together in the Whelan family seventeen-hundredsquare-foot farmhouse.

Brandon had left a few days ago to attend an emergency Small Council meeting, and while he hadn’t been permitted to share any details, he’d called Phoebe afterward to tell her that he’d been given a special assignment and would be back soon. Part of me wondered if he was staying away because of Celeste’s cold shoulder. Not that I was eager for him to return. Watching my sister and her boyfriend together was a sharp reminder that I hadn’t been with a man in months. Multiple months. Like eighteen of them. But even if I had a boyfriend, I wouldn’t be draped all over him like a silk scarf. Phoebe was the touchy-feely Whelan sister. Our baby sister was the eccentric one. And I —Rowan Elizabeth Whelan—was the aloof, sarcastic sister.

I often wondered whether there was a correlation between a person’s magic and their temperament, because that certainly seemed to be the case in the Whelan family. I’d suggested the idea to my mother when I was a teenager, but she’d sworn it wasn’t possible. Still…I wondered. Most witches and mages took energy for their magic from something else. Phoebe’s gift of ancestral magic allowed her to borrow the magic of ancestors who were buried nearby. (One reason she’d have trouble living anywhere but our farmhouse, which was situated about a quarter mile from our family cemetery.) She had to play nice to get them to loan their magic. Perhaps that was why kindness was such an inherent part of her personality. Celeste’s expression magic, on the other hand, was wild and unharnessed—she literally pulled it from thin air. Surely that was why she only seemed half there most of the time.

My talent was glamour, something most witches and mages could do to some degree. True, my ability was deeper and more intricate, but even though my talent allowed me to make things seem shinier than they were, nothing could disguise the fact that I was the weakest of the Whelan witches. Which explained my personality, I suppose. When your younger sisters are considered special and gained attention because of their talents, you learn to make up for it with your mouth. “For gods’ sake, Phoebe!” I shouted, good and irritated as I picked up a silicone spatula. “Will you turn it down?” Her failure to answer would have annoyed me to bursting under normal circumstances, but my irritation vanished as I became distracted by the hum of an unfamiliar magic. An intruder was in our house. Again. I crept toward the door into the living room, my heart slamming into my rib cage when I saw a wild-eyed young man restraining Phoebe in a choke hold with his left arm. A blue ball of light hovered over his outstretched right palm.

What the hell was that? It radiated power, but I didn’t have much experience with magical artifacts beyond the book—for all I knew, the thing in his hand could blow the house sky-high. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good news, especially given the way his hand was shaking. “Just give me the book and no one gets hurt,” he grunted, his eyes darting around the room. I knew most magical specialties—I’d spent the better part of my preteen years studying all the abilities I wished I had instead of glamour, and I definitely would have picked holding a ball of blue light, no matter what it did. “What book?” I asked, trying my best not to look scared. “Don’t be stupid,” he growled, squeezing Phoebe’s neck tighter. “The Book of Sin.” He knew we’d had the Book of Sindal. And since most witches and mages thought the book was a myth, that meant our guest was with the Dark Set. Phoebe, I shouted at my sister using our coven bond.

Can’t you borrow someone’s power to take him out? She flinched as though startled, which was fair. I’d sent the words with a little too much oomph. He’s blocking my magic. He’s…absorbing it. He saw my fear and a snarky grin spread across his face. He thought I was afraid of him, which was true, but I needed to somehow gain the upper hand. “We don’t have it,” I said, my voice shaking. “It’s not here.” “Liar!” he shouted, squeezing Phoebe’s neck even tighter. Her face began to turn red.

“You have it! It’s been here for generations. Right on this land! Give it to me now, or I’ll drain her of everything.” Holy shit. Would the power drain be permanent? What if he got a hold of Celeste, who was currently sleeping upstairs? We have to get him out of the house, Phoebe thought toward me. We have to get him away from Celeste. Apparently, we were on the same page there. Besides, going outside would get Phoebe even closer to the graveyard. With any luck, proximity to her power source—our ancestors—would loosen his hold on her. “Okay,” I said as I lifted my hands in surrender. “Calm down.

Don’t hurt her.” He released a short barking laugh. “You gonna beat me to death with the spatula?” I glanced at my right hand and realized I was still holding it. I started to make a retort, but he cut me off. “You must be the weak one. Weird name. Rowboat?” He laughed again. My teeth ground together. “Rowan.” “But your magic is worthless.

Glamour.” He glanced around again. “Where’s the strong one? I want her too.” He wants to kidnap Celeste! Phoebe told me in a panic. Over my dead body, I sent back. Phoebe’s eyes widened in fear. Don’t talk like that. I have an idea. Play along. Using my power, I sent a wave of magic toward the room above us—Celeste’s room— and created a glamoured wall to hide her magic.

I had no idea if he had the ability to sense magic. If he did, he might be able to sense the glamour too, but it was worth a try. “Celeste isn’t here, but the book is. Phoebe and I will take you to it, and we’ll let you leave with it as long as you promise not to hurt us,” I said, trying to sound as meek and helpless as I could. While I was scared, I was also furious that this asshole—who looked like he probably couldn’t legally drink—was threatening my sisters’ lives and trying to steal a book chock-full of the stuff of nightmares. Not that he could get it open if it were here. The council may have taken the book, but as far as we knew, they hadn’t yet stripped it of the old protections. He’d need the blood of all three Whelan sisters to open its pages. And I wasn’t about to let that happen. His head jerked up and down in an imitation of a nod, and I realized he wasn’t acting normal—not that breaking and entering, kidnapping, and theft were normal.

But he seemed like he was on some kind of drugs. The sooner I got him outside the better. “Okay,” I said, still holding up my hands. “We need to go outside to take you to the book.” “This better not be a trick,” he said, shooting me a glare as he took a step backward. Thankfully, he loosened his hold on Phoebe’s neck. The motion revealed a patch on his jacket that read “Lester.” “We don’t keep it in the house, Lester,” I said. “That’s the first place anyone would look.” I shot him a dark look.

His eyes flew wide in panic. “How’d you know my name?” I gestured toward him. “I read it on your coat.” He scowled and dragged Phoebe out the door with him, the weird ball of power hovering dangerously close to her head. “Be careful with that,” I said as I followed him out, closing the door behind me. “What is it anyway?” He shot me a dark look once he was down the porch steps. “Nothing you’ll ever know about. You’re just a witch, and a weak one at that. You’re one of the first ones we’ll wipe out.” “You’re with the Dark Set.

” I’d already guessed as much, but I figured I’d let him know I wasn’t clueless. I glanced around, seeing a car parked close to the tree line down by the country road. No wonder we hadn’t heard a car. Was he here alone or did he have friends waiting for him to finish the job? I lifted my hand and waved at the car. “What are you doing?” he asked, looking worried. “Waving to your friends.” “You’re such an idiot,” he sneered. “There’s no one out there. This is such an easy job —three helpless witches. I can do this on my own.

Now where’s the book?” “Don’t tell him, Rowan,” Phoebe pleaded convincingly enough that I would have believed her if I hadn’t known the book was likely over a hundred miles away. “I can’t let him hurt you,” I said, not needing to pretend. “It’s down by the cemetery.” That wasn’t even remotely close to where we’d kept the book before, but it would get Phoebe close to our ancestors. If anything could break the mage’s hold on her, they could. We all tromped together, newly fallen leaves crunching underfoot. “I can’t believe they let you come alone,” I said. “It seems like they’d use the buddy system after we took the book back from your leader.” He pressed his lips together, and a dark look filled his eyes. Phoebe gasped.

“They don’t know you’re here.” He gave her a hard shove. “Shut up.” He was a Dark Set rogue. That couldn’t be good. What are we going to do when we get him to the cemetery? Phoebe asked. Can you use Penny Whitehead’s power to fling him into a tree or something? Penny Whitestone, and no. That thing in his hand is completely blocking my ability to use magic. I don’t think being closer will help. This one’s up to you, Ro.

Up to me. We were in for a world of hurt. “Okay,” Lester said when we reached the edge of the cemetery. “Where is it?” Where indeed? I had to get him to let go of Phoebe, and the only way he was likely to do that was if he saw the book. I glanced over to one of the older, crumbling headstones and spotted a two-foot branch. Focusing on the branch, I changed the molecules in the bark and the air around it to look like a two-foot-long leather ledger. “Hey! What are you doing?” he asked suspiciously. “How did that book appear out of nowhere?” “My weak talent made it appear,” I said truthfully, then lied through my teeth. “I removed the glamour I had over it. I gave you the book.

Now let my sister go.” He released the choke hold, but to my dismay, he grabbed her arm and dragged her over with him. Phoebe shot me a worried look, but I poured more energy into the glamour, ensuring it would feel like a book when he picked it up. Except he didn’t. He gave Phoebe a little shove. “Pick it up.” Her eyes flew wide as she glanced over at me. “Go ahead,” I said. “Pick it up and give it to him.” She leaned over and tentatively wrapped her fingers around the spine.

Surprise flashed across her face. Then her mask of fear was back as she straightened and held it out to him. “You hold it,” he said, “and take it to my car.” “No,” I said, realizing I was still holding the stupid spatula as I pointed it at him. “That wasn’t the deal!” “We didn’t have a deal,” he said with a laugh as he started dragging Phoebe through the cemetery toward his car. “I never agreed to anything.” Phoebe tried to jerk out of his grasp, but he touched the ball of power to her arm and she screamed and fell to her knees. “What did you do to her?” I shouted, starting to panic. Sure, I could fool him into thinking he had what he wanted, but my glamouring skills wouldn’t keep him from hurting and kidnapping my sister. “Something I won’t even bother doing to a waste of magic like you.

Taking her power.” He pulled Phoebe to her feet and she clutched the glamoured book to her chest, stumbling to keep up as he dragged her. Hot tears pricked my eyes. Desperate, I focused on the ground in front of him and created a trench for him to fall into, but he was too busy sneering at me to even look at the ground. “Stop,” I heard Celeste say from my side. Lester, Phoebe, and I all turned to see my baby sister standing about twenty feet away, her wild platinum blonde hair and her pale blue tunic dress blowing in a nonexistent breeze. Her voice was barely above a whisper, yet it easily carried to us. To my amazement, Lester obeyed her and stared at her, his mouth dropping open as though on a hinge. “Take the book and go, but leave my sister here,” Celeste said, her voice sounding ethereal and anything but menacing. He held the blue ball in front of him.

“Come over here and tell me to my face, sweetheart.” Don’t do it, I sent toward Celeste. He’s stealing Phoebe’s power with that thing, and he’ll take yours too. Celeste ignored me. “I’m only going to give you to the count of three. Let my sister go or I’ll be forced to stop you.” Lester laughed. “Come stop me, blondie.” “One,” Celeste said, but Lester had already started to drag Phoebe toward his car again. “Two.

” Be ready, Celeste said to both of us. “Three.” Suddenly, Phoebe was hurtling toward me and Lester was dropping to his knees. Before anyone could react, he lifted the glowing blue ball to his mouth and swallowed it. Light poured from the skin of his throat and then moved down to his chest, following the ball. Raw power crackled from him, and he gave us a sick grin. “Grandma has a gift for you,” he said. The word salad suggested that eating a ball of power was probably not good for you, but I had no time to consider the implications. A huge dead tree rose up from the ground, pointed at Phoebe. Another lifted into the air and swung toward me.

A boulder was headed straight toward Celeste. The mage was about to kill us. Celeste’s scream of pure rage filled my mind, ears, heart. Her fury turned into magic— every reddening leaf clinging to the shedding branches above turned into a glittering dagger. In one swift motion, they all sliced down through the air, missing Phoebe and me, instead burying themselves deep in the young mage’s skin. With a shocked expression, he staggered for a brief moment, then collapsed to the ground, the items he’d lifted crashing down with him. I rushed over, mind racing. When I reached his side, I stared down in horror, not knowing how to help him. “The Dark Set will come for you,” he said in a raspy breath. Then he looked up at me.

“Donall will come for your blood.” He gasped again, taking a long time to pull in a breath. A second later, the light left his eyes.

.

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