The Fort Witches - A 3 Random Words Story
This month's words were illusion, shimmer, and fort
The sirens roared throughout The Fort’s compound, violently shaking Bodie from his deep winter slumber. He threw off his stained and battered quilt and sprinted to the command center.
“What do we have?” Bodie asked as he rushed through the front door. The command center was the only modern room in the entire fort, covered from wall to wall in levers and buttons to monitor potential threats. The looking glass at the center of the spacious room illuminated with the image of a human slogging their way through the snow toward the North Pole.
“Potential threat approximately one hundred kilometers South. Armed with two visible axes. The scans indicate that he likely has other tools inside his sack, but we can’t identify any of them,” Tuti replied, pressing a series of blinking buttons against the far wall. The image became only marginally more clear. “Should I alert the Big Man?”
“Not yet,” Bodie replied. “The bogie is still too far away to concern Santa, especially this close to Christmas. Send an Elf Force pilot to survey the area. I want to make sure he’s alone and monitor his direction before we take any action.”
While Tuti sent the mission instructions to the Elf Force captain, Bodie returned to his section of The Fort. He shuffled his way through the long wooded hallways toward his unit. When he was a young elf, the log cabin construction of The Fort was stifling. It was Serene, his wife, who helped him see the beauty in the live wood edges and warm tones of the wooded castle.
“Leyanni?” Bodie whispered, knocking quietly on his daughter’s chamber. When he didn’t hear a response, he pushed her door open slowly. The light pink glow in her room emanated from the enchanted clock on her nightstand and cast pink stars and galaxy configurations across her ceiling and walls. That and a small photo of her family were the only comforts she afforded herself.
“What, dad? I heard it. The whole dang Fort heard it,” Leyanni replied. “Is it being handled, or are you coming to let me know that my services are required, again?”
Bodie paused in the doorway, staring helplessly at his only daughter. His wife’s perfectly symmetrical face glared at him from his daughter’s bed, a not-so-subtle reminder that she and their son were taken from them ten years ago to the day. Leyanni never fully recovered, but the anniversary of their death was always a particularly difficult day for them both.
“We don’t know yet,” Bodie said under his breath.
“If you don’t know yet, then why did the sirens go off? And don’t tell me the bogie is a hundred kilometers away again,” Leyanni replied, sitting up in bed to face her father. Her long, midnight black hair tangled in an intimidating knot at the top of her head, but it was the sadness in her emerald green eyes that kept Bodie rooted in her doorway.
His face bore the wrinkles and stress of an elf who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Wisps of grey and white peppered his once deep-brown hair, and his elven uniform hung loose and baggy around his slender body. Leyanni took a deep breath, reminding herself that the loss of her mother and brother wasn’t her father’s fault.
“I’m sorry. Today’s just a tough day,” Leyanni sighed heavily. “It doesn’t feel like ten years.”
Bodie crept slowly into his daughter’s room and used the makeshift stairs he built to climb onto the bed beside her. Though she was more than one hundred years his junior, she was almost two feet taller and still growing. Most of her witch blood came from Serene. At only one quarter elf blood, Serene was one of the most powerful witches at The Fort. She was training Bear, their son, in the art of illusion spells, The Fort’s most formidable defense against unwanted visitors, when a Coal Child found them. The loss was devastating to The Fort Witches, but it was soul-crushing for Leyanni and Bodie.
A few years after the Coal Child took Serene and Bear, Leyanni’s powers doubled, making her The Fort’s most powerful witch. She was the only one capable of the illusion spells required to keep both The Fort and Santa’s Workshop sealed off from the world.
“I know it is, sugar plum,” Bodie said, patting her thigh. “It’s hard on me, too.”
The pair sat in silence, both trying to block out the memories that invaded their minds so pervasively on this day each year. Ten years ago, the siren system only sounded for intruders under twenty-five kilometers from The Fort. When the sirens wailed that day, Serene and Bear were oblivious. While practicing an illusion spell to block vision and sound, they missed the siren’s first sounding. It wasn’t until Bear took down the illusion that they heard the siren for the first time. They made it to the gates as the Coal Child rounded the final bend to The Fort. The Fort Witches bound together to put the illusions back in place to prevent the Coal Child from finding them. They couldn’t wait for Serene and Bear’s return, and Bodie watched from the high tower as his wife and son disappeared from his view. They were never seen again.
“Then why are we still here, dad?” Leyanni asked. “Let’s go find the Healers in Africa or the Hedge Witches in Canada.”
“You know that’s not possible,” Bodie replied. “It is our hybrid blood that enables us to protect the secret of Santa. Elves are not powerful enough alone to create and cast the spells of the witches. And you, my dear, you are the strongest of us all. Santa needs us. He needs you.”
“Right. He needs me. Just as much as he needed mom until he allowed her to be murdered by the Coal Child,” Leyanni argued.
“That’s not true!” Bodie bellowed. “Santa mourned your mother’s loss, just as we did!”
Silence sprouted between the father and daughter like bamboo, multiplying by the second.
“Bodie. Come in, Bodie,” the walkie sang. “Bodie, this is Tuti, over.”
Bodie slunk out of Leyanni’s four-post bed and headed to the two-way hanging from the wall outside her room.
“Go for Bodie,” he said.
“Uhh, the Big Man wants to see you right away,” Tuti said.
“He saw the Elf Force pilot fly out. He sounds upset that he wasn’t notified of the potential threat,” Tuti explained.
“On my way,” Bodie sighed. He peaked back into his daughter’s bedroom only to see that she had laid back down, hiding her face with a fraying quilt identical to his own. He left without another sound.
When the door to their unit clicked shut, Leyanni threw her comforter to the ground. First her mother and now Santa was going after her father? What vendetta did Santa have against her family?
Enough was enough, she decided. Let the bogie come. As a matter of fact, she would make it easy for him. If the bogie was less than one hundred kilometers out, he could make The Fort by morning. Leyanni did a quick calculation in her head before reciting the timing incantation aloud.
“Shimmer lake outside our doors, when I wake, exist no more,” Leyanni chanted. “Should an intruder decide to enter, give them passage to our center. Allow them to walk through the gates, quietly sealing The Fort’s fate.”
When Bodie didn’t return for their evening supper, Leyanni’s rage intensified. Should the witches decide to band together again, she would use all her strength to fight them. This time, Santa would be unable to prevent his demise.
The sirens wailed a painful rhythm as Leyanni awoke the next morning. The Elven Elders called an emergency meeting, requesting Leyanni take her father’s seat.
“He’s made of magic!” one of the elves cried. “What if he can magic his way through our barriers?”
He won’t have to, Leyanni thought.
The elves burst into a chorus of chaotic chatters. Others shook in terrified silence.
“Silence!” the eldest bellowed. “I want to hear from Leyanni.”
“Me? Why me?” Leyanni asked, attempting to keep her tone from diverting into disrespect.
“Well, it was your mother who sacrificed herself and your brother for the safety of The Fort. It was your mother who saved us once before. The Fort looks to you for guidance.”
“Sacrificed?” Leyanni scoffed. “You mean murdered?”
A confused hush fell over the elves in the room, all eyes staring at the eldest among them. Murder?
“He never told you,” the elder whispered, shaking his head in disappointed understanding. “Of course, he wouldn’t. You might think… Well, it’s too late now. Leyanni, I can assure you that your mother was not murdered.”
“I don’t believe you,” Leyanni’s replied.
“That day, your mother and brother strayed too far from The Fort. The illusions were down to allow them easy passage after a long day of illusion practice. When they heard the sirens, they came running, but realized they would be too late. They tried to cast the spells as they ran toward the safety of The Fort, but they were too winded and weak. They needed calm. They needed focus. They stopped in the snow and recited the words that would rebuild the illusions, leaving them on the outside. When the Coal Child arrived, your mother and brother’s energy had been taxed too severely to protect themselves. He took them. We pulled every resource to find them. Santa sent the Elf Force out hundreds of times to search for them, but we believe the Coal Child used your mother’s powers to block him from our view. We didn’t have a choice, Leyanni, the witches initiated the failsafe and wiped your mother and brother’s memories. Your mother sacrificed herself so that The Fort would remain protected.”
“She wouldn’t just leave me like that. She wouldn’t leave us,” Leyanni said through her tears.
“She didn’t leave you to hurt you. She left you to protect you. To protect all of us,” the elder whispered. He allowed a moment of silence for the realization to sink into Leyanni’s mind before he continued. “We believe she fought valiantly to protect your brother on the outside. Only when your powers doubled a few years ago did we know her magical spirit had merged with your own. We’ve been trying to locate Bear ever since. Your mother believed in this place. When your father asked her to run away with him, it was she who refused. She believed in protecting the magic of Christmas, and she believed in protecting the magic of Santa.”
Leyanni’s head felt like it might fly away from her body entirely. Her father wanted to leave? Her mother begged to stay? Her mother wasn’t murdered, but she died anyway, without her memories. She paid the price for something she believed in – something she hoped Leyanni would believe in, too.
“Are the illusions you built strong enough to handle an outsider witch?” the eldest asked, breaking through Leyanni’s clouded thoughts.
“On no! The illusions!” Leyanni didn’t pause to explain. She sprinted from the hall and took the stairs in threes as she ascended to The Fort’s high tower.
“Please don’t let it be too late,” she whispered to herself as she felt the first blast ricochet across the shimmer lake illusion. She reached the landing and peered out over the grounds of The Fort. A person slogged through the woods toward the gates, their hands outstretched to their side, appearing to chant an incantation.
"Shimmer lake outside our doors, as I speak, appear once more,” Leyanni chanted. “Do not weaken or surrender, should foreign magic attempt to enter. Glow and shimmer in the light, keep The Fort out of enemy sight.”
The lake reappeared at the feet of the outsider witch, who stepped back in surprise. He spread his arms wider and faced the sun, soaking in additional energy as he stepped forward onto the icy mirage of the shimmery lake. Leyanni projected as much of her power toward the lake as possible, but the distance it traveled significantly weakened her ability to stay connected.
She released her connection to the lake, leaving only the spell to protect The Fort. She sprinted back down the spiral staircases and open halls, sliding effortlessly through the front door and into the snowy winter morning. The intruder had made it halfway across the lake, pushing his way effortlessly toward the front gates.
Leyanni harnessed the emotions she had bottled up from years of heartache and loss, pooled it into her hands, and prepared to release it as the intruder walked closer. She stared them down, waiting for them to get within her power’s range. A stained and battered quilt fluttered in the wind behind the intruder. Though it was pulled tightly around the intruder’s face, Leyanni recognized it immediately.
All logic abandoning her, she released the incantation that would bring down the illusion, exposing The Fort in all its glory.
“Bear!” she called out over the heavy gusts of wind. “Bear!”
The intruder looked up, confusion dancing in his bright green eyes – a perfect match to her own.
The failsafe was meant to be permanent. It was meant to prevent the witches and elves who defected from The Fort from ever finding their way back, but the magic wasn’t made for witches who were forced against their will to leave.
“The failsafe is only for those who choose to leave,” Serene told Leyanni the day they cast the failsafe spell on her. “If leaving isn’t your choice, the failsafe will wipe everything but your instinct to return. It will wipe your memories, yes, but you will always be able to find your way back. As long as it’s safe to return.”
“How will I get my memories back, mommy?” little Leyanni asked.
“The hug of a Fort Witch has the power to restore your memories,” Serene said, demonstrating on her daughter.
Leyanni shook herself from her memory and took off toward the bewildered man standing in the middle of the snow. She could hear the chants of the Fort Witches behind her, attempting to build more illusions, but she was able to put each one down, her power building with each determined step she took.
“Bear!” she yelled as she jumped into his arms. Tears spilled from her eyes and turned to ice on his quilt.
“Leyanni?” Bear whispered. “Oh my candy canes, Leyanni!”
Bear wrapped his arms around his sister, squeezing her tighter as his memories came pouring back. He was a Fort Witch. He wasn’t lost anymore. He was home.