Husky

A balmy heat clung to the air as the blazing sun beat down mercilessly. The treetops swam in hazy vibrations against the clear sky as they silently listened to the cicadas that assembled their choir.

She stepped out of the hut, adjusting the weathered straw hat on her wild head, and fell onto the nearby chair that had been roughly carved from old white oak. From the folds in her worn garments she drew the ornately crafted pipe, still filled with the bits of burned leaf she had been smoking that morning. It would still hold some flavour. She could still make a strong heady pull from the herbs that had been crushed in the barrel. At the snap of her fingers a single spark formed, and landed inside the chamber. The dry, yet aromatic blend lit up magically to release whispy smoke tendrils that lazily drifted upward.

The witch reclined against the chair, pushing it back to balance on the bottom edge as she inhaled deeply. She blew out a large puff of white smog that evanasced and coalesced in front of her. The smoke hung formless for a moment, until it morphed into a mockingbird. The ghostly critter flitted swiftly around her, until it flew out over the small clearing to dissipate into the ether. It was a simple spell, but one that gave her a small inkling of delight.

Finding a woman smoking a pipe, she had found, was as uncommon as finding a clever wizard. She was sure there were bound to be some of them out there, but she had yet to meet one. The fine object merchant from whom she had stolen the pipe was a particularly good example. He had a treasure trove of valuable magical trinkets at his disposable, but he knew little of their power… she could tell. The concealment spells over his cart had been shoddy to say the least, and had fairly allotted him the label of being a cheap conjurer of tricks. At least, in her own mind. But the visit had nontheless proven profitable to her surprise…

Her shock…

From hidden whispers exchanged with a cloaked wanderer – a strange figure, seething with a hidden power – she overheard that a large band of marauders had come down from the mountains to wreak havoc on a small town situated on a river inlet about 25 leagues east. The attack was preemptive, it had seemed. Just a fortnight before, they had already raided the winter stockpiles of the village. But the violence had been fairly idle compared to their second visit. In fact, they had moved beyond the mountainfoot, traversing deep into the forest that surrounded that border. The same forest where she had made her own home…

The rushed journey back had taken here more than a day, but she returned to her hovel to find that they had indeed passed through, as she had suspected. The hut had been loosely, yet recklessly scavenged. Broken pottery and jars lined the floor, mixed with the contents they had once held. What remained of her own food had been ransacked, and the potion she had been brewing had been spilled over the floor, with the tipped cauldron having rolled to the far corner.

Mild irritations. She was perhaps more surprised that the extent of damage was not worse. They were clearly in a rush… no time in dealing with the trifle that was a small recluse’s home containing a sparse amount of possesions.

Her mind was drawn back from the memory as she felt her leg brush against something soft. She looked down, and then balanced the chair to pick up her familiar. What was he doing outside? The cat’s pelt was a ruffled tangle of fur, wildly caked with mud and thistle. The little shapeshifter had been through quite the ordeal since her departure. The unwelcome visitors had been an unsettling presence. She crooned the poor creature as it laid there on her lap, noticing the hoarse, husky whisper of her own voice as she caressed its body and spoke to it. She really did sound like an old crone… It appears as if she was owning up to the myths held by the villagers…

Perhaps she would smoke less. Or not. She was sure her hateful screaming the night prior at the discovery of the invasion more than sufficed as explanation for her low-pitched, grating voice.

As the last of the flavour disappeared from the pipe end, she stood up and stared for a moment at the clearing. It was only a matter of time… A strand of hair from her autumn head loosened itself from under her hat to drift in the dry breeze that sailed through the clearing. Her youthful body ached with weariness, but was charged with the resolve of setting off an altogether different adventure as to the one she had returned from. She smirked at the irony. Her appearance betrayed her. Her soul was every bit as weary as the guise of the old woman she took…

She entered her dark hovel, brushing the single lock of her hair behind her ear as she took off the straw titfer. The witch took one final look at her familiar, as its beady aureate eyes still shone with a lively fire. Carefully, she placed the stiff body of the creature on the mantle of her fireplace. The petrification spell had worked well, she thought. It would definitely keep Death’s devices at bay, until she could revive its soul. But she needed to steal the essence of another first.

She knew what had to be done. And despite the call of rest, she was eager to exact her toll on the murderous barbarians that had defiled her land. A life of a familiar was no paltry price. Blood was due.

Besides… one of them had taken something precious from her. A powerful artifact not meant for foolish brutes. And she had every intention of retrieving it…

Inktober #6

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