Avelia stretched, her body tender from the difficult birth. The newborn beside her stirred and fussed. She cradled him to her chest and relaxed against the pillows that propped her up. Looking down, she fingered the tiny bumps growing from the crown of his tiny head.
There was very little hair, and it was brown. The protrusions were a blunted bony texture, hinting at horns. This was worrying. The defect would be easy to hide under a full head of hair, but now, the knobs stood out, obvious. Avelia was frightened for
Her husband, Cronis, and his father talked heatedly outside the door. “I know this, father,” her husband said. “I know what I have to do.”
“Do you?” The town leader asked. His name was cursed so that none would remember it. Curses hold, even in dreams. “I’m not sure you do. You treat your wife as an equal. She has practically cuckolded you. Are you sure you have the steel required to do what is right? For you, for me, for the future of Candel Falls? The people will not accept an abomination. Neither will I.”
Cronis sighed. “You need not worry, father. I have long known my place in the world. It is always the people I consider in my actions. Now, leave me to do what must be done. Keep the villagers away, if possible. This will not be pleasant.”
“I will have my guards establish a perimeter around the house. After you have the baby, meet me at the top of Candel Falls. We will perform a holy ritual and ask for grace. We can only hope it is not too late to prevent a plague from befalling us.”
“I will see you there.”
Avelia tried to stand well before the conversation ended. She attempted to gather herself and prepare to flee with her child. What was Cronis thinking? He wouldn’t dare. She mobilized her thoughts and gleaned a verbal spell to wield. She couldn’t reach her stash of herbs and conjuring items. She was too weak. There was too much blood loss. She hadn’t eaten and was resting. Healing. Now, time had run out. She was helpless. A soft moan escaped her lips.
Cronis pushed the door open and walked through. He looked at her in concern, and where his gaze touched on their son, shadows gathered and took root. “Wife,” he said.
“Husband,” she answered. “I heard you speaking with your father. Surely you have a plan.”
Cronis sighed. “Avelia, you know what must be done. The child cannot live. But we can fix this. We can have another child. One that is pure.”
“He. Is. Pure.” She raised the child; her tone ice and steel. “The – defect – will be unnoticeable once hair grows in. We can place a cap on his head at all times until then. No one will know.”
“The midwife knows. Your assistant knows. My father knows.”
“They won’t tell. Talk to your father. Tell him we can hide it. It’s just a minor deformity. People live with them all the time.”
“They are mostly outcast and treated as less a person than a healthy man is. You know this. My son, my heir, will be whole. Not this.” He grimaced and gestured to the baby. “That is not my child. Now give it to me, and think of it no more. As soon as you are healthy… we will try again.”
“Are you mad?” Avelia held the child close. “I will go, then. I will leave with our son and never return. You can say that I passed due to complications, that I bled out later and died in my sleep. No one has to know.”
“Avelia. I won’t ask you again. I am your husband. You will obey me.” He gestured to her arms for the baby.
“No. You’ll have to kill me first.”
“Don’t be stupid. It’s just a thing with the demon’s mark and not even a person. Don’t tell me you feel compassion for it?”
“Compassion? I love him. Him. He is your son, whether you like the idea or not.”
“You gave birth to this creature. You owed me an heir. You failed. Be glad I don’t take you both and drown you in the falls. I love you, wife. I know that you will give me a proper heir. We will try again. Now, give it to me.”
She reeled in shock. This was the man who said he would do anything to make her happy, who caressed and made love to her tenderly. The man who promised her a good life. The man who said there was nothing about her he would not adore until his last days.
“No. You have betrayed our vows. Leave me be, and I will be gone with the babe by sunrise.”
He rushed forward and viciously yanked the baby from her embrace. She screamed, and her son cried, a high piercing wail that meant pain. Screams cascaded out again, long and never ending. She tried to grab him and Cronis pushed her violently away. She fell and grunted, her hip hitting the hard corner of a wooden table by the bed before the rest of her slumped to the floor, weak, and unable to rise. Cleaved, a look of death trickled toward her husband, a promise of a messy demise. She howled to the gods as he left the
She never saw her son again. She was physically unable to move from the same spot for hours. Her assistant heard the keening and helped her back to bed. Avelia sobbed until her eyes swelled shut, her lips cracked and bleeding from worrying them. After refusing water and food, she was held down by the stout midwife and herbal tea was forced down her throat. She purged it up, spewing it all over their things. Our things. The house was damned. It needs to be brought down was her last thought before losing consciousness.
Upon waking, she found herself alone and felt a little stronger physically, so she rose and found a tincture that served as a stimulant. She needed to be strong and wide awake for what must come next. She waited until sundown and the surrounding houses were quiet, then gathered kindling and dry grass, paper, clothes, and doused it with alcohol spread evenly throughout the house. Lighting a torch and setting it all on fire, she knew it would burn and burn until nothing but ash was left. Without staying to watch, she fled into the woods to find a cave where she would call on any ancient one who would answer. Curse the father, kill the husband, and destroy everyone and everything that was in Candel Falls.
She continued ingesting the stimulant and felt strong and bitterly alive. Once a cave was discovered, she made another fire, this one controlled, and designed for summoning. A circle, a blood offering, and a long spelling chant of obscure words later, a pair of ancient ones answered.
“Witch,” they hissed in unison. “Why did you call?” They rose from the fire as smoke and then turned solid, walking slowly around the circle that bound them.
“I seek death and revenge.”
“What do you offer?”
“My body. My soul. Everything.” It was her turn to hiss the last word out between clenched jaws. Anger thrummed from head to toes.
“Yesss,” they hissed. “We like anger. It tastes so good. We will take what you offer. We will give you a boon. Break the circle.”
She stepped to the circle and looked down at her foot. She watched, as if observing another person. Her foot rose and stepped forward onto the line, then moved it back and forth, smearing the clay. The circle severed, the demons rushed out and attacked, knocking her down. She did not move as they bit and drank and did unspeakable things to her body.
When she regained consciousness, the demons were still there. Her body was sore so she performed a cursory examination and found some scratches, cuts, and bites, but was more or less whole. Her broken spirit was another matter. She stumbled to her feet. “Now, you must give me a boon. A spell I require to raise the dead. The spell must wake them and bind them to me and only me. They will walk and do my bidding until I say otherwise.”
“You ask for much. Do not banish us, allow us to stay, and we will give you all of this, every part.” She nodded. What did she care if the monsters stayed and ravaged the earth? It would be over for her soon. They bent close, whispering the dark magic into her ear. It burned as the words traveled through her body. She had never heard this language spoken. It was hell speak. Words that humans were never meant to hear or vocalize. She would do both with relish.
The ancient ones left. She did not know what happened to them and did not care. She had what was needed. She opened her tired, bruised mouth and the secret language poured out. The dream world remembers this language because it has heard it before, but does not tell. To reveal it would mean the end of the world.
Her body racked and her jaw stretched to create the sounds of the spell. It felt like black tar crawled up her throat and spewed out into the night air. She could see the spell, outlined in front of her, crawling up the walls of the cave, and an unnatural whispering spun out, faster and faster until the very last secret word was uttered. The fire shot up and burned the top of the cave, then went out, as if it had never existed. She felt prickles run down her arms.
A dark spindle of ancient magic entwined her body. She would not be rid of it until she breathed her last breath. That was all right. It would be over soon.
She rose before the sun and walked out towards Candel Falls. “Rise,” she shouted. The earth crumbled as hands dug upwards. Soil and rocks and leaves – whatever was there to push through was pushed through. Graves that were undisturbed, some for hundreds of years, were violated by their owners, as they crawled to the surface to walk again. She smiled.
“My children. My loves. Walk with me to Candel Falls. We will destroy everyone there. Burn every house, kill every living creature. Stop at nothing except my command.” So, they went.
The dead were gruesome, some with missing jaws and arm bones long gone, perhaps eaten by a starving dog. They stank of grave rot, decayed meat, and looked like a light wind would bowl them over. But the power of magic makes the most fragile of us as strong as a god, at least for a time.
She watched the dead as they marched forward, confident in the magic. It would work until the end. She laughed. She laughed so hard, she lost her breath and bent forward, wheezing. What a strange life. She pushed thoughts of her dead son away. Surely he would be dead by now. She would see him soon. Perhaps not.
A figure approached, clothed in a black robe with a hood. Black wings unfurled, and she marveled at them. Who was this beautiful demon? Was it already time to go? “Who are you?”
“I am Morpheus. You are Avelia. I am truly sorry for your loss. Your son deserved to live. You deserve happiness. You were wronged. I understand your desire to make Cronis and his father pay. But why the rest of them?”
“None of them cared. They all thought the same thing: he was an abomination. They were all the same.” She snarled and tears dripped down dirty cheeks.
“It’s time to stop, Avelia.”
“No!” She screamed. “You will not take this away from me. It’s mine! My revenge. It’s just and deserved. Leave me.” She turned to follow her dead. They needed her. She was truly a mother now, and they would raze the village and disappear. She didn’t want to kill everyone. Just everyone in Candel Falls. Then, she could rest. She heard a crack like lightning or an explosion and looked around to find the source of the noise. Finally, her gaze turned upward where the top half of a massive tree was falling down, down. It would hit her if she did not move. She needed to –.
The ground boomed and shook with the impact. A hand sprawled out from beneath the split trunk and blood spots spattered the ground. No other sign of Avelia remained. The marching dead fell. The spell was only active as long as the caster was alive. Candel Falls was saved, but Cronis and his father’s fate remained to be dealt out. They would receive what they deserved and the town would elect a new leader. Life would go on, as it always did. Morpheus looked at Avelia’s hand a minute longer, then walked away. Even though her intentions had been psychotic, he had prevented her from doing any serious harm. He hoped there was a way to save her soul and that she would reunite with her son. A child who had done no wrong except to be born different.
Humans were still treating different as something wrong, Morpheus mused sadly. It was time to move on. He preserved her story in the dream land and revisited it in different ways. Sometimes, he traveled to the elflands with Benticle and procured a spell to counteract the demonic black magic.
Sometimes he stopped her with nothing but words. This time, it was a tree. He loved the dream lands, but sadness was one of its permanent residents. He let the melancholy take him, drifted deeper, and hoped for visions of happier times.