The 31st Day of Ripening Season, 342 years After Mourning
The superstitions are wrong; the whispered rumors false. The future awaiting us is a lie. Sisters, with your grace leading me, I have once again discerned the truth. The rancid claws of demons embedded deep within our flesh are nothing more than petty thieves. Hope, the gift you bestow upon us daily with the rising dawn, is no more fleeting than the stars in the evening sky. Hope is alive! My spirit rejoices within the chipped and dented walls of this abandoned farm. You have guided my steps here, Sisters, and with each room I enter, dust motes dance in the air like dreams of each of our possible futures awaiting capture. All I need do is bury the dead and reach beyond the lies.
I know not how the temple fares, but for the fourth day in a row, we have lost no one. Of those we have gained, we have slowly discovered more about them. In the beginning, the children refused to speak, or come out from their hiding place under the broken floorboards. Spears of fright ensnare a mind quicker, and more assuredly, than any hunter’s trap. Barly and I took turns coaxing them out, urging them to join us, to no avail. They remained half-hidden in the shadows until Noreen approached with a handful of fresh strawberries. Silence and the lure of sweet berries succeeded where words could not. Pink juices dripped down their filthy chins, and just as the desire to eat fresh food overpowered their fear, the desire to release their grief and burden another with it overpowered everything else. Once the words began to flow, choppy and disordered at first, we began to understand more about how three forsaken children came to call the dirt they shared with a family of field mice under an abandoned house their home.
Surprisingly, none of the hidden children belonged to the farm, or the farm to them. Ellison and his sister, Ivette, arrived first. Wheat farmers outside a small village north of the city, they fled not sickness, but mysterious strangers dressed in black armor, and the plumes of smoke that arrived shortly after them. Along the road to Aramas, the plague in its indifference struck both mother and father. The children waited beside their parents’ corpses for another day and night, hoping for a miracle that never came. The following morning, they sang the song without a candle and by the time they laid the last stone on the burial mound, their tears had dried leaving a crusty path on their cheeks and both moons were high in the sky. Two days later, weak and half-starved, carried forward by a force they could never name, they stumbled into the farmyard.
Ellison is of an age with Barly and the two boys have formed a fast friendship by consciously avoiding things like family and history. With little encouragement, the lads have taken over the fields, and though they cannot hope to manage the breadth of the farm, it warms my heart to see the purpose in their eyes and the strength in their steps. Noreen is older than Ivette, I suspect by at least two years, but the latter has asserted her role as mentor to the older girl. Noreen remains quiet, and I wonder if the demons that live within her will ever be expelled. Both of the girls have taken to foraging and making repairs. Ivette is also teaching Noreen how to whittle, a skill learned from her grandfather. The girls have chosen to leave wooden ducks and horses to other craftsmen, preferring instead to carve small wooden knives whose blades are so sharp I spent one evening ripping an old apron into strips in order to bandage two of my fingers. The Sisters do not approve of weapons, I know, but these girls are not priestesses, nor do I know if you will lead them down that path. These girls are survivors and their path remains to be revealed.
Toddling after the girls–always toddling after them–is little Hugo. Ivette found the child, wailing naked in the chicken coop, the day before we arrived. She wrapped the small boy in her arms until his sobs dissolved into ragged gasps, and then finally into sniffles. Finally understanding his mother was gone, Hugo clung to Ivette like a shadow and hasn’t left her side. He can speak a few words, those his mother taught him before her disappearance. Death, gone, suffering—such words aren’t in his repertoire and I fear as a result, his past will forever remain a mystery. Perhaps his misfortune is a blessing.
The time away has been more of a balm to my spirit than the sweetest honey. My days are filled with regenerative purpose, not exhaustive labor. For the first time in months, I find myself questioning more and more. Something about this disease is . . . different. The boils are thicker. Death quicker. I’ve begun to record my findings, my questions, and my suspicions in the hopes of uncovering the truth. I know now, the battle has been cast. The players stagger through the battlefield ignorant, unaware of what lies at stake, and what beckons them closer—only to betray them.
Sisters, open my eyes that I may see.