Chapter 1 – That Which is Broken
Hazel watched the pool of crimson spread across Pounamu’s linen shift. The ugly wound in the ancient witch’s side glistened with wet death in the harsh sunlight.
Lupine, the lone survivor of the faery genocide in Southeil, fluttered around Hazel’s matted blonde curls. “What can we do? How can we help?”
The question brought Hazel’s full attention back to the present. She tapped her fingertips together and a plan spilled from her lips. “Zip, take Lupine back to Pounamu’s cottage and fetch me kowhai powder, manuka honey, saga tree paste, and a needle and strong thread.”
“Bandages?” asked the red-winged faery.
“Can you carry that much?”
“Come, Tainui’s children. We must save the witch of the wood.” A cloud of faeries circled toward Zip and he darted into the humid darkness of Dreamwood Forest, determined to save his oldest human friend.
Hazel knelt next to Pounamu and lifted the old woman’s listless head onto her lap. She stroked the soft, grey hair back from the ageless face, before she hovered her right hand above the steadily leaking gash, closed her eyes, and whispered, “Papuni.”
She opened her eyes and dared to believe that the flow of blood had slowed. Hazel’s father, Delcourt, had been a legendary healer and herbalist before the accident that left him crippled and unable to speak. She let her thoughts drift back to one of his many lessons. (BUY the book)
“You must be the calm place in the midst of chaos, my bright star. A healer absorbs the negative energy from the injury or illness and sends positive energy back into the wounded or sick,” he had said.
Hazel placed her hand over the gash and thought of the Arei and their ability to absorb and redirect magick. Her hand tingled, prickled, and stung. The wound, caused by one of the forest’s fang-toothed beasts, gave off waves of fear and destruction. She pulled the pain out of Pounamu and into her own fingers. Her hand—and finally her whole arm—felt heavy with foreboding.
As she moved her hand toward the earth to release the energy and find her own center again, she felt a knowing in her chest. This is Makutu’s curse. This evil has been trapped in Dreamwood Forest for over three hundred years. Somehow Flynn’s capture had weakened the barrier that kept the curse from Aotearoa. Hazel pressed her hand to the dew-dampened earth and released the energy—grounding herself in Mother Earth.
The bleeding had slowed, and Pounamu’s deathly pallor held a spark of life.
The whirring of the returning faery hive pulled Hazel’s gaze to the sky.
“No kowhai powder,” blurted Zip.
“We’ll do the best we can,” replied Hazel. “Did you find the honey?”
Lupine flew down close to Hazel and handed her a small bundle, filled with honey. “The cottage is nearly gone,” she whispered. “The forest is consuming it.”
“I’m afraid Makutu’s curse has been released,” said Hazel.
As Inga neared Moa Bend she heard the steady pounding of the warning drums. Master Cabot had received her message and the drums warned the villagers to get safely indoors. She hoped they had all heeded the warning, because despite the speed of her giant moa the fang-toothed beasts had outpaced her.
The agonized screech of a mortally wounded animal pierced the air.
She gave her moa the signal to halt and assessed the situation. A lone boy stood in the middle of the road, his bow still held firm. The carcass of a giant beast lay crumpled around an arrow, buried nearly to the fletching, in its chest. “State your name,” she commanded. (BUY the book)
He looked up at the shaved head bearing the tattooed markings of an Arei and answered without hesitation. “Po Rehua, son of Paitongi, Mistress of Carving.”
“Your aim is true. Join me.” Inga reached one arm down toward the man-child and swung him onto the back of her two-legged mount.
“The other one ran toward the Ceremonial Lawn,” yelled Po, over the pounding of the bird’s three-taloned feet on the dirt road.
Inga lightly touched the feathered neck of her moa and steered it toward the center of the village.
Po nocked an arrow and found the rhythm of the giant bird’s stride.
Mistress of Herbs, Tamsin, stood frozen in terror in front of the Herb Hut. Her normally buggy eyes looked as though they may pop out of her head, and her thin lips were drawn back in horror.
The huge, fang-toothed beast swallowed up swaths of territory with each bounding leap.
Po took careful aim, waited for the lift in the moa’s stride, and loosed his arrow.
The beast roared as the arrow sank into his haunch. It rounded on the new threat and came straight for its target. Even injured, it launched itself high into the air—determined to bring down the moa and the riders.
Another arrow whizzed through the air, cleanly finding its mark just below the collarbone and to the left of the breastbone. The blood lust in the tawny beast’s eyes faded to hollow death and the enormous mammal hit the ground with a sickening thud.
Inga swerved her moa out of harm’s way and dismounted in one fluid movement. She ran toward the collapsing Mistress of Herbs. “Tere,” she shouted.
Tamsin lost consciousness.
The Arei’s spell caught the fainting witch’s body and floated her safely above the hard ground.
“I saw only two—for now.” Inga scooped up Tamsin and took her to the Healing Hut.
Nokomis watched the events unfolding on the Ceremonial Lawn and swept the door open as Inga approached. “Follow me,” she instructed.
Inga laid the Mistress of Herbs on a sturdy bed. “A healer is needed outside Dreamwood Forest. The witch of the wood was wounded by one of these beasts.” She nodded her thanks to Nokomis and hurried back toward the boy with the bow. “Po, can you teach me? Can you teach us how to kill these beasts?”
“Why would you use arrows when you have such powerful magick, eh?”
“The beasts of Dreamwood seem to be immune to magick.”
“You mean Atahu—the real name of the forest is Atahu, and it’s more deadly than any dream,” said Po.
Inga nodded in agreement. “I cast several spells as I pursued the beasts, but they were unharmed and easily left me behind. Can you teach us?”
“Of course. When?”
“Now would be best. I must speak with Master Cabot and I prefer to take him a solution, rather than another problem.”
“All right.” Po walked confidently toward the fallen fang-toothed beast.
Inga hurried along behind.
“The witch of the wood told me that the fangs and whiskers could be used in certain spells. Should we notify Master Hinaki?”
“I’ll stop by on my way to see Master Cabot.” Inga crouched next to the carcass. “Now tell me your secret, Po Rehua.”
He grasped the still-warm shoulder and rolled the beast onto its back. “See here?” He pointed to the spot just below the collarbone and to the left of the breastbone. “The heart is here, just like our sheep. An arrow straight through this spot is the only way to bring them down.”
“But their large head protects this spot when they run,” said Inga.
“Yes.” Po looked up from the bloody wound and locked eyes with the Arei. “That is why you must wait until they leap. They lift their head—just enough—as they launch into the air. That is the moment you loose your arrow, as the hind quarter springs upward.”
“A dangerous game, carver. If your aim is untrue—you lose.”
“But my aim is true, eh?”
“Indeed. Indeed it is.” Inga studied the beast. She placed her hands on each of the bones Po had pointed out and measured the distance from the hard, resistant breastbone to the soft, vulnerable spot where the arrow could pierce the heart. “We can develop a spell to true our aim. That will be my first step,” she said, more to herself than Po. After completing her examination of the carcass she stood and faced the boy. “I am pleased we crossed paths today. Many lives were spared by your quick actions against the beasts.”
Po turned to walk away and stopped. “How did the beasts escape?”
“I think it has something to do with the capture of the Hawthorn heir.”
Po spun around and grabbed her arm. “Who captured Flynn? What about Hazel, the girl who traveled with her? What about Hazel?” (BUY the book)
“The mermaid? She currently protects the witch of the wood.”
“Mermaid?” He shook his head. “Where?”
“At the edge of Dream . . . Atahu Forest.”
Po turned and sprinted toward Atahu—toward Hazel.
Kahu paced from the hearth in her kitchen to the front window and back, scraping her red-blonde hair back with both hands before dropping her arms in frustration. “But why would she go to Southeil, Cabot? Why?”
“I don’t know, my Priestess.” He absently touched his black tourmaline amulet as he finished his reply. “My Arei tell me that Hazel has the full story and that she is currently at the edge of Dreamwood Forest protecting Pounamu.”
“Pounamu does not need the protection of a Level Three witchling.”
“But she is badly wounded, my Priestess, by one of the beasts escaping the forest.”
Kahu tilted her head and stared at Cabot. “Pounamu is injured? Beasts have escaped from Atahu? When did this occur, and what other news are you keeping from me?”
“I am keeping nothing from you. It is more a matter of order of importance. My Arei say it was just after news of Flynn’s capture reached our shore.”
The pacing ceased and Kahu dropped heavily into a chair. “The shadow is creeping over our land. Flynn was part of the magick that held its evil at bay. I fear the forces that have protected us for aeons are breaking apart. If we cannot rescue her from the hands of Magdelana . . . Oh, Cabot, perhaps it is already too late.” Silent tears leaked from the corners of the High Priestess’ eyes.
Cabot shed his role as Master of Protections and knelt by his lover’s side. Strong arms pulled her toward his broad chest and he gently wiped the salty drops from her cheek. “We will find her, Kahu. We will bring her back to Aotearoa and crush the Shadow Coven of Southeil, once and for all.”
She took a deep, shaky breath and stood. “I must speak to Hazel.” She stopped and shook her head. “Request a healer from Nokomis and meet me near the forest. Goddess willing, it is not too late for Pounamu.”