Melody Johnson is bringing us a tale of loyalty and betrayal in today’s first Halloween Flash Fiction short story. A story inspired by this (an event favorite) image…
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Mirror Justice by Melody Johnson
Jon Grayson was a menace—to society, of course, but mostly, to Mona St. Clair’s peace of mind.
The sentiment had no sooner blossomed in her thoughts than St. Clair himself cawed in chiding disagreement from his perch beside her. Their opinion of Gray was the only judgment she and her ancestral raven had so far ever disagreed upon in her five years of preparation to become Lady Justice. Despite her predecessor, Ziro St. Clair’s, insistence that she was too young, too inexperienced, too naïve—too female, more like—she was finally enjoying her first day in office, upholding her coven’s laws. Enjoying it, that was, until halfway through her third proceeding when she came to the unfortunate realization that she might have the flu. And then, the only worse conclusion to the day, besides potentially vomiting, collapsing from her dais, and passing out on her chambers’ marble floor, came to fruition: the fifth and final accused in need of judgment was none other than her childhood sweetheart, Jon Grayson, the prodigal warlock returned.
She didn’t care what St. Clair thought, the ancestors and their all-powerful, centuries old magic be damned. Mona’s own substantial power sizzled over her skin, tingled through her fingers, and settled in her cheeks in an unwelcome, unfair, completely inappropriate blush.
Yes, Gray was most certainly, unequivocally a menace.
He knelt in genuflection before her in her private chambers, charged with indecent public witchcraft again. His downcast olive-green eyes were oh so remorseful, filled with genuine regret, also again. The first time, she’d been his ally, but now, with the coven’s laws to uphold… Mona sighed. She could end his misery here and now. Something painless, of course. It wasn’t as if he’d murdered anyone, but a thirty-year-old warlock who still couldn’t control his volatile magic was, well, a menace.
St. Clair nipped at her hair, nearly catching the shell of her ear with his sharp beak.
Yes, all right, she wasn’t planning to end anything of Gray’s, let alone his misery, but a girl could dream, couldn’t she? And looking into those too familiar, unique eyes as he peeked up at her from under those devastatingly dark lashes, ending his misery wasn’t the only dream she was suppressing. Only the most attainable.
“Rise,” Mona commanded.
Her voice echoed through her chambers, helped along by the acoustics, thank the mercies. Despite her inner power, the diminutive stature of her outward appearance and the overly sweet tone of her natural voice needed all the help it could get to reflect the authority she’d only recently achieved.
She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead and realized with grim trepidation that her hand was actually shaking. Apparently vomiting and passing out were still on the table, a combination nightmare with Gray as witness to her humiliation.
St. Clair churred softly.
Mona flicked her fingertips at her feathered friend, dismissing his worry. She was fine.
Gray stood, unfurling himself from a crouch to his full, very impressive, very deceiving breadth and height. From adolescence, Gray had always looked as if he could bench-press a car without the aid of magic. And maybe he could, but get magic involved, and he’d sooner explode the car and himself along with it than successfully accomplish anything even close to a first-year’s levitation spell. But only after using his equally embarrassing divination skills to predict it wouldn’t explode.
Oh, ancestors grant her their strength. Since they’d obviously forgotten to grant her their objectivity.
“Lady St. Clair, may I speak in my defense?” Gray asked. Although his words were submissive, his tone was tight, nearly urgent.
Mona lifted a brow. “If there’s a defense worthy of my chambers for breaking your probation, practicing magic in public, and accidentally incinerating a one hundred-year-old live oak tree in front of a dozen witnesses, then yes, please speak.”
Gray met her gaze squarely, determined and with a confidence he shouldn’t possess considering his circumstances. “I didn’t accidentally incinerate anything. I’ve gained control of my powers. Well—” He winced. “I’ve gained better control of my powers, but in this specific instance, I broke my probation deliberately.”
St. Clair did a little, clicking tap dance upon his perch.
Mona narrowed her eyes. “That doesn’t sound like a defense to me.”
“How else could I come before you in your private chambers?” His eyes shifted to the large door to his left, the only exit. “Alone.”
Mona allowed her left eyebrow to lift alongside the first. “You have my phone number. If you required counsel—”
“I don’t require counsel.”
Mona suppressed a particularly un-Lady Justice-like snort.
“I required an audience with you here, in your private chambers, where your magic cloaks all sound and emotional transference. And the only way to do that was to break my probation.”
“Why on holy mother of Earth and Rain would you—”
“I wouldn’t have under any other circumstance, but I needed to tell you—” He took a deep breath, and his voice suddenly roughened. “You’re in danger.”
“In danger of losing all patience and stripping you of your magic for a year, then yes, you’re correct.”
“Strip my magic if you must, but listen. Ziro St. Clair is furious by the coven’s decision to overrule his recommendation regarding your Ladyship. He cast a leeching spell on your dais, and when he comes to challenge you to requisition his position, which he plans to do momentarily, he will win back his Lordship.” Gray’s lips thinned. “I know that look.”
“You’ve always had the uncanny knack of gleaning truth from lies. Listen with that ear, Mona. Please, you don’t have much time.”
St. Clair let loose an echoing caw through her chambers.
Mona ignored both her raven’s panic and Gray’s familiarity. “Ziro is furious, I’ll give you that, but you do understand that if you’re referring to the traditional challenge necessary to requisition one’s Lordship, you’re accusing him of premeditated murder.”
Gray held her gaze. “I’m not accusing him of anything. I’m simply informing you of his intentions.”
“And how are you so intimately familiar with his intentions?”
“I told you, I’ve gained better control of my powers.” His hands fisted. “All my powers.”
Oh, of all the times for Gray to believe he’d gained a modicum of clarity in deciphering his visions. Mona moved to rub the headache from her temple, but her hand was shaking much worse than before. She dropped it back to her armrest, the limb heavy. Her skin was clammy, and her stomach still churning.
Gray’s eyes honed on that aborted movement. “You can feel it.”
“I don’t feel well, but that doesn’t mean—”
St. Clair leapt from his perch with a frantic caw! and landed on her shoulder. Her mind’s eye linked to his, which linked to all the ravens. She watched through the eyes of the brother raven on Ziro’s shoulder as he walked with purposeful strides toward her chambers, flanked by the coven’s council. They did not look pleased.
No, they appeared quite resigned.
St. Clair returned to his perch, breaking the connection. He didn’t dance, and he didn’t churr. He, too, was resigned.
Mona stood and nearly swayed, but her position as Lady Justice had been earned, not given. She caught herself with her magic, straightened, and stepped down from the dais until she was level with Gray. The moment both her feet stood upon the marble floor, her strength leveled, like a drain being plugged, but it didn’t completely restore. Her hands were still trembling, her stomach still roiling, her head still pounding. Her skin was both chilled and damp.
The damage was done.
Mona met Gray’s olive-green gaze and startled from the intensity of emotion blazing from his eyes. She’d seen him at his worst, the day he’d finally lost complete control of his magic and been sentenced to supervised practice. She’d seen him at what she considered his best, the night they’d shared together, back when everything had been so new and filled with such promise, back when she’d still believed they could build a life together.
But she’d never seen him this fierce.
He lifted his hand in offering.
Mona’s breath hitched. “I can’t.”
He scowled. “I know you can siphon magic.”
“Of course, I’m able to, but—” Mona released a trembling breath. They weren’t even together anymore. Their futures weren’t entwined no matter how St. Clair cawed on about it. How could there be a future when she’d so selfishly abandoned him in the past? “I can’t ask for your help. I don’t deserve it.”
His lips quirked. “Good thing you’re not asking. I’m giving.” And without waiting for her acquiescence, he took her hand in his.
Like a dehydrated, shriveled sponge, her body soaked in and reveled in his power. So raw. Untapped. So many years of being poorly wielded and desperate for an outlet, his magic filled her, buoying her strength, clarifying her senses, fortify her defenses.
“Oh,” Mona gasped, struggling to contain the heady rush. His hand was warm in hers but chapped, the creases of his palm split from practicing magic too often, too vigorously, and not well. He wasn’t as in control as he’d have her believe.
Still, he was here, helping her.
“Thank you,” she breathed.
“Why do you think I’m here? I—”
“Ziro St. Clair to challenge her Ladyship,” her court monitor, Dorine, intoned from outside her chambers. Dorine couldn’t have sounded less interested if she’d be announcing that grass was still growing in the courtyard.
Mona opened her eyes, unsure when she’d closed them. “I haven’t finished judging the accused.”
A pause. “Are you barring Ziro entrance?”
Oh, Ziro would love that—an automatic reversion of power.
Drawing a final time on Gray’s magic, Mona whispered a hushed, fervent spell under her breath.
Gray’s eyes widened to saucers.
Mona stepped aside, not back onto the dais, just breaking their connection. Whatever happened now would be Ziro’s own doing, but still, no need to tempt fate by placing Gray in the crossfire.
“No,” Mona said. “He may enter.”
The large oak doors swung wide, and Ziro strode through, flanked by the entire council.
St. Clair alighted from his perch and flew to Mona, settling on her shoulder with a furious caw!
Mona gazed over the council. Their mouths pinched. Their eyes hardened. But her best friend and confidant, Terra Grum, stood toward the back of their arched half circle and nodded subtly.
Terra wasn’t aware that Ziro had spelled the dais because there was no way on Goddess’ green earth that she would stand there calmly watching otherwise; and if Terra didn’t know, none of the coven knew. The council expected Mona to meet Ziro’s challenge and emerge as their true Justice.
No wonder they were resigned. Even if only in an advisory capacity now, losing Ziro would be quite a blow to the coven.
“Oh, Uncle,” Mona whispered.
Ziro’s expression was chilling even as his eyes flamed. “Mona St. Clair, I formally challenge you to stand in defense of your position as Lady Justice of the East Thornton Coven.
Mona’s chest throbbed. “I recommend you reconsider that decision.”
Ziro spread his arms wide on either side of his body, palms open and aimed at her. The fact that he needed to physically direct his magic as opposed to shaping it with his mind alone was telling enough.
“I here by requisition my Lordship, a position which you were granted in haste,” he accused. “I refuse to stand aside, silent, as our coven suffers from your inexperience.”
“You could support and guide me instead,” Mona suggested wearily.
“Arm yourself,” Ziro growled.
“Do as you must,” Mona murmured. “I will not fight you.”
The council inhaled a collective breath. Terra audibly gasped.
Ziro sneered. “You always were your mother’s daughter.”
He blasted Mona with lethal force. His magic met her spell—a protection cast to reflect upon the user—and ricocheted back into him.
Ziro collapsed, dead before the double thump of his and his raven’s heads hitting the marble floor finished echoing through her chambers.
St. Clair leaned in and rubbed the top of his silken head against Mona’s cheek.
“Gerald and Dean, please remove the bodies from my chambers,” Mona commanded.
Gerald and Dean bolted forward into motion to complete her bidding.
“Terra, please prepare the consecration.”
Terra nodded. “Of course, my lady.”
Mona shot Terra a weary look at her ‘my lady,’ and Terra’s lip twitched, darkly amused.
“Dorine, you may escort Jon Grayson from the court. His charges are dismissed.”
Dorine inhaled, looking about to argue that last point.
Mona met her gaze. She could tell by the tingling heat behind her eyes that they were still luminescent from her borrowed power.
Dorine closed her mouth. She held out a beckoning arm toward Gray, then swept it to the door for him to precede her from the room
Gray stepped forward, but he didn’t follow Dorine’s directive. Of course, he didn’t. When did he ever do as he was bid?
St. Clair cawed.
Yes, yes, thank the Goddess that the man was stubborn and willful. A constant menace to society and her peace of mind.
And loyal to a fault.
Gray paused in front of her, his brow furrowed.
“I’m fine,” she whispered. With the entire council present, she couldn’t speak her mind, but his body was blocking their view. She let her face speak for her, trusting that he could still read her expression. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” His frown deepened, as did his probing eyes. “You’re always welcome.”
Mona’s heart stuttered.
St. Clair’s talons tightened on her shoulder, puncturing her cloak.
Divination had never been her strong suit. She’d have to wait and live to discover what the future might hold, but gazing into those olive-green eyes as they reflected the purple glow of her irises, she didn’t need magic to see what was right in front of her.
Maybe some dreams were more attainable than she’d originally thought.
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