Short Story: BLAUS
The BLAUS, also known as the Berry Literary Society for Ancient Texts and Upholstery Repurposing—which didn’t amass to BLAUS at all—usually met in the basement of the Milliners at the heart of Berry.
But, since the attack, the BLAUS gathered in Pearl’s living room.
Isadora waited at the window, fingers fidgeting with the edge of her sleeve. When her eyes unfocused, she could see beyond the nervous reflection of her own face. At that point, the magic overtook her, pushing her into the paths. The trails populated with witches she didn’t know, had never seen, and frightened her to death.
“Don’t be so nervous,” Pearl said, tsking as she strolled by. “They certainly won’t eat you. Even if they would, you’d see it before it happened.”
Pearl chortled, setting down a tray populated with coffee mugs and cups of tea. Isadora stepped away, hands like ice. Outside of Pearl and Maximillion—who assuredly didn’t count—Isadora had never met another Watcher.
The very idea made her stomach churn.
A gentle rapping on the door made her jump. Pearl’s face illuminated with joy.
“Oh!” she cried, glancing at a small clock on the mantle as she bustled to the door, her massive apron bow bouncing at her back. “Not a moment late, either. Just like a Watcher to know when to leave and arrive on time.”
A young woman with thick curls of umber hair, a thin nose, and eyes like a doe stepped into Pearl’s house first. Her gaze immediately fell on Isadora. She gasped.
Before Isadora could ask, she whirled around, hand over her mouth. Darkness hid the rest, but Isadora could sense more witches behind this one.
“He found another . . . friend!” the young woman cried.
He, Isadora thought, could only mean Maximillion.
Two other voices replied unintelligibly before shoving through the doorway, nearly shouldering the young woman aside. A woman in her mid thirties, with haggard wrinkles and flecks of food at the end of her braid, stepped into sight. Stains marred her skirt, which fell around her short legs in mint green layers. Her hazel eyes expanded and her mouth rounded into an O.
“Merry meet!” she cried. “I’m Elspeth.”
“Nice to meet you,” Isadora murmured.
“I’m Margerit,” the young woman said before Isadora could respond, sticking out a hand. “Good to meet you. I was the last one that transitioned in this part of the Network before you. Maximillion didn’t breathe a word about you.“
A man had slipped behind them and lowered onto Pearl’s divan, a mug of coffee in one hand and a bland pastry in the other before Isadora had even noticed him there. There was no sugar for frosting or the drinks, but he didn’t seem to care. Shocks of hair stuck out in triangles on either side of his head.
“Alfrid,” Margerit said with a little sigh. “Always at the food first.”
“Come on, come on,” Pearl cried, hustling them inside. “Time to get started.”
A rush of magic overtook Isadora, rushing through her with a sudden roar. She blinked, started to find herself in the paths again. No paths lay before her, just a bubbling fountain of light that expanded into a version of Elspeth that wasn’t as tired or haggard as this one.
The fatigue had gone from Elspeth’s eyes. A modest, clean, simple dress had replaced the ragged one. She held her hands out to either side. The chubby arms of young children clung to her hands, but no faces appeared. A genuine smile lingered there.
Isadora closed the magic immediately, unnerved by her inability to anticipate the power. Why had it taken her there instead of the paths?
“—and I told him that he needed to stay away from that woman, but he didn’t. Of course. Now he’s living with my aged father again,” Elspeth said, rattling away, picking flecks of food off the end of her braid. The members of the BLAUS had taken seats around the room. Isadora rushed to do the same.
“Some witches need to experience life to understand,” Pearl said in a soothing voice. “I’m sure your brother will come around.”
Margerit reached for a cup of tea, her back straight as an arrow. Her lovely dress—a deep mahogany—fell in waves around her trim waist. “I don’t know why you keep trying to save him Elspeth,” Margerit said. “He’s your twin, not your husband.”
Elspeth sighed, slumping back. “Cursed powers. Wasting such a beautiful ability on a witch like him.”
“Isadora,” Pearl said, “why don’t you introduce yourself?”
Three sets of eyes peered at her with unmasked curiosity. She swallowed a sudden rush of nerves and cleared her throat.
“My name is Isadora Spence.”
“What’ve you got?” Elspeth asked, plucking a crumbly pastry from the tray. It disintegrated in her hand, but she shoved the crumbs in anyway.
“I’m sorry?” Isadora said.
“Your powers? Who do you see for?”
Isadora’s heart quickened. Don’t let on how powerful you are, Maximillion had cautioned. Things have a way of getting around. There’s no reason to invite attention.
“I, ah . . . see.”
“We all do,” Alfrid muttered. “What do you see and for who?”
Elspeth slumped. “Lucky girl.”
“Very lucky,” Margerit murmured.
“How far in advance?” Elspeth asked, brows lifted. If she felt true jealousy, none showed on her expression.
“Not yet sure,” she said.
“Ah, yes,” Margerit said. “The darkness is hard to sort through those first few months.”
“What do you see?” Isadora asked, her gaze sweeping to encompass all of them. The question felt unnervingly vulnerable, but no one else seemed to hesitate.
“My grandfather, currently,” Margerit said with a subtle roll of her eyes. “Maximillion theorizes that my powers work for the oldest person in my family. I used to see for my great-grandmother, but she died shortly after I transitioned. You can imagine how useful that is.”
A hidden tone of biting sarcasm sharpened her voice. It did seem a waste for a witch so young and lovely.
“My twin brother,” Elspeth said with a sigh. “He’s a mess. Keep trying to help him, but I think I only make it worse.”
Pearl reached over, patting her hand. “Some witches just don’t want help, my dear. He’ll come around. I see for my cat. Once he goes, I’ll adopt another animal and see for them. I can’t seem to help myself. Alfrid?”
He straightened. His pale blue eyes blinked like an owl beneath wide glasses. Candelight glinted off the top of his bald head. “I’m Alfrid,” he said. “I work at the library in Chatham City. I see for myself, but only a few minutes ahead. Ten, at most.”
“The Central Network has two groups of Watchers, Isadora,” Margerit said, setting her tea aside. “Ours covers the northern area. Gunther’s Cold Wine and Moldy Cheese Society is the other.”
“But they have eight active members!” Elspeth said, eyes wide. “Can you imagine?”
“Moldy cheese?” Isadora said. “But who would ever—”
“Precisely,” Pearl said. “No one. That was Alfrid’s idea some twenty years back, I believe.”
Alfrid nodded, but his gaze remained fixed on the empty tray, as if he could conjure food. Isadora had attempted a few spells that created food, but it crumbled away with a slightly off-kilter taste, and never satisfied.
“Is Maximillion going to attend tonight?” Margerit asked, eyes averted to the designs on her teacup, as if suddenly fascinated by the simple paisley design.
“Dunno,” Pearl said. “He’s awfully busy.”
“Has he truly been so busy?” Alfri asked.
“He went to Gunther’s last month, said all was well down there. No issues, even with the last extraction,” Pearl said quietly. “That’s all I know.”
Margerit’s shoulders slumped. “I do wish we’d see him more.”
“Agreed,” said Elspeth.
Alfrid echoed their sentiment with a nod. Isadora shifted. No doubt Maximillion had wonderful sides, but the light in their eyes bordered on adoration. Was this the same witch? Perhaps he was different around other witches.
A crack on the door interrupted the conversation. Before Pearl could call out, Maximillion stepped inside. Margerit’s eyes brightened. Isadora’s stomach flipped.
“Merry meet, Maximillion,” Pearl cried. “Wr were just talking about you.”
The usual stern severity of his expression didn’t fade. His gaze flickered right over her and landed on Margerit for half a second, before returning to Pearl. Isadora banished the shot of annoyance she felt. Of course he’d look over her.
“Merry meet,” he said to the room.
The sound of his voice sent a chill down Isadora’s spine. Margerit, still beaming, scooted to make room for him. A horrifying thought struck Isadora.
Did Maximillion have romantic interests?
She suppressed the urge to dive into the paths and find out—if she even could. Maximillion’s paths were so unpredictable and complicated anyone could go missing. Maybe her intimate view of his future possibilities—of him, even though he still didn’t know that side of her power—had given her the idea that she knew him better than she did. A false confidence.
“Have a seat and take your turn,” Pearl said, gesturing to the spot next to Margerit. “It’s been months since you’ve been here.”
“Any news from Gunthers?” Alfrid asked.
Maximillion stood behind Pearl’s chair. “Nothing new,” he said. “I can’t stay long. I came to check on everyone.”
The edges of Margerit’s lips turned down, but she covered it with a blithe smile. “Business as usual, of course,” she said.
“Good. Your family is safe, Elspeth?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“And you, Alfrid?”
“Nothing to complain of.”
“We’ve heard rumors the Advocate has been captured. Have you heard the same?” Elspeth asked. Her fingers fidgeted with a handkerchief.
“I barely know what time it is,” he said wearily. “I haven’t kept up with local gossip. The Advocate has proven to be a perfectly capable witch in the past. I’m sure if they are caught, they’ll get out of it soon.“
Pearl’s grip on her coffee cup seemed tighter than usual.
“Let’s hope,” Margerit said. “For their sake and all our Watchers in the East. Such a brave witch to do what they do. And very clever.”
“Yes,” Alfrid said, clucking under his breath. Maximillion pulled his watch from his breast pocket, opened it with a touch of his thumb, and frowned. He shoved it back inside.
“I must be going.”
“More meetings?” Margerit asked, poorly hiding the thready of wispy hope in her tone. He nodded once, gazing on Margerit with no more affection than a stray, filthy cat. But he didn’t look at her with tones of scathing, the way he did with Isadora.
“My apologies,” he said to Pearl. “I will return when I can.”
“I understand, Max. Go. Do your job. The Network needs you.”
With that, Maximillion transported away. Isadora stared at the spot where he’d disappeared, wholly irritated by the fact that the room seemed smaller without him in it, despite his oppressive frowns and heavy scowls. Margerit sighed. Elspeth reached over and gave her knee a pat.
“One day,” she murmured. “You’ll get your chance. The war is robbing all of us, you know. It won’t be like this forever. He’s bound to notice you exist, my dear.“
“Now, now!” Pearl said, rapping her hand on her lap. “Enough of this gloominess. Let’s go around the room, as we usually do, and proceed with updates. Alfrid, you begin. What happened with that kind lady that you were taking to coffee the other day?”
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