My hands were turning white, I thought, pausing to look at them. Did Ruby curse me as she threatened? Was I gripping my spellbook too tight? Or was it simply the full moon casting a colourful illusion overtop of my skin. Sending my already-pale skin into an icy blue, highlighting how I wasn’t truly human.
“Admiring your hand, are you Evanora?” I jumped at Nyx’s voice, shattering the silence in my room.
“I told you to call me Nova,” I spoke through gritted teeth, not bothering to turn around. Her heavy leather shoes clunk on my wood floors, her breaths heavy as she pulled herself through my wide window. By the time she had recovered herself, I was already pulling my hair into a tight braid, my foot tapping against the floor.
Out of the corner of my mirror, I saw her brush dirt off her black skirt, hemmed six inches above the acceptable uniform line. “Somebody’s tense.” She said, and I shot her a glare.
“Just because you don’t care what the elders think, doesn’t mean I don’t.” I hissed, yanking the braid out as it clumped up.
“Listen, Nova, I know you care about this stuff. I came over to help.” I rolled my eyes. “No, seriously! Ma taught me how to braid when I was only, like, five.”
Nyx didn’t wait for my response, taking the clump of hair from my hands. Sighing, she took my brush and ran it through my hair. I eyed her flyaways suspiciously, and tracking my gaze, she smiled. “I had to climb through your window, what did you expect?”
Whether it was the calm of Nyx’s nimble hands on my hair or her relaxed attitude, I felt my jaw unclench. “How’d you manage to get here? I thought your mother wanted you home for the whole night before the investiture.”
“Because I’m one to listen to my mom.” She snorted as if it were a ridiculous concept. “Imagine me, being an obedient daughter. ‘Yes mom, of course, I’ll stay home on a Saturday night because of a witching event that takes less than an hour. In fact, nothing would make me happier!’”
I couldn’t stop the laugh escaping my lips, the tiny piece of euphoria from Nyx’s presence. “Hey!” I said between giggles. “Is that a dig at me?” I lifted my voice at the edge, my eyes crinkling and my face finally breaking out of the serious expression previously plaguing it.
“Oh, no. Nova, I totally understand your crazed obsession with perfection. I would never, ever make fun of it.” She wagged her eyebrows, giving me a joking wink.
“Oh, now you’re asking for it!” I pulled out my wand, and Nyx jumped back and squealed with surprise, dropping my braid in the process.
She threw her hands up in the air, a wide grin on her face. “No fair! I don’t even have my wand!”
I lowered my wand, feeling its weight in my hand. Though it looked no more than a well-carved stick of wood, the inside heavy and dense with centuries-old magic. I used it as a vague threat, but the true power of it was almost incomprehensible. It magnified the power of incantations tenfold.
“What’s going on up there? Is that Nyx?” My mother’s voice echoed through the house, sending Nyx’s eyebrows flying up faster than a broomstick.
“Uh.” I stammered, torn between lying and telling a half-truth. Either way, I wasn’t ready for Nyx to leave. Especially after she easily tore down my nervous jitters.
“I’m just braiding my hair mom!” I called down. “I think Nyx was grounded until the ceremony.” I marveled at how my voice was clear of tell-tale trembles, and a soft giggle made its way out.
Nyx tsked, shaking her head in mock disapproval. “I am such a bad influence on you, Nova.”
Humming to herself, Nyx picked up my braid. Watching as her lips pursed in a tight focus, sucked into perfecting the art of hairstyling.
While she was certainly a loosening influence on me, maybe I was changing her, too.
Nyx snuck back out the window at eleven, not wanting to risk her mother finding her gone for too long. And, she said, she wasn’t going to show up with hair messed up by an unforgiving climb up the tree to my window. By eleven-thirty, my mother came up to my room to fuss over the last bits of my regalia. Early as always, we pulled up to the forest entrance by 11:45
Aspen was waiting with his mother and sister, tapping his knee and looking off into the distance. When our old caravan pulled up, the family’s attention was drawn to the pair of us. I fought the strong urge to blush as his blue eyes met mine, and tried to ignore his raised eyebrow.
She doesn't know yet. I mouthed to him, and he furrowed his brows and frowned. I pursed my lips, I wasn’t expecting to see him until the next day. The investiture was witches only, no warlocks allowed.
Celia Finch gestured for Aspen to help me out, and I gave a tight-lipped smile to him as he opened the door and lifted me by the arm. His warmth bloomed against my cold skin, lingering for a few moments longer than an acquaintance would. Stuffing my hands in my pockets when he let go, sighed.
“I told my parents, Nova. You can’t seriously still be keeping this from your mom.” He rubbed his eyes, glancing momentarily back at our parents, deep in conversation neither seemed to enjoy.
I slumped, my hands suddenly clammy. “She’s going to skewer me, Aspen, you know how much she likes your family.”
“You agreed.” He gave me a stern glare, and my hands formed into fists.
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” I promised, putting my hand on my heart. “Witches honour.” He snorted.
“It kills me not being able to kiss you right now.” He joked, giving a warm smile. And less than a moment later, it fell. His younger sister, Olive, was watching silently from between the two groups.
“She’s getting accepted into the coven today.” He said, his voice low.
I crossed my arms, fighting chills that made their way up my spine, surrounding me in their embrace. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it? An honour.” The words were hollow, did nothing to soothe the grief etched into his face.
“She’s only 14, Nova.” He shook his head. “She’s not ready to- you know-”
I took a step toward him, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. “Olive is strong, Aspen. Give her some credit. Besides, you know I won’t let anything happen to her.”
He looked up and met my eyes, sending a thrill of nervous energy through me. “Promise me.” I crumbled inside under the weight of his trust, of his raw emotion.
“I promise. I will make sure she is okay.” Our voices were little more than a whisper. The crickets and howls of distant wolves were louder than the promises we made to each other in the blue-lit night. And at my words, he relaxed and rubbed his thumb over my fist reassuringly.
“Evanora, it’s time to go.” My mother beckoned me into the forest, and I shot a final glance at Aspen before following her through the iron gate.
The night was loud, the sound of children laughing slowly morphing into the music of nature. When we arrived at the circle of witches, nobody spoke, and the gesture seemed to amplify the symphony that was the forest.
Olive stood with the other initiates in the center, her eyes wide and hands clasped tightly together. I watched her, and she met my gaze and took a deep breath. I pursed my lips and nodded reassuringly, hoping desperately her initiation went without any hiccups. I wasn’t sure what I would do if it didn’t.
At midnight exactly, we began to chant our incantations. The younger witches, like me, read off of a scroll. Our parents usually forced us to use feather pens for tradition, though I saw a few lucky souls reading off printed paper. I had it memorized long ago.
Veneficas ut digni sunt robore. The synchronization of our voices seemed to amplify the words, and though there were no associated notes, it seemed to flow like a steady rhythm. I felt a low vibration build its way up my body. Starting at my toes and moving up to my chest and the tight braid of my hair, it curled around me and hugged me in its cold embrace. The feeling was at once terrifying and exhilarating, and I was always transfixed by the way it seemed to fill me up with purpose.
And then the human was shoved into the ring of witches, gagged and cuffed. Trying to scream, his eyes wild and unfocused, confused and filled with nothing short of panic. My heart lurched at the sight of him, and I glanced at Olive.
Stars, she looked like she was going to vomit. Her eyes were bulging out of her head, and she was hunched over and looking away from the guy. You can do this, I tried to will her through sheer thought to push through the initiation. I doubt I looked any better than she did when I was there, but she was going to draw unwanted attention if she didn’t control herself.
“Opto aliquod ex principians”. Scarlet, the head witch, spoke. I knew what that meant, the final statement before the final process. She was asking for any objections from the initiates before they officially became part of the coven.
And Olive began to step forward.
Celia looked like she would explode, her hands shaking with fury I hadn’t seen since she was reprimanded by Scarlet at my initiation. The coven sucked in a gasp, surprise etched on the faces of every witch watching the event unfold. Even Nyx looked shocked by the development.
“I- I can’t do it.” Her voice was tiny and small, shaking. I looked between my mother and a random witch, sandwiching me into the circle. If I broke it, our family would be faced with criticism and potential withdrawal of our witching powers. And yet, I moved anyway.
“Olive wait.” I jogged over to the center of the circle, ignoring the stares of twenty witches watching me. Her eyebrows raised in confusion, and she turned toward me in shock. The air whistled past me in the silence, and I tried to imagine it was me and Olive alone in the clearing. I saw Nyx in my peripheral vision, her mouth fully agape.
I took her hands. “Olive, you have to. There's no other choice.” She blinked, and the moonlight flickered over tears that had streamed down her face. I didn’t realize she was crying.
“But- but it’ll kill him!” Her voice took on a desperate tone, and I set a hand on her shoulder as a reminder to lower her volume.
“Do you really believe if you don’t take part, he will survive?” She shook her head and wiped her cheek with the palm of her hand. “Olive, whether you take part or not, it doesn’t make a difference in the impact. You only have to do it once, and then you’ll be a witch. You want to be a witch, right? Do cool incantations?”
She nodded, and her shoulders lifted with her resolve. “I will tutor you myself, alright? Just get through this. You can do it, I believe in you.”
I smiled and pulled away, watching as she formally announced she changed her mind and I slipped back into my position. My mother was staring daggers at me, but I did not feel guilty. I felt accomplished as if I had discovered a part of myself in helping Olive. Nyx, a few witches away from me, shook her head with her eyebrows raised. Mentally saying that’s crazy. Even for me.
“Are the interruptions finished?” Scarlet’s voice was sharp, pointed in my direction. I kept my gaze forward and swallowed hard. When she spoke again, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Then let's continue. Initiates, you may begin the final stage.”
The four young girls formed a square around the man, their eyes glazing over him as if he were nothing more than a lifeless figure. Olive carried herself with confidence, her voice was loud and clear as she spoke the incantation.
His body grew tight like they were tying an invisible rope around him and yanking him upward. His face was contorted with sweat and pain. After a few excruciating moments, he fell limp onto the dirt. A wolf howled in the distance highlighting the finality of the death.
The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur, the witches being honoured with speeches from the elders. It was supposed to be in celebration of their initiation to the coven, but it was used as a way for the older witches to establish their power. Throwing other-coven names left and right, challenging the other witches. It was easier not to pay attention, then your expressions would not betray you.
“And Evanora, she is a model witch.” Celia’s voice filled the clearing, and my head swiveled around to catch her stare. Whatever praise she was giving me, it was a lead-up to something more. I exchanged glances with Nyx, both of us confused.
“She arrives early in uniform, not a hair out of place. She picks the most powerful warlock to associate with, and is concerned enough with the welfare of other witches that she was willing to potentially sacrifice her position in the coven to protect another.” I went crimson, and my mother looked between me and Celia rapidly. I gave her a brief nod, and the way she paled I worried she may faint.
It dawned on me that contrary to my suspicion, Celia was actually covering for me. After all, I was newly attached to her son, and my actions affected the family name. By painting my intervention as heroic, she was making me out to be noble - a good witch to interact with - while simultaneously updating the coven on the social interactions of the year.
I grabbed my mother’s hand and squeezed it, realizing the daughter she knew walking into the ceremony was different than the one who walked out. The facade of the perfect daughter had fallen apart to reveal impulsive, secretive me who acted of her own accord. It was terrifying, for both of us. I didn’t know who this girl was either.
But as I exited the forest and saw Aspen, waiting for me. I ran into his arms and kissed him, and his eyes widened as he registered my mother’s presence behind me. When I pulled away, he had wrapped his arms possessively around me and was watching my mother. Waiting for her response.
“My daughter has good taste.” She remarked, and a smile broke out on Aspen’s face.
“Ms. Green, I promise you won’t regret approving our relationship.”
“Oh, I doubt my daughter respects authority enough to stop it anyway.” The corner of her mouth lifted and she climbed into the car. Giving us privacy.
“Nova? What is she talking about?” He detected the nervousness, the way I folded in on myself. Looking up and meeting his eyes, I told him what happened.
“Thank you.” He said, beaming at me. “You are truly amazing.”
“Darn straight she is.” Nyx swaggered into the entrance to the forest, a goofy smile plastered on her face. “Nova just interrupted the ceremony and got away with it. Though I think your mom saved her name in front of the coven.”
“I swear, you looked like you couldn’t believe what you saw.” I joked, a small smile lighting up my face. Imitating her expression, both her and Aspen laughed.
“You two want to go get some hot chocolate from the Tims down the street?” Aspen asked, and I shivered in response.
“Sure. Let's celebrate Evanora, and her stupidly amazing act to save your sister.” She spoke in a deep announcer's voice.
“To Evanora,” Aspen said, smiling.
And I knew I did more at the ceremony than save Olive. I saved myself too.