The Witch's Circle

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Chapter 3

The smell of the feast wafts into his nose as he descends the stairs.

Irrationally, he begins to become anxious about being the possible last one to arrive at dinner. All eyes staring at him.

His attire doesn’t do much better, despite how regal it may seem or feel. The servants insisted he wear a color to accentuate his eyes.

They dressed him in a navy-blue shirt with layered folds at the front, belted to his waist with an intricately detailed clasp. His black fitted pants are enveloped in the leather boots, and the azure jerkin has a train that falls to his ankles. The silver embroidery trailing along the hemline winks in the light, a pendant dangling at the center of his chest. The sleeves of the jacket are tightened at his wrists with ornately carved vambraces and shoulder pads. Looking as much a warrior as the son of a nobleman.

The servants also tried to make him wear a circlet, but he rightfully declined.

The dining room is off to the right, the doors having been propped open so the smell only grows stronger as he reaches the end of the stairs. He finds Raven and another male standing outside; waiting for him, if Raven’s smile was any indication.

Dressed in a slimming gown of darkest purple, there’s no jewelry to be seen, her hair swept up and unadorned as well. Though, with her stunning beauty, she needs no ornamentation. It would have been like putting jewelry on a lion.

The silver-haired male next to her wears a formfitting black jacket that shows off those powerful shoulders, the silver accents that match his hair, the beauty and elegance of the clothes that make an enthralling compliment to his steel-blue eyes. He doesn’t say anything, simply an incline of his chin in greeting.

“You look good.” Raven says as she meets him at the bottom of the stairs. “It really brings out your eyes.”

Douglas shrugs his shoulders. “The servants insisted I wear it. Frankly, looks are the last thing that are on my mind. But I’m also too tired to argue.”

Raven takes his hand, the scars of her fingers even paler than her skin. Her fingertips gently brush his knuckles. “I know you’ve been through a lot. But if you just endure this dinner, everything will be better tomorrow.”

“How do you know?” he asks, his voice weak. The silver-haired male doesn’t say anything.

Raven seems to cringe at her own response when she says, “It’ll all be explained in a matter of minutes.”

Sighing and rolling his eyes, he takes his hand away and walks into the dining room. Raven and the male follow behind him. Whether they were waiting outside for him by Keelie’s orders, or just from Raven distracting the male, he doesn’t care. The rest of the coven members are seated at the long dining table, and he can see Garien and Gavriel, Enhard, Derrick and his father. The coven members sit close to the head of the table – which is empty – and Douglas swallows past the dryness of his throat when he sees the seat just left of the head of the table is vacant as well.

Each member wears dresses and jackets and tunics of every color, the pattern of contrast helps to emphasize their ethereal beauty and grace.

As expected, some heads turn to him, and eyes widen. Some of the coven members don’t pay him heed, just continuing with their conversations.

Nodding to his friends and family, he takes his place just left of the table. The high back chairs feel relaxing, the cushions plush. Ira is sitting across from him, Luke to his right. Ira wears a gown of deep forest green.

The sheer fabric exposes much of her skin, only darkened with sequence at her intimate areas. The contrast of her wine-red hair – flowing in soft curls about her shoulders – makes her look more feminine than her personality leads on.

Luke’s outfit matches the green of his eyes, and makes sure to highlight his broad shoulders and toned arms.

Douglas nods to them, and Ira gives him a wink, Luke a small smile. The siblings look to him with shy smiles, Derrick and his father keeping a conversation between themselves.

The feast before him covers every inch of the table. The billowing steam intermingle with one another, various birds and fish sprawled on platters of porcelain. Drizzled in sauces of spice and cheese and vinegar, the seasonings give color to look like a master painter’s art. Glasses of red wine are being passed around by the servants. Douglas accepts a glass with a respectful nod.

The chandelier above them is fashioned in swirls of stars. A roaring fireplace sits on one side of the table, but Douglas can feel its warmth.

Looking around, even with both races avoiding conversations with one another, something stirs inside him at the sight of seeing witches and mortals eating at a table together. And not eating the humans for that matter. He wishes there was a painter here to capture the moment.

Keelie still isn’t here, and Douglas knows better than to ask where she is.

“You look nice.” Ira suddenly says, and Douglas looks to her. Her fingers are laced together, her chin resting atop them. He tries not to look unnerved from her stone-grey eyes; her serpentine smile. Brutal. Cunning. Power. “We’ll have to get more clothes like that for you. Really helps to bring out your handsomeness.”

A smile tugs at his lips. “I’m flattered to see you finally admit I’m handsome.”

Ira’s laugh slithers across his bones. A lover’s laugh. Derrick and Tom’s head turn to him, eyeing the witch too closely. Their backs stiff. Derrick’s attire has various shades of grey. From the porpoise tunic, the ashen pants, and the lead colored jerkin that hugs his muscled form. Even still, he seems puny compared to Luke and the other males.

Footsteps sound down the hall and in walks Deborah, clean and dressed.

He almost falls out of his seat at the sight of his sister. She is in an indigo-colored gown, its making simple, yet the material fine. Her hair is braided over the crown of her head, accentuating her long, pale neck. Beautiful, imperious, regal as one of the immortals.

He can’t remember the last time she had worn a dress.

He’s always known his sister is beautiful, but due to seeing her in tunics and armor for all of his life . . . it would seem he’s forgotten how, feminine, she can look.

She walks through, her hands folded at her front, her chin high. A queen without her throne.

Her baby-blue eyes immediately find their family, focusing solely on them. The look she gives the coven members is nothing short of icy. But that cool mask falters briefly as she finds Douglas sitting near the head of the table.

A small smile tugs at her lips as she quickens her pace as she approaches. Out of his peripherals, he could’ve sworn Ira and Luke stiffened, even reaching for their hidden daggers. Why would they feel the need to protect him from his own sister?

Her hand gingerly touches his shoulder, and Douglas instantly reaches up and grasps his sister’s pale, slim fingers. She gives a soft kiss to his temple. Her arms wrap around his shoulders and she just rests her chin on his head for a minute.

Looking to his father, he sees an expression on his face that he can’t quite decipher from his father’s cool mask. Something between pity and sadness.

A door opens and more footsteps sound, and Deborah gives another kiss to his temple before walking around the table and sitting next to Derrick.

All heads turn to look behind him, and Douglas has to angle himself in his chair to look. Margret is the first to appear. Her black velvet dress hugs every curve and hollow before pooling at her feet. With its long sleeves, it leaves her shoulders exposed, her collarbone distinct. Her hair is swept back with golden bat-wing-shaped combs that rise above either side of her head. Her face is mostly clean, save for a sweep of kohl along her upper lids, and deep red lips to match her hair. Whorls of gold trail down her sides in an illusionary vine style.

She pauses to turn behind her, and all of the coven members rise from their seats. His acquaintances look to him and Douglas nods before standing as well. They follow his gesture after a minute of hesitation.

When Keelie emerges, her shoulders are squared, her chin high. She crosses the room with a grace, yet also with a stillness that almost makes it feel like the world is dangling on a knife’s edge.

Douglas goes completely and utterly still as he takes in her dress.

The arctic-colored silky fabric is so pale it almost looks white, and it clings to every curve and hollow before draping to the floor and pooling like liquid starlight. The long sleeves are tight, capped at the wrists ending in points at the back of her hand. The neckline grazes her collarbones, her skin like ivory. Her hair has been swept off her face with a comb of silver and diamond, then left to drape down her back. It’s grown tremendously since he first met her. Whether by her magic or not, what was once a pixie is now brushing her collarbone.

She is beautiful. Luminescent, like a sliver cut from a dying star. The physical representation of what her mother had once represented.

Starlight given flesh.

With the burning weight of his attention on her, she continues towards her seat, exposing the back – or rather her own back, since the fabric dips so low to reveal the twin indentations in her lower back. And that she isn’t wearing a corset underneath, either.

Her skin has a soft glow, but he still can’t fight the dryness of his throat when he sees the long, brutal scars clawing in every direction.

She looks over her shoulder in time to see his eyes slide south, and linger.

Slowly, his gaze lifts to hers. And he could’ve sworn that hunger – ravenous hunger – flickers within. He can’t stop staring.

“You look incredible.” She says, her voice steady. Luke rises from his seat to pull out her chair. When she nods and sits, he pushes it back and returns to his seat. Margret sits off to Luke’s left.

“Thank you. You look . . . beautiful, as well.” Douglas stumbles. Gods, he hates the awkwardness between them. Before it was easier, simpler. But back then, Keelie and Kelsey were two separate people. Now knowing they’re one in the same, he doesn’t know which personality is better suited.

She gives him a slight nod and a small smile. At least he’s spared a moment of awkward conversation as servants immediately swarm the table with empty plates, filling them full and floating about the table with silver platters of wine, gravy boats, new plates, and seasonings.

Once the plates are filled, everyone’s silverware clinking, and glasses being filled, the silence is less suffocating. He can’t stop diverting his attention from his loved ones, to the immortals that are no doubt his friends now.

After a handful of minutes of somewhat comfortable eating, Keelie finally speaks. Her voice so achingly gentle. “First and foremost, I’d like to apologize for the recent string of events.” Douglas can feel his gut wrench with Keelie’s as all heads lift and eyes go to her. Still, the heir holds her chin high. “It wasn’t the ideal plan, but at least now we know of conspirators that need to be dealt with. I’m sure you all have questions; it’s simply a matter of who will answer.”

When her eyes flick to Douglas, his heart leaps into his throat. He rubs his stomach to make sure he keeps his dinner down. The servants sweep in and rid the table of empty dishes, refilling glasses to the brim.

He feels Keelie’s hand clasp his knee, and he fights the urge to twitch. It’s supposed to be supportive, but he still feels so alone until she herself tells him her side of things.

“How long has Douglas been in your servitude?” Deborah asks first, her stare icy towards Keelie. The heir does not break her stare. In fact, she even challenges it with a small smile laced with venom.

Looking to his friends and family, it’s Arin that gives a small nod. “Tell us the story.”

Douglas decides to spare her of dealing with his sister. “It was after Marionette’s rampage through the castle. After I . . . killed her.” Keelie’s hand rubs his thigh, sensing the difficulty of saying the truth, even after a couple of months. “Keelie brought me to the cabin in the woods and mended me. Healed me back to health. All the while she didn’t treat me like a prisoner. She let me roam free. She suspected what happened to Marionette had happened in the castle and instructed me to find out what. I was so, broken and angry about her death that I agreed.” Douglas looks down at his plate, only half finished. “When I returned to the castle, I discovered a secret passage in Marionette’s old rooms. It led to a rotunda beneath the castle, filled with desks and books and papers of hers. I accidentally triggered a trap that she had set, like a form of a guard. Then, Luke, Keelie’s Third in Command had come to save me, and make sure I wasn’t going to betray her; also to make sure I was actually fulfilling my end of the bargain. Even if she wasn’t going to kill me if I failed.”

Eyes flick to Luke, who only has his concentration on Douglas and Keelie. “How?” Enhard whispers softly. “I mean, I realize the enhanced abilities and magic of the witches, but –”

“He is a shifter.”

Eyes widen, soft gasps ripple around the table. When attention goes back to Luke, he only smiles like a conspirator.

“That’s why you wanted to switch rooms.” His father says.

Douglas nods. “Luke and I later discovered another secret passage in the library leading to a dungeon further deep beneath the castle. Inside it was Gregory’s and Solemere’s little experiment lab. There we found them using the venom of a Sapphire Spider, and the pollen from a plant called The Devil’s Breath to concoct this serum they plan to use on the witches. The venom of the spider is potent to those with magic because it can overwhelm their senses, causing them to act impulsively. The pollen has a form of amnesiac effect, where they’ll willingly follow the disputer’s commands, and not remember anything after. I saw the look in Marionette’s eyes. She was fighting something, something that wanted control of her power. Of her mind. She fought it long enough to give me a chance to run.” Douglas swallows, but forces himself to continue. “Later on, Luke was called back to Tamarak, I was left with Raven instead; Keelie’s stealth expert.” Gesturing to the ebony-haired beauty, she smiles and gives a twiddle of fingers to the eyes that set upon her. “Within this room, within the dungeons, I looked and unlocked so many cells, cells with doors of pure iron. And . . . and a creature, hideous in appearance. It might’ve been a witch, at some point, but she was also their test subject. With Raven’s help I was able to kill her. I think . . . I think that Gregory and Solamere set their sights on Marionette after that witch outlived her use. When she was no longer, there.”

Keelie withdraws her hand and sets her forearms on the table, lacing her fingers together. Some of the other coven members continue to eat their foods, others leaning back in their chairs, comfortable. Indifferent.

Douglas can see his father’s eyes on Raven. And she only offers a playful smile in return. “I remember you.” His father mumbles.

“I’m flattered.” Raven says with a wink.

“Before they switched, Luke and I met Keelie at an abandoned warehouse in the slums. There . . . there we made a blood oath together.” Still staring at his plate, he can see his family members stiffen. Their backs straightening. “It was after, Kelsey, at the time, had been injured. And me not knowing any better, I took the oath because then she would swear not to harm any of you. And, to my appreciation, she still holds to it.”

He looks to Keelie who only nods.

“I think that’s how I discovered my magic. I don’t know about immortality, but, after that, things just seemed to keep getting worse. The attacks on the castle, Palore helping me with my magic. And soon well, the rest soon happened. Gregory and Solamere tried to kill me in the sewers, but Luke and Delwyn, Solamere’s son managed to help me. Save me.”

“Delwyn?” His father questions, genuinely confused.

“He’s immortal too. His mother was a witch as well. But I’ll leave him to tell you his story.”

“Honestly, I’m not surprised.” Enhard chimes, offering a shy smile still. “It just seemed, subliminally obvious.”

He and Douglas share a soft chuckle that loosens the knot in his chest tremendously. “Now that I’ve been branded a traitor, Keelie and her coven are our only option. Our only protection.”

All of the humans take a deep breath, the immortals fiddling with fake strings on their gowns and tunics.

Douglas sets a hand atop the table, feebly reaching towards his loved ones. “I know this is such a dramatic change and, difference. But they’ve been protecting me because of her. And they do a pretty damn good job. I need you all to trust them. Please.”

The silence is near strangling, only made worse when his father says, “It would be easier to decide if I knew the witch’s side of the story.”

By now, Keelie is leaning back, one arm draped lazily over the arm of the chair, the other resting with her chin on her knuckles. She crosses her leg, the skirt of her gown whispering against the floor. “So I had a name back when you thought I was mortal, but now that you know of my heritage, you have less respect for me. Despite saving you and your son?”

“Back when you had my trust, girl.”

“Watch your tongue, sir, before I rip it out.” The auburn, short-haired witch suddenly snaps. Her long iron nails click against the wood as she ripples her fingers along the wood. The lining of kohl does well to accentuate her violet eyes.

“Agony, I appreciate your loyalty, but these people are not our prisoners. They are our guests. We must make them feel welcome here.” Keelie says with sweet, sweet venom. Her smile now serpentine.

The witch, snorts before leaning back in her seat. Unlike the rest of the female members, Agony wears a jacket set in a deep berry color, a thin black scarf wrapped around her neck. In one swing, she slams her feet on the table, crossing them at the ankle. Everyone besides the coven members flinch. Some of the witches look to her in annoyed disgust. Eartha even whispering at her to not put her dirtied boots on the table. Agony doesn’t listen.

“Such typical, ungrateful mortals. It’s kinds like them that make me understand why we kill them for sport.” She spits.

Tom turns to Douglas, suppressing his seeming anger. “You expect us to live here with them? To trust them?”

Douglas’ nostrils flare, and he presses his lips into a flat line. “Yes, I do.”

Though Keelie seems unbothered, he noticed the slight hitch in her breathing.

“They have saved my life more than a few times. At first, yes it only seemed due to Keelie’s orders, but after getting to know them and what they stand for, they have nothing but my unwavering respect. Keelie had reasons to lie to me, but she’s also proof of what I’ve been trying to seek. The witches aren’t born evil, they are raised that way. Every moment that she could’ve betrayed me, every second they could’ve killed me, they didn’t. Look around, father, at what she has. Humans, elves, faeries working for her, unafraid and grateful. Pleasant – jubilant, even – to see her. Keelie is the Heir of the Scarletblood Clan, her coven has reasons to be protective. It’s not just a brutal, blind following. They believe she is worth something. They believe she can change the course of their history.”

The fire suddenly roars, flaring up high enough that the flames lick the outline of the fireplace. As quickly as they rise, they fall and return to normal.

Douglas looks to Keelie, seeing a small shimmer in those emerald green eyes. His voice is quiet yet steady as he says, “They believe she can raise a force capable of standing against the Matrons. As do I.”

The bobbing of her throat and imperceptible dip of her chin is her sign of thanks.

Without a word, and on silent, swift feet, servants take all of the dinner plates and replace them with desserts. Double chocolate cake with cream and cherries on top, bowls of candy and glasses refilled once again.

“How do you mean, Douglas?” Deborah asks tentatively.

Douglas is about to answer, then Keelie speaks up. “Each of my members has a past that is covered in bloodshed and loss. They are different. Just as I am. Outcasts. Exiles that my grandmother herself would’ve killed had I not taken them in.”

“Your kind seems to ruthless towards us, I assumed you were all one big sisterhood.” Derrick hisses. His tone almost has Douglas leaping out of his chair to smack him.

Your kind

Keelie gives a cold, humorless laugh. “We are anything but. If my grandmother can kill her own daughter, my mother, without so much as a blink, then killing lesser members, lesser covens is just an average day for her. We are all enemies of one another, fighting for the right of High Witch-Queen of Tamarak. Which is why the Matrons uniting the clans together is even more concerning for the sake of the human realm.” At their rigidness, Keelie takes a deep inhale. “The Ancients plan to rally the forces of all three clans and invade the mortal cities. However, I plan to rally the current heirs of the clans for mutiny against the matrons.” She looks to Douglas. “It’s what I’ve been doing while you were investigating around the castle. The current Thornhearts Heir, Belladonna shows promise. She’s supposed to be Marionette’s half-sister, and I’m already seeing evidence that she can be an ally. Dahlia, the Ebonywings Heir not so much. The Ebonywings have had a longstanding rivalry with the Scarletbloods. I’m not seeing much promise in her. But we shall discuss those matters later.” She says with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Then another witch speaks up; one with hair rippling like the golden sands of Brovella. Her eyes are an ember-gold, fanned with dark lashes. Unlike Raven’s which is as solid and cold as the metal itself, this one’s, her seem to glow like an ember of a hearth.

“Keelie has saved us from exile. She has endured so much for us.” Her voice is firm but delicate, her face beautiful. Unlike the brutal beauty of the rest of the members, her beauty is, soft. Like a flower blooming in spring, only to be stung by its sharp, iron thorns. “We were all rejected by the clan, but Keelie stood up for us. Indoctrinated us with challenge in her eyes. And though she received the punishments in turn, they never even tried to touch us.”

“Not if they wanted to live, Astrid.” Keelie says, offering a friendly smile and wink.

“Punishments?” Enhard says, his voice wobbling.

Most of the coven members have begun digging into their desserts. Though he can see some muscles feathering in their jaws, their immortal masks make them seem indifferent.

A witch with pastel colors of pinks and periwinkles in her hair hisses, “Lashings, beatings; usually broken bones, but nothing too damaging. But always public. Sometimes humiliation is stronger than spilled blood. Sometimes they’ll have other heirs or members do it to add on to the belittling.”

Ira’s fork clanks against her plate.

Douglas’ eyes shift to Keelie’s hands, seeing the multitude of scars that cover all of her fingers. And the long, brutal ones that rake down her back . . . He then looks to Luke, whose nose is still crooked since he took that beating from Keelie in the warehouse. The Third blinks to him and gives a small smile.

Astrid speaks again. “The Matrons prefer pureness of our blood. Ever since one of our goddesses mated with a male human, they’ve been “cleansing” our blood, exterminating the half-breeds like vermin. Every one of us has human blood in our veins, as does Keelie. No one ever thought we would survive, and then they would humiliate Keelie to the highest order when we failed. But we didn’t. We grew strong. We fought like animals and obeyed like soldiers.” Astrid’s lips wobbles but she clamps down and steels her spine. “And now we’re one of the strongest covens in Tamarak’s history.”

Deborah sits a little higher as she asks Douglas, “So what happens now?”

Douglas bites his lip before looking to Keelie. She’s taking a sip from her water, her eyes fully aware of his pleading stare, and Deborah’s challenging one. She takes her sweet time finishing her water before wiping her mouth with her napkin.

“I’m due back to Tamarak in a matter of days. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busied with Belladonna’s initiation into the Thornheart Clan, but now that she’s been accepted, the leash shouldn’t be as tight. Which means I can dispatch more of my members to watch over you. Still, I’ve been, entertaining an idea I’ve come across in research. I need to gather more back in Tamarak before I can give any details.”

“And what about us? What about, Douglas?” Gavriel asks.

Keelie spares him a glance before she says, “With Douglas’ powers now active, and with his immortal blood now flowing, I want to bring him into Tamarak so that he may harness his magic and learn to understand and grow accustomed to his immortal skin.”

“You want to take my son away from me?” his father cuts in, his voice like a honed blade. “You want to throw him into that land of monsters?”

Keelie’s brows rise – little amusement to be found. “He did it once, why can’t he do it again? With his immortal blood, his scent won’t be obvious. I’d ask that you put aside your personal feelings for a moment, Captain, and understand the bigger issue. You heard about that fire just north of the city, didn’t you? You got reports of its damage, of its power. That is what happened because Douglas had a poor teacher to start his training with.”

When his father’s eyes widen, Douglas wants nothing more than to sink into the nearest shadows and avoid this conversation all together.

With a manicured nail, Keelie traces the rim of her wine glass. “Now imagine if that was in a central park crowded with people. Children. Douglas needs more specialized training. He needs to come with me. I have another estate that he can stay at far from Tamarak’s capital, and within flying distance to this one in case of emergency.”

“And what emergencies can we expect?” His father asks.

Keelie gives a casual shrug of her shoulders. “I’m not sure. But it’s better than leaving you unguarded. Now of course, there is the predicament that is required before Douglas can go anywhere. And that is for Douglas to shift. In order for him to live in Tamarak safely, he needs to shed his mortality.”

Douglas can feel blood draining from his face. His heartbeat is the loudest thing in his ears right now. His body has a numb feeling waving over his limbs, rendering him immobile. Like spiders crawling across his skin.

Keelie looks to him, no doubt hearing his rapid heart. Her eyes bore into his, hearing his silent questions. He swallows past his tight throat and when he speaks, he hates when his voice is hoarse. “Why do you make is sound so, lasting?”

“Because once you shift to immortality, there will be no going back. Unless you’re a gifted shifter – which requires the magic to be in the bloodline – we don’t shift like the elves do. Whether from elf to animal, or elf to human, we can’t shift. But more importantly, when you make the shift, your magic will be less, restrained. The iron in your body will no longer exist, so your magic will be driven to its highest state. All the more reason why you need to go to Tamarak, too. With it’s enhanced, land, and vast open areas, you’ll be able to have more reign if things were to go wrong in training.”

Douglas looks to Luke who is now sipping at his water. “How rare is shifting, among the clans?” He doesn’t ask to Keelie or Luke in particular.

Luke’s snake eyes flick to Keelie who gives a simple expression. “It’s rare enough. Given we can’t shift in the . . . simplest manners, being able to shift into different animals is, respected at best.”

“Luke is one of the few shifters in the Scarletblood Clan.” Keelie says with a smile. “And he’s a part of my coven.”

Douglas manages a small grin. “Palore would be on cloud nine, if he were to meet all of you.” He tries to ignore the hollow ache in his heart at the thought of the mage being stuck in the castle.

“The choice is obviously yours, Douglas. But I can’t stress enough how important it is that you control your magic. Now that it has been awakened, now that Palore has spoiled it with Tamarak’s runes, it’s not going to go away. It’s not going to die down. It’ll only get worse. And I don’t want you going through the magical buildup.”

“What’s magical buildup?” Deborah asks. Douglas can see her eyes have loosened with that intuitive curiosity; like when she finds a new book in the library or is learning a new move in training.

“It’s when a witch doesn’t use their magic, or exercises their magic, rather.” Eartha explains, tucking a strand of golden hair behind the tanned shell of her ear. “It causes an accretion that can overwhelm the wielder, until it’s literally fighting for a way out. There have been instances where witches can train and train for hours, but their magic still refuses to let up. Then soon they just, combust. It’s quite messy.”

He looks back to Keelie, relaxing an arm across her lap. She finds him staring and raises her brows. He gives a slight shake of his head. “I don’t know if I want that kind of power.”

“I’m afraid that choice, is not yours.” Keelie mumbles softly.

“I just don’t know if I want immortality. I still have a rather, bitter taste from when I was with Palore at the Sun Goddess’ Temple. I don’t know if I want to be immortal.”

“Why not?” Agony asks, picking at her iron nails. Her boots are still propped on the table. “We can eat, drink, fuck, and fight better than mortals. What’s there to lose?”

Luke chokes on his water. Ira letting out a low laugh. Raven shifts on her seat, angling to spring between her and his father if need be.

“My family.” Douglas replies. Keelie angles her head, and some of the witches lower their utensils to their plates. Douglas straightens his spine. “We are all so beautiful, so young, and alive – but when would that change? How would it be to speak to them when I remain young, while their skin has grown paper-thin and wrinkled, their backs curved with the weight of years, their white hands speckled? I would barely be in my immortal existence when theirs is wiped out like a candle before a cold breath. I suppose I could give them a few good years – safe years – until then. All of you alone are a few millennials old alone.”

Agony laughs, the cawing of a crow before she says, “You’re so sweet. A few millennials old.”

He looks back to Keelie, raising his brows as his point has been proven. “There could be a chance that your siblings may have it as well. Perhaps it just lies dormant, such as yours.”

“And my father?”

Her chest rises slowly, then falls even slower. “I’m afraid I cannot say.”

Douglas presses his lips together, pondering. After a moment, the crackling fire the only sound, he finally says, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I can’t. I just . . . can’t.”

Keelie watches him for a long moment. Her chest rises as she takes a deep breath, her only validation of disappointment. “I said the choice was yours, and it is. I’ll have some members of my coven train you, just in case. Magical buildup can happen to both mortals and immortals.”

Douglas gives a nod of his head. The ache in his chest seems to only have gotten heavier. More suffocating.

Keelie then just rises to her feet, a slim pillar of steel, and says to no one in particular, “If we’re done eating, then this meal is over.”

And then she leaves without a word.

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