The sounds of screams and the smell of smoke are something he should have been used to by now, seeing how he does this every other week. However, Caden had always struggled with the memory it brings reminding him of his parent’s death.
An owl hoots in the canopy of trees above him as he marches to the next house in the small village in Massachusetts. He tries to recall the name but decides it no longer matters- a coven of witches lives here. After tonight it will no longer exist.
Caden is a Witch Hunter, after the murder of his parents fifteen years ago he has made it his purpose to hunt witches as he holds them all responsible for their death. A Hunter’s purpose is to protect fearful villagers from the powers witches should not possess, as they abuse it for their gain.
He was trained by the Hunter who discovered him the night of his parent’s death, Gavin, who's been preparing him for the vengeance he’s sought since he was five years old. No age is too young when learning to fight against magic.
The owl calls again, this time Caden looks up at it. A white barn owl lurks above his head watching him as he moves around the village. It’s been following him for as long as he can remember. Though he has no idea why. It never goes near him, just watches.
Caden reaches the last house- if you want to call it that. The small size almost seems more like a shack. But he knows it's a spell; meant to blend in with the rest of the village. Inside is much, much bigger.
He kicks down the door and a blast of air hits him knocking him back a few steps.
That should have been expected.
Bracing himself for continued attacks, he lunges back into the house and dives to the right just as another blast of air pushes past him.
Not today, witch.
He grabs a wooden chair from the table next to him and throws it in the direction the blasts were coming from.
He hears the chair collide with something and a woman cries out. Caden jumps over the table and rushes to where she now lies on the wooden floor. He crouches over the old crone and points his iron sword to her throat.
“You will burn for what you are, witch.” He spits like the title was a curse.
She chuckles and Caden cringes at her bloody teeth where the chair must’ve hit her.
“Oh, but do you even know who you are?” She hisses. “Or what you are?”
He presses the tip of the blade further into her throat. “I am a Hunter. We rid the land of your influence and filth.”
“You are rejecting what you truly are, Guardian Henricson.” She laughs, “The owl follows you, it chose you. By killing witches you are going against your true nature.”
He recoils at her words in disgust as she uses his last name to connect him with witches. Guardians are the men who protect witches and their covens. Most of the time they are born from witches, other times, Guardians are selected out of their sympathy towards them.
He is not sympathetic.
“You think lies will save you?” He snarls. Figuring she knows his last name by hearing it somewhere.
She continues to cackle. “You are the one the owl follows, what do you think it wants? You are a Guardian to the Illyan Coven.”
Ignoring her, Caden grabs her wrists and chains them in iron; the witches' only weakness. The chain connects to a wooden beam that supports the home, ensuring she will not be able to escape. She laughs the entire time which only causes him to become more unsettled. She should fear her end.
Once he finishes lighting the inside on fire, he leaves her to become ash the same way he’s left countless others.
The second he steps onto the gravel the owl screeches. He looks up at it. It looks angry, watching him as though it disapproves of his actions. He considers what the crone had said- something about her words registers something in him.
Caden rubs his chest, not liking the feeling of suddenly questioning his actions. Then again, he has always questioned them. But there’s something different about tonight. Something different about the name of the coven she mentioned. Like he’s heard it somewhere before.
Shaking his head, he tries to erase the conflicting feelings that have now surfaced and begin moving along with the rest of the Hunters to the next destination they will soon cleanse of witches.
This town is much bigger than the village they came across last week. Caden knows there is no coven here, just word of witches who come into town in search of special herbs.
Witches use herbs to strengthen their powers. Or so he’s heard. They also use them to poison enemies, entice nightmares, or make others fall ill. Caden knows exactly where in the markets the witches will be; sticking to shadows and lingering by the scented vendors to mask their odor. Witches always smell of sage- the herb increases their energy so they can use more power.
He lifts the hood of his cloak over his head to conceal his identity as he walks towards the market. Every Hunter wears a thick silver earring that bands on the tip of their left ear as a marking to let others identify them. Caden’s dark shaggy hair is long enough to cover it, but to remain stealthy, he can’t risk it peeking out or the light catching on it.
Staying in the shadows, Caden watches the activity stirring in the early morning as the market becomes busy with life. Witches come and leave early, wanting to be seen by as few people as possible.
Caden has always been good at identifying witches, and he’s never been wrong. A thought occurs to him, wondering if the reason behind his ability to find them easily coincides with the truth behind the old crone’s words.
Caden’s thoughts are interrupted when an owl screeches above him. He recognizes that screech as if it were his language. Caden sighs in irritation. Before he has a moment to look up at it he notices someone else already watching it with interest.
He knows instantly it’s a witch.
Her features are obscured by her dark cloak and the shadows of the building she hides behind across from his.
Caden smirks triumphantly at how easy it was to find her.
The owl screeches again. More frantic this time, and the witch runs.
He chases after her but ensures to remain unseen and quiet in the shadows. She turns left and he follows. Once she gets into a building he slows his pursuit. He’s a foot in the door when suddenly a knife appears at his throat. He holds out his arms in mock surrender.
“Why are you following me?” A young feminine voice demands.
Caden knows he could easily disarm her, but can’t help his curiosity that hasn't diminished since the old crone spoke of his name.
“I am a Guardian.” He lies.
She steps forward in his line of vision. “Prove it.” She snaps.
As if on cue, the owl swoops in and lands on the back of a chair. Caden nearly jerks in surprise but manages to remain still as a statue.
The witch gasps and lowers the knife. “To which Coven have you sworn fealty to?” She demands with a softer tone.
He remains silent for a few seconds, uncertain of what to say. Suddenly an idea comes to him. “I have sworn none, but am in search of the Illyan Coven. Have you heard of it?”
She takes a few steps back as if his words struck her. “Which coven did you say?” She whispers.
He lowers his hood to reveal himself but first confirms that his hair still covers the silver earring.
The witch gasps quietly but doesn’t move. “Illyan Coven.” He repeats confidently.
She straightens out and lowers her hood as well and Caden’s eyes widen.
She’s beautiful, young- probably 18- and has the whitest hair he’s ever seen. Even elders don’t have hair as white as hers. Her pale complexion seems even paler in contrast with her dark grey cloak, and her eyes are a deep blue that reminds him of the midnight sky.
“Why do you seek that coven?” She asks skeptically.
He offers her a gentle smile as he answers, “Because I believe they know my parents, and I’m hoping they might provide answers for me. My name is Caden.” This isn’t a lie. He still doesn’t fully believe the crone's words but something hasn’t stopped nagging at him since he heard of the coven’s name.
She finally sheaths her blade and walks over to him. “My name is Selene Illyan, daughter of the High witch to the Illyan Coven.”
The air get’s knocked out of Caden as if he were punched in the gut.
Daughter to the high witch of a coven? The coven he is seeking? Every Hunter instinct tells him he has hit the jackpot. He can use her to reach the rest of her coven. But something deeper is eager for answers. Eager to follow her and learn about her coven and how they associate with his parents.
Maybe it was the coven that killed them?
Too many conflicting emotions eat at him as he faces a witch who potentially has the answers he seeks.
He swallows before speaking again, “Have you heard of the Henricsons’?”
Her lips part and familiarity crosses her features at the name. His chest swells with excitement and optimism that he is finally able to learn of his parents.
Gavin said he knew nothing of his parents when finding him, that the Hunters arrived too late. But Caden always knew their names. He always knew of their kindness and how much they loved him. He’s asked hundreds of people since he was young and no one’s ever shown a hint of recognition.
“I have heard of them,” Selene says softly. “They were your parents?”
Were. That means she knows of their death. Caden notices she isn’t acting hostile, which means seeing him here doesn’t threaten her. She seems genuine. This coven wasn’t his parents’ killers then. If they were she’d think he’s seeking vengeance.
He is. Just not with this coven.
“Yes.” He says and the owl screeches.
Selene’s eyes dart to the owl. “Our coven will be very happy to learn of your survival. Your parents were faithful to the coven and their loss has impacted us greatly, even to this day. My mother will be delighted to learn of your interest in joining us.”
Caden’s heart accelerates, “You’re taking me to your coven?” He asks.
“Yes.” She says and moves to the corner to grab a bag she must have hidden when he followed her here. “We must hurry, Hunters are lurking around.”
She throws her hood over her hair again and Caden does the same and his thumb grazes his silver earring. He’s going to need to remove that as soon as possible. His guilt weighs heavy on his chest as she leads him to her coven, unaware he just was the very threat they are now running away from.
They had been trekking through the forest all day, trying to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the town. Caden had to abandon his horse, but luckily he already had his bag on him. Choosing not to risk leaving it behind in case dishonest citizens tried to rob it. It was no issue leaving his men behind. He didn’t know them well anyway. They don’t allow themselves to get attached since their occupation has a lot of risks involved.
Selene is the first to break the silence: “So you know how to fight.” Not really a question but he felt like it was.
“Yes.” He answers. The owl hoots from above as it follows them through the woods. Occasionally it flies ahead and then circles back. Caden believes it’s scouting for them. He has no idea why the owl follows him, why it cares so much about what he does, but since finding Selene it seems to approve of Caden’s actions. It comes closer to him now.
“Who taught you?” She asks through panted breaths.
Caden is feeling winded too, they have been walking for hours. But they know they can’t stop until nightfall. Men on horses are much faster, if they get discovered both their fates are sealed.
“The man who found me did.” Caden offers truthfully, but that’s as much as he’ll tell her about him. He knows the minute she finds out he was raised by a well-known Hunter and has burned witches she will no longer trust him. He wouldn’t trust himself either.
She senses his reservations towards revealing his mentor and changes the subject. “How long has your owl followed you?”
“As long as I can remember.” He admits.
She nods, “Do you know why?”
He huffs in frustration, “Yes. It chose me as a Guardian for some reason.” But he doesn’t understand why. Unless the myths about them are true, and his mother was a witch. His birth would automatically mean he’s destined to protect his mother’s coven. There would be no escaping it.
Selene stops to look at him, “You were born to be one. It did not choose you. The owl only chooses new Guardians if the coven needs it. Being a Guardian has a great purpose: while witches nurture life, Guardians protect them and ensure their responsibilities can be successful.”
Caden’s brows furrowed in confusion, “Nurture life?” He repeats.
She raises a light brow, “Do you not know the true purpose of a witch?”
Before he can answer she gives him an apologetic look, “I’m sorry. I forgot that you weren’t raised by witches.” She turns and continues talking while moving again.
“Witches were brought into existence to help the world flourish. Witches go by many titles; healers, alchemists, herbalists… They all contribute to restoring the land.” She hesitates a moment and purses her lips. “I will admit there are dark witches too. Not many, but they have been known. We deal with them in our own ways. Their dark magic harms the land. It’s up to us and our Guardians that our gifted magic remains pure.”
This is all new information for Caden. He was taught all witches were selfish and abusive with their magic. But it never sat right with him. Too many times he questioned Gavin’s teachings. He questioned himself every time he burned a house or looked at the owl.
Even now he questions himself. Not knowing if Selene is being honest or twisting his knowledge of truth she wants him to know. How can he trust what to believe when so many lies have been spread.
The owl hoots as it perches on a branch next to him. It watches Caden as if it can sense his inner conflict.
Selene stops to look at it too. “It’s connected to you, you know? It feels your emotions and it will only respond to you.”
The owl hoots again and bobs its head as if it’s nodding. Caden chuckles at it and Selene does too, they look at each other and his heart flutters. He blinks in surprise, not expecting to actually like the witch.
“Have you named him?” She asks and reaches out to lightly stroke the owl’s feathers.
“No,” Caden says while watching the owl enjoy her touch. “I didn’t even know it was a ‘him’.”
“Females are slightly larger.” She says with a mischievous smile. She drops her hand and continues walking.
He follows after her and an old story his mother would tell him as a child surfaces in his memory. A story of a barn owl who protected harvester mice from a snake that wanted to eat them. “Strigs.” Caden finally says. “I’ll name him Strigs.”
Strigs screeches and lands on his shoulder.
“I think he approves.” Selene laughs, then turns towards the rocky mountain they have been marching towards all day before speaking again, “We are almost there. Just another hour.”
He barely hears her, too busy smiling up at Strigs and enjoying his closeness. He realizes then that it’s not everyone elses’ truth that will help him find the answers he needs. Strigs has been by his side for as long as he can remember. His whole life Strigs stayed a great distance from him as a Witch Hunter. But now that he’s called himself a Guardian, and follows the daughter of the coven his family once belonged to, Strigs has accepted Caden. That’s all the confirmation he needs to know he is finally on the right path.
They walk about twenty minutes more when Strigs screeches his distress call Caden recognizes after years of being with the owl.
“Someone’s here.” He warns in a low voice and pulls out his blade.
Selene looks around cautiously. Her fingers twitch in anticipation as they search the woods for the threat.
Caden hears a woosh and throws his head back just in time to barely miss being shot with an arrow.
“Archers!” Caden yells to Selene.
He expects her to run and take cover but instead, her hands fly out in front of her and she chants a phrase in another language to unleash a spell.
Caden looks around waiting for something to happen. “What did you do?” He asks nervously. Then rustling sounds come from below them and an army of frogs surface from the muddy ground.
Selene curses. “I was trying to cast a cloaking spell. But I think I accidentally said ‘croaking’ instead of ‘cloaking’.” she laughs nervously, “Magic is fickle.”
If Caden and Selene’s lives weren’t at risk he would laugh. But seeing as the young witch doesn’t have a grasp on her powers yet, it’s up to him to defend them.
“Just stay low while I deal with them.” He whisper-yells to her. Her cheeks turn pink from embarrassment and she shrinks behind a tree.
He looks up at his owl, hopeful that it will guide him towards their attacker. It does, flying to the right and Caden follows cautiously.
Staying hidden in the dense foliage, he uses his keen senses to discern the noises in the forest. He makes out the sound of heavy breathing behind the tree to his left, and Caden smirks to himself.
He waits for the man to peek around the tree again, when he does Caden comes up behind him placing the blade to his throat.
“Don’t. Move.” Caden warns the man.
The man stiffens but doesn’t immediately beg for his life and Caden becomes uneasy. “Who else is out here with you?” He demands.
The man chuckles and turns his greasy head slightly to look at Caden, “There are a few of us. I doubt you can take us all on.”
Suddenly Caden hears a yelp followed by a thud.
The man in his grip eyes widen, “Neil?” He calls out.
Caden hits him over the head with the back of his sword, rendering the man unconscious. The owl screeches as it flies in the direction Caden heard the sound- where Selene is hidden. When he reaches her he finds she is no longer hidden. She is standing over a man and smiles when she sees Caden. “My frogs weren’t completely useless.”
Caden looks down at the man and sees his broken nose.
“Apparently he’s afraid of them and ran into the tree.” She gestures to the tree in front of where the man lays.
Caden huffs an amused laugh and shakes his head. “You’re truly something.” He says as she continues to smile at him.
A twig snaps behind Selene and Strigs screeches again. Caden quickly grabs her wrist and pulls her behind him just as a third man lunges forward with a knife. If Selene had still been standing there, the man would have surely killed her.
Caden becomes enraged and swipes out with his sword- effectively ending the man’s life.
“You.. you saved me.” Selene rasps.
Caden can’t believe it either. A week ago he was burning witches, now he’s saved one.
It’s too late to go back now. He tells himself. Selene is innocent, even if she's a witch. She couldn’t even cast a spell correctly.
Caden no longer sees her as a threat.
Now, he’s even more determined to align with her.
Selene and Caden walk in silence the rest of the way to the coven.
“Over here,” Selene says while ducking under a low tree branch. Caden looks at it warily as the branch covers a narrow opening on the side of the mountain. Had Caden been traveling through here alone he would have never noticed it.
Strigs lands on his shoulder as he moves the branch to go through the passage. “I guess this is where I learn the truth.” He mumbles under his breath.
Caden’s shock shows once he’s on the other side. This isn’t just a hideout for outcasts- it’s a full-functioning civilization.
“I don’t understand,” Caden murmurs.
Selene steps up next to him, “This is our refuge. But we have been here for almost a century undiscovered. Thus we were able to create a humble town in secret.”
Strigs hoots and flies off towards a large tree. Caden gawks when he sees that it’s occupied by over two dozen other barn owls like him.
His eyes continue traveling among the town. There are gardens for crops, a freshwater river, cattle as well as other farm animals, all surrounded by hundreds of homes.
“Why were you in town if you have everything here?” He asks.
“Something insisted that I be there today.” She says and they look at each other. “I think I was meant to find you.”
I think I was meant to find you too. Caden thinks to himself.
Caden looks over to see a middle-aged lady with white hair like Selene’s walking in their direction. Her features are soft and welcoming.
“Mother.” Selene says happily, “Meet Guardian Caden Henricson.”
Her mother’s eyes widen as she looks at Caden. “Henricson?” she repeats.
“Yes.” He states nervously.
She offers Caden a sad smile, “I knew your mother and father. Your mother was my best friend.” Caden’s stomach tightens. Friends? So then it’s true his mother was a witch. He frowns at himself when he realizes the knowledge doesn’t bother him as much as he thought it would.
“Come.” She says gesturing towards a large building that resembles a temple. “You must have questions. I’m Agatha by the way.”
After entering the temple- which is where witches practice their magic- Caden learned his mother was a descendant of witches that have been members of the coven for centuries. Even before migrating to America. Her line was next in the hierarchy from the High Witch, making her second in their ranks. His father was born from another line of witches within their coven. They were childhood lovers.
“Your mother and father left the coven in hopes of restoring land we could not reach, other witches volunteered to do the same. Then the Hunter’s became more aggressive.” At her mention of the Hunters, Caden froze. Bugger, his earring was still there. “We were not expecting a war against our kind, and for that, I am sorry that you lost your parents. They were good people.” She finishes sadly.
“So, they left to restore land?” He questions slowly.
She sighs, “Yes. We follow civilization and give back to the land from which they take. People don’t know this but the land offers its resources but in return needs to be cared for. That’s where witches come in.”
Caden had no idea. And here Hunters are exterminating them as if they are causing the plague.
“What happens if there are no more witches?” Caden asks carefully.
“Then there would be no one to give back to the earth, and resources would eventually run out.” Agatha responds.
Guilt consumes Caden as he thinks of all the witches he’s killed the past 2 years.
“We have to do something,” Caden announces with resolve.
This time Selene responds, “Our purpose is to restore the land, not obtain the people’s praise. If they start treating us like we are the ones deserving of their gratitude the land will rescind the magic from us. We aren’t a secret but their opinions of us need to remain impartial.”
So they are trapped; unable to claim their true purpose while are also hunted for crimes they do not commit.
Suddenly Caden remembers something, “What about the dark witches you told me about?”
Selene looks to her mother who answers, “They are angry for being hunted, thus turned against innocents. Or they believe their magic should only benefit them. Either way, it’s up to us to remove them. They’re corruptive, it’s how witches earned a negative image in the first place.”
“So eliminating dark witches will help?” He asks.
“Not entirely, they are another problem in itself. One of which goes against our nature.”
Goes against their nature. Just like the crone said Caden was by being a Hunter when he was meant to be a Guardian.
“What can I do to help?” Caden asks, determined to make up for his transgressions towards the witches.
“Your purpose is to protect,” Agatha says sadly. “But we do not attack unprovoked.”
“Unprovoked?” Caden scoffs in disbelief. “You are being accused and punished for crimes you do not commit.”
“Yes but we are peaceful, we do not seek revenge.”
No, but Caden does. He’s only cared about vengeance his whole life. And now he’s learned his parents were murdered while trying to keep people’s lands preserved.
“Then I will protect witches,” Caden vows.
Selene smiles and looks at her mother. “I told you.”
Caden looks between them in confusion.
“It was prophesied that a Guardian would bring peace among this misunderstanding regarding witches. Selene believes you are that Guardian.” Agatha supplies.
She would not be saying that if she knew Caden had spent his entire life hating witches. How can he be chosen to save them?
“ Child of Henricson, allow fate to guide you.” Agatha says to Caden then looks to Selene, “You must go with him, the Bond has already begun between you.”
“Bond?” Caden questions.
Agatha chuckles, “Oh my, I keep forgetting how little you know about your kind. A guardian chooses a witch to protect for life. Once that decision is made it is unbreakable. You chose at some point journeying here to protect Selene, thus starting the bond. Selene accepted her part in the bond by trusting you with her life. All that remains is solidifying it.”
Caden stiffens, “How do we solidify the bond?”
Selene holds her arm out and Strigs lands on it, appearing out of nowhere. “The owl does, by linking the witch and Guardian together through magic. No one understands how. But the Guardian’s owl will forge the union.”
“Union.” Caden laughs nervously, “Almost sounds like marriage.”
Selene and her mother smile knowingly at each other, “The bond linking the two souls is infinite. Much like a marriage.” Agatha informs him.
“Excuse me?” Caden asks in shock. “I am wed to Selene?”
Caden looks Selene over. He does not find himself repulsed by the idea, but she would regret her decision if she ever learned of Caden’s deceit.
Selene blushes, “Not quite, but I’ve never needed protecting before. After you saved me in the woods we both unknowingly accepted each other.”
Strigs hoots and bob’s his head.
“Ah, it seems he approves of the Bond as well,” Agatha says.
Of course he did. Caden knew it the entire time in the forest that Strigs approved of Selene. Now he knows why. He also has no doubt the owl probably led them into trouble just to establish the Bond.
“Now what?” Caden asks warily.
“Now you must begin your quest. Learn what is required of you to save the witches. Along the way, you both will be tested to see if you're worthy of each other. The owl will decide through your trials when the Bond should be completed.” Agatha advises.
Caden shifts nervously, “What if the owl finds us unworthy?”
The two exchange a look, “It already has found you both worthy. The tests are meant for each of you to strengthen your bond.” Agitha’s soft expression now turns serious, “These tests are harsh, they are meant to challenge your acceptance of each other. If you don’t the owl perishes and both souls will never be linked to another again, all while the witch's magic will weaken and the Guardian will feel incomplete without his guide.”
Sweat builds on the back of Caden’s neck. This sounds serious. Caden has to ensure Selene doesn’t discover his deception.
Caden looks at Selene, “I apologize for not, uh, courting you properly before we forged this bond between us.” He says awkwardly.
Selene giggles, it was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard, “I do not mind. I find myself to be extremely fortunate with whom I will be spending the rest of my life.”
Caden’s smile widens. Does that mean she finds him attractive?
“Off with you both,” Agatha shoos them out of the building. “Be safe with your travels.”
The barn owl screeches above him while he waits for Selene to retrieve supplies for their new voyage. Caden could feel it in his bones; this is his purpose.
As they set off, he occupies his thoughts with ways to amend his transgressions. Starting with the little white-haired witch next to him that has somehow snared his heart.
About the Creator
I never believed the sky is the limit, therefore my passions are expansive. My interest in writing stemmed from poetry but my heart lead me to Sci-Fi Fantasy. Consequently, my stories are plot-driven with splashes of evocative elements.
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