Season of the Witch
by melusine

Part One: Spellbound

To sorrow,
I bade good-morrow,
And I thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind.
-- John Keats "Endymion"

"Daughter!" Elinee scolded. "You aren't paying attention."

"Am so," Fanha retorted moodily.

"Then what spell were we practicing, pray tell?" the witch folded her arms and her three imp familiars followed suit.

"Summoning?" the young witch shrugged.

"Conjuring," her mother corrected. "You won't be ready for summoning until you've learned the basics."

"Why do I need the basics when I've mastered some of the spells in Father's spell book?"

"Your father learned the basics before he created those fancy spells of his," Elinee pointed a finger and Fanha was suddenly surrounded by a glowing cage. "Reverse it."

"I- I can't," she said after trying several spells.

"You should know this one," the elder witch looked concerned and removed the cage. "Is something on your mind?"

"I practically live in a convent, Mother," the young witch replied. "I--"

"No boys, they'll distract you."

"But I'm lonely! Let me at least have a familiar!"

"You'll get a familiar when you learn summoning. But first you have to learn conjuring and a few other spells."

"What do you want me to conjure?" Fanha asked.

"This chair," Elinee smiled and placed a chair in front of her daughter. "Turn it into a polterchair."

"I looked ahead in the spellbook," the young witch said and began to whisper a spell. "This should work." Moments later, the chair capered around the room.

"Good," Elinee looked impressed. "Uncommonly so."

Slivers of moonlight shone through cracks in the stained glass, highlighting the mysterious symbols that covered the floor. Fanha sat at the edge of the circle of symbols, surrounded by candles, with a spellbook in her lap. She remembered watching her mother summon an imp and did as Elinee had done; letting her whole magical consciousness seep into the underworld. Suddenly, the windows imploded and all the candles died out.

"Sweet Mana," Fanha gasped. "What have I done?"

A pair of red eyes glowed in the darkness. "Wow," a voice said sarcastically. "I was just about to ask the same thing." The eyes disappeared.

"I should have listened to Mother," the young witch said to herself before reciting a simple illumination spell. She took one look at the creature she had summoned and wished she hadn't. "It's an Aegagropilon. I summoned an Aegagropilon!"

The demon snarled and its mouth opened like the gates of hell. "You didn't mean to?" It actually sounded surprised.

"I was trying to summon an imp," she admitted. "I'm not a very good witch."

"An imp?"


"What's going on down there?" Elinee asked as she descended the stairs.

"I tried to summon a familiar," she said unsteadily. "An imp, just like you wanted me to. . .but. . ."

"You succeeded," Elinee clapped her hands together. "Very good!"

"Wha--," Fanha turned around to face. . .an imp! It winked at her. "Uh yeah, I guess it is."

Part Two: Shapechanger

My mother says I must not pass
Too near to that glass;
She is afraid that I will see
A little witch that looks like me,
With a red mouth to whisper low
The very thing I should not know.
-- Sarah Morgan Bryant Piatt "The Witch in the Glass"

"I summoned a high demon," Fanha shook her head. "I'm a sorceress."

"It shouldn't be much of a surprise," the imp smiled. "Your father was the Archmage."

"Must talk about it all the time. . .I had a feeling he went to the underworld after he died. So," the sorceress sighed, eager to change the subject. She wanted nothing more than to become a strong mage so that she could avenge her father. But, from what she had heard about Thanatos, she knew she wouldn't get through it alive. "You're a shapeshifter. Are all demons of your kind shapeshifters?"

"Just a few, it's a rare talent."

"Mmmhmm," Fanha sat down on her bed. "Do you have a name?

"Do you?" the imp smirked.

"Cute," she said. "I'm Fanha."

"Sheex," the imp said. "I guess I'm your familiar."

four months later. . .

Elinee ducked as four imps sailed over her head, chittering and squeaking angrily. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed a broom and swung it at them. Too engaged in their squabbling to even notice, her three imps continued to swoop about, nipping at the wings of the fourth. Neither her familiars or the wild imps of the castle seemed to like the new one, Fanha's imp. . .Sheex. Elinee snorted in disgust. She had never named one of her imps and felt it childish, much too immature for her sixteen year old daughter. Her father had been prone to such flights of fancy, but his familiars had been more than just mere imps; she thought, recalling the horrible beings that had stamped through the castle. Perhaps. . .no, impossible. The elder witch shook her head. Fanha hadn't been trained to summon any higher of demon than an imp.

The imps squawked and scratched, now rolling across the floor in a thrashing ball of teeth and claws. She wondered for how long they would go on, when they would stop. Being small creatures, the imps were delicate, but through ensorcellment they could be much stronger. And Elinee made sure her familiars were well protected.

"Sheex!" Elinee heard her daughter cry out as she rushed to separate the squabbling imps, receiving a nip on her hand as she did so. "Did they hurt you? Are you all right?" She held the imp close to her like a child, smoothing his short pelt and examining him for wounds. Sheex squeaked at her and unfolded one of his wings, revealing small tears and bites. "Oh you poor thing," Fanha murmured.

"You're spoiling it," Elinee growled as her imps scrabbled up her shoulders to chitter at Sheex, shaking their tiny fists. "Put it down."

"Sorry Mother. . ." Fanha set him down on the floor.

"You shouldn't coddle them, Fanha," Elinee continued. "They'll become lazy and disobedient if you do." Like certain daughters, the elder witch thought.

"Yes Mother. . .of course," the young sorceress answered. "They aren't pets, ‘but the eyes and ears of a mage.'"

"Exactly," Elinee said. "I trust you'll remember this."

"Yes, of course, Mother," Fanha replied woodenly. "I won't forget."

"I can't see what the problem is," Sheex said as Fanha tended to the wounds on his wings. "She spoils hers so much, I'm surprised they're not too fat to fly!"

"Shhhhhh," Fanha put a finger to the imp's tiny mouth. "It's just Mother's way. . .Tough love, she calls it."

"How can you stand it?" Sheex's voice had softened to a whisper. Fanha didn't answer, her mouth set into a line. "Fanha?" he nibbled gently on her finger.

"I just do," Fanha finally said. She looked down at Sheex, absently stroking his fur. "She's been like this since Father died."

"I'm sorry," the imp's frown looked almost comical on his small face.

"It isn't your fault," Fanha murmured and kissed the top of the imp's head. "C'mon, its time for bed."

"Fanha," Elinee gently shook her daughter awake.

"Y-yeah?" Fanha asked sleepily. Sheex yawned beside her, stretching his wings.

"I'll be leaving for a few days," Elinee told her. "The herbs in the garden I need for my spells are failing to grow. I must go and speak with Thanatos and ask him for more."

"How can you?" Fanha looked wide eyed at her mother. "How could you after what he did to Father?!"

Elinee looked away, but Fanha could see the pain in her eyes. "We all do what we must to survive."

"Survive?! You can live without your herbs!" the young sorceress said and Sheex squeaked in agreement.

"A witch is nothing without her spells," Elinee said, standing up.

"But -!" Fanha began to protest.

"Not another word," the elder witch commanded. "I'll be back in a few days. I think you can fend for yourself for that time."

Part Three: Sorcery

The human heart has hidden treasures
In secret kept, in silence sealed; --
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures. . .
-- Charlotte Bronte "Evening Solace"

Fanha winced as the door closed, blinking back tears. She remembered when her father had left all those years to stop a rogue demon that had been killing townspeople. It had been a trap, of course, Cain had made many enemies during his short lifespan; the most dangerous being the sorcerer Thanatos, who envied and craved the archmage's power. She had been only seven years old at the time: too young, her mother had felt at the time, to know the truth. So she had waited by the window and waited. . .

"She'll be back," Sheex rumbled, back in his true form. The sound made Fanha jerk, used to the piping voice of the imp. "Thanatos wants no part of her."

"Still. . ." Fanha trailed off, her chin in her hands.

"You should be worrying for Thanatos," Sheex laughed. "If he tries to cheat your mother in the deal. She'd chew him up and spit him out!"

The young sorceress laughed at the thought. "She's a very strong willed woman."

"Strong willed, nothing, she could make Cerberus cry!" the demon tried to smile, the motion impossible for its nearly lipless mouth.

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you know," she said with a mischievous grin and picked up Elinee's broom. "Away demon!" Fanha cried and chased after him, waving the broom around.

"Now where'd you go?" Fanha still held the broom in one hand and she crawled under the table. "A-ha!" she grabbed the tail of a large rat that was nosing around the stove, shrieking when it tried to bite her. A squeaky laugh caused her to look up: Sheex was sitting up in the rafters in his imp form. He stuck his tongue out at her and flew off, squeaking with glee. "Ooooo! I'll get you yet!" Fanha yelled with mock anger.

The hunt was on: a game of hide and seek that spanned the entire castle. Every room was to be searched, everyone creature; beast, imp, or insect; to be questioned. Raised without others her own age, Fanha hadn't had much of a chance to play such games during childhood. She remembered racing through the same halls on a polterchair, chasing after her mother's imps and father's demons. Maybe that's why I feel so comfortable around Sheex, even when he's in his true form. The sorceress smiled at the thought, then opened the final door.

"What took you so long?" Sheex teased. The little imp was sitting on the desk in Cain's study, perched on a thick book of spells. Fanha stopped for a moment, remembering the day before her father left: sitting on his knee, reading the spells that he had laboriously written out himself.

"You won't escape this time!" Fanha said, rushing over and grabbing the little imp.

"Unhand me, vartlet! Sheex squirmed and turned into snake, then into a rat, then into some sort of centipede with countless legs and threatening pincers. Fanha remained unfazed.

"What are you going to turn into next ?" she asked. The shapechanged demon laughed and shifted again. . .into a human.

"Well? What do you think?" Sheex grinned at her, his dark purple hair falling in his face. His smile fell when he noticed Fanha's shocked expression. "Is something wrong?

"What?! No! . .I mean," Fanha blushed redly and let go of his shoulders. "I - I'll be right back!" she squeaked and ran off, giggling.

Still blushing, Fanha rooted through her parents' wardrobe, tossing aside her mother's dresses until she came to what she was looking for. "Good thing Mother never throws anything away," she said to herself as she drew out one of her father's sorcerous robes. This ought to keep him warm, she thought to herself as she fingered the heavy fabric.

"Here," Fanha opened the door slightly and handed Sheex the robe. "Put this on."

"I thought you weren't going to come back," she heard him say, his voice muffled by the door.

"Sorry," she frowned, feeling guilty. "It's just that. . ."

"I offended you, didn't I. . .I still have a lot to learn about being human," Sheex opened the door, regarding her carefully. The robes were a bit too long, the hem puddling on the floor. "Cain was a tall man."

"No -- you just surprised me," Fanha swallowed nervously. "You're doing fine."

The young sorceress sighed, having resumed her post at the window. She didn't let me say good-bye. . . she thought. The castle seemed strangely silent without the sounds of the imps squabbling or her mother's voice. Deathly silent. "I'm glad you're here," Fanha murmured, hearing Sheex walk into the room.

"You need to relax, she'll be careful," he assured her, now at her side.

"If Mother goes, I'll be alone here," she said, barely audible. "I don't want to be alone. . .and I can't make you stay here if you don't want to. . .oh!" Fanha cried out in surprise as Sheex embraced her, kissing her softly on the lips.

Part Four: Seduction

Because the night you asked me,
the small scar of the quarter moon
had healed -- the moon was whole again;
because life seemed so short;
because life stretched before me
like the darkened halls of nightmare;
because I knew exactly what I wanted;...
because I shed my childhood with my clothes...
I said yes.
-- Linda Pastan "Because"

Sunlight poured through the window, causing Fanha to wince slightly. Yawning, she rolled over to face Sheex, who was still asleep. I wonder what demons dream about, she thought as she looked at him. Or can they even dream at all? He looks so peaceful. . .Smiling, she brushed his hair out of his eyes and kissed him. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Elinee growled, standing in the doorway.

"Mother!" Fanha screamed and Sheex jerked awake, uttering something that must have been a demon curse. Her heart was pounding in her chest. "You're. . .home early."

"Correction, Fanha," Elinee's tone was clipped, furious. "I came home late." Her imps were perched on her shoulders, hissing at Sheex.

"I. . .I can explain!" the young sorceress squeaked.

"That would be a good idea," the elder witch said. "Who is he?! Why did you disobey me?! Answer me!"

The couple looked desperately at each other with the same look in their eyes as that of an animal staring up at the point of an arrow. Doomed. It amazed Fanha that Sheex was even frightened of her mother, but, she realized, he may have been frightened for her. He sounded like he was saying something, but the growling, guttural tones didn't make sense to her. The imps redoubled their angry hissing, baring their tiny teeth. Elinee was scowling at the two, looking imposing despite her short frame. "Well?"

"I - I - I love him," Fanha managed, tears in her eyes. "I d-didn't m-mean to hurt you, Mother."

Elinee was, if possible, even more livid than before. "You --!" Before the enraged witch could finish, the bed collapsed with a loud crack as the Aegagropilon uncurled and stamped towards her. "You . . ." Elinee seethed, now addressing Sheex.

"Fanha! Run!" the huge demon howled. Still shaking, the sorceress complied, gathering their clothes and the bedsheets around herself before bolting out the door.

"Who summoned you, fiend?" Elinee asked, seemingly unafraid of the demon.

"Who do you think?" Sheex growled and shifted into an imp. Elinee's mouth opened, then closed, then opened again, but no sound came out. "She'll be safe as long as I live," he said simply before darting out of the window. "I'll make sure of it."

The witch sat down on the ruins of the bed, suddenly looking very old, and cried. The rage was gone, reality sinking in. "What have I done?"

"What have I done?" Fanha slumped against a house, gasping for breath. She and Sheex had run all the way from Elinee's castle to Pandora. All that had been on their minds was escape; to survive. Sheex stood beside her, his sharp claws digging into the soft earth. He seemed unaffected by the run, but quite uneasy. It was still early in the morning, so not many people were awake, but a twenty foot tall demon couldn't help but attract attention. Silently, she handed him the robes, placing them carefully in his mouth. Bobbing slightly in what must have been a nod, he moved back into the forested area.

"Heyyyyyyyy. . ." a man with long green hair staggered out of a nearby tavern over to Fanha. She could smell the stench of ale on him before he even came close. Whoever he was, he was very drunk.

"Um. . hey," Fanha looked nervously towards the forest.

"So what's a pretty little thing like you doing out here?" he placed one hand on the house so he could lean over without falling. "Alone, I might add," he leered at her.

"I'm waiting for someone," she replied.

"Yeah me," he slurred.

"The lady came here with a demon escort, Geshtar," an eerily familar voice stated. "I doubt she wants your company."

Geshtar snorted disdainfully. "Ohhhhhh, a demon," he sneered, still leering at her. "So is it true what they say about demons?"

"Humor me," Sheex growled. "What do they say about demons?"

"Um. . .ah. . .well, they say that they," Geshtar struggled for words.

"It's of no importance," a tall man in a horrible skull mask intoned, each word as final as a nail being driven into a casket. "What brings you here, child?"

"Nothing. . ." Fanha looked away. That voice.

He cocked his head to the side slightly. "You're Elinee's daughter, aren't you? Come with me, please."

It was not a question, but a command. The sorceress felt herself moving towards him, like a puppet pulled by a string. Sheex growled, the sound strange from his human throat. The tall man silenced him with a wave of his hand. This must be Thanatos, Fanha thought as she followed him, away from the others.

"Stop," Thanatos grated and Fanha stopped automatically, not wanting to anger the powerful mage.

"How. . .?" she said, thinking out loud, her throat tightening when she realized.

". . .Did I know it was you?" the sorcerer chuckled coldly. "I have my ways," he reached back behind his head, unclasping his mask. "As do we all." Fanha gasped. The man smiled at her, smoothing his auburn hair back into place. Cain.

"Father!" Tears welled up in her eyes. She stroked his face with trembling fingers, assuring herself he was real. He was as cold as death. . .his face so pale. His hands closed around hers, pulling them away from his face. Vainly, Fanha searched his eyes, heart breaking, for some warmth, some fatherly love. The eyes that stared back at her were cold, as glassy as a snake's. "Father?"

"The Archmage Cain is dead," the sorcerer released Fanha's hands, pressing them to her, and unbuttoned the first few buttons of his robes. Pulling them slightly aside, he revealed the stab wound that had killed the Archmage, unhealed and raw, sickly glistening, after nearly a decade. Noting her expression, he rebuttoned his robes. "Convinced?"

Fanha nodded mutely, her mouth dry.

"You may prove to be useful in raising the Mana Fortress," he regarded her appraisingly, a butcher sizing up a steer's carcass. "As will that demon of yours. The assassin is useful enough, but brute force will only get you so far. What we need is magic."

"You're a sorcerer," she backed away, horrified. "What do you need me for?"

"You don't want any harm to come to this body," Thanatos's smile was cruel. "And I'm certain there will be much resistance to my goal; people bent on destroying me. You will carry out the smaller magic-related tasks."

"You can't make me do anything," Fanha tried to sound strong, but her voice shook. "I. . I won't let you!"

"And what would you do about it? You can't harm me or let me be harmed as long as I'm in this form," he took her chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing her to look into his eyes. She tried to look away, but his grip was strong, his gaze almost hypnotic. "Do we have an agreement?"

"Yes. . ." the sorceress heard herself say.

"Good," Thanatos released her and put his mask back on. "Go back to your demon, tell him of this."

Fanha nodded absently and walked back to where Sheex and Geshtar were. The two appeared to be embroiled in an argument, of which she only heard the last words spoken.

". . .Or I will eat you," Sheex let go of Geshtar's neck. "Fanha!"

"We're going to be here a while. . ." she whispered, beaten.


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