Chapter 54: The Consequences of Fate


Carina’s vision was still blurring in and out as she stared past her blood-stained fingers at the elemental monstrosity that appeared determined to bite Serilda’s face off. For a moment, something sinister stirred inside her chest—a cold, foreign feeling that reveled as a pinned Serilda let out a panicked whimper of fear.

Carina gasped and clutched her chest as the malevolent darkness that filled the earthen room around her trembled and faded. The wolf before her hesitated, its giant jaws of glistening teeth positioned around Serilda’s vulnerable head stiffened and then withdrew as the wolf stepped back and glanced towards Carina as if seeking confirmation.

‘I. Eat. Witch?’

Carina’s eyes widened as another startled gasp slipped past her lips. ‘Is it—talking to me?’

‘No. Eat?’ The wolf closed its mouth with a faint huff and seemed—disappointed.

Carina shook her head firmly, and the elemental monster took another step back from the fallen air witch, to whom he offered a low rumbling growl as if to say, ‘I’ll eat you later.’

Serilda slowly blinked her eyes open as she felt her attacker retreat. She appeared to realize that—for the moment—she was in no danger and sat up stiffly with a resigned, feeble smile as she studied the wolf. “I suppose I should thank you for not allowing your scriva to kill me,” the marchioness muttered.

The winter wolf growled again as if it understood Serilda and disapproved. It turned and circled behind Carina’s chair before sitting down on her right side, its translucent eyes focused on the marchioness.

“Scriva?” Carina whispered as she studied the fearsome creature that was about four feet taller than her. ‘Where did it come from? Did I make this?’

Serilda let out a snort of disbelief as she studied Carina. “Scriva are—summoned companions of witches.” The marchioness sighed and rose slowly to her feet while keeping a careful eye on the wolf. “It would be easier to explain if we used the tomes in Anthraticus’s library.”

‘The witch is trying to run away.’ The wolf’s disapproving growl rumbled through Carina’s mind while Serilda took no notice.

‘So, only I can hear him. Then this must be some sort of telepathy?’

The wolf’s left ear twitched in her direction while it remained otherwise focused on Serilda, almost as if it were listening in on Carina’s thoughts.

‘Weird. But Viktor also communicated with me that way, so—perhaps this is normal.’

Carina shifted her gaze from the wolf to Serilda and then to the blood already drying on her fingers. ‘As much as I shouldn’t trust Serilda after she attacked me like that, it would be good to learn more about this magic I possess. Once I’m back in the palace, it will be hard to find another opportunity like this to receive training.’

The wolf stretched its jaws into a lazy yawn, and Serilda quivered as she looked away from the flash of teeth.

Carina smiled. ‘Well, even without the Winter Rose. I’m not exactly defenseless.’

She also knew without asking that this library would be entirely different from the private library she had spent most of Maura’s later childhood in, studying while being tutored by the Countess or other hired instructors.

‘This library has magical witch tomes? I wonder how different those are from ordinary books?’

Carina gestured towards the only door in the room they had used to enter. “After you, Marchioness.”

Serilda nodded and headed towards the exit with measured, cautious steps and a worried glance as the scriva followed behind her with Carina in tow.

The wolf shimmered and shrank in size before its snow-like body squeezed through the doorway out into the hall. Serilda muttered something under her breath when it did that. Perhaps she had hoped the creature would remain trapped inside.

Carina smiled as she entered the hall and stood beside the elemental beast to stare at Serilda pointedly.

They proceeded through the tunnels and a few hidden doors with the winter wolf padding along softly beside Carina, never more than arm’s length away. Finally, they stopped before a single large door marked by a border of runes.

Serilda waved her hand over the root-shaped rune in the center of the doorframe, which flared to life as a pattern of smaller runes brightened and spiraled out to the border frame like branches of a tree. The door creaked open as a gentle gush of wind crept out.

Carina didn’t even blink at the use of magic. After summoning a scriva from pure fear, she had become numb to such simple effects. She focused her attention on the path of runes along the floor that lit up the room before them, illuminating the massive underground library that stretched on seemingly forever as the path of runes continued towards their distant ends.

“Only pure-blood witches are allowed in here,” Serilda explained tensely as she glanced warily around the library. “Fortunately, it appears to be empty.” After a moment’s inspection, she entered, and Carina followed.

The scriva stepped in behind them and then shook its head and body as it returned to its original size. Carina held her breath as she watched the elemental creature move forward, narrowly avoiding the corner of the nearest bookshelf. She could already envision the domino effect of chaos that would ensue if her summoned companion accidentally knocked even one shelf over.

“Anyway, to answer your earlier question, a scriva is a magical manifestation of elements mixed with the casters will,” Serilda explained as she moved towards the center of the library, where a few tables and chairs waited. When Carina looked nonplussed, the marchioness continued. “It’s not a creature of flesh and blood, but ice and frost. The scriva’s body is reinforced with your magic and is thus indestructible as long as you remain alive and possess that magic.”

Serilda paused to rub her temple as if fighting a nasty headache.

“The problem is,” the marchioness continued. “I’ve never seen such a manifestation outside of the tomes of this library. Even the strongest pure-bloods of my family have never been able to figure out the complexities of such a summon.” Serilda closed her eyes, pressed her lips together, and snapped furiously, “So how in Veles’s name did a half-blood coven witch make one?”

The scriva growled at her tone but remained relaxed as it lay upon the floor between them.

“I—” Carina tilted her head and shrugged helplessly. “I’m not sure.”

“Did someone teach you the spell of summoning?”

“The wha—No.”

“Show you then?”

“No.” Carina shook her head. “It—just happened?”

Serilda stared at her, exasperated, then opened her mouth, hesitated, and asked, “Are you sure your mother wasn’t a witch?”

“What?” Carina half-laughed and crossed her arms with a sigh. “No, I don’t believe for a moment that Lady Helena was a witch,” she answered confidently. The wolf let out a very animal-like snort as if agreeing with her.

‘It seems so alive—and intelligent. Is it possible that—this scriva—is something Viktor made?’ It would certainly explain how an elemental monster knew her family lineage.

Serilda frowned as she glanced between them in perplexed frustration, then her shoulders drooped, and she shook her head in defeat. “Never mind. If you can summon that, you’re not as defenseless as we thought.”

Carina didn’t miss the tone of disappointment in Serilda’s voice, and neither did the scriva judging by its low growl.

“No, that’s a good thing,” Serilda reasoned aloud with a nervous glance at the white wolf. “Anyway, the reason I brought you down here was to begin your training, Maura.” She crossed her arms and stared suspiciously at Carina. “But seeing as how you can control your magic to this extent already.”

“I have never received any training before,” Carina countered firmly. “But—I have accidentally used my magic once or twice when—threatened.”

Carina didn’t mention Lincoln or the fact that Serilda had looked ready to kill her only moments ago.

Serilda nodded and appeared to accept this explanation though her gaze turned doubtful each time she glanced towards the scriva. “Alright, then let’s start with something simple. Show me what you can do.”

Carina nodded as she held out her right hand and connected to the pulsating cold within her chest. Frost stretched down her fingers and across her palm, then snowflakes swirled around her wrist and spiraled upon her open hand as the frozen heart glowed faintly.

“I can extend this cold to other people or objects and change their temperature, but that’s about it,” Carina admitted reluctantly as she closed her hand and the light faded.

Serilda stared at Carina’s chest—not uttering a single word. Then she motioned her hand sharply, and a chair ripped away from the nearest reading table and slid to a halt just in time to support her as the marchioness sat down.

“I need to think,” Serilda muttered with an unhappy look between Carina and the wolf. “For now, take this back with you.” The marchioness snapped her fingers, and a book zipped across the library and hurtled towards Carina. The scriva rose swiftly and caught the flying tome gently in its fangs before it presented the book like a trophy to the ice witch.

Carina accepted the book, grateful the winter wolf’s sharp fangs hadn’t ripped the delicately embellished leather cover. She also appreciated the fact that the creature did not appear to drool. ‘Then again—it is made of ice and frost.’

“You obviously have more potential than any of us could have guessed,” Serilda observed grimly as she folded her arms. “That book will teach you the basics. Your breathing, focus, design, and intent are all essential elements of any spell casting. Once you get the hang of the first few pages of magic exercises, the rest of the book will become much easier to work through.

“Witch incantations that connect to each element are written on the first page. Each witch can only possess one element, so don’t try anything stupid like casting a fire spell. It will likely backfire and damage you. Ice and fire magic don’t mix well.” Serilda shook her head with a sigh as she leaned back in her chair. “Only an insane goddess like Kritanta would try exerting her dominion over an opposing magical force. However, as an ice witch, Maura, you could try spells of water or wind, but without a natural affinity or artifact to ramp up the spell’s potency, it’s just a waste of your magical energy.”

“Magical energy?” Carina pressed curiously.

Serilda’s lips twitched with a smile as if amused by such a novice question. “To be a witch is to have a body blessed by a god to be a vessel for their power. The more power a vessel possesses, the more magic they can use without suffering from the mental or physical exhaustion that comes when a vessel runs low of magic.”

“You mean—it’s possible to use it all?”

“Temporarily,” Serilda replied swiftly. “A witch can recover their magic over time. The length of recovery is determined by the amount of power the vessel can hold and how much magic remains. In theory, the more magic left over, the quicker your recovery. However, the more you overextend your magic, the more painful and slow the recovery.”

‘That makes sense, I suppose.’

“And then there is the risk of dying.”

“Dying?” Carina raised a brow sharply.

“Yes,” Serilda replied as she gestured to a potted vine beside a bookshelf. “Magic is to a witch what water is to that plant. We were born with it. We can not survive without it. If a witch drained herself completely of magic, she would wither up and die.”

“Don’t run out of magic—got it,” Carina whispered. She shifted restlessly as she moved her gaze from the plant to the book in her hand. “Why is it that spells sometimes require an incantation and other times they don’t?”

“That is another trait of a pure-blood’s magic. The more power we have, the easier it is to cast a spell without an incantation as a trigger,” Serilda replied calmly. “Reactive magic like yours can happen—though they rarely perform as intended. Stress, anger, or fear can act as a trigger, and the result is often powerful, but control is sacrificed as a result.

“Something like this—” the marchioness gestured at the scriva “—would normally require a great deal of focus and several incantations to even be possible.” The marchioness sighed and rubbed her temple again. “Even if your magic potential allowed you to react instinctively without an incantation—that doesn’t explain how you were able to create a scriva despite your tainted heritage.”

Carina sighed. She was just as confused about the massive wolf that lay at her feet.

“We should head back. Study that book for now; it will give you a firm foundation of knowledge. Make sure you only practice those spells at night behind a locked door. When I figure out what you are,” Serilda gestured between the scriva and Carina. “I’ll know how to adjust your training.”

“Alright,” Carina replied calmly as she tucked the book under her arm. “But before I go—why did you attack me earlier?”

Serilda’s moss green eyes dropped to the library floor as she drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “I suppose an explanation is owed if I am to become your teacher.” She straightened in her seat and lanced her fingers together before lifting her gaze once more to Carina. “I was nineteen when I became King Henri’s secret mistress,” she answered dully. “I hated the idea. Loathed the very thought of—” she closed her eyes briefly as her lips twisted with disgust “—but it was for the good of the family and the coven.” She offered an empty smile as her eyes opened once more. “I was promised the title of Queen as long as I gave the king another son. An heir the coven’s could use to regain power in Lafeara.”

‘So the witches have tried to take Lafeara’s throne before?’

“I lived most of my life secluded in my father’s estate for that very purpose,” Serilda continued. “I was given a secret identity, that of a lower noble, and fed special herbs to mask my witch powers from the church.”

“Aconitum?” Carina guessed aloud.

Serilda nodded. “I made sure to take it in the smallest of doses and only when I could feel my powers resurfacing. The Dowager herself prepared my tonics with the greatest care. If I had given birth to a son, Lafeara would have a prince of both worlds, half-mortal, and half-witch. With that, we would finally put an end to the Harvardur bloodline, and I would take over as Regent and Queen Mother.”

‘Harvardur? The ancestor of the royal family that they had taken as their surname. King Harvardur was the first mortal king to rule after the Saint’s rebellion.’

“But how could your child end the royal bloodline? He would still be half Harvardur, half-mortal.”

“For one, he would have been born a coven witch, not a half-witch,” Serilda responded with a cynical smile. “When a coven chooses a Witch King, all witches belonging to that coven are forced to submit to the Witch King’s rule. My son—” she strangled on the word for a moment as she pressed a hand against her stomach “—would have yielded Lafeara’s throne to the next Witch King.”

A dark shiver ran down Carina’s spine as the implication of Serilda’s words took root. ‘The coven had been preparing to take over the kingdom six years ago. The Dowager had been a part of this effort. The death of the Queens, Tristan’s banishment and presumed death, now only Nicholas remained of the Harvardur bloodline, and he was married to Eleanora.’

“Why doesn’t the Witch King just kill the royals and take the throne by force?”

“Why don’t the covens tear the castle apart brick by brick and slaughter every single noble-born mortal and royal brat inside it?” Serilda replied with a cynical laugh. “In a word? The Saint.” She raised her hand and snapped her fingers again. Another book zipped towards her back but shifted course to the marchioness’s extended hand as she snatched it precisely from the air. The pearl leather cover shimmered with gold as Serilda flipped it open then spun the book around to present the painted images to Carina.

Scenes of calamities flipped before Carina’s eyes in rapid succession. A two-headed rock giant, smashing its way through a city. A rain of blood that overflowed rivers as the painted mortals on the embankment wept bloody tears from nearly every orifice. Then a deluge of fire descending from the sky to decimate a city and burn the field of crops around it. In each painting, a white figure surrounded by blinding golden light stood triumphant over a charred demonic humanoid body of what had presumably been a witch.

“The churches were never good at painting us in a flattering light,” Serilda observed with a wry smile.

“This book—is from the church?” Carina recoiled instinctively.

“Every record in history pinpoints the appearance of a Saint around the occurrence of any catastrophic event caused by a witch or coven,” Serilda explained as she rose from the chair. “There are a few exceptions—but those were all attributed to the involvement of a deity.”

“A god?” Carina considered this for a moment. “Then—the destruction of old Zarus.”

“Blessed by Kritanta through her consort, Emperor Arius.”

“Consort?” Carina raised a brow at this.

“A god or goddess will only impart their magic to one who has sworn a lifetime of fealty and service to them,” Serilda explained. “Although I do not know for certain, it is rumored that some form of intimacy is required to—transfer and bind the magic.”

Carina scoffed and felt a bit squeamish as she turned the page to where a woman with golden hair and a blindfold held a babe in her arms. The title Saint Harmonia and Pope Zigor I lay inscribed in golden letters beneath the child. “Aren’t the gods supposed to be dragons?”

“That is one of their forms,” Serilda corrected with a note of impatience. “Each god has presented themselves in human form at some point throughout the history of the covens—even Viktor. Though the history of ice god’s coven has all but faded from history along with its immortal witches.” She glanced from Carina to the wolf and muttered, “Perhaps that’s why.”

Carina flipped the holy book shut and stepped back. “None of this explains why you attacked me earlier,” she reminded the marchioness bluntly.

Serilda grimaced. “The ambush you thwarted six years ago, the attack upon the Countess, was organized by me.”

‘Oh.’ Carina took a moment to digest that as Serilda took the closed book and tossed it over her shoulder where a breeze caught it and carried it back to its origins.

“You know that I am Percy’s cousin. My father was Constance’s older brother, Lord Gaius. He was the leader of the Twilight Coven, a faction that rules within the noble families of Lafeara. One of three covens that have governed the witches of Lafeara since the fall of the Isbrand King.” Serilda rubbed her neck and rose from her chair before continuing.

“My father died before I turned ten years old. My uncle, Lord Alastair, took over the coven as its temporary leader and my guardian. Alastair was meant to hold that seat for me until I came of age, but then he got married to that half-witch, Lady Isabella, and abdicated his seat as the coven’s temporary leader to his sister, Lady Constance. And Constance, well—” Serilda fingers moved restlessly along the silk belt of her dress “—that woman was never any good at letting go of power. I would have been of age to claim my seat when I turned twenty. Instead—I was pregnant with King Henri’s bastard child.”

“And then—you had a miscarriage,” Carina whispered sympathetically.

“A miscarriage caused by the Countess herself!” Serilda’s eyes flashed with the same maniacal hatred that had set her upon Carina moments ago. The wolf rose to its feet beside Carina but remained silent.

“A beautiful work of sabotage if I say so myself,” the marchioness muttered. “My identity as the king’s mistress was exposed to the mortal noble lords overnight. I was still heavily weakened by both the miscarriage and the aconitum the Dowager was slipping me. It took almost no effort for Constance to convince the Twilight Coven to view me as unfit to rule. She had me shut away and fed me food tainted with poison that drove away all reason. Once she had convinced everyone that the loss of my child had made me a danger to myself, she shipped me to one of Mercy’s convents in the country where everyone forgot that I even existed.”

Carina remained as stiff as a statue as Serilda paused to collect herself and soothe her ragged breathing.

“She should have just killed me,” the marchioness whispered darkly. “I wanted her dead—a thousand times over. If that ambush had succeeded, it would have left the coven with no choice but to accept me as their leader. At worst, they would have married me to another pure-blood. Within a few years, I would have recovered my powers and proven that the Countess had poisoned me and murdered my child. But—”

Carina exhaled sharply and leaned against the wolf as a wave of guilt flooded through her.

“Instead, I was locked in a dungeon, trapped in my own personal hell for four long years. They laced my food and water with aconitum and anything strong enough to keep me comatose. Then Percy found me, recovered what was left of my mind, body, and spirit, and nursed me back to health in secret. I came back for one purpose and one purpose alone, Maura. To finish what you prevented six years ago.”

“You’re going to kill the Countess,” Carina said softly in acknowledgment.

Serilda smiled, a sad, broken, glittering smile that held not a flicker of joy. “Percy will hand his mother over to me once he has taken Lafeara’s throne. I have sworn the Twilight Coven to his service in exchange for my revenge.”

“Percy—is the Witch King,” Carina whispered.

Serilda nodded grimly. “And because he has chosen you as his Queen, I won’t hold this mistake against you.”

The wolf growled out a cold breath of brittle air as its neck stiffened.

“Just as well,” Serilda added with a mocking laugh. “I’d rather not offend a Witch King—or a god.”


Feed the Author your comments here!

%d bloggers like this: