• With the sun at its peak in the sky it managed to peer through the cracks in the canopy above the forests of Raeyunna and the summer closed into autumn. The swollen belly of a young faerie thumped with the kicking of the child within. Menispermum kneeled down, pressing her ear with amazement to her friend’s womb. She stood up, her long legs and knobby knees unfolding awkwardly yet elegantly.

    “Beautiful,” Menispermum uttered, a tear hanging from the edge of her lavender eye. “Do you know-,” she began carefully, “Who it will be?” She dearly hoped that a good, intelligent spirit would reincarnate into Aristolochia’s child.

    Aristolochia looked down, running an onyx finger over the large bump in her stomach. “No.” Water began to run down her cheeks, “Nobody, nobody has died. The last Stygian to die here in Raeyunna was Coriandrun, the Elder. But then your Drosera was born.” Aristolochia could barely choke it out and began to weep violently. Menispermum wrapped her arms around Aristolochia’s shoulders and stroked her hair.

    Once her tears began to dry she justified herself, “Not that I blame you,” she said, “But I prayed and prayed for a soul after my conception and not a single death. I couldn’t have on of those children.” She shook her head and looked up at Menispermum with red eyes and a splotchy face, “Those unlearning children. They always die anyway; they never can live without a soul to guide them. They can’t unlock knowledge of past lives if they’ve had none! They can’t do anything. They’re a ghastly sight.”

    “I know,” Menispermum said tonelessly, “I know.” Her own sister had been one. The empty, unable to function properly. For years her mother had tried to teach it, nearly killed herself with frustration. The ancient souls were given the knowledge to learn by Shicentu, the god of nature, himself. Without one of the souls, they didn’t even know how to learn.

    “Don’t worry. The doctor says you’ve still a few weeks to go. You’ll get your wish; you’ve tainted not a bloodline, done nothing wrong. The gods will show mercy and bring it a soul.”

    That night Menispermum laid the baby Drosera to bed. The infant’s eyes fluttered in the onset of unconsciousness. Menispermum lay upon her mat, staring up at the ceiling. She prayed for a death so that Aristolochia’s child would be a faerie instead of an empty beast. She glanced over at her daughter’s crib, the black skin of a Stygian faerie was unseen in the dark but the motion of breathing beneath the white blankets assured that she was safe.

    Menispermum recalled the night that Coriandrun had died, fallen dead in the middle of the night of a heart attack. His body had been taken for ceremonial purposes immediately. His heart was cut from his chest and burned so that illness of the heart would not develop in those who ate it. Then the body was given to the village Elders who had the privilege of eating the body for nutrients.
    And finally the head was cut off, brain salvaged from it and given to Menispermum. She devoured it with much delight, her kind enjoyed such, the body was a delicacy and a brain said to be the most appetizing. But it was reserved for pregnant women only. As the brain, the center of function, held the spirit that controlled the body. Being eaten would transfer the soul into the child’s brain.

    Aristolochia needed a death, she would be devastated otherwise. But if the gods did not intend it to be, it would not be Menispermum decided. Then she drifted into sleep.

    As the sun rose up again and gave light to Raeyunna it awaked Menispermum. She arose drowsily, stumbling to obtain control of her lanky body. Once mostly secure atop her own legs she walked slowly over to Drosera’s crib. She rubbed her eyes and peered, yawning into the crib. Red colour splashed across the white blankets, confused, she removed her hand from her eye and let things come into focus. The psychedelic unreality of it all took the strength from her body and brought her mind to a dizzy.

    Colour still remained across the blankets, but the black-skinned infant was left unseen. Menispermum’s legs became weak and began to shake. She clutched the bars on the crib to steady herself. Eyes gone blurry with tears and out-of-focus with panic she ran one hand into the crib and felt around the in the blankets. A cool dampness of blood was all that remained. The lack of warmth from her daughter’s skin snapped everything back into reality and things became blindingly clear.

    She nearly fainted and questioned her ability to stand despite the tremors in her legs. Just before the bar of Drosera’s crib snapped under her weight she tried to turn, to run, to speak. Her body slammed the floor, the sound of her head against the rough wooden floors was a terrible knock. For a long while her mind left her body, she could not register sound not sight, not the terrible pain wracking her body from the fall or the disjointed position in which she landed.

    Her lavender eyes stared off blankly and her pale green hair sprawled out in every direction. Despite the strange emptiness and serenity it was the worst reality she had ever felt. Like a happy, calm feeling when the drugs set in during an execution. Not able to help but feel lovely, to feel Shambhala even in the very end.

    After a while the drug-like affect wore off. Menispermum began to hear an echo; it itched at her ears and begged her to listen more. She felt a tear run down her cheek and her body ached. Her knees pulled up into a ball and she ached, a searing pain through the back of her skull and a throbbing in her back. The echo, like a fly, became clearer and clearer until it became a choked scream. The young faerie bawled and yelled, gasping for breath.

    Others in the village had long since begun awakening. They flocked to the home of Menispermum, hearing her cries and bursted through the front door. They called to her, but she ignored them. She ignored it all. They scrambled around, futilely searching for Drosera and examining the blanket. News traveled fast within the small village and soon the entire town had woken.

    Aristolochia stood over Menispermum’s seemingly dead body. Her eyes were red from tears and cheeks blemished by saltwater. Her gaze was empty and dazed. Aristolochia bent down trying to follow it and speaking softly to her, begging her to respond. It was then when a knock sounded throughout the room. All head turned and everyone stepped away at the sight of the witch-doctor.

    Her walked stick tapped with each step and her many jewels and piercings clinked together. She stepped through the aisle between the other faeries and jabbed Menispermum with her walking stick and pushed one of her arms. Menispermum let it fall freely and turned her head up to the doctor.

    “Get up, get up,” the antique woman said, her voice high and brusque, “You can’t mourn all day. Not with a murderer on the loose,” she joked.

    “Come now, Doll. I have some very precious information derived from a friend of your daughter’s own killer. I know you wish to-,” she took a look around the room, “Get out of here. Go on, out,” she commanded. The crowd slowly dissipated and only the doctor, Menispermum and Aristolochia lingered about.

    The doctor continued to prod her until she pulled herself from the ground. She appeared sick, as was her right and the doctor made a bellowing laugh at her windswept hair. She coughed when she saw Menispermum’s sad frown and lack of whimsy. She then stared into Menispermum’s eyes, motioned her and Aristolochia to take a seat at the table. They did so and waited for the wrinkled lady to find her words.

    “Being…. Jealous,” she explained, “Of the fact that you must wait until your chance on the council of elders to eat Stygian flesh this person…. Decided to take his thirst to the one, which he felt was most responsible. He was finally at an age where he comprehended the taste for our own kind, the tantalizing smell of our blood. Once old enough to remember it long enough to care. It was at the ceremony for Coriandrun,” she stopped to take in Menispermum’s expression. Confusion and anger and sadness all in one.

    “As you can tell he took it out upon your daughter. Coriandrun’s reincarnation.”

    “Who did it?” Menispermum and Aristolochia asked in harmony.

    She responded quietly, as though ashamed, “Anethum.”

    Aristolochia and Menispermum exchanged glanced, furling their brows, “How is that possible? Anethum was always so obedient and kind,” Aristolochia said.

    “A friend of his explained his plans after Drosera was discovered missing. He had been obedient while harboring his thoughts and plans about your daughter.” All in the room were speechless. It was strange to know, to understand and still be so confused. ‘Why?’ Menispermum thought. The word repeated in her head a thousand times over ‘Why, why, why, why, why?’ It astounded her how someone could defile such religious laws, how they could be so ungrateful and impatient. The gods knew best, better than he did at least.

    The threesome sat in silence for a long time. Menispermum glanced at the witch-doctor, her specialty may have been her extrasensory knowledge she knew her holistics just as well. Aristolochia’s stomach was swollen as though she could burst and she really didn’t have much time left. Aristolochia sat in silent mourning; her hands ran subconsciously over her stomach, she whispered soundlessly to the baby in her womb, comforting it. Menispermum had become jealous of the child Aristolochia held in her womb, but understood her need to give it a soul. And then she wondered how far away Anethum had gotten.

    “Where did Anethum go? Do you know?” Menispermum questioned the doctor.

    She smiled and replied, “Allerjack. The trading post. He headed there for safety, as you can understand. But still it is not a large town since this is so remote a region.”

    “How far is Allerjack?” She asked.

    “About fifty miles. Not far, but tracking him down in the city will be a little harder than the walk,” The doctor explained, “Are you wanting to find him?”

    “Of course. Even a murderer has a purpose. He has a very innocent soul in his head, and I need it,” Menispermum responded.

    Aristolochia turned her head quickly, her eyes widened beyond belief. Her head shook, “You would….”

    “It won’t be easy, but it certainly can’t be hard,” She glanced at the doctor for reassurance, who tipped her head, nodding, “I know how much it means to you. And this may be the only chance you have.”

    “Aren’t you sad, though, Menispermum? You’re only child was murdered!”

    “I am sad. It is a terrible thing and if it sounds insincere let it be, but please try to believe me when I say that if my situation can go to help someone that I love I am happy to oblige.”

    Aristolochia smiled and leaped over to hug her friend, “My saviour,” she whispered in Menispermum’s ear.

    “You are leaving then? To find Anethum?” The witch clarified, a smug grin across her face, “As I suspected. You’ll need this then,” she pulled out a map from a sack around her waist and unfurled it across the table. It was a large barren map if much green ink and a good amount of long black lines leading off of the edges. Only two cities were located upon it and by comparison to the size of the map Menispermum guessed that they were not large cities.

    “Is this us?” She asked, pointing a long finger to the smaller of the cities.

    The witch made a deep chortle, “Hun. That town is five times the size of us. We aren’t mentioned on any maps. No Stygian faerie tribes are large enough to be placed on maps, and Doll, nobody would even want to visit us.”

    “So where are we?” Aristolochia asked.

    “Here,” a gnarled finger indicated a blank spot on the edge of the dark green segment. We are here. Welcome to the middle of nowhere.”

    “Then which is Allerjack?” Aristolochia asked, again in Menispermum’s place. The doctor pointed to the larger of the cities, where the majority of the roads led.

    “How long will it take?” Aristolochia said craning her neck forward.

    “Only about, a day and a half one way. But finding him and dragging him back would prolong the trip a few days. If she leaves right away she will most likely be able to come back on time. Happenstance she does find Anethum, that is.”

    “Have you an idea where in the city Anethum might be staying?” Menispermum asked, her finger doing rings on the corner of the map.

    “No. The only information we know is that he went to the city. But it is uncommon to see Stygians in the city. He can’t be terribly hard to locate but if he keeps moving you may have trouble.”

    “I’ll leave today. There isn’t anything I need to stay for. I will bring Anethum back as soon as possible, Aristolochia. Don’t worry,” She picked herself from the seat and went to a chest in the corner of the room. She opened it, the primordial hinges screeching with rust. She pulled a satchel from it and slammed it shut. She rushed about the room grabbing preserved foodstuffs, clothing, anything that may help along her trip. The two watched her as she neared her daughter’s broken crib. The blood in the blanket was mostly dried a nauseating brown. She ran her hands over it and lifted it her face. She smelled her daughter, like she was there, alive. Her teeth cut into the fabric and effortlessly tore a strip of the fabric away, which was stuffed into the pack as well.
    The witch-doctor handed her the map and pulled another object from the bag around her waist. Menispermum flipped the top away with her nail. Beneath the surface was a face with letters, a compass.

    “Allerjack is Northeast of here. I’ve drawn a point on the map of our location. But be wary, there are no landmarks to guide you if you get lost. You know your way around the forest but in the plains beyond, there is nothing until you reach the city.”

    “I understand. I’ll be my most careful.”

    “Luck be with you,” the doctor said and pushed herself up from her seat at the table. Her walking stick clacked against the wooden floors as she left.

    Aristolochia stood up also, pushing with all her weight to lift her frontal weight. She walked over to Menispermum and hugged her and kissed her on the cheek, “I will be eternally indebted to you. Good luck,” the faerie wished her and turned to walk away.
    Menispermum stood around for a long while, staring about at her unassuming quarters. She sighed and stepped through the door, carefully shutting it behind her. Swinging the pack unto her shoulder she stared into the compass face and glanced once at the map before setting out without a single look back at her village or the few faerie of her tribe that bothered to watch her leave.

    The forests were thin where Menispermum’s tribe had built their village. They had hard, but nutritious soil and the water supply was limited. She had always believed that her tribe had contributed to this for the majority but as she walked she noticed that the foliage became thinner and drier. The trees emaciated and while the grasses became taller and thicker they were no longer the bright green found in Raeyunna but a dead beige and dry as a matchstick.

    The day also became much hotter as the afternoon sun rose high above her and soon began to shine directly into her line of vision. The canopy of the forests in Raeyunna had covered her from the sun all her life and if anything she only had to worry about it becoming too frigid in the evenings. She stopped dead in the middle of a desolate plain. She had never walked so far in her life, despite the fact that she had only walked a few miles.

    She panted and kneeled down in the brush and dug through her bag for a jar of water that she had taken from the shelf in her home. The lid spun off after a short struggle and she took a few sparing sips of the water before fastening the lid once again. Underneath the sun August sun Menispermum waited, catching her breath pondering whether to go on.
    She took I a long breath and pulled out the swatch of fabric with Drosera’s blood, held it to her face and lay down in the dead grass. Even laying in the hot sun was enough to drain her, so she slept.

    After the sun had set and the crescent moon was high above she awoke. The blanket was stuffed back into her pack and after taking a quick swig of water she set out walking once again. Menispermum had walked a few more miles than the day before but when the sun rose too high again she laid herself down in the grass and slept until the sun set.

    She kept on in this pattern for a few days more, covering more land each night. On the fifth day she had sacrificed much of her hope, it was taking too long and if she did not get back within a few weeks Aristolochia’s baby would be born without a soul. But it was on this day that she crossed a road. It was well beaten, bumpy, but the grass worn down from pack animals and buggies headed towards Allerjack.

    Menispermum pulled the map from her sack and spread out the map. The road was known as the Western Salt Pass, so she assumed it was used to haul salt blocks to Allerjack fro trade. She had gone a little too far West in her travels but the path would bring her straight into the city. After only an hour upon the path she crossed a sign telling the city was only five miles more. She quickened her pace and reached the city within another two hours.

    Unsure of what to expect, and not particularly caring on the long journey to Allerjack she marveled at it’s size. Allerjack was not a large city, barely a city at that, but to Menispermum, it was magnificent. She could not imagine anything larger, more abundant, more amazing.

    The entire town was walled with white bricks and the majority of the town built in the same style. The tall buildings and the town square full of stands and traders. Wandering for a long while after her arrival she familiarized herself with the different districts. But everywhere she went she noticed something. She was being watched.

    Not by a single person but by everyone, every creature from the tiniest of gnomes who peered so highly to get a look at the face atop the tall figure they’d fall backwards. Humans that shrunk back or held the shirts of their young children that went running after her, calming the ones who cried at her presence. Elves who tried to ignore her, their pompous attitude obviously shattered by the attention she was getting.

    She tried her hardest not to stare but she had never seen other creatures besides her kind, and they had obviously never seen her kind. She was tall and thin, taller and thinner than even the elves and darker than even the blackest hair on the most foreign pack animals.

    To escape the crowd of eyes she went into a shoppe that even existed in Raeyunna. The tavern. It was late afternoon when she arrived at it was already filling up with all kinds of persons that would be harmonious in only a fact that they shared a drink together. Menispermum did not want to socialize, necessarily, nor even get a drink. But perhaps, she thought, they would be too drunk to stare at her so much or at least not be so afraid.
    Sitting down in a booth in the corner she decided it had been a good choice as a place of rest. That is, until a wench dressed in tight clothes and long, layered skirts of bright colour slammed an empty tray down on her table and raised a hand to her hip.

    “Now I told him I didn’t want his kind coming in here! Didn’t that beast warn you? I said I wasn’t going to allow any kinds of beings the rest of my customers thought that they were hallucinating! Your kind ‘cause quite a stir around here and I don’t want no trouble out of it. Please remove yourself from the establishment, faerie and don’t enter the Piping Jack Tavern again, got it?” she complained.

    Menispermum waited quietly through her entire speech, listening with earnest of knowledge of Anethum, or at any rate another of her kind.

    “Another?” She asked innocently, “Another you said?”

    The wench stared at her, evidently having never been spoken to in such a strange manner after yelling, “Yeah,” she responded suspiciously, “He came around here a few days ago. What does it have to do with you?”

    Menispermum smirked, “Everything. I need to know where he is; he escaped our city after murdering an infant girl. I need to find him and bring him back.”

    The wench understood, “Pretty deep, eh? I believe you about that, he had dried blood on his hands. And I’ve heard what your kind do to the dead.”

    “Religious reasons,” she responded simply, “What can you tell me about his whereabouts?”

    “I can tell you he was doing business with a very important trader by the name of Kamarantu Eclam. He owns a business on the East side of the city, lives right above it. Sells animals wears from his hometown in the North. Don’t know the name but anyone can tell you where it is.”

    “Thank you very much,” Menispermum said with a large smile; the woman shrunk back shivered.

    “Keep that meat-hole closed in front of my customers. Now that’s all I know, I’m glad to help. But now I have to ask you to leave once again. So, please.”

    The faerie pushed herself from the booth and quietly left the tavern. She took out her compass and turned East. The cobblestone streets eventually thinned away to dirt and the buildings looked older. She wondered why such as important businessman lived in the lowly part of town, but when she wondered of his business with Anethum she realized he must not have been just a pelt-dealer.

    Once she was sure she was in the area of Kamarantu’s shop she stopped to ask a human stranger for directions. The person shrunk back and shaking, directed her onto the next street. She found a small, meek building with dusty pelts and artifacts made from horns and skins of alien animals. She stepped through the entryway, ducking her head a little to get in. A young woman stood afront the store smiling, but then soon frowned and turned, trying to look busy.

    “I am here to discuss dire business with Kamarantu,” she said as though she were an important individual.

    The woman laughed, “Kamarantu doesn’t give personal meetings. Why don’t you just leave a message?” She scoffed.

    “It is in regards to Anethum,” she tried in an attempt to intimidate her.

    “I’ve heard no such name,” the woman tried to stay aloof.

    Menispermum was not a master negotiator nor did she know of the business in which Anethum had come to this man with, but she took a shot in the dark hoping to strike lucky, “I’m under the impression that Anethum owes quite a large sum of money for Kamarantu’s task. I’ve come to Kamarantu in an attempt to settle the debt.”

    “Look, I don’t know what you’re talk about but I’ll mention a word to the boss about it and see what he has to say,” she said and hurried out a back exit up to the second story. A moment later she came back through the door, “Get out here, quick!” She ordered, “Mr. Eclam demands an immediate audience with you.”

    Menispermum hurried out the back door and up the flight of stairs to his home. She took a slight knock and a gruff voice ordered her to come in. The door came from its frame and she hurried into the room. It was grandly decorated with goods of fine fabrics and precious metals.

    “Welcome,” the man said, a short, fleshy, and gruff man dressed in a fine suit and much jewelry, “Come, take a seat.”

    “I’d rather not. This is brief business.”

    “Well then, stand, but by all means make yourself comfortable. Now, are you a relative of Anethum’s?”

    “No,” she responded, not wanting to become responsible for paying off any debts. “I’ve come from Anethum’s town. He is an embezzler,” she said, only acutely aware of the words meaning, “He has been thieving people out of money and jobs for the past ten months. I have been elected to find Anethum and return him to our village for punishment. We have found stockpiles of money and good from those that he has conned out of businessmen like you. We can’t get into the building or cases without,” She stumbled for her words and her heart pounded, “the set of keys upon his own person,” she tried lamely, but it sounded wrong to her. It sounded like a lie, a fable, but if she was caught now it couldn’t possibly hurt to go on just in case she wasn’t.

    “I need to know his whereabouts. Other wise you may never get paid for your services.”

    “Of course, of course. Now, all I have to do is tell you where he is and I get my money right? No strings attached?”

    “Of course,” Menispermum said, but a sudden curiosity grew in her and she had to know, “But it would be nice. Just for a criminal record, what service did you provide for him?”

    The big man coughed, “Now you said no strings attached. I would think that’s quite a wire.”

    She became hot and her pulse doubled, “No, no. I can assure you that if you cooperate with us no harm will be done to you or your establishment.”

    Kamarantu thought upon it for a long while, his fingers tapping together beneath his chin, he finally sighed and clarified, “He owes me quite a large sum, about twenty-thousand coppers, and that was for the disposal of some bones, child bones. I charged him more for them being so small,” he chuckled, “Or for killing and innocent gnome!”

    Menispermum laughed, but only slightly, then cleared herself as she thought her smile seemed too forced.

    “Now, about his whereabouts, all I know is that he is staying in an inn called The Blue Moon on the Southern side of town.”

    “Well, thank you very much, Mr. Eclam,” She said and turned to the door, home-free until he spoke again.

    “Now, hold up a minute, how do I know you will bring me my money?”
    She froze, her stomach rolled and she tried her hardest to keep her eyes from widening. Her mind ran through itself over and over again, searching for the answer but there wasn’t one. She gave a casual laugh and spoke quietly the words, “You don’t.”

    He gave a deep, thunderous laugh, “I like your kind,” he said simply, “Now, if I need to contact you, where ya stayin’?”

    She knew of only one inn, the one where Kamarantu had told her Anethum was staying. Until, of course, she remembered the tavern of the screaming wench, “In a room above the Piping Jack,” She lied and smiled a grisly, sharp-toothed smile before leaving.

    The Southern side of town was even lowlier than the East. The buildings crumbled and people conversed in allies. But because of its poor inhabitants it was the smallest part of town and the easiest to maneuver around. The people became shadowy and here they stared for less time, seeming to care less that she was there.

    The Blue Moon Inn was surprisingly clean and trim. ‘Twas a three story building that held a clean bar in the first level. She went in and thankfully wasn’t paid much attention to. She sat down at the bar and leaned over the counter.

    To the bartender she spoke, “Anethum is staying here?”

    He turned and gasped, obviously a little shaken by her appearance, “The one like you? He’s here.”

    “I require an audience with him,” she said.

    “He’s in the third room down, on your right. Just go up the stairs,” he told her and hurried into a back room, letting another hand come out to manage the bar. She leaned back and stepped from the stool. Up the stairs was a dim hallway and when she curved a look at the slightly more luxurious third level, she was sure she was in the right place. Anethum had probably scared the owners of the Inn to let him stay, he couldn’t afford to stay in any place, even the poor, low-class rooms of the Blue Moon.

    She walked down the hall way three doors and turned to her right. Menispermum stared at the door and took in a long breath. Without knowledge of what she would do once she got to Anethum, the faerie’s thin, insectile wings twitched. Dead or alive, she would bring back Anethum. But she had no strength to bring him back and only her hands to kill him with. Some of the last words she’d said to Kamarantu, a sarcastic, joking phrase, had made him pleased. Her hands would do her, Menispermum decided, she was strong enough and older and bigger than the seventeen-year-old. Anethum’s brain would survive a few days back.

    The knob turned to the right with ease and then it stopped, locked. Her hand reached up and knocked on the door quietly. Steps could be heard within the room. They were slow to respond but definite. The lock clicked and the door opened a crack. Menispermum shied away from the open space and watched it open a slight bit more. A black nose peeped out from the space and two yellow eyes looked from their corners at Menispermum.

    Anethum gasped, pulling back with a yell. She dropped her sacked and rammed the door and in his state of shock he fell to the floor and she came into the room. Closing and locking the door behind her she stepped towards Anethum. His light eyes were wide with panic and he was gasping for breath, his bald head had a thin layer of cold sweat upon it.

    Over him, she stood. Looking down upon the simple boy, her lips pulled over her long, sharp teeth in a grin. He crab-walked backwards, mindlessly pushing himself into a corner. Then he stood, uncomfortably and nervously looked into Menispermum’s eyes.

    “Surely you could under-,” Anethum began but Menispermum interrupted, “No.”

    “Can’t you please show mer-,” He tried again.

    “No.” She repeated. One hand reached up to the wall above his shoulder and he pressed himself against the wall. Her head leaned in closely, “I can’t,” she told him and wrapped her fingers around his throat.

    Mechanically, he gasped but her grip was strong and she wasn’t going to take things lightly. He killed her only child, her only relative, the only person that could make her truly happy. Anethum’s arms rose to her own and as though he was afraid he lightly grasped her wrist and pulled it away from his neck. It didn’t work and as he was moving slowly he was running out of air. He gasped again and yanked her arm away successfully then he pushed her, heaving in long gasps.

    She stumbled back and lunged forward once she caught herself. He held his arms around his face and swatted her pathetic attempts to hurt away. One arm lunged out and struck his bare chest, right in the heart she hit him with all her strength. He shrieked and curled down. Grasping on shoulder she pulled and threw him to the other side of the room.

    He ran at her and jumped for her own neck. An adrenaline rush hit her and she pushed him to the side. Again. Both times he hit the floor and pushed himself up again. In a final attempt he pushed her leg out with his foot, her bare foot slid along the floor but she jumped back and balanced herself. He stood still across from her, out of ideas for she was too quick for him and stronger than he. His neck bent and he faced the floor, panting.

    Menispermum stepped out slowly and gathering all her energy she clouted him. He fell towards the floor too quickly for her to register, to stop it. Only a few feet to the side were a small, raised bed and a trunk at its end. Anethum’s head fell square against the edge of the trunk and cracked open.

    Gore streamed from gash, his body gone limp. Menispermum raised her hand to cover her mouth, her eyes fogged and she moved the body. It slumped down and hit the floor, limbs falling about over the body. She was surprised by her own strength as the skull had nearly cracked into two separate pieces.

    A shiver ran the length of her spine as she left the room and retrieved her pack. From it she pulled the scrap of Drosera’s blanket and went back in the room. After giving the blood enough time to flow as it could she wiped his head with the cloth, prepared to salvage his brain as she could not drag an entire body back to Raeyunna with her. Once the cloth had absorbed as much as it could she removed it and saw the brain.

    It shocked her to her very core, she had been so careless. The brain was severed. Cut open by the edge of the trunk. The souls would have left it, gone to freely in the open. She had taken the priority of killing Anethum further than that of bringing his brain back Aristolochia. She hated herself now, for all that she had let go wrong. A whimper sounded in her throat and she stood up, grabbing her sack and running out the door.

    The bar downstairs was booming with noise at the peak of the evening and she doubted most of the fight had been heard. She clutched her sack to cover the majority of the blood coating her hands, nodded to the bartenders and hurried from the building. Though she had been traveling all day she was not adverse to traveling throughout the night. She wanted to be home and though her legs ached from fear and hopelessness she persevered.

    She took the Western Salt Path until she believed that she was directly North of Raeyunna and headed south. After a few long nights of walking the trees began to thicken, getting taller and fatter before it condensed into the forests. Raeyunna lay in twilight upon her arrival, most of the townspeople gone in for the night. Menispermum crept up to her home and quietly turned the knob and pushed it open.

    Inside, Aristolochia lay upon Menispermum’s mat, already in a deep slumber.

    Menispermum walked quietly over and touched the woman. Aristolochia’s eyes opened and she looked at Menispermum for a short second before sitting up.

    “Menispermum,” she whispered the question obvious in her eyes, “You’ve come back. I waited here for you to return.”

    “Yes....” She said quietly, not raising her head to meet Aristolochia’s eyes.

    “You didn’t find him, did you?” She asked.

    Menispermum nodded, “I did. I found exactly where I was and I saw him and I even spoke to him.”

    “It’s alright if you couldn’t,” Aristolochia said, but she evidently did not think so, “I wouldn’t have been able to kill him. I understand.”

    “No. I did find him. I did kill him.”

    “Then what is wrong?” Her tone hinted around excitement.

    “I- I destroyed his brain. It was cut into. It was so stupid of me; I owe my life for failing you.”

    “No. No. It’s alright. It happens, Menispermum. They’re born, that’s how we know that they exist. I can have one, it’ll die within a few years anyway and I’ll have another child.”

    Menispermum shook her head, “I couldn’t let you go through that. You know I couldn’t.”

    “Then what do you plan to do about it? There is nothing you can do,” Aristolochia told her, but she was wrong. There was something that could be done about it.

    In the late afternoon the next day Menispermum had decided. She had nothing to live for, and there was nothing that she could do but this. The severe hopelessness that she felt in her situation left nothing but room for hope, but she had none. Menispermum knew that there was only one option if she wanted her friend to be happy. Give her the only soul available to her, her own.

    The knife was a rusty one, old and dull, but sharp enough to do its job. She slid the knife beneath her clothing and walked into the centre of the village so that she would be found immediately. As she pulled the knife from its hiding place she felt nothing, no regret, no sadness, and no second thoughts lingered in her head. There was no question of what would happen to her after her death. Even if she did not know it, she would be Aristolochia’s child.

    Menispermum took one long breath and let it out, raising the knife to her breast. Without feeling she plunged it into her dark skin. It began with rivulets, a small amount of blood seeping past the knife. She removed the knife and a heavy flow started.

    Her legs went weak and she collapsed into a strange figure upon the ground. Pale green hair sprawled beneath her, lavender eyes staring blankly. She saw nothing in her line of vision, heard nothing but a buzz in her ears, felt nothing, and thought nothing. Despite the fact that she was dying it was the best reality she had ever felt. She was completely calm, empty and serene. Like overdosing on a drug, slowly but unfeelingly fading into oblivion on the best high you’d ever felt.

    She came to register the buzz in her ears as screams and calls of those around her, her mind reviving from its state of panic for only a moment. She saw the witch-doctor come towards her, her walking stick tapping against the hard, dry soil.

    “What can we do?! Please! Help her!” A faerie woman shouted.

    “No,” the doctor replied, “Leave her.”

    Menispermum’s mind then faded into emptiness, the world vanishing into darkness.