Part 8 – The Star Witch Awakens
Freya let the Star Witch’s words wash over her. The Star Witch. The actual Star Witch. She remembered the tales her mother used to tell her before bed. Tales of a foul and hideous hag who used to boil bad children into soup and make the crops go bad. Could she, Freya, the blacksmith’s daughter really loose the Star Witch on the world? But the Star Witch knew things. She knew about the runes, she knew about Jala, she said she could help them. Freya wasn’t a medicine woman or a shaman or anything. She still had niggling worries about Jala. Was the moss really going to help? Would she be okay? They’d only known each other for about a week but Jala had already done so much for her. For Jala, it was worth the risk.
“Fine, I’ll let you out.” Said Freya. The Star Witch smiled. “But only if you promise you’re not going to do anything evil.”
“I do not do evil little girl.” The Star Witch replied coldly.
“Promise!” Freya said in the most commanding voice she muster. The Star Witch sighed.
“I promise not to do anything evil. Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” The Star Witch said wearily. “Satisfied?”
“It’ll do.” Said Freya crossing her arms and trying to look all stern and grown up.
“Now if you’d be so kind…” The Star Witch muttered impatiently, her head slowly turned, keeping her single solitary eye of fiery blue locked on Freya as she circled the box, looking for the best place to open it. There was anticipation in that cold stare.
Freya knelt at the edge of the strange and arcane box, braced her hands against the lid and began to push. At first nothing happened. The lid didn’t budge an inch, so she pushed harder. That was when the runes started to glow with the same blue light that seemed to permeate everything in the cave. The harder Freya pushed the brighter they became. She pushed with all the strength she possessed and the rune-light swelled to an eye-searing intensity. Then, suddenly, the runes winked out, their light gone and along with it, any trace of the runes themselves. Freya sat back, a look of abject confusion writ large over her young face. Her hands felt cold and gritty, like they were coated in a powdering of fresh snow. Before her eyes the box containing the Star Witch started to dissolve. The thick plates of icy glass turning to a fine snowy mist that was scattered away by a breeze which almost wasn’t even there. And then the box was no more. All that remained was the prone form of the Star Witch, though she did not remain prone for long. Almost as soon as the box had vanished her body began to rise as if on strings before pivoting upward until she stood, proud and tall on the table’s top. Her pale, greyish skin steamed in the cold air as it slowly warming into a blush of life. The flesh on her limbs grew thicker, her cheeks filled out and the gauntness of her deathless sleep left her face. She was no longer a desiccated husk. She looked like a living breathing thing. The phantom breeze that had blown away the box began to surge and storm, whipping and tearing at the fabric of her dress.
The Star Witch gazed down at Freya and smiled. But this was not the same smile she had given while she had been in the box, all full of predatory hunger. This smile was different. It was serene and genteel. The Star Witch raised her hand.
“I think it’s time we went outside, don’t you?” she asked.
Her palm flared with light and then room filled with the sound of thunder and shattering glass.
Freya felt dizzy. Really dizzy. And her vision seemed all fuzzy and unclear. Slowly it came back, as if the world were coalescing around her. She found herself sprawled on the ground near where she had hidden Jala. She sat up and coughed, rubbing at her eyes and trying to work out what had just happened. The Star Witch stood hunched over Jala’s still sleeping form. She was muttering. Freya couldn’t hear all of what she was saying, but she caught snippets of chuckling “Moss. Ha! Never underestimate the power of moss”
“Is she going to be alright?” Asked Freya
“She will been fine.” The Star Witch replied “Eventually. But events have begun to move quickly. I can ill afford such a wait.”
The Star Witch passed her hand over Jala’s wounds, a gentle blue light emanating from her gnarled finger tips. The wounds closed and the flesh knitted together leaving only thin silver traces of the letters F and U. Jala began to stir and opened her eyes.
“I suspect you both have many questions.” Said the Star Witch, smoothing down her dress and sitting herself down, cross-legged on the ground.
“Who are you?” asked Jala sleepily.
“In the old tongue they called me Krung Nak To” she said looking at Jala’s uncomprehending face “The Star Witch. But you can call me Kru if you like.”
Jala stiffened slightly and her hand crept towards her sword. This jolted Marek from his stoaty sleep and he dashed over to Freya, hiding behind her legs.
“Oh simmer down. I mean you no harm. My reputation has been somewhat tarnished by the passage of the years. Heavens knows that the common folk simply cannot abide a woman of power, so the small-minded fools paint me as a banshee, a harbinger of doom and a general all-purpose bogeyman.”
“Freya…” Jala said, turning towards the young girl. “What’s going on?”
“I found her in a cave beneath the fountain.” She began “She said she’d help us if I let her out of her weird ice-coffin and ended her slumber.”
Jala’s brow furrowed with suspicion.
“Why were you asleep?” she asked.
“I am not as young as I once was” Kru sighed “Nor will I live forever. Things were quiet and my enemies vanquished. There were no more battles left to fight. I could have settled down to a quiet life and waited for death. Stars knows I was tempted. But instead I chose to sleep. Until the day came when I was needed again. When once more there were monsters to fight and dark forces to purge.”
“Why didn’t you get the Whore to wake you?” Jala asked.
“The inheritors of Ingunna have fallen from his lofty ideals of honour.” Began Kru “I would have been weak upon my awakening, and the Whores of this day and age are wicked and dark creatures. He could not have been trusted. So I did not permit him entry into my lair.”
“Tell me about the runes!” Interpreted Freya “You promised!”
“Yes. Yes I did” replied the Star Witch. “As you are aware the runes on the gates of your humble town were carved by your great-great-grandfather. What you do not truly know, is why. Your distant grandsire was a dear friend of mine, perhaps the dearest friend I have ever known. We travelled far and wide in our day, fighting many a great evil. It pained me to part from him, but he understood my reasonings. He knew that when I finally awoke he would be long dead and that there was the risk that the knowledge of my lair could be lost over time. That there would be no one left to wake me when evil’s cloak finally came and shrouded the land once more.” She paused, a sad and wistful look in her only eye.
“So he caved the runes upon the gates of your little town. They were to point the way. So that I could be awoken to fight whatever foe had reared its head.”
“But what about the Waterfall of Fire?” asked Freya “Why did the little wood lady mention that place if you were here?”
The Star Witch smiled knowingly.
“My lair is everywhere and nowhere, its true location a secret I have told no one. But…” she raised a finger, punctuating both her words and the air. “There are many entrances to it. If you know where to look that is.”
“Why the table with bones in it?” Freya asked, her curiosity bubbling straight out of her mouth.
“My, my. You’re just full of questions aren’t you?” Kru smiled again “It was a prize from the horde of some frost giants I slew long ago. I thought it pretty and amusing, in a macabre sort of way.”
Marek slowly edged out from behind Freya’s legs and towards the Star Witch and sniffed at the hem of her dress. Kru reached a gnarled and withered hand and gently scratched him behind the ear.
“But enough questions for now. It is only fitting a hero should receive some kind of reward for their labours: a mighty foe vanquished; a sleeping damsel rescued from her slumber.” She smiled again, her teeth sitting like tombstones in the ruined graveyard of her mouth.
“But what to give you?” She tapped at her chin in thought.
The Star Witch stood and ambled over to where Freya’s big wooden stick lay on the ground, the one she had used to save Jala. Kru picked it up and cast her baleful blue eye over it.
“Yes” she drawled as she picked up the stout wooden branch “This will do nicely.”
The air grew at first chill and then cold. A thin hoarfrost began to form on the surface of the branch. Soon it blossomed into a whole forest of jagged ice crystal. Through the field of frost Freya could see the wood began to darken from its natural brownish white. As the ice grew and thickened so did the wood darken until it was the colour of the blackest, darkest night, leaving the ice looking like shards of obsidian. The Star Witch pursed her lips and blew onto the staff. The ice flaked away, vanishing in flares of white fire. When the last shard of ice was gone what remained was a length of wood which looked like a living window into the night sky, complete with pinprick twinkles of cold starlight.
“This, young Freya, will serve you much better.” Said Kru, handing the stick to Freya.
“What does it do?” asked an awestruck Freya.
The Star Witch merely smiled
“You’ll see” she said and turned towards Jala.
“But what can I offer a brave and mighty barbarian of the distant north?” Kru let the question hang in the air. “What do you want Jala?”
Jala bit her lip and thought. What did she want? What did she really, really want? There was really only one answer to that sort of question.
“I want to find my destiny” Jala replied sternly
The Star Witch folded her arms in front of her and looked Jala up and down. Her eye weighed Jala, judged her, appraised her.
“Are you willing to trust me?” she asked.
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