These she feels as she pushes through the void into which she has resided for she knows not how long.
Tactile sensation returns abruptly. She feels cold and wet.
Sight returns. But she cannot open her eyes. Something holds her eyelids shut.
Hearing returns. But all she can hear is the pounding of her blood in her brain. Something is blocking her ears.
Smell returns. But all she can smell is the foul odor of something filling her nostrils.
She can barely move. Cold and wetness surround her. Trap her.
This sensation of weakness sickens her. She lashes out with her power to find it nonexistent.
She wills herself to move. It is difficult. She manages to shift her head slightly to the right. The effort is not without price. The muscles that stretch across her neck and left shoulder erupt in a pain that feels all too mortal. She tries to open and close her left hand. But there is no sensation in her left arm from the shoulder down. She tries to curse her weakness but finds that the same cold and wet that compromises her sight and hearing will not allow her to open her mouth. She turns her head again. And is again rewarded with agonizing pain. She tries to open and close her right hand. It is with phenomenal effort that she accomplishes the task. When she closes her hand she feels the cold and wet crushed in her grip.
She now knows what the cold and wet is. And why it hampers her movement and most of her senses. Her right arm trembles as it slowly begins to push its way through the cold and wet. The task is an exercise in pain and humiliation. It seems to take days to push through it all. But at last her hand emerges from the cold and wet.
This is not the first time she has clawed her way back from the abyss of death. But it is the first time she has clawed her out of the embrace of the earth.
She continues to push her arm up until it has fully escaped the cold and wet of the shallow grave she has been buried in. She slams her hand back onto the earth and uses it to lever herself upwards. The pain spiraling down her right arm is quite unlike anything she has ever known. It is a far too human pain.
At last her face breaks the surface of the cold and wet. She inhales the cold air around her before uttering a scream of rage and hatred that has been welling up in her lungs for an interminable amount of time. She is disappointed at the low volume of the sound released from her body. The scream is weak and will probably not have startled even a nearby rodent.
Bending her legs , an action that also causes pain, she wrenches herself into a seated position within her not so final resting place. She shakes herself to dislodge the cold and wet of the grave from her. The mud that has encased her sloughs off like a discarded second skin. Her ears clear and she can hear ragged, pained breathing. It is her own. She opens her eyes. It is dark and only the moon illuminates the grave site. Even this lesser light of the night hurts her eyes.
With some effort she lifts her right hand to look at it. The sight disgusts her. The flesh is as white as marble. The vessels beneath the surface of the skin which carry the blood of her human heritage are dark and highly visible. The muscles have atrophied pulling her skin tight against the bone.
Her gaze slides from her hand down to the rest of her body. It is the same. White flesh shot through with black veins stretched tight over bone. She is practically naked. The clothes she'd been buried in having long rotted away into nothing but clinging threads of molded green and tan.
Turning her head to the left she sees the wound that killed her. The flesh around the circular wound is dark and crusted with mud and blood. Grayish, green lines not unlike infection in mortal flesh radiate out from the wound like a spider's web. She understands now why her left arm is useless.
Reaching up she runs her hand through her hair. When she brings it back into her field of vision she finds several strands of blackened, splitting hair clutched there.
Thoroughly appalled at her current weakness, she decides on what she is sure will be another painful course of action; standing up. It takes a supreme effort just to get her oriented to get onto one knee. She nearly falls as her emaciated legs hardly seem up to the job of supporting the weight of her equally emaciated body. Her head hurts and her vision swims from the effort. But she remains upright.
A shadow moves across the area in which she stands. Turning her gaze skyward she sees dark clouds obscuring the moon. She is grateful for the darkness. Looking around she surveys her surroundings. The forest about her is so dense she can hardly seem more than a few feet ahead of her. And there is not a sound to be heard. It does not surprise her that her “family” would not want her remains anywhere near them.
As she turns her gaze to the ground beside her she spots the tell tale signs of another shallow grave. She moves to stand directly over it. Staring down at the cold, wet soil she reaches out with her mind once again to try and access her power. From the earth there is no response.
She drops to her knees atop the grave. She is almost certain of what she will find but with her one good arm, she digs nonetheless. Her withered arm barely has the strength to break the surface of the earth.
A cold sensation begins to run down her bare back and it takes her a moment to realize that the clouds that so recently shrouded the moon are now beginning to rain upon her. For this she is also grateful. For as the soil beneath her turns to mud, she finds it easier to dig. After a long and painful period of this tedious manual labor the truth is revealed.
The body of her child is, unlike her, a pile of bones. She leers down at the misshapen skull with a contempt that rivals that of those who killed it. It should not surprise her that its mortal remains would not survive as it took a mere blade to kill it. This despite its immortal sire. Clearly it inherited far more of her mother's tainted humanity than she did.
“Useless,” she mutters in a gravelly voice endemic of the sick and infirmed. She contemplates crushing the skull but realizes she lacks the strength for even that simple action. With an effort that elicits a groan from her joints and her voice, she stands upright once more.
Stepping away from her child's grave she studies her own once again. She ponders which one of them dragged her body to this dark stand of trees and shoveled just enough dirt over body to hide it from the crows.
“It was you wasn't it, Mother?” She speaks the maternal title not in affection but as a curse. It could only have been her mother. She would not have soiled her hands with that task.
The rain turns into a torrential downpour that has her feeling the wet and cold more pronouncedly that when she was buried in the ground. Now trembling from the cold, wet and pain she turns her face upward again. The rain splatters on her face and runs down her shriveled body.
Her power …gone. Her child…gone. Her followers…gone. Her father….gone. Her ally, the father of her child…gone. She is alone. This is not a new sensation. She began her life alone when her mother set her adrift. And so she must find her way alone again. For now. Her weakness cannot last forever. She will find a way to gain back her power and more. She will find a way to have revenge.
Having no idea where she is, she simply begins to walk. Each step is an agony. Her body has been in a dreamless torpor for years. Decades for all she knows. And her emaciated body is not used to movement. Every so often she stops to tilt her head up and allow the falling rain to fill her mouth. But with each swallow she becomes aware of a growing thirst that mere water seems insufficient to quench. She considers attempting to find food. But what chance does she have to find sustenance in her condition. Lichen, mushrooms and berries are all she would be able to forage for. But something inside her tells her that food would prove as insubstantial as the water.
She can hardly move more than ten strides before she must stop to rest her decrepit body. With each pause she curses her weakness. How can she take her vengeance if she is reduced to this? A withered old crone.
She has walked some distance before she notices that the rain has stopped. Shivering with cold , she marches on. By some twist of luck or fate , she manages to keep herself from falling as she moves through the thick wood.
She pauses to grasp yet another tree to hold herself up in order to rest. But now alongside her labored breathing she hears another sound. Footfalls in the undergrowth. She prepares to hide when a voice belonging to someone much nearer than she thought speaks to her.
“Hello? You there? Are you lost?”
She looks for the source of the voice and finds a young man making his way towards her from a road that is mere feet from where she stands. He is tall, lean and wears upon his visage a look of complacent sincerity and compassion. A good man without a doubt.
The night is still dark so it is only when he is standing directly before her that he sees the shape she is in.
“Eli's name!” he exclaims. He places his arms on her shoulders as if afraid she may fall over at any moment. “What's happened to you?” His eyes wander her body but not in any sexual manner. He sees an old woman, alone and naked in the cold. An object of pity. A frail, weak thing.
She lashes out with her power at him only to be reminded by the lack of anything happening to him that her powers are gone. His eyes hover over the gruesome wound on her shoulder. “You're injured!”
Though she loathes it she knows she must use this fool to her advantage. She's no idea how far away from any town she is. She may wander for days or even weeks before finding anything.
“Bandits,” she gasps through heaving breathes. “They attacked me. Took everything. Left me for dead.” She trusts that her pleas are adequately frail and elderly.
“It's okay,” he tells her. “I'll help you. My camp's not far from here.”
She leans on him to show how injured and weak she is. He takes her in his arms. “Thank you,” she mutters.
He picks her up into his arms and starts to carry her down the road. As he continues to babble his platitudes of aid and care she looks him over and sees the dagger sheathed at his belt. Not a dagger so much as a knife. A bone or horn handled blade that has never known the taste of human blood. More likely used to skin animals. A trapper or hunter, this one. Not a warrior. Perfect.
Sometime later in the young trapper's hut she finds herself resting upon a pile of cured skins and warming herself by a small fire. She is dry. Her wound has been poultice and bandaged. The young man is gutting and skinning a rabbit for their dinner. Her continues to talk but she pays him no mind now. Just nodding every so often to lend him the illusion that she is listening. She ceased talking to him a while back when he seemed far more interested in spouting nonsense about some philosopher named Eli than answering her questions about where they were. She is no closer to knowing where she is and how much time she spent in the grave than when she first crawled out of it.
The knife has remained in his hands since their arrival at his hut. Either for dressing her wounds or for preparing his kills. But he'll have to sleep soon. Finally he lays the knife on the floor near her as he puts the rabbit on a spit to cook.
“I hope you like rabbit,” he says with a smile.
“It will be fine,” she says with as much kindness as she can summon.
“Feeling better?” he inquires.
“Much better. Thank you.” She tries not to let her gaze go to the knife for too long. She can reach it now but he is too far away. She'll have to be patient just a little while longer.
“I'm glad.” His compassion makes her want to be sick. But she conjures up a smile for him. “It will be light soon. I can take you to a hospice where you can get some proper care.” He presses a finger against the rabbit to check its doneness. “I hope you don't mind but I'm going to meditate while this cooks.” He pulls his legs tightly beneath him.
“Not at all. Go right ahead.” She smiles at him again but this time she is genuinely happy. She will have her chance very soon.
He smiles at her then closes his eyes. She waits for just a few moments watching him intently. He is indeed meditating. Eyes closed and unaware of the world around him. With slow but still painful movements she shuffles closer and closer. She winces a few times as the skins rustle as she moves nearer. She reaches the knife and picks it up. Mover ever so closer she studies his upper body trying to decide on the best place to stab him.
She is inches away from him when his eyes snap open! Without hesitation she plunges the knife up into his chest. His eyes open wider in shock and confusion. She is aiming for his heart but her diminished physical capacity doesn't allow her the luxury of accuracy. Judging by the blood that pours from his mouth she guesses she has punctured a lung instead. Though dying he grabs her shoulder to try and fight her. Knowing that should he try and overpower her and kill her in return he could easily do it, she twists the knife as savagely as she can. Blood pours from the wound in his chest now.
His last act in this world is to look into her eyes and mutter, “Why?”
His body slumps to the floor and she sees no need to answer him. She looks down into his lifeless eyes pleased with this first taking of a human life in who knows how long. She removes her hand which has until now remained gripping the handle of the knife. As she wipes his blood from her hand onto the white cloth he wrapped her in she sees something amazing. Where his blood had stained her hand the flesh is now no longer wrinkled and taught. It is still marble white but it no longer looks like the skin of an old crone.
She presses her hand into the still bleeding wound in his chest. With her hand coated in his blood she smears it across her limp left arm. She waits for a moment or two before wiping it away with the cloth. The flesh there is smooth and supple as well.
Scrambling about the hut knocking over boxes and searching through satchels. At last she finds a shabby wooden cup. She sets the cup on the floor then using the knife opens up the veins of his wrist. Blood flows into the cup. She draws her hands along the length of his arm in an action not dissimilar to milking a cow. Soon the cup is full of his blood. She takes the cup and upends it over her head. The blood is warm with a metallic smell as it cascades through her hair, down her face and across her chest.
Performing this malevolent baptism she discovers something else. As the blood falls across her face some of it settles on her bottom lip. Reflexively she licks it away. As she swallows the blood she finds it satisfying the thirst that has been gnawing at her body since her resurrection. Blood. She should have known. It has given power to her before. And it was blood that would have been the gateway for her father. She laughs at a realization that should have been so obvious to her.
Repeating the same action on his other wrist she fills the cup again. This time putting it to her lips and drinking it contents in ravenous gulps. When she is done she throws the cup aside and screams with an evil delight. She is satisfied that this sound coming from her is far more vocal than any sound to escape her lips so far. The blood on and within her invigorates in a way she never thought possible.
She stands without pain. She feels strong again. Casting her gaze about she settles her attention on a clay beaker. This she stares at intently. She brings the whole of the force of will to bear on the beaker. For several moments nothing happens. Then the beaker begins to tremble. Reveling in this small triumph she smiles and pushes her power more. In the next instant the beaker explodes. Her eyes widen at the sight of the shattered beaker. Her power is back once more. She holds up her hands and sees the pallid but unwrinkled flesh. Her physical vitality can be restored. And all it will take is human blood.
She starts to laugh. A girlish giggle at first. It soon explodes into uproarious laughter as she is overcome by the twisted irony of the situation. She trips over the trapper's body and falls to the floor. She lays there nearly in tears with laughter. Who would have thought that after all she has lost that she can feel this kind of joy?
After her fit of happiness has spent itself she looks to the trapper's body again. Grinning, she picks up the knife. No need to let all that blood go to waste.
To Be Continued
Return to the Academy