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Esper hurried down the winding path towards the cliff-side clearing. Looking up, she saw the daylight streaming through the quickly thinning blue crowns of leaves above her head and sped up her pace. A gentle breeze seemed to be blowing all around her, penetrating the thick dew and encapsulating her in a bubble of fresh air, which she was more than grateful for. The end of the road was just ahead, she held her breath in anticipation as she breached the clearing. Her eyes shot open once more, wide and as fearful as they had been just the night before.


“No way,” she whispered to herself upon seeing the many dead. There had never been this many. Even with her blurry eyes, she could see the shapes strewn about the landing. Walking carefully forward, she looked at them. “One, two, three-,” she went on, looking at each one carefully before moving on to the next. “-six, seven-,” her voice grew weaker “-eight… nine.” Esper stood there unmoving for a minute, the realizations hitting her one after the other.


She turned around and looked again to be sure. Nine. The hairs on her neck stood up and her body began to tremble. Gazing up to the sun shining down towards her from above, she felt like she wanted to ask it something, but wasn’t quite sure what exactly. It hurt her eyes, so she looked away. “Nine,” she said aloud to herself, the fist on her right arm not willing to clench. Her fingers only trembling further.


They were all different, men and women, small and large. Some ornately wrapped, some crudely, one completely naked having lost its cloth. Something touched her foot and she jumped, kicking whatever it was wildly with a yelp. It was just papa’s rope. She must have not noticed stepping into it. The girl bent down to pick it up and began coiling it together slowly and carefully with her good arm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you out here.” Esper stopped in her tracks, kneeling down with the rope in her hand as the thought crossed her mind. The single word. Punishment.


Punishment. The word came to her, imprinting itself into her. Last night was punishment for her negligence. The nine were punishment for her negligence. Papa said she’d be in trouble if she didn’t work hard. She didn’t listen. Her eyes wet, Esper wiped them off with her sleeve. “I’m sorry,” she said aloud to the void, pulling the long rope together into a coil on the ground. The wind howled around her, continuing on its ever present journey and she knew her words fell on deaf ears today.


There were maybe just over two hours of daylight remaining. She couldn’t use her right arm. “I can’t move nine,” she said aloud, not sure who she was talking to but hoping somebody was listening and willing to help. The wind blew on unperturbed. Sitting on the ground, together with the dead all around her, she asked “What am I supposed to do?” Esper pulled her knees together towards her chest. The dead must be moved before nightfall, but even if she did, even if by some miracle she managed to move nine in only two hours; the house wasn’t safe. The other houses weren’t either. Only hers had been and now, something broke mama’s spell.


She looked around, her mind racing through every nook and cranny that she had ever known. None of them were safe. She looked over to the tall, dark trees, quickly losing their leaves behind her, before again looking back in defeat. The trees were no good. They could climb. Esper’s hand reached for her necklace and she let the trinket roll through her fingers absentmindedly, as she was lost in her thoughts.


Thoughts of her father's fury, if she didn’t do her work. Thoughts of the danger that was soon to arrive when the night fell. Thoughts of the yowling pain from her empty stomach and ravaged arm. All of these mixed together into a dark coalescence in her mind, overpowering any thoughts that dared to stray from their chosen path of suffering. The spell she used the night before wouldn’t hide her for long enough to matter. A few minutes at best, but that was no good. The night was long.


A strong breeze swelled over her back, strong enough to cause her to lean forward, giving in to its pressure. Her hair flying wildly forward, she shut her eyes until the heavy breeze was over. Reopening them, she saw them. Leaves, far more than she could count, flying into the abyss and rising high and fast, as the currents propelled them towards distant places, both far out of her sight and reach.


It came to her. The idea. Springing to her feet, she ran from the first corpse to the next, running her fingers through every one of their wrappings, searching for the finest one. One stood out clearly from the rest, it was smooth and light. Its owner was an older man, with a clean beard and a kind face. “Sorry!” said Esper to him, as she slowly undid his wrappings with her good hand, tugging the cloth out from underneath him with great effort. Soon however, it released from under his weight, his body shifting slightly.


Placing the cloth on the ground, she placed the coil of rope inside and rolled it together. Satisfied once it was tightly bundled, the girl grunted as she heaved the heavy thing up off of the ground with one arm, her legs shaking with weakness before she turned to the distant beginning of the spiral path. There wasn’t much time left.
With a quick pace, she scurried down towards the overgrown path that she had gone down the day before, the wind accompanying her at her side. Stepping over roots and pushing through the bushes from her last trip through, she forced herself down the road once again. She wasn’t sure if this would work, but there was no other choice, thought the girl to herself.


The thick, bottom heavy, red trees swayed in the wind, as if sauntering in place for a quiet dance. With every hurried step that she took, came the crisp crunch from the many fallen red leaves beneath her feet. They had all fallen so quickly, the transition happening basically overnight. “It’s gonna be fall soon,” she said to herself, noticing the many leaves coating the ground.


She stopped, and then raised her foot. “Crunch,” she said, stepping on a particularly large pile of leaves. A smile came to her face and eyes. “Cruuunch!” she said again with a grin, as she now jumped forward, hopping with both feet onto another small pile before herself. She wasn’t sure why, but she was laughing. Esper turned her head to the side and saw the familiar tree.


“Bird,” she muttered, entirely distracted now, but there was no bird to be seen outside of her memory. Blankly, she stood there and stared at the tree for a time, lost deeply in her thoughts for the moment; until the push of the wind against her back summoned her back to her senses; reminded her of the urgency of the matter. “Oh,” she said to the empty space around herself, as if idly answering to some statement and kept walking down the path. Making carefully sure however to step on particularly crunchy looking leaves on the way.


The end of the road was before her now. Breaching the tree-line, she saw the precipice before her and the far side across. It would be safe there. They couldn’t get there. They couldn’t cross the gap. It was too steep. Too wide. Though, neither could she. There was still some daylight left to work with. Dropping her load onto the ground, Esper stretched out her good shoulder now that it had been relieved of the weight and set to work.


First she went to the ledge, stopping just before. The sound of the strong winds sheering up the side through the gap was unmistakable, the current was here and as strong as ever. Satisfied she went back to unfold the packet. She removed the coiled rope and placed it to the side. The smooth, white cloth was long and wide. So she gently folded it over once.
Holding on to it tightly she picked it up, holding it firmly inside of her fist and brought it to the ledge where the current streamed. The cloth tore explosively upward, the loose end fighting wildly for release, as if some invisible hand were tugging on it from above. With greater effort than expected she pulled it back, retrieving it from the breeze that had almost stolen it away.


It would work, her idea, she was sure it would as she looked up to see her remaining daylight. “Huh?” It was getting darker quicker than usual. Why? Had she taken too long to get here? No, it was just much brighter a moment ago. Wasn’t it? Then it hit her, what this meant. She understood immediately what this new omen of bad fortunes to come signified. “No!” She ran back to the rope, knowing she would have to hurry now.


Placing the cloth back on the ground and neatly refolding it in half she grabbed each end at about a hand's length inward and tugged it tightly together creating a round shape with pointed sides. It reminded her of an eye she thought, as she looked at the construct.


Grabbing the end of the rope nearest to her, she tied it around one of the indented edges and then began to tie the other end of the rope around the other. She had to hurry she thought, as she wiped the sweat from her brow. A crash, loud and tremendous shot through the air. The echo of the thunderous explosion ringing off the walls of the chasm, bouncing down and down deeper into the darkness below her as the great hole swallowed the dietetic crash.


Her eyes shot up for a second and then back down to her work, her hands frantically trying to get the rope to stay in place, but the cloth kept sliding out from her knot and so she tried again and again using all the different kinds she had been taught, but none would hold the fabric if she tugged on it, let alone if the striking current here shore it down. She could feel the air change, a weight bearing down from above.


“No,” she cried to herself beneath her frantic breath as she desperately tried to knot the construct closed with her good hand. There! This one looked promising. Throwing the cloth down she stepped on it with her foot and pulled at the rope once more. It didn’t budge. It would hold her weight. Another strike of thunder, far off from a distant world somewhere much higher up than here came to make itself heard.


Satisfied enough to risk her life, she grabbed the rope and turned to the ledge and then she stopped, as she felt the trickle hit her face. “No…” She muttered to herself, running to the precipice holding the cloth tightly close to her chest to keep it dry. It wouldn’t work if it was wet. She stopped at the edge, the wind was still rising with violent force. There was still time.


Grabbing the middle of the rope she haphazardly wrapped the construct around her waist and between her legs as quickly as she could. Then she felt it. The rain had reached her. The trickle that had arrived moments before was just a precursor to what would come. A torrent now fell from the distant heavens, a magnitude of oppressing rain that buried anything and everything in its path under a burst of water.


She bent over, holding the cloth beneath her meager body, but her frail frame did little to protect it from the storm. Within moments she was soaked to the brim and then it was soaked as well. Esper felt the ground beneath her feet turn into mud, as it soaked up the abundance of water, she silently wished it would soak her up as well. It wouldn’t work anymore, her idea.


Esper stood there, bent over with the rain hitting her back, her plan and construction both ruined. She was hurt, hungry, she felt betrayed and distraught. Daylight was just about over, there was nowhere to hide now, nowhere to run. She looked up to the sky above, her face wet from rain and snot, distorted ugly with rage, as she shouted to the above. “What did I ever do to you?!”


The construct hit the mud below her with a splash, as she threw it to the ground with the little energy she had left inside of her body before she fell down on-top of it, the mud that had soaked through it, splashing up and over her. “What did I ever do to you,” she muttered to herself, trailing the end with a sniffle. Not even the wind blew anymore, whether it had been driven away by the rain or if it had abandoned her too, she didn’t know.

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A note from Razzmatazz

*~+---SPECIAL THANKS---+~*

Henry Morgan,  Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage, Spencer Seidel, Slime girl chapters 4 lyfes, chp2001, Shaoraka, James_is_Playing, Collin Love, Sage, Solarlancer, Diu Lei Lo Mo, Lord DragonRose, MetusZerum, Pike, ItsCool, Beowulf, Yenin, James Nagy, Darastrix, Chymor, Sebastian Viller, Chotley Ferguson, Matthew Forlines, Lasse, Harley Shockley, Halima, Colin Clark, Anna Turner, Dontspam Meho, David G Ross, Steven Lindsay, Missus Mouse, Imran, Indigo, Stefan Mensink, James Panao O'Connor, Igors Zvaigzne, Zikarioa, Dionisio Trigo, Ingo Wiarda, Michael Maddox, Micha, S T, All-In-Vane, Autonomous Spaghetti, Alex, Nick Tinsley, Michael Lau, Mackintackin, Jose, Maximum0428, Peter Jørgensen, Tzucaza, Neil Dube, Alexis Lionel, Carlos Ramirez Guerra-librero, Jo Gucoka, Matticide FOWD, Satherian, Matthew Orenstein, Popper369, Boohya, Ryan Gallagher, Enleed, Oliverthms, Novo, Ignatius Colotta, Christian Kenney, Andrew B, Casel002, Raven67854Gaming, Tomas Wood, Chris Meeker, Ivan, Patterson, Daniel Rhodes, Scryde, Krimson Fox, Jacob Imming, Zaire Mudu, Slippery.John, Tom Meda, Zeruke, Joshua Shon, Mark Baitinger, Christie, Vikram Valame, Alex, Sonny C, Pieter, Yates!!, Kris, Benn, Victor, John J Riggan, Chris, Howard Roark


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About the author

Razzmatazz

Bio: Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.

The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°

Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)

– Always open for feedback!

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