Price Threefold Short Story- The Greenwitch Endures

The old woman looked up from her rocker, a toothless grin on her face. “Granny feels an ache coming on.” In truth, at her age there was never a time when she did not ache. “Be a dear and make me some fresh tea?” Granny went back to scribbling on her papers, as seemed to be all she did these days.

“Yes, Granny,” the girl said. Agreeable though she was, she didn’t feel half as eager as she sounded. She’d been promised her apprenticeship would last until the end of the war, then her mother would collect her.

Still, she knew better than to complain; the knowledge she’d gained was greater than any doctor gained in a lifetime, and she’d grown fond of the batty old woman’s talk of angels and holy magic. Part of her knew she’d never be capable of paying Granny Greenwitch back for all that had been done for her. That Granny assured her time and again that her debt was to the Greenwitch, and would be paid, was both enduring and disturbing, but still she loved the old woman’s oddities.

That part of her was fast losing ground as she wondered if her apprenticeship would ever come to an end. She yearned for the day she could return to her family and show them the skills which she now possessed. She distracted herself from the walk to the patch of black cohosh by  imagining her future as the most skilled midwife in the world, save for the witch herself. In her darkest thoughts she knew she’d never be able to give justice to the legacy of Granny Greenwitch, that the fraction of knowledge she now held was nothing to Granny’s wisdom.

Despite the darkness, she felt no fear in the swamp. No animal would harm her, and no plant would bar her way, The Greenwitch had sworn to that when Mamma set her apprenticeship with the Witch before joining the war effort for America, and the ancient medicine-woman kept her word. She’d even tested the promise by walking naked through the rose bushes, and came out unscathed. That was how she knew the witch and her magic was real, and when she swore she’d do her best to serve and learn.

Halfway through picking the plants which would sooth the pains of old age, fire rained down on the small hut they shared. For a moment, she stared in disbelief as the swamp lit up like high noon from the flames. Above the conflagration hovered a being of fire which could have been angel or devil.

The fires went out almost as fast as they began, consumed by earth and mud as the land itself came alive to defend the Greenwitch. She was no Mystic, herself, but she could swear the soil roared in outrage as it hurled blades of stone and spears of live wood at the enemy in the sky.

It didn’t seem to faze the attacker, who evaded or burned away the attacks as they came, and sent another burst of flame down on the hut.

Now she acted, running for the hut to rescue the old woman inside. For the first time, she tripped in the mud, was forced to struggle against the swamp which chosen the worst of all moments to betray her.

She screamed and wept and pleaded to be let go while watching the battle against the burning monster. All her efforts fell on deaf ears, if even the swamp could hear her over the clash of power with this monstrous attacker.

For some time, the monster and the land traded blows, but it didn’t take long to make it clear who would win this war. The forest stilled, and let loose its grip as it ran out of strength to hold back even her.

The Greenwitch’s murderer hovered above, looking down on the devastated landscape like an old testament angel.

“It’s not fair!” She rasped, her voice having given out long ago. You can be strong. She froze, the weight of ages untold pressed down on her very soul. So much power, it will cost me everything.

She looked up at the burning man in the sky through tears she’d thought had run dry. He can’t be allowed to get away with this. Not now, not ever! She embraced a power more ancient than the world itself like it was her best friend. In many ways it was the last remnants of Granny’s mind and soul.

Now, for the first time, she understood what Granny meant when she said that her debt would be to the Greenwitch. It will be years before I pay the debt I incurred this dayGranny took the first step with her own life, but it’s far from enough to compensate for this Blessing.

The child who was now a goddess looked upon the burning crater of her old home.

She reached out, with the new strength and senses. She could see the nature of the soul before her, the man who wielded a weapon forged only for revenge against the Greenwitch. His power was born for no reason but to take Granny’s life. The old Greenwitch was helpless against him, for he was Fated to destroy her. Granny knew this, and so she allowed herself to die.

This new Greenwitch found it trivial to return the favor. With but a thought, she reached into the mind which claimed mastery of hell’s own flames, and made him forget his power; she could have made him forget his legs if she wanted.

If she’d had her wish, he would have died screaming in his own flames, but she had no means to block the automatic parts of his power that protected him from fire. Instead, she’d sang as he fell. “~One, ~two, ~three, ~ four~ fi-.” Halfway through five, his body hit the swamp and the mind within vanished from her senses. She wanted to laugh, to cheer and insult the bastard, but she had another fallen to concern herself with.

Now Mistress of this demesne, she ran for the scorched earth which held the remains of her dearest friend and teacher. She knew there was nothing to find, but not making the attempt felt like a betrayal, somehow. The house was burned down to the foundation, and even the soil had burned away to reveal more foundation than she’d ever realized existed.

Memories not her own offered images of a mansion, long taken by time and the prior Greenwitch’s own death. The wine cellar would have survived, and within it were Artifacts left by a Greenwitch who built this land a century ago. Horrors that Granny had left locked in darkness, hoping never to unleash upon the world again. The new Greenwitch wondered kept that memory in the back of her mind; the cellar held power enough to rival even Granny and herself.

On the ground amidst the ash sat a journal, which Granny had stored all her doodles and knowledge of plants. It was mere paper, yet survived where even soil and concrete had burned away. It was also cool to the touch, and she opened it to the first page. The letters reminded her of pictures about the Orient she’d seen in newspapers, and she wondered if anyone still living would recognize the language, but somehow she knew how to read it.

The Greenwitch Must Endure.

The slow trickle of memories widened, deaths which went on forever until they blurred into a single endless bloody scream. It was as if the Greenwitch had been around since the birth of the human race, perhaps longer, choosing vessel after vessel. She now understood Granny’s crazy ramblings about angels; within her lived a god. Some day, my death will see it to the next vessel.

She saw her own father’s face, before he left for the war. Through the eyes of the Greenwitch, she recognized the spark of power within him, a lesser god. An archer? Keen eyes who can take life from further than any mortal is allowed.

“You have Granny’s vow. With this, you shall not die while the war goes on. Fate shall shield you so that all bullets miss, and you steps never put you in harm’s way.” She watched as hands not her own held out an amulet laced with incredible magics that could warp the world around it.

“Test it not against the archangels, for they are Granny’s equal, and the even the Greenwitch’s trinkets have their limits.” She kept her oath; Granny’s future-sight ensured the man would die the day after the armistice, the result of a minefield he’d volunteer to scout, believing himself safe.

Granny will carry the weight of vengeance for her actions, and this man’s son will

“Timmy!” she dropped the book and ran for the dead man in the swamp. She knew the answer, Granny’s sight was perfect, but she had to look for herself. Trembling, she turned over the man. The face was older by six years from the last time she’d seen it, a young man now, but unmistakably that of her brother.

She discovered a new source of tears. Not just for the death of her family, not only for Granny’s betrayal, but for herself. All that transpired was enough to lessen her debts, not repay them in their entirety.

The Greenwitch Endures.

….

 

Rose watched her roommate getting ready, in an outfit that could only be described as ‘demure’. Even by church standards, it may have pushed the line toward ‘too modest’, but ever since Maddie met Reverend Hinton, her whole wardrobe had changed.

Rose bit down her jealousy and anger, and instead raised an eyebrow. “Ain’t yer ankles allergic to cloth?”

“Oh, ha ha,” Maddie turned to face Rose, smiling the whole time. “How’s ah look?” She lifted her dress with her hands in order to do a spin.

Rose remained sitting, and added a few more scribbles to her diary before the memories she’d been accessing slipped. “Ain’t no one told you they don’ have negro Amish?” She dipped further into the power she’d given herself to, drawing on it to expand her mind. “You’s been to the church once an’ now yer a convert? Preacher git ya on yer knees, huh?”

“Ain’t yet.” Maddie took to checking her hair for what Rose counted as the seventeenth time. “You outa see ‘im, tho’. They’s gonna be fightin’ over ‘im lahk mutts over a slab o’ meat. They was this uppity broad las’ week tryin’ ta get all over him afta…” Maddie stopped speaking to look around, then leaned in to whisper. “The Greenwitch.”

Rose swallowed the taste of her own bitter regrets, then redoubled her dedication to the cause of her power. The Greenwitch Must Endure. “That so?” She pushed into Maddie’s mind, reinforcing her insecurities and the power her encounter with the Greenwitch had on her psyche. It would be one event she’d never forget, a defining moment of her life. Natural human behavior would see her tell the story to everyone who would listen for the rest of her life. Rose kept her smile hidden behind illusion.

“Tha’s so, a brazen hussy,” Maddie said. “Talkin’ like she is some kinda high ‘n mighty princess or somethin’, an’ throwin’ herself at th’ rev’rend. Tryin’ ta use th’ witch ta get sympathy, but he shot tha’ hussy down hard. Sh’ ran off, an’ I don’ think she’s eva comin’ back.”

Rose bit her tongue, and reminded herself that what she set in motion would bring woe and ruin to this woman and her family unto the fourth generation, if not further. She wondered if Maddie’s version of events was a side effect of the damage Rose did to her memory, or if she was embellishing the story to make herself look good. Neither should have mattered, Rose should have been content with the revenge she’d inflicted, but she wasn’t above an act of pettiness. “Well, you say’d the pastor’s well-spoken. Think he lahk’s tha’ type?”

Rose could only describe the insecurity which washed over Maddie’s mind as delicious. “No.” Maddie turned away and wandered off to do some other ritual of beautification.

The Greenwitch Will Endure.

Rose went back to her notebook, drawing on the moment of victory, and the reward offered by the thing inside her. She no longer held any illusion that it was angelic, but to call it demonic or godly was wrong as well. Rose no longer felt any certainty it was able to think at all, only that it was a primordial power, ancient beyond all reckoning. In fact, she was becoming more convinced by the day that it wasn’t an ‘it’ at all, but a ‘they’, a blend of separate forces which came together to build the Greenwitch. Somehow, at some point long ago, it had become different than the others carrying the same forces. The others that Granny called Angels which granted power to the people society now called Imbued.

That, too, felt wrong in her mind. It’s not different, the Greenwitch is as it always was, the others have changed. Rose almost lost the thought as she was knocked out of the strange sort of hypnosis she inflicted on herself to access the fragments of memories most ancient within her. She wrote it into her journal, using the language of the gods.

The Greenwitch Endures. The gods once worked differently than they do now? The Greenwitch is a holdover, a relic of the old ways? Granny’s ‘archangels’, perhaps?

The memories not her own fell away as the Greenwitch returned to its sleeping state. Rose added another note to her journal.

Every dip makes me stronger, improves my connection to the Greenwitch while eroding my sensibilities. It may not be possible to know Truth while remaining sane. Even now, it is a struggle to keep my sanity intact. The Greenwitch Must Endure, but does it need use such violent, cruel means? Is there another path?

She stood, then looked at the door to Maddie’s room. The Greenwitch by its nature set certain events in motion. It was the myth of the phoenix, and it built its nest as a funeral pyre, so that it could immolate itself and be born anew. As with all fires, it consumed everything it touched, including those who served it. Rose didn’t pretend she could break this ancient pattern, but she hoped with time she could understand it, control it as humanity learned to control the flames.

She wasn’t certain she had such power, but if any Greenwitch did, it was her. Her own predecessor, Granny, Grace, had selected the most straightforward path, using her ability as an oracle and prophet of God to bring comfort and security to herself. Grace allowed Rose to suffer in her stead, and Rose would never forgive the woman’s crimes against her.

Grace her had feared and despised her predecessor, Catherine, who had mastery over the Soul Itself. Born a slave and purchased by the Greenwitch before her, she used her power to turn her swamp into her own private fiefdom, while worshiping the darkest gods of ancient Africa. Of all the witches the Greenwitch remembered for Rose, Catherine was by far the brightest star, the one who had served most faithfully and became most powerful as a result.

Rose decided there could be no greater teacher than this woman who was in many respects was her grandmother. Catherine was Greenwitch of the Spirit, who embraced her power to revel in its hedonism. Rose was Greenwitch of the Mind, who would embrace her power to walk eyes open through the places no other Greenwitch had glimpsed, save in their darkest fever dreams.

She stood, her diary in her hand. “Ah’m runnin’ errands!”

She left without waiting for a response, she never planned to return; she’d be yet another colored woman gone missing in a time when such a thing was commonplace. So soon after the encounter with the Klan at the church, public opinion would convict those less than innocent men of crimes they didn’t commit, yet the law would do nothing for lack of evidence or specific suspects.

Maddie would find the church community supportive of the loss of her friend, they would comfort her, ease her fears, and give meaning to her life. Reverend Hinton, being the man that he was, would be happy to help. Maddie, being the woman she was, would be eager to show her gratitude.

Rose would stop by from time to time, to ensure the pair and their family was safe and as happy as it could be in this uncertain world. Their lives were for the Greenwitch to destroy, and no one else.

The Greenwitch Will Endure.

….

They fought like warrior gods to defend their holy priestess, but the battle was hopeless. They numbered in the hundreds, the largest army the Greenwitch had ever seen, but their enemies numbered in the thousands. Worse, the enemy wielded weapons rent and warped from the flesh of Mother Earth, ones which bit deeper than the claw or fang of any beast of the wilderness.

The pale invaders brought godtouched of their own, one of their number a match for even her. Her lesser warrior-servitors, Moonchild, Bloodsinger and Shadow Jackal found equals amongst the enemies, like the Plaguebearer, the Death Eater, the War Drummer, and the Earth Breaker. They, too, were outnumbered and suffering for it. Even now, they lived only by the strength of the living armor her predecessor had crafted, and the sacrifice of her own tamed beasts.

She wept for them, as the Lord of Corrupted Light scoured her pets with but gestures. They were as loyal as any man, and granted unnatural strength by the Greenwitch, but were as nothing before this foe. Tigers the size of elephants rushed forward, only for their flesh to melt from their bones before they could even touch the invaders. The wielder of balefire stood surrounded by hundreds of charred animal corpses, but he had eyes on her alone. She knew from the lust in his eyes that he was interested in only one prize this day.

The swamp woke her from her meditative slumber; some poor fool had dared enter the domain of the Greenwitch. Rose reached out through the swamp, seeking out the mind and soul of her first visitor in over a decade. The young woman was tall, striking in her beauty, and wearing some sort of carnival costume. It was pretty enough, shimmering dark blue scaled material that, upon inspecting the mind of the woman, she learned was some sort of expensive lightweight armor.

What wonders and horrors hath this new age wrought? Rose dipped further into the mind of this woman. Rose Hinton. Her heart skipped a beat, as she realized now had come the fruition of events she’d begun so long ago.

Oh, Maddie, if knew what I did, you would never have named your daughter for me. Rose bit down the pain, focused on the fact that had the world been even a little different, it might have been her who was mother to this beautiful young woman coming to beg her aid. That life was denied to her forever, leaving her alone with only her power and the swamp itself for company.

Her resolve fueled by hate, she dipped further into the young Rose’s mind, seeking out the source of her desperation which drove her to make a sacrifice to the Loa, to make sacrifices further still to the Greenwitch.

Heritage. Endless Storm. The two names, their meanings, came to her in a flash; a moment which told her the race wars of her time had not yet been won. Rose was disappointed, though unsurprised to learn that the Klan’s legacy survived to the next generation. Names and methods had changed, but the cowardice and hate were no different than it had been when she was young.

This Rose called herself Andromeda, in a parody of the ancient practice of young gods taking the names and legacies of dead gods, itself a parody of the even more ancient practice by which the Greenwitch moved from generation to generation. Rose wondered for a moment if the Loa followed these ancient practices still, or if these practices were responsible for the Loa’s behavior.

Andromeda, which Rose would call her younger to distance herself from the woman, had mastery over water, more powerful than most. She couldn’t fly, but she could skate across the surface of the swamp with surprising agility, and she’d be in the heart of the demesne in a matter of minutes.

Rose stood from her chair in the catacomb-cellars of the old mansion. With a thought, the power of the ancient Artifacts built into her home awakened, flexed their power, and opened a path. The long years since the Granny murdered her brother, and she in turn murdered him, had been enough for the swamp’s power to return to full.

Another thought lit the way for Andromeda, though she could see water in living things to guide her. Cruel curiosity bid Rose to peer into Andromeda’s mind, to see that her childhood was happier by far than her own, with two loving parents, until recently-

Domenic’s dead. It stung to learn, but wasn’t surprising; he was rather older than Maddie or Rose, and was sooner for the grave. Andromeda blamed Heritage for the death of her father, though given that Domenic died of a heart attack, it was the girl’s emotions rather than logic which informed that belief. Emotions of a girl raised on stories of how the woman she was named after vanished in the night, and no justice was done.

Rose laughed to keep from crying, and her voice echoed throughout her territory carried by every individual leaf.

Andromeda halted in her path through the forest. In an act worthy of Jesus, she stood upon the water as if it were solid ground. Only the waves lapping at her feet offered any contradiction.

“Granny Greenwitch? I’ve come seeking your aid!” Rose cackled still, as the Greenwitch came to the surface of her mind. She hadn’t felt this clear a connection to her power since she cursed her best friend and the man she might have come to love. “My mother said you… you once claimed our church as your own, and swore you’d retaliate against any who attacked it. The church has been attacked!”

Rose laughed harder still. Andromeda’s father had condemned her as a servant of Satan for that act, and now his daughter came to invoke it as God’s own covenant.

Andromeda drew her water to herself, building an armor ice without changing the temperature. Naught but sound and fury, signifying of nothing. Still, they all had roles to play in the rebirth of perhaps the oldest of the Loa. “Is that so, Stormbreaker? For your church has not been harmed.”

Andromeda’s emotions, anger and disappointment and desperation blended to overcome her surprise and fear. “They killed the pastor! He’s the heart of the church!”

It had been so long since she’d read a bible that she couldn’t remember if that was true to scripture or not, nor did she think Heritage killed Domenic, but Andromeda believed her words.

“So you seek Granny, for the Greenwitch to solve your problems for you?” She had long ago learned that the second greatest insult to priests and priestesses of the Loa was to claim they were unable to care for themselves. The first greatest was to imply they hadn’t earned the power they held.

Andromeda reacted as expected, her ice shifting to offensive mode. Beautiful swords of ice formed in her armor. The Loa within her were strong in their own right, though there was room within her for further growth. “I fight my own battles. I came here to find out if you’d fight yours.”

Rose had long ago reached the point where attacks on pride wouldn’t work; her’s was sullied beyond salvation long ago. “Mayhap.” She stepped out of her tunnels, with only a brief active use of her power to cloak her egress point.

She gazed upon young Rose with her own eyes for the first time. She could see both Domenic and Maddie’s influences on their daughter. She stood almost six feet tall, with figure that would have men falling over themselves to speak to her. There was no doubt she could call herself a goddess and make people believe it. “Tell the truth, Stormbreaker, why do you come here? Do not lie to Granny, for your soul is bare to her.”

“I…” Andromeda hesitated, considering if she could lie and get away with it. Rose lifted the word ‘Truthsayer’ from her mind, and knew that such powers were common in their new world. Andromeda opted to test her luck with asking a question. “Why do you call me that? Stormbreaker, I mean. If it has any special meaning, I’m afraid it’s lost on me.”

Trying to suss out the level of Truth in my words. Rose laughed at the girl’s simple trick. “It is what you are, Stormbreaker. What the Loa have deemed you to be. You have been selected to be the one who breaks the storm, should you have strength enough. That begins by telling Granny what your motives are.”

Andromeda took a step back, as her mind made the association with Endless Storm. She was just promised that her Fate was to destroy the most powerful criminal organization in her corner of the nation. If accusations of weakness were the greatest insult, then affirmation of strength was the greatest compliment amongst their kind. She wondered what ‘Loa’ meant, but she was a smart girl and knew her religions, she’d figure it out on her own.

“I want my family to be safe, I don’t care how.” Andromeda bowed her head to the more powerful Rose. A lie, of sorts, as this woman yearned to be the one to destroy her enemies, rather than allow another to do it for her. She was no different than any other priestess in that regard. “If that means begging you, then so be it. The old stories say you demand a tithe, just say what it is and I’ll do it.” She phrased it such to support her ego, a service at a cost rather than an act of charity. Those favored by the Loa could suffer almost any indignity, if they could justify it as a payment for a service.

Rose regarded Andromeda, examining the internal ‘temple’ where her Loa housed themselves. She could see it much as Plato’s allegory of the cave; shadows on the wall of the mind rather than their true form. She could tell that Andromeda had almost invited them to build further, but declined their demands. She understands the Loa extract sacrifices for greater power, and feared her son would suffer their demand. She loves her family enough to debase herself before the Greenwitch to spare them.

Oh, poor girl, if only you knew. “Granny shall aid you.” Rose used her power to keep Andromeda from hearing the pain in her voice. “The Greenwitch demands of you a daughter.”

Andromeda’s expression went from hope to horror in an eyeblink. “No!” Only then did she realize who she told off. “I… I mean, I don’t have a daughter. Even if I did, I couldn’t give her up to you or anyone.”

“You misunderstand, Stormbreaker. Granny is not interested in taking your daughter for her own. She bids you conceive a daughter. Keep her, give her up, even suffocate her in her crib if you wish. It matters not to the Greenwitch.” Rose could only say that knowing full well Andromeda would raise any child of her flesh. “What matters is she is born.”

Andromeda stood there, finding ways to justify what she heard. Perhaps wondering how she could afford to raise two children, or convince the father of her first to cooperate. “I… I can’t control what I’ll have.”

“The Greenwitch can.” Rose pushed another burst of power, which froze Andromeda’s perception of time for a matter of moments, then walked forward. She twisted the other’s power, creating a bridge of water she could walk upon, and forced the armor to melt and fall into the swamp. The process took three minutes, but Andromeda would think it happened in seconds. To her, the Greenwitch just destroyed her defenses and moved in an eyeblink.

Rose grabbed Andromeda’s arm, and convinced the woman her grip was too strong to be broken. She lifted up a thin dagger made of bone, dripping with a green ichor, then poked the woman in the wrist through a gap exposed in the glove thanks to the unusual way her arm twisted. It took more minutes to make everything happen, though again it appeared like seconds to her observer.

Andromeda lept back in the air by thirty feet, stopped only because she collided with a tree branch. Power far greater than the young woman knew she could possess, in part thanks to the ichor which now coursed in her veins, and in part thanks to the quirks of the mind Rose had exploited “H-how?!”

“You came to Granny for power,” Rose said. “Or did you believe the Greenwitch could not meet your needs?”

Rose had crafted the ability from the memories and instincts of several Greenwitches who had powers similar to Andromeda. What she was being offered was not power so much as a total of three hundred years of experience and training, condensed into a single burst.

Knowledge of how to control the water of her own body to devastating effect, the skill to rip it out of others’ flesh, the instinct to see how others would move as if a martial arts master. All things Andromeda could have accomplished for herself, if she spent decades in training.

Andromeda dropped from the tree, and landed with a skill she had not earned. “And with this, I can destroy Heritage?”

“Granny promises, should you accept, the only hope Heritage has of survival is if you allow them to survive.” In the end, if she kept on her path of vengeance, she would either succeed or die, there were no other possible outcomes.

Should she die, then the inheritor of her Loa would continue the pattern until either priest or foe was dead, and then another would sprout up to do the same. Such stories had played themselves out countless times in the past, and the only thing that ended such blood-feuds between Loa was the death of those involved and all of their kin.

“You have a deal.” Andromeda extended her hand to the witch. “I don’t like doing it when my son is still in diapers, but-”

“Ah, not quite yet, Stormbreaker.” Rose cupped the larger, younger hand of the other woman. A flash of insight implanted a face, a location, a name, upon Andromeda. “It must be him. For the mixing of his blood and yours is the catalyst for the alchemy of the Greenwitch.”

Andromeda’s heart raced, as she realized she was prostituting herself for power. It didn’t help that her designated mate was white, which would be impossible to hide it from her dark-skinned boyfriend. “I… I can’t. There has to be some other way.” Without the water armor, there could only be one source for the wetness on her face.

“There are many ways, Stormbreaker.” The reminder of her title was deliberate. “You can seek power by other means, perhaps give up your justice in its entirety.” Rose neglected to mention more palatable options such as seeking other allies or going to the police. “You came to the Greenwitch, and so Granny has given her terms. It is your choice.”

“I- if I… c-concieve a son, instead?”

“Fate decrees a daughter, and a daughter it shall be,” Rose said. As stacked as the deck was, Andromeda would be more likely to conceive a fish than a boy; the ichor now within the girl’s blood would see to it. “But the blood of a son would also suffice, the power you felt shall return and be made permanent.”

“What if…”

“You may think on it as long as you like,” Rose said. “The Greenwitch is patient. Two days, two weeks, twenty years, the Covenant has been made. Upon the day you conceive your child with the fated father, and until the end of your life, you shall have Granny’s gifts. Do not return to the Greenwitch until such time as after the daughter is born.”

With a thought, she implanted a series of subconscious instructions. Andromeda would leave the swamp the usual way, then lose all memory of the journey. To her, it will be as if she was removed from the swamp without warning in an eyeblink.

Meanwhile, Rose returned to her tunnels, knowing tonight had gone just as the Greenwitch needed, and that was good. The Greenwitch’s deepest secrets were easiest to access for some time after events like these, and Rose needed that knowledge above all other things.

The Greenwitch Will Endure.

Her defenders lay broken around her, though they took nigh a hundred of the enemy with them, as well as the War Drummer and Death Eater. They would survive, her people would not. She reached for the final step of power, the sacrifice of Everything for a moment of Divine Strength. The Greenwitch Must Endure. Her power faltered; suicide denied to her, for she had no heir, no descendants to call her own in flesh or spirit. Nor could she be allowed the succor of suicide or natural death.

She glared at her captor and future husband. She would submit to him, bear him children. He brought no women with him, even his servitor gods were all male. Such a man would only care for sons, and have no interest in daughters. Her plan formulated, as she would bear him first a daughter, then a son. She would nurture them, become the one they loved while they felt naught but disdain for their father.

Then one day, she would force him to murder her, and her daughter would take up the power of the Greenwitch, slay her father, and become queen of their gods. There was a good chance circumstances would force her adjust her plans, but she was confident it would remain true that he would die and be remembered a monster even by his own children, while she would be remembered a loving mother. It was the only revenge available to her.

She allowed her power fade away, an admission of defeat. He stepped forward, strong and confident, wearing no armor, and his clothing having burned off in the battle. She consoled herself that at least her fair-skinned husband was pleasant to look upon, though she would hate him always. He pointed to his chest. “Crionis”

She took a step forward, her hands slipping her robe from her shoulders so she, too, would be naked. She placed her hand on her own bare chest. “Arya” Ignorant of the other’s culture and language, their wedding was finalized with those words alone, then consummated amidst the ashes of her homeland.

The Greenwitch Endured

Granny awoke from her slumber, alerted by a threat. Andromeda’s daughter, now orphaned, was under attack. The swamp reacted, drawing on power to send to Catherine’s greatest work, her ‘pet’ Wata, so it could protect the girl. Granny acted first, touching the girl’s mind through the swamp and Wata.

Granny frowned, as she confirmed that little had changed in the sixteen years since her last contact with another human. These children carried out the same hateful, stupid dance that their ancestors had. Another generation of humans, no better than the old, though perhaps more brazen and less murderous.

The violent dance of the Loa, acted out in those that are not Priests. Is it perhaps not the Loa who are at fault, but the humans who command their power?

It appeared the Stormbreaker had failed in her self-assigned quest for revenge, and died in the attempt. Rose saw no clues in the Orphan’s mind to suggest Andromeda’s Loa had chosen a successor of their own. The hatemongers still held the city through fear and brutality, and police who were supposed to protect the people were like Nero, playing his fiddle whilst the city burned.

Granny reminded herself to take the information with a grain of salt; Maddie never had a run-in with objective reasoning that she liked, and her granddaughter might be no better. What she could lift of the newest iteration of the Klan suggested they attacked with words, and the Orphan responded with violence.

The lack of the Stormbreaker’s Loa troubled her; the cycle should not have ended, not in this manner. Still, even the Greenwitch had limits, and Granny had seen to protect the Orphan over the mother, as was proven wise by the current circumstances.

Granny sighed, then went back to meditation. She had little else to do but await the next event which would precipitate the Greenwitch’s revival. It seemed she had reached the pinacle of her connection to the Greenwitch. It would show no more, if, indeed, there was more to show; she had come to suspect she’d seen the formative moments of all the Grannies of the past, kept from realizing it because they did not come to her in chronological order.

Like human memory, the Greenwitch recalled in terms of associated events and formative importance, rather than logs in a notebook. Or perhaps the Greenwitch was perfect, and Granny’s humanity was the flaw.

The Greenwitch Will Endure.

….

Granny awoke again, less than a full season from the wounding of the Orphan. Two people entered her demesne, seeking her aid as so many others had in the past. She tasted of their inner nature, determining who they were and learning more about them than they knew.

The first she named Dawn-child, who was daughter of the leaders of the organization the Stormbreaker had sought to destroy. Not only that, she was one of those that organization would hate perhaps more than those of color, and she loved her partner, who was as dark as she was light.

Shakespeare would be amused by such a tragedy in the making.

The boy she named Blacksmith was the recipient of the Loa of the Stormbreaker that Granny had thought long dormant. Grandson of the pastor who had rejected her so long ago, he had rejected his grandfather’s legacy along with his faith, and picked up the mantle of priest of the Loa.

She could not imagine a more perfect symmetry to the curse she laid out on their family a full half century ago. His every descendant for two generations had been claimed by the Loa, with little chance that the next would be any different. The Greenwitch would need to seek out a host after the Orphan’s service as Priestess came to an end.

Immortality was the one power that no Greenwitch could ever know.

Granny cackled to herself as she forced her old bones to move. With a burst of thought she lessened the pair’s pain, and distorted their perception of time so she could be in position when they landed, unawares of her role in their lives to this point. The Greenwitch’s claws had shaped both their lives as if clay, and neither had cause to suspect a thing.

“Legend has it the Greenwitch always knows if anyone’s in her domain,” the young Domenic spoke. His voice was sonorous, powerful, and awakened a fire in Granny she had long believed dead. She looked deeper into his past, knowing him in the way she had refused to do to his grandfather. “So I think it’s up to her to decide-”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Thrice-Blessed.” She changed her title for the boy. His temple was a masterpiece, designed thrice, built once. He had the strength to do what so few could; he rejected the Loa and validated everything his grandfather believed in. What he lacked was resolve to see it through at the cost of his family’s wellbeing. “But this one just so happens to be true.”

Granny and Greenwitch alike thrilled at the victory which stood before them; not only would the Greenwitch endure, it would do so with powerful and diverse allies to protect the Orphan Priestess. More, Granny could use today to set in motion the events which saw her own death.

She had come to fear she would be required her step into the outside world and engage in battle against the legacy of the Klan to complete the Greenwitch’s cycle. She had little fear of doing so, for they were weak, and the Greenwitch required Granny’s murder as it had for all other Grannys of the past. Rose only worried that the Orphan would face a war she started, and would be too inexperienced to succeed.

She set about the necessary paths of conversation to see the two claim their shared Betrothed, and that was a surprise unto itself to learn that there was still expressions of the Loa which even the Greenwitch had never known. She wondered if this was a start of a new set of rules, and such beings would become commonplace even as the Greenwitch learned to follow a less destructive path.

The Greenwitch Will Endure.

Rose returned to her trance, content that her life spent in devotion to the Greenwitch was not in vain.

….

Their third was a monster, even by Granny’s reckoning. She’d known worse monsters, she counted herself amongst them, but the creature in front of her would get along with the worst of them.

“Poor Bound-Viper, who can see everyone’s strings but her own.” Granny moved away, drawing up the best her swamp had to offer to fight off this attacker. “Granny knows how her story ends. The Greenwitch shall not fall by your hand.”

“Sounds sexy, let’s try it,” the girl rushed forward, unconcerned with her own safety. Her nature, and the powers born of them, was to attack and attack until either she or the enemy was destroyed. Such a rabid beast should have known nothing but bloody war until it destroyed. Perhaps, if any stood to claim justice for her death, the Loa would choose a more stable Priest. Yet, deep within her was the heart of a little girl whose only desire was to find the family she knew was possible only because of television.

These were new sorts of beings who fought against Granny today, unlike any the Greenwitch had ever witnessed before. Somehow, it was sad and fitting that the only three person Betrothal in even the Greenwitch’s memory was that of the Parent and Child, done twice over.

Similar in nature, this Kinslayer carried Loa which were migrated from the Priest she dispatched. So rare were those tasked to avenge the murders they themselves committed, that even the Greenwitch had witness but a handful. Yet here stood such a girl, Fated to slay herself, amongst the youngest that the Loa would accept a priestess.

Granny wondered if the Loa had begun to change their Laws to fit this strange new mortal world. It was conceivable there were many like this girl and her Betrothed, and the only unique detail was to be the first encountered by the Greenwitch. In that case, it was the best time for a new Priestess, who would be young and able to learn the new while serving the most ancient.

Granny would have liked to study these new creatures, if she wasn’t fighting for her life. A fight which was beginning to look unwinnable. The tricks she used to distort perception did little against this girl whose power let her spy on the threads of Fate and adapt her brain to make her resistant to Granny’s best abilities. Granny was not well equipped to counter such an opponent. It did not go unnoticed by Granny that the girl’s Fate power was not unlike the previous Granny’s, though inferior.

Rarity though the Bound-Viper was, she would not have posed much threat alone, but the power of both her Betrothed placed her at a level of strength just shy of greatest Priests, Granny included. If Granny had been young still and hadn’t given one of her greatest tools to the Orphan, she’d be much more confident in her ability to win. She knew not how the Loa and cycle would respond, were the Bound-Viper the one who claimed her life. Granny preferred her murder be on the hands of the Thrice-Blessed, knowing his beloved sister would never strike him down.

Granny failed to predict her foe, and found herself fatally wounded and pinned against a tree. Her demesne went to work repairing the damages inside her, but the Bound-Viper knew how regeneration worked, how best to defeat it, and was prepared to strike.

That was when the Thrice-Blessed stepped in. It was a close thing, using their emotions to influence the Bound-Viper. As with all Betrothals, the shared songs of their temples made it difficult for her to change their natures. Only the fact that their bonds were weakened by the mistrust between the Priests gave her an angle to exploit. Exploit it she did, to convince the Bound-Viper that she would never be loved by them, were she to kill Granny.

It took some time and effort, and the advantage that all three members of their group wanted Granny dead, to cajole the Thrice-Blessed to do to her body what his grandfather had done to her heart so long ago.

She laughed in triumph as the blade came down. She won. She would die without a single eligible being on the planet who would seek revenge for her sake. Only Maddie might feel anger over her death, and Maddie would never know what happened here today. Nor could she be claimed as a Priestess, nor would she kill her own grandson even if she could. The cycle of brutality was broken now and forever, and so Rose would be the final Greenwitch to murder her family.

The Greenwitch Has Endured.

Rose gave herself over to one last dip into the Greenwitch’s memories, and her mad cackling grew even wilder. She failed. Rather, she succeeded, and it was by far worse than if she had failed.

This had happened before; new memories the Greenwitch hid from her all these decades revealed that she was not the first to violate the system, to seek a new path. Much as a butterfly escaping from a cocoon, the initial loss was necessary as part of the system, part of the sacrifice granted to the Loa for their Blessings.

That Rose had sacrificed her entire life to exist as a hermit in her swamp alone was not enough to make up the difference in what was demanded of the Greenwitch. Instead, the Orphan would lack the experience and training that prior Grannies had given their charges, and be fettered to human troubles that would only cause suffering.

This new Greenwitch was destined to suffer far worse for Rose’s actions than Rose had suffered for Grace’s.

Knowing her life was dedicated to making things worse, Rose would continue to cackle in horror and regret long after her death. Only in this moment had her debt to the power of the Greenwitch been paid in full.

Far away, the Orphan’s eyes opened; a new Priestess, rich in the incredible powers of the Greenwitch, but bereft of Granny’s wisdom.

 

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3 thoughts on “Price Threefold Short Story- The Greenwitch Endures

  1. Even having read this before the first time around, this whole thing as a standalone story blew me away. There are so many little bits in it that are either heartbreaking or horrifying.

    Rose the Elder closing off her heart to Pastor Dom, even though I still think that had she just given him a little more time his message would have come off different and they could have had something good. May just be the optimist in me though.

    The Greenwitch gives me the impression of this giant engine of suffering, which can only hurtle forward by ruining all that it touches. The mantle comes with so much power that the only way to pay for it is through an extended lifetime of causing pain, to the host and everyone around her. It also kind of reminds me of the idea of inheritable karma from Pact. The Greenwitch comes with so much bad juju that you would be lucky to break even, without any real chance of lessening the load for those in the future. Which puts me back in mind of the Nameless One spending eternity trying to atone for this huge karmic burden.

    I also love the hints at the nature of powers in the setting. Things like the Greenwitch and the Lynx give a kind of shape to how it could all work, with powers being these higher order, consistent things. They are like edge pieces in a puzzle, giving a vague sort of definition to the larger picture without giving away any of its inner secrets.

    Domenic inherits his mother’s Loa, and while they look different from the outside at a baser level both have to do with controlling fluids; Andromeda has the obvious power of water control, while Dom gets to create and manipulate liquid metal. It transfers itself and adapts to its new temple, like a mollusk finding a new shell.

    Cecelia and her sister seem to both inherit their Father’s Loa, or aspects thereof, like a cell dividing into two. But they also both gain something from Starfall before killing her, and between that and their Surging their Loas become things that look more distinct from each other. Fission and fusion and evolution all wrapped up together.

    The Greenwitch has different powers in each incarnation. but she also retains her awareness of who and what she is. Like a person wearing a new wardrobe periodically. Or a form of asexual reproduction, where the offspring has all of the same makeup as the mother but slight mutations to prevent it from being a true clone.

    To keep with my vague theme and ideas on power reproductive cycles, I would suggest that the Lynx is something like a clone that you would get from grafting a cutting from a tree in new soil. The environment may be different, but the tree is essentially the same. This one is the most tenuous just because we don’t get nearly as much info about the Lynx in the Blue Steel story other than that it is passed down genetically and has been for ages. I don’t recall if it is said whether the power changes or is consistent every time. Either way, the Lynx requires very specific growing conditions.

    Pairbonds would be something like symbiosis between Loas, mutually beneficial interactions that leave both strengthened, with a side order of hivemindedness to make sure that their hosts don’t do anything silly to break things up. Arclight then would be an example of a three-way symbiosis, with Cecelia as the lynchpin connecting the other two. Each pairbond strengthens the Cecelia’s Loa, which in turn boosts what she can contribute to the other. And as the Greenwitch says, there is also something of a parent-offspring aspect to the relationship as well. A family unit that acts to better the whole and is stronger for each member.

    My favorite part about your writing is that even as I’m typing this I am something like 85% sure that most of it is entirely wrong, and all of it is at least a little off. You’ve given me part of the outline of an intricate puzzle, and my brain runs off on wild ideas on what the picture will be when its finished while knowing that I’ll never see the whole thing complete. This story satisfies a very particular mental itch I have. It is an artistic bone that I can lay down and gnaw on for hours, or in this case a novella length comment.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. > now a goddess look upon

    looked

    > The letters that reminded her

    doesn’t need a ‘that’

    > washed over Maddie’s

    just “Maddie”. or add a ‘face’

    > Grace her had feared and despised her predecessor, Catherine, had mastery over the Soul Itself.

    her -> herself; had mastery -> who had mastery ?

    > do not return the Greenwitch until

    return to the

    > slay her father become

    and become

    > and validating everything

    validated ?

    –dave, veni, vidi, visa

    Like

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