I spotted the three remaining pack members that had chosen to stay with me at the commune. The rest returned to the Res this morning and continued on with their lives as best as they could. Justin, Smith, and Gerald were sitting on one of the higher benches up the back of the makeshift bleachers in the barn. All along the inside of the great barn, bleacher-like chairs had been set along the sides, under the eaves for the entire length of the structure. It appeared every member of the commune was in attendance, minus those from the slaughter, as there was very little sitting room free.
I climbed up and Gerald made room between Justin and himself. As my ‘advisers’ for our pack, or Betas, the three men probably knew me best, and besides Jess, the only people I would call friends. But I still hadn’t told them about Kelly or what happened on the hill at the behest of Margaret. In fact, probably only Justin could identify that it was Kelly I had left with.
After a few minutes of silence between us, listening in on the chatter of the coven members, it seemed that the meeting was beginning. Across the front end of the barn, blocking the open door, a long table had been erected. Five older women, including Margaret Wardwell, and two men, sat at the table facing the opposite end of the barn. I recognized three of them in my dealings to set up the treaty signing. This was the coven’s council, all dressed in black robes like a geriatric sorority house.
One of the men stood, and through some sort of conjured speaker system, his voice projected well throughout the space.
“Coven. We are in mourning. This was the greatest loss of life since our foundation. We have much to discuss, but first we will read the names of the dead.” He then proceeded to state each of the dead Witches by alphabetical order. It seemed no branch of the coven’s families was spared and everyone lost at least one member. When he was done, he sat and Margaret Wardwell then stood with authority.
“The first order, Alpha William Achran.” Expecting this after our argument yesterday, I stood.
“Yes, council”. She looked up to me in the stands.
“Would you approach?”
I started to walk down and stopped when I was several feet away. Margaret still held the floor.
“Alpha Will, do you still hold to the treaty?”
“Yes, elder,” I replied, inwardly pleased with the expression she seemed to hate.
Her lips thinned in annoyance.
“Do you agree that these Hunters are a threat, and you will work with us, with whatever is in your power, to protect and guard us?”
The wording about guarding was new, but not totally unexpected since they were just attacked at their home.
“Thank you, Alpha, please remain for the rest of the meeting in case we need your guidance.”
I nodded and resumed my seat. The coven members took the opportunity to whisper among themselves, and it did not escape my attention that Margaret Wardwell discreetly left the barn from behind the council’s table. The man who spoke prior stood again and all fell silent.
“Second order is for the testing of one Kelly Devon Jones. Please call her in.”
Someone unseen gave a signal and Kelly came in from the opposite end of the barn. She walked right past the rows of bleachers, where her fellow coven members started to lowly whisper to each other about why she was taking another test. Kelly passed the row where I was seated, her head held high with a strong stride. She wore a ribbed black singlet and tight black skinny jeans, and when paired with her blonde hair and combat boots, she looked like she was about to go to a heavy metal concert. It was a stark contrast to everyone else in the barn with their loose, flowy clothing. This woman. Still trying with that hard candy shell.
I felt like I knew something of the truth though, I had been in her room, I had seen and fingered all of those skirts and prints with flowers on them. With vanilla wafting in between them, it branded itself into my brain. Now I would probably always associate the smell with Kelly Jones.
The woman was starting to feel troubling. I knew too much about her, her story, her life. I was completely truthful last night, I hated feeling like this, like something was out of my control. We had only spent a little time together, not much even meaningful beyond pure sex, but she was growing on my mind and starting to invade my thoughts. That’s what sex did to your brain, it made you want more until you couldn’t see straight. I walked into her room last night and saw her standing next to the window, her old nightgown became see-through in the death pyre’s glow and my brain justified one last tussle. But then I had said my goodbyes and I meant to go cold turkey.
Smith leaned into Gerald and whispered low,
“Fuck me, if I knew they made witches that looked like that, I would have built a boat to come across the river long ago.” I stiffened at the idea of someone else looking at her like I did, my resolve currently forgotten. Cold turkey tasted like shit.
Justin nudged me at my side, questioning what was now going on. I shrugged and feigned ignorance.
Once Kelly walked the length of the barn, past all her coven members, she stopped directly in front of the table, nonchalantly leaning her weight on one leg. On the table stood three objects; a pot of dirt, a jug of water in a clear vase, and an old Edison light bulb.
While all attention was on Kelly at one end, I noticed Margaret had slipped back into the barn at the end Kelly had entered from and was subtly hidden from view under the eaves.
The council began with their test, which apparently just included having Kelly hold each of the objects while asking her a series of standard questions and asking her to do mental tasks. She replied with ease and almost seemed a little bored while nothing perceptible happened to any of the objects. From my position, I glanced at her grandmother to see her subtly signaling a nod to the table in front of Kelly.
An elder councilwoman nodded back, almost as imperceptibly, and took over the questioning.
“Kelly, did you kill your aunt?” The crowd gasped and I gathered this was not part of a normal ‘assessment’. Kelly stiffened at the question, before answering through gritted teeth.
“Where were you when she was murdered then?”
I stiffened, as did Kelly.
“Are you asking for an alibi?”
“We are just trying to ascertain if you were in some way responsible. If you were with her, would she be alive?”
Holy fuck, this wasn’t a test, it was a witch trial.
As on cue, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up in a familiar manner of the night Kelly burned those men’s insides.
“I was elsewhere, I don’t believe I could have saved my aunt. I also would have...”
“Were you some fifty meters away engaging in sex while your aunt’s head was nearly severed from her body?”
The light bulb on the table flared and something I couldn’t see from my position was happening with the dirt. Kelly’s grandmother removed herself from the shadows and walked up behind her.
“That will be enough, Kelly,” she said behind her, startling the woman. The light bulb dimmed and went out. Margaret returned to her position at the table to speak in low tones with the other members.
God damn, that was cold. Accusing the woman just to get a rise out of her. I studied Kelly while the table talked and the coven members whispered and speculated about what they just saw. She had cast her head down and her body looked defeated. From behind her, I saw her wipe a tear away from her face. Justin nudged me again.
“Was that you?” He silently mouthed, referring to the ‘sex’ part of her story. I pursed my lips and nodded once.
The council members resumed their seats and Kelly raised her head for judgment. The elder man spoke again.
“Kelly Jones, you have been selected for Special Studies. However, since Lorna Alden was one of the murdered, you will be placed under the tutelage of Margaret Wardwell.”
Kelly let out a visible sigh with her body, and stood there, dejected. There was mumbling in the crowd and I gathered that Special Studies wasn’t something that was often chosen, if ever.
“As for the rest of the coven, we ask for all to leave at this time, save the heads of family and our visitors.”
Nearly all of the coven started to stream out of the barn. As they were leaving, we moved down to the front and I saw Kelly and Margaret move together to the side, under the bleachers near our new seats. Directing my concentration to them, I could hear their faint but clear voices.
“Why?” Kelly’s voiced angrily.
“You weren’t trying, Kelly.”
“So having your cronies accuse me of her murder and slut shaming me was the next logical step?”
“You know why we did that. Whatever changed has to do with your emotions.”
“I’m going back to school, Gran.”
“Kelly, you’re a Wardwell. You have obligations to uphold, your place is here. With us.”
Kelly sighed and I glanced over at her, her palm pressed up against her forehead, as if it would ease her frustration. “I’m so close, Gran. So close, I’ve worked eight years to get this. I’m leaving at the end of the month.” The desperation in her voice was palpable as if she was trying to also convince herself.
“Kelly, we were just attacked. You were just attacked. You need to learn to control this thing, instead of letting it do it to you. Then we’ll talk.” Margaret’s voice was stone and unwavering. That seemed to do it for Kelly however, as there was a pause and her voice hardened.
“I’m sorry, Margaret. I need to go, but I will come back in May, when the semester is done.”
I again peeked at the two. Kelly finally found her backbone in that hard candy shell, huh? I glanced at my companions, who were obviously also listening in, Smith smirking at Kelly’s sass.
I heard the grandmother sigh and she must have conceded, gesturing for them to return. Margaret resumed her place at the front table and Kelly sat down on a bench behind the remaining fifteen or so people.
The councilwoman on the left looked to everyone remaining and relaxed her stance, leaning forward on the table with a grim look. I felt as if I was at my Grandmother’s house at Christmas and the kids had gone to bed. The adult table was about to get real. I looked around at those who were asked to stay. The heads of the families, all roughly the same age and probably all grew up together, friends even.
“Well, to cut the bullshit, it’s pretty bad.” The councilwoman spoke, turning her attention to individuals in the room.
“We have pieced together accounts from across the Ring, examined the bodies and the one conversation that Kelly had with that asshole, and that is what we came up with, it’s pretty bad.” Margaret placed her hand on her friend’s forearm, soothing her frustration. Her friend sat down and Margaret continued.
“To summarize, they wore no personals, meaning we can’t track their origins in the usual manner. The cameras on their heads were transmitting to somewhere else, so there are more of them and they got an eye full of us, though Kelly probably got the most screen time.”
I surreptitiously glanced back at her. Her arms were crossed over her chest, with a stiff spine, acting like it didn’t bother her to be on a Hunter’s home movie.
“Though that probably isn’t too important, because from what the man spoke of with her, they already knew all of us, down to what we look like and where we live, which houses are ours, and so on. They knew that the wolves were going to be here, cause they brought damn heavy silver machetes, so they probably know all about your pack as well, Alpha.” I nodded grimly and steepled my hands on my knees, leaning forward.
“This isn’t the part that is most worrisome. That would be this,” and she held up the talisman found on the men, passing it to the nearest head of family to examine.
“It has the mark of silence on one side, and the mark of strength on the other. It’s probably the reason why our hedge and cosmic witches, like Franny, couldn’t see anything in the future. It also explains how they did their reconnaissance and physically got onto the grounds that night without notice,” she paused, to impress her next words.
“It also means that a Witch is helping them. Maybe more than one.”
The family heads turned to look and whisper low to one another, while Margaret turned to speak something to one of her colleagues. Picking up a phone on the table, she opened it up onto a photo and held it up to the group. It was of one of the assailant's arms with the tattoo and the tally.
“The last thing is this. The tattoo and tallies. The tattoo is what we assume is their organization, though none of us seven recognize it, and the tally markers we guess are... their kill count. And since the eight had tallies of over two hundred, they are clearly very good at their jobs.”
The group fell silent, taking in what this meant. They were damn lucky. We were damn lucky. A kill squad just showed up on the doorstep and they only lost a fifth of their number. I sat up straighter in my seat and risked looking at Kelly because it seemed like my brain needed a hit. Her arms were now braced either side of her on the bench, her face showing signs of worry.
One of the male family elders spoke up.
“So, what do we do next? What about See What I See, or Follow Me?” he asked, obviously referring to some kind of spell or ritual.
Margaret shook her head. “Nope, sorry Phil, our little lightning bug up the back there hit the men with so much force their eye gelatin was burned and the soles of their shoes melted. Between the seven of us, we have tried to think outside the box, but are open to suggestions.”
Another woman spoke up.
“What about contacting other covens? The Graham Island coven in Alaska have been our friends for over a hundred years and we all have some family up there. They would answer our call for help in this.”
The elder councilman nodded agreement. “That would be a good idea, if we knew how this organization of Hunters was watching us. We could be leading them straight to another coven to murder. I personally would die fighting alone than have another coven’s blood on my hands.”
Everyone seemed to nod in agreement with the altruism of it, and for a moment, I felt that the bridge between Witches and Weres seemed less wide. Apparently, not everything Witch was self serving.
Margaret waited a few more moments for anyone to speak up.
“The only lead we have is one of the men delivered our mail. Whether he somehow stole it to give to us or was actually a postal employee is unclear, but whoever checks it out needs to be wary.” She looked directly at me.
Fucking hell. She indicated as much yesterday, but Margaret Wardwell was expecting me and mine to play detective and considered it part of our duties under the treaty. I explained to her that we simply didn’t have the abilities to do what she wanted and if we two allies were the pen and the sword, the Blue Moon Weres were a two handed broadsword with dynamite strapped on. We were not gentle. But after some talking, she agreed we would be together on this ‘hunting of Hunters’.
I returned her gaze and spoke up.
“We will be wary together, of course.”
Satisfied she looked up and around.
“Until then, we wait, we prepare and anticipate, we regroup and get to know our treaty partners, as this was the kind of situation that it was made for, all those years ago.” Her voice seemed to signal the end of the meeting, and I was about to rise when she spoke again.
“There is one last thing to discuss.” I stopped rising and planted my ass back down.
She glanced at the backbench and then back to my friends and I.
“Kelly has need to return to Seattle for a month or so and will need a personal guard from the pack. Any volunteers?”