From The Witch’s Uprising
Aurelia held her sword as lightly as she could. With any other thief, she would not be so cautious, but one look at the stranger assured her to take each step carefully. She let the grip on her sword stay loose and limber, ready to act. There would be no room for fear or even one misplaced swing; she prepared herself to act swiftly, carefully… softly. Every nerve in her body was electrified with awareness. She breathed deeply as she crept closer to him. The moon unveiled itself, barely revealing a man just a head’s worth taller than Aurelia. In the dappled light, she could see her breath and his. She was closer now, at the edge of the clearing. Peering at a safe distance from this man she had followed from her village, yet he crouched – there… in the center of the everything, almost perfectly surrounded by three large prayer stones, as if no one was looking for him.
A filthy thief, she thought. She knew he was not after bread or meat, or mead. The air reeked like something that had been tossed away and neglected. He leaned over one stone altar, the furthest from Aurelia, and whispered to himself.
He cradled a small child wrapped in a purple blanket – a tiny girl not yet one year old. Flecks of gold from the blanket’s design glittered. He set the child on the altar so delicately that Aurelia was confused. Whose child was this? Not his, not his.
It would take one stroke, but she would have to aim it correctly, or else she would bludgeon the child too. Aurelia remembered everything she had been taught – how to be just so graceful with a sword, just as quiet as the spring wind rippling through grass. She stepped forward.
The townsfolk had talked of this: men like him had come before, years ago, when her mother was a little girl. They were just stories to Aurelia.
Does a story bleed? She knew the answer too well.
Every man bleeds.
When the twig snapped beneath her left foot, Aurelia felt the world shift. Her heart palpitated – the hoof-beat thump of a seasoned warrior filling her chest. Before she could make a decision, before she could swing the sword, the wind blew across her face, and the man turned.
She had seconds to act – seconds!
The blade cut across the air, but it was too late.
She saw his face change first, and then his neck and shoulders. His torso seemed to compress and then shiver, until every rumor she had heard was confirmed at that very moment.
Every story, every tale of his power or his ability – everything was as her mother described. Most girls went their whole lives without seeing a shape-shifter, yet by Aurelia’s age, most women had not seen what she had seen.
The child screamed, and Aurelia swung. The man unfolded and unfurled like smoke, and she heard what she knew to be the flutter of wings. All the stories were true, she thought. He has returned. The Madness had ended twenty years ago with his death, but now he has returned.
With that truth, she doubted if she would live to her twentieth year. And in the seconds that passed, her sword cut through nothing but air. There was no longer anyone where the man had stood. He was now, not one man, but hundreds of fluttering wings, hundreds of screeches flowing up into the sky and away. Her blade passed through a cloud of dark birds as they filled the thin night air. She hacked and hacked to no avail, and for a moment she caught the altar in the corner of her eye. The child was gone, and the night was quiet as still water.
This excerpt is from The Witch’s Uprising, Book One of A Thousand Watchful Eyes. Read The Witch’s Uprising for free on Wattpad.
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