by Tiffany Ko
Magic is an unrelenting force. Unpredictable, powerful and dangerous. A weapon that when used with negligence, could result in lasting consequences.
This is fact, one that Atheed knows all too well. She bears it on her face as a reminder, concealed behind a thin veil.
And now, standing at the threshold of Rowan’s bedroom, the feeling of pure magic – a power she had relentlessly vowed to reject – is overwhelmingly strong.
It flows thick and heavy through the air, with the force of electricity and the heaviness of molasses.
This alone is enough to make her old and frail frame shake with rage.
Through the veil, she sees Rowan. His back is facing her, unaware of her presence.
Magic escapes from his fingertips in bursts of bright light.
Effects are instantaneous. Shadows begin to move as if they’ve developed a mind of their own. The roses in the faded wallpaper writhe and twist, as if attempting to free themselves from the walls. Thunder crackles above their heads as it starts to rain, the heavy droplets making loud pit-pat noises against the old floorboards.
Rowan releases a small giggle, and Atheed decides that enough is enough.
Atheed slowly lifts her cane from the ground, its golden handle growing warm under her palm.
With force, she brings the wooden cane back down, the sound of its golden tip hitting the ground reverberating through the room.
The rain stops, the shadows still, and the wallpaper ceases all motion.
“Rowan,” Atheed speaks in a stern voice.
Rowan’s body stiffens and he slowly turns to face her, fearful of what Atheed would do now that she had caught him practicing magic.
When he was fully facing her, she made her way towards him. Behind her veil, her eyes are lit up with outrage. The sound of her cane hitting the floor with each step making her approach more threatening.
“I ask for no magic in this house and what do you do?” Atheed growls.
Rowan flinches back. He can feel her face twisting into a scowl behind the veil.
“Have you learned nothing from me?” she continues.
Rowan gulps. “Atheed -”
Atheed violently rips the veil from her face, showing its disfigurement.
Rowan stumbles back, glancing away in fear and a tinge of disgust.
Now exposed, Atheed’s face was nothing more than pink tissue and ruined muscle.
She owned a face that might have been beautiful then, but now, it is nothing but scarred flesh.
“Do you want to end up like me – scarred and ugly?” Atheed spits.
“But Atheed,” Rowan pleads. “If magic did that to you, then surely it can take it away.”
Rowan takes a cautious step forward.
“Let me help you. I’ve been practicing. I can do -”
“Rowan.” Atheed’s tone warning Rowan to say no more.
“You do not understand the dangers you are playing with. Magic did this to me, and it will do it to you.”
Atheed places the veil back over her face. Gripping the cane for support, she leaves never once sparing a glance back.
That night, the nightmares came – the same ones that plague her every night. They grip her tight and pull her under the hazy blanket of unconsciousness, until she is once again back in her small childhood home. Once again the young and naive woman she was decades ago.
Her father is standing over her, his face twisted and contorted into that of anger.
Trapped in this past, she forgets that it’s a dream.
She becomes scared and powerless.
Not powerless, a voice whispers in her mind.
Not powerless, indeed. Atheed can feel the magic thrumming in her veins waiting to be set free. Waiting for the right moment to be unleashed.
With each increasing beat of her heart, the thrumming becomes stronger and stronger. Soon, she will no longer be able to contain it.
“Useless witch,” her father snarls, getting closer, his face continues to change until it is that of a monster’s.
Scared and acting on impulse, Atheed lets go.
The magic in her veins free themselves and fire erupts around them both, engulfing her and her father whole.
Atheed wakes with her scream in her throat.
Something is different.
It’s her face that feels different.
Atheed gingerly places her hand on her face and only feels smooth, velvet skin.
Grasping for her cane, she hauls herself out of bed, rushing over to the mirror.
It is not her face staring back at her.
This face is young and radiantly beautiful.
Atheed lightly traces a finger across her cheekbone, the skin soft and supple.
No trace of scarring.
No trace of pain.
Her amazement is pierced through when a thick wail carries into the room – a guttural, almost feral sound.
The sound hollows Atheed’s bones.
Atheed rushes out of her room, towards the young boy.
She finds him curled into himself on the floor, his hands placed over his face, muffling his cries.
Atheed sees the open spell book, and the pink scars peeking out from under Rowan’s hands, and she understands.
Her scars were now his.
“Oh, my boy,” Atheed whispers, lifting him and cradling him so that his head was pressed against her chest.
She holds him like this. Her arms crisscrossed against his back, her fingers lightly playing with the fine hairs at the nape of his neck.
She doesn’t bother checking to see which spell he had used.
Atheed doesn’t know if it is because she knows Rowan is beyond help, or because she is selfish.
She doesn’t know, and she doesn’t dwell on those thoughts.
What she does know is that magic is unforgiving, unpredicting, dangerous, and Rowan will now have to bear his own scars, his own price.