The Reluctant Apprentice by Victoria Durm

Chapter One

Tess hated the look of the town. It was too small, too straight laced, and far too ugly. She’d
even hated the sign her sister passed, welcoming them to Sterling Way. It was battered, and stated that it had been established in 1862. Tess sighed, for the second time since they’d passed it.

“Oh Tess, knock it off. It’s not that bad. Look, there’s even a general store,” Kimberly said.

“Great, I’ll inform Laura Ingalls,” Tess muttered. She turned her ipod up, then glared out the window. They’d come to the main shopping plaza.

“Stop here,” she said to her sister.

“Why? We’re almost home.” Kimberly’s jaw tightened as she pulled over to a parking meter.

“I just wanted to get some stretching in. Because once we get home, I am not planning to
come out of my room.” With that, Tess opened the door to the car, got out, and stalked down the sidewalk. She wanted to have the last word.

“Tess! We’re not exactly acquainted with the neighborhood,” Kim called after her. “At least
meet me back by five?”

“Fine, whatever,” Tess called over her shoulder. She flipped her hair back, then began to hum along with the latest Taylor Swift track.

She walked past several small shops. Many sold clothing, some others oddities. Eventually, Tess stopped outside a shop with large, old books in the window. The sign on the door read “Grand Opening.” She frowned. Taking a few steps closer, Tess pulled her earbuds out, and looked at the display. The books had strange writing on the covers, but Tess felt as though she’d seen them before.

“You can come in, if you want. The view is much better inside,” a male voice said. Tess
turned around and saw a young man smiling down at her.

“Sorry if I startled you,” he said.

“It’s alright.” Tess said. She took his long, dark hair with a single blue streak running through it. It was held in place with with a blue hair tie, though strands had escaped to frame his face, laying across the strong lines of his jaw. The man’s eyes were a piercing green. They looked
more like the eyes of a cat than a person. “Is this your store?”

“Yes it is. I opened it last night, as a matter of fact. I’m Jeremy.” He held out his hand. It was hidden beneath a black satin glove.

“Tess,” she replied, holding out her hand. She wasn’t into formalities, but she figured she’d
better pretend she was. “How did you come by all these books?”

Withdrawing his hand, Jeremy cleared his throat. “They were a family heirloom.” He moved pass her and pulled out of ring of keys. “Actually, this was my grandfather’s store until a few days ago. He left it to me in his will.”

Tess frowned. “I’m sorry. Were you close?”

“Somewhat,” Jeremy said. He pushed the door open. It creaked a bit. “Come on in.” He
reached over to the display window, and flipped the Closed sign to Open.

Tess followed him. Inside, the store was decorated like every other magick store she’d been
in, including a back room obscured by beaded strips with bells on the end. “What’s back
there?”

Jeremy glanced in the direction she pointed. “The store room, and the classroom,” he said.
“Are you interested in the occult?”

Tess didn’t reply right away. It was the first time anyone had asked her that. Her interest in the occult had grown slowly since she was nine. And there were events that she had yet to tell anyone, including her sister Kim. “Well, sort of,” she finally said. Tess watched him unlock a small cabinet and pull pamphlets out. “Do you like it?”

“Well, I guess I do, or I wouldn’t have this store,” Jeremy said. “Come, I want to show you
something.” His eyes were filled with amusement or delight, Tess couldn’t decide which. “You believe in things others don’t,” he asked, as he led the way towards the back room.

“Yeah, but doesn’t everyone?” Tess felt the cool plastic beads of the door’s curtain sweep
over her as she continued to follow her host. “I mean, everyone believes in something
someone else doesn’t. That’s why religions are always being fought over, right?”

Jeremy turned. His expression was blank for a moment, and then he laughed. His laugh was rich, and kind. It wasn’t the kind that she normally got in school over her choice of music or clothing. It was comforting. His eyes even lit up. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. But here, let me see if you’re a true believer.” The young man stepped the side. Before her was what Tess knew to be a looking glass. “A believer can See on command,” he said grandly. “Can you?”

Tess frowned, chewing her bottom lip. She’d read about Seeing many times. She didn’t do it the same way everyone in her books did. She could do it without tools. Mirrors and bowls of water just clouded her. “Well, yes, but I’ve never used a mirror,” she said to him.

Jeremy was quiet for a long moment, glancing from her to the mirror. “Then you should try it. Come, sit,” he said. His tone was quiet, professional, not conversational. “We’ll invoke the right mood here and now,” he added. As he spoke, the curtain of beads in the doorway swung together in the middle, shielding light. Now only a sliver from the store outside existed, barely illuminating the back room.

Tess felt her skin crawl. As much as she liked the occult, this was the first time she’d ever
shared it with anyone. And it was also the first time she’d ever been around someone more
into than she was. It was scary. “Um, maybe I shouldn’t…”

She was rescued by the sound of her phone ringing. “One minute,” she said.

Tess ducked out of the darkened room, and flipped her phone open. “Kim,” she breathed.
“Thank goodness.”

“Five minutes must be twenty in teen time,” Kim said. “I’m outside. Let’s go.” There wasn’t a hint of worry in the older girl’s voice, which annoyed Tess. For all Kim knew she could have been abducted.

“I’m fine, by the way,” Tess snapped, hanging up on her sister. She turned to go and tell
Jeremy she had to leave. There was no need. He was behind her. “Geez. You’re good at
that.”

“Sorry,” Jeremy said. His eyes were still smiling with confidence. “Have to go?”

“Was my keeper,” Tess said. “My sister, I mean. Maybe I’ll come back again sometime.” She stuffed her phone back into her hoodie, and headed for the front of the store.

“Tess, before you go,” Jeremy called after her, “take this.” He reached into box, and pulled a pendant out. It was on a black cord. The front of it the pendant included a black rose encircled by green vines. It was the prettiest and the ugliest thing she had ever seen.

“I don’t know if I should,” Tess began. But the necklace was around neck before she could
finish. It glowed blue. There was a tingly feeling that surged through Tess’ entire body, like
energy finding its home.

“I knew it,” Jeremy said, before turning away from her to start putting some books in a box
onto a shelf near the classroom.

“Knew what,” Tess demanded. She heard Kim impatiently honk the horn. “What is this thing,” Tess asked, tugging at the cord around her neck.

“You’ll learn soon enough,” Jeremy said. There was no laughter in his voice now. Nor did he even seem warm. “Shouldn’t keep your ride waiting, Tess.”

Tess was more than ready to keep Kim waiting. Jeremy was basically making her leave
without answering questions that were dying to be asked. For a long minute, she waited,
hoping he would give her more to go on. When the store owner returned to his book shelving, she groaned in frustration. Tucking the pendant into her shirt, she shouldered the door open.

“Took you long enough.” Her sister scowled as she got into the car. “What were you doing in there, anyway? You know I won’t let you practice that crap in my house.”

“I don’t want to ‘practice’ anything.” Tess countered. As she pulled her seatbelt over to the
fastener, she couldn’t help but glance back. The car was pulling away, but she clearly saw the sign on the door. It was flipped back to closed, and the lights were off.

“You should not have engaged with her until I talked to her, Jer,” Malik said, “She doesn’t
even know we exist.”

“Yes, but that’s why I activated her. I needed to make sure she was the right one. It wasn’t by chance that girl and her sister moved here. You know that as well as I do!” Jeremy smoothed the strands of hair away from his face. “It won’t be long now.”

“Of course not. You activated the apprenticeship.” Malik’s expression was still sour. “When I said you needed to find her, I didn’t think it would be today!”

“The stars can align for me as well as they did for you,” Jeremy said, quietly.

“Pfft. Align, little brother?” Malik stood, folding his arms as he paced the back of the store. “My apprentice died, if you remember correctly. Too young, that one was.”

“Wrong type of training,” Jeremy countered. “I won’t be making that mistake.” He pulled a
cloak around his shoulders, and fastened it around his neck. Pulling the hood up, he turned to head out. “I need to see her living situation. I believe this sister of hers might be a problem.”

“If you take her from her family, you will regret it,” Malik called after Jeremy. “She won’t trust, or like you. For her to be installed as your true apprentice, you will need her to do both.”

“I’m aware of how it works,” Jeremy snapped. “Don’t you think I payed attention before we left our realm?” He turned, giving his elder brother a questioning look. “I’ll be returning alone. Fear not.” Before his brother could talk to him further, Jeremy left.

The warlock took the easy way to Tess’ house. When he appeared from his portal, the lawn
was still visible in the fading daylight. Kimberly’s car was in the driveway. The portal faded
behind him into nothingness, and he headed to the gazebo. It was a small, but accessible
vantage point.

“Stop playing with that stupid necklace and help me unpack. How did you even afford that
ugly ass thing?” Jeremy smiled up at Tess’ window as her sister’s voice floated down to the
gazebo.

He could see Tess in the room above the kitchen, though she couldn’t see him. There you
are, he thought as he sat down. The girl was pacing the room. Through the sheer curtains,
he saw her playing with the pendant. Then he heard her growl in frustration. He tried not to smirk.

The pendant couldn’t be removed by her. It had to be removed by one of his Order.  Either himself or someone else, if the Order decided she was no good. But then there was an even more dangerous fate that awaited her if that happened.

Victoria Durm– http://victoriadurm.alt-world.com/

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