Challenge: 2,500 words in 7 days
Character: An outcast
Subject: An expensive gift
Snow cascaded down in wet, melty clumps when the young witch banged her fist against the ancient, wooden door. Her breath left little clouds, hanging in front of her.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” she asked her spectral companion, floating beside her. Two ghostly cats circled her feet and romped in the berms, leaving no prints behind.
“Absolutely. The door is purple.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“A purple door means a Witch lives here.”
The young witch frowned a little at her companion, but turned back to the unanswered door.
The snow muted the forest. A few ravens cackled somewhere off in the distance, but the world around them was so absent of sound, she could hear her own heartbeat.
“It’s so quiet,” she observed.
“Athame never much cared for the hustle and bustle of a town.”
“…or pitchforks and torches?”
“That was a long time ago. It’s best not to bring it up. You might as well tattoo ‘OUTCAST’ on her forehead.”
“Knock again, Petra.”
she stepped forward, the sound of a long-forgotten latch cracked the silence. Petra jumped and her heart felt as if it slammed into her throat.
The door wrenched open, but only a few inches. The room behind the door was dark, but an even darker figure could be made out. Petra was overwhelmed by the smell of fireplace, sage, and tobacco.
“What do you want?” The voice sounded like rusty machinery, grinding to life for the first time in centuries.
“Athame, come into the light.” The specter demanded, gently.
The door didn’t open, but the figure stepped closer. She only exposed one side of her face. Her eye was the color of amber whiskey. Black dreadlocks, wisped with grey, fell to her hips. Everything else about her seemed desaturated and sun bleached.
“Freyja? Is that you?” the rusty voice asked.
“May we come in?” Petra asked.
The amber eye narrowed and darted to Petra’s direction. The young witch could feel herself being examined.
“A little sapling, is it?” Athame spat.
Freya’s spectral form floated closer to the young witch.
“–Petra. I heard you. A Child of the Earth, are you?”
Petra’s temper flared. Athame was correct. She was a Child of the Earth, but she had a volcano heart. When enraged, she felt as if she could spew lava.
“Control that energy, sapling. You give yourself away. I can see the steam rising off you.”
“Athame. We need your help. May we come in?” Freyja asked. She floated closer to the door, breaking the steely gaze of the elder witch.
She “hurumphed” softly and moved away from the door.
Petra shoved the door inward and was showered again by slush. She closed her eyes to shake the remnants out of her hair and when she opened them, a small glass of dark fluid was being held in front of her.
“Drink this to warm you.” Athame commanded.
“What is it?” Petra asked.
“Just drink it.”
It tasted hot and metallic, but Petra’s skin warmed like she had been bathing in the sun for hours.
“Athame,” Frejya began, “the Count has taken the throne.”
The silence that filled the room made the forest sound like a cacophony.
“When?” Athame’s voice rasped.
“One week ago. He will unmake the Kingdom.”
“He’s already begun.” Petra added.
“He’s destroyed the burial grounds of the Old World in the North.” Freyja stated.
“Your homeland?” Athame’s gaze found Petra’s face again.
“Yes,” Petra was able to whisper.
“Why are you here?” Athame asked of Freyja’s floating figure.
“We need you.”
“I don’t cast anymore. You know that.” Athame turned away and busied herself over her cauldron.
“You’re the highest Witch in the land!” Petra exclaimed.
“Was.” Athame’s voice echoed back to them from the empty cauldron.
“Are.” Freyja corrected her. “We defeated the Baron, we can defeat the Count.”
“You seem to be forgetting the chapter where they tried to burn me alive.”
Petra’s eyes went wide.
“Oh. She leave that part out, did she?” Athame glared at Freyja.
Athame steadied herself on her stone fireplace, pulled her boots off her feet, and lifted her heavy skirts to her knees. Petra’s eyes were locked on the old Witch’s face until Athame wordlessly willed her voice into Petra’s head.
Petra felt invisible hands on her face, pointing her eyes down at Athame’s feet.
The skin on her feet and legs was thick, pale, veined, and webbed. Her toes had no nails, and looked like candles that had melted in the sun. Her calves were lumpy and the scars still looked raised and bruised, though it was clearly an ancient injury.
“If he catches you, he’ll kill you.” Athame’s voice was still in Petra’s head.
Petra shook herself free of whatever spell Athame was casting on her.
“I would rather die fighting than live in a world where the Count is on the throne.”
“Well…” Athame looked at Freyja, “…at least she has the right attitude.”
Freyja nodded sagely.
“We have a window of time until he reaches full power. His hordes are amassing around him. He draws on the power of his minions. If we can catch him before he has fully manifested, we can dethrone him.”
“When will he fully manifest?”
“…at the stroke of midnight, on the night of the New Moon.” Petra stated as bravely as she could muster.
“That’s tomorrow night!” Athame exclaimed.
The two visitors stood solemnly before the old Witch. Freyja’s battle cats gracefully leapt to her shoulders and perched stoically
“Not a moment to lose, then, is there?”
It took a full day to travel to the Count. His palace was a half a world away from Athame’s den.
The two Witches ducked behind a marble statue in the courtyard. Freyja floated nearby, but she was almost completely transparent. Petra could barely make out her edges.
“She’s brightest in the moonlight. Remember that if she ever plans an ambush on a full moon… if we get out of here in one piece.”
Freyja hushed Athame.
The Count approached, surrounded by guards. He puffed his chest out bravely, and he held a proud expression on his face, but Petra could tell by the tracks he left in the snow that his steps were weak. A spike of excitement and hope pierced her heart. Athame placed a weathered old hand on Petra’s knee.
“I can hear your thoughts. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
Petra steadied her mind, but her hands still trembled a little.
The guards passed. The Count entered the grand hall.
“I’ll go first,” Petra announced.
She was steadied again.
“You don’t know where you’re going.”
“Do you?” Petra challenged.
Athame did not answer, but glanced over Petra’s shoulder, off into the distance.
Petra turned. In the darkness, up a lonely hill, stood an old, wooden stockade. Even in the moonless night, she could see the scorched earth where a stake had been planted.
“I’ve been here before,” Athame said, “what time is it?”
A clock rang out in the distance and tolled eleven times.
“Oh.” Athame sighed.
“It’s time.” Freyja’s disembodied voice hummed.
“Yes, thank you.” Athame sneered.
“Let me come with you.” Petra begged.
There was no time to argue.
“Fine. But stay close.” Athame ordered as she pulled two small vials out of a leather pouch on her hip.
“Drink this.” She held her own vial to her lips.
Petra involuntarily dry heaved, mildly, at the thought of the taste of the warming potion, but tossed it back anyway.
Her vision felt fine, but she watched as Athame faded from her vision. Startled, she reached out in front of her to feel the empty air, but her fingers collided with something solid.
“That was my nose.” Athame’s voice said.
Petra looked down at her own body, but could only see the cobblestone ground below her.
“The only thing that can undo this spell is for the Count, himself, to say ‘I see you.’ Only the person from whom you are hiding can break the spell. But remember, you are not completely invisible. This gives us the same transparency as Freyja. You are still a solid being. You still have breath, a heartbeat, and footsteps.”
They moved quietly. A servant’s door was open on the side of the palace. The three of them stepped through as quietly as mice.
Petra held her hands to her sides, so her beads and belts were muted.
As they moved through the hallways, the clock tower chimed again. It was a quarter passed the hour.
Freyja’s cats romped ahead of them, silently and delicately. They were no strangers to battle and led the charge, sniffing like bloodhounds.
Two guards suddenly came around the corner. The three specters darted out of the way.
The women waited until the hallway was clear. Petra was sure her heartbeat would shake the doorframe on which she had steadied herself.
“How much further in?” She whispered. She didn’t feel Freyja’s cats dart through the door to the room behind her.
“Not much,” Athame breathed.
“Ladies.” Freyja hummed.
The two Witches turned and peered in the door behind Petra.
A grand hall unfolded before them. On one side of the room, a monumental, golden podium stood proudly. The other side of the room had floor to ceiling windows that showcased the kingdom. One window was open, and the Count stood, silently, facing outward.
They had formed a plan on their trek. Petra stepped behind Athame, and Freyja floated behind Petra. They would sneak forward and ambush him with three spells at once.
Inch by inch, Petra’s heart raced harder. It pounded in her ears. She couldn’t hear anything else.
They moved within inches of him. Petra felt Athame’s count.
One. Two. Three.
They raised their hands in unison and a white hot flash exploded before their eyes.
All three figures were lifted off their feet, flew back, and landed hard on the polished marble floor.
The wind was knocked from Petra’s lungs and she coughed uncontrollably. Athame released an involuntary cry when she landed. Freyja’s cats howled.
The light engulfed the room.
“I SEE YOU.” The Count’s voice boomed.
The light receded and Petra could see Athame on the opposite side of the room. She held her hand to her face, but there was a bright red blood splatter below her. She landed square on her nose and it had broken on impact.
Somewhere in the distance, a clock tolled half-passed the hour.
The Count descended on Athame first.
“DID YOU THINK YOU COULD TRICK ME, WITCH?” He buried his hand in her dreadlocks and dragged the old woman to the center of the room.
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a handful of gold dust. He blew the contents of his fist onto the floor and tribal markings appeared.
They were ceremonial markings from Petra’s tribe.
“Those. Aren’t. Yours.” Petra coughed.
The Count turned and another hand of gold dust flew into Petra’s eyes.
“FREEZE, YOU FILTHY WITCH.”
A wave of cold washed over Petra, like she was standing beneath a waterfall in the dead of winter. She tried to move, but her feet would not break free from the floor. Her muscles began to freeze around her bones. She couldn’t feel her fingers.
The Count threw Athame into the center of the circle.
“I SHOULD HAVE SLIT YOUR THROAT WHEN I BURNED YOU.”
Freyja and her cats were still transparent. She floated silently to Petra.
“You must break free.”
A tear froze down Petra’s face as she strained against her bonds.
“WHEN WILL YOU VERMIN LEARN THAT YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME? YOU HOLD NO POWER THAT I CANNOT ABSORB MYSELF. ANY SPELL YOU CAN CAST, I CAN CAST BETTER.”
“Power is not about spells.” Athame’s voice was barely a whisper.
“SPELLS SEEM TO BE DOING THE JOB TONIGHT. YOU’RE TOO LATE, WITCH. WE ONLY HAVE A QUARTER OF AN HOUR LEFT BEFORE I MANIFEST.”
Freyja whispered incantations over Petra. With every word, the ice would begin to melt, but freeze over again in the same instant. Petra was an Earth Witch. Water and ice can drown the earth. She began to growl as she pushed against her freezing prison.
“STOP STRUGGLING. IT’S WASTED. CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY. YOU HAVE A FRONT ROW SEAT TO WATCH ME TAKE MY THRONE.”
“You killed my people!” Petra heaved through a frozen jaw.
“AND I WOULD KILL THEM AGAIN.”
The Count dropped Athame from his grasp. He started toward Petra. Freyja’s cats dashed to Athame and began rummaging through her belts. Freyja flew to Athame’s side.
“YOU’RE AN OLD WORLD WITCH.”
“I am.” Petra seethed.
“THEN I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU, TOO.”
Freyja and her cats darted away.
“Kill me first.”
The Count was startled at Athame’s demand.
“WHAT IF I HEAL YOUR SCARS? COULD WE WORK TOGETHER THEN? I COULD USE YOUR MAGIC ON MY COUNSEL. ONCE I’M MANIFESTED, I CAN EVEN RESTORE YOUR YOUTH – THAT’S INVALUABLE.”
Athame wilted. Her eyes caught Petra’s.
“Deal.” The old Witch breathed.
Petra’s stomach lurched with disbelief.
The tribal markings on the floor began to glow.
“DO YOU FEEL THAT? THAT’S MY MANIFESTATION. IT’S ALMOST TIME.”
Freyja and her cats returned to Petra’s side, as the Count’s focused turned toward the heavens.
“Drink every last drop of this,” Freyja instructed.
Petra opened her frozen mouth as far as she could. The cats scaled the ice and emptied tiny vials from Athame’s belt, pushing them in with their paws and noses. Freyja removed a necklace from her throat and placed it around Petra’s frozen neck.
“This is my fire stone. Fuel your rage, Petra.” Freyja exploded in to incantations.
Petra’s blood began to boil. Steam began to rise off her form. The heat grew hotter than any rage she’d ever known.
“Wait! No! I’ll kill all of you!” Petra panicked.
From across the room, Athame caught the young Witch’s eye again and nodded, peacefully.
The Count ran back to Athame and lifted her by her throat, strangling her with both hands.
“THIS IS WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU MAKE A DEAL?”
He didn’t even see the blade she pulled from her boot before she buried it deep in his chest.
His eyes went wide in shock.
“I would rather die fighting than live in a world where the Count is on the throne.”
Athame’s words were the last thing Petra heard before she erupted like a volcano. The world exploded around her and the room ignited.
A crowd amassed outside the burning palace and somewhere off in the distance, a clock tolled midnight.