Yish nodded. “The texts span Elder Mages, the Necromage and Witch Queen. Do you never read? The sorcerer passed through here sacrificing his guard to the undead as payment to pass. He travelled through here to the Dragon Yard and beyond into the badlands seeking the green Dragon Stone.”
“Matters of chronology can be troublesome to ones mind.”Jeremiah DeLalande, lecture on Thaumaturgical Consequences
“Never fit known facts into matters of Divination. The true artisan never fully understands the nature of foresight.”Archmage Eldritch Mortain, Letters to the Guild of Divination
This is another such ramble for this months
THE WITCH QUEEN: SCAR
Morgan awoke in a strange bed with sunlight dappling through an intricate lace curtain. She held her breath. This had to be another psychological ruse by the Witch Queen. Pleasant, compared to the darkness of a subterranean dungeon where the constant dripping of water not only eroded rock, but nerves. That and the incessant whispering of voices inside a timeless void.
She remembered disappearing inside her head to distract from reality. Past memories of Raz in the makeshift field tent acting as hospital. Her preparing the butchers tools that might aid some injured warrior from the dance of war. Then darkness.
Followed by pain when she came to. A great bruise on the back of her head and a lightless vista she shrank from. Being blind in this world was a death sentence. Hope said temporary and a direct result of the concussive blow that sent her conscious fleeing. Perhaps also explaining the deafness. Nothing to see, nothing to hear. Awake or wandering some place else in her mind. Neither prospect seemed good.
Time she could not measure. Judged by hunger or thirst. How long could you last with either? What if she lay incapacitated near the field hospital? The war passed on and her lying there, missed and awaiting the carrion to begin their feast of the dead.
That memory drift soon vanished when the temperature fell. She could feel death watching her. The stench of decay dropping with each breath whispered on her face. When words followed it inside her head the scream wouldn’t escape.
This be the one Witch.
“My Lord,” a woman’s voice. The witch? Morgan’s tongue refused to move. “What of those that captured her?”
Kill them all.
Why could she not see either? Morgan tried to blink and clear her mind. Except something was crawling all over it.
As is the Blacksmith, so are you chylde.
“Who?” She didn’t know any blacksmiths.
You will. And one of two whose life fell into our dominion.
“Why me?” The desperate cry of all who fall out of normality. Spoken as a thought to the creeping mind walker.
It is your birth rite girl.
She didn’t realise that ice could settle deep inside her head until this moment. Caressing her thoughts, exploring through them. It violated her senses.
Witch. Morgan felt her whole body sigh as whatever had been there left. It’s voice stayed, presumably deliberate. Render her ours.
That, she knew, meant her.
Perhaps these were echoes of a nightmare brought on by being senseless. Maybe she had been rescued and now rested in a warm bed.
Had Raz come back for her? Surely he wouldn’t run and just leave her to die. What if he had? Worse still, had he thought she was dead and didn’t have time to check? What if he were dead too? That left her an orphan for the second time. An emotional scar that Raz had shown tenderness to. Tears filled her eyes.
Her wrist itched. She turned it over to look and another scar, this time blood red, met her gaze. A pentagram inside a circle. Branded like cattle, a piece of meat. Ownership it said.
“Witch mark child,” an elderly woman stood watching. She placed water and bread on a side table. “It’s not much, but might help you over the sickness.”
“What sickness?” Morgan was confused.
“They brought you in from the killing field. You were found unconscious by what was the hospice.”
“The surgeon, what happened to the surgeon?”
“No trace, they looked but the tent was nothing but ashes.” She gave the girl a sympathetic look. “If he was in there then…”
“He’s not dead,” Morgan interrupted. “He can’t be.”
“They say he saved your life. If it were not for him then your fate would now rest in the same dust.”
Better it had, she thought as her eyes filled again. Scars becoming open wounds.
She drew breath. “What did you mean by witch mark?”
The woman stepped closer, shrinking at the question. “It means you have been touched by a witch,” she whispered. “Keep it hidden, if others see it…”
Morgan knew that lore. Her path might still lead to ashes. Witch familiars, innocent or not, were all purged by flame.
The nightmare was ongoing it seemed.
Where is she now?
“With the guardian.”
Is she is ours?
The Witch Queen nodded, “And latent enough to track the surgeon and from there the elf.”
The cloaked form before her shimmered. Inside the hood eyes swirled in a vortex. The wretched’s myths claimed these were souls harvested in collection. Nothing living ever had an opportunity to see this thing and talk. None save her. “Once she meets the elf then the sigil will burn. When it does so, I will know.”
And the horde?
“It will act like a beacon.”
She took no answer as a good sign.
Alone now she stared at the night sky. Stars blinking. How many worlds were there. How many did it want? The Witch Queen shivered and wrapped her own cowl tighter. It was here she permitted her thoughts to drift.
If the chylde were a new acolyte, what would become of her?
As for birth rites, she knew nothing of the two and this Morgan was an orphan. Was she going to be replaced? Scorn ripped through her, these were not ties of blood. Orphans and bastards did not make rites of ascension. Something was changing.
Thoughts like these were kept locked deep in her mind in a conjurors box. She knew it was aware of many such boxes, but privilege prevented further advancement on them. She was the public face. The one controlling the horde and an Empire that sent adversaries fleeing in terror. If it intruded then that would all fall away. The wretched, however, were not hers to command. Their number was unknown. This was unsettling.
She cast the rune stones again. They fell, as always, on a toppled stone megalith. One she knew was once an elder portal. Like everything they had decayed and gone from the earth. Was that her fate too? It said not. Not just a world, but all planes of existence.
She scanned the stones. Thirteen times now they had fallen in an identical pattern. Her life ending and a new Empire of blood rolling ever on. A crow released, one of two crossing into this world and a man that gave his life freely for hers.
It was vague, few lived forever. Death was the way of life. It was the when that remained an enigma. If she ruled well then continuity was assured. The crow meant nothing. One of two could be anything. Even a twin, but that was fitting known reference into the rune cast. Fixing foresight to such was not the path. That lay with charlatans inside market tents.
But the man. Each time his rune fell her heart beat faster. Why should that be?
She gathered the stones and left this distracted thinking to atrophy. Her task now was to remove the witnesses. Blood would flow before sunrise.
Morgan left the woman’s plate empty. She felt better than before, but still held her mind hanging on the edge of a precipice. Hope was beginning to fade and give her back the emptiness left when her mother died leaving her homeless. Raz was the one who gave her life back. A kindness that was both random and unexpected. He couldn’t be dead. Of this she was certain.
The witch sigil she now kept wrapped in a bandana around her forearm. Who had etched it was a matter for later. Raz knew people that could undo sorcery. One in particular he was friendly with. An elf called Yish.
“You’re awake again child.”
“I have a name.” Morgan looked up smiling.
“I know, but here I take in many and none stay so it’s better if I don’t bond too closely.”
Morgan nodded understanding. She knew what it was like to live through broken attachments. It hurt. Not this time though, she had an urgent desire to find Raz. Then the elf to get rid of the witch mark. She was slave to nobody.
“You look like you’re ready to leave.”
“Do I?” Morgan looked surprised.
“The eyes speak more than the tongue. Yours say you’re searching for answers and staying here won’t provide them.”
“I have to find someone.”
“Aye, but don’t set yourself up for a fall. There were no signs of life after the battle. Save for the carrion and worm.”
“So you said, but neither did they find his body. Burned or charred it might have been, but to render it ash is beyond a simple fire in a tent.”
The woman looked distant for a moment. Her eyes flickered as if lost in thought. “Some fires are hotter than…” she flinched as a powerful send hit her.
Morgan noticed the grimace. “What’s wrong?”
“Getting old. Aches and pains catch one unawares. More so if I forget the apply the unguents. Which, of course, I have.” She smiled. Being a pawn wasn’t something her own childhood had chosen. Life turns and sometimes a trap is sprung before you even notice. “When you decide to move on I’ll prepare some dry foods for the journey.”
Morgan felt it odd that the woman had shown no reticence to letting her leave. Not that she owed her anything, but to allow a young girl to walk into the world was not wise. At least Raz used to say such. Although in truth, her past had found her wandering far younger than she was now.
Two hours later she was back on the hill. As told, there were the relics of ash ground into mud by rain. How long ago this place screamed of battle, death and destruction was unclear. Another bandana covered her face. Despite the long extinguished funeral pyres the place still stank of death. Weapons left where they fell, tarnished now and some already rusting. More than once she stumbled leaving her knees wet and coated in dirt.
Her mind remembered the rock where she’d fallen. What had he said? “Get out now, before the force wall hits.” She frowned trying to think. Even now that meant nothing. How had he known?
Little remained amongst the debris. Likely anything left had already been looted. She stood looking down the hill behind where the field hospital had stood. At the bottom was a trail leading off into the distance. If he hadn’t burned then that was where he’d run. At least that was what she would have done. Away from the battle. If the enemy was here then the day had been lost.
She descended. The slope favoured her. Night would be drawing in soon so she decided to spend it near a boulder that stood like a way point. Below it was evidence of a campfire. Her heart beat faster. This was where anyone fleeing might have rested. Hidden from view in a gully. If he had escaped then surely this was his path. But to where?
Mountains lay across the tundra. The gully followed what was once a stream before the land dried. Run off from the mountain range. Choices were slim. This had to be where he went. She drew a cloak tight. Rain didn’t seem likely and a fire might attract attention. She ate some of the woman’s dry food and took a sip from a water skin. If any predators lurked then she might have problems, although they would probably keep the the foothills nearer the range she was destined for.
“Naz.” Yish started slowly.
The dwarf looked up.
“I think we are being hunted.”
He sat up, “What makes you say that?”
“Nothing more specific?” He watched her face for clues.
“You know me better than that.” She was staring into a camp fire.
“Aye, but by what?”
“Many things. My father for one. But this is different. It’s older, much older.”
Naz felt his skin crawl. Maybe it was time to call it a day and head back to the Keep. Reset and stop dripping from one encounter to another. Find out once and for all where their temporal trail was. So far he’d heard the place had been sacked then not. Found it in ruin then told he’d crossed a chronomantic boundary. How on earth was a dwarf supposed to make sense of anything but rock and stone? With that he clenched his hand over the moonstone in his pocket. It still vibrated, though the magnitude had lessened. It sleeps he thought.
Yish smiled, “Your eyes say it all.”
Naz looked quizzical.
“You want to see if it’s still standing don’t you?”
“And you want to know if he’s still there.”
“In our time stream it’s both yes and no.”
Naz threw his head up in despair.
“Portals Naz, we’ve travelled back and forth. We have no real reference frame telling us exactly which time we are in. He can reach me, but not as the one we knew. He wasn’t powerful enough. To do so puts him in the future.”
“So you have no idea of when we are?”
She shook her head.
“And this hunter?”
“Scares me. It’s old magic. It might be even older than the Elder Mages.”
This is the first time I am on your blog and I have already a fan. You really make it sound so real in your stories, the feelings, experiences, pain, sadness, and happiness. It means more than just reading a story.
Thank you so much Chandni. Your comment is both unexpected, positive and very welcome today. It’s definitely brought a smile amidst some turmoil!
Can I ask how you came to drop onto this particular post? It’s probably a bit buried now.
My favorite part was the beginning with Morgan. I really felt the horror of being trapped. Mentally and physically. Well done.
Naz and Yish are becoming more and more familiar to me and I’m getting invested in what happens to them.
Thank you Sam. Morgan has only made two visits into this storyline. The first is linked at the bottom. As such I’m still finding my way with her so I’m pleased to see people appreciating her dilemma and not a flaw in how I’m writing her…if that makes sense.
Quite often Yish and Naz get bit parts unexpectedly too.
However this months is a change of direction… not part of Dragon Stone. Which makes me a tad nervous haha
Another glimpse into the richly disturbing realm of Dragon Stone.
Being new to this location I’m captivated by its layers of unreality. Not just a few exotics and clutch of spells / runes and a northern European 10th Century setting. Dragon Stone is ‘odd’; Time and Spatial references are not as we see them, some folk moving through them with ease but also at a price. A theme this story highlights. I could truly relate to Morgan, who although a native was very much confused at a turn of events.
I was relieved in a way to encounter Yish and Naz and had to restrain an allegorical wave of the hand and shout of ‘Hey guys. I’m a stranger here. Can I tag along?’ (Goodness knows what responses that line would get though).
So much atmosphere. The Witch Queen is not the depressingly familiar ‘pantomime’ villainousness either, I had the notion she is not as in control as some would think she is.
The idea of the Force Wall as something of a Weapon of Mass Destruction is impressively depressing to. Doesn’t matter how big your armies are of what you do on the battlefield ‘The Force Wall’ might have the final say.
There was a very enjoyable read Gary.
Thanks for the visit into this complex, uncertain place
Very generous Roger. I wasn’t initially too sure about this as it’s been a long time since I first “met” Morgan. The Witch Queen has been about but not on here too. She is a central character in a book I wrote. The rune cast alludes to that world too. Both wrt twins and a certain paradox man. Both of whom in this timeline she knows nothing of.
You also hit a point that I often get confused with now too…where in time are they??
The Force Wall appears in the link to the first part of Morgan’s tale too where
she is captured. Much of the back references are to that. The concept of it is pretty scary too. This one did rip across the battlefield and was indiscriminate in casualty. It was aimed purely to get Morgan.
As for Naz and Yish…that made me chuckle. You’d do better being someone they encounter rather than asking that! Their bond is strong and it’s down to absolute trust in each other. Alas that is not extended outwards as it’s been the cause of much trouble. That said they both do respect others with the trust part earned not given lightly.
Heads up too. Next time I return to a different story. Not Dragon Stone. But another follow up to an older BB story.
Thanks for the rich comment too. Much appreciated after my “uncertainty.”
I like the idea of a narrative which sometimes moves backwards and also sideways in time. But considering Relativity, and Space Time. Who’s to say? Time could be quite flexible in any story and folks’ locations? Well, a fluid and uncertain situation could be part of the narrative.
I really am going to have to make time (that’s ironic) to find out more about Dragon Stone. The world is an interesting composition of variable and contradictions
Agreed. I do too, however writing one gives you such a headache trying to work out who’s where and when 😂
Dragon Stone started with Originalis. It was a chapter that introduced The Black and it’s stone. At that point it wasn’t really fleshed out. I do think you’d probably enjoy that chapter though. The drift into the world build occurred with the arrival of the Amanuensis. Lots of small writing experiments suddenly began weaving together. Almost as if the worlds were bleeding through previously but not able to form…if that makes sense!
It started out with me cheating with the whos, wheres, whens and their continuities by adopting a ‘Time Is Out of Joint’ approach, but just in matters of discrepancies of days, which in that era ordinary folk did not notice too much. However, what started out as a quick fix became part of the theme.
As you said Gary, ‘worlds bleeding through’. Makes perfect sense to me.
Afterall when dealing with Fantasy there has to be at least of smidge of Unreality (to our world, anyway).😃
Often the way and does turn up unexpected leads. It’s a good tack to use too if you get scene stuck. Play around with the characters elsewhere and often a nuance appears that resolves the issue.
As for unreality in out world…. Heck… when you look at our politicians I often think their reality is totally different to everyone else’s 😂😂
How very true Gary.
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four when it comes to twisting the use of words and the shifting of alliances and foes is ever fresh.
There are realms where Fact and Fantasy meld and in true style of traditional Fantasy narratives they bleed into our own.
True enough. I have another character who isn’t married or engaged. In our time but has a child before he was born. This is the one known as the paradox man for reference if you’ve seen it anywhere. And is the one referred to in the rune cast here.
I’d love your verdict on the first three bits of Dragon Stone too. Well, one bit as combined they are a chapter. The blacksmith in that is often back referenced too as is The Black.
The paradox man. The Black. I like those names.
Yes, I will check out Dragon Stone’s first three bits. That might be a couple of weeks (A weekly to do list usually has 20+ things on it- aside from normal chores). But I will return!
No rush Roger, but it might give you more of a feel for the actual none back story thread. Well…. One of them 😂
I’ll be on it, I want to find out more about this realm (or is that ‘realms’?)🙂
Didn’t a certain waitress in a pub in another story have a pentagram inside her wrist? Although I did wonder re ‘gelded’ thought branded might have been more appropriate lol
Good memory. That would be Jennifer of brothers paranormal infamy. I’ll check that part now too. Trouble with being too text familiar is obvious things get missed.
I liked the paranormal brothers. I think I passed the perfect pub for them the other day. Ancient and a bit gnarly on the timbers. Do you have places that you have been to in mind when you write or do you just imagine them?
Combination. I visit many pubs now due to what I do. However, most of the Oak is an amalgamation of bits I’ve visited. One in particular sits in Leeds
Is that the cellar consulting? ( is that what it’s called? Gary I’m so happy that is working out for you. How lovely to be able to say i visit May pubs for work lol. Unfortunately I don’t visit pubs for what I do , although actually we did Ma auto arrange our team meet in a pub garden on Thursday and it was glorious! It’s splendid to be able to read your work again. I have an itch to start writing again.
When do we expect to have more to read?
Thus far it’s once a month on these prompts. I have a start on the main story but it’s a tad complex to concentrate on without extended time at it.
As for the pub thing… it’s good because it’s problem solving. I never realised how many publicans really have no clue about keeping beer good. Bit of an eye opener!
Am I right in thinking Morgan is who I think she is ? Does she turn up and drink Gin with pineapple in a pub later? Or have I lost the plot so to speak? Obviously this pub she turns up will have well kept beer if you’ve written it.
Ah yes time … it’s elusive!!!
No, Morgan is not in our plane so to speak. She’s appeared twice now. Here and in the part linked at the bottom. It’s where she is first taken by the horde.
I’ve obviously missed something somewhere then lol. I thought this was her back story and she appeared later in your book .
Ah yes, I remember Morgan. All kinds of details in this story, and I especially like the reference how the dripping of water eroded both rocks and nerves. Had a little difficulty at first sorting out the dialogue when Morgan was visited by the ghoul (not sure what else to call it), but I eventually worked it out. The offer of bread and water when she awakens seems like a clue she is still something of a prisoner, but I suppose the witch mark would also play into that. Your brief mention of twins made me wonder if that had anything to do with another thread of this tapestry concerning the two girls – one got run over, right? The woman’s reference to some fires burn hotter seemed like a dragon reference, although I presume the wyvern wasn’t involved in that battle. Seems like an intriguing setup!
Good memory Abe. Better than mine for sure haha. Very kind comment too. The dialogue part with the antagonist tends to be italicised. Admittedly it may well be less clear than hoped, but that’s down to me focussing more on Morgan’s character. I was a bit nervy of this one as she’s not fully developed yet.
Yes, said twins are indeed threads, as is the Witch Queen. The one that was run over is actually not quite as straight forward as it seems either. The Queen references a strand there too. Obviously beta readers will get that right off the bat.
Not a dragon reference this time. Thing there is as a species they are not present in all planes of existence. They were also subjected to a genocide so, as you may gather from the Dragon Stone parts, they are pretty elusive and a tad annoyed.
This left me with so many questions. Which is obviously positive as I want to read on.
Very kind and in truth each new write increases the questions here too. One day I shall cease back story rambles and start the actual story!