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Welcome to the deep, dark & crazy world that is my imagination
The Gathering - Prologue 
27th-Feb-2009 11:45 pm
Grave Lying
Title: The Gathering
Fandom (is so, include details) or Non Fandom?: Non Fandom (ie. Original bro!)
Chapter Number: Prologue
Word Count: 4,322 Words
Rating: M (due to language & adult content... not entirely sure where this thing is going)
Summary: In 1692 a group of witches sacrificed their powers to prevent death. Almost 3.5 centuries later, these powers have befallen new generations. Those that would be heroes are lost. It is up to those who are left behind to save themselves & the world they're in.
Author's Notes: This is WIP of my own doing which has like a zillion characters being introduced (and I'm still going) so you might need to hang on a bit for me to get into the meat of that summary *Crosses fingers she'll still be going with that*


Prologue


Under the cover of darkness, within a small open field shrouded at the edges by overhanging trees, a small group of people gathered away from the open ears and prying eyes of their fellow villagers in the town of Woodcroft. A small fire blazed within a rock circle at the centre of the group providing enough illumination to see the figures around it and the dimmest of light for late arrivals to find them.

“We must contain this. The people of Woodcroft cannot know.”

“We will be helpless if we cannot protect ourselves!”

“What does it matter if we are different from them? They accuse those they dislike and those they are jealous of. Our talents and abilities have nothing to do with finance or personality.”

Cotton Hale paused in his pacing as the protests arose. Disappointedly his gaze crossed the crowd. There sat Sylvia Rayne with her arms folded; William Bourne – a prominent figure of the law – leant heavily against his walking stick, his thick white brows lowered down to his eyes. Elizabeth Goodwin stood to one side, the light flickering across the unreadable expression on her face. Amy Jenkins stroked a hand over her daughter’s head, young Rose ignorant to their plight and instead content to play with her doll as she walked it over a nearby branch that had been left stray on the ground from the recent winds. Edmund Darcy seemed to be marking patterns in the earth with his newly polished boots which, if Cotton wasn’t so certain of it being a distraction to the seriousness of this situation, he would have believed to be a sign of the wealthy man’s ignorance. Edmund and Cotton had never been able to see eye to eye on any situation and it was almost expected that he would not listen to him.

Of all the people in attendance that fateful night in the year 1692, it seemed that James Colliver was the only man in support of the idea, much to the discord of his local sweetheart Sarah Haskall who stood on tiptoes at his side speaking in hushed tones as she tried to convince him otherwise. He stood scratching his fingers delicately against the light brown stubble growing along his cheeks with eyes fixed solidly on the older man who was addressing them, seemingly taking no note of what the young lady was saying.

“Are you willing to risk your life for the sake of being superior to everyone else?” Cotton questioned those who still disagreed. “Even defending yourself you will be exposed. Some of us cannot defend ourselves. Some of us need to protect others.”

“Cotton is right,” James chorused. Sarah glared at him for speaking up and only now did he turn to look at her as she attempted to protest. “Hush, Sarah. For all the good I can do I will not bargain my life or yours. We cannot stop the gossip running rife through this town. This must end before we fall under blame.”

“I heard Harold Bloombery got hanged two days ago next town over.” That was young Drake now, speaking up from the very edge of the fire. The dark-haired teen had a fascination with the flames, and rightly so as he waved a hand through its edges and bent it into an entirely different shape.

“But we didn’t make Molly ill; or Sally, or Carolyn!” Margaret Jane Larkin argued. “Why should we suffer the consequences for actions that aren’t ours?”

“There is no rationality in the place anymore,” Cotton said sadly, shaking his head.

“Perhaps we should move,” Amy suggested. “All of us. We could start over.”

“I am not leaving my money!” Edmund exclaimed. “Nor my status.”

“And I will not leave my position,” William agreed gruffly. “I am needed by the people here; rational or not.”

“There is no harm in simply taking great care with whom we involve ourselves,” Sarah said. “We only need be sensitive around those not in this circle. We know who the main accusers are—”

“Them girls are nothin’ but trouble,” Sylvia agreed. “They’re makin’ this stuff up because they’ve nothin’ better to do.”

“But it’s catching on like wildfire,” James spoke again. “You don’t even need to be magical to be blamed for the atrocities that are overtaking this town. I’m sure Amy does not want to be taken from her daughter nor, even worse, her daughter taken from her. To simply cast an ill look will have you proclaimed an ally of the devil.”

“Ha! The devil,” Elizabeth Goodwin finally spoke. “If they bothered to open their bibles they would see he is capable of far more than a few stomach-aches and giving young children foul mouths.”

“As right as you are, Lizzy, that kind of ill tongue will surely put you at the top of their list,” Cotton said.

Given the lateness of the hour and the silence that had befallen them all as each attendee took a moment of quiet reflection, the audibility of something hurriedly rushing towards them through the brush was quite discernable as the leaves rustled and the twigs cracked underfoot in rapid succession, the sound echoing ever louder until the rush of wind behind the figure seemed to catch up as he stood before them, hands supporting the arm of the frail figure at his side.

“Sorry I was late. Mary’s a bit slow for my liking,” the young man apologised.

“Samuel Coorey, everyone is slow compared to your liking,” Sarah gently mocked, a smile tinging the edge of her lips. Samuel looked back to her, slightly raising his shoulders.

“I appreciate you bringing her, Samuel, but you should not have risked your safety to rush here.”

“No-one was around.”

William cleared his throat, leaning towards the boy. “You don’t exactly have a quiet ability, son.”

“You can’t catch what you can’t see,” Samuel said, giving a quick flourish of his hand. “And I am quicker than the eye.”

Drake lifted his head, eyeing the newcomer. “Show-off.”

“Gonnof,” Samuel returned. Drake narrowed his eyes.

Samuel took a step forward, obviously attempting to intimidate the youngest male attendee, but was stopped by a hand placed squarely against his chest. James Colliver had chosen to intervene once more. Samuel dropped back to his heels, relieving the pressure applied by the man, and allowed his tense muscles to relax.

“It won’t do us any good to fight amongst ourselves,” James said. “If we are to endure this debacle we need to look out for each other. We are all family now; a brethren; a coven.”

Standing tall, every one of the gathered now seemed to be looking at him as if he’d spoken the magic words. The cold front that had only a mere hour ago held all their faces guarded slipped from existence. One by one they turned back to Cotton Hale, the orchestrator of the meeting, and awaited his wisdom and advice.

“They… won’t be gone for good… will they?” Amy asked hesitantly.

“I only ask that we give up our powers until this is over,” Cotton replied reassuringly. “Thomas?”

A slightly rounded man stepped from the shadows having gone unnoticed through most of the discussion. His cheeks had turned a rosy pink from the chill in the air and his hat still sat slightly askew from the position it had turned once brushed by a low overhanging branch upon his arrival. Within his large hands he carried a small wooden box, ornately carved with protective symbols and glossed over with a smooth chemical finish.

“My husband made that,” Elizabeth said with a nod.

“Lawrence does fine work,” William agreed.

“Everything will be locked in this box and magically bound,” Thomas explained. “It cannot be opened without the key.”

“And who holds that key?” Elizabeth questioned. Thomas looked to Cotton.

“One at a time approach Thomas, put your hands in his and he will draw out your power. Just as we are all unique, every power is different. It should take on the same form of matter but will be filled with different content.”

“How do you know so much about this?” Edmund asked suspiciously.

“Because I have already given up mine,” Cotton answered.

It was a revelation in itself. He had stood before them for a great wealth of time and had changed none. His personality was still the same; he looked no different. His white hair was still slicked back in the same usual manner and his eyes were still the same shade of brown. Edmund was immediately to his feet and walked over to Thomas as the stoutly man put the box down.

“This changes nothing,” he said, offering his hands to the man.

Thomas took Edmund’s hands into his and closed his eyes. Edmund stretched his hands out, keeping the lightest touch as he subconsciously noted that a man in his position should not be seen in such a remanent pose with such a man as that before him. For a moment it seemed like nothing was happening, the silence broken only by the soft humming of Thomas Bell. Edmund jerked once. Gasps of surprise and terror echoed from Sarah, Amy, Margaret, and instinctively Amy pulled her daughter closer to her body, shielding young Rose’s eyes with her hand. Mary began murmuring to herself and Samuel Coorey cast her a look of concern as she sunk slowly to the ground, her hand still fastened around his arm.

“You telling tales Mr. Hale?” Drake asked, his puzzled expression twisting into suspicion as he looked from the pair of men to the older one encouraging them all to do this.

“I swear I am not,” Cotton defended himself, his hand raised. “Just give it time.”

“If he dies, I’m takin’ no part in it. ‘s all on your head,” Sylvia insisted, crossing her arms over her chest, her grey shawl pulled in tight.

Edmund’s body lurched forward. His eyes were firmly closed now and he looked as if he had simply fallen asleep on his feet, gravity urging his body to position itself more naturally upon the ground. Thomas gripped Edmund’s hands tighter, helping the man maintain his stance and bearing all the weight through his fists. His hands trembled and then all at once everything became very still. Everything that had been tense only moments earlier relaxed and a metaphysical path opened, just like a wall falling away from a dam. Eyes widened as the party witnessed small molecules of light circling around the man’s body, twisting in and out like some tiny stars on a miniature cosmos guided by who knew what. Progressively everything travelled towards his arms circling around them like water through pipes that had provided them release. Colours that could have been reds or purples, yellows or blues smashed together at the junction of their hands, creating a bright fluorescent green ball of light. Edmund’s hands dropped away and all could now see that Thomas held the very essence of light and magic within his hands, something so beautiful that the eye could not help but be drawn to it. Closing his fingers around it, he pushed his hands down. Like a sole drop of water it fell gleaming into the box at his feet, glimmering for one last moment before the brilliance died away.

“Are… you okay?” Amy asked warily, seeing Edmund had taken a step away from both Thomas and the box, but no more had been said and he had moved none since the essence of his power had fallen.

“Edmund?” Cotton pressed.

Edmund raised his eyes. “I am at a loss to describe that.”

“He’s still talkin’. Good ‘nuff for me,” Sylvia said. She trotted forward, holding her hands out towards Thomas. “Do what you shall.”

“Hey, if anyone’s gonna perform a great light show, it’s me,” Drake declared, clambering to his feet.

Edmund backed out of the way as more people queued behind Sylvia, preparing to have their own magical abilities ripped from their very existence. Edmund turned slowly, staring up at the treetops and the night sky as if witnessing the world with fresh eyes. William bumped him as he went by, but instead of insulting him as he normally would, Edmund merely glanced at him and stepped further away.

There were a few still straying from the line. Amy had knelt before her daughter, speaking to her softly and caressing her hair as the young girl rubbed at tired eyes. Explaining this to a young child, especially one who was awake well after she should have begun sleeping and in no mindset for trivialities, would be a task in itself. Sarah Haskall still remained to one side, frowning at what was happening before her as James gently rubbed her shoulders and whispered reassurance into her ear. He was also feeling the great need to convince someone he loved that this was a good thing and would not harm her.

Elizabeth Goodwin remained in the shadows, her eyes firmly fixed on the box as if it were the last living remnant of her husband and she feared it would be stolen. The very glimmer of magic as each drop fell sparkled within her wide, cat-like eyes, creating an intoxicating mix of blue and green that would draw any man towards her.

Samuel knelt with one knee on the ground, his hand firmly placed over Mary’s on his arm, desperately looking from the old woman to Cotton Hale. He did not think he could catch Cotton’s attention unless he yelled, and all seemed so enchanted by the releasing of magic that he did not know if they would even care to listen to his voice. Mary’s words were gaining more definition as she scratched pictures into the earth before her. It was only at the flare of Drake’s power being released did Samuel realise there was any meaning to the trance that had befallen the old woman.

“That is the sun,” Samuel observed. “And a union of two moons.”

“Planets one by one,” Mary babbled. Her voice sounded raspy and broken in the night air.

“Is this a prediction?” he asked her, though if she heard him she did not acknowledge it. Samuel shifted his position to call to James Colliver who had only moments ago been standing nearby. Now, however, he and Sarah were also over by Thomas Bell and James was taking his hand.

“No magic. World is silent,” she said, lifting her head. Her hand stopped moving as she paused and Samuel patted the hand still upon his arm, believing she had returned to the here and now.

“I know. We’re giving it up.”

“No!” she shouted, casting the twig she had been digging into the dirt with onto the ground. Everyone turned to look. Sarah stopped, her hand hovering just over Thomas’ as her attention turned back to the old lady. “Magic is not sacrificed. Magic is gifted to the golden-haired child. Great power brings great wrath. The answer is there.”

As she pointed one bony finger towards the box, Sarah withdrew her hand. A pattering of horse hooves rushing over the ground sounded nearby, alerting them all to the fact that they had been discovered. Nobody knew of their true identities, but if they were caught they would all be exposed as witches. Edmund shrugged out of his jacket and cast it over the fire, extinguishing the flames and drowning them in darkness as he snatched up the fabric and raced for the trees. Cotton dove towards the box, slamming the lid down and pushing it beneath his jacket as he urged Thomas to escape.

“Run!” he cried, giving Amy a slight push as he passed and pressing her away from the oncoming visitors.

Sylvia ran shrieking for the bushes. Drake stopped momentarily to pick something up by the ash of the fire, seemingly oblivious to the danger and not wanting to leave without whatever he’d almost left behind.

Though some of them had managed to escape early, plenty of them were still left when the authorities emerged. Samuel was still trying to pull Mary back to her feet when James rushed over to assist, pushing the young man away as he saw Amy and Rose stumble from the corner of his eye. The young girl shrieked and started crying as Amy tried to yank her back onto her feet before they were caught.

“Go!” James insisted, directing Samuel with his eyes.

With a nod, Samuel left Mary and James and ran towards Amy and her daughter, lifting the young girl up and sweeping her onto his hip as he grabbed Amy’s forearm and ran. She nervously looked about as they crossed the last open patch of grass, Rose doing little more than gripping her arms tightly around Samuel’s neck and holding fast to the doll that bounced up and down on the back of his shoulder.

“James!” Sarah shrieked.

He turned and saw that three horses now surrounded her. She turned one way and then the other but could not escape them. Rough hands gripped her and pulled her upwards.

“Bite your tongue, witch,” one of the officers said, slapping her across the face with the edge of his hand. “The devil will not save you now.”

He heard her muffled cries, imagined the blood streaming from her lips, but was torn between rescuing the frail old woman and saving his already captured love. One misstep and he would expose himself as well. To his surprise, they did not give chase to those that escaped nor did they turn their attention his way but, seemingly satisfied, made their way back to town.

* * *


Within these bars she appeared to be a frail, caged bird, frightened beyond means and backed into the furthest position her cell would allow. Her blonde hair drawn back, a few loose strands now hanging about her face, she lifted her gaze and there was almost hope in her eyes again as she saw the man she loved grace the other side.

“James!” she exclaimed, rushing towards him and fastening her hands around the bars, the few pieces of metal the only thing preventing her feeling his calming heartbeat once more. “Have you spoken to them? Will they release me?”

James’ face twisted into an expression that was not at all positive. “I don’t know what they have on you, Sarah, but they’re not going to let you go.”

“I didn’t do anything!” she protested. “Was one night of neglect not enough?”

He wrapped a hand around hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Even one night is too long. No flower as delicate as you should be deprived of the sun.”

Their heads resting against the cold steel of the bars, her voice was barely more than a whisper as she pleaded, “Please, find a way.”

“I will,” he promised, gently touching her nose and drawing away.

One man in uniform waited until James was out of earshot before crossing to Sarah’s cell. He had been there for as long as she remembered. He had watched her all night. She stepped back into the centre of the room, creating a great distance between herself and his leering gaze.

“Don’t think he’s going to be any help to you,” he said. “I put you in here. The only way you’re getting out is through me. You won’t be turning me down again, Sarah. You’re only freedom is to be with me, else you’ll be hanged at midday.”

Little did James know he had less than two hours to save his sweetheart as he exited out onto the street. Up at the top of Forythman’s Hill they were already setting up the gallows. Pieces of rope were being slit and fastened into nooses, ready to be thrown over the beam for the public display at the height of the day. For now, however, the action was currently taking place within the centre of town. People gathered around a pile of sticks and hay, some casting books onto the pile both complete and incomplete as a small few took great pleasure in ripping out each individual page and casting it towards the figure in the centre. James stopped and stared in astonishment as he realised he recognised the woman upon the pyre, her body firmly strapped to a piece of wood and her hair in disarray as she stared wildly out towards the crowd.

“She, the servant of the devil, has enticed many a man to her bed!” a female voice called out. There were echoes of agreement from many more women in the crowd, though none of the men seemed to confirm or deny this statement. “She, the servant of the devil, has committed unlawful sins. I, myself, was taken by her up to the pinnacle of the mountain and told to sell my soul to her commander. She spoke of grand desires and gave unlimited promises of pleasure if I would only sign my name into her book of sinners, if I would turn my back on my own Lord and Saviour and do the devil’s binding. But no! She could not have my soul for my faith was too strong and I denied her this request upon which she became so filled with fury that she hath caused me much ill-luck.”

James did not know what the woman was speaking of, but he could now see Margaret Jane’s eyes darkening with fury and glaring at the woman who spoke so outwardly about her. He pushed his way through the crowd, inching ever closer.

“She has made my husband stray from my home!” James heard one woman pipe up.

“She glanced at my quarters in passing and the entire building crumbled to the ground!” another accused.

“She is nothing but a burden upon this town and will only bring it to its knees,” he heard the first woman speak again, bitterness and malice saturating her tone. “Witch.”

“Witch! Witch!” the chant began, echoing like a cruel taunt throughout the crowd that had circled around her. Torches were lit and cast onto to extremely flammable material at her feet.

“You are a liar Elizabeth Goodwin!” Margaret shouted, spitting towards her accuser. “You are the witch!”

“See how it speaks in immoral tongues!” Elizabeth shouted, pointing towards Margaret Jane as she addressed the crowd. “She will say anything to declare her innocence. She will accuse the pure of her ill deeds!”

He could hear her screams of pain as the flames licked her feet; feel the heat from the fire five-deep within the crowd. At last he gained enough of a vantage point to capture Elizabeth Goodwin within his sights, encouraging the sacrifice of one of her kind to ensure her own survival.

“I will kill you!” Margaret Jane screamed, the fire catching her skirt and burning through to her skin. Her flesh charred and opened until James thought he could see muscle and sinew beneath. Small black pieces dropped from her body onto the hay as her high-pitched cries carried across the morning air. The fire crept ever faster up her body, reaching for the sky above as smoke billowed out with the sickening smell of her burning body consumed within it. “I swear to God I will kill you and every last generation of your family!”

“Hear her now! The devil emerges. Would somebody blessed by God speak this way? Would they swear by sin when faced with death?” Elizabeth continued. Every word she uttered only seemed to enthuse the crowd more.

“Stop it! This is madness!” James shouted, finally bursting through the front of the crowd. “You are murdering a woman on pure hearsay!”

All sound behind him had died beneath the roar of the flames as they ate through the last of the woman’s body and began gnawing at what was left of the pyre. The crowd faced him with many an angered stare as if he had ruined their morning’s entertainment.

“Margaret Jane Larkin was a witch. A servant of the devil,” Elizabeth declared. “She deserved to die.”

James narrowed his eyes at the woman, knowing that both he and she were witches also, yet for all the good his speech had done the previous night it seemed Elizabeth Goodwin no longer planned to stay united as one covenant.

The crowd around him began to draw away – not from boredom, but from fright – and James wondered exactly what had put such fear into them. He had done nothing, yet part of him expected Elizabeth was now prepared to turn on him also. Around him expressions formed a mix of horror and surprise, one or two of the active people in the front speedily turning and pushing their way back through the crowd. James spun back towards the pyre, back to where everyone’s attention was now being drawn. Pieces of ash swirled in a violent tornado, sweeping up everything beneath it and fanning the flames out towards the crowd before the pure gush of wind extinguished them completely. One by one the ash pieces joined together, reforming into particles of being, reconstituting into the figure of Margaret Jane Larkin. She was not burnt. She was not in pain. There was not a sole mark on her body that presented any sign of the torture she had just endured. She seemed born again.

“God in heaven,” one woman said, falling to her knees and hurriedly making the sign of the cross over her head and chest.

“She emerged from the ashes! Like a Phoenix!” another man declared.

Margaret Jane tilted her head to the side and smiled wryly, her gaze crossing quickly to Elizabeth Goodwin. “I hope you didn’t take my threat too lightly.”

James followed her line of sight, only to see Elizabeth Goodwin push her way back through the crowd, escaping as far from Margaret Jane Larkin as she could.

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