The Incense of the Quadrivium’s Mystiques

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  • #7300

      Spring was upon them.

      “Bloody too early, if you ask me” said Malové, the Head of the Coven of Mystiques, but just CEO of Quadrivium Emporium to the outside world.

      “Meow.” Only the Coven’s familiar, a clichéd black cat dared to voice what seemed to have been the common thought. How tedious, so much spring cleaning of the collective energies to do, and almost 2 months ahead of schedule. Blame the telluric energies catch-up with the cosmic downpour of the world’s mind agitation. Or global warming, as it’s labelled nowadays.

      “You know how it goes.” Malové continued. “We set the tone of the stories ahead. And it can only be done by actually writing it. Yeah, how exciting. Like conducting an orchestra in a zoo, there’s plenty of potential, but I guess we’ll have to work on our priorities.”

      “Do you mean keeping the zoo’s hyenas from eating everybody else?” Frigella was not one to beat around the bush.

      “Yeah, something like that. And you know how you control hyenas?”

      The witches assembled looked at each other sideways.

      “The Whale would tell you it’s a lovely story of shared resonance, forging bonds based on trust… But that’s a load of bollocks. Some emotions are only managed through stronger ones – so let’s do what we do best, get our Incense ready, and put some order in this bloody chaotic mess. Who wants to start?”


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      While the other sisters were mingling, and trying to figure out with some circumspection, the good which could come out of this union, Eris had retreated in a quieter corner of the cloister. After all, and despite the renovations made to cater to external seminars, workshops and celebrations, it remained a place of mystery and introspection. The stone walls had this deep cold quietness which felt refreshing in the scolding heat of things.

      For the past weeks, Eris was mulling over the impossible assignment given by Austreberthe to conduct a reorganisation, which seemed preposterious. Now, with the merger in motion, it had become plain for the Quadrivium board of directors that there was a need to change their way.

      Put in another way, they were basically saying that the autonomous functioning of their small squads of witches wasn’t helping for a larger expansion, and had to move to more industrial separation of tasks, something of a matricial organisation. The irony wasn’t lost on her — talking about mothers, matrix, but actually being more bent to patriarchal structure with all the new additions asked for by the merger of figureheads: head of product, head of delivery, head of convergence all these new roles to invent —yet feeling thoroughly alien, akin to grafting machine onto a living organism. The Quadrivium had always thrived on its autonomous squads, and the idea of industrialising their structure seemed almost heretical.

      The undertakers consultants, with their methodical approach were supposed to help, but she hadn’t been able yet to make them work for her, as she could see them struggle with the finer nuances of their craft.

      Looking for inspiration in the quiet space she’d found, Eris closed her eyes, drawing a deep breath. Her mind wandered to her Aunt Amara’s garden, where order and chaos coexisted in a delicate balance.

      A plan started to present itself, almost like one of those annoying lists that Malové would often love to provide.

      It had to start with mapping the terrain —the existing strengths of the autonomous groups in the coven. It would require documenting their capabilities, ongoing projects, and key members, creating a clear picture of what the coven had to offer.

      Then to look at potential synergies between the squads and the new roles Austreberthe envisioned. The Head of Product could harness the creative energies of the crafting squad, while the Head of Delivery might streamline the efforts of those specializing in executing the vision into tangible deliverables. The Head of Convergence would need to be a master diplomat, someone who could bridge the gap between the nuns and the witches.

      More subtle, but with potential, the next step came in boldly, with an impudence that could mean as much genius as it could spell out disaster: Hybrid Squads. Instead of dismantling the existing groups of the coven, she could propose hybrid squads. Each hybrid squad would retain its core identity but include members from the Cloister Crafts and have a liaison to the new heads. This way, the squads could maintain their autonomy while integrating new skills and perspectives.

      She took a moment to ponder the implications.

      Eris knew she would need to test this approach before full-scale implementation. She would start with pilot projects, assigning a few key squads to work under the new structure. Regular feedback sessions would allow adjustments and refinements, ensuring the system evolved organically.

      That would be where the Morticians’ Guild would be able to support more directly. Garrett and Silas could facilitate the integration rituals and workshops to ease any lingering tensions. Rufus would ensure security, while Nemo, the analyst, would provide insights into improving efficiencies without compromising their magical integrity.

      All this needed a catalyst, or this plan would drag on forever.

      Drag on…

      Nothing like a dragon crisis to put things in motion! There surely were abundant dragon energy left in those tunnels, powerful telluric energies to muster into a spell to invigorate and cement the newfound alliance between witches and nuns.

      She snapped her fingers. Echo who was never far away, reappeared with a smirk. “I can see you have some devious idea. How can I help?”


      Equally, Eris could have associated the play dragging on with a get your drag on, and thrown a party.  In another possible dimension, she probably did.


      Silas and Jeezel in a secluded lounge

      Silas led Jeezel into a secluded lounge, a hidden gem within the ancient cloister that seemed to be frozen in time. The atmosphere was thick with the scent of sandalwood and myrrh, mingling with a musty, earthy fragrance with undertones of aged woods.

      Jeezel stopped a moment, in awe at the grand tapestries adorning the walls. They depicted scenes of epic battles between dragons and saints, the vibrant threads weaving tales of heroism and divine intervention. The dragons, captured in mid-roar with scales that seemed to shimmer with a life of their own, contrasted starkly agains the faces of the saints, their halo glowing softly in the dim light. Always the sensitive nose, Jeezel detected hints of incense and aged spices absorbed over centuries by the fabric, with a faint trace of mildew lingering on old stones and the faint sweetness of preserved herbs. She shivered.

      Silas invited her to seat on one of the high-backed chairs upholstered in deep burgundy velvet that surrounded a massive oak table, carved with runes and symbols of protection. Jeezel frowned at the oddity to find pagan magic in a convent. As she sat the fabric of her gown brushed agains the plush velvet with a delicate sliding sound, like a faint sigh. The flickering flames of candelabras cast dancing shadows across the room, around which an array of curious relics and artifacts were scattered–an astrolabe here, a crystal ball there, and various objects of mystical significance.

      Despite being an aficionado of pageants and grand performances, Jeezel couldn’t say she wasn’t impressed. Silas, ever the pillar of calm and wisdom, took a seat at the table, his fingers tracing the runes carved into the wood.

      Jeezel,” he began, his voice a soothing balm against the room’s charged energy, “I know I can trust you. Before we delve into the heart of these rituals, I must tell you something.”

      Man! Here we are, she thought. She tensed on her chair.

      “There are some people who would rather see the merger fail. They are doing anything in their power to foster such an outcome. We cannot let them win.”

      Jeezel’s face tightened and she struggled to maintain her composure. She tapped with her fingers on the table to distract the head mortician’s attention and help her regain a stoic demeanor. Her mind raced weighing the implications. Malové had said that the Crimson Opus wasn’t just any artifact, it was key to immense power and knowledge, something that could tip the scales in their favour. How she regretted at that moment she had not paid enough attention at the merger meeting. Now, Malové was gone, somewhere, and Jeezel wasn’t even sure the postcard she had sent the coven was real. All she knew was that Malové counted on her to find that relic. And for that, she had to step in what appears to be a nest of vipers. She reminded herself she had survived worse competition in the past and still won her trophies with pride.

      “Silas,” she said, her voice measured but with an edge of tension, “this complicates things more than I anticipated. We have enough on our hands ensuring the rituals go smoothly without sabotage.” She paused, taking a deep breath to steady herself. “But we cannot allow these factions to succeed. The merger is crucial for our mutual survival advancement. We’ll need to be vigilant, Silas. Every step we take, every ritual we perform, must be meticulously guarded. And we must identify who these adversaries are, and what they are planning.” She wished Malové would see her in that instant. She craved support from anyone. She looked at Silas, her eyes full of hope he could help. “I have a task from Malové that is of paramount importance,” she started and almost jumped from the chair when her hedgehog amulet almost tased her. A warning. Her mind suddenly found a new clarity. She realized she has been about to tell him about the Crimson Opus. Jeezel noticed the man’s finger was still caressing the runes on the table. Had he been casting a spell on her? She shook her head.

      “Those six rituals cannot be compromised. I’ll need your help to ensure that we succeed. We must be prepared to act swiftly and decisively.”

      Silas’ hand froze. He nodded. She wasn’t sure there wasn’t some irritation in his voice when he said: “You have my full support, Jeezel. We’ll strengthen our defenses and keep a close watch on any suspicious activities. The stakes are too high for failure.”

      Did he mean that he would keep a close eye on her next moves? She’d have to be careful in her search of the Crimson Opus. She realized she needed some help. Malové, you entrusted me with that mission. Then, you’d have to trust me with whom I choose to trust.


      After the meeting, Jeezel and Silas agreed on what the six rituals would be. The integration rituals were designed to unite the groups symbolically and spiritually. They were multifaceted ceremonies that combine elements from each group’s traditions to forge a shared sense of purpose and harmony, mediated by the mortician’s guild. Given the diverse nature of the witches, nuns, and morticians, these rituals needed to be both inclusive and meaningful, drawing on the unique strengths and spiritual practices of each faction.

      The program they distributed to each participant was as follow:

      Under the guidance of the Ancient Telluric Forces of the Dragons

      1. The Invocation of Unity

      Purpose: To call upon the spiritual and magical forces that guide each group and seek their blessings for the union.

      • Witches: Incantations and invocations to elemental spirits and deities.
      • Nuns: Hymns and prayers invoking divine blessings.
      • Morticians: Rituals honoring the spirits of the departed, seeking their guidance and protection.

      Symbolism: This ritual emphasizes the shared respect for higher powers and the mutual desire for harmonious collaboration.

      2. The Weaving of Fate

      Purpose: To create a physical symbol of their intertwined destinies.

      • Witches: Magical threads imbued with protective charms and blessings.
      • Nuns: Sacred textiles woven with prayers and religious symbols.
      • Morticians: Ribbons representing life, death, and the transition between them.

      Symbolism: By weaving these threads together into a single tapestry, the groups create a tangible manifestation of their unified path forward.

      3. The Concordia Cauldron

      Purpose: To brew a potion that represents their collective energy and intent.


      • Witches: Magical herbs, crystals, and other mystical ingredients.
      • Nuns: Holy water and sacred relics.
      • Morticians: Ashes from ritual fires and symbols of purification.

      Symbolism: The potion, once blessed and distributed, serves as a means of internalizing the collective spirit and shared goals of the unified group.

      4. The Harmonious Choir

      Purpose: To blend their voices and energies in a powerful, resonant harmony.


      • Witches: Chants and spells sung in unison.
      • Nuns: Choir hymns and sacred music.
      • Morticians: Melodic recitations of ancient rites.

      Symbolism: The act of creating music together represents the harmony they strive to achieve in their collaboration, with each voice contributing to a greater whole.

      5. The Altar of Convergence

      Purpose: To create a shared sacred space where offerings and symbols from each group are placed.


      • Witches: Ritual objects, such as wands, crystals, and candles.
      • Nuns: Holy relics, icons, and prayer books.
      • Morticians: Mementos of the deceased, symbolizing the continuity of life and death.

      Symbolism: The combined altar serves as a focal point for their united efforts, a place where they can come together to seek guidance and reaffirm their commitment to the union.

      6. The Ceremony of Reflection and Projection

      Purpose: To reflect on the past, acknowledge individual and collective strengths, and set intentions for the future.


      • Witches: Scrying mirrors and crystal balls for reflection and foresight.
      • Nuns: Candles representing illumination and enlightenment.
      • Morticians: Artifacts representing the cyclical nature of life and death.

      Symbolism: This ceremony encourages each member to contemplate their role within the new union and visualize the path ahead, fostering a sense of shared vision and purpose.

      Supervision by Jeezel and Silas

      Jeezel: With her deep connection to magical energies and her knack for emotional resonance, she will ensure that each ritual maintains its mystical integrity and spiritual depth. She will guide the participants in channeling their energies harmoniously and with clear intent.

      Silas: His analytical mind and authoritative presence will bring structure and order to the rituals. He will ensure that each component is meticulously planned and executed, maintaining the balance between tradition and innovation.

      Together, Jeezel and Silas will oversee the integration rituals, blending their unique approaches to create a unified and cohesive experience that honors the diverse traditions of the witches, nuns, and morticians. Their combined leadership will ensure that the rituals not only symbolize but also spiritually solidify the union of these distinct groups.

      Now, all that remained was to ask for volunteers or to assign the roles in the rituals to everyone. And for Jeezel to reveal the hidden mission to her three friends.


      It was a good thing that Mother Lorena, who was notoriously hard of hearing was not within earshot.

      She would have been horrified at the mention of conduction of “six rituals” in those hallowed grounds.

      Luckily, she was busy reviewing and stoking fireplaces around the convent, due to the unexpected cold snap due to the Sahara sands painting the skies in a somber reddish darkly dark.


      Meanwhile, Eris who has followed Echo’s instructions after the sprite had LiDAR’d the underground spaces, had quickly found herself in the underground ways thanks to its instructions, close to the telluric surges origins. She could see there were pockets of magma softly bubbling underground. The upstairs agitation seemed to have stirred the currents.

      A little spell, used wisely, would do just fine – as an omen, or as a threat, all sorts of motivations tactics which had the best of intentions in order to dispel tensions, with just the right alignment of energies… as touching the earth’s core, needed summoning of both respect and precision.

      Ignis Draconis, come to form, Through the earth, through the storm, Guided by my whispered call, Rise, smoke dragons, one and all.


      As Frigella, deep in her investigation of Herma’s cottage, meticulously examined the chest’s contents looking for potential clues missed at first glance that could explain more about the postcard, with its distinctive stamp featuring an ear of maize, she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.

      “By the gods, not that interloper again,” she muttered under her breath, sensing the familiar prickling at the back of her neck. She knew Cedric’s gaze all too well—part curiosity, part menace. The young witch hunter was like a moth to a flame, drawn to the coven’s mysteries and, more specifically, to Frella herself, for reasons that likely perplexed even him.

      Herma, oblivious to the undercurrents, continued to sift through the chest with Frella. As the silence thickened, Frella’s mind wandered to the last encounter with Cedric. His naïve bravado was almost laughable, yet there he was, lurking in the shadows, ever the novice hunter out of his depth.

      “Careful, Herma,” Frella warned with a sharp glance at the window. “We may have an unwelcome observer. This certain Cedric Spellbind has a knack for being where he shouldn’t.”

      Herma chuckled, dismissing the tension with a wave. “Him? A mere boy chasing phantoms. He won’t bother us.”

      Frella wasn’t so sure. Spellbind’s persistence was a nettlesome thorn, yet she knew how to handle such a busybody. For now, she would focus on the task at hand, but a mental note was made: keep an eye on Cedric. He was, after all, as unpredictable as the spring winds that brought them here far too early.


      When Sister Penelope Pomfrett realised she’d lost her assigned witch guest, Eris-what’s-her-name, she started to feel anxious.

      Not one to revel in shortcomings, she promptly went about ferreting though the corridors, while the various nuns and guests were still enjoying their libations and ceremonious rituals exchanges.

      A cry of anguish resonated through the halls. “Smoke! Smoke!” followed by a mild agitation, which felt one-sided amongst the nuns. Maybe the incense witches were more accustomed to those smoke mishaps, and were not as quick to call fire in alarm. But here in the thick of Spanish summer, unattended smoke could wreck certain havoc.

      Penelope was about to jump into the circle called by the elder sisters to contain the smoke, when she abruptly bumped into someone. It was that mortician, the quiet one, Nemo.

      She couldn’t help but to mutter some form of apology, yet anxious to get going.

      “Sister,” he said with a voice that was commanding calm in the midst of chaos. “You need to calm down, this won’t last, and I’m sure your sisters have this under control.”

      “What would you know about that?” she felt her mind go numb, and found herself following him with too much abandon.

      “Call it a hunch. Not all is as it seems here, and us morticians, are well-taught in the arts of not only preservation, but as well of hidden truths.”

      Indeed, the ruckus seemed to fade already in the distance. Penelope looked more closely at the gentleman. He seemed rather innocuous, and not sufficiently handsome to make her break her chastity vows, even if some would find his brooding rugged charm attractive. Yet, he was making her curious.

      “So that’s what you do when there’s no dead body to attend to?”

      “In a manner of speaking, yes. But don’t worry, the night is young, and death is never far.” He said with a quiet smile.

      Penelope brushed aside the shivering feeling that coursed through her spine. “Could you make yourself useful dear, I’m looking for my assigned Quadrivium witch. The one with the blue hair, any chance you’ve seen her? These grounds are not safe for the non-initiates.”

      “No, I don’t think I have seen her, but I’m sure you can whip up a location spell before vespers are done…”

      “Yes, it’s not that. There’s too much chaos magic at work now, it could backfire. Have you no idea why we have those tapestries with dragons on it?”

      “I have a small idea. Templar Knights of the Crimson Order?”

      “Something like that. The cloister has been build as an atonement by a noble lady, centuries ago — it was said, to appease old spirits who were vanquished in mythical battles.” Penelope held her breath. “Some say they’re still close by. Even more so at the solstice.”

      “So better not to trifle with the energies right now,” Nemo said, extending his elbow in an old-fashioned chivalrous gesture. “Let’s find your witch friend together, shall we?”


      After an eternity of cordial superficial conversation with a vertitable horde of new characters, and despite that some of them seemed either potentially interesting, possibly entertaining, or just downright intriguingly bizarre, Truella badly needed a quiet moment to herself, or in other words, a cigarette.  Excusing herself from a strained attempt at getting to know a prim thin lipped nun whose name escaped her, Truella made her way over to the cloisters beyond the open doors. The courtyard beckoned, a breath of fresh air and a peaceful respite.

      Leaning against a pillar, Truella took a drag on her cigarette, exhaling long and slowly. Perhaps it was just the shafts of sunlight making it seem that there was so much smoke.  It hadn’t been too bad, after all. What an assorted bag they all were!  Truella hadn’t given any thought to what all these new people she was to merge with would be like ~ she’d been focused on the intrusion into her own pursuits that such a thing would inevitably entail.

      Rufus seemed to be keeping his distance, but Truella was relishing it, like knowing there’s cheesecake in the fridge for a midnight snack.  Surprisingly, the two nuns Sandra and Sassafras seemed like good eggs underneath those dreadful habits. Truella was glad that Sassafras was her partner for the ritual; certainly it would have been worse with one of those silent ones. She wondered if Sassafras had anything planned, and if she should have thought about the ritual sooner. But then, how could she have known? The assumption had been that the partners would meet, and then come up with something together.   Wasn’t it just a fun getting to know each other game kind of thing?

      “How many cigarettes are you smoking out here?” Sandra laughed, “Can’t say I blame you though, gawd, will it never end.”  Coughing, she lit a cigarette.  “What is it you’re smoking anyway? What a funny smell, like the bowels of the earth.”

      Truella Smoke

      Truella thought this was rather rude, but had to admit that the smoke did smell peculiar.  “That’s exactly what it smells like. And that smoke isn’t from my cigarette.”

      Fee Fi Finnley Fum, I smell the smoke of a dragon’s bum,Sandra tried to laugh and failed.  “Oh, heck. I don’t like dragons.”

      “Neither do I,” Truella didn’t like the sound of this at all, but it had given her an idea for her ritual.


      Rufus was not a man for small talk and the past couple of hours had been punishing for a man of his reticent character.  He would have liked to get to know Truella better to try and recall which life he’d known her in, for he was sure now that it wasn’t a past encounter in this one, but that was not something to discuss in a crowded room. It would have to wait.  Despite being a serious man himself, he had found the more frivolous and jolly witches and nuns more compatible than the severe looking grim ones.  Even so, having to meet and speak to so many people in such a short time was overwhelming.

      As soon as he could politely do so, he excused himself. Avoiding the smoky courtyard, he wandered around the labyrinthine building looking for another way outside.  There were tapestries hanging on the walls in every room, ancient and faded, many with unusual designs.  Rufus photographed them all in order to have a closer look at them later in the solitude of his room.  The wall hanging with the frogs caught his eye in particular, and without thinking he found himself touching the Punic frog amulet hanging on his chest underneath his white silk shirt.  As he lingered looking at the frog tapestry, he was startled by the swish of Bartolo’s robes behind him.  Bartolo looked at him keenly for what seemed like an interminable length of time but in reality was only a moment. Damn it, he seemed familiar too.

      “Exquisite decor, Brother, I like this one in particular. Such needlework! May I ask the provenance of this specimen?”  Rufus tried to lighten the mood, not that lightening the mood had ever been his strong suit.  “It looks very old, I assume this is not a recently made handicraft?”

      Brother Bartolo decided to play along. He had recognised Rufus immediately, as if the name wasn’t enough of a clue, his eyes were exactly the same as old Rufino’s had been.  Rufino, one of the oldest Punic families in Baetica. Oh, Bartolo remembered them well.

      “That one has been hanging here since well before the convent was built,” Bartolo explained.  “It happens to be one of my favourites.  Another glass of cordial, sir?”

      “No thank you Brother, I need some fresh air. I’d like to see the gardens, if I may.”

      “Follow me,” replied Bartolo, as he lumbered down the passage.  “The kitchen gardens are through here.  There’s a gate at the end of that path to the rest of the grounds. Don’t worry about the mongoose, they’re quite tame.”

      Such was the relief to be outside on his own, that Rufus didn’t immediately wonder what Brother Bartolo had meant.  That frog tapestry had been hanging right there since before the convent was built? Hanging on what?  Rufus’s hand involuntarily clutched his amulet again.


      After everyone got the program for the six rituals, they dispersed. Jeezel observed groups reform and the whereabouts of people. Eris walked alone toward the dark corridors. Truella, Sandra and Sassafras went to the gardens. Rufus followed shortly after, his dark moody eyes showing intense reflections. Jeezel noticed that Bartolo from the convent had been observing the mortician and hurried to catch up with him. Mother Lorena stood as stern as ever in the center of the lobby. She kept cupping her hands around her ears to check if her earpieces were working. Which they weren’t from the irritated look on her face. Silas was in an animated discussion with Austreberthe and the remaining nuns were laughing heartily and running around as if they had overindulged in Sister Sassafras’ hallucinogenic mushroom canapés.

      Jeezel decided to go back to the lounge and explore the antiques, maybe see if there were hidden passageways behind those tapestries. She found Garrett waiting for her in the corridor as if he knew what she intended to do. His deep blue eyes seemed to embrace her whole silhouette in a myriad of unspoken emotions, and when they settle on her emerald green eyes, a subtle grin showed his appreciation.

      “Don’t look back,” he said, his voice a deep velvet baritone. “Old Silas and Austreberthe are looking at us with a very disapproving look.”

      Jeezel couldn’t help but chuckle softly. “And what if they do? We’re not doing anything wrong.”

      Garrett’s grin widened. He took a step closer, the scent of his cologne– a tantalizing mix of cedarwood and bergamot– mingling with the faint aroma of her own enchanting perfume.

      “You intrigue me, Jeezel. More than the rituals, more than any relic or spell.”

      Jeezel laughed heartily. Don’t they say keep your enemy close? I have questions for him. And I wouldn’t mind the company while I’m exploring the area? she thought.

      “I was about to check for secret passages in the old lounge,” she said. “Would you join me?”

      She let him take her hand and guide her toward the lounge. As they entered the heavy scent of aged wood and old books greeted them. Jeezel’s eyes darted to the tapestries lining the walls, each depicting scenes of ancient rituals and forgotten histories.

      “Where do you think we should start?” Garrett asked, his deep voice barely above a whisper, adding to the mysterious ambiance of the room.

      Jeezel tilted her head, considering the possibilities. “That one,” she said, pointing to a particularly intricate tapestry depicting a moonlit garden. “It looks like it could hide something.” She reached out to the fabric and pulled it aside, revealing a wooden door. She tensed when she noticed lingering traces of cedarwood and bergamot. “Or someone,” she added, turning toward him. “You’ve been here recently, have you not?”

      “Direct as ever. Very well. I’m here to protect and help you. You need to be careful with Silas. He has hidden motives.”

      Jeezel narrowed her eyes. “And why should I trust you?”

      Garrett pulled out his crimson handkerchief from his pocket, revealing a symbol embroidered in gold. Her eyes widened as identical to the one on the key Malové had given her.

      “How did you get that?” she asked.

      Malové entrusted me with this,” Garret explained, “to show her chosen allies. I was told to seek you out and offer you my assistance. This symbol matches the one on your key, doesn’t it?”

      Jeezel felt the weight of the key in her purse. She hadn’t shown it to anyone, not even to her friends. She felt even more confused than before. It was possible that Silas would try to divert her attention from him if he was against the merger. And what better way to do than alert her to unknown enemies. The fact that Garrett knew about the key just added a layer of complexity to the situation, but also a layer of excitement. She wondered what game was being played here, and who were the true players.

      “Alright, Garrett,” she said, her voice steadying as she added, “I’ll hear you out. But if you’re lying, you’ll regret it.”

      He nodded. “Faire enough. Silas isn’t just interested in the failure of the merger; he’s got his own agenda. Something to do with ancient punic artifacts and power that could rival even the Crimson Opus. And he’s not the only one. There are some ancient Punic families that are looking for the same things.”

      Jeezel’s heart skipped a beat. If Silas was after the same kind of power, it could jeopardize everything—the merger, her mission, and possibly the balance of power in their world. Jeezle felt she was in way over her head. She had to breathe and connect to her inner Queen’s innate knowledge in order to slide into her role of leader.

      “Then, I accept your assistance,” she conceded with a slight node. “But this doesn’t mean I trust you, Garrett. You’ll have to prove your loyalty.”

      Garrett folded the handkerchief back into his pocket. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. For now, let’s just say our interests align. And if we work together, we might just come out of this with everything we need—and more.”

      “Then show me where this hidden door lead!”


      “What? Malové sent you a personal letter? And a golden key! We merely had a memo for the merger,” Truella said, pacing quickly in Jeezel’s bedroom.

      “You’ve been swooning over Mr. Dark since we got here,” said Jeezel. “Have you even checked your own things? Maybe you have some kind of message or clue or I don’t know what. But stop pacing like that, you’ll bore a hole in my floor.”

      “That’s not your floor,” said Truella with fire in her eyes.

      “Girls, stop. That’s not the point,” said Eris, her voice carrying icy breeze of Sweden’s coldest winters. “We don’t even know if that message is from Malové.”

      “What do you mean?” asked Jeezel and Truella in unison.

      “Yes, what do you mean?” asked a floating glowing orb with Frella’s voice.

      Eris brushed a few sparkling dark purple powder from her chest. “Bloody dragon soot,” she muttered. “Well, from what you told us, Silas tried to jinx you when you were discussing about the rituals. Baiting you with the idea that there are amongst or around us forces that would rather see this merger fail. Then, conveniently, handsome Garrett comes to your rescue and warns you about Silas’ evil plot, and talks to you about the very thing Malové supposedly entrusted you with in that letter, and muddying the waters even further with that tale about ancient Punic families.”

      “What’s wrong with Punic families,” said Truella.

      “Why are you blushing?” asked Jeezel.

      “The point is, that it could very well be part of a plot to plant doubts about everyone and everything, so that we make the merger fail ourselves.”

      “And then exit the witches from the picture,” said Frella’s glowing voice.

      “But who could possibly have hidden the envelope amongst my things without me noticing?” asked Jeezel.

      “Who comes and goes into your home?” asked Eris.

      “Yes, who?” asked Truella with a sudden renewed interest.

      After a few moments of reflection, Jeezel raised her hand to her mouth. “You can’t mean Joe? My fan’s brother who came to do some works for me.”

      “I don’t mean anything. But if I recall well, you mentioned you gave him the keys or your home so that he could come do the repairs whenever you’re not there.”

      “You gave him your keys?” asked Truella, her eyes wide open.

      “But Luminia would have seen him.”

      “Well even a familiar needs to go out sometimes.”

      “Or maybe after a torrid night, when you’re finally resting,” suggested Truella.

      Ooh! You would love that!” Jeezel said. Then she put the back of her hand on her forehead and moaned: “My brain’s not made for that kind of messy story. I can’t investigate, do the rituals, flirt with the enemy. There are too many things to do and too many possibilities.”

      “There, dear. You have us now,” said Eris, still brushing the dragon soot from her dress.

      “And I know one who needs to go to the bottom of a chest,” added Truella. “Frella, we need you here.”

      “I’m not sure,” Frella said. “I guess someone has to investigate what really happened to Malové. Who knows if that postcard and that love affair are even real? I’ll let you know.”


      “If you ask me,” said Trella, although nobody had, “If anyone wants the merger to fail, it’ll be someone from the Cloisters.”

      “Seems like none of us want it, why single them out?” asked Frella. “Well,” she added, glancing at Eris, “Not all of us maybe but for most of us it’s just a hassle.  Just more work, and no real benefits for the likes of us, anyway.”

      “Think about it, Frell.  Sure, it’s just a nuisance for the witches and the nuns, but not enough of a bother to play with fire meddling with far grander schemes.  That’d be way out of the depth of most of us, I’m sure.   But there’s more going on at the Cloisters than meets the eye. There are other, er, things here, things that don’t want change.”

      “Like what?” asked Eris in a doubtful tone.

      “I don’t know but I can feel it. Can’t you? Eris, you’re so busy looking at spread sheets and finances you are losing your second sight! The undercurrents are bubbling up so much we’ll drown before long!  We’re all looking at each other with suspicion, and meanwhile….”

      “You mean we can trust the Morticians?” asked Jeezel hopefully.  Eris glared at her.

      “Maybe,”  Trella said.  “Maybe.  We don’t know anything for sure yet.  But I suggest we stop looking at the nuns, I mean the ordinary rank and file nuns,  and the morticians with suspicion and focus on the place itself.  There’s a long dark history to this place.  And if you ask me, Brother Bartolo knows something.”

      “Surely he’s not behind the whole thing!”

      “Not behind the whole thing, no, but he knows something.  And the gardener, Brother Babbit. Sassafras told me there’s nothing Brother Babbit doesn’t know about the history of this place, but that he only wants to talk about the plants, you know, the local wildlife and such. And,”  Truella paused dramatically, “Sandra dropped something out while we were smoking weed in the orchard after the reception.  She said Brother Bartolo said he’d seen the Sisters of the Sacred Sepulchre roaming around in the cellar, waiting for orders!”

      “The sisters of the friggen what?”  Jeezel  sighed. Not more characters to convolute everything even more! “Roaming around in the cellars? Oh come on!”

      “And that’s not all,” Truella lowered her voice to a whisper. “Sassafras said something about them being reanimated.”

      Finally, Eris started taking Truella seriously. “Reanimation? I don’t like the sound of that. We’d better find out as much as we can about the sisters of the cellars, who are they, I mean who were they, have they been reanimated before, and what were the circumstances.”

      “Right ho, I’ll just boogle it, shall I?” Jeezel said sarcastically.

      Eris rolled her eyes. “No need for the snark. The clues will be here, right here at the Cloisters. We need to check the library, look in every room for clues, check out all the tapestries and paintings, speak to Brother Bartolo and Brother Babbit, but without making them suspicious, mind!  Just pretend an interest in history, no mention of the merger! Keep it light!  And keep it light with the morticians, but keep it superficial, until we know more. And then…,” Eris looked at each of them. “we need to go down to the cellars.  I suggest we do that together.”

      “We need Frella to come for that,” Truella stated the obvious. The others murmured their agreement.


      “A possession spell? Are you out of your mind?” Jeezel looked at Eris’ suggestion with a painful wincing look.

      “Desperate times…” she sighed. “And if we need Frella’s on Malové’s case, how is she to pop in and out?

      “But whom to possess now? Surely not a reanimated nun corpse from the crypts?”

      “Well, you know it’s better to find someone with a… simple mind.”


      Whether or not Truella’s suggestion proved to be true or not, and time would tell, she couldn’t help wondering about the letter Malove had sent to Jeezel. Was it genuine? Had she, Truella, also received one?  Jeezel had asked if she’d checked her bags, and the truth was that she had not.

      She made her way slowly up the grand staircase, holding the banister to steady herself as she looked at all the tapestries. How strange they were, a series of smaller cloths all of a similar theme, all of corpulent nuns in crimson red robes, not in itself a strange thing in an old convent, but they all had the faces of frogs.

      frog sisters 1frog sisters 2frog sisters 3frog sisters 4


      “I see you’ve noticed them too, Truella,” Rufus said quietly, his hand reaching under his shirt for a moment.

      “Thank goodness I was holding onto the bannisters, you startled me! I didn’t see you there. I could have fallen to my death on the tiled floor below, Rufus.”

      “I’d have saved you. As I always have done,” He replied enigmatically.  “Do you recognise them now?” he asked, glancing pointedly at the embroidered cloths.

      Truella paused. What was going on here? Was he trying to distract her?  “Rufus, we need to talk,” she said quietly. “I’m going to my room to look for, er, something. Come with me.”


      “Or someone willing would do.”

      Moments ago, the witches had turned at the uninvited guest who had appeared out of nowhere in the middle of their brainstorm.

      Sister Audrey was in the corner, and looked at the assembled lot with a cold stare. “Any witch worth her salt knows that. It’s better for a possession spell to be on willing host, the simpletons are really last resort. I’ll do it. I understand you need your coven to uncover some mysteries, and what’s best than to start trusting each others.”

      Truella, Jeezel, Eris looked at the floating orb with a question mark on their face.

      “What say you Frella?”

      Frella, at a loss for words, and mildly peer-pressured, replied “oh FFS, I suppose so.”


      “Wait! Look at that one up there!” Truella grabbed Rufus’s arm. “That cloth hanging right up there by the rafters, see it? Have you got a torch, it’s so dark up there.”

      Obligingly, Rufus pulled a torch out of his leather coat pocket.  “That looks like…”

      Brother Bartolo 2


      “Brother Bartolo!” Truella finished for him in a whisper.  “Why is there an ancient tapestry of him, with all those frog faced nuns?”

      Rufus felt dizzy and clutched the bannisters to steady himself. It was all coming back to him in a rush: images and sounds crowded his mind, malodorous wafts assailed his nostrils.

      “Why, whatever is the matter?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Come, come and sit down in my room.”

      “Don’t you remember?” Rufus asked, with a note of desperation in his voice. “You remember now, don’t you?”

      “Come,” Truella insisted, tugging his arm. “Not here on the stairs.”

      Rufus allowed Truella to lead him to her room, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He was so damn hot in this leather coat.  The memories had first chilled him to the bone, and then a prickly sweat broke out.

      Leading him into her room, Truella closed and locked the door behind them.  “You look so hot,” she said softly and reached up to slide the heavy coat from his shoulders.  They were close now, very close.  “Take it off, darling, take it all off. We can talk later.”

      Rufus didn’t wait to be asked twice. He slipped out of his clothes quickly as Truella’s dress fell to the floor. She bent down to remove her undergarments, and raised her head slowly. She gasped, not once but twice, the second time when her eyes were level with his manly chest.  The Punic frog amulet! It was identical to the one she had found in her dig.

      A terrible thought crossed her mind. Had he stolen it? Or were there two of them?  Were they connected to the frog faced sisters?  But she would think about all that later.

      “Darling,” she breathed, “It’s been so long….”


      The door knob of Truella’s bedroom turned, and then rattled. Sated and sleepy, she ignored it. Then an insistant rapping of knuckles sounded.  Rufus looked at the door, and back to Truella.

      “Ignore it, it’s probably the maid,” she said. “But what a time to come, at siesta time.”

      The knocking got louder and a voice hissed through the keyhole, “Let me in! Open the bloody door, FFS!”

      Frella! What was she doing here?  Truella pulled the sheet around her and padded over to the door and unlocked it.

      “About time!” she started to say, opening the door, and then leapt back in astonishment to see Sister Audrey standing there glaring.

      Audrey pushed past her, slamming the door behind her and locking it.  “Listen, this is the plan. Oh don’t look so baffled, it’s me, Frella. Audrey offered to let me possess her for 24 hours, it was the quickest way to get here.  Now listen, this is what we’re going to do.”  Audrey/Frella launched into an outline of the plans for exploring the cellars later that night. She had turned to face Truella at the door, and hadn’t noticed Rufus. Quickly, he slid off the bed and hid underneath it.

      When Audrey/Frella had finished, she asked “Got any weed? I could do with a quick puff.”  Truella  replied affirmatively.  “Oh and what have we here, what is that mans leather coat doing on your floor? You absolute tart, Truella. You’ve only been here since this morning and you’re at it already!”

      This was too much for Rufus, who crawled out from under the bed. “Hold your tongue, woman!” he admonished, while reaching for his shorts.  “And I heard all that,” he added. “And if you’re going down there, I’m coming with you.”

      Truella looked at Audrey/Frella helplessly.

      “Now look what you’ve gone and done!” snapped Audrey/Frella.

      “I didn’t tell him, you did,” Truella shot back, “You’re the one who barged in here spilling the beans!”

      “Well, he may be useful I suppose,” Audrey/Frella said, and stalked out, muttering tart under her breath. Why oh why, did she agree to do this?


      Frella opened her eyes. She felt rather woozy and very peculiar and it took her a moment to work out that she was sitting on the camphor chest in Herma’s shed with Herma and that awful Cedric Spellbind looming over her, their faces close and large. Too close. She looked from one anxious expression to the other.

      “And what the devil is he doing here?” She nodded towards Cedric.

      Cedric straightened himself. “I am here on official business,” he said stiffly. “Investigating this AirBnB for potential Witch Violations. And lucky I turned up when I did because you gave Mrs McCarthy here quite a turn with the way you were carrying on.”

      Herma shook her head crossly.” Violations my foot. I told you lot last time your people came sniffing around, there’s none of that carry on here.”

      “Why have I got salt all over me?” asked Frella.

      Cedric rolled his eyes. “Now THIS, THIS is what I am talking about. SHE,” he pointed at Herma, “threw salt all over you to break the evil spell she said.”

      “What nonsense!” said Herma, her face colouring. “But you had gone all odd, sort of not-here like and I couldn’t get any sense out of you.” She considered her hands for a few moments and then raised her head and beamed at Frella. “Why don’t I go and make you a nice cup of tea?” With that, she scurried off.

      “Well, you’ve done what you came for. You can go now,” said Frella glaring at Cedric. She stood up and turned pointedly away from him, wondered how much he had seen and hoping she didn’t fall over. She silently cursed the other witches for their crazy shenanigans and desperately hoped that Herma would not get in trouble with the Authorities.

      Cedric’s thoughts had taken quite another turn, mostly something about how beautiful the Witch was when she was angry. “Frigella,” he said.

      She swung around. “It’s FRELLA,” she hissed.

      Frella …. “ Now it was Cedric’s turn to colour and he looked at the ground, so many thoughts jumbling through his head and he couldn’t make sense of any of it.

      “Damn it Man! Spit it out, will you!”

      “I just want to say that I know what you are.”

      “And what am I exactly?”

      Cedric met her gaze. “I know you’re a Witch and I’m not going to turn you in.” He shrugged. “I can’t.”

      “And why can’t you, then? Something wrong with you, is there?”

      Cedric’s hand reached under his shirt. “Look,” he said. He was holding a small round device. “It’s a listening device. We are supposed to wear them whenever we have a suspected Witch Violation or Interaction.” He threw the device to the ground where it bounced a couple of times. Then—rather dramatically in Frella’s opinion—he stomped on it.

      Frella giggled. She couldn’t help herself


      Audrey came to herself rather unexpectedly in the middle of the Choir ritual with all the witches and nuns finishing the Canticle from the Psalms of Saint Frogustus.

      Saint Frogustus

      Luckily for the coven, her sudden gasp for air could have easily passed as a croak or one of the ribbit amens that went with the background aaah and oohs.

      “I think something wrong happened to your friend.” she whispered to Jeezel who had been enjoying the unlikely singing. It was already the third ritual done in six, and it had been mostly enjoyable.

      Eris whispered in turn as the grand croaking finale started with loud gong banging by Mother Lorena chanting “leaps of faithe, ye, leaps of faithe”.

      “What do you mean? Is Frella alright?”

      “Something came in the background, but when our minds disconnected, she felt more annoyed than anything… and to be honest maybe a bit… flustered, how to say…” she became red as Saint Frogustus’ hand tips. “Randy is the word you say?”

      “Damn it Jeezel, have you done anything?”

      “Why you ask me?” Jeezel felt offended. “You haven’t taken into account the strawberry full moon, that’s all.”

      Saint Frigdona“There’s only one potent counter-spell to this situation…” Audrey said. “We should pray to Saint Frigdona saint patroness of unwavering commitment to upholding the sanctity of boundaries and the virtues of righteousness, even in the face of the most enticing temptations!”

      “Jeeze, don’t go all religious like this.” a glowing Truella finally said. “I was for one, quite enjoying all that croaking. Dear Rufus told me there is a reason to this ritual! Get that: giant dragon-eating frogs! Dra-gon-frig-ging-eat-ing-frogs! That’s why the famous nuns were revered!”

      Eris and Jeezel looked at each other with that puzzled look unequivocally meaning “she’s lost her marbles”.

      In the silent moment of the last gong sound droning out, they sighed in unison, turning to Audrey. “How is this Frigdona prayer going already?”


      “Why has Frella gone so soon?” asked Truella, when the beastly morality prayers were finished. “She was supposed to accompany us down the cellars tonight.  I tell you what,” Truella rubbed her eyes and pushed her hair back, “This has been the longest day I’ve ever known. And it’s not over yet. Maybe we should leave the exploration of the cellars until tomorrow night.”

      “Suits me,” said Zeezel, “I didn’t want to go down there anyway.  The thought of going down there would ruin my evening, and I’ve got a gorgeous little cocktail dress picked out for tonight.”

      Jeezel, ” Eris said warningly, “We’re here on business.”

      “Oh, lighten up, Eris! None of us even knows what we’re really here for! One minute it’s a boring merger or even a takeover, the next minute it’s all cloak and dagger mystery, then it’s a morality play, what’s it gonna be next?”

      “A Barbara Cartland novel? Or 50 shades of undertakers?” Eris said with scowl.

      “You don’t want to go down the cellar either, do you, Eris?” Truella asked, knowing the answer.  “Never mind. You go and say some more prayers with Audrey. Jez, enjoy your evening to the hilt,” Truella wiggled her eyebrows.  “I’ll go on my own.”

      The others looked at her open mouthed. “You can’t be serious!”

      “She isn’t going on her own,” Eric said darkly.

      “I don’t know what you mean,” Truella pretended innocence.  Of course she wasn’t going on her own. Rufus would go with her, and she even had an idea to invite Sassafras and Sandra.  “Oh, alright then, I won’t go,” she lied. ”  I’ll wait for you and we’ll go tomorrow night.  But only if Frella comes back so she can come with us.”

      Eris wasn’t stupid, she knew exactly what Truella was planning. She had to rein Truella in, but how? Suddenly, inspiration struck.

      “We’d better go and get ready for dinner,” Eris said, “See you all later in the dining hall.” And with that she stalked out of the room.

      As soon as she was out of the door, Eris sprinted up the hallway. She had to get to him before Truella got there.  Crashing into Brother Bartolo as she careered round a corner, she apologised hurriedly and asked if he knew where Rufus was.  Bartolo informed her that he’d seen Rufus by the fountain. Eris resisted the temptation to remark snidely about him needing to cool down.

      He was still there when Eris reached the courtyard, sitting on the side of the water feature, trailing his hand in the water and looking gloweringly pensive.  Eris took a deep breath.

      “Mind if I join you?” she asked pleasantly, sitting down beside him. “We’re so grateful to you guys for coming to help us out, it’s all quite a lot for us to take in, you know?” Eris smiled disarmingly. “We’d feel so much better if Frella was here with us. We did manage to get her here, but something went wrong and she didn’t stay as long as we hoped she would.  She’s on a mission in Ireland, and couldn’t come over, but Sister Audrey kindly offered to let Frella posess her for 24 hours, and then I don’t know what happened but Frella was called back abruptly to her own body.”  Eris knew she was garbling semi incoherently, which was most unlike her normally, but she thought this approach would appeal.  Rufus seemed to be the type to be a sucker for a damsel in distress.  “If only someone else would offer to let Frella possess his body for 24 hours so that she can come and join us…”

      Eris’s little spell must have worked a treat, as Rufus promptly agreed. “I can help you with this. I offer my body for Frella to possess, if you think it will assist you.”

      Eris beamed at him. “What a charming gentleman you are!” she gushed, surprisingly both of them as she leaned forward and impulsively kissed his cheek.  “I must go,” she said. Horrified, her face crimson, she fled back inside the cloisters.

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