Inbetween: Chapter Eighteen

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The intruder seemed to be waiting rather than attacking them. Willow was not sure she should call her an attacker just yet, but considering her intent was quite clear, she felt that the term might not be misplaced. Her heart pounded in her ears, yet somehow she still heard every syllable of the song with perfect clarity.

Yuri seemed more than unnerved by the words. If this woman attacking them came through the portal like he did, she probably came from his world. If he was terrified she felt as though she should probably trust his judgment. It was not like him to be a coward so she took his fear seriously.

The words this woman spoke reverberated with power. Willow did not understand a word of it, but she did understand the force and the danger behind it. The sound tugged at Willow’s attention every time she tried to focus on something else. The woman’s lips had a magical shimmer to them as she spoke these words. Either the words were powerful enchantments or her mouth was the source of the magic. Willow did not think determining which was the case mattered much at this point. They were in trouble either way.

When the woman stepped forward a thrumming sound joined the words in her mind. She could not proceed through the threshold.

Words rhythmically beat against Willow’s mind. For a second she lost herself to the invasive syllables. She felt a reverberation of energy pass through her just as it must have passed through the intruder. It felt like tried to put two like magnetic poles together and they pushed apart with all their force.

The intruder was pushed back a foot or two by the magical energy blocking off the apartment from the outside world. They were still safe for now, it seemed.

Willow’s confidence in their safety surprised her. When the runes disappeared, she thought they were doomed. Something else seemed to be functioning in its place. She did not know what it was, but she was relieved to see it was working.

Now that she witnessed the barrier in action, she hoped she could find a way to maintain it. The magic that manifested after the runes disappeared was not like anything she ever experienced before. No one, magical or not, had ever tried to enter a space while runes were on the wall and activated. She had no way of knowing whether this was normal or not. Right now it was the only thing keeping them alive and it seemed to just barely be doing that.

She should do something to ensure their continued safety. What that something might be remained a mystery, but she knew she could not do it while cowering behind Yuri.

He was doing a fine job of shielding her, but at this point, there was nothing for him to shield her from. Their opponent was inert for the time being. Putting herself to work seemed like a much better use of her time than hiding and waiting for the situation to grow worse or go away.

She gave Yuri a reassuring pat on the shoulder before she stepped past him. At this point he was so tense she doubted he would move from this spot anytime soon.

The shimmer of protective magic was most apparent at the door, but as she approached the perimeter she realized that the magic ran through the walls as well. That was definitely for the best. The power of that voice worming its way into her mind told Willow that their foe was more than capable of breaking down an unfortified wall.

She assumed the runes had not evaporated but somehow melded together and formed into this barrier alongside the salt Yuri had placed down. It was powerful magic, something more powerful than anything she had formally learned. It worked, but she did not know how and that bothered her. She was more than a little panicked by the lack of control she had over this. She needed to figure out a way to keep it going.

There was no more chalk. Her legs felt too weak and wobbly carry her back to the closet in her bedroom to look for more. She knew she needed to do something, but she just found herself standing and staring through the doorway at the woman who never missed a beat with her chanting.

The woman did not seem to even notice Willow. Her eyes were trained on Yuri. Willow seemed to be completely inconsequential to her. It made sense, in a way. Yuri came from the other world. Of course, she would be after him rather than Willow.

Not being the center of attention did open up some opportunities for her. She could fly under the radar and keep them both alive. It might not be a perfect solution, but it was her best bet at acting defiantly.

Stealth had never been one of Willow’s strengths, but she had defiance down to an art. She inched her way over to the wall, all too aware of the fact that she was still in full view of their attacker. Even as Willow was the only one moving in the room, the attacker’s gaze never left Yuri.

She crossed the room and reached out to touch the wall. Her fingertips stopped just before she made contact with the surface. The notion in her mind had seemed sound. She would touch the wall and somehow amplify the magic power that ran through it. It made sense superficially, but now that she was about to perform the act, she found herself wondering if it would have that effect or do just the opposite. Her idea was untested and the barrier had deflected the only other person who came in contact with it. It might do the same to her.

So far the spell seemed to be holding its own. Her urge to do something more came from fear that it would not hold forever. Now she stopped because she was afraid of messing it up.

She knew she needed to stop being afraid. It might be a justified emotion in this situation, and she could not imagine anyone finding fault with her for being afraid right now, but she needed to stop it from ruling her mind.

Right now she had a choice. She could take a ‘wait and see’ approach and hope that a sort of magic she barely understood would hold up until this person gave up and decided to leave them alone. The coward in her thought it was the safer way to deal with any strange magic. Messing with something that was working seemed incredibly foolish. At the same time, she was afraid that this magic was not as strong as it seemed at first glance. It was untested. She was using skills she had possessed for years, but as far as she knew, no one had ever used it in such a way or against someone who seemed so strong. She had never encountered someone with magic so strong.

She knew what she had to do. She had to take a risk because doing nothing was actually the greater risk. If something went wrong, she would rather think that she had done everything she could rather than regret that she sat by and did nothing to stop it.

As big of a deal as this was, her nerves still caught her off guard. She knew it had to be done, but as soon as she reached out to the wall, she noticed her hands were shaking once again. This entire day only seemed to serve to prove just how ill prepared to handle a crisis she truly was. She tried to be put together and mature, but she just ended up falling apart as soon as the crisis began.

She hated that she was the only one reacting like a frightened child. The woman trying to hurt them seemed calm, composed and prepared to methodically break down the barrier. Yuri seemed resigned to stand his ground and defend himself as well as her. Willow was the only one panicking. She needed to do something to give herself some peace of mind.

Shaking hands or not, she knew she could do something if she put her mind to it. It was just a matter of finding her courage and putting it to use rather than let her fear control her. After several deep breaths to summon her courage, she managed to reach out and touch her hand to the wall.

A shock ran up her arm and her heart skipped a beat. The acrid taste of electricity bit her tongue. She guessed now knew what it felt like to be hit by magic at least. Instead of repelling her, it seemed to be flowing through her and back out into the wall to continue its protective circuit around the room.

She breathed a sigh of relief. She tried something and the whole thing did not blow up in her face. They were still safe behind the magical barrier.

With direct contact with the magic, she could feel just how must strain it was under. Those words that managed to imprint themselves on her brain even though she could not understand the language were also beating away at the magic running through the walls. Feeling that level of violence made it clear to Willow that even if the barrier was in place now, it would not hold up forever.

She might turn this to her advantage with some more experimentation. She did not know if her nerves would handle it. Taking risks always seemed to turn out badly for her.

Jumping out into the unknown made her queasy. After all, she had done to break away from her family’s strange, old world of superstition, she found herself mired even deeper in it than she ever knew was possible. It seemed that she could not escape it now and pretending she could avoid it would certainly end in disaster.

She needed to try something completely untested in an unforgiving scenario. It was just another in a long line of new experiences today. Experimentation became part of her plan for survival now.

Channeling her power — even thinking of herself as having power was new and bizarre — into the wall had to be possible, but she was not sure how to go about doing it. She closed her eyes and did her best to block out the sound of the voice that had now wormed its way into the rhythm of her thoughts. Ignoring it entirely seemed impossible and the more she thought about it the harder it became to think at all while the words assaulted her mind.

The best way to get anything done right now seemed to be to not think at all. Everything that worked out for her lately seemed to happen when she was not thinking about it.

She tried to summon her magic by instinct to recreate the method that caused the runes and salt to create a barrier. The magic still flowed into her and back out again to continue its course through the wall. She pushed against it, adding to its strength with her own. She felt the energy moving out of her and joining the general flow of magic.

Then she felt something buck back against the magic. She was startled and nearly pulled her hand off the wall and broke the connection. She caught herself just in time to keep her fingertips in contact with the wall as she jumped back.

She imagined this was the magical equivalent to being kicked in the gut. She forgot to breathe from the shock of the sensation, but she did not forget even for a second to continue to push her magic into the barrier.

With the amount of force being placed on the magical barrier, she knew she could not allow it to stand on its own again. If she let up for even a brief moment, it would collapse.

This development made it all the more urgent that they figure out a way out of this situation. Before it seemed possible for them to wait it out. Now Willow knew she would run out of energy sooner rather than later. There was a small chance, of course, that she would prove to have greater magical endurance than her opponent, but she was untested and inexperienced and the woman on the other side of the barrier seemed to know what she was doing.

She did not like the odds. She realized now that she had a narrow window of opportunity available right now. She still had the strength right now for a monumental push back against the barrier. That strength would not last forever.

Calling on the magic within her helped expel the final echoes of that voice from her mind. As the power rush up from deep within her, the sound was completely wiped from her mind. It had just seemed like an annoyance until she pushed the sound from her mind, but now that it was gone she had a sudden clarity that made everything so much easier.

She pushed back against the resistance she sensed against the barrier. Instead of just holding her ground, she started to take more. Her eyes stayed closed through this process, it was impossible for her to even allow a fraction of her concentration to go to anything other than pushing the magic out.

Her concentration finally fell to pieces when she heard the sound of glass shattering. Her eyes flew open and she just managed to see the last sparks of magic speeding out of the room.

The woman was nowhere in sight. Her voice no longer rang in Willow’s ears.

A gust of cold air sent a chill up her spine. At first, she thought it was just from the open door, but the tinkle of a few pieces of glass that managed to hang on brought her attention to her windows. Every last window was broken.

She hesitated, unsure if any of this was real. “Did I do this?”

“Yes,” Yuri said as he grabbed her arm. “Now we can’t stay here any longer. It’s not safe.”

She nodded in shocked agreement. She knew she wanted to do one final push with her magic, but until now she had no idea what she could do by pushing magic around. She felt numb, possibly from the cold but more likely from shock. Her mind continued to take in sensory information in a desperate bid to make sense of what just happened.

The half of her mind deeply invested in self-preservation believed that none of this could be real. Denial started to coil around her memories of the day. She could easily turn her back on all of this and start to sweep up the pieces of her life.

Yuri’s tug on her arm brought her back to the reality of the situation. Going back to denying the facts as she now knew them was not an option. She had to face this and see it through to the end.

She nodded and started moving forward. The more she walked the clearer her mind became.

“At least it’s dark now,” Yuri said with false cheerfulness. “It’ll be easier to hide now.”

A shock swam through a mire of emotions on its way from Willow’s brain to her gut where it landed with a jolt. She had not realized just how late it had become. Between the intense focus she experienced while preparing the runes and the state of panic she experienced after, she knew she managed to lose quite a bit of time, but even now she could only guess how much.

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