It turns out that magic is a little more difficult than it looks in the movies, but that mostly has to do with how finicky artifacts are. The first artifact Nixie gave me was a pocket watch that was supposed to be able to freeze objects and enemies in mid-air. The plan was for her and Baron to throw apples at me and see if I could stop them from hitting me. I didn’t like the plan, but I figured if I argued I wouldn’t get to help, so I agreed and moved away from the window.
“Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you right away,” Nixie said. “Artifacts have to be attuned to your energy before they’ll work properly, and some of them may not be able to do so right away, or at all, in some cases.”
“What cases are those?” Macey asked, eyeing the watch like it might bite her, and holding up the recipe book like a shield. I thought that was silly since nobody was going to throw fruit at her.
“Sometimes artifacts grow attached to their users, and then they won’t work correctly for anyone else,” Baron said. “Other times their energy just isn’t meant to match up with their would be user. There are ways to test for that other than just trying to use the artifacts, but we don’t really have time for that.”
“Okay, so how is this watch supposed to work then? Like is there a word, or—Ow! Hey!”
Nixie had chucked her apple at me and hit me in the shin. Macey giggled and didn’t even look guilty for it when I glared at her. “Whoops, sorry Dillon. There are no words though; you just gotta feel it.”
Nixie grabbed another apple, and I tried to focus on making it not hit me. Then Baron threw his, and it hit the wall next to my head. “Careful!”
“Focus on making the apple freeze,” Baron said. “Visualize it stopping in time.”
Nixie raised her arm to throw her apple next, and I tried to imagine it freezing in mid-air, tried to believe that was what would happen when she threw it. Nixie threw the apple, and it sailed through the air, not stopping, and I barely managed to duck before it hit the wall where my head had just been. “Can we try a different artifact now?”
Nixie rolled her eyes, but I could see the amusement in her eyes. “Sure thing, just give me a sec.”
I gave her the watch back and she gave me an amulet with a large red stone in the center. “What does this one do?”
“It makes fire,” Nixie said, placing a candle on the table. “Focus on the candle and try to light it. Please don’t set the tower on fire.”
“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Macey said, though she’d put her book back on the table.
“Maybe not, but if Dillon can get this one working it’ll be a big help in the Otherworld. It’s dark over there, and most of the inhabitants hate fire,” Baron said and gestured for me to take a seat at the table. “Besides, it’s something he can work with on his own, so Nixie and I can work on getting Alexei up here, and you can try your hand at making potions.”
Macey nodded, turning back to the worktable and flipping through the recipe book again. Baron turned back into a crow once more, and Nixie let him out the window before shutting it once more. I turned to the candle and tried to imagine it catching fire. The amulet was heavy around my neck, and when I wrapped my hand around it I almost felt like I could feel the magic inside of it, even if I couldn’t quite access it.
I remembered when my dad had taken the family camping, and when he’d been building the fire he told me fires had to breathe, just like us, so the logs couldn’t smother the tinder, or else they wouldn’t catch. I focused on the pulse of power that I could feel, breathing in time with it while I stared at the candle wick, trying to believe that I was breathing life into the fire that would light the wick. I could just see smoke starting to rise from the candle when there was a tapping at the window and my concentration broke.
I turned just in time to see Nixie open the window for Baron, and when he flew inside he had a string clutched in his beak that led out the window. Nixie took it and started pulling on it, and then Baron shifted into human form to help her. Watching his shift was the strangest thing, a flurry of black feathers that my mind didn’t quite comprehend. By the time I finished being confused, Baron and Nixie had pulled up a basket and were helping a skinny crow onto the bird stand. I figured that was Alexei, as his wing was bent at a funny angle.
Another crow flew through the window after the basket, and while Baron shut the window once more, the newcomer shifted into a woman. She was tall and strong, with tan skin and long dark hair that was pulled into a braid. She was dressed the same as Baron and Nixie, and I started to wonder if it was a uniform instead of a fashion choice. She eyed me with suspicion, and while her eyes were closer to brown than black, they were colder than Baron and Nixie’s.
“You gave the child an artifact?” She had turned her judgemental eyes on Baron and Nixie, and I slumped in relief. I figured she was on our side, but she was still scary.
“He wants to help, Lilith. They both do, really,” Baron said, shrugging.
“He almost had it too,” Nixie said, beaming at me. “I saw the candle smoking just before you came in.”
“A smoking candle will be little help to us,” Lilith said, though her eyes were calculating now.
“How’s the mending potion coming, Macey?” Baron asked, and I turned to my sister, who was frowning at the bottles around her.
“I’m having a little trouble identifying the ingredients,” Macey said. “I think I found the ones that were labeled, but I’m not sure which herbs are which. But once I have everything identified I should be able to make it; the recipe is pretty simple, and the instructions are clear.”
“I can help with that,” Nixie said, moving over to look at the book. “I helped your aunt pick most of these herbs, so I know them pretty well.”
“Should we give Dillon another artifact to try?” Baron asked.
“Has he picked one out himself yet?” Lilith asked, scanning the cabinet. “Perhaps there is one that will call to him.”
“We can try it.” Baron shrugged. “Dillon, take a look at the cabinet, see if anything catches your eye.”
“How will I know?” I asked, moving towards the cabinet anyway and scanning the contents.
“Just follow your gut,” Lilith said. “If there is something that matches your energy already, you will be drawn to it.”
I scanned the shelves. There was a lot of stuff in the cabinet, some of it weirder than others. There were dozens of amulets, rings, and other pieces of jewelry, all from different times and cultures, but there were also crystals and statutes, a set of stones with runes carved into them, even a taxidermy rat. There was even a skull with patterns carved into it, though I had no idea what kind of creature had a head shaped like that, so I didn’t linger on it long. Nothing seemed particularly interesting to me, and I was almost ready to give up when my eye caught on a small velvet box tucked away on the bottom shelf.
There was nothing particularly interesting about it, but once I’d seen it I knew that whatever was in it was meant for me. I pulled it out and opened it carefully, sighing in relief when I was met with an antique coin. It was silver, and it looked old and worn, but I couldn’t tell what country it might have been from.
“What does this one do?” I asked. Lilith peaked over my shoulder and grinned when she saw the box’s contents. It was the kindest look I’d seen from her yet.
“That is the Fortuna coin. It was made in Rome in 110 AD,” Lilith said. “It brings its user good luck. Having it call out to you is a very good sign for us all.”
“I can hold onto it then? And I can come help get Aunt Pen back?” Lilith shrugged and turned to the others. Baron looked to Nixie, and Nixie took a moment to think before answering.
“If you can get the candle to light, you can come with us,” she said. “But if you can’t, you’ll stay here with your sister and Alexei. Sound fair?”
I nodded at her, then turned back to the candle. I took a deep breath, wrapping one hand around the amulet and keeping the coin safe in the other. The pulse of magic felt stronger now, and I focused on it as I pictured the candle catching fire.
This time, the candle lit.