By Christian Laforet
“Who are they?” The tortoise asked, the unmistakable quake of fear audible in the creature’s voice.
Camila stroked the soft, smooth head of her companion. “Witch hunters,” she said.
The two of them watched the hunters as they mounted flight-bikes and took off into the city. Camila continued looking into the enchanted mirror long after her pursuers had disappeared from view. She had several “eyes” stationed around the city, they all fed their sight back to the mirror. It would only be a matter of time before the hunters came into view once more.
“Should we run?” Camila turned away from the mirror to look at her friend. The tortoise had been Camila’s familiar since she was just a little girl, nearly forty-five years ago. She had asked one time how old he was, he said he couldn’t be certain but guessed he was at least a hundred and twenty.
“There’s nowhere left to go, Alda, besides, if we don’t finish what we’ve started here, all will be lost.” Camila let her words hang in the air.
Alda slowly nodded, before adding, “Well, I guess we should get ready for some company then.”
Camila raised a hand. “Not yet my friend, we still have some time.”
She walked across the room that they had called home for the past several months. The space was once a storage room, but now was filled to capacity with various trinkets, talismans, pouches and books. A large feather stuffed pillow had been her bed—a smaller one next to it had served as Alda’s. Camila busied herself at a sturdy writing table which she had used as a work bench, her various concoctions covered its surface.
“No matter what happens today, Alda, I want you to stay here and protect our future.”
Alda looked surprised—no easy feat for a tortoise. “Now you wait just a minute, Camila. I’m not going to stay here while you go face those two brutes.”
Camila crouched next to her friend and let her hand slide along his warm shell. “Oh Alda, you are very fierce for a tortoise, but these men are trained professionals. If you come along, you’ll only give them leverage over me. No. You have to stay behind. Like I said, your job is more important than mine now.”
“Are these men really that dangerous?” Alda asked.
Nodding her head, Camila said, “They are. I’ve only seen a real witch hunter in action once in my lifetime, it was the most frightening sight I’ve ever beheld. It will take all my magic, all my skill just to lead them away from this place.”
Alda could feel his eyes begin to moisten. “But you can do it, right? You can get them away and then you’ll come back, right?”
Camila’s hesitation was all the answer Alda needed.
“Let me tell you a bit about the witch hunters, my friend. During the early days of the witch war, King Harris II, fearing that once the war was over the witches would set their sights on the kingdom, turned to the witches’ oldest foe: the witch hunters.
“In the beginning, the Witch Hunter Order was feared by all witches. Countless women have been tortured and murdered by the Order; they were relentless. However, when the covens went underground a thousand years ago, the Order found themselves with no witches to hunt. By the time we re-emerged—thanks to the Witch War—the Order had become nothing more than a small-time militia fueled by hate.
“The king took the hunters and funded them with his considerable wealth. With access to near unlimited resources, the Order was reborn.
“The witches quickly realized that their own squabbles were nothing compared to this new threat. Only under the leadership of the most powerful witch, Mellori, did the splintered covens reform as one, but it was too late. Mellori was too old to save us, her health was failing her every day. She knew that the War had left us exposed and we could not beat the Kingdom and its witch hunters. Our only hope for survival lied in technology.”
As she spoke, Camila began tying pouches to her belt. Even though she had been sitting around for weeks, she hadn’t been idle. Potent magic, and offensive enchantments had kept her busy. Now she was going to get to use them.
“The witch hunters had followed Mellori here. She knew that the work she was doing was bigger than her or any other single witch. It’s why she unleashed the wintery curse on this city. She knew that if the Order found out what she was working on, it would truly be the end of us.”
Camila wasn’t blind to the similarities between herself and Mellori. They were separated by five hundred years, yet they were both willing to die for what was in the next room. She of course was not capable of unleashing something as massive as the wintery curse; no witch in existence could have done that except for Mellori.
“Do you think these men will find this place? Is this the end?” Alda’s voice had dropped to almost a whisper.
Camila thought about it for a moment, then replied, “Not if I can help it. Besides, if King Harris IX knew what secrets this place harboured, he would have sent more than just these two witch hunters, we would be dealing with the entire might of the Kingdom.”
“Please, Camila, let’s leave this miserable place. We can start again somewhere else—maybe somewhere outside the Kingdom,” Alda begged.
Camila smiled sadly at Alda, “There are some things in life that are worth dying for…this is one of them.” Before Alda could protest, she continued, “We can’t change the past, Alda, we can’t go back and right our wrongs, but maybe…maybe we can ensure our future.”
A quick glance at the enchanted mirror revealed that the witch hunters were getting closer. Camila couldn’t let them find the laboratory, she needed to confront them out in the city, and hopefully lead them away.
Having given up on persuading Camila to stay, Aldo said forlornly, “Don’t forget your heat-skin.”
Camila grabbed the ancient hide—said to be taken from a fire-wolf—and wrapped it around herself. It would protect her from the frigid environment waiting outside. She started for the door to the room before stopping. She rushed over and wrapped her arms around Alda’s long, wrinkled neck.
“If I don’t come back,” she started.
“Don’t say that,” Alda interrupted.
“No, listen,” Camila persisted, “If I don’t come back, it will be in your hands—our future. I know you can’t work the machinery, but you won’t have to, everything is automated, you’ll be needed when she wakes. I just ask that you can be as loving, kind and faithful to her as you’ve been to me. I love you Alda, and I know I’ll see you again one day, my friend.”
The tears that Alda had managed to hold back earlier, broke free. He wanted to scream, but he knew she was right, Camila was always right, that’s what made her so special. He pressed his face against her cheek and could feel hot tears of her own collecting on the top of his head. “Goodbye, Camila.”
With that, the witch wiped the tears from her cheeks and headed for the door. She gave one last look over her shoulder at Alda before grabbing her broomstick and exiting the room.
In stark contrast to the space she and Alda had been living in, the room right outside was a massive technological wonder. Camila walked across the white tiled floor. The lab was deep in the bowels of a university. All the overhead lights had been deactivated. It didn’t matter though, as the light from the tanks cast the entire space in a ghostly blue glow. She stopped in front of one of the tubes—the only one that mattered—and raised her hand to press against the glass. Looking through the distortion of fluid, she made an oath that she would keep the witch hunters from finding this place, no matter the cost.
Camila hurried up the darkened stairwell to the main level of the building. The city’s curse of eternal winter had seen centuries of snow blowing in through broken windows and doors. She pulled the heat-skin tighter around her slender frame and mounted her broom. With a kick of her heel, she pushed off the icy floor and rocketed out through an open window into the grey sky.
To Be Concluded