Thorns like worms, crawling through my hair. Under my skin, behind my eyes. Scritching and scratching like mice in my gran’s cupboard.
And always the dreams, hazy and deep. I’m in that great stone room, the floor’s covered with my blood. She’s standing there, clad in thorns and silver holding two staves. Her voice cuts like ice. She’s calling me, demanding that I choose between them when I do not know what I’m choosing. Just that it has a price.
My eyes lie on the floor, gouged and ruined. I have no eyes. WHY CAN I STILL SEE!!?!?!
I’m awake. My tongue’s fuzzy, my head stuffed with sleep and a warm starweed haze. Clutching the floor, trying to stop the room from spinning and drifting, from sinking back into those damned dreams. Back to Her. A rattle as I struggle to stand, and the cold pressure of shackles on my wrists.
It doesn’t look like a sorcerer’s sanctum. Not like any of the pictures in the stories my Ma used to read. No crystal balls or stuffed dragons, no cards or bubbling cauldrons. It’s small, the size of a fieldhand’s cottage, a few pieces of rough hewn furniture scattered here and there, the size of a child’s playthings. A smoky fire burns in the hearth, and something thick and savory cooks in a pot just above it. When was the last time I had somethin’ other than whiskey in my belly? The night before…maybe the day before that.
“It’s good to see you awake-I was concerned that there may have been side effects. You’re amongst friends, dear Isobel. The shackles are for your own protection. I must admit I did not know whether to expect you or…well the other one when you awoke.”
My vision wobbles, and there’s the chubby sprite we saw through Balwer’s spyhole. Magister Spark, floating in the warm air, tooth-pick wand in hand, a smile on his face.
“What are ye gettin’ on about? Where am I? What did I do!?” The words tumble out of me, sliding past a lingering hangover and stumbling through the drug-fulled haze that still coats my mind.
“That will be explained in time, I myself do not know all of the details, beyond those that your companions gave, and what I’ve read from the oldest tomes. The simple explanation is that your soul is playing host to a very old, and very dangerous spirit. A spirit that, because of forces beyond our control cannot be removed without causing you great harm.” A frown creases the old fae’s wrinkled features as he hovers closer, peering closely into my face like someone inspecting a dog that might be rabid.
“I do not think that’s necessary. With the proper precautions, I and your companions can teach you to deal with your…unique problem. To do that though, Isobel. I need your cooperation. I need your promise that you will do what I say when I say it, in the understanding that I am looking out for your safety and sanity.”
No one says somethin’ like that without an angle. Or without wantin’ something. But I’m not in a position to bargain. I take the faerie’s bait. “What will ya be wantin’ me to do then?”
Spark’s face is stony, a seeming paradox on his cherubic features. “First I need to know exactly what we’re dealing with here. To determine Her level of control, and what the…spirit inside you wants. To do that Isobel…”
“I need you to surrender control, and let me speak to Her. To speak with the Witch Queen.”