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Over a century ago they had been given form. Their forms had been cut from silk, carefully stitched into shapes and connected. And something else had been added. Magic. A half-life that could animate their bodies of cloth and give them purpose.
What purpose that had been, perhaps even their creator had forgotten. So the puppets eventually lost their purpose, were stored away. But they remained. Because the one who had stitched them together always had need of things. If you looked in her eyes, through the interconnecting rings bathed in orange, you might fall into them.
Deeper. Deeper. Into the very depths of her soul. There, you would see her.
She had been a mortal woman once. But such was her skill at thread and needle that she had grasped a truth of her art. All things were connected. And the art of sewing life and fate and magic was only a different technique than physical materials.
So, as to not die, she had created charms. Barriers of stolen life, of the very essence of fate and grand protections, all to protect her very being. So many that sometimes she forgot who and what she had been. In a way, she had made a new self.
It, she, was called Belavierr. Over centuries, she had added to those layers, creating something beyond any spider’s ability. Some of those old wards had failed. Many had stood strong in the faces of harm. But for all she had touched immortality, Belavierr had always known of her death. For it was the one thread she could never cut. It was woven into her being.
And now she knew one other truth: nothing was permanent. Dragons fell. Gods died.
She burned. And as she screamed, her creations rose. They came from the shadows, creations of silk. Puppet warriors. Cloth Golems, without the spark of true life. But armed for war. They bore ancient weapons and charged.
They burned and died. The flames that consumed them were burning at the shadows themselves. Steel melted. Magic burned. The [Witch] screamed.
There he was. Standing in the web of her soul, cutting at her protections. The thread burned. He was cutting it all away. The [Knight] burned, his very life the fuel of the flames. He could hurt her. She was dying.
But she didn’t flee. Because the [Witch] was looking ahead. At a [Hunter] whose axe cut a red line into her daughter’s throat. Wiskeria. Belavierr took another step, and then turned. She raised a hand and struck. With needle, with thread, with the weight of her magic. And the [Summer Knight] staggered.
But Ser Raim came on, his greatsword cutting into her. Through her. But it was aimed at those threads of her being. While they held her, she could not die. Belavierr staggered. But moved forwards.
“Keep her back.”
Gaile’s voice was steady as she yanked Wiskeria backwards. The [Witch] stared up at her mother. Four [Witch] Hunters covered them. One with crossbows shot again and again, downing the stitch-creations that came charging out of the shadows. The sky had turned black. Some of his bolts hit Belavierr, but she ignored them. They cut, but not deeply at her thread. The flame was what burned her.
Another had a hammer and shield. He did battle with a giant made of cloth. Yet another used a rapier and wand, aiming at grasping hands. A laughing voice, a shape in the air.
Spirits. A [Witch]’s craft. But they feared the blazing [Knight]. And the brilliant arrows shot from the bow of the last [Hunter] burst into flashes of brilliance. The [Hunters] aimed at Belavierr as they covered the [Knight]. Giving Ser Raim openings to strike again and again.
She could have run. But she stayed. And she fought. The [Witch] conjured metal storms of needles, summoned old creations, beasts made of animal’s hide. A Wyvern hide given life. But her creations burned. And the [Knight] cut at her.
She could have fled. But her daughter was there. So the [Witch] walked. She struck Ser Raim. Advancing as Gaile backed up, snarling. And her thread burned away. Ser Raim pursued. Each minute an eternity. Belavierr reached. And at the end, the [Witch Hunter] realized Belavierr had caught her.
Her grip tightened on Wiskeria and the axe as the threads tied her feet to the ground, the noose of cloth tried to drag at her neck. Gaile hesitated. Then she abandoned Wiskeria, shoving the young woman to the side. She lifted her axe.
The [Huntress] struck as Belavierr swung an arm down. On Gaile’s lips was a Skill. And she cut a thread before hers was cut in turn. She fell. And Ser Raim raised his sword. Belavierr screamed. She staggered, and her blood, her true, life’s blood, ran onto the parched, dry grass. She looked up and saw her death.
He died too, as her immortality burnt away with him. For a mortal could best even that which is immortal, if he had the strength, the will, and the chance. He could slay forever.
They watched. The Order of Seasons, in distant Terandria, from the Knight-Commander to the Grandmasters to Dame Talia, her fingers white on her sword. In Riverfarm, the people of the Unseen Empire watched, witnessing the battle of giants. From their isle, the [Mages] of Wistram covertly observed.
The coven of [Witches] watched. And so did the fae. From their perches they watched an old story unfold. All eyes were on Belavierr as she tried to flee, and her daughter watched her mother. Smelled smoke and burning. Heard her mother scream.
One person turned away. She ran, as the shadows caught fire. Searching the ranks of the otherworldly host. Ryoka shouted, but her voice was lost by the roar of battle. And no matter how far she ran, she couldn’t approach the watchers. They were here, but not here.
And they looked down on her. On Belavierr, alight with flame, Ser Raim, the [Witch Hunters]. The fae watched with curiously grave expressions, without the glee or amusement Ryoka would have expected. They were bearing witness.
The young woman cried out. But her voice was too quiet. This was not her moment. And the watching fae paid her no notice. She ran towards one, begging. Pleading.
“Ivolethe! Is she here? Is she alive?”
Ryoka Griffin called out for her friend. And at last, one of the fae looked down at her. A strange person with sharp teeth grinned. And her?—his?—eyes were suddenly gleeful.
“You again. You want to know?”
Every fiber in Ryoka wanted to turn. It was screaming at her that she had to see. For better or worse, see what became of Belavierr. But what kept her begging, searching for a hint of blue and ice, was friendship. Her friend. She pleaded with the fae. And it laughed.
“Tell me. Why should I tell you? Now, begone. We are trying to see.”
He flicked a finger. And Ryoka could only stumble away. She kept pleading. But they didn’t listen. And when Ryoka heard the last shriek, she had to turn.
Gaile was dead. The [Hunter] lay on the ground, impaled by a single needle that had gone through her magical armor, as long as a javelin. The other [Hunters] cried out. But Belavierr’s voice rose above them, a sound no Human could have made.
She was on fire. They all were. The [Hunters] burned from their proximity to Ser Raim. And they screamed with it too. But they fought. Ryoka saw one drinking a potion as he reloaded. He shot both crossbows and the silver bolts struck a Wyvern dropping out of the skies. The bolts blew holes in the Wyvern, exploding with fire. He whirled.
“She’s running! Sylind! Mark her!”
The [Hunter] with the bow and arrow turned. She aimed at Belavierr. The [Witch] was fleeing, striding away as Ser Raim pursued her. Again, each of Belavierr’s steps seemed to take her dozens of feet away. But the fire was still burning her. And she looked—Ryoka’s breath caught.
Mortal. As if some of the unearthly nature had burnt away. Even her steps were unsteady as she fled. And she turned, her hand flickering, and she raised a cloth shield.
The [Witch Hunter] with the wand aimed it. Ryoka saw a flash—the bolt was caught on the cloth shield—Ser Raim’s blade stopped as it struck the shield. Then it began to burn as his blade drew back. Belavierr struggled, stepping backwards. And the [Huntress] spoke.
“[The Eternal Hunt].”
The arrow flew. Belavierr dropped the burning shield, and dozens of threads as thick as cables tried to ensnare Ser Raim and the [Witch Hunter] with the hammer. The man with the hammer cursed as the threads tried to snare him, and he clutched an amulet, and for a second he was intangible, walking through the thread. Ser Raim swung, cutting through. Belavierr whirled, and the black horse rode towards her, faster than any horse should move.
The arrow struck Belavierr in the shoulder as she pulled herself up onto the bare horse’s back. She turned, staring back at the [Hunter] with the bow. But the one with the crossbows loosed again, and Belavierr’s fingers twisted. The crossbow bolts snapped on her clothes which were suddenly harder than stone. She rode, outdistancing her pursuers in a moment, with each second passing hundreds of feet. But the [Hunter] kept firing, aiming at her back even when she was a distant speck.
And then? Ryoka, her eyes wide, saw Belavierr’s head turn. And though the [Witch] was a speck, Ryoka felt the single emotion from her. Fear. Pure, mortal, fear.
She fled. And the others abandoned their pursuit. Ser Raim slowed, and the brilliant, white flames around him vanished. The other two [Hunters] slowed. The man gasped, his face cut, his armor torn twice.
“Gaile. She killed Gaile.”
“She got away. We nearly had her. Raim got her protections. I could see her dying. But we lost her!”
The woman with the rapier stared at the place where Belavierr had disappeared in the distance. She cursed. The other two [Hunters] joined them. Ser Raim was stationary, his eyes locked on where Belavierr had vanished. The [Huntress] with the bow raised it.
“It’s not over. I marked her. I know where she is. Northeast—two miles. She’s circling.”
The other nodded silently. The rest of the [Hunters] looked up.
“You marked her? Truly?”
“Yes. We can find her. I will never lose her again.”
“So long as you live. We have to bring the battle to her. She will try any trick—”
“Raim. How much of his life did he burn away?”
The others looked at him. The [Summer Knight] was bent as Ryoka approached with Prost, Rie, the others. Prost called out and the group turned. Ryoka saw the [Knight] turn to face them and froze.
His armor blazed with the colors of his season. Gold and red and orange. His sword still burned. But the man was different. He had been changed.
“Who are you people?”
Prost demanded. The [Witch Hunters] looked at him. One nodded.
“We are members of the Hunter’s Guild.”
Lady Rie murmured the words. Her eyes were wide. The other [Hunters] nodded. One went to Raim’s side. He was bent over. Another ran for the orb on the ground. Ran, not walked. The woman with the bow had turned, scanning the distance. The one with the crossbows spoke tersely.
“We are hunting the Stitch Witch, Belavierr. Your pardons, but she is a wanted criminal.”
“We know. That is—her coven—”
The [Hunter] looked up. He lifted one crossbow as seven [Witches] approached.
“We have no quarrel with you. But we will not be stopped so close to our goal. [Witches], hold. And you. Are you the [Village Head] here?”
“No. [Steward] to Emperor Godart.”
The [Hunter] paused. But then his head turned, his eyes flicked to the horizon. And Ryoka felt it too. Then she saw movement.
“I see it. Whoever you are, all of you, get your people into that village. We’ll cover you. The Stitch Witch is hurt. But she’s desperate. And she knows we can find her.”
The [Huntress] archer called out nervously. The [Knight] was moving towards them, supported by the man with the hammer. The [Summer Knight]’s voice was beyond weary.
“The Order. We have her. I can finish her. I cut away her immortality. But—”
“We see it.”
The scrying orb was speaking. Ryoka saw a huge conference table, staring faces. [Knights], gathered in the circular reflection. Ser Raim nodded. Then he pointed. Prost, Rie, Ryoka, all looked up.
“She can die. But she has sent her minions against us. We must track her down.”
“Protect Sylind. If she dies, Belavierr escapes.”
The [Hunter] drew his crossbows and shot. Ryoka didn’t see what he aimed at first. Then, as both crossbows reloaded and she shot again, she saw them.
A legion of warriors made of cloth. Not one or a thousand, but tens of thousands. Taxidermy monsters, indistinguishable from their real counterparts. A patchwork giant, as misshapen as a Snow Golem, lurching forwards. And then—Ryoka’s heart stopped.
A Dragon, crawling towards them. But the scales were purple cloth. The creature fake. But the threat real. And in the sky came howling faces. Half-real things that flickered and made Ryoka want to tear at her ears. The others paled, but the [Hunters] set themselves.
“Looks like bound wraiths. An entire army of cloth monsters. Brace.”
The crossbows shot. Ser Raim gasped for air. He turned. And Ryoka saw that he had burnt himself away. But the ember flickered. Belavierr’s death coughed. Then he straightened.
“Knight-Commander. A word.”
At the same time as Ser Raim spoke, a woman sat on a throne. Hers was made of wood, but hardly as humble as that of the [Emperor] of Riverfarm. Hers was enchanted wood, yet the paint still chipped in places, because centuries meant even magic began to fail, let alone millennia. But that was not the point.
The throne marked her. And she belonged to it. And her people, who stood in the throne room which was open to the elements on one side of the room, leading to a huge balcony, respected the symbol of the throne more than the appearance.
They did not dress like courtiers of a typical kingdom. For their garb was thick, appropriate for the winter, even. But fitting because the open-air throne room was chilly, cold, even in the last days of spring. The altitude freezing, and snow was not unknown even in the hottest days of summer. This was the court of Kaliv’s kingdom, and it was the nation of Kaliv whose people lived among the highest altitudes. And they were Humans, predominantly.
They bordered the Eternal Land of Calanfer, Gaiil-Drome one of the forest-kingdoms who lived in uneasy peace with half-Elf populations, and bordered by the powerful nation of Ailendamus, whose breadth and span was thrice that of all three other nations.
But though all three had been tested, the alliance between Calanfer, Gaiil-Drome, and Kaliv had held back even Ailendamus and six other nations in the last war, Petril’s Folly, which had been twenty eight years hence. Because Kaliv had settled the high plateaus and a mountain itself. Poor in arable land it might be, like the Dwarves of Terandria, they had endured any foe who might assail them.
Because of the beasts that were Kaliv’s treasure, export, strength, and weakness. That demanded food, yet made the nation famous. Griffins. And their counterparts on the ground, giant goats that could be ridden to battle, far unlike their insane cousins, the Eater Goats of the High Passes. Such was their history that their ruler was always known as the Griffin King of Kaliv. Or in this case, the Griffin Queen.
But it was not to the Griffins she looked today. But to the latest arrival, who had been born by Griffins, yes, but unusually, had been carried into the throne room. She stood, ignoring the protests, her protectors and her daughter who had barred the sudden arrivals with blades. The Griffin Queen, Novakya, shouted so her voice might be heard in the cavernous room.
“Let him through.”
He did not approach. But the four men and women bearing him did. The Griffin Queen saw with a start that it was him. She looked down upon her son as they bore him across the throne room. The man was young—in his late twenties.
He was in his way, the most famous of the royal line of Kaliv. Firstborn of her line, yes, but also for another reason. He was Kaliv’s famous disgrace. An exile in all but name.
The Griffin Prince.
He had not returned to this throne room for years. Not since he had been banished. Now, they bore him in on a sheet of cloth, straight from Griffin-back. Novakya recognized it; the crimson cloth akin to the plainer stretchers that the [Griffin Riders] used to transport the wounded or supplies. But why had they used…? And then she realized the cloth was plain, but the blood had dyed it red.
“What has happened?”
She spoke to the man who accompanied the [Prince]. He stuttered, his eyes wide with panic.
“Queen, he collapsed not ten minutes ago. On patrol. He’s bleeding. We can’t stop it, even with potions. The—we’ve seen this once before. It’s—”
“Move aside! Lay him down—gently!”
The words were shouted by the [Royal Healer] who ran across the throne room. The men and women did and the Griffin Prince lowered to the floor. The blood began spreading. His mother looked down.
He was choking, bleeding from his clothing and onto the stone floor. The Griffin Prince could barely move, but he still looked up. And his face was deathly pale as he reached up. The Griffin Queen, Novakya, looked down and reached for her boy, a man grown. But the [Healer] stopped her.
“Potions don’t work?”
“They heal him, but the wounds—”
The [Griffin Rider] pointed, his face pale. And then Novakya saw it. All present drew back save her. The Griffin Queen saw her son bleeding from his limbs. From the stitches that held his arms to his shoulders, his torso, even his neck.
But he was Human, not Stitch-Person. And Novakya knew. She looked up. The [Healer] had frozen. Then she grasped for her potions.
“The same as nine years ago.”
The Griffin Queen nodded silently as the [Healer] knelt. She said nothing. Her daughter spat as the open throne room echoed with the Griffin’s shrieks as they scented the blood.
“The Stitch Witch. She’s finally decided she has no use for him.”
The Griffin Prince was choking, coughing on his blood. Spitting it up. Novakya could not look away. No one had an answer. But one revealed itself as the [Healer] desperately brought out her own needle and thread, trying to stem the bleeding from the separating limbs.
She cried out as the thread twisted as she tried to thread it through the needle. It fell to the floor, black, twisting. The [Royal Guard] tried to stop their [Queen], but she pushed them aside. And she saw the thread twist in the blood.
The thread moved, forming into a pattern on the floor. A crew of four parts, so distinctive that Novakya recognized it at once.
“The Order of Seasons.”
“They must have her. They’ve cornered the Spider at last and she’s desperate. Mother—”
The Griffin Princess looked both triumphant and disgusted. She spared no emotion for her brother lying on the ground. But his mother—the Griffin Prince’s eyes opened. And he spoke, in a pained voice as the [Healer] shakily tried to sew his limbs back in place.
She jerked. The [Prince] tried to raise his head. The [Healer] snapped at him.
“Don’t! Move and you could lose your head.”
He stopped. But his eyes rolled. The Griffin Queen stepped closer. And his eyes focused on her. He spoke hoarsely.
“My Queen. This is my punishment. For ever trusting her. Don’t give in to Belavierr. If she is using my life, she’s truly backed into a corner. She wants you to assail the Order to save me.”
Novakya’s daughter made a disgusted sound. She drew her sword, stepping into the blood.
“Of course she does. Brother. Say the word and I will end it now. Just as I promised you then! Let her not leave her claws in our kingdom.”
And there was silence. The Griffin Prince breathed, laboriously. The [Healer] paused, and the court waited. And the Griffin Queen waited. Her hands were clenched as he inhaled, and looked up, his grey-blue eyes wild. And he closed his eyes after a second.
“I—can’t. I may yet live. And I wish to live. If Belavierr dies, I will be free. But my Queen. Leave me—”
His sister made a sound of disgust and turned. She hurled her sword across the throne room as she stalked away. And her mother just stood there. Thinking. But not thinking. All she was doing was watching his blood run across the throne room’s floor. And he looked at her, pleadingly. They had not spoken in six years. And then, only for a moment. Not like this.
“My Queen. Mother. Let me die, if it is my time. I have brought you only grief. Do not let her ensnare you too.”
Her disgrace. The fool of a [Prince]. Her son. Novakya knew this was Belavierr’s game. She knew. And still, she reached for him and again, the [Healer] stopped her.
“Majesty, he is falling apart. We are holding him together with potion and thread.”
The Griffin Queen stepped back. The [Healer] was calling for more potions, her assistants. And her son lay there, pleading silently. Not a man or woman in this room didn’t know his story. But none dared say a word, not even the Griffin Princess. They all waited. And Novakya closed her eyes.
How long and how wide was her web? The Stitch Witch, Belavierr. The Spider of Lives. Novakya raised her head. And oh, how bitterly she admired the way the threads had ensnared her. But she would never choose otherwise. And that was what Belavierr had known. Damn her.
Then the Griffin Queen turned. Her cloak swirled and her breath appeared in the cold air. A storm was coming. She snapped at the nearest [Royal Guard].
“Send a [Message] to the Order of Seasons. By order of the Griffin Queen, I demand them cease their quest for Belavierr’s head.”
The man paused only a moment. The Griffin Queen walked past him. She shouted for her [General]. He was already ready, mounted on the Imperial Griffin. She pointed at him.
“Summon eight hundred Griffin Riders. We fly upon the Order of Season’s stronghold. Arm them for battle. Now.”
The Griffin Prince called her back. His voice was desperate. Novakya stopped and stared at him. Her shoes were standing in his blood. She looked down at him, and her face was distant. Harsh.
“You are a disgrace to Kaliv. But you are also Griffin Prince. You may not die yet.”
That was what she said. But that was not what he heard. And the Griffin Prince sighed. His mother turned. And she called as the storm swept down across the mountains. She swung herself up into her personal Griffin’s saddle. She had known this day would come. And she had known the choice she would make. She looked ahead and swore that would not be the last sight she saw of him.
The Griffin Queen pointed.
Knight-Commander Calirn stared into the orb. Ser Raim stood there. And he had already changed. He had given himself to the flame, as the champions of his class had time and time again. And already—Calirn closed his eyes.
He was dying. Closer to death. But Calirn had also seen Belavierr flee. He had heard her scream. And now—
“She can die. Knight-Commander, she has fled. But we have marked her.”
“How certain are you that you can locate her again, Ser Raim?”
The [Summer Knight]’s voice rasped. Behind him, the four remaining [Witch Hunters] were setting up. Two were already loosing arrows and crossbow bolts. Knight-commander Calirn knew time was of the essence. Ser Raim’s eyes flickered past him, staring at something Calirn couldn’t see.
“Completely. Sylind has [The Eternal Hunt]. She will never lose her quarry once marked. Knight-Commander, we can hold against the waves Belavierr has summoned. But we must pursue Belavierr. This village will be destroyed if we do not protect it. I request reinforcements to hold the ground while we advance.”
“There is a legion of cloth golems bearing down at them.”
The Spring’s Warden spoke quietly, her eyes staring past Ser Raim’s head. Calirn nodded. He saw one of the [Hunters] turn and snap.
“Raim. More are coming.”
The [Summer Knight] nodded. He looked back at the orb.
“I will consider your request, Ser Raim. A moment.”
The Knight-Commander was a [Winter Knight]. He spoke the harsh words impartially. Emotion could not affect his judgment. He could see the Summer’s Champion, the opposite of his Season, look up, eyes flashing. But Ser Raim only nodded. He drew his sword and advanced past the orb, taking up a position with the [Hunters]. Calirn saw a huge shadow, and one of the [Hunters], the one with the bow, Sylind, aiming up—
“Fall Sentinel. Do you believe that Skill will locate the Stitch Witch, despite her abilities?”
Calirn looked over at the Grandmaster of the Season of Fall. The Fall’s Sentinel looked up. The war room held three of the Grandmasters and Calirn as well as two servants. By protocol, the Winter’s Watcher was elsewhere, should they all fall. The Fall Sentinel paused, and nodded.
“[The Eternal Hunt]. With that Skill, [Hunters] of old could track even Dragons. Getting to them was more difficult, but no magic could protect them.”
“And she is wounded.”
The other three Grandmasters nodded. Calirn only wondered how much. Belavierr had still fled. But her scream—he clenched a fist. She had not made that sound when he had battled her. She could die.
Then he turned. The wide-eyed [Servants] were still panting. Knight-Commander Calirn looked at them. Then at the Spring’s Warden. Her gaze met his. Calirn clenched his fist.
“Kilav. And the shining kingdom of Taimaguros. I knew of the Griffin Prince. But what hold does the Stitch Witch have on Taimaguros’ [King]?”
“Anything. Perhaps she gave him life. Or maybe some charm? We should be lucky the Blighted King himself isn’t threatening war.”
Calirn nodded. He looked at the [Servants].
One had a scroll. She checked it, and the servant shook her head rapidly. She gulped, looking afraid.
“No, Knight-Commander. Both nations demand the Order abandon its pursuit of Belavierr at once, Knight-Commander. And both…both have roused a large force.”
“Eight hundred Griffins from Kilav, sir. Thirteen thousand by horse from Taimaguros. Both have set out at once. Towards the Order.”
The Summer’s Champion uttered an oath.
“Eight hundred [Griffin Riders]? Does Kilav mean war?”
Calirn shook his head. He calmly assessed the numbers. But even his heart was beating faster.
“They would have sent three times that number and a ground force if they intended war. Even so, the Griffin Queen means to assail our order directly. If we do battle, it will be war.”
“For her son.”
The Grandmasters paused. Calirn studied a map.
“Fall Sentinel. Your appraisal? How fast will Kilav reach us?”
“Three day’s flight from Kilav’s borders. Or—if the Griffin Queen herself, leads, a day’s flight. But she will not reach the order until tomorrow at dawn at the earliest, even if she uses speed-boosting Skills and calls wind-magic to her aid. Taimaguros will be six days even with the best Skills.”
Calirn nodded absently. Then he looked up. The Summer’s Champion’s aura was driving the temperature of the room up. The man met Calirn’s gaze.
“It just proves Ser Raim is right. She is desperate, Knight-Commander. Belavierr throws everything she can against the hunters. Ser Raim has cut the thread of her immortality. Give me leave to assemble five lances. I will lead them myself. We can end this.”
The Knight-Commander shook his head.
“You are compromised, Summer’s Champion. As am I. She would turn you against your own comrades.”
The Summer’s Champion looked bitter.
“Not I, then. But the Spring’s Warden or the Winter’s Watcher, then. And every [Knight] over Level 30 we can spare—!”
He clenched his fist. But it was Knight-Commander Calirn who deliberated. The Griffin Queen promised war. As did Taimaguros’ [King]. But Belavierr—he weighed the costs, the odds of her death. Then he looked up and nodded.
“Prepare the grand ritual a second time! Summon the Order of Spring and Order of Summer! Move!”
The Grandmasters raced from the room. The Fall Sentinel was protesting, but he sprinted with Calirn to one of the oldest parts of the Order of Season’s stronghold. So old, in fact, it predated the Order of Seasons.
It was a relic of the half-Elven empire that had once called this area home. The room was a giant spell circle, designed for several ritual spells that even Wistram would have trouble emulating. And perhaps more that were yet unknown. But one—the ability to walk across a world in moments was one of the Order of Season’s trump cards. And yet—
“Knight-Commander! The cost is too high! We have exhausted over half of my Season performing the ritual once! We cannot do it again so easily!”
The Fall Sentinel snapped as Calirn burst into the grand ritual chamber. Calirn saw he was right. The last ritual’s components were still assembled on the floor.
Raw magicore, mana potions—even artifacts and enchanted weapons, scrolls, wands—all lay on the design on the floor. And the magicore was already turning to simple stone. The scrolls were just parchment.
All were spent. And the [Autumn Knights] who had fueled the magic were drained, unsteady. Many were drinking mana potions, but they rose as Calirn strode into the room. Racing [Knights] poured into the room, but the Fall Sentinel’s voice snapped above them all.
“Gather all the magical items below relic status! Prioritize components and replaceable items first! Knight-Commander—”
“I hear you, Fall’s Sentinel. But the cost I am willing to pay. Even if we must sacrifice a lesser relic.”
The Fall Sentinel inhaled sharply, but then he shook his head.
“The cost would be too high. Our order is exhausted, and it is from them that much of the mana is produced. Moreover, you know we cannot move an army, Knight-Commander! The [Witch Hunters] and their gear were bad enough, as was Ser Raim!”
He gestured to the spell circle.
“Moving that much magic across the world took every bit of magic the Season of Autumn could muster, Knight-Commander! It is not a matter of weight—in the confines of this ritual, magic is the true weight! If we had another type of spell—no army. No magical armor! And the Stitch Witch will rip apart any [Knight] not bearing enchanted gear!”
“How many with simple steel armor and unenchanted weapons?”
The Knight-Commander glared at his old comrade.
“How many, Grandmaster?”
The Fall Sentinel hesitated.
“…Twenty eight, Knight-Commander. No one with a powerful aura or whose body is affected by their Skills. No Autumn Knights. That is the only margin we can account for. Any more or anyone with more magic and we will run out of mana. They will fall short of Riverfarm.”
“What of a few individuals who…?”
“No. I could calculate it out, but not on the fly.”
The Fall Sentinel folded his arms. Calirn looked back. A [Servant] had the scrying orb. Battle was already being joined. He made another decision and turned. The Seasons of Spring and Summer had flooded the room. They stood to attention, young and old, eyes locked on the combat across the world reflected in the scrying orb. Calirn called out.
“Summer’s Champion. Choose eight of your best who fit those parameters! Spring’s Warden—I seek twenty of our youngest. Let only those who are ready for death volunteer. They will reinforce Ser Raim and hold the ground before bringing the fight to Belavierr. They are to take steel and silver only.”
The Fall Sentinel closed his eyes. Eight veterans, and twenty [Spring Knights]. The Summer’s Champion and the Spring’s Warden only hesitated a moment. Then they began calling names. Calirn turned. Cold decisions. He looked at one of his brethren, a [Winter Knight].
“Send word to the Winter’s Watcher. Lock down the Order. Prepare for combat against aerial foes. Make ready seal all the entrances for a siege.”
“You mean to defy Kilav, Knight-Commander?”
“Until war is inevitable, yes. The scrying orb.”
Calirn beckoned. The Fall Sentinel turned, and artifacts and magical items flooded the rom as twenty-eight of the Order of Season lined up. Dame Talia stood proudly among her sisters and brothers, tossing her magical gear aside and being armed with plain steel and silver.
Calirn paused. But she was a [Summer Knight], noble blood or not. He spoke into the scrying orb. The [Hunters] were already battling. One had deployed an artifact that was throwing up walls of stone; another was throwing chained lightning from her wand.
The man turned. Calirn shouted towards him.
“Ser Raim. Reinforcements are on the way! You must claim the Stitch Witch’s head as quickly as you can. The Order is about to be assailed by Kilav. The Stitch Witch has forced their hand!”
The [Knight] stumbled towards him. He was burning, but not from his life-consuming Skills. Calirn repeated the order. Ser Raim’s face was pale. He paused, panting.
“Reinforcements? We accept. We will pursue—the Stitch Witch—I am pledged to—”
He wavered. His face was deathly pale. Calirn’s eyes widened as he saw a huge clothed foot smash one of the stone walls.
“Ser Raim! Behind you! Ser Raim!”
The [Summer Knight] whirled. He saw the cloth giant and raised his greatsword. Then—suddenly—he paused. Calirn bellowed his name, but it was no use. Ser Raim fell without a sound, the greatsword slipping from his hands. The cloth giant turned as a thrown hammer struck it and the impact sent it reeling back. But it advanced. Ser Raim had fallen. Calirn whirled.
“Fall Sentinel! Send them now!”
But the ritual needed time. Calirn turned back. Ser Raim was lying on the ground. Spent. He had used his Skill—he needed rest! He had to finish it! But the cloth giant was bending down, ignoring the spells and arrows blasting holes in its face. It bent—as Calirn watched helplessly, freezing the ground around him—
And a grey hand grabbed Ser Raim. At first, Calirn thought it was a monster. But the giant of a girl was holding a shield and crude leather armor. No—her shield was just a converted wooden door. But she pulled the [Knight] back, behind her. She grabbed the greatsword in one hand and lifted her shield—a door of wood—in the other. The cloth giant brought its hand down like a hammer.
And the half-Troll girl blocked it. The impact drove her down, with a cry, but her knees held. She forced the arm up and swung. The enchanted greatsword cleaved into the cloth golem, set it alight. The [Hunters] finally severed its head at range and the girl held her ground. She roared and swung her greatsword, catching bounding Ghoul and bisecting it. Calirn stared.
“Who is that?”
Durene stood over Ser Raim. The line of [Hunters] had broken with the cloth giant. They reformed it, shouting, as she swung the greatsword one-handed. She blocked a pair of cloth-warriors circling her right with her shield. The sword was light. It sheared through everything with a single cut.
She swung. The flaming greatsword burned in her hands. But the fire did not hurt her. Nor had Ser Raim’s flames. And her eyes held a trace of that same fire. The [Paladin] bellowed, holding the line while the [Hunters] raced past her.
“Guard Raim! Set up a perimeter! [Hail of Bolts]!”
The crossbowman snapped at his comrades as he raised his crossbows. The self-loading magical crossbows raised as he aimed at the purple cloth-dragon charging at them.
Thunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunk—the crossbows reloaded and shot, the mechanism blurring too fast for Durene to see. The bolts streaked across the ground, exploding and blowing parts of the gigantic dragon to bits. It collapsed before it got within range, but more cloth-warriors were advancing.
There were so many! And they were armed—Durene cried out as one slashed across her side. The blade was ancient steel, but it cut through her armor. Her skin was tougher and the blade only slashed lightly. Durene twisted, and a hammer crushed the cloth head, smashing the entire creation into the ground. The man with the hammer raised it.
“[Circle of Protection]. Fortress wall strength.”
Durene saw a racing line of bright green—and felt a reassuring presence. The first rank of Belavierr’s creations charging at them ran into a wall and began hammering at it. Undeterred, the man with the hammer swung into them, and Durene did the same.
“It won’t last! Stone walls, there, and there!”
Another [Hunter] was raising stone walls with a wand, funneling the enemies. The one with the bow was shooting down flying targets. But there were so many!
The man with the hammer swung and knocked a score of enemies flying. Then he looked up and swore.
Durene looked up. She saw a laughing face, twisted with insanity, a flicker in the unnaturally dark sky—and then something went through her. It passed through her shield, her armor—she cried out as her insides froze. Then she heard an explosion.
The [Archer] with the bow had shot at the spirit. Durene heard a scream as it retreated, but more were flying out of the sky.
“What are they?”
“Spirits. Those are spirits. Mundane weapons won’t even work on them unless they’re made of silver or a purifying substance. Back up!”
The [Hunters] retreated. They began aiming up as Durene swung at the airborne apparitions with the greatsword. They avoided that, but they went through her shield. Durene abandoned it to pick up Ser Raim. She ran back towards Riverfarm, the [Witch Hunters] covering her.
“How many creations does she have?”
The [Hunter] with the crossbows snapped. He drew a potion, threw it. The explosion of light drove half the specters away. But more were coming. And beyond them—
“Another giant. Dead gods.”
The [Archer] lowered her bow. The [Witch Hunters] exchanged a glance. The hammer-wielder bared his teeth.
“No retreat. We’re too close. That village is at our backs! Hold! Hold, damn you all!”
“She’ll come after us when we’re exhausted, Faigen! Raim’s out, and Gaile’s dead. We need to pull back! So long as Sylind lives—”
The [Mage Hunter] snapped as she pointed her wand and shot lightning into the sky. Durene, panting, looked up. Riverfarm was filled with screams. Prost had mobilized Beniar and the [Riders] to hold the entrance to the village. But where was that galloping coming from?
She turned. And then the first [Summer Knight] raced past her. Dame Talia lowered her visor and pointed her sword ahead.
“For the Order of Seasons! House Kallinad and the summer! Charge!”
More riders thundered after her. Knights dressed in the bright of spring, the radiance of summer. They filled the gaps, hacking down the cloth golems as four of the [Summer Knights] charged the cloth giant. Durene caught her breath. She looked at the unconscious [Knight] on her shoulder. The [Hunters] looked at her.
“Miss! Into the village! Do you have anywhere we can use? We can set up a warding spot until Raim wakes up!”
One of the [Hunters] snapped at her. Durene blinked.
“I—yes! This way!”
She led them at a run towards the newest houses. Behind them, the Order of the Seasons was holding Belavierr’s army back. The physical ones, at least. Durene looked up as someone screamed. More spirits were flying lower. And they looked like faces, caught in some madness of grief or rage or insanity—
The [Archer] raised her bow. But the spirits were flying lower, assailing the fleeing Riverfarm people in the street. They dove as the [Hunter] cursed, trying to place her shot. They flew past an old woman with a pointed hat, chasing a child. The [Witch] raised her hand and slapped the spirit.
The spirit had no body. But something smacked it into the air. The [Archer] loosed, and the arrow exploded with light. The spirit vanished with a scream. And the [Witch Hunters] looked down.
Eloise straightened her hat as one of the [Summer Knights] thundered back into Riverfarm. Dame Talia’s eyes were blazing. She spotted Eloise, and then did a double-take.
“She’s not a target! Hold!”
The [Witch Hunter] with the crossbows halted Talia before she could lower the lance. He turned. But warily. The man looked at Eloise. The grandmotherly [Witch] wasn’t smiling as she regarded the battle outside Riverfarm. Or Ser Raim.
“Lady Eloise du Havin. Where is the Stitch Witch?”
The [Witch Hunter] addressed the [Witch] politely. Eloise looked at him.
“Gone, young man. And I am [Witch] Eloise. I haven’t used that other name in years.”
The [Hunters] tensed. The man with the crossbows paused.
“I see. Does your coven intend to stand with the Stitch Witch, then?”
Eloise paused. She looked around, meeting Durene’s eyes a moment. Then she shook her head.
“My coven will decide whether they stand with her or not. I have already given my answer, but the others have not. Now, let us protect this village. Put the [Knight] in a safe place. He’ll wake soon. He’s just tired. If he means to end Belavierr, he had better do it soon. She will try to kill the [Hunter] who marked her by any means necessary.”
“And if they choose to fight? This coven of yours? What then?”
Talia snapped, still blazing with battle-fever. Eloise glanced up at her. And then she looked at Ser Raim.
“If they do, you had better bring ten times as many of your sisters, Miss Knight.”
Her eyes glinted under her hat.
She couldn’t catch them. Not the fae. No matter how hard she ran. They didn’t even seem to move. But they were distant. With each step she was further from them. The wind wouldn’t carry her. She couldn’t run like the wind. So she called out to them.
And they laughed at her. But their eyes didn’t linger on the mortal girl. They turned. Following another gathering.
The six [Witches] found Belavierr sitting under a lonely tree. Wiskeria picked up her hat and stared at Ryoka. Somehow, the City Runner was there first. Despite the cloth warriors that marched on Riverfarm, attacking everything they saw. The [Witches] had been forced to fight past them, all but Wiskeria.
And Ryoka was staring at something else, far away. And she looked lost. But Wiskeria had only a glance for her. All of her eyes were fixed on the huddled shape at the base of the tree.
Belavierr. Smoke still rose from the [Witch]’s clothes. And her dress was still ragged, torn from battle. She was sitting. And she breathed. The air rasped through her lungs. Wiskeria uttered a word.
Califor stopped her. The senior [Witch] stared at what Belavierr held. And she shook her head. With one hand, she aimed a wand.
“No closer. She has a jar of spirits. She’s unleashing them.”
Now Wiskeria saw the flickering around Belavierr. Faces. Shadows despite the day. She heard faint voices. Some called her name. Alevica shivered.
“A what? Spirits? That’s old magic. They don’t exist anymore.”
She tried to grin. But the flickering half-real shapes flew towards her and she raised her wand. The things avoided her spell. No—the ray of burning fire passed through them. And they flew at the coven.
Dragging. Calling Wiskeria’s name. They pulled at her, freezing her body, trying to force the dagger out of her sheathe. They circled Alevica as she swung at them, taunting, laughing at her magic. Mavika they avoided. Hedag they swarmed around, screaming her sins. And Califor raised her wand and the light blossomed—
Light. It was the first of spells. But the [Witch] shaped it. She conjured a sword out of it and swung. And the ghosts, fled, screaming. Califor raised her wand. And the light shone bright.
Belavierr looked up. The ghosts abandoned her, Ryoka, the coven. The Stitch Witch pointed and they fled past them. Towards Riverfarm. Gasping, her insides cold, Wiskeria took her hand off her belt. She saw Alevica jerk. The [Witch] had been aiming her shortsword at her own neck. Hedag breathed slowly, loosening her grip on her axe.
Even Mavika looked disturbed. Califor put one hand out. The ghosts had never touched Nanette. But the girl clung to Califor as Belavierr walked towards them. Califor’s voice was soothing and strict.
“In ages past, Nanette, [Witches] consorted with such things. Now, they are far fewer. So few that even bound ghosts are rare. The afterlife is empty. Thus [Witches], [Shamans], [Summoners] and all of our kind suffer for it. But sometimes great spirits still linger. Now. Stay behind me.”
She turned. And Belavierr stopped. Wiskeria looked up. And her mother stared at her.
Her eyes lingered on Wiskeria’s throat. The [Witch] still felt the cold axe digging into her flesh. She raised her hand to the healed wound. But it had been magical. So a scar remained. The potion hadn’t healed it.
“Mother. Who are those [Hunters]? Who is that [Knight]? Why are they hunting you?”
She knew. She didn’t know the exact details., but she knew. And she waited for her mother to give her a non-answer. For that vacant expression. That timeless look that Wiskeria loved and hated. But Belavierr’s eyes were steady. Present.
“I do not know. I do not remember. Daughter, you must flee. I do battle here.”
She raised her hand. And Wiskeria felt her calling more magic. It ran through the ground, pulled at the shadows. Magic far beyond her, so much of it that Wiskeria felt sick. She had never seen Belavierr using this many spells.
The ground began to move. Alevica eyed it and stepped back. Califor did not. She ignored the hand that rose as it unearthed itself, clawing its way out of the soil. She stomped on it and held Nanette with one arm. Her voice was sharp and direct.
“Belavierr. The enemies that seek your life are your own. [Witches] do not interfere in the business of other [Witches]. Unless such matters may affect all [Witches]. Or the [Witch] asks. Do you beg this coven’s help?”
The Stitch Witch blinked. She turned as more corpses dug themselves out of the earth. She had a needle in hand and she was stitching them together. Now she paused and looked back at Califor.
“You would do battle?”
“We would decide. If asked.”
Wiskeria saw her mother pause. And Belavierr’s eyes flickered with something that frightened Wiskeria. Hope. And it was frightening because hope could only exist with fear. Belavierr paused. And then she looked at Wiskeria. And she saw her daughter. Really saw her.
“No. I do not ask it of my coven.”
“I see. Then I bid you luck. We shall bear witness.”
Califor inclined her head. And Belavierr nodded back. The two [Witches] tipped their hats and Califor turned. She strode away, Nanette clinging to her. The little [Witch] looked back, wide-eyed, afraid. Alevica stared at Califor and then at Belavierr. Hedag leaned on her axe.
“Keep your creations away from the villagers, Belavierr. Or I will be forced to fight against you. I am Hedag and they are under my protection.”
Belavierr glanced at her.
“My death waits there.”
The two [Witches] stared at each other. Hedag raised her axe slowly, resting it on her shoulder.
“Then I’ll protect your death. The village will not fall. So swears Hedag, upon her axe and craft. I don’t wish your death, Belavierr. But it’s coming. And your [Executioner] burns with a wrath I’ve not seen. Go well.”
She turned and walked away. Alevica hesitated. She looked at Belavierr and then fled.
Belavierr turned back to Wiskeria. She staggered as she turned. Wiskeria reached out, as if to catch her. Catch her? She couldn’t be hurt. She couldn’t be dying.
But she was. She looked…Human. And in that moment, she focused on her daughter. And that was what Wiskeria had wanted. But not this way.
“Mother? Are you hurt?”
“Yes. I am.”
The Stitch Witch paused, looking down at her hands. They were pale and whole, but she still smoked. She looked at Wiskeria, and gestured past her. Towards the village.
“This is a death meant for me. You will live.”
“But—you were hurt—if you’d fled—you came back for me.”
Wiskeria stammered, her voice shaking. Belavierr paused.
“Yes. Your life was in danger.”
It was a simple equation to her. But it filled Wiskeria’s eyes with tears. And Belavierr saw. She reached out and paused. Staring. Then a finger brushed Wiskeria’s cheek and captured one of the tears. She inspected it and Wiskeria’s face. And then she looked around.
Mavika. Ryoka. Wiskeria. The fae and the rising dead. Belavierr lingered on Ryoka for a moment, and then looked back at Wiskeria. And she hesitated for a second. And she looked so tired.
“My Daughter. There is little time. I must do battle. I am hunted. But I ask one question of you. Would you see me dead? Do you wish it?”
The question hurt Wiskeria. She clutched her hat, her tears running down her face.
“No, Mother. I don’t. I don’t—!”
Despite it all. Not like this. Let it not happen this way. Wiskeria shook. And then she saw Belavierr straighten. She smiled, and the great hat rose. The Stitch Witch looked past her daughter, towards her death. And she relaxed.
“That is well. Then go, my Daughter. I will escape this death as I have others. Go.”
“I can’t leave you—”
But the black horse was already riding towards her. Wiskeria felt her clothes tugging her towards it. Belavierr gestured, and Wiskeria flew. As gently as if she was a child, settling onto the horse’s back. She clutched at her hat, shouting.
“Mother! Let me stay!”
But she was already being carried away. Wiskeria wept as the tall figure disappeared. And then she rode past giants. Creations of old cloth. And she realized she hadn’t known her mother well. If she had her craft—Wiskeria wept.
And then Belavierr turned. To the young woman who had seen it all.
“Ryoka Griffin. Tell me of my daughter’s heart. Does she…know of my love for her now?”
“I think so.”
Ryoka looked into those ringed eyes. And she saw a mortal woman there. Just a flicker. Belavierr nodded. And Mavika stepped forwards. Her flock of crows and the single raven flew high overhead. The [Witch] regarded Belavierr. And the Stitch Witch looked at Mavika, questioningly. The Crow Witch spoke.
“You are being burnt away. That [Knight] has the means to burn your magic itself. All your protections and wards are useless before his fire. He will turn himself and you to ash. And they have marked you.”
Belavierr sighed. Mavika paused.
“If you ask it, my flock and I will give you half a day to flee.”
The Stitch Witch wavered. She was tempted. But her eyes swung back to Ryoka. And they flickered.
“I have a thought. If I do flee, they will come after my daughter. Mavika, is that so?”
The Crow Witch paused.
“She is of our coven. She was of my coven. We would protect her. But she may be a hostage or be forced to flee herself. This [Emperor] is not here and this order of [Knights] is powerful.”
“Your answer, then?”
Belavierr’s head turned. She stared across the moving land. Past the undead that walked, the spirits screaming through the dark skies. Towards a young woman riding back towards her village. Still looking back at her. Belavierr sighed.
“For her, I would give it up. My magic. What I possess. Even life. But not my craft. But I would gladly face my death.”
Mavika looked up. And she nodded once.
“I see your true nature, Belavierr the Witch. May you meet fire with craft and stitch.”
She turned and disappeared, flying past the dark shapes. That left only Ryoka. She looked at Belavierr. And then fled. The Stitch Witch stood alone. And she kept watching her daughter, until she was out of sight.
Then Belavierr turned. She felt pain. She knew her death waited. But not yet. She called on her magic, summoning them to her aid. But it would not be enough. So she cast one last spell, whispering into the night.
Ser Raim was awake when Ryoka returned. The undead didn’t touch her. Nor did the warriors made out of cloth, armed with ancient weapons. They fought and broke on the [Knights] who held the field outside of Riverfarm. The Order of the Seasons charged and held, some of the unhorsed [Knights] fighting on foot. They wouldn’t have held alone. But the [Hunters] fought too. Ryoka saw magical explosions tearing up ranks of advancing cloth warriors, the [Archer] loosing and bringing down the spirits in the sky.
It felt like a dream. Neither side bothered with Ryoka. Slowly, the Order of Seasons drove back the cloth creations. Until their ranks dwindled. Then came zombies. Undead. But fewer. The [Knights] drank potions and the [Witch Hunters] fortified their position.
With magic and Skill. They had created a house. A tall, slanted building unlike the uniform buildings of Riverfarm. Just outside the village.
Ryoka passed by boarded-up houses. Closed shutters. Riverfarm was silent, afraid. But the house the [Hunters] had created was safe. Needles lay around it, so many that Ryoka had to cover her feet to even approach the door. As she did, more needles, some as large as javelins flew out of the dark evening. They struck the house, bouncing off the sides. Cloth ropes like snakes twined closer—lost their magic. Failed.
The young woman entered the house through the front door. It was unlocked. She heard a voice. Saw a gathering. The [Witch Hunters] were there. They had taken their fallen comrade. Ser Raim was on his feet. So were Prost and Rie. Ryoka heard a low voice.
“This is a Hunter’s Haven. A portable place to fight from. Warded against any foe. Even Belavierr’s magic would fail there. She is trying. Hunting Sylind. Keep all of your people indoors. If you have any needles, any sewing equipment—throw it outside! Those needle storms are aimed at us.”
One of the [Hunters] was addressing Prost and Rie. His crossbows hung at his sides. He looked up as Ryoka entered—the crossbow was in his hands in a flash. He paused as he saw her.
“Who are you?”
Lady Rie exclaimed. The [Hunter] lowered his crossbow a bit. Ryoka looked around. She tried to answer the [Hunter]’s suspicious questions. Rie and Prost’s urgent queries. But her eyes were on him.
A female [Knight] had joined Ser Raim and the [Hunters]. Her armor was scratched, the colored steel deformed. But she was alight with passion.
Ser Raim was not. He stood over Gaile. The female [Huntress] who had wielded the axe and threatened Wiskeria’s life lay on a long table. Her arms had been folded. Her eyes closed. The needle that had gone through her chest was gone. Ser Raim looked upon her and bowed his head.
“She threw away her honor to strike a blow against Belavierr. And I believe she would have forsworn herself had the Stitch Witch fled. For one of the First-Hunters of the Hunter’s Guild of Terandria, she disgraced her status and legacy.”
He stared down at the woman’s face. Gaile’s expression was still set in death. Ser Raim bent, exhausted. Someone offered him a chair, but he stood.
“And yet, I knew Gaile. Gaile the [Beastslayer]. Gaile, who became [Witch Hunter] for vengeance. For six years we have sought Belavierr. And were it not for her actions, we might have lost her again.”
“Was it justice, then, Ser Raim?”
The female [Knight] looked confused. Ser Raim glanced up at her and shook his head.
“Neither, Dame Talia. She did wrong. She threw away her honor and I would have cut her down if I had to. But. She was my friend. And she had every right to her fury.”
He bowed his head. And he spoke to Gaile.
“Your death will not be in vain, Gaile. I swear, I will bring her down.”
Then he straightened and staggered. Hands reached for him. Durene’s. Talia’s. Raim caught himself and shook his head.
“I’m fine. Just exhausted.”
“You’ve burnt your life away. The backlash will continue. The Summer’s Champion and your Season agrees—you must rest before doing battle again.”
A voice spoke from a glowing orb to the side. Ser Raim turned and Ryoka saw a man dressed like winter in the glass. Ser Raim nodded once.
“I understand, Knight-Commander. But Belavierr is assailing our position.”
“Let your brethren handle it, Ser Raim. Rest. You must end Belavierr. And soon. If you lack the strength.”
“No. I have at least twenty more years to burn. So long as we can find her, she will not escape the second time.”
Ser Raim sat. And Ryoka, drawing forwards, saw how he had changed. He was aged. He might have been in his thirties before the battle. But now—his hair was grey. His body was still hale, but now it was lined, as was his face. Ryoka saw him sitting up, brushing off one of the other [Knight] trying to treat him.
Thirty years. It looked like he had burned thirty years away in less than thirty minutes. The man in the orb, the Knight-Commander, spoke directly.
“If you should fall—”
“I will not. I will cut away the last of Belavierr’s protections. I saw them, Knight-Commander. A dark web. I will lead the other [Hunters] against her. They have the means to end her. Together, we can defeat her.”
“Bring the reinforcements we have sent you. They will hold tonight, but at least the [Summer Knights] would be able to give battle on the morrow. They stand ready to aid you, Ser Raim. With their aid, you may still keep a decade or two—”
Ser Raim’s voice was flat. He looked up, and his gaze still burned.
“If I sought to live, Knight-Commander, I would not have volunteered to hunt Belavierr. I will end her tomorrow even if I must burn away. All the [Hunters] and I are resolute. My brethren may battle the Stitch Witch’s minions, but we must end her. They are not specialized for combat against her, and none bear magical weapons.”
“Ser Raim! I am a [Summer Knight] like you. I may not be able to conjure your fire, but I can enchant my weapon to flame, plain steel or not!”
Talia protested. The other [Witch Hunters] snorted as they looked up from their quiet preparations. Ser Raim shook his head.
“Dame Talia, you misunderstand. It is not about fire. It is about piercing Belavierr’s defenses. I have cut half away. But she is still half-immortal. While she is such, every blow we deal her is useless. The [Witch Hunters] with me can cut her threads, and I will burn the rest. But if you stand against her without the right precautions, she would turn you into a puppet and use you against us.”
“Dame Talia, enough.”
Talia bit her lip. Knight-Commander Calirn looked at Ser Raim. His eyes flickered past Raim.
“The Stitch Witch continues her attempts to stop us in Terandria. You are certain this…haven will stand?”
“Certain, Knight-Commander. The [Witch Hunters] employ it against enemies capable of magic. So long as the Order continues repelling the undead Belavierr is conjuring, we will be safe from her magic within these walls.”
“Can you bring the battle to her now? After a few hour’s rest?”
Ser Raim hesitated. It was one of the [Hunters] who shook her head. The woman was checking her arsenal of wands. She looked up and snapped a reply.
“Night is the worst time to hunt a [Witch]. She can use illusions or summon spirits if there are any about. Raim is also exhausted. We wait for dawn. Is that a problem?”
“…No. Act as you deem most fit, Huntress Erashelle. But are you certain you can both locate and trap Belavierr tomorrow?”
The [Witch Hunters] paused. The man with the hammer nodded.
“She’s wounded. She can attempt to flee, but we have her location. While we are on the hunt, even her speed will fail her. She cannot escape Sylind’s Skill.”
Sylind nodded. She was checking her bow.
“I can feel her. Not six miles distant.”
“Six miles? We could ride against her now—!”
Talia shut up as Ser Raim looked at her.
“Unless a [Hunter] leads, she could outrun you, Dame Talia. Again, it will not be easy. I must gather my strength. So long as I burn, her magic fails around me. The [Hunters] will end it if I cannot and support me. We will work alone. As a team. You must guard our rest.”
“I understand. Forgive me, Ser Raim. Leave the field to us. We are armed and Riverfarm supports us.”
Dame Talia’s cheeks were red. She looked questioningly at Durene. The half-Troll girl nodded.
“I’ll help. Beniar and his [Riders] are taking out anything that gets past you. Except for those giant things, we can beat all those undead.”
“She’s weakening already. Those first legions were ancient. Now she’s summoning undead. Still, if we hadn’t had Raim burning half of them away she might have overwhelmed us just with those.”
One of the [Hunters] murmured. The others nodded. Everyone stopped and glanced up. Ryoka felt a thump. Talia strode towards the window. She swore and charged out the door. Ryoka saw a huge shape in the darkness. Then a bloom of fire. Durene barreled out the door as well. Rie paled.
“What is that?”
The [Hunter] with the crossbows glanced up. He took a step towards the door and Sylind stopped him.
“Tagil. Save your bolts. The Order of Seasons has it.”
He nodded and sat back down. Tagil answered brusquely, placing one crossbow on the table and checking the enchanted weapon piece by piece.
“Undead. She’s sewn together Flesh Abominations and raised Ghouls. She may send a Rotfield Giant against you. Be prepared. Belavierr has more creations still.”
Rie paled. But Prost just nodded. He looked warily towards the windows.
“The magic she’s throwing against you all. Will it truly not get in?”
“Hostile magic fails in this place. Even Ser Raim’s fire is hard to use here. This is a place for [Hunters]. We know our craft, Steward. Raim. You won’t be able to rest here. We’ll guard Sylind.”
Tagil addressed Raim. The [Knight] looked up wearily. The Knight-Commander spoke briskly.
“Indeed. Two [Summer Knights] will guard your rest. Dame Talia—”
“—has gone to join the battle. I will leave her to it.”
Ser Raim stood, wearily. Calirn’s voice snapped.
“Absolutely not. Fall Sentinel, contact Talia. Have her return at once. Ser Raim—”
The [Knight] ignored the Knight-Commander. He wearily walked towards the door. Ryoka opened it. She held out an arm.
“Here. I’ve got you. Where do you need to go?”
“My house. And who—who are you?”
Rie murmured. Ser Raim paused. He stared at Ryoka. Then he nodded.
“Directions would be welcome, Miss Runner.”
He did not lean on her. And he ignored his Knight-Commander as he wearily walked outside. Ryoka stepped warily away from the house. In the distance, more fire bloomed, and [Knights] rode to battle. But Ser Raim walked away from it, into Riverfarm. Ryoka was braced. She didn’t know if Belavierr would assail them. If she did—Ryoka was ready. But nothing attacked them.
“You needn’t worry. If I needed to, I could burn away any weak spells. Belavierr knows this. I’m tired. But my aura is strong as ever.”
Ser Raim reassured Ryoka. She glanced at him. He smiled. He was so old now. He glanced at her as she led him towards Rie’s house. Entered it, as two [Summer Knights] rode towards them. Ser Raim waved them away. He sat down inside.
“I have a few artifacts here. My bag of holding. Help me set them up, please.”
He handed Ryoka a stack of talismans. Like Japanese ofuda talismans. Then what looked like bright orbs of glass. They hung around the room, swaying. Flickering.
“Her spells. Those charms are Drathian. You don’t need to worry about my safety. A [Witch] like Belavierr is powerful. But she must have my hair or some possession of mine to curse me. And even then, these wards work. Her magic is not all-powerful. It is ancient. But not—”
Ser Raim coughed. Ryoka found herself making tea. He sat, sipping it. He sighed. Then he looked at her again.
“You know the Stitch Witch. And you’re here to argue for her life.”
Ryoka froze. But the [Summer Knight] didn’t reach for his blade. She hesitated.
“I—want to. I’m not here to attack you. Just—I’ve met Belavierr. Talked to her. She didn’t offer me any deals, but I’ve…seen her.”
“Strange. She rarely talks to anyone that she does not want something from. I’ve searched for her for years and she rarely talks to anyone. Save for her victims.”
Ser Raim coughed. Ryoka nodded once.
“I’m—different. Wiskeria’s also here.”
“Yes. Your friend took her hostage.”
“Gaile. But for that, Belavierr might have fled.”
The two sat in silence. Ser Raim waited. Ryoka burst out at last.
“I haven’t seen her commit any terrible crimes while she’s here. I’m sure she has. But Belavierr doesn’t seem evil to me. Just amoral.”
She paused, flushing.
“I’m sorry. I know this is stupid to argue with you—”
What was she doing? But Ser Raim didn’t bristle. He just sat back and sighed. And when he spoke, it was quietly.
“No. You’re hardly the first to say as much to me. And at this hour, it hardly matters. But you are right. Belavierr, the Stitch Witch. She has done good. There are tales of her making deals with slaves for their freedom, such that even Roshal calls her a threat. She has saved lives. But always she takes something she wants in exchange. Perhaps that is fair. But she kills at the behest of others as well. She has tricked. Deceived likewise. When she is desperate, she will use any means she desires.”
He set the tea cup down quietly on the table and looked at Ryoka.
“However. She does evil as well. Half of our number have lost someone to her. I lost my heart, my fiancé. Gaile her husband. The rest bear her no love. Some are in the hunt for the glory of it, like Faigen, who wields the hammer. Or because they see Belavierr’s crimes as unforgivable, like Sylind, the [Archer]. The [Mage Hunter], Erashelle is of that mind, although she may also desire Belavierr’s artifacts. Tagil does. But he would use it for the good of his family, and in truth, the reason matters not.”
He paused. And the lights flickered from the ward-spells. Raim looked at Ryoka and shook his head.
“For all she does good, she does evil. And she is a selfish existence. To live, she would drown cities in blood. She has done so before. She will do it again. I am sworn to protect innocents against evil. Could I ignore Belavierr’s existence? Even if I could—she slew my love.”
Ryoka had no answer to that. She could only hang her head. Ser Raim looked at her and shook his head.
“Perhaps I am wrong. In the past, my Order slew Dragons. They followed their nations, like Belavierr. But some burned and killed and we deemed them a threat. It matters not. Tomorrow I will burn, Ryoka Griffin. Burn with all the enmity I bear Belavierr. My grief, my love for my lost heart—all of it, I will deliver her. Nothing can stop me.”
And that was true. Ryoka had nothing else to say. Exhausted as he was, tired, she saw Raim’s eyes flash. He burned still. And the last ember was waiting. Waiting to flare and die.
To slay Belavierr. And Ryoka could not tell him it was wrong. She could not argue for Belavierr. So she stood. She bowed to Ser Raim.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could wish you luck. I only—”
She couldn’t finish her sentence. Ser Raim smiled.
She left the house. Quietly. And Ryoka looked up as the night grew quieter. Even the undead attacks on Riverfarm were slowing. She looked for the fae. But they had vanished. Powerless, Ryoka left the two [Summer Knights] standing guard. She walked through the streets, lost.
She looked for them. But the fae did not reply. Nor could Ryoka find them, though she looked. Because they did not hang about Ser Raim as he wearily rested. They were not watching him that night, nor the Order of Seasons who did battle. They waited elsewhere. Watching something else.
One of oldest stories. And they wept, then.
Night had fallen. Ser Raim slept, guarded. Outside, the onslaught against Riverfarm had slowed. But the Order of Seasons remained vigilant, patrolling in every direction, cutting down Belavierr’s minions. And the Hunters rested in their house.
There were four left. Sylind, the [Archer] who had marked Belavierr. Tagil, with his crossbows. Faigen, with hammer and shield. Erashelle, their magic user. As night passed deeper and deeper, they grew more watchful.
They might have slept. But they were alert. Each time the ward-charms flickered, they looked up. But they were guarded well. Even so, all knew that if Belavierr struck, it would be now. Now, or the next day, as they drove their quarry into a corner. So they stayed alert. Vigilant as they partly rested. Each had been on longer hunts, so they guarded their strength. Tended to their arms.
They did not speak of Gaile. Or of Ser Raim’s fate. They were resolved. After a while, Sylind went upstairs, to the second floor of the slanted house. There were few rooms, but she sat upstairs to meditate and check her arrows. After a while, one of their number, Tagil, joined her.
Sylind looked up as he stepped into the room and sat across from her. She said nothing for a while. Neither did he. At last, Sylind spoke.
“You don’t have to watch over me. I’ll shout if I see anything. Her magic won’t work here.”
“Perhaps. But I have seen our havens broken. She could penetrate the wards.”
The female [Archer] raised her brows.
“If she does? I have all my gear on. What magic could bypass our wards and have the strength to kill me?”
“A powerful blood spell. I’ve seen it done before.”
Tagil crouched. His gear was simple, but Sylind saw the dozens of concealed, magical pockets in his armor. Her eyes even saw his equipment, a fortune’s worth. It made him one of the best [Hunters] in the Hunter’s Guild. And he was specialized for his task. As was she, but he was her senior. She shifted uncomfortably.
“Don’t get sentimental near the end of the hunt, Tagil. You’re twice the veteran I am. Belavierr can’t be that much worse than the Witch of the Black Forest, surely? Or Blooddrinker Eval?”
It was unlike Tagil. But the [Hunter] had to be feeling the same nerves she did. Belavierr had fled. They had hoped to take her. Sylind felt like the Stitch Witch was watching her. But she would not fall. So long as Ser Raim stood against her, they could bring her down. Tagil shook his head absently.
“Those [Witches] were monsters. But Belavierr is older than all of them. Age is strength for [Witches]. And her web is widest of all. She puts her hooks into everyone. Everyone from the Griffin Prince of Kilav to the Knight-Commander of the Order of Seasons.”
“You heard what the Knight-Commander said? Are they really going to assail the Order of Seasons? Can Belavierr really threaten them? The Knight-Commander himself and the Grandmasters? How can she do that?”
“She has the hair of one of their loved ones, perhaps. If they came against her, she would kill them. Perhaps she is trying, but failing. The Griffin Prince is different. He made a pact with her.”
She had heard the rumors. But Belavierr was made of rumors. Tagil nodded. He was checking his crossbows. Running his hands up and down the loading mechanisms. They were different, he and she. She used a longbow, and she had trained for over two decades to obtain her ability and Skills. Tagil used a crossbow, enchanted to reload automatically with his Skills.
Different skillsets, both geared towards the same job. But she was a [Deepforest Huntress], adapted to hunting all kinds. He had one quarry. And his unrest bothered Sylind. What did Tagil sense? The [Hunter] shifted. After another break, he spoke again.
“The share of the bounty. Do you know what I’ll do with it?”
Sylind looked up from inspecting her magical arrows with a frown.
“It goes to your daughter, won’t it? If you’re worried, Tagil, we swore an oath. If you fall—the money will go to Gaile’s relatives. If she has any. Regardless. Even if we fail—it goes to your daughter. The Order of Seasons will make sure of that.”
Tagil didn’t say anything. Sylind paused.
“She’s sick, right? Not even the best [Healers] could cure her.”
“Yes. They can delay the sickness. But not cure it. She’s…tomorrow, if we bring Belavierr, that could change things. With the bounty I’ll earn, I could take her to the fabled Healer of Tenbault.”
Sylind nodded. Even if Tagil sold all of his gear, he might not have afforded her price. But Belavierr was worth more than gold. Wistram had promised treasures to the one who slew her. So had Roshal. The Order of Seasons, the Hunter’s Guild…she could respect Tagil’s motivations.
Then Sylind had a thought. She checked a stone set in her bracer, spoke casually.
“I know the Hunter’s Guild investigated this. But…was your daughter’s sickness magical? Did Belavierr curse her somehow? You’d never have been allowed on this team if so, obviously—”
Her hand lingered near her bow. Tagil didn’t seem to notice. But of course, he did. He paused.
“No. Her sickness isn’t magical. Or if it is, Belavierr had no hand in it. That I’m sure of.”
The stone flickered. Sylind sighed and relaxed. Abashed, she attached the bow to her back and spread her collection of magical arrows, on the floor, inspecting them.
“Sorry. Just jumpy.”
Tagil’s eyes flickered. He was silent for a long moment, and Sylind thought he had taken offense. But then he sighed. And he looked up at her.
“You’re right, Sylind. Belavierr never touched my family. But I met her once, before I volunteered to join this hunt. And she made me an offer then.”
Sylind froze. The bow dug against her holster. But now it was behind her. Tagil sat still. And his eyes locked on hers. The [Huntress] hesitated.
“You turned her down, of course.”
Tagil didn’t reply. His crossbows hung at his sides. Sylind’s heartbeat quickened. Her hand slowly crept forwards, towards her arrows. Tagil watched her. He spoke. Haltingly.
“My daughter is very sick, Sylind. Even if she’s cured, the sickness has worn her away. Even the Healer of Tenbault couldn’t cure that.”
“But a [Witch] can do more than any [Healer]. If the deal is fair. And you know Belavierr’s reputation.”
“Tagil. Don’t do this. You turned the offer down, didn’t you?”
Sylind’s hand paused. Tagil looked at her. And his eyes were full of grief. He shook his head slightly. Neither hunter moved.
“The offer was never for then, Sylind. It was for this moment.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
The [Huntress] paused. She stared at him. And he at her. Sylind bit her lip.
He moved and she twisted, reaching for her bow—
The crossbow bolt struck her in the chest. Her protective charms exploded. Tagil lowered the crossbow and stared blankly at Sylind.
He got up and walked downstairs. Erashelle and Faigen looked up from where they sat. Faigen raised his hammer. He was treating it with a compound of silver dust. He frowned.
“Tagil, what was that s—”
The [Hunter] raised his crossbows. The two [Hunters] dove. Tagil fired twice. Faigen howled as the bolt caught him in the throat. Erashelle screamed. Tagil dodged as she pointed her wand. Faigen was charging, breathless, blood running from his chest.
“[Hail of Bolts].”
The crossbow fired again and again. Faigen jerked as the bolts hit him. Again and again. But he kept coming. Even after they found his heart. Tagil backed up. Faigen collapsed, falling onto him. Tagil stepped to one side. Then rolled. He aimed his crossbows. Fired once. Twice.
Erashelle was still alive. The first bolt had gone through her ribs. But it had missed her heart. Both of her hands were nailed to the wall. She kept trying to cast a spell as Tagil walked towards her. He aimed the crossbows. But she was already dying. She spat blood, the bolts blocking her magic.
“You—traitor. Damn you.”
Tagil’s eyes burned. He looked at her. She spat. Her lung was filling. She coughed, choking the last words out.
“I hope you suffer forever. If there’s anything—hope you—”
Then she died. Tagil stared at her corpse. Then at Faigen. His hands shook. He dropped the crossbows. The [Hunter] fell to his knees, as bile filled his throat. And his tears lasted as long as Erashelle’s blood kept dripping to the floor. And he screamed his damnation.
Then the man stood. And his eyes were empty. But one last purpose moved him onwards. He left the house, left his crossbows. Walked through silent Riverfarm. Past the [Knights] whom he placated with lies. He walked onwards. Out of Riverfarm, slowly following a thread that called him.
She was waiting for him there. At a tree far enough from the village it hadn’t been cut, on a small hill.
Belavierr. The man looked up at her.
She nodded. And her eyes shone with orange light. He stared at her with hatred. Regret.
“Raim lives. I’ve done my part. Now. Will she…?”
“Yes. Do you want me to repeat our pact? I have sworn it.”
Belavierr’s voice was cold. Tagil shuddered. He walked up the hill.
“No. Keep your oath, [Witch].”
She had left something for him there. And she helped him stand on the stool. Tagil stared at her. He spat into her face. She never blinked.
“I will keep my promise. It will be fulfilled in the hour after your death. Regardless of my fate.”
“I hope Raim burns you away.”
But that was not his business. Tagil closed his eyes. The hemp rope hung around his neck.
“Will you tell him I’m sorry? Will you tell her what I did?”
“I did not promise that.”
“Then I curse you, Belavierr the Witch. I curse you. But save my daughter. I did it for her.”
Tagil took a deep breath. And he stepped off the stool. The noose tugged. His neck snapped.
That was how they found him. As dawn broke, as the three bodies were found inside the warded house by Ryoka Griffin and the [Knights] found they had battled only puppets that collapsed as the sun rose.
He hung there. On the hilltop. From the longest limb of the tree. Ser Raim’s scream still echoed. His despair. Betrayal. The [Hunter] stared sightlessly at the [Summer Knight].
And there she stood. As tall as the hanging body. Her eyes glowing in the light of the rising sun. Raim stared up at Belavierr.
“What did you offer him? What did you give him? His daughter? Was it you?”
His hands shook. His face was ashen. Belavierr looked down at him.
“No. But I offered him her life. A charm to protect her. It is already sent.”
“A charm? He betrayed all for a charm?”
Raim choked. Belavierr nodded. Her eyes were distant. She smelled of smoke and fire.
“The charm was woven from heartstring and bowstring and the string of the noose. His daughter will receive it, and it will protect her from sickness and harm. It will be cursed with a traitor’s sins. But blessed by a father’s love. She will live a hundred years longer and her gifts will overflow until the day of her death.”
“And now, my death, you will no longer find me.”
She turned. Raim uttered a wordless cry. Behind him, Talia raised her sword.
“The Order of Seasons will hunt you down! We know your weakness, Belavierr! We know your daughter—”
She wavered as Belavierr turned back. The Stitch Witch stared down at Talia. At the orb from which Knight-Commander Calirn and the Grandmasters of the Order of Season stared. And her eyes widened.
“My daughter. You would use her against me? Very well. Try. For if I am chased, I will flee. If my daughter is held, I will find who takes her and kill them. If she dies killed, I will find who slew her. And they will never die.”
She pointed down at Talia. At the Order, as the body swung behind her. Belavierr’s words echoed and shook the air.
“If the Order of Seasons kills my daughter, I will break their stronghold and slay their families one by one. I will kill their sons and daughters generation upon generation and bring ruin to their lands. I will disappear and bring ruin to Terandria if it takes me all of eternity. I vow the same to anyone who would harm her.”
No one present could meet her eyes but Ser Raim. Knight-Commander Calirn spoke hoarsely.
“This will not go unpunished, Belavierr.”
“Unpunished. Then tell me, little [Knight].”
Belavierr stepped down the hill. Her eyes fixed on Calirn’s. She spread her arms.
“Are we enemies? I have never considered the Order of Seasons my foes. If we are, let there be war and ruin. Until my final hour, I will hound your Order from the shadows and by my craft. Do you wish it, [Knight]? If you wish it, I will show you how I treat my enemies.”
Calirn looked at her. Ser Raim was gathering himself.
“Ser Raim. Can you end it?”
“I cannot follow her if she flees.”
Belavierr waited. Calirn hesitated. He looked at the young [Witch]. And felt his oaths holding his tongue. From the skies, he heard a ringing voice. And he saw them flying down upon his order. The Griffin Queen screamed.
“Stay your [Knights], Knight-Commander! Or I will bring war to the Order of Seasons!”
“Queen Novakya! We can end Belavierr!”
The Winter’s Watcher called from his position on the battlements. The rest of the order stood within, encased by stone and magic. Novakya landed her Griffin. Her eyes blazed as she lowered the lance.
“If she dies, my son, the Griffin Prince, dies.”
“He is one life. She can be killed. The Spider can be ended once and for all! Your son might survive her death! Is one life not worth risking?”
“He is my son. That is your answer.”
“So be it.”
The Winter’s Watcher drew his sword. Griffons fell, striking at the Order’s stronghold. Calirn felt cold. It was all coming together. He spoke a hoarse word.
“Ser Raim. The Order does not call Belavierr our enemy this day. We will not risk it. Nor can we hold the Stitch Witch’s daughter responsible for her crimes.”
“Knight-Commander. I understand.”
The [Summer Knight]’s voice was very distant. He looked at Belavierr. And she waited. Ser Raim slowly raised his greatsword.
“Belavierr. I am a [Summer Knight] of my Order no longer. But for what you have wrought. Then and now—! You will not flee. Stand. Or I will forswear myself as Gaile did.”
“You swore an oath.”
“I did. You have taken everything from me. Even my honor. Stand, Belavierr. And let us end this.”
The Stitch Witch paused. And she looked at her daughter. And she nodded, once. She walked past Raim and turned to face him.
“Come, my death.”
The [Summer Knight] followed her. He paused just once. Talia’s eyes burned and ran with tears. He put a hand out, touching her shoulder gently.
“If I should fall, none of you are to pursue her. Return to the Order. That is an order, Dame Talia.”
He looked into her eyes and walked on. The [Knight] paused and turned his head.
“Knight-Commander. Grandmasters. It has been my honor.”
“Raim! Don’t do this!”
A voice came from the orb. But the [Summer Knight] walked on. He passed by Ryoka. And she looked at him. His face was set. And his footsteps became fire. He walked towards Belavierr as those gathered watched him go. They shouted. Called his name.
A monster waited for the knight. He stepped towards her. And behind him, the Order of Seasons stood and unsheathed their blades. They raised their swords and saluted him, shouting, weeping.
In Terandria and Riverfarm, the Order of the Season watched him pass. They were not the only ones. The people of Riverfarm screamed. All those who claimed mortality cheered on the [Knight] as he moved forwards. They had seen her evil, so they called to him. End her. End the nightmare. A roar that shook the skies, from a thousand throats. The man raised his sword high, his armor shining, his back straight.
There the immortal stood, her back to the dawn. She nodded once, and he advanced, lifting his greatsword as it burned. As he burned. And Ryoka thought she saw Raim smile for just a moment. Then the fire was all-consuming.
She was crying as she watched him go. And the fair folk bowed their heads as he charged. The [Knight] met the [Witch].
This time he screamed first. A wordless cry, with all the rage and fire in his soul. And he struck her. Cutting away the threads that bound. Cutting into her very soul. And she screamed and struck him. He was alone. But he burned. Bright. Brighter, with a fire that struck the shadows. That burned the Stitch Witch away.
They fought. One tore at the other. They staggered. And he fell. He rose as she dug at him, and he screamed her name. His sword swung. And she fell. He tried to finish it. But there was nothing left.
A [Knight] stopped where he stood. He sank down, trying to stand. But a mortal man had burnt away. He fell, reaching. Calling a name. And they watched her. She stood. She was burned. And her eyes no longer glowed. The shadows had left her. The [Witch] rose, gasping, her lungs burning.
Mortal. But alive. Belavierr stood and turned. The Order of Seasons watched her. And Knight-Commander Calirn lowered his head. He turned away.
Triumphant, Belavierr smiled. She looked across the faces of Riverfarm’s folk. The [Knights]. She ignored their horror and wrath. She looked past them, at her coven. She saw the hatred, the despairing hatred and loss in her daughter’s eyes and stopped.
And Belavierr’s smile vanished. She looked at her daughter and reached for her. And then she paused. Her death lay before her. Belavierr looked at him. And then she looked up. At the clear sky. She shaded her eyes, frowning.
And somewhere, somewhere, the man with the wide, uncanny smile was laughing.