Authors: Kevin Hardman
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Horror, #Coming of Age, #Myths & Legends, #Greek & Roman, #Paranormal & Urban
Errol rode the rest of the way to the Beverly farm at high speed, getting there shortly before sundown. No wonder he hadn’t found any traces of Tom around Dorsey’s place; Tom had never even gotten close. Instead, the course he had most likely travelled - towards Jarruse’s sighting of the mysterious creature - had taken him in a different direction altogether.
Upon arrival, Errol was all business, barely greeting Dennis and his wife before asking to be escorted to the problem area in the fields. (And asking for a fresh horse, since his own was completely worn out.) Not surprisingly, it was Gale who came with him, riding silently on her own horse as Errol brought her up to speed on what he had found out about Tom.
“So that’s good news, then,” she said when he’d finished.
“Good as far as me knowing where he went. Bad when you consider the fact that I haven’t heard from him.”
Both chewed on that in silence as they came to an open area in the cornfield. Looking around, Errol could see that the stalks in a long, but relatively narrow streak had wilted, shriveling up into hard, dry husks. He climbed down from his horse to have a closer look, with Gale doing the same.
“Looks like some sort of blight,” he said. “What makes you think you need a Warden for this?”
“Because, when we look out here at night, we see something big and glowing moving around, and the next morning there’s more damage.”
“At night?” Errol looked in sudden alarm towards the horizon, where the sun was now setting.
at night,” Gale stressed, while getting a lamp from her pack and lighting it. “Nothing’s ever happened this early.”
Errol nodded, poking a digit into a small hole in the ground, about the width of his forefinger. He looked at her and grinned. “Come with me for a second.”
With that, he moved over to where the healthy cornstalks were still growing. With Gale peering over his shoulder, he hunted around until he found what he was looking for - another small hole in the ground like what he had previously observed. He pulled out his warding wand, and drew an intricate symbol on the ground around the hole. When he finished, he muttered a small incantation and the symbol glowed bright yellow.
“What are you doing?” Gale asked.
“Shhhh,” he replied, putting a finger to his lips. “Watch.”
As the glow began to fade, a small amount of activity seemed to take place in the hole. There was an impression of movement within, and tiny bits of earth around the surface edge crumbled inwards. Suddenly, there was a high-pitched squeak and something green popped up out of the hole so quickly that Gale and Errol both were taken aback.
When they recovered, they saw what appeared to be a little man - a child, really - no taller than a man’s thumb straddling the tiny hole. He was dressed in a tiny green wrap that appeared to be made of the leafy husk of an ear of corn.
The little man squeaked again and pointed at the two humans. Errol quickly etched another ward on the ground and activated it. However, the expected glow - this time blue - did not completely fade from this one.
“What is that?” Gale asked.
“A Perrikin. They live underground, usually in cultivated fields, so they can get food from what people plant.”
“And it lives here?”
do. They live in colonies - probably all across your farm.”
“Can you get rid of them?”
Errol looked at her, surprised. “Why would you want to do that?”
“You just said they steal our crops, our food. They’re like any other pest.”
“No, they’re not. They actually help you. They clip the diseased portions off plants, help the roots stay healthy, take care of them. Your farm probably hasn’t had a bad harvest in what - six, seven years?”
“More like ten.”
“Well, this is probably why. And they don’t take very much - you guys probably never even notice it’s missing. Or you just chalk it up to some other pest taking it.”
Again, the little man squeaked, and suddenly the symbols on the new ward moved, eerily changing shape.
“He wants to know what we want,” Errol said.
“You can understand him?” Gale asked in surprise.
“Not exactly. This last emblem I sketched is a translation ward. The symbols tell each of us what the other is saying.”
“Can you tell us about the dead crops?” Errol asked. “We want to fix them.”
Suddenly, as the translation ward changed, the little man became extremely excited, jumping high into the air (for him), clapping his hands and pointing to the blighted cornstalks, all the while chirping incessantly.
“He says, ‘The Riser! The Riser! The Riser!’ - whatever that means,” Errol translated. “He just keeps saying it over and over.”
Suddenly the little man jumped back into the hole feet-first and disappeared.
“Well, that was rude,” said Gale. “Not even a goodbye.”
Before Errol could reply, they heard squeaking and chirping behind them. Turning around, they saw the little Perrikin standing above another small hole in the area of the wilted cornstalks. He motioned intently for them to come over.
“Guess he wants to show us something,” Errol said as he and Gale walked to where the Perrikin was standing. However, when they got close, he jumped back into the hole, only to pop up a few feet farther down the lane of wilted plants.
“I think he wants us to follow him,” Gale said.
They again approached the little man and again he disappeared, appearing above ground a few feet away. This pattern repeated itself several more times until they reached the end of the area with the blighted crops. This time, when they got close, the Perrikin didn’t disappear. Instead, he jumped up and down excitedly, pointing at the ground.
“Here?” Errol asked, looking at the area that their guide was indicating. Upon closer inspection, he saw that the earth in the designated area actually rose up into a slight mound.
Looking at the ground, Errol had a bad feeling, but Gale asked the question he was actually thinking.
“Is that…is-is something buried there?” she asked.
“Only one way to find out,” Errol responded.
With that, he took out his dagger and started scraping clumps of dirt off the top of the mound. Fortunately, the ground was still loose, and in very little time he had unearthed what was clearly a human body. It was dressed in ragged, bloody clothes and lay face down in the dirt. Its dark, stringy hair was matted with dried blood. Around the right wrist was a bracelet of silver links with a single dark gemstone set in the center. Errol couldn’t see the face, but from what he could observe of the body and the style of dress, it wasn’t anyone who he was familiar with.
He turned to Gale. “Anyone you know?”
Gale, a little pale, simply shook her head in the negative.
“Well,” Errol continued, “I think–”
He was cut off as the Perrikin began its excited squeaking again, then jumped back into its hole. They looked around, waiting for it to pop up again, but it didn’t. Errol was wondering what to make of it all when a gasp from Gale drew his attention back to the body. It was moving.
“I guess we know what our little friend was trying to tell us just now,” he said, as the body got up on its hands and knees. Errol put out an arm to draw Gale back behind him, thinking this was the second time in their last two meetings that he had put himself between her and potential danger. With his other hand, he drew his wand and held it up defensively.
The body came slowly to its feet, surrounded by an eldritch glow. Nearby crops began to wither, indicating that this thing was definitely the source of the blight.
“Is this what you think you’ve been seeing in the fields?” Errol asked. He felt rather than heard Gale nodding behind him.
“I thought you said it only appeared
at night!” he hissed.
“I did, but nobody was out here poking it with a knife then.”
Errol was on the verge of making a sarcastic reply when the body turned in their direction and appeared to look at them. He couldn’t exactly tell, though, because the thing’s eyes were completely blood-red. The front of its shirt was open, and Errol almost gasped at what he saw. Whatever this thing was, it had once been human - a man; however, monstrous damage had been done to its body. It appeared as though some fierce predator had taken an immense bite out of its chest - Errol could see the clear white of bone in the light of Gale’s lamp. Likewise, its stomach had been ripped open, and its intestines and internal organs trailed to the ground like sausages and meat hanging in a butcher’s window.
“Death,” the creature said, and took a step towards them, raising its claw-like hands. “Revenge.”
Gale screamed. Errol held out his warding wand and uttered a word of power.
A bright spark of light shot away from the tip of the wand towards the creature. Gore splattered as the light struck the thing, but it barely slowed its advance. Errol hastily
drew a defensive ward in the air, which then shimmered with light as he uttered an incantation.
The thing moved again towards them, but suddenly seemed to bump into an invisible barrier.
“Death!” it said again, more fiercely this time. “Revenge!” Its hands beat against the invisible wall.
Errol breathed a sigh of relief. For a second, he had been worried that he would mess up the ward - drawing them in the air was harder than etching them on something you can see, like the ground, but just as effective (although they wouldn’t last long if not activated right away).
“What is that?” Gale asked, as the creature continued to feel around the unseen barrier, trying to find a way around it. “Is it a zombie, like Dorsey?”
“I don’t think so,” Errol answered. He watched as the creature continued muttering the same two words - “Death!” and “Revenge!” - as it found itself boxed in on all four sides by invisible forces. “I think it’s a revenant.”
“A corpse or a spirit that was somehow wronged in life - usually betrayed or murdered - so it comes back seeking vengeance. Notice how it keeps saying the same two words?”
Gale nodded. “Yes, but we haven’t betrayed or killed anyone. Why is it here?”
Errol shrugged. “Revenants often have unusual abilities. It’s probably materialized on your farm because something here is connected to its need for revenge.”
“So what are you going to do, blast it again with your wand?”
“No. That didn’t do much good last time.”
“It looked like it caused some damage. Just keep blasting it over and over until it’s all gone.”
Errol sighed in exasperation. “That may not even work, and I’m not about to wear myself out trying.”
Gale was nonplussed. “Wear yourself out…?”
“Yes. The wards and the magic that you saw me do are powered by my life force, not the wand. Just like you might have to stop and catch your breath after running a long distance, I’ll exhaust myself and need a breather if I do too much.”
“So why do you even need the wand?”
“Why do you use a plow on your fields instead of digging them up by hand? Because the plow makes it easier. But the plow can’t do anything on its own; it takes you - or an animal like a plow horse - exerting your own energy to make it work. It’s the same with the wand. It’s designed to make warding easier, but I don’t actually need it. See?”