“It’s not fair,” Jazz said in that indignant tone specific to teenagers, even ones who were studying to become powerful witches.
“Probably not,” Bella agreed. “Many things aren’t.” She’d been dealing with Jazz for about six months now, since she’d first found the girl wandering alone in a forest. Bella had learned a lot about patience in that time. Her own Baba Yaga mentor would have been proud. Shocked, but proud. “Are we talking about something special or life in general?”
An eye roll greeted this perfectly reasonable question.
“I’m talking about the Riders,” Jazz said. “It’s not fair that they’re not immortal anymore.”
Bella sighed. She agreed, of course, but they’d had this discussion numerous times and the facts hadn’t changed. “No, it’s not. It isn’t fair that an evil former Baba Yaga tortured them and stole their immortality. Nor that she nearly killed both of us in the process. But Brenna is dead, and we’re fine, and the Riders are . . . adjusting. Things could have turned out a lot worse.”
In truth, things had in some ways turned out pretty well. Bella had met her husband, Sam, during the course of that particular nightmare, and found Jazz, who had enough magical potential that even the usually traditional High Queen of the Otherworld had broken with convention and agreed to let Bella train Jazz to be a Baba Yaga, though such instruction was usually started in early childhood. Probably because small children were considerably more malleable than snarky teenagers.
As for the Riders, well, Mikhail Day was happy and settled in his new life, and Gregori Sun seemed as calm as ever the last time she’d seen him, although with Gregori that didn’t mean much. He was always calm. They were no longer Riders, the trusted companions and helpers to the Baba Yagas, but as Bella had stated, they had adjusted. Mostly. Hopefully.
“What about Alexei?” Jazz said with a scowl. “No one has heard from him in months. He didn’t even show up for his brother’s wedding. He’s not adjusting.”
No, he isn’t. “He sent a gift and a note,” Bella said. “Gregori didn’t come either. They are both still healing, one way or the other. Mikhail found his way. They will too. Eventually.”
“It’s not fair,” Jazz repeated. “They’ve been helping the Baba Yagas for centuries and none of you are doing anything.” She crossed her arms and glared at Bella across the worktable they had been using to practice creating a complicated elixir for healing damaged waterways. “You and Barbara and Beka are three of the most powerful witches in the world. You should be working on a magical solution. You should fix them.”
Bella shook her head, long red hair curling into her face. “Don’t you think we would if we could?” She closed her eyes briefly to hide the pain in them from her apprentice. “We all adore the Riders.” She refused to think of them any other way, though technically they no longer carried that title. “Even the Queen said there was nothing that could reverse the damage Brenna did. I know it is hard to accept, Jazz, but even magic can’t fix everything. Mikhail, Gregori, and Alexei are mortal now, and there is nothing any of us can do about it.”
Bella sighed. “There is, however, a great deal that can be done to make up for the years of training you missed out on. But only if you are willing to concentrate.” Bella purposely avoided looking at the still-smoking ruins of their first try at the potion. A moment’s inattention could have dire consequences when one was dealing with powerful elemental magic.
Another eye roll. “Fine, but I still think you could find a solution if you were willing to try.”
“And I still think ice cream shouldn’t have any calories if you eat it out of a cone instead of a bowl,” Bella retorted. “But so far, my thinking that hasn’t appeared to make it so. Can we get back to work, please?” She opened a new jar of rose hips and pushed it across the table. “And this time let’s have a little more herbcraft and a little less pyrotechnics.”
“Says the woman who once nearly set the cable guy on fire,” Jazz muttered under her breath.
“He was asking for it,” Bella muttered back. But not loud enough for Jazz to hear. It was hard enough trying to be a good example as it was. No point in giving the girl ideas.
* * *
Jazz looked out the window one more time to make sure Bella was still nowhere in sight before reaching down into one of the caravan’s many hidden cabinets and pulling out a large leather-bound book. The volume was worn with age, the brown leather practically translucent in places where generations of Baba Yagas had held it. Symbols depicting the four elements—Earth, Air, Fire, and Water—were inscribed into the front cover, and the book smelled musty and dusty and generally really freaking old. It had been passed down through the line of Baba Yagas that ended with Bella.
According to Bella, it held incredible power and potential for those who knew how to use the spells and recipes within it, which each Baba added to over the years. Also according to Bella, it was completely off-limits to Jazz unless her teacher was right there, standing over her shoulder to supervise its use. Bella had a lot of rules about magic, most of which Jazz thought were completely ridiculous. It wasn’t as though she was going to actually do anything with the darn book. She just wanted to look at it to see if she could come up with any new ideas for a way that they could reverse the effect of Brenna’s evil. What could it hurt?
After all, Jazz wasn’t a child, although sometimes it felt as though Bella forgot that. Jazz had turned sixteen just last week. Hell, in some cultures, she’d be married with two kids by now. And she’d survived ten years in the foster care system and months on her own in a freaking forest, for god’s sake. Even Bella admitted that Jazz was something of a magical prodigy and was learning all this Baba Yaga stuff at an amazing rate. Not without the occasional mistake, of course, but no one was perfect, and considering that she’d started learning at fifteen instead of five, Jazz thought she was doing pretty darn well. It was really kind of insulting that Bella believed she had to supervise every stupid little thing Jazz did.