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Emma L Adams

Witch out of Time: A Blair Wilkes Mystery Book 7 (Paperback)

Witch out of Time: A Blair Wilkes Mystery Book 7 (Paperback)

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Book 7 of 15: A Blair Wilkes Mystery

Blair attempts to track down the sceptre while juggling witch lessons with her stubborn familiar, an apprentice dealing with school bullies, and a plague of random hauntings all over town. Her long-lost family might be among the visiting spirits, but Blair has no time for ghost hunting. Bodies are turning up, apparent victims of the sceptre's magic, putting the entire magical community in danger.

As the town of Fairy Falls holds the paranormal world's annual Halloween celebrations, Blair finds herself playing host to the leaders of the region's most prestigious witch covens. Donating her room to a grumpy elderly witch is bad enough, but when a valuable sceptre is stolen from the house, Blair is tasked with finding the thief.

Can Blair stop the thief's killing spree and return the sceptre to its owner before the town pays the price -- and she loses her last chance to speak with her family?

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I stood face to face with my familiar and assumed the most authoritative tone I could muster. “Sky, please put on the hat.”

Sky, a little black cat with one white paw, sat on the grassy hillside and refused to move, forcing the other witches and wizards to step around him. It was amazing how such a small cat could bring an entire procession of paranormals to a halt.

I crouched beside him and looked into his eyes—one grey, one blue. “Sky, after Saturday, you won’t have to do this again. Will you please cooperate with me?”

“Miaow,” he said, in tones that implied he’d rather take a nap.

Halloween—or Samhain, as it was known in the magical world—was one of the most important occasions for witches and wizards all over the country, and Madame Grey had been thrilled when Fairy Falls was selected to play host to the region’s most prestigious coven leaders. Madame Grey herself led the procession, and dozens of witches and wizards walked along the hillside, all wearing black cloaks and hats with their familiars walking at their sides. At first, I’d worried that I’d forget my hat or trip over my cloak, but it was Sky who was more likely to make a deliberate spectacle of himself. 

Most of the time, Sky acted like a regular witch’s familiar—except for the times he glamoured himself to look like a giant furry monster to defend me. He’d fly on a broom and help me with spells, but he would not, under any circumstances, wear a pointed hat.

“I know you’re not a witch familiar,” I whispered. “Just play along. It’s all in good fun.”

“Miaow.” Sky huffed, batting at the little pointed hat with a paw and knocking it into the mud. I’d spent the better part of the last hour levitating it back onto his head every time he knocked it off during rehearsals. If I’d known we’d have to spend the last two months practising three times a week, I might have hesitated before volunteering, but the ceremony meant a great deal to Madame Grey. Since she owned the town of Fairy Falls and had gone out of her way to make me feel welcome here, the least I could do was take part.

Sky, on the other hand, had no such loyalties. I had the impression that fairy cats rarely took an interest in humans at all. Before he’d adopted me, his best friend had been Vincent, an eight-hundred-year-old vampire. But Madame Grey was adamant that every witch or wizard who had a familiar was required to bring it to take part in the ceremony. It was a freezing, drizzly October day, not ideal for trekking across the hillside, but the weather didn’t bother Sky nearly as much as the idea of having to pretend to be a normal feline.

As I planted the hat on Sky’s head again, my flatmate Alissa gave me a sympathetic look. Her cat, Roald, padded at her side, his own pointed hat perched on top of his ears. 

“See, Roald has no problem wearing a hat,” I told Sky.

“Miaow.” Sky’s tone suggested he didn’t much care what Roald did. The other familiars didn’t know quite what to make of him, but they kept a noticeable distance from him. Sky might be the size of a kitten, but I’d seen him grow into a giant man-sized monster when I was under threat.

“Maybe you should borrow another cat for the ceremony,” Alissa suggested. “The familiar shop has a few they’re loaning to the academy students.”

“Miaow.” Sky bared his teeth in warning, implying any cat who dared take his place would be sorry they stepped within five feet of me.

I narrowed my eyes back at him. “If you don’t want me to bring another cat, Sky, you’ll have to do as I say. I’m not a fan of the weather either, but in another week, you’ll never have to wear a pointed hat again.”

Around us, the procession began to move forwards. I flicked my wand and levitated the black hat onto Sky’s head. He twitched, making a hissing noise, but walked at my side along the muddy hillside. The lake at the foot of the hill reflected the darkening sky, while Fairy Falls itself was visible as a collection of stone buildings gathered on the shore. Every day that passed cemented my certainty that here was where I belonged. Even if a black hat and cloak weren’t really my style. I’d borrowed the cloak from Alissa, who was a few inches taller than me, so it kept dragging on the ground unless I held it up with one hand.

We walked on, following Madame Grey’s lead. The leader of the town’s witches—who happened to be Alissa’s grandmother as well as the head of the Meadowsweet Coven—wore a long black cloak like the rest of us, her own hat perched atop her long, curly white hair. Her voice rang across the field as she called out commands to the academy students at the front of the procession. “Left, right. That’s a left, Johnson. Don’t walk that way, you’ll tread on someone’s tail.”

Sky gave a flick of his head and the hat flew off again, landing in a patch of mud. I flicked my wand. Instead of landing back on his head, the hat turned purple. Oh, no.

I had fewer magical disasters than I had when I’d first moved to town, but my old habits sometimes came back when I didn’t pay attention. Holding my wand hand steady, I gave it another flick and the hat turned back to its normal colour. Then I darted out of line to pick it up, brushing mud off the brim with my fingers.

“Blair,” said Madame Grey. “Is there a problem?”

I levitated the hat back onto Sky’s head. “No, Madame Grey.”

Thankfully, Sky seemed to get the message and walked into line. Just when I’d started to relax, he gave a loud, fake sneeze, and the hat went flying into the cat in front. The tabby cat turned around with a hiss of annoyance.

“Ah, sorry,” I said to the familiar and its owner. “My cat is… er, allergic to fabric.”

Sky gave another fake sneeze. Sometimes I wondered if he understood every word I said, but I was more inclined to believe he pretended not to when it suited him.

The familiar’s owner threw the hat back to me, and I caught it. “Thanks.”

When I crouched to put it back onto Sky’s head, he swiped with a claw, tearing the hat almost clean in two and snagging my wrist in the process. Ow.

“You okay, Blair?” Alissa’s eyes widened at my bleeding wrist.

“Just wonderful.” I winced. “How do you cast a repair spell again?”

And it’d all been going so well. I’d skipped to Grade Three in my magical training—passing by the skin of my teeth, thanks to the broomstick flight portion of the exam—and I’d continued with my twice-weekly lessons with Rita in my spare time after work. I’d been making strides in my progress in all areas… except for my ability to control my so-called familiar.  

I picked up the torn hat and turned back to Sky, except he wasn’t there. The little black cat had wandered out of the procession and down the hillside.

“Sky,” I hissed. “Get back here.”

He didn’t turn back. Smothering a groan, I stepped out of line and hurried after him. “Sky, please. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most important events of my life.”

“Miaow.” Sky’s tail flicked, pointing downhill towards the lake. A group of figures wearing pointed hats and cloaks walked along the path towards the town—not part of the procession. 

They must be the visitors. My nerves spiked, and when they looked up at our procession on the hills, I froze. Hoping they couldn’t see my face from a distance, I scooped up Sky, ignoring his yowl of protest, and sprinted back to my place in line. 

“Blair,” said Madame Grey, with exaggerated patience. “What is it now?”

“Ah—the visitors are here.” I pointed over my shoulder.

“Then we’ll stop for tonight.” She clapped her hands. “Students, stay in line with your classmates and wait for instructions from your teachers. Everyone else, come with me to greet the newcomers.”

I hovered awkwardly on the spot, not quite sure which category I fell into. I might still be a student, but I was also years older than the others at the academy. A few months of training hadn’t made up for a lifetime of living in the paranormal world, but Rita, my tutor, was confident I’d catch up. In the meantime, I wouldn’t have minded meeting the other coven leaders from out of town, but I’d rather they got a better first impression of me than seeing me running around the hillside after my cat.

As the group broke up, the academy’s teachers summoning their students back into line to walk back to class, Madame Grey beckoned me aside. “Are you managing to keep your familiar under control?”

Sky twitched his whiskers and hid behind my legs. Madame Grey was one of the few people my cat respected, perhaps because she was the person who’d allowed me to stay in Fairy Falls to begin with. Her silver-rimmed spectacles sat on her crooked nose, magnifying her intelligent eyes. Her black hat blew sideways in the wind but somehow never fell off. Mine was attached to my cloak by a bunch of staples so the wind didn’t carry it off my head, and it’d taken ages to position it so that they didn’t show.

“I think he’s a bit sick of the rehearsals,” I admitted. “He’ll be fine on the day.”

“The rehearsals are for the benefit of our newest class of witches and wizards,” she said. “Some of them only got their first wands in September.”

My mind immediately jumped to Rebecca, the newest student at the academy—even newer than I was. She’d been put into accelerated training to catch up to her classmates, but judging by the way she stood apart from the others, she had yet to find her people. Madame Grey’s sharp eyes followed my gaze to the young dark-haired witch who, personality-wise, was nothing like the rest of her family I’d met.

“You’re doing a great job with her,” Madame Grey added. “It’s not easy being new, and she’s had less life experience than you have.”

“True.” I’d always felt slightly out of place, even in the magical world. Having a fairy criminal for a father and a supposed thief for a mother had cemented my outsider status, to say the least. Rebecca herself had a powerful ability to influence and change others’ personalities, and her mother, Mrs Dailey, had been jailed for manipulating her daughter’s magic for her own gain. “I’m worried they won’t look past her mother. And sister, come to that.”

Blythe might not be a criminal, but she was an unpleasant individual who’d done her best to get me kicked out of town when I’d first moved to Fairy Falls. I’d taken Rebecca under my wing since I’d helped bring her mother to justice, but I couldn’t protect her all the time, especially when the adult world was as full of petty bullies as the witch academy. Luckily, I’d assembled a group of friends who had my back. I could only hope that in time, Rebecca would find her own tribe who accepted her for who she was.

“Give it time,” said Madame Grey. “As for your familiar, might I suggest using a spell for obedience? There are potions, too. Many witches and wizards use them all the time.”

“Sky wouldn’t like that.” I crouched to scratch him behind the ears. “I’ll make sure he behaves at the final event.”

“Good,” she said. “I was glad when I saw you’d signed up to take part, Blair. It’s good that you’re getting involved in the community more. We’re happy to have you.” 

Even holding a muddy hat in my hand and with my cat hiding behind my ankles, my spine straightened at her implied praise. “Who are the visitors, then? Coven leaders?”

“They’re not all coven leaders,” she responded. “They’re all the local witches who hope that the title of the region’s leading witch will be passed onto them for the duration of the next year. The witches who’ve come here are the ones who think they’re in with a chance of being picked.”

I turned this information over in my mind. “The region’s leading witch? How do they get picked?”

“You’ll see when the event rolls around,” she said. “In the meantime, I thought you might like to know that the current Head Witch was once acquainted with your mother.”

My mouth fell open. “Oh. Who is she?”

“I’ll introduce you,” she said. “Aveline of the Hollyhock Coven has been the region’s Head Witch for many years, so she’s met a large number of witches and wizards, including Tanith Wildflower.”

My mother. She knew my mother. Since learning of Tanith Wildflower’s death, I’d been forced to conclude that nobody had really known her at all. Certainly nobody in Fairy Falls, anyway. There was a years-long gap in my mother’s history from the moment she’d left Fairy Falls up until her death, and nobody in the town had seen her in the interim. Even Madame Grey hadn’t been able to track down any reliable information on how my mother had come to meet my father, much less why she’d abandoned me in the foster system in the normal world before being caught by the paranormal hunters and dying before they could jail her. Which crime she’d committed to merit being chased by the most feared magical police force in the region, I could only imagine.

Not that I knew much more about my dad, except that he was alive, a fairy, and incarcerated in the Lancashire Prison for Paranormals himself. While he sent me letters from jail, he refused to tell me anything significant in case our correspondence was interrupted, including why he’d been locked up and whether he and my mother had committed the same crime. I wouldn’t be able to see my dad until the winter solstice in two months’ time, so it wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone else who might have known the witch side of my family. At this point, I’d pounce on any opportunity to speak to someone who’d known her.

“Thank you,” I said. “Why did they pick Fairy Falls as the location of the ceremony?”

“I volunteered the town because I thought it would improve our credibility in the eyes of the other covens,” Madame Grey explained. “In any case, I also planned to make a bid for the position of Head Witch myself.”

“Oh. I hope you get it.” Madame Grey had faced betrayals from within her own witch council and still remained one of the strongest people I’d met. If anyone deserved the position of the leading witch in the region, it was her.

Madame Grey’s sharp eyes fixed on a spot further down the hillside. “Looks like they’re on the way. Since you’re here, Blair, would you like to meet them now? Go and fetch Alissa, and I’ll take you down to speak with the Head Witch.”

My gaze followed hers, finding the group of figures from earlier had drawn closer to our dispersing procession. All appeared to be female and wore long travelling cloaks. Some also wore hats, while the leader used a cane to navigate the marshy ground.  

“Oh, sure.” I hastened to Alissa’s side, crossing my fingers behind my back that Sky would behave. At least he wouldn’t have to wear a hat for this part. 

Alissa and I descended the hillside behind Madame Grey, along with our familiars. 

The woman with the cane lifted it into the air, revealing it to be an elegantly carved stick which glowed with a purplish light, reflecting the wrinkles on its owner’s face. She had to be at least eighty, and that cane… wasn’t a cane. A halo of purple light surrounded it, and the air turned static, making the hairs on my arms stand on end. It’s a wand—but a powerful one.

“It is a great honour to welcome the current Head Witch, Aveline Hollyhock,” said Madame Grey.

I leaned closer to Alissa. “What’s she carrying?”

“That’s the sceptre which only the Head Witch wields,” she whispered back. “They say it was created by the first coven in the region over a thousand years ago. It’s so powerful that it doesn’t belong to a single person, and it changes hands each Samhain. On Saturday, it’ll select one witch to bear its power for the year to come.”

“The sceptre chooses a person? How does that work?” I didn’t know of any wands that changed owners, but the rippling currents of purple light surrounding the sceptre were unlike anything I’d ever seen in the magical world before.

The sceptre’s carrier turned to me. “And what do we have here?”

“Aveline,” said Madame Grey, “meet Alissa, my granddaughter, and Blair Wilkes, the newest witch to enter Fairy Falls.”

“New, are you? You’re a bit tall for a six-year-old.”

It probably wasn’t polite not to laugh at the Head Witch’s jokes, so I forced a weak chuckle. “Uh, I’m twenty-five.”

“I might be old, but I’m no fool, Blair Wilkes. What coven do you belong to?”

“Meadowsweet… by adoption.” For now. My mother’s coven was extinct, but now didn’t seem the time to bring her up. Not with the other witches scrutinising me. Aveline wouldn’t know I was related to Tanith Wildflower by looking at me, considering my human appearance was technically a fairy glamour I’d been wearing all my life.

“This is not suitable weather to stand outside,” Madame Grey said. “Come along, and I’ll show you our coven’s headquarters.

She beckoned, and the group of witches followed her. Behind the Head Witch, three witches walked in a huddle, grumbling about the cold, drizzly weather. 

“The Head Witch isn’t what I expected,” Alissa said. “Then again, she is eighty-seven, and has been carrying that sceptre for years.”

“So it can pick the same person each year?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I guess there hasn’t been any competition for a while. I’m kind of surprised my grandmother is trying to claim it. She never showed any ambitions to rule over the region before—one coven is quite enough.”

“Not to mention the entire town,” I added. “Imagine how long the council meetings to address complaints from all the local covens would last if we brought in all the other towns, too.”

“Tell me about it,” said Alissa. “She must have a plan for if she wins. I wouldn’t have thought she’d want to leave the council unattended for long, either, considering all the trouble we’ve had this year. The Head Witch often has to leave town to visit the region’s other magical communities.”

“I assume she does have a plan.” Madame Grey knew what she was doing, I was certain of that. “She told me Aveline knew my mother.”

“Really?” Alissa said. “I suppose she must have met people from all over, considering she’s been Head Witch for years.”

“Even career criminals.” I tried to keep my tone light, but failed. Just the mention of Tanith Wildflower had brought all my worries and speculations back to the surface. 

“I’m sure that’s not true,” said Alissa.

It sounds that way. I hated to imagine my mother might have been anything other than the loving parent she’d been denied the opportunity to be, but the hunters made no mistakes when they arrested paranormals who’d committed crimes. That my dad was locked up in the most notorious paranormal prison in the northwest of England seemed to prove what Nathan’s father had claimed—namely, that both my parents had been notorious thieves. My foster parents had never met my birth family, either. Wilkes was their surname, and I still felt more of a connection to them than I did to the witch who’d seen to it that I didn’t grow up in the magical world at all.

I beckoned to Sky. “We should head home before it gets dark.”

“I’ll fix the hat,” Alissa said. “Give it here.”

“Sure.” I handed it over gratefully. “One more week of this left. Then you can get back to sleeping all day, okay, Sky?”

“Miaow.” The small black cat was hardly visible under the darkening sky as we descended the hill towards Fairy Falls. 

“I think he’s being very patient for a fairy cat.” Alissa waved her wand, repairing the hat, and handed it back to me. “Are you seeing Nathan tonight?”

“He’s on security duty again,” I said. “Making sure nobody plans to interrupt the ceremony. Like the hunters.”

“I thought they hadn’t been seen in months.”

“They haven’t, but you never know.” Even Nathan’s hunter relatives hadn’t come back to town since their visit over the summer. It had been Nathan’s own father who’d alerted me to the fact that my mother had died—not far from here. Yet Nathan’s family didn’t worry me nearly as much as Inquisitor Hare, leader of the hunters, not least because he’d asked me to work for him. I’d refused, and no repercussions had come back to hit me so far, but that he knew more than I did about my family disturbed me to no end.

“I wouldn’t have thought it would be their thing,” Alissa said. “Celebrating Samhain, I mean. They don’t seem like the partying sort.”

“You’re not wrong.” With the exception of his younger sister, Erin, Nathan’s family had disliked me from the outset and thoroughly disapproved of both me and Fairy Falls. It hadn’t helped that Sky had shown up at my first dinner with my boyfriend’s family and sat on the table, then invited a pixie into the house. 

Yet despite our rocky start, Nathan and I were doing just fine, considering we only got to see one another once or twice a week. His obligations as the leader of the town’s security team kept him busy, while with my own packed schedule, it was a miracle I found time to sleep, let alone hang out with my boyfriend. 

Alissa and I made our way through the quiet, winding streets of the town. Sky nudged my ankle as we drew close to home. The large brick house was divided into flats, owned by Madame Grey herself, who… stood on the doorstep, along with the rest of the visiting witches. Aveline turned to face us when we approached, leaning on her walking stick.

“There you are, Blair,” said Madame Grey. “Won’t you and Alissa help the others get settled in?”

I blinked. “Um, settled in?”

“Didn’t you know?” she said. “The potential Head Witches will be staying in your house.”

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