"The most dangerous people are those who have nothing to lose."
It was a fairly nice gravestone, as gravestones went. (If gravestones could be considered "nice" to begin with, that is.)
Lydia Westphall, it read, followed by date of birth and date of death.
And that was it.
There was no epitaph, no poetic quote etched into the stone.
No mention of the fact that Lydia Westphall had been a loving mother who'd left a son behind.
It wasn't the sort of gravestone Kaleb would have picked for her, if he'd been the one to do it.
And by rights it should've been him, but he'd been across the sea in London and hadn't even heard about his mother's death until two months ago when someone had finally thought to update the missing persons' report he'd filed.
So his mother had been buried with the barest amount of care and respect, halfway around the world from home and with no one to weep at her graveside as they'd lowered her into the cold wet earth.
(A distant part of him wondered why they'd buried her to begin with; he wasn't familiar with the Big Easy's burial practices, but a quick online search had been enough to tell him that burying someone in the ground was strange for a city built on below-water-level swampland, where one heavy rainstorm could be enough to un-bury the deceased and float the casket off to who the bloody hell knew where. Had the city of New Orleans really cared so little for the burial of a woman they'd known nothing about?)
He wanted to have someone dig her casket back up, so he could fly it back home and bury it where it should be, beside his father's at Allerton Cemetery back home, but he just couldn't afford it. He'd used the last of his savings to fly over here to America, and it had been with a larger goal in mind than simply retrieving his mother's body and bringing it home.
No, he was here to find out what had happened to her. Because he knew his mother, and he knew that she would never have just left him behind without saying anything. She'd come to this city for a business trip and hadn't come home and everyone else wrote it off as her being irresponsible, as Lydia Westphall simply growing to enamored with the New Orleans lifestyle to want to come home to her normal routine of regular office hours and credit card payments, but Kaleb knew better.
His mother wouldn't have just decided not to come home. She wouldn;t have left her whole life behind.
She wouldn't have left him behind.
He'd been suspicious of the circumstances ever since she'd first gone missing. And now...now he was positive of it, because he could sense it, at her gravesite. Just a faint hint of it...but it was there, a whiff of dark magic.
He couldn't be sure if his mother had been targeted because she'd been a witch, but that lingering taint left no doubt that magic had been involved with her demise somehow.
It was going to be up to him on his own to figure out the how, though; the coven he and his mother had belonged to back in Liverpool had refused to grant him any assistance in the matter, deeming it "not within their purview" because it was an "overseas matter".
He'd withdrawn his membership from the coven the very same day of that conversation and booked the earliest flight to the States, determined to find out what had happened to his mother. If he had to do that by himself, so be it. His mother deserved it, deserved to have the truth about her death brought to light and the ones responsible brought to justice.
He had absolutely no idea where to start, since he was in a foreign country with little in the way of money and nothing in the way of useful contacts, but still. He'd find a way. He had to.
After lingering for another moment or two at his mother's grave, he stood up and headed for the closest cemetery exit. Before he made it more than ten steps in that general direction, though, a woman stepped into his path, appearing so quickly it was almost as if she'd materialized out of the twilight gloom.
He couldn't be sure because of the fading light, but she seemed young. Not much older than he was, actually, with brown hair cropped short and pale skin like she hasn't been out in the sun much lately, and he normally wouldn't have thought much of her youthful appearance except for the sheer level of power he could sense from her.
Or rather, from within her; he couldn't articulate it properly even within his own thoughts, but the magical energy he was sensing seemed to be almost a separate entity from the young woman in front of him; almost as if it was possessing her, rather than power she possessed in her own right.
"Well, well, well," she said to him, tilting her head and regarding him with a look that reminded him of cats watching canaries. "Kaleb Westphall. You've arrived earlier than I anticipated."
He tensed up automatically at a stranger using his name, a problem compounded by the fact that it was a magically powerful stranger using his name. Names were power in their own way, after all, and now he was at a notable disadvantage.
"I wasn't aware that anyone was overly invested in my comings and goings," he replied, careful of his wording and tone; it never paid to offend a powerful practicioner with rudeness.
"Oh, on the contrary," she responded, "I've been looking forward to meeting you for quite some time." Her gaze raked over him in a way that, quite frankly, made his skin crawl. It was a clinical look, as if she were assessing absolutely every facet of his being and weighing the pros and cons. "Yes, I think you're precisely what I've been looking for."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, taking an instinctive step back. "What have you been looking for? Who the bloody hell are you?"
She gave a smile that seemed sweet on the surface, even as her eyes sparkled with a dark light that spoke of unfathomable power. "What's in a name?" she quipped, her light tone belied by the intensity of her demeanor. "Who I am isn't important Or rather," she corrected, "it isn't important for you to know. You're just the means to an end, after all, you sweet boy."
Kaleb took another deliberate step back and started pulling up some of his own magic, letting it swirl within him, just under his skin. "What do you want with me?" he demanded, heart pounding.
A long, long moment of tense quiet, the silence only broken by the incongruous twittering of the birds in the trees that were settling down for the night.
"I suppose the truth won't change the outcome at this point," she said at last, and then gave another one of those smiles. "I need a vessel," she told him. "For the soul of one of my sons. And you, Kaleb Westphall, are a perfect choice."
Then she waved a slender hand, murmured an incantation, and suddenly it felt like his whole body was encased in cement; his limbs grew unbearably heavy and it was a struggle to move, to think, to breathe.
He tried to reach for his own magic, to fight back in some way, any way, but it was like trying to catch wisps of smoke with his bare hands. He couldn't get a solid grip on his power; it kept slipping farther and farther away, like a sun dipping down below the horizon at the end of a long day.
Eventually, he couldn't even stand any longer, and he collapsed onto the cold damp ground, his vision flickering with twisting shadows. It was almost like she was trying to put him sleep, but it somehow felt like more.
She's burying my consciousness, he realized belatedly a few moments later, after he noticed how sluggish and muddled his own thoughts were becoming, and it made him want to scream. He would be trapped and locked away in his own body, perhaps buried so deeply that he might not even be self-aware anymore. So deeply that he might as well not even exist to begin with.
Part of him couldn't help but wonder if he still will exist, after she's torn him apart and shoved someone else's soul inside his body. He'd never studied the concept of magical soul transference before, but he honestly can't fathom two souls being able to reside in the same body. So will he, Kaleb, still be there? Will he still exist in any capacity, other than as a mere memory to be forgotten as time marches on without him? Or is he simply being erased and replaced with this dark witch's son?
He's too terrified to really consider the probable answer.
"Who are you?" he choked out, the words like shards of glass digging into his throat at he spits them out through sheer force of will. Who are you, that you have power to do something like this? Who are you, to think you have the right?
She came closer and leaned over him, her expression one of so many mixed emotions he couldn't quite name them all, not as overwhelmed as he was right then. There was amusement in the tilt of her mouth, and a triumphant gleam in her eyes, and something that could almost be some sort of reluctant sympathy but he's probably imagining that bit.
"My name," she told him, her voice a barely-there whisper like she's imparting a great and terrible secret, "is Esther Mikaelson."