It was a feeling she hadn’t felt in so long that she was uncertain how she knew its gentle humming, but it was there, nonetheless.
So many years of pain, of war, of death, guilt, and burden. So many years of responsibility and yet it was those most intimate companions that were lost to her in this moment – faded into the very recesses of her mind as if they had never been.
It was oddly disconcerting.
Somewhere close by, a gentle chuckle sounded.
It was a sound she had not heard in so long that the very memory of its quality had been lost to her years ago.
Yet she knew it with a clarity that she had seldom held in years.
“Only you could be greeted with such warmth and find it strange.”
Sarah Alder felt tears prickle at the back of her eyelids and blinked her eyes open slowly.
As her eyes swept across the lush, rolling landscape before her, a soft gasp caught in her throat.
Not as she had last seen it, filled with death and fire and devastation that refused to disappear from her mind like the happy memories she held.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Sarah felt the tears spill from her eyes unbidden, joy pushing into every pore of her being as she turned slowly. Her eyes roamed, greedily drank in the sight of the brunette whose grin had never changed.
Vibrant eyes sparkled as the woman’s smile only grew.
The breath pushed from Sarah’s lungs in one long rasp and before she knew what that she was moving, her arms enfolded the woman before her.
Her sister’s laughter rumbled against her chest as she clutched tightly to her. A sound stolen from her by time, but one that she would know anywhere.
How Sarah had always loved its sound.
Anna wrapped her long arms around her gently and pulled. Sarah’s braided hair found its place in the crook of her neck where it had always fallen as children. She breathed in deeply, a shaky smile pushing forward onto her lips.
“Why are you crying?”
Her sister’s voice was joyful and teasing, but Sarah could not care.
She pulled back slowly and openly stared. She was a glass of water in a desert, a fixer blinked into focus as she lay on the battlefield. She was salvation itself.
Sarah shook her head as Anna ran a hand down her braid and smiled wider.
“I’ve missed you.”
Anna tilted her head to the side and raised her hand to swipe gently at the tears still flowing down Sarah’s cheeks.
“I’ve missed you, too, Dear One, but a reunion is meant to be happy.”
The laugh bubbled forth from her before she could stop it.
“This is happiness.”
She engulfed her sister’s tall frame once more and was blessed with the melody of her lilting laugh again. A warmth spread throughout her chest at its sound. When she felt Anna’s quick kiss pressed to her hair, she shook her head and pulled back.
“How is this possible?”
Anna smiled gently as her eyes roamed across Sarah’s face. When she cupped her cheek tenderly, Sarah leaned heavily into it, wet eyes shining back at her.
“You, Sarah Alder. You.”
They had spent hours it seemed merely talking. Sarah couldn’t remember a time she had been so content to merely sit still and talk.
Anna had laughed when she had said as much.
“And why is that funny?”
Anna’s dark hair swayed over her shoulder as she shook her head, happiness in her eyes as she looked at her once more and leaned back against the tree she was lounging beneath.
“You were never content to merely sit still, Sarah.”
Sarah’s mouth dropped open then. “That’s not true.”
Another blessed laugh.
“Oh, it most certainly is. Don’t you remember Yule when Mama asked us to wait for the pudding for Margorie Guthrie?”
Sarah waved her hand dismissively as Anna pointed one long finger over at her and leaned forward with the force of her own laughter.
“And you refused to let it rest!”
“There were things to be done! We had to gather the cones and light the candles before night.”
“It collapsed on the way there.”
Sarah couldn’t hold the chuckle in at the ease at which she suddenly remembered the occurrence.
“It tasted fine, I’m sure.”
“Mama was not as certain when she heard of it from old lady Guthrie.”
Sarah glanced over at her then, a gentle smile on her face. “And you took the blame if I remember correctly.”
Anna merely tilted her head in a nod.
“All chores for a week, but it was worth it.”
Sarah felt the smile fade from her face at the words. Her sister had shouldered the entirety of the chores on the farm for seven days, shooing her away when Sarah had refused to allow the arrangement and began doing her own chores behind her sister’s back. She turned back to the picturesque land around them and leaned back on her elbow in the grass.
“Because I could be there for you.”
She could hear the change in tone and knew the look on her sister’s face before she even turned. A familiar feeling crawled up her throat and she cleared it uncomfortably.
Anna merely watched her.
Sarah’s vision blurred as tears suddenly filled her eyes.
“I’m so sorry.”
With a gentle sigh, Anna leaned back and mirrored her own position.
Sarah turned her watery gaze to the blade of grass she held in her fingers. Its weight was right, its colorization perfect, but it wasn’t real. The guilt in her throat, the constriction around her heart – that was real.
“For not saving you.”
She heard Anna shift and could see her sit up from the corner of her eye. Sarah knew what would happen before it did, but she did not want to hear it. She tossed the blade of grass down and pushed to her feet in one fluid motion. With two strides, she was away from Anna and moving.
Unable to sit still.
“Dear One, what do you think you were going to do?”
Sarah felt the remnant of anger like a faded memory in her heart. She swiped at her wet cheek and turned to stride back the way she had come, eyes locked on the ground.
“I don’t know but I could have done something.”
Anna merely stared at her.
But Sarah refused to stop. She couldn’t, not given the chance now to say what she had dreamt of for so long. Words that had haunted her for centuries rushed forward and demanded to be released. She couldn’t give voice to all of them, and they shoved together, jumbled, and overpowering.
Sarah’s eyes darted back and forth across the grass. Her chest tightened as she turned again, eyes raking over her sister’s easily lounging form. Behind her, the skies darkened.
“I could have charged them.”
Anna glanced over Sarah’s shoulder towards the clouds that gathered.
“You were a child. They would have killed you.”
Sarah spun again and her gaze swept across the landscape. It suddenly felt out of place – a vision she no longer deserved to see.
“I could have fought.”
She spun back; one hand wildly pointed without direction.
“I’ve spent my entire existence fighting! It’s what I know.”
Anna blinked slowly.
Sarah shook her head hard and stepped forward, hands upturned towards her older sister. If she could make her understand, make her know what she carried then she may be able to forgive herself of her greatest failure.
She turned again, two short steps and then back once more.
“Anna…they took your life.”
Anna moved, a heavy sigh leaving her as she stood to her full height, eye to eye with her younger sister. Sarah searched her suddenly serious face.
Sarah went still.
It was Anna’s turn to gaze into the distance. She tugged the fur around her shoulder and stepped forward to stand side by side with Sarah and gazed into the gathering clouds once more.
“You must calm your storm, Sarah.”
Sarah’s wild eyes found her face. Something unclenched in her chest at the words, and she turned her eyes to follow Anna’s stare to see the darkness overhead. For a moment the words would not register as true. How could this be her storm?
Anna’s voice once again pierced her thoughts.
“You couldn’t possibly not know how you are connected to this place, Sister.”
Sarah felt the truth twist in her gut. She took a shuddering breath and willed herself with the practice of centuries to calm. As soon as she did, the dark clouds overhead began to recede.
Anna smiled over at her as Sarah felt her mouth drop open. She had theorized over the centuries, of course. She had researched and wondered.
“I am… responsible?”
“For this witch’s place?”
There was a mirth to Anna’s tone, and Sarah swiveled to see her smiling once more. She nodded and took a step forward, eyes sweeping the lightening landscape again.
“When you returned that horrible day.”
Sarah knew what day she meant. Anna must have known that she did, for her explanation ceased.
“It was then. It has continued ever since. A refuge for every witch lost.”
When she had first seen the Mycelium peeking from the ground at Fort Salem, she had ordered the construction of the Necro lab to protect it. To know.
Her gut instinct had been confirmed now it seemed.
She had never voiced the thought aloud, not even to Izadora, too afraid to know if she was correct and perhaps responsible for a greater crime than she ever imagined.
She had created a trap for those she had sought to protect because of her uncontrollable grief.
“Because of your love,” Anna corrected.
Sarah turned to find her flashing eyes upon her.
“Why do I get the distinct feeling that you’re reading my mind?”
Her sister rolled her eyes gently. “Even if we weren’t connected through this space, Sister, you’ve never been difficult to read for one who knows you.”
Anna suddenly turned on the spot, leaned against the tree beside her and leveled a silent stare at Sarah.
“You created this place, yes. And it is true that it was out of your grief, but it was your love that tended to it.”
Sarah shook her head. Her sister had never lied to her and yet the words felt hollow to her ears. She had been called cold and distant, incapable of love, so many times over her long life.
“You’re the most loving individual I’ve ever known. You’ve been alive for 344 years, Dear One, but you haven’t lived. You’ve been fighting all this time.”
When her sister turned her own blue eyes towards her, Sarah swallowed hard.
“For me. For our parents. For them.”
Anna waved her hand gently towards the horizon. A gentle breeze caught the corner of her fur and pushed it into a sway. Sarah’s eyes caught and held it for a moment, thoughts rampant with the knowledge she had just been given. When she finally turned to follow Anna’s guiding motion, she gasped.
In the surrounding horizon shimmered dozens and dozens of women. For a moment Sarah searched their faces, uncertain of who exactly they were but familiarity crept from their air. When her gaze landed upon a grinning young woman with a scar over her left eye, Sarah took an uncontrollable step forward.
The young woman smiled and nodded, and Sarah’s eye swept suddenly over face after smiling face of the young women she had known so intimately. Those who had given their very essence to ensure her own survival.
She had felt each of their losses so greatly, carried the weight of each until her own dying breath.
And here they were beautiful, young, and whole.
Anna stepped up beside her.
“No one could do what you did without the greatest reservoir of love, Dear One.”
Sarah could not tear her eyes away from the smiling, youthful faces of all the Biddies she had served with.
“Is this real? I’m dead, Anna.”
“Not quite. In your haste to be given to the Mother…”
The words pulled Sarah’s gaze away finally. She turned to Anna even as her sister continued to smile at the young women who surrounded them.
“To accept my rest.”
Her sister’s lip twitched up before she turned a mirth filled look towards her once more. “Never could sit still.”
With an overly dramatic sigh, Anna raised an eyebrow and continued.
“In your haste to accept your rest, you gave yourself to the Mother willingly.”
She caught Sarah’s gaze once more, the mirth remained.
Sarah thought she knew what was coming. She could feel it in her chest, in the emotions that ravaged against walls she had built so high to contain them over the years.
“We welcomed you here with all the love and warmth you deserve, my sister. My brave, fierce darling one, because it is how you ensured we were all welcomed.”
Sarah felt her heart clench as she turned to the Biddies once more. A tall, short haired woman stepped forth. The last one to hold her gaze before Sarah herself had fallen. Sarah smiled at the wink thrown her way.
“But I’m afraid you have one more decision, Dear One.”
Anna stepped forward slowly and swayed, bumping her shoulder gently against Sarah’s own. The action was so familiar, so reminiscent of a time long ago that Sarah ached. She turned to catch Anna’s eyes again, knowing the action had always preceded a matter of importance.
“No one deserves rest more than you, but Sarah, no one deserves to live - to love - to know happiness more than you.”
Sarah’s eyes darted back and forth across her sister’s stark lines.
“I can go back?”
Anna merely nodded. “Your body is healing because you could not sit still. You can choose to go back, or you may choose to stay.”
She shrugged gently beneath the fur and Sarah dropped her eyes to the ground. Emotions flooded her and she wiped at her face in disbelief of the words her sister had just spoken. She must have seen the war waging inside of her because Anna stepped forward and laid a hand gently on her arm.
“If I stay?”
“Then you’d know nothing but peace and love.”
Sarah’s eyes searched the ground in thoughts once again. “But the Camarilla…”
“Will rage against witches in a great war.”
Sarah’s eyes lurched up at the thought.
“And if I return?”
Anna searched her face, squeezed her fingers gently against her arm and nodded.
“You know what awaits you there: war with an ancient enemy whose power is great, but it does not surpass our own.”
A smile she had always associated with mischief pulled its way onto Anna’s lips. Her sister’s stare bore into her.
“From the earth, a witch returned to unleash the power of the sky. The union between all of those you have guided here, that you have protected, and a renewed and healed Sarah Alder? It would be immense.”
The call of decision, so often heavily placed upon her shoulders in life, laid at her feet once more. She knew what lay back the way she had came. She had spent 327 years knowing it.
She was tired of war, tired of pain. Tired of death.
She wanted rest.
Anna reached out to stroke her braid, fingers lingering on the tip as she tugged the strands between her fingers gently. When she stepped closer, her voice dropped to a murmur. Sarah stared at her downturned face and willed her eyes to raise.
“I know. There will be pain, my sister. There will be heartache, for that is what it means to be human.”
When blue met blue, Anna’s eyes shown with a lightness that Sarah hadn’t felt in ages.
“But there will be joy more immense than you can imagine. There will be love and happiness. There will be life, Sarah. I promise you.”
Peace or life.
She could feel her eyes well once more with unshed tears and found Anna’s own reflected the same.
When her sister pulled her into her arms, Sarah squeezed her eyes closed and pressed her cheek softly against the warmth of the one pressed against hers.
“The choice is yours, Sister.”
The words pressed softly against the top of her ear moments before a gentle kiss laid there. Sarah squeezed her eyes with the feel of it and turned to place an answering kiss against the warmth of her sister’s cheek. As the decision settled its peace within her chest, Anna smiled and tenderly cupped her cheek once more.
She drank in the sight of smiling blue eyes and nodded.
“We shall be with you.”
She had never been one to sit still after all.
The light and pain.
Pounded by a tidal wave of sensation, Sarah Alder slammed forward, fingers splayed out against the cold stones of the Necro lab floor. She could feel the power course through her body, warm and throbbing with life.
For a moment it was too much. A guttural sound roared from her throat as she stared at the stone. Her skin, naked of the clothing she had gone into the Mother with, pebbled from the cool air. It felt good against the racing power in her system. With a trembling breath, her voice stilled, and she willed her beating heart to slow. Footsteps pounded towards her from the other room, and she caught sudden movement from the corner of her eye as Izadora, clad in her work out sweats, slid through the doorway, arms raised for a strike.
Sarah turned her head slowly.
Izadora’s eyes were wide, her mouth dropped open in shock as she slowly lowered her strike pose.
Sarah merely stared at her from the floor.
With a step back, Izadora looked to the Mother and then back to Sarah’s sudden naked appearance.
One hand pressed against her ear.
“Petra, Anacostia …”
Sarah watched her swallow hard, eyes raking over her in shock. Sarah gulped another lungful of air in and turned her eyes towards the stone floor once again.
“You’ve got to…”
Sarah could not hear the response, only Izadora’s side of the conversation, but she imagined the women would be on high alert and already on their way if Izadora’s entrance had been what it was. She may as well try to lessen the oncoming shock in some small way.
“Might I trouble you for a covering, Izadora?”
Sarah looked up at her once more as Izadora took a steadying breath and stepped further into the room. When the words seemed to register, Izadora blinked the look of curious wonder from her eyes, unzipped her hooded sweatshirt and shrugged it free.
“Get here. Bring Verger.”
She bent to Sarah’s level and draped the sweatshirt over her immediately, her hand pressed tenderly against her back.