Standing in the tight alleyway, the man raised his arms up into the air and stretched himself up onto his toes. Something popped in his lower back, he let out a grunt and laid a hand against the wall of the building, waiting for the sting to subside. After a moment, he went down the alley towards the street outside of the building. The crowd had dissipated now, the people seeking entertainment to alleviate their boredom and curiosity having gone elsewhere. He walked down the road for a minute looking around at the many stalls and stands.
A man walked down the streets, wearing a loose, dark burgundy robe with a large droopy hood, towards the wise man and then past him, towards the small square before the magistrates home. The robed man exchanged casual greetings with several people as they walked past another, neither making time for more than a casual nod or wave. The red robed man moved towards the elevated circle in the midst of the square and climbed up the few steps. Once he reached the pinnacle, he seated himself in the center of the circle.
Through the slits of his mask, the wise man saw the figure's mouth move, lining out a series of indistinguishable syllables. After his recital was seemingly complete, he planted both hands on the ground before him. A dim orange light shone over the surface of the circular platform, the bright aura filling many deep grooves, that wove an intricate pattern over the stonework circle. A triangle at first, then another in a different direction and then another, each overlaying the last. The light rose quickly from the slits in the stone and shone with a vivid intensity.
The result was clear to see. First the row of lanterns hanging above the circle came to life, emitting their warm orange aura. Then the lanterns next to them and then the row after that. This continued row for row, the flame instantly leaping from one to the next, setting them all alight. The wise man 's eyes followed their resurrection, until they reached the ones that he stood beneath and then watched them ignite off down the road behind him. The many lanterns hanging above the streets and alleyways, spanning from house to house, hung on ropes and chains now all shone alive, as if a wave of fire had pulsed through the town.
It was still bright, but the last daylight would be out soon and so their illuminating glow would be of vital importance in the otherwise dark world down here. Fire was the only thing that kept these people bound to the living world here for most hours of the day. Fuel was scarce in the pit, but such magical affinities made life bearable for those lucky enough to have them. The wise man turned away from the square and continued on down the road, his eyes searching through the main windows that he walked past.
The occasional face would look in his direction and the occasional straggler would find his way in the tall man's footsteps. But the interest seemed to have died down somewhat now. The streets were growing slowly emptier as well now, as people went inside for midday meals and drinks. His head turned to the right, down an alley and there he saw his goal. Turning, he went down the narrow way, having to turn somewhat to his side to even get through the tight gap between houses. The squeezing road between the two buildings widened a small bit near the entrance to the house just before him now.
He approached the door and knocked on it loudly and waited. No response. The tall man waited a moment longer and tried again to no avail. He sighed, rolling his head from side to side to lessen the tension in his neck. There was nothing to do but to keep looking he supposed and so he turned and went through the tiny alley once more, reappearing on the main road. He walked the road till he reached the end, back at the gate where they had arrived. Nothing.
Resigned in defeat the wise man shrugged, seeing that there was nothing he could do and wandered back down the way towards the chapel again. He turned his head to the right, towards the platform and looked at the many stalls there. Most were still open, but a few had begun to stow their wares and drape shut their stands. He shivered, shook his head and kept on walking.
Something moved in the space above him and he raised his eyes towards it. On the cord, holding the many lanterns above him, perched a little bird, chirping its final song for the day before it would fly off to nest. He stood there and stared at it for a moment, before returning his gaze towards the platform once more. He sighed in defeat and walked towards it.
The tall man stood now at the precipice, where the wood of the massive platform met the stone of the road and felt the beat of his heart in his chest, the trickle of sweat forming now on his brow behind the mask. He clenched his fists and stood there for a time. To his left and right people simply walked past him, coming to and from the platform with little thought at what it involved.
The wise man knew that there was nothing to fear, but that did little to ease his burden. After a minute more, he took a deep breath and lightly placed his left foot on the platform, wincing with one eye shut as he did so. Breathing in deeply once more he did the unthinkable and put his weight down onto it and brought his right leg forward to meet it. His breathing was intense and he could feel the condensation forming a thick layer beneath his mask.
Breathing in again, he began walking, slowly at first with gentle well aimed steps. Quickly however, he found his footing and hurried on to find what he was looking for before night fell.
Esper splashed the hot water that she sat in around, laughing to herself, her fears and unease forgotten entirely due to this new delight.
“Don’t make such a fuss, child!” snapped the woman on the other side of the steamy room.
“I’m soup!” laughed the skeletal, thin girl, ignoring the woman's commands entirely. The old woman shook her head with a sigh and returned to grinding something together in a small mortar in her lap.
With great delight, Esper held her breathe and sunk her head beneath the water, feeling the flowing warm current wash over her. She took the rough cloth the woman had given her and scrubbed her body with it. Caked flakes of gunk came off with every motion, flowing out and away down through the grate, vanishing into some deeper darkness hidden behind it. She rose up out of the water again to take a fresh breath.
“I didn’t know rivers could be warm!” she said with glee.
“It’s a running bath, child. Not a river,” answered the woman without turning her head.
“Haah?” was the response she got, followed by another splash, as the girl vanished once more beneath the wet. Esper ran her fingers through her hair, in some places only with great effort, as it had become knotted and tangled. More than one twig, or leaf came out of the mess it was. It seemed that with every motion she made through it, something new came out.
The girl repeated this process several times, rising up to the surface to get fresh air before sinking back beneath the warm water. The current gently waved her hair beneath it up and down. Soon she could run her fingers through her hair with ease. Esper rose up once more out of the bath and rested her head against the wall behind herself, feeling a little light-headed, with her hurt leg stretched out forward as she took a moment to look around the room.
The single chamber was larger than her whole house was, she thought. Well, maybe if her house was empty it would be about this size? Her mind's eye pictured the sight of her home, the door broken and all the furniture still overturned and ruined. She sank her head down and blew bubbles in the water. Control of her gaze returned to her vision and with the lower half of her head under water, she looked around the room again.
There was little to see, apart from the hunched over woman in the corner and the river, ah, she shook her head. Running bath, which she was in. It was a long rectangular hole in the floor, spanning from one wall to the next. Just deep enough that she could sit in it with her head barely above the water. A constant stream of hot water came from the side behind her and flowed down to the other end, vanishing into a metal grate. Though no matter where she looked, she didn’t see a fire, so Esper didn’t understand why the water was hot. “Why is the water hot?”
“Because it runs naturally hot down here.”
“My river was cold. I liked it though, I hope it isn’t mad at me for making a mess in it.” She sank down and blew more bubbles in deep contemplation of the subject.
“There are places where water is hot. Just like there are places on the top that are very cold, or others very hot. Even hotter than in the pit.” The woman wiped her brow, removing the excess moisture.
“Haah? I want to go to the top! What’s it like?”
“Come, get out of the water, girl. I need to put this medicine on your injuries.”
“I don’t want to!”
The woman rose to her feet, rolling the sleeves of her robe back to her elbows. Her arms were thick and covered in light scars and the signs of a life of work.
“Noooo!” complained Esper and sunk her head beneath the water once more.
She held her eyes open beneath the water and looked up and out at the blurry silhouette of the giant, standing above the bath, waiting patiently with crossed arms. She held her breath for as long as she could muster, but soon she felt the burn in her chest and throat. The moment the girl popped up to catch her breath, the tall woman grabbed her beneath her arms and tore the flailing child out of the water. “Nooo!”
“Don’t cause trouble, girl! And what in heaven is that ghastly necklace?” Esper stopped flailing and clutched the necklace tightly, narrowing her eyes. Happy that she was quiet, the tall woman sighed. The girl pouted as the woman sat her down on a wooden stool and reached over to grab the mortar filled with a thick greasy paste and set it next to her. It was vividly dark green, with an oily sheen to it. As the bowl was set next to her, she could smell a deeply herbal aroma rise from it. It smelled of freshly torn apart leaves, crisp and wet.
“It’s medicine, girl. It should help the infection and swelling dissipate. First we have to get the rest of those splinters out.”
Stretching the child's right arm out before her with little gentleness, she reached down to the ground and picked up some small dark metal tweezers and looked at the wetly crusted wound. “Don’t fidget girl-, this might sting.” Esper winced but did her best to do as she was told, as the woman set to work. It only took a minute but the woman pulled out several slivers of wood from her arm. One noticeably as long as her fingernail, had a deep yellow crust overgrowing it.
Dipping two fingers into the bowl, the woman took a thick glob of the herbal paste with her left hand, setting the tweezers down and began to rub the tincture over the skin around the arm and then gently over the top of the wound. She then took the girls hand and proceeded to do the same to the deep cuts. Once more she looked at her leg, wiping the rest of it on the tender bruise. Again, Esper winced as the rough old hand ran over her injured ankle.
Once the ointment had been applied, she looked at the girl's arm again and held both of her hands over it, her fingers wrapping around the arm without touching it directly and closed her eyes. “Heilig,” she whispered, and a bright white light shone with intensity from beneath her fingers. Esper felt a strangle ripple run through her arm, as if a wave of water had rushed through beneath her skin, raising the little muscle and fat there was up from the bone. She looked on in fascination as the light then dissipated as quick as it had come.
The woman lifted her hands up from the girl's arm. It still stung intensely, but the skin had grown back over most of it. The tincture was gone in some places, leaving odd patches of the mixture as spots on the girl’ taut arm. “Is that magic? I want to do that too!”
The woman took her injured hand. “It’s healing magic, girl. Though I’m certainly not what I used to be when I was young.” The many possibilities such a talent would offer ran through the girls mind, she stopped mid-thought, when the realization hit her.
“You didn’t use a circle,” she said puzzled.
“Heilig,” said the woman once more, the girl's hand held in hers. The disgusting sensation once more repeated itself, this time from her palm and pulsing out towards the tips of her fingers where it seemed to leave her body.
“I’m touched, girl, we don’t require a circle.”
“Haah? I need to use a circle. I wish I didn’t need one.”
“Oh, you have magic too?” said the woman, as she reached down to the girls leg to examine it more closely now. “Magic flows through everything, child, through the dirt and through the water. This comes from the gods. It’s a lot like when you light a candle to make light, but it also creates heat. It’s not what you are after, but it is what results from it existing.”
Esper blinked and tried to process. “What’s a god?”
“A god is the highest, most pure being of an element. Stand up, girl.” Esper did as she was told. The woman nodded. “Your leg will have to heal on its own. My magic won’t mend bone.”
Esper nodded, leaning her weight on the other leg. “Thank you” she said, remembering her manners.
“You are very welcome.”
“Why don’t you need a circle?”
“The magical energy that flows through the world touches everybody in some way or another. But some of us are born under a particular blessing of a god, for reasons we can’t fathom. And so our magic isn’t bound to such arcane constructions of men.”
The woman went to the other side of the room and grabbed a cloth. “I was blessed by the god of light, and so he in his divinity, has allowed me to use his energy to heal the wounds of others.”
“Journeyman makes light too,” said Esper, only half understanding anything that had been said.
Returning to the girl with a towel, the woman shook her head. “That fool is favored, but not chosen. And not by my lord, but by the lord of fire.”
“He uses paper,” replied Esper, not sure what this new term meant either.
“Yes.” The woman bent down and started rubbing the girl dry, going through her hair for a time. “The god of fires has accepted the old fool, but not allowed him free access to his magicks. So he may use some weaker forms, using those odd contraptions, but at a price.”
“Paper?” asked Esper.
“Yes, well… no. Fire magic is-” The woman stopped and looked to the side searching for words. “Fire is unique in that fire can never be without sacrifice. For fire to exist, something else must be destroyed in the process.”
Esper nodded thinking she understood this at least. “Wanna see my magic?” she asked excitedly. Tossing the towel aside, the woman shook her head.
“No. That’s enough nonsense for now. Come, let’s get you fed and put to bed.”
“Haah? But I don’t want to go to bed yet!”
“Don’t complain so much,” scolded the woman, hoisting her once more into the air with ease in a familiar fashion, before carrying her back out of the steamy room.
“Ah! Wait! I forgot to thank the river!”
“Stop spouting nonsense, child!” said the woman and shut the door behind her 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!