TTD: Part 2, Chapter 5

She walks into the purification rune and sits down gracefully. Jasons prefers to sit instead of stand, too.

And here comes the hard part. I try to keep my gait even and steady as I walk to the edge of the purification rune farthest away from my bodyguard and kneel.

I can feel her eyes staring at the top of my downturned head.

“Jason said it doesn’t matter how you sit,” I say because I don’t have the capacity to explain why I’m sitting so far apart. I’m hoping she just writes it off on the bad first encounter we shared.

“True,” she says.

I can’t read into her tone, but I don’t want to look up at her, either. 

I blurt out, “You both sit the same way.”

“We both learned from the same people,” she says. “Now, quiet.”

I obey, because the moment she’s done speaking, I feel Earth magic move. When Jason sat with me trying to help me consume the mana, I couldn’t really feel it. Sense it, almost, but the feeling felt so far beyond me.

There is no question as I sit next to Sialuk that she’s mega-magical. Mana, intangible and ethereal, takes abstract shape in my spirit just being near her. I feel shifting soil, burning sun, and soothing rain colliding in my spirit. I feel mountains sink and waters rise. I feel decay and rebirth in an endless, balanced cycle.

I’m awestruck by everything I can suddenly sense with such clarity, and I glance up toward Sialuk on instinct and without hesitation.

Her eyes are closed. Her expression isn’t slack, and there’s no gentle smile of pure bliss on her face. Instead, her brows come together, just a little bit. Her lips are pressed together firmly, and I can see the tension in her jaw.

I don’t know why I’m expecting some princessy moment of elegance and serenity from my bodyguard, but I kind of am given how strong Earth magic is around her.

Because I know it’s not me. I kinda fibbed when I told Sialuk I’d been eating once a day. I won’t try unless Chetna outright asks me to. There’s no way I suddenly gained the ability to sense mana like this without practice.

Sialuk takes a deep inhale before opening her eyes again. I dart my gaze down and away.

“You did that a lot faster than Jason did,” I say.

“Speed is deceptive,” she says. “You should only purify for as long as you need to. Once you can tell the mana is clean, you can move on.”

“Yeah, okay. Just… clean,” I say. Sialuk might augment Earth magic so much that I can feel it, but at no point did I sense a state of cleanliness. Just… nature.

“You can’t tell when the mana is clean, can you?” she asks. 

I shake my head, stunned again that Sialuk can see straight to the heart of what I’m thinking.

“That’s normal,” she explains. “Most kids eat mana with their parents or other adults for the first three to four years of life. It takes time to develop your spiritual connection with Earth magic. Don’t worry about it.”

She stands up from the purification rune, takes one step toward me, and offers me her hand. I’m startled, and blink up at her, unthinking.

Our eyes connect. Just like before, I find her gaze mesmerizing… but the magic she’s used before to hold my gaze isn’t there. I drop my chin, breaking the eye contact with relief.

“Sorry, Alpha,” I mutter.

Even though I’m starting at her lower body now, I can see she freezes up.

“Relax. I’m not Alpha.”

I contain the urge to call her bullshit. “Then how did you manipulate me earlier?” I ask instead.

“I didn’t manipulate you,” she says. Sialuk’s voice sounds firm, not angry, but a little strained. “I’m not an Alpha, and I definitely don’t have sleuth magic. I am in the sleuth’s hierarchy, though. Besides, no Alpha would work at a security firm away from their territory.”

That makes no sense because I’ve never been around a shifter who seems as dominant and magical as Sialuk, but I’m not about to argue the point with her.

“So you eat in the same place you purify?” I divert the conversation.

“Yeah,” she says. 

“But this still works?” I clarify. 

“As long as you purify enough and don’t move farther than—let’s say ten feet?—away, it’s fine.”


“Here.” Sialuk pulls a leather out and spreads out in the enhancement rune. I may have been excluded from true shifter culture, but I recognize a rune leather at least. I’m not sure what it means that Sialuk is letting me use hers, if it means anything at all.

“We’re in the rune already, but sometimes cubs need leathers in their human skins, too. It might make you feel more connected, especially since you’re just starting to feel Earth magic.”

I can’t fathom that my connection with Earth magic could get even stronger than what I just experienced. I’m getting a little excited as I lie down on the leather in the enhancement rune, just like I’ve seen fledglings do with their parents.

As I’m staring at the stars, I try to focus on myself. Ignoring Sialuk is hard, but I remember Jason said concentration will help. Doing my best to actively open my spirit up to the mana I can now feel, I’m not at all prepared for the tidal wave that comes.

I’m not looking at Sialuk, but I guess the moment Earth magic overwhelms me is probably the same time when Sialuk starts to consume the purified mana, too.

Every muscle in my body contracts, locking my body into near-paralysis. I know I’m lying on the ground. I know I am. But it feels like every other part of me, my spirit and my other skin, are swimming for our lives in the middle of a tidal wave.

A mudslide buries me, and my breath comes thicker, slower. Cosmic rays burn me, and I start shivering. Torrents of water fall on my face, and I struggle to fill my lungs. Hot and cold, wet and dry, young and old: life and death. The weight of the world fractures me apart, the force of the elements ties me together, and mana fills in every space in between.

The call of the hunt, the primal urge that guides shifters across the veil and grounds almost all our universal traditions, is my only safe harbor. My two consciousnesses find free air when I let that most innate part of my two skins take control.

And I feast. My spirit feeds on the powerful mana like I am both starving and thirsty.

I could laugh and cry at the joy I feel, but my limbs and joints are only just loosening up from my tensing. I close my eyes and relish. I savor. I stuff myself full until there is nowhere left for the mana to go but to fall back into the Earth.

I’m slow to get up; I feel like I’ve just eaten four times my body weight, but strangely my stomach is still rumbly.

I guess I really have been munchy.

Then, I pay attention to what my senses are telling me.

“Woah!” I burst out in surprise.

I’m wet. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I’m unusually damp. The grass around me looks darker than before, and… Sialuk is curled up in the sealing rune.

I hadn’t heard her move.

All together, it’s very surprising.

“What is it?” Sialuk asks.

Her tone sounds even more strained than before; odd, considering we are eating mana, which isn’t supposed to be stressful. Unless you’re Jason and me.

“Is that… water?” I ask. That’s all it can be since I’m neither smelly nor sticky and I’m damp out of nowhere, but even that makes little sense.


Her tone is completely flat.

Disbelieving, I ask the obvious, “And is that coming from you?”


What in the sweet Earth… “Why?” I ask.

“It’s just a me-thing. And no, it doesn’t mean I’m a mage or an Alpha or anything else. It’s just… weird.”

I frown, because dominance and eye-contact magic I can understand are parts of the shifter world I’m just starting to navigate, but water? Really, water? And she says she’s not an Alpha… or…

“Why are you sitting on the sealing rune?” I ask.

“The grass was itchy through my pants,” she says.

“Oh,” I say. Yeah, sure it is. “Didn’t that screw up eating the mana, though?”

“I was already pretty full. I topped off quickly.”

I nod, because Sialuk is clearly not going to tell me anymore, but I’m more than intrigued.

In only an hour, Sialuk changed everything. There are shifters who are strong like Ojistah but not scary like her. There are shifters who can help me for real.

Whatever power Sialuk has that makes her eye-contact spellbinding and does the water-thing, I’m not scared of it.

In fact, I’m excited about it.

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