Chapter One:
A Witch’s Dreams
Pumpkin Oaksgourd was a witch. One of the best young witches to come out of Hollowmore since the days of the Aspects and their exploits, but she couldn’t tell anyone considered a “normie.” Should she tell anyone not a part of the Coalition of Sorcery, anyone who’s not recognized as a Witch, Warlock or Premiere, the hunters would come to strip her magic and memories away like a whimsical dream ended too abruptly.
            Speaking of dreams that end abruptly, Pumpkin had wished this one would reach its climax already. She knew it was a dream, as everything seemed and felt surreal, but at the same time, it frightened her.
            It was no dream. It was a nightmare. It was the fiftieth time Pumpkin had this dream.
She trekked through a snow-encrusted wasteland as the wind howled and snapped at her like an angry beast kept an inch away from its prey. Buildings were torn and fractured, burned and rotted, a poor semblance of a thriving civilization. On the ground near her was a wooden carving of an insignia that when Pumpkin laid eyes upon it, they glimmered with hope:
It was a carving of a skull-like jack-o-lantern.
Her body ached and ailed as Pumpkin continued, and wounds stung her from a battle she bore no memory of surviving. Pumpkin waved her hand and gripped at the wind, but nothing was there and she fell face first into the chilling powder.
A warm feeling suddenly washed over her; she looked up and saw a burning butterfly overhead as it traced a circle of its burnt particles while Pumpkin lay in the middle. Before, when she first had these dreams, she welcomed the butterfly as a sign of safety. Yet now, the immolated insect offered her only fear.
“Papillon…” Pumpkin spoke as her vision hazed over. Her muscles felt weaker than before, and she could barely keep herself upright, let alone speak coherently. She fell to the snow once more as the wasteland quaked and crumbled as if Pumpkin was its last hope of remaining stable. A single tear fell from her eye as her head hit the dreary white again.

Dormitory, Windgates Academy, October 30th
Pumpkin lay flat on her back, her breath heavier than the first time she tried a summoning spell. She’d awoken from a vivid nightmare and she pressed her hands against her face to wipe the sweat that beaded at her brow. Her heart thumped harder than a drum in a band, but her chest felt as if someone had slammed a husky fist deep into her breastplate.
            She sat up, one hand over her heart, the other reaching out in the darkness for her journal, which was at her immediate left on the bedside table. Everything started to come into clearer focus, the sun a faint, misty orange light that filtered through closed blinds.
            Pumpkin waited until it was clear enough to see. She gestured her hand into a sharp circle and an ink pen materialized in her palm. Without a further thought, she scribbled on the pages until five new ones were covered top to bottom. The Papillon had come again, closer than last time, and each time it did, she felt worse than before. She felt like dying.
            Pumpkin had tried to recall the entire dream in full detail. The encompassing void of the wasteland had come to her once again, the snow crunching under her boots like broken glass. Her body began to hurt again, but once the butterfly fluttered into her sight, its wings sang with fire, Pumpkin felt as if an ice cube had slipped down into her stomach at the very thought.
            She closed her eyes and tried to correlate the image with anything. Any form of answer would help her, she thought as her mind tabulated through the enormous archive of her knowledge. Nothing came up, at least nothing concrete and legible. Scratch notes written by addled minds came to the forefront, all with frantic messages about how “the butterflies were coming, the butterflies were coming…”
            As Pumpkin thought of the Papillon once more, she felt a spasm of horror, the same which had awoken her. Had this been the pain she felt? Pumpkin wished to dive deeper for an answer, whatever it took to make the nightmares stop - she put her face into her hands and blocked out her room. She tried to hold on to the still image of the wasteland, the snow, the sky as black as a sea of ink, and the burning butterfly. It was like trying to keep water in her cupped hands; the details trickled away from Pumpkin’s mind as fast as she tried to hold on to them.
She took her face out of her hands, opened her eyes and stared around the room as though she expected to see something unusual there. As it happened, there was an extraordinary number of things in the room, all neatly tucked away. A large wooden Wardrobe that bore the insignia she saw from her dream which stood open at the foot of her bed and two pieces of clothing she immediately recognized were in view: her school uniform and her work clothes.
Underneath the clothes were assorted grimoires, journals filled to the brim with notes, rolls of parchment that covered a writing desk, her boots, and a scepter with an effigy of a pumpkin situated at its tip were propped against the Wardrobe. On the floor beside her bed a book lay open; Pumpkin had been reading it before she drifted off into sleep last night. The words had detailed the rise and fall of the Goblin Knights, defeated by four young women with astonishing powers.
Pumpkin reached for the book, picked it up, and read a few lines to herself. “The Goblin Knights were fearsome as they were cunning, capable of utilizing several arcane magicks that astounded even the most experienced Warlock who did battle with them.” She then mused, “Well, they didn’t know that Goblin Knights had high light sensitivity, so a well-placed Luminous spell could’ve saved them a lot of trouble.”
Pumpkin snapped the book shut. Even The Goblin King’s Anarchy - in Pumpkin’s opinion, a very derivative tome of a part of mystic history given to her by Madame Inkblossom when she asked for research to write a thesis paper on - couldn’t distract her at the moment. She placed Grimoire of the Aspects, a better written but still slightly derivative book inside of her Wardrobe along with her current book, and both tomes disappeared a moment later. She crossed the bedroom and drew back the curtains to survey the street below.
The Dormitories of Windgates Academy looked exactly as a respectable suburban neighborhood would, with walls of polished stone and wooden mortar, beaten streets and clockwork gas lamps that churned all night to keep the area moderately lit. A huge clock stood situated in the middle of the makeshift town square chimed seven in the morning, and like clockwork, students who took early courses piled from their two-story dorm buildings in their uniforms congregated and made their ways to their classes.
The dream still troubled Pumpkin as she returned to bed. She listened closely to the silence around her, which, save for the murmurs of other students in the halls trying their best to speak in hushed tones, was pretty noticeable. Was she expecting the howl of a sudden snow flurry, the creak of a stair or the swish of a cloak? Pumpkin jumped slightly as she heard the flapping of paper as a small letter appeared on her desk.
Pumpkin shook herself mentally; she was being paranoid. There was no one in her room; she opted out of having a roommate for fear of them butting heads over space and their personalities, but ever since the night terrors began, Pumpkin had regretted this choice. It’d be nice to have someone to talk to, at least someone her age outside of a classroom. She walked over to the desk and sat down to read the letter, which reeked of her mother’s jasmine flower perfume.

Pumpkin, my dear,
Why did you wait so long to tell me about these bad dreams? I had thought this gift of yours would’ve been a boon in school, but it only gives you nightmares. I share it too, Dreamscaping, but yours is like a wildfire. It needs to be quelled. Are you sure you don’t want to visit home? Hollow Eve isn’t the same without you.
Oh, and about your performance in Hollowmore tonight, I won’t be able to make it. Work with the Premieres came up at the last possible second, and whenever they summon you, you got to respond. I know this is the fifth time, but I’ll make it up to you. I promise.
We need to discuss your decision about school. Are you honestly giving up a scholarship to do THAT? Need I remind you--
            “No, mom, you don’t need to remind me,” Pumpkin said to herself as she stopped reading. She knew well how it’d end, and it became rote memorization by this point.
            Pumpkin knew what she was doing. She didn’t need her mother’s nagging. The young witch knew perfectly well that she couldn’t use magic outside of places designated “safe and secure” by the Coalition of Sorcery, but her mother still doted on her like a little girl living at home. Pumpkin had never been able to confide in her or tell her anything outside of things pertaining to magic.
Helgamine Oaksgourd was a good teacher but a subpar mother. The idea of telling her mother that she missed and feared her father, that she dreamed of more than the wasteland and the Papillon on fire, and about her own worries as a Witch, it was laughable.
And yet it was because of her father that Pumpkin’s relationship with her mother was so hackneyed in the first place. If her father hadn’t left, she believed, in her own opinion, that she wouldn’t feel so repressed.
Pumpkin was six years old when Amergan left. Rumors, accusations, and unbelievable crimes trailed him, and the Coalition of Sorcery could not prove anything, yet they sought to jail him. He left his grimoire, the detailed journal of all his knowledge behind, and disappeared like an aberrant spirit. The small veil of suspicion had lifted but their family’s name bore a permanent stigma.
Everything would change once she turned eighteen, Pumpkin wholeheartedly believed. Upon their eighteenth birthday, a Witch or Warlock was able to choose their path in life. To live as a free-roaming sorcerer or contribute their abilities to the Coalition was entirely their choice to make. In less than thirty hours Pumpkin would be eighteen, and she was already counting the hours until she’d be able to make her choice.
But there was still a single night to go before her birthday. She looked hopelessly around her room again, and her eye paused on the early birthday cards from several students in her classes given the day prior. They were returning home to celebrate the Autumn Solstice, and a small party was held for her.
What would they say if she conveyed to them her nightmares?
At once, the voice of Morgiana Damascus, a classmate she shared notes and books with filled her head, focused and concerned. “Nightmares? A burning butterfly? Wasn’t that the insignia of the Pumpkin King? Wait, you aren’t--” She’d cut the conversation short by that point; Pumpkin barely spoke to others except when she needed to.
Morgiana Damascus was smart and intuitive; she often put two and two together quicker than most. She often bragged about becoming an investigator, but these claims, whenever they reached Pumpkin’s ears made her roll her eyes. Pumpkin kept any mention of her father silent, a golden saying indeed. This kind of conversation wasn’t meant for students as mouthy as Morgiana Damascus.
Pumpkin kneaded her forehead with her knuckles and stared aimlessly at her fingers, her black nail polish moist from her beads of sweat. What she really wanted, and it felt somewhat shameful to admit it to herself, was someone like a parent: an adult sorcerer whose advice she could get without feeling stupid, someone who cared about her, who bore years of experience dealing with the doors to the past…
Pumpkin flipped open her journal, and her fingers caressed the new sheet of parchment; she conjured her ink pen once more, wrote Dear future mentor, then paused as she wondered how best to phrase her problem to her phantom teacher. Pumpkin still marveled at the fact that she hadn’t met anyone worth talking to, at least anyone that could refrain from flapping their gums about her problems.
Pumpkin’s lamp seemed to grow dimmer as the chilling gray light that precedes the sunrise slowly crept into the room. Finally, when the sun had risen, when her dorm room walls had turned amber gold, and when sounds of movement outside her door grew louder, Pumpkin cleared her desk of crumpled pieces of parchment torn from her journal as the pages regenerated and reread her finished letter.
Dear future mentor,
I’m having the dreams again. More intensely, as if someone is dragging me into this garish hellscape each night. The burning butterfly haunts me, and I’ve no idea what it means. My mother sent me another letter - she’s bailing on another performance tonight. What’s the point of being a headliner in Hollowmore’s biggest attraction if your own family won’t even… Never mind, I’m just rambling.
I started writing a thesis on Elves, and how their connection to nature could help the Coalition refine the laws of sorcery. It’s step one to applying to the Premieres, then next comes the Trials...to which I’d have to find an experienced Witch or Warlock to sponsor and train me.
Hopefully, I’ll find you real soon, and you’ll get to read this letter.
Oh, who am I kidding?
Pumpkin closed the journal and flicked her wrist, which made the pen disappear. The letter looked all right, even the last line. There was no point in dragging it out; she didn’t want it to look as though she was too worried if she actually gave it to someone. Pumpkin laid the journal aside on her desk before sliding it in her rucksack a few moments later.

            Then she got to her feet, stretched, and opened her Wardrobe once more. No need to climb down into it, she mused, at least not right now. She’ll save it for work. Without glancing at her reflection, Pumpkin dressed in her school uniform before she stepped out of her room. There were a few hours before the first class and she wanted coffee. Pumpkin felt she’d need it to get through the Sports Festival today.

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