The angels pray that the bundle soaked in blood and rain will hold together. It’s just ahead, the cave of the Faemancers–inferior beings, but powerful nonetheless. They are the only hope for the bundle in their arms, the rotting relic of ages ushered and decimated, whose duty is yet undone.
Ancient scrawls cover the walls, bathing the oddly-furnished cave in an ethereal purple glow, a fitting backdrop to the sounds of three voices chanting in melodious harmony. Four figures reside in the middle of the room: three are cloaked and kneeling with their hands clasped, finishing the final incantation of their ritual. They surround the fourth, who is laying sprawled in the very center of a large magic circle, the epicenter of the scrawled symbols. His skin transforms from dull gray to vibrant blue as light enters him, filling the hole in his chest with spun gold. From top to bottom, the scrawls on each column of stone begin to fade, converging on the blue being as at last the chanting ceases. The three cloaked figures untwine their hands and wait.
All is silent but the rain. A handful of flickering torches are the only lights that remain as the cloaked figures watch the blue boy’s patchwork chest rise and fall. He is taking his time. Then, without warning, he rockets up, gasping and looking about wildly, nails scrabbling at the floor as he searches for an answer or an escape. The cloaked figures raise their hands to him and though there is no magic in them now, calm flows from their fingers into his being and he knows that he is safe. “You’re alright, child,” one of them says. She lifts her hand from his small chest and lowers her hood: she is ancient. She must be to look as old as she does, being a fae. Her skin, vibrant pink, is drawn with ages of lines, her hair streaked with black and silver. There is something odd about her that the blue fae instantly connects to: the silver and black patch undulating down her cheek and neck. He looks to his chest, to the patch of black and gold that didn’t used to be there.
“What…happened to me?” he murmurs.
In response, the other two cloaked fae lower their hoods as well. One is a man, even older than the first woman, who bears her pink skin, but his hair and beard are pure silver. Silver and black scars run down the left half of his face and cut through his eye like molten rivers. The final cloaked fae is another woman, about the same age as the man. Her face is marked only by age, but both of her hands shine silver and black. “You don’t remember, do you?” the man says. The blue boy shakes his head. “That’s alright. Do you remember your name?”
He looks down and narrows his eyes at his naked body. It is so familiar, but not at all what it should be. It is his, but different. “I do…but I think I need a new one.”
“What shall we call you, then?”
“Hm…” Over the next several minutes, he wrings his hands, pokes his strange flesh, cries until his heart feels like breaking open as he racks his brain. The old fae do not rush him. They remember how it was for them. Finally he looks up, and through a tearstained smile offers a new name. “I feel like…Gillen.”
The older woman smiles and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Then Gillen you are. What is your purpose?”
Gillen’s eyes widen, flooded with recollection. “I remember that, too. I was…a scholar’s apprentice. I wanted to be like her.”
“And do you still?”
“Of course!” he exclaims. “Why wouldn’t I?”
This is a common phenomenon; the Faemancers’ patients often wake up in a stupor, unsure of who they used to be. Sometimes they change their names to cope, but not always. Soon after, memories of their life return from beyond the grave. Not all of them, of course, but enough. And then they return to life almost as they knew it. Gillen was a typical patient. The next one they met that night was not.
They provide Gillen with clothing and rations and send him on his way. “Poor thing,” the younger woman says as she watches his small shadow disappear into the night, “I hope he gets home alright in this storm.”
“He’ll be alright, Corvina,” the older woman assures. “There’s more life in that boy now than there was even before that beast tore a hole through him. I’m sure he’ll find his way home.”
“Corvellia, your morbid encouragements never cease to amaze me,” the man sighs. “You shouldn’t talk about how our patients wound up dead in the first place. It’s bad luck for them.”
“Oh, hush, Corvus,” Corvellia says. “Six hundred years of this work and we’ve never had a repeat customer. So talking about them can’t be as bad as all that, can it?”
“We still have a few centuries left to find out,” Corvus smirks.
“Please, you’ve been saying that practically since we were born,” Corvellia counters.
“Brother, sister,” Corvina calls from the cave’s entrance. “Someone’s coming. I don’t like the look of them.”
Corvellia saunters up behind her younger sister and peaks out. “Well I’d be worried if you did considering our clientele. Wait…”
“What’s wrong?” Corvus asks.
“Both of you, prepare yourselves. I don’t know what is about to happen, but I doubt it will end well.”
Morael stops short just as the entrance to the Faemancers’ den comes into view. “What are you doing?” Yareah snaps.
“I can’t do it. This is a terrible idea. If we go through with this, we’re dead,” Morael mutters.
“We’re equally dead if we don’t go through with it. Now move.”
“No! What are we going to do if Malak finds out? What then?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
“So you have no plan? You always have a plan!”
“Well what do you want me to say? For thousands of years we have carried on without incident. How can you expect me to prepare for this?” Morael jumps back at the harsh tone in Yareah’s voice. She isn’t one to get rattled over, well, anything. This is worse than they thought. Yareah quickly reigns her panicked passion back in, once again becoming the picture of angelic detachment. “The vessel is too weak to hold an angelic soul. But there is still great power in its body. All we need it to do is live for a little while. Malak will take care of the rest. You have to trust me, my love.”
Morael chews on their lip furiously. They still don’t like this, but they don’t have any better suggestions. And if Yareah is so adamant, there is nothing they can do. Clutching the bundle tighter in their arms, Morael nods and tacitly accepts the kiss Yareah bestows. “I’m ready.” Without another word, Yareah casts polymorph on them both and they walk into the den disguised as two green fae. “Ugh…why did it have to be fae,” they groan.
“I know, it’s awful. But it’s only for a little while. Then we can put all of this behind us, I promise.” Clinging to that promise, they finally make their way to the cave.
“Hello?” Yareah calls out, pitching her voice high and meek. “We’ve come seeking help for our daughter.”
There’s something rotten about all of it from the start. The Faemancers emerge draped in their cloaks to find two odd looking fae standing in a puddle of water and blood, apparently caused by the bundle in their arms. For a scene so horrific, they don’t seem appropriately upset. Nervous, sure. Disgusted, absolutely. But they hold no tenderness for whatever poor creature they’ve brought with them.
Corvellia steps forward, head bowed. “What is her name?”
“Mal,” Yareah replies.
“How does she come to us?”
“What’s that supposed to–” Morael’s irritated grumbling is cut off by Yareah’s elbow in their side.
“She’s…broken. Utterly shattered,” Yareah answers. She only remembers to add a tremor to her voice on the final word.
“We don’t see many like that here.”
“So can you save her or not?” Morael again, anxious and agitated. “I mean…please. Please save her.”
Corvellia gestures to the center of the magic circle. “Place her here.” They do as she requests, hovering over the bundle as though frightened of it, rather than for her. “Now leave us.”
“What?” This time, it’s Yareah who gets riled up. “No, we can’t do that. We need to make sure it–SHE’S okay. She’s our only child, you understand? We have to be here.”
“You will only get in the way.” Morael and Yareah bristle when Corvellia says this, and all three of the Faemancers feel their radiant energy sending waves of divine fire through the cave. Corvina and Corvus hold their breath and clench their fists, but their sister is undeterred. “The longer you leave her, the more lost she becomes.”
Though their wills are deadlocked, the victim is not; the bloody puddle around the bundle is crawling toward the outside of the magic circle with haste. In the end, Morael is the one who relents. “Come, darling,” they say, taking Yareah by the hand. “Our daughter’s life is worth more than our pride.” Their final words are spoken through gritted teeth with a firmer squeeze that begs Yareah to leave.
Against her better judgement, she listens. “Yes. You’re right.” Morael breathes a sigh of relief, but Yareah still won’t budge when they try to lead her out. She isn’t done just yet. “Faemancers,” she says, leveling a cold glare at the trio. “If she does not survive, there will be hell to pay.” With that, she yanks her hand out of Morael’s grip and leaves the cave ahead of them.
As soon as they’re gone, the Faemancers rush to the center of the circle and fling open the folds of the blanket. “Utterly shattered” might have been generous once. The body is a horror scene of flesh and bone forced together like a puzzle with half of its pieces missing. Blood flows freely from hundreds of cracks all over her green and copper body. What little structure she has is maintained by magical bonds–they shudder to think how she started out. “Gods…” Corvellia mutters, “What did they do to this poor girl?”
Corvina waves her hand over the body and rears back almost instantly as though propelled away from her. “Whatever it was,” she says, her voice shaking, “it left an evil presence behind, and not a trace of a soul to save.”
“No soul? Then…there’s nothing we can do for her,” Corvus sighs.
“There has to be!” Corvina cries. “She’s been through so much. I can feel it…her body is fighting. Soul or no soul, she isn’t ready to pass on.”
“Her aura is evil; you said so yourself. What good could come of reviving something like that? Especially if we send her back with those awful…fae,” Corvus asserts, wary that the angels may be listening nearby.
Corvellia, ever wise, finds an epiphany in between her siblings’ views. “There is…one thing we could try.” The others turn toward her, perplexed, until Corvus catches on.
“No. Absolutely not.”
“What?” Corvina asks.
“We could create a new soul for her. A good soul. It wouldn’t be easy–for us, or for her if it works.”
“It’s too dangerous. It’s never worked before; why would it be different this time?” Corvus barks.
“She’s different, brother,” Corvellia sighs. “She’s made it this far, hasn’t she? And she’s an angel! Or at least she was. If anyone is strong enough for this, why not her?”
“Look at her, Corvellia! Does anything about her look strong to you? It’s a miracle she didn’t melt away in the rain!”
“Corvus,” the youngest Faemancer says. “Please. Don’t we owe it to her to try?”
“She is not our kind. We owe her nothing. In fact, I’d wager we’d be doing the world a favor by letting this body remain just that.” In practical terms, perhaps Corvus isn’t wrong.
“Why not do the world a favor by giving it something good?” Corvina has always been the moral center of the siblings.
“Come, Corvus,” Corvellia grins at her twin, “If it doesn’t work, you can lord it over me for the rest of our lives. And if it does, well…I’m sure those fae will be extremely grateful.”
At this, Corvus’s interest is piqued. He mulls it over for a moment. Yes, it’s dangerous. No, it hasn’t ever worked before. But it hasn’t killed them yet, so where’s the harm? Between that, the prospect of tormenting angels, and admittedly the thought of putting some good into the world, how can he say no.
They begin the ritual as they always do: the chant commences, blossoms into song, and light fills the cave once again as the symbols glow back to life. Their color changes from purple, to green, to pink as the Faemancers chant and sing their way through countless incantations, struggling not only to create a soul, but to keep the body in tact enough to bond with one. It’s grueling work in uncharted territory with no end in sight; the rain stops, the sun rises, and though they feel no closer to the end, they do not stop. They could, and they’re certainly tempted over the countless hours of casting, but when one begins to fade, another grows stronger in their place. And so they go, driven by ego, curiosity, mischief, and hope, for three long days.
On the third day, their chants are as strong as ever, but the symbols begin to fade. It isn’t done yet–she isn’t ready. But she’s close now; they can feel it. They chant lower, sing louder, hold each other tighter, willing the magic not to fade, not yet. “Emoh reh ediug, htrof nrub thgil tel!” They call out in desperation: Let light burn forth and guide her home!
And somehow, they are heard. They symbols burst back to life with blinding white light. It’s impossible to look at, painful on their skin, but the Faemancers shut their eyes, dig their nails into each other’s arms and keep going, so close now, until a shockwave knocks them into the walls of the cave.
“Corvellia! Corvus!” Corvina calls.
“We’re here!” her sister answers. “We’re okay!”
“Did it work?” As though in answer to her brother’s question, the white light mercifully fades into the center of the room where a young woman stands. Her skin is pink, no longer green, and her once copper hair has turned black. The bloody cracks in her body now undulate with black and silver as though filled with molten metal. Purple eyes scan the room and find three pairs just like them.
All of the Faemancers stare in disbelief. “She looks like us,” Corvus breathes. “They never look like us.” A tremor in his voice gives rise to a single tear. She is already more than they ever imagined.
Corvina is the first to approach the young lady while her older siblings right themselves from the accident. “What is your name?” she asks gently.
The woman’s head snaps to Corvina, who nearly shrinks under her gaze. It is both intense and distant, like that of a doll. A cracked, broken doll. Did it really work? The Faemancers are beginning to wonder as they stare at the silent woman.
It takes her a long time to speak. For a while, she simply looks at everything: the Faemancers, the symbols on the walls and floor, the puddle of dry blood beneath her feet, her mosaic skin. “Eu…na…” she mumbles.
“What was that?” Corvina coos.
“Na…me. E-Euna.” The Faemancers can barely contain their joy; all three of them shed tears when she says her name. It may not be perfectly bonded yet, but there is a soul behind those beautiful eyes.
“What…what is your purpose, Euna?” It feels silly to ask such a question to what is essentially a newborn in a woman’s body, but Corvellia is at a loss in this moment and can only recite what she knows.
“Purpose?” She responds a bit faster now, like the connection is getting stronger. She looks down at herself and frowns. “I’m…broken.”
The only thing more broken than Euna used to be is the Faemancer’s hearts when they hear her say that. To the surprise of his sisters, Corvus is the one who gently takes Euna’s face and tilts it upward. “No you’re not. You were just…hurt. But we healed you. Do you understand? You’re okay now.” Although she would never hear the words he said about her before she rose, Corvus would always regret them. How could he have ever doubted her?
Each moment with her brings a new surprise, this one the best yet. Euna reaches up and touches Corvus’s worn face, sliding her fingers clumsily through the paths of his tears. “Heal…?” she whispers.
“Yes, that’s right,” he chokes through a smile.
Euna looks at his sisters who are holding each other up for support as stunned tears overwhelm them as well. Without thinking, she steps toward them, Corvus letting his hands fall from her face. Though her fingers are still wet, she runs them across the older women’s faces just as she did to their brother. It’s such a gentle, pure gesture that it only makes them cry more, and Euna recoils at that, afraid that she’s done wrong. But the women reach out and stroke her hair, and that helps. “I…heal too?” she wonders.
“You…you want to be a healer?” Corvellia gasps.
“Healer…yes.” She says it with what can only be classified as conviction and smiles–her first smile. Of course that brings more tears to the Faemancers’ eyes, but more importantly it makes them smile right along with her. Overwhelmed, they wrap her in a clean blanket and embrace her, relieved that it’s over, astonished that it worked, ecstatic that it’s her. Euna, meanwhile, decides that she likes this feeling, this closeness between people, so she keeps smiling up at them, hoping it won’t ever end.
But time is short. By now, the angels will have realized that the ritual is over; they should be back any minute. The Faemancers stare at each other with grim expressions, knowing what they have to do.
As soon as they back away from Euna, she reaches out for them, smiling as hard as she can. When they don’t come back to hold her, the smile falters. She’s panicking now, so afraid of what she could have done, that all she can do is cry. The Faemancers do their best to soothe her, but it’s all but impossible to do through their own tears. They’re all kneeling before her, holding her hands, her hair, her shoulders, when their hands start to glow. In a matter of moments, they might lose Euna forever.
“Listen carefully, Euna. Look at me, it’s okay,” Corvina soothes, desperately trying to calm Euna down. “You’re going to do so much good. You will be a wonderful healer”
Her black hair turns copper. She starts panting harder. “What?”
“People will think you’re weak, but they’re wrong. You are so strong, Euna,” Corvellia assures.
Her pink skin turns green again. “S–scared…”
As Euna locks eyes with him, swallowing the lump in his throat is the hardest thing that Corvus has ever had to do. “You are so full of love, Euna. Remember that.”
She opens her mouth, desperate to know more, to hear more, to feel more. She just got here, it’s not time to go yet! But as the cracks in her skin diminish, shrink into their vertices leaving hundreds of freckles in their place, Euna falls into a deep sleep, all appearances and memories of fae-hood erased.
Not long after, Yareah and Morael come rushing in, still in their fae guises. “Where is she? Where’s our Mal?” Yareah yelps.
This time, all three of the Faemancers meet the angels. “Her name is Euna,” Corvus says coldly.
Both of the angels look ready to jump out of their false skins. “What?!” Morael exclaims.
“No need to worry,” Corvina chimes in with all the sugar and vinegar of a proper lady. “It’s a very common side effect of our work. Coming back from the dead, no one is ever quite the same. Sometimes they change their names to cope. Among other things.”
Morael clenches their fists. “What ‘other things’?” Yareah asks through gritted teeth.
“She woke up for a little while, but she wasn’t all there yet. You need to let her sleep until she’s ready to come back. While she was with us, though, she said that she’s a healer. Does that sound familiar to you?”
“A healer?” Morael squeaks. “No, that…doesn’t sound like our girl.” If ever there were a worse career for a doomsday harbinger, neither angel has yet to think of it.
“I’m sure it isn’t,” Corvina mumbles.
“What did you say?” Yareah growls.
Before they can get too carried away, Corvus steps in. “It would be in your best interest to simply let her pursue that path. Going against the purpose that speaks to them after they wake up can cause severe pain, confusion, violent behavior, and ultimately death that cannot be reversed, even by us.”
It’s nearly impossible for the angels to hide their fury behind their plastered smiles now. “That is…excellent to know.” Yareah seethes. “If that’s all, we’ll take our daughter and go now.”
“Right this way.” Corvina leads Morael and Yareah to the back of the cave where Euna lay asleep on a pallet of blankets looking like, well, an angel. Her keepers are so stupefied at how lovely and healthy she looks compared to when they arrived, one could almost buy into their feigned affection. Though the Faemancers can’t say for sure what’s going on, they know that wherever they’re taking Euna, it will be a long, arduous road. All they can do is hope that the soul they made and the time they spent with her will make her journey one worth taking.
Morael and Yareah carefully take Euna into their arms and begin to bustle out of the cave, showering the Faemancers with praise and gratitude along the way. Before they can exit, however, Corvellia catches Yareah’s arm. “You have a very special daughter, miss. Do you know that?”
In the span of about two seconds, Yareah weighs the pros and cons of killing all three of these insolent creatures where they stand. Though they’ve gotten what they needed for now, there is no guarantee that their services won’t be required in the future. Annoying as they are, they are of much more use to her alive. So she plasters on that fake smile again and refrains from ripping Corvellia’s silver hand off of her arm. “Yes, I know. We’re very lucky.”
Corvellia’s grip tightens. “Take good care of her.”
Without another word, Yareah rips her arm from the old fae’s grip and struts out of the cave with her nose in the air. As soon as she and Morael are over the hill, away from the cave’s line of sight, they resume their true forms and take to the heavens.
“How dare they talk to you like that! I have half a mind to go back there and teach them a lesson,” Morael offers. Few things get them riled up, and fewer still make them want to charge into danger. But threats against their love are at the top of that short list.
Yareah smirks in response. “Thank you, darling. But you need not concern yourself with those insects.” She reaches over to the figure sleeping in Morael’s arms. This stranger, this–Euna. What an awful name. “Whatever they’ve infested this with, it will be enough for our purposes. And if we’re lucky, more to come.”
Their wings carry them into the stars where they leave Euna to rest while they await her arrival in the Rainbow Room. Strange as she is sure to be, all will be well as long as they can ensure her compliance. Or there will be hell to pay.