The Last Breath [Short Story]

There were some places where magic felt more tangible than anywhere else. This was one of them. Amy cast a furtive glance behind her as she scrambled down the rocks to the hidden cove. No one had followed her there. She was alone.

Her bare feet crunched against the pebbles. The moonlight glimmered on the still water. The waves broke gently on the shore. It was a perfect still night.

She moved forward so that her feet were soaked in the water and a sense of calm fell over her for the first time in days. Since her mother had gone missing – no not gone missing taken, she had been confined to the house, pacing, waiting… waiting for them to come. But tonight, unable to bear the stuffy atmosphere, she had escaped.

This was the only safe place.

If they knew where she was – and what she was doing – they would take her away, lock her up – deem her insane. Or worse. She thought of her mother and her stomach turned over again.

She didn’t do anything straight away. She just stood there, the water draping over her feet, as she listened to the sound of the waves breaking and the wind roaring around her. It took a while to adjust and get in tune with the magic again. She had quashed it, those last few days, living in fear of her life, but now… now she felt it rising up again.

The powers were waking up. She began to murmur, to talk to the water.

And it responded, as it always did.

The wind around her was growing stronger, turning in circles around her. The elements were talking back to her. She opened her arms as she summoned, welcomed in the magic.

Once, her family had been some of the most respected witches in the country – the world. Now, thanks to a new regime and harsh laws, they were one of the most feared. For no reason, other than the fact that they were witches, and magic – of all things – was hated.

But here she was, setting it free again.

Setting herself free again.

And then she heard the sound of approaching horses, and she turned from the sea, to look up – up at the cliff top.

‘She went down there,’ a familiar voice said, the wind carrying the words down. Amy froze.

She had brought them with her. Traitor – with all her jangling jewelry – bribes from the soldiers, the authorities for giving up information and betraying her own. Amy had always known that. And that smile, the smile that held so many secrets and unsaid things.

She pulled back from the water’s edge and cowered under the cliff. There was a clanking of chains and the snorting of horses. She thought of the night they had taken her mother away, tying her up in chains and carting her away. Her mother had merely smiled. She hadn’t cried or screamed. Just looked Amy in the eye and whispered ‘I love you.’

But she didn’t have to say that. Amy knew that already.

The soldiers hesitated at the edge of the cliff. Amy’s way down wasn’t apparent and they were shouting to one another, arguing about how to get down. Amy heard the impatient voice of Martha telling them to just get down and get her, before it was too late.

She closed her eyes. She could still feel her magic working around her.

It was calling to her, telling her to come out and show herself.

And so she did.

‘I am here,’ she called up to them. It was hard to see them, in the gathering gloom, but she could make out the figures, standing there, on the edge of the cliff, as if on the edge of the world. ‘You can’t touch me here. What do you want from me?’

‘Arrest her now,’ Martha screamed – Martha, the girl from her school class who she had once walked home with, shared jokes and lunch with. Now, she was nothing more than a traitor – someone who crossed the road when she saw Amy, who betrayed her like this.

The soldier nearest to her looked as if he was about to make a move, but then, he hesitated.

‘I have done nothing wrong,’ Amy called.

She could feel the wind growing around her. The waves were growing stronger, the sound building up behind her. The elements were with her. She smiled.

‘There’s no way out for her,’ she heard one of the soldiers say. ‘She’ll have to come back up sometime.’

‘There’s no path,’ one of the soldiers objected.

‘She’s a witch – she’ll have used magic to get down there,’ the other replied.

If only they knew, she thought.

She was glad that they weren’t properly equipped nor could they see the foot holds in the rock that she had been clambering down since she had been a young girl. She was relieved that none of these soldiers had mothers who had grown up by that cove and had taught them everything they needed to know about the landscape, the cliffs, and the sea. She was lucky that they were all strangers from the city and had been sent down there on this job.

The elements were with her now and she could feel the magic burning in her chest. It was painful – bearing down on her now, and she knew that she had to use it. Had to let it pour out of her.

She closed her eyes and pulled her arms up.

One of the soldiers had figured it out now. He was scrambling down the cliff edge, shouting back to his colleagues. She heard one of them say, ‘we have to get her – or it’s our lives at stake.’ But it sounded like they were speaking under water. Their voices were muffled. She shook my head, as if trying to clear her ears out. But it didn’t make any difference.

The water behind her was rising.

The soldier was moving towards me now, his lips were moving, but his voice wasn’t carried to her by the wind. The others were attempting to scramble down now too, with Martha still standing on the edge of the cliff, watching, a smirk on her face.

She stayed rooted to the spot, her arms still stretched out, as the soldier approached. She could see him more clearly now, see the hated red and black uniform that he wore. His buttons gleamed and she wondered how long he spent polishing them. She wondered if he had a sister, a mother – someone who would miss him if he went missing. She wondered if he knew that he was destroying her family, one person at a time. But he didn’t make the rules. He was only enforcing them… that didn’t make this any easier.

The magic was still struggling to get out – the pain in her chest intensifying, and she crumbled in a heap on the stones, clutching at her chest, as if trying to claw it out. The waves behind her grew larger.

‘Magic can’t save you now,’ the soldier said and spat on the pebbles next to her, as if the very word magic caused him physical pain. He crouched down beside her. ‘Magic is being stamped out one filthy creature at a time and you’re next.’

She wished that she had the energy to move, to retort. But what was it her mother had always said?

Don’t give them the satisfaction.

‘Lost your tongue?’

She looked up at him and searched his face, looking for something – some kind of humanity. The sea had soaked her and she started to shiver, no longer feeling the burning intensity in her chest. Please come back, she thought, please. Don’t desert me now. Magic was all she had. She tried to call it back, to retrieve it, but it was fading.

And then she whispered her first plea.

‘Please.’

The man stared at her, and for a moment she wondered if he might leave her, might not take her. But instead, he grabbed her hands, pulling them roughly towards him, tying them together tightly with a length of rope he had been carrying. ‘Don’t even think about it, witch. Try and use your magic now.’  And he dragged her to her feet.

She hadn’t realized that she was crying. It was only now, as she felt them drop off her face that she realized that she had been crying for a while.  The tears mixed with the salt water that soaked her as they fell to the ground.

She stumbled as he pulled her towards the cliff. Her bare feet faltered on the rough stones as they cut into her flesh. The fire was burning again in her chest. She closed her eyes, letting it take over. Save me, she thought. Save me.

And that was when the magic came to her. The waves pulled her back, away from the cliffs, and she was ripped away from the clasp of her captor.  She was flying, except, she wasn’t. The sea had hold of her, and was pulling her back, back into its clutches. The soldier, knocked to his feet, got up, bewildered, and looked about for her.

The water wrapped around her, and once again, everything sounded like it was muffled. The rope that had been around her wrists fell away and she was able to lift her arms again, as the sea carried her away to safety. The cove disappeared from view and the sea was still wrapped around her. Finally, away from danger, Amy relaxed. She closed her eyes and smiled, before whispering, ‘thank you.’

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