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Witch Born

By:Amber Argyle

1. Shadows

The night was so deep the shadows seemed to bleed darkness. Senna glanced toward the hidden sky, searching for the moon that would not come. Not tonight. Even the strongest starlight was strangled by the dense canopy of trees. The temporary blindness was frightening, but it ensured no one would notice her slipping away.

With each step she took, the roar of the waterfall grew louder. Finally, she reached the staircase carved into the side of the cliff. Mindful of the slippery steps, she climbed upward until her muscles burned and sweat broke across her skin despite the chill.

When she’d crested the top and crossed the bleak expanse, she glanced at the frothing sea far below. Sea spray misted her skin. She faced westward, towards the distant land of Tarten. Closing her eyes, she cast her senses across the vast ocean, searching and feeling the faraway echoes of the Four Sisters—Earth, Water, Plants, and Sunlight. She concentrated until she could hear their pain, an aching melody.

Senna’s tears started again, wetting the salty tracks already on her cheeks. At night, her dreams haunted her. Dreams of a withered land and a dying people. With all the strength she had, she sang.

Let not the curse of Witches

Destroy a land of natural riches.

Plants, preserve life in thy roots,

Seeds sleep in earth, send forth no shoots

Until the Witches shall disperse

This terrible and unjust curse.

She came to the cliffs every night she could manage to slip away. Hoping to right the wrong she’d done, she sang for Tarten—the lands she’d helped destroy months ago.

When her throat was scratchy and she could no longer hit the high notes, she stared at the land she knew was struggling to hold onto any life at all. Because of the Witches’ curse, no rain had fallen in Tarten for over two months—death to any jungle, but this one held on deep in the ground, waiting for the promise of her song to be fulfilled.

She withdrew her senses back to her home, Haven. Above the crash of waves, Senna thought she heard the scuff of a boot against stone. She whipped around and peered in the direction she’d come, her heart pounding in her throat. If the Discipline Heads discovered she was subverting their curse, the punishment would be severe.

“Who’s there?” Her whisper sounded like a shout in the darkness.

No answer. She wished Joshen were here. The Discipline Heads had done their best to keep her apart from her Guardian. She hadn’t seen him in two months. Not since he and Leader Reden had gone on a recruitment assignment.

Hugging herself, Senna trotted back to the staircase and began the long descent into the uninhabited quarter of Haven. At the base, she plunged between trees that towered above her, the tallest over eight stories high, the smallest just over two. Some were so wide it would take twenty witches stretched arm to arm to encircle one. Each tree was hollow and had once been inhabited by a Witch. Now they were empty, proof of the Witches’ lingering decline into ruin.

Here, everything still bore faded signs of the Witches’ final battle with Espen. A door in a tree creaked on its rusted hinges, a hole yawning where the latch should have been. Broken windows gaped like mouths with hungry, serrated teeth. The destruction was at odds with the life bursting all around.

Still, Senna couldn’t shake the feeling she wasn’t alone. There was no indication anyone had marked her sneaking away, no indication she’d been followed. But some instinct inside her seemed to chant a warning—through the gloom, someone was watching.

The feeling grew, and with a start, Senna heard music again. But this wasn’t the distant music from Tarten. This was closer. Here.

She halted and tipped her head toward a sound so soft and natural she realized she must have been hearing it for a while and mistaken it for the sounds of nature.

But there was no mistaking it now. The melody carried a warning.

The wind picked up, snaking along the path and tugging at her cloak. Senna held her hood close. The thick vegetation before her shifted against the breeze. Someone was coming. Trying to calm her ragged breathing, she reminded herself she was safe on Haven. The Witches’ headquarters were an impenetrable fortress—surrounded on all sides by cliffs that were in turn surrounded by the frigid ocean. The only way in or out of the island was for a Witch to sing you through an underwater cave.

So this was simply another Witch out for a stroll in the middle of the night in the abandoned part of Haven. The witch would see Senna and wonder why she was out for a stroll in the middle of the night in the abandoned part of Haven.

The tempo increased, matching the pounding of Senna’s heart. She backed off the path and hid behind a plant with leaves the size of her chest. Her hand strayed to her seed belt, her practiced fingers automatically finding the pouch of Thine seeds. She waited, as motionless as a mouse at the mere whisper of a wing.