• 03 Apr - 09 Apr, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Reet Moque went wading in the surf and wondered how far out she'd have to swim before she found a sea–death. They sometimes came in as near as the shore, supposedly, but usually not, usually you'd only find any from a boat. Moque wondered how hard it would be to kill a sea–death if she found one.

Probably, however hard it was to find a sea–death, it would be much harder to track down the specific sea–death that had taken her papa.

But she could maybe find another sea–death that would otherwise take somebody else's papa, and somehow overpower a creature bigger than her house. Somehow. And drive a sword into its eye – Well, nobody was going to sell a deathsbane sword to a twelve–year–old of no family, and she didn't know how to hold one anyway, and stabbing it with anything else would just make more deaths. Which would then eat her. Moque kicked the sand and turned around to go home.

She felt Eypa's shadow on her shoulder before the bird landed. "I haven't seen you," said Eypa. "Where have you been?"

"Papa died," said Moque, in a still, minimal voice. "I had to help our friends bury him, and say the Sendaway, and sit in mourning. What do dunlins do when other dunlins die?"

"Regular ones or me?" peeped Eypa. Eypa produced no comforting gestures; she had no fingers to run through Moque's hair and no pan of sweets to coax down Moque's throat and not enough control over how her voice sounded to lower and smooth it for Moque's ears. After four days of tenderly hovering neighbors, Moque was glad of the variety.


"Well, the answer is nothing either way, the others don't scarcely notice and I am hardly friends with them since they can't speak or think to speak or think of. But if you died I'd make a human teach me the Sendaway to say for you, if you liked."

Moque reached up to pet Eypa's feathers. Eypa permitted it, though as soon as Moque's hand fell away she preened her wing to put everything back in place. "I don't know what I'm going to do now," Moque said.

"Do?" asked Eypa.

"Without Papa."

"Why not do what you usually do? Make sandcastles and go to the shrine and play with that nasty little boy and talk to me."

"He isn't nasty, he just doesn't like birds."

"But you contradict yourself. Well?"

"I could try just doing that, but I don't have a job, and eventually I wouldn't be able to buy food."

"Oh. And you –"

"I can't eat bugs and snails like you. Even though they're free and even though I'm sure you'd help me find them."

"You could catch fish, you eat those."

"I don't know how to fish. I could learn, I guess, before the money runs out, but I don't think I want to be a fisher really." Not without a deathsbane sword in case of monster attack.

"Oh." Eypa considered this. "I don't know what you're going to do either."

Papa had friends. Moque had friends, too. She could probably get someone to take her in. But none of the friends were so close, or so possessed of spare money and space, that they assumed she would ask them rather than someone else. They hadn't started preemptively moving her things out of Papa's house, started rearranging their chore schedules to include her and set an extra place at the table. So, she had time to think.

Moque could look after herself, but sooner or later a neighbor or a friend would take exception to a twelve–year–old girl living there by herself, would suggest more or less forcefully that she sell it to some nice couple looking to start a family in a place of their own and fold herself into an occupied home.

She sat on her front steps and ate her last little sandwich.

The neighbor dog trotted by. He was a shaggy salt–and–pepper shepherd who, as a one–time wizard's familiar, could speak just like Eypa. He paused, looked at Moque, and went up to lie next to her on the steps and silently invite petting. She scratched him behind the ears.

"We're all going to be the poorer for Cors's loss," he said, after a minute.

"I know," murmured Moque.

"You'll let us know if you need anything, won't you, little miss Moque?" asked the dog.

She nodded. The dog licked her face, then went on about his business.

Moque didn't want to move in with the family the dog lived with, or with the boy who didn't like birds even though he had compensatory virtues, or with Papa's friend from the herring boat who had not been well enough for sailing the day the sea–death swallowed it.

If only Moque had a mother she wouldn't be at such a loss, but Papa had always bizarrely maintained that Moque did not have such a person – not that she was dead, which would have been ordinary enough, but that she did not have one.

Presented with a dilemma that having a mother would solve, Moque suddenly found this absurdity more pressing to investigate than she had before.

Moque went back indoors.

She went into Papa's closet, and pulled out the little old box that she'd never been allowed to look inside. She didn't think he'd meant to keep the contents secret forever and now he wasn't alive to locate the edges of not–forever.

The box was nailed shut. She had to detour to the toolbag, and saw off the corners of the lid, but then it lifted easily.

Inside, she found: A small square of fabric, dyed gold, with a longsword embroidered on it, white–bladed and silver–hilted – the Deathsbane crest.

A travel passbook from Charata City for someone named "Mr. Kelur Antre".

Moque didn't know exactly what to make of all this, but finding out sounded like a better plan than moping in Papa's empty house until somebody bustled her over to their dinner table, their squishy bedrooms with three children in them already, their hearths kept too cool and their soup served too hot.

Moque got a knapsack and her best shoes. She packed the contents of the little box, and enough food for five days, and all of the money she had left.

And she locked the door, left a note stuck to it for the curious neighbors, and started walking. She knew where to find Charata City.

Eypa caught up to her when Moque had been hiking south for less than an hour. "Where are you going?" asked the sandpiper.

"Charata City," said Moque. "Do you want to come?"

"Ooh, I don't think so. I've been there before and I came here, didn't I? Even if the only other speaking animal here is that bore of a dog."

"He's nice."

"Did I say otherwise? But no, I don't think so. Keep a lookout, will you?"

"Yeah," murmured Moque. She didn't think there were a lot of woods–deaths in the forest she'd need to traverse, but she might not be lucky, and there were lesser dangers than those which could be quite the hazard to a twelve–year–old girl anyway. But there was no reason deaths couldn't come to the village too. She petted Eypa and left.

Moque had been to the village just south of hers before, years ago, and Charata City was a few towns beyond that. All she had to do was walk along the beach. The weather was fine, so she slept on the shore rather than trouble the villagers for space on the hearth. The sand was soft enough and she picked up and moved on at dawn. It was – not exactly physically comfortable; her feet ached after the first few hours hiking, the sea was too cold to get sand off of herself with, and her rolls did not stay moist and chewy for long – but soul–comfortable.

There was a cliff that she encountered on the third day of her walk which obliged her to climb up the beach and the hills and go a ways into the woods to get around it. She probably looked like quite the ragamuffin, sandy with tangled hair, but she wasn't planning to stop where anyone would care.

She wasn't planning on it until she heard screaming, and turned to look, and saw more than a dozen people hurtling out of the woods past her. One of them, a large man, spotted her, veered in her direction, and before she could decide which way to try to run, scooped her up with his arm around her waist and kept going in his original direction, stride unbroken.

Moque couldn't protest immediately, because the wind was knocked out of her, but when she'd gotten her breath back, she yelled. "PUT ME DOWN!"

"Woods–death," panted the man. "Got a bunker. Lit the beacon."

Oh. That was an entirely sensible reason to pick up a strange girl and carry her off, really, and explained the other dozen screaming people. Moque couldn't see the woods–death through the trees. It might be in the middle of eating someone who hadn't been fast enough, or it might be up in the canopy.

The man carrying Moque tripped. Moque landed under him and squirmed out of the way to get her own feet under her and tear in the direction of the fleeing people. Probably faster than making him carry her, slight though she was. He was up and following a moment later and made no further attempt to lift her off the ground.

The bunker was only four minutes of desperate running away from where they'd intercepted Moque. It was set into one of those foothills she'd climbed over, but she hadn't noticed the slats of the door at the time.

It was locked. A spindly woman who looked like she'd bolted in the middle of kneading bread, flour on her sleeves and an apron tied around her waist, had a key; soon they were all inside in the dark and the door was locked again.

"Do you think any of the Gressens got out?" someone asked.

"Wouldn't leave the old lady."

"Stay within sight of the door in case, they don't have a key, and I didn't see that merchant fellow either – girl, who are you?"

"I'm Reet Moque," said Moque. "I was on my way to Charata City. Can I watch the door?"

"More power to you," said someone in shuddering tones. Moque pressed her face to the peephole. She didn't hear much of anything, but deaths were shockingly quiet for their size. And then she spotted it.

It was completely black. There was blood dripping from its jaws, and when it touched one of its six clawed feet to a tree or scraped yard–deep furrows in the ground it left bloody footprints, but just from being in contact with the death's exoskeleton the blood had gone black, too. She could see almost nothing but its silhouette and its eye.

She looked the death right in the pulsing blue glow of its eye and she wanted to stab it, it was a huge target, Moque could have stood upright in its eye socket, she could stab if it she had half a chance but she didn't have a sword she wanted a sword –

"Do we think this thing will hold?" wondered a boy. "The other bunker, will that one hold? My mother."

"This one has held before," said the man who'd carried Moque, if she didn't miss her guess about his voice, "so is the other. Just wait for the Deathsbane. They'll see the beacon, they'll follow the footprints, and they’ll get it."

And then it would be gotten, which Moque admitted to herself be the important thing.

The death approached the bunker. Moque knew that it could have crossed the distance faster than she could scream, but it wasn't in a hurry; it slunk. It dragged its jaws along the ground and made a wet inhaling noise. Its eye shone like the sky on a clear day and did not blink.

And then she heard hoofbeats.

The other people in the bunker with her made whimpering noises of hope.

Moque squinted through the peephole, shaking with envy for whoever was on that horse.

The death snapped its head up and moved.

And so did the armored knight on her armored horse, sword flashing. She leapt off her horse in some gymnastic maneuver and made it onto the broad flat plate of the death's upper back. The death rolled; the knight clung to a plate–edge. When it had its claws under it again the death unpeeled a forked tail from its underbelly and whipped it up towards the knight, but she was already climbing onto its head, out of the tail's reach. Its head tossed, its eye shone, and the knight was flung against the hillside so hard that Moque could feel the impact, against her cheek, through the door.

The woods–death was distracted by the horse, flailing and neighing either in a trained maneuver to divert deathly attention or in natural fear. The death closed its teeth, each as long as one of the horse's legs, on the top half of the rearing animal. Fangs screeched awfully against barding; blackened blood or spittle smeared on the exposed mane where it peeked through the wide–spaced needles.

The knight lopped the death's tail off and the death spat out the limp horse and spun to face her.

And she plunged her sword into its eye, and the glow snuffed out.

The villagers wouldn't let Moque open the bunker door immediately, even though she assured them the death was no longer moving or glowing. They waited, and Moque pressed her face to her peephole. Finally, after waiting for a few minutes, watching the death, the knight set down her sword and took her armor off, piece by piece, wincing, hissing. She limped over to her horse and confirmed that it was dead. And at last the knight called, "Anyone in there?"

"Yes!" said Moque. "A bunch of us!"

"You can come out now!"

And with that someone finally unlocked the door, and everyone came out, squinting, into the light.

Moque ran right up to the knight, who was trying to roll her left shoulder and not getting far, and prodding her ribs with her right hand. "That was amazing," Moque said. "I watched the whole thing. Where did you get your sword? Can I hold it?" –Anonymous

to be continued...