Advertisement
Remove

A lone, two-story wooden house sat nestled in the vast plains south of the Oinos mountain range. Aelius rapped his knuckles on the wooden door, causing dormant spores of moss to bloom on the frame. The peak tip of the sun had just crested over the horizon to the east, and he wasn’t going to wait a single extra second until morning. He had been carrying this brick of a child for over three weeks now, and was quite done with it.

“Hello?” he yelled up at the house as obnoxiously as possible in an attempt to wake the residents. “Is anyone home? Sheesh, I thought you farmer types were up at the crack of dawn!”

Aelius heard no reply from the sleepy building. Well, tough luck, because this was the first place he’d found that would be capable of raising a powerful kid like this and there was no way it would be anything but the last.

“Well, dawn’s cracking!” he shouted, and kicked down the door.

This elicited some response from the residents. From the upper floor he heard panicked noises from a woman and hushed tones from a man. Shuffling, gathering. They likely thought they were being robbed, and were preparing accordingly.

“Hey, sorry about that!” Aelius bellowed reassuringly, “I’m not here for a fight! I brought you something, actually.”

For the first time, Aelius nonchalantly yanked the dagger from Shishkabob’s skull, causing a goblet’s worth of blood to spurt out of her head. He winced as it splattered on the floor, staining the wood. Searching around for something to cover the stain, he ultimately decided on the girl’s own body, tossing it unceremoniously to the floor in an attempt to obfuscate the mess. The wound from the dagger that had completely impaled the child was perfectly healed before she hit the ground. The thudding noise of her impact seemed to further spook the residents.

“It’s a gift,” Aelius assured, “from me to you. You’re the lucky winner! No need to thank me. Come downstairs to see your once-in-a-lifetime prize!”

His only response was more shuffling from the upper floor. Just when he was about to reach the edge of his patience, a young, brown-haired boy about Shishkabob’s age came into view, peering down the stairs at the strange pale man.

“Hey, kid,” Aelius grinned, “Want a sister?”

Soon, the whole family was in view. The boy’s mother had come rushing out to protect her son from the attack that never came, and his father was hot on her heels, sword at the ready. Even grandma came out, wielding her walking stick threateningly in a way that made Aelius choke down a laugh. He waved at them.

Aelius watched the father’s eyes as they glared at him in anger, swapping to concern as they moved down to the unconscious child at his feet, and finally to wonder as they moved to see Aelius’ own feet, grass that peeking through the wood around where he stood. Immediately, the man fell to his knees and bowed his head to the floor.

“Oh, great Aelius, Titan of Life,” he prayed, “I am so sorry for our rudeness. We did not realize it was you.”

Shocked, the man’s family also fell in reverence.

“What?” growled Aelius, “No, stop. On your feet. I’m not a god, no matter what those Second Son idiots tell you.” The family looked up hesitantly.

“I mean it!” he insisted. “Get up or I’m not blessing your crops.”

That certainly got their attention, and the family rose to their feet.

“Now then,” Aeilus said, “First thing’s first. Who the heck are you people? Last time I was here a young woman by the name of Daniva owned the place. Anybody know her?”

“Daniva was my mother’s name, Titan,” the cane-wielding grandmother explained, “and she has been dead for nearly thirty years.”

“Huh, wow,” Aelius said, genuinely surprised. “I guess I lost track of time. Well, in that case, I’m just going to pass her debts on to you. Raise this kid for me.”

The family looked at one another, confused.

“Why would you choose to bestow this child on us?” the mother asked.

“Pfft, I’m not ‘bestowing’ anything,” the Titan of Life scoffed. “This kid’s a handful. It’ll be rough.” The woman looked at the crumpled heap where Aelius had casually dropped Shishkabob with concern.

“Where did she… come from?” she inquired.

“Eh, I picked her up in the forest near the northwest scarred lands. Her family’s been mega-ultra slaughtered, so have fun breaking the news on that.”

Nervously, the father cleared his throat. “The forest by the northwest scarred lands? Wouldn’t that be by Nuxvar? We, um... heard that many villages in that area were decimated by attacks from one of their neighbors.”

“Huh, maybe,” Aelius shrugged. “She was certainly in the area, but I haven’t asked her about it.” He gave her a nudge with his foot. “Poor thing’s been unconscious this whole time. Should be waking up any minute now, actually.” He grinned, twirling the dagger between his fingers.

The farming family looked to each other and nodded. The father spoke again.

“Even if you were to not assist us, we would be happy to care for this child.” Aelius’ grin expanded enough to nearly burst.

“Oh, great!” he said, “I won’t bother dropping by later then.” This elicited a slap to the back of the farmer’s head from the grandmother and an irritated glare from his wife, which made Aelius giggle.

“O-of course,” the farmer stammered, “Any help you could give us would be most appreciated…”

“All right, all right,” Aelius laughed, “I was kidding. I’d never get to see the fun if I left you guys to rot. Incidentally, you should rip out the wood flooring down here.” He pointed to where he was standing with his thumb. “It’s rotting,” he added, neglecting to mention that it had not been before he stood on it.

A chorus of reverent thank-yous convinced Aelius that it was officially time to leave. He said his goodbyes and headed to the farmer’s fields as promised, letting his boundless energies wash over and rejuvenate the struggling plants. Pulling down the front of his pants, he left a wet impression of his name on the dirt before strutting off further south, leaving the family one person larger.

 



 

When they got over the surprise of it all, the Bornsson family realized they should probably get their new daughter off the floor. Carefully, the mother– Amelia– lifted her off the ground (revealing, to the family’s surprise, a large patch of fungus) and carried her upstairs. She placed the unconscious child in a bed that had, up until just recently, been her son Darron’s. Darron frowned as the strange girl was lowered into his bed, but remained respectfully silent. He hoped he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor tonight, especially since it was apparently infested with soft rot.

The family gathered around the bed. It was still a little early for the daily work, but no one was in the mood to squeeze in another hour of sleep.

“She looks healthy, at least,” Darron’s grandmother remarked. She was a short, wrinkled woman with a soft face and crooked nose. Though she was far beyond the age for manual labor, the woman still managed to be the most useful and effective member of the family, at least in her own eyes.

“Of course she’s healthy, mother,” Darron’s father countered. “Aelius himself was carrying her.”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, Norman!” the old woman snapped, “I don’t care what magic mumbo jumbo that pathetic excuse for a Titan claims he can pull out of his rectum, he carried this child over the Oinos Mountains! It’s a miracle either of them are still alive.”

“That man is full of miracles, mother.”

“Ha! We’ll see what he’s ‘full of’ come harvest. And I’m betting it’s shi-”

“Gloria!” Amelia interjected, “Not in front of Darron!”

Darron, of course, already knew exactly what his grandmother was going to say, but declined to clarify this point. He was much more interested in the bloodstains on the girl’s head, and how Aelius had been holding a freshly-bloodied dagger during their conversation. Had he stabbed the girl? At the very least, he had only just now removed the dagger from the wound. No matter how Darron interpreted that information… it was incredibly disturbing. Darron found himself entirely okay with the possibility that Aelius wouldn’t return to “bless the harvest,” or whatever he really did.

The young boy lifted himself onto the bed to get a better look. As his grandmother had said, she looked perfectly healthy. Her face wasn’t pale or discolored, her breathing looked regular, and she wasn’t perspiring abnormally. Other than the dried blood on her face and hair, there was no indication that she had ever been injured. He reached out to touch her forehead, but was stopped by his mother.

“Don’t bother her, Darron,” Amelia scolded. “Let her sleep.”

He would have preferred to check personally, but a secondary opinion would suffice. Darron appealed to his mother’s protective instincts.

“Y-you should ch-check her t-t-temperature, mom,” he stuttered. “Just in c-c-case she h-has a f-f-fever.”

“Ah, you’re right,” his mother said, surprised. She reached out and put the back of her hand on the young girl’s forehead.

Immediately, her crimson eyes shot open. The girl forcefully sat up, causing Amelia to jerk back in surprise. Her pupils darted around the room, taking in the details. Darron noted her toned musculature- this girl must be used to large amounts of heavy labor, or possibly even combat. There’s no way she was older than him. Why would such a young girl be trained like that?

Darron saw one of her hands groping around the bed for something– she must be right-handed. Looking panicked and confused, her other arm reached up and felt around her forehead, and whatever she found there seemed to surprise her further. This confirmed Darron’s suspicions: this girl had definitely been attacked by someone, and her forehead had been severely injured. Assuming that Aelius’ dagger was the weapon that did so, the amount of blood on the blade indicated it had been stuck in up to the hilt… but that clearly wouldn’t be survivable, so what really happened?

The girl began to settle down as started running her eyes carefully over the people in the room. One by one, her crimson irises flashed from person to person… until they reached Darron. She stared at him for a while as he stared back, and her face slowly morphed from the frightened, panicked expression it had held into… a sort of confused amusement? The longer she looked at him, the more it felt like she was trying to suppress a laugh. It was… increasingly embarrassing.

“Um, excuse me…” Darron’s mother started, “Are you… alright?”

To Darron’s relief, the girl tore her eyes away from whatever joke she had apparently found on his face and looked back at the rest of the room. She frowned contemplatively, considering how to respond. At the very least, whatever she had found so funny seemed to have calmed her down. Even considering what little he knew about her situation, Darron was impressed at her ability to not simply crumble from shock.

The girl took a deep breath, and finally responded.

“Where am I?” she asked. Her voice was quiet, but with a surprising hardness. It gave the impression that someone was about to strike a match in a gas well.

“This is our home,” Amelia explained. “A man named Aelius brought you here. Do you know anything about that?”

The girl reacted to Aelius’ name with recognition, as if a piece of a puzzle just clicked together for her. Darron noted the relative dullness of the reaction– not how a person would respond to hearing about their attacker. Perhaps Aelius’ story should be taken at face value.

“I…” the girl started, but trailed off as if her words couldn’t keep up with her thoughts. “No,” she eventually settled on, “I don’t. I guess he must have saved my life.”

She didn’t say anything else for a while. The Bornsson family looked to each other, silently pleading for someone else to continue the conversation.

“What’s your name, sweety?” Darron’s grandmother finally prompted.

“It’s Shara,” the girl responded. “Shara Aletheia.”

“Well, Shara,” the old woman started, “Aelius has asked us to take care of you for the time being. Is there anything that you need?”

For a moment, Darron was sure that Shara would shatter, crying and bawling until she could no longer move. Instead, Shara pulled out the largest, warmest smile he’d ever seen.

“Actually,” she beamed, “I’m starving. It feels like I haven’t eaten in weeks!”

Silence hit the room. Then, a genuine laugh tore itself from Norman Bornsson, and soon his family followed suit. Even Darron couldn’t help but smile. What she said wasn’t particularly funny, but it had cut through the tension like a knife.

“Well!” Norman bellowed, “it seems we had best start breakfast! Amelia, let us prepare a warm welcome for young Shara here, yes?” His wife smiled and nodded, and they left to begin the morning meal.

“Hmph!” Gloria grunted, “Now that those two idiots are out of the way, you should get a proper check-up,” she pointed at Shara, “to make sure that pale punk patched you up properly. Come here.”

Shara did as she was told, pulling the covers off of her and scampered over to where Gloria sat. The old woman lifted her hands and began flexing her fingers in the intricate patterns that indicated the start of a magic spell. Darron noticed that Shara seemed to panic briefly when she saw this, but calmed down almost immediately. Interesting.

“Now Darron,” Gloria ordered, “get over here and tell this girl what you think is wrong with her.”

Obediently, Darron scooted in front of where Shara was, and faced her.

“W-well,” he started, “I-I’ve noticed a lot of d-dry blood around the front of your c-cranial area, b-but no scabs or s-scars. This is i-i-indicative of magical healing, b-but the amount of blood we found implies a d-deep wound, s-so we should make sure there’s no damage to y-y-your brain that was simply c-covered up.”

“Good!” his grandmother barked, “Now, what spell do we use to check for brain damage?”

“A-a Deep Unobtrusive scan.”

“And why do we use a Deep scan?”

“B-because the brain is thick and complex.”

“And why do we use an Unobtrusive scan?”

“Because the b-brain’s n-natural defense a-against m-m-magic is t-too p-p-powerful to overcome w-without d-damaging a p-p-person’s a-aura.”

“That’s right!” Gloria intoned. “Now watch your grandma work.”

Gloria moved her hands an inch from Shara’s face and released the spell, sending imperceptible waves of power around the young girl’s body. To her credit, Shara sat very still throughout the procedure. Scowling, Gloria ended the spell.

“I can’t sense any sign that you were ever injured in the first place,” she grumbled. “You’re in tip-top shape.”

Shara nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen Aelius fix things before,” the girl commented. “It really is true that he can heal anything.” Gloria huffed, but didn’t argue.

“So…” Shara continued, “I, um, should thank you. But I don’t think I’ve caught your names yet?”

“Ah, of course,” the old woman beamed. “You may call me Gloria. This spoiled grandson of mine” –she reached a hand onto Darron’s head and ruffled his brown curls– “Is named Darron. The idiots downstairs are my son, Norman, and his wife Amelia.”

Shara bowed her head. “Thank you, Gloria and Darron,” she said. “I appreciate the help.”

“What a polite child!” the old woman laughed. “You could learn a thing or two from her, Darron!” she added, playfully nudging him in the belly.

Soon, breakfast was ready. Shara devoured a worryingly large helping, and asked for seconds. Perhaps the family would have to rely on Aelius’ promised harvest after all.

“You, uh, certainly are a hungry little girl, aren’t you?” Amelia remarked.

“I wasn’t kidding, you know,” Shara responded between mouthfuls. “I haven’t been this hungry in forever! How long was I out?”

“A-aelius said he found you n-near Nuxvar,” Darron answered, “Which is n-n-nearly a m-month’s journey. I-if you don’t r-remember anything, you were p-p-probably unconscious the e-entire time.”

“Sho what yer shaying,” Shara replied, food stuffed in her cheeks, “Ish tha I achually, reallah ‘aven’t eaten fer weeksh. Go figure.” She swallowed. “This is super delicious, by the way!”

The food was nothing special to Darron: just eggs from the chickens scrambled up with cut potatoes. Hunting meat had gotten too dangerous with the rapidly rising monster population, so it was getting hard to find something edible that wouldn’t eat you back. The Bornssons had to grow a huge surplus of crops just on the expectation that nearly half of it would be devoured by unwanted beasts and critters.

“What’s this yellow stuff?” Shara asked, prodding the plate of eggs with her fork. “It’s so soft and fluffy!”

“Those are chicken eggs, Shara,” Amelia responded hesitantly, “Have you ever had eggs before?”

“Woah, no!” Shara exclaimed, “These don’t taste anything like chickens! And eggs are so small! How do you get so many?”

“Well,” Amelia explained, “We have a chicken coop. We feed and raise the chickens, and they lay eggs for us. Gloria and Darron use their magic to keep the chickens healthy and stimulate the growth of larger eggs.”

“Darron! Properly explain to Shara how we raise the chickens,” Gloria barked, eliciting a scowl from her daughter-in-law.

Darron sighed. “W-we can use the same p-principles behind the restorative effects of h-healing magic to e-e-enhance the g-growth of uninjured tissue to better s-suit our needs,” he stammered. “Standard h-healing magic works by either s-stimulating existing b-biological functions or u-using a healthy subject’s body as a b-blueprint for restoring injuries b-beyond the scope of the b-body’s natural ability to r-repair. B-but with a proper understanding of b-biology we can f-formulate our own blueprints and incite s-specific biological changes. F-for example, in m-most chickens, only the left o-ovary and o-oviduct are functional. B-by expanding the chicken’s m-mass to c-c-compensate we can influence th-the right ovary into developing f-fully, which d-doubles the amount of ova available for laying b-before the chicken r-r-runs out.”

Even speaking slowly Darron tripped over his words, but Shara waited patiently for him to finish. She kept eye contact as she munched on more food, showing genuine interest. Frankly, Darron had expected her to not understand a word of it, let alone for her to put up with his slow, stumbled explanation. His grandmother knew he hated talking to strangers– putting up with their cracking facades as they pretended to not be annoyed at how he spoke– so she made a point to have him do it as often as possible in hopes that it would motivate him to “learn to speak like a sane person.” If Shara was annoyed, though, her poker face didn’t show it.

“Wow, that’s so cool!” Shara beamed. “We always had to hunt for food. ‘If you don’t help kill it, you can’t help eat it,’ you know? It must be pretty neat just growing it all yourselves!”

Norman laughed. “There is a certain satisfaction to it, that is true. I’m surprised you hunted up in the northern plains. I hear the land is greener but the monsters are tougher. That sounds like two good reasons to farm instead.”

There it was. Someone had slipped up and brought the conversation towards Shara’s home. Darron paid close attention to her face, looking for some kind of tell. Aelius had claimed her family was dead, and reports from the area around Nuxvar confirmed that many homes had been slaughtered. If Shara knew what happened to her family, why was she so cheerful? And if she didn’t know, why hadn’t she asked? At the very least, it was clear Shara knew she had been attacked. A normal person would not be acting like this. Something was up.

Again, Darron saw a crack of sorrow in her face so briefly he could have imagined it. Nonetheless, she kept up her giant smile.

“Well, I’m pretty strong, you know,” she boasted, flexing one of her biceps as demonstration. Her arms were honestly a little scrawny, but they were toned and hard. Flexing didn’t make her muscles look particularly big, but they had serious definition, stretching her skin to show every contour of the power beneath. Not a single gram of fat could be found on her limbs.

“Haha, very impressive!” Darron’s father joked, likely without noticing how incredibly impressive it really was. “We could always use another strong arm on the farm.”

Shara seemed to catch that Norman was patronizing her, and flashed a more impish smile than before.

“Well good,” she said, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” Her tone had the kind of false ominousness you’d use when telling a scary story to children. It didn’t slip from the playful attitude Shara had maintained since she woke up, but Darron got the distinct impression that this little girl was not taking his father–a fully grown and powerful man–very seriously.

He couldn’t completely blame her. Norman was a strong, big-hearted, and reliable human being, and Darron loved him dearly from his brown mutton chops to his thick working boots. But the man had simply not inherited his mother’s intelligence and wit. No matter how strong he may be, his combination of kindness and foolishness made it difficult to find him intimidating.

Darron’s mother was wiser, but much more timid. Darron had inherited her soft features, thin build, and curly hair, though the striking red color of that hair was left as hers alone. Much more of his mother’s face could be seen in him than his father’s, which didn’t leave him looking particularly manly, but Norman’s brown hair and eye color were Darron’s to keep. Presumably he would be able to grow a positively titanic beard when he was older, but long beards were a hazard when dealing with open wounds so he would probably shave it off.

The biggest influence on Darron’s life was definitely his grandmother. Gloria had noticed his spark and aptitude for learning early on, so she poured all the knowledge from her first-rate healing magic expertise into Darron from a young age. Darron suspected she was a little bitter that her own son had never been smart enough to learn spells or talented enough to cast natural magic, and that spite made her a terrifyingly tough tutor. Her body was old, hunched over, and frail, but her mind was sharper than the strongest blade. Extremely tough but equally fair, Gloria was determined to make him into a top-class mage that didn’t need to farm alone in the plains to make a living– whether he liked it or not. Fortunately for Darron, he found the principles of biological magic to be extremely interesting and the principles of farming to… not be, so he continued to put up with his grandmother’s harsh lessons without complaint.

“Well,” Darron’s mother started, wrinkling her nose, “If you’re finished eating, the next order of business is most certainly to get you a bath.” Surprised, Shara leaned her head down and took a big whiff in the pit of her flexing arm. She coughed, reeling back in disgust.

“Wow, okay,” she agreed, “I smell like a week-old vrochthízo hive. Where’s the bathtub?”

“We don’t have one,” Gloria growled. “Not enough water to spare. Amelia or I will teach you to take a sponge bath. Gets you clean with less than a half gallon.”

Darron had never taken any other kind of bath in his entire life. What was Shara used to? Well, whatever it was, she didn’t seem to mind making the switch.

“Wow, that’s so neat!” she exclaimed, and got up to follow Amelia out of the room.

Gloria waited for them to leave, and then turned to Darron.

“Signs and symptoms?” she asked.

“I d-d-didn’t see any clear s-signs of post-t-traumatic stress,” Darron started, “but I don’t think she’s r-repressing the memories of what happened e-either.”

Although the Bornsson’s farm wasn’t part of a town or colony, it was only around a sixteen hour journey to Terranburg, the largest city in the southern plains. Many medics in Terranburg knew of Gloria Bornsson’s prowess, and exceptionally difficult cases would often be instructed to take the day’s journey southwest to her residence. In exchange for food, tools, and other goods, Gloria would work her magic on anyone who asked without question, and Darron would be at her side to assist and learn. As such, Darron had witnessed all sorts of obscure magical and non-magical diseases and ailments, from flesh-eating fungi to insanity-causing poison. The mundane causes of insanity, however, were the most insidious. If you can identify a poison, magic can remove it, but when a person’s mind poisons itself, spells are out of the question.

“I d-don’t see anything wrong with her,” Darron continued, “w-which is exactly what strikes me as s-strange.”

Gloria huffed. “And you don’t think those are telltale signs of memory repression? Or perhaps memory loss? Even if a scan says a patient is healthy, if something is still causing symptoms then something is still wrong. You know this.”

“I-I’m pretty sure sh-she still remembers what h-happened. Sh-she reacts when s-someone accidentally brings it u-up.”

Gloria raised an eyebrow. “I’m impressed you caught that. Well then, we’ll just have to bring it up on purpose. We can’t keep skirting around this forever.”

Darron wanted to point out that Shara had been awake for less than an hour, which hardly counted as forever, but thought better of it.

Shara soon returned from the bathroom with Amelia, wearing some of Darron’s old clothing that he had outgrown. They had splurged on a little extra water to wash out Shara’s bloodied hair, freeing the short blond locks from the red-brown crust they had been trapped in. The golden hair was a sharp contrast to her deep red eyes, naturally drawing the attention of the room to her smiling face.

As if trying to break that smile, Gloria immediately asked “Alright, kid. What happened to your family?”

If that was indeed her goal, she succeeded. Shara’s perpetual smile vanished as if it had never been there, her face going blank. Rather than break down, however, Shara just let out a sigh.

“Gloria!” Amelia started, but the old woman cut her off with a raised finger.

“I want details,” Gloria insisted.

“They’re dead,” Shara said simply, looking Gloria straight in the eyes.

“How did they die?” Gloria pressed.

“In battle. Our village was attacked, and my parents died engaging the enemy. The opposing commander killed them with a spell,” Shara explained, deadpan. It sounded more like a military report than a traumatic memory.

“Did you see this happen?”

“I did.”

“What were you doing at the time?”

“I was fighting.”

“What did you do when you saw your parents die?”

Shara clenched her teeth.

“I ran.”

Gloria nodded, and continued.

“Is that how you survived?”

Clenching her teeth harder, Shara glanced away briefly but returned her gaze to match Gloria’s.

“No. The enemy caught up to me. I remember him stabbing me through the head, so I assume I only survived by luck. If Aelius hadn’t been there, I would have died.”

Gloria nodded again, digesting the information.

“Is that all you would like to know?” Shara prompted.

“Just one more thing,” Gloria added. “What do you plan to do now?”

For the first time since waking up, Shara full-on frowned. She seemed frustrated instead of sad, as if the memory she was recalling was more embarrassing than anything else.

“You already plan to offer to let me stay here, right?” she asked rhetorically. “I literally don’t have anywhere else to go. So… I’ll do my best to make myself useful to you, and not be a burden.” The grin on her face came back, and she practically beamed. “I don’t know the first thing about farming, but I’m tough and I work hard! Just show me what to do, and I’ll get it done!”

Darron knew that smile had to be fake, but it seemed so perfectly genuine he couldn’t bring himself to feel it.

The rest of the day continued, and as per her insistence Shara was set on the menial chores. Pumping water from the well, cleaning the barn, feeding the animals… Shara did these things as instructed and without complaint. During meals and at other times there was room for conversation, Shara maintained her chipper, lighthearted attitude, smiling and cracking jokes the whole time.

Sure enough, come night time, Amelia insisted that Shara take Darron’s bed, shunting Darron to the floor. As he lay on the cold wood of his room, trying not to think about how infested with mold it might be, he was the only member of the family to hear the soft sobs coming from his bed.

Advertisement
A note from Thundamoo

Thanks for reading!


Support "Mind Reading Isn't Cheating"

About the author

Thundamoo

Bio:

Achievements
Comments(10)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In