Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part VII 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.
Nelony rose from her resting place feeling rejuvenated and energized. It was early morning and the sun had just crested the jungle canopy. The fauna had not yet abandon her though many were off in search of food and water. She had blacked out after the Court of the Ancients had convened and fallen into a dreamless sleep. After a quick stretch in the morning sun, she summoned a portal and jumped through emerging at the western valley of Witch Peak in British Columbia, a few steps from a fresh water spring. She closed her eyes in concentration. Her revealing flower and foliage garments disappeared leaving her naked in the morning sun. She stepped into the natural water basin, steam rising from the water's surface. There she bathed herself in the warm spring water which was heated geothermally by a pressurized pocket of magma. The magma was contained fifty kilometers beneath the surface within the same slab of granite that made up much of the rock face of the mountain itself.
She still had much to do before the day was done and it would require a trip to Agrihan, a small dormant volcanic island in the South Pacific which housed the point where she'd inherit the role of Aerth Mother from the Aerth herself. From there she would oversee the role of Aerth Mother for the time until the great cleansing in attempt to help forestall and prevent the imminent destruction of civilization. The old Nelony had managed to push her way to the surface enough to influence her new found power to affect the outcome of humanity's fate.
As she sat in the warm spring water rinsing herself, stretching her muscles and flexing her joints, a small mammal approached the spring and announced its presence to her. She turned to see a small squirrel standing on its hind legs, staring at her. As soon as their glance met she felt it trying to communicate.
"Danger" it squawked to her in a series of chirps and clicks.
She moved to the edge of spring basin.
"Ttckltckctk?" she spoke to it.
"Danger. Danger, Soon." it continued struggling to express what it knew.
Nelony stared at the little creature quizzically. It stared back for a moment then wet its paws, scratched behind its ears a few times before darting off into the trees.
She examined the basin for any sign of trouble or danger and when she'd found none, she assumed that the squirrel must have been confused. Perhaps by the steam rising from the water. She found her way out of the basin momentarily concentrating. The water which streamed from her body turned quickly to steam drying her quickly. Her nakedness soon thereafter was covered by a growth of vines and flowery foliage which wrapped her torso and abdomen and clung to her body invitingly much like a Michaelangelo sculpture.
As she summoned the portal that would take her far from the forest valley to the island she'd sought, she had a vision. In the vision she was standing in a vast plain, trying to remain hidden or obscured. Two of her former friends were with her, Yirfir and Jasmer. The three of them observed a large armed force comprised of mounted troops and foot soldiers who appeared to be setting camp. The flag that they flew did not appear familiar but its symbolism struck her hard like a blunt weapon. It depicted a pyre with a bound woman and man in its midst. Flames had consumed their lower half and were being fed by onlookers with fresh wood. Each of the logs that fed the fire were inscribed with symbols which appeared very similar to an entry that Nelony had seen before while perusing the Codex. The symbols represented different curses, each which was meant to absolve the one casting the curse of their ills while the victim was laden with that burden to their soul. She remembered this from her studies regarding the history of her Order, the Order Of the Aerth Mother, whom had been all but wiped out during the Wytch hunt. Her family line and all: set to burn.
She felt a rage growing in her as her focus returned to the present.
"They'll pay for their treachery and ire as none have ever known! Then perchance I shall choose not to erase them from the annals of history as they did my family!" her rage peaking as she stepped through the portal.
An instant later and she appeared in the crater valley on the isle of Agrihan in the South Pacific more than eight thousand kilometers away. The sun hung in the sky directly overhead and the air was exceedingly hot. In her emotional pain she was unaware that she was being watched. She fell to her knees crying, pounding the ground with clenched fists.
"Let's begin this! I am ripe with rage and fertile with fire!" she lifted her head and screamed at the sky.
The ground rumbled and the air became full of static as if a precursor to a lightning strike.
"Meeweshaa! Suum beklarmushkt aumus zsee bsuthkta!" The entire crater valley echoed and the ground shook at the tremendous voice of the Aerth as she spoke.
"Sekuum! Sekuuma! Sekuumi!" She screamed raising her arms to the sky.
The air was unmoving and still as a deathly silence set upon the island. A tremendous fissure opened in the sky above her eclipsing the sun leaving her in a dark shadow beneath the opening. Tendrils of space and time crept out from it's black center, an energetic glow grew in strength from within.
With her eyes closed and arms extended to the sky, she did not notice the large group that had quietly gathered around her. Dressed in black garb much like the ones who'd sent Mila, Barris, Sato, Shaela, Yirfir and Jasmer back in time, they slinked around her quietly until there was no escape. Two of them grabbed hold of her as her body became slowly consumed in a creeping blackness that enveloped her. She then disappeared as if she'd never existed in the first place. The energy from the fissure above black garbed assailants grew until it could be contained no more.
"Quick! Quick! Get them in there!" One of them shouted as they rushed two people clad in cloaks to take Nelony's former position.
The man and the woman, both twins, dropped their cloaks leaving them naked as they knelt beside one another, arms extended to the sky just as Nelony's had been moments ago. They sat, eyes closed waiting for the fissure to break and bath them in its energy.
Time stood still as the fissure ripped open in the east, west, north and south directions ejecting a tremendous stream of glowing energy directly at the man and woman. The others had run for cover, though not making it far enough away before the fissure burst. When it did they were flung away from it toward the crater walls. The man and woman remained where they were, disappearing inside the energy as it washed over them. The ground quaked as three thousand years of energy built up of tension and torment born of humankind's ire and dire treatment of the Aerth, it's fauna and for one another streamed into the man and woman to become the manifestation of humankind's own apocalyptic harbingers. Then all at once it stopped and the two were left in the midst of a scorched circle of blackened dirt and ground.
A few of the remaining black outfitted men who'd sent Nelony away in their blackness approached the twins. They slowed as they observed the twins' glowing naked bodies. They sat hand in hand.
"Did it work?" One of the men asked, obviously careful of his words.
The twins stood, each turning to face the group of men who'd helped them to achieve their goals. The men could feel the force of their aura, their aether, the force of all ills suffered for thousands of years manifest before them in these twins.
"For Aeons we have been fighting for this day. To rid ourselves of our enemies and to take our place as the true rulers of this Aerth, our blood rite. We the hunters of Wytch kind, the Strangers. The Twins of Lorr. The Twins of Lyra, our forsaken pagan Mother. Look upon us with fear for now we are the Gods." The twins spoke in unison.
Somewhere else far off in both time and space, Nelony's path continued as the plan unfolded. Nelony fell through the darkness for what seemed ages, before awakening from her nightmare.
"Sir. The camp has been set and the food is being prepared. A regular guard shift has been set and most importantly Sir, the message has been sent. Oh, and begging your pardon Sir, but your dinner is served." The recruit for the strangers' private army reported to his commander.
"Excellent. Tell the men that I don't want to see any errant behaviour during this action. We need to be on our feet and quick, for our enemy here is dire and lurks everywhere." He ordered the recruit, his eyes scrunched up to pin holes looking right through the younger man.
"Yes Sir. Right away." The recruit ran off to carry the commander's orders to the rest of the camp.
The commander made his way to the make shift mess hall they'd set up to eat his meal. He wasn't a real military man nor was the strangers' army a real army in the sense that it was not officially sanctioned by the Crown or the colonial officials. It was entirely privately run and funded by silent investors in support of the actions of the strangers and hunters. Evan hadn't even known about it as it had been entirely assembled and trained at a secret site in the wilds just south of the colony. They had recruiting centers in every one of the towns that had set up in the effort to further the hunt and to spear head this secret armed service. They did not even seek to guard the property or lives of others as much as they sought to use it for other purposes.
The commander sat himself down around the fire, where he was handed his food on a stamped metal plate. He waited for the rest of the officers to join him before starting his meal. Eventually they arrived and took their places with their food and began to eat together.
"This tastes much better than the last Wytch!" One of them joked.
The rest of them burst out laughing, the commander coughing on his food before catching his breath.
"Son. You just about got yourself thrown in the brig for murderin' your commanding officer!" The commander joked as the campfire fell silent before he burst out laughing.
"Sir! Sir! There's a commotion towards the right flank Sir! Some of the men are readying their weapons!" A recruit approached him, barking out his message a look of sheer terror on his face.
"Take me there!" He shouted following the recruit as he ran.
The commander ran for a few minutes, dodging men on his way before he noticed a bright flash and heard what he though was an explosion. He reached for his hand cannon and flew through the group of bodies that encircled the source of this calamity. When he'd finally made his way through, he was greeted by a veluptuous and beautiful woman, who stood naked with her arms covering her privates. She shivered in the chill of the onset of night. Several of the men were whistling and making rude comments toward her. One even approached her to get a touch of her fair and delicate skin.
The hand cannon's report echoed through the camp sending a large tuft of smoke through the air.
"Nobody touch her!" The commander slowly put his smoking hand cannon back into its holster.
He stepped towards one of the recruits taking a blanket from him. The recruit had been preparing to use it as a net to snare the naked Woman. The commander stepped over to her and wrapped it around her covering up her nudity.
"Get her some clothing and then put her in restraint! Now!" He yelled at the top of his lungs.
The camp sprung to life once again, several men returning with handfuls of clothing and shoes and handing it all to the commander.
"Here M'aam." He handed them to her.
She grabbed them from him without thanking him, cursing under her breath.
"Form a circle around us! Keep your backs to us!" he yelled.
They did as he asked forming a large circle of privacy for her.
"What about you?" She smirked at him.
"You'll have to trust me. I've seen plenty of naked ladies in my time." he replied, unscathed by her scorn.
"No. You'll have to trust me!" she told him.
He stood silent a moment evaluating what to do before speaking.
"I'm a decent god fearing man. You're a heathen Wytch. If I turn my back to you I'm as certain as dead." he told her plain and simple.
"You're probably right! Wytch or not!" she said still venting her rage from before her abduction.
She dropped her blanket standing fully naked before him, something she'd never done before a man, tears streaming down her cheeks. She then put the clothing on that she'd been given by the recruits until she found a set that remained upon her form.
"Happy? I was saving that for someone special." she told him holding back her tears.
"To tell you the truth, I'm feeling a little special right now." he smirked back at her chuckling.
She lost her temper and approached to strike him but he was ready for it. He caught her arm before she made contact with his face.
"Listen up men! Tie her up and keep her under guard! We are half and away to being heroes!" He ordered them.
Nelony heard the talk of the recruits as they bound her and gagged her. They were saying: that's the one, that's their leader, they're done for!
She struggled to speak, trying to explain that she did not know them and that she wasn't the leader of anything. They ignored her struggles, dragging her to the center of the encampment as the darkness of night settled upon them. She fought with her tears but she did not want those men to see her humiliated or weakened by this at all. She wanted nothing more than to cry and to hold Barris in her arms, but that was beyond the realm of all possibility now for she knew where and when she was. She'd seen their flag and in that instant she'd known that she was the last of her family and they'd finally come for her to eradicate her line for ever.
Up on a ridge overlooking the strangers' camp Nelony Theearin, Leader of the Haven shook Jasmer and Yirfir awake. The hawk whose eyes she'd been using as her own to spy upon the encampment appeared and landed beside them. They slowly woke up, startled and still wondering where they were.
"She's here! She's here! I just saw her!" She spoke to them.
"Who's here?" Yirfir asked.
"Your Nelony. I just saw her. They have her bound up at camp. She arrived as did you. Through the hole you made in the aether. The same way that I got us to this ridge. Except the ones that got you here make tunnels through the years themselves." She tried to explain it with sixteenth century language pausing for a moment.
"This changes things. There is the possibility that they think that they have me as their prisoner. That means that we have them at a tactical advantage now." The Nelony Theearin observed.
"Yes, but that changes nothing of our original plan, which is to delay them from attacking as long as possible. If she knows what is going on she could help out with the ruse, even while she's in their custody while we figure out a means to rescue her." Yirfir insisted.
Yirfir thought long and hard about the flag and the enemy encampment trying desperately to remember where she'd seen it before. Yirfir momentarily flashed back to the night they were abducted. She remembered the men in black clothing and masks. She remembered them coating her in blackness like the darkness of the night sky, infinite and void. Their outfits bore an insignia, a patch upon their clothing. An insignia very similar to the flag in the encampment.
"I remember. I remember what happened! They came into our bedroom. They coated us in... some kind of void... a deep darkness... and we ended up here." Yirfir said excitedly.
"They wore insignias like the flag in the camp down there." She continued.
"I must contact Nelony. Our Nelony. It's been a long time since I've tried this..." she said to them.
"I'll keep watch then. Do it if you must, and quickly." Nelony Theearin said to Yirfir, keeping sight of the camp.
Yirfir placed her aetherial hand upon Nelony's face, stroking it. An immense energy field encircled her aetherial self and expanded to a bubble, isolating her and Nelony from the camp.
Nelony stepped out of herself too and upon seeing Yirfir, jumped excitedly in reach for a hug.
Yirfir welcomed her embrace giving of her own.
"Are you ok honey?" Yirfir asked Nelony, still stroking her hair.
"I'm fine. I was so lost and lonely and scared. And angry. But now I'm fine." Nelony told her, tears still flowing from her like aetherial rain.
"I cannot stay. I just wanted to make sure that you were alright and to let you know that we'll be coming for you. I don't know when, but soon. Be strong and no spells. Don't even give them a hint of what you're capable unless there's absolutely no other way. Wait for us and look for a sign. You'll know then. Ask the fauna to keep watch over you if need be." Yirfir looked to her face in a motherly fashion before continuing.
"There's a settlement not far from here. Its a settlement of those who've been victimized by the members of this force. They live there in peace under the leadership of someone with your name. Someone who looks much like you and yet is so different. The camp think that you are the that leader. Likely they will soon act upon this possibly, attacking the settlement thinking that by having the settlement's leader in their custody that they are at an advantage. You must delay this as long as possible until we get some help." Yirfir explained to the Nelony, her former student.
"I'll do my best. Let the others know that I miss them so much and that I look forward to seeing them. Soon." Nelony replied unable to let go of Yirfir.
The energy that encircled them dissipated as Yirfir found herself being pulled through space and back into her body. She twitched momentarily, almost as if she had been thrown there a moment after which her eyes opened.
"She's OK! She's doing well! I told her to watch for a sign. That we were coming to get her." Yirfir told the Nelony Theearin.
"Then all there is left to do is to watch, wait and hope that they do not proceed with their attack. I will send for some scouts to accompany you while I attend to making sure that the Haven is defensible. The scouts will be here with you shortly and I shall return when the sun is one quarter of the way through its journey through the sky." Nelony Theearin looked hard at the camp as she summoned a portal back to Haven.
It was going to be a long night for both of them.
It was quiet in the Church and the sun shone through the stained glass emerging into the building in solid shafts of coloured light. One of the shafts fell upon Mila's face, gently warming her as she slowly awakened. She sat up on the pile of quilts slightly shivering and quivering from the cold stone floor beneath. Barris lay on his front, his back to her and his face pressed against the quilt contorting his mouth as he snoozed. She admired him for a moment before getting to her feet to look for some food and water. She felt much better than she had hours ago and was now grossly hungry, her stomach squawking aloud for food.
She looked to the front of the Church and spotted a table where Father Wilsen had left a decanter of water and loaf of bread. On her way to the table she heard footsteps descending the stairs to the main level of the Church. She turned and was delighted to see Father Wilsen, who'd been resting warily upstairs.
"I see you found the food. There's not much right now as the baker has not made a delivery recently. I suspect they'll be here today." He said quietly to her through his thick and long beard.
"It's perfect for now. Thank you Father." Mila responded humbly.
"I do wish to talk with you a little bit about what you said yesterday. About the Widow Milaise. About Kathryn. About the strangers and the hunters. We should do so up the stairs, so as not to disturb your friends." He asked of her.
"OK. That would be nice after your discussion with Barris earlier." Mila agreed.
Mila grabbed herself a healthy helping of bread and poured herself a cup of water from the decanter and followed Father Wilsen up the stairs to his abode. Despite the Father's lack of concern for his current appearance his homestead was reasonably well kept, with the occasional strategically hidden bottle of wine finding its way to her eyes. He offered her a seat beside his desk. A dust covered looking glass sat upon it propped out the window towards the absent moon.
"I am not sure where to start my dear." Father Wilsen looked down perhaps looking for the words to tell his story.
"Then let me start. How long did you know the Widow Milaise?" Mila asked him, nibbling on a piece of bread.
"I had known her for a number of years, perhaps ten. I had known her husband well before the accident. His hands helped to build this Church, or at least some of the additions to thereby. He was a good man and loving husband to his wife, Tanara." Father Wilsen explained.
"What spurred her murder?" Mila continued her questions, rinsing down the bread with a mouthful of water from her cup.
"It was their plan to involve one such as I in order to have a hero for their cause. To give it legitimacy. The effort to hunt down and eradicate evil was theirs, but it was afore the riddance of their own foulness rather than that of others. After her death that night, I became a figurehead for their cause. The town in their regard saw me as an idol, albeit a false one and this disgusted me to no end. The strangers who'd shown up to teach others of the hunt had held me in alliance though I was no fool for their ire. I used my position amidst their numbers to save others and mislead them so as to avert needless death, but they still found it and their support only grew like the plague." Father Wilsen continued.
"You mentioned the strangers. Who are they?" Mila put the empty hammered steel plate down on his desk still brandishing her cup of water.
"They are but a few that showed up years ago, before Widow Milaise lost her husband. They were a secretive bunch, some showing for Sunday service. I paid not their heed for their malice was hid and I took them into my flock all the same. It was not until after Tanara's death did I notice the likeness of each their murders. Others joined their effort, and fewer to the Sunday service came for they were cleansing their sins 'pon the living and the dead alike. Those whom they'd felled as Wytches or chased from town as philanderers. Even the town guard were afraid to act against their like and before long, they too were drawn in just as was I. To protect their safety and loved ones in like." Father Wilsen wiped his face with a damp cloth dealing with tears and pain alike.
"Surely there must be other towns in the colony? Do they not have the kind of military and support to deal with the strangers?" Mila asked him trying desperately to find a solution to this problem.
"The strangers found their way sure to every town in the colony. They're known here in Sharlesbury and in the reaches of West View, about six days ride from here and a'ery settlement between. Most be they small farming townships like Sharlesbury. Much of their efforts hail from Alivale, though none can such as I be too sure. The strangers arrived and the hunters grew and everywhere there is death." He sat deep in thought for a moment and then spoke again.
"Lady Bethel, a friend of Melinda, the town apothecare had fled from Sharlesbury a short time ago seeking a settlement she'd claimed to be the Wytches Of Life. A protectorate made up of victims who'd fled the wrath of the hunters. Perhaps there are others then who seek to resist their influence upon our growing colony. These are dangerous times as those who've resisted the strangers have often ended up in dire circumstances or in the bottom of a lake or the end of a rope." Father Wilsen's gaze dropped.
"What of Kathryn? Do you speak to her?" Mila asked him gently.
Father Wilsen took a moment of pause before answering.
"I've seen her nought and she's staid her way from my path. She believes that I took upon myself this ire for my own, not knowing how I was set to their path and then used the position to save others from their onset. She's not spoken to me for twenty seasons since Tanara's death. As a man of the clergy I am forbidden to engage in social romance, and cannot marry. I found my broken heart in conflict with my chosen path and commitment and the weight thereto by. I'm a murderer in her eyes and she believes that the man that she knew is gone. Felled by the same blade aside Tanara only to be replaced by a man of their creation." Father Wilsen once again wiped his face, patting it with the cloth.
"Perhaps the time has come to repair that relationship. Whether you become friends again or not, she deserves to know the truth as you deserve to be free of its weight." Mila told him, taking his hand.
"I..." Father Wilsen began to speak when there arose a pounding sound, coming from the front door to the Church.
Father Wilsen jumped to his feet and to the front window, peering outside to the scene at the door below. There seven men stood, one the deputized town guard with others who Father Wilsen had known as the hunters.
"How can I be of ye service there gentlemen?" Father Wilsen asked them from the window above.
"Ye can be to this door and have it opened for a start. Then our dealings shall become ye clear!" One of the hunters yelled up to him.
"I'll be sooner there than your own shadow." Father Wilsen replied maintaining his composure.
He stepped back from the window and over towards Mila.
"Go awaken the others. Bring them here in haste and hide in silence!" Father Wilsen told Mila.
She scrambled to her feet and ran downstairs to awaken Sato and Barris who were on theirs by the time she arrived.
"Sounds like somebody didn't pay their hydro bill on time." Barris joked.
Mila smiled seeing that he'd gotten his sense of humour back.
"It sounds like the stable hand to me and he's here to kill you. He's probably figured out what a llama is." Sato said sarcastically to Barris.
"I'm glad to see that we're back to our pleasant selves but we've got to get upstairs while Father Wilsen deals with this situation. Quickly!" Mila told them scolding them quietly up into Father Wilsen's room.
Father Wilsen headed to the door and opened it quietly only to have the lead hunter push it open against him.
"Father Elias Wilsen. You are hereby under arrest by the order the town of Sharlesbury for harbouring knowledge of a Wytch. Melinda Heyes has already been taken into custody." The hunter told the Father.
"Begging your pardon Sir, but is not that the authority of the Deputy Guard here whose behalf you speak for?" Father Wilsen replied, recognizing the interrogator from the apothecary the night he'd protected Melinda.
"Tell him!" The interrogator told the Deputy Guard.
"I'm sorry Father. I must take you into custody. Please believe that I contested this, but was overruled by the Mayor himself." The Deputy Guard told him, looking down.
"Very well. I will come without further ado." Father Wilsen offered himself into their guard.
Upstairs Mila listened by the upstairs window overhearing the conversation in full.
"We can't just let them take him. He's innocent and worse, he'd been set up by the hunters themselves." Mila told Barris and Sato.
"Honey, I don't know. You were in the worst health I've seen you after the incident with the Codex. He's linked to what you experienced and what we were talking about while you recovered. You might be protecting a murderer." Barris told her.
"No! Honey! I'm not. He's innocent and I know it! He was set up by men like them. They've taken the towns around the colony under their control! They're trying to gain control of everything. They're buying people into going along with it, freeing them of their past mistakes by putting them upon those who don't go along with it. Believe me honey! I don't think that many people know what is really going on, and most are just jumping on board to avoid falling victim." Mila explained as best as she could.
"Do you remember the book on my shelf at home, the one with the photo pictorial taken from the paintings that were used to signal others of an impending threat to their city, one that they couldn't speak of at that time?" Mila asked Barris remembering when they'd sat together on their sofa nuzzled up, reading the book together.
Barris thought for a moment then remembered what she was talking about. The book depicted an ancient city where some of the artists had become aware of a plot by a militant group seeking to overthrow the leadership and raid the treasury. Some of the citizens supported the plot and some didn't but nobody knew who supported who. The citizens who tried to reveal the plot were secretly murdered. The city was warned about the plot by the artists who'd depicted it in their paintings. Some of the officials were so terrified they were spurred into action, formulating a secret plan to protect the city against the attack. In the end they survived with minimal casualties and those seeking to usurp the leadership and raid the treasury were stopped. The city built a huge gallery to house the work of all of the artists in their honour for their help in saving the city.
"Yes, I remember the one." Barris responded to her fully understanding what she was saying.
"Such situations across history have been the silent killers of many." Sato told them both.
"What do we do?" Barris asked Mila and Sato.
"Follow my lead." Mila told them both.
Outside of the Church, the hunters and Deputy led Father Wilsen to their horses who were tied up a ways off.
"I don't suspect that ye'll need restraint Father Wilsen?" The hunter asked sarcastically not really waiting for answer.
"I'll be peaceful as ye already know." He told them.
There was a tremendously loud explosion from behind them, much louder than their fire arms could produce. They turned quickly to see Mila standing in the middle of the road between them and the Church. She was fully adorned in the most haggard looking material she could conjure appearing much like the textbook impression of a Wytch both enticing and terrifying simultaneously.
"Where are you going with my prisoner!" She yelled after them, her hands clenched and glowing.
The hunter stepped forward to address this knew obstacle.
"Answer ye hag! Step forward and by the honoured hunters be ye recognized!" The hunter stepped forward to confront the Wytch in the textbook fashion he'd been taught by the strangers.
The other hunters stepped forward to meet this new threat, though hesitantly. The Deputy Guard stayed with the Father, standing in front of him to protect him.
"So my pretties! We're going to do this the hard way?" Mila said, channeling her best wicked witch of the west and for some reason thinking of Shaela.
The hunters had felled many Wytches but they'd never seen one that actually used the craft in their presence. Their courage had diminished but not disappeared. They proceeded forward drawing their sabres, following the lead hunter.
"Surrender and ye shall know the mercy of the Wytch courts." The hunter told her challenging her by the point of his sabre.
"Is that the best that you can do? Hehehehe!" Mila laughed in a shrill pitched voice which made Barris winch from inside the Church.
The lead hunter charged at her his sabre drawn swinging a wide arc in hopes of connecting with her exposed neck. She closed her feet together shouting a single word and a moment later the sabre had turned into a bouquet of flowers.
"Ha! It will take more than that to win me, but not bad for a first date!" She laughed.
The remaining men somehow found courage even after having seen her transmute solid metal into plant life. They all charged her full force and as a line. From behind the Church door, Sato emerged running full speed towards the assailants. Barris followed in toe though having difficulty keeping up with him.
"Why am I always without some way to help?" he asked out loud.
Sato arrived at Mila's side just as the line of hunters were twenty feet from her. She nonchalantly waved her hand across their line at the ground in front of them. The ground elevated and emerged in their path as an obstacle catching their feet as they charged. All six of them fell onto the ground before her as the flower brandishing hunter evaluated another method of attack. He retrieved a knife from his boot and dove for her once again.
Sato leapt into action, catching his arm mid flight and twisting it against the bone. The hunter screamed in agony falling to the ground rubbing his elbow, which bore a tiny scrape.
Sato looked at him slightly amused.
"I would suggest that you don't try that again." He quipped.
"I'm sorry gents, but we have to cut this short." Mila said confidently pulling forth a wand formed up out of what appeared to be a driftwood stick.
"Elora Danning BOO!" She yelled waving the wand while inside hoping the spell would work.
The men had disappeared completely and laying in their place atop their clothing were puppies. Cute puppies.
"Isn't that cute." She smiled as the puppies ran towards her, tails wagging happily.
"Whew. What do we do with them now? I mean I'm certainly not going to hurt a puppy." Barris asked her.
"I don't know how long this is going to last? We should put them in the Church and hide their clothing out here somewhere. Leave them some food and water. Then we need to get away with Father Wilsen and the Deputy here if he'd be so kind to accompany us." Mila told him giving him a peck on lips.
"Honey... Maybe you could wear this outfit the next time we..." Barris eyed her up and down as she directed her wand towards him.
"Only kidding! Honest honey! Careful, it might still be loaded." Barris responded quickly and defensively as she shot him a smile.
Mila walked over to the Deputy Guard who held his place protectively of Father Wilsen while Barris gathered the puppies and took them to the Church. They followed him excitedly jumping and yelping as they did. When he got inside he put the bread out for them on the floor and filled a few of the plates with water, leaving the decanter on the floor in case they weren't rescued before the end of the day. Sato took the hunters' clothes and tossed them into the brush surrounding the Church.
Mila had arrived to confront the Deputy as he held his sword in front of him defending himself and Father Wilsen.
"I'll not ye give the kindly Father. Ye'll need fell me before!" He said boldly.
"Son, I don't think that ye'll need the weapon. She's a good one as are they all. Deceived as have we all been by the hunters." Father Wilsen reasoned with the Deputy.
"She might have a hag's spell upon ye. Might that be ye behind your voice Father?" The Deputy asked Father Wilsen never removing his eyes from her.
"It is I as sure as the sky is above. Trust lest ye not know it when it comes knocking. Think of the peace this town was before the likes of the hunt. There were ills, but none so dire as the hunt. Let it go." Father Wilsen told him, putting his hand upon his shoulder.
The Deputy looked to the Father momentarily then looked back to Mila, whose form had returned to her natural one and he was at once struck by her beauty and remembered Sharlesbury before the hunt. He too had lost family to the hunt. One of his in-laws had been felled by the hunters and he'd been hesitant about working with them ever since. He held his sword steadily towards Mila before he sheathed it.
"Father Wilsen. I believe that what ye say is truth as it has always been. You have my sword despite the trouble it may bring." The Deputy replied to him, then looked to Mila still somewhat in awe of her.
"We've not much time. We must get your friend Melinda and then see Kathryn. We must undo what has been done. I am grateful for your sense of courage and duty but most of all, your sense of good." Mila told Father Wilsen and thanked the Deputy.
"OK. The Kennel... I mean Church has been tended to. Our puppy friends will eat and drink fine for the next day or two. Hopefully they'll be found by that time or have returned to their former selves." Barris arrived just slightly out of breath.
"Maybe we should have left you in case they run out of food early." Sato said to Barris attempting to draw him into a match of wit.
"Honey? We were looking for a house pet weren't we? What do you think about Sato?" Barris asked Mila looking scathingly at Sato.
"You'd never get the carpets clean if you did!" Sato responded gruffly.
"Don't worry Sato. I've not yet house broken Barris." Mila jumped in.
"Yes well my legs do get cramped squatting in that tiny litter box." Barris grinned.
"I was thinking more about you leaving the toilet seat up all the time." She responded.
"Forgive me, but there are others who have need of us." The Deputy told them somewhat lost in their discussion and not finding any humour within.
"There'll be time once again to take joy in the company of good friends. We must get Melinda. Then I must see Kathryn." The Father said in a friendly voice.
The five of them arrived where the horses were tied. Each waited patiently for them to return. The Deputy pulled the horses' leads free from the tie post handing them each a lead. The remaining horses he shushed away into the forest.
"They'll know their way back to find town stables where the food and water is." He told them as he handed a free lead to Sato.
Sato accepted the horse from the Deputy and was up and onto his horse, already an experienced rider.
"I prefer bareback myself as I'm sure do the horses." Sato said confidently.
Barris took hold of the lead and stirrup and jumped up onto the horse.
"Finally, something that I can do." Barris responded rubbing the horses neck gently.
"Am I the only one that doesn't ride?" Mila asked them accepting Barris' hand as he pulled her up and onto the horse.
"My hero." She whispered in Barris' ear kissing the back of his neck.
"No Mila. You're not the only one who doesn't ride." Father Wilsen responded, nervously jumping onto the horse behind the Deputy.
"I'm deathly afraid of the creatures myself." The Father said as the Deputy's horse whinnied in mockery and amusement.
The five of them on three horses rode off down the trail back into town to get Melinda and Kathryn. Father Wilsen thought that despite his discomfort with horses, this must be what a trip on the road to redemption is like. Uncomfortable, bumpy but well worth the ride.
Shaela had arrived back at Evan's home, knocking before entering. After all, this was their home and Shaela had no idea if or when when Lylara and Evan wanted some quiet time together. Her patience was rewarded with a friendly smile moments later as Lylara, Evan's wife opened the door.
"You need not knock Milady. Our home is yours. Please do come in." Lylara offered invitingly.
"My thanks to you, Lylara." Shaela replied, thinking that it was nice to be so welcomed for a change.
She saw Evan sitting at their dining table part way through consuming his dinner. He stood for her, putting his finger to his mouth to let her know to be quiet. She'd consciously noticed the crickets as soon as she'd stepped inside despite the fact that upon her arrival with Winnifred, they'd practically been deafening. After a moment of her absence they'd settled and there was silence.
"The crickets. Their ears will be ours. A song is theirs when a person or beast is about in their presence. Listen for changes in their song for it might save you. You arrived and I knew of it not only by the hoof step of Winnifred but by the sound of the crickets. Had you crept up on the house, I'd have known and none too early. Earlier 'pon the season they sing another song, a peculiar one and they sing it loud and constant. That song is for their finding a mate. Remember the first song that you heard 'pon your arrival tonight, it may save us both. Speak and only when the crickets are silent." Evan explained to her.
She pondered this for a moment suddenly remembering the glow bugs in the labyrinth of the Night Wytch maze. She recalled that when she was moving silently and with stealth, that the glow bugs remained dim. When she'd trounced through the maze as she had for the rest of that night, the glow bugs glowed brightly possibly alerting other threats to her presence. She felt elated about her epiphany and was deeply grateful to an unknowing Evan. The learning and yearning was in play behind the scenes and the delicate weave of being was even capable of speaking across the vast distances of time.
"I got into their building and talked with the town representative of the strangers. Exeter." She told him confidently.
"I didn't expect anything less of you." Evan told her in pause from his meal.
Lylara arrived with a hammered steel plate full of food for Shaela and a drink. Shaela stood and curtsied, thanking Lylara. She then sat back down before the groans of her stomach became too obvious.
"When I'd arrived, one of the clerks was filling out a writ for a bounty. The names on it were Farner and Souza Ganley. They own a business in West View not too far from the law office. They had been charged with putting a curse on one of the other shop owners. They sent a formal complaint and their charges over to the law offices earlier today." Shaela informed him of the first matter.
"I'll be gone before sunrise and to the office to investigate. Thank you. What of their organization?" Evan continued his inquiry into their operation.
"The leader for the West View location of their organization is Mr. Exeter. In a round about way he admitted to accepting donations in exchange for the cleansing of sin and criminal activity from their members albeit donors while laying the repute for those crimes upon those who oppose them. They operate as a group and often they've even in some cases stolen the past of their victims in order to give a more suitable one to their members and donors. Much of their operation seems to be based around the assumption that the hunt is a cover and a method for this transference. They appear to be using their growing numbers for just such a purpose. Those they persecute as Wytches and Sorcerers are nothing more than criminal substitutes for the crimes of the Stranger's clients. That seems to be the strength in the motivating force behind their push for membership. Those who don't join become victims of the hunt, usually ending up laden with the criminal burden of the strangers or their donors while having their history and good repute taken from them. I would say that their origins are more dire, possibly criminal more so than anything. It is possible that this also allows them to move against real Wytch kind. That is if they do at all exist here and now." Shaela explained to him sounding a bit intense as she did.
"It is as much as I suspected, though you've confirmed it. Once more and we shall have three. What else?" Evan asked her.
"Mr. Exeter wants me to ruin the career of the Magistrate. He implied death but preferred public scandal. Making the Magistrate into a pariah through such a scandal. They have someone else in wait for that position that is friendly to the interests of the strangers." She took a drink from her steel mug and the tingly sweet sensation of mead washed over her tongue.
"I was unaware that they were acting at such a capacity. They seek to usurp the political office for and of their own? You must be cautious now, for you are at much greater risk. The Magistrate is still of his mind and a difficult man to sway, even by the likes of the strangers. He must be brought into the know of this plot so he may protect and sturdy himself. Our goal therefore is to make a case against their operation in West View on charges of treason and conspiracy. In order to do that, we need to protect others from those of their ilk. We need at least two others to confirm activities such as you've described who would be willing to act as witnesses or provide sworn affidavits." Evan explained to her with a serious look of concern on his face.
"Do we have another operative that we can trust to join the strangers as I have, if only to get another witness to their ill?" Shaela asked him pleadingly.
"I propose that we look into the lives of other members. Preferably those who've lost other family to the strangers. Victims of the hunt. They would listen to our pleadings and we'd be at little risk of exposure for if they did expose us, we could very easily turn the tables. We may in such an event even be able to protect them from their own treachery. That should be done officially and that's a task that I'll undertake. We must get an honest case and not one based upon a testimony of vengeance. In your efforts, never coerce another down a path they'd likely not have gone without your influence. Should you encounter such circumstances, withdraw and give it time. A witness is never good on the stand lest they'd chosen for themselves out of their own sense of virtue. Anger, fear or greed may seem to be good motivators, but they always lack the dedication of true virtue. One who is sure of it can n'yer be swayed. This is dangerous ground and a case we cannot fault by false testimony or ulterior motivation. This entire colony depends upon it as do the lives of those who've fallen to their grave by false accusation." Evan's lecture once again rang true with Shaela and she admired him for his dedication.
"Then what should be my next course of action?" Shaela asked him gulping down another mouthful of mead.
"You seek further knowledge of their organization. What do they seek in other towns within the colony? Whose backing do they have of the locals? Their source of backing? Anything that you can find from amongst their numbers. It will help the case that we are building against them immensely. It will help you in earning their trust and you may find another member who has doubts of their intent." Evan explained to her as she listened carefully.
"There is one more thing, and this I find most troubling. Mr. Exeter, though not a practitioner of the craft himself, seems to possess the ability to imbue someone else with anger. Anxiety. Turmoil. I believe that they use this ability to discredit their victims, perhaps making them appear unstable. Disreputable. Even possessed. For certain so that others in the township would deem them to be under the influence of devils and possibly so people like you that work for the law offices would not believe their account or their victimization when they tried to report it to you. He tried it upon me. In the office, but I resisted though it took as much effort as I could muster and keep in mind that I am very familiar with the arts of the craft. After his attempt, he very much tried to play those emotions afterwards as well. To get a rise out of me and to teeter me over the brink of the extreme. Of course there is no possibility of proving in a court of law that any such ability exists but the fact remains that it does." Shaela explained looking a little solemn.
"And yet they've tried and murdered through the courts so many in cases built up by the same charges. So you are saying they are practitioners of magic craft?" Evan asked her.
"No. I am saying that he... possibly they have an ability. An ability to do so at a distance. I don't know if it was in my own mind, or if it was part of my body. There was no magical aura associated with it. I could tell if there was. It was something else that did not leave the signatures of a craft practitioner. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like an anger welling up from within me. Preceded by a tingling in my lower abdomen. It bordered upon the vestiges of pain and even a feeling of power." Shaela tried her best to explain.
"Did you eat or drink anything that he offered you?" Evan asked her going through all of the possibilities.
"No. I hadn't eaten since the morning. I wasn't thirsty either." Shaela told him.
"I will keep my eyes open for signs of what you speak. Until I know for sure, be careful and don't react in a way that exposes yourself. That would explain much about my prior efforts to insert agents into their ranks. I'd tried twice prior to yourself to ready an agent of the courts to infiltrate their operation. In both cases, the operatives blew their cover early on as a result of anger. Losing their grip 'pon their own temperament. The strangers even used the aftermath scandal in order to lure more into their ranks," Evan advised her.
"I will deal with the bounty before sunrise and seek audience with the Magistrate. We will talk of him at the dinner table a night forth. You return to them at late morn. Find of their ways what you can. Sleep early and sleep well. It will be as you need for the day. Now I must attend to something very important to me, if you will excuse me," Evan stood, taking his plate and cup to the basin where his wife finished the last bit of her cleaning.
He wrapped his arms around his wife from behind her and kissed her neck, tickling her with his mustache. She laughed at him obviously very ticklish and turned to embrace him.
"Oh. You can be a devious one at times." Lylara returned his affection.
"I must be off my love. A good night and to you both, thank you." Evan turned and headed for their sleeping quarters.
"Why don't you go with him and I'll finish up here." Shaela offered to Lylara.
"I could never ask that of you, Milady." Lylara replied in near shock.
"You didn't. I offered. Let's just keep it our little secret." Shaela told her.
Lylara walked over to her and kissed her cheek.
"You are a sweet one. It shall come back to you in droves. Good night." Lylara told her as she followed Evan to the bedroom.
"It already has." Shaela replied quietly as she turned to finish her dinner.
The crickets remained quiet for the rest of the night as she finished what was left of the cleaning longing for home and modern conveniences. But most of all she longed for the company of her friends.
The Quest Of A Lone Man
He'd ridden throughout the night giving his horse rest and drink where he could find it. There was difficultly for Jasmer knew very little of this land. It was not like the one he'd left to be here though they were one and the same separated by a margin of time. The one he'd left had matured nicely compared to the toils of youth this one still faced he thought to himself. What he would have given for an ounce more of his youth now as the length of his journey had taken its toll. His spirits waned.
"How are you holding out partner? Maybe I could get some directions from you?" he spoke to Dusty, his mare.
Dusty whinnied a little perhaps in reply to Jasmer's remark or possibly to indicate that she was tired too.
The horizon glowed faintly indicating that they were about an hour from sunrise and with no sign of any town in sight.
"We're lost partner. Let's just face it. Maybe we should turn around and go back. Try negotiating with the strangers' army there outside of Haven." Jasmer spoke again, though more talking to himself this time.
Dusty whinnied again shifting direction just slightly.
"You know where to go? Then lead on. I'll follow you." Jasmer joked just barely able to keep his head up.
The gentle bounce of the horse's trot with his lack of sleep caught up and before long Jasmer was sound asleep on the back of his horse. He relaxed though in the back of his mind he was panicking, talking to himself. He and his dream self just standing there in the middle of a literal nowhere.
"What are you doing? You have to be aware! Now come on. Wake up." his dream self told him.
"No. I just need a little more..." Jasmer told his dream self.
"What would Yirfir say to that? You know, your wife to be? Would she be impressed? Are you living up to your future vows?" his dream self asked him.
"Why don't we ask her?" Jasmer asked as Yirfir walked from out of the darkness.
"No, honey. He's right. You need to wake up. This is a desperate situation." Yirfir pleaded with him.
"I know honey, but I need the rest. I'll wake up soon. Why don't you join me? We haven't had much cuddle time recently." Jasmer asked her.
"We may never have cuddle time ever again if you don't awaken." Yirfir told him desperately.
"Awe to heck with this!" his dream self finally frustrated with the lack of progress being made stepped forward and pushed him.
Jasmer fell for what seemed like an eternity before hitting the ground with a thud, and feeling a sharp pain in his shoulder.
"There! How'd you like that?" his dream self screamed at him though he could not see where he was.
Jasmer's eyes opened and he was on the ground his shoulder throbbed in pain and he wondered if he'd broken or dislodged it. Dusty was nearby and seemed to be lobbing up some water from a basin just a short distance away.
"You found water? You are incredible." Jasmer told Dusty who was too busy guzzling it to hear his remark.
Jasmer got to his feet and stumbled over to the basin. There before him was a pump well and he could have sworn that he'd seen it somewhere before. He examined the area for a bit looking for any clues that might lead him to figure out how he recognized it.
It came to him where he'd seen it before. It was a well that was a landmark a distance from Alivale, Mila's town of residence. Of course there was a small motel and restaurant built near it and Jasmer remembered it from a stop they'd made on their way to Mila's from the city. There were many such wells built around Alivale between sixteen hundred up until the eighteen hundreds both for irrigation and travel which was still all done by horseback.
"We're in the right place. I hope." Jasmer said to Dusty.
Dusty looked at Jasmer pleadingly. Jasmer understood him perfectly.
"I'm sorry partner but we have to do this. We have to keep going." Jasmer told Dusty reluctantly.
Jasmer pulled the blanket from his pack and tore off a piece from it and soaked it in the basin. He then took it and began wiping the horse's coat to clean the sweat from her hair.
"That should cool you down a bit. Are you ready to go?" Jasmer asked her.
Dusty shook furiously sending water in every direction, soiling Jasmer.
"I take it that means yes." Jasmer replied, thoroughly covered in horse hair mist.
He mounted Dusty and they continued on towards Alivale in hopes of finding his friends or any assistance for the Haven.
Continued in A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth Part VIII
Copyright © 2018 Brian Joseph Johns