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Drama Fantasy Suspense

Once upon a time, there lived a girl who was once kind, if only she knew that the path to hell was paved with good intentions. There was once a time where she believed in fairy tales and love, but those frivolities had long since died in her chest. If only she had known the raw, savage truth of existence. Mortified by the taste of blood in her mouth, Nadine had not let the curling fingers of grief wrap itself around her heart since she had drowned in the lake. If only she had died that day, if only they had lived

With solitude as her shield, Nadine lived inside of a humble cabin in the woods. Nestled in the French countryside, the cottage was made of ancient ironwood and stone. Surrounded and submerged in a dense pine forest she stood on her porch and watched a milky shaft of light leak through the canopy, the light casting shadows, and illumining specks of dust in its wake. Ethereal in their glow, they floated through the air like apparitions from another lifetime; maybe this is all we leave behind.

Nadine crumpled the letter in the pocket of her coat, the wax seal of the Mavis family crest dug into her palm. Rumoured to be descended from nobility, the Mavis family was the richest and oldest founding family in Loma and often funded various businesses and philanthropic pursuits in the small town. As to why they had chosen to summon Nadine of all people, she still didn’t know; but she was more curious to hear how they had found her. She was after all, in the densest part of the wood, protected by the beasts of the forest. Which was why she was so surprised to see a messenger at her door last week. Shaky and pale she could tell that he was expecting a monstrous creature or hag when she opened the door, because when he saw a young woman with alabaster skin, hair as dark as coal, and eyes the colour of pale jade, he almost passed out from shock. Surely something ghastly must have happened for them to have sought her out. She grew poisonous plants and herbs for heaven’s sake, what would they want a girl who could only grow poisons for?  Which meant that come hell or high water, she had to go.

Staring past the trees and into the cracks of the sky above, she inhaled the smell of fresh pine. Enjoying the sting of winter against her skin, she smiled blissfully, revelling in the blistering cold. She had not truly felt warm in over a decade, but there was always something wonderous about winter. In the distance, the gentle rustling of foliage against the forest floor snapped her back to reality. Tonight, she had cut through town to get to the EstateHeaven help her, the very thought of passing through the city made her feel sick, but if the Mavis family summoned you to the Country Estate, you went. This was what she told herself, over and over again, in a futile attempt to soothe her nerves. You would have to be a fool to ignore a summons from them. Locking the door behind her, Nadine started her journey towards the Mavis Country Estate.

Through the thicket of trees and babbling brooks, Nadine eventually made it to town with minimal mud on the hems of her skirts. Drawing the hood of her navy cloak over her head, her eyes kept darting to the open expanse of water before her. The murky waters of the lake called to her, but she kept walking, she would not be caught off guard againthe leviathan of the lake’s abyss had already taken enough from her. The soles of her boots treaded lightly against the dull stone road, the dust clung to her damp boots. Surrounded by an impassable lake, the only way to the Country Estate was through the stone road that ran through the Loma. On the outskirts of town, Nadine steadied herself, this has been the backdrop to so many of her nightmares.

Releasing a breath, she stepped forward, she had been a child the last time she had been there, now she was a woman in her own right. Walking in the shadows of the already black night, Nadine walked through the dark alleyways and side streets cautious of wondering eyes. Reminding herself that she was no longer a child, she walked past the shuttered windows and slanted rooftops, folding her arms against her chest; the walls had ears, but the doors had eyes. She could still remember playing in the streets she now walked past but couldn’t bring herself to steal a glance. She knew what would be there, the scene of a witch hunt that never ended. It was only by sheer luck that she had managed to escape their pyre, their clawing fingers, their hate and ire. Still, even after all the years that had passed, she was haunted by the laughter of her childhood, and the deafening silence that followed. Striding past the deserted shops and houses, she did not miss the silhouette bodies in the dim windows; they had once sung her name with a smile, now they dare not speak of her at all, not after she had walked out of that lake alone.

With the end of town in sight, she quickened her pace keeping her eyes glued to the road ahead. Finally, she breathed almost there. Turning the final corner, Nadine did not see the hand that grabbed her. A hand gloved in leather shot out of the corner of her eye, locking itself around her wrist. The movement was so fast that she didn’t have enough time to steady herself as the figure grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, pinning her face-first against the wall. The impact of the rough wood against her face made her teeth shake, and her vision blur. Blinking the stars out of her eyes, she saw a man glaring down at her. His sheer bulk made her slight frame feel even frailer.

“Drop your weapons,” he barked, forcing her into the wall she felt his arm shake with the effort it took him not to break her.

“I have none,” she breathed, her lunges struggling to take in air.

“Don’t lie to me, you witch,” he spat the words at her, pressing her impossibly further into the building.

“Please,” she wheezed out, “I have nothing. Please just let me go, and you’ll never see me again.” Breathless, she could feel his fingers digging into her flesh. 

Begrudgingly satisfied with her answer the man yanked her away from the wall and started to drag her backwards. Horror leapt up her throat. No, not again. She was being pulled into the town square, back to the iron cage. The world spun around her as she tried to claw her way free, but two iron manacles appeared on her wrists and ankles, and the faint chant of a crowd began to rise in the air.

If only she had been born with magic like her ancestors, she could burn them all to ash, or better yet drown them on the spot; but regrettably, she was notA witch with no magic, no innate power of her own, it was laughable really. Born powerless, her parents thought that it would have been safe for her to grow up amongst mortals, but they were wrong. Not only was being born without magic a weakness, but it was also a curse. She was defenceless and more importantly, ill-fated. Nadine supposed that it had started with her birth, and then with the murder of her parents when she was thirteen years old, but when those thirteen children had drowned at the hand of the leviathan in lake Ubel, that was the turning point. That was when everything had changed, that was then they had decided that she was the beast, a dog that needed to be put down.

Flashes of that night often plagued her dreams. Cold hands bringing her back to life and the shouts of angry men. If only they knew that she had drowned alongside them and had been dead for a handful of minutes until she was revived by her motherIt was her parents that had saved her, but it was also her parents who had damned her because they had used their magic in the open. Something dangerous to do in a village that was weary of magic. However, what had made it worse was the fact that they saw the floating lifeless bodies of their children and assumed the worst. Afraid of what they did not understand, terrified of the unknown, they thought that she and her parents had murdered the children as a sort of sacrifice, and before either side could talk, shots were fired.

Her heart hammered against her chest as her lungs struggled to breathe. They found her. Straining against her bindings, Nadine tried to claw her way to freedom. Her nails dug into the man’s flesh hard enough to draw blood, but still, it wasn’t enough, she wasn’t strong enough. Suddenly the ground lunged upwards, and she heard the sickening crack of her skull against the stone. Hot sticky blood dripped down her face, red coloured her vision. She had lived in the forest for almost a decade without emerging once. Her blood would not bring their children back.

Nevertheless, she supposed that in their eyes, she would always be guilty. Blinking away tears, she wished she could take it back. Wished that she and her friends had never gone to that God-forsaken lake. Now brought to her knees for a crime she did not commit Nadine wriggled against the manacles. Tied in front of her she pulled at them, popping the joints of her thumbs out of place in the process. If only they would listen. If only she had died that day, if only they had lived; but their rage and grief made them both deaf and blind to the truth. 

The crackling of the pyre and snapping of wood sent Nadine’s heartbeat ratcheting up. Spotting a gap in the crowd, Nadine seized the moment. Dropping to her knees, she caused the man to stumble. Twisting his arm behind his back, she sidestepped the crowd. Bobbing, and weaving, she dodged their clawing fingers. Eyeing the Mavis Country Estate in the distance, she tore herself free from the sea of bloodthirsty bodies. Sprinting at breakneck speed, Nadine ran with the wind against her back. She would make it, she had to make it. 

Frost had already begun to coat the grass-covered hill of the Estate, and a biting winter breeze sent her blood pounding through her head. The gash on her head and blistered knees were covered in crimson, but Nadine didn’t care, she just kept running. Tall spires of ironwood and stone stood tall in the distance. About half a dozen guards in their malachite liveries, they stood tall with an assortment of weapons adorning them, and she prayed that they were loaded.

Not daring to look back, she could hear the pounding of their footsteps behind her. “Help me! Please,” she yelled, quickly reaching the closing gates, she pushed past the pain in her legs and dove through the narrow gap. Landing on the sharp gravel of the driveway, she rolled with the impact. Nadine could feel the edges of the stone slice into her palm. “please,” she begged again, her arms shaking with the effort it took to push herself up, “my name is Nadine―”

“Nadine Sorokina,” a deep voice said, looking up from the gravel beneath her, she saw a man in a highly decorated uniform approach her. Tall in stature, his nut-brown skin stood out against his salt and pepper hair. He bent down to her level, reaching a white-gloved hand to her. Helping her up to her feet, she could feel his scrutinizing gaze. “We’ve been expecting you,” he said, glancing at his pocket watch, “come with me.”

Stealing a glance from behind her she saw the townsfolk pressed against the bars of the gate, the guards holding the line, keeping them at bay, “What about―”

“Leave them,” the man cut off, “my men will handle them, Lady Mavis is expecting you, and she doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” He raised an eyebrow as he started walking to the main house, gesturing for her to follow, she trailed behind him studying her new surroundings. In the glowing light of the gas lamps, she could see that the Mavis Country Estate was a classic French chateau with cypress trees lining the edges of the driveway, some tall and spindly, other squat and full, shaped to resembled different animals. How odd, she thought to herself, pulling the torn sleeves of her dress and cloak tighter around her she followed the man.

The doors of the main house were simply enormous. Welcomed by the house staff, she was ushered to an enormous marble carved room where she was left alone. Empty and bare of any furniture, her footsteps echoed against the naturally cold surface. Taking advantage of her solitude, Nadine paced the room, still shivering from earlier she studied her surroundings. Opulent chandeliers that adorned the intricately painted ceiling and enormous windows illuminated the room. Mother of pearl filigree cast glittering rainbows on the white marble floor and onto Nadine’s alabaster skin. Spinning around on the heel of her boot, she almost fell when the loud creaking of the wood rattled through the room.

Turning to face the person Nadine was met with the sight of a woman with deep umber hair dressed in the regalia of a lady. She walked into the room; her heels clicked against the marble.

“Are you Nadine?” she inquired, hands clasped Infront of her.

“Yes,” she replied, attempting a poorly crafted curtsy, “Lady Mavis―”

“Lady Mavis is my mother, my name is Cosette.” She supplied, crossing the distance between them she extended an arm towards her, shaking it firmly. Momentarily caught off guard by the gesture she stumbled a bit. “I requested your presence because I need a witch to mine the greenhouse, and I would like to offer you the position. You will be given a cottage on the estate grounds, and your own key to the greenhouse.”

She almost fell when she heard the word witch. “Oh,” she breathed, “I uhm… I sorry but I cannot accept.”

“Why not?” Cosette seemed confused, but something in her demeanour reminded Nadine of a loaded gun, lethal but poised.

“Because I have no magic,” she confessed, “I can’t―”

“But you know the ways of magic, how to grow plants and herbs,” she pushed, “grow poisons.” The two women let the words hang in the air, the space between them growing thick, “My spymaster and captain of the guard have already informed me of your past. For instance, I know that after your parents were killed, you ran away to live in the forest, that even though you possess no innate magic of your own that you have a talent with plants, I know that last summer they almost caught you by the waterfalls, but you hid in the caves till they left.” Cosette began circling her, looking at her destroyed hems and roughly sewn clothes with curiosity. “The entire town thinks that you are a murderer, but you are not.” At those words, Nadine snapped her eyes to face her, did she just call her innocent?  “You,” Cosette continued, holding Nadine’s bewildered look, “have no blood on your hands, but yet you allow them to demonize you. You allow them to hate and hunt you.” She gestured to the girl’s clothes and bloodied face, “You could poison their water supplies or set free the wild beats of the woodland on them, you could unleash a reckoning on them, but you don’t, why?”

She knew everything. She blinked the tears out of eyes, this woman had somehow learned everything about her and yet, she still wanted Nadine to work for her. She was at a loss for words, “because I should have known better―”

Cosette’s eyes widened in surprise, “You were thirteen years old; you can’t possibly hold yourself accountable―”

“but I do, if I hadn’t been there, they would still be alive, all of them.” Nadine cut in, her voice trembling between a snarl and a sob. 

Taking her hands in hers Cosette pulled her closer, holding her by the forearms, “Hell is paved with good intentions and full of well wishes, but heaven is full of wicked works and savage truths. We cannot control what other’s think of us, but we must be brave enough to believe that there is good in everyone. I believe you.” Frozen to the spot, Nadine felt the room tilt around her, she had longed for almost a decade to hear those words, dreamt of them all her life, I believe you. Assessing her choices, Nadine realized that she had nothing left to lose. No earthly possessions or friends, nothing except for her cottage, but even that was a hell of a different kind. “So, will you take the job?” Cosette questioned.

Nadine paused for a moment longer as the realization hit her again, she had had nothing to lose for so long, hadn’t had anything new in her life in years, “yes” she breathed. Giving Cosette a small smile. 

Letting Cosette take her hand, Nadine followed her new employer through the halls, and something like joy blossomed in her heart. She felt giddy, her stomach tying into knots, but the impossible had just happened, she had just been offered a hand to drag her out of Hell, and she took it. Smiling incredulously, the grin felt foreign as it stretched itself over her face, but she liked it anyway.

December 05, 2020 02:57

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25 comments

Harps Mclean
13:46 Dec 10, 2020

very cool story. you had me engaged very. the description of the forest and the forest was really good and the action sense of Nadine being captured was perfect point of view stuff. you are a really good writer and i know that you used some cliches on purpose but i tripped over them when they appeared. there was the magic of the world and then "paved with good intentions" or "come hell or high water". the fantasy element of this story is so well done those common phrases just slowed me down a bit-- it was just a small thing, i love...

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Elizabeth Inkim
14:21 Dec 10, 2020

Thank you so much for the read, I am glad that you enjoyed the story. Well done for spotting those cliche's, I was beyond happy when I used the phrase "once upon a time" for a character with a tragic start in life. I also didn't think that "paved with good intentions" was too real world/non-fantasy, but regardless, thank you for the feedback. I love writing in the fantasy genre, it's always been my favourite, and if you love fantasy as much as I do, then I invite you to read any of my other stories; "Silent Citadel", "Of Bone and Blood",...

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Nuha E.
01:15 Mar 06, 2021

Hey, I loved the way you started this story, it draws you in and the details throughout of Nadine’s guilt and self-punishment were really well written! I loved your incorporation of magic as well, the links to witches being burnt at the stake etc. Made it all the more interesting to see how she was viewed by other people as well! Great story!

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Elizabeth Inkim
04:28 Mar 06, 2021

Thank you so much for the read. I am glad that you enjoyed it. Did you have a favourite part?

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Nuha E.
23:17 Mar 06, 2021

Probably her thought process through the forest and when she had the manacles on, and the conversation between Cosette and Nadine. That was beautifully written.

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Elizabeth Inkim
01:44 Mar 07, 2021

Excellent choice.

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Also, I love this sort of fantasy-ish story, that feels like a fairy tale set in real life.

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Elizabeth Inkim
22:01 Jan 01, 2021

Yes, I do love a good fantasy anything. In fact all of my stories have some sort of fantasy element to them. Also, all of my characters and locations belong to the same fictional universe; everything’s interconnected, just not told chronologically. So if you really love a character let me know, cause they’ll probably appear again in the future.

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Elizabeth Inkim
22:09 Jan 01, 2021

Yeah and feel free to drop a comment anytime, I love to chat.

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The italics add so much to this already-amazing story! This astounds me, it's so beautiful!

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Elizabeth Inkim
21:58 Jan 01, 2021

Hi Jade, thank you so much for the read! I am so glad that you enjoyed it, but if you liked this one you’ll love “Of Bone and Blood”. It’s one of my favorites, from the character voice to setting I think you’d love it. If you get a chance to read it let me know in the comments what you think.

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Oh, I read that one, i think! is that by Emmie Greensgate? No wait, hers was "Blood Bone and Broken Hearts" or something.

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Elizabeth Inkim
22:18 Jan 01, 2021

Oh actually I meant one of my stories, it’s called “ Of Bone and Blood” I wrote it a while back, but I haven’t read the Emmie Greensgate story yet, it’s on my TBR I just haven’t gotten to it.

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Okay! Yeah, I'll check your's out soon! if it's anything like the Emmie Greensgate one I know I'll like it. What's the genre?? :)

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Elizabeth Inkim
14:50 Jan 02, 2021

My "Of Blood and Bone" is a Drama, Adventure, Fantasy; but I've managed to carve out some free time today so be getting to Emmie Greensgate's "Blood, Bone, and Broken Hearts". I'll let you know what I think later.

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Sam W
22:08 Dec 30, 2020

Yikes. I can smell a disaster in the making... I enjoyed this read, Elizabeth, and loved the MC. Banishing herself for a crime she did not commit, and not even considering returning in adulthood because of her trauma and fear. Her isolation has made her vulnerable in many ways, as far as to accept employment from a woman who has spied on her for a considerable time, and is also interested in her poisoning skills. We all know that vulnerable MCs make for amazing stories. What I've noticed in your writing are consistently detailed, well though...

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Elizabeth Inkim
02:37 Dec 31, 2020

Hey Sam! Thank you some much for the read, I am glad that you enjoyed it, and yes, a disaster is always on the horizon; they make the best stories. What did you think of the ending? 1. I think that powerful families are always up to something/ have an ulterior motive. In the case of the Mavis Family case, I think they were testing the strength of her character because she could have not gone, lashed out at the townspeople, or lied, but she told the truth and risked her safety because at the end of it all she is innocent at heart. 2. You kno...

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