“Haa..Hah,” panting hard, I ran as fast I could in the covers of the dark forest. I could hear my own heart beating as if a drum was being beaten in my ears. I licked my cracked lips – dry as I have been running for the better part of the night – but the fire in my throat was a raging flame like the magma of the ground beneath me was poured into my lungs. The farther I ran, the heavier my legs feel as if turning into lead. They were getting closer – my captors. The hooves of horses and shouts of men echoed throughout the forest as I tried to hide and escape from them.
“Hurry, we have to find her! The witch must not escape the forest or our village will never be cured of the plague.”
Yes, I am a witch. Though I call myself one, you will never see me wearing pointy hats or black fluttering robes or cackling and boiling who-knows-what in a massive cauldron. That is just creepy. I have been one for the better part of a decade, but I never bothered hiding my arts from the public. In truth, they were the ones begging me to save their child or help them with their farms and blessing their crops and protecting it from pests. Not even once did I turn them away.
The villagers used to smile and wave at me when I pass by their homes and the children would play with me whenever I brought them candies or my showed them my new spells. Yet, they scorned at me and my existence, throwing stones and hitting me with their clubs and sticks, deeming me a threat to their lives and chased me out of my own home.
In the beginning, when the events started to unfold, I gathered the elders and shared with them of my plans to house the ill and dying in the barn so the sickness will not spread and it would be easier for me to treat them. The villagers, however, soon thought that I was sacrificing their relatives to the devil in exchange for power and convinced the elders to demand me for the return of their sick. I refused, of course, and said that if left untreated and outbreak will occur sooner or later, killing all of us. Murderer! How do we know you’re not killing us yourself, you’re a witch! If you’re really helping us, then why are they not healed yet!
I was completely baffled by their remarks that it rendered me speechless. Their sheer stupidity and crowd mindset threatened the safety of the entire village, so I had to stop them. I raised my hands and pressed them together, gathering mana around me.
Ward me O flames of Eschona!
A flame barrier appeared before their eyes, surrounding me and the barn. “If you truly wish for your loved ones to survive this sickness, then remain where you are,” I said, turning away and heading for the barn.
“Look! She’s trying to sacrifice herself along with your people!” a man yelled, his hands pointing towards me. It was him. The man wore a white robe with a rope tied around his waist and a necklace with a pattern hung on his neck. A moon-shaped symbol and an eye. A follower of Morguth. “I am a priest and I swear by the name of my lord that this woman will be the demise of your people!”
This man came to our village nine months ago, carrying a rucksack over his shoulders and the words of his lord with him. He spoke with the villagers and fervently invited them to join him in serving the lord Morguth and if they do not, a great calamity will befall them. The people just smiled and shook their heads, telling him that the witch will protect the village should something untoward occur. Yet, now when a great sickness fell upon the villagers, they turned their backs on me and started praising the priest for opening their eyes to the ‘terror’ of the witch.
I stared at the priest, mana gathering on my palms. Just then, a stone flew and hit me on the head. I turned towards the villagers shuffling uncomfortably towards the flame barrier. Warm liquid began to flow down my temple. “Kill her! We have to kill the witch!” More stones flew and I ran inside the barn.
Quickly, I gathered my items and stuffed them in my satchel. Then, I rushed to my patients – a young mother and her child – and pushed a phial of glowing blue liquid in her hands. ” I have to go now, dear friend. The priest of Morguth has turned the villagers against me. Here, pour a drop of this into a bowl of clean water for you and this lovely babe of yours to drink. You should recover within two weeks. See you, Ellie.”
I swung open the rear door of the barn facing the forest, only to find a group of men waiting for me beyond the ward of flame I conjured.
“She’s here! Kill her!” one of the men scrambled for me, but before he could jump over the flames, someone hit him with a club to the back of his head – the husband. “Go! Run away from here!” He swung the club at the shoulder of another man and shoved him back. Quickly, I flicked my wrist towards the flames and it separated for me.
I stumbled and fell a few times and desperately struggled to regain balance. Surprisingly, witches require at least a breath of focus to cast a basic spell. I took a deep breath, forcing the cold air into my lungs as I pushed against the earth and ran again. I tried to focus on a camouflage spell as I pass a large tree, but the sheer panic of knowing that a single arrow shaft through my bodice could kill me anchored my consciousness to the dark forest.
O mother earth, grant me strength and shield me from the eyes of evil – Grania
I did it! As soon as I thought that, arrows whistled past me. I had to find a place to hide and centre myself again. I back-pedaled to the large tree now behind me and crouched, trying to still myself as best I could. Mana began to surge through me, though just barely enough to invigorate and envelope me in its soft blue wisps. The hooves were getting louder now, they must be close. The voices of the villages were getting clearer, I barely had to strain my ears to hear them against the silence of the forest.
“Shite, she’s gone! Keep an eye out for any movements, anything at all. She can’t have gone that far on barefoot,” one of the mounted villagers roared, he must be the village chief judging from the strain in his voice. Flickers of light began to stretch the shadows of the trees as torches floated in the background, held by my would-be captors.
Suddenly, I had the goosebumps as I felt the pull of mana in the air. The priest of Morguth was trying to locate me, it seems. None of the villagers knew of the magic arts or owns a grimoire to be able to drain this much mana from the forest. Maybe this whole incident was purposely set up by him to force my capture or death since I might become an obstacle to whatever plans he has for the village in the future.
“Relax, she’s nearby, the magic that my lord has granted me tells me so,” the priest said as he walked closer. “She has just used one of her silly tricks to hide from us, but she is close, I assure you.”
At the very moment that the sound of my captors was right behind me, I made a run for it. I desperately need to escape from this place no matter the cost. The villagers could surely see the difference in the flow of mana surrounding me and the forest as another bunch of shaft whistled in my direction and I suddenly felt a sharp pain burning through my left arm. The shouts and curses of men in excitement as their horses whinnied fill the forest once again, making way towards me. I endured the flame in my arm and weaved between the trees, evading their barrage smashing as it hit the trunks. Hot liquid dribbled down my arm and threatened to widen the wound.
I could not afford to cast a healing spell now with these men on my heels. There! There was a small hole underneath a tree a few hundred meters from my position, almost hidden by the undergrowth.I gathered mana once again on my good arm, just enough for a simple spell, hoping for the hole to be wide and deep enough for me to fit in and seek what little refuge it offers from the priest and my captors.
O mother earth, reveal to me my path – μαντική ικανότητα (clairvoyance)
This must be my lucky day, it seems, as warm light filled my palm and I cast it towards the hole. Dear God, if you can hear me, thank you. I dragged my feet across the undergrowth – just a few steps away from the tree now – as mana from my previous spell cast began to dissipate. No magic is eternal as each spell has its own time limit based on the amount of mana an arts user is able to contain inside their vessel and the quality of mana in their surroundings. The more powerful the spell, the shorter the time limit. That’s a common understanding anyway.
The entrance of the pit was a depression leading deeper into the ground, perhaps a giant mole rat might have dug it. As long as there were no bugs, I think I should be able to survive with most of mother earth’s critters for some time. I hope.
All of a sudden, a wave of ineffable pain swept through me from the back of my head.
“Gotcha, witch!” a man’s voice seethed in anger, satisfied as the club in his hands was dyed with a splotch of dark red.Then everything turned black as I collapse into the void.
“Shite, she must have fallen into that hole. Hurry, dig it up before she escapes!” another voice shouted in panic.
“Be at ease, elder,” the priest’s sneering voice echoed inside the hole as he scrutinised the abyss inside. “With a blow that hard, I doubt she will be able to survive. Now, hand me that torch will you?” He lifted a torch over the gaping hole, trying to pierce the veil of obscurity in vain.
“How can you be sure she’s dead?” the elder questioned.
“Because if she still breathes, then there is no greater suffering than that of fire -”
Scorch the souls of the suffering O flames of Morguth!
A terrible flame rages from the priest’s palms and into the pit, casting the tree and the undergrowth in a great wildfire. The blaze swiftly spread across the forest, devouring most life forms in its path. Raw screams fill the air, hysterical and agonising as the remaining torches of human flesh succumbed to the fire and fell into tormented death.
The flame, however, continues to rage for some time – its pillars of smoke could be seen from miles away – and snuffed out the lives of the forest inhabitants. The crackling and creaking sounds of falling centuries-old trees resonated across the forest, as if nature herself was in grief. In the centre of it all stands a man, his naked body slicked with sweat and a dark and hideous grin carved on his face as he began to make his return to the village.
Initiating system activation protocol..
Booting up secondary power reserves..OK
Engaging emergency activation protocol…
Emergency activation protocol activated.
Initializing A.I. Cortana..
A deep blue circle with a vertical line across the top half of the circle began to glow softly.
Cortana is now online.