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Esoterica

Part II (See Part I)


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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sneered at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*********


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magician nodded, hurrying to the Lab.

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

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

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

”Merlyn?” Ursula shook her head, smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Familiar Faces

Part II


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




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

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

”What seems to be first on our agenda?”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No., she thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

They would be undone by such a thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transmutation and Conjuration

Part 2


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry shrugged, “It might be relevant.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie looked to Harry apologetically. “That too.

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

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

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

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

Witch Crafts

Part I: Impish Delights


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holt nodded, disappearing from sight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck grinned.

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

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

”So you came to gloat?”

Puck chuckled, mirroring Marie’s movements.

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

”Then why-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”Am I your niece?”

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

Puck bowed, disappearing from sight.

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

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

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

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.
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