They pushed aside red-brown brambles to forge a path to the middle of the tiny forest. There was a small round space clear of trees and weeds, carpeted in fading red-gold leaves. It was the brightest place in there.
They folded themselves onto the ground and I sat down on top of my bag, thinking that the ground would be wet after the rain. It had stopped now, though. I looked at them both expectantly.
I saw Meena’s lips move as if she was whispering to herself under her breath, and suddenly it was extremely quiet. No rustlings of birds or squirrels in the leaves, no sound of wind shaking the creaky boughs around us.
“We’re protected now,” she stated satisfactorily. “Out of sight and hearing.”
“Magic?” I questioned. She nodded. “Did you do a spell?”
Willow cracked a smile and Meena laughed.
“You read too much,” she said, recovering from her giggles. “Magic is different. It’s in our blood, not in a stick of wood or magic sparks shooting from our fingertips.”
I probably looked a little offended, and possibly confused, because Willow took over the explaining.
“Some immortals prefer to channel their powers through an object, like a wand or a piece of jewellery, or a possession such as a cane or something like that. That’s where the stories originate from.”
“Does it make a difference?” I asked. I had unconsciously leaned forward in my eagerness.
“Not really,” Willow said indifferently, “But it can help you control it better when you’re new to this.”
I leaned back, frowning. I was new to this. Apart from the incident where I had vanished and reappeared in the shop, there was no other examples of magic I had performed. It seemed that either I could already control it or there wasn’t enough magic to actually get out of control. Before I could voice this worry, Meena was already continuing to talk.
“Spells are just stupid,” she said airily. “Saying some words won’t make anything happen. It’s all in your mind; you think about what you want the magic to do and in most cases it will do it.”
“In most cases?” I repeated warily. “So, if someone didn’t have enough magic, it wouldn’t work?”
Willow smiled understandingly. She had settled on a decaying section of log and was running her fingers along the ridges in the dead bark. I could tell she knew what I was thinking about.
“You’ve got the magic, and that’s that,” she assured me. “If you didn’t you would have died trying to go through the mirror. It‘s true that everybody has magical blood but they don‘t all have enough power to use it. It‘s rare that they do, and those usually become immortals.”
I shuddered. Then I shook my head to clear it of the tangle of thoughts. “What? Aren’t magic and power the same thing?”
I groaned and dropped my head into my hands, rubbing at my temples, trying to force the confusion to the back of my brain. It was too much for me to take in.
Willow kept speaking relentlessly. “What I mean to say is, you can have magical blood but your mind doesn’t know how to use it, or it isn’t strong enough to control it. Those kind of people, which is to say over nine-tenths of the world’s population, live out their lives as ordinary people, never knowing. Like your mother, for example.”
I started, whipping around to look at her properly. My mother?