“Starwatch” – Ayli Davidson ’23

“I think I may have accidentally put it in the pie.” 

“You think you might have put some of the incredibly powerful future-sight potion that I made into your pie?!

“Yes. To be fair, the vial looked exactly like the vanilla. And you decided to store it in the kitchen cabinets. Who stores potions in kitchen cabinets?!” Belle said. She paced through the kitchen as she held the phone close to her ear. Her husband, Julien, sighed over the other end of the phone. 

“Alright. Fine. You’re right. Where is the pie?” He asked. Ah. Now that was the question she hoped he wouldn’t ask.

“It’s at home, in the oven, but…” She paused her pacing, pinching the bridge of her nose with her free hand. “I definitely tasted the filling more than a few times before baking it.”

“Have you seen any visions yet?” Julien’s voice was quiet. He had made this potion for this year’s Starwatch Festival, coming up in just a few days. Every year, the small kingdom would spend a night under the stars in camaraderie with the Fortune Teller. This person was a sorcerer, chosen from volunteers, who was given a dose of future-seeing potion. Though it wasn’t required for the visions to appear, it is said that staring up at the stars soothes the pain and helps dull the senses for clearer visions. In the morning, the premonitions for the coming year would be announced. 

“No, not yet. I’m going to the balcony and I’m going to try to wait it out,” Belle said. Already on the move, she was collecting a blanket and some soothing potions to bring upstairs. Her familiar, a raven named Hera, carried her gloves she used for her own magic. They were black with white summoning circles carved into the palms, used to summon lesser spirits on the fly. Unfortunately, she doubted that her own magic, which involved communications with and summoning spirits, would be very helpful in this situation. 

“Belle, I’ll be home soon. Hang in there. And stay on the line for me. Please.” Now she could hear Julien’s worry. Still, she nodded, even though he couldn’t see her.

“Of course. See you soon, love,” Belle said. She left the call on and shoved the phone into her skirt pocket. She rushed upstairs as quickly as she could while continuing to avoid the various ingredients and potions strewn about the house. The first symptoms started to appear; her head started to hurt and her eyes felt strained by even the small lights lining the hallway.

The door to the balcony from the attic opened easily. She had come up here many times before. It was her favorite place to perform her own rituals, and it showed. The ground was stained with salts she used to contain what she summoned and the railings had many scratches and dents from times when her containment didn’t work as well as she liked. Belle made a mental note that they really needed to redo this balcony. Maybe she could move her work to the garden for the time being. 

Returning to her mission, Belle dropped the blanket onto the ground and spread it out. The small hurt in her head began to develop into a deep ache, one that hummed in her blood and pierced her bones. Her hands shook violently as she managed to drink the dose of pain-soothing potions, almost spilling it. Her brown eyes dipped in and out of focus. Hera dropped the gloves in front of her, and did her best to help Belle put them on with her talons. Normally, the gloves were meant to both summon spirits and to form a barrier between the user and the ingredients, so there was no chance of being dragged back to the spirit world with them. Belle took them as a form of comfort as she collapsed back onto the blanket, making her yellow skirt pool beneath her. 

It was late at night; the sun set long ago. The stars glowed bright in the sky, and the moon cast a faint light around her. The moon was a small crescent, almost a new moon. The town around her was empty with a comforting quiet. The only sounds were the faint songs of the cicadas on the trees below. 

The pain-soothing potion helped, but only for a moment. The soul-wrenching ache returned with a vengeance. Belle was frozen; any movement sent intense pain through her muscles. Hera squawked and shoved into her pocket to pull out her phone and lay it next to her. Once she had, she hopped onto Belle’s stomach to rest there.

“Belle? Are you there?” Julien’s voice came through the phone again. It comforted her, knowing he was on his way to be with her.

“Yeah, here. On the balcony now,” Belle croaked. Her voice was hoarse and she could barely hear it herself. 

“It’s gonna be ok, alright? I’m almost home. The visions… should be starting soon,” Julien went quiet for a moment again, before he started talking. About his work, what mischief his familiar, an otter, had gotten up to, what he had for dinner, what his new boss was like. Anything and nothing, trying to help by keeping her mind off the pain she felt. If this was the result of only a fraction of the intended dose of the potion, she couldn’t imagine what it felt like for the Fortune-Tellers. 

Belle appreciated it, but the sound of his voice was morphing into something strange. It grated against her ears, filling her with a sense of dread. Thankfully, blood began rushing through her ears, drowning out all other sounds. Her only comfort was the warm glow of the stars; wrapping around and embracing her.

A gash ripped through the sky, blinding light outshining the darkness of night. It grew and grew until it swallowed her whole, and she was somewhere else.

Belle stood in the middle of a long hallway. Stained glass windows lined the walls on either side of her, separated by hanging flowers. Strings of what looked like opals zigzagged through the air above her. Above those, the ceiling soared high, and, further down the hall, led to a massive chandelier. That was covered in opals, too, and the light from the candles refracted through them to throw rainbows across the hall.

Although she’d never been there, Belle guessed that this was the royal palace. And her suspicions were confirmed when the doors at the other end of the hall burst open. The King, or who she assumed was the king judging by the large crown on his head, stormed down the hallway and one of his advisors frantically chased after him. He had black hair, pale skin, and furious red eyes. He was much younger than Belle expected. 

The King was heading straight for her. Just as she was about to try and get his attention, he walked straight through her. Right. Belle had to remind herself that this was a vision of the future. No matter how real it felt, no one here could see her.

“Your Highness, we must start negotiations! They’re overtaking the palace walls, we don’t have a chance!” Belle followed the pair as the advisor started speaking.

“Call our strategists to the war room. I don’t care that it’s the middle of the night, we must push back against their surprise attack. I will not have a revolution during my reign!” 

Belle felt dizzy–A revolution? Certainly, their country was one of the few that still had a monarchy, but revolution? Her sight grew muddy. The palace around her smudged and twisted until she was somewhere else.

When Belle opened her eyes again, she was in a tent. It was quiet. At first the only sounds she heard were gentle footsteps on soft grass outside. If she really listened, she could hear the whispers of wretched screams in the distance. But then, a familiar voice met her ears. 

“The destruction of the inner wall was successful. It won’t be long now until either they offer a truce, or we overpower them.” Belle turned to see Julien, her Julien, at the helm of a table in the center of the tent. Her heart fell. There were three others around him, carefully hunched over the map of the kingdom’s capital draped on the table. His hair was longer, and she could see silver streaks peaking out beneath the hair’s usual dusty brown. And his eyes–they held an exhaustion she hadn’t seen in him before, dulled from their vibrant forest-green to a faint yellow. 

“She saw no further than this. We’re on our own now, our fate is in our hands,” Julien looked like he was going to say more, but he paused. He looked up from the table, directly where Belle stood. Her blood went cold as his eyes met hers, and the world around her disappeared again. 

The first thing she recognized was the smell of smoke. She felt it immediately fill her lungs and she doubled over, coughing. Her eyes watered. Belle stumbled forward until she was able to catch a glimpse of the world outside the smoke. The shock from seeing Julien faded, and her thoughts came racing through her. Is this what Julien has been doing outside of work? How long has he been doing this? Why did he decide to turn against the crown? Have I been complacent?

Why didn’t he tell me?

She was on one of the inner palace walls. Tears stung her eyes and the wind was so strong that it whipped her red hair out of its bun. She could see most of the capital from here, and it all burned orange with fire. Glancing down, she saw people scrambling up the side of the wall, gripping the near-smooth surface with hands slick with blood. Belle’s stomach churned. One person stood out, sprinting towards the wall not far below her and carrying a small box. They reached the wall, paused, and placed the box on the ground. They spent a moment tinkering with it before they got up and sprinted away again. Seconds passed before a blast shook the wall. Dust exploded up from the earth and the ground beneath her feet shook, throwing her to the stone floor of the wall. 

Belle slowly opened her eyes. The night sky had returned to its whole, peaceful state. The stars were the same place they always were, though she couldn’t see the moon anymore. She had probably been asleep for days. A few light-dancer bugs rested on the railing of the balcony. The breeze was nice, and she took in a deep breath, filling her lungs with crisp air for what felt like the first time in years. There was a weight on her chest, but a glance told her it was only Hera, fast asleep. Finally, she turned and saw Julien sitting on the blanket next to her. He smiled down at her. His eyes were green again; this was the Julien she knew. Maybe the vision was a mistake.

“Hey, sleepyhead. Are you back?” He asked. Belle nodded as she slowly sat up. She winced as a pain shot through her head for a moment.

“The palace just announced another ‘year of prosperity.’ I’m glad you probably didn’t see anything too bad, then,” Julien said. As Belle slowly regained awareness, her focus sharpened on him. Something was different. He fidgeted with his hands, turning them around each other over and over again. Her brows creased as she inspected him again.

“That’s all you saw, right?” He asked. There was an unusual edge to his voice. Belle slowly got to her feet with his help, narrowing her eyes as she inspected him. 

“Julien. You know that’s not what I saw, don’t you?”

As Belle took a step towards him, confusion lacing her voice, Julien flinched back. His hand twitched. Julien made no effort to disguise his emotions. Worry, shame, and fear filled his eyes as they stared at each other. Both of them stood stone-still, waiting for the other to make a move. 

The door back inside flung open, and Julien made his choice. He turned on his heel and sprinted into the house. Belle was hot on his heels, already summoning smaller spirits from her gloves in an attempt to catch him. 

They tore through the attic and down the stairs. Julien took a sharp left to his office. Belle nearly slipped, bumping into shelving in the hall. Knick–knacks and glass crashed on the floor behind her. That will be a mess to clean later. She scrambled after him. 

Julien’s office was a small room with all sorts of potion materials and instruments on the counters, but he grabbed the chair in the corner. He shoved it at Belle to slow her down, with little success. Past the office, they took the staircase down to the main floor.

In the living room, they brushed past the television, barely avoiding knocking it to the ground. Belle summoned another spirit as they rounded the corner to the kitchen. The only way for him to escape from here was through the front door. The spirit stretched and turned, reaching out for him. Last chance. It hit. Its hand clasped onto Julien’s wrist with an iron-like grip. He tried in vain to yank his hand away. She quickly moved around him, holding one hand out, until she was between him and the door.

“Julien, please just talk to me–” Belle’s pleas were cut off when Julien reached onto the counter behind him and grabbed a small potion vial. Glass shattered on the ground as he smashed it over the spirit’s head. A mournful sigh filled the room. It vanished, leaving Belle with a pain in her chest as the connection was severed. 

Julien tried to sidestep around Belle to get to the door, but she was faster. In a swift motion, she shoved him against the wall and summoned another spirit to keep him attached there. This time, there would be no escaping for him. Hera, after following them all through the house, perched on Julien’s head to watch.

Belle was just about to begin questioning him when the doorbell shrieked, making Hera squawk in surprise. She slowly walked towards the door, keeping one hand aimed at her husband to enforce the spirit’s strength. A quick look through the peephole in the door told her exactly who was there. Three men, dressed in purple officers’ cloaks and decorated with the highest-ranking medals, stood outside. 

Belle hesitated for a moment. Julien was still behind her, unable to move until she called off the spirit. 

“Don’t open the door, Belle,” Julien quietly called out to her, “Please. I can explain everything, I just–I need time.” Belle looked into his eyes. She saw sincerity. She had known this man for ten years. She trusted him. Belle turned back towards the door and put on her best smile. She knew what she had to do. 

Lowering her hand, she gave one last nod back to Julien. Gripping the doorknob, she pulled the door open just enough for the officers to see her.
“Good evening, officers. How can I help you at this late hour?” Belle said. 

“Hello, Mrs. Wittebane. I’m Officer Bailey. We’re here to speak with your husband. May we come inside?” The one in the middle spoke first. His eyes didn’t match his cheery smile. They were ice-cold and empty of care. They wandered, and she knew he was trying to see past her into the house.

“Of course, sir.” Belle’s hand gripped the doorknob tighter and she pulled the door open. In a fluid moment, she pulled off her gloves and slipped them into her pocket. 

They walked through the empty hallway into the main part of the house. She showed them all the rooms and let them take all the time they needed, a pleasant smile on her face all the while.

They found nothing.