"They weren't monsters." Tara ran to her sister, gripping her by the shoulders. "He cared. They both cared."
While the sisters quarreled, Lynn scooped up the pouch and flew high above the trees. No one noticed. She saw no witches flying from behind and thought it safe to retrieve the dagger.
She returned to the spot where it was hidden. s.h.i.+fting back to human form, she opened the pouch and held it below the dagger. A shake or two of the branch, and a gentle push from a twig, caused the dagger to fall. It landed with a swish in the pouch. The point caught the fabric, cutting a small hole in the bottom. It would hold it and, as long as she kept the bag away from her, she could get it far away from here.
Lynn s.h.i.+fted to a larger bird and started to the air when the tree reached for her. Below were the witches, Tara and Marabeth. They had spotted her after all. d.a.m.n, she'd forgotten that she couldn't see them from the air. Once they made it from camp, the spell center, she could see their bright red hair and wh.o.r.e clothes. They probably followed her from the first moment she'd grabbed the pouch. She'd thought she'd gone unnoticed and instead, had led them to the dagger.
"s.h.i.+fter!" screamed Tara.
The witch pulled energy from the ground. Lynn felt the change, like the sucking of air. All at once Tara pushed forward forcing Lynn to dodge the barrage of stones and sticks hurtling towards her.
"Witch," Lynn sneered.
The safest form was a war bird. Lynn s.h.i.+fted quickly, clutching the pouch in one talon. She soared higher, then turned, diving down with claws splayed. Marabeth jumped to the side, diving into the underbrush. Tara stood in an attack stance. She was as arrogant as the first time Lynn fought her.
Slas.h.i.+ng the air, Lynn aimed for the witch, catching tufts of hair as the woman swerved to the side. Lynn felt the air change behind her. The witch was conjuring again; more sticks and stones to come. Lynn expected another annoying onslaught. Tara surprised her. The trees above, closed in. Lynn stopped, but her wing painfully nicked a side tree. She turned, aiming back at the ground. This time she'd spear that witch on her razor sharp beak.
Lynn swooped low, bringing her head down. She wanted to hit Tara in the soft abdomen, then rip her half naked body apart. The taste of blood and flesh would satiate her appet.i.tes.
Apparently, her attack was too obvious. Tara broke a tree as Lynn's wings touched the dirt. There wasn't time to get out of the way. Lynn tried, rolling as the bark sc.r.a.ped her limbs. Pain shot through her back as flesh tore away, sc.r.a.ping the fresh burns. At the last second she s.h.i.+fted, shrinking to a b.u.t.terfly to save her life before the huge tree squished her beneath its trunk. The only problem was that a b.u.t.terfly couldn't hold a pouch with a heavy dagger. Lynn had to drop her prize, flying high, and then turning to confront Tara. The witch was fast though. Before Lynn could swoop back down, Tara had the dagger, holding it by the short handle. One touch of its blade would kill Lynn, so she flew. She'd failed, not only unable to retrieve the star but giving the enemy a weapon.
"This isn't finished, Witch."
"Come down here and it will be, s.h.i.+fter."
Let that thing have victory over this battle. Lynn knew what she had to do, but first darkness would need to fall and when the world stilled, she would have her vengeance.
* * * * Marabeth watched Tara waving the blade at Lynn. When the s.h.i.+fter had gone, her sister kissed the blade, reverently, and slid it into the pouch. It sickened Marabeth. Power drove Tara while Cordin sat bound, patiently waiting for his chance to do an act of good.
She didn't know when things had gotten so out of balance. Witches weren't supposed to act like this. The love of power should be joined with the world around them, not for individual l.u.s.ts.
"You're going to make more of those men tonight?" asked Marabeth.
"Many more." Tara hugged the pouch with the doubled edged blade to her chest, clutching it as if it were more precious than anything. "Many more." She licked her lips and Marabeth gagged.
"And you'll mate with those creatures again?"
"Many times." Her hand slid to the shaft, gripping it. "Maybe this time I can really make them live." She looked at Marabeth. "Together we can raise them."
Tara watched her sister a moment, the saliva dripped from the corner of her mouth. If ever a woman was possessed, Tara had certainly crossed that line. Even the night demons would be impressed with the hold the star had over her.
This wasn't the life Marabeth wanted. She loved her sister but, if she were so easily pacified with dark creatures, not of heart and soul, but form that filled her, then Marabeth didn't need to stay. She'd given up everything, even the love of her immortal life for her sister, the same sister who easily tossed everything to the side for s.e.xual gratification.
"Tara, I will help you conjure one last time. When we are finished, I will leave to go to the flyer village with Cordin. I am going to make my life with him."
Marabeth turned, heading back to the camp and the one person who knew right from wrong, even when it cost him their bond. Cordin never stopped believing in truth and no matter what Marabeth had done, Cordin always loved her. They had no secrets. Cordin knew everything about Tara and he still loved her. Unta or not, that was impressive.
She felt Tara's hand fall on her shoulder, turning her. She looked at Tara, staring into those cold black eyes. Tara was the eldest and by all rights, charge of her. There was a time to cast those things away and birth order could no longer rule.
"Little sister, you won't be going anywhere. I am the eldest and I say no sister will mate with a flyer."
Marabeth smiled. She'd hidden much power from her sister, a.s.suming that Tara had done the same. Perhaps it was time to see who had grown into the better witch. With a thought, she pushed Tara to the ground. Marabeth moved to stand above her, staring down at Tara. Today could be her death. Even facing the abyss would be better than watching Tara destroy everything around them.
Tara sent out power that moved Marabeth's feet off the ground. With a stabilizing force, Marabeth was fine, hardly stumbling. It wasn't Tara's best efforts, but after days of wasting power on shadow lovers, Marabeth had hoped her elder was diminished.
"Don't make me hurt you Tara. It is time that I lived my life. I've devoted too much of it for your foolish quests."
"Foolis.h.!.+ It's that flyer. He's corrupted your thoughts. You were a different witch before him." Tara stood, swiping at the dust on her dress. "Maybe I should kill him."
"I am a different witch, and I am thankful for that. Believe me Tara, if you hurt him, I will destroy you."
"Then free him."
"Not yet. If I free him, he will take the star and leave. I want to leave you with something, even abominations that will die with the sun. At least they'll keep you busy tonight while we make our way over the mountains."
She was still afraid of Tara. Maybe it was the years of taking her abuse, or her being the eldest. Either way, she wanted something to keep Tara busy while they flew to the safety of the flyer village. Too many things could happen in a night sky and Tara was capable of anything.
She also knew that Tara wouldn't try much before the conjuring. Tara needed Marabeth's power to make the spell. That meant she wouldn't try many of her tricks. Even with lessened strength, her sister could try to bash Marabeth's head or summon a beast to devour her, but Marabeth was necessary. After the spell was made, when the creatures started rising, Marabeth would take Cordin and run. Before Tara finished copulating, they'd be safe.
"Let's don't spend our last hours together fighting. I will help you one last time, then our ties are done. Don't challenge me or I won't help you tonight."
Liking watched the sunset, letting the dinner Sarah had prepared digest. The night was almost on them and Cordin hadn't come back. Even if he had been chased, surely he would've returned to tell Liking what had happened.
"They're sleeping again." Sarah stepped to the porch of the cabin and shut the door behind her. "I've never seen children sleep so much. I do think that if I stood there long enough, I could watch them grow. They're so tall."
"You are very good with them."
She walked over and sat on the fallen log next to Liking. Her hair was mussed, and a few stains marked her clothing, but to Liking she never looked more beautiful. Three children had been forced upon her, but she hadn't complained once. Deep inside he knew that she considered them a gift not a burden.
"Sure, you think I'm good with them now. When they start s.h.i.+fting and I can't tell them apart, you won't be so impressed."
"How about when they start flying?"
"Oh, I hadn't considered that." She smacked the palm of her hand against her head. "I can't fly, only levitate a few feet off the ground. How will I catch them?"
"We'll worry about that later. Besides, they'll listen to you."
Liking wrapped his arm around her. He hadn't told her about Lynn, but she had sensed it. When he'd gotten back home, she'd stayed quiet, and held a strange reverence whenever she looked at Elise. He supposed Elise was the last of their line, if Lynn had really died. He didn't know for certain.
"You're troubled, but I can't tell why."
He looked at Sarah. She'd so freely accepted the unta that he forgot how clearly the emotions must enter her. He was deeply troubled but didn't really know what to say. Lynn bothered him but something heavier clung in the air. He had no gifts of premonition but he could swear something terrible was getting ready to be unleashed upon the world.
"I just need something to keep me busy."
* * * * The last of the sun's rays vanished, bathing the world in darkness. Lynn waited, staring at the sky before flying back to the witch camp. She knew what she had to do and she'd waited long enough.
She s.h.i.+fted into a raven. Her task required getting very close to those wh.o.r.es. She couldn't let them see her or they'd come at her with the dagger. Hopefully this form would fool them. This time of year, the ravens overflowed the fields. It made sense that one or two would be in the woods.
This time when she flew close to the camp, she saw them. The witches were conjuring again and unable to maintain the hiding spell while tending the evil brewing in their cauldron.
Lynn had a good idea that they were trying to raise the creatures again. Even with the dagger, Lynn didn't have the skill to create living shadows. From the look of things, Tara had the skill but Marabeth seemed to be pulling the magic together. Perhaps her old nemesis had grown weak.
Lynn circled the camp then landed behind Cordin. With her sharp beak, she p.r.i.c.ked his finger, filling her beak with flyer blood. He yelped and swatted at her, but with his hands bound, there was little he could do.
The blood and the dagger were a dangerous mix. It's where gruesome things could happen and she'd seen it happen. It wasn't in living beings. The first time, it had been in the void. The sickness tried to unravel the land and if it weren't for Vincent, it would have.
The small puddle had formed around the dagger, starting from nothing but blood from enemies. It grew to the size of a lake, destroying everything in its path with a conscience effort. The void thought about its attack, it knew. Somehow the blood and magic from the star had mixed in the ground creating a life form none had seen before. Lynn hoped to do the same, but instead of mixing human blood with that of the flyers, she'd use hers. The magic from the witches should be the final touch.
Blood was a magical thing. Her own people drank it for power in the days before they were one with the planet. Since then, they would never consume anything so base but there was a time it helped sustain them.
Behind her, Lynn felt someone watching. She turned, startled at another's presence. A night demon crept through the woods. They were frightening things, even to a s.h.i.+fter, but they never hunted for pleasure.
She watched its glowing red eyes from the darkness. It opened its mouth exposing silver fangs that glowed bright enough to cut through the darkness. It raised one long black finger, as if silencing her. Lynn knew the signs. Something immortal would die tonight. This demon sensed death in the air and had come to feed.
Lynn hoped this creature wouldn't be her fate. She'd only seen one up close, and she'd fought it with all her power to stop it from consuming a sister s.h.i.+fter. The thing had been gentle, defeating her, but leaving Lynn to fight another day. She'd never forget the night demon. It dressed in darkness, much like the creatures Tara tried to raise. The one exception was the darker black lines in it. Close up the night demons looked like black skeletons dressed in gray, except for their faces. Those faces were horrific, with perfect black jaws and details so fine it looked like she could see the indentions in the bone. It wasn't the bones that held her attention when she'd faced one. Those red eyes burned through her while the silver mouth drew in the soul of the fallen. She'd seen the smoky life force rise from her dead sister but when the night demon ate, there was a crunching sound. It was strange for such an object that didn't appear solid.
Night demons were rare. She'd seen one after the great battle with the flyers. It couldn't come out during the day though. That's why the dead were always burned before nightfall. It was the only way to see their souls safely to the afterworld.
Lynn flew high into the sky, leaving Cordin and the demon on the ground. She cared not if the demon were after Cordin or one of the witches, as long as she escaped its grasp. There were worse things than death. She had to wonder if it hurt to have ones soul eaten. She supposed not. The body was gone. Then again, losing the afterworld would have to cause some sort of pain.
Below the witches had almost completed their spell. Something dark began to bubble from the cauldron. That's what drew her attention. Leave the demons to their feast, she had life to make.
It was time. Lynn s.h.i.+fted, growing larger with sharper talons while the sisters chanted. Flying above, she hesitated over the dark cauldron. She slit her leg, letting her blood run into the magical mix, then dumping the bit from her beak. The mix hit true. Tara looked up, noticing her but unable to stop the reaction. The blood flowed together with the tip of the dagger dangling in the pot.
The creature, which had started to rise, howled. The piercing scream sounded like pain but Lynn knew the sound was hunger. The thing wanted more, more blood, more life, and then another change. A second rose, howling out into the air while its liquid body turned solid and the next followed in its path leaving more bubbling ma.s.ses. The creatures were growing.
"Stupid s.h.i.+fter! What have you done?"
Tara reached out for Lynn, but there was a difference. The eldest witch had little power left to squander. Marabeth had been busy with her incantations but broke free from her trance to help her sister. The younger one was much stronger since the last time they'd fought. Marabeth hurled wind, knocking Lynn from over the cauldron.
"Leave me be, witch. The damage has already been done."
More wind blew. Lynn couldn't fight it and didn't realize that it was only a distraction until vines created a web to the side, a tree reached from the other and hands of dirt reached up from below. Every direction Lynn turned was blocked. She s.h.i.+fted smaller, then the same sack she'd used for the dagger came flying up. She dodged, but a tree limb grabbed her ankle, holding her long enough for the sack to drop down on her. Lynn grew larger, using her sharp beak to tear the sack. It was too late though. Unable to flap her wings, Lynn fell to the ground.
"Finish her," screamed Tara.
Lynn finished tearing through the sack but there was no point in s.h.i.+fting. The two witches stood over her, ready to annihilate her. Marabeth didn't though. Something grabbed her attention, forcing her to turn from Lynn and back to the contaminated cauldron.
Leaning up, she could see the source of Marabeth's distress. Black bubbled from the spell, spilling smoke and liquid onto the ground. When the mix touched dirt, the stuff grew tall, looking like spikes in the dirt. Soon a dozen spikes stood with more growing from the bubbling pot. The spikes split at the bottom, growing legs while a human looking chest formed on each. Lynn had never seen anything like it. It was like a potter forming clay in front of them. Arms grew, then faces formed, while detailed fingers appeared. The creatures looked black as obsidian, darker than the brownest of the human races. The texture seemed like cut gla.s.s, with sharp angles. Each muscle in their thighs s.h.i.+ned in the moonlight, while their very defined chest even held black gla.s.s looking nipples.
"We've done it sister." Tara stood in amazement. "We've created life."
It would've been a good time to escape, but Lynn had to see who held these creatures' loyalties. She got her answer soon enough. The first of the creatures approached. Tara tried to touch it, hold it in her arms, but it moved by her. Lynn watched it kneel before her. Fifty of the creatures followed suit, walking by the witches and bowing.
"I believe I'm the one who has done it." Lynn touched the closest creatures head. It was soft, almost like leather but looked so much like crystal or gla.s.s. "I knew the secret ingredient."
"d.a.m.n you s.h.i.+fter." Tara charged towards the cauldron. "I'll slit your throat."
She reached for the dagger, wrapped her hands around it, even while the last of the black liquid started forming spikes around her feet. Lynn wasn't sure what the blade would do to these new creations but she couldn't risk it touching her.
"Destroy the witch." Lynn pointed at the cauldron.
The creatures started toward Lynn. Tara slashed at them with the dagger but it only scratched them. Perhaps being made by the dagger offered some protection. It didn't help Tara. The creatures pulled her to the ground and opened grotesque mouths filled with black crystal teeth. The men surrounded her, biting into her flesh. Lynn couldn't see exactly what they were doing until the first to feed, rose showing droplets of blood on its black lips.
The sight disgusted Lynn, causing her to turn her face. That's when she realized Marabeth was pulling at Cordin's ties. Lynn touched the creature which had finished feeding.
"Take the other witch too. Go feed, my children."
"Please Lynn. Leave us alone!"
Marabeth pulled desperately at the vines holding Cordin. One loosened but wouldn't break. In her panic, she must've forgotten to remove the spell from the vines. Her fingers bled, streaking Cordin's hands with deep red.
"We haven't done anything to you. Let us go in peace."
"Run, Marabeth." Cordin stared at Lynn, locking eyes. "Run and get help. I don't want to see you die."
Tears filled her eyes but she kept at the vines, even as Lynn and her awful army approached. It was touching to see the witch caring so much for what would be a dead man. Perhaps it would be best if the witch went and got help. Lynn wanted to see what her new army could do. Besides, she had a score to settle with the flyers.
Lynn whispered to her nearest solider. It crept closer to Marabeth, licking its lips and causing a wondrous spectacle. When the black creature touched her, Marabeth called on her birch limb, using it to fly into the sky. Lynn's creature grasped at the witch, catching a few red hairs as Marabeth flew away.
"Leave, you stupid wh.o.r.e. I still have your man." She looked around at her creations, fine strong men. "I also have an army."
The creatures disbanded, kneeling again in front of her. To the side, she saw the night demon appear from the woods. He went to the hull that was once Tara and kissed her lips softly. Next he touched her chest, right at her heart and the smoke rose from the witch. There was a scream so soft Lynn wasn't sure if she'd imagined it or it was real. Either way, the night demon opened his mouth, sucking in the smoke and chewing. Bits of smoke waited in front of his mouth for him to suck in more and crunch at whatever existed in souls.
"Night demon, I think I'll find more food for you."
Liking sat under the stars, contemplating his next move. As he did, he wove. Weaving was usually women's work but it calmed his nerves and with Cordin still not checking in, his worries were great.
He'd constructed a crude loom. Flyers wove using more magic than tools, so all he needed were a few limbs to hold the cloth and a place to set the puffs he'd collected for the loom. These puffs were a light brown, and could be pulled easily into strings.
"My," said Sarah as she touched the fine brown cloth coming off the loom. "I've never felt material like this."
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