Chapter 57: A Channel of Power
After dinner, Carina stopped by the kitchen to brew two cups of tea before heading upstairs. She carried them to the library, where Hana contentedly read a book of Ventrayna poems on the sofa. In the crown princess’s office, Eleanora and Tiffany were busy finalizing the guest list and seating arrangement for the banquet. Evelynn was nowhere in sight, but judging by the noblewoman’s presence at dinner, she would not be leaving Rose Palace anytime soon.
“Ahh, is that for me?” Hana asked with a warm smile as she looked up from her book.
“Yes, some more Valerian tea,” Carina answered as she held out the prepared cup. “I’m going to turn in early tonight. I’ve had a long day and I need to be up first thing tomorrow.”
“Of course,” Hana replied as she set the still steaming cup on the table beside her. “Don’t worry about me, Maura. I am feeling remarkably improved while you have been looking a bit worn down recently. It would be a good idea to get some rest now—before the Ambassador arrives.” The attendant’s expression darkened as her fingers fidgeted with the book’s leather binding.
Carina smiled and nodded at the cup of tea she held out to the distracted attendant. “That’s what this is for. Don’t let her Highness keep you up too late, Hana.”
Hana smiled again as she accepted the tea and bid Carina pleasant dreams before she resumed her reading.
A quick check of the bedroom door lock showed the thin layer of ice inside remained unmolested. Carina secured it behind her once more, then set the warm cup and saucer by her bed before changing and letting down her hair for the night. After downing the tea, which proved rather pleasant despite the Dusk Ferns’ rich herbal taste, Carina set the cup aside and focused on her bracelet.
“Lumi?” She called out hesitantly and shivered as the weight of the frost scriva appeared on the bed beside her. Fortunately, Lumi had taken on the size of a normal wolf rather than the giant form the scriva had originally taken when she first appeared before Carina. The elemental creature offered it’s master a happy grin as it lay down on the bed beside Carina and wagged its tail.
“I guess that’s easy enough,” Carina mused as she studied the snow-like fur of the scriva and then, after a moment’s hesitation, ran her fingers across the giant wolf’s head. The elemental’s coat was cold to the touch but still felt like animal hair or fur that had been rolled about in a field of snow.
“Well, I suppose I’m ready, Lumi,” Carina said hesitantly. “What do I do now? How do we contact Viktor?”
The wolf blinked slowly. Then the scriva shut its eyes as its snout pressed against Carina’s hip. The word ‘Sleep’ filled her mind, and Carina laughed.
“Easier said than done,” she muttered and lay back against the pillows. A flicker of movement that might have been Maura appeared in the corner of the room. Lumi growled, and the figure quickly vanished. Carina glanced over at the scriva, feeling oddly reassured by Lumi’s presence as she rested her hand against the wolf’s cold paw and shut her eyes.
“Are you ready, little ice witch?” Viktor’s voice greeted Carina the moment her eyes closed, and a cold chill spread throughout her body before she was tugged suddenly deeper by the force of magic that flared awake inside her chest.
“All magic comes from the ancient gods, dragons or immortals as some call us. Before witches learned to draw in elements from the world around them, they first learned to connect to those elements through these gods. Each of the Six bestowed a different blessing that creates an affinity for their element. That affinity is passed down through the witch’s bloodline and is what formed the original covens.
“As the Marchioness taught you, the stronger the witch, the more elemental force they can store up. But even the strongest pure-blood witch has a limited source of magic. However, this method of control and learning is useless for you, Carina. Instead of learning to ration your magic spells, you must learn to temper your body to withstand the power such magic can inflict on your physical form if you were to lose control.”
‘Wait—why is it different for me?’ Carina interrupted curiously.
“You already know the answer, but I will explain in more detail so you may better appreciate the danger. My heart, which you now possess, is a bottomless pool of magic you have but to tap into. Once opened, you can control the flow, range, power, and perception of the most powerful spells known to any mortal. My heart will make you stronger than any ice witch before you. More powerful than any of Kritanta’s consorts. But it is limited by your mortal shell and dangerous to you if this shell is not properly prepared to wield such power.”
The outline of a pulsing crystal heart—or perhaps a heart of ice given the freezing energy that rolled off it in waves of numbing magic—formed clearly inside Carina’s mind as she focused on Victor’s voice.
“Magic is the essence of creation and destruction. Life and death. Rebirth and decay. You have but to fuse it with your body and make yourself its master. This is something that must be done gradually in your case. Your body has adapted to possessing my heart, but it would shatter in an instant if you used more magic than it can withstand.
“That is why our training will begin here, strengthening your body to control the magic contained in a god’s heart. You will connect to my magic, fuse it with your body, and hold that connection and intensity for longer periods and intensity until you can safely master the depths of power it may grant you.”
‘If this magic is so dangerous—then why should I—’
“My magic can make you as immortal as a witch can be, Carina.” Viktor’s voice interrupted soothingly. “Time will no longer hold you prisoner as your body stops aging. Your blood will make a hostile environment for any invading illness or disease. Your skin will become as hard as steel that can deflect any mortal blade. To the Mortals, you will become akin to a god, even if you cannot reincarnate your spirit as the Six can. Then you will be able to revive the scattered ice witches and free me from this prison.”
‘So, I would gain power and immortality.’ Carina exhaled slowly, uneasy at the thought of possessing that much power, as much as it offered her a greater certainty of survival. ‘If nothing else, I can use this power to free Viktor. Having a god on my side would probably be a good thing—assuming I can trust him.’ She flinched for a moment as she wondered whether Viktor was privy to all her inner thoughts or just the ones she directed at him, but a moment later, the immortal resumed his lesson without comment.
“Ice can crush cities, gnaw through mountains, and break even the strongest metals of this earth. Yet, it is fragile, beautiful, and not immune to a dragon’s flame. Witch fire, however—” Victor’s tone took on a smug note “—is still reliant upon the air. Freeze the air around a fire witch, and you starve them of their power—to an extent at least—more than enough to turn the tide of any battle with a pure-blood. Should Kritanta or her consort find you, this is something you must remember. Even if it costs you your life, Carina, you can never allow the Goddess of Fire to reclaim my heart. It would mean your death in either case, but it would also ensure the destruction of this world should you fail. Now—open your eyes.”
Carina opened her eyes and found herself standing upon a frozen sheet of ice in the middle of a black ocean beneath a starless sky. A glowing figure stirred beneath the water, bright and pale like the absent moon, but long and coiled like a serpent or—dragon. ‘Is that Viktor?’
“Ice is the combination of air and water elements. Yet even a pure-blood ice witch struggles to control both elements separately at the same time. However, with practice, you will learn to manipulate their temperature by adjusting their values. This is how you will weave elements into a spell. Air controls the temperature and shape, while water controls the density and strength.
“Most witches must draw their magic from exterior elements around them. You, however, are different, and this is your greatest advantage. Outside elements contain impurities that may diminish or distort a witch’s control over them. Most pure-bloods have a natural inborn ability to reduce these impurities, allowing them to control and wield more potent magic than coven witches.
These impurities are the reason why half-witches cannot control the magic they are born with but can use artifacts and enchanted tools. Those tools are enchanted to purify and store magic that these half-witches can then unleash at will. Both methods are useless to you, Carina because you connect directly to the source of ice magic.”
‘But—how?’ Carina glanced about the thin sheet of ice, somewhat concerned by its delicate, fragile state.
“You do not recognize where you are?”
‘Ah—no? I’ve never been here before, so how would I recognize it?’
Viktor hesitated for a moment as if somewhat surprised by her answer. Then he resumed calmly, “This is your heart, Carina. Our heart. The elements that form ice magic are all here. The purest forms of water and wind magic await your will and pleasure. You have but to give these elements their shape, by combining them, controlling their density and temperature, to forming them into the desired spell.”
‘That sounds—rather complex.’
“It takes practice to master such control but take heart, Carina. You will progress much quicker than either a coven or pure-blood witch thanks to the purity of my magic.” Once more, Viktor sounded smug as he reassured her. “For now, envision a complex object and try to create it.”
Carina tilted her head, then closed her eyes with a reluctant sigh as she tried to focus. ‘I had hoped for a bit more direction than this, but nothing beats a hands-on approach, I guess.’
The vision of a crown came unbidden to her mind, and Carina almost dismissed it, but a sudden sense of déjà vu washed over her as she studied the intricately detailed, glittering circlet.
‘Eh. Why not? It would certainly be a challenge.’
“Good, now envision the circlet in your hands, Carina. The closer the spell is to you, the easier the magic is to control and shape. Given time, you will be able to produce long-distance spells with the same efficiency.”
Feeling a bit more confident after Viktor’s encouragement, Carina held both hands open, palms up, below her chest. She focused on the crown’s basic shape, circular with a strong base, and felt the frigid magic in her chest flow like chunks of ice through her bloodstream. The effect was more than a little bit uncomfortable and disorienting as her muscles tensed in response. Viktor’s comment about not feeling any pain made her grimace.
“Remember, your element is just a combination of water and air. You are trying to make ice before you’ve learned to weave water and air together. Think of water like paint while air is the brush guiding it across a surface, or you can try the thread and needle approach, but that one is a bit more wasteful.”
‘Neither of those are particularly helpful.’ Carina sighed and grimaced as the ice magic built up like a blockade in her chest. The sense of danger tingled across her skin as Carina’s lungs tightened. She scrambled for the most effective solution to envision her magic and allow her to manipulate it.
Carina’s thoughts drifted to the memory of a metalsmith she had seen once in a street fair. He started with clumps of metal that he scorched and melted down to make the most delicate and intricate jewelry Carina had ever seen. She had bought a pair of friendship rings off him afterward, one for her and one for Jade.
Carina focused on that image as she imagined the ice grinding through her veins, slowly melting into threads of cold metal.
“That’s an interesting approach,” Viktor whispered but remained silent as Carina exhaled with audible relief.
The blockage inside her body dissipated, and before long, a steady stream of cold metal liquid that glowed a faint blue color flowed from her heart down throughout her body and pooled inside her palms and fingers.
Carina focused on the image of the crown. She could see its shape quite clearly as if she had sketched the circlet in the air before her. The cold magic filled her palms and flowed into the circular shape of the headband. Carina smiled, even as her fingers stiffened beneath the frigid magic. She remained focused on the structure of ice before her, the rising piercing ridges, the sparkling frozen gems, the weave of frost runes across the silver band.
Her hands trembled as cramps spasmed from her palms up her wrists and eventually reached the muscles in her arms. Carina was dimly aware that her fingers were turning a dark shade of blue as she focused on the crown’s weight and finished the inscription on the inside of the circlet, which read Immortalitatis Potentia.
“Are you satisfied, little ice witch?”
“Yes.” Carina exhaled sharply and wrapped her numb hands around her waist as the crown floated in the blank space behind her closed eyes.
“Then open your eyes.”
Carina pried her eyes open eagerly and gawked at the crown that hovered before her. It wasn’t perfect, but it was remarkably similar to the image she had drawn from, an image that felt even more intimately familiar as she looked at the crown before her. “Why—do I know this?”
“The same way you knew the Witch Star. These are memories from your past lives. Memories, my little Carina, are powerful tools of magic. They contain secrets, knowledge, power, and insight, but they can also be corrupted, manipulated, and used against you.”
Carina looked up from the crown at the warning note in his voice. After the Winter Rose, she wasn’t going to dismiss Viktor’s subtle warnings anymore. “What do you mean? Have my memories been manipulated?”
There was a moment’s pause before Victor’s voice, sounding oddly strained and thin as if it were passing through a dense surface, answered, “Yes.”
The crown in front of Carina shattered as her brain lit on fire. The frozen sheet of ice beneath her feet collapsed in the same instant, and she sank into the dark grip of the ocean’s embrace.
“Foolish little mortal.” A deep feminine voice echoed through the tide burning against her ears as Carina drank in a breath of inky black water and tried to scream. “Those who swim in unknown waters should not be surprised when they drown.”
Something cold and slimy wrapped around Carina’s ankles and yanked her further still. Water filled her lungs, and Carina’s muscles seized in panic as her vision grew blurry. A burning white light burned around her outstretched hand, and then Lumi appeared beside her. The wolf glowed like the moon as it grabbed the wrist that held Viktor’s bracelet between its fangs and pulled Carina upwards.
A canopy of curtains appeared before Carina’s eyes as she lurched to the side of the bed and vomited. Water, and a bit of dinner, spilled from her stomach and lungs onto the carpeted floor between painful gasps of air. Lumi crawled over the bed beside her, the scriva’s snow-like fur as soaked as Carina’s drenched nightgown.
‘What happened? Was I—drowning? What the hell?’
Carina gripped the edge of the bed with fingers that were still stiff and blue from the magic she had used. ‘Was that real? Did I almost die in my dreams?’ She rolled onto her side and collapsed against her damp sheets as Lumi whined and nuzzled the bracelet on her wrist.
“Viktor?” Carina rasped questioningly.
Lumi stilled, but the word ‘Caution’ filled Carina’s mind.
“What exactly am I to be cautious of?” Carina snapped bitterly as she wiped a hand against the acid taste on her lips. “Is this almost drowning going to be a nightly thing?” She grimaced as another worry came to mind. “Damn it, how am I supposed to explain my bed getting wet in the middle of the night?”
Exhaustion rolled over her as Carina drew in a deep breath through her trembling fingers and tried to calm her shaken nerves. The voice she had heard in the dark ocean was not the voice of the woman in red who stalked her nightmares.
‘Then who is she? Another witch or another god?’
Carina took in another shaky breath as the anxiety rising in her gut almost made her puke again. She exhaled forcefully as Lumi whimpered beside her. Pulling her hands away from her face, Carina reached out to pet the scriva’s head gratefully.
“I have a feeling you saved me back there. Thank you, Lumi.”
A cold nose against her palm was the wolf’s response before it jumped off the bed and shook itself dry. Carina remained where she was, drained and miserably wet. She thought of Ivy then and how much she missed her trusted friend’s calming presence and reassuring company. Then she thought of Jade and the odd change in her old friend’s behavior and felt a tingle of unease spread through her gut.
“Memories can be corrupted, manipulated, and used against you.”
Viktor had already confirmed that Carina’s memories had been manipulated. ‘But which ones, and by who?’ With a frustrated sigh, Carina pushed herself up and began the task of changing her gown and stripping the bed of its wet sheets and pillows. She piled the damp sheets and garments together in a basket, then pulled on a fresh nightgown and robe before leaving her room.
The hallway was dark, with only the dim moonlight from the windows to light her way. Carina decided against waking any servants and instead went to the downstairs linen room, where she found a spare blanket and some sheets. After covering her bed and pillows with a reasonable amount of material, Carina collapsed upon the bed again and, with a bit more reluctance, fell into a deep sleep.
Lumi lay down on the edge of the bed and growled softly at the window as Maura flickered through the bedroom door. The ghost offered the wolf her own fanged snarl before she glanced towards the necklace hidden inside the bookshelf and faded from view.