In Emile’s hand was the head of a creature that bore a striking resemblance to a snake, save for two protruding horns on its head. It was thicker than Emile’s thigh and its length Fleur could not yet determine—the rest of its body was still submerged in the dark water of the river while her father only held up its head. A gaping hole scarred the center of its head where ichor continued to ooze in copious amounts, the obvious result of Emile throwing his spear at the creature. With the help of what little light filtered through the branches of the trees looming over them, the serpent’s scales gleamed and rippled azure and cobalt.
The horror that swam in Fleur’s eyes were reflected in those of her father’s as he stared at the creature’s bleeding corpse that he held in his hand.
“Father,” Giles spoke. “You told me they weren’t real!”
Emile gave no reply but his silence spoke volumes.
* * *
The white lilies were the easiest to find beneath the moonless sky. Ramsey found them on the riverbank and plucked not only one but several of those that were in full bloom. She was careful not to crush them in her grasp while she made her way toward the deeper part of the forest in the dark. She went farther than most hunters cared to do so as she trekked a path far down south, until she reached a small plot of soil from which a shrub of red peonies grew from. Like she did with the white lilies, Ramsey took a number of the red peonies. She had to make it up to the witch, after all.
Collecting the blue delphiniums proved to be the hardest task for Ramsey. Ignoring the protest of the muscles in her legs, she walked all the way back to her village to the place where she knew the blue delphiniums grew. The witching hour had fallen upon the land by the time she reached the village cemetery and she was more than sure that her feet were now bleeding red from hours upon hours of walking. But she merely bit her lip and and swallowed the protests on her tongue as she walked past the cemetery’s iron gates.
In one of the darkest corners of the cemetery lied several plots that had no names to them. On one them was a bush of blue delphiniums that had been growing there since before Ramsey’s father was born. By the time she was finished collecting her fill of the blue delphiniums, Ramsey’s arms were full of flowers. Had she the time, she would’ve put effort into assembling a bouquet as well but the night was not growing any younger and she had to talk with the witch before the night came to an end.
White lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums. They were certainly not the easiest flowers to find in the woods but Ramsey’s father had always told her from the very beginning that all the trouble would be worth it in the end. She could only hope that he was right.
As Ramsey made her way back to the witch’s home, she felt like she was walking down the path for the very first time again. In a sense, it was her first time for it had been so long since she last found herself in such a position—marching down the path toward the witch’s dwelling with her favorite flowers in hand, all on her own during a new moon.
In all honesty, Ramsey never learned why it was a practice of her family’s to bring the witch her favorite flowers once a month. She knew not of when or where the practice began and why her family even bothered doing it when she knew that none of them ever made any wishes. Much like the rules of her village, Ramsey had always just accepted this practice of her family’s until it became nothing but a habit to her. She never asked her father and her father never explained it to her. It was not until that night that Ramsey finally found her curiosity awakening after a long slumber.
She had so many questions and tonight, she would make sure that she would get all of the answers.
* * *
When the fall of Agnessa was finally erased from the memory of mankind, the goddess took on a new identity that served to help her turn on a new leaf while still venerating her old identity. Outside the village where the trees edged on a clearing, there she erected her new home—a crooked hut of an auburn color with polished walls. There, she created a new legacy for herself, one that would not resonate throughout the pages of history with benevolence alone but vengeance as well.
Gone was the goddess of protection, replaced by the witch who either granted luck or misfortune upon those who were brave enough to ask her for a wish.
One night, she met the bravest soul of them all as the sound of heavy rapping on wood pierced the silence of the night.
She opened the door only to be met with the tear-streaked cheeks of a face she knew so well and loathed most of all.
* * *
“Please,” Emile began, his voice a horrendous crack. “Please, you have to help me.”
The woman who stood before him had a shadow cast over her pale face, her features desolate as her dark eyes pierced his soul. The witch heaved a quiet sigh as she simply stared back at the man on her doorstep, a silent plea blazing in his eyes.
“Help you? With what?” Her tone was as cold as her features when she spoke.
“M-my children,” Emile sobbed. “My son and my daughter … They’re both gone, taken by the f-fever. Please, I swear I’ll do anything-”
The witch raised a slender hand to stop his words and Emile fell silent, his throat growing dry as he waited for her response with bated breath. She looked to be deep in thought as she refused to tear away her gaze from him, stilling Emile as he felt himself burn under the intensity of her scathing stare.
“Two of your children are gone?” she queried.
Emile gave a furious nod of his head.
“Good. Now you’ll just have to worry about your third child.”
Ice shot up Emile’s veins as he found himself stumbling over his words, a sob strangling its way out of his throat. His mind raced with the many implications of her words and as the witch turned to return inside her hut, Emile’s hand shot out to lock her wrist in an iron grip. Her withering stare should’ve been enough to send him running back to the safety of his village but Emile saw that he really couldn’t care any less at that moment.
“My … My third child?” he echoed, his voice barely above a whisper.
The witch pulled her wrist away from his grasp as she snapped at him, “Yes, your third child.”
“No, no, no, no. Please, no! My wife, she’s – it’s only been four months since she conceived! Please, what did I do? Tell me!”
Her eyes flashed dangerously with venom as she gritted her teeth. Emile fell to his knees on her doorstep as the witch’s voice grew low and grating, burning every clear-cut syllable of her words into his memory.
“What did you do? You denied the existence of the divinity, a higher power above you. You denied my existence. I, who selflessly gave my children in service to your kind so they could watch and guard over you when I could not. And what did you do in return? You shot an arrow to my child’s heart while your son did the same to another of my children. You threw a spear to the head of my youngest, tainting the river of this forest for over a year. You spilled divine blood, the blood of my children. And now you have the gall to ask me for help?”
Emile wept. The dam broke as his tears spilled freely on his face while he wept before the witch’s feet. He didn’t know. He wanted to say that he didn’t know but the words were stuck like thorns in his throat. He could neither swallow them nor spit them out. His heart pounded furiously in its cage as his chest constricted with every breath he took. His vision began to blur as he dared not to raise his eyes to the woman before him while he connected the pieces of the puzzle.
“My goddess, please forgive me,” he cried like a child.
Emile’s mind barely registered her next words as sorrow and remorse pulled at the edges of his mind.
“You’re forgiven. But three children from each of your line’s next three generations will die before they each reach their prime. For the lives of my three children, this is the price you have to pay.”
To be continued…
CHRYSTAL MARIE T. CARIÑO