The world around me was not one I recognised. All I could hear was silence, punctuated by the occasional cough, a spluttering wheeze of a sound. The buildings were half-destroyed, bricks crumbled all over the pavement which had great big chunks taken out of it; dangerous cracks gaped wide in the ground. I could smell smoke – and I could see it, too, curling up into the grey sky. The ground was covered in a thin sheen of water, mixed in with dirt and rubbish. The nearer I went to the earth, the more I could smell decay, a kind of sweet, cloying scent that made me feel like gagging. There was one car, burnt out, windows smashed, the front crushed by a huge clump of rubble. Inside lay what looked like two bodies, black and twisted. One of the back car doors was open, and a third body – much smaller – hung out of it.
They weren't the only dead people, either. The dead littered the streets, limp forms just lying there. Some seemed to have been injured, but others looked as if they had been wasting away before they died. And there were some people who weren't dead, huddled at the edge of buildings. Children, mostly, and some older people, all wrapped in rough, dirty blankets, shivering, bodys wracked by huge coughs. Their faces were gaunt, too pale, their skin kind of waxy, eyes sunken into their heads and void of life.
Then I heard it. A rumbling sound; and then everything was shaking, the precarious buildings teetering...The people tried to react, but they had no energy, their responses blighted by the sickness that had overcome their bodies...
My eyes shot open. I was breathing heavily, and my body was covered in a thin layer of sweat. In my chest my heart hammered crazily.
I groaned, sitting up slightly. I ran my hand through my thick tangle of red curls, feeling sick and shaky. I knew I was safe – I wasn't in that place anymore – but the memory of it was sticking to me, the silence and the coughing and the shaking and the smoke...
My heart was slowing down slightly. I flopped back on the bed, glancing to my left.
There, my boyfriend Gideon slept. He was lying on his stomach with his head towards me, and there was a frown on his face. Blonde curls fell across his forehead, and his hands were tucked under his pillow. His side of the duvet was tangled around his legs, one thrown over the side and the other thrown over mine. As I watched him sleep, he wrinkled his nose, and muttered, "Not the trumpet. Not..."
He grumbled quietly, flinging himself over so he was lying on his side. I giggled under my breath. Reaching downwards, I pulled the duvet up around him, and then leaned over him to look at the clock on his side of the bed. It was just after eight o'clock, a Sunday morning. I stretched, pressed a kiss to the side of Gideon's head, and then swung my legs out of bed.
My legs were still trembling. I closed my eyes briefly, and said to myself, Don't be stupid. It was just a dream.
But I knew it wasn't just a dream. They never were. My mother was a witch and her main power was prophesising, and I had inherited that power. I had been having visions since I was little and I knew how they felt – I knew the difference between them and normal dreams. My visions had always been simple, silly things, like me seeing my older brother get married to his starmate Jemi, or seeing that I was going to buy a cat with Gideon.
I had never had a vision that filled me with such dread, or seemed so...serious.
I filed the vision away, storing it in the back of my mind. I made a mental note to tell my father or my mother as soon as I could.
I unhooked my thick fluffy dressing gown from where it hung on the back of our bedroom door and slid it on, belting it tightly around my waist before I padded down the hallway and downstairs.
There were some letters piled on the doormat near the front door. I collected them, flicking through them. There were two for Gideon and there was a letter for me, the address handwritten in red ink. Frowning, I put Gideon's letters to one side on the table.
The cat we did buy together eventually, Montmorency, was curled up on a chair under the dining room table when I walked through to the kitchen. Upon hearing me, he stretched and yowled, as if to inform me he was awake too. The jingle of the bell on his collar let me know he had jumped down from the chair and would probably be pestering me for food any minute.
In the kitchen, I dropped the envelope on the side and opened the fridge, searching for something to cook. Maybe breakfast in bed, I mused, as I dug out a packet of bacon and a carton of eggs.
Minutes later, the bacon was frying in a pan on the stove, the sizzling sound filling the kitchen. Pushing at the rashers with tongs, I glanced towards where the envelope sat. Sighing, I put the tongs to one side, refilled the kettle and put it on to boil, before I picked up the letter.
I tore it open, sliding out the letter. Like the envelope, the words were written in red ink, on fairly thick, cream paper. I didn't recognise the handwriting, which just made this even more curious. I very rarely got letters.
Dear Faith Rutilus,
We are writing to offer lessons in basic witchcraft at the British Witches Commune in North Wales. As you are half-witch we realise that you will not have received formal training in witchcraft at school but wish to give you a chance to develop another part of your heritage.
We would like to receive a response to this letter by 2nd May so that we can arrange travel, accomodation and lesson times for you.
Deputy Leader of the British Witches Commune
I raised my eyebrows. Offers of such lessons were not unheard of; my older brother was offered them when he turned nineteen, but he turned them down, preferring to learn the basics from our mother.
Putting the letter down, I picked up the envelope again. There was another letter inside, this time written on a smaller piece of paper, in the shape of a flower, coloured pale pink. The handwriting was perfect, little flicks and curls, each 'i' topped not with a dot, but a small, tiny heart; the writing was miniscule, crammed onto the paper.
This is your Aunt Ceres writing. I wish to encourage you to agree to these lessons. Whilst I accept that your brother Ashley did not feel a connection to his mother's heritage, your mother has told me that you have shown little talent in your Stellamicos studies either. I think that this could be a fantastic opportunity for you; you can learn some new skills as well as learn more about where you came from. Furthermore, I would love the chance to get to know my eldest niece better! I regret not having met any of my nieces or nephews and I'd like to at least meet one of you!
Please, consider our offer carefully. These lessons could change your life and I hope to see you here in a few months time.
Love from your Aunt Ceres
I put that piece of paper down on top of the other, resting my palms on the countertop.
Growing up, I'd never really been that interested in my Stellamicos studies. It wasn't that I had no talent: I passed all of my tests with flying colours. My heart just wasn't in it. I wasn't one of these girls who enjoyed the fighting side of things; I grew up in a household where my mother was always there and that was what I was used to. I was much more at home when I was baking or running on errands or helping someone look after their children. I knew a lot of girls in my settlement would kick me for that, but it was truly where I was happiest.
That said, I'd never really had an opportunity to learn how to do witches spells. My mother had taught me some very simple basics, but a part of me wanted to learn more about this other side of me.
But to move to Wales for however long it took? I didn't know if I could do that, be away from my family, my friends, from Gideon for so long...
I was brought back to my kitchen by a soft nip on the back of my leg. I looked down, glaring, to see huge green cats eyes staring up at me. Montmorency had latched onto the back of my leg with his mouth and was now trying to look like he wasn't doing anything.
"Get off," I muttered, shaking my leg. The tabby cat skittered away, swiped at his own tail, and then shot off into the dining room like the hounds of hell were chasing him.
I smoothed out the papers, rereading my aunt's words. I had never met my mother's sister. They had both managed to gain refuge in the Stellamicos settlement when their family was killed, but Ceres had opted to follow the rest of the witches to their own settlement rather than stay with her sister, who by that point had married my father. I knew that they wrote to each other often, but Ceres was now the leader of the Commune and mostly said she was too busy to come and visit.
I picked up the tongs again and turned over the bacon, mind still buzzing from the letters. Leaving to stay with the witches would certainly be an experience, I knew, but did I really want to leave everything behind, even if it was just for a few months?
I heard the dining room door open, and then Gideon curse loudly. He came into the kitchen, frowning. "Bloody cat just stuck his claws into my leg," he grumbled.
"He's in a funny mood," I said, taking the letter and stuffing it into the pocket of my dressing gown. "Burning off some steam, I guesss."
Gideon wrapped his arms around my waist, resting his chin on my shoulder. "You're up too early," he complained.
"I was trying to make you breakfast in bed before you went and got up," I said, leaning back into him.
"I apologise," he snorted, voice muffled as he pressed his mouth to the point where my neck turned into my shoulder. "Sorry for ruining your plans."
"You will be," I assured him, digging my elbow into his stomach.
Gideon and I had found out we were starmates at thirteen, the same as everyone else. We'd already been friends; I remember distinctly a few days after that Gideon came up to me, blushing and stumbling over his words, to ask if I wanted to be his girlfriend. The first two years of our 'relationship' was almost entirely holding hands and standing with our arms around each other in the yard at school, but when we were fifteen we began to take things a bit more seriously. At seventeen, he proposed, and by eighteen we'd moved in together.
Now our relationship was very comfortable. We were very close, best friends as well as boyfriend and girlfriend, but sometimes...Well, our lives had been the same for nearly two years now. Everyday followed the same pattern. We got up, I made us breakfast, he went to work at the fighting squad facility, I cleaned around the house, I went to my job at the local cake-making company, then I'd come home early and make us dinner and then we'd probably do something like watch TV or, if we were feeling adventurous, we'd go and see our parents.
I enjoyed it. Really, I did. And I loved Gideon. Sometimes, though, I wondered whether we were settling down to quick, and maybe that there was more out there we should experience first. I felt the weight of the letters in the pocket on my dressing gown. Maybe that was the chance I should take.
"Gideon," I whined, as he continued kissing my neck. "Get off me. I'm trying to cook." I peered at him over my shoulder, watching him pout.
"Fine," he huffed, letting go of me. I rolled my eyes.
I jerked my head towards the door. "Go back to bed. I'll bring your breakfast up in a minute." Then I did a double take, finally taking in his appearance. "And put some clothes on," I added, shaking my head. "Honestly. What if my mother decided to pop round to see us? Or worse, my father? Remember last time you were wandering around with no clothes on?"
Gideon pulled a face. "That was not my fault. How did I know your father was going to do that? He was under our bed. What was he doing, anyway?"
I shrugged, and then giggled. I hadn't been home at the time; I'd been with my mother, shopping in the human world. Gideon had been distraught when I returned home. "He's my father," I said by way of explanation. "He just...does things. I stopped questioning it a long time ago."
Gideon walked out of the room, still muttering under his breath. I heard him swear again and another crash, presumably as Montmorency attacked him again.
I stifled another chuckle and continued cooking our breakfast.
Author's Note: Well. Another story begins! I'm a little concerned that this story takes a while to build up but I do like the story. I've tried to draw a little more from history with this one. Kind of.
Random Fact: Gideon and Faith's relationship is based off my brother's and his fiance's. They got together when they were fourteen and moved in together at nineteen, and they get married this month. And their cat, Montmorency, is based off my cat. Only my cat is female...But the random morning attacks on legs is all true.
I'd like to thank Cassadaga for giving me some suggestions on titles, it was very helpful :)
Please please please review! I love to hear from anyone that reads my stories! :)