This episode is number 29 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.
The little Pixie hand gripped the side of the cauldron, gobbets of the foul liquid dripping from the tips of its fingers to sizzle in the embers of the fire. For a few moments all was silent before Aveena drew in a huge shuddering gasp. Pogmorton broke the surface simultaneously, hacking up great lumps of the cauldron's contents as he supported himself shakily on the side of the cauldron with both hands. Rivulets of it ran down his face and arms, coating a swathe of the cauldron with bubbling, foul-smelling ichor.
Swazzle could not help himself from a sudden intake of breath at the sight of his old friend swinging his leg gingerly over the edge of the cauldron and half climbing, half falling out of its embrace to land with a thud on the ground next to the fire. After a few moments of silent chest-heaving, Pogmorton wiped the sticky liquid from his eyes, rolled over and scanned his surroundings. Their eyes met and Swazzle's breath froze in his throat. It is Pogmorton, but it isn't, he thought as he caught sight of the flat, dead look behind Pogmorton's eyes.
Recognition seemed to dawn on Pogmorton's face, he grinned weakly at his friend before collapsing to the ground again. Involuntarily, Swazzle started forward, stopping only when Aveena waved him back. The witch had begun to stir but had not recovered her strength sufficiently to stop Pogmorton when he suddenly stiffened, raised his head and sniffed the air before falling upon her bleeding leg and lapping like a dog at the blood oozing from her wound.
Following a short struggle, Aveena managed to at last dislodge Pogmorton, who scampered a few paces away, drew his knees up to his chest and whimpered like a wounded puppy. Aveena eventually reached her knees, staunching the blood with the bandage she had placed next to the cauldron, all the while murmuring to Pogmorton in that sing-song voice parents use to calm frightened infants. Gradually this seemed to have an effect, Pogmorton's body uncoiling as the whimpering subsided. He allowed Aveena to wrap him in the blanket she had ready for the purpose and lead him to the circle's edge.
Swazzle found himself drawn forward even before Aveena beckoned to him. Forming a door in the circle's edge with her finger, Aveena passed a shivering Pogmorton through into Swazzle's arms before sealing the gap and beginning another ritual to close the sacred space.
'Am...am I alive?' Pogmorton whispered as Swazzle lead him towards the back door of Goddess Rising.
'Yes. Yes, I think so,' replied Swazzle trying to ignore the haunted look in Pogmorton's eyes. Mostly alive, he thought.
* * *
Following a brief flurry of activity all was calm in Mistress Botchett's kitchen. The children had been packed off to bed and it had been suggested in no uncertain terms to Master Botchett that he might like to go and find something useful to do elsewhere. Pogmorton, still swaddled in Aveena's blanket, reclined in Botchett's rocking chair, Swazzle sitting beside him on a stool at the kitchen table while Mistress Botchett bustled about, making tea and smothering thick doorsteps of fresh bread with honey.
'Just the thing when you've been re-born,' she muttered with more conviction than she felt.
Under the circumstances Mistress Botchett felt she could forego sniping at Swazzle about the scaly tail still dangling from the front of her now battered stove. Had it not been for the Draig's predilection for Gnome flesh, she could almost have liked the thing, it seemed a dab hand at keeping the stove fire going. There again, she considered having to feed the stove less wood small recompense for the possibility of being devoured any time she fancied a cup of tea.
* * *
Rev Beresford stood, leaning heavily on his cane as he shut off the video camera he had pointed out of his bedroom window upstairs at the rear of Goddess Rising. Lathered in a cold sweat and squinting from intently studying the camera's small monitor, Rev Beresford trembled with more than old age as he made his way to his study and picked up the phone.
'Your Grace? Hello, Your Grace, it's Beresford. Pardon? Yes, I apologise about telephoning you at this hour, but this really couldn't wait.' Rev Beresford went on to explain what he had just witnessed and video-taped.
'As you wish, Your Grace. First thing in the morning. I'll see you then. Goodnight, Your Grace.'
He replaced the receiver. Well, he thought, this was a turn up for the books, and no mistake.
This week also marks the release of the twelfth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 12 over at Emma Newman's blog Post Apocalyptic Publishing. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.