Chapter 47: What Lurks Below


The smell of rain woke Jasper from his sleep. He frowned at the stiffness in his joints, rising from his new accommodations, a soldier’s cot and bedroll, among the Bastiallano white tents. The three knights he now bunked with still snored deeply, having gotten off shift somewhere around midnight.

The Huntsman yawned tiredly as he dragged his boots from under the cot and slid into them, then retrieved his belt and jacket from the edge of the bed before heading outside. A dense fog coated the warm glow of campfires and braziers evenly spaced throughout the campsite. The beaten, flattened clumps of dry, toiled soil echoed dully beneath Jasper’s boots as the Huntsman scanned the heavy clouds above warily before inhaling the heavy, humid breeze. He gagged beneath the rancidly sweet stench, threw on his jacket, and headed towards the Duchess’s shelter.

The first drop of rain struck the water witch’s shoulder as he pulled up before the patrol of knights that surrounded their Commander’s tent.

Lieutenant Quinn stepped forward with a cautioning hand, even as he nodded in greeting to the Huntsman. “Her Grace is sleeping and not to be disturbed.”

“Of course, but—you should wake the men and start digging trenches away from the Duchess’s tent,” Jasper replied swiftly, gesturing to the ominous gray clouds that blotted out the night sky. “Looks like another nasty storm.”

The Lieutenant’s brows furrowed in irritation before he sighed and nodded to one of the men beside him. “Go ahead. Wake the morning watch and tell them to start digging.” The sergeant nodded and stepped around them as Quinn gave the Huntsman an assessing glance. “Anything else?”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to stay close just in case—”

“We can handle a bit of rain,” Quinn retorted dismissively. “And the Duchess’s security is not your concern.”

Jasper exhaled slowly. “I don’t think you understand. It’s more than the rain I smell approaching. Something dangerous is creeping towards us, and once the ground is saturated, they will be able to move and strike freely before you so much as catch a glimpse.”

The Lieutenant’s gaze hardened as his grip tightened around the hilt of his sword. “Assassins?”

“Worse,” the Huntsman shook his head. “Witches.”


A forest of winter trees stretched out across the frozen planes of the immortal’s cortex before Carina, who focused her senses on the flow of magic rippling through the terrain of ice, air, and water below. Kirsi’s latest training session seemed to be a warped combination of hide and seek, tag, and combat. The Scarlet Witch insisted the training would help her student better detect and track down other witches while masking her presence as much as possible.

‘More like another opportunity for Kirsi to show off her superior skill and experience,’ Carina observed sourly as she maintained a taunt grip on her elemental bow while creeping through the trees, masked in an illusion of ice that reflected the winter landscape around her, thus making the ice witch relatively invisible.

A sharp whistle raised the hair on the Duchess’s neck as an ice arrow struck the frigid bark of a winter tree two feet to her left. Carina closed her eyes and sighed in quiet aggravation before zig-zagging through the trees until she found one solid enough to use as cover. She knew from experience that the first shot was a warning; the second one would sting.

‘Even when I make blending in and masking my aura a priority, Kirsi still finds me. Augh! Just what am I doing wrong?’


The Duchess glanced up at the elemental silver hawk that soared above the forest to the east. She connected to the scriva, hoping to catch a glimpse of her teacher, who had to be within a certain distance of the earlier warning shot.

A glimmer of magic caught her attention, and Carina quickly dove away from her current hiding place as Kirsi’s next arrow slammed into the bark where her shoulder rested mer seconds ago. With a growl of exasperation, the Duchess raised a wall of ice around her and beckoned Lumi towards Kirsi’s exposed hiding location.

The Scarlet Witch laughed as the wolf scriva closed in on her. She charged recklessly toward Carina’s barrier and ran up the icy dome to fire down at the Duchess cowering on the other side. Carina managed to dodge the arrow, simultaneously returning one of her own as Kirsi jumped clear of the frozen dome. The Duchess’s missile narrowly missed Lumi, who continued to chase the laughing Scarlet Witch, undaunted.

Carina was just about to lower the ice barrier and use the temporary distraction to find a new place to hide when a warning flash of red light flooded the icy terrain beneath her feet. Lumi screeched to a halt before vanishing from the frozen cortex entirely.

“Something’s wrong,” Kirsi growled, lowering her bow in frustration as her ice-blue eyes glared at the odd, dark green clouds accumulating above the winter forest. “Wake up, Carina! We’re in danger!”


The sound of heavy rain and clashing steel greeted the Duchess the moment her eyes snapped open. Her blurred vision quickly narrowed in on the thick ribbon of fog that covered her legs and coiled around the bed. The sound of Lumi’s vicious snarls snapped Carina’s attention to the left, but her head refused to follow. In fact, her entire body seemed to be locked in place, unable to move.

‘Am I—paralyzed?’

“Your Grace?!” Colonel Isaac’s frantic voice called out beneath the growing clamor outside her tent.

As much as Carina wanted to respond, neither her tongue nor lips obliged. She wasn’t even sure if she could swallow. Her eyes darted towards the tent entrance where Isaac appeared, wearing only a flimsy, wet jerkin, drenched trousers, and boots. His worried gaze swept toward the Duchess’s shrouded bed just as the tent canopy between them ripped open.

Rain poured onto the carpeted floor at the foot of the bed as three dark shadows slid soundlessly into view. Lumi charged instantly, tackling and flinging one of the assassins through the tent wall. Isaac followed suit, bellowing as he rushed the other two, who appeared to melt into the floor before reappearing on either side of the bed.

“There are more of them outside,” Kirsi’s impatient voice snarled. “What are you waiting for?”

‘I-I can’t move. I don’t know why!’ Carina snapped back, flinching as Lumi pounced onto the bed, standing guard over the Duchess and snarling at the assassins that circled beyond the curtains.

“What do you mean you can’t move? You’re awake, aren’t you?”

‘Yes. I’m awake—but I think I’ve been paralyzed.’

“I’ve got this one,” Isaac growled, charging toward the assassin on the left. Lumi needed little prompting. The elemental lunged through the bed curtain towards the third assassin, tackling the woman to the floor where a muffled, gargled scream ended with the crunch of bone and flesh beneath teeth.

The Colonel attempted to freeze the soggy floor with his enchanted rings, but the ice failed to spread fast enough to stop the last elusive assassin from disappearing through the fluid surface.

“Fuck! We don’t have time for this!”

‘I’m open to suggestions,’ Carina retorted sarcastically, flinching as a drop of water splattered against her cheek. She looked up towards the pool of rainwater collecting along the bedcurtain canopy, then blinked in terror as the shape of the third assassin reappeared above her, unnoticed by either Lumi or Isaac.

“Running out of time. We should merge again!” Kirsi hissed tensely as the blackened tip of the assassin’s knife poked through the waterlogged curtain.

‘Fine!’ was the shortest response Carina could give before both halves of the Scarlet Witch’s soul clashed together as one, emitting a blinding aura of ice magic that greeted the assassin as he dropped down towards the immobilized Duchess.

Beneath the oily black substance that coated the man’s skin and garments, a pair of hazel-green eyes widened in surprise as the Isbrand Witch encased his dagger in an icy fist while slicing his stomach open with her blade.

She grimaced as he coughed painfully, spraying the elemental armor she had summoned with blackened blood.

“Bitch!” The assassin hissed as he bared his lips to reveal rows of shark-like teeth. His body convulsed suddenly, eyes tearing slightly as a buzzing came from the back of his throat. The Isbrand Witch narrowed her eyes suspiciously before flinging him to the side of the bed, where he vomited up blackened blood that squirmed with wriggling black larvae of bog flies. The Scarlet Witch quickly yanked her sword free and kicked the dying man’s corpse to the floor with a look of unsettled disgust. “Fucking Bog Witches.”

Lumi whined apologetically as she circled the torn body of her latest victim, which also appeared to be infested with the same wriggling pests.

“Good thing you’re immune to poison,” the Scarlet Witch commented as she rolled across the bed towards the anxious scriva.

‘Danger. Mortal still. Careful.’

“Yes, I know,” the Isbrand Witch replied, wobbling slightly as she rose to her feet. “Fuck, there must have been something paralytic in that fog.” She shook her head scornfully, straightening with effort. “Of course they would try to tip the odds in their favor before facing me directly.”

“Your Grace?” Isaac called out as he joined the worried scriva beside her. “Are you alright? Can you walk?”

“Well enough. We should burn the bodies quickly and any bugs they leave behind.”

“Are they poisonous?”

“Everything that crawls out of Sloverga is poisonous,” she hissed with annoyance, leaning against Lumi as her strength faltered. “What’s the situation outside?”

“A lot more of the same,” Isaac replied grimly, still scanning the tent. He moved off abruptly to grab an unlit oil lantern from the small dining table and sprinkled the flammable liquid from its base over the two witches Lumi had eviscerated. Then the Colonel dragged the blanket, tainted with blood and twitching larvae, down from the bed and added it to the pile.

“Hana and Ivy?”

“Captain Silas took them to the manor for safety.”

A few strikes of flint set the writhing mass of guts and bugs ablaze despite the pools of rainwater that filled the tent. The blackened smoke that rose from the burning corpses filled the closed space with a rancid stench that made them both gag as Lumi flattened her ears.

“Time to head outside,” the Scarlet Witch muttered between coughs as she climbed onto the scriva’s back. “We need to find the men some cover. Fighting a water witch in the goddamn rain is suicide for mortals. You, of all people, should know that Colonel!”

“My priority was ensuring your safety, your Grace,” Isaac responded resolutely as he moved beside Lumi, following the elemental and ice witch to the tent entrance. “Are you sure you’re in any condition to fight?”

The Isbrand Witch brushed back her damp hair, streaked with white, masking it beneath an ice dragon-winged helm. “I might not be a god,” the Scarlet Witch observed cynically as she turned to meet his gaze. “But I am the best chance they’ve got.”


A thin line of gray, barely visible behind the hazy horizon, warned that dawn was fast approaching. The dimly lit windows of Gilwren Manor seemed to glimmer at a distance behind the curtain of rain and fog, offering little light to the chaos that awaited them. Rows of knights spread out between several flattened tents. At least two dozen men lay unmoving beneath the flooding torrent of rainwater that submerged the incomplete trenches leading away from the Duchess’s tent. Half the camp was still waking, fresh knights, better equipped than their fallen comrades, rushed to the front of the line as officers barked out orders, trying to get their troops into a feasible formation.

But mortal men in heavy armor fighting against water witches in the rain and mud are little better than bulls dressed in steel charging against the ocean waves. Meanwhile, the fluid assassins that slid in and behind their defenses with ease, rising from the swelling pools of rainwater littered throughout the camp, had only to nick the exposed flanks of their prey with poisoned blades before fleeing back beneath the surface to watch as the mortal succumbed to an agonizing death.

The Scarlet Witch quickly summoned an ice horn and handed it to Isaac, who blew a hasty retreat, waving to the men as he led the way toward the nearest edge of the forest.

Battered and beaten as they were, the knights hesitated as they glanced towards their Duchess, who strode forward into the rippling murky water like a beacon of light in her imposing, glittering ice armor.

Jasper stood panting among the tired men, covering their backs and slicing through the dark mirages of the bog witches that danced in and out of range of their swords and spears.

“Show yourselves, Pestilence of the Deep!” the Isbrand Witch taunted boldly, spreading her empty hands wide above the snarling scriva. “I, Kirsi, Slayer of Arachne’s Spawn, stand before you!”

A deep echoing drum boomed in response, rippling beneath the flooded field ground. Jasper quickly urged the knights toward their waiting Colonel, following them for a distance before he crouched behind a half-toppled tent to watch the Duchess anxiously.

The Scarlet Witch’s ice-blue eyes watched the endless curtain of rain as it slowed. Ice magic prickled against her skin, balling into a glowing orb of light against each palm as she waited restlessly for her enemy to strike.

The slimy scales of the assassins’ armor rippled beneath the murky surface of the swelling pools of water as the drums deepened, echoed, and rippled, spreading out around the ice witch and her scriva. Only after Isaac and his men reached the forest’s edge did the Isbrand Witch draw even more power from Viktor’s core. The locks of damp hair that peeped out from beneath her helmet turned visibly paler as her armor glowed like the moon, lighting up the growing lake of rippling water around her.

The first wave of bog witches came. Their bodies merged into the coiling form of a sea serpent rippling just below the waves as they circled ever closer until the ice witch was completely surrounded. Only then did they break formation and strike, sprinting across the water in a zig-zag formation as they crisscrossed between each other like an impenetrable net of scales and venom.

Lumi lunged to the left with a nudge from the Isbrand Witch’s knee and then spun in a semi-circle. The ice witch arched her hands to the right, unleashing the howling winds of winter as the reforged unforgiven sprang forth. Five bristling, snarling, and ripping wolf elementals tore through the line of startled assassins, who recoiled like the tide, following the shifting current of the water before it froze beneath their feet.

Lumi’s paws glowed as the large elemental burst through the broken line to race around the murky, shallow pool’s perimeter, sealing any means of escape as the bog witches fought off the relentless attack of the other five scrivas.

A second wave of assassins appeared from the puddles outside the icy battlefield. They streaked toward the Isbrand Witch’s exposed back, only to be toppled over brutally beneath the storm of dual-fanged spears that knocked them back into the battered tents and drenched patches of grass.

The rain slowed to barely a drizzle above the clashing elements of ice and water, allowing the cold gray light of dawn to seep through the lingering fog as the drums altered their tempo. The final wave of bog witches, fewer in number than before, hovered at a safe distance from the triumphant Scarlet Witch and her scrivas. Their black eyes burned with loathing before they slithered beneath the surface as the murky rainwater slowly receded below the ground, leaving only piles of rotten flesh and squirming larvae behind.

“Is that all you’ve got?” the Isbrand Witch taunted, gripping her ice spear as she tilted her helmet and gazed toward the thinning rain clouds above. “Is that the best you can throw at me, Arachne?”

“Your Grace?”

The Scarlet Witch turned to where Jasper appeared, holding a torch in both hands. “Ah, it seems you know what to do. Carry on, then.”

The Huntsman nodded slowly, eyeing the growling scrivas around her, then turned his mind to the unpleasant task ahead. The knights that returned quickly spread out to assist him as small piles of black fumes filled the humid morning breeze.

The ominous fog surrounding Bastalliano’s encampment rolled back to reveal the first signs of life stirring around the manor. Taking note of the waking mortals, the Isbrand Witch dismissed all her scrivas except Lumi, whom she rode back towards her burning tent.

Lieutenant Hadley and Lieutenant Quinn hastily split their troops into two groups. The first was tasked with gathering the dead and wounded, while the second set about securing the camp permitter and repairing the damaged tents and equipment. The knights moved grimly to their task, shaken but reassured by their Commander’s victory.

The Scarlet Witch removed her helm with a weary sigh as she watched them work, nodding in approval even as Colonel Isaac returned to her side, still only dressed in linen and leather.

“We suffered some losses,” Isaac commented, sounding a bit out of breath. “It could have been much worse.”

“As a renowned Witch Hunter, you are more than qualified to train these men and better prepare them for such an ordeal. There will be other battles with vastly different outcomes in the future,” the Isbrand Witch replied somberly as she dropped down from Lumi to stand beside him, frowning as her legs wobbled weakly beneath her. “Huh, even with a physical disadvantage—Arachne’s pawns still couldn’t lay a finger on me.”

Isaac glanced her way with an almost reproachful expression, then stiffened as his ice-blue eyes dropped toward her collar.

“What?” the Scarlet Witch demanded, wiping away the specks of black blood sprayed across her chest plate. Her fingers froze as a fresh drop of scarlet blood fell onto the back of her hand, drawing her attention to the warm trickle of fluids dripping from her nose.

A faint buzz tickled against the back of her left ear, and the ice witch slapped her palm against the source instinctively. She paused for a moment before pulling her hand away to stare at the crushed bog fly, now a flattened pile of blood, pus, and poison.


The distorted, malicious laugh of a vengeful goddess echoed in the Isbrand Witch’s ears as the world tilted sharply, sending her body careening towards the icy ground as her vision darkened.


“That’s the last of these mutants,” Jasper commented grimly from behind the scarf meant to ward off the worst of the stench rising from the burning corpses.

‘If these assholes are here—that means there’s probably trouble brewing back home.’

“How long will it take them to burn?” Lieutenant Hadley called out as the Huntsman extinguished his last torch in a bucket of rainwater.

“Not too long. The bog oil they coat themselves in tends to burn quickly, but try not to breathe too much of it. The smoke is said to cause hallucinations if too much is inhaled.”

“If their home is covered in this oil, can’t we just burn them out?”

“You wouldn’t be the first to consider that option,” Jasper retorted, frowning as he noticed a sudden stir of knights headed toward the Duchess’s still-burning tent. “But the oil only lays on the surface. Witch Hunters who tried to burn them out in the past found themselves lost in the smoke. Those that escaped spoke of horrifying monsters and visions of hell. Hallucinations probably, but the church never tried the same method again.”

“Saints—I see your point.”

“Anyway,” the Huntsman continued with a note of levity. “You should have the men monitor the bodies until we’re sure every last larva is dead. All it takes is a single bite of the bog fly to….” He trailed off as the Colonel’s distinct voice screamed out, “Medic!”

The Huntsman and Lieutenant spun to where the parting group of knights revealed a glimpse of Colonel Isaac kneeling over a collapsed Kirsi.

‘Oh no. No, no, no!’

Jasper grabbed the seashell necklace tucked beneath his jerkin and pressed it between his lips, issuing the call he hoped would bring help in time as he shoved his way through the knights toward the unconscious ice witch. The swollen putrid bug bite on Kirsi’s neck confirmed his fears as Isaac turned the Duchess onto her side, still calling for a medic.

The giant scriva whined shrilly as it pawed at its mistress’s shoulder. Isaac shoved the wolf’s paw away, and the elemental growled before lying down on the cracking, muddy ice beside the ice witch, whimpering as it nudged her still left boot anxiously.

Sergeant Ryver finally appeared and collapsed into the mud beside them, panting as he set down his medical bag and knelt over the Duchess to examine the bleeding bug bite on her neck. “I—I don’t know what this is? It looks like poison—”

“It is poison,” Jasper interrupted, glancing over his shoulder at the water still draining away around them. “Though which one, only a bog witch would know.”

“How do we treat it?” Isaac interrupted sharply as Ryver pressed his fingers against the Duchess’s throat.

“We can’t.”

The physician and Colonel both turned toward the Huntsman with stunned, shocked expressions.

“What do you mean we can’t?” Isaac demanded, his voice faintly breaking.

“Bog witches don’t think like mortals. They don’t make antidotes. Death is a triumph for them, even if it is their own.”

The Colonel fell silent while Ryver resumed examining the unconscious ice witch. “Her pulse is weakening, she’s barely breathing, and her skin—is ice cold.”

“She’s hibernating,” Isaac replied, his voice edged with frustration. “Powerful ice witches can slow their heart rate and freeze their body organs to slow the spread of poison—it buys us time but—only if there’s an antidote.”

Jasper raised his gaze hopefully toward the Duchess’s pale skin and blue lips, then rose to press the seashell between his lips again.

“Colonel!” Lieutenant Quinn appeared, stumbling to a halt beside them as he took in the pale ice witch. “What—happened?”

“We’re handling it. Why aren’t you securing our perimeter?”

“I—one of the Royal Knights is making a fuss, demanding an audience with her Grace.”

“Delay him for now. And keep any other intruders out of camp until we’re sure the threat is over.”

“We should double security around the manor as well,” interjected Lieutenant Hadley worriedly. “The Duchess might not have been their only target.”

“The bog witches don’t give a shit about your mortal king!” Jasper snarled. He quickly reined in his outrage as the knights turned their wary glances his way. “We have enough problems of our own.”

We?” Lieutenant Hadley echoed with noted suspicion.

A coiling thread of water pulled the Huntsman’s attention away from the bristling knight. He moved towards it quickly, grasping the translucent hand that took shape and pulling the witch through the already fading puddle as the knights around them backpaddled into a defensive line.

“You called,” Larissa commented dryly, her low husky voice unbothered as she eyed the frightened mortals with her imperious cerulean-blue eyes before turning to survey the burning bodies around them. “Ah. I told you they would come—”

“Not now. Kirsi is in danger. Can you help?” Jasper interrupted, dragging her towards the unconscious Duchess.

Lumi rose sharply from the ground, snarling aggressively at the Huntsman and his companion, who both halted before the scriva’s deadly fangs.

“Who is she?” Isaac growled, taking note of the scriva’s aggressive reaction as he eyed the familiar scaled armor that wrapped tightly around Larissa’s willowy figure like a second skin. “She looks like one of them.”

“That’s because I am—or was—one of them,” Larissa retorted, locking eyes with the hostile elemental. “Which is why I can save her. If you’ll let me?”

Colonel Isaac glanced between the bog witch and scriva, then sighed as he sheathed his sword and stepped forward to place a restraining hand on the wolf’s shoulder. “Lumi. Let’s see if they can help. If they don’t—you can chew them both up later.”

Jasper scoffed in disbelief while Larissa waited patiently for the elemental to weigh its decision. With a huff of cold air that promised bitter retribution, the scriva retreated and circled to lay down by the Duchess’s side.

Larissa quickly moved through the knights to kneel beside the ice witch. The bog witch brushed the damp braids of her dark burgundy red hair over her shoulder as she leaned in to inspect the infected mound of flesh, now surrounded by a visible circle of frost runes. “Fortunately, it looks like Kirsi stopped the poison just in time, but I’ll need to remove all of it before she can wake up.”

“You mean to bleed her?” Ryver questioned hesitantly.

“Nothing so crude,” the bog witch sneered in response as she tilted the Duchess’s stiff chin, turning her head to the side. “You can think of it as a poison transfusion if you like.”

The medic raised his brows in confusion while the Huntsman stepped forward quickly to grab Larissa’s arm as she lowered her mouth toward the infected bite.

“What about—the repercussions?” Jasper murmured tensely.

The bog witch arched a brow before shrugging. “Bring me something or someone strong and virile, and I’ll transfer the deficit to them.”

Isaac furrowed his brows in confusion before directing his ice-blue eyes to the Huntsman.

“She needs—a bull, cow, or even a horse. Something to sacrifice when she transfers the poison out of Kirsi.”

“Not a horse,” Larissa interrupted reproachfully. “I like horses.”

“The Viscount has a few cows in his barn,” Jasper replied quickly, grabbing a startled Lieutenant Hadley’s arm as he rushed off. “Wait for us, Larissa.”


The bog witch sighed as she watched the Huntsman and Lieutenant disappear through the line of tents, then turned to level her cerulean-blue eyes with those of the Colonel. “Waiting would be a bad idea.”

Isaac nodded slowly, his suspicions easing as he grasped her intentions. “The decision is yours—but I don’t think Jasper will be happy.”

“If I live, he’ll get over it. If I die—you’ll be happy. Won’t you—Witch Hunter?” She smiled at his scowling response, then nodded to the knights around them. “Make sure they give me space—in case of any unexpected reactions.”

The Colonel waved the knights back, then folded his arms tensely as he watched the bog witch suck the poison from Kirsi’s neck as if it were a common snake bite. Her vibrant blue pupils narrowed and then enlarged as they slowly turned black. A few seconds later, her lips turned purple, as did the veins that ran down her jaw and neck.

Lumi whined, rising restlessly to her feet as the Duchess’s fingers twitched in response to the receding poison. The knights standing at a respectful distance murmured with audible doubt and suspicion as the bog witch jerked away from the Duchess’s neck, grimacing faintly as she covered her black lips and struggled to swallow down the last of the deadly poison.

“It is done,” Larissa declared, her voice weakened and hoarse.

The small mound of the bog fly’s bite was barely visible against Kirsi’s neck as her lips stirred with the first audible signs of breath. Sergeant Ryver brightened as he hastily leaned in to check her wrist and smiled. “Her pulse is much stronger now.”

Larissa nodded, still covering her mouth as she rose gracefully. Isaac waved the knights back as the bog witch moved through their ranks—and stopped as she came face to face with Knight Captain Beaumont and his raised sword.


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