another year in stories: seven

Back on track! Another story for this week, since I missed last weak due to the kidney stone, which happens to still be inside me, unfortunately.

Anyrate, this is about an earthquake and we meet some new characters, which will probably change the shape of the future narratives a great deal.

I find myself always writing about children and orphans.

The Land Will Swallow Me

There was a rumbling from the deep beneath our feet and the bones of our home. Mother grabbed us and pulled us beneath the table. She said the gods must be waking, that Dragons may be fighting.

She held us and though Franny shook like leaves in wind, we were still. Mother’s heart raced but her breath came like waves. Constant. Cool. Relaxing.

The ground kept shaking. The pots and pans rattled to the ground and screams ripped through the grinding of the world, Erde, the great Dragon whose scales made the land and wings made the air. She reminded us this as the land of our home split and ruptured. Our house collapsed in on us and we were buried.

Then there was only blackness and when I woke only blackness and wetness. The stench of urine and blood and dirt. The binding sensation, as if Erde herself held me in her endless womb.

For a long time there was silence and stillness. My arms still wrapped round my sister but I could not feel her and didn’t know if she lived. I felt nothing for a long time.

There was only the blackness. Time disappeared. Light became as a memory, faint and hollow and evaporating.

My body stretched beyond itself. Constricted and perhaps broken, but there was no pain, and in the long darkness I drifted away from the hole.

Singing. So close yet sounding so far away, as if from the belly of a mountain. A singing like I had never heard. Not in Sprache or any language I knew, but it reverberated inside me. Though my body wept, I was far away and could not hear it screaming. The Ocean breeze struck my face with the taste of salt and eternity.

I saw a child with hair so black it sucked in the night and past her a water that stretched forever. Sand between my toes and her face pulling me forward, towards the water. She sand without words and her eyes radiated a violet light, like the suns when embraced in the Twilight Days. Reaching her hand towards me, I walked towards her.

The closer I came, the louder the song grew, the stronger I became. Every bit of my body filled by this child’s music.

And then there was a new sound.

Screaming and flesh battered. My body retreated back to itself. The utter blackness of my captivity and the shore with the girl battled one another and my eyes saw them doubled, intertwined. The ground moved around me and my body filled with sensation. Burning and brokenness and a heart beat, but not mine. I wrapped my arms tighter around Franny and her fingers dug into my skin.

Words came from above and the song coming so clear was smashed away. Words in a language I didn’t know or recognise.

And then light and the pressure on my skull lessened. The light was small, only a point in the blackness but it grew as the ground fell away.

I opened my mouth to scream but coughs forced their way through and I vomited dirt and rocks.

My voice followed as if made of dust and the scream I wanted came like a whisper, My sister.

A face appeared above me. The face of a woman but her skin was pale like ours. She was not Drachen but she was here. An expression of surprise and her forehead knit and she spoke words I didn’t understand. The ground kept shifting and the blackness crowded the edges of my vision. I was slipping in and out but every time I returned to the woman’s face the pressure on my body was less.

She spoke Sprache with a heavy accent, You’re okay, child. You’re okay.

She reached with an arm to grab me but I said again, My sister.

She blinked and worked to clear more of the ground. I struggled with her, shifting my shoulders and hips as best I could to move the dirt and our collapsed home from us. As I moved I found the pain searing through me. The left side of my head burning where my ear once was. Together we wrestled the destruction and the woman pulled Franny and me out of the rubble.

Franny’s breathing was shallow and thin but her body was whole. The woman pulled out a jug and poured water onto a cloth. This she did with only one hand, using the crook of her right arm to manipulate the jug. I gaped at her lack of a hand wondering how she could be so adept. I looked at my own hands and imagined losing one. Then put a hand to my lost ear and prayed for the pain to stop. She put the cloth in Franny’s mouth and Franny sucked moisture from it. Then the woman handed me the jug. My arms, so heavy, could barely hold it but I drank desperately, not knowing my thirst. When I had my fill, I returned it to the woman and looked around.

Where once our village stood was a chaotic field of jutting spikes made from rock. The ground undulated as if it were the ocean and not the field I had been born to. The farms were gone. The land was unrecognisable. Shadows of men wandered the land, stopping here and there where they dragged the dead from the broken homes and village.

Deathwalkers, the woman said.

I nodded and then my heart screamed. I pulled at the rubble of our home screaming Mother mother mother.

I dug until I found her. The skirt she wore, now covered in mud and blood. I bit back the sobs while the tears fell and I pushed and pulled the rubble away until I found the black skin of her hand and then her head, for she did not have a face. Where it once smiled was only a cracked brick covered in the matter of her skull and brain and eyes and mouth. Her black curls like a halo round that brick. I held her lifeless hand.

And then there were hands on my shoulder. I turned, expecting to see Franny or the woman who saved us but there was only a shadow.

The Deathwalker moved me away from Mother but I held her hand as the singing came. The same song I heard while trapped beneath the wreckage. I stared at the Deathwalker and felt the Ocean waves and the violet light of the child. The Deathwalker revealed bony hands from its robe and held the ruined skull of my Mother. It lifted it from the ground and the brick fell away and I vomited at the sight of the inside of Mother’s skull. A pink viscous mess that leaked out.

I saw it for only a moment but the image lives in me still. It haunts me.

And then the Deathwalker held nothing and where my Mother’s body once lay was only dust and dirt and ash. The smell of cinders and smoke.

The Deathwalker turned to me and I stared into the vast empty blackness beneath its hood, and then it was gone.

I opened my eyes, having no recollection of closing them, and the woman who saved us sat beside a fire. In the fire was a black pot and the scent of food overwhelmed me.

I rolled over and cried into the dirt until it was mud. Until Franny’s tiny arms wrapped around my waist and pulled me closer to her. I pushed off her hand and rolled over.

Her lip quivered and her black eyes were full of tears.

She said my name and I pulled her close to me.

The night was cool and the fire warm. The woman brought us each a bowl of stew with a smile. She made it look easy though she balanced one of them on her arm until she handed it to me.

You are very brave, she said to us with her thick accent.

Franny’s voice was high and her consonants were rounded by youth, Auntie, why do you look like us?

She put her bowl down and studied the two of us, Did your mother and father look like us?

We shook our heads.

Her eyebrows lowered and she cleared her throat before picking her bowl up once again. She said, There are many in the world who look like us. Where I’m from, everyone looks this way.

Franny inhaled quickly, Auntie, where are you from?

She was only two years old then, and I was only five. For our whole lives, short as they were, we had never seen another face with our shape or color. Our parents were the dark shades of black all Drachen shared. Their hair grew in tight curls while Franny and mine fell straight. Our skin was pale but our eyes were just as black.

The woman turned to the moons and sighed, I come from far away. I was passing through when I heard the bones of Saol shift.


Her gaze fell upon me, Saol is the word for the world in the language of the gods.

My face scrunched up and the woman smiled.

Eat up, she said.

What’s your name, Auntie?

The woman put down the bowl and reached her hand towards me, Guo.

I held her hand. Her skin was rough and thick. This is Franziska. I’m Heinrich.

She smiled, Those are very fine names.

So many questions bubbled inside me and the darkness weighed heavily. What would we do now? Where would we go? What are the Deathwalkers? Is everyone dead? My chest tight and my throat sore, I ate the stew.

Franny watched me with her big black eyes and did as I did.

After we ate, we thanked Guo.

My voice crept weak from my lips, Is everyone…

Guo lowered her head, Yes. Only you two survived.

My body became so tight as if the night constricted me. I heard the screams of everyone I had known and Mother’s ruined face rose and then washed over the landscape. The song from before returned and I sank into blackness. Franny’s voice came from so far away. Muffled and indistinct. The same word repeated again and again.

For a long time I drifted as if without a body. There was only blackness and blankness. And then a deep grey. A grey shimmering between shades of black. From the grey came figures of light and shade.

When I opened my eyes we were walking over a landscape I didn’t know. The suns were high in the sky and the air was thin.

Franny sat on the woman’s shoulders and the woman was singing in front of me as they walked. It was a strange song in a language I didn’t know. The words were like water—slippery and formless.

I followed her and in time I would understand the language she spoke and she would show me worlds beyond Drache. She would show us the place of our birth, the place of hers, and a thousand more.

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