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Witchery
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-335-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 250 Pages
Published: September 2016

From inside the flap

A werebear has killed two people and Teyla leaves in pursuit. Her mother, Mirra, has known for years that Teyla’s father, Kaar, is imprisoned by Maalak. With Teyla gone, she goes to free Kaar or die in the attempt. The two helped defeat Maalak years ago in his bid to conquer the city-state of Kessia. He has prepared to try again, confident he will be victorious.

Teyla’s quest is side-tracked by Argus Cord on a mission to find white witches to aid Kessia in the upcoming struggle. The two become lovers and Teyla agrees to help in the battle against Maalak. But she discovers that her father is Maalak’s prisoner. She must attempt rescue, but she cannot protect Argus and herself. Kaar escapes with Mirra’s help, and the two join the forces of Kessia.

As the armies clash outside the southern wall of Dark Home in a battle of magic and steel, Teyla arrives at Dark Home. Maalak discovers her presence and she finds herself face-to-face with the most fearful master of dark magic that has ever been.

Witchery (Excerpt)


1

The Murders

If you live long enough to be a grandmother, you don't ignore your instincts. That's what Hanna told herself as she hurried toward her son's home on the outskirts of town. Her son and daughter-in-law should have been at her house over half-an-hour ago to drop off their baby girl before driving to the fields to join her husband for the day's work.

As she approached the home she could see the wagon by the side of the house. The horse must still be tied up out back.

She could smell the blood even from thirty paces away. As she approached she could see that the door, though closed, was not latched. Her hand trembled. At that instant, the last thing in the world she wanted to do was open that door. But it was impossible to not do so.

An unwelcome memory was suddenly with her. She recalled her days as a soldier twenty-three years ago in the battle before the walls of Kessia. It had gone on for days. The blood had been so thick it had turned the dusty ground to mud, and the reek of death and gore had permeated the air. But she'd been able to ignore all that, except as it became a hazard to sure footing, and she had spilled even more upon the ground herself, as her spear had pierced one after another of their enemies. Her own blood had also been spilled there, and it was only the quick actions of the healers that had kept her alive.

That thought, and the smell, triggered another quick flash of remembrance. A man fighting next to her-a Chem warrior like herself, a volunteer to battle the dark forces-had shoved her aside just in time to save her from the downward stroke of an enemy battle axe. The axe had severed his left arm at the shoulder. She had plunged her weapon into the guts of the axe-man and left it there, pointing skyward as the dead enemy collapsed onto his back, falling onto the severed arm. She grabbed her savior and half-carried, half-led him through and then behind the battle lines to the gates, where they were admitted, and to where the healers were doing their work. After resting for too few minutes she drank water and then grimly returned to the combat, acquiring a new spear on the way.

She had never seen him again, and on rare occasions over the last decades she had wondered if her battle-mate had survived his injury.

The brief recollection vanished as her focus returned to the present, and the smell of blood and death she had hoped never to experience again.

But here it was, at the home of her only child.

She pushed open the door.

Her first look revealed only carnage. Blood was everywhere. Pools of it on the wooden floor, splashes and smears on the logs of the walls and the pitched thinner boards of the ceiling. Someone or something had made this as horrific as possible.

The only sound was the horrible buzzing of flies.

When she became adjusted to the shock, she saw more detail. Every piece of furniture was broken. Blood splashed the unburned wood in the stone fireplace. There were no bodies visible, but that did not give her hope. She was crying now, but she barely noticed. She surveyed the floor, hoping to see a way into the bedroom without stepping in a pool of red. There was none.

She gritted her teeth and made her way to the open door of the adults' bedroom; her sandaled feet were immediately spotted and splashed with the blood that was just beginning to dry on the surface of the deeper pools. She moaned at what she saw there and cursed in a low voice, invoking the furies of hell upon the creature that had done this. The blood in here was even worse than in the outer room. Body parts were strewn about the room haphazardly-legs and arms here, her daughter-in-law's head there, disfigured by three deep diagonal claw marks, and the torsos... they were the worst. Both had been partly eaten.

She clamped her jaws tightly together, defeating the urge to break into uncontrolled wailing that would degenerate into hysterics. The child-where was the little girl?

Dreading what she would find, she trudged resignedly to the closed door of the child's room. This side was splashed with blood. Grimly she lifted the latch, steeling herself to what she would see.

The room was immaculate. A hint of blood had seeped onto the floor from under the door. The child's crib was unharmed... and so was the child.

She was awake, not crying but whimpering a little, probably from hunger and in need of a change. Hanna whispered her gratitude to Hala as she gathered up her granddaughter, wrapping her in the blankets on the crib, and hurried out of the house. When she was out and many paces away, she sat down on the chopping block and released the control she'd barely maintained.

The closest neighbors were hundreds of paces away, but they heard her wailing in the quiet morning air, and came running. Soon all the citizens of Airen knew of the evil that had visited their town.

In less than an hour, Airen's four best hunters were on the trail of the beast. They were Chem, and blessed with an affinity for the earth powers. No better trackers and hunters existed in all of Continent, save possibly for the Chem nomads that peopled the Eastern Forests.

They followed the tracks of the animal all that day, pushing their horses to the limit. The creature had a full night's head start and had fled full speed northeast. They gained steadily. When the sun eased behind the western horizon, two dismounted and tracked on foot, the others staying on horseback and leading the riderless mounts. The trail became fresh. They estimated they were less than an hour behind.

And then they stopped. Chastened, they abandoned their pursuit. They were back by morning, reporting at once to Mirra, the witch of Airen. Almost in mid-step, the track of four huge bear feet had changed to the track of two huge bare human feet.

The next day the house and contents, defiled beyond reclamation, provided fuel for the cleansing flames that released the spirits of Lys and Rien from the desecrated flesh that held them.

The entire populace watched, grieving. Many wept.

Two women stood apart. Almost identical they were, mother and daughter; adult witch, long known and respected as perhaps the most powerful on Continent; and unproven young woman, trained but inexperienced. Both had visited the house the day before; and came away with nothing but a sliver of wood.

Mirra spoke to her daughter as the roof of the structure crashed inward. "Teyla, are you sure you are ready for this?"

"More than ready." Teyla's voice was steady, despite her tears. Not even their parents had cried harder than had Teyla on the death of Lys and Rien. Lys had been Teyla's best friend since both had learned to walk. Lys had given her daughter her best friend's name, and now the child would grow up without her parents. She would never know the wonderful and loving person that had birthed her. Worse, the spirits of Lys and Rien, though released, could not move on to their next home while the abomination that had destroyed them still walked the earth. Their spirits would hover, homeless and desolate, until the way was opened for them.

After a pause, Teyla spoke again between clenched teeth. Her voice was low with intense and subdued rage. "I shall find the monster, Mother. Braul's creature. I will find it and I will kill it!" Her words trembled and the volume rose. "I will rip its limbs from its abhorrent body, in whichever form I find it!" Then she blushed and quieted. Her voice acquired a grim tone it had never held before. "I will destroy the thing. And the pain and horror it brought to Lys and Rien will be nothing to what it will get from me."