Inanis the Hooded

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Here’s the prologue from the book:


            The day was like so many others, sunny and alive.  There was little wind, and the wildlife was loud in its cacophony.  Flowers bloomed, butterflies flew, and the world was as it should be in the middle of the summer months most everywhere.  There was trouble, unworried though the wilds were: a scar upon the landscape, a scar that bespoke of the horror the races were suffering.

The village was a void, small and death-stenched. Its emptiness howling to the eyes, if not the ears, on this quiet spot.  There was no life left, and those not taken at first had vanished to the four winds.  Graves that had been freshly dug were half full with corpses.  Green flesh and dripping, noxious fluids were all that remained of the inhabitants. The town’s buildings still stood, but there was no movement among them.  Even the animals had fled this place.  Fresh cut timber lay in an uncovered wagon, and windows were open with curtains hanging unmoving out.

The only recognizable figures were in the center of the village.  The square had effigies of the fallen, some burned, some not.  These effigies appeared to be made of the coarse sack-cloth that most clothes were made of in towns like this.  Each had buttons for eyes, and a stitched mouth.  As was the case in places without doctors, where superstitions and ancient religions dwelled, the victim’s counterpart was strung up, and burned in an effort to drive the disease from the patient with the ashes.

These effigies had some piece of their mortal counterparts, a bit of hair, a favored toy.  Some of the more gruesome ones, which seemed to be made after the hope was fading, had more tangible parts attached.  A finger here, an ear there.  A few had worse, with jagged edges of bones hanging out of the dolls.  As conventional treatments failed, more primitive methods were applied.  Methods frowned upon by civilized man, but embraced by the desperate.  Methods that were reasoned a small price to pay if the plague lifted from the patient.  Methods that had failed as miserably as the rest.

All was not dead in this town.  There was movement among the effigies, a witness to the scene of the damned.  A stooped and covered figure wandered slowly among them.  A sudden empty gust of wind uncovered him, revealing his age ravaged head to the elements.  He had the wispy, thin hair of the ancient.  The ears upon the head could only be called such because of their location; above that they were mangled beyond discernment, which of the races he belonged to was known only to him.  His face bespoke of time dwelt on the mortal plane, mapped in the wrinkles that abounded.  His hollowed cheeks puffed in and out, as though he were speaking through the paper thin lips.  No sound, but his eyes spoke enough.  They burned in his sockets, angry and tormented.  They were the eyes of tragedy.  His movements belied the age his appearance showed.  He moved with the grace and power of a seasoned warrior, in his stance and the way in which he carried himself.  He went about the square swiftly, his eyes shifting here and there looking for threats.  As none were found, he closed upon the totems.

He sniffed the air, and touched the effigies once each, seeming to check them.  He shook his head at each one, and cut them down.  As they came down, he brought them to specific graves and dropped them in and with a few incomprehensible words and stilted hand movements went to the next.  He did the same for the next, and the next, and when he was on the way back from burying that one, he heard a faint cry.

He muttered some words.  An aura surrounded him, green and shimmering.  He headed towards one of the buildings.  He cautiously opened the door and stood with his eyes closed for two or three seconds.  He entered into the frigid darkness of the house.

Inside, he opened his eyes and looked around.   It had a feel of death–angry death. The house was sparsely furnished, a crib in one corner, a bed in another.  The stove ash-filled, cold, and black.  The cabinets were barren.  A table, dark and dour, stood in the center.  The table had many dishes still on it, some broken and moldy.  The others were stacked in piles, ready to be packed and taken away.  His eyes lighted upon the chairs around the table, silent spectators, upon which brooded another corpse.  This one fresh, its skin still hung on by threads of sinew.  He touched its back once as he had done the hanging golems in the yard.   He spoke the words that had been said at the graves, with the same hand movements.  The room was quieter, less threatening and cold.

Again a cry sounded, in response to the sound.  The old man spied a bundle in the crib.  The old man looked up and saw a hole in the ceiling, where water dripped on to the form.  He strode over, sighed, and took it up.  How the child survived this long was not immediately apparent.  He brought it out into the sunlight where he poured some fresh water from a flask under his cloak.  It squirmed and cried out.

“Now, hush, child, so I may finish this task, and put these souls to rest.  Shades such as these should not have fresh life tempting them back from the lands beyond.”

The babe quieted and stared at the old man.  He smiled a soft smile and set the child on top of a nearby wagon, next to a walking staff.  The effigies came down, one by one, and the town grew less a scar, and more a memorial.  The task was done at last, and the ancient picked up the child and his staff.

On his way out of the village, he sang a requiem for the dead. The song was one of joy for the first half, and transformed into one of mourning for the passing time.  A song of simple beauty.  At the first note, the village tongues of flame rose from the earth, and slunk towards the buildings.  By the time of the last note, the embers were cooling, and the old man and the child gone from the cauterized wound of the town.

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