Location: The Red Devil
Time: 8 p.m.
”What do you wish of me?”
Holt inquired, bowing his ethereal body as a formal sign of respect to Puck, who looked amused by the gesture. ”Come now old friend, there’s no need for such formalities. For as long as I had known Joseph, I have known you. I would have thought that, after all this time, you had grown fond of me.”
Holt gave no indication one way or the other. He seemed to think on it for a moment, but kept his stoic expression (what little of an expression he could form) and rigid posture. ”No matter,”
Puck waved away his last comment. ”I haven’t kept you here to discuss the complexities of our relationship. No no, we have more important matters to discuss.”
Puck sauntered over to a liquor cabinet hidden in the corner of his office, shelves lined with all manner of strange spirits, some aged well over a century, some not of this world. He collected a bottle of whiskey bought from a store in Lost Haven. It was cheap and tasted like acid, which Puck found most pleasurable at times.
Moving back to his desk, Puck set down the alcohol and a single glass, a little larger than a shot. He poured himself a drink, taking more time than Holt felt was necessary. After a few sips, he moved to the edge of his desk and leaned against the corner, his full attention on Holt.”I know of a coven operating in the Hudson Valley. German witches the lot of them, followers of Frau Holda. I want you and Marie to give them a visit as part of your Alpha investigation. They have a great knowledge of old world wolves and will be able to provide you with information enough to ensure your safety.”
Holt seemed puzzled. ”Could not you provide Marie with the same information more quickly? Why send her to a foreign coven when you have access to those same secrets?”
Holt was much more understanding of the cryptic nature of spirits and otherworldly beings, he sharing many of their virtues. But so too was he practical, as were the witches he served. It seemed odd to him that Marie should have to gain the trust of strange witches in order to receive information that could be more easily obtained from Puck.”Indeed I could, but I have a theory that needs testing. Frau Holda is an ancient and beloved patron of witches, one of their blessed dead, a powerful ancestral spirit who leads their nightly processions, who sings and dances with them in their hidden groves and glaives, who governs and teaches their secret arts. By virtue of my birth, I have knowledge of many things and access to powers and secrets most attractive to witches, but I am not all knowing.
“Frau Holda’s vision stretches farther than mine, and it is my sincerest hope that in meeting with Marie, she might stir her latent memories and bring forth an image of Gwyneth, or reveal a hidden truth when two familiars meet.””If you suspected that Frau Holda could conjure memories of Gwyneth, why not tell Marie?””Because,”
Puck sighed. ”With this comes a warning, one which I know she will not hear. There lies a danger in her path. Not mere obstacles, she will have no trouble navigating. The danger I see comes with the completion of her quest. If she is successful in restoring Gwyneth’s mind, and I believe she will be, a new threat may surface.”
Puck’s tone was dark and serious, ominous and foreboding. It troubled him to no end that he couldn’t see the exact ending to this story. Just knowing of a hidden danger wasn’t enough, yet it had to be. There were few in his life whom he would warn, but it was obvious that whatever he saw just beyond the horizon brought both fascination and fear to the meddlesome imp. ”Of course, you know as well as I that Marie is hell bent on completing this quest and would never heed my warnings. If I stood in her way now, she wouldn’t likely return or seek my aid in the future. She sees me more as more of a resource than a friend. But you, Holt, she sees as a companion, a trusted friend. You hold sway over her because she has an emotional investment in you, and despite your appearance of apathy, I know you feel the same. If you were to offer her guidance in my stead, she would have no choice but to listen.””I see,”
Holt nodded. ”What is it you wish of me?”
Holt repeated his initial question, now more informed.”All I wish is for you to keep a close eye on Marie. When you sense that she isn’t quite herself, when you feel she has gone too far, guide her in another direction, lest my fears come to pass . . .”
Puck looked away for a moment at a large, ornate grandfather clock adjacent to a collection of scrolls and other occult antiques on the outer edge of his office. ”Relay only what you must; do not arouse any suspicion that you know more than you say. And of course, be vigilant. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have important business elsewhere.”
Puck gave Holt his orders then crept into the shadows of his office, fading into obscurity and off to attend to secret matters.
Holt drifted slowly from his place in Puck’s office to the hall outside before shifting into a raven and flying down to the workroom on the floor below.
Marie rifled through a large wardrobe filled with cloaks, coats, and all manner of dresses and gowns from late antiquity. It seemed to her that Puck was more of a hoarder than anything else. Still, she was told that her costume had been placed in the workroom. After what seemed like hours, she managed to pull the separate pieces from behind a jester’s costume, likely worn by some of the attending imps to amuse Puck in his spare time.
Marie marveled at the design for a few moments before adorning the improved garments. Originally her costume was more black than white and looked rather dated. However, thanks to the efforts of a Fey seamstress, her new costume had been modernized with hints of Elizabethan and medieval inspiration.
Marie looked at herself in one of several ornate mirrors that lined the walls of the workroom, twirling a few times for effect, allowing her cloak to fall around her dramatically and letting the silver buckles on her waist catch the flickering candlelight. She felt more like the White Witch now than ever before, and she certainly looked the part.
She hurried over to the wardrobe to grab her broom, which had also been redesigned. What was once a simple birch rob with hawthorn bristles was now a work of art, the mantle now curled into an attractive crook with a silver lantern hanging from it, which was equal parts aesthetic and practical. Not only did it provide light, it was also a spirit vessel for Holt. Instead of using the transvection ointments and oils she had used previously to grant herself flight, she could use Holt by giving him a space to reside on their journies.
Shortly thereafter, Holt arrived from his meeting with Puck. He quickly took his place upon Marie’s shoulder, who welcomed his presence. ”What was that about?”
Marie questioned her familiar about his time with Puck while fidgeting with her skirts and adjusting the brim of her hat. ”Puck was providing me with more information about our ‘case’ as it were. He didn’t want to bother you with details.””Huh, really?”
Marie chuckled. ”Since when does Puck care about not wasting my time?”
It seemed an unfair question to Holt at first, but he soon realized that Marie was just making a joke at Puck’s expense. Despite what Puck thought he knew about Marie, she had feelings for him. Those feelings were just . . . complicated. ”What did the bossman say?”
Marie continued, her voice carrying signs of subtle affection.”He believes that a coven in the Hudson Valley may be able to prepare us for our encounter with the Alpha. They are witches of a German tradition that follows Frau Holda. Puck said they would know more on the subject of werewolves than he.”
Holt couldn’t tell if this were a lie or a stretching of the truth. EIther way, it didn’t feel right to leave out details that could negatively impact Marie, but if Puck had a reason for keeping things hidden, Holt was confident that those reasons were justified.
Marie didn’t seem phased by Holt’s message nor did she pick up on any of Holt’s uncertainty. ”Sounds good. The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can get back to Gwyneth. Let’s go.”
Marie said enthusiastically, regaining a bit of her energy from seeing herself as the White Witch again. She couldn’t explain it, but there was something enticing about the idea of heroism. The costume reminded her of her involvement with Doctor Diplodoc’s arrest and how satisfying it felt to be part of a team who needed her abilities. She had missed that feeling.
But she didn’t dwell on this for long. After a brief nostalgic episode, she and Holt made their way to the ground floor. From there, they set off to Puck’s door and on to New York once more.
Location: Hudson Valley Wyrd – Hudson Valley, New York
Time: 9 p.m.
It was rare to find locations specifically dedicated to Puck and entrances to The Red Devil, but there in the Hudson Valley, just at the river’s edge and the foot of a sprawling forest, dotted by patches of green clearing touched only by moonlight, a grand stone wall, probably dating back to the original settlers of the area, was adorned with ornate drawings and inscribed with words and symbols of power that protected the wyrd and their land. And at its center, the framework for a door had been masterfully carved, Puck’s impish symbol fixed at the center.
The stonework began to glow with scarlet light, the stone slowly transmuting into a deep red wood, the fiendish imp’s symbol changing from carved marks to golden embroidery. The door crept open, revealing Marie, The White Witch, allowing her safe passage into the witches most sacred space. Through the portal she stepped, leaving behind the familiar sights and smells of The Red Devil and trading them for those of the forest and the river.
Before Marie lie an impressive settlement completely hidden from the eyes of mundane citizens. The rich green of the canopy was illuminated by a dozen structures all housing members of one of the largest covens Marie had come across, and every one of those cottages had a unique touch, but all bearing an antique colonial and medieval inspiration. Tall smokestacks rose from the cottages, intertwining with the rich vapors of giant bonfires lit in dedication to Frau Holda. Stone pathways twisted all about the forest, inviting any lucky enough to see the fantastic spectacle to enter and explore the witches domain.
At the center of the settlement was a stone woman, presumably Frau Holda, and at her feet were many gifts and offerings. The statue itself was clad in a simple robe that left her shoulders exposed, her hair was neat and ethereally flowing, and she held a distaff in one hand and a sickle in the other.
Marie approached the statue slowly, mouth agape, eyes wide with awe at both the beauty of the statue and how, even in stone, her features seemed so real, as well as the size of such a coven and in such a populated area. It was a wonder that they had managed to escape early persecution and keep themselves separated from the toils of the mundane world. Yet it wasn’t so surprising to her given that these witches had been following a tradition that stretches back centuries and under the guidance of the witch, Frau Holda.
She also couldn’t help but marvel at the diversity of the witches she saw going about the settlement. Among them were men and women of various ages and races, and attired in strange mixtures of modern and colonial dress. Marie could also hear little bits of German here and there among the witches, but most spoke in English, she even heard the odd bit of Latin.
“Welcome,” an older woman draped in a dark cloak approached Marie from a nearby cottage, a thick tome held in one harm by her waist. Her hair was silvery white and her face was aged, but there was a beauty there still, a softness in the skin that was uncommon among women her age and a youthfulness in her step and voice. “We have been expecting you, White Witch of Lost Haven.”
Marie was stunned to be recognized as her alias by witches so far from modern conveniences, but perhaps she gave them too little credit. Though the string of cottages appeared completely antique, there were touches of the modern throughout. Tapped sewage mains and power lines delivering comfortable amenities to the wyrd, running water drawn in from the river and purified with a mixture of modern filtration and magical finesse, this wyrd had much more than Marie could have originally imagined. ”I-It’s my pleasure,”
Marie stuttered, old insecurities arising once again with the unexpected wave of recognition. She cleared her throat before speaking again. ”How did you know of my and my arrival?”
Marie asked with a clear voice.
“Many of our members frequently visit The Red Devil to gain supplies and information. Those among us who travel from the wyrd had heard of your exploits in Maine and the work you had been doing there and in The Red Devil under Puck’s employment. He’s taken on so many witches in his time, but I don’t believe that any of them were half as famous as you.”
The old witch’s words were so kind, genuine, and unexpected that Marie could feel herself becoming slightly emotional, her cheeks flush red. It was most unusual for her to hear any amount of praise. She rarely saw her customers at The Red Devil more than once and Puck wasn’t exactly known for handing out kind words. It was nice, Marie thought, but she also had no idea how to handle it, she’d never been good at taking compliments. ”T-thank you,”
she replied sheepishly before changing the subject. ”You said you had been expecting me, do you know the reason Puck sent me to you?”
The old witch nodded, motioning for Marie to follow her further into the wyrd. She spoke as they walked.
“There are witches among us who have eyes and wits almost as sharp as Goodfellow’s. We have known for some time that a stranger would find themselves among us in need of aid, though it was only recently when we found out who that stranger was.”
She pointed at the charm around Marie’s neck.
“That little trinket right there has been causing us some grief in discerning who it was that would find us. At first we were worried, but once we caught wind of a witch working so publicly up north, we assumed it must be that same White Witch who would pay us a visit. And here you are.”
Marie smiled awkwardly, sorry that her glamour had given these witches trouble, but also slightly impressed at the strength of her charm.
Their brief walk ended in front of a large stone tower, the crenelated roof just shy of touching the tallest branches of the canopy.
“This is our library. A collection of all the knowledge we have received or been gifted over the past four centuries. Inside, there is a desk with notes pulled from various books of lore regarding werewolves, the subject of your inquiry. Please, take these notes for your investigation.”
Marie was again stunned by this witch’s knowledge. How could she have known that Marie was there to look into the Alpha attacks? She had NEVER met another witch with as much insight, even Puck was selective about how he dispensed future knowledge. Then she recalled the distaff held in Frau Holda’s hand. Marie knew little of the witch, but she knew that in legend she was often a protectress of the wild and patron of women’s crafts, spinning and weaving chief among them. Marie assumed that her association with weaving could very well tie her to divinatory practices given the symbolism of threads and tapestries with fate and the future. But even knowing this, it was till something else to experience such powerful divination first hand.
Marie nodded to the old witch before eagerly stepping into the tower, and for the third or fourth time, she marveled at the craftsmanship of the German witches. The tower itself wasn’t too large, perhaps three stories or so, and yet the inside appeared to be a labyrinth of shelves all completely filled with dusty tomes, massive manuscripts, and sealed scrolls. It was amazing what four centuries of witchcraft looked like in print.
Just as the old witch had described, a small wooden desk, one of many dotting the tower’s interior, was nestled in between rows of shelves, notes and alchemical diagrams detailing the physiology of lycanthropes scattered all around. Marie scanned the notes, information pouring into her mind.
There were details about the feeding habits and changing patterns of wolves throughout Europe, Africa, and the British Isles, as well as differences in breeds, the powers certain wolves held, the stages of lycanthropy in different parts of the world, the differences between fledgling and adult wolves, and a plethora of other information. Beneath the open tomes and foreign field guides was a concise list of general facts common to most, if not all, breeds.
Marie wondered for a moment why these witches would have such a vast wealth of information stored on werewolves, but then she was reminded of the roles that witches played in the old world during those early days. They were feared, yes, but their knowledge of the natural world was almost unparalleled. They held many charms and trinkets that would drive away most supernatural threats and werewolves were likely much more of a threat back when missing persons went more unnoticed.
Filing every loose scrap of paper into her cloak, Marie prepared herself for her investigation. As much as she wanted to stay and view the rest of the archives, Marie knew that time was of the essence. If the Alpha were left to roam for much longer, it would leave more bodies in its wake. Reluctantly, Marie turned to leave the tower, thank the witches for their hospitality, and begin her search for the Alpha.
But something stopped her . . .
When Marie turned from her place inside the tower, she did not see the exit, nor the spiraling stacks of books and scrolls, nor even the bare stone walls. Instead, she was greeted by a path of winding trees, gnarled branches curving overhead to form an archway. At the other end of the path, a figure slowly came into view, ushered in by an ethereal light and a thick haze.
This all felt strangely familiar to Marie. She recalled her last vision of Gwyneth; this was the place where they met. And yet the approaching figure looked nothing like Gwyneth. This woman, Marie could tell, was much taller with fairer features than her own. This wasn’t Gwyneth, but another spirit of equal or greater power, an ancient force, a patron and protectress. This was Frau Holda.Welcome, White Witch.
Her melodic voice echoed through the ancient grove.
Marie was in absolute awe. Never before had she been privy to such a being. Not even Bucca held such an aura of splendor, he commanded a more ominous presence than an awesome one. My lady,
Marie bowed her head, unsure of how to speak to such a one as the illustrious Frau Holda, patron of the Hudson Wyrd.
Holda smiled. There is no need for such formalities. We are kindred spirits, you and I. We share a connection stronger than the pacts formed by my followers. That same cunning flame burns within us. You call yourself the White Witch, but I know your true name, the one you left behind all those years ago. I know you, Gwyneth Owens.
Marie was paralyzed by feelings of joy and shock. It should have come as no surprise that such a talented seer as Frau Holda would be able to peer through the threads of fate and see what was, even if it were hidden to all others. Marie couldn’t contain herself, she had to know more. H-how do you know that name? What do you know of me? Can you tell me of my past, of the events which led to my death? What of the artefacts I scattered, could you find them?
It all came spurting out at once, a series of questions Marie had longed to ask.
Frau Holda smiled again, placing a hand on Marie’s shoulder.Whatever I may know of your mortal life, it is not my place to say. However, it is not by your mortal deeds that I know you, Gwyneth, but by the threads of spirit which connect you to All. I appeared to you not as an informant nor an oracle, but as a friend who longs to see you at the end of your journey. Go with the knowledge that the witch-fire will bless you at the end of your path.
The fog upon the ground began to thicken, beckoning Holda back to her place. She turned to face a likeness of herself, a lifelike statue bearing all her same features. Holda began her retreat, her final words to Marie were thus.I cannot say more, but you will know the truth soon enough.
Before Marie could speak, Holda was gone and the vast walls of books and tomes had returned. Marie rushed out of the tower to the center of the wyrd, catching a few odd glances along the way. When she reached the statue of Frau Holda, she wanted to continue her questions, bow at the feet of the witch and beg for answers, but she knew how difficult it was to elicit specific information from spirits, especially ones as ancient and powerful as Frau Holda.
Holt came flying after Marie, caught off guard by her sudden sprint from the library. He had not witnessed the same spectacle as she.”What happened to you just then?”
Holt asked with concern, perching himself upon her shoulder.”I-I’m not sure. I’d like to think that it was a clue, something to lead me closer to Gwyneth’s memories, but I can’t tell.”
Truly, Marie was at a loss. Was Holda’s message a riddle to be deciphered, a portent of doom, a prophecy she needed to fulfill? She shook off the thought, for now. ”We’ve spent enough time here. Let’s go find the Alpha, it’s likely to have done some more damage by now.”
Marie looked up at the moon who was slowly reaching its peak, a beautiful and eerie reminder of her mission.
Astride her broom, the pair sped off into the night, away from the Hudson Wyrd and on to the city where they were met with a grim sight.