By Jesse Weiner
Sy knew the rumors about Talia were true the instant she raised her arms and twirled into the surf. The water witch had to be part nymph, to be able to move like that.
Decan grunted appreciatively and took a nip from his flask. The two warlocks sat in the cliffs above the beach, in an alcove between two boulders that offered an impressive view of the shoreline. Black sand stretched for miles in either direction, interrupted by spits of land that reached out into the water like crooked fingers. One such peninsula sat directly below their vantage point. When the waves threw themselves against the rocks, curtains of sparkling sea mist shot into the sky, leaving the young witches of coven Lua drenched. Yet, despite the constant slap of sea spray, they stood proud and tall, their faces turned toward the ocean and their sister.
Sy blinked. Combined with the fog rolling in from the ocean, it looked as if Talia walked on water and danced through the clouds. The sight left him embarrassingly heated. He pushed back the hood of his cloak and took a pull from his canteen, but the icy water offered little relief. He glanced over his shoulder at the cluster of tents on the ridge high above and wondered if they shouldn’t head back to camp. It felt wrong, watching the girls like this, and besides, it was getting late.
“Look.” Decan nudged Sy and pointed at the beach.
The other five young women from coven Lua leapt from the rocks to join in the dance, but their motions seemed awkward and strained next to the lithe undulations of Talia’s spine. As she moved her hips, her silver-blonde braid swung over the small of her back like a pendulum, steady and hypnotic.
Decan gave a low whistle. “Now that’s worth the wait.”
Sy broke away from the mesmerizing scene to shoot his cousin a withering look. “You knew they would be here?”
Decan’s lips curled upward, his black eyes narrowing in an expression that would make Loki look innocent by comparison.
Sy punched him in the shoulder. “Sick bastard.”
“So what?” Decan shrugged. “You’re the one who complained about needing to take your mind off things.”
Sy frowned. “Thanks for reminding me.” He’d spent the better part of the day trying to mediate an ongoing dispute between a fire witch from coven Aga and a green witch from coven Lua. Fearful his first trial would end in more hurt feelings and hexes, Sy had let the women walk all over him. Judging from the sniggering from the witnesses gathered on the sidelines, it would be a while before he was allowed to serve as arbitrator again.
Decan smirked and pressed the flask into Sy’s hands. “Relax and enjoy the show.”
Sy shook his head and set the liquor aside. “You’re an idiot. If their coven Mother finds out we’re here, she’ll curse us seven ways to Samhain.”
“Then I guess we should stay hidden.” Decan winked and returned his attention to the girls.
Sy glared at the sky and gritted his teeth. “This isn’t right.”
“Sheesh. Who shoved the broomstick up your ass?” Decan snatched the flask and took another pull. “Relax, cousin. They’ll never find—”
“What if they do? Do you really think we can afford to jeopardize our standing with another coven?”
Decan rolled his eyes, sarcasm hardening his voice. “That’s not dramatic.”
Sy simmered. He couldn’t believe his cousin would be so stupid. Gone were the carefree days of childish pranks, of getting drunk on moonbeams and riding the wind through the woods. They were in the middle of a war, for god’s sake. The covens had gathered to address the most recent threat, a flock of winged demons that was stirring up tempests and casting witches from their brooms. The last thing they needed was dissention and distrust among their ranks.
“Fine,” Decan grunted in annoyance. “If we’re caught, I’ll say I tasted something sour on the wind. We didn’t want to throw the covens into high alert, so we decided to serve as lookouts instead.”
It was a good excuse — a little too good, for Sy couldn’t think of a single rebuttal. He crossed his arms and glowered at the moon, vowing not to watch the water witches like some low-life degenerate.
Despite his efforts, a tantalizing image of Talia flitted through his mind’s eye, her sodden dress clinging to her breasts and thighs. Sy clenched his jaw and replaced the wayward vision with thoughts of yesterday night, when he’d first spied Talia from across the bonfire.
She had stood apart from her sisters, ice-blue eyes narrowed and arms folded across her chest. Sy had sipped his mead and wondered why she wore such a dour expression. Talia shifted her gaze and for the space of a breath, their eyes locked over the crackling logs. Then his little brother James threw an arm around his shoulders and started bellowing a bawdy tune, so Sy had closed his eyes, lifted his gourd, and joined in.
With the bustle of last night’s festivities, it’d been easy to look the other way. He’d thought her shy, perhaps stuck up. While everyone else spilled out libations to the gods and tilted their heads to sing to the stars, she’d bitten her lip and frowned. Now Sy wondered if she’d cursed him in that clearing, for his chest cracked in two with a raw and desperate longing to watch her sinuous form twist and turn in the moonlight.
Then Sy heard it — a lilting melody that rose above the crashing surf to send a shiver down his spine. Dammit. He rubbed his face, feeling like a fool for not realizing it sooner. The Lua praised the moon goddess, and tonight was a full moon. They weren’t spying on a simple dance, but an act of worship. Guilt gnawed at his conscience.
Decan groaned a curse.
Sy glanced over and caught the warlock adjusting himself. Resolve shattered, Sy’s gaze dipped to the shoreline. Before, the witchling’s movements had mimicked the slow lap of the incoming tide, their hips swaying in a dreamy, peaceful rhythm. Now their dance was wild and writhing as a storm at sea. Raw. Powerful. Sensual. Sy’s breath came out in a whoosh.
One after another, the water witches threw themselves at the breakers, emerging from the waves wearing nothing but salt and foam.
It was the first time Sy had seen a naked woman in the flesh. Sure, he’d seen the cards the boys passed between their bunks before they went to bed, black and white drawings of ladies lounging on mossy banks, their full breasts exposed to the sky. But this… Sy swallowed. The swelling in his chest felt like something far bigger than lust. It was want and need, guilt and longing, a poignant desire to know more than just the beautiful body dancing on the black sand beach, but the soul that inhabited it.
Decan snickered. “Gods, Talia’s tits are tiny. Less than a handful, I’d bet.”
Sy averted his eyes, trying hard not to think about cupping that soft, pert weight in his hands. “Says the warlock whose manhood is no bigger than a mouse’s thumb.”
Decan made a lewd gesture, his hungry gaze fixated on the girls below. “Mariella, though…mmm. And Lys?” He cursed again.
“C’mon, Decan.” Sy shoved his cousin and stood. “We should go.”
“No.” Decan shoved him back. “Stop being a whelp.”
Sy fisted his hands. Normally, he laughed and went along with his cousin’s scheming, but this time Decan had crossed the line. “Fine. Have it your way.” He snatched up the flask and dumped the amber liquid on the ground.
“Dammit, Symon!” Decan lunged forward, hands cupped in a futile attempt to save some of the liquor.
Sy mumbled a prayer to the moon goddess, begging her forgiveness. Then he chucked the flask at his cousin’s chest, turned on his heel, and hopped down from the ledge. Sy crept toward the beach, casting an invisibility spell as he ducked and weaved between the boulders. When he was but a stone’s throw away from the rising tide, he knelt in the fine black sand and reached for the sky.
Spreading his hands wide, Sy called on the god of night. He summoned tendrils of velvety dark magic, flexing his fingers to gather smoke and stardust, crimson planets and comet’s tails. Then, veins thrumming with power, Sy knit them together. The witches yelped and shrieked, but he ignored them. Brow beading with sweat, Sy twisted those celestial ribbons until they molded to his will. Only when his work was complete did he wipe his face with his cloak and open his eyes.
Talia and her coven sisters stood in the shallows, gaping at one another. Long, shimmering cloaks of purple and black, silver and orange, hung from their shoulders.
Sy smiled as he rose and brushed the sand from his pants. It felt good to stand up against his cousin — something he should’ve done a long, long time ago. Rather than return to his cot and a fight with Decan, Sy started down the foggy, moonlit beach. Sleep could never claim him now, not while his chest was so tight with guilt and worry and unmet desire.
“Symon?” a voice, soft as the tide kissing the shore, called after him.
Sy froze. He’d completely forgotten that nymphs were immune to invisibility charms.
“That is your name, right?” Talia asked, sounding a little breathless as she approached.
Sy ran a hand through his hair, gnawed his lip. “Aye.” He cleared his throat and turned to face her. “That’s me.”
“Not so fast!” A thunderous voice echoed from the cliffs above, magnified by magic.
Sy flinched and looked up. A flash of blue light streaked across the trail to the camp, followed by a high-pitched yelp. Decan, caught by Coven Lua’s leading Mother.
“Were you spying on us?”
Sy glanced at Talia. Her arms were crossed, one finger tapping her bicep. He rubbed the back of his neck and dropped his gaze to the sand. “Uh…yeah. But it wasn’t… I didn’t realize…” He dropped his hand and made himself spit out the words, though he still couldn’t meet her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Talia glided closer. So close, Sy was staring at her seashell pink toes in the sand. Her star-spun cloak fluttered in the breeze, wrapping itself around his legs. “Do me a favor, will you?” she said in a smoky voice, pressing her palm against his chest.
Sy blinked up at her, his brain still registering her proximity, the warmth of her hand, the fact that she knew his name. “Yes?” He responded a moment too late, his voice breaking on even that one, small word.
Talia giggled and leaned in, her lips brushing his earlobe as she whispered, “Put some clothes on.”
She snapped her fingers and Sy’s cloak, tunic, and pants vanished in a puff of smoke. He hurriedly covered himself with his hands, his face exploding with heat.
Talia stepped back, smirking as she gave him a once-over. “Now we’re even.” She winked, spun on her heel, and sashayed into the fog.
Jesse Weiner writes short stories and YA Fantasy novels. Her work has also appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Youth Imagination Magazine, and other national publications. She is currently seeking representation. Jesse graduated from the University of Colorado with dual degrees in English and International Affairs. Her favorite things include coffee, travel, running, photography, and cooking. She resides in Colorado with her husband, their daughter, and two fur-babies. Visit jessemaeweiner.com, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, to stay updated on her latest publications.
Featured image via Sheva Creations, Pixabay