Ten

The beauty of most old European cities was that they were far more complex than they looked. Postcard photographs, textbook entries, and even dissertations could never fully realize that, despite whatever extensive touring or reading, the city of Paris still held more secrets than it did light bulbs.

Serena had spent the last four hundred years underneath it in the immense, twisting network of underground caves and passages. In fact, there was a whole civilization there now, and it had aptly been coined the Underground. Paris was the center of vampire rule over the Supernatural world, and the Underground, the palace. Hundreds of vampires lived in the many natural and made chambers, as did her own Enchanted humans, but hundreds more passed through daily. The tunnels spanned out from under Paris, becoming scarcer the farther they went but managing to stretch as far as Russia. Completely unknown to the rest of the world. And thus, it was where she’d hid, slipping amongst the shadows of shadows, waiting and watching and listening. She’d become intimate with patience.

Still, mere decades after Serena had gone into the farthest reaches of the Underground and remained there, the small Greek community had definitely noticed her presence. How could they not, when humans came in large numbers and yet calmly and obediently were fed on and did manual work. She laughed at the reasons others had tried to come up with—witchcraft, hypnosis, sex, money, she’d even heard a theory that she held their first born children hostage. As if. But it had been far too great a benefit, so these satellite tunnels had accepted her as a worthy member and, a century later, kept her presence to themselves.

So when the long-ago banished Keeper of prophecies and magic of the Supernatural Underground was standing in one of the more polished chambers, the walls and floor rubbed down to be smooth, and suddenly collapsed to her knees, paler than usual and shaky and her piercing eyes wide and glazed, it was a shock. Two humans stood with her and lunged to her sides, holding her shoulders in effort to right her. But startled humans are talkative and clumsy, already mumbling about finding some kind of doctor or asking someone to bring her something. Serena hissed and snapped both necks instantly, flashing between the two before their slow eyes could comprehend her twirling midnight hair.

She stayed standing then, taking large gasps of breath for the first time in several hundred years because she really felt like she needed it. Raw power shot into her wrists like a bullet, shattering and spreading underneath every inch of skin, and she nearly screamed from the pain and the pleasure. It truly was both. But it wasn’t her power, and it was far away, she realized, it was nothing belonging to her or hers to wield. But it was old, as old as she, and it was dark and she heard an echoing laugh in her skull. And still she recognized it.

“It’s awake,” she murmured to herself, the energy disappearing and her vacant look of shock twisting into a sneer. She shrieked in rage, spinning and storming out of the chamber and through the halls to her personal cave. The soles of her feet barely brushed the uneven, worn floor.

Her cave was smaller than expected for her true power, but it was also private and difficult to get to if you didn’t know where it was—and very few knew where it was. She slipped through the crevice of an opening, and darted to an old chest, no larger than an infant. Its once dark and elegant wood was now pale and cracked and warped, but still firm, and she bent the rusted, pure gold latch carefully, not wanting to break the memory of its beauty. Inside was a piece of thin, papyrus paper, the ink so faded it was barely decipherable but Serena had read it so much that she had the words memorized anyway. There was also a necklace, a simple loop of glittering Aztec gold, with no charms or jewels, but instead multiple flat, narrow pieces attached together by a chain underneath them. The runes were ancient, but they were her language and she held the necklace up to her cheek and sighed softly.

“I’m so sorry I failed all those centuries ago, Mama,” her lips formed the words against one of the plates. “I knew to keep it quiet until it was time, until fate decided. I tried, Mama, I remained within the court among the Six and that idiot queen, and I watched it closely.

“Is it time now then, Mama? Is this fate?” she asked quietly, sounding and feeling so young, a feeling she hadn’t remembered. She put the necklace back and shut the box, fitting it into a shadowed corner and kissing the top.

Serena left the Greek caves for the first time in a century—nearly to the day, she laughed—that day. She hadn’t left since she’d arrived, too fearful of the vampire queen Clio who had ordered her banished, to be killed if seen returning. Now, she had a feeling she would be gone quite a while. There was no announcement for her leaving, this had always been ultimately her task alone.

But she needed to find the ring, and she needed to find it soon. This was a task she couldn’t trust anyone to know, she had to search Paris and the world herself. Channeling the anxiety bubbling in her stomach into energy to walk quickly, Serena strode through the cobbled streets of the city, aware that her heels clicked on her kingdom below.

*****************************************************

“So,” Zara’s sharp demand signaled to Cass and Marco–who had been sitting at the cafe, waiting for her, actually–that it was time to talk. Or, in Cass’ opinion, be interrogated. “Please do enlighten us on your fantastical ring.”

The blonde’s eyes were narrowed, the crystal blues a dark navy when shadowed by the tilt of her head, and her glossed lips pressed together. Her arms were crossed, shoulders back in a false casual position, but she made no effort to hide the distrust in her voice anyway. Cass resisted the urge to sigh and roll her eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said, barely separating her teeth. “I told you, all he said was that it’s important and was very adamant that I don’t lose it.” She sighed when neither expression held anything but confusion and doubt–and borderline aggressive distrust, on Zara’s part. “Guys, I don’t think even Lars knows much of it. I told him and he just looked shocked–he was speechless, and I’ve yet to see him not composed,” Cass finished eagerly, eyebrows raised.

Marco let out a heavy breath, shaking his head, his lips twisting up slightly. his expression was kind, if not a bit…pitying. “Look, you’re new to this whole world, Cass, I don’t blame you for not knowing,” his lips twitched farther up, smiling gently. Cass felt her shoulder loosen slightly in gratitude. “Have you had any experience with witches yet?” he asked thoughtfully.

Cass shook her head, wariness straightening her spine again. So far, vampires hadn’t been exactly what the movies portrayed, but that didn’t mean witches were a safe bet in reality. “Wouldn’t they, like, want my firstborn child, or make me do some crazy ritual?”

Zara snorted, smirking in amusement. “No. You do have to be careful, because witches are…well, considered more natural than vampires. So sometimes their magic isn’t as safe for us,” she explained. “And when a witch is labeled ‘powerful’, they’re…powerful,” she grimaced at the end.

“But they’re also probably you’re best bet to at least start to figure out whatever this is,” Marco added quickly. “It sucks, since you’re so young and new, you should go run around stupidly enjoying your new eternal life,” he smiled, voice warm. Cass wondered if he was still talking to her.

“But this thing seems to have a connection to you, and the Supernatural world believes very little in chance and quite a lot in fate,” Zara redirected him, glancing at her brother briefly before keeping her eyes on Cass.

“I don’t even know where to find a witch,” Cass said helplessly, tossing her hands up to her elbows. I don’t know anything about them–and I’m not sure how much Lars does, if he seemed so unaware of this.”

“I think there’s more to Lars than he lets you believe,” Zara said lowly, Marco overriding her in the middle of her sentence with, “We can help you there.” The twins faced each other, sapphire and crystal eyes narrowed, pale jaws tight. It was almost funny how their expressions matched, probably down to exactly how many teeth were pressed together. Marco raised his eyebrows, head tilting, and Zara glared for another second before rolling her eyes skyward and huffing.

“There are very few witches in Paris, since it’s really vampire central,” Marco smirked, “luckily, Zara is the queen of nosy.” Cass arched an eyebrow.

“There’s a family of very powerful witches, their bloodline dates back not just to the Genesis, but also directly from the Provenance,” Cass’s eyes widened, and Zara nodded in agreement. “Yeah, one of the oldest bloodlines in Supernatural history, so the youngest has a ton of power. She’s already pretty damn famous,” Zara smirked.

“Why? Just because she’s expected to be powerful?” Cass asked, trying to follow along with the new knowledge from the day before.

“Witches have a sort of…coming out, formally called the Display,” Marco cut in. “Usually around the age of sixteen to twenty, a witch’s body suddenly has this spasm, all of the power they will ever consciously wield—and mostly unconsciously, too—suddenly wakes up and rushes into them. So, they just sort of react and end up somehow demonstrating the raw power.

“They do this in a number of ways: glowing lights around their bodies, blowing trees down, breaking all the windows, whatever. But it always somehow includes one of the four elements–earth, wind, fire, water—and that element will be their specialty, and usually the only one they’ll ever be able to influence and draw from. The Display is usually about three quarters of their maximum capability, even once they’re fully trained.”

“Wait, so they just lose their power right when they get it?” Cass interrupted. Witches were the most natural, so why did being one seem to suck?

Marco chuckled. “No, no, lovely Cass, not at all. They still retain all of it, it’s just that whatever they do is a bit less than what they would be able to do as full trained witches using all of their power.”

“Okay…” Cass trailed, buying time to let it sink in. Zara didn’t award her much.

“Do you know about the San Francisco earthquake in 1906?” she said, barely letting Cass nod before continuing. “Marianna Diya is the youngest witch in this line, and she caused that at the age of ten.”

Cass wondered if the entire cafe had gotten quieter or if it was just her. She sat there, dumbly, while the twins watched her with patient expressions for her to process. “But…the Display…it’s not the full power, and it’s at, like, twenty…”

Marco nodded, grinning sheepishly. “Yeah. That’s why she’s already famous,” his voice a bit sing-songy. Cass just cleared her throat, shifting in her seat. So, very powerful, then.

“Not only was her Display so monumental, and at the youngest age in history—even relative to the times where humans didn’t live much past twenty—but she also used multiple elements. The earth, obviously, but then she was also manipulating the resulting fires and floods,” Zara finished.

“Wouldn’t I not even want to get near a girl that powerful?” Cass asked, voice a higher pitch in her breathlessness. And slight exasperation. This was going to get her killed. Hi, historically powerful witch-child, please don’t kill me, a new unnatural being, and instead please dissect this insanely weird but apparently also powerful piece of jewelry that killed two other supernatural beings. Kind, polite, and completely logical.

“If you’re scared of her story, how do you think she and her family reacted?” Zara asked dryly, as if explaining why licking the street wasn’t healthy—to an adult. “Witches are usually pretty peaceful with each other, choosing just to not associate instead of fight if they disagree. Unlike the other Supernaturals. But a child who broke half the witchy world records in one day? They were scared of her, and scared witches—like scared humans—aren’t exactly calm and open-minded,” she smirked jadedly.

“They moved away soon after,” Marco added, then frowned and looked to Zara. “And there hasn’t been much news on her since, right? Well, aside from anything that year.”

Zara nodded. “Now, they’re probably in some place with enough crime, noise, and superstition that no one—human authorities, or otherwise—looks too closely or even notices anything.” Zara considered aloud, shaking her hand slowly in thought. “And enough that outsiders don’t want to pay attention, either.

“So,” she drew out, grinning cheekily, “try Vegas.”

“Wait,” Cass said, and the other girl looked at her with her eyebrows raised, ready for another question that she probably already had the answer to. Oh well, Cass was learning. “That was 1906. Won’t she be dead, if not very, very old?”

“Well over a hundred, yep,” Zara grinned proudly, popping the ‘p’ between shiny pink lips.

“I had a thing with a witch once and she was quite interesting, lots of…unique ideas,” Marco snickered, but the pink tinge in his cheeks undermined the image he was probably aiming for. “Anyway, she did explain once that witches powerful enough…as I understood it all—she wasn’t that powerful or knowledgeable, and we didn’t really do a lot of talking—” he cut off as Zara elbowed him, rolling her eyes at her brother’s antics.

“Witches above a certain power level don’t exactly have a normal, limited aging span,” Zara summarized before Marco tried to continue.

“I’d say find a city like New Orleans or Singapore, where tons of witches and vampires are coexisting, but in this case, I’d try for the Diya girl first,” Marco reasoned, looking concerned for the girl. “If that thing was given to a vampire who I guess is relatively quiet, who then gave it to a newbie vampire, I don’t think you want much noise. And in those cities, because they’re so Supernatural, word travels like wildfire.”

“He gave it to me when I was still human,” Cass murmured distractedly, still thinking over the witch story and rolling the ring around her finger. She watched the black and amber morph and flash, neither solidifying into one shape and making the colors discernable, so she didn’t see Zara’s eyes widen in confusion and curiosity.

“Then yeah, I definitely wouldn’t want much noise,” she muttered, side-eyeing Marco.

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