The mist cloaked Nabila as she sat at the rough wooden table, hoping that the bench she was sitting on wouldn’t stab her in the ass with a splinter if she moved suddenly. Someone had carved a heart in crude curves into the top of the table and painstakingly added ‘R + L 4-ever’ inside it. She wondered who R and L were, and if they were still ‘4-ever’or if they’d broken up at some point between when she had been a little girl and sat at this table in the park and now, when she saw it in a vision. She didn’t know what it was supposed to represent but she wished it hadn’t been rendered with quite so much detail, especially when she never got to wear clothes in her visions.
When she’d opened her eyes to the familiar mist, the game board had been sitting empty in front of her, the statues lined up neatly at one side. She’d arranged them herself, five facing one; Shoshanna with her runed rod, the boy with his dragon, and the woman with the spear making the center of her defensive line. The other two pieces she kept back a space for both protection and as a last line of defense. She reached across to adjust the Shoshanna piece, wishing she could take it off the board and keep it somewhere safe, and felt the dragon turn its head, hot tongue flickering across the inside of her wrist.
Across from her thin line, the Brandon piece still knelt but he had stopped writhing and twisting. A corkscrew jutted from his carved chest like a spiralling sword, the stone around it already cracked and chipped. He stared across the board with sightless eyes but she still thought there was a focus to his glare and she felt a chill run up her spine when she followed the line of his eyes to the Shoshanna piece. She jerked a hand forward automatically and smacked the Brandon piece off the board, but when she blinked it had only reappeared in the same spot.
“I’m not going to let him hurt Shanna,” she snapped at the darkness gathering on the other side of the table. Something white glinted within it and she realized it was a smile, though there was no face attached.
The white hand slid out from the darkness and took hold of the corkscrew in the Brandon piece’s chest, twisting it until the stone around it suddenly cracked with a sound like the world breaking and fell away in a jagged circle. The Brandon piece screamed in agony, arching into a painful curve, as something huge and dark pushed its way from the hole in his chest, blindly seeking the light.
“Nabila! Wake up!” Shoshanna’s voice brought her back to her own bed and the sound of her own voice screaming in high tea kettle whoops of air. She gasped a breath and wrapped both arms around Shoshanna’s neck, clinging to her until she could breathe again, her heart still hammering painfully against her ribs.
“I’m okay,” she managed, though she wasn’t actually sure that was true. “That was awful, the worst I’ve ever had. Jesus.”
“You’re safe now.” Shoshanna kissed the top of her head, running calming fingers through her short hair. “Though I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from waking up to that noise.”
“Poor baby.” Nabila loosened her grip and pressed a kiss to the hollow of Shoshanna’s throat, comforted by the flutter of Shoshanna’s pulse beneath her lips. “What exactly do you know about Brandon?”
“Uh... Not a lot. He just brings me weed sometimes. I think maybe he works at a warehouse doing deliveries of actual legal stuff or something like that.” Shoshanna made the humming noise that meant she was thinking. “Though now that I’m thinking about it, there was something weird the day he came in. You know that crystal I used to have hanging over the door? After he left that day, I found it lying on the floor in about a million pieces. I always figured the string had snapped and dropped it.”
“Or he’s got something latent in him. Whatever it is, I think he’s our biggest danger, I just don’t know how, why, or when. I’ve tried telling him to back off for the sake of his friends, but he didn’t believe me when I told him he was dangerous.” She smiled wryly. “The curse of Cassandra strikes again.”
“So what do we do about it? Much as I’d like to take people out when they annoy me like some sort of magic Mafia, he hasn’t actually done anything.”
Shoshanna tickled her ribs until she squirmed away. “My point still stands. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” Nabila sighed. “I guess we just watch him and do what we can to protect ourselves. And Alejandro and his boyfriend. Speaking of, aren’t we supposed to be meeting that friend of yours, the worldwalker witch, tomorrow? Later today, I guess.”
“I still think you should just ask him to find Ciaran for us. He’s done it all before and I really don’t like the idea of you modifying such a powerful spell, especially the first time you even cast it.”
“Yeah, well, none of us have the kind of cash he wants, and fuck that noise anyway. I can handle it, you worrywart.”
Nabila pushed herself up and caught Shoshanna’s face in both hands, kissing her firmly. “I hope so,” she said, releasing Shoshanna after a long moment. “I really do.”
“Trust me.” Shoshanna snuggled back into her pillow. “Now go to sleep. Still have to open the shop in the morning.”
Nabila sighed silently and curled up under Shoshanna’s arm, resting a hand on the curve of Shoshanna’s hip. She lay awake for a long time, her thoughts circling endlessly inside her head, and only slept fitfully during the hour before dawn. She woke again when Shoshanna got up to go downstairs and open the shop, and spent another hour trying to go back to sleep before giving it up as hopeless and dragging herself into the kitchen for a monster mug of coffee.
She sleepwalked through the rest of the morning and dozed with her head on Shoshanna’s shoulder for most of the bus ride up to Richmond Hill, where the worldwalker lived in an expansive 3-storey house behind a tall iron fence. They stopped at the buzzer to announce themselves and Nabila reached out to trace the dragon design on the front gate, thinking uneasily of the dragon piece in her vision. She jumped when the gate swung suddenly and silently open, exchanged a glance with Shoshanna, and took Shoshanna’s hand for the walk up to the front door.
The worldwalker was a balding man in his forties, running to plump and genial enough. He answered the door himself and led them into a neat little sitting room where a pot of hot tea and a plate of cookies were waiting for them. Nabila bit her lip again a sudden attack of the giggles and made sure not to meet Shoshanna’s eyes as they took seats on the couch by the empty fireplace. After introductions all around—the worldwalker’s name was Calvin, which fit his thin brown hair and slight potbelly perfectly—and after he’d poured the tea, Calvin settled into his wingback chair and studied them with surprisingly blue eyes.
“Now, you said on the phone that this friend of yours vanished in the Caribbean?” he asked, steepling his fingers in front of his face.
“During a storm, apparently,” Shoshanna replied. “He was out with his boyfriend, the storm sank his boat, and he disappeared in the water.”
“Well, water is a powerful gateway, though I’ve never heard of people just... disappearing at random.” He continued but Nabila caught the words ‘temporal anomaly’ and decided to just tune him out; if Shoshanna actually understood anything he said in his self-important way, she would share it later.
She looked around the room while he chattered, taking in the expensive-looking paintings on the walls and a particularly tacky-looking rug just visible from a hallway beyond. Beside her Shoshanna shifted, her thigh pressing more firmly into Nabila’s; Nabila didn’t have to look at her to know that she was already regretting this. She tuned back in long enough to hear that at least Calvin was getting around to the subject of the world spell and forced herself to pay attention, putting on the polite little smile she usually used when someone came into the store specifically to tell them how witchcraft was fake.
“You’ll need water to cast this spell,” he was saying. “The more water, the more power you’ll be able to draw on. Do you actually know where you’re going?”
“No, but I’m going to combine a lost items spell with it,” Shoshanna replied.
Calvin made a ‘tsk’ sound of disapproval. “Well, it’s your skin, but if you ask me, you’re playing with fire.”
“I can handle it. I just need to know how to cast the spell itself.” Shoshanna’s thigh bumped Nabila’s again, the movement slight enough not to be seen. “Please and thank you.”
He sniffed. “Suit yourself, but I’m not cleaning up after you. At least be aware that even if you do manage to find the right world, which can be tricky even when you have an idea of where you’re going, you’ll be stepping through into a whole new place with a different set of rules. Cockiness will get you killed, and not only you, but anyone you choose to bring with you as well. Here you may be talented and unique. In other worlds, you will be nothing but an amateur.”
Shoshanna’s skin flushed darker along the high lines of her cheekbones but she nodded, taking the reprimand as gracefully as she was able to. Nabila slid a hand over and squeezed her fingers briefly, though privately she agreed with everything that Calvin had just said. “I understand. I still need to know the spell.”
He nodded and took a small spiral-bound notebook from his pocket, passing it across the table. “All the information you need is in there. If I were you, I’d study it very carefully before you even attempt this spell. And I will see you at your shop in the next few days for payment, before you cast anything more powerful than a charm. Are we agreed?”
“Agreed.” Shoshanna slid the notebook into the hip pocket of her jeans and stood, offering Calvin a hand. “I appreciate your help.”
He shook her hand without standing up. “If you do survive, be sure to tell me all about it.”
Shoshanna smiled at that. “Will do.” She offered her hand to Nabila and led the way out of the house, waiting until they’d passed through the gate to say, “What a dickhead.”
Nabila burst out laughing, clapping her free hand over her mouth to muffle it. “Just a little. He made a few good points though.”
“Don’t you start. I can do this.” She dug in her pocket as her phone rang. “And speak of the devil, it’s Alejandro.” She slid her finger across the screen to unlock it and held it up to her ear. “Hi.”
Nabila watched Shoshanna’s half of the conversation, which mostly consisted of saying ‘uh-huh’ a lot and occasionally rolling her eyes. They walked down to the bus stop while she talked and sat on the bench to wait for the next bus to come by. Nabila looked up at the grey clouds above them and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and trying to ignore the small twist of fear inside her stomach. She had a feeling that there was little she could do to stop their trip down this path now; like a rollercoaster ride it had already gone past the point of no return and all she could do was hold on to the bar and hope that the rails beneath her held.
“Okay,” Shoshanna said, bringing her from her thoughts. She glanced over and their eyes met briefly. “Give me a week to get everything pulled together and then we’ll try this spell out.”