The Dark Mistress's Daughter
Eren awoke with a pebble in his spine, bleary eyed, early sunlight burning his cheek. He took a rumbling breath before sitting up and massaging his eyelids. He noticed a harsh clacking sound, looking sidelong to find the origin. The star had the threadbare silver chain across a rock. He was hacking away with another stone, attempting to crack the links. Chips of the rock broke off with every smack. The chain remained intact.
The star held up his wrist, viewing the snare with woeful eyes. "Who would of thought my grandfather would be the one to trap me?" He whispered.
"Hum?" Eren questioned.
The star looked over his shoulder with a snarl, giving Eren an evil look.
Eren huffed and upturned his chin. He then noticed the boy's outstretched leg. The swollen flesh was puffed and straining against the fabric of his pants. Eren felt empathetic to his suffering, having broken his arm once before.
"Here, let me see your leg…" He said as gently as he could, scooting towards the boy.
He said nothing, looking away with crossed arms, uninterested.
Eren took that as a sign to go on. He worked the cloth upwards, earning grimaces and pained whines from the star. The wound was hot to the touch.
"Let me make you a splint." Eren offered. "My father is a doctor and he taught me how to set a bone. Then I can make a crutch and we can be on our way."
"I am not going anywhere with you." The star told him flatly.
"You have to move sometime." Eren replied matter-of-factly.
Eren make the splint with spare splits of wood and strips of his socks. The star tried to remain unimpressed and vacant, but whimpered when his caregiver knotted the final strip of cloth. The star shimmered faintly in the sunlight shadows, unlike how he gleamed at night. He rubbed the ends of his blond hair with his fingers and caused microorganisms of glitter to spray the air. They vanished in the light.
"I'm sorry if you hate me." Eren confessed as he crafted the crutch from a fallen branch. "It is nothing personal. My sister asked for a star and I must give it to her."
"She sounds horrible." The star said. "She sent you into the heart of Faerie to torment me."
"She is not horrible." Eren warned. "She is a person who has lost everything. If I get her the thing she most desires I can maybe, just maybe, bring some of her happiness back." He sighed. "I thought a fallen star would be a rock or jewel… Not a boy."
"Stupid." He muttered.
"Here, try this." Eren said, offering him the crutch.
He made no move to take it.
Eren stood and offered his hand. "You cannot sit around forever."
The star took a look around the grove. "This world is very dreary and dull, especially by day."
Reluctantly, the star rose, leaning on Eren. His lips curled in distaste at his very touch and he jerked away in favor of the crutch. His breath hitched and he nearly fell, if not for Eren catching him soundly. The star's skin felt tingly like bubbles in ale when Eren brushed his forearm.
"My leg… It can't stand on it, it must really be broken." The star gasped, sweating and pale as a china dish.
"Come on, try again." Eren encouraged, linking their arms.
The boy erected straight with a held breath. "If I must."
The star relied heavily on Eren as they walked. He flinched with every step and advanced slowly through the forest.
Bravely, Eren decided to pass the time with conversation.
"We must get you to a proper doctor." He began. "I am only a physician's son."
"Oh really?" The star inquired. "Absolutely astonishing."
The continued along the game path through the woods after breaking. The star retained a pinched expression, trying to hide his pain.
"How long have you been a star?" Eren asked.
"Longer than you have been alive, Faerie-boy." He snarked.
"I will have you know I am human." Eren replied stiffly.
The star barked with a dry laugh. "Pointed ears and eyes of fire and hair the color of blackberry juices are not usually human traits, elfin prince. In all of my years of observation I have never seen a pure-blood human so naturally Faerie."
"So, the stars do watch us?"
The star shrugged. "Maybe. What does it matter?"
"I always thought stars were flaming spheres of gas millions of miles in diameter. Like the sun, only further away."
"We are." the star informed him. "You must know, ignorant boy, that there is a difference between what we are and what we are. Oh, wait: I forgot you are a 'human'. Humans are blind to many things."
Eren shook his head unhappily. "At least if we trip we do not fall out of the sky and break our legs."
"I did not trip." The star informed him briskly. "I was shot down. By this."
He produced a golden gemstone from his tunic. The silver chain around it was snapped and swayed limply.
"I am bruised where it hit me. Now I must carry it around with me. And look, it matches your eyes, how lovely."
"Why?" Eren said, ignoring the final mocking statement.
The star was going to answer, but paused, shaking his head and tucking the stone away. "Figure it out."
The star pressed his lips closed and said nothing.
Eren seethed silently. Eren's stomach rumbled ferociously, demanding food. The pair cutoff for lunch beside a clear stream. Eren split the rest of the bread and cheese crumbs, bidding the star to eat.
"You'll starve." Eren warned.
He only snubbed away the offering, turning his back to Eren without words.
The going through the wooded area was slow and trying. The path was choked with twigs and loose rocks and fallen trees, troubling the star and his aid immensely. The trail worked its way uphill.
"Isn't there another path?" the star demanded, embittered. "A clearing, a level road?"
The provocation of the question caused Eren to know of such a thing. "There is a level road a half a mile east and a clearing over the next hillcrest."
"You knew that the whole time and did not think to walk upon it?"
"No, no," Eren defended himself. "I only knew once you asked me…"
"Well, now that you know, lets make for the clearing."
The incline was steep and both persons weary from walking. It took some time to ascend the slanted ground. The star began to pant and breath heavily, relying on his escort more than ever.
The clearing they reached was nearly bare and ever so flat. The area appeared articulately clear, with a distinct yet unknown purpose. A golden crown rested in the center.
Interested, Eren was about to inspect the red and blue jewels upon its surface. The star held him fast with a tight grip.
"Wait… Do you hear drums?"
Straining his hearing, Eren realized he did, the deep sound enclosing around them, echoing from near and far. A crashing and pained shriek frightened the two. The star pressed himself to Eren.
A horse stained pink with blood charged into the glen, eyes wild, nostrils flared. It spun around and pointed the horn on its head towards its enemy. A lion crept from the woods, roaring and snarling and shaking its great mane. Gooseflesh rose on Eren's neck.
The lion much larger and more powerful than a typical circus lion paused and eyed the ivory horn. The horse nickered in caution, advising the lion to step away. The lion roared in response, causing its prey to rise up on its hindquarters and kick the lion in the shoulder with a sharp hoof. The lion screamed like a cat knocked forward by a broom, jumping backwards and crouching. The unicorn and lion walked a circle around each other, the lion never looking away from the horn pointed towards it.
"We have to stop them." the star whispered. "They are going to kill each other." He hobbled onwards, pain ignored, closing in on the fighting animals.
"Stop!" he shouted, fearless. "Stop this right now!"
The lion roared at the boy, splitting red foam. The star stumbled back, falling into the arms reaching for him to return. Eren pulled him behind a bolder.
"That was stupid," Eren hissed.
"You have stop them." the star said, still determined. "Please… The lion will kill her."
The lion leapt towards the unicorn, claws unsheathed. It tore onto the unicorn's back, claws and fangs digging into its flesh. The unicorn screamed in agony, blood sprouting from its back and raining onto the grass. The unicorn cried and bucked with all its might, trying to save itself, to rid itself of its tormentor. It rolled onto its spine and attempted to smother the great cat.
"Please." the star pleaded.
Eren did not know how he could do any better than the star or unicorn. The lion listened to no demands, and Eren was sure he would be shredded and eaten if he engaged in the fight. He looked towards the star to tell him these things, but paused, seeing his dove-grey eyes begging, pleading with him from the deepest part of his heart. Eren's excuses dissolved away.
Before he knew what he was doing, he stood up, going around the boulder to the middle of the clearing, close enough to the animals to be splattered with the flinging blood of the unicorn. He saw the fear in its green eyes.
The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown, Eren thought, remembering the nursery rhyme. The Lion beat the Unicorn all about the town.
He beat him once.
He beat him twice.
With all his might and main
He beat him three times over
His power to maintain
Eren picked up the crown, heavy, soft with pure gold, and held it out to the warring animals, speaking gently. "Here, boy, easy now… easy… Here is your crown… good boy…"
The lion released its teeth from the unicorn's flanks, giving Eren a quizzical look.
"Hello," Eren greeted. He inched towards the beast dirty and ruffled from the fight. "Here, you won. Let the unicorn go." The lion sprang gracefully in a short leap towards Eren, leaving the unicorn behind like a toy it had grown bored of. Eren held fast in front of the lion. He shakily placed the crown upon its head.
The lion licked its lips in delight, holding its head high, marching around the clearing like a king. It stopped to clean its wounds with a scarlet tongue, purring proudly. It finished after several minutes. It then slinked away into the underbrush, tail flicking.
The star limped over to the fallen unicorn. He saw himself down, careful of his injured limb.
"Poor girl," he said, stroking the unicorn's head.
It opened its vibrant green eyes, nickering at the star, shifting its head to the star's lap. The unicorn closed its eyes with a dry snort.
Eren dined on the last half of the bread and cheese. The star would not leave the unicorn's side, stroking and petting it lovingly. Eren did not have the heart to make him abandon the creature.
Darkness came and along with it the twinkling stars, the boy star shimmering and glittering just the same. The unicorn glowed like moonlight on snow, pure and soft. Eren lied by the unicorn to snuggle into its warmth. The star was on the other side of the beast, humming sweet and warm music. It lulled Eren with its calming nature.
Eren turned over. He blinked at the cold silver chain on his wrist shining to near white in the moonlight. He soon slept.
The bonfires' of witches have a certain magical sunfire glow, unlike the natural hues of other folk. Annie notice one such witch-fire as she rode her chariot along a forest path. She halted her goats before a caravan wagon, the cooking fire of the witch roasting a quail. The juices dripped and steamed in the flames.
The witch was young, at least in appearance, with intelligent and keen brown eyes. Spectacles rested on the bridge of her nose, glass lenses thin. Her brunette hair was wild, the fluffiness trapped in a chignon high on her head. She watched the fat drippings with a queer and narrow-eyed interest. The ferret atop a perch beside her chattered at the visitor.
The witch turned her gaze upwards. A smile tugged at her teeth.
"Ah, a guest!" she cheered. "And for a poor botanist like me."
Annie descended from her cart, but was stopped with a finger.
"But first," said the witch. "I need to know you will not harm me. You might wish to rob me, or worse! I need your word."
The lady necromancer stared at the woman steadily. "I will not harm you." she promised. "I swear upon the laws of the sisterhood to which we both belong, by my privilege to do magic, and by my every bodily limb that I mean you no harm and shall treat you as my own guest."
"That's it!" the witch said, tossing up a hand. "That's good enough for me! Now, come sit down, dinner is nearly ready."
Annie tethered her goats to a tree and sat upon a stool by the fire, her dress and cloak spreading out a great breadth. The youngest goat bleated at the caravan mules.
"Lovely goats," the witch said, poking the logs of the fire around with a stick. A wave of scented wood smoke blew upwards.
"Thank you." Annie said. She twirled the snake ring around her finger.
The witch inspected the animals from afar, shifting her spectacles. "Interesting… I think one of those goats started out on two legs, not four, am I right?"
The necromancer tipped her head. "Yes. Such as your golden ferret."
The animal flashed its red eyes. The young witch laughed.
"Indeed! She was once a fine woman. But she gave away one of my prized flowers to a silly old fool many years ago. Oh, the trouble it caused me! The trouble she caused me! Had to bear herself a son and find a home to take him. Now she stays a ferret until I find use for her, working and running the flower-stall and the like. She would stay a ferret forever if I could find myself a better servant."
The jill growled with a high-pitched sound.
"Anyway, enough of that, you can call me Hanji!" the witch proclaimed. "I had another title, long ago, but that is what I have others call me now."
They called you Lady Zoë when you were a noblewoman Annie thought sourly, saying none of this aloud. She instead told the witch to call her Annie.
"Annie? As in the prophetess?"
Introductions finished, Hanji retrieved the bowls and cutlery and herb pot, the spices a fine green dust.
"Nothing but the best!" Hanji sang. "The very best for the very best guest! Lets split the figure down the middle, shall we?"
She carved up the bird with equal precision, dishing out the meat from the bones evenly. She invited her guest to take from the herb pot.
"We ran out of salt a couple days ago, but here we have coriander and rosemary and basil…"
The lady necromancer took a pinch and flavored her meat. She ate after cooling every bite, while the witch chewed and swallowed her food so quickly she could hardly taste it.
Hanji licked the bottom of her bowl. "Was it good?"
"Perfectly pleasing to the pallet." Annie professed.
"Good, good!" Hanji gushed. "Are the herbs to your liking? I did not wish for any tonight…"
"The spice medley is good." Annie said. "With the basil and rosemary… And something else. Some uncommon taste, something nutty."
"Ah…" Hanji smirked. "That is my special ingredient. It is good with all roasted meats. It grows near the peak of Mount Calamon in the autumn. It also has a bizarre effect, causing one who eats it to tell nothing but the truth for many hours."
Annie sat the empty bowl on her lap. "Mitras grass." she spat her spitfire. "You dare feed me such a thing."
"Indeed!" Hanji laughed in a conniving tone. "I do dare. Now, Annie, if that is your name, you are going to tell me of all the matters I want to know. Where are you off to in your goat-powered chariot? And why do you remind me of someone from long ago? I never forget a face."
"I search for a fallen star." Annie said automatically. "A star that fell in the woods on the other side of Rosewater Lake. I shall capture him and cut out his heart while it still beats, for the heart of a living star is the only combatant against the price of necromancy. My housemates wait for my return."
"A star!" Hanji exclaimed, clapping. "A star, a star! I have always wanted to see one up close! If I were to capture it… I could, I could…. Oh, what fun I could have! I could test to see if stars are really immortal! See what they eat, how they sleep… What fun!"
"You will not capture the star." Annie stated with conviction.
"You cannot stop me, dear Annie." The witch cooed. "You are bound to your promise. There is nothing you can do to harm me."
"There are many things I can do, Lady Zoë." Annie spoke low with thunder that caused the trees to quiver. "Mitras grass causes the one who ingests it to speak truths for several hours. You, witch-woman, will pay for the knowledge you stole and did not earn. Although you know of the star, you will be unable to see him, hear him, smell him, taste him, or touch him. You will not be able to perceive him in any way, even if he stands before you. My words are the truth and the truth are my words. And know this: If I were not held by my promise, I would turn you into a roach and crush you myself."
"… Who are you?"
"I am Annie, as I told you. I was also a queen once, ruling with my brethren in Sina before my throne was lost."
"Ah, Sina…" Hanji reminisced. "The kingdom of the necromancers. Or it was, before Lady Eleonora did away with it."
The fire leapt in a great pillar of vivid oxblood flame. The lady necromancer's deadly eyes flashed with fury.
"Do not say her name." She hissed in an evil tone.
Hanji was not afraid. She grinned tauntingly.
"I see you still fear her." She said. "After all these years… You know, it is rumored she has a daughter."
"It is nonsense." Annie growled. "We would feel such a power if it lived."
"I have heard of stranger things. I did not know you were alive until now."
"They say the Diviners are dead so children can sleep easy."
She stood, pulling the cloak's hood over her head. The flames hushed away from her form, wiser than the young witch beside them. Annie held out her bowl with one hand.
"When I leave, you shall forget I was ever here and that you ever saw me. You shall forget of my curse. You shall know you forgot something, but the knowledge will never come and it will irritate you to no end. This I swear."
The bowl scattered sparks where it was thrown. Hanji screamed in anguish. She hit the bowl out of the fire frantically, beating out the flames.
"My bowl, my bowl! The paint!"
The golden ferret watched lazily from her perch. She who saw everything and forgot nothing perked, hearing the sound of distance hoof beats. A sad squeak rumbled in her throat. The necromancer wanted the poor, innocent star: his heart, his life. She would kill or vex whoever got in her way, no matter the person. Even her son… If she could protect her child, she would have. If ferrets could cry, she would have. Her paw clutched the silver chain.
Annie cracked her whip against the crisp night air.
The skin around her shoulders crumbled and fell.
And the mirror in the cottage lacked two faces.
Eren swung the star onto the waiting back of the unicorn. The beast nuzzled at the boy happily, nickering for his attention. The star was nibble and gentle enough not to break the delicate scabs of the unicorn, which Eren thought ideal. The creature had trotted behind them for the majority of the morning. She snorted evilly at Eren the entire time, hovering around the star. It was not until the star had the unicorn snuffle in his ear that he suggested riding her.
The star smiled, stroking the velvet nose of the mare. "Thank you, old friend." He whispered.
"'Old Friend'? You know this unicorn?"
The star tilted his head as if that were an answer. He wove his fingers into the creature's mane, steadying himself as she stood. His splinted leg laid parallel to the ground.
"Come along, faerie-boy." The star chided, the unicorn walking with a spring in her gait.
"I told you I am a human." Eren snapped. He struggled to keep pace with the unicorn, the slack on the silver chain lessening. "And you better tell your 'old friend' to slow down less you be yanked from their back."
"Or you better speed up." The star said, words stinging like a smart whip.
The unicorn restrained herself to Eren's pace at his suggestion. Eren carried his bag on the end of the star's crutch, the article angled over his shoulder. His stomach pinched painfully. He also felt sick, sick with hunger, suffering with his need for food.
Eren suddenly tripped and his face collided with the ground.
"Fuck!" He shouted in sever temper. "Fuck, my nose!"
The star slowed the unicorn to a pause. He sighed, shaking his head.
"What marvelous language." he commented. "Must be the universal word for when you fall and break something." He sighed again, scooting forward a tad. "You better come up here before you kill yourself. I would prefer not to have to drag along a dead body. Come on, get up here, we will find you some food in the next town."
Nose gurgling blood, Eren used a fungus-infested stump to heave himself onto the unicorn, bag and all. He made to hold his dripping nose again, only to find it strangely dry and unhurt.
"As I told you," the star said. "You are faerie."
"But… This never happened while I was across the wall, in my village."
"Things work different here. You should know that."
Eren checked all the cuts from the serewood. No injury, scar or scab, greeted him. He saw only smooth skin.
"Lets get along before you starve." the star said, patting the unicorn's neck.
Eren encased an arm around the star's waist as the unicorn jerked forward, balancing himself. The unicorn rode like an untamed animal: all sharp jogs and uncomfortable bounces. The star, however, appeared content and unaffected. Eren held him tighter for safety. He could feel the topaz stone under his thin tunic.
"There is a village just north of here." Eren said, leaning over to the star's ear.
"And how do you know that?" The star questioned, unconvinced.
"I… Just do. Like how I knew where the clearing was. I don't know how or why, but I just do."
"I should trust you to know where things are because you 'just do'?"
"Yes," Eren replied bitterly. "Do you happen to know any towns around these parts by yourself?"
The star did not respond. He instead mumbled something to the unicorn, the beast getting a sly look. She shrieked a wild cry, her hooves tumbling forward in a run. Eren held the star close as he was whipped back. He held the animal's sides with his legs, afraid he would fly off with the star in tow. The trees whirled beside them, a green and nauseous blur, making Eren sicker than before. He shut his eyes and tried to quell his stomach.
The sky was pink and orange when the unicorn halted outside of the town, stamping and refusing to go further. Eren tilted off of the creature's back, landing in a heap of leaves from the tree above. His back was aching and stiff, causing him to grumble.
He stood, a little shakily, and brushed off his green tunic. "What would you like to eat?" Eren asked the star. When the boy said nothing, he flared. "Look, I will not have you starving yourself! I do not know what stars eat, but…"
"We do not eat you food." the star answered, words clipped. "We eat darkness, and drink light. So, no, I am not starving, nor will I starve myself." He covered his eyes as he began to cry, silver tears smearing down his face. "I am homesick, trapped, and absolutely miserable, but not hungry. Not hungry at all."
"There is no reason to cry…" Eren tried to sooth. He helped the star off the unicorn's back as she curled up to rest, head on her leg. "You can stay here while I go, alright? The unicorn can keep you company."
"How?" the star demanded through his weeping. "You bonded us with that forsaken chain!"
"… Right." Eren agreed. "Let me see your hand."
He picked and pried at both eyelets of the chain. No amount of force broke the chain, causing Eren much irritation.
"Perhaps there is a magic word." the star suggested.
"I do not know any magic words." Eren said. "No matter how much you think I am magical."
"Well… Have you tried saying please? You should know that one."
With no better option, Eren held up the chain, the line shimmering in the light. "… Please?"
The loop around his wrist slackened enough for him to slip it off. He blinked in dumbfoundment, not knowing how a simple word could be the correct one.
"I told you." the star said, nodding curtly. The mocking motion looked strange with red and raw eyes.
Eren scowled at the boy. He then wrapped the chain around his arm, setting the one end beside the other.
"I will try to be quick." Eren said. "Oh, and if the little folk bother you, do not throw your crutch at them; they will only take it from you."
"What kind of idiot would do that?"
Eren's upper lip twitched. "… Just a word of advice."
He held his travel bag tightly, ready to set off to find food to nourish his famished body.
"I suppose I will have to trust your honor as a star not to run away."
The star looked at his broken leg, an odd humor crossing his face. "'Run'… Hilarious."
Eren accepted that as a promise.
After the boy had walked down and entered the town, leaving his traveling companions behind, the unicorn lifted her head, green eyes shining. The star showed a mischievous smirk.
"Lets leave this place." the star whispered as if to keep the trees from hearing.
The unicorn assisted the star onto her back with her sturdy muzzle, nosing him onto her shoulders. Her tail whisked friskily.
The star gripped the unicorn's mane and the animal kicked off with her back legs. The pair dashed forth, disappearing into the growing night.
Eren returned to find the empty meadow.
He dropped his purchased goods, the carrots for the unicorn rolling up to the roots of the old oak.
"… That little shit tricked me."
Eren could feel the star moving far away from him, oh so far away, at a pace he could not catch or match. A bubble of anger popped within him, soon spreading to a full-body boil. A growl of rage echoed in the glade.
The boy scooped up his tossed foodstuffs, shoving them in his bag. He took off after the star, the fury making him blind. The heat consumed his entire being, numbing him, driving him forward. He knew he should have never freed the star, he should have taken him into town, chained him to the tree, never have him loose by the unicorn. Eren thought these things and yet knew he would have unrestrained the star eventually. The star was pitiful and suffering and manipulative. He would have run then as well.
Eren did not know he had slammed into a tree until he was on the ground, forehead and chest in pain. The hatred in him dissipated, replaced by foolish sorrow. The boy gripped his hair, fighting the tears of shame towards himself.
"I am so stupid."
He leaned against the tree and sniveled while he slept and dreamed.
The lady necromancer stopped her chariot. Her eyes found the sky, the dark stars of evermore cold and distant as ever. A smile curved her lips.
She began to laugh, a blissfully horrid sound, comical relief coming over her. The serenity of the laugh caused the wind in the mountain pass to hush, killing its own noise to hear the singing sound of the necromancer.
"He is coming to me."
Erwin finished his stew with a final slip. He cleansed the wooden article and tucked it away for tomorrow's dinner. The fire warmed his face, the cloak about him dismissing the chill behind him. He recover a pouch from the inner folds, toying with it in his hands. The stones inside clicked.
He threw the stones suddenly, scattering the objects across the ground. His brows furrowed at the runes he saw. He nudged around the pebbles, checking and double-checking what he saw.
"… It is moving into the mountains."
He collected the stones and hid them in his cloak again. He then buried his fire, hiding his trail from those who would wish follow him and kill him. Erwin gathered up the stallions and fixed them to his carriage, mounting the driver's seat.
The team set off with a whip crack.
Levi watched the stars swirl above him. They danced in silence, blinking with their language, thousands of conversations crossing the sky at once. He put his hands behind his head, otherwise unmoving on his pallet. The horse at his side snorted in its sleep.
The fiery moon hung low, as if drooping with sadness. The stars around it encouraged the sphere, flaring up in sympathy to its pain. The moon said nothing.
Levi shut his eyes, sighing in the nighttime.
"It appears a star carries the stone."
The star and unicorn trailed sparks through the dark forest. No moonlight reached them as they journeyed. The star pressed himself against the beast's neck.
The animals along the path watched the tiny, earthly star twinkle.