Rise (Book One Of The War Witch Saga)

By Cain S. Latrani

Fantasy

Paperback, eBook

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492
6 mins

Chapter One

EVERYTHING DIES. It’s the way of the things, the balance of the universe. Birth, life, and death; the law of the cosmos. No one can truly escape it; only avoid for a time the eventual outcome. It’s the cycle of eternity, that which keeps all things moving. Without it, all would come to ruin.

The question then arises, beyond the philosophical musings of who am I and why am I here. Who wrote this law? Who laid out the rule that men and Gods must live, and eventually, die? Who first set the cycle into action and what was their motivation to do so? Did they foresee the eventual need of such a law, or was it some other desire that set into motion the inescapable?

Could we, given the chance, ever understand what drives such a force? Perhaps we could not, were we allowed to ask the author of this edict why, even understand what compels it. Perhaps we’re too small, too limited, to ever grasp the needs of the universe in which we live.

In the end, is faith enough to see us through, knowing we cannot grasp the whys? Or is it all that we have to sustain us?

The fires had burned low, becoming little more than smoldering piles of ash, belching forth smoke. Once, there’d been homes where the charred remains now curled in on themselves; blackened, skeletal fingers clawing vainly at the sky. Once, there’d been life where now, only death walked with sad eyes and a broken heart.

She sat among the ruins, holding the charred head of her mother in her lap. Her flaxen hair was filthy with ash, her cornflower blue eyes red‐rimmed from smoke and tears. She’d pulled her mother from the burnt remains of their home once she’d felt sure the men were gone. Alone, in silence, she had dragged the corpse into what had once been the town square, where her strength had given out and she’d simply collapsed, slowly tugging the blackened lump into her lap where she continued to slowly stroke the singed remains of once beautiful hair.

They’d come down from the mountains, a great black wave of evil, descending on the village with frightening battle cries. With them, they’d brought Hell Hounds, massive hybrids of man and animal. Demon Seed, servants of the Dark Gods of Hell.

Her father had been part of the town watch. He and half a dozen others had taken up arms, prepared to give their lives to defend the sleepy community that was their home. Die they had, screaming. She’d watched her father torn limb from limb, like an old doll in the hands of a cruel child.

Behind the Hell Hounds had come worse. Orcs astride steeds twisted from dark magic, unholy creatures that blew smoke from their nostrils as the Demon Seed astride them had laughed, trampling any unfortunate enough to be in their path beneath the blasphemous hooves of their mounts.

Her sister had tried to hide her in a pile of hay beside a neighbor’s house. In her shock at seeing her father die, she’d been unable to move, and her elder sibling by two years had acted, dragging her by the hand, hiding her from their eyes. She had said only two words to her little sister before she’d fled, trying desperately to draw the evil that had fallen upon them from her. Two words only that she’d been unable to obey.

ʺLook away.ʺ

Her sister had been captured before she got twenty feet. The Demon Seed had thrown her to the Hell Hounds, laughing as she begged for mercy. If only they’d eaten her, it might’ve been a mercy. Instead, the twisted creatures stripped her and slaked their lust on her young body, before dragging her away as she screamed, unable to stop.

The girl had covered her ears, trying to drown out the horrible sounds, but she’d been unable to close her eyes as the Orcs set fire to the village. She’d watched as her mother screamed, pounding against a window, holding her little brother as they both burned alive. She moved to run to them, but with her dying strength, her mother motioned for her to stay hidden. The last act of a loving parent.

Her tears came in a torrent that wouldn’t stop.

Horrible men and monsters dressed in black armor where everywhere, slaughtering the men, defiling the women, and carrying away the children. They carried the standard of their master, a black dragon, rearing back, breathing fire, and were led by a handsome and cruel man who had watched over the carnage with pride in his eyes.

He was tall, and carried himself with the air of a nobleman. Pitch black hair fell in a curtain down his back, shiny and sleek. Dark green eyes, lit with arrogance and cruelty, lips that held a perpetual sneer highlighting an angelic face. He’d seen her as she tried to hide, pointed to her before swinging down off his ebony steed.

The monsters had dragged her from her hiding place and brought her to him, where he’d smiled sweetly and caressed her face. He’d encouraged her to not be afraid before slipping his hand between her legs and robbing her of her childhood. As her village screamed and burned, he had stolen her innocence as well, leaving her to the Hell Hounds. Bored with the carnage for the moment, one had raked her chest with his savage claws, leaving her for dead.

She’d laid there for some time, crying, wanting to die, though in the end, death denied her its embrace. When her strength had returned, she’d searched out her mother and now, as the crows picked the eyes of the dead and the vultures circled, she sat. She’d seen twelve years in the village, and knew she would see no more. When night came, the animals would come down from the mountain and finish the job that the Demon Seed had started. So she waited to die.

She wasn’t sure when she became aware of sounds and movement, but she suspected the noises had been going on for some time and she had simply ignored it. Perhaps the Hell Hounds had returned, perhaps it was the monthly patrol come early. She couldn’t bring herself to care.

She was numb. She felt nothing. She was already dead, and waited only for the Gods to notice and end her suffering.

Through the smoke that still billowed before and around her, a form stepped forward, one that sent a chill of fear through her heart. She didn’t move and held her breath, waiting for the shadow to either come for her or move on. After what felt an eternity, it stepped forward.

A hybrid creature, with the hind legs and head of a wolf, and the body and arms of a man, it was covered in a thick, red fur. On its head, chest, arms and legs, it wore shining silver armor that glittered even in the smoke congested late day sun. At its back, it carried a massive sword. When it placed its enormous feet, great claws dug into the ash and dirt, while equally fearsome talon‐tipped hands curled into fists at its side. It looked about as if hunting prey and she waited to die.

It saw her quickly, the only survivor of the horror that was strewn about like a careless child’s toys. It stood and stared, not moving any more than she did, its pale gray eyes regarding her behind the metal of the helmet that had been made to cover the lupine head. She waited for it to strike, holding her breath, prepared for pain that would, in her mind, be as nothing compared to the suffering she’d already survived.

Slowly, it reached up to lift the helmet from its head, tucking it under a massive, muscular arm. She looked as it wept, the fur around its eyes damp from the tears it had shed. She released the breath she’d been holding and clutched her mother tighter, ignoring the flakes of burnt skin that fell away under her fingers.

The beast knelt before her slowly, placing the helmet on the ground, its mouth curled into a gentle smile. Through the haze of smoke behind it, she saw movement and it seemed the shadowed forms also had wolfish tails.

“Is this your mother?” the beast asked, its voice beautiful and soft, not the feral growl she’d expected.

She nodded slowly, tightening her grip, again ignoring the way her fingers sunk too deep into the charred skin.

The beast nodded slowly. “She loved you very much, I’m sure. As you loved her.”

She swallowed against her fear, certain this must be a trick. She’d seen the Hell Hounds, seen what they did to humans, and no matter how kind this one seemed, she waited for it to turn and attack. Voices behind gave the beast cause to turn its head, but it looked back to her again in a moment.

“She died trying to protect you. I know. Trying to protect you from the monsters that did this. She would be proud to know you had survived,” it said to her, placing a massive clawed hand on the devastated chest of the dead woman.

When it got no reaction from her, it continued to speak, edging closer to her. “I don’t think she would be happy for you to die of starvation, or some other fate, now. I would be remiss if I allowed that to happen.”

She pulled back from the beast, not liking the sugary words it spoke. It was all a lie, a trick. The dark man who had led the monsters had sent this one back to see to that she was truly finished. Why play games? Just end the pain.

“They hurt you, I know,” the beast said. “But I will not. I’m here to help you, I promise.”

She shook her head, growing angry at the lies. The tears she had thought gone returned as she slipped the knife she’d gathered when she had searched for her mother from under her scorched and tattered skirt and stabbed at the beast.

Her blade found home in the thing’s hand, cutting deep and bringing blood. The beast didn’t flinch, or even blink, as if it didn’t feel the pain. The cut healed almost instantly, the blood flowing backward into the wound as it smoothed over and disappeared. She dropped the knife and simply sobbed, helpless, defeated, and tired.

A large hand touched her head and she cried, grateful for it to be over. Instead, the beast stroked her hair gently. Looking up, she saw tears streaming from the monster’s eyes, soaking into the fur.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his beautiful voice trembling and breaking.

She knew it was no lie, nor a trick. She felt the pain in the massive creature’s voice, saw it in his eyes, and knew. She fell against the broad chest covered in steel and cried, great wracking sobs as she mourned her mother, her father, her brother and sister, and everyone and everything she knew.

The beast held her tight, stroking her hair slowly and whispering words of comfort to her as she let go of her pain. He ignored those who came near, seeking his advice or commands, his whole world reduced to the small child he held in his arms.

When she looked at him again, he saw the hopelessness, the fear, the ravaging pain that had taken place on her body and soul. He saw through her eyes the events that had laid low the once peaceful village and felt his own heart and soul break at it.

“Come with me, child,” he said slowly as she pulled away, stroking her mother’s ravaged face. “Let me help you.”

She looked at him, her eyes tired, then turned back to her mother, saying nothing. He hadn’t expected any more.

“I can give you something no one else can. I can give you justice,” he pleaded, reaching out, but not touching her.

When she still didn’t look at him, he chose his next words carefully, standing, wanting to do what he knew he must. This child couldn’t be left alone, nor could she be simply handed over to someone who wouldn’t understand what she felt.

“My name is Ramor,” he said slowly. “I am the God of Honor and Family. I  am the General of Heaven, the Wolf of War. Let me take you home with me. Let me make you into my sword of vengeance on the Demon Seed and the Gods they serve. Let me give you the power to prevent this from happening to others.”

Ramor held out his hand as she turned to him again, regarding him not with fear, or awe, but curiosity. A moment later, she wrapped her small fingers around his great talon, leaving her mother behind.

The War Wolf lifted her into his arms and held her close, turning and striding away from the carnage. His men fell in around him as he reached the edge of the village and paused there, giving one last look at what had once been homes.

“Give them all a decent burial. Pay homage as is proper. Send their souls on to Garrius and Zastra, the way they should be,” he commanded.

The Ascended, demigods in his service, nodded and went to work. Ramor turned and stepped from the physical world, the young girl in his arms. By nightfall, all that remained were the graves of villagers to mark that once, there’d been life in that place.



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