The Witches of D'hoq (start, currently 8088 words)

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    The Witches of D'hoq (start, currently 8088 words)

    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.


    The sun beat down on the courtyard, sweat dripping from Kala’s brow as she repeated her training drills, the mid-blade sword feeling slightly over-weighted in her right hand.
    Lean left, slash, lean right, slash, twist and block, swing up to counter, down to slice, repeat.
    Kala knew the legend of her town, Tuulsa, renowned for dry, scorching weather seven moons out of every cycle. The harshness driving away all but the strongest, or most stubborn. Kala always wondered which category she fit in to.
    Lean left, slash, lean right, slash, twist and block, swing up to counter, down to slice, repeat.
    Probably a little of both,’ 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,” boomed the voice of Narj, her trainer, 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, quickly scanning the courtyard. It puzzled her why Narj always yelled so loud when she was the only one here.
    “Begin!” his voice cut through her thoughts, spurring her in to motion. Drawing her second mid-blade from it’s sheath on her back, Kala moved sideways until she stood between a pair of wooden dummies, 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 flowed between her targets, repeating her drills, adding her own 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 your set drills. Your mother asked me to train you exactly the same way she trained me. There is no adding to the drills.”
    Left mid-slash, right throat-slash, twist, cut, gut-like-a-pig, groin strike, repeat.
    “The flow allows for the last strike,” Kala spoke through gritted teeth at the mention of her mother, just as her mid-blade connected with the wooden groin before her. “Besides, she’s not here to train me herself”. Out of 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 for another few minutes, sweat dripping from the end of her nose, working out the anger toward the woman so many people in Tuulsa loved, this iconic figure she’d never known. The people of Tuulsa loved her as well, yet there were always accusing eyes wherever she went, seventeen cycles after her mother passed giving birth to her.
    A chill came over Kala, halting her attack mid-strike. Standing up, her tilted head sideways. She wasn’t listening for anything, as many thought when she stood that way, she was feeling.
    “WHA…?” Narj began to ask, but her hand came up, pointing her mid-blade toward him, silencing him. Kala knew he’d punish her for her lack of insubordination later, with some painful menial labour, designed to remind her he was still the trainer, despite her skill. At that moment, she didn’t care. She felt the chill again, something brewing east of Tuulsa, something big.
    “Something’s coming,” she said, sheathing her mid-blades and running over to the water bowl, quickly washing off the layer of sweat she’d worked up, Narj yelled at her to continue training. She ignored him, drying herself and heading out. Narj
    Kala left the courtyard, moving quickly, zigzagging through the streets, kicking up dust as she sidestepped traders through the market streets, ducking under people’s laundry hung between buildings, making her way down to the main gates. She bumped in to someone, a large someone, covered in a decorative purple blanket, the person cradling a small white bundle in one arm.
    Kala halted, mainly because she’d never bumped in to anyone before, ever. The person turned to look at her, even as they kept moving away, looking at her with purple eyes, staring out from under a massive cloak, before turning and heading deeper in to Tuulsa. Kala kept watching, a strange feeling surrounding the bundle held in those large, leather-strapped arms.
    A commotion turned her attention back toward the gate. She saw a mass of swords and pikes assembled in the great open gate to Tuulsa, opening out to the Barren Sea, a landscape normally devoid of life.
    Kala sensed life out there now. A cloud of dust on the horizon indicating a large force, an army of some kind, traveling south. Although Kala sensed them, they were too far away to see clearly.
    Offering apologies, Kala squeezed through the assembled guardsmen, hoping for a better look. Someone pointed out another cloud of dust, this one to the south. Kala felt the ground rumbling as another army headed north.
    “What is it?” a guardsman asked nobody-in-particular.
    “Two armies about to fight,” Kala said. She reached out with her senses, extending them as far as she could. She focused on the army from the north, her eyes wide as she caught glimpses of shadows, moving fast, heading for the southern army.
    As the northern army grew closer, Kala heard familiar clicks as a few guardsmen pulled out their long-eyes, for a better look.
    “Oh gods,” someone gasped, “it’s the witches!” Kala sense the panic in the guardsmen. Kala snatched a long-eye from someone, who turned to protest, then realized who she was. She smiled at him, shrugging her shoulders, before lifting the long-eye to get a better look at the legendary witches. She’d heard tales of the witches of D’hoq, a tribe 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 real witch. They wore dark glistening leather armour, which covered much of their body, faces concealed by masks with hoods to both conceal the rest of their faces and to shelter them from the unforgiving sun. Despite the heat out there, Kala saw they traveled on foot, skating across the ground gracefully, like the sand deer of the Arindial planes.
    Hands grabbed Kala’s shoulders, yanking her backwards, past the gate line. Kala struggled, almost dropping the long-eye, in her attempt to go out again. She wanted to see the witches again. She broke free, laughing as she headed out. Her victory short-lived as more hands grabbed her, pulling her away from the entrance. Frustrated, Kala ceased her attempts to escape, watching the two large metal doors roll across the opening, a loud clanging reverberating around her as the doors met in the middle, sealing the entrance. 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 couldn’t help but smile as the bars clinked in to place, knowing the rolling doors, the weird-shaped bars and the stone wall were all Tuulsa defenses designed and built by her mother.
    Sounds atop the guard wall brought Kala back to the moment, guardsmen calling out. Kala saw many fingers pointing at something outside. Not wanting to miss the upcoming battle, Kala made her way up the stone stairs to the watch wall. She found a spot with a great view, looking through the long-eye to where everyone pointed, the army from the south.
    Kala reached out with her senses, even as she looked through the long-eye, trying to feel the second army. Their dust clouded them, hiding them from view. Kala’s senses felt the rumbling of the earth, shaking the ground beneath them, signifying heavy beasts ridden by the southern army. But she felt nothing else, sensed no man or beast. Yet, through the long-eye, she clearly saw an army of some kind, riding toward the army from the north.
    “Anyone know who the southern army is?” she called out, the emptiness a little disturbing. The low rumbling in the ground from whatever beasts they rode, now shook the ground so hard, the stone beneath her feet shook.
    “Gandarians, I think,” a voice called out. “And they’re riding drhinos.”
    “I’d love to see a drhino!” Kala squealed excitedly, remembering the first description of a drhino she’d read in a book:
    Drhinos are large, canines, native to Gandar. Although considered animal, drhinos are intelligent animals, capable of speech. They are 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.
    Kala also recalled an incident in the markets about eight cycles ago, a heated discussion between two market stallers who both sold 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 the claim. The discussion turned violent, resulting in Narj dragging Kala back to the courtyard before she could get any of her favourite treats.
    Probably why they’re attacking each other know,’ she thought. The Gandarians for revenge, the witches for new clothes.

    Kala and the Tuulsa guardsmen manning the watch wall, waited with baited breath, as the two armies approached each other. Having never witnessed a real battle before, Kala wondered how loud the battle would be.
    Through the long-eye, she saw almost two thirds of the witch’s entire force separate and surge ahead. Kala waited for the clashing of weapons, but it never came.
    The witch army, dressed in nothing more than lightweight cloth, 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 nodding their heads 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 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 toward the battle, not sure why only she saw them. They moved about, with swift purpose, finishing off any survivors. North of the massacre, the remaining witch force approached, although to Kala’s eyes, there looked to be almost the same number of witches in reserve, dressed in armour, as there were witches in the battle.
    Kala recalled when she first sensed them, knowing there hadn’t been so many shadows. She watched the two groups mingle together, but couldn’t understand what happened next. Kala thought she must be going mad.
    The two groups merged together, the number of witches decreasing as all the witches from the battle started disappearing. Kala, understandably confused, adjusted the long-eye so she could focus fully on a single witch. She watched the battle-witch walk her fellow warriors, ignoring everytone 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 to the battle field, 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 out amongst Gandarian corpses, searching for something. Kala knew by the way they searched the bodies, they searched for 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.
    “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 moved next 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 at her. She hoped she could remain where she was, wanting to see the witches up close.
    “Move it,” a voice barked, a strong hand griping her arm. She turned, looking up in to the eyes of Mahk, the head guardsman that replaced Narj. Kala craned her neck to see his face, his enormous frame blocking the sky from view, his 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.
    Cycles ago, she’d found a small gap between a main gate pillar and the wall, perfect for her tiny frame. Although, many cycles had passed since then, she could still squeeze in to it. 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 the battlefield, surprised to find in the time it took her to move from her original position on the wall to her spot, the witches covered most of the distance to the gates. They were close enough, Kala didn’t need the long-eye to see their masked faces.

    “We request entrance,” the witch Kala had identified as the leader, called out. 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, her underlying tone threatening.
    “Begging your pardon,” Kala heard Mahk respond, “we all witnessed you slay the Gandarians, so forgive us if we hesitate to let you through our gate.”
    “You are the leader here?” the witch called out.
    “Of the guardsmen, yes. Our council are not here this moon. But if they were, they would agree with my decision. We seek no quarrel with you, witches, but cannot allow you in.”
    “Then we have a problem,” the witch said, a little 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 head tilting a little to the side, as if pondering the idea.
    “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. “You seek 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, then moved back and spoke with her army. Kala strained her senses as far as she could, trying to catch their discussion. Kala touched them, softly, expecting to find soft moss when her senses touched another person. But when she touched cold stone, she withdrew quickly, as every witch head snapped up, looking in her direction. She’d already ducked behind the pillar, losing sight of the witches, heart beat pounding in her ears the same way it had when Narj caught her stealing huffa bread from the baker in the market.
    Although she’d felt all the witch’s eyes on her, Kala hoping they hadn’t spotted her.
    “What are they looking for?” Guardsmen all along the wall repeated the question, 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 commented the witches were gathering in a circle, Kala moved, snatching a glance to make sure no witches weren’t looking for her. Breathing easier, Kala moved back in to position, watching the witches take a seat around the leader. The leader, who remained standing, moved in to the centre of the circle. The seated witches sat with their legs folded, hands clasped in their laps, the pose like Kala’s own meditation pose.
    “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 using magic!” She could see all the guardsmen were clearly frightened, plus a little awed, at the chance to witness magic.
    Kala almost squealed when the leader, plus six other witches, separated from their physical bodies and started toward the gate. Kala smiled, her belief about the witches separating themselves in two confirmed.
    She looked at the witch ghosts, noticing some differences between them and their physical forms. They wore only basic clothes, almost underwraps, instead of the witch armour. They also appeared slightly off, like a painted image of the original, but duller in colour and a little transparent.
    Where they stepped, they left no footprints, nor disturbed the dust on the ground.
    “Their ghosts!” Kala thought, eyes wide in disbelief, spirit-like avatars of the witches, able to separate from the physical form and move about. Kala looked over at the physical form of the leader, her hands still in the air, her body swaying slightly. The witches around her, including those that also separated, sat swaying left to right in time with the rest of the witches.
    A loud bang on the metal doors made everyone, including Kala, jump.
    “What is this sorcery?” came a voice from below, disbelief in her tone. “Why can we not pass through this? It’s just a door!”
    “What do you mean?” Kala heard the leader’s strong 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, “their stone blocks us also.”
    “If we cannot go through,” the leader spoke, “we go up.” 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, stifling 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.
    Kala, forgetting the guardsmen couldn’t see the witch spirits, waited for a reaction from the guardsmen, but 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!” 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 they avoided physical contact with everyone, weaving in and out of people 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 been running everywhere 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 hisface. 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 left and right, trying to locate the leader. 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 the witch leader, Kala headed toward the courtyard, figuring he’d head back there once he realized she’d slipped past him.
    Kala passed through some older housing areas near the smelly boar troughs, muttering to herself about how to punish Narj, when she heard 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, as it was unlike anything she’d heard in Tuulsa.
    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 as it used the hard stone to scratch the leathery skin covering it’s body. 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 in real life, Kala couldn’t draw her eyes away. She looked at it’s four legs, each ending in a wide foot, with short stubby fingers like a hand. Their wide hand-feet allowed 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, wrapped in tough leathery hide, rippled violently as 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 voice called out, sending Kala back behind the wall. “They search for us 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. This brought on another thump from the Gandarian, keeping one arm at it’s side, cradling that same small bundle Kala saw them with in the marketplace.
    “Quiet.” The Gandarian picked up a small basket, designed to carry whatever was in the 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.
    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, lifting 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 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 a little shocked the Gandarian was female, suspected the blows didn’t bother the drhino at all.
    The Gandarian, looking around suspiciously, unwrapped the cloth from her head, continuing until she’d removed the large blanket, exposing her bald, tanned head. Kala caught another glimpse of those purple eyes, a stark contrast to the darkened 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 used her hands to feel around on the ground. She stopped, pushing down with all her weight, causing a large stone to tilt up on the other end.
    “I could use some help,” she said to 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 were no effort at all. 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 walked down invisible stairs, disappearing underneath. With a last quick look around, the Gandarian 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 puffs of dust in the air.
    Kala waited, unsure of what she’d just witnessed. When nothing happened, except the dust settling, she moved quietly 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 her senses lit up. Something behind her. 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 cried for a lost friend. From her position, Kala glanced sideways while pretending to cry, but the ghost didn’t appear fooled. Kala kept up the tears, watching as the ghost turned, finally appearing to lose interest. She moved, as if to walk away.
    Kala rolled sideways as a blade struck the stone where she’d just been. She continued sideways up on to her feet, one mid-blade drawn.
    “I knew it,” the witch leader laughed, “you do see us. But it doesn’t help you.”
    “Let me go,” Kala said, her mid-blade remaining at the ready, “I’ll tell no-one I saw you.”
    “Sorry, our secret is our power. If people think we’re magic, they bow to us. And anyone who knows otherwise threatens that.” The witch moved in, attacking swiftly with her ghost weapon. Her look of triumph turned to shock when Kala’s mid-blade blocked her attack.
    “How can this be?” the ghost asked, confused. “Only a spirit blade can stop a spirit blade!”
    “Maybe I’m just high spirited,” Kala shrugged, unsure why her weapon could block the witch’s blade. The witch ghost attacked again, but every blow met with a mid-blade block.
    “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 witch ghost came again, furious at the contempt Kala showed her, attacking over and over. Left, right, left, right, inside, outside, reverse, twist, left, twist. Kala blocked each attack, easily. The witch’s ghost fumed with anger, her weapon skill proving no match for Kala.
    “Very well,” the witch leader grinned, stepping back, her sword pointed at Kala. The ghost’s arm raised in the air, starting with an open hand, then snapped 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 leader 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, not realizing the witch wasn’t just the leader, she was their queen. “Sorry, your majesty.” Kala bowed as best she could while sitting down, which she felt wasn’t very graceful, or respectful. But the witch queen hadn’t earnt her respect yet.
    “Ah,” the witch 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 managed to say, when another ghost walked around the corner, identical to the one in front of 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 not bad with that sword either.”
    “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 almost impossible to stop. But Kala started training after her third cycle celebration, something planned by her mother before her birth, according to Narj.
    Her mid-blades danced around her, meet each of their attacks, continually turning their ghostly weapons away.
    “You have some skill,” the second witch queen commented as the three continued their blade dance around the courtyard.
    “Thanks,” Kala smiled, although something felt off about the fight, like something was missing. She kept up her ‘steel cage’ defense, creating a protective barrier with her weapons. “That means something, coming from a ghost warrior twin.”
    “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 reminded 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 sighed 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, realising why the fight felt wrong. Although she fought weapon on weapon, the spirit blades made no sound when they contacted hers, something she found a little disturbing. Rotating her arms, 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 was all that was required.
    “And who is that?” the queens shrugged.
    “He’s the head guardsman, or was, until my mother started training him.” Kala’s felt her eye twitch involuntarily when she mentioned her mother.
    “Oh,” the queens spoke together, the pair smiling mischievously, “a little sensitive on your mother, are you? She trains him, and he trains 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.
    Kala drew a deep breath, calming herself as Narj taught her, centering her mind.
    “Doubtful,” Kala frowned, “since she died when I was born. But she taught Narj everything she knew, so he’s been 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 were outside Tuulsa.
    “I can ask, if he’ll meet you.” The queens appeared to be discussing something, although they made no sound
    “Very well,” both nodding their heads, “you shall ask him. We’ll return to ourself, 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 her information of the Gandarian under their feet.
    “We are witches, child, we work in mysterious ways.” The queens sheathed their weapons, which vanished from sight. “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’s ghost approached.
    “Queen Rhubi,” the witch called out, walking past Kala without a second glance, until Kala smiled and tilted her head slightly 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 just 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 heard the queens reply but was too far away to hear clearly enough. 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, looking 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, letting out a big sigh.
    “Why only me, Narj? Why can’t anyone else see them?” Kala looked at Narj, then the chest, wanting to ask about it. But she really wanted to know why she alone saw 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. A warrior, a crafter and a trainer.” Kala indicated Narj as she finished talking.
    “And your father? What do you know of him?”
    “Nothing. Nobody knows anything about him. Who he is, where he lives or what type of person he is. Not even you.” Kala shrugged her shoulders, that feeling of frustration rising after wasting many cycles trying to learn about 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?”
    “Your father, was a witch,” Narj explained, “a male witch.”
    “There are no male witches,” she said, looking bewildered, “only females. I should know, I saw their army today. There’s no men at all.”
    “That’s because they don’t grow up as witches,” Narj sighed, clearly not explaining himself very well. He motioned Kala to sit down, moving around the table away from her. “Your mother told me everything about her life as a witch, but swore me to never speak of any of it to you, unless the witches showed up. And now they have, so I need to tell you everything.”
    “That my father was a witch,” Kala asked, realising that information explained many things about her.
    “For starters,” Narj stuttered, “but there’s so much more.”
    “Oh, this ought to be great,” Kala groaned, rolling her eyes.
    “LISTEN!” Narj thumped the table, “this is important. The quick version of why there are no male witches, is they are stripped of their spirit when they are a few weeks old. Something to do with them going crazy when they grow up, according to witch laws. Now, the spirit is shared among the female witches, to keep them young and strong. The babies, now bezduha, or spiritless, are taken away and randomly placed in towns to grow up. Of course, they’re never quite right, what with having a part of themselves removed. But from the stories your mother told, it’s better for everyone.”
    “Not for the boys I’d say,” Kala said, trying to imagine what it felt like to have part of yourself stripped away, leaving a hole that would probably 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 nobody knew at the time. She died during childbirth, leaving behind a daughter. Her death caused great concern, as no witch had ever died during childbirth before. The leader of the witches thought it just 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 had no problem with the queen, but wanted to learn how she’d come to have two spirits. She left, with the queen’s blessing, as the queen also wanted to learn how she came to be.
    “The witch travelled, locating the town where the queen’s mother had stayed, eventually locating the queen’s father, only to learn he was a bezduha. She returned home, holding a secret meeting with the queen, informing her of what she’d found and her explanation for the queen’s two spirits. To prevent further loss of witches, the pair added new laws, forbidding the breeding of witches with any bezduah, because any pairing would result in monstrously deformed children. They also felt marking all males at birth would prevent this mistake from repeating. The truth was kept secret, as the queen and former leader thought it might cause unrest amongst the witches, everyone wanting their child to become queen. As was witch tradition, the former leader underwent the ceremony, becoming bezduah and leaving the witches forever.”
    “And what does any of this have to do with me?” Kala was intrigued, yet hoped Narj got to the point soon.
    “I’m getting to that,” Narj said, waving his hands about. “The new queen, having grown weary of all the fighting and wars over hundreds of cycles, even though she remained physically young, undertook Novirast, resulting in the first heir to the throne. Her daughter, who’d also inherited the ability to project 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 witches hold strong to their laws. 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 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 one Novirast, but had two children, twins. The problem was, she had a boy and a girl. And we know what happens to witch boys, don’t we.
    “Anyway, they performed the bezduah ceremony on the boy, a very difficult thing for the queen to do, but their laws have purpose. The boy was taken away, to live out his life somewhere. 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 as her mother was level headed and compassionate, her daughter was the opposite, searching for conflict, inciting more than a few clashes with Gandarians, Alusions and even picking a fight the Velarian hordes. The young heir lusted for battle, with the skill to back it up. The queen tried to everything to settle her down, to curb that lust, her reputation rivalling the legends of the few male witches allowed to mature.
    “One night, tired of the queen’s lack of vision, the daughter and her followers took the throne, ousting the queen. The daughter, defeating her mother in combat for the right to rule, wanted to kill her, but every one of her followers refused to break their most sacred law, never slay your own. Hence the reason boys are stripped of power then sent away.”
    “Well, that’s something I guess,” Kala said, not sure where Narj was headed.
    “So,” Narj continued, “the new queen stripped her mother of her spirits, plus any witch that didn’t support the new queen, and sent them on their way. Now, this is where you get involved. The ousted queen, still hurt by her daughter’s betrayal, heads for a town as far from the witches as possible, bringing her to Tuulsa. Now, she ruled as queen for a few hundred cycles, so learnt many things, including warfare tactics, military deployment and other things a warrior might learn, But she learnt many other things too, like crafting, designing and training.” Kala’s eyes popped.
    “No,” escaped her lips.
    “Yes,” Narj nodded, “Anali, former queen of the witches, set up a house in Tuulsa. She wanted to train people in witch-weaponry, in tactics, to defend the town that had been so overrun with criminals previously. But nobody wanted to learn from a woman.”
    “Except you?” Kala asked.
    “Except me. At first, I laughed at her, like everyone else, not thinking someone so small knew much about fighting. But, as a jest, I said I’d fight her. When I won, she’d go on a date with me. My guardsmen made great sport of it, constantly mocking me. But after our fight, I learned she knew how to fight but chose not to. I respected her. And, even though she beat me, she still went on the date with me.”
    “Oh god,” Kala cried, “you’re my father. You are, aren’t you?”
    “I’d be proud to be your father,” Narj said, his chest puffing out, “but no. Alani, your mother found another man to help bring you in to the world.”
    “And who is he?” Kala gripped the table tightly, desperately wanting to know who her father was. “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 bezduah.”
    “What? No! My mother and father were witches? Oh my god, that’s why she died. Because he was a witch, like her! But why, why did she do that?” Tears ran down her cheeks, her mind reeling at the information she’d just learned.
    “Why did she do that, if she knew it would kill her? Why?” The tears flowed freely, her body shaking as she wept for her mother.
    “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.”
    “For…for..what?” Kala cried.
    “So you can become queen, of the witches.” Kala tilted her head back, looking up at Narj.
    “But that means,” she started.
    “Yes,” Narj nodded, confirming her thoughts, “the witch queen is your sister.”
    “I have a sister,” Kala sobbed softly in to Narj’s massive shoulder, trying to wrap her head around it all.
    Last edited by MadMickyG; September 13th, 2018 at 02:41 PM.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  2. #2
    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.

    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.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

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