The Black Witch
These were the sixth drafts, notes for a ritual Eliot was working on, fanned out on the floor. Eliot bit her pinky’s nail, tracing her eyes on the runic characters and descriptions scribbled on a scroll centuries older than her handwritten notes.
“This goes here—she picked up a small hammer nearby, and nails, and with a whack she pinned a note to one corner of a triangle drawing on the floor—Brimstone salt, chalk, charcoal rice, white wine, brewed purple tea leaves, six fragments of glass, and? What was it? What was it?”
This young, amber-eyed woman by the name Eliot was a witch. She was not just any witches; she was the Black Witch, the last of her kind in Ashlora. Her demise would put an end to the Holy Church’s decade-long campaign against witches and witchcraft. But since she lived a hermit’s life of exile in the Dark Forest, the Church let her off the hook, for the moment.
A witch’s hat wrapped in white ribbon sat on her lap, and she came with a casual get-up similar to that of a town folk: a white blouse, black skirt and a long silk cloak that had lighter colored frills on its darker purple collar. The silk cloak was out of the ordinary, of course. Silk was anything but common, a luxurious commodity from the Far East.
“Ah, I need holy water!”
Eliot rose and tiptoed across the minefield of occult artifacts randomly scattered about, careful so as not to drip candle wax on the floor. Suspended in mid-air from the ceiling by vines directly overhead was a pine basket full of ingredients. Through a circular stained glass window ten meters above ground, colorful rays of morning light shone into the room. Even though the highest ceiling was lit up, the rest of the house remained sunken in a bitter, lifeless grayness.
A polished, wooden broomstick flew down from an extruding ledge under the glass window, and it gradually descended as Eliot was waiting below. She sat on and let the magic broom lifted her to the ingredients otherwise out of reach. Wringing a little as her eyes adjusted to bright light, Eliot pulled the basket closer and started looking for holy water, grunting which mundane should be thrown out of the window next.
Then, there came a knock: three taps on the door.
Hovering to the circular window, she peeked outside through the outreaching branches. A middle-age man twirling a lantern’s handle was at the front door; only his tall build and untrimmed beard were spared from the surrounding darkness. And even at this close distance, a tanned neckline under a brown tunic was all she could see.
Without hesitations, the Witch skipped to the ground and jumped to the front door. The broom turned left and right in confusion when it realized the mistress was not there anymore. Eventually, it drifted back to its ledge.
The Witch turned the knob. A dim, yellowish light leaked in. It was almost noon and yet outside was as shady as in early dawn. Strange that there was unnatural light and yet there was not the smell of candle wax or the ashen scent of burning wood. Instead, there was this rattling noise which, to her, was similar to that of a cricket swarm.
Cricket swarms don’t live in the Dark Forest. Nothing lives in the Dark Forest.
“Done with it?” a male voice boomed when she opened the door. A strong dusty scent, a foreign yet remarkable smell, hazed the air. Gunpowder: a scent distinctive to the Inventor.
The Witch nodded, she knew what the Inventor was expecting. She stared at his gray eyes and answered:
“The quarterstaff you brought me the other day, very classic. Red lizard’s scale for fire resistance, solid desert ironwood body, eight out of ten elemental runes; this thing will break rocks but damn it’s a bust. Must be a tornado to snap it in half like that”
“I see, and what can you find out about the owner?” the man asked.
As he cranked up the handle, the dim light from the lantern became brighter.
“What about the owner? It’s a magic item, not something you can come across everyday so of course the owner was—”
“A mage, I can guess as much…” the man concluded, nodding to himself.
“—a merchant, a thief actually,” the Witch giggled, “and it happens, Déjà vu! Aren’t you coming in?”
The Inventor raised a suspecting eyebrow; he sighed and replied:
“Just this time, I will pass”
“That’s rare. You come all the way here and you pass up on a tea offer?”
“We all have things we must do, Witch. I have somewhere else I must go so let’s cut to the chase,” the man proposed.
“Somewhere? Here in the forest or in the mountain?”
“Illuminati’s business, don’t ask,” the Inventor shook his head. He didn’t want to continue idle chatters, he said, “Anyways, can you show me how you figured out that he was not a mage but a merchant? I’ll be on my way soon”
To his dismay, the Witch had other ideas in mind.
“You are the Inventor, you know how this works,” she chuckled, and sneaked a quick glance at his lantern and the man stared back at her.
The Inventor grew uncomfortable, knowing where the tone of the Witch’s voice was leading him to.
“You used up your offering in the last question. It’s just good business, okay? So what’cha bring me today; bread, sheep or…this?”
With a playful pause, she hurled both her hands towards the lantern but the man was faster, he yanked the object away. And, he was also much taller than she was. His long arm put the prize out of her reach. He had noticed her curious glances at the lantern during their conversation, this was bound to happen.
“Not the lamp, I’m using it! I will build you one next time so please explain your hypothesis already”
“I mean… theory, proposal, guess,” the Inventor struggled to explain. It was frustrating preaching to someone who lived alone in a hut, in a forest where no one lived.
“Using weird slangs to sound smart, I pity you…” she shook her head in disappointment.
“Good God! You made me call God! It’s a legit word, go look up the dictionary I gave you”
“Which…Oh, that book? I offered it to Enoch, so I did. That’s another story”
This time, the man did not bother asking.
“It’s normal. You gave me the book and you got your answer. I needed my answer, so Enoch got the book. Be glad I let you choose what to offer, and that I accept whatever. Divinations out there ask pretty outrageous offerings. A body part for example…” nonchalantly she added.
The Inventor merely sighed and dropped his shoulders in disappointment. She burst into laughter but he was not amused. There was no point in arguing further. The Witch had her laugh so after short silence, she gave in a little:
“Fine, lemme tell you how magic works”
The Witch paused on purpose. She had the Inventor’s attention.
“When you channel magic into a focus, it leaves behind residual energy, energy that remains in the focus for years. I looked into the core and I learned that magic was channeled into the quarterstaff at some point”
Normally, she would keep the details to herself but this was the Inventor she was dealing with. This man would never let any statement go without an explanation.
“But that’s that, history. I can’t see the residual now. Besides, this is a unique and invaluable artifact. If you keep an artifact this rare and you can’t wield it and you get yourself beaten half-dead and then thrown into the river, what would you be?”
“I see. For someone with such a restricted pool of academic words, your religious vocabulary is questionably unchallengeable”
“Why, thank you”
“You think he might be related to the church somehow?”
“Come again, you should have looked into his background before you recruit him into the order”
“I should, indeed, I should. If only he had any background to look into,” the man rolled his eyes around.
“Everyone has a background, Inventor. Even I have one. You’re not looking deep enough”, she waved her hand and closed the door at the Inventor’s face, “I’ll hold on to this staff as insurance, come again if you have any other questions”
The Inventor’s dull eyes brightened up. He jammed his foot at the closing door.
“I’m telling you. He has no memories and you won’t be able to tell who he was just by looking at him”, he explained.
She doubted if it had been the case. But she could tell he was being serious.
“He lies, simple as that”
“He’s not lying. That I can guarantee”, he affirmed.
“If I had a copper every time someone lied to me, I would be filthy rich”
“Look! How about you come and see him for yourself? Come, I’ll buy you a drink tonight. He’s your kind. You two will get along just nicely”
“What do you mean ‘my kind’?”
She sensed mockeries from his smirk but he piqued her interest with the statement. Although in hindsight, only disappointment ensued:
“It goes like this,” the Inventor cleared his throat as though making an announcement, “When I talked to him about science, he started to recall some of his memories”
“And that’s related to me, how?”
“I told him that the Earth revolved the Sun, he jumped at me saying the Earth was between Heaven and Hell”
“And it wasn’t?”
“Quod erat demonstrandum! That concludes my demonstration”
Later, the Witch suggested bringing the man in question to her house since it was risky for her to pay Ironheart a visit. The city guards would not welcome a witch’s presence; they were on a ceasefire at the moment thanked to another client whose identity remained undisclosed. She told him she would not break the deal.
The Inventor brought up all sort of excuses, trying to get her to his place in the city. He explained that he did not trust the new recruit fully and thus bringing him to the house could endanger the Witch. He had a point but she found him more suspicious. He was acting out of character.
“How cute, you’re worried about me?” the Witch mused.
“Not to mention, our partnership is a secret”, the Inventor added.
“Even to the Illuminati?” she raised an eyebrow.
“Especially the Illuminati”
As it turned out, she learned that the Illuminati had deep distrust in practitioners of magic. They considered superstition the foremost hindrance to the advancement of humankind. The Inventor assured her that this hatred stemmed from the actions of the Holy Church. The Witch expressed that she was aware of witchcraft being frown upon by most races in all of Ashlora. The cause did not matter to her; she would not take their despite to heart either ways.
“I’d give the church some credits. They did a good job brainwashing peasants and making them believe witchcraft is the cause of all troubles”, stated the Witch in a matter-of-fact manner.
The Inventor nodded, “Unlike them, I’m flexible, you see”, he laughed.
“No, you’re practical. Unlucky for you, so am I”
In the end, the Inventor failed to sway the Witch’s decision. No matter what he said, the Witch refused to leave the forest. Having been bothered long enough, she reminded him of his “Illuminati’s business” and had the magic broom “escorted” him out of her garden. With a touch on the sentry rune behind the door, she reset the traps around the house.
Nothing comes in; nothing comes out until she says otherwise.
Afterwards, the Witch returned to the basket on the ceiling and found the flask she was looking for buried at the bottom, untouched since God knows when.
It was a small bottle containing crystal-clear liquid, through the transparent body one could see a tiny metallic cross submerged in the liquid. Miraculously, there was enough water for one question; one question only.
Basked in the sunlight, the Witch peered down a sea of darkness that was the wooden floor. She blew the candle and drifted in mid-air towards the center of the room, hovering a little bit at a time as her eyes were fixated on something in the abyss. And then, precariously she stood up on her feet and slowly tilted the crystal flask.
Dripping down to a silver bowl were glittering droplets of holy water. Every candle, every talisman, drawing and material on the floor emitted a brilliant glow. As if gravity had vanished for a moment, all objects began to float and circle in different layers of an imaginary sphere encompassing the room as a whole.
“To thee who healed the angels, and guarded the gate of heaven, and sat the throne of wisdom, hearken my call, I summon thee…”
She chanted, one hand grasping the invisible threads of light pouring in from the window and the other keeping her balance as the broomstick shivered in the stirring gusts. Holy water in the silver bowl bubbled and produced mist. The mist filled the imaginary sphere, the offerings transformed into new stars, and a faceless figure of a man and a serpent staff emerged from the vapor.
“Show me how to complete the ritual”, she asked, flashing a handwritten rune note to the divine spirit.
The eyes of the serpent glowed and the ritual notes on the ground turned to ashes. On the outer ring of the triangle, magic letters began to rotate and shift position as the spirit moved its staff. It pointed to the characters in sequence to form the answer.
“Azeth”, she muttered. The Citadel was the first word. The sprit drained a third of the remaining holy water and continued with the second word.
“Cathedral” was the second word.
Another third was drained from the silver bowl. The last word would give the exact ritual site within the grand cathedral in Azeth. But, before she could see it, a shout from the outside grabbed her attention.
She cast her glance through the circular window. She saw the bishop of Ironheart on horseback dangerously close to the hidden traps around the house.
A great shadow manifested out of the abyss beneath her feet as soon as she was distracted. Two dark wings sprouted from the shadow, the maverick wings of the devil. The shadow jumped from the abyss to the rune mark on the door unnoticed. A surge of demonic energy consumed the amulet’s magic.
Suddenly, the Witch heard a shattering noise inside the house.
She looked around.
To her dismay, the sentry rune she had placed on the door was destroyed.
A fantasy novel from NaNoWriMo camp July 2014 – July 2015
The fate of a Medieval kingdom ruled by the Holy Church of the Saints, the future of the Illuminati order, and the destiny of Eliot–the Black Witch–all will be at stake.
Eliot has her own way when it comes to clearing her name of the crime she did not commit and reclaiming her peaceful life. Meanwhile, the Holy Church prefer seeing her burned in the purgatory flame for their people’s sake; and her best allies, the Illuminati, have yet to consider her an ally. Two decades of conflict will soon end as all sides seek the ancient powers to defeat their oppositions. One seeks an angel, one wages a war, the other finds knowledge and, by the way, the Devil loves a good deal finger crossed.
Only those who make the right decisions will be granted a future. And a White Destiny it shall be.