TRIGGER WARNING: This story includes a description of violence against a woman within the context of sexual activity.
by T. Mack
Miranda Hemlock woke up with her throat burning, her neck aching, her head throbbing, and her body rocking. Her adrenaline was spiked and her brain was panicked. She felt herself in full fight or flight mode. For a single moment, she couldn’t remember why. Then it all came back to her.
A perfectly pleasant dinner with her young lover followed by an hour of love making. The sex tonight hadn’t been rough the way they sometimes liked to play. And they hadn’t talked about anything alternative or particularly kinky for this evening. They’d just enjoyed themselves in basic ways that didn’t require pre-discussion.
Miranda had still been enjoying herself, moaning softly, her eyes closed, when she felt Franklin’s hands around her neck. At first, she thought nothing particular of it. Then he’d started to squeeze. The pressure was light at first, even gentle, and Miranda didn’t really mind. But Franklin didn’t stop. His hands continued to tighten around her neck. Miranda’s dark eyes flew open and grew wide as they met those of the man on top of her. Franklin was perfectly calm, the expression on his beautiful face never changing as he continued to move inside her while tightening his hold on her windpipe.
Miranda began fighting, clawing at Franklin’s hands, then at his arms, neck, and face. She tried to buck beneath him to throw him off her, but he didn’t budge other than to keep moving his hips against hers. As Miranda lost the ability to breathe and started seeing tiny spots before her eyes, true panic set in. She fought harder, but every move she made seemed to help his hold on her neck. She clawed at Franklin’s hands, arms, and face. She felt skin and blood give way beneath her fingernails, but he didn’t seem to notice. As her vision tunneled and turned black, Miranda looked up into the handsome face of the boy she’d come to care about so much. For the first time, she wondered if she’d helped him become bound to a demon, or actually helped him become one. It was the last thought she had before the world went black.
When Miranda woke, she had no idea how much time had passed. Franklin was still on top of her, pumping his hips in a steady rhythm, moving inside her. He hadn’t stopped when she’d lost consciousness.
His hands were no longer around her throat and his eyes were closed. His brows furrowed with concentration and his breathing came quick and loud through his flared nostrils. Miranda didn’t move. When Franklin had strangled her, she’d thought he was killing her. Maybe he had, too. If he found out she was still alive beneath him, he might try again.
It occurred to Miranda that she should close her eyes again before he saw that she was conscious. Before she could, Franklin’s eyes flew open and locked with her wide, terrified ones. He kept the eye contact while he started to move faster toward his climax. Then he grinned. It was a wide smile that showed all his teeth. To Miranda, it felt sinister and she grew more afraid. As if he could feel her terror and somehow took pleasure from it, Franklin climaxed while Miranda’s fear spiked. He was perfectly still for several seconds after, his eyes closed again as he reveled in his ecstasy. Miranda didn’t move, either, wondering if he would try to kill her again.
Without a word, he rolled off her, retrieved his clothes from the floor, and strolled out of her bedroom.
Miranda stayed still on the bed, listening as Franklin used her hall bathroom to quickly clean and dress. After that, she heard him walk out her front door. Miranda jumped up and ran to the door to lock it securely behind him. She spent the next hour in the shower trying to wash the feeling and memory of him away. She used an entire bar of soap and several cleansing herbs.
While she scrubbed, Miranda thought of all she could have done during those terrifying moments if she were a true Sorceress. As a Witch Practitioner, she could utilize magic in spells and potions. As a Licensed Witch Practitioner, she could even sell her services, wares, and expertise. But if she were a Sorceress, Miranda would be able to create magic and harness it fully. A Sorceress could have launched Franklin across the room with a flick of her finger or even a simple thought. She could have bound his hands to his own neck and made him squeeze until he’d been the one to feel the panic of not being able to breathe. A Sorceress could have shrank his penis to the size of a peanut or made it long enough to be shoved up his own backside. Then she could have done it.
Miranda kept her mind occupied with all the creative ways she could have handled today’s situation as a Sorceress. And she kept reminding herself that she wouldn’t be an apprentice forever. She would complete her training with her Mistress and be a Sorceress soon enough. In the meantime, however, she still had some magic at her disposal.
In her kitchen, Miranda stood wrapped in her bathrobe while she prepared her potion. She crushed yellow carnation leaves to encourage her heart to reject affection, added mint to create a fresh start, ginger to cleanse her pallet, and several other less pleasant items from her craft cupboard. The mixture didn’t take long to prepare, and Miranda swallowed half of it as soon as it was ready.
Afterward, she cast a modified unbinding spell to disconnect herself from Franklin and him from her. She sprayed the remaining potion in every corner of her home and recited the spell again and again as she moved through the space. When she was done, she felt confident that she’d succeeded in unwelcoming Franklin from her life and home as well as giving herself the boost she needed to get over him (and possibly this incident) more quickly.
She was almost satisfied, but not quite.
* * *
Miranda didn’t wait until the next day to go see her Mistress. Instead, she went the same night and knocked on the door of the small wooden cottage deep in the woods to the East of the city. The woman who answered the door was tall and willowy. Her back was curved so that she was permanently bent over. Her long, silver hair draped forward past her ears to hang in curtains in front of her shoulders and chest. When she walked, the hair swayed right to left like the branches of a willow tree blowing in a gentle breeze. Her skin was darker, softer, and more wrinkled than Miranda’s. However, her dark eyes were still bright with intelligence, mischief, and more than a little psychic foresight.
“Good evening, Mistress,” said Miranda as soon as the door opened. She bowed her head slightly and did not look up again until after the woman spoke.
“Come in, Miranda,” said her Mistress, who had already turned and headed across her living room and back toward the kitchen. Her feet scraped along the worn wooden floor as she walked. “Lock the door behind you and come have some tea.”
Miranda followed the older woman into the bright kitchen and sat down at the round table at one end, where there was already a steaming mug waiting for her.
“There’s a bit of brandy in it to calm your nerves,” said her Mistress.
Miranda took a sip of the tea and felt her entire body relax. Her heart rate and breathing both slowed, though she hadn’t noticed before that either was quickened. She opened her mouth to say something, but her Mistress waved her hand to dismiss it before Miranda could get it out. She sat in the chair directly across from Miranda and spoke.
“Yes. It has a bit of magic as well. You need it tonight. I know what has happened. And I know what you want me to help you do.”
Miranda was not surprised. She’d gotten used to her Mistress’s psychic abilities. She actually found that it often saved them both a lot of time and energy. Her Mistress always understood exactly what Miranda needed without being asked. Miranda had never been more grateful for her Mistresses’ gift than she was tonight. She needed her Mistress to understand her situation, but the last thing she wanted was to relive it by having to tell the story of what happened. The woman’s ability saved her from the arduous task.
“Here’s what you don’t understand, Miranda. That boy isn’t yours to deal with anymore. He’s already sealed his fate and will be appropriately punished for every one of his misdeeds, including the one you’ve suffered. He’s not worth our time, little SorcerMiss. Trust me. We have bigger fish to fry.”
Miranda was disappointed by the Mistresses’ dismissal of the one who’d hurt her, but she found that she wasn’t angry. The magic she’d spun had started working quickly. She felt distanced from her ex-lover even now. Already her mind didn’t bring his name forward when she thought of him. Her Mistress had assured her that he would receive his comeuppance. So Miranda was willing to trust that it would happen as her Mistress had said.
Miranda knew that she was only able to accept her Mistress’ words so readily because of the magic she’d worked on herself. She was grateful again for the gift of magic. Not every woman was so fortunate to be able to clean things like this attack from her mind so quickly or easily. Not everyone had the knowledge and skill to create potions to dull love, hurt, fear, and unwanted memories.
Miranda was glad she was a woman who did. She sat back and took another sip of tea from the steaming mug she’d forgotten she was holding. She smiled when she realized that her Mistress had just used the sweet pet name she had for her: SorcerMiss. Then she focused on her mentor.
“What pressing business do we have, Mistress?”
The old woman took her time answering. For a full minute she just sat looking at Miranda, squinting slightly, as if assessing whether or not her apprentice might be ready for the task at hand. “I have taken a commission,” she said at last, “and it must be completed.”
“You know I am always happy to help you with any—”
“Do not be so quick to speak your eagerness and offer your services this time. This job is outside the limits of what the law allows. And it may not be within the bounds of your own moral standard.”
Miranda chuckled. “I did sign up to train as a Dark Sorceress, did I not? Surely that means that I am willing to color outside the lines, Mistress.”
“Light and Dark are not as White and Black as people believe. The terms speak mostly to the ways in which we choose to access magic and how deep we are willing to dig into ourselves and others to harness it. Light magic is harder because it uses less pain, less blood, less flesh and bodies. It does not rely on the sacrifice that Dark magic does. So while Dark magic requires more from the practitioner, we are arguably able to get more from the craft because we are willing to give more to it. But that doesn’t mean that those on the side of Light are good and those of us on the side of Dark are bad. They have horrible people who do horrible things without requiring pain on the front end. And we have self-sacrificial saints who give of themselves and their own pain to make certain others are always spared. Whether your methods are Light or Dark, it is up to you to decide what kind of Sorceress you will be. And the time for that decision has come.”
Miranda did not speak. She wasn’t sure what to say. But she needn’t have worried. Her Mistress didn’t wait for a response. Instead, she rose slowly and carefully from her chair, and retrieved a small black box that Miranda hadn’t noticed on the counter next to the sink. She sat again, this time in the chair next to her student. She placed the box on the table beside them.
“This box contains two bags. Each bag holds the Essence of a woman: a bit of hair with the root still attached, a few flakes of skin, a small token that means a great deal, and a piece of fabric that carries her scent. The first Essence is of the woman who purchased the commission. The second Essence is the woman she has asked to have killed.”
Miranda started. She must have misunderstood. She knew of Essences and that they could be used to manipulate individuals, their thoughts, emotions, and even their actions on occasion. She’d never heard of them being used to kill someone. And she’d definitely never known her Mistress to talk of killing, let alone taking money to do so.
“I’m sorry, Mistress. I’ve misunderstood. You—”
“No, you haven’t. I took an illegal contract to kill someone using magic. The client is a wife and mother. The woman she has asked us to kill is her husband’s lover, who is attempting to become pregnant with the man’s child so he will leave his family. The wife will be destitute if the husband leaves.”
Miranda was again speechless. Her Mistress was going to kill an innocent woman? Well, not innocent, apparently. But still, not deserving of death.
“I am assigning this job to you, Miranda. It is the final assignment I am giving you as your Mistress. You may accept or decline it. Either way, your time as my apprentice will be at an end. It is simply up to you to decide how your apprenticeship ends.”
“I don’t understand what that means.”
The two women sat for several minutes looking at each other, Miranda’s anxious confusion a stark contrast to her Mistress’ calm patience.
The Mistress spoke first. “This must be done tonight. The hour of completion draws nigh. I will leave you to make your decision.”
The older woman got up from her chair slowly and shuffled out of the room. Miranda sat staring at the black box and wondering what she was supposed to do. The right thing, of course, would be to say no to the task. Killing anyone was utterly unthinkable. Killing a (kind of) innocent woman was absolutely deplorable. Yes, it was wrong that she was trying to steal someone else’s husband, but that was just justification. There was no way Miranda could even consider this. It was outrageous. How could her Mistress even think to ask it of her? Of course Miranda wouldn’t kill anyone.
However, if she didn’t complete this task, she wouldn’t become a Sorceress. She would be dismissed from her apprenticeship and lose years and years of hard work. She would have to start all over under someone else. If someone else would even take her on as an apprentice after she’d already been dismissed once before.
Miranda desperately wanted to be a Sorceress. It was her dream. It was everything she’d worked toward for more than a decade, for her entire adult life. She’d worked so hard for it. She’d earned it, dammit. She deserved it. It was her destiny, her right! Plus, she needed to be a Sorceress. She needed to be powerful enough to protect herself. She needed to make certain she would never again feel as helpless as she had earlier.
Was she willing to kill for it, though? Could she really take a life just to get what she desired? She desperately wanted the answer to be no. She wanted to value someone else’s life more than her own ambition. She wanted to be a good person, an upstanding citizen, a champion of women, and someone who would never use magic, even Dark magic, to do such dark things. But she feared that wasn’t the case. She was afraid that her own selfish ambition, need, and fear would cost a woman her life tonight.
Miranda felt tears on her cheeks. They were hot and tickled her skin as they rolled down her face. She didn’t wipe them away. They needed to be shed. They were tears for the selfish woman who had tried to take someone else’s husband and would die for it. And they were tears for the part of herself that would die tonight along with the unfortunate mistress.
Miranda’s Mistress entered the room. She did not ask which decision Miranda had made. She simply sat back down in her chair, opened the box, and began to guide Miranda through the ritual.
Once they were done, Miranda sat back in chair, physically and emotionally drained. Her Mistress put the remains of the Essences back into the box and pushed it away from them toward the center of the table.
“The effect of what we’ve done is quick. Within the hour, that woman will be dead. When she is, you will no longer be my apprentice. So it is time for me to teach you your final lessons. Listen and learn them well.”
Miranda turned her wet face toward her Mistress. Her tears had kept flowing throughout the ritual, but she hadn’t let herself stop. And she had never wiped them away. The front of her shirt was also soaked with the salty water from her eyes. She didn’t care. She just wanted this entire thing to be over so she could gain her magic and move on with her life. Even though it meant someone else wouldn’t be able to move on with theirs.
Miranda took a deep, shaky breath and focused on her Mistress. “I am listening and ready to learn these final teachings.”
The old woman nodded and began teaching her charge four important lessons:
Lesson one: Death Magic with Essences
Essence power can work many different ways. It’s easy enough to read up on most of them. It’s simple, uncomplicated magic. What you learned tonight, however, is not easy knowledge to come by as it is illegal or morally corrupt. It is the death magic of Essences. That is why I had to teach you this if you were to learn it. Because you will not find these instructions elsewhere. When Essences are used for death magic, the Essence of the one killed is granted to the one who requested the kill. This means that the possessor of the second Essence – the woman who doesn’t die tonight – will gain aspects from the woman who passes. She may gain positive aspects of her personality like courage, confidence, and poise. She may gain physical attributes like grace, flexibility, or stamina. If the woman is Magical at all, she would gain the woman’s powers. However, she may also get more unpleasant things from her victim. She could receive any mental conditions like anxiety, depression, or struggles with addictions. She could possibly begin to suffer from physical conditions the victim had, like diabetes, a weak heart, or migraines. If both women are Magical, the survivor could find her own abilities affected negatively by changes. If the dying woman is Non-Magical and the survivor is Magical, that survivor could lose her power all together. This is, of course, because magic has consequences, and they are often unpredictable.
Lesson two: Magic and Science
Many people believe that magic and science are mutually exclusive. However that’s not true. Sometimes, they are the same thing and people just don’t understand them yet. Other times, they share similar rules. Often, they are completely juxtaposed and work in totally opposite ways. But that doesn’t mean either of them is ever really undermined by the other. Understanding one means understanding the other better. Appreciating both will make you a better Sorceress. Here’s an example of what I mean. The first law of thermodynamics is this: Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but transferred from one form to another. The same is true for magic. It exists, can be manipulated and utilized, but new magic is never created from nothing. Neither is it ever used up until is completely gone. Magic simply is. We transfer it from one form to another. But in all forms, it still exists.
Lesson three: Don’t Assume… Know
Magic is no small thing, no basic weapon. When you yield it, you must know what you’re doing and what the outcome—and all the possible outcomes—will be. You cannot guess. You cannot assume. You cannot be pretty certain. You must be absolutely sure. Because magic has consequences. It is your job to know what they are each and every time you perform the craft. If you are not 110% clear on what will happen on the other end of a potion, spell, or ritual, you must not work it. You must refrain, be patient, bide your time, and gain the appropriate knowledge until you become aware of the true cost of the magic you perform. Non-Magicals will rush in. They will ask you for magic and you will try to tell them the price that must be paid. They will not listen. You must always remind them that magic has consequences. Still, they will forfeit that crucial knowledge to gain their desires. That is their choice. However, you must not make that mistake. You must know. You are the one with the power, so you must also be the one with the knowledge. And when they come to you later and ask, “Why didn’t you tell me?” You will be able to say to them, “Because you didn’t ask.” Or you may say, “I tried. You did not want to listen. You only wanted what you wanted. Now you have it.”
Lesson four: Magic Has Consequences
All magic has a price and a tax, Miranda. There is a price paid on the front end to be able to cast the magic. And there is a tax on the back end once the deed is complete. It works like this. Magic demands a sacrifice. It may be blood, flesh, pain, strength, energy, or a host of other possibilities. This is why Dark magic is in a way easier. It is often easier to fuel a spell or potion by pouring a bit of blood into the mix than by pouring our own energy into it. Either way, though, something was given to make the magic happen. That’s the price. After the magic is cast, however, there is a tax in the form of consequences. Using magic is like making a wish with a genie. You get what you asked for, but you will typically get something less than desirable that you didn’t want. Up until now, most of your magic as a simple witch practitioner has been mild enough that the tax has been minimal. The one exception to this is the spell you gave to a boy some years ago. It was bigger than either of you realized and the consequences for him are and will continue to be infinitely severe. That’s not your fault, though. He made a choice. And someone did try to explain to him what would happen. He chose not to listen. If you had known the consequences of the spell, you would have tried to tell him as well. He wouldn’t have listened to you, either.
The old woman cleared her throat. Miranda jumped up and retrieved a glass of water for her. The woman took several small sips and sat the glass down on the table. She didn’t thank Miranda, but continued her speaking.
“These four lessons all come together now, Miranda. You’ve performed death magic with Essences. One woman will die. The other will gain what she gives up, because magic, like energy, is neither created nor destroyed. When you made the decision to perform the ritual, you made an assumption and did not ask the right questions to know what might happen. Now, there will be consequences.”
The old woman sat back in her chair and sighed deeply, as if all the talking had taken all the energy she had.
“What do you mean, Mistress? What question didn’t I ask?”
“You didn’t ask what would happen if you refused to perform the task.”
“You told me that I would be dismissed as your apprentice.”
“No, Miranda. You assumed that. I told you nothing. Because you did not ask.”
Miranda started. She tried to think back to the short time ago before she’d made the horrible decision to kill a woman for her own gain. Surely, she’d asked the question. Surely, she’d tried every way to figure out how not to kill someone. Surely…
“You still haven’t asked. But time is running short so I will simply tell you,” said the old woman, sounding a bit winded, though she was still sitting in her chair. “If you had chosen not to perform the death magic, I would not have taught it to you. Instead, I would have used the Essences to show you a transfer of power spell that can strip one Sorceress of her power and transfer it to another. Because the Essences in the box were mine and yours, no one else’s.”
Miranda became a bundle of confusion, ideas flying through her brain, trying to coalesce into a single thought, but not finding a place to land and connect. “What? I don’t… What are you talking about?”
“This is how Sorceresses are born. Through the sacrifice of magic by a Mistress to her apprentice. Magic is neither created nor destroyed, only transferred. I cannot simply make you a Sorceress, Miranda. I must give you the power I have. Had you not done the death magic, I would have done so.”
All the thoughts fluttering in Miranda’s head suddenly plummet into her stomach. She felt sick. “But I did the death magic.”
“You did. And because death magic of Essences transfers magic, you will still receive my power and become a Sorceress. It will simply mean a different outcome for me.”
Miranda’s eyes widened and she bolted up from her chair, which flew to the floor behind her. She finally understood the final lessons and what they meant.
“You said it was a wife and her husband’s lover. You said it was some random woman who was trying to steal someone else’s husband.”
“To everyone else, I am some random woman. Every random person is someone special to somebody. And once upon a time, that mistress was me.”
“You didn’t tell me!” cried Miranda.
“You didn’t ask,” replied her Mistress calmly.
Miranda’s tears, which had stopped their streaming some time ago, returned in full force, pouring down her face. She tried to control her breathing and contain her sobs. She was unsuccessful.
She fell to her knees in front of the old woman, who laid a hand gently on her head.
“It is our way, SorcerMiss. You must make a choice in the end. It must be the most difficult of your life. It must have the most severe of consequences. And it must change who you are so that the person you have been before is gone and the Sorceress you will be will never forget the lessons she has learned.”
Miranda put her head on the woman’s lap and wept. Her Mistress stroked her head and hummed softly. They stayed that way until the humming stopped and old woman’s hand fell limply to her side. Miranda stayed there, on her knees, crying into the lap of a woman who could no longer comfort her, until well after the woman’s body began to grow cold.