By Cat Carroll
Just when you thought it was safe, Cat returns from the deep…
Heh, sorry, been reading the awesome Meg series by Steven Alten. It's a little on the cheesy side, and I don't care what the real science is because the man makes you believe that there could be 60 foot sharks deep in the oceans. And since I'm a shark junkie, it's making for some good reading.
But I am back with the promised Karla-centric story. This one was a little hard to get started because of the fact its Karla and a romance. At first I was going to play it safe and have her meet a guy that reminded her of Morton and he convinces her that not all men are evil. But rereading some of the Karla scenes in the books, I realized that wasn't being true to character. AB doesn't specifically say it, but she drops enough hints as in "she doesn't like men, at least not in that way…the chances of her taking another man to her bed was almost nonexistent" to indicated that Karla is lesbian.
So, do I play it safe or keep the character true. This is why I like writing about the kids of the main characters so that I don't have to worry about these things. But the fact of the matter is that changing Karla's character that much would be selling her cheap, and I'm not going to disrespect the series to do that to her. So, it's not much a spoiler (considering I've already said this would be Karla-centric and a romance) to figure out that a female love interest is going to be introduced.
What I am taking over half a page in saying is that if you don't like the thought of a story depicting a lesbian relationship, then you might want to hit the back button and wait for the next one which will be male/female. There will not be any graphic sex scenes, but there will be romantic ones. Since you've all been fairly warned, I don't want any reviews about how gross this is or I'm going to Hell for writing it.
For everyone else, I hope you enjoy the story. It's taking place in the same AU as Small Changes, just jumping back in time to starting a few minutes after Jaenelle unleashed her full strength and cleansed the realms.
Jastian lay on the dusty stone floor of the cave, every muscle in her body shaking. She slowly lifted her head, her vision blurring, clearing, blurring again as she looked around the Secret Coven's refuge. She tried to push herself up, trembling body threatening to collapse at any second, and then sat against the wall for support. She created a ball of witchlight and even that bit of Craft was almost painful. Her vision cleared and she could hear the whimpers and sobs from the other Black Widows that made up the coven. Someone asked if it was Dorothea...had she found a new way to attack? Should they try to run and hide in a new place? Jastian didn't think so. If that attack had come from Dorothea, then they were all nothing more than walking carrion and there was nothing left that could stop that bitch.
"Marguerite!" The scream pierced Jastian's head and she looked over where the young witch had been just before the spiraling power had blown through the cave and coven. Where a witch had once been, there was now just a empty set of clothes on the stone. Another scream of despair as two witches deep in the back began to cry and scream that they were broken, their Jewels now so much powder in empty settings.
Broken, gone, and not a hint of the power lingering that had done so much damage in a matter of seconds. The Secret Coven was the last refuge for Black Widows that refused to bow before the Hayll's power. The women there were very adept at hiding and protecting themselves and the place they were staying. But this power had torn through all of their defenses without slowing. Jastian wondered why it had only affected three witches here when it could have blown apart all of their inner barriers and shattered them.
She slowly pushed herself to her feet. Jastian reminded herself that she was pureblood Eyrien and Eyriens did not cringe in the - oooh, the cave was spinning again - corner when in danger. Her gold eyes fell back onto the pile of clothes again and it made her think of who had been wearing them. Marguerite. One of the witches that had started to do more that just mutter that maybe they should strike a deal with Dorothea. The other two witches, the broken ones, had started to agree with her. They were younger girls from short-lived races, and were tired of always being on the move. They were still scared from the last time they had been attacked, and that more than anything was making them agree with Marguerite.
They had been living in a decent house outside of a small village. They had been there for over a year when the Hayllian soldiers had attacked. If their defenses had been a little run down...if Jastian didn't wear the Red...things would have been different. Jastian had always thought it suspicious how the guards had found them and had begun to suspect that there was a traitor in their midst, but Trista, the coven leader, had asked her not to look further. That had been a little over a month ago, and now Jastian wondered what Trista had seen in her webs of dreams and visions that made her not want to seek out and eliminate a traitor.
Jastian took a step away from the wall. The cave swayed for a moment, but then stilled. That was good. She took a few more steps and managed to stay on her feet. That was even better. Trista was still sitting on the floor, trying to calm and comfort the frightened witches. Nobody seemed hurt, maybe a few scratches from hitting the stone floor, but other than one missing and two broken witches, everyone was fine. Jastian went to Trista and knelt beside her.
"Do you know what that was?" she asked. Trista looked at her, expression bleak.
"We saw in our webs," she said distantly. "The howling of rage and celebration." She stared directly at the empty clothes on the ground. Her eyes hardened. "And all the debts are paid."
Jastian's whole body went cold. For three days they'd woven webs of vision and all gotten the same cryptic answers. "I'm going to check the valley," she said, wondering how wide-spread the destruction was. Trista nodded and Jastian stood, leaving the cave.
As she walked out, she glanced behind her and froze. When the Secret Coven had been forced into the cave in the Askavi Mountains, they had wrapped powerful layers of illusion spells across the entrance. It looked just like part of the mountain, and if someone touched it, the web would draw the person's mind in, making them think they were touching stone. Now the entrance was bare, all of the illusions ripped away. What in the name of Hell did this, Jastian thought. She sent out a psychic probe and detected nobody anywhere near them. The cave would be safe for now, but they needed to get the entrance illusions repaired immediately.
Jastian spread her wings and launched herself into the sky. The massive storm that had been building all night had broken with the dawn. Although the sky was overcast and grumbling, there was no hint of the destruction that had been promised the night before. Unless, Jastian thought, that hadn't been a natural storm at all. The thought made her shiver. She could clearly remember that spiral of power biting into her and sincerely hoped she never, ever, felt anything like that again. She shivered again and then banked, wrapping herself in a Red sight and psychic shields as she headed to the nearest town in the valley.
When Dorothea had made her announcement that it had been the High Lord of Hell and his sons who had been the cause of all her evil, there had been great rejoicing among many in the coven. She wasn't going to pursue them anymore, some said. There weren't many of the coven that were of the long-lived races. Jastian was over 1,100 years old and knew what Dorothea had been up to for the last millennia. For some reason, she doubted that the pleasure that bitch had taken in destroying Terreille had been caused by the High Lord. She knew too many witches broken by Dorothea's command to blindly believe. And her instincts had been right. Several of the coven witches had left and gone home. Jastian knew that at least two were dead and one was broken. The other one never made it home. And then the coven was attacked, forcing them to flee into the remote mountains.
The coven had been safe up in the mountains. Jastian had been able to get the supplies they needed from villages in the valley. There were lots of Eyriens here and she blended with the crowds. It had made it easier to hear news as well. There had been so many rumors and gossip that Jastian wasn't sure what to believe. War with Kaeleer. A new Queen in Ebon Askavi. Some said she was owned by the evil High Lord. Others said she didn't exist at all. Danger, death, more women missing, men being shaved, whispers of things to come.
Jastian reached the edge of the first town. It didn't look damaged. She sent out a probe and gasped at what she felt. It had to be wrong. The storm was playing with her senses. That was the only plausible explanation.
Or else over half the Blood in that busy, bustling town were now…gone.
Jastian could sense maybe half the people she could before. And the rest…oh, the rest. She came in closer, and now could hear the cries and screams. So many were broken. Others simply vanished. Clothes lying in the street, just like Marguerite. A precious few were wandering in a daze with no loss to their power at all. And then Jastian realized what else was missing. There was no psychic feel at all coming from the Queen that ruled this village. The Queen was among the vanished, and her First Circle with her.
Jastian rose back in the air, catching an Opal wind to get the next town faster. Again, devastation. Animals and buildings were untouched, but the people were gone, broken, or untouched. After stopping a third time at a smaller village, Jastian finally noticed the pattern. It was Dorothea's followers and backers that were injured. The males who had been twisted and the pet Queens were all gone. Anyone who had actively been part of Dorothea's games was gone. Those that had been touched, but not fully corrupted were broken. Only the few that had stayed out of Dorothea's games and still tried to act in an honorable way had been left unharmed.
Jastian flew back up into the mountain, alighting on a high ledge that looked beyond the mountains and down into the flatlands stretching out as far as the eye could see. She descended to the Red and sent out a psychic probe much further than she would have ever dared a few hours before. As the information began to come back, she had to grab the solid rock of the mountain to stay on her feet. It was staggering. She couldn't tell numbers, but all over thousands of the Blood were gone. The loss of power was staggering.
And liberating as well.
Slowly Jastian turned until she could see the Black Mountain. Ebon Askavi. There was no doubt now. The only way this was possible was if a Queen ruled there for the first time in millennia. A Queen at the head of the most powerful army in the Realms. Other rumors had said that some people had been able to escape to Kaeleer. Although Dorothea's pets said that the Shadow Realm was more myth than real, Jastian now thought that if there was a great and powerful Queen in Ebon Askavi, she wasn't ruling from Terreille, but from Kaeleer.
Kaeleer, she thought, launching herself into the sky and heading back to the cave. That's where I need to go. If I ever want to know what really happened today, what was powerful enough to strip Dorothea of every ally, Kaeleer is where I'll find the answers. She wrapped a sight shield around herself as she banked, heading back to the cave. She would report to Trista, help the other members of the coven, and somehow, she would begin searching for a way into that mythic and strange land.