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Chapter 5-8

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 9 years, 8 months ago

The air was stagnant and could be easily mistaken for dead. If it were not for the dancing blue flame, then this chamber would be a crypt instead of a reception hall. A chorus of whimpering frightened children filled the air, so I knew I was not alone in my thoughts. There was a very real fear looming over everyone's head. Not much was dissuading us from assuming we were this room's new permanent residents instead of just visitors. Terror electrified the dead air; but in spite of all that, an overture of one girl's incessant and playful giggling labored to sweep those feelings away.

 

The wash of eerie red light had finally faded. Blood red pentagrams which had circled above us until now had all faded as their magics were spent. Replacing it was now a sinister and seductive blue. A lone light in the darkness which illuminated the inappropriately dressed little demon as she bounced between the scattered groups of orphans. She was clad like a jester, at least that's what her strange hat conveyed to me. But her skintight and slightly translucent suit told me the entertainment she promised was far from family friendly. I could only make out so much though. I was flat on my stomach with Isabelle still sitting on my back.

 

There was one thing which I take away from all this. At least Isabelle hadn't scraped or hurt herself. She fell out of the magic circles shortly after me, and I didn't exactly land very well at all. The good news kept coming because there was no taste of iron in my mouth, and I could still feel my legs. I'm glad I could be of service, but she didn't seem intent on paying me back anytime soon... Such as getting off my back.

 

Thanks to that, I was having trouble recovering from being winded by the fall, and I couldn't even beg her to give my spine a brief reprieve. Meanwhile, everyone else was busy clinging desperately to one another. For safety I'd assume, but it was all for naught. Our host appeared harmless.

 

     “Come now, little ones!” She said in her sickeningly high pitched voice. “Fret not. You are safe now, and no one shall ever harm or bind you again.”

 

Once the little demon had trotted on her chair leg like feet into the center of the room, she performed one last pirouette, her long ankle length hair trailing like a cape behind her, before officially addressing her captive audience. She didn't just look harmless; she sounded harmless as well.

 

     “The name is Red. I'm a familiar in my master's service. A pleasure to meet you all this evening!”

 

The little devil named Red took a deep exaggerated bow.

 

A familiar. If this fabled Crone is a witch, then having a familiar seems in line. But this isn't a cat, raven or a toad. This is an intelligent human-like life form. But now that I think about it, she does seem artificial. Her legs look more like furniture, and her eyes appear almost inorganic with their odd white star shaped pupils while she has demonic like features elsewhere. In line with monsters, her physical appearance seems like she was molded with care from clay. Even if she looked like a child, I would have to assume she was possibly dangerous. Red stood back suddenly with a big showtime smile on her face and continued.

 

     “You will have to forgive us,” the girl said with overbearing sadness. “Believe me when I say we wish there was a better way for us to meet. We had no choice but to pluck you from your beds in the middle of the night. Your guardians and your church refuses to accept any other path than their own.”

 

The very mention of the church seemed to put a subtle and very brief crack in her character. Her teeth gnashed, and contempt dripped from her voice. Yet, just a moment later, she returned to her previous self.

 

     “Come now! Come along!” She sang gaily.

 

From the center of the room she danced and pranced her way back to the exit which not a soul had dared approach. It was certainly not an escape route, so no one could be blamed for not trying.

 

     “I promise you all it will be the greatest show you've ever seen. Has any soul here seen a show? No? Of course, how many of you poor girls could count the number of times your legs have carried you beyond those walls on your fingers? Walls which were to keep you safe!

 

With her inhuman claw-like hands she made air quotations with her fingers in case her sarcasm wasn't coming out thick enough. She didn't allow any pause for it to sink in though; the girl let another chorus of giggles as she skipped her back toward the exit. Like a stewardess, she held out her arm to show the exit. No one moved.

 

     “Come along now. This door will not stay open forever... And I don't know when it will open again.”

 

Her voice was chipper as ever, but there was a serious tone to it. This wasn't a friendly anecdote. What she was giving now was a warning.

 

An ultimatum.

 

The girls in the room didn't need any more cajoling. The darkness of the room and the thought of being trapped in that pitch black and claustrophobic place was far more frightening than whatever lay ahead. It was a welcome change of pace for me. As the girls slowly filed out of the room Isabelle got off my back, and I was free. Feena, Gloria and Heather, all huddled together, lagged behind with the two of us, and thus we were the last to exit the room. The two girls shielded the youngest. Heather was shaking badly, and her delicate nerves appeared to be near the breaking point. They did their best to cradle her head, hold her ears and cover her eyes, but it did little good. The devil girl couldn't take a hint.

 

     “Hurry now. Hurry now!” She shouted gleefully. “We're behind. We'll miss the show!”

 

Just to keep the girl away, they complied while trying to act as barriers and keep the devil away from Heather. There wasn't any tact in interfering just yet, so I followed behind the three of them. I loomed over them within arms reach so I could spring into action on a moment's notice. As I walked, I noticed something else was off. Isabelle small hand was clinging to my sleeve.

 

Her eyes seemed so intent yesterday; but in this strange and frightening place, she cast her face downward. She pressed up against me and was cowering, standing next to me and pleading with me to keep her safe. She buried her face into my waist and shied away from everything. I could even hear her whimper softly and tremble ever so slightly. My other hand reached out on its own and patted her head reassuringly. I tousled her black hair till it became scruff and mangy. She responded by pressing her face into my stomach harder. When I withdrew my attention from her, I nearly panicked when I realized how far behind the other three and the devil we were. I had to walk quickly, with Isabelle attached to my hip, in order to leave the room before it was sealed.

 

As we passed the threshold, the stone door rumbled shut behind us and sealed away the stagnant air. Now that air was dead at last. At least there was no one left inside. Twenty-one prisoners, not including myself, in total. I counted each head as the girls of all ages between the ages of five and fifteen now shivered barefoot in their sleeping gowns. I too was starting to feel the chill. The stone floor was bone chilling, and a breeze flowed down the winding tunnels. Claustrophobia had not abandoned us, but we had traded the muggy stale air for a crisp night breeze. But that alone caused my heart to beat and fill me with hope.

 

If there was a breeze, that meant there was an exit to the outside world nearby. I desperately searched for the source of the draft, but I had a feeling it would come to me, and I wasn't disappointment. While our group was being herded through the tunnels, I spotted a breach in the tunnel. The whole train stopped but only for a moment. I couldn't quite hear what was being said up front, but the little devil trotted to the front to deal with it. It was then I realized that our troubles had doubled.

 

We had been corralled to a three-way stop where our train had collided with another group of captives. I recognized some faces, and the dull sleeping gowns gave it away. They were from the abbey. Leading the other children was another familiar, but she was dressed in black and white body suit. It was a nearly identical but also vertically reversed version of Red's. Her hair, short enough that it did not reach her shoulders, was also a curious gradient black that eventually transitioned into gray with white ends. On top of her head was a two pronged jester's hat that had checker mark pattern which sat above her eyes which were also twins of Red's.

 

     “Black!” Red called out with her arms wide open and welcoming. “What a fine gathering of sisters we have today.”

 

     “Hehe, that we do Red.” Black, the other familiar giggled in response, “Our mistress's spell caught eighteen under my watch and guidance.”

 

The familiar, Black, puffed out her chest and boasted. Red feigned shock and threw herself backward in an exaggerated manner, until she put on a wry smile on her face.

 

     “'Tis a shame. I only managed to catch only just over twenty.”

 

A face of playful and sarcastic shock and dismay slapped itself on Black's face. She put the back of her hand to her forehead and wavered about as if she were about to faint.

 

     “Again, dear sister? You have beaten me once more? Ah, but I did catch a couple bonus extras this time!”

 

     “Those do not count. Remember?” Red said sullenly.

 

While all the girls watched and shook in terror, the two familiar joined hands and bowed toward the group of girls that was now over three dozen. Their captive audience did not give any ovation in kind.

 

While she was distracted I fished around for something... anything... but came up dry. It wasn't long until I dug deep enough into my own thoughts that something so minor as a faint ray of red light got my attention. It was a subtle and tiny ray of light which pierced the nearby darkness. A darkness held at bay by a haze of blue torchlight. It was there behind a hole in the wall where the light of the reddish moon flowed in.

 

That had to be what it was. It was very nearly a full moon outside, so you could see the land for miles around. I could only make out the faint ray of light, so I had to push aside the other girls who were still standing shell shocked in my path. Isabelle didn't let me go anywhere by myself even though she was scared and clung to me the whole way. Feena and the other girls did the same as they crowded around Heather and moved toward the center of the pack. The opening was high up on the wall, but I could see through if I stood on my toes.

 

The opening was no larger than a porthole and about my arm's length long. All I could see beyond it was a sheer drop. High above there was nothing but sky, the blood red moon and the stars against the black backdrop of the heavens. Below there were about two hundred meters to the ground below. Anyone unlucky or stupid enough to try climbing down and then slip would most certainly die. If I crushed my shoulders there was a chance I might squeeze through... Or one of the girls could easily slip through, but there's no way any of these girls have the strength or skill to make that climb. If there was anyone here who could do it, it would have to be me.

 

As I mulled over the possibility, I felt a tug at my waist. Isabelle was looking up at me with pleading eyes. They were eyes that pleaded, 'please don't'. It was a splash of cold water; the chill shook me when I noticed the other three girls also had the same expression on their faces. Even if I didn't get stuck. Even if I didn't get caught right away. Even if I didn't slip and die on the climb down. These girls would be all alone. I was the biggest here, and I had rescued them twice before... They were relying on me now that the stakes had gotten far worse than a missed meal or a bully's beating. I couldn't abandon them now to get help and hope they would be okay when I manage to return. I could only trust the other girls to crack the case and then rescue us in time. Until then, I had to do what I could here.

 

To do that I would need some kind of plan.

 

I looked down the tunnel and saw the two familiars were still heavily invested in trying to entertain the other girls and had not yet noticed me. Even after I stood as tall as I could while trying to climb out by the hole in the wall. But that wasn't the plan anymore.

 

     “I need something,” I whispered in my disguised voice to the four girls whom had my full attention. “A handkerchief or something.”

 

The girls looked among themselves, confused, and then back to me.

 

     “Trust me,” I begged.

 

Gloria slowly produced a plain white handkerchief from an inside pocket of her gown and slowly handed it up to me. I took one last look at the twin familiars who had yet to look back this way before I snatched the handkerchief. I quickly rubbed it hard against my forehead and soaked up the layers of sweat which had gathered. Then I slipped it up my sleeves and wiped both my armpits dry. The mouths of the four girls all dropped at once. I then took the handkerchief, wadded it up, reached through the hole and tossed it into the wind. It opened back up in mid drop and fluttered away on the breeze.

 

It wasn't much, but it was something. It was also a long shot, but better than nothing. If Minte's tracking and sense of 'smell' in those antennae of hers were that good, then maybe, just maybe, it might lead them all in the right direction. If they already figured out the right direction, then it should tell them that they've arrived.

 

     Gloria let slip a little yelp, “Ah!”

 

Damn. I was so caught up I didn't even think that might have some sort of meaning to the girl. But that didn't seem to concern her now. She quickly threw her hands in front of her mouth to shut herself up. On cue, Red and Black's attention were flung in our direction from the front. All the other girls whose attention had been locked down by the two little devils also flew in our direction. Isabelle clung herself onto me even tighter in response. Red and Black quickly gave up when they noticed there was actually nothing exciting happening.

 

     “Oh do forgive us,” Red said.

 

     “We must have you bored to tears while we two catch up,” Black apologized as well.

 

The two girls once more joined hands.

 

     “Perhaps you are hungry?”

 

     “Confused?”

 

     “Anxious?” Red said with a grin while playfully jabbing her free elbow into the chest of a girl who looked ready to faint from fright.

 

They joined their other hands then pressed against one another chest to chest, cheek to cheek while they spoke to the crowd of girls with a sparkle to their star eyes.

 

     “No matter what ails you, please come with us!”

 

     “We will show you the cure!”

 

     “The Crone, our master, will show you wonders. The wonders of the greatest show you'll ever see!” Black sang.

 

With their joined hands they looked ready to dance a tango; but instead, a door blocking the third path opened and revealed a bright light greater than their torchlight.

 

Beyond the door was what appeared to be a massive cavern. A twisting mess of corridors and large open spaces mined out long ago. Rusty, rotting, broken and abandoned shovels, pickaxes and carts full of rocks dusted the halls and caves. This place had not seen a miner for many decades. I began to wonder if there was anyone left alive that even remembered this hill or mountain mine. If there wasn't, then the reason this place was chosen as their hideout became obvious.

 

With nowhere to go but forward, the girls followed the lead and cajoling of the two familiars. But none of the girls dared to run. There wasn't just the maze to get lost in that scared them. It wasn't whatever the two familiars could do to them. There was now also a myriad of strange sounds and voices coming from all directions. Giggling of girls, heaving, breathing and high pitched moans, bubbling, steaming and too many other noises to take note of. There was sulfur and many other strange smells assaulting my senses as well. Some of them were pleasant, and sometimes they were offensive. As we passed through the halls, some doors gave me a brief look into the strange workshops that had been set up here. As we did, the two familiars sang.

 

     “Here you'll see an old perverted and former priest,” Red sang. “His book, God and peers all said to him, 'no'!”

 

Inside was an old gray haired man in a black priest's robe and white collar reclining on a pile of colorful satin pillows. Dropping grapes and holding spilling gold goblets of wine were about eight very cute girls of wildly various descriptions all dressed in nothing more than what might pass as underwear. On each of their heads were massive black witch hats.

 

     “Now a gaggle of girls for his very own feast!” Black said finishing the verse.

 

The sight left me sick to my stomach, but we were quickly paraded further down the hall.

 

     “And now behind this veil: Seven virgins and a mule!” Black said while quickly lifting up a drape covering an opening in the wall.

 

Inside was a single very wide bed with seven almost naked boys cowering together on it. Off to the side was a woman, at least what was a woman's torso attached to what looked like a horse missing its head and neck. She was a very motherly looking centaur. She had enormous breasts which were currently exposed. They looked heavy with enormous dark brown areola crowning them. She had short brown hair with streaks that matched the Pinto pattern of her horse body.

 

But she wasn't a mother figure in the least. She had lust in her eyes as she playfully licked down on the side of her index finger while she stared longingly and erotically at the young boys and tapped her forward left hoof on the stony floor. Beyond them a small audience of young girls hooted and hollered encouragement from what looked like box seats.

 

Red had slid her way over to the girls near myself, Feena and the others. She playfully jabbed her elbow into a girl's shoulder.

 

     “Keep it cool, keep it cool.”

 

Black quickly let the flap back down, and the two familiars shepherded the girls further into the mine.

 

One girl seemed to be losing her nerves and was ready to freak out. Her eyes were wide open, and her hands were on the sides of her head. It was as though she was trying to keep herself from popping like a balloon. It didn't take long for Red to come swinging by.

 

     “Are you stressed?”

 

     “Missing home?” Black said coming from the other side.

 

Red pulled the jester's hat off her head and fished around inside with her claw. Her arm sunk further than elbow deep inside. It was impossible.

 

     “Are we not content with that?” Black asked.

 

     “Then watch as I pull Vivian from a hat!”

 

From her hat, Red pulled out what looked like a person just a little shorter than a ruler stick. She was young, kindly and good looking woman. Her head was clothed by a nun's habit, and she even greeted the girl with a kindly smile. It was Saint Vivian, or least it was a small likeness to her. Red held her up to the girl's face while her hand was wrapped around the woman's chest and waist. The cuteness of it all disappeared rather quickly. Red pressed her thumb against something on the small saint's back. The little nun's shoulders and head started to rock back and forth. Another click made her do it faster. One last click and the little nun was literally vibrating with a constant droning hum.

 

     “If you are into that,” Black said, mimicking the wry grin and elbow nudge of Red.

 

The girl was left too confused, shocked and a little horrified to react at all. She couldn't even begin to freak out now. Red shrugged her shoulders when the girl didn't respond and without a care tossed the quivering nun over her shoulder. A tiny little scream echoed down the hall for a bit before it was suddenly silenced by the sound of something breaking against a wall in the distance.

 

We were led down the tunnel for a little while longer until at last we had reached what looked like our final destination. It was a massive open cavern deep within the mine. There didn't seem to be any exit other than the one we passed through. The ceiling was more than ten meters high and sixty meters by a hundred in width and length. Great pillars of stone supported the roof above while the scattered remains of mining equipment laid scattered about. At the vest center of the room were three long dining tables. But there wasn't a thing on them.

 

     “Before we begin the show-” Red began to say.

 

     “You all must be so hungry,” Black finished.

 

     “So have a seat. Please. Any seat. No one will be refused!”

 

     “You have all worked so very hard for so very little.”

 

     “Now you never have to work to eat again. With but a thought and flick of the wrist, you too can learn to do even this!”

 

Snapping the index and thumb of her claw together, the three tables were suddenly covered with a feast. It all winked into existence suddenly and without warning. A moment ago the air was stale; now it was filled with a mouth watering aroma. There was even a pig's head with a fresh apple in it.

 

All the girls looked on in amazement and cautiously approached the tables. It wasn't long until their weary legs and stomachs led them to pull out the chairs and seat themselves. Feena, Gloria and even Heather—who was now no longer cowering at the sight of all the food—was drawn toward the feast. I stayed back. Isabelle still clung to me, but her eyes were now big as dinner plates. They told me she wished to join all of them, but her clinging to me had become normal and stopped her from approaching on her own.

 

Red and Black grabbed hold of the stragglers and pushed them along, pulling out chairs for them and sitting them down. I moved on my own with Isabelle still clutching to my waist. We made our way over to a couple seats next to Feena and the other two girls and sat ourselves down. Even then, Isabelle's chair was close enough so that she didn't have to let go of the brown dress.

 

Before I knew it, everyone was eating. I didn't even have a chance to stop anyone. There could be nothing good from eating food prepared by anyone here. Even Feena, Gloria and Heather had loaded up their plates and started to dig in.

 

     “That's right! Dig in!” Black shouted.

 

     “No need for prayers. This food is the master's, by the master, from the master. She does not need your thanks. Neither does she want it.” Red declared.

 

     “If you wish, you too can learn to do the same!” A childish voice rang loud and clear. "You'll never need to beg, be thankful or work for food ever again."

 

Everyone stopped eating the moment that voice came in from all directions. The mystery of its origin didn't last for long. The large room, which appeared to have been nearly empty only a moment ago, was now suddenly populated. Around the perimeter of the cavern, higher up on the walls, invisible balconies revealed themselves, and nearly a hundred or so young girls each with black robes and large witch's hat on their head appeared. They all sat together, two to a small round table, and had their own meals freshly prepared. They applauded and cheered at the new arrivals; many of which still had mouths stuffed full of food. The thunderous roar reminded the girls of the danger they were in which they had forgotten briefly.

 

And they should. Even I could feel the pulsating throb of magic surrounding us.

 

Appearing out of the stone wall, a large stage materialized out of thin air. Seated at her own massive table with elite looking witches beside her was the one who was very obviously their leader. It didn't take me long to put a name to her. She was The Crone, the leader of the New Moon Sabbath.

 

I half expected something like the caricature that Chris has scribbled, but I should have known better. The signs had been displayed to me many times on the way here. She didn't have green skin, warts or wrinkled skin and a wretched complexion. She wasn't old, bony and decrepit. She was the opposite of all those things. The girl with a black witch's hat bigger than all the others was young, and her skin was a healthy, normal and vibrant pink. The Crone was not a crone; she was a child.

 

But I wasn't dumb enough to think that was the end of it. She was as much a child as an old book with a new edition, freshly printed.

 

She didn't look any older than ten. If it were not for the unnatural bright yellow-green hair and red eyes I might have mistaken her for an ordinary child. A pair of green twin-tails sneaked out under the huge hat of hers; a very childish style which clashed with the precocious gleam in her eyes. Even then, there was an innocent air about her and her face. She was like Annie without the ginger curls. Even her smile was disarming, but the pulsating fiery red of her irises were ominous and bristled with magic power. A power that smoldered hot and brightly. A staff with a gnarled wood knot on the end of it also bristled with that same power. The surrounding air appeared to shimmer like a mirage due to the sheer power within it, and it gave me a different kind of chill to look upon it.

 

The Crone daintily pushed her chair backward, climbed on top of the table and stared down at all the girls below her. When her eyes swept over everyone, I turned my back to her and made myself even smaller than before. In her gaze there was a certain presence. A pressure. I felt it wash over my back like a powerful stream of water from a high pressure hose.

 

When it passed, I looked backed and saw her still standing there, prepared to make her speech. She had a large bright red cape around her shoulders that billowed behind her. It was a like a teacher's lab coat far too many sizes big for her. Underneath that was a brown leather jacket with a bright red skirt which was far too short. On each leg she had mismatched thigh high stockings; one plaid and the other black and white stripes.

 

     “Welcome,” she said then paused to cast her eyes over the gathered girls before her once more. “My sisters. I know you are afraid, but soon, very soon, you will understand that this will be a day you look back upon with joy. This day. This moment. It is here and now that you will know true freedom.”

 

Before The Crone could say a word more, one witch hurriedly scampered across the balcony toward the center stage. The witches adjacent to The Crone let her pass, so she must be some higher up. It showed from the size of her hat. When she finally came before her, she bowed her head and got down on one knee.

 

     “My mistress! I apologize for interrupting you, but we have dire news.”

 

The Crone's face flashed annoyance before it shifted to inquisitive instead. On the floor of the cavern, from the entrance we emerged, a group of six other witches poured in and fanned out around the room. They circled around the tables where all the girls and myself were seated. I kept my head low, but I looked around and watched them.

 

I had a bad feeling.

 

From where the first witch ran in, three other young girls quickly strode in and made their way to The Crone. The hats on the two flanking the one were also large, but the girl in the middle had no witch's hat. She had short dirty blonde hair and was wearing what appeared to be a black over-cloak and nothing else underneath. Even her feet were bare. Since she was the odd one out, my eyes locked onto her, and I slowly turned my head to follow her.

 

While they approached, Red and Black made their way behind The Crone.

 

     “What is the meaning of all this?” Red asked, indignant.

 

     “Do you have the slightest clue how hard we worked to get the mood just right?” Black complained.

 

     “Quiet,” The Crone growled.

 

The two familiars shook and shuddered at her stern word.

 

When the trio reached The Crone at last, the first one who came running stood back up and spoke.

 

     “Master. This one, a new sister of ours, has something urgent to say.”

 

The girl in the middle looked up and laid her eyes on The Crone. Her eyes welled up, and the waterworks almost let loose at that very moment.

 

     The Crone put a gentle smile on her face, “Come now, new sister of mine. Formality is optional here. Do not hesitate to speak to me.”

 

     “Crone, my mistress,” the girl said at last, barely able to hold back the choking in her voice. “Among all your new sisters... There is a spy.”

 

What. The. Fuck?

 

The girl turned around and faced me and all the other girls. I watched it all unfold from over my shoulder, but the girl soon found what she was looking for and pointed in my direction. Even from the distance we were at, I could feel her eyes stare right into my own. My heart sunk immediately, and my blood went cold.

 

     “That one. In the brown. That's not a girl. That one is a man!”

 

An awkward silence. A few laughs but more gasps than that. The Crone looked like she believed the girl.

 

     “The one called Lola. He is the one known as Laven!”

 

There's no one who knows-

 

I take another look at the girl with the dirty blonde hair. She doesn't look any older than The Crone. She's only a child, and I certainly don't remember her face out of all the girls I saw from the abbey. I don't remember seeing her on the way into The Marches either. So how does she-?

 

Hazel Eyes. She has Hazel eyes. Two synapses cross in my head, and my heart nearly leaps out of my chest.

 

     “Sister Scarlet?” I mumble to myself.

 

No. That's impossible.

 

     “Laven?” The Crone says to herself while holding her chin in her hand.

 

She leaned her head back, rolled her eyes upward and thought on that name for a moment. It was as if she had heard that name before and was trying to find the meaning to it.

 

     “That Laven?” She asked while lowering her gaze back at the girl.

 

The small Scarlet nodded enthusiastically. Meanwhile, the witches surrounding the table inched closer and closer.

 

     “L-Lola?” Gloria reached out with a shaky voice.

 

Feena and Heather shared the same expression of disbelief and shock on their faces. The girls at the three tables had many faces. Some shared the same expression, others were afraid; just as many more had traces of disgust. Isabelle still clung to my waist. Her face looked down at the floor, so I couldn't make her's out.

 

I couldn't stand idly by while danger crept closer; the jig was up. I got out of my chair hard and fast enough that it was flung backwards. When I stood fully upright, there was nothing but gasps from all the witches, and even those circling in closer stopped in their tracks. I grabbed hold of the bonnet atop my head and threw it aside. At last I turned around and faced The Crone directly. Her eyes weighed down on me like a pile of mattresses, but I stood tall and strong. I refused to let my knees shake.

 

The Crone did not let up on her gaze as she leaned over and wrapped her hand over the scruff of fabric around Red's collar.

 

     “What is the meaning of this?” She said coldly to the familiar.

 

     The familiar looked left and right in confusion, “Meaning of what?”

 

The Crone yanked hard on Red's body suit and dragged her right into her waiting cold red eyes which burrowed into the little devil girl.

 

     “How did you let this man in? Was my spell not perfect? I said no hang ups this time!”

 

     “W-what... Ma.... Ma....Man? W-who?” Red coughed.

 

The Crone looked back at me, then toward Black who was standing terrified and at attention next to Red who was gasping for air. The Crone's grip tightened, and Red's taut collar choked her. Her wings beat back and forth to no effect, and her spaded devil's tail snaked and writhed in pain behind her. Black also had a face of pure confusion. She looked in the same direction The Crone was but did not notice me. It was as if I was invisible to her.

 

     “E-eighteen with t-two more. Twenty-one w-with Red,” Black stuttered.

 

     “Twenty-three,” The Crone said.

 

She let Red go, so that her knees could buckle. Red fell on top of her chair-leg like legs and coughed uncontrollably. The Crone paid her no mind, and Black quickly swooped down to help her sister up and out while their master was not paying attention.

 

     “I see some stories I've heard were not exaggerations. To think, you somehow managed to outsmart even me... Yet I did not expect to see you so far west. To whom do I owe the pleasure?... Mr. Laven.”

 

The smile she gave caused me to clench my hands into fists. It took everything I had just to stand and keep my knees from shaking under her fiery red and magical eyes. They were brimming with all sorts of intent I dared not begin imagining.

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