Minerva rolled her eyes and stood up. She patted down her thick dress and straightened her Witches hat.
"Damn. I was hoping to report in about the battle of Colonnade pass."
"Did'ja win missy?" Asked the man.
"Yes. Yes, we won the battle. But now I'm thinking we lost the war."
"Ere!? Donal' if we can't go int't mountains, where're we goin'?"
The man looked downcast. "I don't know Lillybet'. Along't coast I suppose?" He looked at Minerva. "You could come wit' missy?"
She shook her head. "I think I need to see the damage first. I will catch up."
She rubbed her eyes. There was a man in front of her. Covered in mud and grime. Behind him was a cart with a woman and a very tired looking Donkey.
"No, no. I'm fine. You're not headed into the mountains I hope?"
"Yerp! That's where'we're headin'. Don't want'a be anywh're near thar city. Tis'been overrun it'as."
That woke her up.
"What do you mean overrun?"
"Well, missy. There were these monsters ever'where. Big'uns and little'uns. We saw it from't farm, load'd up ol' Bessy'ere and done us a runn'r" said the woman on the cart. "City'll be're gonner surely."
"Ere! Don't'chu goin pokin'er now!"
Minerva was groggy from the display of power the night before, so the words floated in the dark.
"I ain'tnt goin ta be pokin' anybody Lizzybeth. Poor lass is jus'asleep is all."
"She lookin' deader'n dead I be finkin'"
"Oh shaddap woman! She's jus' sleepin' I tells ya!"
"She's one'a them there witchin's the queen has in'er army. Look'it all the dead stuff'ere! There's bit's'a snake all over. Not to mention all the trees from 'ere to tut'road!"
Sleepily, Minerva slowly opened her eyes.
"Ere? Are you a'right missy? Anyfin' we can do fer ya?"
The snake catapulted is bulk across the clearing. It's speed belied its size as it flashed through the intervening space.
Foot long fangs bared it cannoned into the tree with a loud thwack.
There was no witch.
Reeling from the impact, confused, it shook its head. Then turned, the witch was behind it somehow and it was pointing the stick it was holding. There was a bright white flash.
Minerva collapsed onto the ground. Around her the forest blazed, but at least the thing was dead now.
Maybe now she could take a proper moment to rest. Time for sleep.
Three days south was a lot longer on foot than hoof. On the evening of the third day, the thing that had followed her out of the valley caught up with her.
It was one, from many. It was hurt and exhausted. It was hungry and remembered.
The world serpent, slithered noiselessly through the loam. Leaves rustled quietly against its body as its tongue tasted the air.
The witch was close.
It spied her. Tucked into the crook of an ancient oak. Keeping its head still, it gathered the rest of its long body in order to strike. Silently... Deadly...
She hoped she was making good time. While her entire unit had been killed in the onslaught, the kingdom she was defending was only three days south of the Valley. They'd chosen there because it was a perfect choke point and presented them with an easily defended position. Or so they had thought.
She moved easily down the animal paths, staying away from the main road for fear of being seen by the enemy. She checked it every now and again, but there was no sign. Her paranoia, however, got the better of her. So, she stayed well, well away.
Through the Kite's eyes she could see that she'd made it a decent way into the forest. To the south, there was the faintest glimmer of the ocean. To the north were still clouds of smoke and ash from the valley.
She let go of the bird and turned south. It hadn't looked like she'd been followed, but she couldn't be sure. Just as she couldn't be sure that she had been the last one to leave the battle. The last Witch standing.
She needed to move on, and quickly. No rest for the wicked here, she thought to herself.
It was the early afternoon sunlight that woke her. Her cloak was steaming as the bright sunshine warmed her through. She squinted as she lifted her head. Smiling, she gently grabbed the thread of a spider from the brim of her hat and deposited it onto a nearby fern.
"Sorry madam, but I'm not a good structure to build your web around. But I appreciate the sentiment."
She stood, stretched and heard her back crack loudly. "Eurgh! Sleeping at the base of a tree is not good for my back." She mumbled to herself. "I need to get my bearings."
The air of the forest was cool and damp, fragrant with moss, pine and clean wet earth. Minerva, exhausted, carried on. The foxfire, that rippled and spat, at the tip of her staff was not the usual steady light it should be. She was pushing it too far but being as far away from the valley this night was best right now. There could still be leftovers from the enemy forces that might track her.
But there was only so far, she could go.
She pulled her cloak about her in the crook of a tree, tipping her hat down.
As the sun set behind the mountains the shadows, already long by then, deepened to a sullen flicker; lit by the fires of the battle as they guttered out to angry embers.
Gently, she wove a healing spell around the deep gash in her side. Hissing in pain from both the weaving, and the healing of her torn flesh.
It took too long; she was tired and weak, and the spell took its own toll. But she sighed with relief when it was finished. Straightening her wide brimmed hat, and picking up her staff, she made leave of the battlefield.
Minerva knelt in the ash and mud. Driving her gauntlet into the earth as fires raged around her.
A tear ran down her cheek, carving itself a clear path across her face.
She was the last of the battlegroup. The rest were gone, but at least she'd managed to take the last of them down.
Blood-soaked mud squished between her fingers. Pain wracked her frame as she slowly stood, leaning against the ruined wall of the church.
She looked out across the shattered battlefield. The evening sun was just setting behind the valley walls, drowning the valley in red.
Tellerick examined the shell-shocked cadaver. Most of his rotten finery had been removed by Tamryn when they'd captured him. All that remained were grave-stained shirt and long pants tucked into loose boots.
"Marakel, do you remember me?"
The Lich looked up. "Yes. She... I am fate-bound with nothing more than a word."
Tellerick nodded. "Yes, yes she did." He sighed. "Never cross a Dragon."
"What happens now?"
"Well... William is the Augury of Destiny. Now we wait. The weapons of war will come for him. We must be ready to advise them and defend ourselves and Will."
The Dragon curled up, wrapping her tail around her. "Wake me up when my ingredients arrive. I've done too much today and must sleep." And with that she closed her eyes, tilted her head and opened her mouth so she could breath properly.
Tellerick and Tamryn rounded on Marakel.
"I should put him back in the ground Tellerick." Growled Tamryn, his book of the White Saints held firmly in his paw.
"I don't think you can anymore. Amethyst has wrapped him in fate and destiny. It's thick around him."
"You could dip him in chocolate sauce, he'd still be evil."
Marakel flinched as Kralla moved in behind him menacingly.
"Let go of the boy."
Immediately he let Will go. The parchment paper skin of his face was now a mask of horror. "What have you done?" He whispered, over and over as he just stood there.
Amethyst turned a bleary eye towards Will. "You are a very exhausting to be around boy. The Lich is as much a guardian now as your friend Kralla and master Tellerick. But beware. He is not your friend. Trust is earned, never bought or coerced. He may be undead, but he will help you."
"What? What have you done!" Marakel dropped Will to the floor. "No! No! What have you done!?"
"You are bound, lich." Hissed the dragon. "You make one move against William, or those who are entwined with his fate, and the magic that binds your spirit to your form will be broken." Amethyst pulled her wings back. "And now I'm going to throw up..." She span around and promptly emptied her stomach into the woods, melting a large patch of ground and turning it into an evil smelling pool of steaming, bubbling, fluids.
"I hate being ill." She said, collapsing slightly.
Amethyst landed heavily behind Marakel. Her wings cupped around, plunged the tableau into darkness except for the infernal, purple glow coming from the dragons eyes and mouth. The clawed tips of her wings dug deep into the ground around them, ensuring no easy means of escape.
"LIIICH!" She hissed and drooled. The latter sending up acidic whisps of smoke as it burned into the ground.
Marakel span around, holding Will up as a shield. "He's mine dragon!"
"NO." Burbled Amethyst. "MY WORD IS MAGIC. I BIND YOU LICH. I BIND YOU TO THE BOY. YOUR FATE BELONGS TO HIM NOW."
Kralla's huge paw-hands flashed as the Lich looked down on Will. Her knife flew between the space separating them in a single heartbeat, only to be caught and casually tossed back. It clattered across the stones on the path.
"Not bad kitty." Smirked Marakel. "Not bad. But you are still no match for me, even on a bad day."
"It must be a bad day then for you to need to hold a child between us. You sad old bag of bones. You can't even..."
Suddenly the space around them turned dark as Amethyst, roaring, plummeted from the sky."
"So, what's the deal here bones?" Snarled Kralla as she paced back and forth. "You're drained of power and just need the boy as a hostage? A bit low for the so called lord of miserly."
"That's Lord of Misery dearest kitty cat. Originally it was that, but even I know real power when I handle it." The lich lifted young Will higher up the withered remains of his chest.
"Hah! The boy has no powers bones. He's just that. A boy."
"Oh no miss kitty. No, no, no." He cast his gaze downwards. "He's so much more than that!"
A beat of distant wind caught Kralla's ear as they swivelled in irritation. She was hot; and now she was exceptionally angry at the Lich, Marakel, as he held young William close to his chest. She snarled and leaned as if to strike.
"Ah, ah, aaah! Don't think I won't!"
"You don't have the balls, Lich"
"Neither, fortunately, do you miss Kitty."
Kralla started prowling. She couldn't help it. Pacing back and forth as the Lich kept all his attention on her.
"Mine are considerably bigger than what's in your dried up sack."
"Oh, I absolutely don't doubt that cat!"
Marakel dodged again, but it was obvious now that he was struggling. The child was here, he could feel him close by but it was dull, covered.
Kralla struck out again, this time catching him with a leg as she pirouetted around her last sword thrust. Marakel careened across the clearing and struck one of the charcoal drums, tipping it over and spilling Will and his father into the fray. Instantly Marakel reached for the boy and drew him close.
"Ah, ah! Kitty... You don't want to hurt the boy do you?"
Kralla roared as she skidded to a stop.