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A Brief History of the Witches and Their Culture

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Before there were witches’ clans, before the armoured bears ruled Svalbard, before men took to the land, before the Gyptians, there were the angels. Before them ... there was only nature, unspoiled by any impure thought or action. The witches were said to have come from the trees themselves, birds who crept down to land, but still remained fliers. Elusive and silver-quick, they knew the ways of the Earth better than the men who appeared next, and the panserbjørn who lived in the cold and sea. The witches belonged to the air, to the land, to the wind.

*

The Magisterium was just over 700 years old when Liisi met Sakarja. She didn't know it, she couldn't know it, but her child was to have a huge part in what was to come in the bringing down of the Magisterium. Sakarja, the man she had fallen in love with, waited on her hand on foot. He did not seem to mind that she was a witch, that their child, if a girl, was to only stay with him for a short while. If the child was a boy ... Liisi did not want to think about that.

There were many reasons why Liisi did not want her child to be a boy. For one, the Magisterium was cracking down on witch-human couples, and the boy-children that they bore. The world was changing, a far cry from how it had been when she was a little girl. Man was getting far and far more possessive, while the witches still strove to own nothing. Even friends of Sakarja had asked him if he was planning to 'try to keep the witch around'. They treated their own women with contempt, and Liisi feared for who her son might become. There was the discovery of anbaric power to worry about as well. Liisi didn't know what it meant for the Magisterium, but the theologians were happy about the discovery, even if such a discovery meant standing up to the Magisterium. Countless chapels had been shut down, and several chaplains sanctioned for their support of this anbaric power. Countless more chaplains spoke out against it – demonising it as a tool of the devil. Then again, they had called the prophecy of the witches that as well; Liisi shut her eyes against the stories of her mother's mother's memories of what had happened after their Consul told the Magisterium what Affery had heard. Cloud-pines were burned, and a rebellion against Man was born. In the end, scores upon scores of witches and men lay dead; the panserbjørn had stayed out of the battle, seeing no interest in it for them. And in the end, the witches had their autonomy, their prophecy, and their own history to write. From then, they had stayed out of the affairs of humans. They were witches, and did not concern themselves with such ... trivialities.

It didn't last long, the union of the witch clans. No-one expected it to last, but sometimes Liisi dreamed of a unified world. Liisi felt the baby kick in protest and she laughed, causing Kier, her dæmon, to look at her in confusion. "The baby is kicking," she explained, and he said nothing else. Her laugh quickly turned to a grimace as the baby kicked again, harder. "The baby's coming," she gasped. "Find Sakarja, Kier." The black-tailed godwit turned without a sound and flew out the open window. The silence was agonising as she contracted; she made her way to Sakarja's bed, crawling up it and hoping she remembered everything the witches taught her. She moved only when the baby moved, making as little sound as possible. It was important, her mother had taught her, to let the baby come into the world sensing the joy from the air, and the sweet tang of a new world – it would not do well to taint such a journey with wails of pain and despair. The baby would sense it, and act accordingly her whole life. In this moment, Liisi would have traded screaming for a boy, one who could not sense all there was to this earth, and who would find his destiny in something other than all that surrounded him.

Sakarja and his dæmon, and Kier came in quickly and Sakarja took her hand while the two dæmons huddled together in the corner, Kier's wings wrapped around the hedgehog. The baby passed quickly after that and Liisi fell back on the bed, letting the copper-tingle wash over her. She was certain her baby could feel the same euphoria and she regretted ever wishing her child was a boy – she wished Sakarja could feel the world the same way she did, she wished he could feel a tiny slice of this joy. The baby, still wet and blue-purple-pink, was placed in her arms, and the anbaric current coursed through both of them. She knew, without opening her eyes, what her daughter and her dæmon were to be called. "Serafina and Kaisa," she whispered, and the infant's cries abated.

*

Serafina was seven when the man from the Magisterium came to visit, to verify she was a witch-daughter, and not a human-daughter whose parents were hiding her from the ever-reaching arm of the Magisterium. She stood barefoot in her father's yard, wearing nothing but a cotton sundress. She smiled shyly at him – as it was not her nature to distrust anyone – and he frowned at her and wrote something down on his pad. Kaisa turned into a cat and hissed at the rat dæmon on the man's shoulder. Before Kaisa could react further, the man turned, and left.

*

The Magisterium couldn't interfere directly into the lives of the witches, but they could make life difficult for the men they fell in love with, and the children who were born to them. The witch-daughters could not be touched, but the human-boys were whisked away to be 'verified'. Liisi was 111 when it started occurring, and she'd already had her first love. She shuddered to think of what might have come if she'd born a child with the man, Joachim. But the Magisterium saw her as an enemy, and she loved Joachim fiercely enough to not risk a child by him.

Enemies. Liisi didn't understand the concept. They saw the world in two different ways, but that did not mean Liisi wanted to wipe out Man or the Magisterium. She wanted her witch-sisters to raise their daughters and live in peace. She did not want the men to face penalties for 'consorting outside societal parameters'. She did not want the boys to be 'verified' by the Magisterium, who scorned their mothers afterward. Some of the witch-mothers fled with their men and the children, but the older witch-mothers knew time would course quickly and the prolonged pain was not worth it.

When the human children started going missing, the Magisterium looked to the witches, but it was not in the witches moral code to harm an innocent. They backed off the witch-mothers and their children, but the kidnappings continued. The first ransom note came from the panserbjørn, declaring war on the Magisterium for the slaughter of their bear-cubs. Two uneasy truces were signed in the week following that, and the autonomy of the bears and witches grew.

*

The butterfly fluttered about the sky, darting this way and that. The little girl on the ground frowned at her father. Sakarja stared at his daughter, still innocent and looking rather impetuous like her mother. She was going to be a heartbreaker. He was certain this was the last time he was going to see his daughter; the Magisterium had come to visit and the witches were uneasy, choosing to gather all their daughters and again prepare for war. Liisi left the child with him while she attended to her queen duties, it was an arrangement that worked well for Sakarja, as it meant having near full custody of her. The Magisterium would not treat him kindly upon finding his child missing – his child that he had been ordered to keep in Brytain. He faced punishment, even death, for defying such an order. He had fallen in love with a witch Queen and sired a daughter, and he did not regret it, not even under the threat of the Magisterium. From the day she had been born, he would have done anything if it meant keeping her safe. He knew what a witch-daughter meant; eventually she would have gone off to live with her kind, visiting him now and again until he succumbed to his old age and she sprouted onward, leaving him to be nothing but dust.

The time for her to leave had come far too soon; Sakarja wished he had more years with her. She was nothing like he could have ever imagined, and he knew there would be no more children created by his seed; he knew it without any evidence. It was just there, pressing on his mind, that she was his only. And what an only to have! He was making the hard choice, in letting her go. Other men demanded their witch-daughters and mothers stay with them, and many did, though not nearly as many as were fleeing to their homelands to sit and hold council. There was no telling what would happen to them, just as there was no telling what would become of him. For now, he watched his daughter frowning, Kaisa fluttering ahead, changing his pattern with every twisting wind current.

*

Lake Enara was nothing like Brytain. There were no buildings, for one, and the trees stretched on until they disappeared into the horizon. Serafina stood at the edge of the camp and let the scent of pine wash over her. There was so much she had never heard before up here, so much she had never felt. Kaisa was besides himself, squirming in the pine-snow as a snow leopard, begging Serafina to rub his belly. She laughed and gave in. Other witch-daughters joined them and Serafina organised a snowball fight, squealing as the wind whistled across her skin and the icy snow slid down her back. From a distance, Liisi and the other witch-mothers watched and spoke in hushed tones.

Serafina did not return to Brytain, but within a few weeks she forgot all about it. There was too much to take in here! It was far different from her father's house, with its little beds and warm stove. Here, no-one owned anything, not even nature. They shared the cloud-pine branches, and bartered with the local humans for things. Even the bows used to secure food were communal. Clothing was minimal and Serafina loved it; every time she moved she felt a new sensation on her skin, a tingling of the Earth that living with her father could not ever hope to bring.

She did not know, for Liisi thought her far too young, that she was never to see Sakarja again; for his crime of helping a 'child of interest' flee, he was sent to the far reaches of Muscovy, to work in the labour camps. While Serafina and her mother could handle the dancing of the wind and cold against their skin, Sakarja was only human and could not. Being sent to the Muscovy Death Camps meant never returning. And since the witches did not interfere in the lives of humans, so long as their daughters remained safe, the men would fall to their fates.

*

Potentilla, Queen of the Latvian Witches, knew of the Muscovy camps, everyone who bordered on the Federation of Muscovy knew this. While the Magisterium had a fear-hold in Brytain, New France, Mejico, New Denmark, Texas, even Sud-Hiekkaerämaa Africa, they did not have as large as hold in Nippon, Cathay, Corea, Beringland, and Muscovy. The Muscovy Camps were a nice compromise – the Muscovites were able to use cheap labour and the Magisterium could effectively silence enemies. The lack of the Magisterium's power meant that chapels could spring up freely and without fearing a second Affirmation. In Bharata, where the Indoi and Lascar people lived, chapels were funded by the government, and it was here the first atomcraft discoveries were made. In fact, it was said in some places in Bharata, specifically the city of Kali, there were more chapels than oratories. The Affirmation still weighed heavily on their minds.

Witches did not interfere in the lives of Men, and the Affirmation was no different. An affirmation of the faith doctrine is what the Magisterium called it. They started with the theologians and chaplains, asked them how their work served the Magisterium. Potentilla only knew of this time in great detail because of the great fights over the mine-fires. They were a place the panserbjørn went to make their sky-armour, a place where one could commune with the spirits.

There were many witches who wanted this place for themselves. Potentilla was a young witch Queen, and had not taken the throne. She advised the current Queen, her elder sister, against such a foolish task, but the Queen, power-hungry as the Magisterium was, laid out plans for attack. The Læso witches banded with them, and several more clans near the mine-fires. They attacked Svalbard without warning, much as the Affirmation had come without warning. It was a disaster, and the witches were quickly pushed back. The Latvian Queen and the King of the bears fought.

At the very young age of 89, Potentilla became Queen.

*

While the Latvian witches had a hereditary throne, the Lapland witches appointed their Queen at initiation, after she became no longer a witch-daughter, but a sister – a woman. It was a rare ceremony, occurring once every 400 years or so. This year was one of those years. Liisi knew of the whisperings about her own daughter, but she did not do as other mothers did and attempt the use of spells to influence the fates. She was Queen herself, and felt conflicted on what she wanted to happen; while she loved her duties as Queen, she wished she had done some of the things her sisters have. The fact that she was Queen, though, played no bearing on who was chosen to succeeded her. What was fated to happen would happen, and it would not do well to attempt to change that. Potentilla's daughter, Ruta, was 89 years old, but Potentilla was a far fairer Queen than her sister had been. Ruta was not to be Queen for many years. Potentilla had forged many friendships her sister sought to destroy. As such, she and her daughter were invited to the ceremony, after the daughters walked through the shadowlands. They arrived in style, flanked by their bluethroat and snow petrel dæmons.

Serafina was wildly oblivious to what was happening with the witch elders. She stood in a group of witch-daughters who were to walk through the shadowlands, soothing some of her sisters' discomfort as best as she could. Some of their dæmons flicked through a whole host of animals, betraying any nervousness. Kaisa rested on her shoulders most of the time, a grey goose. She had no doubt he would stay in that form as she left and would remain in that form as she came back. She thought of Kier, her mother's dæmon. A godwit suited her mother, small, but still light and playful. A goose, she supposed, summed her up, but she had no idea what that really meant. She could have asked an elder, as much of the girls were asking her now 'what if he takes this form?' 'what if he's not a flier?' 'what if he's not a true reflection of me?'. But it was not her nature to ask, and to distrust. She was kind, and open, and honest. She was soothing, but she could be fierce when she needed to be.

She was a Queen of the Lapland Witches. It was fated to be so.

*

The first time she fell in love had been agonising. She was young, only about 70, and he was a handsome young cattle farmer from neighbouring Svergie. It was a thrilling new experience for her. Their union did not produce any children and when she grew weary of him, she left. It was her second love that burned bitter and hard, a scholar at one of the Universities who spurned her for his academic pursuits. For the first time, she understood why her sisters killed these men. How dare they! Could they not see what a great honour it was for them to be chosen like such? And to pick something as fleeting as academia over her!

Her bow was notched before she knew what she was doing, the arrow hitting with deadly accuracy. The scholar slumped over in his chair, dead in an instant. He'd felt nothing. Perhaps he'd heard the whistling in the air as the arrow pushed closer to him, but he was only human, so Serafina did not hold him too highly in that regard. She flew back to Enara after that; killing a scholar – even one that had spurned her – was far different from killing a farmer in the middle of Svergie. The farmer had family that could look after the farm; a scholar was a different sort of loss to society. Serafina was a witch though, and as such felt no such regrets about killing the man. Still, it was better for her to be out of Brytain for a while. She'd send Kaisa ahead of her, taking her time as she travelled across the North. Chapels were springing up at an alarming rate now, and it seemed the Magisterium could do nothing about it. Several of these chapels had discovered the secrets of air-travel, and that worried Serafina more than any retribution someone might think they could lay claim to her for the death of the scholar.

*

Sometimes the fights with the witch-clans did not involve the Magisterium or man. Sometimes they were just fights against clans. When the drought came, and the animals fell, and there was nothing to barter with except the dry, dead Earth, the witches turned on each other. Ruta, still just a very young child, was left in the care of the snow petrel Kanimir, her mother's dæmon. An enemy clan was fighting with the Latvian witches over the fish found in the Gulf of Riga. Potentilla, who was a wise and generous Queen, did not take well to her sisters being pegged down as they searched for any meagre scraps of food they could find. She sent warriors after the offending witches, who would send their dæmons to attack ahead of them. Ruta, wanting to be involved, tried to sneak herself off to fight, but Kanimir laid his own traps for her to find.

Twice enemy dæmons came, looking to attack the child, and twice Sergi and Kanimir fought them off. In wars with the witches, there was no sanctity towards the children. In wars with the witches, there was no such thing as an innocent. Killing a future Queen would deal a huge blow to a clan, and they would be forced to make concessions. Thus Ruta had to remain safe – if her mother fell, she would be Queen, even though she had not yet come of age. It had happened before, it would happen again.Just as eagerly as the enemy clans were seeking to harm Potentilla and Ruta, the Latvian witches were seeking out their enemies as well. The Queen-in-Waiting that the Latvian witches killed was far older than Ruta – and thus far harder to replace. The enemy clans fled Latvia under pain of torture and death.

Now there was just Man to fight with for precious food resources. Their consul was a spindly thin man named Edem. In the past, he had done his duties well, keeping the men hunters from traditional witch woods and gulf areas. This all changed when the drought swept the land; no more could the consul keep the men out than the witches could keep enemy clans from attempting to kill Ruta. Ruta may have been young, but the idea of a consul troubled her. A man, speaking on behalf of the witches to the Magisterium? Only the Magisterium could have come up with this, and Ruta liked to wonder aloud to Kanimir about why this must be so. She ran through theory after theory, never getting Kanimir to agree to anything, as her mother took meeting after meeting with man and witch alike. The rains came, and saved Kanimir from any more crazy theories, though Ruta had settled on the theory that the witches merely went along with it because they could not be bothered to deign down to the level of Man on the exhausting timeline that Man seemed to want to discuss things with the witches. She was correct, but she would not find this out for a great deal many of years.

*

Iokua, King of the Ice Bears had summoned Serafina for a council. She wasn't suspicious, it wasn't ever in her nature to be suspicious of olive branches and councils. She was surprised to find a human man also present at the council. His name was Matheson and his dæmon was Qitarah. They did not share a common language, so Kaisa fluttered down next to the polar fox and began to have a conversation. Within minutes, he fluttered back up to Serafina, explaining that the man had been found as a young boy by the bears – the rest of his party killed in a snowstorm. With the humans seeking to trap them for servitude or hunt them for meat, Iokua hadn't risked sending the boy back, but now the boy was a man, and needed a place to go, and Iokua had remembered the kindness of the witches.

The world spun, and cracked, and swallowed her whole – Serafina was in love again.

Iokua had provided them with provisions, enough to buy a house, and Serafina spent weeks learning his language. She was a witch and picked up the subtle clues of how the mouth moved far better than he could learn any of her tongues. He made a trade as a blacksmith in the nearby town. It was a surprise to her when he came home and Qitarah would not look her in the eye. When she begged for an answer, he begged for a child. Who was she to deny him? Three months later she laughed as Qitarah and Kaisa moved across the floor as one at her news. The pregnancy was quick, and easy. Under the midnight sun she gave birth to a little boy that Matheson named Callum. Some witches named their children themselves – though that was mostly their daughters. Fathers had a lot more pull in the naming of their sons. He left the other name up to Serafina. She thought for a moment looking at the grey kitten dæmon with the bluest eyes she'd ever seen – eyes that matched Callum's – and pronounced her Abeni.

Years pass quickly to witches – far too quickly – and after 42 years with Matheson, Serafina knew it was time to fly on. They had raised an exceptional son, who took up blacksmithing like his father, and had left them many years ago to create his own family. Serafina flew to them first, watching Callum dance around his sons and daughters. She watched the daughters carefully – none of them were witch daughters and none of them fulfilled the conditions of the prophecy, but Serafina nevertheless could not stop wondering about what their destiny was. She flew to Matheson next and kissed him tenderly, one last time, before picking up a cloud-pine branch and taking to the wind. Qitarah cried after her – after Kaisa – but there was no sadness in her heart as she sped away. Only longing for Lake Enara and her sisters. There was the next adventure to be had, after all.

*

Potentilla was a kind ruler, one who believed in the very best of people. She tried her hardest to instil this same belief into her only daughter, but Ruta was having none of it. Ever since Ruta fearlessly walked into the place where the shadows met, she'd had her eye on one thing – power and control. Men needed to worship her more, they were far too careless in dismissing her. She was a witch – not only that a witch queen – how dare they not recognise her superiority over them?

She demanded adoration even from those men who did not fall in love with her, and sought out village after village for men to worship her. There were four lovers, all in quick succession, and at the end of it, still no child. Ruta was picky about the men she wanted to have child with, and took the bitter herb potion that was to keep her from conceiving until she was ready.

The first man worthy of having her child was a man from Cathay. He had never seen a witch before and was fascinated that her toes had not been tied. His fascination, and cunning use of a bow, made him worthy for her affections. They hunted together, and afterwards she would lie with him. When she was with child, she left him, and returned to Latvia. It was always better to give birth to the children in their homeland; if the child was a boy, she would return him to his father. She was looked after by her sisters – a favour returned as she had looked after them many a time when they were with child. The baby was born without pomp and circumstance – a small, ungainly little girl.

The second man worthy of having her child was a chaplain from Kali. He worked closely with the Magisterium on healing powders, and Ruta respected his intellect quite a bit. When she found that she was with child, she told him the news eagerly. He told her he did not have time for a little brat, and Ruta, who had no concept of honour, was not offended by his statements at all. She flew back to Latvia and gave birth to a second child, another little girl, also small like her sister. She wrote to the chaplain, told him of the birth of his daughter. He wrote back, telling Ruta to write to him if the child fell ill, as he could pull some strings and help her out. Ruta agreed, but inwardly she was laughing – what healing powders of man could top the healing spells of a witch?

*
Nippon called to Serafina next – a friendly clan was facing a deadly disease that hit witch and Man alike and that their spells could not stop. Serafina had only heard of deaths like this one in tales the witches told her – men were consumed by night-ghasts before their deaths and the witches gasped in pain for Yambe-Akka to relieve them. The Magisterium was as powerless as the witches were. Perhaps Serafina could offer some assistance? Serafina had heard rumours from East Muscovy, near the Death Camps that had killed her father so many moons ago, about the same disease hitting them. Knowing there was nothing she could do, Serafina and Kaisa quickly left, Kaisa flying ahead to alert the witches of a council. There, Serafina laid out what had happened and what she had seen. The witches voted nearly unanimously to cut off all contact with Nippon until the disease abated.

It was then that Serafina felt flush and faint. The disease had followed her to Lake Enara. Serafina prayed for the child who was in the prophecy to come – perhaps this was her moment, perhaps this was the catalytic event. There were many talks of the symbol readers and those who could read them, and the witches sent out envoys to see if there was a child among them who could read them.

The Magisterium used their new anbaric facilities to treat the sick with surprising effect. If there was anything the Magisterium could do well, it was not helping the sick. But the Magisterium had figured out that it did not do well to have the sick together in a room, as many care-places were treating people. It was much more effective to separate them, give them warmth and plenty of fluid, and quarantine all who were not ill so that they did not become ill.

Other nations laughed at the plight of Nippon and then Brytain and Norroway as it spread there. Before long, the disease had spread both west and east, north and south. There was one safehold, and that seemed to be the island-nation of Murrundi. The Magisterium wasted no time in shipping off infected men, women, and children to the island, attempting to scourge the land of the disease. But the disease spread on, and the witches were not immune. They too, suffered as Man did. The panserbjørn were immune and barred visitors to their lands 'just in case'. Serafina, still struggling with the heat sickness herself, could not blame them. If it had been the witches – and how many times had it been the witches – they would have withdrawn themselves and not allowed contact, much like Serafina had attempted to. She writhed in pain and begged for Yambe-Akka to come relieve her. But there was no relief for her.

In the end, the disease abated, just as quickly and mysteriously as it had come.

*

The first new rumours of the child who would bring the end of destiny came as Ruta’s first born was to be anointed the Queen in waiting. It was said that she had been born in hiding in Corea, then smuggled back to Brytain through Norroway. The anointment of her daughter and heir was important, but seeing this child was important too; she left Latvia with the promise she would be back in time for the ceremony, speeding as fast as she could with Sergi right alongside her. She could be one of the first to meet the second Eve! She could teach the girl many new things in her quest, and help shield her from the Magisterium.

Finding the girl was more difficult than she imagined it would be; Norroway wasn’t densely populated, which meant people could spread across large swaths of land. The girl was said to have electrum-coloured hair, and vivid green eyes. The prophecy had never made much of her appearance, just said she was a girl born under unusual circumstances to powerful parents who would both, in turn, deny her as their own to others. Right now the girl was said to be living with shepherds in the fields, so it was these that Ruta scoured looking for the child. The ceremony called to her however, and she gave up chase, for the moment.

The ceremony was quiet and calm, as it ought to be. Ruta thought of what Potentilla’s crowning must have been, hectic and full of uncertainty. She thought of her own crowning, in the midst of fighting. She hoped, for her daughter’s sake, that the next crowning went as peacefully as this anointment was. It was odd, though she never stopped to think how odd, that they called it the ‘crowning’, when nothing was given to be crowned. There was just a ceremony, an acknowledgement of leadership, and that was it. Nothing as fancy as Man did, with grand feasts and balls and dancing and all that pomp and circumstance. That didn’t make this worth any less – if anything, Ruta thought it meant more to focus on the qualities and decisions at hand than to focus on who wore what or how much money was spent. Humans really were quite quaint sometimes.

When the ceremony had finished, she was to set off for Norroway again, where she had left Sergi, but he returned to her first, bringing her the news that the child had been a hoax, thought up by some men who had heard of the prophecy. There was no need for Ruta to be involved anymore; the Magisterium had caught up to the men and girl and slaughtered them all, saving Ruta the trouble. Ruta might have spared the girl though, she did have a soft fondness for human girls who would grow up and never know the beauty and power of the world as she saw it. But enough thinking of that. She had two lovely, powerful daughters of her own to attend to.

*

Lake Enara froze under the spell of this winter and Serafina would go sit on the edge of the frozen pond and think. There was much to think about, a changing world, aeronauts who had taken to the skies – her skies – and who did not watch out for the witches or birds that might be flying there. Several of her sisters had reported of the strange flying contraptions. The Magisterium picked up on this new technology quickly, and sought to put an edict out controlling the skies. If Man wanted to control others in the sky, there were to be problems. She was one of the witch-Queens, asked to go to council with the other Queens and talk to the Magisterium.

She did not fear the Magisterium, much as she had when she was a child, she viewed them with curiosity. Now she got to walk down the Magisterium halls, checking her cloud-pine and her bow at the door. Several witch-dæmons, Kaisa included, stayed with the supplies. They had been burned far too many times in the past for them to trust anything the Magisterium said about keeping their goods safe. The discussions were quick, with the Magisterium stating their desire to lay out ground rules. The witches retorted quickly, stating they would not cede any ‘right’ to the sky that they had enjoyed since before Man walked the Earth.

Serafina watched as the Magisterium bristled at this outright rejection of their power. She was not yet old enough - let alone wise enough – to participate in the discussions, though the matter seemed fairly simple to her; Man should regulate themselves if they deemed it necessary, and leave the witches to deal accordingly. It wasn’t witches who were having steering problems, and crashing into trees and villages, after all. Even the smallest of the witch-daughters was deft on a broom.

*

It was not uncommon for warring or enemy witch-clans to send an assassin to kill a clan-leader. It didn't surprise Serafina that it happened. It surprised her that she was caught off-guard. The bird pinned her down, pecking at her as he called for his witch. She called for Kaisa, her yells little more than whispers as the bird's talons gripped her throat. She begged for Yambe-Akka for the second time in her life, but the explosion of the dæmon into nothing but particles shocked her. A Gyptian man stood before her, arrow notched at her. She took her bow and laid it in front of her and he quickly followed with his own weapon. Kaisa came whittling down out of the sky and stopped merely inches from the golden-brown cat when he realised Serafina was not in danger.

Serafina could not help but fall in love again; he was young, beautiful, and he had saved her life. Witches had fallen in love over less – she'd fallen in love over less. He was smart too – very smart and she appreciated that. He was an up and coming leader in the Gyptians, but he'd been travelling up North when he'd stumbled upon Serafina.

Things moved slower this time – Serafina knew her official duty as Queen was to take over her life soon, and while she sat on council now, she was to head it in a few short years. She wanted to make the most of those years, and Farder Coram was a patient man. They were together ten years before she found herself with child. Oh, and how she hoped for a girl, much as Liisi had done, many moons ago. The arm of the Magisterium was growing far stronger than it had been when she was born, though men were not sent away for loving witches and having daughters by them. That had ended decades ago, but the Magisterium still sought to control the lives of everyone around them. Serafina could feel the shifts in the air currents- she knew whatever the Magisterium was planning was a bad day for witches, Gyptians, and man alike.

She knew of the newest prophecy, that a man was to build a kingdom to rival God's and challenge him for the throne. It set her blood shaking. The child in the prophecy had not yet been born, there had been no whisperings about her since before Liisi's birth, but Serafina hoped the child came – and soon, before the Magisterium destroyed a lot of good in the world. She wished for a girl, for a witch-daughter who would not have to fear against the Magisterium, but on the day of her second child's birth a boy's cries rang out. Benoni, she said, at the same time Farder Coram whispered Desideria.

*

Ruta moved silently through the air, watching the young man as he visited the chapel. She had been following him for days – he was a power seeker, much like she was, and already at such a young age he had managed to greatly upset the Magisterium. Such activities were of interest to her – it did not take much to read the lines on the prophecy, and Ruta knew this could be that man – the man who would take on God himself. Even if this was not to be that man, he would still be a lover worth having.

She flew to his bedchamber, late at night, and had Sergi approach the snow leopard. When Sergi had her convinced that she was only there for the honour of bedding him, she woke him gently, her naked body pressed against his. Asriel was not a humble man, and did not resist her offerings. When she had finished, she made her preparations to leave, but his snow leopard stopped her. She was confused, and just a tiny bit apprehensive – he would not seek to make her a witch slave, she would be forced to kill him, and she did not want to kill such a fine specimen of man. He only asked that she return the following night.

And thus began her affair with Lord Asriel. He was not a gentle lover, and Ruta appreciated that. He did not, however, seek to dominate or control, and only asked that she come on the days she was available. To Ruta, that was just about every night, though there were nights she did not go, to give her lover time to rest from the ordeal of her. Word quickly spread that Asriel had defied the Magisterium yet again and taken on a witch for a lover. The next worst thing he could do at this point would be to father a child by her. Ruta had two daughters already, but a witch-daughter by this man would grow up to be one of the most feared and revered in all the world. She would gladly strike her first and second born daughters down so that this man's child could inherit her throne.

She was always ruthless, and she didn't stop to wonder if her clan would be shocked by such a move – why should they be? They should expect that she was guaranteeing them the best and most fearless future queen that she had in her power to do. It was the beauty of hereditary thrones. Her mother had been too weak, too eager for lasting peace to make a decent queen. Ruta had changed all that, and in such a short period too. If anyone had thought they were getting her mother, they were sorely mistaken.

No matter the nights slept together, a child manage to elude both of them. Asriel did not seem to mind not having a child to burden him down, but Ruta grew ever the more restless. He seemed too content with his position in life at that moment, too interested in the Gyptian scholars. She stopped returning to his bed, and he never sought her out. So ended her affair with Lord Asriel.

*

Benoni was ten months, and Desideria’s favourite form was a troublesome lynx. It was near time for her to leave her son, who was growing up far too fast. But her mother had just died – too much stress, her witch sisters said, she died too young. She blamed the Magisterium for that. Farder Coram begged her to stay, but she had to attend to the witches, she had to be their queen. She would have stayed with him as she stayed with Matheson, until their son was grown up with a family of his own. Fate had other plans, and Serafina knew it follow to go against fate. In the weeks before she was to leave, Benoni fell ill – a fly-paste had infected him. It was a new disease sweeping from Bharata that picked and chose who fell ill, not unlike the disease that she had been riddled with. She had been older then, old enough to fight it off. Benoni, her precious son, was still an infant and his tiny body could not hope to fight off the fly-paste sickness, which brought a sleep from which the sleeper never woke.

No amount of Gyptian medicine could help him, and the Magisterium had no cause to help some gyptian-witch peasant boy. Knowing that the spirits would call for a sacrifice, she was prepared to offer herself. When she flew to Lake Enara to get the needed supplies, the witches attempted to talk her out of it – she was still so very young, not quite 300 years old, and she had so much of life to live, she shouldn't waste it on a boy. Not to mention they needed their Queen. She could shun her duties, abdicate was the term Man used for it, and have a sister take her place. For her son, she would risk anything, especially since he was so young. In the end, the elder witches let her go and she took off, bag full of bloodmoss and other supplies, ignoring the calls to council.

Sickness listen here
You are holding this boy tight
Listen to my words
I am stronger than fly
Listen sleep you will
Leave this boy
And let him live
Sickness follow my voice
And enter me instead
I have much life to feed off
There is nothing in this innocent for you
Fly-paste sickness heed my words
Leave this boy at once!

Desideria flickered through shapes faster than Serafina's eyes could see; she moved the bloodmoss from Benoni’s forehead to her mouth and ate the plant, ate the sleep the spell should have trapped inside. When she was done, there was nothing to do but wait for sleep to take her.

*

Ruta Skadi heard the newest rumours of the child being born, but she paid them no heed. There were sister-clans in Sud-Hiekkaerämaa Africa who called to her, who begged her to come and bring her witch-sisters and help them help the Men stop the Magisterium from cutting their children. Intrigued, Ruta flew to Africa, crossing the Hiekkaerämaa, and flying further South than she’d ever flown before.

There, she listened to the passionate pleas from both her sisters and from the human women who were allowed to attend a council with them. The Magisterium sought to keep children from experiencing sin, and since they could not keep them from growing up, cutting them so they did not feel Earthly pleasures was their solution. The Magisterium took girls, some no older than four or five, and held them down and cut them before sewing them back up again. They took little boys and cut them as well. These children grew older, and partook in the ways of the flesh, but they were denied any pleasure of it. They still produced children of their own, and took them to be cut when they were of age.

Ruta, holding in her disgust, watched a cutting ceremony. When the girl screamed for the woman cutting her to stop, Ruta was powerless to do as she wanted, to grab her bow and watch the woman’s snake dæmon burst into nothingness. So the girl screamed and the woman cut; when she had finished, the sobbing girl was led away and another child put in her place. Unable to bear witness to the atrocities the Magisterium was committing, she declined to watch the rest of the cutting ceremony.

Anyone who had been cut had their dæmon’s shape fixed – even the littlest of boys and girls. It was this fact that angered Ruta most – the denial of basic humanity to these scores of children. Before leaving to fly back to Latvia, Ruta took her bow and shot four perfect arrows – each into the heart of the child cutters.

She knew the days of the witches not taking involvement into the affairs of humans was coming to a close.

*

Serafina too had heard the rumours of the child being born, and the Lapland witches took council and decided to investigate. Martin Lanselius , their consul, agreed to be their eyes and ears as best he could. Serafina placed a lot of trust in the man; as a human he could hear things they could not hear as witches. He summoned her, mentioning that Farder Coram had been along. Lanselius could not know; he had not been consul when she had eaten the bloodmoss and fallen asleep next to her son. He could not know that she had been the one to wake up, and Benoni had continued to sleep. He could not know how tightly she held the child, with Farder Coram’s arms wrapped around both of them, until Desideria slipped apart on the wind currents. He could not know, and he did not know; he only wanted to talk about the child that had accompanied Farder Coram on his visit.

*

In the shadowlands, where everything met together, and yet there was nothing, came whispers. Affery knew they existed, but they still frightened her. She clutched her dæmon, a honey-grey coloured waxwing, and did not want to let him go. It was time, he pecked gently at her fingertips until he was loosed from her, and she cried – she hadn’t cried yet – because this was really happening, she was going to be an adult. He fluttered a short distance away and said nothing. She nodded at him and bravely stepped forward into the nothing. The whispers stopped and silence fell as she made her way across. The elders had told her not to be afraid, that she would know when it was time to turn around. When she gasped in pain and heard the frantic chirping of her dæmon, the whispers closed around her, enveloped her. She couldn’t hear her dæmon, only the cadence of words, pushing her forwards. She stopped short at one word: 'Eve'. In a few more cautious steps the words became clearer; 'Eve, destined to fall, mother of us all again'. Affery squeaked in terror, but did not turn around, it was not yet time. 'She must be free to choose, free to fall, but only in her ignorance may we be saved'. Affery had no idea what it all meant, who Eve was, or what was happening. She just knew her dæmon was safe from the shadows and whispers and he was waiting for her. At the next words, she turned and ran back, out of the shadows, where everything was what she knew; she did not care if she had not finished, she would gladly live with the humans and die when they did. The waxwing zipped over to her once she broke through the shadows and sped alongside her as they raced to the elders. At first the witches smiled, but they quickly fell back in confusion: Affery had passed her initiation, but something still terrified the girl. "Without this child, we shall all die," Affery said, her voice coming out tiny and small. "Her destiny shall not be fulfilled in this world, but shall bring the end of all destiny." With that, the child-now-sister toppled forward in a faint.