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The Descent

Chapter One

Heavy grey clouds begged to cry as a man crossed through a densely wooded area, his blond hair tousled by the wind. Tree roots threatened to trip him as he quickened his pace; he was almost to the small cottage. Just beyond the tree line he could see its amber and butterscotch straw roof, and a thin line of steam wafting from the chimney. It had taken him hours to find it, but finally he was standing in front of the ornate dark wood door. Carvings of lions, tigers and bears were engraved in the wood to create scenes of chaos that played in the shadows of every notch and threatened to attack. The doorknocker was in the shape of a lion’s head, its mouth open and vicious.

Grasping the heavy handle of the knocker, he pulled it towards him and let it drop. The resounding thud shook through his bones as he waited for the door to open. In the cold air every hair on his body stood up, the chill causing goose bumps and making him shake like the tail of a rattle snake in danger. Still, it was the only way he saw of getting what he wanted.

Andora Blasey hadn’t even spared him a glance, but from the moment he saw her she was all he could think about. Her long auburn hair had crept into his dreams, engulfing him in a fire-y haze that swallowed him with its warmth and her jade green eyes were the only way to put it out. Their cool demeanor sent chills up his spine in a way that both scared and excited him. As far as he was concerned, she was the most beautiful girl he had ever met. Even though she had only ever said two words to him as she walked by, he still remembered the way she smelled like honey and powdered sugar and the soft silky, smoothness of her skin as her arm brushed against his. Even her voice had been delicate, like a lace made of wind chimes.

The day they had met, well the day he first saw her, they had been in a bustling crowded section of Stannum. The humming of traffic and conversation was like that of bees as they went about their busy day, he couldn’t make out real words or phrases, but he was sure they were there like the stars when the sun out shone them. As he passed by an old shop, its red bricks a faded burgundy that possessed an orange hue, he saw her. Her bright fire red hair caught the sun and appeared like dancing flames in the breeze. Never before had he seen a girl so breath-taking; not that he lost his breath, but that she had stolen it straight from his lungs. She captured him so completely with the brush of her porcelain skin against his that he thought for sure she had felt his knees go weak. If she had, she ignored it and simply murmured, “Excuse me,” as she continued on her way. From that moment he couldn’t see a life without speaking to that girl, and so he tried. When he found her in a lonely bookshop, he tried to make conversation, but she was uninterested and instead just shot him a look of annoyance that made him feel like the dirt beneath her feet. Still, he would give anything just to know her name.

Finally the dark wood door creaked open; on the other side was a woman that didn’t look much older than him. Her hair was a midnight black that echoed the color of a ravens feathers, swept to one side, it cascaded over her shoulder to meet the stiff black fabric of her corseted dress. She was all black lace and hardware that spelled out danger, but with such beauty that he didn’t mind walking into the Lion’s den where he might meet his end.

Her sinful ebony eyes wandered his innocent face, corruption a clear intention in her devils stare. It was all in the details, the hopeful look upon his angel’s face that said more than words ever could, he would do anything to get what he wanted. The determination that creased his brow and the fire behind his eyes was all the confirmation she needed as she led him through a dark hall. Pulling back a curtain of beads that sparkled like diamonds as they hit what little light filtered through the room, she showed him to a weathered sofa. Its velvet covering had worn through allowing some of its stuffing to escape, but it wasn’t the sofa that mattered. It was the small table that sat before it, a soft silk covering its surface in a red draping the color of blood.

“What is it you seek?” The woman asked as she took a seat in the large arm chair across from the man. She seemed small as the chair threatened to swallow her whole, the silks and chiffons that were draped over it only increasing the danger of losing her to the wearing furniture.

“Your help, ma’am,” he replied, folding his hands into his lap.

A light chuckled escaped her throat as she peered on at him, “Of course you are,” her eyes played over his face before she continued, “But what, my dear Niall, can I help you with?”

“You know who I am?” Shock was ringing through his voice like the church bells on Sunday, but he tried to remain calm.

“I know everyone,” she replied, her stoic nature was disconcerting, but Niall knew she was the only one that could help him. Even though everything she did came with a price, he was willing to pay. He would do anything to have Andora love him back.

“There’s a lass that I’ve been trying to catch, but she don’t seem to want much to do with me,” he told her, his eyes betraying just how hurt he was as the blue color swirled with a melancholy gleam.

“A heart of gold is worth a pound of flesh,” she stated. Her hand danced across her forehead as she pushed a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “If you seek her love, I can help you… For a price.”

A breeze blew through the small cluttered room, rustling the beads like leaves in Fall as Niall bit his lips. When he finally released them, they were a soft rosy pink that matched his cheeks. He was unsure whether he was making the right choice in coming to the witch, but it was the only option he felt he had left. He had tried everything.

After finding out that Andora worked at a cafĂ© not far from his home, he made frequent stops and would strike up small talk. He found that she was smart and witty, but his own conversation skills were lacking and she didn’t have interest. Instead it seemed he had weaseled his way into a friend zone of sorts, but worse as he was more a mere acquaintance that she hadn’t bothered to really learn the name of.

“What’s the price?”

“The heart of a Panthera,” she replied like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Her scheming smile had beguiled him into a false sense of security, and now that he knew he would have to cut the heart of a man out, he wasn’t so sure he could do it.

The Panthera were a peaceful forest tribe that felt they needed nothing more than a respect of the land. It seemed so cruel to harm one that Niall found it hard to believe that he even considered it. Paying that price seemed too much, but all he’d wanted for two years was Andora’s love.

His head turned away from the witches demanding eyes, the room was in disarray. Books and papers and fabric were scattered around on tables and the floor, vials filled bookshelves their contents providing color to the hazy space. Niall searched for the answer in the mess, he could accept the price and gain Andora’s love or he could brush it off and just continue trying to gain her favor.

“If that be the price, I suppose I’ll have to,” Niall whispered, bringing his eyes back to the witch, he wished there was another way.

“Very well. I want the heart before I grant your favor, but it will be difficult to find the Panthera. They are a roaming people.” Standing from her seat, she moved to the bookshelf behind her. A vial of gold powder trembled as her fingertips brushed its glass; grasping it, she brought it over to the handsome blond man. “This will help you on your quest,” she said, holding out the vial to him. “But if you should fail, there will be a consequence.”

“What kind of consequence?” Niall asked, his blue eyes shaking as he took the vial from her. Her fingertips grazed his skin and sent a tremor through his bones. Something about her was not right, something just felt evil.

“The worst.”


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