Chapter One (Moving)
We crept along the length of the web, moving smoothly across the surface. All eight legs, graceful and strong. The web vibrated under our feet - a gentle shake, but we felt it like a beacon. We turned to where the small gnat shook and shivered some distance away.
Deftly maneuvering across the threads towards the struggling insect, I could almost taste its fear and a cold dread settled in my stomach. I knew what would come next.
I attempted to assert my will, turning our attention away, but the creature was stronger than I was. It paused, confused for only a moment, before quickening our strides towards the target.
The gnat wiggled, pulling frantically against the threads. I panned our eyes across the room, distracting the spider long enough for the gnat to pull its legs free, but the wings were stuck firm.
The web spread across a high corner of the living room ceiling. I could see the rows of brown cardboard boxes stacked throughout the room. Sienna lounged beside my human body where it stretched across the couch in dreamless sleep. The cat was busily grooming his orange striped fur, too preoccupied to wonder at my shallow breathing and blank staring eyes. A leather-bound book was left open across my chest. It was the only thing in the apartment that I hadn’t packed for the move.
The spider was fighting me for control. The more the gnat struggled, the stronger it became. The web beneath our feet hummed when the downstairs buzzer sounded, echoing throughout the space.
Soda was downstairs waiting with the moving van.
Out of time…
I focused my attention - funneling my consciousness back into my own body as the buzzer rang a second time.
Sienna yawned, stretching his paws out across my lap as I slowly blinked my eyes and the room came back into focus. I unsteadily rose to my feet, stashing the leather-bound book of spells under the couch cushions and made my way to the door. My head was pounding - a sharp pain digging in my temples.
Headache must be a side-effect of the spell.
I hit the intercom, allowing Soda upstairs, and rubbed my temples hard with my fingers, trying to make the pain subside.
“Hey Birthday Girl!” Soda greeted me with a crushing hug as he entered the apartment, “How’s it feel to finally be legal?” He was bundled up for the cold weather - a thick, black turtle-neck sweater beneath his jacket. His bright blue hair, the same brilliant color as his eyes, was tucked neatly beneath the green and blue plaid newsboy hat he had taken to wearing lately.
I blinked hard a few more times, knowing he was expecting an answer.
“Old and tired.” I mumbled, hugging him back softly. The pain in my head was making me feel dizzy. Soda’s eyes scanned the rows of boxes and dismantled furniture in the living room.
“Is all this going to your Great Aunt’s place?”
I nodded slowly - anything more forceful and I felt as if my brain were going to pop out of my skull.
“She said I could put my brothers’ stuff in her storage space in the basement for a while. The boxes in my room are coming with me.”
It had been three weeks since my brothers had disappeared - cursed into the form of crows. Leena, my Great Aunt Henriette’s estranged daughter, had given me the recipe for a spell to break their curse, but so far I had been unable to find the key ingredient.
Soda didn’t know about any of this. As far as he was concerned, my brothers were missing and I was being evicted from our apartment - unable to come up with the back rent my eldest brother Julian owed. Soda had offered to let me move in with him and his roommate Wash. They lived in a small, run down squat in lower Manhattan. It wasn’t ideal, but there was no way in hell I was going to live under the same roof as my Great Aunt Henriette. She and I did not get along and now that Silas was living with her again, I didn’t think I’d be able to keep my sanity if I spent more than an hour under her roof.
Sometimes, I wondered what my life would be like if Silas had never come into it - if my brothers had never been cursed - if all the things I’d experienced and learned in the past month had just been a dream. Would I still be wallowing in my room alone, steeped in my self-pity and anger - hiding from everyone - keeping my loved ones at an arm’s distance?
After my visit with Leena, my relationship with Silas had soured. Knowing his secret, I could barely look him in the eye without a feeling of betrayal and mistrust gnawing at my insides. He and I agreed that he should return to Henriette, but he had one condition.
“You need to tell her what’s going on with your brothers.” He had been keeping a physical distance from me after I had attacked him with my heightened power - after he had kissed me and I had rejected him. As we walked towards Henriette’s brownstone, he remained a few feet behind me.
Then again, it could also have been a result of my speed-walking down the sidewalk. I wanted to hand him off to Henriette as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t have to look at him anymore.
I turned my head, just enough to see him behind me, but kept my pace, “I don’t need to do anything of the sort.”
He stopped walking, forcing me to stop as well. I spun around to see him clench his jaw in frustration and he glared pointedly at me.
“Denora, stop being obstinate! Henriette is the Matriarch of your Clan. She has a vested interest in protecting what’s left of her family. Whatever negativity lies between the two of you, she will do what she can to save your brothers. That’s what is important, right? Stop letting your pride cloud your judgment.”
The night I had met with Leena, looking for a way to break my brothers’ curse, she had told me things about Silas that he had kept hidden from me. Leena had steered my mind towards seeing him in a way I never had before - he had been using me, manipulating my affections to get me to break his own curse. It had almost worked too. Even after I confronted him with his lies, he still tried to convince me that he had feelings for me. The mere thought of him left me feeling a mixture of anger and love so convoluted I couldn’t tell the two apart.
“You’re one to lecture.” I spat, turning back down the street towards Henriette’s house. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and I needed to tear my eyes away from his beautiful face before I lost my senses. Those brilliant green eyes of his made it so easy to forget, and I didn’t want to be lulled into his arms when I still felt so much anger towards him. I needed him to go back to Henriette, not because she needed him, but because I needed to be away from him. The way he looked at me still made my knees weak even if my mind was resigned to forget him.
I had gotten half a block ahead of him before he started walking again. It only took him a matter of seconds to catch up with me. He reached for my hand to get my attention and then dropped his arm, thinking better of it. “Henriette can teach you. She won’t refuse me if I ask it of her. After what Leena did to you tonight, it is more important than ever that you learn to control your abilities.”
Before my brothers had been turned into crows, none of us had had any idea about our heritage. Our mother had kept it from us, wanting my brothers and I to live normal, natural lives. Without Silas, I never would have known that the three black birds stalking me through the city streets were my missing brothers. He had guided me and helped me navigate the strange underground world of the Clandestine - those with the power to command nature to do their bidding. Leena had given me the answers I sought, and more, but she had also taken something as payment. She had claimed a lock of my hair, a piece of my essence, and used it in a spell to heighten my power. It was Leena’s idea of a joke. Never knowing what I was or what I could do, the sudden surge of power had completely overwhelmed me.
Silas was right about me needing to learn - to be taught control and uncover my birthright. I wanted to refuse him out of spite, but I was more afraid of hurting someone with the wildness of my sudden abilities.
“Fine.” I turned to face him but kept my eyes fixed on the ground, avoiding his. “I’ll talk to Henriette, but I won’t promise to be nice.”