Read The Mayhem Sisters Online
Authors: Lauren Quick
Table of Contents
The Mayhem Sisters
Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Quick. All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: 2013
Cover and Formatting:
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
littering stars filled the velvety sky. A spark of uncertainty sailed on the wind, a mood that anything could happen. October was an unpredictable month. The steamy summer had finally died off, and the crisp fall days were piling up like heaps of autumn leaves. The night air was cool in her throat as if Vivian Mayhem had gulped a cold glass of water. She loved nights like this, and any other time would stop to soak up some moonbeams and revel in the ambiance, but after devouring a roast chicken with potatoes, polishing off a bottle of red wine, and having a marathon chat-fest with her sister, she was ready to curl up in her comfy bed and sleep like the dead.
Her feet were quick on the well-worn path that led from Clover’s house to the closest portal gate. Traveling in the modern witching world of Everland would have been simple if Vivi were a natural-born flyer like her other sister Honora. If she were in town, she could hop on the Silver Train that zipped across the land, connecting Stargazer City to the multitude of villages and hamlets, but Clover lived out in the Meadowlands, a far cry from the bustling city, and the fastest way to Vivi’s village of Willow Realm was by the lone portal gate near her sister’s house.
The closer Vivi got to the portal, the more her nose twitched. There was a thick, heady scent in the air that made her cautious. She wrapped her favorite knit sweater coat tighter around her middle to ward off the chill and quickened her pace. Relief washed over her when the huge centuries-old oak came into view, the portal gate, a rounded door with a thick frame, carved into its knobby side.
Vivi was only a few yards away when she heard a twig snap. Leaves rustled. The light of the moon cast the path in misshapen shadows. Orbs of illuma light were stationed a few feet apart to keep travelers from falling on their faces, but not much else. Her senses went on high alert. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Someone was lurking in the woods just outside of her sight.
Vivi scanned the dark forest. She held up her right hand, focusing an antique ring with a chunk of moonstone embedded in the silver setting toward the woods. She whispered, “Illuminus.” The enchanted stone burst to life and a halo of white light brightened her surroundings.
A lone woman dressed in a frayed black gown glided out of the forest and across the path like a shadow startled to life. Her gaunt frame was as skeletal as the tree limbs. Long black hair trailed down her back in curly tangles. Her skin was milky pale, her cheeks hollow. Bare feet poked out of the bottom of her dress. Vivi sucked in a gasp of recognition, for she knew the woman from her childhood. She hadn’t seen her for years, not since high school. Esmeralda had been a beautiful, vibrant, and powerful witch once, the envy of all, but now she looked withered.
Everland was brimming with magic. All witches had some degree of magical potential. During their Haven Academy days, young witches and wizards learned the fundamentals of spellcasting, potions, charms, earth magic, and wandwork. But what really made a witch special was her
—the magical power she was born with.
Esmeralda was no exception. Unfortunately, she had been born with a difficult
, causing her to practically disappear from the witching community. She was a seer, and her intuitive powers of premonition were unmatched in the witching world. However, the
forced her to live with one foot in the present and one in the future. Most witches with the seer’s eye went mad, losing themselves in the visions that cluttered their minds, becoming outcasts, unable to maintain productive, stable lives.
She didn’t look hurt, so Vivi wondered what she was doing all the way out here, wandering the woods alone late at night. Her brow pinched suddenly at a sharp pain. Her headaches were back in full force. She needed to navigate around the witch and make a quick getaway through the portal gate without disturbing her.
Esmeralda stopped on the path, blocking her way.
Vivi jerked back. The last thing she wanted was a confrontation with the seer. She pulled her golden portal key from the chain around her neck and clenched it in her hand like a talisman. Just a few steps and she would be home free.
Esmeralda muttered to herself, shoulders rocking back and forth, completely oblivious to Vivi’s presence. Her gaze was far off, watching another time play out. Was that what
looked like? The witch was totally out of it. Esmeralda stirred strange feelings in her—pity laced with fear.
Approaching as quietly as her leather boots would allow, Vivi eased by the other witch. Once clear, she felt a well of relief, but it lasted for only a second, as suddenly the crazed witch’s wiry fingers snaked out, grabbed her arm, and pulled her backward, away from the portal gate. Vivi gasped and struggled under the older witch’s tight grasp. Esmeralda was much stronger than she looked. The witch slipped her bony arm around Vivi’s waist, pulling her into an uncomfortable nearness.
“Trouble, sister!” Her cracked lips were inches from Vivi’s ear. Her breath was a hot breeze, sending a shiver down her spine. “There’s trouble coming. Can’t you feel it?”
Vivi recoiled and broke free from the witch’s hold. “No! I can’t!” Her voice was too harsh, defensive. She rubbed her wrist where the witch had grabbed her.
“Yes, you can.” Esmeralda’s eyes filled with pity. Lines crisscrossed her soft cheeks. Her teeth were cracked, and dark under-eye circles marred her pale face. “I’ve seen you.”
“You knew me as a child.” Vivi took a step backwards, but it did little good. Esmeralda was not about to let her go so easily.
“I’ve seen you in the future,” Esmeralda said. “You have a secret that you’re desperate to keep.”
Vivi’s stomach churned.
How did she know? She’s a seer, that’s how.
“Don’t we all?” Vivi asked, trying to make light of the situation. She wasn’t in the mood for fortune-telling.
“I’ve seen terrible events on the horizon of time,” the witch continued. “You’ll see them, too. You’ll try to save her, but
is stronger than anyone realizes. I’ve seen you caught in a witch’s snare.” She winced, the word a burr on her tongue.
“Stop it. This isn’t funny.” Vivi eyed the portal. She had had enough of bad fortunes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it’s late. I’ve got to go home.”
Time to bolt.
Vivi pushed by the witch on the path.
But Esmeralda wasn’t finished. “You’ll see into the darkness and all will be clear. You’ll feel it on your skin, in your heart, in your mind.” The witch’s strange words trailed behind her.
Vivi swallowed hard and made a beeline for the portal. The pain between her brows sharpened into a tiny dagger, causing her to grit her teeth. Damn headache.
Esmeralda continued with a throaty laugh. “You know all about trouble. You’re a Mayhem sister.”
The statement stopped Vivi in her tracks.
Thanks to her great-great-grandmother Rosemary’s feud with a disreputable trader of witches’ familiars, she had grown up as a Mayhem. Rosemary had freed the animals from the terrible conditions on the trader’s farm and turned him into the police. The animals were safe, but before the trader was sent to prison, he laid a curse on Rosemary and her descendants—a curse of mayhem—and it had meant pure trouble for generations.
Rosemary had wanted to give the trader less satisfaction from his black magic, so she took the curse as her name to claim it, forcing the majority of the mayhem on herself in hopes that life would grow easier for her descendants. The curse lessened with each generation, but Vivi and her sisters always knew that mayhem was just a whisper away.
“Yes, I’m a Mayhem sister,” Vivi said. Why had this broken witch crossed her path? Esmeralda was a reminder of everything Vivi was trying to hide, push down inside of herself. Seeing the future was the real curse, one she refused to acknowledge. “What do you want from me?”
Esmeralda’s face filled with concern. “Nothing. I follow the visions to wherever they lead me, and tonight I came here. It was you, Mayhem sister, who crossed my path.”
“You’re alone in the woods in the middle of the night because people avoid you.” The words stung, but she couldn’t help it. “They fear the things you tell them.”
“Just remember to follow the visions wherever they take you.”
A knot twisted in Vivi’s stomach. It was as if Esmeralda could see right through her, knew her secrets, recognized her lies. She sniffed the air and grimaced. The wind had turned.
“You smell it, too,” she said. “There’s blood in the air.”
Vivi’s nerves were shot. She was done listening to ramblings. The bark of the old oak tree was rough and sturdy beneath her fingertips. A cold metal plate was embedded in the side of the wooden door. Vivi slipped her key inside the lock and gave it a quick turn. A warm glow lit up the side of the tree, transforming the portal gate into a swirling surface. She closed her eyes and let the warmth of the magic wash over her. Within seconds she would be back in her village and close to home.
Before walking through the portal, Vivi gave one last glance over her shoulder.
Esmeralda held up her hand in goodbye. “You’ll see.”
“Willow Realm,” Vivi said into the oak’s magical surface and stepped through, but she couldn’t help but twitch her nose. She had smelled it, too. Blood was in the air. Trouble was not far behind, but what had she expected from October? Unpredictable as ever, her luck could go either way.
glossy black raven tapped on the glass of Vivi’s bedroom window with his sharp beak. He peered into her room like an avian voyeur, eyeing her disapprovingly as she lay sprawled in a tangle of blankets. He had been out all night, perched in the tree outside of her window, standing guard like an armored sentry. Vivi pitied anyone who tried to break into her shop, or the apartment above it where she lived, when Rumor was on duty.
Every witch and wizard had at least one familiar during his or her life, forming a close bond, an intuitive understanding, and providing companionship. Rumor had been her familiar for years, and he always knew when she wasn’t feeling like herself. Out on the ledge, he puffed up his feathers and gave them a ruffled shake, doing his little raven shimmy. A smile bloomed across Vivi’s face. Cheering up a bad mood was Rumor’s specialty. She couldn’t get anything by him. Besides her sisters, that bird was her best friend.
Vivi stared at the ceiling for a few seconds, realizing that she couldn’t snuggle in bed all day. Time to get to work. She threw back the covers, slid into a pair of fuzzy slippers, and opened the window. With an extension of his black wings, Rumor launched himself into the room and found his perch of elaborately carved wood in the corner. He gave a squawk of greeting and nodded his beak up and down, giving her the once-over.
“I know,” Vivi said, the dull throb in her head still there. “I feel as bad as I must look.”
After her run-in with Esmeralda last night, Vivi had barely slept. She’d tossed and turned all night, her dreams crowded with shadows and voices. Seeing the witch had dredged up old feelings that she was trying to ignore. Vivi had been doing a superb job of living in denial for years now, and she wasn’t going to let Esmeralda and her visions spook her into questioning her judgment on how to live her life. Her feet were firmly planted in the present. The future could wait its turn.
Wanting to get moving with her day, she peeled out of her pajamas and took a quick shower. Next, she slid on a pair of worn jeans and a loose peasant top, draped some strands of beads over her neck, pulled a row of silver bangles up her wrist, tapped powder on her nose and a sweep of blush across her cheeks to finish the “alive and well” look, and she was ready to go.
One of the best things about owning her own shop was that she didn’t have to dress up in ankle-breaking high heels or stuffy business suits. She brewed a cup of fragrant black tea in a ceramic mug and gingerly carried it out the door. Work had always been the cure to her woes, her refuge in life, and she headed down the back stairs of her apartment to her shop, her euphoria, The Potion Garden.
Vivi unlocked the back door, whispered the basic spell to unlock the security ward, and stepped inside. Every time she opened the door, her heart leapt a little when she inhaled the exotic fragrance of herbs and spices that formed the base for her potions. She had launched the shop three years ago, and it had been growing ever since, making her feel both giddy and secure. She loved every little glass vial and corked bottle brimming with magic. It was her home base.
By trade Vivi was a potion master, a brewer of elixirs, and a conjurer of the kettle, but she had a secret—a true
that she pushed deep down inside her, and
magic was beginning to stir, whether she liked it or not.
As far as the Mayhem witches went, Vivian was the middle sister. She always felt a little like she was occupying the space between two extremes. She wasn’t strong and powerful, driven to solve twisted mysteries like her private investigator baby sister, Honora, nor was she voluptuous and curvy, a creative wunderkind weaving magical stories for adoring fans like her older sister, Clover. She always thought of herself as the sensible sister—the rock of the family. But when she stepped into her shop, she stepped into a special place that defined her—a growing, glittery business she had brewed up with an old copper pot and a little magic.
Everland was a haven for witches. A thousand years ago, the Witch Council was formed when witches rose out of earth’s dark ages, banded together in a coven of one, and created a parallel world exclusively for themselves. Many fabled creatures existed outside of the witching world and lived in the Otherworld: fairies, nymphs, sprites, and creatures of night and shadows like vampires, ghouls, goblins, and werewolves, not to mention the magical beasts of the forest, desert, air, and sea. There were also the humans.
At one time the witches coexisted with the others, crossing over the barrier, learning and developing, as the Otherworld did, but not anymore. It was too dangerous. Many humans had accepted, even welcomed, magical ways, but most were suspicious of things they couldn’t explain. So witches chose a world of their own kind, mostly to avoid being burned at the stake or hung by the neck, self-preservation being highly valued.
Vivi inhaled the rich scents that mingled in the air. The shop was stocked with beautiful hand-blown glass bottles filled with potions and elixirs. Potions for headaches and heartaches sat next to potions for laughter and levitation. Bath salts sat on a shelf next to circle-casting salt. A discerning witch could find a potion for more wrinkles or fewer wrinkles, depending on whom she wanted to impress, or a potion for a mood mender and daily happiness drops. Vivi could whip up a potion to cure the driest of skin or rekindle the stalest of romances. She brewed balms for chapped lips and sore souls. An elixir could cause a spark or soothe an ache, depending on how she made the magic work.
The best thing for business was that potions weren’t permanent. They were a quick fix, a burst of magic. Love potions never lasted long and crow’s feet always came marching back.
Vivi scanned her daily to-do list. She pulled the cash box out from the safe in the back room and slipped it under the front counter. Though bartering still happened, gold was the currency of Everland. She unlocked the box and fingered a few dozen coins. In Willow Realm, her customers still tended to use real gold, but wanting to stay on the cutting edge, she had invested in a shiny, new card reader, since the gold card was becoming more and more popular for modern witches who didn’t want to lug around a bag of gold in their purses.
After setting out a stack of blank receipts and refilling the stock, Vivi decided to brew a new potion to raise her spirits, maybe one for wishful thinking or a pleasant surprise. She kicked off her shoes and wiggled her toes on the hard pine floor in the back room of her shop. Some witches tucked their wands behind their ears when they worked, but not Vivi. She tended to stick sprigs of rosemary or stalks of larkspur behind her ear or in her hair. Within a few minutes of brainstorming, she had so many pieces of dried flowers poking out of her mass of pinned-up hair that it felt like a bird had taken roost.
Concocting was one of Vivi’s favorite things to do, brewing up new formulas to sell to her ever-demanding clients. She quickly fell into a rhythm of chopping herbs and adding flower essences to the brew bubbling in a giant copper cauldron. With a wooden spoon, she stirred the thickening mixture as steam rose off the surface like fog on a cold lake. She leaned over the pot, a loose strand of her curly brown hair falling across her forehead as warm air drifted over her face.
Best steamy facial ever,
The jingle of the doorbell caught her attention.
Vivi’s spunky young assistant, Pepper Rue, bounced through the door, her auburn bobbed hair swinging. She wore a pair of funky green glasses perched on the tip of her pert nose and hurried into the back room from the front of the shop.
“Hey, boss.” Pepper stuffed her gigantic leather satchel under the counter. “Did you have fun at Clover’s house last night?” With her lithe frame, she easily hopped up onto the smooth wooden work surface to have a morning chat. She was in her mid-twenties and had graduated from Haven Academy at the top of her class.
“It was fine,” Vivi said, not showing any expression or emotion. She didn’t want to talk about what happened with Esmeralda, and she knew what Pepper
wanted to talk about. “Nothing exciting.”
Vivi was driving Pepper crazy by withholding details of her dinner date with her sister. Clover was a word witch, her
being storytelling, and she wrote the hottest magical romance novels in Everland’s history. “
was a phenomenal bestselling series, filled with steamy love-laced magical romps that were highly addictive. The only caveat was that Clover wrote under the pseudonym of Cassandra Reason, and only a handful of witches knew her real identity and what she did for a living, Vivi’s details-hungry assistant being one of them.
Feigning concentration, Vivi hummed and stared intently into the pot.
“Oh, please! Spill it, you sinister witch.” Pepper jumped off the counter and fell to her knees. “I’m begging.”
“Spill what?” Vivi tried to hide a smile. “You mean the sordid details of the fantastic new book?” Her eyes rolled back. “It’s sooooo good. You won’t believe what happens. It’s hot and has a ton of surprises you won’t see coming.”
Pepper dramatically clutched at her boss’s leg. “Does Adeline lose her power? Does Jacob still love her, even though her family shunned her? Please, I can’t take waiting.” Her voice rose to a high-pitched squeal.
“My lips are sealed.” Vivi turned down the heat under the pot to let the mixture simmer.
Pepper’s shoulders slumped as she got to her feet. “I’ll work every Friday and Saturday until the winter solstice. Just a little hint,” she pleaded.
“No, really, my lips are sealed. Clover made me drink one of my own secret-keeping potions so I wouldn’t be strong-armed by any crazy
, into spilling her plot before the launch tomorrow.” Vivi shrugged. “You’ll have to wait.”
“That’s pretty clever, actually.” Pepper tied an embroidered apron around her waist. In a moment of sheer dedication, she had sewn the shop’s logo of snaking vines and flowers onto the crisp green fabric.
“I can tell you that the book will drive you wild. It’s the best one yet.” Vivi’s eyes widened. She was proud of her big sister.
Pepper gave a little clap of her hands in joyful anticipation. “Waiting’s all part of the fun. Your sister really knows how to punch up the anticipation,” she said and then nosed over the pot, inhaling the scent. “Whatcha making?”
“Just a little wishful thinking,” Vivi said. “I wanted to create a potion that grants one simple wish. Nothing crazy, like the man of your dreams or a giant sack of gold or anything over the top—just a little wish, like a sale on shoes, or a tasting of hot baked scones at Nocturnes.”
“Sounds fun.” Pepper headed up front to open the shop for the day. “I would wish for a ton of happy customers.”
Vivi smiled. Pepper was the best assistant she could ever want. Her positive attitude was infectious. She discovered early on that Pepper’s
was in potions, and no matter how hard Vivi tried, she never came close to her assistant in whipping up the perfect brew.
A tiny spark crackled on Vivi’s fingertips when she reached for the lavender. She crushed the purple buds in her hands, and suddenly something tripped a switch in her brain, sending a jolt of pain through her temples. Stupid headaches. She swayed on her feet and grabbed the counter for support. It wasn’t just a headache that was forcing its way into her mind’s eye, and she knew it.
The vision overwhelmed her thoughts. It was much stronger than the flashes of images she had seen and repressed in the past. Maybe it was the perfume of the crushed flower, the smell triggering the sight. Vivi sunk down to the floor, her feet sliding out from under her. The feeling was sharp, as if a giant hook pierced her stomach and pulled her right out of her shop and into an ethereal future world.
“Everything okay in there?” Pepper asked, but Vivi wasn’t listening.
Shrouded in misty fog, the Dire Woods—the infamous blackened forest—refuge to dark sorcerers and their ilk, surrounded her on all sides. She tried to tell herself that it wasn’t real, that she was back in her warm shop, safe and sound, but the cold air clung to her arms and legs, sending a cascade of shivers through her. She was far from safe and sound.
No one went to the Dire Woods unless desperate or dragged. The woods permeated with the stench of black magic—brimstone, sulfur, rotten eggs, and burning wood, the dregs of dark sorcery. The sound of scurrying claws clutching the bark of trees filled the air. Vivi spun in circles, her eyes wide, searching the dense black forest for lurking predators, because suddenly, even in the ethereal vision, she felt like prey.
Tangled wiry branches snagged her top. Fear pulsed through her as Vivi stumbled backwards into the rough trunk of a tree. Her bare feet scrambled on the cold hard ground when she tried to push away from the bark. She was trapped. There was no way out of the vision. All she could do was watch, a witness to a strange scene playing out in front of her. Vivi realized with a flash of relief that she was hidden in plain sight from danger. She slowed her breathing, and her nerves calmed.
A rustling noise echoed in the distance. Someone was coming. She crouched down. A wizard dressed entirely in black burst through the underbrush, forcing a path through the woods. His panic flowed out of him and into her with a jolt of emotion. The visions were brutal that way, giving her more information than she could ever want. Deception flowed from him, and Vivi knew instinctively he was on the run, trying to hide, to escape. He had stolen something, but what, she couldn’t tell. His long black coat slapped at the trees as he circled the small clearing. He reeked of smoke and carried a black sack thrown over his shoulder that weighed heavily on him, causing Vivi’s shoulder to ache.