Word Count: 2421 | Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
In Episode Nine, Xanthe is taught the art of mirror magic and finds out a little more about her mother, but does not receive the assurance she wanted. Kit picks up Melanie coming back from the journalists and tries to find the house. Before he does, he loses control of his bike, crashes and is knocked unconscious. Xanthe witnesses this in the mirror.
“Open your eyes. Quick, we have little time.”
Xanthe did as the Truth Weaver instructed and took in the scene before her. It was as if they had stepped into the mirror. The witch stood over Melanie. Cobweb was circling Kit and meowing like a baby.
“Kit,” Melanie exclaimed, and went over to him. He lay as still as a corpse and his face was as pale as moonlight. She grabbed his arm and leant into his face. “Kit, can you hear me?” A large drop of rain fell onto his face and rolled down his cheek, but still there was no response.
“He’s not dead? Is he?” Xanthe sobbed.
“Leave him for now. Cobweb will see to him.” The Truth Weaver turned to the cat. “He has a puncture wound on his calf. In the same place as Xanthe’s. We may be too late, but you need to remove the rest of the poison before we can move him.” Cobweb padded to Kit’s and with a sharp claw ripped through his jeans, revealing a large swollen lump on his leg. There was a faint red line that ran up his calf. Xanthe bit her lip and turned away. A snake bite. In the same place as hers.
“Xanthe, focus. We need to get this girl free from the tree. I need your help.”
Xanthe turned and stared into the eyes of Melanie, who was eyeing her with a frightened look in her eyes. “It’s alright, Melanie,” she soothed, walking over to her. “These are… these are friends of mine. We want to help. What happened?” She felt anything but calm as she knelt down beside her. It was then she saw that somehow Melanie had become trapped under the large roots of the tree. They enclosed her like huge fingers. To the right of her was shards of broken glass and a dark smoky streak travelled up the trunk. Melanie clutched the moonstone in her palm.
“She’s too frightened to speak,” Xanthe whispered. Melanie was never short of a barb. But this time, she was scared out of her skin. Petrified. Xanthe knew that she’d have to help her against all her better instincts.
“The fire spell,” the Truth Weaver turned to her. “This is outside the portal. I cannot use my magic here. It is too dangerous. Release her and then we can take them back through.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” Xanthe said. “I can’t do it.” She’d set Melanie alight. She had no control.
“You can do this, Xanthe. You can do this and you will do this. Otherwise, you will be held responsible for their deaths.”
“It matters not that you did not cause the accident, but they will both perish. We cannot take Kit without the girl. She has seen us. We cannot leave her here.”
Melanie stared back at Xanthe, her bottom lip trembling and fat tears sat in the corner of her eye. She had never seen Melanie cry. Never.
“But what if I—”
“You need to focus. You did it before at the portal. Concentrate on the largest trunk. Across her middle. You can control this. You have to.”
The tips of Xanthe’s fingers warmed, and Melanie’s eyes widened with fear. “You can’t burn me? I’m not a—”
The Truth Weaver banged her staff on the ground, then pointed the skull at Melanie. “Be quiet, child, or we will leave you here. Your choice.”
Melanie glanced at the Truth Weaver and then over to Kit and nodded. She turned her head to one side and squeezed her eyes tight shut. She whimpered, and Xanthe swallowed. This was madness. She wasn’t sure she could control the fire. She would have to, and that was all there was to it.
Xanthe took a deep breath and counted to seven as she raised her hands and focused on the trunk that trapped Melanie. Her fingers sparked and fizzed.
“More, you need more.” Cobweb circled her feet, crossing one way and then the other.
“Yes, alright,” Xanthe snapped and focused again. Pushing her tongue between her lips, she concentrated on the small flame that reached out to the trunk. Melanie trembled.
“Keep still, please, Melanie. I don’t want to burn you.”
Xanthe lifted her hands again, her arms tired with the concentration. The flame burned through, making a small notch, and a scream rang out from the tree.
“Melanie, are you alright?” Xanthe’s heartbeat in her chest. She couldn’t do this.
“It wasn’t the girl screaming.” Cobweb stood by her side. She glanced over at Kit, who was on his side. She observed the rise and fall of his rib cage.
“So, who was it?”
“The tree,” answered the Truth Weaver. “We have got little time; you need to work faster.”
“I’ll explain later. For now, we need to get the girl out.”
Xanthe concentrated hard, but it was difficult with all the screaming. Melanie put her hands over her ears as the burning wood produced a grey smoky film. And then she was through, and Melanie was wriggling away from the tree.
“Quick, we need to get back through the portal.” The Truth Weaver wrapped Melanie in her cloak, her legs dangling like a puppet. “Xanthe, grab my staff and place it on Kit.”
Xanthe did as instructed as Cobweb leapt onto her neck and settled in.
“Now take us back to the mirror.” The Truth Weavers form wavered. “Concentrate, Xanthe.” She closed her eyes and did as she was bid.
She heard Kit moan in pain and hoped that she had got them somewhere safe. When she opened her eyes again, they were back at the house. The mirror stood to one side, reflecting their figures. Kit lay on a sofa and Melanie hid in a corner. Her gaze darted around the room, back and forth, like a trapped animal. The Truth Weaver hovered over Kit, her hands tracing over the swelling in his leg.
“The poison has travelled. We may have to remove his leg.” Her words were low and directed at Cobweb.
“No!” shouted Xanthe. “You can’t. You mustn’t. I mean, you aren’t trained to do that. We need his dad. Doc Stephens would know what to do.” She ran her fingers through her hair.
“Have you shared blood with this young man?” The Truth Weaver asked bluntly.
Xanthe nodded. Her mouth was dry, and she ran her tongue over her lips. “Yes, before we went to the Kingdom. He can communicate with me via our minds. And we seem to feel each other’s pain.” She looked down at her own leg, which mirrored Kits.
“Prepare the bath.” The Truth Weaver turned to Cobweb and placed a small golden casket in his mouth. “This may stop the spread in Xanthe, and therefore the boy. As hot as you can.”
Xanthe followed Cobweb out into the hallway and through a door which led to an enormous bathroom. Everything was ornate, as if out of a palace. Cupboards filled with thick towels of all colours lined one wall and all the fittings were gold, gleaming from the sunshine which streamed in through a huge arched window. Steam soon filled the room, and Xanthe slipped fully clothed into the water. It stung her skin until she got used to the heat and Cobweb passed her a small glass bottle filled with a substance the colour of lavender.
“Pour this into the water and let it mingle. Stay here until the water runs cold. All will be well if you believe.” He turned and padded out of the door.
The aroma from the liquid in the jar was immediately soothing, relaxing her aching muscles, and Xanthe slipped in and out of sleep. “Kit, please I’m sorry.”
Suddenly she felt a pressure on her head, pushing her under the water. She tried to turn, but the grip was strong, and she glimpsed sight of a ponytail before she was immersed under the water.
Melanie kept her hand on Xanthe’s head despite her struggles. She was strong and the voice in her head was telling her to keep the pressure on, and not to let go until the witch was dead. Kit would thank her for it in the end and who knows, she could get a reward, maybe? Enough money to take her far away from her drunken mother.
Melanie’s arms were aching, and Xanthe still struggled, despite the pressure. Melanie licked at blood that trickled to the edge of her mouth from the scratches made by Xanthe. She would pay for that. With her life.
The voice was unfamiliar. It kept fading in and out. She could do this. She would do this. The others she would have to deal with later, when she had time to think, but she’d had to seize the opportunity now.
Water spilled from the tub, soaking Melanie’s knees, and the aroma from the bath salts had made her head ache. She didn’t really know how much longer she could hang on.
“You can do it, girl.” The voice told her. “She has to go. You both cannot survive. It’s either you or her. And I will reward you. Richly. I promise.”
Filled with renewed energy, Melanie increased the pressure, watching the features on Xanthe’s face through the blur of the water. Xanthe stared back at her with lifeless eyes as her muscles relaxed and her arms floated at her side. Had she really gone?
She looked around, seeking the voice, but there was silence.
“I did as you asked, didn’t I?” Melanie whispered, all of a sudden not feeling so brave. She released one hand, and Xanthe did not move. Melanie gasped. What had she done? She was only doing what the voice told her. She didn’t really want Xanthe dead.
Melanie shook Xanthe.
“Stop pretending, witch. I know you’re just pretending. You know I wouldn’t really want to do this. It was her.” Melanie pointed to her head and still the voice was quiet, as if it had never been there.
Xanthe was still in the water, her hair free of the braids that normally bound them floated around her, framing her face like a halo.
Melanie bit down on her lip. “Please, Xanthe, I didn’t mean it.”
Something behind her caught the corner of her eye and she turned to find a man looming over her. He pushed her hard, and she scrabbled to the corner of the room, her fist in her mouth, trying to keep quiet.
The man lifted Xanthe gently out of the bath and she lay across his arms, hands and feet dangling like a rag doll. Water dripped onto the floor at his feet, forming small puddles. Melanie turned her head to the wall and then back again. He laid Xanthe on the floor and put his ear to her mouth and then her chest.
He cupped his large hands, with hairy knuckles, around her mouth, blew seven times and then leant back on his heels, watching her chest. Nothing. He did the same again. Still nothing.
Fat tears rolled down Melanie’s face.
The man bent his elbows and put one hand on top of another and then laid these gently on Xanthe’s chest. He pressed seven times and then blew into her mouth. He repeated the procedure for what seemed like a lifetime.
Xanthe suddenly coughed and spluttered and rolled onto her side, spewing water out of her mouth onto the carpet. Melanie sobbed with relief.
“You have failed,” the voice had returned and was in her head. “You were supposed to kill the witch.”
Melanie shook her head, her ponytail flicking her cheeks as she did so. “No, I did. He brought her to life. I had killed her.” She grabbed her top, sticking it into her mouth to stop her from saying the words. She didn’t want to listen to the voice any longer.
“I told you that there was a price to pay, Melanie.” The voice said. “Either you or her. You have made your choice.”
“No!” shouted Melanie. The man stopped and turned towards her. His face was half hidden by an unkempt beard littered with crumbs and food. His eyes were rheumy, and he squinted at her, wrinkling his leathery skin.
Xanthe rolled back and pulled herself up to a sitting position and grabbed the man’s arm. He turned back towards her.
“Thank you. Thank you for saving me.” Xanthe tried to smile, but she noticed Melanie.
The man stared at Xanthe, ran his big hand around Xanthe’s face. “Stella?” he said in a voice that was unused to being heard. “My Stella?”
Xanthe shook her head and glanced at Melanie again.
“No, I’m Xanthe, Xanthe Rivers. From the centre,”
The man wrinkled his nose, put his hands on his knees as he concentrated. He shook his head as if trying to rid himself of an image. “No, my Stella dead.” He said and staggered to his feet. He was dressed in what looked like a hunting suit. With lots of pockets. He checked every one of them.
“My Stella, dead a long time. They took her.”
Xanthe knelt before him. “Who took Stella?”
The man peered at her, then at Melanie. His eyes seemed to pierce through her with hatred and she tried to make herself as small as possible.
“The witches took her. From the Seventh Coven. And they are coming to get you.” He pointed his finger at Melanie. She shook her head.
“No, No. I’m not the witch. She is.”
“You failed,” the voice in her head told her. “Pay the price of failure.”
“No!” Melanie screamed and stood. The man moved into the doorway as if to block her escape, but Melanie would not let that stop her. She ran at him full pelt, taking him by surprise, and he stumbled and fell against the doorway. Melanie pushed past him, along the corridor and out through the doors, salty tears running down her cheeks and into her mouth. She didn’t dare look back. Thunder rumbled above her as dark rain clouds gathered around the sun, blocking out the light. She had drowned Xanthe Rivers, and she had come back to life. That had to mean only one thing. Xanthe really was a witch. Melanie stopped in her tracks as the voice in her head returned. She ran towards a stone temple. Towards the place where the voice told her to go.
The eleventh episode of Thunder Moon will be posted next Friday at midnight. This first book in the the serialisation of The Luna Legends is free to all my subscribers and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for your support.