Today’s witch is brought to you by the prompt Crystal.
A woman hits her knees before me, smacking the translucent floor with an ominous thud. Aquatic life scurries away from the sound waves rippling through the cradling the submerged Den of the Nightingale. While her hands are unbound, and the unseemly gag in her lips is removed, I check my nails. A chip remains in the paint covering my pinky nail from the last mess I cleaned up.
You can tell a lot about a person based on the first words they reclaim after having their voice stolen. Some immediately begin screaming, others argue or demand to know what is going on. A rare few, like the woman before me, says nothing. Blood red hair sweeps across her cheeks as she tilts her face up to meet my bored gaze. Her strong eyes match her smooth tresses in color and shine, but they pulse between the crimson red and an invigorating white.
I pace around the woman, hands clasped behind my back. My talons clack upon the floor and my silken black dress trails behind me. Upon finding the slash across the woman’s back, marring her own black dress that extends from wrists to throat, my wings quiver with distaste. When I stand before the woman again, I close the distance between us so she has to tilt her head back uncomfortably to meet my eyes.
“You denied healing services. Why?” I ask, more curious than offended.
The woman’s eyes simmer with a fresh wave of magick, restrained by the collar around her neck. When she speaks, she never looks away from me. “I’d rather bleed out on your pretty floor than accept help from a goniff.”
I can’t help but laugh. “Me, a thief? Quite a sentiment coming from you.”
The woman scoffs and I snap my fingers, beckoning the shomer standing in the corner of my office. Without having to ask, the human, equipped in fighting leathers, weapons and an astounding amount of intelligence, retrieves a binder from inside their jacket. They cross the room without making a sound, transferring the black leather into my hands without ever touching me. We lock eyes, theirs are a soft pink that contrasts the hard lines of their partially masked face
They give me no indication to stop with my line of questioning, so I continue.
“Thank you,” I dip my head to the shomer. I open the binder and begin reading off transgressions and facts. “Tanuki Starshot, Half-Elven Descent, 127 years old, residence currently unknown. Worked as a psychiatrist at Heartstone Medical for fifty years before quitting without notice or acceptance of the retirement earned. A series of crimes escalating in severity occured, including but not limited to; Arson in the Lesser and Majority, Thievery in the Lesser and Majority, Kidnapping even. The police of course have no leads or a theory as to motive, but certain … sources say that you are seeking vengeance against me.”
Tanuki’s scowl tightens, but she says nothing.
I elegantly drop into a kneeling position, opposite Tanuki. I rest my palms on my thighs, while her hands are shaking fists. I tilt my head, awaiting a response. Third eyelids sweep over my eyes, casting Tanuki in a translucent filter. Her thick, bloody aura is calm, furious, but calm. She isn’t afraid of me.
Tanuki swallows, then says, “You’ve been watching me for longer than I thought.” I can’t help but laugh. It’s quick and soft, but the severity of it penetrates Tanuki’s stoic posture. “Why?” She grits out.
“Why did you crash my Gala and murder three innocents in attempts to steal what is rightfully mine?” I counter, amusement replaced by icy curiosity.
Tanuki throws her head back and laughs. “Innocent? None of you are innocent, that’s why I’m!-” She cuts off with a snarl, glaring at me with a hatred burned anew. “You’re murderers, thieves, cheaters and liars. A stain on Levena, and you’re at the top of the tower, monopolizing the black market.”
I lean closer and she stiffens, but doesn’t pull back. Inches separate us and I smirk to hide the pride swelling in my chest. “You’re not innocent either, dear. Spare me the self-righteous bullshit. You’re here on a personal … errand. If you wanted to see me fall, there are plenty of less dangerous and direct ways to do so.”
I allow that to hang in the air for a moment, and when she doesn’t deny it, I continue in a whisper, driving each point home with a harsh rasp.
“Every settlement, from city to village, has a stain where the less fortunate saturate the earth with their blood, sweat and tears. There will always be those who suffer under the weight of those who live with more. It may be due to personal circumstance, societal pressure or rich assholes taking advantage of the working class, but there will always be those who need a helping hand. Would you prefer a pompous prick to have total control of black trade? Someone who could easily poison this city with such influence, power and connections?”
Tanuki scoffs, jaw working as she stares directly into my eyes. “And what makes you so fucking righetous? How do you help the less fortunate? Murder not only the competition, but all those speak against you? Even those who don’t even know you? Don’t pretend like you peddle things as trivial as drugs and whores. I know about the Wrens.”
I smile, pleased with her intelligence. If it were anyone else, I would’ve slit her throat at the mention of the assassins. “We don’t kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it. If you doubt that fact, I can prove to you otherwise. We target only those who the police can not or will not touch, and for the most part, our work does not take place in Levena. Not until recently, but as you can imagine the NOJ and AWO groups have kept us quite busy. The same groups that fed you false information.”
That finally gets a reaction out of her. Pure surprise.
“Why are you telling me this?” Tanuki asks, hands loosening. Then her face hardens. “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”
“Oh no, not at all. Quite the opposite.” I pat her hand and she pulls back like I’ve burned her. “That would be a waste of your talents, and I’m afraid I’m the sentimental type.”
Tanuki bares her teeth. “No. Fuck no. I’d rather die than work for you.”
I frown, standing. “No, that just will not do.”
Tanuki says nothing, glowering up at me. I return to my desk, glancing briefly at the shomer. They lock eyes with me, then dip their chin.
I take a seat in the plush desk chair, tracing absent circles on the wooden desk surface. I follow the dark whorls of time preserved in plant fiber, allowing complete silence to fill the office for a minute. I glance up at Tanuki, pressing my palm to the desk. She’s watching me intense scrutiny, her fury has given way to intense distaste and interest.
Magick doesn’t rush through my veins and arteries in the same volatile way that it does to my brethren. It flows like a cool, steady stream throughout my circulatory system, powered by the quiet and steady rhythm of my witch’s heart. A pale blue glow dances around my hand, like a loose cloud swirling with an invisible breeze.
Tanuki straightens, leans ahead. Her own magick flares in response to seeing mine, but is still restrained by the binding collar. “You’re a witch.” She says in a whisper, not quite accusing but unsettled all the same.
I nod, pressing my palm harder against the desk. An invisible plume of energy expands from my hand, bringing with it a sweet fragrance that has always reminded me of freshly baked cookies. Tanuki sighs, visibly relaxing. That is, until the desk transforms.
Molecule by rearranged molecule, the wood beneath my hand changes into something infinitely harder, cooler and brighter. Ruby ripples through the desk, washing away all traces of the tree that unwillingly once gave its life to become a piece of furniture. The transfiguration takes less than ten seconds, but they are ten seconds of pure bliss.
I don’t allow my magick out to play very often. People are not all that different from inanimate objects, perhaps even easier to crystalize.
I lift my hand from the desk and straighten. “This is how I help. Why my businesses and my people thrive. With protection, and the wealth I can offer them. I have a gift that most would, and have, tried to kill for. I will use it for good, by the motherfucking Gods, I will. I have never hurt a person who did not deserve it. I have never killed an innocent. That I can promise you. If you work for me, you will have a chance to fight the actual villains, and I will show you just how much you’ve been lied to.”
I watch the calculations fly behind her eyes, the corners of her lips wrinkling as she reworks what she knows about me. Tanuki shakes her head and says with determination, “You killed my mother.”
The shomer leaves their post, crossing the room with squared shoulders. I stay where I am, allowing them to take over. They stand before Tanuki, and I come around my desk, wanting to be able to see both their faces.
Tanuki looks between the shomer and I, face pinching. “What is this?” She asks, and I say nothing.The shomer reaches up with subtly trembling fingers, hooking them through the loops of their black fabric mask. They pull it down and Tanuki blanches instantly.
The true Nightingale, the shomer that has been by my side for decades since she left her old life behind, says, “Hello, Daughter.”