The entire drive I rode in silence. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I couldn't believe that the stiff, bible-thumping Caroline would be my saving grace, either. I half believed that she would be the one to tie me to my own cross.
“So what brings you to Wichita?” the cab driver inquired, breaking me out of my reverie.
I had to come up with a lie quick. It's not as if I could exactly tell the truth in this situation, “I – um – found a job in town. There really isn't much work to be had in Lincolnsville. There are only two hundred people in the whole town.” I chuckled.
“It's rumored to be a very haunted place. Tourists from all over the country come just to see if they can pick up signals from the other side.” he scoffs, “I personally think it's a load of horse shit, but to each his own.”
“I suppose some people like the idea of being able to see the people they miss the most.” I mumbled, not giving much thought to the words that were coming out of my mouth, “I'm just ready for a change of scenery. That little town is just so self-reliant. A person could stay in Lincolnsville their whole life and never have to leave. A lot of people get stuck that way. I guess for that reason I'm glad I got out while I had the chance.”
It was true, to an extent. If it weren't for all of this witchy-juju, I would've likely stayed in Lincolnsville my entire life, never really caring to know what was outside of the town line. This was a shot at a new beginning. And I was excited for it.
“This is where I leave you, Miss.” my driver announced, pulling into a barely-lit parking lot.
It was then that I realized I didn't grab any cash before fleeing, “I'm sorry. I can't pay you.”
“No worries. Your friend paid me five hundred dollars before you even got in the car. Told me to take you wherever you wanted to go.”
“Right, of course she did.” I nodded, stepping out of the car into the cold night air, “Thanks, Man.” I called, slamming the door as he pulled out onto the street, leaving me in darkness.
“You're late.” a voice called from the opposite side of the car I'd been leaning against. I jumped away in shock, digging in my backpack for the pistol Caroline had given me.
“Sorry about that,” I called, looking for the disenfranchised voice, “I was sort of run out of town by witch hunters. Are you the one that's supposed to help me?”
“God's teeth.” a young woman snapped, revealing herself finally, a look of fury on her face, “You wanna announce that a little bit louder, new kid? I don't think they heard you in the next town over.”
“Sorry.” I mumbled begrudgingly, “Who the hell are you?” this young, fair woman couldn't have been older than twenty. How was she supposed to help me?
“I'm Headmistress Alexius Savini. I'm here to take you to the boarding house.” she said, extending a hand to me, “And you're Lucille Carter. Witch extraordinaire.”
“I don't know if extraordinaire is the word I would use. I kind of, you know, up and left in the middle of the night. By the way, I should probably warn you, I can't pay for any room and board.” I admitted, “I ain't even got a bank account of my own.”
“That's alright. You will do great things through our school and in turn, pay off your debts. You are, after all, one of the last descendants of the Italian bloodline. We'll talk in the car. Come along.” she took my bag from my shoulder, tossing it in the back seat, “You won't be needing that by the way,” she stated dully, motioning to the pistol, which rested limply at my side, “By this time next week, you'll be able to bring a grown man to his knees with no more than a sideways glance.”
“I didn't realize Italian witches were so prominent in Kansas,” I said, trying to process all that had happened in the last several hours.
“Oh, yes. During the migration in the early years, Italians were chastised for their race, which naturally pushed them westward. The Italian witches tried to settle in Texas hundreds of years ago, but they were run out. Sent packing to Kansas. That's how we ended up here. After the initial bout of witch hunters, we scattered, but most of us stayed in this same general area. Your ancestors formed a community with the witch hunters. That's why your people are so wary of witchcraft. That's why they're all bible-thumpers. And that is why they burned your brother.”
“Why do they care? Who's to say that we even want to use our powers at all?”
“Everybody thinks that in the beginning. They think that they're going to be the one to change the face of witchcraft, but it never happens. More and more, witches are turning dark, and they set up institutions like mine all over the world to try to teach the right way to handle the darkness. However, some bloodlines aren't doing it for the right reasons. Some want to build armies. They want to claim themselves as the World Power.”
“And I take it Italy doesn't want to fight for the World Power?” I inquired, picking at my cuticles, trying to avoid her eye contact. Alexius' voice was soothing in a way, but her eyes were piercing, unlike any I'd ever seen. It was like she could see right into the essence of your soul.
She let out a laugh that shocked me. Alexius seemed so stoic. I really didn't expect her to be the laughing type, “My dear girl, Italy is a super power when it comes to witchery. There isn't any need for us to join in the battle. All we want to do here at the boarding house is to provide protection and enlightenment to those who have been persecuted, like yourself.”
“What about my parents? Are they Stregas, then?” I questioned.
“They're from the same bloodline, obviously, but they've never shown any of the signs like you. My best guess is that it skips a generation. There was an idea floating around there for a while that the powers resurfaced when it became a necessity.”
“I see.” I nodded.
“We're here, by the way. I'll take your bag to your room. You can go to the parlor. Your peers and I will be in to speak with you in a moment.” she stated, marching up the front path, leaving me in the car, sitting there in absolute shock. If I were being completely honest, I would've told you that I was kind of expecting something kind of Howarts-esque. As it were, the building in front of me was nothing more than a medium-size town house. It was nice, with a white picket fence and green trim – completely normal. On the gate, a plaque read Wichita School for Exceptional Students.
I walked up the cobbled path, taking in everything I could about my surroundings, in case this was some kind of a track and I had to make a run for it. I pushed the door open, and it swung in with a screech. The inside was just as normal as the outside, all granite counter tops and plush carpeting, “Greetings.” a voice called from the door, which had clicked shut behind me. A sallow girl with limp hair and dark eyes approached leaned against the frame.
I gasped at the sight of her, expecting no one would be up at the late hour that I'd arrived, “Hi.”
“You're the new girl. Lucy.” She must've been clairvoyant, “You should know, little girl,” she whispered, taking me by complete surprise, slamming me into the wall by the neck, “I don't like change. I ripped my step-father's throat out with nothing but my nails and–”
“Lily, that's enough.” a booming voice called from the staircase. I looked over and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the figure of a towering young man. Whether he was another student or an adviser of some sort, I couldn't say. He was young, clearly. Then again, the headmistress couldn't have been more than ten years older than me. Maybe he was important.
Whatever he was, his command caused the sallow Lily to back off. He quickly swooped in and led me away, his grip leaving prints on my forearm, “Don't worry about Lily. She'll get used to you soon enough.”
He led me into what I assumed to be the parlor, but what I would've thought of more as a den. There was a piano at one end and a full bar at the other, with a coffee table surrounded by sofas in the middle of the room, “Since you're new, I'm sure Lex will want to introduce to everyone. This is where we have all of our meetings. You can just take a seat anywhere.” he extended a hand to me, “I'm Brian, by the way.”
Even though his cropped hair and piercing eyes made him seem daunting, his voice was calming. He was much like Alexius – Lex – in that way.
“Lucy.” I took his hand in mine in greeting. Then something hit me that I hadn't realized before, “I don't know what you're thinking.” I gasped, “I can't read your mind or Alexius' or Lily's–”
“It doesn't work that way.” he chuckled, taking a seat beside me, “You have a very distinct gift with very distinct limits. We all have our own powers and our own limits. I'm guessing your limitation is that you can't read your bloodline.”
“So everyone has different abilities?”
“We aren't all mind-readers, no. In fact, you're the first one at this school.”
“If none of you are clairvoyant, then how is it that Lily knew my name before I even got here?” I asked, knitted my fingers together in a tight knot.
“That wasn't any particular gift, actually. We've known about you for a while. Your town is sort of a hotspot for powerful witches. Like your brother. Like you. Lex likes to keep an eye on that town. It's one of her favorites. I don't know why the entire house isn't crawling with witches from Lincolnsville.” I suddenly let out a shiver that wracked my whole body and Brian shrugged off his jacket, placing it over my own shoulders, “Sorry about that. This whole house is heated by fireplaces, so it gets a little drafty sometimes.”
“Thanks.” I mumbled, the stress of the day finally catching up with me.
“You look like hell.” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Yeah? Well, I feel like crap.” I whined, “It's been a long night. I just want to go to bed. How long is this going to take?”
He let out a little laugh, leaning in a bit closer, “There's no telling how long. When Lex goes off on a tangent she can talk all night. Here, let me try something. Tilt your head back.”
As if it weren't of my own accord, I leaned back against the couch, closing my eyes. Brian leaned infinitely closer beside me, and then I felt his index finger trailing from the top of my forehead to my chin. Then I felt a relief. There had been pain and pressure that I hadn't even realized, but now that it was gone, I felt more awake, less likely to want to kill something.
“How did you do that?” I gasped in amazement, opening my eyes as he readjusted himself, leaning back cooly.
“One of the perks of being me, I suppose.” he joked, causing me to laugh and my face to go bright red, “That feeling of discomfort you were having – it was because of a stress headache. I can put a block on that part of your mind that's causing that stress and then you're good to go. They call it emotional manipulation.”
“Well isn't that a nifty trick.” I chuckled, kicking my feet up on the sofa, “Thank you.”
“No flirting with the new girl, Brother. You'll scare her off.” Alexius called from the doorway, a dozen questioning eyes peering in at me from behind her.
“That was definitely not flirting.” he called over to her as the group descended upon us. Some looked like they were running on fumes while others appeared to have hours of pep left in their step, “Can we get this thing over with now? I've still got stuff to finish.”
“Brother?” I gasped, to which I simply got an apologetic glance in return.
“Alright, let's get this thing moving. It's early and I'm sure our new guest would like to get at least a couple hours of sleep before tea tomorrow.” Alexius announced, collapsing into the nearest sofa, her mug of coffee held tight in her hand. I could tell she was one of the ones who was running on fumes. And I really couldn't blame her. Nobody should be awake at these unholy hours of morning, “I'm going to cut right to the chase. Lucy was rescued from a witch hunt in Lincolnsville. There is one Strega left in the town that we know of, but there could be more. The town council is starting to catch on. One of our own was burned at the stake in that town not even a year ago. We have to establish a team to go in and extract the rest of the Strega line.
“It has to be fast and clean. I'm betting we don't have much time before the whole town goes into a full-blown panic. We have to prepare now and we will leave at the beginning of the new month. This mission could potentially turn dangerous, so I want you all to consider it carefully. I'm not going to force anyone to leave; only those who wish to.”
“How many witches are we talking?” Lily asked from where she reclined on the armrest nearest Brian.
“We know that there is one for sure. She is the reason we were able to get to Lucy so quickly. After her, though, it's kind of a guessing game. This girl has a younger sister, but she hasn't started to show any sign of powers yet. We think there is a power surge coming through, though. So within a year, a lot of the younger children will probably begin to exude powers as well.”
“So what's our course of action?” she barreled on, “I mean we can't just go in and start kidnapping teenagers. Last I checked it was still illegal. Even for us.”
“I've been doing extensive research as to the family backgrounds. There are several families who look promising. We'll continue monitoring. For now we'll pick up the young girl I mentioned before and continue to monitor the situation.”
“It isn't safe for her there.” I finally piped in, feeling my stomach clench, “If she starts showing powers, they will kill her. She already defied nature once. If she does it again, she's toast.”
“What did she do the first time?” Lily asked, leaning forward with gross intrigue, “I bet she set somebody on fire, didn't she?”
“She came back from the dead. I mean, my brother kind of forced it, but it's all Greek to them. They may think she has power too, and burn her. If we do something we've got to do it now and we've got to do it quick. She doesn't have a month. I'd be shocked if she has a week before the Council steps in. If we go in, it has to be before Monday. So, I'm in.”
“Me too.” Brian agreed, giving me a sideways grin.
“If we push the mission forward,” Alexius retorted, “she cannot go. We've had no time to train her.”
“Maybe we should send her anyway.” a tall, strong-looking boy in a muscle shirt and flannels reasoned, an evil smile ghosting over him, “See if she survives. Darwinism at its finest.”
“That is quite enough, Sebastian. Thank you.” Alexius shot back, causing him to shrink back into his silence.
“I can train her in that amount of time.” Brian shrugged, “I haven't done any training myself in a while. It'll be good for both of us.” he reasoned.
“Fine, then. You'll start training tomorrow morning and if I see desirable abilities in your fighting techniques, I will allow to accompany us.
“We have Brian and Lucy traveling with us, so I take it that you will be as well, Lily?”
“Damn straight.” she whooped.
“Very good, very good. Anybody else who wishes to take part can contact me in my office during the normal visiting hours. Other than that, I will see you all in the morning for tea. Lucy, Lily will show you to your room.” she grumbled, before situating her glasses further up her nose and marching out of the room.