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Nothing seemed out of the ordinary about Anabel until, for a split second, her mask of calm and assuredness dropped and revealed something else. She was edgy, cautious, and perhaps even afraid. Just then Anabel turned and their eyes met. Arabella saw all she needed to see. Positive of Anabel’s involvement in her father’s disappearance, the witch walked at a deliberate pace out of the sun and towards the darkness. As she embraced the town of shadows, she knew Anabel’s eyes were following her. A sinister moon sickle smile grew across Arabella’s face as she began fomenting a plan that could possibly destroy all of Midnight Castle
As the clock tower began tolling out the hour like an inspiring drum striking fear into the enemy, Anabel knew it was time to head home. Near the center of town stood a wishing well and Anabel felt in her purse for the many-sided coins she brought back from the Northern Islands. It was easy to discern the triangular coins even in the dark as she dropped a few into the well. She didn’t necessarily believe throwing coins into a hole would result in good luck, but why spit in the eye of fate?
Rounding the corner by the shadowbird’s tree to head towards home, Anabel passed a doghouse with a huge chimera bone hanging over the dog’s food bowl. Anabel rushed past it, loathe to make contact with the nefarious guard dog who could eat a bone deemed too tough for most dragons.
By the time Anabel reached the front door, the castle was quiet with only one small light illuminating the way. The hushed silence of sleep filled the air, but sleep was the last thing on her mind. Anabel rushed into the pantry to retrieve the specimen jar containing the butterfly-morphed Chamberlain, having long since moved it from the grandfather’s clock in her bedroom. The Knight could have accidentally come across it there and the pantry seemed a more prudent hiding place, since he never crossed its threshold.
She broke the salamander’s seal on the lid and peered into the jar. The once vibrant and magical aura of the butterfly was gone. Anabel remembered it appearing lifeless before, but had hoped the Chamberlain gave himself an “out” to his spell. But it was very apparent he didn’t and the poor butterfly wasn’t far from returning to the dust from whence it came.
Anabel couldn’t save the Chamberlain alone. With just the tiniest flicker of magic, it would have been possible. But this required a power much stronger than Anabel could muster. She obviously couldn’t ask Arabella for help, but there was another witch rumored to live beyond the forest edge, deep within the forest of shadows. Suddenly resolute in her decision, Anabel was keenly aware the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t. Going one-on-one with the Chamberlain was familiar, but Arabella frightened her. She felt the urgency to hurry, grabbed the jar and raced out the door.
Arabella was busy with the machinations of potion making and imbibing evil spirits. So filled with the thirst for revenge against Anabel, the witch yet again completely disregarded the rules of the Witches’ Council. She was bound and determined to exact punishment not only on Anabel, but everything Anabel loved, including her family and her castle. Part of it was the long seething hostility born out of the Knight’s dispassionate feelings towards her when they were married. And the other part, although to a lesser degree, was retribution for the Chamberlain.
Over on the witch’s stove sat the burning book of heinousness. This banned tome was once in the possession of the Chamberlain, but Arabella took possession of it when she turned her father into a pudgy, purple bat. Centuries’ worth of evil was contained in this book, the magnitude of which wasn’t even known.
Arabella touched the assassin’s pin high up on her neck and delighted in the casual way she’d been able to relieve Valeria of Chris Arwin’s gift. As if the meek Valeria could do justice to sporting such a pin. She was no assassin, despite the many hours of training at the hands of Chris. Being an assassin took more than physical strength and power, it took sturdiness of mind and spirit. Valeria’s nature didn’t allow for the kill or be killed approach; whereas Arabella had no such compunctions.
After an interminable amount of time walking through the shadowy forest, Anabel finally reached her destination. The hut of Morisa, the forest witch, came into view. It stood higher than the ground on tree trunk legs and was surrounded by flower of promise hedges protected by an enchanted scarecrow. It was rumored that by touching those flowers, the whispered promises from everyone around the world could be heard. Anabel leaned against one hut’s leg in a futile attempt to compose herself before knocking on the witch’s door.
She needn’t have bothered though, because the door swung open in an unmistakable declaration of her arrival. Timidly stepping through the door, Anabel felt oddly at peace. Her senses weren’t immediately assailed by any sights or smells that were known to permeate Arabella’s abode. Above the potion table against the far wall were tiny drawers with labels like golden claw, lion’s paw and twisted horn. A huge barrel with secrets was positioned next to the stove and, seemingly out of place, a small crystal raven hung over the window. On the wall above the huge fireplace was a picture of a cat playing chess, giving a little insight into the witch’s playful nature.
Morisa introduced herself to Anabel and Anabel felt immediately at ease. She relayed the entire story of the Chamberlain morphing into a butterfly, her trip to the Northern Islands to find a way to break his spell and the fear of Arabella’s fury. The witch listened intently then turned and began mixing a potion. She crushed one diamond tear from a beautiful fairy’s eye with a drop of flower heart essence to make a paste; then squeezed just enough tears that fell from the sky from the star girl’s eye to thin out the paste. Morisa chanted incantations unknown to Anabel, and inserted the precious fluid into an eyedropper. Anabel couldn’t imagine how a potion amounting to only a couple teardrops was powerful enough to do anything, but she knew better than to question Morisa.
Morisa opened the jar containing the all-but-dead Chamberlain and sprayed the potion gently around his wings. Anabel couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw a shimmering light begin undulating across the butterfly’s wings and down its body. There was life and Anabel was truly convinced of Morisa’s power.
It would take some time, but the Chamberlain was provided with the catalyst for his rebirth; it was all up to him now.
From the darkness, a small, waiflike creature emerged and introduced herself as Nala. Apparently, she was once apprentice to the High Mage of Frost but lacked the discipline to become a fully recognized mage. So Morisa agreed to help her with her spells in exchange for Nala assisting in unusual or complicated cases. Gently Nala turned Anabel’s hand over and began tracing something on her palm. Then she inserted a golden quill tip into the quill of forgotten secrets, dipped it into invisible ink and began drawing some secret mark onto Anabel’s palm. But when the job was finished, Anabel’s palm was blank. She looked from Nala to Morisa and back again, but Morisa just smiled.
Now that the Chamberlain was taken care of, there still remained the matter of Arabella. Anabel’s showdown with Arabella would require something extra. Once again, Morisa turned to her potion table and the stove. For the first time, Anabel noticed a star opal right in the upper middle of the witch’s stove, resembling an eye. Anabel had no idea what its significance was, but she wasn’t about to question anything. Morisa grabbed bottles of insidious orchid scent and shadow snake venom. Anabel had no experience with either ingredient but knew of legends surrounding both. The insidious orchid scent came from a hypnotic orchid said to lure the unaware into its deceptive embrace and the shadow snake venom was milked from an unknown species of shadow snake and no one knew its effect on the living. Morisa then dipped a hatpin into the deadly mixture and inserted the poisonous pin into a reinforced vial that had been charmed by nine witches to hold any venom or acid. She slipped the vial into a bunch of North berry pearls and pinned the whole thing, like a brooch, to Anabel’s lapel.
Anabel rushed from Morisa’s hut to make it home before dawn. Just as she passed the underbridge that protected the wolf’s hollow, Anabel froze in her tracks. Just ahead, Arabella stepped out of the shadows. She wasn’t alone, but accompanied by something not of this world...a scythe wielder. His sole gazing eye burned with perpetual fire and his head was adorned with the terrible horns of some dreadful owner. He carried the infamous shadow warrior’s sickle, whose edge had been honed razor sharp by an unbreakable meteor and its screaming handle appeared to emit the demon Ifrit’s death rattle.
Anabel was shaken to her core by the sight. Frozen in place, she could only helplessly watch as Arabella raised her arms and began reciting a spell of unspeakable horror. Anabel noticed the witch was wearing the bestial fury ring from the Chamberlain’s collection. He had bragged to Anabel about this beast’s ring that had the power to fill its wearer with uncontrollable fury.
The sky darkened and the winds blew as Arabella continued her skyward rant of sorcery. It was all Anabel could do to stay on her feet; then as suddenly as they had appeared, the duo was gone. Anabel ran breathlessly all the way home, her heart pounding out of her chest and her throat raw from gasping for air, but she dare not stop.
She burst through the door and took the steps up to the bedroom two at a time. There, thrusting his silver handled sword into its scabbard, stood the Iron Knight. He wore armor that consisted of a striped hide overlaid with a woven casing. Affixed to the casing were smoky scales from genuine dragon hide, impenetrable by human weapons. Heraldic amulets sprayed across his left shoulder and around his waist was a strong chain, twisted into a decorative ligature and cinched with the royal fleur-de-lis symbol. This belt had been an anniversary gift from Anabel and it was infused with a powerful protective spell.
The obstinate helmet (a valkyrie’s gift to an unknown ancient hero) was emblazoned with the Knight’s rose and topped with the wondrous feather of some legendary mythical bird. Lightstep boots, handed down through generations of Silver Mane clan leaders, ensured he would move on wings of quickness.
The Iron Knight was a vision of magnificence and a lump formed in Anabel’s throat as hot tears burned tracks down her cheeks.
While Anabel was out, Henry called with alarming news. Arabella and her scythe wielder enabled the Lord of Darkness to break through from the Dark Side. He and his army intended to wreak havoc over everywhere the sunlight falls and everywhere that exists in complete darkness. With limitless power and all-encompassing evil, the Lord of Darkness will annihilate everything, beginning with the Northern Islands and working his way towards the castle. Not only does he want to savor every second of destruction, but Arabella insists Anabel witness the carnage until the very end.
The Iron Knight knew his birthright as a Knight and Leader-in-Waiting to the SilverMane Clan. The Clan represented strikers of courage and he was uniquely responsible for not only the well-being of his family, but that of the community at large. And he would defend both to his dying breath and that filled him with pride and honor.
He kissed Anabel, handed her a bouquet of eternal roses and placed on her finger the ring of high hopes. It was his mother’s favorite piece and, according to legend, filled the wearer with hopes and expectations.
As he galloped out of sight, Anabel caressed the hundreds-road pendants around her neck. The two pendants represented her life experiences, both prior to and after meeting the love of her life, the Iron Knight. One was etched with the new moon, a symbol of rebirth whose light shines without worries or concerns; the other with a crescent moon (or moon smile as she liked to call it), that calmed the owner’s soul. She furiously rubbed the pendants, praying to be calm and worry free.
Her cloud of dreams cleared and Anabel opened her eyes to see a huge sorcerer’s moon hanging in the sky like a melancholy medallion hung on a string of dusk crystal stars. Her hand tingled and when she looked at her palm, the secret mark was flushed with a luminous twilight’s glow.
She thought she saw movement in the distance, but between the light from the moon and her glowing palm, it took a while before Anabel’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. Walking towards the castle from the town street was a solitary man with a cane. An ancient lantern, swaying from a sudden waft of cold air, added to his sickly pallor. Anabel shivered as the lantern’s candlelight was suddenly dimmed by the burning intensity of the man’s eye of revenge.
*******to be continued