|Written by Madeleine O’Rourke / Artwork by Simon
“We’ve captured him, sister.”
I glance at the man sitting on the stool next to mine at the bar. The bones that make up his necklace clack softly as
he takes another swig of his dark beer. He wipes his mouth and smears the bottom edge of the red stripe running
across the center of his face. He doesn’t look at me, but he doesn’t have to; his eyes gleam yellow in the light of
the lamps. Our branch of magic doesn’t have as strict a dress code as the others, but we know another druid when
we see one.
I turn back to my mug of cider. “The rogue?” I murmur.
He nods. A hierophant, straight-backed in his uniform of blue and white, walks behind us on his way out of the
pub. We are silent until the door swings shut behind him.
“There will be a moot to decide his fate in two nights,” my cohort continues. “During the new moon. Spread the
I make an affirmative noise, and we finish our drinks without acknowledging each other any further. He places three
copper coins on the bar and leaves before I do, the ends of his cloak rippling after him with the speed of his
departure. When the dregs of my cider have gone cold, I fasten my own cloak around my neck, pull the hood over
my cloud of curly brown hair, and head into the autumn evening. In the distance, the city’s footsteps rumble.
~ * ~
For as long as the city’s been walking, people have been finding ways to dress up their arguments and call it
civilized government. The heads of old hierophant families convene behind closed doors to maintain some tired
concept of elitism. Illusionists filibuster each other, using all their tricks and flourishes, until they’re blue in the face
from saying nothing at all for so long. Alchemists hold debates between their most respected researchers and tout
their principles of rationale, of cold logic.
They all end up shouting at each other in the end. At least we’re honest about it and skip the foreplay.
“So they’re having a moot over it, huh?” Olympia sighs and continues weaving together her little straw effigy of a
cow. Hair lightened and skin darkened from the sun, she looks like a stalk of ripe wheat that decided to leave the
field and take a seat at my kitchen table.
This far away from the city, the air smells of grass and pollen—the way it ought to. The steps of the city’s
mechanical legs are still audible, omnipresent cadence bearing us along, land and all. But out here, where nature
flourishes thanks to our efforts, they seem easier to ignore.
“Yep.” I continue gently stirring the jar full of marigold petals and olive oil. Once it’s sufficiently mixed, I cup the jar
in my palms and close my eyes. I think about the warm golden flowers, glowing with the light of the sun. I imagine
the petals soothing damaged skin, protecting it from further harm. Soon the jar begins to heat up beneath my
hands, and with a final push of will, I feel the glass tingle against my skin, the contents fizzing with potency.
Satisfied, I cap the jar and set it on the windowsill to catch the afternoon sun. It’ll make a good ointment once I
mix it with some beeswax, and then Paula Vaughn can use it to keep her little girl’s skin rashes at bay.
I lean against the counter and watch Olympia work for a moment or two. Her hands are dexterous and steady,
fingers pinching and tugging over the impressive swell of her belly. Her baby could come any day now. “Are you
going to go?” I ask.
She shrugs. “Probably not. You know they’re just going to end up killing him, anyway.”
My jaw locks into place for a moment. “They might not. You never know.”
She gives me a skeptical glance. “Come on, Theresa. You know the kind of people who win the moots. The ones
who shout longest and loudest and wear everyone else down.” She tucks a strand of straw under the cow’s belly.
“They’ll kill him.”
“Well, they definitely will if no one even tries to say differently.” I scoff. “We shouldn’t be killing our own. The
hierophants are the ones who keep the order, and they’ve been searching for him for months.” I turn and rinse my
hands off in the water basin, then wipe them clean on my apron. “I say we should hand him over instead of trying
to keep everything under wraps.”
“Whatever you say, wise one.” Olympia throws me a smirk as I lean back against the counter. She holds up her
straw cow, wiggles it. “I’m just trying to focus on having a healthy birth. These big questions are not my concern
My brow furrows. “You know you’re not supposed to do magic while you’re pregnant.”
She makes a tsk sound and turns the cow over in her palm. “This isn’t magic, it’s just something to meditate on.
No power channeled into it, promise.”
“There’d better not be. You don’t need to take that kind of risk when you have a review with the district hierophant
Olympia makes a noncommittal grunt and glances through the window to the bright prairie that surrounds my
cottage. “Speaking of which. Let’s get moving, I’m not as swift as I used to be with this added weight.” Her chair
squeaks as she pushes herself back, and then she and her massive stomach slowly rise while I hover next to her,
prepared to provide stability if I need to. She makes it up without incident, and the two of us start off toward the
As we walk, my prairie becomes marked by more and more houses, the dirt path transitioning to gravel, then
cobblestone. The spaces between homes become narrower and narrower, and soon we cannot see the prairie at all,
only more brick and plaster. The natural world still comes through in a few places—an occasional tree rising up from
a patch of exposed soil, flowers filling a window box—but by and large it has been blocked off with cold, dead stone.
Only people persist in abundance. They scurry across the street, flow in and out of shops, sidestep us as we make
our way down the sidewalk. Shut off from nature though they may be, these are still our people, the ones we must
heal and protect. Some hail us when they see our cloaks, some merely nod in recognition. A few approach us with
questions: my son has a terrible cough, what would you recommend? Is there anything I can do to reduce my
joint pain? Is this healing the way it should be?
By the time the octagonal tower of the hierophants comes into view, the sun is skimming the rooftops. We wave
goodbye to a middle-aged man who was having trouble with heartburn and continue on our way, Olympia letting
out a small sigh. “Thank you for coming with me, Theresa.”
“Of course,” I reply. “You’re my friend, why wouldn’t I?”
“You’re still youthful, you shouldn’t have to worry over things like this. You should be enjoying yourself, exploring.
Not using up your time playing escort to a widow.”
She is staring down at the cobblestones, but her hazel eyes are far away, the same way they looked the night
Olympia and I found her husband trapped under a fallen tree. He was no druid, to heal the trauma or encourage the
trunk to lift. He was only a woodcarver. And he’d lost so much blood by the time we found him that there was
nothing even we could do.
“Olympia.” I wrap my arm around her shoulders and give her a gentle hug. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right
now. All right?”
She looks back up with a sad smile. “Thanks. It’s just—it’s been difficult without Nicholas. I feel like I’ve just
become a burden.” She presses her fingers to her bottom eyelids, and I can see tears glimmering at the corners of
“You’re not a burden. I promise.” I glance up to make sure we’re still on track; the entrance to the tower is only
about twenty feet away.
“I just miss him so much,” she says, voice straining to stay even. “And I appreciate you being here, but it’s just—
it’s just not the same—”
Just as we reach the imposing oaken door of the hierophant headquarters, it swings open to reveal a tall, slim man
in a black business suit and cloak. His eyebrows are drawn down in irritation, but when he sees us, they smooth
somewhat. He bobs his head in a show of courtesy. When he looks back up, I recognize his sun-starved face from
Nicholas’s funeral—Orfeo, our district necromancer.
“Olympia. I never got to offer my condolences for your loss. I am sorry for what happened to Nicholas.”
At the sight of him, Olympia’s cheeks color with blood, her sorrow transmuting to anger. “You played your part,
Blackheart,” she bites out. “Don’t try to curry more favor than you deserve.”
There is a beat of silence, during which Orfeo’s jaw clenches and his brows lower once more. When he speaks
again, his voice snaps with sarcasm in contrast to his earlier tone. “Well, then pardon me for darkening this door.
Enjoy your meeting with Mira, I’ve warmed her up for you.”
He breezes past us, and while Olympia charges ahead, gifted with fresh energy, I pause in the doorway and look
back. With any other necromancer, Olympia’s outburst would have been justified. They keep to their towers and
scheme for the most part, only showing their faces to perform the funeral rites that prevent corpses from rising as
undead. It’s a vital service, true, but they’re hardly motivated by a sense of community spirit. Necromancers are in
it for the easy power, and anything they do in public past their bare obligations is usually done for selfish reasons.
But not Orfeo. I’ve seen him out plenty of times; conversing in taverns, helping set up for a festival, making sure
he knows the people and they know him. He acts like it’s still the old days, back when necromancers ruled, back
before they became too corrupt to be held accountable for their deeds. Back before the hierophants led a rebellion
and burned the necromancer empire to the ground.
But that was nearly a century ago, and Olympia’s review is now. I follow her into the core of the tower and let the
door swing shut behind me.
~ * ~
Mira straightens the sheaf of papers on her desk and fixes Olympia with a cool stare. She is a strikingly lovely
woman—emphasis on “striking”. With gold-blonde hair, steel-gray eyes, and fine, sharp features, she looks like a
sword poised to slice someone’s ego in two. There is no room for softness with hierophants.
“Your pregnancy has nearly reached its conclusion, yes?”
“And you have abstained from magic for the entire duration?”
“You have not been in the presence of druidic magic for the entire duration?”
Olympia hesitates. Mira’s eyes narrow, and I can practically see her reaching out with her senses to detect traces of
magic clinging to Olympia.
“Mrs. D’Agnace. I know you are aware that, as a druid, you are more sensitive to the natural world. With another
life growing inside you, your powers are unstable—exposure to druidic magic, even if it is not your own, can cause
“I know,” Olympia mutters.
“Do you?” Mira asks. Her voice is crisp, posture impeccable as she picks up a pen and begins to inscribe a blank
piece of paper. “Preventative measures at this stage would be pointless.” She signs the paper with a tight flourish
and slides it towards Olympia. “You are hereby fined twenty silver pieces for your violation of the Codex Magi.
Payment must be delivered to this office within two weeks.”
“No excuses. Every violation, no matter how minor, must be treated in accordance with the law. Now.” She tilts her
head up to encompass me in her stony stare, as well. “Is there anything else you would care to report?”
Olympia is too busy staring in shock at the paper to answer. I lock eyes with Mira for a second and consider my
options. I could speak up about the rogue now, end the encroaching debate at the moot before it even begins. The
rogue would be in the hands of the authorities, no longer our problem. But druids do not take moots lightly. If I
disregard the moot, assume that I can act alone instead of as part of a community, I will be shunned. I could even
lose my cloak.
I clear my throat and let my eyes drop to the surface of Mira’s desk. “No, ma’am.”
~ * ~
Of the eight branches of magic, druidic magic is not the oldest—that award goes to necromancy. But it did arise
out of the oldest relationship there is: that between man and nature. People needed to know our crops would
grow, needed to know we could fend off sickness, needed to know we were safe from the fury of storms and
beasts alike. Druids found a way to make that happen. We used to be helpers, guides; one organ in a larger body,
connected and vital. But now we’re so bundled up in secrecy we might…might…
A blast of chilly wind hits me in the face as I struggle with the metaphor. The new moon is tonight, and I refuse to
go into the moot without a clear idea of what I want to say. Lung power won’t be an issue, but I’ll need some
impressive rhetoric if I’m going to sway enough people.
I sigh and pull my cloak tighter around me. Here at the edge of the city—or rather, the massive platform of earth it
rests on—there is little in the way of shelter. Where I stand, between a grove of amber-leaved trees and the steep
drop to the surface, there’s just pits of mud and a hazy horizon. The city’s footsteps are louder here; the
tremendous mechanical legs mark time as they bear us across the wasteland. A metronome to soothe my racing
thoughts, or so I’d hoped. But what I can see of the landscape beneath us doesn’t exactly inspire serenity.
I turn around, intending to head back to my warm, dry cottage, only to nearly miss slamming my nose against
someone’s chest. I scramble back with a curse and slip in the mud, landing flat on my ass in a truly magnificent
display of grace.
When I’ve recovered enough pride to stop swearing and look up, I see a hand extended before me. My eyes follow
the line of a wiry arm, which leads up to the face of the druid who had told me about the coming moot. His face
paint is still smeared at the bottom, but I elect not to tell him and take his hand.
He pulls me up as easily as if I’m made of feathers. “Sorry. I thought I had made enough noise for you to hear me.”
His eyes are still yellow and he doesn’t seem to blink as much as he should. I look at his nose instead.
“It’s fine, I was…thinking.”
“About the moot.”
It’s not a question, and I hesitate with my answer. He looks like the kind of person who wouldn’t be sympathetic to
my plan, feral and ruthless—but maybe I can shift his thinking. “Yes. About the moot. I…I think we should give the
rogue to the hierophants.”
He tilts his head to the side. “They would not show him any more mercy than we would.”
“It’s not about that. It’s that we’ve kept his capture a secret from others—we’ve grown so insular we’ve forgotten
that we’re part of a whole like everyone else.” I chew on my bottom lip for a second. “And—and it doesn’t feel right,
killing each other in secret like that. We should bring the issue into the open and let the hierophants deal with the
burden of upholding the law. That’s what they chose for themselves.”
He tilts his head the other way. “We handled our own affairs for centuries before the hierophants took control.
There is no reason to change this now.”
“There is,” I insist. “The times have changed, and so must we. If we cooperate with the larger order, the burden on
us will be lighter. We’ll be better off.”
He is silent for two seconds, and then suddenly splits into a grin, showing off sharp teeth. “You are afraid.”
Color rises to my cheeks and my hands fly to my hips, indignant. “I’m not trying to avoid punishment; I’m trying to
do what’s right—”
He shakes his head, still staring directly at me. “Not of the hierophants. You are afraid of you.”
His grin fades and he reaches down to toy with the edge of my apron, the motion more like a deer sniffing at
something foreign than anything else. This close, I can see the subtle difference in our skin tone; his like red clay,
mine like mahogany. “Herb-witch. Healer. This is the sum of what you think you are.” He lets the apron drop. “Our
domain is much more than plants and protection. We must own it, take responsibility for it. Do not reject your
other side. That will only bring illness.”
He looks up at me again, and I can’t avert my gaze in time to avoid the full force of those alien eyes. “I will see you
at the moot,” he mutters, and he drifts past me noiselessly, vanishing among the trees.
~ * ~
I can see torchlight as I approach the hill where moots are held. Usually we forego fire during moots, relying on the
light of the full moon. But these are unusual circumstances, and not just because we want to avoid outside
interference. So my eyes strain to see through the ever-morphing shadows as I walk past the ring of torches and
crest the hill.
They have the rogue at the peak of the hill on his knees, hands bound behind his back, rope tied between his
teeth. Someone has called roots from all the way at the bottom of the hill to curl around his ankles and hold him
down. I cannot see his face; he is gazing at the ground, and his hair has grown long and unkempt from his months
as a fugitive.
Druids from all over our slice of the city, from all ranks, are gathering tonight, equal under the moonless sky. The
druids who are already present are of a kind with me. Their clothes are plain: leather vests and cotton shirts, ritual
symbols tooled or stitched into the material. Their hair is pulled back or woven into braids, their skin browned by
working in the sun. I don’t doubt that if I looked at their hands, I would find the same gardening calluses I have.
As we wait, more of us cross the threshold of torches, some more eerie than others. A woman with a stag skull
covering the top of her head and gray feathers clinging to the front of her shirt. A young man wearing only his
cloak of office and a fox pelt over his groin despite the autumn chill. A girl with honeysuckle in her silvery hair and
blood caked on her arms up to the elbows.
These are the druids who live even farther from the city than I—who sleep in trees and hunt with their bare hands,
predators to the core. Who learn spells to change their shape and run with animals unchallenged. They maintain
nature’s balance as much as any of our number, but I still have to suppress shudders when I look at them.
The last one arrives—Yellow-Eyes. He stares at me and shows his canines in a smile again. Before I can decide how
to respond, a woman with a streak of silver in her hair and a wolf skin slung over her shoulders steps to the center
of the circle, stopping just beside the rogue.
“We are here to decide the fate of Lyle Corcoran,” she booms. “Speak your convictions and choose.”
A man with a barrel chest and a sprig of meadowsweet in his breast pocket speaks up first. “He can yet be saved.
He needs guidance, not damnation.”
Immediately a woman with woad tattoos swirling her face counters: “He has gone too far for guidance. He disrupts
the balance of life without care or thought. He must be killed.”
“Kill him! Kill him!”
The chant signals the end of the prelude, and everyone begins shouting at once, soon separating into two factions:
death and mercy. My tongue presses insistently against the back of my teeth, waiting for a lull so I might be heard
among the clamor. But there is no lull, it’s madness as always, and paying such close attention to it is making my
A hand on my shoulder draws me out of the tumult. I look to my left to see Yellow-Eyes, but for once he isn’t
gazing at me. He’s staring at Lyle Corcoran, the rogue, who has bent over so far his forehead is almost touching
the earth. He shudders, his spine heaving once, twice. And on the third he rears back and lets out a howl that
could split the bark on a tree.
Lyle Corcoran, the druid who killed fifteen people in four months. Who consumed their flesh and gained their
strength. Who grew ever more twisted against the natural order.
Lyle Corcoran, the rogue werewolf.
He’s not so far gone that he can ignore the dictates of the moon—but if his body can’t transform, his mind still can,
and it overcharges what he has. He chomps through his gag like it’s spider silk. One man makes the mistake of
getting near him, and he shears away the flesh of his wrist in one bite. He howls again, and snaps the rope binding
his arms. Lyle yanks the poor man down by his injured wrist and sinks his teeth into the soft flesh of his throat.
The spray of blood when he tears away is enough to mobilize the moot. They lunge toward him, but he has already
broken his ankles to escape from the hold of the roots. He bounds between them, heedless of his own injuries,
snapping and clawing at hamstrings. He scrambles away from the crowd, sprinting—directly at me.
Yellow-Eyes is gone, his hand no longer on my shoulder. I can see Lyle’s eyes now, no natural color but instead a
burning red. He is grinning, like he can smell my fear and is eager to taste it at the back of his throat.
I could run. I could make it to the trees and warp the wood around me to keep me safe, let him chase easier prey.
But I think about Olympia, alone in her house, only a mile away. I think about the life inside her, ready to enter the
world. I think about what would happen if this monster found her, and I feel something savage claw at the inside of
Do not reject your other side.
The only weapon I have on me is the sturdy knife I use for cutting herbs. I reach behind my back to grab it, the
same motion I’ve done a thousand times. Only this time, I hold out the blade as Lyle leaps towards me. He howls. I
I drive the knife into the soft spot under his chin. His weight slams forward and I feel it shove further, past his
palate, into his brain. He lands on top of me and my back hits the ground. My thumb has wedged inside the wound,
and I can feel warm, sticky blood trailing down my hand. I am still screaming.
My voice finally tapers off when I can no longer feel his pulse against my fingers. Shakily, I shove his body off me
and stand up, my apron spattered with gore from the collarbones down. Deep scratches that I didn’t notice before
sting my chest and arms; one stretches across my cheek in a flare of pain. I feel a hand on my shoulder again, and
I don’t have to look to know it’s Yellow-Eyes.
“Well done,” he says softly. Then, to the entire hill, “The moot is resolved.”
~ * ~
The next day, Olympia goes into labor.
I’m already at her house when it happens, thank the stars. We’re sharing a pot of tea, a blend for calming the
nerves. It unwinds me enough that I tell her about what happened at the moot, sitting at her table with fresh
bandages over my arms and cheek. Just as I finish the story, she leans forward, face bunched with the effort of
holding back pain. Before I can ask if she’s all right, she winces, gripping the lower curve of her stomach.
“I think,” she hisses between pained sounds, “I think it’s time.”
We make for her bedroom, her waddling with grunts of pain, me with her arm slung over my shoulders. By the time
I get her settled into the birthing chair, she’s broken out in a sweat and her chest is heaving with each breath. I
breathe with her, settle her into a steadier rhythm: in, in, out.
I’m kneeling between her legs when water suddenly gushes onto the floor. Olympia sighs in relief, only to let out a
tight moan a few moments later. Her hands grip the armrests of the chair so tightly I think I hear the wood crack.
“Easy, now,” I murmur to her. “Keep breathing, Olympia.”
I rush to her bedroom window and grab the reed flute resting on her windowsill. I muscle the window open, praying
that this one spell, this late in the game, won’t harm Olympia or her baby. The flute is smooth against my lips as I
lean out the window and blow; three sharp notes cut through the air and the runes carved into the sides of the
flute glow a faint green, carrying the message far.
Olympia cries out, and I can’t wait for the responding notes. I abandon the flute and dart back to my friend’s side,
rubbing her shoulders and syncing our breathing. In, in, out.
She cycles between moments of calmness when she laughs weakly, and moments of agony when her groans fill the
whole house. Caught up in these cycles, I lose track of time. All I know is the pressure of Olympia’s hands
squeezing mine and the worry that sprints through my mind in circles. I keep hoping that I’ll hear footsteps
crossing the floor, hoping that I’ll see a familiar face coming down the hall.
Someone does arrive, but like every time before, he’s totally silent, and I don’t see him until he’s close enough to
touch me. His hand, cool and dry, covers mine, and my head snaps up to see Yellow-Eyes standing above us both.
I glower at him for a moment before releasing a sigh of defeat. “I suppose you’re our only option.”
He grins, and though it’s still sharp, it’s at least familiar by now. “Seems like it.” And with that, Yellow-Eyes kneels
before Olympia, peers inside her.
“Push,” he instructs. With the two of us surrounding her, supporting her, she does. Her moans intensify to
screams, so loud my ears buzz. I can see her face turning red, her pulse hammering in her neck.
“Push,” Yellow-Eyes says.
On the crest of each scream comes something like a pulse of energy, the raw force of life channeled through sound.
The plants hanging from pots on the ceiling erupt into new growth, tendrils reaching down to brush my hair.
“Push,” Yellow-Eyes says.
Olympia’s voice reaches a final crescendo, and the vine hanging by my face bursts with blossoms. A tiny head
emerges into a cupped hand the color of red clay, and Yellow-Eyes tilts that grin up at us once more. Olympia
inhales for what seems like the first time in an hour, and slowly, slowly, the rest of her baby squeezes out into a
The newborn is slimy and squalling, but healthy. I clean off his face and, at Olympia’s request, arrange him carefully
in her arms. “You did it,” I rasp against her brow, smiling. “You did it.”
~ * ~
As it turns out, Yellow-Eyes was only the swiftest to arrive. Soon after the birth, a small crowd of druids turn up at
Olympia’s house, and upon finding they missed the main event, readily agree to take shifts watching over the new
family. Yellow-Eyes and I are relieved immediately, and we stagger out to Olympia’s garden.
I plop down on the dirt, exhausted. “Stars, it feels like I gave birth.”
Yellow-Eyes chuckles and sits two feet to my left, his eyes flickering over the river that runs past Olympia’s house.
“You did well. You were right to play the flute and call others.”
“Hah. You said it. I would have been more useless than a fish with wings.” I stretch my legs out before me and
contemplate my knees. When it came time to bring new life into the world, I had no idea what to do. But when it
came time to end a life, my hands were surer than ever. And Yellow-Eyes, the man who I was sure would think only
like a vicious predator, was the one to guide Olympia through giving birth.
My brows knit in frustration at the contradiction. Yellow-Eyes’s voice slinks into my ear, muddling my thought
process before I can draw a conclusion. “Something on your mind?”
Yes, I want to snap. But I swallow the barb and turn my gaze to Yellow-Eyes. He’s staring back at me, like usual,
and for a second I’m struck by how comfortable he seems in my best friend’s garden. Like for him there’s no
difference between neat rows of herbs and the tangled undergrowth of the woods.
I realize that through all this, I never asked his name. So I do.
“Isi,” he replies. “And you?”
Well, well, well, Mr. Mysterious didn’t think to learn mine, either. I take that as a small victory and hold out my hand.
There’s a moment when he looks at my hand blankly, and then he takes it in his own and gives it a shake. “Haven’t
done this in a while,” he murmurs. I wonder who the last person to shake his hand was, and whether it had taken a
murder and a birth for them to get to that point.
Isi lets go and pushes himself up from the ground. “I should go.” I wait for an explanation, but of course he
doesn’t offer one. Instead I watch him follow the bank of the river towards the tree line, until he vanishes behind a
cluster of trunks.
I lie back on the grass, listening to the last bees of the season humming through the air, and try not to remember
how Lyle Corcoran’s eyes went dull when my knife reached his brain.
Madeleine O'Rourke was born in Chicago, graduated
from University of Iowa, and currently lives in
Washington. Like a magpie, she hoards the shiniest
bits from whatever she comes across; like a human,
she then tries to make something new and interesting
from them. This is her first published work.