24. Hunted by Witches

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Ashley woke from a disturbing dream with her right cheek pressed against cold stone. In the dream, a coven of veiled witches surrounded her, with a rather cruel sorceress definitively stating that she wanted to 'get rid of' Ashley's new friends.

As someone who had never had such a thing as a friend, she could not allow this to happen. She had to help her pals escape. But how could she, a non-powerful, ordinary princess, evade the all-powerful witches who had abducted them and brought them to their inescapable fortress?

Luckily this was only a dream and not in any way real.

"I think she's awake," came a soft voice.

Ashley fluttered open her left eye to find herself lying on the cold stone floor inside the fortress with a bunch of veiled witches turned toward her. They were like brides of death in their black robes and black veils.

Despite the multiple fires crackling in the room, Ashley shivered. The harsh smoke dried her nostrils. "I'm still sleeping," Ashley said.

"No, you're awake," said the witch with the whispery voice.

"I'm pretty sure that's not true," Ashley said, lifting her head. "Because you're all still here."

"You're sure she's the one, High Priestess?" came a muffled voice from behind a veil.

"Yes," she sighed. "I know, she does seem rather disappointing."

"Sorry, I am such a disappointment. But if you are real, I'd appreciate it if you let me and my friends go. We have some important revenge activities to take care of and an uprising to settle."

"Oh, Princess Ashley, you are amusing," the High Priestess laughed. It sounded like two pieces of dry parchment sliding against one another.

Ashley managed to stand again, brushing off her pants. While brushing back her hair, she noticed her cheeks carried the impression of a stone floor. Her head still felt woozy, so she spread out her arms to balance herself. She didn't want to look weak in front of the witches. "I see what happened here," Ashley said. "A simple case of mistaken identity. Honestly, no problem. It happens to the best of us."

The High Priestess gripped the thorny black arms of her throne with her talon-tipped fingers and leaned forward. Ashley's toes unfroze and curled inside her boots, waiting for the thorns to draw blood. Nothing happened. Apparently, witches didn't bleed. They probably had magic running through their veins, which, if you thought about it, would be much better. Magic didn't leave stubborn stains on clothes like blood.

"Anyway," Ashley continued, "my name is ... uh ... Asher, and I'm a groom in the Prince's entourage. If you don't return me immediately, I'm sure bad things will happen to you all. Like the Prince will totally get mad at you for abducting his ... er ... favorite groom. But if you let me and my friends go, hey, I won't say anything. It'll be like it never happened. Where are they anyway?"

"Did you miss the part where we told you we are fully aware who you are?" the Priestess said, in such a cold tone that icicles formed on her throne. "That we are powerful witches who wield magic and shape the world to our whim?"

Ashley gulped. "No, I heard that part, but ..."

"You may fool the prince, but you don't fool us, Princess." She waved her hand and replaced Ashley's disguise with one of the black mourning gowns worn by the witches but without the handy bridal veil. She could've used it right now to hide her expression of fear. Perhaps she should've quit with the ruse about three paragraphs ago.

Plus, having magic done to you when you're not prepared is off-putting. Although getting clean clothes was a lot easier to swallow than being translocated or whatever they called it.

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