Authors: Mae Ronan
Greyson leapt from his seat in terror, and shifted from the crypt.
Anna was lying sound asleep in her chamber, when there came a fit of crazed and desperate shouting, just above her head. She rolled over with a start, and reached instinctively for the dagger beneath her pillow; but her hand was stayed by the sudden registration of Greyson’s voice.
“What do you want?” she hollered.
He merely stared down at her from his place beside the bed. He stood with wild hair, horror-stricken face, and twitching limbs.
“What on earth is the matter with you?” Anna cried.
He grabbed her by the arm, and yanked her out of bed – a thing that would have guaranteed him a vicious blow to the head at any other time. But this, Anna sensed, was not like any other time. There was something significant, something very wrong about it – so wrong that she took hold of Greyson by both shoulders, and shook him till he spoke.
“Tell me!” she demanded. “Out with it, Greyson!”
“I – I – oh, p-please help me . . . h-help me, Anna . . .”
His voice was so distorted with fear and stuttering, Anna could scarcely make out a word of his blubber. So she shook him still more, and still harder, till finally there came something intelligible from his mouth.
“I did it!” he cried. He fell to the floor on his knees, and buried his face in the folds of Anna’s nightshirt. “Oh – what have I done?”
Anna forced his head away, and knelt down beside him, the better to see into his eyes. “What have you done, Greyson?” she asked. “Tell me what you’ve done!”
A heavy sense of foreboding fell upon her, then. She looked into her friend’s face, reading as best she could what was writ there; and it was all she could do to keep from striking him down.
“If you do not tell me,” she said, with a calmness that was by no means easy to feign, “then I cannot help you. Do you want me to help you, Greyson?”
“Yes! Oh – oh, I wish . . .” He jumped up suddenly to his feet. Anna followed after him. “But there’s nothing to be done!” he rambled on, running his hands through his hair. “Nothing I can do – nothing you can do. It’s all over, Anna! I’ll be killed.”
He leant suddenly towards her, in one swift movement; and whispered into her ear, ever so softly: “I’ve woken Vaya Eleria!”
All of Anna’s fear seemed to fly away, then, on the wings of relief; and she nearly burst out laughing. “You’ve woken Vaya Eleria!” she exclaimed. “Oh, Greyson – you’ve only been dreaming! I’ve been hard on you these past few days, I know. I’m sorry for it. But, Greyson – you’ve nothing to worry about! You couldn’t do something like that, even if you wanted to.”
“But I could,” he whispered, wringing his hands nearly hard enough to rip them from his wrists. “I could, Anna – and I did. I didn’t mean to, I never meant to – but I did it, oh, I did it! I went to her chamber, and took a ring from her drawer. I went to Byron Evigan’s study, and found an old book there, with the raising ritual all explained. I copied it down on paper. Then, tonight, I went to the mausoleum. I put the ring on the coffin – I read the words on the paper – and I woke her!”
Anna’s smile began to fade. She took a step nearer to Greyson; and he fell a step away from her. “What – what are you telling me, Greyson?”
“I’ve told you all,” he murmured helplessly.
“I do not believe you. You are getting your revenge on me for the way I’ve treated you. But this is not the way, Greyson. It’s not the way!”
“I wish – I wish it weren’t true, Anna –”
“You’re lying to me!”
He reached out, and took her by the hands. “Come with me!” he begged. “Come with me, Anna. Come with me to the mausoleum – and I will show you.”
Anna knew not what more to say. She was caught in a muddled state between obdurate denial, and utter shock. She could only press Greyson’s hands, and shift beside him, as his thoughts carried them from the castle to the forest, and then to the tomb of Vaya Eleria.
When they entered the crypt, all was silent – as one would of course expect a crypt to be. Greyson halted at a spot some six feet away from the marble coffin, and they stood there motionless for several seconds, simply looking at it. To Anna, not a thing appeared out of place. The lid lay flat and even along the sides of the coffin, with the ring Greyson had mentioned still coiled atop it round its chain.
Anna narrowed her eyes, and looked all around. There was nothing to be seen, however; only felt. The air was somehow colder, here in the crypt, than it was outside. The place was pervaded with the stillness of death, that heavy and eternal hush which seems, and which should be, unbreakable. It marks very clearly the point where life ends, and the other-world begins: that wide river which is the Rubicon of every creature’s journey out of this world. Past this river, the hum and noise of the earth fades entirely away, and is replaced with a clear and perfect silence.
It was exactly this silence which filled the crypt. Yet it was tainted somewhat by Anna’s and Greyson’s presence in its midst: two creatures not quite living, but not quite dead. The silence of death, for them, was not perfect; and it felt almost as if, just beneath the last and lowest layer of the quiet, there ran an indecipherable current of whispers, never-ending; and meant only for the ears of the dead.
“Do you see, Greyson?” Anna asked softly. “You must have only been dreaming.”
“How can you say that?” he returned. “You see the ring just as well as I, there on the coffin.”
“So? Perhaps you came here; and perhaps you sat, right there in that chair.” She pointed to Filipovic’s place of honour. “Perhaps you set the ring on the coffin; and perhaps you said the words. But nothing’s happened. Do you see? Nothing’s happened.”
“I heard her.”
“Heard her what?”
“I heard her move. Inside the coffin.”
“It was only your imagination. Look there, Greyson! All is as it should be. The dead lie quiet – just as they have done for centuries. You are a silly fool, Greyson, and that is all.”
“You don’t understand –”
But he had no chance to explain, just exactly what it was that Anna did not understand; for in that moment, there came a great burst of sound, and Greyson was terrified. He ran from his place, out into the dark portico at the front of the mausoleum.
“Greyson!” Anna screamed. “Get back here!”
In a flash he was back; though apparently much against his will. He stood pressed to Anna’s side, as they looked together upon the marble coffin. Anna had fallen back several steps at the moment of the terrible crash, and so they stood now at some distance from it. They could see only that, somehow, its entire lid – which must indeed have weighed hundreds of pounds – had flown clean from its anchors. It lay, now, unbroken but upside down, on the floor just in front of Anna’s feet. The white walls of the coffin surrounded a long, narrow portal of blackness, past the edge of which there must have lain the body of Vaya Eleria. From where she stood, however, Anna could not tell.
“What is happening?” she whispered.
“I told you,” said Greyson. “She’s awake.”
Anna tried to take a step forward, but Greyson clung so tightly to her arm that she could not gain any distance from him. She tried to shake him away; but you should know that it is a very difficult thing, to shake loose a frightened Lumarian who does not wish to be shaken. So instead she tugged him forward alongside of her, and they began to inch slowly towards the open coffin.
Again, all was just as quiet and peaceful as it had been, the moment they entered the place. But surely
could not be as it had been, if only one took into account the fact that now there lay the lid of Vaya Eleria’s coffin upon the floor. And how had it come to be there? Well, in all honesty, Anna would much rather not have known.
They stood like two small and frightened children, staring at the coffin. Perhaps it was not such an astounding thing in poor Greyson; but surely, for Anna it was uncommon. Quite all of a sudden, she was no longer a fierce and formidable Lumarian, no longer an unmerciful and undefeated Narkul hunter. She felt all of the strength go out of her, as she gazed upon that lidless coffin, contemplating in the horror of the moment, just
what could be.
what could be
was entirely sufficient either to ruin, or to end, both her and Greyson’s lives forever. And so she hoped against all hope, that
what could be
Yet she knew that this was too much to hope for, in that first instant when there came to her ears the soft, scratching sound of fingernails upon marble. Then there came a soft thudding, like feet attempting to gain traction over a slipping surface. She wished wholeheartedly that she could simply melt, and drain away into the earth, disappearing forever. For she knew, now, without doubt, that
what could be
Greyson seemed on the verge of fainting. He clutched at Anna’s sleeve, whining and whimpering, as the sounds from within the coffin grew louder. But he fell quiet, and ceased to move, when for a moment that deep hush returned to the crypt. It lay intact and undisturbed for several long moments, which must in the end have added up to nearly a minute – and both Anna and Greyson were beginning once more to fervently wish for a mistake.
The moment of Vaya Eleria’s appearance, in the midst of the thick stillness which had begun to bode against her having been awakened at all, was quite enough to stop a heart. But, as Anna’s and Greyson’s hearts faced not the chore of beating, neither did they face the dilemma of stopping. And so their trauma – just as Greyson’s own had not been, in those first moments after he realised just what he had done – was not allayed by death.
In a single, swift and fluid motion, Vaya Eleria sat upright in her coffin. Her head turned slowly to the right, and to the left; and then her eyes lighted upon Anna and Greyson. Yet she looked immediately away from them, as if she had not seen them, and began to climb out of the coffin.
Her weak limbs fumbled as she went; and once she had made it over the wall of the coffin, she fell four feet to the stone floor. She made not a single sound, all this time, but merely continued trying to stand upon her legs. When finally she had managed this feat, she wobbled back and forth in a very doubtful fashion, holding out her arms to aid her balance.
At last she grew still, and stood erect upon her feet, with her head hung down, and her hair falling over her face. She maintained this position for what seemed whole minutes – when, suddenly, she snapped up her head, and fixed a pair of flaming eyes upon the two petrified forms which stood before her. Then she sent up a single, long, unbroken wail.
Neither Anna nor Greyson could find the power to move, or to speak; and so they simply looked together at the risen woman, shivered a little in their respective boots, and clutched at one another’s hands. They feared for a moment that Vaya Eleria would descend upon them in her fury, and attempt to wrench their heads directly from their necks – for indeed they felt hardly up to the task of defending themselves. After a very long moment, however, she simply flew shrieking from the building, into the thick darkness of early morn.
Anna and Greyson sat beside one another on the edge of the open coffin, looking after her. The great torch beside the doorway, which Greyson had lit earlier in the night, still burnt. So they merely sat, neither thinking nor moving, till it had reached its end. The orange glow disappeared from the floor, and was replaced by bright yellow sunlight, which pierced the heavy shadows of the entranceway, but stopped short just a few feet inwards, as if unable to project itself through such an obstinate barrier. Anna and Greyson sat watching the light in the doorway, wishing that they could somehow find the courage to rise, and move towards it – though they remained for a long while, trembling in the pitch darkness which covered them.
When finally they left the crypt, and returned to the castle, they expected to find a decapitation squad (as Greyson so poetically referred to those who were chosen to carry out such deeds) awaiting them. But the whole place still seemed sleeping, in that early hour of morning; and no one at all approached them, either to ask after the pleasantness of their walk, or to sentence them to death.
They wandered round for a while, bewildered. Then they retired each to their respective chambers; and though they felt it too much to consider as a reality, that
of them had merely been dreaming of precisely the same thing, at precisely the same time, still they felt themselves growing less fearful as the day wore on.
Anna called Greyson to her at dusk, and sat him down for a talk. She announced to him very sternly what they would do.
“We must go this very night,” she said, “to hunt for Vaya Eleria. If we are not the two of us mad as hatters, then we shall find her – and we shall put her back in her coffin.”
“Put her – put her back in her coffin?”
“Yes, you fool! If you have made this mess, then we must clean it up. We replaced the lid on the coffin, before we left the mausoleum. Since it was not broken, there can be no suspicions raised too early. I assume someone tends the place?”