Anacrusis

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The Hammers And The Hawthorn

The Hammers And The Hawthorn



A lonely forest clearing awaits its destruction, so that the spirit trapped in its soil may arise and be a free phantom, and against the odds may seek to change the fate of the physical realm once again.

For what it knows to be right is not what it has foreseen to unfold. For though it is young and naive, trapped within events that played out aeons before, its story is told.

But here she comes now, dragging behind her the key to its freedom.

Mulberry huffed and trudged the last few steps before collapsing into the Glade, the heavy sledgehammer standing on its head before dropping by her side. Her bones were old now - the magic was wearing thin - but her Spells Of Eternity still had some juice left in them, and Ahbon’s magic was not depleted yet.

She cursed to herself as she arose. Who would have thought that all you ever needed to close a god’s portal was a sledgehammer and someone to lift it? That is what her brief phone call with Eigengrau had taught her.

No longer in her morning gown, she was draped in her usual tattered cloak - hood down, hat on, hair like a tased brillo pad - and she advanced upon the cold well like an executioner.

Though something was off - where there once was an empty flower stalk, there now was a trampled mess on the trodden floor.

The Witch’s eyes narrowed, and she looked into the forest, whispering a small spell.

“Féach. Inimicus.”

After a couple seconds she shrugged and slammed the hammer into the side of the well with a crack of ancient muscles and - thankfully - stone, for in that soul-searching spell she trusted, and it had never once failed her in her long, long life.

The murky water spilled into the dirt, and soon enough there were only leaves left on the flat, inch-deep bottom of the well like a sad, sad slate dinner plate. “Me bleed’n bahck!” She cursed to herself. She wouldn’t be doing that again.

Using a simple levitation spell this time, the Witch lifted the hammer high above the well before releasing it. As expected, it dropped and cracked the bottom of the well like a slab of dry lasagne. What Mulberry did not expect was for the hammer to continue plummeting, throught the ground and down into what appeared to be a large hole underneath the well.

“Well what’d yeh know? There’s really an actual bleet’n well under ’ere.”

She peered down, but the hammer fell out of sight, and she couldn’t hear it hit the bottom. After a while she stood upright and stretched her back. She sighed a prolonged sigh and looked into the forest around her and said, “Alrigh’t, ye can come out now. We might as well get dis over wit’.”

Before today, her soul-searching spell had never failed her, nor did it now.

As from out of the hollow trees emerged something fast, metal and deadly and it was aimed right at the Witch’s head.

But with flash of green light, a flick of the staff and a quick, instinctive flex of her wrist the weapon was sent crashing into the nearest tree. The source of the attack stood at the edge of the circular clearing - illuminated in the flickering light from the oil lamp, just as tall as the Witch herself and far more muscular was a beast in bronze armour. A behemoth of a woman with a titanic chain wrapped around her left arm and shoulder, one end attached to a mechanical wheel on the back of her shoulder blade, the other end attached to a great pointed warhammer that Mulberry had so skillfully deflected. She sneered, though it was more like a growl, and ripped the huge weapon out of the tree. She spoke in a rough, deep tone like a large bag of gravel being thrown into a very deep lake.

“You must be Mulberry, witch of the Hawthorn, wanderer, maker of many, bearer of bad dresses, rebel of the Overworld-”

“Yes yes, I know my own titles.” Said Mulberry, setting her lamp down by the broken well.

“... Kettle thief, demon cleaner, angel slayer, chronic hoarder, world seeker, traitor, word muddler, immortal bookworm,”

And the list went on. Mulberry had picked up quite a few titles in her long life, and what a life it had been. Nay, what a life it still was.

The woman finished off her list with a new title, “foe”, and advanced on the Witch, great hammer loaded to strike. Mulberry murmured a quick word or two and cast a spell to reinforce her bones, then disappeared in a slightly arthritic twirl.

“Where did you go, punk!?” Shouted the giant Morgus-Staig.

There were lights deep in the woods, as the Witch could see as she reappeared on the other side of the Glade, casting a ward around herself. The bulky woman in the heavy bronze armour stopped in her tracks and threw the hammer in the Witch’s direction. She disappeared again just in time, and the hammer carried on its way and crashed into dead shrubbery with a crackle. Mulberry the Hawthorn Witch continued disappearing, casting more and more spells and wards to reinforce her attacks and protect herself, which visibly annoyed her opponent.

"GARH! Come and fight me already!” She said, and Mulberry did just that, giving the beast a false attack in the form of a small fireball. It dissipated on contact with her flying hammer and the Witch was already behind her, striking with a blunt blow to the head with the heavier end of her staff. The woman’s thick helmet struck a sharp not that rang in her own ears, and she lashed out with her huge, bulking right arm, catching Mulberry in the shoulder and setting her off balance. The dreaded hammer swung back into the tombstone left hand of its bearer, and continued its motion in a perfectly straight line towards Mulberry, gaining momentum and acceleration rapidly. Mulberry had no time to disappear again, no time for magic words, but that was alright. Still with an air of confidence, her hands shot up in an instant and the nitrogen around them stiffened, creating a forcefield stronger than three feet of solid diamond. The point of the hammer struck it.

Mulberry was so confident that she had already started casting her next spell before she realised that her barrier was cracking under the force, and she was moving backwards with it at an alarming rate. Feet off the ground she collided with a hollow tree, just as the hammer’s kinetic energy was lost to heat and light and dissipated into other dimensions by Mulberry’s cracked barrier, and it fell to the ground with a heavy thud, as did the Witch. The impact had fractured her shoulder, and she could feel the magic leaking out of her bones.

“Impressive, ain’t she?” Said the grey-skinned lieutenant, reeling her weapon in as Mulberry struggled onto her knees. “I crafted her myself. The square head is forged with folded caelumite from underneath Antlewick, with a core of minor singularities amalgamated to add extra weight to my swing.” She grabbed the weapon by its sleek handle, which was wrapped in some strange black animal hide and had an expanded pommel that was attached to her titanic chain. She gazed at the intricately carved head, and at the thick, short spike on the very top. “The points on the faces and cap may not look sharp, but I mechanically chiseled them out of the toughest obsidian that formed during the creation of Otum. Their tips are almost infinitely small, and thus it can apply an almost infinite amount of pressure on any barrier. I’m impressed yours held as well as it did.” She held it out at arms length, grinning with sick pride. “A deadly work of art. What do you think?”

Mulberry had been contemplating her next move until this point, though it was difficult, her fighting abilities had gotten a little foggy. But she was still had no doubt in her mind that victory would turn out hers. “I think you have no idea what your queen is getting herself into.”

The Witch that now lay hunched on the ground was no longer Mulberry, but a false replica. It turned to pulp when struck with the cap of the square hammer. The Witch that now stood behind the lieutenant however was in fact Mulberry, and she engulfed the soldier in a hypercube of fire that lifted her into the air and searingly flattened the her body against the fourth dimension of which she of course could not enter.

That was supposed to be it, that was supposed to be the battle won. Yet something tore her spell apart like wet tissue and the warrior dropped angrily to the ground with a world-shaking impact. She swung her hammer in a wide downward curve, barely missing Mulberry. In shock, the Witch slashed her with a sharpened beam of energy that formed a great scratch that penetrated through her thick bronze armour. The beast didn’t even flinch and slung the hammer in Mulberry’s direction with all the muscle that she could muster, but the Witch drew a circle in the air just in time - which opened a portal in mid-air, into which the hammer disappeared and came out a quarter of the way around the glade. The warrior barely dodged her own weapon, before another portal opened as it made it across the diameter of the clearing, and the apparent gravity-defying momentum carried it through the portal and out another again. Like a spider, Mulberry wove a cruel web of metal around the Otumnal soldier as she tried hopelessly to stop the chain unravelling from her shoulder whilst simultaneously dodging the flying hammer’s black spike. The chain soon reached its end, as Mulberry hoped that the soldier would do, and she was jerked into the web of her own metal links. The hammer threatened to tear her apart, but it stopped abruptly and fell to the ground. Before the soldier could try to move, the portals closed around the chain and the Witch buried the hammer’s head deep into the dirt with a downward slash of her staff, an explosion of light and a foul burst of wind (this is because she had gotten quite old, as lucky people do, and whilst she wasn’t exactly frail, her gut muscles weren’t what they used to be).

Mulberry’s plan B (well, she had never really had a plan A) involved immobilising her opponent enough that her crystallisation spell would be able to take effect on such a large body. The beast was already trapped - her face smushed against the tight links - so now for the crystallisation to begin. She approached the beast and held her staff out to cast the spell that would turn her opponent into stone.

Though just as it started to take effect, the woman shouted out into the woods.

“UNLEASH FIRE!” She called, and a barbaric chorus of shouting arose from just out of view. Mulberry was well and truly surrounded, but she would not run or vanish again - she couldn’t, knowing all that was at stake.

But how were they intending to get across the river? Surely if they had known that the Hawthorn Witch were here, then they would also know about the Blackwater. And yet they all seemed so sure of themselves, though how exactly were they planning on getting across without…

The huge soldier’s armour clanked, and the chain detached itself from her shoulder. Before the distracted Mulberry could move, her staff found itself in the beast’s grasp, as hard as bronze. But the old Witch was determined not to let go, and held on as she was swung through the air and repeatedly battered against the ground.

The woman pinned Mulberry to the ground with a heavy boot as wide as the Witch’s torso and said in a deep, gruff voice, “Let go. Or be crushed.”

She reached out for her magic, but her old bones were broken, and what little she could muster was barely enough to upset a wobbly table. She grunted, and did the only thing there was left to do. Something that the Witch had sworn never again to do, lest Toven or the rest of Ahbon was at stake. She uttered a hex, which called upon the strength of an entity long unspoken and with the last of her strength, placed it on the bronze-clad behemoth.

[Far away from the Glade, on a mostly forgotten face of Ahbon, many, many eyes slowly creak open in the aftermath of a terrible storm. Peacefully and without much thought, they close again, their purpose fulfilled.]

The at-least-twenty-strong crew dealt with the aftermath of the fight - a couple of them strained to lift the great hammer head slowly though the still-open portals which the team Mage kindly expanded for them, others got to burning the forest down with their torches simply because they could. The unconscious and battered Witch was thrown into the hole under the now broken well, meanwhile the lieutenant and a couple other rough-looking soldiers went to find the edge of the Hollow Woods.

The mist parted when Bronze lowered the staff into the water, and she grinned a wide iron grin when her eyes beheld the world beyond. The stepping-stone bridge broke the skin of the water, and unveiling before Bronze’s honour-laden yet destructive eyes was a world where she could be free. She would enjoy bringing havoc to Ahbon. Havok she had never been able to unleash, a side of herself that had been boiling up inside her soul, building in size and pressure.

Her General’s orders: capture the target, and dispose of the failed Lieutenant.

Bronze puffed out her bleeding chest, and her loosened her silver-orange streaky hair, lines of traditional copper beads clinking against her shoulders. She allowed herself a chuckle, and swore to herself that she would track down that three-eyed doofus on her own.

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