“I know there’s some bad blood between you and Adam,” Selene says, running a delicate, porcelain hand through her messy black hair. “But god… he could have just fucking told us all this.”
Iris pulls at her collared shirt. “He’s still just… so angry.”
Camilla wipes the red lipstick off the straw of her iced coffee. “It’s his fault you two aren’t together. He’s really got no reason to be mad. It’s not exactly as if you could just stop being a witch.”
“I don’t want to talk about me and Adam,” Iris says. “I want to talk about this.”
Papers are sprawled across the low coffee table in the attic, the sisters circled around it. Rose, Esme, and Sasha have all been filled in to some degree, but now they’re helping Gwen make lunch, and Iris begins to dive into the deeper mechanics of this strange mystery.
“It isn’t satanism,” she says. “Adam was very clear about that. They worship magick, not a deity. There’s lots of satanic similarities like blood rituals and sacrifices but mainly they just believe a few elite will be… taken? Transformed? Something like that?”
“Adam’s keeping their mission from you?” Camilla asks.
“He doesn’t know it. It’s not as if they have a wikipedia page, Camilla.”
“Sounds to me like he’s just vying to get his dick sucked.”
“You know very well what Adam and I had was much less vulgar than that. I wore a ring for heaven’s sake. He was… everything to me.”
Camilla’s tongue can be sharper than she intends. She backs off with an arched brow.
“We should shut the windows,” Selene stands with a yawn and a stretch. “I’ll go around the house.” She waves her hand at the attic window, where the wind outside has become wild and brave, quickly changing directions. “A storm’s brewing.”
Esme leans over the railing of the porch, thinking of Aimee and feeling deeply blue in the the vivid energy of the storm. She steps off the porch to feel the grass between her toes, peering up into the clouds. If she focuses hard enough certain spots are tinged with purple and blue and the sea-foam green of a day old bruise. How could Aimee go back to Shayne after what they shared? Esme doesn’t know, but she’s certain the girl is lost to her affections. Her chest aches deep within her, throbbing in a way that tells her Aimee has severed something this day, under the chaos of this storm. It’s different now. Esme is alone again, in the way she’s always felt just a little alone somewhere inside her.
She turns and smiles a melancholy smile at her aunt Selene who stands hand in hand with her own daughter. “Come inside. I can take your mind off it.”
“I don’t know about you girls but I’ve been itching to do some artwork.”
Esme settles in at the breakfast bar while Selene sterilizes the area surrounding them. Then Selene retrieves her tattoo kit.
“What are you going to give me?” Esme asks, extending an arm.
“What you need,” Selene smiles.
Selene’s so pixie-like with her upturned nose and almond eyes and little ears. Esme wishes she could be beautiful like any of her aunts, or like Rose. But she feels, somehow, fundamentally different. She is so pale and mousy, and lonely. But the idea of a tattoo temporarily lifts her spirits. She allows her aunt to decide upon a piece and closes her eyes.
Upstairs Rose is sitting in the window of her bedroom, watching the rain begin to splat, splat, splat, upon the pane. The thunder rumbles. She wonders whether Esme is influencing the storm. She thinks about Dean, and Ben, and school, and the possibility she lured this strange man to the town from school. She thinks about the baptism she’s supposed to be choosing a dress for, and preparing herself for… less than a month away. She looks down into her tea and sees the leaves swirling. She’s never been as good at reading her leaves as her grandmother, but she’s afraid to ask Gwen what the motion means.
Upstairs in the attic Iris and Camilla continue to discuss what they’re now referring to as The Order. Iris notes that rain was not in the forecast today, but it’s now falling heavily.
“You don’t think they can affect the weather, do you?” Camilla asks.
A raven has landed on a tree in the garden. It peers up at the house with its glassy black eyes. Iris stares at it and it stares back.
Iris won’t admit she has no grasp of the depths of The Order’s powers. She picks up her cell and clicks Adam’s name, then realizes she doesn’t have service. “I have to go back to The Library. I have so many questions for Adam.” She disappears without taking a single scrap of paper with her.
Camilla goes to the window to watch her sister walk out just in time to see the raven flap his wings noisily and lift off into the air.
The rain is picking up, fat splatters turning into enormous pelting drops. Iris turns on her wipers and starts down the driveway. Before she’s even out onto the main road her vision is blurred and her wipers unable to keep up. Iris attempts to keep several yards in front of her clear of rain as she drives, but it’s taking too much effort, and she gives up.
Thunder claps noisily but thankfully Selene is already finished with her piece. She’s doodled a tiny lightbulb on Esme’s left wrist. She places a protective film over the wound and smiles at her niece.
“For whenever you need a little extra light.”
The first time the lights flicker it’s the storm, but the second time it is because Esme has run her fingertip over the lightbulb. She’s delighted and thanks her aunt as another clap of thunder makes everyone jump.
The sky has darkened quickly and completely, the clouds just rolling shapes now. Rose spots something from her window seat and comes flying down the stairs moments later. “Dean is leaving!” She exclaims.
“He can’t,” Gwen says, stepping out from the sunroom.
“Well, he is!” Rose says, running out into the garden.
Camilla spotted him from the window too and joins the rest of the family on the lawn. Selene stays behind holding Sasha’s hand, and Grandma Gwen walks out in front of the girls, into the rain.
“Young man,” she says, sternly.
Dean is wearing jeans and a white teeshirt which is soaked through. He turns slowly. His eyes are heavy with dark circles, rain dripping off his eyelashes. He wears a troubled expression.
“Where are you going?”
He shakes his head, and grits his teeth. “I don’t know.”
“Who is calling you away?”
Again. “I don’t know.”
“Come inside,” Gwen demands.
Dean takes a step, but his body trembles as if he’s stuck in the mud, attempting to pull himself out. Rose crosses the distance between the dry porch and the saturated garden. She realizes he’s not wearing shoes. He meets her eyes and she recognizes not the vacancy of days past but the fear of a wild animal caught in a trap. Rose reaches out a hand and he takes another step. It seems easier the second time. Then he takes one more step.
“Should we take him back to the guesthouse?” Rose asks her grandmother.
“Yes. But we need to stay with him.”
Gwen and Rose escort Dean back to the guesthouse, and Gwen draws him a bath. She shuts him in the bathroom then pours tea from an already boiling kettle. She sits with her granddaughter as the storm rages outside.
“He looked so frightened,” Rose says. “Do you think he’s just scared and confused all the time inside his head?”
“I think our magick is wearing off, my dear. I think that look in his eye is the dark magick that possessed him in the first place, peeking through. He is fighting, but something is trying to retrieve him from our grasp. Mortimer, I’d imagine. Or perhaps someone even more powerful.”
“I can stay with him,” Rose says. “After all, I seem to be the only thing he cares about right now… I feel like all of this is my fault, Grandma Gwen.”
Gwen strokes her granddaughter’s cheek. “Your spell on Dean wasn’t intentional. And it didn’t cause this.” She touches the tip of Rose’s nose. “Drink your tea.”
Rose realizes all the water has dripped upward from the floor surrounding her and the tight tendrils of golden hair. She’s no longer wet - not even damp, and the tea warms her from the inside.
“Rose?” Dean calls. “Are you there?”
Grandma Gwen has stepped out of sight, and when Rose calls to her she realizes she’s gone. Rose buries her beautiful face into the palms of her hands.
“I’m here,” Rose says, heading to the bottom of the steps where Dean can hear her better.
“Would you… come up? I don’t want to be alone.”
Rose sighs heavily before ascending the first step. The stairs creak beneath her bare feet and she uses magick to tidy up where Dean left muddy footprints. She sits on the top step outside the bathroom door.
“I’m right here,” she says.
She can hear the water sloshing a little when Dean moves, but no longer running into the tub. She pictures him laying back, as one does, his eyes searching the ceiling.
“I’m scared, Rose. What’s happening to me?”
Rose sighs and leans her temple on the wall beside her. “You’re just… you’re… you’re sick, Dean. But you’re going to get better!” Her words drip hopefulness like honey.
“I am? Do you promise?”
She shuts her eyes tight. “I promise,” she whispers. Then, louder, “I promise, Dean. We’ll figure this out, okay? You’ll feel better soon.”
She hears the water sloshing and dripping. Hears his feet padding across the tiles. Then the door opens and he’s standing there, a towel wrapped around his waist. He reaches down to her to help her up. His hair is dripping clean water, his brow furrowed, his big, brown eyes heavy with distress. He kisses her gently, holding her face in his hands. She can’t help but kiss him back, wishing so deeply to comfort him.
Then he is going backwards, leading her into the little bedroom. He kisses her softly at the side of the bed, gently brushing his lips over her own, and her neck, and her ears. She peels off her teeshirt, revealing a white lacy bra that is barely there. He gazes down at her sadly, still holding her in his arms. His fingers gradually find the clasp of the bra and he removes it. She allows it to slip down her arms, and tosses it to the floor, watching Dean’s capable fingers work her jean shorts open, obviously becoming hard beneath the towel. She steps out of the shorts and lays back on the bed, her golden curls spreading under her head.
Dean is between Rose’s legs now, leaning over her to kiss her neck and take her breasts into his hands. The towel is beginning to slip off his hips, and she can feel his bare penis touching her thighs around her lace panties. He begins rubbing her through her underwear, kissing her passionately all the while and fondling her plump breasts. They’re both quiet despite being alone, and despite the roaring storm outside. They move silently and slowly, and he takes off her panties like removing an article of clothing from a priceless porcelain doll - nothing is to be damaged, yet everything is so fragile. This moment is fragile, her panties falling to the floor with the rest of the clothes, him folding on top of her, holding her tight and kissing her deeply. Her hand finds the back of his head and his cock finds her pussy. He inserts just the tip, moistening it before pressing ever so slowly in and out, getting it deeper and deeper with each slow thrust.
She’s already trembling, her brow furrowed, her mouth open in a perfect little O shape as he takes his time making love to her. He lifts one of her ankles, rising up off her to kiss her ankle bone, then pressing her knee up to her shoulder and hooking her leg over his own shoulder. Her other leg is wrapped around his lower back, her hands in his hair and clawing slowly at his neck. Her back is arched beneath her and she turns her head, catching a glimpse of them in the open window. The movements of his hips mesmerize her, and she realizes that while she’s looking in the window, he’s staring down at her, his forehead nearly touching her face. She turns to gaze up at him and meets a pair of beautiful brown eyes. He doesn’t look like he could hurt anyone - not the way he looks at Rose.
Her eyelids flutter as he begins to fuck her harder. He takes her hand in his own, intertwining their fingers and pressing the back of her hand to the bed. He bites his lip, a look of determination on his handsome face. He begins to move a little faster and Rose is panting beneath him, held down by his weight. She moans with pleasure, her pussy dripping onto the quilt covered bed.
What he doesn’t realize is that she is standing just behind them, watching herself. She’s astral projecting in flickers, not meaning to do it, just somehow ending up by the doorway.
“I want you so much, Rose,” Dean tells her, cupping the back of her head and kissing her passionately. “I love you so much.” He whispers this in her ear, then starts kissing her neck again.
She is already shivering, but he fucks her even harder now, taking her other hand into his own and pressing it to the bed. He raises her hands above her head and holds both her wrists with one strong grip, using his other hand to caress her breasts, and her face as he kisses her. He bites her neck gently, then her bottom lip. He is beginning to moan too, saturated and gliding in and out of her easily, and quickly. The bed is moving, thudding into the wall as he shoves his dick as far towards the back of her vagina as it will reach. She is gasping now, and he moves his other hand to her neck, gently wrapping it around her small throat.
Rose is beginning to see black spots from the pleasure as he applies the slightest amount of pressure to her throat, shushing into her ear and holding her still. She’s beginning to feel the tightening sensation of having waited for an orgasm. She can feel him feel it too. He shushes her again when she begins to moan and she whimpers beneath his strong form.
She stares at her watery form standing in the doorway, appearing to be losing interest in their rendezvous, and somehow she knows this is the part of her that wants to run far away and go to Ben, and tell him she is scared, and lonely, and this summer isn’t going at all well. But the other half of her is here, underneath Dean, listening to his expressions of desire and put in a trance by the deep penetration.
“I want you so much,” he tells her again. “I just want you so much.”
The bed is now creaking in a percussive pattern, scooting across the floor with each thrust of Dean’s hips. Rose’s breasts are bouncing up and down on her body, and Dean watches them, and watches her perfect face, and he wants to keep her in a little box, or a little jar somewhere, and cherish her forever. She shrieks and he doesn’t try to shush her.
The fireworks go off in Dean’s mind and everything is just colors and lights. He can no longer see Rose. He’s only conscious of releasing himself into her body, and filling her up with warm cum, and feeling her perfect figure writhing beneath him. He hears himself moaning and saying her name. He hears her saying his name too as he pants and thrusts into her, cum seeping out of her pussy. Then he is collapsed on top of her, panting over her shoulder. He holds her, still inside her, while they both catch their breath. He shuts his eyes and smells her neck and wishes she belonged to him.
She pets the back of his hair, fighting back tears of sorrow and guilt, awash in the waves of pleasure. She’s come back to herself now, outside of her astral form. Yet half of her still wishes to go to Ben.
Iris pulls into what she assumes is a parking spot in front of the library. It’s beginning to hail, but the beads of ice are minuscule. She provides herself with a shield that isn’t quite strong enough to keep all moisture off and runs to the front doors. They open with ease despite being locked, and lock again behind her. She calls out for Adam, jogging to the back of the library and up the stairs. But all is dark, and silent. She is overwhelmed suddenly by the fear something could have happened to him.
“Iris?” he asks, appearing from his office.
She goes to him in a rush, rain rolling off her sharp cheekbones. “Oh thank heavens. I have to talk to you about Mortimer.”
“What’s wrong?” He instinctively reaches for her shoulders, searching her face. It feels so familiar to have her running to him in times of need. He didn’t realize how much he missed her being near.
“What if Mortimer is the ravens?”
“A shapeshifter?” Adam says, ushering Iris into his dim office. A tiffany lamp fills the room with a pale blue glow.
“Yes. Not a human that can take on animal form but an actual shapeshifter. What if the transforming they refer to - the transcendence - what if they take magick from witches to become shapeshifters? They’re not looking for enlightenment. Just power. Mortimer said he wasn’t actually after our family when we confronted him in the B&B. I think he meant he only wants our magick.”
“We don’t know enough about their beliefs to just assume,” Adam states, sitting on the edge of the desk while Iris begins to pace. “You’re soaking wet.” He pushes his glasses up his nose and Iris looks down at herself.
Her white button-up clings to her black lacy bra, revealing the generous bosom beaneath. She’s wearing black slacks which cling to her slim figure. She waves a hand and begins to pull the moisture off herself but Adam stands up, obviously uncomfortable with her use of magick.
“Well, what would you have me do?” Iris asks, exasperated, stopping half way. “Just strip?”
The two adults stare at each other for a prolonged moment, both thinking about that time they went away for the weekend to a lakeside cabin and it rained and rained and they made love on a blanket on the screened in porch and…
Thunder claps. Lightning flashes. The pair return to reality when the power goes out, casting them into darkness and shadow.
“But what do you think?” Iris asks him.
He finds himself unable to look away from the place where her breasts sigh as she breathes, barely illuminated by the stormy glow outside.
“About my theory,” Iris clarifies, realizing she can’t get the images of his body out of her mind. “Do you think we can’t touch him or control the ravens because they’re one in the same, at least?”
“It’s… it’s possible. I’m sorry but it’s really hard to think about anything right now with you… looking like that.”
“Then don’t look at me,” Iris shrugs.
“That’s fair. Totally fair.” Adam turns around. “Okay. Better. So, yes. I do think that’s a possibility. He’d smell like a demon if he was one. He’d be controllable if he were a man. We can safely assume, at this point, he’s neither.”
“That explains why Rose never noticed him following her home from school,” Iris mutters, watching the muscles of Adam’s broad shoulders flex when he crosses his arms over his broad chest. “It’s like he’s just a shell. Like he doesn’t exist at all… How can we possibly fight something that isn’t there?”
“That, I can’t tell you. You know I’m a pacifist.”
“Pacifism be damned, Adam, my family is in danger. My daughter’s life is in danger.”
“You’re in danger because you keep fucking with the natural order!”
Both pause, realizing they’ve had this fight many the time. Adam turns around to face Iris again, aware she’s taken several steps nearer. “Look. I care about you all… so, so much. I was prepared to pledge my entire self to you, mind, body, and soul. But I can’t… keep rescuing you. It just… it isn’t fair to me.”
Iris’s eyes begin to well with emotion. She takes one more step. “I’m sorry I keep asking you to rescue me,” she says. “It still feels so right - so natural. It’s hard to just turn it off. I’m trying to turn it off though, I swear.”
“I know,” Adam replies, softly touching her elbow.
She strokes his arm. “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself and my family. But you’re the only man I even want to run to… but I won’t. I promise. I’ll go.” She makes a move towards the door but his hand grasps her elbow, holding her still. She returns to face him just in time for him to tilt her face up towards his in a tender, firm kiss.
“I’m so sorry,” she says again.
This time he slides his hands to her waist. “I’m sorry too,” he tells her.
They believe each other, but neither stops the other.
“I’ll go,” She wraps her arms around his shoulders and hisses him hard while he encircles her waist.
“That’s a good idea.” He remembers this - how perfectly she fit in his arms in those days.
She remembers the way his jaw presses forward as his tongue gently strokes her own. She wishes, for just a moment, that she still had that ring on her finger. She wishes it so much she’s surprised it doesn’t just appear there. But her hand is bare, and grasping his face, and then undoing the top button of his shirt. He pauses, leaning away for a split second. She tells him she wants this by not breaking eye contact, and by undoing the second button. He turns her around, sitting her on the desk, beginning to strip her of her wet clothes with fervid fingers. Her breasts are glistening with raindrops, dewy and contained in the black, lacy pushup bra. His shirt is off one muscular arm, and he kisses her neck while she peels the other sleeve down. She sighs at the softness of his lips and tongue on the hollow of her collarbone. He bites her ear and she leans back against the desk. He reaches behind her and snaps off her bra, revealing a very familiar part of her body he’d forgotten he craved. But he’s long since craved something else too. He takes a handful of her soft, teardrop shaped flesh, squeezing gently as he plunges his tongue into her mouth.
Iris can feel every muscle in his back tense up as he becomes firm against her thigh. She can smell his skin now, and she remembers the smell so fondly. She reaches between his legs and gently strokes him on the outside of his slacks, then grabs him firmly. He’s getting rock hard, and quickly. She reaches for his belt buckle as he reaches for the button on her pants. They both chuckle at the synchronized movement.
Iris leans off the desk in order for Adam to slide down her pants, revealing satin panties. He steps out of his own pants and she hops up into his arms, allowing him to carry her to the modest sofa against the wall. She’s seen many the student and scholar on this couch, perched at the edge, sipping bottled water and discussing all the turning gears contained in Adam’s enormous brain. She takes some twisted pleasure in knowing they are defacing this sofa. He tosses her down and slides in between her legs, allowing her thighs to squeeze him at his waist. She hooks her feet together and holds him as firmly as she dares while he kisses her neck, and mouth, and ears, and nose, and eyelids. She claws at him, yearning for the way he tastes and feels - for every part of the man she still loves so deeply.
He thrusts gently into her, his dick hard and stiff beneath his boxers and pinned between them. She moans as he adjusts it perfectly within the lips of her vagina, rubbing her clit through the satin, hands free to roam about her body. He takes one of her breasts into his mouth, sucking hard, just the way she always liked it. She gasps, holding his head still as if demanding he stay put a little longer. His other hand travels to the spot between her legs that is becoming damp. She releases him from the grasp of her thighs and allows him to raise up off her just slightly - just enough to get his hand between them, his fingertips making little circles over her clit.
She isn’t performing now. She isn’t practicing any kind of magick in these precious moments. Her face isn’t perfectly contorted into the epitome of sensual perfection. Her mouth doesn’t make a precise little O where he wants to put things. She is grimacing with pleasure - grunting with satisfaction. They are in the throws of true love making, which is not pretty or polished, but spiritual and gritty. He slides her panties over and she stares into his eyes as he presses the tip of his penis into the soft folds of her vagina. She bites her lip, then bites his, then gasps as he presses, and presses, and presses, until all of him is contained in all of her.
Iris’s back arches with surprise as her brain turns into fireworks of white light. She remembers now. She remembers why they stayed together through the fighting, and the distance, and the issues. She remembers that every other lover she’s ever had has been inferior. He lifts her hips while inside of her. The tilted angle is heavenly. He can fuck down into her this way, touching previously unreachable places. She is panting with euphoria, her eyes rolling back. He fucks her hard, but slowly, her vagina saturated with pleasure as his thick shaft slides it out, only to plunge in again. Her feet are high in the air. She can do nothing by lie there and moan and let him bring her the most pleasure she’s experienced since their last time together. And she likes giving him the power - letting him hold her body so tightly to his own like this - letting him control the pace and pressure. It isn’t often she gives a man this sort of power over her.
She grabs his face, looking into his eyes and then shutting her own to kiss him with a ravenous passion. Their tongues reach for each other while their bodies become one living, breathing, moving thing. He realizes he’s holding his breath, looking away from her ivory breasts which fall to the sides slightly when she lays on her back.
“Not yet,” he assures her. “I just don’t want to…”
“What? Cum inside me?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she says, pulling herself up until they are both standing on their knees on the couch.
She presses on his chest, gesturing for him to lay back. He obeys and she straddles him. She kisses his neck gently, then his cheeks, then his eyelids, and then brushes her lips against his own. She whispers a request in his ear as quietly as possible.
“Iris,” he warns, in that authoritative voice that she knows so well.
“Adam,” she smiles, grasping his shaft between her legs. It is slick from her.
“Iris,” he smiles, shaking his head.
“Adam,” she raises a brow, sitting her full weight on his cock and causing him to grasp the couch with white knuckles.
She situates her feet beneath her so she’s squatting, then begins to gently bounce. He is in awe of the way she rides him, and the way their bodies fit together, and the way her breasts bounce and sway. No, he can’t look at her breasts. They’re too perfect. He needs to look away.
She folds her legs down again so her clit massages his pubic bone, her hands on his rippled abdomen, her arms pressing her breasts towards the center of her chest and into Adam’s face and mouth. He holds her at the waist, occasionally taking a handful of ass or grasping her sharp hips, tilting her forward and back.
“Iris,” he warns, panting.
But it’s too late. She is already holding the couch behind him for support as her face contorts and changes a shade. She pauses, his dick pressing into the back of her vagina while her clit is splayed upon his body. She is trembling, vibrating, beginning to convulse. She arches her back and lets out a whimper, curling into him as she cums, black spots blurring her vision. “Adam,” she moans. “Oh fuck… fuck… Oh Adam.”
It’s the way she moves as much as the way she says his name. He feels the pop of fireworks and explodes into her body, releasing everything he’s been attempting to contain. His muscles tense, his teeth grinding as he tries not to crush her narrow frame in his arms and gives her exactly what she asked for. He can smell her sex and sweat and tears and hair, and she is folded into him like a perfectly wilted flower, still wet from rain. He buries his face into her neck and grabs a handful of hair, his hips tilted so his cock is as hard and deep as it’s ever been inside her angelic form.
Her body is limp, her breathing labored. He rests one large hand on the middle of her back and the other on the back of her head, holding her, while still inside her. Neither of them want to move for a long moment, and before Iris dares remove him from her she finds the strength to pick her upper body off of him and kisses him gently.
“Oh Adam,” she sighs. She lifts her hips off of him.
She reaches for the kleenex, handing him the box after she’s grabbed a few for herself.
“I can’t believe I forgot how good we were,” he says, using the kleenex with a shaky hand.
“Were,” she notes.
“I didn’t mean - ”
“It’s okay,” she smiles, solemnly. “I should go…”
He’s barely got his boxers on and she’s already mostly dressed, doing the buttons up on her shirt and holding her bra, heading for the door. “I…” she begins to say, then thinks better of it. “I’ll see you soon.” She disappears into the library once more.
He lays back and rubs his face. What have they done?
Back at The Soricelle House Gwen is the only one awake and waiting for Iris. When Iris arrives she turns off her light and goes to sleep. None of the women sleep though - not really. There is tossing and turning, and some wandering around the house. They all feel trouble brewing. Rose especially can’t rest. She paces the floor of the guest house while Dean slumbers upstairs, unaware of anything. She brewed a sleeping draught but is too uneasy to take any herself. She feels the hairs prickle on the back of her neck as if she is being watched through the windows, despite the pitch black state of the house. When she finally does doze off she dreams of a man with skin as dark as darkness itself and eyes as pale blue as a summer’s sea. She wakes with a start to a knocking on the door, and it’s suddenly morning.
“Rosie?” Iris asks, coming in to find her asleep on the sofa.
“Get dressed, darling. We need to go downtown.”
“Ben is here. There’s something in the square we have to see.”
“Ben is here?” Rose gasps, realizing she’s spent the night in the guesthouse… with Dean.
But Iris has already gone.
By the time Rose reaches the main house, and Gwen has convinced her Dean should be safe in the light of day, Ben is with the rest of the family in the square. Gwen and Rose meet them there to examine a surprising scene.
In the center of Crescent Hollow there is a round-about. And in the center of that round-about there is a statue of a woman. Her name was Fiona Farling but she might as well have been called Mrs. Crescent Hollow, for the whole town knew who she was. Fiona was a young woman who’d saved the town long ago by being clever, resourceful and (little did anyone but the Soricelle Women know) well versed in magick. Fiona was thought of as one of the poor souls accused of witchcraft by the present-day townspeople, but the Soricelle Women knew better, and whoever defaced the statue seemed to know better too.
They must have come after the rain stopped, for the thick red paint poured over the beautiful bronze lady had not diluted. The symbols painted in jet black all around her and on her cheeks appeared fresh, the three sixes on her forehead standing out the most aside from the inverted pentagram on her stomach. There was another pentagram on the ground, candles burned out at each point, roots and dried leaves organized to create the shape, just as the women had done before opening the shop. The main difference was that there was a dead rabbit in the center of this one, its intestines strewn about itself, its dead eyes gouged out and plopped beside it.
The only other pentagram in the whole town of Crescent Hollow was on the sign to their apothecary, just across the street. The candles too were from their own shop.
All the women fell silent while the townspeople around them ooed and awed and speculated.
“It’s a pentagram,” someone explained to someone else.
“Pentagrams are a sign of the devil, right? Like 666? Like witchcraft?”
“How are we going to get this paint off… Why would someone do this?”
“It looks like someone wants to resurrect her or something…”
“What a creepy rabbit! Like a sacrifice!”
“To Fiona Farling or to Satan?”
All the while eyes begin to land upon the Soricelles, whispers quieting when the mortals realize how near they are to the odd women who live in the hidden house on the hill.
“This is bullshit!” Camilla whispers into Iris’s ear. “We’re being set up!”
“Come. Into the shop.” Oliver says, having silently slipped into their huddle. “Before this becomes an angry mob and you’re right in the middle of it.”
The women follow Oliver’s wise advice, shuffling into the shop where they keep the lights low. As fellow shop owners begin filtering into the square to open for the day they pause and add to the growing crowd around the statue.
“I don’t understand what’s happening,” Camilla exclaims. “First Mortimer, and now this.”
“Aren’t they one in the same?” Iris mutters, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Mortimer?” Oliver asks.
“We’re being hunted,” Esme says. “That’s all.”
Oliver presses a hand to his chest, his mouth agape. “Trouble? Following the Soricelle Sisters? Impossible.”
Iris rolls her eyes. “We’re being framed. Isn’t it obvious? That statue has been defaced with symbols of satanism, witchcraft, paganism… you name it, really. It’s spasmodic. No one is sacrificing a rabbit to their god. They killed that poor creature to try and make a point and painted the very symbol on our sign.”
“Where is Ben?” Rose asks.
“He left,” Esme mutters. “When we couldn’t find you in your room Grandma Gwen mentioned you were in the guesthouse…”
Rose’s stomach lurches. “Oh no… I have to go talk to him.” Her hand is on the knob to the front entrance when a fist beats against the door. She jumps back, surprised to see a reddened face.
Patricia Paulson stands on the sidewalk outside, dressed immaculately in a red pantsuit, her hair and makeup perfectly in place. Rose glances back at her family before allowing the woman to come in.
“Good morning, Patricia,” Rose mutters.
Patricia’s father is the local reverend - the same one who regularly sits on the porch of the Soricelle House and discusses meaningful and mysterious occurrences with Gwen. She claims to be a woman of god, but her heart truly belongs to rules and regulations. She’s head of the PTA at the local high school, and on the board of seemingly everything. And she likes to throw her titles around as much as she likes to drop names and take up too much space in that luxury SUV of hers.
She is likely not the first to make the connection between the pentagram on the ground outside and the pentagram on the sign of the shop - she is just the foreperson the town elected to confront the women.
“Would you ladies happen to know anything about that scene outside?”
“No,” Camilla says, her voice thick with frustration. “Would you?”
Patricia’s thin brow arches high upon her foundation smeared forehead. “I know the police are on their way. I know the symbol is one in the same as what’s on the sign of this very shop!”
“I think we’ll speak to the police then,” Iris tells her. “If they happen to have any questions for us.”
Patricia has the internal thought that the police probably won’t have any questions for The Soricelle Women, because they never seem to have any questions for The Soricelle Women.
“Do you actually need anything, Patricia, or are you just here to bitch?” Oliver asks.
Patricia’s mouth gapes, her upper lip fat with fillers.
“No? Then I’ll see you out.” Oliver takes a step toward the front door but she retreats without any further coercion.
“Perhaps you girls have been too obvious this time,” she says. “I certainly hope so.”
Iris watches as Patricia approaches officer Lopez, who just arrived to examine the statue. She points to the shop and his face falls. But just as she suspected, he does not come in.
“You were in the guesthouse all night?” Iris turns to Rose, suddenly.
Rose is taken aback. “Yes, but I- ”
“Was Dean in sight?”
Rose’s cheeks color. “Mom - ”
“I only ask because… well, there’s no way he could have done this?”
Rose answers with a hint of defiance. “The only way he could have snuck out is if he recorded himself snoring and put it on a loop. I don’t think he could have gotten past me on the sofa, either, and very much doubt he jumped out an upstairs window. Besides, I slept light. I was restless all night as I’m sure you all were too.”
The whole day goes by in a blur. They open the shop, but the bell above the door only sings out for tourists and a handful of faithful customers who consider themselves open minded, and outcasts of their own sorts. The statue is already being sprayed off. After the police took pictures and jotted some notes down there wasn’t much else to do, really. Iris tuned into local news to see they’d pegged it on ‘local kids’ but the townspeople obviously sided with Patricia. Iris shuts up the shop before it’s meant to close and walks the short distance to the B&B where she knows she will find Mortimer. She stands outside and stares at his window - stares at the raven perched on the street light just outside. She is overcome with the feeling that if they do not do something about this man he will ruin their peaceful lives.
It isn’t until that evening when Iris returns home that she finds a glimmer of hope. Adam sits at the kitchen table with Gwen. Both of them are drinking tea and appear relaxed and casual, like the old friends they are. Gwen remains even when Iris has sat down.
“I have a friend who might be able to help,” Adam tells Iris, clearly having already filled Gwen in on the situation.
“How? If Mortimer is immune to our magick and we aren’t immune to his… add to that we don’t have much information…”
“This friend doesn’t deal in magick. He is a man of time.”
“Time…” Yes, of course! If they could just go back in time and distract Mortimer from ever following Rose, or go forward and learn how to conquer these dark priests. “A Traveller?”
“Not exactly. He’s more of a tailor of time. He can snip bits out, and stitch them up again. I think he can give you a little of Mortimer’s. Do you think that would help?”
“Yes,” Iris blurts. “Yes, anything. Anything would help at this point.”
“I can take you to him now, if you’re ready. I wouldn’t involve Rose or Esme, but you might tell Camilla and Selene to come along.”
“Oh,” Gwen chuckles. “No, no.” She stands from the kitchen chair. “I have other business to attend to. You girls go. Fight darkness. Be wonderful.” She kisses both Adam and Iris on the tops of their heads then slips out of sight.
“I’ll get my sisters,” Iris suggests, not wishing for any more alone time with the man who was almost her husband.
The Clockmaker’s shop is over an hour away from Crescent Hollow, and when they pull up and park across the street the consensus is that it looks very much closed. A light drizzle has begun to mist the windows of Iris’s car, providing an eerie setting for the little brick shop, built alongside other outdated storefronts and dilapidated structures. But when they get out of the car they don’t attempt to find another entrance. They just knock on the front door and wait… and wait.
When someone finally comes to the door they realize why they waited. He is a tiny old man, much smaller, and much older than Gwen could ever seem. He wears thick glasses that make his eyes appear huge beneath the lenses, like two black buttons sewn into his crinkled face. His skin is not like leather, but more like white paper that’s been folded over and over, or a washed dollar bill. He shuffles in the lead, guiding them to the backroom of the shop, which is behind the counter and through a velvety curtain. As they pass through the main storefront the ticking echoes noisily, the time on each clock face precise down to the millisecond. There are grandfather clocks and cuckoo clocks and wristwatches and even a few digital clocks (though not many). Everything smells of age and dust and somehow, of time.
“Thank you for your help, Leopold,” Adam says. “These are the Soricelle Sisters I was telling you about.”
The back room is tiny too, only boasting a large work table that takes up the entire center of the room and a small desk in one corner. There is just enough space for The Soricelle Sisters and Adam to encircle the large table, which is covered with gears and hands and debris that used to be beautiful and whole.
Without a word the old man begins to (painstakingly slowly) collect gears and parts.
“It’s… Awfully… Stormy… Tonight… Isn’t… it?” he asks.
Despite his impressive age his hands are as still as a surgeon’s.
Everyone Mm-Hms politely.
Leopold is screwing a gear onto a little cube shaped contraption, which is already covered in gears and clock faces. Once he’s got it nice and tight he tries the last gear, spinning it so the teeth interconnect with the next, and that one interconnects with the next, and then the next, and the next, and the whole box appears to be fabric or fluid in its movement. He turns the box so a clock face is away from him and he holds up an old skeleton key.
“You will have one hour… upon turning this key…Leave… the… key… turned… and you must… turn it again… once you’ve escaped…”
“Escaped?” Camilla clarifies.
“This is dream time…” Leopold tells them, gazing languidly into every pair of eyes. “One hour of dream time. But you must promise me… not… to… take… a… life… with… my… gift… to… you.”
The girls exchange quick glances, but Iris answers. “We promise. Thank you for your gift. We won’t abuse it.”
“We should go now,” Camilla says when they return to the car. “Mortimer will be sleeping, surely, by now.”
“By the time we get back, maybe,” Selene offers.
“We have to drop Adam at the house,” Iris says. “His car is there.”
“I’m suddenly not invited?” Adam clarifies.
“I thought you didn’t want to help,” Iris offers.
“Then what is this?”
The women reach the Bed and Breakfast shortly after midnight. Selene can sense Mortimer and says yes, she believes he’s sleeping.
“So he does sleep,” Camilla mutters.
“We should go alone from here,” Iris tells Adam.
“Be careful,” he offers as they get out of the car.
Their eyes meet for a long moment and Iris finds she doesn’t want to look away.
Sneaking in isn’t hard. Iris holds the box while Camilla casts quieting spells on every lock and key they touch. The door to Mortimer’s room swings inward silently and the women enter with soundless footsteps. He sleeps on his side, facing the wall, his chest rising and falling with a peaceful rhythm.
Now or never, Iris thinks to herself, and with a glance between themselves they turn the lock in the box.
The women have all been in dreamworlds before, but never have they entered one together - and one of someone immune in the waking world to their magick. They’re in a wide hallway that glows with a dim red light, the sconces on the wall barely glow at all, and the runner beneath their feet is a deep, blood-red color, creating the feeling of dimness and tightness all around. They can hear the hushed murmur of voices and begin to walk. The end of the hallway is visible and opens up into a room filled with people, but before they reach it there are two doorways, one on either side of the hall. Iris enters the center room while Selene turns left, and Camilla turns right.
The center room has no windows, like the corridor. It appears to be a basement or dungeon of some kind, and there is a long table which seems to have had lots of people sitting at it before the people all stood, and began to congregate in small circles of conversation. They’re all priests and priestesses, judging by the clergy robes. They enjoy light refreshments as if simply at a church gathering or PTA meeting. She doesn’t see Mortimer, but Iris listens to the murmured exchanges.
“I’m happy with our new leadership,” a small, dark woman with a white bob says. “Mother Fariselle got nothing done in her day, if you ask me.”
“She just had a different focus, I think,” replies a pale man with freckles. “She didn’t know how close we were to transcendence.”
“Either way, I’m glad we finally have a priestess who is taking action. We’ll never be able to serve our purpose if The Order remains so small. Recruiting members should be our goal right now and The High Priestess is making sure that’s what we do. I admire her for it. Do these cookies taste stale to you?”
Selene steps not into a dungeon but into the open air. She finds herself on the top of a rolling hill, beside an apple tree. She twists off a piece of fruit and stares at it, then looks at the apple orchard beyond. She has to travel some way down to the orchard to see Mortimer, but he sits beneath one of the trees reading that bible of his. A woman approaches from his other side, and then a child. The woman and child are both dressed in linens and flannels - not clergy robes. They seem… human. But the child has a blend of her parents’ skin and her father’s blue eyes. They embrace, and walk towards the large house in the distance.
Camilla enters a tiny office. An older woman sits behind a sturdy desk, her hands folded delicately upon the surface. She is speaking to another woman, this one with deep red hair that falls down her back in waves. Camilla has to circle around to see the red haired woman’s face. She is beautiful, forty something, and ivory skinned against her scarlet colored lips and hair. She wears a draping black gown rather than clergy robes and sits in a relaxed manner.
“Mortimer will collect the Soricelle Sisters,” the younger woman says to the older with an English accent. “I’m sending him to New Orleans after he’s finished in New England to gather up a pair of particularly deranged witches.”
“You’ve been plotting this long before your election,” the older woman says. “And The Order is content with your active mind. But I will give you advice… I think you’re moving too quickly in your plans. I think there is a greater chance of a misstep just sending Order Members in without any real guidance. If they’re new members, which some of them are, they might not be dedicated enough to The Cause yet.”
“What more guidance do they need? What more dedication could we ask for? They are immune to the games of the witches, while being able to perfectly mimic the flimsy spells. The Order has become invincible to witchcraft. Soon we will be immune to everything, and have all the magick in the world.”
“It is an old prophecy, High Priestess. It doesn’t need to be fulfilled overnight… I think you should at least reconsider not trying to recruit any of these witches. You’ve placed names on your list to take magick from without even attempting to reason with them. Some of these witches are very powerful.”
“And selfish. They’ve harnessed old magick and they keep it to themselves for centuries. Witches like The Soricelles aren’t going to give up their magick to join a community. I don’t want people like that in The Order. They don’t deserve the final transcendence. They haven’t earned it. They’ve no self control or decency with magick.”
“You don’t know - ”
The red haired woman sighs. “You’re not in charge anymore, Fariselle. I am. I suggest you remember that when speaking to me.”
Back in the center room Iris glances at the clock face. Half their time has already passed. She returns to the hallway where her sisters wait.
“Do we know how to intervene?”
“Yes,” Camilla says. “But I can’t find Mortimer.”
“I have him,” Selene says. “And his wife and daughter.”
“We have half an hour,” Iris says. “I don’t need Mortimer.”
“I do,” Camilla says.
With that Iris returns to the long table in the long room, her appearance now a perfect match for that of The Dark Priest, Mortimer. Now everyone in the room can see her. They nod politely and she nods in return. Then she picks up a goblet of what appears to be wine and taps it with a knife.
“Hello, idiots,” she says. “I have an announcement to make.”
Everyone stares, confused.
“I’ve decided to convert to christianity. Southern Baptist, to be specific. I’m going to move to Nebraska and buy a little white chapel and preach against abortions, mainly, and homosexuality. And I’m going to reveal our secrets. To everyone. I feel it is the right thing to do.” She grins at the wide-eyed faces.
Meanwhile Camilla has adopted the form of the beautiful red haired High Priestess. She follows Selene, who is now the doppelgänger of Mortimer’s wife into the apple orchard. They trek down the hill without any real plan of action.
“Can we make a vision of the child?” Camilla asks.
“I think so,” Selene says, and together they raise a little ghost girl out of the earth, who is a perfect match for the one walking hand in hand with her parents up ahead.
“Mortimer!” Camilla calls, her voice angry and brittle.
He turns. His wife and child disappear from his own side in the dream, so that the illusions Selene created replace them.
“You’ve done a bad job, Mortimer,” Camilla yells to him.
“A bad job?” Selene mutters, questioningly.
“What?” Camilla asks from the side of her mouth. Then, louder. “You’ve failed The Order, Mortimer! You’ve failed us!”
The apple trees simultaneously become engulfed in flames, the sky an ominous orange. Mortimer tries to run towards Selene and Camilla, but the ground becomes a treadmill.
“And now your family is going to suffer,” Camilla tells him, stepping away from Selene and the imaginary child. She lights a circle of flames around them.
Selene cannot feel the flames, but she pretends to, crying with her child and calling out for her make-believe husband. “You’ve failed us! You’ve let us die! This is your fault!”
“Camilla! Selene!” Iris calls from the hallway. Has it already been a half hour?
Camilla creates the illusion Mortimer’s wife and child have burned, and the High Priestess stands on the hill laughing, and the ground is still a treadmill. He is desperately removing beads from his necklace and biting down hard, attempting to turn into a flock of ravens or god knows what else. But he is helpless in this state, and the sisters are able to easily return to the hallway, the seconds ticking rapidly by.
“We have one minute,” Iris realizes. “Forty seconds! Twenty!”
They open the door and slip through it in single file, slamming it shut and turning the key in the box just in time.
All is still. They stand in the center of the room which is dimly lit by a glowing sign outside. Mortimer sweats and twists about in his sleep, moaning to himself.
“How long will he stay in the nightmare?” Iris asks the box, staring at it in her hands.
“Forever, I hope,” Camilla sneers.
Later, Adam stands with a finger on the handle of his car. “What will you do next?”
Camilla and Selene are already heading inside the house. Iris answers. “Now we wait. The only thing more haunting than a memory is a dream.”