Seven dahl roots, a bushel of kaliberries, wild wysami, and a dozen capin eggs...What else? Oh, yes. Yamala sap. She needed to find one of the rare yamala trees in the wood. She thought she'd seen such a tree near the north bank of the river. That would make sense. Yamala trees only grew near water, and usually by edyfilies. Edyfilies were the pretty purple flowers that her mother loved. Her mother had told her that the edyfilies were actually fairies that had been transformed to guard the river. Not that Lani believed such nonsense any more. At twenty-five, she was too old to believe in fairy tales.
She made her way down the path toward the river, where she knew edyfilies bloomed. There would be a yamala tree somewhere nearby. She would just have to find it. She didn't know why her mother would want yamala sap, but Lani hadn't bothered to question her. Her mother was the village healer, and presently, Lani was her errand girl. Lani's mother had broken her leg on a trek to the woods only a few days before.
Lani saw the purple flowers, and a blue-leafed tree stood in their center. That would be the yamala tree. She took out the jar that her mother had given her, and the small steel dagger that she always carried. She would just need to make a small hole in the bark, and the sap would just run out. Carefully, she stepped over the flowers. She didn't believe in fairy tales any more, but damaging something so lovely was a sin.
She drilled a small hole in the trunk of the tree, just below its lower branches. The sap began to pour out, just as her mother had told her. Quickly, she uncapped the jar, and placed it underneath the running sap. When the jar was filled to the brim, she capped the hole with some wax her mother had given her. She capped the jar, and placed it in her satchel with all the other things she had gathered.
As she stepped over the edyfilies, she saw something glinting in the ground just beyond where she stood. Something was stuck between two rocks beside the river. Curious, she walked over to look. She set her satchel down, and kneeled beside the two rocks. At first, she didn't see what had caught her attention, but then there it was. A flat silver disk the size of her palm. Knife in hand, she dug it out of the soil, and held it up to the dimming sunlight. Etched into the disc was a crescent moon, a six-pointed star, and a blazing sun. She'd never seen such a thing before.
With a shrug, she stood up, and grabbed her satchel, stuffing the disc inside. She didn't know what it was, but it should fetch a fair price at the market if it was genuine silver. Looking over the bank, she saw six more glints. Well, she'd found the one, so she might as well gather the others. If she was lucky, maybe she and her mother could live on the sale of the discs for quite awhile. Or, if their rightful owner showed up, they would give her a hefty reward for finding them.
Gathering the other six discs took longer than she'd planned on. By the time she had all of them, the night had already fallen. She looked around warily. Her mother had always forbidden her to be out in the woods at night. While her clan wasn't necessarily superstitious, young women had been disappearing for generations when they'd discovered themselves in the woods after the sun set. Their bodies were never found, and those who went searching for the missing girls never found a trace. Lani didn't want to be one of those missing girls.
She pulled out the last disc, grabbed her satchel, and started to run towards the village. As she reached the edge of the trees, she saw someone standing in her path. She slid to a stop, grasping her dagger in her hand. He or she ambled awkwardly toward her, stiff and dragging a leg behind it. Tattered and decaying clothes hung off its body, halfway covering its face. Through the tattered clothes, she saw protruding bones. Grimacing, Lani wasn't quite sure what she was looking at, but she was almost certain that it was a walking skeleton.
The village was just a little bit beyond the trees. If she could get past the skeleton-thing, she might be able to reach the village before it got her, and ask one of the guards for help. She prepared to run again, but something grabbed her ankle from behind, tripping her. Mindlessly, she kicked out with the trapped foot, and struck something hard. It let go of her, and she stood. Glancing quickly behind her, she saw another skeleton-thing was rising from the ground. She knew, without a doubt, her dagger wasn't going to be sufficient against these creatures. She wasn't sure what would be. What could put to rest the already deceased?
Two more skeletons rose from the ground, surrounding her. She had no choice. As ineffective as her dagger was bound to be, it was her only defense. She gripped her dagger, her hands shaking. She would try to slice herself a path to the village. Whether she succeeded or failed would depend upon luck alone. "Well," a masculine voice said from above her. She looked up, searching the branches, but saw nothing. "It seems as though you've gotten yourself into quite a predicament. I hope you realize steel will do nothing against the undead."
"Then help me!" She cried out.
"Help yourself. I'm just here to watch the slaughter."
"Who the hell are you?!"
"Just a traveler. Here, these will help." He tossed her four small vials that landed at her feet. "I suggest you hurry and pick them up. Use them on the skeletons, and we'll see if you survive."
She picked up the four vials. "What are they?"
"Holy Water, blessed by the priests of Talore. Silver also is effective against the undead, so if you plan on coming out into the woods again at night, I propose that you have those silver discs of yours melted down into a suitable weapon. I have no intentions of providing you with any more help. You're on your own. Let's see what you can do. Here they come."
Irritated that he wasn't going to help her fight these things, she returned her attention back to the skeletons. He was right. The skeletons had begun to close in one her. The dagger was useless. She put that away, and uncapped one of the vials of Holy Water, and threw the entire thing at one of the skeletons. The vial shattered on impact, spraying its contents all over the skeleton. Dark smoke swallowed the skeleton, and it evaporated in an instant. With growing confidence, she tossed the other three vials, and the skeletons vanished.
"Now will you tell me who you are?" She demanded.
"My name doesn't matter. I've had so many. I see within you great potential, but you haven't awakened yet. When you do, head towards the east, and eventually you'll find me."
"Did you leave those discs?"
"Hah! Instead of worrying about where those discs came from, I suggest you follow my advice. Have at least one melted down to create yourself a weapon. Like your father, you're destined to hunt the undead."
"You knew my father?!" Lani exclaimed excitedly. Lani's father had died before she'd been born, and her mother rarely spoke of him. "Please tell me!"
"I'm sorry. It's for you to discover on your own. Your local priests can also create Holy Water for you, but the ones in Talore are the strongest. If you find yourself in Talore, make sure you purchase an ample supply."
"I don't understand any of this!"
"Don't worry. In time you will. Remember, Lani. If you want to find me, travel east. I'll be along the coast. Perhaps I'll be able to answer your questions better, but it will be a very long time before we meet again. Farewell."
He hadn't made a sound, yet she knew he was gone. He'd said that her father had hunted the undead, and now it was her turn. She'd never heard her mother speak of such a thing, but perhaps her mother hadn't known. If she had, maybe she'd intentionally kept it from Lani, trying to avoid the same fate for her daughter as her husband. She felt that if she told her mother about the encounters, then her mother would be even more adamant about her not being in the woods at night. For some reason, she felt that the man was right. She was destined to fight the undead, instead of living peacefully in a small village. She would keep her secret for now.
Lani's mother was frantic when she finally got home. She sat in her chair wringing her hands, staring out the window. "Lani!" She cried in relief. "I was so worried! What took you so long? Did you have any trouble in the woods?"
Lani handed her the satchel, minus the silver discs. Those she had hidden in a secret place behind the house. She didn't want her mother to see them. Those discs would cause many unwanted questions. "No, Mother. Everything's fine. The yamala sap took a little longer to find than I'd expected. I'm sorry that I worried you."
Her mother's eyes narrowed on her face. "Okay, Lani. Out with it. What really happened?"
"Don't lie to me! Your father always lied to me, but I always knew something was up! Now, tell me!"
Sighing, Lani told her everything. Except about the silver discs. Those she kept to herself. "Lani." Her mother said quietly. "A stranger in a tree told you all that?"
"I don't want you in the woods any more. Not during the day. Not at night."
"Are you listening to me?! Your father died in those woods, Lani! I don't want the same happening to you. Do you understand me?"
"I understand, but--"
"You're the only thing I have left, Lani. I'm not about to lose you. If you continue going to the woods to fight the undead, you will die. That kind of life sucked all the vitality from your father. You will not follow in his footsteps! I don't care what some stranger in the woods says! The gods will not take my only daughter from me!"
"Mother, who said anything about gods? He was just a man."
"No, he wasn't. Not if he knew of your father. He was something else. Your father never told anyone about hunting the undead, except for me. I made him. I wasn't about to put up with his lying. Your father told me that just before his Awakening, as he called it, he found himself in the woods after nightfall, surrounded by skeletons. Just like you, a man that he couldn't see helped him with his first battle against them. After that, he couldn't help himself. He enjoyed hunting them."
Lani kept silent. She didn't want to tell her mother that she'd enjoyed it, too. For the first time in her life, she'd felt as if she'd been meant to be something other than the healer's daughter. "I won't go into the woods again." She promised, although she knew even then that she was lying through her teeth. She would go back, but she'd have to be sneaky about it. Her mother must never know.
"I hope you keep your promise, Lani. If you don't hunt them, you won't Awaken."
"Okay, Mother. I won't."
"Good. Now, go boil some water. I need to mix this salve for Jordy."
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