Witchbound – Chapter 2

II – Coming out of the Catacombs, Alba muses on what she’s still missing to allow the Witch to break free.

A few months before she had her encounter with those three hunters, while the rest of her kingdom woke up to get ready for another day, Alba was already walking out the Catacombs. She sighed as she shut the heavy door behind her, making the ancient mechanisms fall back into position with a sharp mechanical noise.

She looked down at her dirty hands and her dirty legs and her dirty boots from walking in the almost-darkness for hours, and wondered if there was a worse way for someone of her rank to fall any lower. 

“Another failure,” Alba groaned falling against the wall. She set her forehead against her arms, trying to understand what she was doing wrong.

She had found the place. She had proven Father was right, that there was actually something deep beneath the city, that the tales and legends were true. Now it was just a matter to break the last layer and finally find what she had been looking for. 

But insofar, none of her efforts had meant anything.

“Where do I go wrong? Oh holy Virgin, give me a sign…”

But the Holy Mary had yet to shed a light upon her efforts. She doubts any help of that kind would come soon. 

As she tried to get some rest and get past her disappointment so early in the morning, she fluttered her eyelids and stood up, leaving the secret passage behind her and entering her bedroom chambers, a room where the few precious items that remained were just as conspicuous as the wide empty spaces. 

Her Father had to sell so many of their family’s heirlooms. The consequences of Napoleon’s folly kept up at their devilish work even after more than fifty years. 

But what remained… that was what she was supposed to protect. 

Alba crossed over past her bed and the glass doors that gave on to the balcony, leaning forward even as she shivered in the morning’s crispy air. It might have been the middle of spring, but the Alps were still covered in snow and the northern wind flowed cold. 

And yet…

Save for the few times she went on a horse ride with Father, this was the view she had always had of her Principality: a sheer verdant valley, reaching out from the tall and proud walls of the city proper past the silver ribbon of the Alph river towards the rich fields, glistening with fruits even in the dim light of morning, before the sun crossed over the mountainside and gifted them a bit of its light. 

This was what she had been tasked to protect: the laborious city, beautiful orchards and thousands of people who had looked up to Father as their Prince. They looked up to her as the Regent now, and she had to show she had earned the title.

And that she could protect them in their time of need.

But she had to admit: the view from here was beautiful. A soft smile creased her lips even as a quick gale made her shiver in her dirt clothing. 

Still, it might be a better idea to go back inside. Get ready for the rest of her long day.

A glance at the clock on the opposite side of the room told her it was past seven in the morning. She really did not have much time to waste: Father did not raise her like this. 

Coming back in she got ready for a quick shower in her private bathroom.

While she took off her dirty clothes she thought about the last time she had allowed herself the solace of a warm bath. It was a few weeks before Father truly lost himself to his illness – and she would only ever get another after she had done all she could to make him proud. 

Besides, the great political minds of ancient Greece and Rome did not lose to a bit of cold water, did they?

The water was still cold and she dried herself in a frenzy, standing in front of her mirror panting from the freezing water. At least it had dispelled the cobwebs of her disappointment.

Alba took a moment to regard herself: she was slender, to the point someone could call her gaunt. Her pallor was partly natural, but also due to the long hours she had spent in the catacombs, where the only light that bathed her came from her lamps. 

But she could still explain those, together with her deep bags under her eyes, as the consequences of her recent loss. 

She patted her cheeks and got dressed – a simple white robe that while elegant, was practical enough to not restrict her movements. She had many appointments throughout the entire day and she’d had to walk a lot. As she took care of her hair her thoughts wandered back to the Catacombs and to the treasure that was hidden there.

She was so close.

So very close – maybe she could ask for a bit of help, but would anyone understand? Even Andronikos, Father’s closest advisor, seemed to regard all this talk of… legends and folkish lore as little more than nonsense and the desperate wails of a mind addled by deathly fever.

She knew better – but how to involve him?

Maybe she’d find a solution during the day. She always seemed to find the better solutions while under pressure. 

A dash of cologne and she was ready: far from the image of the perfect monarch, but good enough, considering she had forbidden her servants from dressing her up since Father’s departure. 

If she got better at this, she could get better at ruling a country.

With some help from Heaven. 

“Holy Virgin, guide me through this day’s tribolations…” she recited as she walked to her desk and opened up a secret drawer, taking out a pile of black notebooks and one by the metal hardcover. She opened it and read through her father’s scribble, noticing once again the degradation from the clear and confident writing of the first pages to a rambling scrawl. A few sketches caught her attention as well: the crest of Eridania, a raven, a tall tower beneath the moon. And one of a sitting woman, her features indistinct. Surrounded by questioning marks and a number. 

The eighth. 

“I will find a way to take her out of there,” Alba swore. “Be it the last thing I’ll do. I will find the last Witch.”


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