“I’m knackered, Shay. Don’t we have time for a rest?”
Fiadh’s tired voice breaks my concentration as I try to evaluate the supplies on the desk before me. Gruffly exhaling, it’s difficult to control my temper. Having only just arrived in the States yesterday, we’re all exhausted.
“No, Fee. I know we’re shattered, but we’ve a job to do.”
Focusing once more, I assess what we have left: two healing vials, a single regeneration potion, and a few bundles of Hagthorn and Wormwood. The earlier ambush near the airport by the Hyacinth Sisters forced us to use most of what we brought, and the three of us were forced to split up. Fiadh and I came straight here to prepare the approach, but Riona ventured out in search of supplies.
Suddenly, Fiadh's arms wrap around my waist from behind. She leans her cheek against my shoulder blades, still tense from the fight with our rival Coven.
“Relax, a rúnsearc,” she plants a trail of kisses up my neck. “The Hyacinths are gone, and the Keytelers don’t know we’re coming.”
She’s right. The traitors are at a disadvantage tonight. This will be the Samhain our Coven has been fighting towards for the past seven centuries.
Feeling a renewed sense of hope, I spin around and lift Fiadh. Her legs wrap tightly around my waist. Carrying her to the bed, I throw her gently onto the duvet and hover over her, running my fingers gently through her long, ashen hair. I know we’re running short on time, but I can’t help myself. Letting out a growl, I suckle at her neck before tasting her lips, the leftover traces of a cherry cough drop making my tongue tingle. Just as she lets out a soft moan, a sickeningly sweet voice pierces my head, and Riona’s face floods my vision.
‘Shay, it’s time.’
Scowling, and rolling away from Fiadh, I connect with Riona’s call while simultaneously cursing our telepathic gift.
‘Understood. We’re on our way.’ Terminating our link, Fiadh snuggles up to my side.
“Riona’s calling,” she says, more of a statement than an actual question. "I wish she would just text us," Fiadh sighs. Snickering, I plant a light kiss on her forehead. She can always tell when someone’s in my head.
“Aye, seanleannán, it’s time.”
Fiadh sighs and rolls nimbly from the bed, turning and extending her hand to me. As she pulls me up, I notice an uncomfortable ache in my loins. It will have to wait.
In silence, we finish dressing. While slipping on my runners, I’m distracted by Fiadh, enthralled by how effortlessly she braids her long, silver hair. I grab the remaining supplies as she finishes tying off the tail, and follow her out of the motel and into the town's narrow streets. In the distance, deep, tolling bells ring out across the small town square. Eleven strokes.
Fiadh and I keep our heads low, staying away from the townspeople as we continue on our way to the graveyard to meet Riona. But the excited voices of small children crying out repetitive choruses of “trick or treat” cause me to wince. Their parents, trailing behind, are painfully unaware of just how eager the creatures of the Realm are to take the little ones for themselves. Disdain courses through my veins.
“Actual gobshites, these Outsiders,” I grumble. “Letting their kids run around by themselves! Can you imagine?”
Fiadh laughs. “You’re irritated because you’re tired, Shay. Look at them – they’ve all got costumes and masks on. The fae and the sprites won’t find them. You have to relax before we catch up with Riona.”
She’s right. Working directly with the daughter of the High Priestess on a job as significant as this has been a chance to prove my place within the Coven. Only the fourth man in the last hundred years to be inducted, the Sisters haven't taken to me easily. If I can prove my power and use to Riona, she may deliver the message to her mother. But Riona is young and impetuous – brash in her actions – and I had already found myself struggling to control her on several occasions since leaving home.
“You’re not her caretaker, you know,” says Fiadh from beside me. She seems to know what I'm thinking.
“Aye, Fee," I sigh. "And yet Riona’s unpredictable. We’re likely to fail if she can’t control her emotions.”
“How hypocritical, Shay,” Fiadh teases while seductively biting her lip. “I seem to remember you indulging your emotions not an hour ago.”
I reach over and yank her braid. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to get her to stop looking at me like that.
“All I’m saying,” Fiadh laughs, “is that she’s not your responsibility. You mustn’t worry like you do. You’ll get wrinkles.”
“If the lass gives me wrinkles at 28 years old Fee, I’m demanding her mother find an incantation to restore my youth.”
“I’d like to see you demand anything from the High Priestess.”
Fiadh grabs my hand and we dash across road towards the graveyard’s tall, iron fence. Through it, I can see in the distance what looks like a mausoleum atop a small hill. That must be the Sullivan Family resting place. According to my schematics, we’re getting close to the meeting point.
I close my eyes and search for Riona’s energy. It doesn't usually take me long to find her, but since arriving in the States, I’ve struggled to connect with her. And twice I have connected accidentally with another – someone with a kind pair of hazel eyes, slightly more green than amber. The owner of the hazel eyes has been interrupting my communications. The eyes are powerful – the eyes are a telepath. That’s not a coincidence.
Trying once more, I cast my energy out in search of Riona’s, finally sensing her aura. It’s strong. Close. Connecting with it, I open a channel.
‘Riona, we’re near. Wait for us beside the gate to the Angel Plot.’
‘I’m already here, Shay. Stop flirting with Fiadh and hurry up you sod.’
Irritated by her attitude, I give a curt nod to Fiadh. She understands without me having to tell her what transpired. One of the many reasons I love her. We continue down the footpath until it diverges from the road, turning down a narrow, dirt path. Ahead I can see the faint outline of a figure. Picking up the pace, it only takes a moment for Riona's flaming locks to come into view.
“About time. Shay, what’s going on with you? I’ve been trying to connect for over an hour.”
“I haven’t a baldy notion Riona, I’ve been getting interference since we landed.”
“Interference?” She snarls. “There’s no such thing, Shay. Unless you’re telling me the Keytelers still have the Gift?”
“Wind yer neck in Riona, it’s most likely jet lag.”
Riona eyes me suspiciously. I’m not sure why I lied to her. For some reason those kind, hazel eyes stopped me from telling her the truth. But I can feel Fiadh’s gaze burning holes in my back. She knows I just lied.
“Fine,” Riona huffs, “but pull yourself together. We need to get ready.”
“Did you find supplies?” asks Fiadh.
“Aye,” Riona retorts, “but I don’t think we’ll need them. We’ve still got enough to take care of two witches who aren’t expecting a visit.”
Casting a glance at Fiadh, I see the slightest twitch in her fingers as she makes eye contact with me. She’s signaling me to stand down.
“You’re probably right,” Fiadh says, “but would it not be wiser to have more than we need, just in case?”
Riona scowls before tossing a pouch at Fiadh.
“Fine. Knock yourself out. Shay, while Fiadh brews the backup potions, you and I should start grounding.”
I nod, and join her cross-legged on the ground. Several minutes pass as we meditate, praying to the Goddesses and summoning energy from the Fifth Element to fuel our magick. It's a delicate process that takes years to perfect, and requires total concentration.
“Right then, what’s the plan?” Riona’s voice pierces the thick veil of silence.
Annoyed, I crack one eye open and see that Fiadh has already finished brewing, grounding, and summoning. I shouldn't be surprised - she's perhaps the most powerful of the three of us. Although she hides it well to avoid conflict with Riona's pride. Nevertheless I'm irritated as my grounding and summoning is cut short.
"Take your time, Shay," Fiadh says. Riona rolls her eyes.
Huffing, I rush the end of my summoning then rejoin the girls. Pulling a thick, folded paper from my pocket, I unfold it to reveal the layout for the graveyard and surrounding lands.
“From what we know, the Keyteler family goes by Keller now. They live here. That means their witches will likely enter from the Eastern gate. It’s the most concealed entrance on that side of the cemetery.” Fiadh nods, listening closely as Riona peers over my shoulder, maintaining an air of skepticism.
“We’re here, at the Southern entrance. The Keytelers will begin their binding spells a few minutes before midnight. We need to find them before they finish.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Shay,” jeers Riona, “there’s a couple kilometers of graveyard here. Just how do you propose we find them?”
“I scouted the place this afternoon. They could be anywhere, but I would bet the black stuff on them going here,” I set my finger on a small group of dots near the northeast side of the map.
“What’s that mess then?” asks Riona.
“You’re joking. There are caves in there?”
“Aye. I didn’t get a chance to poke around inside, the groundskeepers were cleaning up the lake nearby. But I can’t think of a better place.”
Riona nods, and turns to begin working on the lock to the gate.
“Are you ready Fiadh?” I ask. She’s been waiting for this her entire life - more than anyone else in the Coven. After her mother’s death in a battle with the Hyacinths several years ago, she is the only living direct descendent of Petronilla de Meath.
“Thar gach ni eile, Shay.”
I find myself lost in her blazoning determination as she closes her eyes and continues to gather energy. I reach out and take her hands. Powerful electricity washes over my body and travels down my arms, through my fingertips. If we didn’t have a job to do, I’d take her right here, right now.
“Are you two coming?” Riona calls from the other side of the gate. She had given up on picking the lock and simply busted the rusty hinge with her steel-toed boot.
“Bean mo chroi, ta tu go halainn,” I whisper to Fiadh, who smiles before sliding from my grasp and following Riona through the gate.
We quickly make our way across the Angel Plot. I can feel the overwhelming number of lost children as their ghostly cries fill my head. I close my telepathic link to keep them out. In the distance I spot the glimmer of a small lake and the tops of the caves. Re-opening the link, I fight through the hundreds of disembodied voices of the dead nearby and connect with Riona once more.
‘Head for the water. They’ll be inside. I’d bet on it.’
Riona severs the connection and turns slightly, angling her trajectory towards the caves in the distance as the bells once more begin to toll.
Reaching the water’s edge, Riona doesn’t hesitate, stepping straight into the soggy weeds. Fiadh and I follow, quickly reaching the mouth of the caves. There are two. Listening for a moment, I can hear a faint female voice crawling out from the larger one on the right. I point. Riona leads.
The three of us remain quiet as we approach the dim glow of candle light. My pulse pounds in my throat. I swallow as we step into a thick patch of shadow, finally able to see the powerful Keyteler witches for the first time in centuries.
The witch casting the spell has almost finished her incantation. If Riona is going to act, she must act now. I open a link.
Riona’s eyes roll back in her head as she shoots her hands out towards the two girls, summoning a dark wind to push them forcefully apart. The younger girl on the right slams back into the cavern wall, while the elder witch falls to ground.
Stepping into the light, I see fear in the witches' eyes as they scramble towards each other. Riona advances on them, but Fiadh and I are startled by a loud buzzing coming from a bag on the ground. Riona hears it too, and pulls a cellphone from their bag. Good, they can't call for help.
“After all these years. How nice to finally meet the Keytelers,” Riona cackles in her disgustingly sweet voice.
She continues to advance on the two girls. I stay back with Fiadh. But I can sense Riona becoming emotional – she never severed our link, and her thoughts are flowing into mine. But it's not anger I can hear - rather an eagerness. A perverted excitation.
“Riona, focus," I demand.
I can feel her glare, but my attention is drawn to the younger Keyteler. Glancing in her direction, my blood freezes as her deep, hazel eyes stare back into mine. It can’t be – she’s the one with the Gift?
“You’re both lucky that Shay here has more patience than I do," Riona sneers. Tearing my gaze from the girl, I glance towards their ring of candles.
“She’s there, Riona.”
The elder Keyteler witch laughs. “You may have found us, but you’re too late. I’ve already bound your traitorous Coven Sister to the Realm. She’s not going to make it to the party this year.”
Fiadh takes an angry step forward. “Traitorous?! Why you –-”
I throw out my arm to keep her from charging. There’s no reason to attack first. Riona let's out a quiet laugh, and approaches the burial site. Feeling Fiadh tense, I reach back subtly and place my hand on her thigh, urging her to stay calm as Riona kneels above the dirt.
I notice whispers coming from the witches and turn to separate them, but Riona’s hiss of pain causes catches me by surprise.
“That bitch! She’s poured some sort of warding potion over the remains.”
Before I can react, I hear a loud shattering sound and see the remains of broken glass vials around Riona's feet. The air around me becomes difficult to breathe, scalding my lungs.
“NOW,” the witch screams. “GO ALITA, get your dad!”
A thick haze of toxic gas fills my lungs. Fiadh grabs my arm, sending her energy to me. I use it to begin casting a shielding spell with her help. It clears the air, but before we can catch our breath the ground beneath us shifts, and I can feel myself begin sinking as the elder Keyteler's voice reverberates in the caves, casting a powerful incantation.
“I use my power to flee from harm, Goddess hold me in thy arms. The winds of change I seek your hand, to turn this ground to liquid sand!”
As we sink deeper into the ground, Riona begins to panic, desperately clawing at the solid edge of the cave floor. Summoning my remaining energy, I focus on the powerful Keyteler in front of me, clearing my mind and annexing my fear. Preparing to use the last of my magick to cast a counter-attack, I watch the Keyteler witch stumble. She is losing strength. Taking a risk, I use my magick to try and force a telepathic connection with her. She let's out a scream as I invade her mind and begin a telepathic attack - she is too weak to fight it. I drain all remaining energy from her body, stopping just short of pulling her spirit from her soul.
She faints, falling harshly to the ground. The sand beneath us immediately stops pulling us down. Riona begins to yell as she pulls herself from the sand pit.
“What are you doing, Shay? Finish her!”
“No, Riona,” I grunt as I, too, heave myself from the sand trap. “If you want to kill her, fine. But the younger one escaped. She'll be back with others. We need to recover the remains and go.”
I extend my hand to Fiadh and pull her out of the sand while Riona stands over the girl's unconscious body.
“What are you doing to her, Riona?” Fiadh asks.
“Never you mind, just get her and let’s go. You have to do it Fiadh.”
Fiadh nods and approaches the ring of candles. As a direct descendant, her blood protects her. Slowly, Fiadh reaches down and lightly brushes her fingertips across the top of the dirt. No reaction. Dropping to her knees, Fiadh eagerly digs until she reaches an average-sized silver box, a black raven engraved on the top. Pulling it from its resting place, she stares at it for a moment before storing it carefully in her bag.
“I’ve got it, let’s go.”
“I’m not done yet,” sings out Riona. She is straddling the Keyteler girl’s body, a silver dagger in her hand. I cringe as I notice the blood that has started to pool around the girl’s arms and knees. Whatever Riona is doing, it’s inhumane.
“That’s enough Riona, we’re leaving. Now.”
Giggling, Riona shoves her dagger back in its sheath. I don’t look at the girl. I don’t want to know. Taking Fiadh’s hand, I pull her towards the entrance when I notice two shadows in the mouth of the cavern growing larger in the moonlight.
“Wait,” I whisper. Holding our position, an eerie, high-pitched voice calls into the cave.
“Night Ravens...we’ve been waiting for you.”
We freeze as a soft breeze winds its way through the cavern, depositing at my feet a single cluster of yellow Hyacinth.