Caira ~ Fantasy Short Story

In the early days of the untamed lands to the north, spirits roamed to and fro as they wished, untouched by man or beast.  Magical forces, more primal, more raw, flowed through the veins of beings so ancient even they have forgotten their true name.  Among these creatures were the witches, ancient magic casters of trickery and deception that explored as they would from the highest peak to the lowest forest.

Few could match these witches in power or cunning, any who opposed them found themselves the witches dinner, or worse.  The witches could draw the very life essences out of living beings and make their power their own.  This power was a blessing and a curse to the witches.  The blessing was that it made the witches have access to nearly limited life force and live forever as long as sources of life could be found.  However there was nothing to stop the witches from feeding on each other and in each witch the others could smell the power within, waiting to be consumed.

To keep the witches from fighting each other they mostly stayed apart.  They divided the lands between them as territories, the cost of crossing into another witches territory meant certain death.  For thousands of years the witches ruled their lands, causing screams in the night and the shadows to grow toward the sun.  As the witches lives were not finite, their rule turned out to be.  Whereas once weak, man grew bolder, they grew smarter, they grew stronger.  It was only a matter of time until early man with steel learned about the witches intentions, and then only time until they figured out how to kill one.

The great hunt began, and what were once primordial hunters became the prey.  Men grew good at killing witches and soon there were very few left.  The remaining witches knew better then to engage in open combat with foes that greatly outnumbered them.  The witches powers were finely tuned for deception so that is what they did, they hid.  Far from the light and far from the fire and blades that meant their doom.  Many taking refuge in the darker. Older places, the ancient swamps, mountains, and forests.

One such witch, Rieda, one of the younger of the order took refuge in a rocky mountain area of tall redwoods and sharp peaks.  Having a run in with one of the hunters she had troublesome wounds and a confrontation with any might prove her end.  She had intended to take up residence in the tunnels she knew to be in the mountains, but as her loss of blood and life energy grew she became too weak.  She eventually collapsed in a small mining village near her caves.  Shifting her body from her natural primal long limbed form to look more human all she could do before loosing consciousness.

As delirious nightmares of hunters and oblivion plagued her rest she feared that she may wake under attack, or worse not awake at all.  However after nearly a week of unconsciousness, Reida awoke not in peril, but in safety.  She was in a small cabin, in a bed, her wounds dressed and people around looking over her.   She was of course in shock, she had never been so close to humans other than to feed on their life force or at the end of their blades.

The village was called Caira and though they had been going through tough times they were friendly and were united when adversity came.  They thought Reida a wandering sage in need, and without thinking or deliberating they took her in and helped her.  They had a healer in theirvillage, a young man who had learned the craft from his grandfather and was pressed to service when he passed.  He had shared his life force with her and given her enough energy to survive in her time of danger.

Happy for their help, but still cautious, Reida stayed with them for awhile.  She found that she could drain little amounts of the townspeople's life force without them knowing, and amounts they could easily replace.  Reida was not used to the kindness the people offered her, they saw not a monster but a person who they were curious about.

The town had lost their apothecary, and their healer could only do so much himself.  Reida and her people were of the first to use the plants and chemicals to their own desires so she offered to help out.  Within weeks she was curing fevers and maladies and teaching the villagers long lost arts of natural healing.

Though the suspicious part of Reida still feared and wanted to flee to the mountain, something about her new place with the people, felt right.  They had accepted her as one of their own, and despite all reasons she should not, she was beginning to feel as part of them.  Months went by, a season changed, Reida was starting to feel less a witch and almost a human.  She began to feel as she had found a paradise and for the first time in a thousand years was thinking to a positive future.

However with most paradises there are those who covet and seek to ruin it.  The ore that came from the mining grew valuable and the place grew desirable.  A small group of bandits arrived one morning.  They did not negotiate, they did not barter.  The bandits simply told everyone to leave their homes and abandon the town.  They would return in exactly a week and any found still residing in the village would be promptly cut down.  They then left as sudden as they came, knowing their threat would speak much more than their presence.

As many began to pack and the leaders of the village debated, Reida came forward.  Normally such things would cause a witch to run but Reida decided that was something she had grown tired of.  She told the town that they had taken her in, they had protected her without question...and she would do the same.  She told everyone to stop packing, stop preparing to run.  When the bandits came they would stay in their homes with the windows closed and doors locked.  She would stop them.

When the bandits returned they expected an empty village or some sort of resistance.  When the nearly thirty bandits rode into the town what they found was nothing they could have predicted.  Waiting for them in the centre of the town was a single woman, standing, waiting.  The bandits laughed and challenged, ordering Reida to step aside, but she just stood there laughing to herself.

As the bandits rode toward her the laughing grew to a cackle, her body elongating, her skin growing pale and he fingers growing to claws.  The first few bandits never knew what hit them, being plucked from the backs of their very horses and torn to ribbons.  Reida drank heavily of their life forces, making herself stronger as she went to do battle with the others.

Though the bandits wore swords and armour they were no hunters.  Reida used her experience to overpower their weapons and cut deep into their ranks.  She cast clouds of mist and danced between them, causing the entire bandit unit to grow into confusion.   Soon where thirty rode defiantly there were now only twelve.  Reida stared and watched the survivors, standing over a pile of their kin with a look of determination on her black overlarge eyes.

Terror overtook the remaining bandits and they fled, they would never return and the very thought of this day would haunt them until they grew old and infirm.  Reida retook her human form but prepared to leave the village to the tunnels in the mountain she had originally intended.  The villagers came out, one by one and asked her to stay. She told them what she was, she told them she was not one of them, she never was.

She had long worried her secret would drive those she saw as friends to turn on her but now that they knew it none did.  They insisted that being one of them wasn't what she was it was what she did.  She repayed their kindness with knowledge and their protection in time of her need with hers in theirs.  They asked her to stay and Reida accepted, the sense of belonging a thing she thought she never could feel.

Weeks later a hunter showed up to the village.  He had heard that a witch had routed a group of bandits had encountered a witch.  The town elders explained that they had pretended there was one in order to hide their defence of the village.  They laughed that their tactics had actually drawn a real witch hunter.  They then told the witch hunter to restock as he needed but to be gone.  Though they most defiantly had no witch they would allow no one to harass or investigate any member of their town.

The witch hunter did soon leave and Reida remained in that town.  As those who knew her grew old and passed others grew to know her.  Other bandits came, other threats happened, Reida was always there.

Witch no more, now the secret protector of Caira.

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