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The Calm Before the Storm

Part 4


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




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

Marie nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s hear this favor, then.”

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

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

Genevieve raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

Genevieve sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Time: Present Day - Day of Satellite Attack
Location: Lost Haven, Maine


Captain Dahl stood tall in worn leather boots, her long black hair tied into a ponytail, sunglasses perched on her nose, masking the bright green eyes. Lips; crimson red. She stepped out of the airport, quickly ushered into a black escalade with heavily tinted windows. Her luggage was loaded into the trunk, sinking easily into the leather seats. She checked her watch.

Sore from her loss in Las Vegas, Dahl was energized with anticipation to watch the reaction of their attack roll across the city. Lost Haven, Pacific Point, Vegas, they were cesspools for metas and magic. Hunting for the strange in this city was going to be easy, easier for redemption in the eyes of the Witchfinder General. Captain Dahl was in certain words; confident.

The operative driving the vehicle was one of the General’s people, new - fresh faced to the fold. Keeping up a visage of professionalism, local to Lost Haven Dahl guessed. There was a noticeable trend in the meta or magic tolerant cities. While there was large portions of the population happy to have the likes of them among them; a small, angry and buffeted sliver of people lived in direct proximity to them. They hated them, Dahl having heard plenty of stories from the people affected by their destruction or mischief. She was among the few not fuelled by passion but by leading a life of a soldier of fortune. There was some merit to staying in the Witchfinder General’s good graces, his vision for The Hounds of Humanity quietly splintered from the core. Using them as a vehicle to bring up numbers for The Winter Court.

Opportunity awaited the opportunists.

The escalade pulled away heading into eastern Lost Haven, for a discrete abandoned flower shop.

When they arrived Captain Dahl exited the SUV stepping ahead of the driver, entering with a push of the door to the greenhouse. Rows and rows of empty steel grate tables, dead vegetation and dark natural light filtering through the grubby windows.

Knowing better to his theatrics she called out, “Captain Dahl reporting in!”

“You’re wasting your time,” a voice called back, the subtle vibrations of footsteps upsetting the dust-laden floorboards. Captain Hawthorn rounded the corner, a couple of his men leaning against a decrepit checkout counter. His fair hair fell in messy curls over his ears. While his subordinates were in full Hound attire, Hawthorn dawned civilian dress, sporting a brown leather jacket, worn jeans, and dark boots with a pattern running along the side. He was a Pacific Point native recently converted to the General’s cause. No one was quite sure how or when he was promoted to captain, but Hawthorn’s skills spoke for themself . . . at least, they used to.

“General’s not here yet, probably wants to make an entrance. Fashionably late, I guess.” he crumbled a few dead vines in his hands as he walked over to Dahl.

“That hat of his is always fashionably late,” Hawthorn called back to his men, who chuckled before resuming whatever conversation they were having before.

“Captain Hawthorn.” Dahl grimaced. Smugly she commented, “Didn’t know you’d be here, how was hunting the casino overlord vampire? Heard it blew up in your face spectacularly. Ate a couple of your subordinates.”

She turned her head fast enough for her ponytail to wack Hawthorn in the face. “Vegas was a real shitshow.”

Hawthorn scoffed, putting a little more distance between he and Dahl.

“Well,” he replied, a thin smile appearing on his face, “it went about as well as your grocery store massacre. What were the numbers for that, again? Two witches, two metas, three werewolves, and a vampire, right? But sure, call the kettle black.”

He sighed, combing a hand through his hair and looking around.

“But you’re right about Vegas. I’m guessing the General told you the same thing he told me? Get your ass down here before I send wolves to rip you apart?”

Dahl curled her lip with distaste. “Something like that. If I were you,” She looked him up and down with judgmental eyes lifting her sunglasses. “I’d shut your mouth about fashion choices. The only ones that matter are the ones that do their job.” She lifted the iron cross, meaning another slight. “You’ve got a long way to go before you earn your cross and Sight.”

“Perhaps not as long as you might think,” a gruff voice echoed through the building followed by heavy steps. The Witchfinder General appeared in one of the entrances without his usual escort. He was a beast of a man, well over six feet tall, broad shouldered, yet there was no mistake that he could be as silent and nimble as he desired.

“Captain Dahl, Captain Hawthorn, thank you for your prompt arrival. I dread to think what I might have done had either of you been late.”

The General’s face was obscured by the collar of his cloak and the rim of his hat. His voice was low and grim. It was unclear if he was capable of conveying any emotion other than rage and indifference.

“But already you exceed my expectations, good show. Are you ready for your next assignment?”

Hawthorn nodded in agreement, standing up straighter and keeping his arms to his side.

“Yessir, I won’t disappoint.”

Dahl nodded, “Yes, sir.”




Time: Noon
Location: Southern Docks, Lost Haven


It was overcast, dark clouds rolling in off the bay threatening rain. Captain Dahl and Captain Hawthorn had their assignments directly from the Witchfinder General himself with added pressure of complete success. They were both working to get back into his good graces.

Dahl insisted on driving, of course. She parked in an alleyway off from a quiet warehouse, a black four door jeep loaded up with their equipment in the trunk. A large shipment was being unloaded, huge shipping containers were being lifted off with a crane. She lifted her sunglasses onto her head exiting the vehicle.

“C’mon Hawthorn, now I know you don’t have much experience. Especially compared to me.” She said her snark shamelessly apparent. “You ever deal with demons before? The ones that crawl up from the recesses of Hell, feed and use us mortals. They’re about as much of a handful as faerie. Don’t let your guard down.”

Dahl stepped around to the trunk, opening it up. Rifling through her duffle bag.

“The Church has been slackin’ real hard. Don’t believe anything until they have concrete proof.”

“You’re conveniently forgetting the ‘Captain’ in front of my name, Dahl,” Hawthorn snided back, slamming the jeep door with more force than intended as he followed Dahl to the trunk. “Give me a little more credit than that. I dealt with a succubus back in Pacific Point, one of my first missions under the General. I’ll watch my back.”

Hawthorn kept the General’s orders close in his mind, replaying them over and over again, filtering through the disappointed side comments he’d made at Dahl and Hawthorn’s expense. This was their last shot. If this demonologist, Phoebus, wasn’t dead by the day’s end, they would take his place.

“And I’ve got something extra with me this time,” Hawthorn said holding up a small stone with a hole through the center, hanging around his neck next to the Court’s customary iron crosses. “May not be proper Sight, but it’ll do.”

“You say conveniently, I say intentionally.” Dahl laughed. “Alright, Captain Hawthorn. I suppose that little stone donut will have to work. Hag’s Stones are reliable enough.”

She holstered her pistol to her hip. Slinging a rifle over her shoulder, slipping a couple extra magazines into her back pocket for easy access. Finally pulling her bible free of it’s pocket. “I ain’t much of a believer in the Son and the Holy Spirit but demons hate it. We see him we shoot him. If he’s got a familiar, or a demon has a grip on him we’ll need to find out it’s name to banish it.”

“Got it?”

Hawthorn nodded, sheathing a silver knife at his shin and pulling free a loose copy of the Dictionnaire Infernal, briefly skimming the pages for names and descriptions of demons that matched Phoebus’s MO.

“Got it.” He replied, a small team afforded to the Captains’ pulling up behind them, briefed and ready.

The warehouse in question was smaller than those surrounding it and suspiciously void of trucks, crates, or pallets around the perimeter. Old industrial equipment was stacked at one side, hinting at the building’s former use and suggesting recent renovations. One might expect the warehouse to be an empty, cobweb filled space waiting for new shipments, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Inside was a truly macabre display. Every wall was lined with a different occult seal, each drawn with mathematical precision in a mixture of ash and blood. Pews were arranged in rows on the open floor space, leading to a raised platform at the far end of the interior, surrounded by large, demonic banners, magical apparati, and sporting a massive stone altar at its center. Draped down over high support beams were more ritual items bearing strange insignia’s and glyphs, giving the space an almost regal appearance.

Scattered throughout the pews were dessicated corpses, nine in total, some dressed and almost recognizable, others wrapped in thin sheets and severely decayed. Small wisps of red and orange light collected above the altar and spun wildly elsewhere in the building, dancing to the music of chaos and disarray. Phoebus stood tall over the altar, dawning ritual garb that obscured every feature, all but a wicked grin. He was accompanied by another figure, a man dressed all in black with a long, black cloak and high collar, leather boots, dark breeches, and a black cloth that obscured his mouth.

“I’m not gonna ask you again, Gabriel,” the stranger spoke with hints of an accent that became thicker the more words he let out. “Where’s the fuckin’ brooch?”

“Phoebus,” the demonologist protested in a deep, raspy voice, “My name is Phoebus, and you know my terms. I’ll hand over the brooch when you bring me what I want, Orrin.”

Orrin sighed, turning his head and stomping a few feet away in a rage.

“Well you’re being right difficult in telling me what the fuck you want ‘Phoebus’.” he replied in anger, “I found you this place, didn’t I? And what’d ya give me in return? Fuck all! I haven’t got time to hear your creepy monologues, mate, just tell me what else you need and give me the brooch.”

“The Lover’s Coil.” Phoebus responded curtly, going about his work over the altar, pouring a viscous liquid onto a silver plate. “That’s my price.”

“The bloody Lover’s Coil?” Orrin responded in outrage. “Yeah, sure man, let me just walk up to the Ars Obscura and kindly ask them to hand it over, I’m sure that’ll work out nicely.” He walked away again, deep in thought. A small click caught his attention, something just beyond the doors of the warehouse. He was running out of time.

“Fine, you win. I’ll get my hands on the Coil for you, alright?” Orrin conceded. “Just . . . just tell me where the brooch is so I don’t waste a trip.”

Phoebus smiled, pleased with himself.

“Very well. I buried it in London. Grave of a famous witch, though you’ll have to bring me the Coil to find out which one.”

“Are you shitting me? I come all this way and it’s exactly where I’ve just left?” Orrin jumped up, carried by some supernatural force to a tall beam next to a small window at the height of the warehouse. “Y’know what, ‘Phoebus,’ it’s a bitch working with you, so I think I’ll find the brooch on my own. But I’ll do you one last favor.”

Orrin held a blackthorn cane, once fastened to his back. He tapped the end of it on the beams, sending a powerful hex through them that caused those nearest to the door to collapse.

“I’ll make it a little harder for your guests to come in.” With that, Orrin bolted through the window, fading from sight in an instant.

Phoebus shifted his focus on the warehouse doors and his unwelcome visitors.

With a line of trained men and women on both sides of the warehouse doors, it collapsed now rendered useless. Dahl signaled for them to hold, then spoke over the radio. “Alright we lost our element of surprise. Time to toss some of our surprises. Ready smoke grenades.”

Those closest to the door moved to give way for those who had the grenades. Simultaneously they pulled the pins and generously tossed through the wreckage. Smoke billowing out in several directions creating a screen to obscure their movements.

Dahl signaled them, pulling her mask up over her face. Rifle in her hands. They poured in climbing over the wreckage, taking up defensive positions to allow others to enter. From the otherside of the smokescreen, Dahl could see the set up well enough. Wall to wall, dark figures of the bodies in various states of decay were sending her skin crawling. The bastard’s decor was gruesome.

“Steady now. Use the smoke to your advantage. We’ve got ourselves a bastard’s church and the devil’s priest himself is at his altar.” Dahl spoke over the radio.

Phoebus jumped as the smoke started pouring in. The Hounds of Humanity. He’d managed to go unnoticed for quite some time, taking only drifters and the occasional dock worker for his experiments, but somehow, he’d been found outt.

“GO!” He commanded, pointing a gnarled dagger at the coming Hounds. Dark wisps of light began to descend from the rafts, taking residence in dead piled among the pews. To those with the Sight, the wisps were winged monstrosities with heads and bodies like bats, curved horns, and the tails of scorpions. Those who could not find residence in flesh began to swarm the Hounds, producing unholy sounds like dragging nails and discordant whines.

Meanwhile, nine decaying bodies lumbered over to their master’s assailant, slowly filling with supernatural speed and vigor. They began thrashing about in the smoke, forming a line between the Hounds and Phoebus.

“Incoming!” Captain Dahl pointed to the zombies and the demonic creatures. “Captain Hawthorn and I have the invisible bastards, you lot take on the zombies! Fire!”

The zombies came running into the first operative they found dogpiling them to the ground, his screams as he flailed at their strength and stench. Light from his rifle visible through the smoke. A pair of his teammates shot at the zombies dragging their bloody teammate back from their jaws.

Captain Dahl took shots at the winged demon flying close to one of their operatives, it screeched as it wheeled away, the blessed silver found spirit ripping through it’s back, “Don’t let them get close!” She took several more shots, they were quick and actively avoiding her line of sight.

Hawthorn tried to conserve ammo, swinging at the flying demons with his knife. Those he made contact with screeched in pain as the metal seared their flesh. Several began to fall around Dahl, their bodies bubbling and sizzling until they dissolved into nothing. They were making progress, but Phoebus was yet untouched.

Taking a chance, Hawthorn barreled through the fading smoke, readying his pistol at Phoebus, who was kneeled over the stone altar. He took a shot, his aim disrupted by a stray imp creature latching onto his shoulder with sharp fangs. Hawthorn buried his knife in its skull, wincing as the creature’s bite subsided with its death. His efforts hadn't been for nothing, however.

Phoebus clutched his left side, the blessed silver passing through his ribs, sapping his strength. The next shot wouldn’t likely miss, he needed to act fast. He whispered a single word in some chthonic tongue, its utterance spouting embers from his mouth. Dark shadows mixed with candle flame, coalescing into a massive being.

Before Phoebus stood a great, black wolf, three times the size of a man with an eagle’s wings and serpent tail. It turned its attention to the Hounds and let out a mighty growl that shook the warehouse’s very foundations. What few flying creatures remained scattered out of sight while the dead continued their onslaught and the wolf marched toward the Hounds.

“Boss, we’ve got a big bad wolf coming our way.” One of the operatives spoke.

Captain Dahl cursed, “Concentrate fire on the beast! Ready flashbangs, blind it!”

Plink! The sound of flashbang pins being pulled and similarly tossed at the beast exploding on impact. Bright light exploded forth in front of the beast’s snout. A direct hit.

“Captain Hawthorn, take the shot! We’ll distract the beast.” Captain Dahl said through the radio raising her rifle to the beast, both eyes on it and not paying attention to the zombies. She was confident they wouldn’t reach her.

A hearty laugh echoed through the warehouse as the flashbangs went off. The beast maintained its stance, unaffected by the Hound’s attack.

”Cease this pitiful assault and I will make your death swift.” The beast taunted them in an ominous voice that shook their cores.

Hawthorn knew this was no simple demon, but a Duke or Marquis. He nodded at Dahl’s command, lining up his shot a second time, but his movement was anticipated. The beast turned to Hawthorn and opened its mouth, a thick haze spewing forth and surrounding the Hound. Hawthorn took the shot, but his bullet turned to ash, the blessing unable to withstand the beast’s attack. Soon enough, more of Hawthorn’s equipment began to decay, dissolving in his hands. His black armor began to shift on his body as he let out a distressed scream, looking down to find his legs slowly turning ash.

There was no time, he hadn’t the resources left to attack Phoebus. Instead, Hawthorn chucked his knife at Dahl, striking an encroaching zombie in the head before it could latch on.

“Marchosias!” Hawthorn let out through his pain, “His name is Marchosias, ban . . .” his words were cut short by the dust filling up his lungs, no, his lungs were turning to dust. As the haze subsided, all that remained of Hawthorn was ash. Dahl had only herself and the men that remained.

Dahl was shocked to see his sacrifice, she figured him to be a runner but her respect for him shot up. Witchfinder General would be proud. Kneeling down to the zombie she pulled the knife free then stomped on it’s skull. Gore splashing outwards. Holding the knife before her she pulled her bible free, ready to recite the banishment. She stared down the Beast and her remaining operatives gathered behind her.

“In the name and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we command you - Marchosias to leave, we banish you back to pits of Hell with whence you came!” She shouted with conviction, removing the cross from her neck holding it with her blessed silver knife and holding it up with the bible open in her hand, “Begone! Leave this realm!”

Marchosias howled as the banishment echoed through the warehouse, forcing his retreat. His body was enveloped in smoke and ash, seeping through the stone floor back into the pit. Phoebus winced as the blessed silver began to travel through his veins. His wound was bleeding profusely and he was unable to stand without support.

As a final effort, he called the lesser demons from their dead hosts to carry him off, but his power had waned and they were unreceptive to his call, instead fading away, no longer bound to the service of their conjurer.

They moved forward cautiously, Captain Dahl stepped up to him. “You’re gonna have to repeat that line about ‘pitiful assault’ one more time. The big bad wolf wasn’t clear enough for me, Phoebus.” Pressing the end of her barrel against his head, “You were a blight, even the witches wanted nothing to do with you. Happy to rat you out to us. All of you are untrustworthy and slick as it gets.”

The remaining Hounds surrounded them, pointing their rifles at Phoebus.

“Got any final words?”

Phoebus looked up at Dahl, hand firmly clutched over his wound. He opened his mouth and let out a quiet whine, trying to find the words to say. Suddenly, he began to cough, a low gurgle sounding in the back of his throat. He keeled over, coughing aggressively. Water began to stream from his mouth, slowly at first, then a torrent. Phoebus was drowning. He seized up, water flowing endlessly from his mouth until his eyes went dark, his limbs cold. Dead.

”I suspect he won’t be saying much else,” a woman’s voice echoed through the warehouse. Near the ruined entrance stood a woman dressed in emerald green with auburn curls and gold ornaments, her skin pale and glowing in the strands of sunlight.

”But I have a few words to share. Your dear Witchfinder is at his end. The covens of Nevada have mobilized, as have those in New Orleans and Salem. The Witch-Mother plots against you as we speak, and believe me, she is more fearsome than a pitiful sorcerer and his pets. Tread carefully in the coming days, or you’ll meet a similar end as the first iteration of The Winter Court.”

She laughed, waving an arm and disappearing in the wind. At her feet lay a broken iron cross and silver ash.

Captain Dahl lowered her rifle, the witch left with ominous warnings. Dahl looked down to the dead body of Phoebus then swiftly kicked his head aside. She called out to the other Hounds, “Round this shit up, clear it out and let’s make a sign. Nobody can trust the other, let’s give the freaks a clear sign we’re looking for informants as much as we are for targets. Let them know they’re not safe even among their own.”

They nodded, dragging Phoebus’ body clear of the altar working to dismantle his work and the pews. Piling the broken pews into a pile at the center of the stone altar. Captain Dahl approached the spot where the witch had spoken picking up the broken cross and running a hand through the silvery ash.

“Hmph… I’d like to see them try to dismantle us.” She said to herself, shortly thereafter the Hounds make quick work of the pews and added kindling. Throwing the dead atop of the pyre. Captain Dahl lit it up, kerosene catching easily. Their work for the day complete, Dahl claiming success for herself, paying proper homage to Captain Hawthorn respectively. They left the burning warehouse behind.




The Calm Before the Storm

Part 3


Lachance Stronghold – Henderson, Nevada
Time: 7 a.m., One Day Before Satellite Attacks




Ethereal light filtered through the long corridors of the Lachance Stronghold, pulsing with the ebb and flow of the mysterious tree that sat at its center. Marie fluttered her eyes as thin wisps of white passed over her vision. She’d slept for maybe four hours, but any amount was enough to recover from the previous night’s bender (and not the fun kind). Her muscles were stiff, but she felt rejuvenated. Lady Lachance’s spells had worked to calm her nerves and restore her strength. In spite of her encounter with the Silver Sorceress, Marie felt well enough.

Holt took his place at the foot of her bed as a jet-black feline with bright eyes and hazy features. He turned to Marie once he felt he stir.

Feeling better? his subtle concern sounded in her mind.

Marie yawned, sitting up and edging herself to the bedside, running a few fingers through her hair to move it from her face.

”Mostly,” her response was curt, as if Holt had slighted her somehow. Perhaps it was a culmination of the past few days’ events that had soured her mood so.

Marie quiclky dressed herself from the bag she’d left the day prior. A simple black dress with a long, tied belt and a few minor trinkets on her arms. She looked a little cliche, but at this point she was used to it. Without saying another word to Holt, Marie made her way into the corridor, moving away from the collection of bedrooms and studies. She poked her head into the room housing Ben’s wolf to find it empty. He must have found his way to a bed, she thought, comforted in the fact that he had made it through his ordeal safely.

Rounding a corner, Marie found a large dining hall straight from a bygone era, fitted with a long table and several small booths and benches, adjacent to a kitchen with a wood burning oven. Almost nothing in the witches stronghold held any touch of modernity. It was there she found the young vampire in their company . . . well, she looked young, but Marie couldn’t be certain of her actual age. She moved slowly to a chair at her side.

”Another early riser?” Marie questioned in passing, helping herself to a pot of coffee that had been thoughtfully prepared by their hosts.

Katarina had heard the White Witch’s coming. She had slept uneasily, surrounded as she was by unfamiliar surroundings - a stronghold of witches, a concept most unfamiliar to the Prussian - the only strongholds she was truly used to were those raised by mortal men; festungs, schloesser and fortified burgs, homes of the cityfolk of the lands. Though, the more rustic, ‘old-fashioned’ surroundings suited her more easily than the polished steel, plastic and glass that dominated the modern construction projects of humanity. A wood-burning stove. A long table not unlike those used to hold great feasts of bounty in the days of yore, in her days, the days of her youth.

However, Kat had been able to anchor herself to one thing in the area; Benjamin. She had worried and fussed to herself over her actions earlier - he’d offered his own blood to heal herself, despite his own parlous state of health… was it simply to shut her up before she did something else? Or did he truly put her well-being before his own? She scoffed to herself - much like she had done for him, perhaps. She took out a cigarette from the inside pocket of her open jacket, and placed it between her lips, before taking out a lighter and striking a flame to light her guilty pleasure. She sucked in deeply, inhaling the toxic, yet soothing fumes. It would have little effect on her anyway. The dead did not suffer the illnesses of the living.

”It comes with the condition, fraulein. When the sun protests at one’s existence, you find ways of overcoming such difficulties.” She decided to tell it to the witch straight. She likely already knew Kat was a vampire, so there was no use trying to hide it. Kat just hoped that her presence had not been regarded with hostility. ”It has been an interesting twenty-four hours, hasn’t it? First we meet in strange circumstances, and then this… Ambassador shows up, and then all of a sudden, there we are, fighting for our lives against an imminent threat to our very existence. Fascinating… were it not happening to us.”

Marie chuckled, taking a timid sip of her coffee for fear of burning herself. The same thought had crossed her mind from the moment she met Benjamin and his strange group of friends. Had she not employed his help, had she instead chosen to pursue Gwyneth’s possessions on her own, how might things differ?

”I can’t say I’m thrilled with the current outcome, but I guess we should get used to it.” Marie turned from her mug to look at Kat, ”Such is our way, I suppose. The mortal world doesn’t take too kindly to any of us . . .” The words didn’t feel quite her own, but Marie agreed with the sentiment nonetheless.

Holt perked up at Marie’s comment before losing himself in thought.

”I’m in two minds about this mortal world. On the one, I look at how far humans have come in this time, and I marvel at what they can do, what they can create, what they have learned, all without the knowledge of that which lies beyond their grasp.” Kat chuckled and inhaled another lungful of smoke from her cigarette. The cheap and artificial taste of the smoke began to rankle with her refined tastes, but it would have to do nonetheless. It served to calm her nerves at least. ”And then, we have encounters with the other side of the mortal world, and I really think it can go fuck itself.”

Kat looked over at the witch. She was young, but something about her seemed… out of place, something ethereal, something not quite all there. As though something was attempting to re-manifest itself using her flesh as a mortal form. Katarina was no stranger to the concept of re-incarnation - indeed, as a vampire she was perhaps an example of the macabre abilities of the necromantic and the arcane - but she couldn’t quite pin down what made this woman tick. What drove her? And from whence had she drawn such power as she had done? ”Pardon my French… and if you’ll excuse me, might I have the pleasure of knowing your name, fraulein?” It wouldn’t do to ignore names.

”Marie,” she didn’t hesitate to respond. ”You can call me Marie. Time was that I would be more hesitant about giving away my name, if you can even call it my name.”

It is one of them, Holt spoke aloud, appearing on her shoulder as a large raven, and it is yours, regardless of when it was earned. Already he could feel the change Puck had warned him about. Holt wondered if there were anything he could do about it, or if it was all meant to happen exactly as it was.

”Marie, hm? A pretty name. One that evokes memories of playing in the fields, in the fresh spring of the world.” Kat shook her head and took a long drag on her cigarette. ”Well, then, well met, Marie. The name is Katarina, of the House of von Reisech. Formerly known by mortals as the Red Countess… though those days are long gone, and I hope will never return.” Kat shook her head, as dark memories flashed through her mind - she shuddered to think of herself rising to such power once more, though the allure was intoxicating as ever… The idea that she could rise like a phoenix from the ashes of her land, burnt to a cinder by the forces of God and his Son… and rule once more as absolute ruler of a vampiric paradise. The idea of rebuilding the Tower, and harnessing the magics of the lands into great edifices of vampiric might, to cloak the sun and rule a land of eternal night… all she needed to do was rebuild her strength...

No. She would not. The Fall happened for a reason. She would not make the same mistake twice, no matter what these humans did. If they revealed themselves to be the snivelling treacherous fools that they were in the 17th century, then more fool them for thinking themselves different. Kat would have no part in their downfall. She noted the appearance of the raven atop Marie’s shoulder with scarcely a passing interest. Witches needed their familiars, did they not? ”The familiar appears.” She snickered and finished her cigarette. ”I thought I was being watched.”

Holt nodded.

Naturally, Holt responded, the sound of his voice seeming to come from all directions.

Marie moved her shoulder a little to disrupt him.

”He’s mouthier than usual too, but I guess that’s part of his charm.” Marie turned away for a moment. Holt remained a constant reminder of an old tragedy, one that she wouldn’t soon forget given her new found alliance with the Ambassador.

”Red Countess?” she changed the subject, ”Exactly how long ago? I might have you beat. From what I can tell, Gwyneth was born somewhere in 1490, though I don’t know the exact year . . . oh that’s right,” Marie realized that Kat may not be completely up to date with the “pack’s” current dealings. Everything happened rather fast. ”Do you know why Ben and I are travelling together?”

”... No. But over time, I have developed a fairly comprehensive idea as to why you need Herr Reeves in particular. You, as a witch, are no doubt looking for artifacts of great magical power, and his abilities are invaluable for your search - after all, it’s not every day that you find someone so gifted, right? So you track him down and enlist his assistance on your journey… and in return you probably agree to protect him and help him learn his ways about that which he has to suffer. Cicero once said that man has to suffer to be wise - I never put much stock in Ancient Roman philosophy… but that one sticks out in my mind above all others.” Man must suffer to be wise… It struck closer to home than Kat would like to have admit.

Marie took another sip of her coffee, soothed by the warmth such a small comfort provided. Kat’s assessment was a testament to her analytical skills. She certainly looked wise beyond her years . . . but the youthfulness vampirism offers can be deceiving.

”A good effort,” Marie nodded in agreement to parts of Kat’s explanation. ”You’re right that I need his nose, but he found me . . . well, we sort of find each other. He bumped into me at a museum in New York. I accidentally triggered his transformation with a bit of magic. That’s when I found out about his gift. I was looking for this,” Marie held the hagstone around her neck. ”Ben . . . Benjamin led me to it even when I didn’t know what I was looking for. It had the same scent as me.”

Marie brought forth the small box collected from the Ambassador the night prior: an ornate jewelry box with natural carvings and a simple copper latch.

”As did this. They belonged to me once, a long time ago. You can call me Marie, it’s the only name I’d ever known until about three months ago, but really my name is Gwyneth Owens. And to make a long story short, these items hold pieces of my memory, the memories I lost when I died. I don’t know what sort of spell I did to make myself come back, but it came with a price. If I find all of my old possessions, I can figure out who I was, regain all the power I lost in death.”

Marie unlatched the box to reveal the many small bone, copper, and wooden coins etched with a variety of occult symbols. She hadn’t the slightest clue how to read any of them; Gwyneth must have created her own method of divination.

”I’m also not here to protect Benjamin . . . at least, that wasn’t my original intent. I had to make a deal with a particularly powerful demon to open the door in my mind that housed Gwyneth’s memory. It came at no consequence to me, but the same isn’t true for others. Ben’s trying to redeem me, I guess. Figured it might be the same with you.”

Katarina remained silent, and listened as the witch regaled her tale. It slid into place as a key would a lock - all of this explained quite what Katarina had seen when she first laid eyes on Marie. The sense of re-incarnation, the feeling that someone from the beyond was attempting to reach out and claw their way back into the material world. She watched as Marie opened the small box and revealed its contents. Sadly, like Marie, Kat had no idea what the symbols meant - her expertise was in the necromantic, not divination. Still, she at least understood where everything was going - and what Marie was doing in her quest. Her quest to… find herself, in a strange way. Kat remembered another quote by Cicero, one that perhaps was more pertaining to Marie’s, than her own, misfortunes.

”Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things. Cicero, De Oratore, chapter one, verse five. Perhaps there’s something to be learned in that for us both. Memories of who we were, what we once were, and what we are now. You seek to recover yours, to become that which you once called you. Whereas I seek to distance myself from my past. From that life I once led as the Countess. God and his faithful sought my undoing… but perhaps spared me for a second chance. Maybe it was fate that led us both to Benjamin Reeves. Maybe coincidence. Maybe a higher power than even fate itself.” Katarina fingered the iron cross hanging from the choker about her neck.  

”Wouldn’t have pinned you as the religious type,” Marie replied with the smallest amount of venom in her words. She didn’t mean to sound cross, just another instinct, a remnant of the memory she’d received the previous evening, chased by witch-hunters and men of the cloth.

It is a dangerous thing you hold, Holt commented on the cross around Kat’s neck. A relic of the past that should remain there. Take care that you do not draw the ire of they who crafted that cross.

Katarina narrowed her eyes and looked around. ”Draw the ire of they who crafted it? I was given this by my mother, fae, whilst she still walked this earth as a mortal human. I remember the magics that corrupted them, the craftwork of the devil’s own spawn, the craftwork of someone who tried to make me little more than a pawn in a Luciferian game of chess.” She resisted the urge to curse those who sought to bind her to their will… the lecherous old fool Revinskas and his minions of the Devil. In a way, Holt was right, of course. It was a relic of the past, but it was one that marked Katarina for whom she was. She was a vampire, yes, but one who could stand before the men of the faith and stand tall, stand defiant.

”... My mother always said to me… Gott liebt alle. God loves all. Some people forget that. I am... lucky that He did not.” Kat took out another cigarette and lit it. ”Do you smoke?”

Marie shook her head.

”No, my folks were pretty big on being a tobacco and alcohol free household. And sorry about that,” Marie apologized on Holt’s behalf. ”He mistook your cross for the ones used against us yesterday. Even so, dancing with devils is in my job description. Employed by an imp, in consort with dark spirits, once regular meetings with The Man in Black, the life of a witch. Though I can only imagine what it must have been like in my prime . . .”

Yes, the lives of witches in Gwyneth’s time were far different to now, Holt spoke up, A time I sorely miss. Forgive my assumptiveness, Katarina. I too have been scarred by self-righteous men and their ideals, as has every other witch I’ve served. We work best when we are as far from God’s light as possible.

Marie had never seen Holt so open to speech with strangers. Perhaps he saw something familiar in Kat, a memory of a time he enjoyed, if he were capable of the emotion.

”Things were simpler in the 16th century, weren’t they?” Katarina smiled and looked at the wall opposite them, from her chair. ”You asked after my… ‘nickname’, I recall. It was what the men of Europe had christened yours truly after news of my reign seeped forth from Neuhausen. Tell me, Marie, did you ever learn of the catastrophes of the Reformation? Did you ever, perchance, learn of a great terror that swept across the lands of the Baltic Sea during the late 16th century and early 17th century? Of a terror only stopped by a grand coalition of the Christian powers, only stopped when a knight strode forth to banish the great evil which had rooted itself in the lands of Prussia?”

Kat’s demeanour grew grave.

”Did you ever learn of what happened in the fields of Konigsberg? And why none live there to this day?”

Marie thought for a moment. It all sounded vaguely familiar, but despite having attended university in Boston, and despite her mother being a history professor, she was mostly unfamiliar with the finer details. Holt, however, was more familiar with the tragedies Kat was rattling off.

You mean to say that you were responsible for the crusades in that region? Holt inferred, There is a region entirely uninhabitable because of dark magic, is that your work?

”Yes. It was I who was responsible for the atrocities committed in the Baltics. It was I whom the kingdoms of mortal men despised, and it was my land they invaded and despoiled, throwing down all that I had sought to construct from Neuhausen. The ruins of my land still bear the scars of my work, the scars of my… my crimes. You may know the area by many names - Konigsberg, the old German name. Kaliningrad, the Russian area of occupation… to me, it is simply what I have lost, and what I shall never regain.” Kat lowered her head, seemingly ashamed of what she was about to say. Her lifeless cheeks blushed red, torpid veins filling with blood at the remembrance of what she had done, and how it had impacted on the world.

”They call it… the Maelstrom.” Kat looked up at Marie, and if Holt was there, at Holt, too. ”The Maelstrom was created, so I have read, from a dangerous overspill of necrotic energy that coalesced into the form of a great storm, a storm so terrible in its rage and fury that it blights the Baltic coast to this very day. I did not know of the Maelstrom’s formation… until recently. It had been born sometime in the 18th century, from what I have been able to read, in the very spot where Schloss Neuhausen once stood, a monument to my legacy. From there, its influence and effects have expanded, and now cover an area… I don’t know how large. It is guarded constantly by the Russian Federation… they used it in the 1970s as a nuclear testing site. As if they needed any more reason not to go there… but it was my fault. It is my magic. Without its creator, it has undergone a rampant rapid expansion of influence. I dread to think what it has done to the surrounding areas… Wouldst that I have known the effects of what my actions have done to the world...”

She looked back down at the floor. Nec scire fas est omnia. One cannot know everything.”

Marie offered a hand to Kat as comfort. There were subtle similarities between them that Marie could appreciate, despite their vastly different histories.

”This may sound cold, and I don’t mean for my words to undermine the path you’re currently seeking, but you . . .” Marie hesitated, slightly ashamed of what she was about to say. ”You did what was within your power to do. Magic offers us all that we want for a price, and if you can pay that price, what’s the harm? I don’t necessarily condone some of the horrors you hear from people in our line of work, infanticide and all that, but what I’ve come to realize is that we, those of us with this sort of power, can’t be held to the same standard as everyone else. Needs must, and in a time where your very existence is protested by a vast majority of the world, you’ll do whatever it takes.”

She could feel the words pouring from a place of understanding, some empathic link with Kat that came from the deep recesses of her mind, perhaps from a memory she didn’t know she had. It was a lesson Marie had learned several times over: witches are selfish, magic is selfish.

”I wish that Benjamin and every other misguided magical being would understand that sooner. By all means, if you’re seeking repentance then repent, but ask yourself why every now and again to make sure you agree with the answer.”

Kat frowned, and took the hand with a degree of reluctance… her skin would be icy to Marie’s touch, an unnatural chill that manifested only within the undead, within those afflicted with the Blood Kiss. Instinctively, Kat raised her body temperature to at least mitigate the effects - not to mention keep Marie comfortable - and looked back up at the witch.

”I suppose you’re right. Repentance without meaning is nothing more than empty words. I did what I thought I had to do… but I will not go back to that. Any man may make a mistake, but only an idiot persists in his error - Cicero again - and my errors are clear to see. But...  Magic is a weapon in our fight for survival, you’re right, and of course, with weapons come consequences. Those unwilling to accept the consequences should not invite weapons upon them. Right?” A convenient excuse… and a pleasant lie. Deflecting responsibility for your actions onto those who you argue provoked them. Kat smiled, though perhaps for not the reasons Marie would have thought. Hypocrisy was a powerful weapon to those well-versed in its utility.

”Initially, you know, I sought out Benjamin for the same reason as you. I wanted his help.” Kat withdrew her hand and shook her head, a sheepish - and sly - smile on her face. ”But the first time I laid eyes on him… I must confess, I felt a stirring in my heart I have not felt in centuries, Marie… Oh, it sounds ever so ridiculous, doesn’t it? But it’s true, it really is!” She laughed - a genuine, humoured laugh, a sound that had been long forgotten by mortal ears. ”Even now as I speak, I think, ‘Kat you must be crazy’. But I don’t know, Marie… I… I wouldn’t say I… loved him, I suppose, but… I… guess perhaps, part of me does feel that way inclined? I’ve barely met him, and already I feel as though I share a bond with him. Whether that will last is of course up for all to see, but… I look at him, and I feel as though he… makes everything worth it. That maybe I’ve been given a second chance for a reason.”

Marie laughed with her, glad to be having the type of chat she’d been missing over the last few months.

”No, I don’t think you’re crazy at all! And I know what you mean. I think Ben just has that effect on people. I’m drawn to him as well . . . in a younger brother sort of way. It’s called imprinting, but I didn’t think it worked both ways. But love’s like that, I guess. You never know when it’ll get you, or where, or from who . . .”

Marie looked up at Holt, who turned and cocked his head, sharing a look of remorseful remembrance, then joy.

”You’ve been around a while so I’m sure you know this, but hold on to whatever you two have. It’ll make his transition into our world and your transition into his much easier. Plus, love’s fun! Infuriating most of the time, but fun.” Marie paused for a moment, racking her brain for a pertinent addition.

”More happy happy love, forever warm and still to be enjoyed, forever painting and forever young. John Keats, since you like quotes so much.”

”I might have been around for a long time, Marie, but in some ways, I’m still just some teenaged girl trying to find her first steps through some areas of life. I sired - vampirised, that is - many of my own in my time, but I never loved any of them, really. I saw them as tools, weapons. Not the way I see Benjamin, far from it. I mean, I’m still worried for him, even though your friends’ rituals seem to have taken effect on his system - I would have helped if I was in a fit state. John Keats… hrm, not a familiar name. He must have been after my time… Though Aquinas did say that to love is to will the good of the other - and I do will good upon that man. Hopefully that silver won’t have too much of a lasting effect.”

She took another drag on her fresh cigarette and nodded. ”Makes what life I have worth living.” She picked up the assault rifle from the floor, the rifle that she had… ‘acquired’ from the Hounds earlier and used to such deadly effect. ”Part of me feels that Thirst is too outdated for modern times. Swords were all well and good in the days of yore, in the days of the clash of steel. Now it’s the bark of the powder and the flash of the gunfire.” Kat looked over at Marie. ”Remember one thing, Marie. Always stay one step ahead of your enemies. Like that Ambassador. We may have to work with her, but she’s still an enemy…” To emphasise her point, Kat pulled the charging handle on the rifle.

”I think I’ll also need new spells. My old repertoire can’t react fast enough.”

”Never been a big fan of guns,” Marie mumbled while finishing off her coffee, pouring herself a second mug. She fell silent for a few moments, mulling over Katarina’s remark about the Ambassador. Is she an enemy? Marie asked herself. While the Ambassador was no doubt looking after herself in whatever deal made between she and Gwyneth, it came at Marie’s benefit. She couldn’t help but look at the Ambassador as more of an ally . . . even with their history.

”She’s useful,” Marie finally spoke, ”whether or not I see her as an enemy will depend on how far she gets me to my goal, and what she does after . . .” Marie stopped again, collecting her thoughts.

”But I feel your pain on that last note, my witchcraft isn’t exactly suited for the heat of battle. Fortunately, Holt carries me through a lot of the more stressful moments.”

”She’s only as useful as long as her goals coincide with ours. Remember that. That’s probably how she works too… we shake hands, with a knife behind our backs.” Kat snickered and finished her cigarette. ”Typical French diplomacy, eh?”

Fire and Brimstone

Part 2


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




Chaos.

A baneful cacophony sounded in every direction. The rapid whirring of rotating blades, heavy footfall of mechanistic wonders, and the all too familiar sound of discharging weapons made Madalena shutter, tightening her grip on Charlie’s hand. Taken aback to her first encounter with the Hounds, she struggled to remain focused. But Charlie’s presence centered her, kept her grounded. Still, it was hard to retain focus with the utter chaos that fell on all sides.

Chaos.

Madalena wondered if she were in the right place, if the heroes really needed her there. Afterall, her reasons were entirely selfish. Her concern was less with the whole of Lost Haven and more with herself, Charlie, Carrie, and her future charges. Curious, she thought, how only a week of truly practicing Puck’s craft had changed her so. However, she and Charlie were the only two really representing their community (aside from Pantheon, whom Maddi quickly disregarded), so perhaps it was exactly where she was needed.

Chaos.

Madalena shook off her self doubt, engaging her mind and searching for answers to the obvious questions. Each hero had their strong suit, but Charlie and Madalena were uniquely gifted at being good at many things at once. The Alchemyst’s quick transmutation skills could do wonders with all this flying metal, and Lady Hex’s litany of malefic charms would prove useful given the opportunity to use them. And just as the thought came into her mind, an opportunity presented itself.

Looking overhead, Maddi observed as the teal-skinned hero, Flux, surrounded the group in a field of light, repelling the Hound’s first wave of attacks. Not wanting to waste this valuable window, Madalena skirted closer to the center of the field, removing a large length of black cord from the inside of her coat, all tied up in a bulging sailor’s knot.

Sorry to use this so early, Boss, Maddi thought, noting how much Puck paid for this particular piece of magic. Smaller winds were much easier to come by, but a storm this large must have cost a fortune. But Lady Hex’s grand appearance called for something dramatic, she couldn’t hold back.

Maddi held the knot at arms length, beginning to tap rhythmically on the stone with her cane. She felt a calm wash over her, her power rising. She sped up, incanting the charm in the spaces between:

”Come hither, come thither;
Rain to ruin, wind to wither;
One to slight, the other blight;
What clouds conceal to me reveal.”


She then began to whistle. The sound was miniscule at first, low, drowned out by the sounds beyond the barrier. Quickly, however, it became an unnatural sound, piercing through the outside noise. The knot in her hand began to hover in front of her, loosening itself until it was nothing more than a length of rope. The tapping of Maddi’s cane sounded like thunder, her whistling like a heavy wind, and as soon as the barrier that surrounded them fell, Sherman Square was assaulted by an onslaught of wind and rain, knocking against the building with greater force than natural.

Madalena could see the effects of her spell grip the Hounds. Distant vehicles had difficulty closing the gap between themselves and the square. Helicopters would struggle to maintain their balance. It was all beautifully chaotic.

Maddi noted how the water beaded on the surface of her coat, running down the side without leaving a streak. This must have been the charms infused into the fabric, ensuring that it couldn’t be ruined.

She stopped herself from dwelling on trivial matters, turning her attention instead toward the armored vehicles fast approaching. Instinctively, she threw out a hand, feeling the cunning flame burn within her and lash out as a vile hex.

The first truck she spotted had its engine spark, thick, black smoke billowing out from under the hood. The next’s steering gave out, sending the vehicle hydroplaning past quickly enough for the group to get their bearings. The third vehicle she spotted stopped in its place completely, sliding forward and throwing a couple of Hounds off the back and into the street.

Madalena was delighted with herself, but her excitement would be short lived. With the barrier surrounding their group gone, Maddi would find difficulty in timing her more elaborate enchantments, and her lack of experience in the field would surely get the better of her.

From the corner of her eye, Maddi saw two armored Hounds fast approaching, flanking her while she was distracted. She couldn’t react quickly enough to halt their position. If no one intervened, she would be at the Hound’s mercy.

Fire and Brimstone

Part 1


Location: Shadow of the Moon Occult Curiosities – Chinatown, Lost Haven
Time: Post Hound Attack




Wild, Wicked, and Wretched be . . .

Madalena inscribed the words in a delicate script around the iconic crown of vines and thorns, a tribute to the visage of Puck that stood posed within this plaited circle. It had taken hours to get the lines just right, all the little details and intricacies numbing her nimble fingers, more so than working with actual vines. The subtle incantation was a minor addition to a more ancient spell, both a reminder of what lie beyond the threshold, and a deterrent to an unscrupulous few. Fascinating and strange, Maddi thought, how a simple phrase spoken with conviction could lend such power.

When the last word had been successfully burned into the wood, Madalena took a step back to admire her work. Her task was simple enough: inscribe the back door of Shadow of the Moon with the symbol of Puck, though she hadn’t accounted for the arduous and highly meticulous nature of etching a door with a hot, metal stylus. It was a miracle she managed such definition given she’d neglected to sketch the symbol beforehand. But as with many small endeavors filling up her free time, Madalena found success. The next step, however, would prove more difficult. It was one thing to form the glyph that gifted access to The Red Devil, but another entirely to actually gain entrance.

”Here goes nothin’,” she let out with a hefty sigh, letting loose her fatigue and breathing in the strength she needed to activate the seal.

Traditionally, Puck’s door was conjured via a symbol sporting his likeness, carved, etched, or drawn onto any surface. One need only knock and the arms of The Red Devil would swing wide open, welcoming the weary traveler, needy supplicant, greedy witch, and anyone else who had the means to enter. Given recent events, however, Puck saw to it that only his permanent doors (those scattered in forgotten places the world over) and those bearing the new inscription could access the tavern; and these portals required more than a paltry knock.

Fortunately for Madalena, she had a closer connection to Puck than most. Rather than go through the full ritual to activate to door, she need only fan the flames of her inner spark, the cunning flame imparted to her by Puck . . . which was easier said than done. Still a novice, albeit a rather knowledgeable one, Madalena had considerable amounts of difficulty in igniting the witch-fire when she needed it most.

She rolled her shoulders, stretched her neck, took in a few more deep breaths, then touched her hand to the door, feeling for some sort of shift in its structure. There was a twinge of something, the smallest speck of warmth cast adrift in the air, waves of aromatic smoke that seemed to dissipate the longer she tried to place them.

Come on . . . her mind raced with frustration, pleading for whatever link she held to that place to be established. Another minute or so passed with no sign of success, only strings and visions of what lie beyond.

And then it clicked.

An audible “click” like a lock or a door bar being removed or lifted sounded in her mind. Mouth stretched in an eager smile, Maddi opened her eyes to a welcome sight. The door, once wrought with knicks and scratches from all the sharp-cornered tables and shelves she’d brought through it, was a crimson beauty, and the symbol she’d burned into the center was now golden and embossed. It worked!

Wasting no time, Madalena pulled the door open with force enough to pry it from its hinges, or so she’d like to believe, and shot through, slamming her quaint little store in Lost Haven behind her.

*****


Location: The Red Devil – Lost Haven?




The Red Devil’s atmosphere had changed considerably. Puck had always run a highly profitable and booming business, but the sheer volume of patrons now filling the ground floor was immense. Expensive round tables of rich dark wood were replaced with longer variants and low benches. The round stage at the far end of the tavern had been moved into a corner to accommodate the new seating arrangements, as had the bar, whose counter was pushed closer in. Wall lights were removed in favor of chandeliers to make room for a greater number of shelves and cases housing associates wares. The place was packed.

And yet, the mystery and mystique was still there, hidden among the wealthy decor in the form of odd centerpieces on each table, eerie paintings that lined the walls and structural beams, the earthy tones that accompanied accents of scarlet and gold here and there. It was ominous and beautiful all at the same time. Which says nothing about the wealth of patrons, all sinister, seductive, and strange in their own way, seeking refuge from the Hounds, booking passage back to whatever world they originate, looking to capitalize on the fear of the unknown, some just having the odd drink before passing through.

Madalena had never seen such a display. Not in her wildest dreams could she imagine such a bustling and beautiful scene. It gave the streets of New York a run for its money.

Waltzing down a large spiral staircase was Puck, dressed in dark finery and towering above most of the tavern’s patrons. He took a few moments to mingle before motioning for Madalena to follow him upstairs. She clumsily trotted down the haphazard rows of tables, dodging the obstacles she could see and apologizing to the ones she couldn’t.

The first floor was home to the workroom and several offices used by the contract holders under Puck’s employment. Maddi caught a glimpse at an ornate plaque sporting “The White Witch’s” moniker at the far end of the hall, but was rushed into the workroom before getting a second look.

Maddi’s eyes lit up at the contents of the space, a smorgasbord of witching tools and accoutrements lining every wall. On her first pass she noticed three working altars with alchemical apparati atop and small fire pits fitted with dark cauldrons and kettles, a counter full of divinatory tools, eight shelves scattered throughout the room stocked with old texts and scrolls, three desks littered with research notes and experimental writings, an open area with a variety of ritual implements and the leftovers of a goetic summoning, and a massive wardrobe seated next to a spinning wheel, distaffs, and other spinning and tailoring instruments.

”So,” Puck’s cold voiced echoed off the walls, sending a chill up Madalena’s spine despite having heard it multiple times before. ”Judging by that eternal grin of yours I assume everything is to your liking? Is it as you imagined?”

Maddi shook her head, forcibly closing her mouth to display a little less awe, but her eyes betrayed her. She knelt down by one of the kettles, running a hand over the cold iron, inhaling the remnants of a long dead flame.

”No . . . it’s a helluva lot better than I was expecting! Honestly, how old is this?”

Puck might have thought it strange that a cauldron had captured her so had he not been through this with over a dozen other witches. To be in the presence of one’s art, to feel the pulse of the craft run through a place, he knew the power that held.

He couldn’t help but smile, kneeling down with her and resting a hand on her arm.

”It was a gift from a brief tryst in the late 18th century, but that’s not why I’ve asked you here.”

Puck stood and led her over to the wardrobe, skillfully dodging questions about his love life.

”I realized after my last visit that I’ve put quite a strain on you, and for that I must apologize.”

He took Madalena’s hand in his, catching her off guard with his show of sincerity.

”I-It’s nothing,” she stuttered, taken aback. ”I mean, I’ve been onboard for a while now so I know what’s expected of me.”

”Even so,” Puck continued, turning his back to open the wardrobe. ”You are more than a simple employee of mine, Madalena. You are my gift to the world, the first witch I have sired in over a century. I have placed you at the forefront of my operation against The Winter Court without taking the necessary steps to ensure your safety, and for that I apologize. So I present you with this . . .”

Puck stood aside, revealing a beautifully crafted gown made of fine, crimson velvet with a high collar, and a low, seamless hem. With it was a similarly colored hat with a short, curved brim, tall crown, and beautiful plume as an accent, as well as a pair of silken gloves that stretched up below the sleeves of the dress.

”The finest garments crafted for one such as yourself by the finest seamstress I know.”

Maddi’s mouth swung open once more, her eyes shining brighter than before. She stepped forward, taking a sleeve in her hand and feeling the soft fabric on her skin. It was more comforting than it should have been, she thought, as if some piece of nostalgia had been sewn into it. She silently dreamed of wearing clothes like this as a girl, playing the part of princess or duchess. It was high on a long list of impossibles that had suddenly become reality . . . but why?

”It’s beautiful,” Madalena graciously replied, turning and looking up at Puck’s black eyes, her own welling with joyful tears. ”But I don’t understand. What his this . . .”

”I’ll tell you,” Puck interrupted. ”When a certain Marie Heartford worked in The Red Devil, she insisted on going by The White Witch, even wore a charm about her neck to mask her appearance. I thought it silly until I realized how ingenious it was given our current predicament. You now have power, power that the Witchfinder General knows nothing about. Should he discover, however, that you have been harboring a piece of the cunning flame while working with his men, he would surely visit his wrath upon you. Thus, I have devised a way for you to work with him, and with me in secret.”

Madalena grinned, catching Puck’s not so subtle hints.

”You want me to have a secret identity, right?”

”Precisely! In your normal guise you shall be Madalena Hawthorne, an unassuming citizen of Lost Haven with an interest in all things strange and a flair for the dramatic. But in secret, you shall be an agent of mine free to use her gifts without fear of discovery. You’ll just need a name . . .”

”Hex!,” Maddi blurted out as soon as he could. ”I’ve been thinking about this as soon as The White Witch hit the scene, silently pretending I was out working my magic like her . . . although not exactly like her because of the whole ‘lost memories’ thing, but maybe a little bit because her meeting with the Witch Father was sort of close to ours when you think about it, though I guess . . .” Maddi caught herself before she trailed off any further.

”Anyway,” she said with a cough, reeling herself back in. ”I’d like to go by Hex. A little cliche but in an outfit like this I think it’ll have a certain effect on people.”

Puck shook his head with a grin and a low chuckle.

”As you wish, Lady Hex. But do not be captured by illusions of the grandiose. I’m not grooming you to become one of those costumed imbeciles who do good. This is for your continued safety during our fight against The Winter Court, and a valuable business investment when you start taking on contracts.”

Maddi blinked.

”Wait, you want me to be one of your contract maker, holder, whatevers?”

She wasn’t entirely put off to the idea. Afterall, it was part of her gifts as Puck had explained them. Given that Maddi held a piece of Puck’s power, she could weave binding contracts with only her words, though she never stopped to consider what that meant.

”The terms of our agreement were far different to most. You are not required to work for The Red Devil like others I employ past your efforts against the Witchfinder. However, I would ask that you consider it. There are only so many gifts I can offer in a singular exchange, but if I had your continued service . . . well, then I might be persuaded to relinquish a few secrets early.”

Maddi needed to pace herself. In just under a week, she’d been cast headlong into a world she knew nothing about, gained unimaginable knowledge and power, became intertwined with the Hounds and their plans as a ploy, and was staring down a dangerous path that involved her jumping even further into the shadows. But if that was the case, why not, right?

”What the hell,” Madalena shrugged, ”Might as well take what help I can get, and if I’ll be here all the time anyway, why not get something out of it?”

Puck’s impish grin spread ear to ear.

”Spoken like a true witch. You’re learning rather quickly, but even with all the knowledge you’ve been granted and all the materials at your disposal, there are a few ‘tricks of the trade’ you’ll need if you wish to work in the shadows like your predecessor.”

Puck turned his back again, walking over to a shelf piled high with magical implements of all shapes and sizes.

Madalena cocked her head, her awe filled smile never fading, though his words struck her as odd.

”Y’know, every time you mention Marie, it’s like you’re walking on eggshells.” Madalena thought aloud as she trailed behind. ”She’s not in trouble, right? I mean, she’ll be back at some point, won’t she?”

The corners of Puck’s mouth turned downward with Maddi’s audible concern. Truth was, Puck knew so little about Marie’s current path, he couldn’t accurately predict any future involving her. Secretly, he hoped The White Witch might once again grace the halls of his tavern, but with Gwyneth’s ambitions set so high, he doubted that he and Maddi would ever see the Marie they once knew.

”She’ll return in due time,” Puck called back as he rummaged through the collection of items, his uncertainty marking the statement as less than the truth but not quite a falsehood. ”Aha! There you are.”

He turned back around holding a beautiful scarlet cane in his hand, shaped to look like rose vines with thorns jutting out at uneven intervals, the top fashioned into the shape of a rose and more vines to make up the handle.

”Another gift, a cane crafted from elder, an important tree for our kind. Beneath its branches devils, spirits, and witches dance. It is a powerful tool in your craft and can greatly improve the quality of any work, but so too can it hinder or halt our movement and command forces over which you hold dominion.”

Madalena took the cane into both hands, marveling at the craftsmanship. It was so sleek and smooth. She could feel the power emanating from it, the reaction it had to her touch.

”That isn’t all,” Puck spoke before Madalena could thank him, reaching into his vest and pulling out a small, worn, leather journal. ”This is my last gift to you, but you mustn’t read it now. There is a matter that requires your attention first. You’ll need a particular set of skills to unlock the secrets this journal holds.”

Madalena took the journal, turning it over in her hands a few times but refraining from taking a look inside.

”Wanna give me a hint at what that means, bossman?” Maddi requested, trying to riddle through Puck’s ambiguity to no avail.

Puck smiled.

”No, my dear. I’m afraid that would be too easy. Worry not, I shant leave you to wonder for too long. Though I cannot tell you what I mean, I can certainly show you.”

Before Madalena could question what he meant, Puck waved a hand and away she went, swallowed by shadow and ethereal mist, away to a distant, yet familiar place.

*****


Location: Sherman Square – Lost Haven




The heroes began to move away into Sherman Center, Charlie felt a mixture of surprise and noted the other arrivals some chick with a metal mask and looking like she walked out of a biker gang. Charlie probably stared for too long. She hung back a little deciding this was probably her only chance to make a call. Let someone know what’d she be doing.

Digging around in one of her pockets she produced her cellphone, beaten up and fixed way too many times to count. She clicked through her contacts scrolling past her mom’s cell, home, and even Carrie’s cell. They all would, reasonably of course, tell her to turn her ass home. Charlie needed some nerve not a voice of reason. She stopped on Madelena’s number, hitting the call button.

Holding a tight grip on her staff.

The line rang for several minutes until the default voicemail message played. It seemed strange that someone like Maddi hadn’t taken the time to make a custom one. Not long after, however, the air shifted, carrying that same ominous chill as before. Shadows began to dance and coalesce, ushering a crimson figure into existence. But what followed wasn’t what Charlie expected.

From behind the mist, Madalena stepped forward, ruby heels clacking on the cobbled street of the square. She was dressed in velvet fine, adorned head to toe in eloquent shades of red, a cane at her side. Her hair was pulled neatly back into a tight bun, and around her neck was a simple charm, a black stone at the end inscribed with a strange symbol.

Madalena looked around, then looked herself up and down, staggering slightly from the jolt of realization that she had been sent halfway across Lost Haven, catching herself with the cane.

”What in the . . ,” Maddi whispered to herself, making sense of her situation. She looked up, though maybe she should have been looking down, and yelled. ”I still don’t know what this means! And why the heels?”

Charlie looked to her phone and then back up, “. . .Maddi, that you?

Pocketing the phone again she approached. “How the hell did you get here?

Madalena looked at Charlie, recognizing her voice and the staff at her side.

”Charlie!” she exclaimed, lowering her voice a little once she remembered Charlie was wearing a mask. ”Hmm, so that’s what Puck meant? Guess he figured you could use some help doing . . . whatever this is.”

Madalena felt good with that response until she realized she hadn’t answered Charlie’s question.

”Right, how did I get here . . . Puck sent me, and check out the new digs!”

Madalena modelled the costume briefly, posing her arms with the most awkward high fashion looks in mind, swinging the cane a couple of times before almost throwing it at Charlie.

”Sorry, getting used to all of this. So what are you doing here?” Maddi questioned, looking around to see a couple of men and women in costume quickly shuffling away inside a building.

Puck, how’d- you know what, I’m assuming it’s something I’m not gonna understand. You look great but your face looks different and your voice sounds weird.” Charlie said, stepping up little closer. “Uhm. I-I’m going to help the metas. You know, destroy the satellite thing.

She pointed with her chin to the backs of the heroes. “I was just trying to call you, actually.

Have you seen the news?

Maddi nodded, turning her head down and fumbling with her cane.

”Yeah . . . I heard just before I spoke to Puck. I knew some people in Philadelphia once upon a time. Hope they moved before all this happened. That’s probably why Puck sent me here like this. He wanted to make sure I could work without the Witchfinder knowing who I was. Thus,” Maddi motioned to her clothing.

”Lady Hex was born.” her voice picked up slightly, a small smile creeping up on her crimson lips.

”And I think you mean we are destroying the satellite thing! Puck told me I was needed somewhere else before we could continue tracking down the General, which must mean that one, even Puck is a little upset about the Hounds recent attacks and two, the General must be operating independently to the other groups. But this should take them all down a peg.”

Charlie held her staff in both hands, “Maddi, I. . .I-

Fuck.” Charlie swore. “Are you sure? I’m only here because these metas can’t do a job right. And I can’t go home knowing the satellite is pointing at Lost Haven. This- this is really dangerous. It’s going to be like it was at the university.

She reached for her hand.

Please be sure.

Madalena stepped closer, taking Charlie’s hand in hers.

”Puck told me that my powers are, for better or worse, fueled by mischief. The uncertainty and entropy of events, the possibility of multiple outcomes, small acts of chance and pieces of luck, I have power over them. Now, can you think of anyone more apt to take control of this chaos than me?”

Maddi laughed, tightening her grip.

”Besides, as far as I can see it, we’re the only ones like us with a foot in the door. I don’t see any other witches, magicians, or alchemists nearby. I promise you I’m sure about this. In fact, you have my word that no harm will come to either one of us on this mission. OH! Look at that, gave you my word and we’re in a handshake, looks like I’m bound to keep my promise, so long as you agree.”

Charlie shuffled her mask down and nervous laughter bubbled out of her. “I guess so, you’re the expert Lady Hex. I agree.

Yeah we’re the only ones, but I’m really glad you’re here. I was calling ‘cause I thought I’d lose my nerve.” She admitted looking at Icon’s back. “I knew if I called anyone else they’d tell me to go home.

I didn’t want to go but I don’t want to die either.

Colorful Magic


Lachance Stronghold Exterior – Henderson, Nevada
Time: Late Evening, Present Day




The moon began to wane in the sky, fading behind tall buildings in the distant city. A chill crept across the arid landscape, quickly giving way to warm currents of morning. Though the sun had yet to peek above the blazing lights of Vegas, the day was fast approaching. All this time wasted in pain and fear.

Marie stepped through the mirror in the downtrodden shed, dodging fallen boards, broken glass, and billowing tarps, slowly breathing in the crisp air. She finally felt calm. Her wounds had been healed, mostly, and Ben was on his way to recovery. This time alone to reflect was a blessing.

Marie, Holt called from behind, stalking the ground as an ethereal feline. His presence was appreciated. Marie felt that he was a part of her; to be alone with him was to be with herself.

Now that we have the time, what did you see before?

He spoke of her memory in Smithy’s, when Gwyneth’s past overcome Marie’s present. It was a painful experience, not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, the knowing that she had been persecuted so in that time long forgotten. She wanted to unload her woes and worries, but something was amiss. The air changed suddenly . . . she was no longer alone.

The air outside of the shed began to swell, swirling around the figure standing before Marie. The wind even slipped inside of the shed, picking up some of the debris laying around inside and tossed it about outside. The woman who had appeared before the young witch wore a silver-colored dress, while her dark brown hair was buffeted by the strong winds that she had summoned.

“I have waited three long months for this moment,” the woman declared as she began to inch forward towards Marie. The torrential winds followed along, as if the silver-clad woman had been the epicenter. “Revenge is always best served cold

Marie had enough time to anticipate the sorceress’s appearance to move back, though not enough to dodge a few shards of glass that cut at her legs as they flew from their place. Immediately, Holt positioned himself between the two women, his shape a phantasmal swirl of dark shadows, black tendril-like arms, claws, and teeth.

”Wait!” Marie cried to the both of them, raising a pleading hand for both parties to halt.

Holt reluctantly did as asked, moving just enough for Marie to get a good look at the Silver Sorceress.

”Look,” she began, words heavy with fatigue, ”I . . . I know what this is, okay? I get it. I royally screwed you and Diplodoc over last time we met, but can we not do this today?”

It was an odd request to be sure, but Marie continued nonetheless.

”A lot’s changed in three months and honestly, I could give a rat’s ass about S.T.R.I.K.E., or Icon, or whoever the hell else was on that team in West Virginia. I have nothing to do with that group anymore, nor did I really ever want to in the first place. If you and Diplodoc are planning another Pax Metahumana, be my guest! I’ve got more on my plate to deal with.”

Marie extended her hand as if to offer a handshake, or some other appropriate gesture. She wasn’t so naive as to think the sorceress would stop at just that, but she hoped it’d be enough to start a conversation rather than a fight.

A smile appeared on the Silver Sorceress’ face before she mumbled a few inaudible words under her breath. Suddenly, several shadowy arms slithered out of the ground, grabbed ahold of Marie, and started to try to drag her into the ground.

“Not personal?” the Silver Sorceress taunted the young mage, “It becomes personal when you’ve been held under lock and key while being sedated for three whole months. It becomes personal when your sister had been hospitalized for that same time and you couldn’t do anything for her. This isn’t about being a hero. This is about actions having consequences.”

Marie gasped as the sorceress’s magic wrapped around her arms and waist, squeezing the life from her as they slowly retreated into the earth, the ethereal hands like ice on her skin. Holt responded, slashing at the tendrils with his own shadowy claws, his power just enough to disrupt theirs. It was a struggle, but Marie held on, speaking as she was being cut free.

”Three months, puh,” she scoffed, ”Try having your memories locked away for 500 years, then we’ll talk.”

She pulled herself up, taking in a deep breath before calling to Holt, issuing a series of mental commands. He assumed the form of a raven, circling the immediate area to create a wind to combat the sorceress’s own.

“Once we’re through here, I’ll give you a first hand experience of being put under ice,” the Silver Sorceress threatened while she watched as her opponents were attempting countermeasures against her. Nevertheless, she was quick on her feet and already initiated her next spell.

“So, you reject the title of hero, do you?” the Silver Sorceress called out to Marie, after she had mumbled a few more words. “Why don’t you tell that to all of them.”

She then pointed towards the shadowy figures rising from the ground. Suddenly, a foul spell arose, just like charred skin and hair. Although the physical features of these figures were obscured by their gaseous nature, it was clear that all their hair had been scorched off and their clothes were in tatters. Ghostly echoes resounded from their mouths, asking why she had not saved them, why they had to die. With each moment passing, more shades ascended from the ground and encircled Marie.

“These are just a few of the souls whom the Hounds had just wiped off the face of the Earth. Do you want to tell them you’re not a hero?”

Marie turned to face the mass of burning remains and ephemeral voices, their cries drowning the outside environment, even the whistling of the wind through the loose boards began to fade, replaced by the cry of illusory spirits. To Marie, however, they seemed quite real.

”I-I had nothing to do with that,” Marie stammered, backing away slightly. ”I’m not responsible for what the Hounds do. If anything, it’s you and Diplodoc’s fault they decided to surface in the first place!” Marie cried, head reeling from the cacophony of lost souls infernal pleaing.

Listen to them not! Holt’s voice tried to break through the wall of disembodied screaming, finding that Marie’s mind was nearly closed to him.

They are illusions, Marie. You know this, you have combatted such tricks before. See them for what they are, not spirits, but shadows conjured to confuse.

Marie could only just make out Holt’s voice among countless others, but this spell was insidious. It took hold of that fragment of her old self, the part that longed to be a cunning woman, the part that had, at one time, thought to help the folk of Lost Haven. She covered her ears to escape the crying voices, losing herself momentarily to their screams.

“What a selfish little bitch. She was more concerned with herself than the countless lives of those murdered by the Hounds,” the Silver Sorceress taunted Marie as the mass of shades grew by the moment. Marie’s counter that it was DIplodoc’s fault for the Hounds only fell on deaf ears. “And if Diplodoc had been successful, there would not have a reason for the Hounds to rise up. There would not be any massacres if there were not normal humans left.”

While Marie was distracted by the shades, the Silver Sorceress noticed that the winds she had summoned were slowly dying down. When she examined the sky above, she noticed a shadowy shape of a bird. She could not quite make out all the details of this creature, but she know that it was a threat, as it was flying against the summoned winds. Something like that had to be dealt with.

She was not sure how corporeal this creature was, so she began to use the winds to pick up any sort of nearby rubble and sent it up to where the creature was flying. If that did not slow the being down, she would just have to try something else. Nevertheless, the Silver Sorceress had them separated. If she could force Marie’s hand, then that shadowy bird would just be an annoying distraction.

Suddenly, the ground underneath Marie began to become soft and unstable, just as what had happened to the Raptor Pack back in Albany. Slowly, Marie began to sink into what now seemed like quicksand. Yet the shades, who did not need solid ground to stand, remained unaffected by this next trap that the SIlver Sorceress had cooked up for the White Witch.

Holt was unphased by the floating rubble and debris. They passed through his body as if it were air, but the force behind them, the shifting winds that stirred greater objects in the room, that gave Holt pause. Nevertheless, he pressed forward, the winds roused by his wings clashing with those conjured by the sorceress.

Meanwhile, Marie began to sink, unaware of her predicament. The voices raged on, Holt’s warning fading into the noise.

”I didn’t save them,” she whispered to herself in a whimper, hands clasped against her ears as the earth began to swallow her whole. ”I’m so . . . “

Selfish

The word echoed through her mind. She could hear it in her own voice, from the Silver Sorceress, from Holt, from Puck, from . . . Joseph.

”I’m selfish,” she said aloud, the sound of her own voice cutting through the crying shades. ”I am selfish. I’m a witch.” she uttered with confidence, slowly bringing her hands away from her ears.

”Witchcraft is cruel, selfish, and self serving. It’s a part of me, in my blood. I can give with the right hand and take with the left, and that’s my decision, my will. I do this for me . . .”

Marie turned to the phantasms, arms firmly at her side, the vortex of sand not quite able to move past them.

”I don’t owe you anything!” she screamed at the shadows, her voice pushing at each one, forcing them to retreat, fading back into whatever part of her mind had conjured them, if it existed any longer.

Marie pushed against the quicksand, not with her strength or any physical attribute, but with that vital spark, her powers of fascination working against the charm that kept her trapped. It was enough to free her from the enchantment, her body rolling across the ground to a level patch of sand.

“Well, if you won’t listen to those murdered by the Hounds,” the Silver Sorceress told Marie, unfazed by the White Witch’s ability to get herself out of these enchantments. “Then maybe someone a little more close to home can.”

Finally, one last shade arose from the ground. However, unlike the last mob of ghosts, this one did not look like he had been zapped by an orbital death ray. His usually scruffy brown hair was dirty and matted, bangs plastered to his forehead, which was covered in sweat. His dark eyes were rife with fear, scars and bruises appearing along his sharp features. On his neck lay two, wide holes like bite marks, the wound that killed him in his battle with the Ambassador, the bite from the Ouroboros.

”J-Joseph?” Marie whispered, pushing herself up from the ground, stumbling slightly at the sight of him. She hadn’t seen his wounds, hadn’t known the severity of his condition. He was paler than usual, and gaunt, like the life had been sucked from him. Marie’s hands shook in nervous frustration, her arms quivered. She had tried to forget, but here he was.

“I see you have become stronger, Marie, since I last saw you before I went to the Ironworks,” the shade of her dead friend acknowledged, “but at what cost? What deals have you made with the devil to gain this power?”

Marie shook her head. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes.

”What are you saying?” she responded, trying to reign in her emotions. ”I . . . I’ve done everything you would have done, everything you did. W . . . Why wait all this time to see me? Why now, why this?” Marie began to slur her words as Joseph’s presence brought back memories of their time together. All that he had taught her, all that he had done for her. It was all too much to bear.

“Do you not know with whom you make alliances?” Joseph demanded from her, “Do you not realize that you have now entered a pact with the one who sent me to the afterlife and, in doing so, spit on my memory? Are you so sure about what you are doing and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals?”

”You-You were the one who charged into a fight that we all told you would end poorly! I warned you, Puck warned you, we tried to keep you out of it! But you wanted fame,” Marie argued, tears streaming down her face.

”You were careless,” she replied almost in a whisper, not wanting to offend, ”How could you think summoning something that unstable would end well for you? Holt cautioned against it. And the Ambassador . . . s-she was just doing a job.”

Marie let out a heavy sigh,

”You told me . . . you were the one who reminded me of what we are,” Marie could barely speak, unable to finish her thought.

“You have not answered me with anything except excuses,” Joseph chided Marie, “Why did you ally with the woman who sent me to the grave? Did our friendship not mean anything to you? Do you have no respect for the dead?”

Marie! Holt called out once again, fighting for a place in Marie’s mind. You cannot speak to Joseph, you know who holds his soul. Fight this!

Meanwhile, the Silver Sorceress was amused by how well her illusion was working. She had definitely hit one of the White Witch’s heartstrings. For the entirety of this conversation with the illusion of Marie’s dead friend, the Silver Sorceress could have taken any of the opportunities presented by the situation to end the young witch. However, ending her would have been too kind of a punishment for the girl. Living with her guilt was way more satisfying to the silver-clad magic user. While the conversation was going on, the Silver Sorceress was conjuring one last spell as a parting gift. Unlike her others, this one would be timed, so that she could make her escape. Small ice crystals began forming below the White Witch’s feet and they gradually grew while she was distracted.

At this moment, the Silver Sorceress decided it was the moment for her retreat. However, before she left, she etched a warning into the ground.

If I wished it, you would be dead now. If you ever cross me again, you won’t be leaving our next confrontation in one piece.

After the message was written, the Silver Sorceress teleported away while Marie was reliving memories with Joseph. At that very moment, the ice crystals rapidly expanded into sharp icicles. While most of them missed Marie, as they were designed to by the Silver Sorceress, one grazed her leg, drawing out blood. At the same time, the shade that the Silver Sorceress had summoned slowly faded away into the breeze, revealing its true nature, since it could not remain intact when its creator was not present.

Marie fell to her knees, the cold chill from the ice creeping through her veins. Holt was instantly at her side, the sorceress’s winds subsiding with her disappearance. He tried to speak to Marie, tried to assure her that all was well, but she couldn’t hear him. Her vision began to blur, a soft breeze carrying the smell of wheat and fresh game into her nostrils.

Marie looked down to see her hands were those of a child, and the cold she felt came from the forest, beckoning her to return. A small village crept behind her, its denizens shooing her off into the wilderness, happy to be rid of the child with the loaded finger. It was a brief glimpse, but Marie knew that this was Gwyneth, her childhood, the fear and abandonment she felt being ushered from the first home she knew.

Marie, Holt’s voice finally made it through, Are you alright?

Marie grabbed her leg, applying pressure to the new cut and wincing at the sting of air brushing against it.

”I . . . I can’t keep doing this, Holt.” she muttered, rocking gently to soothe her physical and mental ache. ”I can’t keep going back to this. I mean look at me!” she shook her head in frustration.

”No, this has to change. Gwyneth wasn’t like this, I wasn’t like this. I was strong . . . I know I was . . .”

Holt perched himself on her shoulder as a raven, nestling his head against her neck as a form of comfort, though she knew he didn’t fully understand the sentiment of the gesture.

With time, you’ll regain that strength . . .”

”No,” Marie cut him off, standing quickly and moving toward the mirror at the back of the shed. Her voice was cold.

”This won’t happen again.”

The Calm Before the Storm

Part 2


Lachance Stronghold – Henderson, Nevada
Time: Late Evening, Present Day




Marie and Benjamin were taken to adjacent rooms down a long and winding corridor. The walls were etched at the top and bottom with intricate vines that seemed to twist around one another in the corner of one’s eye. The decor was rustic, almost medieval, with grandiose furnishings and wall hangings, many of which sported rich banners and clothes dyed royal purples or deep greens; Faerie colors, Marie noticed.

The two of them were given as much comfort as was available; Marie was taken to a spare bedroom constructed for witches seeking asylum, one of a few that dotted the whole of the sanctuary, while Ben was carefully placed on a large bench in one of the work rooms so as not to get blood or fur on the good linens.

Genevieve came to Marie’s room first, two women in tow, one carrying a censure and a pewter bowl, the other a black book and short dagger. They positioned themselves in a triangle, Genevieve at the foot of the bed, the two witches on either side of Marie.

“It is a most insidious poison that courses through your veins,” Genevieve cautioned Marie, taking the book in her hands. “Designed to sap our kind of our strength, deplete our will and weaken the cunning flame. It is imparted on silver objects via a ‘blessing,’ though few who have felt its sting would think it so.”

She leaned down with a smile.

“Fortunately, the rite to purge your body of this curse is a simple one, if not a little time consuming. We will need to bleed you, however, just a little. The herbs in the censure should dull your senses. Close your eyes now.”

Marie did as asked, letting herself drift away, taking in the bitter scent of the burning herbs. It was familiar, traces of belladonna, mandragora, ergot, trance inducing herbs used in works of physical and spiritual flight. A wave of euphoria came over Marie. Her muscles relaxed, her mind was at ease, and slowly she fell into a deep sleep, no, something more than sleep. Her eyes fluttered open once more, but as her vision cleared, she saw herself lying in bed, the witches hard at work.

It had been too long since Marie had undergone the spirit flight, releasing her spirit from her body in the traditional way. She smiled as she watched them work, Genevieve reciting an incantation in some old French dialect, one witch wafting the smoke from the censure over Marie’s body, the other bringing the bowl and blade to her outstretched arm.

Marie’s spirit flinched as she watched herself be cut, though she could feel nothing. A stream of black bile poured from her veins into the waiting vessel, a result of the enchantment, Marie thought. The dark fluid continued to fill the pewter bowl. So much fled her body that Marie wondered if they meant to bleed her dry. After a few more moments, however, her arm began to bleed red once more, prompting the witches to cover it to stop the bleeding.

Genevieve took the filled container into both hands, incanting over it until its contents burst into flames. Marie’s spirit felt invigorated, stronger, though not at peak strength. Her body was covered and left to rest, Genevieve brushing a stray hair from Marie’s face as she whispered into her ear.

“Rest now, and do not exert yourself unnecessarily. We’re off to help the wolf. He should be fine when you wake.”

They filed into the other room where Ben lay motionless on the bench, a second pair of witches, one man and one woman, strapping his limbs to the legs of the bench in case he became violent. It seemed harsh, but Genevieve couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t rip his way through the sanctuary if given a chance. Marie followed in silence, noting Ben’s nostrils opening slightly upon her arrival. Could he sense her spirit?

Holt hopped around on a nearby table as a shadowy raven, motioning with his beak to an opened manuscript detailing the procedure the witches were to perform. Genevieve ran her finger over the page, ensuring she understand the finer details before turning to Ben.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” she spoke plainly, her voice firm with little sign of any other emotion. “Or if you can even understand me as you are. Regardless, the illness which plagues you is twofold. The silver in your system paralyzes you, as I understand, but the blessing applied to the bullets is also working against you. Now,” Genevieve spoke louder, circling around Ben to a large bowl filled with dried purple flowers.

“If the rantings of an eighteenth century Swedish alchemist are to be believed, a fumigation of dried aconite petals will stimulate the muscles and upset your system enough to cause a violent reaction similar to nausea. The common name for aconite is wolfsbane, quite deadly to your kind as I hear. Fear not, the fumes won’t kill you, though I cannot speak to any side effects you may experience after your system has been purged.”

Marie moved closer to Ben, running an invisible hand over his head. She hoped it might be enough to calm him. This was undoubtedly a highly stressful situation for him and the wolf. Had he not already been turned, he would surely have done so by now.

Genevieve placed the smoking herbs near to Ben’s face, wafting the smoke into his nostrils. At the same time, a woman knelt down and carefully cupped his snout, gently pouring a cool, bitter liquid into his mouth.

“We’ve prepared a tincture for the nausea. There are a few muscle relaxers in there as well. I’m afraid that is all we can do for now. According to Marie’s notes, you should regain feeling and mobility soon, though the nausea might make you a little rowdy. Apologies for the restraints, but I must keep the coven’s best interests in mind. Try to rest. We’ll alert your friends to signs of improvement.”

Genevieve led her witches from the room, locking the door behind her and ordering a few of them to check in regularly. She passed by the room holding Kat, Yeong, and Ji, looking them over to make sure they hadn’t gotten themselves into trouble, then turned a corner and returned to the tree at the center of the stronghold.

Some time later. . .

Marie felt the pull of her body stirring. She’d sat at the foot of her bed, glancing back to Ben’s room now and again to look for signs of movement. Her awareness faded, her senses dampening as she returned to her awakening form. As she sat up in her bed, Marie could feel the sting of the cut used in the rite, though it had healed remarkably in the time since Genevieve’s purification. She scanned the room, catching Holt pacing the room as a hare in her periphery.

Awake at last, Holt sounded satisfied, pleased even. He hopped up onto the bed and sat next to Marie. I can feel your strength returning as we speak. How do you feel?

”Better,” Marie let out in a single breath, stretching her arms above her head and yawning. ”It’s been a long day.”

Indeed, but now that we’ve had a chance to rest, will you tell me what you saw? It was a memory, wasn’t it?

Marie shook her head.

”Not now, I need a bit of fresh air. I’ll tell you outside.”

The Calm Before the Storm

Part 1


Location: Hoover Dam – Las Vegas, Nevada
Time: Late Evening, Present Day




Marie fell to the ground with enough force to knock the wind out of her. She had passed through many of Puck’s portals, but their composition was entirely different, more sophisticated in Marie’s opinion. Where the Ambassador linked places through doors opened via the Arcane Stream, Puck’s doors connected to the soul of a place, his presence infused within the very stones. No matter her method of travel, Marie was safe . . . well, relatively speaking. She glanced at her wounded party, all understandably shaken by their brush with death. Somehow, they had emerged victorious.

Holt formed next to Marie, wispy hands running over the length of her arm as a sort of rudimentary comfort. His attempts at emotion were well received.

Are you well? he spoke softly to her mind, trying not to surprise her further.

Marie’s strength had been completely sapped. The bullet’s poisoned continued to work its way through her veins, slowly draining her vitality. It was a vicious weapon the Hounds wielded. Had she not conjured that memory, had Gwyneth’s Sight not been in her hand, Marie might have fallen.

Well as can be expected, her mental response was sluggish, bearing the weight of her physical fatigue.

Marie turned up to find the Ambassador standing over her, words falling from her lips in irregular passes, fading as she struggled to fight the bullet’s poison. She saw the glint of the phone being handed to her and weakly grasped it. Had she been in a better way, Marie might have appreciated the charm on the back. As the Ambassador took her leave, Marie turned back to the others, Benjamin noticeably more damaged than she.

We have to get him help soon, Marie’s thoughts were like a whisper to Holt. I might have something useful back with the Lachance witches . . .

Worry about yourself, Holt interrupted. Your energy is all but gone, and your strength will continue to deplete until you undergo a purifying rite, one I’m sure the Lachance witches know.

But the question remained, how would they get back to the Lachance family stronghold? Marie and Benjamin were in no condition to travel, and Puck’s door required a more direct link to the target location than Marie possessed. Holt could carry Marie and Ben, but Yeong, Ji, and Kat were all rather close to him at this point; they’d throw a fit if Marie spirited him away. Fortunately, Genevieve Lachance had been a gracious host to Marie and provided her with a means of returning to their stronghold.

Marie riffled through the small bag at her side, filing through the miscellaneous witching instruments before happening upon a long, white wand. It was crudely fashioned, resembling a limb more than the intricate ceremonial implements she’d seen before. The only signs of its power were small inscriptions along each side, written in the same tongue as the magic mirror in the desert, but these words she couldn’t read, not in her current state. Despite this, she knew the wand’s purpose.

With some difficulty, Marie positioned herself closer to the group, the twins and Kat all huddled around Benjamin. She grabbed hold of his back foot, flinching at his soft whimper.

”Everyone place a hand on Benjamin,” Marie commanded with clenched teeth. She could sense their unease, understood their hesitation, but had no time to deal with any objections. Eventually, all did as asked with the exception of the Dover Twins who promised to keep in touch.

Marie turned to Holt, giving him a weak nod. He took the wand in both hands, dark tendril-like claws wrapping around branch like an enveloping black pitch. Then he snapped the wand in half, releasing a deafening crackle of energy. There was no flash of light, no wind or mist, they had simply vanished, fading from one place to the next.



Lachance Stronghold – Henderson, Nevada
Time: Late Evening, Present Day




All became clear once more. The sudden blur of one world fading into the next began to melt away. When at last their eyes adjusted, they were met with a strange spectacle indeed. Before them stood a tree far larger than words could describe, its bark white as snow, emanating a soft glow that was icy yet comforting. Its long branches were littered with silver leaves and crimson blossoms, all floating on an ethereal wind that gave the illusion of dancing, or perhaps they were dancing. The tree called to them with a faint hum like the chiming of bells, was it singing?

A slender figure approached from a long corridor leading into that divine arboretum, scarlet locks falling around her painted features. Genevieve Lachance, head of the Lachance witches, came to greet her weary guests. She could see it in their eyes, the source of their suffering.

“The Hounds,” she spat with disgust, kneeling down and cupping Marie’s face. “What have they done now?”

”S-ss-silver b-bullets.” Marie struggled to speak. How effective could this weapon of the Hounds be? Surely their knowledge of witchcraft wasn’t so sophisticated, nor her powers so weak, that she could be so easily bested by a simple graze from a bullet.

”Blessed silver,” Holt corrected, falling onto Genevieve’s shoulder in the form of a raven. ”The sort used by The Winter Court . . .”

“Don’t speak their name,” Genevieve warned, shuttering at the mere mention of the infamous hunters. “I know their handiwork, and worry not, my dear, I can reverse whatever ills they have inflicted.”

Marie didn’t follow Genevieve's and Holt’s conversation, but she was relieved all the same.

“That, however,” Genevieve pointed to Ben, the corners of her mouth turned down. “That is beyond my power. I can do nothing for your lycanthropic friend, nor do I fully understand why you’ve brought them here.”

Genevieve turned her back to the others, speaking quietly to Marie.

“I gave you that wand in good faith, White Witch. Your path, your deeds are known to me, theirs are not. I agreed to grant you my aid, not these creatures. The Families are weak, we cannot afford the chaos that your friends here will surely bring.”

Marie shook her head.

”I promise, they can be t-trusted. They’re helping me just as you. They w-won’t cause you any trouble.” Marie only half believed her words. So far, this group had been nothing but chaotic, but she hoped things would simmer down now that they were all out of immediate danger.

”I have a method for healing B . . . the wolf. It’s in my b-b-bags. Holt can find it.”

Holt offered a small nod to both Genevieve and Marie before flying down the corridor to locate Marie’s belongings.

Genevieve sighed.

“Very well,” she turned back to the rest of the group. “You are all safe here, but hear me when I say this place will not abide the chaos your kind brings. You will be mindful, you will be respectful, you will make yourselves scarce, or you will be forced from this place. Where exactly that lands you . . . I couldn’t say.”

She let out a soft chuckle, motioning for a few of the witches throughout the chamber to carry Marie and Ben to separate rooms to be healed, and leading Katarina, Ji, and Yeong to another room to wait.


Promoting one of my NPCs to a full-fledged PC. Here's my CS for Madalena Hawthorne/Hex. And I know we've got a lot of supernatural and magical folk, so to keep a sort of balance I'd also like to make Hekate an NPC for both White Witch and Hex (albeit a very active NPC, but an NPC nonetheless).



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