A guide for young wytche.., p.6
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       A Guide for Young Wytches, p.6

           Jon Jacks
 
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  And whatever fear I’d felt before seems like nothing compared to the horror, the dread, that suddenly floods through me.

  Is this wise, entering the Castle of Demons?

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 21

  Wands of Hazel are for healing and to gain knowledge, wisdom and poetic inspiration.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  Even the English witch is scared of this castle?

  Why?

  Is she, or the demons she thinks lives in this castle, the ones responsible for Richard’s illness.

  Just as fear flooded through the English witch, all these thoughts and more rushed through me as I ran towards Richard’s room.

  I needed to ask him why his castle might be thought of, or perhaps is even called, the Castle of Demons.

  Perhaps his parent’s car crash hadn’t been an accident.

  Perhaps they had fallen victim either to the witch’s spells, or to the castle’s demonic occupants.

  I rushed into his bedroom without bothering to knock. But his bed was empty, the covers thrown back as if he had just about leapt out of bed.

  Not that he had the energy, of course, to leap out of bed. Last time I’d seen him, he had looked so ill I doubted he’d be capable of even slowly struggling out of bed.

  Either he’d had the most strikingly quick recovery the medical world has ever seen or – what was far more likely – he’d been helped to get out of bed and leave his room.

  Abruptly, there was an angry, almost violent fluttering of snow at the window.

  But it wasn’t the snow: it was the magpie.

  The magpie who always seems to turn up just before something incredibly weird happens.

  As he flew away, out into the still angrily swirling snow, I rushed over towards the window in the hope of watching where he was flying off to. All I could see at first was the ghostly whirls of the heavily falling snow. Then, at last, I caught a brief glimpse of the darker feathers of the magpie.

  He was heading through the snow towards the looming outer walls. Once he’d drawn nearer to them, he began to soar upwards, flying closely alongside the precipitously ascending stonework.

  To follow his soaring course, I had to lean closer against the glass of the windows: yet even then I couldn’t entirely track his route, for he soon vanished from my area of view.

  The high walls dominated everything around them.

  Even through the snow, they appeared massive, imposingly solid and impregnable. Amazingly, they appeared even more unbreachable than when you saw them from the outside, when first approaching the castle.

  If I hadn’t known for sure that it wasn’t the case, I could have sworn I was viewing a castle from outside its formidable walls. Anyone attacking such high-soaring yet totally bare walls would find it a nigh impossible task to climb them.

  It seemed an odd way to construct a castle; almost as if it had been turned inside out, like an item of clothing.

  Wasn’t a castle’s keep supposed to loom over its outside walls, rather than the other way round?

  That way, the keep’s defenders could also fire on anyone attacking the castle. While if the outer walls fell, those in the keep still retained the advantage of being able to fire down on the besiegers.

  Then there was the drawbridge: it hadn’t dropped down towards either me or the English witch as we’d approached the castle – it had dropped away from us. It had bridged the gap between the huge slabs of rocks by falling towards the castle.

  As if – as if it was something within the castle that had to be prevented from getting out.

  A flutter of darkness against the snow caught my eye.

  It was the magpie: he’d returned, or at least come back into my view, swooping down towards the snow covered courtyard. This time, I watched him drop through the falling snow, dropping lower.

  He curled gracefully over the ground – leading my gaze (perhaps deliberately) towards a square of darkness centred within the otherwise pure white sheet of snow-strewn yard.

  It was like one of the dark squares I’d seen – and walked in – within the garden.

  There was a dark figure standing within the dark square’s own centre.

  The English witch.

  I felt sure it had to be her again, even though I couldn’t clearly make her out through the distorting effect of the spinning snow.

  Then the head of the dark figure tipped back, the face, the malicious grin, suddenly directed my way.

  It wasn’t the English witch.

  It was Richard.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 22

  If you require magical protection, swiftly draw a circle around yourself with a Hazel branch.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  I jumped away from the window so quickly that I almost fell back across the floor.

  I reached out for something to hold onto to stop myself from falling.

  My hand gratefully grasped at and finally gripped the edge of a set of drawers placed flush to the wall.

  As soon as I steadied myself and managed to get over my shock, I strode back towards the window. I glanced out once more across the snow covered courtyard.

  And yes, it was covered in snow. Completely covered in snow.

  There was no longer any black square of snow-free stone there. No longer any forebodingly dark Richard, grinning at me with what had seemed evil intent.

  Had I imagined it?

  Had it all been something similar to the flashbacks I’d been experiencing?

  But even if it had been a flashback, that would still mean Richard wasn’t the innocent character I’d taken him to be.

  Unless…unless it hadn’t been Richard I’d seen out there, but an ancestor of his.

  I glanced urgently about Richard’s bedroom. Was there something in here I could hold that might give me yet another flashback? This time, however, one that would give me an idea about his own history or experiences?

  My eyes lingered over his bed: his recently slept in bed.

  Could there be anything more likely to give you contact with a person other than their bed?

  The place where most people spent a great deal of their lives; the place where the subconscious reined supreme, dictating dreams, creating a whole new world of the imagination.

  And with Richard being ill, he’d spent even more of his time in that bed than most other people would have.

  Striding back towards the bed, I reached out towards the chaotically rippled sheets.

  There was a still a slight warmth there, still a remainder of his presence.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 23

   

  I can see Richard.

  Richard as he had been as the darkly dressed, maliciously grinning man I’d seen out in the courtyard.

  Unlike in the other flashbacks, however, I don’t feel that I am him: I’m not experiencing all this from his point of view.

  He’s too dark for me to achieve that.

  Dark as in absorbing all light; all goodness.

  Like the dark areas in the checkerboard-like garden. I realise now that those areas are similar to what I’m seeing now: they’re an absorption of all that is good from around them. Or, at best, an intrusion into a world where they’re no longer supposed to exist.

  So when I’d stepped into those areas, why hadn’t I sensed that soaking up of all that was good, all that was just?

  Why had I experienced instead just a sense of heat?

  Richard – or his ancestor, or whoever he really is – is deep in thought, it seems. His head is bowed slightly, his breathing hard. He’s not facing my way: he’s looking out beneath a furrowed brow, intently obser
ving something that lies directly ahead of him.

  He’s slightly leaning forward, slightly resting on the hilt of a large sword whose blade tip is dug into the earth by his feet. His black clothes are a mix of studded leather armour, cloak, and high boots.

  The snow is falling heavily. Strangely, Richard eyes it with an irritated grimace.

  I sense that he sees it as a danger, a curb on his power – an unwanted intrusion into his plans, a possible frustration to the achieving of his goals.

  And yet the snow obviously hasn’t been falling long, has probably only just started falling: the ground is clear of anything but the first smattering of a thin layer of flakes.

  The ground beneath my feet trembles. There’s the sound of thunder from far off behind me, yet growing louder remarkably swiftly.

  Richard whirls around; he starts, his eyes seemingly locking on me, even though I’m not there. Even though he can’t possibly see me.

  Even so, he launches himself at me, raising his sword to strike me down.

  I leap aside, my movement surprisingly fast, taking me by surprise.

  As I land and roll across the ground, glancing back towards Richard, it dawns on me that far from being alone we’re in the middle of a vast battle. It’s not a normal battle, though: it’s one in which everyone moves with surprising agility, at incredible speed.

  The thunder I’d heard was a massed onslaught of heavily armoured, mounted knights. Lances down, they’ve charged directly into the thick ranks of darkly armoured foot soldiers. These darker knights are dressed in many ways similarly to Richard, only with complete sets of viciously barbed armour.

  Richard isn’t bothering with me, if indeed it really had been me he’d leapt at in the first place.

  He’s throwing himself amongst the knights, whirling above their heads in gravity-defying gymnastic rolls.

  His sword whirls, slices, stabs.

  He uses a hand now and again as if attempting to cast out a spell, yet whatever he’s attempting to utilise is feeble in its effects. At best, he knocks a rider from his horse, yet more generally he only manages to cause a weapon to fly from someone’s grip.

  Despite everyone’s remarkable speed and agility, Richard’s skills are undoubtedly the most prodigious. Whereas many of his equally darkly-clad men are falling around him, he’s prevailing against what would be unfairly overwhelming odds for anyone else.

  Heads are sliced from necks, arms from shoulders, legs from hips.

  Bodies crumple to the ground, sometimes both mount and rider, tendons hacked, waists spouting blood.

  There are thousands of fiercely battling knights, their otherwise remarkable actions cramped by the lack of space to fight in. We’re situated on the peak of a mountain, itself one of many surrounding mountains.

  I recognise the scene. It’s the mountain that the castle will later be constructed upon. The mountain before the builders gouged out the stone for the castle’s walls from the peak itself, creating the deep, dry moat as they did so.

  The battling knights fortunately flow through me, unaware of my presence. I can wander around in safety, despite the ferocity of the merciless combatants.

  There’s a strange darkness to each of the black-clad knights, a deep, self-creating blackness that the English witch had also sensed as she’d stared out at the tank following on behind her car.

  There’s a heat rising from them too, a heat similar to that which I’d experienced when standing in one of the garden’s dark, snow free squares.

  These dark knights could be capable of great evil, I feel: and they would have the power to spread that evil too, if it wasn’t for the thickly falling snow.

  The snow is a spell, or at least part of a spell: a spell controlling or at least lessening the strength and potency of demonic powers.

  How do I know that?

  I don’t know.

  It’s a spell, too, that’s helping the knights fight the demons; giving them courage, resourcefulness. There's another spell as well, granting them the agility and speed they need to have any hope of defeating these dark creatures.

  ‘Witch!’

  The yell rings out from the midst of the battle.

  It comes from Richard, standing on the back of a horse whose rider he’s just effortlessly decapitated.

  And, once again, he bizarrely seems to be staring directly at me.

  I spin around to see whom his anger’s directed at. I can’t see anybody amongst the frantically warring knights who could be thought of as a witch.

  As I turn back to look at him, he points towards me accusingly.

  ‘You’re the cause of my weakness!’

  Rushing across the backs of a number of other horses, casually knifing or slicing with his sword at the mounted knights, he leaps towards me. His sword is raised in readiness to strike.

  Even though I’m tempted to ignore him – a part of me still clinging to the belief that he couldn’t possibly see me, that there’s no way he could harm me – I jump out of the way anyway.

  At the last point of his leap, he’s distracted and slightly unbalanced by an attacking knight. Thanks to this, I avoid the worst of his slicing sword. It merely skims my blouse – and yet the blade takes out a slice of material.

  He really can see me!

  He really can hurt me!

  He moves incredibly quickly.

  He gabs the back of my blouse even as I try and roll completely clear of him. He jerks me back towards him.

  With a violent twist of his arm, he throws me to the ground.

  Standing astride me, he raises his sword. He brings it swinging down towards my head with a triumphant cry of ‘Die witch!’

  I cover my face with my arms – as if that would spare me from his swiftly descending blade.

  Yet something stays his strike against me.

  There’s a flash of the brightest colours. An explosion of light I can see even through my shielding arms.

  Colours that rapidly merge, becoming purest white, the white of the swirling snow.

  Daring to lower my arms, I see that Richard has been frozen in mid strike.

  Yet his eyes are ablaze, with hatred, with fury.

  He’s struggling to regain control of his body, to bring the sword finally crashing down, to split my skull.

  The snow whirls through his dark body, the way snow whirls through the darkness of night.

  As if he’s no longer wholly there. As if he’s becoming a pure darkness.

  The flakes flutter, rush around in circles, in spirals.

  There are more and more of the flakes, the snowfall growing in intensity. In its solidity.

  And suddenly, Richard’s no longer there; it’s just the rapidly falling, chaotically swirling snow.

  A soft whiteness hovering above me rather than Richard’s hard darkness.

  With the heavy fall of snow, there also comes the fall of silence.

  The battle is over.

  The knights are exhausted.

  But they have won.

  Every demon has vanished.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 24

  Planting a Rose Within Your Mind: Part 1 of 7

  Just as you take a plant’s snipped branch and push it into a nutritious soil, you need a receptive mind in which your creation can be nurtured. Prepare your grounding well, by observing closely the rose you most admire.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  I blinked; and I was back in Richard’s room.

  But I was no longer by his bed.

  I was on the floor. Lying on my back.

  I nervously checked my blouse. A slice of material was missing from it.

  The backs of my arms were filthy. As if I’d been rolling around in a dirty field.

  It had all really happened.

  It hadn’t just been a flashback: something existing purely
in my mind.

  The castle had been built around that battle site; not to keep besiegers out – but to keep Richard and his demons inside!

   

   

  *

   

   

  The endlessly falling snow was obviously some kind of spell or charm that helped keep the demons prisoners here.

  But it could well be that that spell was wearing off – hence the resurgent patches of darkness that were reforming within the garden.

  The dark, demonic world was gradually coming back to life once more.

  But why wasn’t anyone here to stop it? Why had they built this huge castle to restrain the demons, only to abandon it?

  Perhaps, at one time, those looming, forbidding outer walls had been manned by a vast army. Ready at all times to fight any resurgent demons.

  A form of Knights Templar, a special order charged with constraining the dark forces.

  Maybe, like the Knights Templar, they were also disbanded, no longer seen as necessary.

  Perhaps, after a few hundred years of peace and little or no action, or signs of demonic presence, no one in authority believed anymore that there had ever really been an army of darkness, a horde that had had to be defeated in a ferocious battle.

  Does Richard only seem ill because his powers are still being sapped by the falling snow?

  Will he recover as more of the darkness reconquers more and more of the garden?

  And what of Lisa? Where does she fit into all this?

  Is she a demon too?

  And the castle’s staff?

  The servants and maids I’ve never seen?

  Are they a demonic staff?

  That would explain why I’ve never seen any of them at work.

  No matter what the answers are, no matter what the truth, I know one thing for certain – I have to get out of this castle!

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 25

  Wands of Hawthorn (May Tree or White Thorn) cleanse the heart of negativity and can be used for psychic protection, or stimulating love, forgiveness, good fortune and spiritual growth.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  I ran from the room, hoping for once that I wouldn’t come across anybody working in the hallways.

  Glancing towards the top of the tree, I was expecting the magpie to be perched there, cawing out a warning that I was preparing to flee.

  It was still bare, however, apart from the sky blue wassail ball, sparkling as it twirled in the lightest of draughts. Its twinkling light flickered across my face as I rushed along the landing, down the stairs.

  How do I get out of the castle?

  A castle specifically built to imprison demons?

  Hopefully, it’s the spells and charms that hold them captive, rather than just the physically constructed building.

 
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