Penny woke up groggy, tasting cotton in her mouth. She expected to die, so as these things went, this was an improvement. Once upon a time, she thought being a witch was a gift; now, she cursed that she’d ever celebrated being born with power—it led to situations like this.
“A witch conquers the contours of an approved school of magic. A sorceress commands them all.”
Penny looked up at the voice that had just spoken. “I’m sorry…what?”
“I was just thinking about you,” he replied calmly, “And I thought I would explain it.”
Penny quickly glanced around the room as she struggled to her feet. It was all white. “Room,” though, was not quite the right word—more like space. Was she still in the basement of Magic HQ?
“You were considering not being witch, and so I thought you’d like to know that you aren’t one. Not really. And you are in the basement, just trapped inside a binding spell.”
“I see,” Penny agreed, even though she didn’t. “And you can read my mind?”
“That’s important to know?” He seemed perplexed by her question as if the thought had not occurred to him that this information might, in fact, be troubling—might, in fact, be a thing that doesn’t usually fucking happen.
“Ah, I see the problem now. My apologies. I only meant to try and understand you because, well, it’s been centuries since I had a conversation with someone else. I thought this would help.”
Panic galloped through her at such a pace she almost fell over. Don’t be stupid and don’t look alarmed, she scolded herself.
“I would be shocked if you weren’t alarmed. This situation,” —he gestured around the space— “Is alarming. That’s why I need your help.”
“My help?” Penny breathed.
He dropped his arms. “Yes, well, I’ve eaten everyone else. And you’re a sorceress. You know some of the old magics, so you can pick apart this spell and release us.”
Help him get out, why would she—
“My plans are very solid for once I get out of here.”
What kind of plans could he possibly have? Who even was he?
“Good plans. I’m going to pull the worlds apart at the seams, remake them into something new. And I need you to call me something better than Transmutation.”
Penny stumbled back, her heart pounding wildly. She didn’t want to help him escape and pull apart the worlds. She’d rather die if—
“You don’t want to die,” he replied conversationally, “There’s a chance that things might change. That’s the thing about me.”
“Change—Transmutation. That’s me.” He shook his head sadly, “They don’t teach witches about the old magics anymore. That’s where you come in. The magics binding me—binding us—are very old. But you can work around them. And you should give me a name, or else things will get confusing.”
“A name?” Penny didn’t mean to keep repeating the last part of his statements, but she couldn’t wrap her mind around what he was saying.
“I can’t be Penny,” he explained patiently, as if the reasoning were obvious, “You’ll have to call me something else because you’re not going to die.”
He was right about that. A more valiant witch than she would go on and on about standing between him and destruction of the worlds, but she was not valiant; she was practical and a survivor. Penny Pizzazz didn’t plan to die until she was good and ready.
“Exactly. I sensed that about you and—”
“Get out of my head,” Penny declared suddenly.
“I need you to get the fuck out of my head,” she repeated, “I can’t think or do anything with you rummaging around in there, responding to my every thought before I even say it. You want me to get us out of here, I need to think, and I need you not to respond to those thoughts unless I voice them out loud.”
He furrowed his brow and started to say something but seemed to think better of it. “I’ll try.”
“Good,” Penny said, a wave of relief washing over her. He could still read her thoughts, of that she was sure. But at least she could pretend that wasn’t happening for the sake of her own sanity.
She crouched down, trying to determine the boundaries of the space and get any kind of clue about the different magic involved. She did know about many of the old magics, her mother made sure of it. Still, that knowledge was primarily theoretical and how it translated into picking apart a spell was not immediately clear to her.
“How long have you been…” Penny stopped herself before she asked how long he had been trapped down here. L. Faba pushed her down the stairs so this was definitely a trap, but Transmutation did not seem like a victim. He talked about pulling the worlds apart like he was making a New Year’s resolution or declaring his intention to try making pasta for dinner.
“Did the Sages bind you because you’re dangerous?” she asked instead.
He put a hand on his chin, appearing to give the matter serious thought. Then, a wary expression passed over his face. “I wasn’t before,” he said finally, “But I am now.”
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