Esper walked across the gigantic stone bridge, marveling at its width. It was several times wider than the path was in some of the wider spots on the way. The stones it was made out of were each gigantic in their own right. As she had reached the halfway point, she looked on as two large men, one standing on each side of the railing-less bridge, walked towards her. The girl looked at them with confusion, feeling somewhat nervous as they approached.
They shared that same expression and exchanged the same look with each other, each trying to understand the situation. The men wore strange, well polished metal outfits that glinted as the sunlight shone on them from above. The metal was a deep, dark blue tone, that seemed almost like the shimmering of murky water, as the light bounced off of them. Each held an exceptionally large metal shield on one arm. “I like your clothes!” said Esper with excitement to the old man with the well kept salt and pepper beard to her right.
He looked at her somewhat lost. “Are you traveling alone, miss?”
“Yes!” Responded Esper nonchalantly.
The two men looked at each other “What is wrong with those bottom dwellers, sending a child on her own up the way.” The other man shrugged and rubbed his head, looking back with pity to the girl. He was younger, with a sharp oval face and well cut tidy blond hair. A single streak hanging loosely over his forehead, as if designed to stay there intentionally with some effort.
“Where are your parents girl?”
“They’re gone. Can I go to the town?”
The two men fidgeted uncomfortably. The older one continued “Well. In a moment. We have to talk to everyone who leaves and comes into town you see. So, why are you visiting Siebtel today?”
“I want to go to the surface!” replied the girl with some enthusiasm.
“That’s a long way for a little girl on her own,” said the man. Esper shrugged and gave no answer.
He sucked his teeth making a noise and rubbed his beard. “Will you be staying in Siebtel, or passing through?”
“I don’t know,” she replied drably.
The younger man looked to the older man, uncertain of what to do. But he was still busy tugging on his own beard in contemplation. “Do you have money for a room and food?”
“Sir,” interjected the younger man, now clearly exasperated in protest to his senior.
“Ah, hold on child. Stay there, okay?” said the older man, as he went a few steps back with his colleague.
“Okay!” she replied.
The two men faced each other and spoke with low voices “What do we do, sir?” asked the young man.
“Damned bottom feeders, how could they send a kid like that out all on her own. In a place like this. Makes me sick. The thought of my little Lise out there on the spiral path all alone…” The older man shook his head in contempt.
“Do we send her back?” asked the young man.
“Have you lost your mind Botulf? Will you sleep tonight knowing you sent a child back down the spiral on her own? What if she fell?”
Botulf fidgeted uncomfortably and set his heavy shield down on the ground. “No sir. But if she can’t afford room or board then… The magistrate has made very clear th-”
“I know what the damned magistrate said. The pompous old swollen rat,” snapped the old man back. He looked to the girl and then back to Botulf. Then he looked back to the girl again. “Girl. Can you work a spindle, or do you have any other profession?”
“I’m a gravedigger, like papa!” she said proudly, sticking her chest out just a little.
The disgust and anger in the old man's eyes became visible, as he looked back once again “Lords have mercy. Those animals. Having a child bury the dead.”
“They’re beyond redemption, sir.”
The old man thought for a time and then looked up. “Botulf, go to Deryks. Tell him and ask him if he has a bed for work.”
“Are you sure, sir? It hardly seems like a place for a child.”
“Go do as you're told,” ordered the older man.
“Yes sir,” replied his junior with a nod and hurried off as fast as he could in his cumbersome armor as he towed the heavy shield behind himself.
Esper watched as he faded off into the town. The old man approached her once more. “Can I go to town now?” she asked.
“Ah. No, you see there’s a problem. I can’t let you into town if you don’t have any money to pay for things you see.” Esper looked at the man. Seeing the sadness growing rapidly in her widening eyes, he raised his hand and continued “-But. I have a friend. My colleague is going to ask him if you can stay with him for a little while.”
The girl looked suspiciously at the scruff old man in the blue armor. “Will he try to kill me?”
“What? No. Of course not,” said the man incredulously, though he continued with a laugh “-though he might look like he would, but he's really nice. I promise. If you help him with his work, I am sure he will let you stay under his roof,” said the old man nodding contently.
“Haaah? Is he a gravedigger too?”
“Ah, no,” said the man grimacing. “If you want to stay in Siebtel, this is what you’ll have to do. Otherwise I can’t let you in. Well, unless you want to go out the other side right now and go up more. Then I can take you there to the upper bridge of course.” He almost winced as he said it, but managed to suppress it before the girl could see. She lowered her head for a moment, her eyes shifting from side to side as she thought. She was really upset at having not seen the last town, she might never get the opportunity to see them again since she was just passing through. Though it would of course be faster if she just skipped it but…
She had promised herself that she would be brave and see the next town. Now she was here. Now she had to keep that promise. Resolve growing in her gaze, she turned her head back up towards the old man and nodded “Okay!”
He looked deeply relieved as she said it and nodded back with a smile. The pact was sealed. “Very good. What’s your name, girl?”
“That’s a nice name,” he said warmly. “I’m Wilmont.”
“Hi Wilmont! It’s nice to meet you!” she beamed back at him, remembering her manners.
“Mm, hello.” He nodded back “It’s nice to meet you too.”
He looked over his shoulder for a sign of his colleague who was still nowhere in sight. He turned back to her. “So, you want to see the surface, huh?”
“Hmm. I saw the top once you know? Actually, I lived there. Back when I was a boy.”
“Haaaah?!” Her eyes shone now with excitement and she hobbled a step forward. “What’s it like?!”
He liked that look. It was the same look his granddaughter gave him when he told his stories. “Well… It’s not so hot all the time for one, especially if you go north to Adelina.”
Esper stared at him in confusion, not exactly too sure of what the alternative of always hot would feel like.
“Oh, and the day lasts much longer! In summer, almost for fourteen whole hours in some places!” Esper's view of the world was changing dramatically, her brain trying to understand that such a place existed in this life. “Wow! Where do birds go?”
“When they fly out of the pit, where do they go?”
Wilmont scratched his beard and thought for a moment. “Hmm. I’m not sure.” Esper looked somewhat disappointed.
“If I had to guess though-” he replied, seeing her expression shift “- it would depend on the bird. Some birds fly north, some south, some east and some west.”
“How do they know which way?”
“Hmm…” The man sunk deep into thought “Well I suppose they let the wind tell them which way.”
“Haah?” Esper looked around towards the banners on the other side of the bridge, but all them hung still and motionless now. She frowned. But it made sense to her that the wind talked to the birds as well. Maybe that’s why it didn’t let her eat the one.
“I want to fly,” she said, letting her thoughts out aloud.
“Hmm…” answered the man, searching for, but finding no responses now. Esper looked behind him as she saw a glint of light shimmering off on the other side of the bridge. Following her gaze, Wilmont looked behind him and saw his colleague approaching in quick step, somewhat winded, his face covered in sweat. “Well boy, what did he say?”
Somewhat annoyed at the tone, the young man set down his gigantic tower shield and replied, catching his breath in-between words. “He said he has a vacancy, if the girl can earn her keep.”
Nodding with a content smile, Wilmont patted Botulf on his shoulder, his thick leather glove slapping the man's metal spaulder. “Good work boy. Take the girl, I’ll hold down the fort.” Botulf looked up at the old man with a gaze unmistakably asking for mercy. Wilmont laughed “Don’t give me that look, Botulf, you knew being a guardsman meant wearing the armor.”
“Yes sir,” said the young man in defeat, rising back up straight, a bead of sweat dripping from his brow and falling onto the heavy metal plate he wore.
The old man looked back to Esper “Go with my friend here. He’ll take you to the man I told you about.”
“Okay!” Said Esper “Thank you!” she smiled up to him and hobbled towards the younger man. “Can you carry me? My leg hurts.”
“What? No,” he replied somewhat agitated.
“Wretch my soul and my heart! Botulf. Look at her, she can hardly walk. Carry the poor thing!”
“Sir-!” protested Botulf
“Do as you’re told, boy” quipped the old man back to him. Esper looked between the two men in confusion trying to understand what was going on.
“Can I leave my shield here?” asked the young man.
“No you can’t leave your shield here. Take it with you and if I see you without it, I'll tie your legs to a rope and toss you from the bridge!”
The young man closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. The strand of hair was now wet and stuck to it. “Yes sir,” he sighed out. Leaning down he turned his back to her, his right hand bent behind his back. “Come on, you heard him. I’ll carry you there. Apparently.” Esper's eyes lit up in joy.
She clambered up the man's armor as best as she could with her bag in hand, stepping on his bent arm as she clung onto his shoulders. Once she seemed to be holding on on her own, the man held his arm out before him for balance and pushed himself up with his massive shield, releasing a strained grunt. As she rose up higher her eyes shone with joyous intensity, as she spun her head around to take in everything from this new perspective.
“You ready? Come on then, let’s go,” said the defeated young man.
“Okay!” She replied excitedly “Ah.” She turned around “Bye Wilmont!” she waved to the man with some energy. He laughed and waved back to her before returning to the side of the bridge where he stood before. The girl spun her head forward and looked to the town soon before her.
Immediately she felt the eyes. The many men and women walking around on their business, this time only sparing a quick glance of curiosity each before returning to their business. Her fingers clenched tighter together against the metal covering the man’s shoulders. A group of young women wearing vibrant, colorful dresses standing together in a semicircle, looked at the young guardsman as he walked down the road. “Look at you, Botulf!”
“I had no idea you were so good with kids!”
“Is she yours?”
Sparing only a glance to the side he said “Not now, I have work to do.”
They laughed. One of them locked eyes with Esper and said “Hi there, cutie!” waving a small finger wagging wave. Esper managed to loosen a hand just enough to meekly return it back. She looked from side to side. Large clean and well polished windows lined the streets. Behind them were strange items and things that she had never seen before. Dresses and clothes in colors that she had never seen other than on rare flowers. The rooftops here were all flat, save for the towers that she saw take vague form up in the distance.
Some doors were open and deep rich smells of hot food and breads seeped out of them. Their hunger inducing aromas crying a siren’s call to any who were brave enough to pass by on an empty stomach. The houses were all wrought from large, well polished stones. Each was brightly gray, if not almost white, and they seemed to accentuate the bright colors of everything around them.
Soon they had reached the end of the first pillar and they crossed another long stone bridge. This one was much thinner however, but had high walls. Esper could see over from atop her perch. As they reached the other side, she noticed that all the buildings, despite all being made of the same stone, were all just a little darker and less well kept here. The cobbled streets were clean of debris or filth, but still somehow unpleasant to look at. She couldn’t quite place why though.
The windows here were smaller and there were fewer people out and about. Save for one larger building just down at the end of the road. It was somewhat crooked and misshapen, as if the stone had melted and settled in that way. Deeply warm, orange lights shone out of its two large front windows; the glow visible even in the dusk of the last daylight hour. A large wooden sign hung above the door, her eyes growing wild as the man ducked down and walked under it, opening the doorway with his free hand.
Depicted on the sign was a skull, wearing a crooked, long and pointed witches hat. Its sockets overflowing with a foaming liquid, Esper's eyes shot wide as she saw the large black bird standing atop it, the creature following them with its black glossy eyes. She let out a silent whisper “Bird.”
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!