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Several writing exercises for my novel-in-progress, Heretic's Game
Chapter 1, Duty
The spring rains have arrived. Along with them, the fevers that plague the slums of a large city like Direnla are swamping the healers at Solcan's temple. Those that they cannot save or have no hope of saving are sent to Rydal's temple. My temple.
As such a new monk, I am given the daunting task of ending the suffering of those that are not yet dead. It can be seen as a mercy to those that are suffering, but those, like me, that have to end their lives have to deal with the guilt. Although this is my first time doing my duty as a monk in Rydal's service, so I can't be sure what I might or might not feel.
I look in the silver mirror, carefully tucking away my distinctive red hair. A Rydal monk in the course of his duty is a nameless, faceless figure. The only thing that will set me apart from other monks, once I pull the hood over my face, will be the silver embroidery at the hems of my robes that mark me only as a trained necromancer.
My own reflection stares back at me with the dead, emotionless eyes that so many people carefully avoid looking into. Even I can't look at them directly, so I choose to focus on making sure that the cowl is pulled up over my head properly. There is a veil that pulls down to cover my face, made with a special cloth that allows me to see out with minimal affect on my vision. The same effect could be made with magic, but this is tradition and I simply don't have the time to work on a spell to cover my face. People are suffering, after all, and it is now my job to end that for them.
On entering the chamber, the first thing that strikes me is the scent. There must be a hundred bodies in here, in various stages of an agonizing, fevered death. The air is much too warm and moist, thick with sweat and the smell of sickness. The next thing I notice is that among all these bodies, I am the only one that is healthy. I'm expected to do this alone.
Some of the people turn their heads. Some of them look at me with hope, others with fear. It's an odd feeling, knowing that there are those in so much pain that my sight and duty is a blessing, while others are afraid of their fate, despite the fact that their very presence here means that they simply cannot be cured. I bow deeply, giving the dying their due respect.
I'm unsure of where exactly to start, so I kneel next to the closest person. She's only seven years old, at most, and shaking so badly that I fear she's going to start going into convulsions. Her brown hair is clinging to her round little face, and she manages to open her eyes and look at me. "Hello, Brother."
I falter. She's just a child, I shouldn't be ending her life so soon. Doing that would make me no better than my father. But at the same time, it's my duty. I'm simply meant to kill her and move on to the next person, without a word and without knowing their names. But I'm alone in here, and my vows be damned. I lean close to her, in some way relieved that I will remain little more than a phantom in her young mind. "What is your name, child?" I whisper to her, trying to disguise my voice and not raise too much alarm with the others around me.
"Elia. Mommy calls me Ellie." She smiles at that, clutching onto the sleeve of my robe.
I want to say something, to scream and run out of the room. This little girl has the same name as my sister, she's just a child, and my own duty will force me to take her life. Something catches in my throat, and I try to swallow it down. Repeatedly. I can feel tears stinging my eyes, but I can't wipe them away.
"I'm so sorry, Ellie. I don't want to do this..." I manage to choke out. Her small touches are so helpless, weak and tired and pained. Vows be damned again. I pull up the cloth that covers my face, only as far as the end of my nose, so my eyes don't frighten the girl. "I won't forget you," I promise to her, placing a soft kiss on her forehead.
Necromancy is a versatile and dangerous magic. With normal use, it drains the life of the person using it. But there are spells, meant to be forgotten and long ago outlawed, that allow the necromancer to drain the life of another being. The subtle contact I have with Ellie is enough to trigger one of these spells. I promised her that I wouldn't forget, and it's a promise I intend to keep. She is only the first of many people that I will eventually kill. Murder, under the pretense of ending their pain.
Maybe it's what Ellie wants, maybe it's not. But there's a fragile, weak little flame of life that she's desperately clinging on to, and I rip it away from her and take it into myself. She shivers one more time, and I can hear the last bit of air escaping from her lungs. There's no more heartbeat, no more vibrant little sparkle in her eyes. Now they just look like mine – dead and cold.
Very carefully, I close her eyes for her. I feel violently ill, and the last thing I want is to see myself in an innocent little girl's eyes. It will only make me leave the room in a panic. I force myself to swallow again, trying to calm down. I'm shaking, and crying, and in a room full of dying people. Perhaps staying with my father and allowing him to commission my talents into an early grave might have been better than this.
A hand reaches out, tugging at my robes. I cry out, panicked by the unwanted touch. An older man looks up at my disguised face, smiling. "I'm ready, Brother. I want to see my family again."
He's calm, accepting of his fate. Just like Ellie was. She knew who I was, and she wasn't afraid. I stand there, staring at the man for a few moments before leaning down. There is a ceremony, a proper way of doing this that I ignored. This man expects me to follow through and send him on, unafraid of the brief pain.
I draw a dagger out from the inside of my robes. The blade is dull to the touch, but it's not meant to be used on the healthy. The man's eyes – green, I notice – follow the blade intently. He still doesn't show any fear, and when I push the dagger into his chest, directly over his heart, the magic inherent in the blade goes to work, sapping the tiny bit of remaining life from him.
Now he lies still, a bit of blood welling up from the wound I inflicted on him. He's dead. He may or may not be going on to an afterlife. If he is, then I wish him luck in finding his family. If he's not... I don't care to think about that too much. His soul is free, unattached to anything in the material world by more than the most tenuous of connections. Mine is anchored firmly. When I die, there won't be an afterlife for me, if one exists at all.
I'm still shaking, trying not to focus on my own thoughts. My movements become mechanical. I didn't know the man's name. I don't know the names of anyone in this room. Their fevered faces begin to blend together. I think it's better that way. It makes my job easier to perform, the guilt a little easier to deal with.
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