Taïga wakes up early, jumps out of bed and eagerly pushes the curtains aside. It’s still dark, but even though she can’t see the sky, there’s no mistaking the smattering sound of raindrops. With a sigh she lets the curtains fall back in place again.
Effing rain… Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be raining tonight… But still…
Stopping a moment to listen to her grandmother’s light snoring from the other side of the landing, she tiptoes into the bathroom. She locks the door behind her, not wanting to be disturbed, but knowing full well that a locked door won’t stop Sprinkler.
She’s in the shower when Granny discreetly asks her to come to her study as soon as she’s finished in the bathroom.
Granny stops pacing when Taïga knocks on the door.
The young girl braces herself and enters. Her grandmother is standing behind the desk, her stern expression causing Taïga to hesitate, fiddling with her nails. Granny raises an eyebrow and she stops immediately, crossing her arms instead.
Why doesn’t she say anything? Taïga’s eyes stray towards the little ominous brown box containing her engagement ring on the desk. Shouldn’t it be in the safe? I hope she won’t ask me to wear it…
Granny clears her throat and unfolds the local newspaper. ‘Can you explain this?’
Taïga leans cautiously forward.
The newspaper is open on the entertainment side, with a huge picture of herself in black and white. She recalls the flashes of cameras – of course there must have been a journalist from the Gazette in the crowd.
Didn’t Jayler mention he had called in a favor? Whatever. She reads the headline “IDC singer Taïga rises out of the swamp”. She thinks it sounds rather positive, but she refrains from asking to read the article when she sees Granny’s expression. Her grandmother looks like she’s swallowed a whole crate of lemons…
‘I expected something less monosyllabic, Taïga.’
Taïga clears her throat. ‘I sang at Merlott’s Saturday night. IDC has got a steady gig and…’
‘So you confirm that this was not the first time?’
‘Yeah, well. We’ve been doing this just a couple of times, but this was the first time we draw a real crowd. Possibly because it was Saturday. I guess…’
‘I believe I was perfectly clear when I told you to avoid those people, Taïga. They’ve already got you into trouble once, and I don’t want to see that happen again. They distract you from your studies, from your goal. Well, too late now… I suppose it was them who came up with the idea of the party?’
‘Err… No. I don’t know who it was, but you mustn’t think badly about them, they’re great kids. And we just make music together. I don’t really spend time with them – except for rehearsals at school twice a week.’
‘What do you mean twice a week? I thought you stayed in school for your study group on Tuesdays and don’t you have drama on Fridays?’
‘I do! And I’m getting the maths better now. But… Err… I’m not actually in the drama group. Anymore.’
Granny leans forward, both hands on the desk. ‘But why? Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Because you would never have let me.’
‘Right. I wouldn’t. And we must put an end to this now. Your future is at College, not on the scene.’
‘We?’ Suddenly Taïga can’t hold back anymore. ‘I try so hard to please you Granny, but I don’t want to go to College. I’ve already told you, but you don’t want to listen. I’m working hard on getting my grades up, and I will stay on till I graduate. But College? I… I just want to make music and sing.’
Granny sighs, ‘Becoming a singer is just a dream. How many singers become stars? Or can at least make a living out of their passion?’
‘I don’t know, not many I guess… But I think we’ve got talent, and there are other people who believe in us as well.’ She gestures towards the newspaper. ‘I would just have preferred that you did too!’
Granny is chocked at Taïga’s outburst. Warily she passes a hand in front of her eyes, swaying slightly.
‘Are you all right?’ Taïga looks worriedly at her grandmother, regretting having upset her. ‘I’m sorry, Granny. I promise I’m serious about my grades, but I don’t want to give up on my music…’
‘I have to think this over…’ Granny frowns, ‘I know there’s a lot going on in your life right now, so let’s take one step at the time. First, you’ve got your initiation tonight. Then we’ll see…’
Taïga nods, she’s relieved the conversation is over – at least for now. Hopefully Granny will come around with the right arguments. Why not invite her to a rehearsal? Or better still, to a concert. Maybe she could win Arthur over, and he could convince her stubborn grandmother. There’s so much she wants to talk about, but now is not the time. She must concentrate on tonight. Feeling a surge of butterflies in her stomach at the thought of the upcoming initiation, she turns to leave.
‘Wait a minute. We’re not quite done yet… As you know, the Council and I went for dinner at Missy’s yesterday…’
Taïga nods cautiously. Has Granny talked to Arthur? Has he said something about her being at his house yesterday?
‘It was a rather eventful evening, information wise…’ Granny looks at Taïga who meets her gaze. ‘They have adopted a little boy… Did you know anything about that?’
‘Err…’ Taïga feels a burden fall from her chest. So it’s about Athan! ‘I’ve never really met him, but, yeah, well, you know that Missy wanted to adopt and anyway she wanted to announce it to you herself over dinner or something. I didn’t really think it was up to me to tell you, I only found out just before you left for Lucky Palms, so it’s quite new to me too. I’m sorry…’
‘Well, I guess it’s yet another thing we can add to the list of things you’ve withheld from me. Along with the fact that you’ve frequently visited Missy this fall to learn from her, even though it’s prohibited-‘
Taïga rolls her eyes. So spending time with Granny learning all about Grey magic is part of my education but doing the same thing with my great aunt is forbidden? Really…
‘- don’t roll your eyes on me, Taïga. These are serious matters. Missy has more power than a second born usually has, and she hasn’t always used it to do err… good.’ Granny pauses, thinking about her sister’s attempt at creating zombies. ‘Ahem… Necromancy is not only dangerous and almost impossible to perform, but also strictly illegal.’
‘Necromancy? But I haven’t-’
Granny doesn’t say anything, waiting for the information to sink in.
Taïga’s mind races. ‘Jesus… Do you mean it worked? The skeleton? I guess you’re talking about the skeleton? Missy made me put it together and I just helped her with the incantation, but I can assure you it didn’t work. She was quite miffed about it, really, she put it back in a sac in front of my eyes! I swear it wasn’t alive when I left.’ But even as the words stumble out, she knows she must sound desperate and not trustworthy.
To her surprise Granny nods thoughtfully. So her granddaughter wasn’t aware of the goal, and yet she succeeded! Rising not only a spirit, but a body, from death. Well, not exactly a body – but almost. Even the Council didn’t know what to make out of it. It sure added fuel to the fire concerning Baba Yaga’s claim of her now even more attractive and highly prized granddaughter, making the Russian crone and Haeju leave together in a haste to verify if all the clauses of the contract were really binding.
‘Necromancy isn’t a precise science, nobody really knows how it works. So I believe you, Taïga. The skeleton must have arisen from the dead after you left. But again, why didn’t you tell me about it?’
Taïga shuffles her feet. ‘Missy made me promise… And I was so sure it hadn’t worked anyway. It was the night I had to jog home in the rainstorm and with everything that happened next it just slipped my mind…’ She doesn’t want to talk about her grades anymore, so she quickly steers the conversation away from the sensible subject of her schoolwork. ‘… but that was the only time she really made me do something, otherwise she just showed me a lot of harmless stuff, like the Ouija board and-’
‘Ouija-board? She has an Ouija board? What did it look like? Exotic wood with the initials A.T.?’
‘Yeah…’ Taïga searches Granny’s face, suddenly afraid to relieve too much about her great aunt. ‘But I didn’t use it, and it didn’t work anyway, so…’
Granny starts pacing again. ‘She has got Grandmother Ailey’s Ouija board! And I thought it was lost… You said it didn’t work. Who did you try to contact? Your mother?’
‘Uh…’ Taïga blushes. ‘… Not exactly… We tried to contact… err… Derek.’
‘Derek?’ Granny stops pacing and stares at her. ‘Derek? And you said Missy failed to establish a contact?’
The young girl acquiesces. ‘Uh-huh.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘Well… I told Missy what I wanted to ask, then we just waited.’
‘Well, we placed our fingers on the… err… pointer. Then we concentrated. And waited.’
‘But you didn’t succeed in contacting Derek? Did any other spirit manifest itself?’
‘No. Missy thought it might be because the lights were on, so we drew the curtains and lit some candles to get the mood right…’
‘… then she made a little prayer about positive energy and asked several times if there were any spirits in the room…’ Taïga shrugs. ‘But the pointer didn’t move – at all. Probably broken, or a fake…’
‘Grandmother Ailey’s Ouija board isn’t a fake!’ Granny looks sternly at her granddaughter, making the young girl squirm. ‘I must tell you, that you usually can’t contact someone specific with an Ouija board. It links to available spirits, any available spirits. If they pretend to be someone special, it’s typically bad spirits who try to trick you into believing they’re someone you know. So don’t be sad about not reaching your friend, it was doomed from the beginning.’ Granny taps her chin with her index, her gaze lost in space. ‘Now, if the medium is a full blooded witch, it’s another matter altogether.’
Taïga is disappointed. ‘Does Missy know that?’
‘Yes…’ Granny frowns, deep in thought.
Taïga waits for her grandmother to add something, but when she doesn’t, she turns once again to leave. She must try the Ouija board herself, and she knows exactly where Missy stored it away.
‘But then again, Missy was a ghost hunter in Transylvania. That’s enough to scare any spirit off… Where are you going?’
Taïga stops with her hand on the doorknob.
‘There’s something else I have to ask you.’
With a sigh, the young girl turns to face her grandmother.
‘Did you have any idea if… Well…’ Granny wrings her hands, blurting out, ‘Missy is expecting!’
Taïga’s face falls and she gapes in bewilderment at Granny.
‘Oh. You didn’t know. Obviously.’ Granny straightens out a crease in her skirt. ‘She’s due in May.’
‘How? But they’re too old to… I mean, to do it – ugh…’ Taïga grimaces.
‘Missy is only 57. I admit it’s too old to get pregnant, but you shouldn’t judge her like that. She just got married after all and many people you consider “old” actually have an active…’ Her words trail off when she sees Taïga’s chocked expression mixed with disgust.
‘But, Granny…’ Taïga shivers, shrugging away the disconcerting images that keep popping into her mind. ‘… it still doesn’t explain how! I mean, her ovaries must be outdated, they aren’t supposed to be functioning anymore at her age, right?’
‘I think it must have been the Laganaphyllis elixir*… It’s a very powerful rejuvenating potion – it doesn’t actually make you younger, but it whips your cells into regenerating themselves.’
‘Oh…’ Taïga knots her eyebrows. ‘Do you mean the elixir really could have cured you, Granny?’
Granny fiddles with her brooch. ‘Well, we don’t know that for sure…’
‘Hmm…’ So if the cowplant happened to eat someone again, we’ll get an elixir that could possibly cure Granny…
‘I know what you’re thinking, Taïga, and it’s out of the question.’
Taïga jumps guiltily. ‘I was just thinking, err… So that’s why Missy’s been so moody and hungry all the time.’
‘My sister has always been moody and hungry… But I guess the signs were there, we just didn’t pay enough attention.’
A sudden crunching of tires on the gravel distracts Granny who peeks out the window. ‘A cab? Already?’
An instant later the door bursts open on Rowan.
They fall into each other’s arms, Rowan lifting her up, high. ‘Geez! Have you put on weight?’
She slaps him on his shoulders. ‘Let me go, you ill-mannered jerk!’
Laughing, he puts her down again.
‘Watch you language, young lady!’ Granny admonishes.
‘Sorry, Granny… But I was going to say he must have lifted weights or something and then he’s just rude-’
‘Two minutes in the same room and you’re already bickering.’
Rowan hugs his grandmother, kissing her cheek, then throws his jacket over a chair, looking around him. ‘What happened here?’
Granny catches her granddaughter’s eye. ‘I think Taïga will fill you in on the happenings this weekend – later,’ she says drily.
‘OK…’ There’s apparent tension between his sister and grandmother that he doesn’t want to get involved in. Not right now anyway… He brushes some dust or ashes from an armchair before slumping down on it, , waving a shopping bag in front of him. ‘I got you some stuff at the airport.’
‘Yay! Did you bring biscotti?’
‘Yup! Almond biscotti from Il Cantuccio di San Lorenzo and your favorite, Granny – amaretti biscuits!’ He gropes in the bag and fishes out a nicely wrapped package. ‘And this… This is for you…r birthday! Hands down, no touch!’
He holds the gift just out of reach of his sister, who pouting slumps down in the other armchair.
Beaming he turns to his grandmother. ‘Here, Granny. This is for you.’
Granny accepts the thin, square orange box, and eagerly unties the brown ribbon. Reverently she opens it and draws out a wonderfully colored silk scarf.
‘A “carré Hermès”. How thoughtful of you.’ She kisses Rowan on his cheek, draping the scarf around her neck. ‘It’s lovely! Now you’re here, we have to talk a little about tonight. As you know Taïga’s initiation takes place as the blood moon rises…’
‘Yeah, it will be so cool! I only just got my outfit too – a kind of long coat in burgundy that’s quite snappy.’ He winks to Taïga. ‘I’ll show it to you.’
‘You’ve already got an outfit?’
‘Yeah, I thought it fitting for the celebration dinner…’
Taïga stares wide-eyed from Rowan to Granny.
‘Sorry, Granny. It escaped me.’ But Rowan doesn’t look very contrite.
‘Hm. It was supposed to be a surprise. A double celebration, as Rowan already has been initiated-’*
‘I didn’t know that,’ Taïga says, miffed.
‘-as a toddler, to escape the dark forces who were searching for him-’
Rowan shrugs apologetically.
‘-and a joint birthday party of sorts… But you know you cannot come to the ceremony itself, Rowan? You’ll have to wait here until-’
The phone rings, interrupting Granny midsentence. She hums and blushes, finally hanging up with a huge smile on her face. ‘Something has come up… Would you mind awfully, Rowan? I mean you just got here and everything…’
Rowan shakes his head, grimacing. ‘Go ahead. Taïga and I have to catch up anyway.’
Humming joyfully, Granny almost dances out of the study. ‘I’ll be home after lunch…’
‘That must have been Arthur calling.’ Taïga muses.
‘The guy from the wedding? She’s still seeing him? She seems pretty hooked, she talks to him for all of two minutes and she’s smiling and humming to herself. I mean seriously – Granny humming!?! I’d like to meet him, it’s my grandmother after all.’
‘I bet you’ll meet him soon enough. He’s very sweet and kind, and I found a picture of his brother -step-brother- because he was adopted, mind you, and-‘ She stops, shrugging. ‘Let’s go upstairs to my room, I’ll show you.’
Rowan bends to pick up the shopping bag. ‘What’s this? He falls on his knees and pulls the forgotten bong out from under the chair. ‘Don’t tell me you’re using this? Or worse – Granny’s using it? Can I keep it?’
Taïga rolls her eyes. ‘Sure. It’s a party left-over…’
‘Yeah,’ Rowan looks around him thoughtfully, ‘It must have been a helluva party… I wish I had been here.’
‘Oh, no, you don’t. Somebody even called the cops – I thought they were gonna tear the place a part!’
‘The “guests”, of course!’
‘C’mon, tell me all about it. Granny must have been frantic when she found out…’
‘Yeah, I’m probably grounded until I’m eighteen… But that’s not all! Guess who came to visit? We were taking a bath-’
‘Linn and I. Well, we were upstairs in the bath when-’
‘Both of you? Hey, now I really wish I’d been here!’
‘Are you going to interrupt the whole time? I’ll never get to the point!’
Rowan raises his arms in surrender. ‘OK, sorry. Go ahead, and don’t spare the details.’
‘Gaah! I’m your sister, sicko!’
‘Who were talking about you? I wanna hear about Linn!’
Taïga swats at him. ‘Put your dirty mind on hold. An old Russian witch came here, Baba Yaga, and she was really scary. She threatened to eat Linn! Can you believe that? Eat her!’
‘Yeah, I can… Imagine, I mean’ Rowan grins.
‘You’re hopeless…’ Updating Rowan, she leads the way to the kitchen and finally Rowan shuts up and listens to what she has to tell.
Laden with Rowan’s luggage, airport gifts and a tray of scones, they install themselves in Taïga’s room. Rowan is duly impressed by the re-decoration, but can’t help wondering where his bed is.
‘I kind of merged them – to get a bigger one. Sorry.’
‘No worries, I’ll sleep in one of the guestrooms… So, what else is new? How’s the Cowplant?’
‘Aargh… Don’t talk about the dang plant – we keep it stuffed!’ She hesitates. Rowan doesn’t know about Granny being ill, nor about everything leading up to Missy drinking the elixir getting her preggers. Gosh – I’ll leave that to Granny this afternoon… But I’d love to hear what Rowan thinks about trying to get another remedy out of the dang plant… ‘Ahem… But Granny has taught me some pretty cool stuff, like lighting and putting out fire. And her wardrobe is amazing, it leads to a strange place.’
‘Yeah. And I lost Derek’s team shirt there…’
‘Why don’t you go back and get it? Too scared?’
‘No! I’m not scared. I tried, but Granny was right when she said you can’t get to the same place twice.’
‘I could try.’
She looks at him thoughtfully. ‘I guess you could…’
‘So that’s settled then. I’ve got some news too, about our mother.’ He digs out a small object which he nonchalantly tosses onto her bed. ‘Check this out.’
‘Taïga picks it up. ‘A lipstick?’
‘Not just any lipstick. Mom’s.’
‘Did you go through mom’s stuff?’
‘Yeah. What was left anyway… And I found that.’ He nods towards the golden tube. ‘Go ahead, look inside.’
She uncaps the lipstick and scrutinizes it, but Rowan snatches it out of her hands and twirls the tube so they can see the whole stick. He holds it up towards the light, making Taïga gasp at the sight of the thin lines, forming words.
‘How did you find it? What does it say?’ She frowns. ‘We need a magnifying glass.’
Gloating, her brother says, ‘They are runes, referring to a page in a book, Malleum Maleficarum. I went through my father’s study while he was away on business, and guess what I found?’ He hands her an old book. ‘Il martello delle streghe…’
She opens it and scans the first page. ‘Very funny. It’s in Italian, Rowan.’ She hands it back.
Rowan sits down cross-legged on her bed, opening the manuscript. ‘The numbers correspond to this part, it says San Colombano al Lambro, and-’
‘In English, please.’
‘It’s a place, Taïga. I think something important happened there. Maybe it’s even where she… died.’ He draws in his breath and continues, ‘Unfortunately nowhere to be found. I’ve googled it, and even looked up some ancient maps in the library, but niente.’
Taïga starts pacing. ‘Missy has an Ouija-board, and I think I know how to operate it.’ She slumps down on the bed next to him. ‘You could pick it up at the Darer’s and then we could try to contact mom! Or at least we could ask the spirits where that place is-’
A loud sneezing from under her bed makes them both start.
‘What are you doing under my bed, Sprinkler!?!’
‘Nothing. Just passed by. You should really vacuum-clean under yer bed, it’s terribly dusty.’
‘We need to talk about boundaries,’ she hisses, reaching out and hoisting the little gnome up onto the bed. ‘Rowan, meet Sprinkler O’Lyin. Sprinkler, this is my brother, Rowan.’
Rowan reaches out his hand. ‘I’ve heard quite a lot about you, nice to finally meet.’
‘Aye.’ Sprinkler shakes Rowan’s hand. ‘Look like yer sister. Aye, same eyes.’
Taïga and Rowan look at each other.
‘Nay. The other one.’
‘The other one?’
‘Yeah, well. There’s something else I haven’t told you – yet,’ she adds, glancing at Sprinkler. ‘It appears Frost is a twin. We have a sister-’
‘-a fairy sister-’
‘Yeah, a fairy sister living with-’
‘-Tuatha Dé Danann.’
Rowan raises an eyebrow. ‘What? Fairies?’ They don’t exi-’
‘Your grandmother has got one imprisoned downstairs. In a cage.’
‘Well, technically it’s not a cage.’ Taïga says.
‘Can she leave?’
‘So it’s a cage.’
Rowan has followed the exchange, getting more and more confused. ‘Ahem. Why don’t you just show me?’
‘Well, she’s invisible.’
‘Oh. I see. There’s an invisible fairy in a cage that’s not a cage…’
Both Sprinkler and Taïga nods.
Rowan shakes his head. His sister and that little dwarf, or gnome or whatever, are totally out of it…
‘Ye don’t believe us because you’ve never seen one?’ Sprinkler snorts. ‘Ah sure, we used to have lots of fairies and even leprechauns rounds these parts, but they’re like hen’s teeth now.’ He passes his hand over his face in a weary gesture. ‘I’m tired of searching. I’m only after going home. And that little fairy can help me.’
‘Right… So where do you come from, Sprinkler? Ireland?’ Rowan asks.
Sprinkler sighs. ‘Aye. Ireland. It glimmers like an emerald surrounded by the blue Ocean… Tranquil lakes, sandy beaches and rugged mountains… Fields like a patchwork of green sweep down to the sea…’ He makes a sweeping gesture to illustrate his sayings, all the while drying a tear from his eye.
‘Sounds quite striking.’
‘It’s home. And yer prisoner, the little fairy lady, can take me there. Straight to Knocknarea Mountain, where warrior Queen Meave of Connaught is buried upright on her horse, facing her enemies. That’s where I want to go.’
A deep silence settles over the room. Rowan breaks it first, ‘So, what are we waiting for? Let’s do this.’
‘Now?’ Taïga looks astonished at him.
‘Yeah. Why not? Granny isn’t supposed to be home in a couple of hours yet, and after what you told me, the count and his evil sidekick are over at Missy’s. I guess it’s now or never – opening a cage can’t be that difficult. Where does Granny hide the key?’
Missy has played hide and seek with Athan Junior the whole afternoon. It’s hard to tell who has more fun, the little boy or his mommy…
She touches her belly in wonder. A baby. Who would have thought she would become a mother at her age. Remembering something, she digs under the mattress of her bed. Triumphantly she holds the ugly Asherah Pillar Fertility Idol in her hand.
‘Hah! No need for this anymore…’ She throws it in the trash, looking around for Junior. ‘‘Geez, I could kill for some strawberries… Where can Athan hide? Where is my little boy?’ She tiptoes around the bed, faking not seeing her son.
‘Yum-yum!’ Junior giggles.
‘Yes, strawberries are yum-yum. But come here, Mommy will put Junior on the potty.’
Missy realizes it’s a little too late, ‘Yeah, right. Hum… Maybe it’s time to consider this potty training thingy more seriously…’
Junior stretches his arms towards Missy, ‘Wuv mama!’
Missy dabs away a tear, ‘I love you too, little one…’
She scoops Junior up, throwing a glance at the old wall mounted clock, ‘Let’s fix you a bath, a bite and then to bed! Momma’s got important business tonight.’
It’s almost six o’clock, and the sun is already setting. Missy knows she’d better get a move on or she’ll be late. Junior is extenuated from playing the whole afternoon and falls asleep immediately. He doesn’t even seem to notice the constant hammering from downstairs. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her husband – he certainly won’t notice her leaving…
While Missy takes a quick, hot bath to calm her aching muscles, Juan continues working hard on the sculpture of Lugubre Chantelamort. He’s working from memory alone, as Count Olaf was in a hurry, whisking the French witch away after only a couple of hours posing.
As usual when he’s working on a project, he’s oblivious to the surroundings and he forgets all about basic needs… But will he hear if Athan wakes up? Probably not. But then again, she put a nice relaxing mixture of lemon balm, vervein and chamomile in his evening milk so he’ll probably sleep through the night…
Taïga hesitates on the porch, lifting her gaze towards the sky. As if on cue, the dark clouds scatter, revealing the blood red moon starting its ascent in the dark sky…
An initiation only needs five witches to complete the pentagon, but Missy is quite excited because she has succeeded in convincing the Council to let her participate tonight. She’ll not just convey her great niece to the initiation grounds, but she’ll actually be part of the ceremony. She blabbers happily about the importance of being one of the ancient, and the horrible things that could happen to the novice if everyone doesn’t play their parts right.
Taïga doesn’t need to hear about what could happen if someone, probably Missy herself, blunders. Shuddering from the humidity, she hurries after her great aunt through the maze of trees towards the sacred ground where her initiation will take place. Soon her feet are numb from cold and she stumbles and almost falls.
Why is it so important to be barefoot? Yeah, Granny went on and on about the necessity to be permeable – whatever that means – to the elements…
Luckily there aren’t any snakes at this time of the year, but there are thorns. A lot of them. She whimpers as she puts weight on her smooth, sensitive feet, stopping to try to extract the painful needles. But Missy doesn’t stop, she doesn’t even stop talking, so the young novice clenches her teeth, trying to make abstraction of both the cold and her aching feet as she hurries to keep up with her great-aunt…
Missy stops just outside the circle of stones, solemnly motioning for Taïga. Taking a deep breath she steps forward into the darkness, taking place in the middle of the faded lines forming a pentacle. She’s terrified of what is about to happen. Where is Granny? Weren’t they all supposed to be here?
Shivering, she stands alone, surrounded by the silent monoliths forming a perfect circle around her. She looks down at her feet, they are bluish from the cold, and there are smears of blood after the long walk. Where did Missy go? She was here just a few seconds ago… Maybe this is part of some psychological plan, meaning to build up the anticipation… Maybe to make me meditate, clean my spirit from parasite thoughts… Yeah, that must be it… But waiting like this is hell… Will the trigger of magic hurt? She rubs her cold hands to get them warm, blowing on them, but her fingers are too numb, moving them only hurts so she stops, letting her arms hang down her sides. God, it’s cold tonight…
Closing her eyes, letting her shoulders relax and roll back, she tries to regulate her breath like when she’s on stage. A slow deep breath through the nose -1, 2, 3, 4… Then out the mouth, slowly -1, 2, 3… A faint rustling startles her. Opening her eyes, she can see that the inner circle is now bathed in a faint light. The five witches who are to help her trigger, then canalize, her new powers, are silently moving out from the shadows.
Discreetly, she shifts her weight on her feet, but she doesn’t dare turn her head. How long have I stood here? Out of the corner of her eye she can see Granny on her left, taking position at the point of the pentacle symbolizing Earth. Not a hint of a smile… It feels like it’s not her grandmother, but a stranger who doesn’t know her. Who has never known her. Taïga’s mouth goes dry…
She concentrates on the Head of the Council right in front of her, but Count Olaf’s grim expression does nothing to erase her fear. He draws his wand like a sword, letting it cut through his element – Air – with a swishing sound, provoking a gust of wind that makes tendrils of hair blow in front of her face. She doesn’t stir, forcing herself to boldly meet his pale gaze.
A fleeting look at Lugubre Chantelamort reveals the French witch under a new light. Her ugly face is distorted by a rictus of a smile, as she draws her wand, a blood red accessory to her Council dress. Tonight, the old Water witch symbolizes the Spirit.
Taïga quickly glances back at her feet. Tanya Arrington, the youngest of the five witches, is getting ready on Taïga’s right. She strikes a dramatic pose, letting her wand glow with her element – Fire. If only it could warm her some…
Taïga takes another deep breath, fighting the compulsion to turn her head and see what the shuffling behind her means. She knows that it probably just announces that Water witch Phyllis Arrington, and Missy, are also ready to begin.
She exhales, wondering which element will be hers.
The six witches start humming in unison, drawing complicated patterns with their wands… Soon the sound and the movement become undistinguishable from one another as they walk in a circle, drawing closer and retreating, like waves washing over her.
Lugubre Chantelamort is the first to speak, her usually raspy voice is somehow smoother, barely audible above the monotonous humming of the other witches. Taïga has to strain to distinguish the words,
‘Thirteen powers do this Witch claim
her right of lineage by Goddess’s name
Tie a knot and say the words
or hand on head – the blessing conferred’*
Then Tanya Arrington steps forward, her magic enveloping Taïga in a fierce blaze of heat, scorching her eyes shut. In an instant she is dehydrated, her lips and tongue swelling uncomfortably. Sweating profusely she tries to focus and not succumb to the dizziness that threatens to overwhelm her…
‘A Witch can give success in love
curse or bless through Goddess above’*
Phyllis Arrington’s voice brings an end to the scorching heat, waves crashing around her feet, cooling her overheated body starting from her toes and working upwards.
‘Speak to beasts and spirits alike
command the weather, cast out a blight’*
Taïga leans into the waves, blissfully rocking in the water, but soon the relief changes to panic, as the chilling water rises over her head preventing her from breathing…
Count Olaf takes his time. For a fleeting moment she thinks he will let her drown, seeing him watch her through the rippling water, sickly enjoying her fight for air. Finally he waves his wand, and Taïga gasps, filling her lungs. His wheezy voice brings a fierce wind blowing around her, instantly drying her clothes, whipping her long raven hair around her face.
‘Read the heavens and stars of the night
divine the future and give good advice’*
She raises her arms, closing her eyes, spinning and laughing into the wind. Granny’s low, strong voice brings her back to earth,
‘Conjure treasure and bring fortune to bear
heal the sick and kill despair’*
The feeling when her grandmother’s magic hits her is warm and soothing, enveloping her in a sensation of something she only can describe as happiness. She stands stock still, letting the life she can feel under her feet spread inside her like sap in a tree, filling her heart and body, strengthening her.
The six witches take up the last strophe in choir, repeating the same words over and over again, all the while closing in on the young novice step by solemn step, until they’re all able to put their hands on her head.
‘Tie a knot and say the words
or hand on head – the blessing conferred’*
This is her birthright to have and to share
blessings you, Taïga, may the spirits be fair’*
Rowan has watched the whole ceremony from his vantage point behind some bushes. He’s not supposed to even be in the vicinity, the female witch rite is surrounded by mystery and he risks a severe punishment if he gets caught. But curiosity is stronger than caution at his age, and dressed in his brand new warlock outfit he’s discreetly trudged after his sister and Missy through the dense forest.
In awe he has watched his sister standing in the midst of flames without getting burned, rising high in the air, escaping the storming waters that suddenly had filled the circle of stones – putting out the fire but almost drowning the six witches who had to take refuge on top of the monoliths… She had spinned so fast that a tornado had formed, aspiring the water and letting it rain down in a fierce rainstorm. Slowly she had landed in the middle of the pentacle, her feet sucked into the mud, and she had raised her arms and flowers had grown all around her. She had stood like a young tree, leaves and flowers sprouting from her fingers, then fruit and lastly it was autumn and beautifully colored leaves danced around her, finally transforming into snowflakes.
He has never in his life seen anything as beautiful, and at the same time as terrifying. Which is her element? She seems to have mastered them all… He curses as the witches crowding around his sister totally hide her from his view. Curious, he eases closer until he’s right behind one of the stones…
*Adapted from An expansion on what the blessing conveys by Stormweaver
Taïga is overcome by the hypnotic chanting and the unnerving feeling of 12 hands touching her head at the same time. It feels as if she has dived into a bucket filled with ice, the extreme cold squeezing her head in a viselike grip, and her vision grows hazy as her eyeballs seem to freeze over, her skin crackling and shattering under the attack of swarming needles…
The incantation increases in speed and intensity. Faster. Stronger.
The surroundings gradually disappear as the ice-cold, burning sensation overtakes her body. Surpassing her neck, shoulders, sliding along her arms it’s slowly working its way down her limbs in wave after wave of excruciating pain. The stinging discomfort continues until her whole body seems petrified and she wants to scream out her fright and agony but no sound is coming forward.
She fights against the deadly cold, searching for some heat within. The burning from the blood pumping through her system increases, a thunderous roar of rushing life-force. The heat is melting her veins, turning her blood into magma, painfully, slowly pushing through her. Her body is freezing but she’s on fire within.
Oh, please, please make it stop…
And suddenly, it does.
Left is a tickling, sparkling sensation in her fingertips, surrounding her with sizzling blue electricity. Flashes of lightning form an impenetrable fence around her and amazed, she looks down on her feet, only to find herself floating a good ten inches above the ground.
Gasping, the witches back away from her, out of reach of the deadly energy. Lugubre Chantelamort tries to catch Count Olaf’s eye, but terrified he continues retreating.
Taïga stops advancing. In awe she watches the dancing blue power move back and forward with each movement of her hands. Granny hadn’t explained this to her. What is she supposed to do? She tries to read her grandmother’s expression, but can only see fear. She must stop this, but how? Granny has taught her how to concentrate, to canalize her powers, and that’s what she must try to do right now. She concentrates on stopping the electricity to flow out from her fingers, to change the direction. Somehow.
She concentrates so hard, trying to inverse the flux of power, that it feels like the veins on her forehead are about to explode. Her vision is getting blurred, tainted by a red veil…
The pain, the heat literally explodes through her in a sudden flash of blinding light.
Rowan crouches low, bracing himself, while the powerful blow scatters the six witches around the pentagon like twigs in a storm.
Rowan blinks, slowly recovering his sight. The old witches stir. Moaning and grunting they sit up, holding their heads. But where is his sister? He can’t see her anywhere. A little shakily, he stands up to see better, and there she is, lying pale and motionless in the center of the circle.
Pushing the branches aside, he rushes forward, falling on his knees next to her lifeless body. Frantically he seeks for a pulse. There is none.
‘Sorella mia! Svegliati! You can’t leave me, sister! Wake up. Please, wake up…’
‘Move over.’ Granny kneels on the other side of the unconscious girl, checking her for vital signs. She rubs her hands together, then places them on each side of Taïga’s head, murmuring words Rowan doesn’t understand.
‘Is she dead? Can you wake her?’
Granny doesn’t answer, her glazed eyes rolling backwards in the effort.
He searches Granny’s face, but his grandmother has difficulty recovering from the exertion. ‘CPR,’ she whispers hoarsely.
Pinching his sister’s nose, Rowan starts blowing air into her mouth, only stopping to give her heart massage. The others are slowly getting to their feet. Nervously glancing towards the scene playing out in front of them, they gather around the Count for guidance.
‘Golly Gosh! What is the lad doing here?’
‘CPR,’ someone mutters.
‘Mon Dieu! Quelle tragédie! I’ve never seen anyzhing like it!’
‘She mastered them all, bless her heart!’
‘To what avail? It’s proof that we ain’t supposed to have more than one element – not all four!’
‘But what about the electricity?’
‘Yes, what about the lightning? Count Olaf, you must tell us what it means.’
‘Ahem… I say, what?’
‘We ‘ave never seen anyzhing even close to what ‘appened tonight.’
Taïga splutters and draws a faint breath, but her eyes remain closed, her heartbeat as faint as the battering wings of a butterfly.
‘I say… The girl might not be saved, what?’ Count Olaf looks meaningfully at Lugubre Chantelamort, ‘I say, we must hurry if we want to harvest her, what?’
‘Oui, salvage at least ‘er eggs.’
Rowan’s head snaps round at the coldblooded words. Stumbling to his feet, he turns around to face Count Olaf.
‘Nobody touches my sister. I won’t allow it,’ he hisses between clenched teeth, firmly decided not to let them have their way. ‘None of you are.’
‘Don’t you dare threaten me, Rowan Di Grisogno. I say, your father might be a friend and a famous warlock, but I’m still your superior.’
‘Oui, ‘e is so much stronger zhan you, mon petit.’ Lugubre adds, throwing a furtive glance at her hero.
‘I also have Grey blood flowing in my veins…’ Rowan returns his attention to the Count, ‘And when I fully master my powers I will come for you. There won’t be a place on earth you can hide, if you harm my sister.’
‘Then we shall see to it you won’t master them, what!?!’ Count Olaf says haughtily.
Turning her granddaughter onto her side to ease the breathing, Granny sits back on her heels, totally exhausted, staring into space. The young witch is hardly breathing, and there’s no response whatsoever to stimuli. Taïga was thoroughly electrocuted by her own magical powers, and Granny knows she’ll need more than a couple of hours rest to heal…
Missy catches her sister’s eye and Granny shakes her head imperceptibly. This is more serious than she first thought…. ‘But we have to do something. It just iden right, we cain’t just stand here and do nothing! Surely there must be something all y’all can do? Together? I mean, there are five of you, just go ahead y’all and fix her!’
Phyllis Arrington, touches her arm lightly, ‘I’m afraid it ain’t possible, Missy. Cain’t you feel it?’
‘The void of… of emptiness…’ Tanya adds dramatically, tears brimming behind her broken glasses.
Seeing Missy’s puzzled expression, Phyllis adds, ‘Maybe you cain’t feel it, as you’re only a half-witch, but there ain’t no magic left in us.’
Granny acquiesces sadly.
Missy turns rapidly towards the two councilmembers. ‘What about you? Are you devoid of magic too?’
Lugubre and Count Olaf look embarrassed. Missy raises her hand, ‘Tsk tsk. Don’t say anything. I have to do everything on my own…’ She draws her wand and waves it around, but the wooden stick seems to be nothing more than just that – a wooden stick.
Rowan gapes. How come all their magic is gone? It can’t have vanished into thin air like that… He looks back at his sister thoughtfully. Could it be possible that she has absorbed it? He didn’t understand everything that happened tonight, but she seemed to reverse the flow of electricity and maybe she draw all their magic as well – at least from those who were in the circle of stones… He felt the shock but not the full blast as the six witches participating in the ceremony apparently did. He doesn’t feel any different from before. No, he’s sure his magic is intact…
Granny leans forward checking on Taïga’s breathing for the umpteenth time, ‘We must take her home and call a doctor. Maybe we should even take her to hospital…’
‘And ‘ow will you explain zhat she got electrocuté? Lightning? You know very well zhat what’s caused by magic can’t be cured by a docteur.’
Granny nods. She hates to admit that the unpleasant French witch is right.
Count Olaf straightens his back, resuming his role as a leader, ‘I say, let’s go back to the mansion. We must talk about this unfortunate happening, what?’
‘Oui, and we ‘ave to find a way to recover our magique…’ Lugubre glances over her shoulder and adds in a very low voice, ‘… and also ‘er eggs…’
As the dawn colors the sky blood red, Rowan picks up his lifeless sister and carries her the whole way back to the mansion. He strains to listen in on the two Council members whispering conversation, but he only gets snatches without any sense.
‘…the Tomb of Jean Necteaux…’
‘Oui, mais c’est trop dangereux…’
‘…the High Ruler must be informed…’
‘… the Maze is impassable! But…’
Who the Hell is – or was – Jean Necteaux? And what could his tomb possibly be hiding? And the High Ruler? Never heard of him… If Granny doesn’t know about them, maybe dad does … He’s got a nectary business in France after all…
With infinite care, he puts his sister on her bed. Her hands are cold as ice, and she hardly breathes.
‘Oh, my. We can’t leave her like that, bless her heart. What shall we do? I have to get back to Athan and Juan before they notice that I’ve been gone the whole night…’
‘I know I ’ave never come across anything like zhis…’
‘Are you sure you’ll be allright without me?’
‘Yes, Missy. Go home and get some rest. I’ll keep you updated…’
‘Are you sure we shouldn’t ‘arvest ‘er?’
‘I say, let’s ask Haeju. She’s well versed in the scripts…’
Granny nods, ‘She somehow reversed the electricity flow. It must be her element, though I’ve never heard of it before.
‘… a sixth element?’
‘… first of all we must recover our forces, what? …’
Slowly Rowan releases his grip on his unconscious sister’s wrist, ‘It’s weak, but we’ve still got a heartbeat.’
The audience lets out a sigh of relief.
‘Maybe we should just let her rest… Sleep it out.’
‘Oui, restoring our powers is zhe most urgent matter right now. She won’t go anywhere… I zhink we should discuss over breakfast.’
‘What a brilliant idea. Let’s have a bite and see if we can find a solution to this… err… problem.’ Count Olaf holds the door open for Lugubre, ‘After you, dear.’
‘Breakfast sounds lovely! I think Juan won’t say anything, bless his heart… Wait! My sister has the most fantastic fig jam – in fact, I helped her can it…’
‘I’ll stay with her a while,’ Granny offers, looking meaningfully at Rowan. ‘Get them some breakfast and come back…’
With a last glance at his sister, Rowan exits in the wake of the Council and Missy. The dark lashes of Taïga’s closed eyes lay on deathly pale cheeks. Ethereal, but incredibly beautiful, reminding him of the old fairy tale about Snow White.
If it only could be that easy to wake her up… Just get her prince here, presto! He stops with his hand on the railing. But that’s it! Taïga told me something when we were kids… She ate an apple* – just like Snow White- and Granny woke her up again… She might have something useful in her attic…
After having a shower and something to eat, Rowan hurries upstairs, eager to share his thoughts with his grandmother. He stops with his hand on the doorknob, feeling watched. Quickly he turns around, making Sprinkler start and almost fall backwards from the railing.
‘Jaysis, you put the heart crossway in me!’
‘Are you spying on me?’
‘Nay, of course I ain’t… I just checked in on our sleeping beauty, and she seems to be quite out of reach. But I think I know of a remedy…’
‘What? And you haven’t said anything?’
‘I already told yer grandma’. But I had to lend her some so she could go and get it.’
‘What do you mean “lend” her some?’
‘Power. Not much, mind you. Just enough to err… get started on her mission.’ He scratches his beard. ‘I’m not quite sure she’ll have enough to get back here again, though… I think I’ll better tell her!’ And with that he vanishes.
Rowan looks bewildered around him. Where did the little gnome go? No time to worry about him, I have to check with Granny first… If Sprinkler is right about a remedy, he wants to be part of the rescuing mission.
He doesn’t wait for an answer to his knock, but carefully pushes the door open, ‘Granny?’
No answer. The room is empty, apart from his unconscious sister and Valkyria next to her bed. The dog lifts her head and whimpers softly, then rests her muzzle again close to her mistress’ face.
‘… CRUCIAL! DON’T YE HEAR ME!?!’
Sprinkler’s voice from outside makes him rush through the room. He pulls the curtains aside, only to see the little gnome standing on the railing, shouting at someone.
‘… Ye can’t waste too much time or ye will be stuck over there, I tell ye!’
Gaping, Rowan watches his grandmother circle on her broom, before taking off into the sunrise.
He fumbles with the door, pushing it open. ‘WAIT!’
But his grandmother is already out of earshot…
‘Porca Vacca! Crap!’ He stares after her departing silhouette.
‘I don’t know if she heard me… She should have taken a jumper, not only a scarf…’ Sprinkler says in a low voice, breaking the silence.
‘Aye… It wouldn’t have hurt to bring some gloves too. It’s fierce weather beyont.’
‘Nonono. Not that. Do you seriously mean that she left without knowing that she might not come back?’
‘Aw, sure look it.’
‘But why didn’t you just transfer enough power?’
Sprinkler throws him a glance over his shoulder. ‘Because I have to keep some for meself, of course. And my magic is faery magic, not witch magic, that’s why.’ He shades his eyes against the rising sun, watching the little black dot that is Granny on her broom. ‘And anyways, it’s a quest, and a quest is not meant to be easy.’
Rowan feels a sudden urge to swipe the little gnome off the railing. ‘You didn’t give her enough power just to make it harder for her?’
‘Err… I didn’t exactly say that, now did I? I charged her broom, and her wand some too. Now, if she comes back from beyont-’
‘When.’ Rowan interrupts in a threatening voice.
‘Aye. When she comes back, I have to have enough magic left for us to trigger the remedy.’
‘Aye. You and me. A witch and a fairy… It would have been so much easier if the first option was available, but it was impossible.’
‘What first option?’
‘The kiss of love, of course. Wakes up anyone from a magic induced, deep sleep. Didn’t ye know that? It’s part of the basics.’
‘Yeah, well. It’s out of the question.’
‘Ah, go way outta that…. I know about what happened. The only candidate is lost in a country in Africa not exactly well-known for its law and order.’
‘Aye. Well. So ye see, there was only the quest-option left.’
Rowan counts to ten in his head, his Italian roots threatening to do something he definitely will regret later. ‘Tell me about the quest.’
Sprinkler lowers his voice, ‘I can’t tell ye all about it, Count Olaf and Lugubre Chantelamort were weakened, but their powers didn’t entirely vanish and it’s better for everyone if we can keep this under wraps.’
‘I understand,’ Rowan glances over his shoulder.
‘The Council is only interested in Taïga as long as long as they’re sure she’s useful to them – as the vehicle of the incarnation of Lady Ravendancer…’
‘… and it’s easier for them if yer stubborn sister remains unconscious – like that Baba Yaga is also out of the picture…’
‘Yeah. Taïga explained it to me… What a mess. But I still need to know how I can be of use.’
Sprinkler lowers his voice even more, and Rowan has to strain to hear him clearly. ‘We need blood. Her father’s blood.’ He looks intently at Rowan, motioning him to lean closer. ‘Granny has left to find Taïga’s father, to get a sample. The problem is that we don’t exactly know where to find him…’ He turns his back on Rowan. ‘Mind you, we don’t know if the bugger’s still alive.’
While Sprinkler in a hushing voice updates Rowan on their upcoming mission, telling him all about how to pull Taïga back to life, the young girl‘s spirit is tormented by bizarre nightmares.
It’s still summer in the Bayou and Granny beckons for her to follow, but she can’t move fast enough.
Granny! Wait! Don’t leave me… She calls out for her grandmother, but the old woman doesn’t seem to hear her, continuing her progress into the high grass of the swamp, leaving Taïga behind…
Come and play!
She turns towards the supplicant voice. When she looks back again, her grandmother is gone, swallowed by the gently moving dry grass…
Come and play! Hurry!
Suddenly she’s inside the Cove in Moonlight Falls. She’s a princess, swirling around, spinning with Derek, who laughing circles around her. Sometimes his feet touches the floor, sometimes he’s flying like Peter Pan, but he’s always laughing.
Catch me if you can! Catch me…
Her merry laughter stops abruptly as Derek does a handstand on the railing over the winter garden. She rushes forward to stop him from falling, but too late, he staggers and falls before she reaches the railing.
… Why is she in the dining room?
Her mom is there, smiling up at a man she has never seen before but who’s uncannily familiar nevertheless. Beaming, they reach out their arms towards her and she rushes forward, but suddenly a wall of fire separates them. The Cove is on fire! Just like when she was a child, but now she’s trapped inside, feeling the scorching heat licking at her body, the roar of the flames shutting out her screams for her mother. Shasta and the tall man just stand there, grinning at each other while the flames consume them. Mommy! Run!
Her back is freezing cold and she’s pulled backwards, out of the Cove. Up, up. Higher and higher.
She’s flying over the treetops. Is she a raven again? Where is she? She tries to see the ground through the trees, but it’s too dark. All of a sudden, the forest gives way to a clearing, with an ominous looking mansion lighted by ancient gaslights. She can feel evil emanating from the house, and she desperately tries to avoid getting any closer. An eerie voice emanates from the house, or is it in her head?
Is ì ding di féin a scoileann an dair… Is ì ding di féin a scoileann an dair… Beware of the enemy within. No matter how strong you are, you must keep your inner demons at bay. Your greatest opponent is yourself. Recognize this and act accordingly…
In a flash of lighting she’s back on the ground. Electricity is sparkling around her, but she feels no pain this time. She’s somewhere in a strange forest, she doesn’t recognize the vegetation around her. What are these? Stones. A circle of stones. She’s stuck in the middle of a circle of stones, her feet unable to move…
Help me… Please… help…
Granny holds on to her broom. It flies, all right, but she’s not at ease. And yet keeping her balance on the broom is the least of her worries right now. She knows her quest will be difficult, nothing says that she’ll ever find Magnus Darkling… And after what Sprinkler told her about the Council succeeding in capturing him, she doesn’t even know if she’ll find him alive…
Part II – End of Chapter 40
Thanks a million to the wonderful creators of the characters in this chapter:
Count Olaf who is a creation by Devea on Mod The Sims
Lugubre Chantelamort aka Baroufella, by Sandy on Around The Sims 3