Vic’s dress wasn’t a sack per se, but it was made of burlap, as was the headband all the bridesmaids wore around their foreheads. In the backyard, there were several rows of wooden tables with overturned wine crates as seats, all of them dressed with silverware in miniature tin buckets and other accents Maya had “curated” all by herself. Each champagne glass had twine wrapped around its stem and base, and the night’s menu was written out on small chalkboards on the rattan placemats. Beside each table setting was a lace sack filled with mixed nuts, labeled with a piece of decorative parchment that read “Jerome and Maya are nuts for each other!” in zany brown script.
Pictures of Jerome and Maya from various stages of their relationship were bordered with wood frames. The earliest were from 11th grade, when they’d started dating after they commiserated over having to read Huckleberry Finn out loud in AP Lit. A sign written in chalk on a large recycled wooden pallet read, “Come as you are, stay as long as you can, we’re all family here, so there’s no—.” The rest had been smudged by someone who was either in a rush, or didn’t understand the role of chalk in a wedding like this one. The flowers were an odd mix of baby’s breath, asparagus fern, and Hypericum berries bound with a ribbon of Chantilly lace. Heat lamps dotted the yard and glowed orange against the fading blue of the evening sky.
Vic had been paired with a groomsman named Ryan, a twenty-seven-year-old welder who lived off the Lorimer stop and spent the whole morning sharing his sensationalist opinions about very specific types of beer and making sure everyone around him knew he wasn’t a corporate pawn. As soon as Vic met Ryan, he hit on her relentlessly, sliding in weird, somewhat disparaging compliments between his soliloquies about himself and his vague sociopolitical views. Ryan, while one of the better-looking groomsmen, with a dark well-groomed beard and the carriage of someone who showered regularly, was still way out of bounds to think he had a chance with Vic. She was relieved when it was their turn to walk out of the barn and to opposite sides of the aisle.
Afterward, Maya walked down the aisle with both of her parents as a folk band played the bridal chorus. Maya’s dad was unable to hide his absolute distaste for the entire production. Mrs. Bumble, on the other hand, winked at Vic as she passed. Maya wore a thrifted floor length ivory slip with a burlap sash secured at her waist, a large bow just above her modest, but cute, butt. Vic had only managed to finger detangle Maya’s hair and wrap it around a hair donut, and while she told Maya she’d fastened a burlap rose at the back, she hadn’t been able to bring herself to actually do it.
Vic gazed out at the wedding guests absently as Maya and Jerome exchanged their vows, rocking back and forth on her sandals and trying not to make eye contact with Ryan. This was always the most boring part of every wedding she worked. Between the poorly written vows, the robotic delivery of promises the newlyweds had only a fifty percent chance of upholding, and worst, the blubbering, Vic always had to fight to stay awake. Scanning the space, Vic’s eyes landed first on the small chunk of the seating clearly dedicated to family, then moved to the sea of Maya’s and Jerome’s friends before she saw something that made her drop her bouquet with a conspicuous thud, disrupting the pastor as he said, “You may now kiss the bride.”
She bent to retrieve the flowers and quickly stood back up. She’d found the baker’s assistant, and it was the last person Vic would have ever expected to see here, at a random wedding on a farm upstate: Tatiana. Tatiana had always looked good at the office, but none of her work looks compared to the baby pink wrap dress she wore now, her skin radiant and glowing, the curve of her breasts visible on either side of the surplice neckline. But Tatiana’s appearance wasn’t what caught Vic off guard. It was the nervous smile Tatiana had given her before looking away, probably remembering they weren’t exactly on good terms. She had never seen Tatiana look so unsure before.
The crowd’s applause for Maya and Jerome’s kiss jolted Vic out of her tunnel vision. As people stood and gathered around the bride and groom, she made a beeline to Tatiana, who was headed towards the makeshift bar, a table covered with a sheet of hemp canvas and topped with galvanized tubs full of ice and beer. Tatiana was ordering one of the wedding’s signature cocktails, the Black Sheep (a mix of anise, dark rum, and agave-sweetened small batch root beer) when Vic approached her.
“Hey,” Vic said breezily. Tatiana jumped.
“Hey,” Tatiana said, turning. She looked at Vic briefly before averting her eyes. “Funny seeing you here— your dress looks really nice.”
“Relax,” Vic said. She reached for a cake pop labeled ‘lavender rosemary.’ “You don’t have to be weird with me— I’m over the CS thing. And don’t lie. This dress is a monstrosity.”
Tatiana laughed. “Okay, me too. And...” she trailed off, looking Vic up and down. “Unfortunately, yes, yes it is.” They both laughed. The bartender passed Tatiana her drink and she gave it to Vic as a peace offering before ordering another for herself. She turned to watch the dancing begin. The DJ had just put on “Who Let The Dogs Out,” and the guests were losing it. “Are you a friend of the family?” she asked Vic.
“No. And neither are you.”
Tatiana looked at Vic quizzically.
“Mrs. Bumble told me she asked the baker’s assistant to come? To... bolster our numbers? You’re the only one who fits the profile.”
“Oh.” Tatiana laughed. “Yeah. She’s so crazy.”
“How’d she find you?”
“Oh, I work at this a-mazing company called Maid to Order now. I’m basically just a professional bridesmaid for weird people who can’t make their own bridal parties. It’s been fun. How’d you end up at a bakery?”
“Ugh.” Tatiana took a deep pull of her drink. “Don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Okay.” The girls stood in comfortable silence, looking out at the guests mingling around the new couple and wrapping dishes in cloth to prepare to break them. Maya had seen the practice on a Pinterest board somewhere and didn’t know it wasn’t some rustic hipster tradition. The sticky warmth of Tatiana’s upper arm pressed to Vic’s as they sipped their drinks too fast, watching the scene play out before them.
“Where are we?” Tatiana asked finally.
Vic snickered. “Honestly. Can you imagine having a wedding where your accent color is burlap?”
“Lacey would not approve.”
“Lacey would strangle herself with a piece of twine.”
“Or cheap craft store lace, there’s plenty of that, too.”
Vic watched in horror as Mrs. Bumble, Maya, and the rest of her bridal party, stampeded toward her and Tatiana. They were supposed to try and be seen by as many people as possible, and she was afraid they might get in trouble for congregating at the bar instead of socializing. Then she realized no one was interested in her or Tatiana; the draw was the food and drinks at the bar behind them. Tatiana tugged at Vic’s hand, and they looked at each other, knowing they needed to escape before Mrs. Bumble really noticed them. Tatiana pulled Vic away from the oncoming group, past all the tables and two groomsmen yelling at each other over the seating arrangement, to the barn where the bridal party had waited before the ceremony.
The barn was eerie now with no one else inside, the whole wedding party on the opposite end of the grounds, cutting Maya and Jerome’s semi-naked Oreo cake. Tatiana and Vic each sat on a bale of hay, Tatiana choosing one that stood taller than the others. Although it was, well, a barn, and smelled as though it had housed animals in the past week, Vic had to admit the space was somewhat charming, lit with bare Edison bulbs hanging from the heavy redwood rafters.
Tatiana placed her sandaled feet on Vic’s bale of hay, reclining. Vic played with the stirrer in her glass. “This is actually kind of cute, I guess,” Tatiana said.
“I guess,” Vic answered, finishing her drink. She started feeling it immediately. Between her commute, the wedding preparations, and the ceremony, she hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
The girls sat in silence again, this one tenser than the last, Vic finding herself uncharacteristically lost for words. She replayed the last few months in her head, trying to see if there was any way she could’ve known she’d end up here with Tatiana: alone inside a barn, tipsy, and now enveloped by a charged silence it felt impossible to break. Tatiana had been so cautiously kind to her today, so nervous as she sought Vic’s forgiveness. But Vic had misread things between her and Tatiana before, taken her gestures and looks as evidence of a connection that apparently did not exist, judging by the way Tatiana had treated her at Clarke Stein. The memory of the Khristyana disaster chased the hopeful thoughts back down. Vic brought her glass to her lips, desperate for something to do, before remembering it was empty.
“There’s a piece of twine on your cheek,” Tatiana said suddenly, perhaps drunkenly, as if had just occurred to her.
Vic laughed. “What?” She swatted at her face with her alcohol-numbed fingers, flustered. She hadn’t realized Tatiana was watching her.
“Here, let me get it.” Tatiana took the last swig of her drink and put the empty glass down beside her, leaning down until she and Vic were nearly nose to nose. Her warmth radiated through the barely heated barn, the pineapple scent of her perfume enclosing Vic in a sweet cloud. Her mouth open in concentration, Tatiana used her thumb to swipe away the debris, the rest of her hand cupping Vic’s face tenderly.
“There,” she said, so quiet it was almost inaudible. Goosebumps erupted on Vic’s arms. As Tatiana held her face, Vic gave in to what some part of her had known all along: that her annoyance with Tatiana’s overachieving ways was just misdirected hurt. After that night months ago, Tatiana had been so suddenly standoffish that Vic began to think she’d imagined what she felt between them, that it hadn’t happened at all. But she knew now Tatiana wasn’t her workplace nemesis (since when had Vic ever given a fuck about work?) or even just some anal girl Vic hated. She was, instead, the only legitimate crush Vic had had in more than a year, and now Vic suspected Tatiana felt the same. Vic climbed onto her knees to level her face with Tatiana’s, the little stalks of hay pressing uncomfortably into her skin. She looked at her, watching as Tatiana’s eyes fluttered closed in anticipation, her long lashes casting curved shadows onto her cheeks. Then she slowly leaned in and kissed her, the distant noise of the wedding and sharp filament light of the Edison bulbs disappearing around them.
Nadine hadn’t realized how materially Helia’s birth had altered the fabric of their family until Nina was born, reviving some long-dormant part of the Nox dynamic. Her mother had let the tradition of their weekly Nox women breakfasts lapse at Eve’s behest, but now Eve had brought it back, sending Nadine and Natasha charmed invitations via the golden bangles all Nox women received on their sixteenth birthdays.
Nadine walked around the house Eve and James had recently purchased to accommodate their expanding family, hearing the tinkling of her mother and Eve’s voices as she approached the backyard. It was cold outside now, but Eve had charmed the air surrounding her house to be warmer than the true temperature. Normally, such a large temperature charm would spike the Baseline enough to attract the High Council’s—and The Regent’s—censure, but no one would ever chastise Eve for such a thing. Being a Council family daughter, despite all its pressures, did have its perks.
“Deen!” Eve called. She waved Nadine over to the patio where she and their mother sat around the outdoor dining table, Eve at the head and their mother at her right side. They picked at identical plates of avocado toast and a fruit bowl that sat between them.
Eve reclined in her raffia chair, holding Nina close to her chest, watching with rapt attention as the baby’s grasping hand closed and opened around her index finger. Beyond the patio, on the lawn stretching before them, Helia played a game only she knew the rules for, running haphazardly around the grass and spinning in circles, basking in the artificial heat.
“Hello, hello,” Nadine said. She bent to kiss her mother on the cheek, and Natasha turned her face to accept it.
“It would be nice to see you in some color every once in a while, love,” Natasha said as Nadine passed her, pinching one of the sleeves of Nadine’s loose black dress.
Nadine didn’t respond, instead turning to Eve and hugging her in greeting, careful to leave space for the baby between their bodies.
“Did you hear that, Nina?” Nadine cooed as she took the baby from Eve, carefully cradling the child’s head in her arms. “Grandma wants me to wear more colors, but no one cares what she thinks,” she teased, even though she was secretly thrilled by Natasha’s comment. Things with her mother had been tense in recent months because of her work with Charlotte, but maybe the miracle of Nina’s birth had smoothed over even those cracks. In her peripheral vision, Nadine could see her mother roll her eyes, but smile, before reaching around Nadine to tenderly tug at Nina’s heel.
“Let me hold my granddaughter,” she said, and Nadine turned to face her, delicately handing Nina over. Behind her, Eve watched them fondly as she ate from the pile of blackberries on her plate. Her face radiated with the glow of pregnancy and triumph, and her dress clung to her still-swollen belly.
A place for Nadine was set at Eve’s left side, but Nadine walked around to drag the chair to the space beside her mother. “How are you feeling?” she asked Eve.
Eve turned to her, her voice worn with sleep deprivation, but still vibrant. “Amazing, honestly. She’s not as easy a sleeper as Helia was, but... she’s perfect,” Eve finished, a delighted smile spreading across her face.
Eve’s smile was so bright Nadine couldn’t help but beam in response. It had been years since she’d seen her sister this happy. As much as Nadine knew Eve loved Helia, her disappointment with Helia’s lack of powers had shuttered a part of Eve’s personality that, privately, Nadine had begun to worry would never return. But in the wake of Nina’s birth, that withered part had quickly come back alive. Eve had started cracking jokes in that wry, sarcastic way only she could get away with. She’d resurrected Nadine’s childhood nickname, Deen, and, perhaps most tellingly, had recently announced her plans to have a party to present little Nina to the Witch Sphere at large, a nod to Eve’s past as one of the Sphere’s premier socialites.
The women ate quietly for a few minutes before Eve stood from the table, darting onto the lawn. “Helia!” she called. The toddler was running around the house toward the front yard, where no one would be able to watch her. “Helia, come back here!” Eve jogged to catch her. Normally, Nadine would have leapt up to help her sister—after all, she’d just had a baby—but Nadine had come here hoping to have a moment alone with her mother, and an opportunity had just presented itself.
Nadine and Natasha sat in an easy silence before Nadine spoke. “Mom,” she said, and Natasha looked up from Nina distractedly, anxious to turn her attention back to the baby. “I saw something strange at my last meeting at 33, 26,” she said, careful not mention Charlotte’s name.
“Hm,” said Natasha, more attentive now. “And what was it?”
Nadine opened her mouth and closed it again, embarrassed by how much the tiny plant had dominated her thoughts over the past several days. “Just a little sprig of a plant, growing by the Cradle,” she said.
“What of it?” Natasha said. Nina made a gurgling noise, and Natasha immediately turned to make sure the baby was okay.
“That’s the thing,” Nadine said. “I don’t know, honestly. But there was something so familiar about the way it looked, I felt like I had seen it before…” Nadine trailed off. “And so close to the Cradle. I don’t know,” she said again. “It feels important in a way I can’t explain.”
Natasha hummed again before speaking. “And what does our fearless leader think?”
“Nothing,” said Nadine, ignoring the dig.
“Well that’s no surprise,” Natasha muttered her breath. “What’s your mind telling you?” Nadine blinked at her mother. She’d forgotten, in their recent tense times, how much she admired this about her mother: she believed in the wits and talents of her daughters unwaveringly, almost religiously.
“I don’t know…” Nadine began, but as she said it, she realized that wasn’t true. She took a breath, bolstered by her mother’s faith. “The sprout looked to me like the beginnings of a weeping willow,” she said finally. In university, before she had committed herself to the medical research track, she’d thought seriously about studying horticulture and potion-making, fascinated with the way materials from the world around them interacted with intent to create potions. Something that had stayed with her since her studies was the first time she had ever seen a young willow tree, a frail little thing with papery bark, its three leaves fanning out pleadingly toward the sun. It had seemed so impossible that the Cradle, large, imposing, and utterly vital, could have come from something so feeble. She had never forgotten the image, and recalled it immediately during her meeting with Charlotte.
“A weeping willow,” Natasha repeated. “The beginnings of a new Cradle…” she looked at Nadine skeptically. “Is that even possible?”
“I don’t know,” Nadine said honestly. “But there’s so much about our world we don’t understand...intention, named powers, magical heredity,” she listed, gesturing toward Nina. “And then there’s The Shatter...it’s thrown things even further out of balance. Who knows what’s possible?”
Natasha nodded, but still looked unconvinced. Nadine held her tongue, refraining from launching into a lecture. When the Betrayer had released the magic of the Mothers on that infamous night, it had disappeared into the sky and, according to the reports each witch knew now by heart, separated into three distinct streams. Initially, there’d been panic about what the release meant— would the Witch Sphere disintegrate, as the Betrayer had likely intended, or would the Mothers take back their position as overseers of the Witch Sphere, living forever in the sky and correcting the Sphere’s most heinous missteps? After witches began having typic babies, most witches had come to the conclusion of the former, believing that the Betrayer had succeeded in destroying their world, magic slowly leeching from their society in the form of typic babies. With the typic crisis now over, something had to have happened, something to shift things back to their pre-Shatter balance. But the only thing that came to mind felt too ludicrous and improbable to mention, almost too dangerous to say aloud. Still, Nadine decided to take the chance with her mother.
“Mom,” Nadine said cautiously. “Please don’t overreact to what I’m about to say—just consider it.”
Natasha eyed her warily. “Go on.”
“What if … what if the Mothers are back?”
Natasha let out a disbelieving laugh. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. How could that happen?” she countered. “What does that even mean?”
“I’m not sure,” Nadine admitted. “But think about it. When we had the magic of the Mothers, all of the babies had powers. And after The Shatter, babies started being born as typics. There can really only be one explanation.”
“That the essences of the Mothers have been re-harnessed,” Natasha said. “But how? Only an Executioner can do that, and if I haven’t and you haven’t…” she trailed off, leaving Nadine to draw her own conclusion.
“Then that can’t be it.” Nadine said. “But what if they’ve found their way to some kind of vessel? It’s the only way to explain the new wave of magic babies.”
“You mean human vessels?” Natasha asked, incredulous. “They’re the only other kind.”
Nadine nodded. She’d been too nervous to say this, though it was exactly what she was thinking.
“Nadine,” said Natasha gently. “We’re talking about the Mothers.”
Nadine suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, remembering that she was talking to her mother and not a friend. It always bothered her the way that everyone’s reverence for the Mothers could block out potential hypotheses for what had truly happened after The Shatter— nobody wanted to believe that the Mothers’ magic could behave the same way as the magic of other witches, finding vessels to inhabit rather than floating freely in the universe or something else.
“Wait…” Nadine said, an idea coming to her. “Do you remember the disturbances from a few months ago?” She pulled out her planner from her bag, flipping the pages furiously. She stopped when she landed on September 1st, the day Eve had come to her and asked that she try to use her Executioner ability to make her new daughter a witch. That day, there had been the first particularly powerful disturbance on the map, the first of those angry flashes so unlike anything anyone had seen before.
“Of course,” said Natasha. “Who could forget them?”
“Exactly,” said Nadine. “Even though they were so different, we assumed that they must’ve been caused by the same sloppy magic that always causes spikes on the map. But what if wasn’t sloppy magic, or the magic of too many witches in too public a place? What if it was just the magic of a few very powerful witches?”
“Maybe,” Natasha conceded. “But the Mothers? Nadine, be serious.”
Nadine was being serious—she’d never been as convinced of something in her life. Still, it was clear she wasn’t going to get her mother to believe her.
“You’re right,” she said to Natasha. Eve turned the corner, Helia saddled on her hip. “Forget I said anything at all.”
Nadine stood outside Charlotte’s door for the second time in two days, shifting her weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. She was anxious to speak with her, half hopeful that the Regent would be taken by her new theory, but mostly weighed down by an overwhelming dread. She was fully aware of how radical her ideas were and how offensive they could sound. But Charlotte had asked her to bring better information at the next meeting, and that was exactly what Nadine believed she had. The door to Charlotte’s office swung open. “Come in,” Charlotte ordered from her desk. Nadine lowered her eyes as she entered the room, frightened by the impassivity of the Regent’s voice and still reeling from their last encounter. “Sit.” Charlotte nodded toward the chair Nadine usually occupied.
Nadine cleared her throat nervously. “Actually, Regent, I think we need to be outside today. If that’s alright with you.”
Charlotte didn’t respond. Instead she raised her eyebrows imperceptibly, clasped her hands together, and disappeared. Nadine jumped back, then realized Charlotte had just transported to the Cradle with no warning. She walked over to the balcony and looked down. There Charlotte was, standing beneath the swaying willow, her back to 33, 26. Nadine quickly transported, and once she arrived on the lawn, began to walk toward the tiny sprout again, giving the Regent no opportunity to stop her. She looked to Charlotte, indicating that she should follow, and Charlotte did, however tentatively.
“Nadine Nox,” she said, her voice bubbling with anger. “What is your preoccupation with this plant?”
Nadine hesitated before speaking. She crouched toward the sprout. “I believe this may be another Cradle.” She rushed to fill the silence that fell after this pronouncement, warding off all the doubts she knew Charlotte would hurl at her next. “I— if you’re familiar with the plant, this looks like it might be a weeping willow. And for its growth to coincide with the new births, I just—”
“Another Cradle?” Charlotte sounded utterly disgusted, and Nadine quickly realized her error. The Cradle was known to be the anchor of the Witch Sphere, the first thing the Mothers had ever created. It was a deliberate construction that evoked the Mothers’ impeccable design of their world. Of course Charlotte would consider her idea blasphemous.
“Sorry— forgive me,” Nadine said as she stood. “I just— after The Shatter, as the typic crisis grew, the Cradle started to wither and lose branches. So it seemed possible that with the new magical births, there could also be a new Cradle.”
“That’s very interesting logic, Miss Nox, but perhaps you’ve spent too much time in the labs and neglected the history of your own world.” Nadine felt as if she’d been slapped in the face— she was a known history buff. “The Cradle represents the entire Sphere. A new Cradle would mean a new world, not merely a handful of new witches. We all know a new world cannot exist without the hand of The Mothers. And look.” Charlotte gestured toward the Cradle, and Nadine followed her eyes. “The Cradle is in exceptional health.”
It was true: the willow was lush and green, fuller than it had been the last time Nadine had seen it although it hadn’t grown any new branches. The tree seemed taller, too, and it bent and leaned as if it were alive, the December sunlight glinting seductively off its leaves.
“I see that,” Nadine said. “I— please forget what I said. It was foolish. I just wanted to bring you something that might help.”
“I certainly will forget what you said Miss Nox,” she said, approaching Nadine menacingly. “And you should too.” She looked at Nadine carefully, and Nadine shrunk under Charlotte’s stare. “Perhaps I should have known better than to involve a Nox in this effort.” Nadine’s mouth fell open.
“You’re dismissed,” Charlotte continued. “Don’t bother to return to me unless it’s with a hypothesis that Dr. Diop has already approved.”
Nadine nodded somberly. “I understand,” she said, but only out of custom. She could never reveal this to the Regent but in her heart, her conviction that she was right had already taken root, and there was no way to suppress it now. She would pursue her theory, regardless of what Charlotte thought or said. Nadine watched as Charlotte turned in disgust and then transported herself away, leaving Nadine alone on the sprawling grounds of her mansion.
Nadine stood there for a moment, wondering how to proceed. She wasn’t ready yet to give up on the Regent; she wanted to find a new method of approaching her, to think of a way to help Charlotte understand. Maybe a better move would be to present the idea again in the company of Charlotte’s most trusted advisors, after Nadine had shared her theory with Dr. Diop. Though Nadine wasn’t sure she could convince Dr. Diop she was correct, she did know Dr. Diop would at least entertain the idea—and that Charlotte would do the same if Dr. Diop told her to. It was still a risky plan, but it was the only one Nadine had at the moment, and she resolved to request a meeting with the Regent, Dr. Diop, and a choice few others Charlotte respected and could deliberate with. Despite Charlotte’s warning, Nadine closed her eyes and focused, transporting to Charlotte’s study before she could lose her nerve. She landed just in front of the windows and turned to face the room. It was empty— Nadine was alone with the dark panels of the office and the gilded paintings that lined the wall. She stepped forward hesitantly.
“Regent?” Nadine called. She was careful not to speak loudly enough that Isla, sitting just outside the study door, would hear. There was no response. Nadine walked across the room with an unfamiliar freedom. Her movements were typically so measured and restrained in Charlotte’s study, where she was always in the Regent’s presence. She pushed open the door to the Hollow, finding it empty too. Nadine closed the door and turned back to the study, prepared to transport home. But as she did, her eye caught something on the floor next to Charlotte’s desk.
The desk’s massive surface was crowded with papers, all reports from different agencies in the Witch Sphere. Bookmarked volumes from the Regent’s private library were flipped open, their pages marked with notes. On one corner, two charmed dictation pens signed edict after edict with Charlotte’s looping signature. A third had fallen, its enchantment apparently too weak to keep it suspended in the air, and landed on a piece of paper. Looking around in disappointment, Nadine prepared to transport home. She gathered herself, about to close her eyes, but stopped as something beneath the pen captured her attention. It was the dashing red line of some sort of graph, mimicking the movement of whatever it measured. At first glance, it didn’t seem like a report— Nadine had never seen one so slim— but as she neared, the letters became clear. A few words were written in Camille’s brutish scrawl at the top of the sheet: INVESTIGATION NYSV227 ADDENDUM - EARTHQUAKE 09.01.
Nadine rushed forward, unable to contain herself. The back of her neck prickled with sweat as she brought the sheet to her eyes, reading hurriedly.
On the evening of September first, the seismometer in the Shrouded Vow Headquarters registered an earthquake at the magnitude of 1.9. Despite the negligible force, the range of the earthquake is of note. The epicenter was recorded at the coordinate 35, 56, near that of recent disruptions, and the waves radiated to all bounds of the Sphere. An earthquake of this reach is unprecedented.
“What…” Nadine whispered to herself in disbelief. She checked the bottom left corner of the page for the filing date— Camille had reported the incident in September. Nadine racked her brain, trying to recall if she’d heard this information before, but no, Charlotte hadn’t presented the information at any Council meetings regarding the disruptions— or at any meetings at all. Nadine knew because she had never missed a meeting, never been late to one, had never even let her mind wander the way she had when a professor’s lecture was identical to the reading. Charlotte had withheld her findings from the Council, for reasons Nadine could not decide.
Such an unusual occurrence should’ve been reported to the Council immediately. Either Charlotte didn’t want the earthquake’s significance getting out, or its meaning evaded her, and she felt the need to hide her ignorance from her advisors. Neither was a good enough excuse to Nadine. Her chest fluttered with angry heartbeats. She had spent countless hours ruminating on her theory about the Mothers, endlessly second-guessing herself—and the indisputable proof that she was right had been available all along, obscured by another of Charlotte’s murky decisions. Nadine’s fury drained away as the gravity of what she’d uncovered settled in. The Mothers had returned.
The timing of the earthquake was obvious, but more elucidating to Nadine was the parallel the earthquake drew to the myth that she, like every witch, knew by heart: It was then their conception howled, shaking violently, and before them hatched a new world.
Nadine heard a rustling outside the door of Charlotte’s study, and, remembering where she was, snapped to attention. She let the report fall to the floor where she had found it, and swiftly transported home.