The Flame

Aug. 25th, 2014 07:34 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

"Elder Farena is planning to have you killed in public tomorrow!"


"For what reason?"


"Something about invading Namirus and inciting anarchy. Honestly, I'm not even sure anymore. But other people are listening, and I think it would be best if you left tonight."


"I still don't know what has happened to Tabitha and Cathy, though. I must be getting close to have her in that kind of a mood, though."


"Maybe you are. I understand if you want to stay, but..."


Gavin, the young man who had rescued Rachel from the river after her tumble out of the high jungles, gently placed one hand upon her knee to make his point as sympathetic as possible. He was a few years younger than Rachel, and considerably more interesting than Rachel could have anticipated, campfire light flickering in his eyes. Only five days here, and that old witch already wants me dead, Rachel pondered.


She had done a bit to earn that, especially if the old woman was the one Rachel believed her to be.


*****


The first night after Rachel had walked out of the river, she had acted like a fool. Dissatisfied with Gavin's initial reactions to her search for a missing sister and that sister's child, Rachel walked right up to various townspeople and asked them about those two lost relatives. What she found, unfortunately, was an awkward silence that increased in power as the day wore on.


"Have you seen a woman named Tabitha? She looks like me," Rachel hesitated, "Except younger and thinner."


"I have not," a farmer curtly replied, taking only half a glance at Rachel's face. He was busily cultivating thin, fibrous stalks of a grain that Rachel had not seen before. The baker in her wondered how the seeds from those stalks would taste if finely ground and mixed into a slowly rising dough.


"What about a young girl, about five years old, with grey eyes and curly hair. Her name is--"


"No." The farmer tugged the front of his hat down, hefted the handles of his wheelbarrow upwards, and walked away at a brisk pace that Rachel believed to be wholly unnatural to a farmer with a whole day of work ahead of him.


It was by the eighth or ninth conversation with a similar conclusion that Rachel began to wonder if the original letter that her mother had received, written by Tabitha, might be a fraud. If it's fake, Rachel wondered, why? What possible gain could someone have in forging a message to send help to this godforsaken cesspit?


Namirus was a cesspit. Along with receiving the runoff of larger towns like Coburntown and Decalante, the soil itself reeked of human waste. Rats were not merely a late night disturbance either--as Tabitha's letter had seemed to indicate--rather, they openly sat outside houses and waited for morsels of leftover food to be tossed aside. When they became hungry, they tended to nip at the ankles of people walking past.


Rachel believed the odds of her finding a rat in her sleeping roll were much lower if she slept outside of town. Dejected from a day of dismissive question responses and rude residents, she trudged to find a secret place where she could rest her head for the night.


In the darkness of her glade, Rachel found herself surprisingly more alert than she appreciated. Every light source seemed to spit radiance into her eyes. Every sound was like the din of a bustling marketplace. All the hopelessness of her search made her tense and nauseated at the cold welcome she had received in Namirus. Rachel could not sleep.


She started to hear a cracking sound, followed by the clomp of shoes on wet grass. Someone was lurking just outside her shaded alcove. Before she realized what had happened, she found the bony ridge of her forearm pressed firm against Gavin's neck, pinning him to the dirt.


"Why are you spying on me?" Rachel barked.


"How did you know? I just wondered if there was anything I could do for you," he stammered.


"Lies. All of you are telling lies. What is your name, liar?"


"It's not liar, it's Gavin."


"Well Gavin, I would very much like to know why everyone in this town, even you, goes quiet about my sister."


"Is it remotely possible that your sister did not live here?" Gavin replied.


Rachel simply leaned forward, putting extra pressure on his neck.


"Your sister did live here. You're right," Gavin rasped through his squeezed throat. Rachel leaned back, giving him a little room to breathe.


"So there's a reason why people are ignoring me, then?"


"Yes. Your sister's daughter was… different. She could sense death. Among our small village, some twenty people had died at least once--or rather, had experienced something like death and had continued to go on living. As a community, we always tried to overlook it, even though those people were not quite the same as they had been," Gavin paused. "The girl… Cathy was her name… forced us to know who had died, and who had not. It was a little upsetting."


"So you did what with her?"


"Hold on. Not finished yet," Gavin sighed. "My grandmother, a woman who had been the village elder for many years, had been totally silent for two weeks after conducting trade negotiations with Decalante at the jungle's northern edge. Cathy pointed at her and shouted 'five!' which made my grandmother, Elder Farena, start to speak again.


"She could only speak curses, at first. She was intensely hostile to those relatives of yours, swearing and spitting at them in the streets. That fervor didn't last long, but the intent has never changed. Your name is Rachel, yes?"


Rachel nodded.


"My grandmother wanted your family dead. She started to make plans for it too, holding council meetings at late hours, and locking her closest family members out." Gavin shook his head while Rachel climbed off of him. "I came here to warn you about her, but I also came here to spy on you for her. I think you should leave town tonight."


"I can't. Not until I find my sister and her daughter. Do you know where they might have gone?"


"No, but I suspect that they are no longer in town. Whether they are hurt or not as a result of my grandmother, I don't know. I hope not."


Rachel let the silence linger in the shadows before responding.


"Gavin, I mean you no harm beyond what I've just done. I need help here, and you seem like a reliable, honest person. Feel free to report my actions, as well. I am curious to see what Farena will do once she notices me."


"She already has, Rachel."


*****


The next four days, Rachel took a far more sophisticated approach to information gathering.


The first step, she decided, was to ascertain in which hut her sister had lived. Namirus was not a large village, but keeping a mental record of which houses people were travelling in and out of, assuming that Tabitha's house was not already occupied by someone else, was an arduous task.


Gavin did not know which house it was, so Rachel watched to see if anyone exited a particular house, marking an X in the dirt relative to her vantage point, a shady cluster of tall trees. After changing vantage points a few times, Rachel recalled a key detail in Tabitha's note that would have made her whole day easier:


Our neighbors do not like us very much because Cathy screamed the number five at the old woman in the hut next to us.


The old woman must have been Elder Farena. It meant that wherever the village elder lived, Tabitha's house would be close. Gavin lied again, Rachel realized. He lied to keep me away from the elder.


Sure enough, as Rachel wandered through the village, looking for either the house her sister had once lived in, or the house the elder inhabited, she came across a broad circle of roads, with a dirt paved court in the middle. Although all of the huts were of a solid construction from mud and wood, the hut in the middle of a half-circle surrounding that dirt court featured multiple turrets extending from the main hut, and several side chambers. Clearly, it was intended for a large family or a political figure.


"That's it," Rachel smirked. She lost her sense of satisfaction as soon as she saw what was likely her sister's house. Two men with spears stood in front of it, impassive eyes over proudly shining bronze armor.  Why would they be keeping watch?


Elder Farena must have sent them, Rachel realized.


The next three days were spent sleeping in that dirt court. Rachel purchased fabrics and fashioned a bed that she could suspend from one tree to another. Rachel wanted to make a deliberately disarmed gesture for Elder Farena, in order to either taunt her into taking action or force her to drop her guard in the spectacle of a harmlessly sleepy adversary. For as much power as the elder seemed to exert to keep her villagers quiet, could she do anything about one idling, restful spy?


During the day, Rachel snoozed in her makeshift bed, all the while keeping one eye open for anyone going in or out of the Elder's house. She was making a mental list of villagers who did not associate with the Elder every day, as these would be more likely to cooperate should she need additional information. It was not a long list, but it might be enough to find a worthy informant.


It had taken some time, but Rachel was starting to notice changes in herself. That intensive awareness of sounds which had interrupted her sleep several nights before, became a constant. Rachel was beginning to hear strands of conversation from across the court, things she would never have been able to hear were she still in the bakery.


She felt empowered too; knowing that she could monitor her adversary without so much as lifting an eyelid was an exhilarating, almost as good as being able to sleep in the middle of the day. And the Hunt! Rachel had begun to feel the thrill of a purpose, lingering barely out of her sight, so close she could smell the distance on the air. Marking people was becoming easier as well. Each person who visited the Elder had their own unique scent, gait, and sound of breathing.


Merely watching was almost enough to make Rachel forget what she sought. Nevertheless, when it came time for sleep at night, Rachel found herself pacing underneath the trees, making plans. On some of these plan-making trots, she paced right into town, climbing onto the roofs of huts within which she knew people were sleeping, listening to their fitful breaths.


It was becoming harder for Rachel to see the oddness in herself.


*****


On the fourth day in Namirus, Rachel decided it would be a wise decision to build a fire. Something that reminded her of home or the ovens at work could help ward off her new predilection towards the quest and napping, rather than the objective itself.


Although, because the jungle had a constant moisture in the air that soaked through most unattended lumber, Rachel needed to ask villagers for assistance in acquiring wood.


The budding huntress in her naturally yoked together the quest and the idea, asking for wood only from those who were not seen to go into the Elder's house. In this way, if the Elder ever decided to make a move against her using a large force of townspeople, Rachel could know that some would protest.


Rachel knew that she had only one chance to make the impression she desired. For the first time in her entire life, she believed that she possessed a charming allure--although, a part of her yet wondered about the source of that confidence.


It worked, though!


Farmers turned their heads to watch her walk away after she had been offered to go direct to their storehouses and take what she needed. The butcher's son whistled in a way Rachel had heard before, never received. The butcher herself told Rachel stories that Rachel would not have told her closest friends.


"Leslie couldn't believe what he had done. After all, it was only hearsay!" the red-faced butcher laughed. "But then he went ahead and admitted it himself."


"What did she do then?" Rachel inquired.


"She waited until he was asleep, then she cut it off!"


"She cut it off?"


"Right off.  Now, things grow back in this world--we know that, right?" Rachel nodded. "Well it didn't. The Elder would not permit one to speak of this, but it's kind of common knowledge in town. You wouldn't tell anyone I told you, right?"


"The Elder," Rachel interjected, "Do you think she's changed since that girl called her a number?"


The color vanished from the butcher-woman's cheeks. "This is no gossip, Rachel. This is very serious. Do you really need to talk about this?"


Rachel flashed her a look of desperation that could have earned her several days worth of free meat. "I need to know, Helen. That girl is my niece."


Helen slowly shook her head. "She was a strange girl. Her mother disappeared a day and a half before she did. I suspected that this new elder--and yes, I think she has changed--might have done something."


Rachel did not need to ask what that "something" was anymore than she needed to pursue the son, who had been sitting and listening just outside the room before running as fast as he could run to inform the Elder of the conversation. Interesting things were about to happen, she decided.


*****


As she stoked the fires with the logs she had gathered (indeed, too many to carry), Rachel heard Gavin approach. This time, calmness masked her spring-like reflexes like a thick blanket.


Gavin, on the other hand, was not so calm.


"Elder Farena is planning to have you killed in public tomorrow!"


Although she reacted and let him sense her fear, she was not afraid. She was anxious to meet the woman, in fact.


*****


Not one hour later, Rachel did meet Elder Farena. The woman had taken a small escort of personal guardsmen out to Rachel's hiding spot. Likely Gavin had led them to her on accident. He didn't smell like a liar anymore, after all.


When the first guard prodded her bedroll with a bronze spear and found it stuffed full of leaves, he turned just quickly enough to embrace a flaming log with his face. He dropped to the ground in spite of his visor-covered head. Rachel took a moment to admire the throbbing kick she felt in her arm muscles before hefting the same log  high over her shoulder while approaching the second guard.


He was quick, aiming a series of jabs to Rachel's abdomen, thus exposed with her log held above her head. She twisted subtly to the side of each jab, nestling her ribcage comfortably against the sleek steel of the spear's shaft. When she was within an arm's length, she brought the blazing log firmly down upon his cranium, watching him crumple under the weight.


Unabated, the fire continued to burn at the end of the heavy stick. Rachel admired the heat as a baker and as… something else that was new and exciting in her. Something she had not troubled to name as of yet, to spare it from the domesticity of words.

            

The Elder Farena did not care for fire very much. As old as she was, with white wisps of hair scrambling around a shriveled body that looked as if it could have died five times, it was most peculiar to hear her screaming shrilly in a voice that no human could produce while scratching viciously at the ground, stumbling to get away.


Rachel stepped on her dress and barked. "Where is my sister, you old tyrant? Where is my sister's daughter?"


After a half of minute of watching an old woman try to escape from her own dress just to avoid a little fire, Rachel hit her with the torch across the back of her head. Screams turned to gurgling gagging utterances, and Farena's head rocked backwards, her jaw opening to an unnatural width.


What Rachel witnessed turned her stomach. Out of Farena's mouth stepped a pitch-black entity with red eyes. When it finished standing upright, it was about seven feet tall, making a sharp sound that Rachel could only guess what was breathing. Farena was breathing as well, choking out ragged sighs. The thing did not glisten with saliva, though it reeked of intestines--it simply absorbed light as if it had snatched the darkness out from under a bed to wear it as a coat. It stood like a man, except that its arms were slightly longer than its legs.


The red eyed darkness howled and spun around to face Rachel. Instinctively, she knew that she had to fight back against the creature, or risk losing what Farena had lost as the head of the village.


Rachel waited. In a blink, the creature towered over Rachel with its long hand clamped around the edges of her face. So fast, Rachel realized, unable to wrench herself away from the spindly fingers ensnaring her, feeling, inside the palm, a rough but wet surface that slid into an opening over her nose, and then eyes, and then forehead. Subtly, Rachel could smell seawater. Huh, she thought.


And then she brought the lit torch up to meet the creature's stomach. The extended arm unclamped and gave way as piercing cries emanated from the palm, now a mouth filled with black teeth and a lolling tongue. The creature stumbled, rolling on the ground as the fire engulfed it. Rachel calmly stomped out fires spreading from the body until she smelled something new--burning wool.


Where the creature had once existed, there was now a man. He was wearing an old-fashioned, double breasted suit that had discolored with heavy use. The fire seemed to be eating the clothes, but it abruptly stopped. The man had little hair, and what he possessed curled intimidatingly around his lips and jaw. Bloodshot eyes opened, and he picked himself up from the ground, brushing himself off and slowly straightening his stance.


"Where is my son?" he rasped.


*****


"Did you do anything to Tabitha or Cathy while they lived here?" Rachel asked the Elder, later that night after she had recovered.


"No," the old woman said, in a kinder tone than Rachel had expected to hear. "But that doesn't mean we didn't plan on it. I will speak with the other members of town to insure that a… lapse of will… does not cause the same irrational hostility again."


She paused.


"I suppose you would like to know what we know about your relatives, yes?" the Elder asked.


"Yes."


"I'm afraid that we know very little about what happened with your sister. I'm sorry," Elder Farena apologized, head deeply bowed in sincerity.


"I understand. I'm not giving up on her, I just know that I need to search somewhere else," Rachel replied. "Oh, does that mean that you know where Cathy is?"


"Vaguely. She's been seen playing in a dense patch of jungle just west of the river outside of town."


"The one uphill from the village?" Oh no, Rachel thought.


"Yes, that one. If you want to follow her there, beware: fearsome monsters lurk in that jungle."


I know. But I'm going back there anyway, even if I must face them. I'll need a plan, Rachel considered.


"One last question?" Rachel asked.


"What is it?"


"What happened to the man inside of that creature? What did he do?"


"He went west to look for his son."


"What was his son's name?"


"John Dramery."

Feral

Aug. 18th, 2014 08:26 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

Asleep in the jungle, dense canopy almost filling that primordial need for darkness while sleeping, Rachel dreamed of a girl she had never met--a girl with gray eyes, brown skin, and curly hair in which a human could lose track of all light and sound.


She awoke to the smell of rotting fish and moldy wool. It was a stark contrast with the sweet aromas of flowers, fruits she had never before seen, and the moisture in the dirt, all of which had carried her to an unusually comfortable sleep the preceding night. Although she had heard a teeming world of insects and frogs at night, that morning there were no sounds except her own motions to quickly rise from rest, tugging the blankets and bedroll to her face just to avoid throwing up.

It was easy to forget that night and morning were effectively the same due to the immutable sun. Something had silenced the jungle. That something, as near as Rachel could guess, was the source of that wretched stench.


When she managed to stand up, the odor, or something emanating off of it, forced her eyes to water and her nose to burn. It was a sensation not unlike stumbling into a restaurant just as the chef was prepping a day's worth of chopped onions, except that this new scent made Rachel never want to eat again.


She dressed quickly, unable to see or breathe while exposed to that noxious stench.  Just as she finished pulling on trousers and a fresh shirt, she hazarded a glance towards the direction from which she perceived the odor to be travelling. There, a mountain of soggy fibers twice her height and many times that in width lay not twenty feet from where she had slept.


"What in the hell?" Rachel said through her blanket. Even though she was sure that it would be a few hours already before she could stomach the small breakfast of boiled egg and crusty bread that she had prepared, she decided to get closer to heap to investigate.


The fibers were longer than her arm and thicker than grass. Beyond the slick and sheen of some kind of mucous spread across and through the pile, each fiber was black or white with occasional stripes of brown and orange. Rachel could not fathom touching it to get a sense of the texture, as it was dripping a white fluid that looked and sounded sticky.


"Do you want to know who did this?" the jungle whispered. Rachel fell backwards from the surprise, twisting her ankle. Two eyes shined in the dark trees beyond the heap; the eyes had a vertical slit surrounded by brilliantly reflective , pale green irises.


I need to run, Rachel decided, grabbing all of her remaining belongings and sprinting away from the pile.


*****


It wasn't until later, hours after finally recovering from the stench of the fiber heap, that Rachel gave any ground to the idea that she should have stopped to talk to those green eyes in the trees. Her legs began to hurt from her flight. Her right ankle, in particular, was starting to turn purple from twisting and running.


The progress through the jungle was slow as well. Of her knives, the chef knife  had possessed the best cutting capability… when she had departed from Coburntown the previous day. Now, with various saps coating it from slicing through the jungle, the knife was about as dull as a butter knife. It required several attempts to cut the tougher vines in her path, and Rachel was becoming weary.


"Are you tired?" the jungle softly asked. Rachel stopped, slowly looking around while her skin urged her to continue walking. She couldn't see any eyes this time, but Rachel knew that she was being watched. Without knowing where the entity was and suffering from the last escape, Rachel decided to talk to the voice.


"Yes, I'm tired," she cautiously replied.


"The path is long. The overgrowth is thick. The jungle is dark. Why does a woman travel this way?"


"I'm sorry, but I don't feel like sharing that information with you."


"You don't know me, therefore you do not trust me," the voice responded. "Did you know that Rammon is stalking you? He means to make you his dinner."


Rachel tensed her muscles in expectation.


"Oh no, I'm not Rammon. I have no love of the hunt. If I wanted to eat you, I would simply eat you," the voice reacted.


Something is different here, Rachel thought. This voice sounds like a woman, while the voice this morning sounded like a man. "What does Rammon look like, so that I may know him?" Rachel asked.


Then, directly in front of her vegetation strewn path,  a pair of eyes began to shine. These eyes were blue, like the sky east of Coburntown and reptilian in shape. "You have seen Rammon already," the voice stated. "His eyes are green. He sat over you all night long, staring at your body with hunger until his stomach could no longer take it."


The pile, Rachel guessed. She felt lucky to have escaped so easily, even if it cost her a little pain. "Why didn't he just eat me?"


"Rammon likes to hunt. I would like to help you escape from him, if possible. Do you permit me to assist you?" the voice asked.


"Can you? Please?" Rachel remained suspicious, but the voice was offering her help and she would be a fool not to take it.


A quick gust of wind tugged through the forest, causing Rachel to wince involuntarily. When she opened her eyes, the path before her lay bare, severed vines scattered across the dirt for as far as she could see. "Hurry now. Move quickly or he'll catch you yet."


Rachel headed down the shredded vine passage with a slight itch of apprehension nagging at her mind. Her leg pained her greatly as she picked up her pace. Somewhere behind her, the barely audible sound of licking made her move a little faster.


*****


Scarcely an hour later, the jungle--darker than before--began to close around Rachel again. She had to reach into her pack and retrieve her second largest knife just to make a little more headway on the walls of foliage surrounding her.


"Foolish woman, where are you going?" asked a voice similar to the first one she had heard that morning. Rachel turned around to look behind her, and saw green eyes closing in on her trail. Firmly gripping her knife, she prepared to defend herself. "Why do you travel this way?"


"I was told that Rammon is chasing me. Rammon is going to eat me. I will fight if I must."


The trees began to quiver and then shake with a reverberating sound. Rachel realized that the creature was laughing. "I am Rammon. I am not here to eat you, child. You must have spoken to Balas."


"Is that the one with blue eyes?" Rachel asked.


"Yes, and a rather dangerous one. She will try to trick you, oh yes she will. This morning, I scared her off just before she could attack you. I must have upset her stomach in the process, as she left a terrible mess behind," the voice explained.

"She told me that you like to hunt your prey. And here you are, following me. Why should I trust you?"


"I am no hunter. Would a hunter take time to chat with a human? I would simply eat you if I needed a meal. Regardless, I dislike Balas too much to allow her even a meatless human such as yourself."


The last part of what Rammon said seemed particularly dubious--bakers were not often known for being thin, and Rachel knew she was no exception.  "What do you intend to do then?" Rachel asked.


"I will clear the way for you. Are you going to Namirus?"


"Yes, I am."


"Then you have been led astray. Namirus is almost directly behind you, at this point. Allow me." With less than a blink, the path behind Rachel was exposed again, veering away from the passage she had taken. This time, however, Rachel noticed trenches through the dirt and clay on the jungle floor. Three parallel marks existed where whatever had sliced the vines and also raked the ground.


"I am going. Please do not follow me again," Rachel warned.


"As you wish."


*****


Not one hour later, Rachel once again found herself entangled in vines. The beasts! In frustration, Rachel slashed harder than ever, desperately pushing the possibility of being eaten by one of the two stalkers from her mind.


"I will eat at least the body. You can have the head," a voice said.


Clearly, there wasn't much she could do to focus on clearing the path. Rachel knelt down to listen, rapidly deciding how to escape.


"Fool. I watched the prey, I redirected the prey. I gave the chase. You would have me skimp on the tasty bits just to satisfy your pride and age!" Balas retorted.


"Little Balas, the head is the sweetest part. All else is savory. Young ones such as yourself long for the savory, but old beasts such as I have no tooth for it," Rammon explained.


Rachel could see them through the thick of trees. The beasts circled each other, never blinking. Lizard-like eyes punctuated hairy bodies with long threads coming from around their noses, sticking out all directions. Both creatures were magnitudes larger than Rachel could possibly hope to handle with any tool she had available.  The smaller of the two beasts--Balas, Rachel presumed--had the same black and white fur mixed with orange patches that Rachel had seen in the morning. Rammon wore a deep black coat of fur accented by white patches.


"If you ate heads more often, maybe you would not have spent so long ogling my waste this morning. We could have caught this one hours ago, but you dawdled!" Balas screamed, drawing black lips back to reveal teeth that could shred Rachel in seconds.


Rammon made a sharp sound, like many knives scraping together. Rachel had to grip the legs of her trousers to avoid falling backwards into the leaves. "You'll take what I give you!" he roared, lifting one leg to swipe at Balas. Razors the size of Rachel's head whistled through the air, connecting with Balas' head with noisy thwack.


Balas simply shook her head, tucked her pointy ears back, and reared back as if she intended to leap on Rammon.


Rachel decided that she had seen enough and bolted in the other direction. Balas and Rammon began to crash through trees behind her, rolling on top of each other with force enough to collapse the canopy around their heads. I could die here without them even eating me, Rachel realized.


In spite of her aching ankle, Rachel found it remarkably easy to run for her life. Easy enough that she failed to notice a curly haired girl sitting gleefully on one of the downed jungle trees, clapping her hands while the two furry monstrosities wrestled over the body of a gigantic mantis. Rachel ran without hesitation and without looking back, until she no longer felt ground beneath her feet, tumbling wildly down a steep dirt cliff towards a river.


*****

Admittedly, Rachel had slept better. Her feet were shoeless and half submerged in fast moving, warm waters.


"Are you alright?" a blurry face inquired.


"Am I alive? I mean, did I die?" Rachel asked.


"I don't believe so."


"Did you rescue me?"


"Yes." The rescuer was a young man with straight black hair and compassionate eyes--or so Rachel thought. Her head was throbbing. "Welcome to Namirus," he beckoned, motioning to the huts and fences behind him.


"This is Namirus? I made it!" she cried.


"You actually wanted to come here?" he replied, aghast.


"Yes! I'm looking for a young woman, in her twenties. Her name is Tabitha. She lives here with her daughter Cathy. Have you seen them?" Rachel pried, grabbing on to the young man's sandy tunic.


"Does she have a husband?"


"Not apparently. Her husband, Thomsen, disappeared shortly after she came here five years ago."


"She never lived here, I can tell you that." The man crossed his arms.


"What?"


"We have no unmarried women living here except Amana, and she's far too old to have a five year old daughter."


Rachel was quickly becoming accustomed to misdirection. She knew his lie, and she withheld her reaction to observe further. This time, Rachel would be the stalker.


Even if she needed to stalk all of Namirus to find the family she sought.

"Mother"

Aug. 11th, 2014 09:27 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

Rachel loved the lighting most of all; a few lanterns cast a dim orange and yellow glow on oak tables, leather stools, the rims of pint glasses, and the man she loved. In one corner of the bar, barely audible beneath the roaring laughter of other friends from her bakery, a guitar player plucked out forgotten melodies while slapping the base of his guitar with the palm of his tree-bark wrinkled hand.


With a flick of her wrist, sore with mixing and kneading all day, Rachel signaled the bartender for another drink. Her body said "wine," but her eyes cried "stout!" Michael, of all people, knew to read her eyes. That message underneath the door


No, we are not thinking about that. Not now. Rachel glanced at Ethan. He must have seen her when she set the message down, since he was the one who opened the shop. Pretty Ethan. His dark brown hair and eyebrows seemed to dance around his gleaming brown eyes in this light. Yes, that's one more reason to like the lighting, Rachel thought, always one breath away from speaking it. Ethan was busily laughing and flirting with the new delivery girl. Idly, Rachel wondered whether Sarena--Sabrina?-- was even old enough
to be at a bar.


It was always like this. Rachel owned the shop, Ethan worked for her, and Ethan tried to sleep with every young woman coming through the door except for Rachel. He was amazingly charming, for certain, but so much of his calm, hazel-eyed, inquisitive demeanor was a cloak he threw around himself. He hates talking about himself. He's like me. Almost.


His behavior was different for her, possibly because she was older and less likely to get swept off her feet. Sometimes though, with the guitar strumming soft and subtle an hour before the bar closed, she would like for him to let her fall into his stare.


For now, it was enough to drink to a solid day off. The stout, bitter with an aroma of coffee beans, chilled Rachel's tired and rough hands. The sound of people casually chatting about their customers or their week or their products washed out other thoughts from Rachel's head. The guitar player was now strumming an upbeat melody while singing in a voice that sounded like water running through a rusty metal gutter.


And Rachel's mother stood in the doorway of the bar, with her hands stitched together behind her back, rigid backed and tall, staring straight at Rachel with the visage of a tombstone.


Rachel nearly spat her beer on the counter.


The note said, "We need to talk." A woman who cast their children into their fates--as if the children were certainly doomed and not one iota of assistance or care could possibly be given--wanted to "talk."


And now this woman could not be troubled to wait for her daughter to come to her. Her countenance in the bar was like  a prohibition of liquor personified. Dim light amplified the serenity and comfort of the hardwood floors or the frosted windows, but Augusta annihilated that radiance with sunken cheekbones and a perpetually livid brow. Rachel could not remember ever having seen her mother smile.


But even on the last day living in her mother's house--the day that Rachel had announced her plans to open a bakery and moved out with her head held high--even then she had not seen her mother so rigid and uninviting. This look-this is something else entirely.


Someone must have died.


*****


Outside, in the dusk of Coburntown, Augusta's gaze cut right through the folds of Rachel's cloak.


"Your sister is in trouble."


Tabitha? "What about it? I haven't seen Tabitha in six years," Rachel replied. Ever since you ran her out of the house with a broom because you caught her with that man. What was his name?


"Read this," Augusta curtly answered, snapping a letter from her pocket to give to Rachel.


Rachel unfolded it, noticing a slight shake in her mother's hand in giving it. She's old, Rachel thought. The letter, rough to the touch as if the parchment had been dragged through a puddle, told of a living child that was born dead, dangerous neighbors, diseases and pests, and begged for any possible assistance that could be given. At the end of the letter, Tabitha wrote "Did I die, at some point?"


"I'm confused. I thought Tabitha had a husband in Namirus," Rachel considered. "I never even knew that she was pregnant. She writes like  we should know these things."


"I did."


"And you never told me about it? You let your daughter, a young, foolish girl, raise a child in a damn jungle just because you carried a grudge towards her about her life choices?"


"Yes," Augusta replied.


"I cannot believe you. I could have helped! My sister might be dead now or missing, and her child could be in serious trouble, just because you couldn't over look your own pride for her-"


"Stop," Augusta snapped. "My pride is dead."


"Really? Because you are standing here glowering just as you always have. Not once have you ever been a mother! And now what? You came here to do what, exactly? Rub my helplessness in my face?"


"I have no one else if…" Augusta stuttered. "I have no one if…"


Red eyes and taut skin reminded Rachel how old her mother was. She was married and pregnant before the world had ended, and raised her daughters, without her father or any of her own family, to be something in a world made of hardship. The woman, who had seemed a strict and terrifying figure in her youth, had nonetheless enabled Rachel to pursue her own dreams.


Augusta began to cry. At first, she maintained the same grimacing expression Rachel had always known, while tears discreetly vanished quickly down her wrinkled face. Then, unable to hold it back any longer, that fearsome visage cracked and quivered, letting sobs come out in jolts. It was like watching a proud flower wilt for the first time. Augusta tried to throw her hands in front of her eyes as if to stop the flow of tears. Rachel moved closer and slowly wrapped her arms around her mother for the first time in many years.


Slightly gasping at the touch, Rachel felt Augusta's thinness. Her mother was gaunt. Rachel wondered how long she had been without eating, slowly piecing together her mother's need to talk to her.


"Rachel!" her mother wept into Rachel's shoulder, muffled by the fabric of the cloak. It was the first time
Rachel had ever heard that sound. "I need you! I need my daughters!"


As bony and cold as her mother was, Rachel wished that she could hold on to her forever.


*****


The next day, which would otherwise have been Rachel's only day off, Rachel packed up her bags, cautiously choosing clothing that seemed suitable for protection. Everything in one pack, everything needed to eat, and a few things that could be used to fight, if necessary--mostly Rachel's own set of knives.


There was no way to know for certain whether  Rachel could survive the jungle around Namirus--or Namirus itself for that matter--but she was determined to find her sister and her sister's daughter.


For her mother, for the child, and for a sister losing herself to death in a strange place, Rachel could grit her teeth and convince herself that being a baker could make one strong enough to rescue a loved one.


At the time, Rachel believed that this boldness was all that she had to offer her family.

It would not be enough.

Save Us

Aug. 3rd, 2014 10:09 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

To:                                                                                 From:

Augusta Fiennes                                                      Tabitha Fiennes

1539 April Street                                                      Namirus

Coburntown


Dear Mother,


My daughter was born dead. I wanted to let you know this before you met her.


You know as well as I do the kinds of things that can happen to a person if they die in this world. I was still so little when you grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to never die. You looked so afraid after I scraped my head on the table. You swear I can't remember that, but I promise that I can.


Cathy is alive, and she remembers everything. She has dark skin like her father, but grey eyes like me, only brighter and deeper, as if I could fall into them. Her hair gets so curly that we often lose things in it! She's five now.


I'm sorry! I know I should have written you sooner. I was so preoccupied being worried about her, watching for any possible changes.


So far, so strange. My little girl is not obsessed with death the way her father was just before he disappeared, but she certainly is not like other children her age. She speaks and learns like someone much older. She cautiously asks questions to confirm her own ideas of the world. She asked me, very calmly the other day, where her father went. I don't know, I said, without thinking twice. She understood, I think. I believe that she is already smarter than me, but I worry that it is because of her birth.


Do you remember when the king was poisoned? I know, I was just a child then, but I still remember the poisoner in his cage hung over the center of Coburntown. He was saying all kinds of things about the king, crazy lies. He had pale skin and livid eyes. I had nightmares about him for a week. Do you remember that he had died before? Cathy is nothing like him, but I sometimes wonder, looking at her gray eyes, what she knows.


Cathy knows if someone has died. She knows how many times someone has died, possibly better than that person knows. It's as if she's seeing a number over their heads when she looks at them. It's a very disturbing habit, but she will walk down the street and shout numbers at people.


Cathy is my entire world, mother, but I truly feel like I am no longer suited to protect her. My beautiful, smart girl needs to get out of this jungle.


The time has come for the two of you to meet. I need you to meet her. I need you to save us. Namirus is such a dangerous place now without Thomsen. Our neighbors do not like us very much because Cathy screamed the number five at the old woman in the hut next to us. The woman went wild, spitting curses from her window even though she hadn't spoken a word in half a month.


And the pests are getting worse. Roaches and rats are often in our bed sheets with us at night. They are becoming larger, over time, and we've heard that they carry diseases. They eat our food as well. On top of that, we've started to hear something clicking along the perimeter of our village. Something large and hidden is stalking our entire town.


Mother, I have no way to leave Namirus. The jungle is too dangerous and my daughter is too young. I know I left on bad terms. My intention was never to elope, for what it's worth. I loved Thomsen, and I wanted you to love him too. It's too late now. It might be too late for me, as well.


After I had gone to bed, Cathy came to my side last night and said "one," and she started to cry. Did I die at some point? Was I sick? I don't know, but I am horrified that I might leave my beautiful daughter alone here soon. I need help! Help me, please.


Forever your daughter,

Tabitha

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