Previously: Orua, Session One: The Evergrass Home
Rowan and Delphine shut and locked the door, when they got back to the house. For good measure, they pushed a table in front of it. Seated next to Melark on the couch, Garret watched the two of them with a sort of vibrating anxiety. He wished he’d gone with them, in a way, though at the same time, he was glad he had not. Staying here with Melark had been the perfect excuse.
“What did you find?” he asked. With one hand, he grasped the Ankh of Alrhea where it hung around his neck. The other he — discreetly, of course — patted the pocket of his jacket, to ensure that his book was safely with him. It was. He hadn’t moved it. Its presence brought him more comfort than his holy symbol, though of course he would never admit that.
Rowan and Delphine exchanged a look. The message from both of them was clear: “Well, I don’t want to say it. You say it.” Those two were so much closer to each other than they were to Garret. It saddened him, and filled him with longing. He wished they could understand him, and that he could understand them, as well as they understood each other.
Delphine, at last, sighed. “Carnelia Evergrass is dead,” Delphine said. “Her daughters were not in the house. The streets were empty and quiet.”
“How did she die?” On the couch next to Garret, Melark leaned forward. Garret frowned. The boy seemed oddly eager.
“She…” Delphine paused, regarding Melark for a moment. Lines of concern creased her face. Garret knew exactly what thoughts were passing through her head — well, he thought he did, anyway. There were many times when he knew what he would say to Melark, if he was Melark’s father, but then Delphine would surprise him by saying something completely different.
How much should they say to him? How much could they hide, and how much could they reveal without ruining the boy’s childhood forever? Garret wished they could protect him from whatever this was, but it had already touched him. He was already scarred.
“She had a stone in her head, like you,” Delphine said. “We tried to pull it out, but I think she’d had it for longer. The wound didn’t seem as fresh, and it didn’t come out so easily. We fought with her, and I tried to pull it out…” Delphine’s hand went to her forehead, covering her eyes. Her stalk eyes turned away. “I did pull it out, but it must have been too much for her to handle.”
Garret gripped his holy symbol harder. Alrhea granted him power, and she gave him the strength to heal wounds, but he was not yet a strong enough vessel for her power to undo death. He didn’t know whether he would ever be.
Rowan breathed out a deep sigh. “We’ll need to explore the town, he said. He walked to the window, leaning against it. “We can’t do it right now, though. We need to see if there’s something here to eat. Then we should clean ourselves, so that we feel like people again.” He glanced backward, then turned back to the window. “Then we’ll need to arm ourselves.”
“Do you think…” Garret swallowed. “Is that necessary?”
“Yes,” Rowan said confidently.
Delphine went to the back yard to draw water up from the well, while Rowan and Garret went down to the cellar to see what food they had available. As they came back up the ladder, Jack whined and jumped and barked a bit more violently than usual, for they had returned with rock-hard but miraculously unmolded bread and some smoked strips of dried chicken, as well as some shriveled yet edible carrots. Garret was hungry enough that any quality of food would have sufficed.
They ate slowly, not wanting to cramp their stomachs. Rowan had to feed Jack in small bits and pieces, because the dog scarfed everything tossed his way without even chewing it. Delphine joined them after several minutes had already passed, a towel wrapped around her lower half.
“I’m starving,” she said, by way of explanation, “but I just couldn’t bear being so filthy any longer.”
“Understandable,” Rowan said. He brushed his hands together and went outside to rinse himself as well. It was unspoken, but clearly Delphine and Rowan had agreed, silently, that there was no time to heat water for a proper bath. Garret shifted uncomfortably. He felt disgusting, but at least a cold rinse was better than nothing.
“Melark,” Delphine began, after all three of the adults had cleansed themselves and donned cleaner clothes. “Why were you outside?”
“Hmm?” Melark asked. He hadn’t been much apart of any of the idle words that had passed between them while they ate. He’d eaten only a small amount for himself, as well.
“When we woke up, the doors were locked,” Delphine said. “We were all asleep in our beds, but you were outside.”
“I was,” Melark said. He looked away, keeping all of his eyes from meeting hers. Then one of his eye stalks turned to glance at her. “I… I snuck out.”
Garret cringed at Delphine’s tone, feeling secondhand the pain of an incoming reprimand. He felt like he was back home, suddenly, with his own mother having just discovered one of his siblings had done something naughty. It was never Garret who had done the misdeed, but that didn’t stop her from punishing all of them.
“I couldn’t sleep.” Melark’s hands fidgeted in his lap. Only that one stalk eye looked directly at Delphine. “I was just lying there in my bed, and I couldn’t get sleep to come, so I got up to look out the window.”
“Did you see something?” Rowan asked.
Garret realized his shoulders had crept up from tension. The way Melark said the word released it: simple, innocent. As though he didn’t understand that he’d built Garret up to think he had seen the cause of their sleep.
“Something felt off, though,” Melark continued. “I couldn’t quite place it. So I went and locked the doors.”
“But why were you outside?” Delphine asked. “If you locked the doors…”
“I went out my bedroom window,” Melark said. “I, um, do that sometimes. The first time was just to see if I could. The second time I felt really sneaky and cool. This time, I wanted to know why I felt like something was wrong.”
“Weren’t you scared?” Garret asked, both hands going now to his holy symbol. He pressed it to his chest like a child might a stuffed animal.
“Yes, but that’s why I wanted to go.”
That made absolutely no sense to Garret, who would rather have curled up under his sheets than confront something that struck even the lightest note of fear in him.
“Did you see something?” Rowan asked again, this time with more emphasis.
“After a bit,” Melark said. “I went toward the middle of town, toward the Two Trees, because I thought I heard something. I was really sneaky.”
“Melark,” Delphine said. Her eyes were closed as though she was trying to shut out the reality of his words. “I can’t believe you did this.”
“I’m sorry,” Melark said. His shoulder curled inward.
“Keep going.” Delphine’s jaw twitched as she spoke, belying a tension that she was keeping, fairly well, from her voice. “Finish your story.”
“There was a man there, in the middle of town.” Melark spoke quietly, as though both what he said and the fact that he was telling his mother frightened him. Garret reached out toward his shoulder, to comfort him, but the young orose shrugged his hand away. “I didn’t recognize him. It was dark, even though Senia was full and shining. He was hard to see. I swear he had skin that was black like shadows.”
“Black skin?” Rowan said. He frowned. “Was it just dark? Dark brown? Or was he in the shadow?”
“No, it was black,” Melark insisted. “Black like… burned wood, or something. And he had pointed ears.”
“Melark,” Delphine said. She crouched, placing herself at his eye level. “Don’t go making things up just because you want us to think you know something.”
“I’m not!” Melark said, turning forcefully toward her, so that his eyes stared into hers from only inches away. “I swear. He was scary.”
“Melark, has someone told you stories about the dark elves?” Garret asked. “They’re just stories, son. They’re not real.”
“No!” Melark said. “I don’t know anything about any dark elves. This was just a…. Well, I guess he was an elf. With the pointy ears. Does it really matter?”
“Maybe,” Rowan said. “Maybe later, though. What was he doing?”
“He had a big piece of paper. Really long.”
“Like a scroll?” Garret asked.
“That’s the word,” Melark said, pointing at Garret without looking at him. “A scroll. He was reading from it. As he read, it started to glow. That’s when I ran.”
“To the house?” Delphine asked.
“Yeah. I didn’t make it, though. This sort of itchy light washed over me right as I was running through Old Lady Aurenan’s yard. It made me really sleepy. So sleepy I couldn’t help it, even though I was scared. I laid down in the grass and fell asleep.”
“When did you wake up?” Delphine asked.
Melark tilted his head. “Today.”
“Today?” Delphine asked. “Then where did that stone come from?”
“I don’t… What stone, mom?”
“There was a stone in your forehead,” Rowan said. “Your mom pulled it out.”
“Is that when I woke up?”
Delphine settled back more heavily on her haunches. “I guess so.”
“Is everyone just sleeping, then?” Garret asked. “Maybe everyone is just safe in their houses, asleep. Maybe the stones just put you to sleep.”
“They don’t,” Rowan said. “Carnelia wasn’t just sleeping. It was… something much different than that. And there were signs of a struggle.”
“I don’t think that the sleeping and the stones are the same thing.” Delphine stood, tilting her back slightly to stretch her legs. “If they were, we would all have stones in our heads, too. We don’t.”
“Maybe something else is coming along to put the stones in.” Rowan seemed the least concerned out of any of them. If anything, he seemed more curious than worried. Garret wondered how he did it. He was always so calm. Garret and Delphine were far more driven by their emotions.
“I think we need to see if we can save anyone else,” Delphine said. “There might be others, like us, who were just sleeping. There might be others who haven’t been… stoned, yet.”
“Like my mother,” Rowan said. “And my brother.”
“They’re out on the farm.” Garret shifted uncomfortably, thinking about all the people in town he knew and cared about. Like Jillian. Sweet, lovely Jillian, who showed him more kindness than anyone else in town afforded to a halfling. “Do you think this affected them, too?”
“I think it must have. If it hadn’t, they would have come into town by now, to see after one thing or another.” Rowan went back to the window, where he stood, hands on his hips, watching the unmoving village. “I guess they might have come, and met someone like Carnelia. She attacked us, after all.”
“We should check the town itself first,” Delphine said. “Slowly, and with care. House by house. See if there’s anyone we can save. If not, we head out to the farm.”
“Okay,” Rowan said. “Melark has to stay here, though, with the door locked.”
“But —” Melark began.
Rowan turned toward him to speak, but it was Delphine who answered.
“This is the safest place for you,” Delphine said. “Nobody came to both us in our sleep. We’ve been fine here for — what would we guess? Weeks? And nothing came in. I don’t know why, but I think you locking our doors that night saved us. Now you have to keep yourself safe.” She leaned forward, drawing him into a hug. “I love you. I don’t want anything more to happen to you. We’ll leave you here with Jack. He’ll keep you safe.”
Melark looked down at Jack. The black-and-white dog had settled at the base of the couch. He looked up at the mention of his name. His ears perked up as well, and he looked hopeful. Garret felt bad for him. He must have been under a great deal of stress, while they slept. He couldn’t get out to use the bathroom, and he’d had to tear into what little food he could access.
“Don’t leave the house, Melark,” Rowan said. “If something comes in, try to hide. If you can’t hide, run and scream for us. The town is so quiet that we should be able to hear you.”
“Okay,” Melark said. “I’ll… I’ll try.”
“There’s no trying about it,” Delphine said sternly. “You’ll do what we asked, and that’s that.”
The three adults stood, leaving Melark sitting on the couch. They retreated to their rooms, each grabbing what they thought they might need to explore what had once felt like their home.