The Conjurer (The Vine Witch #3) by Luanne G. Smith

CHAPTER ONE

The perfume was long gone, the last drop dabbed against her skin years ago, yet the sweet scent from the jasmine lingered inside the bottle. The essence of a broken promise. All the tomorrows that would never be made to swirl in the mind by a single inhale. Close the eyes, breathe deep the sorrow of loss, and remember the dream of what might have been.

Sidra shifted inside the bottle, swirling languidly as she curled up at the bottom like a snake made of smoke and mournful regret. She could recline there for a thousand years, lost in memories of things past without a soul to disturb her. Safely shut up, she was free of her pursuers, free of the troubles of the world, free of obligation and pain.

A fingernail tapped against the glass. The noise disturbed the quiet like a clanging bell of a clock tower. She swore she would turn the girl to ash for breaking her hard-found peace.

Yvette wiggled the stopper loose. “Out,” she said.

The girl stepped away so that Sidra could no longer see her pale eye peering down at her through the neck of the bottle. The scent of Yvette’s cigarette smoke, however, wafted over the opening, stale and pungent. Sidra shrank away, refusing to acknowledge the interruption.

Another tap, only this time Yvette gave the bottle a shake too. Sidra’s anger flared. Her melancholia dissolved as her ire churned, her heart and mind spinning, ready to spring forward. She shot out of the bottle, a creature born of fire and air, a funnel of roiling energy, soaring on unseen currents that yielded to her command. Willing herself visible, her spirit, mind, flesh, and bone coalesced in the open air until the weight of gravity anchored her animated body to the earth. Or wherever this light-filled realm was that she’d smuggled herself into.

“I thought you jinn had to obey whoever opened your bottle.”

“And I thought you were forbidden to smoke in the home of your ancestors.” Sidra advanced on Yvette to puncture her self-assuredness, but the girl no longer retreated. Not now that she’d stepped into the river of her free-flowing Fée powers.

“Guess we’re breaking all the rules today.” Yvette glowed softly as she stubbed her cigarette out in a golden chalice. “Grand-Père found out you’re here. He’s requested a ‘chat’ by the stream.”

Curse that Oberon. She’d conjured a way to escape the stinking city of infidels despite the magic bond imprisoning her there, and now this fairy king could ruin everything with his meddling. But this, too, was partially foretold by the fire.

Sidra waited for Yvette to gather her cigarettes and lighter from her vanity and stuff them deep in her pockets, then followed the spritely girl outside her grotto and through the forest. The path stretched out beneath a canopy of trees festooned with moss and lichen that smelled of fresh green growth. Bulbous red-and-white mushrooms sprouted in the soil at their feet while tiny frogs croaked in the undergrowth. Bluebells tinkled a subtle tune in the wake of their passing.

Sidra despised every step through the damp air. She craved the searing heat and brittle-bone dryness of the desert sirocco. She yearned for the company of lizards with their beaded skin as they skimmed over grains of sand to find shelter from the midday sun. A ransom she would pay to sit cross-legged once more beneath the palm trees with their sparse leaves worn as a crown. Now those were trees that made you appreciate life, not these water-fat monstrosities that dropped their shiny green leaves in one’s path like cheap souvenirs for the taking.

“They said to look for him by the standing stones.” Yvette levitated off the ground a mere foot to see over the top of a flowering bush, her shining and glittering nothing but an added boast. The girl had recently learned how to use her powers to rise in the air and showed off her skill at every opportunity. As if traveling on air currents were anything but child’s play. Jinn were born on the air. Unseen. Free to fly wherever the wind took them in whatever shape they wished.

The chattering of tiny winged creatures hiding behind tufts of moss and lumps of stone prompted Sidra to lift the hem of her caftan in disgust so that the beastly things wouldn’t hitch on. If she’d known the insufferable beings inhabited the forest like lice, she might have thought twice about her plan to escape to the Fée lands. But no, she’d not been ready to confront her enemy. The one who’d entrapped her in the city. Not yet. And so she had to suffer in this hideous realm for as long as it took.

A leathery-faced imp flew in her face and squirted nectar at her from a plump flower head he’d plucked from the path. She swatted the thing away. The touch of her skin sizzled its wings off in a puff of smoke. She took a small pleasure from the act, knowing she had such an effect on the nuisance beings.