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All characters in this publication are fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Captain’s Witch
Copyright © 2015 Odette C. Bell
Cover art stock photos: Portrait of woman running over the field © konradbak, flowing folded fabric © vitaliy_sokol, and Panorama andscape about other planet © greglith. Licensed from Depositphotos.
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~ 1860, Unknown Soldier ~
“After him, man,” the Captain’s grating cry rolled over the hill, piercing the night air.
The spy fled deeper into the forest. Its form flitting against the tall shadows of the pine trees, its worn boots crunching over the needles strewn like a dense, prickly blanket underneath the spreading, interlocking branches.
I ran forward, gun clutched in my shaky hands.
Though the night was dark, there was enough of a moon to see by. As the rest of our battalion flung themselves through the dark forest after the spy, I could see the moonlight play across our rifles, down our brass buttons, and along the hilts of our scabbards.
The spy was deft. Flitting through the thick pine forest with all the speed and agility of a wolf.
“Don’t let him get away!” The Captain roared.
The spy had too much information.
I flung myself forward faster, pushing into my legs, my thick boots flying over the pine-needle-littered forest floor. The smell of damp and mold assaulted my nostrils with every pounding footstep
A call suddenly split the air.
A specific cry, it was no man, and it was no animal.
No ordinary animal, at least.
I shivered, such a tumble of nerves falling through my middle it felt like I would plunge into it.
Despite the feelings within I continued to push myself forward.
I knew how much that spy would cost us if he were to succeed in his escape.
The call of the ragmal split the air once more, closer this time, so close its terrifying cry almost stole my sanity.
For the briefest moment I hesitated. The rest of the men did so as well.
The spy did not.
The spy sped towards the ragmal’s fiendish cry, not away.
A ragmal was one of the most heinous of infected creatures. An animal that had feasted on too much ether and grown to distended proportions, incorporating parts of other animals to form the kind of hideous creature only depicted in the realms of Hell.
A true demon.
The Captain screamed, “Get to him now!”
We were slipping behind, the spy now charging so fast across the forest floor, his footfall sounded like thunder despite the dampening effect of the needles.
But I was fast and I kept on the spy’s tail, blood a thrumming drum in my ears, hands so slicked with sweat they could barely grip my rifle.
I’d heard the stories of what a ragmal could do. If it feasted on enough magic – especially if the ether were pure enough – it could decimate an entire battalion.
I was still a greenhorn – I had only recently joined the White Cavalry. I had little magic of my own and no real understanding of how to defend myself against such demonism.
And therefore, I had little chance.
I kept running forward anyway.
Another terrifying cry rent the air, this one so close it felt as if it echoed from every tree.
Terror pulsed through my heart, purer than any I had ever previously experienced.
I did not stop throwing myself forward however.
The spy stopped suddenly, throwing a hand out to catch a low branch, grabbing it until it bent with a creak. He twisted to face me.
I saw a flash of his glistening teeth, then heard a low hiss as he drew something from his pocket.
A small wooden flask with a metal flick-cap. He thumbed it open, and a charge of white-blue light crackled from it.
I twisted back, but it was too late. With a low incantation, he grasped hold of the whole bottle, tipping all the magic out into his palm. It played across his skin, crackles of white blue sparking against the dark night.
I threw myself backwards, slamming into the tree behind me and falling to the ground just as a slice of power slammed towards me.
It was a mere harbinger of what was to come.
The spy’s voice rose high, now booming out louder than any clap of thunder. With one final incantation and a sealing word – Amen – the spell struck.
He pulled the sword from the scabbard at his side, and it now glowed blue with ethereal light. Light that punctuated the darkness with all the clarity of 100 lamps.
I pressed a hand against my sweaty, muddy face, drawing the fingers closed against my eyes to block out the sudden and painful illumination.
The spy sniggered, pulling his puckered lips over his white teeth, the hint of yellow tongue flicking over them.
He walked over to me. Before I could press my back into the tree behind and throw myself to my feet, he reached my side.
He extended the sword towards my neck.
I heard the howl of the ragmal. Then screams. The screams of the other men in my battalion.
With wide-open eyes I stared up at the man who would kill me.
“For the Federation,” he said.
He brought his sword forward and sliced it through my middle.
No blood splattered the pine needles by my feet. It was all burnt up by the power of the magic and the sword.
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