By Christian Laforet
The whine of repulsor engines drifted through the frozen city. Buildings, which once defied the horizon, were now crooked tombstones with ice and snow clinging to their exteriors. The endless winter blew whistling through gaping windows – snow-drifts as big as small buildings leaned against the bases of sky scrapers.
As the shuttle descended through the tumult of angry clouds, eddies of white powder swirled along the rooftops of the ruined buildings. The transport was only the second sign of life Toronto had seen in nearly five hundred years. The craft landed with a soft thump at the edge of the city.
Marcus unbuckled the harness securing him to the pilot’s seat. Though the trip from the Kingdom’s capitol, New Concord, had only taken an hour, he felt like he had been cramped into the tight space for much longer. He stood and stretched as he made his way to the passenger hold, he let his fingers glide across the ceiling of the cockpit as he went.
At one time there would have been a dozen people bucked into the seats lining both sides of the square space created for passengers. Now, however, there was just a single old man.
“We’ve touched down, Mentor,” Marcus said as he approached the passenger. The man’s name was Nasin but he would always be known as ‘Mentor’ to Marcus.
Nasin was well into his seventies, however, he held himself like a much younger man. The only thing that gave his age away was his face. Thanks to the ravages of time and the hardship of battle, Nasin’s face was a textured crosshatch of lines.
The old man wasted little time as he headed for the pressure sealed door along the right side of the passenger compartment. With a slap of a gloved hand, Nasin popped the seal on the hatch and sent it swinging upwards. A blast of snow curled through the opening and peppered Marcus’s face with icy freckles.
The frozen city lay just inside of the Kingdom’s northern most border. Having never ventured further north than Pittsburgh, Marcus was eager to take in Toronto. It was much colder than he was expecting.
He pulled his hood over his head as he moved towards the open hatch. The hood, like all of their gear was state of the art. Their uniforms were thin, flexible material which allowed full movement, but could stop a bullet fired at point blank range, and were more than capable of keeping them warm in their current surroundings.
He had landed the ship in a spot that seemed least likely to be buried under a collapsing building. A massive domed structure stood directly in front of the ship’s hatch, Marcus wondered what its purpose could have been. He could see the snow-blasted remains of lettering sticking from the side of the building. Whatever it had once said was lost to time and the cold, all that remained was an unfinished word, Roge.
Nasin also looked out at the frost-bitten world beyond their shuttle. The old man had raised a pair of thin goggles which Marcus knew would be both updating and providing information on their mission as well as making a recording of the hunt for King Harris IX to review if he so choose.
“Marcus, unload the bikes,” Nasin grunted.
The transport’s size was deceiving. Most of the ship’s interior was dedicated to operating systems and the repulsor engine. The only open spaces aboard the transport besides the cockpit and the passenger area was a small cargo hold located in the aft of the ship. Inside the cargo hold were two flight bikes. “Mentor, do you think we’ll really find her here?” Marcus asked as he keyed in a command to a nearby terminal which caused the twin bikes to unlatch from their moorings.
The bikes used the same repulsor technology as the ship itself, though on a much smaller scale. This made it easy for Marcus to guide both bikes across the ship’s interior towards the access hatch.
“Our intel comes directly from the King’s top agents.” Nasin did not look at Marcus as he spoke. He kept his gaze directed towards the frozen cityscape. “If they are correct, this is the last free witch on earth.”
Marcus felt his head nodding as his mentor spoke. He wanted to ask the man what use there would be for witch hunters if there were no witches left to hunt, but let his question die in his throat.
“What happened here teacher?” Marcus asked as he prepped the bikes.
“The war, boy, the war. During the height of the Witch War, this place became the staging point for an operation which turned the tide against the witches. The High Priestess of all the Witch-Hive covens, Mellori, had taken refuge in the city with a small circle of her most trusted soldiers.”
“Why would Mellori hide here?” Marcus knew he shouldn’t interrupt the man but he always seemed to do so.
The old man finally took his eyes off the frozen buildings surrounding them and turned them towards Marcus. “I don’t know,” he said flatly.
Marcus suddenly felt stupid for asking. “How did the Order find her?” He stumbled, trying to forge past his foolish question.
“The Order had spies were everywhere back then, they caught wind that Mellori was hiding in the city and so they dispatched a team of the best hunters to find her. They knew that they may never get the chance to strike at the head witch again.”
“Where were they hiding?”
“Strangely enough, Mellori and her followers had secretly taken over a laboratory located in one of the city’s schools.”
Marcus desperately wanted to ask why, but this time wisely kept his mouth shut.
“They found her and drove her out. The witches were caught by surprise, and the hunters had the better numbers but this was not a novice they faced, Mellori was the leader for a reason, she was by far the most powerful witch to ever live. The only reason the hunters were able to take her was due to her age. The woman was said to be north of a hundred and fifty at the time and her health was failing.
“Maybe she knew that the end was near for her and her religion, maybe she just wanted to bloody as many noses as possible on the way out. Whatever the reason, before she was taken down, she unleased a final spell.” Nasin stared hard into Marcus’ eyes before raising his arms to encompass the city around them, “eternal winter.”
Marcus whistled. “Wow, I’ve never heard of such a powerful spell before. How come none of this is written in the texts?”
This time the old man did have an answer for his protégé. “Part of ending the witch line is erasing all history of their actions. How would the public feel if they knew that there were people living amongst them at one time with this kind of power? No, part of the Order’s mission is to make sure the Witches stay dead this time.
“Besides Mellori, the hunters bagged twelve high-ranking witches that day. With their leaders gone the remaining forces scattered around the world, began to fall.
“As you well know, it is extremely rare for a child to be born with the witchcraft ability, and it is even rarer for one to have the power levels displayed by Mellori.
“As their numbers dwindled there were no replacements to take up the slack.”
The old man straddled the nearest flight bike.
“Make sure your gun is primed,” Nasin said over his shoulder to Marcus, apparently the history lesson was over.
Marcus pulled the sleek gun from the holster on his right thigh. Due to their various spells, charms and talismans, the Order had developed guns which could fire magic cancelling ammunition called null-rounds. The bullets would explode near the intended target creating a dead zone bubble where all energy—magic or otherwise—was rendered inert. The down side being that the guns had to be primed first to fire such intense ordinance.
As Marcus climbed onto his own flight bike he couldn’t help but feel a wave of anxiety wash over him. He had been training since he was a boy for this very moment, and it had finally come. He was once again yanked back to question which had plagued him earlier, what was next? His mentor was old, he had fought hard for the cause and deserved a life of retirement. Marcus could practically picture the man lounging in a chair next to the floating pools in the resort city of Cancun. But what of himself?
“Teacher…what do we do after this?” Marcus felt the words leave his mouth before he could think it through.
The old man turned towards him. Marcus was sure he would get another non-reply but this time he was surprised.
“I don’t know son. Hunting witches is all I’ve ever done. I guess I’ll fade away somewhere and wait for the dark to take me. But you, you have your life ahead of you, you can go on to do great things Marcus. When this is all done,” the old man hesitated. Marcus watched as his mentor thoughtfully reached up and disabled the power to his goggles. “When we’re finished with this,” Nasin started, “you should leave the Kingdom behind. There are other things in the world worth your time besides that which the King decrees.”
Marcus couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The Witch Hunter Order had been a staple of the Kingdom since the first days of the War. The Order had always served the King first and foremost in everything. The words which had just been uttered from his mentor’s mouth were borderline treasonous. Besides, the thought of leaving the Kingdom was frightening. Much of the rest of the world had not rebounded as well as the Kingdom had, there were places out there that would make even the hardest witch hunter quake in their boots.
As if reading his student’s thoughts, Nasin cleared his throat and said, “Don’t listen to me, I’m just an old man. C’mon boy, let’s make history and bag the last witch.”
With that, Nasin reactivated his goggles, started his flight bike, and exited through the open hatch of the shuttle.
Marcus was still floored by what his mentor had just suggested, but it was not the time to dwell on such things. Nasin had been right, they did have a job to do and Marcus would be damned if had trained since childhood only to have the last witch in existence be taken down by anybody but him.
End of Part 1