Alyx must face terrible dangers to get medicine for her dying father in Eliah Medina's frightening fantasy tale.
A small cabin with yellow light escaping from the windows appeared. The smoke was still flowing out of the chimney.
"Not too late," she muttered to herself.
The girl gave a tight squeeze around the red gem and the light dulled then faded. Bursting into the cabin, she ignored the comforting fireplace, tossed her cloak on a nearby chair, and flew into the bedroom. A frail, sickly man lay on his bed next to his wife, Alison. She looked exhausted. Alyx handed her mother the herbs and asked.
"Why did you move him?"
"He was losing more fluids by the fire. Watch him, I'm going to grind the medicine."
Alyx sat next to her father and softly dried his face. The stench of sweat and urine was her only company. Her father's breathing was irregular and hoarse. His skin also felt clammy and white like old milk.
Her mother returned with a small bowl of a dark, green liquid. Alyx replied no. A faint stench of mint and berries tickled her nose. Alison twirled a wooden spoon in the medicinal mixture. A worried look appeared on her face.
"This isn't the right shade of green..." Alison whispered to herself.
"Is it going to make him better?" Alyx asked looking up at her mother.
She ignored her daughter's question and slowly opened his mouth. A few teeth were clearly missing as Alison placed the bowl at his mouth. The sight of the dying man's black and swollen tongue caused a fearful gasp come out of Alyx's mouth.
Alison did not answer as the dark, green liquid slowly slid into his mouth. The man's breathing turned shallow and his eyelids opened. Alyx gave a great smile and held his father's hand.
"He's awake! Father!"
One of his arms suddenly swung into the air and slammed against Alyx's face. She fell backwards and her father screamed in a sickly wail. From the floor, Alyx watched her mother try to subdue him to the bed. Loud and incoherent groans bellowed from her father as Alison pinned him down to the bed.
"Get out! Wait by the fire!"
Half of her face stinging, Alyx ran out of the room and slammed the door behind her. She knelt in front of the fire and listened to the muffled grunts and moans from the bedroom. The warm flames comforted her as she waited. Her eyelids became heavy and she rested her head against the floor. The bright and soft snapping flames lulled her into a deep slumber.
Jerking her head up and mumbling, she blinked the exhaustion away and gasped. Her mother's hair was disheveled and frayed. Alison's bottom lip was bleeding slightly and throbbing red splotches were all over her face, arms and neck.
"It's not his fault..."
"You still should have let me help."
Her mother chuckled softly as they fixed each other's hair.
"I need you to go back to Joan's Apothecary."
Alyx almost automatically stood back up. She smiled while helping her mother with her hair.
I was never this energetic or brave... She is definitely Charles' daughter...
"More mintsleaf?" Alyx asked.
Her mother's face stiffened as she placed her hands on her daughter's arms. Alyx knew immediately something was wrong. Her mother pulled out a small bag of coins and placed it into Alyx's hands.
"I need you to buy hemlock."
Shock flashed across Alyx's face like a slap. She slowly walked backwards and dropped the bag of money.
"Why? For Father? That will kill him!"
Alison immediately felt pride and regret for Alyx. A new thought emerged.
I never read as much when I was her age...
Her mother picked up the bag from the ground. Alyx slowly walked backwards, tears streaming down her face.
"I was too late. I wasn't fast enough."
"Alyx no. It was not your fault. We were all too late." Alison replied picking up the bag.
"Why didn't the mintsleaf work?"
"I couldn't get the remedy right. Your father was explaining the process, but eventually he got..."
Both of them fell silent. They listened to the sound of slow and labored breathing coming from the bedroom. Alyx stared at the crackling fire, tears flowing freely. Her mother slowly grabbed Alyx's cloak, inserted the bag of money into one of the pockets, and walked towards her.
"Hurry, before you get caught in a blizzard."
"I will not kill him," Alyx replied, denying the cloak.
"Your father is suffering Alyx. You can get to Joan faster than I can. You know this forest."
"No." Alyx responded.
Her mother suddenly gripped Alyx's arm and dragged her to the door. Alyx tried to free herself from her mother's grip. Her body slammed onto the snow covered hard ground. A freezing wind attacked her body as Alison threw her cloak at her. Sobbing and coughing, Alyx lunged back inside. The door slammed in front of Alyx, denying her entry. She pushed and threw her weight at the door. Alison sobbed as she crouched against the other side of the door. Locked out in the freezing cold, Alyx fruitlessly covered her mouth to stifle the whimpers from escaping her mouth. Body quaking and shivering, she kneeled on the snow-covered ground and slammed her fists repeatedly until they bled. The screeching wind drowned out her tearful screams against harsh snow.
The howling wind kept the old woman from sleeping; it was only partly the reason. With her eyes closed, the overwhelming anxiety denied her rest. Underneath her thick blanket and her nightwear, she never felt so restless. She tried to keep her mind blank, but the thought of Alyx kept lingering in her mind.
Her timeworn eyes opened and glared at the ceiling. The old woman prayed that the girl from the forest did not come back. Alyx was a good girl. She was always polite and friendly. She remembered the day when Alyx's father became her apprentice. Meeting an ecstatic Charles carrying that adorable baby girl felt just like yesterday. In a couple of years, Alyx would follow his footsteps. The image of her smiling and hopeful face turning into sorrow and despair haunted the dreams away.
Hopefully she made it in time...
She listened to the harsh wailing of the icy winds. Turning on her side, she saw her apothecary shop through her bedroom doorway. Her small shop was silent and still. Herbs, potions and other tonics neatly displayed and labeled on the shelves or in clean glass bottles. On the left side of the shop behind the counter, a large bookcase displaying an impressive collection of therapeutic and remedial books positioned against the wall. Pulling herself up from the bed, a realization throbbed into her mind.
With newfound energy, she jumped out of bed and pulled a book from the bookcase. Ruffling through the yellow, dry paper, her finger glided across the page she was looking for. Her cracked lips read:
Adden grass - A green plant that grows in many environments, including extreme cold. Food source for rabbits and deer. Adden grass grows from the corpses of the dead. The dead of the Wailing Decay. It can grow from the corpse itself or around the burial site. The grass can be grinded to a paste and cure Wailing Decay on other victims. The reason for the plant's almost magical properties continues to baffle alchemists. Many call this magical plant the "Sacrificial Cure."
Pulling another book, her old, wise eyes fervently scanned a map.
A graveyard was located outside of the forest, to the west. A sickening recollection of doom coursed through her body as she read the words: Rathscar cemetery.
A series of slams suddenly boomed from her front door. She launched towards the door and opened it. A thin, short figure wrapped covered in a snow covered cloak wrapped its arms around the old woman. Roaring and unforgiving winds flooded the small house. Alyx sobbed as Joan closed the door. Muffled snuffles softly echoed the small shop. Knowing the answer already, Joan asked.
"We were too late," Alyx replied.
Joan broke their embrace. Alyx's hood shrouded her head. Hanging her head, the bottom half of her face was brimming with tears.
"I need hemlock," Alyx wailed.
Joan felt lightheaded as Alyx hugged her again. She tried to remember the past. Trying to remember what she taught Charles when she had taken him under her wing. She tried to recall if she ever taught Charles the remedy for Wailing Decay. It was an ancient and hidden illness. The illness rots the body inside out. Indescribable suffering that always leads to a horrible death.
"I'll get the hemlock," Joan muttered.
She left Alyx in the shop and reentered her bedroom. Slowly reaching under her bed, she pulled a small, brown case. A sudden and dull pang hit her stomach as she remembered Alison, now about to lose a husband. Opening the case, a small, glass vial with straw-colored liquid was inside. There was barely enough for one person. Joan gave a tired sigh and dried her watering eyes. She nearly dropped the vial when she turned around.
Alyx stood in front of the books Joan had left out. Her hood drawn back and her eyes glowing with hope.
"There's a cemetery outside th-"
"NO!" Joan interjected.
Joan rushed over, placed the vial on the side of the counter and slammed the books closed.
"You are not going anywhere near Rathscar!" she yelled.
Alyx's eyes widened and her nostrils flared.
"Because I killed your father. I will not let your mother lose a daughter too!"
Alyx's retort died in her throat, registering what Joan said.
"What?" Alyx asked incredulously.
Gripping the books, Joan's eyes started to water as she turned her back to Alyx.
"I taught your father thousands of remedies and cures. I didn't instruct him on Wailing Decay."
Alyx became silent, lower lip quivering.
"Decades ago, Wailing Decay almost decimated all the villages in our region. I was only a small child when it happened. We did not know where it started. The other regions refused to trade with us. They even burned their own people if they had a hint of the illness. Fear of the illness was so strong and haunting; we never even said the name. I remember my father not being home for almost a year, curing others in faraway villages." Joan said, placing the herbal text back on the bookshelf. "After it passed, we never saw it again. The illness became a dark memory, and then a forgotten memory."
Alyx's bandaged hands curled to fists as her eyes switched from Joan to one of the books. Precious time was being wasted here. Joan turned to face Alyx, tears streaking down her eyes.
"Years later, a boy from my village got sick. It wasn't a memory anymore."
Joan placed her wrinkled hands on the counter. Her tears cascaded on the wooden counter.
"Thomas Bavent. His parents took too long..."
Joan hung her head slightly and continued.
"It came back so sudden and out of nowhere. I could not believe that I had forgotten about it. The stories my father told me, the paranoia, the fear, it all came rushing back. Your father had already married your mother by then. He was not there to help little Thomas. So I... tried to... We buried him in Rathscar. Two weeks later, I came back to his grave. I wanted to save the adden root if the worst happened again."
The dark silhouette crept back into Joan's mind.
"I saw a monster."
The snow was falling heavily. A figure wrapped in black stood behind Thomas's grave. The hood slowly raised and pure darkness stared at Joan.
Joan raised her head and said with finality.
"There is something evil in that cemetery."
Alyx was not crying anymore. She dried her face and felt her heart beating with purpose. She walked closer to the counter.
"Father would do it for me." Alyx said.
"Your father would want you to be home with your mother." Joan replied, walking around the counter.
Joan presented the small vial with a soft, sad smile. The map was right behind Joan.
"Your Father would be so prou-"
A sudden, hard push made Joan choke on her words. Her old and withered hands vainly reached for the wooden counter. A sharp jolt of pain spread through Joan's body as she landed on her side. Alyx lunged at the book and fervently flipped through the pages. Joan screamed and pleaded at Alyx as the girl ripped the map from the textbook. Folding the page and pocketing it, Alyx rushed to the front door.
"I'm sorry Joan." Alyx said, pulling her hood up.
The old, injured woman wailed watching Alyx disappear into the howling, white storm outside and slam the door shut. Joan sobbed to the ground. Raising her head, she saw the broken vial of hemlock a few feet away from her. She wailed even harder.
"I'm so sorry Alison... I'm so sorry..."
The blizzard was devastating as Alyx dashed back into the forest. So much time was wasted. She raced to the west of the forest, a strong, burning hope surging through her body. White vapor flowed in short bursts from her mouth. The ruby necklace bounced wildly against her sternum, light guiding her. The trees were large, black blurs to her. The name Rathscar echoed in her mind. She had never heard the name nor been to that cemetery. Her life was always her home, the forest and the nearby village. A large field appeared suddenly behind the trees. Alyx's feet slammed on the ground. A vast, snow covered field bordered the edge of the forest. In the shrouded distance, a gated building was across the field. The images of her father healthy and her mother smiling made her even faster into the new, unknown terrain.
The snow condensed to a slow, light fall. The pendant's light revealed the remnants of a place of worship a short distance away. Most of the steel barred gate was on the ground, buried underneath the snow. Alyx lowered her hood as she sped along the rows of graves. She aimed her shining gem at the headstones, wiping the snow off.
"Thomas Bavent... Bavent... Bavent... Thomas..."
None of the headstones had the name. She stood in the center of the cemetery, scanning at all the graves.
"Thomas, where are you?" she whispered.
Under the gem's bright light, a small mound of snow caught her attention. Alyx dug the snow away and found a small statue of a lamb.
"A child was buried here..." Alyx muttered.
Looking up, there was still snow covering the headstone. An angel shrouded in a long robe stood on top of the grave. Great, long wings stretched across its back. Alyx knelt in front of the grave and wiped the snow off. Several patches of green grass were scattered around the ground.
"Thank you Thomas," Alyx said gratefully.
She pulled out a small bag and started pulling at the grass. A faint, gravelly voice whispered through the darkness.
Alyx froze. She slowly turned her head behind her. Nothing but darkness and snow.
Not knowing the source of the bloodcurdling whispers, Alyx resumed picking at the grass, fear gripping her heart. A loud breaking of stone slammed in front of Alyx. The gem's light showed a pair of crumbled, cracked wings. A ragged breathing rumbled above her. Raising her shining gemstone, a paralyzing shock hit Alyx.
The hooded figure hunched over Alyx, rasping. Faintly red colored drool slid down and dropped to the snow covered ground. Rearing its head, the hood fell backwards and revealed its bald, shriveled head. Red eyes shimmered on its contorted face. The creature's red eyes widened at the sight of dried blood on her bandaged knuckles. Its long, pointed claws were poised like withered spiders. The pale creature bared its yellow and black teeth as it raised a claw. At last minute, Alyx jumped back. The sharp nails severed her gemstone necklace. The gem hit the ground, snuffing out the light.
Alyx frantically pawed at the ground for the necklace, tossing away rocks and pebbles. Giving up, she scrambled to her feet and pulled out a dagger. She cautiously paced around Thomas's grave while keeping the dagger in front of her. With her free hand, she patted the ground for the gemstone. A harsh cackling ripped through the blinding blackness.
"All lost in the dark..."
Sobbing hysterically, Alyx desperately clawed at the ground.
"I'm going to enjoy devouring you..."
Her fingers grazed a smooth surface and a bright light burst from the ground. Alyx gripped the shining jewel and raised it high. Three wolves with crimson eyes appeared out of the darkness and stood between her and her bag. The pale creature avoided the light and concealed itself in the darkness. The wolves aggressively growled at her and slowly inched towards her.
The pale creature rematerialized by the headstone then vanished into the darkness again. Alyx could feel its red eyes on her. She tried to calm her panicking heart and steady her breathing. Two wolves slowly circled her, hackles raised and mouths growling. One of the wolves broke into a run and lunged at her, jaws snapping. Alyx quickly side stepped out of the way. Another one snarled at her and she replied with a kick from her boot. Something heavy tackled her from behind her and she fell forward. Landing on the ground, all breath left her lungs. The wolf tore and ripped at her cloak as another clenched its mouth at her hair. Alyx screamed in pain. Twirling her dagger, she pierced the soft, furry belly on top of her and slammed her dagger hilt deep into the face of the second wolf.
Alyx heard a soft clapping echoed from the dark as she pushed the dead wolf off her and retracted her bloody dagger from the wolf's skull. The third and final wolf slowly approached Alyx. Her cloak was frayed and soaked in blood, thankfully not hers. Alyx and the wolf slowly circled each other. She pushed away the unknown dangers of the pale creature and kept her parents in her mind, motivating her. In the distance, high-pitched squeaks were getting closer. The sounds of leather wings flapping reached Alyx's ears. She raised her bright stone and saw it. A large swarm of screeching bats descended and covered Alyx in deep cloud. Obscured in the dark, the pale creature waved its hands in long, fluid motions as little teeth and leather wings attacked Alyx.
She thrashed and flailed her arms in all directions. Teeth were tearing and biting into her clothes and skin. Alyx rose what was left of her hood, trying to shield her head and face. Suddenly the wolf jumped into the air tackled her. She and the wolf struggled and it missed her neck, biting into her forearm. She wailed in pain as they fall to the ground. The wolf clenched its teeth into her left arm and slashed at her chest. Screaming, Alyx slammed her dagger three times into the wolf's neck, pushing it off. Warm blood slid down her arm onto her fingers gripping the shining stone.
The bats resumed screeching and encircling her. She raised her stone higher and the bats cried in pain under the bright light. Not caring where the pale monster could be, Alyx raced towards the headstone, the small bag of adden grass in her sights. A sudden flash of white and black sprinted through the dark and tackled Alyx. She soared through the air and her body slammed against a nearby headstone, landing on her back. The shrilling sounds of the bats became distant.
Bite marks and blood were all over her body. The sudden awareness of her hands without her weapons caused her senses to refocus. Reaching around in the dark, Alyx felt her left hand graze the smooth hilt of her dagger. She wailed in pain when a boot smashed on top of her fingers. The same boot slammed against her bleeding arm causing her screams to echo across the cemetery.
"I like it when my food screams..."
Alyx's right arm slammed against the snow, reaching for anything. Tears slid down her face as she felt the boot's heel dig deeper into her wound. Her entire body was in agony. Only her hood was left of her cloak. Blood was flowing freely and slowly down her arm, staining the snow. The creature tore and tossed her hood.
Up close, the creature looked even taller and skeletal. The pale skin looked stretched and worn. The eye sockets looked more like pits. The creature lowered his face closer to her neck. The putrid aroma of death flowed out of its open mouth.
Her fingers felt something cold, long and sleek in the snow. An iron bar. She quickly gripped it and thrusted the end of it towards the creature's chest. An unbearable screech screamed out of the creature. Wet choking sounds escaped the creature's mouth as Alyx slid more and more of the iron bar into the creature's chest, lifting herself up. The pointed end of the bar met the ground. The creature fell silent and limp.
Alyx fell to her knees and sobbed, glad that it was finally over. The snow finally stopped fallingafter she found her gemstone nearby. Alyx grabbed her hood, rushed back towards Thomas's grave, picked up her small bag and ran out of the cemetery.
A few minutes passed and the scent of blood awakened the creature. A tremor spread through its thin body as it painfully arched its back. Turning its head to the side, a small puddle of blood almost glowed in the darkness. Its long spider thin hands gripped the metal bar. Erratic, painful gasps came out of the creature as its skinny arms shook.
The metal bar began to bend until a loud metal snap broke the bar. Tossing the broken piece, the creature crawled towards the puddle of blood. It gripped the blood-covered snow and consumed it. Loud moans rumbled as memories and dreams flooded the creature's mind. Newfound energy and strength spread through its body. The creature smiled at the image of a small, wooden cabin in the forest in its mind's eye.
Alyx leaned against a tree. Her entire body pulsated in pain with every breath. She placed what was left of her hood around the bite mark on her left forearm. Her shining gemstone gave off light from her fist holding the bloody hood against her left forearm.
Her fingers pounded in pain as she gripped the bag of adden grass. Alyx defied her body's protests and carefully limped towards home.
Alyx noticed that the windows did not give off light as she staggered towards the front door. Faint smoke was still flowing out of the chimney. Her mom could fix her up after they had given her father the adden grass. Dropping the bloody hood, she wrenched the door open. The inside of the cabin was pitch black and the gem spread light inside. Alyx's eyes widened with fear. The chairs were destroyed, the table was smashed and blood covered the wooden floor.
Alyx walked forward, trying her best to keep quiet. Something towards her left caught her eye. She turned and pointed her gemstone at the direction and screamed. Her mother lay in small pool of her own blood, her body eviscerated and her throat shredded open.
She turned and saw her father a few feet away from her. He lay on his side. The light showed his cloudy eyes and shrunken, pale face.
He stretched his shaky hand toward the direction of his daughter's voice. Before she took a step forward, a loud bone-crushing slam sent blood in the air. A sprinkle of warm blood landed on Alyx's face and she fell into shock. A boot had smashed down on Charles's head. The creature appeared out of the darkness. Its face was now full and curved. Rippling muscles coursed through its arms and legs. Long, wavy black hair flowed from its head. It lifted its now bloody boot and looked at Alyx.
"I never eat rotten meat."
Alyx stood still. Her arms hanged loosely at her sides.
"I did thank him for giving me the new clothes."
The creature felt the soft material of the clothes and wiped the blood off its boot.
"He had good taste in clothes... and women..."
Alyx remained motionless. The pale creature gave her an evil smile.
"You should have listened to Joan..."
Her left hand loosened its grip on the shining gemstone and it landed on the ground. The light blinked out as the creature crouched slightly, opening its sharp claws and fangs, and lunged towards Alyx.