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The Theives Saw What Happened

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The thieves saw what happened. It was a wild night, a cold night, when the legends of the past and the fears of the future roiled, when the fey and their magic, the ghouls and their tricks, reigned supreme. It was supposed to be a simple job, no one was at that house, and the family was on vacation. A friend of a friend had heard of their absence and seen the opportunity. The resulting group was ragtag and unorganized, composed of trivial shoplifters and common hoodlums, kids who spent nights joyriding in the streets, smoking cigarettes, and trying to look tougher than they were. Their previous petty crime and delinquency in no way prepared them for what happened that night.

The time was set early, everyone gathered in the sparse woods around the house. Its relative isolation was another reason why they chose it. The neighbors wouldn’t see anything, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care. True to form and personality, none of them arrived on time, and no two arrived at the same time. Seven o’clock was the rendezvous; no one was there until seven-thirty. Two more joined the one between eight and nine, and by ten-thirty, the last three had arrived.

The plan was simple and not well thought out. Get in, get out, and in no particular hurry either. The house was quite old, there was not even a burglar alarm. By eleven, everyone was relatively organized. With the plan in mind, they began to look towards the house. At that point, the wind—which had been steadily and almost unnoticeably growing stronger—rose to a screaming shriek. It shook the great trees that were arrayed in what almost seemed a planned arrangement around the house. First the oak—its enormous trunk snapping with a thunder that rivaled that in the sky—fell. Then the ash—struck by lightening—split down the middle, its beautiful white wood gleaming like bones. The willow swayed, its graceful form twisted. Flexible, its trunk held. Yet the tree had lost many branches, appearing like a wounded soldier fighting a unwinnable battle. And unwinnable it was, for all three trees of the sacred circle were needed, and now two had fallen.

The ground seemed to shake. The young trespassers assumed it was caused by the reverberations of the heavy trunk’s collision with the ground. Lightning flashed again, disorienting them all, so that they momentarily forgot their purpose. The flash receded, but the accompanying change that they felt in their souls did not. The house appeared unstable, fluctuating between different versions of itself, brand new, decrepit, in good repair, a pile of rotted sticks in the ground. Then people became visible. They shifted just as the house did, their shadow forms impossible to pin down. Every once in a while, one watching the house would catch the eye of one within… and step back in horror. For their eyes were wrong. Too old, too dark, no one ever knew where they came from. Most certainly, they did not originate from the times they appeared to inhabit. No, they were much more than that, the frozen, yet fluctuating time was their prison. All time that had existed or ever would exist in that place was run and swirled into a never-ending loop, tied in knots to bind those within. They retained their power nonetheless, and had always tried their best to escape. The hideous storm was proof of that. They had saved and absorbed the energy of mortals that for millennia had neared their domain. Perhaps the fledgling arrogance or shallow greed of their unexpected guests gave them the last push they needed, but then, perhaps not.
As moments passed, their previously ethereal shapes became more and more solid, and less and less natural. The willow tried its best, and imbued with the power of the earth and sky, it slowed the process, but could not halt it. A weak cry went up from the ravaged tree, and for a moment, it seemed like it came from a tattered woman with leaves in her hair. When they looked again, it was a tree once more. It was as if this noise was a last effort, for the willow looked as though it were spent somehow. Perceiving the guardian tree’s imminent defeat, an anxiety older than time crept into their terrified minds. With it, however, came a sense of anticipation; something was about to happen.
It did. The call was heard and figures sprung from everywhere. The stones and the streams and the trees woke, lamenting their fallen comrades. The fey arrived from their hills, climbing out from their hidden and hallowed places. The undead, who for all their corruption had once been human, came to fight for all they had so long ago held dear. The spirits of all kinds, immaterial, often imperceptible, showed themselves, their weapons just as real as those of the others. And just as the seal had been outside time, using all of it at once, so were the defenders. Champions and armies long gone, now present. Those yet to be born, there as well. Mystics, sorcerers, seers, and philosophers. Those that were, those that would be. Those who wished to fight again, those who did not. All were there, all represented. It was a multitude impossible to fit in the space it filled, and yet, it did.
The battle that ensued could have lasted seconds… or ages untold. Warriors engaged the enemy directly, in any way they could. Those who had magic used it. Trees and plants grew at an unnatural rate, aided by the spirits of the Earth, the dreams of the fey, the sweat of humanity. The vegetation tangled into itself, forming binding knots like those that had been woven of time. Lightning would strike these, as well as the defenders. Lightning that, the observers realized, came not from the sky at all, but always from the house. Under this onslaught, many fell. The scale of the battle seemed to tip a bit toward the evil in the house. Yet those outside it were resilient, motivated by love, by life, by a wonder in their world that those within had long lost or sold. They worked, and they fought. Slowly the hedges began to grow faster than they could burn, and fighters stood up more than they fell. Eventually, the construction was complete. The true purpose of the war became clear, the physical battle only a distraction. When the final knot of stone and stem was finished, a horrible shriek screeched out from the house, for they were trapped again, bound tighter and better than ever before. Simultaneously, there was a cheer, one that the observers, who may or may not have become part of the battle, shared in. Then there was another flash, one of silver light that began from the ground and reached to the sky. With this flash too, came great change, but it felt right, unlike the twisted lightening of before.
Again befuddled, the would-be thieves regained their senses. The two trees still lay dead, the ash smoking, but new life had sprung as well. Vines and bushes had grown everywhere, twisting around the now green-cloaked house, and around the willow, which stood tall and strong. They all somehow knew it would recover, just as they knew that—with a rustle of leaves—the tree bid them good-bye, its dual image of the woman waving them on their way. They scurried back to their homes, always to hold this night in their hearts and souls, even if their minds occasionally forgot it. They never went near that old house again, and neither did they steal, for they understood the role they had played, for both good and ill.




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