Three days after Ostara, Morgana’s coven gathered in the heart of their sanctuary. Glitonea had placed the girl in the middle of the pond, ignoring her protests about her boots getting ruined. She had been wanting to do this ever since they first met.
Glitonea focused, inhaling deeply as she grounded herself. The other witches watched as the water began to rise up, gently swirling around their friend. Glitonea had always had an affinity to water. It spoke to her. It filled her with strength and purpose, and it allowed her to connect with others in a way that her fellow witches could not.
It did not take her long to find what she was looking for. Glitonea could feel the imbalance inside Morgana’s body. She sensed the damage that had been done. The witch frowned, concentrating intently as she began to reach out-
“Is it working? Do you need help?”
Glitonea scowled in disapproval.
“I’m fine, Morgause. Stop distracting me, please.”
From the corner of her eye, Glitonea could see Morgause fidget nervously. She knew why. Her friend had never been able to heal another person. It was simply not in her nature. The woman was too free-spirited. She was too whimsical and self-centered to reach out to others in the way that Glitonea could. Monoroe and Tyronoe faced similar problems.
They simply couldn’t do it.
But that was all right. Glitonea had healed pain all her life. It was all she knew.
“Morgana. Brace yourself.”
Morgana closed her eyes, grounding herself in the same way that Glitonea had done. The witch concentrated, allowing her magick to seep into her body. The pain was rooted deep. Very deep. It had reached the girl’s heart, weakening it and clinging to it like a dark omen-
All the hairs in the back of her neck rose up as her fingers suddenly felt like they were submerged in ice water. Glitonea flinched, only barely managing to stop herself from recoiling at the sensation.
What… was that?
“Toni? Are you all right?”
“I… yes. I’m fine.”
The witch re-focused, trying to ignore what she’d just felt. It would have to wait. She couldn’t stop casting partway through a ritual. As Glitonea exhaled, she could feel the magick leaving her and seeping into Morgana’s body. Slowly, the damage disappeared. The strain of overcharge was undone. As the water around her fell back into the pond, Glitonea lowered her arms, letting out a deep sigh.
It had worked.
The spell had taken its toll. Glitonea could feel a wave of fatigue wash over her as her body caught up with the magick that she had used. She wouldn’t be able to cast anything else today.
With a tired smile, Glitonea turned to face the girl in front of her.
“There. How do you feel?”
“I… much better,” Morgana replied, baffled. She placed a hand on her chest as she slowly breathed in and out.
“The damage is gone?” she asked. “It’s all gone? Just… just like that? Really?”
“Yes,” Glitonea nodded. “This time, at least. But you need to be careful not to repeat your mistake. You must learn proper control before casting such powerful magick again. There is a limit to what injuries even I can heal. Do you understand?”
“But… how did you do it?” Morgana asked. “I’ve never been able to heal internal injuries. I’ve tried, but…”
“Practice. Spirit magick is incredibly powerful, and water connects every living being in this world. If we allow both to guide us, it gives us the ability to reach even that which is invisible to the normal eye.”
“Like when you talk to someone’s mind?”
You shouldn’t have been able to do that, child.
“…Yes,” the witch said softly instead. “Just like that.”
Part of her – a deep, repressed part of her life that Glitonea hadn’t acknowledged in many years – was telling her to stop talking. To not share anything else with the girl in front of her. Not until she knew more. But there were so few witches left, and even fewer that actually showed an affinity for healing. Glitonea knew why. Ironically, the ones that carried the greatest empathy were always the ones to die for their compassion. The witch had lost many of her friends to the same fate.
“Toni? In theory, if I’m experienced enough… could I heal someone’s spine?”
Morgana’s voice had become strangely eager. It reminded her of herself. As Glitonea looked at the girl in front of her, the witch could feel herself hesitate. Something wasn’t right, but… but there were so few of them left already. Glitonea would not live forever, either. And nobody else in her coven could learn. She didn’t want her knowledge to die along with her. Glitonea couldn’t help it; she wanted to pass on what she knew.
“Yes. You could heal someone’s spine. But it goes beyond that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Healing stretches the limits of what nature allows,” Glitonea explained. “And so it places a large strain on your body. But it is possible. With the right ritual, you can mend torn muscles. You could restore punctured lungs and stop internal bleeding. If you’re powerful enough, you can heal a badly damaged heart. You could even stop it from beating altogether, if you wished.”
When she was younger, Glitonea had heard this same explanation from her mentor. It. At the time, Glitonea had been overjoyed to learn. She had always wanted to mend what was broken. To heal what caused pain. Now, an eternity later, Glitonea repeated her mentor’s words to Morgana, expecting the same reaction.
But the witch saw something very different instead.
“I… could stop a heart?”
Glitonea turned away.
“Yes,” she muttered. “In theory. Each of us has the ability to heal and harm in equal measure. It is our responsibility to know the difference… and to make the right choices with what we have been given.”
“You must be tired,” Glitonea continued. “That ritual was quite draining on us both. Why don’t you take a break, and-”
“No, I’m fine! I want to learn more. Please.”
“You don’t feel tired?” Glitonea asked, startled. Morgana shook her head in response.
“Not at all.”
That wasn’t possible. Glitonea had done this ritual countless times in the past, and it was just as much of a drain on the recipient as it was on the caster. Afterwards, the average witch was drained completely. And Morgana had barely begun to learn the basics. Glitonea frowned.
This isn’t possible. You should be swaying on your legs right now. But you’re not. You’re not even tired.
Why aren’t you tired?
“No dizziness?” the witch asked. “No sense of fatigue in your limbs? You feel no symptoms of exhaustion at all?”
“No,” Morgana replied. “I feel fine.”
…Could it be?
“Come with me. There’s something I want you to do.”
Morgana wasn’t sure what she expected when she stepped into the faerie circle. She had been brought along to strange places before. The budding witch was imagining another sanctuary, or being taken to meet a different coven.
What she hadn’t imagined was ending up in a cold, dark cavern that smelled like rainwater. As the two witches materialised, Morgana immediately lost her vision. The contrast to the sun-lit sanctuary that she had just left was too great. For a moment, she couldn’t see at all.
It took some time for her eyes to adjust. Morgana began to make out the walls of the cavern, together with a ring of mushrooms. She could hear the sound of droplets hitting water. As her eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she could see strange clusters of white ivy growing on the walls, reaching down to a layer of water that had gathered on the cavern floor.
She did not recognise any of this.
“Where are we?” the budding witch asked, confused. “What is this place?”
“Underground. We are standing in a collapsed cavern underneath the ruins of Mora.”
Glitonea’s answer was less than helpful. If anything, it made her end up with even more questions.
Glitonea began to move away from her. But Morgana hated not knowing what was happening. She despised being unprepared more than anything. The sorceress quickly reached out, grabbing Glitonea by the arm.
“Wait. What are we doing here?”
“I have something to show you. Look.”
Glitonea pointed to a spot in the darkness ahead of them. Morgana squinted, looking past her shoulder as her eyes continued to adjust. She could see… faint spots of light?
“I brought you here… for that.”
As Morgana’s vision caught up, she finally realised what it was that she was looking at. The budding witch froze. Her breath got stuck in her throat and her eyes grew as large as gold coins as she took in the scene before her.
It wasn’t an exit.
It was something else entirely.
At Morgana’s baffled expression, Glitonea’s lips pulled into a smile.
“Come. The water isn’t deep. You can walk through it without issue.”
The budding witch watched as her friend began to wade into the cavern. This was the second time today that Glitonea guided her into the water. But something felt very different this time around. As Morgana approached the water, she could feel a strange pressure bearing down on her shoulders, like something intangible was gazing down on her. She became strangely aware of her own presence. Of the loud, unsettling crunch of earth as she stepped out of the faerie ring.
It didn’t feel right.
At the next step forward, Morgana could feel a strange, cold sensation in her chest. The sorceress shook her head, trying hard to ignore the feeling as she moved forwards—
“Morgana. Take off your shoes.”
“You mean… go barefoot? In there?” the sorceress mumbled. Glitonea raised a single eyebrow in response.
“Yes. That is what taking off your shoes means.”
Morgana didn’t want to. She could barely see the bottom. The entire cavern was coated in a layer of water that was so dark that she could barely see through it. Morgana didn’t want to cut her feet open. Even back in the pond, she’d been allowed to keep her boots on, so why couldn’t she do the same here?
Her hesitation must have been visible on her face, because Glitonea’s expression slowly changed from warmth to mild disapproval. In a soft voice, the witch spoke.
“Morgana. Do not be disrespectful.”
What does that even mean? Disrespectful of who?
She didn’t know. And Glitonea wouldn’t answer her. The witch just looked at her in silence, an expectant glimmer in her eyes as she nodded at Morgana’s feet.
She couldn’t refuse. With a resigned huff, Morgana pulled her boots from her feet and waded into the cave. She had expected the water to be almost freezing. But to her surprise, it didn’t feel cold at all.
And the cavern wasn’t silent. As Morgana slowly waded into the chamber, she could hear the space around her. A faint, almost ethereal sound drifted through the cavern, echoing across the walls before fading away. It took the sorceress a moment to understand where it was coming from. She only realised when she had already passed halfway into the chamber.
It were the trees. The leaves on the branches shifted ever so slightly, swaying in a non-existent breeze. Every time the leaves touched, Morgana could hear a faint chime, like the purest of glass hitting crystal. It was incredibly soothing. As she listened to the sound, the sorceress could feel all of her doubts fade away.
She still didn’t know where she was. But it suddenly… didn’t seem to matter as much.
Morgana watched as Glitonea waded into the middle of the chamber, coming to a halt next to the pedestal.
The witch was looking down on what looked like a rough piece of crystal. A soft glow emanated from within, illuminating it with a faint light that seemed to be shifting ever so slightly.
“Go on. Touch it.”
“Touch… the crystal?” Morgana asked hesitantly. The witch gave her an encouraging nod in response.
“Yes. It will not harm you.”
The part of her that she relied on in Camelot was telling her to stop. To avoid risk. She had no idea what would happen. Morgana was so far out of her depth that she didn’t even know what questions to ask. Everything in this cavern was strange, and yet… oddly familiar. She didn’t know why.
But this was her coven. Her people. If she couldn’t trust them… then she couldn’t really trust anyone.
Morgana inhaled. She reached out, stretching her fingers towards the crystal—
Morgana hastily pulled her hand back.
“It feels… warm,” she muttered, looking down on the piece of rock in disbelief. She could feel the spirit emanating off it, connecting to her as she’d touched the crystal. Morgana had never felt something like it. She had poured through tome after tome in Agravaine’s secret archives, but not once had something like this appeared.
It was completely unknown.
Morgana’s confusion must have been visible on her face, because the witch next to her let out a soft chuckle. She watched as Glitonea placed her arms behind her back. Her expression was lost in reverence as she looked down on the crystal.
“I haven’t been down here in… a while,” she said. “I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to see it for the first time.”
“What is it?”
“This is a spirit crystal. They naturally form in places that are home to great magick.”
“They’re magick?” Morgana asked, earning her a single nod.
“Yes. With Albion as it is now, there are not many of them left.”
“What are they for?” Morgana asked. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Glitonea’s smile falter.
“They are not a tool,” the witch explained. “They are spirit made tangible. The High Priests of old used to wear pieces of them to signify their connection to spirit.”
“I want you to make it grow.”
“Grow… a crystal?” Morgana mumbled.
“Yes. It has a purpose, I promise. They are largely forgotten now, but in the past, these crystals were used to determine the depth of a person’s well of power.”
“You mean… to see how much magick someone has?”
“Exactly,” Glitonea replied. “The process is similar to making the grass around you grow. These crystals grow through spirit in the same way that a plant grows through water. It’s a natural phenomenon, so the effect on your body will be minimal.”
Morgana had made plants grow before. As a child, she had tried it a few times with Merlin, eventually managing to make an entire tree sprout. The strain had made her unable to play for a week – but she still knew how to do it.
The sorceress watched as Glitonea took a few steps back.
“I will watch from a distance—”
“Wait. How much should I make it grow?”
“As much as you can before you run out of magick,” Glitonea replied. “Don’t worry if you can’t add much to it. The average witch can only manage about an inch before their well runs dry.”
Morgana looked back down on the crystal. Glitonea made it sound easy, but there had to be more to it than that. Was there a trick? Did a spirit crystal count as a rock? Somehow it seemed different. But Morgana had never tried to grow rocks before, either. It hadn’t even occurred to her. The sorceress had no idea if she could.
But she’d watched someone who could.
Morgana had learned through observation before.
She could do that again.
Lancelot had decided to shadow Pellinore of Essetir through the castle.
The future Duke of Henford knew how to tail someone without being noticed. He wasn’t able to go completely unseen, but he knew how to keep attention away from himself. Years of struggling to deal with intrusive emotions from those around him had come with an enjoyable side-benefit: he’d learnt exactly what he had to do to stay in the shadows.
Lancelot couldn’t leave it to a servant. He had to know for himself. For three days, Lancelot had placed himself in the background. He’d delegated his tasks and kept attention away from himself as best he could as he memorized Pellinore’s daily schedule. Not a single detail went unnoticed.
And the more he saw, the more his feelings of dread grew.
Lancelot knew what he saw. He was sure of it.
That wasn’t Pellinore.
And whatever it was… it wasn’t human.
On the evening of the third day, Pellinore suddenly deviated from his schedule. Lancelot carefully tailed him through the hallways as he left his servants behind. His suspicion grew exponentially when the Prince of Essetir left the normal corridors, instead making his way into the servant’s portion of the castle.
Lancelot knew the place like the back of his hand. He often sought out quiet spaces to reposition his mind, and the servant’s quarters were all but abandoned during the day. But he was the exception. Normally, nobles did not go anywhere near the place. It was beneath them.
So where are you going…?
A few floors above the main hall, Pellinore finally came to a halt. Lancelot could hear him talking to someone. And judging from the sound of the voice, he was talking to a woman. If it was the Pellinore he knew, Lancelot would have assumed that he was meeting with a secret paramour – but after seeing that reflection in the mirror, he knew that was something else was going on. Something much more sinister.
Something that he had to inform Arthur and Morgana about. At all costs.
Lancelot carefully approached, getting as close as he could without drawing attention to himself. The future Duke pressed his body against the wall as he leaned in to eavesdrop. Their conversation was barely more than a whisper. Lancelot had to strain his ears to hear anything.
But the few snippets that he did pick up were enough to make all kinds of warning bells go off in his head.
“…better from you.”
“There were unforeseen complications. I am trying my best.”
“Try harder. For your sake.”
His footsteps continued on. Lancelot could hear them moving away from him, fading down the hallway. At the same time, he could hear a different pair of footsteps. Smaller. Lighter. They were coming in his direction. Soon, they’d be right next to him. For a moment, the future Duke moved away, planning to sneak off before the person could reach him…
Before he stopped in his tracks.
He couldn’t leave. He needed more information.
And the best defence… was a good offense, wasn’t it?
The match had already begun. And Lancelot, too, was a pawn.
Wasn’t it about time to use him?
Lancelot abruptly moved to the left, stepping out from behind the wall and cutting off the path of the person in front of him. He could feel a dull thud as they collided with him head-first, almost falling over in the process. Lancelot could hear a yelp of surprise. He quickly took a step back, putting on his mask and pulling his face into an expression of surprise—
And was greeted by a face that he hadn’t expected.
“My… my lord!” Mithian of Nemeth stuttered. “Please forgive me- I did not hear you coming, I-”
“The apology is mine,” Lancelot replied politely. “I did not hear you, either. Please forgive me. I was… lost in thought.”
She broke eye contact, looking down at the floor as her hand trailed to her throat.
“You… wouldn’t happen to know where I can find the library, would you?” Mithian muttered. Her voice was calm and elegant. Demure. Soft-spoken in a way that any flower grown at court would be. But Lancelot could feel the wave of emotions that simmered underneath her mask. Fear. Confusion. A slowly creeping dread, taking hold of her mind and mixed in with…
“…Down the hall, up the southern staircase and through the first door on your right. Would you like me to accompany you?”
“No- no, that’s all right. I think I can find it now. Thank you for the offer.”
The future Duke bowed his head.
“As you wish. Good day, my lady.”
He took Mithian’s hand, bowing down as he placed a polite kiss on her palm. Mithian flashed him a polite smile in return. She stepped back and nodding to him as he turned around to leave.
He left her there.
Lancelot had to stay his hand. There was nothing else he could do. Not now. Not with the chess board laid out as it was. There were too many pieces that he couldn’t identify; too many secrets hidden away. Any further action from him would put too many other people at risk. Lancelot couldn’t act.
But the future Duke could tell.
Something was very wrong.
“What is it?”