Note: teeny bit of blood.
Broof had been waiting at the hidden area for thirty minutes, the secret meeting place where witches had been convening for centuries, mulling over life and how things had changed.
A couple of months ago, he was butler to the most famous woman on the planet, living in luxurious quarters in her mansion, truly earning his inflated pay and feeling like he was indispensable. Now he was unemployed and, thanks to the media, most of the world thought he was a murderer or a pervert. Despite his acquittal, despite Travis’s confession he remained a guilty man.
There’s no fire without fuel, they’d say.
His name had been irrevocably tarnished but that alone would not rule out every potential employer. Those who did not want integrity in their servant, however, demanded discretion and thanks to that reporter practically stalking him, Broof could no longer offer that, either.
He would find some work, somehow, and the Harpers wouldn’t let him starve. Besides, hanging out at their place enabled him to watch April finally experiencing moments that made her smile.
No, not just smile, they made her beam from ear to ear.
However it may have been achieved, whatever the cost was, it was worth it just for that.
He shifted his weight, listening to the muted voices coming from the clearing and the birdsong in the surrounding trees. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to feel.
Jarringly, he still had the poorly drawn images from Sage’s presentation the previous night burned into the back of his eyelids – he’d even dreamed about them. He could still feel the nervous embarrassment that hung in the air long after Sage had gone to bed, when Caleb took off to shower and the girls convened in Wyatt’s room, asking the questions they really wanted the answers to.
Broof had watched these girls grow up from tiny, giggling little children and he struggled to see them as anything else, so the conversation was too much for him. He’d made his excuses and left them to it. What Melinda did with her hairbrush was her own business and he was content to never know.
Although, in hindsight, perhaps he should have stuck around longer. He doubted Wyatt had given much thought to cleanliness in his answer.
“Yo! Teach!” Wyatt called, startling Broof from his thoughts, which was just as well as they were becoming dirty, and not in a sexual fashion.
Pre-occupied as he now was with hygiene, Broof took a moment to give his ‘student’ a thorough once-over. Wyatt was un-showered which was not uncommon. His routine most mornings was to roll out of bed, chew gum and spray on another layer of deodorant. That upset Broof, but not as much as noticing that the unkempt witch had put on a clean t-shirt.
Why would anyone put clean clothing on a filthy body? It was beyond Broof’s comprehension.
“You’re late,” he said, in his best authoritative tone.
Wyatt only grinned back in his lazy way. “You’re early.”
Broof scoffed and looked at his pocket watch before realising that yes, he had in fact been early. Still. “Don’t speak to your mentor like that, Wyatt. If we’re going to pull this off, we have to at least act the part of teacher and student.”
Wyatt rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
“Right! Are you ready to learn the basics of casting, my dishevelled friend?” Broof called as they headed towards the clearing. “I reserved us three hours; that should be ample time to make a good start—”
“Oh my gosh, Toady; look who it is. The livewire himself… and the other one.”
“Hey Broof,” Toadella beamed. “I like your jacket. You always look so sophisticated.”
“Boring more like,” Wartilda muttered, her eyes never leaving Wyatt’s face.
“Dude,” Wyatt whispered. “Did you know they were gonna be here?”
“Do I look like I knew?”
Broof cleared his throat, ever polite. “Thank you, Toadella. You’re looking…” he tried to think of a compliment that wasn’t too complimentary. “Very purple. Hello, Wartilda.”
Toadella twisted her hair around her finger, fluttering her eyelashes at Broof but Wartilda ignored him, as usual.
“Hi Wy,” she purred. “I’m about to whoop my sister in our final duel of the day, then how about you and I…?” she leaned forward to whisper in his ear, pulling back to gauge his reaction.
Broof felt a little guilty. The only reason Wyatt constantly ignored Wartilda was because of him; because of who the Globrot twins were mentored by.
Speaking of which. “Is Claudia here?” Broof asked. He glanced around but saying her name hadn’t made his lovely ex-wife appear in a hail of snakes and broken promises.
“No,” Toadella assured him. “High Priestess has her on another mission, so we’re being mentored by Moon for a while.”
At the mention of her name, Moon – one of the coven’s most enduring members – lifted her attention from her knitting and waved, catching Broof’s attention for the first time.
“Hello boys. Are we running a little behind schedule? Come on now, girls! Final duel and then home for potion practice!”
“We’re making love potions,” Wartilda whispered as she grazed her fingernail down the front of Wyatt’s shirt.
He leapt back. “Uh… aren’t they, y’know, illegal?”
“Only if you use them on someone unknowingly and I would never do such a thing,” Wartilda gasped. “Now, excuse me. I have a floor to wipe with my sister’s face.”
“Which one? The one attached to her, or the one attached to you?” Broof joked. Toadella giggled, but Wartilda merely blinked.
“I don’t get it.”
“Girls!” Moon called. “Less flirty, more fighty!”
The twins sighed and made their way to the centre of the clearing, preparing themselves to duel.
Duelling was a way to – believe it or not – build up non-violent magical defence skills. Many witches saw the practice as outdated and claimed that all duelling did was expose witches in a negative light to any non-witches who encountered it, that the threats from vampires and witch hunters were non-existent and the practice was pointless.
The new High Priestess, however, disagreed on a few of these points and had made the practice mandatory for every probationary witch.
Moon tutted, in time with the click-clack of her knitting needles as she observed her scarlet-clad student. “Arm a little higher, Wartilda, and tense that wrist! What are you trying to defend yourself against, a kitten?”
“I know what I’m doing, Moon,” Wartilda muttered under her breath.
“Eek!” Wartilda shrieked as ball of electricity appeared from nowhere and almost struck her. “What on earth? You could have killed me!”
“That little thing can’t kill you. And it wouldn’t be anywhere near you if you had your arms higher and tension in that wrist!” Moon smiled, scrutinising her knitting. “Oh, poo! I’ve dropped a stitch.”
“No one could defend against that!” Wartilda screeched, cowering from the aggressive ball.
She was still shrieking as the lightning suddenly hurtled towards her sister who, like a pro, caught it and began to bend it to her will.
“Wonderful! That’s how you do it!” Moon shouted gleefully. “Great job, Toadella! Here’s your second chance to defend against it, Wartilda. You’ll even get warning this time!”
“What?” Wartilda gasped, realising, too late, that her sister was sending the crackling ball of light directly towards her.
“Tense those wrists, Wartilda,” Moon instructed.
“They are tense!” Wartilda screeched as the light overpowered her and sent her somersaulting through the air, landing heavily into the dirt, face first.
“Eat grass, Warty,” Toadella whispered and then raised her voice, wearing a false expression of concern that Sandy Moss herself would have applauded. “Oh my goodness, Tilly! Are you OK? I’m sorry!” She rushed over to her twin’s aid but Wartilda was having none of it, shrugging off her sister’s sham comfort and scrambling to her feet.
“You’re crazy, Moon!” she cried. “You’ll be banished when Claudia hears about this!”
“When she hears about what, darling?” Moon said calmly. “That you ended up with a mud mask because you cannot follow simple instructions?”
“Ugh!” Wartilda huffed, storming from the clearing. “You could have helped me!” she hissed at Wyatt, her eyes ablaze.
“I don’t want to hear it. Ugh. Some boyfriend you are.”
“Tilly, come back!” Toadella pleaded, trotting after her sister like the shadow everyone thought she was, but flashing Broof a wicked little grin as she passed.
As the clearing fell silent, Moon sighed happily. “That was exhilarating! I think I need a cup of tea. It’s been a while since I had a student and days like this make me so glad that I retired.” She began packing away her things, humming to herself. “The space is all yours, boys. I’ll see you at tomorrow’s ritual.”
Broof watched as Moon vanished in a shower of sparks. He sighed, wistfully.
“She makes that look so easy.”
“It is easy,” Wyatt insisted, mimicking Moon’s action.
“Boo,” he whispered from his new place behind his buddy. Broof only rolled his eyes.
“Who’s showing off?” Wyatt asked. “It’s pretty basic magic, Hoggy. You used to be able to do it.”
“I used to be able to do a lot of things,” Broof said ruefully. “But as I told you before, it’s like I just can’t work with the energy. It defies me. It simply flows out.”
“Hmm, interesting,” Wyatt mused. “It can’t be the mansion now. Maybe you’ve been cursed or hexed or something?”
“I doubt it.”
“Maybe we should ask HP about it. She knows a lot about dark magic.”
“—faced it a lot, apparently, being a former swamp witch and everything. She’d know exactly what was wrong and… dude, are you OK? Lost you for a second, there.”
“I-I’m fine,” Broof managed. “We can’t tell her remember? Because she would never let me… mentor you.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Then I suppose it would have to be Claudia. Or Mum.” He shuddered.
“Besides, I’m not cursed. I’m just out of practice.”
Wyatt didn’t look convinced, but he dropped it. “OK. Forget it then. In that case, let’s get you practiced. We’ll start simple. Um…” he looked around, tapping his chin. “OK. Transportalate yourself across the clearing. You only need to hold the energy in for a second before you discharge it, so don’t give it chance to leave. Think you can do that?”
“Probably not, but I’ll give it a go.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Broof stepped closer to the centre of the clearing, so it was a smaller distance to travel, and raised his arms, blocking out the world around him and pulling force through his limbs—
“Too wavy, Hoggy.”
“Huh?” Broof asked, broken from his charge. “Wavy?”
“Yeah. Wavier than those noodle things you see outside car dealerships. No wonder you’re confusing the energy if you’re shaking it about like an old photograph.”
“You were. You’re not trying to fly; you’re trying to explode through the air almost. So, like, you need to pull your arms in a bit, like this, focus your energy in the direction of travel…”
“Did you just boop me, Wy?”
Broof sighed, carefully moving every limb, and feeling a sudden warmth swirl around inside him as he did so. “OK, this feels better. How does this look?”
“What about this?”
“Like a drunk uncle at a wedding.”
Broof sighed and shifted position again. He was starting to feel a little queasy. “How about this?”
“…I don’t even know what that is.”
Broof dropped his shoulders; the little energy he’d managed to amass bleeding out with ease.
“I can’t do it,” he mumbled. “I’m useless.”
“You’re not, OK? You just gotta find your groove again. Let’s try something else.” He paused, looking around. “I know! You set up a rock pit, I’ll be back in a sec.”
Wyatt disappeared for a few minutes as Broof dutifully rolled the fire-singed rocks into place in the centre of the clearing. Wyatt returned; his skinny arms laden with logs that he arranged in place.
“Is this a pyre to burn me on?” Broof asked drolly.
“So negative. No, you’re gonna light it with your fearsome sparkles then we’ll have a scorching source of your preferred energy to work with. Fire is still your best element, right?”
Now this he could do. Broof settled himself into position and began to draw up the reluctant energy from the ground.
It’s just a big candle, he thought, focusing on the stack of wood before him. Just light the big candle. For Cabbage.
“This is gonna be so epic, I can feel it,” Wyatt whispered, probably out of politeness as Broof couldn’t feel anything much at all.
But what little he did have was reaching a crescendo. Broof reached forth, directing the white heat from his fingertips, feeling it drain from his body.
The pile steamed slightly for a second and the pair watched with bated breath. Broof’s heart was racing, the beat sounding in his temples. His palms and brow were slick with sweat, and he shook like a leaf. Waiting. Any minute now it would turn into a towering inferno.
Wyatt sucked in lungful of air through his teeth. “Hm. I don’t think—”
“No, it’ll take,” Broof assured him. “That the most power I’ve drawn in ages. Just give it a minute.”
“It’s been forever. It’s not gonna light, Hoggy.”
“But… no. No, it must do. I gave it everything.” He scratched his head. “Maybe the wood is too wet?”
“It shouldn’t really matter—”
“Or maybe it’s because I’m around you? I can do it when I’m on my own. Maybe I get nervous. Or perhaps you’re soaking up all the energy.”
“Wha? That’s not even a thing,” Wyatt muttered.
“There. How’s that? Feeling all powerful now?”
Broof shrugged. “I guess. A bit. Not really.”
“Woah. Maybe we should’ve started easier,” Wyatt chuckled. “A candle soaked in kerosene.”
“I can light candles, Wyatt.”
“With matches?” Wyatt joked.
“It would have ignited if you’d given it another minute instead of jumping in again!”
“Boohoo! My wood is too wet.”
“It was. I probably dried it out for you with my attempt.”
“Yeah, you probably did,” Wyatt winked. “Now it’s dry and roaring though, so how about manipulating it a bit, changing the colour. Can you do that?”
“I’ve never actually tried that before,” Broof admitted.
“It’s super easy, a non-witch could do it. And you can draw from the fire energy now, so that should help you. All you need to do is focus on your spirit and direct it towards the flames. It’s kinda like a mood ring; the colour will reflect your feelings. How are you feeling, anyway? Other than totally owned.”
“Great. I’m the happiest man alive.”
“Awesome!” Wyatt said. “Let’s see what Hoggy’s happy colour is, then.”
Broof didn’t really understand what he was supposed to do. He tried to think happy thoughts and pointed in the general direction of the fire, hoping that would do the trick.
“Yeah, that’s it!” Wyatt encouraged Broof’s uncoordinated arm movements. “It’s changing! You’ve done it!”
“I’ve done it!” Broof grinned, watching the flames flicker slowly from their natural orange to a wild, vivid red.
“Aw. Pretty pink is your happy colour,” Wyatt cooed. “That’s adorable. You’re so cute, Hoggy.”
“It’s not pink, it’s definitely red and it’s not done changing yet— oh.”
“Dude. Uh. Yeah, that’s not pink.”
“Damn.” Broof sighed. “I can’t even do this right.”
“You know, without a crowd of sobbing witches around us, purple flames are actually quite pretty, aren’t they?” Wyatt stated, watching with childlike fascination. “Bit morbid, though, that the mourning colour is your happy colour. Are you a secret psychopath or something?”
“Well, now that you mention it, my long-term employer was recently murdered and I wouldn’t say I was particularly devastated by that,” Broof whispered, feeling awful as he said it.
“Clearly not.” Wyatt laughed. “Dude. When did you get so dark?”
Broof didn’t have time to dwell on this; Moon had materialised back in the clearing behind Wyatt. He immediately shrugged himself back into mentoring mode and gestured towards the bonfire.
“And that, Wyatt, is how you change the colour of fire.”
“Yeah, I know, I—”
“—did a great job with it!” Broof interrupted. “We do need to talk about the appropriateness of conjuring purple flames, however—”
“—As traditionally they would only be used in a passing ceremony for a deceased witch and you wouldn’t want to cause unnecessary alarm— oh, hello again Moon. Didn’t see you there.”
Wyatt grinned as the penny finally dropped. “I see! You’re a great teacher, Mr. Hogwash,” he enthused.
“Well, I do try…”
“I’m learning so much from this guy!” he explained to Moon. “When I grow up, I want to be just like him!”
“Too much,” Broof hissed through gritted teeth.
Moon was carefully studying the violet flames and nodded approvingly. “Very good job, Wyatt. Looking at this blaze I can almost feel the sadness inside it,” she mused quietly. “I remember the first time I cast a purple flame. Summer, 1729. Tragic.”
She lost herself in a reverie for a moment before shaking her head. “I just came to retrieve my knitting bag and I shall be on my way. Keep up the good work!”
“1729?” Wyatt muttered quietly as Moon once again vanished. “Do you think she remembers anything about the vampire hunts? About the cure they once tried to make?”
“Maybe,” Broof said, trying to recall why that date was familiar. “We can subtly ask her at the meet tomorrow. Now, where were we?”
“You were teaching me the basics of fire,” Wyatt said wryly. “So, what’s the next lesson, oh great and wise teacher? Oh! I know. How about ‘you teach me’ how to put this fire out?”
“Yes, putting fires out,” Broof agreed.
That’d sure be a handy thing to know.