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Fantasy Horror Speculative

Serena opened her eyes. Her vision was blurred and her head was clouded. She could not remember what had happened or where she was. Her head throbbed with a piercing pain behind her eyes. She tried to rub her temple and then panicked, her hands were bound behind her back. Thin leather thongs cut into her wrists and when she moved them, she cried out in pain. She was standing upright with her back against something round and solid. Her waist and ankles were tied as well and she realized that she was bound to a large pole. Kindling was heaped at her feet and she screamed in horror.  

Clear vision came back as Serena regained her senses. She looked about the clearing she found herself in. It was night, but the area was lit by two large campfires. The light hurt her eyes. She was somewhere in the forest. She looked around frantically, but there was no sign of her farmhouse or the town of Dunley anywhere nearby. She had no recollection of this place. Three figures stood before her, staring wide-eyed and holding torches. They looked terrified. They looked at her.

“The witch awakens!” someone yelled.

“I am no witch!” Serena screamed. The words erupted from her mouth before she knew that she was saying them. She acted as if there could be no greater insult. The words hurt her more than her swollen wrists. “Why do you bind me so?”

“Our boy’s been missin’ for days!” a woman yelled angrily, gripping her husband’s arm tighter. “Where is he? I beg you, free him and let him return to us.” She wept in frustration. “Our boy is all we have.”

Serena now recognized the voices. “I know he is missing, but I do not have William!” she exclaimed. “Elgin, Myra, I am your neighbor! You have known me all my life. You knew my Father, gods rest his soul! You must know that I am not a witch! We have shared food in hard times!” She shook her head and wrestled with her bonds again. “My own sister, Ophelia, is missing as well! Do you not remember? I have not seen her for several weeks! I am as you, struck with sorrow and worry!”

Never speak such blasphemy again, witch!” bellowed the tall man who stood alone. He was dressed in the robes of the temple priests and held tightly to a holy symbol in his left hand. “Never compare your vile self to any of the fine folks of Dunley! Your kind are spawned from the bowels of Hell itself and into the fires we intend to send you back!” he added, raising his torch toward her.

“Why am I being accused? I have done nothing wrong!” Serena pleaded desperately. She struggled at her bonds again, but to no avail. Her heart was nearly beating out of her chest; she was overwhelmed by fear.

“Enough lies girl,” spoke Elgin calmly. “We found things on your farm. Belongings of our boy and other items from the missing. Most of the missing were children.” The man paused and shook his head in bewilderment. “How can anyone be so cruel as to harm a helpless child? Burning you will not be punishment enough for your crimes, but it will have to do. Back to Hell with ya!” he added as he spat on the ground in front of her.

“What things?! There is nothing on my farm! I am innocent!” Serena searched her mind for any sense to these claims. “Wait, I must have been falsely accused. The things must have been put there by someone else. Why I know not, but I swear I had no knowledge of such things!”

“We await the Lord Magistrate. He and his men will be here shortly to carry out your sentence,” explained the priest. “I expect he will show no mercy, you soulless beast!”

A bewildering thought occurred to Serena. “Why are we not in the town square? Is that not where these trials take place? Where are the people of Dunley?” The farmer and his wife looked at each other and, for a brief moment, Serena saw doubt. “Where are we and why have I been brought to the forest?”

“You dare question the will of the Lord Magistrate?” demanded the priest. He shot a glare at the farmers and his look dashed any reluctance they may have had.

Serena chuckled, despite her dilemma. “I guess, given I stand falsely accused, I do question his will. Any time a witch is burned, Lord Faustus makes it a public display in the town square. Why not this time?”

“He wanted you brought here because you are so dangerous,” explained the farmer. “He--”

“Hold your tongue! Do not be tricked by her treacherous words!” the priest demanded. “All she speaks is lies!”

“If I am so dangerous, then how did you manage to subdue me so easily?” Serena asked, looking at Elgin and his wife. “I assume it was you who waylaid me from behind. Following the request of the priest, no doubt. My head is still ringing from the blow.” She stared them down. “If I were a witch, would I have not known you were coming? If I am of such power, should you not be dead?”

“Do not listen!” screamed the priest angrily. “She is bewitching you, fools!” 

A twig snapped from somewhere in the dark and all attention turned to the sound. An older man in fine clothing walked from the darkness into the clearing. He wore the official garments of the Lord Magistrate of Dunley. The man smiled as he approached the priest and greeted him with a tip of his hat.

“Lord Faustus, you have come!” exclaimed the priest with much excitement. “She spews foulness from her mouth, but we do not listen. She tries to trick us, but we remain steadfast and true. Please, delay no longer. Pass judgement and have your men burn her quickly, before all is undone!” The priest paused and looked into the darkness from which the Lord Magistrate had appeared. Nobody was there. Nobody followed. “My Lord, where are your officers? Are they close behind?”

“No, Father Sectus, they are not. No need to get them out of bed in the middle of the night for something you have handled so remarkably well already.” He approached Serena and smiled. “My dear girl, I see you stand accused. What a trauma this must be for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience.”

The priest gasped. “I do not understand, Lord Magistrate, she is a witch! Guilty of heinous crimes!” He was confused and panicked. “You sent me to her farm. I enlisted the help of her neighbors and brought her here as you asked. I told no one else, so as not to endanger the town, just as you commanded, my lord!”

The Lord Magistrate turned to the holy man. His eyes now showing a darkness the priest had never noticed before. “Yes, Sectus, you are ever the obedient lap dog. For this, you shall be rewarded.” He walked forward and with lightning speed, he grabbed the priest by the throat and lifted him until just the tips of his boots scrapped the ground. “Now you shall serve for eternity. No need to thank me, friend!” he cackled maniacally as the priest’s holy symbol and torch fell to the ground.

The priest choked and gurgled as the magistrate chanted something beneath his breath. Father Sectus tried to pry the fingers from his throat, but he could not escape the incredible strength of the lord’s grip. As the holy man twitched and struggled, the magistrate held a small clear gemstone to the priest’s lips and slowly a ghostly green wisp escaped from his mouth to enter the gem. The magistrate dropped him limply to the ground, then put the gem, now an eldritch green, into a pouch tied to his belt. He fondled the pouch with his fingers and it clicked with the sound of many similar stones tossed together. He turned to the farmers and smiled.

“What are you?” Elgin asked. “How could you strike down a holy man?” The farmer stood defensively, hand on his dagger, ready to fight and defend his wife who wept uncontrollably, clinging to his arm.

“Well, it would seem, contrary to popular belief, not all witches are women, though I prefer to be called a warlock, if you would be so kind.” The Lord Magistrate held out his hand above the body of the priest and it began to move. Slowly it rose from the ground into a crouching position at his side. It’s eyes were sunken, dark, and soulless. Pale flesh stretched over bone and the gaunt creature looked as if it had been drained of everything, leaving only a ghastly aberration. It hissed at the farmers and bared it’s jagged teeth.

“Forgive us for our wrongdoings,” the farmer pleaded to Serena. “We have all been caught in this lie.” He started toward her, reaching for his dagger, intent on cutting her loose. His desire to right the wrong he had done the girl, at least for the moment, outweighed his fear of the magistrate.

“Farmer....,” Faustus paused to think, snapping his fingers and pointing at the couple. “It seems I do not know your name, nor do I care to, but I would suggest you stand your ground.” The ghast at his side hissed again and took a step toward the couple. The farmer stopped, sliding his knife back into the sheath. “Is your son not more important? You must want to see your son?”

With this Myra lit up. “My boy! Where is he, please, my lord, tell us!” She dropped to her knees. “Please, my lord, I beg of you to spare us and our boy! We will say nothing, I swear it!” 

Movement in the woods caused the couple to look behind them. From the edge of the clearing appeared the small figure of a boy. Joy turned to horror as the hunched figure moved into the firelight, gaunt and ghastly just as the priest had become. The farmer fell to his knees and screamed, “Nooo! Not my boy!”

With a clap of his hands, the creature sprang forward landing on Elgin, knocking him back. Sharp talons and broken teeth tore at the farmers throat and with a gurgle and a cough, he fell limp and still. The farmer’s wife screamed and pleaded with her son to stop before the creature turned on her as well.

“A touching reunion, indeed.” The magistrate snickered and turned to Serena who had only been able to watch in horror, tears streaming down her face. “Now for you, sweet Serena.”

“What do you want from me?!” she screamed in defiance.

“May I be blunt?” He continued without waiting for a reply, “I placed the items in your barn to implicate your guilt. I needed you brought here, out of the sight of the nosey townsfolk. The town would be angry if they found out that their kindly Lord Magistrate had been swiping people at night, am I right?”

“But, why?” she asked.

“Oh, for various reasons, my dear. Spells, potions and occasionally, like Sectus and William, I need followers that never question their loyalty. I am the Grand Master of the Dunley Coven, the most powerful coven in all of Rhylaria. I demand respect.”

“I meant, why me?” she repeated.

“Yes, of course. Now, I know you believe yourself to be innocent, but it may surprise you to know that you are indeed a witch. You come from a family of powerful witches. Your mother and her mother before and so on. You are destined to serve me and I have always kept my eye on you and your older sister, Ophelia. I have awaited the day for you both to serve me willingly.”

Serena spat at the magistrate. “I would sooner die than join you! I have no pride in my family’s past. I am a farmer, not a witch, and I have done all in my power to follow a different path!”

“You can not escape your destiny. Your sister knew that. She was proud of the family heritage. She had already submitted to serving me.” He could tell by the look on her face that she had not known. “Oh, you were unaware? Yes, she wanted power and I had high hopes for her.”

“What have you done to my sister, you monster!” she screamed and struggled against her bonds again.

“Nothing. Honestly, it was your sister who betrayed me. She is not missing as you feared, but instead she has run off. She fled in the company of Rowena and her cowardly sister, Anora. Traitorous bitches, now gone rogue it seems, with their sights set on a coven of their own. I am sure your dolt of a sister was easily turned against me. It seems Ophelia knows nothing of loyalty.”

“Where is she?” Serena demanded.

Lord Faustus smiled wide. “That is where you come in, my dear. I have no idea where they are and honestly, I care not, but those thieving witches took something from me. They ran off with the Book of Shadows, and I would very much like it back.”

“I have not seen her in weeks and I can not help you find her. All this has been in vain.”

“Oh, but you can help me.” Faustus handed the ghast at his side a glass vial and motioned for the creature to approach the girl. “Time to serve again, Sectus,” he laughed. The ghast approached the pyre and disappeared behind Serena. “You see girl, you can tell me where your sister is, for your blood is her blood, and all I need is a little donation from you to learn her whereabouts.” He nodded toward the creature.

Serena screamed as she felt the creature grasp her hand and slip her index finger into its mouth. She felt the sharp teeth scrape against her flesh. She cried out and then Faustus shook his head. She felt her ring finger slide into its mouth and then the warlock shook his head again and smiled. He nodded when the creature slid her pinky finger into his mouth and she screamed as her finger was gnawed at and violently torn from her hand. She had never experienced such pain. She felt faint and her head was spinning. She watched the ghast return to Faustus with a vial full of her blood.

The warlock held the vial up to the light and swirled the contents, revealing the severed finger spinning inside. “That will do,” he said as he patted Sectus on the top of the head. “I believe this concludes our business, Serena. I do appreciate your cooperation, but now I must decide what to do with you.”

Serena whimpered in pain and spoke in a whisper, “Just be done with it. I tire of your chatter.”

“Yes, indeed, one would think that I should just end you here and now. Why not? I hate leaving any witnesses. It is bad business. Fortunately for you, I have looked into the Mists of 

Vendura and they have revealed to me that you are to play some part in my future. In fact, you may one day save my life.”

Serena laughed hopelessly, “Keep dreaming, warlock. I would never help you.”

“That is what I would think as well. These matters are not always correct, but curiosity has gotten the best of me. I will not kill you myself. I will instead leave you here to live or die as fate decides. You will most likely be food for wolves or who knows what because your neighbors will start to smell soon enough. Nobody knows you're here, so no one will find you. I have always been lucky and I will take my chances.” With a wave of his hand, the creatures that served Lord Faustus followed him out of the clearing as the campfires flickered out.

“Do not leave me here to die!” screamed Serena. “Please….” 

“You are capable of being a powerful witch, Serena!” Faustus shouted from somewhere in the woods. “I trust you will figure something out...or not.”

December 05, 2020 03:26

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4 comments

Ray Dyer
03:31 Dec 06, 2020

Well that went somewhere unexpected! Interesting twist, Ryan! I enjoy your world, and the people within it. It's a very violent story, but every action has a purpose within it, and the ending does not take the easy path. I like the way you set up the reason she is allowed to live, and leave the ending ultimately vague. Thank you for sharing your story!

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Ryan Dupont
03:50 Dec 06, 2020

Thanks for reading and I am glad you enjoyed it! I always appreciate your comments because they are meaningful and they always help me as a writer. It is nice to know what readers think about certain aspects of the story. It is nice when someone "likes" the story, but I appreciate you taking the time to comment as well.

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Ray Dyer
05:21 Dec 06, 2020

I hear you 100%. I try really hard not to just "Like and Leave!"

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Annette Lovewind
00:20 Dec 10, 2020

This is a really good story!! Really well written and it had me intrigued the entire time! Great work

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