To quote Kelley Armstrong, this story "is intended for mature readers. If it was a movie, it'd have warnings for coarse language, sexual content, violence...and maybe a few more." You have been warned.
Disclaimer: Depending on the country, the rights to these books are owned by a whole slew of different publishers that I'm too lazy to name. Needless to say, they don't belong to me. I'm not Kelley Armstrong, otherwise this story would be on her website and a whole lot better.
Spoilers: This story was written after Personal Demon and contains information from all of Kelley Armstrong's work up to that point.
Author's Notes: The title is from a song by Dragonette, Jesus Doesn't Love Me Anymore. Savannah is going to play a hugely important role in this story, but it is Gillian MacArthur (who appears briefly at the end of Industrial Magic) that is going to be the main character.
There was a full moon out that night. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it wasn't. But there was a full moon out and that's why it was easy for the two girls to slip out of the house without knocking into anything and alerting the adults around them.
A more unlikely pair was possible to imagine, but unlikely to exist. They shared only a few similarities, but they were the most powerful kind, binding them together in ways they would only later comprehend.
They were both witches.
And they were both currently trooping through a graveyard.
The backpacks they carried were filled with strong smelling herbs, sacrificial knives, unscented candles and a box full of plastic baggies. They were practical witches, even when they were being reckless. They had to move quickly—they couldn't afford to get caught.
"Slow down, Savannah," one hissed. "Not all of us have stilts for legs."
"I'm sorry I'm not a midget," the one called Savannah laughed in the darkness. "Don't you dare start being scared of the dark."
"I'm not scared." If it was a lie it was a convincing one, but Savannah knew better than to take her friend at her word. "I just don't think it's right to be running through a graveyard. There's got to be something wrong with that."
"You worry too much, Gillian."
"You don't worry."
The many superficial difference between Savannah Levine and Gillian MacArthur made it easier to ignore the important ones.
No one would ever confuse them for sisters and that suited them just fine because they weren't. Gillian had a bad experience once and it had put her off the whole concept. While Savannah could have gotten her way if she really wanted to, she just didn't care enough to force the issue. They simply believed themselves to be too diametrically opposed for their relationship to be particularily close.
Savannah knew every offensive spells she could get her hands on; Gillian could say the defensive ones in her sleep. Necessity had also taught her healing magic—she didn't want Savannah worrying Paige. Savannah picked up healing magic but was less concerned about her own safety. Savannah didn't need anyone or anything. Gillian needed and needed until she was left all alone. And perhaps more importantly—the reason these girls grew up to be so very different—the people who loved Savannah would swim across oceans for her and the people who loved Gillian ended up drowning themselves.
The result of another discrepancy—the disparity in spellcasting ability—was the cause of their midnight adventure. Graveyards scared them less than they would most people, but they were witches, not freaks, and wouldn't have been there if there wasn't a very good reason.
"We're here," Savannah announced. "I think."
"Now you start thinking? Great."
"Shut up. I haven't been here in years and it was dark back then."
The flashlight they had yet to turn on was finally beamed over the gravestone. Gillian couldn't make out the name, but Savannah seemed satisfied. "This is it."
That was all the reassurance Gillian needed. The backpack was dropped to the ground and out came the plastic baggies. Savannah stood watch as Gillian took a handful of dirt from the grave of a murdered woman, mimicking actions Paige had performed a few years previously.
"What's taking so long? God, are you taking two bags?"
"I don't know how much we're going to need and I don't want to have to come back here."
"You're just as bad as Paige."
Gillian didn't protest though Paige would have never been in her position. Paige was in the house of Abigail Alden either asleep or doing things with Lucas Cortez that Gillian didn't want to think about. Hopefully, Paige didn't know, and would never know, what her ward and her friend were up to. She would have approved of the principle and been horrified by the practice. It was in Paige's best interest not to know what was going on in the graveyard.
Mission accomplished, the teens slipped off. They moved quickly for there was always a chance that they would be missed. Still, they had had to risk it. Who knew the next time one of the Coven Elders would so obligingly drop dead, summoning Paige across the country in a flurry of guilt? And Gillian was only with Savannah because her father had been ordered out of the country and Paige felt bad about it, being married to the man who was heir to the company that had done the ordering. Also—because Paige Winterbourne deserved a lot of credit, but even she had some ignoble thoughts—she had hoped that having a witch her own age around might make Savannah less inclined to insult her elders. In that respect it had worked. Savannah had made only three derisive comments about Coven witches (that Paige knew of) and only when the remaining two elders were out of earshot.
Savannah had always despised the Coven and Theresa Moss's death did nothing to change that fact. At one point, she had even disliked Paige for being associated with the cowering, worthless witches. Gillian may have been much less naturally powerful, but she was far from useless. Coming back to East Falls just reminded Savannah how little she could tolerate most of her race, the pathetic excuses for witches that were too afraid of rocking the boat to use the magic they had been born with. They violated the fundament rules of her existence, and Savannah couldn't accept what she could not understand.
Gillian liked the Coven witches, with their middle class houses and antique teacups. She liked their manners and their neighborhood watch groups and the way their voices never rose in anger. This she kept to herself, knowing Savannah wouldn't like it, would consider it a gross betrayal, and perhaps because she realized she couldn't live like that either. Not by blood or by experience...still the longing was there, nose pressed against cold glass, wishing for the Christmas toys displayed inside.
At that particular moment in time, the only thing Gillian wanted was a jacket. It was cold that night—Savannah had said they would be fine in what they had been wearing and now Gillian was chattering. Savannah rolled her eyes and shrugged out of her sweater. The noise was annoying.
"Thanks," Gillian muttered, slipping into the still warm clothing. "Is it much further?"
Savannah shrugged, not sure herself, but sensing the dense presence of something up ahead and figuring it was trees. She was right.
The girls began the hunt for the perfect spot. With the trees blocking out the light it became a problem that they only had one flashlight between them. The search was accompanied by curses, stumbling and the occasional bruise when an invisible branch attacked unsuspecting prey. Eventually, as Savannah complained about the tear in her pants, they stumbled across their destination. It wasn't a specific location, just the first circular clearing surrounded by trees they had found. The flashlight shone around the clearing, illuminating the empty space. Both witches locked eyes and set to work; Savannah cast a perimeter spell around the area as Gillian set up the materials.
Cloth and candles first. Power and wisdom, but reversed—blue to the north, purple to the south, the opposite way the candles should have been laid if they were doing the spell the way they had been taught.
The elements next. Air, earth, water and fire. Athame, dirt, bottles of Evian and matches. Gillian arranged them backwards, going through Paige's old notes and reversing everything she could think of. It seemed to her the most logical choice.
They were going to try to do something no one had ever attempted, not because they were especially powerful but because they just didn't consider it wouldn't work. Paige had taught them witches could be strong in their own right. The next logical step for girls who had been told there were no limits to how powerful they could be was to see how far that power could extend. If you could rediscover old spells, why couldn't you create your own? It was inconceivable, impossible—and they were going to try. Even if they had to ride in sketchy taxis in East Falls where everyone knew everyone else's business, especially the business of strangers, they were going to see if they could do this. Savannah was powerful, Gillian was not—they were going to try to even the odds a little bit.
They had gotten part of the spell from a grimoire Savannah had 'borrowed' from a dark witch. The actual spell was supposed to be a temporary boost of power. The other person had to willingly say the spell, but even then it was just a quick fix. That didn't appeal to them, not when Gillian lived in another state. So they had cut and paste, sewing together a Frankenstein monster of a spell, whose power remained unknown.
"Finished," Savannah said, plopping down right beside Gillian. "Clearing secure."
"Materials prepared," Gillian confirmed. "Anything you want to go over?"
She had a notebook full of the spells they were using as well as the phonetic breakdown underneath.
"I remember. You?"
"I'm good. Should we start?"
Even Savannah Levine hesitated, a voice that sounded suspiciously like Paige whispering in her ear, warning her this might be too dangerous, that there were too many unknown variables. There was always the possibility that—as Gillian put it—magic was static. The only way Gillian could become more powerful would be to take from Savannah. Gillian had promised simply to perform the spell on Savannah if that turned out to be the case, hopefully reversing the negative effects. But it was a risk, a major one...one Savannah would never be able to live with. But no sooner had the thought come, than it had been dismissed.
"Let's do this thing."
They sat across from each other, Savannah in the center, Gillian on the other side, watching carefully. Savannah started the first part of the ritual, speaking words she didn't always understand but trusted Gillian had translated right anyway. For her part, Gillian waited calmly, sure that Savannah would succeed, simply because Savannah always did.
Maybe that was why it happened. Not the rituals or the old words, or even the ancient elements and the power they contained. Maybe it was just because as Gillian began to mimic Savannah's movements the old magic felt their simple belief.
Or maybe they really were just that lucky or that talented. Whatever the reason, when they simultaneously placed their hands on the candles—Savannah on blue, Gillian on purple—the ground started shaking. The wind picked up and when they reached their hands together, blood against blood, there was a flash of blinding light and they were torn apart with more force than they thought possible.
"Did it work?" Savannah asked once she caught her breath. There was no answer. She looked up to see Gillian on the other side of the clearing, slumped against the base of a tree. Unusual but overwhelming panic descended, but Savannah didn't waste time assessing her fear, just hurried across to make sure her friend was alright. It was easy enough to find a pulse and Savannah relaxed—somewhat—and began looking for an obvious sign of head trauma.
"Hey Gillian! Gillian. Wake up. Come on, this is really annoying."
Eventually Gillian began to stir and then she snapped to consciousness, hissing in pain. Gingerly she prodded her left shoulder, flinching as white light flashed behind her eye, the pain blocking out everything else.
"I can't be hurt. I have a meet in two week," she whispered.
Savannah didn't try and reassure her, just helped Gillian struggle out of the sweater. The flashlight revealed the strange shape that used to be her shoulder.
"I don't think it's broken," Savannah said uneasily.
Gillian's eyes filled with tears. "I cannot miss that meet. My coach is going to kill me."
Savannah muttered something under her breath and then, in a louder voice, said something in Hebrew. The pain diminished somewhat as the shoulder iced over slightly, but Gillian was too upset to care.
"You broke my arm."
"Technically, the tree broke your arm. Anyway, it's just gymnastics. You can summersault without your shoulder."
"I am not dignifying that with a response. Bitch. How are we going to fix this? I'm not losing mobility. I need help."
Savannah ignored Gillian's tiny outburst in favor of admitting, "We need to go to Paige."
"We can tell her we were practicing in the backyard and I got in a lucky shot and you got pissed and hit me with a knockback spell. Then I hit a tree."
"Like you could ever hit me," Savannah snorted, gathering up their tools as Gillian struggled to stand.
"I know. That's why you were so surprised you reacted on instinct. And I ended up broken."
"It could work."
The girls started heading back to the road. The taxi was supposed to meet them a few blocks over, so no one would realize they had been in the graveyard.
Savannah could no longer anchor her curiosity with concern. "Did it work? I don't feel any different, which is good. But what about you?"
Gillian wavered on her feet but dutifully closed her eyes and did a mental check of her spellcasting ability. It would be greatly lowered by the calming spells she had been casting under her breath, trying not to disturb Savannah, and spellcasting power wasn't like a gas gauge. Nothing so clear.
"I don't know. We're going to have to wait."
That wasn't the sort of plan Savannah was good at. As the two girls began heading back, the bag now on Savannah's shoulder, she pointed out cheerfully: "We can always try again tomorrow."
"Paige will keep an eye on us tomorrow." Gillian knew a lot more than Savannah about sneaking out of the house. She had a good teacher. "And then my dad might come back."
"Sound excited, why don't you." Savannah was an orphan in the technical sense and she resented when Gillian complained about her parents. Gillian was an orphan in the non-technical sense and resented Savannah's resentment, because Paige and Lucas were the best guardians ever.
"He's just going to leave again," Gillian said. If she hated the fact, she didn't let it show. "This is the fourth time in four months he's left the country—Iraq is doing wonders for business. He won't be around for a while."
"Lucas could order him to stay home." Officially, he couldn't, but in the messed up world they lived in, they might be able to swing it. Savannah didn't comment on Gillian's complete acceptance of her father's seasonal abandonment. It was still healthier than the absolute silence that Gillian enforced around her mother. Savannah didn't need magic powers to know that was toxic.
"He shouldn't have to be ordered to stay. Not that—he's just doing his job. Could you cast the spell again?"
Savannah noticed that Gillian's face was a sickly grey color under her tan. At least they were getting in the taxi and Savannah wouldn't have to worry if Gillian collapsed. Ignoring the creepy taxi driver who stared for far too long considering his clients were sixteen, Savannah reminded herself not to get too anxious. Gillian was tougher than she looked; somehow the girl always landed on her feet.
Not that creepy taxi driver or anyone else would have thought it. Gillian looked so quintessentially all-American that it made Savannah want to puke sometimes, with her long golden hair, bronzed skin and the tiniest hint of a Southern twang whenever she forgot to repress it. An attacker would assume Gillian was the easier target. Just a hair under five feet, she was thin as well and looked like an open invitation to most would-be predators. Appearances were deceiving. Gillian may have been just over a hundred pounds, but it was solid muscle—the gift of a decade's worth of training. And Savannah knew for a fact that Gillian always fought dirty.
That was something they had in common, even if physically they couldn't have been more dissimilar. Savannah was a basketball player, well on her way to six feet and couldn't help towering over her friend. But where Gillian tended to act in self-defense, Savannah couldn't help but bring a competitive edge to everything she did. She had long dark hair and blue eyes that sparkled whenever she thought of something darkly humorous. She looked exotic (which she wasn't) and dangerous (which she was).
Even though she probably wouldn't have admitted it, she was also kind to those she deemed worthy. So she started talking to distract Gillian.
"Did I tell you Sean said he'd take me to the Dominican this summer? He's going with a bunch of friends so they rented this big villa. A few of them dropped out so they had extra beds. He invited me and said I could even bring some friends." Savannah quickly added, "I would have asked you, but I figured you would be working."
Savannah hadn't even thought of asking Gillian. The other witch couldn't afford it and wouldn't have gone with Nasts anyway. She was stubborn about some things.
"Oh, the joys of minimum wage. Does this mean you're going with a bunch of thirty year old guys? Skeezy."
"Twenties," Savannah said with some satisfaction. "And some of them are almost my age. They're friends with the evil half-brother."
"When did you start not liking Sean?"
"There's the good half-brother and the evil half-brother," Savannah explained, like it was obvious. "The evil half-brother, sometimes known as Bryce, can't come anymore, but his hot twenty-something friends still can."
Gillian couldn't remember Savannah ever talking about more than one brother, though she knew there were two Nast boys. She was a Cabal brat—she knew all about the Nasts.
"I'm guessing we don't like the evil half-brother much."
"Fuck no. He never talks to me. But I don't care. He's fucking boring. All he does is bitch about what's wrong in his life, or talk about music, or make fun of Sean. He thinks he's funny but he's really not. And he called me horse face girl. I do not look like my friend Flicka. Jerk."
"And you know all this by not talking to him?"
"Sometimes he's in the background when Sean calls. Whatever. I don't want to talk about Bryce. I want to talk about his hot friends."
"Who, coincidently, are going to be traveling with your older brother. Who knows you're just sixteen," Gillian pointed out. If she said sixteen a little louder than she should have, Savannah only winked when the driver finally started respecting their privacy.
"It might actually have been better for you if it have been the evil-half brother who was with you. He wouldn't have cared enough to stop you." Gillian knew a lot more about people not caring enough to stop, so Savannah just grunted and performed the spell again.
The taxi pulled onto the street and Savannah swore. As they paid the driver, it was impossible not to notice the lights of Alden house were brightly lit. Someone was looking for them.
"You can do the talking," Savannah muttered.
Their pace slowed considerably, neither eager to face their punishment. Time would not slow down, even for them, and eventually they reached the door. Almost as if on cue, they sighed as one and then Savannah pushed open the door.
Paige was on the phone in the living room, off to the left of the entrance, but hung up when she saw the girls walk through the door. Her curly hair was sticking out every which way and her ordinarily cute round face was drawn. It was such a difference from normal that Savannah demanded, "What's wrong?"
"Savannah, I need you to go upstairs and call Lucas and tell him you're back."
"I'm not leaving," Savannah declared. "You have to yell at us together."
Neither really expected Paige to actually yell. She looked too rattled. But Gillian would take a beating lying down and Savannah wasn't about to let that happen.
"I need to speak to Gillian privately," Paige said. "Savannah, go upstairs."
"There's nothing you can say to me that she can't hear." It was a lie, of course, because there were things Savannah would have no choice but to pity and Gillian didn't want that. But at the moment it felt true, so Gillian said it.
"Gillian," Paige stumbled. But the two girls stood there defiantly and she gave in. "Sit down then."
It was when they were sitting on the couch that she told Gillian her father had disappeared yesterday, half a world away from his only living family.
In the longer run it mattered much less and much more than Paige ever thought it would. Randy MacArthur was found in less than a week and though his body was crippled and his spirit broken, he was alive for the beautiful father/daughter reunion when he was finally returned to North America. It should have been enough. It wasn't.
But that came later.
At the moment, Gillian just stared, trying to comprehend. Savannah placed a hand on the small of her back, one orphan to another and Gillian understood and the tears began to form.
"I'm very sorry," Paige repeated.
Savannah realized what she meant to do an instant too late. Her cry went unheeded as Paige wrapped her arms around Gillian. The tiny girl would have screamed, but even that was beyond her as the nerve endings in her shoulder caught fire. Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed backwards, blissfully unaware, if only for a time, of the world around her.