Danielle screwed her eyes shut as her breakfast threatened to make an unwelcome reappearance. The ground loomed fifteen feet below. Funny, she’d never had vertigo before. Then again, she’d never contemplated jumping out a two-story building before.
Her hand sought the comfort of her mother’s bracelet. She twisted it around her wrist. At her touch, the runes etched on the metal lit up, green and familiar. Sparks of warmth shot through her arm. The magic stored inside – her mother’s magic – felt different, though. On edge. Like a knife balanced on its point, about to tip over.
Much like the way she was teetering on the edge of her room’s balcony.
Once the clock struck midnight, she’d be eighteen. Her body would have reached magical maturity. She’d be normal. Ordinary. The magic lottery would have passed her by.
No one over the age of eighteen had ever received their powers. She doubted she’d be the exception.
Her mother’s bracelet would be the only spark of magic left to her. And what use was a shield against sorcerers, who could make the elements do their bidding?
Who would avenge her mother’s memory then?
No, this was the only way. Her last chance to awaken her magic before the dreaded deadline.
Danielle blew out her breath and held the image of a shield in her mind. The metal slowly warmed against her skin – reluctant, a warning. But the shield obediently appeared around her, encasing her in a bubble of green-tinted energy. The color cleared, but she could still feel the warmth radiating from it.
Still, she hesitated.
She couldn’t stand here forever. Jamie was bound to come looking for her sooner rather than later, and then she’d have to explain why his sister was hanging over her balcony’s railing. She couldn’t imagine that conversation going well.
But she wasn’t suicidal. Just desperate.
Danielle took a deep breath, and let her hold on the handrail slacken.
Startled, she scrambled for the handrail again. Her hand closed around it, but by then it was too late – Jamie had already finished tracing his bindrune.
Her heart skipped a beat as she recognized it. The Summoning Rune.
“No!” she cried, just as Jamie’s magic collided with her shield. Her brother was a powerful witch, but her mother had been a Priestess, the strongest of their kind. Jamie’s magic battled her mother’s, and lost.
The air sizzled as the shield reflected Jamie’s Summon and vanished. She barely had time to see her brother’s eyes widen in horror before the shock of the battling spells wrenched her away from the railing and sent her hurtling through the air.
She squeezed her eyes shut and cast her mind inward. She could feel her magic on the edge of her consciousness, enticing and vast and ever out of reach. No matter what she’d done, how hard she’d tried to grab it before, it always slipped away, like dreams upon waking. This time was no different.
She hit the ground on her back and rolled, once, twice, before coming to a stop. For a second, she couldn’t feel anything.
Then came the pain.
Danielle stared at the sky and concentrated on the feeling of grass underneath her cheek, prickly and cool, a soothing contrast to the fire dancing along her nerves.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Jamie push the glass door separating her room from the veranda. He raced down the outer staircase, mouthing her name, or maybe shouting it. The only thing she could hear was the sound of her heartbeat pounding in her ears.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Jamie fell down beside her, and she flashed back to the first time she’d seen him, blond hair falling into too big eyes as he glared at her five-year-old self, the intruder he’d had to share his dad with.
“Danielle,” he said, her name a prayer on his lips. She wanted to reassure him, to wipe that stricken expression from his face, but every breath sent white-hot flares of agony through her chest. She tasted something metallic on the back of her throat and choked.
Something hot trickled down her lips.
“Don’t talk,” he said, his hands hovering over her body as if afraid she’d break at the barest touch. “It’s going to be okay. I’m going to make you all right. Oh god, Danni.”
He hadn’t called her Danni since they were kids. Ignoring the way her body protested, she clasped his hand in her own. Jamie fell silent and squeezed her palm, before replacing it by her side. He closed his eyes and breathed out.
The Sigil on the corner of his left elbow shimmered with an ethereal quality. White light shone from the small tattoo, two half circles joined back to back, as he gathered his magic. Jamie traced the Healing bindrune on the center of her chest.
Berkano, the birch rune, for healing. Sowulo, the sun rune, for strength. Teiwaz, the Tyr rune, for protection.
She knew the lines and the curves like the back of her hand, knew how to entwine the solitary runes and bind them into a single, more powerful, whole. She’d spent years studying rune magic, learning how to write scripts and bindrunes, and had waited day after day for her Sigil to appear on her body.
And now it was too late. If the fear hadn’t jolted her magic awake, then nothing would.
Bitterness flooded her throat, or maybe it was blood. Danielle closed her eyes and let the warmth of the healing rune take her away.
And if there were tears in the corner of her eyes, if her breath came in hitches, if her hands shook and her chest heaved… Well, she’d just fallen out of a two-story building.
The last time someone had used a Healing rune on Danielle, it had been her dad. She’d been so young she couldn’t remember much about it.
“Stop,” Danielle said when Jamie began swaying with fatigue. His eyes fluttered open, a frown creasing his brow. “It’s just bruises now.”
Jamie looked like he wanted to protest, then his expression closed off and he nodded.
“Fine,” he said and stood up, dusting grass and dirt from his jeans. He turned and headed for the stairs that led to her balcony.
Danielle bit her lower lip and followed him upstairs. Jamie’s magic had healed most of the damage, but her body still felt sore. There was no doubt she’d wake up black and blue tomorrow.
Jamie was waiting inside her room. He was sitting on her bed, staring at the blue carpet with the kind of intense scrutiny he usually reserved for bullies and her potential boyfriends.
She closed the sliding door behind her, the sound echoing, and he still didn’t look at her. His left hand rose to clutch his pendant like he wanted to rip it off.
“Jamie,” Danielle finally said when the silence became suffocating. Jamie’s eyes rose to look at her, and she regretted having spoken at all.
“My god, Danielle. What were you thinking?”
She licked her dry lips, and winced as it stung where she must have bitten it. Jamie was never supposed to find out about this, let alone watch it.
“Look, I realize it wasn’t my most brilliant idea.”