12.05.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXXI

(see, after a few days off, I'm back at it again!)

***

“Thomelisa wait!” I shrieked, but of course she did not hear.  And I had no spell of Command to give strength to my words, either.  Fleeter than thought, the tiny black shape vanished into the sky above my head, angling to the south and east.

I stood, numb, staring into the curving blue space that now hung empty.

But had it really been them?  Was I really sure I’d seen a rider on the swallow’s back?

I swallowed hard, feeling the truth in my gut.  I was sure.  I knew it as surely as I knew the exact shade of my daughter’s hair, the exact timbre of her laugh.  Once again she had been taken- but this time in rescue.

I turned slowly back towards the corn field they’d emerged from, a new sort of darkness uncurling in my chest.  For Bluebeak to have rescued Elisa, as he had been so determined to do, there must have been something to be rescued from.  I flexed my fingers, feeling the spells of Cutting and Breaking I kept in my palms.

It was time for someone to realize the folly of keeping a witch’s child from her.

It took me no time at all to unearth- literally- my daughter’s captors: a mouse and a mole.  I tore the truth from their minds with non-too-gentle spells, and learned how Elisa had spent the past ten months: kept away from the sunlight and flowers she loved so much.  The mouse was stupid and narcissistic, but she had kept my daughter alive when winter came, and Elisa had felt true gratitude towards her- perhaps even misguided love.  Because of this, I allowed her to die painlessly.  The mole, however, had sensed my child’s terror of the darkness, of the tunnels, had been perfectly aware of her misery and, in fact, had been titillated by it.

He did not die painlessly.

11.30.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXX

(another year, another NaNo in the bank.  the story isn't finished yet, but don't worry- i'll keep at it until it is.)
***
My daughter did not, to the best of my knowledge, have any sort of resurrection magic, but rescuing a wounded bird was definitely the sort of thing she would do, and I had taught her some basic herb craft.  And circumstances aside, how many girls fitting her description could there possibly be in the world?

The swallow who told me the story did not know who the rescued swallow was- no one from her flock, certainly, but perhaps from the flock of the one she’d heard the story from?  After much maddening back and forth, I learned that the flock in question had not yet begun their migration, and had not plans to do so for another month or so.

That being the case, I decided to go to them.

It took me a half moon to locate the proper flock, and when I did I discovered that the rescued bird did not, in fact, belong to that flock.  But at least this time the bird I interrogated was able to assure me that the bird in question- whose name was Bluebeak- absolutely did belong to a flock whose territory was further to the east.

And so I traveled on.

Summer was wheeling its way towards autumn, and every day greater and greater flocks of birds flew over my head.  Sometimes I would call out to them, but they did not answer.  Sometimes I would say a prayer and cast a spell of Command, and then they would descend, and answer- but for nothing.  None of them was Bluebeak, or knew of him.

Until the day one did.

Autumn had begun in earnest, the fields ripening gold, the leaves a riot of flame, and the sky a hard and distant blue.  I knew time was running out to catch a swallow- only the stragglers remained, so in my desperation I used the last of my Command spells- and this time the nervous flock I called down did know Bluebeak- and his strange story.

They said he had injured himself the previous year, fallen behind at migration time, and they had counted him as one dead.  But then, miraculously, he had returned to the breeding grounds in the spring, healed and obsessed with the tiny woman he said had brought him back from the brink of death.  According to Bluebeak, when he’d fallen to the earth below he’d fallen into the earth, where he lay in the cold darkness as one dead, until suddenly he was not dead; he was warm, and covered in flower-down, and being tended to by a woman with a kind voice and a kinder touch.  She’d nursed him all through the long winter, and he although he could see how unhappy she was to be living beneath the ground, he could not convince her to leave with him when the spring came.

“Who knows if it really happened, or if it was just a fever dream,” said a swallow.  “But he was convinced it was real, and convinced he had to save her.  When the time for migration came again, he left, saying he was going to bring her with us.  We haven’t seen him since.”

“But where?  Where did he go to?”

“He said it was off our regular path- when he fell behind he tried to join in with one of the flocks that winters closer by, but of course he couldn’t keep up with them, either.”

“That tells me nothing!” I said, and something in my eyes caused them all to try and flee, but of course they could not, not until I let them go.  One of the other birds fluttered,

“A corn field!  He said when he fell it was into a corn field!”

A corn field!  I laughed aloud, a sound somewhere between mirth and despair.  Could it be- could she have been there all along, but underground?  I released the flock, and they exploded back into the air.  I must retrace my steps one last time.

I moved quickly,  much more quickly now that I was not stopping to examine everything for signs of birds, and before the moon completed her change I was within sight of the copse.  The day was a beautiful one, the sun high and warm, the air perfectly clear.  So clear that, as I grew closer still, I was able to make out a single swallow burst up out of the stubble that remained of the cornfield.  So clear that I was able to discern his outline was odd, almost as though he had a tiny rider between his wings.

11.29.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXIX

The following months were tedious beyond telling, so I will not try.  I will say only that it is exhausting to keep alternating between hope and despair constantly for hours, days, week, and months on end.  Speaking to creature after creature, with nothing to show for it except a growing appreciation for how terribly dull such creatures are.  I gradually began to move in an outward spiral, tracing and retracing the same terrain over and over again, the same conversations over and over again.  I began to wonder if I shouldn’t craft a spell that would ask the questions for me, and imbue various insects with it, let them fly about the countryside on my behalf… but even at my most desperate, I couldn’t deny the many, many ways that could go wrong.

The only upside to this time is that my power, while being steadily drained to fuel the spell of greater understanding, did manage to store up a bit of a reserve.  I would never again reach the level of power I’d enjoyed during my youth (not until and unless I ended the spell) but at least I could craft small spells without killing myself, if the time came.

It was almost exactly a year from the last time I’d seen my daughter that I at last heard a rumor of her- no more than a handful of days past the anniversary, certainly.  A small flock of swallows- the vanguard of their kind, if you will- chose an old, lightning blasted stump as their temporary nesting site, one stop of many during their leisurely migration.  I was not thrilled about talking to the birds- the small ones inevitably proved to be a strange mix of cunning and deeply stupid, and always flighty about speaking to a witch.  Ones that flocked in such large groups, as swallows do, also had a tendency to forget which one you were speaking to- they seemed to be of the opinion that to talk to one was to talk to all, and as long as someone answered you, it didn’t matter if it was the one one you had questioned.  It may have been less irritating if I hadn’t been asking about their individual experiences.

But irritating as it was, I was more stubborn than they, and in the end one of them said that while she had not, herself, seen anyone matching Elisa’s description, she’d overheard another flock-mate repeating the story of a tiny girl who had brought a fallen swallow back to life.

11.28.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXVIII

The long bath was welcome, the long sleep wonderful- but when I woke I was not recovered enough to leave.  It took nearly a full turn of the moon before I at last felt myself up to the physical challenge of the journey, and by that time the first hints of spring were beginning to thread through the air.  I fought down my frustration by telling myself it was just as well- the warmer the days got, the more creatures would be stirring, and the more souls I could questions as to my daughter’s whereabouts.  It had been just over half a year since Elisa had been taken… the trail might be long cold, but as least now I stood a chance of picking it up once more.

The snow had vanished by this point, but the wind was still bitterly cold and forceful, and the icy mud splashed higher and higher up my shins as I slogged along beside the stream.  The trees has vaguely greenish and pinkish casts to the tips of their branches, as though they were thinking so strongly of budding that they’d begun to do so in spite of themselves.  Here and there I saw the soft silver shine of pussywillows, and felt a pang of sadness as I remembered how Elisa and I would turn the little catkins into extravagant fur coats and hats for her.  The air held the twin promise of death and new life, and I shuddered.

What had taken me perhaps five hours to traverse in the summer time took closer to seven now that the ground was so sloppy.  It seemed no time at all, however, after how long I’d been waiting, and the sun was still well above the horizon when I spied the little copse of trees in the distance.  I quickened my pace, ignoring the ache in my hips, and almost wept with relief when I stood at last between the spreading branches of the trees.

“Thomelisa!  I’ve come back!”

There was no answer to my cry.  I had not expected there to be one, I couldn’t not try.  I would begin my hunt for someone to question soon, but first I dropped my pack, dropped to my knees, and began crawling around each and every trunk, to see if Elisa had replied to any of my messages there.

She had not, and the trees stirred with vague discontent as they felt my presence, the one who had wantonly carved their flesh.  I fought down my disappointment that there was no sign of my daughter, and apologized to them as prettily as I could, even going so far as to bury a few charged crystals, that they might taste a treat in recompense.  They were young yet, and not able to communicate in more than the occasional emotion, but they seemed somewhat soothed by my offering, and I felt no objection when I explained that I might be climbing them later.

11.27.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXVII

Nothing responded- I’d have to go out into the world to try it.  Deep winter was not, perhaps, the best time to go searching for small animals to speak with, but I didn’t dare set off on the real journey until I was sure of it.

And then I laughed aloud.  Why the obsession with small animals?  This spell should allow me to communicate with any animal, including the chickens that were even now nestled down in their little straw-filled house.

I drew myself up slowly- how long before my stamina recovered?- threw a warm blanket around my shoulders, and slipped my feet into my fur-lined boots by the door.  There was fresh snow on the ground, a full six inches that hadn’t been there when I’d begun the spell.  I carved a dark path through it as I shuffled out to the chicken coup, the little crystals slipping in beneath my blanket and soaking the hem of my shift.  After this I would take a warm bath, sleep myself out- and then I would leave.  After this.

I pulled the coup door open, letting in a little swirl of wind and snow, and the chicken closest to the door let out a small squawk of indignation.  My heart seemed to have taken up residence in my throat, forcing me to clear it twice before I managed to say,

“Sorry about the cold.”

“If you’re so sorry about it,” muttered the chicken, eyes squeezed resolutely shut, “Close the damn door.”

Gleefully I obeyed.  I understood her!  I scanned the yard for evidence of other creatures I might speak with.  A sudden shower of snow from a tree caused my eyes to whip upward in time to see the persimmon flash of a bullfinch, fluttering from one perch to another.

“If you come down to me,” I called out, “I will give you some berries.”

The little bird cocked its head, considering me.

“You’re a witch,” it said at last.  “And I’d be a fool to get within snatching distance of you.”

I laughed, delighted.  “Clever one!  But no- I’m not after any beating hearts today.  You’ve already given me what I need- I will leave you a great feast when I go, and you and your family may feast to your hearts’ content!”

11.26.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXVI

In a way it was harder to strip their power without killing them; it required greater control.  But I had always excelled at control, and the part of me that enjoyed a challenge thrilled at the test- could I disable both of them long enough to simultaneously drain them?

I could.  I did.  I left them nothing, left them crying aloud in fear and anger, but left them alive, with their children to comfort them.  I was overflowing with power, felt as though I should be glowing in the darkness.  They’d been more disciplined than I had, by far; they’d not done any great works for a decade or more, and for a moment I felt I could touch the faces of the Goddess herself, could reach back through time and pluck my daughter to safety before she was ever threatened.  But of course I could not.  What I could do, what I did do, was draw the the darkness around myself, and vanish from the village as if I’d never been there, with not even footprints to mark my passing.

I reappeared in my cottage, at my hearth.  Now that I had everything I needed- components, life force, and power to spare- now I could move swiftly, I would.  I had placed the spell in my own throat, not daring to put it in anything that might be taken from me.  It was dangerous to continuously cast from your own body, but it was better than the alternative.  I had charged it with the life’s blood of twenty moose, the freely-given life force of two five-hundred-year-old trees, and now I would weave in the power that I had gathered.

It took more power than I’d anticipated- if I hadn’t gathered up Kvenna and Roshen’s power, if I’d relied only on my own store, it would have killed me.  I tried not to think about that, as my power levels continued to drop, and a cold sweat broke out on my brow.  It didn’t matter what might have been- what mattered was what was, and what was, was that I did have enough power, enough control, to make my will reality.

With a final flare of power I felt the spell snap into place, ready and waiting to be cast.  I felt faint, and lowered myself shakily into a chair, took a sip of the warming tea I’d prepared before I’d begun.  It was warming no longer: it was cold as ice, and I realized that the finalizing of the spell had taken longer than I’d been aware of.  All the more reason not to hesitate.

I spoke the word to activate the spell- and nothing happened.  Or rather, the spell triggered, but beyond that- nothing.  I let out the breath I’d been holding, and then a shaky laugh.  What had I been expecting?  There was nothing living in the cottage besides myself, after all!

Or was there?

“Hello?” I said.  My throat hurt, as though I’d been screaming, and I tasted blood.  “Is anyone there?”

11.25.2017

Thomelisa Taken, Pt XXV

Kvenna and Roshen had hidden their trail well, I’d give them that.  Not quite as well as I had, but then, I only had the one witch to hide, not two.  As I hunted them down I wondered when and how they’d managed to fall in love.  Because surely that was the only reason to have disappeared as they’d done- together.  It was rare for two witches to fall in love- we tend to be a self-centered lot, and having to take the feelings of another into consideration often seemed to be a great deal more trouble than it was worth- but I imagine that, having done so, they’d be both more and less dangerous.  More, because they’d show no mercy in trying to protect the other.  Less, because having something you care about more than yourself is a weakness easily exploited: just look at the state I was in.

In the end I found them- passing themselves off as a pair of ordinary humans, perhaps with a touch of the hedgewitch about Kvenna, but nothing to arouse the suspicions of their neighbors, or the interest of any passing witch.  I recognized Kvenna’s subtle touch in the alert-charms they had scattered about the road leading to the village where they lived.  Charms made to give them notice of the level of power approaching individuals might possess or- and I was impressed with this one- might be carrying on them.  I approached in deepest night, beneath the thinnest sliver of a crone-moon, and chose not to let the charms notice me- or the contents of my pack.  A simple spell, carried in a piece of goose down I had tucked in one of my mittens, put the humans and animals of the village to sleep, although I wasn’t fool enough to try it on anything within the walls of Kvenna and Roshen’s cottage.  Unless they were complete idiots (which they were not) they’d have charms set to detect any spells trying to breach their perimeter.  With that in mind, I planned to breach it the old-fashioned way: through a window.  The charms they’d have set against ordinary thieves would be easier to overcome, by far.

When I came to the frost-etched window, however, I paused: it was glowing with a golden light, indicating Kvenna and Roshen were still awake.  I peered in and saw that indeed they were, the two of them sitting in front of the fire, bundled in blankets, with a handful of candles lit about the room.  It was nearly three hours past midnight- why were they awake?  It wasn’t necessarily a reason to abandon my plan, but it did complicate matters a bit.

And then the blankets around Roshen stirred, and Kvenna shifted, the two of them sharing tired smiles, and I realized what I was seeing: a small child was sleeping in Roshen’s arms, and an infant was nursing at Kvenna’s breast.

I froze.  It had not occurred to me, that others might choose the same path I had- might choose parenthood.  Why would that not occur to me?  Ofrse had a son, why not these two?

I stared harder at the child in Roshen’s arms: it could not have more years than my Thomelisa, although she, of course, appeared fully grown, while this child was still baby-round in the face, and gangly through the limbs.

For a brief, terrible moment, the darkest, coldest voice in my heart pointed out that here was something fortunate: four witches for the price of two.

I jerked back, violently.  No.  I am not that wicked.

I crouched in the snow beneath the window, and chewed on my thumb.  I would not kill children, not for the miniscule amount of power they might hold.  My mind went to my own child, alone in the frozen wilderness, with no-one to look after her, and my will solidified.  I would not leave these children orphans, either.  I could only take Kvenna, or Roshen.  Not both.

And then another voice pointed out that, strictly speaking, I didn’t have to kill either of them, to take their power.  Just because I’d always done it didn’t mean I had to do it this time.  They weren’t likely to chase me down- they’d known they’d been drained, but they’d also know that whoever had done it could have killed them, and chosen not to.  They might move, they might create better defenses once they’d rebuilt their power stores, but they were unlikely to go looking for me.  And if they did?  Well, I’d deal with that when the time came.