Savvy awoke to the chirping of a sparrow as the first rays of dawn filtered in through the curtains. Pushing herself up in bed, she stretched her arms and issued a wide yawn before stepping onto the floor. Then she pushed open her window to let the sweet fragrance of flowers waft in from Fiona’s garden. Clattering utensils in the kitchen told Savvy that Fiona busied herself preparing their breakfast. Savvy wondered what the meal would be, thinking porridge acceptable, but hoping instead that Fiona would bake cinnamon bread with raisins. That would be a real treat.
Going to her vanity, Savvy took up a hair brush and let her thoughts drift back to a topic that she and Fiona had discussed the night before. While chatting by the fireside with LeBits purring in her lap, Fiona had disclosed to Savvy one of her deepest secrets. It concerned a collection of enchanted objects that she had gathered from every corner of the globe to prevent them from falling into the hands of corrupt Sirachim like Lilith. Among these objects was something Fiona called The Vessel, and after Savvy had asked to know more, Fiona rose from her place by the fire and beckoned for Savvy to follow.
Proceeding to the fieldstone wall at the back of the cottage, Fiona turned to her niece.
“Savilla, what I am about to show you must remain a secret,” she said, her eyes sparkling curiously. “Lilith especially must not know that these objects are here. With any of them in her possession, she could do great harm, greater perhaps than what she has already done with Samael’s Bane.”
“I understand, Lady Fiona. Was the Bane something that you tried to keep from falling into Lilith’s possession?”
“It was. After I learned that Lilith sought the Bane, I too began searching for it. She found it first, however, and you have witnessed the result. Many of the items collected here offer similar destructive power to those who would use them to do evil. That is why I keep these objects closely guarded, as you will see.”
Turning back to the wall, Fiona traced a rectangle on the stones and muttered the pass phrase, “patefacio ostium.”
A seam of sparks flared in the shape of a door, which swung back easily when Fiona gave it a push. Cold air and the stale, damp smell of a cellar gusted out of the blackness, sending Savvy’s hair flying around her face. Fiona ignited a torch that she removed from a hook in the wall and proceeded down a long flight of steps. Savvy followed her aunt into the gloom, a shiver tingling along her spine.
At the bottom of the stairs, the frigid breeze intensified into a howling wind that dimmed the torch to a blue glow. Savvy grabbed Fiona’s shoulder in the darkness and pulled her close.
“Lady Fiona, I-I can’t breathe!” she gasped.
“Sileo!” shouted Fiona, bringing the torrent to a sudden halt.
Savvy choked and panted, gratefully sucking in lungfuls of air.
“What was that?” she asked.
“The tempest is an enchantment I set up to protect this room,” explained Fiona. “It is designed to draw the breath from anyone who does not know the pass phrase. Remember well the words I just spoke, Savilla, for if you do not the cyclone will surely take your life. Now, behold. Lumino!”
Fiona’s command ignited crystalline seams in the ceiling that illuminated a small cavern filled with globes, crystals, small chests, gilded daggers, staffs, flasks, and many other objects that Savvy could not readily identify.
Fiona beckoned for Savvy to follow her as she proceeded to a stand upon which lay a thick leather-bound book sealed with a heavy iron lock.
“Nunc recludam,” whispered Fiona while passing her hand over the book.
The lock sprang open and Fiona drew back the cover. Running her hand down the vellum page, Fiona directed Savvy’s attention to the columns of script.
“This is an inventory of the objects stored here,” she said. “It lists the object, its power, and its origin, if it is known. Lastly, it tells where the item is located. The shelves and tables are numbered. Look for the number beside the listed object and you will find it on the appropriately numbered shelf. I am showing you this list so that you will know where everything may be found, should you ever require a specific thing.”
Fiona closed the book and reset the lock. Then she moved to a tall piece of furniture concealed beneath a canvas tarp. “This, Savilla, is The Vessel. I know you will be tempted to remove the covering, so I am telling you about it now to reveal its danger. You should never unmask The Vessel while standing in front of it. Always stand to the side and never ever look into it.”
“Why is that?” asked Savvy. “It looks like an old cabinet to me.”
“Ah, but it is much more than that. The Vessel is an enchanted prison in the form of a mirror. Anyone who gazes into it, even for a moment, will become trapped within it forever. I know of no way to escape.”
“Even breaking the mirror? Wouldn’t that release those trapped inside?”
“No, breaking the mirror merely destroys the prison. It does not free those trapped inside.”
“But, Lady Fiona, if the mirror is so dangerous, why do you keep it here? Would it not be better to shatter it?”
“No, Savilla, it would not. I will not incur the misfortune that comes from breaking a mirror, particularly an enchanted mirror such as this. It is better that The Vessel remains here, hidden from mankind and Sirachim alike.”
“I see,” said Savvy. “How long have you been collecting these objects?”
“For many, many years. I began shortly after the last gathering of the Sirachim.”
“Ah, yes, the gathering. You’ve mentioned it to me before. That’s when Sirachim from all over the world assemble to celebrate their sisterhood, right?”
“Yes, but there is more to it than that. The Sirachim affirm their connection to each other, to the natural world, and to the memory of our origin. As I have explained, we must remember whence we come in order to know who we are and where we are going.”
“I understand,” nodded Savvy. “Where does this gathering take place?”
“The location has changed over time, but for the last one hundred years we have met at a sacred grove in Hibernia.”
“Ah, that’s where your mother came from.”
“It is indeed,” said Fiona. “I intend to bring you with me when the next gathering takes place two summer solstices from now.”
Savvy let a vision of the gathering form in her mind. Women in flowing gowns swayed around massive bonfires that sent sparks soaring into the starlit sky. Flitting in and out among standing stones, they intoned solemn prayers and gave thanks to Elohim. Lost in thought, Savvy failed to hear Fiona tell her that it was time they returned to the cottage.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, snapping out of her daydream.
“It’s nothing, child,” smiled Fiona. “Let us leave this grim place.”
Climbing the stairs, they stopped just beyond the doorway as Fiona turned to reseal the chamber.
“Obscurum!” she cried to darken the room. Then she pulled the stone door closed and snuffed out the torch.
Later that night, Savvy dreamed of the gathering. She wished they could depart for Hibernia tomorrow instead of two years hence, yet at the same time Savvy felt a mounting sense of dread. Dreaming of magical things was all well and good, but they faced a crisis. Lilith plotted to end their lives and there was no telling when the storm she gathered would break loose. The looming threat awoke in Savvy a desire to return to Needwood Village. Nearly two months had passed since Alistair had gone back and she missed him dearly.
The next morning, therefore, as Savvy brushed her hair, she decided to ask Fiona about going home for a visit, just to let everyone know that she was still alive and well. Rising from her chair, she went out into the cottage and greeted Fiona, who was directing the motion of multiple kitchen implements. Savvy had seen Fiona manipulate knives and spoons more than once, but she still marveled at it.
After staring for a moment, she took a seat on a tall stool. “Lady Fiona, I’ve been thinking …”
Fiona looked over at Savvy from her spellcasting. “Good morning, dear child. Thinking about what?”
“I’ve been thinking about going home for a visit.”
Fiona ceased gesturing toward the cutting board, yet the knife continued to move.
“Why, Savilla, we’ve discussed this before,” she said. “This is your home now. You no longer belong to the ordinary world.”
“I know we have, but a part of me is still human and nothing’s going to change that. My father is a man and I miss him.”
“I see,” sighed Fiona. “That you long for the world of men comes as no surprise. You are Magdalene’s daughter, after all.”
“The human world isn’t such a bad thing, is it?” queried Savvy. “There are so few Sirachim that I think we should be more open to mortals. Times change, Lady Fiona. Just because the Sirachim shunned male companionship in the past, it doesn’t mean we need to do so in the future.”
“That’s true, I guess,” replied Fiona.
“In any event, about visiting the village,” said Savvy, returning to the matter at hand. “I’d like to go for a few days to see Alistair and maybe my father, if he’s home. I can be back within a week, if you wish.”
Fiona waved her hand to push a formed lump of dough into the oven. Then with another gesture she closed the iron door. Savvy would get to eat the bread she savored after all.
“Very well,” said Fiona, returning her attention to Savvy. “You may visit your father, but you must remain in contact with me. Lilith is plotting her next move and who knows when she will rear her head. Just to be safe, I will send LeBits with you for help. I have opened my mind to you, Savilla, so that all you need do is think of me and call my name, but if that is not possible LeBits can act as my eyes and ears. All I ask is that you promise to return in seven days.”
“I will, Lady Fiona. I promise,” nodded Savvy.
“Then the matter is settled. Now dress yourself and we will eat. I’ll not send you off on an empty stomach.”
Savvy returned to her bedroom enraptured. Yanking off her nightgown, she pulled on her trousers and shirt, thinking to herself how good it would feel to don fresh clothes when she got home. She wolfed down her breakfast and then, when at last she was ready to leave, Fiona told her that she would not need to walk through Needwood Forest.
“It is too dangerous for you,” said her aunt. “I’ll transport you and LeBits instead. Hold him in your arms and touch my hand so that I may send you to your father’s house. Only after you are there will I be assured of your safety.”
Savvy nodded and scooped the pacing cat into her arms. The Felim purred loudly and clung to Savvy’s shirt with his claws.
“Alright, we’re ready,” said Savvy.
Tightly gripping Fiona’s hand, Savvy closed her eyes for the weird transition through space. The world dropped away below her feet and her stomach fluttered. Then she felt firm ground again and opened her eyes to see that they were standing on the gravel drive in front of her home.
“Remember to be careful!” counseled Fiona, and with that she released Savvy’s hand, gave a smile, and vanished with a snap of her fingers.
Savvy set the cat on the ground and gazed up at the house, feeling as if her heart would burst with joy. Then she took a deep breath and made for the stairs.
“Come on, LeBits,” she said, waving for him to follow. “Let’s see if my father has come back yet.”
Climbing the stairs to the porch, Savvy reached for the doorknob when the front door swung open.
“My word!” exclaimed an astonished Missus Higgins. “Savilla, is it really you?”
“Hello, Missus Higgins. It’s me alright,” said Savvy.
Higgins looked Savvy up and down. “Why, we feared you lost in Needwood Forest. Where on earth have you been?”
“It’s a long story, Missus Higgins. Is my father home?”
Higgins stepped aside to let Savvy enter the house. “Your father? He is home indeed. I sent for him after you disappeared. Master Morgan, come quickly! Your daughter has returned!”
LeBits followed Savvy into the house and settled at her feet when she stopped in the front hallway. The door to her father’s study opened and Edward stepped out, his eyes wide with shock.
“My goodness, Savilla, I’m so happy you’ve come back!” he cried, rushing to take his daughter into his arms.
Savvy returned Edward’s embrace with a wide grin.
“Oh, Papa, I’m glad to be back, too,” she said.
Edward released Savvy and knelt to grip his daughter by the shoulders. “Have you been in Needwood Forest? I’ve been worried sick about you.”
“Yes, Papa, I’ve been in the forest. A lot has happened since you left. If you can give me a few minutes to change, I’ll come down to your study and explain everything.”
“I—oh, very well, Savilla, do what you must, but be quick about it,” frowned Edward.
He released Savvy and followed her with his eyes as she made her way toward the stairs with LeBits at her heels.
“Missus Higgins, what is that cat doing here?” he asked.
“I have no idea, sir. It came in with Savilla.”
Pausing at the last step, LeBits looked back and flicked his tail at the two humans before following Savvy to her bedroom, leaving Edward and Missus Higgins speechless in the foyer.
Savvy stepped into her room and smiled. She twirled on the carpet and threw herself onto her bed, luxuriating in the comfortable, familiar smell of the place. Her nose, its abilities heightened by the potion in the chalice, picked out the drying paper of her books and the clean scent of laundered bedding. She let out a laugh and rose to go to her vanity. Running her fingers through the dangling chains, she dug into a drawer for a length of purple silk ribbon to replace the frayed blue one in her hair. Then she threw open the doors of her armoire and selected a clean pair of pants and a shirt. These she drew on and snapped a set of suspenders over her shoulders.
“Right as rain,” she commented, admiring herself in the mirror.
Tucking the glowstone into her pocket, Savvy then went downstairs to her father’s study. She stopped before entering the room, however, to blow an annoying lock of hair from her face. She may have pulled her locks into a ponytail, but her hair had grown unruly in the time she had been gone and a stubborn strand of it dangled over her right eye. Heaving a sigh, Savvy elected to ignore it and pushed open the door to find Edward sitting in an overstuffed chair of red damask and darkly-stained wood. Savvy went to him and sat on his lap with her arms thrown around his shoulders.
“Oh, Papa, I’ve missed you so,” she said, squeezing her father tight.
“I’ve missed you too, Savilla. You’ve been gone for a long time. Now, tell me truthfully, you’ve been with Fiona, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Papa,” Savvy nodded. “I’ve been with Lady Fiona for the better part of eight weeks.”
“I knew it. Magdalene warned me that this day would come. She said that when you were old enough you would join her sisters in the forest and learn their ways. You would leave the world of men and return to the world of the Sirachim. I scarcely believed her, but when I received word from Missus Higgins that you’d gone missing, I knew in my heart that what Magdalene had foretold was true. I just wish the time hadn’t come so soon.”
“I never intended to go,” said Savvy. “But after the two men were killed in Needwood Forest, Alistair and I thought we could help. We followed the hunting party into the woods and saw what the creature did to them. After that, events got out of control. First, Lady Fiona rescued us from faeries. Did you know that faeries lived in Needwood Forest, Papa? I’d never known that before. Anyway, after she rescued us, Fiona invited me to stay with her. Honestly, Papa, I felt like I didn’t have a choice. She promised to protect me and to teach me how to fight the Krytten. I wanted to help save our village.”
“The Krytten, what’s that?” asked Edward, his brow wrinkling.
“The Krytten is a demon summoned by Lilith. It’s the creature that killed Constable Edwards and the others.”
Edward Morgan’s eyes narrowed.
“So Lilith is behind this evil,” he said.
“Yes, Papa. All the recent deaths here are her doing. Fiona is trying to stop her, but she needs my help.”
Edward moved Savvy from his lap and rose to pace the carpet in front of his desk. “Why is Lilith doing this? Magdalene—”
“Magdalene died at Lilith’s hands, Papa,” interrupted Savvy.
Edward stopped pacing.
“What did you say?” he asked, grabbing the back of a chair to steady himself. “Lilith killed her own sister? I thought an illness took your mother.”
“It wasn’t an illness, Papa. It was poison. Fiona explained everything to me—mother’s death, the Krytten, and the corruption that has blackened Lilith’s soul. She means to destroy everyone in Needwood Village, Papa. We’re all in great danger.”
Falling silent, Edward slumped back into his chair. “My poor Magdalene,” he sobbed, his hands covering his face.
Savvy went to her grieving father and knelt down before him. She put a hand on his knee and, hating to see him suffer, she felt a tear of sympathy roll down her cheek.
“Oh, Papa, I’m sorry I had to tell you, but you deserve to know the truth. Lilith’s lust for power has turned her evil. She hated Magdalene for loving you and she hates me for being your daughter. She dislikes all Needwooders and thinks of them as pests. This is why I’ve been with Fiona. She’s been teaching me how to do magic. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve come a long way. I missed you, though, and Alistair too, so I had to come back and see you.”
Drawing out his handkerchief, Edward dabbed his eyes and blew into the cloth. Then he wiped his nose and looked up. “Alistair McCad? We thought he was with you.”
“With me? No, he isn’t. I mean he was, but Alistair came home weeks ago. Isn’t he with his parents in the village?”
“No, Savilla, he’s not. Alistair’s been missing for three weeks. No one knows where he is.”
Savvy felt her stomach tighten and climbed to her feet. “Papa, can you forgive me? I know I just got home, but I need to go to McCad’s. Alistair could be in terrible danger.”
Edward sniffed and sat back. “Of course I can forgive you, Savilla. I don’t like to see you go again so soon, but I understand. Go ask after your friend and then come home. I’ll have dinner set out when you return.”
“Thank you, Papa! You are so kind and forgiving. That’s why I love you!” exclaimed Savvy and after planting a kiss on her father’s head, she sprinted from the room.
A short time later, Savvy and LeBits stopped in front of the street-level door to Alistair’s attic. Savvy leaned on her knees and panted after having run the entire way from her house. Beads of sweat gathered on her brow and trickled down the back of her neck. While paused there, however, the door to McCad’s General Store opened and Constance stepped outside to sweep the stoop.
“You!” she raged upon spotting Savvy. “What have you done with my boy? Where is Alistair?”
“I don’t know what’s happened to Alistair, Missus McCad,” Savvy gulped. “I’ve just come back myself and heard that he’s gone missing.”
The broom fell from Constance’s hand and she crowded Savvy’s face, her finger wagging angrily. “That he has. It’s been three weeks to the day since he disappeared! I’ve thought it all your fault. The only thing you’ve ever been good for is stirring up trouble. You and your strange ways. Why, look at you! You can’t even dress properly! What in God’s name is wrong with that father of yours that he can’t even keep his daughter in proper clothes? I ought to—”
“Placeo!” said Savvy with a wave of her hand.
The command froze Constance in place, hateful expression and all. Her mouth hung open and her shaking finger stood still in the air.
“I’m sorry, Missus McCad,” Savvy apologized. “I understand why you’re upset, but I assure you none of this is my fault. I’m going to get Alistair back safely, I promise. I just can’t afford the time to stand here and listen to you scream at me. He could be in great danger so the sooner I get upstairs, the faster I can find him. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Savvy turned from Constance and pushed through the door to the attic. Climbing the stairs, she searched the doorframe for the secret latch.
“Got it!” she said when she felt it and she clicked it open.
Pushing the door aside, Savvy stepped into the room. Nothing looked out of place on the tables, but when she lowered her gaze to the floor she let out a gasp. The book of spells that Alistair had been reading lay inside the broken circle of salt. Pools of hardened wax at the cardinal points of the circle showed where the candles burned down after Alistair had disappeared.
“Oh, Alistair, what were you trying to do?” Savvy mumbled, her hands reaching for the book.
Reading the words on the page, she gazed down at the broken circle of salt. “You attempted to cast a bottling spell, but what happened?”
Savvy’s mind raced as she put together the evidence. The spell book, the circle, Alistair missing, it all led to a single conclusion—Lilith had reversed the spell Alistair was trying to cast and with his protective circle broken she had bottled him instead!
Savvy closed the book and dropped to her knees. Rocking back and forth with the tome held to her chest, she whimpered Alistair’s name and wept for him, her falling tears melting the scattered salt on the floor into water.