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Quest For The Witch Chapter Eleven
Chapter Eleven Party
McFinnigan and Gwen, in her adult form, guffawed over drinks as the two of them began catching up on old times. As soon as they realized who they were, they embraced, transformed into more accommodating forms for drinks and sat down, leaving everyone staring after them in a bemused manner.
Alexandra and the rest kept their distance as they followed after the pair. Most of the bone people had fled the building as soon as McFinnigan set foot inside. But even though they had separated to opposite sides of the tavern, they could still hear the pair speaking in that garbled accent.
"How is it that the original Gwendolyn could be friends with a monster?" Lulu asked. "Is it as the rumors say, that she consorts with demons and creatures of the underworld?"
Jack shook his head. Alexandra, on the other hand, thought that she wouldn't have been surprised if such rumors were actually true.
"The Lycan's from the McFinnigan Clan," Jack explained. "On the first year of her adopting me as her apprentice, Gwendolyn was summoned to the estate to purge it of poltergeist activity that was interfering with the clan's business affairs and ventures."
"Wait, so you're telling me that dog-man thing that's having drinks with the Eternal Witch like there's no tomorrow is part of that McFinnigan Clan?" went Rick, eyes wide. "Unbelievable!"
"Why?" asked Caesar. "What's unbelievable about being part of a clan?"
"What is the McFinnigan Clan, anyway?" Alexandra inquired. "Sounds very important."
"Oh, you have no idea," said Rick. "Though, I'm not really surprised that you wouldn't know anything about them, since the darkness has pretty much isolated different parts of the kingdom from each other for so long. Even I don't know what's been going on with them since me and the team were trapped at that village, and I've always had my ears open, waiting to jump at the chance to work for them and get a big payout."
"The McFinnigan Clan is a global economic empire," explained Jack. "They have business headquarters throughout the continent and overseas. Their's is a company that dabbled in everything, and I mean everything, in alchemy, magic, merchant trade, even politics. Though, I'm sure they must be having as tough a time as anyone now, especially the members of the clan who are in charge of their stations in this kingdom. With darkness overtaking most corners of the land, profits are sure to be taking dives left and right. This kingdom used to play an essential role in global marketing and distribution."
"So, what happened to make ye go wild-like over these bone people?" Gwen asked. "Ye hate bones, last I saw ye. And what were ye doin' over here, far away from yer clan's lands?"
"Argh!" exclaimed the dog-man, pouring himself another cup. "Things have turned terrible since ye were last among us! What with darkness coming to ruin everything, we all had to make cutbacks. Even the wee kiddies have to work now to make ends meet. But us McFinnigans are a tough lot. We'll make by, though, speaking as someone from another era, I'd be mighty pleased if things were to pick up like they used to be. As ye can see, all that fat 'tis gone now. And in its place is all this muscle!"
"Here, here!" Gwendolyn shouted, raising her mug to her friend flexing his arms and torso. His muscles took shape beneath his shirt.
"So, we decided to try a little adventurin', see if we couldn't fix things to how it used to be," McFinnigan continued. "O'course I'd volunteered myself. I'm not half-bad in a fight."
"I noticed," said Gwendolyn. "And so did they."
McFinnigan turned to where Gwendolyn nodded. The people who had flocked at the window turned around and tried to look nonchalant. They were terrible at it.
"Yeah, sorry about that," McFinnigan said. "My bad."
"My bad?" went the elder. She pushed through the crowd that amassed in front of the tavern and walked straight toward the Lycan like the tough old bird she was. "Is that all you can say after all the destruction you have caused? We're still rebuilding from your last three visits! And we barely have enough funds to feed ourselves with the darkness restricting trade, shipments and visitation from tourists."
"I'll make up to ye, I promise!" McFinnigan says. "Just how much do ye need?"
"Like money can ever make up for the damage you've caused to our minds and hearts," the elder retorted.
"Really?" went McFinnigan. "Not even all this gold, jewels, and etcetera?"
In his humanoid form, he had on adventurer's clothes, a hat, and a large satchel bag, from which he poured out a horde of glittering treasure, enough to make anyone wealthy enough to buy their own modest patch of land. Even though he was not in his bestial form, he was still rather large, about seven feet tall, with muscles bulging beneath his shirt and brown, weathered jacket.
"Whoa, that's a lot of gold," said Caesar, staring at the treasure pile with money signs in his eyes.
Everyone was staring at the small fortune with dropped jaws. There was an emerald charm necklace that especially caught Alexandra's eyes. Lulu, startled and excited by the riches flickered between flesh and bone states like a tele-orb with bad reception.
"If that's not enough, there's always this," McFinnigan said, pulling out a huge wad of bills. "Though I can only give you half of this, since I'll be needin' the rest for me to continue my journey."
"You sure about that?" asked Gwendolyn. "Surely, this is enough to keep your clan afloat for a while longer."
"Bwahahaha!" McFinnigan exploded. " 'course, it's find. This is all just a little something I kept for myself. The rest I find, I've already sent back to me clan members."
"W-w-well, in that case, y-y-you're forgiven," the elder said. She was actually sweating in her skeleton state. The presence of a member of the infamous McFinnigan clan was just too much for her to bear.
"How'd you manage to fit all that inside that satchel?" said Caesar. "I thought it was empty!"
"That, me boy, is the beauty of magicked threads," McFinnigan replied.
"With that settled, maybe you can explain how you ended up becoming a mindless monster of the Dark in the first place?" Gwendolyn asked. "I'm curious to know how even a member of the mighty McFinnigan Clan, a clan also known world-wide as a family of elite warriors as well as crafty tacticians. I've seen their resilience firsthand."
"Don't ask me," said McFinnigan, crossing his arms in thought. "I'm as puzzled as ye are how that alchemist got me on that accursed leash."
"Alchemist," Gwendolyn said, her face darkened, and Alexandra suddenly felt a chill caress her, making her shiver and feel faint. The room was literally freezing over. Frost was forming at the window and the glasses used for drink. Gwendolyn's own was frozen solid.
This was a familiar scene to Alexandra who had always wondered what issues Gwendolyn had with alchemists. The word was taboo. Sure, magic users and alchemists have been at odds over the centuries, but then again, there were several other things that have always been at odds with Gwendolyn over the course of her life, that have reappeared sometimes. But on those occasions, Alexandra had never witnessed Gwendolyn's magic getting so erratic. The ancient witch's magic usually betrayed minor irritation, but nothing more. Not for the first time, Alexandra wondered just what sort of experience did Gwendolyn have with alchemists.
McFinnigan, surprisingly dense to the atmosphere and temperature drop, continued to rub his canine chin, trying to recall his own encounter with an alchemist.
"Yes, he was a wiry sort of chap, and a bit overly excited," he continued. "He came to me as I was walking by . . . well, I don' remember where I was when we met. We chatted for a moment, and then he stuck this collar-thing on me. Next thing I know, I'm here. Ye wouldn' happen to know something about this particular alchemist now, would ye?"
"That depends," said Gwendolyn. "Was this particular alchemist wearing a brand of a cog piece with a test tube cross beneath on his white coat's breast pocket?"
"Now that ye mentioned it, yeah, he was."
"Oh joy," said the Eternal Witch.
"Do you know this alchemist?" Jack asked. "I've noticed how the term was taboo during my term of apprenticeship."
"Just shut up, Jack," his former mentor implored. "Just remembering him gives me a headache. I always known that he'd found a way to extend his life, but this is ridiculously long, even for an alchemist of his caliber. I seriously don't want to be reminded of him. Not now."
That was her final say on the matter. She secluded herself in her room, one of many provided for the traveling heroes who saved the town. For the next couple of days, Alexandra, Caesar, Jack, and Rick volunteered themselves in helping the locals rebuild their village. McFinnigan, with his shapeshifting powers, may have made the work several times as fast as it would usually take. Sometimes, he acted as a horse, pulling along supply wagons in the bestial form that terrorized the citizens so. That form, he used only when there weren't any other actual horses around. Sometimes, he was in his half-man form, helping with the heavy-lifting. He soloed for repairing one of the buildings.
Alexandra may not be able to compare with either Gwendolyn, or Jack, but she liked to think she was making a difference. Like with McFinnigan using his muscles, she used her powers for moving the heavy stuff around. She was pretty handy with using her magic for carpentry, having been forced to apply her magic in it when a lesson had gone awry and Gwendolyn, in the mood for giving tough love, had her fix the whole thing. Although the hard work really kept her mind off other things, sometimes she still wondered what was it about alchemists that got on Gwendolyn's nerves so. Maybe if she ever got to live up to Gwendolyn's name as the Eternal Witch, she might be able to use her magic to find out. But until then, she'll just have to leave it to her imagination.
By a week's time, the repairs to the village were finally done, leaving the village to look almost brand new. The next few days were times of celebration to the rebuilding of the villagers' home, the end of the terrorizing darkness, and a new age of peace. However, the journey could not be put off for any longer.
It was too bad, really. Alexandra had really enjoyed her time in this village. She and Lulu had become good friends, despite the doubts the skeleton girl had of Alexandra's potential as a sorceress. On there, Alexandra could not argue. They got along smashingly well. Alexandra was especially grateful for the friendship as it's been a while since she had last really spent time with girls her age. Sure, Lulu was actually younger than Alexandra by maybe four or five years. But Caesar was a boy, and Gwendolyn could not really count as, even if she changed shape, she was still a thousand-year-old crone that could show the deity of mischief, Loki who really should hold that title. So, Alexandra was going to take what she could get.
On the morning of their departure, all the people were gathered to see the travelers off. Only Lulu was absent, however, which Alexandra felt upset over. She tried to hide it, at least from the others if not Gwendolyn, who may well have mind-reading powers.
"Ye don' mind if I join yer little band, now, would ye?" McFinnigan had asked, the previous night. His request had come suddenly, but not unexpectedly. The others had felt his eyes on each of them as they worked. Rick guessed the Lycan was appraising them for talent, worth, or whatnot. "I've been feelin' lonely on my travels, and it would be great kindness if ye could at least offer me some company. I promise I'll be sure to pull me weight. I'm sure I, with me experience, talent, and abilities"
"Do as you wish," said Gwendolyn. She was in her child form, floating cross-legged at Alexandra's shoulder. "But be warned. Where we're headed, there's bound to be danger."
"Can't be anymore dangerous that the Darkness-held valleys, villages, and towns where I've been struggling through to get the riches that's been put in rebuildin' here," said McFinnigan.
He was now in his puppy form, his belongings shapeshifted with him. For some reason, he did that before getting in the wagon, so Alexandra picked him up in an embrace she was suddenly uncomfortable with for some reason, and dropped him in. She thought she heard something, but pushed it aside as her imagination.
"Farewell, travelers," said the elder when everything was ready and the party was all on board. "I pray your journey be swift and successful."
"Thanks," said Alexandra. "If you don't mind, could you please tell Lulu good-bye for me."
"I may try," replied the elder. Alexandra wondered what she meant by that, but before she could ask, the wagon was already moving. Eventually, the cries of the villagers wishing the travelers fair journey ceased, and they, and their home, were part of the horizon.
"Too bad that wee bone lassie wasn't here, eh?" went McFinnigan, stretching a bit before settling down over a bundle of cloth.
"Yeah," Alexandra said sorrowfully.
"What are talking about?" asked Gwendolyn, she was lying on her back, child form, floating above the wagon's passengers. "She's been with us this whole entire time."
"Huh?" went the others. What could Gwendolyn possibly mean? They wondered.
Suddenly, the bundle that McFinnigan the puppy dog was lying on writhed around, shaking the dog off before rolling about. Bones squirmed free one after another, and from other hiding places too. The bundle unwound into clothes that hid a large knapsack behind it. While the excess clothing returned to the knapsack, the remainder became house for the bones that reassembled.
Lulu put on her safari hat to complete her set attire and beamed at the dumbfounded riders of the wagon.
"Sorry," she said. "I would have asked, but I figured you'd say no. But now, there's no choice. I'm joining this party of yours, whether you like it or not."
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Ten
The monster turned out to be a cute puppy dog that transforms into a ferocious, bloodthirsty behemoth. How will the second Eternal Witch deal with it?
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Twelve
And so Alexandra's party has grown. What will their next encounter be?
Also by the author:
- Country of Dragons by Victor Kwok
Follow a young girl on a journey across the country to save her family in a world of robots, people with special powers, animal people, and a whole lot of excitement. And check out "Silverwest Manor" and its sequel, "Warlocks of Silverwest Manor".