Quest For The Witch Chapter Four
Chapter Four Curse
The townsfolk saw the new adventurers off somberly. They all knew that Alexandra and Caesar were being sent on a quest issued by Gwendolyn, and knew that the quest would be one of mighty importance. Caesar's parents were hesitant, but they knew that it was Caesar's destiny so were with the townspeople to see them off. There were some tears, a solemn farewell from the mayor, and then the adventurers were off.
The journey was not as Alexandra had expected. Normally in stories, there was wide open plains of green. In between adventures, adventurers leisurely made their way to the next town, take a break now and then, and have picnics. That was so for maybe after an hour of riding the horseless wagon. Once they were out of the town's territorial border, everything was practically dead. It was as if they crossed the land's tan line. One side was bright and lively and the other was dead, dark, and in gloom.
"This . . . was not what I expected," Alexandra said as she peeked out of the wagon, looking over to the barren, colorless field. She took off the crooked witch's hat that Gwendolyn made her wear ("It's tradition!" she said) and threw it aside. The wheels of the wagon crunched against gravel. Caesar said nothing. Normally, a long ride between places, in quiet would be dull and boring. But with such misery tainting the land, Alexandra never felt bored.
Gwendolyn on the other hand, was in a chatty mood.
"Well, what did you expect?" she said, stretching.
She had transformed into a black kitten and took to riding in Alexandra's knapsack. She assured Caesar that the enchantments protecting the town would hold with, or without her presence. And it would last years after her death, if it ever came to that.
"A decade of dark magic plaguing the land tends to make things like this," the former Gwendolyn the Witch continued. "Now relax. We should be arriving to town soon. This will be the first new town you've been to since leaving home. You must be excited."
Actually, Alexandra was worried. She knew very well what it meant to be plagued by dark magic. She's seen the visual demonstrations on the tele-orb, a crystal ball wired into a digital network, although hers was full of limitations placed by Gwendolyn. It was probable that there was a reason behind that. Basically, she was not looking forward to going into a new town.
Any place full of dark magic was bound to be cursed or messed up in some way. What happens in a dark magic infested place is entirely random and unique to the person and place. Alchemists have managed to find some form of explanation to this. Sometimes, necromancers or practitioners of unholy arts that attract dark magic could be an influence to the sort of evil that would fall on a place. In a village that once had a necromancer living nearby, it was common for dead people to come wandering in town, looking for brains to eat.
Alexandra shivered. She did not want to have to deal with walking, canibalistic corpses.
"Man, I can't wait to get to town," Gwendolyn said, rolling to her back. "It feels like forever since I took a bath."
"We've only left a few hours ago," Caesar pointed out. Horseless wagons were fast, especially now with efficient solar powered engines and the powerfullest of spells that rejuvenate through the same sort of energy.
"I know," replied Gwendolyn, now squirming around rather cat-like. "Unlike you living, I don't have to take a bath. It still feels nice, though. I should have taken one before we left. Well, we're headed for the elf village of Dawn, so I guess the wait might be worth it."
"You've been there before?" Alexandra said, astonished.
"Of course," Gwendolyn said, put off by her pupil's surprise. "I've been alive for a thousand years, and I've been traveling for just that long. It's been fifty years since I was last there, though. Those guys really knew how to celebrate and have a festival."
When they came to the village, it was not what any of them expected. For one thing, there wasn't anything abnormal about the area. In fact, it was almost like the town that Alexandra, Caesar and Gwendolyn had just left. There were fields of green. Flowers were in bloom, and the sky was clear of mucky gloom. And the buildings, while old-fashioned in design, made from tree trunks and wood boards, were in peak condition. For a place that did not have Gwendolyn's superb magical protection, it was rather nice. But something was off. Where were the people? A lack of sound came thicker than oil as the wagon approached. While empty of sound, it was full of heavy silence. There was no activity. No children were about.
Gwendolyn, in her human child form, was the first to get off. The moment her pointed-shoed feet landed on the dirt road just outside of the village's entry way, she went rigid and hissed, throwing her back out like a cat.
"This place has been cursed!" she hissed. "I can feel it. Something strong and dark has tainted this place."
At that moment, a hooded figure stepped out from behind the tree. His face was obscured in the darkness of his hood.
"You are right about that, young lady," he said with a gravelly, deep voice. "Long has it been since the people of this village become trapped in an illusion of unspeakable power."
Caesar leaped out of the wagon, pushing Alexandra back just as she was about to do the same. He had a sword, given to him by his blacksmith uncle, drawn and pointed toward the stranger.
"Who're you?" he demanded. His muscles were tense and his palms were sweating.
"My identity is inconsequential," said the stranger, pointing to the village. By the lack of quivering in his voice, he was not afraid of the sword in Caesar's hand. But he was concerned for the boy, fearing that he may accidentally hurt himself. Still, his attention was mostly on Gwendolyn. "I am but an old man who waits for the one who will bring salvation to the poor souls of the village. Be you those very heroes?"
"But of course!" Gwendolyn shouted, proudly thumping her chest. She had a proud grin on her face and an air of confidence that was usually reserved for herself. "The girl in the wagon is Gwendolyn the Witch! She'll take care of this curse this village has been facing, no problem. And the guy with the sword's her lackey."
"I'm going to what now?" Alexandra said as she got off the wagon. She started in surprise at the appearance of the stranger and she cautiously went to the others, never taking her eyes off the stranger, the hem of her skirt trailing over the ground. Could he be a dark wizard of some sort? If that was so, Alexandra was not looking forward to a confrontation. She didn't think she had it in her to do battle against a wizard of darkness. But if the stranger was a dark wizard, Alexandra wondered what his purpose was here. Although, there were records of evil wizards who stick around to enjoy watching over the results of their handiwork.
"Hey!" Caesar said, glaring at Gwendolyn. "Who's who's lackey? And for that matter, why are you showing off? We don't even know if we can trust this guy!"
Gwendolyn ignored him like she often did in the past. "So just leave it to us. No amount of dark magic can stand against Gwendolyn!"
The stranger nodded his head in satisfaction.
"So, you will venture into the village, knowing that there is danger because of dark magic?" he said. "Once you enter, there may be little chance of ever making it out. Come sunset, it will be too late. I, myself, once tried to free the people of their terrible fate, but in the process, I have lost my power and must turn to others for help. If you are who you say you are, then I am greatly relieved that at last, the people will be put at ease, at last."
He stepped aside and bowed. The robes that concealed him kept in place as if made of stone.
"Hold on," Alexandra protested before being nudged in the back by Gwendolyn's staff. The two teens were herded toward the entry arch of the village made from an assortment of twisted twigs, sticks, and wood with a sign in an alien language against their will.
Gwendolyn would not listen as she pushed them forward, and they were helpless to stop her. While she was no longer Gwendolyn the Witch, she still had the powers of Gwendolyn the Witch. It was only her authority and name that was passed down to Alexandra, not her archaic knowledge and power. She would not stop, but she did turn to the hooded stranger, gave him a feral grin as only an earthy tomboy would, and winked.
And then they were gone, leaving a stunned stranger behind. He stood for what seemed like an hour before shaking his head and returning to camp for the night. Heaven only knew what was going on in that ancient spirit's mind.
When they crossed the boundary, the ordinary and quiet disappeared, replaced with a gloom worse than anything that Alexandra saw throughout the ride over here. Outside the border was as chilly as autumn. In this village was an extreme winter wind. What should be green was rotted and without color.
Alexandra shivered beneath her cloak as a loud, collective moan resonated off the ground. People were coming out. But it didn't seem appropriate to call them people. They were more like specters who were chained to the earth when they should be rising to the heavens or whatever afterlife they believed in.
The pair huddled behind the little girl with the staff, warily taking in their surroundings. The lifeless shadows of the people of the village drifted around aimlessly, until one spotted the trio and began to act excitably.
"Look!" the young elf boy in overalls and an old-fashioned cap cried out. "People! Outsiders have come!"
Suddenly, the village was buzzing with activity. Crowds came together and the dark-skinned, pointy-eared elves, many in traditional robes and garments, some of the younger generation wearing more modern, but still old-fashioned clothing, gawked at the visitors, the first visitors in a long while. Alexandra became uncomfortable for a different reason at this point. She lowered the front brim of her hat and shied as low as she could behind the little girl that was her mentor and, for better or worse, her surrogate mother.
"It looks like some things never change," Gwendolyn commented. She lowered her staff and sadly shook her head.
The excitement in the elves' eyes quickly changed into pity. They spoke words of condolences and warmly welcomed them to their community. And then they were all miserable again, and drifting apart to continue with daily duties.
"Why do they look like they feel sorry for us?" Caesar whispered into Alexandra's ear.
"Because they do," Gwendolyn replied, having the ears of a bat. "I have a feeling that no one's been out of the village for a long while."
"What do you mean?" Alexandra demanded, her heart was sinking beneath her stomach.
"It means that until the curse is lifted, we're stuck here."
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Three
Having passed the witch's test, Alexandra is ready to leave the mansion. But to keep her freedom, she must go on a quest. Before that, she and Caesar listen to a story from the witch and gets a name.
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Five
Alexandra, Caesar and Gwendolyn meet with the chief of the village and discuss a ritual that could free the village of its curse. Gwendolyn commits Alexandra to the task. But sacrifice is required.