When Meira, the greatest witch of morning dew, cracked the second knuckle of her finger, a thread of silver crossed the frozen sill of the open window, swirling inside her hut and tying itself around her wrist.
It was a clear morning, one that carried the promise of fresh light snow. Meira was no stranger to the icy wind that made the shutters of her lodging rattle and dance, but it was the first time the wind had brought anything with it other than frozen rain and snowflakes of diamond.
For a moment Meira stood there, eyeing the thread with eyes of wonder and great suspicion. When a shake of her wrist proved ineffectual in ridding her of this unbidden guest, she raised her other hand.
The moment her soft fingers caressed this delicate thread, she felt it—a soft pull, a tiny tug, as if the thread was willing her to follow it. Her eyes traced the other end of the thread; its long and stringy body disappeared over the windowsill and out into the soft white blanket of snow that stretched over the hill.
She shaded her eyes against the glaring sun and watched the thread hover in midair, leading far away and into the heart of the dark forest that lined the hill ahead.
And it wasn’t because of the cold. No. That she had gotten used to when she was forced all those years ago to leave behind a life among the people of the village and seek shelter at the top of the mountain, away from the prying eyes and judging whispers of the basket weavers, farmers, and fisherfolk.
There, on the lonely summit of the mountain, Meira was free to be herself. No one would blame her or look at her with pursed lips and eyes shaded with disapproval when she brought with her the powers of water.
Meira hadn’t chosen it, but in the morning she was born, a great storm ravaged the skies, and waves savaged the shoreline of the fishing village. The snows in the mountains looming above the settlement all melted and turned into rivers of never-ending force as they rushed down to meet the sea. All houses were drenched and flooded, hard-worked crops destroyed, farm animals scattered, scared for their lives, and villagers cursed and watched in awe as the water destroyed everything in its path except for the small shack where Meira gave her first cry as a newborn baby.
As soon as the water levels dropped and dry soil could be walked upon again, the head woman of the village ordered Meira’s exile, for she was clearly a force unwelcome. Meira had no memory of the stories that told of how her mother had begged and pleaded, only to be met with the harsh denial of the tribe.
Desperate, her mother moved Meira into the mountain but didn’t sever her bond with the village. If she had, without food, her precious baby wouldn’t have survived. Until her last breath, her mother traveled the distance every day, bringing Meira food and drink but parting with no words—the headwoman had forbidden her to speak to the child lest it grew curious and started asking questions about the tribe.
There came a day when Meira’s mother didn’t show, and Meira knew in her heart it was the end. She would have cried out words of anger and sorrow if she had known how to speak. But Meira had never uttered a word, and so silent tears stroked her milky-white cheeks and froze in place before reaching the ground.
Meira sighed and slammed the shutters shut, hoping to sever the unwanted bond. Yet the persistent thread remained unbroken and glowed slightly in the gray morning air of her chamber.
She made to move away from the window, but the thread only tightened around her wrist, urging her to reconsider.
The sky darkened and clouds released a light drizzle as Meira’s anger began to build. Who dared to bother her after all these years of living alone in a forgotten place? She rushed to her workbench and picked up the sharpest knife it held, carefully sliding its edge under the thread and cutting right through it. Yet the thread remained unbroken and ever so tightly bound around her wrist.
The rain fell now with greater power, and a slice of lightning colored the sky.
Meira sighed and waved her hand, sending the storm into a halt. She opened the only door in her lodging and stepped outside, her light footsteps crunching across the snow. The thread wavered now, as if excited, and started pulling her toward the forest.
What harm could come from seeing where this annoying thing wanted to take her? Meira took some hesitant steps, but when she crossed the tree line that marked the entrance to the forest, her walking faltered. Fear tugged at her heart as she saw that the thread descended toward the fishing village, the place where she knew she’d been born but was never allowed to visit.
She made to backtrack, but the thread pulled at her with a desperation that made Meira gaze at it with great disbelief. What urgent matter demanded Meira’s attention, and why lead her into a place where she was unwanted?
Meira staggered through the forest as the thread guided her among the rough barks of pine trees that rose through the snowy land. More than once she had to bend to avoid overhanging branches and pointy needles that threatened to rip her dress apart and scratch her delicate skin.
As the thread continued its frenzied pulling, Meira noticed the ground beneath her was no longer crunching—the snow had melted, and dry soil now welcomed her unsure footings.
Meira smelled it before she saw it. The whiff of burning wood and flesh tingled her nose and sent her heart into a faster beating. A jutting root made her trip, and Meira fell headfirst onto the earth. The soil felt warm under her palms. As she raised her head, she saw thick smoke rising into the sky among the treetops, forming a shroud of darkness.
The thread forced her to regain her footing and continue her frenzied march toward the village. Agonizing screams, faint at first and getting louder as she pushed forward, tore the surrounding air, joined by the crackling sound of splitting wood and loud thumps of collapsing roofs. As she crested the rocky cliff that hung above the houses, a wave of heat attacked her face, forcing her to take a step backward.
Meira had never been afraid of fire. After all, a witch of water had nothing to fear, but the fires that danced inside her humble furnace now seemed small compared to the blaze that devoured the village beneath her. Meira had seen the village but once when she had dared go near it, wishing to catch a glimpse of her mother. It was full of houses of wood—the perfect kindling for such a burning.
Men, women, and children were scattered around, fighting a fight that was uneven. Buckets of water exchanged hands and got thrown over the tongues of flame, which seemed only to rise higher and higher. Meira wanted to scream—tell them to run, begone, escape the fingers of fire, and follow her up the mountain, where the air was clear and the ground soft with blankets of snow.
The thread tugged at her harder now, and Meira looked at it through widened eyes. In all this disaster, she had forgotten its existence. Her gaze slid along the thread’s thin body, expecting it to lead downward toward this never-ending nightmare. Yet the thread tugged her to the side, along the cliff’s edge.
Behind a boulder, she found a woman, sitting on the ground with her legs spread out to her sides like the wings of a butterfly. The woman was pretty; long black hair stringed with white fell over her slender shoulders, and her face was as calm as the sea below despite the terror that ravaged the village.
Meira looked at the thread. Its long body before had seemed to have no ending. Yet now Meira saw the other end of the thread, wrapped around the wrist of this strangely calm woman.
“You came,” the woman told Meira without so much as looking at her.
Meira took an uncertain step forward.
“One would think … after all they’ve done to you …” The woman’s lips twisted into a sad smile. With a swift crack of her knuckle, the woman sent the thread away.
As the thread vanished, Meira rubbed her wrist in disbelief. The blood in Meira’s veins danced. Who was this woman?
The woman looked at her through hazel eyes, tearful, searching, haunted. “The village is burning.”
Meira tore her gaze from the woman and looked down on the blaze. The fire was growing larger despite the brave efforts of the village folk. If something wasn’t done in time, Meira feared, the village would be gone, and along with it, its people. But what could some meek buckets of seawater do in the face of the towering fires? A storm would be the only salvation. Meira spun and pierced the woman with her stare. Was that the reason this strange woman had summoned her? Was Meira to help the people?
“They don’t deserve it.” The woman’s voice rose high, much like the billows of gray smoke that crowned the fire. “Tore you from our family when you were but a childling. Not even old enough to see the world beyond the veil of newborn eyes. No child should ever sleep alone at night. No child should be denied the warm embrace of a mother.”
Meira felt a stirring inside she could not explain.
“Ah, sweet sister, the things they’ve done to you … for fear of your powers. And yet it is your power they direly need now.”
Meira took a step toward the woman, stretching out an uncertain hand to touch her. This woman felt so familiar as if she were a part of Meira’s blood and soul and essence. Sister, she thought and knew immediately this sound carried an ancient power.
The screams beneath the cliff were rising higher, and the smoke grew thicker and thicker. Meira spun and pressed her brows together, willing the rain to come. Yet it wasn’t anger that lived inside her now but a strange wonder and fear. And so the cloud Meira had summoned didn’t so much as release a light drizzle.
“We could have had a life together, sweet sister. Our mother wouldn’t have withered away from sorrow, and you would have known the wonders of the sea, and sung the songs of the earth, and smelled the scent of blooming flowers. But it is too late now. They plucked your innocence.” The woman stared into the burning hell below. With a faint flick of her wrist—so fast that should Meira have blinked, she would have missed it—the woman sent the fires roaring higher. “Now they shall pay. They shall pay for all they’ve done to us.”
Meira gasped, realizing this woman was the source of the great fire.
“Isn’t it nice, sweet sister?” the woman asked. “Doesn’t it feel good to see them suffer? Soon there will be no one left, and you and I shall live free, and not beneath the shadow of their unjust punishments.”
Meira’s throat tightened. She hadn’t great love for the people of the village; that much was true. They had denied her the love of a family and a warm, human embrace. But Meira had learned to love the animals of the forest, to be one of them and respect them. Fire was a great threat to every living creature, and it shouldn’t be allowed to grow so—not when it caused such pain and destruction. She twisted her features harder, raised her hands in a grotesque pleading to the sky to unleash its power.
“You try to save them,” her sister scoffed. “What for? Have you forgotten what they’ve done to you? No newborn child should ever be exiled for fear of its powers.”
Meira knitted her brows together, pushing her will against her sister’s. Yet the smoke that rose from the fire was great, hiding from view the flimsy clouds that lined the sky.
Desperate, Meira raised her hands, and with them a mighty wave of the sea that lined the village. It hovered there for a moment, a wall of water so tall it hid the sun. Meira made to release it but stopped at the sound of her sister’s harrowing laugh.
“Yes, yes, sweet sister! Drown them all! They deserve it.”
Meira turned desperate eyes toward the village and saw the truth in her sister’s face. If she released the wave, the wall of water would take with it more than the life of the rising fire. She eased her grip on the sea with panic, letting the wave fall back away from the shore. Meira willed the clouds once more to unleash their rain. A fickle drizzle started, not enough to fight her sister’s blazing fire.
“You try to help them.” Her sister’s voice was rising now, as was her anger. “After all they’ve done to you—to us and to our mother! Look at you, sister: exiled, wronged, and denied rightful love. What more can they take from you? What is there left in you to give to them?”
Meira’s eyes frantically searched the sky. Yet the thick smoke of her sister’s fire covered it. The light drizzle Meira had brought turned into vapor before it even reached the ground. It was a fight uneven, and she had no way to save these people. Their cries of anguish grew and pierced her ears and her heart. But the greatest wound was made by her own blood; the actions of anger from her sister tore at her very soul, making it drip with blood and sorrow.
Meira pressed her eyes shut and clenched her fists, thinking about her hut beyond the mountain woods. Was her sister really so evil as to bring her here to watch all this destruction?
“Open your eyes,” her sister said, frantically laughing now. “Witness their end and savor its sweet feeling.”
Meira refused to surrender. Her heart danced in a frenzy now. The air was getting unbearably hot, and she missed the cool breeze that swept the snow up in the mountain. She wished she were there now, alone with the timid white foxes that sniffed around her hut and hopped along on her strolls through the forest in search of food. Her toes ached to leave this cursed ground and sink into the cooling snow once again.
And then she threw her eyes open. The snow.
Although the clouds had failed her, perhaps she could will the snow to come to her aid. She focused now, twisting both of her wrists, her mind’s eye staring at the white blanket that lined the forest floor on the mountain above them.
As if her sister had sensed a change in the balance, she yelled at her now. “Don’t help them! They deserve none of it. Look at you. Look at what they’ve done to you!”
Meira tightened her fists, calling at the snow inside her head.
A low rumbling shook the earth as the snow succumbed to the witch’s order. The sound of water filled the air, a soft burble at first that soon became a thunderous gurgle as the water rushed downhill, crossing the forest Meira had left behind and coming toward them.
Meira rushed to her sister’s side, grabbing her arm and willing her to follow out of the coming water’s way. Her sister didn’t stir but stayed there, her eyes rooted to the horizon. Meira pressed and pulled and shoved, but it was in vain. When Meira saw she could not make her sister follow, she sat beside her on the warm ground.
“I’m sorry,” her sister said, her words barely audible over the rumble.
The water was nearing now, a great waterfall that had no end.
Meira held her sister’s hand, savoring the feeling of human touch. A slight smile touched her lips. She cracked her knuckle, and the thread came, binding the sisters once again.
And then Meira, the greatest witch of morning dew, bade the water flow around them. And the water obeyed, changing its course.
Meira watched it flow and quench the hungry flames in the village below them, and soon the screams of pain turned into joyful cheering, and when all was over, Meira stood.
She looked at the thread—the faintest thread—that bound her to her sister, but this time she welcomed its existence and made no attempt to sever the bond.
She retraced her steps up the mountain and back to her hut, letting the thread flow behind her. In time, she knew, her sister would follow, because the thread pulled no more downhill but up to the mountain, where silence was peaceful and words were not needed to fill the air.