*Sorry, it’s short.*
*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. *
The Tree, The Dragon, The Drunkard
There was a moment that Seraphim saw the creature clearly – a beautiful and stark naked young woman with chestnut hair and… well, the odd thing was that while she was alive and looked like a lovely, vital young woman, all of her was chestnut colored, and if one looked closely there was a hint of wood grain about her skin.
Seraphim, feeling as though an odd numbness were creeping up his arm from his palm, had no idea what he was seeing. The woman looked around, frantic. Put her hand to her chest and said, turning beautiful moss green eyes first to one, then to the other all around the company of the room, “The Forest,” she said. “I must have…”
An odd sound echoed, like fabric ripping, and in the middle of the floor, just in front of Seraphim, the boards heaved up, nails flying. One struck the guard who was holding Seraphim on the face, making an ugly cut. The man let go of Seraphim, and started stepping back, as though he were not quite aware of doing it, till presently he’d backed up to near Honoria, as though looking for protection.
Honoria’s face was a study in shock, her mouth wide open. Seraphim couldn’t understand why her hair was whipping as if in an unseen wind, until he realized the magic unleashed from the thick, dark, ropes, had submerged the room. There was so much magic there, they were all in magic, like a fish in water, magic crackling and fizzling on their skins, magic making them stupid with the shock.
He knew that the spell that had held the various illusions together, down to the final illusion of Honoria being the princess would be unraveling too, now the sacrifice had been taken from the center of the weaving.
The sacrifice… As though pulling the magic up into it, the woman had … Seraphim would like to say she had made an oak tree grow in the middle of the floor, only surely that was impossible, even with very great magic unleashed. And yet in the middle of the royal nursery, pushing aside the cradle, overturning the finely wrought rocking chair, upending the chests of clothing, an oak tree grew, here, far from forest, far from soil, far from brook, it grew and greened, loaded down with acorns.
The woman – nymph – sighed and eased into the tree, like a person easing into a soft bed. She backed into it and made a little “ahh” of relief. You could still see her, sticking out of the tree trunk, and she still looked human, glancing around with wide-open eyes. She looked at Seraphim and said, “You are not him,” and then. “Good for you that you are not him. Where is he? My despoiler?”
Seraphim had the sense of her reaching back, searching through the world for… He had a very bad feeling it would be for Sydell. It shouldn’t be possible, and it wouldn’t be possible, not to a normal, human magician. But if this was a nymph – a dryad?—then she would treat the human world as humans treated fairyland: a not-quite solid overlay on reality, to be rifled through at will for what it might contain.
There was the sound as though and explosion, and two men fell into the room. The odd thing is that though they both fell from about halfway in the air, and both landed awkwardly, when they landed they didn’t seem to notice they’d dropped or that they were in a different place. Rather, they each rolled, and stood, and turned to the other again, ready to fight.
This was when Seraphim recognized Sydell and Marlon. His shock was not that, but that Marlon was losing and badly. There were multiple slashes on his arms and his shirt was so torn and bloody it was impossible to tell where he’d been hit or how many times.
The reason for this became obvious almost immediately. Although both of them held knives, Sydell was protecting himself with a magical shield while Marlon … appeared to have no magic at all. There was no aura of magic around his head. How could he have lost all his magic?
The puzzlement lasted only a second. After all, it did not matter where his magic had gone or why. All that mattered is that this was a very unequal duel. Seraphim didn’t have magic to match Sydell’s, but he had magic. He threw a shield around Marlon, just as Sydell’s knife would have found his heart.
Both men suddenly noticed him. “You,” Sydell screamed, and ran at Seraphim, his knife ready.
And Seraphim, unarmed, seized on the only thing he had – the shard of the cage that had confined the dryad, which was even now in his hand, even as the splinters of it were making his palm throb like hell’s fire.
He struck out with it, blindly, while using his other arm to deflect Sydell’s blow.
His hand with the shard cut at Sydell’s cheek, making oddly black blood bubble up and pour out.
A roar echoed. A feeling of scorch.
Before them in the middle of the room, steps from the tree, stood a vast red dragon with Sydell’s expression in his irate eyes.
And Honoria, for reasons known only to her, was pounding on the dragon’s wing with both closed fists.
Just when Seraphim thought things couldn’t get madder, they did.
Another dragon broke through the plate glass window announcing “I found you at last!” in words that were like roaring fire.
And Marlon looked Seraphim in the eye and screamed, “I gave him my magic. Your brother. Darwater, I fear he’s in a battle for his life. I can feel his struggle, through my fealty to him, and I fear he’s losing.”