📚 › The Incense of the Quadrivium’s Mystiques

Points of convergence in the ancient dance of the elements. Meet the Quadrivium: an enigmatic coven of modern witches wielding the potent Incense. This elixir, a brew of visceral emotion, holds the power to bring order to a world teetering on the brink of chaos.

Each witch, a master of her domain, grapples with her place in an age-old order that strains under the weight of modern threats. As they navigate the labyrinth of the mundane and the mystical, they’ll discover that survival requires adaptation, and power, restraint.

In ‘The Incense of the Quadrivium’s Mystiques’, the fight is not just for control, but for the very essence of what it means to be human. Will the witches find their way, or become lost in the very chaos they seek to quell?”

So the Story goes...

Viewing 25 replies - 1 through 25 (of 113 total)
  • Author
    Replies
  • After the first of the four Rites of the Annual Incense Making was done, and the Coven disbanded for the day, Frigella was pulled by the sleeve by the weird one Truella.

    “Psstt. Come to the Faded Cabbage in 30 min. Have something to tell you.”

    Frigella rolled her eyes. She was not one for secrecies, cloaks and ladle, all that sort of mischiefs. But Truella seemed intent, if her electric hair had to tell the story for her. “Alright, I’ll be there.” she finally said, surprising Truella who’d thought she’d have to do more coaxing.

    The Fadded Cabbage was hidden around a darker corner a stone’s throw away from the headquarters of the Quadrivium, some place the city council and gentrification had not yet touched for some reason, probably a strong ghosting spell.

    Frigella sighed. She had been as usual too punctual, and of course, Truella was nowhere in sight. Unless…

    She put a light spell on her round glasses which turned a subtle tint of violet. There she was. Under a cloaking spell, in a shady corner, slurping on a macchiatto lagger with cinnamon. Or some odd brewage of the sort she knew the secret.

    “The old hare’s clearly lost the plot.” She spent no time engaging the discussion.

    “I’ll have to stop you there, Tru.” said Frigella, “I don’t care about the politics. Much less if you’re trying to make a power move.”

    Truella spluttered her offensive brewage all over Frigella’s neat starched apron. “You got it all wrong, Frig’. I don’t care about the power, I only care about my craft and freedom. It’s been too long we’ve been called to arms, like every bloody year. And my interest have grown since.”

    Frigella chuckled. “You mean, you’ve been all over the place, haven’t you. From Energetic History, you’ve moved to Concrete Plasticity, Telluric Archaelogy, Familial Arborestry, I must say… It’s been hard to keep up.”

    “You’re one to tell. All that mystery, and not much to show for. You’re barely doing the minimum to keep our flagship household Incense ‘Liz n°5’ afloat.” Truella sighed.

    “So what’s your plan?” Frigella wondered?

    Every conversation stopped and every head turned to the door when Jeezel entered the Faded Cabbage. Her cheeks, round as plums, always gave her a fresh look. Her eyes, a mesmerizing shade of deep emerald green sparkling with otherworldy wisdom, slowly scanned the room, never looking at anyone in particular but seeing all. Her long ebony locks cascaded down her back, accentuating the mysterious aura that surrounded her. When Jeezel spotted her friends in that dimly lit corner, she pouted. The conversations suddenly started again, questions and rumours about her in every mouth. When she was sure everybody was talking about her, the hint of a smile raised the corner of her lips, as red as the apple that poisoned Snow White. She moved nonchalantly between the tables. The air around her shimmered with magic, leaving an indelible impression on those fortunate enough to be here that day.

    Although, as soon as Jeezel entered Truella’s cloaking spell, people forgot all about her and resumed their conversation. She felt a pang of regret and sighed as she let her bottom fall gracefully on the chair. She put her phone on the table and started tapping it with her fingers. Each of them had an intricate silver ring carrying a unique enchantment.

    “Jeez, Jeez!” exclaimed Truella. “Do you always have to project that attention-catching spell wherever you go? We need discretion.”

    “What’s the purpose of having a beautiful silhouette if nobody’s looking at it?” Jeezel asked looking sideways at a blushing Frigella.

    “And boy, stop that noise with your rings, said Truella. It makes me want to puke.”

    “And I thought you were all about freedom,” snorted Jeezel.

    “My freedom! How many times do I have to repeat? Where were we?” Truella asked rhetorically to Frigella.

    A dozen notifications popped up on Jeezel’s phone. She picked it up, counted the likes to her last reality potion spell and started to scroll the replies of her Flick Flock fans.

    Eris, logged off the Ritual, and stretched her long legs. That pandemic had brought them more work than ever, a new brand of Incense called “Vaxations” which they’d produced in record time, but of the little compensations for that harrowing time was the allowance to HFH (a.k.a Hex-From-Home). The Classical tenants of the Faith were missing quite a few of the modernities of the current world, and despite they’d been accounts of remote hexing from as long as the ages stretched, the Quadrivium Policies were quite clear you had to clock-in physically. That is, until the pandemic brought mayhem unto their clientèle, and rules had to be amended.

    Eris was short for Ætheris, her formal witch name, which sounded much more airy than she’d liked. Eris, like the Goddess of Discord, well, that was more like her.

    If she had to put her biography on the website of the Quadrivium Emporium it would read something like this:

    Eris, the tech-savvy witch of discord, remains an enigma to most. She thrives in chaos, has a knack for bending technology to her will, and is pioneering a new branch of the Coven’s operations.

    Technology had always been the eternal foe of Magic. As if everything explained by science somehow took away something off the realm of Magic. It was neither true, nor that simple, she believed. For one, she loved to blend the two (as most witches did, unwittingly).

    Her familiar, Echo, was a proof of that. Echo wasn’t a tangible creature. Instead, Eris has somehow managed to summon an invisible digital sprite. This ethereal entity, capable of interfacing with any electronic device, was an invaluable asset to Eris’s technological endeavors.

    Malové, their Head Witch CEO, had tasked her to launch a new branch, and given her some means to do so. Her intentions were rather unclear, but Eris had won her over when she showed her the parallels of Incense magic and Social Media.
    Maybe that year, she would be keen to try and enhance their yearly Incense with some tech intelligence. Truth was, most of the artificial lives had been failures so far. Only Echo somehow turned out fine. One of a kind.

    “Echo,” she called, while a glowing blue sigil appeared in mid-air. “When you’re done with the latest…”

    Eris, sorry for interjecting, but you need to hear about this.”

    She was too surprised to be mad. “What’s the matter?”

    “Quality control on the first Ritual. It’s pointing out to some anomalies.”

    A power move indeed, what a thing to suggest! Truella felt misunderstood again. And all she was trying to do was work out her new spell in such a way that the others would help her with it while assuming it was a necessary addition to the repertoire of the coven. Which indeed it could be, after all.  People were strange, and witches were stranger.

    But was it a power thing to be consumed with a passionate hobby, even if it wasn’t on the coven to do list? The power to do her own thing, but still be part of the group? She needed them, she knew that, it was no good thinking she could go it alone, even if it seemed temptingly less complicated.  If only she had a spell to be in two places at once.

    Be careful, the voice of Lisia Tattius, her disembodied helper,  whispered in her ear, For such magic requires a balance of the soul.

    Are you suggesting my soul doesn’t have the necessary balance? Truella replied, soundlessly of course, but with a visible impatient frown.  Lisia putting a damper on her scheme again with words of caution, it was exasperating at times.

    Divided attention can lead to fractures, shattered fragments….

    Lisia’s words reminded Truella of the other spell she wanted, and it suddenly occurred to her that Lisia had given her just the clue she needed to convince the others that her spell was a necessary addition and not just a sideline personal whim.

    But why would a spell be useful to collect the shattered fragments, if nothing had been shattered and divided in the first place? Of course! It was becoming clear.  One must retrace the sequence of events to the initial fragmentation before proceeding with the recollection of said pieces.

    There was a lot more to think about than Truella had intially realized.   And it would be imperative to ensure the new new spells stayed distinctly separate,  because what if the scattered shards started doubling up and appearing in two places at once?  Picturing this possible occurence was enough to give Truella a headache.

    “Why are you frowning?” Frigella asked, “Are you even listening to me?  You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”

    “No,” Truella was nothing if not frank, especially with Frigella.  “Not a word, I was thinking about my own stuff.”

    “Typical!” her friend snorted, somewhat uncharacteristically, as she was more of a chirruping type.

     

    “Causam invenio ante fragmentorum fragmentorum rursus simul,”  Imperiosus Adiutoremus interjected, with a sly smile.  Imperiosus Adiutoremus, not his real name of course, was an old friend of Truella’s from the days of the Roman Republic in Baetica.   Two millenia stuck in that necropolis until Truella finally succeeded in conjuring his spirit free of his mortal remains (stuck there for eternity thanks to their old adversary Tani, the Iberian sorcerer, and his powerful spells).  It had taken Truella 2176 years and countless lifetimes to reverse that spell, and naturally Imperiosus (or Imp for short) was bound to be eternally grateful.   And Truella welcomed his interruptions, which always made her smile in fond remembrance of their happy days together before that dreadful uprising of the local tribes.  True, he was bossy, even now, but his intentions were always to be helpful.  Lisia Tattius and Imperiosus, now in their ephemeral states,  were often at odds. Lisia took umbrage if Imp’s suggestions contradicted her own, and resented it when Truella favoured Imp over herself. Some things never change.  Lisia had been Truella’s house slave, back in the day, though had always been treated well. Truella had been fond of her and allowed her liberties because she found her impertinence amusing.  Little did she know at the time that she’d be subjected to that for all eternity.  Still, she had her uses. Although it had often seemed like a mistake to teach her to read, for Lisia’s voracious appetite for the written word had made her copiously wordy, but she was useful more often than not and could spout many an eloquent phrase. True, always a pastiche of plagiarism, but not without her own particular panache and perspicacity.

    The Four Rites opening the new year were done in a sequence, each followed by a day’s gap, until the final Ritual.

    They were considered to open the gates to the realm of truth and ultimate freedom.
    The first one, which Echo had noticed anomalies for, was about Self control. Eris was poring over the data, but none seemed to make sense. Her intuition was telling her something, but she couldn’t correlate any of it with what came out of the first step of the Incense making process. The collection of ingredients seemed correct, the origins clear.

    Yet, something wasn’t quite right.

    The first one would be followed by tomorrow’s spell for Spirit of Enquiry. That’s when they could select the most proper ingredient, focusing their collective energies and inner eyes to what the collective needed to work on.

    The last two ones were Contentment, where the ingredients were ground in fine powder, and finally of Good Company, where the powders were blended with resin and heated for the final tests.

    Probably Eris would have to go to the HQuad tomorrow, physically for once to check on the process more closely. She waved her blue-green hair, her studded nose frowning at the perspective to have to check-in with the crowd of people. At least, commuting couldn’t be more simple. She would just have to turn the knob of her kitchen door in the opposite direction, wave her hand, until the door frame glowed briefly, and the door would simply open into the main hall of the Quadrivium Emporium ladies’ room.

    But for tonight, they had a movie’s night planned with Thorsten.

    “And that, my Dear Reader, is why, even to this day, a traffic cone is called a witches hat.”

    It was the boy’s favourite bed-time story and Frigella had read it so many times she knew it nearly by heart. She twisted her neck so she could look down on the child; his breathing was soft, the bedside light illuminated long white lashes resting on chubby cheeks. Slowly… silently, she closed the book, switched off the night lamp and edged herself from the bed. She was very keen to log on to the Ritual and see what progress, if any, Eris had made.

    The encounter with Truella and Jeezel that afternoon down at the Cabbage had disturbed her. It was not like them … Truella pouting and mutinous, Jeezel swaggering in so full of her own self-importance. And herself! Blushing and snorting and carrying on for no reason when it was her very nature to be composed. They had always worked as a team, the four of them; it was their strength.

    Was some powerful magic afoot that had got through their protection? Perhaps Eris had found something. Her nose twitched and she realised she could still smell it, a pungent uneasiness. Like stale smoke.

    “Aunt Friggy?”

    She sighed. Her brother had made her promise not to use magic on the child but surely just a wee sprinkle of moon dust couldn’t hurt?

    “Yes Conor?”

    “Are witches true?”

    She sat down on the bed.

    “What does your Daddy say?” She stroked the child’s yellow-blond hair. Silky, like her own. He looked more like her than he did his own parents with his alabaster skin and eyes that changed colour like the sea. Always watching he was too, as though he was looking to the very heart of a matter. Just like herself. She was sure he had inherited the gift but Lorcon was having none of that nonsense and had told her so in no uncertain terms. The boy would suffer for it in time though. Just like she had when it had been denied.

    “He said Conor don’t be so daft.”

    Of course he did. Lorcon clung frantically to his normal life with his normal wife. Tonight she was baby-sitting Conor while they went on a normal date night. Still, she should not be so hard on Lorcon; it was a strange upbringing they’d had themselves.

    She kissed the boy’s forehead and breathed deeply. The sweet scent of night jasmin washed over her. At least she’d be there for Conor. The thought consoled her.

    “Shall I leave the light on for you, Poppet?”

    Jeezel pushed open the door of her favourite florist The Enchanted Garden. The clear sound of wind chimes welcomed her. An ever changing melody atuned to earth and water. Flucinda was at the counter serving another client.  She might not be of the flamboyant kind but she knew her way with flowers. Her shop was a botanical wonderland, a cornucopia of color and fragrance that would make Mother Nature herself green with envy. The witch took a moment to breath in. It helped her relax a little.

    Jeezel! How are you dear?” asked Flucinda as the client left with his arms full of red roses. “You’re glowing as always.”

    The witch blushed just a little at the compliment. Flucinda’s dark brown eyes were as sharp as those of a silent observation assassin. They darted swiflty over Jeezel’s silhouette, taking mental notes, absorbing the energy, the secrets, the silent dialogues.

    “What do you need today?” she asked.

    “Petals of a white rose, lavender buds and mint. And a few other things.” She said, handing the florist a list.

    “Why don’t you wait in the heart of the Enchanted Garden while I’m preparing all that for you. Water is boiled, I’ll bring you some freshly brewed herbal tea.”

    Jeezel felt grateful to her friend. She sat on an ornate stone bench and enjoyed the soft serenade of trickling water from a sparkling fountain and the symphony of scents — delicate jasmine, heady rose, spicy carnation and a hint of sweet lily. It helped sooth her anxiety. She had received a request on Sponsoreons by one of her fans and loyal customer. Apparently the last full moon had pulled the thread on the tightly knit sweater of camaraderie at this poor soul’s job. There appeared to be more drama in that workplace than at at drag queen bingo night when the last sequin-studded handbag is on the line, and the usual symphony of productivity has turned into a cacophony of cattiness and pettiness. Even the smallest of issues were being blown up like a lip injection gone rogue!

    She had the perfect spell for it: Concordia. Used to bring harmony and peace, smoothing over the ruffled feathers and frayed edges. It was the divine choice for that case. However, such a potent spell was not to be taken lightly. If it was not crafted with precision, intent and a touch of flair, things could go haywire faster than a wig snatch in a lip-synch battle.

    “Here you go,” said Flucinda as she put the silver tray on a smooth rock at the edge of the fountain.

    “Wow! It’s fabulous,” said Jeezel.

    The teapot was a glamour, as opulent as a bejewelled crown. The steam rising from its beak carried whispers of secrets and spells, bringing out memories of rumours swirling around a backstage pageant. It was in another life.

    “Do I smell chamomile, lavender and valerian root?”

    “Yes.”

    Flucinda poured generously the yellow brew into an intricately carved white porcelain cup. Then added in a smidgeon of honey.

    “I know you like it sweet,” she said to the witch before adding a sprinkle of edible silver stars. “Take the time you need. Everything will be at the counter when you’re ready to go.”

    “Thanks Flucinda,” said Jeezel with a smile.

    She took a first sip. It felt like a warm hug in a cup from a dear friend who knows just what you need. And she noticed  a secret ingredient: a twist of lemon balm that gave the brew a citrusy zing. With every following sip, Jeezel felt the anxiety melting away like last season’s contour, leaving her ready to face the spellcasting with vigor and vim.

    Her garden, oh, it’s a living canvas of her passions – a wild, untamed thing with bursts of vibrant color and the heady scent of jasmine and orange blossoms that intoxicate the senses. But beneath its beauty lies a secret, a whisper of the past that Truella, with her insatiable curiosity and archeological fervor, has unearthed: the remnants of an Andalucian Roman villa.

    Imagine the thrill, the pure, unadulterated bliss of discovery, as her fingers brush away centuries of soil to reveal ornate mosaics, fragments of pottery that once held the finest olive oil, and coins stamped with the visages of long-forgotten emperors. Each artifact, a breadcrumb leading her deeper into the enigma of history.

    Truella

     

    But, of course, Roger, our simple-minded gardener with not a thought in his head beyond petunias and pruning, has proven to be surprisingly useful. His brawn has unearthed more than his fair share of antiquity, even if he hasn’t the faintest idea of its significance. “Look, Truella, I’ve found another shiny rock,” he says, and I, Lisia Tattius, can only chuckle at the delightful irony.

    Truella’s Andalusian escapades could fill volumes, and perhaps they shall. There’s something deliciously appealing about a woman alone, grappling with the very fabric of time amongst the ruins of an empire.

    Truella couldn’t see any benefit in rewriting all that and thanked Lisia very much, although she did wonder who Roger was.  A gardener though!  Someone to carry all those buckets of dirt hither and thither. Someone to dig the next overburden!

    Was there a spell for dissolving an overburden, she wondered?   Inspired, she could already imagine how easy it would be to convince the team that this spell would have beneficial and universal applications.

    Truella was pleased to see the mention of mosaics, the very thing she wanted to find.  She planned to make a mosaic detector wand.  But Truella didn’t want Lisia telling her where the mosaic was because it would spoil the whole thing. Mentioning mosaics, however, as already found, was the perfectly measured tincture of encouragement. A bit like spells in general really.  Tricky business, getting them right.

    A place where glamour meets enchantment, said the brochure when she found what would become her cottage ten years ago. But tonight, Jeezel didn’t see the whimsical, neither did she hear the trees whispering secrets. And the moon… don’t let me start with the moon. The vines had started to cover the main door. It was painted in the richest shade of midnight blue, which was stunning when daylight splashed all over it, but there were no outside lights and at night, she always had difficulties finding the keyhole.

    Jeezel took her phone out to turn on the torch and the pop of a champagne cork told her she had received an e-mail. Such a technological marvel dipped in fabulousness. It was shimmering and radiant, she had adorned it with crystals that would catch the light with every moment, casting rainbows across. But the only light it cast was an anxious message from Roland whose workplace had gone berserk.

    “Please, do something quick!” was the content of the message.

    The witch had never been good under pressure. She touched her forehead lightly with the back of her hand. She didn’t want to mess with her carefully applied makeup. Then lip synched her moto : “Shine bright, darling, and let the world bask in your glow.”

    “That’s it!” she said. She took her key in her left hand and with a graceful and intricate swipe of her right hand she said: “Glowry”. Then she waved toward the door and added: “Hole”, and the key and the hole started to glow and attract each other. The door creeked open. Something else she’d have to attend to, later.

    “At last,” she said when the door finally shut.

    “Well, I could have grown a whole new tail in the time it took you to grace us with your presence at the door. What were you doing, love? Perfecting your grand entrance, or did you just get lost in the reflection of your own fabulousness again?,” said a warm and teasing voice.

    The soft candle light on the altar created moving patterns on the walls draped with velvets and satins. The boudoir was the sanctuary where Jeezel weaved her magic. The patterns on the tapestries changed with her mood, and that night they were a blend of light and dark, electricity made them crackle like lightning in a mid afternoon summer storm.

    The altar was a beautifully crafted mahogany table with each legs like a spindle from Sleeping Beauty’s own spinning wheel, but there was no sleeping done here. On her left, her vanity with her collection of wigs, each one a masterpiece styled to perfection, in every shade you could imagine. Tonight, she had chosen the red one. It was a fiery cascade of passion and power, the kind of red that stops traffic. Jeezel needed the confidence and boldness imbued in it to cast the potent Concordia spell.

    The air was thick with the perfume of white sage. Lumina, Jeezel’s nine tailed fox familiar, was curled-up on a couch adorned with mystical silver runes pulsating with magic, her muzzle buried in the fur of her nine tails. Her eyes half closed, she was observing Jeezel’s preparation on the altar. The witch had lit a magical fire to heat a cauldron that’s seen more spells than a dictionary.

    Jeezel had carefully selected a playlist as harmonious and uplifting as the spell itself, to make a symphony of sounds that would weave together like the most exquisite lace front on a show-stopping wig. She wanted it to be an auditory journey to the highest peaks of harmony that would support her during the casting.

    As the precious moon water began to simmer, Jeezel creased the rose petals and the lavender in her hands before she delicately dropped them in the cauldron. The scent rose to her nose and she stirred clockwise with a wand made of the finest willow, while invoking thoughts of unity and shared purpose. The jittery patterns on the walls started to form temporary clusters. A change of colour in the liquid informed the witch it was time to add a drizzle of honey. Jeezel watched as it swirled into the potion, casting a golden glow that promised to mend fences and build bridges. The walls were full of harmonious ripples undulating gently in a soothing manner.

    Once the honey was completely melted, Jeezel dropped in an amethyst crystal, whose radiating power would purify the concoction. The potion started to bubble and the glow on the tapestries turned an ugly dark red. Jeezel frowned, wondering if she had done something wrong.

    “Stay focused,” said the fox in a brisk voice. “Good. The team energy is fighting back. Plant your stiletto heels firmly into the catwalk, and remember the pageant.”

    The familiar’s tawny eyes glowed and the music changed to the emergency song. Jeezel felt an infusion of warm and steady energy from Lumina and started humming in sync with The Ride of the Valkyries. She stirred and chanted, every gesture filled with fiery confidence. The walls glowed darker and the potion hissed. But in the end, it was tamed. The original playlist had resumed to the grand finale. A gentle yet powerful orchestral swell that encapsulated the essence of unity and understanding, wrapping the boudoir and the potion in a sonic embrace that would banish drama and pettiness to the back of the chorus.

    Jeezel released the dove feather into the brew, then finished with a sprinkle of glitter with a flourish. And it was done.

    “Was the glitter necessary?” asked Lumina.

    “Why not? It can’t do any harm.”

    The fox jumped from the couch and looked at the potion.

    “It’s sparkling like the twinkle in your eye when you hit the stage. It’s ready. Well done.”

    Jeezel strained it with grace and poured it into the most fabulous vial she could find, and she sealed it with a kiss.

    :fleuron:

    Jeezel opened Flick Flock and started typing a message to Roland.

    The potion is ready. I’m sending it to you through the usual way.

    […]

    As you use the potion, you’ll have to perform a kind of team building ritual that will help channel the potion’s power and bring your team together like sequins on a gown, darling.

    Fist, dim the lights and set the stage with a circle of candles. Then gather around in the circle with your team, each of you holding a small vial of the potion. Next, take turns sharing something positive, a compliment or an expression of gratitude about the person to your left. It’s about building up that positive energy, getting the good vibes flowing like champagne at a gala.

    Once the air is thick with love and camaraderie, each team member will add a drop of the Concordia potion to a communal bowl placed in the center of the circle as a symbol of unity, like a magical melting pot of harmony and shared intentions.

    With the power of the potion pooling together, join hands (even if they’re not the touchy-feely types) and my familiar will guide you in an enchanting and rhythmic chant.

    Finally with a climactic “clink” of glass of crystal, you’ll all seal the deal, the potion will be activated, and the spell cast.

    I can affirm you, your team will be tighter than my corset after Thanksgiving dinner, ready to slay the day with peace and productivity.

    Let’s get this done. And don’t forget to add a testimony and click the thumb up.

    xoxox Jeezel.

    After the evening ritual at the elder tree, Eris came home thirsting for the bitter taste of dark Assam tea. Thorsten had already gone to sleep, and his cybernetic arm was put negligently near the sink, ready for the morning, as it was otherwise inconvenient to wear to bed.

    Tired by the long day, and even more by the day planned in the morrow, she’d planned to go to bed as well, but a late notification caught her attention. “You have a close cousin! Find more”; she had registered some time ago to get an analysis of her witch heritage, in a somewhat vain attempt to pinpoint more clearly where, if it could be told, her gift had originated. She’d soon find that the threads ran deep and intermingled so much, that it was rather hard to find a single source of origin. Only patterns emerged, to give her a hint of this.

    Familial Arborestry was the old records-based discipline which the tenants of the Faith did explicitly mention, whereas Genomics, a field more novel, wasn’t explicitly banned, not explicitly allowed. Like most science-fueled matters, the field was also rather impermeable to magic spells being used, so there was little point of trying to find more by magic means. In truth, that imperviousness to the shortcut of a well-placed spell was in turn generating more fun of discovery that she’d had in years. But after a while, she seemed to have reached a plateau in her finds.

    Like many, she was truly a complex genetic tapestry woven from diverse threads, as she discovered beyond the obviousness of her being 70% Finnic, the rest of her make-up to be composed as well of 20% hailing from the mystic Celtic traditions. The remaining 10% of her power was Levantic, along with trace elements of Romani heritage.

    Finding a new close cousin was always interesting to help her triangulate some of the latent abilities, as well as often helping relatives to which the gift might have been passed to, and forgotten through the ages. A gift denied was often no better than a curse, so there was more than an academic interest for her.

    As well, Eris’ learning along those lines had deepened her understanding of unknown family ties, shared heritages and the magical forces that coursed through her veins, informing her spellcraft and enchantments in unexpected ways.

    She opened the link. Her cousin was apparently using the alias ‘Finnley’ — all there was on the profile was a bad avatar, or rather the finest crisp picture of a dust mote she’d seen. She hated those profiles where the littlest of information was provided. What the hell were those people even signing for? In truth,… she paradoxically actually loved those profiles. It whetted her appetite for discovery and sleuthing around the inevitable clues, using all the tools available to tiptoe around the hidden truth. If she had not been a witch, she may simply have been a hacker. So what this Finnley cousin was hiding from? What she looking for parents she never knew? Or maybe a lost child?

    As exciting as it was, it would have to wait. She yawned vigorously at the prospect of the early rising tomorrow. Eris contemplated dodging the Second Rite, Spirit of Enquiry —a decision that might ruffle the feathers of Head Witch Malové.

    Malové, the steely Head Witch CEO of the Quadrivium Coven, was a paragon of both tradition and innovation. Her name, derived from the Old French word for “badly loved,” belied her charismatic and influential nature. Under her leadership, the coven had seen advancements in both policy and practice, albeit with a strict adherence to the old ways when it came to certain rites and rituals. To challenge her authority by embracing a new course of action or research, such as taking the slip for the Second Rite, could be seen as insubordination or, at the very least, a deviation from the coven’s established norms.

    In the world of witchcraft and magic, names hold power, and Malové’s name was no exception. It encapsulated the duality of her character: respected yet feared, innovative yet conventional.

    Eris, contemplating the potential paths before her, figured that like in the old French saying, “night brings wisdom” or “a good night’s sleep is the best advice”. Taking that to heart, she turned the light off by a flick of her fingers, ready to slip under the warm sheets for a well deserved rest.

    “Attention, Witches!” Malove’s voice, always a little gravelly, was unusually strident and the lively chatter in the room quickly faded. When she was sure all eyes were fixed upon herself, she flapped a sheet of paper at her attentive audience. “This  … ” Malove paused and regarded the piece of paper with bemusement. “… This diatribe was on my desk this morning.  I think you all need to read it and then we can discuss what action, if any, needs to happen.”

    “Action!” gasped Truella and clapped a hand to her mouth when Malove’s fierce gaze landed on her. A shiver went through the assembled witches.

    Another forceful wave of Malove’s  arm and a shimmering screen appeared. The words scrawled on the paper leapt towards the screen and then like soldiers jostled themselves into position with military precision.

    “Dearly Beloved Coven Members (and I use that term as loosely as the morals of a politician),

    It’s your ever-so-humble and not-at-all-grumbling cleaner, Finnlee, here. Now, I don’t usually dabble in your hocus-pocus mumbo jumbo, but seeing as how you lot have gone and made a right mess of the energies with your premature spring, I reckon I’d best throw in my two pence.

    Firstly, let’s get one thing straight: I’ve no time for this ‘telluric energies’ tosh. Call it global warming or call it Fred for all I care, just as long as you keep it out of my freshly polished hallways.

    Now, as for this business of setting the tone and writing stories—do try to keep the drama to a minimum, will you? Otherwise, I’ll be the one left cleaning up the aftermath, and I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.

    And Frigella, my hat’s off to you, dear. A woman of action, not just words. Reminds me of myself, only I prefer to wield a broom rather than a wand.

    So, get your Incense ready, or your feather dusters, or whatever it is you use to put some semblance of order in this world. Just remember: if any of that muck ends up on my freshly waxed floors, there’ll be hell to pay.

    Yours in perpetual crankiness,

    Finnlee”

    Impressed with Finnlee’s spirited outburst, Truella realised she’d barely noticed the cleaning lady and felt ashamed.  The required daily  appearances that the dictatorial Malove insisted upon rankled her, occupying her attention so that the cleanliness or otherwise of the premises went unnoticed.  She made up her mind to seek Finnlee out and befriend her, treat her as an equal, draw her into her confidence. Besides, that confident no nonsense approach could come in handy for any staff uprisings.  Not that any staff uprising were planned, she mentally added, quickly cloaking her thoughts in case any had leaked out.

    Malove spun round and shot her a piercing look and Truella quailed a little, momentarily, but then squared her shoulders and impudently stared back.  Malove raised an eyebrow and returned to addressing the witches.

    After what seemed like an eternity the meeting was over. Truella planned to seek Finnlee out and invite her for a brew at the Faded Cabbage but  Frigella approached her, looking a bit sheepish, and asked if she could have a word in private about a personal matter.

    They strolled together towards the little park opposite, and once out of earshot of the others, Frigella came straight to the point.

    “Can my cousin come and stay with you for a bit? The thing is, he’s got himself into a spot of bother and needs to disappear for a bit, if you know what I mean.  He’s a big strong lad, and I’m sure he’d be willing to give you a hand with all that digging…”

    Truella didn’t hesitate. “But of course, Frigella, send him over! He won’t be the first person on the run to come and stay, and probably won’t be the last.”

    “The thing is he’s a bit sandwich short of a picnic, you know, not a full bag of shopping…”

    “What, does he eat a lot? I don’t do much cooking…”

    “No, no, well yes, he does have a good appetite, but that’s not what I meant. He’s a bit simple, but heart of gold. He’s from the other side of the family and our side never had much to do with them, but I always had a soft spot for him.”

    ” A simpleton might be a refreshing change from all the over complicated people, send him over! What’s his name?”

    “Roger. Roger Goodall.”

    Roger!  The name rang a bell.  It wasn’t until much later that Truella realized she should have asked what Roger was on the run for.

    The bone people had replied to Truella’s urgent message while she was at the meeting, much to her relief.  The last thing she wanted was the authorities snooping around, just as she was delving into the rich new layer.  The odd things she’d been finding recently had piqued her curiousity and she had to keep reminding herself to merely find, observe and document, without attempting to make assumptions. She couldn’t help wondering though if these disparate items, things she hadn’t expected to find, were the ingredients for an ancient spell. The little bone amulet, the pigs teeth, and all the other little bits of bone with curious smooth sides.  Fragments of mother of pearl, gleaming like new silver in the dirt, uncorroded and pristine despite the passage of time and the weight of the earth.  Little clumps of charcoal, but scattered, not all in the same place. Not like there’d been a fire, more like little things had burned, here and there, at various times.

    amulet and bones

     

    All the broken dishes and amphora were to be expected, but why so many? And why didn’t whoever lived here take their dishes with them when they went? Maybe they left in a hurry, smashing everything on the way out of the door so there was nothing left for the invaders? Or did the dishes simply fall and break when the abandoned wooden shelves rotted away over the centuries?  A layer of abandonment was a curious and intriguing thing to contemplate.

    Now that she had the experts opinion on the teeth ~ pig, not human ~ haste was needed to quell the growing rumours in the village that she had found human remains.   That was the last thing she needed, the neighbours giving her suspicious looks or the authorities roping off her dig with striped plastic tape and putting a police tent over it, messing with the hole she had dug trowel by trowel, rubbing every handful of soil between her fingers. The very thought of it was unbearable.   For this reason she rather hoped NOT to find a hoard of valuable ancient coins, contrary to what most people would hope to find.  Still, she couldn’t help wonder while she was digging if the next trowel of soil would reveal one.

    She must make it absolutely clear to Roger than he was only required to carry buckets of soil, and was not to do any actual digging.

    So engrossed was Truella in her project at home, she had failed to notice that there had been no word for days from Eris about her new ritual.  Not only did Eris not turn up for the obligatory daily meetings, she hadn’t even kept the rest of the witches informed of developments. The last anyone had heard about it was that there was a quality control issue, whatever that meant.

    So there we have it, my dear,  interjected Lisia. Eris’s new ritual spell is a work in progress, a symphony of the arcane and the algorithmic, and we are but eager spectators to its unfolding. One can only hope for a harmonious outcome, or at the very least, a tale worth the telling.

    One can only hope, muttered Truella.  We can hardly be expected to read her mind if she doesn’t keep us abreast of developments!

    Eris, a sorceress of the digital age, has been blending the ancient art of incantation with the pulsing rhythms of technology….

    So tell me something I didn’t know, Lisia, the question is, where is she up to now with it?  Or perhaps she’s told the others, and not told me?  I wonder if Frigella and Jezeel know anything?

    It’s a spell of both preservation and progress, a paradoxical potion that encapsulates the dichotomy of our current condition…..

    Our current position, Truella sighed, Is that we don’t know what’s going on. If only Eris would come to the next meeting and spill the beans.  How can I possibly try to incorporate my own spells into it if I don’t know what the current situation is?

    Maybe she’s been to Normandy collecting ingredients. I’ve heard the hellebore there are quite the best, Imp butted in, making Lisia wince.  He was so on point and not nearly wordy enough.

    4pm EET.

    Beneath the watchful gaze of the silent woods, Eris savors her hot herbal tea, while Thorsten is out cutting wood logs before night descends. A resident Norwegian Forest cat lounges on the wooden deck, catching the late sunbeams. The house is conveniently remote —a witch’s magic combined with well-placed portals allows this remoteness while avoiding any inconvenience ; a few minutes’ walk from lake Saimaa, where the icy birch woods kiss the edge of the water and its small islands.

    Eris calls the little bobcat ‘Mandrake’; a playful nod to another grumpy cat from the Travels of Arona, the children book about a young sorceress and her talking feline, that captivated her during bedtime stories with her mother.

    Mandrake pays little heed to her, coming and going at his own whim. Yet, she occasionally finds him waiting for her when she comes back from work, those times she has to portal-jump to Limerick, Ireland, where the Quadrivium Emporium (and its subsidiaries) are headquartered. And one thing was sure, he is not coming back for the canned tuna or milk she leaves him, as he often neglects the offering before going for his night hunts.

    For all her love of dynamic expressions, Eris was feeling overwhelmed by all the burgeoning energies of this early spring. Echo, her familiar sprite who often morphs into a little bear, all groggy from cybernetic hibernation, caught earlier on the news a reporter mentioning that all the groundhogs from Punxsutawney failed to see their shadows this year, predicting for a hasty spring —relaying the sentiment felt by magical and non-magical beings alike.

    Eris’ current disquiet stems not from conflict, but more from the recent explosive surge of potentials, changes and sudden demands, leaving in its wake a trail of unrealised promises that unless tapped in, would surely dissipate in a graveyard of unrealised dreams.

    Mandrake, in its relaxed feline nature, seemed to telepathically send soothing reminders to her. If he’d been able (and willing) to speak, with a little scratch under its ear, she imagines him saying  I’m not your common pet for you to scratch, but I’ll indulge you this once. Remember what it means to be a witch. To embrace the chaos, not fight it. To dance in the storm rather than seek shelter. That is where your strength lies, in the raw, untamed power of the elements. You need not control the maelstrom; you must become it. Now, be gone. I have a sunbeam to nap in.

    With a smile, she clears mental space for her thoughts to swirl, and display the patterns they hid.

    A jump in Normandy, indeed. She was there in the first mist of the early morning. She’d tapped into her traveling Viking ancestors, shared with most of the local residents since they’d violently settled there, more than a millenium ago. The “Madame Lemone” cultivar of hellebores was born in that place, a few years ago; a cultivar once thought impossible, combining best qualities from two species sought by witches through the ages. Madame Lemone and her daughters were witches in their own right, well versed in Botanics.

    Why hellebores? A symbol of protection and healing, it had shown its use in banishing rituals to drive away negative influences. A tricky plant, beautiful and deadly. Flowering in the dead of winter, the hellebores she brought back from her little trip were ideal ingredients to enhance the imminent rebirth and regrowth brought on by Imbolc and this early spring. It was perfect for this new era filled with challenges. Sometimes, in order to bloom anew, you must face the rot within.

    The thoughts kept spinning, segueing into the next. Quality control issues with the first rite… Even the most powerful witches aren’t immune to the occasional misstep. It may not have been voluntary, and once more, hellebore was a perfect reminder that a little poison can be a catalyst for change. No gain without a bit of pain… All witchcraft was born out of sacrifice of some form. An exchange of energy. Something given, for something in return.

    Luckily, she’d learnt the third rite had gone well even in her absence. Tomorrow was the final Ritual, that would seal the incense yearly recipe. The Marketing department would have to find a brand name for it, and it would be ready for mass production and release just in time for the Chinese new year. China was their biggest market nowadays, so they would probably make most of the yearly sales in the coming month.

    As she muses, Thorsten, her biohacking boyfriend, is coming back now the sun is getting down. A rugged contradiction of man and machine.

    “Have you managed to contact your friends?” he asks, his pointed question tempered by a calm demeanor. He doesn’t know much about her activities, not because she hides any of it, but because he’s not anxiously curious. He knows about their little group, with the other weirdoes in quest of some niche of freedom expression and exploration in the vast realm of witchcraft.

    “Yes, I did. We had a nice chat with Jeezel and she sends her regards…”

    “She bloody always do that, doesn’t she.” They had never met in actuality, but she would never fail to send her regards (or worse if crossed) even if she didn’t know the person.

    Eris laughed. “Well, Frigella was going to bed…”

    “If I didn’t know better, one could think she does it on purpose.”

    Eris continued. “Well, and get that; Tru was busy making some French fries.”

    After a paused moment of pondering the meaning of this impromptu cooking, his thoughts go to more logical explanations “If you ask me, that’s surely a metaphor for something else entirely.”

    “Meat and potatoes… And sometimes,… just potatoes.”

    “Or in this case, possibility for a hearty gratin.”

    They share a delightful laughter.

    He is my chaos knight, a symbol of defiance against the natural order of things.

    A quality she adores.

    Eris did portal to be in person for the last Ritual. After all, Smoke Testing for incense making was the reverse expectation of what it meant in programming. You plug in a new board and turn on the power. If you see smoke coming from the board, turn off the power. You don’t have to do any more testing. But for witches, it just meant success. This one however revealed itself to be so glorious, she would have regretted sorely if she’d missed it.

    “Someone tried to jinx my blog with black magic emojis! Quick, give me a Nokia!” Jeezel sharp cry was the innocent trigger that dominoed the whole ceremony into mayhem. With her clumsy hand gestures, she inadvertently elbowed Frigella as she was carefully counting the last drops of the resin, which spilled over to the nearby Bunsen burner.

    From there, the sweet symphony of disaster that unfolded in the sanctified chamber of the coven could have been put to a choral version of Tchaikovsky’s Overture 1812, with climactic volley of cannon fire, ringing chimes, and brass fanfare. Only with smoke as sound effects.

    In the ensuing chaos of the Fourth Rite, everything became quickly shrouded in a thick, billowing smoke, an unintended byproduct of the smoke test gone wildly awry. Truella, in her attempts to salvage the ceremony, darted through the room, a scorched piece of fabric clutched in her hand—her delicate pashmina shawl that did more fanning than smothering and now more charcoal than its original vibrant hue. Her expression teetered between horror and disbelief as she lamented her once-prized possession, now reduced to ashes.

    Jeezel, ever the optimist, quickly came back to her senses choosing to find humor if not opportunity amidst disaster. Like a true diva emerging from the smoke effects, she held up a singed twig adorned with the remains of decorative leaves and announced with a wide grin, “Behold, the perfect accessory for the Autumn Pageant!” Her voice was muffled by the smog, her figure obscured save for the intermittent glint of her eyes as she wove through the smoke, brandishing the charred twig like a parade marshal’s baton.

    Meanwhile, Eris was caught in a frenetic ballet, attempting to corral the smoke with sweeps of her arms and ancient spells, as if the very air could be tamed by her whims. Her efforts, while noble, only served to create an odd wind pattern that whirled papers and loose items into a miniature cyclone of confusion.

    At the epicenter of the pandemonium stood Malové, the High Witch, her composure as livid as the flames that had sparked the debacle. Her normally unflappable demeanor crumbled as she surveyed the disarray, her voice rising above the cacophony, “Witches, have you mistaken this sacred rite for a comedy of errors?” Her words cut through the haze, sharp and commanding.

    Frigella, caught off-guard by the commotion, scrambled to quell the smoky serpent that had coiled throughout the room. With a flick of her wand, she directed gusts of fresh air towards the smoke, but in her haste, the spell went askew, further fanning the chaos as parchments and ritual tools spun through the air like leaves in a storm.

    All the witches assembled, not knowing how to respond, tried to grapple with the havoc.

    There, in the mist of misadventure, the Fourth Rite of 2024 would be one for the annals, a tale to be told with a mix of chagrin and mirth for ages to come. And though Malové’s patience was tried, even the High Witch couldn’t deny the comedic spectacle that unfurled before her—a spectacle that would surely need to be remedied.

    “If it’s nae Frigella O’green! Fancy seeing ye ‘ere!”

    Frigella stiffened. She’d know that accent and the dank tang of peat moss anywhere. She’d have smelt it sooner if it weren’t for the brewing coffee. She must be getting soft … or maybe it was the sour smell of smoke clogging up her nostrils; she’d not been able to shake the stench since the debacle that morning. Turning away from Aaron, the pleasant young barista serving her, she willed her lips into a smile – no harm in being civil! It was a long time since all the Scottish shenanigans and word amongst the witches was the Scots Coven were trying to tidy up their act.

    “Well, If it’s not Aggie Bog now!” Frigella leaned in for a cool peck on the cheek. “And what brings you to these parts? Let me buy you a coffee and we can catch up?”

    Aggie sniggered. ” Ye pay for it?” She pushed Frigella aside and approached the counter. Aaron’s eyes widened and Frigella had to admit Aggie cut a striking figure in her tiny black top and leather leggings. As a child she’d been taunted and called fat, but now she was best described as Rubenesque, and clearly had learned how to use her assets.

    I bet those pants squeak when she walks.

    Aggie leaned forward and Aaron’s gaze flicked toward her abundant cleavage. “A double black insomnia fur me, on the hoose.”  As Aaron started to protest, Aggie waved several plump fingers towards his face and Frigella saw his eyes were now dark and glazed. “Whirling ‘n’ twirling a muckle puff o’ rowk,” crooned Aggie. “Ye’ll dae as ah say or caw intae a ….

    Frigella clasped Aggie’s wrist. Thank god the lunch crowd had gone and the cafe was nearly empty apart from an older man reading his paper by the window. “Aggie Bog! Shame on you! That’s not the way we do things here.”

    Cedric peered through the peephole in his newspaper. He’d have recognised that bogwitch anywhere. Drat that blonde one grabbing her arm, he’d have been able to catch her red handed and arrest her.

    Cedric was ambitious.  He’d been working for MAMA for thirty years as an agent and wanted a promotion, a nice cushy office job where he could sit in comfort dishing out orders.  He’d had enough of traipsing round the countryside and sitting in draughty pubs in the back of beyond and felt it was high time that the Ministry for the Abolition of the Magical Arts recognised his potential as a leader.

    Who was that blonde one anyway? Another bogwitch no doubt, covens springing up everywhere these days, defying proper law and order, it was an outrage.  She hadn’t seemed too happy to see that old tart Aggie, though. Maybe there was a rift between covens that he could exploit for his own ends.  Cedric decided to keep an eye on her, perhaps mislead her into thinking he was on her side.  It gave him a frisson of pleasure to think how clever he would look when he made his report.

    Frigella her name was, Cedric heard Aggie ask her why she was rushing off.

    “Gottta run, I’m babysitting. And just you behave yourself Aggie, I told you, we don’t do things like that around here. It’s witches like you that give us all a bad name.”

    Cedric rolled his newspaper up and pulled his deerstalker hat low over his eyes and followed Frigella out onto the street.

    By the time night fell over the Mediterranean village, the monkeys were still on the loose, having defied all attempts to capture them.  Truella decided to go and see for herself, having noticed that all the photographs in the news were rubbish. She knew she could do better than that.  The authorities were supposedly trying to capture them, but all she’d seen from the photos were the police standing in the narrow streets looking baffled, staring up at the primates scampering all over the rooftops and swinging from balcony to balcony.

    Where had all the monkeys come from?  Was it some kind of trick? It was, after all, Carnaval season, and tricks and buffoonery were rife.   And it would be a nice outting for Roger, before she set him to work.    He’d been very quiet since his arrival that morning, probably shy, Truella thought, and perhaps jetlagged.

    Grabbing her camera and a bunch of bananas, they set off towards the coast.  Truella attempted to engage Roger in conversation, but he just smiled sheepishly and mumbled unitelligably by way of response. Inwardly Truella rolled her eyes and wondered what she’d got herself into.  Still, a silent brawny helper was better than no help at all.

    Parking the car was uncharacteristially easy and they made their way on foot to the hodge podge row of beach shanties and fishermens cottages by the sea where the crowd had gathered to watch the monkeys antics.  Despite the full moon, the monkeys were hidden in the shadows, until every now and then the streetlights spotlit them as they leaped from roof to roof.  A conveniently situated bar was open with tables and chairs on the pavement, and Truella and Roger sat down and ordered drinks and peanuts.  Within moments Roger had eaten all the peanuts, so Truella turned to catch the waiters eye to order more.   He was serving a chubby pale woman in tartan bermuda shorts, surely a tourist, Truella deduced, as it was not yet shorts weather for the locals.

    “Whirling ‘n’ twirling a muckle puff o’ rowk,”  the woman was saying to the waiter, to which he replied “Que?”, and Truella gasped, grabbing Rogers forearm.  “Oh my god, it’s Griselda. What is that Scottish bogwitch doing down here?”

    “Ye’ll dae as ah say…”

    “Oh no he won’t,” Truella shouted across the terrace. “Grizel! Griselda MacSmotheringhampton! We don’t do that here!”  To the confused waiter she said, ” I’ll pay for it, put it on my bill. Don’t listen to her, she’s as mad as a box of frogs.”

    And then it dawned on her. She glared at Griselda and hissed, “This is your doing, isn’t it?  All these monkeys, it’s your doing, isn’t it?”

    Griselda smirked. “And what are ye gooin tae do aboot it?”

    “Would you be looking for me?”

    Cedric jumped. Where on earth had she come from? It was the blond witch from the cafe, but what was she doing sneaking up behind him when he’d seen her rushing off down the street not a minute before! And yet here she was, smirking at him like butter wouldn’t melt!

    He studied her. She wasn’t conventionally pretty he decided, with her thin, sharp features. And she had no meat on her bones. Cedric liked women who were soft and had a bit of something he could squeeze. And she was so … white … almost like one of those albinos … still, there was something he found strangely compelling about her.

    She’s a witch, he reminded himself. “What on earth gave you the idea I was following you?” He twisted his mouth into an amused sneer, hoping it showed the contempt she surely deserved.

    “You’re not then?” Her gaze was unswerving and Cedric had to look away, pretending to take a great interest in a black poodle peeing on a nearby lamp post. Cedric liked dogs and up until six months ago had a miniature schnauzer called Mitzy. Thinking of Mitzy, he felt the familiar little squeeze in his chest.

    “I’m Frigella O’Green,” she said, still studying him intently.

    Reluctantly he pulled his gaze back towards her. “Oh, ah … Cedric … just Cedric.” He’d nearly told her his surname which didn’t seem a good idea, all things considered.  Out of habit, he raised his hand to take hers, then remembering, thrust it awkwardly in his jacket pocket.

    “Well, just Cedric, if you’re not looking for me, I’ll be off … I’m in a bit of a hurry.” Then she smiled at him, properly this time, and Cedric wondered why he hadn’t thought she was pretty a moment ago. “Nice hat by the way, Cedric. Stylish.” She turned then and Cedric watched her stride down the street until she was no longer visible. Distractedly he brushed the wool tweed of his cap.

    Frigella O’Green is a witch, Cedric, he told himself sternly.

    Truella ordered another round of drinks and some more peanuts and then went to the toilets. When she got back to the table on the sidewalk, Roger’s glass was empty and the peanuts had been eaten but there was no sign of Roger. Truella assumed that he’d also gone to the toilets, but after a quarter of an hour and he hadn’t returned, she asked the waiter to check on him.  The waiter returned and informed her that nobody was in the mens toilet, and then a woman on the next table said that she’d noticed Truella’s friend making strange noises and that he had wandered off up the road.

    “What kind of strange noises? And which way did he go?”

    “Well, to be honest, monkey noises. He sounded like a chimpanzee,” the woman replied, looking a little embarrassed.  “And he went that way,” she said, pointing towards where the monkeys had been trampolining on the shop awnings just down the road.

    Truella looked in the direction she was pointing.  “But where are the monkeys now?”

    “Well,” the woman replied looking even more embarrassed, “They all followed your friend down the road.  I don’t know where they are now.”

    Truella took a hasty gulp of her drink, stood up and called the waiter over and asked for the bill.   Without waiting for her change she ran down the street calling Rogers name.  It crossed her mind that a locating spell would have been useful but she didn’t have time for that.  Instead she asked some passers by where the monkeys were now.

    The young couple turned and pointed behind them.  “They all ran down that way, right down the middle of the road, crazy it was, stopped all the traffic. And they were all running after that big man!”

    Truella started running in that direction and then stopped, gasping. It was no good, she’d never catch them up.  Slowly she walked back to her car, wondering what to do next.

    Head witch Malové must have been used to it, for having seen that magic at play a number of times… there was nothing like the strange serendipity of chaos.

    After the smoke had finally cleared, Malové couldn’t bear to stand amidst the wreckage of their once impeccably arranged ritual space. She looked at the mess, the sheer ridiculousness of it all, and decided to go for a brisk walk in the streets of Limerick. The light drizzle and sharp sting of the winter air brought back some pink to her pale face. To cover her perfectly coiffed head, he wrapped her shawl, black and shiny as a dung beetle, and moved swiftly cutting through the crowds effortlessly, parting the human congeries like Moses did the Red Sea. She was never unnoticed; her tall lean silhouette, accentuated by the sleek robe noire, the vertigo of her stiletto, the cheekbones so sharp they could kill — there was nothing common about her frame; and after the years, and all the side glances, she’d clearly lost practice on how to give a damn.

    It was at the turn of a dark corner illuminated by the neon sign of a Chinese local eatery under which the delivery guy was having a break that the synchronicity stuck her. A slow smirk tugged at the corners of her mouth. From chaos, clarity had emerged.

    Vaping, hookah, e-cigarettes —all the rage among the mindless masses. And there, in the plumes of artificially flavoured smoke, was their opportunity. A new way to infiltrate the consciousness of the people, to subtly attune their energies and guide them towards emotional management —or at the very least, less stupidity.

    She imagined their Incense —the sacred concoctions of herbs and essences, entwined with potent spells— being drawn into eager lungs, seeping into the bloodstream, entangling with the very atoms of their being, a sweet balm better than the usual deleterious micro-plastics. The witches wouldn’t just be casting spells; they’d be weaving their magic into the fabric of life itself, one puff at a time.

    The more she thought about it, the brighter the idea seemed. It was audacious, unconventional, bordering on scandalous. A few days ago maybe, she would have balked at the mere thought. But desperate times called for this… elegant, simply perfect. For the witches of the Quadrivium Coven of Mystiques, she had even less doubts or concerns about warming them up to such iconoclastic idea. She knew a group of them, those black sheep never to shy away from a little controversy. And if they could use the vaping trend to spread their influence, then why not? Enough with surviving on the Chinese New Year only, the whole world was ripe for extended incensing.

    Trying not to smile too broadly, Truella was delighted with Malove’s latest idea. An inveterate and unrepentant smoker, she had often wondered what the hysteria about cigarette smoke was all about.  It seemed as ludicrous as the Victorian fashion for hiding immodest table and piano legs with voluminous paisley shawls while sending children up chimneys to clean them.  Those who railed against tobacco smoke filled their rooms with the noxious fumes of incense or toxic “air fresheners”, their fridges with smoked bacon and smoked salmon, delighted in “real fires” with nostalgic wisps of smoke curling from country cottage chimneys, and sitting around a smoking barbecue or campfire.  Humans had lived in smokey hovels and caves since the beginning of time.

    Frigella noticed Truella smirking and shook her head, tutting. With a devilishly wide grin, Truella whispered, “Meet me in the pub afterwards, need to talk.”

    “Perhaps we can count on your full and undivided participation for once, Truella,” Malove said, who hadn’t missed anything. “With your penchant for filling public spaces with smoke, this mission will no doubt appeal to you greatly.”

    “Indeed,” she replied, endeavouring to look demure and obedient.

    Truella had already left for that monkey hunt in the Mediterranean. Eris had to go back before nightfall, which was quite early at this time of year as she had chosen to live in such a remote place in the midst of a frozen forest. Jeezel only thought it romantic because of the icicles that would form on your eyelashes and brows, making you the perfect avatar for the Snow Queen musical. And Frigella… She said she was tired but from the sight of her aura, she undoubtedly was onto something fishy.

    Jeezel looked at her dress. Once a divine creation, it has turned into a disaster. Irremediably stained with soot, it’s foul smell would make any dragon lose their appetite. She felt a mix of sadness and guilt for all the murex that gave their shells for that unique shade of purple she was so proud of.

    She wasn’t sure even Teddy Steambolt could muster his magic to save the divine creation. She imagined his eyes widen as saucers when she entered his Palace of Pristine with the lifeless garment in her arms. He would most certainly swoon and gasp at the same time.

    “Oh, The tragedy!” he would wail, his high-pitched lament resonating in the cathedral ceiling of his atelier of cleanliness. “What calamity hath befallen this exquisite creation?”

    “Teddy, dear,” she would say, “It was indeed a tragedy. I lost seven of my nails and my hair was ruined. You’re the alchemist of cleanliness, you’re my only hope for a miracle.”

    And he would take her dress and perform his magic from which it would emerge reborn, and all those murex wouldn’t have lost their home for nothing.

    She was about to follow the others when Malové reminded her: “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

    A broom and a bucket of black soap were floating on her right.

    Her sigh would have made a blue whale blush with envy. Her role tonight would not be the Snow Queen, but Cinderella, another of her favourite diva.

Viewing 25 replies - 1 through 25 (of 113 total)