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0:42 AMChapter 2
2nd Day of Being Judged
"Ow! Balor, this is painful!”
"That’s offensive to us you realize.”
"I do really hate this part of the testing…”
"For the wood only I’m guessing and not for me.”
"That’s probably what sister is thinking actually.”
"It’s burning wood! I feel terrible for doing it.”
Cuilliok sighed at the antics of his older sibling and the other female sure they would never to stand being around each other for longer. He crossed the room to retrieve the basin filled with water and a cloth once again. Probably the tenth time I’ve done that, even after all that talk about being similar to different creatures earlier, he thought as he sat on the bed. He placed his elbow on his knee and head in his right palm as he stared at the two females cleaned up yet another test wound.
Amena sighed. "At this rate, I’ll leave this house of yours bloodied and burned on every little bit of my body,” she commented, continuing to pat her side with the cloth.
So far we’ve tried fire, a few pokers with special enchantments made as the embellishment, and throwing small pebbles at her torso (mostly) to see if she could stop them somehow. She looked disgusted at the mere thought of blood, is naturally terrible at knowing where she located at, and refused to even attempt yelling like a Banshee, and after a while she gave in but had to apologize immediately after because she was "raised as a proper lady and merchant’s daughter…
"I think we should deem her mortal,” both Cuilliok and Nimue said at the same time, both staring at the mortal who was frozen in the act of putting her cloth down on the bucket.
"Uhm… If it was that easy, why didn’t we do it earlier?” The question was met by silence. "It is… bad?”
Nimue spoke up. "Yes. It gives permission to all creatures to attack and maybe eat you. If you’re lucky you’ll make it home with your body mostly intact but missing a lot of sanity. The worst case ends up with you being tortured, being dragged into hell, – and we do mean literally – and becoming a snack for a Citizen.
"So no matter what, I’ll come out of this hurt?” Amena questioned as she straightened back up to her full height, attempting to put up a brave face. The siblings stared at her a moment longer trying to figure out what to say in response to the question when the younger sibling spoke.
"Actually, one way you’ll be burned, bruised, and scraped somewhat, and may experience near death at one point or another. The other way will result you’ll die for sure. Not many mortals make it through a punishment from a creature.”
Upon seeing the other girl’s face go pale, the sister sighed. "You have a fantastic way with words, brother. I should have learned from you,” Nimue mock-sighed, showing the sarcastic side more common to humans and Strangers.
Cuilliok rolled his eyes, baring his teeth slightly to show his canines outside of his lower lip. "It’s true, and she doesn’t seem to enjoy not knowing what she’s walking into after the experience she had with you not telling her what you were testing her with.”
The mortal hummed, bringing attention towards her once more. She tapped a pale finger against her tight-lipped grimace. When she noticed the threatening looking male and the agitated huffing female, she tilted her head to one side. "I was wondering what would be a worse, uhm, creature to be eaten or punished by. A part of me wants to say a Dullahan, but a Dearg Due eating me sounds just as terrible.”
Cuilliok raised an eyebrow, baring his fangs more. "I feel more inclined to say that being eaten by a Dearg Due would be an honor a mortal isn’t worthy of, but a Dullahan also wouldn’t eat you. They may make you a prize or an object to provide some of their blood to splash on others.” He took a glance outside and said, "We need to pass judgment soon, sister.”
She looked at the book lying on the bed a few feet away and thought about the conversation that just took place. She slowly walked over to the bed as if in a trance, and raised the book to her chest level. "I have two small tests to try. One for a Dullahan, which is generally considered one of the most frightening creatures around and you thought another, though slightly less terrifying creature, a Dearg Due, would be more terrible. Let’s see if there is a reason for that.”
The room turned into a frenzied search of properly setting up objects, getting the right materials, and inspecting each object wondering what it would do if it worked. Eventually, there was a few vials of fake blood, according to Nimue, set up around the room just in case, a bone from an old horse used by one of the few Dullahans that rode in this area, a box of sweet smelling herbs that supposedly attracts Dearg Due, and a prediction booklet. The booklet was full of random people who have passed with an expertly sketched picture, but the information about their death was kept in a separate book that Nimue placed in her waistband so it could be a good test.
The mortal walked from object to object, sticking her tongue out at the vials of ‘blood’ and sniffing the air to inhale the aroma. She picked up the bone, and –
Wait, does she look sad? And it appears like she is lovingly patting it… the merman thought to himself, watching as Amena placed the bone back down and continue on to the book resting on the pillow of the bed. She stopped and stared at it, then finally asked, "What is this supposed to be?” as she picked it up.
The cunning female simply shrugged. "It’s supposed to be full of people who have moved from this world to the next, but it doesn’t provide information.”
"Then what help is this?” questioned the mortal, as she leafed through the different pages, staring and inspecting the different faces, becoming engrossed in the faces the book contained.
"Maybe try guessing what may have happened. After all, we are testing for a Dullahan as well.”
The mortal sat facing the window, taking a deep breath in, and started with the picture of a man who seemed a wealthy man based on how portly he could afford to be. Her head tilted to the side as she analyzed a man she didn’t know while Nimue flipped her answer booklet to the same page.
Cuilliok glanced at the page over his sister’s shoulder, reading the information to himself. Aged 30 years at the time of death. Believed to have died between dusk and midnight, the time the man’s wife noticed her husband’s breathing hitch. Some kinds of demons are believed to have clawed into the man’s heart and organs until they broke and splattered blood all in his inside. A Dullahan was reported to have stopped in front of his house after the wife noticed her husband lying dead, then rode away from the scene whipping his horse with a spinal cord. He caused many misfortunes for others, the biggest being that he cheated people out of their money when he was a merchant. What a strange story. Not many Dullahans whip their horses with spines anymore.
Amena cocked her head to the opposite side after a few minutes of inspecting the picture and hummed once more. "I believe the man died at the 23 hour of the day, and he died because he upset one of Balor’s minions when he was inspecting the life above the surface.” She began getting a distant look in her eyes as she continued looking at the page. "When the man went on vacation to a lake, small Fomori crawled into his soul and grabbed ahold of his heart and soul, gradually adding more pressure until they murdered him that night, and slipped away before the wife found him lying dead. The Dullahan passing by stopped outside so the wife could view him from the window and go check on her husband before he rode off with his horses whinnying and stomping to alert others he was there.” She shook her head to clear her mind as it was getting a bit hazy and got rid of the distant look she formerly had.
The siblings looked between one another and the mortal sitting on the small bed looking perplexed at what just happened. Nimue nodded and shut the book she was holding in one hand loudly. "Good, that’s more detailed than what this book had.”
The mortal looked confused then angered as she stood, clenching the book in one hand. "Wait a minute –” she started.
"Yes, I actually did have another copy of the book. It was a test after all, did you expect me to simply hand it over to you?” Nimue stated, lifting an eyebrow. The other girl grumbled and crossed her arms across the chest of her dirty and somewhat bloody cloth shirt, but getting rid of her glare anyway.
Thank the gods and demons of this realm that she does in fact have a Dullahan ancestor down the line, Cuilliok thought, glancing at the curtained window that was glowing for a moment and darkened drastically after. He walked around the bed and cot, momentarily ignoring the two females as he opened the window.
He turned back to the other two and said, "If we hurry, we will be there by the time we promised we would make a decision by, and hope we will arrive there not too long after the Wisp that was listening to our testing I’m assuming.”
The females glanced at the window and saw sunset approaching. Nimue began gathering the cloak that was saved for special announcements and placed it across her shoulder, straightening the two modest braids in her hair and linen dress, gesturing for the mortal to do the same with hers.
"Alright. Now let’s make haste. Amena, keep the book on hand. I shall hold my own. And Cuilliok, stay with the mortal and tidy yourself. I’ll go ahead through the trees to announce that we have passed judgment. Walk carefully and quickly now.”
"Alright sister. We’ll meet you there.”
As she ran from the house with her vibrant blue cloak flapped behind her, Cuilliok straightened his tunic and retrieved his own cloak of the same style as his sister’s, snapping it together at the shoulder. When he turned to tell the mortal they should leave, he saw her look of confusion. He sighed. "For our family, it is a great honor to be listened to and we dress as such for a few moments. It’s what our parent’s did as well. Now we should leave.”
She cast him another dubious look before sweeping by him and exiting the house. I’ll never understand women, he decided as he closed the door and rubbed the enchantment for luck. He walked faster until he reached Amena.
"How is it possible for her to go faster than us here?”
"Do you mortals learn nothing nowadays?”
"Oh, we learn plenty, but nothing much about demons and monsters now besides through children’s songs.”
"Alright, well since she’s a dryad, a spirit of the trees –”
"I know what a damn dryad is you idiot.”
"I’m not the foolish one mortal. But she can leap between tree to tree much faster than you’d be likely to see. The Wisp has probably just arrived at the village fire already, so the quicker we can clear things up the better.”
"Yeah sure...” the mortal stated, turning to look away from Cuilliok. He rubbed his face and the mismatched pair continued on in silence, their pace quickening due to his gradually lengthening and faster stride.
Hopefully this will help at least a little…
The two arrived at the Great Fire of Hell and were greeted with criticizing stares and whispers. The two stood by Nimue in the center of it all and turned to face the crowd. With a great inhale, the dryad spoke loudly, her serious stare highlighted by the backdrop of fire from the pit and the sky.
"Attention Citizens! We have discovered what part-creature this supposed mortal is! Although we have not figured out why she would be led – rather chased – here is yet to be explained, but we have discovered the mortal Amena is a Stranger with ancestry tracing back to a Dullahan family!”
The announcement was met with a slight roar of chatter, snatches of conversation the ones standing in front of the fire were along the lines of "That mustn’t be true, they’re too mortal for that” because it hadn’t happened in this village for many decades.
This time Cuilliok stepped forward and grabbed the book from his sister’s hand and spoke above the loud din of the Citizens’ chatter. "We have proved it to be so with this very book!” He held the book open to a random page above his head and turned so all could see and hear him. "This book has an alternate copy the former pure mortal is holding with only faces of people, and the description of how they died and why is in the one I possess. We shall give a demonstration if needed, but silence is a key factor in this test; it helps the person to get in touch with themselves and know what, why, and how.”
The noise died down as Nimue shared a small smile with her brother. She retrieved the book once more and told Amena to flip to the 20th page of the book. Once they were both there, they stood back to back with Cuilliok off to the side, watching the reactions of the crowd. She showed the crowd the picture of the man she would be describing. We didn’t have many local Dullahans here, but now I’m noticing a thrumming beating noise coming towards, he thought, fervently scanning the crowd now.
The girl breathed in slowly, her chest falling slower and slower each breath, and slowly closed her eyes, face turned towards the fire. "The woman was a Stranger who died at 20 years old past the start of dawn. She was a witch at heart and enchanted many souls to her bidding. She claimed to the mortal village leaders that she truly believed in the ways of the gods, but went back to the Citizen village nearby and said she loved the demon ways. All those she enchanted were freed somewhat after she was killed, and from then on she was known as The Puppet Master. The way of death was a brutal one. An upset group of Citizens set out to kidnap the woman, but found her lying poisoned and writhing in the middle of the forest. They decided to make what the humans found more interesting and sliced off the witch Stranger’s head and place it in the crook of her arm as a Dullahan would carry theirs, and splattered the woman’s blood all over the tiny clearing she lie in. The humans came to bury her the next day with her intestines already ripped out and blooded everywhere, and the forest began stinking of entrails. They politely through a few shovels or handfuls of dirt on her body, but left her for the hunters of the Citizens to finish her off.”
She opened her eyes and saw the impressed and uncaring stares she received. She turned back to Nimue and the girl turned towards her, beginning to read what was writ in her book.
"The woman died at 20 years in an unknown area of the woods. She was never properly buried in the village, but she no longer held the right as a two-crosser. Claiming to be mortal, the Stranger witch played all those around her to her needs. The Puppet Master was poisoned to die in agony, but was found the next day in a clearing smeared in blood, guts, organs strewn around the trees, and her head chopped off and placed in her arm, the face stuck in the expression of pain and suffering, a feat only accomplished by a Dullahan.”
The crowd was silent. Then a neighboring Dullahan man kicked his headless horse into a trot through the crowd not minding others who were getting in his way, getting many colorful curses thrown his way. The man stepped down from his steed and turned to see all those gathered. He was a sight to see, a dark headless man with his cape billowing in the wind behind him, leaning on one leg, his head’s eyes darting around as if seeking a challenge.
Finally he stepped towards the girl and placed his right arm around her shoulder as the head under his left spoke. "This is my distant relative, the only one left living. Leave her be or you will all pay the price, fellow Citizens.”
This announcement was followed by complete silence until one "jokingly” shouted, "I wondered what happened to our village’s Dullahans! You doomed them all!”
This was met by loud outcries of indignation.
"…Rides with a damn Banshee usually anyway! They almost always have a bit of mortal blood!”
"Who would be stupid enough to be with a dark man of death!”
Similar shouts and arguments arose while the Dullahan handed the reins to his claimed relative. I wonder how distant is distant for this man who could be more than a millennia old. The headless man walked over to where the siblings stood, simply watching the chaos around them as well as the man approaching.
"I believe this would be easier to speak of in a home further from this place. Should I call upon my friend?” he said, ready to send the signal.
Cuilliok glanced curiously at his sister, interested in seeing a Banshee and a Dullahan since their village isn’t very mixed. Nimue caught the look and rolled her eyes. She spared a glance at the mortal cautiously but happily petting the horse’s mane, the slight smoke emerging from its neck getting into her face.
"Yeah, fine. Might as well,” she said, rubbing the area above her nose with her right hand. Her brother grinned happily, fangs peeking out from behind his lips slightly, tan face practically glowing. The dryad smoothed her braids once more and sighed, letting a small grin appear on her lightly colored face, showing she was proud that she made her brother happy.
The headless rider gave a long sharp whistle, and a thundering noise rattled the village, followed by an almost cackling laugh. A few minutes of confusion later, a woman completely ran over a score of people with her team of horses and her cart then came to a stop in front of the Dullahan and Strangers.
The pair stared at her for a moment and the lady finally sneered and said, "Are you two coming along for a ride or not? Dark and the other girl are already situated.”
The pair took a moment to register that Dark was short for "dark man” and turned to look at the others. The man was in a good riding position, head now under his right arm and holding onto the reins with his left. Amena tried to assume a similar position but ended up leaning on Dark’s back with her arms holding tight around his middle. They turned back around and shrugged at one another. The mortal’s trying it, why not? thought Cuilliok as he hopped into the cart and helped his sister up. He moved over the Banshee and sat on her left.
She let loose another near cackling laugh, much louder nearby. "Let’s go!” she shouted as she whipped the six horses with a human spine, the black horses rearing and snorting before taking off, the headless horse and his riders keeping astride the cart.
I just realized I have no idea where we are headed. Oh well. Maybe we’ll find a better – or at least more interesting – village this way.
The small group rode off down a long path, now filled with cackling, cracks, and thundering noises.
But there is always the chance they really don’t care and it will be the longest journey we’ve ever been on, the merman thought as he leaned back in the seat so he didn’t jostle as much, mentally preparing for the worst.
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