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Prologue

The seven of them – four women and three men – had been discussing, though perhaps arguing might have been closer to the mark, the same points for some time. That was when the oldest of them, a woman who looked thirty but was well over a hundred, decided to intervene. She had let the views of the others swirl around without speaking herself. Throwing back the hooded cowl that covered her head, the man who had been speaking stopped in mid sentence.

“Enough!” the elder whispered, as that was all she needed to do. “You’ve already chewed it over for far too long. “I’ll summarize, and then we can vote.” She settled back in her chair, and let her clear, quiet voice flow through her colleagues.

“We all agree that the prospect of being marginalized in the supernatural world is a problem, due to our declining numbers, and that the larger factions, the shifters, and the suckers in particular, have managed to gain significant privileges. Standing out, both have been given the legal right not only to police themselves, but also to punish their recalcitrant elements.” She caught their eyes, one by one before continuing. “If one of us went rogue, or even if a working went so badly wrong that a human died, then we would have to submit to the human courts and have our dirty laundry aired out. We could become feared or even made a laughingstock. No disagreement?”

The others knew not to interrupt, so she went on, “They also, because of their sheer numbers, have gained a variety of, admittedly necessary, concessions from the human authorities that enable them to enjoy much more comfortable lives than before. We all know the reason why we haven’t is because there are so few of us.” She turned to the man on her left. “Gregory, please remind us why our numbers have dwindled down to the few we are today.”

Nodding to her, he stood in respect, and spoke. ”Actually, as you all are aware, numbers are not the problem. For the vast majority of us, knowing what we are is. Not only that, but because of historical reasons, persecution and the reluctance to acknowledge our powers, our gene pool has become very diffuse. Shifters smell each other out, vampires the same, only we cannot recognize each other on sight.”

“Thank you, Gregory. The other consideration for the vote is time. We want to do this very large and complicated working to awaken the powers in the very large number of latent  children that are spread all over the country, but have not yet reached the age of manifestation. If we wait much longer, we may not have the complete covens necessary for the working. In other words it’s soon, or never.” She leaned back, and nodded across to another of the women. “Stefania, remind us of the drawbacks.”

“Thank you, mistress. The big problem is that we really don’t know what will happen. The gene pool mentioned already has most likely become contaminated with god knows what, as witches, who never knew their heritage, mixed and had children with all sorts. We may waken…” she paused, as if looking for the right word, but in reality intent on emphasizing her next phrase. “…all types of oddities, some of which could prove difficult to control. Who knows what mutations or mixes could have happened down the ages, including the effects of radiation. We could have shifter witches, and we could have witches whose power manifests rather differently. With all the latents out there, the chances of someone with…” she took a deep breath “…unusual talents appearing are significant. If one of them turned out to be difficult to control, it could be a total disaster, especially if we couldn’t bring them into a coven to train them.”

“Rubbish!” came from one of the men who hadn’t spoken, “Absolute…”

The mistress cut him off. “Silence! Now we vote. Who is for the motion that we undertake this working?” Five hands raised themselves, and the sixth stayed resolutely down. “It is approved by six to one,” the mistress having added her vote to the tally. Addressing the single no vote, she said, “Stefania, I do very much appreciate your caution, but without this, we may eventually dwindle away entirely, and in a few generations become virtually nonexistent. I am now going to designate you as my successor.” There were gasps from around the chamber. “Friends,” she continued, raising her hand. “Please understand, I do not expect to live long after the working, as much of my power will be invested in it. You will need a leader who has thought long and hard about what could go wrong, and what measures may have to be taken to get us through what could be a very difficult time. I hope you will all give Stefania your support.” Catching the gaze of all the others, she announced, “Samhain is in ten days. Please make sure all your covens are properly prepared by then. I don’t want to have to wait another year.”

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