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Witches, Witches Everywhere
Older relatives, slightly singed but maintaining an air of refinement, rest on tussocks near the river, enjoying quiet conversation. Their breaths puff into white vapor in the cool morning air. All in all, the scene is one of a pleasant outdoor celebration in full swing despite the occasional crash from the burning castle. The one common trait all witches share—no matter their politics––is adaptability.
Even the musicians, looking a bit the worse for wear, have struck up a lively tune. Younger cousins dance and cavort on the fresh grass. The remains of New Castle Highmoor smolders in the background. A Darkmore cousin—one of the Dutch Darkmores, I believe––hands me a goblet of wine.
“What a bash!” He shouts, green eyes blazing, blond hair positively standing on end. He’s more than a little buzzed despite the early hour. Then I remember that for him, it is still the crux of the evening. “They’ll never believe it when I tell them about it at home. So happy to be here for the party of the millennia.”
He chucks Maddock’s shoulder, nearly pushing the two of us into a nearby shrub, and scurries away. He merges with a group of like-minded scamps. They move closer to the castle to practice their incantations by knocking down the few remaining walls.
“Good Lord,” Maddock groans. “I shudder to think what we’ll have to do for our anniversary party to top this.”
“More pressing problems approach,” murmurs Mayebelle, nodding toward two figures making steady progress in our direction.
Aunt Clarissa and Aurora La Croix exchange brief pleasantries with those in their path, but their course is inexorably and unerringly toward us.
Maddock groans again. “If those two women have joined forces, we can expect the Apocalypse to follow in short order.”
“They’ll have words to say about the time crystal you used.” Mayebelle winks her good eye knowingly.
“And none of those words will be pleasant, I wager.” He watches the two matriarchs with a tight jaw.
“You better put me down. You may need to use me as a human shield.” I feel my strength returning though I can’t help but think a large serving of that roast beef might be in order.
He sets me gently on my own two feet, but supports me with a strong arm. He squares his shoulders. Dark eyebrows knit over glacial blue eyes in the same defiant expression I remember from a thousand years ago when Aunt Clarissa caught him practicing fire magic without permission. “I don’t care what they say. You’re alive and that is all that matters. I wouldn’t alter a thing as long as this is the result.”
“Their barks are worse than their bites,” Mayebelle says, moving closer in a show of solidarity. “Never fear.”
Mayebelle adjusts the blanket around the baby, but her face twists into a configuration I’ve seldom witnessed in the past eight months. She’s smiling.
Without so much as a “Nice to see you, Allium” Aunt Clarissa, her gown stained and her hair less than perfect, levels a green-eyed glower at Maddock.
“Did I or did I not—in most serious terms—advise caution regarding those time crystals? It’s a miracle you didn’t blast us all centuries into the future.”
Aurora La Croix’s purple velvet gown is dusted with ash. She folds Mayebelle in a bear-like embrace. “Mayebelle, darling. It’s been too long.”
Before Aunt Clarissa can continue, Aurora pats Maddock’s arm, winking a bright blue eye. “You gave us a start, for sure and certain, but all’s well now. Clarissa, you mustn’t blame him too much. Look what he’s brought us.”
Mayebelle strategically displays the baby, now wide awake and staring. Clearly, Aunt Clarissa is not finished with Maddock, but the glitter in her eyes softens. She caresses the baby’s face with a pale finger. “I admit the distraction probably saved lives. Not one casualty despite Lucia’s best efforts. What’s done is done.”
“There’s no time to properly welcome you into the family, Allium.” Aurora digs scarlet fingernails into my arm, her delicately plucked eyebrows arched with excitement. She cocks her head, listening to the air. “Can’t you feel it?”
A thousand witches draw a collective breath. A fizz, a pop, a subtle shift in the ether—time shifts around us once more.
(gimme a break! Xes are hard)
She sits on the ground beside a bonfire of driftwood, holding her hands out to the leaping flames. Early morning sunlight glitters from her crystal and gossamer gown. A cloud of golden hair floats about her head.
I only saw Lucia Darkmore one time before, long ago. It was on her wedding day and she wore this dress as she walked beside Avery LaCroix. She rises and I see the dark splotch of fresh blood staining the right sleeve and bodice of the gown. The flickering reflection of red fire in her green eyes sends a shiver rippling along my spine.
“Hello, Clarissa. Good morning, Aurora.” She smiles and beckons us to join her. “You both look like warmed over cabbage. Time’s a funny thing isn’t it?”
The sounds of merriment dull and cease. Slowly but inexorably Darkmores and La Croixs set aside their plates and glasses, their instruments and diversions. They form a protective circle, intent on the scene playing out in its center. Lucia notes it too and the color of her eyes deepens to a dark, sea green.
Mayebelle trembles like a leaf and Aurora wraps her arms around the scarred woman. I take my child from Maybelle, yielding to the overwhelming need to feel my child in my arms. Beside Maddock, I wait—summoning what little magic I can manage.
Clarissa closes the distance between herself and Lucia, her voice as measured as her steps. The spell plaited in her words conjures calm and clarity.
“Lucia, you must stop. A thousand years is long enough.”
“Has it been a thousand years?” Lucia scans the faces of Darkmores and La Croixs now is a solid ring, hands clasped together, eyes watchful. Her composure wavers and her voice loses its strident tone. “A thousand years. How strange.”
“You have no reason to continue this madness.” Clarissa takes another small step toward Lucia.
“Reason?” Lucia’s eyes narrow. “We all have our reasons. Avery had reasons to murder father and I had reasons to–” her voice catches “–kill Avery. You have reasons to want me dead. A plague of witches—that’s what we are. A thousand years, you say? For me, the Universe ended last night. How odd it continued to live for the rest of you.”
Her green eyes survey the circle of LaCroix and Darkmore witches.
“Darling, you’ve been trapped, I think, in an eddy of time.” Clarissa inches closer to her younger sister. “The tragedy is lost in the past for us—and you must leave it there.”
“I wasn’t trapped, sister,” snaps Lucia. “I know what I’m doing.”
Her cold gaze shifts to the squirming child in my arms. I clutch little April, May, or June protectively, but I meet Lucia’s eyes with a cold stare of my own.
“I remember you,” she says. “Luck has been on your side twice, hasn’t it, my dear? First on my wedding night and again on yours. You know what they say: ‘Third time’s the charm.’”
As graceful as a swan she spins. Amidst a swirl of white gauze and golden hair, her arm traces an arc in the cold spring air. A cloud of crystals spill from her outstretched fingers. Thirteen glittering stones tumble in slow motion. Sparking with morning sunlight, suspended in space and time, they drift across the cobalt sky like wayward stars—effervescent, shimmering, inescapable.
“Time Crystals,” gasps Maddock, his arm tight around me.
“Don’t break the circle,” hisses Clarissa.