Chapter 1: Bloodlust
An old decadent, now dilapidated castle stands in the fore. The ramparts of this old decadent castle make way for innumerable hutments, which line an already dusty and rocky road. All the houses are a dusty beige with large and intricate lattice windows. It seems as though the dust from the streets is what makes the houses. Back in the distance, a draught of wind draws up a moody sandstorm. Women hide their faces in their flowing gowns as the sand threatens to enter their eyes and nostrils and their feet move faster in an attempt to enter into the safety of their little homes. A few old men sit at their doors chewing on Hul Gil and shouting across the street to talk to one another. A few stray children run amok as the peganos with beady eyes makes his way around the impossibly narrow streets screaming hoarsely “ice sticks! Ice sticks! Blue, yellow, red, pink, take your pick”. An angry mother slams the window of the hut he is standing in front of in order to shun the peganos. Unperturbed, he continues to scream and walks away along the street dragging his feet, unsettling the settled sand as he pulls his cart along.
At the end of the same street, in a nondescript corner, two gaunt boys sit snickering, heads together as though plotting something. The wind makes the window above them creak open and they duck and saunter into the next street. A muffled voice is heard from the window that is now ajar.
“Mother! Have you seen Arion?” Amara shouted as she searched the entire house, her gown scrunched up messily in her hands so she would not trip due to the wetness.
She had been busy stitching a scarf when her younger brother, Arion, had emptied a bucket of water onto her. The scarf, along her dress, was now soaking wet and she feared her mother’s reaction. She wanted to find Arion so she could reprimand him but as usual, the boy had disappeared.
“Why are you drenched?” her mother, Maia – who had just entered the room – asked furiously as she looked at Amara who was soaked from head to toe.
Wonderful, thought Amara. Now I’m going to be told off for no reason.
“Your beloved son thought that it would be funny to douse me,” she said, pushing a stubborn wet strand of hair away from her cheek.
“But he’s been out with Leopold since this morning!” Maia snapped, annoyed at how clumsy her daughter was.
“I’m not lying, mother. I was in the lawn, stitching the scarf as you had asked me to and…and he just drenched me from my window!” Amara replied in protest.
“I would have heard him if he were back from Leopold’s. You know what a ruckus he creates upon entering the house,” Maia said.
“But, mother! Do you think I fancy getting soaked to the skin on purpose?” Amara retorted, now livid.
“You do remember how many times I have asked you to be lady-like and poised. You are far too clumsy…” Maia said resignedly, taking the wet scarf from Amara’s hands. “I will make sure it’s dry so you can continue working on it.”
Amara could not believe how dense her mother was behaving. She was tired of hearing that she should be graceful; carry herself off better and this and that. But hard as she tried, nobody seemed to be impressed. Is it my fault that I cannot walk elegantly? She would wonder.
Amara opened her mouth to reply to her mother when she heard someone sniggering behind her. Arion and Leo were standing in the corner, trying to hide their laughter but failing miserably to do so. Amara flushed upon spotting Leo as she was obviously not in a state that she would want to be seen, especially by him. Her face flamed angrily when her eyes fell on Arion, whom she had vowed to give a dressing-down to when their mother was not around. She huffed in annoyance, and deciding to deal with her brother later, stomped away to get cleaned up.
Maia shook her head at her son who seemed to find the situation hysterical while Leo stood there straightening his shirt. He had stopped laughing when he saw that Maia was present, and walked over to her.
“Good evening, m’Lady,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it.
“Good evening, Leopold,” said she, smiling benignly. “Would you like some tea? I’ll go fetch Amara to prepare it.”
Maia began to call her daughter when Leo stopped her and asked her to take a seat on the sofa and as did he.
“No, I’ve just had early supper with Arion,” he said. “But thank you for the offer.” Arion had now sauntered off, cackling to himself.
“I should tell Arion to stop with his jokes. Amara’s getting really livid.” Maia shook her head disappointedly.
“He’s just a child, m’Lady. I’m sure Amara understands that.” Leo gave a charming smile and Maia didn’t question it any further.
“I wonder would it be okay if I took Amara out for a walk.” He asked a moment later.
“Of course! I’ll just-”
“I am not going anywhere with you,” said Amara as she walked down the stairs, bone dry and her thick black hair down on her shoulder in a loose braid. Leo looked up at her and she shifted her eyes away from him in anger. He had obviously schemed with Arion to spoil one of her favourite dresses.
“Amara! You will not be so rude to your betrothed!” Maia exclaimed, glaring at Amara who pursed her lips and began walking towards the kitchen. Maia was about to shoot another remark when Leo shook his head and gestured to her to stay quiet. He smiled to himself and began following Amara.
“Come now, don’t be angry,” he said sweetly and Amara tried her hardest to ignore him. She was about to grab something to eat when Leo caught her arm and she swiftly turned to face him in surprise.
“Mother is right outside!” She hissed and he chuckled before letting go of her arm.
“Let’s go and take a walk. Come,” he pleaded, smiling the charming one that made Amara melt. She resisted the urge to grin back at him and rolled her eyes.
“Alright,” she whispered, looking down and he turned around to leave. She followed him and looked for her mother to inform her that she was leaving with Leo. She knew that mother would not mind.
Maia adored Leo more than anyone else. He was the son of one of Maia’s close friends, Marzya. The moment Leo had met Maia, she had pictured him with Amara and soon enough Marzya had asked whether they could be married. Maia was ecstatic at the offer and Amara had not protested either. Leo was quite charming and handsome, which had Amara smitten instantly. She was only seventeen after all. She was young, and all of her friends were to be married. Now even she had someone to talk about with the girls.
As the both of them left the house after bidding Maia goodbye, Leo escorted her towards a rocky and immensely barren enclosure nearby. He then held her hand as they entered a secluded area. Amara’s face flamed at the contact. She smiled as it was quite peaceful where they were.
“It’s only a few weeks to our marriage. Father said that we shouldn’t be meeting until then,” said Amara as they took steps ahead together.
“Your mother seemed quite happy to let us go. I think it’s alright,” he replied with a smile.
It was around eight in the evening when Leo walked her back home. He left her at the door and she was about to walk in when he held her arm to stop her.
“Will I see you soon?” he asked.
“Maybe if mother allows me to,” she replied shyly.
“Come meet me in the forest of Majoricka, a week later. I have something to show you,” he said to her and she nodded in response.
“I’ll have to speak to father,” she said.
“I shall ask his permission. Don’t you worry,” he responded and took off. Amara watched him walk away and then turned to go into the house. She was excited for the day that she would get married to Leo. Amara imagined of a splendid life with him. Grinning at the thought, she entered the house.
The night was dark; raindrops fell onto her head as they drizzled down to the ground . . . silvery beams of the moonlight illuminated her path as she treaded purposefully along a winding path. The moist grass under her feet felt like soft cotton caressing her bare ankles gently and the wintry sensation gave her a sense of calmness. Her black gown cascaded around her ankles making a swishing sound as she walked. As the moonlight shone upon her, her ivory skin stood out in the blackness, with her defined jaw, and deep-set eyes that were a cold black, threatening, frightening and dark; she had a beautiful appearance that was terrorizing and serene at the same time. The wind running through her long tresses: black hair that fell so elegantly around her shoulders, reaching right up to her narrow waist. Her hands . . . soft yet strong enough to be able to grip a throat tight. She paused slightly to breathe in the rustic smells of the rain fed earth, and rested her slender figure onto a large oak tree.
She stood tall, the other hand holding a silver dagger that which had an eagle engraved intricately on its handle fell on top of the grass, making a soft sound as it touched the surface next to her feet. She pushed the fabric of her gown aside – one that was coming in the way of her hand – and stepped away from the tree she was resting herself on. Her face – that was concealed by the darkness of the night – appearing as she leaned close to the dead body that lay on the ground a few feet away. She crouched next to the corpse that lay there, whose throat was slit effortlessly. Blood trickled out of the slit throat and the dead woman’s eyes, now glassy and lifeless, lay wide open. With a snap of her fingers, the body elevated in mid-air as she stood up picking the dagger that she had dropped on the ground. Pushing her feet into the brown, knee-high boots, she strode ahead in the direction of her destination as the levitated body followed her.
A few moments later, she reached the woods that were surrounding the castle. The woods were dry, as though rain had never grazed the ground at all. As she entered passing the big trees and imposing shrubs that covered the area, the intricately lattice carved iron gates that stood before her, opened noiselessly to allow her inside. In front of her was a graveyard that covered the ground, and one had to walk past the graves to reach the doors of the castle. Sculpted goblins and fairies lined the narrow path that led to castle. She walked further, and the gates shut behind her. One of the sculpted goblins bent in welcome. Ravens flew off the graves, the wind swished past the dusty floors, leaves scrunched below her feet as she walked ahead and arrived at a large imposing pair of double wooden doors with intricate designs of the elements. They heaved open to let her in. Behind the graveyard, the castle was surrounded with trees, making it look like there was nothing there but dense woods behind it. To a human, they would look like the deadliest woods ever.
In the land of Acanthus, humans were rarely found. But the ones who dared to enter were terrified by the appearance of the daunting mountains that traversed the land, and the violent blue-green sea that bordered Acanthus. Surrounded by the great mountains of Carvelli and Lunaire, Acanthus was a beautiful land. Woods protected the covens of the greatest Conjurers that ruled Acanthus; caves of great sorcerers and lakes of valiant waters enhanced the beauty of the land. Ruled by the great King Orcus, descendant of the magnificent kings that had ruled before, the land was protected by guards and goblins that made sure no human or enemy entered on their own accord. Two covens resided here, surviving on the unspoken alliance of the coven rulers. An invisible and intangible uneasiness lingered around.
As custom followed, the dead body that she was carrying had now reached into the largest chamber of the castle where everyone sat along with the ruler of their coven. She entered the great hall and the body followed closely behind. The great hall was a circular chamber with a few flaming torches resting on the pillars. Chairs circled around the sides, covering the large chamber and leaving space in the middle. They created a passage from the door to the throne situated at the far end of the hall, in the centre, with a looming figure upon it.
Lord Lucifer sat with his slender fingers resting on the arms of the throne, his shoulders stiff and the towering body that he had, propelled unyieldingly on his seat. He wore a black robe, a blood red cloak above it that rested on his shoulders and covered his whole being. His silver hair, illuminated by the moonlight, reached up to his shoulders. His green eyes and long beard stood out in his features. Callous hands that sat on the armrests and the veins that stood out from his skin distinctly manifested his warrior skills. The Conjurers of Acanthus were aware of how many wars Lord Lucifer had been the victor of and how his merciless killings had rendered them all speechless. His power that spread around the land was well known and the coven that he had created, consisted of the strongest Conjurers. Lucifer was the most intimidating Lord one could have ever come across. His presence gave off a stilling aura, ultimately restoring discipline wherever he went.
His voice was deep and husky, and when he spoke, eyes drowsily surveying the surroundings, it was almost to himself, as though he was speaking to someone sitting right next to him. Yet the apprentices could all hear him. Out of them all, Lord Lucifer trusted her the most. The coven consisted of nearly thirty other Conjurers that Lord Lucifer had gathered in the three-hundred-and-fifty years of his existence. All his apprentices had proved their worth of belonging in his coven but Amara was the most loyal. She was devoted and had the greatest amount of respect and admiration for him. He was the power that she worshipped and gave the utmost importance to.
She strode assertively towards the throne, snapping her fingers to let the body on to the floor. The body gently dropped down and Amara knelt before her Lord with her head facing downwards, eyes fixed on the dead body beside her. She looked away, her gaze now resting on nothing in particular as she began to talk to Lord Lucifer.
"My Lord," she replied, bowing her head.
"Is that what you have been looking for?” He asked, lazily gesturing to the body that lay lifeless on the floor.
"Yes, m’Lord" She nodded.
"Ambrosius," he drawled, and another one of his apprentices stood up from his seat.
"M’Lord?" said Ambrosius, eyes cast on the floor, head tilting slightly.
Raising his right hand, Lord Lucifer flicked two of his fingers, indicating what was to be done and
Ambrosius nodded once before looking at the body. It rose in the above, following him out of the chamber through another door in a corner. Amara stood up and Lord Lucifer's gaze lifted itself from the floor to look at her; it softened with the assurance that she had done the job well. Amara never defied him. He was well aware of that. Lord Lucifer trusted her greatly, and she kept his faith in her steady by efficiently complying and implementing all the tasks assigned to her. The body that she had just slain was of another witch-hunter that had come to attack Acanthus. To eradicate threats like those was a job given to her most of the time.
Silence continued its reign, as when their Lord was addressing Amara, it was established that no one spoke since they were in presence of the two most powerful Conjurers in Acanthus. Amara was recognized as the most brilliant witch that they had all ever come across. Her beauty, power, and incredible strength were well known, and no one ever tried to cross her. Powerful as she was, there was a danger that lurked around whenever she was present. She was respected the most after Lord Lucifer.
As she stood up to leave the great hall, she began to say something to Lord Lucifer when a loud, shattering scream interrupted her. It painfully pierced the ears of everyone. Amara snapped her head in the direction the sound came from, and so did everyone else. Lord Lucifer, however, did not seem as alarmed. A new apprentice unable to adapt was a common occurrence to him.
"My Lord?" Amara turned questioningly.
"Go,” said he. “You know what has to be done.”
Amara nodded before making her way to the screaming girl in the corner, who had her knees protectively pulled up to her chest. Amara would have felt immense displeasure had she witnessed this a hundred years ago. Now it scarcely mattered. Watching people in pain was ordinary. The torture that Amara inflicted on them was worse than what this girl was going through. Every new Conjurer had that experience upon entering this world. The sudden grave and morose surroundings, the silence . . . it caused pain. Amara had often observed that the pain was all in their heads. To a Conjurer who had come from the human world without any knowledge, it was inadaptable and wearisome.
Amara presumed that this distressed girl had probably just left the human world. With a grasp on her hand, Amara pulled the girl to her feet and she showed no resistance at all. She was worried that if she stayed there any longer, she would lose it. And if a beautiful lady who looked like she had just come out of a beauty pageant of evil people was helping her, she would be all for it.
"What is your name?" Amara said when they reached a chamber that was rather darkened; illuminated merely by a single torch of fire.
There was a round, ash wood table in the middle; a lifeless dove lay on top of it. The girl cringed at the sight and looked away. She found a man seated on the floor, with his head hung low and a hood covering his face. For a moment, she thought that it was the man that she had seen outside in the huge chamber - the one that everyone called, ‘my Lord’. Then she realized that this man looked rather different. She wondered how someone could sit on that cold surface, which, under her bare feet, chilled her to the core. She turned to look at the woman who spoke, her voice soft and calm enough to put her at ease yet intimidating to render her restless.
"Iris," she answered glumly.
"Do you know what you're here for, Iris?"
"No. Do you mind telling me who you are?"
"My name is Amara.” Her fingertips lightly felt the firm wings of the dove. Disgusted, Iris looked away. This was the dreariest place that she had ever found herself in.
"What are you?" Iris solicited, and immediately shut her mouth.
The question had involuntarily slipped out. She immediately wanted to take it back even though she was curious to know what these people were capable of and why the place looked like it had all kinds of dead around.
"Didn't you notice? I'm a witch," said Amara, turning to look at her.And a second later, Iris was screaming again as pain shot up from her toes right up to her head, and she dropped onto the floor with her eyes rolling upwards. All in their heads, the pain, Amara thought to herself.
 Hul Gil – old term for opium leaves
 Peganos - Local word for ice-cream vendor