by Chris W
Two lost little boys and a dog wander into the middle of a witches meeting.
| The yorkie twisted and turned, yapping and staying just out of reach of the grubby little hands that snatched at him. He jumped playfully and continued on down the dark alley, checking to make sure his assailants were close behind. The full moon lit the old cobblestone alley well, casting lively shadows against the bricks of the wall they ran alongside.
Four quick but clumsy feet pattered atop the cobblestones, their owners focused on their quarry. Giggles and deep, excited breaths rang out as they chased the puppy, their hands occasionally brushing the ivy growing on the wall as their little hands flailed.
Soon the cobblestones gave way to grass, and the wall grew shorter for a bit. Eventually, it disappeared as well. None of the trio took notice, so the dog continued his merry antics, antagonizing the two gleeful toddlers into further pursuit. Tall grass sprang up around them, and the light from the moon winked out as they stumbled into a copse of tightly knit trees.
One of the bumbling hunters tripped and fell into the darkness. His bubbling laughter ceased, and a distressed wail rose up in its place. His partner, realizing for perhaps the first time that he was far from home, screwed up his face and prepared a howl of his own. The yorkie trotted back to where the two stricken boys were, licking first one, and then the other. His efforts at comforting them fell short, however, trumped by the all consuming fear of darkness held by most of that age.
“Oh no, dears.” A calm, caring voice floated out of the darkness. “Whatever is the matter?”
The wails subsided into soft sniffles as the children searched for the source of the voice. The dog sniffed warily, and stayed near the boys.
“So young and sweet.” Soft light flashed only a few feet from the boys, and the figure of a beautiful, slender woman shimmered into view. Color crept into her ghostly image bit by bit, until she stood before them, no longer translucent. A daring white gown tapered loosely around her, framed by lovely golden hair that would make even a goddess jealous.
"Are you lost, precious things?" The children relaxed at both the sight of her and the soothing sound of her voice. There was something peaceful and promising in her tone, like a mother baking cookies and asking if someone would like to lick the spoon.
“Leave the poor things alone, Mags.” Another voice drifted in from the darkness. No entrancing light show heralded the coming of the new speaker. She simply stepped close enough to the beautiful faery woman that she could be seen in her residual light.
“Ezzy, I do apologize for the interruption to our beloved talks.” The faery shook her head wistfully, feigning misfortune. “But look at what little angels the night has brought us.”
Ezzy looked down at the small children, who were completely absorbed by her sister’s presence. They were nearly the same size. Each had shaggy locks of dirty brown hair and big bright blue eyes. They even wore similar outfits, the only difference being that one had a blue tee shirt with a bear on it, and the other's bore a lion. Two lost little cubs.
“Children, say hello to my sister, Ezzy. She’s only here on business, but I love her just the same.”
Ezzy waved a gnarled hand, and the children shrank back as if threatened. Her smile turned halfhearted. Her nose was a little too long, and her skin a little too greenish-blue to make friends with very many children. A witch, they thought. And of course, they assume that my sweet sister is a faery, Ezzy thought.
“I won’t add you to my stew just yet, you sweet little things.” Sometimes she played the part out of spite. She regretted it as soon as the saw the fear flash in the children’s eyes.
“Ezzy,” Mags frowned in mock horror, drawing the children closer. “You’re frightening these little cubs.”
Ezzy cleared her throat and drew herself up. “Enough play time. Let’s settle what I came here about and finish the night.”
“Oh dear, Auntie Ezzy sure has her knickers in a twist,” Mags said to the children playfully. They both giggled and smiled at her, while the dog hung behind them, still unsure. “I’ll be right with you, my fierce little bear and my brave little lion.”
Mageris stood, her back to the boys. She snapped her fingers and the circle of trees instantly illuminated as bright as a midsummer day. An intricate wrought iron table with two matching chairs appeared in the center. “Let the negotiations begin, dear Esmerelda. Let us work out something agreeable for both of us to bring before the Assembly.”
Ezzy glanced at the children, who were blinking at the sudden onslaught of white light. “Aren’t you going to send these two back to their beds, dear sister?”
Mageris regarded the children thoughtfully. A wicked gleam passed over her eyes. “The night is young. I will need something to keep me occupied once you have gone on your way.”
Barely repressing a shudder, Esmerelda drew herself up and smiled warmly at her sister. “Let us return them now. I do not wish to be encumbered by bumbling children while we talk about such serious matters.”
Mags snapped her finger, and the boys plopped silently in the grass, mouthing protests that could not be heard. Confusion soon gave way to distress, and the boys were crying again, inaudibly.
Ezzy clicked her tongue and waved the spell away. The wails of the boys pierced the air once more, with the dog yapping and circling them, eyeing the women warily.
“Really, Mags? On children?” She sent her finest distasteful look her sister’s way.
Mageris grimaced and looked away, flicking her hand in dismissal at the distraught trio. “If you must.”
“This will not take long.” Ezzy knelt by the children, who redoubled their bawling due to her sudden close proximity.
She shushed them gently, urging the slightest bit of magic into her words. She used nothing to directly influence the boys, only a tiny bit of truth woven into her tone, just enough that her sincerity was clear. She meant no harm to them.
“Now where do you two young fellows live?” She murmured gently, placing a hand on each of their heads. They shrank back slightly from her long nails and spotted complexion, but did not resist any further. Her smile reassured them, crooked teeth and all.
Images and emotions flooded into Ezzy’s mind. The boys’ simple thoughts were hers to peruse and interpret, including their memories. She concentrated, and the boys’ journey became clear. She saw their merry chase down the alley, and their unexpected encounter with Mageris and herself. Painfully, she noted how easily they fell for Mageris’ charm. No such luck for Ezzy. Her entrance had been greeted with only fear and revulsion. Only children, she reminded herself.
She travelled back through their memories, rewinding back up the alley and back through a quiet residential street. She paid close attention to the street signs, which were hard to pull from the busy eye of a toddler. Nothing that wasn’t furry or noisy held their attention for very long, and street posts were no exception.
Finally she had it. A shabby little blue house on the corner of Worth and Ninth Street. Sighing to herself, she began to pull away. As she did, something tugged at her attention.
As the image of the blue house solidified, sadness flooded over the two boys. Strange, Ezzy thought. How odd it was for two toddlers to feel that way about their home. Grimacing, Ezzy glided back in as gently as possible, in search of more memories.
In moments, tears were flowing down Ezzy’s face. Oh, mortals and the things they would subject their children to! Ezzy’s sadness turned to rage as she considered their short, sad lives. How could two innocents be treated so? The only bright spot in their existence was the neighbor’s yapping puppy.
Ezzy pondered the situation. She sighed, and then took one of each of their hands. Concentrating, she envisioned the very weaves of fate that spun around the boys’ life threads. It was horrible. She could only see glimpses of each possible outcome, only a face or an object, but she could feel the end results as emotions. Each and every one ended in tragedy, and soon. The threads were short and clear, clearer than any she had ever seen firsthand.
As another tear rolled down Ezzy’s face, a small, light thread blinked into existence. A rogue thought had germinated in her mind, and it wove a new thread into these boys’ lives.
No, she thought. I can’t. As she meekly protested against herself, the thread grew stronger and brighter. Now there was one, solitary possibility that the boys could escape their terrible fates. She peeked into it carefully, catching only glimpses of the eventuality. Her face and hands were there, holding them. With a whimper, she let go of her faesight and escaped back to reality. She pretended not to notice the other threads that had spawned with her thought, darker and more foreboding than the previously existing ones.
“Dear, are you quite done with those children? Seriously, a first year mage might have discovered their home by now.” Mageris leaned back in one of the wrought iron chairs, her fingers tapping impatiently on the table.
Ezzy straightened herself, and willed all emotion from her face. “I had a hard time locking down the address from their terrible little memories. And of course, I’m not exactly a social worker, am I sweet sister?”
Mags grunted in a very unladylike manner. “Hurry along, if you would,”
Esmerelda nodded curtly, and scooped up the protesting children, dog and all. A thick fog manifested in front of them, and she stepped into it quickly.
When she emerged, they were in a different place entirely. There was no blue house, however. A large rectangular brick building stood before them, solid and quiet. The bushes along the walk were neatly trimmed, and even in the dim light the flower beds appeared neatly arranged. The whole place seemed to emanate orderliness. A sign proclaiming “Saint Margaret’s Home for Unwanted Children” hung off to the right of a large oaken door.
Ezzy wasted no time. She approached the door and gently sat her precious bundles nearby. Then she produced a thick wooden cane and rapped loudly on the door. There was always someone awake in an orphanage, she knew.
“What are you up to, Ezzy?” The suspicious voice belonged to Mageris.
Ezzy whirled a little too fast, unable to hide her surprise and apparent guilt. “Returning these babes to their home, as I said I would.”
“These dirt smeared little broken snacks didn’t walk out of an orphanage tonight, Ezzy.” Mags sneered as she looked down at the two little boys, who were taken aback by her change of tone.
“Maybe not. Perhaps I’ve decided a new home is in order.”
“Is that so? How noble, sweet, dear sister.” The sarcasm she coated the last words of her sentence with was borderline malice. “I was not aware you spent your nights relocating mistreated children.”
Ezzy opened her mouth to speak, but Mageris cut her off.
“What did you see back there in the trees? You think me a fool? A witch as powerful as you needs only seconds to scry a home location. Yet you took several minutes, and even wept like a child yourself.”
“Is it so unbelievable that I may experience a measure of compassion?”
Mageris stared, chewing on her thoughts. “I suppose your unfortunate curse could be affecting your rational thought. But I am sure there is more. You saw something with your faesight.”
Mageris growled in frustration, her pretty brow furrowing. “I am afraid I must invoke my right to discovery.”
“You can’t be serious. They are simply boys, of no use to either of us.”
“You aren’t telling me the truth, witch.” She took a step toward Ezzy. “I will have half of our fortune tonight. You can choose how I get it. You may give me one whole boy, or I will take half of each. Either way, the debt will be satisfied.”
Ezzy closed the distance between the two of them instantly. Her long beak of a nose hovered mere centimeters from Mageris’ little dainty nostrils. “Our negotiations will go badly this night, family or not, if you choose this path.”
Mags sniffed the air and drew back, her face contorted in disgust. “You smell as bad as you look, hag. I will choose for myself which child to take, and if you try and stop me, I will destroy them both.”
“Do not assume my condition has lessened my powers.”
“Do not presume that I will not turn you in to the Assembly for this, family or not.”
The door slammed behind them.
Ezzy spun. The boys were gone, leaving only the crazed dog. It barked and spun more angrily than ever, scratching at the thick door. Cursing, Ezzy twisted back to face Mageris, a quick spell already leaping from her gnarled wooden cane.
Mageris howled in anger as the binding spell settled around her, pinning her to the concrete path. Her eyes flashed in anger, and she made to prepare a rebuttal, but Ezzy had already burst through the orphanage door and was gone.
Ezzy dashed up the stairs, following a faint line of spirit that had been left by the boys. She topped the stairs and made a right. The trail led her to a set of locked double doors. A plain cross emblazoned on each identified the room as a chapel.
Still angry at her sister’s outrageous demands, Ezzy slammed the doors open. Bits of wood and metal splintered and flew. The faintly glowing thread of spirit led her eyes to a dark corner at the far end of the room.
“Stay back, foul demon!” A man appeared from her left. He must have been standing to the side of the doors when she flung them open, she guessed, judging by the blood flowing freely from his nose. A sharp pang of regret stabbed at her and she cursed her rash action.
“I have only seconds before my sister arrives, kind sir, and I assure you she is not as well-meaning as I.” Ezzy walked towards the huddled boys, only just realizing that the yorkie was following at her heels.
“I said stay back!” The portly man stumbled in between her and the children, raising a large cross in one hand and clutching his necklace in the other. “Vince malum bono…”
“I am not that kind of witch, I’m afraid.” Smiling sympathetically, she brushed aside the courageous man, who collapsed into a pew, stunned. “Do not be here when my sister arrives.”
She ignored his frightened, questioning look and hurried to the boys. They were still terrified, and she hoped desperately that they were still too young to form long-term memories of this night. The dog was excited to be reunited with the children, but Ezzy did not give them time to adjust. She formed another travel portal as quickly as she could.
As she stepped through the mist once again, her sister howled up the stairs and turned the corner, flying like a crazed banshee. Her beautiful features contorted in rage as she saw the group disappear.
“Esmerelda! Rules are rules!”
Ezzy never heard her scream. She did silently hope that the brave clergyman found somewhere else to be.
The boys sat on a comfortable couch, each messily eating one cup of yogurt and watching cartoons. The little yorkie, since named Yappy by the less than impressed Esmerelda, sat unconcerned at the base of the couch.
It had been months since her escape with the boys. Mageris had not been able to track the thousands of possibility strands Ezzy had left at her second portal site. Ezzy kicked herself for not doing so on the first portal. Now she had escaped Mageris for the moment, but left behind her responsibilities and sentenced herself to a life on the run. It was no life for children. Perhaps she had been kidding herself. How could this end well for them, when at any moment she could be whisked away?
“Esmerelda Dag Nettlefly.” A deep voice from an unseen source greeted her as she wandered into the kitchen of the modest apartment.
“I am.” Ezzy felt a heavy weight settle over her as the words escaped her lips.
“You are to be brought before the Assembly posthaste.”
“Of course.” It was no use to struggle against a summons. If they had found her, it was too late. “Allow me one moment for goodbyes?”
Esmerelda returned to the couch, where the yogurt had been spilled and Yappy was dutifully licking it up. She held the boys for a moment, kissed them gently, although they tried to squirm away. She said her goodbyes.
The room swirled about her, and reformed into a dark, empty place. A light blinked on and illuminated a group of elders seated on a series of elevated pine rows. How dramatic, Ezzy thought.
“The accused is arrived,” announced the same deep, unseen voice.
“Let the indicter speak.” The foremost of the elders raised his staff, and light illuminated a single figure just to his left. Mageris.
“This woman has denied my right of discovery to a valuable treasure, and then physically assaulted my person. I demand justice!”
The foremost elder nodded, and then looked to Esmerelda.”Please tell your account of this night, defendant. What Mageris has told us is most disturbing. The fact that you have been on the run from us for months does not help your case.”
“I stole no treasure. I merely attempted to liberate a few children from her grasp, who had unknowingly walked into her spider web moments before our negotiations began.” Esmerelda felt the stirrings of anger rise in her as she met Mageris’ eyes.
“The indicter assures us that these boys must share some form of special destiny, as seen by your faesight. She worries that this could evolve to her detriment, and demands her rights to discovery. As such, the law demands that she be awarded half, since both parties were present during the discovery of the treasure.”
“I saw no such thing.” Esmerelda felt weak, standing in her lonely circle of light before the old uncaring magi. There were no other living mages with her ability, so there was no one to corroborate her statements.
“Then you should have no problem remanding one half of the treasure into Mageris’ custody. Of course, there will be further punishment for attempting to elude Assembly justice. I will confer with the others-”
“No?” The old mage had already turned to begin speaking to his colleagues when Ezzy interrupted him. He looked both surprised and curious. “In light of your already questionable history and prior punishment from this council-” he paused to gesture at her features “-I suggest you make a compelling argument.”
“You want to know what I saw with my faesight? I sensed a sadness that should be beyond the ken of anyone that age, so I peered into their two abused souls. I saw that they were destined for an early grave, unloved and uncared for. Their parents spent more time with a gaoler than with them, and left them in the care of whoever could be bothered to chuck food and drink at them just enough to keep them alive.
“Most importantly I saw that there was only one thread that allowed them to live into the next hour of the night. In that thread, I saw myself. So I acted.”
Silence fell over the assembly. Esmerelda allowed herself a shallow breath, tears forming in her eyes.
“Lies!” Mageris cried. She looked impatiently at the Assembly, expectant.
The head of the Assembly sighed. “Rules are rules, Esmerelda. At least with one half of the claim you can control the destiny of one child.”
“I’ll even let you keep the dog.” Mags had relaxed from intense anger to an air of smug superiority.
“I yet refuse.”
Shock rippled through the assembly. Anger and consternation flashed on some faces, but admiration and curiosity was present on others.
“There is no option for refusal, mage. I have given you your terms, and I will decide shortly if further punishment is due.”
Esmerelda glanced inward, searching her own strings of fate. They were now inextricably tied with those of the boys. She found no other option.
“As a member in full standing under the Assembly’s protection, I have a final request.”
“There will be no death sentence today, Esmerelda,” the mage said, clearly becoming exasperated. “Therefore, no final requests.”
“My final request is that both of these children be protected and provided for by the Assembly throughout their natural lives. A life of morality and understanding. One that is denied so many, so often.”
Ezzy was done speaking. She pulled her necklace out from under her dress and examined the tiny faery dangling from it. It glowed brightly as she revealed it, washing out the meager circles of light that had been previously illuminating the mages present. She had carefully crafted the figurine over the last few months, hopping from location to location, gathering all the components she would need for one final spell.
She had not let her location slip until just enough of her soul had been poured into the tiny faery.
“I hope you all don’t mind if I bind my request.” She tore the figurine free from her neck with a quick movement, and then raised it high. Ezzy took one last look at her audience.
Some of the Assembly had the decency to look shocked. Most watched with mild curiosity. Mags was beyond furious. She even made as if to stop her. Ezzy smiled at her.
The faery burst with a loud crack onto the stone floor of the Assembly hall. Esmerelda’s spell dispersed evenly, touching every soul in the room.
As she felt the spell settle over her, Mageris knew the truth.