*Sorry to be so late and kind of short with this. I seem to be coming down with “it’s going around” and with having had #1 son’s coffee, I’m really half dead.*
*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. *
For previous chapters, look here: https://accordingtohoyt.com/witchfinder/
Gabriel woke to the sound of curtains opening and of a tray being set on the table next to the bed. For a moment, for just a moment, before opening his eyes, he imagined he was back at Darkwater and that everything was as it should be: the intervening events had been some horrible, inscrutable nightmare.
Then he opened his eyes. Sunlight came through mullioned windows. The room was small, but not as small as his room in the Darkwater house. And the person standing by the tray, having just set it down, was not some benighted apprentice house maid, with her cap all askew, but Marlon Elfborn, his clothes no more rumpled than normal, his eyebrows raised as though someone had asked him a preplexing question, and a sort of questioning smile on his lips.
Gabriel squinted against the sun, stared at Marlon a moment, and then – somewhat to his horror – heard his own mouth say, “Rufus.”
Marlon blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your hair,” Gabriel said and sat up, and even as he said it, he knew that it wasn’t true, that Marlon’s hair wasn’t red. Not really. Nothing about Marlon was really. Not good, not bad. Not dark, not light. Gabriel groaned.
“Hardly,” Marlon said, crisply, and sounding indefinably amused. Not that it matters much, does it.
“It might,” Gabriel said, his mouth still independent of his conscious thought. “I wonder if your mother was a salamander.”
And now Marlon’s eyebrows went high, really high. “A fire spirit? Unlikely. It is not how my power trends, and besides, I’d like to see the human, no matter how magical, to impose himself on one of those.” He shook his head. “None of which matters, does it? I have laid out the instruments we’ll need downstairs, but I could use your help. I remember you can’t wake without tea and I remembered also,” He looked like a school child caught at fault. “That you didn’t like magic used around the house for chores. So I brought you tea and toast. There is food in the kitchen, should you wish for it. Stasis field, on the serving board. I’ll be ready to work in half an hour.”
And like that he was gone, so fast that he might as well have teleported. Gabriel ate his toast, with just a touch of the marmelade provided in a small porcelain dish, and he drank down his tea. It was strong and a little stewed which, in his experience, was how Marlon had always made it. Not unpleasant though.
There was a bathing room and a water closet next to his room, in between his door and what he presumed was Marlon’s, Gabriel found it by dint of looking, and took care of his morning hygiene and hasty shaving. One thing that Marlon had never understood, Gabriel thought, annoyed, as he tied his necktie by touch, was that other people didn’t spring from sleep fully awake and dress in next to no time.
But by the time he made it down the stairs, Marlon was too absorbed in disposing objects around the room to pay much attention to Gabriel, much less to reproach him on being slow.
The objects were objects of power, but an odder assemblage of them than this, Gabriel had never seen. There were stone spheres, vast and polished, swirling with metallic veins and crackling with barely contained magic. There was one very large, very ancient shell that looked as though it had been corroded by the tides of an ancient sea. There was too an old crown, brown and worn down that looked as though it had been buried for very long and had possibly been steeped in blood, besides.
Marlon disposed them as pieces on an elaborate game tray. He’d pushed all the furniture out of the way to arrange things, and as he pulled a particularly ugly little statuette of a wolf over one way, for just a moment Gabriel saw the thread of power stretching between objects.
Marlon looked up then, dusting his hands, as though to cleanse them from hard work. “There,” he said. “Do you think that reflects the tangle, Gabriel?”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do,” Gabriel said. “I presume you wish to represent the tangle of magic lines, but … I never learned to do this.”
Marlon made a sound of annoyance. “It’s very simple, really. We’re representing the world as it is – or rather, the mess that someone has made of magic lines as it is. And then after we determine that we can twist them back – or at least to a less tense state. It’s simple sympathetic magic, Gabriel and you must have learned it in grammar school.”
Gabriel heard himself say, “We had a tutor, Seraphim and I,” as though that explained everything, then walking gingerly down the stairs and into the magic field. Walking into an area where workings were being done was always dangerous, but Marlon hadn’t completed a wall or a defense barrier, or anything of the kind, and other than a vague zapping at the bottom of his feet, Gabriel felt nothing else.
Then looking around at the objects, he felt it and saw it, the tension that was built up in some of the lines being pulled out of position. “Oh.” He said.
“Yes,” Marlon agreed, as though he’d said a lot. “They are at high tension, at least some of them, but we have to reflect what they are, rather set them in the natural positions. I suppose the feeling of wrongness overwhelms you and you can’t do that. Yet. It’s difficult the first time. Very well. I think I have them right. Now, let’s close the working, and then we can move the lines.”
“You didn’t close it to set it,” Gabriel said. He’d just realized Gypson’s body was nowhere around and wondered where it could be. At Cambridge, Marlon had kept it in a closet in an attic room, which seemed cruel, but somehow Gabriel would much prefer.
“No. See you, I had to be open to the influence of the world and to the currents as they were. But now we can close it. Do you wish to do the honors of the knife? I shall call the guardians.” He handed Gabriel his working dagger, a piece of ancient metal probably inherited from some teacher. Working knives had to be inherited or have another reason to be held in affection. They were supposed to be, in a way a part of the magician’s own self. Gabriel felt a pang at realizing he’d somehow forgotten his own dagger at home, at his work desk. It had been a gift from his father.
He took Marlon’s though, and walked a quarter circle, slicing at the air. “I cut this working from the world, into a space between the worlds,” he intoned, in his best learned-ritual-voice.
Marlon stood next to the piece and called to the guardian of the North, “Guardian of the North, ice and cold, we call to you. Protect this portion of our working that no undue influence can intrude.”
They repeated it at each of the cardinal points. Gabriel watched Marlon very carefully to make sure no strange magic crept in. Once a man had dabbled in necromancy – had he really said it was not intentional – it was only a matter of time till other dark workings came into his daily magic. Or at least that was what Gabriel had been taught.
Finally the circle was closed, and within the circle, they turned and looked at each other. Neither would willingly break the circle, because doing so would endanger those who set it. Since they both had, it would be double jeopardy. The circle would need to be opened before it could be broached. For now, they were in this space, in some undefinable way between realities, which gave them the opportunity to perform magic that would be dangerous in any world.
“Right,” Marlon said. “Now, if you please, we may start moving the lines. We’ll start with that one there.” He pointed at the wolf image. “My oh so dear father.” He squinted at the wolf statue. “I think it should go here,” Stepping nimbly among the lines, he tapped his toe on the ground.
Gabriel acquiesced but, to his shock, it took his help for Marlon to move the statuette he’d casually carried around moments before. As they both pulled at the statuette with all their might, Marlon saw the expression on Gabriel’s face and laughed. “We’re dragging fate and magic with us. Did you expect it to be light?”
Once they set the wolf down, Gabriel reached for the crown. It was the next highest point of tension.
“The king, I presume,” he said.
Marlon nodded and reached for the crown himself. But, before he could touch it, a flash of darkness came through the shuttered windows. That was the only way that Gabriel would ever be able to describe it. A flash of dark as strong as any flash of light, robbing the room of ambient light. It was followed by a rumbling, as from a subterranean tremor. With it came a smell, a feel. Gabriel wouldn’t have named it before, but he knew it was elf magic. He made a sound at the back of his throat and stepped backwards.
Marlon grabbed his wrist and pulled him in. “Watch where you walk you fool. Don’t step out of the circle.”
“But… it’s elves. They’re outside,” Gabriel said.
“I know,” Marlon said, his voice annoyed and softer than it should be. “I should have known they would find us where humans failed. They have stopped my … They ripped the disguise form my home, and yes, they’re surrounding us from outside, and I suspect from underneath too.” This said, as another tremor started.
“Do you think…” he said. He felt his mouth very dry. “What can they want with us?”
Marlon shook his head. “This working can only be done with the help of elf magic. The working we’re undoing. They won’t want it undone. As for why – even I don’t understand elves.”
They reached for the crown again, and managed to move it to the right place, despite various rumblings. Marlon then pointed out the perfect green marble sphere near the north cardinal point. “Your honored brother next, and that will be hard, since he’s off world.”
“Will this move him back?” Gabriel asked.
“Not… immediately. But it will hasten his coming back. Or move things … to the place they would have been had he never gone away, is more accurate. The futures will merge, instead of diverge to the world where he never went away.”
Seraphim’s marker was heavier than the others. Maybe because he was in another world. It took all of Gabriel’s and Marlon’s strength to lift it two inches above the ground.
They were both thus, bent to hold it, when the rumbling hit from beneath, stronger than ever. The floor rocked, and lifted.
Gabriel realized he was going to fall across the line, and lifted his hand, letting it drop in one of the emergency circle breaks allowed.
It wasn’t in time, and it wasn’t careful enough. On the one hand, the jolt of magic as he fell across it was not a killing blow, which it would otherwise have been. On the other hand, as he fell backward and across it, he felt as though he were being sliced by a thousand knives and his vision went momentarily dark.
When it cleared, he and Marlon were both on the floor on their sides, holding the stone that represented Seraphim between them. There was a trickle of blood from Marlon’s forehead, and his eyes looked wild. “Are you … are you well,” Gabriel asked, since asking someone who is looking at you if he’s alive seemed quite outside sanity.
Marlon nodded. “Not, well, to, but… They’re throwing magic at us. They’re… Oh, damn.”
The in-betweener hit like an icy wall running somehow through them. It left them lying somewhere quite different and, as they strived to stand, Gabriel found they were kneeling in the middle of a field, and there was a strange horseless carriage burying down towards them. No. A horseless cultivator. This could only be one world. They had their hands on Seraphim’s marker and– “The madhouse.”
Marlon looked demented as he grinned, a grin with no joy at all. “Where his grace is? Splendid. He gets to try his marksmanship again!”