The witches of the Three Songbirds Corner inn were a well known bunch. They were always ready with a spell or tincture for whatever happened to ail you, be it illness or ill fortune, and while witchcraft was technically illegal, none of the locals breathed a word about it.
Amelie specialized in warding charms. Everyone knew that if they were worried about an event, or thought there was bad energy around them, they could go to her. No two charms were exactly the same. Sometimes it would be a small glass jar filled with semi-precious stones, and sometimes it would be a sigil written hastily on a scrap of homemade paper. Moonlight was one of her favourite methods of charging the charms she handed out.
Lucia was a master at making ointments. Half the people in town didn’t even bother going to the doctor anymore for their complaints because Lucia could take one look at their symptoms and have something ready for them within the hour. “Take this three times a day, with your meals if you prefer,” they would tell their customers. Whatever problems they had would vanish within the week, usually, if not sooner.
Coren was very good with ghosts. No one quite knew why, but he had a way of speaking with them, and it was well known that he could simply walk up to a building and be able to tell you whether or not it was haunted. Some folks said he had one of his own following him around.
The three of them lived happily together, running their inn, caring for the townsfolk and sometimes even the people just passing through. It was a fairly quiet life, but it was a good one. Amelie and Lucia would go out to the woods in the afternoon to collect wild-growing herbs and mushrooms, and then Amelie would go again in the evening with Coren to trade with the fae and collect plants charged by moonlight.
It was during one of those evening outings that Amelie noticed that something felt different about the forest. It had an eerie chill to it that certainly wasn’t the wind. She hugged the iron nails in her coat pocket for comfort and looked to Coren. His face was stern, looking straight ahead as he watched around them for signs of danger.
“Do you feel it too, Coren?”
“Yes. Prepare tonight’s offerings. I’ll ask the fae if they know anything.”
Amelie nodded and did as she was asked, taking stock of what they had to give in a small burlap bag and setting out a small hand mirror and a slice of honey cake. She stepped back. Coren was better at dealing with the fae, Amelie herself knowing full well that she was easy fae-bait.
Usually they would find a small fairy or another of the lesser fae when they came to the circle of mushrooms. This time, it was something greater. A growing shadow rose up from the ground to tower over the both of them, wearing a bleached white mask and gloves, and a robe that seemed to absorb all the light around it. It was the most beautiful and the most terrifying thing Amelie had ever seen.
“You call us at a dangerous time, humans.” The figure spoke with a voice that never seemed to emanate from itself. It was layered, constantly shifting pitch. One moment it sounded like a venerable man, and the next it sounded like a young girl.
“We call you as we do every night,” Coren replied after a moment’s hesitation. “We wish to know why the forest feels uneasy.”
The figure turned its head, as if regarding the two humans before it, but its face did not change. “Surely ones such as yourselves should be able to divine such answers on your own. What have you to offer for wasting my time?”
Amelie stepped forward then, offering a small vial filled with a bright copper-coloured substance. “Red from the hair of a traveler.”
The being reached long, elegant fingers to pluck the vial from Amelie’s hand and regarded it. “A very rare colour. Very well, you have earned your answer. The land is changing, locking away its magic. Humans have declared a war on our ‘heathen’ kind, and so we shall fade into obscurity.”
“And what will become of us witches?” Amelie asked, stepping forward again. Coren flinched at her sudden demand, and she realized too late that she might have been rude.
The figure looked down at her with a disdainful gaze. “You do not have enough to give for such an answer, and you would do well to learn your place, human.”
Amelie shrank, biting back an apology.
“Your offering, however, is enough to afford you this as well. Leave while you still can. Loyalty is easily forgotten in the face of oppression.”
Coren and Amelie both bowed to the figure, neither being surprised that it was gone when they looked up again. They shared a glance, then turned and ran out of the forest as fast as their legs would carry them.
Lucia could tell something was wrong when they arrived back at the inn. They said nothing, and instead ran up to the attic to fetch their luggage while Amelie and Coren rushed to close the inn.
When morning came, everything changed.