Whispering Death (part 24)

The room was silent while Drina kicked the last pouch from the set corner. All eyes set on her, waiting for her to speak, though Drina didn’t know what to say. The purpose of the summon was to find the spirit attacking her, but she’d discovered something far worse. 

“Your hurt!”

Hestar broke the silence, rushing to touch her shoulder. Drina spun around and stepped back to avoid her touch. The wounded look in Hestar’s eyes didn’t help her already fading hope.

“What happened? What did you see?”

How did she even start? Searching for words, Drina could only stare at her blankly. Lulu spun around with a frustrated huff, stomping off to her office. It left Ocan confused, looking between Drina and Lulu with uncertainty. Slams and bangs came from the room before Lulu stomped in a rush back out. She was on a war path, holding gauze, ointment, and a hell-bound look. 

Drina retreated, stubbornly holding her unwounded arm up. “No, it’s fine. It’s not that bad, honest-” 

Lulu swished her hand, whispering a faint word. Without warning, the chair behind Drina slammed into the back of her legs, knocking her back. She fell with a hard thump, grunting at the pain in her legs. Golden ropes then leap out from the chair and swirled tightly against her. With a gasp, Drina tried to escape to no avail; she was tightly trapped.

With a final stomp of her foot in front of her, Lulu glared with pure rage. It was the first time anyone had seen her this upset.

“You stupid girl!” Lulu ripped a long strand of gauze off the bundle and shoved it painfully into Drina’s wound. Her voice was harsh as she lashed out at her, “Do you know how stupid you really are? Summoning the unknown, bringing it in here with stupid intentions!”

Drina cried out from the forceful jab at the puncture. “I didn’t think it was going to be-” 

Another glow of gold sliced at her clothes, cutting them from her neck to the sleeve. With a careless tug at the cloth, Lulu ripped it down to expose the rest of the wound. Drina painfully grunted the rest of her sentence.

“-a dead god! Can you please use a little less force?!” 

Lulu froze, allowing Drina to shuffle the chair just out of her reach. The burning sensation of the air and gauze caused a small tear to tremble down Drina’s cheek. Ocan and Hestar stood in shock, watching while she growled from the pain. 

With a softer touch, Lulu stepped forward to open the ointment and apply it. The sizzle of her skin made Drina cry out in an unexpected yowl. Black smoke rose out from the wound, dissipating quickly after. Drina could only grit her teeth, unable to move. 

“Dead god or not. You are lucky. The poison didn’t get too far.” Lulu scoped more ointment onto her fingers, holding it up in front of Drina, “Ready?”

Drina dropped her jaw at the amount dripping from her fingers. Closing her eyes in despair, she knew what was coming. Lulu removed the cloth from the hole, letting it fall to the floor before shoving her finger inside. It took everything in Drina not to pass out from the blinding pain.

A few hours passed when Lulu finished bandaging her shoulder up. The golden ropes around Drina had already faded, allowing her to move freely. Instead, she could do nothing but stare off into the distance. Hestar sat on the couch holding Ocan, both eager to continue speaking to Drina. 

Pushing back the chair, Lulu stood up to stretch her back out, walking to the counter to pull the boiling water from the kettle. She poured two cups and dropped tea leaves into them before returning to Drina’s side. Extending the cup out, Lulu waited for Drina to accept it. 

Drina stared at the cup. The smell was from a herb she’d known from a very young age. Lifting her patched arm, she tested to see how well the healing salve worked. Accepting the cup, she held it for a moment to assess the pain. To her surprise, there was none. Lowering the cup, she took a deep sip of the tea.

Lulu sighed, taking the seat in front of her again, clasping the cup while she waited. There was a long silence again, allowing Drina to look up at the windows to see where the sun was. She was at a loss. How was she going to solve her problem now? The soft, tender voice of Lulu broke her thoughts.

“Was it sincerely a god? I knew the moment something broke through the barrier; it wasn’t just a haunting spirit, but a god?”

The image of the red piercing eyes burning within the enormous skull of a beast flashed in Drina’s mind. There was no doubt about it. “I think there is more at play than we are aware. This situation is no longer just a bound spirit; it’s a contract.”

It was a little worrisome how Drina’s voice sounded, even to her. It sounded distant, more assertive than she felt. After all the screaming and crying she’d done, it was a surprise she still had a voice. Lulu sharpened her gaze.

“A contract?! I’m sure we would have noticed signs of a contract made.”

Although Lulu was right, Drina was certain. The display of power the culprit exhibited had no other explanation. Drina rubbed at her chin, looking down at her cup of tea. For a contract to be made with such power, it would take at least a dozen people. It was typically common within gypsy tribes, needing fewer people to accomplish it due to their bloodline. 

The god that her mother followed was passed down from her grandma, as it was from hers. Despite the many generations from the original contract, it still left a mark on each child born within the family. In her case, the ability to see and speak with the dead.

Drina looked up from her cup to the table, her deck of cards still splayed out untouched. Standing up, she took a look at the display once more. Each card had a specific meaning: Five men with wands, the skeleton queen holding a ring, and the burning tower. Tilting her head, Drina spoke without looking away. “Hestar, how many men have you dated in this town?”

Hestar blinked, pulling her arms away from her embrace around Ocan. 

“Dated?! I… didn’t date anyone as much as I…” she paused to clear her throat, feeling awkward by the sudden question. “I didn’t date anyone.”

Drina felt her ears burn. She suddenly didn’t want to know the answer to the question that followed. Lulu stood up, moving to the other side of the table to look at the cards. Drina was thankful for her graceful tact. 

“No need to fret, my dear. I’m sure Drina is just trying to ascertain the meaning of the cards. What are they implying? Can you share what they generally mean?

Drina heard the girls joining them around the table while taking her time to decipher the cards. It was different than reading her fan, even though the intent was the same. Because she was reading through a shared bond, how much of it was sheer distortion? Reaching her hand out over the card, it proved otherwise. Dark power flowed out and around each card, confirming that it was attached to the targeted being. She tapped the card while speaking aloud for the others.

“This card represents the person in question. The five men represent several opposing forces, the wands showing that they were in battle. Not a physical one, but a shared ideal. Assuming it’s a male, it could mean they are all fighting for the same goal: that goal being Hestar.”

Hestar slowly turned red, catching Drina’s attention. Seeing her embarrassment at the idea that men were fighting for her attention made Drina feel unease. Was she just another player part of the battle? Drina’s voice broke with a crackle, moving quickly to the next card.

“The qu-queen usually stands for a woman; someone mature, grounded, loyal. However,” Drina picked up the card to examine it closely, feeling its energy. “When upside-down, it’s the opposite. Shallow, possessive, chaotic… Jealousy.”

Ocan gasped, reaching for the card to touch the side. “It’s a double meaning. The woman wasn’t looking his way, and he got angry. So he decided to take things into his own hands.” 

Drina nodded, handing the card to Ocan. She took it absently, studying the card intently. Drina watched cautiously, waiting to see what would happen. It wasn’t the first time Drina had let her feel the cards during an active reading. One day Ocan would eventually awaken and learn the craft. Better to get used to the feeling to understand it. 

Ocan broke her concentration to look up at her sister, handing the card back. Drina offered a meek smile, placing it back down on the table. Moving her hand to the last card, she hardly touched it when a shock jolted her entire body. She stiffened, unable to move while the world distorted around her. With all her strength, she pulled her hand away to break free. 

Sweat poured down Drina’s temples from the sudden surge, panting from the energy it admitted. Reaching her hand over to Ocan, she stopped her from wanting to touch it too. 

“For this last card, I think we can safely assume the meaning. He’s become violent and based on the failed attempt at murder, he isn’t planning on stopping soon.”

Drina felt exhausted, plopping down into the chair behind her. Pinching at the bridge of her nose, she sighed exasperatedly.  Ocan reached out to hug her, resting her head on her good shoulder. Hestar leaned over the table, staring at the cards dumbfoundedly. Laughing, she spoke with heavy sarcasm. 

“Simple. We just have to find a man who is madly in love with me. Shouldn’t be too hard since half the town already has a crush on me.” 

Lulu scoffed, placing her teacup down to rest her hands on her hip. “Honestly, girl! How much of the town have you seduced?” 

Hestar crossed her arms defensively. “I haven’t seduced the town at all! It doesn’t hurt to go out and show a little kindness for business. How else do you think we keep busy during the summer? It’s not my fault they can’t tell the difference between being in love or being polite.” 

Drina dropped her hand to Ocan’s arm, watching Hestar. The pain in Hestar’s eyes was palpable. It was equally painful to witness. Biting sharply at her lip, Drina forced herself not to think about it. Yet Drina couldn’t stop her sharp words from hurling like daggers. Just thinking of Hestar with another man was something she couldn’t handle. 

“Seduction or not; there’s an obsessed lover who wants all of your attention.” 

For the first time, Drina saw real anger in Hestar. Dropping her arms, she shot a disproving glare at her. 

“I’m aware that I’m a notorious flirt. I’m also aware the entire town gossips about my past flings or possible lovers. I’d even been accused of adultery by others.” Hestar took a few steps back from the table, fighting the tears welling up in the corner of her eyes. “But the truth is: I’ve only ever had one lover in this town.”

A hard punch suckered Drina in the gut. Confusion rolled across her face. What? Who? Hestar’s stare lingered a moment longer. Her expression looked as if waiting for Drina to figure the answer out herself. The tears won, rolling down Hestar’s cheek. With a loud tsk, she turned to leave the room. 

Drina pushed out of the chair, breaking through Ocan’s arms. She wanted to reach out to her, say something, or hug her. Instead, she stood there and watched Hestar take off down the hall. Drina frowned. What? Again, she replayed the words in her head. Who was her lover? As far as she knew, the only person Hestar wanted to be with was her.

Lulu growled in frustration. “She means you! Go!”

Codexing Against Blood: Ch. 3

Several days passed before Sarah knew it. She stood in front of her father’s house nervously, straightening her jacket. It was a large mansion, fenced off with tall brick walls surrounding the vast yard within. The taxi driver closed the door he held open for her, then walked back to the front seat and took off. Sarah watched the yellow vehicle disappear around the bend before facing the enormous house. Sighing, she approached the gate and pushed it open.

The house, the yard, and the driveway brought back vague memories. It was so long since she’d been here it almost felt awkward and strange to return. Although she grew up here, her memories were distorted and sparse. Why did she forget so much about her childhood?

Reaching the door quickly, she hesitated before knocking. How should she greet her father? What if it was her stepmother instead? Sarah held her hand floating before the door when it suddenly opened. Inside stood her brother.

“Welcome. Dad is going to be a little bit. Let me show you around.”

He was quick and abrupt in his speech, turning to walk back down the hall with no notice. Sarah walked in quickly as he left her behind, holding a quick debate about whether to take her shoes off and close the door first. With quick flicks, she knocked her shoes off and pushed them to the side, and quickly swung the door closed. Before she could open her mouth to speak, he had already begun the tour of the home.

“This is the living room to the left, down the right hall is the kitchen, and up the stairs to the left is the bedrooms. The library and study are also up the stairs to the right. We also have the lounge and day room past the dining room. There are snacks in the kitchen if you want, the cook is preparing dinner, and mom is in the garden enjoying tea. I am sure you would like to be entertained by her so you may do as you wish. The exit to the garden is also down the hall beside the lounge.”

The primly dressed boy didn’t pause a beat, taking to the stairs to disappear around the bend. His footsteps muffled quickly into nothingness, leaving Sarah alone in the hallway. Letting out a disgruntled huff, she crossed her arms. Why was he in such a rush to leave her? There was her chance to say something to him. Instead, she was left alone in the dust. A little cross with herself and at him, she whispered to herself.

“Good to see you too, Tyler.”

Sarah turned from the stairs, looking down the hallway towards the rest of the house. The hall had a hardwood floor and rolled-out floor mat that stretched from one end to the other. The color faded after years of constant traffic and began to fray at the edges. If she understood Tyler’s tour, the garden was down the hall. The vague memory of the yard came to mind when she used to run around and play freely.

Although she wished to see the garden again, the idea of facing her stepmother alone didn’t sound appealing. Sarah was still gaining confidence to walk freely in a house she’d long been removed from. Instead, Sarah made her way up the stairs. The idea of reading in the library was more intriguing than introducing herself to a stranger she’d never met.

The same worn carpet trailed up the stairs and into the upstairs hallway. Even though the stairs parted left and right, they both connected to the same hallway. In the middle of the staircase hung a giant chandler with small crystal-like shards spiraling into a peak in the middle.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the stairs so anyone could see who was coming up or going down. Sarah ran her hand along the balcony to appreciate the view. Turning down the hall towards the library, she noticed a few doors on each side. All of them were closed with no signs.

Sarah bit her lip, walking down quietly and inspecting each of the pictures on the wall. Some were old frail photos of past generations, others expensive art of landscapes or buildings. Approaching the first door, Sarah pulled against the handles. It rustled with a loud clunk, indicating it was locked.

She moved along to the next door on the other side of the hall to meet the same fate. A few more doors further down, Sarah picked up the pace to find the library. Before she could reach the next door, a picture on the wall caught her eye. It was a picture of a family posing outdoors in front of the mansion she was standing in.

Sarah gasped, recognizing it. With small steps, she approached it. The image of 3 people came into view. She spotted her mother and father smiling. In the middle of them was a small girl with long black silk hair wearing a frown. Sarah reached out towards the picture, touching it gently to trace the outline of her past self.

The image brought forth several feelings. Some painful, some happy. It was hard to tell exactly how she felt about seeing the image. How after so many years could she not remember this picture or memory? The image flickered with an instant electric buzz around everything but her. Grinding her teeth, she decided to let it go, turning quickly towards the closest door to her. One day she would need to deal with these feelings, but today was not one of them. All she wanted was to make it through the day successfully. Then, after she went home she would sort it out.

Grabbing the handles of the next door, she pulled at them forcefully. It didn’t take much effort as she began to swing it open before her.

Sarah stepped back a bit as the door opened up to the library. The onslaught of old books and leather hit her senses, making her smile. All memories of the photo forget she stepped into the room. Shelves lined the large room with layers of books along each wall, with a few extras further into the back. Up on the far back wall was a large stained window that opened the room with bright natural light, giving a welcoming glow.

Unlike the school’s library with several dim lights, this room had long hanging chandlers much like the one hanging over the staircase. Despite the room looking disused for many years, not a trace of dust feathered the tables, chairs, or shelves. Look’s like father kept excellent care of the books, Sarah thought with a smirk. Quickly, she walked up to the closest wall and ran her fingers across the binds, looking at each name as she did.

Sarah closed her eyes with a warm smile and traced several books before stopping at one. Pulling it out, she anxiously looked at the front book of an unknown author. Flipping through the pages at glance, she noted it was written in old English. It was fascinating. Hugging the book close, she looked around the room once more. The vague feeling of being here before in her past passed in a faint wave of nostalgia.

The middle of the room held a small coffee table and a leather couch. Sarah walked towards the chair and flopped down into it with sudden disappointment. The moment her bottom hit the stiff and cold leather, she knew it was still very new and hardly used. Sarah grunted from the hard impact, then quickly stood up she examined the chair.

There was barely a wrinkle in the leather, confirming her suspicion. Did her father read in the library at all? Sighing, she sat back down in the chair, disgruntled. It was nothing like the school’s worn couches, but it would have to do. Nestling down into the chair as best as she could, Sarah tucked her feet beside her on the cushion. Ready and comfortable, she opened her book and began to read.

The library’s temperature was cozy and warm, whispering a sweet lullaby of tranquility. No wonder she spent all her time in the library at school, it was possible she subconsciously remembered this room within the house. Where all the books came from was no concern to her, as long as they were there to read. With a small yawn, Sarah leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

Several hours must have passed by when a knock at the door startled Sarah awake. Looking about the room, she felt lost and disoriented. When did she fall asleep? Rubbing her sleep-filled eyes, she looked down at the table to see a cold cup of tea next to it. Sarah was so enthralled with the book, she didn’t even notice anyone come in. Or was it when she fell asleep? She stretched out with a slight groan before closing the book that was still open on her lap. With a glance at her watch, she knew it would be well time for dinner.

Sarah stood up, straightening her skirt while returning the book onto the shelf. A voice stopped her moments before she could slip it back into place.

“I figured I would find you in here.”

Sarah froze. The sound of the deep rolling voice was one she had not heard in person for many years. It was the same tone she remembered as a child, and even over the phone when he called her. Continuing to slide the book into place, Sarah held her hand flat against the shelf for a moment. She was nervous about facing him, even after all this time. Timidly turning her head, she finally met eyes with her father. He stood in the doorway, a grand smile looking tenderly back at her. He offered a small chuckle at her unease.

“Hello, Sarah. It’s been a long time. I’m honestly not surprised you would stow away here instead of meeting your new mother.”

“Stepmother. She is no mother to me.”

Sarah didn’t mean to come off so bitter. She was sure the woman was a lovely and kind person, yet she was nothing but a stranger. With a quick brush of her skirt and jacket, Sarah straightened out her uniform to present herself before her father.

Dropping her hands to her side, she stared awkwardly at him. Why was she suddenly so nervous to speak to him? Should she politely thank him for the dinner invitation? Was that too formal? With a few quick steps, her father closed the gap between them to embrace her close. He hugged her tighter than she ever felt before. It took a few moments to realize he wasn’t going to let go when she slid her hands up around to hug him in return. If there was anyone she would hug, it would only be him. It was a feeling she missed and felt safe in. Resting her head on his chest, she closed her eyes.

“Hello, dad. I missed you.”

Not letting her go, he spoke softly. “I missed you too. You look so grown up and just like your mother, the real one, I mean.”

Sarah chuckled, sure he was just telling her to make her feel better. Stepping away from the hug, he sighed heavily with a smile. “Well, my lovely bookworm, shall we head to the dining room?”

With a nod, the two of them made their way down the hall.

Strike for Power

Writing prompt from the book 5000 writing prompts:  Any person who kills her will inherit her power.

This originally was a writing prompt that turned into a longer story. I have no regrats.

– Turan

________________

Running through the woods, Alex tripped over a stump and rolled across the leaf-covered ground. Dirt and rocks cut and bruised her skin as she tumbled. With a hard groan, Alex pushed herself up. She couldn’t waste a single moment. They were hunting her. 

Wiping the tears off her face, Alex stifled her pain. There was no room for error in her escape. Who knows what power they possessed in return. She pushed herself to her feet, not even bothering to brush herself off. Picking up the pace, Alex forced into a light jog. Her body ached and screamed at her. How long had she been running? Internally she cursed. If only she never killed that stupid boy, she could be free.

It was two weeks ago when she took the shortcut home. It was a small path through the forest beside a small flowing stream. Alex had taken this path every day since starting school, taking it to and from home. It was a beautiful, forgotten, beaten path: overgrown from years of neglect. She had stumbled upon it one day when she was running from her dad. 

He was drunk, yelling at her for something her mother did or didn’t do. Alex couldn’t remember the reason anymore from how often it happened. Since then, she’d explored each pathway and where they led. It was a convenient secret, leading her across town to just about any place she needed to go. It wasn’t long until Alex had each path and section of the forest memorized. 

Even more surprising was how no one ever knew about the connected ways, nor did she bother to tell them. Her biggest fear was that more people would find them, ruining her only solace away from the forsaken town.

Only today, it was the first time she had ever come across something on the path. Alex froze, feeling the adrenaline kick in, chilling her to the core. Should she run back to the school and wait? She never needed a backup plan for this type of situation. 

She shuffled awkwardly. Looking forward and then back down the path to the school, she debated her options. A small yowl caught her off guard. She jumped at the sound. Was it a wounded animal? 

Alex waited a moment longer before clenching her fist tightly with determination. Taking a small breath in, she decided to step forward. Timidly approaching the body, Alex spotted reddish fur, glowing from the flashing sunlight that broke through the tree coverage. It was a fox, a large one to boot.

With more confidence, she rushed to the beast’s side, checking to see if it was still breathing. The fox whimpered at her touch, shivering in fear weakly. It broke Alex’s heart. 

The fox must have been afraid she was a predator. With a soft voice, she stroked its fur gently. “Shh. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.”

The creature pulled itself up weakly and tried to run away. Right then, Alex spotted the blood-soaked fur on its leg and shoulder. She gasped with concern. Who could have done this to the poor animal? 

Tenderly, Alex slid her arm under the fox’s body and lifted it. The poor creature yipped, struggling against her hold.

“Please, be still. Your hurt, little one. I just want to help you.”

Placing it down again, she touched her fingers to the frightened fox’s cheek, stroking it softly to ease them. The fox’s eyes widened, almost human-like. It panted heavily and stared back at her, scanning her eyes for a moment. Alex continued to rub her finger along the fox’s jaw line. Again Alex reassured the poor mammal. 

“It’s ok. You’ll be safe in my care.”

Her words were enough for the beast to relax. Letting go of its resistance, the fox slumped into her arms. Alex waited a moment before slowly moving her hands towards the fox’s paws. She checked to make sure no bones were protruding or any missing chunks. The fur was matted and dirty, some of it with dried blood. 

Poor thing, Alex thought. Without hesitation, she swooped the fox into her arms tightly and ran. If she could get to her tree house quick enough, she could get provisions for the little one before getting caught. 

Alex prayed that her dad was still out so she could sneak about without being questioned. Time was of the essence. Weaving through and down the path, Alex made quick haste. 

Before she knew it, the view of her backyard was in sight. She slowed down, kneeling behind a bush to quickly scan the house windows. The lights were all off, and there was no movement that she could see. Perfect, she thought with a smirk.

Alex bolted out of the forest to the base of the tree house. There was a small ladder that led to the top. It took a bit of manoeuvring to keep the fox tightly to her chest and ascend the shaking ladder. 

Thankfully the little creature was light that it posed no real difficulty. Reaching the top, however, was the real struggle. Balancing as much as possible, Alex grabbed the latch above to open the trap door. It was a little tricky, but after years of sneaking full arms of food, clothing, and toys from her room, Alex had become a bit of a pro. 

Once she flipped the trap door, she climbed the last few rungs enough to pull herself up, sliding to her bottom first, then brought her feet in before closing the latch. It was a small room; with a small bed in the corner, a battery-operated lamp, a travel-sized oven attracted to a solar panel battery, and a table with books, papers, and pens. From the roof hung a hammock full of clothes, bags of snacks and a few other blankets in case of cold nights. 

Alex placed the poor animal beside her bed and reached for a towel. Grabbing an old shirt, she ripped it into shreds for bandages.

There wasn’t much she had to offer the fox, and there was no fresh water to clean the wounds. Alex reached for a small cushion and placed it under its head. It was all she could offer for comfort until she returned from inside the house. Petting the foxes face, she reassured it. 

“I have to leave you for a moment. You’ll be safe in here. I will come back in a moment with fresh water and supplies to take care of your wounds.”

She knew the animal couldn’t understand her, but it gave her comfort. If she could help it feel at home, it was worthwhile. Grabbing her backpack from a hook on the wall, she swung it on her back and kicked open the trap door. 

With a small jump, Alex skipped a few ladder rungs and descended quickly. Running towards the house on high alert, Alex opened the door silently. 

Without turning on a light, she crouched low and tipped-toe to her bedroom. First, she needed a small blanket and towel. She rolled them up quickly and shoved them into her bag.

Next, she reached the bathroom, pulling out her cellphone to turn on the light. Quickly opening the drawer, she grabbed band-aids, gauze, and soap. There also was a white trash bag roll inside that she ripped off a few bags. It was just for precaution and to throw away what may have been too soiled by the fox’s blood.

Lastly, she headed back to the kitchen. Spotting the clock, she watched the hand strike 7 o’clock. The chime rang as a flash of light crossed the wall. Ducking further, Alex sped to the kitchen pantry. A diesel truck pulled into the driveway, music blaring. It clunked hard, the gears grinding into park to stop. She was running out of time. 

Grabbing several water bottles, Alex shoved them into her bag until full to the brim. With a tight pull on her bag strings, she lifted the bag and booked it to the back door. 

The front door opened when she closed the back, hiding the noise. Ducking behind the door, she could hear the staggering steps of her father. 

Just by the uneven pattern, she could tell he had been drinking. Figures. Alex waited a moment longer as the steps took down the hall towards the bedrooms. She pushed off and ran back to the ladder, climbing it gracefully. Lifting the trapdoor carefully, Alex slid inside the house and closed the door silently. She waited before sitting up with a heavy sigh.

Turning her attention back to the fox, it had drifted into a deep sleep. Hopefully, she was not too late to help the little creature. Setting up the supplies she gathered, she began to work. Pouring water on the small towels, Alex cleaned the blood and dirt away. 

It took time to clear all the wounds and the discolour from the blood. Taking the gauze, Alex pressed them into the open wounds, then wrapped the shreds of t-shirt around the fox’s body to hold them in place. She covered the rest of the injuries on the fox’s legs and neck. 

It looked like whatever was trying to attack the poor animal intended to kill it. What would have happened if Alex decided to pass it by and do nothing? She shuttered at the thought. It was better not to think about it.

Finish dressing the wounds, Alex slumped back, stretching out her legs. She watched the fox sleep peacefully in a deep slumber. She discovered his gender while cleaning his legs and thought now about what to name the little guy. Would it be ok to keep him until he recovered enough to leave on his own? 

Tapping the bottom of her chin, Alex thought for a moment. The fox slept peacefully, curling up into the blanket she wrapped around him after she finished washing his fur. Despite the bandages, he didn’t look to be suffering much. It made her happy. 

Alex had never owned a pet before, and the thought of keeping a secret pet fox from her dad made her giggle mischievously. She would be like the character in a comic she read once, where a girl found a magic rabbit. They got into all sorts of trouble on their adventures. It was one of Alex’s favourite books.

“I know,” Alex rolled to her stomach, crawling in closer to lay beside the sleeping fox, “I will call you Flax. It’s the name of the rabbit in the stories I used to read.”

Giving the small fox a head scratch, Alex smiled. Flax stretched sleepily, flicking his bandaged paw before lazily leaning his head into her hand. Alex giggled. Her head close to his, she whispered in a low voice. 

“I wish I had magic powers, you know? At least then, I could leave here and take care of myself. Leave this terrible house. Leave this awful town. I hate it here.”

Her smile faded. If only she could leave. With a small sigh, Alex closed her eyes. “Will you be my magical sidekick, Flax?”

With that, she drifted off to sleep.

In the morning, she woke up with Flax still sleeping in her hand. He was awake, staring at her, waiting for her to wake up. Never did he complain or cry. Thankfully, Alex had some snacks stored away to feed them both breakfast. She sat on the floor, breaking off small chunks of her granola bar to feed Flax. 

He was feeling much chipper, gleefully taking the small bites to chop down.  After eating, Alex unwrapped the bandages to clean the wounds with fresh gauze. Only, when she pulled them away, there was no sight of any cuts. 

In a bit of confusion, Alex chuckled. “Well, I don’t know if I made the whole thing up or if foxes just heal fast, but you’re all better now.”

Petting the fox behind the ears, she frowned. “Does… this mean I need to let you go free?”

Flax sneezed in response. He looked upset and almost disagreed with her. Alex put her hands on her hip. “What, does that mean you want to stay?”

With a yip, Flax replied. He sat straight, flicking his bushy tail.

“Alright, if you insist. Welcome to Castle El’forte. It’s my home away from home. Cause the real one sucks.”

The alarm on Alex’s phone began to ring, pulling her attention away. “Oh, shoot! I need to get ready for school! Come, let me take you in. Dad’s gone early in the day for work and always comes home late. If I time it right, I never have to see him. He doesn’t bother to seek me out either.”

With that, she offered her shoulder, and Flax hopped on. It was a start of a beautiful relationship. 

Each day Flax would follow her to school, wait on the path until she returned and then they would play until it was time to sneak back up into the tree house. Alex finally found hope, living her days happy alongside Flax. But with everything in Alex’s life, it never lasted.  Two weeks had gone by, and this time when she came out of school towards the path, Flax wasn’t there. Odd, Alex thought, calling out for him a few times.

“Flax? Flax! Where are you hiding?”

Maybe it was a game? Alex scanned about more before taking a few steps into the forest. Could it be a new game he was playing with her? Smiling weakly, she decided to play along. 

“Alright, I guess I am just going to keep heading home! Don’t try to sneak up on me!”

Alex continued, walking for a while, waiting. Nothing came after several minutes, which caused her to worry. Where did he go? 

She stopped to look back towards the school with a frown. Did Flax maybe stay at home today? Facing homeward bound, Alex broke into a hurried jog. There was only one way to find out. 

The forest was a blur when the tree house popped into view. Not wasting time looking for her dad, she dropped her bag to the ground and called out for Flax. Her voice laced with concern and fear. Looking up to the tree house, she climbed the ladder in a rush.  The trap door was unlocked, making it easy for her to pop open.

“Flax, are you-“

All the blood drained from her face. Her body shook with rage as she dropped down the ladder in a frenzy. Racing the back door, she ripped it open and stomped inside. She didn’t have to go far. Sitting on a chair in the kitchen was her dad. His back to her as she stormed in.

“What did you do?”

He was lighting another cigarette, taking his time to reply. He deliberately took a deep breath of the smoke and exhaled, meeting Alex with an indifferent attitude.

“What the hell did you do to all my stuff?!”

Finally, he glanced at Alex. “I cleaned it out.”

Flabbergasted, Alex shook her head. “Cleaned it out?! That was all my stuff! You had no right!”

Her dad slammed his fist against the table. “Don’t tell me what I have a right to do in my own house! With my property! You’ve been wasting your time up there when you are supposed to be living here! Your lucky I haven’t taken a chain saw to the tree to cut it down! You are too old to be playing games! Time to wake up!”

Alex shook with anger. How dare he tell her she needed to wake up. 

“I need to stop playing games? Who’s getting pissed drunk every night and wasting all the money on alcohol? Every day I need to fend for myself because my useless dad-“

Alex felt the dread trickle down her spine at how fast her dad shot out of the chair. His face was menacing. Puffing his chest out, he towered over her. 

“What did you call me? After all, I have done for you? I’ve given a roof over your head.  Even allowed you to spend night after night in that tree house: and for what? This disrespect? I know you think you are so clever. I saw the bags of bloody rags in the trash and the tiffs of fur all over the yard. You are hiding a damn mutt from me! You know the rules around here: no pets allowed! So, from now on, you are no longer allowed up in that tree house, and you’re getting a job to start paying for things around here!”

Alex took several steps back towards the wall as her dad yelled at her. His face was blistering red as spittle flung out at her. Her body did the one thing it could. It turned towards the door and fled. Her dad reached out, grabbing her shirt to pull her back before she could make it. It tore just enough for her to escape his reach. He may have been stronger than her, but she was nimble. 

Opening the door with great force, she managed to slam it into his face. He collided hard with it, falling back to the floor with a roar. Alex didn’t bother looking back, running full force towards the forest. Before she hit the tree line, she heard a yip from Flax. 

Alex whipped her head towards him, spotting him jumping near a different pathway. She pivoted on the spot and bolted in his direction.

“Flax!”

The second she caught up, he turned and led her down the pathway. It was the pathway that took them out of town. Alex’s heart was pounding, her legs weightless. Leaves, twigs and branches flew past her in a blur. All she could see was Flax sprinting like a golden light guiding her. 

Ahead of them was a clearance leading them just outside of the town. Once on the other side, Alex would be clear from the town’s borders and into the wilds. Her spirit soured. Finally, she was leaving this horrible place. 

Reaching the edge of the treeline, Alex almost tripped over Flax. Stopping stiff in his tracks, he paused with focused eyes. Alex collapsed to her knees while panting. “What… what is it… boy?”

She wiped the sweat streaming down her forehead before looking into the clearing. Covering her mouth quickly to mute the startled scream, Alex spotted dark figures out in the opening. They were younger kids calling out, all taunting some being. 

“Here, little weasel! We know you are trying to escape here! No use hiding! Come out and face your fate!”

Alex’s eyes widened. Were they talking about her? How did they know she was trying to escape. A tug on her sleeve made Alex jump. Flax was trying to get her attention, pulling her off the path to the right. His eyes were wide with fear as well. Was Flax scared of the teens as well? 

She had no choice but to follow. Alex did her best to sneak through the thicket. They slowly made their way downwind of the kids before Flax looked back at her. With a nod, Alex understood. They were going to try and run to the other side. It was the only way to freedom. 

Reaching out to Flax, she gave him a soft pat. “We can do it. We are almost free of this place! We’ll start our own adventure.”

It wasn’t a reassuring speech, but it was enough to gear her into the ready. Alex looked across the field, listening carefully for the sounds of the kids in the distance. With a deep breath, she readied herself. “Alright, on the count of three. One, two…, Three!”

Both Alex and Flax bolted from the tree line. The open breeze greeted Alex, cooling her down from the sweat and heat of running. The field was longer than she thought. Just passing the halfway mark, she finally heard the cries of the teenagers. “Look! Over there! There it is! And there is another person with it!”

Alex looked over her shoulder to spot several kids running in their direction. Panic erupted over her, pushing her to run for her life. The last words she heard echoing in her mind rang clear as day.

“What do we do with the other one?”

“Kill them, too.”

Alex glanced down at Flax running ahead of her. He looked at her with terror, sprinting in front of her to lead the way. 

What was going on? Why did they want to kill them?! 

A sharp whistle glanced by her ear suddenly. The noise made her veer off a little from Flax’s path as she tried to dodge whatever it was. A second one flew past as she looked over her shoulder. The kids had enormous slingshots that harnessed to their forearms. One of the kids loaded it up again while running and shot it towards her. Unable to avoid the rock in time, it hit her square in the shoulder. “Ow!”

Stumbling a little, Alex now realized what had caused the wounds to Flax’s body. It wasn’t her they were after; it was him. Flax slowed down, meeting up to her side once more. He couldn’t help her with the pain, only encouraging her to run faster. Alex choked back her tears and focused on the tree line. 

They just needed to outrun them all and hide. On the other side of the wilds, there was a river. If they could get to it, they might have a chance to escape them. “Flax, if we can get to the river, they won’t follow us!”

The fox was more intelligent than he should have been. With a nod, he ran in front again and sped up. They were nearing the wilds quickly when the kids began to slow down. Alex laughed excitedly. “Flax! They slowed down! We might lose them before-“

SNAP. 

The loud crack of a metal machine shot out of the ground ahead of her. Alex slowed down, realizing they ran straight into danger. Traps laid all over. Thankfully Flax was not caught, but he too crocheted low. 

Leaves covered the ground heavily, covering any sights of metal that could glint in the low sunrise. It was the twilight hour, making it nearly impossible to scan for danger. 

Laughter carried from the kids as they walked the rest of the way towards them. They needed to keep moving! Slowly Alex hopped about, avoiding large bundles of potential traps. A few times, Alex saw the teeth of the traps peeking out, but not often enough. Bumping her foot against the edge of one, it slapped, catching the edge of her pant light. Alex cried out, afraid that it would trip her to fall into another one. 

Ripping her pants quickly, she needed to make her way faster. A rock smacked her head with a hard thud. A burst of laughter was short to follow as they all cheered. “Good shot!”

Several loud cracks began to follow closely behind them. Alex looked to catch the kids triggering several traps with sticks, catching ground behind them. What was wrong with these guys? Alex fought from sobbing. 

Looking ahead, she spotted Flax yipping at her. He made it past all the traps and was waiting for her. He moved left to right, attempting to give her directions to weave through the traps. Her eyes were blurry with tears as she stumbled through the landmine field. 

Again a rock hit her hard, this time in the leg, successfully tripping her. As she landed, the rock triggered a trap beside her. The snapping teeth caught her arm, cutting her. 

Thankfully it only caught the outside of her arm and didn’t catch the entire thing. The power of the snap could have broken her bone. There was no way Alex would get out of the field in time to avoid the hunting kids. The taunt of an older boy confirmed her feeling.

“I got you now, you bitch. What kind of powers are you going to give me?”

“Powers? What are-” 

Before she could finish, the boy raised his arm high, holding a knife tightly. It plummeted towards her in slow motion, her body frozen with fear. Is this how I’m going to die? A flash of red flung in front of her, colliding with the boy as it pushed him back. Flax sacrificed himself to save her, biting at the boy’s face and arms. 

The teen cried out, grabbing Flax and throwing him off towards the side. Alex watched in fear, everything slowing down as Flax landed into a trap. The teeth jumped up, snapping into his side. With a horrifying crunch, Alex could hear the deep grunt from her friend.

 Blinding rage took over. Alex grabbed at the ground, picking up a trap by the chain. With a painful roar, she turned towards the offender, flinging the chain towards him with all her might. 

The trap flew in an arch, colliding with the teen’s head, triggering the trap to snap shut. Alex stood stunned, watching the boy gurgled blood from his mouth. His eyes stared at her in disbelief.

It was the first time Alex experienced death firsthand. The body slumped to the grass, lifeless. Alex felt bile in her throat but swallowed it down. 

Running to Flax’s side, she pried the trap open and picked up his weakened body. Holding him close, she glared back at the other kids; they stood speechless. Without a word, she slowly trumped through the rest of the traps and ran into the wilds. 

She didn’t stop for a while until she saw the river. Stumbling over the rocks, she placed Flax’s body down to look at him. He was still alive, barely holding on. Alex sobbed, petting his face. 

“No… Nononono! Don’t die on me, ok? Let me get some water, and I can clean this up for you…”

Pulling off her button-up shirt, she prepared to rip it into strips when a voice stopped her.

“Alex. Don’t.”

Looking down at Flax, Alex blinked in shock. He looked her dead in the eyes, speaking once more.

“Listen. Please. Kill me. Those kids, they won’t stop until they take my powers. I want you to have it instead. If you don’t and I die, it will be devastating to the town. You need to contain it.”

Alex dropped her arms, shaking her head. “Flax? Kill you? No! I didn’t mean to kill the other boy, but kill you? I can’t!”

Flax lifted his head weakly. “You must. Please. Take the rock, and bash it against my head. Do it. Just think, you get to have your wish. You get to have magical powers and leave this place. Like you said you wanted, remember.”

Tears streamed down her cheek as she stroked the top of Flax’s head. Voices in the distance rang as the kids continued to chase them down, accompanied by several adults. One of which Alex recognized instantly. 

Clutching at her heart, Alex closed her eyes tightly. The pain swelled her chest. She didn’t have much choice. She killed someone, and now if caught, she’d be in much worse trouble. Running her hand slowly against the ground, Alex fumbled to grab a rock. Opening her eyes once more, she looked into Flax’s fading eyes. “I love you, Flax.”

“I love you too, Alex.”

Clenching her eyes shut a final time, Alex raised her arm high and struck down against the ground. She did it several times, over and over, until the sickening sound became thuds against other stones. Or at least that’s what she made herself believe. 

Tossing the rock aside, Alex rolled herself to the side, turning her back to the corpse of her friend. The cries of people searching for her echoed close by while she sat. All the things Alex experienced in a short period; losing her closest friend, running away from home, killing the boy? None of this was like her adventure book. All she wanted was a friend, but now she had to do it alone.

“Good bye Flax.”

Pushing herself up, she walked towards the river. Where should she go now? Alex was a wanted person for murdering the boy no matter where she went. All she could do now was run deeper into the wilds. Looking at the ground near the fox’s body, she pondered his words. “Magic powers, huh? Guess I’ll have to find out what they are on my own.”

Stepping into the water, she began her new life.

End.

Whispering Death (part 20)

Hey Raga-rootlings. I just wanted to say thank you so much for reading and supporting me this far. Originally this story was supposed to be short, maybe even like 10 chapters. But here we are! Part 20! It has been a journey for sure! I hope you are all enjoying it as much as I am because we’ve made it past the halfway point and now are nearing the downfall of the series. Hold your buckles and tighten your shoelaces, because it’s going to get dark from here out. Well, sort of. See you all for the next update!

-Turan

_______

Drina was lost. It was not easy to trek across an unknown town, especially at night. Not only was it much bigger than Drina had realized, but filled with several surprises. There were roads to dead-ends and alleyways that back-tracked in the wrong direction. Whoever had built this city needed to get their head checked. Although Drina thought the worst, she could tell by the change in designs of houses that there had been several large expansions from the quick growth. Good for the population of the town, not good for her to navigate back to the hostel. Drina not only had to stop and turn around multiple times, she would need to duck and hide from the spirit as well. Quickly it floated about the streets, passing through walls and buildings with ease. This added an extra challenge of keeping hidden, knowing that at any time, it could pop out and attack her. It had been a while since she had last seen it, giving her a little more confidence. The pendulum spun faster, indicating she was getting close. Tired and weary, Drina took a deep calming breath. Soon she would put an end to the night and make sure Hestar was safe. Then she could rest.

Drina pressed her back against a wall, preparing to walk out from the shadows. Just when she thought she was in the clear, she spotted the spectre floating into view. Biting her lip, she tsked. How was it following her so closely? Once it passed by, she ran across to the adjacent alleyway. Skidding to a stop, she caught her breath as another one on the other side floated into view. Glancing behind her, she knew there was no way it couldn’t have jumped from the other road to get here. Had it broken off into several ghosts or may be called in more? Now she had more to worry about. She could hardly defend herself against one spirit, who knows how she would fair against several.

Kneeling behind a trash bin, Drina closed her eyes and held her fan still until she felt the presence pass. How long could she keep this up? Sooner or later, they would catch wind of her trace and follow it straight to her. And now with several more of them floating about, she was running out of time. Taking a deep breath, she prepared to run. With a quick check to her fan for directions, Drina peeked over the bin to make sure the passing spectral was out of sight before bursting into a full run. No sense in trying to be stealthy anymore.

Running close to the sides, Drina didn’t pause to check around the corners before running down the street. The air in her lungs burned hot, pain erupted all over her chest and legs. Finally, she recognized a building and smiled. At least she was close to somewhere she’d recently been. Hope fueled her, pushing harder through the pain. Her legs were weak and sore already from walking all day in the market. Drina knew if she stopped now, she wouldn’t be able to push on.

Ahead of her Drina spotted Alp’s restaurant, causing her to yell out with relief. She knew where she was now! Running past the building she continued on into the market. Freedom was so close yet still a few blocks away. A fresh wave of renewed energy hit her with a jolt. Homestretch, she thought victoriously. With a sharp turn, she burst into the middle of the street and spotted two spectral ahead. How careless, Drina thought while sliding to a stop. The two beings turned, locking their hollow eyes on her. There was no way to avoid them now. Turning to run the opposite way, she spotted a third coming out from behind a building. They all were aware of her presence now. Drina was going to be surrounded if she wasn’t careful. Stepping backwards she pivoted back down the street she came from, making a sharp right on the first street she could. She didn’t need to look back to feel the beings hot on her trail. They had the upper hand since she was already exhausted. That and they were dead.

Tingles on her spine warned her as she weaved to the left, taking an alleyway to avoid the several blasts that whizzed by her. Drina yelped, coming face to face with another one. The spectral was already prepared, firing a bolt right at her. She ducked in time to avoid it, the heat blasting her from above. Rolling beneath the entity, she sprang back to her feet and bolted. All Drina could do was run. Several more blasts flung past her from behind, hitting the buildings around her in a puff of black smoke and fire. Holding her breath, Drina jumped through it, landing out into the open street market. Pushing herself up, she dodged to the side to avoid another attack. Each bolt was hotter than the other. One mistake or one direct hit and she was done for. Hope filled her while she ran. Not far ahead was the opening of the market intersection. The side of the hostel was in view, meaning she was not too far away. Drina was almost there. The sudden lightness around her made her grin. The spectrals disappeared, leaving her be as she ran. Almost crying out in a chear, it felt like she had won this round. At least until she heard a cry from behind her.

“DRINA!”

Coming to a halt, she turned around in horror to see Hestar running behind her. The spectral didn’t stop their attack on her because she was close to the hostel. They stopped because they found a new target.

“Hestar! Stop!”

Drina cursed, pivoting to rush to her side. The spectres gathered, building their attacks to fire on the unsuspecting girl. Drina wasn’t going to make it. In a fit of fear, she unflipped her fan and threw all her power into it. With a prayer, she closed her eyes. Please, let me save her.

Opening her eyes, she swished it hard in front of her. Blue light sparked, conjure in a flash of swirling light and released as she flicked her wrist. To her surprise, the fan created a powerful current, dispersing the blasts with a blue smoky blade. All the ghosts flew back, clearing from above Hestar. The wind was strong enough to stop Hestar in mid-run. She covered her face to protect against the kicked-up sand from the current.

Drina watched in shock, renewed by the ability she never knew she had. Holding her fan in front of her she laughed.

“I take back calling you a curse!”

Quickly she rushed to Hestar’s side. Concentrating this time, she poured her energy into the fan with a quick burst. Aiming the attack, she swished it directly at two spectators side by side nearest to her. The blast hit them with surprise and flung them into the walls behind them. With a hard impact, it turned them into puffs of black smoke. It dissipated quickly, leaving no trace behind. Drina didn’t know if it was enough to destroy them for good, but it was enough for her. The tingle against her skin warned her once more of an incoming attack. She turned to bat off a bolt coming from the side. Flowing her energy became second nature to her as she connected to her fan. With a backhand swipe, she knocked it to the ground. Even though she had a way to fight the entities, there was no telling for how long.

Grabbing Hestar’s hand, she yanked hard toward the hostal. It was difficult to dodge all the while trying to defend them from bolts at the same time. At least Hestar didn’t fight her from being pulled, pushed and guided through the streets. It must have been a strange sight to behold. Drina powered her fan preemptively, waiting for the next attack when Hestar whispered harshly.

“W-when did you learn to do that?”

It was a bit of a surprise at first Hestar. Could she see the flashes of blue currents releasing from her fan? Drina pulled them out of the way from a blast before releasing her attack on the spirit. It cut the being in half with an otherworldly wail before bursting into a puff of smoke. Drina shot a grin toward Hestar before replying to her. She couldn’t help slather her words with a bit of cockyness in her tone.

“Just now. Seems there are a lot of things I can do on a whim.”

Her heroic moment was cut short when a bolt flew at them. Using less energy, her light blade only deflected a small portion of the attack, allowing the rest through. The small chunk hit her right in the shoulder, causing her to drop her fan with a shriek. Drina dropped to her knee, reaching up to put out the fire around her clothes. A large chunk of her skin was blistering and charred. Unable to move her arm, they were defenceless. Hestar dropped down to see the wound, tears streaming down her face. Looking about she couldn’t see where any of the attacks were coming from. She was terrified.

“Drina! What do we do now?”

Before Drina could respond, several of the entities gathered in front of them slowly. They built a small circle around them, preparing to attack. Thankfully the trusty bark of Wiggles shattered a few of them as he leaped in to save the day. The charred black demon dog leaped out in front of them, his slimy tongue slithering about. He crouched low to the ground and waited for them to attack. There were four beings remaining and gathering energy to attack at once. Hestar held Drina tightly, cheering at Wiggles.

“Good boy, Wiggles!”

Drina watched dumbfoundedly. What was the mutt planning to do? Taking all the attacks at once? Apprehensive, Drina watched the several bolts launch towards them. She thought for sure they were done for, bracing against Hestar. With a crackle, a small ethereal swirl opened in front of Wiggles. His jaw unhinged, opening with a powerful vacuum. It sucked everything in the air in front of him, pulling the flaming balls of fire into the void. Happily, the mutt ate all the attacks, snapping his jaw shut. With a loud gulp, he licked delightfully at his chops.

Drina watched with wide eyes. This beast was horrifying in so many ways. She didn’t know what to think of him anymore after all she had witnessed. With a turn of his head, the mutt nodded at Drina. Without any words, she understood what he meant. It was time to leave.

“Let’s go. Wiggles can take care of this.”

Drina pushed herself up with the help of Hestar, grabbing her fan with her other injured arm.

Hestar smiled, wrapping her arm around Drina for support while they hobbled towards the hostel. “Wiggles, huh? I thought you didn’t like the name.”

“Right now isn’t the time to talk about this. Besides, if you knew what I did, you’d be afraid to upset that dog too.”

Several more spectators began to form around them with dark swirls. This pushed Drina to urge them fast.

“Right now, we need to run.”

Letting go of Drina, Hestar followed her pace. They dodged a few blasts, the doors of the hostel insight. Almost there, Drina chanted in her mind. The distance to the hostal door was within her grasp when the prickles on her skin intensified. Hestar screamed, startling Drina to whip her head back at her.

One of the blasts struck her leg directly, tripping her to the ground. Before Drina could step forward, another blast hit the ground between them. She stumbled backwards to avoid it, wedging distance between. Drina looked over her shoulder towards the door. It was so close, yet she knew they weren’t going to make it at this rate. With several spectators in the sky, Drina looked up with rage. With a cry of agony, she released the last of her soul well at once. Leaping to Hestars side, she picked her up with unearthly strength. Several blasts came at them in a hurry. Drina knew they were panicking. Using her power, she gathered it all in her legs and ran. The sheer force in her push-off crushed the earth beneath her, leaving a small crater behind.

Drina bolted towards the doors. Several attacks launched at them in a flurry, missing Drina as her body glowed with power. With all of her weight, Drina launched her body into the door. The doors busted open with a shower of splinters from the impact. It did nothing to soften the blow from the speed. Hitting the floor with a slide, Drina let out a loud grunt. The wind was knocked out of her making it hard to breathe, but she needed to know they were safe. She turned to the entranceway, holding her breath at the horde of spirits flung themselves after them. The beings’ attacks bounce off an invisible barrier, stunning and deflecting them off. A few even shot at it to no avail. The darkened entranceway lit up, revealing the full moon in the sky beyond. Each of the spectres had flown off into the night.

They made it, they were safe. With that knowledge, Drina collapsed. Her head smacked the floor hard and her world went black.

Whispering Death (part 19)

It was here. Finally, Drina could identify the culprit. She saw the dark void engulf the other side of the alleyway. The outline of a man stood behind the entity, masking their true identity. This made it hard to even spot distinctive features. Crossing her arms in front of her, Drina focused all her power to branch out into them in an attempt to create a shield. A blast launched towards her faster than she anticipated. The small shield she created shattered on impact. A second blast lanched seconds after, leaving no time for her to recover. Unable to avoid the bolt, the impact flung her back a few inches. It took everything in her to keep her balance, her feet sliding several inches out closer to the main street. Hestar screamed out to her, frozen against the wall in fear while she watched. The force of the bolt knocked the wind out of Drinay leaving her unable to warn Hestar a second time to run.  

    There was no way Hestar could see the spirit, never mind the man standing at the other end due to the lighting. With how hard the spirit could attack a living being, Hestar was in danger. The spirit slowly made its way down the small corridor towards them. Its hands raised gathering more energy, this time Drina could see it spiralling into form. Gasping hard for air, Drina crossed her arms once more to prepare for another blast. With a small burst of her soul-well, she created an ethereal shield to protect her. It wasn’t large enough to surround her but at least a direct hit would deflect any damage the entity threw at her. Sure enough, the spirit swiped its arm out in front and hurled another blast towards her. Drina was ready this time.

Pushing to her knees, she braced her fragile shield with all her might. The slam was stronger than the last, negative emotion wove deep into the bolt. Drina’s shield dissolved around from the residual fierce emotion. Holes burned through her protection as it ate outwards. Small cinders flaked from the shield floating off like ash. Anger, Drina realized. The master of this spirit was furious and the entity fed off it. Flakes of the burning rage hit her skin, burning her skin like a hot iron poker fresh from the fire. Drina cried out at the sudden pain, dropping her arms to the ground. The small burns flared into small blisters within seconds. It was enough to make Drina shake in fear.

Hestar saw the burns and leap from the wall towards her. Unsure how to help or what to do, she grabbed at Drina’s shoulder to pull her up from the ground.

“Get up. Please, Drina get up!”

Drina grimaced, grabbing at Hestar to accept the help. The spectral ghost closed in towards them as she wobbled to her feet. There was no way Drina would be able to conjure a shield in time to protect them both. Especially since the blasts were lethal with passionate anger embedded. Whoever controlled this being was pissed and had a death wish for Drina’s interference. Frantically looking about, she looked for Wiggles. Where was the mutt? Did he leave while they were making out? Cursing out loud, she called out to the beast.

Leg’halim! Mutt, where the hell are you?!”

 Turning around, Drina pulled Hestar out into the street and ran. Not letting go of her hand, Drina knew they would be safe at the hostel. If they could get past the door’s threshold, there was nothing the mystery man could do to them. Hestar struggled to keep up while Drina kept pulling her in tow. Unable to keep the pace, Hestar tripped. Stumbling to the ground, she almost took Drina down with her. Drina let go of her hand to avoid falling. Quickly kneeling beside her, Drina checked her legs and feet for injuries. They needed to keep moving.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.”

Drina grabbed her arm, pulling her up as she stood. “Come, let’s go. We are almost at the…”

Drina froze. The air suddenly stilled around them, sending chills up her spine. Dread prickled across her skin and deep into her core. It was already nearby. The sharp tingle to her left side warned her of an attack, but it was too late. Spotting the spectator’s blast, it was already on its way and burning brighter than before. Time slowed down while Drina watched it head directly for her. Without thinking she flung Hestar with all her might towards the hostel’s direction. In the momentum, she jumped backwards to avoid the attack, dodging most of the blast. The bolt swirled with fire and smoke, radiating intense heat as it passed by. Unable to pull her arm away in time, it made contact with her skin. The bolt charred it instantly as the pain erupted through Drina. A blue light shot out around Drina as she let out a silent scream. Hestar watched in horror as she hit the ground once more.

“Drina!”

Only the sound of Hestar’s cry echoed the walls while Drina stumbled backwards in the silent bubble. Drina held her arm to her chest in anguish. The spirit had made its way to the middle of the street between them. Hestar was unable to see it, and as Drina yelled to warn her, her voice was unheard. Hestar could only see the mouthed words. Run.

Shaking her head, Hestar refused. Not without Drina! Pushing into a stand, she took a step forward. Wiggles to leap out in front of her, cutting her off from pursing forward. He barked viciously, growling in a deep unearthly tone. Hestar had heard this sound before.

Hope sparked into Drina’s eyes at the sight of the mutt. He finally decided to show up and could now protect Hestar. Holding out her unharmed arm, Drina focused all her power into the palm of her hand. A small blue ball formed and released into a small blast of her own. It wasn’t enough to do any damage, but it shot right through the malicious ghost’s torso. Angry sparks of flame sprung from its body as it turned to face Drina with hollow eyes. With one last look at Hestar, Drina pierced her eyes with determination. Filling her hand with as much power as she could, she shot at the spirit once more before turning to run. The small bubble around her dissipated once she took a step out into a puff of smoke. With all her might, Drina ran.

Drina could hear Hestar’s cry even after she turned down the first road. All Drina wanted was to drive the spirit further away from Hestar. She continued to make a series of twists and turns down roads and alleyways. Once she could shake it off her trail, Drina could make her way back to the hostel. Or at least that was her plan. The farther she ran, the more lost she became. The area was unfamiliar and new. Now she remembered why being with Hestar was a good idea; to keep her from getting lost. Unable to distinguish her location anymore, Drina slowed down to catch her breath. Her breaths were hard and labored, not to mention her energy was running low. Pressing hard against the closest building, she peered around the corners.

Her ethereal vision helped her see in the dark, turning the world into a lighter shade of blue. It was eerie, although helpful in this case. It dawned on her as she looked about that not a single regular ghost was in sight. Drina held her breath, scanning up into the sky around her and even around the ground. How odd that there was no one in sight at all. Drina released a slow even breath, taking a moment longer to calm down as she rubbed her hand along her burning arm. The pain was excruciating. Examining the damage, she was grateful it only grazed along the top from her elbow to her wrist. The amount of damage the spirit managed to cause was worrisome. The ties of the spirit to the living person were much more than a regular spiritual summon.

Reaching into her pockets, she pulled out everything she had. The dragon’s bloodstone Lulu gave her, the moon crescent necklace she bought Ocen, and her fan. None of these items were useful to her. Even if she had her dagger, she doubted it would damage a spirit. Drina slammed her head against the wall in frustration and slid to the ground to sit. She had no idea what she was doing. Looking down at the necklace, Drina traced her finger along the moon-shaped trinket. All she wanted was to live a peaceful life with her sister. Ever since coming to this town, it had been everything but peaceful. With a heavy sigh, Drina glanced at her fan. With a disappointed frown, she glared at the fan.

“You have been nothing but a curse to my family. I should have buried you in the dirt alongside mother…”

Drina squeezed the fan within her hand tightly. Her fist shook with anger at the item before she released the tension. There was no point getting mad at an inanimate object. Drina pocketed the stone and necklace then traced the roses embedded into the wood of her fan. She traced down the spine to the hilt and spotted the chain attached. Grabbing the dangling chain, she inspected the intricately carved roses. Drina began to roll them in her fingers out of habit. The row of gems and beads always brought comfort to her. Memories of the chain jogged an idea. Holding the fan up in front of her, Drina remembered the use of it.

“I can pendulum directions back to the hostel,” Drina whispered to herself before scoffing in disbelief.

How could she forget the one common trick up her sleeve? Many times when she had gotten lost with Ocen and this method had saved them. Pushing herself up, she dusted her pants off and began to enclose her power. The less she leaked around her, the harder it would be to find her trail and follow her. Her soul-well still had much left, ample enough to help her until dawn. Hopefully, she wouldn’t have to wait until then. Sunlight would weaken the attacks of the spirits and she would be safe. Sharing a small bit of her power into the fan, the pendulum began to move. Starting with a small circle, then growing into a larger one, she waited for it to spin at a constant equal pace.

“Take me to Ocen.”

The pendulum spun a few more times before it change its course to swing northeast to southwest. Drina smirked as it pointed her in the right direction. If she had strayed off course, it would adjust itself naturally. Same if she had turned in the wrong direction it would spin into a circle until she faced the right path. It was a simple technique, one she rarely needed to use. Facing the northeast, she waited for confirmation before slowly making her way back.

“I’ll see you soon, Hestar..”

Whispering Death (part 15)

Drina was all ears to Lulu’s plans. All of her plans had only caused more issues, making it difficult for everyone. Crossing her arms, she leaned back into her chair. “Alright. I will listen.”

Lulu smiled with a nod. “It is nothing fancy, but it is better than nothing. Since I can protect us in the hostel, no one will be able to attack here. You can leave freely without protection as long as you have the mutt.”

Hestar laughed. “How is a dog going to help?”

It was easy to see how it would be humorous putting all the faith in a canine beast. The outside appearance of the mutt was that of any regular crossbreed of a dog. Drina knew better, especially after seeing its demon form. Speaking up for Lulu, Drina explained.

“This mutt isn’t any regular beast. You may have noticed when it joined me on the stage how sudden everything calmed down. This breed is actually called “Eth’skial’. Hellhound in the common tongue. They are an old being that is a bridge between the plains. They protect the living realm from spiritual attacks, be that from stray ghosts or from another human. For a price though.”

Before Hestar could ask what the price was, Lulu continued on. “And since it has chosen you, this may be beneficial. Not often does one get the honor to be picked freely. It may seem that you either are in great need or in grave danger. With this, it will be a tool you will need in order to succeed. Especially if it is one that Mr.Gafrald has owned.”

Drina glanced down at the mutt curled up at her feet. It perked his head up towards her with a tilt. Raising a brow, she spoke to it. “Guess we are going to be pals the next few days.”

Ocan broke from Hestar’s arm, jumping up from the table to kneel beside the mutt. “Oh! What should we name him?”

With disgust, Drina could barely keep the dismay in her tone. “Name it?! Why on earth would you want to? It will think we want to keep it!”

Ocan whined, wrapping her arms around the mutt to hug it close to her.

Hestar teased Drina with a chuckle. “Didn’t take you to be a dog hater.”

Blushing, she whipped her head towards Hestar. “Did you hear what I said? This isn’t a regular dog!”

The mutt sprung up, lapping at Ocan’s face as she giggled. Drina felt queasy just from the thought. If they knew what true form it beheld, she had a feeling they wouldn’t take as kindly to it either. Sneaking a peek towards Lulu, she hoped at least she would agree with her. Instead, Lulu only smiled, raising her finger to her lips.

“Look Drina! It’s a boy. What if we called him Wiggles?” Ocan plopped the mutt into her lap, scratching at his belly. The hound lazily dropped his tongue out the side of his mouth, panting with a grin. Drina smacked her palm against her face.

“There is no way in hell I will call him Wiggles.”

Hestar leaned in, grinning. “Oh yeah? What would you call him instead?”

Removing her hand from her face, she stood from her chair to squad down to the mutt. He lifted his snout, waiting to see what she would say. He was scarily aware of the conversation more than he should have been. Thinking back to his burnt-looking appeal, she grinned mischievously at the beast.

“Blaze.”

The mutt sneezed at her, bearing his teeth at her while Ocan frowned.

“I like Wiggles better.” Wiggles yipped with approval, making Ocan smoosh his face with attention. “I think he likes it!”

Shrugging, Drina stood up. “I thought mine was pretty good.”

She walked around the two on the floor towards the door. The appetite she had before the conversation was long gone, most of it attributed to Ocan touching the mutt. Just thinking of touching him threatened Drina’s empty stomach to expel.

Almost to the door, Hestar called out to her. “Where are you going?”

Drina paused to turn around, fear and curiosity clear across Hestar’s face.

“I’m going to start my investigation. I’ve wasted enough time here and need to solve this as soon as possible.”

Hestar leaped from the chair. “Not without me.”

“What? No. You’re staying here with Lulu and Ocan. You heard Lulu, it will be enough to protect you.”

Scoffing with a determined smile, Hestar sped across the room to stand in front of her. “Not a fat chance. I am not going to be holed up here while you put yourself in any further danger. Besides, you will need help navigating the town. I know every road, back alley, and shop in this town. You’ll need me.”

Dropping her jaw, Drina crossed her arms definitely. “I don’t need-”

“No. She’s right, Drina. You can’t afford to waste time wandering around the town getting lost.”

Dropping her arms, Drina growled with irritation. “How is it a good idea to take the person whose fate is death, might I remind you, to tag along with me finding where the malicious Spector is from?!”

Hestar’s eyes widened as a thought clicked. “Maybe… if you look for the murderer, you will find the ghost. These events might actually be connected.”

Hit with realization, Drina had to agree. The boy had been kidnapped and the spirit seemed to be tied to it for some reason. Was the killer working alongside it? Facing Hestar, Drina sighed.

“You are onto something. Although, I am no detective. This is well above me. How do we even start to look for a killer?”

Lulu stood up from the table, making her way around the table towards them. “If you are looking for a killer, start with the boy. I don’t know who Marcus is, but I can bet a good place to ask around in the market.”

Hestar smugly huffed with a smile. “And no one knows that market better than me. Come on, we should get started. I know you need something to eat and people speak more freely when coins flow in.”

She walked past Drina, heading down the hall to the front. Biting her tongue, Drina placed her hands on her hips. Looking down at the mutt who sat by her side, she glared with a frown. “You better keep her safe. Not just for my sake.”

Wiggles yipped with a happy tail wag, trotting off after Hestar. It was worrisome just how much the hound could understand, making it both intriguing and terrifying to Drina. Glancing back once more to Ocan, Drina offered a weak smile.

“We will be back as soon as we can. Please don’t cause trouble for Lulu.”

Lulu chuckled, reaching into her pocket to hand her a stone. “I would say she is the least of my worries. Here. This is to help keep you calm.”

It was a dragon’s blood gem, one Drina had owned several of at one time or another. With a smirk, she took it from Lulu and held it tightly in her hand.

“Thank you again.” With that, she turned towards the hall. Ocan called out behind her with a giggle.

“Be safe and have fun on your date!”

Stopping with a sharp pivot, Drina barked back at her sister while crimson red in the cheeks. “This is not a date!”

Drina watched Lulu smack Ocan upside the head before hastily walking the rest of the hallway. Stopping quickly in the room they spent the night in, Drina grabbed her satchel and double-checked all her things. Grabbing out her fan, Drina paused. She was still a little flustered from being teased, yet holding the fan helped somber her. If only she had never owned the heirloom. Holding it to her lips, she closed her eyes with a small prayer. “You got me into this, now get me out.”

It wasn’t much of a prayer, but she wasn’t a pious woman. The sound at the door startled her as she shot her eyes wide and turned. At the door was Hestar calmly watching her with a smile. “Are you ready?”

Her eyes caught the sight of the fan while Drina nodded. Placing the fan back inside her satchel, she turned it on her hip and walked towards the door. Stopping short, Drina fidgeted with her fingers.

“I uh… to say before we go. I am sorry about the premonition. If I never got involved you-”

Hestar placed her finger on Drina’s lips to silence her. Stepping closer, she removed her finger to kiss her lightly. “Would it have mattered one way or the other? I don’t believe in fate or destiny. We forge our own paths, do we not? How I live my life won’t change knowing or not knowing if I am going to die today or years from now.”

Grabbing Drina’s hands into her own, Hestar pulled her out of the room while stepping slowly backward.

“I only care about saving you and spending what time I can with you.”

Mesmerized by her, Drina followed willingly. “W-why me?”

“Well for one, you are extremely beautiful. Second, I love your stubbornness. It’s cute.”

“Stubborn?! I don’t think I have ever heard that being a quality someone would fall for.”

Hestar broke into a giggle, letting go of one of her hands to lead her. “Things may surprise you for what people could fall in love with.”

The word ‘love’ made Drina gasp while her heart skipped a beat. With a hard yank, she pulled Hestar back towards her. It caught her off guard causing her to trip. She lost balance and fell towards Drina’s body. Catching her, Drina wrapped her arm around her and pushed her against the wall, her body in full contact with hers. The sound of Drina’s beating heart was all she could hear while looking deep into Hestar’s startled eyes. The violet pools drew her in, unwilling to let her escape. The question lingering in her mind needed answering, one Drina would not let go of until she asked. In a whisper, Drina got the courage to ask.

“You could have anyone. Anyone from the town or passing by. What makes you say you could fall in love with me?”

Hestar’s breath was quick and warm against her face. “Because since the first day we locked eyes, my heart hasn’t stopped pounding. Not a moment passes when I am not thinking about you. Call it strange or whatever you like, but in the short amount of time we’ve known each other I can’t help but feel I’ve been waiting for you.”

The image of the swan from her fan flashed across Drina’s memory. Biting at her bottom lip, she couldn’t deny Hestar’s feelings. Skeptical at first, yes. Yet everything Hestar felt had been mutual. This no longer was just because of her prediction and wanting to save some person’s life. Drina wanted to save her because she loved her in return. With renewed faith, Drina had something to fight for. Still holding her hand, Drina pulled them away from the wall and released her arm around her waist. Instead, she cupped her face with a determined smile.

“We are going to solve this mystery then, saving you and breaking my blood-bind. Then after, maybe I can stay in this town a little while longer. I have yet to see more of the town and what it has to offer. I hear you are an expert in such an area.”

Hestar smiled, clasping her hand to Drina’s along her face. “It’s a date.”

Wiggles barked loudly at the two before anything further could occur. Both of them jumped at the sound, breaking into a laugh at the sight. Baring his teeth at the two, he looked irritated at the delay. Drina could take a hint when she saw one, they had wasted enough time as it was.

“Alright, Alright. Time to move it. Let’s go.”

Drina stepped forward, this time leading Hestar out towards the door, their hands interlocked.

Whispering Death (part 14)

Lulu slammed her hand against the table, furious with Drina. “Talk to us! Stop keeping everything in the dark! You’ve dug yourself deep and if you only just open up, we can help you!”

Refusing to speak to anyone further after Mr. Gafrald left, Drina pushed past Lulu, Hestar, and Ocan to grab something to eat from the common room. Hardly having any sleep, Drina thought it was pointless to bother getting any further rest since now her time was limited. Drina had no one to blame but herself for everything transpiring, dragging anyone else down with her would only jeopardize them. Grabbing a glass from the cupboard, she poured herself water from the jug.  Taking a sip, she tried to block out the ghostly wails and the stinging eyes digging into the back of her head. For once, Drina actually wished for a stiff drink instead as she chugged the glass. Placing the glass down on the counter, she closed her eyes to try and focus. All the while, Lulu continued to berate her.

“Drina, you can’t keep this up. I can feel you losing control of yourself. How much longer do you think you can deal with this on your own? Those gypsies… you have no idea what you are getting yourself into! It’s not just festivals and shows they travel around for!”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, she pushed the spirits aside. Speaking in a low soft tone, it took everything in Drina to keep it together.

“You don’t think I am aware? I know what will happen.”

Lulu stepped forward, keeping Ocan behind her. “Then why? Why did you agree to a blood binding!? If it was coin you needed so badly, I could have provided you work here instead.”

Drina was losing her patience. All she wanted was to be left alone to deal with the mess she created. Finding the spirit that was now bound to her was her main goal, even though Hestar was still in danger. Digging her fingers into the cup, she took a deep breath to calm her emotions even though it was proving to be useless. The ghosts had even begun to mock her. 

“It wasn’t about the coin. I am fine and I can deal with this. Once I clear the contract and  lay low, Ocan and I be on our way.”

This time, Ocan spoke up. Pushing around Lulu she tried to plea with her. “Lana, please stop trying to protect me alone. They just want to help us. Why did you do this after all the times you told me never to sign a blood bind?” 

All at once, Drina felt herself crash. There was no fighting it any longer as the walls caved in all around her. Spinning around in a whirl, she snarled at Ocan.

“Because Hestar is going to die!”

The words slipped out faster than she could stop herself. That was not what she intended to say, but it was too late. The looks across each of their faces made her panic. Grabbing at her hair, she cried out in frustration. 

“The first night we came, I read her fortune. The prediction was one caused by unnatural death, which can only lead to one thing: Murder. I didn’t share the reading with her and thought maybe I could do this without causing a panic. Instead, I’ve just made things worse and possibly put us all in danger because of it. If I do this alone, at least then I won’t put anyone else’s life on the line.”

Drina crossed her arms, hugging herself tightly while turning away in shame. She could not bear to see their reactions to her poor choices. Tears streamed down her face, ones she didn’t even realize she had been shedding. The sound of a chair pulled out as Hestar slowly sank down at the table. 

“It’s just a reading so it could be wrong, right?” Hestar’s voice was weak with disbelief. Ocan walked over to sit beside her, placing her hand on her shoulder. 

“Lana’s predictions are never wrong. I’ve seen them time and time again. But if she thinks she can stop it, then there is hope.” Looking towards her sister, Ocan confidence faltered as her voice wavered. “Right? You can do that?”

Drina lowered her head. How was she supposed to answer that? This was something she never learned or dealt with in the past. Even while her mother taught her how to use her power, the only warning she received was to never tamper with fate. Biting at her bottom lip, she closed her eyes in a frown. With a loud sigh, Lulu threw her hands up in the air. 

“You girls. What am I going to do with you all? In all my years running this place, I have never come across such troublemakers!”

Lulu approached Drina, taking her into her arms for a hug. It was unexpected as Drina stiffened at the contact, only to slowly melt into her embrace. It was comforting.

“We will figure something out. If you saw this, then I believe it.” She released Drina and tapped her finger on the bottom of her chin. “Don’t despair, everything happens for a reason. As a traveler myself, I understand the threads of fate, how they intertwine with each person to weave patterns we can’t comprehend.”

Shock plastered across all the girl’s faces as Lulu left Drina’s side to sit at the table with the others. Drina turned to face them as well, interested in learning more at a distance. She looked at the mutt sitting across the room and offered her hand towards it. Maybe sharing some of her power would calm her emotions to tame the ghosts around her. While the Mutt rushed to her side, Lulu continued. 

“I left my band to settle here. No one knew me and it gave me a chance to start life anew. I know it must be tough, wandering alone without guidance or knowing where you belong. I built this place for people like you and Hestar. For those without purpose or are lost. You being called to this place was no mistake.”

Ocan removed her hand from Hestar’s shoulder, resting her head against her instead. To comfort her, Hestar wrapped her arm around her while she glanced towards Drina. Still feeling ashamed, Drina avoided her gaze, allowing the mutt to lap at her hands until it was satisfied. With a few circles, it flopped down at her feet to rest. If Drina had not known the truth of the beast, it would have passed off as a regular puppy. At least the whispers of the beyond had calmed, giving her a chance to think clearly.

“What power or spell have you placed on this place?”

Lulu smiled with a huff. “Right to the point as always. Protection and peace. Those are my specialties. When I lived with my band, it was my duty to set it up. It kept us safe numerous times, again and again.”

Ocan spoke up, curiosity twinkling in her eyes at the story. “Why did you leave?”

“Simple: I longed to travel. To see the world and meet people. I was granted my pilgrimage, welcome to return any time. Yet shortly after I left, they were decimated. I had learned of it only years later when I returned. If I had not left that night, they would have been saved. I do not regret my choice in life, though. It helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life rather than regretting what I’ve done or could have. With that knowledge, I decided to set this place up here with the same power. Anyone who walks through the door is under the spell. It allows them to feel at ease and safe.”

Drina sighed heavily. “It’s no wonder why we have let our guard down here then.”

Bursting out with a hearty laugh, Lulu turned to face Drina. “You, my dear, have been the hardest shell to crack! You are strong against the influence and have much distrust to let go.”

The direct comment made Drina’s face heat up, her embarrassment causing the other girls to laugh. Sure she was not one to just give in and trust those around her, but it was what kept her and Ocan safe after all these years of running. 

“Yeah, well…I have my reasons!” In a pout, she crossed her arms.

“And there is nothing wrong with that. You’ve done a good job watching over both you and your sister alone. None shall fault you for it. I know you struggle to let go of your past and so I promise that while you are under my care, no harm will come to either of you. You are not alone in this, we can help each other figure this out.”

Lulu extended her hand to the chair beside her, offering Drina to join them. It was an offering to include her instead of her keeping her distance from them all. Shuffling against the counter, she debated if she wanted to finally accept her help. Really, what choices did she really have? Doing it alone with no idea where to start? Drina had already done so much damage alone that maybe she needed to accept that there would be progress with others. What else did she have to lose? Ocan, she thought. If she didn’t stop making more mistakes she could lose her if she was not careful. Admitting defeat, she pushed away from the counter and slid into the chair. With Lulu being a traveler and having power, there was hope. Resting her fingers on her lap, she fidgeted waiting for what was next.

Offering a smile, Lulu patiently crossed her fingers on her lap. “Good. Now could you please tell us, what’s going on?”

Drina took a deep inhale, slowly releasing it as she recalled the memories of the previous night. There was no point in hiding anything anymore. She needed to be open and honest if she was to get anything accomplished. 

“During the seance, I was attacked by a dark spectral. I don’t know what it is, or its the purpose, but I do know that by summoning it I was able to see Marcus even though he was alive. My power isn’t strong enough to communicate with anyone from this plane so I shouldn’t have been able to. And now if Mr. Gafrald is right, I am bound to it all because it was attached to the boy. Saving the boy means I took his place. Unless I can find where it is coming from, the seance is not complete and it will have a tether to the living plane. Being taken by Mr. Gafrald is the least of my worries if I have a tag along.” 

Lulu propped her arms up, resting her face against her crossed hands in thought. “What about Marcus? What happened when you returned to town with him?”

Drina shrugged. “The usual I suppose. Guards questioned me to no end, asked me where I’ve come from and been since in town, asked me to show on a map with the men that assisted me where we found him before letting me go. Marcus went home with his parents and thanked me for saving him. I didn’t get a chance to really speak to him since it all happened so quickly and probably won’t get another opportunity to. They sent protection to guard the house in case the kidnapper might attempt a second try, not that I believe they would.”

Hestar frowned. “What makes you think that?”

For the first time that day, Drina locked eyes with her. Concern was plastered across her face while she continued to comfort Ocan. It was endearing, tugging at Drina’s heart. How could she be destined to such a fate while being such a gentle and kind being? It made Drina want to save her all the more. 

“Because they will be targeting me. I’ve impeded them from completing their task and have put everyone, including the guards on high alert. Being that I am from out of town and a traveler, no one would think twice if I were to go missing so quickly.” 

Drina paused with a sigh, rubbing her fingers at her temple. “I was planning that once I got the money from Mr.Gafrald that Ocan and I would lay low for a while before leaving town. That way the attention of the town would hopefully drift away from us and we could draw the culprit out. If he tried to attack us, we would be waiting for him.”

Lulu scoffed at the plan. “And what would you be able to do against him?”

“A hell of a lot more than most people. I am no stranger to a predator.” Drina withdrew a dagger from her side, flipping it in a flashy show that she faced Lulu. “Plus I have my powers to aid me.”

Ocan looked over to Drina with a deeply saddened face. “But now you’re going with Mr. Gafrald. We can’t leave together if you have the contract.”

Drina chewed on her lip, looking to Ocan. “I know. I am sorry Ocan.”

Lulu tapped her finger on the table. “Don’t give up yet. I think I may yet have a plan to help get you out of this mess.”

Whispering Death (part 13)

“Where is she!” 

    The loud booming voice startled Drina awake from the voidless sleep. Several muffled words were exchanged before another roar of the angry male’s voice could be heard. 

    “I don’t care! I demand to speak with her!”

    A small chill ran along Drina’s spine. Sitting up, she looked beside her to Ocan still lightly snoring away. It must have still been early enough in the day, meaning Drina only got a few hours of sleep. Brushing her hair out of Ocan’s face she listened intently to the commotion. With the rest of the exchange muffled, she could only ascertain the person outside was looking for her. The tone of the male was disgruntled, and Drina assumed it could only be one person. Quietly standing up to keep Ocan asleep, she rushed towards the door and snuck outside. Closing the door behind her, Drina’s suspicions were confirmed as Mr. Gafrald growled. 

“My dealings will only be through Madam Drina and I will not leave until I have spoken to her. Stand aside and let me pass!”

“Well, I am afraid she is unavailable until later. Come back when my doors are open. I do not take kindly to this intrusion and will call for the guards.”

Lulu’s voice was pleasant yet stern, not budging from the persistence received from Mr. Gafrald. The room Drina and Ocan had slept in was just around the wall from the reception desk, hiding her presence from the front foyer. Pressing close to the wall, Drina attempted to sneak forwards to eavesdrop. Only she was not aware the mutt had been just underfoot, stepping on his paw and causing him to yelp. Glaring at the mutt, her cover had been blown. Stepping out and around the corner, Drina came to face the group. Mr. Gafrald was accompanied by two of his henchmen. His face was red from fury and once they made eye contact, he had pierced his lips. Lulu stood off to the side, clasping her hands in front patiently to allow them to speak. Before she could greet her with good mornings, Mr. Gafrald stepped forward.

“What have you done? Here you promise a show like nonother and instead you cause me hundreds of dollars and bring authorities to bombard the festival sight!”

    Drina sighed, crossing her arms lazily in front of her. It was too early for confrontations. 

    “I promised a Seance, you got one. How was I suppose to know there was a kidnapping? I do what my powers ask of me. You know this is the risk from a gypsy. We found the boy and the townsfolk are happy.”

    Gasping from her backtalk, he ground his teeth. Looking to the hound at her feet he pointed accusatory, raising his voice once more. “What about the mutt? You stole property from me!” 

    Unfazed, she waved her hand at him. “Then take him back. I do not want him anyways. It joined me on the stage from its own will. By all means, come claim him for yourself.” 

    Mr. Gafrald hesitated, lowering his hand as he looked to his henchmen. With a furious head tilt towards the animal, he slapped the arm of the closest man with a harsh whisper. 

“Well?! Go grab it!”

Both the henchmen shuffled, unwilling to be the first one to step forward. Drina knew that even though Mr. Gafrald’s threat was real, it was not his choice if the mutt wanted to stay or leave. Clearly by the defensive position the hound took once the man to his left stepped forward, it was clear it did not want to leave just yet. Slowly and timidly he approached the dog, reaching out to grab it by the scruff. With a snap, the hound barked an unearthly sound, snipping at the hand. The henchmen jumped back in fear, almost tripping into Mr. Gafrald at the sudden lurch backward. It was comical to watch the men argue amongst themselves while the mutt sat only a few feet from her. 

“That’s unfortunate. Eventually, it will make its way back once done it’s purpose, I am sure.” Tilting her head smugly, she couldn’t help but gloat. “If there isn’t anything else, I would like to collect my payment later. I will come to your tent at an appropriate time.”

Turning her back to Mr. Gafrald she expected the conversation to end, leaving him defeated to leave with his tail between his legs. Instead, she was greeted with a sinister chuckle before even taking a full step. 

“Oh Madam, your not getting your payment just yet.”

Fear paralyzed her from moving. Was he grasping at straws at the loss of his mutt? No way he could deduct the payment from her since he needed to fulfill his end of the deal. Turning to face him, she felt the blood drain from her face at the sight of the contract paper.  The flattened paper still held the seal unbroken and fully intact. 

“Impossible,” Drina whispered as dread filled her. Indeed he was not lying, the proof in his hands. Pivoting on her heel, she rushed towards him to grab the paper from his hand. Checking the seal first just to make sure, she glared up at Mr. Gafrald. 

“Afraid not, Madam. You failed to uphold your end of the bargain. Go ahead, check it. The seal broken by your hand will not erase the name.”

Unable to hide the terror on her face, Drina looked back to the paper. To her side, she heard Lulu’s words under her breath. “Drina… You didn’t…”

From behind her, Hestar joined in beside Lulu. “What’s going on. Why are these people here?”

Everything was falling apart before Drina. Breaking the seal open, she unraveled the paper. There was no mistake that it was the original the moment she saw her name on the bottom line. Staring at the page, her hands trembled while she tried to make sense of everything. How could she not have completed the contract? She did everything she was supposed to. They agreed to a seance and nothing more, yet how was the paper still here? Once a blood bind was completed, the paper would turn to ash leaving nothing behind. It was a way to know true fulfillment was complete. Until then, she was bound to him. Mr. Gafrald allowed it to sink in before leaning forward, whispering into her ear.

“Whatever ghost you provoked, it is now bound to you. The seance is not complete until you untie the spirit from this plain.” Pulling back, he touched the side of her face, tracing his finger lightly down towards her chin. Gripping it lightly, he tugged Drina to look at him. “Didn’t your mother teach you this?”

His words were venomous, sinking deep into Drina’s skin. Lifting her hand to strike him, a sudden jolt of pain stopped her. Mr. Gafrald took a step back, looking at her hand with confidence. 

“I guess not. With an oath unfulfilled, you are now my property. This is very fortuitous for me. I get two mutts for the price of one.”

Dropping her hand, Drina stared helplessly at the floor. What has she done? How was she going to free herself from his enslavement? Closing her eyes, she accepted her fate. Drina needed to pay the price for her mistake, there was no fighting this. 

“I… I have no choice.”

Hestar broke from Lulu’s side, looking about everyone with teary eyes. “No. You can’t take her!” 

Lulu grabbed firmly at her arm, pulling her back to her side. “They can and will. She made a deal. There is nothing we can do.” 

Unable to understand, Hestar frantically looked from Lulu to Drina, seeing her defeat.

“Drina… No! What about Ocan?!”

Pulling Hestar’s arm hard, Lulu dragged her towards the common room. “Ocan isn’t going. She isn’t bound by the contract. She can stay here until Drina serves her contract out.” 

Drina felt the cold icy stab of Lulu’s words hit her heart. All she wanted to do was protect Ocan and instead, she let herself become a slave. The pain hurt worse at the small meek sound of her sister’s voice calling out from behind her.

“Why are they taking her? Lana where are you going!?” Lulu ran to stop Ocan from running to Drina’s side, grabbing her around the waist while still holding strong to Hestar. 

“Hush girl! Don’t make this worse for her!”

Mr. Gafrald laughed humorlessly. “Lana is it? Such a display. Let’s be off, the money lost isn’t going to recover itself.”

He turned towards the door as a sharp tug pulled like an invisible string on her chest, pain crushing at her heart. It was a tether that locked her to him, making it impossible to fight unless she chose death. Opening her eyes, she could only follow. The sounds of sobbing behind her from Ocan and Hestar caused a separate kind of pain to swallow her chest. There had to be a way to finish the contract without being taken slave until the spirit’s bound was broken. An idea slammed her hard, causing her to gasp out loud. Stopping in her tracks she felt the crushing of her heart tighten from the short distance placed between her and Mr. Gafrald

“Wait.” 

It was enough for him to stop and slowly turn to glance back at her with irritation. 

“Let’s make a deal.”

Mr. Gafrald stroked at his chin. “Why would I make another deal with you when you currently already have one broken?”

Drina swallowed hard, knowing it was not going to be an easy persuasion. “Call it a contract amendment.”

With a cold stare, he considered for a moment. “Alright, I will listen.”

“After the full moon, the full effects of the vail weakening still lasts for the next few days. Give me three days to break the bond with the spirit and fulfill the contract.”

Mr. Gafrald scoffed. “And what do I gain out of this?”

“You keep the money I made and take credit for helping dispatch a plaguing specter. Saying it was all your idea and that you take responsibility for assisting in abolishing such a hindering force will repair your reputation and gain you more respect. Think of the fame it will bring your band for being so honorable. Not to mention removing all suspicion that you may have caused it just for profit.”

Looking to his henchmen, he squinted out of the corner of his eyes at her, still unconvinced. “And if you don’t manage to finish in three days?”

Drina sighed heavily. “Then I serve out my term for 5 years as your slave willingly. It will be more than enough to pay back the dues lost and tenfold. My power is for you to use and profit. And at the end of the service, I leave empty-handed. Nothing gained and nothing lost.” 

“Lana, don’t!” Ocan screamed out before her mouth was covered by Lulu’s hand.

Mr. Gafrald weighed the options carefully, taking calculated steps forward until he was inches from her face. Extending his hand in front of her, he held her gaze. 

“Deal.”

Rolling the contract up once more, she placed it into his hand. The moment the paper touched his hand, the pressure around her heart released. With an unhindered breath, Drina inhaled deeply. Leaving the contract in her hands, Mr. Gafrald stormed out of the building, his henchmen heavy on his trail. Safely knowing he was not coming back, Drina’s legs gave out as she crumpled to the floor.

Whispering Death (part 12)

Drina let out a long and exhausted sigh, pressing her head against the door to the entrance of the hostel. She couldn’t take any more of this night and just wanted to sleep. Although, the moment she stepped inside the building there was no way Lulu nor Ocan would allow it without answers. It will only be a little longer, she promised herself. If she just ripped the bandaid off quickly seeing them tonight, she could get a few hours of sleep before morning. After all that had happened, she highly doubted they would be able to leave town so easily now. Having to lie low for a while because of the events of the night, Drina planned that once the uprising had washed over, they could leave in peace. All of it was speculation, however, since she needed to speak with everyone inside before a plan could be formulated. No longer did she have full control to just do what they needed to. Ocan had a say and it was time Drina respected it. 

    Holding the handle tightly on the door, she pushed it inwards and prepared herself for the worst. The foyer was empty leaving Drina to suspect that everyone had gathered into the office instead while they waited. Before she could finish turning the corner to the hall, she was ambushed with a wind-knocking hug. Drina grunted at the blow, her body almost giving out as Ocan took the full weight. Her grip was tight and relentless around her hips, tears staining her clothes as Drina wrapped her arms around Ocan. 

    “Lana! I was so scared! I thought you were going to die on stage and I couldn’t do anything to help you!”

    Although Drina was upset that her sister using her real name, it was not the time or place to chastise her. “Ocan. I’m sorry, I am alright. I am glad to see you here safe.”

    Down the hall in the common room entrance stood both Lulu and Hestar. They watched with solemn eyes, waiting until Ocan had calmed down enough to release her death grip around Drina. Even though she was too old to be carried, Drina lifted her sister into her arms. Ocan wrapped her arms around Drina neck, hugging her gently while she held her sister close. Carrying her, she met the other two in the room. Together they head toward the couches, taking one in the far corner. 

    “Are all the guests asleep already?” Drina asked Lulu, adjusting Ocan on her lap.

    Lulu sighed, rubbing at her temple. “There are no guests tonight. In fear of what had happened, most knew you were staying here and left elsewhere. For the better, I think anyway.”

    Drina felt terrible at the news. “I am sorry to scare business away. I didn’t expect…Well I mean, I didn’t know this would happen.”

    Everything was a nightmare. The show ended poorly, the town was buzzing at the news of the missing boy being found, and to top it off, she was losing Lulu business. Closing her eyes, she rested her head against Ocan’s. How could it possibly get any worse? 

    “Lulu, I know that you refuse to take my coin, but is there a way I can repay you for everything you have done for me and Ocan?”

    There was a grumble from the women, her words leaking her frustration yet they were kind. “No, it is fine. How could I possibly take your coin after all the help Ocan has been to me? I will ask that you do something about this mutt though. He is spreading mud all over the place and I generally don’t allow animals to stay inside.”

    Drina shot her eyes open. Did she say mutt? No, there was no way. “What are you ta- AAAHHH!” 

    The feeling of a wet nose nudged at her hand, starling her. Her yell spooked Ocan causing her to jump, hitting her head against Drina’s face. The chain reaction caused both of the girls to grab at the collided parts of their body while the mutt jumped up in an attempt to sit on both their laps. Lulu sat back unamused at the sudden chaos unfurling before her while Hestar desperately tried to hold her laughter in. Dealing with both Ocan and the mutt on her lap, Drina lost her temper. She was far too tired to deal with all that was going on and shoved both of them off her lap. The dog landed on the floor while Ocan slid off to the side of her on the couch with a giggle. Standing up, she growled at the mutt. 

    “What are you doing here?! Go home!”

    Waving her hand towards the door, the mutt sat down instead, tilting its head. Ocan grumbled loudly in discontent. “Awwwweee. Can’t we keep him?”

    Drina pivoted around to face the group. “No! We can’t keep him! He is not ours! Besides, do you even know what this beast is?!” 

    Hestar spoke up, crossing her arms in defense. “Hey now, that is cruel! This dog followed us after you left the stage and never left Ocan’s side.” 

    The news was not any more comforting to Drina since she knew what it truly was. Glancing between Hestar and Ocan, they both wore puppy eyes that were hard to argue against.  “Wha….”
    She looked to Lulu for support instead. Maybe she would help her rid of the hellhound. Instead, all she did was uncross her arms to stand. “He did stay to protect Ocan. If it wants to stay, then you need to deal with it.”

Drina’s jaw dropped at the reply while Ocan cheered alongside Hestar. Palming her face with her hand, it was no use to fight it. “Fine. I will deal with it in the morning. We can talk then too. For now, I desperately need sleep.” 

Throwing her hands into the air, Drina stomped off towards the sleeping area. Hestar called out behind her to stop her. “Maybe stay in the office tonight. Since no one is here, we are going to close the room up. No need for it with so few people around.” 

Drina stopped, turning back towards her. “Wait, where are you going to sleep then?”

A small brief smirk crawled across Hestars face, one that screamed mischief. Intense heat swarmed Drina’s face. Was she going to sleep in the same room with her? It meant that they would be in close proximity without the distance the bunks offered. Once Ocan had fallen asleep, the possibilities were endless to what could happen. The idea of sleeping next to each other, feeling her warmth made her feel faint as her imagination began to wander. It was quickly squashed by Lulu, who knew the trouble Hestar was starting. 

“With me in the back room. You and Ocan will have privacy together. Alone.” 

Ocan broke out into laughter at the sudden disappointment on Drinas face, her dreams crushed in a single second. Flustered that she was caught by her sister, Drina scoffed and flew down the hall. Maybe a good cold shower would calm her, not to mention the smudged makeup, mud, and soot covering her body. She was in need of a good scrub. Heading to the bunk to remove their things, she brought them with her inside the washroom. It was strange to see the place completely empty, the intense calm in such a building made it uncomfortable. It was a good idea to spend the night in a smaller room instead of the larger one, Drina would find it harder to sleep otherwise. She didn’t mind sleeping out in the open when they had been traveling and there were no places to stay, however, it was easier to find secluded spots to shelter from on comers. Staying in such a room without other people made them an easier target to find and attack. 

Shaking off the heebe jeebes, Drina bolted the rest of the way into the washroom. The small room held several stalls, each with curtains to give privacy. A table sat just inside the stalls, far enough to keep from getting wet yet protected from passer byers from thieving while the person was rinsing. Given that no one else was with them, it gave Drina some comfort that she needn’t bring all the things into the cramped stall. Instead, she plunked it on a bench provided in the middle while she began to dig for her things. It was as good a time as any to wash her clothes since they could be hung to dry. Pulling out two bars of soap, a clean change of clothes, and her toothbrush, she set them into a small pile from the rest. 

Placing her hands on her hips in compilation, she glanced at the door while biting at her tongue. For once, there was no reason she needed to rush in and out of the shower. With a smirk, she felt confident to strip out in the open. Removing her wraps, she took time to inspect them as well for wear or tears, dropping them to the floor until she was bare. Before picking the clothes up, she inspected her arms. The red paint had smudged off and the blood was already flaking in chunks. Rubbing at her muscle in her forearm, she thought back to how it must have looked to the crowd at her using her blood to draw the markings. Letting go of her arm, she reached to look at her stomach as well, the sigil distorted with both mud and soot. Climbing through the window of the building also had scratched along her skin, leaving a jagged cut. It was small and would heal quickly leaving her unconcerned. 

Turning to face the wall where a line of mirrors hung, she caught a glimpse of the makeup on her face. The red was worn off, mostly from the use of her protection spell which ate at the color. The fact it had gone clear meant it served its purpose, which was more disturbing than relieving. Her eyeshadow had streaked down her cheeks from tears and sweat, giving her a worn and wrecked look. Scoffing at how terrible she looked, Drina grabbed her clothes and soaps with haste, turning to the stall closest to her. Tossing the bundle to the table, she turned the water on to run, letting it warm up a little first. Feeling the water with her hands, she allowed the water to soak into them, watching as the red began to trickle off and hit the floor. It mixed with the water, leaving a line as it streaked towards the drain.

It was a good thing the pigment was strong, even better it didn’t dye any surface it touched. With all the magical properties it held, it made for the best kind of paint to use for spells and rituals. Not that she knew many in the first place since her specialty was not on the same line as those skills. She only knew those that would protect her or Ocan, if she ever needed to use them. Brushing her hand against her skin, the paint washed off easily. All Drina wanted now was to remove the memory of the day’s events. Making quick work of the soap to her clothes and body, Drina felt refreshed once the water was turned off. Stepping out of the stall, she hung her wet clothes first then began to wrap the clean, dry set around her. They were not colorful like her other pair, made with blacks and shades of brown instead. Drina didn’t like wearing them as much since it reminded her of constantly being surrounded by death. The colors gave her a sense of living, brightening up her day just a little. 

Finishing the first cloth around her torso, she considered the second piece, debating if she should layer more. Looking down at her loose flowing pants and exposed stomach, she bit her lip. Was it worth wearing more clothes since she already had shown so much of her body during the seance? It wasn’t something she commonly practiced, though, with only the women left in the building, she didn’t feel the overwhelming need to be modest. Plus, the way Hestar stared did make her feel attractive. Feeling the fabric between her fingers, she decided to wrap it up again, placing it back into her bag. Maybe she could embrace her physic a little since there was no rush to leave. They would need to keep it low for a while now with all the uprising she had caused. Packing up her things, she left. In the morning she would deal with the hanging clothes so for now, she just wanted to sleep.

Whispering Death (part 11)

Running through the field with a lantern, Drina led the way for three of men from the seance to follow behind her. She was no fighter and who knew what they would face once they got to the building. The small flickering light grew the closer they got to the distillery. Over her shoulder, she yelled back to the men.

    “How long ago was this distillery abandoned?”

     A gruff voice spoke up “Not more than 3 to 4 years ago.”

    “Why was it abandoned?”

    Another man answered her from the side. “A fire. ” 

His voice was weak from the running, signaling to Drina to slow down to allow them to catch their breath. Still keeping her eye on the light of Marcus’s life, she asked another question.

    “What happened to the owners?” 

    There was a silent exchange between the men before the third man spoke. “They died in the fire.”

Drina’s attention turned to the poor men, the anguish on their faces sad it all. For the boy to be held in a place that was a source of pain made it all the harder for them. How long have they been dealing with these kinds of deaths? The urgency in the spirit voice now all made sense. She had long been ignoring them while they tried to get her attention. Was this why so many ghosts had been around? With a hardened look of determination, Drina was sure they were going to stop the cycle. There will be no murder tonight. Nodding to the men, they prepared to run once more. Drina pushed forward harder than before, straining her eye on the single clue she had.  

In the distance, a large shadow appeared, growing as they grew closer. It must have been the building Drina had thought as the light from Marcus dimmed. She slowed down to lift her lantern. Light bounced off the building several feet in front of her, confirming the distillery’s existence. With a holler, she called out to the building.

“Marcus? Answer me! Let us know if you are here!”

Holding her breath, she looked about desperately. The sounds of the men’s breath stopped as they too clenched the air tightly in their lungs to hear for anything. Looking back at the men, she waved for one to follow.

“Go around the building, in case someone runs out the back. You come with me.” No waiting for anyone, she rushed towards the building looking for an entrance. Half the building had collapsed, making it hard to peer inside. How was she going to find him in this heap? Spotting a broken window high on the wall, she dropped the lantern to the ground. 

“Quick, give me a boost.”

The man didn’t hesitate to grab unto her foot, lifting her with ease while she reached for the window sill. Practically launched up into the hole, Drina barely held steady balance from face planting on the ground within. Landing with a tumble, she made it into the darkness. Crouching low to the ground, she caught her breath, desperately trying to see anything. It was hard to hear anything outside as to where the men had gone, leaving her alone to search for Marcus. If there was another entrance, they would find it. For now all she could do was focus her ether back into her eyes. Maybe if she brought forth more of the spirit realm, it would help her see. Already weakened from the hellhound’s help, she struggled to connect it properly. The saliva must have hindered her from doing a proper job. The small bit still lingering in her left eye was all she had to work with, deciding to focus all her strength into that side. 

It took everything she had to finally see the grey colorless world. It brightened the room just enough for her to get a better picture of what was in store. The place had been scorched heavily, broken logs, crates, and barrels all toppled over each other. It made for a jungle gym to traverse. Avoiding sharp glass and edges, Drina called out to the empty building. Her voice was less confident from the dampened volume. 

“Marcus? Please, answer me. I know you’re alive. We are here to save you.” 

Nothing could be heard, not even the men if they had been still outside of the building. It was terrifyingly tranquil. Circling to look around, Drina couldn’t see anything but destruction. Her Spirit sight showed her flicking images of how the building had looked before the fire, the haunting glow of working machinery, and a clean beautiful building. The loss of such a place must have been heart-wrecking as the age of wear and tear showed how often the place had been trampled, the scuffs and marks of years along the floor and against the frames of the barrels full of brew. She took in the scale of how wide the building had been, losing focus of why she had been brought here in the first place. Later she would need to figure out how she was able to see the past, for now, Marcus was still missing. 

Drina exhaled slowly, turning back towards the path onwards. The shapes of two spirits stood in front of her, startling her as she jumped with a yelp. Covering her mouth with wide eyes, the spirits grimly stood in front of her waiting. It had been the two owners of the building that died in the fire, the charred burns across their faces and bodies overlaying their regular form. It took everything in Drina to hold back the tears in her eyes at the sight of their painful expressions. With no sign of aggression from them, Drina dropped her hands from her mouth. Did they mean to help? Swallowing hard she commanded them weakly.

“Show me where Marcus is.” 

They stood unresponsive before turning around unhurried. Pointing, they aimed both towards the wall, then to the floor. The wall had several toppled pillars from the second floor and roof leaning against it. Drina decided to take apprehensive steps towards it, looking to the floor with careful steps. Even with her spirit eye, she could see nothing along the floor. The doubt ate at her until the solid thumbs of the wooden floor alerted her. Dropping to her knees quickly, she felt at the ground, the wooden board covering the floor under the dirt. Brushing the loose soil away, she began to dig out the edges of the false door. Releasing the board, she cried out with a successful cheer. Several shouts could finally be heard just outside of the building as she pulled the wood away from the hole in the ground. 

Turning to call to the men, her voice hardly left her mouth then a cold dead hand grabbed her around the mouth. Her body was dragged back around the pillar and pressed hard against the wall. The spirits of the ghosts stood in front of her protectively, keeping her from speaking. The sound of gravel crunching froze her entire body. Afraid to breathe, Drina listened as the slow evenly paced steps walked forward to where she had just been standing. They stopped, standing in place for several seconds before the clear sound of a slam shuttered the entire building. It sounded like a wall had been broken just on the other side of the room, the voices of the men calling out for her following shortly. 

“Madam! Marcus? Where are you!” 

    The ghosts held her still, warning her not to speak with a shake of their head as they waited. Finally, the footprints bolted towards the window Drina had come from, a small glint of the light from the moon outlining the person fleeing before they hopped out the window. The cold clammy clasp around her mouth disappeared with the ghosts, leaving her free to breathe on her own as the room began to fade to black. The last of her soul well had run dry, leaving her void of any further power. It didn’t take long for the room to light up from the source of the lantern, the voice of the men callings out clearing from around the corner. 

“Madam! Shit.. did she..”

“H-here. I am here.” 

Pushing out from the wall, she stood on shaky legs to reveal her hiding place. The men waited for her to come out, allowing her to point at the floor to the exposed hole. 

“I think he’s down there, but we need to be careful. The killer is still about.”