The novelty of the situation wore off when it became apparent this Snaera would not back down. Violence was truly despicable, yet she couldn’t help but feel a tug of sympathy for the grief-blinded girl. Bell’s brow twitched as she chewed the corner of her lip.
“I think it would be wise to accept the little princess’s offer, Snaera,” Bell said from the crowd of her coven, “I do not know much about the politics of these lands, but imagine the murder of sweetest Valda in her own throne room, and in front of so many witnesses would not do much good for the relations between your two kingdoms. Some might consider it enough for further bloodshed.” She stepped forward slightly, though did not pass in front of Jadis, “Is it worth it? Even if Valda was guilty, and of that I sincerely doubt, killing her won’t bring your father back; it will just cause more grief."
After a moment, she shook her head, "I know the grief of loss is hard to bear, but it just doesn’t make sense to pin it all on Valda because of a shared modus operandi; that’s no grounds for an execution.”
Mallaidh looked up slowly. Some of the others were looking at her, but the act hadn’t provoked Lady Eve’s attention. Or rather, she didn't let anything register. Molly reigned her breathing back under control, her tired muscles wobbling as the adrenaline waned. Her forehead prickled. She shoved her phone deeper into her pocket and tried to forget about it.
She had to stifle a gasp at the conjured image. The visage was terrible. Was the thing that had appeared to her in the leaves of the same ilk as this… whatever? Suddenly, Molly felt very ill, as though the bottom of her stomach had fallen away. Perhaps it was a mistake to have come here? Just walk out of here, never look back. But Molly knew she’d regret that more. There were things she had been promised. She wanted them. It was worth the risk; any risk.
Whilst Molly’s new peers asked their questions, she wondered how much each of them knew about this supernatural stuff. When her eyes came to the scarred man, she quickly averted them elsewhere, and then felt a stab of guilt.
After the questions, she piped up. The burning one, the one she knew she couldn’t ask, was simply, “why me?”, since, by and large, she was unremarkable. She had only been made aware of this unseen world mere days ago. And, ultimately, she knew she was here because she had chosen to be.
Everyone else covered most of what she wanted to know, but there was still something left.
“Uh, miss- Lady Eve,” she began in hushed and gentle tones, "Hi, I'm Mallaidh," she moved her hand in the barest of waves.
“You’re mighty generous to be sure. But, uh, is this gonna be a long-term thing then?”
The arrival of Puck was rather overshadowed by the accusation of murder. Bell let out an overly dramatic gasp. The absolute audacity of that Eastern SnowPlains representative could be nothing else but amusing; Valda was not a murderer, that was fact to Bell. The little princess, the one who had been giving Bell and her sisters all sorts of funny looks, tried to defuse the situation. With the Lion’s share of the coven here Bell doubted Valda was in any real danger, though, the same couldn’t be said for everyone in the throne room.
Proof. That would be interesting to hear; what subterfuge and lies could be spun before them? Bell leaned back, resting her weight on one leg with arms crossed. Her foot tapped: waiting.
Molly tugged up her coat's collar as she left the taxi. The rear lights glared back, until it turned and vanished, abandoning her. For a long time, she simply stood, staring from the precipice of the property through clouded breaths. It stuck out as hugely different from the cityscape Molly had left behind with the airport mere hours ago; the house actually loomed, pocked with shadows and secrets. Beneath three layers, she shuddered.
From the pocket of her jeans she pulled her phone and sent a message to Sandy:
“Going in now. If you don’t hear from me soon, they were probably an axe murderer. Xxx”
Before putting her phone away she snapped a photo of the house, the white flash temporarily blinding her. Whispered curses flew as she rubbed her eyes and their visible bags.
She trundled up the driveway, suitcase trailing behind. With each step closer she drew, the urge to turn and leave and never find out what this was all about swelled inside her chest, greater and greater. Yet she knew she could not. Not just because the flights would have been a total waste of money either.
Not seconds after the bell rang was it answered by a sombre looking man – the butler, as it transpired. She fixed her hair so it draped in front of her face and let him take her coat, revealing a mustard-yellow jumper beneath. It was knitted and loose-fitting, with holes in the sleeves that she poked her thumbs through. She refused the offer of a drink, despite being parched. Her luggage was left by the door.
When she was moved to the room with the others, it was as though a great weight was lifted from her chest. They were waiting just like her. And whilst it was an odd selection, they all seemed fairly normal, from the fleeting glance she gave each; there even seemed to be a mother and child. Mallaidh introduced herself to Devyn in turn, but was fairly monosyllabic in her further replies. A wavering smile held onto her face. She shuffled further into the room and stood by the wall, one arm crossed over her stomach to hold the opposing elbow. Green nails, the varnish chipped around the tips, drummed a frantic rhythm. Then she checked her phone, hiding her face behind it. 11:59pm.
Mallaidh regretted not conversing much, but she was exhausted. Not that there would have been much time to anyway; midnight tolled. At the twelfth chime their host appeared. Lady Eve was her name and her clothes were gorgeous. Whilst Devyn asked the question surely on everyone’s lips, Mallaidh tried to sneak a photo of their host. There was that bright flash again, followed by a moment of comprehension. Cheeks flushed full of blood, arms were pulled in tight and crossed, almost dropping her phone in the process, and eyes glued themselves to the floor. The world seemed to fall away, replaced by embarrassment and the thrumming of her racing heart.
Icy fingers traced along his spine, bringing a violent shudder. Magic. Odd magic, not exactly malign, but… dark? A dagger was in Kean’s hand now, gripped tight with new resolve.
No sooner had he turned from the horses when everything black, save for the dim light hovering in the air. Reflexively, a hand went to his face in panic, but nothing obscured his vision. Then, the world exploded back into light, accompanied but a purple front of destructive energy; it reaved the life from everything that crossed its path, tearing the ground asunder with frightening ease. Kean stood, stunned. He was at once inspired and demoralised by the display.
The Fae fell to the ground, and Kean relaxed, the beast slain. More than slain, obliterated. With the last of the horses corralled, he offered a shaky hand to the Fae, assuming it over. He was going to make a snide comment about how the beast was lucky that he didn’t get to deal with, but then the low-burning anger in Brennen’s words surprised Kean into silence. Not that he had time to muse over it, as five more perverted wolves tore towards them, as the Templar warned.
The night was filled with twisted-human screams. It was a sound that squirmed into your skull. Kean wanted to claw it out. Man and beast fell upon each other, blood spraying. The burning one was worst. Kean was glad it’s skull was cleaved quickly, a mercy for them both. His face scrunched up at the smell. You would not imagine forgetting how frightening the Scorned were. You'd reckon one could steel their mind. Not Kean. The only thing keeping his frayed nerves together, cauterising the newfound dread, was that black candle burning in the back of his mind, that off-magic.
Kean had fallen tighter behind the wall that was Adra now. Lacking the proficiency to attack with the same reckless abandon as Keenan, or the awesome magic that exalted Brennen and the Sorceress of the Brightwood Grove, he had to hope simple teamwork would suffice. His shifted uneasily.
“I’ve got your back,” He said firmly, trying to hide how he felt. A hairless horror bounded towards them. He could run. He should run. Turf was torn up in its wake. Focus. A deep breath in, then out. Calm. Kean launched his dagger at the monstrosity, his magic propelling the blade at speeds approaching that of a crossbow bolt. From the folds of his clothing a larger blade floated into his grasp, ready to support Adra when the melee broke out.
Name: Mallaidh Lynch (born Malcom) Alias: Molly Age: 22 Gender: Female (assigned male at birth) Nationality: IrelandAppearance: A quasi-androgynous face is mostly hidden beneath a mop of orange hair that spills in thick curls to halfway down her neck. An aquiline nose pokes past the curtain of fringe, which comes to a stop above faintly painted lips – as though makeup was applied and smeared away repeatedly. Her eyes, if one was able to see them, sparkle in the light, a pale blue. The clothing she wears varies, but a common thread is that it is always oversized and lumpy, hiding her physique beneath folds of multiple layers. History:
Molly was born the fifth son of a staunchly Catholic family of fisherfolk and construction workers. The family had lived in the same ramshackle house for generations.
School was rough for her; the abrasion of ideals between those of her upbringing and those upheld by her school, and a lot of the other students, led to the butting of heads. However, eventually she became less violently opposed to differing ideals, as she grew older, and she realised things about her family and herself that she had been supressing or ignoring. Home life became uncomfortable after that, and any attempt she made to question her family was met with scorn, and, on more than one occasion, the cane.
Instead of joining the family trade, Molly’s academic promise landed her on a biology course in a university over two hundred miles away. By then, she couldn’t leave fast enough. It was a freeing experience. At last, she was surrounded by open-minded people, not just in class, but in the dorms too. It was somewhat of a rebirth, though not nearly as extreme. During this time, she met her first and, to date, only boyfriend. He introduced her to a lot of interests Molly still maintains, and shared many defining moments with her, and she loved him. At the time she thought she must have simply been gay, but groups and friend circles she orbited eventually led her to a different, and foregone, conclusion. Not long after she started HRT and decided upon the name Mallaidh.
Coming out to her boyfriend took a lot of time and she tried and failed twice, but when she finally did… well, it went a lot different to how she hoped. Asking if it was “some kind of joke" led to a heated argument that he stormed out of. The few times she saw him since he made a show of ignoring her. He left her with a broken heart, a neutered trust, and a much more insidious parting gift.
After that Molly dropped out, it was only her second year, citing mental health issues after her first suicide attempt: a failed drowning in her bath. She returned home and became assistant librarian in her village. When she told her family of what she had discovered about herself, she was met with ridicule, and has not raised the issue since. Then still call her Malcom, every day. Every. Single. Day.
Every two weeks she made the journey to the largest nearby town, collecting her medication – not just HRT and antidepressants, but fixed-dose combination ARVs too. She had her boyfriend to thank for needing those. It was also why she was told she’d not be able to have her desired surgery performed. She refused the consolatory offer of therapy sessions. She felt hollow for weeks after that.
Adrift in the sea of life, hopeless and without direction, dysphoric in her own body, and feeling the side-effects of all her medications, she planned to end her life by jumping off a cliff, seeing it as a rather poetic and apt conclusion, to be lost to the depths.
It was then that Neem appeared to her, on the clifftop shrouded in twilight. He came as a face in the negative space of a lichen covered boulder. Its voice snuck into her head, offering her change, promising her what she wanted, if she lived and served. A taste was offered, a simple task for a simple reward: a show of power. All she had to do was tie a blue ribbon to the unlocked window of a baby’s bedroom, whilst they slept, without being detected. It would be the first step towards becoming outside what she was inside. Towards acceptance. Towards happiness. Finally.
And it worked, but the next morning, an article appeared in the newspaper. It was about a missing infant, his room found covered in blood. It was easy to connect the dots. However, before panic and guilt took total hold, the words in the news column rearranged, forming a message that burnt itself into her consciousness. When she blinked, the paper was normal again.
She had just received her summons.
Sin: Sloth – Molly often takes the path of least resistance, not enjoying the pressure of challenge of pushing her limits. Virtue: Humility – partly due to the extremely low opinion she has of herself, and partly due to her religious upbringing.
Personality: The driving force behind many of her actions is the desire to be accepted. She gets great gratification from validation, something she has been starved of. Because of this she tends to pay a lot of compliments, though is extremely self-conscious. She will warm quickly to kind and calm people, but generally distances herself from those that are too loud as she finds them abrasive. If you were to ask her, she’d say her best qualities are her capacity for forgiveness and her open-mindedness.
Skills: Basic Lock-picking – Since her pact requires a window to not be locked, she figured it’d be a good idea to learn how to unlock them without a key. Only having read the first few chapters of an instructional manual on the subject, and having no practice, since the window she found was already open, her knowledge is limited. It is doubtful she’d be able to open anything but the most rudimentary of locks. Dewey Decimal System Knowledge – having spent time as an assistant librarian, Molly is fluent in the classification system. Knot tying – Despite not going into the same business as her family, it does not mean they did not try to make her. She knows a wide variety of knots for multiple situations, and what would be most applicable when. Speed Reader – She can read about twice as fast as is average for somebody her age.
Equipment: A reel of blue ribbon and lock-picking book, and a dog-eared book of poems with "M.L. + B.R." written inside a scribbled heart on the first page. Other: "I walk this path alone, who would walk with me?"
Name: Neem Titles: The Empty Ranking: 1 Domains: Lies and Trickery, Summer Nights, Despair, Empty Spaces, Dreaming Appearance: Often Neem will appear as a simple face or the vague semblance of a body in negative space, preferring natural formations, such as those from clouds, or leaves snared by the wind. The voice that accompanies invades your mind, slow and sombre. Gifts:
Gift Name: Augmented intonation
Effect: After paying the cost Molly must sleep before receiving her boon, but thereafter, for one day she will have the capability of perfectly mimicking up to three different voices, provided she has heard them before.
Cost: The cost is simple enough: one must find an unlocked bed room window belonging to a young child, or unlock it themselves, and mark it with a length blue ribbon, tied in a bow. Being detected during the process voids the payment.
Summon Cost: Her most prized possession and an object made of gold must be destroyed.
Ellie had been too focussed. The chink of glass upon glass, the swill of liquids, the whisper of poured powder. That was all she heard; the fighting was far away, for her allies to deal with. Not her. She sat below, away, preparing to help who she could. Thus, she missed the faint groan of the window complaining on its hinges. It was not until the thud that she turned, and by then it was too late.
Spilling into her sanctuary were Goblins. She stared, confounded. This shouldn’t be happening. She should be safe down here. The fighting happened elsewhere, always; Ellie made sure of that. But they came all the same, a wave of chaos, destroying everything in their wake. She backed away slowly, flinching as they smashed the bottles, feeling tangible pain as her collection was mindlessly ruined. Everything had been in order, the way Ellie liked it. Now it was gone. Hours upon hours of work, gone in mere moments. And she just looked on, paralysed by fear, stunned by the suddenness of it all. The world was numbed far beyond what the numbweed could ever manage.
Yet, that was far from the worst of her concerns. The shouts from elsewhere below deck told others were discovering a similar fate. She took another step away. A board creaked underfoot. A goblin, smaller than the rest, was roused from its destructive reverie, seeing Ellie again as if for the first time. A chill finger ran along the length of her spine as she watched a mangled maw slowly open into a sickle-blade grin.
Ellie turned. Ellie ran.
A bottle shot past, showering her with shards of glass as it exploded against a beam overhead. Then the world fell away. She watched it turn and tumble. The goblin had tackled her legs from under her. Her body snapped against the floor, but she kept trying to move. She clawed at the planks, trying to pull herself away. Her nails splintered under the strain. Yet to no avail; the goblin was still holding on. Her now-bloody fingers wiped trails of slick crimson across the floor, useless. She felt the goblin let go, only the weight of his body remaining on her shins and ankles.
And then the world exploded.
Pain. Agony. White flecks danced across her vision as black crept in from the periphery. Everything felt cold. Yet the situation clarified. She kicked from reflex, trying to pull her legs away, but the jerk just brought a gout of blood from the fresh wound in her thigh.
The goblin crawled up to her waist, twisting her round onto her back. It licked the edge of the blade, red dripping onto Ellie’s chest and exposed neck. She stared with wide, glossed-over eyes, quivering with each heartbeat as they thundered in her ears. The screams that reached her echoed what she could not express. Fear. A deep, ominous fear, as though the pit of her stomach had fallen away into a bottomless chasm. She would die here, she realised. Die here, away from the sea, separated only by a few planks of wood. It may as well have been a thousand leagues and more. She would not find her brother, if in fact he had not met a similar fate, but she would be waiting for him in the lost grove.
Shards of the bottle lay tangled in her fanned-out mess of hair, glimmering like the sands of a distant shore. A promise, of safety and freedom. She could have reached out whilst the goblin took its time raising that crude iron blade, another promise, though this one was vile. She could have drove a shard of that bottle into its neck and watched it bleed out. She could have stabbed it again and again, cutting up her own palms, but not caring. She could have been a killer. She chose not to be.
In the moments after the blade began to plunge, her body found function once again. Her arms raised, grabbing the Goblin’s forearms and holding the blade at bay. She was not done yet. It snarled, and Ellie screamed.
“Help!” Her arms shook, from adrenaline and exertion, “Help me!” Tears stung as they welled in the corners of her eyes. The blade slowly inched closer to her throat.
She would not give up. Could not. She was not ready to die; her brother still needed her. She would find him, and he would laugh, and then they would go home and dance and sing, like they used to, and they would be happy.
A desperate plea tore its way from her soul, the tears now streaming freely down the side of her face.
Excitement swelled in Bell’s chest like a bouquet of flowers clutched at a wedding day. She had to reign it in; her steps were purposefully clipped, and in the end, it just looked like she was almost tripping over herself as she followed Jadis past the guards. The vaulted ceilings did something to temper the enthusiasm. All those bricks and dead trees climbing upwards. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they all came tumbling down, just to spite Bell. She stuck here tongue out at them and hurried along.
It was as if the sun rose across Bell's features when she saw Valda. She fidgeted in her Witch Mother’s wake. The energy escaped in a frantic wave and the blurt of, “Oh yes, too long sweet Valda, too long indeed.”
The witch then cleared her throat and took her time to smooth out the front of her dress skirts. She seemed less a slave to the amalgam of nerves and excitement with every moment that passed, and she spoke slower when she said, “Things have been far too unexciting since you left.” Her smile shrank too, and took on a different quality, hard to place exactly.
Though apparently calmer, every now and then she still cast her eyes towards the ceiling, unable to forget where they were.
“Oh…” Was all Will said. He knew what it was like to find out a close family member was different, "gifted", but having them nearly destroy the world? It was unthinkable. Whether the aunt did it on purpose or not was something he thought better not to ask. He chewed his upper lip, trying to think of what to say.
Unthankfully, he didn’t need to. The crash was felt as much as it was heard. Will’s eyes darted around. It was sudden, not lasting long enough to be an earthquake, and it was too loud. That wasn’t exactly soothing though. After a brief moment of silence, Sara groaned. The nonchalance she handled the situation with soothed the edge on his nerves a little. Maybe this wasn’t something to be overly concerned about.
He nodded, with a shaky smile, following her as they made their way towards the voices.