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Witch Hazel

We left the town of Prachull. The restless dead were no longer a threat. The town militia were burning those that had returned, and as a precaution were digging up graves, and burning those that hadn’t returned. I was still in the company of Raziel the Horrid and Ezekiel. I had nothing to say to the older brother, and no longer cared about his ailment. If this trek from Prachull to Pumn Overhang was the death of him, so be it, he deserved it. Raziel either had sensed my hatred for him or was being his normal brooding self, had not said anything to me either. He had not even tried to apologize or shown any remorse for the murder of that little girl. Ezekiel on the other hand had tried to explain to me about the undead bites making the living dead and returned dead. Something about how the bitten had to be put down, that what Raziel did was a mercy killing. Maybe all that rubbish was true, but Raziel hadn’t even given me the chance to try to save the child. I was a soothsayer, a witch, feared, respected, powerful… Who was I kidding? I was just a girl myself.

There were no towns between Prachull and Pumn Overhang to the west. The rolling plains and forests became a twist of canyons and cliffs. Shrubs grew where they could get a perch. Pumn Overhang was a single peak in the western mountains, it looked more like the gaping maw of a rock monster, and was claimed to be a massive cave system into the mountains themselves. As we drew nearer to it, I felt a weight settle over me. Most of the journey from Prachull I’d been in a daze, blinded by angery, numbed by grief, but as we drew closer I seemed to wake up, but not as I was before.

“Hazel! No! What are you doing?” I was fighting with someone. They had their arms about my waist, dragging me backwards. My arms had been raised above my head, but I’d now I lowered them to struggle with the arms, which felt more like steel rope as I was lifted off my knees. We scuffled, I was released, and something was kicked from my grip. It clanged against a rock. I suddenly saw, as if urgently waking from sleep.

I was on my hands and knees in front of Ezekiel, kicked out of my reach was a sword, one of Raziel’s swords. Ezekiel wasn’t clothed in shadow, but his hands were readied as if he expected me to strike him.

“Zeke? What happened?” I rose to my knees and I saw him tense as if I was going to leap upon him. He looked at me, as confused as I felt.

“Why did you try to kill Roz?” He asked, his body not relaxing. I looked around, it was night, a small fire burned, and our mounts were tethered no far away. Raziel lay on his back, next to the fire, looking as if he was still sleeping, but the scuffle must’ve woken him.

“I don’t understand,” I stated.

“What did you do to him?” Ezekiel’s voice was not kind.

“I didn’t do anything to him,” I said honestly. I stood and moved towards him, to examine Raziel, but Ezekiel blocked my path. “Zeke, I need to look him over.”

“You just tried to stab him, and he just laid there, allowing you. You must’ve put a hex on him,” Ezekiel explained.

“I don’t know what just happened, I don’t think I was myself, but I’m me now,” I realized how silly I just sounded and I doubted Ezekiel would believe me. I know I was angry with Raziel, but I didn’t think I’d want to kill him. I had more just reserved myself to being the dragon’s dinner, at least he’d end my suffering. Nothing good had happened to me since Grandmother’s passing, and the Nightsorrows only made my life so complicated I couldn’t cope. “Please, Zeke. Let me look at him.”

For a moment I didn’t think he’d let me pass, I carefully put my hand on his arm, and he softened, gave a small nod and stepped aside. I knelt down at Raziel’s side, as I must’ve just done moments earlier. Raziel’s eyes were open. The cracks in his skin, they weren’t really cracks, but blackened blood vessels under the skin, but the blackness, the corruption, had spread across his face, his once remarkable green eyes were nearly black.

“Raziel?” I whispered, touching his brow. His skin was cold, like Grandmother’s when all the life and warmth had left her body. He was breathing, I could see the rise and fall of his chest, the blink of his eyes. It was as if he was in a trance. “Raziel?” I said with more urgency, shaking him. I could feel Ezekiel hovering over me as if I might draw Raziel’s other sword and try to finish what I’d started in my sleep. Had I hated him so much I’d tried to kill him?

Raziel’s eyes suddenly moved, and focused on me, he blinked, and scowled, as if my being so near him was revolting to him. I scooted back away from him. He sat up.

“Roz!” Ezekiel shouted with joy and relief that his brother was all right, well as all right as he could be. Apparently only I could see the corruption that was engulfing him. Raziel stood up, picked up his swords, and began to walk away. “Raziel, were are you going?” Ezekiel put his hand on Raziel’s arm, and the older brother shrugged the younger off. Ezekiel glanced at me, but tried to again to stop him, he smacked Raziel hard across the face. Raziel attacked him. Ezekiel was not ready for the retaliation.

“STOP!” I shouted at Raziel, he had his sword out, the blade was so near plunging into Ezekiel’s chest. Raziel halted, nodded to me, released his brother, and continued to walk towards Pumn Overhang. “Where are you going?”

“My master calls,” was all he said.