A steely silence hung in the air like a fog whilst the party digested what they saw. Crysx cleared his throat and turned to go back up the stairs. The weight of that curse mark was a lot for him, he just couldn’t stand in that room anymore. Tiberius followed suit but Corbin and Lisbeth remained. Though the sky was grey, Tiberius and Crysx squinted in the light of day after their eyes had adjusted to the dark during their investigation. Mia was still kneeling next to some of the rubble with a listless expression on her face. He gave Tiberius a look that he immediately understood. Boots crunching in the snow as he walked, he made his way over to Mia and knelt in front of her. He placed a hand on her shoulder, her eyes lifted to meet his, watery and hopeless.

“We found something in the basement,” he said softly, “it’s what we guess to be a curse mark. It was drawn on a sack down there. Has anyone been cast out of the farm recently? Someone who may have been angry with the rest of the community, perhaps?” He did his best to use a gentle tone of voice to soften the blow of the possibility.

She searched her mind, the clockwork of thought in her eyes revealing itself. She went to answer, but only a squeak came out, her eyes filling with tears again. Crysx’s heart ached, he didn’t want to force her to talk about it but it needed to be done. Wiping her eyes, Mia shook her head. Crysx sighed, hoping that this could have been wrapped up rather easily. He looked over his shoulder to see Tiberius walking among the wreckage, clearly unsure what to do with himself while Crysx tried to find an answer. He poked at the charred pieces of wood with his boot, shuffling them around once more to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. Much to his disappointment, there was nothing.

 

———————————

 

“I can’t determine the origin of this mark,” Corbin said with venom in his voice, frustrated at his lack of knowledge. He stared at the mark with determination, it almost felt like it stared back though it bore no visage of a living creature.

“I hope the farm folk are as clueless as we are, otherwise the elders aren’t doing their job to protect their people,” Lisbeth said. Her voice wasn’t inherently angry or bewildered, just thoughtful. The hands of her mind were fondling this puzzle box of a case but to no avail. “We should find out where those elders are, exactly. Speaking with one would certainly be more helpful than the girl. Ithildin have mercy on her, but I can’t say I blame her,” Lisbeth mumbled, standing and turning to the stairs. Her boots thudded heavily on them as she came back to the frostbitten land that was a functioning farm earlier in  the year. Corbin followed, shooting the mark one last glance before climbing the stairs. Its image seemed to claw at his soul, hateful and malicious. It chilled him, though he couldn’t figure out why. His curiosity had bested him in that moment. Walking back over to the sack once more, he pulled out a small knife and cut open the sack. The grain inside had gone black, the smell of mold and decay filled his nose. It made him sneeze, and before his eyes the rot started to spread, devouring the other food items in the basement. All of it withered before his eyes, and thankfully the curse didn’t seem to spread beyond that. That could’ve been a grave mistake, he thought to himself, now ascending the stairs as well.

The crew started throwing ideas around about how to be the most productive. An insane idea had entered Lisbeth’s mind, though she didn’t mention it just yet. She broke off from the group for a moment to speak with Mia again. “Do you know where they buried your father?” Lisbeth asked. Mia’s gaze fixated on the sack tied to Lisbeth’s belt, the one that held her father’s frozen head. “It’s important to make sure the dead are whole so the spirit can find rest. After all you two have been through, you both deserve some rest,” she said, trying to sound reassuring. It was a macabre topic of conversation but Lisbeth’s duties to her religion made it necessary.

“I can take you there. It’s in the meeting hall of the Ealdermen, where they meet to discuss important matters,” Mia’s voice sounded as if it would fail her at any moment. “It’s typically locked because only Ealdermen are allowed inside. You’d have to speak with them to gain passage.”

Lisbeth chewed on that for second, she couldn’t help but think, Oh, we’ll get in. With or without them. She gave a small nod to Mia before proposing the idea to the group. Crysx and Tiberius understood the religious weight of the situation, but something about this made Corbin suspicious. Lisbeth’s heart was too big for this to be a simple gesture, the others were too devout to see it. Corbin knew if he spoke up, the others wouldn’t hear him. “I really think that the best course of action is to do this without the Ealdormen. They won’t understand the burial rites, they probably would be offended,” Lisbeth said to the party.

“Well, shouldn’t they perform their own rites?” Tiberius was interested in Lisbeth’s thinking.

“No, not this time. there’s a curse involved and I’m not entirely sure their beliefs can shield them,” She answered confidently. She was certainly right in that, Crysx and Tiberius knew it. It was all they needed to agree this was the course they would take. Corbin’s stomach writhed like a pit of snakes. Being an elf of cold fact, this religious approach was making him uneasy. He believed that his calculated magic could circumvent the curse, obliterate it even. He knew better, though, Crysx, Lisbeth, and Tiberius would have none of it. Not until they failed.

Lisbeth had planted her seed, and she knew it would blossom. Once in the act, they couldn’t stop her. I’ve never resurrected anyone before, she thought, I hope this curse doesn’t affect it too much…

 

 

Stay Metal \m/