Energy is energy, beneath it all.
Some forms of energy, people have found, are like a sponge—whatever touches it, whatever passes through it, whatever it's used to clean will leave some sign of itself on the energy in question. Like a fingerprint, in some cases, and sometimes like a scar, healing neatly but leaving a mark of the damage.
Manipulating this energy, these same people have found, is easier done than said.
Also, much more easily done than explained, to their great irritation.
Sometimes, it's accidental— the sudden death that leaves somebody digging in their heels and staying, refusing to move into the light of whatever afterlife they happen to believe in. Sometimes, it's natural— the way the world falls into a deep sleep, the earth turning white and chilled and waking up so bright and brilliant, it's nearly blinding.
And sometimes, very rarely, it's on purpose.
In worlds without magic, we call it science.
In worlds without science, we call it magic.
In worlds that happen to have slightly skewed forms of both… well, there, we have trouble.
In those worlds, these nameless people have found, there is a very thin line between belief and existence.
"We should ask for directions."
"I don't need any stinking directions."
Maggie sighed, rolling her eyes up to the sky in a show of childish annoyance as Frankie tromped along the forest path, looking worse for the wear than Maggie. In the days since leaving their aunt's castle, they had not been handling it all that well—sore feet, sweaty skin, dirty dresses, despite the cool breezes that continued to come up as Dad kept trying to help however he could.
It was by accident that she caught the dark shadow far above.
Or, more precisely, three shadows.
"It's just a hawk!" Frankie hissed, but Maggie shook her head, dragging them quickly off the path and forcing them both down to hunker beneath the husk of a rotten log as the shadows got larger, growing as they got closer. She pulled them down even more as leaves far above began to shake, shifting and moving as the shapes sank down to the forest floor. "You stink," Frankie muttered, and Maggie clamed a hand hurriedly across her sister's mouth.
She could only see the ground from the angle, and regretted not trying a different hiding place, but she saw, with a startled blink, two feet step into her vision, encased in black buckle shoes, silver clasps catching the dim sunlight neatly. And then the bottom of a skirt or dress followed by the bristles of a broom before stillness came again, broken only the tapping of the toe of one black shoes.
Two more pairs of black shoes, both heeled, and two more black skirts or dresses appeared seconds later.
Silence, stillness, only the tapping of that bodiless foot breaking the perfection.
"If this is a wild goose chase, you two, it's not funny—"
"It's not! We left them on this path—"
Greenlee never got to finish.
Shoving Maggie away, Frankie shot out from underneath the log, shoving past Kendall and another woman—the woman who had spoken first, if Maggie would guess—and slamming into Leo's petite wife with all the force of a minotaur in mating season, crashing both tiny women back into a heavy blanket of brown leaves. "You psychotic little psycho!" Frankie shrieked, hands fastened tightly around her cousin-by-marriage's neck, shaking her like a rag doll. "You left us here!"
"Frankie!" Staggering to her own feet, Maggie nearly fell flat on her face, shaking her head furiously, picking up on the movement some feet away—
Everything happened at once, it seemed.
Kendall, trying to yank the enraged twin off Greenlee, suddenly let out a squawk as she got knocked back, slamming onto her rear end so hard she nearly blacked out… Greenlee, already seeing stars, saw something most people wouldn't have, the warning static of power about to ignite… Maggie saw the entire forest suddenly seem to both tighten, as if someone was stretching and pulling it at the same time, only to then snap like a rubber band… and Frankie, as she was lifted up and then back down to land with unnecessary force in a nest of pine cones, saw nothing but a blur.
A minute later, Frankie gave a tiny groan, the kind of groan made by one who wasn't unconscious but desperately wanted to be.
"Do I look like I'm laughing?"
Maggie didn't think the woman sounded like she was laughing, but then, she couldn't quite see at the moment. Hanging onto the forest floor for dear life, Maggie blinked, slowly at first and then more quickly, the blinding white slowly shifting in hazy outlines and shadowy shapes. By the time she managed to tilt her head back to stare at the woman, taking her in cautiously, she had her vision back.
Tall and naturally elegant, medium-length dark hair, large dark eyes, pale in a pretty way. The nameless woman was dressed all in black from pointed, wide-brimmed hat to frothy-looking black dress to silver-buckled black shining shoes. It was the black that took Maggie by surprise—Greenlee and Kendall both wore black for business, but this woman, she saw immediately, wore it because she liked it.
"What is it with witches and black?"
"It's slimming," the woman looming above her drawled, fingertips drumming neatly along the handle of her broom as she shrugged her shoulders lightly. She threw a glance over one shoulder, taking in Greenlee and Kendall whispering, pausing long enough to shoot frightened glances at the younger witch before going back to their whispering, rubbing their neck and rear respectively.
"So," the woman smirked, crouching to cock one eyebrow at Maggie, "are you going to go get your strangle-happy sister so when we can leave or am I going to leave you to be tracked down by Vanessa's little minion of a tracker?"
"I can only do so much, Lady Vanessa."
Lady Vanessa didn't look impressed but then, the tracker didn't expect her to. There were no lies between them, not after what the Lady in question had done to employ the chilly-eyed tracker before her, chewing slowly at the slices she took from her apple. She'd offered Vanessa a slice with a smirk only to get a sneer in response, chuckling to herself as she enjoyed the fruit.
Apples didn't frighten Hunter too much, never had.
"They're nitwits; they shouldn't be able to just vanish."
"You're the ones who let the witches escape, not me," the tracker snapped coolly, only to get another glare, harder than before, the elderly woman clutching the book to her chest with a quiet look of white-lipped fury. "Besides, I told you not to let that son of yours get away, but you didn't listen—"
"I didn't think Lavery would save him!" Vanessa hissed, voice almost inaudible with rage, trembling the faintest bit as she remembered the escape means of the monkey formally known as Ryan Lavery. She'd washed for hours, scrubbed at her skin, but still, she could feel the stink of his chosen means of defense.
Who would have though he would— with— and where had he gotten such good aim, anyway?
"Disgusting," she murmured in revulsion, wrinkling her nose in dislike, throwing another more vicious glare at Hunter when the tracker burst out in smothered laughter, nodding in agreement. "Every single one of the damn idiots escaped and where were you, anyway, while the monkey was making his escape with my son?" she hissed, only to get an equally frozen look in response. "Oh, yes, of course, visiting the dungeons."
"That's your fault, not mine, Lady Vanessa."
"Oh, shut up, and go track them down, dammit!"
Somewhere within a forest, the monkey walked, slowly but surely, stopping every few moments to look up, hoping against hope to spot a shadow in the sky, any sign of his wife or even Greenlee. He could even put up with Greenlee's annoying yapping right now, he had decided darkly, just as long as Greenlee would be able to get him back to Kendall.
The frog sitting carefully on his head shifted, reminding the monkey to keep moving, and he nodded, setting off again.
Kendall would save them, as long as she and Greenlee didn't have to work together.