Bothela, Twelve Years Ago
For some, this was a glorious day that would be celebrated for decades to come. For others, this was the end of their bloodline.
The screams could be heard for miles, drenching the surrounding forest in agony. There wasn’t a soul coming to help for they could see the light of the fire illuminating the night sky, the smoke billowing high above the treetops, and knew to stay away or face the same fate. The only company the witches had on that night were their fears and despair.
Leona Clarke lay chained to the base of a thick oak, eyes burning against the growing flames, but she couldn’t look away. She couldn’t stop herself from watching the fire tear away the handwoven stitches of her mother’s dress, eat away at the flesh on her feet and calves. Her sobs were muffled by the guttural screams clawing out of her mother’s throat.
By that point, seven women had already been burned. The men that came to collect the witches were sifting through the village, searching for others and stealing the possessions they would no longer need. Only one guard remained in the clearing, watching over the people clinging to life on the stakes with a slim smile. He was a monster with the light of the fire dancing across his eyes, casting the lines of his face in shadows.
She tugged futilely on the chains, the rattle of the metal echoing against her shackles, as her sister was dragged up to the stake beside their mother. Her older sister, whom Leona had bickered with mercilessly mere hours before. Her older sister, who never uttered a single kind word about Leona. The girl didn’t scream, sealing her mouth shut, as the flames picked away at everything that made her a person.
“Leona,” her father moaned, dropping beside her. His knuckles were bloody, battered, and a guard lay unconscious behind him. The guard stirred as her father hastily unlocked Leona’s shackles, silent tears slipping down his cheeks. “Be free, my child, and live. Live for those of us that have perished. Live for everyone that never got the chance to. Live." He pulled the girl to her feet, gripping her shoulders. “And fight.”
Her mouth trembled as she stared into her father’s eyes. Not only was their surname a symbol of the magic in their blood, but the man’s eyes were a calling card to it as well. Deep red, like the blood of their past, tangled within his eyes that called upon the roots of their power. Except she didn’t share the same eyes as him because her magic was different.
"Go,” her father insisted, shoving her into the dark thickets behind. The fire burned behind him, the screams of her family long since silent. “Remember what happened here and fight.”
Leona ran as fast as her small legs could carry her, tripping over the ends of the coat she wore. Her father’s coat. She fled from the forest that her family was massacred in, alongside countless others. She ran until she could no longer smell burning flesh. She ran until she was surrounded in utter darkness.
And then she walked, knowing exactly what she had to do.