Cecil had stuck me with the Speakers, which as far as I could tell were the crazy women of this brotherhood. After my first lesson in the courtyard with Cecil I started other lessons as well. I was suppose to have a lesson with Iravit on how to raise spirits in a few hours, I was lying in my bunk while I waited. I was bunking with girls seven years my senior, a few of them were sitting cross legged in a circle on the floor chanting something I couldn’t make out in unison. I continued to listen to them and steal glances at them every so often, but nothing seemed to be happening so I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to do. Eventually one of them stopped and let out a heavy sigh. She looked back at me with sharp eyes “You’re stealing all the focus out of the room. Isn’t there something you could be doing?”
I sat up on my bed “Something I could be doing?”
“Yea like somewhere else?”
“Oh…sure.” I stood up and left the room, truth was I had no idea what else there was to do around the castle. Cecil just told me to stay in control of my emotions, sleep on my bunk, and practice only during lessons. It hadn’t even occurred to me to do anything else. I still felt much like one of my dead things, like someone else was pulling all my strings.
I started wandering the halls of the Speakers, the halls themselves looked the same as they did through the rest of the castle, but through every doorway were clusters of heavily ornamented people chanting or staring off into nothingness with rooms completely covered with creepy decor. Passing each door I was accosted by strong smells, some so pungent I almost gagged. I reached the end of one hall and was met with a spiral staircase. As I started climbing I could hear what sounded like another girl chanting, but as I got closer I could tell it was someone crying and mumbling to themselves.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs I found the source of the noise was a girl, crying into her knees with her long blonde hair covering her face on either side. I stood there for quite a while debating if I should just keep walking or not, before I could decide she looked up at me. “Oh,” She started wiping her tears away with the hem of her robes. Her blue eyes were still brimming with tears and I could see she was a teenager “are you lost?”
“Uh, not really.” I looked her over a bit from where I stood trying to find an injury “What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh I’ve just had a bad day, I’ve only raised spirits until today. I was in one of my classes and I had to raise a ghoul for the first time and it was…it was” fresh tears started falling down her cheeks again “It was just terrible.”
I nodded and took a seat next to her on the step “Did it kill someone?”
“What?! No of course not, it barely moved at all. It was just so… disturbing, the way it twitched and moaned in such an unnatural way.”
She kept crying, and I just stared at her, I felt dumb. “So, why are you crying?”
“Because it was terrible and disgusting, and that was probably someone’s brother or father. I know it seems foolish, most people wouldn’t understand. Why do you think I’m crying out here?” She motioned around us with her arm and then stopped and seemed to be studying me “Are you really as heartless as they say?”
“No! Wait, what do they say?”
“They say you were roaming the country side with an army of undead killing anyone you saw.”
“Oh, well, then, yes.” I looked down and figured she would leave then. When she didn’t leave I looked back up to find her still staring at me.
“Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know, I was just…upset.”
She tilted her head to the side and held out her hand, I stared at it and she sighed and grabbed my hand and began shaking it “I’m Inesa.”
I was thoroughly confused why I was getting an introduction instead of the same cold shoulder most other people here had greeted me with, but a lot of what Inesa had said didn’t make sense to me “I’m Greilya”
“Yes I’ve heard. There aren’t too many seven year olds around here.”
“Sorry, there aren’t too many of those around either. What are you doing up here anyways?”
“I was told I was sucking the focus out of the room, so I’m just walking.”
“Sucking the focus out of the room pfft, that’ll be Basil, she’s kind of a bitch. Don’t let her get to you.”
“Right, of course not.” we sat there in silence for a while, she seemed to be pondering something then suddenly she stood up and lifted me to my feet “Come with me.” I followed her down the hall and then down several flights of stairs. Her demeanor had changed considerably, she was almost skipping down the last few steps. When we reached the bottom we were standing just outside one of the kitchens. She put a finger to her lips and peeked around the corner, then she waved at me to continue. “You stay here and keep watch.” She whispered. Then she sprinted forward, crouching low to the ground and started grabbing foods off the counter. I did as I was told and kept watch at the foot of the stairs. She started heading back to me right as one of the servants entered across the hall from us. I could hear her yelling after us as we ran back up the stairs, I followed Inesa until we were in one of the bunk rooms, presumably hers. It was clear no one had followed us and she sunk against the wall and started emptying her pockets.
“Don’t worry I didn’t take much, It’s just the older folks eat first so usually all the fruit is gone by the time we get down there.” She had grabbed several handfuls worth of small berries, some I recognized as strawberries. Once they were all out in front of her she divided them in half and slid one pile towards me “You’re cut of the bounty madam.”
I looked at her quizzically I couldn’t understand why she felt the need to suddenly steal fruits. She noticed my expression “It’s something I use to do with my sister. When one of us had a bad day we would go sneak some fruits out of our garden before mother could pick them, and we’d go hide and eat them together.” she said thoughtfully.
“You miss your sister?” it was more a statement then a question, but she nodded as she looked at the fruit. “I miss my brother.” I said.
“Yea? Maybe we’re not so different after all.”
“Yea, maybe.” I picked up one of the strawberries and took a bite “It’s good.” she turned then and gave me such a smile that it was like she was actually glowing, she put sunsets to shame. No, Inesa was not like me, and I loved her almost immediately for it.
After we finished the fruits Inesa insisted on braiding my hair, I detested this, but she seemed to enjoy it. “Do you have any classes today?”
“Yea, I’m suppose to see Iravit at noon.”
Inesa looked outside “We better get you down there then, Iravit hates it when people are late.”
Inesa led me down to the main chamber of the Speakers, when she saw Iravit was already there she made a hasty exit. Path ways branched in every direction from this room, though all of the entrances were covered with dark curtains so it felt very isolated. On the far wall a huge stone grotesque was peering down at us from where it was perched on a large pillar. Iravit sat right below the pillar on her knees and she motioned for me to sit across from her.
“I see you’ve met Inesa.” I nodded and took a seat. Iravit was by far the most terrifying necromancer I had met thus far. Her dark hair was done in dreads with bones and feathers strewn throughout. Her eyes were so pale they looked almost white, and she wore leather hides also decorated with bones with the uniform black robes thrown back behind her shoulders. She watched me carefully for a moment “I suppose it’s good you made a friend, though to be honest, not the one I thought you would make.”
“Yes, that would be why it surprised me.” When I could think of nothing to say she continued “Have you ever risen a spirit before?”
She nodded as though she expected this “Spirits are fickle things, they still have their minds, which means you can’t just control them like a corpse. You have to convince them to work for you, or trap them into doing so. They can be quite useful for gaining information, as they can go anywhere quickly and unseen.”
“How do you summon something you can’t see?”
“Well to start, you have to teach yourself to see. For now just be quiet and watch.” Iravit set her hand out in front of her palm down and lifted it up in one quick motion. A wave of blue translucent color splashed from her fingers and a spirit raised halfway from the ground between us.
It’s voice sounded far away as it addressed her “Madame.” He bowed his head to Iravit and she gave him a slight nod.
“This is Sir Elias, he has been in my service for a long time. Sir Elias this is Greilya.” Sir Elias appeared to have been a knight, he was still adorned with full plate mail, granted it was slightly translucent. He turned to examine me and I gave him a little wave, he bowed to me in response. “It is a simple thing to call Sir Elias here as I have summoned him before, the first spirit you summon will be more challenging. You must put yourself into a meditative state which will help you see more of your surroundings, to see the unseen. You must step away from your own body to see those who have no bodies.” She waved one of her hands through Sir Elias and he vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
“I still don’t understand, how do I step out of my body?”
“Some witches use herbs with strange properties, some find pain helpful. Though most of our sisters find chanting the best to induce this state.”
My mind flashed back to the girls in my bunk room “I see, how do you do it?”
“I find silence to be the best method, if you clear your mind eventually everything becomes quite clear.”
“Ok, I’ll try that then.”
She gave me a slight smirk “Very well, close your eyes and focus on nothing but your breathing.” she hesitated a moment before continuing “when I was your age I use to pretend there was a string with a feather attached to my lips, when I would breath in the feather would go into my mouth and down into my lungs, and when I breathed out it would flutter away from me.” I opened one of my eyes to look at her when she said that. I was told no one got their abilities as young as I had. “Keep them closed Greilya, focus.”
I did as she asked and we sat for what felt like hours. For a while I worried that she was going to tell me to stop because this wasn’t working and we had to try something else. I didn’t want to open my eyes to check, however, for fear of being reprimanded. So I just tried to ignore the feeling and focus on the little string with the feather moving in and then out.
When I finally did open my eyes I saw Sir Elias in front of me, this time he waved at me. He was standing next to a translucent Iravit and there was another Iravit sitting in front of me as she had been though somehow farther away. When I looked up I could see a river of translucent blue that moved and flowed through the roof and the walls. When I looked back I could see my body sitting with my eyes closed. Iravit moved toward me, she left a trail of her movements as she approached. She moved her hand up into the river and motioned for me to do the same. As I did I felt a cold in my hand, Iravit pulled a spirit from the river and I mimicked her movement. My hand came down but before I had pulled a spirit down a hand plunged out of the river and grabbed my wrist, a face pulled through the river. It was my father’s face and in the silence I could hear him speak, he wasn’t yelling, but his voice consumed me and filled my head until it felt like it would explode “Greilya”.
I woke from my trance screaming already alight with green flames. Iravit rushed forward with her face only inches from mine, just far enough as to not get burned “You’re safe Greilya, the ghosts cannot leave that place unless we allow it. You are safe child.” She kept repeating that and I could feel the flames recede into me. I felt calm and hollow once again. Iravit leaned back but stayed locked onto my eyes “Looks like someone wanted to talk to you, who was it?”
“You didn’t want to talk to him?”
“No, I know what he will ask. I wake up with it on my tongue every morning.” I stood up, looking anywhere but at Iravit “May I go back to my room now?”
“Yes of course child.”
* * *
I didn’t sleep that night, I just laid on my back all night staring straight ahead. When I didn’t go down to breakfast Cecil came to find me on my bunk. “Greilya?”
I turned to look at him “I won’t summon spirits.”
“Yes I heard you had a rough day yesterday. Most necromancers choose either corpses or spirits to focus on. It would be good if you knew how to do both however.”
I sat up and said it again “I won’t summon spirits.”
He took a seat on the empty bunk next to mine “Due to the circumstances, perhaps that would be best for now. Though, do not think I do this because you demand it. You serve the King now, there is little you can demand in your position.”
I nodded, accepting that at least he wasn’t going to make me go back to that place with the river.
“We’re moving you into more permanent housing with the other new initiates today, so get dressed and gather your things. I’ll meet you in the dining hall.” with that he left before I could ask any questions. Like, won’t they kill me? Though if there was anything I had learned since arriving, it was to listen to Cecil. Everyone else certainly seemed to.
After getting dressed I donned my oversized robes, there wasn’t really anything else to take so I headed down the stairs and caught up with Cecil right outside the dining room. Cecil looked down at me with a bit of surprise “Right, I suppose you don’t have much, do you? I’ll find you some more clothes this evening.” He proceeded forward and we passed the long tables that were being cleared by servants. I spotted the servant who had almost caught Inesa and I the day before and I quickly turned my head to look the other way “Now I know what you’re thinking, but everyone knows you have taken the oath now. So to harm you would incur the wrath of the King. That’s not to say that they have to be nice to you, but if I keep you locked up with the Speakers forever you’ll never learn to work with them.”
“Can’t I just work with you and Sare?”
He grinned back at me “And Germ too?”
“Hm, I’m afraid that would not be possible.” He stopped at the next set of doors and kneeled down to my level “These are your brothers Greilya, like it or not these will be the people who have your back for many battles to come and you theirs. You have to learn to work with them. And under no circumstances are you to harm any of them.” he lifted his eyebrows at me clearly waiting for me to agree with him.
I gave the slightest of nods and we proceeded down several more corridors until we reached a large open room containing several small tables and walls lined with books. There were several necromancers here reading and talking in small clusters and they all turned their attention to me as we entered. I had seen most of them before at meals and around the castle, but I’d never spoken so much as a word to any of them. “This is the common room, feel free to borrow any books you find here.” Cecil continued forward, paying no mind to the men staring at me, and led me to my new room.
There were at least 12 bunks in the room and many of the young men and women were clearly getting ready for a day of training. “Initiates!” all eyes were immediately on Cecil “This is our newest Initiate Greilya. She will begin training with you today, I expect her to be treated with the same respect shown to all our sisters.” Grumbling could be heard throughout the room, but for the most part the initiates went back to what they were doing. Cecil pointed to one of the beds, “This will be you’re bunk Greilya, training begins in ten minutes in the mortuary.”
Cecil watched as I took a seat on the bed, having nothing to put away, I put my hands on my lap. “Right, I’ll leave you to it then.” He mumbled and with one more look around the room he took his leave. As I sat there the room grew steadily quiet. I took a deep breath, reminding myself to stay calm no matter what happened.
Two boys probably around sixteen stepped in front of me. One of them had a mess of red hair and looked to be completely covered in freckles, the other was considerably tall and well built with very short cropped hair. They were both inspecting me, seemingly unimpressed the red head spoke up first “So you’re the one who killed all those people?”
“Yes.” I said trying to keep the tremble out of my voice.
“A little pipsqueak like you? You don’t seem like much. Does she Graghor?”
The tall one leaned in close and lifted one of my tiny arms and then let it drop back down to my lap “She’s like a tiny mouse.” he seemed very disappointed. “I could crush her in one hand.”
I remembered what Cecil said about me having to work with these people. I turned my head to face Graghor a mere inch from my face “You wouldn’t be the first to try.” I could feel the flames in me and for the briefest of moments I knew my eyes had glown bright green. Graghor stood up with that and looked at his companion.
“You’ve mastered the flames?”
I wouldn’t exactly have said I had them mastered, but I wasn’t about to tell those two that “Yes.”
They both looked much more satisfied with that “That’s quite a feat.” the red head chirped, “Sorry for the rough greeting, we really have been excited to meet you.” He held out his hand “I’m Bael, and this tall beast is Graghor. We were really impressed to hear what you did, and without any training or nothin! I mean it’s a shame about our brothers and all, but truth be told we’d never met em. And those villagers, pfft they’ve been killing our people for what? Fucking decades, figure it’s about time one of us knocked out a few of their numbers.”
I was at a loss for words, the idea that people would have admired my deeds had never crossed my mind. I expected to find a room full of people who hated me. The other initiates started filing out of the room. One of them gave me a dirty look while he passed. Bael took note “Keep your eyes to yourself Otto, before someone takes them from you.” Otto quickly looked the other way. “Right I guess it’s time for training, you can come with us.”
“Alright.” I made my way down to the mortuary with Graghor behind me and Bael in front of me. The mortuary had rows of tables each containing its own inanimate corpse. Toward the front of the room there was a massive oak desk. One necromancer was standing over it looking at some notes and Cecil was there sitting towards the end of the desk watching people file in. His face seemed to sink when he saw who I was with. The three of us took a table at the back. Bael leaned over the table poking at the dead body “So how’d you do it?” he whispered.
“How’d I do what?” I whispered back.
He looked at me, his eyes seemed brighter “The villagers, how’d you kill them?”
“Oh, with the undead mostly, I had quite a few of them with me at all times.” I said this very matter of factly. This seemed to delight him and Graghor both.
Just then the necromancer at the front of the room began speaking in a loud voice that silenced everyone else. “Alright initiates, we have a new member here today so I will go through this again. One person in the group needs to raise the corpse at your table, then each member take turns trying to gain control of the undead. This will strengthen your ability to control them. Try to remain in control for as long as you can, once you lose control it will be the next persons turn to raise the corpse. Any questions?” he paused a moment and looked intently at me “No? Then you may begin.” The instructor resumed looking at his notes and everyone got to work.
“Shall I start us off?” Bael offered. The room quickly filled with the moans of the undead as everyone began animating their corpse. Graghor was trying to take control of our corpse when I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head. I instinctively reached my hand towards the pain and brought back a hand covered in blood. I found the small rock that had been thrown lying on the ground. When Bael and Graghor saw the blood they were both on their feet “Who the fuck threw it?!” Bael demanded.
It hadn’t hurt too terribly much, but my head was reeling with what to do. I finally decided to take the same tact I had with Graghor. Bael was still yelling on while I stood up slowly and turned to look at a sea of glaring faces. I felt that coldness well up inside me and I wrenched all of the undead from their animators all at once. Everyone’s faces changed from angry to horrified as in unison all of the dead got up off their tables and started shuffling towards me. There was about ten of them and I had them all circle around our table facing out towards the rest of the class.
Once the last one was in place I sat back down at the table facing a slack jawed Bael and Graghor. “They can try to take control of them from me now.”
Bael was the first to crack a smile. “Now you have got to teach me that!” They both took their seats with me, all grins.
Eventually I could hear Cecil’s voice close by “Greilya, release them. Now.”
I sighed, but I did as he asked, and allowed Cecil to gain control. He marched the undead back to their tables and looked down at me, seeing the blood on my hand he turned back to face the class. “Greilya has sworn the same oath as all of us. Her transgressions against us were forgiven by the King himself because at the time she didn’t know any better. If someone was to be found harming her now that she has taken the oath, the King would have your head on a pike before the end of the day. You would all do well to remember that.” Cecil flashed a look at the instructor who then dismissed the class. Cecil glanced back down at me “I guess that’s one way about it.” he muttered.
Cecil took me, and at my request Bael and Graghor, out to the yard to practice with the green fire. My new friends couldn’t summon fire yet, but they were more than happy to learn from Sare how to use a sword. As night fell we made our way back to our room. The other initiates seemed content to ignore us as we got to our bunks. I had gained a dull ache in my head and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
That night I tossed and turned dreaming of the blue river above me. I jolted awake in the darkness, fumbling over the bed with my hands “Where’s Espero?” I asked the emptiness, and then I remembered.