The day's work had begun. Esper stood at the basin as she had the night before, listening to the vibrant, warm chaos growing in the tavern just beyond the little window. Occasionally she stole a glance through it, looking at the many different figures of loudly happy men and women making themselves heard and seen. Each becoming a little more loose with their body language and a little louder with every drink that they had served to them. Esper wondered if she should try one of the strange bottles next time she went outside, instead of hiding beneath a mask and hood. Maybe it would be better for her anxiousness.
Scrubbing the dishes absentmindedly with her hands beneath the water in the basin, she tilted back on her heels, the tips of her new boots rising up into the air. With a smile, she proudly looked at them and her nice new clothes. The material felt so much better than the old rag she had been wearing, no matter how fond of it she was. Plus she really liked the dark color they had, wearing it made her feel less obvious to the world. It let her feel like she was blending in just a bit more, so that people wouldn’t stare at her. Reaching into the water she grabbed a nicked plate out of it, sure she had already seen it twice today and set it onto the counter to slide away.
Falling with her toes back forward, the boots tapped against the stone floor with a gentle, dampened click. It was still unusual, but after having worn them for only the few hours the day had been so far, she had already become quickly accustomed to them. Returning her eyes to her task, she beamed with pride knowing that papa would be very happy with how hard she was working, even if she couldn’t be a gravedigger right now. The spark of happiness turning into a bright flame inside of her, caused her to start humming as she worked.
Only after a few seconds did she realize what she was doing though, stopping herself, before snapping her head back to the floating man, to see if he had noticed. But Deryk was busy preparing meals and either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. The girl turned her head back to her work, her attention caught by the sounds of new dishes being placed on the counter by Aline. There seemed to be just as much to do today as there was the day before and the dishes that came back to be washed, seemed to be running non-stop in a cycle around the tavern. Esper was sure she had seen the same plates and cups several times in a row now.
She supposed the only thing that bothered her about the new outfit was the hooded cloak. It was a beautiful color, with its cream yellow with white stitching, but it was very bright in contrast with the dress. Would it make people stare at her? She shook her head after thinking about it for only a few moments. Everyone in the town dressed like this, so that made it normal, right? She wondered what would have happened if mama or papa saw her in these clothes. People in Neuntel dressed much more simply and less colorfully.
Her mind went to the men and women walking around this town, carrying their giant shields and suits of armor. She wondered what for? What did they need to protect themselves from, that they went through all that trouble to wear all of that every day. What about those strange people from the tower? She liked their clothes, but wondered who they were. Were they from the town? Were they guards? Did guardsmen live in that large tower? How did they even build that? They must have had to climb up higher and higher with it as they stacked the heavy bricks together on the edge of the abyss.
Is that how they made all the houses here? Her eyes rose up to the wall before herself, into which the water leaking sigil was carved. It was the same massive light stone seen everywhere else here. Where did they even get it from? The cliff-side, she supposed. Her thoughts had scattered to the winds now, blowing apart in every which way. A familiar cold prick stung her chest, like the light tap of a cold needle. Her mind raced back to the tower. Why didn’t they just make a tower from the bottom of the great pit, all the way to the top? That would be great and it would make traveling much easier.
She should go to the top of the pit, all the way up like she wanted to. She should go now. Right now. This instant. What was she even doing here? Why was she stayi- a splash of water struck her face and brought the girl back, her eyes focusing on the sink, which was soon to overflow. In panic she jumped back to work, scrubbing the plates clean with vigor. The thoughts faded away like a dream in the night and she quickly forgot that the interruption had ever taken place. She continued scrubbing the dishes happily.
Pulling the plate out of the water that she had just finished scrubbing, she looked at it to check it. It was the nicked plate she had just washed before, back now for the fourth time. She wondered how her old wooden bowl was doing? Was it still in Journeyman's bag? Was he still in Achtel or maybe he had already come to Siebtel now? Maybe he was already even higher up now looking for her? No. She shook her head to herself and bit her lower lip, looking down to the stained water.
People who left on their own didn’t come back.
The giant man walked down the road with the girl’s hand in his, the bucket of water in the other one. “Papa, I’m hungry.”
He looked down to Esper saying “I bet you are, you worked really hard today!”
“Mm!” said the girl proudly, though she wasn’t exactly too sure what it was she did really. Warm, yellow lights burned dimly in the windows of the shanty houses they walked through. Silhouettes of families were to be seen just behind them. Their voices ringing out, together with smells of earthy foods and fire.
Once in a while, they would see another man or woman in the street and they would pass with a friendly smile or a nod. Soon, they reached the door to their house. Just outside, the old woman from a few houses down, crossed paths with them and Esper's father stopped to chat with the elderly lady. Apparently she wasn’t feeling well and was on her way to get some water for the night. Esper watched and saw her father place a firm hand on the old woman's shoulder and began to pour their freshly collected water into her bucket.
Grasping the giant man's arm, the woman thanked him and slowly turned around to walk back to her own house, her bucket now full. Esper walked over to her father looking up to him questioningly. Bending down, he gave the girl the bucket. “Go back to the river and get some more water, okay?”
“Haah?!” she asked in protest.
“Well your mother will be angry if we don’t have any.”
“But you gave our water away!”
“Mm, I did,” replied the man matter of factly. “Now go, hurry up.”
Esper scowled up to the giant man as best she could, but he seemed more or less unimpressed and shushed her off with a wave off his large hand and a laugh.
Taking the handle of the bucket in both hands, the girl turned around and marched off, grumbling as loud as she could. Determined that her father should hear her do so. The man had however already vanished inside of the house by the time she reached the end of the road and stared back down the illuminated way. Continuing grumbling, now just to herself as a form of entertainment, she continued down to the river, her grumbles becoming more outlandish and absurd as they continued on with her. Briefly she stopped, staring in fascination at the large black bird perched on the rooftop that was staring down at the street below. It flew off as she met eyes with it, vanishing into the night.
The little creek babbled on, as it always had, and she listened to the water for some time. She wondered if it was grumbling about something too? Maybe the world was unfair to water and it was upset about it? “I’m going to borrow some more of you please,” she said, as she lowered herself down with the bucket, not wanting to upset the river more than necessary. Maybe it was upset about people always taking its water? The bucket now full again she lifted it out of the water, having to use the full strength of her small body and both hands to pull it back out. Just as she did so, her right foot lost its hold, slipping on some mud or leaves or other unidentifiable muck and with a yelp she fell to her side and tumbled into the icy waters of the creek.
Time slowed for a moment and she felt her blood surging, as the shock of the water exploded through her senses. Her body tumbled and turned and she flailed wildly in every direction, trying to right herself and rise back up to the surface. Every time she seemed to orient herself, to see the light shimmering above the water signaling the way out, she spiraled in another direction, as some new impossibly strong current smashed against her small frame. Breath had long left her lungs and her throat and head pulsed with a dire pain. Icy water filled her airway as she retched, her body convulsing as it smashed against the floor of the river, as if something had wrenched her downward, pinning her to the bottom with a clawing grasp.
Everything was cold. It was a deathly cold. An overpowering absence of heat that clearly signaled that no life could be here, let alone flourish. This place, this nothingness was where the dead resided. Not just people or animals, but all dead things from every plane. Here alone, were the difference in their prior existences absolved. No man was greater than a rat in death, no god greater than a spirit. No, this was the place where all things came into equilibrium. Where all things may sleep. All save for one and the girl.
Her senses returned, shapeless without body or form as she floated in the black ether. A vague resemblance of consciousness holding her wavering gestalt together. She felt this place and it felt her. There was nothing to see, this was not a plane eyes could perceive and yet she knew she saw it. The darkness around her shifting and making way, as the formless thing that she was, moved through it, a blot of ink floating through the midnight sky of a moonless night. Death was cold, but cold didn’t bother the dead, for they had nothing to feel it with. In fact, it was almost comforting in an otherworldly sense. The exact opposite of a roaring fireplace on a rainy day.
The icy embrace of the void was akin to the touch of a mother's love after a childhood sadness. One would think you would be upset about being dead, but the capacity to process such meaningless things as tragedy or emotions leaves you, together with your sight or hearing or other senses. Instead it makes way for an understanding that we only tap into for the briefest moments in our waking lives. Those deep, ancient understandings you might have felt in a dream, but never in your waking life. Primal networks from forgotten constructions, made long before we are borne of flesh and bone.
Absolute cold, the absolute absence of the living world was in and of itself the good feeling that contrasted the situation. In the face of such a thing, in the state her consciousness was in, the fact that she had died, all seemed like a laughably small detail. Unimportant and irrelevant to her existence as a whole. Sure, her life was over. But in the face of all of this? What did it really matter? She was free from the trappings of a mortal body, her soul returned from the nothing from whence it had once emerged. Ready to sleep now for an eon more, until it would rebirth once again in another age, under a distant star, as it had done so many times before.
She was ready to sleep now. Nodding to the void she let it know she was ready. It nodded back. The pact was sealed and the vague mass, that made up her immortal soul in that dark ether, began to quiver and dissipate, becoming part of the whole of the eternal void, where all dead things slumber. Yet sleep would not come to her. Suddenly before her in that space where no material thing may manifest itself, tore open the sea of nothing. From behind it, rose a monstrous eye out of the abyss and took her into focus. Deeply bloodshot veins pulsing through the yellow stained sclera.
Without eyes she saw. Without a body she felt. Without ears she heard. The presence of the ancient deity. An overpowering pressure surrounding her. Pressing her unraveling soul back together into a singular mass with violent forces from all sides, like coal under a towering mountain. The empty, shifting void tossing and churning like a turbulent ocean in a rampaging storm. Furiously howling cosmic winds blowing into the realm of the dead from places unheard of, traveling for millennia before and for millennia more to come, as they flew onward past her, carrying the whispering voice of the dead god.
It was soft and gentle and echoed with every mouth-less word spoken in a tongue incomprehensible to the living. The tongue itself, an affront to the natural world, defying everything that the gods and spirits of life would allow in their planes of existence. Esper felt herself tumbling around, as if still being tossed by the currents of the icy river, her quivering soul being hammered and smashed back into form as it spoke to her. The currents of the dead winds, crashing against her in monstrous waves.
“Wake,” whispered the voice, before being followed by an echo of others, repeating the same word. “Wake,” it commanded again, the eye bulging out widely as it commanded her. “Climb,” called out a distant voice, another eye shooting open in an immeasurable distance, it’s gaze never leaving her. “Climb.” “Fly.” “Rise.” With every word another eye opened, each a different color, but all bloodshot and gangrene. The voices shifting from gentle coaxes to violent commands. The tones an incomprehensible mix of voices belonging to nothing distinguishable as either man or woman.
No matter where she looked in the void, another eye shot open to meet her sightless gaze. “You.” “You.” “You.” “Climb.” “End.” “Ruin.” The sea of shifting darkness parted as the great mass of the giant worm began to make itself seen, skittering across the eternal void, with sharp, pointed legs as countless as dead stars in the night. Everywhere. As above, so below was the dead god. Its long body wrapping and winding itself around in a spiral eternally, encasing Esper’s soul within its grasp.
The thousand eyes of the dead god, staring at her from incomprehensible angles, shifting to the sides in the void to make space for a thousand more behind them. “I am tired.” “Tired,” echoed another voice. “We can not sleep.” “No.” “Kill.” “End.” “Bring night.” “We must sleep.” “The new gods will kill you.” “They know.” “They have found you.” “They come.” “They see.” “They know.” “You must hide.” “In death there is sanctuary.” “In light you can be seen.” “They have seen.” “Kill.” The body of the eternal worm began to move faster and faster, as its voices began to rise in anger.
“Our pact is unbroken.” “The seal is still bound.” “Child of mine.” “Child.” “Ours.” “Servant.” “Sister.” “Daughter.” “Chosen.” “Witch.” “Avatar.” “Contractor.” “They will kill you, as they have killed us before.” “End them.” “Bring night.” “Rise.” “Climb.” “Fly.” “The bell will toll and we will die.” “Their chosen will hunt.” The great eye shifted closer towards her, towering before her gestalt like a great summit of a mountain. “Go.” “Wake.” “Climb.” “Do not trust the dead.” “The god of life has corrupted them.” “They are befouled.” “Go. Grow. Hide. Strengthen. The time will come.” “It will.” “We will climb.” “We will.” “Together.” “As above, so below.”
Esper’s now long dead body, laying down on the bottom of the river where the water still clenched her bones tightly to never have been found after all these years, let loose an impossible twitch. The water cleansed bones, having been submerged for over nine years, cracking and snapping, manipulated by some unseen force. A trickle of black ooze seeped out of them, like rotting marrow. Dripping down over her skeletal mass, undisturbed by the raging currents streaming over it, it coated the remnants of the dead girl.
From the black tar came tiny clumps of fat and tissue, slowly spreading out like a mold over foul meat, as it wrapped itself over the bones. Layer after layer it piled on, higher and higher, reconstructing her body. Her broken bones stretching outward, elongating themselves before the gaps too, filled with the pestilent ooze. For the first time in nine years, Esper opened her eyes. Feeling the burning sensation of a body deprived without air, she flailed around, madly propelling herself off of the muddy floor of the river that had half-swallowed her.
She breached the surface of the water, coughing and sputtering as she clambered onto land. Retching and heaving, as she purged the water from her body, before falling onto her side in the mud. As she lay there, frantically breathing, her lungs still burning, she opened her eyes, staring at the cavernous world above her. It was daylight, yet she could barely see. Her once sharp eyes now degenerated deeply, falsely reconstructed by the otherworldly entity. The vision she had just had, already fading as a dream would in the early morning, leaving only vague recollections of emotions and feelings of shadowy happenings.
Her skin was icy cold, yet she didn’t feel the need to shiver, the hot moist air of the deepest layer of the great abyss, giving her the warmth that she needed. Esper raised her arms close to her eyes to get a good look at them, seeing how long they were now. Her legs and arms all had grown an order of magnitude more than she remembered that they were just before. Springing up with a shock as she saw this, she looked around in panic. She was still at the river, everything looked the same. But she had changed.
Her mind raced, fueled by panicked uncertainty. “Mama,” was the first thought that came to her, as she turned to run back towards the village. It only took a single step for her to tumble and fall back down forward into the mud, the mechanics of this new body alien and strange to her. Planting her hands in the muck, she pushed herself up and rose back up onto her wobbling, newborn legs. It took several attempts, but slowly, she began taking small carefully measured steps, her arms extended out halfway for balance.
With that pace, she began making her way down the way back towards her home. Soon she reached the edge of the village and saw right away that something was wrong. The buildings were covered by a film of dust and old mud, some having fallen to the elements. Others charred from some small fire that had grown out of control and consumed them. Windows were broken. Unhinged and broken doors giving way to long undisturbed scenes of chaos inside the small buildings. Overturned tables and chairs, torn and frayed clothes and beds.
Esper’s panic grew and she went on faster now down the familiar way. The rays of daylight showing her a bleak truth of this new desolate world. With awkward, uncoordinated motion, she went on as quickly as she could manage, dirt from the overgrown path beneath her clinging to her wet feet. “Mama?! Papa?!” she called out aloud in fright, as her eyes scanned the empty street and windows in search of any signs of life or other explanation. She found herself before her own house now. The door was still intact, but jarred open ever so slightly.
Reaching towards it, she pushed it open and it swung with a heavy, solemn creek that extended through its slow range of motion. “Papa?” she called out, as she stepped inside. Feeling something coarse against her foot, the girl looked down to see the old rope laying there in the corner by the door. She stepped inside and looked around the little room sized house. It looked exactly as it had when she left it. The bed all three of them shared was disturbed and not cleanly made, like it was when they left to get water. The little table adorned with three bowls, the cauldron in the middle of the room covered with a small cloth.
The floor let out a deathly squeak, as she pressed her weight down upon it. In fright at the noise, she jumped back looking down at it. Assuming she had scared it as it had scared her, she said a gentle “sorry,” to the floor, nodding to it. The floor nodded back. The pact was sealed. “What?” The thought hit her as she realized she had no idea what she was doing or why. A deep sting, like a needle lodged in her head, shone out and she tightly clenched her eyes and grit her teeth, letting out a small squeal. Clenching her eyes with her right hand, she let loose as the pain subsided. Something wet coated the tips of her fingers, looking down to it she saw a small smear of some odd black muck. Maybe she had gotten some mud in her eyes at the river?
Rubbing her face with her elbow, she looked around again. On the shelf was mama's old book, exactly where the woman had left it. Returning her gaze to the pot, she carefully stepped around the center of the floor and lifted up the cloth. Inside was a collection of small white sticks. They almost looked like bones. But they couldn’t be. A person's bones were much bigger than this. Curious, she bent forward, pressing her stomach against the pot and leaned in, her legs lifting up off the ground as she reached for the fragments at the bottom.
Grasping one, she shifted her weight back and slid back onto her feet, pulling her upper body out of the cauldron with the little bone in her hand. Holding it closely to her eyes, she tried to take a good look at it. It was a flimsy thing. Curious she pinched it between both hands and gave it a small tug. The long sitting hollow bone shattered immediately, as she applied only a tiny amount of pressure. “Oh?” She looked at it somewhat perplexed. How odd. She dropped the little fragments back into the cauldron. They reminded her of the bird bones from the bird papa had brought back once, but these were much more crumbly and fragile.
Hanging over the chair in the corner, she saw one of mama’s dresses draped over the lean. Realizing she had lost her own, she quickly grabbed it and threw it on. A cloud of dust exploding into the air as she took it off of the chair. She was sure mama would understand, but would be furious once she found out the girl had lost her own. It was much too long for her and draped down onto the floor past her legs, pooling around her. Bending down she rolled the extra fabric together and tried to get it to stay in place by twisting and binding it all together with several crude knots. Though she couldn’t help but sneeze once or twice from the dusty air.
There was some mud on the dress now, but she could wash that off. Mama would understand. Esper walked towards the door, determined to find out where everyone was. Stepping outside, she felt the gentle breeze against her face. An old wind blowing in from some distant forgotten eon, bringing with it the words of the dead god, in a wordless language only she could understand. Unquestioningly, she followed its path, as it went out towards the landing, where she knew the fresh dead lay.
Her hair, which was much longer and thicker than she recalled, tumbled and tossed as it blew in the wind and she had to wipe it out of her still damp face to which it stuck. Esper knew what she had to do. Turning back a step and bending down, the girl picked up the heavy coiled rope and slung it over herself. Shutting the door tightly behind her, she ran out towards the landing. There was a lot of work to do to prepare for the coming night.
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!