Awesiaki - Chap 15
I heard my mother groaning from up the tunnel. Jaralath turns to me “You stay with Mahalia and your mother.” He turns to Mahalia “You help Anya, if I am not up by the day break, you scout ahead and search for survivors.”
Mahalia nods, but I shake my head “Please, I have to be there for him…”
We stare back into the pit and we could hear the creatures beneath us moving about, waiting for something else to drop in.
“I can’t let you do that baby girl,” Jaralath shakes his head “It was bad enough you had to get caught in this fight. I can keep those things busy if they give me any trouble. But I won’t let you endanger yourself again.”
Before I could protest, Mahalia wraps her arms around me protectively “We’ll be right here when you get back. Not if, when.”
Jaralath nods at us before he began his trek down the long way “You two stay here, Anya needs your help more than I.”
With that, Jaralath began his descent into the pit. There was ways to the bottom that did not involve falling. A series of ropes, and ladders. All the cages were higher up, but the put had one cell at the very bottom.
While Mahalia and I helped my mother, I was shown and could even hear more of what was happening.
When Jaralath made his way to the pits depths, he was un-accosted for a dozen minutes. Despite the noises echoing through the mines, neither he nor I actually saw the last of the tainted ones. The cell was located at the farthest wall, and Jaralath wandered in the to the door, looking around at the floor beneath him. Nothing of worth there aside from half eaten bodies, and broken bones.
“Mueller!” He calls out “Mueller, can you hear me down here ?”
He didn’t get no response from my father, but in the darkness something was moving through the bones. He started breathing heavily, trying to make himself sound intimidating. I saw through his eyes as he continued to fumble around, he found himself surrounded by white eyes.
This is what remained of Chase’s brood; he mixed much of the creatures together hat we couldn’t tell for sure what they were anymore. They were simply abominable beast-men, having grown nearly hairless, pale and near blind by their years in the darkness, and starved insistently. They lurked around, chewing on bones and whatever piece of meat they could find.
I saw as Jaralath nearly trips, and looks down to see none other than Greeshawn Chase; if Greeshawn somehow survived the fall, there was no signs of it. His body was twisted and broken from the fall, his face was all but a mere bloody stain. The cutlass must have fallen out of his stomach upon impact, but his entrails peeled out onto the ground around him.
Jaralath made his way to the cells door and saw my father, curled on his floor. My father’s body has pale, and almost resembled a corpse. His clothes dirty and wet, and had it not been for the smallest signs of breathing, one would believe him dead.
“Erik! Erik, wake up!” Jaralath shouts.
My father turns his head up slightly, “Jaralath…” He barely whispers “I’ve been having so many dreams for so long, how can I tell that you’re not just another mocki-“
“Well consider this your rude awakening.” Jarlath notices the creatures have making their way to the cage.
I see Jaralath looking around, before he notices the sword dislodged from Greeshawn’s stomach. Jaralath hasitly runs to the sword and picks it up when he hears something else. Greeshawn was still breathing. He couldn’t move, and at most could twitch, but Greeshawn Chase was still barely alive.
Jaralath says no words to him, before he see’s the creatures smelling the air around him. He just takes the sword and hastily makes his way to the cell door. Jarlath sticks the sword in between the cells doorway and with all his might, pried the door off it’s hinges. The sound of the door falling to the ground roused my father’s attention. Jaralath walks up and crouches down to his eye level “Are you with me now, Mueller ?”
My father looks up and down Jaralath before he answers “You stink of those monsters.”
“Happens when you been spilling blood of the lot of them.” Jaralath nods. They are interrupted by the sound of Greeshawn coughing. Jaralath helps my father to his feet, and he uses the sword to help himself stand as they make their way to Greeshawn’s body.
Despite his best efforts, Greeshawn still couldn’t move anything besides his one good leg. He made an effort to look up at them “…ingratitude…I gave you so much, and you give me-” He tries to say before he starts coughing again.
Jaralath looks again to see the creatures still watching and sniffing from the darkness “Don’t pay him no mind Erik; he’s dead already.”
My father shakes his head “Not yet he isn’t.” And with that, he takes the sword, raises it above his head and brings it down through Greeshawn’s good leg. Greeshawn lets out an ungodly scream, so loud that it caught not just my attention, but that of my mother and Mahalia. Jaralath takes my fathers hand and they make their way back to the ladders, and the creatures made their way towards Greeshawn
Greeshawn was left behind, shaking, shouting and cursing on the pits ground and the creatures quickly surround him. The creatures began biting, clawing and tearing at every bit of flesh and bone they could get their teeth or claws on. The dug into his entrails, fought each other for his limbs, taking bites at his face and neck. Greeshawn’s screams echoed throughout the mines, and were soon overwhelmed by the sounds of the creatures fighting eachother for a piece of him.
After another dozen minutes, my father emerged from the darkness along with Jaralath.
By the time we saw them, we managed to roll the stone off my mothers leg. At the sight of my father, I immediately became overwhelmed ran to him in excitement. I couldn’t recall what I was saying to him as he takes me in his arms, but from what I could remember it was incoherent blubbering. I also couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying on his end.
My mother herself tries to get up, but her foot was broken from the stone. Mahalia tries her best to help her up, and she had to make due with having my mother lean on her. My father carries me to her, taking my mother into the embrace as well. Mahalia and Jaralath step aside and watch from the corner. For the longest few moments in our lives, no words were spoken between. The silence did all the talking for us. Then we heard the wind.
As soon as it started, the ashes and dirt around us formed the visage of the Devourer, once again standing before us. “It’s all here now child. The false king lies dead, his kingdom in ruins. Of course, the living dead are loosed upon my land, but you can remedy that.“
“Is that ?…” My father starts to ask.
“The Devourer.” Mahlia answers with a nod.
“One of many names the world has given me. There are those who call me Demiurge. There are those who call me Ahriman. I have been given so many names and titles across these worlds, they are hard to keep track at times.“
“Don’t you listen to anything he-” Mahalia starts to warn me, and the wind picks up. A great pain flows through the caverns as the five of us collapse into the dirt. It was as if we were stung by dozens of wasps at once. To painful to live with, not enough to die.
“As I said child, I require the spilling of your blood in return of my services. I can show you the power you have hidden within yourself. You have had half of your blood before me, now you have both.” With a wave of it’s hand, a long, thin blade was revealed, and placed into my hand “I can do many things little one, but taking life with my own hands is a limitation. Spill the blood, the life from them, while they’re weak. I can show you many things, even how to kill these bloodsuckers.”
It began showing me more and more visions. A thousand thoughts must have crossed through my heads at once, seeing a glimpse of it throughout the world; building empires, dynasties, churches even, built on the blood and bones of animal and man alike. Almost each and every time, he has appeared under a different name, and a different mask. Though different proxies, so called kings, queens, high priests, any title that means power. Many have served this being whether they knew it or not, and as it began to show me what I could have, and older me sat on one of it’s thrones.
“Pay up your end.” It whispers to me “And I can fulfill your true destiny.”
I remember staring at him, at my family, and the knife. After a moment I look at it in it’s eyes, and I knew what to do.
I spat into it’s eye, and it’s demeanor dropped, along with the knife.
“No.” I answer it.
“What’s this ?” It asks as the wind stops.
“You lost.” I reply.
“I can promise you so much, as you have promised me!”
“I promised you nothing.” I say to it “I ask if you could help my family. I did not say I would do anything for you in return. We didn’t shake hands, we didn’t sign anything, I didn’t say anything.”
It takes another minute of silence before it growls “You tried to trick me! To use me!”
“I didn’t try.” I answer it.
“Think about this child, I will give you so much. But if you deny me what’s mine I will-“
“Do what ? You said yourself that you can’t take a life with your own hands.” I say, as I pick up the knife and walk towards the edge of the pit. I turn back to face it, looking at my parents, Jaralath, and Mahalia “No ones on your side now.” I say, tossing the knife over my shoulder and into the darkness below.
It looks on for another moment staring around at us, as its face turned into a grimace. I could even see it starting to shake. “Know this, be it my roots or my branches, my reach is far. In your youth or your old age, pray to anyone who cares that you will not see me or my own, with a new name or face.“
With those words, the figure drifted away with a final gust. All that it left behind was shadows and ashes.
My parents barley manage to stand, and needed Jaralath and Mahalia to support themselves. As we emerged from the mines, the day has broken. The camp was a smoldering wreck. Those who were not dead were barely alive. Former prisoners, walking corpses just standing and wandering post battle. Perhaps it was thought that when they became free there would be a grand and joyous celebration, but everything was quiet and somber.
Many have taken to licking their wounds, collecting their thoughts. The Forest People seemed to be avoiding them and tending to their own wounded. They have spent so long starving, trapped in darkness, afflicted by Jaralath’s disease and must have sacrificed just short of all their humanity to survive this fight. At their feet their captors laid slaughtered and their prison in ruins. How much reason did they have to be happy from all of this ?
Mahalia made her way to her family, and we followed after her. There her adopted father lied surrounded by his other children, barely clinging to life. Mahalia was beside herself as she crouched to him, and tried to speak. It was in their language. He sounded content with what has happening, and Mahlia was just barely able to hold herself together, but he must have said something to make her nod.
Neither of us said or did anything, as she placed her head on her fathers chest, silently listening to him breathing his last. When he finally stilled, Mahalia began to breath heavily, and her siblings began making mournful groans, whoops and whimpers.
After a while Mahalia wiped her eyes as she got back to her feet to face us “We did it. We won. That is what matters.” She says in a still voice.
“Did we win ? We didn’t save everyone.” Jaralath asks.
“Could we have saved everyone ?” Mahalia asks, shaking her head “We can only salvage what was left.” Mahalia manages to save before collapsing into Jaralath into a sobbing heap.
From there there was a long and quiet day of the weak and wondering being treated in what remains of the village. The Forest People didn’t join them, simply taking their dead to bury, Mahalia and Jaralath joined them for the burial.
My parents brought me to our house, simply taking the time there to sit and relax. Which was easier said than done.
When night came, no one slept. At the very least my father tried but kept waking up screaming.
Come the next day, my father took me for a walk. Mother was still confined to her bed, and father needed to get some air.
We saw the Forest People watching us from the trees, but we didn’t bother each other, before we eventually reached a clearing. Mahalia was sitting by a pond, despondently picking at grass. We thought it was best not to disturb her when we saw Jaralath leaning at a tree with a somber look on his face.
My father walks me up to Jaralath and says to him “Is she alright ?”
Jaralath shakes his head “She lost a lot of her family to get where we are now. Like the rest of us, she just needs time and space to recover. As do I.”
“I see,” My father nods “I’m sorry to hear about your dog.”
Jaralath looks to us “Arf was far more than a mere dog to me. I am proud to say he went out fighting. It would have meant more to have him with us.”
“What about her?” I ask him.
“She lost a whole lot of herself lately. She’s been carrying something I put in her for some time now.” This caught me and my father by surprise before Jaralath catches on and corrects herself “No, it’s nothing like that! We were waiting for this to all over before we try for a child. For the past few years, Mahalia and I have been seeking to cure my condition, and some time ago she had me infect her too.”
I stare and walk up to Mahalia, and she just looks at me. I didn’t say anything when she just looked at me, and I pulled her into a hug “It’s okay,” I tell her “It’s all going to be okay.”
Mahalia was still for a moment before she hugs me back “One of the last discussions I have had with him was about my place in the world; that this was not a life for a human to live; that when the time, I was to return to my people.” Mahalia continues as she began to cry “I don’t know where to look! I don’t know what I am, what my old tribe was! I don’t know if I were Navajo, Cree, or-I know no other family. I don’t know what place I have in this world.”
I take her face into my hands and make her face me “That is not true. You know it, I know it. We know it.” This only serves to make Mahalia cry harder, and she pulls me into a bigger hug. She starts whispering to me in the Forest People’s language as I return the hug.
“I love you too.” I answer her.
Later in the day, the villagers were seeking some resolution. After spending enough time recovering, we made way to the remains of the church. It was all but torn asunder from the fighting two nights before.
No one knew for sure where to go from here, especially in the state most of us were in.
Many of these people spent so long in cages and chains, feeding upon the flesh and blood of others at the behest of their tyrant. How does one come back from that ? All but a few of them have become the living dead due to Jaralath’s blood. They discussed and argued among themselves, and a lot of the children couldn’t tell what exactly this all meant. They were confused, demoralized, and afraid; they lost so much of their old lives, there was virtually no way they could get them back.
All eyes were on Jaralath and Mahalia when they two entered, having to explain themselves, and what has happened. This is when our people started to debate, if Jaralath should live or die.
“He’s the Bloodletter! That very ghoul who brought us here!”
“He grew up with us, I’ve worked with him on the farm when he was a lad.”
“Anyone with eyes can see he’s was a slave, and we all saw how he was the one who brought us out of our prison. I saw him leading the charge to save us.”
“He’s the one whose blood gave us this curse!”
“That curse as you all call it was what made us strong! It is what saved us!”
“He saved my life on a hunting trip before this all started. He couldn’t be the monster you describe him as.”
It went on like these for hours, all the while Jaralath himself quietly waited in the corner. It was those who knew Jaralath as a slave, and as a person vs those who only saw him as a monster. It came the time that my mother and father spoke up. “Had you all known the whole story, you would know that Jarlath Caulfield and his wife are the ones who saved us. They were the ones who taught our people of the world beyond what we knew. These two have had what it takes to lead us. I say they may very well be our true leaders.”
Many of our villagers knew them from my brief time teaching them, and so they could be vouched for. Over all, they took the word of Greeshawn’s “favorite” as someone to empathize with. When it was finally put to a vote, Jaralath’s fate was decided; he and Mahalia would lead us out of this land and into a new life, to salvage what they could.
Then came the funeral, and whatever could be salvaged, would be salvaged. Many mutilated bodies were burned upon a bonfire. The clean bodies were all buried. Jarlath and a small company went to the fields to find the body of Angelica Chase, where she was given her own burning. A night fell and we gathered once again, Jaralath spoke to our people with Mahalia at his side.
“I know there is little I can do to right the wrongs I did against you people. I could make a statement of how my blood connects us all. I could make a grand speech about how I suffered with you as a slave and prisoner to Greeshawn Chase; how I’d bleed to the last drop for you. But what you want to hear, is how and what we can do to move on. Because the truth is, I am a man of my word; when I say I am going to pay for my sins with my life, I do mean it; even if it means I have to spend the rest of my life paying for it, and restoring all that was lost to you. For the longest time, Awesiaki was a nightmare, one that we all shared in, and so if I am going to help you. We cannot create a new life in this Hell, that’s what started this in the first place. We are to leave Awesiaki behind; leave it to the ashes, and pray to whoever’s listening, that it won’t be rebuilt again. To bury and burn this dark and haunting memory. For those who were with me from the beginning, I hope you all understand, that we were never meant to come here. The only thing left for either of us isn’t here, but far beyond these borders. I know it would be madness to thank each other for being here through all this, but as I take my first step away from this accursed land, I will be thankful that you join me.“
To say this was a happily ever after was an overstatement.
For the better part of my life, I have heard of the concept of man and beast living alongside each other in a perfect harmonious paradise. A nice dream to think of, but we all awaken from our dreams eventually.
Jaralath and Mahalia led us all to the remains of the docking village he worked in. With no life there and nowhere else for us to go, our people settled there for some time, to rebuild a semblance of their lives.
The Forest People did not live along side us, but neighbored us. While it was an entertaining fantasy that we would come together as one people, but we found ourselves to different to truly co-habitate. The children often played together, made a came of catching eachother in the woods, but that was generally seen as the exception.
As for the tainted ones, while we never had trouble with them ourselves, we have heard sightings of them from the occasional traveler; as for the Devourer, we have also heard reports of a suspiciously similar dark figure appearing and disappearing; many of those sighting were reported by ships from Europe.
Over the years, the search for the cure has yielded little to no results. Many have given up on the notion of a cure all together; many left the village all together content to start a new life for themselves in spite of being the undead. Regardless, Mahalia and Jaralath remained steadfast in their search, taken to sea farring journeys to other lands.
Bit by bit, as Mahalia became detached from her forest family, although she held on the memory and the spirits taught to her. A few years down the line, she and Jaralath presented a new member of their own growing in family, in the form of their daughter Angelica. Aside from our village leaders, Mahalia and Jaralath shared their knowledge of the supernatural world with their people, telling children the tales they grew up with, as they have before.
As for what happened in Awesiaki, our people cared not to speak of it. They preferred to think of it all as a nightmare to move on from. I have often overheard my parents speaking with Jaralath and Mahalia. For some time now they have traveled over this land, doing what they can to cover up, any and all knowledge of Awesiaki; documents were burned, witnesses were bribed, intimated or talked into silence.
They feared that so long as it’s horrid legacy could live, than the Devourer could still have some sort of foothold in this world. The only words that were spared were that of our own people…albeit, due to my own interference and secrets.
May 21st, 1649
Through the years, I to had to move on as well. A few years back, my parents both felt they had too many bitter memories of this land. They have always entertained the notion of one day dying together in their motherlands. Five years ago, we made port in Romania, settled in my mother’s grandparents home of the Carpathian Mountains and for the most part they never left. Awesiaki was all but a distant memory, a fading dream if anything.
As I grew older, I’ve taken to traveling as well. Not too far from my parents reach, but as I’ve grown into a young woman, I have made a small home for myself in Ukraine, in which I took a lover of my own, to whom I confided the truth – but that’s a different story.
Every so often, Jaralath and Mahalia would make port on their sea faring travels, but over time those are becoming more few and far between. To my knowledge, the search for the cure to the undead curse they carry is still ongoing. I too wished to go on such travels when the time comes, and even began to write a list of lands I wished to visit.
One lesson that always stuck with me was how among the greatest gifts one could give; people keep their Holy Books and tales within them; they tell tales of gods and monsters, believe in such things, in many ways making them real. If they had existed, they’d have to be long dead, but by telling their stories we them alive in some form or another. Well, for the longest time, I kept the stories my family told me as a child, and to me that is my faith. They are my truth.
It would be a dream come true for Awesiaki to be this distant nightmare, but for it to be completely buried, would mean burying the tales of those who been there, lived there and died there. There may be fears that the Devourer still has a foothold on the world; but he exists elsewhere anyways; Germany, France, Egypt, all with a different name, and I do not fear him – I know this was far from the first or last time he tried to rebuild his kingdom.
And so behind the backs of my family, I kept the testimonies of those who were there, and collected them in a book, and kept it with me in secret. I will share it, only with my family, and keep those we lost alive in a new form.
However, I chose not to dwell on this forever. This will only hold me back in life, and the longer I dwell, the longer it will truly haunt me.
And so, once and for all, I leave Awesiaki behind.
Signed, Edith Mueller.