Lachance Stronghold Exterior – Henderson, Nevada
Time: Late Evening, Present Day
Time: Late Evening, Present Day
The moon began to wane in the sky, fading behind tall buildings in the distant city. A chill crept across the arid landscape, quickly giving way to warm currents of morning. Though the sun had yet to peek above the blazing lights of Vegas, the day was fast approaching. All this time wasted in pain and fear.
Marie stepped through the mirror in the downtrodden shed, dodging fallen boards, broken glass, and billowing tarps, slowly breathing in the crisp air. She finally felt calm. Her wounds had been healed, mostly, and Ben was on his way to recovery. This time alone to reflect was a blessing.
Marie, Holt called from behind, stalking the ground as an ethereal feline. His presence was appreciated. Marie felt that he was a part of her; to be alone with him was to be with herself.
Now that we have the time, what did you see before?
He spoke of her memory in Smithy’s, when Gwyneth’s past overcome Marie’s present. It was a painful experience, not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, the knowing that she had been persecuted so in that time long forgotten. She wanted to unload her woes and worries, but something was amiss. The air changed suddenly . . . she was no longer alone.
The air outside of the shed began to swell, swirling around the figure standing before Marie. The wind even slipped inside of the shed, picking up some of the debris laying around inside and tossed it about outside. The woman who had appeared before the young witch wore a silver-colored dress, while her dark brown hair was buffeted by the strong winds that she had summoned.
“I have waited three long months for this moment,” the woman declared as she began to inch forward towards Marie. The torrential winds followed along, as if the silver-clad woman had been the epicenter. “Revenge is always best served cold”
Marie had enough time to anticipate the sorceress’s appearance to move back, though not enough to dodge a few shards of glass that cut at her legs as they flew from their place. Immediately, Holt positioned himself between the two women, his shape a phantasmal swirl of dark shadows, black tendril-like arms, claws, and teeth.
”Wait!” Marie cried to the both of them, raising a pleading hand for both parties to halt.
Holt reluctantly did as asked, moving just enough for Marie to get a good look at the Silver Sorceress.
”Look,” she began, words heavy with fatigue, ”I . . . I know what this is, okay? I get it. I royally screwed you and Diplodoc over last time we met, but can we not do this today?”
It was an odd request to be sure, but Marie continued nonetheless.
”A lot’s changed in three months and honestly, I could give a rat’s ass about S.T.R.I.K.E., or Icon, or whoever the hell else was on that team in West Virginia. I have nothing to do with that group anymore, nor did I really ever want to in the first place. If you and Diplodoc are planning another Pax Metahumana, be my guest! I’ve got more on my plate to deal with.”
Marie extended her hand as if to offer a handshake, or some other appropriate gesture. She wasn’t so naive as to think the sorceress would stop at just that, but she hoped it’d be enough to start a conversation rather than a fight.
A smile appeared on the Silver Sorceress’ face before she mumbled a few inaudible words under her breath. Suddenly, several shadowy arms slithered out of the ground, grabbed ahold of Marie, and started to try to drag her into the ground.
“Not personal?” the Silver Sorceress taunted the young mage, “It becomes personal when you’ve been held under lock and key while being sedated for three whole months. It becomes personal when your sister had been hospitalized for that same time and you couldn’t do anything for her. This isn’t about being a hero. This is about actions having consequences.”
Marie gasped as the sorceress’s magic wrapped around her arms and waist, squeezing the life from her as they slowly retreated into the earth, the ethereal hands like ice on her skin. Holt responded, slashing at the tendrils with his own shadowy claws, his power just enough to disrupt theirs. It was a struggle, but Marie held on, speaking as she was being cut free.
”Three months, puh,” she scoffed, ”Try having your memories locked away for 500 years, then we’ll talk.”
She pulled herself up, taking in a deep breath before calling to Holt, issuing a series of mental commands. He assumed the form of a raven, circling the immediate area to create a wind to combat the sorceress’s own.
“Once we’re through here, I’ll give you a first hand experience of being put under ice,” the Silver Sorceress threatened while she watched as her opponents were attempting countermeasures against her. Nevertheless, she was quick on her feet and already initiated her next spell.
“So, you reject the title of hero, do you?” the Silver Sorceress called out to Marie, after she had mumbled a few more words. “Why don’t you tell that to all of them.”
She then pointed towards the shadowy figures rising from the ground. Suddenly, a foul spell arose, just like charred skin and hair. Although the physical features of these figures were obscured by their gaseous nature, it was clear that all their hair had been scorched off and their clothes were in tatters. Ghostly echoes resounded from their mouths, asking why she had not saved them, why they had to die. With each moment passing, more shades ascended from the ground and encircled Marie.
“These are just a few of the souls whom the Hounds had just wiped off the face of the Earth. Do you want to tell them you’re not a hero?”
Marie turned to face the mass of burning remains and ephemeral voices, their cries drowning the outside environment, even the whistling of the wind through the loose boards began to fade, replaced by the cry of illusory spirits. To Marie, however, they seemed quite real.
”I-I had nothing to do with that,” Marie stammered, backing away slightly. ”I’m not responsible for what the Hounds do. If anything, it’s you and Diplodoc’s fault they decided to surface in the first place!” Marie cried, head reeling from the cacophony of lost souls infernal pleaing.
Listen to them not! Holt’s voice tried to break through the wall of disembodied screaming, finding that Marie’s mind was nearly closed to him.
They are illusions, Marie. You know this, you have combatted such tricks before. See them for what they are, not spirits, but shadows conjured to confuse.
Marie could only just make out Holt’s voice among countless others, but this spell was insidious. It took hold of that fragment of her old self, the part that longed to be a cunning woman, the part that had, at one time, thought to help the folk of Lost Haven. She covered her ears to escape the crying voices, losing herself momentarily to their screams.
“What a selfish little bitch. She was more concerned with herself than the countless lives of those murdered by the Hounds,” the Silver Sorceress taunted Marie as the mass of shades grew by the moment. Marie’s counter that it was DIplodoc’s fault for the Hounds only fell on deaf ears. “And if Diplodoc had been successful, there would not have a reason for the Hounds to rise up. There would not be any massacres if there were not normal humans left.”
While Marie was distracted by the shades, the Silver Sorceress noticed that the winds she had summoned were slowly dying down. When she examined the sky above, she noticed a shadowy shape of a bird. She could not quite make out all the details of this creature, but she know that it was a threat, as it was flying against the summoned winds. Something like that had to be dealt with.
She was not sure how corporeal this creature was, so she began to use the winds to pick up any sort of nearby rubble and sent it up to where the creature was flying. If that did not slow the being down, she would just have to try something else. Nevertheless, the Silver Sorceress had them separated. If she could force Marie’s hand, then that shadowy bird would just be an annoying distraction.
Suddenly, the ground underneath Marie began to become soft and unstable, just as what had happened to the Raptor Pack back in Albany. Slowly, Marie began to sink into what now seemed like quicksand. Yet the shades, who did not need solid ground to stand, remained unaffected by this next trap that the SIlver Sorceress had cooked up for the White Witch.
Holt was unphased by the floating rubble and debris. They passed through his body as if it were air, but the force behind them, the shifting winds that stirred greater objects in the room, that gave Holt pause. Nevertheless, he pressed forward, the winds roused by his wings clashing with those conjured by the sorceress.
Meanwhile, Marie began to sink, unaware of her predicament. The voices raged on, Holt’s warning fading into the noise.
”I didn’t save them,” she whispered to herself in a whimper, hands clasped against her ears as the earth began to swallow her whole. ”I’m so . . . “
The word echoed through her mind. She could hear it in her own voice, from the Silver Sorceress, from Holt, from Puck, from . . . Joseph.
”I’m selfish,” she said aloud, the sound of her own voice cutting through the crying shades. ”I am selfish. I’m a witch.” she uttered with confidence, slowly bringing her hands away from her ears.
”Witchcraft is cruel, selfish, and self serving. It’s a part of me, in my blood. I can give with the right hand and take with the left, and that’s my decision, my will. I do this for me . . .”
Marie turned to the phantasms, arms firmly at her side, the vortex of sand not quite able to move past them.
”I don’t owe you anything!” she screamed at the shadows, her voice pushing at each one, forcing them to retreat, fading back into whatever part of her mind had conjured them, if it existed any longer.
Marie pushed against the quicksand, not with her strength or any physical attribute, but with that vital spark, her powers of fascination working against the charm that kept her trapped. It was enough to free her from the enchantment, her body rolling across the ground to a level patch of sand.
“Well, if you won’t listen to those murdered by the Hounds,” the Silver Sorceress told Marie, unfazed by the White Witch’s ability to get herself out of these enchantments. “Then maybe someone a little more close to home can.”
Finally, one last shade arose from the ground. However, unlike the last mob of ghosts, this one did not look like he had been zapped by an orbital death ray. His usually scruffy brown hair was dirty and matted, bangs plastered to his forehead, which was covered in sweat. His dark eyes were rife with fear, scars and bruises appearing along his sharp features. On his neck lay two, wide holes like bite marks, the wound that killed him in his battle with the Ambassador, the bite from the Ouroboros.
”J-Joseph?” Marie whispered, pushing herself up from the ground, stumbling slightly at the sight of him. She hadn’t seen his wounds, hadn’t known the severity of his condition. He was paler than usual, and gaunt, like the life had been sucked from him. Marie’s hands shook in nervous frustration, her arms quivered. She had tried to forget, but here he was.
“I see you have become stronger, Marie, since I last saw you before I went to the Ironworks,” the shade of her dead friend acknowledged, “but at what cost? What deals have you made with the devil to gain this power?”
Marie shook her head. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes.
”What are you saying?” she responded, trying to reign in her emotions. ”I . . . I’ve done everything you would have done, everything you did. W . . . Why wait all this time to see me? Why now, why this?” Marie began to slur her words as Joseph’s presence brought back memories of their time together. All that he had taught her, all that he had done for her. It was all too much to bear.
“Do you not know with whom you make alliances?” Joseph demanded from her, “Do you not realize that you have now entered a pact with the one who sent me to the afterlife and, in doing so, spit on my memory? Are you so sure about what you are doing and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals?”
”You-You were the one who charged into a fight that we all told you would end poorly! I warned you, Puck warned you, we tried to keep you out of it! But you wanted fame,” Marie argued, tears streaming down her face.
”You were careless,” she replied almost in a whisper, not wanting to offend, ”How could you think summoning something that unstable would end well for you? Holt cautioned against it. And the Ambassador . . . s-she was just doing a job.”
Marie let out a heavy sigh,
”You told me . . . you were the one who reminded me of what we are,” Marie could barely speak, unable to finish her thought.
“You have not answered me with anything except excuses,” Joseph chided Marie, “Why did you ally with the woman who sent me to the grave? Did our friendship not mean anything to you? Do you have no respect for the dead?”
Marie! Holt called out once again, fighting for a place in Marie’s mind. You cannot speak to Joseph, you know who holds his soul. Fight this!
Meanwhile, the Silver Sorceress was amused by how well her illusion was working. She had definitely hit one of the White Witch’s heartstrings. For the entirety of this conversation with the illusion of Marie’s dead friend, the Silver Sorceress could have taken any of the opportunities presented by the situation to end the young witch. However, ending her would have been too kind of a punishment for the girl. Living with her guilt was way more satisfying to the silver-clad magic user. While the conversation was going on, the Silver Sorceress was conjuring one last spell as a parting gift. Unlike her others, this one would be timed, so that she could make her escape. Small ice crystals began forming below the White Witch’s feet and they gradually grew while she was distracted.
At this moment, the Silver Sorceress decided it was the moment for her retreat. However, before she left, she etched a warning into the ground.
If I wished it, you would be dead now. If you ever cross me again, you won’t be leaving our next confrontation in one piece.
After the message was written, the Silver Sorceress teleported away while Marie was reliving memories with Joseph. At that very moment, the ice crystals rapidly expanded into sharp icicles. While most of them missed Marie, as they were designed to by the Silver Sorceress, one grazed her leg, drawing out blood. At the same time, the shade that the Silver Sorceress had summoned slowly faded away into the breeze, revealing its true nature, since it could not remain intact when its creator was not present.
Marie fell to her knees, the cold chill from the ice creeping through her veins. Holt was instantly at her side, the sorceress’s winds subsiding with her disappearance. He tried to speak to Marie, tried to assure her that all was well, but she couldn’t hear him. Her vision began to blur, a soft breeze carrying the smell of wheat and fresh game into her nostrils.
Marie looked down to see her hands were those of a child, and the cold she felt came from the forest, beckoning her to return. A small village crept behind her, its denizens shooing her off into the wilderness, happy to be rid of the child with the loaded finger. It was a brief glimpse, but Marie knew that this was Gwyneth, her childhood, the fear and abandonment she felt being ushered from the first home she knew.
Marie, Holt’s voice finally made it through, Are you alright?
Marie grabbed her leg, applying pressure to the new cut and wincing at the sting of air brushing against it.
”I . . . I can’t keep doing this, Holt.” she muttered, rocking gently to soothe her physical and mental ache. ”I can’t keep going back to this. I mean look at me!” she shook her head in frustration.
”No, this has to change. Gwyneth wasn’t like this, I wasn’t like this. I was strong . . . I know I was . . .”
Holt perched himself on her shoulder as a raven, nestling his head against her neck as a form of comfort, though she knew he didn’t fully understand the sentiment of the gesture.
With time, you’ll regain that strength . . .”
”No,” Marie cut him off, standing quickly and moving toward the mirror at the back of the shed. Her voice was cold.
”This won’t happen again.”