She closed the book and watched as it turned to dust. The particles spiraled in the air and poured themselves into a violet glass bottle that, once filled, transformed into a rough gray stone she dropped on the earthen floor. Turning, she selected a crimson bottle from the shelf, poured some of its contents into a wooden cup and mixed in some red wine. She shuddered as her long black hair turned gray and wiry, and her bones shrank and bowed. Her skin hung in loose folds; her hands became gnarled claws.
Wrapping herself in a worn gray shawl, she began to light bowls filled with white sage and lavender until the fragrant smoke filled the air. She gathered polished pieces of onyx and laid some in the four corners of the room. The remaining pieces she slipped in her pocket. From a wooden box she selected a shimmering sphere of gold with flecks of red bright as fresh blood. As soon as she touched it, the red began to form itself into words that floated within the liquid. She dropped the sphere into a worn leather pouch that hung on her belt.
The wind rose. It howled against the house seeping through the cracks in the walls, dissipating the aroma of sage and lavender. Soon he would arrive.
She knew he would find her. She had helped steal the necromancer’s book of spells, and his wrath would be fearsome. But she wielded a deep magic of her own and had stayed in the village so the others could escape.
When the door opened, however, a boy hovered there. He was ragged, small, and blond with large blue eyes. Summer eyes.
“Pardon me, Missus,” he said. “I’m lost, and a storm is coming.”
“Poor child, come in,” she said. “Nothing can harm you here.”
He shivered as the wind screamed in fury. “I’m afraid.’
She muttered, and the smell of baking bread began to fill the room. “Nothing to fear. I’ve got fresh bread and cheese and a good soup cooking in the back room.”
“People say you’re a witch.”
“And what do you say, boy?”
She saw a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes, and she wanted to smile.
“Well, come or go as you please,” she said. “Just shut the door. I’m an old woman, and the wind’s cold. Me old bones ache with it.”
He entered and closed the door. “My mother came this way,” he said. “She told me to hide in the village, but I was afraid.”
“I’m sure she’ll come back soon. Come along before the bread burns.”
He walked towards her then stopped abruptly in the middle of the room, his eyes turning cold as a frozen lake. “I cannot move.”
“Where is my book?”
“We’ll play a game,” she said. “If you find it, you get to keep it, but you get only one guess.”
“I’ll kill you.”
She smiled. “I think not. You know the rules. You entered the house freely. You now stand in the center of the holy pentacle. Earth,wind, fire, air, and I am spirit. You will agree, Zander, or surrender all power.”
“Damn you.” He folded his arms and scanned the room. “Very well,” he said at last. “The blue bottle. No. Give me that rock.”
He pointed to the very rock she had created, but she had no choice. She had set the rules of the game. Hurrying to the pile she picked it up.
“Wait,” he said. “You seem too eager.”
Slowly she raised her head. “No.” She allowed her left hand to clutch the pouch hanging from her belt.
“Put it down.”
“Are you sure?”
“I see how your mind works. You’re more clever than I thought. You believed I would choose something plain so you hid it in something rare.”
She said nothing.
“What’s in the pouch?”
“Nothing. Just some polished stones. I sell them or give them away.”
“Let me see it.”
“You can only pick one.”
He dumped the pouch on the floor. Quickly he sorted through the beads of lapis and gold and garnet before he touched a green glass bead that seemed to have captured the ocean on a sunny day inside. Each time he rolled it, waves crashed up against the sides.
“A traveler,” he murmured.”You might have sent it out to sea.”
He selected a bead that appeared filled with fog. “The bead of lost dreams. If you stowed it here, it is gone forever. I don’t think you would do that.”
He came at last to the gold bead with its changing red markings and smiled. “This is rare. The bead of making. Where better to hide the book? It would become indestructible.”
“That is your choice? You’re sure?”
“So be it, my son.”
The bead began to glow and the words began to swirl faster and faster until they encircled his body. His face elongated, and he grew taller and more solid until he appeared to be a lad of about sixteen. When the room filled with red and gold light, he raised his arms in triumph, and she whispered, “Unmake.”
He shrieked, collapsing to the floor. “What have you done to me?”
She felt herself returning to normal: her spine straightening, her skin tightening, and her hair growing dark. She touched the rock. Particles flew up and reassembled into the book. Her book. She snatched up the violet bottle.
“I performed the spell of unmaking, Zander. I should never have let you dabble in dark magic. To go to such extremes. Stealing my book? Setting yourself up as the necromancer? Going to war with the king? Are you insane?”
“You do magic all the time, Mother. You’ve never let me have any fun.”
“War isn’t a game. You won’t be doing any magic for a long time, young man. Just wait till your father gets home. If he’s been hurt in battle, I’ll turn you into a garden slug.”