Alex was buried that afternoon with full honours. The whole community gathered to pay their respects; they all knew he had sacrificed his life for them.
There had been whispers of him being buried at the cross roads outside town but I squashed those ideas before they could gather momentum. There was no way on earth I would allow him to be treated in such a fashion. His sacrifice had guaranteed his position in the cemetery and his right to a decent burial.
“It isn’t right this, this burial. He shouldn’t be on consecrated ground, he should have been burned, or put outside the town. It’s unholy—an affront to all that’s decent and right. Lord knows I don’t doubt his sacrifice, and I am ever thankful for it; but as soon as tradition and good sense goes out of the window, well, it’s a quick skip to complete anarchy.”
“I agree completely Agnes. It’s better to be safe than sorry—the priest is a fool. All the men are though for that woman. She seems to make them spellbound. I don’t understand why though, she gives me the shivers—those eyes of hers…”
“Don’t get me started on her Rachel. You know how I feel about her—Mute? Humph. I know better, I heard the story from Ned. She’s just too high and mighty to talk with the likes of us.”
I eyed the old woman, Agnes Black, who was whispering to her friend, Rachel Turncoat. Unfortunate names, I know. They were four rows back and to my left. I marked them well.
Agnes caught me looking and blushed at my stare. She tried hard not to be intimidated though and to look confident. She sat up taller in her seat, and fidgeted.
I left quickly after the service; I had no wish to be gawped at for longer than was necessary. I would return later, in the eve, when all was quiet and still.
I wanted to keep watch over him. I was sure he wouldn’t rise, due to the loss of his heart and head but I wanted to discourage any militant townsfolk who may entertain ideas of digging him up and spiriting away his body; either for burning or for hacking up. My written assurances that I had removed his head and heart wouldn’t satisfy some. They wouldn’t believe me.
I sat by his grave and placed a bunch of forget-me-nots on the mound of soft earth. I had no idea what to do. I now had no one to care for me, not that Alex did much caring but from the outside it may have appeared so.
The people of the township could force me to leave, after all Alex and I were Outsiders; wanderers of the wastes. We were people with no home or clan to call our own. We didn’t have any rights and were often looked on with disgust. Trading with us was fine but allowing us to have a permanent residence? That was a thought beyond most townies. Whitefalls however had been different. We were given a place to stay so long as we proved useful. Alex was skilled with a blade and bow, in an area so far removed and isolated within the wastes these talents were prized. He had helped man the defences for five years, and had worked his way up to leading his own band of men in that time.
I never felt useful or wanted. The women of this town are strangely removed from reality. Unlike most towns in the wastes these people have an organised religion, one that Alex feverously ascribed to after living here a while. And it is the women of the town who are the most serious about it; and in particular, to my mind, the three Ds; decorum, duty, and dullness. They seem to belong to a different age; an age whose brilliant fires died out long ago; but here is a flickering candle. They are a remnant of another time.
They puzzled me and I could not bring myself to seek their company. Now I doubt they would let me if I tried. I do not feel a rub though because the thought of spending time with them chokes my breath. And so they naturally look upon me with fear and anger; the threat I seem to pose to them and their ordered way of life.
My gods however do not frighten me nearly so much as theirs; their two-faced god with three forms. He frightens me for he smiles and offers me shelter, but behind him is a past is wreathed in fire and smoke. The form that smiles has a father who smites. I feel that too about the women; they smile at me and turn the other cheek to my supposed insults, but I worry that behind it all they are grinning and sharpening blades.
I jumped as a noise of scrabbling came from beneath the mound. It sounded like something was digging its way out of Alex’s grave. This wasn’t good and it should have been impossible. I had carried out the necessary actions to prevent a Rising; he should not have been able to wake.
I drew my dagger and my stake, though without his heart I had little idea what I could do, and prepared to meet Alex head on. But it became clear that it wasn’t him who was crawling up through the dirt. It was something that had been resting inside of him.
It wriggled up through the soil and gazed at me. I was unable to move with the shock and surprise of seeing such a creature. I swiftly recovered my wits and dived at it with my blade, but it was fast. It squealed, or rather shrieked at me, and fled from the grave, darting between the headstones.
I chased after it, my feet were also swift and I had good reflexes. I observed as I ran how its fluid, oily form was evolving and changing as it ran. It kept mutating into a myriad of forms and motions as it tried to evade me.
The dull candles on the gravestones cast a weak light but it was just strong enough to flash off its skin. The light darts allowed me to keep it in view; if not for them I would have had no hope of finding it.
It spotted a hole in the wall and made a sprint for it but I leapt and brought the dagger down onto it. I was lucky and the knife pinned it the floor. It began to screech as it spat black blood everywhere, the creature was fully impaled on the stiletto and as it died it struggled and screamed.
I backed away, horrified at the destruction and torment of the thing. It shrank and grew weak as its blood and life-force spurted onto the ground. When it finally stopped I crept in close and picked up the dagger. Beneath it was a smashed crystal.
I began to shake and cry soundlessly as I realised the enormity of what I had done. And of how lucky I had been.
The noises in the churchyard had unsurprisingly attracted the attention of the night watch man who now came hurrying into the yard; his lantern was light bobbing before him. I was still grounded enough to feel annoyed that he had only made an appearance after the screams had stopped, but then Ned had never been that brave or skilled at fighting. Snooping round peoples’ houses and spying on them seemed to be much more Ned’s kind of thing. I hid the blade and tried to wipe the blood from my hand. I rose and smoothly stood in front of the bloody patch. I didn’t want Ned to see anything. He shone his light close to my face and looked me over. His eyes were dark and large and his face pale and drawn.
“Miss James! What’s happened? Are you alright? I heard screams and came running, you haven’t been attacked have you?”
I shook my head.
“Are you sure? It sounded like something was in a lot of pain and sounded human in fact.” He eyed me shrewdly.
I felt anger flare up inside me. Athena grant me wisdom when dealing with such a fool, I thought, he obviously thinks it was me screaming, like he thought it was me singing. I shook my head again.
“You’re not hurt in any way? You’re fine?”
I nodded strongly. I wanted to get away from here but I wanted to take the crystal with me. It would need a further study; I had certain books that I thought would be useful.
“Hm. Did you hear anything then?”
I nodded and pointed out towards the forest. I shrugged.
“From the forest? Guess that’s possible, the wind is blowing mighty strangely tonight--probably a creature being killed by them demons.”
Ned glanced around, trying to check if there was anyone else in the yard. When he was satisfied he turned back to me. There was anger and suspicion in his eyes. “You can try to fool me Miss James but I ain’t believing it. You are up to something…I can’t prove anything now, of course. But I know you ain’t what you seem. If you know what's best for you...” His fiery god was burning in his eyes and I felt afraid, though with his reaction my fear of the people seemed justified. Then his countenance brightened, but this frightened me more than his anger, it was a veil of normality or a sudden realisation that he was speaking things he shouldn’t. “But then again who is eh?" He smiled. "I’ll be seeing you around Miss James.”
I watched as he left me, whistling a slight tune under his breath and swinging his lantern. I had never found Ned frightening before but I was now very wary of him. I didn’t like the idea of being observed by him, he suspected too much about me already.