Yfrey, the witch was tired. She looked up towards the sky. It was night. The crushing darkness was unmistakeable. For what seemed like an eternity, both the sun and the moons had been permanently enveloped by oppressive, angry rain clouds. When the sky was black, it was night. Day was signalled by the lighter shade of grey. She could not remember when exactly the rain had started; but it showed no sign of abating. Her life before she had been forced into exile was so long ago that it was as though it had happened to someone else. She felt she had been running forever.
The inquisition had lasted ten years, and still it showed no signs of coming to an end. Calim had preyed on the fears of government. He had warned that the women involved in the emancipation movement were dangerous, not just politically, but magically. Yfrey had seen many people taken for interrogation who never returned. Those who had been deemed guilty of exploring the dark arts had then been made an example of: burned alive or hung up-side-down from trees, guarded to prevent any attempt at rescue. If anyone was truly in league with the Devil it was Calim. People were too afraid to speak out against him. They turned on neighbours and friends in order to save their own skins. The irony was, that anyone truly capable of witchcraft, like Yfrey, had used their powers to escape, so it was mainly the innocent who were caught.
Yfrey came from the old order: a group of sorcerers so ancient that their magics were connected to the earth itself. When the inquisition first began, she and her brother, Torius, had fled to the woods, taking the historical volumes and the Book of Abisan with them. They had been confident that the trees and the earth would hide them from the soldiers. However, Torius had been militant. He had insisted on striking back, setting up calculated attacks on groups of soldiers, taking them out. He rescued several victims from trees, convincing them to join his quest. Becoming a folk hero, he had provided hope for the people. One day, however, he did not return from a raid. A week later Yfrey had heard soldiers approaching the camp where those left behind had been hiding. She had taken the Book of Abisan and fled. To increase their chances of survival the group had separated, and Yfrey had been alone for nearly a year now. She had kept moving as best she could; staying in the shadows and avoiding people as much as possible, as they were not to be trusted.
She was not just fleeing however. The Book of Abisan contained prophecies about forthcoming events. It had predicted the inquisition. Her parents had tried to warn people, they were among the first to be convicted of witchcraft. Yfrey had translated a section of the book that offered hope. It spoke of a warrior, a Roghnaithe: a woman who would purge the land of evil, and free the Earth’s true people. It stated that she would not know her true power, but would be taught, and protected by the Conduit: a powerful witch who would guide the Roghnaithe to her destiny.
Yfrey had decided that she must find the Conduit and help them in any way she could. She was not by any means a powerful witch, but she was able to channel the earth and elements and more importantly, she was able to read the Book of Abisan, which would be a critical tool in fighting this war. For the past three months she had been on the trail of Wrance, an elder in her parents’ coven. She felt certain he would help her find the conduit. When the inquisition had begun, those not captured had all fled in different directions. Tracking anyone was problematic, if they left much of a trail they would not live long. However, Wrance drew his power from the earth. He was what was known as a Harvester. His magics ensured a fruitful harvest each year. His powers could not be channelled into anything more dangerous than stopping crops from reaching their full potential. The hunters were indiscriminate.
Yfrey had been communicating with the forest plants, and they had been mapping her way to Wrance. His trail had ended at the bottom of the cliff upon which she was now sitting. She had long given up seeking shelter from the rain. She had learned to embrace it. She had a bigger problem now. Wrance’s trail had ended, which could mean one of two things: he was captured or dead. She was working under the assumption that he was captured. This presented her with the difficulty that he was going to be guarded by at least two men; getting to him would not be easy. She sighed, wrapped The Book of Abisan back up in its protective canvas, replaced it in her pack and silently began to make her way down the cliff. She ensured that she remained as close to the trees as possible, using her powers to make certain she was virtually invisible against them. When she reached the bottom of the cliff she could see through the darkness two guards standing in front of a large oak tree. Hanging from the tree was Wrance. His breathing was laboured, but she was unable to see his physical condition from her position behind some bushes. The guards were moaning loudly about the weather and being forced to stand out in the rain. Yfrey took a deep breath. If she was going to rescue Wrance she would need help. She raised her arms above her head and silently called upon the winds to help her. A strong wind blew through the trees, removing the guards’ hats from their heads and extinguishing their torches. Yfrey then directed hail stones to bombard the guards as they fumbled around in the darkness for their hats.
“Aw, forget this!” one of them exploded. “No-one’s gonna be stupid enough to try and rescue that sad old bag of bones in this! I’m outta here!”
“Hey!” the other called after his comrade as he retreated.
“Why won’t you just leave?” Yfrey muttered to herself in frustration. She directed a lightning bolt directly at his feet.
“Argh!” he jumped out of the way. “Wait for me!”
When Yfrey was certain that the coast was clear, she moved in to free Wrance.
“Wrance! It’s me, Yfrey,” she hissed. “Don’t worry; I’m going to get you out of here. She took her knife from her pack and began to saw at the ropes which held him.
“Yfrey! Thank the moons my prayers have been answered.” As the rope finally gave way, she lowered him to the ground. “I knew you’d come,” his breathing continued to be laboured. “I have so much to tell you, and there is so little time.”
“Tell me later,” she hissed urgently. “We’ve got to get out of here now, there’s no telling how long those guards will stay away.”
“I can’t. My legs are broken. My journey ends here. It is you who must go on Yfrey.”
“No! I need your help to find The Conduit. I’ll get you to a safe place where you can heal.”
“Yfrey... you are the Conduit...”
“What? No! I can’t be! I don’t have nearly that kind of power.”
“It is written that The Conduit will find her power through hatred, which she must transform into love if she is to guide the Roghnaithe on the correct path.”
“Where is it written? And where does it say it’s me? I have studied The Book of Abisan, nowhere does it say it’s me! Come on, we’ve got to move.”
Just then a shot rang out. Wrance was no longer sitting up against the tree, but slumped down, bleeding from the chest. Yfrey froze for a moment. The guards advanced slowly, rifles pointing directly towards her.
“Give it up Girly, unless you want to end up like your friend,” one spoke, mockingly. “You’re a bit bedraggled, but the boys get lonely. It’ll be better than hanging by your toes.”
“Yfrey slowly rose to her feet. She looked at the guards. They were not people. They were not even animals. Animals kill for food. These beings received some sort of sadistic pleasure from inflicting torture.
“Stay away from me,” her voice was low but clear. As she spoke, storm clouds rolled above her head.
“Ha! What you gonna do? Hide behind your pet corpse?” the guards continued to advance.
“I said stay away!” Yfrey raised her arms and called upon the elements to protect her. Two lightning bolts struck the guards. They did not even scream. They just fell to the ground, dead. Yfrey approached the charred corpses. She looked into the hideously deformed faces and felt nothing. She took the rifle and the ammunition from the bodies and hurried back to Wrance. His breathing was shallow.
“Wrance...” she spoke desperately. “I don’t know what to do.”
“You... are... the... Conduit...” the old man gasped. “When... the... rain... stops... your... path... will... become... clear...” with a final breath he was gone.
“Oh, Wrance.” Yfrey closed his eyes, gathered her things and started to move silently into the forest. There was no time for funeral rites. She had to keep moving. Conduit or not, one thing was clear, she was on her own. The rain showed no sign of stopping, so for now at least, she was blind.