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Speak, and May the World Come Undone.

Chapter Text

Michael Langdon holds grandma’s words close to heart. Say prayers and grace for life’s little pleasures—just to be safe. Never walk outside when prying neighbours’ eyes are hawk-like, waiting to tear him away from her. The house is a safe haven, don’t ever leave it.

He sits on the wooden floor, legs too long drawn up to his chest. His skinny arms circling around his legs. Rocks back and forth. Back and forth, like a pendulum suspended in a time-stretching arc. Grandma laid lifeless in front of him, draped in her favourite duvet. Her scent lingers in the air, peculiarly awful unlike the ashes of smoky lungs and half-empty Canadian whisky staining her breath.  

The mosaic windows lack the strange orange tint it has during daylight. This is the time. Michael unlocks the front door, pushes it wide open. The skies are pitch-black. Windows unlit. The street is silence deafening. Moonlight hazily shining in fragmented patches through the skies.

Grabbing fistful of her duvet, Michael drags her out, with utmost care. Michael rummages the gardening shed for a shovel. The shovel is rusted, dull from age. He plunges the shovel into hard soil. Once. Twice. The soil barely breaks. Grandma makes it look so effortlessly easy.

His hair is damp with cold sweat and midnight breeze, poking his eyes. He brushes his bangs away with the back of his hand. His arms ache from the scooping dirt and soil. His flushing face is dirt-streaked and grime-painted from his endeavour. Rolls her into the hole, gentle as if he is petting a sickly puppy.

He returns to the house, bare feet fluttering across the floor. Madly pocketing perfume, jewellery, Virginia Slims and Crown Royals from that room. He shoves them into his pockets, his clumsy legs nearly slip as he darts down the stairs. Everything about his limbs is foreign and awkwardly too large, too long. But it’s his. He makes do with what he is given.

He places final touches on her, dousing perfume on her decaying flesh. Clips an unlit cigarette in between her stiff fingers. A bottle of Crown Royal nestled in her rigid arms. Grandma must look radiant, even if she is to be buried underneath those lovely roses. He caresses her cheek one last time—her forehead is awfully icy under his lips. His fondness for her warmth will diminish as her ghost takes shape in the house.  

He covers the hole up, plants a lovely shrub of roses for a makeshift gravestone.

He showers, careful not to leave dirty mess around the house. Grandma said reliable help is elusive these days, even though the glassy-eyed maid is bound forever to keep the house spotless clean.

He slips into his duck-printed pyjamas, to match with his Donald Duck bedsheet. His legs dangle over the bed’s edges. An arm hugging grandma’s exquisite floral dress, he rubs his face against the silk fabric and inhales.

Grandma’s going to appear any minute now. She will. She has to. Grandma always tuck him into his bed, and kisses him goodnight. She isn’t one to let him pass his bedtime. Michael gives her a few more minutes.

His eyelids are heavy with sleep, lethargy settling on his body like a soft blanket. He tries to scrub the drowsiness from his eyes. But several yawns escape his mouth. Constance Langdon never did appear. Nor did any of the other ghosts.

“Grandma?” Michael squeaks. He’s half-lucid when he catches footsteps tapping against the hallways outside his room. A presence.

His vision is a vision of cloudiness, despite his best efforts. The figure takes a step forward, clicks the lights off. Michael squints. Sees only the outlines of blonde hair, pearl necklace, and white cardigan.

“I’m afraid I’m not, kiddo.” The woman shakes her head softly, “Do you remember me, Michael?”

He sees clearly now. Her hair, yellow like the colour of crayon stick, curls at the end. Her eyes are brown as the mahogany floorboard. Those nails, acrylic and neon red, are absurdly pointy. Her full lips are red, almost identical to the colour of her fake nails.

He recalls seeing this woman on the television, one of grandma’s preferred shows after dinner. Billie Dean Howard written in the opening credits. His head bobs up and down, supplies the answer, “Psychic TV lady.”

“Medium,” she corrects, and holds in a sigh, “Not psychic. But yes, you’re right. I’m Billie Dean.” The bed dips lower, with the extra weight and she scots closer to him, eyes grandma’s dress. “Michael, you cannot stay here. Not without Constance here.”

“No, grandma’s in the house,” Michael retorts, defiant and mindful not to raise his voice. “Even if she hasn’t appeared, I know she is here,” he adds, feels the tears forming in his eyes.

“Your grandma isn’t physically alive, kid. It’d be hard to fool social services and nosy neighbours.”

There’s only so much Michael can rub his tears away, before they fall like gushing waterfalls. He stutters, as if grandma’s speech lesson is all forgotten, “W-what will happen now? Will you stay here with me?”

Billie Dean’s lips split into a sorrow-lined smile. “I can’t. I can visit. But staying here is not an option for me.”

“Where do I go?”

Billie Dean tips her head at the door, her smile much wider than before. “You’ll be going with her,” she simply says, gets to her feet and walks up to his closet, “She’ll take you.”

Michael almost missed her entirely. But now that he’d seen her, he forgets Billie Dean’s in the room with them. The medium sets some clothes on the bed, tapping a finger on it. “Don’t forget to change.”

There’s another woman standing by the door frame. She’s slim, much like Billie Dean. Long blonde hair that reminds Michael of summer sunshine, falls over her shoulders. Her dress is far different from grandma’s, darkly expensive and floriated beauty. And her smile, Michael can only equate to hot chocolate drink on a restless nightmare. There’s something else Michael could sense . . . magic. Powerful magic radiating from her.

Michael tosses a side glance at the medium, brows knitting at his forehead. “What is she?”

The woman stands at the bed’s foot, offers Michael her hand, “I’m Cordelia Goode.”

Billie Dean explains, “Your new legal guardian, Michael. I’ll leave you two to be acquainted.” Her footsteps are slow, and echoing in the house. Michael catches snippets of friendly cooing, a flame flickering brief and her sucking the menthol out of a lit cigarette.   

Michael straightens himself, eagerly extending his own hand. Nearly bumps into her. Cordelia stumbles backward, releasing out a gasp. But her smile is delightfully sun-like pretty.

Michael accepts her hand—not wrinkly like grandma’s, but is hardly smooth either—and gives it a light shake. “I’m Michael Langdon,” he offers, the ends of his mouth quirk upwards. His free hand smoothens his bed-tousled hair, hoping he looks presentable.

“My, you’re tall,” Cordelia says, tilting her chin up, and smile still intact, “Nice to meet you, Michael.”

The airport is a wonder wrapped under layers of aromas, colours and noises. Every direction is a mystery, enticing him to discover more. He wants to touch hair, utterly dissimilar to his own, auburn coarse curls bounded together Michael mistakes for bird’s nest. There’s a man with skin so dark that it gleams blue under the light—Michael wants to lick it, all to satisfy the curiosity flaring within, wonders would it taste like dark chocolate or simply salt.

His legs are a mind of their own, as he chases down the smell of fried chicken. Midway, he skids and slithers in between moving people. Picks up a newer scent—sugar-glazed and oven hot flour.

“Michael, wait,” Cordelia calls, her voice drowns by the cornucopia of sounds; announcement in period blaring, a symphony cobbled up by street musicians, conversations spoken and sung in lyrical melodies. His guardian is lost in the ocean of humans and pets.

Michael stares at the vendor, long eyelashes batting. He searches his pocket twice for scraps of money, coins even. Empty. He could pilfer a doughnut, unseen. A snap of his fingers, his neck breaks. He flexes his fingers, and counts; one, two, . . . three—

“We’ll have a box of doughnuts,” Cordelia chimes, sidling next to him. She turns her sight to him, dark brows partly raised, “I almost lost you. You’re quite hard to find.”

Apprehension is etched handsomely on her face, much like grandma’s face twisted into a grimace of concern when he brings her yet a macabre gift from the backyard.

His shoulders droop, eyes cast on the floor, “I-I’m sorry. I promise I won’t run next time.”

“You don’t have to apologise. The airport can be a little maze, but nothing that I can’t find you,” Cordelia says, takes the doughnut pack from the vendor, she hands him one.

Michael takes a huge bite out, mumbles out his awe of the airport. Sugar crowning the neckline of his t-shirt and the corners of his lips. The doughnut disappears into his mouth faster than she could take a bite of hers.

A small laugh escapes her throat, she thrusts embraided handkerchief, “Here. Clean your mouth.” She motions dabbing an imaginary handkerchief on her own mouth, Michael mimics her actions.

They move away from the vendor, taking seats at the waiting lounge. Cordelia pushes another doughnut to Michael who eagerly takes and stuffs into his mouth, “You never been to the airport?”

He parts a curt shake of his head. “No. Grandma said it’s not safe to be outside because I’m special. I grew up too fast. Only at night, I go out. That’s why I buried her when everyone’s asleep,” Michael mumbles, grinning through a mouthful of doughnuts and pumps his chest forward with pride, “I did all myself. Made sure she’s all pretty too.”

Cordelia tilts her head, the smile on her face is less wider, and doesn’t reach her eyes. “Is that so?”

“Yeah, she’s in her favourite duvet, the ones with flowers on it.” Michael looks around, and notices everyone is dressed impeccably like movie stars, multimillionaire tycoons from those business magazines. Except him; baggy t-shirt and ripped jeans from grandma’s treasured trunk. Grandma mentioned the clothes that once fitted a troubled child, with similar blonde locks crowning Michael’s head.

“Where are we going?”

“New Orleans. Looks like we better get going.”

He could tell the house is immaculately white, despite the darkening of skies and the moon’s choice to hide behind smeared clouds. The house is large, so much that he raises his chin to get a better look. The white pillars stand majestic, like a Greek pantheon he’d seen in a historical documentary. Windows adorning the house in even spacing, like multiple rectangular eyes slit of an arachnid.

“Welcome back,” says a lady, younger than Cordelia. Her hair, flaxen and parted in the centre, reaches her chest. Her eyes are doe-like, and wholly caramel. With heels, she still doesn’t over take Cordelia in height. He knows it’s a witch, greeting Cordelia with a soft peck to her cheek. Her body houses old magic that seemed to flow ferociously like the magic in Salem soil, only dimmer than Cordelia’s.

“Michael, this is Zoe Benson. She’s an instructor here,” Cordelia introduces, glancing at him then switching back to Zoe, “And Zoe, this is Michael Langdon. My new ward.”

“Hi, Zoe Benson,” Michael echoes, gives her a little enthusiastic wave.

“This is Michael?” Zoe blinks, her sight is a scrutinising gaze that starts from his face down to his shoes and back to Cordelia, “He’s taller than I expected. How old you said he is?”

“I’m three,” Michael helpfully supplies, holds up three fingers and adds, “and a half.”

Zoe’s eyebrows nearly disappear into her hairline, her mouth forms a perfect small ‘O’ shape. “You’re three and a half?”

Oh. That is the look grandma used to tell him he isn’t supposed to elicit. “I’m thirteen,” he amends, as Zoe narrows her eyes in scepticism, her lips a thin line. “Sixteen,” he says, stretching the syllable into a question. He repeats in absence of conviction, “I’m sixteen.”

An amused smile curves Cordelia’s full lips. She tries to stifle a laugh, but miserably fails. “Is his room ready like I asked?”

Zoe informs Cordelia, “I’ll get Kyle to prepare his room,” as if it dawns on her that they’re not alone. But her gaze remains on him, “Are you hungry?”

“Yes, please,” he responds, his head bouncing in agreement.

“So, Michael, what do you want to eat?”

“Whatever the Lord has provided.” Grandma always said beggars can’t be choosers, and the food that is set on the table, demands to be eaten.

Zoe exchanges a look with Cordelia, brief and lightning quick. Cordelia shakes her head, a smile reigns regally on her facial muscles. “It’s okay, you get to pick whatever you want to eat. Just for tonight.”

Even the bedding in his room is alabaster-white. Carved headboards so elaborately French, Michael thinks, and in its varnished state, the bed makes some colour for his room. His backpack lies on the foot of the bed; unopened. Zipping the bag open, he takes out grandma’s purple satin nightie and burnishes his face against it. He still has a piece of her with him. Never mind he’s far away from the house.

Knuckles rap against his door, prompts Michael to glance up from grandma’s nightdress. Shoves the satin underneath his blanket. He’s not supposed to take grandma’s things out from her closet ever; this is stealing, dear Michael, grandma’s voice rings in his head.

“This is not a boarding house,” Michael states, “and you’re a witch.”

“You’re one observant kid, aren’t you?” Cordelia answers, her chuckle is honey-sweet and soft. She stands in front of him, setting raven-pattern cotton blanket on the pillows. “Yes, I am. I am the headmistress of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.”

Michael purses his lips in thought. The wheels in his mind tries to piece the puzzle together, mashing words from different exchanges until it forms a logical picture. “Am I a witch? Is that why you bring me here?”

“In a manner of speaking—”

Michael replies, blunt like a dull butcher’s knife. His lips are curving lines of a frown. “So, I’m not a boy witch?”

“I think you’re special, just like the girls in this school,” Cordelia carefully says, brushing his bangs away from his eyes, and smiles. “But let’s find out together, would you like that?”

He vigorously nods. “I would.”

She releases a sigh, her face a poster of relief. “I’m glad to hear that, Michael. I think it’s passed your bedtime,” Cordelia returns, getting up from his bed. She walks to the door, one slender hand lingers over the switch.

“Do you have ghosts here? Ghosts are friends.”

Her head snaps to Michael’s face swift, her dark eyebrows furrow. “No, I like to think there’s none. But you’ll make friends here, with the living,” she promises, and clicks the lights off. “Good night, Michael.”

“Good night, Miss Cordelia.”

Chapter Text

Cordelia Goode hasn’t been a fixture in Michael’s daily breakfast, lunch or dinner. A working trip to California has been unexpectedly extended. Michael is to adhere to the rules Cordelia has set in place, listen to Zoe at all times. Those are the words Michael strives to obey with the same devotion he has with grandma’s rules.

Zoe keeps him busy with schoolwork, four Rubik’s cubes of various sizes and a season of Teen Titans. Promises him that Cordelia will be home soon. For every answer written correct and homework completed, Zoe has Kyle playing baseball with him for a few hours. Kyle Spencer smuggles him some comic books, interestingly titled Hellboy and Hellblazer, in case his reading of the classics morphs into a bore.

Sometimes he wanders the mansion, aimless and carefree, as though he is studying ruins of a crumbling dynasty of Salem witches. Before its revival by Cordelia Goode at the headmistress’ helm. Michael can’t imagine this mansion was once devoid of the lively camaraderie among its students.

Adorning the living room are portraits of long-dead witches captured in the stylistic strokes of its respective periods, are mostly dull and uninspiring. Saved for one sizable portrait, bears the familiar tales of watercolour painting. Unlike the rest, Michael could only find the word ‘peculiar’ fits the description; a woman with impossibly wildfire for hair oddly shaped like a tepee, antiquated cat-eye’s glasses and absurdly bright yellow gloves. So that is the painting of the greatest witch Cordelia Goode ever knew—okay, sounds plausible.

He burns through the books Zoe Benson provided, like fire spreading across arid meadow field. He finishes the tests she’d administered without a blink of an eye, only stopping at the graphite lead breaking from pressure.

His mind makes connections between equations and formulas; replicating patterns found in everything abiotic and biotic, in numbers, alphabets and symbols. The language of mathematics is rather pure, once he mastered it over a cup of hot milk, chocolate chip cookies and an episode of Teen Titans.

Michael Langdon isn’t compliant to the unyielding regulations of Constance Langdon. His routine is malleable, formed by the availability of his tutors. The academy is a thrilling exploration, one Michael eagerly looks forward to.

He stacks his finished homework on the corner side of his desk. Pencils, all sharpened, set upright inside a penholder. A sneak at the clock, shows it’s barely noon. His schoolwork will remain untouched until Zoe ends her classes.

His footwork on the academy’s floor is feathery-light, only tip of his toes leaving invisible trails, a habit forming, to trapeze the hallways incognito. Silence is a friend, he slips in and out from a room, undetected.

Still, it is an impossible task to blend. His clothes, stripped flannel and blue jeans, is a visual contradiction to the other residents in their black-and-white scheme. Inches added to his lanky frame, serves to make him a giant over the girls.

And yet, Michael is a bird gliding through the halls, laughter tossed carelessly in the background as he pursues after a fugitive chicken on the run from the butler. The girls part themselves like the red sea splitting for safe passage—Michael grins, “Thank you! Move, the chicken’s getting away!”

He finds himself in a session. Not Zoe’s class. The instructor is a new addition, a substitute until a permanent position is awarded. Theresa Burke, librarian on weekdays, witch instructor on weekends. Her bob-cut hair, rests messily on the nape of her neck, is soot black. Her eyes are deep umber, contrasting her pallid complexion. She’s clothed in a conservatively formal; knee-length skirt, cream blouse and beige tweed vest. Not as beautiful as Cordelia.

“The name rose comes from French, itself from Latin rose, which may or may not be borrowed from Oscan, from Greek ρόδον rhódon, not the original. Greeks also borrowed from Old Persian wrd-(wurdi), related to Avestan varəδa, Sogdian ward, Parthian wâr. So you can see it has a rather fascinating etymology history.”

He opts to stay a little longer. Pays heed to Theresa’s meek voice. Two fingers gingerly holding the stem of a thorn-less rose up in the air. “The rose isn’t a singular species. There are over three hundred species and thousands of cultivars. So there are various colours, too. Red is the prettiest colour for a rose, our goal is to change that. Choose ludicrous colours for your rose.”

Michael plucks a tulip out from a nearby vase. He twirls the tulip in between his thumb and forefinger, his head tilting sideways. His sight remains on the tulip, a dash of orange and its heart-shaped petal.

He imagines the tulip’s petal melts, like hot wax of a burning candle. The petals liquesce away. Newer petals, rose and onyx black in colour, replace the tulip’s. Among its glossy black petals, there are flecks of snow on it, almost sparkling like night-time stars. Michael smiles, satisfied of his work.

Such a magnificent flower, he could give it to Cordelia. Nonetheless, the rose lacks a dangerous edge to it; its thorns may prickle blood—but a blue-flare engulfing the rose burns flesh, deeper and inflict more pain than a thorn could. Now that flower is elegant befitting for Cordelia.

The once-a-tulip, now-a-rose burns, with the flames of his fingertips disintegrate the flower into floating cinders. Dejection fashions a home out from Michael’s classical features.

“Are you okay, Michael?” Theresa questions, panic is high strung in her tone. Her eyes are large with worry, as she inspects his hands for injuries. Scorched flesh of his is anew, as though the skin has never break before. The girls are staring, curiosity in their eyes.

“I’m fine, Miss Burke,” he replies, nonchalant. He leaves the classroom. His mind elsewhere.

Drifting through the hallways stops to be an attractive prospect eventually. Michael settles on the floor, crafting an impermanent nest of comic books and graphic novels. Observes a fluttery of movement, leisure sashaying of girls down the hallways, too caught up with their own lives to notice him. Sometimes he catches their curious eyes. He spares a few polite smiles and pleasantries exchanged.

There is a wall that exists between him and the girls, too transparent that it is hidden by the flower hedges that grow over it. They could feign friendliness, but Michael sees more than that. He could detect their darkest fears buried deep within their psyche—one perhaps they themselves aren’t inform of—as if it is an innate talent of his surfacing after a long sink. What would it take to tempt those girls to give in to their nefarious impulses—

“Michael, how long have you been waiting here?”

Cordelia is different. Somewhat. Translucent melancholy coating the edges of her smile. He could smell the hint of dried salty crystals clung to her eyelashes.

“Cordelia—” He gets to his feet, his voice a mumbling incoherence, “—not long.”

It is half of a lie. For when he flipped the first page of American Gods, the windows was a painting of flawless periwinkle blue skies smudged with apricot sunlight. Now, the windows are a whorl of blue-black and shimmering clouds. He feels none of the slow crawl of blistering noon to the cool zephyr night.

“Have you had your dinner?”

He collects his books from the floor, clips them underneath an arm. His stomach chooses that moment to release a hunger-fuelled growl. “Not yet.”

“Then you must join me for dinner,” she says, curving an arm around his. She leans into his touch. Her movement languid, vibrancy of life seeps out with each step.

Food laid on the table is a modest dinner for three. Zoe fixes the last of silverware on the third ceramic plate. Michael takes a seat across from Zoe, while Cordelia assumes her rightful place as head of the table.

The clink of grey cutlery against vintage porcelain platters rippling luridly loud within the dining room. Tension settles over them like a cloak of snow-dust, almost suffocatingly thick, despite Michael is a spectator to the intimate display of unspoken conversations between the witches.  

“Zoe, I need a shortlist of candidates to appoint the new councillor.”

Worry shimmers beneath the nonchalance chiselled on the younger witch’s visage. “Isn’t Queenie returning?”

“She’s not coming back,” Cordelia replies, without a beat missed and her attention is set firmly on her knife. Her hesitation is whirlwind lost to Zoe, but not Michael.

“What do you mean—”

“Zoe, please. Not now,” Cordelia whispers, her tone is a plea for the subject to be discarded and buried for much private moment.

“Of course, Delia. I’ll have the shortlist prepared as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, Zoe. Also, we may have to retain Theresa’s service for an unspecified period.”

“I’ll make the arrangements for that as well.”

A lacklustre dinner discussion whimpers to a silent end. Zoe excuses herself, not before Cordelia cups Zoe’s face in absolute tenderness, and presses a soft kiss on the shorter witch’s forehead. He is an intruder, out of place between two aggrieving women for empathy fails him at this moment.

Michael flees to his room; an invisible presence. Unnoticed again.  

Michael is all-listening. The mansion’s walls, staunch keepers of secrets spilled in recklessness and vigilance, are unusually paper-thin. All those noises coalescing to baroque orchestral sonata; he sieves the musical play like a spider picking its way around its ornate web for its prey, honing on a particular thread.  

Somewhere in the mansion, blaring generic pop-music masks the sound of scotch sloshes against the rim of glass, spilling on crumpled bedsheet. Zoe Benson is bleary-eyed, speech slurring and tries to drink her sadness into oblivion.

Muffled sobs slipping through trembling lips. He hears the painful throb of a raw throat, aching from persistent iron-griped failure. The way her chest wheezes, as if an invisible weight latches itself on her and refuses to let go.

Sorrow is a knife plunged deeply into the marrows of Cordelia Goode, and Michael never wants to be the wielder. Her cries are far from soothing as others have provided relief to him in the past.

He hates it. He would walk barefoot on molten lava if that is what it takes to rid her of her torments. As of now, he is only left blindfolded and in possession of a metaphorical chart he isn’t familiar with; the coven is a territory where he still a roaming stranger.  

He rises early; the sun is still a dot on the horizon. Droplets of dew on green leaves like tiny bubbles on a bathtub’s sliver faucet handle. The floor is cool underneath his socks. Rhythmic breathing behind closed doors makes for friends in the wee hours of indigo morning.

Michael cobbles a traditional English breakfast; fleeting gaze alternating between Google-searched recipe and the eggs hastily scrambled. A brief conflict arises between the choice of gifting a glass of champagne or serving his favourite orange juice. Alcohol drunk in excess, twists a gentle spirit into a cruel soul—Michael ponders no more, settles for milk.

The imperial staircase is a treacherous safety hazard, Michael climbs in small, precise strides to Cordelia’s bedroom. The tray hangs precariously on one arm, while he knocks the door with his other free hand.

“Morning, Cordelia,” Michael singsongs, in bubbling cheeriness too much for one morning.

The door opens to Cordelia Goode, her lips twisting into an amused smile, “Morning to you too.” The trace of last night’s tears is a figment of his imagination then.

“I made breakfast,” he announces in half-whispers, and raises the tray in unabashed eagerness.

“Breakfast in bed? You shouldn’t have.” She sidesteps, allowing Michael to enter her sprawling bedroom, decorated in ivory and mahogany and leads him to a coffee table.

“But I wanted to.” He plops the tray down, brandishes cutlery tucked inside the back pocket of his denim jeans. He sits, folded hands on his lap, buzzing with anticipation. Out of his periphery, he notices two framed photographs.

The first frame is a singular photo of a young woman, taken somewhere in the year of disco and flower power. Ostensibly from the glamorous part of the Hollywood seventies. The colours are washed out; but he could still discern she’s blonde. Her hair styled in windswept beach waves. The resemblance between her and Cordelia is worth some commentary. Her cider-hued eyes were similar in shape to Cordelia’s; where Cordelia’s eyes hold fierce compassion, the woman does not—a strange mixture of rusted warmth and ruthless cruelty. Round cheekbones. 

The other photo is a group shot of young ladies. He recognises Zoe, squeezed in between a tall frizzed-hair blonde with a lop-sided grin and a shorter blonde, whose patrician features frozen in irritation. The other lady, dark-skinned and white straight teeth bearing a playful smirk, Michael remembers seeing on the walls spelt achievement in passing glances down the hallways.

“Who are they?” he asks, directs a finger at the direction of her work desk.

“They were former students of Miss Robichaux,” she says, her smile is one of fondness and suppressed longing, “My first recruits.”

“Where are they? Except Zoe.”

“The rest have passed away.”

“Even her? She’s Queenie, right? I’ve seen her in some of the pictures of the council.”

“Yes,” Cordelia replies, her tone’s clipped and knife slicing into her bacon. She takes a bite, and mumbles, “This is actually good.”

The tips of his ears are a shade of blushing red. He wallows in the moment, rubs his neck to dissipate the heat crawling at the base of his skull. “I just followed the recipe.”

“So, Theresa said you outperformed the girls. Transformed a tulip into a rose,” she praises, dapping the greasy corners of her mouth with a napkin. An indulgent smile playing on her lips.

“I don’t think I was better than them. I burnt my flower,” he argues, unable to accept the praise, there is something gnawing at the back of his mind, saying otherwise. “It’s prettier when the flower was on fire.”

“I see. Have you ever felt—” Her voice abruptly trails off; she bites her lower lip for a moment gone too swift, and shakes her head lightly.

“Feel what?”

“Nothing. I suppose we would resume your magic lessons next week, once I’ve attended to my other duties.”

Michael has accustomed himself to catching snippets of idle chatter among the students here. Mostly are petty gossips, hardly warrant further inquiries. But this time, he could be onto something important at best. Or trivial at worst. That he hurries after two girls, dark-haired Heidi and waif-like Pauline, down to their rooms.

He sticks his leg out, halting closing door in its tracks. “We can leave the mansion? Anytime we want?” His words tumble loosely from his lips, his thoughts scattered all over the place. There is a semblance of idea on the verge of forming.

Impatience mars Pauline’s dainty features. “The academy isn’t a prison, at least the pamphlet said it’s not.”

Heidi’s accommodating grin treats Michael with breezy friendliness. “We’re old enough, so the curfew doesn’t apply to us.”


Pauline rolls her eyes. “Yeah, us. You’re eighteen, right?” The question is meant to be rhetorical, but Michael desires some clarification, and her statement provides a clear perception of his age by the girls.

“I-If you say so. But what happens if you’re under eighteen?”

“Then you can bet on Miss Cordelia coming for our asses and hang us dry as examples,” says Heidi, with a frown far too comical to be taken seriously.

He leaves them; his mind in the clouds, sculpturing an outline of a solution. It’s an idea in early stages of a storm brewing in his brain. But he could see the end result. He has work to do.

Chapter Text

The ticket desk agent is a man, with white hair slicked backwards to lessen the woes of balding and an oval-shaped face sunburnt. His bearded face does not diminish his toothy smile. A name plaque set next to the monitor, announces his name ‘Bill Woods’ in faded golden Arial font.

“How may I help—” His inquiry is tragically cut short by Michael Langdon waving folded yellow paper in Bill’s face.

Michael presses his palms flat against the counter, his chin resting on top of his knuckles. His head is angled slightly to the monitor’s left. “I didn’t have any luck on matching images to the picture I sketched, do you know which hotel the lobby belongs to?”

“Ah. This is the infamous Hotel Cortez. The hotel’s architect was a serial killer who committed suicide in the 1930s,” Bill replies, putting down the sketch. “Planning for an overnight stay?”

“Just a quick visit.” He straightens his neck upright, chin still set on the back of his hands. His hopeful blue eyes glancing up at Bill’s nostrils. “What’s the quickest way to get there?”

“That will be a four-hour flight from here to Los Angeles.”

“I would like a ticket,” Michael answers, hastily adds when the virtue of manners makes itself remembered in his mind, “please.”

Bill taps a stubby finger on the mouse. A series of clicks is progress, and one step closer to his plan bearing fruition. “One way or return?”

“One way for now.”

“Will you pay in cash or credit card?”

“I don’t have a credit card,” says Michael, wiry fingers procure an envelope from his jacket with trifling immodesty. This ought to do. “But here.”

Bill flips through the wad of cash, as though he’s shuffling a deck of cards. “Son, this isn’t going to cut it. A bus ticket, maybe.” There is nothing apologetic about his smile or his tone. He slips the money back into the envelope, then returns it to Michael.

Irritation whittle his lips into a pout. His hands wringing the envelope, careful not to tear the money inside. Michael needs that ticket.

What are his options now? A twisted neck. Blood surging out every orifice on stretched skin. Femur cracked and tibia fissured into sawdust. That’s not it. Dig deeper, a ghostly voice oils the wheels of Michael’s mind. The tools are there, within his grasp. Think harder. 

Bill’s skin turns lucent for a snail-paced instant. As does his eyes, skull and muscles. Only the folds of his brain, grey and white, are evident in solid colours behind those almost hollow sockets.

Michael could see; brainwaves vibrating fast through the fireworks of synapses, like musical notes perpetually in motion on a score. A strum of electrical nerves and the man’s body is Michael’s to play like a puppeteer and his puppets. Don’t think. Do.

“You will give me the ticket I asked for,” Michael commands, his voice deepens and plucks the strings on Bill. “Once our transaction is completed, you and I never spoken in your life.”

The agent blinks, his expression tuned to a vacant stare. He starts to type on the keyboard, mechanical like a winded automaton. “One ticket to LA, departing in an hour,” Bill says, in stilted nasally voice. “Your name, sir?”

“Michael—No, Kurt Wagner.”

“Here you go. Your ticket, Mr. Wagner.”

Thank you,” Michael says, dizziness crowns his head like a diadem composed of stinging guilt and he releases his hold over the poor man. “Have a good day, Bill Woods.”

The high-rise building is undoubtfully French, embodies the heart of Arts Décoratifs and the lungs of Romanesque Revival. Its stone-cladded façade is faded red-brick with smoky grey overtones. A large neon sign attached to the wall, bearing the words of ‘Hotel Cortez’.  

Hotel Cortez’s lobby is expansive with the osculating sun peering through the ceiling’s skylight, highlighting crimson and brown. The glasswork spreads to the walls, framing the wall in elaborate elevator pattern. Three hefty chandeliers hang over the lobby, precariously glamourous.  

The slate-emerald hallways bleed acrid scarlet, dripping onto the polygon-stamped carpet. Yet the entire corridor is sickeningly sweet, like an overripe fruit. The walls screech, hordes of voices, in overlapping screams of eternal misery and suffering pleasure.

His cautious fingertips stroke the wall, Michael presses an ear to listen. His lips pursed in concentration, as he strains to decipher the jumbled vowels and mangled consonants. A sallow solitary arm grabs a fistful of his t-shirt, yanks him closer. The wall is quicksand and engulfing him. A talon-like fingernail slices his cheek red.

His bones are quivering, his flesh constricting in fear-corded rein. Michael will not cower, beaten by the beleaguered ghosts seeking a companion. This hotel is not fit to be his mausoleum. Dreariness abates into blazing wrath, burn you stupid arm, Michael demands—the latching arm withers. The walls are still. Michael continues to seek her presence behind closed wooden doors.

“Gin.” Her chin-length sable curls frame the face of eternal boredom. The word ‘fierce’ emblazoned on her cotton candy shirt. She looks every bit like the photo in Cordelia’s room.

“This is the 56,433rd hand I’ve won in a row,” retorts a cedar-skinned woman with barely concealed ennui.

“Only amateurs keep the score,” says a man with greasy midnight hair combed back, and his peculiar accent is positively Brahmin. He’s clad in vintage navy-blue pinstripe suit, the stenograph of immaculate mask. Must be the architect, James Patrick March.

He clears a nervous throat, conceals tetchy interloping fingers behind his back. “Excuse me. Are you Queenie?” Michael questions, for the sake for formality.

“What a fascinating specimen,” March mumbles, his tawny eyes are strikingly prurient and lips parting a wolfish grin, “Alive, yet so intimate with the dead.”

“Who the hell are you?” Queenie’s brows are knotted in puzzlement.

“I’m Michael, here to take you home,” he offers, the ends of his lips quirking a congenial smile, “Miss Cordelia misses you. We should go before 5pm. I still don’t want to break my curfew.”

“Yeah, right,” Queenie snorts. Her scepticism tempers to smooth-edged sympathy, and her voice is a whisper of concern, “Look, get out from this hell hotel while you can.”

March’s amused grin turns cutting. “Listen to the dead’s wise words, young lad. Leave us.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Michael mutters, sharp jawline tightening, “I want to bring her home.”

“This is rather an elaborate prank,” March points out, but the mirth in his eyes shifting into muted dread. His grin reinforced by reedy swagger.

“No, it’s not. Let me show you,” Michael says, extending his upturned palm at Queenie, and pleads, “And we really need to go.”

“Okay,” Queenie concedes, rising from her seat and tossing the cards at March. “I’ll be back.”

With her hand in his, Michael leads her through the uncharacteristically silent corridor, passes the lobby and out into the hectic street of Los Angeles.  

“See? I wasn’t lying. Now, we have to get one more person.”

White shelves, painted in rainbow folded towels, stretching sky-high are climbable towers to the petite woman. Her flaxen ponytail swishing left to right, as she attempts to push a towel back into an empty space. Her efforts resisted, the towels tumble over her head like loose rocks spiralling down a cliff.

A sigh thrown forlornly, she pounds her fists at her stationary enemy. Spinning on her heels, she kicks a towel away, coupled with another tired sigh. Pink lips pursed into a defiant pout.

“Hello, Madison,” Michael trills, cannot contain the glee carving warm curves on his lips.

The photos of her are rare, in Miss Robichaux’s. The ones Michael found, stowed in hidden crevices only to be taken during a melancholic fit, portrayed her in virally opulent clothing.

“You don’t belong here,” she states, glancing up at Michael with truculent hazel eyes.

“You’re right. I don’t. But you shouldn’t be here too.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Michael. I’m here to take you home.”

She chuckles, loaded with cynicism and humouring amusement. “Yeah, right,” she dismisses him, stoops to gather fallen towels.  “What’s the catch? Do I have to blow you or something?”

“No,” Michael counters, exasperated. Rakes his fingers through his hair, he scratches his scalp and groans; he’s running out of time. From Queenie’s embellished tales of Madison, he’d expected the path to least resistance with the former actress.

“Oh. Okay,” Madison replies, straightening to all five-foot-two glory. The upturned corners of her mouth are a seductress’ enticing grin. “Well, when we get out of here, can I anyway? You’re a snack and I haven’t had a good dicking in forever. Any dicking, really. And they intentionally make sure all the personal massagers are out of stock, so—”

“Damn. A hoe even in the afterlife, huh?” chimes Queenie, revealing herself after insisting that she hides for dramatic effect. Michael’s willing to comply, as long as she doesn’t kick up a fuss.

Madison drops the towel, practically launching herself at Queenie, as a cat would on a ball of yarn. She throws her arms around Queenie, squeezing with opaque fondness.

“Oh,” Queenie says, tries to hide a smile, “Get off me, bitch.”

“Is it really you? I mean, how did you get here? What’s all of this?”

“Okay, so I was dead and stuck in some haunted hotel or something, and I swear to God, had the most boring, annoying white people since since,” Queenie complains, not unkindly and kerbing a tender smile, “you, and then this dude came, and he freed me, and brought me down here to get you.”

“Why?” Madison quizzes.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I was trying to talk him out of it the whole way here. I told him that you are a stone-cold bitch and that you’re exactly where you belong.”

“What’s a dicking?” he asks, forehead wrinkling at Madison’s earlier proposition. Dictionary posits that ‘dicking’ is to handle something inexpertly. Quite frankly, that doesn’t seem to fit Madison’s context.

Madison’s face is an impressive canvass of scandalised expressions. “What are you, a forty-year-old virgin?”

Ah. Virgin. That’s a word Michael recognises. “I know that word,” he exclaims, satisfaction twinkling in his cerulean eyes. His blonde locks bounce in approval. “Yes, I am, but I’m not forty. I think I’m eighteen.”

Queenie shrugs her shoulders. “Don’t look at me. He just popped up, whining about trying to get back before his curfew.”

“Let’s go,” Michael reiterates for what has to be his fifth time, each hand curling around respective witch’s wrist and tugs them along.

“Go where?”

“Home, to Miss Robichaux’s.”

“Hold on. There is no fucking way that we’re going back to the academy, looking like this,” Madison objects, waving over her blue retail worker vest, “We’ll have to take a detour, anywhere but retail.”

Michael gives his appearance an analysing stare; his clothes are fairly new—perhaps not so new, Zoe mentioned once about him sharing similar build to Kyle. “What’s wrong with our clothes?”

Madison and Queenie are matching twins of knowing smirks. “On Wednesdays, we wear black,” they say in light-hearted unison.

The starched collar chafes his skin, carving a necklace of angry red flushes around his neck. His jittery fingers, matchstick-thin, twiddle the sliver chain over his crow-winged cloak. The waxing crescent moon betrays his tardiness, accumulated to a seven-hour delay. He runs a nervous thumb over his lower lip. This is not the end of the world, Cordelia will surely forgive him once she sees his gift.

Michael turns his gaze at his companions; both hands poised up in the air, to halt them from taking another step. “Wait here, don’t come in until I say the code. It’s ‘I have a surprise’, remember?”

Madison rolls her eyes, arms folded over her chest in silent protest. “What kind of code is that? It’s super lame. It’s like you’re twelve or something.”

“You have a better one?” Michael impatiently hisses, arching a contesting brow.

The blonde witch scowls; her manicured hand dismissably flapping at him. “I got nothing. Hurry the shit up.”

“Just go already,” Queenie orders, shoving Michael into the mansion. The sheer force of her shove nearly has Michael stumbles, face-first on the floor.

His footsteps are resonant in an unusually tranquil mansion, otherwise so often the mansion is rife with lively socialisation tend to extend well into midnight. The girls in the academy are far from law-abiding, but their wild nights are often confined to the academy. Less the police are involved, memories erased and evidence doctored to keep the girls out from trouble. Weekends are festivities steeped in antediluvian sisterhood forged in blood and magic; or alternatively movie nights.

He hears the fretful heels clicking on the floor in semi-circles.

“He’s been gone for sixteen hours,” says a voice, unmistakeably Cordelia’s. Her tone taut, twisted into glass shards of composure.

“Maybe we should call the—”

Cordelia cuts Zoe’s sentence in frightening earnestness, “No. We cannot risk his existence being prematurely discovered.” She buries her face in her hands, her voice lingers as a tired whisper, “Did they find his cell signal?”

“Delia, he left his phone at home,” Zoe reminds her, her young face fraught with elusive calmness, “There is no way to track his signal. I’ve tried a tracking spell, but it’s like he went off grid.”

“I’m back. I got—” Michael falters.

Cordelia’s eyes are manically flashing fury red. Her voice shakes, vibrating with wavering restrain of her temper. “Where the hell you’ve been? No phone calls. No texts. Not even a single note.”

His confidence unravels at the withering glare of Cordelia, his words are stumbling in clumsy succession, “I-I went to LA.”

Los Angeles? On your own? You know it’s still dangerous for warlocks to be out in the public, and yet you went out. What were you thinking?” Cordelia looms over him, even without her requisite heels—her tone is tethering on the edge of bitterness.

Zoe’s curving hand rubs attentive circles on his shoulder. “Delia, it’s late—”

His eyes sting, tears threatening to gush. He cannot bear to see her, keeps his blurry sight on his newly-bought loafers. “I-I am sorry, Cordelia,” Michael stutters, thumbs his palm in guilty strokes.

“You’re sorry? I don’t know where you were, Michael. Couldn’t detect you at all. I’ve lost Queenie. I don’t need you to join her too—”

“We’re back, witches,” Madison announces in booming grandness, brusquely dragging her dress along, as she sidles next to Michael.

Queenie sheepishly waves, a small smile tugging the corners of her mouth. “Hey, Delia. Zoe. How’s life?”

Cordelia’s hot gaze skitters from Michael to the resurrected girls. “What—How is this possible?”

“Boy wonder over there,” Madison offers. Her mouth is a practiced smile of smugness, and perhaps, tinted with ghostly attachment.

“Michael?” Zoe questions, dropping her hand from Michael’s shoulder. Porcelain jaw carved into a muted gasp.

“Go to your room, Michael,” Cordelia says, with a finality warrants no further objections, “Now.”

Michael do as he’d being told.

Chapter Text

His room is a temple of inferno, magnified by the Louisiana’s own brand of balminess. His sweat-soaked clothes, outrageously expensive, discarded on the floor and scattered ash-like. Grandma wouldn’t like the mess; clean up your mess, boy. So as Cordelia, Michael presumes. But he cannot summon any care for tidiness. Not when his ears still burnt with severe admonishment.

He flips absentmindedly through an issue of Vertigo’s Lucifer, his mind retracing granite engraved steps throughout a supposedly well-thought out plan. What went wrong? Shouldn’t she be thankful for Queenie and Madison? Why isn’t she happy?

The calmative scent of blooming hyacinth permeating the air, heralds her presence. The swishing of floral nightgown and its phantom scraping against the floorboard, betrays the shrinking distance.

He has no desire to garner another rebuke. Michael flops on his stomach, yanking his blanket over his chest in haste and feigns restive eyes.

The door swings open, the corridor’s tepid light spilling into his room and Cordelia enters.

His heart is a horse frantically thundering in derby race, his lungs are the battered racetracks. Michael tries mightily to tamper fitful breathing, imperilling to out his sleepless state—

“I know you’re not asleep, Michael,” says Cordelia, flicks a finger and the door closes. His room basks in blackened metal. There is no escape for Michael, he is to face the Supreme head-on. He rises, sitting upright and swings his legs over the edge of his bed.

He cannot decipher her tone; whether the disapproval of his actions is still fasten to her anger, or merely a statement of the obvious. Michael peaks an eye open; she’s an immobile silhouette. Moonbeam decorates lines of fire on her butterscotch hair, constructing the slenderest lines on her face.

She’s incredibly statuesque in this play of moonlight, but Michael wishes to hang on to his mild indignation. Michael huffs, “How can you tell?”

“Because I’m the Supreme. And as the Supreme, I have ways of knowing these things,” she says, teasing.

The exasperation he clutched on tightly, thaws a little. His lips coughing up a smile for her, regardless Michael’s adamant desire to not smile. The silence between them is stretching, and comfortably so.

“Why, Michael?”

Cloaked in darkness softens the blows of her harsh reprimand. He studies her side profile, committing each curve and slope of her nose to his memory.

“I thought you’d be happy. Ever since you came back, Zoe has been drinking and you cried all night,” he says, tipped with raw honesty. “I’m sorry, I just want you to be happy.”

She runs her fingers over his, a swift clench and Cordelia releases his hand. “It’s not your job to make me happy, Michael. You being safe is far important to me,” Cordelia mutters, tenderly and iron-stern, “You understand?

“Yes, I do.”

“Don’t you ever pull a stunt like that again,” she warns, the shadows of a smile forming, and adds, “Thank you for bringing them back to me.”

“So you’re frickin’ three,” Madison murmurs, her fine patrician features set in unflinching mortification. Michael thinks, her left eye twitches only ever so slightly at the fact.

“Actually, four this year,” Michael corrects, lips bearing the hallmarks of an amused grin. He holds a hand over his squinting eyes, against the glare of afternoon’s sun.

“Huh,” she says, clipping a cigarette between two slender fingers. Stares at the pristine cigarette with offended hazel eyes. A tiny spark sets the cigarette aflame.

“I thought Miss Cordelia banned smoking in school—” His words shrivel at the sudden impact of a baseball smashing his forehead, high velocity and all.

Focus,” Madison barks, her voice whipping his inattentiveness. Taking another drag, she lowers her sunglasses to inspect Michael.

He retorts, words thrown freely and empty, “Ouch, that hurts.” Rubbing his forehead in full olive-eyed view is only an exaggeration Michael could afford to annoy the canary-haired witch.

“You know what hurts? Getting impaled by the gates,” she hisses; the baseball rises from the ground, flies back to her and settles on her upturned palm. “By then, you’d be dead. Speaking from second-hand experience. Again.”

She adds generous amount of baseballs into her latest exercise. The balls are relentlessly merciless, pelting at Michael like a precipitation of gigantic icicles. Michael understands the incentive to do better in the form of a weathered baseball. Still, there is no reason for ruthlessness in his lessons.

He visions a space; safe and cool shades. The empty chair next to Madison will suffice. The sensation prickles his skin in frosty bites; spreading blackhole darkness swallowing his entire being, drawing air from his lungs and binding his limbs in immobile vines, then expelling Michael out in spectral saliva next to Madison.

“I don’t like it. It feels like I’m being sucked by a huge vacuum,” he whines, props both arms on the patio’s table. “And then being spit out like a fur ball.”

Madison shrugs bony shoulders. Her expression’s unreadable, hindered by the sunglasses. “Well, witch up. It’s a useful skill to have.”

Michael flings a side-glance at Madison. She is part of the Five. Cordelia’s original girls. A photograph framed in the headmistress’ room, speaks volumes of the significance Madison has carved into Cordelia’s heart.

Yet, Queenie and Zoe bear the burdens of shaping young witches into formidable ladies. Even Theresa continually to oversee certain classes. Madison exists at the periphery of the other instructors. Alone. Much like him.

“Why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be teaching the girls or something?” Michael quizzes, drags a thin finger across invisible dust gathered on the centrepiece of bronze ornament.

“I’ve been dead for two years, give or take. Zero teaching experience. So I’m more useful for personal tutoring,” Madison replies, flippant and a little too high-pitched to be apathetic.

Michael prods, swiping his dust-coated fingertip against his sleeve. “Not because of your track record as a former student? Or a former Supreme candidate?”

“Apparently, being an awful human being was a crime punishable by childminding the most annoying student ever,” she says, pitching her tone to bored—Michael could still hear the faint trace of hurt seeping out from her voice. The clench of her cut-glass jawline seals it—

Six baseballs assaulting him from all directions. One straying ball is inches away from breaking his nose. “Shit,” he blurts out, in fleeting pain. “Cordelia doesn’t use violence.”

Concentrate. The last time transmutation done without concentration, Zoe died. So quit fooling around. And stop being such a baby, you’re stuck with me. Not Cordelia.”

Michael scowls. “You enjoy hurting me, don’t you?”

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. If you died, I’m on standby to drag your ass back to the living,” she says, straight-faced. “I rather be your glorified babysitter, than teaching a bunch of overeager Hogwarts students.” The vestiges of a sardonic smirk playing the corners of her lily-painted lips.

The trip to the mall, Michael learns, is a stiletto stab away from turning disastrous. The latest fixation on who is qualified to drive, culminates in a three-way debate on who stayed dead the least.

Michael flirts with the idea of regret, having prematurely voicing his eagerness to join the trio for grocery shopping at the mall. Kyle, Michael decides, is a smart man to avoid all of them. Their arrival is marked with acerbic lashes, sarcastic banter, filed talons and perhaps, Michael’s occasional throat clearing to remind them the reason behind their trip.

“Queenie and I will handle the food. God knows, you’d be buying celery and cigarettes in bulk, and we’d be starving to death,” Zoe says, levels a warning look at Madison, “You two should have no problem with getting the cleaning supplies.”

“Buying groceries isn’t rocket science, Zoe. Everyone with a brain can do it,” Madison fires back, her chin slanting upwards in tenacious boldness.

“Well, if only you have a brain,” the taller witch retorts, lifting a daring brow. Her lips quirking into smug-laced smirk.  

“Yeah, let’s go,” Queenie interjects, slipping herself in between the two witches. She drags Zoe away, motioning Michael to do the same with Madison. “We will see you in half an hour.”

“Stupid bitch. You got anything to add?” Madison mutters, narrowing her eyes at him. “Choose your next words wisely, Mikey boy.”

Michael throws his hands, surrendering. “I’m firmly on the side of the stronger opponent, which clearly is you,” he pacifies, his lips inscribe a placating smile. He curves an arm around her, “I really like the smell of your shampoo. Your hair is so pretty. Shiny too. Lavender?”

His innocuous flattery mollifies the harsh edges of Madison’s features. “Close, but no. You have some mad curls too, Goldilocks. Tell you what, we’ll get my shampoo set so you’ll look fabulous. Like me,” she says, grinning. True to form, Madison shells out her money to get Michael his own set of shampoos, conditioners and everything needed to maintain the artsy beach waves of a hairstyle he has.

Armfuls of bags filled to the brim with cleaning supplies, Michael’s enlightened to the real reason he’s asked to join; Madison needs an extra pair of arms, while hers are devoid of paper bags and she looks exquisitely commanding. Michael has no heart to foist the plastic bag hanging on the crook of his right elbow, to the petite witch.

A young man breaks away from his friends, clean-shaven and sandy hair cropped into a crew cut. A smile glinting off his white straight teeth. “You’re Madison Montgomery, right? That movie star?”

She plays with a flirty tendril of hair, like it’s second skin. “You’ve seen my movies?”

His friends forms a circle around him, almost imitating Jesus and his disciples. He nods, shyly. His smile loses its sincerity, shifting impishly demanding. “Flash us that famous crotch.” His friends laugh, as if he is a comedian of sorts.

“Fuck off,” Madison snaps, flipping her middle finger. She tries to move, only for them to act as imposing walls to her pathway.

Michael takes a bold step forward, shoulders painfully square and he meets the man’s brown eyes. “Apologise to her,” Michael snarls.

“That slut? Look, I’m not sorry. She isn’t that of a great actress,” the man audaciously refuses.

“I said, apologise to her.”

Madison clasps her obsidian-tipped fingers around his arm, “Michael, it’s okay. It’s nothing.”

Michael’s hair bounces askew; his fangs bare in a sneer. “No, it’s not okay. He’s rude to you, Madison. He must apologise. He will. No concillium. It must be of his own will.”

“Or what?”

Michael feels maddening wrath blazing through his veins, fury pulsating against his pallid complexion. Fists quivering. Nails scraping into his palms. He wants the man to burn. Burn, burn, burn. Until there is nothing, not even ashes in the wind. Only oblivion for this wretched mortal. No soul to save.

“Perish. You foolish mortal,” Michael declares, his tone distantly flat.

“Dumbass—” The man’s haughty smirk is short-lived. His skin melts, like a flamed candle. His eye sockets, mouth, nose and ears cease to retain their former shapes. His friends flee, like scurrying rats out to save their own skins.

Michael,” Zoe shouts, frenzied in her steps. Her tawny eyes are intensely wide.

“Holy shit,” Queenie exclaims, her breath catches in her throat.

Michael tightens the band of fire within the mortal. The man screams, blood-curdling and it sings vile melody to Michael’s ears. Michael snaps his fingers; invisible force crushing the burning man’s windpipes. It feels deliciously, crookedly satisfying.

The witches form a triangle around him, Michael stands transfixed by his handiwork. They exchange knowing looks among themselves, unified more so than he’d seen them before.

“Go. Queenie and I can handle this.”

“Michael, the fucking parking lot. Now,” Madison screeches.

Michael breaks his attention from the man to the short witch; he follows Madison’s lead. They’re no longer in the mall. No more digital eyes staring, recording.

Cordelia’s office is a citadel of dichotomous solitude. His fingernails are gnawed to jagged edges. His steel nerves are threadbare. The reel of a melting man repeats in his mind; like a grainy surveillance video played in a court trial.

Yet his shoulders sag against the decorated timber chair. Alarmed eyes of blue, brown and green do not burn holes into him. Those only exist outside the shields of the office. Michael closes his eyes, and breaths.

The door behind him swings open and shut; Cordelia Goode wears the dignified mask of a headmistress summoned an unruly student into her office. She steeples lithe fingers, and her lips flatten to a thin line.

Michael straightens in his seat, his spine is rod-like and strikes the thickening silence first. “He was super rude to Madison. Grandma said you don’t treat people with disrespect. It’s wrong. He should have apologised. I-it was the right thing to do. He’s a bad man.” Justification flows out from his throat easily, like rain flooding in summer-ravaged rivulet. And he stammers effortlessly as well.

“Is that all?” Cordelia solicits, only a slight mere raise of an ebony brow to convey her true state. Her tranquil anger, Michael notes with reverence, strikes Michael in gashes of terror than Cordelia’s shrill of concern.

Michael swallows his rants, only Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in agreement.

“I wish being rude is a serious crime, but it isn’t. Not according to the Constitution. Manners are dead now these days. It is not a reasonable motive to fry a man to crisp. Michael, you cannot punish anyone for slighting your feelings or having a differing opinion.”

“He was a jerk to Madison. She doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment,” Michael laments, his hard-earned sureness slithering away from him, like slippery eels. “I know she was mean before. B-but no woman should ever be called with vulgarities.” His poised form shrinks, shoulders drooping and lips puckered into a pout. Only his gaze remains firmly glued to Cordelia’s.

Her fingers work to ease the knots twisted on her forehead. Cordelia sighs, heavy with worrisome disappointment. He cannot pinpoint why a mere look from her, jabs sharp needles into him, spirals him such that her heart is his own.

“Am I a bad person?” Michael confesses, reeling from the expressions etched on various people; shoppers, the students, and the witches. His admission is skittish and beseeching for assurance.  

She leans over her desk, extends an eloquent hand out. Michael accepts hers with eager and raw-boned hands; apology asked, deliberated and given through squeezing fingers.

“I’m proud of you,” she says, “for standing up to a bully. That’s a right thing to do. Not the killing part.” Cordelia’s lips is a soft curve of sincere affection. “However, if you ever feel the need to release that rage, the injustice of it all, try to redirect them to men or women who committed the gravest and heinous crimes.”

“Cordelia, the Grand Chancellor is here,” Queenie announces, through a sliver crack of the door.

“Why don’t you go back to your room, Michael. Rest,” the Supreme urges, “Send them in, Queenie.”

The academy’s residents are predictable in their tastes for nectarine, flowery, honey-lulling and spices. Kyle’s own brand of football-sweat interweaving his shaggy mustard hair sets him apart from the ghost-skinned men the academy retained as miscellaneous henchmen.

The air is profusely heavy with the musky scent of evening cocktail, high-end cigars and old spice. Weighty tremors resounding on the floorboard are leather black shoes, handcrafted by Italian masters. Not the sort Kyle would wear, or any residents would. Not even Michael.

There is a short man, skin tanned the colour of pecan, and beady eyes of charcoal black. He’s dressed impeccably conformist; black suit, tie and a cape to match. He opens short strides, crossing Michael’s room towards his chair. He stretches a gloved-hand, and a serpentine smile lit his face like Christmas. “Michael Langdon, at last.”

Michael spares the outstretched hand with prejudiced caution. “Who are you?”

“I’m Ariel Augustus,” the man says, retracting his hand, and gestures at another man. “This is my esteemed colleague, Baldwin Pennypacker.”

“We’re from Hawthorne School for Expectational Young Men, a counterpart of Miss Robichaux’s,” Baldwin discloses, beaming a salamander’s smile. The light glinting off his square-rimmed glasses.

“Hey, the Supreme said your unscheduled appointment is being rescheduled to tomorrow,” Madison protests, her voice is an echo bouncing in the hallways.

“Where you’ll be starting your schooling at,” Ariel informs, factly. “Your warlock brothers are awaiting for your arrival. It would be prudent to leave tonight.”

Ariel’s words cut Michael, like broken glass shards slitting papery-skin. New school? Away from Cordelia? Madison, Zoe and Queenie? The fledging witches? Tonight? His thoughts spin and splinter into wild directions, all jumbled and tangled; and his heart hammering against his astringent chest.

“W-what?” escapes from his hurting throat. The room is smaller, the walls caving in. His lungs starved of air; Michael inhales, each breath shorter than the previous.

“We’ve booked tickets to fly to California,” Baldwin supplies, glancing at his wristwatch. “In two hours’ time.”

No,” Michael screams, phantom seismic waves burst from him. The warlocks slam against the wall, suspended in the air. Groans and moans of pain pepper their vocal cords. He wants their muscles to twist, strain, and tear—

“Ariel, I thought I made it clear that Michael needs his rest after today’s ordeal,” Cordelia chides, her tone is venomous, dripping with displeasure.

Michael’s attention is falcon-swift; he lunges for Cordelia. His anger forgotten. The men unceremoniously land on the floor with an embarrassing thud.

Michael enfolds lanky arms around her, his chin digging into her shoulder. Her knees buckle underneath his weight pressing against hers; but she stays rooted to her ground. Her arms encircling him, instinctive and Cordelia hums.

His words are rushed, watery and frantic pleas. “I don’t want to go there. I want to stay here. I love it here. Please, Cordelia. You’re the Supreme. Make them leave. I promise I’d be good. No more killing people. Not even the bad ones. Please.”

“Michael, there are laws even the Supreme has to abide. This is one of them. Warlocks must be trained by warlocks, as do witches are under the guidance of experienced witches,” Cordelia concedes, runs soothing fingers through his medallion-blonde locks. “Without sustaining the values to uphold the rules, the Supreme is no better than a dictator.”

“B-but I don’t want to,” Michael sniffles, wipes his blurred vision with hasty hands. “Y-you’re not a dictator,” he adds, in hoarse whispers.

Annoyance glowers the corners of her coral-lined mouth, but softens at Michael. Madison soothes, “This is still your home, Wonder Boy.”

“This will always be your home, you know that,” Zoe consoles, swipes a tear droplet. Her pale pink lips fork out an overwrought smile.

“It’s only a four-hour flight away,” Queenie mollifies, light-hearted but her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.  

“Then let me stay, please. I’m begging you,” Michael disjointedly chokes out and his words are blubbery mess. Her shoulders are soaked with his salty tears and panicky snot. Guilt seizes Michael momentarily, for ruining her dress.

She gently thumbs his fallen tears away, quivering lips stifle sobs. “Michael, you have to go. We’ll visit you, okay?”

“Don’t worry, son. You’ll get to go back. Spring break and holidays,” Baldwin chimes, cheery, without resentment of his ordeal.

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

Hawthorne is a discouraging barren field, saved for a maze-like fixture, glossily black that strikes contrast against the baked beige landscape and pickle-hued forest hills. The school is tucked away, from the unholy curiosity and lingering prejudice against warlocks. Shame the warlocks had to hide themselves, not like the witches. Miss Robichaux’s fearless pearl white academy entertains no such whims.

The school’s interior is pedestrianly Victorian-inspired. Burning candles and tungsten lamps make for illumination in this place; not a hint of natural sunlight. Windowless; time bleeds into indefinite line, marked by imposed schedules and limited cell reception. Wine-cellar is an apt description for Hawthorne, without the wine—tragic, Michael thinks.

Unlike the academy, this school has two staircases; black-and-white imperial and snow- white spiral. Michael finds himself squinting more often than not, as he descends the railing-less spiral stairs—a disaster in the making. Four footing lost daily while treading down the abomination of a staircase; a feat only the Hawthorne achieved. He has to revise his assessment of the academy’s imperial staircase being a death-trap. He cuts through the hassle, reappearing at his destination with all limbs intact; he owes Madison his gratitude and a lilac-scented card.

His buttoned collar garrottes his Adam’s apple, subtly like a flower-pattern choker. His dress shirt is egg-shell and cardboard stiff. His black vest, begrudgingly ironed, is form-fitting to his wiry frame. His ensemble is missing the black string tie. Michael fastens the unevenly looped tie to his collar.

“Your hair is a lot longer than the guidelines allow. Article 8.8 states the hairstyles must not touch the collar,” recites William Banks, idealistic cedar-eyed stare, carob tousled hair and his bothersome room-mate. Back at the academy, he is the master of his own bedroom. Here, he is to share bunk beds with Will. Absolutely delightful, it is not.  

Expression of individualistic tastes, Hawthorne determines, is a violation against the dress code. Southern aristocrats and dead witty authors enthused the foundation of the Hawthorne uniform. The girls would collectively call him a knock-off version of Mark Twain.

“That’s not how you tie it. It’s going to fall apart as soon as you take two steps with that,” chides Will, his face all too boyish and goofy grins.

Will plucks the tie from Michael’s collar with nimble parlour magician’s fingers. “My grandfather was a huge fan of Colonel Sanders’ look. Got himself a lot of string ties. Also known as bolo ties in the UK. So he taught me how to do those knots, in case I ever want to go as Colonel Sanders for Halloween. Which I did for ten years in a row.”

“So illuminating,” Michael mumbles, sarcasm is wasted on Will. “I rather not be unpunctual to class, knowing your propensity to oversleep.”

“Good idea,” Will replies, his mouth twitching to a lop-sided grin. “So, you’ve stayed in that witches’ academy in New Orleans, right? Which mean you’ve seen the Supreme? Does she stay in the academy? Or is she like the Grand Chancellor Augustus? We hardly see him until you came.”

Having Will accompanying Michael step-by-step, limits his usage of transmutation. It’s a dreadfully slow walk, coupled with Will’s needless questions. Still Michael humours him. “Yes. Yes. Yes. And no, she’s usually in the academy unless she’s needed else—” Iron-striated shoulder crashes against Michael’s chest.

“Watch it, Langdon,” hisses Quentin Hawthorn, chestnut-tinted hair styled into a modern pompadour, and baleful eyes of rust. The archetype of silver-spoon, self-assured hubris and noxious masculinity. Michael cannot be any more disappointed by the boys of Hawthorne than he is with the school’s uniform. He’s one of plenty, the inapposite by-product of the warlock’s level system.

Will admonishes, blowing his bangs out from his eyes. “You’re the one who was in his way, Quentin.” His voice is nasally youthful and shaky coolness. Tardiness and chattiness aside, perhaps there is still hope for William Banks yet.

“He’s the Supreme’s son,” Quentin spits. “He should be able to transmute the fuck out of my way.”

“I’m just the Supreme’s ward. Nothing more. You don’t see my surname being Goode, do you?” Michael mutters, cerulean blue eyes rolling at the blasphemous absurdity. The rumours of the Supreme’s golden-haired son in Hawthorne is far inconvenient, a magnet for ire and red envy from the other boys.

“You know, you should leave him alone. Stay out of trouble. You’re embarrassing the Hawthorne name,” Will squeaks, gulping down his saliva. Michael could hear Will’s knees rattle with anxiety-striped muscles.

“You shut the fuck up, son of a bitch,” he says, chiselled-jaw tightens. Quentin flips his hand left once, right once, slapping the air—Will’s face is red-hot from the invisible force. “I’m not the embarrassment here, it’s you with your talentless ass and sub-par party magic tricks. It’s a godsend you don’t carry the name.”

The quarrel between the boys is a repetition of petty family squabbling, it losses its spark after the fourth barb. He is no more fond of a sulk-worn William than a talkative William. At least, normal William is tolerable.

Michael slides in between the them, batting innocent eyelashes. “Will has a point. You’re doing a fantastic job making an ass out of yourself.”

The veins on Quentin’s forehead are throbbing and fury. “You haven’t even take it yet. You could be a Level 2 for all we know.” He waves a hand; Will flies, crashing against unadorned marbled walls and crumpling onto polished floor.

Quentin’s insult slides off Michael’s skin like oil over smooth surface. His words are hollow, empty for Michael sees swirls of uncertainty wafting out from him. Michael cannot take the words of insecure man with necessary gravitas that Quentin thinks he deserves. Pitting Quentin’s insecurity against him is a compunction Michael lacks.

“How does it feel to belittle your long-suffering distant cousin to keep him a mediocre warlock, all so you can sleep easily at night.” Michael’s smirk turn cutting, whetted to sharp corners. He leans closer to Quentin’s ear shell, pitching his voice to raspy taunt. “I can’t imagine it feels good,” he adds, an afterthought.

Shadowy pythonic weight settles around Michael’s neck, squeezing air from his windpipes. Oh, two can play the game, Michael thinks. He strums the intangible strings tied to Quentin’s limbs; Quentin’s fist connects with Michael’s face. The impact sends Michael backwards. The hold around his neck loosens. The other students form a circle around them, like shields contain a gladiatorial fight.

“Hit a nerve, haven’t I?” Michael retorts, bloodied-teeth and his split lips curving into an acerbic grin. He plucks the brainwaves again; Quentin chucks another punch—lands a solid paw at Michael’s abdomen. Michael parries two more attacks, smashing his fist against Quentin’s chest.

Gentlemen,” Behold Chablis intones, flicking both hands with a flourish, “this is not the place to act like drunk bikers brawling in a deadbeat bar.” Michael feels his body, feathery-light, gliding through the air, stopping short of crashing into another person—then plunges to the floor, his backside softens the humiliating thud.

“Who started this barbaric fisticuff?” Behold demands, planting both hands firmly on his hips. His dark brows arch, the shape of swallow’s wings. Large dark lips flatten into a thin line. The crowd wilt under his withering coal-eyed stare.

“Quentin did,” Will helpfully supplies, his tone accusatory and assertive. Yet his eyes are set on his shoes, nervous fingers interloped behind his back.  

“I’m very disappointed with your conduct, Mr. Hawthorn. You in my office now,” he says, belt-strict and clucks a disapproving tongue. Behold gestures a dismissive wave, barks out, “Back to your classes now.” The boys dissipate from the music room.

“That cut looks nasty,” notes a midnight-haired man, holding Michael’s chin in between bejewelled fingers, tilting his chin sideways. His frost-eyed gaze scrutinising Michael. “Mr. Langdon, let’s get you to the infirmary.”

The infirmary is a velvety chaise longue bolted to the floor, at the sharp corner of John Henry’s office. John Henry lifts a glass of water, pours the water into his palm—the water forms a crystalline outline of an ashtray. “Here, take this. Put it up to your face,” he instructs.

Setting the ashtray-shaped ice against his bruised cheek, Michael plops himself on the lounge, leaning into the chaise, tipping his eyes skywards. The stillness is a much welcomed luxury, long slipped through Michael’s grasp since he stepped a foot into Hawthorne.

Michael hears the clicking of a lighter. The waft of flaming cigarette lingers in the air, like a familiar comfort—it’s not the brand he’s used, but Michael takes the smoke of cigarette over dank  and sterile air anytime.

“What should I tell Cordelia?” he muses, his lined-blue eyes are feline amusement.  

“Another accident?” Michael offers, his voice a wavering melody. Stubborn anchors his confidence to his fibre. He defended William’s honour, a chivalrous pursuit.    

“Where you accidentally fell face first on Quentin’s fist?” John Henry says, his face deeply lined in a disbelief scowl. “Yeah, I don’t think so. I will hold off from telling her anything,” he pauses, wagging a warning nicotine-stained finger up, “But I hope this will be the final fistfight you’re involved with.”

“But-but I didn’t start them,” Michael says, sourness carved a frown onto his forehead. He murmurs, indignation blooms in his chest, tightening its grip, “Why do you care?”

John Henry blows a ringlet of smoke into the air, and sighs not horridly. “Someone has to look after you here, and that’s my job as the instructor.”

Speaking of Cordelia and the girls, they promised him a visit. “So when is Cordelia coming here? Or anyone from Miss Robichaux’s? Next week?” Michael asks, hope creeping into his voice, allays the sullen contours of his expression.

“I’m sorry, Michael,” the tall warlock utters, cautious and readily rehearsed—this is not the first excuse, though it will not be the last. “They had to cancel again.”

Cordelia’s schedule is conclusively linked to her Supreme’s duties. Zoe and Queenie are the teaching staff; their lives are intertwined with the academy. Madison—well, what exactly is keeping her from dropping a visit? Her last letter, archaic means of communication, spells out additional miscellaneous workload—another last minute addition.

Michael Langdon is far from being exempted of one-week suspension. All that trouble, and a week will be spent alone. Again. He fingers the linear edges of black platinum card. Runs a thumb over the raised letters, spelling out Montgomery.

The branches of boredom flutter over his skin, courtesy of months-long cooped in the school. Hawthorne feels like a boarding school for teenage horrors that is the male youth exuberance and wild hormones. Michael longs for a piece of civilised witches and lively white walls and sun-kissed windows.

“So, you wanna join us to the movies? There’s that new movie with James McAvoy playing, where he got lots of personalities,” William inquires, tapping on the cinema listing of a magazine.

“No, I don’t think so—” Wait, that’s the opportunity he could use. “I’ve changed my mind, I will join you. This Saturday noon, right?”

“Actually, Friday evening,” Will amends, then curtly nods.

“That’s even better.” Michael shoves the credit card into his trousers, smiling a cat’s smirk.

He savours the Louisiana heat slick on the nape of his neck. The glint of moonlight on the imposing snow-white pillars. The jazz music bouncing in gumbo-flavoured air. Little flames itching his throat with prickly fingers. He hasn’t touched a drop of water since leaving the cinema.

He snaps; the door swings open and Michael enters. Another snap, the door closes behind him. Michael slips his heeled shoes off. The socks are off next. His bare feet reacquaint with the polished mahogany floor. His legs dictate his step, one by one. Until he stands in front of the fridge.

He tears the orange juice box open, draining the carton empty. Michael crumples the empty box, dumping the carton into the rubbish bin.

“I fucking knew it!” Madison shrieks, “Suck it, bitches. You two owe me twenty bucks each.” The end of her lips quirking upwards into a triumphant grin. “He couldn’t stay away from this place, like an alcoholic craving for liquor.”

“Damn, boy. Couldn’t you spend the night at some derelict motel?” Queenie grumbles, a smile poking out from the creases of her eyes and lips.

“Or go camping, like any kid,” Zoe chuckles and her golden brown hair shakes lightly, lifting an amused brow up. “I have to call—”

“Michael?” Cordelia says, closing the distance between them. Her brows dip at the centre of her forehead slightly, but her smile is ghostly and welcoming. She tucks a loose strand behind his ear. “What are you doing here?”

“I missed home.” His answer is the truth.

“I’m glad you decided to drop by for a visit,” Cordelia says, exhaling a deep breath out. Her smile is tiredly warm, her garden-rough hand squeezes an understanding clasp on his. “You have to go back. Two days, Michael and—” Her headmistress voice is abruptly cut by a loud crash of cabinet on the floorboard above.

“Miss Cordelia!” a girl yells, running into the dining room. Her face, porcelain and doll-like, is flushingly berry red. Her sepia-hued hair falls in small waves, with a circlet of beaded pearls fastened by silver vines capping her head. Her walnut eyes are cognizant of him—a knowing spark shines in them, then fades as she focuses her gaze on Cordelia. She rushes through her words, a mash of indecipherable words in one breath. “Andreea and Hedvig tried to conjure an extinct animal, for science, I think. They summoned a freaking sabretooth tiger and a direwolf, they got the animals trapped inside their bedroom—"

“Breath, Mallory,” Cordelia instructs, tossing Michael a side-glance. “Okay, one week. You get one week. That’s all, not more and not less. Now, lead the way.”

Zoe accompanies Cordelia to an emergency on the first floor. They trail after Mallory, elegant-paced as opposed to her edgy footwork.

“So they got uniforms? No offense, Michael, but you came back going from Prada to a mourning Colonel Sanders,” Madison snickers, her olive-eyed gawk is critical and amused. Without missing beat, she expectantly continues, “Were there any cute boys?”

Queenie rolls her eyes, and her straight teeth bears the arcs of a snarky grin. “Girl, let the boy breath before you dive down on your dick scouting.”

Michael bites down a chuckle, willing to let his lips curving into a smile. “You could do better than them. You’re a league of your own. They’re cute, I guess. But I rather not.”

The Voodoo witch narrows her eyes at Michael, “What did they feed you there? Madison’s diet?”

“Not really. We got a chef to prepare a standard meal. We got no butler though.”

“Hawthorne sounds like a school for Harry Potter rejects,” Madison comments, and Michael agrees wholeheartedly. 

“I’ve taken the liberty to inform John Henry of your missing whereabouts,” Cordelia says, leaning forward on the steering wheel. Exasperation coats a thin layer over her voice, the quirked up corners of her lips conveys charmed resignation. “But even my standing as the Supreme, isn’t going to get you out from suspension or detention.”

“I could use the suspension anyway,” Michael mutters, peeking into his backpack. If he’s going to spend his time alone, at least now he has his books and comics as silent companions.

“We’re here,” she announces, casting a wide glance over the field. “I can see why you prefer it at the academy, but this place wasn’t that bad,” she placates, a grin settling on her full lips. “And you look lavishly handsome in uniform.”

Michael can’t help to mirror hers. “Wait until you live with a bunch of guys who have to do laundry together,” he says, crinkles his nose in disgust. “Some of them don’t even wash their dirty socks.” Michael slings the strap of his backpack over his shoulder. Unlocks the door, pushing it open. “Bye, Cordelia. Send my regards to the girls.”

“I will.” She nods. “And Michael?”

“Yeah?” Michael half-twists his body towards her, both brows knitting together.

Cordelia motions her forefinger, eyeing his pocket. “Madison’s credit card, please. So you don’t try to pull a prison break again, in the middle of schooling.”

He feigns innocence, only lightning-second and fishes his wallet. “Alright, no more sneaking back to the academy.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t make the effort to call you once in a while,” she admits, the veneer of a disciplined matron cracks. Her smile loses its brilliant sides.

“The life of a Supreme is extremely busy, I get it.”

“Whenever I got bored, I used to read William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Maybe it will do you some good.” She procures a hardcover book from her handbag, thrusting the book onto Michael’s hands. “Now, you stay out of trouble, okay?”

He traces a finger across the golden embossed letters on the leathered book’s spine. Flips through the yellowed pages, careful not to make sudden movements. “Yes, Cordelia.” He gets out from the car, facing her and holds the book up. “Thanks for the entertainment.”

“Good boy. I’ll see you soon. The holidays are around the corner, I heard.”

His return to Hawthorne is a hushed welcoming. Saved for William Banks, terror still twinkles in his tawny-eyed stare. He descends on Michael, like a medieval monk fleeing from ravaging fair-haired warriors. Both hands clutching Michael’s forearm in worried-forged grip.  

“Michael, where have you been? The instructors were so pissed when they discovered you’re missing,” Will yelps, before releasing his grasp at Michael’s questioning gaze. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t meant to touch you.”

“Who? All of them?” Michael scans for the furious expressions of his instructors. Finds the warlocks absent from taking an active part of his welcoming committee.

Will’s brown messy hair flopping up and down like an enthusiastic Labrador. “Yeah, all of them. But Mr. Chablis was super mad, and Mr. Moore was looking to set our asses on fire for losing you.”

“What’s going on at the music room?”

“Oh, since you went MIA for a week, we had a new student personally recruited by the Grand Chancellor. Chancellor Augustus rescued him from a police interrogation for murders of a young suburban couple.”

Michael glimpses the student of the hour. He is fairly young, perhaps a year or two older than Michael. Tall, unlike Michael’s reedy frame, he’s slenderly toned. His short hair rests above his collar, unkempt and the shade of gingerbread. His almond-shaped eyes are arcane bronze and terribly familiar.

It’s almost feels like he’s staring into a distorted reflection of himself, a sculpture fashioned from the identical mould, painted in different hues; brunette for blonde, teal-eyed stare for a mocha-coloured gaze.

“What’s his name?” Michael asks.

“Devan Campbell.”

Chapter Text

Baldwin Pennypacker surveys the room, his small lips beaming scholarly and encouraging. Standing next to him, Ariel Augustus intertwines his fingers and his dark eyes unblinking. The Grand Chancellor’s presence increases in frequency. Either a lurk among the shadows cast by the burning candles or the father to his soldier boys.

“You have the whole weekend to practice the spell. Now show us what you got. Don’t be alarmed if you failed. That just means you need more practice,” says Baldwin, his glasses perched over his nose, “Any volunteers?”

Ariel’s charcoal eyes are ravenous hunger, “What about you, Mr. Campbell?”

“I think this is more appropriate as a two-person show,” Devan suggests, nonchalantly. He smiles, meeting Michael’s eyes—beneath that saccharine façade, a challenge issued and hangs in the air.   

“Excellent suggestion, Devan. After all this show owes its origin as a duel of sorts, back to medieval times,” Ariel agrees, already his attention settles on Michael, his smile tolerates no objections. “So, who would like to take the honour? Mr. Langdon?”

Baldwin takes out two dolls from a wooden jewellery box. Blows the dusts off them, before handing it to Michael. The doll is store-bought, lint unravelling from careless usage. His even missing a button eye.

Ariel motions for them both to stand in the room’s centre. “Face your opponent with a smile, and bow,” he instructs. They simultaneously place the dolls on the floor. Michael bends forward, one behind his back, the other over his waist.

“No mythical creatures, it will be harder for you to control,” Baldwin reminds. The boys around them take several steps backwards. Will props two thumbs up at his direction.

“May the best gentlemen wins,” says Ariel, nodding his approval to start.  

“Ex forma mutata. Summa partes. Ex forma mutata. Facti sunt figura novi,” Michael chants. He weaves his magic into the doll, breaking apart the faded fibres and scratched buttons, until they are malleable clay. He forges his will on the clay, sculpting its outlines and stitching incomplete instincts into the doll back, into a breathing animal.

His doll morphs into a deep-chested cat. Its prominent mane thick and lustrous the colour of coal, covering its head, neck, shoulders and chest. The eyes are far from ember, but a reflective turquoise colour. The lion bares its fangs, a roar rips out from its throat.

Devan’s doll shifts into a tiger, larger than the lion. The tiger’s tail is half the length of its huge body. Its black stripes stand against the blue-grey fur. Its gaze is bronze, with chocolate irises and penny-hued pupils. The tiger hiss. 

The muscular tiger pounces on the lion, rolling over with it. Phantom mass presses heavy against Michael’s spine. His heels burrowing into the marbled floor, standing on his ground. Michael cannot flinch, for Devan’s searching gaze is all too prodding.

His lion scratches its clawed paw against the tiger’s ear. Devan’s hand flies to his ear, reactive for a flashing second and drops to his side. His jaw twitches, and the smile returns.

The tiger retaliates, chomping razor teeth over the lion’s lower mane. Snarls and growls thunder in the room, both animals launch themselves at each other. The tiger bites down on the lion’s fore shoulder.

Michael calculates the multiple possibilities; offence, defence. His lion thrashes against the tiger’s hold. There, the opening. Michael directs the lion’s claws swiping the tiger’s neck and bearing down that bite.

Victory is his—

The tiger opens its jaw wide, a scaled-skin slithering out. Its coffin-shaped head strikes at the lion’s face, venomous fangs sinking deep. Then quickly disappears back into the tiger’s mouth. The tiger circles the lion, limping and alive. The lion struggles, before it stops moving.

“The winner is Devan,” Ariel declares, pride dripping from his moustached-smile.

Defeat inhabits like seasickness, slimy and writhing, in his belly, though it was only a mere demonstration with a fellow classmate.

“So, great game,” Michael mutters, clambering for the correct words and coming up empty, except for generic exchange used by discontented rivals in friendly football matches.

“You’re not too shabby yourself,” Devan says, his smile is all teeth.

“That was awesome,” Will says, patting Michael’s shoulder. “You’re so good.”

“He’s better,” Michael spits.

Frustration blurs the lines and sentences into a string of repeated content. Article after article regurgitates tabloid materials and grainy photos as evidences of foul plays, loses its appeal after the fourth hour.  

“Why are we scouring for strange news? I thought we’ve gone way beyond that, what with going public about witches and warlocks?” Madison asks, slamming the newspaper down with a dash of easy theatrics.  

“Oh, shut up your whining and read, bitch.” Queenie pops an earbud out, narrows her eyes at Madison. Had this exchange occurred before her third resurrection, Madison inclines to believe Queenie lives to belittle her—now, old habits die hard and Madison merely smiles a thin line. Bitch is endearing as one could get from Queenie.

“My ears are on fire, listening to hours of a self-absorbed podcaster, rambling on lizard people among us,” Queenie complains, fiddling the earphone’s cord. She selects another podcast channel, absentmindedly rubbing her earlobe.

Zoe Benson massages her eye sockets with waning vengeance. Any semblance of the decorous mentor discarded along with the pretence that they are absolutely delighted to waste weekends on this increasingly futile task. Their not-so friendship has suffered over the years, but like her nicotine addiction, some things they can’t quit easily—solidarity in the mundane parts of life, Madison muses.

“I can’t even tell if what we’re reading is fake news or satire—wait, listen to this.” Zoe adjusts the slope of her laptop’s screen again. “A young couple from California was found murdered in their home.”

“Big deal, like there aren’t any young murdered couple dead in their homes all over America,” Madison retorts, shrugging bony shoulders. Folding the newspaper neatly and setting it aside, she reaches out for another stack of creased newspapers.

Zoe casts a caramelised glare, shushing Madison—the magic of her glare hasn’t lose its potency. The newfound confidence sutures deft into Zoe’s scowl, Madison can’t say whether she likes this newer Zoe, but Zoe the mentor is leagues ahead of the insecure girl she knew. Zoe announces, “The couple has a one year old missing.”

Such innocuous comment rarely warrants the rise of bile through her oesophagus. Trepidation seeping into her fingertips, Madison abandons the newspaper in favour of Zoe’s findings. Queenie hits ‘pause’ on the podcast.

“Where are the police reports?” Cordelia questions, sifting through the slogs of files, newspaper clippings, and tabloids. “I had the ADA sent us the reports.”

“Here, it is,” Queenie replies, waving the folder in the air, then cracking it open. “The witness statement said that the alleged kidnappers are three cloaked figures. Correction, they were wearing flowing black robes,” she reads, wide-eyed and subdued panic etched on her lips.

“Oh fuck. This is not good,” Zoe gasps, dread-laced and gazing expectantly at Cordelia.

“Are you telling me that we might have two Anti-Christs running around?” Madison blurts out, the implication sinks heavy like a silver crater into treacherous oceanic waves.

“What if he seeks Michael? Even if we rally the warlocks, voodoo witches and all the coven, we might not even stand a chance against two Anti-Christs if they combined their forces.”

“We have to find the baby,” Cordelia commands. Fear has never been more evident in her tone than tonight. Her cedar-eyed stare is distant and worry swirling in her irises.

Madison Montgomery isn’t a fan of this Cordelia Goode. Never had, never do, never will. She needs a cigarette.

Stealth may conceal his footfalls, but the blistering heat wafting into Michael’s room is a portent on its own. “I think you have the wrong room,” Michael says, without sparing a glance at the door. Brings King Lear closer to his eyes.

“I come bearing a gift,” Devan replies, slick and charming; takes a seat across from Michael. Sinking into the study chair, he slips a pomegranate out from his jacket’s pocket. Blows a quick breath on it, he rubs the pomegranate’s skin with the ends of his sleeve. He tosses the fruit at Michael.

Michael catches the fruit in one hand, observing it. The fruit gleams deliciously red-purple underneath the tungsten lamp—saliva pooling at the edges of his tongue. One bite couldn’t hurt—Devan’s inquiring voice interrupts Michael, “What do you do here for fun?”

“The usual,” Michael answers, listing off the generic hobbies run gamut in this school. He sets the pomegranate on the floor, sitting on his bed. King Lear lays on his lap, closed but not before he bookmarks the page he’s on.

Devan straightens to his six-foot-one frame, his hickory eyes staring down at Michael. A grin slither on his neo-classical face. “I got a better idea. Follow me.”

“I’m still suspended. You’ll have to go alone. Or bring other boys,” Michael declines, forcing himself to work out a smile. “Quentin might be a better fit for you.”

“If I wanted to hang out with them, I wouldn’t be here, now would I? Don’t worry about Ariel, I can handle him,” he reassures, now leaning against the doorframe. “Besides, I like you, Michael. You’re different. Unlike the boys here,” he bargains, tilting his head sideways.

“Okay,” Michael says, returning Cordelia’s book into his drawer, locking the drawer close.

“But first, we have to change. This uniform is a dead giveaway.”

He could chalk it up to morbid fascination, or plain curiosity—for agreeing to violate his suspension again. His promise to Cordelia neglected, in favour of slipping out from Hawthorne, dressed in navy blue button down t-shirt and black jeans.

No, he cannot pin it all on mere interest. This disposition to say ‘yes’ to Devan’s offer; a dormant reflex awoken. There are thoughts scrawled on the base of his skull, written in blood and melting tar, bearing a simple message. The foe is not Devan. His powers are yours too, Michael. That sorely needed recognition slides through Michael’s fingers like slippery eels. Only this hazy familiarity left in its place gnawing at Michael.

“So, is it true that you were under the care of witches?” Devan asks, breaking Michael out from his musing, “Before Hawthorne?”  

“Yeah. I rather be there than in Hawthorne. The academy is ten times better,” Michael answers, his gaze is at the skyline. The skies are steady bash of blue, spreading over the last vestiges of tempest brown receding further to the horizon.

“How did you end up there? You got no relatives to stay with?”

Devan’s cool breeziness earns the adoration of Hawthorne. He is never without an enchanting smile, a goofy grin or a hand to lend. Yet, every bronze smile of his is crafted for a purpose. Every twitch of his facial muscle designed for a specific cause—all of which Michael cannot ascertain.

“My grandmother, she died. There was no one else to take me in,” he says, undoing another button of his t-shirt. The air in the bus is stiflingly hot, with windows half-opened and stuck to the gum-covered windowsill. Coupled with the heat, the pungent smell of tobacco, alcohol and questionable stains—Michael’s stomach rolls with immediate regret.

Devan leans into the squeaky chair, broad shoulders sagged. Tosses a side-glance at Michael, dark brows reflect a Tudor’s arch. “Shouldn’t you be in foster care?”

“Miss Cordelia came to pick me up, before social service could interfere. She took me officially as her ward.”

“So she just appeared one day, then whisked you away from California to New Orleans?” Devan says, his lips twisting into a frown. “Isn’t that fishy? Sounds like they have some ulterior motives to keep you close.”

“No, it’s not,” Michael counters, too sharp for his liking but his concern for wounded feelings is regrettably fleeting. “I’m thankful she did.”

“Come on,” he replies, jovially as Michael’s tone doesn’t flint his temper, “This is our stop.”

“What are we doing here?” Michael asks, taking in the illuminated wine cellar, stretching from the floor to ceiling. Votive candles separate the wine bottles, in even spaces. The décor is modern, framed by luxurious monochromic colours. It’s not a Venus fly trap masquerading as a quaint Californian hotel, steeped in old Hollywood opulence.  

“Oh, Michael. This is the place where sins are disguised as saints. Sometimes you’ll get one, or the other. Or even both, if you’re lucky,” Devan says, cheeky smirk curling his lips and winking.  

They are colourful thumbtacks of jeans, t-shirts and dark sweaters, among the restaurant’s patrons in their black dresses and Italian cut suits. Boys among the high calibre women and men of formidable professionals, lucrative establishment and golden pedigree.

“Let’s get to the bar,” Devan says, slotting himself at the bar. He hails at the bartender for two drinks, motions at the empty space beside him.

Michael follows suit, reluctance sits at the bottom of his shoes. He extends his hand for his glass—pale fingers skim across the naked wrist of another female patron. He sees; a couple in an amorous embrace.

The woman is younger and slender, with cherry-red hair falls over her shoulders like curtains and moss-eyed smile. She’s cladded in a black vest and white blouse, a high end waitress uniform. The man, older and his fossil grey hair styled to the latest cut, to diminish his lined face and receding hairline. His linen suit is costly, but the golden Rolex on his left wrist is certainly fake. His fingers all tanned, except for a pale circular band on his right hand.

Michael blinks. The patron sports French braids, and her emerald dress clings to her curves, highlighting apprehension in her distracted gaze at her smartphone. The older man in nowhere in sight.

“Well, well, well,” Devan coos over Michael’s shoulder. “Looks like you just reel a fish. Nice. Now, go and don’t be shy,” he adds, gently nudging Michael towards her.

“What do I say? What am I supposed to do?” Michael hisses back, resisting Devan’s helpful prod. He tightens his grasp around the glass, opting to take a whiff.

“You already know it. Don’t overthink. Breath,” he says, his features are wolfish and unabashed glee in those amber eyes. Parting flaxen curls enough, he whispers into Michael’s ear shell, “But here’s a little tip. Look beyond yourself, deep into their hearts and minds.”

The cogs in his mind churn memorised dreadful dialogue from repeated viewings of Madison’s cheesy movies. Every now and then, her character has heaps of love interests throwing different variations of lame flirty lines. He tries his best, and selects the least offensive to womenfolk.

The end of her lips curving into a flattered smile, but the words she offers is an apology, a polite decline to his advance. Still, he offers his name, out of courtesy and says, “You do have nice dress, a gift? You have one lucky man.”

She nods. “He is.” There’s a flicker of expression, doubt perhaps. It’s all too momentary, her eyes are the colour of blind adoration for him. This man of hers is a paragon of virtue, she tells herself. She hopes, utterly besotted, that he is the one, after a string of broken hearts.

Her name could be Katerina. Or Jessie. Or Sophie. She looks like a Frances, with her face half-buried into an ancient painter’s memoir. Alexandra, Michael thinks. And he wonders, where did that name come from?

But Michael senses the doubt, her suspicion of this man and everything he claims to stand for. Denial runs like a steady river pulsating beneath the grounds, for the merest thought of him being a fraud fills her with shameful fury.

His tongue turns silver and he picks apart her carefully construe of her boyfriend. The tender insinuation—she is the unsuspecting mistress, strung along by a man in crisis—varnishes her skin in cruel truth. “You deserve better, Alexandra. Not the second best. Even if you’re his first, who’s to say you won’t be the last woman he’ll be with.”

“How do you know my name—”

He cuts her off with a teasing smile and a dismissive wave, “You’ve always known somewhat that he is too good to be true. So, why not turn the game on him—let him suffer. Perhaps his wife is far more forgiving to you than she is with his wandering dick.”

She is silent, tears pooling at those green eyes. Her illusion is shattered no more than a vase splintered into a thousand pieces. Michael drinks up her despair, like honeyed tea. The change is subtle but evident like the shimmers of a moonlight’s reflection on calm waters. Hastily leaving the bar for her reserved table.  

Devan compliments, “Not bad. Tempting the mistress to dump her lover.”

“Perhaps, she might team up with the wife. Bleed him dry or something,” Michael says, discreetly returning his untouched glass back to the bartender and signals for him to give Alexandra his glass. She might need more than one glass to throw at her lover’s face. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or two of them.”

“Oh, look who’s here. The boyfriend,” Devan remarks, finishing his drink. “And our cue to leave.”

The street is asleep. The crowd of drifting humans trickle down to a handful denizens. Street-lamps lined the street, yet the only light spilling onto the pavement comes from the dirtied window of a convenience store.

Not far from them, a figure hovers nearby, tucked in between rows of parked cars. The closer they come, Michael notes tacky tattoos inked on the figure’s olive forearms, and anxiety-tipped fingers drumming on his front pocket. The outlines of a pistol’s grip bulging against the jean’s fabric.

Devan taps Michael’s bicep light, and murmurs, “My turn. See how it’s done.” Flashing a cheeky grin, the dark-haired warlock adds, “Properly.”

Devan takes a step forward, whistling a jaunty tune.  His mischievous hands shoved inside his pockets, Devan takes out a Marlboro Lights pack and offers a cigarette, “You look like you could use one.”

The boy takes it. Under the sudden brief streak of light, the boy cannot be older than sixteen. Stocky built, with gelled oak brown hair and dark-rings lined underneath weary penny eyes. He bites his lower lip and eyes the convenience store as if he’s caught in a Shakespearean tragedy.

Like Alexandra, Michael sees this boy and his life playing like a badly edited reel. Michael gets the gist; the boy has red strings of crime strangling around him, but his crimes never hurt anyone. He’s a pickpocket thief. The gun is an impulse, one that he could still restrain—if he just turn away from the store. His heart isn’t built for robbery.

“I hope it doesn’t rain. It’d be pain to walk back home,” Devan says, flicking a swift gaze at the skies, then takes a drag of his cigarette. “I love my mum, but she nags a lot. I would kill if anyone hurts her. A man gotta do what he can for his family. You’re a man, right, Jamesy?”

James squints at Devan, slipping one hand into his jeans and stutters, “Have we meet?”

Devan crushes his cigarette with his boot. Directs his chin at the convenience store, and his voice deepens, sounding basso than usual. “What matters is you do what you have to do; or go home and put a bullet into their brains, and end their miserable lives. And yours too.”

“Thanks for the cigarette.” The boy’s voice is distant, monotonous without a single drop of fear rippling in it. Not like the first time James spoke. A murder’s mark sullies his face in grim shades, harshening boyish features. He turns on his heels, the door’s noisy ornament jingles faintly.  

“See? It wasn’t that hard,” Devan says into the blackened street, stretching his arms.

Gunshots explode like trapped fireworks a couple of feet from them. Devan nonchalantly informs, “We better go. I don’t want to be here when the police swarmed this area.”

This time, Michael Langdon scarcely could taste the treacly aftermath of a restrained sin loosened to a coppery path. Alexandra’s heartache is bloodless and cathartic fun. This boy; he is anything but a human of great depravity. At the back of his mind, Cordelia’s words strike iron and slick queasiness rising within Michael’s stomach.

Chapter Text

The room is an unnerving quietness, though wood hissing at the crackling fire behind them. Michael wrings sinewy hands tight over his legs. His feet dances a restless jiggle. Michael recounts his footprints through the last month; aside from that one excursion with Devan, Michael stayed relatively away from breaking his suspension.

“Why do you think they called us to a meeting?” Michael asks, wetting chapped lips.

Next to him, Devan spreads firm legs steadfastly planted on the floor. His large hands rest on his thighs, relax. He shrugs. “Have no clue. If you’re worried that they found out about our trip to the city, they didn’t.” Devan’s words barely raises Michael’s confidence in the ink-haired warlock.

The warlock council’s appearance heeds no warning. They appear in whirling black, impeccably dressed, ahead of four empty chairs. Devan and Michael hastily stand; spine straighten and a smile prepared. An exchange of bow precedes the warlocks taking their seats.

Ariel Augustus gestures for them to sit. The Grand Chancellor says, eagerness colours the curves of his fatherly slash. “Now that you both have time to settle and you’ve immersed yourselves in the study of magic here at the coven, it’s time to evaluate and see where you stand.”

“Normally, this would happen at the end of the first year,” John Henry caustically informs, in his clipped tone. He writes notes on his book in irritated scrawls. His blue-eyed gaze is seething annoyance—Michael isn’t sure who is the target of John Henry’s stare.

“Well, I’ve been here only six months,” Michael says, confusion knitting his brows together. Will makes no mention of any students being assessed before the allocated time—what could inspire the warlock council to specifically conduct this examination ahead of his one year period.

Perplexity wrinkles Devan’s smooth forehead. He scratches his temple with a crooked finger. “If he’s six months, then I clocked at one month.”

“Well, seeing your progresses, we feel justified in accelerating the process,” Behold says, gesturing his excited hands in a slight flourish. Unlike the others, he’s the only one wearing a shawl, with its end twisted into a bun. “However, you both will be evaluated separately. Mr. Langdon first, then Mr. Campbell.”

“To begin, each warlock at our school is assigned a level, one through four, according to their talents and the breadth of their powers,” the Grand Chancellor explains.

“Are you all level fours?” Devan asks, shifting his sight from John Henry to Ariel, moving to Behold before ending at Baldwin.

“Sadly, you’re looking at a bunch of threes,” Baldwin replies, his lips curling into a self-deprecating smile and curtly shakes his head.  

“Sixes after a few cocktails,” Behold teases.

“A level four would mean a warlock that is categorically as powerful as the female Supreme. He would be the one we call the Alpha,” Ariel clarifies, steepling rust-coloured fingers. His eyes are onyx hard, and Michael could see hope and revenge coalescing in those beady eyes.

“We shouldn’t burden the boys with theory,” John Henry interjects, gracing them both with a scrutinising glare, “In the history of the coven, there’s never been a level four warlock. Let’s see if they can pass level one.”

The mirror stands about a head taller than Michael is. It looks almost nondescript, only golden framed geometric patterns on the mirror’s structure and feet. The focal attraction of the room. Benches half-surrounding the mirror, similar to a lecture hall. The warlocks are seated in front; Michael’s back to them.

“Scrying is the ability to see things in a reflective surface. Messages, visions, prophecies. But today, we’re not looking for the next Nostradamus. All you need to do is tell us where we hid a particular book The New—”

“The New Adam and Eve. By Hawthorne. First edition,” Michael finishes for him.

“Yes,” Baldwin says, soft and a small, pleased smile curving his thin lips.

He stares into the mirror. Seeks for information that eludes his grip; the prized first edition. His reflection vibrates, slower first, then faster distorting his image and morphs into the rows of book-lined shelves. Each book nearly as old as the portraits adorning the school’s halls. He spots the outlines of a velvet-covered chaise lounge at the corner of the room.  

Michael finds the book smacked between crumbling tomes and ash-covered manuscripts on a book rack facing a sturdy oak desk.

“The book is in John Henry’s office, the fourth row of the centre shelf in front of his desk,” Michael says, keeps his eyes ever vigilant.  


“As well as from underneath Mr. Chablis’ pillow, the second drawer of Mr. Pennypacker’s nightstand and lastly, unused firepit in second floor,” Michael adds. Zoe herself is fond of using such tactic during Michael’s brief divination class with her—and instead of mirror, she tends to flick the water at his face with amused fingers, while Michael narrowed his eyes to scry for those blood-splattered texts.  

“You listed four, pick one,” John Henry retorts, his fingers work across his notepad lightning quick.

“It’s all four. The first one I mentioned, is a forgery, except for about fifteen pages. Same for the second, where the entire book is a fake except the first page. The third has only five pages non-forgery and the last is the true copy, except the pages found in the other copies. The first edition of the New Adam and Eve has all being split into four copies. Am I not correct?”

“Well, that will earn him some extra credit,” Baldwin chimes, casting a swift gaze at his fellow warlocks.

“The boy isn’t wrong. Most simply pick one and couldn’t tell if there are selected pages forged or not,” Ariel says, his eyes are gleefully shining.

He wonders if Devan would simply select the edition with the least forged pages, or go the extra mile to distinguish the differences. 

Baldwin Pennypacker’s voice is a soothing tone, that disguises crooked steel with a friendly curls of his lips. “Salire per spatium. The ability to transport yourself instantly throughout physical space. Just pick a spot in the room, envision yourself there, and make it happen.”

The spectacled warlock levitates a brick and knife. The serene smile still etched on his face, the smiling lines pronounced.

“What are those for?” Michael asks, a rhetoric inquiry.

“Motivation,” Baldwin answers, hurling the brick at Michael.

He doesn’t need it. Transmutation is child’s play. Yet Michal can’t help to find Hawthorne’s gentlest instructor seems to embody Madison’s philosophy of learning by violence. Hilarious in its own ironic right.

The brick explodes into fragmented rocks at the impact against the wall. A knife slices the air.

“Anything else? You want me to dust up here?” Michael gloats, his hands spread wide, touching the walls. The sentimental part of him prefers Madison’s sharp tongue and scathing wit. The practical Michael favours six baseballs nearly breaking his nose, instead of a smashed face.

Bet Devan doesn’t have the benefit of Madison Montgomery’s A+ magical tutoring. That thought fills Michael with satisfaction.

“The final test requires an understanding not only magic, but of nature. Stricidium,” Baldwin mentions, emphasising the last word sotto voce.

“Molecules of water are all around us. Change the weather inside this room, and turn the water into snow,” John Henry says, two slim index fingers pointing the ceiling.

Molecules, atoms, kinetic energy. These words are merely concepts that Michael could alter as he pleases. Recalls John Henry’s demonstration in his office, the ashtray-shaped ice pack. Seems easy enough.

Michael rises to his feet. Removes the chair from the centre, placing it at the sides. He covers his mouth, tapping his cheek; an idea blooms as he puffs his chest and spine straightens to rod-like. Takes a deep breath. Exhales.

He raises one hand above his head, imagining the atoms slowing down—reduces the atoms’ kinetic energies, erecting dividers and walls in the vapour. The air grows dense—draft morphing into liquid-air. He brings another hand up as an anchor to shape liquid into inimitable crystals.

He tilts his chin upwards, squinting. White petals of water droplets cascading gently from the ceiling. Snowflakes blanket the room in soft fluttery touches. It is pretty—he can’t wait to show this to Cordelia and the girls. Christmas in Miss Robichaux’s this year will be magnificent.

A deep-throat laugh escapes Behold’s thick lips. “Beautiful! Wow,” he murmurs, extending an upturned palm. A ghost of a smile plays at the corner of John Henry’s lips, fleeting but his ferrous gaze remains conflicted.

Michael rescinds his hold over the snow—snow promptly loses its shape and it is air once more. The room reverts to its original condition; lighted fireplace and marbled walls reflecting the fire’s glow.

“Thank you for your spirited participation, Michael. Inform Devan to meet us at the library, please,” Ariel says, his smile is blindingly jubilant.

Has he been wrong this entire time? Today’s event furls a wrench into his meticulous hard-earned work. Could the telegraph has been falsified—that he’s been on a wild goose-herding. He raps nervous-tipped fingers on his desk; constantly scratching words out. Letters will take days the very least—calls are too conspicuous. Discretion is his utmost priority—coded messages encrypted by spells.

However, he received his first note via a telegraph. His office has one—his predecessor was an avid fan of antique radios. A telegraph will have to suffice. His telegram is half-composed; his message will have to wait. His refusal to attend the warlock council’s dinner will draw attention. He cannot have that. Not yet. He abandons his efforts, joins his warlock brethren in their private dining room.

Dinner is an excruciating affair. His nerves crave for a cigarette; smoking at the dinner table is off-limits by John Henry’s own prerogative. His wine glass is empty—he should fill it. But his mind elsewhere.

Ariel grabs the black napkin from his plate, his fingers curling around it and points a finger in the air. Excitement oozing out from him, like amber resin leaking from slashed bark. He marvels, “Everyone in this room can do some of what he did. Not a single one of us can do it all. He crushed every test, surpassed all our expectations.”

Baldwin agrees, “He is the most powerful warlock I’ve ever seen,” spreading the napkin over his lap, “and I’ve seen a few.”

Behold’s obsidian eyes gleaming the sparks of triumph. His pouty lips carve a rejoicing smile. “The witches’ dominion over us will soon be a thing of the past,” he says, waves his ringed fingers over the mouth of his wine glass; filling it with Bordeaux.

“Are you serious? He almost killed us,” John Henry snaps, grits his teeth in ill-suppressed rage. His peers—they cannot be blind, they must know the boy radiates primordial iniquity, far older than the magic the warlocks draw from. So why are they choosing to remain oblivious?

“Can’t you see that there is a malevolence to his magic? To him? We should be afraid. You can’t corral darkness,” the sky-eyed warlock reasons. His hunger for a smoke overwhelms him, tensing the cords in his muscles. His mouth is unbearably dry, not a sip of Bordeaux quenches his thirst.

“Don’t be afraid of Devan. Be afraid of the status quo. Be afraid to do nothing. We have an obligation to our kind, to our future, to see if he can rise and lead us to our rightful place,” Ariel counters, his lips curls a cat’s smile. An air of vehemence rolls off from the Grand Chancellor, much fearsome than the last decade of familiarity affords John Henry.

This blindness is partly his fault. His observance was narrow, hinged entirely on the veiled telegraphs. The ochre-haired boy demonstrated his powers, exponentially stronger than any of them—perhaps even more so than the Supreme. This will not abode well for the coven, witches or warlocks.

Michael Langdon—where does this leave him, John Henry ponders. His power is every bit bleak and ominously dark as Devan’s; nonetheless, the breadth of Devan’s outstripped Michael’s by leagues ahead. At least, the golden boy listens to instruction, not that fact eases the heaviness in his mind.

Ariel sighs, superficial. “It would be easier if it is Michael, the witches are more likely to accept him than Devan,” his tone monotonously forlorn, then spikes into the vigour of fireworks, “But we can’t stop now. We’re at the cusp.”

Ariel raises his wine glass, a case of celebratory toast. Baldwin lifts his, matching the smile. Behold grips the stalk of his glass in two delicate fingers, winching his glass upwards.

Reluctance clouds John Henry’s conscience, but he is a Hawthorne instructor. It serves no one to diverge from the collective. Not now. He picks up his glass, tilting its mouth at Ariel’s direction.

“This is the moment when everything changes.”

The sudden insubstantial whispers of the council’s impeding appearance spreads like wildfire in the confines space of Hawthorne’s walls. “Why are they coming here?” Michael asks, setting his textbook aside. He needs this. This distraction. A brief reprieve from wallowing in his pity—Level Three, you’re not that special, Devan is, a startling revelation that tills stinging talons into his self-worth.

William Banks shrugs. “Jegor said the Grand Chancellor requested for a super-secret meeting. Everyone’s planning to hang out at the foyer later. To catch a glimpse of the Supreme. You wanna come?”

“I’ll think about it.”

Michael prefers to meet Cordelia and the girls, without the prying eyes and fuddled hormones of his fellow students. Yet he misses them terribly and dearly; with a mind of its own, his feet brings him into the foyer. The witches here in Hawthorne, abates his indigence.

He blends seamlessly with the uniform-wearing boys. Saved for his hair, finger-raked curls hangs loosely, unlike the neat haircuts or militant tidiness. The clicks of commanding heels sing to his ears, brings a smile to Michael’s face.

The waft of leather-bound tomes, Orlesian soil beneath painted fingertips and crispy fried chicken, floats into the foyer—their essence, not their smells—and breeds happiness that fills their absences in his heart.

Sure enough, they come into his view. Queenie. Zoe. Cordelia. His heart is a train running on iron rails, pounding with each anticipation. Ridiculous hope swells for them to acknowledge him—be it a small wave, a falcon glance, or a silent mouthing of three alphabets.

Nothing. They disappear into another room, marked clandestine for students. Hope sours in his mouth, his tongue only taste bitter disappointment. Michael absconds the foyer for the library. If they’re not going to acknowledge him, thus he is not to seek Cordelia and the girls. The holidays cease to be an anticipated prospect—that ought to do.

“The Supreme’s pretty young. It’d be a shame to see her wane so early,” Devan mutters, tossing a side-glance. “I can see why you like staying with her.”

Sliding into the piano seat, he props an arm over the fallboard. His sleek fingers absentmindedly poking at the black-white keys. “So, what is she like? No one around here seemed to have a coherent opinion about her. Except you.”

“She’s the Supreme. What is there to know about?”

“I mean, she’s the highest authority among the warlocks and witches. That doesn’t tell me much. Is she selfless? Vain? How about the coven—are they formidable or really no different than Hawthorne?”

The aftertaste of his discontent still lingers—talking about Cordelia and the girls only riles up his weakening temper. “I rather not talk now,” Michael says, through gnashed teeth. “I’m tired,” he adds, a fib wrapped as an afterthought.

Devan does not prod any further. “You’re right. Catch you later.”

Six months. Six months without her there, to keep a watchful eye. It’s six months too early, she can’t bear the implication of Ariel’s message. ‘Emergency meeting’ written elaborate copperplate. The lack of additional follow-up rattles her composure. Tickets purchased, flights taken and here she is. Michael’s welfare antedates their hunt for the missing toddler.

“Let the record show that at the request of Hawthorne School, that we have assembled an emergency meeting of the council,” Cordelia dictates, casting acknowledging gazes at the warlocks.

The men shift in their seats. Baldwin Pennypacker functions as the secretary, fingers clacking on a typewriter. So they still espouse the tradition of engaging with old-fashioned devices; possibly a formality of sorts. The Grand Chancellor had no qualms of emailing her privately.

“In order to address something super important, the matter of life and death maybe,” Queenie hedges, the trace of a badly-repressed giggle apparent on her currant-hued lips.  

“Proceed,” Cordelia Goode urges.

Ariel Augustus fingers his crimson scarf in a hare’s pace, rising to his feet. Then intertwines his hands in front of his waist. He clears his throat, and moustached lips slithering into a wide grin. “Illustrious members, I want to thank you for coming and giving us the opportunity to share with you what we’ve discovered. At first, we thought he was simply one of us, a warlock who needed our help and training—”

“But?” Zoe probes, her expression is a refrained weariness. Bless her for appearing serious than Queenie, but Cordelia supposes Queenie is a better fit than Madison.

Her one word inquiry draws the warlocks’ contemptuous stares. Justified in that the collective ages of Zoe and Queenie combined pale in comparison to the warlocks’. They’re old enough to be the girls’ fathers—even John Henry Moore, and he’s the youngest.

His mouth parted without an answer. Dismay ties Ariel’s tongue for two seconds. “The things he did were extraordinary, and after conducting the requisite test of his powers, we came to conclusion that his abilities are so impressive that they rise to the level of Supreme,” he ends his speech, pride dripping from his tone and smirk before he sits down again.

His powers had grown that much? Without the Black Mass, Michael isn’t due to fully ascend to his full powers until he’s much older than his current teenage form. But the reports she gotten are standard.

Cobalt eyes, calculating and manic, sear holes at her, but she resists returning a puzzled glance. Cordelia chuckles. Her fingers betray a different visage; her knuckles white from fraying nerves.  

“We’re talking about a boy, as in the capital XY chromosome?” Queenie questions, brow arching the shape of raven’s wings. That singular line drains the confidence and pride from the warlocks, like a punctured boat struggling to stay afloat.

“Ariel, you actually believe this?” Cordelia says, injecting genuine disbelief into her unimpressed timbre.

“We wouldn’t have summoned the council otherwise.”

“In all recorded history, no man has ever approached the level of Supreme. Men are simply not equal to women when it comes to magical ability,” she reminds.

“And maybe everything else,” Zoe comments.

“Testosterone is a known inhibitor. It impedes access to the ethereal realm,” she chastising them, like a school teacher chastising wayward students. “Frankly, I question your judgement by calling us here for this.” Cordelia unclasps her fingers, pressing them towards the sky in church-like steeple.

“You’re not even hearing us out,” John Henry mumbles, half-heartedly.

“You cannot argue with the science or hard facts,” Zoe scoffs, to which Queenie helpfully retorts, “Alternate facts don’t need to apply.”

John Henry turns to Ariel, wetting his lower lip and his razor-sharp jaw taut with tension. Behold Chablis shakes his head slightly, dark lips pressed into a tight line of incredulity. Baldwin continues to type; a resigned sigh escapes his mouth.

“Listen to yourselves. You say that something hasn’t happened, so therefore it can never happen,” Ariel hisses, nostrils flaring. Veins on his forehead twitching in brick red.

“What exactly is it that you want from us?” Cordelia demands. Her patience is thinning, like the sand in an upturned hourglass.

“We want you to administer the test of the Seven Wonders.”

“That is out of the question.”

“Why?” Behold solicits, his raspy voice betrays his exasperation.

“Because I’d be condemning my s—this boy to his death. I lost one of my most promising witches, Misty Day, by sanctioning a test before her time. I won’t make that mistake again,” she admonishes, fear twists tattering equanimity into trembling protest. Hawthorne was supposed to keep Michael safe. Not thrusting an unstable boy into another messianic role. “I care about all of our people. So I won’t throw an innocent boy’s life away on some useless endeavour. There will be no test. That is this council’s decision.”

“Why do you get to decide that?” Ariel fires back, aiming for rebellious veneer, but his reply is childish crabbiness.  

“Because I’m the fucking Supreme,” Cordelia snarls.

“No, you’re just a scared bigot,” the Grand Chancellor objects.

“Scared of what?”

“Of the Alpha. Of a man rising to the level of Supreme. Of an end to ages of female dominance. I’m telling you, that time has come—”

Cordelia interrupts, in a tone that warrants no further discussion, “And your time is up. This council is closed. The decision is final. There’s nothing more to be said.”

Devan’s occurrence in his room, typically without William there, is increasing in its rapidity. Not that Michael minds. In the light of recent developments, Michael isn’t fond of donning a mask of neutrality or be in the spirits of civil amity.

“Look, I think the whole warlock’s levelling system is little redundant. So limiting. Even in video games, characters level up equally. Some of us have different speed of levelling up,” Devan says, balancing an apple on the back of his hand. Frustration seems to wound tighter in his tone; the first Michael’s heard. “Our powers are growing, only yours is slower without some special boost.”

“Perhaps only you. You’re the Alpha candidate,” Michael retorts, keeping the venom from seeping into his voice. Devan’s flippancy at his new status, pricks needles into Michael with tiny annoying jealous-tipped pins.

Devan throws the apple up, catching it mid-air and takes a bite. “We’re different. From the warlocks and the witches for our powers come from a primordial force,” he retorts, words tumbling in jumbled bites and alphabets. Tugging the corners of his lips is a playful smirk.

“From where? What exactly are we?” Michael asks, biting down a snort.

“That is for you to find out—” His voice trails off, a flicker of anger flashing in his tawny eyes and disappears. His smile returns—cut glass, tinted with insolence. “You and I are going to take a quick trip downtown.”

“For what?”

“To prove a point.”

‘Downtown’ has a loose definition in Devan’s dictionary. He dashes after Devan’s harried footsteps through labyrinthine alleyways, marked by cratered walls, peeling paint, and splintered windows.

“This is it,” Devan announces, striking his knuckles against polished brass door. The building exudes the appearance of a derelict warehouse. Claw marks scraped deep into oxidised walls, luxuriant cobwebs adorned the brass door and soot-coated windows reflecting the midday light.

The door unlocks, revealing a man, stringy thin and pallid-white, looming over them both. His head reaches the door’s frame; he must be close to seven foot at least. His eyes are heavy-lidded and the colour of sickly orange, scrutinising Devan briefly. His lips are sewn shut, with delicate sable-hued threads.

“We won’t be needing an escort,” Devan says, a toothy smile glinting off his white straight teeth. “Come on,” he says, strapping fingers curling around Michael’s ashen wrist.

The warehouse isn’t empty at all. It is alive, teeming with dancers lost to baroque music, bleached bone chilling to his ears. Absence is the diversity of scents that usually permeates this scene—only the stench of rotting innocence and galling indulgences.

Devan leads him down to a sterile corridor, frost-shaded and the walls are putrefaction fortress. Doors lined the hallways, stretching endlessly in identical marbled door. The music blaring through an intercom, croons a language so ancient and long dead. Yet Michael could hear the vowels and consonants clear as crystalline echoes.  

“What is this place?” Michael blurts out.

“You don’t recognise this? You’ve been here before. Twice,” Devan says, halting in his steps, casting a stare on his left and right. Lips pursed in thought. “Well, the first is technically a Hellmouth,” he mumbles, procuring a piece of paper from his trousers’ pocket.

Michael sifts through his memories; but his mind is a fog-infested, images garbled beyond its original clarity. “I’ve been here? But I don’t remember.”

Devan nods. Consults the paper in hand, he thrusts it to Michael. “Now, I’ve narrowed it down to a few. But which one of these will give the most bang?”

The list is rather short—four names altogether; Fiona Goode, Myrtle Snow, Misty Day and Harrison Renard. He’s only familiar with two names; Cordelia’s mother and Cordelia’s mother figure. Cordelia often talk about her mother figure more than her actual mother.

Devan’s copper eyes light in recognition. “Myrtle Snow,” he rolls her name carefully around his tongue, “Ah, this is the door. After you.” Twisting the doorknob open, he sidesteps, allowing Michael to enter first.

The room is bare, engulfed in throttling darkness. Michael barely could discern the ceiling and the floor—only the ends of hoary weaving web denotes the room’s length. The spidery network of waxen threads sprawl the size of a lecture hall. At the centre of the spider web, is a woman swathed in a silk cocoon, tacked awkwardly to the strands.

The web hums with her screams, blistering hoarse and charred lungs—and how her pain oscillates in a rippling wave all over the web; spellbindingly addictive. Hypnotic even. Michael sees what she sees—what she relives; burnt alive at the pyre at her request, brought forth by Cordelia Goode, witnessed by Zoe Benson and Queenie. Over and over.

“I’ll stop the pain,” Michael declares, his fingertips grazing the edges of silk web. But how?

Michael tosses a look over his shoulder, arching an inquiring brow. “How do we get her out?”

“They didn’t exactly leave a fucking instruction manual,” Devan snaps, a frown forming on his forehead. “You done this before.”

Hellfire, says an eldritch whisper of fangs and blacked veins in his mind. Instinct tugs his limbs into a submissive puppet. Michael Langdon draws molecules, atoms, electrons and all that is dead and alive into his fibre, bones and cells. Each and every part of him whirrs with the sapphire flames of netherworld. He could hear his own bones fissuring underneath the strain of nether coiling forcefully around his being. Michael quavers, biting his lips until he tastes acrid copper—a body made of flesh and bones is not fashion to contain its power. He plunges his hands into the web, and releases the fire onto the web.

The spider web disintegrates; so as the cocoon holding the woman in place. She drops onto the floor with a loud thud. Michael darts to her, kneeling. Blood drips from his nose, onto her upbeat pink dress. He hastily wipes it off with the end of his sleeve. “Hey, Miss Myrtle, are you okay?” he asks, throat parched and lips bloodied. Her hair, so fiery wild and brilliantly red—Michael resists the urge to touch it. “Your hair looks prettier than your portrait. Miss Cordelia wasn’t exaggerating.”

“Who are you boys?” Myrtle says, her cloudy eyes shifting back and forth from Michael to Devan. “Cordelia?”

The cedar-haired warlock cuts in, “Yeah, reunions between grandmother and pseudo-grandson can wait. We have to return to Hawthorne.”

Michael extends a hand, helping Myrtle to her feet. She gives her dress one long and hard look, and asserts, “We’ll have to stop at the boutique. This dress was three seasons ago.”

Chapter Text

There’s a shift in the air, rumbling in undulant waves, into subtly oppressive-clawed bubble. The breeze is heat-laced and quicksand-like, imbibing on her energy. Treacherously slick and bitter asphalt against her skin, prickling the hairs on her neck.

Fraction of a flash ticks and an essence flares ferociously. A soul. It echoes the aggrieving Theremin melody, the scent of a lighted cigarillo fastened to a slender golden holder—and the fierce will for truth and witch loyalty. Impossible. That essence is long extinguished on the mortal plane. Burnt by her own request even.  

Cordelia pockets the doubt for another time. The last few weeks bear no fruitful success in the locating the missing Campbell toddler. Stress it seems, has begun to seep into her thoughts, colouring them with nonsensical perceptions.

“Cordelia. The car is ready,” Zoe informs, the immaculate picture of professionalism.

“Are you okay? You looked a little peachy,” Queenie asks, concern has her eyebrows knotted in a furrow.

“Yes, I’m fine. The air around here—” Cordelia replies, too swift for her liking and her words hangs in abrupt limbo.

Queenie wrinkles her nose in a show of exaggerated antipathy. “This place is less Hogwartsy and more of a fancy Victorian frat house. I’m so over this place.”

She humoured Ariel and his fantasy long enough. She will not jeopardise Michael’s safety over Ariel’s lust to topple the established hierarchy. Whatever it is, Michael never show an inclination for power or hold favourable views of the warlocks. Pushing their ideals to Michael would be an arduous task—one Cordelia knows will bound to fail.

It’s a high time they return to Miss Robichaux’s Academy. Yet, his lips puckered in a pout. His delicate features carved into childlike sullenness. Guilt flowers in her chest, she recalls his disappointment over his short stay in the academy. “Should we do the courtesy of telling Michael goodbye? He looked pretty upset.”

Queenie folding her arms over her chest, arching a puzzled brow. “Nah, we’re on official business. Not a social visit. Isn’t that like breaking some unspoken protocol?”

“And it’d be pretty embarrassing. Having your parents coming to see you at your school, where all his friends can see him,” Zoe agrees, cringing at a fond memory. Her curtain-straight hair swaying to shake the memory loose.  

“Zoe’s right. I hate to embarrass him.” Her own interaction with Fiona comes barrelling at her breakneck speed; Cordelia wishes to spare him that same mortification. She trusts him to behave. If there’s anything, she hasn’t heard a single news about him breaking the rules from John Henry.

“Let’s leave.”

Boys littering the foyer. Their eyes scrutinising Cordelia and the girls. Rather the boys seem to adopt Ariel’s glare for their own. Still she searches for him among them. Seeking that wavy butterscotch hair. His eyes, unabashedly sea-green, that lights up at her. His cheeks are worryingly sunken the last time she’d seen him.

He’s not there. Where is he?

The sun is high and blaring in her eyes. Three people come into view. A woman leading two boys; fair-haired and the other, dark-eyed. The hair is unmistakeably styled to yaki and lustrously red. Cloud-tinted eyes framed in vintage eye glasses. Myrtle?

The world swirls into black nothingness and Cordelia falls.

She jerks up; flings her eyes wide open—greedily absorbing every sunray, no matter dim it is. Cordelia staggers through charred grass, thickening blanched smog and blackened gnarling trees. People drag their feet, drifting through the smog in zombie-like state. She cannot see their faces. Their features are shaved into faceless clay.

“Hello? Zoe? Queenie? Madison? Hello?!” she screams, her voice is a ceaseless cistern of echoes.

The characteristic iron fences mark the academy’s gates, partially still erected to the ground. A chuck of the gates blown apart into twisted iron works. She’s surrounded by the rubbles of brimstone and toppled white pillars. The academy. No.

Two raven-cloaked figures stood at the porch, surveying the wreckage of cindered staircase, incinerated furniture and four soot-hued and feeble standing columns.

One of them twirls on its heels, cloak swishing in a perfect arch. The figure drops its hood down, revealing a face with its skin glistening black as midnight. The creature’s eyes are glowing ember; the pupils are a ring of flaming fire.

It laughs—no, it howls; voice distorted brazenly and bottomless. It turns to its companion, arrogance lined its slash of a smirk. A rather handsome face, but marred by exposed skin that Cordelia sees molten lava flowing within the wounds.

She could only discern the other figure’s side profile—two pairs of horns, heavily ridged and curling backwards, sprouted from his forehead and temple. Its stringy golden locks fall messily all over its shoulders. Blue veins contrasting against the bleached white skin. Deep scars zigzagged across its face, like barbed wires imprinted on its skin. Draconian scales adorn its slender neck in chain-like configuration.

When it sets its attention on Cordelia, she notices two scarlet lines cascading in a tear-like trail from underneath ink-black eyes that reflects nothing but the ruins around them. His face is an impassive canvas of fatigue and death.

For the slightest flickering second, an emotion blinks—it mouths a silent fanged plea; help me. She almost pities him. And the recognition dawns on her, like electric shock surging across her skin. The hair—it should have tipped her off. 

The fire-veined demon snaps its serpentine claws; hordes of half-decaying creatures descending on her in rabid hyena manner. Each one tearing its razor sharp teeth into her flesh.

“Get back! Get back!”

Nothing happens. She tries all of it. Every spell she could chant, every mantra she could recall. Fire. Telekinesis. Transmutation—she is rooted to the ground. Frozen. Useless. The demonic mass are relentlessly merciless.

Michael’s name dies on her lips. Cordelia screams, screams and screams until her throat is eaten, her lungs torn apart and she is engulfed by the suffocating darkness.

Sweat coats her skin with a glossy shine, drenching her dress in salt and terror. Diminutive blazing fingernails scratching against her throat. Cordelia thrashes against the creatures, prying herself free.

“Easy, dear,” says a familiar voice, soothing and soft as refined silk. A handkerchief pressed lightly against her forehead. “You’re all right. You’re with us. You’re safe.”

“What happened?” is all Cordelia manages. Her head is a trampled mindscape by a thousand hooved strikes; dizziness is a coronet digging into her skin.

“You lost consciousness,” Zoe frets, smooth forehead disquietly creasing.

“John Henry had to carry you in bridal-style,” Queenie chimes in, hovering from behind the sofa. Her efforts to lighten the mood doesn’t go unnoticed.

“And you had a lot to say about it too,” Myrtle informs, worry sparkling in her misty eyes. 

Cordelia blurts out, “I was talking?”

“And screaming a lot. But before that, you were calling the girls’ names. Zoe, Queenie and Madison,” Myrtle answers, her lips curling into the softest of smiles. The candlelight glints off from the sharp corners of her glasses.

“You’re back. I didn’t imagine it,” Cordelia murmurs, her composure trembles with unshed tears. She curves her arms around Myrtle. Presses her face against the wild hair, inhaling the scent of exotic spices tinted with death.

“The girls have filled in the blanks for me,” the feral-haired witch says, her voice taut to thinning icy patience, “But may I remind you that there will never be a male Supreme. It will simply never happen.”

“I want to see him. The boy. Michael.”

Has the warlocks fully succeeded into entrapping him with their fantastical expectations? Do they know the extent of his parentage? She only entrusted one warlock with such secret—he has proven himself to be loyal to her coven, at the expense of his own.

Queenie turns to Zoe, a conversation traded in knowing looks all fraying and cautious. A pause slinks in between the dim spaces of Hawthorne, sombre and tentative. Cordelia wishes they could spit it out. Now. 

Zoe stammers, fawn-like eyes are pools of trepidation, “It wasn’t Michael who revived Myrtle, Delia.”

“It’s another boy,” Queenie squeaks, squeezing her folded arms and gulping her saliva. “Devan Campbell.”

The revelation galvanises her into stunned silence. Not Michael? Then her vision is true? Another Anti-Christ who found his way with the warlocks? Of all the possibilities she flirted that could take shape since rescuing Michael Langdon from that murder house, this isn’t remotely entertained with obsessive vigour. Fuck.  

“Are you all right? We were so worried,” Ariel offers, his sympathy is ill-disguised mockery.

“Perhaps the sudden shock of sunlight after leaving this dungeon,” Myrtle retorts, throwing a disdain-lace glare at the warlocks. Her currant-lined lips press into a flat smile.

“I wasn’t prepared for that. For seeing my beloved mentor. But I’m okay now. That’s what’s important. I want to thank you for bringing her back.”

“I wanted to get your attention,” Devan asserts. The boy’s slenderly tall and young, on the ending boundary of boyish adolescence. His eyes are almond-shaped and the colour of rust. His dirt-brown hair tailored into clean-cut and fringe parted sideways; a wholesome look to his youthful countenance.

“I suspect you’ve got that now,” Behold Chablis smugly quips. The note makes a mention of him; be wary, only trust him once his eyes are open to the truth. His unwavering opinion on this Alpha means he’s still enamoured by the mythical tale.

“He certainly does. And now, I’d like everyone else’s attention.”

The vision of brimstone destruction isn’t hers to keep. The witches. The warlocks. They all deserve to know. Two demons. Two Anti-Christs. The existence of one already strikes the fear so deep into mankind, that parchment soaked in ancient seas, entrenched into bones and flesh and survived for millennia. But two? The world is precariously hanging over the edge of annihilation.

“I’ve been presented something. A vision. I believe I saw the future. A terrifying future. Cataclysm. Fire. Death,” she declares, and her voice wavers at the thought of a possible redemption of a golden child. Cordelia lies, “I saw a man. But not a man. A coal face. Demonic. With fire for eyes. He was laughing.”

She shouldn’t falsify her vision. She’s better than that. Frankly, her words are still truths, in its halves. He’s the key. The last hope. She glances at Myrtle and her girls, raking in their faces—their veneer of mild indignation slipping; the fear etched into their young features with the implication now dawning on them.

“Our academy, sister, I saw it reduced to cinders.” Her eyes glisten, for the parred ache twists her rationale into tangled thoughts of chipped garnets. They’re so young. Her girls. Even the Hawthorne boys.

“A warning,” John Henry Moore mutters, clenching his stubbled jaw in grave tension.

“Maybe. But something in my blood is telling me that the only hope we have of surviving depends on what do next.” She passes the firepit, halting in a fair distance between her and the warlocks.

“In two weeks’ time, at the rise of the Blood Moon, you will take the test of the Seven Wonders.” Her gaze travels from the pleased warlocks to Devan. “That is, if you still want to.”

Devan takes a step forward, tipping his sharp chin downwards. On closer inspection, the similarities between the two boys is prominent, Cordelia observes. The slope of their aquiline noses. The deep set eyes. The glided perfect cheekbones. The classical-shaped ears. The razor jawlines.

Still the differences are there. The obvious ones; the honey curls to cider-hued hair, oceanic gaze against walnut-eyed scrutiny. The barest of disparities so miniscule, Cordelia almost missed it.

The way confidence burrows itself on this boy’s chest, stretching his torso into a work of dauntless sculpture. Michael’s shoulders are the bends of modesty and shyness. Devan’s penny-coloured regard is glacial and constant stirring. Michael casts his glance in a gift wrapping of transcendental naïveté.

“I do,” he sneers, the corners of his lips quirking into a white hushed slash. That roguish smile replicated uncannily perfect on this boy’s face, curve to curve of her vision’s laughing demon.

“Cordelia, this isn’t done!” Myrtle hisses, the ferocity of her tone astounds not only Cordelia, even Myrtle herself.

“That is my decision, and nothing in the world will change my mind,” Cordelia retorts sharply, sparing a quick glance at Myrtle. She returns her attention to Devan. “No male has ever made the attempt. And if you succeed, you will be the next Supreme, and it will change everything.”

The double doors swing wide open to her room. Myrtle’s heated heels tapping in frantic clicks against the floorboard. The older witch shuts the door hastily with flickering wrists. “I’m apoplectic,” Myrtle announces, anger iridescent beneath her supple tone.

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that on the flight back,” Cordelia sighs, unfastening the clasp of her cloak. “More than once.”

“And you never furnished a sufficient answer,” Myrtle retorts, launching an eloquent harangue without batting an eyelid, “How could you agree to allow a male to attempt the Seven Wonders? You know the Alpha is a child’s tale, a lullaby impotent men tell flaccid little boys to make them believe one day they’ll be something special.”

Serenity discarded in favour unrestrained frankness and furious pace. Myrtle’s tirade is a force that crashes on jagged rocky shores, wave on wave. Shows no signs of abating any time.

“Time and time again, history has shown the hubris of men knows no bounds. Have we learned nothing from Attila the Hun, Herod the Great, Mark Zuckerberg? Men make terrible leaders,” she spits. Not even Fiona Goode earn that nuclear ire fission off from Myrtle.  

She lets Myrtle voices her objections until the anger recedes into tired quietness. Not tuning out, not exactly. Her attention wanders, leaping on her newly found lethargy with disconnected inspection.

Sluggish episodes are too frequent for a Supreme supposedly in her prime. Heightening in the wake of Myrtle’s resurrection. Nonetheless her powers are intact. Thank God for little miracles. Yet, is she truly waning or darker forces are at play?

“I’ve seen what’s ahead. Carnage. The end of the world. My girls dead.” She glides to Myrtle, taking gloved hands in hers. “I’m scared, Myrtle. What if it’s my hubris, my inability to cede my position to this boy that leads us down this dark path? I will not put my own selfish desires before the coven. I am not my mother.”

She’s not. God, Cordelia wishes that her words doesn’t ring so hollow in her own ears.

“Let Fiona teach us one thing. Passing the Seven Wonders does not inherently mean one is fit to lead the coven. It’s not just the girls, is it? There is more to this than just the girls,” Myrtle says, dander softens to compassion.

Cordelia is nothing but transparent in the glass-framed eyes. She is on the brink of puberty’s finishing line once again, ever eager for Myrtle’s guidance. How is it that Cordelia’s locked in a loop of diffidence—even now, with her mother six feet under?

The lack of answer prompts Myrtle to continue, “You’re worried about a boy. Not that brunet boy. That name you’ve mentioned before. Michael. The blonde student. The girls told me you took him in, on the account of a mysterious note.”

Cordelia musters an answer twined tightly to vowed secrecy she’d drag to her grave. “It was a warning of what he’ll become without proper guidance. The bringer of Armageddon.”

“The Anti-Christ?”

The lines on Myrtle’s face extends to fraught. Throat catching her heart’s breaths, clamping them securely. It is very easy to read Myrtle, Fiona once said. Cordelia cannot dispute such fact.

“Yes,” she says, biting her lower lip, a childish habit emerging after a long sleep.  

“Delia, if that boy is destined to be an Anti-Christ, that itself is a danger sign one we should heed. The child should be disposed before he destroys us all,” she cautions. An advice that echoes the first instinctive reaction one wont to have.

Oh, but she did. Plenty times. Not a day passes through the horizon that murder floats as the only option. For mankind, she justified as she drew closer to the Anti-Christ, armed with the will to stain her hands in blood. Then there he was, cradled his dead grandmother’s dress, decked in duck-printed pyjamas.

“He’s just a child, Myrtle.” Cordelia sighs heavily. Michael Landon is, was—she neglects to make distinction between the two—a child. “He has the compulsion, but he’s not without redeeming qualities of his own.”

His visage of a teenage boy could not whittle away the little boy he is. Lonely. Abandoned by his only guardian. It’s a picture that Cordelia’s intimate with. Switch grandmother for mother. The parallel shimmers underneath it.

Cordelia carelessly coughs a laugh, catching all the wretched and harsh angles. “I thought keeping him close, surrounding him with positivity will curb that impulse. Hoping so badly that with him among the witches, will stop him from eagerly accepting his prophesied destiny. But it seemed like I’m sorely mistaken,” she acknowledges, reedy and nerves ravelling.

“And now Satan is flipping his middle finger at us. With the emergence of another Anti-Christ,” Myrtle says, dry.

“Michael may have brought Queenie and Madison back. But he was oblivious, operating on a child’s instinct to please. He wanted to make me happy.”

“While Devan brought you back. With a purpose,” Myrtle states, verbalising Cordelia’s thought in pointed dismay.

“I need to know how powerful he is.” She sets her gaze on the gloves, fingernails leaving a trail of raw perturbing crescents. Her voice is a hushed confession meant for Myrtle’s ears only. “I fear even a new Supreme cannot defeat two Anti-Christs.”

There’s a soft knock on the door, parting to a girl. Her acorn-coloured eyes peeking out from behind the door. “Miss Cordelia?”

Cordelia schools her features into a composed headmistress. “Yes, Mallory?” Myrtle follows suit.

“I’m sorry to interrupt. Your 2:00 is here to see you,” Mallory informs, the corners of her lips upturns into a shy smile.

“Thank you.”

John Henry Moore gives his robe, bolt-black and flowy, a long hard stare. The colour matches the dread festering within him, reluctance sinking its talons deep into his being. He slides the finishing amulet around his neck. Tonight’s event feels like a death sentence in the making.

The blessing occurs in the school’s foyer. The first in Hawthorne’s proud history. Like Cordelia reminded them, Devan would be the first—perhaps the only one—to ever attempt the Seven Wonders.

John Henry joins his brethren; hands clasped together, shoulders straighten and facing Devan. He wrings an artificial upturn of his lips, one to mimic Behold’s broad smile.

Ariel has the entire students attending; mandatory makes for solidarity among the warlocks, with the undertones of ‘minority’ padding it. The boys surround Devan in their standard Hawthorne uniforms. Their faces are painted in harmless intrigue and naïve curiosity.

At the corner of his eyes, he sees Michael and his flaxen hair bounded in a ponytail. His face is unreadable; stony without a trace of emotions.

“We gather at the cusp of the Blood Moon to anoint and protect our brother before he undergoes the rigours of the Seven Wonders. Let the blessings begin,” Ariel declares, his mouth churning a triumphant smile, slime striping the crooks of his lips.

He understands their intense need to believe in the Alpha. His colleagues. Behold included. They are all men born into some power afforded by several avenues.

Ariel Augustus live in a luxurious life shaped by the business acumen of his forefathers, even his work at Hawthorne merely supplements his hunger for power. Baldwin Pennypacker is a man of scholarly descent. His grandparents carved a niche out of academia empire, leading prestige to his family name. Behold Chablis might as well lay a claim on showbiz dynasty dating all the way to the mighty jazz.

John Henry? He’s a blue-collar warlock, raised by a single mother holding two jobs with a no-nonsense outlook on life. Tough women were a facet of his pre-Hawthorne life.

Baldwin offers an empty wooden bowl to Behold. Behold drops a fistful of salt into it and intones, “Salt from the Earth.”

“May all hindrance and malignity be cast forth hence, and let all good enter. Water from the sea,” Baldwin says, with an encouraging smile. He directs a gaze at the taller warlock, moving the bowl to John Henry’s direction.  

“Water from the sea,” John Henry murmurs, densifying air into cool liquid. Water drips into the bowl, from the cracks of his fist, like starved waterfall.

“To cleanse all impurities and uncleanliness,” Baldwin states, offering the bowl to Ariel.  

The Grand Chancellor brandishes a blade from his sleeve, slicing his palm, garnet oozes out from the cut. Squeezing his blood into the bowl, he says, “Blood from the body.”

“To protect the soul,” Baldwin finishes. He pours the bowl’s content on the floor in a circular motion, encompassing Devan. “Let the fire illuminate our hearts and spirits and minds so that all darkness and cold retire here in.” Blue flame kindles from the floor up to his waist, circling Devan.

“I conjure the circle of power to be a place of protection, a circle to confer the blessings of all warlocks. May you be imbued with wisdom, perseverance, strength and courage,” Ariel chants.

“I accept the blessings. May I be worthy to test,” Devan affirms, his lips turning an eager slash of pride. The eyes are unaffected and gritty pecan-brown.

“To our champion!” Ariel roars.

The firepit behind Devan flares expectedly. The boys offer thunderous claps and cheers of support. A gust of wind extinguishes all the candles, except the firepit. The boys come rushing to Devan, plying the dark-haired boy with congratulatory pats on his shoulders.

Michael hovers at the far end of this excited congregation. Crestfallen weaves into his face, as if he’s made of Grecian limestone. But this expression fades, replacing it is a cordial pressed lips quirking slightly.

John Henry turns his eyes on Devan again. Unable to reconcile that the one of the two could possibly the Devil’s son. Or both. Distrust builds in an unstoppable crescendo. Bluewater gaze meets rusty stare. The shift is instantaneous and fleeting; Devan’s face morphs into a deep-dark skinned face, lava scars and luminescent amber-hued eyes.

He stumbles backwards, his stomach flinches in opalescent terror. Cordelia’s vision. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

“Knock, knock,” says Behold, brushing the air with two fingers, the door veers open enough for the ebony-skinned warlock to slip inside. “When was the last time you had a 26-year-old come through your door? Sherry cask. I saved you a glass. Enough for two, actually. I thought we’d share.”

Behold dangles the bottle brief, before settling into the armchair. Setting the glasses down on the coffee table, he pours it to the brim. Crinkling his nose at the smoke swirling around his face. He tsks his disapproval of John Henry’s smoking, automatic.

He takes a drag, sucking the menthol out. His fingers refuse to cease quivering. “Don’t you think there’s something wrong with Devan?” he stammers, his voice laden with vindicated fright.

“John Henry, I know you’ve been sceptical and reluctant. Quite frankly, you’ve been a pain in the ass,” he retorts, eyes narrowed and his forehead knotted in opaque crossness. “But this disrespect for the process, for the Alpha—it’s beneath you.”

“Cordelia had a vision. She saw the apocalypse and the demon with a midnight face.”

“What she saw was the writing on the wall,” Behold counters, rolling his eyes.

He runs tobacco-stained fingers over his beard. “I saw it. That face.”

Behold waves his glass in a piqué stroke; whiskey sloshes against the rim, spilling on the floor. “My God. You’re jealous,” he gasps, one hand flying over his chest. Always the dramatic bitch.


“You think that Devan’s ascendency somehow diminishes you—”

John Henry cuts his words with a bitter smile and a strained whisper, “I’m not jealous, Behold. I’m afraid. Devan isn’t the only main concern I have.”

Chapter Text

She thinks, in a different life, she trades props for microphone, screenplays for transcripts. Networks still has her wrapped around their grimy fingers, of course. That never changes. The desire to be the best, magnified even. Least of all, she’d still be vindictive and petty.

Nevertheless, Madison would never trade her witchblood for anything. And if she is to be loose with the truth, Madison likes the girls more than she’s supposed to. She doesn’t mind flexing her fingers over keyboard, echoing one of her many roles as a pianist earning for the approval of an older grey-haired tutor.

Hollywood has its perks. Her agency used to employ an army of hackers to bury unflattering news about Madison Montgomery, troubled starlet. One boy, haplessly in love with her, showed her the basics and the rest you could Google, he said. Boy’s not wrong.

Through a slow dig, she pulls the toddler’s photograph and tries enhancing his age with the latest software. If Satan pulls the same trick with Michael, why not on the toddler? Another Google image search matches little Devan to a Hawthorne year book photograph. This has to be it.

“I don’t know how or what, but I found the missing toddler. He’s a student at Hawthorne. Goes by the name Devan Campbell,” she exclaims, tossing the printed side by side comparison of toddler and a class photo, with the student circled in red Sharpie marker.

“We know,” Zoe replies, annoyingly curt. Queenie merely nods, lips pressed into an apologetic smile. Ugh, whatever.  

Madison spits, “What? Am I the last to know?”

“Not really, we met the dude at Hawthorne. He was the one who resurrected Myrtle,” Zoe amends, her brows furrowing and lips pursed.

Her attention snaps to Zoe, her narrow jaw drops unattractively wide open. “That old hag is alive? How? And where is she?”

“Pretty much the same way you and I came back to life,” Queenie answers, shrugging.

Madison snorts, rolling olive eyes under perfectly involute and feathery lashes. Madison supposes, death is dirt cheap these days.

“Myrtle’s off on official business to collect an old friend,” Zoe says, sorting through leather-bound tomes, ancient runes carved into tattered pages.

“It’s Michael’s doing, right?”

“We wish. It’s that Devan kid.”

“Since all of you seemed to be psychics, I don’t know how useful this information will be. That Satanist guy, Anton LaVey? His death in 1997? Faked. I found another name, Antony Vale, whose existence only goes back for twenty years. He’s eighty-seven.”

“Antony Vale?” Queenie repeats, sceptical.

“Uh huh. An anagram, I got the idea when some of the girls were watching reruns of Harry Potter,” Madison discloses, sheepishly.

“What about him?” Zoe questions, impatient eyes narrowing.

“He was living in the same neighbourhood, with the dead Campbells, with two women.”

Madison, come to my office, please, a foreign voice ricochets within her skull, a canorous thought gliding around her brain. Cordelia. Madison scans the dining room; only Zoe and Queenie. She reappears in the headmistress’ office; standing in between the detailed timber-crafted chairs.

“Sit,” Cordelia orders, without a glimpse. The sound of soil-tipped fingernails clacking on the keyboard, fills the silence that comes after.

“I feel like I’m seventeen again and the detectives were hounding on the door,” Madison winces, the memory is a distant emotion, slinking into her stomach, the aftertaste of a hangover lurks within the recesses of her mind. She squirms in her seat.

“That’s good sleuthing, Madison.” The Supreme’s full lips coil in a smile’s arch. “You’re not just a pretty face, if you actually apply yourself. To see how far you’ve come up with your research, without magic, is itself an achievement. Which brings me to say that you’re the right person to carry out this task.”

“What exactly you want me to do?” Madison retorts, pitching her tone to bored; she still has to keep her ‘stone-cold bitch’ image. Satisfaction purrs softly, settling on Madison’s chest and pleasure licking her spine. The gratification is profound, an incomparable sentiment to the adoration of her fans.

“I need you to learn more about Devan. Someone has to take care of him after his parents were murdered. Armageddon is coming. We need to know all his potential moves, if we want to stop him. That may lie in Campbell’s caretakers.”

“You’re sending me because I’m dispensable,” she says. Aiming for flippancy, but lands on wistful splinters.

“I thought you should stretch your legs, outside of the academy’s grounds,” Cordelia returns, marigold tresses shaking lightly. The smile on her face retains its brilliance and sincerity. “Besides, you won’t be doing this alone.”

A knock on the door, Madison half-twists her body to get a better look at the interloper. Zoe Benson. The lines around Zoe’s pretty pink lips hollow out to a scowl. An exact replica of Madison’s own frown.

“Zoe will help you. She’s pretty apt with finding information. After all, she managed to find you when you went missing,” Cordelia remarks, steepling eloquent fingers together.

They’ve maintained a steady—professional—relationship since Madison’s return, courtesy of Michael Langdon. Interactions mediated by a wall of students, Queenie and Cordelia. They still share the same taunting room. Neither one can stay too long, only sleep exists as buffering peace between them.

“You mean, when I died the first time?” Madison replies, an octave too higher—shame stamps out much of rising irritation. Zoe’s glare sums up much of her resentment. Madison deserves it. Has plans to mend the bridge—someday.

‘Someday’ apparently translates to ‘now’, in Cordelia’s vocabulary. Forget baby steps, here comes the bullet train to obligatory forgiveness.

“The Hawthorne boy will take the Seven Wonders soon, I want you two to be discreet. You will still attend to your normal teaching duties. But this takes precedent over other matters. Queenie, Myrtle and Theresa will handle the students’ affairs from now on. Understood?”

“Yes, Cordelia,” they say instantly; their gazes meet, fixturing into the once-teenaged, scarlet-forged understanding. Maybe this time around, she could settle for a real friendship she missed out years ago.

He’s built himself a conviction formed out from half-remembered memories and brown streaking white walls that makes for his own room. He is special—has to be. His powers earned him a place among the witches. Isn’t it?

So much that the Grand Chancellor risked the wrath of his Supreme, all for the sake of stealing Michael away from the witches. Ariel’s interest in him was palpable; a rapacious hunger out to devour the feeblest hope of the witches’ subjugation to warlocks.

He’s never one to appreciate the dark-eyed warlock’s ever cunning thoughts running beneath the circuits of smiles and attentive devotion to students. Yet Ariel’s fascination forms the backbone of Michael’s worth.

He is valuable—to both the warlocks and witches. Right? He’s the prized child brought to King Solomon to resolve a confounding conundrum. Even so, he is pedestrian. Placidly interesting compared to Devan.

Devan Campbell. Cordelia’s successor. The thought spreads, a venomous contagion out to taint Michael, wrapping him in caustic doubts. 

Michael draws the curtains apart, revealing the golden-framed mirror. His hair, lacklustre and the colour mustard, reaches his shoulders. Restless nights draw haggard lines around his  ice-green eyes. Half a year gone, Michael is anything but the shiny little boy the coven once took in.

And what if he’s no longer the prodigal son? What is it that keeps the witches from forsaking Michael for the new Supreme—the Alpha? To follow Ariel’s tracks. Leave him alone. Grandma did.

Baldwin’s words coax him into recalling his first test. Scrying. A little prevue into the future, Michael could settle this constant pondering on his fate. His reflection starts to shift—no.

Wavering visions have sent rational benevolence into spiralling prophet-obsessed madness. The slope to a Macbeth-esque prospect is perfidiously slanting. Easy even. Temptation to know is a fruit Michael’s tongue salivates for.

Nonetheless, he does not seek for truths with the power to shatter him into a million pieces. And so, Michael staves the answer for another day. In his clutches, is the ambiguity of his circumstances and nerves streak in melancholic neuroses.

He sinks onto the bench. Tosses a final glance at the mirror. His features morph into a ghastly face, eyes so black reflecting the entire room. Two pairs of curved horns sprouting from his forehead and temple. His complexion pallid, like grey volcanic ashes. He rubs his eyes; Michael’s image is that of a butterscotch-haired and ocean-eyed student. He waves two fingers at the mirror; the curtains hide the mirror and his reflection.

“You should try the cake. It’s pretty good,” Devan says, brandishing two champagne-filled glasses. “Who knew that Konan is such an amazing culinary chef. He should be in France. Not languishing pitifully here. He’s got practical magic.” Devan offers one of the glasses, his lips quirking into an easy-going smirk.

“I’m not hungry. Or thirsty,” Michael says, knowing that Konan’s baked goods won’t survive ten minutes of celebratory boys. “Thank you,” he adds, manners should be extended to his vexatious schoolmate.

“Okay,” Devan defeatedly replies, emptying his champagne. He takes a seat next to Michael, pushing the untouched glass with his index finger. “It’s still yours.”

The bronzed warlock chooses to inspect his glass, twirling it in between blunt-tipped fingers. The silence is unexpectedly pleasant between them. For all the irksome moments Devan has provided, Michael feels an unexplainable draw to Devan.

Devan is comparable to a black hole, in a way. Unlike people around them, Michael cannot detect any desire emitting from him. On the seven sins variety.

“You could easily been the one to take the Seven Wonders. Be the next Supreme. The Alpha. Whichever it is,” Devan says, his voice is a wisp of raw admission concealed in the shadows.

“How? I’m just a Level Three,” Michael retorts, the pain in his jaw is familiarly aching and begins, as it has. He contemplates for a brief flash; to drink or not to drink. Jerks wanting fingers close, rubbing his temple instead.

“I’ve told you before. You and I are not like the rest of them. Their labels don’t apply to us. You’re special, Michael. I said this once. I’ll say it again until you get that into your head,” he murmurs, the curve of a determined smile plays on his lips. Something beatific enters Devan’s expression. “If not, why would the witches, the Supreme of all people, brought you into her house where she can keep you on a short leash.”

“Cordelia didn’t—”

Devan interrupts, waving dismissively at Michael’s shortened reply, “I know that she’s your legal guardian, she is will never do that.” His ash-brown eyes glow ardently and in earnest. “Tell me, Michael, have they ever tell you why they took you in? When the witches are an exclusive bunch.”

There are gaps in his memory. His childhood are fragmented stills, that paints an abstract photograph of a warped love token in the shape of Victorian mansion and hair-trigger eternal misery. He sieves through them, warily examining each still for an answer.

“No, b-but I’m sure they have their reasons,” he stutters, the lacking certitude is a bright glare.

“I thought so.”

“You think they see me as a threat?” Michael questions, flaxen brows scrunched together in confusion. It is utterly ludicrous—the insinuation. The witches would never invite danger so willingly into their home. They gave him a home. Shelter. Without any expectation.

Devan shrugs. “What’s that phrase? Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”

“The witches—Cordelia—are good people.”

“Even good people keep secrets, Michael. That’s humans for you. Every single one of them have skeletons in their closet. To hide the worse parts of themselves with gold and glitter,” he remarks, without malice, but serving facts on cold silverware.

“Do you not have an opinion of your own?” The question is surely meant to be rhetorical, yet Devan blinks cat-like, awaits patiently for an answer.

“I do. I have opinions,” Michael huffs, crossing his arms insolently, “but they’re nowhere pessimistic as yours.”

“Fair enough,” Devan concedes, giggling. “Don’t be a yes man, to anyone but yourself. Not to the witches. Not to the warlocks. Dissect the world like you’re the doctor and the world is your sick patient.”

Michael hates to admit, Devan’s words holds a certain truth. Michael has questions; the witches have longed carved their preference out from evading him, plying Michael with distractions instead.

“You’re destined for greater things, Michael. Remember that.”

Devan’s success in the Seven Wonders plays into Ariel’s favour. The Grand Chancellor isn’t one to let this achievement to run its course. The question is, what will be his next move? Not only that, there is the conundrum of Devan himself. The path to his actual ascension is yet threaded upon.

Part of John Henry hopes Michael is the Anti-Christ. That Devan is merely the Alpha. The world would suffer an acrimonious turmoil but it would not end in cinders and deaths; another Supreme would rise and restore the balance.

His hope is a wishful thinking John Henry knows, would have any bearing in reality. If there is any, the Hawthorne boys are in the track of collateral damage—the warlock will not stand having his boys being used as tools against the witches.

They need to unite. Warlocks and witches. They’re the last line of defence mankind might have against the bringers of ruins.

“Where have you been?” Behold’s voice questions, sharp like a leather whip cracking air. Ice cubes rattle a nervous tune in the coupe glass. “I’ve been sitting here for two hours.”

“Isn’t it too early for a drink? Even for you, Behold,” he replies, easing into his armchair. Teasing comes naturally to him; despite the gravity of their situation. The corners of his lips curl into a smile.

“Demonology ran a bit late,” he offers, propping one arm over the chair’s armrest. His upturned palm supports his chin and right-side of his face.

Behold arches a salt-tinged eyebrow. “We’re still offering that elective?”

“The minimum requirement is five students. I got five enthusiastic students whose life goals ranging from being able to see demons in real life to knowing how to exorcise demons.”

“Colourful bunch. I hope you didn’t fill their heads of demons with midnight faces, fire eyes and hideous laughs,” Behold snaps, his hand slapping the air to change the subject.

John Henry procures a flask out from the coffee table’s drawer. Sipping, he murmurs, “To what I owe the pleasure of you drinking rum before lunch?”

Behold Chablis takes another swig of his rum. Setting the glass down, he massages his temples with manicured fingers. “If eavesdropping paid money, I’d be richer than Amazon,” he frets, closing his eyes.

“What did you hear?” John Henry replies, straightening in his seat.

“All the best parts.” He cracks an eye open, exhales a wary-wrought breath. “He wants to murder the current Supreme and the Robichaux girls. Every single one of them. To accelerate Devan’s rise.”


“He has Baldwin to prepare some sort weaponised powder.”

“When are they going to launch their attack?”

“I didn’t get that far. Baldwin’s still working on perfecting the formula for the killing powder.” Behold puckers his thick lips into a pout. He sighs, throws both hands in the air. “I just want Devan to rise to Supremehood in time. Not have it tainted in the blood of innocent witches, all because Ariel can’t relieve his power itch like the rest of us.”

John Henry swallows a retort. The reason they’re in this predicament is partially fuelled by Behold’s faith that Devan should be allowed to partake the Seven Wonders. To cry over spilt milk is a waste of tears.

His mind rears into cobbling up a plan. It isn’t the best he has; but Ariel’s lust and Baldwin’s eager compliance force him to be drastic. This ought to be the best time to heap all his grievances at Ariel’s feet. “When you leave this room, we never have this conversation, Behold.”

A threat to oust his plans to the Supreme is suffice to warrant a noose around John Henry’s neck. No name could raise Ariel’s spirited wrath than ‘Cordelia Goode’. Baldwin and his laidback smiles cannot mask the derision and biased loyalty corrupting his logical mind. He’d have to implicate two birds with one fire—or so the saying goes.

“You have a plan to stop them? How?” Behold’s sable eyes are wide with anticipation; John Henry could see himself in it—a gaunt mess.

“It’s best you stay ignorant tof it. Go back to your routine. Keep yourself to minimum interactions with Ariel and Baldwin.” He rubs his scruffy beard in resigned strokes. The thought of death has sailed into the forefront of his thoughts once in a while, suicide isn’t any of them. However. “Oh, more thing, Behold. I need you to take care of my students.”

“You’re not going to try to get yourself killed, are you, John Henry Moore?” Raspy tone moults into weather-beaten and desperate feathers.

“I’m hope not. But I can’t say for sure if he won’t stoop that low in his pursuit of upsetting the status quo.”

“Michael, Mr. Moore’s looking for you,” Will informs, slipping out from his black vest.

“Did he say why?” Michael says, putting down Mike Carey’s graphic novel. Devan is the Alpha, Supreme—and somehow, Michael gains his fair share of unwanted attention. He supposes he doesn’t stop being the current Supreme’s ward. Even if Devan is the one with golden crown to rule the witches and warlocks.

Will’s short carob hair shakes sideways. “Didn’t say the reason. But he said it’s urgent.”

“Okay,” he sighs.

The walk to John Henry’s office lacks the apprehension often accompanying him, once summoned by the warlocks. Down the halls of Hawthorne, he is alone with his thoughts swirling in watercolour shades.

They left him without a word. Just like before. They came on Ariel’s request. Even then, not a single goodbye. The Seven Wonders administered. Devan Campbell wrestled the coveted title from Cordelia.

For all their claims of wanting to see each other, promises are slowly beginning to taste like sweat decay. Perhaps they have tire of him, like an old worn and loose-fitting sweater. He is to be given away, discarded in a cardboard box of old toys.

“Come in,” the door muffles John Henry’s voice. He takes off square-rimmed glasses, sparing Michael a quick glance and gestures Michael to sit down. His black hair, once ink to its core, is silver-streaked, that spreads to his sideburns and beard.  

“Am I in trouble again?” Michael asks, opting to stand. Or will this be a round of ‘what’s Devan like’ questioning. The other boys approach him in vain attempting to gain Devan’s favour.

“Fortunately, no.” His eyes crinkle into a dull smile. The older warlock fishes out a cigarette, clipping it in between nicotine-varnished fingers. He stares at the ‘Lucky Strike’ trapped in between trembling fingers, its end lights up scarlet ember. “You’re not in trouble, I promise. Take a seat.”

Michael sinks into the armchair, surveying the mahogany desk before him. It’s uncharacteristically clean. Books lined the shelves, colour-based. Papers stacked neatly on the right side corner. A bottle of whiskey and two empty glasses sit on the desk.

“There was a boy I knew, Jim Jackson, way before I went to Hawthorne. The star athlete, aimed to go to college, maybe move on to bigger things—or not. We did things together,” he says, the name spoken almost close to an intimate whisper. “One day before we turned fifteen, we went on a hike. To his favourite hiking place. Then, he got me to stand so close to the cliff. Admire the view, he said.” John Henry unscrews the bottle’s cork, pours generous amount of whiskey into both glasses.

Michael isn’t quite sure for the reason he’s seated across the blue-eyed warlock. The man in front of Michael looks far older than before. His immaculately styled hair resembles the matted coat of a black bear. “He pushed you?”

“He tried—did, I guess. We wrestled and plunged. Being warlock clearly has its advantages, I teleported to safety. He didn’t.” John Henry pushes the glass at Michael’s direction with his ringed index finger. Tugging the corners of his mouth is a smirk, with smoothened wary edges. “Drink up. You look like you could use one. I hope this stays between us.”

His first words forming at the tip of his tongue is a refusal. Cordelia warned him no drinking unless he’s twenty-one; sadly he isn’t. Michael picks the glass up gingerly. Let amber liquid swirls in his glass. “If he’s your friend, then why did he try to kill you?”

John Henry shrugs. Finishes his whiskey in a single gulp. “The police couldn’t find a motive. So as his parents. They all believed that he simply fell to his death. A freak accident.”

“Why lie? He’s dead.” He sips the whiskey slowly. Alcohol burns his throat with bitter flaming bites, he splutters like a child. John Henry shows no signs of finding Michael’s first acquaintance with whiskey an amusing watch.

“I used to think lying about how he died will protect his reputation. Years on, that son of a bitch hurt so many dysfunctional adults in his trail,” John Henry hisses, taking another drag. “The very same people he called his friends.”

“I’ve rambled nonsense,” he pauses, sparing a glimpse at his watch. “You have half an hour to pack your bags and meet me at the entrance.”

“Where am I going?”

“You got a flight to New Orleans to catch. Now, save your questions for later,” he says, making shooing motion with his hand. “Thirty minutes, Michael.”

The ride to the airport is gregariously silent. The radio makes for unspoken conversations. Commercials fill the air as fodder for topics that neither one of them seizes.

“I shouldn’t be encouraging your habit of fleeing Hawthorne,” John Henry mutters, akin to a badgered father chauffeuring his son to an ex-wife. “I supposed I could extend some levity considering it’s at the request of a former councillor.”

“I’ll make sure she gets the message,” Michael replies, sarcasm lining his tone, only for the want to humour him. John Henry Moore is a strict warlock and underneath that perpetual frown is a fair man without favouritism clouding his judgement, Michael supposes.

Michael slings the straps of his backpack over his shoulders. Unlocks the car’s side door, placing one leg out from the car.

“Michael, wait.”

He tosses a glance over his shoulder. Smooth forehead creasing in puzzlement. “Yeah?”

“Magic. It’s not about how much raw power you have. It’s how you apply your creativity when you use your powers. That matters.”

The mansion is an ethereal beauty. Moonlight glimmering on the alabaster Romanesque colonnades and reflecting silvery cuts on black and pointed iron wrought rails. The vast part of his memories, ones that he could recall in vivid splashes of colour and warmth, are fostered within its daisy walls and butchered Latin by exploring, impervious girls.

The formation of greying clouds coaxes a smile out from his lips. He’s back. It’s good to be home. Michael Langdon flicks slender fingers. The door doesn’t budge open. Odd. He repeats the gesture again. No changes. He tries turning the doorknob. Locked.

Michael raps chilly knuckles against the door. And waits. The door is partially parted open, unveiling an older woman, somewhere between her early to mid-thirties. Her corn hair, flat-ironed, falls on her shoulders. Her eyes, the shades of teak wood, narrow in misgiving.

“Who is it?” asks another lady, in strong Southern accent. She’s younger and Tuscany hair frizzed to the humid Louisiana air. She leans forward, over the older woman’s shoulder, to get a better look.

“Who are you?” the first woman questions.

“It’s Michael,” he says, drily.

“Michael who?” asks the young woman. Not a tease, or a mocking. Simply genuine curiosity. She tilts her head sideways, darkly-lined blue eyes gazing at him. Searching him for lies, perhaps. He can’t pinpoint what it is, but her countenance is one he’s acquainted without practice; only it’s usually unmoving.

“Michael Langdon,” he repeats, exasperation making itself known on his features.  

“I’m sorry but you’ll have to come here tomorrow morning. We’ve severely limited our visitation hours,” the caramel-eyed witch says, her lips splitting into an apologetic smile. “We’re close for the night.”

She’s about to shut the door; Michael sticks his foot, halting it in its tracks. “It’s Michael. Cordelia’s ward. Ask her,” he enunciates, slower and carefully. As though he is in the presences of babbling toddlers.  

“Cordelia isn’t here at the moment.”

“What about Zoe? Queenie? Myrtle?” Michael fires the names in rapid sequence, without success. “Madison Montgomery, the movie star. She knows. She’s usually stuck at the academy, doing thankless jobs. She’ll tell you who I am.”

Amber-coloured gaze cast inquiringly at aquamarine stare. She cups a hand over the curly-haired blonde’s ear, and stage-whispers, “Does Miss Cordelia has any children?”

“Miss Cordelia’s former husband died years ago. I don’t think they ever had children,” she says, goldilocks tresses shake from left to right, vice versa. “She’s not here too. I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to try tomorrow.”

One of the witches kicks his foot away, mumbling a vague apology before shutting the door immediately to his face. This is a prank, he decides. Blinking at the close door. He’d expects it to reopen, this time a parade of familiar faces grinning at his disbelief.

It doesn’t. The door is firmly closed. The patter of footsteps, echoing through the cracks of the glass-ornamented door, shows signs of moving away from him. Wait, he has his phone. He should’ve call Cordelia or the girls. The light on his phone comes to life, a battery bar bleating red. The phone whimpers in his hand without another sound. Damn, he should have charged his phone. Shoves the lifeless phone into his trousers’ pocket.

New Orleans is awake, offers entertainment at the darkest corners of its alleys. Hardly befitting for a night’s rest. His heart isn’t in the guerrilla comforts for a homeless wanderer.

He parks himself stubbornly on the polished marbled steps. Drumming restless fingertips on his biceps. He’s only been gone for a couple of months—his last visit was not long ago. Has everyone forgotten he’s also a resident of the academy? Inevitable end to his pondering. He is . . .

“Michael, is that you?” The sound of worried inquiry breaks him from his musing. He glances up from his shoes, to two faces—both squinting in the dark.

They pace faster in the dark. Michael could trace the outlines of sequinned mini-dress and pink feather boa. A bowler hat perches on the taller girl’s messy bobcut.

The shorter girl’s moss-hued eyes widens, affably smiling. Her hand waves an enthusiastic greet, nearly smacking the taller girl’s face.

Pauline. Heidi. He hasn’t seen them in ages. Michael hastily rises from the steps, waving them back. One hand dusting imaginary dirt off his pants. A quick peek at his watch informs it’s only ten—Pauline could last until four with coffee and Heidi powers through the strobe-lighted raves on willpower alone to keep Pauline safe.

“You’re back?” asks Heidi, pressing a friendly kiss on his cheek. “We’re expecting your arrival tomorrow. No news about you coming tonight.”

Pauline lifts a dark brow in puzzlement, and asks, “What are you doing outside here?”

“They won’t let me in,” he retorts, chin jutting in annoyance.  

“Must be the new student, Coco. Or Misty. They came here after you left for that warlock school,” Heidi offers.

“Why can’t I enter?”

Pauline shrugs marbled shoulders. “Well, they tightened the security around the academy lately.” She walks up on the door, knocking it twice.

“We all got curfews now,” says Heidi mournfully. “The academy can be only opened from the inside. It is an impenetrable fortress now.”

The afternoon sunlight floods the windshield in one dazzling glare. The skies is a shade of Prussian blue and cloudless, the kind of skies Madison picture Sunday picnics underneath it. The road is long-winding, paved in mud-dried dirt and flanked by lawless green and lazy brown stretching from one end to another.

“You heard her, I’m the lead detective and you’re my sidekick,” Madison reminds, making another turn into an unmarked road. The engine roars at the strain of high speed she drives the rental car, a decade old Toyota Sedan, then coughs a black smog after them.

“She never said that,” Zoe snorts, tugging the leather belt with fingernails gnawed to blunt edges.

“Well, it was implied and that’s practically canon,” she hisses back, without the requisite malice coupling their barbs.  

The church is rural as it can get around these rustic parts. The bell tower, oxidised and bird-pooped, sits on the roof. Taken straight out of a 1950 postcards of small town church, smacked in the middle of nowhere.

She eases the Corolla into a parking lot, marked with white-fenced gardens and beige-bricked walls. Kills the engine and slides the keys into her purse. Madison applies a fresh coat of lipstick—a hand swiftly smacks it off before the stick could touch her lips.

Madison scowls, gathering the fallen lipstick with two caring hands. “Hey, what the hell, bitch?”

“Nuns don’t wear lipsticks,” Zoe flatly says, fixing her veil properly to her head.

“Yes, they do. What nun wears her lips naked? They gotta at least look fantastic for Jesus. Or God. Whichever rocks their celibate socks off.”

“We’re nuns, Sister Mary Magdalene,” Zoe says, hands on hips, channelling Cordelia’s displeased headmistress’ pose. “And your lipstick colour is too red. Like prostitute red.”

“Let me do the talking,” Madison says, switching the subject into a much neutral topic.

Zoe grimaces, cherry cheeks flushing. “I’ve come a long way from those days.”

“As I recalled, I’m the one with a nun role in my IMDb credits,” she snaps. Lips curling into a victorious smirk.

“You played a horny Romanian nun. You were terrible. The entire movie is a parody.”

“Still a nun,” she corrects, “Now, what’s the name of the Campbells’ neighbour?”

“Father Linus McGregor.”

One last touch up on their appearances, the witches climb out from the car. Makes their way into the church’s front door, bloated timber from all weathers, Zoe sidesteps and allows Madison to enter first.

Father Linus McGregor wasn’t hunched, bald or has a face folded in many sun-carved lines, with brackish beard. Not a bit. Clean-shaven, with heavenly deep blue eyes and the square jaws of a movie star.

Madison introduces themselves as ‘Sister Mary Irene and Sister Mary Victoria’, nuns investigating possible demonic possessions for the church’s records. Father McGregor stutters throughout his story, his face is a vacant canvas, but fear keeps his hands shaking. His story ends in an excuse from the witches, him kneeling on the altar. His voice, a hoary whisper, reciting prayers.  

Madison mutters, “Father What-A-Waste,” parting one last look at Father Linus McGregor’s fine, firm ass. Madison revives the engine; the Corolla darts away and the church melts into the horizon, until it’s a speck in the green landscape.

Reprising her role as a nun without whirring cameras and a director’s temper tantrum, is nostalgically fun the first time. Now, her scalp itches under the white veil. Her lungs ache for a cigarette—disinfected grey slated floors is a mild reminder that cigarettes have no place here.

“Remind me again why we can’t use concilium, instead of running around with a nun’s habit?” Madison says, flicking her wrist lightly. The cameras twisting to odd angles; enough that they won’t be caught by the video tapes. She won’t make that same mistake twice.

“We can’t blitz everyone who might see us, like that Will Smith movie. Besides, two nuns won’t stand out in a hospital or church. You said yourself, we have to keep a low profile.”

Zoe pushes a finger onto Madison’s lips, nearly pokes her eye out. “This is her room.”

She twists the knob, and they both enter it. Madison locks the door, instinctive. The patient is heavily sedated, a tube fastened to her waxy forearm. Catatonia has her staring, heavy-lidded, blankly at the fogged windows.

Zoe takes the chart, flipping rapidly through it. “She’s not going to talk to us. She pulled a Spalding,” she sighs, placing the chart back. “Now that we don’t have Nan,” her voice trails off, melancholic bitterness fortifying between them, like untouched wine. “No one knew you were missing, but Nan. She called the council on you.”

Nan. Sweet Nan had Cordelia tongue-tied and dug herself into a grave, when the council came. Luke Ramsey, sweet-toothed, and his eyes wide at Nan’s confection heaven. That clairvoyant won Luke fair and square.

Zoe chuckles, a forced little thing. Madison’s scowl fades into a faint smile. God, the witches these days have it easy; friendships, support systems. Robichaux of her time is—was a battlefield and selfishness reigns supreme. The irony isn’t lost on Madison.

“I missed her,” Zoe admits. Madison cannot find it in her to take a low shot at Zoe’s sentimentality. Perhaps it’s the sterilized air, or the metal frames of hospital bed, stirring nostalgia within the Hollywood starlet.

“Girl’s a clairvoyant, but what does she do? Learnt boys’ favourite food and wooed their stomachs too. Bitch’s smart,” she says, heavy and low, nothing like herself. Dewy diamonds cling to her curly lashes, stubbornly sticky.

“Yeah, she was. I-I don’t hate you, Maddie.”

“Uh huh. Look, I get it if you hate me. God, I was—”

“Could you shut your mouth for two seconds and let me finish. I don’t hate you. I just wish you’d be nicer. Granted me and Kyle becoming a couple didn’t exactly help. For what it’s worth, we didn’t work out. Him killing you done it for us,” she reassures, unshed tears sparkling in russet eyes. Her lips, chapped, curving warmly into forgiveness Madison desired since her resurrection.

“Your dating pool just shrink. Awfully smaller. Kiddie’s pool size. Don’t worry, we’ll get you the best vibrator in the market,” Madison pledges, light-hearted. “There are other ways to get information. I’ve been reading up so much, I could actually outnerd you.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this, Cordelia?” the Voodoo Queen murmurs, soil-tipped fingers strike a match, setting the candles alight and blows the firestick out. Her sable-eyed gaze boring holes into Cordelia. “Make a deal with Papa Legba and he will fulfil his end. But he’ll make damn sure you do, too.”

She offers her upturned palm; Cordelia lays hers on top of Dinah’s hand. “Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver,” Dinah warns, smearing oil on Cordelia’s wrist.

“I understand.”

Dinah pops the rum’s cork open, dispensing rum into a bronze chalice. She cradles the chalice in both hands, sniffing and raising up it in the air. “Papa Legba, ouvirier barrier pour moi agoe.” She repeats thrice.

Shadows, neither hers or Dinah’s, shaped in a masculine form, circling them on the walls and curtained-windows. Each circle completed, the shadow magnifies bigger. Laughter, disconcerted, hums deep as the grounds rumbling below her feet. A figure materialises in front of Dinah, long yellowed fingernails curling around the chalice. He plucks the chalice, drinking it.

He is tall, looming over Dinah. His eyes crimson as garnet, yet dark as coal. His face painted in cracked grey-white, outlining the shape of a skull. His black hair, falls unkempt over his shoulders, incredibly long and twisted into dreadlocks. She’d expected the Loa to be cladded in traditional attire; a dark overcoat rests on his shoulders, tapers down to the floor and bird feathers adorned his hat, small skulls attached around the brim.

“Dinah Stevens. No voodoo priestess gives me better rum,” he says, in a heavily accented and dark-timbered voice that booms through her bedroom.

“Hello, Papa,” Dinah says, glancing up at him. A certain fright throbbing in her voice.

Papa Legba notices the cigar in the ashtray, placing the chalice on the table. “You’ve outdone yourself, Mambo. Does this mean you’ve reconsidered my offer?”

“Hell no,” Dinah snaps, “You charge more for immortality than a little Cuban contraband. And I told you, I’m not about snatching newborns from the maternity ward.”

The Loa’s lips quirks upwards into a smile that never reaches his scarlet-inked eyes.

“I’m here because she paid me.” Dinah juts her chin at Cordelia’s direction, rising to her feet. “So let’s get to it.”

Papa Legba glances at her, “The Witch Queen. I’ve been looking forward to this meeting. You come with an intriguing request.”

Cordelia straightens to her full height, chin angled upwards to meet his eyes. “You know why I’m here?”

“The Anti-Christ. Devan Campbell, bringer of the End of Days. But what makes you think I can help? I am merely a gatekeeper between humanity and the underworld.”

“Open the gates. I will lure him inside and he will be condemned to roam the underworld,” Cordelia offers.

The smile on his face is unsettling and terrifying. “Betray Satan’s spawn. Ouf. I would be putting myself at great risk.”

“Name your price.”

The smile on his face grows wider, and something sparkles in his eyes. He taps his cane once, takes a seat on the chair, and legs spread wide. Cordelia follows, sitting down.

The Loa chuckles. “The last time a conspiring Mambo and Witch Queen summoned me, they brought me the greatest offering.” He mutters, “Come out, child.”

A familiar face springs from behind his chair. Long hair, wavy and the colour of roasted chestnut. Her dark styled conservatively, yet playful as morbidly black could.

Nan smiles—there’s nothing sweet or innocent about the curve of her lips, rather sharp and dangerous.

“Oh my god,” slips from her lips. Cordelia rises to her feet; yearns to fold her arms around the shorter girl. She’s frozen to the floor.

“Cordelia, long time no see, bitch.” Nan purrs, acidity coats her tone. Resentful even. Not the sweet girl who allowed marble-eyed Cordelia to touch her face.

“Fucking Fiona.” She has no intentions of risking Papa Legba’s wrath, but the threatening snarl escapes from her throat, “If you’ve hurt her—”

“It’s okay. Papa’s nice to me.” Nan gazes at the Loa, affectionate and unafraid. “And I really like Hell, it’s fun.”

Fun? What do you do down there?” Dinah questions, wary.

Nan folds her arms, defiant and giggling. “I make trouble.”

Papa Legba laughs along, turning over his shoulder to glimpse at Nan. “Nan is my favourite little helper. I could use more like her.”

“You want me to give you a soul.”

“And you want me to perform a coup. An order so tall demands a steep price.”

Cordelia’s knees buckle; she sits before her strength dwindles. “No. I won’t give you my girls.” She’s so naïve, the thought bounces in Cordelia’s ears, almost practically in Fiona’s southern twang. Cordelia’s eyes glisten with unshed tears. “You want a soul, take mine.”

“You are not enough,” Papa Legba tells her, factly.

“I’m the most powerful witch on Earth,” she bargains.

Again, the Loa flings that deep-throated, mocking laugh. Nan joins him, as though they’re sharing an inside joke, neither Cordelia or Dinah’s privy to.

“But I’m not looking for a witch, Witch Queen. Or witches. Just the soul of one. Equal in weight to the Anti-Christ,” Papa Legba pauses, peering into his yellowed talons, and finishes, “The original Anti-Christ.”

Michael. Papa Legba’s price feels horned ram slamming into her stomach. It steals her breath, lungs begging for air. Her refusal is canary-swift. “No, not Michael.”

“I’ve made my offer. Turn it down and you will not get another.”

“Don’t be a fool, Cordelia. What is the original Anti-Christ to you? Let Papa take them both,” Dinah chastises, a mother straining to flick her naughty son’s outstretched hands for a metaphorical candy.

Dinah’s not wrong. Well, Cordelia, the boy is not yours. He’s one of the two prophesied destroyers of mankind. This way, he doesn’t die. No more pain. No more worrying. She could sleep easily. Perhaps, even regain her waning health.

“Please? I don’t have any friends in Hell. I miss them. Him. I could use a new friend,” Nan says, this time as earnest and even hopeful.

This is Michael, the Loa wants. The same Michael who brought her Queenie and Madison for the want of happiness to return to her. Michael, whose heartfelt tears stained her clothes, so child-like beneath the veneer of a young adult.

Michael, her ward. Just as Nan was once hers. She cannot convict an innocent child to a fate worse than death. Her answer doesn’t change.

“I’m sorry, Nan,” Cordelia affirms, tries to keep the sadness from ebbing out. “I can’t.”

Papa Legba rolls his eyes, reaches out for the cigar. Sniffs the cigar, inhaling deeply with his eyes closed. He gets to his feet, and informs. “Then we have no deal. Come, child.”

“Dinah, what do I have to do?” She knows she’s screwed up. Big time, and you’ve sentenced the entire world to death, Fiona’s voice harshly reminds her—at least, Fiona never went through with her plans. There must be another way. She clamps around Dinah’s wrists; the Voodoo Queen wrenches her hands from Cordelia’s grip.

Cordelia pleads, “There must be something else I can offer, something else that I can do.”

The knowledge of the world is going to wither under her decision, fills Dinah with dread and fear. “It doesn’t work like that. Papa made you an offer and he only makes one. And you refused him. So that’s it. You blew it. Now, not only your girls will die. So, six other billion will.”

Devan’s words clatter inside his mind, the way bony coins rattle in a gambler’s cup. A siren’s call for the clearing of fogged memories. Scratchy thoughts bruising his staunch peace.

But his words are naught utterances. No weight to anchor such revelation. Michael Langdon is the one the witches had chosen, not Devan Campbell. His footwork on the academy’s polished floorboard callously divulges his flickering belief.

Cordelia could assuage the rattling of coins in his head. She will prove it. The emptiness of Devan’s views. The Supreme has never lie to him.

He seeks her, prodding for her essence. Petrichor entwined between teeth and leaves of a towered rose, swathed in emerald apothecary and tender sincerity. Concentrated—moving along the stairs.

He spots her at the top of the stairs, making her way down. Cursory greets traded between black-clothed witchlings and the Supreme. Her steps falter, elegant fingers curling around the banister for support.

She has never stumble. Not even once. Always elegant, swanlike fluttery strides. Michael darts, ready to receive her—he stops; Zoe skips down, catching Cordelia. “I’ve got you.”

He hastily shelters himself from their sight, pressing his back against the walls. They always forget. Michael listens. Each vibration sings to his ears, carrying with them the tacit secrets and delectable confessions.

“I don’t want the girls or Michael to see me like this.”

Each musical tremor is unique, tagged with abstract identification. Sibilant whispers. Sassy brusque pitch. Reasonably curious tone. He memorised them all. Cordelia’s. Madison’s. Zoe’s. Queenie’s. Even Myrtle’s.

“Will you help me to my room?”

“Of course.”

It’s perfectly logical beneath this clandestineness of her health. The talks of imminent catastrophe and apocalyptic end awaits for mankind, has hotly circulated among the Hawthorne boys and Robichaux’s girls, gaining credibility. The current Supreme must retain the serene mask her followers clamour for.

However, a thought slips through his infallible rationalisation. Even good people keep secrets, Devan sneers. If she bears no qualms in hiding her weakening state, who is to say she won’t hide more secrets from him, a voice croons suspiciously canny to the Alpha’s.

Doubt comes barrelling down at him, like a peregrine falcon slicing the air for its prey. His quietude is short-lived. The bothering thoughts shrouding him like pecking vultures on fresh carcass.

Hours later, his mind yearns to break its release from the strain of ravenous damning interest, he gathers courage in jittery legs. Marches into her office. A piece of red velvet cake and a steaming cup of tea sliding around the wooden tray.

“I got some cakes,” he announces, hoisting the tray high enough for her to see. The action comes easily enough, practiced and childish joy splits his lips into a smile. “I baked them. So, the taste is subjective because I had to substitute a lot.”

“My, you’ve spoilt me,” she says, indulgently and deft hands quickly tidying her desk. The acidic scent of unbidden crystals clumping at silken lashes, lingers in the air.

“I could use the distractions,” he replies, setting the tray down. He serves her the cake and tea, then cuts another small piece for himself.

“Well, I missed this. Our little tea time together.”

“We could have it all, but I went to Hawthorne,” he mentions, cheekily. Ermine icing smears a thin line over his upper lip. “I’m their prized baker, you know.”

Cordelia leans forward, thumbing the line away. Rouge lips twisting into a smile, and she tucks a fallen strand behind his ear. “Hawthorne’s fortunate to have you.”

He mumbles though a mouthful of cake, “Yes, they are.” Michael grins, carelessly and freely. His questions, once formed and uttered, beckon an answer he might not like.

For a moment, they eat in comfortable silence, a limbo of ignorance and peace. Michael savours the ticking minutes. It’s a picture he frames in diamond-encrusted casing, clutching tightly in his heart and hands.

He sticks his fork into the cake, keeps his eyes on the crumbs littering his plate. “Cordelia, is there anything I should know?”

“About what?”

“Anything. About me. I remembered grandma died, I know my parents, sister and my twin died. I-There are holes in my memory. Why can’t I remember much of my childhood?”

The hesitation stretches into a second too long. “There is nothing else. Your accelerated growth means your brain doesn’t develop normally,” she replies, nonchalant. Yet her heart pounds the rhythm of stampeding wildebeests on savannah plains.

“Memories get lost quickly, like an adult cannot remember what happens to him before the age of four,” she continues, her teal gaze meets his ferrous gaze. Smile intact. But oh how the fear subsists, light as butterfly’s wings, and whirling in the fishbones of her ribcage.

There is a time where he should pursue the inquiry, channelling the tenacity of a persistent Doberman. Yet his tongue dares not to prod further, Michael snuffs the desire, and says, “I see.”

“Yes, nothing to worry about,” she says, but veracity is absent. Her marigold curls tumble in flickering assurance. Cordelia sips her tea; the beating hooves of wildebeests cease to silent ringing. “Now, how’s school? You made any friends?”

“I don’t have friends,” Michael answers, his forehead wrinkles to a frown. He really doesn’t. He shares classes with them—classmates, and a school with them—schoolmates. Interactions that form on shallow connections and break in the passing time. Acquaintances, they are. Friends, they are not.

William Banks and his unflinching love for parlour magic tricks. The carob-haired warlock’s dogged optimism in Michael’s ability, even after he is no longer the Hawthorne brilliant child. Rather endearing, like an annoying puppy.

And there’s Devan Campbell. Enigma cloaks him in translucent radiance, familiarity draws Michael in; a moth to a flame kind of attraction. Or he is the flame to Devan’s moth—the peculiarity is a loose thread, line smudged in the sand.

“I heard you’re pretty popular. You and Devan are inseparable. Or that boy, William, was the one. From the Banks family, right? I think his aunt was a student of the academy. My senior. Gretel Banks.”

Lying is natural on his tongue, so it seems. “Devan’s not my friend. Will is my roommate. That’s just it.”

The hair is unquestionably his, tresses kinking into butter-coloured and lacklustre frizz. His shoulders, narrow and lean, stiff with tension. Only he would traipse the hallway, barefooted and snow-white ankles gleaming.

He’s locked in that half-dazed stare, observing life outside Robichaux’s ferric gates. Hands clasped behind his back, spine unholy upright. Sandy stubbles run along his jaws, accentuated the clear-cut lines. Has he always look older? Not older, Madison corrects, but the look of adrift is sculptured into his Grecian features. She thinks, that is not a good look.

She casts a quick look around the room. Not a hint of staring eyes, or gossiping painted mouths. Her reputation is safe. “Michael, what the hell happened to you?” Madison says, rhetoric and loud enough to pass for mockery.

Madison throws both arms around his neck, lightning quick, and releases him just as fast. The corners of her deep-wined lips quirking into a smirk. “You looked like a wet poodle even a dog groomer wouldn’t touch.”

Her tease garners a mordant grin. “Nice to see you flawless as ever, Madison.”

“You’re supposed to arrive sometime, some day,” she points out, making simplistic mental calculations, and adds an afterthought, “Tonight.”

“The warlock booked me an early flight,” he answers, a pout ghosting the edges of his lips. “Where you’ve been?”

“Just a little fieldtrip. Planning to have the students to visit some witch landmarks. Nothing important.” She lowers her butterfly-framed dark shades, low that it hangs over her nose. Lifts a questioning brow at him. “You got anywhere to go?”

He shakes his head sideways. A smile settles on his lips, his turquoise eyes sparkle in the streaking sunlight. “I’m all yours.”

“Great, for one frickin’ day, I’m solely your babysitter again,” she says, mischief widening her smirk and she curves a slender arm around his. Her fingers playing a loose tendril of his leonine curls; coarse underneath her finger pads.

“I’m old enough to enter clubs,” he tells her, hopeful and perhaps, a little daring in the boyish face of his.

Ear-splitting dance music and rainbow glow sticks in clubs are things Madison reserves for weekends and anyone except the underage witches and Michael Langdon. She’s not going to trade Cordelia’s trust for Michael’s first taste of rave party.

“Fantastic, but not what I have in mind.”

She enjoys the utter dejection pared into his puckered lips. His eyebrows mimic the arches of swan’s bristling wings. Paired with the chequered pants and floral-patterned shirt, Michael looks abhorrently cute. So much that Madison’s hand itches to pinch his regal cheeks.

“Miniature golf? That’s it?” he huffs, staring at the golf putters in disdain.

“Don’t knock it until you try it,” she retorts, shoving a club into his face. “And as much as I want to bring you, those clubs aren’t open until late night. The academy’s on a curfew, remember?” She slips both hands into black velvety gloves, flexing her fingers briefly. “I promised Cordelia no trouble.”

“I guess, this is better than Devan’s idea of fun. No one dies,” he mumbles noncommittally, shifting his glare from the club to golf course ahead of them. “I’m tired of running away from the police.”

Devan. That’s the other Anti-Christ’s name. Holy fucking shit. He’s hanging out with the Anti-Christ 2.0. A chill scurries down her spine at his comment. He surely doesn’t know—

“No cheating. The first to lose or cheats buys dinner,” he demands, picking a pail of golf balls and stalking off to the first hole.

“May the best witch or warlock wins,” she says, lips splitting into a smirk. Time to flex her acting joints. She joins him at the first hole, stretches her limbs lightly.

“Ladies first,” Michael insists.

Madison easily sinks ball into the hole, less than the maximum limit. Sure, she’s rusted from being dead. But muscle memory stamped years of mini-golf into her swings. She marks her strokes in the scorecard, grinning.

Michael’s brows knotted together in a frown, scowling at another missed hole. “You sure you didn’t cast a spell on your club?”  

“Don’t need to, Wonder Boy.”

They play a couple of holes, laughter thrown in the air and a few half-hearted jeers mixed in. He steadily gets better, not without his putter flying from his grip once or twice. Even cheesily pumps his fist into the air for an albatross or a birdie.

“Does Cordelia ever talk about me?” Michael asks, his voice is a squeak and his seawater eyes gazing at the fibreglass golf flag pin laying on the carpet. “Where I came from?”

“You? Why you?”

Michael shrugs. “I think I have a childhood, I just cannot remember.” Madison catches the trace of reedy longing in his vowels, each consonant is an echo for clarity. And now, she knows. That look. He’s seeking his past.

“When I returned to Robichaux’s, with Queenie, you were already there. Besides, I’m Cordelia’s least favourite, so fat chance she’ll spill her guts to me,” she readily confesses, voice as low as a whisper could be and ends in a tease, “Quit talking, more putting. Looks like you’re paying for dinner, Superboy.”

She lights a cigarette, surveying him squatting and closing his left eye. He holds the putter straight in front of him, trying to gauge the distance. Valiant, but ultimately futile. The ball hits the flagpole and darts at the opposite direction.

“The game isn’t over yet,” Michael lightly argues. Waves a hand over the four remaining holes, to demonstrate his words. He harrumphs, comically and an exaggeration.

But really, Michael Langdon wears his heart on his sleeve. Disappointment at her unsatisfactory answer is profoundly engraved on his handsome looks. The answer he wants is not Madison’s to give.

She could offer him a consolation. “From one wayward child to another, they’re not shitty as family goes. Not screwups like mine. Or yours,” she mutters, setting her ball on the tee. She bends her knees, leans forward and putts. The ball rolls a linear line before stopping short at the hole. “But they’re ours.”

“B-but I was bad.” The word ‘bad’ stumbles from his mouth, the clumsiness of a little kid with half-formed understanding of evil deeds and sins. Yet the smell of charred flesh invades her nostrils, hauntingly fresh, and brimstone sits at her tongue—even wine and cigarettes can’t launder out the fragrance of an extinguished soul. Michael’s born tainted with darkness as ancient as time itself. No reason to push him into that role.

“And I’m no saint myself. Got my fair shares of major fuckups that I ended up in Hell,” she pauses, fishing her ball out, “twice. Not a nice place.”

His eyebrows nearly disappear into his fringes. “You died twice?”

“Revived thrice. But the coven still accepts me. So, it’s okay to fuck up. Kill a few baddies. Pay evil unto evil kind of desert. Zoe and Queenie are huge fans of that.”

He snorts. Another ball enters the hole in fire strokes. Michael snatches the scorecard from her, scribbling his latest score. “Have anyone tell you that you’re nice?” Michael aims for nonchalance, but his tone says otherwise and the affected grin on his lips is radiant.

“This stays between us,” she retorts, far too brusque and yet her lips curving into a smile and amends, “Only because you’re a sad miserable piece of shit. But we wayward kids got to stick together.”

Michael lifts an amused brow, a smirk slithering on his mouth. “And if I say a word?”

“You’re getting a sex toy for Christmas every year,” she threatens, narrowing hazel eyes at him.

“My lips are sealed.”

“I need to pee,” she says, the sappy moment ruined, like hammer pounding on a Ming vase and fracturing.

They nearly missed it the first time. A tiny hole in the wall at the rundown section of the city. Grey blinders fill the rectangular windows, shielding its occupants from prying eyes. Mosaic lamp shades hang lowly over each corner booth. Patched leather seat that squeaks as she slides into the booth.

Much of atmosphere draws inspiration from the fifties, or the verge of sixties’ designs. Nothing to exude the classiness of Bel-Air. Clean and friendly, like an old man in the park that welcomes a game of chess at passers-by.

“Why are we here in this health hazard diner,” Myrtle questions, crinkling her nose in embellished disgust, “when we could have the same clandestine meeting in a private suite in the Mandarin Oriental.”

“Ariel and Baldwin could have tracked me down faster than a Grand Bleu de Gascogne can pull a peek-a-boo on a common pheasant,” Behold Chablis retorts, eyeing the salt shaker critically. “They know they would never find me here in the dingy part of the French Quarters.”

The warlock dressed in glossy bulky leather jacket, dull brown dress shirt and another black tee. His trousers are not Italian cut, but baggy jeans, in washout blue. A pair of sneakers and round-eyed glasses almost cover half of his face, to complete his ensemble. Not what Cordelia expected from the most glamourous warlock among the four.

“This meeting is must highly significant, if you’ve gone as far as dressing like a starving artist in the nineties,” Myrtle says, her glassy-eyed gaze flits from Behold’s beanie cap to his oversized jacket.

“It is if it’s a matter of treason,” he pauses, for dramatic effect and ploughs undaunted, “They will strike you witches in your own home ground. Toxins or poisons. It’s not my forte. But it’s all biochemical warfare if Ariel has Baldwin as his mad scientist.”

“And you know this how?” Queenie’s half-raised brow solicits an eye roll from the warlock.

His full lips pressed into a thin line. “Let’s just say I keep my ears peel for any sign of shenanigans.”

“Why should we listen to you?” Zoe asks, sceptical as ever.

“You witches may not have seen us warlocks as equals, but to murder innocent children so that Devan can rise, even that is too absurdly petty.” Behold reaches for his coffee, sipping before lowering the cup down. He fumbles inside his pocket jacket, taking out a leather-bound notepad. “Then there’s John Henry. It’s unlike him to go missing without so much as leaving a note. Or even informing me of his whereabouts.”

“He could decide to go on an impromptu vacation?” Queenie offers.

“Not without his notepad. He has all his appointments and notes on his side projects in this,” he says, waving the notepad in the air. “He always takes this with him if he plans to travel longer than two days.”

Cordelia closes her eyes. Scries for his essence. Extinguished ‘Lucky Strike’ cigarettes, kohl eyeliners, bourbon and experimental magick compose the crux of John Henry Moore. She searches high and low; the mortal plane retains none of it. But feels him lingering at the edges of purgatory.

“I’m afraid he’s dead,” she announces, opening her eyes once more. “Hawthorne seemed to be clamouring for my attention these days.”

“My dear, allow me to set the stage first with Bubbles McGee. Collect further evidence of such disloyalty.”

“Bubbles who?” Behold questions.

“Actress, witch and living lie detector.”

It comes, unbidden, surging her mind with the eerie smidgeon of a slasher film’s feel. The contrast is there. Absent was the demand of an apology. Unblinking eyes. His face is—was a reflection of tattered throats and crimson handprints on white blazers. Sterile. There is no fire like the first. Passionate emotions wheeling out from his control. He’s so deathly quiet.

Theirs were methodical. Unflashy. They weren’t any older than her, eager-eyed college students. Yet they reeked of store-bought liquor, the ghostly lavender scent and unwarranted sex. Her head spins, back then and now, from her own fragmented, blurry snapshots of that night.

They’re dead, Madison chants, they have no power over me. She’s alive. She’s here. She’s living. The words slip out, slippery as eels through the cracks of her teeth, “Cordy, I think we should tell him the truth.”

Zoe nudges an elbow to her ribs, earning a cutting glare from Madison. Those doe-like eyes are wide, concern petrifies her tongue apparently. What’s her problem? Zoe mouths words that probably spells out ‘what the hell’.

Cordelia speaks, “No, not yet.” The cadence of her tone is a stark tune of dissent and misery. Madison thinks, Fiona’s the better actress, burying genuine sentiment in falsehoods. Cordelia isn’t. Altruism is a badge she wears proudly, fiercely. To a fault, perhaps.

“He’s already trying to squeeze information from us, about his past,” Zoe offers, her support is translucent and Madison appreciates her more.

“There’s no point in avoiding it. We can’t keep playing dumb,” Madison says, staring pointedly at the Voodoo witch.

Queenie sighs, deeply and raises her onyx eyes to meet Cordelia’s-even if her gaze is two seconds long. “Or being busy, when we’re not.”

“Eventually, he’s going to learn,” Misty cautiously drawls. Her blonde brows drawn in a sympathetic curve.

“And Devan isn’t going to leave him alone. His entire goal is to seek Michael,” Zoe says.

“It was him who killed his parents. Not those satanic freaks. He killed one of them for opposing his quest to find Michael, stuck and framed the other into a mental institute and kept the useful one alive,” Madison replies, the urge to shake some sense into the Supreme’s head is immensely strong. Keeping Michael within the academy’s walls won’t stop Devan’s influence.

“Miss Cordelia—”

The united expressions take the Supreme in unguarded astonishment; to see her girls all not wielding vulgar swords and bladed barbs at each other. “My answer is no.”

“He’s our only hope against Devan,” the swamp-haired witch tries. Her Southern charm gets her nowhere.

Is she blind? Ha, the irony. Michael isn’t the same boy trapped in a teenager’s body; his innocence is eroding, faster than climate change, subtler than change of breeze in the air. Cordelia cannot cage his innocence forever in silver aviary. Everyone grows up in the end. Some don’t have the luxury to grow as they should.  

“Why don’t you want him to know?” Madison challenges, “Michael is not just another warlock—”

“You’re right, he’s my son,” Cordelia interrupts, and this time, her voice is steel and brazenly unaccommodating—the Supreme has reached her verdict. Neither Cordelia Goode nor the Supreme will entertain this conversation again. “And when I say, he doesn’t need to know, he doesn’t.”

Madison notices the skies first. Always the skies. Being resurrected for the third time has a way of skewing her focus on inconsequential matters. Years of staring into fluorescent lights and tiled ceilings of a literal hell mall loses its charm—the sky’s changing hues is a reminder she isn’t in hell. Use her time wisely.

The skies are black and starless, as black as the clothes they wear. She thinks, witches wear black for the sole purpose of evoking death. To mourn or to rejoice. The line in the metaphorical sand is a blurry one.

The burning ground lies far from the touches of civilisation. Part of a highway or something now cut-off due to safety reasons. Honestly, with no souls in sight, it’s perfect.

She can’t tell how much time has passed. It could be midnight. Or close to dawn. Madison barely glimpses her phone for the time. The last she’d checked; it was seconds to midnight and Zoe’s scouting for John Henry’s body in the campus ground. They found him buried six feet underneath a cherry tree, spotless and neck snapped. Misty’s healing hands did the trick. He’s back on his feet, spilling his guts to Cordelia, Myrtle and Behold.

Hours later, the warlocks are mouthless, arrayed in billowy egg-shell white robes. Forced to march to their deaths, in a vast and barren landscape akin to the Mojave Desert. Flanked closely by men with ghosts for skin and draper suits fitting for men in the business of secret assassinations.

Now the skies are cloudless blue, sunlight dripping like gold. Their lacy parasols rise, as proud shields from the sun. Witches are warriors too; the fact sinks into Madison’s marrows like velvet coating her skin.

The warlocks stand on the stake’s platform. Long gone the use of stake fashioned from dried wood, burning torches and tunica molesta, now it’s all steel and concrete, gas container and flammable muslin. One of the albino men takes Baldwins’ glasses off.

“Ariel Augustus. Baldwin Pennypacker. For the murder of your fellow warlock, John Henry Moore, and conspiring to commit treason against this coven, I, Cordelia Goode, on behalf of this council, sentence you to death by fire.”

The albinos drench the lipless warlocks in gasoline. Leaving their heads untouched, Madison supposes, it is easier to see without petrol in their eyes.

“Our people have long stood by an agreement that no witch may kill a condemned warlock. Only your brother may light the flame. I do not intend to break with that tradition today.”

John Henry Moore makes his grand entrance. Burnished wingtips tapping victoriously on the ground. He gifts Ariel a tiny amused wave. The Grand Chancellor’s dark eyes grows comically huge from the shock.

“May I?” John Henry says, words huskily grating his throat. He stops in front of the bald albino, taking the gas tank and walks up to Ariel. Stepping on the platform, he looms over the warlock and empties the gasoline tank on the shorter man.

He leaves the platform, joining Cordelia’s side. Rubbing his hands, he glances at the men. “Any last words?” For a moment, Madison sees the sorrow in those lined blue eyes. He blinks, the grief fades. A smirk forms and he jeers, “Ah, right.”

Cordelia nods. John Henry turns his gaze on his fellow warlocks. His killers. The albinos lift their unlit torches, and John Henry flicks his wrist; fire dances on the torches like water sparks out from sprinklers. Two seconds pass, the ashen men chuck their torches, incinerating flesh and bones.

“You don’t have to look if you don’t want to,” Zoe whispers, tossing a side-glance at Misty. Misty turns away, shutting blue eyes from the macabre carnage.

Scorched human flesh burnt to crisp. It’s a scent Madison’s slowly getting familiar with. She isn’t sure if that’s an admission to be celebrated, or frowned upon.

Cordelia walks away, while the flames intensify, leaping for the skies. They trail after her.

Chapter Text

He ran his tongue over his teeth—fangs, strange—slowly, feeling the pointed tips slice his tongue, and he tasted acrid, metallic liquid. A blissful shudder whizzed along his spine, delight purring in his belly.

“My lords, welcome back,” muttered a figure on Michael’s left, words leaving its toothless mouth, as split-tongue hiss. Back from where, the thought struck Michael harder than a hammer pounding battered anvil.

Michael snapped his attention to the figure, cloaked in cerise and its head tipped low. Behind the bowing, thousands upon thousands of people kneeling bearing eerie resemblance to ants encasing a garden-fresh carcass. Their features were hazy, but he could trace the outline of reptilian scales on the robed figure.

Lords. He’s seated on a marbled chair; carved into it are intricate details of leviathan devouring frightened sinners, huge jaws poised to swallow and the perverted smiles of curious watchers. Two similar chairs, ghastly adorned with different eldritch art, flanking his sides. His left remained empty.

“Aren’t they a sight to behold,” the voice trailed off, from his right, speaking in antediluvian language, predating the most archaic of tongues existed on earth and he steepled serpentine talons together.

He’s unholy handsome; glinting skin dark as the new moon, lava-veined streaks tattooed on his face. His eyes evinced the colour of amber flames, and burgundy-painted lips twisting into a Cheshire grin. Black curly tendrils hanging over his forehead, smog-like.

“What are they waiting for?” Michael asked, alphabets tainted with lisps, resonating the language of twisted vowels and jagged consonants of black patois.

“The Coming War.” His companion waggled a finger; the servant scurries with a tray in hand, heading for Michael and bending on its knees. “Go on, take a look.”

Michael rose from the throne, gazing into the water bowl. He’s not him. Mightily ridged horns, winding backwards, emerging from his forehead and temple. His eyes—nothing human about them, obsidian and hollow. His skin was bleached bone, prominent cobalt veins burning. A network of prickly scars embossed on his face, an Italian effigy in the hands of an envious admirer chipping the smooth marble.

This sight of him, of his companion, settled on him like a velvet cape, a second skin longed missed and greatly welcomed—

“It has 315 calories,” Coco says, through gritted teeth. Tawny gaze eyeing the aisle with critical disgust. Mallory touches the taller woman’s forearm, head shaking lightly at Coco’s direction and mutters, “We can live with those calories.”

“It was fun the first time but stop telling us that,” Queenie replies, rolling her eyes. Hands set on her hips, and her jaw set stubbornly. Zoe cracks a smile at the exchange, as if she’d seen this before. She probably has.

“That’s why you brought me along, remember? And because I’m a gluten detector.”

“We’ve got ton of ingredients substituted in the name of healthy eating. But I’m not going to compromise for my spiced pumpkin latte cheesecake,” Queenie retorts, gripping two canisters of whipped cream harder, with a murderous glint in her eyes.

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” Coco mutters underneath her breath, reaching out for another canister of a different brand.

“Say that to me, one more time—”

“Let Michael be the tie-breaker,” Mallory suggests, stepping in between Queenie and Coco, both hands in the air.

Zoe tosses a sidelong glance at Michael, a brow arching inquisitively. “Whipped cream, yes or no?”

In a battle of strengths, magical or otherwise, the undisputed winner is still the witch with limbs pliant as voodoo dolls and mastery over five requirements of the Seven Wonders. The answer is clear.

“Err, y-yes?”

“It’s settled,” Queenie says happily, dumping the whipped cream into the shopping cart.

It doesn’t take a flicker of divination to guess Misty’s whereabouts. Honestly, the Cajun witch is inseparable from the greenhouse, Misty might as well call the greenhouse her room. She literally wears dirt as part of her accessories. Madison’s pretty sure Misty used her own concoction to line her eyes.

Midday sunlight streaking into the greenhouse in fractal patterns. The lustrous green shades provide the cool air, throw in a dash of damp soil and solitude—Madison could see the appeal, if she squints hard enough. Misty Day moves the watering can along a row of flower pots, humming some jaunty tune with the cheeriness of a sugar-addicted kid.

The lemony-haired witch sets the watering can down, glancing up at Madison. “Fancy seeing ya here, Hollywood.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Madison huffs, sashaying to the long table, props her arms on the metal slab. She sighs, without removing her sight on pink petals of a potted aster, “Bitch, I need your help.”

“I rather not partake in any crimes,” Misty says drily, grabbing a rake from a nearby shelf. She stoops to a garden patch, rakes the rich dark soil.

“Fuck what? No, Swampy,” Madison snaps, fingers absentmindedly poking at the stems. The starlet rubs her temple, drawing a deep breath in. “As much as it is fucking painful for me to say, but you’re a scrapbook goddess.”

“H-how did ya—”

Resisting to roll her eyes under mascara-striated lashes, Madison mumbles her sentences in a single harried breath. “Your Stevie Nicks scrapbook is actually fantastic.”

Misty’s cupid lips curving into a smile. “I didn’t know ya’re a fan or wanted a—”

“Not for me,” she hisses, pinching the bridge of her nose. “It’s for Michael. A scrapbook of the coven for him.”

The smile on her ceramical face flourishes into a bigger jovial smirk. “My, my, our Madison Montgomery developin’ a heart,” Misty drawls, her Southern accent thickens.

“Not a heart. But I’m the only one with common sense around here. We don’t want the original Anti-Christ to switch sides. Someone has to appeal to his human side. Keep him in whatever sides that doesn’t end up in bringing apocalypse.”

“And a scrapbook is the key?” Misty questions, quirking an unimpressed brow up.

“I never claimed it’s the best idea, alligator princess,” Madison harrumphs.

“All right, Hollywood, I got ya covered.”

Dinner is a grand affair at Miss Robichaux's. Rectangular-shaped table runners, white lace hemstitched spread over. Bone china replaces the usual sturdy stoneware plates they used, with matching stainless silverware. Fresh flowers—tulips, bluebells, and roses—decorating several points of the table, as centre pieces.

Cordelia skipped her Supreme duties in favour of apron and sheared-pattern mitten. Queenie proclaimed rights to the oven. Madison tried to uphold her promise to lend a helping hand to the cleaning crew, Michael found her sneaking wine before five. Zoe dusted parts of the living room, with the younger girls. Misty plucked flowers from her garden patch, fashioning them into artful bouquets. Mallory leads the witchlings on setting cutlery, and Coco arranging the seats placement.

Opulent food laid in extravagance befitting for kings—or the end of times. Cordelia relaxes her no-drinking rule for the older girls and Michael too; wine with names written in oblique fonts and family-owned vineyards.

“I hope you have some room for toffee crunch cake,” Michael announces, rising to his feet and re-enters the kitchen.

“I’d eat anything from your hands,” Madison teases, sipping her wine. The innuendo wrings an exasperated smile from Cordelia.

Crouching, Michael takes the cake out—his head throbs. Flashes of the same dream repeat in his mind. The throne, his monstrous visage, the man with fire for eyes. The pounding visions sear pain into his eye sockets. Michael rubs his temple. Dreams congruently dominate his sleeping hours. He could hear the war cry of a thousand voices all begging to draw blood, as he treads the academy’s floorboards.

“Hey, are you okay?” Coco’s voice penetrates through his head. The vision vanishes as he opens his eyes. “I got aspirin, if you want,” she offers, fumbling with the wine bottles in her arms.

“I’m fine. Don’t need that,” Michael retorts, sharply than he intends. With that, he returns to the dining room. Serves Cordelia and the girls a slice each. Kyle hands out two platefuls of Michael’s cake to the younger girls at the other tables, before taking to his seat next to Misty.

“These are marvellous,” Bubbles singsongs. “He bakes. He paints. He plays mini-golf. Is there anything he can’t do?”

“That’s our Boy Wonder,” Queenie chimes, taking a bite of her slice.

“I aim to please,” Michael replies, lips curving into a toothy smile.

Afterwards, when most of the girls gather their plates, distributing the aprons and yellow rubber gloves among themselves, Cordelia moves the afterparty of sorts to the ancestral room.

The number of girls dwindle to a handful. Some lingers at the periphery. Most simply opt for their rooms, heading to a soiree of their own. They’re buzzing with anticipation, of those few whose families waiting for them, so much Michael could smell their saccharine joy and choke on it.

He drifts to the baby grand piano, gorgeously varnished and perhaps hasn’t feel fingers caressing all over its keys. Michael slides onto the stool, letting his limbs move without his turbulent thoughts dictating them. His willowy fingers gliding across the keys, limber and slithering from ivory to ebony. He plays the étude at a brusque and energetic allegretto tempo. Music is smoothly airy and light, nonetheless demanding technical superior that flows from Michael, as though his anger drives his hands to dart across the piano keys.

“Ah, Franz Liszt’s La Campanella. He played better than you, my dear. Like an elegant lady dancing on the keys. Not an elephant trampling across the piano,” Myrtle quips, her fiery red hair swaying to the music.

Bubbles grins. “That’s why I’m an actress, not a pianist,” she retorts, her English accent radiates poshness.

“I didn’t know you played the piano,” Coco says, refilling Myrtle’s empty wine glass, “Trevor and I stopped piano lessons after the piano teacher gave up on us for our postures.”

“Something I picked up at Hawthorne,” he replies, modesty colours his lilt words. He folds his body and bows, pressing air kisses to his audience.

“I see Hawthorne has its uses after all,” Myrtle comments, sipping her champagne in a slow gulp.

“Come over here,” Cordelia urges, patting the space beside her at the sofa.

“Cordelia said today’s your birthday. So, we bought some presents,” Madison trills, reaching behind the Victorian loveseat. She procures a fancy giftbag, with the letters spelling out ‘Fabulous’ emblazed on the glossy black giftbag.

“It is?” Kyle asks, cradling more elaborately decorated giftboxes. Michael could see Kyle’s present, wrapped ineptly with a blue bow sloping in awkward angles, and a hint of glue to keep the bow in place.

“It’s not. Not at least officially. But we haven’t celebrate yours, so I figured we all could use a little gift giving,” Cordelia clarifies, corners of her rose-painted mouth quirking into a smile.

“Here, open mine first,” Madison declares, thrusting her gift into Michael’s hands. Eagerness and pride swirl in her hazel eyes. The smile on her face widens into a cat’s smirk.

Michael tears the gift wrapper open. The box in his hand, bears some weight, reveals a 5-piece bath time giftset. He peers closer, observing a blue rubber ducky bullet vibrator, among it. Oh, there’s a shower sponge, waterproof wand massage, and Rabbit-shaped wand attachment—whatever that is.

“You bought him a sex-toy?” Zoe snaps, flits her glare at flaxen-haired witch, “We talked about this.”

“Only the best kind and it’s a gift set. Like the same one I got you. I said I’ll consider not buying. I didn’t say I won’t,” Madison shrugs, then brightens with satisfaction at her handiwork.

“Why?” Cordelia questions, exasperated. The ghost of a smile works on the end of her lips.

“I thought he’d be lonely—he got to have something to release all that sexual stress,” Madison replies, winking at him.

“How thoughtful of you, Madison,” he stutters his gratitude. His cheeks flushing red, embarrassment spreading the heat around his neck. “I’m sure I can find some use of these items.”

He receives a Stevie Nicks album from Misty. An encyclopaedic volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, certainly from Kyle. Zoe makes sure he’d never run out of priceless manuscripts to read. Queenie bequeaths him three copies of cookbooks and a wicked brand-new backpack. A branded polo t-shirt and cologne, from both Mallory and Coco. He gets a whole new wardrobe set; Myrtle casually remarks, “As a favour from an old acquaintance, you are now in possession of Lubiam Cerimonia collection for the autumn/winter seasons.”

“I’m afraid this will have to suffice for the time being.” Cordelia leans over, presses a soft kiss on his cheek, leaving a red memoriam of parental embarrassment in him. “Your true present’s in my bedroom. Don’t go back to your room just yet.”

“I want you to have this. I don’t have children. You and the girls are the closest to that,” Cordelia spoke, her cedar eyes sparkly with unshed crystals. “And it’d be too weird to give a man’s ring to the girls.” Her full lips quirked upwards into a sheepish smile.

His gift is a tacky ring, an heirloom of her father’s, in lieu of the clarity of his memory he hunted with wild grasping hands. Where is the truth he deserves? Lies, secrets, lies. More secrets. More lies.

She lied. It’s not going to be the truth you seek, the voice in his head taunts, resembling uncannily to Devan’s. The thought snarls, whittling his worship of Cordelia, his bond with the witches. They wish to subjugate him to a world where he is perpetually sightless to his origins, oblivious to his lineage.

B-but Devan and his laidback smiles, and his knowing eyes. He knows.

Michael wastes no time, extending his searching tendrils all over. His presence flares, like a beaming lighthouse in the misty and treacherous oceanic waves. Nowhere in Hawthorne. Devan is close.

Michael shuts his eyes. He breathes in, crafting the imagery of catacombs mounted onto the lifeless soil, flanking his left, right, front and behind, like an ocean of the sleeping dead. Most are mould-coated, crumbling with centuries coarsening faultless marble. A few tombs unspoiled, saved for fissuring lines unbearably fine only known to the eyes of a frequent visitor to the dead and their floral tributes.

Michael treads through the labyrinthine maze of decorated crypts, on the gravel path lighted by scattered candled shrines. Impatience and frustration vibrating in his veins. He could sniff the Alpha’s scent. Devan’s here.

He’s perched over the largest sepulchre among the vast mausoleum sea. His spine leaning against the spindle tower, he dangles long legs over the mausoleum’s roof edges. His face is bathed in the lengthy shadows casted by the crescent moon. Though the corners of his lips twist into shards of a sardonic smirk.

“My, my, fancy meeting you here,” Devan greets, disappearing from the roof. He re-materialises in front Michael.

“You know something I don’t. All these time you’ve been playing mind games. I have enough. You tell me right now, what it is. Or—”

“Or what?” Devan interrupts, issuing a mocking challenge.

It’s instinctive. To grab Devan by his throat. To slam him with all his strength against the crypt’s marbled walls. The impact of Devan’s crash, deepens the cracking marbles. “I will crush your throat.” Michael wraps his hands around Devan’s throat, squeezing it ever so slightly that Devan turns blue. “Now, who am I?”

“You’re like me. Part of a trio. You’re the Anti-Christ. The original, should I say.”

“I’m not the Anti-Christ. I’m not.”

“You know you are. Deep down, you’ve always known.”

Michael tightens his hold. Furious fingers leaving garnet imprints on Devan’s throat. “I can’t remember anything. You’re lying.”

“I never lied to you. The witches did.” Devan coughs out, quirking a curious brow. “You’re too blind, too deaf to see it. The true you. Don’t fight it. Let the feeling come naturally. Learn to listen.” His white slash hasn’t dull its sharp, unremitting corners. “As cliché as this sounds, but free your mind usually helps.”

“Nothing. I cannot remember.”

“I fear this might be the case. She really did a number on you.” Devan evaporates from Michael’s view, reappearing behind the cemetery’s nightguard. “You’re no virgin, or a female. But you’ll do,” he murmurs, crushing the man’s skull with his bare hands. Effortlessly as if he just had squished tomato.

There’s a part of him, Michael thinks—knows, is chained to the gilt Styx-soaked ribcages, concealed in the inscrutable corners of his mind. That part itches to scratch the barriers containing it. Now the chains clink, and twist, and comes fraying. Clawing its way out, and it might already have succeeded.

“All these times, they kept you away from that knowledge. So that you would wither into a pedestrian life, living so tepidly unremarkable and die a meaningless existence when you’re destined for greatness as I am.”

“N-no, they’re helping me,” Michael stammers, denial drives its jagged fangs deep into his flesh. “They accept me as part of the coven.”

“Don’t be afraid to taste it,” Devan urges, his blood-soaked finger smearing that warm scarlet liquid across Michael’s lower lip.

The temptation to stretch his tongue, sliding it over his lower lip is immediate demoniacally. He is not Eve, fallen to the slithering charms of the devil. He is of the devil’s malevolent pedigree. Michael licks it.

He is free. He is whole. He remembers it all.

Salt-haired priest chanted Latin, Michael’s ears burnt. The priest, in his black-and-white clerical cloak, dead—neck slit, crimson liquid gushed like tempestuous waterfall.

“People fear what they don’t understand,” Devan purrs, kindly.

Grandma and her love for him swallowed by fear of him, off to die by her own hands. To escape you little devil’s spawn, her voice echoes ghost-like and unspoken.

The hotel masked by Hollywood opulence, rotting from within, and hordes of tormented souls trapped within its walls. Queenie was one of them. She died. There’s Madison Montgomery, movie starlet and lost her second life to mourning Frankenstein former paramour. He plucked her out from her retail hell. The frat boy Michael disintegrated his soul into abyss. No warlock or witch—not even the Supreme is capable of his feats.

He’s the Anti-Christ.

“The witches. The warlocks. They don’t understand you and I. We’re the anti-theses for everything that breath and live in this world. They cannot and will never understand you the way I do, brother.”

Salty diamonds teeming his eyelashes, with the weight of a fractured heart. Fingers clenched so hard (too hard), and nails digging into the skin of his palms—digging out the malice flowing in his veins. His thoughts are spinning feverishly turbulent in the orbit of normalcy.

The world melts into a maddening colourless haze. Sounds, all of it (down to the satisfying hum in Devan’s chest) converging in a sullen and muted cistern. Leaving Michael with nothing, but the cruel betrayal razing his beloved faith in the coven. Numbness rapidly filling the cavernous hollowness within him. Each ticking second, the void fracturing into deeper and bigger nothingness.

Michael chokes back a roaring sob. A rogue tear drips down his cheek.

Would they still love him? When all of his handsome, countenance stripped of its angelic allure down to its malevolent core. When all they see is a face regrettably whittled to pallid emaciated visage, animal horns crowning his head like keratinous diadem and eyes dark as the bottomless pit of Tartarus.

Fear cords nasal words, and Coco stutters, “Who’s t-there?” Pale wrists glinting underneath the streaking moonlight, knuckles white from gripping brass fireplace poker. The rigid rod trembling in the air, poised to meet the intruder. She swings the fire iron blindly, false bravado guiding her. “I’m warning you. You’re in the wrong house, buddy—oh thank god.”

He is the monster that terrified Christian parents warn little children to hide underneath the bed, regardless of how fruitless it is.

“It’s just me,” he says, mouth insufferably dry.

“You scare me,” she replies, edgy chuckles slipping out from her throat. Her socialite lips curving into a smile. Lowering the fire iron down, she spins on the balls of her feet. Toned legs opening pace to the fireplace, languid footsteps exist only briefly.

“I’m sorry,” Michael says, monotonously robotic.

Was it all an act? Her nervous-wrecked smile. Is that a mask, hiding contempt of him? Should he be blissfully unaware, she surely would not think twice to continue the charade of a clumsy witch ignorant of his true parentage. They never let him study with the girls—off he goes to the warlocks and their lesser parlour tricks.

“I should be the one to apologise. You could have lost an eye,” she laments, mortification reddens her cheeks.

Will they still accept him? If they know their endings are all written by the tilted pen between his fingers. He is the abomination that unravelling scriptures foretold and the destruction he is to unleash on the world.

“I’ll just grow a new one out. We seemed to have spells for everything. And death is cheap.”

He is the accruement of all that is wicked, an aversion to virtuousness and noble. Have the witches made it clear? Cordelia would let him be leashed, handled by Madison. Madison Montgomery isn’t a tutor or a babysitter, for she is an instinctual fighter honed by years of parental neglect. She is the lone wolf in the world of predatory, exploitative men. She is his ruthless monitor.

Her spine bowing, as she leans forward—unprotected. Make it fast, painlessly silent.

“I know it’s stupid to think that anyone can break into the most fortified—”

A flex of his fingers; a slim neck snaps as though a boot delicately crunching against a fragile twig. He catches her midway crumpling to the floor. No room for sudden crashes of newly dead. Lays her on the floor, by the fireplace. Michael shuts her eyes close.

They never love him. If they did, it is inevitable that love they have will outgrow them. Repugnance wrapped in disdain will serve as their final parting gift to him. Just like grandma did. In the shoes of Constance Langdon, six feet under; they will leave him too.

The sandman still gambols on her eyelids to a satyr’s tune. Queenie peaks a dazed eye open at him. “M-Michael?” One groggy hand reaching for a blade kept underneath her pillows.

They will kill him. To save the world, to save their sisters, to save themselves. He is the threat to be neutralised, like a toxin obliterating everything in its path until the last breath leaves the body.

“Go to sleep,” Michael shushes an automaton’s urging. It will be a long torpor for her. Slipping his hand under her pillow, he jerks the blade out. The knife is seven inches of cold stainless steel, with its handle carved out from hardwood. Something so deathly fine-looking is never crafted to stay hidden beneath the pillow of a living human doll.

The world is a lawless land where survival hinges on the principle ‘kill or be killed’—and he is the presaged harbinger. Why fight his nature when that is all there is to expect from him?

Queenie drifts to slumber; her consciousness fogged with images he imposed on her. She lies flat on her back, unmoving as inanimate voodoo doll. “Let’s hit the bed, Nan. It’s getting late,” she mumbles, drowsiness tinted her words.

They do not see him. Not as Michael Langdon. Never the prodigal son. He is the fallen son. And that is all he will ever be. Thus, he shall be.

He covers a hand over her mouth. Runs the blade across her throat, with a force enough to crush her trachea, severing the carotid artery. That ought to do it. He counts the ticking seconds in his head; one, two, three . . . twelve. Therewithal the last breath brings a new ice-blue pallor to her skin. Breathtakingly serene she looks.

Doors are for weakling humans and magi-folk failed to grasp the finer notions of transmutation. He descends on them, like shimmering hazy mist through the miniscule cracks of their windowsills and doors. One obstacle taken care off. More are waiting.

She craves for a simplistic time; a lanky boy with shaggy blonde hair and blinding grin, a girl with addiction to fire and a hardened heart thawing at this bizarre ménage à trois of a relationship and there’s her—young, frightened and perpetually wondering if this would work. It does. In a fantasy, the three thrive. For singular moment frozen in time, they are the best versions of themselves. He knows this. Always have. And from tonight, Zoe will only exists in this limbo she spent her nights contemplating. Queenie could use a friend.

He presses his fingertips on her forehead, inserting the picturesque domestic bliss into her dream. His other hand tosses a coin in the air. Suspends the coin mid-air. He plays a rousing chant of ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’—the brain stem wins. Michael cocks his fingers into an invisible gun; pulls his trigger finger. The coin flies for her head at rapid speed, barrelling through grey-white matter. Blood seeps onto her pillows, now crowning her head in psychedelic glow. Her even breathing dwindles to stagnant silence.

He moves to Madison—her bed made and clean. Her favourite heels missing. Her cigarette purse gone. Her much-loved lipstick nowhere to be found on her vanity. Michael wastes no time to dwell on loss opportunity.

The younger witches, at the cusp of blooming into their powers, are inherently foolish to believe in Cordelia’s false assurance that the academy will protect them. Not anymore.

He drugs their senses with cotton wool and wine. Pins each girl down to the bed. He dispatches their lives prematurely quick. Paralyzing their nerves with his brand of venom, he watches the rigour colonises their muscles. Piano fingers gripping the blade, slashing their throats. Juggling coins bulleting punctures into lungs. Sharpened blade assaults hearts into destroyed fleshes.

He elects to leave them cake in their blood, as life slips out from their eyes. Sometimes when it is not so rare than Michael likes it to be, their hearts are overworked, spurting scarlet blood all over.

He stands above the witch-ward, a mewling thing with adrenaline resisting his numbing efforts. Very well then. Michael grasps her chin, steadying the quiver of muffled pleas, presses a finger on her lips. “This is the better way and you’re safer, trust me.”

She dreams. Every night she sees the world burns to crisp, the bodies littered the ground like fallen flies. There’s not much of an identification; whether the dead were young, old, female, male—all identities stripped away by the nuclear shockwave sweeping across the earth’s surface.

Sometimes, there are two. Other times, it is a trio with one’s face shrouded by shadows. Mostly, there is only one. Darkness cloaks them, grasses tipped in acrid shades and all she could discern is the crow-robed figure.

The content plays like old reruns of obscure movie reel of the black-and-white silent film. The plaster-faced demon, with its barbed scars and obsidian pupils, lowers his hood. Cracked lips bearing a white-hot slash, giving way to ivory fangs. Laughter, disconcerted echoes, leaves his throat.

The demon falls on his knees, clutching his head. He howls, and screams, and shrieks. Nothing about it sounds remotely human, but caught in between the roar of a choked tiger and the wheeze of gurgling tar.

“Stop it,” he snarls, baring gleaming fangs.

Cordelia raises a hand, gathering all the strength of the Supremes before her and after her, and she—

“Help me,” he supplicates, leaking tears the colour of scarlet river.

Cordelia stops. And ponders. Should mercy be bequeathed to a demon in the throes of pain?

He pounds his head against the ground. Again. Again. And again, all the while his screams explode from his chest, the cry for relief and rage, until his face split, blood oozes like slick oil and his horns cracking at the impact.

His talons dig into his emancipated ashen skin, burrowing deeply. “Why are you staring—Help me,” the voice trails off, melting wax-like.

Someone yanks her blanket away, wrinkled hands grasping her shoulders. Another slender arm—younger—curving around her waist, hauls Cordelia upright from her pillows.

“We have to go now,” Mallory whispers, tossing a nervous look over her shoulders.

“Go where?” Cordelia slurs, drowsiness still yet to relent its grasp over her speech and wits.

“Somewhere safe,” Myrtle offers, cryptic. “I’m afraid time is of the essence, and the best place is to be in the garage shed. I got the keys.”

Cordelia protests, “The academy—”

“Someone breached it,” Mallory murmurs, urgency ringing in her timbre.

“That’s impossible,” Cordelia raises to her feet. The modesty of her nightgown forgotten, as her eyes dart over the ceiling. Her girls. No.

“Delia, the garage now. Or it will be our heads served on the Chinas,” Myrtle snaps, gripping Cordelia’s forearm tight.

Madison’s sudden appearance in her room, nearly sends her heart racing. “What the fucking hell is happening? There’s a bloody massacre back in the academy. Everyone’s dead—” Mallory clamps a hand over Madison’s mouth.

“The garage now,” Mallory mutters.

“Alright,” Cordelia complies, only for the want to appease the older woman. The gears in her mind shifting into firework of synapsis. Devan couldn’t—shouldn’t be able to enter. She makes sure of it, reinforcing the barriers with magic older than Nordic runes, symbols written in tattered scrolls meant for destruction.

Mallory dashes to pull the covers off from the car, unlocking the shotgun’s seat for Cordelia. She climbs into the backseat, fixing her seatbelt.

Michael. Please, dear God, not him. It cannot be him. Oh, but it is him you blind little girl, Fiona’s hoarse-lined smirk gleefully reminds her. “I have to see him.”

“He’s dangerous, Cordelia,” Myrtle reasons, her ungloved hand seizing Cordelia’s shoulder, and manicured fingers tremble a mother’s concern.

Madison slides into the driver’s seat, any questions or snarky retorts remain unspoken. She ignites the engine, casting a quick glance at the passenger seats. Daffodil brows arch questioningly at Myrtle.

“He’ll kill you,” Mallory pleads, her doe-like eyes are russet worried.

Madison snaps her attention back to Cordelia. “Devan’s inside?”

“It’s not Devan,” Mallory stutters, shaking wavy cinnamon tresses lightly.

“I have to save him, Myrtle.”

“He’s too far gone, Delia.”

“I have to try.”

She finds him sitting on the academy’s steps. Head bowed. Skinny knees drawn up to his chest. Shoulders hunching to the arc of starling’s unfolded wings. His soft hands folded over his lap.

Relief floods her, as she takes in him behind the honey-suckled gates. Oh, thank god. Shame fills her therewith. Her girls are dead, and she’s thanking God for the Anti-Christ’s wellbeing. What’s the matter with you, how is it you’re the Supreme, Fiona’s ephemeral admonishment clucks her tongue in Cordelia’s mind, when your coven’s slaughtered like lambs.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” His palms muffle the vibrato in his quiet words. Crystal salt clings to his delicate eyelashes; unshed. He has never looked any younger—smaller—than he is now.

She transmutes in front him, snuffing her desire to sweep him in her arms. Cordelia instinctively placates, “You’re so much more than that—” She cannot bring herself to say the word.

“But that’s what I am. My sole purpose,” he murmurs, his usual honeyed lilt devoid of tender affection.

His golden hair matted, crowned by the metallic aftertaste of decaying crimson. His burgundy floral necktie—a gift from Myrtle—lay trampled on the ground. Crushed flowers and graveyard moss stuck to the sole of his boots.

“No, Michael. You’re my son.”

He looks up, scathing grizzled rage contours his angular features into a tranquil and demoniac mask fastened to his angelical face. Michael disappears from the stairs, emerging in front of her. “Stop with the lies. You only took me in because you wanted to make sure I will never kill,” he says, his words taut with barely concealed disparagement. “Say it. You know who I am.”

Moonlight bath him in the luminescent glow of acrid red like a Jackson Pollock’s painting. Closer now, she sees his freckles are man-made, reeks of rotting blood. His lips curling to a muted snarl, revealing ivory fangs—not his pearly white teeth.

“You’re confused,” she asserts, extending a hand over his arm, squeezing it. She needs to diffuse his rage, hopes her words are enough, appeals to the terrified little boy within him. She knows he is there, somewhere. His years with the coven must worth something—anything.

“I’m not,” Michael spits, wrenching his arm from her touch. His knuckles are white coiled inward, burrowing into his bloody palms. His veins are cobalt-blue against his snow skin, and burns fiery. His body shakes, like the aftershocks of a devastating earthquake. “You put me under a memory spell. You knew. Say it.”

“You don’t have to follow the path Satan laid out for you. You can write your destiny,” Cordelia tries, ever expectant of him to air his grievances and perhaps, they could work out his issues. So cliché it will never work, her mother’s callous voice whispers, you’re wasting your time—kill the boy.

“Enough with the lies, Cordelia,” Michael snarls, bitterly hot.

“You’re the Anti-Christ,” she says. Her admission devastatingly shatters him, hammering his fragile glassed heart into slicing sand-fine shards that Cordelia knows it’s futile to piece it together. And yet, her persistence is dogged, stubborn as she is, as Michael is. And she tries anyway.  

“I was never a warlock. You just keep me close because you’re afraid.”

“I shouldn’t lie. It was wrong to do it. But, you can still turn away. There’s humanity in you, I see it. Always have. It’s not too late.”

“I’m a monster. I killed innocent people tonight. There’s no turning back from that.”

“Yes, you can. We can salvage this.”

“No, you can’t. You’re not my mother, stop saving me. The next time I see you, you’ll die.”