Memories: An Evenacht Short Story Prose in Evenacht | World Anvil

Memories: An Evenacht Short Story

  Green grass faded into taller, ashen blades waving in the sudden gusts. Meadow flowers, sucked of the vibrancy held in their lusher compatriots, dwindled in volume before disappearing at the edge of the haze-filled treeline. Towering, wide-leafed trees with hanging vines created a barrier between the rich rainbow hues of the marshlands and the shadows delineating the forest that fell under the auspices of Death.   Lorelei swallowed. When a lowly Keel soldier proclaimed that the planet Sensour’s salvation against the invading Flayn Monarchy lay in the Forest Temple, and invited her and her companions along for the adventure, she had not contained her glee. A decrepit, tree-bound ancient temple would hold something of value for interstellar treasure hunters, and if the Flayn succeeded in their destruction of their hapless victim, any items from the poor globe would fetch extraordinary prices in art collectors’ markets.   Now, standing before the still shadows only broken by bird song, infused her with nauseous dread .   Kassel cast her a sizzling glare. Yes, yes, once they realized the Flayn’s presence, they should have bid a quick farewell to the unlucky orb and found better hunting grounds. Now, stuck without transportation into the stars, they threw their lot in with the out-numbered, out-teched, out-of-options populace rather than the Flayn. Should she remind Kassel they outvoted her on that one? Sweet revenge never tasted good on burnt toast.   Verryn glanced at them, a small but amused smile tugging at his lips. She disliked the mirth; did he not feel it? Did he not sense the darkness creeping from the shadows, fingers slowly reaching for the life that eluded it until now?   He walked into the ashen grass and the wind died. The buzz of insects died. The song of the bird died. Suffocating stillness wrapped around them. No crack of tree branches, no rustle of grass or bush, just the swish of pant legs and the harsh breathing from living lips.   Caton edged closer to her and stuck his mouth into her ear. “We should leave.” Pieces of his easy demeanor had broken away as they neared the grey blot on the horizon, and now that they stood in its shadow, fear shattered his humor. She narrowed her eyes, annoyed at his unexpected cowardice.   “No.” Kassel and Vanjha regarded her, then Verryn, unease replacing their earlier eagerness for a huge payday and a somehow-elude-the-Flayn plans.   “Rejeerist Verryn,” Kappan Rashak’s warning growl slid off the man, as it had their entire journey to the forest. No stuck vehicles, no bridgeless rapids, no avoidance of Flayn scouts, made him slow down. She was shocked he let them sleep, considering his intense focus on their destination.   Adjusting the pack and seething about leaving their bulkier advanced technology in the long-ago abandoned vehicles, she hustled after the confident man. The grass wrapped around her legs, plucked at her pants, fiddled with her bootlaces, then pulled back. The rest of the blades arched away, as if they disliked what they discovered. Caton’s muffled whine caught her attention; the grass bent to the earth in the opposite direction of Rashak, giving him a wide path to follow. Perhaps he should go first.   Her gaze lingered on the fuzzy, grey-purple blooms that grew in random clumps; unlike the meadow flowers, as they passed, the petals folded up, cutting their beauty off from the encroachers. Magic? She did not understand this technology, and how a special gland could let an individual create ice and fire from nothing. Did some plants have this same gland? How did that work?   The grass gave way to bushes and ferns and soil-hugging plants just inside the treeline. The muffled crunch of sticks and roots under the soles of seven pairs of boots broke the silence but could not fill it. Hearing her breathing and pounding heart over the stillness irritated her, and she sped after Verryn, catching him as he bent under a fallen tree. The faster they reached their destination, the faster they could snag an antiquity or two and leave.   She touched the moss on the sides as she ducked; moist, and the abrupt scent of mustiness invaded her nostrils. Old tombs smelled that way, and she fought the urge to take out her filtered mask and strap it in place. She would need the thing if the temple was as decrepit and dusty as she thought, and she did not want to empty the flower scent accessory on the trip there.   Vanjha caught her, patted her upper arm with the back of his hand, and nodded behind them. She looked over her shoulder; Caton and Quainne, Rashak’s assistant, clutched each other in a fearful embrace as they awkwardly shuffled after the kappan, kicking up more dust than the rest of them combined. Despite the differences in appearance and home planet, their anxiety was depressingly the same.   She flipped her braid over her shoulder, annoyed . They, intrepid treasure hunters, came from the stars, not an unlucky world targeted by the largest empire in the galaxy. Caton needed to remember that and ditch the terror.   “Wishing we had gone on to Naberbajik?” Vanjha asked, his voice a mere breath of sound.   “At least then, we wouldn’t have needed to pretend we were local.” So much research and preparation concerning culture and language, the appearance-altering surgery so they looked like the large-eyed, large-eared elfines, the choosing of fake names and identities, just to mimic a Sensour people so they could steal an artifact or two. Anticipated adventure and wealth blinded them, she admitted that, but none of their previous excursions had gone this wrong before.   They really should have ignored integration and just gone for theft. Stupid choice, because they thought they could get better loot by blending in and asking questions. The thick snap of a tree branch snagged her attention. She looked up at glowing gold eyes and blinked. What?   “Gyirindi!” Quainne screamed.   Vanjha jerked her back, and they stumbled into a tree. The cat creature bounded into the space they vacated, its finger-length claws digging into the ground as its pert nose wrinkled in a snarl. It swung its head-sized paw, swatting at them; they fell behind the object, as claws scraped against the rough, dull brown bark. Shouts filled the air, accompanied by the whooshing discharge of the short, flame-emitting staves Rashak and Quainne used in place of firearms. Smoke drifted from its position and it yowled in pain and leapt towards the Keels.   Lorelei peeked around the trunk; Kassal had grabbed Caton, and they skimmed the fight, heading towards Verryn. Rashak and Quainne hustled behind a thick tree surrounded by waist-high ferns and thin-twigged bushes as the creature hunched, its behind and tail rocking back and forth. It barreled towards them, but their perceived safety evaporated as it overshot, pivoted, and lunged.   It was taller than they were. How were they going to escape it?   “Come on!” Verryn shouted. Vanjha smacked her arm and she raced after him, jumping over roots, branches, exposed rock. She silently thanked the kappan and his assistant for distracting the beast. Their bravery would add to the tale needed to entice art collectors into bidding on their finds.   The soldier waved them to him and pointed to a root-infested ravine. At the end was a black hole, half-hidden by straggly brush and fallen vines. A cave? Well, the entrance looked small enough that the cat would not get through. She, having delved into several similar places, wondered if it led to an interesting, forgotten tomb or buried ruin. She and her band could nose about while the others played with the gyirindi, maybe stuff a few things into their packs before the locals noticed. She expected mustiness, moldiness, rotting plant smells. Only the faint hint of dust reached her nostrils, and the airflow meant another opening rested nearby. She stepped far enough inside to allow the others to enter, and Vanjha flipped on his handheld light. The soft soil gave way to a paved corridor, the plain tiles uncracked.   That made her as uneasy as the desaturated colors of the forest. Who maintained this place?   A wisp of white smoke formed in front of her, curled, and evaporated. The back of her head, neck, and shoulders prickled. What was that? Vanjha sucked in his breath, and turned around, his light swinging towards their gasping companions as they rushed into the cave.   Laughter, high and sweet like a child’s, echoed down the tunnel. Mist swam into view, fading in and out, swirling into the visage of her mother. Longer, protruding lower face, thin-lipped mouth pulled into a frown, tufted ears drooping, down-turned eyes a flat white.   She remembered that look, the sad acceptance when she did something wrong. No punishment, just the guilt of knowing she disappointed her parent and could never rectify her wrongs.   She reached for Vanjha’s arm, gripping the soft material. Slick material—not the rough coat he wore, but the delicate sleeves of the dresses her mother loved. She jerked her hand back and whirled with a whimper; he looked back at her, his face deep in shadow, unrecognizable.   “Lorelei?” he asked, confused.   “What are you waiting for?” Caton shrieked as he barreled past and through the wispy mist, breaking it apart into dozens of singular curls. His light swished back and forth as he ran away from what he thought the most pressing threat. She firmed her lips and followed; he, obviously, saw nothing in the white to feed his terror.   Her mind played tricks. Caton was not the only one to fall to fear.   “Lorelei?” Vanjha called. When she did not respond, he caught her step, flashing his light far down the tunnel; Caton had already outraced them. And what if some other terror lounged in darkness, ready to pounce?   Well, it would grab him and not her, giving her a chance to retreat and let the locals care for it.   “Someone go get him,” Rashak said, his testy growl swallowed by the earthen walls. “The gyirindi will leave soon enough, and we can go.”   “Or we can take this way and avoid the gyirindi altogether,” Verryn said, brushing past her and Vanjha. He clicked on his light and followed Caton’s trail. “They enjoy the stalk and pounce, but they’ll never enter these tunnels.”   “Do you think Death knows we’re here?” Quainne asked, their voice trembling hard. “Is that why she sent the gyirindi after us?”   “Wha—Quainne!” Rashak seethed. “Fairy tales are fairy tales. They don’t send giant cats after anyone.”   “Fairy tales?” Kassel breathed. He sounded odd, like the time they discovered a sacrificial pit of tiny bones on Dowtrethvis. He had thought the ancient Meuonthis people an ideal example of how one did civilization right—free, intellectual speech, widespread and vigorous defense of knowledge, religious and political thought adjacent to the needs of the people—until he realized they threw newborns into the pit to appease a non-existent supreme deity and guarantee fertility for another year. He could not fathom the evilness inherent in a society that caused them to do such things, and his faith in sentient beings ended up in the bottom of that pit, as useless as the original horrendous acts that destroyed it.   “How about we ask Light to show up and illuminate our way,” Vanjha chuckled. “If syimlin exist, they’re as much under threat as their followers from the Flayn, so why not help us? Then we can get to this mighty weapon faster.” He smacked his hands together in prayer. “Dear Light, please light our way in these darkest of times.”   “How can you joke? You saw the mist, right?” Kassel asked, his voice cracking. Lorelei frowned. What had he seen within the wisps? She rubbed at her chest as Vanjha dropped his arms and regarded his friend with as much confusion as she.   “The mist?”   Kassel dipped his head, his red-brown hair falling to hide his visage, and stormed ahead, hands clenched tightly on his backpack straps. Lorelei slipped her arms around her companion’s limp appendage and leaned closer to him.   “There is something about this place,” she whispered. “When have you ever seen Caton this spooked?”   “The last time his ex found him,” he said with wry laughter.   Making light of the situation was normally a Caton or Kassal thing, not a Vanjha thing. The other two constantly teased him about his serious nature and aversion to taking unwarranted chances just for thrills. Did he cover his unease with humor? And why had the other two converted to fear?  
  Lorelei's troubled thoughts fell away as she realized the tiles curved up the walls and continued along the ceiling, while the ground held jutting remains of stalagmites, rough stone, and pointed ends of broken roots. She cautiously avoided the obstacles, though her jacket and pants still brushed the surfaces and they snagged the fabric, refusing to let go without a yank.   Caton’s long, terrified scream reached her. She looked at Vanjha, and together they hustled through the remaining obstructions. Orange flickering light rebounded off the smooth sides of the wall; Rashak and Quainne must have triggered their staves again. She did not want to know what frightened her companion, but she could not leave him to become a beast’s prey.   Air met her boots.   She shrieked as she fell. Light jerked around and pointed up—Vanjha?—but she could not hear him. A pool of darkness swallowed them, and her momentum ceased. She flailed as her body bounced, but she did not feel anything that might have caught her.   “Lorelei!” Vanjha screamed.   “Where are you?”   The air brightened, and she watched mist congeal before her, creating a flat, reflective surface that curved backwards.   “Kra vel inne.” She twitched at the pet name her mother had given her. Curious still described her, but she left childhood long ago. “Why do you hurt my love so? I spoke of the mine. I said to never enter. You broke your promise, and now where is your friend?”   She stared at the crushed body, choking on a sob. That should have ended her wandering, the death of Juni. That should have ended her inquisitive nature. The hate that followed her footsteps after the accident should have frightened her enough to keep her vow to never place another friend in danger.   And where were those friends now?   “LORELEI!”   She reached for Vanjhe, but could not move. She had nothing to push off of or grab onto. She struggled against nothing; if she floated in water, that had resistance. Was she floating midair? How?   She dropped, stopped with a neck-cracking yank, dropped again, and landed on cold, cold ice. She hissed and rose, frost nipping at her exposed flesh on hands and face. The ice provided a dim bluish light, but she could not see anything besides the frozen water.   “I’m sorry!” Vanjhe sobbed. His voice echoed from all directions, and shadows rose from the cracks between ice squares. One grabbed another—from silhouettes, her and Vanjhe—and squeezed him to her.   “You owe them nothing,” her shadow whispered, her words riding the freezing wind that sapped her warmth with the first touch. “They didn’t approve of you, they kicked you out. You joined me, and we made the stars sing.”   She had much more to say when she soothed him after his family guilted him into attending his mother’s funeral. His father had raised a hand to him over his lack of remorse, a vicious reminder they saw physical abuse as the only means of communication. She stepped between, she took the hit—and neither she nor the other members of their little band would forgive the insult.   Had that asshole ever realized they became treasure hunters because it got Vanjha off the planet and away from him and his kin-bonded?   Caton had a sweet laugh. She frowned as his gleeful delight drowned the whispers and tugged at her humor, prodding her to laugh with him. She whirled, searching for her friend, but only shadows shared her sapce. They spun into nothing, a few drips of mist falling to the ice and forming frozen splashes where they landed. She pushed from her spot and towards the direction she thought his voice originaged. She slipped and slid at every step, falling, rising, continuing. After the last jarring collapse, she ceased walking. Ice still spread in all directions, and she had no idea where to go.   “Lorelei?”   She snapped her head up; Vanjhe trotted to her, holding something round. He had no difficulty parading across the ice; what boots had he bought, that they dug into the slick stuff so beautifully? He stopped and presented her with his find; a ruby held in stasis within a blue, glowing cube. He discovered it in a dried pool, along with several other items of import that had fallen from a cracked chest that lay, broken and disintegrating, to the side. Their first major find. Scholars hounded them for information, and the art auction had their most impressive day’s worth of sales when those items hit the auction block.   She studied his happy glow. “You’re not really here, are you?”   He shoved the ruby into her chest, and she grasped it before it fell. “What are you talking about? We’re rich, Lorelei! Kassal was right!”   Kassal was often right, moreso than the rest of them, and right in ways that made the rest of them feel foolish.   “That’s why you keep me around?”   She shuddered at the sensual heat in Kassal’s voice. Vanjha melted into the darkness with a wave, and water ran over her boots. She sank into the moist sand, the foamy edges of ocean leaving bubbles on the toes.   “No,” her previous self whispered. No shadows acted out their hand-holding, but mist smoothed her cheek, her neck, wrapped around the ruby and swallowed it in a bright white flash before it pressed against her back, heavy.   “Leave me alone!” she shrieked. She fled through the sands, through forests, through arid lands of dry plants and cracked stone. Her and her band’s antiquated targets rose before her, and the thrill of seeing them for the first time slashed through her fear. Delight in holding history, interest in the whys and hows of an object’s creation . . .   When had they lost that joy?   “Do you really want to face the Flayn?” Kassal asked. He stood before their ship’s console, hands on hips, staring out at the humongous scout ship that floated above the planet Sensour. “They have a habit of shooting first, asking never.”   “We already put too much money into this one,” Lorelei had said. “We need this payday.”   Caton raised a glass to her with a too-wide smile, red cheeks blazing the same color as his shoulder-length hair, his form floating above the ground as if he were a ghost. A ghost. There was something about the Forest Temple and ghosts, some sort of memory thing. She had skimmed research on it, but did not retain much; after all, she never expected to enter the place. There were other, less-hidden religious centers to plunder.   Joy and fear, hate and love, ecstasy and pain, washed over her as she escaped the ghost and ran. She remembered the incidents as if she re-lived them, each one newly burned into her thoughts and emotions.   Shadows rose again, this time holding spears. She gasped; she did not remember this. Cloaked figures parted the misty air, intent on her. She grabbed her weapon and aimed with the red-lit sight, and fired, shimmery projectiles racing from the barrel and zipping through them with no effect.   Something ripped the firearm from her grasp.   She turned to run and tripped over someone else’s legs. They landed together on wide, ashen tiles, at the feet of several more spear-wielding cloaked beings. Vanjhe untangled from her then froze. Caton whimpered, and she looked over at him; he curled into a ball on the flooring, hands over his head. Kassal, one hand on Caton’s side, stared up at a cluster of figures slowly forming from the darkness.   Verryn leaned against a blackwood railing that lined the walkway, a young, dusky-haired boy plastered against his side, his skinny arms wrapped around his waist. The soldier spoke with a man his height, with eyes that glowed a fierce, unfriendly blue. Those eyes focused on her, and she whimpered.   “Welcome to the Forest Temple,” he said, his low voice ricocheting around them and filling the otherwise empty void with calm ice. “Death is eager to meet you.” Lorelei could not say the same.


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