This is a sample chapter from my new book LadyStar: Secret of the Witchwand, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.
One of the children shrieked. Jessica heard them start to cry again, and she ran back up the road just in time to see what looked like two shabbily dressed women emerge from the forest.
“Well, well… it seems the ratty little beasts have brought reinforcements.” The voice was wheezy and ominous, and it was coming from a creature Jessica could only describe as a thin crone of a woman made of gray mud. Her eyes were dark and narrow, and she wore what looked like a permanently crooked grin. She was clothed in a brown filth-soaked peasant’s dress, legsleeves, a dingy crimson wide-brimmed hat and mangy-looking black sandals. Jessica noticed she was armed with a crooked wand of some kind. Her accomplice was even shabbier-looking.
They stalked out of the forest and stood in the road menacingly. The children backed away, holding their breath. Their eyes were frozen, staring at the creatures. Jessica picked her way past them. She stood between the two witches and her little company. The children hid behind the two girls.
“Leave them alone,” Jessica said in a tone much lower and angrier than Talitha had ever heard.
“And who are you? Mommy?” the taller of the two replied with a rude sneer.
Talitha took up a defensive position next to her friend. She watched the other witch carefully. By now her arm was covered in thin roots, colorful little berry blooms and leaves all the way to her shoulder. She straightened her glasses. Her glimmerkin circled and bobbed around her. The children looked around Jessica with silent frightened expressions.
“We’re their big sisters. Find someone else to pick on.”
The creatures looked astonished. “You expect us to flee at the word of some girl?”
“I expect you to leave them alone.”
It all happened at once. The taller witch charged and the other hurled something. Once again, Talitha was watching what was going on behind the conversation and was prepared for the sudden movement. There was a flash of greenish-yellow light that cast momentary shadows across the road. An instant later there was a hollow thump. A sharp throwing ax lodged in the wooden surface of Trueblossom. Talitha felt her throat close. Her heart pounded as she realized just how close the sharp edge had come to her head.
Jessica wasn’t as prepared as she should have been. The bull rush knocked her back. The combination of momentum and the grade in the road caused her to fall back a good four feet before the dirt and rocks slammed the breath out of her. The children scattered.
Through the daze and pain of her head cracking against the road she saw the witch raise her twisted evil-looking wand. She caught a breath and rolled weakly to one side to avoid the attack just before a bolt of poisonous bile splashed against the muddy road. Some of it splattered her splint armor and caused it to sizzle.
A chittering and angry Teko raked his talons across the crone’s face. The witch bellowed and raged as the fat little bird flapped and fought to reach its eyes. The attack gave Jessica time to regain her feet.
Before she could make a move to defend herself, another spell materialized into a cursed weapon and crashed into her. Jessica cried out and collapsed in the road. Her arm felt like it was on fire. Even with the protection of her shola, the deep, sharp pain was overwhelming. Dizziness and nausea almost caused her to lose consciousness. By now, the children were delirious, wailing and crying and clinging to each other.
Finally Teko connected. He clamped his talons down over the misshapen hag’s eyebrows and nose and held on like an angry terrier. He bit and pecked at her head until her hat was knocked off. The creature flailed with one spindly sharp-nailed hand and growled, trying to swat the pesky bird away.
The diversion gave Talitha just enough time to use the one healing spell she had learned the day before. As she retreated from the second witch and its throwing axes, she took a deep breath and drew power from her shield. Despite the face-burning exertion, she managed to focus on Jessica. An instant later, the soft greenish aura winked out as the second crone shoved Talitha off her feet. She wheeled back and lost her balance, landing hard. The flash of pain in her vision almost struck her cold, and the impact knocked her glasses off. She slid in the rocky dirt, clutching her bulwark.
The searing pain in Jessica’s arm instantly faded. Energy surged. She scrambled to her feet quickly, just in time to square off against the first hag again. By now it had finally fought Teko off. It brandished its wand and snarled. Behind it Jessica could see the faces of the terrified children.
Jessica drew Aria from her back-scabbard.
The light began as a warm yellowish brightness all around from over her head down to her feet. It looked to the children like her armor was glowing. Then it began to intensify. The witch lunged at her and another ghostly bludgeon appeared.
Jessica Halloran planted her feet, twisted her hips and shoulders and performed a textbook cross-deflect with her golden blade. The sharp wood-against-metal sound startled Talitha. Aria turned aside the witch weapon. Risha shrieked as the other creature reached back and conjured another ax meant for the blond warrior.
Talitha thought she saw Jessica turn and her sword flash, but she couldn’t be sure. One moment the throwing ax was spinning through the air at her friend, the next, pieces of it were bouncing into the forest.
The creature attacked again. This time it howled in rage as another spectral club-like weapon splintered against Jessica’s celestium blade. The collision pulverized the wooden bludgeon and it vanished in a grotesque puff of black smoke.
By now the light burning from around Jessica was making it almost impossible to see her at all. It was like a tiny star had appeared in the road. Even the two witches were retreating, holding their hands up to shield their faces from the intense brightness.
The hags hissed and gnashed their teeth. They backed away. Talitha suspected such a bright light was painful for them. Their attacks ceased.
“You will not threaten these children again. I will defend them if you do.”
Everyone had to shield their faces. Talitha stared. No person or creature spoke except Jessica. Still the light around her grew brighter.
“Who are you?!” the taller hag spat.
Risha spoke up.
“She’s the girl with the sword!”
Get your copy of LadyStar: Secret of the Witchwand today!