We were not Seers. No one in the coven was a Seer, a striking disadvantage to any other Archwitch who might look upon us, probably while also trying to gleam how we have survived this long. Not only did that make us very rare, but any String Reader would be able to see that I am the first and only leader of this coven. I’m an Archwitch with no Seer who has yet to have been bagged and burned.
This meant we had to have connections – which we did. We knew there was someone or something after us – quite possibly another missionary or assassin – but it was getting out of hand when nothing we did worked. We needed someone to tell us what it was and how to get rid of it.
The room smelled heavily of incense trying to mask the smell of piss. There were thirteen people in the room, including myself and the Seer. She was cute all right, just like Nikki said. Her hair was the color of a raven with eyes to match, her skin a dusty kind of beige that would probably be closer to porcelain if she had the luxury of bathing regularly. There was probably more metal and plastic in her ears than actual skin and blood. We all sat in a circle with candles to represent the peaks of a nonexistent pentagram, myself at the north point with the Seer facing me in the center. She’d been here for an hour and I still had not been given a name.
“I’m ready,” she breathed out, settling into the misfit energy of the room and its occupants, lacing herself into our metaphysical spider web so that she could then spread out feelers in the surrounding areas in hopes of saving us from persecution.
When the surrounding witches looked to me for guidance, I motioned for everyone to bow their heads. I watched them all do so, some lifting their hands in the Seer’s direction to more directly offer their own energy. I sat with my eyes open, sitting on the cold cement and nervously rubbing my amulet between my thumb and forefinger, an old habit I stole from my mother.
I was very patient, keeping everything from my position to my breathing constant and undisturbed by my anxiety. Anything like that would surely disturb the energy the Seer was receiving from me and could very well compromise her establishing an astral link into the surrounding forest. I would not compromise the wellbeing of my coven. Every moment alive still felt precious.
Finally, without opening her eyes, the Seer offered me her hand while asking in that soft, lilting voice, “The Archwitch wished to see as well, yes?”
With a shaky exhale, I nodded, “Yes.”
“Please take my hand then, Nell.”
Regardless of her eyes being closed, I did not allow her to see my unease. Nikki had probably told her my name. I placed my hand firmly in her outstretched one and ignored the small strikes of sudden pain from her twitching grip clenching too hard. I’ve heard the sensation described, but have never experienced connection with a Seer personally. I now know how hard of a sensation it is to describe. I could feel that my eyes were closed – focused on that sensation to ground myself – but the picture was as clear as if I was running through the surrounding forest with my eyes open right now. She guided us quickly through the sea of dark greens and browns, squeezing my hand too tightly when we stopped suddenly or changed direction. Our breathing held and moved in sync, following our outer-body movement.
“Do you see it?” I felt the words suddenly become my own thoughts rather than actually heard them being spoken. When I didn’t respond, she guided my focus. Across the clearing and hidden in the shadows were figures who all wore wispy black robes, like they were made of the shadows and darkness that concealed them.
“Missionaries?” I breathed, my heart frozen in disbelief for a moment. There was no way some missionaries tracked us all the way out of the mainland. I grounded myself in my closed eyes and the hand I was holding, soft satin skin with a thrumming pulse just below the surface.
“No,” she corrected me, covering my hand with her other, the soft pads of her fingers drawing half-finished sigils across my veins and capillaries, “I think… these ghosts feel human,” she whispered the words, her drawing fingers stilling.
“We’re all human, including Christians,” I interjected, venomous and already feeling the unbridled anticipation of war in my veins. Her cool fingers slid up my arm and touched base at my left temple. I could feel my attention being brought to the trees and life around them, the grass and dirt under their feet. The birds that watched over them in the trees were silent with innocently curious inspection.
Her lilting voice drifted back into my head, soothing and calm, “Missionaries proudly wear white with a cross. Black is considered a witch’s color to them, but these ghosts are not witches.”
The tunnel vision came very quickly and inked out all the soft greens, blues, purples, and silvers of night until all I saw was the backs of my eyelids. She slowly removed her hand and we opened our eyes. My fellow coven members still had their heads faithfully bowed in towards the Seer, her black eyes allowing me to gleam nothing from her thoughts.
“Humans,” I confirmed, desperate to earn her eyes, to possibly understand what she was thinking. The bowed heads of the coven snapped up, hands dropping unceremoniously back into laps.
She looked at me, yet remained eerily despondent. She was not one of ours; she had to remain entirely objective here.
“They didn’t seem to carry any sort of malice towards you, Nell. They aren’t like any Christian I have ever seen, so I can’t tell you exactly what they are. All I can say is that I do not think they are what you should be worrying about,” she said as she licked her fingers and put out the north candle, those dark, unreadable eyes flickering back up to me.
“Who or what should I be worrying about then?” I demanded, crossing my arms and pinning her with an unappreciated look.
She smirked and crawled towards me, invading my space to lean up into my ear and whisper, “French Christian leaders dressed up a teenager girl as Gaea and burned her on top of the Eiffel Tower. If you have access to the Internet, the video is everywhere. A gang of English pastors single-handedly bagged an entire coven of runes practitioners and burned them all together in the London square. Videos of that too. France and England have called for war on us, and I’ve seen missionary squads everywhere,” she leaned away from me, letting her voice raise so that the rest of the coven could clearly hear her as she stood in the center of our circle, “I’ve seen little kids play a game called Saints and Witches, a small cry from Cops and Robbers, with young men squirting young girls with water from a toy gun with crosses carved into them. I’ve seen students pretend to burn classmates by tying them up to a flagpole. I’ve seen women raped in the name of godly justice. The Christians have stomped on the pleas and blood of their forefathers and called for war. It’s kill or be killed, now. Nell?” She called my attention directly, her mouth turning up into a small smile as she donned her robe and pulled the hood over the top half of her face, “I suggest you pull this barely-thriving mod-podge of a coven together, or I might find you burning in some wiccan-inspired outfit as well. I say this sincerely: be careful. I’d hate to see Nikki hurt because of your incompetence.”
“You’re dismissed, Seer.”
The teasing smile dropped into a flat line before Lem even spoke, the Seer probably sensing his impinging presence the second his foot stepped into the room.
“We appreciate your services.” I added just to keep this as professional as possible. I did not need a pouty-lipped witch bending over backwards to land a curse on my coven. We were apparently drowning enough in bad luck as it was.
She graced me with a small hum of acknowledgement over her shoulder, her cloak casting all kinds of shadows on the wall from the remaining candles as she all but floated out of the room. Lem stepped out of her way begrudgingly, watching her cautiously as she made her way out of the warehouse-esque labyrinth and out into the cold night of late fall. A cloud of thick, black smoke that the moonlight would not penetrate enveloped her.
When the goosebumps-harboring wind cleared the smoke away like the flustered dusting of a hand, the Seer was gone. It appeared that even she, the one who deliberately gave no name and hid her direction, could not even trust fellow witches anymore.
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