*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. *
*An additional note — the last several chapters haven’t been compiled into the er… compilation. The last couple of months have been odd. So you might have to do some hunting for them as you go.*
The Land, The King, The Magic
Nell couldn’t make much sense of where she’d fallen. She was sure of only two things: There were two dragons in the room, and one of them was attacking Seraphim.
The second impression she got was that there were too many people, too many factions, a woman-shaped oak tree – of perhaps an oak-shaped woman-tree – growing branches towards one of the dragons, the other dragon reaching out a claw.
In the middle of all this, she was conscious of one thing: Caroline, and the centaur Akakios and Michael, all young, were all under her protection and her responsibility. In this room of intersecting attacks, she could not protect them, or not enough.
Across the room, Seraphim’s erstwhile – or was she still official – fiancée stopped pounding on the dragon wing and rounded on Nell, raising her hands in the initial evocation of power of every witch.
And Nell realized the crown she’s assumed – in ephigy, as it were, to get here, still existed and still weighed upon her. If she were just a woman, any woman, as she’d thought, an Earth woman with some accidental power transported here she didn’t know how, and living in a fairytale, then none of this would matter, and the safest thing for her to do was to transport out and to ignore Avalon and its troubles.
But not only had she been told, and shown, this wasn’t true. She could feel this wasn’t true. She didn’t know where this room was, but she could feel it was home. And she’d never had the title or honorifics of a princess, but she knew that she was the princess, the heir to the throne of Avalon. And she’d never been responsible for other people – save Antoine when he’d got captured – but she was now responsible not just for the people in this room, but for all the people in Avalon.
She wasn’t sure what had been happening here, except she knew someone had kidnapped her as an infant and somehow kept her parents from searching for her – though they obviously missed her. And she didn’t know how the intersecting currents of attack and defense in this room went, but she knew it couldn’t be good to have two dragons and a tree-woman in a place her magic identified as home. And she didn’t know what Seraphim had been doing, but he looked very odd, as though – as though he were turning into glass – and there was filthy magic spinning around the room, enough magic to make the entire world dissolve, were it unleashed further.
Nell hadn’t learned anything about princessing, but one thing she did know. In Avalon, magic was more than a way of achieving this or that result: it was woven into the physical existence of the very world. And kingship was more than a political system: it was interwined and woven with the magic, one of the pillars of the world, and the reason that her disappearance as true heir had been so dangerous.
She could only do one thing, and, her eyes fixed on Seraphim’s fiancée across the room, lifting her hands to start an invocation that likely would blow up a room this full of magic, Nell did that thing: she raised her voice; she reached with all her being, she called with mind and magic and heredity, “I call the land. I call the land to my help.”
From beside her came a smothered exclamation. She was sure she’d misheard, because dukes didn’t swear like that, and even if they did, Seraphim wouldn’t have. She’d learned to know him on Earth, and she should know some expressions simply weren’t in his vocabulary. “Oh, shit,” was one of those.
But before she could think it through, the room shook. No, the entire building shook. Not as an Earth quake, but as though the building rested on a rug that had been given a good shake by a concerned housewife. The building rolled. From deep within it, past the door to the room, came screams and the sound like something really large made of glass had shattered in a million pieces.
But Nell couldn’t react, not even when Seraphim and the dragon vanished, and then Caroline and the centaur prince, and the tree and the man – Marlon Elfborn? – covered in blood. Not even when the other dragon roared “Where did he go?” and bathed the entire room in a flame that wasn’t a flame but something other, something that seared the mind and twisted the magic.
She couldn’t move or say anything, even as Seraphim’s fiancée fell to her knees sobbing, and a man walking with the unsteady gait of a drunkard crossed the room in a shadowy, ghostly way that indicated he wasn’t fully there.
Nell couldn’t say anything, because in her mind was a voice. Or perhaps it was not a voice but… something… a collection of noises that assembled into words, as though someone had orchestrated the grinding of rocks over millennia, the growing of trees over centuries, the growth of plants over seasons, and the buzzing of brief insects on a summer day into something coherent and joined together, which formed words. “Yes?” the words said. And then “Daughter?”
Nell turned all her attention inward tried to answer the call.
Suddenly, without a feeling of transition, certainly without passing through the betweener, she was somewhere else.
Deep underground. Had to be. There were earthen walls all around, it was warm, and Nell was there, alone, at the center of it.
From somewhere came the sound of a beating heart – a very loud beaten heart that, like the voice seemed to be composed of all sorts of small, natural sounds.
And then the voice came again, “Approach,” it said. And Nell did, walking forward into the twisting and narrowing tunnel, towards a glow of fire and a feeling of warmth.