Alarms were blaring everywhere. I ran from the storage building, arms filled with vials, nearly stumbling in my hurry.
“Careful!” One of the older coven members snapped at me. “We need those! Get them to Eleanor and hurry – but don’t drop them!”
I wanted to tell her that was what I was doing already, but this wasn’t the time and place to be snappy with her. I got tired of the way they all treated me, but I worked hard and did my best – and someday I’d get out of here and go to university, hopefully. Coven life wasn’t for me, but at the moment, none of that mattered.
All that mattered was that our town was under attack and I would do my part to help protect it. Our little town balanced on the edge of a deep ravine, with a mountain on the other side – it was our home. Half of us were witches, the half other random supernaturals and even a handful of humans. It might not be much to other people, but to the invaders, it represented some rare magical plants while to us it represented home.
And we would defend home. Even if eventually I wanted to leave, it wasn’t like I wanted to see the place destroyed and for now it was the only safe place I knew.
Although it didn’t feel so safe right now, running towards the line of what appeared to be explosions and even the treelines moving. I wasn’t sure who all the attackers were, but they had to have a fairy or dryad with them. And obviously enough of them that our entire coven was needed to defend the town.
I reached Eleanor close to the center of the line, but too far away to really see any of the fighting, and dumped the vials – as carefully as possible – on the box next to her. “Supplies,” I informed her.
She didn’t even glance at me as she started quickly sorting through what I’d brought. I’d like to have said that was because she was busy, but it wasn’t. They always treated me like that. As a male witch, my magic was practically non-existent, and to witches who felt that magic was everything? I was a disgrace. Mother told me repeatedly that we were lucky the coven let me stay at all, because not every coven would even allow a male witch among their members, but I didn’t feel lucky. I felt…disposable.
“You left off the fire potions,” Eleanor scowled, her expression and tone telling me how much she hated even having to acknowledge my existence. “They’re the most important. Go and get them, swiftly.”
I hesitated, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably. “There weren’t any in the storage building,” I stated tentatively.
She huffed impatiently. “That’s because they’re special! They’re in the hollow. You’re 15 and you don’t know this yet?” She seemed extra put out by my ignorance, acting like so many of the coven – acting like I must be stupid because I didn’t know things that the rest of them did. It wasn’t like I wasn’t interested or couldn’t learn, though, it was just that they wouldn’t tell me. I wasn’t allowed to know stuff like that because I was just a male witch. I wasn’t worthy of any of the coven’s secrets.
“Go,” she glared at me. “Quickly! Go!”
I stumbled off obediently, a boom behind me startling me enough I did lose my balance this time, but I got up almost as quickly and ran off along the outer edge of the town, following the precarious pathway that overlooked the ravine until I got to the door to the hollow. I had to use up practically all of my magic and throw myself against the door to get it to open, but very reluctantly it did, revealing a slightly descending pathway into the darkness.
If I’d had the average amount of magic a female witch had at my age, I could have created a flame to light my path, but I largely had to rely on non-magical ways of making the world work, so I used the old-fashioned method of just getting a spark that would light a torch and then heading deep into the passageway.
I didn’t like it in the hollow. The rest of the coven seemed to, though – Mother said it was something about feeling the dark magic more intently down here. To me, it was always so dark and cold and claustrophobic. It felt almost suffocating. I hated coming down here, but thankfully this was one of the times being a male witch worked in my advantage – I was rarely allowed into the almost sacred grounds of the hollow, so usually I didn’t have to worry about having to go down here.
Except for emergencies like this, of course. Then I was sent down here alone, realizing too late that Eleanor hadn’t told me which passageway the potions were in.
Down here were the plants we grew, the ones that needed dark magic to thrive. Rare plants, some that were native to this mountain. They were the reason people were attacking, from what the coven said. I’d heard several of them mutter about plants when the alarms started, so it had to be about them.
I glanced in several rooms, starting to feel worried about how long this was taking, and tried to hurry up my search. All I saw was our plants, the meditation room, more plants, more plants, the gathering room, one of the rooms people used to make potions, more plants – wait.
There. In the room for potions, there was a cabinet. Maybe back there? I quickly ran across the room to look, bumping my shin against something in the dark, but to my disappointment, the cabinet was just full of empty vials. I looked around hopefully, but nothing out of the ordinary met my eyes. Well, if finished potions weren’t kept in here, then where were they? Further down the passage, where I wasn’t allowed to go? That felt like the only option. I really hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble for this, but Eleanor hadn’t told me where the potions were, so it didn’t feel like I had many choices.
As I crossed into the forbidden passage, I felt a shiver go down my spine. From magic, or just from my own fears, I wasn’t sure, but I did know I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Just get this search over with and get the stupid potions back to Eleanor and then do whatever other errands they had for me to run.
I came across a room that I thought belonged to the coven master because it looked too nice for anything else. No readily apparent potions here, though, and I was too terrified of the coven master to even think of searching the desk unless I had no other option, so I continued my search. The next room, to my relief, had what I was looking for. There were a series of small shelves against the wall and even from the doorway I could see the flickering of orange that told me they were the fire potions.
I hurried over to them and carefully collected them all, but as I turned back to the door, the light of the torch fell on something and I paused. Took a step closer. Took a closer look. And then felt my heart start to sink.
There were plants here in this room, but…they were not plants from our mountains. I didn’t recognize them at all, but the pots they were in reminded me of some of the dryad merchants I’d seen in town.
I backed up a step, horrified, as the realization struck me.
The people out there were attacking over plants, but not over our plants. They were attacking because my coven had stolen these plants from some dryads! I didn’t exactly know a lot about dryads, but I did know that they viewed their plants as practically family members. They were kind of plants themselves, in a way, so that made sense. Stealing their plants would be like kidnapping their family members.
No wonder they were attacking our town!
My breath started to come faster as I tried to figure out what to do. Should I take the plants and try to give them back to the dryads? We shouldn’t have stolen them, that wasn’t okay, and now the entire town was in danger because of these plants! Obviously give them back. Yes, forget the stupid fire potions, just take care of the plants. Sure, my coven would be really upset about it and I definitely wouldn’t be able to stay here anymore – in fact, I might be lucky if they didn’t kill me – but it was the right thing to do, I was pretty sure of that.
I winced a little as I thought of Mother. She would probably bear some of the consequences of my choice, too. They wouldn’t kill her, but they’d probably kick her out of the coven for this. Still…stealing the plants was wrong and what about all the humans in our town who couldn’t defend themselves? They didn’t deserve to get put in a position where they were in danger because some of our coven had done something wrong.
I set the potions down and reached for the plants, but I had barely picked up the first pot when something happened.
There was a rumble going through the entire mountain. I could hear it, but then I began to feel it through my feet and the room itself began to shake. I looked around, scared, not certain what the sound meant, but then the faintest tinkle of glass met my ears and I turned, fresh horror on my face as I realized my mistake.
I’d set the fire potions down. On the floor. And now this earthquake – or whatever it was – was making the room shake. I didn’t even have time to reach out and try to grab the potions before two of them rolled just enough to knock into each other.
The world around me exploded, fire and stone and darkness all rolled into one. I had enough time to realize I was about to be crushed to death by the mountain if I didn’t die in the explosion first, and then there was nothing.