First, it was the witch with the crimson cloak. She pulled her hood back to reveal a mane of black hair; tight curls frizzed from the drizzling of rain. Eyelids lined with a thin stroke of red.
Fashioned the name Red Spider.
Then, it was the witch with the dark talons. She tapped them against the table impatiently. Her small mouth twisted and pointy like a beak. Eyes beady with the keenest of sight.
Known as The Ominous One.
Then, it was the witch with the golden necklace. She was the tallest of them. A serpent slithered behind her neck. She stroked it with bejewelled fingers as long and fine as a witch’s should be.
The Mother of Snakes.
Kier watched them with timid eyes. He stood at the door to take their cloaks, and hung them up to dry. He was here as a student; to watch the great witches of his generation meet on the most important night of the year.
He had come from a family of witches and sorcerers – or so his father said.
Tonight was his night to prove his worth.
“They will wipe their shoes on you,” his older brother, Herron, told him. “I would not call that glorious.”
“Well, who knows? Maybe one of them will take me on as an apprentice. It is my first step to becoming a sorcerer,” Kier replied giddily.
“Dreams are great, Kier,” Herron said. “But not when they are based on nonsensical stories.”
Kier didn’t believe Father’s stories were nonsensical. One night, Kier saw him hold a flame on his bare hands, but he quickly diminished it when Kier’s footsteps approached.
“Well,” Samorah said. She spoke the common tongue well. They all did with only the faintest of accents. None of them native to Karsen. “The ghosts are roaming free tonight. What is new?”
“The people parading around in costumes thinking they can scare the spirits away,” Jenetta said. “Humans never cease to be foolish.”
“Yes, it is quite peculiar,” Samorah said, letting the snake coil itself on her arm. She looked towards Descine. “Des, you have that sour look on your face, did somebody steal your cat?”
Descine only hissed like one. “I passed a village on my way here,” she said. “It was littered with corpses. Some burnt. Some drowned. They all lay with bellies busted wide open.”
“Since when has that sort of thing bothered you?” Jenetta said. “Especially in Karsen, the people are odd here.”
Descine ceased the tapping of her talons. “Because of what I felt,” her voice was low. The wind blew past the fragile glass, snuffing out one of the candles. “The anger, the maliciousness. This is not a normal spirit – it is a furious one. It is out to kill as many as it can.”
“So, you could not handle it with your limited magical abilities, that is what you are trying to tell us,” Samorah said.
“I am warning you,” Descine said. “This spirit is more powerful than all of us. I know it. And you will do well to heed my words.” No wonder they called her the Ominous One.
“What do you suggest we do then?” Jenetta asked, stroking a lacy-gloved hand through her hair.
“We call for Corvina,” Descine said.
A hush fell across the room.
Corvina Varnseling – the second princess of Tel’hat.
Or better known as, the Harbinger of Death.
“Do not be ridiculous, Ominous One,” Samorah said. “The last time Corvina showed her face here, the humans had not started wearing costumes.”
“Well, angry spirits are her area of expertise,” Jenetta said. “I have never seen her refuse.”
“Fine,” Samorah said. With a snap of her fingers, a parchment and quill appeared. “I will write her a message about this malicious spirit.” The rain pattered outside, but for a slight moment, all that could be heard was the scratching of the quill. “Done. Let it be known that I am not being paid for this.” She held the letter out. “Boy!”
Kier scrambled to the table from where he sat. “Yes, Madam,” he said.
“Burn this letter,” Samorah said.
Kier made his way to the fireplace, and threw the letter in.
The spirits were the most active tonight.
The night where the veil was the thinnest.
Corvina could see them all swirling before her. They appeared and disappeared in the sight of normal people. But for Corvina, they were all she could see.
When they were gone, there was only the world of her imagination.
Her finger traced the lines of still-wet ink. Yulie had fetched it from the fireplace for her. It was Samorah’s handwriting.
Descine reports of a malicious spirit in some village. Come to us. You know where we are.
She stroked the head of her massive hound, who was currently slobbering all over her dress. “What do you think, Yulie? Are you in the mood for raging spirits?”
The hound only offered a singular bark in reply.
The door flew open with the fierce whipping of winds.
Kier ducked behind a chair. The witches’ conversations had progressed to the best kind of lizard to put in potions, when their gaze all shifted to the entrance.
The shadow of an enormous hound darkened the room. It came towards Kier, leaving a trail of slobber on the floor. Kier cowered as the hound revealed its massive teeth.
“Yulie!” a voice snapped. “Get away from whoever you are terrorising.”
Kier looked up; he couldn’t believe his eyes.
In the flesh.
She wore a black cloak the same colour as her hair, skin as pale as fresh snow. She held a staff in one hand – made from knotted wood, and topped with a crystal ball that swirled with mist. Her eyes were milky; using her staff to feel for a chair, she finally sat down.
“So, tell me, where is this spirit?” Corvina asked. There came a silence. “I may not be able to see you, but I know you are all sitting with pursed lips. I come because tonight is the night evil spirits roam. Let us not waste time.”
“Six years, Corvina, where have you been?” Samorah said, the shock evident. Kier didn’t know if he had ever seen a witch shocked.
“That is an answer for another time,” Corvina replied. “Descine, where is this spirit?”
Descine ran her tongue over her cracked lips. “Lucaala,” she said.
Kier’s heart stopped for a moment.
Lucaala was where he had been raised. His father was still there. Herron and him had left to find work in the city, because that was what everybody in Karsen came to the city for. The money paid well.
Now there was a spirit seeking vengeance at the village he knew.
“I have never been there, which means Yulie would not know the path,” Corvina said. “Have any of you been there?” The three witches remained silent. “Well, that is disappointing.”
“Excuse me,” Kier squeaked. “I know how to get to Lucaala.”
Samorah scoffed. “You, you think you are fit enough to take on a fearsome spirit, are you?” The other witches sniggered.
But Kier had been made fun of his entire life. He was used to it.
“I was raised there, I know all the people. I think I can be of use,” Kier said. Now he was giddy with excitement. This was when he could prove that he was indeed a sorcerer like his father said.
“The boy has a point,” Corvina said. Kier’s eyes lit up. He was going to be travelling beside the great Corvina Varnseling.
“You cannot seriously be thinking of taking some helpless boy along,” Jenetta said. “Either he is going to get you killed or he is going to get himself killed.”
“If any of you have a better way of getting to Lucaala, by that, I mean if you have somehow gained the ability to teleport, or otherwise, I am all ears,” Corvina said. They all just shifted uncomfortably. “That is what I thought.” She looked to Kier’s direction, milky eyes haunting. “What is your name?”
“Kier,” he replied.
“Very well, Kier,” Corvina said. “Lead the way.”
The boy would not shut up.
“I cannot tell you how much of an honour it is,” he rambled. “I have read so many books about you and what you have done. You can say that I am an admirer. If there is anything you need—”
“Blessed silence would be wonderful,” Corvina replied.
Ghostly forms swam past her. She had never seen so many; the village seemed to be infested with them. They were harmless, but there was one among them that had rendered the villagers horrible deaths.
The moment they set foot in the village, the pungent smell of burnt flesh and rotting intestines hit Corvina. She was a witch, she should be used to such smells, but this was just horrid.
The boy gasped beside her, choking. “If you are going to throw up, do it away from me,” Corvina said.
“I am fine,” he said. “I can handle this.”
The boy was trying to prove himself strong. Corvina wondered how long that would last.
“A witch!” a woman yelled, the heavy stumbling of her footsteps came towards them, grabbing at Corvina’s dress. “Please, Madam, you have to help us! My husband, he… he—”
Corvina could see the festering spirit in the corpse. “He cannot be saved,” she said. More footsteps came. “Now, I am here to guide this raging spirit into the spirit world and away from you. If you want your villagers to stop dying, you will tell me every horrible deed you have done to deserve this.”
“Kier!” another man yelled.
She could practically hear the boy thinking. Corvina pushed him forwards. “Go to him,” she said. “Now, somebody speak up.”
“It is Raelyn,” the same man as before said – the boy’s father.
“Shut up, crazy!”
“Madam, do not listen to him. He is not right in the head.”
“It is Raelyn, I tell you. You people tortured her to no end, and now you are all paying!”
It was pure disorder. Everyone yelling and screaming.
Yulie howled, prancing up, and snapping her teeth. The crowd silenced. “Tell me more of this Raelyn.”
“She was but a girl with a twisted face. Yet, you people treated her like a monster. You tried to drown her in the pond, and when that failed, you burned her. All because you could not bear to look upon her. Shame on all of you.”
Corvina swallowed. She knew what it was like to scare people. To be feared for her powers. She was almost tempted to walk away, because it seemed like the people really did have it coming.
But then, a great wind came, and Corvina saw her.
Misty and white as all spirits were. She was small; no more than six. Her face was disfigured, clearly a birth defect – something she had no control over.
She raised her hand to the man closest to her.
Corvina grabbed her. She was the only one who could actually touch them. Raelyn turned to her, furious fire in her eyes. “Let go of me!” she shrieked.
“You are angry, I understand,” Corvina said. “But vengeance will do nothing to quell it. It is a greater cruelty to let them live, knowing what they have done to you, slowly eaten by the guilt. What you are granting them with your violence is an escape.”
“I do not care, witch,” she spat. “They will pay.”
A woman fell.
Kier knew her. She was the baker’s wife.
The wind came howling, kicking up the dirt. He couldn’t see anything. His father’s arms were clenched tightly around him.
When it calmed, Kier looked around to find half the people on the ground, twitching with burning wounds, a gaping hole in their stomachs. Their blood soaked into the ground, making red lines in the dirt, meeting each other like the veins of a river.
Now, he did turn, throwing up his meagre dinner.
Corvina still stood, only a slight crumple on her cloak. She held her staff out, eyes closed, chanting at the air. It was in a language Kier didn’t know.
Raelyn’s form appeared – dark and smouldering.
She cast her gaze on Kier and dived towards him. He didn’t even have time to react before his world dimmed with his father’s scream.
Corvina rushed to Kier’s side, but she knew it was too late. She could hear his thrashing and his father crying desperately.
Raelyn’s dark spirit writhed in him.
“Please, help him! Help him.”
“Silence,” she called. “Let me focus.” She could see Kier now. A faint outline of his features beneath Raelyn’s. He was smaller than she imagined, about as thin as a twig.
Yet, his body hadn’t combusted.
Such a violent spirit in him should have destroyed him in seconds.
He was still conscious. He was still fighting.
Corvina clasped her hands over her staff, chanting. Any more delay and Raelyn’s spirit was going to become a demon, and there was no going back from that.
“Spirit, you have lost your way, so you leave me with no choice. You are to leave the body of this young boy, in the name of the Guardian of Death, Olaa, Goddess of the Crescent Moon, I banish you to the realm for which you shall never return. You have wreaked your havoc. Now rest.”
However, the winds only rose, whipping its hand across her face. The spirit only grew in Kier, feeding off him, becoming more powerful, until…
Fire burst from Kier’s palm. Black fire. Corvina gasped. It was the first time she had seen fire. She had never known it to be so… powerful.
Kier screamed, the fire flowing and flowing, until his entire figure was engulfed with pure dark flames.
Corvina could feel the heat radiating from Kier, the smell of smoke, so different and stronger that she had ever smelt. She had only read about it once in a spell book.
The Flames of Darkness.
It was a long forgotten magic.
And Corvina saw the remnants of Raelyn’s ghost dissolving in the flames. It was silent. No shrieks, no lasting torture.
Only this kind of magic could burn away the very essence of a spirit. Wipe them entirely from existence.
A true death.
Perhaps that was a mercy.
The flames died.
“Kier! Kier!” the father yelled.
“Is he dead? What was that?”
“Sorcery,” Corvina replied.
She felt with her staff to his side. Yulie trailing at her heels. She reached out, pressing her fingers to his neck, finding it smooth and unburnt.
And there was the beating of his pulse drumming against her fingers.
“He is alive,” Corvina said.
He had awoken in the middle of the village, all the villagers gathered around him. He had been embarrassingly naked, his clothing entirely singed.
His father had taken him into a bone-crushing hug, saying, “I knew it! I knew it! You are a sorcerer.”
Kier had bid his farewells in the morning, promising his father that him and Herron would come and visit soon.
Corvina awaited for him by the carriage.
“So, when do I get a title?” Kier asked.
“What do you mean?” she said now, stroking her sleeping hound – whom, Kier learned was really quite harmless.
“Well, all the great witches and sorcerers have a title,” Kier said.
“Really?” Corvina said. “Then I suppose you will get one when you become great.”
“You think I will be great,” Kier said, unable to supress his smile.
“The talent is certainly there,” Corvina said. “But with talent comes a lot of practice and hard work. Are you willing to do that?”
“Yes!” Kier exclaimed, almost loud enough to awaken Yulie. “Of course I am, this has been my dream since I was like three, I—”
“Just because you almost died,” Corvina said. “Does not give you permission to talk whenever you like. I expect my apprentices to listen to instructions.”
“Of course, Madam,” Kier said, sealing his lips.
“Let me get this straight,” Samorah said. “You want to use the boy for what?”
“I am not going to use him for anything,” Corvina said. The four of them were once again sitting at the table. “I want to take him on as an apprentice. Help him control his powers, and whatnot.”
“Well, I suppose this turn of events is interesting,” Jenetta said.
They spoke of various things until midnight struck.
Corvina stood. “I am afraid I must go now,” she said. “It has been a pleasure meeting with you ladies again. I have missed this.” Kier passed Corvina her cloak, following her to the exit. She was almost out the door, when she turned. “If any of you ever need anything, you know where to find me. If not, then I will see you next Hallows Eve.”