Without seeing him move, two obsidian daggers had appeared in Coal’s hands with his eyes scanning the room for exits.
The witches just stood there, glaring at them with stone eyes until one of them started to giggle, she was a stocky woman with thick arms. The giggle turned to a laugh and before anyone knew it, she was rolling on the floor, hysterical.
“Teni,” the main witch groaned, rolling her eyes, “it is always you that spoils it.”
“I’m sorry, Doreen,” Teni said, getting up and cleaning the tears in her eyes, “it’s just so funny.” She pointed at Star, “Did you see the look on her face?”
The main witch cracked a smile, “Yes, it was funny.” Teni mimicked Star’s face and the rest of the witches joined in the laughter.
Coal and Star just stood there.
“What,” Coal said slowly, “the hell is going on?”
Doreen shooed him, “Don’t be angry,” she said, “it’s just a little game we play sometimes when someone new comes to the coven.” She gestured at Star, then she clicked her fingers and the whole décor changed from a dark decrypt cavern to a brightly lit dining room. A long dining table with a candelabra stood with twelve seats on one side and two on the other. Doreen sat in the middle seat, with Teni at her right hand while the rest filled in like there had been a rehearsal.
“Take a seat,” Doreen said, “both of you.”
Star walked to the seat, sat down, and with all the eyes staring at her, she awkwardly waved. Coal stood there standing, glaring.
“I don’t like to be mocked,” said Coal.
“And I don’t like being disturbed before I’ve watched my daily Zee World,” Doreen said and she gestured around her, “yet, here we all are. Sit, dark son. We have a lot to discuss.”
Coal looked at her for one more moment before sitting. Silence fell in the room like dew in the early morning until Star, unable to bear it, spoke.
“I want my mother back,” she blurted.
Doreen looked at her. “Did we take your mother?” She asked. Then she turned to Teni and whispered, “Did we take her mother?” Teni asked Amaka and Amaka asked Lydia who brought out a list from inside her dress, put on her glasses and scanned. After a few minutes she looked up and shook her head.
“My daughter,” she said, “we didn’t take your mother. Maybe you can ask the Witches of Blood and Tears or the Dark Sisters but we can’t help — ”
“I want her back,” Star interrupted, “from the dead.”
There was painful silence in the room as all the witches turned to look at Coal.
He waved a little, “I brought her,” he said, smiling. “Our deal was a hundred customers and, well, here is your… hundredth.”
Doreen looked at him with unimaginable disgust and the fire on the candles glowed a dangerous blue and as she rose sharply from her seat, even Coal shifted backwards a little. She waved her hands sharply and Coal disappeared, appeared at the ceiling of the room and fell all the way down to the ground, groaning in pain. All the witches smiled, but one winced with her fingers wringed under the table.
“A child?” Doreen roared, her eyes starting to glow, blue lightning crackling around her. “You brought a child to us?”
“She…” Coal groaned from the floor, “she…wanted…to come.”
“And so?” Doreen bellowed. “She doesn’t know what she wants, she’s, what, eleven?”
“Twelve,” Star said quietly.
“Twelve,” Doren echoed. “And you brought her here you sick, sick — ”
“I wanted to come,” Star said, standing up. “And I know what I want.” Her eyes started to brim with tears. “I just want to hug my mother again. She died and she died unfairly. She never hurt anybody. All she ever did was take care of me. Please, I just…I just want her back.”
Doreen looked at her and her expression softened as the light in her eyes dimmed and the lightning slowed. “My dear…” she said, before turning to sit back down.
She snapped her fingers and Coal appeared back on the chair, clutching his chest. “I think one of my ribs is broken,” he said through gritted teeth.
Doreen talked on. “Child… let me tell you a story,” she said, “will you listen?”
Star nodded, cleaning her eyes. One of the witches handed her a handkerchief and Star thanked her.
Doreen opened her palms, and one of the flames from the candles flew into her palm and danced there as she spoke. “Centuries ago,” she began, “in a land similar to this, there were three sisters: one older, one younger, and one in between.” As she spoke, the blue flames danced faster, and formed four shapes that strongly resembled little girls and a mother.
“Their father had run off after the youngest was born,” she said, eyeing the flames, “so only the mother was left. And then one day, she died.” One of the flames burnt out into nothingness in Doreen’s palm. “The girls were distraught. They had lost the only person that had cared for them, but they would not allow her go gentle into that good night. And so, they scoured the world for the secrets of life,” she looked at Star and there was a deep sadness there, “and death. And unfortunately, they found answers.”
“Why ‘unfortunately’?” Star asked, her fingers tapping the table.
“Because, my dear,” Doreen answered, “not every question has an answer, and not every answer should be found. Do you understand?” Star nodded but didn’t. Doreen’s eyes lingered on her before she continued, “On the night the ritual was performed, they killed the animals as the old texts instructed them to. They marked their bodies with the same white pigment in the old faded parchments. So, it was remaining only one thing: a soul.”
“A soul?” Star and Coal asked at the same time. Coal was still gripping his chest.
Doreen glared at him but softened at Star. “Yes, a soul. The spell to bring back their mother needed one more thing: the soul of a living human being. For a soul to cross into this place, a soul must leave. There is a balance and that balance must be kept.
“It took some years of searching but they found their candidate. And so, as the man writhed and screamed in pain and fear — for the girls had already cut him, not for the ritual but out of spite — the moon rose, full in the sky, and they killed him.
“Their father.” Doreen’s voice caught, but she continued. “There are spells in this world that require a certain dedication from the caster, a singleness of mind. The youngest was the most stubborn but the most scared and after slaying her father…she was having cold feet, and told the others she would go no further.
“This caused a bitter fight and it could come at no worse time; the ritual had started; they had called on a malevolent power to Earth and now, sensing their disunity, the malevolent power was calling back.” Doreen was quiet for a moment before continuing. “It came in a wave of pure darkness and blue fire and consumed her sisters, corrupting them, turning them into…monsters. Ghouls. They screamed as the power took them and there they are now, on the between of life and death, weeping for all eternity.”
Star leaned forward. “The youngest one,” she said, “What happened to her?”
“She walked the earth for centuries and centuries,” Doreen answered with a sad smile, “looking for answers on how to return her sisters but as I told you, young one… some questions do not have answers.” She leaned back on her seat. “Do you still want to know how to bring back the dead? After this story I have told you, are you willing to bear the burden?”
Star thought about it, biting her lip.
Her mother was her light, her angel. There were days when she was younger and she’d cry because she was scared of the dark and her mother would cuddle her, remind her that stars were scared of the dark too but they shined bright anyway.
She wanted more of those moments.
She wanted her mother back.
“Yes,” Star nodded. “I’m willing.”
Doreen pursed her lips and was quiet for a moment. “The coven will help you,” she said, “but we aren’t known for our free services.”
Star patted her pockets, unnecessarily it seemed. “I don’t have any money,’ she said, looking at Coal.
Coal shrugged. “Neither do I.”
“We don’t want money,” Doreen said, looking at Star’s neck. “For something like this, we will charge in memories.”
“I don’t understand — ” Star began.
“Your necklace,” Doreen cut in, staring at Star’s chest, “I can feel its weight even from here. It’s precious to you, is it not? If you want us to help you, the price is that: the necklace and all the memories in it.”
Star looked down at the necklace and its crude star shape. She still remembered the night her mother had put it on her neck and when it got dark, it glowed, and made her feel safe.
She pulled it off and handed it to Doreen.
Doreen closed her eyes as she wrapped her hands around the necklace, muttering. As she muttered, blue lights flashed around the necklace, Doreen’s hands began to glow and then, Star wondered why Doreen was holding that strange thing in the first place. Who would want to wear something like that.
“To prepare the spell, we’ll need ingredients,” Doreen said as another woman brought a piece of parchment in front of her. “It shouldn’t take you both long to find them. Though, some of them may be a little …troublesome. And you only have tonight.”
“Wait,” Coal said, making the international hand symbol for I have no idea of what is going on, please stop. “What do you mean by ‘both’? I fulfilled my end of the bargain; 100 customers and you’d give me the stone.”
“She is a child and you will make sure she stays alive through all this.” Doreen said, her tone sharp. “After you return, the Golden Orb will be yours.”
“But — ”
“After you return.” Doreen said, her eyes steel. Coal bit his words and sat back in his chair.
“Thank you,” Star said, as she took the list from Doreen.
“Don’t thank me,” Doreen said, “you may think I’m helping you but I’m not. Don’t thank me, child… you don’t know what you’re getting into.”
Coal stood up and Star followed, but as they left, she heard Doreen’s voice in a low whisper that somehow carried though the room.
“Remember this, Star,” she said, dangling the tattered necklace between her fingers as the blue flames consumed it. “Everything has a price. You do not decide whether or not to pay it, all you can do is pay; and it will follow you all your days. And all your nights.”
Star nodded slowly and left the room with Coal, fighting the urge… the urge that told her something was behind her.
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