*I was going to write more than one chapter, I was, but I think it will have to wait till Noah’s Boy is out of my hands, because right now my head is so full of that, that it’s hard to get fully into THIS. (Also, I just got the page proofs for A Few Good Men, and we all know how much I LOVE page proofs. Yeah, I know, part of the job, and they WILL be done, but Oh, Boy. I love being a writer. I just hate the paperwork.) Anyway, so it’s just one chapter. Two Things: First, praise goes to ‘nother Mike who sent me a compilation up to this point so that the tab “Witchfinder” has the whole thing. Also this allowed me to re-read the last three chapters which are scattered between two computers, and set myself. Second, those of you who are writers might be interested in what I call “cascading crisis.” I don’t do this on purpose, but it seems to be a characteristic of my writing that all the crisis hit serially, and if I have multiple pov’s, they cascade, as does the black moment.
Thirdly — nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. SHUT UP — I’d like to apologize for Sidell and this chapter’s… graphicness. (TOTALLY a word.) All I can say is, I had NO clue. (Ignorance of characters is no defense! — ed. Shut up. — SAH)*
*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. *
Seraphim landed hand, on his shoulder. From somewhere he could hear water running.
I very much wish I would stop getting thrown around by magic, he thought. Then felt more than heard the thud of a body falling near him. A very heavy body.
Aching, feeling as if his own fall had broken something, he twisted to face… The dragon. No… Sidell.
Somehow Seraphim was on his feet and turning to face the dragon. It was huge and swollen and monstrous, reddish-brown in tone, with wings like a massive armature, feet that each of them was as large as a man’s body, toe nails that looked like the horns of some ancient beast. And yet, looking up, he detected in the huge face Sidell’s expressions and Sidell’s features.
Sidell had always seemed to him to be a smooth courtier, always ready to do what people expected. But beneath it, a dark current ran, full of danger and … things Seraphim couldn’t even understand.
The dragon showed the same duality, and a malicious… not delight. Though Seraphim supposed there was delight beneath the … fear?
“Welcome to the dragon cave,” Sidell said, and it was horrible to see that dragon mouth shape the words, horrible to hear the well-bred accents in the gravel-like voice. “I don’t know how that imbecile sent us here by raising the land, but I couldn’t have planned it better. For decades I’ve been striving against your family. First your father… the King’s Witchfinder, indeed. The corruption of a noble title to mean do-goodism in other worlds, and rescuing from their fate people who are no part nor parcel of our lives. Going in search of trouble, I call it. And preventing enterprising men from making a living in worlds too stupid to develop their magic systems.
“And then you, after we’d safely disposed of him. You – with the same nonsense, the same intent to rescue. And aided by that infernal creature, the exiled king, your brother. I don’t think you ever realized how much of his power he lent you. No, you were so full of your position being the duke, being the important one, you never realized that he was feeding you magic, and that you were only able to do all you did by his eldritch powers.”
The dragon grinned, and the grin was worse than the voice, displaying long, glimmering teeth, but more than that, showing a level of malice that Seraphim would much rather not have known existed.
“But here, Duke, here you are on your own. Just you and me, and no kings, no princesses, no one who will betray me or deflect me to save your sorry carcass. Here I kill you… Or perhaps not. Perhaps I’d be convinced to spare you for a time…”
Seraphim’s eyes had grown used to the gloom of the cave. It was an odd gloom, tinged with red, and it had taken him a while to realize the red came from a pile – a truly massive pile – of gold at the back. This surprised him just a little. Like most such things in legend, he’d always assumed the idea of the dragon treasure was a lie. It surprised him, too, because Sidell was not that old, and the pile of treasure had the look of something accumulated over generations, the result of pirate shipwrecks and historical rapine. Seraphim wondered where that treasure had come from.
But other things interested him more. There were… manacles on the wall, and from several of them corpses depended, half rotted, which explained the odor of must and decay in the air. But there were other corpses too, dead in a pile by the treasure and half eaten. In the light of Sidell’s words, it was impossible for Seraphim not to notice all the bodies he could discern characteristics for were young and male.
Feeling his gorge rise, he wondered if decorating one’s space in old lovers was a family characteristic of the Sidell line. Then he apologized mentally to Marlon. No. He might have his doubts about the man, and he might … but Marlon at least to his knowledge, had never viewed a tryst as the prelude to a snack. Certainly not, or word would have got about.
And that Marlon had maintained this dreadful place, unsuspected…
Seraphim swallowed hard again. It seemed to him at the back of the cave there was movement, and a human form, he didn’t know whether bound or free, but he didn’t want to think about it. Right now, compared to the mountain of dragon flesh, a human posed very little danger.
“Are you judging your odds?” Sidell asked, and the urbane humor in the dragon voice was almost more than Seraphim could bear. “Don’t. You have no chance. Forget all your magical fights of the past. Without your… brother, you would never have had a chance. Do you wish to compound now?”
But Seraphim was still holding the black shard of the dryad’s cage. And he’d be dammed if he was going to compound for a year, a month, or even a day of life, under these conditions and… He looked around at the skeletons. No. He’d not been willing to marry Honoria for honor, and he’d not give in to a dragon’s lust to preserve a few more … hours? Days? Weeks? Of life. It wouldn’t be much. He suspected what Sidell craved was power, and once you gave in, he was no longer interested. And even if it were much, there were things more important than saving one’s life.
He wasn’t convinced everything was lost. Perhaps Gabriel had helped Seraphim with power, but that didn’t make Seraphim helpless without it. And at any rate, he was a Darkwater and his family depended on him. Power or not, chances of success or not, he would fight. For himself, for them, for what was right.
If he must die, let him die true to what he was.
He stepped back to achieve balance, his step unnaturally loud in the cave. From somewhere at the other end came a rustle and a sound of gold sliding. Human? Animal attracted by the remains? It did not matter.
Seraphim grinned up the mountain of dragon whose shadow dwarfed him. “Do your worst Sidell,” he said. “I’ll see you in hell.”