“I’ll try” is all I say, stumbling over my words; contemplating the whorls and grooves of the oak floor beneath me and the cold bite of the iron shackles on my wrists.
A steady glow issues from Spark’s wand, warm and subtle like the taste of bourbon without the burn. A light to guide me, or what’ll put me down if I come back from this all Her? Probably both. Not that it matters, either way. They won’t take me back. Thurgrim won’t take me back. None of them will. Especially not Ashe.
_"I jus’ worry about ye lass. Yer not acting like yerself."
“If you’re going to drag us into your vendetta, I would know why.”
“Why.!!!! My baby!”
“Thurgrim, get her herbs! She can’t wake up. Duncan! Down boy!”
“Kill her. She’s a liability.”_
The glow is brighter now, and warm., like a tight embrace squeezing these memories from me.
_"I ain’t yours to look after Thurgrim. I ain’t a child! I’m tired of waiting!"
“You are a true and faithful servant Delilah, and your service will be rewarded when I rule once more.”
The feel of the metal stock in my shaking hands, cold and unyielding. It’s heavier than I thought, than She thought it’d be. I take aim.
“You will ensure that the supplies are quickly and subtly delivered worm. Or you will be sorry.”_
“Magis..ster. Please. No. More. I can’t.” His eyes burn blue with arcane fire. Too far gone to stop. We both are. What happens next is no more real to me than a story.
“And then the wicked witch howled and howled my child! Her fingers dug furrows in the boards, till blood ran thick and red from their tips and stained them forevermore!”
I clutch my blanket, nestling deep into Ma’s blouse, taking in the scent of earth, sweat, and rosemary. “But mama, mama. The witch ain’t really wicked is she?! What happens to her?”
“Oh don’t ye worry Isobel. She is, down to her very core. That sorta thing don’t happen to good folk, ya ken?” she smiles and pats my head, wipes away my tears.
“Sorcerers always come to bad ends. That’s just the way the story goes.”
I stand before a tower of stone and twisted ebony thorns, before a wide open door. I can’t go back. Not back to that night, not back to the fire. Somewhere, a part of me realizes that I’m screaming it, and I can hear the faerie saying, soft and low “You can’t fight it child. Please, allow Her to surface with no resistance. It is imperative! If you…”
I don’t hear the rest. I feel Her hands upon me; cold thin fingers with the strength of iron, that drag me screaming into the dark.
Isobel freezes, prostrate on the floor beneath the guttering blue light issuing from Magister Spark’s wand, blood quietly dripping from her outstretched fingers. “Child?” he says, an unpracticed uncertainty lending a quaver to his tone.
Isobel’s body rises slowly with a jangle of iron chains, eyes ablaze with green witchfire. The wand’s light is dark now, and the fire burns fitfully, spitefully, shrinking back from her presence. There’s a long, thin dagger-smile upon Isobel’s lips as she brings both hands to her face, fixed on the thin rivulets of blood staining her hands, tracing their way down the thorns inked onto her skin by the Queen’s magic.
Somewhere, a great mournful howl rises up like the peal of a dread horn forged in hell.
Now is the time to act. Magister Spark raises his hands, bringing forth that pale blue fire once more, and his voice rings with power and purpose as he begins the words of the ancient binding:
MOTHER OF MONSTERS
I COMMAND AND ABJURE THEE BY IRON, BY WORD, BY WILL
THAT YOU SHALL NOT HARM THE ONE YOU HAVE TAKEN IN THRALL
UNTIL THE LAST MOUNTAIN IS AS DUST
UNTIL THE LAST STAR DIES IN THE NIGHT
AND THAT YOU SHALL RENDER TO ME…
A voice interrupts, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, cold and clear and haunting. “Spare me your two-penny incantations, hedge mage. I am no scurrying demon for you to command.” Isobel stands tall and straight, her face an impassive mask and her eyes smiling in the manner of an Asp that has cornered a wounded sparrow.
The light of his wand fades, and Spark quickly and smoothly slides it into his belt, unperturbed, inclining his head ever so slightly in the barest of nods. “I did not suppose so” he says shaking his head with a sigh.
A flick of his wand, and a wickedly curved iron knife, etched with silver runes, flies to his hand. It’s large for his tiny hand, but would be little more than a penknife for one of the bigger folk. The warm air of the cottage seems to warp and twist around it, shying away from the edge. Spark’s mouth presses itself into a thin line, his eyes are heavy, bearing down on the Queen and her vessel with the weight of an unspoken threat.
Chill laughter comes from Isobel’s throat, utterly lacking in any trace of humanity or the herbalists brogue. The witchfire burning in her eyes flickers by way of an eye roll, and she adopts Isobel’s crooked smirk, a gesture all the more disturbing for it’s familiarity. “It is to be straight to the torture then? Tis true that the Art has decayed greatly since last I walked this earth.” She takes a step forward, the chains anchoring her to the wall pulling taut behind her.
“You don’t have the gall to carve me out of her faerie” she spits “and you don’t have the talent to do so without ruining her.” “Even if you did, I hold the girl’s soul within my grasp. I will not hesitate to break her; and while you’re cleaning up the pieces I will find a more suitable vessel.”
“Or are you really so excited about the prospect of having to repeat this with Ashe as well?”
Spark’s knife hand drops, the assumed harshness gone from his face and form. “What do you want then, Witch?” The spirit within Isobel doesn’t catch the brief smile that flickers in his eyes. The key, Balwer had said, would be to get her talking. The rest would come easily.
Isobel pauses, and the glow in her eyes falters for an instant in surprise. “What do I want? I thought I twas the one summoned, and not yourself?” she murmurs, flashing a smile that seems full of needles and thorns by the fading light of the fire. “But if you wish me to speak, then I will. After so masterful a binding, I am surely yours to command.” She dips low in an elaborate parody of a curtsy, looking up at the hovering archmage with a look of mock submission.
“This land has forgotten it’s heritage, It’s history, it’s power. The masses toil under fat perfumed louts who hold their power because that is what their fat, perfumed forebears did for centuries before them. I mean to remind them of what true power is.” the iron chains creak as the Queen intones these last words, and silver runes flame up along their length, accompanied by the sizzle of pork hitting a hot skillet.
A feral growl rips itself from Isobel’s chest as smoke begins to rise from her wrists in response to the Queen’s growing power. A growl that hammers itself into words that echo with long-held purpose. “And this girl, for all her flaws and weaknesses is the key to it all.” she laughs, and for once there is some humor in it some hint of Isobel, however distant.
“Then you won’t break her.” Spark says, raising his wand as fire races across it’s rune-etched surface. “You can’t. Breaking in another puppet will take time, time you don’t have.”
The Queen freezes, stunned for a split second before regaining her composure “It tis naught to me, when or by whom I retake my empire. It will come to pass.”
She holds up her shackled wrists to Magister Spark, a gesture written with defiance, but not a threatening one. “I tire of these games. I would propose a bargain. You are no doubt well read enough to know that I cannot break my word once sworn?”
But you can twist it a thousand way’s from Sunday. thought Spark. Nearly there “I’m listening.”
“Allow me to teach the girl. You, with your civilized spells can do little for her besides read her bedtime stories and feed her soup. I know the powers that I was born to, and she should as well.”
“To be your pawn? I would rather die than see another taught your lies.” Spark jumbles his facial expressions into the approximation of a sneer
“Make her think you’re as arrogant and reckless as her. Don’t worry old friend, she won’t realize what a bad actor you are.” “I hope you’re right Roger, an innocent girl’s life and much more hangs in the balance.”.
“To be the harbinger of a new age.” she gazes directly into spark’s eyes, seeming to consider the tiny mage in a different light. “Tell her your bedtime stories if you will. Feed her, clothe her. Help her believe she has mastered me. I will be as gentle in teaching her. This I am willing to swear by my power.”
“A bad bargain is better than a crazed husk of a Chosen and a second chance for this spirit to make it’s mark.” “That’s why I like you Spark, you always have such a cheerful way of looking at things.”
Magister spark’s facade crumbles, and he looks down at the floorboards surrounding the circle containing the Queen. To the lines of blood shining dimly in the firelight. A single tear falls from his eyes to the ground with nary a sound.
“This goes against everything we stand for Magister! The chosen must make their own choices. If we deceive this girl into following the Queen’s direction, no matter the goal we are no better than she!”
“Farzan, you have been my apprentice for nearly a hundred years and have served me well. This decision pains me, make no mistake. But Isobel will have her share of choices to come in the tumultuous times ahead. All the Chosen must make a choice. But the prophecies do not mandate which choice they must make.”
“Gods help me. I so swear as Magister of the Collegia Arcana, by my power and life that I will not interfere with your tutelage so long as you swear not to harm Isobel in body or spirit during said tutelage, or any other sentient being of this world or the next.”
A knowing smirk crosses Isobel’s mouth, although the Queen’s eyes still burn cold “So I, Mother To Monsters, Queen of Witches, Ruler of The Empire That Was Broken, do swear upon my power, and upon my life.”
A dawning sense of significance falls upon the tiny cottage, covering everything in an instant like a freshly fallen layer of snow. The fire flares back up, and the balefire in Isobel’s eyes gutters out.
“Magister? Oh Gods! I ain’t dead! I ain’t dead!” Isobel (now Isobel in fact) attempts to hug Spark, but the chains will not allow it. Isobel, nursing her raw and bloody fingertips composes herself slowly and looks around the room with the air of a hunted animal. “Is she gone? Did ye take her out of me?”
The Magister sighs, and hovers close as he removes the shackles chaining Isobel with a flash of light and a gentle click. “Not exactly my dear. We have…much to talk about.”
What do you guys think? And of course, what sort of stuff would you like to see next?