act of war

I get the sense that none of the Hedgewood witches were surprised when we arrived on their doorstep again.

I got that sense because we didn’t have to knock. A witch I didn’t know opened the door as we were parking. She didn’t meet my eyes, she just stood aside and all three of us entered the round room.

A witch was waiting across the pool from us. She raised one arm to gesture us towards the medical wing.

In the medical wing, a few windows were open to let in some evening air, a couple white linen curtains blowing into the hall silently. A witch was standing some two thirds of the way down the hall, and she pointed into a room as we approached, assuring that we wouldn’t go further than we were welcome. As we entered the room, the witch closed the door quietly behind us.

It all felt eerie and dream-like until Sylvia came bustling into the room. She was wearing her old-fashioned white nurses apron over a light, calico prairie dress that she’d knotted at her knee so I could see her vaguely Victorian boots. But apart from looking either displaced in time, or like she had wandered out of a Lana del Ray music video, she was smiling, and clapping water off her hands.

“You’re back,” she observed, which might have meant we’re back at Hedgewood, or she might have been talking to Julian, in which case, she meant you’re back from the dead.

None of us answered, so Sylvia sighed. “Julian, we would of course like to do a full examination of you, though I should warn you — while our first goal will certainly be to make certain of your health, we’ve never seen a case such as yours and won’t be entirely certain what we’re looking for.”

Julian bowed his head once. “I have no issue with that.”

“Good,” Sylvia said. “This is a kind of healing none have been able to achieve. You’ve given us all a great deal to think about.”

This last was directed at me and I swallowed nervously while the quiet stretched out.

Sylvia just steepled her fingers and looked at me over them. “Perhaps you’d like to speak with me privately?” she suggested, and I felt a rush of terror at being left alone, but in the quiet that followed the suggestion I realized there was no way in hell I was going to start talking about the gory details of the last few days with Hawthornes in the room, so when Neal ducked his eyes to check in with me I nodded that they could go, and they did so.

And then it was just me and Sylvia and my pool of blood hahahahaha.

Sylvia got to her feet and began bustling around the room.

“Can you tell me what exactly is wrong?” she asked, spreading a fresh white sheet on the padded table at the back of the room.

I didn’t want to say anything.

“I assume that whatever you’re here for has to do with Julian’s resurrection.” She said it so plainly: Julian’s resurrection. “My first goal is to make sure you’re healthy, do you understand?”

I nodded mutely.

“What do you need help with?”

So I finally cleared my throat, swallowed against some rising bile, and told her in as few words as possible what I needed help with.

If she was surprised or concerned, she made no outward sign of it.

Instead, she explained that she was going to leave the room and that I should get undressed. She left me a floor-length cotton robe — a perk of witch hospitals, they don’t make you wear hospital gowns! — and a bin in which to put my clothes. Everything from the waist down was blood stained, and it’s not like I don’t know that they’re immune to a little bit of blood, it’s just like — the ever present humiliation of having a physical form.

When Sylvia knocked, I sat on the edge of the exam table and called that she could come in.

She explained everything she was going to do, and then when I was sitting rigidly, she said, “I get the sense you’re very uncomfortable with this, is that true?”

Like lol what tipped her off?

“It’s perfectly normal to feel an uncomfortable disconnect from your own biological systems,” Sylvia said. “I’m only here to make sure your body is healthy. If you’d like to escape this situation briefly while I do my assessment, I can assist with that.” And when I hesitated she added, “it’s perfectly safe and has no side affects whatsoever.”

So I nodded and she gestured upwards and said, “Just look up.”

There was a mural on the ceiling — how had I never noticed that before? A meadow with a deer grazing in it. I could almost see the robins picking in the underbrush, the rabbits, the worms, the slow push of the flowers towards the sun —

Sylvia was singing, softly, almost to herself, and I watched that meadow, trying to understand how it seemed to be moving until suddenly Sylvia said, “Your hormones are very unusual.”

She was standing on the other side of the room, writing in a notebook. I hadn’t even noticed that she was finished.

“What?” I said, trying to blink the meadow away. When I looked back up at the ceiling there was nothing there, just a play of light on white plaster.

“You had a hormonal birth control, but there’s no evidence of it having had any affect whatsoever.”

Which like — yeah. DUH it’s not working, or I wouldn’t be here, would I.

Sylvia went on, “You’re completely healthy. Would you like to know the details?”

And I said, “No,” because I honestly I would prefer the meat suit continue to go about it’s meaty business since it’s going to anyway, and as we’ve already thoroughly observed, I have very little control over anything this bitch does.

BAH.

So Sylvia explained that I’m fine, and apart from my hormones being strange, everything will go back to normal within the next couple of weeks. She also took out my birth control, since it wasn’t working anyways.

She was explaining other birth control methods when it hit me:

“— wait, everything’s okay?”

“Yes, besides some unexpected anomalies with your hormones — which I can’t say I’m that surprised about, considering — you’re perfectly healthy.”

I stared at her.

It’s not like I thought I was dying or anything. I just feel physically so profoundly wrong that it makes absolutely no sense that she’d say I’m healthy hahahahaha.

Sylvia must have seen some of that drama playing out on my face, because she said, gently, “are you mourning the loss of this fetus?”

I literally burst out laughing. “NO.” Because — and I want to be very clear about this — I’m NOT.

And listen, I really do know that this is a sensitive topic for some people — like, if you lost a fetus that you wanted, I’m genuinely so sorry, I can’t imagine grieving a future baby on top of the literal nightmare this whole thing is putting me through physically.

But that is NOT my experience. The one thing that’s been very clear to me from the jump is that if I don’t have the option to go back in time and never bang a dude again, than the only remaining option is to REMOVE this PARASITE as FAST as POSSIBLE.

Judging by Sylvia’s faint smile, all this must be all over my face.

She said, “would it help you to know that your physical experiences right now are perfectly normal, morally neutral, and nothing to be ashamed of?”

I didn’t know how to answer that — because like I already technically know that, but also I did kinda need to hear it said out loud.

Sylvia sighed and settled forward, leaning her elbows on the desk. “We have dedicated generations to the care and keeping of bodies,” she began. “Hedgewood witches have been healing on this continent since the early 1700s, and our mother coven has been deeply entrenched in the intricacies of human bodies, life and death for far longer than that.” She paused and when I glanced up at her she was watching me intently. She added, gently, “Life and death and bodies are our business — we felt the event from here.”

The Event lol.

“Do you know… how it happened?” I asked and Sylvia took a heavy breath.

“No,” she admitted. “And even once we’ve fully examined Mr. Hawthorne, I’m not sure how much we can understand. True resurrection is — until lately — impossible and unheard of on this plane.”

Yeah, so I keep hearing. And yet, here I am, and I brought Julian with me.

“Do you understand why resurrection is impossible?” Sylvia asked, and look, Celeste has explained it to me, but I said no anyways because it’s too much to remember okay, just explain it to me again.

“A living human requires three components: a physical body, a consciousness, and then a third part, the alive part. At the height of Hedgewood power — and this is hundreds of years ago, mind you, no witch has had this level of power since the last pariapsis — but at the height of our power, Hedgewood witches were able to put together perfect bodies, with perfect circulatory systems, working reflexes and brains and all the signifiers of life. But they never woke up. They were never alive. Life must come from somewhere.”

She watched me intently. I felt nauseous.

“I know this must be harrowing for you,” Sylvia said, testing the waters. “But I need to make it clear to you Shiloh — this ability you have… your life is going to change.”

And she said a whole bunch of other stuff about how I’m gonna have to be safe, and if people find out about my ability we’re in trouble and blah blah blah but holy shit.

I’m writing this from the same room in the green house that we stayed in when we came for the summit. I thought they’d have me in a nice white hospital room, but Sylvia told me at this point I’m just riding out the storm, and they’d like to keep me as long as I’d like to stay just to keep an eye on things. Which I thought wouldn’t be long.

I thought wrong. Literally just now as I was writing this Neal got a phone call.

It took 3 seconds to see that something had gone horribly wrong.

“What happened?” I said. The panic came so fast. “What’s wrong?”

Neal waved a hand to hush me. I gleaned he was talking to Beverly pretty quickly, and that something had gone horribly wrong.

“Everyone’s okay,” Neal assured me as he rushed from the room, seeing my expression. “Everyone got out. But Billy Ace’s people came for the Crossroads.”

I didn’t understand. I still don’t really understand, but apparently 20 people with guns showed up at the Crossroads. Their entire goal was apparently just to take the place, and they succeeded. No one was injured, but the Crossroads is no longer a haven to us — like, we can’t even get in the front door.

Neal explained this to Sylvia in a rush with Beverly still on the phone, and Sylvia’s gone to discuss things with her coven now, but I think we’re going to try and bring everyone here.

According to Beverly it’s okay, we don’t need the Crossroads. But it’s not okay, obviously. They literally just showed up and took Beverly’s home.

I mean it’s more than just Bev and her mom’s home, I guess. It’s also a hub for an entire group of hunters, especially the like… old guard, you know? Obviously they took the Crossroads as some kind of political message.

“They’re baiting us,” Beverly said on the phone. “But we don’t need the Crossroads to keep doing our job, so we’re going to keep doing it.”

But it feels worse than that. It feels like they’re coming for us, and doing nothing feels like we’re letting them.There’s a fire turned on in Neal, and Julian is doing nothing to sooth him.

Everyone has decided to leave the police out of it. They literally invaded our space and forced us to leave? Like? Is that???? War????? Seems like a serious act of aggression to me????

Okay, Sylvia just came and told us that the Hedgewood witches agreed to let everyone to come here. Cooper’s been in touch, and he’s coming. Celeste is on her way.

They don’t know Julian’s back. Is this their plan? Is their plan to just force us out of our spaces, force us to retaliate? I feel like an us and them is being created under our feet. I want to sleep for ten thousand years and these assholes won’t chill out for five minutes.

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