Adan was on guard by himself when everything changed. The Gate had been quiet for fifteen years, standing in the center of the circle of white stone pillars, a doorway to nowhere. The Gate had been quiet for so long that the job of guarding it, which had been an honored and sought-after position in the days before it had been sealed, was relegated down the ranks to the lowest and weakest: one young witch alone, and watching, and waiting. That was Adan—he had finished his training at the Council the year before, graduating at the bottom of his group, barely making it through the trials. He was useless with a sword and his spellwork was sloppy. He had never said it out loud but the truth was: he was relieved to have been posted to guard the Gate, where nothing ever happened.
It was summer in Emanu but it was the end of summer, and it was chilly. Adan, who was wrapped tightly in his standard-issue Council grey cloak, was debating whether or not he should make a fire. He was kneeling over a pile of kindling, snapping his cold fingers to try to spark a flame, when it happened: a twitch in the air, a tension, a tightening.
Adan looked up sharply. The Gate was a site of oldest magic—magic was drawn to it, moving in currents about it. For fifteen years the Gate had been sealed and the magic had been still. But now something had shifted. That was what Adan had felt: the shift. He had been stationed alone at the Gate for weeks and everything had been silent and still. Something had changed.
There was an enchantment around the circle, Adan’s doing, that kept everyone and everything out. No one but the guard could go near the gate; so any magic in the circle had been done by Adan. And he hadn’t done anything.
His pack with his food and water and his sword was resting at the base of one of the columns, and now he took the sword in hand. His other palm he opened, conjuring a light, and, raising her palm, he went to stand in front of the Gate. It looked the same as always. A door that didn’t open.
There was a second shift in the Gate, and this one came with a rumble that shook the plains. A mile to the east where the mountains rose up there was a forest and a flock of birds took of suddenly into the night sky, abandoning their nests. Then everything was still again.
Adan frowned and lifted his light higher, circled the Gate. Something was off, but he wasn’t sure if it was worth reporting. He decided to wait until morning to send a message.
“A cold night to be out without a fire,” a voice observed, and Adan jumped, startled. He had been out there on his own for a long time; the last time he had seen anyone had been several weeks previous, when they had dropped off supplies. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone for another two weeks.
“Who’s there?” he said, holding out his hand, seeking out the speaker with the light. His voice was hoarse with disuse and he cleared it before saying, “Show yourself. Please.”
From the night emerged a woman. Even from that distance, even when she was half-hidden in darkness, Adan could tell another Council witch when he saw one. They had an air, a way of carrying themselves and besides, he always knew one of his own. He relaxed a little. “Sister,” he called. “What brings you out here?” In the middle of the night, miles and miles from anything, he didn’t ask—to tell the truth, with the stirrings of the magic around the Gate he was relieved to see someone.
The other witch approached, as close as she could. She wore a dark blue cloak and under her hood long blonde hair fell very beautifully over her shoulder against the midnight fabric. She smiled. “I’m Rebecca,” she said. “I would be grateful for some food and water.”
Adan hesitated. He wasn’t supposed to let anyone into the circle around the Gate.
Rebecca went on. “I can see you’re having trouble making a fire,” she said, and Adan blushed, wondering how long she had been nearby. “I know cold fingers aren’t good for making spells. I would be happy to help.”
There was an electric shock and then a sudden absence as Adan lowered the spell around the circle.
It wasn’t long before Rebecca had the fire going—she glanced at the kindling he had gathered and it burst into flame. Adan felt a fresh surge of shame. They sat around it together, grateful for the warmth and the light. Adan had bread and dried fruit and water and he shared these with the traveler. He had laid his sword aside—a sister from the Council meant company, not threats.
“What brings you all the way out here?” he asked a second time as Rebecca broke off the end of the bread and hungrily tore off a bite with very, very white teeth. She had taken down her hood and Adan saw that her eyes were blue. She was incredibly fair and frighteningly delicate, a branch coated with ice after a storm. The vibrations of magic around her were incredibly strong.
“Just travel,” Rebecca shrugged. She looked up at the Gate, whiter than ever with the moon hovering just above. “I’ve never seen it,” she said softly.
Adan was surprised. “Really?” he said. “You must have finished training years ago.” The long hair was the give away; all the female witches who were still in service at the Council had to keep their hair short at their ears. “I’d have thought you were old enough to remember when it was open.”
Rebecca shook her head, stuffing her mouth with dried fruit. She was eating like she hadn’t seen a meal in a week, Adan thought, and wondered how far she had traveled. “It was closed when I was twelve.”
“Where did you do your service?” Adan asked curiously, and Rebecca said, “I passed the trials when I was ten, and then I studied with my mother.”
Adan was impressed; he had heard about that, in cases of witches whose mothers or fathers were particularly powerful and particularly high in the Council, but to pass the trials at the age of ten meant that Rebecca had studied magic since she was old enough to walk. No wonder, he thought, she did spells so effortlessly—to the very practiced it was like breathing, a sixth sense used unconsciously the way Adan used his eyes and his ears. Magic must have run very strong in Rebecca’s family.
“Who was your mother?” he asked curiously. “I must have heard of her.”
Ignoring this, Rebecca took a long drink of water and said, “What’s the date?”
Startled but amiable Adan thought a minute and said, “Three before.”
The traveler wiped her mouth. “And has the Gate opened?” she asked, as though it was the most natural next question in the world.
For a second Adan gaped at her, but before he could say anything, he was already dead. His stiff body fell back onto the snow next to his pack and his sword. The firelight danced off eyes that were still wide with surprise.
Rebecca straightened up, dusted bread crumbs off of her knees. She had snapped very suddenly, unable to contain herself. It was an important night for her and everything needed to go very particularly and he had been in the way. If you were going to kill a young boy in cold blood it was kindest to do it while he was distracted. Rebecca thought herself a very kind killer; Adan had been very distracted, completely unsuspecting; he still gripped the water bottle in cold fingers. Rebecca pried it away and drained the last drop. She was always thirsty when she was excited.
She glanced at the sword on the ground next to the dead boy and decided to leave it. She looked up on at the Gate. It was three days before Starset in the hundreth year of Io’s reign as Queen.
On the other side it was June twenty-first, two-thousand and eight.
The day Gate was to reopen.
Now Rebecca reached out a hand and touched the pillars of the Gate. They were very much alive under her fingertips. The cold night wrapped around her, the wind urging her forward. Rachael might be dead, but Rebecca was going to finish what she had started. She glanced at the fire—it went out and everything was dark.
Pulling her hood up around her face, Rebecca went through the Gate.
In the other world, a boy named Jamie Carpenter opened a book of spells that had been collecting dust in his attic for fifteen years.
The Six Days is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and directly from the publisher at giantsquidbooks.com.
Anna Carolyn McCormally currently manages a small used bookstore in Washington, D.C.. She has a tattoo of the Deathly Hallows and blogs about YA fiction at www.giantsquidbooks.com. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in pacificREVIEW, Quantum Fairy Tales and 3 am magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mccormallie.
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