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Fantasy Coming of Age

Gazing at his ancestral graveyard, Kenith shuddered at the night he would spend there with just his brother for company.

The ancient burial grounds sprawled all around the two brothers, dotted with monuments too numerous to count in various shapes and sizes, each proportional to the underlying member's importance to the Grestaugh family lineage. The stones in front of the cemetery were miraculously well kept, perfectly polished, and lit with summoned Sorin-lights. The strange, ephemeral orbs were named after Sorindto Grestaugh, who had first discovered and perfected the practice of taking the piece of one's soul and expressing it as a light before them, only visible to those deeply rooted in that soul. This place would seem dark and forboding to anybody else, and protective spells renewed every second decade helped drive unwanted visitors away. It was nearing the time to reenact those rituals, to return the magical aura of eerieness to the cemetery. This oddness kept interlopers from delving too deeply into the Grestaugh families' secrets. But that wasn't why Kenith and his brother Daerion were here on this deep night.

"Do you have a light, brother?" Kenith asked, feeling the ground before him tentatively with each foot before committing to the step. "In case you haven't noticed, we've left the Sorin-lights far behind. I can't see a damned thing!"

Kenith could almost hear his brother rolling his eyes. "If you want to return home and tell Mother that you gave up because of a little darkness, that's on you." Daerion huffed. "But if you do so and waste my time, I'm not going to forgive you, so think twice, or three times, since I know thinking is not your strongest suit."

Kenith didn't have an answer to that, so he just sewed his mouth shut and continued plodding behind his far too confident brother. Sometimes Kenith had to wonder if anything scared his brother. Daerion always seemed to be the perfect man in every way, skilled at tracking, a consummate slayer of beasts, never afraid to traipse into enemy territory, even though a single lapse in judgment could allow those enemies to tear him limb from limb.

I'm nothing like him, Kenith mourned silently. I never will be, and how Mother despises me for it. The air felt like half-a-hundred hands pushing down on the young man's shoulders, and every chirping cricket or creaking tree bough made him jump. At least Daerion can't see that. I might never redeem my image in his eyes if he could.

He cleared his throat, causing a rough clicking sound to reverberate through the silent, heavy air. "Ah, brother?"

"What?" Daerion asked irritatedly. 

"I was just wondering why we've continued this far. Ah, I mean, we left the lit stones so long ago. How do you expect to find what we're looking for in this complete darkness?"

"When I did my Thaarmul, I didn't spend my night shivering in a corner or meditating, as some of our family likes to call their process of steeling their weak nerves." Daerion snorted contemptuously. "I spent my time scouting out the rest of the graves, enriching myself in family history."

Kenith shivered as he felt the weight of the glare his brother and chosen guide leveled on him as he asked, "Why?"

"Besides the obvious reason of wanting to know more about the Grestaugh line? Even I didn't think you were that thick, brother. I figured that when it came time for your Thaarmul, you would choose either Karthina or me as your guide. We both knew you would need something particularly singular to convince Mother not to throw you out to the Tainted Lands. Despite your remarkable unfitness for a member of a Zemoth family, especially the proud and ancient Grestaugh, neither of us wish to see you fail. We figured if we could bring you something worthy of Mother's approval, she might look past your continual blunders, and then we could take a file to your rough edges during training."

Ouch, Kenith thought, rubbing the back of his head. My dear brother, Daerion, the emperor of tough love.

"So, can you remind me what the importance of the Thaarmul is again?"

"Did you seriously forget?" Daerion growled.

"N-no, I-i just want to hear it again... t-to make sure I have all the details."

Daerion sighed heavily and plopped his rucksack on the ground beside a great tree with branches like heavy claws that wrestled with the air spirits for dominance. "This is a good enough place for now. The monument I chose for you should be close-by. We'll wait here until the moon is in alignment. Now, how much should I tell you?"

"As much as you can, please? We have an hour before the moon is right for the spell, and I'd rather not spend it in silence."

"What, you don't want to meditate?" Kenith could hear the slight smirk in Daerion's voice.

"N-no, I don't think I could concentrate. The sounds of this place always make me think there are ghosts around."

"That's because there are ghosts around, Kenith." For several moments there was no sound save a rustling of burlap ahead of him as Daerion rummaged around his sack and pulled out two lumpy, misshapen fruits, one of which he lobbed underhanded at Kenith. Kenith grimaced. Zemoth culture viewed Guroken pears as a delicacy, but the odiferous, miry flesh with the edible but crunchy and gooey-centered pears always made Kenith squeamish. Daerion started speaking very slowly as if he was talking to an inferior. It hurt Kenith, but after all the times he'd bungled a vital task, he couldn't blame his brother for it. "The first thing you must remember is that the Zemoth race is deeply connected to spirits. But not the flighty, prank-loving Spirits the rest of Estrevaire bows down to. Only two things matter to us: our ancestors and our prey. You will learn more about the latter if you don't duck out of this all-important ritual, so I will focus on the Thaarmul this time." Daerion settled back into place, and Kenith heard the squish and crunch as he bit into the Guroken pear. "Because of the importance of keeping a hunter's wits and wisdom around them as they delve into the Tainted Lands, one of our founders, Thaarja the Green-Witch, came up with this ceremony to better solidify our bonds between our souls and the predecessor's. 

"On a Zemoth's nineteenth Year-tiding, Thaarja decided, he or she must delve into the crypt or lichyard their family maintains and make contact with the spirit of one ancestor. From that spirit, they would gain knowledge that would help their family and race in the neverending battle against the Tainted Lands' denizens."

"That makes sense, I suppose," Kenith said, growing more nervous by the moment. "So, which ancestor did you choose for me."

"Someone I'm sure nobody in the Grestaugh line has talked to in many years. In this area, few of the monuments are kept in repair because the spirits are feral or maddened, not worth speaking to."

"Oh, how kind of you, brother! Setting me up with someone nobody wants to deal with."

"If you'll let me finish, Kenith." He looked up into the sky, where the pale moon was quickly nearing its zenith. "I made a thorough investigation into this section, and I found a sector of very ancient spirits, some of our Founder members, around before the Tainted Lands swallowed up so much of Estrevaire. I figured that if we—you, I mean—were to bring home information from the earliest days of our enemies, even Mother would have to accept you. Now, let's go; it's nearly time for you to meet Pontus Prith." Daerion stood and motioned for his brother to do the same. Kenith, while he wasn't the best candidate for a Zemoth of the Grestaugh line, had studied the processes of the Thaarmul well enough to know what to do. He felt the click in his throat and chest as his vocal structure changed to the guttural, almost insectlike buzz that came with his Zemoch lineage. Taking a deep breath, he began a continual droning vocalization that filled the air with its various intonations. The Rite of Thaarja used to awaken the ancestral spirits by using the key hidden in the soul of every Zemoch. 

Daerion led Kenith down the rugged, broken path, covered with thorny vines. They couldn't see anything to either side, but Kenith knew that the gravestones were in much the same shape as the path. 

Eventually, they reached the grand mausoleum marked by a worn granite tablet with Pontus Prith inscribed on it. Thorny and climbing vines snaked their way up cracked marble columns, and rusted steel shaped several genetic designs on every side. 

"This looks as decrepit as a stone building can without collapsing!" Kenith exclaimed!"

Daerion narrowed his eyes. "Wake the spirit, now!"

Kenith hastened to obey, falling back into the hoarse chant. "Pontus Prith, Founder of Old, waken and impart to us your knowledge!" He knocked on the age-scarred stone door and let out a series of loud churrs and ticks. He felt the spell recede, and silence overtook the room. Then there was nothing.

Kenith turned to Daerion. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Not as far as I can_."

"Hallooooo? Who's theeeere? This mausoleum is currently occupied, so sorry to say!" A loud, singsongy voice interrupted them, breaking through the silence of the night.

Kenith stared at his brother, who shrugged and pointed to him as if to say, it's your Thaarmul

Kenith nodded and cleared his throat. "Pontus Prith, my name is Kenith. I am here with my brother Daerion to complete my Thaarmul!"

"I don't know what that is, darlings, but I am quite happy to entertain guests! Allow me to make myself decent, and I'll be right out."

The two Zemoth shared a look that said, what have we gotten ourselves into?"

It took several long minutes, but finally, Pontus Prith did appear. A portly ghost floated out from the closed mausoleum, dressed in frilly robes that might have been fashionable in the First Ages. Though his entire shape was white and misty, they could somehow tell that Pontus sported thick powder on his chubby cheeks. His hair was styled into a small, waxen bowl. A small curled sprig bounced out of the center, flopping over his face from his awkwardly bent neck.

"Greetings, friends, you called?" Pontus Prith pressed his palms together and leaned in, his incorporeal corpulent form shaking and jiggling from beyond the veil of death. "I'm sorry, I didn't know I was having guests. I'd have made tea and those delightful little biscuits we so adore."

"I'm sorry, Grandcessor, but th-this is not a social visit."

"Oooh, Grandcessor, I haven't heard that one before. I think it suits me, don't you?"

"O-oh, yes, indeed. But as I was saying..."

Pontus Prith patted the air. "Yes, yes! You are not here to speak about trivial things. You mentioned something that sounded really quite important. Traekmaul or somewhat?"

"Ah, er, Thaarmul, Grandcessor. It's critical business in the family you helped to create. We haven't much time before the spell expires. What we have come to ask you is what information you have on the creatures of Xun'gkarsis, the Tainted Lands."

"Tainted Lands, hmm," the ghost maneuvered one pudgy finger to his chin, tapping it and causing the flesh to wobble. "Sorry, but that doesn't ring any bells. The only thing that sounds even relatively as foreboding as that would be the Shroudmirkh Empire."

"Please, Grandcessor, tell us of this empire!" Daerion begged, a new light in his eyes.

Pontus Prith attempted to nod, "Ow, ow. That hurts," he rubbed the back of his cracked neck. "Well, I certainly wouldn't recommend being hanged by then. It's the complete opposite of a fun time!" He pulled at his collar, nervously.

"Hanged?" Kenith raised an eyebrow at Daerion. "Grandcessor, the creatures of the Tainted Lands don't hang; they rip and tear, and devour the flesh of those who trespass."

"Now, that sounds positively dreadful, darlings!" Pontus said, his black, soulless eyes widening in shock. "But, it's not impossible that our opposing ideas have the same origin. I do feel like I've been napping for a rather long time, after all."

"Three-quarters of a millennium, Grandcessor," Daerion explained. "It is surely possible that the ravening madness that has overtaken our foe came in the time that adjoins ours to yours. We seek any information that might give us an edge over these creatures that mayhaps once were men."

"That is a frightfully long nap! I did always love my beauty sleep." he shook his ephemeral head. "Well, has anyone tried accessing their towers? That's what I was doing when they caught and hanged me. They were very rude about it, too. I had so many bruises on my poor soft flesh by the time they kicked the block out from under me!" Pontus cried mournfully.

"The towers?" Daerion scoffed. "Nobody has tried entering or destroying those obelisks since the lustful madcap Rithisaki and the wench who led him to death, Faye Souldancer."

Pontus pondered for a moment. "Those names....mean absolutely nothing to me, darlings."

"What is contained within those towers, Grandcessor?" Kenith asked, knowing that the spell was near to expiring.

"Oh, many magical artifacts, darlings. The sorts of things you only find in myths, and also some dark, twisted beings beyond even my wildest imagination. They were enough to give a man night terrors. Or at least, they would have, had I not been hanged shortly after seeing them. The Shroudmirkh were efficient. If nothing else, you have to grant them that."

The ghost yawned cavernously, his thick-lipped maw opening to provide a terrifying look into the inside of an ancestral spirit. It was a sight that, while he couldn't put it into sensible words, Kenith knew he'd never be able to scrape from the back of his eyelids. "Oh, but I am so drained right now, friends. I thank you for visiting me, but I do need to return to my rest. I pray the family is doing well. Tell them not to awaken me again for another millennia, or somesuch." Before Kenith or Daerion could ask any further questions, Pontus Prith slid back through the door, leaving a stain of ectoplasm as he did, and the spell broke.

Kenith and Daerion collapsed onto their backs as a cloud covered the moon, robbing the graveyard of the last of its light.

"Well, that was unique," Kenith remarked after the silence had stretched for long enough.

"That's one word for our Founder. I'm glad they aren't all like that. At least mine and Kat's were routine and less...extravagant," Daerion murmured. He looked up at the moon. "Now, sleep. You want to have your brain rested when Mother drills you on what you've learned in the morn."

"Hey, brother?"

"What?"

"I think we'll blow them away with what has just come to light."

"Yes, who would have guessed that such an ancestral oddity would hold such vital secrets?"


October 24, 2020 17:21

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6 comments

Scout Tahoe
19:16 Oct 25, 2020

Here as you asked. :) I really liked this. It was scary yet full of fantasy--and I think you mastered that element. My only edit is that in the beginning you said "Kevin" for the brother's name, and throughout the story you said "Kenith". This was good, I didn't spot any more errors. Keep it up, you're a good writer. ;)

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Spencer Steeves
20:46 Oct 25, 2020

oh, shoot, did I say Kevin at the beginning? Well done, me! That should fix it.

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Scout Tahoe
20:47 Oct 25, 2020

Haha, it's okay.

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Charles Stucker
19:47 Oct 24, 2020

so he just sowed his mouth shut - sewed - sew is stitch with thread, sow is plat seeds in a field. a consummate slayer of bests,- beasts, unless he's a master of one-upmanship. "Hallooooo? Whose theeeere? - Who's I did not find enough humor in this to count as funny. Sure the ghost was an obvious move toward levity, but that was all and counts more as the character's personality than full on humor. For fantasy set in a graveyard, this has good cohesion. The actions taken are sensible from each character's perspective and the backgro...

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Spencer Steeves
20:11 Oct 24, 2020

Thank you for your comments. Grammarly and I always manage to miss something. I'll certainly fix those issues.

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Spencer Steeves
20:17 Oct 24, 2020

I never really know how to do comedy. I wasn't sure if I'd done it here(which clearly I didn't), but I decided to give it a try anyway. I was really struggling to try to find something to write about for this topic since Halloween and typical monsters have never been my forte. I'm glad it worked at all, honestly.

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