Far from Clitera City, a pleasant and rather spacious white cottage sat in the middle of a green field. A few brown cows grazed here and there, chewing their cuds with a peaceable demeanor. In the distance, snow capped mountains rose into purple pale heavens. The bucolic scene was as beautiful as it was idyllic.
The disruption began subtly. First, a cloud passed over the sun, casting a shadow. Then, over the course of a few minutes, clouds began to gather, dark clouds crackling with lightening. A wicked wind began to blow.
As the shutters at the windows began to bang, the door to the cottage opened and a tall, buxom woman appeared. She was none other than Ayla the witch, her blonde skeins of hair tossed by the winds, wide green eyes slanted against the same elemental onslaught. Her robes flattened themselves against the curve of her ample breast and hip, the remnants flailing behind her as she lifted her hand to her eyes and peered into the sudden darkness.
A dark spot appeared in the center of the clouds. It quickly grew larger as it plummeted to the earth. There was a solid FWOMP sound as a small woman with a face full of living tendrils of tattoo swirling about under her skin landed on the meadow and began stalking toward Ayla.
The cloud dissipated and the sun came out, but the chill in the air remained as Ariadne, mother of witches, stopped two feet from Ayla and fixed her with a piercing malachite copper gaze.
“The summoner has gone rogue. It’s your fault.” Words of chastisement rasped out of the immortal throat.
In the silence that followed the statement, Ayla folded her arms over her chest and regarded Ariadne patiently. “In what way is it my fault?”
“Your beloved Atrocious should have sacrificed herself as the prophecy intended. Now we have two summoners, and no Blood Witch. Two summoners. It’s almost unheard of!”
“Lower your voice please,” Ayla said calmly. “Atrocious is resting.”
The lines snapped into a thick band across Ariadne’s eyes. “Lower my voice! How dare…”
“Who is that?” A frail voice came from inside the house.
Ayla’s eyes closed with silent frustration. She turned to the door and waved to the occupant of the house. “It’s nobody. Rest.”
“I don’t want to rest!”
“It’s nobody?” Ariadne hissed the word. She lifted her hand, ready to unleash elemental fury.
She was interrupted by the arrival of Atrocious. The summoner came hobbling out of the cottage, her weight resting largely on a gnarled walking stick. Her shoulders were hunched, her braids were gray, her eyes had become rheumy and red rimmed. Skin that had once glowed with smooth ruddy red health was now folded and cracked. The mantle of age had fallen heavily on her shoulders.
Her appearance was enough to have Ariadne’s hand sinking slowly back toward her side. The high witch looked almost shocked.
“There is no cruelty like that of advanced human age,” she murmured, almost to herself. “If I tried for a thousand years I could not concoct such a plague.”
“What!?” Atrocious cupped a hand to her ear. “Speak up, dearie!” She turned to Ayla. “Is the lady here to sell mead? I don’t want the spiced kind this time. The spiced kind gave me gas.”
Without answering the question, Ayla reached out and put a calming hand on Atrocious’ thin shoulder.
“The world has been remade three times this month,” Ariadne said, returning to the topic at hand. “You should be handling the new summoner, not playing nursemaid to the old one.”
Atrocious scowled under white brows, her hearing and memory having selectively returned.
“Maybe you should stop running to a forest witch every time something doesn’t go your way. You’re supposed to be a goddess. Why don’t you fix this summoner problem yourself?”
Ariadne’s ire returned, this time squarely focused on old Atrocious. “The forest witch might be keeping your ailing flesh going with her potions, but do not think I will show you any mercy.”
Atrocious drew her cane dead in front of her body, leaned forward and fixed the high witch with a beady glare.
“Go fuck yourself.”