Author Topic: Life, Unbidden  (Read 1901 times)

Jubal

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Life, Unbidden
« on: November 28, 2023, 05:49:14 PM »
Life, Unbidden
 
A Story by James Baillie



It was spring, and upon the mist-shrouded barrows grew dark purple flowers amid the grass, grown – as they say – from the blood of dead warriors. Two small feet stood amidst the stems and sand, the earth pock-marked as it was with the burrows of ground squirrels. The grassland rolled, forest patches looming on some of the slopes, bushes huddling in places where the shrikes kept their insect larders skewered on the thorns.

One small fist hammered on the door, which was just where the little fairy had said. It was a stone slab, with runes and glyphs curled around wyrmlike in the faded stone.
All of a sudden, the stone door crashed backwards and revealed only darkness within.

“I am present,” hissed a voice, “what knowledge from the ancient stones dost thou seek?”

The child was suddenly very quiet.

“Hurt?”

“You wish to bring hurt to your enemies?”

“Sh – hurt, hurthurthurt.” The child stammered as baleful red eyes could be seen peering from the shadows, and a cold chill wafted out of the cave into the spring air. A small rosette of leaves just outside the door that might have someday aimed at flowerhood promptly curled up and died. “Help, show?”

“I do not help. I offer dark secrets, the price of which is beyond the ken of mortal and man, beyond even the knowledge of the f-”

The boy looked ever more wide eyed and frantic, motioning at a leg. “Hurt!”

The undead creature contemplated the situation. The mewling creature was clearly not itself hurt and could also clearly barely speak, which meant that there was no way to find out what had happened without following, and whilst the deathless witch had absolutely no love for the fragile day-singing ways of the living, she did have a deep, deep streak of curiosity. She considered killing the little thing and simply asking his corpse, but having lived among them for so long she knew better than most that there was no guarantee the dead would be any more eloquent than the living.

 The witch covered herself with a dark cowl against the stabbing rays of the morning sun.

“Lead. On.”




The woman they came to, curled among the thickets and bleeding heavily, looked young. Was she too young to be the child’s mother? How did humans work in those respects anyway? After several centuries of death, the dead witch realised that she needed some revision on how the living functioned. Perhaps she had a stone tablet somewhere about it to refer to.

It would not be long before death called. Time for a new minion?

That said, zombies were rather annoying and the long dead witch felt she’d rather grown out of them. They just weren’t clean like a nice crow-picked skeleton. And proper mummification was such a dying art, these days.

And did she really need minions? The trouble with minions was that they attracted attention, and attention meant conflict, and conflict was a waste of her considerable time and talents. Ultimately one only ended up seeking world domination, and she wanted to rule the world she’d have to deal with heroes. And paperwork. Honestly, the paperwork wasn’t worth the trouble.

She had her musings interrupted by a frantic little tug on her robe. The mewling tiny living one was still there. And pointing at the bleeding woman.

“She will be departed soon, and ready to serve in the live hereafter.”

This statement did not, for some inexplicable reason, stop the frantic sleeve-tugging.

She looked down the bleeding limbs. A monster attack, probably? She scanned the tree-line and smelled the wafting scent of blood, putrid to her bare nostrils with its air of clinging life. Judging by the quantity, the beast would now be as much a dying soul as its erstwhile pre-

The sleeve again?

The woman’s face, half masked by dark curls and matted blood, was pallid, the last colour draining from her cheeks. She looked again at the tiny child, who had eyes the size of dinner-plates, unable to comprehend a world around him that was doing things that, even if he understood them, his small-child’s mind could not allow himself to realise.

“Witch?”

Well, it had heard of witches at least. That was progress, and a little gratifying. 

The witch looked down at the woman, and something wormed its way into her head. Not an actual worm, surely? No, she’d pickled her brain in far too much vinegar over the years for the damn things to stomach it. No, this was both better and worse – this was a thought. And a decision to be made.

The child cannot pay, said the cold thoughts of her wight’s brain. Death demands price.

Ah, said her witch’s cunning. Knowledge is value: we will not know if we do not take that payment.

We will fail, thought the wight. This is foolish, and we are not fools.

We will believe, thought the witch. And then we will see.

A hand, stinging in the sunlight, shot out from under her robes. A faint hint of magic played around it, half lost in the spring sun.

The woman’s body hovered, wrapped around suddenly with a pale air, as if taken half out of time.

“Come.” said the witch, and the child followed.




Mummification - the work needed a degree of finesse and practice that was hard to maintain in several centuries underground. The witch realised that she really needed to spend more time with fresh corpses: it had simply been too long.

Nonetheless, returning to the process, and her own unholy additions to it, would have been like greeting an old friend if the relevant concepts of greeting and friendship were familiar to the heartless and solitary inhabitant of a cold stone barrow in the rolling grasslands.

The processes involved were also, by and large, intended to be done on the dead. And this woman, whatever she was becoming, was not in fact dead. The child sat on what the witch was sure she should inform it had once been the stone table of the Elder Sacrifices of Terkakish, rituals that pre-dated and somewhat horrified even her undead sensibilities. But she supposed small children had to sit and kick their feet together somewhere, and at least examining piles of mildly cursed treasure with a curiosity level normally reserved for particularly suicidal wizards was keeping it quiet.

Could you make half an undead? Why you’d want to leave a living part was unclea- well, why you’d want to had been unclear until recently. But what a fascinating experiment! She was feeling a bit more witch and a bit less wight than she had been for quite some time, it made her feel the little rushes of power and cleverness that she’d delighted in spending the first centuries of her unlife discovering.

The woman’s right hand and leg were merely dead, but her left was mangled beyond repair, so the latter ended up needing a replacement. The wight ended up selecting an ancient Marble Wand Of Summoning. Calling the spirits of raw earth seemed like an ordinary enough mortal thing to do, and she never called them herself since the time they tried to redesign the front door with all those gauche runes.




The woman remained catatonic for a full day, and the child did start making noise eventually, though it turned out that it needed sustenance and, after some more gesticulation, it turned out that bottled vinegar and coagulated blood were not acceptable to the small being. She found some sort of satisfactory brown lump, named by her uninvited guest as a bikkit, in the woman’s belongings. The little boy slept after that.

A few hours later, she looked down at her… creation. The dead fingers twitched and the grafted wand flickered as the woman slept. She would be, if not fine, about forty percent alive and a hundred percent capable. And could take the child away before it swallowed something it shouldn’t.

She looked at the little human. Why had it come to her? What name had it uttered to be sent her way, and what had the child expected?

Some mysteries were never going to be solved, she supposed.

She magicked the two humans outside, and shut the stone door, though not before hearing the sharp intake of a woman’s surprised breath and the happy chortle of a child with little idea yet what the world would bring.

Deep within the barrow, the wight witch laid back down upon the old stone table.




Somewhere else, a hammering knock came on a round, flower-ringed door, at a cottage where white smoke gently puffed out of a brick chimney set amidst the thatch. Its occupant wondered if the postal service had changed their rounds.

“BE THOU SUMMONED!” yelled a voice from outside. Not the postman, then. “I HAVE COME FOR THY ARCANE SECRETS, THE POWERS OF THE BEYOND. I HAVE COME TO FORCE FROM THEE THY STRENGTH AND KEN."

The occupant opened the door and looked up at the ragged, cruel face, who, if he was not expecting the round, friendly ash-blonde face of the White Witch, was too bound in spittle-flecked rage to say so.

“I BIND THEE!” he roared, “TO GIVE ME THE RAPTUROUS POWER OF BRINGING LIFE UNBIDDEN INTO THIS INFESTED AND PESTILENTIAL WORLD.”

She blinked, twice, and turned him into a stork.

Tying around its leg a note for the fairies saying “this one should specialise in the accidents”, she waved the confused bird off. It seemed the closest she could get to the verbatim wish, and she did so try to be helpful.

Bringing life unbidden, indeed. What sort of seeker, after all, could truly find such a thing as that?



The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

vicorva

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Re: Life, Unbidden
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2023, 12:41:55 PM »
I'm sure it won't surprise you that I was drawn to read this. I loved it. A wight-witch is a delightful concept, and I adored that she wasn't an evil being so much as extremely removed from mortality and its demands. The twist at the end, that the directions had been mixed up, was absolutely perfect.
~V (They / Them)

Jubal

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Re: Life, Unbidden
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2023, 11:45:57 PM »
I'm sure it won't surprise you that I was drawn to read this. I loved it. A wight-witch is a delightful concept, and I adored that she wasn't an evil being so much as extremely removed from mortality and its demands. The twist at the end, that the directions had been mixed up, was absolutely perfect.
I was definitely thinking about your work quite a bit whilst writing this, I'm so glad you liked the result :) And yes, I didn't want her to exactly be good, she's far more curious than empathetic or sympathetic, but curiosity is one of those motivations that can pull a character in multiple directions.

I wonder if the fairy mixed up its directions by accident or on purpose. We may never know!
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...