*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. *
It wasn’t the ghost riders, riding madly through London that scared Jonathan Blythe. After all, he’d had a decent magical education. He wasn’t a fool, either. Ghosts are ghosts. Which is not to say that they can’t do anything to you. Only uneducated fools would think so. Ghosts couldn’t of course, as such, touch you. They were on another plane. And couldn’t interact with humans in the way physical objects could.
No, what ghosts could do, though, was trail magic. In fact, they couldn’t help doing it. Crossing over from the other plane, whether they were true ghosts, caught in between the worlds, or just memories of past events, being reenacted in the present day, to manifest they required magic, and they brought with them a magic disturbance – a rift in the nature of the magical power that undergrid the world.
This was why on seeing a ghost people would feel a chill and an eldritch fear. There was a disturbance in the magic, and it was impossible not to perceive it, even if you didn’t have enough magic to name it.
But the more important point was that, once the magic had been torn, anything could come through it. Anything, including creatures that didn’t normally inhabit the human plane of existence – things that were, or could be, physical. Things that weren’t so well intentioned.
And London was now filled with ghosts. Jonathan was going to guess the ghosts of every person who’d ever died fighting or murdered in the land that London now occupied – Roman legionnaires and armored knights, women screaming and running in bloodied nightgowns, and through it all, in the middle of it all, every cavalcade who’d ever ridden through London – victorious or not. He was almost sure the ones in Roman armour, with plumes, were Arthur’s cavalry when they’d come to London to install him. But there was also Essex’s forlorn effort and John Lackland’s last hope – riding disarmed and blindfolded, with their standards reversed, as they had on the way to their execution.
Jonathan swallowed hard, looking at these figures of defeat, not only at seeing so vividly brought to life that which he’d only before seen in history books, but also at the number of ghosts.
He knew what had caused it, right enough. The land wakening would waken all who slept an unquiet sleep among the dead. But the land itself had caused a disturbance in magic, and now this…
It took almost no time at all for Jonahtan to spot them. Demons, he supposed they should be called, although they weren’t. Not really. Not the tempting demons of theology, at least. These creatures were barely sentient, little more than animated particles of evil.
But evil they were, walking lurching and rolling – they had varying forms – upon the land. Their forms gave one headaches, simply because they shouldn’t possibly exist, and yet they did, claw and fang, and odd colored eyes peeking out of unexpected places; fur and feather and something that was neither, in colors that made one nauseous just staring at them.
They were wrong. They smelled wrong, too, their stench following them. And they fell upon the passerbyes, the late night opera-leavers, the prostitutes and their clients, the beggar children, with equal ferocity.
They didn’t fall on Jonathan. He didn’t expect it. Honestly, even creatures of the abyss had more sense than to fall on a trained wizard with years of practice, even if the trained wizard was Jonathan Blythe, who’d learned magic rather by default and to stop his masters badgering him than because he had any interest in it.
But gripping his cane – with its silver handle – in his hand, and frowning at the scene of mayhem around him, Jonathan was taken with a most unexpected sensation. He was sure – in fact, he could almost swear – that he was supposed to be doing something about all this. He heard screams from a group of crossing sweeper children who were trying, ineffectively, to defend themselves with their brooms against fanged purple horrors.
But, damn it all, he told himself. I am a rogue. Jonathan Blythe, only out for what he can get, if what he can get is a bit of stooping or some good liquor, at least. I am not a hero.
And yet, the growing conviction at the head of his mind, was that if he did not do something, he would not be able to wake with himself in the morning. His father’s death didn’t bother him – what? Far less ignominious and far less shameful than he deserved – but these children had done nothing but get caught at a bad time.
Sighing inwardly, he charged, with his cane, swinging as hard as he could at the furry head and feathered one, at violet horror and red one, at horn and claw and fang.
The horrors recoiled, as the urchins, gaining heart, started swinging with vigor, sending the minor demons flying across the street.
Jonathan started forward, towards a group of besieged opera goers, all female, all clustered and screaming, as demons pulled at their dresses and bit them. He realized the urchins were following him and, without looking, he said a careless spell endowing their brooms with demon killing spells.
The screams of glee from the urchins as the demons exploded on contact told him everything he needed to know. They batted the demons off the opera goers and flagged down a coach going too fast to accrue abominations, then charged forward, towards the next group.
He continued in this fashion, aware that he was gathering a growing crowd of followers, only because he was charging their weapons, until he met with a group coming the other way. They converged on a group of debutants, just out from Almac’s, screaming and crying as demons tore their pretty muslin frocks and bit their peaches-and cream faces, and their rounded, perfect arms.
He’d seen a group of demons trying to drag one of the girls off, and he ran forward. His cane almost met, midair, with a fan going the other way. Fan and cane fell on demons at once, and demons exploded and burst. Jonathan’s group of street urchins set to, clearing the road around, while the other chap – no, girl’s – followers, who appeared to be a ragtag group of prostitutes, did likewise.
And Jonathan, looking up, met with the brightest pair of green eyes, the reddest hair he’d ever seen, in the most impudent female face, this side of a streetwalker’s. He registered the impression, as well as the impression the girl was quality, if not wealth. She was dressed as a dowdy children’s governess, in a black, very modest dress, which was all out of kilter with her beauty and her bold style. The fan she’d clearly bespelled to be lethal, was chicken skin and drawn upon in Jewel colors.
Jonathan set to killing demons again, but between one and the next, he removed his hat for a moment and said, “Jonathan Blythe, at your service madam, and you are?”
“Ginevra Elfborn,” came a voice that matched the face, clear and loud, and well-accented.
“Elfborn,” he said in some confusion.
“Elborn and not ashamed. I am a governess at the orphanage where I grew. I was out for the evening to… well… and I came upon this!”
To… well… those words set Jonathan’s mind reeling. He was not going to ask, not right now, but the many things a woman like that could be doing out at night… well, he should be shocked, but he never was a very regular man.
She caught the silence, he thought, and felt his thoughts.
“It is no use,” she said. “Your thinking a lot of indecent things. My mother was a swan maiden, you see, sometimes I need– Sometimes I need to be near water.”
Jonathan realized that even as he was smiting demons, his face had split in a grin. He’d known a swan maiden once—
“Miss Elfborne. If you do me the honor, I’ll escort you to the river, and help you kill demons on the way. That is, if you’re agreeable.”
He looked up for a moment to catch a glimpse of green-flashing, narrowed eyes, and a brief and surprised smile, “Indeed, Mr. Blythe. I shall be very pleased.”
He’d tell her about the title later.