Tearing out a handful of long grass the tall man balled it up in his fist and held the pan upside down, wiping over it to remove the excess remnants of the food. Throwing the greasy ball back down to the ground, he held the pan upside down over the flames for a moment, listening to it hiss, and then tossed it aside next to his bag. The wise man stamped out the blue flames of the small fire and began to collect his things, placing them neatly together one after the other. Esper laid on her back, her hands on her stomach, her face glowing with the rare satisfaction of a full belly.
She turned her head over towards the wise man, who was throwing the rest of the things into the bag now. His movements were slow and lazy and he once again stretched after finishing packing. He turned towards the girl. “Come, we should be on our way.”
“Okay!” she said with excitement, springing to her feet. As she stood upright and put her weight down on her legs, the painful sensation shot through her in an instant and she took a sharp breath in. The wise man, who had begun adorning his large pack, turned to see her pale face.
“You won’t heal if you run and jump around like that,” he states blankly. Esper looked puzzled at the man who had made her walk just the day before, but decided it was best not to argue. So she nodded and hobbled towards him. Lowering himself down he turned around with his back to her. “Come, climb on.” She did as was asked, not that she had anything against it to begin with. Her eyes shone with excitement, as the man hoisted his heavy load up into the air with a strained grunt. His body arching back somewhat, until he managed to bend forward and find his balance.
The first whispers of the coming daylight hours had arrived now, as the world promptly began rousing with bird and insect song, as they began to leave the clearing. The wise man's lantern was back on the side of his bag, together with the rod, as it was bright enough to see the road before them without it now. Esper stretched her left arm out and ran the tips of her fingers along the rough wall of the cliffside, her eyes drifting towards the hood, covering the back of the wise man's head and she felt an urge to pull it down out of sheer curiosity for what lay beneath. However she managed to resist the call.
“Why do you wear masks?” she asked instead.
“Because I am a journeyman” answered the wise man.
“I don’t get it.”
“My face is my own. But the words and acts I carry with me are from others. And so I must wear their emotions as I do, as is asked of me. If I am asked to bring a happy message, then it would be bad if my own face was sad, no?”
Esper thought for a while. “So why do you have a new face now?”
“Because today, I felt that this was the right face, since I have no messages left to deliver,” He stopped and corrected himself. “- mask.”
She wasn’t too sure that she understood. So instead the girl spread her eyes around, looking for the sight of any new trees to discover today. Then she saw it, up above them. Just barely, but the great blob manifested itself in the vague gray, hovering above them on the other side of the chasm. Shifting her weight to the side, the wise man protested at her movements as she leaned to the right side of the bag and pointed toward the great mass floating above the abyss. “Look! Look!”
The wise man was too busy trying to keep his balance to look. “Don’t move around so much or we’ll both fall to our deaths,” he scolded. They were nowhere near the edge.
“Sorry,” said the girl, turning herself around to face him. “But look!” she said pointing again.
The man turned his head to follow to where she was pointing and saw what she saw. “Yes, that is Achtel.” He shuddered, looking at the underside of the great construction that was hanging out over the chasm. Esper wanted to say something, but she wasn’t quite sure what exactly, so she continued to stare at the great thing in silence, as the wise man continued his way around the spiral path. Slowly, they made it around the bend, the daylight hours having now begun.
Esper stared with mouth agape and entirely awestruck at the massive collection of buildings rising before them. All of the vague shapes began to become clearer and clearer the closer they got. Houses rose high along the inner wall of the cliff face. One after the other, stacked on top of another. Some sticking out to the sides and going up and down like a vine creeping up a wall. To the right was a massive construction, a platform spanning out deep into the chasm, yet not even nearly close enough to reach the center.
From that jutted out three long arms with white blades that were spinning from the rising current. Directly before the town however, was a large stone wall, spanning across the road from side to side. Esper saw a lone man standing atop it, leaning against the edge and stared towards him now in fascination. As they approached, he stared curiously at the two down below. The wall had large spikes running out into the air near the top, from them flew many thin, long strips of cloth dyed with different colors. The wise man raised a hand to wave at the man on the wall, who waved back as they came closer.
“Listen, child,” said the wise man to the girl. “Do not wander off. Achtel is a safe town, but the people can be somewhat rowdy. It would be best for you to stay near me.”
Esper nodded, not really sure how she would walk off anyways. “Okay.”
Two massive wooden doors, rimmed with metal, adorned the front of the wall, however they stayed tightly shut. Rather a side door on the right was opened by a young man with long hair, that was tied back in an unruly knot. “Journeyman, welcome back to Achtel.”
“I have brought another.”
The young soldier looked at the unwashed, unkempt girl dressed in tatters sitting on the man's back. She waved to him with a toothy smile.
“I see,” he said, his face somewhat puzzled. “Shall I inform the magistrate that you have arrived?”
“That won’t be necessary” said the wise man, as he walked past the soldier, his back scraping on the left side of the wall as he passed through. “We won’t be staying long.”
“Aww!” pouted Esper.
“Very well,” said the soldier and swung the heavy door shut behind them.
Esper's eyes exploded with the sights of light and colors now all around her. Bright and well kept buildings with large windows, stalls with vividly colored tapestries roofing them, more people than she had ever seen before walking up and down the streets from building to building, disappearing into nooks and alleys and others appearing out from them; all of these thing surrounded her all at once. A cacophony of sound, voices, hammering, and a menagerie of tones that she couldn’t begin to identify, more noise than she ever heard at once, all of it mingling together into an indecipherable amalgamation. It was a lot. There were a lot of faces. A lot of eyes. She lowered herself down low, hiding her head behind that of the wise man.
There was a smell in the air that was smokey and vaguely metallic. Many voices called out, as the wise man walked down the street, some he ignored, others he responded to with a slow lazy wave. Esper knew this feeling. That of many eyes finding her. Eyes she couldn’t see, but those that she could feel on her body. The girl looked at the people walking all around them, some stopping to look at the man and others clearly to look at her. Together with the calls and greetings came also the whispers that followed them.
She hunkered down lower. Not breaking his stride, the wise man said to her “I thought you wanted to see the city?”
“Why are they looking at us?”
“Because I am a journeyman,” he said, repeating his mantra once more. “-And because you are an odd sight to see,” he added, raising his finger. “For me to go down to the bottom of the chasm and to come back with someone else, is clearly cause for great curiosity these days.” Esper said nothing, not quite understanding, instead focusing her attention on pressing herself down against the fabric.
“I don’t want to be here,” said the girl, seeing the trail of people now shuffling after them. Their eyes were hungry. She looked away.
“Yes, this must be strange for you,” said the wise man. “Don’t worry, I only want to make a few stops and then we will be on our way,” he said oddly jovially. “Look, child, before us.” Esper turned her head forward and leaned over the man's shoulder, daring to peek for a moment. A small building, made from large, weathered gray stones stood before them. A large, colorful circular window above the door.
“Is this your house?” she asked.
“I don’t have a house,” he answered, approaching the dark wooden door. “This is a place of healing,” he said as he knocked on the door. Nothing happened for a moment and Esper once again turned her gaze towards the pursuers who were now closely beginning to encircle them. The noise from them became louder and louder, she turned and buried her face in the fabric of the bag. The door swung inward with a loud creak. The wise man looked at the tall woman standing before him. They stared at each other for a time, neither saying anything.
“You’ve got some nerve coming here now,” she hissed, breaking the quiet between them.
“Sister Johanna,” said the tall man dryly. Esper raised her head. “May I come in?” asked the wise man.
“I suppose I don’t have a choice, now do I?” said the woman with a scoff and stepped to the side, shutting the door behind them, as the man stepped in.
“So. Nine years and you just stop by now? Let me guess, your back? Or maybe you’re finally worried about that empty space in your head.”
The wise man shook his head, which he thought was plenty full at least, knowing it was best not to argue with the woman. “It has been a while. Are you well?” he asked calmly.
Esper looked at the woman, peering up from behind the tall man. She was as tall as him, her face older and sharp and frightening in contrast with his. She wore a simple bright robe, a charm adorning the front. Her eyes full of fire shone out below her graying hair which hung out over her face.
“Of course I am well you fool” she said and knocked on the man's mask, who stood there without reaction. “Take off that damned thing when you enter this place of healing.”
“You know that I may not,” replied the wise man dryly.
“And when is the last time you bathed, you smell of death itself!” said the woman. They were in a large round room with a very high ceiling. Three doors adorned the far walls. In the center stood a statue of a man whose features Esper couldn’t identify.
“Ah, yes. About that. You see, I have brought you something.” The tall man bent down and set his bag on the floor. Esper clutching the material tightly beneath her fingers, looked up towards the frightening woman towering above her “H-hello…” she meekly managed to force out, not wanting to be rude.
“Good heavens!” said the woman, bending down to look at her. Esper flinched, closing her eyes tightly. “You poor thing, look at the state you’re in!” Sister Johanna looked up to the wise man “What did you do to this poor wretch, look at her! She is as the dead herself, look at her quivering!”
The wise man shrugged. “She wasn’t quivering when I found her-” he raised his finger “-it must be you.”
She glared up at him “Licht have mercy, that I’d live to see the day you make a joke,” she quipped.
“I have brought her from Neuntel. Will you tend to her, sister?”
“From Neuntel?!” she asked, perplexed. “Look at me, child!” Esper raised her eyes and looked at the woman. “You poor wretch, come! Up with you, let me have a look!” Esper looked up towards the wise man who simply nodded to her in return. “She’s a mean old witch, but let her help you,” he told her.
“What ideas are you putting into this poor creature’s head! Come, child, get up from there!” She grabbed Esper beneath her arms and hoisted her up with ease, before setting her on the ground. “Let me get a good look at you dear. From Neuntel? Goodness…” She looked up to the wise man “What of the rest then?” He shook his head. “Heavens, child, what has life done with you?” She looked back to the girl.
“It turned me into a bird,” said Esper. Sister Johanna stared at her for a moment and then to the tall man who shrugged. Sister Johanna lifted the girl’s small arms, looking at the cuts covering her hands and the scrapes on her sickly, thin body. Tsking at seemingly everything that she saw.
“What on earth happened to you, child?”
“I had to run from them.”
“Run from who dear?” she asked, as she pried at the deeply stained, crusty cloth on the girls arm. Esper shrugged, having to re-balance on her good leg and responded dryly, “The night people.”
The old woman looked up at the tall man “Don’t tell me?” He nodded. “And this child has been alone since then?” The wise man shrugged again. Wisdom and knowledge were different things after all. The woman peeled off the first layer of the cloth, still shaking her head. The makeshift bandage gave off a tearing sound, as the dried blood and dirt caking it together came apart. Ripping from the skin.
Esper winced slightly, as she felt the cloth coming loose. “Don’t fidget, child. Good heavens-” said the woman, as the last layer came off of the bandage. The cloth had become deeply encrusted into the wound “Hold on dear, this will sting,” she said dryly and ripped it off, before Esper could reply. The girl let out a small squeal but kept her lips pursed as the high pitched sound escaped her. “This wound is deeply infected! Look at it!” said the woman incredulously.
The wise man nodded “Yes, it seems that way.”
“It seems that way?! You daft idiot!” she threw the old grimy bandage at him.
“How old is this injury, girl?”
Esper though for a moment “Before, uh… The daylight before the last daylight.”
“Two nights?!” She looked up to the wise man furiously “And you didn’t even think to change the bandage?!” The tall man shrugged. “She seemed fine.”
“She seemed fine?! Look at the state the poor wretch is in!”
“What’s a wretch?”
“Hush girl!” she snapped back to Esper who flinched. The woman looked back to the wound on her arm. The skin around it had turned yellow and blue, the flesh surrounding the area deeply bruised. The wound was wet and sticky and gave off an unpleasant smell.
“There are still splinters in it!” said the old woman in disbelief.
“Hmm, yes. It seems that way,” replied the wise man dryly. “So, can I leave her with you for a time?”
“No!” cried Esper. He looked at her, cocking his head. His blue mask shifting slightly upwards.
“It will only be for a little while. She will make your injuries better. Then I will come back and we can continue on in the morning. There is still a long way to go after all.”
“No. Don’t go,” she protested.
“You will be fine,” he replied.
The girl pursed her lips, but didn’t argue, despite the uncomfortably familiar sensation in her core. The wise man nodded and rubbed her head and turned to leave in a direction different from the front door. “I’ll be using the kitchen door. Oh, and I will leave my bag here too, do make sure it doesn’t get stolen, yes?” he said, lazily waving his hand behind him, as he walked out into another room.
“Take your bag and toss yourself and it into the pit!” shouted the woman after the leaving man, who wisely decided not to respond. A small door shut behind him with a loud clang, as the metal fastenings locked into place behind it. Shaking her head, the stern woman looked at the girl's leg now, running her fingers along it tenderly. Esper winced, as she reached the dark blue ring above her ankle.
“Have you been putting weight on this? You’re lucky it hasn’t snapped off entirely girl.” Esper was too frightened to respond. “Stop shaking, you’re going to make an old woman dizzy.” The old woman rose to her feet, Esper's eyes rising to meet the towering giant’s. “Come on, let's get you cleaned up first in the bath. You stink of death.”
“D-Do you have a river?”
The old woman cocked her head and placed her hands under the girl's arms, hoisting her into the air. “What nonsense are you spouting, child. Has that fool rubbed off on you?”
“Are you his sister?” asked Esper to the woman holding her out before herself, at arm's length.
“We don’t choose our family's girl. The gods do. And even they make mistakes.”
“What’s a god?” asked Esper. The woman shook her head and carried her on to the next room, shutting the door behind them with her foot.
Support "Oratoria: Bury the Dead"
- Floor 69 of the metaphorical-dungeon
- Novice Writer
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!