Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part X by Brian Joseph Johns

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Dooley was a tall thin man in his early thirties. Back in Europe he'd been a farm hand, helping maintain his family's earnings upon the land they'd been lent by the Marquess Ayron Pradder. Dooley's family had long been loyal to the Royalty and had been rewarded by heir Pradder upon his maturing to title-age. He'd worked the land with his Father and two older brothers while his Mother and sister tended to their household duties. Prior to his leaving for the colony his life had been simple and the plan was certain. He'd grow and upon reaching the age of eighteen years, he'd have met and been approved by a suitable lady that would be chosen for him by his parents and the members of their farming community. He would then appeal to the Marquess for a plot of land to develop and start a farm and family upon approval. The comfort of certainty kept the minds of himself and his brothers from turmoil and focused upon what was at hand. And that is why they never saw it coming.

In the rural communities across Europe in the early sixteen hundreds, the unrest had remained purposely hidden for it was certain imprisonment that would find those who'd further dissidence in the land. The French were not immune to this spectacle nor were the Spanish nor English. In France there was a slowly growing fervor that would take a hundred years to become manifest in revolution. The ideas shared at that time amongst the peons and pecks, as the lowest of the working class were often referred had spread. While many different groups existed at that time it was the working class who were the ultimate power of the land, and the point which saw them boil over from overwork and the lack of compensation for their efforts would fuel their resolve for change. The unrest as it spread in hushed conversation took many forms as it became organized and for many they saw it as the harbinger of doom. The coming of the Biblical apocalypse for the entirety of Europe as the righteous would take hold of the reins of power and cast evil and corruption asunder. This cycle of unrest coupled with the anticipation of an ultimate end had appeared for every generation since the first translations and later printing of the holy books. As more had become slowly literate, ignorance found the superstitious and knowledge found the rationally concerned though ultimately they remained side by side as there were few unbelievers. When just and moral concern had failed humankind it was often thoughtless adherence to pragma that had preserved.

The unrest in England had become manifest as the Scottish movement of the Parliamentarians. Those wanted representational reform in the rule of the land. To do away with Royalty and replace their reign with electoral representation. The idealism of the concept had taken hold in many without their truly understanding the nature of the reign for it was of a complicated and interdependent nature itself. The power of rule was not in the hands of any single person as many had thought, but was in fact an illusion that danced from group to group before the eyes of those who were fooled by it in the first place. The Royalty weren't in absolute charge, as their wants for the country had to be fought for against the interests of the Church and the land owners many of whom were also fighting for the reins themselves. The chance to steer the great horse for a day if not for a moment. The people were often oblivious of the politics involved and had little understanding that they were actually the center of all that was power. Depending upon the motives of the ruling Royals of the time, they would either protect and fight for the interests of the people or for themselves. The situation was much the same with the Church and other Royals and wealthy land owners. They all competed for the control of the momentum of this illusion before the people, for it was the means to both progress and power. When one of these groups had too strong a hold over the illusion, it would often mean dire consequences for the others despite the intent of the wielder.

The Parliamentarian movement picked up support and as more and more Royals became entrenched, they banded together with other Royals and land owners, joining forces with the Institutional Church. The Parliamentarians on the other hand brought a reformed sense of belief and responsibility especially around the religion of Christianity, which was followed by the majority of the populace. Hence the Church and Christianity too was divided and before long, the fighting began and war replaced debate.

Battles began sprouting across the country and trust between neighbours quickly broke down as none knew which side of the fence their fellow citizens were ready to support with their lives. Small migrations happened between cities and regions as it became slowly more evident who supported who and the war slowly graduated from attritional to regional, reinvigorating the potential for death at the hands of idealism and rhetoric. Region would attack region and before long death and pillage fueled grudges between cities and ruralities and other such regions would turn the war into a cycle of retribution.

It was during one such attack upon The Royal Town Of Sutton Coldfield that the entirety of Dooley's family would find their grave. It had been a particularly bloody battle for the defending troops, who had only months prior taken part in a similar raid upon Coventry. During that raid they'd laid pillage to several farms in the region in repayment for the murder of one of Sutton Coldfield's Chief Administrators. Fate would have it that the Administrator's murder would trigger the deaths of many innocent civilians as each side lost track of where the justification for revenge had started.

Dooley himself had managed to escape death by feigning it in the midst of the pig pen. He'd been hiding in the barn when the attackers had started killing the farm animals methodically, one by one. Dooley's Father had charged the attacking troops with a pitchfork in hand, screaming bloody murder at them demanding they get off of his land. They dispatched him like the other animals and then moved on to the rest of Dooley's family. He held his cries silent as he watched them one by one join his Father. It was during this time that he finally had forced himself to move, charging towards the pig pen and sliding under the body of his favourite large sow. The pig's blood oozed over him while the mud and excrement soaked his clothing. Through the ordeal he remained still for an hour after the attacking force had abandoned the farm looking to others in the area.

When he thought the coast was clear, he'd pushed the sow's body from his own and stumbled towards the farm house not realizing that two members of the attacking force had been rummaging through the house for valuables and souvenirs. As he approached the farm house, they erupted from the opened doorway, their armour still covered in the blood of his family.

"Kill 'em. We have it at our best to. If we leave him livin' he'll Father a family that will come looking for us and our own children. A rat he'll be in witness of our deeds." one of them stated observantly already drawing a short bladed weapon from a sheath on his right side.

"I wain't kill you. I swear 'pon my Mother's body!" he pleaded much like his family had before their fall.

"A Man needs to be with his family. Boy, it is time for ye to become a Man." the soldier replied oblivious of Dooley's promise.

As he approached Dooley with the blade he paid little heed to the growing thunder of a set of hooves. Dooley fell to his knees pleading with the soldier and God to spare him.

As the blade was about to enter Dooley's throat, the horse and rider impacted the soldier between him and Dooley. Dooley was thrown a food fifteen feet away as the rider leapt from his horse. The soldier weighed down by his scale armour picked himself up from the ground to face the new threat. The other soldier in the meantime charged on his feet, his long sword drawn.

A much younger Evan caught the soldier's blade with his own, throwing the soldier stumbling backwards. Evan's chain-mail armour was much lighter and offered better protection against the long blade the one soldier carried. The other with the shorter blade who'd nearly killed Dooley set upon Evan seeking out an opening in his armour. Evan caught the attack with his long sword slicing into the boiled leather that protected soldier's arm. The soldier screamed as Evan's blade pierced his muscle to the bone.

All three men ceased their fighting under the weight of their arms and armour long enough to catch a few breaths before continuing. The soldier with the short blade tried to circle to Evan's left flank while the other soldier kept him occupied from the front. Evan fully aware of the disadvantage whistled sharply twice. His mount which had kept its distance from the fight charged towards the soldier with the smaller blade. The soldier tried to turn to face the large barding covered war horse but it was already too late. The horse was upon him and its hooves crushed the scale armour, trampling the soldier into the mud as his ribs snapped like twigs. He used his last breath to spit at the horse and remained silently dead thereafter.

"Your platoon at the other farm has been dispatched by the likes of my Cavalry and compatriots. Surrender or die 'pon this ground!" Evan demanded of the soldier still catching his breath.

The soldier looked to the horse and then back to Evan. Dooley had returned to his feet making his way over to take up Evan's side. The soldier observed the boy looking deep into his eyes for any forgiveness. He only saw a Boy who'd just become a Man by the blades of his fellow soldiers. A Man still in shock and unaware of what he'd lost. The soldier fell to his knees, dropping his sword to the mud.

"I beg yer forgiveness. I beg it of our Lord, Christ. I am yer prisoner. Do as ye will." the soldier surrendered.

"On the dirt to taste the mud, wretch! You broke the warrior's code by murderin' the innocent. Ye'll stand before the tribunal where you'll answer to the Royal Township of Sutton Coldfield. Mostly ye'll answer to this Man aside my right." Evan said coldly.

The soldier remained still and began whimpering like a lost child.

"Are you hurt, son?" Evan asked the Boy cum Man.

"As I will be evermore." Dooley replied.

Evan sent him into his house and ordered him to rest in bed as the rest of his Cavaliers arrived. They'd managed to save the neighbouring families and their farms, returning with their own prisoners in tow. They quickly added the Evan's prisoner and marched them all to the Sutton Coldfield town hall. Evan took Dooley to the neighbouring farm, where Dooley lived for another two years before himself leaving for the colony of West View by himself at the age of eighteen.

Upon arriving he'd offered his learned expertise in land cultivation and crop development as a farm labourer, floating from farm to farm to earn his keep and a roof over his head. For years he lived without his own home instead relying upon his skills to earn him shelter from night to night. It wasn't until he was twenty eight that he'd earned his own roof, which was built collectively by those he'd helped.

Evan, who'd been co-opted by Oliver Cromwell into training his Ironsides had fought in the Civil War on the side of the Parliamentarians though acting as a guardian for the families of the Royalty. In another sense it had become a different kind of Wytch hunt where idealism and zeal often replaced the radical obsession delivered similarly by the Wytch hunters. The Wytches in the case of the Civil War were the Royalty. For his loyalty to both sides Evan was amply rewarded with his wish to administer justice in the face of peace between these two warring sides. That wish came to him with the offer to head up the Constabulary of West View. He accepted and arrived in West View nine years after Dooley. It wasn't until after Dooley had a home of his own that he'd encountered Evan, when he'd been sent out to investigate a complaint lodged against one of the local farmers by another.

Dooley had been tutoring the family about the different kinds of soil required for different crops when Evan had arrived. He stepped down from his horse leaving it by the family's stable and then approached during one of Dooley's lessons.

"...grains such as oats and wheat require little water in the soil and can be started from the dry..." Dooley handled the soil on the ground as he explained himself to his audience of three.

Evan stood behind Dooley in uniform and waited for him to finish. When Dooley detected the shorter man's shadow, he got to his feet and addressed what he assumed to be an Officer of the local Cavalry.

"G'day, Sir. Can I be yer assisting?" Dooley asked Evan noticing something strangely familiar about the man.

"I'll be a horse's uncle... Is that you Rory Dooley?" a warm smile crept across Evan's face as he recognized the Boy cum Man.

"One and the same! The years seem longer seeing your face. It is good to see you Evan!" Dooley offered Evan his empty hand.

"Aye they do. A good feelin' to see you and yours so far and away from home." Evan added.

"What brings you and your fine steed? Forgiveness must be in order. My friends, this is Evan Edwards. One of the finest Cavaliers in the Ironsides. Cromwell's own. A life I'd have not without this man's vigil." Dooley introduced Evan to his trainees.

After a round of introductions Evan coaxed Dooley aside and they sought their privacy towards the barn.

"Have you any news?" Evan asked Dooley as they breached the interior of the barn through two large doors.

Dooley looked around well knowing that they were out of earshot of his students and alone in the barn.

"Aye. There has been brewin' much malice at the Strangers' meetings. Seems as it would they've targeted both the Magistrate and the Mayor and by name. Many citizens who attended the latest meeting have been urged to undermine the legal processes of the colony by any means. That's the first I've seen of a call for an attack upon leadership of the colony itself." Dooley explained with urgency.

"Didst their role call make mention of any specific plan or colonists who might be takin' part?" Evan asked tactfully.

"The adjudicator of the meetin was a sly fellow. I've seen 'im in close with Exeter on occasion. They work closely together though I'd put my coin on that fellow being one of Exeter's hands rather than having a mind of own." Dooley added.

"His name?" Evan continued pressing Dooley.

"Calavan. Calavan Wentard. He works as an administrator at the port whenever the colony receives supplies and manpower from overseas. During off season he does odd work for the locals. Used to be a bit of drunkard." Dooley held an invisible flask to his lips.

"I have know of this man. He adjudicated last night's meeting did he? Anyone close to him that we might exploit for more information about their plans?" Evan waited patiently for Dooley's response.

"Aye. I was just gettin' to that juicy part. He has a friend believe it or not that used to be his partner in drink. This is the man of whom I specifically wanted to inform you. His name is Den Tarler. Tall and somewhat thin. A bit of a mean one he used to be. Seems his fear of the Lord recently caught up with him for he's looking to leave the Strangers." Dooley kept his eyes to Evan's.

"How do you know of this?" Evan confirmed.

"He showed up one night at The Brewer's Second Home, drunk as a sailor with a pocket full of coin. I happened to be there that night myself. Celebratin' the procurement of this very farm by my students last week. The man of the house, his wife and I had gone out to drink a few in celebration. We'd been there for an hour drinkin' ale when Den showed up. He looked worn and sullen like the years had suddenly caught up in a single night. Upon his spying of my face he sat at the open chair at our table. Uninvited as well, which is rude seeing as there was a lady in our presence. He leaned over to me and asked if I could get him out. I asked him out of what? I nearly became as drunk as he from his breath when he leaned in close and whispered the Strange Inquisitors. I told him that he must be drunk and that I'd pretend I'd not heard those words. Upon hearing my response he began to cry into his ale. He leaned in close once again to tell me that he was serious. He'd begged me to take the weight from his soul and to lead 'im out. I told him n'yer talk of this poppycock nonsense in public again lest he wanted us both to be hung afore the sunrise. I told him to check his loyalties again and to choose carefully, for the safety of my students and myself. I mean you never know when one such as Dooley might use your reply to gain a bounty upon yer head." Dooley assured Evan.

"I know of Den as well. If he's been saying this while drunk, he's speakin' truth. Don't let yourself get caught luring him towards leaving the Strangers. Provide ears to his wishes when he's foolish enough to drop them. Without lettin' it be seen that you're the source, drop this in his presence and make sure that he has sight of it. Hopefully if there's still sense between those ears he'll know what to do. If he scares and informs the Strangers of this, they'll have no idea what it means even if he explains it to them." Evan handed Dooley a wax seal that had been pried from a bounty letter that had recently failed to pass approval thanks to Evan's intervention.

The wax seal had the usual West View Constabulary Office Seal as well as a mark provided by the Magistrate himself. The two seals together looked conspicuously like the symbol of the Strangers with a slash through it, though one had to be thinking down that avenue to see it.

"He's in close with Calavan and Calavan deals with Exeter. They've both seen many bounty letters and approvals and know the seals of my Office and of that of the Magistrate. I'm hoping that Den will see the hidden message and immediately know who to trust for we're the only ones who can save his stinking hyde in this ordeal. I cannot tell you any further than that. If he somehow gets wind of where this seal coming from your hands, deny it and play the side of the Strangers until he looks a fool. Do not expose him. He's the missing piece in this puzzle. If we can get his witness and testimony we will be able to pressure Calavan and that should be enough to build a case against the entirety of the Strangers. Stay low. Upon leaving this barn I want you to yell at me for giving you a penalty for missed taxes. That's what we spoke of in this barn." Evan advised Dooley.

"Aye. Agreed and well played." Evan handed Dooley a sealed writ proclaiming a fine of nearly a moons full work as penalty.

"What brought that on ye buggart! I've been paying these bloody taxes and fines fer too long! Yer nothing but a bunch of sea leeches you are! I'm going to fight this in Court! I'll have word with the Mayor! You'll see you two faced swine!" Dooley exclaimed loudly as he got in Evan's face.

The words were enough for Dooley's students to hear. Shivers climbed up and down the length of their spine upon hearing Dooley's temper with the law man. A moment later Evan emerged from the barn tipping his hat to the students who smiled nervously. Dooley emerged cursing under his breath, spitting on the ground which Evan had only moments ago tread. Upon seeing his students his friendly demeanor returned and he apologized. They assured him that it was alright though they clearly did not want to get involved. Instead Dooley proceeded with the lesson he'd been teaching them before Evan had arrived.

Evan got onto his horse and rode back into town, returning to the Law Offices to add the new information to his coded case files taking for granted just how good their performance was.

A man walking towards town had caught the heated exchange between Dooley and Evans and luck would have it that he was an insider for the Strangers. He made mental note to inform Exeter himself of what he'd overheard in the fight between Evan and Dooley which would further secure Dooley's safety in the midst of the most dangerous job he'd had in his life.

Evan's Investigation

When Evan had arrived back at his Office his mood had improved considerably. Not only had their investigation just turned over the lead they'd need to build the final case against the Strangers but they would also be able to bring the Mayor in on the threat to his Office. That would seal his resolve against the Strangers. Something he'd failed to do like so many of the colonists and business owners within West View. They'd all been so afraid of losing their livelihood that they'd remained on the fence unsure of which side was going to win this conflict. Evan completely understood for it mirrored the English Civil War in which he'd fought back home. Far more dangerous to pick the wrong side and lose one's life than it was to remain on the fence and let those more committed and informed do the fighting for them.

With the support of the Mayor this would bring with it all of the fence sitters on the issue and together they'd solidify the colony and finally recognize the Strangers and their Wytch Hunt as the real threat to their lives and the efforts of those who'd built the colony thus far. Since the arrival of the Strangers the relations with the Aboriginal peoples of the land had also deteriorated. Seeing as they were the colony's only indigenous international trading partners this posed a serious problem for the production and sale of goods colony wide. Barter trade had been a booming business before the arrival of the Strangers and had resulted in many sales of these items to the people of England and Europe.

For that market it was a great mystery of intrigue as these peoples brought aspects of their culture to the artisans, driving their creative juices to produce goods of their own which to sell to the peoples of the new land. Trade was the silent diplomat, giving voice to the ingenuity and creative artistry of a population through which to speak to those in the language of utility, aesthetics and commerce. There was no tourism at all in such a young colony as the stories that were received back home often spoke of the numerous dangers laying in wait in the new world. Not all of which were creature in nature, for failing to grow sufficient yield of crop could lead to a similar crisis and death. The ever looming spirit of starvation kept its vigil upon those unwilling to go the length to ensure the next season's crops. The lifeline extended from Europe could only provide so much for the colonists and self sufficiency was a must. In their unfamiliarity with the new world it was the indigenous population who had first shared their hunting grounds with the first colonists whose dwindling food supplies relied upon their knowledge. The meat of Bison and their hides would provide sustenance for the colony through the their first winter. Once they'd made it beyond into the first growing season, the real power of their technology and skill took hold, allow the colony to stabilize and grow from there.

Their first successful crops were shared with the indigenous people both as a lavish afternoon dinner and as a few hundred stones in corn and grain to show their gratitude. From that point onwards their trade agreement had been established and the journey into their mutual exploration cultural mysteries had begun. When nearly twenty years later and after many seasons of prosperity the Strange Inquisitors would arrive, so had the beginning of the end of the trade between the two peoples who'd lived in peace up until that point. When the first bounties had passed before the eyes of the Colonial Administration, they had strategically targeted troublesome individuals who had become a burden to the colony, hence many of the bureaucrats would sign the bounties against them without hesitation. Once the Strangers had a firm footing, the bounties began to grow into the rest of the population in the colony for ever stranger accusations until the first full blown charges of the practice of Wytchery had arrived and an entirely new job had appeared. That of the bounty hunter. The Strangers had even provided training to the first entrepreneurs who'd adapted their hunting and trapping skills to different quarry.

Soon their numbers would prove to be a threat to law enforcement itself and the stability of the colony. Meanwhile Evan of the Constabulary had already been watching the situation closely since the first charges of the Craft of Wytchery had been laid. He'd surmised that given the nature of the fact that this was a market funded form of law enforcement. He'd realized that he'd be quickly overwhelmed with questionable bounties and that it would create divisions within the colony that would be detrimental to the mutual survival of all colonists.

Evan was the first to see that the hunt was nothing more than a tool for ridding the colony of political and ideological enemies for a group that had a different vision of the future for the entirety of the colony altogether. The Strangers had arrived not only to expunge those of different beliefs from their midst but also to take charge of the colony as their own. If this takeover had gotten so far as to replace the Colonial Administration Office's Liaison Officer, who was the official voice with whom Europe spoke, they would have no idea of what had happened to the replaced colony members. There would be no mention of a change in administration. There would only be records of changes to the roles of administration and as a result, the lives of those who'd been replaced would surely be as good as done. Essentially it would have meant that everyone who'd arrived to found the colony and their ancestors had disappeared only to be replaced by an entirely new generation of colonists. Eventually even the records of the fact that these colonists had existed would be destroyed and to the outside world, they'd have never existed. Despite the incredible threat against the colony Evan would find few to none who'd believe his evaluation in the administration except for the Magistrate.

Evan thought back to when he'd seen the first bounty that had targeted several members of the indigenous peoples of the land. They were highly respected for they had prior trade agreements which yielded enormous profits for the colony and all involved. In fact they'd helped to solidify the continuing peace between the two civilizations.

The bounty had cited a young Woman by the name of Nelony Theearin who had been named as accomplice and party to their practice of the arts of Wytchery. She had been a Naturalist, more a Woman of the sciences and an Apothecare herself. She'd provided natural medicines for the colony's Surgeon who'd regularly employed her to gather herbs and create tinctures from the wild.

He'd only narrowly avoided being named in the bounty by the fact that one of the administrators who approved the final bounty had protested it, having seen the Surgeon's name on the first draft. The Surgeon after all had been her brother. At that point the Strangers had already been a force to contend with in the colony, and many were starting to fear them. Rather than risk her own life by protesting the entirety of the bounty she chose instead to save her brother, knowing that her protest would likely find support, for it still retained the central defendants and accused.

In a secret meeting with Evan, the Magistrate shared the news of this bounty that had required his signature given the fact that it dealt with non-citizens of the colony. The Magistrate had refused, putting him at odds with the Mayor and the Colonial Administration. Evan had protested the bounty himself taking it directly to the Mayor and arguing against allowing such bounties and requesting an inquest into the activities of the Strangers. The Mayor refused instead giving in to the growing pressure mounting against him by the Strangers. Had the rest of the colony expressed their concern the Mayor may have been more easily swayed for he'd not risk the support of the people and he'd have not felt so alone.

The following day the Mayor and the Colonial Administration enacted a clause whereby in the event of a direct threat to the colony by outside sources, the Mayor and the Colonial Administration were given the power to authorize bounties without the required signature and approval of Court. Evan had rushed to notify the Magistrate of what had happened. Both Evan and the Magistrate realized that the point of balance had been past. The colony was now more under the influence of the Strangers than it was of the colonists themselves. In fact, the colony was being held hostage by the Strangers and the Wytch Hunt was its right arm and sword.

Evan agreed to delay the serving of the bounty for one day, giving the Magistrate enough time to warn Nelony Theearin and the accused indigenous people. Perhaps had they known at the time that Nelony Theearin was perhaps one of the most powerful Wytches on the planet, the bounty would have been served. Fortunately Nelony had kept her secret well hidden, only using her immense power for healing both colonist unbeknownst to them, the indigenous of the land who'd known fully of her secret and finally the fauna, who'd protected her by being her senses. The Magistrate's warning came to her from one of his contacts at the port. A friend and ally of the indigenous peoples, he'd taken the risk to ride to her home and inform her of the charges a day before the bounty had been made official. She fled that night, finding the rest of the accused in the bounty in their own tribal village. From there they vowed to fight the Strange Inquisitors and the Wytch Hunters until they were vanquished and the peace was restored.

Nelony's retribution against the Wytch Hunters really put the first fear into them they had experienced. For the first time since their institutionalization in the colony, their numbers shrank. The rumours of how a group of the most experienced Wytch Hunters had been vanquished singlehandedly by a mysterious Woman of the wilds had sent terror throughout the bounty hunting community and they began to consider that Wytches might not be trumped up charges against heretics but real demons from the pits of hell. One of the Wytch Hunters had been found broken and twisted - entwined by the limbs of an old tree. One of the oldest cataloged by the colonists. Another had been crushed into a paste under the hooves of a "random" herd of Bison. The last had just disappeared while pursuing the mysterious Woman into one of the swamp regions near the colony, leaving behind nothing but his trophy necklace.

This is when Evan began to see the first cracks in their organization. None of the Wytch Hunters yet had come forth to confess about making up their charges against fellow colonists in order to acquire their land and property. None of them confessed that they'd concocted the charges because of their jealousy of other colonists. None of them who'd created charges had come forth at all for it was an intricate scaffolding that involved each of the Wytch Hunters in the lie. It wasn't about protecting the colony at all. It was about taking it over without the colonists ever suspecting or knowing until it was too late.

It was six years later that Evan had his first break, when he'd asked Dooley to act as an agent of the Constabulary and the Court to investigate and provide information about the activities within the Stranger's offices and training grounds. They'd accepted him in order to offset the sudden decline in registrations and he'd quickly earned his trust amongst the Wytch Hunters and Strangers alike with Evan's guidance.

His weekly meetings with the Magistrate had allowed the two of them to build a strategy for building their case and eliminating the Strangers altogether using the legal system as it was intended. As the evidence mounted and the relevant information began to accumulate that there was some kind of supernatural force involved in stopping many of the Wytch Hunters, Evan's biggest break came when the bounty order came through for an unnamed Woman. A Woman of exceptional height for a Woman, described only as having long deep red hair and piercingly blue eyes. The bounty indicated that her name was to be extracted from her upon arrest and that her trial would be held the following day.

Evan having been working at the Office until near midnight that evening had insisted that he accompany the bounty hunters to find this Wytch and that he'd oversee the arrest himself for this was the first arrest that involved an unnamed defendant. Evan was very curious at that point at how they'd come up with their information to know that this Woman would be in the middle of nowhere past nightfall near midnight at the mouth of the West River on a bed of gravel. It was that night that he'd met Shaela. Shaela and her nightmarish denizens from the Shadow World as she'd later explained it.

They had not consumed him, for his virtue and goodness of nature bore true as if they could smell it upon him. Like the Wytch Hunters who they'd killed and devoured had stunk of corruption of the soul. The lure of making up charges in order to justify taking innocent human life for a reward of coin and a means to a living. Shaela had demonstrated that she held no ill for humankind. In fact she felt protective of it in an unfamiliar way. As if she resented the fact that she had to take such extreme measures in the fact of such evil. Evan knew that the history of inaction against the Strangers and Wytch Hunters had directly led to the death of many innocents within the colony begging him to ask: who was more the monster? Those who acted in the face of a monster consumed or those who did not act in the face monster presumed? Shaela refused not to act in defense of these people who she'd never known and by her own right would likely ever save more lives than the masses of graves wrought by the Strangers and Wytch Hunters.

Evan shuffled through the papers on his desk quickly filing them until he happened upon one that bore the wax seal of the Colonial Administration. It was marked: Urgent.

Shaela Graduates

Evan paced, grasping a crumpled parchment its broken wax seal just barely clinging to it.

"How did these plans travel this office from person to person while remaining hidden from myself!" Evan demanded of the clerk.

"Sir, I beg your pardon. They were addressed to you and our records show that you viewed them. You even gave it your seal." the clerk answered him.

"Impossible. That is a forgery! I have not given approval to any such orders." Evan threw his words at the clerk.

Evan instead walked past the clerk's desk and burst directly through the door to the office of the Mayor.

"This is absurd! What is this nonsense you've concocted Nalens? This would never be approved and you know it! You're a puppet of the hunt here. We need an outside advisor on this matter. One whose will has not been swayed by the hunters themselves." Evan demanded.

"What is the meaning of this. You have no right being in this office unannounced, never mind ranting for such demands! These orders are to be carried out promptly!" Mayor Nalens pounded his fist down on his desk, standing for good measure.

"So you have know of them! You even have know of how I'd have reacted upon reading their contents! I cannot concur with these orders and I want my forged approval of them struck from the record at once!" Evan approached the Mayor determined not to budge on this matter.

"You are relieved of your duty to West View Evan! I hereby grant the powers of your office to Officer Kant. You are to resume your duties as a Deputy Commander of the West View Cavalry under the charge of the Government Of England and this Mayoral Office Of West View. You are to leave at once and carry out these orders to which you have given your official seal!" the Mayor stood his ground.

Evan stared at the shell of a man for whom he'd lost all respect and trust.

"I want my approval struck from the record and my disapproval recorded instead to coincide with truth! I will uphold my sworn duty as Deputy Commander of the Cavalry, but not in support of this office, for my sworn duty as a Cavalier conflicts with the orders you've given me! For the record you are abandoning West View and leaving the colony in dire hands!" Evan stormed from the office.

Evan made his way out of the Mayoral offices returning to his own former office of the Constabulary. Many he passed cussed him under their breath. Of those who'd made such vile gestures he recognized them as the supporters of the hunt. They'd recently become more emboldened perhaps feeling that they'd tamed and declawed West View's legal lion.

"I've good news for you!" Shaela caught up with him having arrived to start her day.

"Forgive me Milady. Let's hope it recovers this already lost day." Evan kept his pace.

"We have his support and he's with us on this plan." Shaela informed him.

"That is good to know, but not enough to avert this current disaster." Evan told her.

"And what disaster is that?" Shaela asked him as they stepped into the offices.

"One moment Lady Shaela. I beg of your pardon." Evan approached the office of the messenger after addressing Shaela addressing a lanky man within.

"I have a request of you. You must carry a message for me directly to the port and ensure that it ends up in the hands of the Captain of the Mary Stalwart. Nobody must know of this and it must be carried now for he will be setting sail in less than a day. You must hurry!" Evan handed him the sealed letter.

Shaela followed him to his office, taking a seat across from him, as he stood waiting for her to take hers.

"Changes have befallen our situation and our plans have to be adjusted accordingly." Evan told her as she listened intently.

"I've been ordered to take a force of Cavaliers to clean up civil unrest that has taken hold of rest of the colony. The orders also include providing reinforcements to an unnamed location a day and a half south. These orders were issued by the Mayor and he likely received pressure from the hunters. They're testing his loyalty before they make their final grab for power. They are moving the Cavaliers out to assist in maintaining control over the colony as we are the only official unit with military and law enforcement training. I suspect that they are moving us so there is no resistance to the hunters here, allowing them to gain a political hold of West View. We've been ordered to deal with a colony to the south they refer to as the Haven and their leader, Nelony Theearin. A rumoured Wytch that has been at the top of the hunter's wanted list for some time. We are to assist the forces of the hunters in overtaking the Haven." Evan told her with dismay.

"Did you say Nelony?" Shaela asked him in disbelief of hearing her friend's name.

"Nelony Theearin. Wytch and leader of the unregistered township of Haven. Wanted for the practice of the craft of Wytchery, treason and the murder of a Wytch hunter." Evan informed her.

"I have a friend by the same name. One whom is much like myself if you understand to what I allude... though her last name is different." Shaela informed him quietly leaning forward as she did.

"I shall look into this upon my arrival, though I am not to lead the Cavaliers in this effort. I've been replaced by the authority of the Mayor. I will accompany the Cavaliers as the second in command and advisor. I'll be leaving by tomorrow in the early morning. We shall be stopping over at Sharlesbury and then on to Alivale to restore order in both. Alivale has a prisoner there whom is to be remanded into official custody. From there we leave to dispatch the unregistered settlement of the Haven." Evan told her still looking very disappointed.

"Great! You could most certainly use my..." Shaela started out excitedly before

"No. You're going to be staying here. I cannot bring you with me. From this point on, I will be watched, and carefully by the hunters. They've almost enough support to fell the official Government now. If they do, there will be a great expulsion of innocent people from the colony. They will purge the colony of all who oppose them." Evan said in a decidedly determinate yet resigned voice.

He'd fought this battle for a long time, yet resolve was still elusive. He'd given up on one means of exposing the hunters and was directing his attention to another possibility.

"You must stay here and assist the Magistrate in protecting the official Government. I can no longer be of use here. You will stay at my house until other arrangements have been made. We will meet again under much different circumstances. Let us hope that they are the ones for which we have been fighting." Evan told her the truth of what must happen.

"I cannot help here. My abilities are needed where you are going and now you're throwing me away? Don't do this to me!" Shaela cried, frustrated in much the same way she'd been the last night she'd n her father.

"You are wrong Lady Shaela. You've shown me that there is much good and determination in the world and that such courage and valour can be found in Women and Men like yourself.  You've graduated into a world that needs you and those of your ilk. Now the rest is up to you. Remember what I've taught you and remember to remain unbeknownst to them. The shadows are your allies and use this veil for your protection and to assist you. I must prepare for my journey and once I am done my preparations I must spend a quiet night with my wife. The Magistrate is your closest ally now. Protect him and depend upon him and most of all, protect the due process here, for it is the only line between rightful authority and the madness of the hunt. Should we lose here, history will remember this story very differently than what has come to pass and we will be written off just as those who've so needlessly died. All of recorded history will suffer." Evan told her.

Shaela thought of the Sanctum and the Librum Universalis Codex. Much like Evan's effort to preserve truth and goodness the Codex signified this importance to the Sanctum and was the primary source and ultimate destination of such preservation. Its records were truth as it was fueled by nothing but.

"I will succeed here. We will succeed and then I'm going to come find you and make sure that you succeed. We will do this together even if we are apart." Shaela assured him.

"I would have it no other way under different circumstances." Evan responded lost in thought.

The Power Of The Sanctum

Thara braced herself as another barrage flew forth from the energy catapults in the distance and impacted the barrier once again. The structure beneath her shook violently and she noticed a portion of the outer wall had started to rupture.

"Blasted! This is not good! Get someone there to fix that with a spell!" she shouted.

"We have to get at those catapults!" Mianamor, another shadow caster from Thara's order yelled back to her.

"Get a message to Jexelen. I'm going to need support from the Itanicarum! I'm going to take care of those catapults!" Thara ordered Mianamor.

"How?" Mianamor asked her superior.

"In person." Thara answered with resolve.

Mianamor disappeared into a conjured shadow portal as Thara began her summoning incantation. A moment later and a large shadowy mammalian avian creature appeared before her its fur flowing in wisps and streaks. It's long slender neck spined with a furry mane flowed into a muscular body with four legs and three long tails each ending in a tuft of fur much like a pom-pom.

"Kelim Cha! Nook!" she yelled and the creature lowered its back and she mounted it just above the shoulders.

It flew into the air as Thara hung onto strands from its mane steering the creature like a horse. She flew towards the boundaries of the barrier and passed through effortlessly. The sky was brilliant and filled with stars and volumes of colourful gaseous clouds as they flew above the stretch of distance between the outer barrier of the Sanctum and the forces of the Culdar Rath. They were too numerous to engage directly but that time would come no doubt.

They flew higher in the air to avoid detection but the twins and Lorr knew about her approach. She brought the beast down a distance behind the enemy's forces and leapt from her mount. The beast shifted uneasily spying the forces ahead of them.

Thara began her summoning rite once again, building a tremendous well of shadow energy. From though several fissures a line of seventy two creatures emerged. There was a group of twenty four creatures that appeared like spiders. A single eye perched upon a sinewy stalk protruded from their head. Their abdomens had ten legs and two long sinewy tentacles with that finished in sharp stingers. If Shaela was present, she would have remembered them from her test a few nights ago. There were what appeared to be a grouping of twenty four shadowy clouds. They were in fact a form of sentient mist and plasma. As Thara approached the line of mists, they took on the shape and colour of her appearance right down to the last detail. As she distanced herself from them they returned to their mist form.

The remainder of the creatures were a line of twenty four bipedal creatures thrice the height of a human being, with extremely muscular physique. Each armed with a bladed weapon and a long unitary horn extending from their head like a unicorn. They hissed at Thara as she strode past them in inspection.

“Siecso Nu! Gasha suum! Nook! Nook!” Thara yelled at them pointing towards the catapults.

The force Thara had assembled looked onwards towards the catapults in the distance and charged them. The doppelgangers split off from the main group into two sections each taking a flank of the area surround the catapults. The shadowy bipedal unicorns split up into eight man squads, one squad per catapult accompanied by two of the spider-like creatures.

Thara mounted her avian and flew in low proximity just slightly above her shadow force. The shadow spiders arrived at the catapults first to be greeted by a line of Norbids in beast form. A Norbid mage fired a brimstone bolt at the first advancing squad just narrowly missing the bipeds but hitting shadow spider that accompanied them. The brimstone stuck to its hide, and was slowly absorbed by its skin, causing the shadow spider creature to grow slightly. Another Norbid mage hit it with a bolt of plasma, which stuck to it again and was absorbed into the skin of the spider. It grew yet again. Thara let fly an aethereal bolt of energy that struck a group of archers who had organized themselves to deal with this threat. The bolt hit the center of their group and sent ten of them flying into the air. The remaining archers turned and fired upon Thara. Her avian dodged an arrow just narrowly. Another arrow struck the avian's wing but it managed to stay airborne. Thara immediately began healing her flying beast.

One of the shadow unicorns broke off from the force attacking the catapult to deal with the archer. It swiped its enormous claws sending two archers into the air as it knocked down a third. It quickly silenced the archer, tearing his arm off and piercing his mid section with its enormous horn.

"Shenuk tuuu!" Thara screamed at it.

A line of four Norbid beast stalkers jumped onto it, their daggers held high and Thara lost view of the skirmish. A moment later the shadow unicorn emerged from the fray limping but still mobile despite its injuries. The beast stalkers lay still and motionless in their dance with death.

By that time the line of shadow spiders had plunged into the Norbids and bodies flew through the air as the giant spiders flung them as quick as they could grab them with their tentacles. The many mages fell limp to the ground unmoving as the shadow spiders both stung and electrocuted them with their sinewy tentacles.

The shadow unicorns leapt onto the first catapult and began hacking away at it, mangling its workings trying to break through the tremendous energy reservoir in its base, the source of all its power. One of the Norbid mages fired a volley of what appeared to be crushed glass and red hot metal cinders at the unicorns. One of them shrieked a warning, the others quickly dodged the spray of aetheric ejecta. They directed their bladed weapons, aiming and firing a barrage of spikes. Upon contact with the Norbids, they sprouted spidery legs which wrapped around their targets driving the spikes deep into their wounds. Other Norbids close enough to hear their blood curtling screams turned and ran towards the safety of their numbers. The unicorns continued their effort of getting at the power reservoir of the catapult.

In the distance the shadowy mist doppelgangers disappeared into one of the Culdar Rath battalions. They went unnoticed in the commotion as the archers and gunmen readied their weapons to assist in taking down the skirmishers sent by the Sanctum. Lorr watched with amusement as the unicorns attempted to tear into the catapults' armour.

He waited for the right moment, anticipating it and when it came he spoke it calmly.

“Fire.” he lowered his hand signaling to the ranged battalion.

At that moment, a group of the dopplegangers who had taken the form of archers from the battalion turned and fired into the battalion itself. Small explosive projectiles detonated sending bodies and weapons alike flying into the air. At once the firing stopped while the battalion gathered itself, each member checking out the other wondering who fired upon who.

“Fools! I said fire!” Lorr yelled this time his eyes glowing with rage.

Once again the battalion leveled their hand ballistas aiming the explosive payload at the bipeds and once again the dopplegangers in their form turned and fired into the battalion itself. Many ran for cover while others were blown to bits upon impact. A piece of one of them fell onto the platform occupied by Lorr. Lorr gestured to the twins who floated over to his side from the front of the mobile platform.

“Could I ask you two 'Gods' to take care of this little problem for us.” Lorr ordered them.

“We will do so and swiftly.” they replied in unison, floating over towards the battalion. The battalion members watched in horror as the twins floated over them, an air of blackness which light could not penetrate emanated from them.

“Shessisa shemuna” they spoke aloud as they floated in the air above the battalion.

A blast of energy floated outward from them exposing the dopplegangers who reverted to their natural form. The rest of the battalion quickly scattered away from the doppelgangers giving room for the twins to deal with them. The dopplegangers spread out in every direction attempting to flee before the twins spoke once again.

“Khetoum!” they spoke.

The doppelgangers shuddered and the ground momentarily shook as they exploded each one, sending their gaseous essence for several meters around them. Some of the battalion members close enough to the gas inhaled it, immediately choking on this essence and fell gasping to their helpless death.

“That's much better.” Lorr said relieved just as the energy reservoir from the first catapult exploded.

Lorr tightened his fists on the throne, his frustration building. 

“I want those catapults pulled back and all our forces to advance at once right up to the barrier!” Lorr yelled.

One of his advisors ran up to him, a gaping wound in his head.

“Sir. We wont be able to fire the catapults upon the barrier when we're that close. We'll be like sitting ducks to their spells at that range.” the Norbid pleaded with Lorr.

“Then I want a steady barrage as we advance. Watch for the echoes in their barrier and time the successive shot to coincide with the echoes. Their woven barriers should be down by that point. We'll storm the walls and take them down by force and energy. I said do it!” Lorr yelled, energy welling up in his hands.

The catapults that were not under attack by Thara's force once again began firing in a steady and rhythmic pace.

"I want you to fold the space around the barriers enough to give the catapult shots an accelerated push in the end of their flight." Lorr yelled to the Twins.

"So you ask, so shall it be done." the responded in unison as they floated towards the Sanctum's barrier.

The twins raised their hands and a shimmering wave of air spread forth from and continued to the area surrounding the Sanctum. The air was pocked with sparks that etched ripples onto the barrier. The Sanctum beyond seemed to be magnified by the pressured air surrounding it.

A line of the catapult shots hit the barrier and the entire Sanctum shook, sending those on its walls and parapets to the floor. One of the unfortunate sorcercraft apprentices stumbled over the edge of the wall spiraling to his death outside the walls.

"They're going to penetrate the barrier! Man the Itanicarum at once!" Jexelen shouted from the interior of the Sanctum, waiting for the inevitable.

Jexelen's messengers cast their signal weave to the operators of the giant mechanical beast. They quickly climbed the ladders and jumped into the beast through an enormous opening in it's back. The Itanicarum took twelve to pilot, with eight of those pilots powering and guiding its magical and aetheric powered weaponry. It could be operated remotely but required a skilled crew on-board to handle all of its capabilities. Most of it was powered by aetheric energy which had to be constantly channeled and directed carefully. It essentially borrowed its senses from those of its three internal mind pilots. They were its eyes, ears, and voice as it could cast spells as if it were a sorcerer itself.

Three enormous eyes lit up and its posture straightened as it powered up. At full height it stood to be nearly forty yards. Its body was thick and surfaced in metallic brass and chrome which was strategically positioned across its body to be both reflective against light and energy attacks and blinding as well. It's feet and shins were covered in sharp barbed spikes, each a yard in length, making it nearly impossible to get close to it for melee attacks. Its arms were an array of barrels and spikes, though its hands were dextrous enough to pluck flowers from the ground as they were as capable of crushing a stone block to dust. Its broad shoulders were double shielded with brass and chrome and its neck was a solid gimble allowing its gaze to turn left and right as well as up and down. Its pilot positions were all padded and shock resistant to absorb most of the jarring forces it was expected to encounter. The eye pilot pulled a lever and a section of the exterior walls of the Sanctum opened, sliding into the ground exposing the Itanicarum for the first time in over thirty years. It took two enormous steps, shaking the ground slightly as it walked.

The walls of the Sanctum were alive with cheers as the as the Itanicarum emerged from its lair.

"Go get ye rid of these demons!" yelled one of the sorcerers from the wall just as another catapult shot impacted.

A bright flash blinded many on the battlefield as it did those on the walls of the Sanctum. With one final burst of light and energy, the barrier died leaving the Sanctum exposed to siege.

There was a moment of silence as the awareness of vulnerability spread throughout the Sanctum. Those on the battlefield outside of the Sanctum waited for their eyesight to return to begin their assault.

Thara shielded her eyes from the tremendous flash and watched in horror as the barrier died.

"Sekum! Sekum neastek bluuk duum!" she yelled to those remaining of her summoned force.

They immediately began a final assault upon the remaining catapults but were quickly cut down by the forces of the Culdar Rath. She soared high with her avian and sped towards the Sanctum where she would be needed to defend it during what would most likely be its last stand.

Meanwhile on the throne barge of the Culdar Rath, Lorr summoned the Twins before him.

"Now we shall storm the Sanctum, which our forces will handle adequately thanks to your assistance. You will continue with Nelony's plan and deliver the humans their final judgement. You will bring forth their fears of Armageddon without mercy and beyond their most vivid imaginings. The Sanctum will not be available to stop you and shall soon be overrun. I will deal with the Itanicarum. By that time, the real history will have disappeared only to be replaced by the one we've designed once we've got hold of the Librum Universalis Codex. When Aerth doth call and none forestall so will they fall. That will be all." Lorr spoke with deliberate malice and anticipation.

"The tribes governing Lobeeshtofah shall be struck down and executed too. Shamans and warlocks alike. Wytch kind and sorcerers too. All the ancient knowledge will be erased with their existence. You will show them no mercy nor favour despite their leading us straight to the source of Nelony's power. Then we will rid the world of all of its records and writings and none shall know. The written word of the yearning and the learning will be forever gone. Without their power of the word, you will be the only one of the old Gods to survive and the only of the new Gods left to thrive. You will deliver the world into the next age. The Age Of The Culdar Rath. Let ignorance be their light. Let our rules for their procreation and growth be their future. Servitude to the Culdar Rath." Lorr ordered the Twins, who listened hand in hand.

"Delivered shall they be into their ignorance as shall be their words lost. It shall happen in the course of a day." the Twins finished speaking and slowly faded from the Midspace territories of the Sanctum into the prime and the central Pacific Ocean.

They floated a few hundred feet above the churning waters of the Pacific. One of them began their journey east and the other towards the west. As they went the temperament of the Aerth grew and nature spoke loud and harshly. Then she pounded her fists with a fury to free her from the bondage of humanity. The Twins' deed would be done when they met on the other side of the Aerth for its people would be no more.

Continued in A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part XI

Copyright © 2018 Brian Joseph Johns