Her hand shook as she drew a hasty pentagram around herself. Anxiety as a caged bird fluttered in her heart. She had to make it. It wasn’t too late to make this change.
The dust was swirling around her as she turned this and that way, her skirts disturbing the layers of dirt on the floor, but the state of her dress was the last thing on her mind. She whirled in a grotesque mimicry of a dance, trying to complete the circle as fast as she was able to.
Her hand was slippery with sweat, the chalk threatening to escape from her fingers every second. Her red curly hair was falling into her eyes, and she brushed it away with irritation.
Suddenly, the door to the library opened with a bang, which startled her deeply.
But the circle was complete now so that nothing could come in. Or come out.
Sheila was standing in the doorway. Her blond hair was tousled, long strands coming loose from the braid, and her skirts were also dirty and torn. Her arms were covered with blood from the battle, and she was breathing heavily from running.
“Madeleine, no!” she cried.
The redheaded witch in the circle thrust a warming hand at her.
“Don’t stop closer,” she warned. “There is nothing you can do now.”
With free hand, Madeleine continued scribing various symbols within the circle. Then she added ancient runes: a rune for ‘call’, a rune for ‘incarnation’, a rune for ‘binding’, and finally a rune for ‘power’. The book had said they could be drawn in any sequence, but that was how she remembered them.
“Please,” Sheila begged, making a step forward.
She could see that the circle was complete, and there was literary nothing she could do now. Her only hope was to distract the witch so that the spell is not pronounced.
“I know what you are trying to do,” she said, trying to sound as calm as possible. “But it won’t help. It’s not worth the risk. You have no idea what might happen!”
But Madeleine was deaf to any pleads. She just shook her head; her green eyes as she looked at Sheila were wide open and mad.
“This is the only way,” she whispered and started to read the incantation, her voice growing louder with every word. One by one the runes began to glow in the dark. The wind picked up inside the room, and soon the woman was surrounded by a swirling tornado of power that moved restlessly within the circle’s bounds.
Sheila felt tears stinging her eyes. It shouldn’t have come to this. It was unfair. Jacob was dead; nothing and nobody could bring him back. It was useless. She was going to lose not only her lover but her best friend as well.
A sudden burst of raw power blinded her momentarily. When she brushed tears from her eyes, she could see Madeleine stand rigidly in the circle; her face deadly pale. Then she swayed and collapsed on the floor.
Without a second thought, Sheila ran to her friend and crouched on the floor, cradling the woman’s head in her lap. Frantically, she pressed fingers to her neck and relief washed over her as she felt the pulse beating under the skin.
Gently the blond woman brushed the curly hair from Madeleine’s forehead. She had streaks of dirt on her cheeks, red claw marks on her forearms and the hem of her skirt was torn. They had been through a lot in the last few hours.
There had been a break-in into the castle – first, gargoyles, vicious and disgusting, then bats. Sheila had never seen so many bats in her life. Then there came a basilisk.
Why did the earl think that two female witches and a small group of knights would ever be enough to beat that kind of an army? But nobody questioned his or her masters. So they lined up altogether on the castle wall and fought back to back. The witches with their potions and chants, and the knights with their swords and arrows.
If only Jacob hadn’t been such a hero, if only he hadn’t felt himself being responsible for the only two women in the garrison. He wouldn’t have charged forward to try and take the basilisk by himself. One bite from a poisonous lizard, and he was a goner. Sheila knew it in an instant when his face was drained of all colour, as he collapsed on the stone floor.
Madeleine knew that too. And she, overtaken by grief and pain, charged the beast herself with the most powerful spells she knew. Oddly, Sheila felt only some kind of numbness at that moment. Perhaps, her gift had foreseen something like that happening.
She and Jacob had said their farewells the night before. It was, perhaps, the only possible outcome of this battle. She didn’t know what Jacob had said to Madeleine. She had seen them both conversing shortly, but whether that had been a goodbye or not, Sheila didn’t know. Back then she didn’t want to know.
And now this. The moment the battle was over, Madeleine stood broodingly over Jacob’s lifeless body, as Sheila was cuddling him and crying. And then she said something about knowing a spell to make him come back. And she ran off.
It took Sheila too long to understand what was happening. The lifeless body of her beloved didn’t quickly connect with an ancient book of incantations that Madeleine had recently discovered in the library.
They had spent days in the Earl’s library looking for the ways to stop a crazy Necromancer from destroying the castle on the spot. She remembered her red-haired friend finding a thick volume at the back of one shelf, quite craftily hidden behind the endless line of volumes devoted to the History of Ancient Times. Somewhere, where nobody would have ever thought to look.
Madeleine had been instantly taken with the book. She had read it through and through, although the old leather reeked of bad magic and many of the spells depicted in it were impossible to reconstruct. Still, she had spent hours and hours hunched over the book in the corner of the library.
Sheila had no idea what kind of spell Madeleine had performed. She could only guess that it was something to bring Jacob back. But as she sat there holding her friend in her arms nothing happened.
Suddenly, the redheaded witch stirred and her eyes flew open.
They were not her usual forest green, but the bright blue colour, the same as Jacob’s eyes had been.
A thin hand cupped Sheila’s cheek, and she stared down at a familiar face of her best friend, dumbstruck and afraid even to hope, as bloodless lips stretched in a weak smile.
“Hello, my love,” she said.
It was Jacob’s deep voice that said the words, but the lips were Madeleine’s that covered her own.