Witch’s Awakening – Excerpt One

On 03/04/2017 I put out a poll online. The question I posed for the public was;

“Thinking about posting a snippet of Episode Two – The Ancestral Odyssey: Rise of The Black Doves – Volume Four on my Blog, for everyone to read. I have selected three scenes which I am proud of and confident in sharing, only I do not know which of the three scenes to reveal. So I’ll ask my Facebook audience to decide for me. If you wish to participate, please cast your vote, if you do not give a shit, a share to others would be super awesome. Thank you.”

The choices you had to choose from were;

(A) Witch’s awakening.

(B) A world in jeopardy.

(C) Genius versus genius.

Well, the votes came in and the snippet you guys and gals want to read is; Choice (A) Witch’s awakening. Deep down, I wanted this one to win the vote, not that I favour it over the other two snippets, I still am extremely proud of ‘A world in jeopardy’ and ‘Genius versus genius,’ but it’s because this one, hasn’t changed much since I wrote it a few years ago, while the other two have had to to accommodate the growth of other ideas and new developing story arks during re-writes. It was one of those strange instances where this Witch scene needed very little revisiting, very little adaptation, say for a few typos here and there it pretty much hit my standard on its first draft, and has withstood the test of time. This tells me that this particular idea is a strong one, it has been well nurtured and is on the right track of contributing an interesting dynamic that Episode Two would be poorer without.

Before we get to the scene, there are a few things you need to know before reading, and those things are that as ideal as I think this scene is, it may still go through subtle changes before publication hopefully this year, so do not be alarmed if what you read here is different to how it comes up in the book. This should be apparent to all but one of the great things with writing such an epic story with so many different characters, a vast world with a wide variety of landscapes, huge twists and turns throughout the plot and incredible action sequences, is that good ideas never stop developing, the story changes like it’s alive sometimes as if the author has very little say as to how characters behave once they’ve been established. This is an experiment I am playing with while writing Rise of The Black Doves, approaching it from a new angle whereas before, with The Utopian Dream, I made myself a guideline. Occasionally I’d derail and stray from this guide, taking a lot of time to progress with the material until I was sure of the undergoing change was a positive one, this was indeed time consuming and required a lot of re-writes to keep the work consistent. With Episode Two, I am almost letting it take control of me, and I am just seeing where it leads. This move can be dangerous but I’ve always subscribed to the theory that ‘If you’re not making yourself nervous (or your audience) then you aren’t doing your job,’ especially with my goal of doing something new, delivering a story that has never been done before, wanting it to be unique, original and hideously entertaining, it would be damn right stupid of me NOT to take risks. Perhaps this new approach won’t be as effective as the guideline strategy, maybe I will look back on Episode Two (Volumes Four, Five and Six) in years to come and think, ‘that was a mistake to tackle it in that way’ but I am willing to take this risk because at the end of the day, I cannot spend as long on Rise of The Black Doves as I did with The Utopian Dream. Another thing you must understand is that this snippet is part of a much larger story, there are things that have come before in previous chapters with the protagonist and with the Witch character herself, she has an extremely cruel backstory, one that is only hinted at through the descriptions in this scene, so of course, there will be things that won’t make sense to you or simply will come across as weird. The idea here is to give you a glimpse into a small piece of a single characters adventure and his encounter with one of my favourite entities.

The image does not belong to me. It was illustrated by Greg Staples and is called Hell’s Caretaker. I found it by accident while browsing the web last year for inspiration and in doing so, not only did I find this image but I found a piece of music that fits perfectly in with the tone I am attempting to create for my Witch character. Greg has done multiple drawings for the card game Magic The Gathering, if you have five minutes I suggest you check out some of his work because it is seriously inspiring stuff. Links to Greg and links to the piece of haunting music can be found after the snippet which I hope you enjoy. Feel free to contact me for suggestions on future posts, follow me on Twitter, please share with me your thoughts and opinions on the content of this article, a kind word here and there or some constructive criticism really makes what I do worth it. If any of you are curious about the other snippets I was going to share, drop me a message and I’ll be happy to let you read them. Thank you.

_____

Deacon frowned aggressively, drawing his long sword. The slide of the unsheathing echoed through the mighty stone caverns, bouncing right back into his listening ears. It had been an arduous task to get where he stood, he felt exceptionally lucky and grateful that he was still breathing and bore no wounds that would heed his advance. Having no time to reflect on the journey, he pressed on, fists tightened around his sword handle. He had faced his fear of heights, he had faced death from a winged tormentor, witnessed his companions being slaughtered one by one and now, a new trial awaited him somewhere in the maze of black and narrow winding tunnels. Blind as he trudged on, he could feel danger closing in all around him and it wasn’t in the shape of men or of monsters, but was something far worse, something that could not be fought, sharp, crude edges of rocks that could lock him inside this labyrinth of stone for eternity. Soon the realisation would occur, soon he would begin to feel authentically again, when he had made his escape and was safe inside a warm familiar room away from harms way with the adrenaline out of his system, would he reflect on the traumatic experiences, but for now, he tried to remain calm, concentrating on finishing the task and kept his focus on all of his senses. Before him was the prize he had been searching for. A strong beam of light broke in from the roof of the mountain and it shone brightly down over a tall, pinnacle of rock. Atop this high spike was one of the twelve Celestial Gifts, The Burning Blossom, encased in a jar of glass, bathing in a cone of a white sun ray. Deacon hesitated to retrieve it, his fears of heights stopped him in his tracks. Deacon had to walk his way toward it, in the gathering dark, over a narrow winding road over a sea of blackness below him that would quite easily swallow him up if he took a single wrong step. He guessed that the fall would not be quick, for he kicked a rock over the edge and never heard it land. At the end of the was a small cabin that had been built by simple hands on a round island of land just before the roots of the pinnacle embathed in light leading up to flower. He would have to pass through this small cabin in order to retrieve the Celestial Gift. Its roof was of a fine but worn, faded red fabric, spread over a small skeletal umbrella like structure. A warm yellow light and a thin mist escaped from under the frail, wooden door and through the cracks in the wall, made from many hundreds of wooden poles sewn together with rope and cloth. The materials used were of the same materials used to string together those other strange trinkets he had seen earlier in Tthenadawn and in The Honeycomb Valley. Other trinkets of similar designs had been hung up all around the curled spines of the cabin. Someone or something was inside, all the evidence pointed to one thing and one thing only, this was one of the homes that belonged to The Mountain Witch, also known as The Remedy Keeper. She was a myth of Equis, coming from a forgotten, savage time of superstition, cruelty and injustice. This was one of the reasons why Deacon moved very slowly and reluctantly over the uneasy pathway, he had no idea what he would encounter inside. As before, he focused on his footing, ignoring the blackness below which was more off putting than the heights he had dealt with before, while climbing The Mountain of Bones. Finally, he set foot on solid ground right outside the entrance of the cabin with the red roof. Deacon kept his eyes wide open and tried to keep his senses as sharp as his sword. As he drew nearer to the door, the heat emanating from the inside touched his face. He knocked first to no response, then raised his sword and pushed the door open with the tip of the blade. The heat crept out and clasped him, gradually taking away the cold on his skin, like it was enticing him inside wanting him to venture further in. Just like the comforts of a welcoming home or maybe like a predator would do to lure its prey, and then turning on its victim when completely trapped and cornered. Deacon felt unequipped, like his sword wasn’t enough for him in this circumstance, but at this moment it had to do. He thought about sheathing his sword and locking an arrow into his hunting bow, but he didn’t feel confident enough with that particular weapon to feel safe. Deacon edged his way in so, so cautiously. A fire had been lit and was crackling away at the opposite side of the room. Deacon could tell something was cooking over it, a smell of something mild, eased its way through the air, a smell of chemicals and toxins boiling into a thick froth. A very thin, pale brown curtain hung down in front of the fire place area, obscuring the light, distorting the dancing shadows. It was then when Deacon froze. He saw her! Standing there behind the transparent veil. A thin, Humanly shape hunched over draped in a filthy red gown. She hung depressingly over the fire, her hand was pressed up on the wall below a mantelpiece for balance with long gangly fingers. This had to be the witch! It had to be her. When Deacon’s loud heart found its calm rhythm again, he lowered his sword and closed the door too. Once he had a fix on to his target he could somewhat relax himself, he remained cautious and ready at any rate. Inside the cabin, were stacks of old resources, it looked more like a witch’s stock room rather than her home, with all sorts of utensils covered in layers of dust and cobwebs, more of those strange trinkets hung about the place, some of which looked like they were in the process of being constructed, others looked threatening and intimidating, pieced together with collections of bones and teeth from wild animals, needles supported the torn fabrics decorated with black inked symbols. Nothing here looked like anything of value, like the witch simply decided to set up camp here right before one of the great relics of the world. A small table rest in one of the corners, nothing was unordinary about it but what caught Deacons eye, was that atop this lonely, dusty table was a deck of neat, colourful cards with their faces down, stacked near a bundled, black, shredded robe draped over the back of a chair, it’s sleeves spilling onto some of the surface of the table, one hanging down off the armrest. Strange that everything else in the cabin was old, coated in layers of dust and yet these cards looked like they had been moved ever so recently, cleaning away a strip of dust from the table. Another chair directly opposite had been pulled out conveniently. Deacon examined the robe briefly and pulled the cards towards him. He picked up the top card not knowing what the diagrams meant and sniggered, they were old fortune telling cards by the looks of it, an item used in those ancient times for trading fortunes for silver and gold pieces, to people who simply wanted answers to the most meaningful questions, a practice that not many still held true too during this day and age. Deacon wasn’t interested in this dead practice, cold reading was not something he took so seriously.

     Dropping the card back on top of the deck, he turned to confront The Remedy Keeper, who had remained hunched sadly over the crackling fire place since he had let himself in. He cleared his throat, mustering up a simple question “Are you, her?” She didn’t move, she just watched the fire burn. Deacon saw passed her what looked like a fold in the wall, a back door that would surely lead to the pinnacle that balanced The Celestial Gift atop. He could have made a mad dash for the prize but for some reason he thought that this would be rude and disrespectful to the lady, though he brandished a sword, an effective weapon for severing limbs and puncturing flesh drawn within her vicinity, he sunk his head when realising the contradiction he made, he meant this witch no harm but had to be cautious all the while, this was her house after all. He wanted to let her know that he respected this fact, tis why he knocked, tis why he attempted communication. Another reason as to why he didn’t want to barge in fighting is that this was a living myth in the flesh, standing not seven feet away from him. To this day, she had been something the people had only read about and disregarded as a fantasy, she had been alive for a very long time and must have faced things far more resilient and aggressive than Deacon. Challenging her, crossing her, to Deacon’s mind, would be a very unwise move. Who knew how many men and women she had dispatched in her time, who knew what trials she had faced and had overcome to become the myth she is today. He stared at her with sword drawn, through the pale brown curtain, her figure being slightly distorted with the flickers of fire light. “I don’t mean you any harm” Deacon said, slightly lowering the sword in a somewhat less intimidating way “I’m here for The Burning Blossom. I do not wish to take it without your permission but, if it not be me the one to take it somewhere safe, eventually others will come, they’ll find this place and would use the relic to cause harm” silence “I do not want to fight. The people of Harloth need a change, help me deliver that change.” His words didn’t gauge a reaction but he knew she could hear him. “If you let me pass and retrieve it, know that I will deliver it into capable hands, hands of The Star Callers and not keep it for my own, or worse yet, let Minister Yarith and men like him obtain such power. If I had it my way, Yarith would be striped of power never to receive any again, and forced to answer for his crimes, but alas, my way is not law, sometimes I wish it were, for better for all.” Something was not right, she did not move a muscle. Deacon pulled away the curtain and stood directly behind the witch and touched her hunched back. He felt no flesh under the gown but something solid and rigid. It was then when he noticed her hand pressed up on the wall, it was a fake, it was made of wood. Deacon pulled the red fabric off its shoulders revealing a posed wooden manikin. A trap! He thought, but where was she? Was she here? He felt his end drew nearer, panic set into his bones causing him to shake, wobbling the blade carelessly like he had never held one before. She must be here, who else could have lit the fire? Set up the manikin and built this place to begin with. While his mind raced and his gaze flew about the room, Deacon spotted a silver cat dish in the corner, along the rim of the dish was a name stenciled onto it reading, Enix. He knelt down and could see a dribble of fresh cream was inside. He dabbed his finger into it and put the stain up close to his nose, the cream was not foul, it was cool and had just been poured. Strange, that when he had entered he did not recall seeing this dish placed here. Then something soft rubbed up next to his leg, startling him, throwing him into a stabbing pose. His foe, nothing but a healthy black cat with large, round yellow eyes, purring intensely. Deacon smiled, relieved even with the sight of this excited animal, flicking up his tail at Deacon and meowing when his Mistress, wafted into the cabin within a violent cold breeze of air from the mountain tunnels, which had gone as fast as it had come, blowing out several candles and ruffling up papers and other ornaments, chilling Deacon’s entire spine right the way down to his centre, to his core where his courage reserves were kept safe. She was indeed here! Her presence could be felt behind him. Gradually standing up from his crouched position, sliding the cat bowl further to the side of the wall where it wouldn’t be knocked over and then backing his way up toward the card table, tensing his grip on his violet sword handle. The rocking chair set at the table creak forward just the once, the wood squeaking under the gain in pressure. The robe stained with the mud found many feet under the rich grassy surface, that had been settled on the rocking chair, found physicality, filling the empty robe with weight again, forming that of a female shape inside, a witch’s shape now inhabited the black cloth coated in thick substance of tar. Pale fingers slid out from the gaps in the sleeves, her long black nails squeaking the surface of the wooden table. Deacon, swiftly turned around to face her, raising and pointing his sword aggressively in a defensive pose. The witch didn’t move, unafraid of his fighting stance. From under the hood of the robe her features remained well hidden, the lower half of her face was wrapped up in a thick, shabby scarf. As for the top, a flock of greying, curling hair had fallen over her face, hiding her reflective, glinting eyes. The black cat sat at Deacons feet, looking up at him, purring wildly happy to see him, this calmed Deacon, allowing him to re-think the situation. The witch looked as if she possessed no serious muscular strength, taking on a young man armed with a long sword would not be logical, she would surely have employed other, more subtle tactics in destroying her foes, which was why Deacon was reluctant to fully trust her non-threatening persona. Nothing happened after her appearance, Deacon was wise enough not to strike her and she found him somewhat of a curious, interesting presence. The witch tapped all her finger nails on the wooden surface of the table eight times, waiting for him to relax and to sit down with her. If the witch wanted him dead, she could have done it by now. He dropped his stance, approached her and stood before the chair opposite hers, her nails tapped the top of the table again. Showing her his sword by holding its steel in front of her hood, the tapping of her fingers ceased, hovering ever so slightly over the table in wait, obviously, she was waiting to see what would happened next. All Deacon could see from his angle, was her tangled hair fallen over her face that in parts had been horribly singed by ravenous flames. The hint of her nose looked scorched and deformed, like her skin had attempted to climb back into itself to escape the carnivores fire once held before it. Holding his sword in front of her black gaze momentarily let her know that he was armed with a formidable blade, that he knew how to use. Sheathing it he sat down in front of her, resting his hands on his hips. The tapping of the fingers, recommenced until her long, bony fingers shrivelled as if they had been submerged under water for centuries, spread themselves over the deck of cards like an octopus would to encase a crab to eat. Deacon did nothing but observe her strange behaviour, catching a glistening shine within her unblinking eye sockets. Did she have cats eyes behind her jungle of loose, burnt curly hair? “What are you doing?” Deacon asked, becoming a little more comfortable with the situation. She didn’t answer him and shuffled the cards skillfully in front of him, with a gamblers elegance. Eventually, she spread them out within one fluid, hand motion, offering a line of cards to choose. Deacon, carefully picked one out but before he had a chance to look at it, she held up one long, straight finger vertically, signifying him not to look at what the card told. She touched his hand that held the card and helped lower it gently onto the table, face down. Her grip being one not of cold not hot, but somewhere in between, like her blood were thick in her veins and like slow waves, they washed a warmth through her. After another brief shuffle, she offered him another selection like before, he chose one and lay it next to the previous card, face down. This process happened two more times and four cards facing down, were now between Deacon and the witch while Enix, roamed around on the floor between the table legs. The witch placed the deck in front of her and then rest both her hands flat on the table wide apart. She was waiting for Deacon to respond but he didn’t know what to do. He shuffled in his chair, glancing to and from the four cards and her hidden face, trying to find an inkling of what she wanted him to do. “Are you reading my fortune? What exactly do you want me to do? I don’t really believe in this stuff” he said. She moved her finger over the four cards wanting him to pick one. Her fingers tapped the hard surface. He pointed to one of the four and she slid it to one side. She gathered the remaining three and looked at them herself, holding them up to the black void in her hood, with her hair draping out of it. It appeared that she was seeing something on the cards, nodding as she read them. From what Deacon could make out she liked what she saw. He remained quiet, confused even but intrigued as to where this was going. The three cards made a separate stack. The Remedy Keeper and Deacon repeated the whole process three more times until a small deck of twelve discarded cards and four main cards had all been selected by Deacon, were laying face down in front of him, and the witch, in the centre of the table. The main deck and the twelve discarded cards had been placed to one side, they were not needed anymore to finish the experiment this witch was performing. She pushed the four cards towards Deacon using both hands, he leant forward taking a brief look at each one, getting ready to flip them over. Enix, the black cat jumped up onto the table, landing near his Mistress. She rose a hand and lowered it onto Enix’s head, stroking him gently, tickling him behind his ear. Enix liked this and sat up straight. Deacon picked up one card and turned it over. The card read Transformation, the diagram depicted a man with his arms outstretched, one side was his usual self and the other was what appeared to be his alter-ego, someone with a heroes qualities, someone with a secret he must not share. The second card once revealed, was called Rebirth, a detailed drawing of a bird breaking out from its cracked shell, though its right wing appeared to be severely damaged. The third card was named Redemption, someone dressed in shining armour, holding an item of extreme value up to someone important. Deacon reached for the fourth and final card but she held up her hand to stop him. Deacon quickly froze with his arm outstretched, his fingers dangling over the unknown card, waiting for her next reaction. Instead of him picking the card up, she instead reached over and examined it herself. Deacon sat back in his chair and waited. Her glistening eyes, like a cats eyes from behind her tangled hair, looked fixated on the card. Her gaze arose and she looked Deacon in the face for a long while. He didn’t know what to do or what was going on, as she didn’t quite know what to make of it. Enix was a well behaved cat and stayed sitting close to the witch. The Remedy Keeper raised one arm and pointed with a long finger toward the steady opening of the folded doorway, leading to The Celestial Gift. Deacon was clear for safe passage it seemed, but what did that last card read?

     Deacon stood up, a little dissatisfied with the results of the fortune telling, he had not a clue what to expect from the experience and honestly felt a little cheated due to the inconclusive end. Perhaps deep down he had been hoping for something else to happen, but at any rate, it looked like he had free passage to collect the relic of old, this he did appreciate. As he made his way towards the back door of the cabin, she lowered her arm slowly, placing it back onto the table. Deacon turned his head one last time, wanting to say so many things to this myth of the world “Did you learn anything from the cards?” His question was not answered “Why do you trust me?” Once again, she remained still and silent, her back to him. Enix was sat near her, staring at Deacon from atop the table. “I’ve seen what you do to trespassers. You don’t want to see the relic fall into the wrong hands, right?” he said, remembering the caged skeletons scattered throughout The Honeycomb Valley. “You could have probably done the same to me, but you didn’t, thank you” he said, and stepped outside on the path toward the pinnacle bathed under a cone of light. The Remedy Keeper placed her hand on Enix’s head and the folded doorway shut itself, in sync with a pulling action of her hand.

_____

Copyright © 2017 by D.W.Gill
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including recording, photocopying or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written and signed permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
All rights reserved. Published by Taoteque Publishing.
Tha Ancestral Odyssey: Rise of The Black Doves – Volume Four. Written by D.W.Gill.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

E-Mail – taotome@outlook.com

Twitter – @MegasTeque

Greg Staples Home Page – https://www.facebook.com/TheMagicArtofGregStaples/

Witch Artwork and Eerie Music (scary music and sound effects) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y6BDbkYNDE

D.W.Gill

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