I stared at Thorin. “Wait, so if Morghan’s mom wasn’t the mysterious healer of Bastian, then who was?”
I saw Morghan edging back out of the corner of my eye; a quick glance at Thorin told me he noticed it too. I wondered briefly if she was going to help her mother, but it didn’t matter much now, her mother didn’t have the answers we were looking for anyway. I don’t know how she expected to heal her broken leg, but there was plenty of time to get her to a medic.
“I don’t know,” sighed Thorin, running a hand over his face. A voice deep inside me whispered about how good he looked right now, but I pushed the voice deep down, reminding myself that my foster family was the mortal enemy of the royal family, and that he was only speaking to us because he needed my perspective to try and solve his kingdom’s mysteries. There was no promise that he wouldn’t turn around and kill us all the moment we figured out who killed his brother, Priamos, but at least for now, I could count him, if not a friend, at least a tentative ally.
Though, at the rate we were going, we would never find out who killed Priamos. Every question we answered seemed to reveal two more mysteries, like a hydra that just wouldn’t be beaten. I hoped that this wouldn’t be another instance of that, but the dreadful pit in the bottom of my stomach told me it likely would be.
Just then, Morghan gave a scream, sounding like her soul was being torn from her, and took off through the door and out into the open fields. Running after her, Thorin and I stopped dead at what we saw.
“Emily?” Thorin whispered. “Is this… please tell me I’m imagining this.”
I stood, speechless, unable to reassure him. Morghan was kneeling in the middle of the field, still wailing, and all around her, the plants wilted, turned brown, then black and shriveled, before finally turning to dust and blowing away with the hot breeze.
“I have done everything right!” Morghan screamed to the sky. “I have helped people, and I have hidden this from everyone! From, my family, from my best friend, even from Jasion!”
I furrowed my brow in confusion. I didn’t know who this Jasion man was, or why Morghan spoke as though he was the most important person to her.
Before I could speak, Thorin stepped forward. “Morghan,” he called. “You’re a-” he swallowed. “You’re a necromancer, aren’t you?”
I saw Morghan shiver at the word. “Not just any necromancer,” she whispered to the ground. “The one they call Death-hand.”
I heard Thorin inhale a sharp intake of breath next to me and wondered what I was missing. I had never heard of Death-hand, but my friend must be formidable to cause such fear from the strong warrior Prince Thorin.
Morghan raised her head, brushing her raven hair from her face. “I hate this power,” she breathed. “It does nothing but hurt people. I never wanted to hurt anyone, but when I go too long without using it…” She trailed off, and I couldn’t help but wonder what could be so bad that it made my gentle best friend willing to hurt people. “I only ever hurt people that were causing more harm than good. On both sides of the war.”
“So that’s why everyone thought it was a rogue operative. You were just trying to cause as little death in the war as possible, even though you were on the side of the rebels,” Thorin said, like it all made sense now. Which, for the record, it did not.
Morghan flinched. “I was not on the side of the rebels!” she hissed. “My family may have been the leaders of the rebellion after Emily’s parents died, but I never wanted war!”
“Morghan,” I said, finally able to make my voice work. “How did you find out you were a…” I couldn’t say it. For my kind, gentle friend to be a witch? And not just any kind of witch, but a necromancer. It would be bad enough if she was one of the elemental witches, or even just a storm witch, but for her to control death itself? She would have to hide forever.
Morghan looked miserable. “Do you really want to know?” I nodded in response. She took a deep breath, then trailed her arm out toward me. “Take my hand. I promise it won’t hurt you. I can control my power well enough to keep you safe.”
I reached out, but before I could grab her hand, Thorin yanked me back. “How do we know this isn’t a trick?” he murmured.
“We don’t. But I trust her. And that’ll have to be enough.” Thorin searched my eyes, then nodded, dropping my arm. He stepped toward Morghan, reaching out his hand, but she jerked back.
“No, Prince.” As always, she said “Prince” like it was the worst insult there could be. “I won’t have the royal family knowing my secrets.”
Thorin looked like he wanted to argue, but then he glanced at the barren ground surrounding Morghan where she had destroyed so many plants and stepped back.
I reached out to her hand, grabbing it, and was instantly whipped away to a roadside, watching carriages rumble by on unsteady wheels.
“What happened?” I gasped. “Where are we, where’d Thorin go?”
“He sees us still in the field, just frozen. Knowing him, he’s probably panicking. This is something every witch can do, at least according to all the books I’ve read. It’s called memory walking, and it means we can revisit our memories fully. One book said it was so witches could see where they had gone wrong and could fix their mistakes in the future, another book said it was another power showing how unnatural witches are…” Morghan dropped my hand, stepping toward the road. “Come on, this is where it happens.”
I followed her to the road edge, where moments later I saw a girl, no more than eight, run up beside us. I stiffened, but relaxed when Morghan said, “Don’t worry, she can’t see us.”
“Is that- is that you?” I asked tentatively. Morghan nodded, clearly uncomfortable. I turned and watched, and as I did, I saw a rabbit run onto the dirt path, directly under a carriage’s wheels. I flinched at the sound of bones crunching, then gaped, horrified, as young Morghan darted into the road, narrowly avoiding being trampled by hooves, grabbing the rabbit, and dashing back to the ditch next to us. She leaned over the rabbit, which was still feebly twitching.
Even as I watched, the rabbit seemed to be decaying in front of my eyes. I leaped back horrified as its nose eroded back and its skull peered out. It started bucking wildly, unable to breathe, as its eyes disintegrated, and all of its fur slid off its skin. At that point, it wasn’t moving, well and truly dead, but even then, the damage didn’t stop. Its skin became patchy, holes spreading across its body, until all that was left were the gleaming white bones. And even those started to crumble until they turned to dust. The full process couldn’t have taken more than thirty seconds, and I stood, horrified by the damage that my friend had caused.
“I was just trying to help it,” Morghan whispered next to me. “I can tell how horrified you are, but can you imagine being eight-year-old me and watching what my touch did to that poor rabbit?” She shuddered. “I just… I discovered quickly that my touch absorbs death. Which sometimes can help, like when I took Bastian’s death from him. It was hovering over him like a cloud, and it looked like a tornado was going into his leg. So, I just went over to him and took away the death. It must have caused the leg to heal completely. But when I’ve absorbed death, it needs to go somewhere, so I have to unleash it on something eventually. Sometimes I turn things to dust, like I did with that rabbit, but once I learned how to control it, I could cause death that wasn’t so destructive.” Now that she had someone to talk to about it, she couldn’t seem to stop. “I wish I could go back and save that rabbit. Now that I’m better at controlling myself, I could absorb the rabbit’s death instead of prolonging it. I know you can’t see it, only another necromancer could, but there’s a black cloud hovering over the rabbit. It’s not a bad storm, which means it was going to be a peaceful, almost painless death. And it’s small, which means the death wouldn’t take long. It’s rare to see a cloudless death. The larger the cloud, the longer the death will take. The worse the storm coming from the cloud, the more painful it’s going to be. I saved Bastian from a very long, painful death. It’s likely his leg was going to get infected, and slowly kill him.”
She turned to look at me, her eyes glistening with tears. “That’s the only time my power has done any good. The only other things I’ve saved have been plants and animals. Like I said, I have to get the death from somewhere. I still don’t know where I got the death to kill that rabbit from. I’ve walked this memory so many times, and many before it as well, and I can’t find anything that would have given me enough death to kill something as large as a rabbit.”
Something stirred in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t quite figure out what the whisper was trying to tell me. I shrugged it off, then asked, “Can you tell if someone is near death or at risk of it, but not definitely? Like, if someone were ill, would you be able to tell the chances of them dying?” I was hoping she would give me an answer that could help prevent deaths like she wanted, but she was already shaking her head.
“No. If I see death, then death is coming unless I steal it for myself. Trust me, I’ve tested my powers as much as I can, but there’s nothing there. I have power over death, not potential deaths.”
I shivered at hearing my gentle best friend talk about her power over death so casually. I hoped she would never let her power corrupt her. Especially since no one had any way of stopping her. If she ever became evil, she would simply kill anyone who got in her way.
“Come on. We’ve been memory walking for a while. We should go back.” She grabbed my hand again and pulled me back to the field, where I blinked, disoriented by the sudden change in scenery. Thorin was there, pacing anxiously back and forth.
“Isn’t witchcraft typically genetic?” he blurted out before either of us could say anything.
Morghan blinked, clearly surprised by his abruptness. “Well, yes, but I’m an exception. I’ve watched my mother for years, and there’s never been a hint of magick in her.”
“You might want to think again,” Thorin growled, before stalking off toward the copse of trees where Morghan’s mother had been left with a broken leg. When we got there, however, Morghan’s mother was nowhere to be found, and the trees around where she had been laying were barren of leaves, looking as though they had been dead for decades.
I turned to ask Morghan what she thought we should do next, since she was most accustomed to necromancy, but the sight unfolding before me left me speechless for the second time that day. Thorin stood behind Morghan with his sword pressed to her throat, a trickle of blood already running down her neck.
“You distracted us with your blasted memories so that your mother could escape. You’ll die for that, witch!”