By Christian Laforet
“I see her!” Marcus shouted into his headset. He relayed his coordinates to his mentor before pushing down on the throttle.
The first hour of searching had resulted in nothing. Marcus did not doubt the King’s sources, but he was starting to wonder at the chances of just two men being able to locate a lone person in such a massive area. He could tell that Nasin’s head was in the same place as his own when the older man suggested they start searching in a grid pattern.
Equipped with a thermal detection unit, Marcus had begun scanning every building he passed in the frozen city. The device would have been useless almost anywhere else, but there in Toronto it made the hunt much quicker. With nothing living left in the city, any heat sources would appear across the screen. It saved him from having to actually enter the derelict buildings—something that could be potentially dangerous because of their deteriorated state.
Marcus had just cleared another city block when he directed the device towards the ruins of a university. Almost immediately, he picked up something faint emanating from within the building; something in the guts of the place was giving off heat. Swinging his bike around, Marcus headed for the source. He reached around to secure the thermal unit in the compartment on the side of his bike. The slight movement saved his life.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the witch streaking down the icy street directly towards him. The woman flew fast enough to disrupt the snow resting atop the shells of cars lining the road; it looked like she was dragging a blizzard along behind her. He couldn’t hear what she was saying but he could see her mouth moving; he prepared for the magic he knew was coming. Moments later, with her spell cast, the swirling flurry chasing the woman’s wake transformed into giant birds of ice and snow.
Letting years of training take over, Marcus yanked the handle bars of the flight bike hard to the left, twisting his body even further until he was mostly facing the witch and her magic. He unsnapped his gun and fired three rounds before accelerating away from the oncoming spell.
Camila cursed her bad luck. She had waited too long to attack. If only she had come at the man as soon as she spotted him, she could be that much closer to returning to Alda. The snowbirds dove to intercept the bullets flying towards her. The extreme cold of the magical manifestations stopped the shots before they could reach her; the bullets breaking the magic holding them together.
With the hunter aware of her presence, Camila pulled the handle of her broom to face the grey sky and blasted off. She looked back over her shoulder as she zoomed through the frigid air. Snow flurries whipped against her, but her heat-skin kept her warm. The hum of the man’s flight bike began breaking through the howling wind behind her. Camila smiled. She was happy he had chased her; he was far too close to discovering the secret hidden under the school.
Marcus was closing in on the woman, he knew not to be overzealous, but the chance to finally test himself against a real witch was setting his heart to race. He had expected her to weave around the buildings, but she had surprised him by flying straight down the street. Gripping the handle bars with one hand, Marcus held his gun as steady as possible and pulled the trigger.
Camila felt the bullet explode against the protective barrier surrounding her a moment before the gun shot echoed off the dead buildings around her. The earth charm she wore around her neck would only hold up to one more shot—at best. Feeling that she had lead the hunter far enough away from the school, Camila decided to engage him.
Marcus watched the bullet burst into a small green puff of smoke. Clearly the witch was protected. He reached out a hand and set the gun to fire null-rounds. It would take a few seconds for the gun to charge enough to fire the powerful ammo, but when it did, the witch’s magic would be useless.
Reaching into one of the pouches hanging at her waist, Camila pulled out a handful of silver powder: erodust. Using a simple spell to steady her broom, she switched to a side-saddle position and looked back at her pursuer. With a wink and a smile, she released the powder. The wind grabbed the magic dust and whipped it towards the witch hunter.
Marcus tried to steer around the suddenly growing cloud of silver before him, but he was moving too fast to avoid it. Immediately, the silver powder began to eat through the front of the flight bike. Marcus managed to duck below the windshield causing the corrosive concoction to pass over his head. As a grinding sound began emanating from the front of the vehicle, he tried to keep the bike flying straight but billows of noxious black smoke began pouring out of the ragged holes forming along the front end. A flash of electrical fire spurted up just past the handle bars. Marcus knew he would have to abandon the bike if he was to survive. Before he did though, he had a surprise for the crafty witch. Flipping a small switch near the bike’s left handle, he exposed a plastic button. Marcus jammed his thumb down hard on it. Through the rapidly crumbling front end of the bike, a panel flung free and a round sphere the size of a baseball launched out.
With no other options left, Marcus leapt from his speeding vehicle. He landed on the barely exposed roof a car; the metal crumbling under his weight. Marcus rolled off and sunk down to his knees in the snow. Behind him he could hear his flight bike collide with one of the buildings; he paid in no mind though, instead he watched as the seeker grenade he had fired arced through the snowy air. The seeker used a variation of the technology employed by the null-rounds, except instead of nullifying magical energy, the seekers were attracted to it.
Camila slowed and brought her broom back around to face the destruction she had wrought. A widening patch of melting snow was forming around the flaming wreckage at the base of a nearby building. She saw no sign of the hunter, but then supposed there wouldn’t be much left of him after a crash like that.
She was about to fly away in search for the other hunter when she noticed a glint of metal breaking through the flurries. Camila squinted her eyes for a moment before opening them wide with surprise. Swearing, she tried to fly away, but the object zeroed in, hitting her protective barrier with tremendous force. A ball of green energy absorbed most of the impact, but the explosion was too much for her earth charm. The protective barrier failed and she was hurled to the ground, her broom reduced to burning straw and splinters.
Marcus whooped when he saw the fireball erupt across the permanently grey sky.
He began the arduous trek through the deep snow towards the downed woman. As he got closer he could see her robes flapping in the wind. He debated firing a null-round at her prone body to be sure, but then decided against it. If she was playing possum, he might regret the time it would take to charge another shot. Instead, he made his way over to her, gun held before him.
“Report!” Nasin’s voice crackled through Marcus’ headset.
Keeping his eyes focused on the downed figure, Marcus replied, “Target is down. Ping my tracker for an exact location.”
Not liking the way the woman seemed to defy physics by lying lightly atop the snow, instead of sinking in it, he used the tip of his gun to prod the pile of robes scattered before him. Nothing was visible of the witch besides her clothes, but he could make out the unmistakable human shape underneath them. When the witch did not move he shouted, “Hey!”
Keeping his gun trained before him, Marcus yanked the robes free. As soon as the edge of the clothing left the snow, it evaporated into a cloud of smoke. Marcus realized they had been an illusion all along. Lying directly under where the robes had appeared to be, was a dried out apple core.
“Huh?” Was all Marcus could manage before the apple core burst.
Camila hunched against a twisted hunk of metal, a faded graphic of an envelope barely visible on the side of it. Her body ached badly from the explosion, but the pain was something she could deal with.
She watched as the Newton’s Apple did its trick. Everything within three meters of the apple core suddenly had its gravity reversed; including the witch hunter. The apple’s magic only lasted for a couple dozen seconds, but that would be more than enough time for the man to be carried at high as the nearest building. Then, when gravity reverted to normal, he would plummet to his death.
Marcus fell up so fast that he was several meters off the ground before he could react. He searched desperately for something to grab a hold of. His searching hands were rewarded when the twisted end of a street light slapped into his palm. He held on for dear life.
Gritting her teeth, Camila pulled the long curved blade from the lamb skin sheath located on her hip. This man was proving increasingly hard to get rid of. She still had several magical tricks up her sleeve but was all too aware of the second hunter still roaming the city.
With a stomach churning lurch, the gravity around Marcus returned to normal. His grip on the street light had been sound when going up, but suddenly falling back down, his fingers slid off the icy metal.
He crashed down on a wind-swept portion of road where the snow was only a few inches deep. Marcus felt something crunch in his lower back, a spasm of pain blasted through him.
The witch was on him as soon as he landed, slashing at his throat with her knife. Marcus absorbed most of the blows along his armoured forearm, but a few managed to find openings near his elbow. Hoping that the knife wasn’t cursed, Marcus kicked the witch in the stomach sending her flailing backwards. He climbed back to his feet before she could resume her attack.
The hunter had knocked the wind from her but she couldn’t stop. Reaching for one of her pouches, Camila pulled free three small seashells. She let her thumb slide across the outside of one of the shells, the Celtic symbol carved into its surface had been nearly rubbed out over the years, but she could still feel the slight indentation. The Shells of Acionna had been passed down in her family for generations; she was loath to use them, but the shells represented the most powerful magic she had. With a flick of her wrist, she heaved them at the hunter.
Marcus smacked the shells out of the air before they could hit him. The witch stared at him wide eyed, clearly waiting for something to happen, and soon after it did. It began with a swelling sensation which caused intense pressure in his chest. He reached up to pull the edge of his armour away from his neck when he doubled over and began vomiting several liters of water.
He couldn’t breathe; every time he opened his mouth to gasp for air, more water gurgled out. He forgot about everything around him, even the witch, as panic gripped him. He fell to his knees, clawing at his throat. Marcus’s mind raced, he was going to die. Water had gotten under his goggles making his vision a blurry mess, but still he could make out the witch approaching to finish him off.
Seeking wildly for something to save him, Marcus spotted his gun resting in the snow nearby; a green light flashed along its side signaling that a null-round was primed.
The sight was grizzly. Camila knew that the man would soon drown to death, but as long as he could move at all he would be dangerous. Clutching her knife tight, she stalked over to the helpless witch hunter.
Despite the fact that she opposed everything the man represented—and that he had just spent a great deal of energy trying to kill her, she would make his death as quick as possible.
Before she could deliver the killing blow, the hunter jerked his arm out, grabbed his gun and fired it into the ground between them.
The round left the chamber and instantly exploded. The null field wrapped around both of them. Marcus’ suit, and all other electronics he carried died. The witch’s spells and enchantments likewise vanished.
Flipping onto his side, Marcus felt the end of the water begin draining from his lungs. After a couple of seconds, precious air started passing past his lips.
Camila was hit with a wave of numbing cold as the heat-skin wrapped around her was reduced to a thin piece of material. She shook her head a few times. The sudden loss of all her magic was disorienting. She had heard of the specialty bullets that the witch hunters carried, but until that moment, had never seen one in action. It seemed that the strange technology at work did not just extend to her own magic either; a patch of street which had been buried for hundreds of years in unrelenting snow was swept clear for the first time since the wintery curse was uttered.
The whole effect was so unnatural to her, so insulting to everything she believed in, that a spike of anger shot through Camila. Snarling, she leaped towards the man, her knife angling in for a killing blow. She knew that he would still be reeling from the devastating effects of the Acionna Shells.
A bullet caught Camila just under the ribs on her right side. She felt her body jerk violently from the impact. A grunt blew past her lips before she crumbled to the ground. She cocked her head to the side to see the other witch hunter dismount from his flight bike. The man held his gun before him as he hurried over to check on his partner. Camila tried to move but her body would not respond. A circle of ice—even colder than the air blowing through the city around her—began growing inside of her chest. She tried to talk but words failed her. She died there in the street.
Nasin pulled the goggles off of Marcus’s head. “Marcus! Are you alright son?!”
Marcus coughed a coupled times, the last bits of water coming out, before replying, “I think so.”
Nasin helped him back to his feet. They spent the next several minutes attending to his injuries before wrapping the witch in a sack and then securing her to the back of Nasin’s flight bike. Slapping Marcus on the back, Nasin said, “You just became a part of history, Marcus. We just took down the last witch.”
Marcus nodded, before saying quietly, “She fought harder than I thought…”
Nasin let out a sad chuckle. “They all fought hard, son. At least the fighting’s finally over.”
They returned to the shuttle. Nasin offered to fly and Marcus was grateful for it. The woman whose body was now stowed away in the back had given him everything—even more—than he could handle. He was happy to have survived it. As the shuttle lifted off, Marcus reflected on Nasin’s words, ‘At least the fighting’s finally over’. This brought him back to his own question when they had arrived in Toronto: what next?
Alda watched through the enchanted mirror as the shuttled disappeared into the frozen sky. He had seen most of the fight; and worse, he had seen Camila fall. The old tortoise wondered how he could possibly live without his companion.
With a low moan he shuffled out of the small room they had been living in, and into the lab right outside. He made his way over to the glass tube situated in the centre of the room. With a resolute nod of his head he looked at what was inside—what Camila had given her life to protect. A girl, around twelve or thirteen by appearance, floated in the cerulean liquid held within. She was a perfect clone of the grand witch herself, Mellori. Alda marveled at the peaceful look on her delicate face.
There was a long road ahead of him. Soon the girl would emerge from the tank and she would need his protection, his guidance. The world she was being born into was a dangerous one. But he would be strong, he would keep her safe until she could fulfil her destiny. Because, with Camila gone, this small girl was the last witch.