Granny rapidly explains to Missy what the palantìr had revealed and they both agree that there is no other option – they will have to fight evil with evil. It takes some time to prepare for the night’s mission, but before sunset they are on their brooms, heading for the graveyard. Thanks to the curfew they don’t risk being seen, the helicopters and journalists are clustered at the city center where the cloud is hovering and all the action is taking place, leaving the coast clear for the witches to use their brooms.
Granny flies low, going very fast while keeping to the forest at the outskirts of town. Missy is right behind her, struggling to keep up and avoid the tree trunks and low branches. The speed is exhilarating and she only stops grinning and shrieking when she swallows a fly.
Graveyards are not normally very animated places and Vulturu’s last resting place is no exception. They land at the empty parking outside the impressive wall with the central watch tower that serves as entrance. The massive ruins are what is left of the Silent Brother’s 11th century monastery, a combined fortress and castle untouched by time until it got bombed during WWII. Such a pity, Granny thinks, looking down at what is still standing. The good thing is that they will be totally sheltered from view from the town, the churchyard being surrounded by mountains covered in forests on the other sides.
Miezul Nopţii jumps off Granny’s broom before they touch the ground and Granny scurries after her towards the entrance.
‘Did you see that?’ Missy shouts, circling slowly, lower and lower.
‘See what?’ Granny stops and shades her eyes against the setting sun.
‘We must have set a new record – I bet we went as fast as the Aratech 74-Z.’
Missy lands next to her sister. ‘The flying motorcycles they used on Endor. Or rather on the forest moon of Endor, as it was actually a moon. Not a planet.’
Granny looks at her sister deadpan and turns on her heels.
‘The Ewoks? Star Wars?’ Missy insists. She grabs her broom and the candles and scurries after her sister. ‘It’s a classic – lots of action and Han Solo is so handsome.’
Granny holds her hand up to silence her sister who mutters, ‘I can’t believe you don’t know about Star Wars.’
‘Shhh… There might be people here.’
‘Yeah. Dead people.’
Granny doesn’t answer. They stroll casually through the gates and the ancient guards’ room set in the thick wall, pausing before entering the overgrown, old part of the graveyard. Once there, both Missy and Granny can feel the presence of spirits and ghosts.
‘I bet they are just waiting for nightfall,’ Missy says.
‘You’re the expert,’ Granny says drily.
‘Yup. So we’d better get going.’
They put down the things they have brought on a tomb that will serve as an altar. Missy arranges the candles and opens the little wooden box revealing blue crystals. Granny picks up their cat, stroking its silky head. ‘How many, Missy?’
‘Three. Wait! Four or maybe five. I guess it is more five than four… Does it matter?’
‘No. There are still four lives to go. See you in a few hours, Miezul Nopţii,’ she says, swiftly breaking the cat’s neck and laying it on the altar in the center of the candles before placing the crystals around it in an inner circle.
She closes her eyes and murmurs in Latin, moving her hands over the cat and the blue crystals that flicker and light up, throwing a cold light over the lifeless animal.
Missy blinks away a tear, wondering if her beloved pet will really wake up again. She refrains from pushing its tongue back into its mouth, letting her sister do her witchy thing.
‘So. Let’s hurry. The night is falling and we have to place these before it gets dark or they will be useless.’ They scoop up the crystals and in a swirl of flowing long robes they place the crystals at strategical points, enclosing the graveyard in a magical circle.
After securing the graveyard, the sisters immediately get started on a cleansing ritual. They can’t be bothered with ghosts or evil spirits as they will have their hands full with a demon from Hell.
Missy’s wand has been charged with Granny’s magic and Missy revels in its newfound power, feeling extremely potent.
They work their way through every area of the graveyard, and they are both a little out of breath when they meet up under the statue of the Old Magus.
Granny tries to keep her exhaustion under control, she doesn’t want to show her sister that she might not have fully recovered after the fire in Bigwood Falls. She can’t help but worry, though. What if her powers won’t be sufficient tonight? She looks over her shoulder at the altar. She can see the dark, lifeless shape of the cat surrounded by the flickering candles. They must start this before it wakes up again.
‘Are you ready, Missy?’
‘I suppose I am…’ But Missy is a little taken aback. Her magic isn’t as strong as her sister’s, and doing this thorough cleansing ritual has shaken her up. Even Granny’s features seem a little drawn.
With a nod to her sister, Granny begins the summons and is soon in a trance like state.
Missy looks at her sister. She is always intimidating, but now she looks downright scary. Maybe this will go down nicely, after all. Hekate can’t do anything really baad to them as long as they stay in the circle formed by the crystals, and as long as they stay together.
Darn it! Wasn’t she supposed to join in the summons? Oh, my. She fumbles with her wand.
Missy joins Granny exactly when she is supposed to, and shortly both witches’ forces are united.
The earth trembles and shakes, giving way to a blinding light. The two old witches shade their eyes and back off a few feet, holding on to their hats so they don’t blow away. Dogs are howling and barking, adding to the growl of the earth giving way to Hekate, Queen of Witches.
Everything is suddenly quiet. Silent. Missy remembers what Granny has told her about how to act respectfully in front of the lethal demon. So she quickly puts her left hand behind her back at waist-level and bows humbly with her right hand pressed against her abdomen, her eyes staring at Hekate’s scaled feet. She can see a thick tail finishing in a kind of arrowhead and she wonders what the demon could do with it. It is doubtless poisonous, just as the long claws must be…
Hekate stands stock still for a moment, then she stretches lasciviously. Fast as a cobra she turns to Missy looking up at the scared witch’s face from below. Missy’s lips tremble uncontrollably from the fearful sight of the demon’s impressive horns curling forward like a ram’s, the gold clad sharp edges only inches from her averted eyes.
With a whispering sound like wind through dry grass, she stands up tall. Her voice is low, throaty and hissing. ‘Ssss… Who are zzzzzzzzzzzzze mortals who dare call on me? Ssss…’
Granny has raised her chin but now she tears away her gaze from the hypnotic green eyes, concentrating on the demon’s scaled feet. Why did she look up? She hopes Hekate didn’t take it as a sign of disrespect.
‘We are your humble servants, the Grey witches… Ahem, Your Highness… I am Tara Grey-’ She bows even lower, making a wide gesture with her arm towards her sister. ‘-and this is my sister, Melissa. We’re in great need of your assistance, Your Highness.’
There is only silence following her request. Granny swallows, fighting the urge to raise her head. Suddenly a cackle of mad laughter tears the silence apart, stopping as abruptly as it started. A scale covered hand reaches out right under Granny’s nose, palm up.
‘Give it to meeee!’
Granny ventures looking up.
‘GIVE IT TO ME!’ Hecate bellows only a few inches from Granny’s face.
Gasping, the old witch recoils from the outburst of hot rotting air emanating from the demon’s mouth, only to stare in horror at the sharp teeth uncovered in a snarl.
‘Gi-give you what, Your Highness?’ Granny fights the urge to run.
‘Medussssa’ssss tear. Ssssss,’ Hekate hisses, green eyes glowing in the dark, the pupils thin vertical slits.
‘But…’ Granny stares at the pendant glowing on Hekate’s chest. As she watches it disappears and then it appears again. OMG… I had forgotten all about it. I hope she doesn’t notice…
Granny knows it is only a vision, the mirror image of the pendant appears when the demon is within touching distance of the real necklace.
‘Give. It. To. Me… NOW!’
Granny tears her gaze away and closes her eyes. ‘Err… Your Highness… I’m not sure I can do that right now.’ She swallows hard, amazed at her own temerity. Carefully she takes a step backwards. The image flickers. Then another. She closes her eyes briefly with relief as the image vanishes. Now she must just maintain the distance.
Hekate’s snake eyes never quit Granny’s. She inclines her head to one side, then the other, flexing her neck muscles. The only sound in the still night is the soft rattling of the golden beads in her braided hair. Slowly she closes her eyes as if to keep the Grey witches from seeing them take on the specific yellow glow announcing a violent strike. The light from her eyes seeping through her thin eyelids and the tattoo in the form of the Wedjat* on her left eye accentuates the effect of an Egyptian death mask.
‘Ahem, I-I-,’ Granny stammers. ‘I-I-I don’t have it anymore…’ Breathless, she throws herself into one of the most fantastic lies she has ever told anyone. Hekate stares noncommittally at the old, sweating witch, but at least she’s listening without interrupting.
‘… and that’s why!’ Granny finishes her monologue with a vague gesture of her hand. Hekate shakes her head and seems to be considering the story.
‘What?’ Missy squeaks. She has been listening too, more and more awed and concerned. ‘You’ve lost Mother’s necklace!?!’
Granny gestures at her sister, inefficiently trying to stop her from blundering. Making a stern face she rolls her eyes at Hekate behind her. Too late.
Missy is looking back at her, a bewildered expression on her face. ‘But you never take it off?’
Hekate’s eyes are but mere slits and she bares her poisonous teeth. Her voice is a scarcely audible low whisper. ‘You ssssinccccerely zzzzink I believed your hissstory? Ssssssstupid witchesssssss…’ She points at Granny’s chest with a long claw. ‘I want it back. Now.’
Granny succeeds in arranging a suitably offended expression. ‘Your Highness don’t expect me to have worn it tonight, do you? It would have been not only stupid, but suicidal, and I am neither.’
‘She’s right, Your Highness.’ Missy tries to save the situation. Hekate seems to like histories and after listening to her sister invent Taïga bedtime stories, she knows exactly what to do. ‘Of course my sister didn’t want to trick you! Err… Her story is not finished.’
‘Issss it not?’ Hekate hisses, turning her attention to Missy who nods vigorously.
‘No, it’s not. Go on, Tara… Tell her everything!’ Satisfied at coming up with such a good idea, she sits on a tombstone, looking expectantly at her older sister. ‘Don’t thank me,’ she mouths.
Uh-oh… I was certainly not going to, Granny thinks. She wishes the earth could just open up and swallow her there and then. Or maybe not. What should she tell Hekate now? What could be plausible to a demon from Hell? She clears her throat.
‘Ahem… Well. I had to try to find a… an… a mermaid to pick it up from the sea bottom. So deep had it sunk nobody else could retrieve it-’
‘Just like in Titanic,’ Missy interrupts.
‘Titanic?’ Hekate and Granny echo.
‘Yes. The huge passenger liner that sank in the Atlantic ocean after colliding with an iceberg. Remember? A couple of years before WWI? OK? But I’m rather referring to the epic movie with Leonardo Di Caprio-’ she fans herself, ‘-and where the stupid old woman threw the blue diamond over board. Never to be found, of course,’ she sighs, rolling her eyes explicitly to underline what she thought of such incomprehensible behavior.
‘Sssstupid old woman,’ Hekate hisses. ‘Ssso a ssstupid old woman like your sssissster here threw my pendant in the Ocean?’
‘Right. I mean no! Not on purpose. Ahem…’ Missy grimaces at Granny, motioning her to continue the story.
Granny wrings her hands. She must keep her head clear and remember what she has already told. Taking a deep breath, she dives back into a turbulent sea of lies…
‘… and an enormous fish, a shark it was… Or a whale. Yes, a big whale…’
‘… “Go and get it!” he said. “Dive!” But the little mermaid was now a real girl, so she couldn’t and…’
Granny rambles nervously on, worried that Hekate will notice both the pendant burning like fire against her bare skin and that her truly incredible story is directly borrowed from H.C. Andersen’s famous fairy tale.
‘Don’t forget the Dragon,’ Missy adds out of the blue, interrupting Granny midsentence.
‘A dragon? Issss interesssting… I zzzought zzzey were all dead.’
Granny inclines her head, shading her face from Hekate so she can mouth to her sister to be quiet without being seen by the demon. She stares fixedly at Missy, trying to convey a silent message and grimacing for good measure. She can’t believe Missy is doing this to her. Being a total airhead doesn’t explain everything. She draws her breath. ‘Err… Where were I?’
‘Zzze dragon,’ Hekate whispers.
‘Yes, the dragon…’ How on earth was she supposed to incorporate a dragon into her already very complicated story about man-eating whales and mermaids? Especially as the last living dragon had been sighted more than four hundred years ago.
‘… end of story.’ Granny tries to breathe out slowly, feeling like she has just run a Marathon. She searches her sister’s eyes. Please, please, please, Missy. Don’t say anything more… But her sister just beams at her, nodding in approval.
Hekate hisses a laugh. ‘You’re sssssmart…. And entertaining… Zziisss isss too incredible to be a lie!’ She scrutinizes Granny’s eyes. ‘You wouldn’t try to lie to me… Ssssss… Would you?’
Granny doesn’t dare breathe. ‘No, Your Highness. Of course not.’
Missy chirps in, ‘So now the problem with the pendant is settled, maybe you could help us find the zombies I created the other night!’
Hecate raises a nonexistent eyebrow. ‘Are you ordering me around? Ssssstupid mortal…’
Granny tries to repair the damage done once again by her sister. ‘Your Highness, we really need your help. At least to find out where they’re hiding.’
‘But my creations, the zombies, of course,’ Missy says. ‘But I guess it is not that dramatic if you can’t. I mean, I haven’t really had the time to observe my creations yet.’ Missy looks hopefully at Hekate who just snorts and turns back to Granny.
‘Your sssissster bozzzzers me, quessstioning my capacccitiesss. Of courssse I can find zzzem. But how will you pay me, now you’ve losssst my necklaccce?’
‘Err…’ Granny recoils at Hekate’s outburst, avoiding the claw clad hand reaching for her and menacing to rip open her corset – and her stomach with it.
Missy delivers yet another splendid idea. ‘You can always tap her! Her blood is filled with magic.’
‘Yessss… Witch’ssssss blood… How come I didn’t zzzink of zzzat?’
Granny is dumbstruck. She watches her sister and the demon looking at each other with something like complicity.
‘What? “Tap” me? Oh my God.’ She holds a finger to her lips, shaking her head, trying in vain to get Missy to stop talking but she keeps blabbering anxiously about the power of a witch’s blood.
Hekate has some trouble understanding Missy’s logic. ‘Sssssso if I call back zzzzze walkerssss for you to kill, I can tap your ssssisssster for payment?’
‘Exactly! Err… I mean – that’s the general idea, yes. Your Highness.’
‘You created zze zzombiesss.’
‘You created zze voodoo shimmer.’
Missy frowns. ‘Uh-huh.’
‘Sso why don’t I tap you?’
Missy looks a little taken aback, but answers immediately. ‘Because I’m only the second born and my magic isn’t flowing as freely in my veins as in a first born Grey witch!’
‘I sssee…’ Hekate starts pacing.
Missy chirps, ‘But you should know that-’
‘Missy,’ Granny tries hoarsely.
‘-as you’re the Queen of Witches,’ Missy finishes nevertheless in a low voice, almost to herself.
Hekate ponders Missy’s offer while there’s a lot of French shrugging going on behind her back. Granny tries desperately to make Missy understand that this is not a good idea, but Missy only waves her off, interrupting the demon’s pacing by clapping her hands. ‘So is it settled then?’
Granny tries to stare Missy down, but it doesn’t work, as her sister is not even looking her way. ‘Missy!’ she whispers urgently.
Hekate smiles an evil smile, looking from Missy to Granny and back to Missy again. ‘I ssstill want my necklaccccce…’
Missy rambles nervously on, ‘Err… Of course we’ll bring back the necklace… I mean… Tara will find it and bring it back to you!’
Hekate looks at the two sisters. Granny smiles nervously back, thinking feverishly about how to return the situation without getting them both killed. I’ll throw a spell on my dang sister – transform her to something quiet, like a fish maybe…
‘When… ssssss… will you bring it to me?’
Missy hurries to answer before Granny even has a chance to think about something plausible to say.
‘Tomorrow! Err… Next week? I mean next year! Maybe a little later. It won’t be easy finding a mermaid. I think they are a menaced species, by the way. Then it will probably take some time diving around to find it, you know… And we’ll probably-’
‘Ssssstop! Jusssst be quiet! I’ll do it. I’ll call back zzzze walking dead – asss ssssoon asssss I…’
She licks her lips, looking hungrily at Granny.
Suddenly she reaches for her, but Granny shies away bumping into her sister.
Missy lays a soothing arm around her shoulders. ‘Hush, hush. It’s for the greater good. You’ve said so yourself – there are sacrifices to be made for the greater good. I think this is one of them.’
Granny touches her ice cold forehead, thinking hard. ‘Your Highness, are you sure you will know when to stop?’ she finally asks.
‘Why, Grey witch? Are you sssssscared to die? Ssssssss…’
Granny raises her chin defiantly. ‘No, Your Highness. But I’m not sure I want to die just yet.’
Hecate bares her fangs in a grin. ‘You might like thisssss, Grey witch…’
‘I sincerely doubt it… But go ahead. Let’s get this over with,’ Granny answers, trying to be flippant about the whole scary business.
Before sinking her razor sharp teeth deep into Granny’s neck, Hekate murmurs, ‘The curssssse cannot be ssssstopped… but zzze healing… liesss in zzze glow of zzze orbsssss…’
Missy watches Hekate feed from her older sibling. Even though it secretly pleases her to see her sister in pain, she is a little worried after all. What if the demon doesn’t stop? What if she drains her completely?
The demon drinks until Granny starts to see white dots swimming in front of her eyes. She sways a little, her arms limp by her side. It feels like she’s not standing anymore, but hanging from the demon’s ravenous mouth.
‘Goddess, this hurts…’ she murmurs, not sure if the words are really pronounced or just an echo in her mind. Hekate’s words are spinning in her head. “… the healing lies in the glow of the orbs… orbs… orbs… orbs…”
Finally Hekate is sated. She lets go of Granny who limply falls to the ground. The demon dries her mouth with the back of her hand, her tongue quickly licking the last droplets from her teeth.
She seems satisfied, but Granny is almost totally drained. She hangs on to the cold smooth stone, concentrating on the slow beat of her heart.
‘Is she dead?’ Missy asks nervously, wringing her hands.
‘Not yet. Who caresss? Now, shall we get back to busssinesss? I alwaysss keep my promisssesss.’
Missy kneels by Granny’s side. ‘I’ll just finish this, and we’ll get you home and to bed. Don’t worry.’
Granny is too anemic to think straight. She can hear her sister’s voice from far, far away. She wants to sleep, but knows she might never wake up again. Assembling her last forces, she closes her eyes and gets into a meditative trance.
Missy pulls out her wand. ‘I’m ready.’
Still with blood smeared around her mouth Hekate calls back the voodoo shimmer. It hovers over the graveyard for a short moment before being sucked into the demon’s open mouth. Missy watches fascinated the cloud take on a tornado shape, whirling its way into the demon’s body and making it swell with its power. Amazed she witnesses Hekate transforming back to her initial snake form, her long fat snake body curling and twisting in the mist. The time has come to call for the living dead…
Missy is ready with her wand, passing it from one hand to the other like a knife fighter in a gang, prepared to strike. She looks nervously from Hekate to her unconscious sister, feeling utterly alone and vulnerable.
The earth trembles and shakes, spewing out the man Missy had first transformed. She concentrates on the growling and hissing zombie who is fighting his way up from a grave that never was his own.
With a masterful sway, accompanied by Hekate’s secret mumbling, she undoes her evil work. The zombie is stricken by a powerful blast of magic that quickly consumes him from within.
Satisfied, she watches the monster crumple to a heap before getting swallowed by the earth again, never to come back.
Granny has recovered enough strength to get onto her knees. She grips the stele for support at the same time as she tries to stay out of the way of Hekate’s long curling tail. Resting her head against the cool marble of the tombstone, she assembles enough force to stand up.
Hekate smiles evilly. She has done enough. Let the Grey witches take care of the rest of their mess themselves.
‘Yay! Did you see that, Tara? Like a professional! You wouldn’t have done it better yourself.’ Missy swirls around only to get blinded by the yellow light surrounding Hekate.
‘Byeeeee…’ the demon hisses, rising high like a cobra ready to strike. In a flash of light and accompanied by the howling of dogs, the Queen of Witches disappears back to where she came from.
‘Hey! Wait! We made a deal!’ Granny shouts feebly, staggering to her feet but Hekate is gone. She sways and grips for support as she can hardly stand upright without something to hold on to. Missy rushes forward, grabbing her feeble sister.
‘Nice, huh? We did great as a team, don’t you think so?’ she gushes.
Granny could say a lot about their so called team work, and nice and great would definitely not be mentioned. Irritated, she shrugs her sister’s arm off. ‘Now that was one! Where’s the second walker?’
Missy shrugs her shoulders. ‘How would I know?’ Her older sister is always negative, always complaining. ‘I saved your life! You could at least say thank you.’
‘Thank you?’ Granny rolls her eyes. ‘If it weren’t for you and your foot in your mouth… Never mind!’
‘I don’t believe it! You’re so unfair! And ungrateful!’ Missy stomps away.
‘Me? Ungrateful?’ Granny shouts after her. ‘I think you’ve got it all wrong here-’ She stops abruptly, distracted by a yellow flutter in the trees…
Part I – End of Chapter 25
Thank you, Jowita, for your security poses! I didn’t use them for security exactly, but you’ll recognize them in the pictures!