chapter 17: Tithe

chapter 17: Tithe

A Chapter by Faith Dunn

Chapter 17: Tithe

 

The corpse in the greenhouse had been there for a day. The funeral was to be tomorrow, at which point the body would be entombed in a sarcophagus and lain to final rest.

Personally, Cassius found the whole thing rather redundant. The body was empty, the life-spark elsewhere, passed over to the Never Never. Why keep the shell? And what an ugly shell it was. The body was black, pieces of charred skin still peeling and flaking. On the face, the skin had been burnt off entirely, exposing the muscles of the cheeks, the sockets of the eyes, the half-melted jawbone.

Beside the body, Cassius stood. His hands clenched the edge of the stone slab, a frown pulling his features taut. “Really, Kohl?” Cassius said to the corpse, his voice soft and lilting, accented strangely, like a claw snagging cloth. “Brought down by a silly girl.”

The boy brought a hand to that half-decayed face, fingers whispering a caress against bone. “I really didn’t want to do this.” He said. “But it would appear my hand has been forced.” He looked up, looked at the dust motes sparking in the moonlight. Far into the distance, a leaf rustled in the late October breeze.

“Surgere.” Said Cassius. Wake. In his blood, something stirred. The magic. Remembering, rousing, waking. Take, he whispered to it, take.

And so the magic took.

A snatching of warmth. A sudden absence of sound. White noise. The soil dying beneath his feet. The blood in his veins simmering, boiling, glittering. For a second, he could’ve sworn the very sun eclipsed. Cassius laughed. He felt giddy, unstoppable, immortal. A god amongst people.

The magic.

The magic.

The magic.

The world was bright--so bright.

Cassius closed his eyes against it, drew that power in and in and in. He placed his hands on Kohl’s chest, just above where his heart used to beat. “Resurgemus.” He said, and the magic took hold. It was a tingle in his palms at first, passing from him to the corpse. Then a pressure, a surge, an unstoppable deluge.

Cassius fell to his knees, the magic sputtering then guttering out. A smile split his greying lips. “Rise.” He said. “Kohl, rise.”

And as impossible as it was, as dead as he was, Kohl rose.

It was slow. A hand twitching, a phantom heart beating, skin reforming over flaking skin. His hair regrew, new roots showing from under new skin. Salt and pepper strands splayed long and wiry against the stone.

His eyes opened.

For a good few moments, movement would be impossible. This was something Cassius knew from personal experience. The blinding light, the disorientation of the return. The pain.

“Hello, Kohl.” He breathed.

Kohl’s eyes fixed steadily on the white-haired boy above him. In life, his eyes had been cold. As a revenant--returned from the dead--they were soulless. That was a common consequence of necromancy: the loss of the soul. In fact, Cassius had found there were usually two main consequences. Either something was taken from you, or something was given.

It was much better to return with something taken.

“Avalon.” Said Kohl.

Cassius, or rather, the woman inside Cassius, was unsurprised he recognised her, even with the different body. Death--or the return from it--tended to offer a certain insight. A knowledge. “You’re no fun, Kohl.” She pouted.

Kohl only stared, unsmiling.

“I had this big reveal planned.” Avalon edged along the slab, finger trailing against the stone. “You’d gasp in surprise, shocked.” She went still. “Gasp for me, Kohl. Feed my ego.”

“Your ego,” He managed, voice hoarse from disuse, “does not need feeding.”

Avalon continued, unperturbed. “You’d say, ‘how did you do it, Avalon? Whose body do you possess?’ And I’d say ‘why, my son’s’.” She looked at him, hoping that, at least, would elicit some sort of reaction.

Nothing.

Avalon came to a halt. She reached out a hand, gouging her nails into a patch of burnt flesh on Kohl’s pectoral that she’d failed to properly heal. Kohl’s back arched, a keening that might’ve been a scream, had his voice not been so scratchy, bursting from his mouth.

“It’s not a gasp, but I’ll take it. Very dramatic.” She withdrew her hand, frowning at the blood now embedded in her son’s nails. “I’m getting rusty; you should’ve been properly healed.” She paused. Her tongue flicked out to taste her nails. “Your blood tastes like ash and fury.”

Kohl placed his hands at his sides, pushing weakly to sitting. Halfway, his arms gave way and he fell back, head smacking against the stone. He said nothing. He watched the woman inside the boy's body and searched the silence of his brain.

“Do you know who is almost at the Deadterran border?” Avalon asked. She leant in close, as though sharing a secret. “Azoah.”

Though five days ago, this news would have sent him near-hysterical, Kohl found himself to be entirely apathetic. “Why did you bring me back, Avalon?”

“You were looking a little crisp.”

“Strange.”

She huffed. “You weren’t supposed to just die on me, Kohl. It’s no fun winning if I can’t gloat about it.”

“You brought me back to gloat?”

“I brought you back,” she said, “to join my army.”

Kohl couldn’t seem to find words to speak. In death, something had been taken, something intrinsic. He couldn’t feel, there was nothing. No guilt, no worries, no fear. “Army.”

“Haven’t you heard?” Asked Avalon, all innocence. She moved to seat herself on the edge of the slab. “Corpses are rising from their graves.

Finally, painfully, Kohl pushed himself to sitting. “What do you want?”

“I want the whole world, Kohlya.” The name slipped out, a remnant of her native tongue. On the lips of a young boy, the words looked obscene. “And the next.”

 

***

 

            Kohl Espere knew a great many things.

            He knew pain and fury. He knew how it felt to be burnt alive. He knew betrayal like a fist round the throat, cutting off all the air. There had been moments--short, sharp, long-ago moments--where he had known joy. He knew death.

            Or at least, he thought he knew death. But now, sat on a slab where he had just lain dead, he wondered if he knew death at all.

            Corpses are rising from their graves.

            Rising indeed.

            Kohl knew fear, perhaps better than anyone. He knew it now, watching the woman in the boy’s body. He knew it potently, like a knife slice, when her mouth curved round the words: “Your untimely demise means you missed out on the tithe.” She frowned. “And we can’t have that Kohl, we can’t have that at all.”               

The tithe the tithe the tithe.

In the back of his mind, he saw blood spattered on guillotine blades, he saw a babe stolen from her crib, a shattered window, raining glass, a neck snapping, a body hitting the ground. He saw that word, that terrible, awful word. Tithe.

“I died.” He spat. An emotion, finally, returned to him. “That means I don’t have to pay your bleeding tithe.”

Avalon inclined her head, hawk-like. “Of course you do, Kohlya. You owe me five-thousand lives. You remember what happened last time you denied me, don’t you?”

Kohl’s head hung and he sank low, low, and lower still. “I remember.” He whispered. He remembered person after person after person keeling over, bleeding through the ears and the eyes and the mouths, his brother one such victim. He remembered a baby screaming from her crib. Her name reached for him, even when he refused to reach back: Malia. He remembered the hate and the blame, the five-thousand deaths followed by five-thousand more. Kohl could’ve painted his entire life in shades of red.

“Well, lucky for you, the tithe will no longer require the five-thousand. Just one, I just need one. And I will bring her back.”

“Who?” Who?

The woman in the boy’s body leant forwards. Her mouth brushed his ear, her lips spat the name in two staccato beats.

Kohl fell.  

The name brought back so much. Lies atop blood atop lies. A screaming babe, stolen in the night. A golden haired prince, a promise and a kindness and--more importantly--a human. Then Azoah. Dark, strong Azoah. A black-haired hurricane. Not a light, but a shadow. Kohl had hated her straight away. Hated her smile and her temper and her fire. It was like looking into a mirror, like staring down the barrel of a crossbow and anticipating the bolt.

And when that bolt came, it came in fire.

But despite that, despite it all, Kohl did not fear fire. He had seen the end; had seen it time and time again in Avalon’s eyes, no matter whose body she wore.

No, Kohl did not fear fire.

He feared ice. 




© 2017 Faith Dunn



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Added on November 8, 2017
Last Updated on November 8, 2017
Tags: kingdom, king, princess, prince, queen, monarchy, dragon, witch, magic


Author

Faith Dunn
Faith Dunn

West Midlands , United Kingdom



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Lover of books and conspiracies. Quick-tempered. Reluctant dreamer. Troublemaker. more..

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