Soft light from the midday sun filtered through the high stained glass windows, only to be broken by dust motes from the many ancient tome’s that lined the walls of the library. Every now and then, when the light hit the motes just right, they looked like stars as they glittered momentarily before they were smothered by the darkened corners.
Rows upon rows of shelves stretched high into the rafters and past walkways that had been built to reach the highest books, on the highest shelves. Silence lay undisturbed in the library, as it always had, and not even the shuffle of the often unseen librarian could lift it from where it had settled into even the most forgotten places. Silence reigned.That was until Neya gave a huge yawn and closed her book with a massive thunk.
The fourteen year old stretched out her gangly limbs and almost knocked a pile of large, heavy books over. She had been trying to make her way through her required reading, yet only found herself reading the good bits. For instance, Neya had discovered that familiares are inhabited by a soul of the witch’s ancestors. So someone could have a familiar with the soul of their great aunt Meldrew helping them pick out awful jumpers.
Neya almost laughed at the idea when a sooty grey cat snorted at her and lazily opened an eye, annoyed that his nap had been disterbed. “Do you have to be so loud?” He asked from where he had been curled up between two more stacks of books.Neya rolled her eyes at him and the cat closed his eyes again to resume his nap. “Sazar?” The cat didn’t move, but hummed to show Neya he was listening. Neya frowned at the long strand of black hair she had been playing with, “When do you think we’d get to explore?” For as long as Neya had lived at the school for witches and magically inclined she had wanted to be a collector of knowledge. It was just a fancy name adults used instead of explorer, they found new kinds of magic and spells for the school to teach the next generation of witches. Fernia, her older sister by seven years, was one of these collectors of knowledge and often left Neya at the school for months. Fern would return looking tired and thin, but would still have the energy to see Neya. Neya wished Fern wouldn’t push herself so much, but she was the one paying for Neya’s education and all the necessities to live. The last time Neya had seen her sister was six months ago. Fern had cut her hair short again, shorter around the sides and left the top longer. Fern had said it was easier and Neya had mourned the loss of progress Fern’s hair had made in the months before.
“Didn’t Fern say she’d take you soon?”Neya wilted, “Yeah, but only if I got a good score on my tests.” Neya had not got a good score on her tests. Infact, she never got to take said tests as someone had accidentally used a fire spell in a defence test and sent the test papers up in flames.“She can’t punish me for something I never got to fail, right?”Sazar arched his back and swiveled his ears in the direction of steady foot falls. Neya shoved her books aside leapt from her seat as if the student who set fire to the papers had lit one under her. Sazar, however, was in no hurry to follow, despite the fact Neya had shirked her duties of the day to get a head start on her reading list. Neya brushed the dust from her skirt, the only evidence of her crawl through the dust covered piles of books.
The chilled air made Neya regret her decision to wear her plaid skirt in all the shades of boring browns. Compared to what she usually wore the skirt was a welcomed deviation and she had even traded pictures Fern sent her for a silk string to tie around the collar of her white long sleeved shirt. It was more of a summer outfit than one meant for mid winter, but it was something new and anything different was hard to find at the school. Everything was the same and not many of the schools residents had ventured out into the world. Fern had been one of five people sent out to be knowledge collectors.
“I know, I know. I’m going.” Neya yelled as the footsteps stopped a few feet away from her. She tried to scoop Sazar up, only to have him leap from the table before Neya could catch him. He sauntered over to curl his tail around the rough brown travelling boots that looked very familiar to Neya.“Well I hope you can spare a few minutes for your big sister.” Neya broke into a grin at the strong, sure voice of her older sister. In the blink of an eye Neya had lept across the short distance between them and almost knocked the short woman off her feet. Fern laughed as she hugged Neya back. Life at the school had been so boring since Fern had left to head south, Neya had grown use to the loneliness that came from her sisters long absences. It has been happening since Neya turned three and Fern had, at the age of ten, begun to pay off their debts by travelling for the school, yet it was still hard. Neya would have been completely alone if she hadn’t been lucky enough to find her familiar at a young age. Sazar had always been there and, from what the professors had told her, had always been there since Fern had carried baby Neya miles from their destroyed home.No one had told her why their home had been destroyed or why they had to leave, but Neya was just thankful she had a friend while Fern was away.
Fern blew a long strand of hair from her face, over the six months her hair had grown long enough to curl under her chin. Neya could never doubt that Fern was her sister, they looked like twins if it wasn’t for the age gap many people would think they were. They both had dark black hair and green eyes that reminded Neya of the schools gardens. Fern was a rather short woman and Neya had shot up over the summer; now Neya came to Fern’s shoulder, no doubt she would grow even more. Fern had a pointier chin than Neya, something Fern didn’t like, her sister’s face always reminded her of a pixie with how small and sharp it was. Ferns fram was the same, all sharp collar bones and tiny limbs. Neya always worried Fern wasn’t eating enough on her travels, which was another reason for her join Fern; if only to make sure she ate properly.
Neya let go of Fern, but frowned at how thin she was.
Fern ruffled Neya’s hair with a grin that didn’t hide the dark circles under her eyes, “Come on, Lak’s in the court yard. No doubt Garent’s bothering her.”Neya trailed after Fern as they made their way to the cobbled court yard where they found a crow relaying messages from Lak to Garent. Neya shivered in the cold but couldn’t be angry with it when it brought so much snow to play in.On the well Garent’s familiar crowed and as per the rules only Garent and the other familiares where the only ones to understand. Sazar quickened his meandering to meet with Lak, a large black wolf with one brown eye and one blue eye. Lak bent her head in greeting to the sisters and snorted in amusement, as Sazar rubbed his head against her front paw and purred so loud that Neya could hear it from the other side of the well Garent sat on.
“Nice of you to finally join us.” Garent said, his withered face turned to Fern. Garent was the sort of professor that looked older than he actually was and often acted as if he were over fifty rather than mid forties. Life had not been kind to him and it showed, though he was not very kind in turn. He wasn’t evil by any means, but he didn’t seem to approve of anything Neya deemed as fun. Once he had given Neya an essay that had to be finished the day the school took their annual trip to town. He did this every year and the essay was always given hours before the deadline.Neya was not a fan of his.Fern gave him a polite smile, one Neya knew meant she was not in the mood for a lecture, “Well I had to see my sister. After all family comes first.” Fern placed her hand on Lak’s back and the wolf grumbled something only Fern could understand.Fern gave a tired smile and Neya was going to try and convince her to take a rest before she left again. Or before they left again. Oh yeah, she needed to ask about leaving with Fern.
Garent gave a groan as he stood from the dried up well and swept past them, “Remember to write up your findings. I’ll see you at the meeting tonight, hopefully you have better news than last time.” Then he had disappeared into the school, his familiar cawed before he too flew off.
Fern sighed and sank gratefully onto the wells ledge.“Are you ok?” Neya asked unsure. Fern was always tired when she visited, but this was utter exhaustion. Lak nudged Fern’s hands with her nose and grumbled to her and broke Fern’s trance, “I’m fine. Anyway, I heard about your test.”“How?”Fern smiled and touched her nose, “I have my way.” She said and Sazar seemed far too interested in something over the high walls surrounding the school.Suspiscouse.
“So? Seeing as it wasn’t my fault, does that mean I can still come with you?” Neya wasn’t above begging at this point. She had spent years hearing from her sister about the outside world and, thanks to Garent and his essays, she hadn’t actually been outside before.Fern opened her mouth and closed it again, her eyes stared in thought past Neya and squinted at the fading light. Orange cast a warm glow over Fern’s pale face as Neya saw her sister debating with herself. Why it was such a hard decision she didn’t know. Surely she would keep her promise, she had before.Finally Fern nodded, “It’s dangerous out there, but you gotta learn some day.” a look of doubt crossed her face but she shook it away and stood, “Fine, yes. But you have to do everything I say and no means no. Understand?”Neya nodded, “Thank you.” She squealed before she jumped on Fern for the second time that day. This time they did fall and both sisters laughed. They soon regretted it when the cold snow melted and sunk into their clothes, further chilling them both. Neya was about to throw a fist full of snow when Lak began growling.
The heavy wooden doors that had protected them for years, rattled as something heavy slammed against it from the other side. A bell rang and all the children in their classes began to scream and cry as hissing screeching sounds accompanied the banging of the doors. Professors rushed about, some ushering children to the meal hall and others taking position in the courtyard. Each of them held battle crystals and began calling upon battle magic.Neya was hauled up by Garent, who had rushed out in the commotion to aid them.“Up!” He yelled, “Get up and follow me.”Neya reached for Fern but she shook her head, “No, go. I’ll be fine, Lak will go with you.” Lak nudged Sazar in the direction of the schools main building and Fern pressed a note into Neya’s hand, “Ask for Rick, Derseric Halmano. He’ll be staying in the town’s Inn. He should be able to take you somewhere safe. Tell him he owes me and I pass that debt to you.”Neya clutched the note to her chest, tears blurred her vision so she blinked them away, “What about you?” She yelled over the chants of the professors and screeching of the monster behind the doors, “I can’t leave you!”
Fern gave her a watery smile, “I love you, never forget that.” She kissed Neya’s forehead, “And if I can, I will always find you again.” She whispered as she hugged Neya. Neya clutched at her sisters travelling coat, reluctant to let go even as Garent pulled her away.
Neya kept her eyes on her sister even as she was pulled by Garent, until Fern was lost amongst the sea of bodies.“This way.” Garent hissed as he lead her down into the basement where they stored the cold foods and raw meat.“Where’s he taking us?” Sazar demanded when he fell into step beside Neya. Lak had taken up the rear and constantly looked back. Neya shook her head at him, “Well ask.” Sazar insisted, but Neya couldn’t find her words to. She had just lost what was left of her family.There was no telling what horror lay behind those doors.There was no telling if Fern would survive.
Garent pushed aside a large barrel and began to pull the wood panel off of the wall. Behind them Neya heard a soft hiss and couldn’t help feeling eyes on her. Sazar felt it too, she could tell by the way his fur stood up and even Lak began growling.“Through here-” Garent didn’t get to finish his sentence when a large clawed hand bled from the shadows and threw him across the room. Lak leapt at the thing and Garent shot a blast of nature magic in the form of a lightning bolt into the darkness.
He hobbled over to Neya, a bloody trail followed him. Furthur in the darkness Lak yelped and managed to crawl toward a patch of light let in from the basement door. The claw crept out again, but when it reached the light it screeched. Burnt rotten flesh attacked her nose and the sickening sound of sizzling flesh made her gag.“Go!” Garent said as he pushed her through the hole he made, Sazar hopped in after her.“What about you?” Neya yelled. She may not have liked him but he had saved her, she couldn’t just leave him.“I’ll be fine, get to town.”“No-” Naya got out. Garent had begun slamming the wood panel back into place. Behind him the claw slowly tried to reach him again.“Go!” He yelled at her as the last panel slotted into place.
Neya had been plunged into darkness. Behind the wood she heard Garent’s scream.In the dark she fumbled her way through the tunnel, unsure if she was being followed but keeping a fast pace just in case. Sazar tried to help her as much as he could with his better eyesight. It felt like hours through the dark, but she couldn’t tell.Finally she saw light at the end of the tunnel, following lead her to the old sewage dump just outside of town. Garent had saved her and lead her closer to where she needed to be.
Was he dead? Was Lak or Fern now dead?Did anyone make it out?
There was no way for her to know.
She clenched her fists tighter trying not to cry and heard the scrunch of Fern’s note. “We need to find this Rick.” Sazar said softly. Neya nodded and wiped her hand across her eyes. She looked down at what was once her school uniform, it was in ruins just like her school. The skirt was muddy and ripped, her once white shirt gone grey, her sensible shoes scuffed and she had completely lost the silk string.
Despite this she stood straighter, “Come on Zar.” And with that she started the trek into town.
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