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Thea Atkinson: GonzoInk
ALAYSHA is a witch who has more power than she can control and her father uses that gift to decimate his enemies. Over her seventeen years, her power has enabled him to become the Emir of a large land, where even as the conqueror's daughter, she suffers the prejudice and fear of those around her.
ALAYSHA is a witch who has more power than she can control and her father uses that gift to decimate his enemies. Over her seventeen years, her power has enabled him to become the Emir of a large land, where even as the conqueror's daughter, she suffers the prejudice and fear of those around her. When she is asked to annihilate an entire peaceful village, she doesn't realize it is the last of her own mother's tribe, and only discovers too late that the battle she has won for her father may cost her the only connection she has to her past, and with it the secrets to managing her gift.
She needs to find the one person who managed to escape her power, the charismatic Yenic, a youth who seems to know more than he wants to tell and who has become the target of her father's next campaign. With orders to kill, she sets out on a mission of her own very much in contrast to the one her father wishes her to fulfill. The trouble is, there is someone else out there who would use the water witch for his own gain, and unless she can find a way to consolidate who is the real enemy from supposed ones, her entire homeland of Sarum, the only three people she loves, and countless other innocent people will die.
The call of a vulture was the sound that brought Alaysha back.
It was always the shriek of the carrion bird that brought her around afterwards, like the sacred minerals the tribal shamans used to bring a dream-walker back to reality. It wasn't as though she fainted during battle -- would to the Deities she could -- but rather, she sort of went into herself and hid there somewhere inside while the deed was done. After all these years, she supposed her psyche had trained itself to recover only when it heard the sure signs of scavenge and she could know it was over.
She dreaded the sound of the vulture like a dying man would, except for different reasons: while the dying dreaded the sound of imminent death, it reminded her that she still lived.
With a sort of reluctant dread she opened her eyes and let go a gust of breath. Without thinking, she turned in the direction of the bird's call. It was off to the left, circling over a copse of trees. She kept her gaze on the bird, knowing it would circle ever closer to her, bringing with it a brood of others to worry fruitlessly at the bodies littered across the now arid land in front of her. Still, watching the scavenger was far better than facing what she knew was in front of her. Infinitely better, too, than turning to what would wait behind her.
They would be coming soon.
She let her gaze travel from the broad wings of the carrion bird to the grove of trees beneath that were still lush and vibrant. Strange, how a small oasis of vegetation could be left at all, but there it was. She judged the distance to be at least one hundred horse strides away. So, the power still had its limits then.
She did some quick calculations: a few hundred paces short of a leagua? Could that be right? If she remembered accurately, the last time she'd done battle, the line of growth had started just short of a kubit. She'd ridden it afterwards and counted the beats of her mount's hooves to be certain: five hundred horse strides at full gallop, so yes, a kubit if anything, but three times that much?
She measured the breadth of the distance with her eyes, imagining herself atop Barruch's back, his mane in her face as he galloped, measuring with breathless counts, one stride, two strides, three. This time the line seemed pressed back, almost a blur on the horizon. So it seemed that although the power had limits, it was growing.
How long would it be before she couldn't see vegetation at all?
Best not to think about it. They would be here soon, inspecting her work, making sure each enemy and each child, grandchild, and friend of the enemy was gone. And the price of that annihilation was the loss of the very fluid that lent life to the area before she'd come.
She sighed and scanned the few hundred mount strides before her. Nothing but arid sand and crackled, dried out soil. The trees had become tinder on vertical stalks. It wasn't a desert by any stretch, but the vegetation had crinkled to dust and creatures of all sorts had fallen like apples from the trees to their bases. What grass or moss or shrubberies that had padded her bare feet when she'd climbed down from her mount and sent him with a slap back towards her camp, was now dust beneath her soles and dried husks of fiber beside her.
She knew without checking that the destruction went beneath her feet as well. If it stretched out for a leagua in all directions, it certainly went at least a quarter as deep into the ground.
The only thing belying the dryness was the cloud cover. So dense and broodingly heavy with water, it darkened the sky. The rain would come soon; the clouds wouldn't be able to hold themselves together under the weight of the water that fattened them. The lightning, too. Sparking the tinder of trees and shrubs, lighting the area with a blaze fierce but temporary at best in the face of the inevitable downpour.
And then it would seem as if nothing had ever lived.