Earth grounds and holds.
Fire warms and revives.
Water soothes and heals.
Air refreshes and flies.
But the Spirit stands above all.

— the foundation of Witchcraft, created eons ago by the Spirits

⥽ 02 ⥼

The Cove is on the side of a dormant volcano at the edge of the city. It's a massive structure made from the cooled magma deep below it. Turrets of rhyolite — a sandy red rock used in concrete — tower far above the top of the volcano on either side with smaller, less impressive dips and divots of buildings around them. Accents of obsidian would normally give it an oppressive, almost dangerous, vibe, but, in this case, it makes it look majestic and powerful.

Rhyolite and obsidian were chosen by Earth witches over 300 years ago during the Burning Time — when Hestia Circle was considered a refuge for everyone that was running from the witch trials, not just those connected with fire — but it still shines brightly, gleaming under the sun from all of the other minerals imbedded in them.

Because it's made with Earth magick, the Cove is alive, bending and twisting whenever it feels like it. Only Grandma Thonia, the High Priestess, has the ability to tell it what to do since it thinks she's 'worthy.' Not even my father, second-in-command as the High Priest, can order it around.

Being alive, of course, means that it can choose whether to let others in or lock them out, so I have to approach the base of the volcano and bow.

"Permission to enter," I say softly.

There's never a responding voice, but the Earth does shift, making room for a set of stairs made out of obsidian, which leads to the front door of the Cove. As soon as I put my foot on the first step, the stairs shift into an escalator, saving me from walking up the thousands of steps it would take to get to the top.

Always so fascinating, Ignis comments, smiling.

His smile falls as soon as Deus says, The way it changes with time is fascinating.

And why, pray tell, are you still here? Ignis demands.

Because there's a Bane in existence, of course, Deus says easily, grinning at Ignis. What kind of Spirit would I be if I left my handler with only a lizard to protect her?

Ignis narrows his eyes at him. I am much more capable of protecting her than you are. You have yet to form a Covenant with anyone.

Deus shrugs, unaffected. That's because there are few worthy of me, Iggy. You should know that better than anyone.

Are you trying to say that Toren isn't worthy? Ignis sounds affronted.

Stop it, you two, I order. Deus is allowed to hang out as long as he wants, Ignis, so stop being such a jerk.

Ignis groans. There's no need for him here, Toren. He just wants the entertainment.

What so wrong with that? Entertainment makes the world go 'round, Deus says, smirking. Besides, I haven't seen the Cove since the Balefire; I was wondering how it's changed in the last seven years~

I stiffen, and Ignis sighs. We don't talk about the Balefire.

Deus furrows his brows, confused. Why not? It's how Tor managed to win me — her most prized possession.

That's precisely why we don't talk about it, Ignis snaps.

Actually, we don't talk about it because my opponent was exiled when he lost, I correct.

Deus' sharp, yellow eyes widen. Exiled? Were the punishments for losing always that harsh?

Ignis' mouth sets in a line. It was a special case.

More like a set-up, but I refrain from sending that over the bond, glaring at the sky.

Because, despite what Desmond Frost had told Grandma, he definitely knew his son, Emrys, wasn't able to use fire magick. Hell, I'm sure the entire Synod knew about it on some level. They had said the reason they were exiling him was because Emrys hadn't tried — he just stood there, "pretending" to be scared — and, therefore, he didn't take the traditions of Hestia seriously, but they all ignored one important fact: he had been burned.

Witches with an affinity for fire can't get burned — how would we be able to wield something as hot as the sun if we felt the effects of it?

He can't use fire... Ignis had murmured in amazement after one of Emrys' sleeves caught fire. He's never so much as produced a spark.

I hadn't believed him because I couldn't fathom Desmond letting his oldest kid enter the Balefire without being able to control fire, but as soon as I had seen the burn on Emrys' shoulder, I knew Ignis was right: for whatever reason, Emrys Frost couldn't wield fire.

At any rate, Ignis says, pulling me from my thoughts, we should find Thonia before—

The front wall of rhyolite falls away, sinking into the volcanic rock just as I step off of the escalator. At first, I think it's because the Cove realized I needed some way to get in, though it usually only drops a section of the wall, but then I realize that someone is standing in the middle of the entrance, a soft smile on her face.

Speaking of the Frosts...

As if she heard me thinking about her family, Chione Frost is waiting for me, hands behind her back. She's wearing a white, off-the-shoulder sundress that has little oranges dotting it here and there. Her black hair looks like she just ran a brush through it and decided that was good enough, but she's wearing a hint of lip gloss today.

What stands out about Chione the most, though, is—

Can she see? Deus asks, tilting his head.

—is her eyes.

So considerate, Ignis mutters sarcastically.

Despite the dark brown color everyone else in her family has, Chione's eyes are an almost luminescent, pale brown — so pale, there's practically no pigment at all.

Chione was born blind, but that doesn't mean she can't see.

She walks over to me, but her smile falls as she gets closer. As soon as she's in reach, her hand touches my neck — right under the nick I got from the air blade.

"You're hurt," she says. "What happened?"

"Uh... Well, we ran into some... trouble," I finish lamely.

Her eyes widen, and I can hear Deus humming as he watches her, Ignis swatting at him with his tail. "Something caused trouble for you and Ignis?" she says, surprised. "What was it?"

"I'll have to tell you later," I say. "First, I need to talk to the Synod."

"I don't think so," she says, grabbing my wrist. "Come on. We're going to the Ward."

"It's just a nick, Chichi!" I argue.

She ignores me, pointedly looking ahead as she leads me through the entrance.

How is she doing this if she can't see? Deus wonders.

She can't see with her eyes, but that doesn't mean she can't see at all, Ignis says, like it should be obvious to the griffon Spirit.

Forgive me, Iggy, but I was under the impression that that's what eyes were for, Deus retorts.

I mentally sigh. What Ignis means is that Chione uses her affinity with fire to see the world around her, I say, stopping the bickering before it starts.

So, what? She sees like one of those thermal imaging cameras or something?

Yeah. She can sense the heat objects give off, I say.

That's how she knew Toren was injured, Ignis explains. She can feel the heat from the wound.

Because the blood is trying to clot, so it's gathering in that spot... Deus looks impressed. That's bad ass.

I smile. Yeah. It is. She's also one our best Healers even though she's a year younger than me.

Fascinating~ I want to meet her~

I'm sure she'd like that, I say.

Because, despite how talented she is, Chione doesn't have a Spirit yet. She hasn't even met a Spirit other than her father's and mine.

"What's Ignis saying?" Chione asks innocently. "Or is it the other Spirit?"

I blink. "How'd you know I have another Spirit with me?"

"There's more energy coming from you than usual," she says, shrugging. "It's faint, though, like Ignis', so I figured it might be another one. You also attract Spirits. At least, that's what my dad says."

I frown at the mention of Desmond. "How come I don't think he meant it as a compliment?"

"Because he didn't," she says easily. "Anyway, who's with you other than Ignis? It feels like an ancient Spirit."

"It's Deus," I say, smiling.

"Oh! Why has Deus decided to stay with you instead of resting in the clouds like he usually does?"

"Because..." I trail off, not sure if I'm allowed to tell her. The Synod might decide that it's a need-to-know situation.

When have you ever listened to what the Synod has to say? Deus wonders.

I listen to Grandma, I say defensively.

Deus snorts. Yeah, sure, when she tells you what to do, which is almost never.

That's because she trusts me — unlike those hypocritical, useless—

Toren, Ignis reprimands.

What? I demand, daring him to contradict me.

Instead, he sighs. I don't think telling her is a bad idea even if the Synod disapproves — only because it's Chione, he defends at Deus' surprised look.

"Toren?" Chione wonders. "What're Ignis and Deus saying?"

"They're telling me it's okay to tell you," I say, "but not here. Wait till we get to the Ward."

She nods, curiosity making her pick up her pace.

The entrance hallway has changed again — where it was just a small foyer with two, simple benches made out of fire lilies this morning, it's now an intricate hallway, weaving further into the volcano. Chione has already mastered the new layout apparently, but that doesn't surprise me — she's always the first one to figure out how to navigate the Cove thanks to her sensitivity to heat. She says that there's a burst of heat from the volcano when it shifts, which is probably why she was standing right at the entrance as soon as I made it back.

After two turns and a short flight of stairs, Chione opens a door on our left and steps in, waiting for me.

The Ward is like any other medical room — just a bit bigger. Since we have to make sure there's enough space for at least half of the Circle to stay here if something were to happen, dozens upon dozens rollaway beds are set up, each with their own set of pristine, red sheets and matching duvets. The floor is obsidian, of course, but birch wood is overlain on the walls, covering up the rhyolite. Directly to my right, tucked in the corner, is a separate, enclosed office where the Healers check in and assess the patients.

Chione heads to it, using her key to unlock the door and let me in. As soon as I walk in, she closes the door behind her.

"So, what's going on? What was trouble for you, Ignis, and Deus of all beings?" she asks, skipping straight to the point as she makes me sit on the examination table.

"Well, Ignis and Deus say it's a... it's a Bane," I say.

She tilts her head. "A Bane? What's that?"

"Apparently, it's a Cowan that's made a Covenant with a demon Spirit, giving them the ability to wield whatever element the Spirit can," I explain.

"I didn't even know there was such a thing as demon Spirits," Chione says. She puts two fingers on my neck — directly on the wound. "But I guess if the Goddesses and Gods have Spirits, it makes sense that the opposite would exist... It's just sad to think that someone has fallen into that kind of hole..."

"It is sad," I agree, flinching as her fingers glow faintly. Her touch is warm, but it stings. "But you should've seen the amount of damage it did before Deus and I got rid of it. The whole building was falling apart just from the miasma, which I couldn't cleanse, by the way."

Chione's eyes widen. "You couldn't cleanse it?"

I shook my head. "Not even with Deus' power."

"That's terrible."

"Yeah, and, to make matters worse, Deus says that Banes, like, corrupt Cowans so it can make more Banes," I say.

"An army of evil..." Chione breathes. "You definitely have to tell the Synod."

"I know. That's why we came back as soon as we were done."

She nods, pulling her hand back. "Well, good news is that you were right: the wound was pretty superficial, so it didn't take that much to treat it."

I touch my neck. The cut is completely gone.

Wonderful, Deus says.

Ignis snorts. If you're so enthralled with the Healer, maybe you should go stay with her instead of Toren and I.

And miss seeing your smiling muzzle every day? Deus says, a talon against his chest in fake hurt. Why, I'd never forgive myself if I just abandoned you, Iggy.

I groan, rolling my eyes, before I catch Chione raising an eyebrow. "I'm sorry, Chichi! I wasn't groaning at you — it's these two idiot Spirits of mine."

Don't put me on the same level as him, Ignis says, affronted.

Deus snickers. You would only be so lucky.

"What're they saying?"

"Ignis is upset that Deus is 'invading' his space," I say, rolling my eyes again. "Apparently, Ignis owns my chest cavity."

She giggles. "Is that where he stays? In your chest?"

"Yeah," I say, sighing. "He likes to be near my heart because it's the warmest part of my body."

"That's cute," she says. "What's Deus saying? That he gets the seat next to your heart because he's older?"

"You're not far off," I mutter.

Let me talk to her, Deus interjects.

Ignis rolls his eyes, but I smile, shaking my head. "Deus wants to talk to you," I say. "Are you cool with that?"

She blinks, tilting her head. "I don't mind, but how...?"

"Give me a second," I tell her. To Deus, I say, Don't scare her, okay? Nothing inappropriate.

Please, he replies. I'm part king of the sky and part king of the jungle — eloquence is in my blood, dear Tor.

Ignis rolls his eyes again. If it takes two parts to make you a full king, are you even worth anything, half-breed?

You're just jealous that I get to talk to the Healer first, Iggy, Deus says easily.

Just hurry up, I interrupt. I'm only giving you a few minutes, so say what you want.

Roger~ Deus says, swelling into every space.

I let go, allowing him full control of my body. Since he's already a part of me, it's not hard to do — like switching from the driver's seat to the passenger's seat, I get to put my feet up and let Deus have the wheel for a few moments.

Chione gasps, and, for a wild second, I wonder if she noticed my green eyes shift to yellow since Deus has taken over, but then I remember that she doesn't actually know what color my eyes are because she's never seen them.

"Toren?" Chione says tentatively.

"You can tell I'm not her?" Deus says in my voice.

It's unnerving to hear that overgrown dagger talk in such an air-light voice, Ignis comments. He usually sounds like a beast.

I wouldn't call it "beastly," but I get what you're saying: I'm so used to him sounding deep and gravelly that hearing him talk so high and soft makes me uncomfortable, I say. Also — kind of unrelated — but does my voice really fluctuate that much?

Hush, you two. I'm trying to have a conversation~ Deus says.

Annoying, isn't it? I grumble.

He ignores me as Chione nods. "There was a flash of heat before the area where Toren was standing suddenly faded."

"Wonderful," Deus murmurs. "You, my dear, are a Class A Goddess."

Chione blinks before a slow grin breaks out on her face. "You must be Deus."

He bows. "At your service, Mistress."

Don't say that in my voice! I order.

It's my turn — I'll do what I want~

I groan.

Chione giggles, completely oblivious to the argument. "Why did Toren let you out? Aren't you and Ignis in trouble?"

Trouble? Ignis says, tilting his head. Why would I be in trouble?

Because you're both ridiculous, I say easily.

"I'm always in trouble — keeps things interesting," he says, "but I asked to talk to you before we left."

"Talk to me? For what?"

He grins. It's a wild, maniacal grin that gives me a psychotic look. "Because I wanted to tell you that you're fascinating myself — not with Toren as the translator."

She pinks. "Thank you."

"It's my pleasure, madam," he says smoothly. "Talk to you later~"

Chione nods, still red, and I can't help but smile as Deus lets me have the reigns again.

"Theatrical, isn't he?" I say.

"He's very... charismatic," she agrees, hands to her face, "but I like him."

I feel Deus grin.

Shaking herself, she smiles at me. "Do you need me to show you the way to the Atrium or can you find it? The Cove changed all of the hallways again, so it might be hard."

I blink. "Hadn't thought about it, honestly," I say. It hadn't even crossed my mind. "But you're right: I have no idea where I'm going."

She laughs. "Don't worry. I can take you there," she assures me. "I even know a shortcut."

"You're a life saver," I say.

"I know," she says happily, grinning.

I return her smile, following after her.

"What are you going to do now that Deus has moved in too?" she asks as we head down the hallway.

"I'm going to pop a lot of ibuprofen and hope that they can act like the ancient beings they're supposed to be," I say.

Don't look at me. Look at Iggy, Deus says.

She can't look at us — we're inside of her right now, Ignis retorts, rolling his eyes.

It's called a mind's eye, he says. Of course, with how high your nose is up in the air, I doubt you've ever

Boys, I say in warning.

Chione laughs. "They really don't get along, do they?"

"It depends on Deus' mood," I say honestly. "He likes messing with Iggy — Ignis! I said Ignis!"

Ignis' eyes are wide. Did you just call me that horrendous name?

Deus is shaking with laughter.

I'm sorry! It slipped out — I swear! I plead.

He glares at Deus. This is all your fault, you insolent hybrid.

Deus grins. Hell yeah, it is. You should just accept your fate, Iggy.

I groan.

"Ignis upset that you called him the wrong thing?" Chione guesses.

"Worse," I mutter. "I called him the nickname Deus gave him."

"Good luck with that one," she says, grinning.

"Thanks," I grumble.

"On the bright side, we're here," she says, making one last right before we come to the deep, dark wine garnet door.

I sigh. "Thank you for showing me the way — even though I wasn't really paying attention."

She waves me off. "Don't mention it. Besides, I wouldn't worry about relearning the lay-out — the Cove has been moving around a lot lately, like it's restless, so it probably wouldn't do you much good."

I think about it, pursing my lips.

Now that she mentions it, the rooms and hallways have been shifting a lot more. Usually, the Cove changes a few times a year. Lately, though, it's been changing a few times a week.

That's unsettling, Ignis comments. Earth witches often have the ability to sense when things are amiss. I wonder if the same can be said with things made out of Earth magick.

Yeah, Deus confirms. Earth witches inadvertently put some of their abilities into the things that they create, especially structures, but I can personally confirm that the Cove was made to shift when things in the outside world threatened witches' lives.

You don't think... I trail off, unable to believe it.

Oh, I most definitely think that the Cove senses the Bane and is worried, Deus says. After all, Banes were the reason the Cowans turned against witches during the Burning Time.

"Sorry, Chione, but I really need to talk to Synod," I say.

She bows a little. "I understand. Good luck, Toren."

"Thanks," I say. I'm going to need it.

Putting my hand against the garnet, I send a quick pulse of heat through it, effectively turning the wine color into a more forest green. Immediately, the door falls away, and I step inside, leaving Chione in the hallway as more color-changing garnet takes its place.

The room is empty, bare of any Synod members for the moment, but it doesn't take long for the familiar whoosh as all of them appear in their respected seats. Well, everyone except for Grandma, who's chair is eerily empty.

"Dragon of Axyl — what business do you have with the Synod?" one of the members, Llyr, demands.

I grit my teeth. "My name's Toren, Llyr, not Dragon of Axyl."

He glares at me. "We are not on a first name basis."

Toren. It's Ignis. Don't anger them.

But they're trying to pick a fight, Iggy, Deus defends me.

Yes, but they're the ones in charge here.

No, I say. They're not. My grandmother is, and I'm not going to be treated like a Kindling.

"We're on first name basis when Grandma's around."

He scoffs, waving me off. "Who gave you permission to enter the Atrium without asking anyway?" he continues.

"Forgive me," I grind out, "but I have something important information that you need to know."

"And it couldn't wait?" My father asks.

"No," I answer.

Valerious, the member to the left of my father, scoffs. "What could be so important that you had to barge into sacred quarters?"

"I apologize for the inconvenience, but—"

"Do not speak unless spoken to," Llyr barks.

I feel my temper spike, eyes hardening as I glare at Llyr. Ignis sends a warning to calm down as the pentagram on the opposite wall to me starts to burn brighter, the flames practically licking the ceiling, but I ignore him. "I was spoken to, you hypocritical Kindling," I growl. "Valerious asked me a question, and I was answering it. Now, are you going to let me talk or not?"

Llyr's eyes scream retribution as he looks at my father. "Adaric, control your daughter!"

"You know you are not allowed to speak to anyone in the Synod in such a manner!"

Where's Grandma when I need her?

As if answering, there's another sound — like a flame igniting — and Grandma's sitting her chair, smiling.

"Hello, Toren," she greets. When she senses the heat in the air, the smile falls a little. "What seems to be the problem?"

"High Priestess," It's Llyr, "the Dragon of Axyl has—"

"Her name is Toren, Llyr, and she has come with some rather crucial information. Isn't that right, Toren?"

I nod.

"See? Now, please refrain from attacking a fellow Circle member," Grandma reprimands. To me, she says, "Continue, Toren. There is no need to ask permission when you are among equals."

The grumbles tell me that not many people in the Synod agree with that statement, and I have to ignore the childish urge to stick my tongue out at them.

"Tell me what it is that you've learned during your Cleansing," Grandma says, giving me the stage.

"The report was wrong," I explain. "It wasn't a demon that was bothering the client but a Bane."

Grandma and Father's eyes widen. A few others gasp. No one says anything for a solid minute.

"Are you sure of this, Toren?" Grandma asks quietly. "There is no mistake?"

I shake my head. "Ignis and Deus are the ones who told me."

"That explains why the Cove has been restless," she murmurs. "I was actually just trying to talk it down, which is why I was so late, but it's not having any of it. Something has clearly frightened it."

"But, High Priestess, there hasn't been a single Bane sighting in centuries," Father says.

Grandma nods. "Yes, I know. Something must be happening."

"Like what?" I ask, earning a stern look from everyone but Grandma.

She sighs. "Whatever it is, honey, it's not good."

⥽ xxx ⥼

Whoop~ Finished this chapter and, with it, the final bits of the 8,000 words that are due by Tuesday~ So excited for the next part of this contest~

Shout out to Aviaku on Deviantart for making the wonderful drawings, as well as working with me to design what the characters look like~ I can't wait to see what the others look like, cupcake, so keep up the wonderful work!

Word Count (according to Word): 4,032

Total Word Count (according to Word): 9,613

Let me know what you think, cupcakes~ See you next week~

Happy reading~(: