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The call had drawn her to what appeared to be a school. After everything she’d been through Astrid knew better than to think what she was seeing was what she was actually going to be dealing with. She wouldn’t have been called if there wasn’t something unusual going on. Biting hard on her lip, her heart pounding in that way it always did when she found herself standing close to a lot of magic, she gave herself a moment to think things through. Just running in, as much as she wanted to, wasn’t going to do her any good, so she took a few steps backwards, in the hope it would help. It didn’t. Whatever was in that school was strong, and strong often meant dangerous. Raking a hand through her hair she thought about the stories she’d heard while she was in town.

No one knew much about the place. They didn’t know anyone who’d gone anywhere near it for a long time, apparently, but Astrid wasn’t willing to take that as being the truth. Whatever, or whoever, was in that school could easily have taken the memories they needed to. Hiding something like that would always have been the most important thing. It was also just as possible it hadn’t needed anyone new for a long time. Should that be the case she might be dealing with angry spirits, or zombies, or pretty much anything. There was no chance of it being an easy job. She was never called to the easy jobs.

Without information she was going in blind, which was something Astrid disliked doing, but there’d been nothing to find. No stories. Nothing in any of the local papers. No books regarding the school. Nothing in the history books regarding the school. It was as though it didn’t really exist, and yet there it was. People in town could see it too, although that could well have something to do with the amount of magic the place was exuding, because the more magic something gave out the more then magic affected the world around it. Sighing, she took her cutters out of her bag, telling herself it wasn’t as though she had a choice what she did next, because walking away had never been an option. If she’d been called there was someone, or more than one someone, who needed her help. That was the way things were.

As she cut through the fence Astrid tried to ignore the way the magic seemed to be trying to force itself inside of her. Having dealt with magic like that before she pushed it aside easily, but it told her that whoever was in the school might actually have been taken over by the magic. If that was the case she could be dealing with possessed people. She shook her head. Too many questions without answers, and she knew she wasn’t going to get the answers she needed until she was in the building itself. Once the hole was big enough she stepped onto the school grounds. That was when the magic hit her. Before it had been a lot. Standing there, with her back to the fence, she found herself slammed with more power than any one thing should have.

“Great.” Astrid made a face. “This is not a one person job.” Only, from what she could tell, there was nobody there to help her. “I can do this.” She raked a hand through her hair again, hoping she would come to believe it if she kept telling herself that. “I’ve done harder jobs than this alone.”

Pushing herself forward Astrid almost smiled. She might have done harder jobs alone, but that didn’t mean it had been a simple thing. More than once she’d almost died. The closer she got to the school the more certain she was she’d found herself another job that might well kill her. That didn’t mean she was going to walk away either. Part of her wanted to. A niggling voice in the back of her mind, one that reminded her of a parent who’d always said she’d become nothing, told her she couldn’t do the job, but that voice had always been there. It hadn’t stopped her before, and it wasn’t going to stop her then. She knew she was better at what she did than they could ever have imagined. They’d never been able to see her for who she was, but then that could well have been thanks to her two perfect siblings. Growling at herself, she pushed those thoughts away, telling herself memories of what had been weren’t going to help.

Yet they kept coming back. Astrid pushed them away again, and, as they came back a third time, she realised it was the magic surrounding her that was drawing those memories. It didn’t want her to be able to do what needed to be done. It wanted her to run, because she wasn’t good enough. Only those memories weren’t going to stop her. There were no memories that could stop her from doing what needed to be done. Even the memories of the times she had almost died wouldn’t be enough to stop her. Breathing deeply, doing her best to let the emotions run through her without affecting her as much as they could do, she kept walking towards the school. With every step she took the magic surrounding her got stronger. Then again that was something she was expecting.

Even though it should have been the school didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Something was keeping Astrid from it, and that something was the first thing she needed to deal with. From what she could tell it wasn’t a true set of wards. That wasn’t a surprise either. Most of the things she’d dealt with had been creatures with magic that should never have had it. They’d simply been in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on the point of view. Stopping, she looked closely at what she was dealing with. The magic itself wasn’t being held back by whatever was stopping her, and normally that meant there was some sort of spell in place, one created to keep out those who weren’t meant to be anywhere near the school, which was definitely what she was. Whatever she was dealing with really didn’t want anyone to be able to stop it.

Unfortunately for it Astrid was one of those stubborn people who never gave up. Kneeling, feeling the tendrils of magic all over her, she felt for the spell. As she did she shuddered. Spells with sacrifices, especially unwilling ones, always made her skin crawl, and the spell she’d found was definitely one of them. After taking a moment to come to terms with that she started looking more deeply, to see how it worked. With some spells she could break them. With others all she could do was circumvent them, at least until she had a chance to deal with the spell caster, and the more she looked the more certain she was she was dealing with that type of spell. The blood of the sacrifice had become a part of the ground around her, along with the magic used to create the spell, and dismantling it was going to take far more time than she really had. Getting into the school was the most important thing, because then she’d be able to get some idea of what it was she was actually dealing with. Anyone, or anything, that was willing to use something like that definitely needed to die.

Circumventing the spell would take long enough. Nibbling her lip, Astrid pulled out the supplies she needed, grateful she’d had a chance to stock up before being called once more. There had been times when she’d found herself in the middle of nowhere with next to nothing she could use. Fortunately she was good at making the most of what she had, and that was the only reason she’d survived those time. Pushing those thoughts aside once more, the magic trying to draw on her very worst memories, she scrawled down sigils, using a piece of chalk. No one else would be able to see them, but they would sink into the ground the same way the blood had. That was what she needed them to do. Once the sigils were down she sprinkled them with a very specific mix of herbs. It was one she’d come up with herself, and a recipe she would never share with anyone. Herbs down, she started with the chant, and as she did she stood, knowing she needed to move quickly once she’d made the open.

Like she knew it would the spell fought her. Astrid fought back, telling herself she was stronger than the spell. When there was just enough of an opening she stepped forward, and the moment she did she found herself almost at the door to the school. The magic wrapped around her once more, trying to claim her, because it wanted her to strengthen the spell she’d just ripped her way through. It wanted her, and it wasn’t going to have her. She swept the tendrils off once more, her heart pounding once more, the magic a hundred times stronger than it had been when she was outside the spell, and she took a moment to let her body get used to it.

Once she was Astrid stepped forward, to the door, and put her hand on it. There were no more spells to stop her from entering. No one was supposed to be able to get through the blood spell, but she wasn’t like anyone else. Smiling, for a few seconds, she moved her hand to the door handle, letting herself into the building itself. As she stepped in she found herself staring into the face of a young man who couldn’t have been much older than eighteen. Of course that wasn’t a true sign of what his age actually was, but she was certain he wasn’t the one who’d cast the spell. For a long time the two of them stared at each other, but she wasn’t willing to break the silence. Instead she waited.

“You’re not supposed to be here.”
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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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