I spend a few tortured hours thinking about my parents, Aednat and Struan, and the tragedy which separated them and brought me into the world. Torin called me a cursed child and he was right. I'm doubly cursed. The curse of my clan and the curse of being a killer's daughter. Surely, of all the current MacGrigor crop, I must be the most likely to turn into a monster.
I worry about it for hours, imagining what it would be like to lose control of my mind, feel my body change, become a beast like the one I saw earlier. I thought death was the worst thing I had to fear but now I know better. With worries like these, I doubt I'll ever be able to sleep again. But eventually tiredness overcomes even my gravest fears and I drift off into a fitful sleep, one filled with dreams of wolf-girls and dead children.
I awake late in the morning. The others are already up but most have only risen within the last hour so I don't feel too guilty for sleeping in.
I expect them to treat me differently now they know the truth of my background and the threat of what I might become. But it quickly becomes clear that they think of me no differently than they did yesterday. I suppose there's too much else to worry about. After all, what's one potential half-demon when judged against the hordes of genuine, fully-formed Demonata we might yet have to face?
Ronan and Lorcan have caught another hare, which Fiachna roasts on a spit. Along with the leftovers from the night before it provides us with a filling meal to start the day. Again we offer to share it with the MacGrigor, but again they refuse. They have too much pride to eat from another's fire.
When we're finished, they point us in the easiest direction to the coast, then wave us off. Aideen looks like she wants to wish me well but she dare not speak kindly to me in front of the glowering Torin. I wish I could stay here and work on Torin, earn his respect and love. But even if he wasn't so hostile to me, I'm part of a quest, and although it's shrouded in secrecy and I'm deeply suspicious of Drust's reasons for helping us, it would be wrong to quit now. Perhaps, if I survive, I can return and seek a place here in my true home-even if it's only so that they can chain me up with others of my kind if my body starts to change.
One of the wretched wolf-humans is howling madly as we leave, as if it senses a kindred spirit and is singing to the beast I might one day become.
I think about the MacGrigor-my family-as we set off, wondering what will happen if we fail and the Demonata overrun the land. Will these poor excuses for humans be all that remain of our people? Will they alone be spared, kept alive because of their poisoned blood, the only human faces in a land of twisted demons?
My lessons resume as we march. I practise the spells which Drust has already taught me and learn some new ones, like-
How to hold my breath for ten minutes.
How to make my fingers so cold that anything I touch turns to ice.
How to create an image of myself, to confuse a human or demonic foe.
How to sharpen a rock using only magic, to fashion a crude knife or spearhead for those times when magic alone might not be enough.
I'm amazed at how swiftly I'm developing. Under Banba it would sometimes take me a week to master a new spell. Now I'm mastering some in minutes, almost before Drust has finished explaining how they work. And although they tire me, they don't drain me and I recover rapidly.
Drust is surprised too. He keeps commenting on how fast I am, quicker to learn than anyone he's ever taught, how deep my magic runs. At first I think it's flattery, designed to keep me happy and stop me thinking about the MacGrigor.
But as the day wears on I realise he's actually worried about my progress.
"What's wrong?" I snap as for the twentieth time he mutters darkly about my skills. "Aren't you glad that I'm learning quickly?"
"Of course," Drust says. "Any teacher would be pleased to pass on so much with such little effort. But it's not natural. Of course all magic is unnatural. We bend the laws of the universe to suit our needs. Each student is different, learning in a unique way, developing unlike any other. But there are similarities... learning steps all must climb... patterns they share.
"Except you." His eyes are heavy. "When we started out, you were like any student. Slow to learn, stubborn to abandon your old ways, gradually opening yourself up to a new world of magic. Now you're nothing like that. You've changed in every imaginable way and I'm not sure what to think of it."
"It's not that strange," I mutter. "Once I perfected my first spell, it was easy. I just had a hard time getting started."
"No," Drust says. "There's more to it than that. I..." He hesitates, then says it. "I want to look inside your mind. I want to join spirits with you and see what inspired this change."
I go very quiet. I shared my mind and spirit with Banba many times. It's part of the teaching process. I thought I'd have to do the same with Drust, but there'd been no mention of it until now. Sharing one's spirit is a personal, private thing. To do it with a woman is hard, but to share with a man...
"It won't be easy for me either," Drust says quietly. "If you refuse, I won't force you. But I have good reason for asking. There's something unsettling about your growth. I suspect I know what it is. But I need to go within your mind to be sure."
"Can't you just tell me?" I groan. "Why all this need for secrets?"
"Druids and priestesses are creatures of secrets," he says. "We live in worlds of mazes and mysteries. Secrecy is part of who we are and how we live. It should be enough for you when I say I need to do this. My reasons are unimportant. You either trust me or you don't."
I want to pull a face and say that I don't, to annoy him. But his worry has set me worrying too. Now that I think about it, I realise no apprentice should advance this far, this fast. Banba told me ignorance is the greatest danger any magician ever faces. If you don't know yourself intimately- your powers and the magic you wield-sooner or later you'll fall victim to forces of the unknown."Very well," I sigh. "But I don't want you rooting around inside my head too long. Find what you need, then get out. If not, I'll fight."Drust nods, smiling wryly. Then, without slowing, he takes hold of my left hand and directs his thoughts towards me. I feel his presence immediately, as if he'd opened a door into my mind and stepped through. His magic washes into me, seeping through my skin. Most of it is directed through his fingers but it comes from other places too-legs, chest, head. His power is like a cloud wrapped around me, swallowing me, tasting and testing me. Soon it's as if there are two people sharing one body. My thoughts are his, my past, my dreams, my magic.I stiffen but don't stop walking. Movement gives me a notion of separation. I'm still aware of my individual self, who I am, who I was, who I hope to be. If I stop, I'm afraid Drust will become me and I'll lose myself to him completely.He presses further into my mind, searching, exploring the well of my magic. He's already deeper within me than Banba ever got, discovering truths which nobody knows, my secret wishes and desires, my hopes, loves and fears. And still he doesn't stop. He keeps going, working on the part of me that is pure magic, dragging himself down towards my core, deeper and deeper, searching...Something flares within me. I feel a bolt of lethal power shoot towards Drust. I know it will kill him upon contact but I can't stop it. It's coming from a place I can't control, that I didn't know was there. The bolt flies straight at Drust, increasing in power. It's going to kill him! It will blow him apart! It-Suddenly, he isn't there. Contact has been broken. He throws himself away physically, mind following, disappearing from my thoughts, crying out in pain, but not the sort of pain that accompanies death.I cry out too and drop, head on fire, screaming, feeling the bolt of power explode into nothingness, tearing at the rim of my mind but not damaging me, not like it would have damaged- destroyed-Drust.Bright lights. Stars. Then a red haze. When it clears, everyone's around Drust and me. Concerned for me, wary of the druid. Ronan and Lorcan have him at sword point, even though he's rolled up into a ball and isn't moving. Connla's behind them, testing his own sword's edge, eyes flicking from one twin to the other. Fiachna's studying my face, rolling my eyelids up, making sure I'm all right. Bran is close by, anxiously chewing his lower lip."I'm fine," I mutter, pushing Fiachna away-my skin is more sensitive than it's ever been. His touch is painful."What did he do?" Ronan asks, positioning the tip of his sword by Drust's throat, ready to slice it open and end his life the second I give him an excuse."Put down that sword," Connla growls, unexpectedly coming to the druid's aid. "Don't harm him.""I will if he's hurt her!" Ronan snaps."He didn't," I gasp. I want to lie down and rest, but I'm afraid they'll kill Drust if I don't speak up. "We were... working on a spell. It went wrong. He was trying to help me, not harm me."The others look relieved, except Ronan, who looks annoyed at being denied his kill. They sheathe their weapons. Goll asks how long it will take for Drust to recover and when we'll be ready to continue. I tell him I don't know and ask them to leave us alone for a while. When they're out of earshot, I slide over next to Drust and whisper, "Can you hear me?"A long pause, then a very shaky, "Aye.""What happened?" I hiss.Drust rolls on to his side and stretches out slowly. There are burn marks on his right hand, ugly welts. There are red lines etched across his temple too, as though flames had shot up from his hand to his head."I was right," he croaks."About what?""The source of your magic." His fingers twitch and he winces. It hurts but I lean forward and cast a healing spell on his hand. As the worst of the redness cools away, Drust looks at me, no gratitude in his eyes, only doubt. "Magic exploded within you when you fought Lord Loss.""I know. I reached in and stole power from him."Drust shakes his head. "No. That's not the whole truth. He gave it to you." I frown, not understanding. "Lord Loss let you take from him," Drust explains. "More than that-he extended his magic towards you. He reached within you and struck at the... the flint of your spirit, for want of a better term. He created the magical sparks and fanned them into life. You're powerful because he wants you to be-because he lit the flames of magic inside you."My face whitens. "You mean the magic... my spells... that's all because of him?""Aye.""But why?" I cry. "Why would a demon give power to a human?""I don't know," Drust says. "But I do know this. I thought you were my apprentice, but you're not-you're Lord Loss's."And the suspicion in his eyes cuts to my heart as if he'd stabbed me in the chest with a knife.