The Chronicles of the WitchBorn Book 1: The First Witch-Mage
Two underdogs trying to build the life they are hoping for, what hoops will they have to jump through to achieve their goals?
The First Witch-Mage –
“Now that they’ve got it settled whose I be,
I’m going to tell them something they won’t like:
They’ve got it settled wrong, and I can prove it.
Flattered I must be to have two towns fighting
To make a present of me to each other.
They won’t dispose me, either one of them,
To spare them any trouble. Double Trouble’s
Always the witch’s motto anyway.”
—Robert Frost, The Pauper Witch of Grafton
Brandon Cole had expected a call from Claire detailing his first mission for AID since being moved, but he had never expected this. “A witch liaison?” he repeated into the phone. “You’re sure?”
“Yes,” Claire replied, her tone clipped but still patient.
“And they want me to do it.”
“Ah,” Brandon added. “I see. The simple tasks for the simple boys. I’m the new guy so I get the shitty job.”
“It’s not like that,” Claire returned a second later. The noise behind her told Brandon she was calling from the New Orleans office of the Arcane Investigation Division. “This command isn’t coming from me,” she added, voice lowered a fraction. “It’s come down from the Head. They want you to visit the local coven leadership and request another liaison.”
Another. Because the first two had gone missing in the past few years thanks to a few highly dangerous missions chasing rogue mages across the states. Going to the coven leadership was always a pain in the ass, but it was worse now. There was no chance in hell they’d give up another witch. Claire, however, seemed to think Brandon, of all people, could do it.
“I feel like Jonah being sent to Nineveh,” Brandon muttered into the phone.
“You’re religious?” came Claire’s light voice.
“No. I’m familiar with the story, is all.”
“Well, don’t get swallowed by a whale on your way. I’m sending directions over to you now.”
Part of Brandon preferred to leap into the Gulf of Mexico rather than go out to the coven leadership.
The notification from Claire came through on Brandon’s phone a moment later. From where he stood outside on the corner under bright sunlight, he squinted at his screen. “You’re sure this is the place?”
“Of course.” Claire sounded like she was beginning to lose her patience. “It would be best if you went today since we’re tight on time.” Brandon did not know why, and Claire sounded like she was in a hurry to get off the phone. She added one more thing before hanging up. “This is your big break, Brandon. It’s what you’ve been waiting for. Don’t blow it.”
Brandon stared at his phone with the “call ended” message at the top under Claire’s name and number. He blew through his nose and turned, half inclined to walk into the bar at the end of the street instead of going outside the French Quarter to find the coven leadership. Claire had been right about it being his big break, though.
The lead handler position for the witch liaison wouldn’t have been a big deal a few years ago, but it was now. AID wanted to try a new team group, one with witches trained in martial arts. However, they couldn’t have a team with witches if they couldn’t get and keep one to begin with.
“Two,” Brandon murmured as he set off down the street to his car. That was how many witches AID had lost in the past three years. He pocketed his phone and fished his keys out, remembering now that he had parked two blocks away the night before, thanks to the college kids taking up all the spots for a party.
Why AID had put him up in the middle of a college town when he was several years out from graduating, Brandon did not know. He didn’t miss his higher education days, especially the all-night drinking. He’d awoken that morning after not getting much sleep to a message from Claire. It was as perfunctory as anyone could expect from her.
At first, Brandon had been excited. It was time. Finally.
However, the moment the words “coven leadership” and “witch liaison” left her mouth, Brandon knew he was in for a bigger challenge than he had anticipated.
He reached his car, a sleek black sedan with no other remarkable qualities other than the fact that it was always sparkling and clean. Thoughts droned through his mind. I’m the youngest guy ever to recruit a witch liaison for AID, so that’s got to count for something.
Usually, witch handlers were men in their fifties with plenty of experience working for AID or the army. A thirty-one-year-old like himself who’d only recently received a second chance in this field was not usually the type. Besides, he thought, I hate the word they use. Handler. It sounded like witches were heinous cats in need of wrangling. That’s what AID described them as, but they were people like the rest of them.
Brandon unlocked his car and slipped inside. Immediately after turning the key in the ignition, he switched on the AC. The late spring weather in southern Louisiana always made him wonder if he should have accepted a job with AID at their New Orleans office when he could have kept pushing for a move to the Pennsylvania sector, his home state. AID’s head told him it was New Orleans or nothing. Get screwed and never go anywhere in his field again.
So here he was, sweating his balls off on a street where the cars parked so closely together it was a miracle he didn’t hit anyone getting out. On my way to ask the coven if they’ll give us another witch, though we’ve already gotten two killed, he added as he snapped his seatbelt into place. He switched on the radio, hoping whatever rock station he had left it on would drown out his thoughts for a time.
As he pulled his car out, Brandon wondered if it was the humidity making him want to get out of his new task. Find a new witch to act as a go-between for the coven and AID and keep her alive. Brandon hadn’t been around the last time a witch liaison went missing.
From what he had heard, it happened because the criminal mage they were chasing at the time tapped too much power and blew the poor girl up. The mage had simply been more powerful than the witch helping them. Though witch liaisons were go-betweens, they were also expected to provide magical assistance in combative operations.
Brandon sighed and promised himself a drink when the day was done, no matter how much success he had.
Michelle Folsom, Mother of the coven leadership, sank into the chair behind her desk and reached for the cup of tea beside a stack of folders, files, and loose papers. The tea smelled like relaxation, but there would be none for her for several hours. Not with that stack looking at her.
She eyed it with no small amount of distaste and sipped her tea. At least the drink would help ease the headache that had been raging all morning. Despite the bright sun outside, Michelle had drawn the curtains and lit several candles around the room. It relaxed her. The papers were reports and testimonials from the other coven members, various aides, agents, and the like who had gathered around the coven in the past several years to offer their assistance in troubling times.
Michelle Folsom was not afraid of hard work. Quite the opposite. She reveled in it. She enjoyed long hours in her office. However, they needed assistance from anyone outside the coven. The reports and testimonials would have been fine if it wasn’t for who they were about.
She flipped open the folder on top of the pile. Though she had seen Theadora Blackwood’s face several times in person throughout the years, she still glanced over the photograph paper-clipped inside. Theadora’s keen green eyes seemed to stare out of the picture into Michelle’s. Her untamed black curls reminded Michelle of the girl’s mother. Anyone who looked at a photograph of each woman when they were the same age would have thought they were the same person. Michelle had to do a double-take.
In the picture, the girl looked ready to set something on fire. She’d always had a rebellious streak, as Michelle recalled. That streak had turned into a full-out wave in the last few years. Michelle couldn’t exactly blame her, but she couldn’t consider that now. She turned a few pages over, ignoring the photograph of the twenty-three-year-old standing with hands perched on her hips.
The next page listed several family members of Theadora’s, mainly distant relatives she had probably never met in other parts of the world who didn’t give a rat’s ass about her. Another reason for her rebellion. Even so, the Blackwood family was one of the most famous witch families in the country, and Theadora was one of them, no matter how much she didn’t want to be anymore.
Not only was she from a famous witch family, but she had also shown the potential to become an incredibly powerful witch. Or so said the pages and pages of reports. How members of the coven had garnered this much information, Michelle did not know.
As she perused the material, Michelle’s brows lifted. “Theadora could become a coven mother one day when she’s got a few more decades on her,” she muttered. Provided she whittled that rebellious streak down. That would take work, and right now, Michelle was considering if it was worth it. Even for a Blackwood.
Headstrong, uncooperative, impulsive, and unpredictable were only a few of the words coven members used to describe Theadora in their reports. The testimonials were full of stories detailing how Theadora had offended them personally with all her “headstrong behavior.” As she read these accounts, Michelle could not help but smile. I was once like that, she thought. Formerly described as “headstrong” as if that was something bad. Her eyes lingered on one specific testimonial of an elderly warlock.
Theadora Blackwood’s obsession with trampling all over the traditions of the covens that both protect her and allow her to wield great power in the magical and the socio-political spheres is unacceptable! I propose her removal from…
Michelle didn’t bother reading the rest. She had a good idea of what everyone thought. It wasn’t only an obsession with “trampling all over the traditions of the covens” that concerned them. It was one thing to spit in the face of an organization that had existed for a long time. It was another to become obsessed with the idea of becoming a witch mage. A magic-wielding woman without a coven. On the loose doing whatever the hell she pleased. Michelle had felt that way once, though for different reasons.
I, for one, did not lose my famous and respected parents to a fire, she thought.
Michelle put aside the first file and reached for another but did not open it. It sat closed on her desk, and she sank deep into thought while holding her teacup, tapping its side with the long, almond-shaped nails she had filed to perfection. Few people who took one glance at her knew how lethal those nails could become.
She thought back to all the events that had occurred since Theadora lost her parents. The investigation into Theadora had not started until a few months ago when, after having missed far too many meetings with her Sabbat, Theadora’s coterie had been questioned. They had confirmed that Theadora had purposefully neglected meeting with them. Strike one.
After this, the Sabbat’s head, a venerable if hidebound witch by the name of Kirsten Fouche, had gone to confront the young woman. At first, Theadora had refused to meet, stating she was “too busy.” Well, she might have been. Being a twenty-three-year-old with friends, university classes, and still grieving her parents and all that. Such things would keep a young woman busy. Plus, there was Theadora’s preference for dance clubs and favorite bars.
When Fouche cornered the young woman and pressed the issue, Theadora had flown into a temper, disrespecting the elder witch “beyond acceptance.” That was what the report said anyhow.
It was then Theadora Blackwood had claimed she would become a mage on her own so she could leave the coven. For-ever! Her words. Michelle could almost hear Theadora screaming those two syllables as she stormed away. Except she had not stormed away. If she had, she would have avoided the magical punishment Fouche retaliated with. Theadora had gotten the best of the elder witch and sent her packing. A testament to her power, Michelle knew, but also the reason for the stack of folders on her desk.
The coven Mother closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead, willing the headache to recede. In addition to the reports she had to get through, she also had to meet with Fouche and the other Sabbat head who had called for Theadora to be censured and undergo the Fleecing, a painful ritual that stripped a witch of their magic and connection to the coven.
If only Theadora had lost that little magical fighting match with Fouche, Michelle could have publicly reprimanded Fouche for inflicting a punishment on a lower coven member without seeking approval from higher-ups. Theadora hadn’t only defied the coven with her goal to become a mage. She had trounced on a senior coven member. Punishment was warranted, but perhaps she could find a way to save the young witch from the Fleecing. Let the girl leave without inflicting the painful ritual.
Michelle sighed, more than willing to admit Fouche was well past her prime and too arrogant for her own good. If I don’t do something soon, the coven will descend into utter chaos, she thought.
It wasn’t only the inner turmoil between the witch hierarchies that would become a problem. It would be prime time for AID to use the coven’s weakness and depose the current coven Mother, replacing her with another who would work better with them. Plucked from the loudest and most obnoxious members of the hedge witch community, Michelle thought with no small amount of distaste.
It had all started a few decades ago when enough catastrophic instances of magic across the country led the United States government to step in. AID became the organization in charge of tracking down and controlling people who crossed the line with their magic. That line had blurred in the years since. They had left the covens all over the country alone for the most part. They could only displace a coven Mother if they suspected her of criminal activity and could prove it.
Michelle didn’t want the headache of an investigation. If they investigated one coven, AID offices across the country would be spurred to look into their local covens as well. The number of organized witch groups would go down. They didn’t need that. They didn’t need more magic users going rogue, whether because they wanted to or because circumstances forced it to happen.
She snapped the file she’d opened shut and put it back on the desk. Reading another report wouldn’t help. None of them would tell her what the right next move was. Before Michelle could consider the matter any longer, a knock came at her office door, reminding her of an informal meeting she had today with one of her favorite agents.
“Come in,” she called, standing. She gathered the materials on Theadora to one side of her desk as the door swung open on silent hinges. In slunk a wiry-looking man who was at least a head taller than her. Michelle herself was tall for a woman. Despite his height, the man’s perpetual slouch made him look smaller. Probably for the best, Michelle always thought, because the man acted as a spy and doer of subtler deeds for the coven Mother.
“Good afternoon, Arthur.”
Something tells me that Theadora is about to be recruited to the AID. Find out on November 29th when The Chronicles of the WitchBorn Book 1: The First Witch-Mage is released.