Black birds circled overhead in wide circles around the small wooden cabin letting out a series of caws. The cabin itself was set upon a large pile of lumber which was mostly splintered and damaged.
Rhan stood at the bottom of the wood pile looking up at the cottage.
“Hello,” He shouted out. “Anyone there?”
He heard no response other than the caws of the birds. Some fluttered down and landed on nearby logs. They cawed at him, almost violently like they were trying to scare him away or give him a warning.
“Please. I was told that there was a witch here,” Rhan shouted again. “I need your help.”
The door of the cabin creaked open and a hand emerged from inside.
“Begone human. I have no business with you,” A raspy voice said from within the cabin.
“Please, I beg you. I have traveled far -”
“I do not care of your troubles. I will only cause more of them. Now leave.”
The door slammed shut.
Rhan stood there dumbfounded. He came all this way to seek the help of the witch and he wasn’t going to just let her turn him down. He needed her.
“Wait just a minute,” He said marching up to the pile of lumber.
He readjusted the blade’s sheath on his bed as well as his red cloak as he began to climb up the woodpile. The pile was stable enough to climb, but as he put his weight on the lumber, it began to shift under his weight.
Rhan eventually made it to the door handle. He grabbed the iron handle with two hands and pulled on it. The door did not budge.
Rhan slammed his fist on the door, pounding on it.
“Come on, Witch. Let me in!”
He then went back to the door handle and pulled on it again. This time as he held the hanlde, the metal seemed to heat up. One minute it was cold iron and the next it was hot to the touch like it was on fire.
Rhan released his hands from the iron handle and stumbled back. His foot slipped off one of the logs and he fell backwards, rolling down the pile to the bottom.
Now bruised and covered in dust, he spat into the dirt.
“Come on,” He yelled.
There was a bit of laughter coming from the inside of the wooden structure.
“You fool. Hopefully that will teach you to leave old witches alone,” The voice said.
“You know what? It doesn’t,” Rhan said picking himself off the ground. “I have a mission and I will complete it. With or without you.”
“It will have to be without,” The voice replied.
Rhan stamped his foot on the ground. It was a childish gesture, but in this moment, it felt right. He was furious.
“I was told you were a powerful witch able to undo magical curses, but it’s obvious that you can’t. You’re just some old woman hanging out in a…a…. outhouse,” He said yelling.
“Your taunts mean nothing to me, human,” The voice called out. “You cannot trick me into helping you.”
“Oh I’m not tricking you at all,” Rhan said. “I’m completely serious. I was told of your wonderful talents, but it’s obvious that I paid for bad information. I bet that hot metal thing was the only thing you can do. You’re no better than some street magician.”
As Rhan yelled and yelled, he failed to notice that the swarms of birds began landing around him. Dozens and dozens of large, black birds all cawing at him.
“You…you….” Rhan began to look around him as the birds drew nearer. “What are you doing?”
The door slammed open and a woman stepped out onto the wood pile. Rhan expected an old, haggardly woman, but this was a woman closer to his age. She wore dark blue robes and had white hair. Her eyes were dark purple with no pupil.
“Just a street magician?” The woman said with an angry growl. “I’ll show you what I can do, human. I told you to leave, but now you’ll have to stay to see my full force.”
“Woah, woah,” Rhan began to walking back slowly. “You know what? I’ll just go.”
The woman smiled.
The next thing was a flash of motion. Black feathers rained down around him as the large flock of birds attacked. It was a fury of wings, beaks, and feathers surrounding Rhan’s body. He tried his best to swat at the birds but his arms were met with more and more pecks and scratches. He used one hand to protect his eyes and then crumpled into a ball on the ground hoping to protect his face. The birds tore as his clothing and shredded his cloak.
“Stop! Stop!” Rhan screamed.
The birds then fluttered away his body leaving Rhan weak in bloody in the dirt.
The witch swirled her hand and the logs rearranged into a bit of a wooden staircase down to the ground. She began to walk down to the ground, looking at Rhan. There on his back, where the holes were torn in his clothes, blue runes shined through.
“Runechild,” The woman said.
Rhan rolled over to look at the witch; although he continued to lay on the ground covered in bloody scarps and bites.
“You recognize them?” Rhan asked.
The woman blinked and her eyes were no longer dark and purple. Instead they were sky blue.
“I have seen similar runes before,” She said.
“Well I need your help getting rid of them,” He said spitting blood from his mouth.
“Come inside,” She said quickly turning and running back into the cabin.
“Be right there,” He said slowly picking himself off the ground.
Black birds continued to caw as many flapped their wings and took off into the sky.
Rhan climbed the stairs and made it to the open door. He peered inside and saw what looked like a small, wooden cabin from the outside, was quite large on the inside.
The woman was running around in some kind of small kitchen area collecting a variety of plants that are growing around the kitchen as well as other ingredients. She ran over to the heath to toss in the leaves and ingredients into a pot of boiling water hanging over the flames.
The woman looked over and then ran over Rhan, helping him to the a couch.
“I’m sorry about that,” She said letting him down onto it.
“I tried to tell you,” Rhan said. “But then there were…birds.”
“I know,” She said going back to the pot. “It’s just that a human shows up with a sword on his back, I get nervous. You didn’t tell me you were a Runechild.”
“I really don’t know what that means,” He said trying to adjust himself so he wasn’t in so much pain.
The woman picked up a small bowl from the kitchen and a spoon and went over to the pot hanging over the fire. She spooned out a few spoonfuls of the stew and brought it to Rhan.
“Here eat this,” She said.
“It smells like rotting wood,” Rhan said. “What is it?”
“It will heal you, just eat it,” She said pushing the spoonful of the greenish-brown liquid into his mouth.
The soup tasted even worse than how it smelled, but he didn’t protest. He slurped it down with every spoonful she fed him. The wounds on his arms and hands seemed to heal over quickly leaving him unharmed and feeling refreshed.
“Wow, that’s incredible,” He said sitting up straight. “That was like-”
“Magic?” She cut him off.
“Yeah magic,” He said a bit sheepishly.
The woman went over to kitchen and dumped the bowl and spoon into a metal tub of soapy water.
“Ninette,” She said.
“Excuse you?” He asked.
“My name is Ninette. You didn’t ask, but I figured if you still wanted something from me, you should at least know my name.”
“Oh right. Sorry about that, Ninette. My name is Rhan,” Rhan said.
“Nice to meet you Rhan,” She said. “Well it’s nice now that I know you are no longer trying to hunt me.”
Ninette quickly turned and held a large kitchen knife in front of her.
“You aren’t here to try to hunt me, are you?” She glared.
“No! No!” Rhan raised his empty hands. “I just need your help to figure out this whole rune thing.”
“Alright,” She turned back to washing the dishes. “So what do you want to know about them?”
“How do I get rid of them?” Rhan asked.
Ninette hesitated a moment before replying.
“I do not know of a way to get rid of them, I’m afraid,” She said. “But most people would learn how to understand them. Control them even.”
“Not me,” Rhan said with a shake of the head. “These things are nothing but trouble. As soon as people figure out that I have these markings, I’m either thrown out of the city or people come after me trying to capture me.”
Ninette turned and met Rhan’s gaze.
“I know what you mean,” She said. “Magic is oftentimes feared or abused by others.”
“Yeah I guess you would know what it’s like, being a witch and all. Actually I didn’t expect you to be like this,” He guestured towards her. “When I hear witch I think…ummm…”
Her scowl made him stop talking.
“What? Keep going? When you hear witch you think…what? What do you think?”
“Well I don’t…I mean,” He stumbled through his words.
Her eyes narrowed.
“The storybooks you humans teach your children about how all witches are cruel and ugly monsters that have evil magic and hate beauty are outlandish,” Ninette said wiping her hands on a spare towel. “Just more people spreading lies about us to make us seem scary.”
“Yeah I guess it’s kind of messed up,” Rhan said.
“You know I’ve never once thought about eating a child,” Ninette said.
“Those books. Those evil books. Talking about how witches always want to lure children away from their parents to eat them. Such nonsense,” She said.
“Oh right. Well I don’t think you want to eat a child,” Rhan said.
“Good,” Ninette said sitting down on the couch beside Rhan.
“So what are we going to do about these runes on my body?” Rhan asked.
Ninette looked over at him sideways.
“I guess we’ll just have to figure it out together,” Ninette said.
“Is that your way of saying that you like me now?” Rhan asked.
“Don’t push it,” She said. “There are still plenty of angry birds outside.”
Image Prompt submitted to r/ImaginaryLandscapes by u/qwuzzy