Autumn on the prairies is a strange affair. There are no sprawling tree canopies with vibrant leaves. The sky assumes a deep carmine colour only on rare occasions. You can spot cactuses and wild shrubs strengthening their resolve for approaching winter.
The grass glowing amber in the setting sun is a sign of autumn. The other significant signs include the chill in the wind, the daylight disappearing soon enough, birdsongs signalling the change of seasons.
Change isn’t dreadful.
I’ve heard fall is more prominent in other places. The paintings I’d seen in the merchant’s possession back home are forever etched behind my eyelids. The vivid hues of colours, the season’s transitions, the sheer resilience of mother nature. I resolved to implement the same strategy in reaching my aspirations. Often, I’d allow my determination to solidify akin to the snow post-fall, dissolving inhibitions and frustrations, compelling myself to flourish like blossoming spring flowers.
I’ve always been a carefree young woman. Depressed thoughts aren’t for me, though I’m agitated from time to time. When I left my home in New Port City, exploring the lands was on my agenda.
Le Costa is a small town in the farthest west. This land of never-ending plains, dotted with prairie grass, cactuses, and wild trails, is not where I supposed I would be.
Something was enchanting about this quaint town. But I never imagined it was truly magical. Turned out, this far-flung landscape was perfect for supernaturals of all sorts.
Though it seems to be a hackneyed plot out of a dumb novel, this town indeed is the home for supernaturals. And I am one of them. Regular townsfolk aren’t aware, but the sheriff is.
The tall gruff man with a diagonal scar across his face — I don’t trust that treacherous man who tried to arrest me the day I set my foot on this land. But he knows the supernaturals here. He oversees them and maintains peace in this area.
Quite the twisted man, making the supernaturals do all the work instead of his constables. Fight the bandits, rescue women and children in distress, stop goods-smuggling — the meagre group of supernaturals already have so many heroic deeds to their credit. In the brief span I know, I came to admire them.
I never expected to be a part of their brave endeavours. The sheriff lassoed me once he and the others learnt of my witch’s powers.
The town’s streets are eerily quiet, bathed in the quaint illumination of the street lamps. Occasionally, you hear horses neighing from their stables and the distant singing of the chickadees and creaking crickets.
Tonight the song is less prominent, a warrant of the danger lurking in the air. I tug at my heavy coat, re-verifying my corset strings before buttoning it up. As I will ride tonight, I switched my skirt for pants, loaded pockets with enough guns and bullets. I’m prepared, but not as adept as my companion for my current mission.
Not as stunning.
His slender, youthful face is a delight, the alluring edges of his jawline prominent. His jade eyes, the perfectly trimmed eyebrows, the short auburn hair, the pale skin and the tall slim figure. I found him attractive when I first saw him in the sheriff’s office. But didn’t realise he was a supernatural — a vampire.
‘Vampeer,’ that’s what they call the friendly sorts. I snort at the sickening term and turn my eyes away from the man. Antonio is his name if I remember it right.
This is my third mission and I’m still figuring out the surreality, the absurdity of it all, wrapping the loose strands of my orange-brown hair in a tight bun. I never wanted to be tied to a place. This can’t be my permanent jig.
I ran from my stifling home, my loathsome cousins, my strict aunt and her restrictions, so as not to be tied down. Yet a month has gone by since I got here. Am I overstaying?
Antonio’s whistle interrupts my thoughts.
“Lass, what’s your name? You didn’t give me one when we last met, did ya?”
He got my attention when I wanted to ignore him. He’s already atop his steed, a pristine ink-dark horse, striking quite the noble picture. That tailcoat and tux, the shimmery golden pocket watch poking out from its breast pocket and a fresh blood-red rose pinned to his wide-brimmed hat… Not to mention those loaded trouser pockets and the high boots gleaming faintly.
Ugh, girl, s.t.o.p. admiring him!
“Hey, like what you see?”
The sly bastard caught me staring. He has a comment to pass.
“Quite a sight for a city lass like ya,” he gestures at himself and the town. The pompous vampire.
Pretty much everyone thinks I’m city bread. Which I am. Even when I lack ladylike manners and am not dressed in finery? Back home, I was called quite the villainess. But here… Despite everything, I feel welcome here.
Antonio’s gleaming jade eyes have me entranced. My lips move without prompting; it’s not his magic.
My reply took him aback. I revel in my petty victory.
“You asked my name.”
“Such a sweet name. You ignored my second question. I will answer in your stead. I like what I see.”
He winks, adjusting his hat, a gesture that I brush off with my hands before I adjust mine.
“Shall we go?”
“Aye.” He nods and passes me his scarf. “Use it, ‘tis a chilly night.”
I smile at his consideration, resisting the urge to swoon.
It’s pitch dark after crossing the town square; only a single gas lamp at the edge of the town. We swiftly move on. Not a single folk here must have heard of electricity. Even in New Port, only the rich had the privilege.
The plains are ethereal, endlessly beautiful at night. Despite the beauty of the surroundings and the slight chill in the breeze, I’m unsure if this place can be my home. For ages, I couldn’t settle for what I wanted. I couldn’t define what I wanted and figured I’d be a wanderer, my stubborn-ass self, defying customary qualifications a lady ought to adapt to and setting out on a dangerous sojourn all alone. Was I wrong?
Danger isn’t new in this era. A lone woman travelling is an easy target. But then I’m not alone. I glide my hands through the lustrous mane of my horse, Nadia.
I lift my gaze to the dim-lit plains and inhale the prairie air. Shaking off my thoughts, I urge Nadia into a gallop and sneak a glance back at Antonio.
“Hurry, Cowboy. You can’t dawdle.”
“The name’s Antonio Marquez.”
His laughter rings in the air, clear like a bell. He picks up speed. A breathless laughter escapes me as we push forward.
The mission the sheriff assigned us is simple: rescue Professor Randburg, who’s held hostage by a nefarious group of thugs. Surprisingly, he chose a two-member team for this dangerous operation. My confidence fizzles, approaching the borders of the abandoned town where the professor is held captive. Antonio is breezy as ever, whistling another jaunty melody under his breath.
We slow our horses and enter the town. The first sight that greets us is a dilapidated club, the main street laden with broken carts. Then the salon and other buildings. The town is desolate, creepy as hell. Okay, time to stop being a chicken! You’re a witch! Remember the last two battles? You can use magic.
I suck in a deep breath and hop off my horse. Antonio wordlessly follows. This is our first time working together, yet our thoughts are in tandem. We make our way to the viewing deck atop the water tank, climbing the rickety old spiralling wooden stairs.
“How are you doing, little witch? You fittin’ okay?”
Antonio’s attempt at a conversation jostles me. I click my tongue at my new nickname.
“Just fine. Could you address me by my given name? Thanks. What about you? Are you not somewhat of a recluse? Didn’t think you’d be chatty.”
We survey the view for clues. Antonio shrugs and barks a laugh.
“That’s because I’m the only vampire here. Quite the misfit, ye see?”
I avert my gaze from him as my voice softens with sympathy. “I’m a misfit too. There isn’t another witch in the town. I don’t know how many there are in the world.”
“Haha. Surely there’ll be a handful. Say, you only discovered you are a witch?”
“Yeah, the Sheriff told me. Then the professor. He has a penchant for these, he said. I didn’t believe him, but then everything made sense. My odd-ball personality, my extraordinary childhood and how my cousins and stepmother wanted to get rid of me.”
The frown marring Antonio’s face melts my heart. Is he worried about me and what I’ve been through? What an earnest cowboy. A friendly guy too, a true vampeer.
“Well, I’m feisty and stood my ground. So you needn’t feel sorry for me, Antonio. Pity all those who took my wrath.”
Antonio laughs and we fall quiet. I feel grateful he didn’t inquire about my parents. I lost them both in a tragic accident, the details of which aren’t fully known to me. It’s a sore topic for me to discuss even among friends. Not that I had friends who would discuss it with me. I change topics swiftly.
“Are you sure you’re the only vampire? Aren’t you drawing boundaries, Antonio? It won’t hurt you to break your shell and approach people.”
“Well, for one, people never approached me. All I do is work. When the sun is down, preferably.”
Antonio sends a charming wink my way. I pretend my gaze is entirely focused on the horizon. The sky is starless tonight, laden with dark clouds.
“Nobody approaches you? They are respecting your boundaries, don’t you think?”
That brings another laugh out of Antonio.
“You’re optimistic, little witch. Bravo! I quite enjoy my life as it is, and never thought I was missing anyone. Yer right. Maybe I should mingle with people. I’ve heard that the parties our supernatural gang threw at Leona’s bar are quite wild.”
“Oh yeah, I only attended one.”
I laugh, remembering the chaos. Supernaturals get drunk too. One demon in particular who’s prone to set the bar on fire.
Antonio is doing this with intent. Our chat has taken the tension out of my system. I show him a grateful smile just as we locate what we are looking for. A light, a flicker of faint amber at the far-off edge of the town.
We reach our destination, a solitary shack, using our self-made map from the view tower. Antonio raps his knuckles on the wooden door. Apart from the light visible from the jarred, half-broken glass window, there are no signs of a living being in the vicinity. I shiver but keep my pistol ready, watching Antony do the same.
“Is anybody home?” He asks, then instantly breaks the door. It falls apart easily, the frail, creaky thing.
We rush in and find a crumpled figure of an old man in the main hall.
The lantern’s dim light reveals him, bound and gagged. He’s alone, but I sense someone else in the room. My jaw tenses as I brandish my pistol towards a plain void.
Ugh, I’m not about to back away from this mission. I will prove I’m supernatural, like everyone else.
Of course, I proceed with caution. If I were a super witch, I could instantly teleport Antonio and Randburg with me, leaving our enemies behind.
Perhaps Antonio senses my discomfort. He pats my shoulder and retrieves another pistol from his pocket. I shoot him a smile. His eyes tell me we got this. These goons can’t compete with supernaturals like us.
So he thinks there’s no supernatural work at play?
A hooded man suddenly blocks our path to the professor.
“Hand over the witch. Else you’ll die.”
My eyes widen. The ransom they wanted wasn’t money, but me? The professor gestures for us to run, but Antonio and I ignore it. My anxiety has faded, replaced by anger that intensifies my witch fire.
I aim a burst of golden flame at the hooded guy before he can reach for my arm. He ducks out of the way. Antonio fires shots at several other hooded men who rush into the room. Their hoods discarded in a flash, the bunch of ruffians sneer at us, faces alight with twisted grins.
“A vampire and witch. What a harvest this is…”
I stay quiet and let my pistol do the talking. My witch fire won’t come again. I’m not that efficient. Thankfully, I can hold myself well in battle.
The ringleader, a tall cowboy, signals for his underlings to reload. While I do the same, I spot something silver glinting in their hands.
I give Antonio the warning before our fight resumes. He grits his teeth and intensifies his attack. I follow his example as we dodge and duck from a volley of bullets. Our mutual dance puts us at a greater advantage than our assailants.
I grin to myself at the thought that pops into my mind: I prefer these dances to the stuffy ones at the parties in the manor.
It’s over, or so I think. Just then, the men begin an ominous chanting as one proclaims they have the means to suppress our powers.
Antonio and I are out of ammunition. We try forcing our way through the barricade of our offenders, breaking whatever formation ritual they are performing, but a spherical shield encases them before we can get too close. A sinister, translucent sphere in copper and gold.
The ringleader again attempts to negotiate a deal. “Take the professor by giving us the witch.”
Antonio refuses. I focus my attention on gathering my powers. If only I can get my magic to work, I can break this shield!
Despite the darkness encroaching on my consciousness, thanks to the minions’ chants, I close my eyes and imagine the shield weakening and shattering into mist. After a couple of moments, I gain the upper hand. My head is devoid of pain and the heaviness in my limbs is gone.
I open my eyes to witness the shield shattering and the men being flung like rag dolls. Professor Randburg and Antonio are the only ones unharmed.
That’s it? This rescue operation feels like child’s play. While Antonio binds the fallen men, I rush to untie the professor. His wan, faintly wrinkled visage reflects weariness, yet no signs of injury are evident. I break into a smile.
I’m relieved. When did the professor become my father figure?
Antonio is against the professor and I sharing my horse’s saddle. I insist upon shouldering the responsibility of returning the professor to the town in the most literal sense.
“Besides, don’t you have all that luggage to drag behind you?”
I chuckle and point to the half-dozen men bound in a perfect circle put on the cart attached to his horse.
“One more won’t hurt. A lady should feel totally at ease.”
I chuckle at Antonio’s response again. With a shake of my head, climb onto my horse where the professor is already perched.
We ride in silence for a few minutes. The town’s border isn’t even in view. I barely sense the professor’s demeanour shift when it happens. He holds a dagger to my throat.
“Halt! No one’s leaving this town!”
His words sound like a curse. He recites a chant in a language I don’t recognise and I see a red globe of power gathering in his hands, which he passes to the captured ringleader and underlings.
My senses remain frozen while Antonio curses under his breath. “Damn it all!”
The professor leaps from the horse with a cackle. His frail old arm has my shoulders in a death grip. I gasp as my body and his levitate into the air.
“Hahaha! None can stop me from harvesting my power this Halloween night. This witch will be our sacrifice tonight! You, vampire, can leave. Pretend you saw nothing. We’ll spare you…”
The offending men are no longer bound. Their exhaustion gone, they position themselves on the ground, behind the professor and me.
I force myself to process the new turn of events. Professor Randburg wants to sacrifice me? But he’s encouraged me to accept my identity, told me I was special. Even introduced me to the sheriff and other supernaturals. I’ve also known him briefly during his stay in New Port. This… I’ve been betrayed in various ways since childhood, but this betrayal gotta be the worst of all.
I grit my teeth and fight back tears. I can’t be emotional now.
“Nah…” the professor warns Antonio not to pull any shenanigans as he advances.
“Professor. You want to harvest your powers? You’re not a supernatural… Why are you trying to become one? And the little witch? She lacks power. Killing her won’t benefit you. Why don’t ya find another sacrifice?”
My eyes bulge at what I hear. I detest the idea of anyone’s sacrifice, but I sense Antonio is trying to negotiate for my safety.
”Power? It’s in her blood. Her mother was a sacrifice, giving me ample power for all these years… and now…”
The blood in my veins turns to ice at the professor’s revelation. My mother was a witch? She was killed too?
My confusion must be evident. The professor elaborates, “Poor thing. You’re not aware, are you? Your mother, yes. I killed her. And your father… The chap left in search of her and ended up losing his sanity.”
My mother was an easy sacrifice, as my aunts and uncles were all a part of the conspiracy. They tried to kill me too, but I turned out to be a powerful force to be dealt with. I am more powerful than my mother. And now the time has come for my sacrifice.
Why should I be the sacrifice? This vile creature killed my parents? My anger makes me feel hot inside. This is not just mere anger, it is my power… Exactly what I need to escape this man’s grasp.
Father… I have only known he left home and the speculation of him being dead somewhere. I placed complete trust in those rumours and never endeavoured to unearth the truth. Is he alive somewhere? He’s gone insane, according to the professor. Does he know where Pa is? If I can meet Pa once and heal him…
My sadness threatens to curb the burgeoning power within me. This could be the professor’s tactic! I shake off the heavy feelings and focus on rekindling my powers. No amount of encouraging self-talk works. I am consumed by an insurmountable despair and my thoughts are a jumbled mess.
Just then, I hear Antonio’s voice clear as a bell inside my head.
“Little witch, get yer wits together. You got this. You can break free of the hold the oldie has on you. He’s no match for you!”
I could feel his emotions through my body. He is a powerful vampire who can take down our enemies but is only hesitating for my sake. When I saw him in the salon several times, I heard him say he wanted to avoid conflict, but this time, he volunteered to save Professor Randburg. He’s a true softie.
I smile at him gratefully before letting an inferno build inside me. My body is too hot. Professor Randburg plucks his hand away from my shoulders, wincing in pain. The dagger he held to my throat falls, and he loses his balance, collapsing to the ground. While I stand, he and his underlings reach for me again. I immobilise them with my firepower.
“Way to go!”
Antonio’s praise brings a triumphant smile to my face. But then —
For a second, I lose my vision.
Antonio is there to catch me when I topple. He lends me a hand while I find my balance. I praise my mare for her composure while maintaining my magical control over the professor and his goons.
Antonio’s fingers weave into mine. His other hand that’s around my waist tightens. “Little witch. You’ve exerted yourself.”
I look into his eyes. Gods, he’s handsome, and he looks genuinely concerned about me.
“Take some of my power.”
I don’t know how he does it, but his power flows into me raw, alien, but comforting at the same time. The pendant he wears around his neck, which I failed to notice earlier, now emanates a brilliant blue blaze. I’m entranced, unable to look away. The brighter the flame grows, the better I feel.
Antonio has been so nice to me! And I grouped him with all those unsavoury flirts who attempted to hit on me and avoided him. I’m a fool! And the most inept judge of character.
“Little witch, now is not the time to ruminate!” He chides me as if he can read what’s in my mind. I step away from him, strong enough to stand on my own. His pendant returns to its normal neutral colour. I offer him a grateful smile.
“Let’s wait here, little witch. This is bigger than what we thought. I contacted the sheriff and others. They’ll be here soon.”
He puts a hand over my shoulders as we both look at the professors and the goons still encased in a circle of fire. “Let’s hold on to this until we get help.”
I don’t know how he contacted our allies. Telepathy? They arrive about three hours later and we collectively clean up the mess. The sheriff and others strip Randburg of his shady possessions. Cursed artefacts and whatnot. Thank heavens it’s over. The Sheriff will shackle and question him. I also want to question him for insights about my father.
Dawn rises by the time Antonio and I lazily ride to Le Costa. My preoccupation with my thoughts has hindered my pace. He slowed down on purpose for me. He’s sweet. Just as I think this, he invites me to a drink at Leona’s.
“Let’s unwind, little witch. You deserve a drink.”
That’s it? He prioritises my comfort over inquiring about my past? He is a considerate guy. I’ve always been lonely all my life, sceptical of forming bonds, often placing my trust in the wrong places. Loneliness clung to me like a second skin despite being surrounded by people, a feeling I suppose Antonio can relate to.
As we take a seat at a table and order our drinks, the other supernaturals and the sheriff join us.
They all try cheering me up and pampering me. I smile, recognising I’ve found my tribe. Antonio too is mingling with others more than he should. Perhaps we’ll find where we belong?
I hide my smile behind the beer mug as I meet his eyes for the umpteenth time that morning. A beer is refreshing after a long night. The past weeks have brought alarming changes. My identity, the truth behind my parents’ deaths… The uncertainty from ages is settling in bringing with it more challenges and uncertainties.
Regardless of what awaits, life will be an empty canvas for me to paint with my chosen palette of colours.
We finish a dangerous mission and settle in for drinks at Leona’s bar. What a night it was.
My eyes find the beauty sitting across from the table, Cecelia Hawthorne. I sip my beer, in awe of how at home she is, with the rest of the supernaturals and everyone in Le Costa. No need to be surprised, I suppose. Despite its charming appearances, this town is dangerous and welcoming for outcasts like us.
I should stop labelling everyone as an outcast, eh? I stifle a laugh and drift into my thoughts while others chat.
Cecelia wanted to know why I considered myself an outcast. Why I was a recluse? Her curious and admiring gaze during the mission made me wonder about her thoughts about me.
She certainly was nervous when we started the journey. We had no clue what was awaiting us. The wretched individual — I never knew Professor Randburg was capable of such evil. Well, all’s well that ends well. I pray that the little witch will have a brilliant future.
Little witch, that’s what I called her when we first met. Now I know her name. She now places a hand over my shoulder and I jolt out of my thoughts.
Her smile is radiant, unguarded, despite what she’s been through. Is she opening up to me? I ask her if she’s faring well, unable to stop myself, despite the knowledge that she’d not want my kindness.
She assures me with a smile. Then as we step out of the bar, she tips her hat almost shyly before reaching out a hand.
“Want to be friends? I want to be friends with everyone. I may not be as powerful as the others, but I’m excited to learn and use my abilities to help people. Sheesh. I thought I was helping the professor…” She brushes away the sadness creeping into her eyes. “I’d like to keep working hard. Would you be there watching me, Antonio?”
Her explanation is kinda cute. Her entire presence radiates light in contrast to the darkness that clings to me. Vampires such as myself, whose blood lust goes uncontrollable at the drop of a hat, can’t be around normal folks for too long. I hid this truth away and turned into a recluse. But here she is, trying to gain strength. The inspiration I never found in centuries flows through me.
Can I work on my weaknesses as well? I tried in the past, failed and gave up. But now I find a reason to work on my powers again.
I shake her hand in mine. We converse as we make our way towards her lodgings. In a low voice, I reveal to her my secret: I have yet to achieve complete control over my powers. With a charming laugh, she reassures me nothing in the world is perfect and she’s just come to terms with the imperfections inside her.
I laugh in response, hiding my bashful grin behind my palm.
I thought most witches would be ugly and old. I have seen no one as beautiful as her— someone with formidable strength and an untainted heart.
When we arrive at her lodgings, I remove my hat and grasp her hand. As I press a light kiss to the back of her hand as a gentleman should, I murmur my reply, “Sure, I will. Let’s be friends.”
Only friends? How can I be sure when I’m so smitten by her courage?
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