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Chapter 1 - Animus

“Here she comes,” Animus whispered. He’d been behind the stacks of empty barrels for the better part of an hour, waiting for his sister to appear on the path. The slight rain had turned heavy in the late summer night. He was soaked, though the warm summer air made it bearable. It wasn’t how Animus imagined he would be spending his birthday, but it would be worth it if he could humiliate his older sister.

“You sure this will get Yayisha to walk with me around the lake?” Sterl asked.

Animus doubted it; his sister hated all of his friends. She’d told Animus that many times. But Animus clapped Sterl on the back anyways and nodded. “I’m sure of it. You have to get her attention, right? This should do it.”

Animus watched his friend’s reaction carefully. Sterl was tall, broad-shouldered and nearly as strong as Animus. Where Animus worked with his father at the blacksmith, Sterl assisted his own father in felling logs. He had the strength for the task. Yet Animus wondered at his resolve to see it through.

Sterl’s brow furrowed. “Dumping barrels on her will get her to like me? I still don’t see how …”

In the distance, Animus heard footsteps on the muddy road. He whispered, “Quiet. Here she comes.”

His sister rounded the corner, walking by herself on her way home from the temple. Every night she walked behind the Inn of the Wayward Souls, choosing to be alone rather than deal with the traffic of the main road. It was a good place to catch her unawares.

Animus leaned closer to his friend. “When I raise my hand from the balcony, push those barrels as hard as you can.”

Sterl blew a held breath and nodded. “This better work.”

“May even get you a kiss, “Animus lied. He doubted his sister would ever like anyone. Quietly he moved along the edge of the barrel line, bent over to remain hidden from sight. The barrels were stacked empty, each three feet tall and right at the edge of the street. Clovas the innkeeper used them to store his home-brewed casks of Ale. In the morning, Clovas’s workers would load them in a wagon and take them to the Alehouse Clovas owned in the woods where they would be filled and returned full.

Still hidden behind them, he struggled to keep calm. Nervous energy made it hard for him to not jump with excitement. Animus had desired revenge, to get back at his sister for a long time. The torrential rain of the day made it the possible to soak her in mud as well as to scare her half to death. Animus thought to himself, Gods knows she has it coming.

He peered over the last barrel in line. Though it was dark and raining, and even though she was covered in a thick, nondescript cloak, Animus would be certain it was her in a few moments.

Uncertain how, he’d always been able to sense her when she was close. Animus walked the steps once to find just how far away he could sense her; it was up to twenty steps. And Animus knew she could sense him, too. That was the very reason he needed Sterl’s help.

Animus crept along the edge of the wooded deck built along the back of the inn. When he reached the second story deck above him, Animus reached for the knotted rope he’d previously placed and climbed to the balcony of the Inn of Wayward Souls. It had been his one worry that workers would be on the back balcony taking a break or eating their meals. The bad weather kept them indoors.

Strong from his days working with his father in the smithy, Animus climbed the rope, gripped the edge of the wood and pulled himself up and over the edge. Once over he twisted on his stomach until he could see Sterl behind the barrels and just beyond them his sister’s approach. He prepared to raise his hand.

That’s when the raindrops changed to hail. Small gravel-sized pieces stung his skin. The wind awakened and whipped the hail so hard it was knocked sideways. The hail clattered against the metal roofs of the two and three story buildings at the center of Haver’s Village.

Animus wondered at the weather as he stood. A piece of hail broke on the bridge of his nose and exploded into his eyes. Animus cursed as he hastily cleared the slush from his face and looked to the road.

Yayisha stood two to three strides away from the barrels. He could sense her now and she could sense him. She stopped and looked up at him. Animus wanted to see her face when he sprung his trap and part of his plan was to use himself as a distraction. Right where she stood was the perfect spot for Animus’s plot.

Animus sprung to his feet and raised his hand. Sterl looked right at him and hesitated. Come on Sterl… Animus shot his hand higher, stood on his tip-toes and reached for the sky. The barrels. Push them! The hail was so thick that Animus could barely see his friend.

He saw Sterl move toward the barrels.

The containers teetered toward Yayisha just as she grabbed the hood of her cloak and pulled it from her head. She flung her arms wide. The water and hail fell heavier, and for several moments Animus couldn’t see his sister or Sterl.

Then the hail suddenly stopped. Below, the barrels groaned and gave way, tumbling toward his sister. Animus nearly jumped up and down. The barrels would hit the mud and splatter all over her. If he was lucky one of them would knock her face-first to the mud.

Yayisha shrieked, and the hackles rose on the back of his neck. Magic. Animus couldn’t believe his eyes as the mud and water around his sister leapt from the ground and formed a half dozen giant hands. Each one caught a falling barrel, stopping their downward motion until they seemed frozen in mid-air, cradled by the huge, muddy hands. Yayisha’s shrieked again, her voice carrying over the storm. Goose bumps sprouted on Animus’s body. Below the sludge hands widened and coated the barrels in mud. Yayisha’s hands came together as she extended her arms toward the barrels. She pulled her hands back to her chest and then shoved them forward. The mud hands carried the barrels away from her, up and over the stacks from which they’d been shoved. Several of them collided with those still stacked.

The entire middle stack gave way and collapsed toward Sterl.

Animus saw his friend attempt to scamper away from the avalanche of wood and iron that loomed over him. Sterl slipped in the mud and fell on his side. As he tried to stand the barrels crashed upon him. Animus saw one of the barrels crash into Sterl’s leg. His friend screamed until another barrel knocked him flush in the head and shoulders. Then he was silent.

Animus couldn’t believe this. For several moments he looked at the scene, stunned. Everything was under control. I had them trapped and… He yelled, “Sterl?”

No response.

“Sterl!”

His friend didn’t answer.

Animus’s looked back to the street. His sister pointed up at him and started to laugh.
I hate her. “Sterl!” Animus yelled as descended the rope. His hand grabbed just above the first knot and he dropped his legs over the side, catching them on another knot. Tears stung his eyes as he scampered down the rope. He had taken advantage of his friend’s crush on his sister. His stomach tightened and his jaws clenched. He’s hurt and it’s my fault. The muscles in his arms shook.

Almost to the ground, he released the rope to land feet-first. As he grasped for balance the wind came alive and hammered him so hard it shoved him face-first into the mud. Brown water splashed in his face, nose and ears. For a few moments everything was muffled as water clogged his ears. His got his arms and legs under him and pushed himself to stand, one hand working to clear mud from his eyes as he coughed sludge from his mouth.

He sensed Yayisha had closed the distance between them. Animus could see her laughing face, could almost taste the magic she wielded. Her teeth glowed white and her green eyes were filled with an eerie light. Animus knew they were physical evidence of her magic use. So close to her, Animus could feel her hate radiate toward him.

It utterly terrified him.

Animus clenched his hands. He wanted to knock her to the ground and rub her face in the mud. But he told himself. She’s too strong.

Yayisha said, “Ah-ah, little brother. What of Sterl the mighty?”

How had she known what they had been planning? Animus wondered but refused to ask; he wouldn’t give her the pleasure. Instead he chose to ignore her and started toward his friend.
Something wrapped around his chest and cinched. The rope. He grabbed at the hemp and tried to loosen its grip. The animated rope yanked him up and off the ground. It writhed around one of his legs and flipped him upside down as he struggled. Then he spun in tight circles.

Her voice rose above the hail that clattered against the deck above them. “See, brother? You’ll never make a fool of me. Mother protects you; else I’d have already enslaved your petty little mind.” She closed the distance between them and slapped his forehead. His body hung there and swayed back and forth, helpless as she continued to speak. “I should’ve drowned you in the lake when I’d had the chance. She wasn’t watching then. But then you’d already be dead and I couldn’t make a slave out of you.”

Animus tried to keep himself from crying. Fourteen year-olds shouldn’t cry. His father told him he was too old to cry when he was thirteen. Yet the tears came nonetheless. His cracking voice reverted back, high and wavering. “I hate you,” he said.

Yayisha shoved his forehead again and stepped back. She pulled her hands to either side of her face. He could only watch as the watery sludge rose from the ground and formed into an oblong ball that hovered between her hands. Yayisha’s sneer formed into a genuine smile. Animus felt her despicable happiness at having him in such a plight. He cringed. She’s going to torture me again.

The watery sludge struck and exploded into his face. It poured into his mouth. He gasped and struggled to breathe.

He heard his older sister’s words. “I can kill you at any time, brother. Drown you. And you can’t stop me. You’re powerless.”

Animus couldn’t breathe. She stood there for a few moments and laughed. Then she turned and left. He watched her go, that arm of hers still rose. He couldn’t breathe; this time she was going to kill him. Yet, she dropped her arm several steps later and the watery sludge poured out of his mouth. Animus choked and coughed. Hanging upside down he struggled for breath, thinking he was going to die. Blood pounded hard through his head.

As he hung there, he could only think of how much he hated her. She destroyed everything he loved. His friends, his things, anything he valued. And he knew she was right; only his parents protected him from her.

Terrified, helpless, Animus dangled there helpless. He tried but never managed to fully clear his throat. He tried to yell but couldn’t. He twisted in an attempt to glimpse Sterl, but the fallen barrels blocked his view.

Minutes passed. The hail ended and became a raining drizzle. The, a figure approached from across the street. A fat man. It was Clovas the innkeeper.

Clovas rushed to him. “What in Barl’s cursed beard….”

“Sterl…under barrels,” Animus croaked.

“What? Sterl’s where? Oh Good Gods.” Clovas left Animus to hang and yelled as he rushed toward the barrels. “Help! Someone’s hurt! He’s trapped!”

Moments passed. Blood drummed through Animus’s head, and Animus wondered if he was going to pass out. Then others approached. Shouts clogged Animus’s ears. Maybe I’m safe from her.

Then a man approached and then stopped. The shadows revealed only his frame: he was bulky, biceps huge and apparent, wide shoulders and a barrel gut. But Animus knew who he was. There was little fat in that stomach, only earned strength from a lifetime of toil and grit. It was his father.

And though he strained not to, Animus once more began to cry.


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MikeDukk

Bio: I am a self-published fantasy and science fiction writer.

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