Prologue: Afternoon Visitors
23 August 1914
The only sounds in Mons were of bullet-fire and death. Hattie had done what she was supposed to and continued healing injured soldiers at her post, even when hearing the Germans had first started their offensive at dawn. Since the very first bomb went off that morning, there was one worry echoing around in her skull: Joey was out there, and he could die while she sat in the background. Now finally in the city with him, Hattie was more determined than ever to do her part at the front-line and save her brother. As she reached the back line, she stole away soldiers’ confusion at seeing a woman walking towards the danger before deciding they didn’t have the time to deal with her. They were forcing young children out of women’s arms that refused to leave the city. She walked with relaxed shoulders and purposeful strides, trying to keep her face down away from possibly prying eyes.
The blood of the dead flowed through her, fueling her magic despite the grief it struck. She let it settle into her as a familiar warmth as her eyes scanned through face after face for Joey. Surviving commanders shouted orders of retreat from the closest salient. They definitely wouldn’t direct her further into their battle. She ignored them and walked on.
“You there – nurse.” Of course, people were bound to question a five-ten woman in the middle of a war zone eventually. She turned to a white-mustached British officer with a large nose and tired eyes. “How did you get this far into the city? You need to evacuate now.”
“I’m not in the military, nor am I one of the queen’s subjects, so I’m afraid you don’t get to tell me to leave,” Hattie said. She shifted her pocket knife out of her sleeve and reached it underneath her low bun to the never fully healed scar there, slicing into the thick skin. The magic bled out of her like a boiling kettle, furnished by the climbing number of hundreds of corpses around her. It was nearly overkill to do a simple distraction skill.
The officer walked towards his men to continue shouting orders, and she continued forward on her search. She knew he was there; she could feel him. With her spell, he would walk right past her if she didn’t stop him.
Now at the front line, with only stacks of sandbags protecting them from the Germans, she found it harder to hide her desperation. Where was her brother?
The gunfire was ringing, forcing her to put her hands over her ears as she looked around. The power flowing from the blood in her small cut was dizzying. When she spun around to turn down another street, she nearly sobbed when she saw him. He was leaning against one of the shorter stacks of bags, gun in hand as he peaked around the line.
“Joey!” she shouted, hurrying towards him. His chocolate brown hair was buzzed short to his scalp, his mustache surrounded by growing scruff. Bags drooped deep under his red-rimmed eyes, and his uniform wasn’t as crisp as he normally kept it. At her touch, her spell’s power over him broke, and he jumped at seeing her so close, barrel aimed in between her eyes. She didn’t blink. “Joey, we have to hold them off.”
“Hat– what the f– what are you doing here?” he asked, his grip immediately tight around her bicep. “You have to get out of here!”
“Don’t be an idiot, Joey. Guns clearly aren’t enough to hold off the Germans. Together, we can do it.”
“You’re the one being an idiot. Get the hell out of here!” he said, pushing her back away from the sandbags. “It’s not safe–”
Hattie didn’t distinguish the shot from the constant barrage of bullets, but it struck through her brother’s back all the same. His eyes widened, and he didn’t look away as he swayed. An animalistic scream erupted from her throat as she hurried to catch him. No, she just found him – they were supposed to be safe together.
He looked down at where the bullet had come out through his chest, the blood seeping through his uniform as the men around her suddenly noticed the pair. She pressed her hand into the wound, the red warm against her palm as she began to whisper her healing spell.
Men started shouting and trying to pull her off of him. She wouldn’t let them. She couldn’t. Her spell wasn’t finished.
Joey coughed in a way that shattered her heart as a soldier pulled them both further behind cover. He looked up at her as the men surrounded him, his mouth twitching into a smile before he completely collapsed.
His smile stayed frozen in place as the men lowered to the ground. Their attention only on him for another brief moment before one of them pronounced him dead.
Hattie fell to her knees as the world was torn from beneath her. Other soldiers grabbed her by the arms and began to drag her away, but he shook them off with a scream. She tried to crawl towards him, but they wouldn’t let her. Everything spun around her, except him. As she looked at his body laying there perfectly still, she knew she was too late.
The chaos around her echoed back into words – men shouting orders of retreat. Two men held either of her arms as they finally pulled her back, her eyes locked helplessly on her brother’s corpse. Hattie growled before elbowing one of her captors in the gut, making him drop her. Using all her weight, she swung to punch the other right in the nose. It crunched beneath her fist, his blood pouring out to add fuel to her already raging fire. She pried his hand from her arm before spinning around and scurrying back to her brother.
His blood was her blood, and it spiraled through her like a shot of heroin. She nearly glowed with magic trying to burst through her skin, and it mixed with her anger until her entire body boiled with rage.
She ripped open his shirt, smearing his blood onto her fingers before tracing it on her forehead in a triangle. Heaven. Hell. Earth.
Her kin’s blood rippled through her like a tidal wave. Hattie ignored the shouting from the frightened men and walked out from behind the safety of their walls.
Before any Germans could realize what was happening, she released her power like a machine gun. It shot across the streets in a stinging breeze, followed by silence as the temperature plummeted to freezing.
A single shot fired, and Hattie grunted as a bullet struck her in the shoulder. She cried out and stumbled but refused to fall, her blood singing her skin red as it soaked into her shirt.
Her hand cradled the wound as she stayed firmly rooted in place, her spell a whisper in the Germans’ ears. Her voice came from everywhere, ringing around them like a hissing snake – but the spell wasn’t meant for them.
A mist crept from the shadows, and in its haze stood the ghosts of men. Listening to the call to follow the witch’s march.
Instead of guns, these ghosts held bows. Their pointed helmets faded in and out, the red crosses on their tunics sliding away like melting paint. Hattie didn’t care to know which century they were from, and she didn’t care. Her only concern was if they were as bloodthirsty as the day they died.
Her chanting grew louder, bouncing around the city’s walls as she beckoned the undead forward. She cried out to them, and they responded by raising their bows.
Arrows shot through the streets like bullets, Hattie taking a fresh breath as she heard the thuds of German bodies falling to the ground. She had never killed a man before, but she had no regret or hesitation. One of those men killed her brother, and since she couldn’t be sure which one, she’d have to play it safe and kill them all.
Hattie opened her mouth to shout the order, but it was as if the ghost soldiers could hear her thoughts. They attacked her brother’s killers mercilessly, gliding through the streets as hundreds of arrows clouded the skies. More and more of her enemies fell, and she bathed in the power of their blood.
“Look, it’s angels! God is on our side!” she heard a Brit shout. No, it wasn’t Him this time, but she didn’t mind giving Him the credit.
A bullet tore into her stomach, and she let out an unexpected yelp of pain. Hattie pressed into the wound as the blood soaked her uniform in warm, crimson stains, both giving and taking her strength all at once. She looked around as her soldiers persisted, arrow after arrow flying towards the enemy line, but the Germans were still advancing. It looked as though even angels couldn’t stop the Devil when they were already in Hell.
Another bullet buried into her leg, and she fell to the ground. Her archers continued their assault but crowded in front of her, forming a visible barrier for her even if the bullets would just fly through them. She had done her part, at least for now. Hattie crawled back towards the British line as her archers continued their assault.
It was clear that Hattie couldn’t win this battle, but she’d be damned if she lost the Great War. A fellow Ally ran towards her, shouting nonsensical insults as he put her arm around him for support. Her mind screamed that she wasn’t done yet – there was still more revenge to be reaped – but her body had completely given up. Her legs sagged, and her Ally held most of her weight as he dragged her into retreat. She looked back one last time at her brother as the soldier pulled her away towards safety.
No, she wasn’t done yet. Haste me to know ‘t, that I, with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.
The battle had taken nearly the entire day, but as the sun began its descent in the sky, at long last the Germans could finally claim victory. They were to move west soon, but no soldier would miss the opportunity to scavenge the dead for supplies. Fresh boots, ammunition, and sometimes even hidden snacks were too valuable.
Victory or no, the men were all still unnerved from what had happened. They argued over what they had seen. Some imagined they were angels, while others said they must’ve been demons. A few lunatics even claimed some witch bitch had resurrected them from the dead.
“Generaloberst König, this one’s alive!” a German cadet shouted.
The colonel general turned to the voice, and the cadet’s face paled, for half of his commander’s face was burned so deeply he could see the actual muscles tick within his jaw. The story was that König’s latest encounter with an Element Focuser had left him with half of his face and one less eye, but hearing about it and seeing it were two entirely different matters.
Colonel General König walked over to his shouting subordinate and looked down at the muttering soldier. It looked as though the shot had just missed his heart; less than an inch to the left, and they would be dealing with another corpse instead of a potential prisoner.
An American, and by his smell, also a wizard. The colonel general smiled. How long had he waited for this chance? “Get this man a doctor. I need him alive.”