The bell rang loudly on the shop door as Dana ran around the store, picking up the fallen lilac blooms that lay scattered around the pruning table. It had been a few days since her last visitor and the temptation to let everything slacken was palpable. Shooing Argus, the spotted cat off the counter, she quickly moved on to sorting papers into piles, then sweeping, then staring long and hard at the receipts.
“Where is it?!”, she groaned as she ruffled up the clean piles of paper to find whatever she was seeking. In the chaos of sheets, her attention distracted, she barely noticed the door opening. By the time they stood up, they glowered at her with hooded eyes and dark energy. A formerly humid room suddenly plunging to an uncomfortable chill as shadows danced on the walls. Dana paused and looked up, her pupils widening.
Two figures stood in the entryway of the shop, their dark hair running long down their backs and their black shrouds and cloaks hung loosely on their hunched shoulders. Eppauletes of black feathers lined their hoods, while a pale mask resembling a raven’s skull rested over their faces.
A chill danced down Dana’s spine as she stood to face them. They stood silently as they gazed around the shop. The one to her the left, briefly glancing at a vigorous ivy, caused it to wither and shrivel before turning their attention back to Dana. Argus, watching from the corner, hissed at the sight and swiftly retreated from the room.
The one on the right stepped forward and produced a letter from under their cloak. The letter was grasped in a clawed limb that was covered in jet black feathers. Two fingers and a thumb were all that being had and it gripped the envelope lightly, but firmly, holding it steadily in front of them. Dana paused and looked at the cloaked figure.
“Wh-what is it?”, she asked.
The one on the right remained silent and held the letter out further. More feathers were revealed as they did so and Dana could partially see under their cloak Was that a human torso?
“DANA CAMBERWELL!”, the being to her left bellowed demandingly.
Dana jumped, recoiling at the deep croak coming from the cloak as the figure continued.
“You have been tasked with a great purpose, Dana Camberwell! Our Mistress Goodhorn has tasked us with your recruitment! Your knowledge of plants is without parallel and equal!”, the figure noted.
Dana furrowed her brow. Mistress Goodhorn? Where had she heard that name before? As she struggled to remember, the shadows whirled with silhouettes of leaves, thorns, and flowers of all shapes and sizes. She gasped as the show played out across her walls. The figure on her right continued their announcement, their voice higher pitched and raspier than their counterpart.
“Dana Camberwell, you know not of your potential! Follow our master’s heed and together, we can secure a solid future for witches of all kinds!” Both figures had risen their arms above their head while speaking. The feathers on their wings glowed a shiny black and when they finished complimenting her, they quickly hid their wings as if embarrassed that they had been exposed in the first place.
Silence fell and the shadows drew back. The figures stood and together they said:
“You have thirteen days to make your decision…..”
Dana’s heart pounded as she watched the shadows return for the final act. They danced like flames across the walls as the formerly frigid room suddenly became hot and stuffy. Her heart thumping as if to escape her chest drove her to strike out at the figure and snatch the letter from their grasp. The envelope was made of a thick paper with a seal marking the tip of the folded part. It was emblazoned with the Horned God and the Latin: Benedicat cornibus.
The one who had killed her father and sent her mother away; that Mistress Goodhorn! Dana looked back at her visitors, letter in hand and with a grimace. She reached for her staff, a white oak branch with a large sapphire resting in a crag at the top and grasped it tightly. The trees outside the shop moaned and creaked as they shook their branches as if consumed with rage.
“And what if I don’t comply?!”, she demanded. “What then?!”
The figures stood quietly now, their bodies hidden by layers of cloaks, ragged and beaten with age. Then they croaked their cruel laughter. Their pale mask’s rattled with a dry cackling that trailed off into a trilled crackle, like a spark wheezing it’s last breath before burning out. In unison, the eye holes of their masks turned blue and they hissed their final terms.
“Otherwise when we return, Mistress Goodhorn and we shall take what we want, burn the rest, and feast on you and your mother’s…”
“Begone foul creatures! Bathe in Sol’s light!” A voice rocketed from the doorway with a flash of light. For a brief moment, the two figures stood screeching in the blast, then vanished in a smoky cloud as they flew up the chimney and out of the house.
Still grasping her amulet, Dana opened her eyes. Purple spots clouded her vision at first, but eventually the forms of the two hooded figures that had previously occupied the floor faded and were replaced by an elderly caster and their taller companion.
“Who are you?”, Dana inquired.
She stared at her rescuers who differed drastically from her former visitors. She saw an elderly woman with a shock of white curly hair in a knit sweater and flowery skirt with beaten hiking boots. The tall man smiled, his thick dreaded hair covered with an oiled bandana, his muscular frame barely contained by his collared shirt, oilskin pants, and green gum boots.
“Well dear, I’m surprised at you.” the tall man said. “To think people wouldn’t recognize the greatest sorceress of their grandmother’s generation.”
The elder caster sighed and ignored the tall man. She looked at Dana with gunmetal grey eyes and spoke softly. “My child, are you Mrs. Camberwell’s daughter?”
Dana nodded and listened.
“Your mother is safe with Tommelise, but you’re still in danger. We’ve been dispatched to help protect your home until she returns. Only then can we find a way to stop Goodhorn!”
Dana stood stunned and looked at the letter in her hand, at the seal, and then back at her elder.
“What is all this? Where is my mom and…”
The elder put up her hand and Dana stopped with tears welling in her eyes.
“Just please….”, she gulped. “Tell me who you are.”
The elder spoke sternly. “I am Mother Carey, Guardian of the Sea Maiden’s Necklace and this is my companion, Davy Jones.” She paused, took a breath, and asked her first question.
“Where is your mother’s familiar?”