Through her window, past the leisurely snowfall settling upon the barren flowerbox, Eri could see in the far distance the two remaining walls of Eriahmys glinting against the noon sun. In the ten generations since the failing of the Witching Cities, Eriahmys had dulled down to brass and steadily transformed to fit those residents who chose to stand by their home, even without the magic of a Witch to sustain its greatest wonders. The other cities had fared similarly, though Illymere became naught but ruins and Selemay relocated to a less disaster-prone part of nature.…
Among the Ruins
The Partners stared after Lusa and Selemay long after they’d departed from the library.
“I mislike this idleness,” Ahlbrecht griped. “Surely we can be of more use than this.”
Speaking to himself, Jehf said, “Perhaps we can be. Eriahmys told me of this city’s history through yesterday’s evening. She didn’t mention a path to the first city, but… she said the first building she ever raised for herself, rather than for someone else, now lies outside the city limits. I think it is the place I found her when we first met.”…
The Witch of Illusion
In all the long history of the Witching Cities, no Witch had appeared before the citizens of another Witch’s city. It was Lusa’s idea to break with the tradition, and Ardis contributed new looking-glass, the Witches stringing the massive ovals of liquid silver together and suspending them in their cities where the citizens might easily see them. Vrai and Faux none of the Witches could reach, and so Illymere alone did not see the new covenants formed.…
Covenants New and Old
A third messenger had fulfilled her quest and stood now at Ardis’s side, greeting Ahlbrecht through the mirrored apparatus with a wiggle of her fingers. In Lusa’s crystal tower, Ahlbrecht could feel that the cool of the city had retreated somewhat since their departure, and it seemed to her that the tower itself was somehow smaller, slender like an icicle in late season. Past Ardis and the third messenger—Camrys—a sea of tiny lights, some streaking through darkness and some sparkling in a vast array of colors, stood against a gathering night. The details of Ardis and Camrys’s immediate surroundings Ahlbrecht could not discern, but she thought she heard a hum through the mirror.…
The Great City
The hall running parallel to that which Jehf and Ahlbrecht had taken was similarly closed by deteriorating ironwork which fell away like ash with a brush of Eriahmys’s fingers. She and Lusa crossed the threshold, their gowns untouched by the metallic powder. The sconces in the hall awoke in Eriahmys’s presence, flashing into ethereal light. Intuition told Lusa what this place had been and why it remained in hiding beneath the city; her own original temple also remained standing, though none had visited it in many human lifetimes. Many doors fringed off the hall ahead of them, but the Witches examined none of them, instead moving steadily toward their goal, even as the hall began to incline little by little.…
Ahlbrecht stood at attention beside the Witch of Ice—who insisted that Ahlbrecht call her Lusa, though Ahlbrecht could not bring herself to do so—as the Witch spoke to another of her siblings, the Witch of Winds. Wherever the orbiter resided in the city of Selemay, it apparently opened onto the sea, for the Witch’s hair wisped around her oval face into tangled confusion and the cry of gulls punctuated her every statement.…
Once, in the far north, there was a witch of vast primordial power who shared a dream with a human. Together, they built a magnificent city at the edge of the tundra, whose light became a beacon to all humanity. Craft and knowledge crystallized in the utopia birthed by the witch and human’s covenant, but a day came on which the covenant was broken, and the city was destroyed by the armies of man, its people massacred. With the dream shattered, the witch returned to her city’s ruins and sequestered herself among the graves for time uncounted, slowly passing from human memory in all but the sparse myths shared among the races of men. There she waited, bound to the ashes of the once-great city.…
We used to clamber down the river on hands and knees—there weren’t any bugs then—
and sure, we used to dismember slugs and release their inner sleaze, and there weren’t any bugs
Once we stumbled down the slope of your rain-soaked, wooded acres to swim in your pond.
There were bats, and there was thunder, and our flashlight shot up the trees, but there weren’t
any bugs then.
Once we wobbled through Boston’s March cold without coats and shouted our early morning
and I bestowed upon you, dense as you are, half-joking cruelties, but at least there weren’t any
Once I found an earthworm and called him friend. I propped him on my slide
and left him, a tiny emperor in the sun. He baked, crisp nobility, and there weren’t any bugs
Our plans fell apart when we reached your pond. We watched the bats in silence,
waiting for just one of us to feel unashamed of our triple nudities; after all, there weren’t any
And after our trip through the cold, I hid in your room while you conversed with drunks,
and for a time, you know, I hated parties, but at least there weren’t any bugs then.
I don’t remember what I did with that tiny king, a question mark in his last moments,
but I suspect I swept him away without anything funerary, and, hey, there weren’t any bugs then.
Even now we crawl down the river on hands and knees through the mosquitoes that assault us,
and ah, but Riley, I suspect they are vengeful for my multitude of tiny brutalities although you
and I know there weren’t any bugs then.