The Spell Tracker has arrived, and he intends to collect what he's owed. Luca is out of time. So is Cass, though she doesn't know it yet. And Devin's attempts to save them both only serve to give the Spell Tracker more leverage. Chapter twenty-six is the penultimate chapter. One way or another, the story is about to end!
You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-five via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading 💕.
26 A Sacrifice
his energy signature from our dealings in the magical dimension, but I would
never have connected it to the lanista without the visual cue. He normally
looked very different. No wonder I had felt so uneasy around him.
to say, Luca?”
Luca?” asked Devin.
boyfriend’s real name. Very little of what you know about him is true.”
Devin a helpless look. My fear expanded in a sudden rush, as if my emotions had
just caught up to the situation. It’s happening. I’ve failed. I turned
to the Spell Tracker. “He’s got nothing to do with this. Let him leave.”
I got a
nasty smile in response. “Nothing to do with this,” he repeated slowly. “How
so? Are you not connected?”
don’t have a contract with him,” I said, raising my voice.
someone please tell me what’s going on?” asked Cass.
leaving,” said Devin. He took a step closer to me, keeping one hand on Cass’s
shoulder, and the Spell Tracker’s smile widened.
audience. My favorite thing.” He opened his hand, palm facing upward, and slowly
closed his fingers to create a fist. Cass let out a scream of pain and shock.
Her back arched as her body tried to escape what the Spell Tracker was doing to
know what this is?” he asked.
With his other hand he created a wall of magic to
trap Devin and me. Struggle though we might, we could not get past it to help
Rescindo!” I said frantically. Of course, nothing happened. The Spell Tracker
was no fool. The terms of the contract between us meant I was unable to use
magic against him. I knew that, but I kept trying anyway.
he went on, “is me collecting what I am owed.” He lowered his hands and Cass
slumped forward, head bowed and shoulders heaving as she took in gulps of air. As
I bent over her, murmuring the healing spell, Devin launched himself at the Spell
Tracker. I had no time to remind him not to touch the skin. His fist barely grazed
its target before he recoiled with a gasp.
wonder why Luca chose you to connect with,” said the Spell Tracker, dismissing
the attempted punch with a shrug. “It obviously wasn’t because of your
intellect. Try that again and your sister will pay for your stupidity.”
raised her head slowly. “Now that you have our attention, what do you want?
What kind of twisted game is this?”
game,” he said. “You’ve already lost. You belong to me. As Luca belongs to me.”
I said. “You can’t take her.”
laugh. “Do tell me why not, Luca.”
lines of our contract tightened against my magical core and I did my best to
keep the pain from showing on my face. Devin lifted a hand to his own chest,
obviously feeling an echo of what was hurting me.
he said. “Who is he?”
might still accept her life lesson,” I said. “Give me the time you promised.
She’s so close.”
she’s close. Why else do you think I’m here? And I didn’t promise you anything
a life lesson?” said Cass.
good time,” said the Spell Tracker. “Have you remembered who I am yet?”
just for the record, I don’t belong to anyone.”
means put it on record while you still can,” said the Spell Tracker. He tilted
his head, looking her up and down with an impassive expression. “Pain and fear
have the tendency to reduce a person’s vocabulary quite dramatically. And, of
course, the dead say nothing at all.”
her chin. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m not afraid of dying.”
you’re not,” he agreed. “Dying is not your worst fear.” He lowered his voice. “But
I know what is. Timor pessimi.”
expression faltered. I had no idea what he’d shown her, but from the way she
was holding up two shaking hands to ward it off, he hadn’t pulled any punches.
Not so brave after all,” he said. “What a shame.”
bastard,” she managed, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. “Subjecting me to
a disgusting hallucination proves nothing. Bravery and fear aren’t mutually
he said, nodding.
Just take me and leave them alone. Aren’t I enough?” I said, squaring my
shoulders against the pain. “I won’t resist. I know how much you want the magic
of a Light Mage. Cass and Devin are nothing to you. Are you so petty you would
insist on killing all of us?”
Devin turned to me with identical expressions of shock. The Spell Tracker
laughed. “Oh, Luca. Well done. I think they’re finally paying attention.”
said Devin. “What’s going on? If he’s not the lanista, then who is he?”
believe you called me ‘the thing that’s worse than hell.’ I think that was it.
Am I right, Luca? One can never be certain of the nuances.”
his lips together. Through the connection I felt his fear rise, but he
swallowed it back down before he spoke. “So you’re an eavesdropper, too?
Spell Tracker smiled. “I should interact with my victims in their earthbound
covering more often. Your defiance is rather entertaining. I wonder how much
you’ll regret those brave words when I restore your magic and you recognize me
for who I really am.”
twisted with anticipation. “Would you fall to your knees and beg for mercy?
Would you renounce everyone you’ve ever loved if I asked you to?”
said Devin, backing away. “I don’t… I don’t have any magic.”
them go,” I said. “Devin isn’t even tied to one of your contracts. You’re threatening
him for your own amusement.”
Tracker smoothed a fold of his cloak. “Are you sure about that?”
“No,” I said,
horrified. “Y-you… that’s impossible.”
smiled and waited before answering me. “How quick you are to doubt yourself. Unfortunately,
you are correct.”
Cass?” I said angrily. “What’s your excuse for denying her the extra time? I get
why you want me, but you don’t need us both.”
where you’re wrong.” He scowled. “Do you know how long it took me to qualify to
be the Spell Tracker?”
that got to do with anything?”
know?” he repeated.
give a shit,” I replied.
scowl deepened. “It was all I ever wanted to be. As soon as I understood what
it was—the pinnacle of achievement for a Shadow Mage—my mind was made up.
on track to be the fastest qualifier in history. I was going to be the best
Spell Tracker the High Council had ever appointed. Until you.” He pointed
at me, then at Cass.
he talking about?” said Cass. I shook my head. I have no idea.
to step down next year. And I finally have a chance to even the score.”
particularly want to know, but at least if he was monologuing, he wasn’t
failed my life path. This branch of my life path,” he added, gesturing to the
Roman clothes he was wearing. “Because of you, Luca. Not only had I allowed… love,
but it had flourished to such a degree that a new guardian was created too. I
couldn’t be the Spell Tracker with that happening right under my nose. They
suspected me of compassion.” He practically spat the word. “It took
several more earthbound lives to convince them I possessed the right qualities
for the position.”
thought you weren’t allowed to see my life path,” I said. “You couldn’t have
known it was me.”
didn’t,” he agreed. “But I knew it was her.” He pointed at Cass. “She
was saved by a guardian’s sacrifice. The only magician in my personal life path
with that honor. When I became the Spell Tracker I couldn’t believe my luck
when I found out she was bound to one of my contracts. I’ve been watching her.
Watching and waiting. Supporting her failures, shall we say.”
the reason for the blackouts,” said Devin, catching on first. “You hid
the notes. God, you really are despicable.”
you,” he said. “I try.”
that, Luca? I never mentioned any of this to you when we agreed our contract? No.
I did not. Allow me to rectify that oversight.”
Tracker came closer. He reached inside the illusion of my physical covering to
put his hand around my heart and my magic. The pain was excruciating. The edges
of my vision grayed out.
pushed Devin and Cass away with a spell when they tried to rescue me. I
swallowed down a sob. The blade in the Colosseum hurt less than this. I
wished I could tell them to run, but there was nowhere in the earthbound
dimension he wouldn’t be able to find Cass. And Devin wasn’t likely to leave
either of us.
be taking you, and the girl, and enforcing your contracts because you are the
reason I will be remembered as an ordinary Spell Tracker rather than an
extraordinary one. I trained you both to die when I was your lanista,
and you will finally make good on your obligation.”
removed his hand and I dropped to my knees, gasping.
enjoy every second of your torment,” he went on. “Especially when she knows you
for who you are and realizes you failed to save her.”
rushed over and put his arms around my shoulders. “Are you OK? Avi, say
something. It hurt so much,” he said. “I can only imagine what it was like for
sweet,” said the Spell Tracker. “It seems you’re still inspiring love, even
now, Luca. What a great loss to guardian-kind you’ll be. Say your goodbyes.
It’s time to leave this dimension.”
Love? Devin looked me in the eyes and didn’t
deny it. I held onto his arms and focused on the connection. Me too. He
smiled. Then he spoke, and it was like the Spell Tracker’s hand was clutching
my heart again.
me,” said Devin. “Take me instead.”
Cass and I spoke at the same time. Devin ignored us.
much more valuable to the world than I am, and my sister deserves a proper
I continued to protest, but the Spell Tracker held up a hand and silenced us. I
got to my feet and curled my fingers into fists. Cass stood next to me,
radiating anger. Before I could take a step toward him, the Spell Tracker
smirked and immobilized us both.
unexpected,” he mused, looking at Devin. “I wonder… Yes. It might work very
well. The knowledge of what you suffered will be a burden to them the likes of
which I could never hope to replicate. However…” He paused. “However. You can
only save one of them. I will exchange one contract for another. One
name. That’s all.”
anticipation had returned to his expression when he faced me. I struggled
against the magic holding me prisoner but failed to overcome it.
only imagine what you’re trying to say, Luca. What if he saves you? Leaving you
all alone while I do my worst. I wonder how many assignments you’ll fail after
that. All of them, probably.”
my teeth and he laughed. “More likely, he’ll save his sister. Is that what you
want, Luca? Are you sure? Look at her.”
forced me to turn. Cass was watching both of us with tears falling down her
long do you think she’ll last once I start torturing her brother? I imagine she
won’t be able to live with herself. The guilt will cling to her life path and she’ll
never escape it. You and he are all she has left, aren’t you?”
done?” asked Devin, sounding remarkably calm. My anger was rising and rising.
countered the Spell Tracker. “Do you have a name for me?”
tell you the name once the agreement is in place,” said Devin. “I don’t trust
you. I want Avi to check everything. He obviously knows how magical contracts
work, and I don’t want you to be able to twist your way out of it.”
wish.” I was released from the restraining spell with a flick of his fingers.
do this,” I said immediately.
doing it,” said Devin. “You might as well help me; otherwise, he’ll kill us
For a few
moments we had a silent almost-conversation, our emotions swirling eloquently
between us. Devin wasn’t going to change his mind. I pulled my emotions back
before I revealed too much about the direction my thoughts were headed.
have to save Cass,” I told him.
Spell Tracker laughed. “So predictable.”
don’t know as much as you think you do, Spell Tracker. Devin is a Light Mage.
If he sacrifices himself for his sister, he’ll graduate his life path and your
contract with him will be void.
I promise,” said Devin.
Spell Tracker weaved the four of us into a new contract. I checked the symbols
carefully but he did not deceive us. As soon as Devin spoke his chosen name,
that magician would be released from their contract for Devin to be bound in
when the Spell Tracker stops the heart of Devin’s physical body, Devin will
become a guardian and Cass will have another chance.
contract says Avi, doesn’t it? Not Luca?” asked Devin.
replied the Spell Tracker. “I have to use earthbound names because that is our
current dimension. Not that it matters if you stick to your original choice.”
frowned. “You promised,” I told Devin.
And I’ll keep my promise. It’s just… the name is important to me. I don’t care
if that makes me sentimental. To me, you’re Avi.”
Spell Tracker gave sigh of irritation as he finished what he was doing. He felt
as uncomfortable in the presence of love as I did in the presence of fear. “The
contract is complete. Get on with it.”
checked again and nodded. “It’s ready.”
wouldn’t release Cass so that Devin could say goodbye to her properly. Damn
him.He’s so determined to make this as difficult for her as possible.
kept me waiting long enough. I’m allowing this change as a favor, in case
you’ve all forgotten. Get on with it.”
looked at me and Cass, one after the other. He smiled. “I love you both,” he
said. “I promise you this is my choice. I want to do this. You’ll make me very
happy if you accept that. Look after her,” he added to me.