View Full Version : The Witches of D'hoq (start, currently 8088 words)

September 9th, 2018, 09:38 PM
So, I had this dream. I know, we all have dreams. But I had this dream a few years ago, then had the exact same dream again, down to every last detail. And I remember having this dream, while having the dream. And everything happening in the dream was so real.
Anyway, I had to write it down, and add to it, as I love the premise, plus the plot, plus all it's twists. I been working on this for two weeks, unable to concentrate on any other stories, even my favourite, Bruisella. And I'm sure, despite me editing of what I have, it still needs work, so please let me know your comments.
Anyway, here it is, the start of it at least, The Witches of D'hoq.

NOTE: This is my fourth edit/development of this story. But with some critique from a post, it will be edited again. But for now, please enjoy the updated version, with improved description to come.

The sun beat down on the courtyard, sweat dripping from Kala’s brow as she stood with the six current recruits undergoing guardsmen training. Like the trainees, she faced a wooden dummy, repeating her weapon drills over and over. The mid-blade sword she wielded felt heavy in her right hand.

Lean left, slash, lean right, slash, twist and block, swing up to counter, down to slice, repeat.

Kala recalled playing in this courtyard when she was younger, talking to her three imaginary friends, while Narj, her adopted father and the town’s former head-guardsmen-turned-trainer, ran another group of boys through fighting drills. Kala watched them train day after day, interested in learning, even though she reached three cycles of age not too long ago. Narj always denied her, telling her “You’re far too young. You’re not ready.”
After discussing this fact with her imaginary friends, they all concluded if she wanted to attack the training dummy, she should just pick up a weapon and start hitting it. So, she did. Narj and the trainees laughed at her at first, but she ignored them and kept swinging.

Soon enough, Narj came over and corrected her strokes, muttering “If you’re going to learn, you might as well learn the right way.” Unsure why, Kala felt happy attacking the wooden dummy. That also happened to be the last day her imaginary friends came out to play.

Fourteen cycles later, she stood in the corner, honing and perfecting her skills on the same wooden dummy, while Narj ran his guardsmen recruits through weapon drills, under the scorching Tuulsa sun. Kala relished training in the dry weather, toughening herself under the extreme conditions. With Tuulsa living under a burning sky seven moons out of every cycle, the conditions were perfect for training strong warriors, according to Narj. He always told Kala the draining heat drove away all but the strongest, or most stubborn, people. Looking around, Kala wondered which category these recruits belonged to.

Lean left, slash, lean right, slash, twist and block, swing up to counter, down to slice, repeat.

‘I know which one I am,’ she thought to herself as her slender arm drew the mid-blade down on the wooden dummy.

Lean left, slash, lean right, slash, twist and block, swing up to counter, down to slice, repeat.

“Okay,” Narj boomed, clapping his hands three times to indicate a change. “I want three double set drills of upper-lower attacks.” Kala flicked her eyes left and right, watching the boys change position, preparing for the new attack drill.

“Begin!” Narj’s voice spurred her in to motion. Drawing her second mid-blade sheathed on her back, Kala moved sideways until she stood between the pair of wooden dummies in her training corner, both bearing the marks of previous training.

Left mid-slash, right throat-slash, twist, cut, gut-like-a-pig, groin strike, repeat.

Despite the seriousness of her training, Kala couldn’t help smiling. She felt at home, her weapons flowing gracefully between her targets. She repeated the same drills as the recruits, although she added an extra strike at the end.

Left mid-slash, right throat-slash, twist, cut, gut-like-a-pig, groin strike, repeat.

“KALA!” Narj’s voice screamed, “stick to the set drills. No changing.”

Left mid-slash, right throat-slash, twist, cut, gut-like-a-pig, groin strike, repeat.

“The change of flow allows for the extra strike,” Kala spoke, just as her mid-blade connected with the wooden groin before her. Out the corner of her eye, she caught Narj subconsciously dropping one hand low as she levered the blade from the training dummy.

Left mid-slash, right throat-slash, twist, cut, gut-like-a-pig, groin strike, repeat.

She continued the drill, watching the boys finish on upward gutting motion, instead of her downward motion, allowing her the extra groin strike. She felt Narj’s eyes boring in to the back of her head. But she repeated the drill, over and over, ignoring him.

Left mid-slash, right throat-slash, twist, cut, gut-like-a-pig, groin strike, repeat.

Sweat dripping off the end of her nose, she danced her blades over the dummy, sending small chips flying. Narj always said these drills were taught to him by her mother, a much-loved iconic figure in Tuulsa. A woman almost everyone in Tuulsa knew, expect for Kala. The people of Tuulsa worshipped her mother, the woman solely responsible for transforming the town from a struggling collection of buildings around a few mines, to a semi-prosperous town, where people moved to. The resident’s loved Kala as well, but she still felt accusing eyes, seventeen cycles after her mother died giving birth to her.

“STOP!” Narj yelled, clapping his hand once. “Kala, stick to the drill. Learn from me the way I learnt from your mother.” Kala’s jaw clenched at the mention of her mother.

“Why does she even train?” one of the recruits asked, “it’s not like she can be a guardsman. It’s guards-man, not guardswoman.”

“You know who her mother was, Sajin?” Narj asked the mouthy trainee, indicating Kala with a nod of his head.

“Yes, sir,” Sajin replied, “but that doesn’t mean she can fight. She can beat up a practice dummy, but can she handle a real warrior, like me.”

“Oh, really?” Narj grinned. “Very well, Sajin. You may prove your superiority to everyone here. Make a circle. Kala, in the centre.”

“Sure,” Kala moaned, tired of listening to another male crowing about how good he is.

“Change to wooden blades,” Narj instructed, indicating the wooden swords on the wall.

“Are you trying to protect her?” Sajin asked as he switched to a training weapon. “Why practice with those silly weapons if she can’t use them in a fight?”

“Actually,” Narj said, “I’m trying to protect you.” Sajin laughed as Kala grabbed the practice blades resembling her own, resuming her position in the middle of the circle. She looked around at the boys, Sajin smiling in delight at the ‘beating’ he believed they were about to dish out.

“Ready, Kala?” Narj asked, nodding his head at her.

“I guess,” she shrugged.

“Excellent,” Narj grinned. “BEGIN!” They attacked her together, their blades dancing around, striking out swiftly the way they’d been trained. Kala danced with them, turning each weapon away with a deft flick of her wrists. The boys quickly changed, alternating their attack patterns, testing out all the drills they’d learned. Kala noticed their attacks grew more aggressive the longer the dance continued. To balance the fight, she matched their power with grace, moving amongst them. She could see the confident smiles had changed to tight-lipped concentration, their frustration building as time passed, with none able to score a hit on her.

A smile grew on Kala’s face, feeling each attack coming even as the recruits came at her. She’d started sensing people’s intentions, good or bad, just after she passed thirteen cycles and received her first red flower. She could still see the pained expression on Narj’s face as he struggled to answer her questions about what the blood meant, so he’d called in a few guardsmen’s wives to discuss it with her.

During their talk, Kala began picking up on the women’s emotions, their intentions. Although she listened to each one talk about the changes her body would go through, Kala spent most of the conversation figuring out what was happening. Once she realized the emotions she felt belonged to the three women before her, she focused on the conversation more. Over the next week, she’d tested and confirmed she could read people’s intentions, teaching herself how to not be overwhelmed by them, especially in a large group. To master it, Kala visited the markets during their busiest times, until she had control.

When she tried explaining it to Narj, she’d sounded like a crazy person, Narj looking concerned while she talked. Frustrated, Kala demonstrated her ability by blindfolding herself and instructing Narj to attack her. Not only did Kala sense each of his punches coming, she also knew the exact moment Narj believed her. He trained her differently from then on, teaching her to use her senses, improving her awareness, especially during combat.

As she stood among the recruits now, her feelings extended out like a pair of arms waving about in the dark, she deflected another blow launched from behind, winking at the recruit as she pivoted, sending him spinning away, looking thoroughly confused. Flicking another two attacks away, Kala picked up on something, emotions too strong to be from the recruits, or from Narj. A sound, like a roaring crowd, filled her ears. As the noise reached it’s peak, almost too painful to hear, Kala felt the emotions behind the noise, wash over her, leaving her skin feeling like buckets of boiling water were dumped on her. Stunned, her senses recoiled inwards, protectively. For a moment, Kala stood motionless, her mind struggling to comprehend everything she’d just felt, the courtyard and recruits around her started spinning.

“You feel that?” she asked, right before a wooden blade cracked her in the temple, sending her to the ground.

“KALA!” she heard Narj shout, a large figure blocking out the sky above her.

“I’m okay,” Kala said, trying to sit up, the ground beneath her rocking back and forth. She Narj’s big hands hold her, helping her to her feet.

“Why’d you stop?” Narj asked, surrounded by curious faces. Sajin’s face appeared, unable to hide his smile.

“I knew she couldn’t handle training with us,” he laughed. “After everything I heard about her, she’s just a girl wanting to train with the boys.”

“Mind your tongue, Sajin,” Narj growled, “she’s as much right to train here as any of you. More even.”

“Okay,” Kala said, ”you think you’re better than me because you’re a boy? And you’ve been training for, what, seven moons? You train and train, but clearly you haven’t learnt much. Allow me to teach you something.” Kala got to her feet, wobbling for a moment, before bending down to pick up her training weapons. She stood straight, shooing Narj away and motioning for the boys to make a circle again.

“Kala,” Narj said, concern on his voice.

“I’m fine,” Kala waved him away.

“The other temple next,” Sajin grinned, bringing his blade up as he moved in to position. Narj looked at Kala. She nodded, motioning for him to step out of the circle.

“Ready?” he asked, taking a few steps past the boys

“Yes,” Kala replied.

“BEGIN!” Narj called out, the boys launching at her once again. Their attacks came, each one filled with confidence, even though she turned them away just like before.
Around and around the courtyard they moved, the sound of clacking as wood blocked wood, Sajin’s weapon kept swiping high, aiming for her other temple.

“Now, for your lesson,” Kala said, her defensive techniques increasing in speed. Kala, seeing they didn’t match her tempo, started tapping hands, fingers and forearms with the ends of her weapons. Not too hard, but enough to leave a mark.

Soon, the trainee’s stood around her empty handed, rubbing and shaking sore bod parts. She caught Sajin’s angry look, shaking his hand where she’d cracked him hard on the knuckle.

“I’ve been training since I was three, Sajin,” she smiled, “and know everything you’re learning every which way. And if you understood what Narj is teaching you, you’d realise it’s not about size, or ego. It’s about you, how you move, how you make your opponent move.”

“You don’t control me in a fight,” Sajin said, scooping up his weapon and coming at Kala, his intentions clear as day. Kala took two quick steps forward, pushing his weapon aside, using his own weapon to force his head back. With her free arm, she caught the back of Sajin’s knee. Twisting her torso, she pulled his knee forward, putting him off balance. With just a tap on his chest, Sajin toppled over, landing on his back.

As he lay prone on the ground, mouth open in disbelief, Kala moved in and tapped him softly on the temple. Kala felt him shifting through many emotions, from anger to confusion, to frustration then back to anger. Finally, his eyes opened wide in understanding.

“There you go,” she smiled. She offered her hand to help Sajin up, which he took. As she lifted him to his feet, she sensed something coming, another wave of emotion, filled with rage, approaching from the north. She braced herself, not prepared for the intensity of emotions. Her muscles tensing so tight, she started crushing Sajin’s hand.

After the wave passed, allowing her muscles to relax, Sajin snatched his hand from her strong grip.

Another wave, this one from the south, washed over her while still suffering the draining effects of the first wave. Kala dropped to one knee as second wave flooded her head with such hatred, all she could do was close her eyes and scream.

“KALA!” Narj appeared beside her, hand on her shoulder. “What’s happening? Talk to me.” As the flood of emotions drained away, Kala took deep breaths, trying to slow her racing heart. She moved slowly, her body aching from the extreme tension.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” she said between breaths, her head still spinning. When the courtyard stopped rotating, Kala opened her eyes. She caught Sajin looking at her, his expression one she’d seen many times before.

“Sure you're okay?” Narj asked.

“Yeah, fine now,” Kala sighed, her mind sorting through everything that’d just happened, trying to understand. “Narj, I need a word.”

“What is it?” Narj asked curiously.

“Over here,” Kala replied, moving over to the water bowl, to rinse off the dust and sweat after training.

“Right boys,” Narj said, looking at the recruits, “I want two by two drills of lower-upper attacks.” Kala heard them groan, having to work on one of the more physically demanding weapon drills.

“Seriously, what’s wrong with her?” a recruit asked.

“BEGIN!” Narj shouted, sending the recruits in to training mode again. Kala knew he wanted to distract them from asking questions.

Narj joined Kala by the bowl as she washed and dried herself, his voice low so the recruits couldn’t hear them, “So, what in the hells just happened?”

“I think something’s heading for Tuulsa,” she warned, using a cloth to clean her face, “something big. I’ve only ever felt like this once before, right before the market riots. But this, this felt bigger, much bigger.” She collected and sheathed her mid-blades, remembering how violent the riots were.

“What’s coming?” Narj asked, but Kala ignored him, heading out toward the main gate as she went over everything she’d felt.

“Kala, what’s coming?” Narj’s large hand grabbed her arm. She turned around, looking up at him.

“If I’m understanding it right,” Kala replied, “I think it’s a war.” Not waiting for Narj’s reaction, Kala twisted free of his grip and left, moving quickly.

“I need to get to the gate,” Kala said, heading out around the back of the courtyard. With many cycles of playing amongst the houses and businesses of Tuulsa, Kala knew the fastest way to the main gate would be over the rooftops. Behind the courtyard’s brick wall stood a short tree. Only one of a few in the housing areas. Kala used this tree to climb up to the rooftops. With most of the dwellings in Tuulsa close together, Kala always found rooftop hopping the fastest way to get around.

Turning northwest, Kala headed for the main gate, leaping and flipping over the small gaps between each building, using clotheslines as tightropes to make the between the larger gaps. She heard many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from people below that caught glimpses of her traveling.

The smell of fresh bread and cooked meat assaulted her nostrils when she left the housing section and entered the main market street. She caught glimpses of the colourful stall shades below as she skirted the edges, having to use all her willpower not to drop down for a quick snack.

Sumptuous aromas floating in the air had her mouth still watering as she descended to the ground when the rooftops ran out. Kicking up dust, Kala headed to the main gate, sidestepping people heading for the markets behind her. Rounding a corner, Kala bumped in to someone, a large someone she realised, wearing a decorative purple blanket as a makeshift-cloak.

Kala bounced backward, as if she’d ran in to a wall. She looked up, mainly because she’d never bumped in to anyone before, ever. The large figure, cradling a small white bundle in one arm, looked at her, even as they moved away. Kala saw bright purple eyes, staring at her from under that massive purple cloak, before turning and heading further in to Tuulsa. Kala kept watching, trying to understand the feelings emanating from the person as they disappeared amongst the crowd of people. Kala felt certain the feelings weren’t from the person, but from the bundle held in that large, leather-strapped arm.

A commotion turned her attention back toward the gate, seeing a mass of swords and pikes assembled at the great gate, opening out to the Barren Sea, a landscape normally devoid of life. Kala joined the assembled guardsmen, squeezing through them to the front of the group, to get a better look at the cloud of dust on the horizon. That much dust in the air indicated a large force, heading toward Tuulsa. Was this the war she felt coming?

“Oh, hey Kala,” someone greeted her. “Where’s Narj?”

“Still training the fodder,” Kala said, her eyes never leaving the cloud of dust.

“To the south!” a voice cried from the town’s defensive wall, “look to the south!” Kala followed the guardsmen further out, to get a clear look south. Another cloud of dust moved toward Tuulsa, closer than the army from the north.

“Are we being attacked?” a guardsman asked, confused. Tuulsa had long been considered the town nobody attacked because it had nothing valuable worth fighting over.

“It’s war,” Kala said, “right on our doorstep.” She closed her eyes, stretching her senses as far as possible. She focused on the north, her eyes wide when all she saw were shadows. But she sensed those shadows were heading for Tuulsa.

As the northern army grew closer, Kala heard familiar clicks as guardsmen pulled out their long-eyes, for a better look.

“Oh gods,” someone gasped, “it’s the witches!” Kala sensed panic spreading among the guardsmen. Opening her eyes, Kala snatched a long-eye from someone’s hand, who turned to protest, then realized who she was.

“Sorry,” she smiled at him, shrugging her shoulders, before lifting the long-eye to get a better look at the legendary witches of D’hoq. She’d heard tales of the army of warrior women, able to strike you down with magic, killing you without laying a hand on you.

Through the small eye piece, Kala got her first ever look at a real witch, although she didn’t see much of the witch. Their dark armour glistened in the sun. It covered most of their body, with their faces concealed by masks and large hoods.

Despite the heat, Kala saw the witches traveled on foot, skating across the ground gracefully, like the sand deer of the Arindial planes.

“Close the gate!” someone yelled, sending every guardsman around Kala in to action. Hands grabbed her, dragging her back past the gate line. Kala struggled, almost dropping the long-eye, in her attempt to escape. She wanted to see the witches again. Laughing, Kala broke free of the hands holding her, running back toward the diminishing entrance.

Her joy short-lived as guardsmen surrounded her, blocking her path to the entrance. Frustrated, Kala knew by the time she passed the guardsmen, the gate would already be closed. Annoyed, she stood watching the two large metal doors roll across the entrance, a loud clang reverberating as the doors met in the middle, sealing the only entrance to Tuulsa. She listened to the guardsmen, calling out instructions to each other, watching two great metal bars lowered down in to supports on the door. Kala smiled as the bars clinked in to place, knowing the rolling doors, the weird-shaped bars and the very stone wall were all Tuulsa defenses designed and built by her mother.

Sounds atop the guard wall brought Kala back to the moment, more guardsmen calling out. Kala saw many fingers pointing south. Wanting to be part of the battle, Kala made her way up the stone stairs to the watch wall. She found an empty spot on the wall, looking south toward the army. They were close enough for Kala to make out figures amongst the dust.

Kala reached out with her senses, even as she looked through the long-eye, to get a feel for the second army. The dust clouded many of them, hiding their numbers from view. Kala’s senses felt the rumbling of the earth, the ground shaking beneath them, signifying heavy beasts ridden by the southern army. But she felt nothing else, no man or beast. Yet, through the long-eye, she clearly saw an army of some kind, riding toward Tuulsa from the south.

“Who are you?” she whispered to herself, a little disturbed she couldn’t sense them. The stone beneath Kala’s feet rumbled as the southern army approached the town’s walls.

“Gandarians,” a voice called out, “, they’re Gandarians, riding drhinos!”
“Drhinos!” Kala couldn’t help but squeal with excitement, remembering the first description of a drhino she’d ever read, from a book titled ‘Strange Creatures of D’hoq’:

Drhinos are large canines, native to Gandar, but have been found in other regions of D'hoq. Although considered animals, drhinos are intelligent creatures, capable of independent thought and speech. They are commonly used as battle mounts by Gandarians, as the drhino is a heavy beast, with a solid head, capable of ramming through walls. The drhino also make amazing guards, as they sense danger long before it happens, allowing Gandarians to avoid confrontations.

That reminded Kala of an incident in the markets about eight cycles ago, a heated discussion between two market stallers who both sold exotic cloth. One swore he knew for a fact the witches of D’hoq preferred their armour crafted from drhino skin, the other laughing at the ridiculousness of such a claim. The discussion eventually turned violent, resulting in Narj dragging Kala away from the markets before she could get any of her favourite treats.

Kala waited on the wall, watching as the Gandarian army thundered up to, then past Tuulsa. Everyone stared as they got a close look at the Gandarian army, most having never seen a Gandarian or drhino before. Kala was disappointed when she realized the cloud of dust blocked the drhino’s from view. When she saw several pairs of purple eyes looking in her direction from the figures on backs of those drhino’s, Kala realized not all Gandarian’s were in that army.

Kala looked north, to the witch army, still some distance away. She watched as a large, unarmoured force of witches separated from the main group, covering the distance between them and the Gandarians quickly. Kala held her breath, waiting for the clashing of weapons as the two armies met, but it never came.
The witches, dressed in nothing more than lightweight clothing, swarmed through the Gandarian forces like it didn’t exist. Kala stared in awe as the almost naked warriors traveled like a wave through the opposing army, dropping Ganadarians and drhinos everywhere.

“See, see,” a guardsman called out, “they’re using magic. The Gandarians have no chance!” Kala looked around, many guardsmen heads nodding in agreement. She looked back at the battle, watching Gandarians and their mounts fall one by one, witches cutting them down mercilessly.

“They’re so powerful!”

“I wish I had the power to do that!”

“Oooh, down you go.” Kala listened to the guardsmen, totally confused. How could they possibly think it was magic, when Kala clearly saw them use weapons to slay the Gandarians. It dawned on her, she never saw any Gandarians lift their weapon to block or attack, knowing their mighty axe-hammers would destroy the lightly-clothed witches.

‘Oh gods,’ Kala realized, ‘they can’t see them!” She looked at all the faces along the wall, eagerly watching the Gandarian slaughter. ‘And if the Gandarians can’t see them, then the guardsmen can’t either. That’s why they think it’s magic.’

Kala turned back to the battle, not sure why only she saw them. She watched them move with swift purpose, finishing off any survivors. The armoured witches approached, moving slowly as their force finished off the last Gandarian. To Kala, there looked to be almost the same number of witches in armour as there were standing over the Gandarian corpses.

Kala recalled when she first sensed them, convinced she hadn’t sensed so many shadows. She watched the two groups converge but thought she must be going mad with what happened next.
As the two witch groups merged, the witches not wearing armour started disappearing. Kala, understandably confused, lifted the long-eye for a closer look, focusing on a single witch. She watched the battle-witch walk amongst her fellow warriors, ignoring everyone until she walked right up to an armoured witch and vanished.

Kala dropped the long-eye, unsure of what she’d just witnessed. She rubbed her eyes, before looking back out, following another witch. She too, walked in to an armoured witch and vanished. Kala watched this scene repeat over and over, until only the armoured witches remained. Some moved amongst Gandarian corpses, searching for something. Kala knew by the way they searched the bodies, they were after something specific. She also noted they didn’t appear interested in the drhinos, or their skin.

When the search appeared finished, the witches returning to the main group empty-handed, Kala saw one witch stomp the ground, arms waving furiously. Her voice carried through the air, but her words weren’t clear.

“Didn’t find it then,” Kala said to herself, “and the boss-witch is pissed.”

“What?” a guardsman asked, thinking Kala was talking to him.

“Nothing,” Kala smiled weakly, continuing to look through the long-eye, “just talking to myself.” Kala’s heart skipped a beat when one of the witches step up to the leader, then turn and point toward Tuulsa. Every witch head turned and looked in Kala’s direction. With a wave of her hand, the leader motioned her army forward, the witches of D’hoq heading for Tuulsa.

“Oh, dung.”

Alarm bells rang out, Kala jumping in surprise, having never heard them in her seventeen cycles in Tuulsa. Guardsmen scrambled to their assigned posts, flashing past Kala without a second glance. She hoped she could remain where she was, wanting to see the witches in person.

“Move it, Kala,” a voice barked, a strong hand gripping her arm. She turned, looking up in to the eyes of Mahk, Narj’s replacement as head guardsman. Kala craned her neck to see his face, his enormous frame blocking the sky from view, muscle flexing as he shoved her toward the stairs. “Only defenders up here, child. No space for gawkers!” Kala grunted indignantly, sure she could take him if she wanted to.

Heading for the stairs, still feeling Mahk’s eyes on her, Kala made her way down the first few steps. When he bellowed commands, berating guardsmen for their lack of discipline, she glanced back. His attention drawn elsewhere, Kala took the opportunity to leap up on to the main walk, keeping one eye on Mahk as she dashed between guardsmen to her favourite spot on the wall. She'd discovered it cycles ago, while playing 'hidden' with Narj. A small gap between a main gate pillar and the wall, not much space for most people but perfect for her tiny frame. Although she'd grown bigger since then, she could still squeeze in to the space. If she hugged the stone pillar, she’d remain almost invisible, especially to Mahk.

Smiling as she settled in to position, Kala looked out to find the witches already at the gate. So close now, Kala see their masked faces.

“We request entrance,” the witch Kala identified earlier as the leader, called out from under the hood in a strong female voice. Stepping slightly away from the others, the leader looked up. “We search for a thief hiding among you. Turn them over, or let us search your town, and we will leave peacefully.” Kala heard guardsmen shuffling about nervously at the witch’s words, the threat in her words clear to everyone who heard.

“Begging your pardon,” Kala heard Mahk respond, “we all witnessed you slay the Gandarians, so forgive us if we hesitate to let you through the gate in to our town.”

“You are the leader here?” the witch called out.

“Of the town guardsmen, yes. Our council are not here during this moon. But if they were, they would agree with my decision. We seek no quarrel with you, but cannot allow you in.”

“Then we have a problem,” the witch said forcefully, “for we must recover what has been stolen from us.”

“Perhaps,” Mahk spoke, seeing the other witches stirring, “if you describe what was taken, or the thief, we can find them for you?” The witch looked up, her hood tilting to the side.

“Very well, you have until the gate shadow reaches us.” The witch indicated the shadow of the gate pillar stretched out along the ground, resembling a pointing index finger. “The thief you seek, is a Gandarian. He should not be hard to find.”

“Thank you. I’ll organize a search and bring the Gandarian to you, if we find him.”

The witch bowed her head, moving back to speak with her army. Kala, wanting to hear their discussion, strained her senses as far as she could, trying to catch their words. Kala touched them, softly, expecting the soft moss-like feeling when she connected with another person. But when she touched the witch leader, the feeling of cold stone made her snap everything back sharply. The instant she touched the witches, every witch head snapped up, looking toward the wall.

Kala, shocked at how cold the leader felt inside, had already ducked behind the pillar. She sat hunched tightly in the small gap, her racing heart beat pounding in her ears the same way it raced the day Narj caught her stealing huffa bread from the baker in the market.

Although all the witch’s eyes turned on her, Kala felt certain she hadn’t been detected.

“What are they looking for?” Guardsmen all along the wall repeated the question nervously, confirming Kala’s suspicions the witches felt her touch. It took all her willpower to remain out of view behind the stone.

Watching the guardsmen closely, their chatter notified Kala the minute the witches returned to whatever conversation they’d previously been having. When a guardsman asked, “What are they doing now?”, Kala moved, snatching a glance over the wall to make sure no witches were looking in her direction. Sighing with relief, Kala moved back in to position, watching the witches take a seat around the leader, her eyes just peeking over the top of the stone. The leader who’d remained standing, watched the remaining witches form a circle around her. They sat, legs folded, hands clasped in their laps. Kala used the same pose during her own meditation, a pose she’d learnt from Narj.

“Begin!” the leader called out, turning to face the doorway, raising her hands high in the air.

Kala heard guardsmen along the wall calling out, “They’re casting a spell!” She sensed their awe and fear as the witches started a low chanting, their words too soft to hear.

Kala almost squealed when ghost of the leader, plus six other witches, split from their physical bodies and headed toward the gate. Kala smiled, their actions confirming her original idea the witches could separate from their bodies.

She studied the witch’s ghosts, noticing they differed greatly from their physical forms. They appeared as young women, maybe twenty to thirty cycles in age, wearing only basic under-wrappings, not the shiny witch armour. Their features were off, like badly painted images of the originals, their colour less vibrant. Plus, if Kala looked hard enough, she could almost see through them.

Kala also noticed they left no footprints wherever they stepped, nor threw up any dust covering the Barren Lands, a fact Kala realized she’d missed identifying during their slaughter of the Gandarians.

‘So, they are ghosts!’ Kala thought, eyes wide in disbelief. Judging by their previous battle, the ghosts could attack physical beings, keeping the physical forms at a safe distance.

Kala looked over at the leader’s physical form, her hands still in the air and her body swaying slightly. The witches around her, including those that also separated, sat swaying left to right in time with their sisters.

A loud bang on the metal doors made everyone, including Kala, jump.

“What sorcery is this?” came a voice from below, disbelief in their tone. “Why can we not pass through this? It’s just a door!”

“What do you mean?” Kala heard the leader’s strong feminine voice ask. The loud bang repeated, causing confusion amongst the guardsmen, as no guardsmen were near the doors and witches were too far away. Kala heard guardsmen arguing about the spell the witches were casting, making it difficult for Kala to listen to the ghostly witches talking.

“How is this possible?” the leader’s voice broke through the arguing guardsmen. Kala leaned out slightly, looking down at the witches. To Kala, they appeared completely surprised they couldn’t pass through the gate.

“What magic is this?” the first voice called out again, “this stone blocks us also.”

“Okay,” the leader spoke, “if we cannot go through, we go over.” Kala saw them move back, assessing the gate and surrounding stone. The leader, indicating the best point to climb, motioned the others to follow her, stepping over to the opposing pillar. Taking a braced position on the wall, the leader nodded to the rest of the witches. Like a circus troupe, Kala watched them build a ghostly ladder, climbing and standing on each other’s shoulders, until one witch’s hands reached over wall’s edge.

Kala, waiting for the highest witch to climb up and over, to then move to open the gate, stifled a cry of amazement as, starting from the leader at the bottom, each witch climbed up one by one until all seven stood on the walkway. Forgetting the guardsmen couldn’t see the witch ghosts, Kala waited for their reaction. The guardsmen did nothing, their eyes remained focused on the physical witch forms outside.

Kala drew her senses in tight, remaining still, hoping the witches didn’t notice her.

“Search the town,” the leader barked, “and find me the Gandarian traitor!” She pointed in different directions, then leapt from the wall, her short dark hair bouncing as she landed below. The other witches followed, all heading in different directions.

Kala moved carefully, keeping as much wall between her and the witch ghosts as possible. Peeking over the edge, she watched them spread out amongst the townspeople, searching for their Gandarian quarry. She noticed how they weaved through people, avoided any physical contact as though it might alert normal people to their presence. Creeping down the stairs, Kala kept her eye on the leader. She darted from cover to cover as best she could, caught by surprise when she almost ran in to Narj.

For a moment, his expression was blank as he stared at her, before recognition flooded his face.

“Kala, where’ve you been?” he puffed, clearly out of breath. “I’ve looking for you.”

“Not now, Narj,“ Kala said impatiently, moving to follow the leader, but he grabbed her arm.

“Where are you going?” he barked, trying to hold her still. With a twist, her arm was free. She took her eyes off the witch leader for a moment, to look at Narj.

“Everyone just watched a witch battle out there,” she indicated past the gates, “and they came to the gate, wanting to search the town for someone.”

“Witches, here? Why would they come here?” A look of panic flashed across his face. Kala saw it, wanting to ask him why the witches made him nervous. Before she could ask the question, a gloved hand grabbing Narj’s shoulder, spinning him with a mighty tug.

“Narj,” the guardsman cried out, using his other hand to slap Narj on the shoulder, “buddy, where’ve you been hiding? You missed all the fun.” Kala, seeing the chance to escape, stepped away quickly, turning to follow the witch leader, who’d disappeared. Frustrated, Kala ran down the street, checking every alley and side street, trying to locate the witch. Kala couldn’t find her. Throwing her original caution to the wind, Kala bolted around Tuulsa, looking everywhere. Behind market stalls, near the town’s water well and even down by the towns boar troughs at the farthest southern edge. Nothing. She couldn’t find the witch leader, or any of the other witches, anywhere.

Annoyed at Narj for delaying her long enough to lose sight of her quarry, Kala headed back to the courtyard, figuring he’d make his way back there when he realized she’d slipped past him. Passing through some older housing, too close to the smelly boar troughs for Kala's liking, she heard someone singing. Kala, not recognizing the singer or the song, something about two goats and a boar, stopped to listen. The lyrics were a little rude, but Kala enjoyed the melody of the tune, unlike anything she’d heard before.

Curious, she followed the song, leading her to a partly concealed, partly crumbled courtyard. Carefully, Kala peeked around the edge of a vine-covered wall, her eyes widening in disbelief. Squirming on it’s back, in the middle of the courtyard, was a drhino. Kala listened to it sing while it used the hard stone to scratch it's tough leathery hide. For a brief moment, it turned it’s enormous head, large dark eyes looking right at her. Kala froze, scared the drhino might get up and attack her. But it continued scratching itself on the firm ground.

Mesmerized at seeing this amazing creature up close, Kala couldn’t draw her eyes away. She looked it over from head to toes, seeing it’s four legs, each ending in a wide foot, with short stubby fingers like a hand. Their wide hand-feet allowing them to run over desert sand, even the softest, without sinking.

She giggled as it wriggled about on the stone, a moan of pleasure interrupting it’s song as it found that sweet spot.

It’s round, barrel-shaped, body rippled violently as the a cloud of dust filled the air from it’s movement, producing a sneeze from the drhino, it’s tiny trunk-like nose shaking furiously. It sniffed, then continued it’s song.

“Will you shut up,” a gruff voice called out, sending Kala back behind the wall. “We’ve betrayed our sacred duty to the witches for our new lord. They search for us, to kill us and all the while, you sing that ridiculous song. We might as well give ourselves up now!” A figure emerged from one of the houses, reaching out a large, leather-skinned arm and, with a fist resembling the drhino’s foot, backhanded the drhino. Kala saw the drhino’s enormous head shake, but the creature appeared unaffected by the blow.

Kala risked a look, instantly recognizing the figure she’d bumped in to earlier today, surprised to see he was the Gandarian the witches searched for.

“But he likes it,” the drhino mumbled happily. “And witches couldn’t find their own nose on their face.” It laughed at its own cleverness, a low rumbling sound like distant thunder during the wet moons. This brought on another thump from the Gandarian, keeping one arm at his side, cradling that same small bundle Kala saw him with in the marketplace.

“Quiet.” The Gandarian picked up a small basket, designed to carry whatever was in his other arm. As he opened the basket, the small blanket dropped, exposing a tiny hand. Tiny fingers flexed, which spurred the Gandarian in to making cooing noises, trying to relax the child. From the size of the hand, Kala guessed the baby must only be a few weeks old.

'Baby!' Kala’s jaw dropped, realizing the Gandarian stole a witch baby, and a male one at that, from the witches.

But witches are all female, aren’t they? she thought to herself. How is it possible the Gandarian had a male witch? Was he even a witch?

The scraping of metal against stone interrupted Kala’s thoughts. She snuck another peek at the Gandarian, who’d wrapped and secured a chain around the drhino, attaching the basket to the chain with pieces of leather cord. With the baby placed safely inside, the drhino rolled over, raising the basket in the air.

The drhino lifted it’s large head up, eye’s widening as it sniffed the air. Kala thought it might sneeze again.

“Time to disappear,” it mumbled, loud enough for the Gandarian to hear.

“How close?”

“The threat is very close.” Kala, watching the drhino, saw it’s eyes look over where she hid and smile.

“That’s so helpful,” the Gandarian groaned sarcastically, throwing his giant arms in the air. “And just so you know, we Gandarian women are much better mothers than witches!”

“Sure you are,” the drhino chuckled amusingly. Another whack to the side of the head, but Kala, still recovering from the shock the Gandarian was female, suspected the blows didn’t bother the drhino at all.

The Gandarian, looking around suspiciously, unwrapping the cloth from her head, continuing until she’d removed what appeared to be a large blanket, exposing her bald, tanned head. Kala caught another glimpse of those purple eyes, a stark contrast to the rough dark skin on her face, with a small, almost trunk-like, nose. Kala saw a resemblance between the Gandarian and the drhino, which might explain why the two races always worked together.

Throwing the blanket over her shoulder, the Gandarian knelt and began feeling around on the ground. She stopped, pushing down with all her weight, causing a large stone to tilt up on the other end.

“You did finish the escape tunnel, didn’t you?” she asked the drhino, motioning the stone slab. Kala watched the drhino roll on to it’s wide feet, stand up with a groan and move over, pushing down casually on a corner, as if it took no effort at all.

“Of course I did,” the drhino replied as the opposite corner of the slab lifted high in the air.

“Thanks,” the Gandarian grunted as she walked around and, taking a stance, took the weight of the heavy stone. Kala watched, confused, as the drhino shuffled down invisible stairs, disappearing underneath. With a last quick look around, the Gandarian grunted loudly as she shrugged her massive shoulders, throwing the stone up in the air, before leaping down in to the hole. The slab crashed back in to place, throwing dust in to the air.
Kala waited, unsure of what she’d just witnessed. When she nothing but the dust settle, she moved over to examine the large block of stone, reaching out with her senses gently. But she found nothing, felt nothing. They’d vanished.

Kala moved around the stone, looking for a way to lift it, when she became aware of someone watching her, someone behind her. Expecting Narj, she turned, staring in to the eyes of the ghost of the witch leader.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, before remembering nobody could see them. The witch’s face flashed surprise, then quickly changed to suspicion.

“It was you!” she called out accusingly. “You were on the wall earlier. We felt you!” Kala, thinking quickly, pretended not to hear the ghost, looking around the courtyard.

“I’m sorry you died so young, old friend. I’ll miss you so much.” Kala knelt, bursting in to tears as she pretended to cry for a lost friend. From her position, Kala glanced sideways through her fingers, the ghost still watching her suspiciously.

“Your majesty,” a woman called out, Kala trying to sneak a peek at the voice’s owner through her fake crying. She watched another ghost approach, bowing to the first ghost, “we’ve searched the town, but haven’t found the Gandarian.”

“Keep looking,” the royal witch replied, “we need him back. There hasn’t been a male born for three generations. We all need his spirit.”

“Yes, my queen,” the ghost bowed, turning and heading back toward the centre of Tuulsa. The queen’s eyes never left Kala during their talk, Kala remaining in her position of ‘mourning’, fighting every instinct to get up and run. Finally, the queen turned, as if to walk away, Kala covering her face to hide her smile, even as she pretended to cry.

The intensity of the queen’s emotions washed over Kala, filled with curiosity, suspicion and a hint of anger. Kala reacted, rolling sideways just as a ghostly blade struck the place she’d been moments ago. Continuing sideways, Kala rolled up on to her feet, one mid-blade drawn.

“I knew it,” the witch queen laughed, “you see us. Who are you?”

“Nobody,” Kala said, her mid-blade remaining at the ready, “just let me go and I’ll tell no-one I saw you.”

“Sorry young one, our secret is our power. If people believe we wield magic, they fear us. And anyone who knows the truth threatens our power.” The witch queen moved in, her ghost weapon attacking swift and precise. Her look of triumph turned to shock when Kala’s mid-blade blocked her attack.

“How can this be?” the queen asked, confused. “Only a spirit blade can stop a spirit blade!”

“Maybe I’m just high spirited,” Kala shrugged, not exactly sure why her weapon blocked the queen’s blade, but happy it did. The queen attacked again and again, but every blow met with Kala’s mid-blade.

“Are you even trying?” Kala asked, unable to help herself, having heard for years how amazing and terrifying witches were in battle. “Look, I’ll use my left hand. Maybe that’ll help.” The queen came again, clearly furious at Kala’s lack of respect, attacking over and over. Left, right, left, right, inside, outside, reverse, twist, left, twist. Kala blocked each attack easily, feeling the queen’s frustration build, anger and annoyance pulsing from the witch queen as her weapon skill proved no match for Kala.

“Very well,” the queen grimaced, stepping back with her sword pointed at Kala. She raised her left arm in the air, starting with an open hand, then snapping in to a fist.

“Um, okay,” Kala said, confused. “Is that a kind of dance move, or something?”

“Just wait little one, you’ll see.” Kala waited, wondering what the witch queen had done. A few minutes passed, with nothing happening.

“I’m sitting down,” Kala said, plonking herself on the ground, “if that’s okay?”

“It’s where lower classes belong in front of a queen,” the witch spoke.

“Oh,” Kala replied, “sorry, your majesty. May I sit down, your majesty?” Kala bowed as best she could while sitting down, which she felt wasn’t very graceful, or respectful. But the queen hadn’t earnt her respect, yet.

“Ah,” the queen grinned, “now you will learn your place.” Kala, sensing someone coming, got to her feet, drawing her second mid-blade.

“Huh?” was all she could manage when another ghost walked around the corner, identical to the one before her.

“So, she can see us?” the new witch queen asked, looking Kala up and down.

“She can,” the first one replied, “and she’s capable with that sword also.”

“We’ll see about that.” The witch queens advanced, weapons drawn, moving either side of Kala, to divide her attention. Kala did her best to keep one eye on each of them, ready for anything. Their attacks came impossibly fast, from many angles and were difficult to stop. But Kala knew how to handle herself, having trained almost daily for the last fourteen cycles.

Her mid-blades danced around her, meet each of their attacks, continually turning their ghostly weapons away.

“You show skill,” the second queen commented as the three continued their blade dance around the stony courtyard.

“Thanks,” Kala smiled, keeping up her ‘steel cage’ defense, creating a protective barrier with her weapons. “That means something, coming from a ghost warrior witch-queen twin.” As she talked, she realised something about the fight was off, like part of the battle was missing.

“We aren’t ghosts,” the first witch queen said, her blade sweeping in smooth arcs, like an artist waving a brush around a canvas, each stroke capable of removing Kala’s head. “We are projections of our physical form. Spirits, if you will.” The second witch queen came in low, Kala deflecting both weapons easily, their attacks reminding Kala of early training drills against Narj. That feeling of something out of place gnawed at her, letting the spirit weapons get closer than they should have.

“Witches project two spirits, not one?” Kala asked, ducking and spinning away from a simultaneous attack launched by the pair, “no wonder you’re so deadly.”

“Oh child,” the second queen chuckled as her weapon followed Kala, circling around and back, trying to slice from every angle, her twin attacking in a reverse pattern, “only I project two, like my mother before me. It’s that ability that makes me queen.”

“Oh,” Kala nodded her understanding while her mid-blades kept meeting both witch queen’s blades, keeping them away with well-placed wrist-flicks and twists, suddenly realising why the fight felt wrong. There was no sound to the battle, other than her own feet shuffling around on the stone. The spirit blades made no sound when they contacted hers. Kala found the silent battle a little disturbing.
Circling both shoulders, Kala forced both queen’s weapons away, allowing her to move back a step or two.

“It seems my other self spoke true earlier,” the second queen smiled, “your blade work is exceptional. You almost fight like a witch.”

“Wow, really? Thanks. I’ve been training almost every day, for at least fourteen cycles.”

“Impressive,” both queen spirits nodded heads at the same time, “and your training shows. Who trains you?” They’d halted their attack, stepping back, point of their blades on the ground.

“Narj,” Kala said flatly, as though his name explained everything.

“And who is that?” the queens shrugged.

“Oh, he’s the head guardsman, or was, until my mother started training him.” Kala felt her eye twitch involuntarily when she mentioned her mother.

“I see,” the queens spoke together, the pair smiling mischievously, “a little sensitive on your mother, are you? She prefers to train him, and lets him train you? Why doesn’t mommy train you, huh? Perhaps she feels you aren’t worth her time? Or maybe she just dislikes you?” Kala knew they were baiting her, trying to unbalance her before drawing her in to another blade dance. Drawing a deep breath, Kala calmed herself the way Narj taught her, centering her mind as she exhaled.

“Doubtful,” Kala frowned, “since she died when I was born. But she taught Narj everything she knew, so he’s teaching everything to me.” Never having thought too much about it before, Kala realised Narj was as close to her mother as she would ever get.

“Oh, pity” the queens said, “she sounded formidable. My own mother trained me, and most of the witches. She too has passed. But if your mother taught this Narj everything she knew, we would meet him. Your skill is an indication the knowledge your mother passed on is something to learn. And you are a testament to his ability to train warriors. We would benefit in learning from him.” Kala thought about it, although her instincts told her it was a bad idea, especially remembering Narj’s expression earlier after she’d mentioned the witches outside Tuulsa.

“I can ask, if he’ll meet you.” The queens looked at each other, their heads moving as though discussed the topic, although they made no sound.

“Very well,” both nodding their heads, “you shall ask him. We’ll return to ourself outside the gate, while our sisters continue the search for the Gandarian.”

“Why are you chasing h…” Kala caught herself before saying her, “..im? What did he steal from you?”

“Something precious,” the queens answered, “and dangerous. It must be returned, or great tragedy will follow if too many cycles pass.”

“It’s a bit cryptic, don’t you think?” Kala wanted to get more information from them, before giving up the Gandarian under their feet.

“We are witches, child, we work in mysterious ways.” The queens sheathed their weapons, making them disappear. “We will meet you and this Narj, at the gate. But hurry, the time we set fast approaches completion.”

“Great,” Kala grinned, sheathing her own weapons. “See you at the gate!” As Kala headed to the courtyard to speak with Narj, another witch ghost approached.

“Queen Rhubi,” the witch called out, passing Kala without a second glance, until Kala smiled and tilted her head in greeting. The witch stopped, stunned, staring at Kala as she walked away. Kala chuckled at the witch’s bewildered expression.

“Yes, Llania?” Kala heard both queens ask. Kala looked back, the witch still watching her.

“Begging your pardon, your majesty, but she looked at me!”

“Yes, it seems she can see and hear us,” the queens remarked, “and fight us.”

“In our spirit form?” the witch asked, her brow furrowing as Kala smiled at her. “Is she a witch?” Kala was too far away to hear the queen’s response. Turning her eyes forward, Kala quickened her pace, wanting to tell Narj everything that’d just transpired.

“Narj, Narj?” Kala bellowed entering the courtyard, going from room to room, until she found him in the main living room, sitting at the dining table, staring at a chest in front of him.

“Narj, you won’t believe what just happened,” Kala laughed excitedly.

“You saw them, didn’t you?” he asked sourly, “the witches I mean.”

“How did you know?” Kala moved right up to the edge of the table, wondering what the chest was about.

“She warned me,” he replied, “you know. She said if they ever came near Tuulsa, you’d see them.”

“Who said that?”

“Your mother, Kala. She knew it would happen one day.”

“Can you see them?” Kala asked, already aware the guardsmen hadn’t seen them during the slaughter, or when they climbed the wall in to Tuulsa.

“No Kala, I can’t. No one in Tuulsa can see them, except you.” Narj put his head in his hands, sagging in the chair as he let out a huge sigh.

“Why only me, Narj? Why no one else?” Kala looked at Narj, then the chest, wanting to ask about it. But she really wanted to know why only she could see the witches.

“What do you know of your mother?” Narj asked, looking up at her, placing his hands on the chest.

“Only what I’ve been told,” Kala answered, not sure what this had to do with her mother, Alani. “I’ve spoken to everyone that knew her, finding out the kind of person she was.”

“And what did you learn?” Narj’s asked, one eyebrow raised.

“I learned she was many things, including a warrior, a crafter and a trainer.” Kala indicated Narj as she finished talking.

“And your father? What do you know of him?”

“Well, nothing. Nobody seems to know anything about him. Who he was, where he lives or what kind of person he is. Not even you.” Kala shrugged her shoulders, feeling that same frustration rising after wasting many cycles searching for information on her father, who might still be alive.

“Well,” Narj started, “I may have held back some information on that.” Kala leapt around the table, grabbing Narj by his tunic.

“Held back, held back what?” she growled, her face so close to his, he saw intensity in her eyes. He brushed her hand away, taking a step back.

“I don’t know who he is,” Narj said, lifting his hands, defensively, “but I know what he is.”

“What he is?” Kala’s asked, throwing her arms up in frustration, “what does that even mean?”

“I’ll get to that, “Narj started, motioning for Kala to sit down, moving around the table away from her. “First, let me explain something. Even though we grew close, there was something your mother kept hidden from me. I thought it might be about another man so, after pressing her about it for moon after moon, she finally told me everything. About her life before Tuulsa, as a witch and everything that came after, including her plan to dethrone her daughter. Before you were born, however, she made me swear to never speak of any of it to you, unless the witches ever showed up outside the gate. And now they have, so I need to tell you everything.”

“Finally,” Kala moaned, having so many questions she need answers to. “So, who was my father?”

“I said I’ll get to that Kala,” Narj said sternly, as though he were instructing a guardsman trainee. “Tell me, did you sense any men out there, in the witch army?”

“I didn’t really check them all,” Kala said, “but from what I can tell, no. I didn’t get the feeling any of them were men. Not that men could pull of wearing that armour, it’s way too fashionable for a man to wear.”

“LISTEN!” Narj thumped the table, “this is important. The reason there are no male witches, is the women strip them of their spirit at a few weeks old. Something to do with a few men previously going crazy when they grew up, according to witch history. Now, the extracted spirit is shared amongst the women, as it keeps them young and strong. The male babies, now bezduha, or spiritless, are carried off to towns throughout D’hoq, to grow up. Of course, most are never quite right, what with having a part of themselves removed. But from the stories your mother told, we are all better off.”

“Don't think the boys would agree,” Kala said, trying to imagine what it felt like to have part of yourself ripped out, leaving a void that would never fill.

“Anyway,” Narj continued, “many cycles ago, during one of the periods of Novirast, a witch unknowingly used a male witch to breed.”

“Hold on, hold on,” Kala interjected, “what in the planes is ‘Novirast’?”

“Oh, sorry,” Narj apologised, “Novirast is a time when selected witches travel out and find suitable men to help them have children. Understand?”

“Got it, thanks,” Kala nodded, “they go out and get knocked up by random strangers. Seems like a great life choice.”

“It’s worked for them for ages,” Narj shrugged. “Now, as I was saying, one of the witches mated with a male witch, although she didn’t know at the time. During childbirth, she died, leaving behind a daughter. Her death caused great concern amongst the witches, as no witch had ever died during childbirth before. The leader of the witches thought it a freak occurrence, as did most, until the daughter grew up. While undergoing the studies and training all witches do, the girl projected two spirits instead of one. Due to this fact, and her amazing fighting prowess, she eventually became the leader of the witches, later changing her title to queen. Now, the former leader, holding no grudge with the queen, wanted to learn why her mother died and how she came to have two spirits. So she left, with the queen’s blessing, as she too sought answers for how she came to be.

“It took many moons before the witch finally found the town where the queen’s mother visited. It took another moon of scouring the large town before she located the queen’s father, shocked to learn he was, in fact, a bezduha. She returned home, holding a secret meeting with the queen, informing her of what she’d found, plus her own theory on why the queen projected two spirits.

"To prevent further loss of witches, new laws were added, forbidding witches to breed with bezduha, claiming any pairing would result in monstrously deformed children. To make it easier to identify a bezduha andprevent any more death, they started marking the males at birth.
"The truth was kept secret, as the queen and former leader thought it might cause ambition in some witches, sacrificing themselves to have a child that could make a claim for the throne. To prevent herself from ever revealing the truth, the former leader subjected herself to the stripping ceremony, becoming a bezduha and leaving the witches forever.”

“But what does any of this have to do with me?” Kala asked, intrigued, but hoping Narj got to the point soon.

“I’m getting to that,” Narj said, waving his hands about. “The new queen, having grown weary of hundreds of cycles of fighting wars, even though she remained physically young as witches do, wanted a child, so undertook Novirast, creating the first heir to the throne. Her daughter, who’d also inherited two spirits, would be the youngest witch to ever lead. Her skill with blade and spirit left no doubt in anyone’s mind, she’d make a great queen.
“Once her daughter became queen, the former queen underwent the ceremony to become bezduah, despite her daughter’s protests. But she wouldn’t be swayed, having lived too long. So, she left with few belongings, never to be seen again. Before she left though, she passed on one piece of information to her daughter, the new queen.”

“Which was?” Kala leant forward, caught up in this strange tale. Perhaps Rhubi is the queen Narj mentioned, having fought her two spirits earlier.

“What happens when a witch breeds with a male witch, and the real reason they mark the boys! She wanted to be absolutely certain it never happened again, laws or no laws.”

“Well, I guess that makes sense. Now, what can you tell me about my father.”

“In a moment,” Narj nodded, ignoring Kala’s glare, “I’m almost to that point. The new queen undertook a Novirast, to create her own heir. But instead of one child, she bore two, twins. The problem was, she had a both girl and a boy. And we know what happens to witch boys, don’t we?
“Anyway, they performed the bezduha ceremony on the boy, a very difficult thing for the queen to do, but their laws have purpose. The boy was taken, to live out his life somewhere, unknown even to the queen. Now, being the daughter of the queen, the young witch had two spirits like her mother, and proved a very capable warrior, like her mother. But where her mother was level headed and compassionate, the daughter proved the opposite, seeking out conflict to prove her strength, inciting more than a few clashes with Gandarians, Alusions. She even picked a fight with the Velarian hordes.”

“Really?” Kala couldn’t believe why anyone would willingly pick a fight with those blood-drinking monsters.

“Really,” Narj nodded. “The young heir lusted for battle, although she most definitely had the skill to back it up. The queen, concerned for her daughter, tried everything to settle her down, to curb that battle-lust, her reputation beginning to rival the legends of the two male witches allowed to mature.
“One night, tired of her mother’s lack of vision, the daughter and her followers took the throne, ousting the queen. The daughter challenged, and beat, her mother in combat for the right to rule. The new queen wanted to kill her mother, but even the new queen's followers refused to break their most sacred law, 'Never slay another witch'. Hence the reason boys are sent away instead of killed.”

“Well, that’s something I guess,” Kala said, not sure where Narj was headed.

“So,” Narj continued, “the new queen stripped her mother’s spirits, and the spirits of all her supporters and banished them all. Now, this is where you get involved. The ousted queen, still stinging at her daughter’s betrayal, organized a place for the new bezduha women to live before heading for a town she’d visited long ago, one she knew was as far away from the witches as possible. This brought her to a struggling mining town, full of mercenaries and miscreants, looking to steal anything of value from the townspeople. Now, the queen ruled the witches for more than a few hundred cycles, so she was both strong and wise. She’d learnt everything a warrior might learn, like warfare tactics and military deployment. But she also learnt other things too, like crafting, designing and training.” Kala’s eyes popped.

“No,” escaped her lips, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the table, engrossed in Narj’s tale.

“Yes,” Narj nodded, “Anali, former queen of the witches, set up a house in Tuulsa. She wanted to clean up the town, train people to fight like witches, in tactics and to teach the town to take care of itself. But, nobody wanted to learn from her, a woman, a stranger.”

“Except you?” Kala asked.

“Except me. At first though, I laughed at her like everyone else, not thinking such a small woman knew much about anything, let alone fighting. But, in jest, I challenged her, demanding when I beat her, she’d go on a date with me. My fellow guardsmen made great sport of it, constantly mocking me about showing interest in a woman claiming to be a fighter. But, I learnt she knew how to fight, and fight well. She bested me, three times with little effort. After our battle, we talked, where I learnt although she knew how to fight, she preferred not to. I respected her for that. And, even though she beat me, we still went on a date. We talked all night, for many nights, about everything, from why she was in Tuulsa to how to improve Tuulsa defensively, including building the town wall, the gate and even how to train the guardsmen. And over those many nights, we grew close.”

“Oh gods,” Kala cried, “you’re my father! You are, aren’t you?”

“I’d be honoured,” Narj puffed his chest, “but no. Anali searched and found another man to help bring you in to the world.”

“Finally,” Kala gripped the table anxiously, desperately wanting to know who her father was, “and who is he?”

“As I said earlier, I don’t know who is, I only know what he is.”

“Okay, so what is he?” Kala could barely contain herself.

"A bezduha.”

“Wait, what?” Kala slumped, her mind overloaded with too many emotions from what Narj just revealed. “My mother and father were witches? But that’s…….they can’t…….you said…….Oh gods! It’s why she died, isn’t it? Because he was a witch, like her! But why, why would she do that?” She couldn't stop the tears running down her cheeks, her mind reeling.

“Why did she do that, if she knew it would kill her? Why?” Kala’s body shaking as she wept for the mother she both loved and hated, but didn’t understand.

“Because,” Narj mumbled, struggling to hold back his own tears as he moved around the table and wrapped his big arms around Kala, “she needed you to be strong, even stronger than her.”

“For…for..what?” Kala managed through her tears.

“So you can be queen.” Kala tilted her head back, looking up at Narj.

“But that means,” she started.

“Yes,” Narj nodded, confirming her thoughts, “the witch queen outside, is your sister.”

“I have a sister,” Kala sobbed softly in to Narj’s massive shoulder, trying to wrap her head around everything.

September 13th, 2018, 02:43 PM
Okay, I apologise for the length of the first post, the spacing, plus all the mistakes I found while editing. OMG, I need an editor. :P

Anyway, I've edited spelling and grammar mistakes for most of this part. My original intention was to continue on, but so many silly errors. :(

As always, feel free to comment.

October 16th, 2018, 05:09 PM
The length of your post isn't the problem- people have posted much more than this.

But, in the future, if you are aware of a lot of mistakes in your post, don't post it. Fix it first.

October 17th, 2018, 09:30 PM
Aside from the editing work that needs doing, you clearly have a great imagination and have the potential to write some wonderful fantasy fiction going forward. As you're here for a critique however, I'll get to it :)

The beginning is very rocky for me. There is no scene set, 'the courtyard' could do with some description to help the reader become immersed in the scene with your character as she is sweating away training. Your main character, Kala, has little to no physical description throughout the entirety of the story.

"The sun's relentless heat beat down on Tuulsa's courtyard, its aging walls stood riddled with dried out vines which crept in and out of what little mortar still held it together. A vibrant heat wave danced across its still beautifully kept rose patterned floors, distorting the slender figure of a lone female who weaved across its surface with intent. Kala wiped a line of sweat from her brow, clearing her thick dark hair from her sight as she repeated her training skills."

Adding little details like this can help bring a lot more life to a scene. You don't need to step out of the story to add description, just little bits here and there to give the reader an idea of what you, the writer, has in your mind, allowing them to become engrossed in the pages.

When Kala finally leaves the market street for example, you give little images and descriptions that set the scene in the reader's mind. This was good.

Also when you describe the witches, it brings intrigue to the reader before we even know anything significant about them. Same with the Drhino description.

Descriptions bring your characters to life, it's important to remember to describe your main characters especially.

The story line itself was cool, I liked it when the witches sensed her looking at them, and the battle scene was well done. It was an enjoyable read.

For me personally it seemed a little YA - if that is your target though then you're on the right track.

I'll leave you with that, and remember, this is all just my opinion. Good luck with all of your writing endeavors.

October 18th, 2018, 01:46 PM
Thanks DSSA, I was just about to repost the updated version. I read through it a day after posting, shocked I had so many errors in it.

I've always been minimal with detail sometimes, but your words make sense. As has been pointed out previously, because I see (watch most of my stories) I tend to forget people dont see what I see.

I think I'll post the re-edit, up to 11198 words from the original 8088, plus I have a bit more after it.

I have so much more to tell in this story, so want to get everything right. Going to have to go back through and touch up the scenery as it were, so everyone get's an idea of who/what/where.

Thanks again for the critique.

October 18th, 2018, 02:13 PM
Okay, the next bit. I've edited, but possibly missed a few things. And apologies for the spacing, as Word doesn't bring it's line spacing, so the text looks closer together on the forum. :P
Enjoy, and critique. (Definitely more to come)

“You do,” Narj cooed, gently rubbing Kala’s back, “but she’s not to be trusted. She’s crazy and dangerous. Your mother designed this whole town’s defense to keep her and the witches out.”

“Didn’t work though,” Kala blubbered, “they came over the wall.”

“Over?” Narj asked, his rubbing motion stopped. Kala let go, sniffling as she stepped back to look up at Narj.

“Yeah,” Kala said, wiping her tears away, “I heard them say the doors and the stone blocked them. What’s that about?”

“Oh, you’re a clever one Anali” Narj grinned, almost clapping his hands together. “The minerals mined under Tuulsa, is used in everything we build, thanks to your mother. It’s in all the stones in the wall, everything forged in metal, including the doors. Even your mid-blades have traces of it. All of it, all made using Tuulsite. Anali knew what it could do to the witches, so she made sure it got used as part of everything.”

“But they still made it in.” That reminded Kala why she sought Narj out. “Oh, the queen is waiting at the gate for us.”

“What?” Narj looked confused. “Why is she waiting for us?”

“I may have mentioned something about you training me.” Kala’s eyes dropped to the floor. She felt Narj looking at her.

“Why were you talking about me, Kala?” Kala heard the concern in his voice.

“Well, I kinda’ fought her two spirits earlier, and we somehow got to talking about training. I said my mother trained you and you trained me. They want you to train them the way you trained me.”


“They tried to unbalance me too, but I stayed calm, just like you showed me.” Kala looked up, half-smiling, but Narj’s expression showing anything but approval.

“You fought two witch spirits, with your mid blades?” Narj asked, curiously, “and?”

“Well, they were impressed. And a little surprised.” Kala chuckled a little, remembering the look on her sister’s face when she blocked the spirit blade.

“I’ll bet. But, we need to deal with this. I mean, I need to deal with this.”

“Wait,” Kala said, not understanding, “I said we would meet her at the gate.”

“No, we don’t. You stay here and open this, I’ll meet with Rhubi.” Narj slid the chest along the table until it sat right in front of Kala.

“What’s in it?” she asked.

“Your mother left it for you,” Narj huffed indignantly, “and it’s for you and you alone to open.”

“Couldn’t open it, huh?” Kala managed a laugh.

“Nope,” Narj frowned. “She built it using an old witch design apparently, with something she called a ‘spirit lock’. Only someone with witch’s spirit can open it. And that ‘aint me.” Narj moved around the room, gathering pieces of his armour, then stopped, laying his armour down. He looked at Kala, her hands resting in front of the chest.

“No, I won’t dress for battle. This needs to be as peaceful as possible. Now don’t open that until I leave, okay?” He grabbed an over-jacket, flung it over his broad shoulders and left. Kala watched him walk out, trying not to think about the chest before her. When Narj disappeared, she turned her attention to the plain, ordinary wooden chest on the table. Although just made of wood, the lock was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. A disfigured face, with two conjoined circles for a mouth, room enough to fit two fingers. She realized the two small clear crystal eyes appeared to be staring at her.

Kala’s hand crept forward, two fingers extended, to open the lock. She snatched her hand back, nervous about what she might find in this chest, left by her mother, the former witch queen.
She stared at it, for what felt like eternity, not daring to open it. So many thoughts running through her mind about her mother, about the witches and about herself. Was she truly a witch like those gathered outside the gate, able to project her spirit to fight?

‘Spirits,’ she thought to herself, remembering both Anali and Rhubi projected two. Could she really have two? And how did you project them? Or even fight with them? Kala’s mind raced with so many questions she wouldn’t get answers. Or would she?

“Maybe I can’t ask my mother,” Kala said out loud, “but I can definitely ask my big sister.” Determined, Kala thrust two fingers in to the lock, feeling around inside for a button or lever to press. But, as her fingers reached the back of the lock, something clamped down, firmly holding her fingers in place. It wasn’t painful, just a little uncomfortable. A strange sensation followed, her skin felt as though it melted off her fingers, exposing the muscle and bone beneath. Kala felt no pain as the sensation continued, hearing the lock click four times, the lid of the chest popping open a fraction.

Kala removed her fingers when the mouth released it’s grip, seeing they were a little red in colour, but still covered in flesh. Nervously, Kala lifted the lid of the chest, revealing the contents inside. A pile of neatly folded black leather filled the chest. As Kala removed what appeared to be multiple pieces of the leather, she realized she held witch’s armour, probably her mothers. Kala ran her hand along the strange material, the outside soft and slightly warm to the touch. The inside, however, felt cold and rough. Flipping the material over, Kala could see tiny hairs lining the inside. It felt bizarre touching a piece of cloth that was both warm and cold at the same time. Perhaps the strange material was the secret to why the witches could travel in the hottest part of the day, seemingly unaffected by the heat.

Kala, curious to see if it fit her, started putting on her mother’s armour, working out each how each piece fit with the rest, adjusting her mid-blade sheathes to accommodate the chest piece. The last was the large hood which, once she had it on, covered her head and face almost completely. Having seen the witches in their armour, Kala knew her face, like theirs, would be invisible under the hood.
Kala looked in the chest for any more armour pieces, instead finding a book at the bottom. She picked it up, finding it bound in the same leather as the armour she wore, a strange symbol carved in the cover. Her finger traced the symbol, feeling the warmth of the leather on her hand. Opening the book to the first page, Kala wasn’t surprised to find a note addressed to her. She didn’t recognize the hand writing but knew it must be her mothers, considering the first line:

To my daughter, Kala

I wish I could live to see you grow but I must walk another path.
I know you’ll have many questions by the time you read this, but I fear you’ll never get all your answers. Hopefully, within these pages you’ll find enough answers, especially to the important questions.
Hopefully by now, Narj told you about your father and I, about you being a witch and about your sister, Rhubi. Just remember though, you may be a witch, like her, but you are not like her.
If Narj trained you like I planned, you’ll know everything the witches know regarding fighting, plus everything I taught Narj to counter it. Both your mind and body need to be in top condition to defeat your sister and replace her as queen. Why you might ask? Because, if she isn’t stopped, if she continues to wage war as she has since she became queen, all of D’hoq is in danger.
Now, the true power of a witch is in her duhovi, her spirit. With your father being bezduha, I suspect you will have three duhovi. The weapons I had crafted for you, your mid-blade swords, will be the difference that brings you victory over your sister. These weapons were constructed using Tuulsite, allowing them to be used by your physical self to battle against witch’s duhovi. Your own duhovi can also wield them if required. These weapons will make you a formidable warrior. And trust me, my daughter, you will need all your training to defeat Rhubi, as she is a most cunning adversary.
Kala took a breath, trying to absorb the overload of information her mother had written down. When she felt ready, Kala continued reading.
Within the pages of this book, I’ve documented as much of our history and rituals as possible, although it’s been many cycles since I was queen, and without renewing my duhovi from the bezduha ceremonies, my mind clouds with age.
If you haven’t already, your duhovi should spring forth on your eighteenth cycle, although for some, it can happen sooner, especially during intense emotional experiences.
Be sure to read the section on ‘Istina Samo’, as it’s most enlightening and prepares you for being more than one person. Study it well.

Kala curiously searched through the pages until she found the Istina Samo notes. Skimming through them, Kala thought about her eighteenth cycle, less than a moon away, realizing she had so much to learn.
Flicking back to the first page, Kala read the last part of Anali’s note:

I give my life for you, my sweet Kala, so you may know your true self and take your place as queen, returning the witches to the honourable warriors we’ve always been. The world needs balance, and your sister threatens that balance.

And remember, I love you my daughter, always.


Something splashed Kala’s fingers. Looking down, she saw her own tears drop on to the page in her hand. She wiped her face with the back of her leather-covered arm. Grabbing some cloth, she gently wiped her teardrops from the page, wanting to save the words her mother wrote.

“I love you my daughter, always.”

Kala read the words over and over, trying to imagine her mother speaking them to her. So focused on trying to imagine her mother’s voice, Kala didn’t sense the person approaching her until they stood in the doorway.

“Oh gods,” a man’s voice cried out, Kala jumping in surprise. Looking up to see a guardsman standing there, all colour drained from his face.

“It’s just me,” Kala laughed, pulling back the hood.

“That’s not funny,” the guardsman scowled, “I came here to get you and saw a witch. I’d thought they’d grabbed you or something.”

“Not likely,” Kala said. “So, why do you need me?”

“Not me, Narj. He’s trying to tell that witch boss he’s not interested in training them, but she doesn’t seem to be getting it.”

“Witch queen,” Kala corrected him.

“What?” the guardsman asked, confused.

“She’s the witch queen,” Kala said, “and probably isn’t used to being told no. We’d better go.”

“Not in that!” the guardsman said alarmingly, holding his hand up to block her exit from the room, “you’ll freak everyone out.”

“No time to wait,” Kala shrugged, more concerned with Narj’s negotiations with Rhubi. She grabbed the guardsman’s arm, tugging him forward before dragging it down, spinning the guardsman around. Kala stepped sideways, leaving her foot extended, tripping the guardsman over.

“Sorry,” she smiled as she took off for the main gate.

October 18th, 2018, 04:13 PM

Good use of body language. Personally I would like to see more dialogue tags that depict some of the world. As it is, you have made it quite dialogue and body language heavy so see if you can mix it up a bit. Also, Kara is your POV character. You can use free indirect speech from their prespective to stop it getting too samey early on. You do appear to do this well later.

With this: "She realized the two small clear crystal eyes appeared to be staring at her." You can but the "She realised the" and just write as is. As I say you have successfully placed us in Kara's POV so you don't need to keep reminding us. Just let us experience the story :)

As for the spacing, I know it's annoying that the para breaks in Word don't translate across but I would be inclined to just invest that little extra time to manually enter the line breaks. It's so hard to get through otherwise (for me anyway)

Some grammars:
“Over?” Narj asked, his rubbing motion stopped. [either put a . after "asked" or use "stopping" instead of stopped]
Kala looked up, half-smiling, but Narj’s expression showing anything but approval. ["showing" should be "showed"]
when the mouth released it’s grip [no ' for possessive of "it"]

Good luck anyway - and thanks for posting

November 19th, 2018, 10:24 AM
Check out the image at the bottom of this post of mine, has something I created to get an idea of the Witches. Thinking of making a few changes to the picture, but gives you an idea of them.