The following chapter contains elements that some readers may find offensive or triggering, such as bullying, ethnic and transphobic slurs, and harassment on the basis of racism, xenophobia, and transphobia.
READER DISCRETION ADVISED
26 of March 2021 – 2:44 AM
My boots touched down on lush grass as my eyes took in my surroundings. The thin trees were only just regaining their color, but the area was barren enough to grant me a fantastic view of the sky above. I stood not five meters from a dark pond which, from up in the air, appeared to be in the shape of an almost perfect circle.
Most importantly, the area was secluded, and I felt as if I were finally alone with my thoughts. Wondering what to do next.
First things first, I reasoned. I need a circle.
I had no materials to perform a proper ritual, but my intent was not to cast any spells–I just wanted a safe space where I could meditate on things. At a slow, less than deliberate pace, I leaned my broom against a nearby tree and returned to my starting position, spinning to the right until I had the Aquila and Vulpecula constellations in my sight. My glamour was still in effect, and I still wore my anti-magick tracking necklace, so I was virtually invisible.
With a deep breath, I inhaled the magick of night and nature, and breathed out the negativity.
“Txeru errespetatua, mesedez bedeinka nazazu airearen jakinduriaz, askatasuna bilatzen dudalako.”
The westward wind shifted direction and picked up, whipping my hair all around my face as I turned to face south. Once I found the stars Hydrae and Menkent against the inky backdrop, I took another deep breath and whispered:
“Lorea errespetatua, mesedez bedeinka nazazu suaren borondatearekin, ausardia bilatzen dudalako.”
The night air felt considerably warmer than the fifty-degree temperature my phone had reported, and a smile began to tug at my lips as I turned to the right again. I knew I was facing west when I saw the moon nestled in Leo’s breast.
“Itsaso errespetatua, mesedez bedeinka nazazu uraren lasaitasunarekin, ulermena bilatzen dudalako.”
A wave of calm swept over me, washing away my anxious thoughts. Another deep breath, another turn to the right–with Polaris as my guide, I faced north and made my plea to the primordial earth goddess:
“Mendia errespetatua, mesedez bedeinka nazazu lurraren egonkortasunarekin, oreka bilatzen dudalako.”
The surrounding trees seemed to shudder in the breeze as if nature itself was reacting to my circle. I took another slow turn around the circle until I faced west once more, and with my eyes trained on the moon I whispered, “Otsana eta Lilura, ilargiaren eta magiaren jainkosak, arren eskatzen dizut: babestu zirkulu hau nire barrura begiratzen dudan bitartean.”
The moon and stars shimmered in the distance and, empowered by the warmth of the circle, I removed my jacket and laid it out on the ground beneath me as a barrier between my rear and the cold dirt. Sighing, I sat cross-legged as I set my somber gaze upon the moon.
The night was eerily quiet; I heard no chittering of critters in the darkness, nor the chirping of crickets or other bugs. All was still and silent as if the shadows were waiting patiently for me to spill my secrets.
And even then, I wouldn’t speak them aloud. I crossed my arms over my abdomen, hugging myself as I continued to stargaze. My eyes took in the fullness of the ethereal night orb, and I was so swept up in its beauty that I let out a soft sigh. The moon will be completely full on Sunday, so it’s good I came out now instead of then. Hell, it’s technically too dangerous for me to be out and about the week of, but…
My thoughts trailed off as I studied the stars. The moon sat just above Regulus; curiosity led my eyes straight up, and I found the star Arcturus staring down at me.
I smirked. I wish Lilly and Helena were here–Lilly would make an inappropriate joke, and Helena would chastise her…
My friends. I had known them since I was young, and had grown closer to them than anyone else our age, but there was something eating away at me. An itch at the back of my mind, digging deeper still in the hours since before Middy began.
My smile was more of a grimace as I thought back to my second class of the night when a harmless introduction took a turn.
“Cross-bred witches are even more powerful than normal ones. All that power tips the scales, giving those two covens leverage over the others… It means a hell of a lot of trouble for the rest of us.”
“Your existence is a threat in and of itself.”
Then I thought about how Helena had been sitting to my left, and Lilly to my right when Elyse and Edgar said those things. How they had tensed up as soon as Jean-Noël mentioned Max. How they let me combat their cruel words on my own.
“They sat by and said nothing as those other kids said all that shit about me,” I admitted aloud. My words barely registered above a mumble, but speaking them still made it all feel so real. Subconsciously, I hugged myself tighter, my fingers digging into my pajamas. “I guess I never expected Helena to say anything, even though she’s become more confident, but Lilly…”
I recalled how I met the Naismith heir; we all attended the same primary school, and Helena and I were already established as outcasts by our second year. Lilly was popular, blending exceptionally well with the mortals, so she hadn’t really noticed us. At least, that’s what I thought…
SIX YEARS EARLIER
I stumbled backward until I felt the wall of the school building behind me; I pushed myself off and regained my composure, staring up at the girls who had cornered me. “What do you want? Leave me alone!”
Kayleigh Dunleavy smirked. Her hair was a bright and shiny shade of merigold, and her blue eyes regarded me with cocky disdain. “We want you to leave, shrimp. Go back to where you came from.”
Zoe O’Rorke giggled from Kayleigh’s right as she mocked me. “ ‘Waht doo joo wahnt?’ Who even talks like that? So stupid…”
Another girl, who I vaguely remembered as Angie Fedeli, brushed her long, chocolate brown hair over her shoulder. “My dad says she sounds so dumb because she’s a spick who was raised by a British tranny. That he-she couldn’t even teach her to talk right!”
My blood boiled as rage bubbled up within me. “Shut up. Don’t talk bad about Nanny.”
The three of them cackled loudly at my defiant expression. “Or what?” Kayleigh challenged me. “There’s three of us, and you’re the smallest of the class. No one likes you, or your Spanish mom and tranny nanny, so no one’s gonna help you.”
I focused my scowl on Angie. “My dad is Italian. You don’t care that they’re mean to someone who looks like you?”
Angie’s face became flushed with color as she advanced on me, shoving me against the wall. There was so much force behind her action that it nearly knocked the wind out of me. “Shut up! I’m not like you, stupid. I’m from here–you’re from far away. You don’t belong here.”
I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists at my sides. As much as I hated to admit it, I agreed with them. I didn’t belong there–though, not for the xenophobic reasons they had. I was a witch, the second heir to my coven, and mingling with ignorant mortals was the last thing I wanted to do.
That’s when it hit me: I was a witch. I didn’t have to take any of this–all I had to do was say a few words, and I could be done with it.
“Besides, my mom says you don’t have a dad,” Zoe chimed in. “So you’re a liar-spick. Liar!”
“If you don’t leave me alone,” I threatened. “Then I’ll curse your family–I’ll curse all your families.”
Angie’s face contorted in amused disbelief as she glanced over her right shoulder to meet the eyes of her peers. “Did she say ‘curse’?” she scoffed, and the trio dissolved into laughter.
Her hand was still on my chest, pinning me to the wall, so I focused my intent on Angie and muttered: “Amets maitea, eman neska honi amesgaiztoak–”
Suddenly, the four of us were startled when a fifth girl promptly rounded the nearby corner and pushed Angie away from me. My bully fell on her side in the grass; she stared up at the late arrival with a look that did little to disguise her offense. “Lilly–?”
“What are you idiots doing?” demanded Lillian Naismith. Her golden hair shone in the sun as she advanced on the other girls, ignoring me. Angie had jumped onto her feet and was backing away with Zoe and Kayleigh behind her. “Is this your idea of fun? Do you think it’s cool to make fun of people who are different?”
“What’s your problem?” demanded Kayleigh.
“Yeah,” Zoe tried to shrug off Lilly’s seething glare. “We were just playing. Shrimp knows–”
“She has a name, dipshits,” Lilly growled. “If you can’t say her name, then don’t waste her time by being assholes.”
Angie stepped forward, invading Lilly’s personal space. “Why’re you on her side? You’re supposed to be our friends!”
“Yeah, and I just upgraded to a witch bestie!” Lilly shouted. She capitalized her point by shoving Angie away, sending her flying into her cronies. All three girls fell to the grass, their eyes wide with fear and embarrassment. “Fuck off, dumbies! My big sister isn’t here to stop me from beating you up!”
Angie, Kayleigh, and Zoe all scrambled to their feet and ran off, disappearing around the corner as they presumably headed for the playground. I didn’t really care or think about what that meant–that they might go up to Mrs. Banks, our third-grade teacher, and tell her that Lilly and I attacked them. I was too busy watching the most popular girl in our grade in a mixture of wonder and suspicion as she turned to face me. Her hazel eyes were a blend of copper and peanut brown.
“So,” she huffed. “You family invokes Amets?”
I remember my cheeks burning as I shrugged. “We invoke anyone we want.”
Lilly nodded. “Right, De Ardo Coven–no affinity.”
Then the girl with golden hair held out her hand, offering a handshake. “Naismith Coven–we invoke Otsana.”
I took her hand and shook it half-heartedly. “I, um–I wasn’t really gonna curse them–”
“Yes, you were,” Lilly attested. Her eyes seemed to shift to black as she spoke, mimicking shadows in the woods. “I heard you–you were dead serious.”
Then she did something that surprised me; Lilly smiled widely, almost mischievously. “That’s why I like you, de Ardo. You’re not afraid to put these mortals in their place.”
26 of March 2021 – 2:50 AM
Over the course of the next week, Angie came to school complaining of horrific night terrors. I can only imagine how severe–after all, I had invoked the demon of dreams and nightmares, and I had done so with little restraint. Amets was not known for their leniency, so not only did they harass my bully, but they drained my energy slowly over the course of the week. Nanny had to keep me home for the following week and call upon a healer, and my impromptu curse on the mortal girl was revealed. He managed to reverse it just fine, ending her torment as well as cutting the link I foolishly created between myself and the infernal avatar of slumber.
Lilly insisted on hanging out with me, so I had to introduce her to Helena. I half-expected Hel to cower in fear at the Naismith heir’s intimidating energy, but her aura vision told her a different story about the popular girl. I’ll spare you my friend’s life story, but the gist of it was that she was just as bored and pissed at having to deal with mortals as I was. We bonded over that, so much so that Lilly managed to convince Helena and me to terrorize our classmates with some hexes and jinxes. It wasn’t until later that year that Lilly admitted to stumbling upon the altercation a couple of minutes before I thought, and that she had planned on stepping in when she heard me stand up for myself.
For a while there, it felt as if it were the three of us against the world, and I honestly thought nothing could change that.
Then Mami moved us back to the United Kingdom, where I spent my middle school years dodging posh witches and handsy mortals. Seriously, what is it with mortals and physical contact? Keep your hands to yourself…
Anyway, the girls and I kept in touch, sharing everything. My frustration over Val’s seemingly perfect image, Helena’s depression over her parents’ marital troubles, and Lilly’s anger at classmates for making fun of her and her family after Gunnar came out as transgender. Things were looking up when we entered eighth grade–Lilly started dating some mortal boy, which I wasn’t entirely thrilled about, but Helena assured me that she had vetted him before he courted our friend. That was around the time I had first discovered a way around Nanny’s barrier, and the girls were helping me brainstorm spell ideas. Helena’s dad had created a mobile app that appealed to both mortals and magickal beings alike, and it was gaining some traction. We were all doing our own thing, but we still made sure to chat regularly.
Then Mami moved us back, and I got to see my two best friends again…
I sighed and buried my face in my hands, rubbing my eyes. All this reminiscing is making me realize how late it is–and how tired I am.
But why didn’t they say anything? A voice whispered inside. They’re your friends–they’re supposed to care.
I tsked at my own insecurity. They do care–probably more than any other friends I’ve made. They also know me better than anyone else, and they know how important it is to me that I seem independent to the witch community. If they had defended me, it would have defeated everything I’ve been working toward.
With a heaving sigh, I lowered my hands and stared straight ahead at nothing in particular. If they had thought for even a second that I had wanted them to defend me, then they would have. I can’t expect them to read my mind–if I have an issue with how they handled things, then I need to take it up with them instead of grumbling about it…
I hadn’t been speaking aloud, but my inner voice trailed off nonetheless. I scowled, peering into the dark expanse of trees across the pond. The trees and shadows made it difficult to make anything out, but it appeared as if something–someone–was moving between the barren birch trunks.
My body froze, and I held my breath. The shadows shifted, taking shape as they meandered through the woods. I could just barely make out a few details: four legs, dark fur, pointy ears, bulking stature, milky white eyes…
I blinked. White eyes? That has to be a hellhound. I don’t remember any living around here. Either way, they go after mortals, not witches.
My breath was let out in a sigh of relief, and my body had only just begun to relax when the hound’s head snapped to peer in my direction, locking onto me. They stared, their moon-like eyes peering into mine as if they could judge my very soul, and all I could do was stare back with wide eyes.
Hellhounds are part wolf, which makes them part mortal, I rationalized. And mortals and Hunters can’t see through glamour without naiad tears. They might’ve heard me, but they shouldn’t be able to see me–
The creature let out a low, menacing growl that disrupted my thoughts and made my blood run cold.
They can’t see me, they can’t see me, they can’t see me–
My heart rate skyrocketed when the hellhound lunged in my direction, clearing one-third of the distance between us in a single bound. Oh, shit!