The Witch's Prophet 1
She never despised two words so much in her life. Alone, the words were harmless, innocent even. But she knew better. They were anything but harmless. Those words have plagued her for as long as she could recall. They never brought anything but pain and angst. They have driven them from their home and then every solace thereafter. Her brother’s vacant gaze stared through her and she knew then that the words affected him just as much as her.
He darted away from her, the greasy mop on his head waving in the wind. She reached for her bow and sword, tying the latter to her waist. They had been hiding in the forest for a while now. Several months now, or maybe it was closer to a year now. There was no such thing as time in this forest. Only survival. Death was never too far way. Despite the constant threat of death their time here had been the longest reprieve they’ve had in a while. She swung her quiver over her shoulder and drew her first arrow, forgoing packing the rest of her things.
Donnic was back in front of her almost immediately, pressing a bundle of cloth in his arms. At first she frowned at him; he knew the drill. Grab the essentials and only the essentials. And even then, the essentials weren’t more important than their lives. It’s how they have survived for so long in this forest, a forest even the bravest would not step foot in. She couldn’t fathom why he chose to grab cloth instead of drawing his weapon. The cloth jerked and a part fell away revealing baby pink skin.
“What is that?” she hissed.
“Where did you get it?”
“Stop looking at it like it is going to eat you,” he shook his head at her, “It’s just a baby.”
He held the baby out to her and she jumped away like she had been burned. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Giving you the baby.”
“Absolutely not. Go put it back where you found it. We don’t have much time.” She crossed her arms.
“Just put it back? Are you crazy sister? It’s a baby!” he brought the baby back to him, holding it protectively.
“A baby that is no doubt accompanied.” He was staring at her like she had lost her mind. Maybe she had but this forest would break even the strongest of men.
“He was crying and alone when I found him. Been that way all night and well into the morn.”
“You’ve been watching it!” she threw her hands up into the air and turned away.
“I didn’t want a bear or one of those blasted creatures to eat it!”
The snap of a twig interrupted them. She turned, the string of her bow taunt. There was a flicker of movement and then her arrow was flying through the air. A loud screech filled the air drowning out everything else. The creature charged into sight, her arrow firmly lodged in its skinny arm. Although she had seen these things far more than she felt comfortable with its appearance shocked her to the core every time.
The Shapers were something that could only exist in nightmares. They were the monsters one never saw coming. And most people had never seen one. Those who had—well they never lived long enough to share. At first glance she would have expected them to be clumsy or constantly tripping over themselves. They were fast though and they had muscle in their skinny little limbs. Their skin was a dark grey and felt much like a frog’s. No matter how many times she washed, she still felt a thin layer a mucus rubbing against her skin. Shapers had no eyes. There were spots for them, as if they once existed but no more. She knew they could not see but she still felt as if they saw her. It didn’t help that they could counter nearly every attack she threw at them. Shapers could take the shape of anything they wanted; a tree or a dog or another human. It was terrifying to think they could be anywhere and anything. They were cruel and merciless creatures that rarely travelled alone and never revealed their motives. Unpredictable, undetectable, and unrecognizable.
The one in front of them screeched again. She moaned when her ear popped. Something dripped from her ear. She reached for another arrow and aimed it at its sickly grey head. The arrow sunk right into where its eye should have been. The screeching stopped and she gasped, relieved. Her ears were ringing, blocking any other noise. She crouched next to where Donnic had fallen to his knees, still clutching the baby.
We have to go, she hoped she said. Sounds were starting to come back but even her voice sounded muffled to her. Donnic had looked up though and he was nodding. She must of said something. She stood up pulling him to his feet, “There will be more. We have to go.” Her voice was a faint whisper but she was relieved.
Donnic was holding out the baby again. She stared at it and then him and shook her head. She still thought it would be better to leave it but it was obvious her brother did not feel the same. If he was going to bring a screaming baby with them, he was going to have to carry it. Besides, she thought waving her bow, she needed both her hands. If they wanted to escape this skirmish she needed to be able to take them down before they reached them. Donnic couldn’t shoot a bow, he could barely pull the string back. He looked like he was about to argue with her but glared when she prodded him with her bow. They had to get moving. Once Donnic reclaimed his kingship he could argue with her all he wanted. She looked forward to that day but until then, it was her who was in charge.
She knew he was unhappy but he turned away from the dead Shaper and ran. She took off right behind him. The forest was still too quiet. Was it her ears still? Had she not regained full hearing yet? She could hear her even breaths and Donnic ragged breaths. Or was it sign? A sign that the monsters hidden in the very depths of their so-called sanctuary had come out? She could not tell. At times, it seemed as if her hearing was back but then she would notice the ringing in her ears was back. Not as loud as before but it was there.
Donnic darted around a boulder and out of view. The few seconds it took for her to round the boulder felt like a millennium. The second she passed the boulder she slammed into him. They both stumbled forward but she regained her balance quickly and grabbed the back of his shirt before he toppled forward. Her heart stopped when she glanced up. There were five of them. Standing just feet away and looked like they had been waiting for her and Donnic. As if they knew they would come this way.
She raised her bow immediately, ready to fire arrow after arrow, as she stepped in front of her brother. The Shapers barely twitched. They were confident, and why shouldn’t they? She must look like a fool to them. One human against five Shapers. In past skirmishes she never fought more than one or two at a time. She hardly wanted to think what might happen at the end of this one. She whispered to Donnic, “Get ready to run.”
“I can help.” She did not have to see the indignant scowl to know it was there. “I was trained to fight as well.”
“Trained is a strong word—and to fight with a babe in your arms? I think not. Even I had not been trained for such circumstances.”
“We should really rethink the Crown’s training regimen.”
“Only you could crack a joke before our ultimate demise brother.” It was too late to run. As they spoke, the Shapers had surrounded them. They were trapped between them and the boulder.
“And you, sister, could do with a bit more optimism.”
The first of the shapers charged at that moment. Before it could get close an arrow sunk into its chest and second one found a home in the creature’s head. It collapsed to the forest floor and did not move again. But its death started a chain reaction. The other four were shifting and hissing at her. None of them charged yet. She didn’t want to give them the choice again. She fired off a few more arrows, taking a second down before the creatures charged as one.
She had to abandon her bow in favor of her sword. But if there was ever a weapon she felt more at ease with it was her greatsword. It was the first weapon she had trained with and over the years it had become an extension of her arm. The Shapers were almost upon them now. Instead of being trapped against the rock, she charged forward meeting the remaining three. They clustered around her, thankfully ignoring Donnic for the moment.
She kicked the one to the left and jabbed the sword at the one on her right. Both jumped back and out of her reach. The last one charged her, knocking into her midsection. The two of them stumbled backwards as the Shaper pushed her back. She knew it would have her pinned against the boulder within seconds. She struck the pommel against its head several times before it let go. Even so, she felt the boulder at her back and Donnic at her side. She had lost any ground that she had gained.
Before the Shaper reacted, she drove the sword into its chest. Its mouth opened in, what she could only describe as shock. It was such an odd thing to see on a Shaper. Usually it was them that drove the fear into people’s hearts. She placed her foot against its chest and dislodged her weapon. It came away with a pop and covered in the creature’s purple ooze. The body fell the ground with a soft thud. She barely glanced at as she stepped over it.
She had been trained in the art of war for a reason. As the second oldest, traditionally she would have been trained and raised for a life at court. Her parents had seen a different path for her and she was so glad they had. She never would have enjoyed court. There were too many hidden agendas. It was simpler on the battlefield. She knew right away everyone’s true allegiance when they met steel to steel. There was no way to hide one’s true nature in the midst of battle. It called to her.
The remaining two Shapers rushed her at once. Their attacks were frenzied now. She’d block on attack only to block a second in the same moment. She felt herself giving up more and more ground as the Shapers attacked. They surrounded her, filling every inch of her waking world until was all she could think about. She didn’t know how long they had been it, every second felt like a lifetime, when one of the Shapers made it past her defense.
She hissed through clenched teeth as the clawed hand ripped across the protective leather she wore. Its bone-like claws tore her skin open. She was taught all her life to ignore the pain but never before had felt anything like this. She was only distracted for a second but it was long enough for the Shaper. It knocked her off her feet. She hit the ground hard, her breath catching in her throat. She knew she had to move but she was stunned. And then she was moving. The trees sped by in a blur as the Shaper dragged her across the forest floor. She was jostled every which way. She grunted when she was dragged across a rock. The Shaper released its iron clad grasp seconds after.
She rolled to her stomach, bouncing to her feet immediately. She lost her greatsword when she fell but she still had her hunting knife tucked in her boot. The shaper was almost on top of her when she pulled it out. She plunged it into its gut just as it reached her. It took its last breath and sagged in her arms. She pushed it away from her with a disgruntled huff.
She was grasping for breath and dripping with sweat. She could tell her shirt had been torn in several places and she felt the sting of scratches all along her back. She pushed her pain and exhaustion back; there was still one more Shaper. She realized then it had not followed her. It was still with Donnic and the baby. Then a twig snapped behind her. She spun on her heels and threw the knife with all she could. She was screaming before the knife had even left her hand. The knife flew into its target with a solid thud. If she was anywhere else, she just might have admired her handiwork. Maybe even call it her best throw. But she was here, in this moment, watching her knife lodge itself in Donnic’s chest.
He was dumbfounded, staring at the knife. She rushed forward as he collapsed to his knees. She caught him before he fell all the way. “No, no, no, no… Donnic… no…” she gasped. He looked at her in that moment an accusatory glint in his eyes. Her heart broke and she felt tears pool in her eyes. “D-Donnic, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry brother,” she whispered.
Purple goo spilled between his lips. She blinked. His face began to shift as more purple blood oozed out. She was transfixed by the hope of it not being her brother to notice the imposter had moved. Its hand had already returned to its original form and it dug its claws right through her gut. She grunted in pain, barely able to process the turn of events. She was able to push it away and stumble to her feet. She tripped over her own feet as she scrambled away from the carnage. She tried not to notice how light headed she felt.
She had to get back to Donnic. They had survived but there could be more. There was always more. It wasn’t hard to follow the path back. She left quite a trail coming through. But now that she could see the way back, she couldn’t get her legs to cooperate. They felt like they would buckled under her weight with every step. The next step she took, she collapsed.
She touched one hand to her wound, nearly hissing at the pain. When she pulled it away a mixture of red and purple was left on her hand. She held her breath as she applied pressure to it again. It felt as if everything inside her had been shredded to pieces. Every time she moved she wanted to scream. But she gasped and by sheer determination she pulled herself back up. All of the blood rushed to her head and she almost ended up on the ground once more. She used a nearby tree to catch herself. The rough bark dug into her exposed skin and after several seconds she started along the trail.
It took her a lot longer than she’d like to admit. She finally saw the boulder peeking through the trees though. She didn’t know what she would once she got back to her brother. She couldn’t do on like this. Her body was failing her but she needed to get her brother back to the throne. He would never survive without her. She was almost there.
“Donnic!” she yelled. She collapsed just at the edge of the trampled clearing. “Donnic!”
There was no reply, only the shrill cry of a baby.