Winter Sleeping, Tracker’s Day 15, Year of the Lion number 427; December 3, 1738 Agathon; Linne 181
I finally got some answers. It is after midnight, so technically it is the next day. I will do my best to retell today’s events accurately. A lot happened, but, as always, new questions replace the old. It will take me time to absorb all that I experienced today, but for now, getting it recorded is most important.
Breakfast was a modest affair, especially considering it was being served after midday. Pedora joined me and it was just the two of us, not counting the castle servants, for thirty minutes. I asked her several questions, which I’ll summarize, but there was something she told me, about me, that I found rather interesting.
The sauce used on the desert, called chocolate, had the same effect it had on me as it does on domesticated dogs and cats. A lot of people drink tea and coffee, and there’s something in it that helps them to be alert. Apparently, chocolate does the same thing to certain animals, though it’s as if they were drinking gallons rather than just cups. She thinks my body, while mostly like humans, also shares some traits of animals – specifically cats. She’s heard stories where cats or dogs ate so much chocolate it killed them. She says I should avoid chocolate in the future. She apologized for not realizing this before, because she’s a student of nature.
But the real information she gave me was good preparation for what was to happen later in the day. She and Propheta are members of the Witch’s Coven, also known as the Linne Coven. They’ve never taken an official name, probably because they’d never agree on it. It was formed 181 years ago in the process of instituting peace in the region known as the Wraithscape Realm. The city, Linne, is the focal point. I think I’ve touched on this before, so if I’m repeating myself, I apologize.
Twelve women casters, considered to be the most powerful at the time, formed the coven as well as the Linne Council. The five-member Linne Council consists of a representative from the three countries, Handocher, Avensaria, and Antarrow, a representative of Linne, and one of the witches. All matters that affect two or more of the four states require a majority vote of the council. This includes matters of trade, extradition, and mutual defense. This system has maintained peace in this realm for 181 years.
The Witch’s Coven has a far wider reach. Hundreds of years ago, there was a unified Wizard’s Guild that had a presence in every major city and in every country in Neuith. Now, only a few schools remain and they are no longer associated. Most of the witches in the coven were, in some way, part of the Guild. Several were teachers, others were students. But, through war and politics, the schools split off on their own. At its peak, the Guild was centered here in Linne. While the college building still exists, it is no longer the place it once was. Once a week, a few casters meet in its halls to share knowledge and experience, but the days where hundreds of eager students learning the art of magic is long gone. She says that the only colleges that remain are in Swarmgarde, Featherscar, and Fellandria. There might be a college in Queensnotch, but the laws in that country are opposed to the use of magic.
She didn’t have time to tell me about the twelve witches, specifically, but already she’s answered several of my questions. We had to hurry to make it to our destination on time. We left the castle and met Lord Baird on the way. At the stable, I was offered a horse, but I said I’d be able to keep up just fine. “Suit yourself!” I ran alongside them as they rode out of the busy city into the farms to the south. We followed the mountainside and just south, by about three or four miles, was another magnificent structure. Like the castle, it was built into the mountainside, but more so, it was built more to the top of the mountain. We followed a paved trail that switched back and forth up the side. The walled structure was godlike. The stone walls were sparkling white and taller than the forty-foot walls of the city. Evenly spaced windows allowed for defenders to view anyone coming up the trail or climbing the face of the mountain. Four great towers reached into the sky like the great tower in Swarmgarde. Yet, we seemed to be watched by no one.
When we finally got to the gate, a single guard opened it for us by pulling a lever on the overlooking balcony. “You only have about ten minutes,” he shouted down to us. Lord Baird and Pedora hopped off their horses as the guard came down the inner steps.
I followed the two through the great hall into what looked like a library. Unfortunately, even though there was shelf space for thousands of books, only one shelf had some; I counted about twenty volumes. Lord Baird led me to a bench next to a window that overlooked a flowing river – the water rushed northward. He told me later this was a branch of the Torevil that flowed into the Asten, forming the western border of Linne’s official holdings.
“Here, we will be able to observe the proceedings. We are not allowed to speak during the meeting. Only the witches that are present in the room will know we are here.” I had no idea what he meant, but it soon became very clear.
In the center of the room was a circle of stools, each about four feet from the next. Pedora chose one on the far side, facing us, and sat down. We heard a whooshing sound followed by a pop. In the middle of the room, Propheta appeared out of thin air. She nodded to us and took a seat next to Pedora. Pedora nodded to us and put her finger to her lips to remind us to remain silent. Then she and Propheta touched their coven rings. Suddenly all twelve stools were occupied! It took me a moment to realize that, except for Pedora and Propheta, none of the other women were truly in the room. The seemed almost translucent.
At the time, I didn’t know their names but Pedora later helped me to identify them. I’ll use their names in this retelling to make it easier for you. I am writing this from memory, so I’m sure I’ll miss a few things.
Going around the room, starting with Pedora’s left was Syreni. She appeared to be part fish, though not in the manner of the merfolk. Her large, fin-like ears graced long blue hair. She wore a matching blue gown and I can see that her fingers were webbed.
Procella was next. Dark brown hair cascaded over her bare shoulders. I could see that this woman once possessed great beauty, but she didn’t seem to care anymore.
Dressed in leaf-green gossamer, Regina, a high-elf, wore a silvery tiara in her golden hair.
Vigila was dressed in all black and wore a black hood lined in silver. Her youthful face was betrayed by the grey streaks in her blue-black hair. Around her neck, she wore a glowing ruby amulet. Her long fingers ended in almost talon-like fingernails.
Wearing a royal purple gown, Isabel’s medium brown hair was drawn up, off her shoulders. This accentuated the green earrings. She was small and especially skinny for a human, which made her sparkling blue eyes seem unusually large.
Ventusa sat with her back to me, so I never saw her face. However, she seemed skeletal. Her grey-lavender robes had a high collar, and were embroidered with mesmerizing designs in gold. Her hair was cropped short in an almost masculine style.
Next, to my left, was Cithara. She wore a red and green riding tunic that left her shoulders, arms, and legs bare. On her back, she carried a lyre and she had a sword on her belt. I could tell that she was part elvish from her pointed ears, but she didn’t seem to be full-blood. Apparently, it was her that called the meeting, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Allison appeared, more than any of the others, like you’d expect a witch to appear. She wore a ragged black cloak and a black, pointed hat. Her face was lined and covered with blemishes and warts. Her crooked fingers always seemed to be active, almost with a life of their own.
Next to her was Colubra, a tiefling. Age hadn’t ravaged her like Allison, as her natural beauty shines through despite the years. Her horns were decorated in the same manner many human women wear earrings, which is something I’ve never seen before.
Navita was next. She’s a halfling with huge brown eyes and long black hair. She held a wooden staff in one hand, which matched the color of the cape she wore over a simple green tunic. Her feet didn’t reach the floor and she allowed them to swing freely. The colorful butterflies that flitted around her was very distracting at first, but after a few minutes, they disappeared.
Propheta and Pedora were as I’d previously described.
Procella spoke first. I heard her referred to as “The First Witch,” which I assumed meant she was the leader. “We’re all here. Cithara, you called this meeting. What is it you need?”
Cithara stood up from her stool. “As you guys know, I’ve been helping the dragonborn defend against Zagir and Damaceus. There’s been a disturbing development that needs to be brought to our attention.”
Syreni said, “I’m not convinced you weren’t the cause of this war. Your curse.”
Cithara looked over at the fish-lady. “I’m aware of my curse. This war started before I got here. I don’t start every war, you know. Sometimes they begin without my help.”
Isabel said, “I don’t know why you’re even involved in this conflict. It has no impact on our realm.”
“Are you daft?” Allison said. Her voice was raspy. “Aside from your blasted curse, don’t you realize that everyone and everything is connected? There are numerous trade routes between the Dragonborn lands and the Wraithscape Realm. The human nations to their south and west, as well as the elven lands to the north are reliant on the dragonborn for many goods and services. You may claim that I’m a selfish bitch and consider me to be evil incarnate because I possess the wand, but even I understand that we all rely and depend upon one-another.”
Pedora spoke up, “We’re not here to bicker about our curses. Cithara, what is this development you speak of?”
“Thank you, druid,” she held up a brown leather strap. “This is a magical collar that we recovered from a dead dragonborn. It seems it has some sort of charm or enslavement magic that causes the wearer to do whatever their told. I don’t believe that the dragonborn soldiers we’re fighting are doing so of their own free will.”
Vigila spoke for the first time. Her voice was soft and lilting, but it carried in a way that seemed ominous. “This is consistent with what I’ve seen. The dead metallic dragonborn who fought on the side of Zagir told me they did so unwillingly. Many have asked for dispensation or mercy. Others demand punishment for their wrongdoing, even though they were not in control.”
“This makes fighting difficult. How can a soldier kill another, when he knows that the enemy is ensorcelled?” Cithara said.
Navita said, “I will teleport to your location, Cithara, and retrieve this so that we can study it.”
Cithara continued, “In the meantime, we know that an army is marching toward D’Lautna, following the
Braykreo River. If we can meet them with an organized force before they get here, we might be able to stop them and protect the innocents. My problem is this – most of the enslaved soldiers are metallic. Most of the men I have available are chromatic, but they are too disorganized. They’ve not allied together since the dragon wars fifteen hundred years ago. I need a way to unite them.”
Colubra said, “You are the most beautiful of us all, and you possess the Golden Lyre. Surely you can use it and your charms to organize and unite these men for a common cause.”
If looks could kill. “Don’t you think I haven’t already tried that? Each wants to be the leader of the others, and it was all I could do to keep them from destroying each other!”
Ventusa said one word, and one word only, “Takhisis.” I had no idea what it meant, but soon came to realize.
“Of course,” said Allison. “Ventusa, I knew there was a reason we keep you around.” I couldn’t see the witch’s face, but I’m not sure I wanted to. “Cithara, you should know the stories.”
Cithara shook her head. “But just like the other gods, Takhisis is long dead.”
Regina said, “Not all the gods died when the wand was formed. Some survived and it’s possible they still live even today. They lost their powers. But I’m forced to agree with Ventusa and Allison. This is something that might work.”
Cithara said, “I’m not sure I understand.”
Propheta said, “The shaking of the sheets.”
Syreni said, “For once, Propheta’s words make sense.” The others looked at her confused. “No, really. She reminds us of a song that tells about how a piper leads everyone to battle.”
Propheta said, “The harvest of the moon.”
Syreni continued, “Have you not read the ancient texts and stories? The piper plays, the people follow, and together they sing the song of Elsie Marley. In the guise of Takhisis, Cithara can unite the chromatic dragonborn to fight as a unit, under her leadership. Perhaps they can end the war once and for all.”
“You can do this, Cithara,” Allison said. “You are a master of disguise.”
Cithara nodded. “This is as good an idea as any I’ve heard. What say you, Isabel?”
Isabel shrugged, “Keeping each chromatic force independent and having them fend for themselves will…”
Procella interrupted Isabel, “Cithara, do it. I don’t believe we need to vote on this.” I heard Lord Baird chuckle softly. He explained later that Isabel’s curse is that she can’t come up with a sound military strategy. He’d seen the witches do this before – ask for Isabel’s opinion on what they should do. If she disagrees with the consensus, they figure they are on the right path.
Each of the witches touched their rings and those that weren’t physically present vanished. Pedora stood up and came over to me and Mordecai. “In a way, I’m sorry I had to expose you to this. Though, typically, our meetings don’t go as well as this one did. You wanted to know about the coven. What better way than to bring you to one of our meetings?”
I told her I’d record this in my journal. It will probably take me a while to understand it all. Each witch is unique, but I’d only seen each for a few moments. Propheta and Lord Baird left the room leaving me and Pedora to talk for some time. Finally, the room became almost too dark to see as the sun was setting beyond the mountains.
“Tomorrow I return to my home in the fen. You should continue your journey. I’m certain we will meet again, Kabize Vipertree,” Pedora said as she left the library.
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