Chapter 50: Bones of the Forsaken


Jasper kept his gaze on Larissa the entire time as the bog witch placed a hand over each restrained cattle. He resented the skeptical and malicious glares the knights directed at her as Larissa passed the poison she had ingested into each frightened cow with a single kiss. The black taint of Arachne’s affliction slowly receded from the bog witch’s eyes, skin, and veins, even as the two beasts beside her collapsed with a thud, panting as they suffocated from the black foam and bile that poured out of their mouths.

“Saints above,” Lieutenant Hadley whispered as the knights that restrained the cows between two wooden posts released their ropes and stepped back from the foul scent of rot and decay.

Larissa stepped forward slowly, her strength wavering as she reached out to the Huntsman, her eyes gazing somewhere else. Jasper quickly took her hand and wrapped a supportive arm around her waist as he led her away from the knights that stared between the sacrificial animals and the witch that had cursed them with equal disgust.

“So—” Larissa drawled weakly as she rubbed a streak of dry poison from the corner of her mouth, “Now that you’ve found her, what’s our next move?”

“Well, to start, I suppose we ought to be honest with her first.”

“That seems advisable, given that the true Kirsi would already know what we want.” The bog witch tilted her head towards him as her cold, pale fingers tightened around his hand. “But will she agree?”

Jasper pulled her closer and kissed the hair above her ear before nodding to where the Scarlet Witch appeared between the row of tents ahead. “It looks like we’ll have our answer soon.”

“Jasper,” Kirsi greeted as she marched towards them with a determined expression. “There you are.” She paused to take in the Huntsman’s pale companion with a critical gaze. “I trust you are feeling better, Lady Larissa?”

Jasper arched a questioning brow while the bog witch smirked, then stepped forward to acknowledge the ice witch with a low bow. “I am, thank you, your Majesty.”

Kirsi blinked slowly in response before hastily motioning the bog witch to stand. “Please, do not—I am a Duchess, not a Queen, Lady Larissa.”

“And I am a witch, not a lady, your Grace.”

The ice witch’s lips fluttered between a laugh and a smile before she nodded her head in acknowledgment. “Very well. Please tell me how I should address my Savior.”

“Ahem!” Jasper interjected hastily, noticing Lieutenant Hadley shadowing them from a distance. “Could we—speak to you—somewhere a bit more private, your Grace?”

The Duchess frowned and then pointedly turned to glance at the chaos all around them. “There’s not much privacy to be had. The woods aren’t particularly safe right now, and I’m afraid the nobles at the manor would be—less than welcoming to your friend.”

“I know of a place,” Larissa replied swiftly, selecting one of the bottles tied to her corded belt. “I can have us there in the blink of an eye—that is—if you’ll trust me, your Grace?”

Kirsi’s eyes furrowed slightly as she eyed the murky contents of the bottle. “I think it would be rude not to trust you after what you’ve both done for me.”

“Rude but—perhaps wise—given how little you know me.”

The Duchess scoffed and then glanced at Jasper as if uncertain how to respond.

“Please, your Grace,” the bog witch amended as she extended a pale hand toward her dying coven’s last hope. “Trust us.”

Jasper sighed as he rubbed Larissa’s back worriedly but placed his hand on hers without protest. The Duchess hesitated, glancing around them to where her knights rushed about, cleaning up the campsite and stomping out the charred remains of their assailants. She spotted Lieutenant Hadley, standing at a distance surveying them with a frown, and called out to him, “Tell the Colonel, I’ll be back.”

Hadley blinked in confusion, then took a step forward as Kirsi placed her hand over Jasper’s and Larissa’s. The bog witch activated the spell on the bottle, whisking them away in the blink of an eye, startling both the Lieutenant and the crow perched on a nearby tent that squawked furiously as it took to the sky, soaring quickly back to the manor.


The sound of waves and singing seagulls greeted Carina as her feet sank into the shallow waves and damp sand of an unfamiliar coastline that stretched out across the sapphire sea. She blinked in surprise as the water witches withdrew their hands. Jasper turned to follow Larissa, who moved up the shore towards a breathtaking wall of giant cliffs that disappeared into the low-hanging clouds. Scattered specks of white soared in and out of the misty shadows far above them while a few of the noisy gulls nested in the rugged cracks closer to the shoreline.

The Duchess lowered her gaze from the formidable heights and focused on the strange rocky terrain, which seemed to move and even—clatter—as they drew closer. She quickly realized why as the strange crustaceans, which oddly resembled tiny skulls up close, rose up onto their hind legs, their pale front claws open and outstretched as they glided towards the bog witch, emitting a bizarre buzzing sound that resembled a low demonic growl.

Although Carina didn’t hear Larissa utter a spell, the large crabs suddenly stilled, their black and white shells lowering to the ground submissively as their claws closed and folded almost reverently. The bog witch stopped less than a foot away from the thousands of unmoving crustaceans that appeared to be guarding the cliffside. She turned and held out her hand to Jasper, who clasped it with a familiarity that suggested a deep bond of trust.

“Meet our resident ghost sentinels,” Larissa commented as the Duchess joined them. “Please be respectful. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”

Carina raised her brows but nodded. “And where are we exactly?”

The Huntsman glanced towards the bog witch with a faint laugh before responding, “We are in Strugna, your Grace. Welcome to the Cliffs of Sacrifice.”

The Duchess arched her brow at the imposing name, then glanced at the army of crabs as they emitted a low rattling hiss before skittering to the side, creating a path in front of Larissa that led towards the rocky foot of the cliffs. She sighed as the pair continued their mysterious journey but followed along patiently, hoping there was more to this than just sightseeing.

It was only halfway through the moving field of miniature skulls that she realized what the crabs were guarding. A few raised platforms lay along the sandy beach, adorned with seashells, tattered garments, and the white bones of humans—or possibly witches—crawling with the same clattering shells of skulls.

Jasper noticed her confusion and quickly supplied an explanation. “It’s a tradition passed down by sea witches. We offer our dead to the sea in thanks for the bounty, protection, and power she gives us.”

“By sea, you mean—Arachne?”

The Huntsman’s lips twisted mirthlessly. “There are some who cannot distinguish between the two but—no. I’m afraid the Goddess of the Deep holds little value in the empty shells of mortals.”

“Her appetite leans more towards living sacrifices,” Larissa added with a dry chuckle. “Anyway, we are here.”

Carina raised her gaze to the white cliff walls directly before them and blinked as a glittering door took shape before fading away to reveal the mouth of a large cave. Two men, dressed similarly to Larissa, stood on the other side holding spears that appeared more suited to fishing than battle. They bowed before the bog witch, who entered the cave still holding Jasper’s hand.

Feeling oddly out of place in her eye-catching ice armor, the Duchess trailed quietly behind them as the pair entered what appeared to be a crypt. All along the cave’s walls were hundreds of small, recessed shelves that held human skulls accompanied by various colorful seashell necklaces.

Carina’s shoulders tensed beneath the unsettling memory of meeting the unforgiven trapped below Gilwren Forest. She shook her head and focused instead on the runes along the cave wall that seemed to be lined with a blue luminescent algae, lighting the way toward the back of the shrine, where an open doorway led them into a much larger room filled with at least thirty water witches and a large glowing pool of seawater.

The voices of the water witch coven appeared to cover the sound of their approach as Larissa paused in the doorway to observe them. Men and women of all ages were either sewing nets, swimming playfully in the pool, or brushing and braiding each other’s hair. Most of them were dressed similarly to Larissa, though a few wore garments comparable to those worn by commoners in Lafeara.

It was the single child amongst the witches, playing with a sea urchin at the shallow end of the pool, who noticed them first and squealed out, “It’s the Seer!”

The witches stilled and turned to look at Larissa before wordlessly bowing their heads toward the bog witch.

‘The Seer?’

“Kirsi, meet my Coven, the Forsaken,” Larissa announced as she released Jasper’s hand and stepped further into the room, gesturing toward the silent water witches.

Carina pressed her lips together as she gazed across the bowed heads and then focused her attention on the mysterious pair before her. “Why am I here?”

“To show you what it is we are fighting for,” the bog witch replied, her brows furrowing as she turned to circle the small glowing pool leading the way to yet another tunnel door. “There are hundreds of caves like this one hidden along the cliffs. They are filled with my people, Arachne’s forsaken. Cursed with the blood of eels by the witches of Sloverga from birth and rejected by the proud sea witches of Strugna.”

The Duchess glanced over at the Huntsman, who offered her an encouraging nod before they both followed after their quickly moving guide. Larissa led them down a winding tunnel into a small dark empty room lined with seashells where a simple stone slab served as both bed and table. The bog witch took yet another bottle from her belt. She shook it, awakening what Carina guessed to be invisible bioluminescent plankton that offered a pale blue light to their humble surroundings.

“We can speak freely here,” Larissa announced as she set the bottle on the table, then pulled out a chair made of driftwood and dry seaweed, which she offered to the ice witch.

Carina accepted the seat awkwardly, grateful the tour had ended but filled with even more questions than before.

“To start,” Jasper began, appearing just as uncomfortable if a bit more anxious as he leaned against the doorframe beside Larissa. “You spoke of this before—about—Jasper not being my true name.”

The Duchess nodded slowly as she crossed her legs and then her hands patiently against them.

“In truth, we almost met before, years ago, when you first reached out to the Strugna court to open a trade agreement as Frost.”

Carina blinked in surprise, caught off guard but equally intrigued.

“I was curious about this mysterious investor who possessed such a keen insight into the future,” Jasper continued, absently rubbing his fingers together. “So when the Royal Consort turned down your request, I followed your captain back to his ship and disguised myself as a member of his crew until he met with you in Lafeara.”

“You—” Carina’s hands tightened against her ice armor as she recalled the many attempts Frost and Captain Austin had made to open a trade line for Strugna’s rare medicinal herbs. They only managed to secure a foothold in the foreign kingdom’s trade market after three years when Strugna’s Crown Prince rose to power to challenge the Royal Consort. “You are—Prince Llyr?”

He smiled and nodded in affirmation. “I would have never made the connection between Frost and the new Duchess of Bastiallano had I not come to see you myself. And to think—all this time—the Scarlet Witch stood before me.”

“The last time we spoke,” Carina replied slowly, eager to move the conversation to more pressing matters. “You mentioned a promise that I made to Strugna’s royal family?”

“Yes,” Llyr responded after a moment, his voice tight with unreadable emotion.

“You realize that your father was unable to hold up his end of the bargain.”

The Crown Prince clenched his fist silently as his seal-grey eyes lowered to the stone slab before her. “Yes.”

“But we can offer you a new deal, Kirsi,” Larissa interjected, stepping forward to face the ice witch confidently.

“Something equal to your request that I kill your goddess?” Carina replied neutrally as she folded her arms.

The bog witch smiled, her cerulean-blue eyes darkening as she seemed to gaze into the ice witch’s soul. “It’s not easy to weigh the life of one friend against the lives of thousands of strangers.”

The Duchess’s clenched her jaw as she inhaled slowly. “Just tell me what it is you’re offering. And please—speak plainly.”

The darkness slowly faded from Larissa’s eyes as she smiled apologetically. “Forgive me. I impose no judgment, only insight. As to what we can give you, the Crown Prince and I would like to extend an offer of Strugna’s allegiance and support, both in your quest to eradicate Lafeara’s witch plague as well as your continued quest to challenge the six gods.”

“And in return, you would have me kill Arachne?”

“The moonlit path to immortality requires the death of a god, does it not?”

‘They don’t call her a Seer for no reason. She seems to know more about the world of gods than even Percy.’ Carina tapped a finger against her arm slowly, then nodded.

“Then our goals serve each other,” Larissa replied with what might have been a genuine smile of relief. “Why shouldn’t we work together?”

“How does ending Lafeara’s plague serve you?”

“Revenge,” Llyr growled, drawing the Duchess’s gaze back to him. “We know the witch responsible for Lafeara’s plague—because the same bitch used Arachne’s blight to kill my father and elder brother.”

The Duchess uncrossed her legs as she turned towards him fully. “Who is it then?”

“One of Arachne’s three daughters,” Larissa answered, placing a comforting hand on the Crown Prince’s chest. “The Eel Witch, Morgana.”

Carina stood up quickly, the first real flicker of hope stirring unbearably in her chest as she approached the startled pair. “So then, how do we find this eel witch?”

“That’s—the thing,” Larissa replied slowly. “It’s likely that you’ve already met her.”


“The curse she placed on your maid—I mean, Lady Ivy,” Llyr explained. “It’s not something she would have done casually in passing. Ivy was chosen—”

“Because of me?” The Duchess clenched her jaw as they fell silent and closed her eyes, replaying the details of the tentacle witch attack that Ivy had described. “You’re right. I do know who she is—but I don’t know how to find her.”

“We can help with that,” Larissa replied reassuringly.


“I should be able to track her to some degree using the same curse she placed on your friend.”

“And, if we work together to slow the spread of this witch plague, we might be able to lure Morgana out of hiding,” Llyr continued eagerly as he slid his arm around Larissa’s shoulder. “We have a plan—though I can’t guarantee its success—”

“I’m in,” Carina growled as she held out her hand. “Where do we start?”

“So trustful,” Kirsi snickered cynically as the Crown Prince hurriedly stepped forward to shake the ice witch’s hand. “Have you learned nothing from my memories?”

‘You made a deal with them first.’

“I made a deal with the boy’s father, a King. I would never in a thousand years strike a deal with a bog witch.”

The Duchess glanced towards Larissa, who clutched Llyr’s arm with an expression of unadulterated joy as the pair exchanged looks only soulmates could share. “I do, however, have one condition before we proceed.”

A flicker of hesitation surfaced behind the bog witch’s cerulean blue eyes even as Strugna’s Crown Prince responded eagerly, “Anything, Kirsi.”


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