She approached the small wooden door of the cabin home and stopped before entering. Turning around, the cloaked woman peered under a large wool hood and quickly scanned the moonlit woods beneath the hill.
It was paramount that her actions remain clandestine. Subterfuge was survival in the small lakeside colony. Any mistake would cost her and her coterie their life at the hands of their bloodthirsty enemy.
Satisfied with her appraisal of the landscape, she brought the tightly guarded burlap sack to her chest and quietly opened the door. The inside of the cabin home was pitch black, save for the slivers of moonlight that seeped through the gaps of the boarded-up window nearby.
The faint odor of dust, mildew, and straw flooded the young woman’s nostrils, a scent she quickly became adjusted to as the door closed silently behind her. Setting the burlap-wrapped object on the ground, the young woman knelt and removed her shoes from both her feet before setting them off to the side by the door. Placing the ball of her feet down first, she moved in mouselike silence to the center of the open room. Ball, then heels, just as Else had told her earlier that day. The wood floor of the cabin shifted under the weight of her foot, but not once did it creak or make any sound. Keeping the cloak on and her hood up, she slowly made her way to the back corner of the room until she reached the entrance of the cellar door.
They had left the door open, just as they said they would. The creaking of wood from behind her gave the young woman a slight startle. Crouching down, hoping the darkness would keep her concealed, she eyed the room around her and the front door for any signs of intruders. There was nothing but spiders and the abyss. Her nerves were getting the better of her. Could you get below and close the cellar door behind you? Once underground, you can take the stone staircase until the cellar is reached. Then no one can hear us. Just follow Else’s instructions, and lock the cellar door behind you. You can do this, Ayla. You’re not a silly little girl anymore.
Shaking the fear from herself as one would with winter morning chills, Ayla crept into the cellar entrance and slowly shut the large wooden door behind her. Easing the steel bar latch into place, Ayla felt around for the iron padlock she was informed would be there. As she groped in the dark, another sound from outside brought a sharp gasp from her lips. Covering her mouth, Ayla thrust her back against the cold, stone wall and slid down to the stone step below.
Someone is outside. There must be. Oh, why can’t I find the lock?
A long silence was followed by another creaking of wood from above the cellar. Ayla, giving up on the wave, bounded down the stone steps for the safety of her coterie below. Upon entering the basement, Ayla pulled back her hood to reveal a head of brown hair held firmly beneath a white bonnet. Her pale, blue eyes almost glowed in the light from the small fire burning beneath a black cauldron in the center of the room.
The odor that emitted from the cauldron was almost enough to make her faint. It stung her nostrils and brought a bitter taste to her tongue. The fumes were slowly growing thick from within the sealed chamber. A gaseous green haze combined with the small fire to illuminate the stones of the cellar with a ghastly jade glow.
Four other young women stood around the black iron pot, who turned and inspected the entranceway upon Ayla’s sudden arrival. Wild eyes peered at her through the shadows, eyes she barely recognized as those belonging to her childhood friends and cousins. The sheer desperation of their criminal act was plain to see once she saw the mixture of emotion radiating from their expressions. Fear, disgust, and panic. Anger, regret, and pain. Her sisters wore it on their sleeves like badges of honor as well as badges of guilt. She could never forget why they had gone to the lengths they had, of that disgusting pig of a man who drove them to commit such sins that even their god would never forgive them for.
“Ayla, hast du es mitgebracht?” a young woman whispered from the far side of the bubbling cauldron.
Ayla shook her head and pulled the burlap-wrapped object from beneath her black wool cloak.
“Ich habe das Buch, Katherine. Ich bin gerade von meiner Reise auf den Berg zurückgekommen,” Ayla whispered back while giving the coterie a small nod in reply.
A faint smile appeared on the faces of the four other young women standing at the cauldron. Ayla slowly approached the circle and handed the object off to Katherine. As it left her hands, Ayla felt like a small weight had been lifted from her soul. It took her over a fortnight of foot travel to reach the mountain’s summit. A journey made on pretense, telling her parents that she was visiting her uncle’s family at Fort Damon for supplies. Once at the summit, there was a trip into that horrible cave, all the while carrying the offering on her back.
Ayla turned to her cousin, who stood next to her, and gave Christyne a small empty smile. Reaching out, Ayla placed a cold, trembling hand on her cousin’s abdomen and asked her how the scar was healing. A single tear rolled down Christyne’s cheek as she whispered a trembling reply.
It was a full moon’s passing since the midwife had cut from her the reason for their meeting. Two full moons since that bastard laid his hands on her in the woods.
Ayla wished to tell her he would pay for what he had done and offer a comforting hug. But nothing she could offer in words would change what evils had befallen her cousin. How could you offer comfort after someone was driven to commit such a sin as the sin of filicide? All for payment to extract an even heavier evil.
The item, which came at such a steep cost, was finally unwrapped by the hands of Katherine. Tossing aside the final scrap of burlap, Katherine revealed to the others the black cover of a leather-bound book.
On the cover was a silver symbol that none of them had ever seen before. A polyhedral sigil that emitted a spine-chilling aura, steeped in ancient mystery and lost to the sands of time.
It was almost too much to bear for the German-Catholic women who sat gathered in a circle, hunched over the archaic tome. The only book the five of them had laid their eyes on was that of the holy Bible. This evil grimoire before them was the antithesis of everything they knew.
Katherine reached down and caressed the cover of the leather-bound book. An intoxicating rush flowed through her as she felt the mysticism of the pages course into her.
Ayla knew it was raw, black magic born in the burning pits of hell, where Lucifer resides as king and ruler, after she witnessed what those foul hags in the cave had done with the offering. After hearing them recite the disgusting words that came from the pages, after witnessing them change into beautiful, young women right before her very eyes, Ayla knew the book’s power and both desired and feared that power.
They had gotten this far in their plan, and each knew their souls were already damned. They would be branded as witches. But what is the title of witch when the colony’s men have already branded you as a whore? Why fear the persecution of a god that won’t even punish the wicked for evils committed on the innocent?
They all came to the new world with their families against their will. The fatherland was home, not this forsaken hellscape at the world’s end. Herded like sheep, treated like broodmares, and branded like cattle. Every one of the women gathered around that hideous tome had watched the Englishmen from the north arrive in the colony and spread his Protestant evil upon their Catholic land.
This barbarian had committed sins of the flesh with their mothers, sisters, and friends while taking both crops and livestock for his own. This was all done behind the barrel of English muskets and the tips of English swords.
They stood by and watched their fathers and brothers cower under the might of the Englishman and his posse of thugs. They have had enough. If their men didn’t protect them, they would take the matter into their own hands.
Clasping hands and whispering words of encouragement to each other, Katherine then opened the book and peered at the blood-inked pages from within.
Under the moon of the witching hour, the five women toiled in their candlelight plot. Katherine, Ayla, Else, Christyne, and Agnes—all five were bound by blood oath in a desperate pact to rid the land of the Englishman that plagued their colony with an iron fist.
As they gathered and recited the words as they read in the book, the faint jade glow rose into a turbulent and rich emerald flame. Scenes of incomprehensible madness lay bare for them to witness through the fractionalized and murky recesses of their inner mind’s eye.
As the portal they had opened showed no signs of ceasing, a cascade of vibrant energies rippled through Nephastor Colony. The focal point was the small cabin on the hill overlooking the lake.
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