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Esoterica

Part I

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




[Recording . . .]


Imagine, as if it were the first time, of all your fragile mind is capable, of every image you could possibly conjure, of every untold story or forgotten dream.

Imagine.

What do you see? What impossibilities have you conceptualized? What worlds have you known, or creatures met? What horrors and wonders dance in full view or dart across your vision, and for how long do they linger? What stories have you convinced yourself are true, and which have you dismissed? The answers are irrelevant, of course. Nothing you could imagine compares to the truth, nor does your knowledge of this fact make the world in which you live more knowable.

Secrets.

Secrets hide in plain sight, wary of the scholar, infatuated with the skeptic, and amused by the knower who, in his hubris, deludes himself with the illusion of knowing. Nothing is known but one simple truth:

All is possible.

That is the secret we must keep, the one truth that, if known, threatens our very existence. When fragile minds and fearful hearts greet those unseen worlds, they flee, or fight, or fall, or force themselves deeper into the unknown, sometimes to their detriment, sometimes to ours. But the end is always the same, and the secret is no more.

Praesidium Arcanum Ignotum. That is our creed, our lifelong devotion: the protection of the secret of the unknown.

We are not a strictly regulatory force. We do not seek to control those under our banner. We are not a force of good, nor are we a necessary evil. There is a delicate balance that, when tipped too far in either direction, ends in our destruction. As seekers of truth, protectors of the unknown, and knowers of vast secrets, our only goal is to maintain this balance, and we will employ any means necessary.

I am the director of the Ars Obscura, Ursula Wyrcroft. I am your director, and if you are seeing this, congratulations, Apprentice. You will work as the veil which shields our world from prying eyes, an agent of the unknown and, ironically, the perpetuation of skepticism. Your task is never ending, but in exchange for your devotion, you will be granted almost unlimited access to our growing collection of esoteric knowledge and occult power.

Be warned, however, that should your exploration threaten to expose our operations, should you part the veil against my wishes, your time here will be short. This is not a place of learning, and I am no headmistress. By all means, use our resources to your advantage, interact with your fellow agents and apprentices, but do not expect instruction in the magical arts. Your education is not my priority, nor is your complete and utter compliance. Discretion is all I ask.

You will be assigned to one of our senior members shortly. They will act as your guide to our organization until you become competent enough to navigate on your own. And no matter what they tell you, the senior members aren’t your masters. The Ars is your master, and to it you are apprenticed, so don’t stroke the other member’s egos too heavily.

Allow me to once again congratulate you on this achievement. Know that, to hear these words, makes you a valued member of our family, and all questions, should you have any, will be answered in due time.


[. . . Stop Recording]


Ursula let out a heavy sigh, nodding to the cameraman, who promptly switched off the device once her speech had concluded.

“A perfect first take, Ms. Wyrcroft,” the lanky young Londoner complemented Ursula, taking a quick scan through the footage to look for any irregularities, any twitches or nervous ticks. He scratched his beard and readjusted his bright red beanie, noticing a change in lighting about halfway through.

“A little under-exposed toward the end, though. Might wanna have another-”

”That will have to do,” Ursula cut him off, hobbling over to marble bench a short distance from the rose covered trellis that acted as her backdrop. She let out another heavy sigh as she took her seat, closing her eyes and allowing herself to catch her breath.

Three weeks had passed since her last accident at the Agency, but her body was taking longer to recover. Shortness of breath, trembling, night terrors, and a heavy limp were perhaps the least grievous injuries she had received during her tenure in London, but it seemed she could no longer keep up with the physical demands of her profession. That was, perhaps, half the reason she had taken on this new venture.

“Ma’am,” the young man lingered awkwardly as Ursula rested, “If we could just get another take-”

”It will have to do,” Ursula sternly repeated herself. She had a midlands accent that was hard to place, but there was enough southern influence to make everything she said sound a strange mix of annoyingly proper and heavily foreboding. And there was so little emotion in her speaking voice, perhaps due to her injuries, that any change in tone made a terrifying difference.

”Make the whole thing darker if you must, just get me the file by tonight like you promised.”

He nodded, quickly packing up his equipment and leaving the garden with haste.

“A little harsh, don’t you think?” a man’s voice sounded from behind the trellis, drawing closer along with the loud clacking of expensive boots.

“You know the young ones don’t take criticism well. You’ll be lucky if you get that tape by the end of the week.”

Ursula chuckled, coughing between breaths.

”I don’t need it today, luckily. But the longer he takes, the more I consider shoving my cane up his-”

“Careful, Ursula,” the stranger warned, “your old hag is showing, and you’re only forty-three.”

Ursula recognized the man as her former partner, an executive officer of the London branch of The Agency of Paranormal and Metahuman Containment, Marcus Fields. He was an American, once a member of the New York branch until a few years ago. The London branch was less than enthusiastic to have another new agent joining. Their facility at the time was operating at max capacity; there was no room for new magical or meta detainees, and not nearly enough resources to accommodate new employees. Fortunately, Marcus joined as a replacement for a former interdepartmental manager. His experience in employee management, along with his list of accomplishments in New York, helped the London branch function more efficiently, paving the way for his eventual promotion to executive officer, alongside Ursula, whose magical expertise earned her the same position.

”You know damn well that I’m only thirty-eight, Marcus.” Ursula corrected him, shaking a cane in his direction before realizing that it made her seem more like a shrivelled old crone.

”It’s just the after effects of the miasma. A few more days and I’ll be right as rain.”

“And in the meantime?” Marcus questioned, taking a seat next to Ursula, brushing off his side of the bench to keep from dirtying his suit. “How will you lead this little experiment, hmm? You can’t form a united front while bedridden, Ursula. You should have just stayed in London.”

”So I can wait around while our board members turn into politicians and the government starts slapping on more restrictions? No, thank you. It’s never what I wanted, it was just the best option at the time. And now that I have the experience and the resources necessary to go it alone, I will. And on that note, why are you here, Marcus?”

Marcus started tapping his foot on the pavement, a longtime nervous habit.

“I wanted to see what you were up to.”

Ursula rolled her eyes.

“No, it’s true,” Marcus insisted, “we worked together for three and a half years, Ursula. You were the only one I could turn to in The Agency, you always had my back. That’s exactly why I haven’t told anyone about your little field trip. The board just thinks you retired after the containment of the miasma in Yorkshire. I’m guessing your pension is how you got hold of Tretower Court and Castle.”

”Our associates in Cadw happily put the land in my name after a sizeable donation last fall,” Ursula grinned, ”so long as I help them keep the grounds maintained, and the property remains ‘officially’ owned by Cadw, I can do as I please. And the pension, if you must know, went into some underground work. Did you know there was a mound just outside the Court? That’s why I chose the location.”

“I thought I felt more than just your abrasive presence when I drove up,” he joked, placing a hand on her knee. Ursula swatted it away.

”Worry about me all you want,” Ursula groaned as she stood up, supporting herself with gnarled, wooden staff about a head taller than herself. ”But no more unannounced visits. I can’t have The Agency following you here and throwing a wrench in my plans.”

“Which are what, exactly?” Marcus skeptically responded, following Ursula into the courtyard.

”I mean it, Marcus. You might be happy with how things are back in London, but I can’t stand all the bureaucracy. This is where I’m needed. You ‘protect’ the country your way, and I’ll protect me and mine. Fair?”

“If there’s no changing your mind,” Marcus opened his arms, “can I at least get a hug goodbye?”

Ursula turned around, a hint of a grin on her face. She walked up close, using her cane to support herself. Standing on her toes, she leaned in to Marcus’s face, her mouth centimeters from his ear.

”No,” she whispered, tapping his leg with her staff before wandering into the old manor home, waving behind her until she disappeared.

Fire and Brimstone

Part 5


Location: HoH Headquarters Interior – Lost Haven
Time: Evening of Hound Attack




”So much for going it alone,” Madalena begrudgingly mumbled as she and Charlie trailed sluggishly behind Lyger and Radiance. In the gap between their conversation about sneaking through the front door and actually doing it, the two heroes sauntered in, exchanging cautious glances at Hex and Alchemyst but never speaking a word.

Maddi held an arm in front of Charlie, halting her advance. The two watched Lyger and Radiance disappear down a long hallway. Madalena doubted she and Charlie would cause enough of a stir to draw the heroes’ attentions. Time passed, and as one pair moved ever onward, down into the depths of the Hound base, the other travelled a separate path, electing to go up, hoping to find some remnants of the Hound’s internal intelligence.

Much to their combined surprise and amusement, Lady Hex and Alchemyst found the base almost entirely silent. They could hear the wind thrashing against the walls, brought in by a storm off the coast, not one conjured by Madalena’s magic. It was an eerie silence. Maddi almost wished she could hear the idle chatter of Hounds going about their daily routines, keyboards clicking, monitors beeping, communicators buzzing, the dull hum of radio static filling the spaces between. But there was nothing, nothing to hear and even less to see. Furniture had been strewn about in a panic, electronics smashed, walls bare, floor coated in debris. There was truly nothing in sight, which didn’t bode well for Hex and Alchemyst’s mission.

”I don’t even know where to start with this.” Madalena moaned with utter exasperation, upending loose rubble with her cane, not really expecting to find anything of use hiding underneath.

Charlie gave the departing backs of Lyger and Radiance a rather sarcastic salute, off doing what they probably wholly believed to be the right thing to do. Charlie’s own rebellious sparks faded. Shortly before the Hounds had arrived she shared Lyger and Radiance’s common motivation. Defend and stand for home. In that she found appreciation for those who not only wanted to, but could.

She looked to Hex, they couldn’t fly to punch a helicopter out of the sky.

What they could accomplish was taking care of an invisible threat, one that is strong enough to survive the fallout of the day. The battle was being fought but the war carried on tomorrow.

In that Charlie found purpose for her rebellion against the metas, against the heroes.

They would all, the Hounds of Humanity included, live to fight another day.

Evil lair or not, they still have to have an accounting department to sort their paperwork out. We just follow the finances.” She tapped her staff against the bit of debris Hex lifted, cracking it in half. Beneath it Charlie pulled a piece of paper free, it was an old memo announcing someone’s birthday, mundane if they weren’t in a place so jarring. “No matter how fucked up they are they’re still people.

We keep looking. In a mess this big we’re bound to find something valuable, even if it’s not exactly what we wanted.” She said leading the way down another corridor. They walked past several offices, doors strewn open - Charlie clicked on her flashlight mounting it to her shoulder. The threads of cotton wrapping snuggly around it. Hex switched on hers.

If I were evil accountants nickel and diming evil militant assholes where would I want to file my bullshit. . .” She said half jokingly as she peeked her head into one of the doors, it creaked loudly in the relative quiet. Scanning for movement she cautiously entered. Filing cabinets, rows of desks sat looking freshly abandoned. Drawers were thrown open, computers smashed to the ground - alone that would have been a goldmine to a scavenger.

I wonder if it would be worth it to pick the computers clean of their hard drives.” She said, largely to herself gingerly lifting a desktop back onto the desk. To Lady Hex she said, “If you want to rifle through one of the cabinets see if they’re storing anything like invoices, addresses, employee profiles.

A thought struck her, “Fuck, if anyone was hired through a third party they wouldn’t keep their shit here. We have to check.” She said digging into the tower’s guts and wires.

”This is probably a longshot,” Madalena unenthusiastically replied, taking the length of her cane in her right hand and tapping the hilt against the tops of each filing cabinet. One by one, the tall metal units began to rattle, some falling in on themselves, some sputtering out shelves and folders, and some seeming to crumble at Hex’s touch. Amidst the chaos, something stuck out, a fallen drawer with a single intact file at the bottom. Maddi rummaged through its contents, smiling as she found at least a hint of a clue.

”I think I’ve got something,” she proudly announced, speeding over to Charlie. ”It’s a requisition form and the accompanying purchase order. I can’t make sense of all the technical machinery mumbo-jumbo, but it’s addressed to the flower shop in Lost Haven where we met the General.’

Charlie stared at that little paper Hex held up, flashlight illuminating it. “That is. . .

In Charlie’s other hand she had grasped the hard-drive wrenching it free. “Fantastic! You - me. We have to go scavenging together one night, that right there, is very handy.” She pointed enthusiastically with the harddrive, her brain caught up with her. “If that was something you’d want to do for fun because I’d get if it wasn’t a really fun idea-

A flash of light brightened the hallway catching Charlie’s eye and she sucked in some air. As handy and quick as Hex’s solution was - it was unfortunately loud. She whispered, “Get down, I got this.

Charlie stepped lightly o the wall, eyes on the doorway seeing the light get brighter as whoever behind it was cautiously making their way closer. Charlie drew a small circle for a hole, pressing an ear to hear the footsteps. There was a pair of them, she held up two fingers to signal Hex.

Gauging roughly how far away they were, she quickly drew a far larger circle in the wall, enough for a torso. Her finger drawing through the drywall like it was playdoh. Weakening the it to be about as thin as rice paper. “I call this trick the Kool-Aid Man.” She whispered, grinning through the mask.

She waited watching the light and listening to the footsteps, the pair walked quietly approaching her spot on the wall. She knocked very quietly, getting their attention. Their footsteps came to a stop, one of them - a masculine voice asking a ‘Oh no, did you hear that?’

She knocked again, then took several steps away getting some room. Then she dashed putting her full weight into the wall, busting through quite easily and sending drywall outward into the pair of Hounds. They shrieked with surprise, Charlie grasped the first gun pointed at her turning the barrel of it to liquid. With her other hand she swung her staff for a direct hit against the other - thankfully without a helmet. Disorientated, she quickly took down both knocking them out cold.

Turning to back to the hole in the wall she said, “Oh yeah.

Madalena snickered, moving out of cover and looking the two unconscious Hounds over. The tables had truly turned. With their central base of operations out of commission, the remaining Hounds of Humanity would be scrambling to maintain their hold over the U.S., and even though The Winter Court wasn’t entirely constructed of Hounds, it relied heavily enough upon their support to take a decisive blow from the evening’s attack. They couldn’t rest yet, but Maddi felt a considerable weight lifted from her shoulders.

”Quick thinking,” Maddi complemented Charlie, ”although your delivery could use some work.” she joked, elbowing Charlie’s arm before returning to their search.

Charlie’s cheeks grew rosy, a quip suddenly lost.

”Those two probably didn’t stick around to clean up the mess. I imagine whoever’s still inside is here to tamper with evidence and shred their records. We’d better get a move on.”

Hex’s reasoning was solid, and she certainly hoped there’d be no more interference, but knowing the Hounds, there was more trouble ahead. They’d need to find more than just a few purchase orders from the General while they still could.

”Wait!” Madalena exclaimed, pulling a small journal from beneath her coat. This was her black book, a collection of minor charms, incantations, and conjurations she’d either found useful or of particular interest. A number of the book’s pages were loosely bound, some even folded and tucked in the spine to keep them in place. A few cords fell from between different sections, assumedly attached to talismans and other trinkets of general use.

”Here it is,” Maddi announced, confirming the spell in question. She looked up at Charlie. ”This might sound weird, but is there anything in here you can turn into an arrow?”

Sure, there’s always something to work with.” She said, “Any preference on what it’s made of? I know material sometimes matter for spells.” Charlie shuffled some paper out of her pocket, already scribbling some deconstruction formula. There was a garbage can knocked over and she grabbed a couple aluminum cans. She balanced both on her hand, accounting for the remanent sticky residue of soda. The cans melted into her hand, pooling like a puddle of water. She played with the shape a bit in her fingers stretching it out and forming the pointed arrowhead, the shaft and metal feathers. Not unlike something she’d make to sell at Croll Corner. Solidifying it she passed over the completed arrow to Hex.

Here.

Madalena grinned, taking the arrow and setting down on the nearest uncluttered desk.

”Perfect!” Maddi proclaimed, taking the form she’d found on the Witchfinder General and holding it a short distance above the arrow. The edge of the paper suddenly caught fire, smoldering the form down into ash that fell rather neatly on the arrowhead, blackening it.

”The arrow is part of a divination . . . well, I’m turning into one, anyway. The actual spell was either written by a Pennsylvania folk magician or a Romanian witch from the 15th century, their formula doesn’t really indicate national origin. It was originally a spell to help an arrow find its target, but I’m switching things up by giving a piece of the target I need it to find. Ash from a form is a pretty poor taglock, I’ll admit, but it’s something.”

Regardless of Maddi’s doubts, Charlie watched on with curiosity. While she never quite understood or could wrap her head around witchcraft, it followed its own internal logic and reasoning. She loved watching it happen, the process was endlessly fascinating.

With the form now completely burnt and the arrow thoroughly coated in ash, Madalena referred back to her book to find the correct word to incant over the arrow. It was written in a script she was somehow able to read, one of the lesser chthonic tongues to which Puck granted unlimited access. The pronunciation, however, was a different story.

”Let’s hope this is right . . .” Madalena mumbled before speaking the word aloud, one that, once given breath, sounded like electrical arcs or the burning of hot embers. The arrow trembled for a moment before settling back in its place.

”Hmm, we don’t have a bow so maybe . . .” Maddi lifted her hand, bidding the arrow to levitate. With a swift and decisive motion, she sent the arrow through the broken wall, watching in amazement as, instead of colliding with an adjacent wall, it quickly changed trajectory, following an almost invisible path. Once the arrow was out of view, Madalena waited until she heard a loud thunk several rooms over.

”Guess it worked,” she remarked, clasping her hands together in bewildered amusement.

Charlie heard it’s landing as well, trying to judge how far it went like a textbook math problem. “Let’s find out.

They quickly and as quietly as they could, followed the strange path the arrow took. It led them predictably to another office but inside there were another pair of Hounds, flashlights moving around, soft complaints of the shitty clean up job they got stuck with.     Wondering out loud why the fuck there was suddenly an arrow in the middle of their work. They tried to remove it with little success. It was holding fast.

On either side of the doorframe the pair of magically gifted women were pressed up against the wall exchanging looks of thought. Trying to hatch some kind of plan or distraction.

They were there for only moments before the emergency lights and fire alarm lights lit up all down the hallway, blaring sirens loudly bringing a warning of an impending strike on the base - on Lost Haven. Warning all employees to evacuate, for the impending strike from the satellite. Charlie clamped her hands over her ears.

The hounds began to yell various forms of ‘What the fuck!’ Panic gripping them, they threw the files they had in their hands to the ground.

“One minute, twenty seconds.” A countdown began, Charlie was bewildered - the warning came too late. The alarms and sirens were useless. What happened? Did Lyger and Radiance fail to stop the strike on this side of the fight or did they fail bring the satellite down from space?

There wasn’t enough time!

“One minute, five seconds.” No! The metas had to have pulled through - they really had no choice but to succeed or see Lost Haven wiped out. Charlie’s thoughts kept circling back to how useless a warning system was for less than two minutes. Like a bad fire drill.

The Hounds took off at a run going straight for the door, Charlie stuck out her staff across the threshold meaning to trip them. Madalena, however, came to her side, pulling the staff back, allowing the Hounds to flee, heading down a separate corridor to the one they were currently facing. It wouldn’t have done them any good to be stuck in a fight with the timer going off, and neither of the Hounds seemed to keen for a fight either.

”We’re not done, and I’m guessing neither are Lyger and Radiance.” Madalena yelled, sprinting into the room to look through the cabinet her arrow had pierced. She shuffled through the cabinet frantically, fearful that the satellite would unleash its attack at any moment, but intrinsically knowing that Puck wouldn’t allow any harm to come to her, and she wouldn’t allow harm to come to Charlie.

”Fifty-five seconds,” the countdown proceeded as Hex continued her search, finally landing on a folder that bore the Witchfinder’s likeness, a photo of the man in full dress and a strange symbol clipped to the inside.

”Thirty seconds.”

Madalena lowered herself to the floor, the deafening alarm clouding her thoughts. It was hard to remain positive and on track with impending doom looming over one’s shoulder.

”Ten” the countdown was in its final stage. Maddi struggled to keep her composure, but she swore that she would never again allow the Hounds to get the better of her. Out of spite, she refused to break down. She returned to Charlie in the final seconds, the two sharing a brief look - Charlie’s hands shot out tugging Madalena into a hug. The Alchemyst squeezed her eyes shut holding tight. One final form of comfort before a large blast from deep within the building shook the walls, followed by the distant roar of thunder. The warning lights went off, leaving the two of them in darkness once more.

Charlie’s heart was hammering in her chest when she squinted up at the lights dying and the sound disappearing. Her ears were ringing. Her arms loosened and she looked around, wondering briefly if she were imagining the alarms in the first place.

Madalena supported herself with her cane, nearly falling during the explosion below. She let out a long, relieved sigh.

”Cutting it a little close, don’t you think!” she screamed down the hall, knowing that neither Lyger nor Radiance would likely hear protests.

Charlie’s relief bubbled out in a laugh at Hex. She held her chest then crouched down to the ground, laughing. “Fuck.

The giggles died into a deep sigh.

She looked up at Madalena again, wondering what she would have done without her being at her back tonight. No matter what happened Charlie was eternally grateful for her new witchy friend.

”Well that’s one problem taken care of,” Maddi said as she offered a hand to help Charlie up. ”And here’s another.” she brandished the file, opening it for the both of them to see.

Inside were the photos of the Witchfinder and a seal that assumedly belonged to The Winter Court. There were a list of contacts and associates known to frequent the General’s presence, as well as some brief notes on his work prior to involvement with the Hounds. None of it, as far as Madalena could tell, was explicit enough for them to act on immediately, but it was enough information to get them started.

”In light of the base almost evaporating, and given that the Hounds were gonna torch it anyway, I think we’re fine just taking the file as is, agreed?”

Charlie thought about that and said, “Yeah, there’d be no way to know for sure if the file was simply destroyed or stolen. It works in our favour, for once. The odds have been stacked against us.” She shrugged, reasonably the chaos here today would cover their tracks. Maybe not from the authorities but from the the General.

”Oh, speaking of scavenger hunts,” Madalena pulled the small leather journal from her coat. ”I didn’t exactly show up in Sherman Square to be a good samaritan, although I’m glad I came when I did. Puck gave me this right before I came. He told me not to open it until after I was needed. My guess, he wanted me to help you so that you’d be free to help me, although nothing’s ever really that simple with him.”

Madalena flipped through the journal, a puzzled look crossing her face.

The more Charlie heard about Puck, the more questions it inevitably raised. She wondered if she should be worried about factoring into anything an entity like him would be planning. Her eyes shifted from the files and to looking over Hex’s shoulder down at the journal. She squinted.

”Hmm . . . Now I get why I needed your help. There are instructions in the back of the journal. It’s a recipe of some kind, or a ritual, an invocation I think. But at the front there’s all this . . . well, I don’t actually know what it is. Some kind of alchemic formula I guess, but it doesn’t look like any I’ve ever seen before, not that I’ve seen too many, although in a lot of old grimoires you run into the magician or witch getting into their experimental phase . . . sorry, rambling. Maybe it’ll make sense to you?”

Madalena hopefully handed Charlie the journal, curious as to what she might find.

Alchemists know all about experimentation.” Charlie joked, trading off the files. Reading the formulas. “This feels familiar. There’s a bit about plant matter, the break down of the cellular walls… attempting to strengthen them?” She asked, intently rereading it, thinking out loud. It wasn’t a formula she had seen before but the handwriting and its focus on plant matter rang a bell. It was written entirely free of chemical symbols - all of it was written in traditional alchemy. Messily scribbled symbols of fire and sulfur, interestingly a uniquely written symbol for tin... No it was zinc. She blinked quietly recognizing it. “This wasn’t just any alchemist, this was written by gramps! My gramps is the only one I know to write zinc in the most annoying way possible. We always mix up his tin and zinc! He specializes in botanical alchemy, plant life and I’ve never seen this formula before.” She said excitedly, “I never expected to see everything he’s worked on, we all keep certain techniques to ourselves but I’m sure if I talk to him we can figure it out.

She thought, remembering now her family might be freaking out after seeing the news. Charlie groaned. Once again being left without knowing if she was alive. Tonight was different, she wasn’t sure what to expect from their reaction, she had a choice this time.

My family is going to be pissed.

The Witch-Mother’s Charge

Compass Round
Part 1


Location: Heartford Residence – Suffolk County, Boston, Massachusetts
Time: Early Evening, Day After Satellite Attacks




Heartford Manor firmly behind them, obscured by dense forest that swallowed all light, Odette and Marie, along with their invisible companions, moved swiftly along the cobblestone path leading deeper into the thick grove. The tiniest and briefest strands of light appeared in the corner of their eyes, dancing among the windswept branches before fading to black. A chill fell over them, the night’s cold fingers grasping at their exposed skin.

Marie pulled her satin robe over her legs, fumbling with the hem. She kept her formulary close by, tucked securely under her right arm, leaving only one hand free. Once she and Odette had settled in at their next destination, she would pour all attention into the book. For now, however, her mind was occupied with thoughts of her parents, a mixture of anger, despair, and well wishes. Truly, she wished them no harm, but their secrecy, their meddlesome nature kept Marie from forgiving them outright. It was unjust, keeping her in the dark all these years, allowing her destiny to fall at the wayside, drawing her further and further away from the truth. But there was nothing for it. She turned her mind to other, more pressing concerns.

Odette.

Glancing to her right, Marie kept the faery sorceress in her periphery, slowing her stride so that the two remained at equal pace. Until now, Marie took Odette’s involvement in all of this as an act of chance. But coincidence was slowly unravelling. Other forces were at work here, and Odette was somehow involved. Prior to Smithy’s, they’d only met once. How, then, did she become so instrumental to Gwyneth’s plan? Such intense consideration prompted immediate action.

”Why are you here?” Marie asked rather abruptly, taking a moment to consider how the question might be taken and qualifying it with, ”I mean, here in general. We only met once before the incident in Las Vegas. How did you get swept up in this?”

Odette walked on, leaving a few moments of silence between them. Clasping her hands behind her back. “I was beginning to wonder when you would ask.

Marie had been distracted by Odette’s dramatic shows of force, her parent’s secrets and Gwyneth’s visions. Now they had a moment of quiet thought,  naturally things would turn to the whys and hows. The nitty gritty.

Odette thought of lying, pushing the subject aside causing more distractions. What would the point of that be? Neither Gwyneth nor Marie knew the exact reason why. Frankly, Odette didn’t want to admit it was fear that drove her into pursuing the White Witch. Fear of being burned. Even now with the prophecy’s revision, the more she denied it the more tangible it became. Unintentionally planting a seed of paranoia.

Puck is the reason I am here.” She said,  she stopped her heel scraping at the unintended weight. “He- He prophesied my downfall… and I thought it would be by your hand. Odette’s icy eyes gazed at Marie, feeling exposed.

In contrast, Marie’s eyes were wide, almost worried. Of course Puck was involved, she should have guessed, but she couldn’t have imagined the impetus for Odette’s involvement was something so dire.

”I see,” Marie spoke softly, turning briefly to Holt, who walked alongside her in his newly acquired equine form. His expressions, the subtle shifts in movement, the ways in which is “emotions” manifested, Marie had become more adept at reading these signs. Holt didn’t seem nearly as surprised as she’d assumed, almost as if he were expecting that response, or at least knew of Puck’s interference.

She turned back to Odette.

”So you looked into me, The White Witch, tried to find a way to circumvent Puck’s prophesy and unwittingly came across Gwyneth, right?” her tone held a hint of admiration. Marie searched for information on Gwyneth for three months before turning up credible leads, but by the sounds of it, Odette was able to connect the dots much faster. Granted, her connections to the various denizens of Faerie likely sped up the process, but it was a smart use of resources nonetheless.

Correct. That is how things began and when I negotiated with Gwyneth I thought I had beaten the puzzle. Puck wrote the contract, he took the opportunity to revise his ridiculous prophecy. I am now at square once again.” She said with no small amount of venom. “Obligated to see this through but the original intent gone.

Her mood stormed over at that, Bach noticed the shift. He said nothing only observed. “This arrangement is not without gain but I am no closer to putting the prophecy behind me.

She spread her hands open, “And I hate it.”Slowly clenching her fists. Possibly showing Marie far too much emotion, Odette’s unbidden fear coming out to rear its head.

”I don’t mean to pry,” Marie replied, taking note of Odette’s troubled expression and mannerisms. ”but I’m no stranger to Puck’s cryptic warnings. I’ve watched a few of his prophecies play out, and I’ve issued a few myself in his stead. If neither you or Bach have come to any conclusions, maybe Holt and I can shed some light?”

Be careful, Holt mentally warned. She may be of use to us now, but her motives remain a mystery. We cannot run the risk of endangering ourselves later by providing more aid than is required.

Nor can we risk losing a powerful ally to a preventable downfall. If we establish a level of honesty and trust now, it could save us the hassle in the future. Marie responded, not turning away from Odette, maintaining the illusion that nothing else had transpired.

You are prying.” Odette said, Bach leaned over her ear stopping her snap.

Don’t write her off, a clue is better than what we had before. He spoke in french, hurriedly.

Pausing in thought, “I suppose any insight is better than none.” She sighed, bringing up her phone. She searched through the files pulling up the audio recording. “I’ve grown entirely weary of foresight.

She played the clip.

”Sight . . . such woeful irony. The witch’s gift is yours to claim, a boon greater than you know, and yet one that will fail you time and again. Burned by witch’s fire, you stand ready in the garden to accept your paradise, not risen, but changed, changed as the cunning fire changes all. But even though the apple falls in your lap and the giantess gives her blessing, a serpent sneaks into your Eden and wraps itself round the Tree of Life. But this serpent does not tempt, no . .  he hungers.

When the veil was formed by the Spirit of Old, when the stars fell and soaked the Earth in their blood, he was among them, thirsting for new life. He whispers to you in sorrowful sleep, invites you into his bed. He does not turn you from salvation, that is not his aim. Indeed, ‘tis not holy waters which will save you from his torment, but cunning fire, the spark of a world long forgotten. Be swift, young Eve. Be not consumed by his lust, but ravaged by a flame that was. And the question is not whether you will be burned, but whether you will rise from the ashes . . . or will he?”


When Puck was finished speaking, she turned off the recording. “The reference to biblical creation myths is a tad cliche.” She said, forcing a light bit of commentary in spite of how dreadful hearing it again made her feel.

Marie shuddered slightly after hearing Puck’s voice, his ominously charming tone made much more eerie via digital audio. She scanned her mind for any and all relevant information, bidding Holt to do the same. Odette might have thought the biblical allegory cliche, but Marie knew there was implicit reason for the makeup of the prophecy. In fact, despite a lack of context, this was one of the more coherent prophecies Marie had heard.

”Well you already know that he’s referencing Gwyneth’s gift of Sight in the beginning, telling you how it will fail you, won’t let you see what’s coming,” Marie explained, unraveling more pieces in her mind before speaking aloud. ”He expands on that by telling you that you’ve been changed by the cunning flame, the witch fire that burns within Gwyneth has touched you and offered you a gift. Gwyneth is the giantess I would imagine, but why . . .”

”The Nephilim,” Holt spoke up, stopping a few paces in front of them. ”they were regarded as giants.”

Marie tapped her head.

”Of course, and the Nephilim are said to have carried the witch fire before man. They’re the ancestors of most magical traditions, witchcraft included. The ‘stars that fell’ is likely in reference to the Angels led by Azazel, who gifted mortal men and women esoteric knowledge. You’ve heard stories about the Fey that call them fallen angels, right? Those who landed on the Earth remained and became the very oldest among the Fair Folk?”

Odette nodded, “Of course I know.” The added information was curiously tied neatly into it. She chewed at the inside of her cheek.

Her brow furrowed, frustration bubbling up,  “How does it all tie together? The prophecy paints me as Eve and the Serpent is someone close. It is impossible for anyone in my inner circles to betray me on the level that it is suggesting.” She explained, doubtful. “It is impossible because I have safeguards against it. If that isn’t what the prophecy is suggesting then where do I go hunting my enemies?” She demanded. “Start seeing danger in every shadow?

Back was beside her, nodding along. Having helped her create those very same safeguards.

These prophecies are built to drive me to insanity.” She said, anger building. Bach squeezed her shoulder. Odette squeezed the bridge of her nose, calming down.

”If I may,” Holt spoke before Marie could respond. She conceded to him. ”It is entirely likely that whomever means you harm is not unknown to you. Waste no time in search for a foreign enemy where none exist. Indeed, you see them now as a friend. Whomever leads you astray ‘invites you into his bed.’ You gain something from one another. Perhaps he is not an enemy at all, and perhaps his betrayal is not an act you would consider treasonous, at least not now. Do what you will with this word of caution, but I would advise that you examine all outstanding pacts, contracts, and affiliations carefully, especially those with the Good People. Perhaps you will discover a trade more onesided than originally believed.”

Marie nodded.

”Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you, Holt.” She looked back at Odette.

Thank you for the insight, Marie - Holt. It was something.

”Glad we could help.”

Bach nodded to Odette, “It would be prudent to renegotiate past agreements, especially the older ones where we could stand to gain more now.” He suggested. “There is hope.

She squeezed his  hand then dropped it. The professional veneer quickly came back up, she squashed everything else away. “Good advice. With that said, we need to move onto Salem. My prophetical problems are not our focus.

She stepped away off the path, raising her arms up beginning her incantation for creating the portal.

As always reciting it in her native tongue. “Grand et beau flot d'âmes, fais-moi voyager, dis-moi la sécurité, offre-moi tes plus beaux cadeaux. Volontiers, ne viendrez-vous pas à moi? Ouvrez-vous, ouvrez-vous à la volonté de l'Ambassadeur du Folk. Proche seulement de ma volonté en tant qu'Ambassadeur du Folk.” It was like a prayer, repeating the words until the portal formed. It took a few minutes longer than it did typically, emotional turbulence sometimes affected her concentration.

When the portal was complete, the golden doorknob shiny even in the muted light. “Salem awaits.

Fire and Brimstone

Part 4


Location: HoH Headquarters – Lost Haven
Time: Evening of Hound Attack




Madalena remained silent as she and Alchemyst were escorted to the Hound base a short distance from Sherman Square. Pantheon, their makeshift chauffeur, was a brute of a man, but, to Maddi’s surprise, had enough restraint or self awareness not to crush the two of them in transit. Flight didn’t bother Maddi in the slightest, quite the contrary. In the brief period she’d been able to enjoy her newfound gifts, experimentation with flying ointments was one of the first pieces of magic she employed . . . with varying degrees of success. When all of this was over, she would need a moment to herself, time to take a midnight flight over the city.

Upon arrival, Madalena looked to Charlie, studying what expressions she could make out behind her goggles. One stress filled night after another, and it was beginning to show. She looked resigned, exhausted, and there was a subtle tremor in her legs. But fierce determination won out, as shown by the way she carried herself over to Iron Knight, chest puffed, shoulders back, spine straight, chin held at an angle that suggested she saw him less as a leader, but more an equal, rather, she thought herself his equal. It brought a thin, half smile to Maddi’s face.

”Still here willing to help, Iron Knight.” Alchemyst exclaimed as she waltzed up to the man in the metal suit, leaning on her staff in a way that suggested a bond with it, as if it provided the strength she needed to be present and speak her mind.

”Let us be the unpredictable element here, point us at what needs to be broken and we can guarantee it. My powers let me manipulate matter down to its core elements. I can literally make holes in their defenses or walls.”

Madalena moved closer, placing herself only a few paces away from Charlie as she gave her speech. She looked back to catch some of the late arrivals streaming in. There was a strange confidence in being part of a group, Maddi thought to herself, sizing up her compatriots, if she could even call them that. In her mind, Hex had certainly proven herself formidable, but was she fit for a team? She mulled it over a few times before hearing her name.

”Lady Hex disintegrated their weapons and Pantheon took on a mech barehanded. We can operate non-lethally. As Concerned Citizens, we just need one chance Richie Rich.”

”Hear hear,” Madalena whimsically voiced her approval, tapping her cane on the stone a few times as pseudo-applause. She turned hopefully to Iron Knight, awaiting what Maddi hoped would be a thoughtful response. Of course, that wasn’t in the cards.

“We need all the bodies that we can muster, but we also need team players.” Iron Knight replied, his tone cautionary, almost accusatory. Madalena wondered how well Marie had worked with him and the others before. Perhaps it was that experience that led to his response.

”If you can follow orders and work as a part of a team, then welcome aboard. Otherwise, you guys better go home to Quidditch practice and leave this to the professionals.”

”Wow,” Madalena scoffed, taking a few steps forward until she stood directly right of Charlie. She’d expected a stern reply given Iron Knight’s propensity for leadership, but his final comments were more dismissive and mocking than constructive.

”Nice vote of confidence, boss man.” she mumbled, turning to Charlie. whom she noticed was turning a shade or two darker. Maddi heard only a portion of Iron Knight’s instructions before pulling Charlie aside.

Charlie worked to restrain a rage fuelled comment at his remark. It was all accumulating into immediate irritation, stress, being fired at by rockets not once by twice this week, taking on the Winter Court. Did Iron Knight wake up missing memories or did he somehow forget the role magic played in the fight against Doctor Diplodoc? Charlie remembered watching the Pax crisis happen across the news. His shitty joke would have been tolerable any other day. But today, it inspired rebellion. Having all intentions to play along were thrown out a 23rd storey window.

When he suggested covering the three different locations - the repair garage, the docks and the helicopter pad none of them were immediately appealing to the likes of Hex and Alchemyst. Capable as they were, they were stuck on the ground.

A million snarky, biting responses were waiting a the tip of her tongue. Pantheon’s quick departure and blatantly ignoring her - it gave Charlie the extra second to show a little restraint for once. Their obvious way to get around flying away. Leaving them with only one option available to them. “Right boss man - sir. You know what? We’ll guard this exit right here.

She bumped Maddi’s elbow with her own, “Seeing how our ride just flew off, neither of us are mobile enough to keep pace with speedsters and flyers. So we’ll be here, hashing out when the next quidditch practice is. Being team players.

If her smile was visible it was strained and faker than fool’s gold.

We can handle things here.

Madalena nodded in agreement, a low chuckle escaping as she sifted through Charlie’s sassy reply.

”Good luck,” she said sarcastically, saluting Iron Knight with her index and middle finger before turning back to Charlie.

”Guessing the plan is a little more involved than just being ‘team players?’” she whispered. ”I love it! Y’know, I think this is why Puck does what he does, plots are a lot more fun than whatever the ‘heroes’ are planning.”

You’re goddamn right we aren’t just standing around playing at being guards.” Charlie waited until he was out of sight before giving her own salute by flipping him off. “What a dick.

We wait until the other metas go their separate ways, we head in through the front doors here sealing it in behind us. We disable as many Hounds as we come across, quietly. Go snooping for anything that could give us an edge against the General.

She shot the headquarters a wary look, “I ain’t assuming the Winter Court doesn’t have its own resources to survive the Hounds buckling. We’re not leaving this shit show empty handed either.” She offered her fist to bump. “You and me, we’ll get through this.

Maddi smiled, bumping Charlie’s fist as they waited. A memory returned to Madalena, something said in passing that helped form an idea. Her eyes lit up.

”Puck mentioned this to me shortly after you and I met the Witchfinder. He made it seem like the General had been working in and around Lost Haven prior to the Hounds rearing their ugly head. I imagine that the Hounds probably appropriated some of his intel and allies in exchange for the same. I’ll bet they have a file on him somewhere in there.”

Maddi’s excitement was short lived. A stray thought drained the color from her already pale face.

”The last time we went into enemy territory, we were in no real danger. The Court was expecting us. Not just that, but I assured the General that you were an asset. If he discovers that the Alchemyst and a mysterious witch in her company waltzed into the Hound HQ and stole his personal information, he’ll put two and two together. My cover will be blown and Lady Hex will have been for nothing.”

Charlie didn’t have an immediate answer. Cog’s turned in her head, they couldn’t leave a trace behind. Something to keep focus on The Alchemyst and the Alchemyst only. “Yeah you’re right. We haven’t been exactly subtle. We have to protect ourselves. What I have in mind might just get us some notoriety from both sides.

I torch it all. We grab what we can and I torch it the old fashioned way so the General can’t coerce some other poor witch into connecting magic to this. It’d leave no trace as to what was stolen and what was torched.

Her eyes followed Blacklight’s arrival with Roadblock, the authority figures in all this. They would know who torched the hard copies, if the Hounds were smart they already nuked their electronic database.

They didn’t need to destroy it.

What do you think? Torching it means our asses are covered but there’s no way we can cover up to the cops, they’d know it was us in there setting fires. They’d be pissed if their hard evidence was gone.

Maddi thought on this. On the one hand, she didn’t give a damn about Lost Haven PD or the remaining members of STRIKE. Her identity was well concealed, but just as with the General, incriminating herself too much as Lady Hex would be for naught. On the other hand, maintaining at least a partially decent reputation among the other heroes of Lost Haven, even if she never intended to join them, would only be to her benefit.

”What if we just copy the Witchfinder’s files? Kind of a long shot to assume the Hounds have a standard office set up, but that way we leave the paper trail intact for the police and we get what we need.”

Charlie perked, “Genius! That’s what we’ll do, wear some gloves photocopy the files we need and slip it back in, cops and the General will be none the wiser! Ha!” She said, excited at the simple fix. “Who the fuck needs to be-” She used the best pair of air quotes, “‘Professionals.’

Together they waited at the front doors as more heroes arrived and dispersed to where they saw themselves fit. Charlie busied herself by collecting the kevlar armour off the knocked cold Hounds, she scritched alchemic formula across a notepad before applying it. The vests themselves were a bit too large and bulky for her liking. Lifting the fibers and applying them to her forearms, trying to replicate the vests, knowing full well they wouldn’t be nearly as effective in their original state. Regardless, it was some much needed support to her arms and a layer of protection she didn’t have before. Using the ceramic plating she wrapped them around her calves. The new weight was noticeable but could give her kicks a bit more omph. Her makeshift armor done, she began rifling through their pockets. Condensing bullet casings, spare change, picking a couple flashlights off their belts - emptying them for their batteries. Only briefly thinking how this must of looked - looting them like she was for resources. It quickly replaced with total apathy, who cares if she scavenged off of the assholes? They weren’t dead.

Her hands froze on a helmet, the distinct shot of fear - the memory of seeing life draining from someone’s eyes. Carefully she pried open the lid of the person she was crouched over shining a light, the pupil shrinking at the light. Clicking off the flashlight she stood back up.

She walked back over to Lady Hex offering one of the flashlights she found. “Here, if you need it.

Madalena graciously accepted the flashlight and tucked it inside her coat. Nerve-racking as this entire experience was, she felt a strange calm wash over her. Perhaps this was the mission Puck meant for her to take all along, perhaps he foresaw an opportunity to take advantage of the Hound’s weakness. She tapped her cane on the ground a few times.

”Should we run into trouble, and let’s face it, we will, my powers can keep the heat off us long enough to react, but I can’t really control what happens each time.”

Maddi’s craft was strong, and her ability to bless or blast was far more potent than the average witch, but her gifts came with unexpected side effects, mischievous mishaps that were always to her favor, but not always something she could anticipate. Her supply of witching tools was also desperately low. Perhaps she knew a sorcerous word or two that could come into use, a magic square she could etch with her scepter, maybe a physical enchantment or conjuration, but she knew she was way out of her element. They would both be relying on Charlie’s skills in transmutation. Maddi only hoped their combined efforts would be quick enough to stave off certain death.

”Ready?”

Charlie nodded, maybe with more time she could predict the unpredictable? The alchemist briefly wondered what the math behind that would be. With a firm nod she said,  “Hell yeah. Let’s go.

Witch Hunt

A Mind to Know
Part 2 of 3



Location: Heartford Residence – Suffolk County, Boston, Massachusetts
Time: Afternoon, Day After Satellite Attacks




Amidst a mass of dense greenery the party emerged, basked in the blue light of the Ambassador’s magic, a glimmering spectacle that slowly faded as their bodies gained permanence. On all sides stood coniferous giants, separated only by low shrubbery and the occasional dirt path that told of midnight strolls and communions with the spirits therein. Aside from the cobbled, concrete path leading to and from their destination, there were no visible nor audible signs of civilization, no passing vehicles, no voices from neighbors, only the sounds of the forest to keep them company.

Marie led her party of four further into the thicket, the canopy overhead thinning as they neared her childhood home. Solar-powered lights in the style of Victorian street lamps jutted from the ground on either side of the stone path, just enough space between them for shadows to take hold of a passerby, if only for a moment. Long hours were spent moving up and down the drive leading to her home during Marie’s childhood. She often chased small wisps of light that fluttered through the trees and hid behind the lamps. Was it pretend, she wondered, or perhaps just mischievous spirits she had not yet learned to see?

The first signs of modernity, a pair of family-sized vehicles parked neatly outside the garage, shattered the illusion of the old world. The group stood just in view of home, an exceptional three story, Victorian manor seated neatly in the forest clearing atop a verdant and well groomed lawn, large stepping stones acting as a path to the front door and backyard.

Marie turned to Odette, making a gesture with both arms as if presenting the house.

”Welcome to my humble abode,” she said sarcastically, smiling at the house as if having seen it for the first time.

”Would you believe that I live in a studio apartment in Lost Haven?”

Odette smiled largely in spite of herself, she couldn’t not appreciate a beautiful home, she liked her homes to be old, refurbished, and property filled with history down to its soil. “You living in a studio apartment in a city like Lost Haven? Believable. You came from comfort and luxury, I can see a rebellious streak in moving to the city and away from your parents.

Really, Marie was making it far too easy to read her like a book. Something she’d have to work on with her. She hung back as Marie walked ahead, Odette leaned to Bach - whom had resumed his invisibility.

Bach,” She began in Common Fey, whispering. “I want you to sabotage the house while we eat. Keep it small, reasonable to explain away. I want to test something.

Bach nodded, “As you wish, My Lady. I was planning to snoop while you ate but I can sabotage as I go.

Odette gave a slight nod, saying nothing more. Aware of a particular pair of ears that could understand what they were saying.

Sure enough, Holt sauntered past in his truest form, masking himself in an ethereal veil through which only Marie, Bach, and Odette could see. He turned an inquisitive eye toward the whispering duo, their words unknown but their intent clear, to Holt at least. Carrying a duffel of only Marie’s essential tools, Holt made sure to pass too closely to the pair, alerting them to his knowledge of their scheming.

Marie turned back, waving them all forward. Just beyond the garage was a stone path leading up to the front door, decorated by more Victorian lamps and hedges, a tall, dark, menacing frame set in the immaculate masonry. Unbeknownst to her parents, Marie had taken the liberty of warding every entrance, every corner, of their home when last she made her stay. Such wards were in constant need of maintenance after long periods of time, but Marie could feel their presence, knowing that they had gone untampered for quite some time.

”I was particularly attracted to protective charms and talismans a few years ago,” Marie called back, avoiding the doorbell for a few moments longer, ”Misfortune, foul weather, malevolent spirits. Nothing against the Good Folk, though, so Bach should be just fine.”

Bach nodded, “You’re too kind.” He spoke through the veil of his invisibility.

Holt appeared at Marie’s side, dropping the bag at her feet.

”Thank you, Holt.” Marie thanked her familiar with a smile.

Holt nodded.

”Shall I assume a more inconspicuous form?”

Marie shook her head.

”No, I don’t think you need to be present for dinner. Take a look around, wander the house, do as you please.”

Holt nodded again, making the slightest turn toward Bach and Odette before fading from sight completely.

As you know I am rather fond of wards myself. There’s an art form in them.” Odette commented her hand trailing just above the edge of the door frame, feeling the purity in the wards, their ingredients and good intentions. Never tainted by anything. She removed a bottle of wine from within her purse. “Let’s not linger outside, Marie.” She reached past the witch and rung the doorbell.

Not a moment after the doorbell’s deep chime did the front door swing open with force enough to suck the two of them inside. Two tall, fair skinned, dark-haired, slender frames stood in the doorway, the most menacingly happy smiles painted onto their faces.

“Marie!” they cried in unison, reaching out for their daughter and pulling her in for an extended embrace. Marie was caught off guard, but hugged them affectionately once she regained herself.

Eliza and Stephen Heartford bore a certain resemblance to their daughter. Eliza’s strong, high cheekbones, straight, black hair, and lithe frame were reflected in Marie’s, and Stephen’s strong shoulders and engaging stare were similar to her’s as well, but one would be remiss to believe that she inherited such features from this pair. Above all, Marie held Gwyneth’s likeness, for she and Gwyneth were one and the same.

“How are you, my girl?” Stephen boomed in a boisterous and impossibly deep voice.

“And how in the hell did you get here?” Eliza interjected, her voice deep and melodic, yet highly expressive, the faintest hints of a Bostonian accent peeking through at the end of her words.

“You didn’t walk from the bus station did you? It’s dangerous for you two to be out after dark in the city. Oh God, don’t tell me the car broke down on the way, or did you get into an accident, is that why you didn’t call me for three weeks last month?”

”Ma,” Marie spoke up, ”I’m fine, we’re both fine. The car’s fine. We took the train and got picked up by a mutual friend from Maine. And speaking of,”

Marie took a step over, allowing Odette to be in full view.

”This is Odette Favre, my friend from Lost Haven. And before you say anything to her, Dad, for the love of God don’t start doing that abysmal French accent.”

“Oh, she’s right, honey,” Eliza agreed, placing a hand on Stephen’s shoulder, “It really is awful. You spend one summer in Paris and you think you’re a savant.”

Stephen’s face turned a deeper shade of red.

“Fine, I’ll take a vow of silence.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Eliza teased, reaching out a hand to Odette.

“Pleased to meet you, Odette. I’m Eliza and this is my husband, Stephen. Who, apparently, is now a Buddhist monk.”

On with the show.

Ah, it is so lovely to finally meet the both of you. Your home is absolutely beautiful. Softly, daintily she shook Eliza’s hand wearing a winning smile, her accent a bit more pronounced as her voice rose an octave. “Please, Monsieur Heartford I would love to hear all about your summer in Paris. I was born and raised there before moving to America.

Conspiratorially she leaned in with a hand to the side of her face, “I could give you tips on improving your accent to even fool a native Parisian.

She winked. Bach shrunk in size stepping through their feet and scurrying away. When he was clear of the Heartfords he resumed his normal size he crossed the foyer heading to a set of stairs, planning to start from the top of the house and work his way down. The stairs audibly creaked with weight. The older home betraying Bach’s movement.

Odette internally winced at the noise, “I brought you a gift for inviting us over for dinner.” She offered up the wine in her hand, “A classic Cabernet Sauvignon for the hosts.

Eliza and Stephen’s eyes lit up, thought Marie was unsure if it was by Odette’s good manners, or the sight of a fine wine.

”Trying to ply my parents with alcohol to learn their secrets?” Marie joked.

“Oh by all means, keep it up,” Stephen spoke up, abandoning his retaliatory silence, “by the end of the night you could lead us around on leashes,”

“Stephen,” Eliza protested, smacking her husband’s shoulder.

Marie put a hand over her face.

”Dad . . .”

“I’ll uh, I’ll just take this into the kitchen.” Stephen replied sheepishly, taking the bottle of wine and moving through the house.

Odette laughed good naturedly, thinking to herself. What an awkward man. . . Maintaining her smile.

Eliza motioned for the both of them to step inside, moving toward the kitchen herself.

“I’m gonna go with your dad, make sure he doesn’t mess something up. We’ve got plenty of catching up to do, but why don’t you show Odette around the house? We’ll call you down for appetizers once everything’s ready.”

With that, she trailed off behind Stephen, leaving Marie and Odette to their own devices in the foyer, a long rectangular room adjoined to the library, living room, dining room, and conservatory. The walls were all wood paneling, all richly stained in dark earthen tones, lined with display cases, potted plants, and paintings of various subjects. Her parents had added a few new additions since her last visit, including a small model of Buckingham Palace, and some sort of carved whale bone.

A tour! Please lead the way, Marie.”She said brightly, uncharacteristically looping her arm with Marie. “There must be a ton of nooks and crannies in a house this size.

Whispering, “Full of secrets.

Waiting to make sure her parents were out of earshot, Marie turned to Odette.

”Laying it on a little thick, aren’t we? But sure, there’s plenty to see. We’ll start with the library . . . ugh, I feel like such a tool saying that.”

A bubbly and charming young lady passes through a great deal of social scenes with minimum effort, it only seems thick because you’ve seen behind the veil.” Odette remarked, smirking.

Marie led them to the entrance to the library, a modest sized room with a collection of differently sized wall and floor bookcases, all filled to the brim with texts, small labels placed between shelves as a rudimentary form of organization. The library also joined to an enclosed porch, accessible through a set of sliding glass doors slightly obscured by large, ornate drapes.

”Before my parents moved in, this used to be another sitting room, but my mom insisted that they have a library in a house this size. Classical literature, poetry, historical texts, books on trades and skills like sewing, at least seven copies of the Constitution, honestly I think they just bought books to take up space.”

My library at home is around this size, Bach’s collection takes up a fair amount of space. I keep a fairly large collection from over the years, old books - singular editions are rather valuable bargaining chip to the Gentry. Uniqueness values highly.” Odette commented, walking with her hands behind her back skimming the spines. “When you regain all your memories and power, would you spend time reading through a library?

Marie thought on it, walking over to a round table in the corner of the room, sitting down on the cushioned bench nestled into the corner.

”Well, from the looks of things I was fairly well armed with knowledge of the craft, and ever since I was young, from what I can remember, I kept learning for both the joy of knowing, but also out of a feeling of necessity, if we’re talking about magic, that is. I read and learned to test myself. But I enjoyed some of the old stories I’ve read, the myths and legends, trial records, tales of witches and the Fey. Barring any serious threat to me, I don’t see why not. Why?”

Odette turned to look over her shoulder at Marie, neutral expression broke way into a knowing smile. “Curiosity, I’ve spent a good deal of thought on what I would do if I had all the time in the world. Reading through a library would be one of the ways.

She sighed dramatically, “Alas! Us mere mortals are bound by time’s law. A shame really.

While Bach had run of the house to have fun, Odette made her own entertainment by baiting the likes of Marie.

Marie turned a sideways glance at Odette.

”You know, you have this really annoying tendency of reminding me that you know more about me than I do. I’m not totally oblivious. There’s some hint in there about Gwyneth somewhere, you’ve been dropping them since this morning.”

Marie looked out the window, trying to conjure up some image of Gwyneth in her mind, something that might point them toward their goal or unravel the web spun by Odette.

”Unfortunately, I don’t have any frame of reference, unless . . .”

Marie stood up, walking quickly over to Odette.

”This is something to do with Gwyneth splitting her soul, right? She was . . . giving herself more time for something?”

Odette served up her best shrug, “Who knows, seeing how I have this annoying tendency to know everything except what Gwyneth’s grand plan was.” She said patronizing as ever always acting in favour of a petty remark. “We’re searching for Mind, Marie. Use the hints I have already dropped. Gwyneth exercises a masterful stroke of magic to create illusionary worlds inside her possessions.” She held up one finger, “She split apart her soul and her spirit survives, she suffered betrayals in life. What could a master of witchcraft - powerful enough to split their own soul have to warrant in their life?”Holding up three fingers, wiggling them.

It’s a rather short list of reasons to guess at.

”A life she was desperately trying to extend . . . I was looking for immortality?” Marie guessed, an assumption which made plenty of sense. There is little reason to separate one’s spirit from the body if not to ensure its continued survival, unless, of course, her search was instead for power that a mortal form could not wield. In either case, immortality would solve both.

”So all of this is part of a spell for immortality, is that it? Create a place where your spirit can reside until such a time that it can return to its original form, split it into multiple parts to ensure its safety, take control of your own fate instead of leaving it in the hands of those who would betray you. Gwyneth wanted to escape mortal shackles!”

One question yet remained in Marie’s mind, why? Odette hadn’t painted Gwyneth as a power mad witch from old, nor did her own fleeting memories depict her in that light. Surely immortality wasn’t a means to amass power, but a way out, a rather spiteful way out.
Odette nodded, continuing to walk on. “As you can imagine it’s far more complex than that. Alas!” She cupped a hand to her ear, hearing the tell tale footsteps of presumably Eliza coming down the hallway. She clasped her hands, her tone tooth achingly sweet. “Appy’s have arrived.” She held up her exaggeration for a second then grinned playfully.

Eliza turned into the library with a glass of wine in hand, unable to resist the call of an afternoon drink.

“Hope you girls are hungry,” she said cheerfully, “we’ve got a five course meal all planned for a night of fun.”

She turned to Marie.

“You’re lucky you called me this morning else I would’ve had hell trying to whip this up. A couple of things might be store bought so don’t hold that against me.”

Ushering them into the hallway leading into the dining room, Eliza turned around and addressed Odette.

“Oh, I forgot to mention. Stephen’s going through his vegan phase this year.”

”About every two years he falls into fad diets and healthy eating. We were vegetarians for about six months when I was eighteen. I guess now he’s upgraded to vegan.” Marie explained.

“Will that be alright?”

If I have to work through a kilo of barbeque smothered tofu-, “Not at all, that sounds lovely.

Two Worlds Collide


Location: Franklin Mountains – El Paso, Texas
Time: Morning, Day After Satellite Attacks




So, tell me where you are and I will be there.“ The Ambassador asked, but it could be easily interpreted as an order. There was precious little in this world she asked nicely for. There was no point in pleasantries  with the White Witch. They were only at the beginning of their quest for Gwyneth’s memories, plenty of work laid out the road ahead. While it was work, there would be opportunities for fun… Even if Odette was the only having fun at the expense of White Witch facing her trials.

She waited for her response, drumming manicured nails across the table. Blue hair bobby pinned into a small bun at the back of her head, icy blue eyes scanning the map of North America. Her full face of makeup, as usual done up with expert hands wearing a bold red matte lipstick, a change from her typical nude pink.

”I’m in the Franklin Mountains about eight miles north of El Paso, Texas. There’s a clearing behind one of the larger peaks close to a system of caves. I’ll be waiting in the shade.”  Marie hung up abruptly, perhaps in defiance of the Ambassador’s tone of voice.

She and Holt touched down near a small hill in the clearing that blocked most of the sun, remnants of the cool night still flowing through the valley as a gentle breeze that would soon give way to the scorching heat. This time, however, Marie dressed for the occasion. She dawned a navy romper with long, billowy sleeves that gave it some Victorian flair, the waist cinched in with a silver-buckled belt of a similar fabric. She was tempted to wear boots, but opted instead for some open toed sandals with a slight heel. The glamour charm normally worn about her neck, however, was instead packed away. The Ambassador already knew her by one name, might as well know both of them.

What will you tell The Ambassador upon her arrival? Holt mentally questioned Marie, still under the guise of a great, black horse. We have been given no further clues regarding the whereabouts of Gwyneth’s next possession.

Maybe not, Marie responded, combing through her dark hair briefly, untangling the knots gathered the previous night and letting them fall into thick waves, but her power to conjure portals is useful, and with the Hounds scattering after yesterday’s attack, we’ll need someone powerful on our side.

Odette pursed her lips at the deadline tone, tapping the phone to disconnect.  “Someone is feeling feisty today.

She peered over the map tracing a line to El Paso. “Are you ready to leave Bach?

Always ready for you, My Lady.” He replied.

She nodded once breezing out the room, a distinct clack of heels Vienna was waiting with her purse. Together they faced the large floor to ceiling mirror, Odette raised her hands beginning to call upon the Arcane Stream, hands surrounding with blue misty light. Words of Power that felt as familiar as to speak the name of a lover. The burst of life and light grew from a crack in the empty space, the formation of a door from within the light came next with golden polished hinges and doorknob. The portal creation took only a few minutes.

She opened the door stepping through, heel finding grass. The dry air was hot, the sun bright. Odette reached into her purse, pulling free a pair of heart shaped sunglasses. Bach came shortly after, he thought twice of his invisibility - lifting the veil for convenience of joining any conversation. She peered around, closing the door after Bach crossed. The portal dissolved with blue light.

Discreet. Good.

Marie and Holt stood a few feet away from the Ambassador’s portal, Marie turning her head to avoid the violent flash of light as the mystical construct dissipated. Her head immediately turned to the Ambassador’s fey friend, having only sensed his presence in their previous encounters. He seemed mischievous, harboring around him a sinister air, but what else would she expect?

She hopped down from atop Holt’s back, swinging her leg over the saddle as if she were a gymnast, her dismount much more graceful than the first few attempts. There was a tension between them despite how hilariously civilian they both looked. This would be their first true meeting, well, not considering the supposed council held by Gwyneth and the Ambassador, which left Marie both giddy and weary.

”I doubt any townsfolk will be wandering into the mountains any time soon,” Marie replied with a wicked smile, mentally recounting her ride with Josephine.

”An oil derrick went down the other night. ‘Electrical storm’ so I’ve heard. No one will bother us.”

Marie closed some distance between she and the Ambassador, standing now a few paces apart, the shade now retreating as the sun peeked over the hills. Holt trotted along behind.

Odette’s eyes glanced to Holt’s form, as a bigger creature he casted a strange shadow over the witch. She couldn’t read anything from him. Next she ran a judgemental eye up and down the White Witch’s outfit, some scars around her ankles caught Odette’s attention. They looked relatively fresh akin to a burn. “How oddly specific. I safely assume you were involved in someway. I certainly hope that is not how you were injured, the little scars on your ankles are telling.

She gestured to Bach, “This is the first ‘official’ introduction of my partner, Bach. He has been by my side since day one, he was not present for my little trip into Gwyneth’s illusionary world where I met her. That was a special to do.

Bach stepped forward, a pleasant smile and a sweeping bow he said, “A pleasure.

Firstly, what happened after we parted way in Las Vegas?

Marie nodded to Bach, a little chuckle escaping her lips. She loved the formality of the fey. Holt bowed his head in unison, the gesture made more grandiose by his equine appearance.

Sighing, Marie turned back to the Ambassador, recalling the night’s events with no lack of spiteful fervor.

”After you left, I sent myself and the group to a stronghold beneath the city, the workplace of the Lachance coven, one of Five, well, Four old witching traditions in Vegas. Once their leader, Genevieve, healed me of my injuries and the silver poisoning, I took a walk outside to clear my mind.”

Marie looked down at her ankles, having forgotten about the ordeal until now.

”A few months ago, I aided S.T.R.I.K.E. in the capture of some maniac named Diplodoc. A woman under his control who calls herself the Silver Sorceress had a personal vendetta against me. She’d apparently escaped prison and come looking for me, among others. I was still weak from the fight with the Hounds, I couldn’t combat her illusions. She made me see . . . it doesn’t matter.” Marie quickly changed the subject, not wanting to linger on any sour memories.

”But it helped me see things differently, made me remember who I was, both figuratively and literally. I had a memory of myself as a little girl, no older than four or five, being shooed from a village next to a dense forest. Sound familiar?” Marie’s head perked up, hoping for a bit of confirmation from the Ambassador, who, ironically enough, was the most well versed in Gwyneth’s history between the two of them.
As The Ambassador listened, her eyes never left the witch. When the mention of illusion, Odette believed the Silver Sorceress preyed on her while White Witch was weak and went to a tried and true method of playing upon fears using shades of the past as her puppets. It unintentionally inspired White Witch, possibly lending to break from her little pack. The vision she had did sound familiar, when Gwyneth was a child she had lived in a remote village on the edge of a forest.

She scoffed, “This Silver Sorceress is under the thumb of another? A sorceress with no agency of her own is no true practitioner. Had I been there, Doctor Diplodoc would have been missing his puppet. Had you been at full strength she would have suffered a similar fate, no? Will we be expecting another attempt?

Marie shook her head.

”No, she left a message for me before she left. Something along the lines of ‘you’d be dead if I wanted.’ I think seeing me in distress did enough to sate her desire for revenge.”

Odette nodded, “Good, we do not need the distractions. As for your vision… what you saw was a glimpse into Gwyneth’s childhood.” She began, walking over to the shade now. She lifted her sunglasses perching them on top of her head. “She showed me everything. A woman who’s life was defined by one betrayal to the next. The world she has crafted for her soul inside Sight, and seemingly across all pieces of her soul was a stroke of master craftsmanship. Do you realize just how powerful your prior self was?

”Her soul?” Holt spoke aloud, turning to Marie who looked equally as perplexed.

”Gwyneth’s soul is split between her various possessions?”

This was a crucial piece of evidence that had formerly been missing from Holt and Marie’s understanding of Gwyneth. But now, it all made much more sense.

”That’s why I feel her power when I interact with the items. They aren’t just keys to my memory, they harbor seeds of power!” Marie was overjoyed. Though she was still unsure what happened to force Gwyneth to take such bold action, it provided some insight into her past.

”It is no simple task to rend one’s soul from their body in such a way, certainly not if they wish to maintain the level of autonomy of which you speak.” Puck’s warning rang even more true in Holt’s mind, now knowing what he did. If they continued to collect pieces of Gwyneth’s very soul, Marie would surely lose herself to their cause. But it wasn’t his place, nor his desire, to hinder Marie with this knowledge.

The Ambassador nodded in agreement, acknowledging the familiar.

”I’m guessing all that power had something to do with how she died. Why else would she split her soul into so many pieces? There must have been enough of her essence wandering around to be reborn, drawn back to this world by the other halves.”

Marie turned back to the Ambassador, eyes wide with anticipation. She’d managed to win this little bit of information, but would the Ambassador volunteer the rest of what she knew so easily? Marie decided she would need to take a different approach, arrive at the answers to her questions in due time.

”When you met with her, Gwyneth gifted you with her Sight, yes? Have you seen or felt any other items since we last spoke? That one memory is all I’ve been able to come up with since, I don’t know what triggers my visions.”

Odette’s eyes narrowed, their shared excitement confirmed Puck was staying firmly out of this particular affair. She hadn’t assumed he would have revealed anything, but he knew everything she did. He may have dropped his own clues to the witch. “She did and no, I have not. Truthfully I do not know what to expect or where to expect the next item to appear. I was brought to Las Vegas by other means.” She lied. She knew there was seven more items to collect, but she was sincere in not knowing how it felt to become aware of the next item. She had an idea.

Have you attempted to use Sight? I was only able to access the trunk that held the coins. Using them is outside my expertise.” She admitted casting her gaze away, never fond to use or engage in divination tools. “Her items have a habit of blocking locator spells.

Marie removed the small trunk from one of the bags strapped to Holt’s saddle, moving closer to the Ambassador in the quickly fading shade. Its contents were a strange assortment of wooden, copper, and bone pieces or coins, all etched with symbols Marie didn’t recognize. A few looked vaguely familiar, like individual characters from other magical scripts and alphabets she had seen in the past, but even if that were the case, they were likely used to represent an idea entirely separate to their original meaning.

”The thought had crossed my mind, but I can’t make sense of these markings. Gwyneth must have developed her own divinatory system. It has elements of classical geomancy mixed with hints of scapulimancy, though I don’t know from where the bones came, but other than that, I’m not sure.”

Marie closed her eyes, hands gripping the small box tightly, hoping that their meaning would become evident. It was a long shot, but perhaps her power to read them would return when put to the test. Rather unconfidently, she took a collection of coins into her hand and tossed them into the air. Much to her surprise, they never touched the ground.

Instead, the collection of coins scattered in the air just above the coarse dirt, twirling slowly in place at various distances from one another, revealing that most of the coins had markings on both sides, slight alterations of the opposite side. After a moment or two, the coins finally stopped, levitating immobally.

Stunned, Marie walked around the collection of coins, which, she soon noticed, formed an irregular pattern on its own. She scanned each face, hoping to make sense of their meaning. Unfortunately, most remained uncoded, but three of the coins stood out.

Caledfwlch,” Marie read the first coin, ”That’s the Welsh name of Excalibur, though she likely didn’t mean for it to portray the actual sword of legend, but an item of power or import.”

The first divination showed promise. If Marie had been able to accurately read that coin, it must have been a clue for the location of Gwyneth’s next item. The following coin was decidedly more abstract, separated from Caledfwlch by a few other coins. Marie took longer to decipher its symbol, but eventually came to a solid conclusion.

”I think this one roughly translates to faerie or spirit? Maybe devil? But it isn’t literal, more of a metaphor for something a spirit does.”

The final coin was instantly recognizable to her. It was the alchemical symbol for air, only a coin between the first two.

”Air? Maybe the upper air . . . OH! Thought, intellect, the mind, which is the domain of air.”

Marie did a final pass of the coins, but those were the only decipherable three of the lot. Their closeness to one another surely meant something, though Marie was unsure what that could be.

”Does any of this sound familiar? Can you make sense of the last two halves?” Marie posed the question to the Ambassador, Bach, and Holt.

”Caledfwlch, Excalibur, is in reference to your next possession, that much is certain. Perhaps ‘air’ is the nature of this item.” Holt theorized, unable to decipher the rest, likely as a result of Marie’s own uncertainty.

Clues by vague divination. Joy.” Odette replied dryly, looking over the symbols and considering them Bach did the same, his language skills being of use. “Air represents communication as well. Devil, spirit is traditionally that of radical change or…” She searched for the word. “Malléable, influence, I am not well versed in such things.

Bach, your take?

He crossed his arms, studying the runic symbols their relation to each other. Scratching free a few leaves from his head. An impish smile broke across his face, “I am not well versed on ancient human languages but I am better equipped to make educated guesses. What could possibly be a vessel for knowledge? Your mind? Your thoughts?

He pointed, holding the answer but reveling in the cryptic meanings. Taking the opportunity for a lesson. “Come now, My Lady. This is easy.

If it were easy, my dear we would not be puzzling over it.” Odette replied. “Be clear.

Bach turned his attention to White Witch, giving her the opportunity. “Where would you keep your thoughts? Where was the best place to store your knowledge six-hundred years ago? Especially if one was literate.

”A book,” Marie responded with less enthusiasm than she should, not because she wasn’t pleased to have arrived at the same answer, but because the answer still didn’t get them any closer to finding the item in question.

”The item is a book, but that’s not very specific. Maybe there’s something else here that details what the book is about or what it’s called. Witchcraft, obviously, but so far, each of Gwyneth’s items has had a name and some hint as to its location. There must be something we’re missing in the runes I can’t read.”

Bach grinned still, “There is something more, but while My Lady had a fair guess at the faerie/spirit rune think on what else faerie are famously associated with. That final rune my first guess is Hearth. It is a symbol similarly used across the Old World, a little different - naturally, but you see the way it is curved.

Bargaining, favours.” Odette supplied, she glanced to White Witch. “Gwyneth had ties with the Summer Court, even asked for news of King Oberon and Queen Mab upon my arrival. I believe she would make that association here within her divination tools.” Feeding tidbits as they came relevant should satisfy the Witch’s thirst to know more.

Marie went over the words in her mind. Book, Bargain, Spirit, Hearth. Book, Bargain, Spirit, Hearth. Knowledge, Book, Spirit, Hearth . . .

”Oh my god!” Marie exclaimed. ”I think I know what it is!”

Marie opened the small trunk filled with other coins, those she’d cast floating back to their proper place before she closed it and set it aside.

”You were close with the King and Queen of the Summer Court, which is amazing by the way, but what other powerful spirit-like being did she almost certainly interact with, someone she would have shown you in your meeting with her?” Marie questioned the Ambassador, eyes wide with glee awaiting a certain response.

Oberon and Mab are a strange pair, even by Fey standards.” Odette replied, thinking back to her conversation and what other characters she learned about in Gwyneth’s story. Remembering the striking figure cut by the Witch-Father Bucca, she was far more interested in what she learned about Puck’s association to him but why is Bucca relevant now? The only figure closely related to traditional depictions of a Devil. She looked to the rune.

Pursing her lips, she shrugged, “Bucca, she showed me an image of the Witch-Father. Perhaps on the heels of mentioning that Hekate led me to Gwyneth’s Sight. How either of them are relevant, I am unsure.” She looked to Bach who was grinning anew.

What is so amusing?

Marie decided to pocket the mention of Hekate for the moment to focus on their current dilemma, but was no less shocked, honored, and wary of her involvement.

”When I was a little girl growing up in Boston, the Bucca came to me. Before I knew anything about Gwyneth, I always assumed that He’d given me my power, that I’d entered into a contract with him as a child. But that’s just how I rationalized it to myself growing up; I never signed a book like in the stories, he gave me a book. I can’t remember what it looks like or what was in it, but I think He might have ensured one of my items reached me, reawaken the witch-fire and jump start my memory, perhaps at Gwyneth’s request.”

The scale of involvement White Witch was connected to, what Gwyneth represented stunned The Ambassador. Her own involvement in this giant puzzle no less fantastic, mysterious in a way threads of fate connected. The significance of being burned by witch-fire months ago, briefly considering who could possibly guiding both of them. Was it Gwyneth, orchestrating it all?

A few moments passed in silence, she finally replied, eye fluttering from her thoughts. “With no contract, involvement with Bucca and eventually Puck. The coincidence is far too great. That book must be the next item. Hearth, home. It seems we are headed to Boston.

”He opened my mind . . .” Marie whispered to herself, piecing together the string of coincidences that had led to this moment, just as the Ambassador. A word rung out over the mountains.

Mind.

The sky turned black, a vicious wind howling over the high hills, calling to them all. What came next was not a vision, but a manifestation. A light bloomed at their feet, growing until it enveloped them all, depicting an eerie landscape of gnarled trees aligned to form an arch, shading a dishevelled path to an unknown destination. A woman’s voice called to them.

”With Eyes to See, all is blind without a Mind to know.”

A strange sight floated down the path, a book, made of fine leather with silver vines and leaves decorating the border and spine, forming a latch over its pages. And just as quickly, everything returned to the way it was, the sun now firmly over the mountains, relentlessly beaming down on them.

Odette blinked, unmistakable was Gwyneth’s voice. The vision was fast, vivid and she felt she was back inside Sight, the brush of a soul as it were. Eyes wide she looked to the White Witch.

Did you see that?

Did you see that?

They spoke in unison. Confirming they did indeed experience that at the same time.

That was her voice.” Odette said, breathless.

They had only collected two items, two portions of Gwyneth’s soul, and already her power began to manifest so heavily. Marie was shaking, overcome with joy, the fruits of her labor beginning to bloom. But then it dawned on her what going to Boston meant.

”The last place I saw that book was at my parent’s house. Don’t know how I’m going to explain this . . .”

Marie’s parents always believed her to be the most reclusive person they’d known. They were overjoyed when she finally moved into the city, hopeful that she would experience life in a new light. Perhaps they had gotten their wish, and the Ambassador’s presence would make for an excellent excuse to return to. Marie would introduce her parents to her best friend from Maine.

”Lady Ambassador of the Fair Folk,” Marie put on a mischievous grin to put Puck to shame, ”I hope my BFF of two years is ready to meet my parents.”

The Witch-Mother’s Charge

Serpent in the Water, Part II


Location: Franklin Mountains – El Paso, Texas
Time: 3 p.m., One Day Before Satellite Attacks




“Damn crazy locals,” Caroline cursed as she struggled to get comfortable again, fanning herself with her apron after momentary exposure to the heat.

“They like to throw their weight around once in awhile, but they’re mostly harmless.”

”He knew what you were?” Marie asked with no shortage of concern.

Caroline nodded.

“Most of the older folks around here do. Everyone up here in the valley knows, so does anyone in El Paso that’s lived here more than twenty years. They been dealing with me and my sister for a while. Especially hard to escape their notice with Josephine being the way she is.”

A common sight for witches of a certain age, especially in Europe where the cunning folk were more common. Whenever a community grows around a legend or something mysterious, it becomes so ingrained in their culture that, even if they know they shouldn’t stare at or touch it, they can’t help but keep it alive. Such was the way with Caroline and her sister, Marie assumed. After so many years of living and working with the residents of El Paso, they had become a staple of the city, whether anyone else knew it or not.

”What about the Hounds? Are you not worried they might turn up? I haven’t seen or heard much about Hound attacks in Texas.”

“There have been a few, to be sure. Ain’t much though, a couple of dead civilians here and there, a few dead witches in Austin last week but nothing that’ll make the news. Plus, with that token you’ve got there, shouldn’t be a problem for much longer.”

Marie nodded, moving the pouch from her lap to the table. She pulled the drawstring the reveal a plethora of small, metal disks engraved with the same symbol she’d seen before. On the other side was another symbol, rather a string of them, woven together to form something slightly geometric and entirely incomprehensible.

Voces Magicae, Holt thought to Marie, catching a glimpse of the tokens from his side of the table. Names of daemons, spirits, the mighty dead, and other words thought to invoke great power. I can make out only two names in the formula: Herodias and Soteria.

Marie took one out and examined it closer, unable to translate the inscriptions on the back. Caroline looked up, obviously taken with the talisman’s craftsmanship. She reached over the table with an open palm, bidding Marie release the token now rather than later. Marie did just that, placing it gently in Caroline’s shriveled hand, minding the potentially sharp edges.

”Genevieve didn’t provide any instructions for it. She only said it was part of the vessel she and the other Families were blessing sometime this evening. I assumed it would just siphon power from their ritual.”

“You drive a nail through it.” Caroline responded confidently, turning the disk over in her hands a few times before pocketing it in her apron. “Not the first time I’ve worked magic with Lydia, she likes the charms from the old world, ancient stuff and the like. You drive a nail through it to bind the magic. I’ll call the girls together at midnight. You ought to get one of them to Josephine soon.”

”Speaking of,” Marie repositioned herself, shifting the conversation back onto Josephine and hoping that this time she wouldn’t be met with resistance. ”Why did that man think I worked with Josephine?”

Caroline chuckled.

“No offense, girlie, but you look her type. She’s more, uh . . . I guess what you’d call ‘eclectic’. She and hers run around dressed like that all the time, draped in black and gold and silver, more skin than cloth. Not what you might expect from a seventy-two year old witch, but she don’t exactly look it.”

Marie raised an eyebrow.

”How do you mean?” she leaned closer as she asked.

“Well, whereas I take money and the odd favor from folks that come to see me, Josephine takes years, especially from the younger ones. A trick she picked up from a conjure man years ago. Anyone that comes into her caves and asks for her help has to give up years for it. They get older, she gets younger. She’s probably collected enough years to live for another hundred years or so, if not more. Probably why that boy looked so lost. He went pokin’ his nose where it didn’t belong and lost a few years for it. Told you she was wicked.”

”Powerful magic, that.” Holt said aloud. ”We will have to proceed with caution to avoid a similar fate. Such magic usually requires a contract of sorts, but I doubt a witch of Josephine’s caliber will be forthcoming.”

“He’s a smart one,” Caroline nodded, agreeing with Holt’s sentiment. “Although, girl like you, she might let you in, especially since you have something she needs. Hell, might even get a favor out of her for it. Speakin’ of . . .”

Caroline stood up, walking over to the same cabinet as before. She pulled down the witches saddle with more ease than Marie thought her capable. It was deceptively light. Walking around the table, she presented Marie with the saddle, a finely crafted tool made of black leather, or what Marie assumed was leather, with faint inscriptions along the bottom.

“There’s somethin’ about you, Marie. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I sense a fire in there, something old. I can tell that you’ve got ambition. My girls and I have no more need of this, but you might. It’ll change a familiar just as it can change a man, but I’m guessing a spirit can handle the transformation much better.”

Marie’s eyes lit up. Holt’s many forms were gifts from the witches he’d served over the years. A cat, a dog, a goat, a hare, a raven, and now a horse. Not only would she be supplying Holt with another form, but she would be in position of a piece of magical history, a relic very few witches, or any magicians for that matter, could lay claim to. Marie graciously accepted the gift, lifting it above her head and marveling at how little it weighed.

”I don’t know what to say. Thank you, Caroline.”

“Bah,” Caroline replied, waving a hand. “I don’t give it to you just out of the kindness of my heart. I got ulterior motives like any other self respecting witch. When you head up to Josephine’s, and you will be using this saddle to get there, I want you to tell her about Jeff Bayley and his boy. She can handle herself, but if he does intend to round some folks up and head out there, I want her to be prepared. Me and my girls will lay low until tonight. You do all that, you’ll leave here with my blessing.”

”It would be my pleasure.” Marie smiled, holding the saddle at her side and reaching out to shake Caroline’s hand. To Marie’s surprise, Caroline pulled her in for a hug instead. She hadn’t thought of her as an affectionate woman, but the gesture was well received.

“Head up to the cave systems and wander around a bit, should be able to find them on just about any map. When you start hearing rattlesnakes, you’ll know Josephine’s place is close.”

Marie nodded, following Caroline out the back door. The sun had shifted quite a bit during their visit, a light breeze kicking up dust over the valley. Holt reverted to his true form, the strange spectral sight it was. He took the saddle from Marie’s hands, his dark claws fusing with the leather, as if possessing it. Shadows pooled out from beneath the saddle, melding and spinning to form the vague outline of a four-legged creature. Holt’s features shifted slowly until finally, he stood as a proud and noble beast, a great black horse with dark eyes, mane and tail like midnight tendrils, hints of his ethereal nature swirling around him now and again.

”A fine form,” Holt commented, rearing up on his back legs and letting out a guttural whinny that left Marie in both awe and terror. She fastened her bags to the sides of the saddle and managed to strap her broom horizontally across the back before hopping on. Her experience with horses was limited, but Marie imagined that riding a spiritual familiar in the form of a horse was a much different experience to the real thing.

Holt inched forward, starting at a slow trot before galloping away from the small town at full speed with Marie sitting comfortably on his back. She turned to wave at Caroline as the two raced off into the mountains with supernatural speed and efficiency.



Time: 6 p.m., One Day Before Satellite Attacks




Josephine’s cabin in the desert was proving more difficult to locate than Marie had originally believed. Caroline’s instructions were vague, but by this point, Marie and Holt had passed the caves three different times and had still not seen nor heard sign of Josephine’s house, nor had they seen any witches in animal guise as before. It was a wonder that the locals found their way out here. Then again, this was probably by design.

Fortunately, the sun, though not fully set, had lowered enough for the mountains to become much cooler than upon Marie’s first arrival. Now, cool winds blew through winding slopes and whispering caves, making the whole experience far more scenic and relaxing. Even though she was technically on a mission, well, three different missions, Marie felt that this was one of the few times she’d actually been able to enjoy herself in the past month. Riding with the witch saddle was like nothing Marie had ever experienced. Flight was of course a novelty that she would never fully give up, but the speed at which she and Holt could move was astonishing.

It was then Marie hatched an idea. Hag riding wasn’t restricted to travel by land. Stories of the witches saddle told of its ability to not only transform unfortunate victims into horses, but to give them supernatural flight as well as speed. She had been so caught up in the joy of riding in the mountains that Marie hadn’t considered the possibility of flight.

Holt . . . Marie hatched the thought, but just as she did, the pair were lifted off the ground, ascending to a distance high enough to see over the smaller hills.

I was beginning to wonder when you would figure it out. Holt replied with as much sass as his voice was capable, moving onward toward a light in the distance that had been obscured by the mountains. Sure enough, a tall, electrical light stood near a modest cottage among the hills, positioned in perhaps the only level patch of land for miles.

    As they drew nearer, moving closer to the ground but never fully touching down, Marie could hear the subtle song of rattlesnakes, surrounding her on all sides. When she looked down, however, she saw no sign of the scaly fiends. Instead, she noticed small stalks or posts of wood fitted with a snake’s rattle at the top, several rattles in fact. They shook violently as she and Holt moved close, either warning the trespassers to turn back, or alerting someone of their presence.

    Holt landed on a stray patch of greenery just outside the lonely house, whose windows were fully illuminated but blinds drawn, except for the occasional slit or opening that spoke to their age and level of use. The hum of a large generator behind the house, as well as a standing AC unit, drowned out the fading rattle of Josephine’s wards.

Before Marie had a chance to dismount, the door opened. Out stepped a slender woman dressed similarly to Marie, in a flowy, low cut, black dress, with silver trinkets hanging from neck and wrist and long, crimson curls tied neatly atop her head. Her skin was beyond perfect, from what Marie could tell, and her eyes were striking, even at a distance, like yellowish amber beacons. She sauntered over, waving enthusiastically.

“Well now,” she spoke in a similar accent to Caroline, though her voice was much lighter, almost sing-songy or whimsical. “What have we got here? Who is this beauty you’ve ridden up to my humble abode, certainly not one of the townsfolk?”

”Josephine?” Marie questioned as she stepped down, almost tripping due to the height of Holt’s back.

“The very same,” she replied, taking Marie into an awkward, domineering hug and kissing the air on either side of her cheeks. “But I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a disadvantage darlin’, I haven’t the slightest idea who you are.”

”Marie,” she answered while removing herself from Josephine’s embrace, awkwardly stumbling backward and bumping into one of her bags. ”I came on Lydia Velis’s behalf, and on your sister’s.”

“Well I can see that you’ve met Caroline,” Josephine said as she walked around Holt, motioning to the saddle on his back. “Never thought she’d part with it, must’ve seen something special about you. But comin’ here for Lydia, I guess that qualifies. Go on then, what’s the news?”

Josephine was interesting to say the least. As Caroline had said, she looked just as young as Marie despite being over seventy. Her mannerisms were what Marie might have expected of a witch taken with grandeur and mischief, she was much like Puck in how she presented herself and how she spoke. And just like Puck, there was something sinister about her, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent.

”The witches of Nevada are putting on a ritual after the recent tragedy there; one of the Families was destroyed by the Hounds. I was asked to give out these tokens,” Marie turned and removed the pouch from one of her bags, taking out one of the tokens and presenting it to Josephine, ”to each of the covens recognized by your regent. Caroline also wanted me to warn you about someone named Jeff Bayley. Apparently his son was in the caves near here earlier today. Jeff thinks you and your sister are planning something.”

“Well you’re thorough, aren’t you?” Josephine took the token and turned it over in her hand a few times before turning back to Marie. “Yes, Jeff’s youngest, Adam, came wandering through the hills about 5 a.m. lookin’ for me. Sweet boy, definitely doesn’t take after his daddy. Wanted somethin’ to get the attention of a certain someone he’s sweet on, a boy in his school. Didn’t want Jeff finding out about it, he’s one of them real ‘traditional’ types, you know the ones I mean.”

Marie was familiar with the average American conservative. Fortunately, she grew up in New England with fairly modern parents who taught her to be open to others, but she’d heard plenty of horror stories about kids, even adults, from the south who hadn’t been so lucky. When you live in a small town outside a major city in a red state, of course you’re more likely to go to a witch for help than look at home.

”But if he wanted a love spell, why did he look so lost? It’s like he didn’t know where or who he was.”

“That’s because I took his memory of it ever happening. Better for his daddy to think I witched him than to find out the truth. Though I’m guessing Jeff threw a fit in town?”

Marie nodded.

    ”He barged in while your sister and I were talking threatening her with the Hounds. She didn’t seem worried, but she wanted me to warn you regardless.”

    Josephine smiled, taking Marie’s hands in hers.

    “Well then, you’ve done us all a service. Jeff likes to blow steam, but he isn’t man enough to act on anything. Hell, even if he does round up the cavalry, I can hide this place from anyone I don’t want findin’ it.”

    ”Glad I could help,” Marie turned as if to leave, readying to mount Holt’s saddle when, as if on cue.

    “Wait,” Josephine placed a hand gently on Marie’s shouldering, turning her around, much to Marie’s amusement. “Y’know, maybe I ought to incentivize the Bayley’s to keep their distance. If you’d be so kind as to stay a little while longer, I’m sure I could make it worth your time.”

    Marie smiled, following Josephine to the porch of her house, which held a small, standing swing and a couple wooden chairs. The two sat beside one another on the swing while Holt trotted over, maintaining his form as a horse if only for the novelty of it.

    ”What did you have in mind?”

    “Jeff Bayley’s one of them oil field workers, well, he’s in the oil field cuz they put a drill on his land. He hasn’t done a day of work in his life. Inherited money from his granddad when he was little, bought the general store up in the valley a few years ago, and struck oil close to the caves in the mountains. More money than God and just as obnoxious. Where they put up the rig is where me and mine used to dance on the full moons, our stomping ground. Used to be a spring out there that they filled in to make room for the well.”

    As they spoke, three cars pulled up to the house along a dirt road Marie had either missed upon arrival, or was simply unable to perceive. Men and women began pouring from the vehicles, nine in total, scantily clad in dark colors. They all looked around the same age, perhaps because of Josephine’s magic?

    “Ah, here comes my cavalry.”

    Josephine stood up to greet them, going around one by one and kissing them on the cheek.

    “My loves,” she spoke up, standing on the steps of her porch like it were a stage, “this here is Marie. She comes bearing gifts. Marie has also agreed to join us tonight in our dance!”

    The witches cheered, walking up to Marie and hugging her, kissing her, welcoming her in their night of revelry. It was a strange sensation, one Marie hadn’t felt in over a year. Her last Sabbath flight was with Joseph. Since then, she’d either been consumed by work for Puck, or consumed by her own ambitions. This was a welcome change, but she still didn’t know the part she was to play.

    ”What exactly were you planning?” Marie tried to maintain an air of caution per Holt’s instruction.

    “My dear,” Josephine responded, taking Marie’s hands in hers, “we’re gonna bring my spring back. All that oil they’ve dug up, all the land they’ve taken from me, we’re takin’ it back. If Jeff thinks he can threaten me and my sister, he needs to realize that I’m prepared to take everything of his, startin’ with the pretty chunk of change he’s drawing from MY land. The best way to get to a man like him is through his pockets. We’re gonna make him beg for a deal. What do you say?”



Time: 12 a.m., Day of the Satellite Attacks




    Up, up, the black steed climbed, atop his back a creature fierce. High above the mountains she wielded the flame, a beacon of hope for Night to follow, a disparaging sight to those in her wake. Shrouded in shadow, veiled and unseen, a midnight power summoned its minions. Beasts liken to men in size and splendor, but altogether more fearsome, rode upon a cursed wind. ‘Twas their time and hour, so spoke the Moon as she waned, to banish their enemies, crushed beneath hoof, and claw, and wing, and flame.

    Witch! cried the maggots that crawled below, writhing in filth, death, and woe. What a mess they made of the Earth’s rich skin, clawing at a carcass, rotting her from the inside out. What wonders, they thought, might we construct to bleed her dry and fill our bellies with gold.

Atop their tower, that loathsome spire, vile in its intent and misguided in its aim, a fire burned as if enraged, a smoldering, whirling blaze of hot ash. This was the sign, the herald that foretold a wicked fate. A cursed man could see from afar what his hubris had wrought, woken in the night by cries of pain, a dream, a gift, a vision. Another near smiled ear to ear, the wild fox and her daughters who danced with delight.

The herald loomed ever closer, her fiery cloak cascading sparks onto the insect’s machinations. With torch in hand, she smote the fetid contraption, bending its beams until it leaked black bile. A serpent rose from beneath the sand, hissing as the acrid stench touched her tongue, and the first drop of crude retribution stained her land. Blood from the land, which sustains mortal whelps, turned to the blood of life, which sustains all; water.

With her venom, the strength of her malice, power and wealth were undone. The metal man fell, releasing not blood, but water and steam, sinking into ground, rotting to rust, turning to dust. A spring grew in its place, with crystalline mirror into the starry sky. Around it they flew, and galloped, and slithered, night’s black agents, as man’s corruption withered. From afar he watched their dance, entranced, bewitched, enraged yet defeated. His threat, his ire, all fell in mourning as the beasts roared, howled, and shrieked, and the horseback maiden laughed.

Witch! the beasts cried as they leapt, and danced, and sung, and made merry while the serpent swam in her spring of renewal. No man dared to draw near again. When the sun broke over the mountains they fled, away to the waking world once more. But something old awoke in the morning, a force unknown called by a voice always heard.




Time: Afternoon, After Satellite Attacks




    Marie changed quickly, her mind still racing from the previous night’s procession. Such power they wielded, she and Josephine’s coven, such fun. Even Holt seemed to glow the next day, clearly having been deprived of the primal ecstasy that came from the witches dance. It was pure freedom.

    News of their dance travelled quickly into town, the younger residents and travelers believing whatever fantasy reports had been written about an explosion caused by an electrical storm, but the older ones knew. They were fearful and distant, but they understood. Jeff Bayley overstepped, forgot his place, and was punished. Marie caught a glimpse of him as she rode past the valley, dejected and defeated. She thought that maybe, given the recent attacks launched by the Hounds, he might look a little more smug, but she and Josephine had done more than enough to crush his spirit.

    Holt and Marie were weary as they made their ascent, fearing that the Hound attack might have put a wrench in their plans. Fortunately, none of the cities Genevieve mentioned were hit, no one Marie knew were in the affected areas, now craters, and her general apathy for the people there seem to win out. She was concerned, yes, but she was now more determined to complete Genevieve’s mission and continue the search for Gwyneth’s lost possessions.

    Marie removed the cell given to her by the Ambassador, the little charm on the back dangling and glistening as she and Holt continued their climb.

    Is now the time? Holt thought to Marie, galloping away from El Paso in no particular direction.

    The Hounds have shown their hand. It was only a matter of time until we enlisted her help again. Now more than ever, we need the Ambassador.

    Marie dialed the only number on the phone, waiting to hear the line pick up. Once it did, she spoke first.

    ”Some things have changed. I’ve left my group in Las Vegas and I’m sure you’ve seen the news about the Hounds. Where can we meet?”

The Witch-Mother’s Charge

Serpent in the Water, Part I


Location: Franklin Mountains – El Paso, Texas
Time: 3 p.m., One Day Before Satellite Attacks




The sweltering heat of the summer sun coupled with miles of open, arid land began to take its toll on Marie. Delicate drops of perspiration pooled on her brow, falling occasionally into her eyes before being swiftly wiped away to alleviate the sting. Wearing black in the desert, it turned out, was a poor decision, but Marie hadn’t planned this flight. Despite her discomfort, she was determined to arrive at her destination at a reasonable hour, giving herself enough time to regroup and make a dent in her next stop.

Holt remained largely silent during their journey, allowing Marie to adjust to her latest impulsivity. He couldn’t possibly understand the depth of her emotions, it wasn’t his way. The anger she felt at herself for dragging Benjamin and his friends into her problems, the fear she held for their lives and wellbeing, the guilt she felt in leaving them behind. All Holt truly knew, what he could feel most palpably, was Marie’s ambition. The spark that once drove Joseph was present in Marie, different to the cunning-flame, but fueled by something equally as primal. Given their bond, Holt couldn’t help but feel energized by this passion. Whether or not he agreed with her methods - though in this case, he was entirely in agreement - the power Marie wielded, granted by her desires, was apparent, and he stood to gain just as much as she.

The peaks of the Franklin Mountains slowly grew as their flight brought them ever closer to their goal. In a low valley, just off the beaten path, there lay a collection of old homes and buildings dotted neatly behind the mountains, the rest of El Paso several miles south. They were more akin to stone huts than full houses, though some bore signs of modern architecture. All were muted tones of brown and beige, a few of the more eclectic looking homes sporting splashes of white and birch wood to keep the interior cool. A general store, aptly named “Franklin General Store,” sat near to the largest home in the collection.

This looks about right, Marie thought, matching the coordinates from the small journal given to her by Genevieve with those on her phone. Holt could easily have helped navigate, but Marie liked the novelty of flying with only a set of numbers.

Do you know anything about the witches of this area?

Genevieve’s notes regarding each of the covens Marie needed to visit contained little to no actual information. All she was given were coordinates and little tidbits of knowledge about people of interest. Marie silently wondered why this regent for the Five Families had ties to these specific covens. There were certainly more in the entire state of Texas than two. Perhaps through familial or initiatory ties?

I know only that witches in this corner of the world take influence from both the Old World and their neighbors to the South. They are quite skilled at transforming themselves into animals, so I hear. Owls, foxes, hares, and horses are their favored forms. Holt’s response was prompt, maybe even a little inquisitive. His knowledge of the craft, though quite deep, was still limited to older traditions, those stemming from Europe and the British Isles.

Genevieve's notes say that the two covens of El Paso are rivals, only about eight to ten strong. Says here that they’re lead by two sisters, Caroline and Josephine Ramirez. Wonder why they split up . . .

I suspect we’ll soon find out. Look there. Holt, in the guise of great raven, pointed with his head at two foxes tumbling and jumping over one another, kicking up loose dirt in the shade of the mountains. As Marie and Holt approached, invisible as they were to the naked eye, the pair of foxes froze, looking up at their descent.

Must be the welcoming committee, Marie thought cautiously as she and Holt touched down, taking a moment to enjoy the shade, even if it only brought a moment’s reprieve from the heat. Meanwhile, the foxes made a strange whining noise before one rushed off and the other stepped forward. It growled at Marie as it drew closer.

Marie took a single step back, setting down her bags and placing a free hand in front of her as a friendly gesture. She couldn’t blame this witch for being suspicious, especially if he or she was locked in a feud with another coven in the same town.

”We’re not here to cause trouble,” Marie spoke calmly and slowly, ”Genevieve Lachance sent us on behalf of your Regent.”

Immediately, the fox stood quietly, its ears perking up attentively. It stood there for several moments before turning its back and walking toward the collection of buildings up ahead, stopping once and turning back, as if bidding them follow.

Holt and Marie knew they were expected, at least, someone bearing protective tokens was expected, so they were far more trusting than they might have been otherwise. They followed the fox to the smallest home in the lineup, a simple wooden house with a brick foundation and light brown roof in desperate need of shingling. The fox pawed at the back door before scurrying off toward the mountains. Moments later, an older woman, somewhere in her mid to late sixties, opened the door. She wore a smudged apron over a simple green blouse, long khakis, and flat house shoes. Her hair was tied back in a messy bun, silvery grey with hints of brown here and there. She held a pan in one hand and a ragged washcloth in the other, cleaning in circular motions in between suspicious glances.

“Whatchu need, girl?” the woman’s voice was low and sharp, bearing a distinct Texan twang with hints of something else.

Marie removed the pouch given to her by Genevieve from her smallest bag. She held it up like a badge of office, hoping this woman would understand by the sign stitched into the front.

“Hmph,” the woman grunted, “Lydia’s sending me younguns now?”

Marie couldn’t tell if the old witch was irritated or curious. Her voice was dreadfully inexpressive, as was her face.

”I was sent on Genevieve Lachance’s behalf . . . well, on behalf of your Regent.” Marie maintained a pleasant disposition despite the lack of hospitality and how dreadfully humid it was.

”The witches of Vegas are putting on a ritual tonight. Genevieve asked me to hand these tokens - pieces of the blessed vessel - to the covens here, among others.”

“I see.” the old woman took a step back, opening the door fully. “Well don’t just stand there lookin’ lost, then. Come on in and close the door behind you. Don’t want the cold air gettin’ out.”

Marie nodded, stepping up a cinder block that acted as a makeshift stair up to the door. She left her broom and bags propped next to the door, following the stranger further into her home. For its small size, it was strangely spacious. There seemed only two or three other rooms, one of which Marie assumed was the bathroom. The kitchen, dining room, and living room were all connected, divided only by a change from carpet to tile. The décor was dated but in good shape. It all felt very “lived” in.

“Name’s Caroline Ramirez,” she yelled behind her, fumbling about in her tiny kitchen with a stack of clean pots and pans. There were plants and herbs hanging down from the ceiling on drying racks, some for cooking, others for magic.

”I’m Marie,” she answered, taking a seat in the dining area just next to the window AC unit.

“And your friend there?” Caroline called back, pointing to Holt who stood on the table, still as an ethereal raven.

”Uh . . . Holt, his name is Holt.” Marie was caught off guard, though she should have expected a witch of Caroline’s age and experience would see Holt no matter his corporality.

Caroline snickered as she sat opposite Marie, sliding over a glass of ice water that Marie happily drank almost instantly.

“So you from one of them Vegas lines too?”

Marie shook her head.

”No, not Vegas. I’m from Boston originally, though I don’t come from any specific witching tradition.”

Caroline nodded slowly, looking Marie over once or twice before speaking again.

“First of your line, then? Quite the feat. Helluva lot of responsibility, too. Genny tell you anything about us, then?”

”Not really, no. I know that you and your sister, Josephine, are the head of your respective traditions, but that’s about it.”

Caroline only nodded.

Marie wasn’t sure what she was hoping to accomplish here. In her mind, her only mission was to give the witches their tokens and leave. It was nice to take a moment to relax and she was thankful for Caroline’s hospitality, but was there really time to chat with the Hounds mobilizing, not to mention her own personal quest.

Wait, Marie thought to herself. She couldn’t rush things, especially when she had no idea where Gwyneth’s next item would appear. Perhaps she should be focusing on making the sort of allies she’d gained in Vegas, ones like Genevieve who could provide her with, if nothing else, a place to rest.

”So your sister,” Marie began, taking a quick sip of water between words, ”Why do the two of you work separately? Genevieve’s notes on El Paso say you two are rivals. What happened?”

Caroline turned her head, looking Marie over a few more times.

“What’s it to you? Don’t look like you intend to be here long,” she curtly responded. Marie could see it was a tender subject.

”I hadn’t planned on it, you’re right. But it’s the middle of the day and I don’t have anywhere else to go right now. Unless you want me to leave,” Marie stood up, hoping she could offend Caroline’s sensibilities just enough to get more information.

”If you could just tell me where Josephine is, I’ll give her one of these tokens and be on my w . . .”

“Sit down, girl.” Caroline cut her off. “I might be old but I’m not a fool, and you ought to be careful what you wish for. Josephine ain’t someone you wanna just stumble into.”

Marie did as asked, taking her seat with a subtle grin.

”So the two of you had a falling out, then? A difference of opinion, maybe?”

Caroline sighed, standing up slowly and walking to an antique cabinet that held, among other strange novelties Marie associated with witchcraft, a large saddle. Marie recognized it as a witches saddle, one that, according to legend, witches would mount sleeping persons with, transforming them into horses that would be ridden to the sabbath. She assumed they must exist but had never seen one herself, not even among Puck’s collection of artifacts.

“Me and my girls,” Caroline spoke loudly, perhaps forgetting herself, “we aren’t like Josephine. Not no more at least. I tend to the folks in town when they get desperate. When they need healin’ or the like, a blessin’ or gift for their newborns; things like that. It’s just me and my three daughters. Two of them’s got kids of their own, three more girls in total that we’ve been teachin’ the ways to. Then there’s a girl from in town, a little younger than you I imagine. We give the folks in the city what they want. They know there’s a price, but it ain’t much.”

”All women,” Marie remarked.

“We don’t discriminate or nothin’,” Caroline replied, “just the way it worked out. You want all kinds of diversity, though, you speak to Josephine. She ain’t got no kids of her own. Takes in a bunch of strays though, all wantin’ some kind of power from her. They're all real dramatic compared to us. When folks want a remedy they come to me and my girls. When they want anything else, they head to Josephine’s bunch.”

”But I’m guessing that wasn’t always the case,” Marie noted, pointing at the saddle on display. Hag riding, as it was known, wasn’t a benign affliction. Men and women who’d been ridden by witches were horribly shaken by their experiences, always fatigued and sore beyond comparison, and those were only the physical effects.

“Not like we don’t get up to mischief every now and then,” Caroline seemed to reminisce, taking her seat near Marie. “My girls and I aren’t quite so frivolous as Josephine, but you’re right, it wasn’t always that way. She’s five years my senior, the first of our line, taught by a devil from the desert. She and I got up to all kinds of trouble back when we were kids, but Josephine was always a little more . . . malicious than I was. She didn’t know when to stop. One day she poisoned a watering trough for a rancher not far from our little valley. He hadn’t done nothing to her that I could tell. I got fed up with her causing problems for everyone, so I stood up to her.”

Marie was thoroughly intrigued. She’d heard plenty of horror stories about wars waged between witches over the years. History and legend were littered with examples, and Puck had a few stories from his days in France and Spain, but Marie had never seen the aftermath of such a conflict.

“After that, Josephine challenged me to a test of skill. She said, ‘Caroline, how dare you speak to me that way, your own sister, the one who gave you everything. But I’ll tell you what. If you can raise a bigger storm than me, I’ll step down and do as you ask. If you can’t, then you leave me be’.”

Caroline shook her head, laughing to herself.

“It was foolish of me to think I could beat her, but I had to give it a shot. Naturally, I agreed. So I raised a fine storm, lots of rain and wind, thunder and lightning, dark clouds that would linger for days. But Josephine, she was as smart as she was wicked. She called down from the mountains and the valleys a dust storm to rival any there’s ever been. It blew through El Paso and covered it in sand, ruined people’s gardens and farms, killed livestock, dried up water wells, the works. And she was pleased with herself.

“So I did as I said, I let her be, but I also left her by herself. She and I had done everything together for years, but now she’d be alone while I raised a family in the valley and taught my girls what I wanted them to know. We hadn’t spoken to one another in almost twenty years until Miss Lydia Velis came to town a little while back.”

”Lydia Velis?” Marie questioned, ”You mentioned her name earlier.”

Caroline nodded.

“Mmhmm, she’s that ‘Regent’ you talked about, the one what made my sister and I see how childish we’d been. She invited us to a party in Nevada, her annual Walpurgis Night celebration. Me and Josephine hadn’t ever celebrated it before, but we went up, me with my girls, Josephine with whomever she’d managed to round up that year. After that, we’ve been going every April. I still don’t much care for that twisted bitch, but at least we’re talking again.”

Marie couldn’t help but laugh at that last comment. Caroline had so much character. She was very much a no nonsense type of woman, which Marie could appreciate.

Caroline also laughed, happy to have entertained her guest.

”I still need to find Josephine to give her one of these tokens. Do you know where I can find her? Does she live in the valley or in town?”

“No,” Caroline shook her head, “Josephine’s been up in the mountains for a while now. There’s some old caves out there used by the natives. Josephine witched some workers from the city several years back and had them clear out one of the caves, carve out more rock to make space for her to work. Don’t none of her folks live in the caves, nor does she. They come up from town on occasion when she needs ‘em for somethin’. She’s got a cabin out there that runs on a generator. No real address for me to give.”

A loud bang interrupted them.

“Caroline!” a man’s voice came from beyond her front door, followed by several loud knocks with his clenched fist. “You come out here right now, Caroline, I mean it!”

“What in the hell,” Caroline stood up, walking around the table to peek through the drawn blinds of an adjacent window. Outside was a tall, middle-aged man in tattered overalls, work boots, and a white, flat brimmed cap. He continued to bang on the door until Caroline finally answered.

“What?” Caroline yelled as she swung the door wide open. The man’s face was red, possibly from the sun, but more likely from his angry knocking.

“You wanna tell me why I found my son wandering around in them caves this morning?”

A thin boy with dark hair stood a few paces behind the older man, a blank stare etched on his face.

“I don’t know, Jeff, why don’t you ask him yourself instead of knocking down my door in the middle of the day?” Caroline raised her voice.

Jeff took a step forward, a dirty boot stomping on the living room carpet.

“Don’t play games with me you old witch, I know you’re up to something.”

“Don’t you forget who’s house you walked up to, Jeff Bayley.” Caroline threatened, placing her arm across the doorway to halt him from moving further.

Jeff huffed, taking a step back. He looked over to see Marie just barely visible from outside.

“That one of Josephine’s whores?”

Caroline took a free hand and struck Jeff with an open palm, the sound echoing through the quiet valley.

“You take your sorry ass home, Jeff, you and your boy. You’re lucky a smack in the face is all you get. Go on!”

Jeff stood back, mouth open in shock. From the look of him, Caroline had never been physical before. Maybe the two had a pleasant relationship before today, or at least an amicable one. He took his son’s arm and walked off, turning back once he’d put some distance between them.

“You know them Hounds of Humanity have the right of it! I hope they send you all to hell!”

Caroline slammed the door behind her, mumbling something to herself before sitting back down. Marie wasn’t sure what to think of that little transaction. Something strange had obviously transpired in Caroline’s sleepy little town outside of El Paso. Maybe it was best that she come here first.

”What was all that?”

Fire and Brimstone

Part 3


Location: Sherman Square – Lost Haven
Time: Hound Ambush on Sherman Square




Amidst the chaos, Lady Hex failed to account for her surroundings. Her station near the Sherman Center was far from secure; armored trucks and vans filed in from every possible entrance. Though she had managed to slow the advance of forward moving Hounds, those behind the center remained largely unscathed, the force of her storm their only hindrance. It was this oversight that nearly cost Hex her life.

In a flurry of wind, rain, and dancing lights, the Alchemyst came charging through with might and steel. With powers strange and a thrust of her staff, Hex’s assailants were rendered unconscious. All the while, Madalena remained unaware to the threat on her life. Only in those final moments when the Alchemyst’s voice broke through the roar of gunfire did Maddi understand the debt she owed.

Soon thereafter, a second wave of encroaching foot soldiers forced Charlie’s hand. Hot vapors began to poor from her hands, enveloping the two in a thick veil of steam. Now aware of her surroundings, Lady Hex did her part, wielding her cane like a club and crippling the blinded Hounds who dared draw near. Feats of strength were not among Hex’s gifts, but the thorns running down the length of her elder wood scepter were enough to stun assailants.

”Stay close! I need to make something for Pantheon! He’s not going anywhere fast fighting these shits barehanded.” The Alchemyst shouted frantically as the cloud of steam began to evaporate.

Madalena nodded, moving with haste to Pantheon’s side, staying as close to Charlie as the situation would allow. Their mad dash didn’t go unnoticed, however.

Two flares spiraled toward Lady Hex and Pantheon, signaling a change in strategy. Hex couldn’t hear the Judicator’s orders, but she noticed small groups of Hounds switching ammunitions as they marched forward. She was yet unsure if the Witchfinder General had lent any of his men to this assault, or if the Hounds were simply using his expertise to their advantage. Either way, Madalena could see that their slow advance would spell danger for herself, Charlie, and Pantheon, the latter of whom was heavily preoccupied.

What do I do? Hex thought to herself in panic. She was fortunate to have remembered the storm calling charm moments ago, but would her powers of fascination be enough to halt a wall of bullets? What’s more, the ground began to freeze around them thanks to the Hound’s walking machinations of destruction. What could she possibly do that wouldn’t cause more trouble for the gathered heroes?

An idea! Hex hatched a risky idea, one that would take more time than she had, but there was little choice. If the Alchemyst had time enough to write her formula and perform complex transmutations in the field, Madalena could find a way to make her spell work.

”Char-Alchemyst!” Hex cried, grabbing Charlie’s attention. ”Can you give us a little more steam cover?”

Lady Hex quickly ran a short distance away, making sure that she was not in direct line of sight of any approaching Hounds. She reasoned that if none could see her, her natural gifts of misfortune would obscure their aim and keep her safe. A dangerous assumption, but it was the only assurance she had.

Using her cover, Madalena marked upon the stone with the end of her cane, tracing a figure like Puck’s symbol, but with a different incantation surrounding the central imp. Much to her delight, the image appeared in a faint red light with each movement.

Quickly, Lady Hex place a small square of cloth at the center of the glyph, shielding her work from the rain with her cloak. The sound of bullets whizzing past gave her pause, but none managed to find their mark. She had to be swift.

Next, she added a small amount of powdered iron oxide, kept on her person as a talisman against ornery fey and small curses. To this, Lady Hex added a few parts ergot and dried snakeskin, both used in works of malice, as well as a small shard off a black cat’s femur. Finally, Madalena used the thorns along her cane to prick her thumb, letting a few drops of blood to pool on top of the other ingredients before wrapping it tightly in the cloth with a length of cord left over from the sailor’s knot.

Lady Hex took a step back, revealing the small pouch. Holding her cane perpendicular to her body, Hex concentrated, feeling the malice pool inside her body, hearing the subtle chime of the hex bag and its contents atop the glowing imp’s head. Another bullet zipped past her head, threatening her concentration. Intuitively, she knew that Puck had taken measures to ensure her safety in this battle, he wouldn’t have sent her if he wasn’t sure she’d make it out alive, but to be dancing in the flames as opposed to viewing them from afar was a harrowing experience. Even so, Lady Hex had to make herself known.

The hex bag suddenly burst into flames, producing an ethereal, amber smoke that held a subtle glow. This enchanted haze quickly grew into a pillar of red smog. Lady Hex directed the smoke with her cane, spreading it into every direction as a whirling tendrils. The smoke gathered around the Hound’s various machines; several trucks, mechs, remaining helicopters, even around weapons. It filled every cavity and crevice it could find, producing a thick layer of rust and wear that yielded many functions ineffective.

A stray Hound broke through the layer of steam separating Hex from the group, but to his dismay, his gun refused to fire and the blade at his waist had grown dull. This was much the same for others on the field. Lady Hex waved an arm, sending the Hound flying into the fray. She struggled to stay upright, having expended more energy than originally intended. Such was the way of one so unused to exertion. Her power and knowledge was to her team’s advantage, but her lack of experience was to her detriment.

Despite her fatigue, Madalena hoped that her spell would level the playing field, contributing to what she prayed would be a swift victory.

The Calm Before the Storm

Part 4


Lachance Stronghold – Henderson, Nevada
Time: 9 a.m., One Day Before Satellite Attacks




An interesting character indeed . . . Holt silently mused as he and Marie made their way from the dining hall to the stronghold’s central hub. Katarina held his interest, perhaps only because she remembered a time others could not, a time when night’s black agents and all manner of fiends could thrive.

Marie nodded in agreement.

She’s something else, someone who can give Ben a different perspective. They’ll be good together. Her mind wandered to a fateful encounter with such a one as Kat, a chaotic force that brought change to her life, one whom she had come to love.

Holt could feel Marie’s restless mind, the shift in her emotions. He regaled himself with the memories of the loss they shared.

This path, Holt broke their mental silence, it is riddled with unknowns, dangers we cannot possibly foresee. Should you choose to keep their counsel, that of Benjamin and his peers, they will surely fall prey to more than blessed silver.

Marie stopped, kneeling down to trace the lines in the bark of the strange tree. Though she hadn’t wanted to entertain the thought, Holt was right. Gwyneth remained a mystery to the lot of them. What little information Marie held wasn’t enough to divine what horrors they would encounter while in search of her possessions. Unknowns aside, Ben, the wolves, Katarina, they were hardly a team, more a hodgepodge amalgamation of supernatural angst. Obligation was all that held Marie to their side, but righting past wrongs wasn’t her aim.

She sat in silence trying to justify her next decision, but a final obstacle presented itself. As much as she didn’t want to, Marie cared for Ben. The bond she’d forged with him was unmistakable. He’d imprinted on her, invited her into his “pack,” for all it was. But Marie didn’t need friends clouding her judgement, she needed allies who would do what was necessary. Holt was such an ally, Puck too, and, as much as she hated to admit it, the Ambassador.

”I have to leave,” Marie whispered softly, running a hand through her hair and stifling any oncoming emotion. ”You’re right. They could wind up dead and I can’t afford to have that on my conscience. I can’t pause my search to worry if Ben’s okay, not when I can feel myself getting closer to the truth. He can have a life away from this, maybe . . .”

Marie looked up, turned to Holt, then rushed to Genevieve’s office, a massive room adjacent to an equally massive ritual space, decorated with artifacts and imagery of a bygone era, tools of the craft neatly tucked away into every corner. The office was different from every other room in the stronghold in that it held a window on its back wall just above Genevieve’s desk. Marie couldn’t recognize the scenery. In fact, the location shown was nowhere near the desert, but a thicket of greenery, like a hedge maze in a garden, with light glistening off a sputtering fountain.

Genevieve sat at her desk, flipping through a collection of texts and writing down her findings. She looked up to find a panting Marie, with Holt fluttering in as a raven moments later.

“Is everything alright?” she asked with no shortage of concern, pulling off a pair of reading glasses and gently placing them on the desk before standing and meeting Marie.

”Fine,” Marie let out with a sharp gasp, catching her breath before continuing. ”Sorry to barge in, but I had a favor to ask.”

“Of course,” Genevieve pointedly responded, taking a seat at her desk and motioning for Marie to sit opposite her.

“Let’s hear this favor, then.”

Marie took her seat, collecting her thoughts. The Lachance witches had done so much for Marie over the past few days. She didn’t want to ask in a way that would offend Genevieve, especially given her general distaste for Marie’s choice of friends.

”Those notes I had on lycanthropy, the ones you used to cure Benjamin of his silver poisoning, I’d been going through them lately thinking up a way to help ease his transformations. He’s only recently afflicted so he can’t really control himself. I had a theory I wanted to test out, but . . .”

Genevieve raised an eyebrow.

“But? Wait, let me guess, but something’s come up? That’s it, isn’t it? So you need me and MY coven to do this for you, is that right?”

Marie hadn’t expected Genevieve to be this agitated, especially given how forthcoming she’d been in days prior. Then again, what should Marie have expected from another witch? Nothing comes free.

”I know how it must look. I’m sorry that I keep springing these things on you, but I can’t stay here with them. I told you why we’re travelling together and for better or worse we’ve bonded. But I won’t tag them along for some other horrible thing, and I can’t stay here to work on it or tell them why. Ben will know something’s up. I have to leave before they know I’m gone, but I wanted to leave Ben with something so he doesn’t think I’ve just abandoned him.”

Genevieve sighed.

“Alright,” she conceded, “I’ll do you this favor . . . however, you’ll need to do something for me in return.”

Marie nodded. She had no issue with making deals, it was, after all, part of her job.

“Good.” Genevieve’s smiled returned. Her tone switched immediately to one more pleasant. “Now, as you’re already aware, Vegas and its outer edges are home to Five, now Four, old witching  traditions: Rowan, Wright, Lachance, Loyal, and the late Adessi coven. The head of each coven is set to gather tonight to perform a powerful enchantment that will keep us safe from the Hounds and their ilk. However, our Regent, she who has united our lines, speaks for several other large covens in the country.”

Genevieve opened her desk drawer and removed a small journal, as well as a large, leather pouch with a symbol Marie recognized, but couldn’t immediately place.

“These are all the covens formally recognized at our recent Walpurgisnacht celebration. Two in El Paso, five in New Orleans, two in Virginia, one in New York, one in Andover, and four in Salem. For one reason or another, our Regent has had direct contact with each of them at some point in time and wishes them all safe. This pouch contains tokens that will keep them safe, pieces of the vessel that will be blessed in tonight’s ritual. Your quest requires you to travel, yes?”

Marie nodded, knowing that Genevieve’s request would be daunting, but given her current predicament, she saw no alternatives.

“It will be difficult, but the Four’s resources are spread thin enough as is. Your task may very well find you in these locations anyway. If you promise to deliver these tokens on our Regent’s behalf, I will do as you’ve asked. There’s no time limit on this, but the sooner these make it to their intended destinations, the better.”

I know of the covens in Andover and Virginia, Holt chimed in, They may well know of Gwyneth’s past. Each of them hails from the old world, some of their lines spanning centuries.

Marie smiled. This was her chance to not only further her search, but gain powerful allies. She happily took the small journal of locations and the bag of tokens.

”I haven’t received any feelings or ideas of where my next possession will be, so I’ve got plenty of time for this. I’ll do it!”

“Excellent!” Genevieve exclaimed, going around the other side of her desk and hugging Marie. “You should hurry off, then, before the rest of your little group wakes up. Just leave your notes on the wolf in your room, I’ll collect them and prepare the spell once you’ve left.”

Marie hurried off to her room, collecting the few bags she’d brought along. Nothing was strewn out on her bed or the floor, thankfully, making the packing up that much quicker. Her heaviest bag contained witching tools and her White Witch uniform, which she was growing less fond of by the minute. Perhaps it was name?

She took out a large collection of notes gathered from the Hudson Wyrd, as well as the notes she’d written on Ben’s transformations, and left them on the bench at the end of the bed. Something was missing. Marie took a pen from her bag and made a small note from some spare paper among her notes, folding it and setting it to the side, writing on the outside, Benjamin, hoping that Genevieve would had it to Ben along with her spell.

Quickly and as silently as possible, Marie passed by the rooms housing Ben and the twins, pressing a hand against the ornate mirror that stood at the end of the corridor. The interior of the disheveled shed came into view, the crisp morning air mixing with the desert heat filtering through the open portal. She passed through into the outside world. Astride her broom with Holt at its mantle, they flew off, unseen, away from one desert and on to another.

I’ll take these tokens to the covens in El Paso first, see if we can get a clue about Gwyneth along the way. Marie thought to Holt, trying to plan with what little she had to go off.

And what of the Ambassador? When will you inform her of your decision?

One thing at a time, Holt. I need some time to forget everything in Las Vegas before we bring up another bad memory.
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