Charlize Fournier was always the last to arrive.
Sisters of the Setting Sun met after dark, always, when most of Uspax had fallen asleep. Charlize trudged through the fern and the sludge, her hair flying and leaping out behind her. “My apologies, dearest sisters,” she said, showing herself to the coven. “I was wrought with such unsettling news before my departure. Forgive me.”
Charlize didn’t live alone. She came from a long line of powerful witches, whose lives alone were a threat. Perhaps someday this wouldn’t be the case. For now, Charlize lived as she could: secretive and emerging.
“You are forgiven.” Delta Nightwolf led the coven and mentored its young witches. She was dark, a witch of caliber, inside and out of the coven. “Join us, friend. We are just about to begin.”
It had been ten years since Charlize’s power had begun to emerge. The seventh witch in her generation, she’d been expecting that. Charlize wasn’t yet a fully-fledged witch. The Ceremony was coming fast, leaving her frazzled and doubtful. A witch’s Ceremony was her rite of passage, the transition from apprentice to leader. To all the coven, it was the One Big Event, truly the only one worth waiting for.
The coven stood together, encircled around a fire, hands out warming in the flame. “Are you prepared for your Ceremony, Charlize?” Tinley Wixx asked, her silver hair lit up by the flame. “It’s nearing. It’s oh, such a wonderful journey into the world. I remember my Ceremony.” Tinley’s Ceremony was all the other witch spoke about. The girl was eighteen and newly initiated. Oh, how Charlize longed to be like her!
Charlize took her spot next to Tegan, her closest friend, and the sister of Tinley. “I have been preparing.” A witch only got one Ceremony. It was a necessity to be prepared, for the Ceremony set the tone for the rest of a young woman’s life. As the third-oldest witch in her coven, Charlize had a lot of eyes on her.
“Excellent.” Delta spoke, the ashes of the fire sparking and jumping. “Now that we’re all gathered, let’s begin today’s meeting. I would like to ask: how are you all doing, sisters? We have
not had the opportunity to meet for quite some time. This is my fault. Have any of you discovered anything new about yourselves?”
Delta was a supportive coven leader, though she was rather secretive and spoke little of her personal life. Her Ceremony was years ago, before many things, before even the Event that cumulated in Crepegrum’s birth. Delta had been here since the beginning, she was a wise woman, and she was weathered. She encouraged conversation in the way the Ordinary encouraged the disbelief in witchcraft. Charlize’s own boyfriend was Ordinary. She disliked that.
Bexley Lovejoy was eighteen years old. She stepped forward, a shadow under the moon, and spoke for the first time that evening. “I recognized an emerging Ability in myself.” She had a monotone voice, soft and calm. “I have Clairvoyant Abilities. If I continue to center them, I believe I may someday become a full Clairvoyant, and I would of course use this Ability to bring comfort to all of you, sisters.”
This wasn’t news to Charlize. Outside of the coven, she had close friends in most of her sisters, and Bexley was no exception. Delta smiled, a serene expression on her aged face. “This is wonderful news, Bexley. I hope you will continue to nurture your newfound powers to become the best witch that you can be.”
Tonight was the Awakening. This meant the coven could only meet shortly, as it was illegal not to attend. Charlize knew the High Elves were very particular, enjoying their control and their multitude of Abilities. Charlize had never met the Elves. Travel between factions outside one’s own was forbidden, and Charlize believed it always had been.
There was an aura of death in the air. It was the same aura that accompanied the wars, initiated always by the Dark Witches. It was fortunate for Charlize that she had only lived through one of the many wars Crepegrum had fallen victim to. It was unfortunate that she suspected another was on its way.
“I apologize, sisters.” Delta shuffled, snapping a branch under her heavy foot. “I am afraid we must end our meeting here. The Awakening is about to begin. Already I can sense our brothers and sisters making their way to the ceremony. Let us all accompany one another.”
Every year, the Awakening was mandatory. Every being in every faction across the nation was in attendance, always held separately at the center of each faction. Charlize trailed along after the Sisters, the forest leaves crunching under her feet. Her feet weren’t heavy. As a girl, Charlize was tall and slim and red-haired, the same red hair as every woman in her family. She had no brothers or sisters, and she enjoyed it this way.
The journey from Uspax to Oswaria was long, but Charlize had made it several times. It was where Wing Fulton lived, and Wing knew not of her witchcraft, and so he was forbidden from visiting the nation of the witches. Oswaria was a lawless land, disregarded by the Elves, a carefree place for the Ordinary. Charlize knew their love was against the laws, and so nobody knew of it, and she was always careful not to be seen.
“Rule number two of the nation of Crepegrum,” Aerith’s voice had boomed over all the land,
trill and steady, “Inter-species relationships are forbidden. Any creature found engaging in such a relationship may be hanged.”
It was a no-nonsense place. Charlize had heard the stories, the legends of the land before Crepegrum. According to legend, the land had been homey and populated, but torn apart by race wars and government. She didn’t think it had ever been a good nation to live on. Nobody knew if the legends were true. They had been told and retold many times, perhaps changed, perhaps some parts omitted. Many people claimed witches had always existed in the land, but nobody believed this. This legend wasn’t far off from the way of the nation today.
The Awakening was a long ceremony, filled with song and the casting of Spells of Fortune. This was a spell Charlize had not yet mastered, though she spent many days practicing with her mother and Grandmother. Both of these women were powerful witches, and Charlize desired greatly to be like them.
The seventh rule in the Lawbook of Uspax was that no magic was to be performed outside of the faction. This meant, of course, that although Charlize could cast a Spell of Teleportation to get to Oswaria, this was forbidden. In the nation, most things were forbidden. Charlize wanted all creatures to live harmoniously amongst each other, and she had brought this up many times. The High Elves thought differently, and they were the ones in charge.
Charlize knew about the fae folk. She had seen them, spoken to them, had magic granted by them. Things were a little different for the fae-folk. They lived in the forest of Acren, but fluttered back and forth between factions as they pleased. The fae-folk were mostly pleasant when they weren’t pulling pranks.
Wing was a short man, tanned, with dark hair of medium length. Charlize supposed, originality-wise, he looked mostly the same as every other Ordinary, but she would never tell him this. Wing was a man of suspicion, which made things difficult. Charlize never really acknowledged these suspicions.
September was the faery of Fortune. During the journey to Oswaria, Charlize saw a sparkle in the tree, and suspected it was September. No one ever really saw the fae-folk, as they were small and stealthy, but they often left sights of their attendance in their wake.
Wing was nineteen years old. His meetings were Charlize were brief and never to be spoken of, as they both knew they were risking being hanged. When she arrived to where the man was waiting in the woods, she was careful to ensure her face was covered. Sometimes, the High Elf Aerith, who had Invisibility, would hide among her residents, concealed to keep an eye out for law-breakers. This was a frightening thought to Charlize, although she and Wing were careful remain inconspicuous.
The man smiled when the girl approached, his head covered by a black hood, and the woods dark. “Good evening, fair traveller. Have you come a long way?”
Wing had an older brother whom Charlize had never met, and he hardly spoke of the man. She kissed him, rather quickly in case somebody was watching. “I’ve come a fair way to see you, warrior. It was a long and winding journey, but I’m here now.”
The two had met at the Awakening a year prior, which was surprising to Charlize, as after all this time, their relations still remained a secret. This was quite the accomplishment, she thought.
Wing turned, and trudged back through the woods. Charlize followed. “Alas,” said the man, handsome despite his Ordinariness, “we must not be seen. Come.” Charlize supposed she was always good at keeping secrets; she had to have been, with the length of time she’d been seeing Wing. “How was your Awakening, maiden? I attended mine with Hawk, although I did dearly wish I could have attended with you.”
Charlize heard a noise. Perhaps it was Aerith, concealed somewhere in the surrounding woods. Perhaps it was but a fae-folk with another of her pranks. “I attended with my sisters,” she was careful to say: the truth, but not in the way the man would think. “It was quite lengthy. I’m weary now and long for sleep. Perhaps we can meet again tomorrow, warrior.”
Wing agreed to this. The man was usually agreeable, but had an air of nosiness to him, which Charlize disliked. There was a breeze in the woods behind them. Charlize needed to begin her journey home, before her Grandmother questioned where she had been. Her Grandmother was a strict woman, dedicated only to magic, and her Granddaughter’s use of it. “Let us find a meeting place for tomorrow,” said Wing, brushing the hand of Charlize. She agreed to this, and blew the man a kiss before beginning the long journey back home.