Cycle of Heart: Ache Chapter Seven

Dia let loose a pained wail as she collapsed to the floor. The world of the Sisters of Neve rumbled and bucked violently. The dreaded prophesy that was in her hand, tumbled from her brittle fingers to roll out into oblivion. No longer was its hue a raven’s hide, now it was more of an electric blue. Cora and Elina rushed to their Sister’s side.
“What happened?” Elina shrieked.
It was easy to picture those sewn-shut eyes staring daggers at her Sisters as her wizened face took on a feral visage. Anger and hurt laced her voice as she spoke. “What happened?! You fools! Did the two of you honestly believe we could alter fate without there being any repercussions? Of course not! I warned against this. I predicted this. Now our entire universe is out of order thanks to our meddling. I sincerely hope the two of you are satisfied. You’ve condemned everyone in Heart.”
Cora and Elina looked around them. All the prophecies and memories turned black. From deep within they all felt their magic slowly begin to dissipate, feeling like pins coursing through their veins.
Elina’s violet eyes were muddled with fear. “What’s happening?”
“We destroyed reality you dolt! Past, present, future. All gone! We rendered it all meaningless. Heart is dead!”
“Stop being so dramatic Dia,” Cora scolded. “We are still here so Heart isn’t dead. We have to believe.”
Dia cackled loudly, her voice trailing through the vast hall. “Believe?! Believe in what?!”
“In Heart. In her.”
Alice awoke with a mouth full of acrid water. She gagged on the vile combination of salt, ash and death that danced in the warm ocean water. The moon’s glow was arresting as it reflected off the churning waves. Tendrils of black seaweed grabbed at her, while a fish flitted past her ankles.
Over her shoulder still confined in her backpack she heard Moxie sputtering and struggling to breathe. Her eyes were stinging, red and nearly blinded. Despite the searing pain she managed to locate a patch of land off in the distance. The swaying palms on the gray sands called out to her, beckoning her. She fought against the waters with everything she had until she made it to the shore. Once ashore she collapsed onto the sand that smelled of crypts and bones.
Moxie sprung from the bag and began to throw up. In spite of his mid-sized body he took in man sized breathes to fill his small and tired lungs. He fell onto his back, and he stared at the stars with his lone eye. From his mouth came a word unfamiliar to Alice but it sounded much like profanity. He beat his padded paws into the loose soil, thrashing about wildly.
“It’s not right!” he shouted. “We have to see the Sisters. They’ll know what to do. They can salvage this.”
Alice dragged herself over to the rabbit. “What’s wrong?”
“The Travel. Someone was there…someone else. It changed everything. We are not supposed to be here. We are days away from our destination.” Moxie rose up onto his hind legs then began beating the sand and water from his ears with his paws. When he was through he studied the stars above. “We need to follow the Warrior’s Blade. That means sailing and on these waters it won’t be easy.”
“Who else was on the Travel?”
“I don’t know who he was. All I know is he managed to ruin everything.”
Standing to her feet Alice took in the world around her. The Sable Tower was off to the east looking like an assassin’s dagger protruding from its latest victim. It frightened her to realize she couldn’t see the entire structure as it extended past the looming clouds. A chill crept up her spine. She felt as though someone were watching her. She gazed up as far as she could, peering through the assembled clouds, locking eyes with…something.
“Azu matri,” the girl with the mismatched eyes whispered.
“What did you say?” asked Moxie distracted.
Moxie studied the girl momentarily, his strange eye searching her deep to her core. Apparently finding nothing he started bounding toward the trees. “Come. We need to set off before the witch gets wind of us.”
Ryla, the dark witch queen, pried herself away from the window wearing the same smug grin she always wore. Her ink black eyes caught the light of the crackling green fire burning underneath the cauldron in the middle of the room. She inhaled the smoke and her grin spread wider. Her ivory skin hugged her slender frame just right. On her fingers she wore curved nails mimicking the hue of her eyes. Her lush and pouty lips made midnight seem like dusk. Flowing robes of dark indigo clung to her body, the train trailing behind her like wet paint.
The room was circular and lit with candles. Littering the floor were black and albino feathers left from the crows and ravens that called this their home. Lurking in the shadows, nearly invisible to Ryla herself, were her masterpieces, the Kleavers. They were stealthy, only every once and awhile they were betrayed by the dull light of the room which gleamed off their bladed fingers.
She adjusted the bone crown adorned on her head. Across her hips was a belt made of small skulls that swayed in tune to her own movements. Ryla made her way to her throne that was made of bone as well. When she finally sat down the witch queen stroked her long dark hair with her talon like nails.
Deep inside her she felt the world changing, throwing off her own calculations. She looked to the bubbling brew in front of her and knew it was far too soon. Ryla groaned.
Anger swelled inside her as she listened to the noise coming from the cavernous staircase. There was the labored grunt of her trusted witch minion. Trailing that was the sound of shuffling feet from some of her lesser works. And mingled with these familiar tones was the sound of crying. Before long, her top witch, Dispara, was at her side followed by her patchworks. One of the patchwork soldiers dragged a small sniveling man into the room.
Dispara did not share the same the same beauty as her queen. She wore tattered brown robes covered with spider webs and spiders the size of a gorilla’s fist. Her face was marred with deep wrinkles. Vultures grew envious of her foreboding hooked nose. Wispy strands of snow-white hair fell lifeless from her scalp. The old witch always peered with large milky eyes, while her gnarled hands were wrapped around a twisted cane made of dark wood.
“My queen,” spat the witch through yellowed teeth. “We found this rubbish flailing about in the water. Raving mad this one is. He kept blathering on about a girl, a rabbit, and something called a Delaware.”
“You’ve done well.” Ryla’s voice was much like the notes played on a harp. Musical, captivating, harmonious and beautiful. There was a legend in Heart that witch queen’s voice was a spell itself.
The patchworks were living life-sized rag dolls made from bits of fabric remnants. They struggled to stand with only sand and magic holding them up. Many of their faces were blank with no discerning features. Some however did have eyes or a nose or ears because they had earned them from the witch queen. The three patchworks in the room were now gesturing in the direction of the soggy, impish man at their feet.
Ryla’s grin grew wider. “My patchworks seem to think they’ve earned themselves a treat.” the patchworks nodded their oversized head franticly. “What do you think Dispara?”
The ancient witch spat in the direction of the wicked dolls. “Do as you wish my queen. Frankly I don’t think they deserve the work that’s put into them.”
Ryla stood from her throne of bones. “You are much too hard on them Dispara. Even you have to admit the ones with features operate much better than those without.”
Dispara snorted. It was common knowledge that she preferred the kleavers to the patchworks. Patchworks were a waste of effort to her. The truth was she didn’t understand the true cost of the creatures.
The witch queen, beautiful and poised made her way to the impish man. He was sniveling and curled in a ball. The sound of his tears made her heart dance.
“Rise,” she said. It took a few moments but the man did as instructed. “Are you a spy?”
Billick could hardly stand on his wobbling knees. His clothes were weighed down with the damp of the black ocean water. Despite the candles and the raging fire underneath the cauldron Billick was freezing. However this cold had little to do with the air or the ashen water cascading from his frame. It was internal. It was being surrounded by patchworks, the presence of Dispara who eyed him with disapproval, the room full of ravens and crows, and most of all it was Ryla.
“N-no. I’m a teacher. Please, I don’t know where I am.” he pleaded.
“Maybe you’re a bumbling assassin sent here to lull me into a false sense of security. Then when my back is turned you slit my throat. Is that it?”
“No! I just want to go home.”
Dispara hobbled over to Billick and snatched the bag off of his shoulders. She was a raccoon foraging through the dampened contents of the bag. Soon the floor was littered with papers, pens, and other various remains. The only thing that didn’t hit the ground was his beloved telescope. The elderly witch studied it intensely, turning it this way and that in her gnarled hands before turning it over to Ryla.
Her ink black considered the trinket in all its golden glory. As she searched over the smooth tubular object she caught sight of her reflection. What she saw caused her to toss it away where the glass inside shattered as it hit the ground. Even with the treacherous telescope destroyed the image haunted her.
As the sound of the broken glass reverberated around the room Billick felt a piece of what remained of his heart die. Poison work its way through his veins.
“What are you doing here?” Ryla asked as she composed herself.
“I don’t know! I don’t even know where I am!”
“Stop toying with him you majesty,” Dispara seethed. “Who knows what he’s capable of? Pluck out his eyes and feed them to the birds.”
The patchworks silently groaned while Billick shuddered, his insides coiling. “Oh God, please! I don’t know anything! I saw a student of mine in the woods so I followed her. There was a rabbit in her backpack or something that caught my eye, then the next thing I know I’m almost drowning. That’s all I know.”
Ryla rubbed her chin. “Did you see the hare clearly?”
“Th-the hair?”
“HARE! Hare! The rabbit! Did you get a good look at it?! Breed, color, size. What did you see?”
“No! I’m sorry; I didn’t see it that well.”
“And what of this student?”
“I know her. I taught her astronomy. She’s nothing special.”
“Then you may be of some use to me.” Ryla dismissed Dispara and the patchworks. There was a noticeable slump in the shoulders of the patchworks as they shuffled away disappointed. Dispara followed suit but her eyes never left Billick, eyeing him much like a snake stalks a mouse. With her minions away Ryla knelt and forced the balding impish man to his feet.
The fear that consumed him melted in the presence of the witch queen. She smelled of poppies and lilacs, a calm ethereal aroma. He took in her beauty and his shattered heart swelled. She was stunning. The most beautiful creature he’d laid eyes on since his dearly departed wife. He found himself nearly drowning in her dark eyes. His aching heart throbbed against his ribs as he started to sweat.
“I am Ryla, future queen, no, rightful queen of Heart.” the witch boasted. “The land you are on now, the waters you were plucked from belong to me. From this moment on you shall belong to me as well.”
“Yes my queen.” The words tumbled from his mouth with ease. So much so it took him by surprise. Despite his shock he would not take back the words. He meant them. He felt himself falling for the lovely witch. She smiled at him and his heart fluttered. He made the queen smile.
“To serve me you will need some work done. You must be infused with magic and strength, my wisdom and knowledge of the land.”
“Yes my queen.”
“Splendid. Already I can see you will be an asset to me and my child.”
Billick’s mind went blank. The misty haze of sweet emotion fell as did his countenance. “Child my queen?”
“Yes. My twilight child, my heir. My child shall mark an end to the reign of tyranny that has held me from my rightful place as ruler of this world. There is a war coming. One that shall end with ash and gloom and it is I who shall rise to power.” she looked into the bubbling cauldron with love dancing in her eyes.
Billick glared at the stewing concoction in the pot. Resentment brewed inside of him the likes of which he’d never felt before. He felt snubbed, that the boiling brew was stealing the queen’s affection. Very briefly the thought to knock over the wretched pot crossed his mind. He gritted his teeth instead until he thought they would shatter.
“It is my child who shall lead my army, the one who shall carry my name to victory,” Ryla beamed oblivious to what was going on in Billick’s mind. “Bones from a royal, fragments of broken dreams, blood of a sea serpent, a crow’s tongue, and the eyes of a horned beast. All that’s missing is a magical heart. Then my child shall rise and do my bidding.”
“Glorious my queen,” Billick said through clenched teeth.
Ryla pulled herself away from her thoughts and regarded the impish man with sympathy. “Are you devoted to me?”
“Yes my queen.”
The witch queen rapped a slender finger against her chin, her austere demeanor slowly returning to her face. “Trust is not something easy to gain, yet I do trust that you love and are devoted to me. But I have been…deceived before.”
“Not me my queen.”
“I need someone who would die for me, spend every waking moment to please me. Would you do that for me?”
“That and more my queen.”
“Then prove it.” She snapped her fingers and a raven, albino with beady red eyes flew over to her with a pair of rusty shears in its beak. The ghostly bird placed the shears in Ryla’s hand. The air grew colder as she layered a spell in-between her words. “I need to know every word out of your mouth will be true to me. In order to do that…I need your tongue.”
She handed the scissors to Billick as if it were a pleasant gift. He didn’t waste a moment. He held his tongue and opened the blades until they resembled an expectant beak of a ravenous bird.
“For you my queen!”


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