The Witching Hour

Lydia felt the weight of the stone in the earth, the dark strike of every letter about it. If she had any more real tears, they would have fallen that day. The bite of the first chill of winter was nothing compared to the ice that crept through her body. This was not how she pictured coming home. She’d ridden home like a dark messenger through half the wilderness. The feeling pressing on her of dread beat like a shaman’s drum in her heart. Yet even then she had never pictured this.

“Oh Mercy, how could this happen to you?”

Lydia’s older sister Mercy’s headstone felt out of place. This graveyard brimmed with the older and the young, but not those as healthy as Mercy had been. At twenty-five her name didn’t belong on a headstone yet. No matter how many times Lydia wiped at Mercy’s name, nothing changed. Again and Again she swiped as though her mere attempts could alter death. But for all her powers she possessed, resurrection was not one of them.

Even as as a part of her wished for that power in this moment, another knew she would never be willing to pay the price for it. Not even for her poor dead sister. As numbness seeped in, Lydia finally stopped wiping her hand across the tombstone. Instead she rested them on her thighs, feeling the torn skirts covering her legs. She could feel the wet leaves soaking through to her legs from beneath her but she ignored the feeling. Instead Lydia sat still, listening.

The forest had gone silent.

No birds called, no animal moved, even the wind had stopped. The entire woods had halted like a frightened deer in a hunter’s sight. All around Lydia not a spirit stirred. Even her familiar Alvion had halted his endless pacing to curl up about her skirt. If the fox spirit sought the protection of her skirts, then there could be only one thing approaching. Another witch was upon them.

A few focused moments, tense moments, were all Lydia needed. She stood, her hand resting upon the smooth edge of the headstone. Finally the crunch of leaves signaled the witch’s approach. As their magic washed over her Lydia felt the tingle of warmth as a smoke smell began to fill her nose. That warmth, so familiar and so calming, attempted to draw her in. But she would not allow it to do that. Not now.

“Tell me what has happened here Lucas.”

Lucas Hartford stepped out of the tree line, keeping a few feet between them. He kept watchful green eyes on the white haired woman before him. Although this form was not the one she had kept while living in Meadowlark, he’d seen it a few times. Though she was far more rugged and cold now. If he was honest he would admit that he had always known she would come back, particularly after Mercy’s death. But it didn’t mean he was happy about it.

“Lydia it…it’s complicated.” Lucas replied, his eyes still on her back as she continued to look at the tombstone.

“Tell me.”

“It will do no good to te-…”

“Tell.Me.” Lydia said, her voice dipping low.

Lucas sighed, this demanding attitude was no different than ever. “Hung. Hung for witchcraft.”

No. No, this could not be.

Idiots, this town full of idiots. Lydia thought those words had turned her numb, until she felt the prick of her nails on her palm. Looking down she found her fists balled and when she opened them small drops of blood fell. They made the most obscene gesture, her blood atop her sister’s headstone. Witch’s blood spilled on an innocent’s grave.

“How did they come to convict an innocent woman but let you go free?”

“They are on witch hunts across the realm, look at Salem.” Lucas said, throwing his hands up. “But here it is more… complicated.”

With an snort Lydia whirled around as the air became electrified. “That is the second time you’ve used that word Lucas. It is time you explain things.”

“It will not take the pain away” Lucas stated.

“I asked not for healing but for truth.” Lydia responded her tone harsh, her body tensing as she turned to glare at him.

“How long has it been since you left Lydia?” Before she could demand answers again, he held up his hand. “How long Lydia? And who have you been?”

Finally pausing in her anger, which had risen through her blood, Lydia thought of his words. Who had she been, and where? She had seemed to travel everywhere, wandering the wilderness these seven long years. From town to town and then village to village until she had found what she was looking for.

Now, the real question was, who had she been?

Trickier, that question. Sure, in truth Lydia had always been herself, but no one would have recognized her. Lydia had worn many facades, all to keep her identity safe. At least she’d learned something from the coven elders. After all, if no one recognized her then there was no danger to her family. Or so she had thought. Looking at the tombstone, her planning had been in vain. Death had found them even without a misstep from Lydia. But none of that mattered now, only this tombstone mattered.

“I have been everywhere.” Lydia said honest in her distraction, looking into Lucas’s green eyes. “And I have been as you see me. No matter the facade I wore. Please Lucas, I want…I need to know what happened to my sister.”

Another sigh, at least Lucas had not changed since she left, as he always seemed to do. “There are a group of girls, children Lydia, who have gained some meager powers the way all mortals can.”

Lydia interrupted him. “ Who told them they could strike a deal with Satan?”

“A slave girl from the islands.”

Of course. Few of the puritans would know how to do the rituals of souls. But a slave, particularly if they came from Hispaniola or Barbados, too many of them knew. When they came to the colonies, they created problems for hereditary witches. Lydia and Lucas had seen this all too often.

“So these girls killed my sister, how exactly?”

“One of them wanted William.” Lucas continued hesitant when Lydia became still. “It was not difficult for them to use those powers to convince the town that Mercy cursed them.”

Lydia pushed down the surge of fury that blazed like a wildfire. Those stupid little bitches. Who were they to play God to sate their lust? Selfish children, who should never have had power to begin with. “Is Mercy the only one?”

“No. Mercy was the fourth.” At her shocked gaze Lucas shrugged. “ They are drunk on the power. It does no good that a witch hunter has arrived to give even more credence to their madness.”

My, this was becoming Salem. Every coven had heard about those dreaded trials of innocent people no less. Most had ordered its members to a tight set of rules in hope of staving off future witch hunts. It seemed to have worked well, and should have been perfect for Meadowlark. With only a few witches left it always seemed like they never came under suspicion.

“Have they accused anyone from the coven?” Lydia asked, wondering how the coven was handling this.

“No, none of us have come under suspicion.”

How long would that last? With a witch hunter about it was a surprise that he had not sniffed out any actual witch. Lydia needed to know who was around, for there were choices she had to make, and this knowledge was essential. “Who is the hunter?”

Lydia waited, looking down once more at Mercy’s grave. Her attention focused on her sister, on her plans, on the choices she would make soon. So when she felt Lucas’s hand on her she startled, looking over her shoulder at him.

“It’s a man named Jack Adams, a renowned witch hunter.”

Oh, Lydia knew Jack Adams. How fitting that they would find themselves here like this. Jack Adams was a formidable enough foe for some. But he was the typical type of man drawn to this line of work. He checked all the typical requirements for these witch hunters. Religious zealot with little tolerance? Check. Able soldier with a troubled past? Check. Hypocritical preacher steeped in vice? Check.

All things Lydia could handle. Had handled in the past. Jack Adams would only make this more interesting. But in no way did he make her choice difficult. In the end Lydia’s choice had been clear from the moment she had seen her sister’s grave.

Pulling away enough to allow Lucas’s hand to fall from her shoulder, Lydia needed only one more thing from him. “And the elders?”

“Remaining neutral.”

Perfect. This homecoming was not the one that she had pictured, nor the one she wished for, but it didn’t matter. She was here now and it was time to teach these insolent girls a lesson in power. As if called by the surge of her power Alvion clicked at her, sliding up until he laid around her shoulders. Petting the fox’s head gave Lydia a moment to regain control of her emotions and thus her powers. No need to alarm Lucas or the elders yet.

Not that Lucas looked particularly comfortable still standing beside her. Likely he could feel the shifting of new energy through her. This was what she sought and won. Power, unlike any her kind had ever known.

New world power. Unknown to the covens of old because because vast seas separated them. Now available, if the covens would only seek peaceful methods of obtaining it. Difficult and mistrustful at first, the shamans had soon welcomed her. By the time she had found the man she needed most, Lydia had created a reputation.  Her shaman mentor had been as enthusiastic to work together as Lydia herself. Even better, she had come to understand how to handle this power. A power Lydia was now ready to put to a full test.

With one last mournful look at Mercy’s tombstone, Lydia closed her eyes. She made a vow to her sister, to find and bring to vengeance all those responsible. The injustices invoked against their town, their family, needed justice. A slice of pain on her thumb brought her eyes open to find Alvion had bitten her finger. Her blood dripped onto the ground, and was immediately sucked in, the blood pact complete.

All through Lucas watched her with widening eyes until the blood vanished. “Lydia, what have you done?”

“What this coven has not the courage to do.” Lydia responded as she allowed Alvion to seal her wound.

“Lydia think about this before you do this.” Lucas said, his voice hoarse, keeping pace when Lydia began to move away from the graveyard. “They are children.”

“They have made adult decisions so they can face adult consequences.”

“Don’t do this. Lydia, please. Lydia!” Lucas exclaimed, finally grabbing her arm and yanking her to face him. When Alvion released a soft growl and he realized he may have put more force in his panic, his hand dropped. “I understand your anger but you will solve nothing this way.”

Pulling herself to her full height, Lydia kept her hard gaze on his. “I do not want to solve anything Lucas. Killing my sister didn’t solve anything either.”

Once more continuing to walk away from the graveyard. As she did Lydia allowed her magic to flow out of her. Soon her appearance began to alter, her old facade falling into place. The white strands of her hair began to darken, becoming black. Her tattered, torn and worn clothing began to shift as a dark blue dress replaced it.

When her facade was in place Lydia halted her walk, turning to face Lucas. Although separated only by a few feet it felt more like miles, Lydia paused to pursue her old friend. Well friend was too much of a liberty but still Lydia felt the first moments of hesitation. What she was planning could cause Lucas to flee, if only for preservation. The older man had always been kind to her, even helping her when the need arose. Could she do this to him?

Lydia looked back at her sister’s tombstone. She thought of her sister’s family, the children Mercy had been so proud of. The husband she’d worked to please. Lydia remembered Mercy begging her to stay, always trying to help Lydia connect with the town. Mercy had been everything her name was, and so much more. She’d deserved a town that praised and loved her, not one that destroyed her.

So for Mercy, she had to make them pay. No matter the consequences.

“I’m sorry Lucas. It has to be this way.” Lydia said, smiling with sadness. “Stay out of my way and I’ll do you no harm.”

With that she turned from him for the last time. Her path was clear, her destination more so. All led to Meadowlark. For those poor souls trapped by these girl’s foolish whims. For Mercy, they would pay.

“It’s time these fools learn what a real witch can do.”

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