Skinchangers Chapter 1.2
- Skinchangers Chapter 1.1
- Skinchangers Chapter 1.2
- Skinchangers Chapter 2.1
- Skinchangers Chapter 2.2
- Skinchangers Chapter 3 (pending)
Bloodwitch Part 2
The Giftless old man craned his neck at the stained-glass window lining the queen’s throne room to see the arrows’ targets. A frenzy of birds of various shapes and sizes mottled the glass with their forms in the red-glass sky.
Some fled away from the arrows, though most were depicted as vicious birds of prey reaching their talons down to where the heroic mage-archer stood.
In another purple pane of glass, a man stood on the bow of an ornate ship with several red sails. With an ink-black sword sheathed on his back, he hurled a jewel-covered spear into the purple water below. The jagged tip of the spear was inches away from inevitably striking its prey — a whale larger than all three ships shown in the frame of glass. Below in the depths, the other smaller whales sank to the bottom of the ocean, all gloriously impaled with similar spears.
The sickening part of all this to most in the room was that there were hundreds more colored panes in the throne room. Most were empty of design, still waiting to be filled with a few more conquered Skinchanger tribes.
The old peasant’s eyes widened in horror as he studied each window from the cold stone floor.
Most of the Drang soldiers and Giftless had the skin of expected shades—browns, blacks, whites, deep blues, and forest greens. The queen—referred to by her enemies and followers alike (behind closed and barred doors) as “Bloodwitch” or “Shadowoman”— was the only one to have skin the color of dark, dried blood.
She spoke from her mossy boulder of a throne high above the rest while looking down with a wry smile at the accused Giftless.
“We have been… informed of your unsavory activity of late.” The knights standing guard around the kneeling man shifted uneasily but did nothing else as he looked around at anyone who would see his pleading eyes.
“I done nothing wrong, I swear to ye…” he hesitated, unsure how to address the ruler of his fate, “… me wise queen!” The soldiers’ faces remained placid as if made of stone. The queen folded her hands, leaning forward as she sat cross-legged. She tilted her head as a cat might inspect a mouse who had done something curious.
“Then why is it someone informed me otherwise, my dear Giftless man?” The Bloodwitch tilted her head to the side, feigning curiosity with her question. The moment the man began stammering out an answer again, she glared a dagger throw at Sergeant Karth before appearing visibly bored.
“I—I don’t know. I dunno’ who even accused me, I—.” Before the old man finished, the queen had cut him off, first bored, now annoyed at the waste of time and energy.
“Your grandson—Tandal, is it not?” The queen raised an eyebrow as she allowed him time to respond.
“Y-yes, me queen. A good lad. Strong an’ smart, and kind. Please. Please show him mercy. He’s nothing to do with any o’ the likes o’ me. No matter wha’ anyone thinks I did.” He looked up, eyes watering with clasped hands. Pure desperation painted the face of a Giftless, trying to protect the only thing he had to lose. But she’d seen it before and had never been phased by it.
The queen laughed in response to this—a shrill cackle that ended in a dark gurgle, making it all the more terrifying. She leaned forward on the throne.
“No, no, my dear Giftless. Unlike you, your kin Tandal is useful to the cause. We will treat him as we do any other Drang initiate.” The old man’s face showed relief; then realization racked with grief as she said this. The old man slumped, hands hanging at his sides, resigned. He knew how the rest would go. He had heard the stories.
“Yes… I hear he is a winter or two young for the normal initiates, but—” she smiled at the old man as he looked up. “Times have changed. We must do everything possible to staunch the flow of Changer filth ruining our land.” Nods from most soldiers accompanied this as she continued talking down to the man on her throne. His head tilted and hung to only bear the queen with one bloodshot eye, as much as he could take in these last moments.
“Not to mention, young Tandal might even become a high-ranking officer with his leg up on the others. Yes. He will be treated like all other Drang are, though — accidents often arise, as I’m sure you’ve heard in your little village. But,” she tilted her head back the other way to get his attention with this, “if you tell us what you know, perhaps we can make his training years easier than they could be.”
The old man opened and closed his mouth like a fish gasping for air as he searched for his words. “We all know I’m no Changer. I’m no spy, either. An old man like me sneakin’ off to give intel’ to the enemy withou’ these Drang here catchin’ me?” Silence ensued before he broke it again to continue his reasoning.
“Me own daughter died from the last plague. Her husband and me only son killed on Drang scoutin’ missions. We couldn’t find a healer to cure my wife of some other disease. Wha’ more will you take from me, my queen? I’ve nothin’ to say an’ I ain’t no spy neither. We all ‘ave jobs to do, so let you all get on with yours.” The old man would have spat at the foot of the queen’s throne if not for his grandson. Instead, he hung his head back down, avoiding her forceful gaze.
The Bloodwitch suddenly threw up her arms in mock exasperation. “Well, if you won’t tell us, fine, fine. I expected that. At least we always have the tests.” At the mention of the tests, Drang’s jaws tightened, not ready but all too aware of what would come next.
Without a word, the soldiers formed a circle around the old man, unsheathing swords, spears, and daggers. The old man pivoted on his knees and turned halfway before the first blade pierced his side. Others followed suit, stabbing at whatever came near them. Not at any vital organs—yet—but enough to maim the man and force him to change out of instinctive self-preservation. If he had possessed such an ability.
“If you change into your true form, as your kind says, I swear on the blood of my ancestors, I’ll have them stop. All you have to do is change,” she said with a wave, still bored with the scenario and going through the motions and formalities.
The old man bled profusely, hunched over and hugging the last spear that entered his left biceps, coughing blood onto the carpet, which drank it thirstily.
“Not a Landchanger, perhaps?” The queen pretended to wait for a response before moving on. “A Waterchanger then?”
The Drang soldiers didn’t need to be instructed then and hurried about, readying for the next “test.” A handful of soldiers surrounded the bleeding man while the others rolled a massive glass tank out from behind a tapestry, large enough to hold any shark, fish, or man. It sat within a brass frame on steel wheels and was pushed to the center of the room as the soldiers reformed their circle around it.
The glass was thick and strong. No amount of pounding would break it, even if he hoped to escape through the throngs of waiting soldiers. The old man knew the breath span it took for him to be thrown into the tank and to pound on the sides in protest.
Mouthing words about the falsity of his accusation, perhaps, he lost air sooner than the last one they had tortured. His body became limp and sank to the bottom of the container. Blood seeped into the water, turning it a rosy pink.
Moments of more silence lingered in the hall as no soldier dared to breathe.
“Very well.” She waved her hand again, and the nearest five soldiers climbed the stepladder and dragged the man out of the water and back to the foot of the throne’s carpeted stairs.
One soldier slammed a fist into the old man’s chest, causing him to convulse and sputter up water. He crawled to his knees and hands and heaved painfully as all watched with stoic expressions.
Clicking her tongue as if disapproving of her time being wasted, the Bloodwitch tapped a black-nailed finger to her sharp chin, pretending to have an idea.
“So, if not a Waterchanger… You must be one of the air!” She jumped up, her naked breasts bouncing and her grin wide on her face. The soldiers avoided her eyes as much as possible as some hurried to put back the water prison. Others dragged the man out of the chamber through a small side door.
The queen arched her naked back before lying on the top few steps of her throne. She angled her gaze to the base of the high throne room ceiling, which had a stone railing walkway. Her elbows bent, supporting her head as she lounged and waited as if for a casual theatrical performance.
The soldiers escorting the old man entered the scene moments later, walking along the high walkways, three stone throws above the floor.
“Any last words, my darling?” She asked, looking up at the old man gripped by soldiers on either side of him.
The moment he released the first unsavory word from his mouth, the soldiers had already started flinging him over the railing from high.
“Eat me hairy ass and suck a bag o’ donkey d—” the bravely creative old man’s last word was cut short with a bloody splat on the cinder throne floor.
The soldiers who had thrown the man hid their remorse over clenched jaws and perfect posture. The others likewise waited for their queen’s response and next order. Blood pooled around the man’s head, which now resembled a smashed melon.
“What a colorful taste in vocabulary for such an old man,” the Bloodwitch said appraisingly. The soldiers glanced furtively at one another, unsure whether they should agree with their queen or stay silent.
“Not an Airchanger either, then it seems, correct, Sergeant Karth?” She raised an eyebrow at the soldier in formation, with the others at the foot of the throne.
“It seems not my queen,” Karth said with a cough.
“I know it must be hard being a Sargeant in the greatest army our world has ever seen. I know you must feel pressure to meet my demands.” Karth’s eyes glanced up at the queen for an instant in disbelief before settling back down to aim at the stairs.
“But if you cannot deliver me one measly changer or else spy per moon cycle, I’ll find someone who can.” The Bloodwitch rose from her seat, arching her back to stretch like a lioness leaving behind the shade of her tree. She walked down the stone steps to the circle of waiting Drang, her naked hips swaying from side to side. She walked slowly to Karth, laying her hands on his chest as she spoke directly into his eyes.
“You will be the leader of the next scouting mission to Forest Tribe territory, yes?” It was not a question, even though the queen playfully bit her lip as if unsure of the answer she would get. Karth nodded automatically, knowing it was that or instant death. Or worse than death.
“Good.” She turned away from Karth, instantly changing her face from the one she had held before. As she strode to the iron door behind her throne, the queen spoke to no one in particular, perhaps everyone.
“And be sure to bring the body to Jeronik before it spoils.”