A coven must guard itself against the interloper that brings infectious false magic into its midst.
When it adopts a young thing that appears to have the gift, it is a kindness. When it later dumps the same girl into a pit to rot, that is also a mercy.
One cannot be too careful with sorcery. It plays by none of witchcraft’s rules. Nor does it, by any witch’s estimation, seem to play by any rules at all. It’s frankly terrifying, but at least there are vanishingly few practitioners in existence.
Why so few, compared to witches? Well, there are rumors. Perhaps sorcery is the blessing or curse of some capricious Outer Watcher. Perhaps sorcerers are the embodiment of a tiny flaw in reality itself, and there can only be one at a time, most of whom never become noteworthy.
Among the silliest ideas is that there is only actually one in all of existence, and their life’s path weaves back and forth throughout the timeline in such complex knots that it appears as if there have been more than just that one.
Of course, everything sorcery is capable of seems silly to witches—as if you took a doll’s view of the world and could selectively make it reality—so the silliness of that last rumor does little to halt its spread.
Nevertheless, most scoff at it.
Still, they are wary. After all, if the child they just disposed of is The One And Only Sorceress, she could survive the pit. She could return with a vendetta once she comes into her full power.
The coven must be vigilant.
In a city all but ruled by its witches—the nominal rulers of which twitch and dance on the strings they pull—news travels quickly.
When a True Sorceress arrives in a city of witches, whispers of the arrival of one of her kind travel faster still.
That the news reaches the coven’s ears mere days after dealing with the child seems like more than mere coincidence.
When a knock arrives at their front door, they are prepared. This is their house, and a witch house bends to the will of its witches.
The door opens. Through the opening, the house bares its teeth at the woman who is no welcome guest.
The woman silhouetted through the toothy doorframe stands with confident ease. Trinkets dangle from too many belts. Her wide hat, blunted at the top, is a mockery of theirs.
“Is that how you greet an old friend?”
It’s her, somehow, unmistakably. The child, suddenly appearing as an adult, with a fierce gleam in her eye and a smile as sharp as the house’s.
The maw bites down, but she’s already inside, past its defenses.
A witch may be the undisputed master of her domain, but where a sorceress walks, it is nobody’s domain.
By the time the coven shatters a hole through the region of space she occupied a moment ago, the sorceress is already sitting on the couch, lounging insufferably.
The house does not have a couch.
The Eldest gives a cue, and the whole coven syncs into a unified invocation of the ritual they’d practiced for an occasion like this.
But something is wrong. Everyone’s timing is off. Magic destructively interferes with itself and crashes.
“If you’d like to stop embarrassing yourselves,” the sorceress says, not bothering to hide her smirk, “you could just give me what I’m here for.”
“What,” the Eldest growls through clenched teeth, biting off each word slowly and deliberately, “Would. That. Be.”
“You took my treasures. You should still have them at this point in time.”
The witches freeze, uncertain, wondering if this is some trick, having assumed she’d come to destroy them, not to retrieve some junk they planned to toss.
The house folds. Hallways compress, shift, unknot. The Eldest opens the door into the adjoining room and fetches a small box, tossing it contemptuously toward the sorceress.
She checks the contents.
A small mirror, a brooch, an antique knife, a mostly blank diary, a handful of carved and painted wooden figurines (not true dolls by any stretch), and an ornate tobacco pipe.
The sorceress’s shoulders relax in visible relief. “That’s when this thing has been! It’s been ages.”
She dusts off the pipe and slips it into her mouth, reaching toward the window to pull a thin flame from the setting sun with which to light the bowl.
The witches had been pretty sure there was nothing in that pipe, but soon the intruder exhales a cloud of noxious smoke into the room.
“That’ll do, witch,” she says with an easy drawl, levering herself up onto her feet. “I’d say goodbye, but.” She shrugs, not finishing.
The cloud of smoke fills the room, leaving the whole coven coughing, opening doors and windows to vent the air. When it clears, the sorceress is gone.
The whole coven is relieved for a moment before realizing the sorceress left one gift for them: a note.
Unfolding the sheet of paper, they find the precise date and time of their eventual deaths.