Fiction Friday: The Cost of Darkness – A Tale of The Zumka

The darkness breathed as the young lady entered. She was positive she felt the hairs on her arm rise and fall in an unseen wind. But she was not put off by the strange vibe of the place. She was on a mission.

The priest at the door had explained the ritual before she entered. It was simple, he said, but she must do three things: walk ten paces, sit down on the floor, and announce her name and question aloud.

When counted her paces, she was at a place that felt like the center of a completely dark room, so she carefully sat on the floor.

fear in dark“My name is Hannu,” she began. “Of all the temples, this was the last place I thought I would end up.”

She paused to listen for a moment, but heard nothing.

“My request is simple, but my offerings to the other Gods of the Zumka have gone unheeded. I come to you to ask for a reckoning…

A year ago, I went to the City of Flames for one of the everburning stones to keep our hearth warm. My family runs a bakery and we were spending too much money on fuel for the oven to stay in business. We pooled our savings and I left to petition the burning monks for their help.

After three attempts over the course of a very hot month, I was successful. They granted our request and I took the stone home in its special flame-proof box. The trip to and from the monks took nearly three months, but my mission was complete.

When I arrived home, I knew something was wrong. Nobody greeted me at the door. No customers waited for bread. My parents were missing. When I found them closed in the back room, I wished I had not.

They had been drained of their life essence by some creature. None of the scholars have been able to tell me anything. But there is no way what happened to them was natural in any way.

I found their dessicated corpses in their bed as though they’d been asleep. But in that final sleep, all fluids had been removed from their bodies without a visible wound. The doctors and priests I summoned had never encountered anything that could drain a body in such a way, or so they said. The lawkeepers found no evidence of foul play. And their property fell to me after a brief debate in the court.

That was that. But it wasn’t.

Nothing has been done through normal channels. Nobody I have spoken to can shed any light upon what happened, nor give me any comfort that it would not happen again.

In the last six months I have sold my family home, the business, and expended my resources down to the last copper. I am now destitute and at your mercy.

My request is simple. I seek justice. I do not seek to know what killed my parents. Knowing that this cannot happen again, to another family, will be enough.

Can you help, oh Gods of Darkness?”

She waited, hesitant even to take a breath. And as she let the air from her lungs, she felt the wind along her skin once more.

A voice, so faint she was unsure she heard it, whispered in the wind… but it was not alone.

“Know you what you ask?” asked one fading voice.

“If we grant your request, there is a price.” said another. “It does not lack consequences.”

“We take the memory of your parents. All memories. From finding them dead back to the first time you set eyes on them as a newborn.” said a third. “You will leave with no memory of them untouched.”

Mindscarred. It was a fate she had not considered. Was her request worth the cost?

There was a commune of mindscarred on the edge of the Zumka. The priests of Mitra made sure they were kept comfortable and calm. Some of the afflicted were rumored to have never stopped screaming until the end of their lives.

But no others would die at the hands of whatever killed her parents.

“I accept.” she said.

A cold fluid caressed her feet, flowed over her knees, then over her arms and torso, finally covering her head. She could not suppress the scream that left her body.

The young girl’s request was granted.

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A quick word about this piece. This is the first vignette about an area I’m working on called The Zumka. You will learn more about this strange area in further posts, but suffice it to say it has its own methods to the madness. It should be fun to explore as a GM… and as a PC.

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