Days of the Dead 2 - Istra Falvo

She waited in line, impatiently. The trader was getting too successful for her taste, if she had to wait. Before her, a cleric from Brigobaen, no doubt, with curly hair and deep circles under her eyes. “Me thought they found this in the templety-temple,” the witch murmured to herself. But all the people around could hear was a croak, her most recognisable trait, a sound she’d let out at least fifty-four times per hour, unless she was burping from the whisky, which increased the frequency to a minimum of eighty-three. Her turn arrived, eventually, and she bought a package of tobacco for her pipe, a bag of Andrisian mushrooms, and, “you know, that stuff,” “the special mixity-mix,” “the one that makes you see pretty colours”. Since she was there and the weather had been too bad lately to harvest reagents, she also bought two ounces of ginseng, one of mandrake, a bunch of garlics. The boat always had enough eels.

Her first stop, however, was not the Gellansha. Leaving the clandestine trader at his usual spot, Istra headed north, towards the Maralian lake. She had a bunch of deranged sisters in her pursuit, and she needed to deal with them first, before they’d harm any of her friends. Nothing one of her soups wouldn’t solve. “Soup for Supper!” she laughed, thinking of how to trick Sopor with her next concoction.

Near the lake, she set up a tent and tried to light a fire. The wood was too damp, so she settled for a magic spell to keep the embers glowing. On top of the pit, she placed her favourite cooking pot, that she carried all the way from Duldrus for the occasion. Once the water taken from the lake was boiling, it was time to add the ash, the bat wings, the rust glands, the ant mandibles, and the special mix, and stir them into a bubbling broth. She liked to sing the incantations only towards the end, just in case she got hungry and felt like tasting the stock.

That day, however, she was making a special dish, and a preliminary activation of the ingredients was required. Tired of spiders, she was going to turn the eldest of the sleepy sisters into a cicada. As with all her soups, where only the smell could do wonders, Istra took care not to inhale the vapours, stuffing her nose with ginseng and chewing on a piece of mandrake root. Then, when things seemed to be on good course, she covered the pot with a lid, unstuffed her nose, spat the mandrake, and filled her pipe with fresh tobacco, approaching the border of the lake. She removed her muddy boots and sat with her feet touching the water. It was the her moment of rest, before the soup required her finishing touches: salt, mostly.

The lake reflected the few rays of sun that managed to pierce through the mist. Soon, Istra was talking to herself, laughing at her own jokes about Hally-boy and Lady-Mermaids, drink a sip of whisky or two. She enjoyed the rain, but she was glad that it stopped and that she could watch the happy worms dig wholes in the soft ground. She was so distracted by the movements of the wildlife around, by the dancing light on the surface of the water, that she didn’t notice at first what was happening. She saw the wrinkling skin of her feet, but thought it was due to soaking for too long. It was only when her legs, then her knees started to dry up, that she realised something had gone wrong with the spell. She wasn’t turning into a cicada, that was not it… she was drying up like a human grape, ageing 100 years with each breath. Yet, she was alive, oh, so alive, feeling every second of it, perfectly conscious, watching her body lose vitality and strength, as if something consumed her from the inside, an implosion of sorts.

With great effort, she dragged herself to the cauldron, with her robe, now too big for her bones, making movement even harder, getting soaked and heavy in the mud. But she had to get rid of the liquid, before it did any more harm, so she pushed along, as much as she could. She didn’t make it far. She tried some traditional magic to help, but to no avail. And, to her great horror, a hell hound was coming her way.

“No…” she cried, followed by a faint croak, to stop the beast from touching the cauldron. With the lid on, the smell was much less intense, but hell hounds are not know for letting a lid discourage them in the pursuit of food. “No…” The hound stopped and looked at her. Then, wagging his tail, he approached the lying wizard and licked her face. “Kang…” she murmured, recognising the flaming fur of Evroulf McTyr’s companion. “Where be Evy?”

The idea that a friend might be nearby gave Istra a renewed enthusiasm. She tried to get up, against a tree, but she fell down again. Her eyes, the only part of her body able to move fast, gazed around, looking for a patch of purple among the trees. And there he was, staring at her, frozen and alarmed, the commander of the Maralians. “The soupiyt-s…” said the wizard, pointing vaguely in the direction of the pot.

The ranger did not hesitate. Knowing enough about the workings of Falvo’s magic, he ordered Kang to stay away, held his breath and, in one movement, carried the pot a few steps and poured the liquid in the lake, as close as possible to the water, so that there were no spills. As he turned around to help Istra, a strange kind of wave started forming. Behind him, the air turned black, with all the fish now flying in cloud of cicadas, with an unbearably strident noise moving up to the skies.

That made Istra laugh, as much as the skin of her cheeks aloud for it. What a blast! And then she fainted, feeling slightly safer with McTyr nearby. Evroulf called Kang, who was too busy chasing down the last bunch of insects remaining around the lake. He tried to make sense of what could have happened to the witch, but the clues didn’t abound. Inside the tent, there was her arcane grimoire, with her mother’s dagger serving as bookmark in some unrelated page about the use of dyes. Other than that, the wizard was only carrying her usual objects, traveling light.

McTyr picked the boots from the shore, and the purple hat that had fallen in the mud. Then, as careful as he could, not to hurt her, he carried Istra inside the tent, and put her in the improvised bed she had made with leaves and a blanket. He aligned his own healing potions next to her, and prepared a bed to himself, and another for Kang. They were going to stay there for as long as it took to bring the witch back to good shape. For now, she slept with an irregular and heavy breath, and Evroulf observed each movement of her chest with apprehension. “You should have stuck to pumpkin, darling,” he said, tucking her in, “you should have stuck to pumpkin.”
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