Blood pounded in the young boy’s sharp ears as he bounded over a rotting fence, stuffed animal clutched tightly in his right hand as the unsettling smell of ashes and smoke slipping through his nostrils with each heaving inhale.
He could hear voices behind him over the thunderous bellow the sky roared, burning droplets flying down from the clouds and only feeding the red flame that had been steadily and uncontrollably advancing towards his village.
At least, before it became consumed by it.
Run. The instinct was so strong it almost felt overwhelming, such a raw feeling that was coded in to every creature’s mind, the goal to survive.
Branches and vines struck his face as he ran, panic guiding his movements. He knew he must look awful and half-beaten to hell, but at least he was alive, right?
That was all his parents had asked of him, before they had pushed him away from the reaching flames. They wanted him to live, to breathe, to go on without them no matter the cost.
A root that caught his tattered shoe seemed to have different plans.
The boy flew forward, a sickening crunch ringing out as he muffled his scream in his arm. Tears pricked the young child’s eyes, wild blonde hair flying in front of his vision whilst his skull met the forest floor.
His tired body screamed at him to get up, to keep running, but his little legs felt wobbly and he found the grass much more comfortable than burning thighs and bruised feet.
Get up! Run! His mind screamed at him, but even in his naive and panicked mindset, he knew that there was no way he could run anymore. With his ankle busted and the adrenaline quickly wearing off, he was as good as a sitting duck.
“-saw some kid go this way,” a voice broke through the thundering in his ears, the kid in question freezing at the sound of their voice.
“The bad men are coming, and they’re gonna take us away. We’ll hold them off,” his mother had whispered to him, her voice hushed as if she was scared that someone would listen and expose them. His father, wearing a stoic expression across a beaten face that would usually promise protection, now held a solemn sense to it that even as a six year old boy he could tell that this was the last time he’d be seeing them.
“You need to run. Take your stuffed animal, there’s a cave just on the edge of town where you can hide,” her words were rushed, and he could distantly hear the sound of fists meeting the front of their door. “Wait for us there. If we’re not there in two days, you need to go to Bonesborough,”
“What’s happening?” He whispered, fear lacing his tone as the sound of knocking became louder. The boy’s father exited the room, brandishing his bow as he stepped out.
“We don’t have time to explain,” A shout that he could barely make out (“-smoke them out of hiding!”) startled the two out of the conversation, his mother ushering him on to the window sill, pushing his stuffed animal in to his arms.
Before he could turn, he felt his mother’s gentle hands grasp his own; his head turned to look at her, amethyst eyes meeting each other for the last time.
“We love you so much, Hunter,” she murmured — his eyes pricked with tears and his hands shook in her hold. She pressed down harder, grounding him. “You need to be brave now. For us.”
“Run!” A bottle smash, a flurry of smoke, and all hell broke loose.
He crawled forward, his small hands pulling against the grass with immense effort. Crawling slowly forward, he managed to pull himself behind a bush, just as a lantern’s glow lit up the clearing.
The boy’s heart almost stopped when he realized that he had dropped his stuffed animal and never retrieved it.
“Found some sort of kids toy!” The bad man shouted over his shoulder, assumingly to the other bad men that his mother had warned him about. They wanted to hurt him, to take him away.
He didn’t want to be taken away by the bad men.
Hunter’s heart beat with anxiety as he heard the sound of boots stepping closer to his hiding place. The glow of the lantern shone brighter in the corner of his eye, and his hands shot up to cover his ears, eyes scrunched shut tightly.
A hand fell over his arm, gripping him roughly and unkindly, pulling the hand from his ear. Tears fell loose from his face, and his mouth fell open to let out a terrified scream.
The bad man raised a hand threateningly, and Hunter’s eyes widened as he anticipated a blow, his free arm flinging over his face to protect himself.
Yet, the blow never came.
And the unkind hand that had held his arm had loosened substantially, enough for the terrified child to squirm out of the bad man’s hold.
Confused, amethyst eyes darted up to meet the bad man’s own — until he noticed that his eyes were drooping, and that the man had slumped to the forest floor with a dazed expression.
And a stranger — another bad person? — stood behind him with a furious look painted across her face. She seemed as scared as he did, her wooden staff in hand, an owl palisman perched above the staff.
He scrambled backwards, as fast as an injured boy could, his back making contact with the bark of an oakwood tree. Wincing at the uncomfortable feeling of rubbing, Hunter made eye contact with the strange lady stood before him.
She was older, but she still had orange hair that flowed wildly from her head, reminding him of the sunset and a ripe orange straight from the harvest.
Her clothes were as wild as her hair as well; a red dress with purposeful rips running through them. A sharp fang of gold peaked out from her top lip, shining in the glow of the lantern that the bad man had dropped.
“Kid?” She asked him cautiously, like she was approaching a cornered animal. The boy shrunk further away as she moved forward. That seemed to make her stop and reconsider.
“Listen, kid, I don’t know what’s going on here. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but what I do know is that we both need to get out of here before the guards know that one of their own is missing out on patrol,” She rambled. The boy’s head tilted.
“W-Who are you?” He questioned, his voice small and quiet, just like his mother’s had been the last time he’d seen her.
The lady looked antsy, like she wanted to get out of there as much as he did. She certainly had reason to.
“I’m Eda — Eda Clawthorne. I’m a friend, promise,”
That name — it sounded so familiar-
“-makes you wonder how the Emperor hasn’t found that Eda Clawthorne, when she’s setting up shop all the time in town,” He’d heard when he was eavesdropping, sitting on the stairs.
“Might be something to do with wild magic. Maybe there’s some sort of shielding spell, to hide her and cover her tracks?” His mother had theorized.
“Maybe. Or, maybe the Emperor’s Coven isn’t so high and mighty after all. Can’t even catch the ‘Owl Lady’, or whatever she’s called,”
His mother had hushed him after that, even though they were in there own home. Hunter was so confused as to why they were scared at that time, wasn’t home a safe space?
“Owl lady?” He asked, and the woman cracked a smile. The boy didn’t crack his own, fiddling with the hem of his shirt nervously.
“The one and only,” she laughed softly, until a twig snapped and the lanterns glowed in the distance, through the woods and foliage. Her eyes darted between the boy and the sky, and she offered her hand.
“We need to get out of here, right now,” Eda insisted, her warm hands closing around his own. The boy eyed her with a cautious expression, but when he saw the lights coming closer, he resigned.
Seemingly satisfied, the witch let the staff’s wings unfold, hovering above the grass and waiting obediently for the two to climb aboard.
The lady pulled him forward until the boy let out a short shriek, muffled by her hand clapping around his mouth in distress. Eda’s golden eyes shot down to his ankle which was pinned tightly to his other calve.
It looked bad. The bone was twisted under the skin at an odd angle, purple and yellow bruises lingering where it was at its worst. Hunter’s torn shoes broke open at the top, revealing a gash where the root had met skin.
“I can’t help with this right now, kid, but I promise to when we get somewhere safer,” The lady whispered, arms outstretched to help the boy on, before the boy froze.
“I need..” He trailed off, eyes frantically scanning the grass. Laying beside the bad man who fell to the ground was his frog stuffy, still half-held in his unconscious grip.
Despite the owl lady’s protests, he limped towards the stuffy with haste. Kneeling down, his small hands seized the frog and he hugged it tightly to his chest.
This was the only thing he had left from the village. It had gone up in ashes and smoke, and since it was dry season, it would burn through the forest. The bad people would make sure of that.
The owl lady watched him with a fond expression, despite the situation. It seemed rather reserved though, weathered and almost sad.
Until it turned stoic; the same expression his father had worn before he faced the bad men.
And arms wrapped around his waist, lifting him up like it was nothing. He felt cold and sharp steel pressed against his throat, the blinding yellow light of several lanterns blaring in his amethyst eyes.
“Eda the owl lady,” one of the bad men had announced, seemingly unshaken when the lady’s staff had begun to glow it’s own yellow light. It pulsed with magic that the boy felt mesmerized by. “You have been arrested for crimes against the Emperor’s Coven. Come with us willingly, and you may not endure the Petrification.”
The woman scoffed, though her eyes shone with a deep concern for the boy in danger, who was trembling in the bad man’s grasp. “I’ve taken you down before, I can do it again,”
One of the bad men laughed, a cruel, humourless laugh. “Then I suppose you wouldn’t mind me wasting this child, then?”
In a demonstration of power, the bad man holding him tightly by the waist pressed the knife down to his throat, a thin line of blood trickling down. The owl lady hesitated, meeting his eyes with an unreadable expression that he could not comprehend in his young age.
Seconds seemed to tick by like hours, the two opposing sides at a stand off. Hunter attempted to squirm out of the man’s grip, but was only met harshly with a reprimanding hit to his gut, much to Eda’s horror.
“Fine! Fine, you win!” She announced, letting her staff fall to the ground. Eda raised her hands above her head in defeat, watching Hunter with a nervous gaze. “Just let the kid go, okay?”
One of the bad men nodded at the one holding him hostage, and he tumbled to the grass, clutching his side and gingerly avoiding pressure on to his ankle. His free hand still had the frog held tightly, the frog that had gotten himself in to this situation anyways.
The bad men carefully approached the owl lady, steel handcuffs in hand. He crawled towards the woman as well, until he tumbled to the floor, his body spent.
Eda’s eyes followed the guards, watching as the steel handcuffs came closer and closer to her wrists which were now obediently behind her back. A small smile crossed her face when she saw a blink of yellow in the corner of her eye.
Owlbert flew up from his spot on the staff, slamming in to one of the guards and knocking him off balance. The other guard let out a noise of surprise, staggering backwards as the angry bird pursued him next.
The owl lady’s eyes narrowed when she saw the burly guard that had held the small boy approach him again. The woman drew a circle of magic in the air, glowing golden hands lifting the boy by the shirt.
Hunter yelped in surprise, but soon became transfixed on the golden hands that held him. The lady’s owl returned in to its staff form, and she stood protectively, guarding the boy from harm.
“You lost the high ground quick, huh?” She snarked, a cocky grin spreading across her face. There were definitely more of the bad men then herself, an army of them quickly gathering due to the commotion, and the smile was wiped off of her face almost as quickly as it came. “Spoke too soon.”
The bad men began to draw their own circles, elegantly forming the magic like it was a piece of glass. Golden hands released him as he was plopped right on to the owl lady’s staff, whose position had changed to a flight one.
“Alright kid, gotta go!”
The two lifted up in to the air, the furious people below them firing projectiles (and very nearly hitting Hunter square in the face). They needed to get out of there, and fast. Luckily, the staff seemed to share the same mindset.
Wind whipped through the two witches faces, the younger of the two turning his head to glance down at the bad men still firing below. From up here, it felt like he could see everything, like he was above the world.
His eyes traced backwards towards his once proud and bountiful village, reduced to ash and smoke. The red flames still burned hot, and in the distance, he could see a couple huddled behind a cart, a tall and strange looking individual quickly approaching them.
His eyes narrowed as he tried to make out the couple’s identities, and he felt his heart slow for a moment when he realized just who the pair were.
Mother and father.
“Mama!” He shrieked, startling the driving witch as she turned to look where the young boy was pointing. Hunter pulled himself towards the edge of the staff, before being held back by the owl lady.
“We can’t get to them, kid,” her voice was solemn, melancholy and holding so much pity that the boy’s stomach twisted and churned. He reached out towards them, watching in horror when the strange man lifted his staff, a blaring red, and..
His parents slumped to the ground. Gone.
He choked out a sob, his hands coming to clasp over his mouth as the pair flew further and further from the village, further and further from his parents, who were gone.
All of the times that they had spent together, when his father had taught him how to use a bow, when his mother had patched up his knee when he’d scraped it; there would be no more happy memories with them. Because they were gone, and dead people don’t come back.
He can’t raise the dead. He can’t do anything.
The boy sobbed and cried in to his stuffed frog, trembling heavily in the woman’s one-handed hold.
He barely noticed the ball of ice barrelling towards his head, and by the time he did, it was far too late to move.
The first thing he noticed, upon waking up from a dreamless sleep, was the dull pain throbbing in the back of his skull.
When he tried to move forward, he must have only been able to move an inch or two, his body feeling sluggish. It could only be described as the feeling one would experience if they were walking through quicksand, or deep and thick mud.
His ears twitched as the world hit him full-force, his senses acutely aware of the scent of smoke —the god awful scent of smoke — that burned his nostrils.
Hunter’s eyes peeked open, and he realized that he could dimly make out a bleary figure sitting beside a bright light. The figure seemed to shift and look towards him, before actually standing and purposefully walking towards him.
“Stop,” he slurred his words, babbling out protests when the blurry stranger neared him. Their hands were out, probably in a gesture to show that they were harmless, but it did the exact opposite in the boy’s eyes. “Please.”
He could see the figure hesitate, but only for a second. It took a moment for Hunter to register that the stranger was speaking to him.
“Kid, it’s just me. Eda, remember?” She whispered nervously, and the previous night’s events hit him like a freight train.
His parents dying. His village being reduced to nothing but ashes, the world feeling like it was crumbling around him. Pain shooting up his ankles, the primal feeling of helplessness and the raw sensation of being prey in a hunter’s trap—
“-id, hey now, don’t cry— it’s okay, it’s okay,” the woman soothed, repeating her words as if that would make him feel any better about his current situation. Maybe it could, he didn’t know.
Everything hurt right now, though, and that’s probably one of the only things that he did know. And that the lady in front of him was someone that he knew and could probably trust.
Oh, and also that he didn’t know when he had started crying. Wet streaks of water slid down his cheeks, falling from amethyst eyes and landing on new clothes he hadn’t put himself in.
Eda wiped the tears from his eye, a half-hearted smile spreading across her face that didn’t quite reach her eyes. She pulled his blanket — he had a blanket? — further up to him, nudging his stuffed animal towards him.
“What’s its name?” She asked, lifting up the goofy frog’s arms and waving them around in the air. The boy cracked a small smile, but it wasn’t there for long.
“Sprig. His name is Sprig,” he mumbled, leaning against a soft surface — a couch? — and booping his stuffed animal’s nose. “He’s always been there for me.”
Sprig was always there for him, no matter where he went. His mother had called the pink frog his good luck charm, and he tried not to focus on the fresh grief he was feeling and instead examined his surroundings with his not-bleary eyes.
It was a hut, a big one. It was unlike the hut that he had lived in, with art and multi-coloured carpets all over the walls. Candles glowed brightly, small trails of smoke lifting from where the flame burned.
The couch he was laying down on was a pale red colour, clearly weathered by the people living there. He wondered how old this place was; there was wallpaper missing from one of the walls behind him, and a few broken objects scattered around.
The most curious thing though (so far), was the strange worm-looking creature that had opened the door by itself; actually, scratch that, it was the door.
“Making new friends, without me?” But The strange creature gasped dramatically, elongating and moving towards the two uncannily. Hunter almost jumped out of the sheets, jolting towards the owl lady.
Eda looked unimpressed, a hand raising to pinch her nose. “Hooty, meet-“ she trailed off, looking back down at the kid. “I never got your name, did I?”
“Hunter,” he piped up, still watching the weird owl-thing — Hooty — with a guarded expression. At least, until the owl worm nudged it’s way underneath him until he was sitting flat on it’s back (head?).
“Hunty, we’re gonna be best friends!” Hooty declared, and Hunter burst out giggling at the awful nickname. Eda watched the two with a fond expression, only slightly concerned when she saw that he was bonding with Hooty, of all the creatures.
The boy let Sprig fall safely to the floor, wrapping his arms around the owl being in a hug. With his short arms, he couldn’t even reach around the bird’s body. “Best friends?”
“Mhm! Best friends!” The bird chirped, flying around the living room and very nearly knocking in to a painting, (“Hey! That cost me a lot of snails, you know!”) and landing back on to the couch, a giggling boy tumbling on to the soft surface.
Until pain shot up his ankle, and he remembered his horrible injury from the night before. Eda must have noticed him wince, because she gently lifted up his leg and showed him his now bandaged and braced ankle.
“Did it while you were asleep,” she explained. “I didn’t want you to be awake for it, ‘cause it would’ve hurt a lot. It should heal better now, but if it doesn’t, I can take you to the Healing Coven to get it checked out.”
Hunter blinked once, then twice, and looked down at the brace with curiosity. He’d never worn one before — his injuries were never this severe, always just bruises or some scratches he’d gotten whenever he went out hunting with his father.
And both of them, were gone. Told him to be brave, and sent him on his way.
He was silent for a moment, the six year old looking for the right words to say (and god, he was only six, and he had already lost his family). He was so grateful that the lady who didn’t even know his name until minutes earlier had decided to save him from the bad people.
She was one of the good people, in this world. His father had told him all about the good and bad people, and that there were more bad people than good, so he needed to be one of the good ones.
“Thank you,” he shuffled his feet on the couch, testing out the brace with a quizzical face. He pressed it in to the mattress, seeing how long he could put pressure on it until the pain became unbearable.
Eda didn’t like that.
“Let’s not do that, kid,” she laughed, pulling his legs off the couch until he was in a sitting position. Hunter’s feet didn’t even touch the ground, only two inches away from the floor. “Try it out, huh? Maybe I’m a healing genius,”
Hunter nodded, hesitantly and carefully putting his braced ankle on to the hardwood floor. Hooty hovered beside him, just in case he needed a crutch to lean on.
It felt.. fine. It certainly wasn’t the best and he would probably feel the pain if he walked around too much on it, but the pain wasn’t as sharp as he feared it would be.
He turned around, flashing Eda a toothy grin (as toothy as one with a tooth gap could give), and leaned on to the feathery owl momentarily before pushing off on his own.
Eda clapped her hands together and stood up, flashing her own toothy grin right back down to the blonde boy. “I guess I am a healing genius! Maybe I could start a business, make some extra snails on the side,”
Hunter giggled, his ears flicking with amusement as he bounded towards his Sprig plushy, picking it up and hugging it to his chest again. The brace squeaked it’s protest from the sharp movement, but he didn’t pay much attention to it.
Dancing the plushy around whilst Eda slipped away in to the kitchen, he backed in to the coffee table, his back aching momentarily from the contact. Hunter fell backwards, landing square on to the table, feet sticking up and plushy still in hand.
Babbling nonsense about golden knights and honour, he rolled off of the wooden table and on to the carpet. It was only then that he remembered the fire in front of him.
Smoke sifted through his nostrils as he focused more on his surroundings, the boy turning to look at the crackling flame with a stare that made him look beyond his years.
A look so weathered that it felt wrong for a six year old to be wearing, a face so sorely hurt that it could not be repaired in the way Eda had tried to heal his ankle.
He neared the flame, his heart beating out of his chest like a rabbit — a rabbit that he and his father had once chased after on the moors — and the reality of his situation hit him harder than the bad man had punched his gut.
One, he was alone. No family, and staying in a stranger’s house. His father had told him never to talk to strangers, and he did just the opposite of that. It didn’t matter if they were kind strangers, they were just strangers and his father had forbid fraternizing with people who could potentially hurt him.
Two, his parents had told him to go to Bonesborough if they didn’t show up at the cave. And now it was confirmed that they would never show up, he still was not in Bonesborough.
And three, his village had been burned to the ground, and all of the residents inside of it were most likely gone or in hiding. Gone like his parents were.
Death had always been a hard concept for the six year old to grasp, but now he finally understood why people dreaded it so much.
Because it was goodbye. Forever.
He hadn’t noticed how close he’d gotten to the flame until the owl worm pulled him away by his shirt, saying something incomprehensible through the fabric.
Hunter plopped down on to the floor, reaching for his Sprig plushy again. When he couldn’t find it on his own, Hooty seemed to understand what he was looking for and placed Sprig in his lap.
His fingers ran over the fabric, soothing himself and clearing the panic from his mind whenever he dared to glance at the flames and the smoke lifting off of them.
“Hooty?” He broke the silence between the two, watching as the owl worm (uncharacteristically silent) addressed him with a glance. “Do you have a mama and a papa?”
There was a moment of pondering silence, until the owl worm shook his head. “I don’t think so. But that’s what makes this place so great! Family is where home is!”
The words had the opposite effect of cheering up, instead digging the knife further in to the boy’s heart. But what if home and the family was gone? What then?
“Where is home?” He mumbled, not expecting the owl to respond, but surprisingly, he did.
“Wherever you want it to be.”
The boy yawned as the sun began to set, the ball of flames resting its head on the cliffs and hills. Light clouds floated in the dusk, a little wind blowing through the trees and shaking the branches gently.
He crawled back to the couch, pulling himself up and on to the mattress. Hooty had already fetched him a pillow and blanket, even though he hadn’t requested it.
Eda had been drinking a bottle of golden fluid mixed with her apple blood (a drink that his mother had always told him that was only for adults), and had come to wish him goodnight ages ago.
Hooty, however, had elected to stay up with him. The strange owl worm had grown quite attached to him, even though he’d only been there for a couple of days.
The strange owl seemed to be the only creature that he felt the most comfortable around. Eda was always awkward around him, unsure how to act, but Hooty was never guarded. He always said what he wanted to say, even though it made him look like a weirdo.
And that’s what he admired about him. Casting a fond smile at the owl, he looked down at the woollen blanket over him. “Hooty?”
“Hoot?” The owl responded.
“Can this be home?”
There was a pause before the owl spoke again.
“If you want it to be. I will always let you through the door,”
Seemingly satisfied with the response, Hooty watched as the boy slowly began to drift off to sleep. He cooed softly, before returning to his spot on the door for the night.
And for a moment, all was well with the world.
The streets of Bonesborough were bustling, filled to the brim with irritated city-folk, just trying to get through the day without confrontation with the bad men that were posted around town.
Eda had explained to him that he had to fit in with the other people while he was around them, or else he would be taken away to a very bad place that he wouldn’t be able to escape from by himself.
Luckily, that seemed to be enough motivation for himself not to get taken away. Eda had knitted him a small brown cloak, with a hood that he could put over his head.
“Are we bad?” He had asked Eda, a frown upon his face when he had discovered the owl lady’s first bounty poster.
“No,” the auburn-haired woman had responded. “We’re just people with so much creativity that the world is afraid of us.”
It had been a week and a half since the woman had saved him from the bad men and the reaching flames and Eda had been nothing but kind and generous to him. Human items had apparently sold for a lot on the market, so it was no trouble getting extra food.
Two days after meeting the residents of the owl house, he had shared to them his parent’s final wish; to go to Bonesborough. He had no idea what for, or what was laying there for him, but all he knew was that he had to go.
For his family, and even though they were gone, he would still do anything for them.
Eda’s hand gripped his wrist firmly as she guided them through the crowds of people, making sure that Hunter didn’t get trampled or injured by the passerby’s.
Arriving at a fountain, the two sat down and took a moment to catch their breath.
“It’s not usually that busy,” The owl lady huffed, watching the crowds and crowds of city-folk push and shoulder through. “Wonder what’s happening today. Oh well! Takes the attention off of us, anyways.”
Hunter nodded, fiddling with a loose thread on the bottom of the cloak. “Mama always talked about an escape plan if anything bad were to happen to us. She said to come to Bonesborough and to the abandoned mineshaft on the outside of town.”
Eda nodded along, letting the boy stand up and guide her. He seemed pretty well-spoken for his age, at least, the most well-spoken a six year old could get.
The pair slipped in to an alleyway away from the crowds. There were stray animals running through the alley, all mangy and clearly starved. Hunter’s heart reached out to them.
There were a few rough-looking individuals that Eda had guarded him from as they walked, keeping an eye on those who dared to stray two close for comfort.
Soon, they opened on to a bigger and less-populated road. Sure, it still had plenty of folks walking through, but there weren’t as many crowds to disturb them from their mission.
Merchants lined up on the road, hounding any passerby to check out their goods. Their stores were brightly coloured, purposefully flashy so that they were almost impossible to miss.
“Step right up, step right up!” A voice had reached his ears, loud and ear-piercing. Each seller’s voices mixed together until it was just a loud mess.
“-have you seen this woman? She may be seen with a kid, blonde, magenta eyes?” His sensitive ears caught, and he turned to look for the source. Only a few shops in front of him were the bad men, holding a piece of paper he could only assume was a bounty poster.
The merchant shook her head, luckily. He pulled the hood of his cloak a little bit further over his head. Turning to Eda, who was still shouldering her way by, he tugged her dress purposefully.
“Bad men,” he pointed at the patrol with a small finger. The owl lady followed where he was pointing, and her eyes narrowed. She grabbed his wrist and quickly tugged him in to another alleyway, whilst the patrol passed them by.
As soon as they were gone, the two slumped to the alley’s grimy floor. “Nice eye, kid.”
He beamed at the praise, his hood slipping off of his head and falling on to his back. “Papa always told me to keep my eyes and ears sharp, all the time. He’d take me on his hunting trips all the time and told me to track the animal myself,”
“I’d always asked why papa couldn’t just light the tracks with a spell like I’d seen all of the other hunters do. He never said anything, just told me he’d explain when I’m older,” Hunter sighed, shuffling his boots in the dirt and concrete.
Eda’s face held a complicated expression that he couldn’t understand — maybe suspicion? — and he decided that it was better to keep moving before the sun slept under the mountains.
He put his brown hood back on, grabbing the silent woman’s dress and pulling her further in to the alleyway. It was safer to travel here (probably), especially with all of the patrols walking around.
Moving was much better than confronting his grief.
Dusk had set by the time they had hiked up to the abandoned mineshaft, his shoes dirty and dusty from the trek. Eda was behind him, carrying a small coin purse of snails that she had pickpocketed from a man who had attempted to steal the boy’s cloak.
Needless to say, neither of them were guilty for stealing his snails. He was an asshole and deserved it.
As the two hovered around the mouth of the mineshaft, they peered in to what looked like to be a hall of darkness. The rocks were jagged on the walls, from what they could see, and it even looked claustrophobic.
“This is how horror movies start,” Eda fretted, a nervous smile on her face that meant that she was only half joking. “The pair wander in to an abandoned mineshaft and get eaten by a monster.”
“Papa said monsters are mistreated and that’s why they’re seen as bad,” he said matter-of-factly, putting on a brave face and marching straight in to the cavern. “Come on!”
He took five more steps before Eda called him to wait. He turned around to see Owlbert’s eyes glowing a bright yellow, lighting up the surrounding area.
“Stay behind me, kid. We don’t know what’s in here,” she whispered, stepping in front of him before he could respond.
“I’m brave, you know,” he said, crossing his arms and looking up at her. Eda offered a small smile, meeting his amethyst eyes with her golden ones.
“I know you are. Braver than me, of course. A little bit reckless though,” She laughed at the offended gasp that she’d pulled out of the young boy, leading them further and further in to the mineshaft.
The pair slipped in to a comfortable silence, looking around for any threats, behind and in front of them. Hunter even looked up, because his father had taught him that threats could come from above too.
It was eerily silent, and a heavy feeling fell over his heart like a weighted blanket; it felt like something big was going to happen, and soon.
Eda didn’t seem to sense it, but he certainly did. He could hear his heart pounding lightly in his chest, anticipating something to appear.
The long hallway opened up in to a large cavern, with crates and barrels scattered all over the place.
“Everything seems looted here,” Eda observed, looking at the opened and shattered barrels. There was wood scattered all over the place, and some minerals on the walls glowed in the light of her staff. “You sure this is the place, kid?”
“It has to be,” he responded quickly, too quickly. He could not afford to be wrong about this, not when it was his family’s final wish. “It has to be.”
The owl lady fell silent, and even without her saying anything, he could tell that she was disbelieving. It didn’t matter. He knew this was the place.
After snooping around some more, he stumbled across a desk — literally, stumbling in to the desk leg. The rotting wood bent upon impact, the corner of it hitting his head and nearly falling on top of him.
Luckily, he rolled out of the way before it could have crushed him. His head pulsed with pain and he winced at the dull feeling, resting it on the cool stone for a few moments.
Eda rushed over, helping the small boy up and assessing the damage on his head. She let out an exasperated sigh of relief, glancing down at a book that had slipped off the desk.
Whilst Hunter was recovering, she reached down to grasp the leather book. Blowing the dust off of it, the woman tilted her head as she could just barely make out the woods scribbled at the front.
Powerless Witches & Artificial Magic.
A note slipped out from the bottom as she opened the book, falling right to where Hunter was standing. The boy snatched it from the air, opening it carefully.
We are so sorry we were unable to tell you sooner. We wished we could have more time, but if you are reading this, our time has been cut short.
Now, it is time for you to know the truth. We are powerless witches. I don’t know how, but we cannot perform magic alone.
My brother has been dabbling in artificial magic. I don’t expect you to understand now. It is a lot to process and understand.
I left this book here in hopes for you to learn. My brother and I will continue research, and explore wild magic.
He couldn’t quite understand a few words, but the point carried across well. He couldn’t perform magic.
It made sense, but he wished it didn’t. How would he be able to move on in a world like this, where witches only survived through magic? How would he be able to make a name for himself?
A comforting hand rested on his shoulder. His eyebrows furrowed, and he shoved the note in to her hands. A deep anger coiled up inside of him, letting loose all at once.
“How could they not tell me?” He hissed out, his tone bitter. Tears pricked his eyes, rolling down in slow lines as he angrily wiped them away. “Now they’re gone, and I have to deal with it alone!”
It was every child’s dream to be a witch, and that was stripped away from him. Unattainable, magic only able to be made artificially, and even in his young age, he knew it would never be enough.
Everyone would see him as a fraud, with or without artificial magic.
He knew how to survive off the land, but with the land he survived on scorched to hell, he had no idea how he would be able to live.
“Kid, look at me.” He obliged, meeting the woman’s gaze with his teary-eyed one. She kneeled down until they were on level ground.
“You don’t have to deal with anything alone, you hear me?” She said firmly. “You’re six years old. We’re going to deal with this together.”
A thumb came up to brush the tears off of his cheeks. He sniffled, silent for a moment, until he opened his mouth to reply.
“Promise you won’t leave me alone?”
Eda’s gaze was as strong, and it reminded him of the golden rays of the sun.
The sad thing about the sun’s golden rays, is that they do not last forever.
The moon rose above the mountains as Eda sat atop the roof, sipping a cup of apple blood. Hunter was laying on the ground by Hooty, blabbing away about magic. He was rereading the book for the second time, occasionally asking the owl worm what a certain word meant.
It had been a two months since they had discovered the boy was powerless, and Hunter had been working hard to prove that he was useful since.
Eda smiled fondly down at the two who were chatting away. Hunter fit right in with Hooty; well, less in the weirdo sense and more in the fact that neither of them could shut up once they started talking.
It was endearing, but god, to comprehend a conversation with the boy she needed to be well through her third bottle of apple blood. And with both of them? At least five.
She whistled for Owlbert, who obediently flew over in his staff position. The auburn-haired woman landed gently on to the grass below, right behind the six year old and the owl worm.
“It’s getting late. It’s time for all good witches to go to bed,” she pulled the boy away from the book, chuckling at how he groaned in protest and made grabby hands. “If you don’t go to sleep right now, I’ll steal Sprig and hide him in the house where you’ll never find him,”
Hunter gasped, halting in his complaining and instead letting the witch carry him in to the house and up the stairs. He was placed down on his own bed that he’d gotten since Eda had promised that he would not be alone.
She leaned down to tuck him in the sheets, fluffing up his pillow at the sides and turning to put the lamp out on his bedside table. Eda didn’t know one damn thing about raising a child, but by the way the kid was smiling, she must’ve been doing something right.
“Night, Hunter,” she said with a hushed voice, pushing the Sprig plushy in to his chest. He hugged it tightly, mumbling something to it before shutting his amethyst eyes.
A familiar voice shrieked from outside, through the open window of the boy’s room. It startled the boy out of his sheets so bad that he almost tumbled to the floor.
Instead, he stared at Eda with a confused and half-asleep expression. It mirrored her own.
“Edalyn, come outside, now!” The same familiar voice.
She jolted out of the door, pausing at it before calling over her shoulder. “Stay here.”
Almost tripping down the stairs, she called her staff, opening the front door in haste. As soon as she stepped out, she was met with Lilith, and the Emperor’s foot soldiers all poised and ready.
She eyed each of them, keeping the unimpressed look on her face because she just knew how much that got under her sister’s skin.
“So, did you bring an army or a circus?” Sarcasm dripped from her tone, and she burst out laughing when she saw her sister narrow her eyes and an embarrassed shade of red spread across her face.
Lilith kept her regal stature though, looking down at Eda like she was lesser — the way that she had always looked down on her the moment she joined the Emperor’s Coven.
“Why are you so resistant to help?” Lilith questioned, visibly exasperated. She had danced this tango many times before, but still refused to give up. Her persistence was admirable.
“The Emperor is lying to you. What’s so wrong with wild magic?”
“It’s dangerous and uncontrollable. It hurts anything and everything around it — you’ve experienced it yourself! Or need I remind you of your curse?”
“The only thing dangerous and uncontrollable is-“
A small voice intervened, the pair of witches looking down to see the source. Hunter watched the strangers with a curious gaze, his Sprig plushy held limply in his grip.
Eda looked down at the boy with a stern look. “I told you to stay inside,”
“I didn’t want to,” he responded simply, pointing at the blue-haired witch. “Who’s that?”
Lilith’s eyes flicked between the two, her expression becoming quickly impatient and irritated.
“Her name is Lilith. Between you and me, she’s a real piece of work,” she said loud enough that it was impossible that she didn’t want Lilith not to hear. “Did I say that out loud?”
“Enough!” The coven head declared, stamping her staff down in emphasis. It didn’t do much to control the pair, but it caught their attention. “I am not leaving here without you. Edalyn, this is your final chance to come with me — and be pardoned for all of your crimes.”
“How about I clear you all off of my property-” Her staff glowed a bright yellow. “-and I put this little rascal to bed?”
Lilith fixed a hard look on the woman, her ears flicking with irritation. “Fine then. I will entertain your childishness.”
And with that, the forest ignited in to a mix of yellows and blues, opposing sides fighting each other like their life depended on it. In a way, it did, because Eda didn’t seem to be holding back on her attacks.
The boy was hiding behind a rock, his book held in his hand. Eda had trained him in a situation like this; he had to go and hide behind whatever he could find, and wait it out. Luckily, he had some entertainment whilst he was doing so.
He happily traced his hands over the paragraphs as he read, the scent of the old and worn paper delighting him.
Until a shield of blue trapped him, lifting him in the air and pulling him straight towards the strange woman that had been speaking with Eda. He banged on the sphere like a caged animal.
Hooty had participated in the fight, crushing most of the opposing side easily until Lilith was all that remained. Eda looked weathered, and the witch holding him captive seemed to lose all of her elegance in the fight.
“Let him go, Lilith! He’s just a boy,” she pleaded, and her pendant seemed to be bubbling with a strange black goo.
“If this is the only way to get you to follow me, then so be it,” she yelled back, before using her staff to fly away, the boy still trapped in the bubble.
He kicked and screamed and yelled, but it didn’t seem like anything could break through the shield.
Hunter could only watch the beaten-down witch’s face get smaller and smaller as he drifted towards the unknown.
Days turned in to weeks, and weeks turned in to months, which then ended up turning in to a whole year until the bad people had let him go. He was held at an outpost far away from Bonesborough.
The worst part about it, was that there was no sign of Eda and no talk about her either.
Which meant that he had been abandoned. Again.
The woman who had told him that she would never leave him had lied, because if she had left him for a whole year, she didn’t truly care about him.
That’s what the guards had said day after day when they were keeping an eye on him, that she didn’t care about him. He was too stubborn to see that it was the truth.
And now, since they didn’t need him anymore, he was alone in the world at the age of seven. Basically, a death sentence for a child his age.
But his parents didn’t raise a kid who gave up, no. They would want him to keep going, no matter what. Even if they weren’t here anymore and couldn’t physically help him.
So he stood up, watching the tree line and carrying his Sprig plushy and book.
And walked forward in a world that was less than kind to him.