Puffing and gasping from the effort of severing her necrobilical cord, Gentle Annis took in her surrounds. The large oak was the same as it had been prior to being knocked on the back of her head by an unseen adversary. The man she had drained was no longer hanging from the low branch where she had bled his corpse dry, onto her cloak. The rope she had hung him from was also missing.
Still somewhat giddy, Black Annis got to her feet for the first time in The Now. Looking further around the glade, she noted that birdsong was loud and abundant, the grass underfoot was green and lush, and the sunlight fighting its way through the brilliant canopy seemed all the brighter than it had previously. The whole area around her seemed ‘merry’, although how a lesser clearing in a patch in the woods could be deemed ‘merry’, mystified her. Maybe it was the crickets? She had detached, possibly fond, memories of the noisy insects from her tower. The twenty years of confinement no longer seeming anything more than a nightmare long ago. One no longer attached to her now. Taking a few steps around the oak, she felt an intensity of power ebbing from her cloak, greater than any she had thus far experienced.
Popping a lump of foul tasting opium into her mouth, Gentle Annis held it beneath her tongue for as long as she could tolerate. After a minute she moved it around her mouth letting it dissolve, thrilling at the trickling sensation it gave her at the back of her throat. Remaining still, the opiate taking effect over her, she began to wonder if she had felt such pleasure before in her short life within The Then. The still dripping cloak working its wonders through her, she looked skyward, closing her eyes, opened her perfect mouth, and laughed loudly, joyously, manically.
She felt like she was falling. Warm and light, soft cool grass jumping up to meet her soft cheek. Suddenly, she hurt. All over, but moreso up the left hand side of her body. Now she was screaming, all pleasure gone, pain, dulled and persistent causing her to clench her teeth. Through eyes, closed from discomfort, she took in the woman in a red dress running at her. The woman held a stick, a wand? In front of her as she ran. Black Annis tried to roll, but remained pinned to where she lay, unable to move, unable to fight back.
Must fight back.
Demanding the full power of the cloak, she screamed again, the world turning red through her eyes. What would have been extreme anger in a lesser soul, was fuel to the white hot flame of her rage. Planting a fist against the ground, Gentle Annis, transforming into Black Annis, pushed hard feeling grass and dirt press between her knuckles, bringing herself into into a kneeling position. The screaming, cotton wool like in the background of her hearing slowly registered as being her own. Harder and harder she pushed, forcing herself to her feet. What she saw before her were a lass of medium height, red dress, and wand. Beside the lady in red, a ridiculously large black and white house cat stalked smartly around to her left. Lastly, an immense woman, dark and fierce was raising her hands toward her, fingers extended, giving her the feeling that she was about to shoot lightning at her through her fingers. The woman, looking for all the world like some topless Indian Goddess wearing a necklace skulls around her neck, an odd skirt of what could only be arms torn from the dead, who kept growing proportionally upward and outward to what her fuzzy mind guessed to be twelve feet in height, and was getting bigger.
Closing her eyes hard, Black Annis concentrated hard on yesterday, and the oak she stood beside. Ignoring the pain wracking her, she focused harder on that point than she had ever concentrated on anything before.
Feeling as though she had been shot from a canon, Black Annis looked around the clearing surrounding her with an unpleasant sense of deja-vu. No one was there. No pain. No feeling of being pinned to the spot like a butterfly to a child’s cork board, ready for presentation for any who cared to look. She stepped unsteadily forward, short of breath, her mind spinning like a drunkard’s late at night. Everything smelt ‘right’, the birdsong was correct, and she wept unconsciously with the relief of escape from hurt and captors. Her cloak was utterly dry, all power very nearly drained from it. Salt stung her eyes, sweat streaming profusely from her forehead.
Letting herself fall to the ground in an untidy heap, she sucked in lungful after lungful of air. Her sight slowly returned to normal, and she dropped off to sleep the sleep of the truly exhausted.
A day later, yet in exactly the same spot where Black Annis now lay, all Bast could do was shake her head in anger and disappointment. “Fuck” would be the only word she would utter over the next ten and a half minutes. ‘What the hell have we done?’ Cat thought. Maude returned to her regular post Goddess shape, elated at returning to the deity she once was; the thrill of power she had long forgotten, yet was utterly terrified at the same time for the failure she had caused.
The three returned to the battered old car, and sat in silence.
“So,” lamented Bast, “what the hell are we going to do now, and more importantly, what the devil are we going to tell Death?”
Maude started the car, through thick blue smoke they left in silence back into 1897, and began the unspoken hunt for a pub.
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