This is the same universe as my other short story, The Care of Flowers
The silver clock buzzes in Laura’s hand. She gapes at it, the hands whirring madly, circling the quadrant so fast they turn into a humming blur. The entire chassis vibrates against her skin like a sizzling pot, but instead of steam, their little detector lets out a pained, high-pitched whine.
She raises her hazelnut eyes to meet the emerald gaze of the Witch. Melissa gulps – for the first time since she has known her, the Witch who could toss people across a square with a glance looks frozen with fear.
“She is here,” she whispers through gritted teeth.
“Let it go!” Her pale hands coil around Laura’s wrist and she picks up the clock, which is by now vibrating so hard it feels more like a fluttering metal bird than an enchanted detector, and throws it away.
Laura feels the air congeal around her as she follows the clock fly in the air, slower and slower – as if it were plunging into depths of transparent honey rather than the clear air of a Venetian night.
The clock begins to explode – Laura follows the metal bend, the hands flowing away in a chaotic arc, the chassis burst under the wave of searing light expanding from the inside. She turns, but no noise reaches her ears.
It’s getting harder and harder to breathe. She leans against the Witch, who helps her stand. Her chest feels constricted as if a snake coiled around her lungs, squeezing every bout of hair out of her.
“Ahhh-” she wheezes, trying to suck in enough air.
She has never felt like this.
They have been battling the other Witches for days now, and the tiny detector that Melissa enchanted had become a comforting presence for her. The big hand, the one that would warn them of the incoming encounter with a Witch, had never slithered past ten.
Now… now it has just exploded.
Which means only one thing. The one Witch they were supposed to keep out of this… the only one who could…
Laura gasps. Melissa’s hands feel cold and clammy against her skin. She looks towards the encroaching sea at the edge of Saint Mark’s Square.
Venice glistens as if through frosted glass – the shimmering, frozen air has stopped every moment. The fighting Witches, who had turned from chasing them into an all-out brawl, seem to resist the change for a moment, but they also slow down to a crawl and then to an icy stillness.
Some of the most powerful may have the time to turn to the sea, their eyes widen in fear as well.
For most of them, they are stuck in the present, falling mid-air, running, their faces creased with anger and bloodlust.
Melissa blinks. Even she seems to have trouble breathing. She picks her up and holds her close. The warmth of her body is comforting. She shows her a tight smile, but Laura can feel the Witch’s ichor thrum inside her body.
This is the one thing they desperately tried to avoid.
Now Laura doesn’t know what to do.
Her vision is getting blotchy. Darker at the sides. Each breath is like trying to gulp thick water.
She doesn’t know how long she has before she just passes out, even with Melissa trying to gently help her, caressing her nape.
They are the only two that still move.
Even the sea is frozen – a shuddering mirror of black and gold, reflecting the night lights of the lagoon.
Golden, and one tiny speck of white.
The only moving thing on the horizon.
A petite girl, seemingly a few years younger than even her. Dressed in a white garb that seems to echo her filigree arms and legs, she walks on the stillborn sea. Her mane of long white hair flow behind her like a thick spiderweb.
As she touches the first stones of the square proper with her naked foot, she finds one of the Witches standing, frozen, right in front of her. She keeps walking.
Space bends like through a concave mirror and the Witch is pushed aside, reassembling herself to proper form once the girl in white has passed her.
Her lips are so pale. Like platinum.
And the only point of color in her form…
It’s her black eyes.
“Ghhu-” Laura shudders.
It’s not just black.
Her eyes are void.
It’s like the slumbering darkness beneath the earth, the kind of which pours into your sight until you are left blind and searching for purchase, and each step is treacherous.
It’s the black strung between the stars – Laura stumbles, her feet losing any strength. Melissa holds her up, but even the strength of her arms is fading.
The girl in white tilts her head slightly as she walks closer and closer. Her feet draw no noise on the ancient stone. She doesn’t even look at her. Her black eyes are only for Melissa, and Laura is secretly grateful.
If she were to look at her, she has a feeling she’d just stumble and fall and fall and fall forever in that dark maw, until she would forget her name and her story and all would just be a deaf note in a shivering sea of utter black.
“I did not want to believe it,” she says.
Her voice comes to Laura’s ears quite clear. She would have expected it to sound coarse or distorted, but in fact it feels like it’s pouring straight out of her mind, soft and slightly high-pitched, like a girl still in the flower of youth.
Melissa takes a step back – through the honey-like thick air, away from the apparition.
Away from the most powerful of all the Witches.
“I did not want to believe you could leave me,” says in a hurtful whisper Atropa Belladonna.
Melissa’s arms feel so tight over her chest. She’s pulling her away from that void-like gaze. Her heart beats so fast it’s like a thunder rolling in her chest and her bloodstream echoes in her ears.
“Please come back. We will be together again. We will be happy again.” And the girl in white stops, standing just as still as the other Witches around her, etched in time. She raises a filigree hand. Her eyes are still just as black, but her platinum smile wavers, hopeful, on her lips. It’s weird… she looks so fragile. Like a sculpture of snow. About to break off at any moment, and yet her Hungerlight shimmers and flows out at the seams, barely-contained by her form, turning time itself into a corpse. “Please, Melissa.”
Author’s Notes: feeling cute, might just ignore my publishing calendar again, dunno. Jokes aside, this was an interesting scene to write. I had put something like it to pen a few years ago and I felt like trying some style exercises, so I rewrote it ground up by memory. These characters have a novel to themselves which at this point might just never… see the light.
At any rate, thanks for reading. Even if this was mostly an exercise.