Welcome back! This Five Word Story is a product of the words put forth by Amreta Bernard, and the words are soul, passion, wanderlust, stardust and shadows. Haffun!
A small village in Hungary. That’s where she was born. A queer village, some might say. But it was home nonetheless. It was a place full of love and laughter, a place that never turned a traveller away. No matter where you came from or who you were, if you passed through that village, you would be welcomed with a hot drink, a meal and a place to sleep for the night.
It was a philosophy that they followed, because it was what they hoped to receive when they travelled.
And they travelled because they were all wise people. Wise old men and women, crones and warlocks, people of the earth. They came from a small tribe named the Anasztazia, a people who believed that every sort of knowledge was sacred. They would travel around the world, learning the secrets of air and water, of fire and earth. Of spirits and healing, of trees and the children of the wild. They would learn it and bring it back to their village, and preserve it in huge old tomes that would, they hoped, keep the essence of sacred knowledge.
Each of them was born with an inherent wanderlust. They would love their village and their people, but they would always have a restless edge, a side of them that would never be satisfied till they left and saw the world. And this side was indulged. Every member of the tribe was sent out into the world when they came of age, and they would spend nigh on twenty years travelling. When they returned, they would add to their priceless storehouse of learning – and in the process, become a full member of the order.
When they returned, they would have a feast. Oh, what a celebration it would be. And that night, the returned person would choose a bride or a groom. And they would become one in the village square, in full view of everyone. Passion and knowledge – the Anasztazia believed that, without these, mankind would waste away and be no more.
And she was no different. She was a sprightly child, taking an interest in everything that she saw and heard and touched and smelled. She would go running after frogs in the forest and sit for hours with the elders as they told their stories. She would watch her mother cook her stews and play war games with the other children. And from everything that she came into contact with, she would learn.
She was gifted, even by the standards of her tribe.
On her anointed name day, her mother hugged her and sent her off. They never left with much, her tribespeople. A few roots and herbs for healing and sickness, an extra set of clothing, a staff and a few books – that was all that they carried with them. This came from the belief that you came into the world with nothing and you would leave with nothing – but what you did in between could make you immortal.
She travelled to the ends of the earth, more extensively than any member of her tribe had ever gone. And she saw wondrous things. She met people who could bind your shadow to you or take it away completely. She ate and drank with the Meer, a curious tribe of people who ate nothing that grew under the ground. She lived with the Builders, a guild of master architects who drank from goblets of bone and wore only animal skin. She met with the High Mother of the Valaha, and learned the secrets of bringing dead things back to life.
And, through all these experiences, she learned.
Twenty summers later, she returned to her village. It was still the same quaint little place, and it received her with open arms. When she told them what she had learned, her chief had declared that they would throw the most lavish feast the village had ever seen. There would be meat and wine and music on a scale that was unprecedented.
For the greatest scholar to ever roam the earth had returned.
That night, she ate and drank till the earth swirled beneath her feet. And when the time came, she chose the man she had wanted since she was a little girl. He took her in his arms and tore her clothes off, and the entire village watched as they consummated their togetherness in a frenzy of passion.
The next morning, she woke up comfortably sore, and she knew that she was a woman of her tribe.
Eventually she gave birth to a little girl, and she continued to work towards the preservation of the knowledge of the world. She even had her own little stall in the village market, selling spices and herbs and healing potions. All was well in her world.
But, of course, all good things come to an end.
A little girl who came with her mother to the market from a nearby town was running around the stalls, watching and playing with everything she could lay her hands on. In her childlike haste, she bumped into a jar that was sitting on a stall table. The jar fell onto her foot, and the black powder in it poured out onto her.
She saw this, and her gut clenched with dread. She knew what was in that jar.
Stardust. A wondrous powder, one that could cure even the most powerful ailment. One pinch, and any infirmity or sickness would be gone.
But the problem with stardust was that any more than a pinch, and no medicine in the world could save your life.
Before her eyes, the little girl fell to the ground, clutching her throat. Rivulets of blood began to flow from her body, until she was dry as a bone. A lifeless husk lay where a vibrant young girl had been but a few minutes ago.
Her mother broke down completely, beating her breast and wailing about her child. They had to drag her away from the corpse. But as they were pulling her away, she uttered something. Something only one person heard.
“I’ll see to you all later.”
And, in that moment, she knew. This was not over.
That night, she went out into the fields to pick mooncaps, a special kind of mushroom that bloomed on the full moon. While she was bent over, picking them out of the ground, she became aware of a glow off to the east. As she stood up and looked at it, horror filled her.
It was fire. And it was in her village.
She ran as quickly as she could, but to no avail. By the time she got there, nothing was left. It was a burnt ruin. The townspeople had come with the mother, and burned everything. Every book and scroll was decimated, leaving nothing behind. Every person who managed to escape the blaze was hacked down.
The awful truth gripped her. Her home. Her people. Her family. It was all gone.
She was all that was left of her village and her people.
She cried for days, laying there in the mud. She felt lost, alone, helpless. But three days later, she arose. A terrible resolve gripped her.
She would not let this pass.
She laboured, on and on. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years – but she would not stop. She toiled endlessly, rebuilding the wealth of knowledge that her people had created. Everything she had learned her whole life, she put into those books. For fifteen years, her task consumed her. And then, at long last, she was done. She had put down everything she could possibly remember.
Instructions on how to continue her task were the last thing she wrote. And then she turned her mind to the other task.
For along with secrets of learning and healing, the Anasztazia learned more terrible things as well. Arts of the shadows and the demons. How to summon spirits and control them, how to make them bend to your will. And she was going to use every last piece of her knowledge to carry out what she wanted to do.
For nearly a year, she worked. It would be the single greatest piece of work anyone had ever wrought, and it had to be perfect.
Then one night, she was ready.
She began to chant, in the rough tongue of her people, intermingled with the language of the shadowland. The voice of the demons and spirits that would aid her in her task overtook her throat, and the enchantment came to life. Every piece of energy that she had saved over the decades flowed through her limbs as she spoke, and she closed her eyes as she felt it take hold.
And across the world, every person who had seen more than twenty summers awoke with a start. Something was wrong, they could feel it. It was as if the warmth was being stolen from their bones. And terrible things began to happen.
Tattoos came to life and throttled their wearers. Shadows animated themselves, and slit their masters’ throats. Fireplaces exploded, leaving behind charred remains of human beings. Roofs collapsed, animals attacked. The world fell into chaos.
She had killed their souls. And when a soul dies, the forces of the world conspire to kill the body as well.
She had completed her task. She picked up her husband’s knife, charred from the fire that had killed him. She drew it across her throat, and felt the blood start to flow down her chest.
She lay down. The adults of the world did not deserve the beauty and knowledge of the world. She had taken their very lives from them, as they had taken the lives of the innocent. The children would be all that was left. They would not fight. They would not harm one another. They would live together in harmony. And the coming generations would do the same, as they had no evil precedent.
From the innocence of children, a new world would arise.