Eager footprints mar the perfect blanket of white, depressions amidst the tufts of freshly fallen snow that lead toward the cottage. Sleep-spelled and dreaming next to a cozy fire, the inhabitants are unaware of the treachery on its way.
Tonight, a witch and wizard plot.
Outside frosted windows, the witch hastily works. Hands high, eyes lit green, lips soundlessly chanting; the mark of a trueborn witch floats on a breeze only the witch and wizard can feel. Her red hair warns all that she is most powerful.
Her chanting fades away.
She nods, finished, and they enter.
Their search begins inside the cottage, for the one born one at a time. She’d be a twin, dark-haired, dark-eyed: a sorceress.
The wizard is first to find her. Asleep in bed, though her hands curl near her face in a childish pose, a young woman hides beneath round cheeks. Most of these are found as babes, but this pretty dreamer has slipped through the mapping of the stars. She’s hidden safe on this mountain, out of the grasp of strangers.
“Make certain,” the wizard says, unafraid of the level of his voice.
His witch has never faltered in a sleeping spell before.
“It’s too soon, Tearlach,” the witch replies, uncareful of volume, as well.
The witch hesitates, and the wizard grabs her wrist.
Encased in black leather, cape draped across broad shoulders, he pulls her toward him.
Her eyes fall from his face to the medallion at his chest. It may hang from a chain around the wizard’s neck, but the collar of power tightens around her instead.
The witch’s gaze searches the wizard’s again.
“Remember how I found you?” he says. “A witch born of all seasons, stripped of her powers, thieved upon by careless conjuring. A silly, little witch who lost her blessings until not but a meager summer witch was all that remained.” He sneers as if this is the lowliest of powers. “You’ve proven yourself loyal, Esme, and I’ve restored your seasons, but just as I have given, I can take away.”
The wizard holds the witch flush against his body, and though her expression is one of fear, her eyes host the madness of a witch in love with power.
His fingers spread across her cheek—not a caress—rather a slow gripping of the side of her face. “And you know that the taking will be quite painful,” he finishes.
It would end her.
The witch swallows, but then startles, looking beyond the wizard.
The medallion has disrupted the sleeping spell. She’d stood too close.
A kink in the thread of magic tugs on her, its ebb and flow interrupted, and she watches as the raven-haired girl sits up in her bed.
Barely above a decade, stiff now, seeing them in her room, the child lifts her chin, and demands, “Who are you?”
“You are still asleep,” the witch says quietly. She glides to the bedside. “What you see is not real.”
Doubt flickers in the dark gaze, and the girl nods, but sleepy or not, she’s had the dreams. Like all with great power, she’d be fair warned of things besides human business. She’s been prepared as well as the stars can provide for a purpose: to bring balance to the islands.
She may not know herself yet, as the power only arrives to the woman who is fully woman, but she’s imagined enough to wonder if the dreams mean something, the witch and wizard in her room means… something.
The witch tries to sooth her, but the girl decides that she might fight.
An echo of what she will be tempts her, chooses for her that she’ll not call for help. What better weapon is there than she? Calling others would put them in danger, and what is more dangerous than she?
This child raises her hand. An ancient, though simple method of summoning magic.
The wizard groans before gripping his arm. “Impossible,” he says as the proof disputes his words in the form of snapping bone.
The sound of it rings through the cottage.
“Stop her!” he shouts, panicking.
The witch lunges for the girl, wrapping long, white fingers around her shoulders. “There-there, little dove,” she coos. “We don’t want to be wasting such a thing, tis only a dream, we’re not real, believe that we are just a nightmare, wouldn’t you rather sleep?”
Darkness narrows on the witch. Ages old, they seem, and inside of her eyes the witch sees her own soul, black for the stolen seasons of power, black for the traitorous things she’s done against her own kind for the wizard, and black for the future she will behold for her treachery.
The witch rears back from the girl, away from the visions of pain and death, of the balance the stars promise in retribution for this very night.
She puts a hand to her cheek, wet now with a single tear. She’s seen what she was, but worse, what Tearlach would eventually do to her. How he would dispose of her lifeless body over the quay.
How he’d stand and watch her bloated face sink and be swallowed into the depths of the cold northern ocean.
How he’d never love her.
One would take her place.
Not prettier, but more powerful. A worse thing is the latter.
The wizard yells as more of his bones are broken. “Bind her, Esme! Bind her now!”
But Esme hesitates.
The witch waits as the truth still left in her calls for disobedience. For what is more honest than this ancient power possessed by this child? Why, she could weep at the webbing of such magnificence, a thing sprawling outward, crawling, creeping, reaching for them, trying to set things right. To find something so pure in her lifetime, the witch has heard the tale of a tale of a tale, but no longer… she’s seen it now: sorcery.
Death magic. Not stolen, but gifted.
And it is as if the stars breathe that word into the soul of any who would try to harm their avenger, striking fear into their hearts. “Bonecaller,” they whisper, the balancer of magic is here, the one who perfects the scales of war.
Esme shakes her head, backing away, tripping over her feet, almost hoping the wizard falls beneath the child’s ancient power.
Him or me, she thinks.
“What are you doing!” the wizard cries.
But before the witch is forced to answer, before she can flee, a boy races into the room.
“Mysteria!” he shouts to his twin, holding a sword long as his body, above his head like a warrior, instead of a boy that’s merely a decade old.
He swipes at the wizard and misses, the blade instead catching and sticking in the wooden post of his sister’s bed.
It’s a sword from the Order, the witch would recognize those jewels anywhere.
Someone must have known the girl was special before they’d ever arrived.
Esme backs away from the scene, her hands twisted in her long red mane.
Its destiny played out before her. The boy, his sword, the girl, her power, they’ll see it come to fruition, the fates shifting back against Tearlach -the wizard- and her.
When the little Bonecaller turns her hand onto Esme, the witch is weak.
Esme’s not brave enough to accept her punishment.
She feels the bones in her legs straining, and like the petty, sick thing that she is, she screams out, and begs the little one to stop.
She’d thought she was prepared until the bones inside her skin began to move and split and fracture and shred her insides.
If she could only endure the pain and accept the fate…
Wouldn’t it be a far better one than to be swallowed by the water?
Instead, she crawls across the room, pitiful. She grabs a mirror, and she holds it up showing the girl her reflected self, her reflected power.
It’s the only thing she knows to do.
Having not known her full ability yet, the child only tries harder. A mistake.
Like a young snake loosing far too much venom to its own peril, she pushes her energy to its end.
A grievous error.
Before Esme can stop her, before she can warn the powerful one born one at a time that this is not what is done, the magic is spun backwards from mirror to girl.
The mirror shatters.
And the same as the glass, the little bones break, and the perfect skin tears, and the dark hair and the dark eyes fall.
And the little Bonecaller does not stir again.