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Salt the Earth

“Salting the earth, or sowing with salt, is the ritual of spreading salt on conquered cities to symbolize a curse on their re-inhabitation”

By R.C. TaylorPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 7 min read
Salt the Earth
Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

I shouldn’t be here, sneaking out on the same broom that my brother died on, but I need to see it. Need to be in its presence before I give what’s left of myself to the Altar, before nothing is left of me but smoke and name.

The magic binding circlet around my head, nestled on black curls, throbs in warning and reminder.

Not giving anyone a chance to stop me, though I doubted anyone was awake after the pounds of sleeping powder I had slipped into their goblets, I threw open the window and let myself free fall out of it, trusting my brother's broom, Atlas, to catch me.

On the next updraft, it does and soon I am gone like a rocket, fleeing from the Citadel as fast as Atlas will take me. My lengthy, white and sheer nightgown billows behind me, kissing the stars and the full moon as I fly higher over roofs and treetops, exhilaration pounding through me.

Flying up here almost, for a moment, feels as if Florence is still alive, his heart beating with the thrill of the ride alongside mine.

Florence had been an addict and, like many in the recent months, he had fallen prey to Utopian Salt. Rumored to be dredged from the seas of utopias lost, the crystals immersed the users in a euphoric state. And Florence, he chose to chase imaginary dreams rather than live in our grim reality.

Part of me couldn’t blame him for finding an escape while the other part of me burned with rage and grief.

Before he began using, he had been a brilliant alchemy prodigy. Then I was picked for the Altar, to be scarified to Mother Magic, and he decided that he would burn it all down rather than see me suffer. A daring rescue he attempted; we succeeded until while on our journey for anywhere he overdosed while we were in the sky.

I hadn't even known he had been using.

That day I lost my brother and our people. Our break for freedom hadn't gone unnoticed.

As I land in the Grovelands, I make for the water, for the tree by which my brother breathed his last when I'm stopped in my tracks as I zero in on an unexpected party.

Lorna Thorndite, the High Priest's daughter, is standing opposite me, leaning on a tree--the witchlight in her hand is flickering with the waves of raw energy that are radiating from her. Her face is washed in blue before it is doused with darkness once more.

“Run along, little neophyte, before you find yourself in...” the smile that stretches across her face is a little too wide, a little too sharp to be kind, “unpleasant circumstances just like your brother.”

My breath exhales from my lungs sharply, the fire of my rage burning as I bite out, “What did you just say?”

“Oh?” Lorna raises an eyebrow, her smile somehow growing even wider with unrestrained malicious glee as she takes in the disturbance in my typically calm demeanor. “Did I hit a nerve, Ortheilia?” she smiles reverently, basking in the hate I am unable to extinguish from my face.

Her eyes suddenly start emanating with a cyan brightness that has me transfixed, fear subconsciously trickling down the back of my neck. The circlet throbs in response to my disturbed, tumultuous magic, absorbing the shockwaves and reminding me how powerless I am in this moment to defend myself. Coming to the Grovelands has been a mistake. That I am now sure of.

“After all,” the sorceress’ cold laughter seems to echo from all directions in the empty street, “wasn’t it your brother who exposed us all during your little runaway attempt and led to the Hunt? Led to the disgrace of our species? If you’re looking for sympathy and coddling you won’t find it from me, and you won’t find it from anyone in Bridgetown. You’re lucky that we even let you behind the barrier in the first place.”

“My brother protected me,” I hiss angrily, the circlet letting out a whine of metal bending, “from this savagery. He did what he had to do.”

“And where is he now?” Lorna croons, eyes lit up like this is entertainment for her.

My stomach sinks and my tongue becomes twisted with grief.

“You should be grateful--” she says louder, taking a step closer, her heels clacking violently on the cobblestone street. Too soon she was so close that I could feel her breath warming my lips. “--that I’m warning you to leave and go back to your hovel before an unfortunate accident finds its way to snapping your pretty little neck before the High Priest even thinks to look for you. There are some who do not fear the wrath of the Altar and would think it worth it.”

“Do you,” my voice is shaky and my heart is pounding a mile a minute as I stare her down, “think it’s worth it?”

Her eyes flicker with interest.

“Do you really,” my fists clench at my sides, “think that sacrificing me to the Altar will change anything? Mother Magic has forsaken us all. My life will not change that.”

“Perhaps not. Or perhaps so,” Lorna hums, “Either way, it will comfort people because it makes them feel like they did something. And if one little neophyte can bring such peace, then so be it."

“Kill me yourself,” I find myself saying, no longer caring anymore.

All I want is for everything to be done with, to leave this wretched world behind and join my brother.

"I have someone I want you to meet," Lorna suddenly says after evaluating me.

"How would you like to finally write your own story, Ortheilia?" she tempts, eyes boring into mine.

I swallow at the words she's saying. She sounds like myself and she sounds like Florence.

We are taught by birth that our destinies are ordained by Mother Magic. Free will is not a concept that exists in our society. Calamity befalls all those who do not walk the path granted by the Sacred Mother. Such calamity supposedly befell us all when my brother deviated from the Sacred order by exposing us to humans in a bid to save my life. It wasn't long before, consumed by fear of the unknown, the Hunt began and pushed our species to the brink of existence, relegated to the Inverse alone.

"Are you...really Lorna?"

"Are you really going to let them kill you?" her words overshadow mine.

"No," I find myself shakily saying before I repeat myself more firmly, though my voice is thick with emotion, "No. I'm not."

“The Dark One calls then,” Lorna whispers, fingers splayed on my neck, her long, dark nails pricking my throat.

I shiver, suddenly feeling the chill and aware of the fact that I rushed out here in nothing but a flimsy nightgown.

“Are you brave enough to answer, little neophyte?”

"I am," my voice is but a whisper now.

"Then step forward and ask for help."

Lorna's voice has lost all pretense of humanity, something dark humming underneath and, unbidden, I listen.

Slowly, I place one foot after the other onto the frozen pond. The ice is so cold that it burns the bottoms of my feet.

“What next?”

I turn back to look at her but all I see are dark trees that tower over me. Lorna is nowhere to be found.

" Help me," I say, recalling her words and unable to control my full body trembling.

I burn everywhere.

“Oh, little one,” a voice, as deep as black holes and the end of time, whispers to me as the ice ahead of me begins to spiderweb with a loud crack, “They hail your coming sacrifice as one that will save them from the hand that no longer feeds them but I know your fate.”

“What…” my words break off, unable to continue my lips are so cold.

A chuckle bubbles up from the depths as suddenly intoxicating magic rises around me, and my circlet falls apart, raining shattered gold down from my hair as I am freed.

I inhale magic and exhale freedom.

“You weren’t meant to save the world. You were meant to destroy it.”

Short Story

About the Creator

R.C. Taylor

Part-time daydreamer. Full-time dork.

Follow along for stories about a little bit of everything (i.e. adventure and other affairs of the heart).

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