Chapter 2: The Inferi

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The specter glowered down at them from the top of the angelic statues, in a perverse mockery of everything Ellis ever thought or believed about the world.

“Th-thank you.” Ellis stammered, gripping onto Moriah’s arm.

“What are you, really?” Moriah almost whispered.

“What?” The inferi pantomimed shock. “How rude is that? I didn’t ask you what you are. Granted, I doubt any of you would know how to answer that question, anyway. I am Jeffry Graycek, but if you call me Jeffry or Jeff, I will take your soul here and now. As to what I am, dear girl, I am dead.”

“Liar.” Peter found his voice, even though he hadn’t stood back up. “The dead are gone. There’s no coming back.”

“So true.” Graycek clicked his tongue and shook his head, “but I went nowhere, fool. My children made sure of that. Thank the Great Mother, I suppose, but I would have liked to be asked if I wanted to hang around after the end.” He pointed at the plaque on the ground. “That is my grave. You can dig me up, if you like, to see if I am still there.” 

His mouth broke open into that nightmarish, unsettling, oversized grin. He hopped into the air and hovered over the blindfolded angel statues. “The real question is what to do with you all. Mother Soteria must know you are here by now. I should keep you here until the Trivian Sisters arrive, but I would love to see the look on mama’s face when she finds out you escaped.”

Ellis stood still. Years of bullying taught them to always keep an eye out for aggressive movement.

Moriah giggled nervously. “Then why don’t you let us go then.”

“Maybe I don’t want to?” Graycek said. “Perhaps I want to have you for my own.”

“To do what?” Peter asked.

Graycek made a sound between a sigh and a moan, and silently clapped his hands so slowly it was like the surrounding air resisted the motion. “Oh, there are so many things I could do. Maybe feed you to a beast, divide you body from soul just to see how you would react. Or perhaps I could just stare at you to see what mischief you bring upon yourself.”

Ellis steadied themself. “I doubt you will do any of that.”

“And why is that?”

Ellis shivered under the inferi’s icy gaze. “You said you were a god? Who would worship someone so cruel?”

Graycek laughed derisively. “That is a title, a figure of speech. No one worships me. I am a servant to my community, which you are not a part of. Some might even say you are a threat to it, and that I should treat you as such.”

“We are no threat.” Moriah said.

“Aren’t you?” Graycek hopped onto the ground right in front of her. “You come from the kingdom of the son of chaos, the domain of the lie. We have worked hard to keep your poisons out of our land.”

“We are from Maryland.” Peter found the strength or courage to stand up.

“Yes, I know.” Graycek spun and ran up on Peter in the blink of an eye. “Do you think I care what you call your homeland? Those are just words. I remember life among your kind. The greed and hatred, you are nothing but a danger to yourselves and others.”

“We are not a threat.” Moriah said. 

“Oh,” Graycek sang out and fainted backwards, throwing his arm up to his forehead. “We wish you no harm.” He rolled through the ground and emerged again, right at Moriah’s feet. “Now, why don’t I believe you? Is it because I remember the witch-hunts, the hatred in the eyes of the men who murdered my parents, or is it because you grew up in a world where truth is a commodity bought and sold like cattle, and treated just as kindly in your abattoirs of greed. Don’t think you can trick me. I have seen what you are capable of.”

“We’ve never harmed anyone.” Ellis said.

Graycek slunk around Moriah and stood nose to nose with Ellis. “Is that because you haven’t had the chance yet, or because you haven’t felt justified enough to carry the act out? Don’t think you can fool me, playing innocent. You have no idea how old I am, how much I have seen. I know your kind well.”

Those words cause something to snap inside of Ellis. “What the fuck do you mean by, my kind?”

The inferi grinned a ghastly glare at them. “If only you knew, but it is not for me to say. I am not your educators, teaching is not what I do. And more is the better for you, because I would claw that foul little mouth right off your face.”

Courage, or blind foolishness, took over Ellis. “I doubt you would touch me. Since you're not the one in charge, your masters would not take kindly to you for doing so.”

Graycek clapped his hands. “Well said, child, well said. But I have no, masters as you put it, but it would be a pity to deprive myself of the spectacle that a wrecca in the wild would provide.”

“What did you call them?” Moriah said with a fury in her voice that would've warned any normal person to stay quiet.

“A wrecca, an exile, you foolish girl. That's what you all are and what you should all remain.”

The specter laughed and danced in a wide circle around them, so quickly there was nowhere for them to run or escape. “You see, children, once upon a time your kind was asked if they could stop being greedy, and stop lying, just for a while. I asked them to be nice, and they refused. They thought it would be better for them as they continue to hoard the things that they believe brought them wealth and power. Fools, fools, a lot of them were fools. And so you were exiled, kicked out of the real world, to live in squalor that you're kind loves so much.”

The specter’s laughter turned into an echoing howl that reverberated through the forest and shook more leaves off of the trees.

“I don't try to say that you've never heard of such a thing. Because, of course, they lied to you about it. Lying is what your people do best.”

“So you're saying that everything we ever knew was a lie.” Peter said, crossing his arms.

“Oh, yes, lies, lies, and more lies.” The specter laughed and cackled as he continued his dizzying dance around them.

The air grew colder, and other eyes watched them from the darkness. Some were hungry, but others just curious.

“So, what are you going to do to us?” Moriah asked.

“Me?” Graycek stopped in front of her with his hand over his mouth and a shocked expression on his face. “Silly girl, I am going to watch. I don't know what they are going to do to you. I don't even know which fae is going to get you. Can't you just be quiet and enjoy the drama of the situation? Soon, you may be dead, or sent back whence you came. Who is to know and who is to say? But I promise you that if I had my way, your skin would adorn all of the trees, and your soul would be mine with the greatest of ease.”

“And what is stopping you from having your way?” Peter asked.

“Only my desire to see what the others will make of you. Will they get here before the hunters who have your scent arrive and tear you limb from limb? Or will the dark lord lock you in a tower to find out how you circumvented his protections? Or will Mother Soteria make a feast of you for all of the village to enjoy.”

He clapped his hands and somersault it backwards through the air. “There's so many outcomes. The fun will be seeing which one comes to fruition.”

“Is all of this showmanship supposed to be scaring us?” Moriah said with a bored, disaffected tone.

“No. Trust me. If I wanted to scare you, you would know. Honestly, all of this is meant to distract you. To keep you busy and buy time for the others to get here.”

“What others?” Peter asked.

“Haven't you been listening? Well, I suppose even if you had, your simple little mind wouldn't have comprehended any of the things that I have told you, and I have told you more than I should have.”

Ellis ignored the specter and returned their attention to the statues. That same angel called out to them. His name was on the tip of their tongue. They didn't know why. They had never studied angels, or angelic folklore, but somewhere deep down they knew that angel.

They shook their head. The specter still taunted them, but he wasn't a threat. But whatever in the statue that called to them was.

Oroiael. Was that the name of the angel, which is a series of sounds forcing themselves together in their mind. The more they repeated the word, the more it felt right. Oroiael, Oroiael, but where have they heard or seen that name before?

It didn't roll off the tongue easily and didn't sound like any of the names he remembered from the Bible stories they’d read as a child.

While the statue didn't move, Ellis was sure that it acknowledged its name when it was spoken.

Its blindfolded face stared at them through the cold stone, driving all the other thoughts and fears away.

Ellis searched the air for a hint of the angel’s voice, as if certain it tried to speak to them. That was stupid. Statues didn't speak to people. And spirits didn't rise from the ground to torment people, either.

Rubbing their eyes, they wondered when they would wake up from this strange dream. None of this could be real.

They lived their life uncertain about almost everything, their gender, their sexuality, where they fit in the world, what they wanted to do with their life but this one thing they were sure about: there was no such thing as magic.

Ghosts didn't exist. None of this was real. They were having a dream that persisted for far too long. When they woke up, they would tell Moriah and Peter about it, and they would laugh.

They just didn't understand why they hadn't woken up yet. Usually, the moment they realized they were dreaming, their eyes popped open.

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