Maria D'Acanto is a Succubus, and St. Augustine is no place for Witchbreed.
Maria d’Acanto lay in the moldy straw in the prison inside the fortress of St. Augustine, her hands beneath her chest. They could do no harm against her own flesh. Her breath came in tight sobs, her eyes folded shut.
They would burn her.
Yesterday it had been different. She had been an ordinary girl of fifteen, one of dozens her age in the colony of St. Augustine in La Florida. She had friends, parents, even an admirer. Diego Blanco was eighteen, the son of one of the finest families in the colony, a handsome young man with dark hair and round, melting eyes that had followed her everywhere, lingering on her trim ankles beneath her skirts. At first, they had exchanged glances. Then it had been posies, then a note pressed hurriedly into her hand in the marketplace, professing her the loveliest maiden in the entire New World. At last they had met privately, lingering in the stone church after Mass, standing behind one of the pillars and whispering breathlessly. She had wondered if he would kiss her. He hadn’t, only leaned close and said low and soft that he adored her.
They had met again, four days later, in the same place. Maria had felt herself trembling in every limb, aching with anticipation and with fear that they should be caught. Surely if they were, reprimands would be stiff and she would not have the chance to speak with him again. Or perhaps if he were serious, if he really did love her, he would defy her father with bold words and ask for her hand.
He had kissed her. One soft brush of his lips to hers, that was all. And with it some vast tide had risen in her, a vast tide she had not imagined. To have him all. To take him into her in some sense worse than carnal. To inhabit him.
He had fallen to the floor, his limbs shaking, his face slack and eyes unseeing. He convulsed while she screamed, while the priest came running to see what she had done. Even now, Diego lay in his bed, his mind empty and his face expressionless.
They would burn her.
Some demon had possessed her, they said. Brought on by carnal desires, it had transformed her into a succubus, a creature of night, feeding upon the temptations of men.
They would burn her to remove the creature from the town, to kill the succubus.
Was she a succubus? Maria rolled over on the floor of the cell, staring up at the one tiny window set high in the walls, its iron bars a shade darker than the sky outside. She didn’t feel like one. Mostly she felt tired and hungry, worn out with tears.
Why? Why had God done this to her? For the feeble sin of lusting after Diego? Surely most girls lusted after young men. She had done nothing, nothing more sinful than one kiss.
She would burn for a kiss.
On this, her last night on earth, Maria could not bring herself to pray. She curled up in a ball in the fetid straw, trying to feel nothing, to hear nothing, to think nothing. In the morning it would end.
Perhaps she dozed off. She wasn’t certain if she dreamed or only imagined a sound at her window. Maria sat up. Beyond the window the square of black sky remained. It was still full dark, hours yet until dawn, but the town and fort were silent. Late, then. Everyone but the sentries would be abed.
For a moment she wondered if her mother had come to the window, stood hopefully below looking up for one last chance to talk with her. Surely her mother wouldn’t believe she was a succubus?
“Mama?” she whispered.
There was no reply from the darkness.
And then the bars of the window began to bend.
The iron made the faintest humming sound, bending perfectly and symmetrically toward the edges of the window, the bars doubling upon themselves. Nothing touched them. It would take a team of oxen to bend them thus. And yet no hand was on them. They parted like the Red Sea.
Maria pressed herself against the far wall. It was ten feet to the ground outside. No one could reach the window without a ladder.
A man’s head appeared outside, his face shadowed, his white hair like a nimbus in the faint starlight. “Maria?” he whispered.
“Yes?” she rasped. Her throat was tight. “Are you the devil?”
She thought she almost heard him laugh. “No, my dear. Though some people think I may as well be.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to take you away from this place,” he said. “Come climb out like a good child.”
“Why?” Perhaps it was a dream. Perhaps. And perhaps not.
“Because you’re witchbreed. Because you’re special.” He turned half away for a moment, as though he had heard some sound. “Come on, now. There’s little time.”
“Come with you where?” Maria stood up, her heart pounding in her chest. Come out into the night with an unknown man who talked of witches?
“Surely anywhere is better than where you are,” he said. “Your choice, my dear. Live or die."
For a moment she stood there, aware that her life and her immortal soul hung in the balance. Then she climbed up to the window.
It was a narrow fit, but she could slide through easily. Maria stuck her head out and looked down.
He was standing on nothing. As far as she could tell, the man simply hung in the air opposite her window, his feet more than a yard from the ground.
“Come,” he said, more urgency in his tone now. “We haven’t much time.”
“Put your arms around my neck,” he said, leaning closer.
She slid them around him, let him gather her against him, her shin scraping against the bent bars as she climbed out. His arms seemed surprisingly strong for a man who looked older than her father. Maria closed her eyes.
When she opened them again they were over the fortress walls, coming to a descent in one of the streets leading to the harbor. She could see the masts of ships silhouetted against the sky.
She turned and looked at him. “Who are you?” she said.
He lifted his head, pushing white hair back from his eyes. “You can call me Magneto,” he said.