Here’s the second part of my short story for Witches in Fiction 2014.
All Hallow’s Morning Part 2
A Robin Armstrong story
“So I hang out with you until the culprit is found or my memory returns?” He laid his hands over Robin’s. His gaze was still haunted but there was something else moving in the blue depths. A flicker of passion.
“Uh …” Robin licked suddenly dry lips. “Yes, we …” She cleared her throat. “I’ll ask the weres to bunk together and you can have the room to get some rest …”
Sky bent closer, his gaze focusing on her lips. “You know, I’ve never kissed a witch before.”
“Or you don’t remember …” Robin whispered. He was so smooth and warm under her fingers, the sparks in his eyes so bright.
The stink of burning bacon cut straight through her arousal.
“Oh my God!” She tore out of Sky’s grasp. He tried to hold her back, but dropped his arms when the pan on the stove ignited with merry flames.
“Shit, shit, shit …” Robin hurriedly turned off the gas. With a teatowel, she beat at the flames. It caught fire and she managed to smack Sky with the burning towel when he tried to help her.
“Ah, sorry!” She dropped the towel with a curse and stomped on it.
Sky pushed her aside and plunged his hands into the flames.
“Are you nuts?!” Robin tugged at his arms.
The flames died. Sky raised his hands, wriggling his slender fingers. They were unscathed. He looked mesmerized at his own hands. His voice was still deeper than before when he muttered: “Interesting. Downright intriguing.”
Robin’s breath stuttered. “Do … Do you feel odd?” Had he been impervious to flames before, or had some side-effect of the spell been time-triggered?
Sky spun around, seeking her. “You may serve me, little witch.”
“What?!” Robin scampered backward. “I don’t serve anyone.” He was off his rocker. Did she know how to pick ‘em, or what?
“You will serve me when I COMMAND it, little witch.” Sky’s voice didn’t sound like him anymore. It was so deep and slick, Robin could almost taste it on her tongue.
“I simply HATE when people call me that!” Faintly, she heard her phone ring in the hall. It was still in her jacket. Her jacket which hung right over her spellbag … Robin fell back another step. The kitchen wasn’t large. Only a few more steps …
The reddish light of the hallway enclosed her like a soothing embrace. She had made it and he hadn’t followed her. Yet.
She pounced her jacket on the chair, digging for her phone, while she kicked open her bag with a foot. Was there anything useful left inside?
Micah’s ID flashed across the screen.
“Micah!” she panted. “Something’s wrong with Sky.”
“The human I took home. Only, I don’t think he’s human anymore.” Robin looked toward the kitchen. Sky had ignited the gas again and was playing with the flames. While she watched, he pushed his whole face into the flames, as if he was gobbling them up. “He’s like …” Dare she say it? “Like possessed. Fire doesn’t hurt him.” They both knew there was no such thing as real possession. A very skilled witch could ride your mind or transmorph you into something else, but the traces of that spell would scream loudly at anyone checking you. This wasn’t what had happened to Sky.
Micah swore. “Look. The Taumathurgists found some weird traces around the site. Whoever did that spell didn’t use witchcraft.”
“So, what then?” Robin’s gaze was still glued to Sky. He was done playing with the stove and looking around the kitchen. For her?
“One of the theories is that somehow the spellcaster merged with the human in the ritual. If we take out the man, we probably take out the caster as well.”
“How do you mean, take out?”
Micah’s next words were drowned out by a shrill ringing. Instinctively, Robin cowered, covering her ears. But it didn’t do any good. The sound was coming from her wards, beamed straight into her head. Their gentle background hum had been replaced by a shrill warning to their Ward Witch.
A large shadow loomed in the doorway. Sky! And he was holding a candle, a feather and a small bowl in his hands. All broken. “Thanks for telling him about those, earlier.” He dropped them on top of the pile of stones and stomped on the whole ensemble with his boot. With a last desperate clamour, half of her protection died.
He hadn’t known anything about magic when he arrived. He was either a gifted actor or someone else was driving Sky.
“I’m in trouble,” Robin blurted out. “Sky, he’s …”
Sky cocked his head. “He’s what?” One hand lazily stroked up his chest. “Irresistible?”
“He has broken my ward,” Robin blurted into the phone.
Sky advanced on her. The smile on his face looked sick. “Come, witch, we have better use for our time.”
“A team of Roses is on their way to neutralize him.” Micah was speaking quickly. “They said to keep him contained if you can. But, Robin, get the hell out of there! They might torch your house –”
Sky plucked the phone from her grasp and dropped it. He stepped on it, the crack of the casing as loud as a gunshot in Robin’s ears.
“I require more nourishment to maintain my form.”
Robin blinked at Sky. “You what now?”
“The pale fire in your kitchen isn’t enough.” He grabbed both her arms and frogmarched her into the living room. “Light a fire.” He let go of her and waved his arms. Armchairs, sofa and couch table slid, groaning and creaking, to the sides, clearing the space in front of the fireplace. Last night, she had celebrated Halloween here with her room-mates and some friends, and hadn’t cleared the table yet. Now thanks to Sky, half-finished drinks, pumpkin pie and cupcake icing oozed into one big mess.
Robin’s gaze roved over the small room, frantically searching for a weapon. Unless she strangled him with fairy lights until he dropped unconscious, there was nothing here. Maybe she could throw the candleholders? But her aim was lousy and her powers of telekinesis non-existent. She had dropped that class as soon as she could.
Contain him … Like any witch, Robin had a pre-echted circle in her house. Hers was in the living room, spelled to be hidden unless needed. Maybe she could lure Sky inside the circle and activate it?
“A fire? By all means.” She moved past him to the wood. She needed her matches. They always sat on top of the fireplace, but were now hidden somewhere between all the little pumpkins, cats and ghosts.
“He likes handling your riffraff,” Sky said, touching his fingertips to the pointy ears of one cat. “It gives him a sense of home, of safety.”
Ice formed at Robin’s spine. She pulled out a log, threw it on the fireplace. “Who’s ‘he’?”
“The were you call Sky,” Sky said.
“You’re not a were, you’re human.” Robin tossed another log onto the first. She touched the logs, bespelling them to not catch fire. She dropped a bit of kindling on top and went hunting for the matches, using that excuse to touch her foot to the circle, calling it. It was filled with ash, ready to use. Sky didn’t notice the shallow groove in the hardwood floor or didn’t care.
“He was a were when we turned him. Delicious.” Sky smacked his lips.
“What’s his name?” Robin tried to keep the disgust out of her voice. Her hand closed around the box of matches.
Sky waved it off. “He has no name anymore. He’s a vessel.”
“So who am I talking to?” Magic was flickering around Robin’s fingers, using her nervous sweat as conduit. It was biting her with sharp little teeth, as if begging to be used.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Sky tugged her closer. “Light the fire.”
“Coward,” Robin spat. “Say your name.”
Sky made a move as if to strike her but then recoiled. He let go of her and looked as if he was grappling with himself. “Ah, this form is weak yet. More nourishment!”
She lit a match. Sky’s silent struggle ceased. His gaze was drawn to the small flame as if it was magnetic.
“Here, catch,“ Robin tossed the match onto the logs. The kindling ignited and burned bright. Sky eagerly turned to the fireplace.
Taking the matches with her, Robin ran to the couch table. She gathered up an arm full of leftovers from the night before — candles, food, cups — then jumped into the circle. She dropped her loot in the center and sunk to her knees. She pressed her fingertips into the ash. There wouldn’t be enough time to properly raise a circle and anchor it.
Magic licked at her fingers from the left. She had filled the groove in the floor. She set one candle in the center and one in a corner. A glass with water and a ripped streamer she placed in two other corners. The dish with pumpkin pie had to stand in for earth. She lit the candles, then sat in the center. She raised her arms. “Guardians of the circle, hear me! We call to you this day to join us. Lend us your help. May you be blessed and smile upon this rite!”
Panic slammed in her chest when Sky jumped next to her in a blast of hot wind. This was what she had planned but he was so close! Her living room was small and so was the circle. Sky and her were filling it completely. Sky’s eyes were shining bright red. The heat he was giving off stole her breath.
She dipped her fingertips back into the ash of the circle and visualized a white sphere growing from the floor, keeping them safe on all sides. Tingling through Robin’s awareness, it rose around them like a semi-opaque wall. Pumpkins and fairy lights threw orange spots of light on the barrier from outside. The air tasted cooler and Robin felt calm settle over her nerves.
She closed her eyes, her concentration focussed. “Guardians, hear me! Elementals, hear me!”
“That fire was a meagre offering, witch. But your puny circle won’t contain me.” When Robin looked up, the Black Sabbath t-shirt was peeling away in shreds. The jeans followed. Sky’s chest was covered in runes that were glowing like embers.
She had never seen anything like it. Panic was firing like shots inside Robin’s brain. How could she fight against that thing and leave Sky unharmed? She needed to separate him from whatever was possessing him. At university, she’d only ever learned to reverse transmorphing spells gone wrong. They had never dealt with a being that consisted of two separate entities. True possession …
Inspiration struck. “I call the element of fire. May you bless and smile upon this rite.” Her voice was strained. She wouldn’t scream. It was never smart to yell at the elementals. “Salamanders, help me. Hold and hallow this space.”
Sky’s head fell back and he screamed, a sound so deep and anguished it couldn’t come from a human’s throat. In the center of the circle, Robin was mere inches from Sky’s feet. He was writhing, fighting powers unseen. It meant he was a threat – to the circle or to herself, or the elementals would have ignored him. The struggle was harsh but silent. As elementals of fire, salamanders knew no restraint, no caution. They hallowed this circle and consumed what was soiling it, a threat to it. It was working. Robin felt giddy with relief — and worried for Sky.
“Guardians of fire, I call you on this night. Lend me your passion, creativity, your inspiration. Bless and smile upon this rite.” She waited, breath held. Nothing happened. Sky’s silent struggle continued. The scent of the pumpkin pie tickled her nose and Robin wrinkled it. To be distracted by food at a time like this! No, wait. She was never hungry inside her circle. This was something else. She slid on her knees to the dish and scooped out filling with two fingers. “Guardians of Earth,” she whispered, “I call you on this night.” She asked for help, then closed her eyes and touched her lips to the pie filling. Its creamy, spicy scent transported her back a year, to the last Samhain celebration with her family. “You think this will work?” she whispered. There was no reply, only the soothing calm of sitting in her circle.
“Welcome Goddess and God on Samhain night …” Tears were hot on her face when Robin intoned the words of her family’s Halloween ritual. She had planned to celebrate with her roommates and Sky tonight, after dark had fallen. Not like this!
The words came haltingly at first, then quicker.
“… This time marks the death of old ways,
we cling no more to what came before.
We open our eyes and see
that darkness surrounds us and mystery …” Her voice cracked but she pushed on.
The words fell from her tongue even while her thoughts raced. They had been imprinted on her with every Samhain celebration since she was old enough to hold a candle and take part in her family’s ritual.
The deeper she traveled into the ritual, the more Sky changed. First the light blazing from his eyes changed color. From glowing embers to blazing blue and back. So Sky was still in there. And whoever was riding shotgun had lost some foothold, apparently. He hadn’t lashed out at her yet, either. Maybe he was too weak? Over the next minutes, he turned white as a sheet and his skin looked like brittle parchment. When she continued, Sky started moaning and thrashed slowly. He rose off the floor, still struggling.
Nearing the final words, Robin pushed to her feet.
The exterior ward of her house screeched for her attention, then died abruptly. Red laserdots scittered over the carnage in her living room. Glass shattered and men and women in black uniforms stormed her living room. Roses! The agents were armed to the teeth and their guns were trained on them. Her circle wouldn’t hold bullets for long but maybe just long enough.
More people hurried into the room, this time from the hallway. They were clad in white overalls with a blue waxing moon stitched over the chest. The Tauma Squad. The cavalry had arrived. They’d know better than to interrupt a ritual near its peak.
Fetching the candle, Robin stood face to face with Sky. He was hanging suspended in her circle, eyes still burning red, then blue. He had stopped struggling.
She raised her hands, palms forward, holding his gaze.
“I let go.
I embrace the coming dark.
As I let go,
he lets go.
He doesn’t cling. His time to leave is nigh,
he becomes breath and shadow and thought.
As I loosen my grip on what must depart,
She hurled the last words at him.
Sky gasped from pain. His eyes were brilliant blue in his ghostly face. “Help me,” he wheezed, “help me.”
Robin blew out the candle and sat it under Sky’s feet, in the middle of the circle. She took his hands in hers. They were so cold.
“In darkness we see the light within.
In darkness we trust the light within.
In darkness we are the light within.”
Gathering the magic of the circle in their entwined hands, she laid them over Sky’s heart. “Blessed be.”
A chime like a gong made her head hurt. Sky’s eyes rolled up in his head and he crashed to the ground.
A wind rose in the circle. It spun the streamer and the scraps of Sky’s clothing around her in dizzying circles. Out of the air fell … something. For a second, Robin’s brain refused to make sense of the scrabbling legs and hideous flesh-colored carapace. It looked like a lovechild between a scorpion and a facehugger from Alien. A stinger rose high over its back. Two eyes stared at her, sunk deep into the carapace of its back. The stinger quivered when the critter hesitated between Robin and Sky.
“You are one ugly motherfucker,” Robin whispered.
The scorpion scuttled in her direction. It accelerated, stinger held high, and stabbed. The stinger narrowly missed Robin’s legs, piercing the barrier of her circle instead. With a violent tug at Robin, the circle shattered, robbing her breath.
While Robin panted, trying to get her bearings, the critter escaped the circle – and with it, the wind. Her big ficus shivered and rustled, its thin branches straining to move with the air current. Flurries of green leaves were circling the scorpion like snow while it headed for the hall. Objects tore away from the walls, the windows. Paper pumpkins, cardboard bats, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton whooshed past Robin and slammed into the agents and taumathurgists. Robin’s hair kept blowing in her face, robbing her of sight. Orange fairy lights ripped away from the window and whistled past her. The agents batted at the plastic strings threatening to slide around their necks, their guns lowering.
Breathing heavily, Robin quickly dismissed the guardians, elementals and quarters. She felt for Sky’s pulse. Weak, but there. She was about to get up, when it hit her: When she sensed Sky, he read as a were now. And his scent was clear. He smelled of the faint musky scent of weres and of his own bewitching mix of sea salt and sage. Nothing else.
Six laserdots focused on the critter. It stood still in the whirling typhoon, apparently mesmerized by the lights. Maybe it thought they were fire?
Robin threw herself to the floor next to Sky just before six high-velocity spellguns barked at the same time.
With a screech, the scorpion fell on its back, its stinger stabbing the air. The wind died down abruptly and the tornado of Halloween decorations clattered to the floor in a series of crashes. Pottery shards pelted everyone in the living room. Robin threw herself over Sky to keep him safe. When she looked up again, the Tauma Squad had gathered around the writhing scorpion. Their spells and light show were too intense for Robin’s tired brain to make sense of.
One of the Roses stepped forward, a man in his thirties with dark-blonde hair. Agent Grey, no doubt. “Armstrong, hand over the human!” He sounded strangely amused.
“He’s not human. That … thing over there took over a were. It only read as human to us.”
“You took out a demon. Sure.” Grey chuckled.
“I didn’t say that.” A demon? Her blood ran like ice. “They don’t exist.” No-one had ever managed to summon one with a spell.
“Well, it’s only an educated guess so far,” Grey drawled, jerking a thumb in the direction of the Tauma Squad.
A cage made of light rose between the members of the Squad. The scorpion inside it wasn’t moving, but Robin was pretty sure it wasn’t dead or they wouldn’t go to all this trouble.
“They take the thing, we take the human. Up!” Grey reached for Sky’s arm.
“He’s not human!” Robin yelling, clinging to Sky’s arm. “And he’s badly hurt.”
Grey dropped Sky’s arm. “What did you do to the guy? He was a human this morning.”
“Nothing!” Robin yelled. “I cooked bacon, that’s all.”
Grey chuckled. “May be you witches make a hell of a bacon, but that guy’s still human. Abducting a human’s a crime, Armstrong.”
Robin groaned. “I didn’t abduct him. He was –“
More Roses gathered around them, their guns trained on Robin and Sky.
Anna Moray, the head of the Tauma Squad stepped through their ranks. “Agent Grey, stand down your men!”
They didn’t. Of course not. Not without Anna and Grey slapping procedure and jurisdiction at each other. The taumathurgist won. They could all sense that — whatever Sky had been this morning — he was now a were. Not Grey’s mess anymore. When Anna put it that way, the Roses reluctantly trotted out. Robin had a feeling she hadn’t seen the last of Grey.
She slid her fingers into Sky’s hand. “Don’t patch him up. He’s had four already today.”
Anna nodded. “We were briefed.”
Too tired to even get up, Robin stayed at Sky’s side when the taumathurgists probed and sensed him for over an hour.
“You know he needs to be checked more thoroughly, Robin.” Anna’s voice was gentle but Robin knew there was steel underneath. Anna Moray always got the job done. “We can all sense he’s a were. He won’t be killed and you’re not in trouble for harboring a human. But he needs to stay in a secure facility.” At her nod, three witches in white robes bent to pick up Sky.
“I’ll go with him.” Robin tried to get to her feet but she was wiped out. The spell had drained her. She should have found sustenance while they checked Sky. Now it was too late. She’d be out for hours if she dropped unconscious now.
“You won’t. But he’s coming to, so I give you five minutes to say goodbye. For now.” Anna nodded at her team and they gathered in the kitchen.
Sky stirred behind her. His warm hand brushed away Robin’s hair and stroked her shoulder.
She turned to him, letting her gaze run fondly over his face. Now that the demon was gone, the eyes twinkling at her through the curtain of his hair showed their true were colors: bright sky blue with shifting golden flecks. She stroked the hair from his face. It was silky against her fingers.
Too-blue eyes caught her, widened in alarm. His hand closed around her wrist. Sky struggled to sit up, frowning with confusion. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“Not again,” Robin whispered, horrified. His memory had been wiped again? Regret tasted metallic on her tongue when she leaned toward him. She’d have to bespell him. He had too much shit ahead to go through the whole angst of amnesia right now. “Don’t fret, all is well.” Slowly, she raised her hands.
“Yes, I know.” He caught her hands, his lips twitching into a smile.
Robin blinked, confused.
“I was just kidding.” Sky pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I don’t really remember a lot but I know who you are.”
His face faded in and out. Damn, not now! Robin clung to him but blackness pulled her under.
* * *
She struggled awake when her room-mate called her name.
Matthew’s black hair was standing straight up, displaying the off-white streak along the middle. “You know the living room’s totally trashed?”
Robin sunk back against the couch. “Yep. We’ll sort it tomorrow. Don’t get all worked up, I can’t deal with a skunk attack.” Unseeing, too tired to even lift her head, she felt along the couch table, through the debris of last night’s party. She almost wept with relief when her fingers landed in a smushed cupcake. She scooped off the sweet cream and pulled apart the spicy cake, eating morsel by morsel, letting the spices revive her.
“Don’t worry.” Matthew knelt down next to her. “You’re okay?”
Robin licked the cupcake from her fingers and leaned against his chest. “You won’t guess what kind of day it’s been.”
“It looks bad.” The were closed his arms around her in a brotherly hug.
Ryan sat on the couch behind Robin and lowered a cellophane bag into her lap. It was filled with orange marshmallows, lightly dusted with sugar. “We came past Karen’s stall and brought you back something. Happy Halloween.”
Her favorite. Robin opened the bag and slid out one of the little fluffy marvels. “Thank you!” She nibbled at a corner of the pumpkin marshmallow. “Did you have something planned for tomorrow?”
Ryan scratched at his stomach. “Not really. Hanging out. Getting some sleep.”
“I have to break someone out of the containment ward. You two game?”
The men grinned, showing pointy eye-teeth.
Matthew ruffled her hair. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Happy Halloween, guys! :-)
Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.