Today's Friday Five, in anticipation of the Quickening release next week, features 5 magical moments from my books...
learning to channel the Quickening
They left their shoes by the boulders and started to stroll along the edge of the lake, where small expanses of a fine gray sand alternated with stretches of lush grass that went right to the water’s edge.
“How does it work? Your magic, I mean.” Remembering Aedan’s admonition that first night, she corrected herself. “The Quickening. Do you say spells in your head or something?”
Without stopping, Brad bent down to pluck a blade of grass. He held it in one hand in front of him and waved his other hand toward it. At once, the grass lifted, like it was caught by the wind. But rather than flying away, it twirled in Brad’s palm. As before, colors seemed to play over him, as though reflected through a prism.
“No incantation,” he said. “No spell, no potion. It’s mostly a matter of determination.”
Watching that blade of grass dance, Vivien thought about what Aedan had said about her learning to use the Quickening and how Brad had summoned a sword of light. Three fighters might not be enough against the king’s forces, but it had to be better than two.
“Can you teach me?” she asked, touching his arm lightly.
He nodded and invited her to sit down with him. They sat in the grass, legs crossed, facing each other. The blade of grass was still twirling in his palm.
“Like I said, using the Quickening—channeling—is a lot about determination. Strength of will. You have to want something to happen, to know it will happen because you want it to. There can be no doubt whatsoever in your mind.”
“Is that all?” she asked, nonplussed. Her fingers were itching to pluck a blade of grass and try to make it dance, but it couldn’t be that easy, could it?
Brad grinned. “Look at me,” he said softly. “What do you see?”
“Colors,” she replied at once, waving her fingers as though to show how they glittered. “All around you.”
“Only around me?” he prodded. “Look closer.”
She did, her eyes narrowing as she focused her gaze. After a few seconds, she realized what he was getting at. The colors didn’t only surround him; they filtered out of him, radiating from his chest.
“Not around,” she corrected herself. “It comes from you.”
He nodded again. “That’s the other part of it. You have to fuel your determination with something, and that something is what you feel. Your emotions.” He touched his chest, right over the place where the colors were pouring out of him. “It’s called ‘channeling’ because you’re focusing those emotions to accomplish what you want to happen. It’s easier if you try something you can actually see at first. When you start seeing results, it reinforces your will, and it trains your mind for the next time, and for more complex uses of the Quickening.”
The slim blade of grass finally stopped twirling in Brad’s hand. Vivien was about to ask if she should try now when she felt the first petal graze her cheek. She looked up and let out a quiet “Oh” as petals of all colors started raining down on her, covering her like a light, fragrant snow. He’d never taken his eyes off her as he spoke; how had he gathered all those petals?
Strength of will, she remembered he had said. She had to truly believe she would achieve her goal. No, not just believe. She had to know she would.
She picked up a large petal from her lap, almost fuchsia on the edge and baby pink along the center vein. She held it in her cupped hands and focused on it, staring so hard that her eyes began to water. Nothing happened, and the petal did not twirl like she was imagining.
“Should I make gestures or something?” she asked, remembering how Brad always waved his hands whenever he did magic—channeled.
“Gestures are just a crutch,” he replied. “A bad habit I can’t get rid of. Better if you don’t do the same.”
She glanced at his face and lost her focus. He was watching her with such hope, his lips pinched tight as he observed her... She couldn’t think of anything other than kissing him again.
He made a small, reproving sound in his throat. “You’re not focusing,” he chided gently. “Can you even tell what emotions you’re trying to channel?”
She dropped her gaze back to the petal in her hands, feeling a little embarrassed. “Huh... I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’m not sure I understand how to channel emotions, actually.”
Brad shifted a little closer, then cupped his hands underneath hers. As gentle as the touch was, it sent a shiver through Vivien’s entire body.
“Find your emotion first,” he said in a low, almost lulling voice. “Hope. Happiness. Fear. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just needs to be something you feel very strongly at the moment you try to channel.”
Vivien looked inside herself. What was she feeling? Fear and anger were at the back of her mind, like a dull light she couldn’t quite turn off; fear of what that king might do to her, anger at what he might be doing to Anabel. At that very moment, though, she felt something else much more acutely.
After the first kiss she and Brad had shared, after those innocent ribbons of air that had caressed her body, with Brad sitting so close to her, with his hands so warm underneath hers, what she felt was desire. She wanted him, wanted another kiss, wanted to run her fingers through his hair and feel his body against her like when he had held her to his chest the previous night. Maybe even more than that, but she couldn’t quite admit that to herself.
“There you go,” Brad said in that same hypnotic tone. “Keep focusing on what you’re feeling. Embrace that emotion, whatever it is. Let it fill you, all of you.”
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her body tight against his. She laid her head against his shoulder and sighed.
“I know why you stay away but—”
“It’s hard for me, too,” he cut in gently.
The two of them started to sway in the middle of the room, following the music of their beating hearts.
“Will it ever get better?” she raised her head and looked at him, her eyes searching his. “When I’m queen… If I’m ever queen. We won’t have to hide anymore, will we?”
Raising a hand to her face, he caressed her cheek. He knew what she wanted to hear. It would even give her another reason to work against Rhuinn, but he never wanted to lie to her.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I guess it’ll depend on your allies, and how strong your hold on the throne is, and—”
She stopped him with a kiss that was little more than a caress. They continued to dance against each other, and Bradan suddenly noticed the colors rising from her. She was channeling, but what for?
He understood when the room slowly changed around them. The fireplace disappeared. So did the armchairs, windows, paintings, and drapes, replaced by yellow and blue balloons and streamers. Stars cut from cardboard and painted gold hung from the ceiling high above them. Bleachers were retracted against the wall to leave place for refreshment tables.
When he realized where they were—what scene she had recreated for them—Bradan couldn’t help burying a laugh against her temple.
“Prom?” he teased. “Really? We’re both a bit old for that.”
She turned her head to seek his mouth with her smile. “Didn’t you say you wished you could have been my date to prom?”
“I’d rather be your date today,” he said, closing his eyes and shutting out everything that wasn’t her.
Under His Skin
Blue and white smoke rose from the bottle as soon as they uncorked it, and it lingered around the table even after they poured out the liquid inside. They clinked their glasses together and drank deeply.
Joshua’s palate and tongue were still tingling from the potion when he set the glass down on the table. It felt and tasted almost like champagne, although a lot headier: Joshua’s head was already spinning like he was well on his way toward getting drunk. He clutched the edge of the table and shut his eyes tightly, trying to get a grip on himself. Maybe drinking a magic potion after a couple glasses of wine during the dinner hadn’t been such a good idea.
“Should we have…”
His words trailed off when they came out in a voice that was nothing like his own. Frowning, he opened his eyes again and was startled to see—through the unexpected glasses perched on his nose—himself. He took the glasses off, but realized at once it was a mistake. Without them, the entire world was fuzzy. He slipped the glasses on again, and again was confronted with the most unlikely sight. Joshua was staring at his body, and it was staring right back.
“Damn,” he breathed, and again was surprised when Nathan’s voice uttered the word.
Across from him, his own face split into a grin. “Feels weird, huh? You’ll get used to it in a minute.”
It felt absolutely eerie to hear his own voice speak with Nathan’s cadence and inflections.
“How do you know?” he asked, raising his right hand to look at it. The small scar on the back of his hand was gone—of course it was; it wasn’t his hand, even if it felt like it. Shaking his head, he looked at himself—at Nathan—again. “Have you done this before?”
“Just the once,” Nathan said, and his nod was a little rigid, like he was trying to get used to a different body, too. “With Don. I wanted to make sure the spell worked.”
The familiar flash of jealousy flared through Joshua. It was stupid, because he had accompanied Nathan all the way to Haventown on one of his resupplying trips. Joshua had claimed he needed a vacation, but the truth was, he wanted to meet this ‘friend’ that Nathan went to see two or three times a year, even though he could have simply ordered what he needed by phone or online.
Joshua had met Don. He had also met his wife. And he knew, without the sliver of a doubt, that Nathan didn’t look at Don—or his wife—in that way. Despite all that, however, every time Joshua heard that Nathan was going to the store, the same discomfort resurfaced. Nathan shared something with Don that Joshua barely even understood: magic. Nothing would ever change that.
Or rather, nothing ever had changed it. But with this extraordinary gift, maybe Joshua would finally understand what it was like.
“Well, let me confirm it for you. It works.”
Nathan started laughing, but quickly slapped a hand over his mouth. Joshua completely understood why: it was odd to hear his own deeper laugh coming out of what was now, for all intents and purposes, Nathan’s throat.
The one thing in his advantage was that he and Lilia weren’t new to this; they had met and battled numerous times over the last seven years, and Vincent knew her fighting moves almost as well as he knew his own. They were too evenly matched, in a way. They knew each other too well, and that might have explained why neither of them had ever managed to completely get the upper hand and kill the other.
But if he grudgingly admired her fighting skills, Vincent could have done without Lilia’s running commentary. She always mocked his age, as she had done that first night when she hadn’t killed him, as she was doing now, calling him a child, as though his twenty-seven years were nothing when compared to her own couple of hundred. He had done his research long before, and knew she had been turned at nineteen, a hundred and seventy-two years earlier. He knew all there was to know, he had never forgotten any of it, not even her real name even if he had never pronounced it aloud again since earning himself the scar she seemed so proud of.
Suddenly, finally, the air wavered around them, Don’s spell focusing on the crystal in his pocket. In just seconds, all desire to fight would leave Lilia, and it would be easy—
—easy to see, at last, how gorgeous she was. Vincent yearned to pull at the piece of leather that held her hair back in a short ponytail, let his fingers play in the dark auburn strands and find those threads of red that sometimes shone under the moon. He wanted to get close enough to look deep into her eyes and finally decide whether they were green or gray. He wanted to touch those pink lips with a finger, or maybe his mouth, and discover whether they were as soft as they seemed to be. He wanted…her. He wanted to finally see, finally touch the body she had only given him delectable glimpses of for so long.
The Thirteenth Halloween
He pushed the sofa closer to the empty bookcase, then pulled the armchair away from the corner, leaving a good two feet of space around it. He set both the picture and the Merlin card on the floor underneath the chair, arranged them side by side just so, and pulled a small jar from one of his bag's numerous pockets. A silvery powder glittered inside it, but after Thomas sprinkled it over the picture and card and murmured a power-imbued word, the powder seemed to turn to gold. Thomas nodded with satisfaction and sat back.
Next, he pulled the first tealight candle from the bag. Holding the small tin cup in the palm of his hand, he focused intently on the wick while calling to mind a specific memory of Jim.
Any memory would have done, but he chose the first time they had met -- at the engagement party of friends they had in common -- and summoned every little detail he could remember: the pounding music, the smell of spilled alcohol where some guests had toasted with a bit too much enthusiasm, the heat of that summer night, the rum and vanilla cake, and the wild costumes the guests had been asked to wear. True to form, Thomas had gone as a wizard, and at some point a young man dressed in shorts, a tank top, and running shoes with a crown of laurels on his head and a golden medal hanging from a ribbon around his neck had approached him.
"You must be overheating under all this," he said, grinning as he gestured to where Thomas' long robes fell all the way to the ground.
Thomas grinned back. "Not at all. There's a nice breeze under here."
Some kilt allusions followed, along with inquiries as to where Thomas had acquired his accent, and all through the night Jim tried to figure out if Thomas was truly naked under his robes. He went home with Thomas' number but no answer.
Fire suddenly flared at the tip of the candle. With a slow, almost ritualistic movement, Thomas set it down on the floor in front of the armchair. He then pulled another candle from the bag and chose another memory. Maybe because his first thought had been of a costume party, or maybe because symbols and connections were so important for this kind of magic, he recalled the first Halloween he and Jim had spent as a couple in this very house. Jim had been smashing in a James Bond-like tuxedo. The second candle burst to life.
One after the other, Thomas lit the remaining candles, feeding the small flames with memories of eleven more Halloweens. The year when Jim had been ill but insisted on sitting by the door anyway, a medical mask on his face and green scrubs making him look even more sickly. The year when they bought the candy too early, and come Halloween they had to run to the store. The year when an early snow storm cancelled the parade of children, and Jim dragged Thomas with him up and down the street to offer candy to their neighbors. Each memory was precious to Thomas, like a thousand others. Each of them, combined with his magic, seemed to thicken the atmosphere of the room, like a fog slowly rising inside the circle formed by the candles around the armchair.
When Thomas set down the last candle and completed the circle, all thirteen flames leapt almost a foot high, flooding the room with so much light that Thomas was blinded for a second or two. He blinked a few times. When his vision finally cleared and he looked at the armchair, his breath caught in his throat.