Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2020.
“I have to say, I’ll quite miss having some fresh faces around here,” Hector said as he stood on the porch to his home and closed the front door behind him. He turned to Maeve, who shivered in the growing October cold, and handed her his mirror. “Keep this close to you. It will at least keep the monsters at bay, and it may bring you comfort.”
Maeve took the gift with a nod and stuffed it into the pocket of her zipped-up coat. Lately, she was looking thinner to Ada, and she shivered with every passing breeze. Ada decided to buy the girl some thick socks at the next store they saw.
“Are you sure you’ll be able to handle the ghost situation on your own?” Ada asked Hector, and the man nodded. She was hesitant to leave the nervous witch, but in the two days since the collectors’ attack, Hector had grown somewhat more confident. He stood with his back straighter, and, though he still wore his tee shirts and pajama pants, they were changed each day. That morning, he had gotten a delivery of books to his house, and although Ada did not pry as to the contents of the books, she spied a title familiar to her from the library. “Well, I’ll always be willing to help, if you need me.”
“I wouldn’t know how to contact you even if I was in need of your help, dear Ada,” Hector said with a smile that wrinkled his eyes. “But the same offer stands on my end. My home will always be open to you. And I expect to see you when you’ve—” he raised his eyebrows— “prepared a plan of action against him.”
Ada nodded in return and hiked her backpack on her shoulders. As Ada and Maeve made their way down the sidewalk toward the road, Priddy came peeling out of the backyard with a gaggle of ghostly pets in tow. She wished them goodbye and weaved between Ada’s feet, panting, until she calmed down. The walk to the bus stop was quiet under the evenly cloud-white sky.
After the bus, they scooted onto a plane for a long ride. When the plane landed on Aberdeen, South Dakota, Ada’s neck hurt from falling asleep and Priddy was eager to escape the crate they’d bought in a hurry before heading to the airport. Maeve hadn’t spoken a word that day.
In her sleep, Ada had felt the tinge of flames tickling her chest, but something else—something newer—crawled up her spine. It felt like the vine of a flower twining between her vertebrae, and it made her feel fresh and cool. For a moment during her nap, her blanket—the one Belén made her—slipped from her legs and she saw the vines in her mind’s eye. They had crawled through her ribs and into her heart, the sharp tips of them prodding the fire that dwelt there until the vines caught fire; they flailed and forced their way into her brain, making her scream in her head until she surreally felt someone adjust her blanket—Maeve, she suspected—and the visions subsided. She still felt a twinge of that heat and chill when she stepped out of the airport and into the budding morning sky.
The stars above her twinkled ominously at the edge of the growing sunlight, as if begging someone to help them from their stationary positions before the morning swallowed them up. Ada shivered at the lingering darkness.
Before long, Ada and Maeve realized that this airport was a small one, and the town where they were headed wasn’t much of a town at all. There were rental cars nearby, but neither of them had the proper documents to get a rental; no taxis were running, and bus stops were out of the question. Moments after Ada noticed the panic in Maeve’s eyes, a car honked from the mostly empty parking lot.
“Friends? Are those friends, Ada?” Priddy said, her haunches raised slightly and ears back, but her tail still wagging.
A thick arm waved out of the car’s window. Ada squinted toward the headlights of the old vehicle, some rusted, orange-red thing with what seemed to be two people inside. The arm became a head, and then an entire upper half, as the person leaned out the window.
“Adathis?” the young voice called apprehensively. “Adathis, is that you?”
“Who are you?” Ada called back. She stepped in front of Maeve and Priddy with one of her arms out as if to protect them despite the uselessness of the gesture.
“Dole sent us to get you,” another head said in a similar voice from the other window. “You can get in the car. It’s pretty cold out here.”
“These are the witches,” Ada said as Maeve and Priddy followed her slowly to the car. “Relatives, I think.” Maeve did not respond. The silence put a heavy strain on Ada’s stomach.
The sun rose high enough in the sky to peek over the airport and shine in the faces of the car’s passengers. Ada scooted into one side and Maeve into the other, while Priddy relaxed happily between them.
The person in the passenger seat turned around and Ada saw a tightly smiling, round face, with copper-brown skin pulled taut over their face with the smoothness of youth. Their hair was short and black, braided in thick cornrows from their hairline to their shoulders. “How are you?” they say quietly.
“I’m—I’m good,” Ada said, her eyebrows knit with concentration on what she would say next. Did she know this person? Did they know of her?
“So, you really don’t remember us?” the other one said in a wavering tone as she started the car. It rattled to life after three turns of the key, and they exited the parking lot, driving onto a long, two lane road with no other cars in sight. Ada couldn’t see her face, but she saw her long, black hair braided into dozens of tiny braids that rested over the soft, gray fabric of the driver’s seat.
“I’m sorry,” Ada replied after a beat of silence. She looked at Maeve, who sat with her head turned toward the window. She wanted to reach out to the girl, ask her what was wrong, but she was afraid, and she couldn’t understand why. “I don’t remember anything from before a few months ago. I’m picking up bits and pieces as I go.”
“It’s been hard but so much fun!” Priddy said, and the two young witches screamed in unison.
“You got a talking dog?” the driver yelled, swerving back into the right lane, and Ada thanked those dwindling stars that no one else was around.
“I’m Priddy,” the dog explained as she lifted her head from Ada’s lap and slapped Maeve excitedly with her tail until the girl turned with a small smile and scooted Priddy into sitting position. “I can talk without using my mouth, and nobody knows why!”
“That’s—that’s nice—that’s nice,” the passenger said.
“Thank you,” Priddy said. “What are your names?”
The new witches shared a tense look before both turning to face the windshield. “I’m Dami,” the one in the passenger seat replied.
“And I’m Cosima. We’re twins.”
“I’m honestly kind of relieved that you don’t remember us,” Dami sighed, and Cosima reached over to slap them, hissing at her sister about being rude. The two of them slapped back and forth for a moment and argued in hushed tones for a moment before Ada leaned forward.
“Is there something you don’t want me to remember?” she said, and the fighting stopped.
“It’s not really that—”
“There were just some things—”
“Look,” Dami said, turning around again. “Every witch has a complicated history, and it’s especially true for witches with extended lifespans.”
Ada was sure she understood what they meant, but the idea that she did something worth forgetting wore down her soul, and, despite seeing Maeve hide further against the window of the car, she asked what they meant.
The car rumbled down the road as the sun continued to rise. Dami leaned their head against the headrest of the car and looked at Ada briefly with their nearly black eyes. “You introduced us to him.”
Shocks rippled through Ada’s body until she felt like she was wobbling on the surface of the ocean—no, just under it, trapped in a box that leaked saltwater as the wood creaked with every up-glide and downturn. “But that means that I—” She couldn’t draw the next words from her mouth.
“It was my portrait,” Cosima said, looking up into the rearview mirror to lock eyes with Ada. “You painted mine, and I painted Dami’s.”
Since Ada didn’t know what to say, she said nothing. Priddy fell asleep on her lap during the hour-long drive, while Maeve kept her body turned toward the outside world, and the twins argued in hushed tones over the radio. Eventually, asphalt turned to gravel, and gravel to dirt as Cosima drove them up the long driveway to a small, pink house.
The house looked to almost be falling apart at the seams, but it was clean. It was the only landmark in the gently sloping valley where it sat, nestled between two hills that could barely be called such. Under a lone tree looming over the building stood three birdhouses on tall sticks. The birdhouses looked as if they were avoiding some imminent flooding despite the lack of a threat. The thin sticks looked stark against the sunrise, and the pointed roofs injected the puffy, pink clouds up into the purple sky.
“Those are ours,” Dami said, the first word spoken since the quiet had begun. She got out of the car as Cosima turned off the engine and moved to help Maeve with her stuck door. “We train the birds.”
“To do what?” Ada asked as she unfolded herself form the cramped vehicle. Priddy bounded out past her, tail wagging. “Oh, stay out of the tall grass, Priddy. I don’t want you getting ticks.”
Priddy assented and rushed toward the house, tail wagging. Cosima locked the car as she spoke. “They’re searching for our father. He went missing just before we made out contract, way back in the 70s.”
“We were in Missouri then,” Dami added, shaking her head slowly. “Now we live here, on the very edge of North and South Dakota, in a place where no one really bothers to question why two teenagers have their own house. This place was where our mama grew up, too, so it didn’t cost us a thing.”
“Sometimes, we use the doves for little odd jobs that’ll get us some cash, but other than that, we sell out paintings online,” Cosima added. She led the group up the two stairs to the front door—a white-trimmed screen thing that guarded a thicker, faux-wooden door with a lock and a wreath of dried flowers hanging in the center.
Their paintings; the connection that these witches were also painters somehow slipped Ada’s mind. She wondered if Cosima’s portrait, the one Ada painted, would be here. If she could see it, maybe she would remember how to paint, or know something new about herself, but what would she do with that information? She didn’t want to finish the foxes’ portrait, but if she did, they might help her get back her memories. The mere thought of seeing her own work excited her and terrified her at the same time.
She followed close behind Cosima with her backpack straps held tightly in her hands as Priddy darted into the dimly lit house. There was an old sofa against one wall, and a TV that had the remnants of a pricing sticker stuck to its base. The living room opened into a small kitchen at the back of the house, one with a black and white tiled floor and yellowed appliances. Priddy disappeared down a hallway to the right but was back within a moment.
“What a lovely home you have,” Priddy praised. “It’s so much cleaner than Ada’s cabin. We had stuff everywhere, and there was dust, but a lot of squirrels! Do you have any squirrels here?”
“Squirrels and wild goats,” Dami said cheerfully. “Feel free to explore, but please be careful with our birds. They’ve got special training and might just fight back.”
Before dashing out the door past Maeve, Priddy promised to be good. The girl wobbled on her feet at the sudden rush of movement but quickly steadied herself against the peeling, faux wood trim of the doorway and forced one shoe off with the toe of the other. Ada watched her fumble with the other shoe, her socked toes unable to get a good enough grasp of the stiff heel to pull the untied thing from her foot, and then Ada glanced down at her own sneakers, and then to the two other pairs of shoes from the twins that sat in pairs against the wall, and wondered if that was something she should be doing, too.
Dami seemed to notice as they glanced under Ada’s downturned face, a small smile on their pink-glossed lips. “You can take your shoes off if you want. We don’t have anywhere to put them neatly, but a pile by the door is fine by us.” Ada nodded, warmed by the kindness, and bent to untie her shoes and place them beside Maeve’s.
Canvases lined the walls. They were propped behind the couch and stuck up, barely above the tan fabric back of the couch, like children playing hide and seek. Empty jars holding paintbrushes sat on towels as they drip-dried on the kitchen counter. The walls, too, were decorated with paintings, ephemeral swirls of color and light contrasted with blocky, clear shapes of people against the changing backgrounds. Ada noticed the hint of words—newspaper, she thought—underneath the corners of the paintings, past the red thumbtacks that held the tapestries to the walls.
“We make a lot of our own canvases, but materials still cost money,” Cosima explained as she made her way to the kitchen and opened the yellowed fridge. “So, when we paint for fun, we use old papers. Cost effective, you know?”
“We have some from all over the country,” Dami added as they held two TV remotes in their hands and tried to decide which one would turn the TV on, running their fingers over the buttons over and over, their brow creased. “The pigeons get them for us sometimes. We’re hoping that, one day, there’ll be something about our dad in one of them.”
“Getting harder as time goes by,” Cosima said. She held a pitcher of sweet tea in her hand, something Ada instantly recognized from her time, years ago, meeting in the twins in the south. They’d stop at restaurants whenever they had a chance and order the overly sweet black tea to sip as they talked or walked. But she remembered something else, too, remembered the slightly bitter aftertaste on her lips as she spat at one of the twins and said they might as well use their powers if they have them; they might as well find people—the rich ones, sad and proud and twisted—who would pay to have their portraits painted. The Adathis in the memory laughed, shaking her head as the child before her looked to the side, lip quivering, and followed behind silently as the moment passed in Ada’s mind.
“We don’t have internet out here, either,” Dami grumbled. “But a friend helped us set some up magically once, and it worked for a while, but it’s so damn spotty that we’d rather just drive the hour to the library when we need to.”
The urge to ask about their portraits itched under Ada’s skin, but she wasn’t sure that now was the best time to bring it up. She squeezed her backpack straps in her fingers and held the seam of the strap tight against her palm. Maybe she would ask now, or maybe she would wait until Maeve was asleep; the girl slept earlier and earlier lately as she grew colder, and weaker, and more tired. Ada shivered.
Ada decided to ask something else. “How often do you go into town?”
Cosima poured herself a glass of tea and held it up with eyebrows raised to the others. Maeve and Ada shook their heads, but Dami swooped in and poured themself a cup, too. The TV spoke in hushed tones, but Ada didn’t look at it. “Not often,” Cosima said as she put the pitcher away. “About once a month, I’d say. Saves on gas.”
As Dami sipped their tea, they raised their eyebrows. “Our birds’ll do little chores for us when we don’t want to go out,” they said, gulping down the sweet drink. “But we don’t do that often, because, you know.” At Ada’s confused look, Dami turned their head, pursed their lips, and laughed. Ada felt the sting of guilt on the tips of her fingers. “Oh, I guess you don’t know. You warned us, years ago, to be careful with the birds.”
“You told us not to let anyone know about the pigeons,” Cosima continued with a nod as she leaned against the wall. She smiled at Maeve, who still stood stock still beside her shoes, and motioned toward the couch. “Maeve, you can sit, if you’d like. And watch whatever you want. We don’t have a lot of channels, though.”
“It’s the smaller remote for changing the channel,” Dami said quickly, pointing a finger, and the long sleeve of her peach peasant blouse flopped in the air as a thick, gold bracelet rattled on her wrist. Her hand fell. “I think.”
Ada was hesitant to continue the conversation. The witch glanced at her friend as she moved her small body toward the couch, sank into it, her coat swishing against the couch and itself as she got comfortable. “Could you show me one of your birds?” Ada said suddenly as she gestured toward the door.
Dami and Cosima shared a somewhat bothered look, but a measured one—the kind of look a child might give their sibling under the watchful eye of a parent. The implications flipped Ada’s organs and made her wonder what exactly she was to these young witches, and what would happen to them if the contracts were broken; what would happen to all of his witches?
“Sure,” Dami says finally, and they place their cup down on the counter as their sister moved toward the front door with a small smile.
Maeve glanced nervously toward Ada, and the witch noticed. The girl looked as if she were going to stand up, but she didn’t, and Ada could sense the nerves rocketing beneath her skin and behind those wide yes. “I’ll send Priddy inside, okay?” Maeve nodded.
Outside the small house, the world felt endless. The stifling, trapped air between the walls of the house was expansive and dancing out on the hills, under the brightening sky. As the sun continued to rise, the lanky birdhouses cast shorter and shorter shadows across the ground, and Ada could see gray pigeons going in and out of the holes to rest or take to flight.
Cosima stood under the birdhouses, which were twice her height and made her look miniscule, and lifted a red-and-black plaid sleeved arm upward, palm open toward the clouds. A gold bracelet like the one Dami wore slid toward her elbow and rested on the larger part of her forearm. One of the pigeons popped out a sausage-like head and looked left and right before looking down. Once it spotted Cosima’s hand, the pigeon hopped onto a peg at the entrance of the birdhouse, tilted its head some more, and floated down to Cosima’s palm. She held the bird in front of her with a small smile and motioned Ada over.
The pigeon cooed. Ada was in mild awe, never having seen a bird so close before, until she remembered that, yes, she had, when she was Adathis. But she remembered something else then. She remembered standing under the melting branches of a willow tree, the air crisp and heavy, with her arms crossed as she watched the twins sit on a blanket with their pigeons. The birds hopped around in a daze under their spells as Dami and Cosima clipped small bracelets to their feet, each one with a small, red talisman attached to it in the shape of a screaming face. Adathis had scoffed at them, had told them this was ridiculous, childish, dangerous.
“Well, why?” Dami had attempted, turning their angry eyes on Ada. “Why is it that all of our ideas are bad? We took the stupid contract to find our daddy, and you haven’t let us out of your sight in years. How else are we going to find him?”
Cosima had stared at her sister with wide eyes but had quickly turned to wave her hand over a pigeon that was waking from its daze, and the creature had fallen back into a stumbling stupor as she did.
Adathis had turned her head away, holding her arms tight to her chest. “That’s how my mother died,” she’d said. “If they see you with the animals, they’ll get suspicious. They already don’t trust any of us just by looking at us.”
Ada was pulled out of this memory by a chilly blast of wind, and she blinked to find herself still in front of the twins as they caressed their pigeon into a daze, just as in her memory. “You have a magic with the birds,” she said. “I remember.”
The two of them glance up at Ada with their round, brown eyes glistening in the rising sun. “You’re remembering?” Dami said almost as if it were a statement instead of a question.
“I remember something about my mother, too. What can you tell me about how she died? I know I mentioned it.”
Dami’s mouth twisted into a putrid frown while Cosima’s eyebrows crinkled above her pierced nose. “More than once, you mentioned it,” Dami said. They sighed, exchanging timid glances with Cosima and with Ada. Cosima stroked the bird steadily, her face unchanging.
“Tell me, please,” Ada pleaded. She took a step forward on the short, green-yellow grass, and the tiny stalks crunched beneath her worn shoes. It was almost as if each blade let out a small scream in the sound, dozens of screams that reached into Ada’s ear and reminded her of humans, human screams, human souls; she swallowed against her dry throat and watched the twins until their shoulders slumped in submission.
“Lord, I never wanted to have to tell it back to you,” Dami grumbled.
“You sure you don’t remember something about it?” Cosima asked, her voice high. “Like, positive?”
“I remember that she died,” Ada said sternly, shocking a shiver into the spines of both young witches. “I remember something about animals.”
The wind stole a frustrated, quiet sigh from Dami’s throat. “She was killed in New York City, right before you made your contract.”
“Killed,” Ada repeated, rolling the heavy word lightly off her tongue. “How? Do you know how?”
“Somebody saw her with her familiar,” Cosima said, her fingers halting on the sleepy bird’s head. “A fox. Some detective—right?” Dami nodded. “A detective was hired after someone was killed by a fox in the city. It took them a couple years, but they traced it to your mom. The family—the person who hired the detective—killed your mom for it.”
Bomb shocks reverberated through Ada’s body and sent small sparks out of her fingertips. The twins stepped back, shielding their faces. “Dammit,” Cosima hissed, cradling her bird close by. “We shouldn’t have told you, I knew it.”
“She would have exploded if we had kept it from her, too,” Dami said quickly.
But Ada did not explode. She took the largest breath she could manage, fighting against the burn in her throat to gulp big bubbles of air into her belly. The heat seemed to quell for a moment, but in a second, coursed through her arms like lightning, out of her fingertips and into the ground. A shaking threw the witches off their feet and they landed next to one another, knees and hands in the charred grass. Partially alarmed from the impact, the pigeon Cosima was holding blinked his eyes, cooed, and flew slowly back up to his house.
“That was—” Dami began, and Cosima continued with, “Odd. Very odd. Are you okay?” The twins helped each other to their feet as Ada lay in the grass, her arms spread at her sides and her head cradled by the smell of burning.
With careful steps, Cosima moved closer, but the sound of Priddy rushing across the green caused her to step back.
“What did you do to Ada?” Priddy growled as she stepped over the woman’s body, her head between her shoulders and her teeth bared.
“Nothing,” Ada said quickly. She patted the warm brown fur of Priddy’s behind and pulled herself to sitting. “It’s okay, Priddy.” Small tears beaded at the corners of Ada’s eyes. She wiped them with the back of her hand as embarrassment caught at her throat. “I’m sorry; I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t—don’t worry about it,” Dami said, glancing at Cosima before helping Ada stand. “That wasn’t what we expected. You used to—” They paused.
“Used to what?” Ada prodded, but she was tired of asking so many questions, and her voice was strained. She only wanted to know; she only wanted to remember. Her mother was dead, and she could barely remember her face. Then again, maybe Adathis wasn’t able to remember, either, after all that time.
“It was a lot bigger before,” Cosima said as she waved her arms in a big circle. “You burnt down a section of a forest once, and a warehouse. But this was like electric. Before, it was like a big boom, and then you’d be, well—”
“Naked,” Dami said with a shrug.
Cosima nodded. “Yeah, kind of naked. Or, like, sometimes your clothes were melted to your body. And your hair—”
Dami lifted her braids high above her head.
“Yeah, like that,” Cosima said, pointing. “All up and static-y. And then, like I said, boom.”
“Did I hurt you back then?” Ada asked, wringing her hands—her fingertips and nails were black with ash—as she stared at, past, and through the twins. Her head was heavy and floating, and she heard a ringing in her ears that made her want to lie down.
Priddy whined at Ada’s feet, having sat as close as she could to Ada’s leg. “You’d never hurt anyone. I don’t think you would.”
Hearing the naivete in Priddy’s words gave Ada a sick, sour feeling in her chest; of course she hurt people, and Priddy had to know, deep down; she had to understand that the souls in the paintings—paintings Ada couldn’t remember she ever painted—were stripped away from innocent humans without cause or question. Ada ignored the tingling feeling in her leg that urged her to pull away from the dog.
Cosima and Dami did not meet her eyes.
Night descended without a word. The sounds of the world stayed the same, the same crickets and birds and whimpering wind between the hills. Ada had heard a rustling on the porch as she lay on the floor below Maeve sleeping on the couch, coddled in her coat and layers of musty blankets. And yet, the girl still shivered, and her fading hair—something like lavender dying as a cold snap takes hold—rested limply in stringy curls around her face.
Ada stood now with her hands in jacket pockets as she gazed through the screen door. She caught a glimpse of yellow in the shadows, a gleaming pinpoint in the night that told her Ona was here.
With her heart tight in her throat, Ada pushed the door open, careful not to wake Maeve or Priddy, who sprawled out in the hallway, stretching with a groan as the hinges of the door groaned, too.
“I didn’t see any woods on the way here,” Ada whispered as she stepped down the porch and next to the fox at her feet. Ona’s fur has grown thicker, giving the animal a rounder, less slinking look. She flicked her tail.
“There are trees here and there nearby,” Ona replied shortly. “But I don’t like being in the open like this.”
“Then why are you here?” The porch creaked as Ada sat on the edge, her feet pressed firmly against the ground. Looking at the fox made her fingers and cheeks feel warm with anger.
Ona looked over her shoulder before responding. “To check on your progress.”
The muscles in Ada’s legs were tense as she leaned forward slightly, her arms at the ready. Small sparks lit her brain and showered into her heart, loosening the organ’s grip on her and filling her will with fire in its stead. In a second, Ada reached out and grabbed the fox by the scruff. She lifted Ona, hissing, into the air. “I learned something of my mother today,” Ada growled.
Ona’s claws caught Ada’s sleeve as the fox struggled for a moment. Her mouth was open, small teeth glistening with saliva as she tried to maneuver her jaw to clamp on Ada’s hand. Heat poured out from Ada’s fingers. She could smell burning fur.
With a choking growl, Ona closed her eye tight and vanished from Ada’s hand. Her paws hit the ground with a gentle tmp a foot away. “What was that?” the fox said, her teeth bared and her shoulders hunched. “Who do you think you are, Adathis?”
“I’m Ada,” the witch replied. She dropped to her hands and knees and stared the fox in the face with her jaw clenched tight. Something was roiling inside her again, something that pressed against the place where her spine met her skull, and the roof of her mouth; a word, a name, a place. An identity. “What do you know about my mother?”
Ona stared back. The two remained caught in the tension, suspended on the tips of their taut muscles, both with a low, deep growl growing in their chests. But Ona blinked. She curled back her lip for a moment but relaxed her face. She sat back on her haunches. “Like I said,” Ona began, licking one paw between her words, “I don’t like being in the open like this.”
Ada sat back. “You just know I could kill you. You know.”
Ona’s pink tongue slipped back into her mouth as her black paw silently rested on the edges of the charred circle of grass. “You’re still remembering, I see. But you can’t remember your own mother. What a shame.”
Burning creeped up the back of Ada’s hand, but she thought of the vast sky above her and quelled it. She did not want to kill Ona; she did not want to kill anyone or anything else. But she knew she would have to, eventually, and this life could not be one of them. Not yet, at least. A pigeon cooed nearby and reminded Ada of her friends inside the house, but when she turned, she saw nothing through the screen door except a tiny lamp in the window that doused her in yellow light; Maeve had asked her to leave it on all night, and she’d had no objections.
“Tell me everything,” Ada said.
The fox sits still as a whisper at the edge of the light. She shakes her head and growls once. “Fine. But I’d hoped you’d remember on your own.
“I knew your mother. We called her Nyu.” Ada sat back, relaxing, and listened. “She was a witch from China with a fox for a familiar. The fox would act as a vessel for Nyu to see through at times; she always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone because of it. They would search for rare plants to grow in her garden—Nyu was a plant witch—and the fox would travel through Home to search the world for ingredients for potions, soups, teas—anything Nyu asked for. And the fox would kill for her.”
“Was it you?” Ada whispered. Something trickled up her spine, something that stung and gave her spasms in her legs. Her mother was a killer, too. Her mother was a killer. “Were you her familiar?”
“No,” Ona said without looking at Ada. She nearly disappeared in the darkness without her eye to reflect light back at Ada. “Her familiar was my father. He’s been dead for years.”
“Then what do you have to do with any of this?” Ada hissed, the spasms reaching to her shoulders and begging her to lash out. She held her hands tight against her body in her pockets.
“I was your familiar, Adathis.”
Ada stood. “No.” But Ona simply kept her head turned toward the hills behind her. “No, you couldn’t be. You hate me, and you foxes—you took my memories. I saw the notes in my cabin. You foxes took my memories.”
The whistling wind seemed to turn Ona’s face back toward Ada. “No, you foolish witch. You were greedy. I could never do enough for you, and you wanted more power. So, Moss offered to let you paint the picture of some of us so that we could live forever. In return, you would have rank among us. But you never delivered, Adathis.” Ona snarled up at the witch and her puffed tail swished swiftly behind her back. “You were trying to escape the deal, so we made sure you couldn’t leave!”
“What does that mean?” Ada asked. She tried to control her breath, but every air into her lungs felt like flame, and every release was like smoke.
Ona stood and dug her claws into the dirt. “We sabotaged your spell to erase your contract. You tried to remove your link to him, but we removed everything!”
Fire exploded from Ada’s mouth as she screamed and reached for the fox’s throat, lifted her into the air, and threw her to the ground. Ona bounced once under the gleam of the remnants of fire in the sky. Ada crouched beside the creature and noticed the glowing red of her forearms, and the little sparks that licked at her fingertips. She felt waves inside her; whole oceans crashed between her ribs, and she seethed.
One whimpered on the ground, but her mouth still curved in the ever-present smile of a fox. “And there is your father,” she wheezed. “That ancient anger has been hiding itself, but you’re returning, Adathis.” With a groan, the fox rolled to stand, wavering on her paws. An aura of blue surrounded her. “You ask of your mother; she was a grower, a giver of life. But your father—he is a god of rage.”
There was no sound as the fox vanished, leaving Ada to stand alone in front of the twins’ house, but she could still hear the emptiness weigh on her ears as she turned and made her way inside.