*This is the Fantasy novel I’m posting here for free, one chapter every Friday. If your conscience troubles you getting something for free, do hit the donate button on the right side. Anyone donating more than $6 will get a non-drm electronic copy of Witchfinder in its final version, when it’s published.
There is a compilation of previous chapters here all in one big lump, which makes it easier to read and I will compile each new chapter there, a week after I post. When the novel is completed and about to be edited the compilation page will probably be deleted.
Oh, this is in pre-arc format, meaning you’ll find the occasional spelling mistake and sentence that makes no sense. It’s not exactly first draft, but it’s not at the level I’d send to a publisher, yet. *
Saying he’d use the power of a subject of fairyland was one thing – finding power to use was another. Gabriel Penn, still Gabriel Penn, fighting against the encroachment of something alien and strange upon his mind, and knowing he was both himself and that strange thing and had always been, lay on his back at the center of the neck sack enclosing them all.
It seemed to him he was very alone despite his sister and brother, despite the princess and the centaur – was Caroline holding the centaur’s hand? Damn the prophecy and damn its casual pulling of people into roles it had prescribed. Seraphim would– He cut the thought off.
If he gave in, if he succumbed to the prophecy’s demands, he would not have to worry about Seraphim’s wrath. He would not have to worry about wounding Seraphim’s feelings, either.
It wasn’t just that he would not be going back to Earth – Gabriel’s memory played over his years in the Darkwater household with a fond nostalgia that might have surprised those who had always thought of him as oddly out of place, neither servant nor family member. But it wasn’t only that that he’d been leaving behind. Part of what made his time at Darkwater idyllic was that, away from his mother, away from fairyland, he’d been able to pretend that he was human: just human.
Even his time with Marlon had been the same or close enough: they’d been pretending they were humans together, and it had been a lovely game, down to cleaving to human moral rules or at least to the extent of hiding and pretending.
But neither of them was human, and Gabriel was something more than a mere half elf. He’d tried to deceive himself for years that the prophecy was not really about him, that the cold, vast entity he felt, at the back of his own mind, the odd knowledge he had, the things he could sense were not – in any way – part of the fact that he’d been born to be king of elves.
He envied mere humans and their free will. He envied elves and their lack thereof. Created, as angels were said to be – though Gabriel had never met an angel and couldn’t attest to it of his own knowledge – without free will, elves were bound to their fate like slaves to a master. They could rebel, but the rebellion either lasted very little, or it twisted the elf… Like Gabriel’s uncle.
But Gabriel was neither human nor elf, walking between the worlds forever. Which didn’t mean he hadn’t known what his elf fate was, or what he as meant to do… He’d just thought his human half would help him escape it. And for a while it had. But prophecies were powerful things, especially in fairyland. And there were more than one person – more than one entity – conspiring with the prophecy to bring him to the point and to make him obey.
And he’d run himself off his legs – he thought, going lax against the net, feeling the net dig into his back, and looking up at the nebulous dark where the net was hooked, probably to nothing more than a belief that something hooked it.
He glared at it, probing the fixings there. If he caused the net to fall, could he manage to catch everyone else in here in his power and transport them somewhere, possibly Earth?
Could he do that and arrange his own death? His mind flinched from self murder, but it was the only way to avoid his fate, and oh, he wanted to avoid his fate.
But then he thought of fairyland, and of the few glimpses he’d had of his uncle’s mind, in recent days, and also of the complications he senses extended all the way to Avalon and maybe to Earth, of the Others that Seraphim and himself had had to find, to rescue unfortunates from non-magic worlds.
Something very bad had been happening in fairyland, and if his uncle continued holding power, it would only get worse. Gabriel had been taught, back on Earth, that fairyland was a parasite world, feeding off other worlds, like a leech upon a healthy being. But his feeling, from the thing at the back of his head was something else. Not something he could fully access or release without also releasing the… not human personality back there, but he knew that somehow a healthy fairyland was essential to the all the worlds. As much as he would like to destroy the thing and make it burn, he couldn’t. As much as his human half hated it, the slipperiness of it and its strange ways, he could no more destroy it than he could destroy his human family.
He narrowed his eyes, looking at the suspended net, overhead. No. He couldn’t kill himself or destroy fairyland. Worse, he couldn’t balk the prophecy. If he somehow managed to get out of here without letting the thing in the back of his head out, it would still get out sooner than later. The prophecy would push him around and corner him, like a dog with a hare, until it had him just where it wanted him.
So, let the thing out, a little. Use it a little. Delay the evil moment as far as possible.
He said “Be ready, princess,” and was shocked at the odd harmonics in his voice, which seemed to echo with a weird force and bounce off non-existent walls. “When I release you, find your way home with … my siblings and this misguided centaur. Go home. Go home as quickly as you can.”
She said something, but Gabriel couldn’t hear it. He’d gone inside his own head, searching for the link to subjects of fairyland.
It wasn’t unexpected that he found doors barring to him – metaphorically. The sacred groves rejected him, and the centaurs too, even though Akakios was his proof that the centaurs too were playing the prophecy and risking their lives and their prince to do it.
Magical fountains edged him off. There were no words of course, but if there had been, it would have been the classical ones of “turn away, turn away, for you are not of fairyland.”
The dragons turned their head away from him, though he sensed they too were not quite refusing to take his side, but afraid of what the current sovereign might do to them.
And there hinged the dilemma. He could not fight his uncle for the royal position and the royal power unless he got out of here. But to get out of here, he needed the royal prerogative that would allow him to cut through the net and challenge his uncle.
It was a paradox, and he was more bound in it than in this net. His hands clutched futilely at the threads of the net on either side.
He’d need someone who was of fairyland, but who had walked away, as Gabriel had. Someone who would give him the power to do this. He thought of his mother and shuddered. His mother… He’d never been sure if she loved him or not, or even if she felt anything at all. She’d been thrown out of fairyland as a changeling at the age of five, and though she’d returned after, yet in her mind she remained a five year old child. She could break things without malice or intent, just to know what was inside.
No, in this straight, his mother was the last person he could trust.
And the first person? He tried to fight against the thought. All he could remember was that poor animated corpse against the wall. But Marlon had said that wasn’t intentional. Which left…
Which left the ridiculous binding he’d tried to put on Gabriel when Gabriel had come back. But Gabriel sensed, in a way he couldn’t quite think clearly about that this was because Marlon had a horrible fear of being left, of losing those he loved. Perhaps not unwarranted. He’d never had many people who loved him back, from what Gabriel had gathered about his truly horrible childhood.
And despite that fear, he’d removed the bind and let Gabriel go.
Gabriel was imprisoned but his mind and power were free. He searched through the worlds, finding Marlon’s familiar mind-touch. Seen through the mind only, he looked younger and less defensive than Gabriel was used to – younger than Gabriel in fact.
Gabriel had only a dim awareness of Marlon’s surroundings: A house, a threatening presence. Heavens, was that a dragon? Was Marlon, then, in fairyland?
He got the impression Marlon was … busy and in the middle of a knot of magic. But his response to Gabriel’s mind touch was immediate. “Gabriel!” Marlon mind-spoke at him, recognition and gladness in his mental voice, and also the sort of total shocked surprise that made Gabriel feel a little like he’d been unjust.
“I—” he said. He’d thought to demand and to order. But that surprised took the rug out from under his feet. He kept his mind and mental voice strictly human and his request was framed in human words, “I am in trouble, Marlon, and I need to borrow your power to survive this.”
“My… power?” Gabriel had a feeling of… not reluctance, but almost fear.
Gabriel let him see the net, above, the people in with him.
“No chance of… waiting. An hour, two?” Again that not quite reluctance, but almost fear.
“Uh, as you know… time in fairyland.”
“Oh. Yes. And Himself would manipulate it.”
He almost heard Marlon swallow. For some reason the idea of ceding his power just now terrified Marlon, but on the heels of the swallow came an answer, “How do I do this? How can I let you have my power.”
“You recognize me as your sovereign,” Gabriel said. “You pronounce your power mine to use.”
“It is yours to use.”
“No, in elven.”
“Well, then,” Marlon said and spoke the words, ancestral and inborn, at the back of every elf’s brain, and he used Gabriel’s true name.
It was like holding lightening. The shock of the influx of magic cut through Gabriel, as well as, suddenly, a clear view of Marlon’s mind, of where Marlon was. Or what he was doing.
Oh, hell. Not only had he just taken Marlon’s power away during a duel, but he’d also pulled away his protections from Seraphim and someone else. It couldn’t be helped.
His power pull would throw people about, too. That too couldn’t be helped.
What could be helped was using the power to do what it should, and to keep his human self sane as the elf-self, unleashed by Marlon’s fealty, sane and in control.
It seemed to Gabriel as if all that was him stood in the middle of a black and blue hurricane of howling magic pouring out from his own mind. And the enemy was there, waiting.
He ripped the net with a wave of his hand and screamed at the others, as he tried to conjure stable ground for them to run on, “Run. Run on home. Run and leave me to my fate.”