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Transmutation and Conjuration

Part 6

Location: Lost Haven University – Lost Haven, Maine
Time: 8:30 p.m.

The final stop on their evening quest was the one Charlie dreaded the most, returning to Lost Haven University. With the majority of LHPD guarding and picking up after the latest damage to Sherman Square, clean up crews at the University were on a day shift. They had a clear view of the memorial as they approached, placed up the stairs toward the main entrance of the university; flowers, candles, and pictures carefully set up and undisturbed. The alchemist relit a string of dead candles with her lighter, using a little bit of alchemy to reform the melted wax.

Digging her fists deep into her pockets, Charlie stood at the front of the memorial looking over the pictures, brow furrowed. A familiar sight for Lost Haven, collateral damage from supes and their bigger enemies picking fights around civilians. Willingly she joined them, the big superheroes at Sherman Square, only having survived the attack on Lost Haven University a few days before. Charlie knew, deep in the marrow of her bones, this wasn’t black and white. With no idea how strange things would feel once they entered the school grounds, Charlie wordlessly led the way inside.

Similarly to Sherman Square, there had been pockmarks from bullets on the floors and walls. All the broken glass was cleaned up, along with the bullet casings. It was quick work, patching up the drywall; nothing had been repainted as of yet. The tiles in the floor had been removed.

The heavy smell of chemical cleaners made Charlie’s nose twitch, she made a face, bitterly remarking,“This is a sanitized graveyard.

Can you feel them, Holt appeared in Marie’s mind as he slithered intangibly over each dimly lit memorial, their spirits are restless, vengeful even. What further mischief might befall this institution, I wonder?

Keeping a few paces behind Charlie, Marie nodded in response to her familiar’s silent comments. Not only could she feel that forlorn stare of icy desperation and panicked remembering of fear, her eyes caught glimpses of shades wandering solemnly in her periphery. It would be easy to dismiss them, those caught in the weight of their misery, were it not for their numbers, how close they lingered as a despairing mass. Holt was right; in the years to come, Lost Haven University would see even greater strife from those it left behind.

Madalena did her best to keep her chin up as she followed closely beside Charlie. She too could feel the restless dead, hear their silent sobs of anguish and rage. She shared in their hatred and lamentation, having experienced the full force of the Hounds twice now, as had Charlie.

She reached over to touch Charlie’s shoulder before turning her attention to their weathered guide, Puck’s enigmatic cypher. The alchemist patted Maddi’s hand, no smile followed but a light squeeze let her know it was appreciated.

”Where the place, upon the heath?” Maddi read the clue aloud, scanning the entryway for anything of note, referring to the third and final illustration of the set.

A giant two-pronged stang dominated the foreground, rising from the earth with a half-opened eye hovering at its center. A serpent coiled around its base, forked tongue gesturing to a pile of bones, atop which sat a single skull with a foreign mark engraved onto its forehead. Two figures danced around the stang, one man, one woman, both with features that reminded Madalena of “The Lovers” card in the Rider-Waite deck.

”Any natural places around the university that this might be? Maybe a football or intramural field?”

Charlie thought, the University was surrounded by the city, there wasn’t really any green space save for the sports fields and the empty grass field behind the science buildings, mostly where chem and bio students would go to smoke or get some fresh air out of the labs. There were picnic tables back there and ashtrays. Charlie figured that’d at least be a place to start. “Follow me, I have a place in mind that might be good to check.

She led the way through the halls, the steady tap of her staff against the ground and their quiet steps kept them company, “You guys must be picking up something different from all this, all I’ve got is a chill and a lot of sadness.

Pushing on a pair of doors out to the outside, Charlie held them open for Marie and Madalena to go through, continuing her thought, “Haunted places ain’t for me, but there’s a few places around the city that are. I guess. . . The University is among them now.

Charlie pointed to the left. They followed the walking path, which looked about the same as it did inside. Little scars, upturned patches of grass, jutted piles of earth summoned by Terra Firma. “Can you let ‘em know I’m sorry?

”They know,” Marie was quick to respond, catching up to Charlie and Madalena, walking alongside them instead of behind. ”The dead are remarkably perceptive. And so long as they receive the respect they’re owed, you should have no problem from them.”

”But neither of us are mediums,” Madalena chimed in, ”we might see the odd shadow or two, but talking to the dead is an entirely different skill set . . . not to say that they can’t hear us normally, but, well, necromancy is complicated.”

”And not to add fuel to an already somber fire, but the university was likely already haunted before recent events. Universities are-”

”Oh yeah!” Madalena interrupted, ”liminal spaces, I didn’t even think about that. It’s like a spiritual/psychic crossroads, all the people that come and go wears thin on the veil.”

Charlie considered that and nodded, grateful for the insight. “That helps. Makes sense too, old grounds like this always have a long string of ghost stories from janitors to music professors. Even had this one dude from my graduating class claim he found ectoplasm from the old rez building out back.” Charlie snorted, “Brought it into the lab to test. I believed him, but everyone else called him nuts.

I had gotten drunk a few times at keggers and let slip I could do alchemy but nobody believed me either. Science students are a bunch of skeptics,” She said laughing, “Who knew?

Madalena chuckled, thinking back on her brief college career as a history student. It was a boring existence, much as she expected, and despite her generally extroverted appearance, she wasn’t much of a party girl. But there were times, even then, when she tested her skills, made acquaintances who believed, and found the ire of quite a few skeptics.

”Reminds me of this church group that wandered into Shadow of the Moon last year.”

”Oh my god, I remember that!” Marie perked up, ”It was ridiculous, Charlie. This guy comes in with a handful of pamphlets and starts passing them out to customers about ‘the dangers of Satan’s secrets’ or something like that.”

”Yeah, and his friends, like three of them, start putting little crosses and Jesus figurines in odd places. I was about to call the police on them but one of their little wooden figures fell off a table and they all ran scared.”

Marie laughed, ”You’re welcome, by the way.”

Maddi’s eyes went wide, ”That was you!? God, I should have figured.”

Charlie snorted a laugh, “If only they knew about the devilish portal in the back. Easy to spook ‘em, at least.” Scratching her nose, “I like to think I did pretty well for meeting Puck the first time.

’Satan’s secrets’ ain’t all that bad afterall.

”Just wait until you meet The Man in Black.” Marie nonchalantly replied, combing her fingers through her hair, instinctively tying a few loose strands into simple braids out of what felt like habit. ”You haven’t had the pleasure yet, Madalena, have you?”

”Not yet,” Madalena sheepishly replied, considering what it means to “meet” The Witch-Father. ”I was actually starting to wonder whether or not I’d ever see him. I only know bits of pieces of lore, same with Puck, but I know it won’t compare to actually seeing him in person, or, in spectral-whatever he is.”

”Don’t worry,” Marie smiled, ”he comes to all witches following the old currents. It’s sort of our rite of passage. The Witch-Mother is more elusive, but our Father comes to us when we ask.”

The alchemist’s stare lingered on Marie, thinking about Puck and the Witch-Father. She remembered how excited Carrie was when she met the Witch-Father, but never went into detail about the experience, shuttered away with her coven to discuss it at length. Even after talking to her Gramps about it, he knew about as much as Charlie did.

“It’s a relationship between the witches and their patrons. Not for the like of outsiders to truly understand, curious as we are.” She remembered Nathaniel had said.

Her eyes didn’t leave Marie, remembering meeting her the other night speaking so directly with Puck, meeting with him privately afterward. Frustratingly tagging along, helping sure but taking delight in their test, talking about their patrons as if she knew them personally.

I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to, which is fine by me.” Biting her tongue, mystery women liked staying mysterious. Charlie also couldn’t help but open her mouth. “The more time I spend with you guys the smarter I’ve been feeling about witchy stuff.” She began, “Firstly, I think I finally figured you out, Marie. This whole old soul thing of yours is probably more apparent than you can tell. How fast you’re settling into the 600 year old shoes.

She turned about walking backwards, easily sidestepping upturned bits of pavement as if she had eyes on the back of her head. “So much so I wouldn’t even be surprised if you told me that Puck and the Witch-Father are related. Two devilish entities working closely with witches? That ain’t a coincidence.

”Funny you should mention it,” Marie replied, ”they are, in fact, brothers. The five brothers, the Pwcca, founding members of the Tylwyth Teg, the faery tribes of Wales and the children of former Queen Mab.” Marie let out a quick sigh, taking a moment to consider whether giving out the following bit of information would harm her in the long run. Ultimately, however, she trusted Madalena, and Charlie wasn’t involved enough in the affairs of Puck and his brothers to cause her serious injury.

”It’s also worth mentioning that Mab is my grandmother.”

Madalena stopped dead in her tracks.

”Wait, so you’re . . . you’re Puck’s niece? How many more bombshells are you gonna drop on me in the span of two days, Marie? Not that it isn’t infinitely fascinating and I’m super happy to see you again, but my God woman, you’ve been busy!”

Marie laughed and nodded, ”It’s certainly been an adventure.”

Charlie made a face, lifting her finger, opening her mouth then shutting it. Not slowing down in her backwards walking, “There’s a first time for everything, my guess being right.

I thought my family was old.” Charlie commented, “Time to find the final piece and put this whole treasure hunt to bed.

She turned around once more leading them across the grounds, heading toward the old residence buildings. One stood apart from the others, sheets covering the windows, doors locked when Charlie tested it, cleared out from the summer and after the attack. It had been renovated of course to fit more students into housing who needed it, but nobody particularly liked living in this one. The ectoplasm story was only one of many strange things happening there. It was faster to go through it as opposed to going around.

Digging in her pocket for her wallet, Charlie pulled out her library card, plastic and thin enough to slip into the door frame. Jiggling it a little, she used it to slice through the steel deadbolt opening the door a second later for her witchy cohorts to enter, propping it open with her foot while she fixed the bolt back into place, cupping the missing piece to the rest of the bolt.

It seemed far darker in there than the other buildings, missing a lot of light from the moon and street lamps just outside. Charlie licked her lips, entering behind them. While there was a heavy sense of dread earlier, this felt like a vibration in the air buzzing at their arrival as opposed to oppressing it.

I think we’re getting close. Things feel different here than anywhere else.” She said checking her arm, seeing the goosebumps raising the hair across her arm. “Weird shit is here.

Checking her back pockets for her flashlight, “Light incoming,” she said, clicking on her flashlight. The beam illuminated the floor and a. . . tail, brow furrowing the light found the long nearly transparent body of a serpent wearing a white featureless mask. The flashlight clattered to the floor, Charlie shrieked with alarm gripping her staff, it rolled across the floor taking the light with it.

What the fuck!

Madalena jumped at the clattering flashlight, searching the dark for whatever Charlie had seen. ”What, what was it?”

There was definitely a strange air to the building, more tangible than the entrance closer to the front of campus. The odd ghost or wight was enough to make one’s hair stand on end, but it was rare that anything inhuman manifested so openly without being summoned. The university, it seemed, held greater mysteries than previously believed.

”I saw it too,” Marie assured Charlie, taking a few steps ahead of them, scanning the room with her eyes closed, opening herself to whatever might be lurking. Indeed, whatever it was felt excitable, jovial even.

”The effects of the final effigy, I suspect.” Holt offered, calmly pacing alongside Marie as an ethereal cat. ”There is magic in this place, or the remnants of it.”

”College kids love to dabble,” Madalena replied, taking hold of herself and moving forward with renewed confidence. ”I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few other spirits roaming around besides ghosts, called up in a botched conjuration or seance.”

Charlie patted her chest, breathing through her nose. Stooping to pick up the flashlight once more, she checked if it was still there, relieved that it disappeared. “It was a huge snake wearing a creepy white mask, Maddi. This shit doesn’t dial down ever.” She said, walking on - shoulders hunched, an iron grip on the light.

It wasn’t the last of the strange spirits that appeared on their walk through the building, crawling at the edge of their peripheries, shyly hiding behind doors and walls, more snake inspired spirits followed behind them. Much to Charlie’s dismay and increasing discomfort the more she saw but her surprise dwindled away. They passed several first floor apartment rooms, common areas like a kitchen and living room, it wasn’t a straight forward front to back. Cork boards of student council events, residence building potluck posters lined the walls outside the common areas. It was seemingly untouched by the Hounds, no students would have been found in here past graduation. Following the emergency fire exit signs to reach the other side of the building, Charlie disabled the fire alarm switch on the door allowing them to exit without an issue. The residence building backed on a wild edge of brush, a small pathway cut into it for students to make a shortcut off campus.

It was dark, nature looking ready to overtake the pathway, new grass growing in patches, bushes obscuring the way through the further they tried to see.

This is probably the most wild place the University has.” Charlie gestured to the seemingly dense forest, it crept closer every year as if to spite the University’s groundskeepers.

Madalena peered into the night, straining her eyes on the hunt for a visible sign, some shared imagery between the journal entry and their surroundings. She could just make out a fallen limb about staff height with four dry spikes at the end. With a bit of trimming, Madalena fashioned the branch into a stang, mimicking the two-pronged staff in the illustration. She pierced the ground with one end, forcing the staff to stand straight.

”This feels too simple, but we’ll give it a shot.”

She pulled the key from her back pocket, balancing it on her index finger and waiting for a response. To her surprise, the reaction was immediate. Spinning in what was now a familiar motion, the key began to levitate a few inches above her hand, then a few feet, until it reached enough height to align itself with the central gap between the stang’s horns. A faint light fell over them, called up from the forest, ushered in on the wind, riding the whispers of leaves and other hidden creatures.

Madalena felt a strange compulsion then, an urge to dance around the staff, one she questioned only for a moment before letting go of herself, giving in to that primal desire.

Marie felt it as well, recognizing it for what it was, the pull of the Sabbath. Where witches and spirits congregate, the Sabbath inevitably takes hold. She joined Madalena, taking her hands, dancing as a pair to the invisible choir, the echo of voices long past, the air of bewitchment. And with every turn, with every leap, every strange and contorted motion, the key began to glow brighter and brighter, burn hotter and hotter, until it became like the light betwixt and between, an image of the cunning flame.

Hunching up her shoulders, hugging her staff, Charlie watched them dance, feeling as if she really did not belong there or was even allowed to watch what was happening. Nonetheless, she watched both of them exude a wildly free energy as they danced, even if Charlie didn’t understand it she thought it was beautiful. Her cheeks touched with colour.

Squinting at the light of the burning key, she shielded her eyes once more.

An eerie presence presented itself, one that loomed over the trio upon their arrival, finally manifesting itself in the form of a serpent slithering up from the earth, coiling around the stang, reaching up to the light. After a moment’s hesitation, where all the world seemed to stand still, the serpent swallowed the key, its flesh burned away until all that remained was an ornate chest, just like the others, the alchemic key protruding from the lock.

Both Madalena and Marie collapsed, though neither were injured. Instead, they laughed, as if driven mad.

”The MOST dramatic finale to this whole deranged scavenger hunt,” Maddi exclaimed, righting herself and offering a hand to help up Marie. ”Is that what it’s always like? The Sabbath, the nocturnal meetings, all of it?”

Marie nodded, steadying herself with Madalena’s help. ”And that was just a small taste. The longer you practice, the greater the pull, until finally your spirit is called away at night to join the revelry.”

Hesitantly Charlie joined them, “Th-that was a Sabbath?

Looking over their shoulders at the chest, “This is the final one right? If you guys don’t mind, could I keep the key afterwards? If it doesn’t burst into flames again.” She poked the key and it was hot to the touch, popping the tip of her finger into her mouth fanning at the key with her other hand to try and cool it.

I can probably make a makeshift oven mitt.” She offered.

”That was only the beginnings of the Sabbath.” Marie replied, bending down to take a better look at the ornate wooden box, not really having seen the other two. She turned to Maddi ”And I suspect you won’t need anything like that. Go ahead, try it.”

Cautiously, Madalena kneeled down and touched the key, entirely cool to the touch. Smiling, she turned it, listening to the satisfying clicking of the final piece of the puzzle. Once opened, she passed the key to Charlie, placing it at her feet to allow it to cool off.

Inside the little trunk was the third of the effigies, tucked away in the indented space, carved with the same craftsmanship, a wooden snake with a placard beneath reading “Robin.” Next to the effigy lie the tool used to call the spirit into it, a small switch fashioned from a willow tree.

”It’s been a long day, but we’ve done it!” Madalena beamed with enthusiasm, looking between Marie and Charlie.

Charlie smiled next, “Yeah! One witchy puzzle after the next but we figured it out!” Draping her arm across Maddi’s shoulders, a comforting squeeze, “We’re that much closer to being able to tell the Witchfinder to fuck off!

The smile turned to a big grin.

”Do you have everything you need to perform the conjuration?” Marie questioned Madalena, eyeing the bag she’d used to hold the other effigies.

Maddi nodded, flashing a quick smile to Charlie before fishing through the small duffel she’d brought along with a few other mystical supplies. Along with the containers holding each effigy, she also produced a large offering plate, a small flask of high-proof alcohol, a bundle of dried herbs, and a matchbook. She arranged everything on a picnic table set up outside the residence hall, weathered and not well taken care of.

”I deciphered the invocation a little while ago, right before we figured out the map. It’s fairly straightforward. Let’s not waste any time!”

Madalena took a deep breath, drawing in each passing wind, falling into a meditative state. She placed each effigy in the order in which they were found, humming softly to herself as she recalled the words to the rite. As she spoke, she interacted with each of the offerings laid out before the effigies, ringing the bell, upsetting the bones, waving the switch, and adding the alcohol and herbs to the offering plate, pricking herself with the thorns of her cane and allowing a few drops of blood to spill onto the plate, nine in total, before striking the match and lighting it.

Black spirits and white, red spirits and grey,
mingle mingle mingle, you that mingle may.

Come, come in Malkin by chiming of bell,
bring in luck and I’ll treat thee well.

Come, come Hellawin by hollow bone,
give cunning sight to me alone.

Come now Robin by willow switch,
bring me the power to bewitch.

A part from me and a part from mine,
three times three to make up nine.

Round, around, around, about, about;
all ill come running in, all good keep out.

With the conclusion of the final word, after all offerings had been given and burned, the effigies began to shake violently, as if they might split apart under the weight of some unseen force. The wind howled, bringing in the call of each creature, the screeching of the grey owl, the mewing of the cat, the hissing of the red serpent.

And then all was silent.

Madalena opened her eyes, examining each wooden totem, wondering if her call had been heard, if everything had worked.

Then she heard them.

”Look who calls, dear ones,” Malkin’s voice came as a sharp prick on Madalena’s skin.

”Another to teach, another to serve,” Hellawin’s voice was a throbbing behind the eyes.

”For these gifts, all the world shall be yours,” Robin’s voice was a crawling chill up Madalena’s spine.

”Hail, Madalena Hawthorne!” they cried in unison, appearing from behind their effigies as elegant beasts, each with subtleties that betrayed their otherworldly presence.

Holy shit. . .” Was all Charlie could manage, “Three full fledged familiars.

Malkin the cat, Hellawin the owl, and Robin the snake. Packaged, no doubt powerful deal. Charlie wondered who they originally belonged to, a question they could probably answer if she asked nicely enough. While they were together they were individually giving off completely unique vibes, where she got a little taste of each as they found the chests. The alchemist turned to look at Holt then back to the trio, they couldn’t compare. There was no arguing how old each of them were.

Malkin’s coat was light gray in colour, it looked soft - impossibly soft - as if he belonged on a show stage to impress a row of judges. His eyes were pale yellow, nearly white, narrowed settled on Madalena. His shadow caught Charlie’s attention, it seemingly grew even in the dim light growing far larger than any of the humans present then it turned walking freely while Malkin remained still. Charlie dug a heel at her eye as she watched it move, passing over Hellawin next, as far as Charlie could tell a normal looking great horned owl - brown, white and black feathers smoothed down, large yellow eyes blinking - head bobbing slightly left and right. Squinting slightly at his beak, as his head moved she caught sight of teeth, serrated and hidden beneath the beak. Having enough of that she looked finally to Robin. The low light did his scales no justice, glittering bright red as he shifted, they shimmered with incandescent colours like staring down the length of a kaleidoscope.

Bumping Maddi’s elbow with her own, Charlie whispered, “You should probably say hi or something.

Marie winced a little at Charlie’s voice, momentarily stunned by the utter lack of ceremony, the swift negation of time-honored, often necessary formalities. She quickly reminded herself that the alchemist was just as new to this world as Madalena, electing to keep quiet and hope that Charlie would mimic her silence.

Holt looked on in as much awe as he was capable. His powers alone were dwarfed by the Weird Trio, but combined with Marie’s experience, he wondered if he could outmatch them. A passing thought.

Madalena took longer to respond than she’d intended, desperately combing the ancient lexicons ingrained in her memory for a proper greeting. She settled on something simple.

”Welcome,” her voice was clear, her tone slightly elevated, scholarly, ”Malkin, Hellawin, Robin. I thank you for your swift arrival and the promise of service. May our bond last as long as your years of restful sleep. I offer my protection, in turn. Your totems will be well guarded, this I swear.”

Marie and Holt both nodded in approval.

The trio couldn’t truly emote in their bestial forms, but Madalena got the feeling they were satisfied with her response.

”Look there,” Malkin mewed.

”Look there,” Hellawin cried.

”Look there,” Robin hissed.

The trio disappeared, vanishing on a chilling wind and reforming from behind Marie, Robin coiling around her left leg, Hellawin perching on the shoulder opposite Holt, Malkin blocking Marie’s path. Their presence felt nonthreatening, more intrigued than anything.

”A creature of the old magic,” they said in unison. ”A wielder of the witch-fire, no, something more. Shall we unveil the mystery, mistress? We can see you are curious.”

Holt listened, uneasy. Of course the Weird Trio would sense the pull of the old current, recognize Marie for what she was. And yet, he too shared their curiosity.

Conversely, Marie was ecstatic, radiating nothing but enthusiasm. If the Weird Trio could reveal something else about her past, perhaps provide her with a memory, or a piece of one that might lead her toward the next of her lost possessions, it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

”Do it, Madalena,” Marie smiled, ”Whatever they have to say, maybe it’ll help me with my own deranged scavenger hunt.”

”Um,” Madalena stared at them, mulling it over. Marie had helped she and Charlie locate the trio without asking for anything in return, it seemed only fair that she be compensated for her time. If Maddi could aid Marie in uncovering certain truths from her past, why shouldn’t she?

”Oh what the hell,” she smiled, ”go ahead, lovelies, work your magic.”

The trio nodded, their eyes glazing over, turning black as night. Soon after, Marie collapsed, sent adrift in her memories, pulling one to the surface.

Gwyneth paced about her cottage, tripping over stray spools and spindles spun the previous evening by she and her cohorts - soon to be initiated into her inner circle if all went accordingly.

Tick, tick, tick

She kept a watchful eye on a diminutive orrery, a mechanical wonder offered to her by a roaming philosopher, a pitiful soul seeking the love of a Parisian noblewoman. Love was not her stock and trade; Gwyneth much preferred the fickle curse to charms and bewitchments of lust and romance, but it was not beyond her skill.

The orrery had been so enchanted to spin, matching the motion of certain celestial bodies. It was the position of the moon that held Gwyneth’s attention. The first night of the dark moon was upon them, and her plans would soon be set into motion.

“Gwyneth!” a haggard old woman cried out through the window overlooking the garden, “I’m sure she’s done it, oh she must have! I watched from over the hill, conjured up the form of a cat to peek through night’s veil. I spied her at work, she’s done it!”

“Come away from there, Elspeth,” Gwyneth motioned to the crone, Elspeth Goudie, ushering her inside. “You’ll catch cold, come here.”

Miss Goudie nodded with a toothy grin, hobbling around the front of the cottage and bursting inside with force enough to startle thunder.

“Did she speak the rhyme? Could you hear it from your perch?” Gwyneth led Miss Goudie to the hearth, sitting her down on a crooked rocking chair and offering a cup of tea, mugwort and dandelion root.

“Aye, I could feel them. When she wrapped the wee bundle up, I could hear her heart. She poured herself into it, like an instinct. She’ll return in the morning with the little one to thank you, as well she should.”

Gwyneth smiled, everything was falling into place. She turned her attention to her workspace, a table adjacent to her sewing equipment that housed the tools of her craft. Towering above it was an ashen lectern, adorned with a thick book bound in white, a serpentine pattern slithering and weaving itself around the cover to form intricate knotwork surrounding a central symbol, a dragon’s head.

As Gwyneth neared, the book fell open, flipping to the page she’d conjured in her mind, the invocation of Azazel. The language was simple, rhythmic, better sung than chanted, with power to reverse even the cruelest of misfortunes - when in the right hands, of course.

“Her child lives,” Gwyneth spoke softly, her voice building, teeming with excitement. “Our spell worked and another joins our cause. Soon, dear Elspeth, we will have all we need to keep the good Christians of Wales at bay, and our real work can begin.”

Marie gasped, lurching forward and gripping her head, trying desperately to relieve the pain of her sudden memory.

Madalena shot forward, taking hold of Marie’s arm to steady her.

”Oh my god, are you alright? What just happened?”

”The truth hides in plain sight,” the Weird Trio replied, ”and the witch’s baleful Breath holds aloft the path to each brother, where two roads meet.”

Charlie rushed to Marie’s other side supporting her at the shoulder, concerned confusion stitching her brows together. “Those memories hit ya like a seven ton truck huh?

It wasn’t long after the trio had spoken that the phone The Ambassador gave Marie rang with a text tone, the sound of glass being gently tapped by silverware. The text read:

Thank you for making me look like a sickly fool during rehearsals, that vision could not have been timed better than when I was attempting a Grande Jeté. You are extremely lucky I did not break my ankle.

I will call you to discuss the vision when I am no longer being fussed over.

Followed by multiple angry emojis below the text.
Another post from myself and Trix, lest you had forgotten about us. I promise we'll actually be caught up in the current time eventually, but all these set up posts have been on the back-burner for literal months lol.

Transmutation and Conjuration

Part 5

Location: Shadow of the Moon, Occult Curiosities – Lost Haven, Maine
Time: 6:00 p.m. - Three Days after HoH Defeat

Madalena led the expedition of three - four including Holt - through a labyrinth of alleyways leading away from Shadow of the Moon, further into Chinatown. She stumbled over nearly every discarded beer bottles and poorly stacked boxes, swearing into the journal she’d kept glued to her face.

”Maybe put the journal down for a second,” Marie called from behind, struggling to match Madalena’s pace despite being at least a head taller. ”How will you know what you’re looking for if you can’t see it?”

Madalena stopped abruptly, surveying her surroundings. They’d walked almost a block away from her store, edging closer to the flower shop where the Witchfinder and his Court held counsel. She silently hoped Charlie hadn’t noticed. If their mission drew them too close to the Winter Court, they would be ill-equipped for a fight.

Charlie brought up the rear, leisurely following behind with the sure tap of her staff hitting the ground. As they passed the odd toppled box and other things, she shuffled them against the alley walls, examining the odd piece of trash or broken item, scooping it up with her staff, transmuting it on contact, curiously examining it before tossing it. Maddi took the lead, letting her concentrate on where they were going. Charlie knew she could bring them back to the shop if either of them got lost. She knew Lost Haven like the back of her hand.

Have some faith, Marie. Lady Hex knows what she’s doing.” Charlie assured her with a grin which disappeared as she wrinkled her nose, reacting to an upturned garbage can. She kicked it back into place with one smooth movement.

”Yeah!” Madalena replied, somewhat unconvinced.

The trio had been wandering for around twenty minutes without any insight as to the nature of their search. Maddi combed through the journal, analyzing the charcoal drawings, hoping they would somehow point them in the right direction. The first of three large illustrations depicted a large, dead tree at the edge of the frame, overlooking a flat plane. In the foreground, a trio of creatures danced around a bonfire, while the sun set in the background. She was unsure how literally she was meant to interpret these images, given the multiple layers of complexity they had already unwoven.

Looking up from the drawing, she tried to overlay the image in her mind with the alley, looking for similarities. This had been her method of uncovering the astral map of Lost Haven, and she was fairly certain the same could be applied in their current situation.

Sure enough, a few images stuck out. The alley began to open to the street, a series of closely coupled yet relatively short businesses that provided the perfect window to view the sun setting over Lost Haven. On the corner leading into the alley, a tight space between two old apartment buildings, stood a broken street lamp, whose post was slightly gnarled, likely dented by a drunk driver and never fixed. A few feet ahead, hidden behind a shoddy dumpster, Maddi noticed the singed lip of a barrel, used as a makeshift heatsource for some poor soul left to wander the streets, though no other remnants of the homeless could be seen.

”I think,” she turned to face the others, presenting the illustration to Marie, then Charlie, ”I think we’re here.”

”And where is ‘here’,” Holt queried from above, floating down from the rooftops as an ethereal raven, resting on Marie’s shoulder.

Marie chuckled, ”Puck really gave you two the runaround, didn’t he? The reward had better be worth this deranged scavenger hunt.”

He’s been forcing us to think outside the box. I could spend the rest of the day going up and down the streets of the city and be happy ‘cause I figured out the key.” Placing her hands on her knees and turning her head sideways to view the ‘tree’ and ‘fire’, “I gotta say this is a stretch, but you know what? We don’t get anywhere without breaking a few eggs.

Digging out the key from her back pocket she walked next to Maddi, tugging the journal from her hands and replacing it with the key.

Just tell me what to do. Dust off a secret door, reveal a lever? Name it.” Charlie said, squinting down at the site. She noticed faint lines in the pavement and ran her fingers through the groove, gritty and still warm from the afternoon sunlight. It appeared as if it cut up and through as opposed to being drawn while the cement settled, looping in circles before touching the lamp or weaving under the barrel, disappearing behind the buildings. “Or it’s just on the surface for once.” Unaware of the reactionary start going on behind her, turning at the sound she suttered, “Hey-

Upon touching Maddi’s skin, the key began to react, hovering just above her palm and spinning counterclockwise, producing a low hum that echoed through the alley. Slowly, it gained speed, vibrating with power, small sparks cascading down Madalena’s hand from a dim light atop the key.

All around them, something felt amiss. The air felt heavier, the walls closer, and as each luminescent spark touched the hot pavement, dust and grime began to fold back, and the world began to unfurl. Shadows danced along the walls, coalescing into a singular point near the singed barrel, becoming like a charcoal drawing of a cat. The contents of the barrel were suddenly set ablaze, a pillar of flame rising up over the alley, threatening to expose them. In that same instance, the key lept from Maddi’s hand and plunged itself into the inferno, extinguishing it.

Madalena stared, open mouthed. ”That was . . . dramatic.” she sped over to the barrel, looking up at the cat on the wall, which appeared to be peering down into the vessel. Carefully, she bent over, mindful of the sharp metal, reaching her hand into the bottom of pulling free an ornate trunk, a little larger than a jewelry box, with the alchemical key jutting out from a lock on the front.

Marie watched, awe stricken. Despite all she had seen, grand displays of Puck’s cunning still left her speechless. ”That wasn’t nearly as complicated as I was expecting.” She turned to Charlie. ”I guess this is where your test ends and ‘Lady Hex’s’ begins.”

Seems so.” She replied, looking over the barrel, the smell of brimstone tingling her nose and the taste of sulfur settling in the back of her throat. A distinct chill ran across her arms as she looked up to the image of the cat, staring at it. Tearing her eyes away to look at the box; a little whistle of appreciation at the craftsmanship escaped her. “That’s a piece of art, but go on - open it up see whats inside.

She gestured to the box, “The curiosity is gonna kill me at this rate.

Madalena nodded, turning the key, listening to the tiny tumblers shift until an audible and satisfying “click” propped open the lid. Carefully balancing the box in one hand and lifting the rop with the other, she revealed two oddities resting in similarly sized indentations within a velvet-lined interior. The first was a wooden carving of a cat, roughly sized and shaped to a feline’s actual dimensions. It looked almost feral, yet held a strange regality Maddi couldn’t place. Next to this sat a sizeable brass bell, seemingly unrelated. Beneath each item was a worn placard.

”The effigy to Malkin,” she read aloud, ”and a bell from a highland cow. W-what?” she looked at Charlie, then turned to face Marie and Holt. ”Is this what I think it is?”

Marie moved closer, scanning the box’s contents with a smile. ”Well, the bell is a little strange, but the name is a dead giveaway.”

”I wondered why the Weird Trio had been absent for so long. As is often the case, it appears Robin Goodfellow was hoarding yet another collection of magical artifacts. Congratulations.”

Charlie looked between the witches and the effigy, confusion writ all over her face. “Uh. . .” She began, whispering to Madalena embarrassed by not being able to follow the conversation, “What the fuck is any of that supposed to mean? In layman’s terms if you wouldn’t mind.

Madalena’s eyes were bright with excitement and eager anticipation. ”Malkin was a popular name for cat familiars in the 17th century, but this particular one belongs to a ‘set,’ a collection of spirits commonly found together known as the Weird Trio. I read about them not too long ago. Apparently, they served the Wyrd Sisters from Macbeth. Some even claim that they were the Wyrd Sisters, spirits disguised as witches, or were the inspiration for them in the play. This is what Puck was leading us to, his final gift to me!”

”The Weird Trio are powerful in their own right,” Marie continued the thought, ”but when bonded to a witch, they embody the essential elements of our craft. In other words, Lady Hex is about to get an upgrade.”

That’s great!” her excitement matching Maddi’s, “I was worried for a second that we were on a goose chase.” Charlie stole another look at ‘Malkin,’ drawn into the effigy the same way she was with the imagery above the barrel.

She took a guess, “Maybe the bell is what wakes him er… her?” Pausing for a second, “Wakes them up.” She ventured that’d be the reason why the two pieces were together. It was better a bell than shaking a pouch of cat treats.

The other two will be the last two locations, right?

Madalena nodded. ”At least I hope so. To have the Weird Trio at my disposal, the Witchfinder General doesn’t stand a chance!” she flashed a quick grin to Charlie and Marie before pointing to the journal in Charlie’s hands.

”That invocation at the back must be the binding spell for the familiars.”

”The bell likely calls the spirit into the effigy.” Marie echoed Charlie’s comment, turning to her once again to explain. ”Familiars aren’t usually summoned by the witch, they’re either inherited, gifted by a tutelary spirit, or choose the witch they wish to serve, but with the right conditions, you can call one up yourself. They just need two things, a vessel to house their essence, and some sort of sustenance.”

”Usually blood,” Madalena nonchalantly added.

Charlie pulled a face, “Of course it’s blood. If this cat grows up to be a people eating plant that’s where I’m drawing the line.” She joked elbowing Maddi a little.

Whenever you’re ready, lead the way to the next location. Don’t want ‘em to get lonely

Location: Sherman Square – Lost Haven, Maine
Time: 7:45 p.m.

The sparse flashing of blue and red illuminated veritable yards of neon “caution” tape, a wall to protect bystanders and awestriken onlookers from the upturned pavement, broken glass, and general chaos that fell over Sherman Square like a fine mist, blanketing the surrounding area in melancholic dread. LHPD remained in their cars, a few patrolling officers daring the street a block away. But even in its current state, a sense of normalcy began to return as adjacent businesses, those left undamaged, catered to their evening crowd, some fulfilling their nightly routine on the way home from work, some lingering with a sense of morbid curiosity.

Charlie, Madalena, and Marie stood on the periphery of Sherman Center, obscured by a rough patch of greenery with budding white blossoms. A cool wind settled on the square.

”We might have a problem,” Maddi reasoned, casting a wary glance at the row of patrol cars stationed haphazardly throughout the square before returning to the second illustration in her journal.

Etched on the brittle pages was a figure dressed all in black, dawning a deer skull mask and holding an adder stone fastened to a string in one hand and a bowl or cup in the other. In the foreground, five wolves stood watch while an owl flew overhead. But one detail gave Madalena pause, a circle of stones with an odd glyph at their center, visible only through the hag stone’s signature hollow, far off in the distance, though there was no indication of how far.

Madalena gripped the key, but nothing happened. ”I guess we’re not close enough, but I don’t know how we’re supposed to just sneak by this many cops and somehow stumble onto whatever the hell this is.”

Marie moved to speak, but elected to remain silent, observing Madalena and Charlie’s expressions. Holt did the same.

Charlie listened while her eyes were on the patrols and surrounding areas. “Is it weird that I can barely remember when Sherman Square looked like before the attack? Seen it a million times before but now it’s hard to imagine it anyway else than what it looks like now. Probably going to be worse when we get to the university.” She leaned into her staff cheek pressed up against it while she thought. Eyes filled an unmistakable sadness, “There’s a few things we could do to distract them.

Everything around them seemed broken, as the thought crossed her mind the grip on her staff tightened. “I’d need some more supplies to make something, I could always mess with their cars but I would feel bad for ruining them. Cops are assholes but. . . You know I don’t want to be an asshole either.

Feeling their pair of eyes on her Charlie turned from the scene and looked to Marie with her brow furrowed. “What are you two staring at?

Marie smiled, eyes thoughtful, voice pitched ever so slightly. ”Oh, nothing. Just watching the cogs turn.” She kept looking between them, then scanning the square. ”It’s just occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to offer aid, given that this is your quest to complete, afterall. God, I think I know why Puck finds this so enjoyable.”

”You’ve spent too much time together,” Madalena prodded, edging ever closer to Sherman Center, stumbling over a few exposed roots and a pile of decorative rocks. From her place, she could just about make out a small park or sitting area behind the cordoned off zone.

”I think that’s where we need to be,” she pointed with only partial confidence, ”we just need to draw the cops’ attention away from us. Any ideas?” Madalena fielded the question to her compatriot, turning from Charlie, whose expression betrayed her usual brassy confidence, to Marie, who remained quite smug.

”Well,” Marie spoke up, ”I guess one more favor wouldn’t hurt. I’ll take care of them.”

Holt, Marie issued the mental command, steer their attention away from here.

Holt nodded, leaping from Marie’s shoulder and assuming the largest of his many forms, a midnight steed fitted with the witch’s saddle. Without hesitation, he sped up to the officer’s nearest Sherman Center and reared back, running around them in circles before galloping through lines of caution tape and running down the street to the other patrolling vehicles. The officers were understandably confused, some trying to corral the frenzied horse, others moving from its path and radioing their partners further down the street. Whatever course they’d decided upon, their attention was fully turned from Sherman Square.

Charlie nodded, “A shadow horse is fine too.” she said so without a hint of sass or sarcasm. Sometimes that was all that was needed.

The Alchemyst stepped out from behind the bushes, checking again for any cops before walking into the center of the square leading the way, skirting debris, hopping over upturned cement, holding her hand out to help Madalena and Marie cross back to flat ground. They arrived at the center surrounded by various sculptures, some broken, bullet holes pockmarking the bases as well as the art itself. Most of the huge billboard screens were dark and damaged. An otherwise lively center of the city was deserted of traffic, tourists and people. In spite of the good reason for being there, the surreal silence made Charlie incredibly uncomfortable.

Madalena sped past, moving toward the circle of stone benches surrounding a now capsized decorative tree. The benches were sturdy, mostly undamaged, though a few were missing their legs. She held the key at arms length, waiting for it to spin as it had previously. Disappointingly, the key remained stationary.

”What have I got wrong?” she wondered aloud, moving her eyes between the cryptic pages of her journal and the capsized circle of stones. ”Oh!” she exclaimed as she hatched an idea.

Placing the journal at her side, Madalena quickly retrieved the decorative stones from the nearby patch of green, hopping over the field of debris and trying not to trip.

”You look like a madwoman, you know that?” Marie teased.

”You know what they say, ‘Madness is divine,’ or something like that.” Madalena called behind her as she arranged the decorative rocks to match the glyph in the journal. Soon after, the key responded.

The fallen pieces of Sherman Square began to quake and rumble as the alchemic key danced, familiar embers falling from its internal compartments as before. Dust and debris coalesced at the center of the stone circle, reforming, transmuting, becoming anew. A carved creation emerged, a chest fashioned of hardened stone. The key took its place, leaping from Madalena’s hand to cleave the statue in two and reveal the wooden trunk hidden beneath the stoney facade.

Madalena stepped forward, mindful that such a display would soon gain the attention of the distracted LHPD or passersby. She turned the key, unlocking the ornate trunk to reveal another of the wooden effigies.

”The effigy to Hellawin,” she read the placard beneath a wooden carving of an owl, more refined than the carving of Malkin, but possessing the same air of wildness. Next to the effigy was a large, withered bone. ”and the bone of a goat born on Sunday. How . . . specific.”

Charlie shielded her eyes from the sight, keeping her footing against the rumbles. Peeking out from behind her hand she looked over Maddi’s shoulder at the new effigy, feeling something similar to the other effigy. She wondered briefly why such strange things had an affect on her, unable to put her finger on the feeling - the intuition. There was no logical correlation, at least not to her. She wasn’t a witch.

Madness is divine.” Charlie echoed with a mumble. “Let’s get outta here before the cops round back around.

Transmutation and Conjuration

Part 4

Location: The Red Devil, Witches Workshop – Lost Haven, Maine
Time: 4:00 p.m. - Three Days after HoH Defeat

Ascend to malice through spiral stair, caress
the amber hue of greed - a waltz
o’er clouds of drunken breath, a dance
with shades and shadows fair - and proudly greet
the towering arch convoking
waggish hands and lust-fueled hearts to free
their souls by unseen arts.

They walked in stride, the maiden trio, to weather the the clamor of congratulations issued by patrons of the demon tavern, reveling in drink and anecdotal memory. Each moniker drifted as discordant melodies: the White Witch, Alchemyst, and Lady Hex, renowned titles among the hidden folk of Maine.

A virescent imp, draped in coral-colored finery and standing a few heads shorter than the shortest among them, walked the merry band up the spiral column of crimson stairs to the second highest floor, whose landing was littered with ornate decor, four steps above the rustic furnishings of the downstairs bar. Golden urns sat atop low tables with an equally rich trim; masterfully sculpted and hauntingly beautiful busts perched atop dark pillars etched with esoteric markings whose placement was a mystery; tall candelabras lit cluttered corners whose space was occupied by scarlet love-seats and reading chairs from an Elizabethan tragedy, accompanied by book towers and mounted shelves holding all manner of occult curiosities.

But the crowning jewel of this royal array was neither the seating nor gleaming oddities, but a far more sweetly sinister sight. Opposite the landing, where fine furs and delicately scattered rugs gave way to polished stone, stood two monoliths, eldritch pillars holding aloft an intricate arch bearing The Red Devil’s insignia, forged by some unnatural force. Beyond this portal lie a world of wonder where all aspects of the witches’ craft could be explored. Every nook was filled with a work of art, talismans and trinkets of wood and bone lining scorched tables and waxy plinths.

One wall held a small library of texts and tomes, scrolls and spells, filed haphazardly in crooked rows that climbed to the ceiling and jutted out nearly to the center of the room, acting as a divider between one world and the next. Another space was reserved for botanical creations and concoctions, filled with drying herbs hanging from hooks and rafters, and those kept in jars among other bottled oddities before a long-table of alchemical apparati, complete with a space in the wall for a bubbling cauldron, as well as smaller variants atop silver stands. Further in, a wardrobe surrounded by spinning wheels, spools and thread, and the odd loom rested beneath great tapestries depicting untold stories. Adjacent this scene was a wall of mirrors and other reflective surfaces used in divining all manner of hidden truths.

It seemed almost impossible that so much could be fit inside a single room, so much that one could easily miss the other grand displays at rest just beyond the periphery.

The imp bowed before his mistresses as they reached their destination, pardoning himself to other duties.

Charlie waved as the imp left, staring at the room around them marveling at the details, endlessly something new to see. She felt like she had stepped into a completely different time, the atmosphere sending a small prickle of excitement across her arms. The very distinct need to touch everything as well. In the mirror she raised her lip checking her teeth and digging a nail to remove some green leftovers.

Wiping down her shirt she whistled lowly. “I have never wanted to touch stuff so badly in my life before now. Marie, you’ve been on the DL for a while now don’t hear much about the White Witch in the news anymore.

Stepping close to one of the divining mirrors she stared at the edges hands behind her back with her staff. “Not that it’s any of my business, just curious. Crime fighting and moonlighting ain’t for everybody. I don’t really blame you either, some of the metas on the headlines are Grade A douchebags.

As we found out for ourselves.

Marie turned her head slowly, scanning the room, one she’d longed for in months past, before resting her gaze on Charlie and Madalena. ”It was only ever secondary,” her words were cold, distant, trailing behind another thought that remained unaired.

”My work with the Ambassador, strange as it might sound, is more fulfilling. The White Witch, useful as she was, was never really what I wanted.” she smiled at Madalena, gingerly setting Holt on the floor and taking Madalena’s hands in hers.

’I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past few months.”

Madalena maintained a smile, looking between Marie and Charlie, happy to be sharing the space. ”So, what’s the story, gal? Where’ve you been running off to for the past three and a half months? Honestly, I think I know as much about you as Charlie at this point, uh, no offense.”

”No, you’re right,” Marie assured her, ”I’ve been distant, caught up in something personal and a little complicated . . .” she paused, thinking as she looked around the room, resting her eyes on the scrying mirrors.

”Maybe it’d be best to show you. Holt, would you bring me a pin from that table?” she motioned to a pincushion resting with a host of other sewing equipment.

Holt nodded, leaping into the air and changing quickly into the form of a raven, floating over to the table and delicately removing the needle with his beak. In an instant, he appeared at Marie’s side, dropping the pin into her hand before retreating to the top of the wardrobe.

Marie moved past Charlie to the largest of the mirrors. Without hesitation, she pricked her finger with the needle, squeezing the end and allowing small droplets of blood to pool on the surface of her skin. She then marked the rim of the mirror with blood, forming an ovular pattern around its face.

”Blood of mine, make haste, make haste,
when I name thee, take thy place:
Gwyneth Owens, reveal thy face.”

The words flowed with a certain rhythm, more lyrical than strictly poetic, almost as if Marie had been singing rather than chanting. She stood further from the mirror, waiting for her magic to manifest. At first, there was no difference, save the ring of blood on the mirror’s surface. To Charlie and Madalena, Marie looked the same. But slowly, something began to shift. Their reflections were no longer seen, only Marie’s, and there was something strange about her, clothes that didn’t match her own, hair a little longer, more wild. By all accounts, her reflection depicted Marie, yet nothing but her face seemed the same.

The alchemist noticed the changes immediately, it was Marie in the reflection but also not. Licking her lips she turned to Madalena, she wondered what was going through her mind. Seeing your friend after a long time and they’re clearly different but in a jarring way. Leaning against her staff, cheek pressed up against it. “Who is Gwyneth Owens? Long lost twin sister you left behind at a renaissance fair?

Smiling to take the edge off her sarcasm, “Probably something a bit more important.

Her eyes settled on Maddi.

Madalena remained silent, listening intently.

”Gwyneth Owens was a Welsh witch born to unknown parents in 1496,” Marie continued, staring at her reflection with a faint smile, ”Her life was marred by sacrifice and betrayal, always at the hands of those she trusted most. She was a well-learned witch, born of faery blood; cunning and cruel.

“Toward the end of her life, Gwyneth began searching for a way to be free of her oppressors, something permanent, irreversible. One evening in 1520, she successfully split her soul into multiple parts, placing each in a magical vessel, her most prized possessions. She scattered these items, cast them adrift, bid them never come too near one another again, not until the time was right. Shortly thereafter, she was tried for witchcraft and executed.”

Marie let out a heavy sigh, shoulders tensing, head turned a few degrees from the mirror. Her reflection, however, held an unabashedly proud stance.

”But the piece of her that endured couldn’t move on. As planned, it was called back by the other halves of Gwyneth’s soul that remained on Earth. Twenty-three years ago, the stars aligned just so, and that piece of Gwyneth’s soul was brought back into this world, given new life, placed in the loving arms of Eliza and Stephen Heartford as their daughter, Marie.”

Marie turned to face Charlie and Madalena, her stance mirroring her reflection: head high, shoulders back, eyes burning with an eerie determination.

”But I have and will always be, Gwyneth Owens. Over the past few months, I’ve been in the Ambassador’s company, among others, searching for the pieces of my past. When I say I’ve been finding myself, I meant it. I’ve been looking for my memories, honing my craft, becoming whom I was meant to be.”

Holt looked on in a mix of horror and awe, though neither could be traced in his shadowy features. Where once timidity reigned, now an unbridled confidence exuded from Marie, one he couldn’t help but admire.

Madalena felt much the same, though her expression conveyed more confusion than admiration. What did all of this mean, she wondered, and what did it change? She tried to find the right words to express her emotions, but remained silent instead.

While Charlie didn’t know how to feel herself, extraordinary people stepping into their roles or story was something she couldn’t really relate to. Not knowing her own path much less being any closer to figuring it out. Pursing her lips briefly she relaxed into a smile, “A woman plucked out of time, I wouldn’t know where to start with a goal like that so best of luck magical destinies and all that.

Here we are worrying about a key and you’re out there picking up what remains of you. I don’t envy that.” Blowing some hair up out of her face with a sigh, she looked down to Marie - Gwyneth? - having a thought, “What happens after you get yourself back together? Anybody who wronged you in the past is probably good as dead.

Marie shook her head. ”I’m not sure. I assume I’ll pick up where I left off, and even if my original persecutors are long dead, The Winter Court is just as great a threat.”

”So,” Madalena finally chimed in, ”You’re over 500 years old? And you were born with your power? AND you’ve been scouring the world on some secret magical quest without telling me? Oh that’s low, Marie, er, Gwyneth, or . . . which one should we use?”

Marie laughed, happy to see that her news was well received and hadn’t further damaged her relationship with Madalena. ”For now, Marie will do, and I know it’s confusing which is exactly why I wanted the time to figure it out before I told you. But now that you’re, well, here, I didn’t see the need to hide it anymore. Besides, I’ll need some allies once my campaign for world domination begins.”

Madalena laughed, then stopped for a moment to consider that Marie wasn’t joking, then laughed again, satisfied that it was just part of their humor.

Charlie laughed along too, albeit a bit nervously, “Career focused, cool.

Pulling out the key spinning it on her finger, “At least there’s some rhyme and reason behind your inclination to being cryptic now. Comes with the spooky package-” The key spun on and then off her finger flying directly into a pewter scrying bowl full of water. “For fuckssakes-

Tracking over to it about to reach in she stopped, seeing something different about it. Looking over her shoulder at the pair of witches, “No eldritch horror is going to pull me into the bowl right?

”Pfft, of course not! Well, probably not. Although the archway outside does look a little Lovecraftian doesn’t it?”

”It’s just a scrying bowl,” Marie assured her, ”Unless that key has done something to it, you should be fine.”

She shrugged slowly, “It’s not the bowl but the key, it’s-” She looked down at it, cocking her head, “It’s different. I’ve been keeping it dry, thought mixing water would have fucked it up.

Reaching in running her fingers along the new divots along the shaft of the key, scooping her hand under it keeping it under the water. “There’s nothing special about the water right? Just plain tap.” It felt lighter, scrunching her brow, “Fuck me, if this is what works I will lose it.

Lifting it out of the water the golden sheen smoothed back over. A smile of excitement as her eyes lit up putting it aside. “Got anything I can write on?

Holt flew down from his perch, taking in his talons a blank scroll from a desk joined to the small library behind them, dropping it at Charlie’s side before taking his place on the corner of the table, watching the process unfold.

”What are we thinking, Charlie?” Maddi questioned, moving closer to inspect the alchemist’s work.

I’ve got a couple ideas.

Tugging the page over and pulling out a pen scratching away chemical symbols stretching out in it’s equations not caring how she mixed her alchemical symbols as well. Pausing briefly turning a brilliant smile onto Madalena, “Simple, always keeping it simple. What are the most common elements found anywhere in the universe?

Not just here on Earth.

She turned back to the page stopping only to dig out the leftover packets of salt she had. Tearing it open with her teeth dumping the contents into the bowl, “I need more salt.” Gesturing to the bowl, shuffling to the table continuing to write.

The answer is the first ten elements found on the periodic table.” she answered her rhetorical question, going on “Nathaniel Croll, prodigy, university professor and the neighbourhood’s best gardener. He believes in life at its most basic components, what do we all need to function?

Looking between Holt, Marie and Maddi finishing the equation. Holding it up proudly she gestured to the bowl, “Water.

”Almost like the weight balanced itself,” Marie smirked, glancing between Charlie and Holt, who had moved closer to the scrying bowl.

Madalena lovingly swatted Marie’s arm, ”BUT, still quite the achievement, I’d say. Good work, Charlie! That’s one more piece of the puzzle put in place.”

”If I might be so bold as to inquire,” Holt finally spoke, ”what does this key open? I assume it must lead to great riches or a small armory with which to combat The Winter Court.”

”Well . . .” Madalena looked down, pulling the leather-bound journal from her side and flipping through its worn pages. ”I haven’t the slightest. I know that we’re meant to find something on each of these streets, but exactly where, or what for that matter, we’ve yet to figure out.”

Marie peered over Madalena’s shoulder, looking down into the journal.

”It’s Act I Scene I of Macbeth,” she said after only a glance.

Madalena shot her a look, ”You read it that quickly?!”

”Whatever powers of perception Puck might have gifted you, I’ve been at this longer. I recognized the metre and the structure of the phrases.”

She pointed to the first street, the one nearest Shadow of the Moon. ”When the hurly-burly’s done.”

The next near Sherman Square. ”When the battle’s lost and won.”

The last near LHU. ”Where the place? Upon the heath. Of course this is all masked in riddles and allegory, but the clues seem to line up with recent events.”

How long ago did Puck write this, Madalena wondered, astounded by the speed with which Marie was able to solve the riddle and equal parts annoyed that she hadn’t found it sooner.

Shakespeare, of fucking course.” Charlie said, exasperated. The thought of returning to the University made her stomach turn, it had only been over a week since the attack. She wasn’t sure how’d she react. “Whatever, let’s give this a go.” Replacing the key into the water, laying the sheet of paper across the rim of the bowl making sure it didn’t dip into the water. Placing her hands on both sides of the bowl she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath in.

Slowly, each line of the equation lit up. Charlie’s brow furrowed, concentrating working through each line as a guide, hair lifting across the length of her arms. The water began to bubble as air shot out of the key. Her core tightened at the exertion, sweat beaded. For Charlie it was akin to slotting pieces of the puzzle together - connecting a chain that flowed from every direction. Several minutes passed when the full length of the paper glowed brightly, the paper began to disintegrate into the water from the middle out to the edges. Water flowed into the key itself, flowing through tiny channels inside it - unseen over the surface of the water.

When the transmutation was complete Charlie stepped away panting, sweat at her brow and down her back. “Alright I think that did it.

Reaching into the dirty water she pulled free the golden key, water pooled out of it. It felt lighter than it had ever before, placing it on the tip of her finger and holding it out in front of her she let it go holding her breath watching it. It tilted left and right wobbling before settling out perfectly straight. Staring at it willing it to move, it remained where it was.

Her face split into a fantastic grin, “Yes! Yes!

”Fascinating,” Holt offered, edging closer to the key from his perch on the table.

”Yeah,” Marie agreed, ”Good work, Charlie.”

”Way to go, Charlie!” Madalena yelled, walking forward and placing her hand on Charlie’s shoulder. ”We’re one step closer to figuring out whatever the hell it is we’re meant to be figuring out. “

Nodding happily, “Piece of cake.” Holding up the key out for them to see. A little sheepish she turned to Marie, “Thanks for your help. This is important, we’ll be able to visit each of the sites today to unlock them with the key now.

”Well,” Madalena was skeptical, holding the journal closer to her face, skimming through the pages between the map of Lost Haven and the invocations at the back. There were charcoal illustrations, rather abstract, depicting scenes similar to those she’d scene in wood cuts from the 17th century. ”We have the key, we know where to go, but I don’t know what to do once we get there.”

”Only one way to find out,” Marie offered thoughtfully, ”back to Shadow of the Moon.”

Transmutation and Conjuration

Part 3

Location: Shadow of the Moon Occult Curiosities– Lost Haven, Maine
Time: 3:00 p.m. - Three Days after HoH Defeat

The scent of chemical cleaners mated with the bitter aromas of a protective fumigation, coalescing into a slow rising mist that settled in the rafters overhead. Madalena, hair pulled up in a quick yet elegant braid with only a few strays to interrupt her vigorous scrubbing, had been hard at work restoring her business to its former glory, polishing wooden countertops and hardwood floors, dusting forgotten shelves and awkward corners while attempting to maintain the current layout of merchandise and failing to do so. Over the course of two hours, she’d dropped and nearly broken a series of pewter and ceramic bowls and statuettes. The final thirty minutes of cleaning had seen the death of two candle holders, shattered well beyond repair.

Even so, Madalena wouldn’t be dissuaded, fervently working to return Shadow of the Moon to a state of peace, readying it for her maiden voyage, a grand reopening after nearly two weeks of chaos.

Ding! her phone reminded her of the time, buzzing twice before playing the shrill tone again, biding her to stop working. She let it ring, furiously scrubbing away a collection of wax fused to the front counter.

To hell with it, she thought, moving the cash register a few inches to the right to cover the molten pile of red. Satisfied, she removed her phone from her left pocket and paused the reminder. Charlie at 3 the notification read. Looking up, Madalena checked for the familiar car pulling into the storefront parking.

Emerging from the old car, this time from the driver’s side was Charlie herself. Hair braided in pigtails, a backpack slung over her shoulder and dressed a few layers lighter than usual in jean shorts and a blue t-shirt, staff in hand. Locking the door by pushing down the pin she went inside Shadow of the Moon greeting Madalena with, “‘Sup.”

Taking a look around, the clean up obvious from one look. The shop was looking closer than ever to normal again. She nodded approvingly as she looked around. “Nice work, looking good in here Maddi.

She looked to the dust bin with broken ceramic pieces. “Need me to fix anything else?

Plopping her backpack to the ground beside the counter, she flung the alchemical key onto the counter it skidded into a spinning circle. “I thought I made progress on the stupid thing last night but whatever I did didn’t stick this morning when I took another crack at it.” Leaning into her staff with a huff.

Madalena smiled and put away her phone, picking up the key and turning it in her fingers a few times. ”We’ve got all day to figure it out,” she responded confidently, pulling the leather-bound journal from behind the counter and presenting it to Charlie.

”I’ve made some progress with the street names in the illustration. The inscriptions, I think, are hints to certain buildings where the key can be used, but the streets themselves were pretty easy to find.”

She pulled out a tourist map of Lost Haven, pointing to a trio of circled locations. The first was a street in Chinatown, a few blocks north of Shadow of the Moon. The next was near Sherman Square, and the last was close to the university.

”I’ve also taken a look at the incantation at the back of the journal. It’s a conjuration of some kind, an invocation of three spirits. Although I’m not sure what they have to do with any of this.”

Leaning over the counter, chin in the palm of her hand she frowned down at the map, “I’d love to figure it out. At least the locations aren’t hard to get to, mom let me borrow the car for the day.

The spirits are probably some oldies with a grudge against the Winter Court.” Charlie guessed, “Puck seems like he’s lining up some pieces for a few power moves.

She flapped her hand at the back room where the portal to the Red Devil is, “I won’t pretend to know what he’s planning, getting more involved in the magic community lately is just proving I don’t know as much as I thought.

Glaring at the key in Maddi’s hand, “I will solve that fucking key,” Pointing accusingly at it, completely aware of how dramatic she must of seemed, “If only fuelled out of pure spite.

”What’s the process here?” Madalena eyed the key, trying to understand its construction. She was familiar only with the illustrative and metaphysical side of alchemy, that which intersected with high and low magic. But the chemical compounds, the methodology, it was all foreign to her.

”What do you actually do with the key, how do you ‘solve’ it?”’

Charlie perked up at that, clearly eager to to explain anything alchemy. “Gramps said I have to balance it perfectly in its weight. He stuffed the key with variously weighted elements.

Lifting herself up to sit on the counter she reached behind it groping for a pen and digging in her pocket for a coin. “One go-to for changing elements is changing the form they’re currently in to something else.” The penny softened in her hand dripping over the pen, creating a dirty copper outer layer around it. “Like water from a solid, to gas or liquid. Encased in the key is a bunch of intricate and sensitive webs of composition affecting its solid weight. Gramps essentially made it a giant ass chemical puzzle for anyone to scratch their heads over.

She tapped the end of the penny pen on the counter, the copper cracked down the middle revealing the pen inside. “I’m afraid to crack it open because there’s so many things inside the key if it came in direct contact with oxygen it may just spoil everything else rendering the key impossible to solve.

So.” She said with a sigh through her nose. “I’ve been playing with the composition to get it right but haven’t had any breakthroughs yet. It’s like…” Looking up to the left trying to remember the comparison Harry had used the day before to describe it. “It’s like playing operation.

Madalena nodded half enthusiastically. It was obvious she didn’t understand the full process, but Charlie’s explanation was enough.

”Does the journal not have any more clues?” the questions was genuine. Thus far, it had described the entirety of their quest, albeit cryptically. ”Maybe there’s a piece of your granddad’s formula still in here to find.”

She flipped back to the front few pages, presenting them to Charlie.

I’m not sure,” Charlie said with the purse of her lips. “He used his formula to bring the key forward, I’m still blown away how much was in those pages to keep the key itself inside the book. Just when I thought we were getting close to peers he lays down new shit.” Leaning around the cash she pulled some scrap paper starting to write out lines of alchemical formulae herself, she continued to write as she spoke filling the page top down. “If you imagine Gramps in front of a few chalkboards filled from top to bottom of formulae he wrote himself, like you see in the movies. Intimidating as fuck to see at first right?

My instincts are telling me differently. He knows how it looks but it is something simple. It’ll be a front for something I just don’t know what it is.” Pulling out of her little satchel a can of diet coke and a packet of sour cherries, she finished the page of formula sprinkling a few bits of candy onto the paper while popping one into her mouth and putting the can of soda alongside them. The writing lit up faintly with light, the candy disappeared. Charlie popped the tab taking a sip, “All that for cherry flavored coke. So you see what I mean?” She said offering the can to Maddi.

Madalena took the can, considering for a moment the complexities of Charlie’s gifts. She went to take a sip, but decided against it, setting the can on the counter and pushing it aside.

”Haven’t had a soda in three years,” she explained, ”weaned myself off them just before I moved to Lost Haven. But I see what you mean; all those pages of formula were just to hide the key. Guess we just have to work this one out ourselves.”

Charlie shrugged, “Yeah. . .” She could barely stifle her laugh, “Now you sound like Gramps,” Sipping the can. “Liquid poison tastes real sweet to me.

”Bet I could brew up something deadlier that tastes just as sweet . . . actually, I wonder if I could.”

Madalena’s rambling was cut off by the tiny ring above the door frame, followed by a familiar voice.

”Knock knock,” Marie stepped forward, arms cradling a chilling hare the color of tar, ”Hope I’m not interrupted.”

”Marie!” Madalena’s eyes went wide, her natural smile extending from ear to ear. She shuffled from around the counter and stood next to Charlie. ”I wasn’t expecting you back so soon. Wait, why are you here? Not that I’m not grateful, I just assumed you’d run off again, but not in a bad way -”

”Good to see you too,” Marie interrupted. ”I came because I had a little time to myself; the Ambassador and I are pursuing separate leads. I’m using some of that time to relax.”

Marie turned to Charlie, extending a hand, careful that she didn’t drop her shadowy companion. ”Charlie, right? We never had the chance to speak the other night. Good to see you again.”

Charlie shook her hand squeezing lightly, “That’s right, glad your stuck up associate isn’t with you. Served up looks that could freeze hell over.” She laughed leaning back into the counter crossing her arms. “We’re just working on a project of our own, deciphering a stupidly difficult alchemy key.

Charlie pointed to the rabbit in her arms, “That a familiar or something? Rabbits don’t usually look like a tub of black paint.

”A rather crude observation,” Holt spoke aloud in an echoed, raspy voice.

”Right, he wasn't visible the other night. Charlie, Madalena, this is Holt.”


”He served under a friend of mine prior to my arrival in Lost Haven. This is one of his forms.”

Madalena leapt forward, gently running a hand over Holt’s head. His fur, or whatever made up his physical body, felt strange, cold yet comforting, soft yet brittle. ”Well I’m happy to have you here, both of you. I did wonder if you had a familiar. Is Holt the only one? Wait, you probably shouldn’t tell me that, should you? Oaths and all that. Never-mind. God I’m just happy that we can talk about all of this. I had so many questions after you told me about The White Witch, but you were gone before I got the chance.”

Marie chuckled, eyes moving between Madalena, Charlie, and their alchemical key. ”That’s partially why I came. I’ve been involved in something fairly complicated and wanted to share it with you. And given the state of the Hounds and the Winter Court, I wondered if I might lend a helping hand while I could. If that’s alright with you?”

Crude but right,” She paused making a face, “Which is largely how I operate.

Handing over the key to Marie, a little wary of Holt feeling her skin prickle with a strange vibe. “Any help is appreciated, I haven’t figured it out yet. We’re supposed to balance its weight so that when sits on the tip of my finger it doesn’t lean one way or another. Know anything about Alchemy?

She looked to Holt, “How about you, Holt?”

Marie turned the key over in her hands a few times, running a finger down its length, trying to gage from observation only if there were anything her magic could do to unveil its mystery. Alchemy in its more advanced states was a foreign concept, but perhaps her malefic version could still be of use.

Holt’s expertise was much the same. While under a previous master he might have been privy to knowledge pertaining to the science of magic, the knowledge was inconcise. ”Perhaps the weight will balance itself,” he offered with no further explanation.

”I see where he’s going with that,” she handed the key back to Charlie. ”I’m guessing you’ve tried playing with its composition, probably the first thing you tested, right? Have you brought it into contact with something to see how it reacts?”

Charlie’s expression soured considerably grabbing the key back, “Gee, thanks for the helpful insight. Yes, I have tried oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, you name it. Been keeping it basic, need some gloves to test some acidic qualities against it.

Maddi please for the love of the periodic table don’t go cryptic on me alright?” Charlie said folding her hands at her friend walking around the counter to lean against it with a huff. “Shit, what if we end up speaking in limericks and rhymes next?

Marie raised her brows. ”I can see tensions are high.”

Madalena nodded. ”She’s been at it for a while now, we both have. It’s frustrating to keep being given puzzle after puzzle after puzzle. I mean, I had to translate about three pages of Passing the River and overlay a map of Lost Haven onto a tiny tree map.”

Instead of actually helping we’re stuck with puzzles, I get that we’re fresh and still,” She put on a huge frown and brought up a pair of quote fingers, “Students,’ I guess. Fuck, there’s bigger fish to fry.

Rather interesting company you keep, Holt whispered in Marie’s mind.

”Tell you what,” Marie raised her voice a little to drown out Holt’s comment, ”Rumour has it you’ve created a door to The Red Devil. Why don’t we all go to the workroom upstairs and calm ourselves. We can chat, get reacquainted. I’ll answer your questions while we work a little magic.”

”Yes!” Madalena’s response was immediate, somewhat embarrassingly. ”I mean, I’ve wanted to try a little collaborative magic. Aside from the chaos in the square, I haven’t practiced much.” She turned to Charlie. ”It’d give us a chance to rethink things, maybe have a breakthrough.”

Charlie’s leg bounced in thought, “I am calm. We’ll go back to the Red Devil, maybe a change in scenery will help after all.” She shoved the key into her back pocket, grabbing her cherry coke and staff. “Calm as a babbling brook.” She muttered, petulant.


Part II (See Part I)

Location: Tretower Court, Powys, Wales
Time: 10:30 a.m., Two Years Ago

Dust lingered in stale air, sent aloft by a squadron of Cadw staff and local preservationists preparing the manor for a charity banquet. The banner of a local lord lined the rough stone walls and high wooden arches as a nod to its medieval history. Ursula coughed as she passed a woman beating dirt from an antique rug, doubling over as a sharp pain contorted her chest and stomach.

“Are you alright, ma’am?” the woman rushed to Ursula’s side, offering her shoulder as a support while gripping Ursula’s cane to steady it.

”Yes,” she managed between coughing fits, ”just the dust, I’ll be fine.”

The miasma was taking its toll. Ursula knew that, with time, her symptoms would subside, but her immune system was severely compromised, her sinuses flared, more prone to allergens. She desperately needed rest.

”I’m on it!” a voice sounded through the hall. Gideon, a young cunning man native to Wales, weaved through an awkward array of dining chairs and drying tablecloths, greeting Ursula with a plucky smile. His hair was a sandy colour, shaved on the sides and swept atop his head to right, the hint of curls forming in a stubborn fringe that he relentlessly reshaped. He was attired smartly, draped in a navy, form-fitting robe styled similarly to a monk or bishop, with a cross dangling from his neck.

”Thank you, Gideon,” Ursula picked herself up, nodding at the volunteer to return to her duties, distributing her weight between her cane and Gideon’s left shoulder. ”Bring me to the Observatory, if you wouldn’t mind.”

”Sure about that?” he added skeptically, walking her over to a chair clear of dusty linens. ”You’ll work yourself to death, Ursula . . .”

She sneered at him.

”Miss Wyrcroft,” he corrected himself. ”but you know I’m right. Take the day off, or the next several days. I can take care of the banquet and overlook construction of the tunnels.”

Ursula let out a labored chuckle. ”That’s kind of you, Gideon, but this is my operation. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I’d rather be present during construction. And if I’m needed to run off more unwanted guests.”

”I might have overheard some of that. Who was he?”

Ursula shook her head, playfully swatting Gideon’s leg with her free hand. ”A pain in my ass from the Agency, nosing his way into matters that don’t concern him, as the Agency is want to do. Don’t worry about him too much, but I fear that as more time passes, the Agency, and parliament for that matter, might become a problem. We’ll need to maintain this illusion as best we can, lest our work be undermined by bureaucracy.”

Inhaling, Ursula stood up, balancing on her cane. ”Now, let’s get moving. If I sit too long I’ll be stiff.”

Gideon considered whether he should continue his protests, but decided against it. He knew how stubborn Ursula could be, it was a losing battle. Taking her arm in his, he lead her through the hall adjacent to the courtyard to a set of stairs hidden beneath a floor runner and a wooden panel. Carefully, he lifted to trapdoor, waiting for it to click into place before descending a series of stone stairs that led into darkness. Ursula went first, keeping a hand on the wall to steady herself, progressing only a few stairs down before waiting on Gideon, who followed closely behind, moving the panel to its original position. He took Ursula’s hand and continued to lead her down the stairs toward a stone landing, illuminated faintly by distant fixtures.


Beneath the Tretower Court lie the headquarters of the Ars Obscura, an extension of the forgotten cellar and a faery mound running under the property. Around the clock construction began during Ursula’s final months in the London branch of the Agency. In its current state, the subterranean base was divided into five distinct sections: the Observatory, a modest living space decorated in the style of the court above, fitted with electric wall sconces, medieval decor, a wall of shelves that acted as a manual filing system, small alcoves with desks, tables, and benches for socialization, and windows overlooking the three major sections of the base.

The Laboratory came next, connected to the Observatory and housing worn stations where tools of the trade lie neatly organized, tall partitions separating the different work spaces. Further downstairs, visible from the Observatory, lie the Armoury, Library, and Reliquary.

The Armoury housed enchanted, cursed, or otherwise magical weapons and arms collected by the Ars Obscura, each contained in its own case with a placard to describe its name, if it held one, and a brief summary of its power. Next door, the Library held the Ars’s collection of magical tomes, including those taken in the field, and any donated by Ars members. Within the library were small desks and studies for silent research, as well as a central, circular table for discussion. Finally, the Reliquary kept all remaining items, magical devices, enchanted jewelry, organized in the same fashion to the Armoury.

Moving about the base were a small cast of characters, recent additions to the Ars Obscura and founding members taken in by Ursula upon its creation. The Ars had only five senior members beneath Ursula, known as Sages, seven field agents, called Magicians, and three initiates or Apprentices.

Ursula held no fanciful title, preferring the mundane choice, Director. Gideon, while only a Magician, was well on his way to becoming Sage, given to taking on more responsibility than was expected of him, a trait Ursula admired and rewarded.

Taking a seat on a low bench just inside the Observatory, Ursula hailed a passing Magician, whom she recognized as a sorceress from the Netherlands. ”Go to the Laboratory and prepare a divination, would you? Fourth Pentacle of Mercury should suffice.”

The Magician nodded, hurrying to the Lab.

”Fourth of Mercury? Must be quite the obstacle blocking your path. What’s the divination for?”

”A precautionary glimpse into the future of our operation,” she sighed, rolling her neck to relieve herself of stiffened muscles. To no avail. ”I can feel something brewing, just not sure what.”

”Merlyn!” a tall lad dressed all in black and grey came with silent footfalls, waving to Gideon before running into him. A playful gesture, something between friends. He bent forward, ever so, and kissed Gideon, first his forehead, then his lips.

”Merlyn?” Ursula shook her head, smiling.

”Codenames, Ur . . . Miss Wyrcroft. I picked Merlyn, spelled with a ‘y’. I think it’s appropriate. And Orrin-”

”Warlock,” Orrin interrupted, ”Scottish terminology and all that. How d’ya like it?”

”Well it’s ridiculous, but far be it from me to step in the way of your fun, so long as you keep me out of it.”

Orrin and Gideon continued to elbow and push one another, always keeping on arm or hand in contact with the other. Ursula was apprehensive about allowing a relationship among her subordinates; it was prohibited under the Agency. But she reminded herself, time and again, that her operation was everything the Agency wasn’t, and denying her operatives such happiness would make her a tyrant. In any case, she was pleased with their dynamic, “Warlock” and “Merlyn.” A fated meeting, one the seventh son of the seventh son, born with the Sight and taken by witchcraft in his adolescence, the other a cunning man studying under a Catholic priest.

Ursula introduced the two only a month ago. She’d known Gideon from her time at the Agency, the apprentice of an associate in London. He jumped at the chance to return to Wales, continue his education in folk magic. Orrin, however, had come as a surprise. He was an oddity, born with the Sight, but also marked as a witch, branded with a symbol she had never seen before, one that conferred certain gifts. Were she more like her former employers, she would fear it, keep him under constant watch. But again, she wasn’t them.

The Agency had wanted to detain Orrin, who’d broken into a string of jewelry stores in Scotland with his strange gifts - taking nothing, oddly - before finding himself at the mercy of the Agency’s wards. Ursula, ever the opportunist, believed his skills could be of use, thus recruiting him. And the Ars Obscura found its first witch.

”While I have you,” she reached for Orrin’s hand. ”’Warlock’, how goes the search for Scot’s Triumvirate? Was his wand in Cornwall as you suspected?”

”No, and nothin to lead me to it. The old wizard hid his trinkets well. I’m off to Romania next. Heard about a cabal of sorcerers there that might help.”

”Be safe,” Gideon took Orrin’s hand in his, kissing it, touching it to his cheek.

”Don’t worry about me, it’s this one you need to watch.” he gripped Ursula’s hand. ”You’d better not haunt us when you work yourself to death.”

Ursula chuckled, then coughed. If nothing else, she had a team who cared for her, more than she could say for her former team. Already the fruits of their labor were being plucked from the ripened tree; the Armoury and Reliquary housed a combined 150 cataloged artifacts, and the Library held almost 300 recovered volumes, and another 250 donated by different members. With time, her body would heal. With time, the Ars Obscura would rise to prominence, unseen, unknown, only felt.

Familiar Faces

Part II

Time: Noon, One Month Ago
Location: Location: The Red Devil, Lost Haven

Puck put on his signature grin. ”Well, if you two insist, please, follow me to my office. I am sure you have no shortage of questions.” he led them up the stairs to the third floor, down a long corridor full of offices with ornate plaques donating their owners. At the end, etched in gold, was the office of Robin Goodfellow. Puck graciously opened the door and allowed Marie and Odette to step through.

Puck followed close behind, taking his seat and motioning for his guests to do the same. Folding his hand and placing them on his desk, which was surprisingly free of clutter, he nodded at them.

”What seems to be first on our agenda?”

Odette sat after Puck took a seat, folding her dress underneath her flicking her fingers across to smooth it out, back straight. “’Our?’ Curious, you have had your hands in the thick of this far longer than either of us knew. We have found out more of Gwyneth and you Monsieur Goodfellow along the way. Our sights have set on the next location of one of Gwyneth’s possessions. We believe you could be of help.” She said, tone sweeter than honey, eyes icy as ever. “Your niece has some questions however.

”After your meeting with Od . . .“ Marie almost slipped, clearing her throat to correct herself, ”The Ambassador, you knew about my connection to Mab. What does it mean? And you and your brothers being sons of Mab, I can’t believe I never knew! Why isn’t that talked about? Hell, it’s not even written in any lore aside from some obscure wood carvings owned by witches in Salem.”

The Ambassador remained silent as Marie corrected herself, her name in the hands of Puck would be disastrous. She chewed at the inside of her cheek relieved the conversation carried on.

Puck chuckled, ”Yes, the Essex Wyrd and their Andover predecessors were privy to a wealth of ancient lore due to their early allegiance to Mab, who, as you now know, is my mother, and mother to all Pwca, all Imps, a caste of beings borne from my brothers and I. As my mother, and as your grandmother, that does, in fact, make me your ‘uncle’ if we must label ourselves as such. But as you know, especially you, Lady Ambassador, familial ties between Fey, Spirits, Demons, and the like are more fluid and conceptual than binding and concrete.

“To save you the trouble of asking, no, I was unaware of this connection upon our initial interaction. I was drawn to you by our mutual friend, rest his soul, and what came after was a pleasant surprise.”

Odette grinned with amusement, “Oui. How the branches of a family tree can twist.

Removing her cellphone, not receiving a single bar of reception - as expected - she opened her photos to show Puck the wooden carving Maryann had showed them in Salem. “We believe the next possession of Gwyneth to be with the former Queen Mab, there is an explicit connection between them. The spirit that inhabits Salem’s sacred grounds revealed as much including the vision that showed us Gwyneth’s ancestry.

She has not been seen for centuries,” Odette watched Puck’s expression as she spoke, trying to gauge him. “Rumours have naturally grown from her missing years, that she finds favour among the Unseelie isolating herself from the Summer Courts she once called her home. Whisps and clues, if anyone were to have a solid lead to her whereabouts it would possibly be you, Monsieur Goodfellow.

It was clear to The Ambassador that Puck had vested interest in Marie and the recovery of her soul, it was clear ever since he gladly exchanged notes and wrote the contract on behalf of Gwyneth. It was just as likely a possibility that he did not care to know of his mother, many faerie paid little mind to their origins as parental figures. Humans and fae diverged quite dramatically at that point on, relationships to home and family were as Puck said, entirely different concepts to Faerie and other spirits. Something that Odette struggled to understand when she was first made aware of Faerie.

The Imps were not faerie, the fact they could name Puck’s mother was extraordinary. It begged the question, what kind of relationship did he have with Queen Mab if any at all?

None are quite as savvy with information as you are, nor mix so generously with various threads.” She said spreading her hands open, flattery to intelligence went a long way and her antagonistic approach with Puck never resulted in anything but a headache. “If you have any leads to Mab, we will gladly pay for it.

”She resides in Faerie,” Puck offered dryly, tapping his claws on the desk while leaning back in his chair, face unmoving. ”I have not spoken to Mab in centuries; she became distant after her flight from the Summer Court. As you know, she briefly set up residence in the New World before returning home. I only know this by way of my brothers, only two of whom have remained in contact with mother dearest. We held a summit in Cornwall several seasons past, the Bucca, Herne, and myself. The Hunter regularly returns to Faerie with the Wild Hunt, passing over Tir na nOg. According to Herne, former Queen Mab has carved a place for herself on the island, exactly where I cannot say.”

Puck leaned forward, cold, black irises scanning the Ambassador. ”Tell me, Lady Ambassador,” he said cooly, subtle curiosity forming in his eyes and the edge of his grin, ”What do you know of Tir na nOg and the Tuatha De?”

Aos Si.” Odette breathed, “I know as well as anyone, faerie’s heroes, kings and queens. Children of Danu. Tir na nOg, Isle of the Young settled by the Tuatha de Dannan.” She said, leaning a little forward as well, her eyes found Marie’s “A plane unique to the Fey.

Incredibly difficult to enter or gain favour to be invited. No mortal crosses the threshold and has ever returned.Who would return to life after finding paradise beyond the stars?” She said, templing her finger tips in thought. “It would explain why no one else has seen Former Queen Mab in such a long time.

The Wild Hunt. . . It passes over Tir na nOg?” Curious, threads sprouting from what Puck had shared.

”But of course, where did you assume those lost souls taken up by the hunt went? Some join the hunt, those who are strong of will, but those who choose to flee instead of pursue are often transformed into beasts of prey, forever fleeing for the Hunter’s amusement. And, perhaps this was unknown to you, Tir na nOg is the Hunter’s home. I have seen it, of course, but my time in Faerie was spent among the courts, not lavishing with the Tuatha on their island of bliss.”

Marie’s eyes widened. ”Are you saying that your brother is a member of the Tuatha?”

Puck laughed. ”Were he so lucky. No, my dear, Herne is but the child of the Tuatha. They amuse themselves with his company on occasion; he is perhaps the fiercest hunter in Faerie, but nothing more. Mab, however, is Tuatha, a child of the goddess Danu, personification of the land, Tir na nOg, but one would never know it by what few historical texts exist regarding her importance. She counts herself among the spirits borne when the stars fell from the heavens, bound to the earth, envigored by the celestial blood let from giants, if you believe the old stories.”

Odette sat back in her chair with that revelation, Queen Mab was more than simple nobility. “Comment cela pourrait être possible?” She said in a whisper, “This… this will take time to prepare for-” she gestured with a wave of her hand, brow furrowing in thought. “Which item could she have been entrusted with. . .

Groping for her phone off of Puck’s desk she scrolled through her notes. “It could be anyone of them.” She waved the thought away, turning fully in her seat to face Marie, “What is clear is that we need to get to Tir na nOg to find Former Queen Mab. Ambitious a goal as it is to aspire to visit, it will be another to meet with Former Queen Mab.

Our way there is to join the Wild Hunt.” She said her smile was small and her eyes glittered with ambition. “No other mortal could hope to accomplish what we set to do, Marie.

”And it’s not impossible either,” Marie jumped up in excitement, rushing over to a shelf at the corner of Puck’s office, opening a glass cabinet to reveal a collection of old tomes, medieval by ware on the spines. Puck looked on in amusement.

”Here,” she announced, producing an original copy of the Malleus Maleficarum from the shelf, opening to an old illustration of witches flying to the sabbath. ”Misguided as Kramer was, he managed to dig up some fairly decent lore. Look, witches have flown with the Wild Hunt at different points in history, in fact it was hilariously common in Germany. There are a few locations around Europe where the Hunt is said to begin. Maybe I can dig up some old ritual to speak with the Hunter while you look for possible dates?”

Odette nodded, “That would be relatively easy to research.” She stood from her seat to look over the book. Without jumping to far into their next phase in planning Odette said to Puck, “What do we owe you for today?

If it is another prophetic vision I will not leave until we negotiate something else.” She said dryly.

”Actually, I would like to speak with you, Lady Ambassador.” Puck turned to Marie, ”Alone, if you wouldn’t mind. You should take the time to reacquaint yourself with Lady Hex.”

Marie looked between Puck and Odette. ”Umm, sure. I’ll be downstairs. We can talk about the specifics when you’re finished.” Marie set down the book, walking to the door and closing it behind her. Puck waited until her footsteps disappeared.

”There is a matter I wish to discuss with you, Lady Ambassador, one that I believe is uniquely suited to your talents and connections. I would like to employ your services in retrieving something for me.”

Her imagination ran wild, what could Puck need of her that he could not send one of his dozens of contracted witches out to do the same? “I am listening.” She made her way back to the chair, sitting. “I know you can afford me for an errand or two.” Smiling before it disappeared, “What is it that you want and what are you willing to pay me with?

Puck looked grim. ”A grave threat to our kind, those who move among the shadows, night’s black agents, denizens of the Otherworld, of Faerie and its accompanying realms, has been allowed to return to prominence. You know of The Winter Court, but I fear none but those who remember their cruelty can understand the power they hold. The Hounds of Humanity were but pawns in the Witchfinder’s crusade against witchery and its ilk. As we speak, a plan is being set in motion to destroy the Court, but I need a weapon more powerful than simple magic alone.

“Something forged in Faerie, hidden there for centuries. In exchange for its retrieval, I offer you the answer to your questions, not a prophecy or portent, but the truth, in its entirety. Three questions, I will grant you, over past, present, or future, and if it is within my power, I will answer them honestly, without deception.”

Odette folded her hands over her lap, “That is quite the task and reward. I understand what The Winter Court is capable of I saw the results of Pixy Stix with my own eyes.

She chewed at the inside of her cheek in thought, “. . .How, how big is The Winter Court that it would need more than a combined effort to rid ourselves of them once again? What power do they contain to strike fear in you and Hekate?

She amended after a beat, “They certainly threaten the greater livelihood of everyone they hate but they aim to destroy the status quo that allows faerie and spirit to exist as we do in its chaotic balance with humans on the edge of the periphery.

Puck stood from his desk, removing an ornate urn from a shelf on the back wall. He set it in front of Odette such that the plaque on the front was visible. “Joseph Mathers.”

”There are ways of hurting me, Lady Ambassador, that are not physical. It is rare that I . . . that I feel sadness, fear, despair, but the Court threatens to destroy all that I have built, even if it cannot destroy me. The same holds true for the Witch Mother, and my brothers, and others like us. We have a claim on this world, many of us were here first, and we will not be displaced by filth.” Puck’s words were dripping with venom.

”The Court once had the power to make witches betray their coven mates and divulge secrets, the power to strip them of their gifts, the power to mortally wound beings nearly as old as I. That was in the Dark Ages. I implore you to imagine what feats they might accomplish with the ingenuity of the modern world.”

Eyes drifted from the plaque to the urn, staring at it. Easily remembering the night when Joseph Mathers died by her hand. One body in a line of them that stubbornly refused to fade from memory and relevance. It would only be a matter of time before she met a similar fate, as the prophecy foretold ashes awaited her as it did Joseph.

No., she thought.

Understanding chilled her down to the marrow of her bones. “It is easy to forget sometimes what stakes there are.

Taking a deep breath in, her eyes torn away from the urn. “You have a deal, Monsieur Goodfellow.” She stood up, Puck easily towering over her she brought her hand up to shake. “I will retrieve the weapon in exchange for three truthful answers to my questions.

Puck took her hand, shaking it while maintaining eye contact. ”As a show of good faith,” he said, retrieving a piece of parchment from beneath his desk, ”I will provide you with the knowledge of the weapon.”

The paper depicted a worn drawing of a dagger, not quite as ornate as one might expect for a weapon forged in Faerie. The blade was short and slightly curved, of ceremonial design. The hilt was a collection of vines or branches, etched with old Fey markings that matched a small scabbard.

”It is known as the Fomorian Blade, a weapon wrought in the earliest days of Faerie. It has taken me centuries to piece together this much of the legend, but perhaps Bach has heard of its mystery. As the story goes, a faery midwife was entrusted with the delivery of a human child to her mistress, a noble in one of the outer courts. The transition for mortal children to feary is easiest when taken early, so the midwife believed a newborn would be best. She emerged in a dense wood and asked a flock of nightingales to listen for the cries of a woman in labor. Three days passed until her spies reported the location of an expecting mother, a few hours into labor. Upon her arrival, the faery took the form of the woman’s midwife and helped deliver the child. The faery had seen the birth of mortals before, but had never taken part. She thought it sad that her mistress couldn’t experience birth as mortals did.

“What happens next is unclear, as one source describes the faery midwife leaving the child with its mother, and another says the child died in the midwife’s arms. In both cases, however, the midwife returns to Faerie without a human child, instead seeking the wisdom of a Fomorian witch. The witch told the midwife that there might indeed be a way to bless her mistress with a child of her own, one who would bond with its mother the way mortal children did. The witch traveled with the midwife to earth, taking with her the bark from a tree in her home and he skin of a holy beast. She enchanted a blacksmith, commanding him to forge a blade of iron.

“When asked why by the faery, the witch suggested that the marriage of the two worlds, iron from our world and pieces from theirs, would create a powerful weapon. At first, the faery didn’t understand her role, nor did she understand why a weapon would be the key to providing her mistress with a child. Soon after the blade was finished, the wood hand been worked into a hilt, the skin into a scabbard, the witch took the blade and stabbed the blacksmith, who bled out, and the faery, who was poisoned by the iron blade. With their blood, the witch inscribed an enchantment onto the blade’s hilt and scabbard, then returned to Faerie. Finding the midwife’s former mistress asleep, the witch took the blade and waved it over the noble. As a test, the witch then pricked the noble’s thumb. The noble woman awoke, affronted by the intrusion and fearful of the iron on her skin. But much to her surprise, she wasn’t poisoned. Instead, the blade had imparted the noble with mortality, relieving her of her faery weaknesses.

“Not much else is known about this story or how it ended, but it seems that the blade was used in early wars between the Fomorians and Tuatha until finding itself in the care of an order of knights belonging to the Vernal Court. The blade, unable to be destroyed, was separated into three pieces and entrusted to a different noble family. I need you to locate these knights, coerce them, somehow, into relinquishing their pieces of the blade, and return it to me.”

Odette stared at Puck, the blade being created out of Fomorian hands meant it was cursed by mortal and faerie blood in its creation used in an ancient war. “This blade can remove a faerie’s immortality?” She stood abruptly, “Why would you want to bring a weapon like that back together? If it is safeguarded in pieces then it should remain there forever. What use is it against The Winter Court?

Grimacing, hand against her temple. She just agreed to retrieve it, such a amatuer mistake. “Merde, Monsieur.

”Because not only can it remove a faery’s immortality, Lady Ambassador, it can remove a human’s mortality. It can make them fey. The Witchfinder and his Court are forever surrounded and equipped with weapons that poison witches and sorcerers, ward against their spells, expel fey and spirit alike. Imagine what a single knick from that blade could do, how their entire arsenal could be turned against them, beginning with those iron crosses they wear about their necks.”

Blinking and looking away her hand came down to cover her mouth, the implications of such a weapon immediately clear. Swallowing she spoke quietly, “I see. They would become what they loathe, visiting not only victory but poetic justice.

They would be undone by such a thing.

Her heart thumped away in her chest, such a way existed for her all this time to join Faerie properly and completely. No more would she be mocked for her mortality. Looking back to Puck she thought, I want it.

Her hand dropped back to her side, finding the strap of her purse to hold. “May I have this?” She referred to the drawing of the Fomorian Blade. “While I retrieve it for you.

Puck nodded with a grin. ”But of course. There is something else about the blade you should know. It cannot be stolen. It must be passed to a new wielder willingly by the previous and accepted by the new, which is why you are the perfect fit. You have established trust with the various courts, picked up their tricks. I am certain you can retrieve the blade.”

Puck walked around his desk and placed a hand on the Ambassador’s shoulder, kneeling down and placing his face close to hers, moving to her ear. ”But be reminded that all deals made with me are binding, Ambassador. Return the blade, receive your answers. And to answer a question you have yet to ask, I know not what I intend to do with the blade once my business with the Witchfinder is done. Perhaps I will entrust it to someone worthy of its power, someone whose fate is yet uncertain.”

Her breath caught and she closed her eyes. Momentarily believing his suggestion.

He stood, waltzing over to the door to his office and gesturing to the hall outside. ”Now, why don’t you enjoy a drink with Marie. Make some new friends, or contacts at the least. You have all earned it.”

Gently rolling up the drawing and storing it safely into her purse. “Until we meet again, Monsieur Goodfellow.” Schooling her expression with difficulty to mask the coiling excitement in her belly. “We will have our hard work cut out for us.

As she passed him heading out the door she briefly bowed her head respectfully then exited, the clack of her heels sounding off as she walked rejoining with Marie, Bach, and the revelry of The Red Devil.

Transmutation and Conjuration

Part 2

Location: Croll Corner – Lost Haven
Time: Morning - The Next Day

The morning sun had risen a couple hours ago; helping to save the city earned them some respite to sleep in. Charlie set an air mattress up with some spare bedding on the floor beside her bed for Maddi, Harry was still asleep as well. The oscillating fan was humming quietly in the background, the distant noise of work being done around the house. Things seemed to return to normal fast, eager to do so.

Charlie stared up at the ceiling, feet hanging off the edge of the mattress toes poking out from beneath the sheets. Their shared bedroom relatively tidy save for the odd pile of clothes. The dusty desk with an old white computer setup, the monitor possibly the heaviest thing on the desk and covered entirely with stickers. Across the desk was Harry’s summer reading project, a glue gun and some green pipe cleaners. Over the desk was a shelf packed with jars of feathers and sea shells, leaning against it were Harry and Charlie’s respective staves. A bookshelf reaching from floor to ceiling was tucked in at the end of Harry’s twin sized bed, underneath the window while Charlie’s sat on the opposite side. Posters covered the wall around the window of various movies and pop stars.

Old end tables covered with hair ties, assorted screwdrivers, and a glass half full with water nestled beside it was the alchemical mystery key. Charlie leaned over to the end table and scooped up the key. Examining it with a squint, playing with the weight again a thumbnail digging into the shaft of the key - softening it with alchemy.

Footsteps heralded a series of heavy knocks on the bedroom door, a courtesy mostly, followed by the image of Madalena awkwardly opening the bedroom door and holding it in place with her knee, balancing a recyclable tray of coffee drinks and baked goods in one hand and a suspicious duffel in the other.

”Morning!” she announced, softening her voice at the sight of a sleeping Harry. ”Sorry,” she whispered, leaving her bag in the doorway and setting her tray of confectionaries on a mostly clean end table. ”Did you know about the bakery on the other side of the block?” she said, rifling through a paper bag with the bakery logo. She pulled out a comically large muffin, tearing off chunks as she found a comfortable place to sit.

”I woke up early this morning, it’s become a habit lately. I was offered breakfast, but I’ve never been to this section of Lost Haven and the bakery was too tempting. Help yourself, I bought enough to feed a small army.”

Harry groaned from beneath her blankets shuffling the blanket up over her head. Grumbling, “Mornings suck.”

Charlie sat up putting the key aside and gratefully taking a cup of coffee and the food. “Shut up Harry, Maddi got us breakfast from Pauline’s.” Dirty blonde hair falling down over her shoulders, she took a long gulp of coffee before taking a bite of her BLT sandwich. She sighed with content.

Harry finally threw back the blankets and bolted out of her bed to snatch up the paper bag for a muffin. Through a mouthful of food she said, “phansks.” The resemblance between the sisters was pretty clear, while Harry was shorter than Charlie her blonde hair was streaked with various colours, bright grey blue eyes squinted before she retreated back to her bed to check her phone.

I can’t get over the relief that the Hounds are done but the Winter Court is still out there going strong. Like all that bullshit from yesterday was for nothing. So much happened.” Charlie said with a furrow to her brow. “I know Lost Haven will just shrug this off, in spite of the destruction. Before this week I could too, but I’ve got this. . .

She clenched her fist around her stomach, “This horrible twist in my stomach.” She took another bite of her sandwich chewing thoughtfully, she picked up the key again. “This better be worth the headache.

”Speaking of,” Madalena knelt forward, pulling the burner phone from her back pocket and presenting it to Charlie. ”I got a text at 4:00 a.m. ‘Our deal isn’t over, we’ll be in touch.’ Pretty ominous, but I think it’s a good sign that our diversion paid off. The Witchfinder and his goons will be out of commission for a few days at least, plenty of time to figure out,” she pointed to the key, ”whatever this is.”

Witchfinder ‘I don’t sleep at appropriate times’ General sending texts at 4am, but I think you’re right. This gives us more time.” Charlie agreed.

Madalena sipped her coffee, looking around the room and finding her attention drawn back to the doorway. She gasped and hurried over.

”Almost forgot,” she said, searching the duffle. A malodorous fume emanated from the bag, along with the rustling and clinking of glass, metal, and paper. Madalena produced the leatherbound journal from the bag, flipping through the pages and presenting those to Charlie as well. Charlie leaned over, Harry came bounding over landing beside her sister checking out the journal as well - curious as ever.

The selected pages were inscribed with a series of strange seals, liken to alchemical formulae, but bearing letters and numbers in place of planetary insignias. To the right was an illustration of a tree, phrases written in some archaic tongue scribbled on select branches.

”The page on the left is a cipher, or I think it is. I recognize this script; Transitus Fluvii, or Passing the River, created by the occultist, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. He pioneered quite a few magical languages back in the day. This one is fairly uncommon. But, lucky for us, I can read it . . . maybe.” she scratched her head, setting the journal on the end table next to Charlie. ”I just don’t know how it relates to this drawing.”

Harry tapped the page, “I remember that name, magic history with Gramps.” She said proudly.

Charlie pointed to the page, “You can read this?” She studied the image turning it on it’s side. Something familiar about it, she recognized some of the planet symbols, old alchemical symbols referred to the planets for various base elements like iron. The rest of the formulae made no sense in relation to the planets being used.

Start translating while I boot up the computer. Knowing if Gramps had anything to do with whatever secrets that are being kept in that journal, he would have kept it simple.” She said dragging the chair over for her to sit, the computer booted up pretty quick in spite of how it looked. She built it from scratch with some help from Harry, they scrounged for decent recycled parts and it costed them next to nothing.

Harry piped up for Maddi’s benefit. “Which is why that key makes no sense, it’s complicated which is totally not his style.” She scooped up the key next, “It’s got a bunch of shifting, small parts, like. . . a rubix cube but a thousand times harder. Good luck I guess.”

Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Charlie said as she tapped across the keyboard bringing up Night Sky Watchers page, various posts as she scrolled noting times and different planets visible in the night sky on the east coast. “I don’t know if the visible planets or constellations have anything to do with the formulae, astronomy isn’t really in my specialty.” She shuffled out of the way for them to see.

Harry shrugged, “It might be relevant.”

Madalena looked between the two images, the web page and the tree illustration. She searched for meaning in the cipher, piecing together letters that correlated with the arcane script, made even more difficult considering the script was made in conjunction with Hebrew. She managed to translate an inscription at the bottom of the page, if only because of its structure.

”When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain.” Madalena read the phrase aloud, laughing under her breath. ”Of course Puck would use passages from Shakespeare. Not sure how it relates to . . . hey Charlie, can you bring up a map of the sky above Lost Haven specifically? I don’t know exactly when this was written, but I’m guessing we just look for a time when these same planetary symbols appear overhead.”

Charlie nodded, searching away and enlarged a photo of the night sky above Lost Haven specifically, She looked between the sky and the journal. “Does… Hey Harry does this look like South Point Beach to you?

Harry took a few moments staring at the journal. “What a nerd.”

Charlie gave her a look, “Puck is way older than us combined kiddo, don’t fuck around.

Harry rolled her eyes, “Old but still a Shakespeare nerd.” After another moment of studying the journal she nodded, “Yeah that’s definitely South Point, it’s got that unique dip along the coast.”

Charlie pulled up a map of Lost Haven itself next, tracing her finger along a line “That’s the old sewer line too. It’s been shut down and packed, depending on which big supes fight demolished the water line. Some parts were filled in when it was rebuilt but some areas I’ve poked around in before.” She scratched at her head, “Is this seriously a map of Lost Haven?

”Of course it is! How else would we know where to put the key if Puck didn’t give us a map, god I hate how clever he is sometimes.” Madalena looked back at the journal, taking note of where the phrases and celestial symbols fell, then following them to the map of the sky above Lost Haven. ”The planetary symbols tell us where to look, and I’m guessing these phrases are clues too, maybe to narrow down the search. We match the branches to streets in Lost Haven where the planets are visible, we translate these remaining lines, and we use the key to find . . . something! Wow, this really is needlessly complex, probably a test of will or resolve, Puck loves tests.”

No fucking wonder Puck and Gramps get along.” She grumbled. “The key is well. . . the key.

Harry passed the key back to Charlie, “Can we. . . just-” She slid the key across the desk. “Maybe we need to take a step back, we’ve figured out some important stuff. Would it be worth it to talk to Puck directly about this? Tell him what we found yesterday?
I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted. If talking to Puck ends up being kinda useless we can still relax, have a drink knowing we’ll be safe at least for a night.” She said quietly, taking another bite of her breakfast sandwich wiping at the corner of her mouth with her thumb.

Harry noted sarcastically, “Yeah we’d appreciate a night where we didn’t suffer from heart failure too when you’re out of the house.”

Charlie looked to Harry apologetically. “That too.

”I guess it couldn’t hurt,” Madalena agreed, closing the journal and placing it back in her duffel. ”Puck’s likely working on Phase 2 of his ‘Destroy the Winter Court’ plan anyway, we should probably be on the same page. I’m also dying to tell him about my first night out as Lady Hex. It was a little rough, although that storm was honestly some of my best work . . . really my only work.”

Charlie grinned at that, “It was fantastic, setting the bar high. I think we did amazing, we survived and came out with only a few scratches and got some great dirt on the bastards.

Madalena chuckled, tapping Charlie’s shoulder. ”Yeah, I guess it was pretty good, but that bat you fashioned for Pantheon, and that arrow inside the Hound base; if nothing else, you have a future as a blacksmith, who are surprisingly magical if you look through some old folklore. Did you know that faeries often fear human blacksmiths?”

Charlie’s cheeks grew rosy and she turned away, “A blacksmith? Ha, I make the arrows and you enchant them. They won’t know what hit ‘em.

Witch Crafts

Part I: Impish Delights

Time: Afternoon - Day after leaving Salem
Location: Manhattan - NY

Marie waved to Odette as she departed, vanishing into a crowd of patrons and testy tourists packing into Central Park by the dozens. The ride through Manhattan to Central was quick enough, made shorter by smalltalk between the two about the previous night’s processions. Marie was happy to have shared a Sabbath dance with Odette, a needed break in their search for Gwyneth’s artifacts. She couldn’t help but wonder how their conversation prior to the rite affected Odette’s mentality. Had Marie’s words spurned Odette enough to loosen up, or was she putting on airs? Whatever the cause, it was a nice shift in perspective, and one that would make their time together more amiable.

Their passage from Salem to Manhattan was blessed by Maryann and her witches, who were kind enough to offer the pair a car and driver for as long as they were in New York. Marie wasn’t sure if the driver was a member of the Essex Wyrd given the unfortunate job of chauffeur, or if he was a local compelled to cart around whomever Maryann wished. Either way, Marie was grateful, doubly so, in fact. As she looked down into the small, velvet pouch filled with the Witch Mother’s tokens, she was pleased to see the number significantly reduced. Victoria South offered to take the tokens meant for the witches in Virginia and New Orleans. She was apparently rather close to a number of women among those covens. Meanwhile, Maryann offered to take the tokens meant for Andover, scheduling a meeting with the coven there to relay certain information from their ritual. It seemed that Marie continued to stumble upon gifts; perhaps it was a sign that her story was nearing a satisfactory end.

The car pulled into a local coffee shop a few blocks from Central Park, taking the corner seat in a row of sky rises. Marie picked the location from memory, recalling one of Puck’s maps in his study marking locations where magical folk often convened. It was difficult for practitioners and other beings to find strongholds within the city, and those that existed were hidden in plain sight. This one was marked with a familiar sign, the “Witches Foot,” a runic marking that delineated a meeting place for witches in medieval Europe. Other practitioners likely met there, of course; all the old markings were largely assimilated and used interchangeably among differing practices.

Marie stepped out the car, pulling at the hem of her red sundress, a bold color for her, to assure it fell well below the knee. Her raven hair was pulled all the one side, falling over her shoulder in thick waves that nearly traveled to her stomach. She was surprised that Odette hadn’t commented on her outfit that morning.

Removing her wallet and her formulary from her bag in the trunk, Marie motioned to the driver, who offered an agitated wave, then stepped inside the coffee shop to pass the time before meeting with the Hudson Valley Wyrd.

Holt followed invisibly, weaving around speeding pedestrians to amuse himself.

The cafe, aptly name “Pure Alchemy,” was decorated with a mix of modern French accents and medieval artistry. The chairs and tables looked expensive, but hanging lights and floor lamps like candelabras felt pleasingly rustic. There were no coffee machines at the main counter as one would expect, only decorative table toppers, tiny treats, and handmade trinkets consigned by local artists, some of which were likely enchanted. An assortment of fresh baked goods lined shelves behind a thick slab of glass, all fully in stock, and some frosted or baked in vaguely occult designs.

Marie ordered a green tea sweetened with honey and a pain au chocolat, then seated herself at a small booth under a window overlooking the street. She checked to see if her car was still parked, wondering if the driver would stay. Surprisingly, he was still in the driver’s seat, although he had produced a foot-long sub from somewhere.

Marie sipped her tea and thumbed through the formulary. This was the first chance she’d had since her parent’s house to actually read it, well, assuming she could translate old Welsh and obscure Fey dialects.

Granddaughter of Queen Mab, Holt broke Marie’s mental silence, jumping atop the table as an ethereal feline, Quite the surprise. This changes things, you understand. The Ambassador will be more meddlesome now that she knows.

We can trust her, Marie responded, looking up from her book, And of the two of us, she knows more about the Fey. She’ll know what this means and how to move forward. And if she doesn’t, Puck will.

Perhaps, but your ancestry is uncommon. As rare as faerie-borne witches are in the present, there are none born of Fey nobility. You need to carefully assess any request she makes of you, lest you fall prey to her assumed expertise.

Marie nodded, turning to survey the cafe and its patrons.

Her motives are still a mystery, but I don’t think she’s a threat, not anymore. Even if she only cares about my connection to Mab, at least we’re on the same side. That’s enough for now.

Holt remained still, cautious, as if to show disapproval, but his quiet response was either lost or ignored.

Could you go ahead of us? Marie issued the mental command, let the Hudson Valley Wyrd know we’ll be arriving later today. I’d like to avoid another fiasco like our entrance to Salem.

Holt nodded, disappearing from sight.

Marie tried to read her formulary, but she couldn’t help but tune in to the conversation in the room. It was a mix of magic and mundane, but a common name kept popping up in hushed tones: “The Winter Court”

”Why are they talking about the Unseelie?” Marie wondered aloud, unable to discern anything else from the drum of chatter in the room.

”My dear,” a familiar voice echoed in her mind, ”they are referencing an altogether different foe, not that the Unseelie are foes, mind you; I walked among them briefly before dear William caught me in the company of Oberon, but a different story for a different time.”

Marie shivered as she saw Puck strolling into the cafe, dressed in his dark suit, long, black claws straightening his tie, ashen antlers almost scraping the ceiling.

”Bold of you to show up like this in broad daylight.” Marie teased with a hint of misplaced concern. No one seemed to notice Puck’s presence, or if they did, they just didn’t care.

”Fret not, love, only you can see my most striking features. To everyone else here, I am but another patron of Pure Alchemy. A good choice, by the way. I am glad you remembered. Puck seated himself opposite Marie, folding his hands and placing them on the table, leaning slightly forward.

”Which begs the questions, why are you here, Puck? The Ambassador and I were on our way to yo-

”Were you?” Puck interrupted, ”I had no idea. Here I thought you had abandoned your station at The Red Devil to pursue your destiny, or one of them, at least.”

Marie shook her head, leaning forward to match Puck’s gaze.

”Don’t try to guilt-trip me. You were the one who waved my contract in favor of my discovery of Gwyneth, which you also kept from me for over a year. I haven’t abandoned The Red Devil, I’ve been busy.”

Puck grinned.

”Do not mistake my intent, Marie. I was happy to see you off on your grand mission. In fact, your leaving was rather fortuitous for the both of us. In your absence, I entered into a pact with a fresh-faced young witch, one I’m excited for you to meet. One of the first witches I’ve sired in years; I’ve rather missed it.”

Marie rolled her eyes and leaned back into the booth, crossing her arms.

”So you came to gloat?”

Puck chuckled, mirroring Marie’s movements.

”I see the Ambassador has made you more testy. No, I did not come to gloat, my newest pupil is still years behind you in terms of experience. Nor did I come to discuss yours and the Ambassador’s progress, which I assume is the reason you were coming to me? By all means, reconvene with her and make your way to my door in the Hudson Valley.”

”Then why-”

”I came to issue a warning about The Winter Court. You can ask your familiar for more information regarding their history, but they are a faction of witch-hunters thought long dead. With the rise of the Hounds of Humanity, they were allowed to regain a foothold in the New World. This incarnation relied quite extensively on the resources of the Hounds, but do not be fooled, they will continue to grow like a fetid mass of putrid pustules. This new witch I have consigned will head my efforts in eternally ridding this world of their foul presence. I do not expect you to deviate from your current goal, but you should be aware that as your power grows, you become a target for them. And if they learn of your history, your lineage, they will stop at nothing to assure your failure.”

Marie shifted in her seat, rage pooling in her eyes. The Hounds had been dealt with, she’d escaped one pursuer, and now another had risen to take their place. Was there no end to the suffering she would be made to endure? But there was something in Puck’s speech that ate at her, redirecting her emotions, funneling them into a question.

”My lineage,” she whispered, ”have you known this entire time? Did you know that Gwyneth was Mab’s granddaughter?”

Puck’s eyes softened, a rare sight. He leaned forward again, placing both hands on the table.

”Contrary to what you and others might be lead to believe, I am not all knowing. Much of Gwyneth’s past was obscured to me prior to my meeting with the Ambassador. It was only then I pieced together her ties to the Otherworld, long after you had departed from The Red Devil. I knew you would eventually discover this for yourself; I saw no reason to interfere.”

Marie didn’t know if she should believe Puck, but something in his eyes, a subtle glisten behind black irises, told her he was telling the truth. Marie sighed, exhaling worry, relaxing her shoulders and posturing herself lower in the booth, head resting on the hardwood.

”I will inform the Ambassador,” Marie responded with a strange formality, ”but there’s something else I need from you.”

Puck nodded, moving his hands in such a way that told Marie to speak freely.

”Am I your niece?”

”Ah,” Puck said, standing from the booth and brushing down his pants and jacket. ”An interesting question. You will have your answer in due time. First, meet with the Hudson Valley Wyrd, then find me at The Red Devil. I eagerly await your arrival. Farewell.”

Puck bowed, disappearing from sight.

Marie finished her tea, scarfed down her pastry, then gathered her belongings and hurried back to the car, phone in hand. She dialed Odette’s number.

”Hey, I ran into Puck while I was in town; he came to deliver a vague warning, I’ll fill you in soon. I sent Holt ahead of us to the Hudson Valley, we shouldn’t have any trouble contacting the coven there. I’m heading over to Central now, see you in a bit.”

Marie instructed the driver to return to Central Park. After sitting in traffic for twenty minutes, they arrived at their original drop off location, parked and waiting for the Ambassador and her Golem companion.
@Liseran ThistleWhat was so horrible about it? I binged it yesterday and I was relatively pleased. Maybe I’d missed a few things in the gap between when season 7 and 8, but I never felt bad about it, and I thought the LGBTQ representation was fine for what it was.
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