Calliope - Chapter 1
Strikes of lightning split the sky and annihilated the earth. Thunder crashed violently, shaking the ground as it resounded through the kingdom. The road erupted and debris scattered away from the explosion with deadly force. Citizens jolted backwards, crashing against the walls of their shops and homes. Their bodies flew through the air like dolls being tossed between children; their limbs flailing before shattering when they landed forcefully on the ground. Blood seeped between the cracks in the stone, its sharp scent scarring the air as a reminder for the days ahead of the destruction that took place.
The muddied boots of Librona's armored soldiers splashed across the cobble-stoned road as they hurried to join the commotion in the town. Their battle cries were lost amidst the chaos of war thundering around them. Women and children scurried in every direction; their anguished screams and cries haunting the night. Deep voices barked orders only to be drowned in frantic desperation. Swords were drawn from their sheaths; the shwings of the steel threatened in unison. Their blades reflected the orange glow of a city in ruins. With them, unarmored citizens took up improvised weapons. Pitchforks, axes, and scythes paraded through the streets, gripped by calloused hands, eagerly joining the kingdom's army in the fight for their home.
The witch clad in black stood erect in the center of the town. Her golden eyes pierced the darkness as the dust lifted from the explosion. Her dark hair was obscured to the darkness of the stormy night, and stray strands of wet hair dragged across her pale face. Her black dress clung to her small, delicate frame and wrapped around her legs with the wind. She raised her head as she looked over the cowering village and she lifted her arms above her, palms up towards the angry sky.
A ball of fire grew from nothing above her, hovering just over her open palms. The flames flickered and danced, anxiously waiting to feed on the ruins of the village. The heat was warm and encouraging against her palms, and the glow of the flames was bright against the hollowness of the dreary night. But the warmth of the magic that coursed through her veins grew cold, and the fire in her palms shuttered and diminished.
The soldiers hesitated in their pursuit, their frightened eyes fixed on the magic that threatened their lives. The witch took advantage of their hesitation and hurled the fireball at her opponents. Soldiers and citizens scattered in all directions. Those who were too slow found themselves face to face with their death as the fireball exploded against the ground. The flames clung to the streets and rampaged through the village, feeding off of the wood homes, their wooden frames split and shattered. Old, thatched roofs erupted into a hellish inferno. The fire engulfed the buildings within seconds. The sound of crackling flames and collapsing homes mixed with the cries of terror and anguish from women and children. Bodies lay motionless around the city, burning. The scent of charred skin and hair mixed sickeningly in with the metallic scent of blood.
The witch gawked at the sight of the marred and mangled bodies, feeling a twinge of guilt in the pit of her stomach, but as the soldiers took up their weapons once more, she sent another fireball loose with a sense of desperate urgency. It exploded upon impact with the ground. Screams escaped from the burning homes that no longer offered safety to its residents. Bodies stumbled through the black smoke, coughing and choking and reaching for one another. The witch hesitated, flinching as the screams of those trapped inside rose above the crackling flames and stampeding soldiers. Her wide eyes darted around the burning village until she found the kingdom's soldiers once more.
The soldiers rushed towards her with swords in hand, their battle cries rising above the panicked city. The witch's frantic gaze remained as she feebly threw her arms out before her in an attempt to summon another spell. Her face creased with fear when no magic burst forth from her open palms. Her eyes darted between the charging soldiers, realizing then that she had grown too weak to continue the fight. The magic she had grown accustomed to, flowing warmly through her body, was thin and cold. She was empty. She closed her eyes.
A flash of light struck the town, temporarily blinding those within its walls. The soldiers shielded their eyes with their arms until the light subsided. When the world dimmed, they peeked between their arms to see that the witch with fire had vanished.
The rising sun peeked over the distant mountain range, its purple summits just shadows against a yellow morning sky. A lush valley stretched away from the mountains, sparkling with the glitter of morning dew, and disappeared into a vast forest. Leaves of browns and greens tickled the waking sky. An old, decaying castle sat quietly at the edge of the forest, under the looming shadows of the mountains. Black clouds stretched towards the mountain range, bringing with them the threat of a storm. Distant lightning flashed and cut through the sky.
Scarletta stood over a wooden table, worn and beaten; its nicks and dips held memories of struggled years as Scarletta anguished over each spell and potion she had created. Her vivid red locks fell swiftly across her face from their hold behind her ears as she mixed the colorful liquids. The glasses bubbled and steamed as each liquid was married to another. Red, green, and black smoke billowed over each vessel, filling the room with a scentless fog. The woman was still as her concoctions came to life, but her expression remained cold and hardened. She filled a needle with the liquid and walked to the far corner of the room where a dark shadow was huddled.
Golden eyes split the shadow and scanned the room in fright. Scarletta knelt on the ground beside the young woman and inserted the syringe into her arm. The golden eyes winced slightly, but otherwise, were still. When the syringe empty, Scarletta rose and returned to the table to carefully rearrange the glasses.
The young woman in the corner stood and stepped into the warm, yellow light that streamed through the dirty window behind her. Her dark hair framed her pale face and nearly blended in with her dark dress. The dress made her look remarkably plain, but her facial features were perfection, as if carefully sculpted by patient hands over many years. Her eyes – pained and sad – and brows were stunningly symmetrical, spaced evenly apart. Her brows arched neatly over her almond shaped eyes. They seemed to frame her small, straight nose just so, in the center of her face, just above her soft, pink lips. A sunken dimple emerged when her lips twisted to the side, but otherwise, her skin was smooth and ageless. Not a scar or imperfection marked her young, delicate, but rigged body.
“Does it please you, Calliope?” Scarletta asked. She did not turn to the witch behind her. She worked at clearing the glasses and gathering the pages that were scattered on the table. “Does it satisfy you to disappoint me?”
The witch behind her did not speak. She remained perfectly still, waiting to feel the wrath of her master.
Scarletta, however, did not expect a response. She turned to the young witch, her wavy red hair twisting around her and caressing her frame. Her gaze narrowed on her witch.
“You are careless,” she scolded. “They will not show you mercy.”
Calliope nodded without uttering a word. She forced her shoulders back, appearing confident as Scarletta looked her over, but her heart raced and her knees trembled under her master’s powerful glare. “I will be better,” she said softly.
“I put a lot of time and effort into you,” Scarletta said. The corner of her lips twitched slightly. “I expect you to use yourself to your full potential. I am not finished with you yet, but I will throw you to the Nequam if you continue to fail me.”
Calliope winced at the remark, stepping back slightly as if to catch herself from a fierce blow.
A small smile pulled at her lips, and Scarletta turned back to the table, marrying the liquids together. “You are very important to me, Calliope. I gave you life. I gave you purpose.” Her smile faded. “Do not forget all I have done for you.”
“I exist to serve you,” Calliope said. “I will destroy the kingdom for what they did to you.”
“Do not come back until the job is finished. Then, we will go to Alryn together, and I will tear King Sloan limb from limb.” Her voice hardened. “Spare your strength. Do not let me down.”
Without a word, Calliope turned and let herself out of the dim room. Scarletta continued to busy herself with her potions for a moment, then turned and approached the nearby window. She smiled as she gazed out over the forest and toward the horizon.
Though she could not see the village, dark plumes of smoke marred the sky from the earlier attack. There was no doubt in her mind that Calliope was far superior to her other witches, despite her carelessness. Soon, all of the kingdom of Librona would look the way the sleepy village of Talmond did. Scarletta would have the revenge she waited for.