Quest For The Witch Chapter Five
Chapter Five Sacrifice
Alexandra and Caesar followed Gwendolyn, shrinking into themselves from self-consciousness. They had never had such an audience gawk at them before, even when the whole of their home town came to see the two off on their journey. It was not really the first time that Alexandra and Caesar had seen an elf before. There were plenty of elves living in the village. Quite a few elves were even among the most influential elders of the town. But never have they been in a place that was so exclusively for elves. Apart from Alexandra and Caesar, there were only a few other humans, wayward adventurers who didn't know any better.
There were elves to guide them to the center of the village where the largest of the log cabins stood, but it was Gwendolyn who led Alexandra and Caesar. She shook off the elves that offered a helping hand, confidently stating that she knew her way. Some of the elves were put off, and some old resentment against humans was rekindled thanks to Gwendolyn's arrogant attitude. It would seem that they did not recognize her for what she once was.
Time and time again, Alexandra apologized to the elves for Gwendolyn's rude behavior, although she had no idea why she felt obligated to. Since Gwendolyn was the one being rude, shouldn't she be the one to apologize?
Standing at the doorway to the meeting hall of the elves were two armored warriors with simple wood spears, a pair of daggers at either side of their belts, and sunken eyes as if they had not slept in a long while. Their eyes became more alert upon the strangers' approach, but they did not ready their weapons as Alexandra expected them to. They simply gave permission to enter by nodding to the door without much care. One, a stickler for protocol, asked for identity.
With a feral smile, Gwendolyn announced in a voice loud enough for the entire vilalge to hear that Gwendolyn the Witch had come, keeping her hand gestured toward Alexandra. The village was abuzz with even more activity than when Alexandra and Caesar arrived. There was a kind of excitement and hope that the village had never experienced in a long time.
Alexandra felt her cheeks burn up when people began gathering around her and Caesar again, pointing toward her and whispering. She fidgeted and squirmed like a little kid, so unused to the attention, despite her situation back at her hometown as the witch's ward. Then one of the few humans in the village stepped forward with an expression of doubt. He was a lean figure with spiked, auburn hair. At his hip was a holstered bolt shooter, and he wore a dirt-stained, high-crown wide-brimmed hat.
"Is that really the famous Gwendolyn?" he said with gruff voice. "She doesn't really look the part. I've had my fair share of adventure. I even saw her one time some years ago. We never met, but I know she wouldn't just fidget around like some kid barely out of school."
Some others, even among the elves, began to doubt as well. But the smile never faded from her face. Although she had to place a restraining spell on Caesar. It looked like he was about to explode into typical male chivalry or something like that.
"There can be no doubt that Gwendolyn the Witch is among us."
Everyone turned to the source of the voice, which was an old man with one leg in a wood wheelchair being pushed by a young woman in her early twenties. Both of them were elves and wore simple robe garments like their fellow villagers, but with more design, revealing them to be of high status. In the hands of the old man was a crystal ball, not like the tele-orb, but an actual, full magical artifact that hummed and glowed like a beating heart.
"And she stands before you as that girl you doubt," the wrinkle-faced old man conitnued. "But while she is Gwendolyn, she is also not Gwendolyn."
"What are you blathering about now, old man?" the gunman demanded. His attitude to the chief of the village earned him glares from almost every one of the elves.
"You gave her your name, didn't you, Immortal Witch?"
Gwendolyn's smile reached from ear to ear, and then she was suddenly engulfed in green flame. When the flames disappeared, and with it, the girl was gone. In her place was the ageless woman that the people of the village had come to know, that the gunman witnessed razed an entire fortress of mercenaries and tyrants in a single instant. She lifted the brim of her hat to reveal the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. She enjoyed looking at the dumbfounded faces of her audience, and especially enjoyed seeing the gunman with his dropped jaw.
"It's been fifty years," the thousand-year-old being remarked. "You are as insightful as last we met. I am glad to see you are well."
The old man chuckled. "Well, I'm not as well as I would have hoped, but I manage to get by. Won't you come on in?"
The young woman nodded reverently to the witch before turning the patriarch back into the log structure that housed the leader of the elves. Gwendolyn made no hesitations in following the old man and his aide into the house. Alexandra and Caesar exchanged looks before going after the ancient witch.
They were led into a smallish room that was heavily cushioned with pillows of all shapes and sizes, in almost every spectrum of color. There was a small window for the old man to see everything that went on outside the house, and the room was illuminated by the traditional gas lamps rather than the Witch Cubes most people used these days for room lighting.
"A bit backwater, don't you think?" the old man said kindly when he caught Alexandra's eyes set on the lamps. He was rolled to the entrance of the room and from then, he walked unaided except by a set of crutches that were left leaning against the wall until he reached a podium of cushions which he sat atop of.
"Huh?" went Alexandra. "Oh no. Not at all!"
She blushed when the old man let out a grating chuckle.
"It is quite all right," he said. "Given our situation, we lack more modern conveniences. But if what we have at our disposal has been enough for our predecessors, then surely it will be enough for us until the time comes when this heaven-forsaking curse comes to an end. And the visitors we have had over the years who could not leave seem to handle themselves pretty well."
After having put away the wheel chair, the old man's aide came back, carrying a tray of drinks. She set the tray aside on a small, knee-high table in front of the old man's guest before sitting cross-legged to the side of the room.
"That's what you'd expect of adventurers," Gwendolyn said, picking up a cup of the mysterious white tea. "At least they haven't soften up."
She did not hesitate to take a sip, before meeting eyes with the chief, a serious glint flashing. Alexandra and Caesar with a bit hesitant, but nontheless, they each took a cup and drank carefully. A warm feeling passed over Alexandra and suddenly, all tension from her muscles smiply vanished without a trace. It was a waste, she thought to herself, that something like this would be served to Gwendolyn who was spirit so would be unable to experience aches and pains of real muscles.
"It seems you've chosen a rather timid child for a successor, Immortal Witch," he said. "Given your attitude, I would expect you to have chosen a more stoic apprentice."
"Well, there weren't that many options out there for me to choose from," Gwendolyn said. "But I have a feeling that she'll do just fine in the ritual. I'd do it myself, but I don't have any blood to give."
"Umm . . . what's this about giving blood?" Alexandra asked, finally finding her voice.
The two ancient beings turned to her, then exchanged looks.
"In many of our most sacred rituals, there is sacrifice that is necessary for the magic to really hold," the old man explained. "Because of these rituals, however, essential, we have been seen as barbarians, even though many of their witches and wizards perform magic and spells with similar requirements! There is never any real need to worry, however, since the sacrifice requires only a few droplets of blood."
"And I take it that's what Alexandra's going to need to do for the ritual she has to perform?" Caesar asked. He had followed the conversation as best he could and that was the conclusion that he came up with. As Alexandra was successor to Gwendolyn's name, of course it would be that she was the most likely candidate to perform the ritual.
"Sharp boy," the old man remarked. "Indeed. It is so."
"But why me, specifically?" Alexandra asked, not so sharp, though she pretty much got the main idea. "Don't you have others who could perform the ritual?"
"I'm afraid not," said the old man. "The ritual requires that a witch be the one to perform the sacrifice and ceremonial dance. And the last witch of our village perished before she could name an apprentice and successor. It was at that time that the village was struck by the curse. Dark magic had broken through the wards placed throughout our home and put a stop to the ritual before it could be completed. This failure to complete the ritual was what brought about our downfall, and so we must endure this suffering.
"Everyday for the past decades since the failure of our witch have we endured this plague of darkness. We cannot leave the village, although the cases where youngsters leave is very scarce to begin with. But every night, we must fend for ourselves against creatures, physical manifestations of the dark magic that would torment us. We live in fear of the night when night is our most sacred of daily time. And in the day, our crops are not what they used to be and they fail more than succeed."
"You must have had it very rough," Gwendolyn said with sympathetic eyes. "I share your sympathies for such hardships are not unknown to me who has lived for a thousand years since."
The old man nodded gratefully to Gwendolyn. Then he turned ot his aide, who was, in fact, his granddaughter and nodded to her.
"Where is she going?" Alexandra asked as the woman left without a word.
"She just went to prepare for the ritual," the old man answered.
So there was no question that she was going to do the ritual, huh? Alexandra scowled. Well, it wasn't like she was the kind of person who would leave others to cursed fates worse than death. And it wasn't that she wanted to trade one prison for another. But the least anyone could do was ask her instead of deciding everything without her say in the matter.
"So I just have to donate a few drops of my blood," Alexandra said, unexpectedly feeling squimish.
"Well, there's that," the old man said with a shrug. "But then the blood donor must also do a dance. It is a sacred dance that has been passed down for generations since before the birth of this kingdom, even."
Alexandra could not help but notice how much the old man emphasized how sacred the ritual was and how sacred everything in the ritual was as well. She felt more uneasy about dancing. The only time she had ever danced was by herself in her bedroom with only her reflection for audience. Even with just looking in the mirror, she thought that her dancing was terrible.
"Don't worry," the elder of the village said, as if he read her thoughts. "There are plenty of people here, still, who know the dance. They can teach you until you are ready."
Alexandra could only reply with a shaky smile.
There was a knock, and in came the elder's granddaughter carrying a bundle in her arms. She quietly went to her grandfather's side and gave him the bundle.
"What's that?" Caesar asked, curiosity having a strong pull on him.
"Oh, this? This is the dagger which will be used to extract the blood."
He unsheathed the long, wicked curved blade from its animal-hide scabbard. The blade glinted in the light from the window. In his other hand, he pulled out a thick piece of wood and tossed it in the air. With a single one-hand stroke, he cleaved the wood in two while it was still mid-air. A smile of satisfaction that he had not lost his touch despite old age played in his lips.
Alexandra snatched away Gwendolyn's hat and threw up in it.
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Four
Having inherited Gwendolyn the Witch's name, Alexandra and Caesar set off on their adventure. They come across a mysterious, deserted town. What secrets does it hold?
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Six
Alexandra and Caesar train and practice for the ritual to free a village from a curse. On the day of the ritual, Caesar and other warriors in the village defend against monsters. How will they fare?