I’m pretty happy with this one…at the moment. Now I just need to start writing the story again.
I’m pretty happy with this one…at the moment. Now I just need to start writing the story again.
Graghor’s sword was alight with flames as he approached, he went to hit me and I dodged out of the way and smacked my sword on his backside. His body lit with the flames absorbing most of my blow. Graghor’s large stature had filled out considerably with all the training, he packed a mean punch, but was slowed immensely by sheer weight. He went to swing low at my legs and I flipped backwards dodging him yet again. He charged at me outright then, and I easily stepped to the side and got him right behind the knees. He tumbled to the ground cursing loudly. Cecil stepped between us “That’s enough, you need to get cleaned up before you meet with the king,” he was eyeing me and I knew I was thoroughly caked in dirt.
I looked down at my clothes “My robe will cover most of it I think.”
Cecil gave me a look that barred any argument and motioned for me to follow.
I watched as Sare stepped up and offered Graghor a hand, “You’ve got to stop charging her. It just leaves you wide open.” Graghor only grunted in response.
I gave Graghor a big grin as I put my practice sword back and then went to follow Cecil into the castle. “Do you think the King was impressed with what we can do?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out, Greilya.”
“I know, but what do you think he’ll say?”
“If it were King Aernoys I could probably tell you what he would say, but the sons actions are not like the father. I’m sure he sees the worth of a sect of warriors with powers. You all did very well in your demonstration, but none of you have actually fought in a war. Also putting a teenager at the head of such a group, no matter her abilities, hardly seems wise.” Cecil sighed “It’s a gamble Greilya.”
“We fought in the broken steed war and the war at the twin oaks.”
“Raising the dead from the sidelines of a war is much different than fighting with swords in the middle of it.” He stopped at the bath house door, “I’m on your side Greilya, just don’t get your hopes up too high on this one.”
“Right, thanks.” I left Cecil outside and stepped into the bath house full of fawning women. I got clean and, refusing the women’s requests of dresses and hairstyles, I dawned my black robes and followed Cecil in silence to King Aernove’s throne room.
As I always did when I entered this room I was awed by the sheer size of it. I suppose that was the point, to make everyone who enters feel small and insignificant. King Aernove sat upon the throne his father had earned him. He was staring at me like I was a meal, something I still hadn’t gotten use to, the way men looked at me now that I was older. He did share in his father’s dark hair, though little else. He was half the size of King Aernoys and adorned himself with fine silks and a ridiculous amount of jewels. “Greilya, come forward, come forward. Ah Cecil, good, I have news to tell you as well.” he sounded excited to see me and shooed away the many servants showing him various clothes.
I remained expressionless as I stepped forward and took a knee “My lord.”
“Yes, yes fine and good, you may stand.”
I stood back up eyeing him leerly. Recently I had begun to think of all people outside of the brotherhood as little rabbits. Since the death of his father one month ago, I thought of this excitable idiot as being the rabbit king of the scared and scurrying masses. It made it easier to understand their actions.
The King eyed me with a pleased expression on his face “You are here about these ‘nightmares’ you want to lead into battle on my behalf?”
“Yes my lord.”
“My advisors tell me I should be wary of allowing someone so young to lead their own cohort. However, these are the same advisors who think I am not fit to make my own decisions for my kingdom. Even though I’m damn near twenty.” He eyed several men to his side as if daring them to speak. “You trained these men in this new method of destruction and they seem to respect you well enough to listen to you, so I disagree with my advisors on this point.”
“Thank you , my lord.”
“No thanks needed, you are a very powerful soldier Greilya. If there were to be another war I am sure your cohort would be an unstoppable force.” he stopped after that, giving time for his words to sink in. I turned my head to Cecil who looked as confused as I felt and then the King continued “Conquest was my father’s dream. If he were still alive, I doubt he would have stopped until we ruled the whole world. However, I have more lands than I’ve seen with my own eyes and more men and wealth at my disposable then I could use in two lifetimes. What is the point of all this power if all I’m going to do is collect more of what I don’t need.”
The King’s advisors did not mirror Cecil and I’s confusion, they simply looked dismayed and kept their mouths shut as the King proceeded “Conquest will resume in time, of course, but not until I have the means to enjoy what I earn. I refuse to fall prey to the same fate as my father, he was ruler to half the known world! And how did that help him when the years caught up with him and sickness consumed him?”
It seemed to be a genuine question, but I was at an utter loss for words “My lord?”
“Eternal life. This is what I seek, this is what my necromancers will be focusing on from now on.” with those words he let his gaze fall on Cecil.
Cecil stepped forward and took a knee “My Lord, if I may, no one has attained eternal life, no necromancer knows how to grant you this.”
King Aernove’s face took on a much sterner appearance with Cecil’s words “They don’t know how YET. But you raise people from the grave, you bring spirits back to do your bidding. If anyone can find the answers to eternal life, it will be your brotherhood. And you will find it, because it is what your King demands.” The King let his eyes fall back on me “Not to fear, Greilya, I will still have use of your new cohort. I imagine we will need many more corpses for the work your brothers will be undertaking and there is already much unrest in my lands over this point. Your men should be perfect for keeping the fear alive in my towns and keeping anyone from attempting a revolt. While at the same time gathering anything else that your brotherhood may need in completing this task I’ve set upon them.”
Cecil tried to continue, “It is simply impossible…”
King Aernove stood suddenly. “Silence! You sound like my idiotic advisors! Driveling on about what can’t be done! I am King! Son of the Great King of the Dead! I can do anything I please!” The King took a deep breath and seemed to compose himself as he took his seat clenching the arms of his throne with white knuckles “You simply lack motivation.” he said with an icy voice “You will find me the answers to eternal life, as you’re told to, or your whole brotherhood will die with me.” he stared at us with what I’m sure was his most intimidating look, I simply saw a scared little rabbit.
Cecil had been looking on slack jawed, but quickly regained his composure “I will spread the word to my brothers and we will begin work at once to try to gain the power for what you seek.”
“Don’t try, Cecil, do it. Now go, I still have words for Greilya.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Cecil eyed me on his way out and once the large door closed the King spoke in a much calmer tone “My father told me that Cecil was the man to go through when breaching things with my necromancers, but sometimes I wonder…”
He resumed eyeing me like a meal and I had a real urge to slit his throat and watch him bleed out on the steps to his throne. The thought of Cecil was all that stopped me, “There are none among my brothers who holds more of our respect, your father was wise in his council.”
The King nodded “Yes, he was very wise.” He stared off, clearly pondering something, while he twirled one of the many rings on his hand “Neither here nor there, I already have an assignment for your Nightmares. I am getting disturbing reports from the town of Terrgar, perhaps with my father’s death they think it is a good time to fight back for their independence. Nothing has happened, yet, but the unrest is palpable. I need you to lead your men and put an end to any ideas of revolt.”
“You’d have my men slaughter some villagers?”
“Just enough to get the point across, is that a problem?”
“My men will be happy to have something to do my lord. I was just making sure there was no misunderstanding.”
The King gave me a huge smile at that “That’s what I like to hear. Commander Edmund is in charge of my men stationed there, take this letter to him.” One of the red robed advisors approached me with a rolled scroll in hand “He will assist you in any way you require.”
I took the scroll and stored it away in my robes “Yes, my Lord”
“You may go, you leave at first light.”
I bowed and made my leave, Cecil was of course awaiting me outside the chamber. He looked weary and older than I had ever seen him. My mind wandered to one day many years ago when Cecil and I had been practicing with the green flames. He had just spoken to the King and did not seem pleased about the conversation. After he had lit another dummy on fire with his hand I asked him “Why don’t you just do that to the King?”
He looked at me as if he had expected the question “Are you asking me why I took the oath, or why I keep it?”
“Both, I suppose.”
“When we were first offered the oath none of us knew each other, nor were we as powerful as we are today. We never could have taken on the King’s armies. It was a way to stay alive. And I keep the oath because this life is much better than the one we lived before. We thrive here, Greilya, whereas alone we are just exiled and hated.”
I stepped in front of my mentor and waited for his eyes to focus on mine, I wanted to ask him how this could possibly be better than being on our own, but looking into his eyes I couldn’t bring myself to ask him. So instead I simply said “Long live the King.”
He gave a small smile at that “Long live the King.” he repeated with a defeated tone. We made our way back to the brotherhood, where Cecil told them of the Mad Rabbit King’s demands.
* * *
The following morning, my men were preparing their horses for the two day journey to Terrgar. We had taken a page out of Iravit’s handbook adorning our black leathers with bones and red paint, a few us even had disturbing masks. There were ten of us in total Sare, Bael, and Graghor among them. I had called us the Nightmares after Cecil had said we would ‘terrorize the dreams of our enemies’.
Sare had taught us all the use of swords, but I had trained all of them to manipulate the green flames. It could be used as a shield as well as a weapon, something none of my predecessors had discovered. They listened to me on how to utilize the green flames, and over time they started listening to me regarding everything else as well. So when I suggested that we approach the King with our specialized cohort the Nightmares, no one even questioned me. I was only seventeen, but if that bothered any of them they never said as much.
Inesa had come out into the yard to see us off. The looks men made at me on occasion were disconcerting, but the looks all men gave Inesa made my blood boil. Every man’s head in the yard seemed to turn as she approached, whistles could be heard from some of the rabbit soldiers. She simply smiled in the direction of the sound, seemingly unphased. My men did not take part in whistling, but I noted many of them stealing glances at her as well. She approached me as I was saddling my horse “You’re off to Terrgar?”
I nodded “King’s orders. There’s some villagers he wants us to quiet, hardly anything dangerous.”
“By quiet you mean kill?”
I looked at her then, she really had grown into a dazzling woman, her black robes only seemed to make her glow brighter by contrast. I knew where this conversation was headed “Only if it comes to that.”
“You could terrify them with a demonstration of your power alone. You don’t need to kill anyone.”
I sighed “What does it matter Inesa? Everybody ends up in the ground eventually.”
Bael chimed in at that “Hey now, not everyone. Didn’t you hear Greilya? King says he’s gonna stay upright till the end of time.” everyone chuckled at that.
Inesa ignored him “It matters because they are people.” she touched my shoulder until I looked back at her “With families and other people who care about them. They’re mad at the King, that doesn’t mean they should be slaughtered for it.”
As always, we disagreed. I sighed and kept on working.
“Please, Greilya.” her eyes looked at me imploringly.
“I’ll try not to kill them.”
Several of the men chuckled again as she gave me a hug “That’ll have to do.”
I looked down at her as she had her arms around me “Aren’t you going to tell me to be careful or something?”
She stood back from me and gave me a quizzical look “Careful? I don’t need to worry after you Greilya, it’s the rest of the world I fear for.”
“Aw thanks, can I get back to saddling my horse now?”
“Yes of course, I’ll see you when you get back.”
She headed back to the castle and Bael leaned over to me “Are we really not going to be killing anyone?”
I gave him a smirk “Don’t worry Bael, If I know angry villagers, you’ll have your fill of blood before the week’s out.”
* * *
It was a particularly humid morning when we arrived at the gate of Terrgar and were greeted by several armed soldiers. “You the Nightmares the King spoke of?”
I held out the scroll with the King’s seal “We are, I need to speak with Commander Edmund.”
The soldier inspected the seal and then eyed all of my companions “Well you folks certainly look the part.” He signaled for the gate to be opened “Follow me.” We did as he instructed through the packed streets bordered on either side by wood houses and market stalls. The townspeople eyed us as we passed with obvious contempt, and I eyed all of them in the same manner. The whole town looked like it was covered in a layer of grime, possibly because the streets were dirt, instead of cobbles like in Acrosia.
The soldier led us to a stable for our horses, most of my men stayed to see to them while Sare, Bael, and I followed the soldier to the commander’s office.
Commander Edmund looked to be well into his forties and wore a large mustache along with the standard uniform. The large symbol on his white cape marked his station. The soldier who led us saluted him as we entered. I simply dropped the scroll on his desk. Unlike his soldiers the commander did not seem taken aback by our appearance. The soldier introduced me ” Sir, this is Greilya of the Nightmares sent by King Aernove.”
“Yes Namus, thank you, you can go.” The soldier departed and Commander Edmund unraveled the parchment. After reading it he finally addressed us “I don’t know how warranted all this is. Nothing big has happened here, It’s really just some town criers riling people up a bit, we’ve been able to disperse them easily enough so far.”
The office was extremely small and we were nearly right up against the front of the commander’s desk. Accommodations weren’t always ideal when you used the buildings that were available after conquering a place like they clearly had in Terrgar. I leaned against the back wall as I spoke “Crier’s often have more power than they initially appear to. I think the King just wants us to ensure nothing big does happen.”
The Commander seemed hesitant “Right, well you’re welcome to see for yourselves and do as you see fit. You’ll have my men’s full cooperation.”
“Great, do you have a soldier who can escort us around, maybe point out some of the troublemakers?”
“Of course I’ll send some soldiers to the stables for you.”
“Alright we’ll meet them down there.” I opened the office door about to leave when I caught Sare giving me a very pointed look. I turned slightly “Thank you, Commander.”
The Commander nodded “Of course.”
Outside the stables we met back up with the rest of the men and I explained the situation. “Right now we’re just gathering information” I told them. Everyone nodded their understanding and we followed our escorts back out into the market.
It turned out that the escorts were entirely unnecessary, as we found a crier out on a crate spewing his hatred for necromancers that very morning. There was already a large group of villagers around him clinging and agreeing with every word he spat. The two soldiers eyed the situation on the street and turned back to me “You might want to get back and let us break this up, god knows what they will do if you folks get in the middle of that.”
I looked at the old man ranting on and on, a rabid bunny “No.” I said.
The soldier’s face skewed up in confusion “No?”
I tore my eyes away to look at him for only a moment “No, do nothing. I think we’ll stay and listen.” I held up four fingers and pointed them to the left, four of the nightmares immediately headed in that direction to get on the other side of the small mob.
I signaled for the rest of my men to stay put as I approached the crier. The old man saw me and took the bait, as I knew he would. “And there they are, yet again, to steal away our dead! To use them in their foul craft, their ungodly arts! Our dead will never rest as long as these devils are allowed to be at large! The King is mad to keep them in his company! We must cleanse our lands of these demons! We must burn them to purify our realm of their wickedness! We have to think of our children, do we want them growing up in a land where this evil is tolerated!”
In a moment of inspiration I grabbed my own cart from one of the stalls and set up right across from the crier. I stepped up and he hesitated as the crowd’s eyes were on me “People of Terrgar, this is just a simple misunderstanding! You are the King’s people, and as such you are allowed to live with little direction or manipulation, so long as you pay your taxes and supply us with some of your men and some of your dead. All of you seem to think this is as bad as it gets. I assure you, that is just a simple misunderstanding.” I gave the crier a large smile as I raised up my arms feeling the cold deep within myself.
“If you listen to this shriveled old man though, you will no longer be in the King’s favor.” Screams could be heard in the distance as I continued “and if you’re not in the King’s favor that means all the witches and demons you so fear can do whatever they want with you. It means people like me can do whatever we want with you.”
The screams were definitely closer now and everyone in the crowd was murmuring to each other, looking terrified. “He is right about one thing though, you should think of your children. Though you don’t have to concern yourself with your living children, concern yourself with your dead children. All the ones the King has made us leave untouched in their graves.” As I spoke it became clear what all the screaming had been about as thirty little undead children turned the corner onto the street and started heading for the mob “Think about what I could make your children do to you.”
The crowd was in true hysterics now, some clearly recognized some of the children and simply dropped to their knees bawling. The old man started to run, but I leapt off my box and pushed him against the far building, successfully pinning him. Between the undead and the Nightmares the people couldn’t get very far. People eventually just froze in place, petrified.
I had the old man by the throat, he was squirming and clawing at me trying everything in his power to get away. How did something so pathetic think to fight us? I thought of Inesa, and I wondered how she could feel anything for these people, these rabbits. I turned to the crowd of horrified faces “You call us evil? Monsters?! It’s funny, because that’s what my kind say about all of you.”
The crowd was silent except for the sounds of crying. One of the villagers stepped up to the front of the crowd and spat on me “You’re kind shouldn’t even exist!”
“Maybe so.” I threw the old man into the crowd and he landed hard on his backside. In one quick motion my sword was out of my sheath and plunging into the man’s gut. Many of the villagers screamed in anger then and swarmed me, I immediatley a lit with flames and all of them grabbing me tore away in pain as the fires scorched their flesh. I could see the nightmares on the border of the crowd awaiting my orders, I gave a signal for them to stand their ground. The flames were growing ever higher around me like someone had added a log to the fire “Or maybe we should just stop allowing your kind to exist.”
The explosion was nothing as massive as the first time it had happened to me, this was a controlled burst, though to the villagers burning all around me I’m sure it was nothing short of catastrophic. I signaled to the nightmares and they proceeded cutting down any villagers on the outliers trying to escape. I found the old man still on the ground, screaming while the flames curled around his body. I knelt down to watch him burn.
My men stepped up to me after everyone had fallen and the street was eerily quiet. I was still kneeling by what remained of the old man. Graghor looked down in disgust and spat on his smoldering ashes.
Bael was wearing a huge smile “I think I’m gonna like this job.”
Sare was eyeing the ashes next to me, his sword was still in his hand dripping with blood. His face wore an expression I couldn’t quite read. “What is it Sare?”
“They were against the King, but was that necessary, the bit with the children?”
I realized I may have overstepped some line, Inesa said I had a habit of doing this. “Necessary, no, probably not, they just…upset me.”
Sare looked at me with a knowing expression and wrapped one of his arms around me as I stood up “Well, at least we’re living up to our name.”
We walked back to our escorts who looked mortified. Sare addressed them with his arm still around my shoulder “Well I guess that takes care of that. We’ll be heading back to the castle now, you two have yourselves a swell day.”
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.
“Why did you let her live?” Marakii was speaking as he looked down at the crumpled girl lying in the field where Sare had just knocked her out.
“The King will want to meet this witch.” Catching Sare’s eye I nodded toward the girl and he lifted her over his shoulder.
“I didn’t ask why the King wants her alive, I asked why you let her live. She killed our brothers, does this mean nothing to you?” Marakii spoke these words with an even tone, revealing no emotions on his face. Though having known him a long time, I knew for him to be speaking this much at all showed his concern.
I took his measure and responded in turn “I attacked her; I didn’t know she was alive. She was doing what any of us do when we are attacked, she shouldn’t be slaughtered for it.” I have no idea if my answer satisfied him or not he simply nodded and returned to his horse.
I saw Germ’s face for the first time as Marakii shouldered past him. He seemed on the verge of tears “How could you side with her, some rebel bitch, over your own brothers?”
“Because I don’t side with people purely based on my emotions.” I let my eyes rest on our brothers who were bundling the bodies of our dead to take back to the castle.
“We should just burn the bitch and be done with it!” With that all of our brothers turned to face him. An unmistakable hatred burning in their gazes.
“Perhaps, you should remember who your company is Germ. If left to the whims of others every man here would have been burned at the stake, yourself included.” I stepped up to him “Use your head and stop acting like an ignorant commoner.”
He collected himself a bit more with my words. “I’m sorry, I’m just…upset.” With a look of disgust he got on his horse and rode on ahead and the rest of my brothers turned back to their tasks.
I walked up to Sare who was strapping the little witch to the back of his horse. “What do you see in him again?”
“Much the same things I saw in you at that age.”
“Hmph, I don’t recall ever questioning you as much as that boy does.”
“Yes, well, not everyone grew up with military training. Besides, I doubt he’ll be the only one who disagrees with my decision.” I lifted the girls face, she was clearly malnourished. It would be a feat if we could even get her back alive.
“What was that anyways?” He finished strapping her down and reached for his water skin. “I mean, I saw her, she caught the flames and then… I mean, what is she, nine?”
“It looks like it.” I turned to face Sare and he offered me his water skin. I took a drink and leaned against his horse watching the others. There was a massive circular scorch mark in the grass where the girl had expelled the flames around her and the ashes from the corpses were leisurly blowing about along the ground. The mountains in the distance were hiding the sun as night approached, but all the same everyone seemed eager to leave this place. “Do you know why we don’t arm small children with crossbows?”
Sare made a sideways glance at me “because they’ll shoot their faces off?”
“Precisely, they can’t aim the device, but they can definitely pull the trigger.”
I could just make out Sare’s puzzled expression slowly turn into a huge grin “By the dead, you want to get her to swear the oath and train her!” he started to laugh “Oh, you weren’t kidding, others are going to ‘disagree’.” He got on the back of his horse, still laughing to himself.
“Are you saying you disagree?”
He shook his head, “No, no of course not Cecil.” He gave me a big smile and threw a small pack down to me. “She was wearing it, maybe you can learn something about our little sister-to-be in there.”
“Thank you, Sare.” He knew I meant it for more than just the pack. Then I found my own horse and we rode forward to join the others.
* * *
Once back at the castle I had Greilya secured in a cell and sent healers to tend to her. She only woke once on the journey back, and even then it was only long enough to eat some food, and then she passed out again. The news of our venture was spreading quickly through the castle, I sent Sare and Germ to report to the King. Though I knew he wouldn’t make any decisions about Greilya until after she had woken up.
I had read the girl’s journal, gleaning as much as I could about her and her family. There was an entry about the first time her powers came to her where she raised a dead bird at eight years old. There was only one other necromancer I knew of who claimed she had gained her powers so young. Her name was Iravit and I went to see her as soon as everything else was in order.
Iravit was the informal leader of the Speakers, which was a sect of our brotherhood that specialized in working with spirits. At first the King was not impressed with their abilities, but I convinced him that spirits could gain valuable information of his enemies. Since then they have more or less been spies for the King.
Iravit was my age now and, though I helped the speakers keep their place in the castle, I was definitely not one of her favorite people. Upon entering her room I was greeted with the strong smell of incense. She was sitting on a pad on the floor staring at seemingly nothing, her pale eyes contrasting sharply with her dark skin and hair.
“You’ve come to see me about the girl.” was the only acknowledgement she gave me.
“Have you added clairvoyance to your list of abilities now?”
She looked up at me clearing her hair and the feathers she wore in it from her face. “One doesn’t need powers to see what you’re about.”
I nodded and started looking aimlessly through the trinkets and bobbles she had covering every surface of her room “When you told me how old you were when you gained your powers, I may have been a bit too harsh when I said you were lying.”
“I believe your exact words were ‘you’re just a lying backwoods witch looking for attention’. Stop touching those.”
I put down the small animal skull I had been investigating “What is the point of all of these anyways? It’s not like they have any magical properties.”
“Witches are expected to have these things and sometimes looking the part has more power than you’d think. Did you come here for lessons Cecil? Because I don’t know if I have the patience to teach you.“
She was normally so calm and collected, no matter how old I got I still loved getting under her skin. “That won’t be necessary, I seem to be getting by fine without knowing the ways of a hedgewitch. I merely had a few questions.”
“Then ask them so I can go about my day.”
“You were seven when you first a brought a spirit back, correct?”
“Yes, it was a little girl, I’d seen my mother raise spirits a dozen times, but I was all alone. Scared me half to death.”
“You know, it’s not just that you were so young, it’s also odd that your mother was a witch too. I mean what are the chances?”
“What’s the expression, the apple never falls far from the tree. Do you think this girl had a witch for a mother too?”
“Maybe, something like that.” I pulled my hand through my hair and kneeled down across from Iravit “If she did she didn’t know it.”
“Does it really matter though? Surely the King won’t let her live?”
“I hope to change his mind on that point.”
She smiled at that, it was a beautiful smile, something that always caught me off guard. “You really do love the hated don’t you? It’s not enough that you have an entire brotherhood hated by the realm, you want to save the people who are hated by the brotherhood and the realm alike.”
“What are you talking about?”
“First the soldier, then the weak one, now the girl who killed our brothers. Do you never reflect on why you do these things? Do you even know why you want this girl to live?”
“She’s one of us, she just hasn’t sworn the oath yet.”
“No, you believe she’s one of you. We’re all hated, but for some reason you think you’re the worst among us. I assure you, whatever you have done, it is no worse than any of the rest of us have.”
“What’s your point Iravit?”
“My point, is that maybe you should let this one go. Even if she swears the oath, and follows orders perfectly from this day forth, many of our brothers will never forgive her. She’ll cause a divide in our brothers- something that we cannot afford to have happen.”
“I disagree, I think they will come around, once they see what she can do.”
“Some will Cecil, but not all. That’s the problem.”
“I was hoping you would be behind me on this.”
She tilted her head to the side “Cecil, has there ever been a time where the Speakers have not had your back?”
I thought on it, “No I suppose there has not.”
“No there hasn’t, but just between you and me, I think you’re an idiot.”
“‘l’ll keep that in mind.”
* * *
“I’ll have some food brought down for you.” I left Greilya’s cell nodding for one of the guards to walk with me down the hall. “She’s awake now, have some food brought to her. If she causes any problems you send someone to find me.” the guard nodded in understanding and I grabbed him by the shoulder before he could return to his post “Only me.” I slipped some coins into his hand and he nodded again. I hastened my way up the stairs, the King would want to know that the young necromancer was awake which would also give me the opportunity to speak with him in private about what was to become of her. Many of my brothers had already expressed to him that they wanted her dead. I could not allow this to happen.
I reached the Kings room where a guard led me in. King Aernoys was seated at his desk inspecting the maps that covered it. He looked up as I arrived and waved the guard away, though there will still three other guards posted in the room. “Is she awake?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“And what does the little hellion have to say for herself?”
“Not much, my lord.”
He leaned back in his massive chair and waited a moment before continuing “Speak plainly Cecil, I can tell you have something you want to say.”
“Thank you, my lord. I know my brothers scream for vengeance for what Greilya has done, but she is just a little girl who gained her abilities much too young. According to her journal she was eight when they first surfaced. She tried to hide them, not in rebellion to you, but because she didn’t want to leave her brother.”
“You say you got this information from her journal?”
The King nodded and motioned me to a seat as he had a servant pour us drinks, once she was done he looked to me “Continue.”
“The journal doesn’t say what happened, and she won’t speak on it, but I believe her brother died and she brought him back.” This was purely speculation on my part, but I had to tell the King something. “I believe that was whose hand she was holding when we found her. Whatever happened it clearly put her, at least temporarily, out of her mind.”
“So you think the attacks were the acts of a crazy child?” The King took a sip of his ale.
“In so many words, yes. I believe she didn’t really know what she was doing, she was in too much distress. And when we arrived, I fired at her first. Her actions against my brothers were purely self defense.”
“So, you’d have me what? Let her live and swear the oath?”
The King’s broad face was covered with a crisscrossing of wrinkles and scars, as he pulled his face in mild disbelief he looked almost young again “Care to tell me why I should take that risk?”
“Because I believe, with proper training, she could be teaching us new things in a few short years. The powers she displayed on the field are unparalleled by anyone I’ve ever met. She could be an invaluable addition to your army.”
“Power is only invaluable as far as you can control it.” The King picked up the dagger on his desk and began spinning it idly against the table “I’m a seasoned warrior Cecil. I’ve killed hundreds of men to get to where I am. But I am not so dumb as to think I’m a match for someone who can shoot fire from their hands and raise the dead.” He let the dagger fall on the desk “Let me ask you Cecil, why don’t you ever try to kill me?”
“I took an oath…”
“Don’t give me that drivel Cecil! The real reason!”
I could see the guards shift uncomfortably at their posts as I raised my eyes to meet my King’s “Because I remember the days before the oath of the necromancers. Because I believe this life is much better than the alternative.”
“That’s what I thought. And over the years you’ve helped keep the others in line as well, because you know what life was like before. You think you can do that with this girl? This child that has no grasp of loyalties or consequences?”
“The brotherhood is a family, a life, something I think she could latch onto. I believe with the hell she’s been through, life under the oath will be a welcoming change.”
“And if her craziness wasn’t temporary? If she’s too far gone to be controlled?”
“I will take responsibility for her, if she turns out to be too far gone… I will end her myself.”
“I think it will take more than just you to end her.” The King stared off into his maps, stroking his beard “If she kills anyone else, I’ll hold you responsible Cecil.” He looked back to me “Are you prepared to take that chance?”
“Yes, I am.”
He took another sip of ale, mine still remained untouched. “Very well, bring her in the morning to say the words.” He gave a wave dismissing me from his chamber.
“Thank you, my lord.” I gave a quick bow before making my exit. Outside his chamber I found Sare and Germ waiting for me.
My loyal entourage, Sare was bringing flames to his hand and extinguishing them off and on while staring out the window while Germ just stared at the ground. “I take it word got out that she is awake?”
Sare looked to me and nodded “We figured you’d be here pleading her case.”
“So what did he say?” Germ was still looking at the floor.
“If she’s willing, she’ll swear the oath tomorrow.”
Germ looked up at me with that “Do you really think our brothers will accept her?”
“At first, no, but that’s why we’re having her swear the oath so soon. They won’t have much of a choice once she’s one of the King’s.” His expression made it clear that he didn’t agree, though he was smart enough not to say so. “We’ve all done foolish things Germ, she deserves this chance.”
Germ simply nodded and looked back to the ground.
“Well I guess we should go see if she’s willing.” Sare led the way back to the cells “Has she said anything about what happened?”
“No, and I doubt she ever will.”
* * *
It had been two weeks since Greilya took the oath, I had her room with the speakers for the time being. It was just until I was certain none of our brothers were going to take matters into their own hands, I knew she would be safe under Iravit’s watch. She had spoken very little during her stay, but seemed to be regaining her strength with every passing day. She still did not look well fed by any means, but she at least looked more like a little girl and less like a walking skeleton. For this reason I felt it was time to begin her training.
I had cleared a time for us every day to practice in the courtyard where the soldiers usually ran drills. I couldn’t very well train someone so explosive inside the castle. Since the time with her journal I had taught her more about controlling her emotions and pushing dark thoughts out of her mind. It was enough to keep her in check from day to day, though I suspected once she was asked to use her abilities again she would struggle with controlling them. I had Sare and Germ collect her from her room and bring her to the courtyard for her first day of practice.
“Ok, Greilya” I brought forth the green flames into my hand “You’ve controlled the undead before correct?” She nodded keeping her eyes on the flames. “And how did you do that?”
She looked to my face and moved her arm up and down “It’s like moving your arm, you can’t command them, you just have to… move them.”
“That’s right, they don’t have minds of their own, you have to make their limbs your limbs. You have to move them yourself.”
She nodded at me “Yes that’s right.”
“This” I said, lifting my hand with the flames “Is all you, you do not control it like you do a body, you control it like you do a mind.” I made the flames dance between my fingers and rise ever higher. Greilya arched one eyebrow at me, seemingly unimpressed. I moved my arm and aimed at one of the dummies shooting the flames forward to decimate it into a flaming pile of wood planks. “It moves by force of will Greilya, and you can only will it with a clear mind and clear purpose.”
She mumbled almost to herself “I’ve used it before and I didn’t have a clear purpose.”
“No, what you did before was explode wildly with no regard for your surroundings, you had no control over the flames because you lacked any discipline to do so. We will remedy that here.” I went up to her side and put my hand on her shoulder “First things first, however, you need to call forth the flames.”
Greilya lifted her hand out as I had done and stared at it for only a moment before her hand began to glow green. “Greilya, how…” Before I could finish my sentence her whole arm was engulfed in flames. She looked up at me, her eyes like solid emeralds “Greilya,” I said keeping my voice calm “focus on where you are, you are safe here, among people like you.” her head tilted to one side as the rest of her body was slowly being covered by the flames. I backed away from her slowly so as not to get scorched “Greilya, you need to extinguish the flames now, clear your mind and calm yourself.”
It took some time but eventually she was able to put out the flames without Sare having to knock her unconscious, which was our back up plan if this all went wrong. Once her eyes returned to their normal dull green color I approached her again and knelt down to her level. “What did you think about to bring forth the flames?”
She looked uncomfortable at that question “I just remember hating everything, and it just happens.”
“Splendid.” Germ said from where he stood behind Greilya.
Sare was standing next to him chuckling to himself “Little sister, seems you’ve become a teenager a bit early.”
Greilya looked back at him with her face scrunched up in confusion “I’m not a teenager.”
“He was making a poor joke Greilya,” I stood back up and ran a hand through my hair “perhaps we could try calling forth the flames a different way, think more of mild irritations and less of killing everyone.”
“Yes I’m rather fond of living” Sare winked at Greilya and she actually smiled.
“Ok” she said and lifted her hand once again like I had, though this time nothing happened. After a few minutes she put her hand down “It’s not working, how do you do it?”
“Mine is a cold anger, by definition it is controlled. Yours is more of that hot anger, it’s going to be more difficult to control yourself and hence the flames.”
I could hear Sare clear his throat “May I?”
I gestured with my hand towards Greilya “By all means.” I traded places with Sare and stood next to Germ who was looking sullen.
“I know a thing or two about hot anger, follow me.” Sare led her to one of the wooden practice dummies. “Hold on a moment.” He walked over to some of the weapon racks not far off and began searching through various weapons “My father was a soldier, growing up he trained me to be the same. When I was teenager, there was nothing better than hitting something with a sword.” He came back to her with the smallest sword from the rack “Can you lift this?”
It was the smallest sword I had ever seen though I could tell Greilya still struggled to hold it up. Sare showed her the proper way to hold it and then stepped back “That’ll have to do. Now, that dummy there in front of you is a right prick, he’s the reason for everything that has ever gone wrong. So I want you to bring forth the flames, but this time as soon as it happens I want you to hit the dummy.”
Greilya gave a curt nod and within moments her hand was glowing green again. As her arm was being covered with flames so was the sword she was holding and she swung it at the wooden figure in front of her. I could tell she didn’t hit it very hard with the blade but the wooden planks caught fire with the first swing. On her second swing the flames exploded on impact leaving a pile of splinters. With nothing left to hit, her body started to be covered in green fire. I ran to her, but before I got there I could tell she was already getting the flames back under control. She was breathing heavily as they extinguished and looked up at Sare and I “How was that?”
I could tell Sare was proud of himself by the giant grin he was wearing “I think we’re going to need some stronger practice dummies.”
Most of my wandering was quiet, which is what I wanted more than anything. Occasionally something would find me and my dead followers and make a reproachable amount of noise. I would want the noise to end and so my undead would kill the thing, subduing all the screams and bringing back the silence in the process. Other than the noise makers I noticed little around me as I walked. If there was food, I would eat; if there was water, I would drink; but I sought for nothing. I enveloped myself in the silence, surrounded by the dead, and it was as if I wasn’t alive at all.
The dead never fell like the animals had from before, when I slept they went back into their trance state, and when I was awake they followed me. Over the months that I traveled with them I realized controlling the undead was a lot like moving my arm. You couldn’t command your arm to move, you had to will it to move. And sometimes if your emotions took over you would do things with your arms that you would regret, like hurting people you loved.
I always kept Espero by my side as we wandered the countryside. I knew it wasn’t really Espero, not anymore, but I didn’t really feel like me anymore either. Everything I knew and loved was gone, but worse than that, I murdered my brother. I didn’t think about that when I looked at Espero though, I didn’t think about anything. I was numb, traversing this hell I had found myself in.
I was wandering, somewhere between being alive and dead, until one day a group of men came to wake me. They rode on horses towards me and my fallen, which was different from the scared farmers who usually rode away from me. I pushed my undead between myself and the wall of robed men. One of them yelled something I couldn’t make out and then I felt an odd sensation. The undead were being pulled from me. It was like a game of tug of war with my mind as the men tried to gain control of my dead followers. I always got them back however, they were mine, I had made them and traveled with them, no one could take them from me.
“Bring them down!” I could hear one of the men yell.
Then the field in front of me was alight with green flames as my followers were being burned to cinders. Nothing had destroyed my followers thus far, and many a villager had tried. I was watching trying to understand, but my brain still felt slow. One of the men atop his horse strode towards Espero and I, his hand holding more of the green flames. Before I had time to register his intentions he shot the flames towards us. The cold consumed me again, as I watched what was left of Espero crumple from the flames. Just like everything else, he became just a pile of ash.
Everything I loved was gone, and I felt a hatred like I had never known before. All that had happened was crashing into me all at once, the numbness was replaced with rage. I felt it build in me and saw the flames growing brighter around me as I fed them. The man who had shot the flames looked scared as he galloped in the other direction. I didn’t want to kill him, I wanted to kill everything, I wanted it all to burn. My rage burst from me in all directions in an explosion of emerald. I could hear some of the men scream as they felt my rage, but there were still more of them. The flames were building up around me yet again. One of the robed men ran at me with a knife and I realized I was screaming as the flames rolled about me, building up for another explosion.
“Don’t kill her!” another man yelled, and with that everything went dark.
* * *
I woke up on a bed in a cell lit by a few candles on the wall. There was a man sitting to my left who eyed me as I sat up. “Finally awake I see.” It was the man who had shot me with green flames, we stared at each other for a moment before he continued “You’ve been awake a few times, never for long. We were able to get some food in you though, you were near starvation when we found you.” He seemed to be searching for something in my face “There has been a lot of debate between my brothers about you.” he leaned forward in his chair and I noticed he was holding my journal. I glared at him, but said nothing. “I know you probably don’t like me right now, but I’m one of the few on your side. Do you know where you are?”
I was in a cell talking to a necromancer, there was only one place I could be “Acrosia.”
“That’s right.” He held a serious expression as he flipped through my journal. “According to this you came into your abilities last year… when you were eight?” I continued to glare at him in silence, and with a sigh he put my journal on my lap. “Things would go a lot smoother if you could tell me what happened.”
I picked up my journal and held it close to my chest. “No, they wouldn’t.”
He nodded solemnly, “You’re Greilya right?”
I stared at my bed and gave a slight nod.
“I’m Cecil, as you’ve probably figured out, I’m a necromancer for the King. My brothers and I were sent out to investigate a group of undead who were killing villagers, which is when we found you. I didn’t realize you were alive when I saw you, or I never would have tried to hurt you. I understand that what you did was in self defense and that you probably weren’t fully in control. But, that being said, you killed some of my brothers and you did not come forward to the King with your abilities and for that, despite your age, others are seeing you as someone out to hurt the King.” He put his hand on my shoulder and I looked back at him. His hair was long and white though his broad face still held some features of youth “Greilya, I want to help you, but you have to give me something.” Looking into his eyes, I believed him, though I still had no words for him. “Can you tell me who the dead boy was? The one you were holding hands with?” I looked back at my bed and after a moment he patted my shoulder and stood up “Ok, we’ll talk more later.” He turned back from the door “I’ll have some food brought down for you.” and with that he was gone, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
A guard brought down some kind of meat stew and I devoured it in a few minutes. I started to thumb through my journal, but eventually just threw it against the wall. There was nothing in it that I wanted to remember. My cell only had one window and it was on the metal door that was keeping me locked away. Looking through I could see four guards standing outside.
I began pacing the length of my cell, trying to think of what I would tell Cecil when he returned. I still didn’t know what to say and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Should I tell him I killed my brother? Would that make me seem more trustworthy? Should I tell him I ran as my parents were being burned alive or that I killed anyone who came near me because they were too loud? What could I tell him that would make him understand the things I couldn’t? I grabbed my journal from the floor and started ripping the pages out fistfuls at a time, as I was ripping my hand lit with green flames and started burning the pages. One of the guards at the door started yelling something and within moments Cecil was back in the cell, this time with two other necromancers and the four guards behind him. He grabbed me by the wrists “It’s ok, Greilya, stop, It’s ok.”
He was still holding my wrists as the flames receded from my hands, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes “It was my brother.”
“Ok, It’s ok. Just breath, deep breaths.”
I took a deep breath and looked up at the other two necromancers and the guards with blades at the ready. It seemed with each breath I took their weapons slowly lowered, until finally they sheathed their blades and returned to their posts. Cecil lowered my wrists and placed his hands on my shoulders “You don’t have to talk about it Greilya, I’ve spoken to the King. I can help you control this, you just need to kneel. If you swear an oath to the King all will be forgiven. Can you do that Greilya?”
I nodded and he helped me to my feet while the other two necromancers eyed me suspiciously. The youngest of them spoke in a low voice “Is this really wise Cecil?”
Cecil held me close to help me to my bed as I felt very drained “Why don’t you wait until you’ve at least grown some hair on your chin before you start questioning my wisdom.” the younger man looked as though he was going to say more in reply, but thought better of it and stood silent. “Greilya, try to keep your mind clear, don’t think on these things that haunt you anymore. Get some sleep and we’ll come and fetch you in the morning to meet the King.” Even though I hadn’t been up very long I was exhausted and sleep came to me easily.
It felt like my head had barely touched the pillow when Cecil and the other two robed men arrived back in my room the next morning “It’s time Greilya, get up.” Cecil held my arm as I shuffled out the door and the guards filed in behind us as we made our way down the hall and up a winding stone staircase. “I know you must be tired Greilya, but we have to do this now to help pacify the doubts of the others.” Cecil pushed open the door at the top of the stairs and I was nearly blinded by the bright light that shone through. I was marched forward and as my eyes adjusted I could see we were in a stone chamber with many windows and lavish red banners covering nearly every wall. We traveled through a maze of hallways of the same decor until finally reaching a room with a large pool in the center and several women talking and giggling on benches. “Ladies, this is Greilya. Greilya, these women are servants of the king, they are going to make you a bit more presentable.” He lowered his mouth to my ear “try to keep your mind blank, think on nothing too serious” I nodded understanding he didn’t want me to hurt these women. “We will be right outside when you’re done.” With that he retreated and the women gawked at me for a moment.
One of the bigger ladies stood up “Well no sense staring ladies, let’s get to work.” They took me into the pool and swarmed me with soap and wash cloths, drenching me in sweet smelling stuff they called lavender.
They started brushing out my hair and one of them piped up “You have lovely hair Greilya, is there any way you would like it done?”
I had never known there was a way to do hair. “um, whatever you think is best?” this answer seemed to appease her and she proceeded attacking my hair with clips and strings until it felt tight and uncomfortable against my scalp.
“There” the large one said after what must have been hours “you could still use some more meat on your bones, but at least you’re clean.” She showed me a mirror and I stared with horror at my reflection. Needing meat on my bones was putting it lightly. My cheeks and eyes were so sunken you could get a clear impression of the shape of my skull. My arms looked like twigs protruding out of the white dress they had put me in. My black hair looked almost satirical with the many tiny braids pinned up around such a scary face.
I put the mirror down a bit firmly “Can I go now?”
The large woman looked at me with a sad face “Yes, you can go.”
I walked out the doors, wide eyed, to the men waiting for me in the hall. “I look like a skeleton doll.”
One of the necromancers with a long dark braid smirked at me “That’s ok, our King loves skeletons.”
Cecil came up to me and took my arm “Don’t mind Sare, You look fine Greilya, now let’s go meet king Aernoys.” The one named Sare was bigger than either of the other two and was clearly well built under his robes. He was still wearing a smirk as we continued through more hallways until we reached two large doors bordered by carvings of various fierce beasts. “Ok Greilya, you’re about to meet the ruler of our realm, you have to be respectful. Speak only when spoken to and do exactly as the King says and you should be fine. Are you ready?”
I looked from the door to Cecil and nodded. Upon entering the chamber I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. I had to stop for moment to get my bearings, the room was so open with such a tall ceiling it made me feel dizzy.
“Come forward.” It was King Aernoys speaking, he was sitting on a silver throne encrusted with large red gems at the other end of the chamber. He had some documents in his hand but was peering over them to look at me and motioning for me to come forward. I could tell the King was old, but he was old like a bear, no less intimidating for his age. His hair was grey with only flecks of black remaining. He wore it tied behind him where it just reached his shoulders. Aside from the silver crown on his head he wore a warriors garb, despite his wealth it seemed the King could never get comfortable in finer clothes. Cecil pulled me onward and we all knelt at his feet. I did as Cecil and bent my head to look at the ground. I could hear the King approach and he lifted my head with his hand “So this is Greilya. The nine year old who killed three of my seasoned necromancers.”
“Yes, my Lord.” It was Cecil who spoke, though he did not look up.
The King turned my head from side to side inspecting my face. “I have never had someone so young swear allegiance to me. Do you understand what it means to swear an oath to a king?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Hm” he dropped my face and I looked back to the ground. “Cecil thinks you’ve been through some sort of ordeal that you’re unable to speak on. He thinks your actions the last few months should be excused due to your young age and traumatic experience.” I could hear him unsheathing his sword ” Now I don’t care about your history. However, Cecil also seems to think that you’re abilities, with appropriate training, will be more than enough to replace the three necromancers you killed. And that, little one, is something I do care about. Look at me.” I looked up to meet his eyes “It is no secret that you are not fond of the common folk, the benefit of this oath for you, is that you don’t have to worry about them trying to harm you anymore. That being said, if you step out of line, if you start killing people without my command, I’ll slit your throat myself. Are we clear?”
There was no doubt in my mind that he meant what he said. “Yes, my Lord.”
He presented the blade of his sword before me “Good, put your right hand on the blade.”
I did as he asked and I could hear Cecil beside me “Repeat after me: I swear to be faithful to my King, to never cause him harm and to observe my homage to him completely against all persons without deceit.”
I stared at the king bearing down on me and I repeated the oath. Then king Aernoys sliced my hand to bind the oath in blood. He turned back to climb the steps to his throne “Take her, she’s your responsibility now Cecil.”
“Thank you, my Lord” Cecil raised me up and we left the throne room with haste. “You did good, Greilya. Now I have a few things to attend to, but Sare and Germ here will show you to your room, where you will live here in the castle.”
I was surprised at that “We live here, in the castle with the King?”
“Oh yes, the King likes to keep us close, we have our own wing here. Now I won’t be long, I trust you can stay out of trouble until I find you again?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine.” Cecil looked pleased and left me with the two necromancers who had been following us since we left my cell. They both wore matching black robes with sage colored trim and watched as Cecil left with arms folded against their chests.
Then Sare nodded toward one of the hallways “Right this way.” They led the way, but otherwise seemed to pretend I wasn’t there.
The one named Germ looked out the windows as we walked. His short dark hair was wavy like Espero’s had been, except he seemed to have something in it keeping it from springing up in all directions. He was so skinny his robes seemed to swallow him and they swooshed against the floor as he walked. “This should be interesting,” he muttered.
“What? You don’t think our brothers will be delighted to meet their new little sister?”
“To say the least.” Germ looked back at me with a look of disgust “Their names were Gregor, Samos, and Rell by the way, in case you were curious.”
I stopped walking “What?”
“Those were the names of the necromancers you killed.” Germ spat.
Sare stepped between us “What are the names of the men you’ve killed Germ?”
“It’s not the same and you know it.”
“It’s exactly the same.” he took a sideways glance at me “Why don’t you go on ahead Germ, I’ll catch up with you later.”
Germ growled but he moved away without another word. Sare turned to me once he was out of sight “Don’t worry, he’ll come around. How about we make a little detour, get you your robes first.”
I didn’t know how anyone was going to ‘come around’ to me killing their brothers, but I followed him all the same. He took me to a room down some stairs which was filled with robes of various colors and sizes.
“Ok” he was digging through a stack of grey robes “we don’t normally have someone so young here, so we might have to make you some custom robes later on, but, ah, here.” He pulled out one robe nearly indistinguishable from the others “This one should work for now.” He handed them to me “Well, go ahead, try them on.”
I wrapped the grey robes over my ridiculous dress and pulled the hood up over my head. “Here,” Sare offered me a mirror “you may be a bitch, but you’re the king’s bitch now. How do you feel?”
I looked in the mirror he offered “woof.” I said while staring at myself in the uniform robes. Sare threw his head back and laughed, the noise startled me.
“Woof! I like that!” he slapped me on the back as he proceeded to chuckle. “Come on, let’s get you to your room.”
As time went on Espero and I kept my powers secret. Espero never mentioned them again, in fact, not even in private. I wasn’t sure if he forced himself to forget, or if he was just too scared to talk about them. Either way I figured it would be best only to practice when I was alone. It seemed a waste to have special abilities and never use them.
It was a cool day almost a year after the incident with the bird, and I was gathering berries in the woods. Espero had said he knew a good spot to find lots of berries, but I knew it was the same spot we had checked yesterday and there were none left in that area. So we had split up that day to see who could gather the most on our own. I had found a nice spot farther south from the pond that was plentiful with fruit.
After loading up my basket I began walking through a clearing where I came upon a bear that had been shot by several arrows and, apparently, had run from his pursuers only to bleed to death. I was still near the tree line, looking around to see if I could find the hunters. I thought they must have lost his trail because I couldn’t find any sign of them. Bears had been scarce near our home, probably because their furs made excellent blankets.
I had had only a few opportunities to practice my abilities since discovering them, so I felt this would work nicely. I focused on wanting the bear to be alive – made myself feel sad for its passing and eventually, I started to feel the cold in my head again. This part, at least, I had gotten down fairly well. The bear stood up and of its own accord, and slowly wandered around, twitching in an odd sort of way with every step. Its head lulled back and forth focusing on nothing in particular. I tried to focus on what I wanted it to do.
“Stand on two legs” I mumbled.
Just like with previous attempts, however, the bear continued without heeding my instructions. After a few minutes passed I heard the hunters approaching and there were too many of them to be completely silent while escaping, so I hunkered down behind a tree. Across the clearing I could see the hunters as they approached the bear cautiously. They hesitated at the tree line when they saw the bear was moving about. I stared on helplessly at the roaming bear. I didn’t know how to make things die again. It just sort of happened on its own with all the other animals I had raised.
After a few minutes the hunters started shooting it with more arrows. My heart began to race as I imagined what they would do if they found out the bear wasn’t alive. When the arrows started striking the bear it showed no signs of noticing. This caused an audible conversation between the hunters, although, I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.
I was taking deep breaths, “fall down” I kept chanting to myself.
After several more minutes and many more arrows, the bear finally hit the ground with a heavy thud. The hunters approached the bear with caution, and I could hear them trying to come up with explanations. “Maybe it was sick?” one of them said. For fear of being spotted I did not stay to hear more.
I was slick with sweat when I made it back to the pond, which was where I had agreed to meet Espero. I took a seat on one of the flat rocks surrounding the pond and watched the frogs swimming gracefully beneath the water. “See I told you I knew where to find them.” Espero had a smug look on his face and was holding up his basket.
“Huh? Oh,” I peered into his basket which wasn’t even halfway full “That’s not near enough for everyone.”
“More than what you got.” He nodded toward my empty basket.
“Right.” In my haste to get away from the hunters I had forgotten to keep the basket upright, completely emptying its contents. “Ah well, maybe mother will understand.”
Espero just looked at me with one eyebrow raised and his hands on his hips. It was his best impression of mother and it made me giggle. “Ok,” I said “you’re right. We’ll just have to go find more. Let’s stay together this time though.”
“Ok, where do you want to look?” He was grabbing berries out of his basket and slowly munching on them.
I sighed and slapped his hand away lightly. He glared at me, but I ignored him and looked around trying to think of a new spot “How about pine cove?”
He nodded and kept munching while we walked.
Pine cove was really just a row of pine trees that we had named. I hadn’t known if the berries there had grown back or not, but it was the opposite direction from the clearing where the hunters were. After a couple hours of searching we managed to gather enough to go home.
We saw our mother in the garden as we approached the house “How many did you find?” she asked while she pulled up carrots with her dirt encrusted hands.
“A full basket between us.” I was leaning the basket toward her to show her, though she never looked up.
“Ok, put them on the table and then get the fire for the stove started.” She wiped her brow on her shoulder as she worked “You remember how I showed you?”
I sighed “Yea I remember” I had lit fires for years at that point, but the first time I tried, I lit half my hair on fire. Mother was always paranoid after that. We put up our baskets and got some twigs and leaves for the fire. I used the flint to start the flames in the stove and Espero watched diligently at my side. Mother joined us with the carrots and water. I got to work, and helped her clean and cut the carrots. “Are we going to the village this spring?”
“I told you Greilya, we’re not going back to the village. It’s not safe anymore.”
Her tone said she was done talking about it, but I was tired of being kept in the dark. “But why isn’t it safe anymore?”
I interrupted her before she could give me the same excuse she had been giving me for the last year “You’ve been telling me it’s not safe, so we don’t go. But I’m almost ten, I should get to know why.” She gave me a stern look and I gave it right back, sitting up a little straighter in my chair.
Her eyes were locked with mine “Espero, go get us more water.” I could hear Espero groan but he left quickly enough. She stood up and went to the stove to light a rolled cigarette, something she did only on occasion. “Ok,” she came back to her seat “I didn’t raise you to be an idiot, I suppose it’s only fair I don’t treat you like one. Do you remember the last time we went to market?”
“Yes, the bearded man said something that upset you.”
“It wasn’t so much what he was saying as what he was doing. He was gathering a group of angry people to form a mob. Mobs of people like that act as one, they become a devastating beast. They forget reason and feeling and know only blood lust.” She took another drag of her cigarette and seemed to be gauging me with her eyes “You know your father and I didn’t start out like this. I’ve told you before we use to live in a big city.” I nodded, and she continued “When mobs of people are formed, whatever the reason may be, they will seek to destroy anything unusual. They view the oddities as threats. Choosing to move from a big city to a small house in the middle of nowhere is unusual. We’re educated and we speak differently which is also unusual. That’s enough reasons to make us a target for any mob.”
“But we have friends in the village, they know us. They wouldn’t hurt us.”
“You can know a beast, give it food, see it every day, but what if one day the beast is angry? Would any of those things matter? Would your words stop it from killing you?”
I hesitated, digesting her words “No.” I said fidgeting in my seat.
“No” she agreed. She stubbed out her cigarette on the ground. Then she kneeled in front of me and put one hand on my shoulder, while using the other to raise my head to meet her gaze. “Greilya, I’m not telling you these things to scare you, but you’re right. You are almost ten, and though that is still very young, you are the eldest child. It’s your job to protect your brother and to do that you need to know what to be wary of.” She searched my eyes “do you understand?”
This restored some of my confidence “Yes mother, I understand.”
She kissed my forehead “Good.” Then she took her seat and we finished preparing the food.
* * *
Several weeks had passed and Espero and I were heading home from an evening of playing in the woods. I heard it before I saw it, the beast my mother feared. After hearing the yelling, I Immediately knew something had to be wrong. I grabbed Espero’s hand and pulled him into some bushes at the tree line, still sixty feet from our house. “What’s going on?” Espero whispered.
I put my finger to my mouth to indicate silence and looked on towards our house. I could make out probably thirty people with torches. Many of them were yelling. Then I heard my mother scream. They pulled her and my father out of the house. They were kicking and screaming but it looked as though their hands were tied. The villagers had erected a post in the yard surrounded by branches and were marching my parents toward it. I was trying to think of what I could do when Espero stood up. “Espero sit back down.” I hissed at him.
“What are they doing?”
“Espero, sit back down, we’ll come up with a plan.”
He clearly didn’t understand but he sat back down. Then the beast started chanting “Burn the witches!” as they were tying my parents back to back to the post.
Espero’s eyes went wide and before I could stop him he bolted up and started running towards them “Stop!” he was yelling at them “Stop!” and thirty faces turned towards my brother.
I chased after him and grabbed him before he got too close. Now I could see the bearded man from the village among them. He pointed right at us “Bring the devil spawns so they may be cleansed by the fire!”
“Run!” my mother screamed while several of the men lit the fire at her feet. At the same time the rest of the men were headed toward Espero and I. There was no time to help our parents now, I had to save Espero. I grabbed his hand and pulled him with me back into the woods “Run Espero! We have to run!” I could hear him crying, but he ran with me all the same. They chased after us into the woods – our woods – where we knew every twist and turn, and every tree and bramble. We weren’t able to lose them, but at least we could stay ahead of them. There was a shack where father would go when he wanted to be alone. The shack was next to a cemetery, and that’s exactly where I was headed.
We made it to the shack where we found the door locked, I knew there was a window around the side, but before we crawled through, I wanted to get things ready. There were probably twenty graves in the cemetery, so I had plenty to choose from. Though I had never raised a human before, I hoped it was just like raising anything else. I focused on one of the graves and tried to feel sad that the person buried there was dead. All I could think of, however, was of my own parents slowly dying back at our house. I wiped tears from my face, still trying to focus, when I heard Espero scream. I whipped around to see that one of the villagers had come up behind us and grabbed Espero. I felt my whole body instantly go cold. “Let him go!” I screamed and as soon as I said it I could hear what sounded like explosions behind me. While the villager stood frozen, staring past me, Espero escaped his grasp and ran to my side. I turned to see the dead bursting out of their coffins. Not just one, but the whole cemetery. They were grotesque things with putrid flesh that writhed from the insects crawling beneath. They were chomping sporadically as they all headed our direction.
I could see more villagers had arrived and I grabbed Espero and ran toward the window. It was just big enough for us to squeeze through. Once inside we clearly heard the men begin to battle the undead. Though I still had not commanded anything of them, the undead were attacking the villagers as I’d hoped, though I never imagined I would be able to raise all of them. It was dark in the shack. The only light came through the slats in the wood from the torches. I held Espero close with our backs to the wall while he sobbed uncontrollably.
As the yelling and screaming continued there was a loud thud at the door. It became a rhythimic noise until it finally crashed open and revealed two of the villagers. They reached for us, but several undead came up behind them, biting and tearing at their flesh. Horror filled me as I watched these men be ripped apart by the dead beasts I had brought to life, not ten feet from me. Espero yelped and buried his face in my arm. One of the dead things looked up at us and tilted its head.
As death took the villagers the zombies began to lose interest and all of them began to turn toward us. I couldn’t understand why, surely the undead wouldn’t hurt the one who brought them back. I looked down at Espero, my brother, and I realized what the dead had taken an interest in.
I stood up and pushed Espero behind me “Stop! I command you to stop!” as I screamed the dead just seemed to become more vicious as they scratched and chomped at the air moving ever forward.
“The window, Espero.” He was still on the floor just looking up at the dead creatures in utter shock. “Espero! Get out the window!” He still didn’t seem to hear me. One of the dead pushed into me and I shoved it back as best I could. There was a wall of them between us and the door, there was no way we could get through. They kept coming and I kept pushing, but there were too many of them. Eventually one of them grabbed Espero by the leg and pulled him into the sea of undead. I dropped to the ground and reached for him, but he was hysterical, so all it served to do was give me a view of him as they ripped him open. I couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t stop them. I could just lay there with my hand outstretched and watch.
* * *
If time passed, I hadn’t noticed. I know I moved him to me, put his head in my lap, though I don’t remember doing so. I didn’t feel anything. After all the running and screaming, I wound up with nothing worth feeling. I sat in the blood stained shack, holding him, just staring at the broken door. I was surrounded by the undead, they had not fallen. They seemed to have been in a sort of trance. I could feel them, just standing, rocking slightly back and forth, around me. I was so cold I was shivering, though I don’t think it was cold outside. I watched without interest as the two dead villagers rose from the floor and joined the others in their trance. Then Espero lifted his head off my lap and stood next to me. I held his cold hand, but otherwise I did not move.
I noticed the change in the sun’s light outside – time seemed to resume. It had traveled across the sky at least twice before I stood up. “Let’s go to the well Espero.” the idea that he wouldn’t follow never occurred to me and we walked outside hand in hand. I saw more undead outside slowly shuffling around. As we moved back toward our house, they followed us.
Having reached the edge of the woods, I could see the charred skeleton of what remained of my home. My parents weren’t there, just a scorched patch on the ground surrounded by ash. I stopped to stare at it, but lacking anything to say, I just stepped around it to the well.
I pulled up some water and drank heavily. I looked back where I’d come from, and I could see all of the undead coming out of the woods behind us. I held my dead brothers hand once more and we continued to walk.
The sun was baking cracks into the earth just inches from my feet with my legs pulled up nearly to my chest. I was drawing in my journal sitting against the wall of my house, the rough stone scratching me slightly every time I adjusted. I had found a new animal the day before with great wings and big round eyes and was trying to draw it from memory. Mother said it was important to keep records of everything I encountered in case I found a use for it in the future. Memories faded but what I put to paper would always be there. The shutters opened and I looked up to see my mother looking down at me.
“Greilya go get your brother, dinner’s ready.”
I sighed, but got up to go find Espero. I wrapped my journal back in its leather cloth and put it in my bag before heading off toward the woods. I loved exploring the woods, but Espero loved it so much that he never wanted to leave. We had our usual places though so it was always easier for me to go find him.
I started with the pond, it was one of his favorite spots because he loved catching tiny frogs. I crouched down and trailed my hand through the water. “Espero!” I called. When there was no response I moved on to the big white tree stump. It had mushrooms growing all along the sides and Espero and I would sometimes take turns sitting on it pretending to be king or queen of the woods. “Espero!” I called as soon as I got there, there was no response but I thought I heard something so I called again “Espero! Where are you?”
“Greya? Over here!” I heard him somewhere off to my left. I wandered that way and found my brother knelt under a tree looking at the ground. He looked up at me “I found a bird, I think it’s a baby”.
I looked at the ground and saw a tiny bird chirping up at my brother, not freshly hatched but too young to fly. “He must have fallen out of his nest” I looked up to see if I could find any nest in the branches but they were too high to see anything.
I looked back down at Espero his dark hair was frizzed up in all different directions and like always his skin had a thin coating of dirt “Can we keep him Greya? I can take care of him.”
“Mother would never let us keep him, she always says no pets.” Espero looked defeated, and started petting the bird with one finger. “Maybe we could keep him in the woods and take care of him.” I suggested.
He immediately looked excited again “Yea, that’s a great idea! We could take care of him out here! I could dig up worms for him to eat! And you could chew them up for him and throw up into his mouth!”
I made a disgusted face “Ew, no, we’ll just chop up the worms and feed them to him.”
“Oh, ok, I guess that works too.”
“Yea, it does.” I knelt down, and inspected the bird more closely. He was barely able to move at all. “We can’t keep him on the ground though, something might eat him.” I thought for a moment “We could keep him in the hole in the willow tree. He should be safe from foxes there.” The hole in the willow tree was where we hid all of our most precious possessions.
“Yea!” Espero hopped up excitedly and then more slowly bent over and scooped up the baby bird. Holding the bird with both hands we very carefully made our way to the willow tree.
I was the only one of us who could reach the hole in the willow, but only if I climbed up a few of the knots on the tree first. I reached in and gently moved the items we hid within to the side. There was an empty turtle shell, a giant eagle feather, various tiny and brightly colored rocks, a fish skull, and a tiny shell fossil. Once I had cleared enough space I bent down and got some leaves and grass to lay inside. Then I carefully took the bird from Espero and put it in the makeshift nest. The bird chirped loudly at me as I secured him into the space and then jumped down to land beside Espero. “He should be safe up there. We need to go. Mother will be looking for us; I was supposed to be bringing you back to the house.”
Espero was still looking up at the hole, his large brown eyes lost in thought “Why?” he asked.
“Cause it’s time for dinner, he’ll be ok” I pulled him toward me “come on.” I said and we headed off back toward the house.
“What should we name him?” Espero asked while we ran back.
I thought for a moment “How about Juniper?”
“What? You don’t like it?”
“I didn’t say that.” He said between deep gasps. It was a long run back to the house. “Maybe something less girly though” he looked at me from the corner of his eye.
I glared at him “You pick a name then” I snapped. He was quiet all the way back to the house.
We reached the front door, panting heavily, and mother was waiting for us with her hands on her hips. “So when I told you to go find your brother did you have to go two county’s over to get him? Where have you two been?” Her eyes were wide and she was wearing that scary face where if we said the wrong thing we’d get a beating instead of food.
Espero knew to be quiet at these times and let me do the talking. Being two years his senior, I tended not to put my foot in my mouth as often. “It just took me a while to find him, is all. He was in the last place I looked. We ran here as soon as I found him.”
She didn’t move, but her face softened “You weren’t out playing?” she asked, as she arched one eyebrow.
“No, honest we weren’t.” I looked at Espero and he shook his head in agreement.
She stood there a moment longer looking at us and then turned back to the stove “alright then, go bring in some more water and then we’ll eat. Your father is already home.”
After following her instructions we sat down to eat. It was nearly dark so mother lit a lamp at the table and a lamp at father’s side table. Father insisted on continuing to read while eating and mother had insisted on him eating with the family. They compromised with a small side table next to father’s chair that allowed him to read -without the risk of spilling anything on his book- and eat at the kitchen table at the same time. Father always studied something, and neither Espero nor I ever knew what. Mother was dished out more stew that consisted of deer meat, carrots and potatoes. Most of our dinners were stews of various ingredients that depended on what Mother could hunt or grow at that time. In fact, the majority of her time was spent finding and preparing our food. Though in summer, when food was more plentiful, she had more time to teach us things like hunting, gardening, weaving, and reading. She promised to show us how to play a lute, as soon as she could save up enough at market to buy us one. Espero and I were famished so as soon as food touched bowl we were shoveling it down.
“I’ve made enough baskets to go to market tomorrow.” Mother said to no one in particular.
Usually we begged to go with her on market days, but we both wanted to go back to the woods to check on the bird instead. So I crammed a big helping of stew into my mouth and didn’t look at her in the hopes that she would just not notice our lack of interest.
“No one wants to go with me?” She looked from me to my brother. “hmm, that’s strange” she took a bite of food, piercing us with her eyes “I guess you two could stay behind and do some chores.”
We both looked up “No, no” I said “It’s just… Espero, he hasn’t been feeling well.” I turned to him and he immediately hunched over and gave a little cough.
Mother leaned over and felt his forehead “Uh huh” she said suspiciously. “Well I guess it’ll just be me and you tomorrow Greilya.”
“No, I mean, shouldn’t someone stay and look after Espero?”
“Your father can stay.” she said, and took another bite of stew.
My father, without looking up from his books, said “He’s fine.”
“He speaks!” mother exclaimed “Here I was thinking you were just some dead thing posing as my husband so he didn’t have to come home for supper.”
“If only such were possible.” father stated with a smirk. Espero looked horrified.
“You’ll stay in the house tomorrow, with your son, or so help me I will leave you here to starve to death.”
With that father looked up and sighed “very well.”
I almost protested, but mother interjected “Good! So Greilya can help me at the market and you two can have some quality father and son time.” she looked satisfied as she got up to clean our bowls “Now off to bed with you both.”
* * *
The next day we had a smaller portion of what we ate the night before for dinner. Mother gathered the baskets on her cart and I groggily grabbed my bag and went to help her. “Oh no” mother said “Go scrub yourself down, you won’t be coming with me looking like that.” She picked something out of my long hair in disgust.
“I didn’t want to come with you at all.” I mumbled.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Nothing, mother, I’ll go clean up.” I grabbed a brush and trudged down to the well. There I found Espero struggling to gather some water to take back to the house. “Here” I said and helped pull on the rope to bring the bucket back up.
“Thanks Greya,” and then in a quieter voice “and don’t worry dad always gets distracted, I’ll be able to get away and check on Ajax.”
“Ajax?” I asked.
“Oh yea, I didn’t get a chance to tell you. I thought of a manly name for the bird.” He smiled his toothy grin at me.
I laughed “Ok, I’ll trust your judgment there, but if it turns out to be a girl bird I think she’ll be pretty upset.” I pulled up another bucket to use for washing.
“It’s not a girl bird.” he whined, as if he knew.
“What’s wrong with girls?” I asked while I tried to get the brush through my hair.
“Nothing, they just talk a lot. And anyways I just know it’s a boy is all.”
“Wait, is that why you don’t talk around father? You think boys don’t talk? I mean, I think our father is kind of the weird one there. Guys in the village talk all the time.”
He glared at me “You wouldn’t understand.” and with that he headed back to the house and nearly toppled over several times trying to carry the water.
The closest village to our house was called Curzo, and was approximately a two hour walk. We didn’t go very often, only when mother had enough extra food or baskets to make it worth the trip. Mother’s cart was small, but with the long walk and no animal to pull it, we still needed to make several stops. It was early when we got there so it was easy enough to find a place to set up for market. After a few hours of helping her mind the cart, mother gave me some money to get salt, soap, and flour. I wandered down the dirt path and searched the carts for the things we needed. I saw Marlo, the fruit vendor, and went to say hi. She had bought baskets from mother several times before. “Oh look at you little Greilya! You’re shooting up like a beanstalk! How long has it been? How old are you now?”
I smiled at her “It’s been a while, I’m 8 and a half now.”
“Oh and a half. Little lady you’re becoming, to be sure. And where is your little shadow today?” She looked around trying to spot Espero.
“He stayed home this time.” I said as I eyed all the fruits she had for sale.
“Oh that’s a surprise, I didn’t think you two went anywhere without the other. ah well, some things change” she reached under her cart looking this way and that and then quickly put an apple into my smock “and some things don’t.” she winked at me.”Tell your mother I said ‘ello.”
“I will” I smiled and continued down the road with my search.
Further down the path, I heard a loud voice speaking out. I continued until I found the source at the end of the road. It was an older man with specks of grey in his beard. He stood on top of a crate with a small crowd of people gathered around him “These witches, or Necromancers as they call themselves, are a slight against the gods!” He shook his hands at the crowd as he spoke and they seemed to murmur in agreement “The King of the Dead may try to have us believe that these fiends are useful, but what use do we have for devils that bring back our dead and turn them into monsters? How does it help us to send these devils to the King so that he can further enslave our people to the dark and unnatural?!” The murmurs of the crowd grew louder “All they ever do is come to us and demand their tax and rob our graves to feed their armies! They care little for our problems and even less for our loved ones being allowed to rest in peace!” Everyone seemed to be in agreement with that and the bearded man began to gather a larger crowd around himself. I felt someone grab me by the shoulder and looked up to see it was mother.
She was looking at the bearded man, “Did you find what we needed Greilya?”
“Not yet. What is everyone so upset about?” I asked.
She ignored my question, “I sold all our wares, let’s find what we need and get home.” I could tell by her tone, I was not to argue. She turned me around and we headed back to the cart without stopping to buy anything.
* * *
We made it back home before nightfall. Father was in the house reading and Espero was gone. Mother had been silent the whole walk back, and oddly did not seem upset by Espero not staying in the house. “Go play Greilya, I need to talk to your father.” her voice was quiet and almost sad. I wanted to ask what was wrong. I wanted to know why the bearded man had upset her, but I knew she would just get mad if I asked. I looked up at her, some of her curls had come out of her bun and were sticking to her face with sweat. She had the same expression when Espero and I would get hurt and she was bandaging our wounds. “Now, Greilya.” This time her tone was sharper and I immediately headed out of the door and to the woods.
I knew exactly where Espero would be and, despite the long walk I’d had home, I ran all the way there. A thought occurred to me as I ran, how could Espero get to the bird? We had both forgotten that critical detail, and as I arrived at the willow tree, I could see Espero had not been successful. He sat under the willow with scrapes on every limb of his body from his attempts to get up the tree. “He stopped chirping Greya!” I could tell he had already been crying, but with that statement, tears welled up in his eyes again. I quickly climbed the tree and found little Ajax cold and unmoving in our nest.
I gently took him out and brought him down to the base of the tree. “I’m so sorry Espero.” I started crying as I held the baby bird, and gently put him at our feet.
Espero could barely speak between sobs “I tried, I tried to get to him. I got him, I got him worms.” With that he started crying in earnest and I held him while we both cried.
“It’s not your fault Espero, I should have found a better spot. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” As I held him all I wanted was for the bird to be ok, for Espero to be ok. I wanted to look back at the bird and see we were wrong and that it was still alive. As we sat there I began to feel cold, it started slowly in my head and then moved throughout my body in a quick burst. As the feeling receded I heard movement at our feet. Espero heard it too and we both looked down at Ajax.
The birds head was moving back and forth slowly, twitching unnaturally at varying intervals. I looked on in disbelief and Espero got up excitedly. “He’s ok!” he yelled as he went to get the worm chunks.
I had felt the bird. He had been cold and stiff. As much as I wanted him to be alive, he wasn’t, I was sure of it. “Espero…”He didn’t seem to hear me as he tried to feed the bird bits of worm. The bird did not notice anything was being offered to him and continued twitching and moving as if Espero wasn’t even there. “Espero, the bird was dead. I know he was dead.”
He looked at me in confusion and then back at the bird “But… How?”
“I think” I swallowed the lump in my throat “I think it was me.” Espero still looked confused. “I think I’m a witch.”
“No!” Espero was almost in tears again “No, Greya, they’ll send you away. Stop it!” He kept looking from me to the bird though he was backing up now. “You have to stop!” With those words the bird stopped moving and was a dead thing once more. Espero dropped to his knees, it was too much. He put his face to the ground and just kept sobbing. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think.
I have no idea how long we sat there, but when I finally got up, it was dark and my brother had stopped crying. I helped him up, and with one arm around him, we made our way back to the house. It was a slow trek, as we were both exhausted. “You can’t tell anyone Greya.” He spoke so quietly I could barely make out what he was saying.
I bent my head closer to my brother’s face. “What?”
“You can’t tell anyone” he continued “If you tell, they will send you to live with the king, and I will be all alone.”
“I won’t tell anyone, Espero.”
He stopped and looked at me with an expression more serious than I thought possible for my brother “Promise?”
“I promise,” I said matching his seriousness. Satisfied, he nodded and we resumed our walk.