This is the story of Memento Pruina, as she describes the events that led to her reuniting with her child, Mori. Indented paragraphs indicate omniscient segments to fill gaps.
Alright. I guess I’ll start at the beginning.
I met your father, Friggus, when we were still kids in the settlement. He was strong, but not particularly talkative. We grew up together, trained together, and eventually decided to be together forever. He joined our family, and for a while, we did what was asked of us as people of our tribe. I protected the village, he hunted to provide for our families, and we lived perfectly within the status quo.
I didn’t want to stay in that…that equilibrium forever. Our home is wonderful, but I always yearned for adventure. I wanted something more.
I got my wish a little over fifty years ago. The Hoard is pretty near us, and we would often see dragons fly over us to reach the snow-covered mountains. But at that time, the dragons started acting irrational. They would fly lower, attack more. I lost friends to the dragons. Our leader tried to negotiate some peace and almost got eaten in the process. And they would fly over us, to the mountain range itself, and then return nearly beaten to death.
We watched this deadly dance for years before Friggus and I decided it was time to do something. We figured, if the dragons were coming back from the mountains almost dead, it made sense to relocate our settlement to the Pelyle side of the mountains, stopping us from being in the way of the dragons. So we decided to try our hand in the Mad King Melee, four decades ago.
This was Aranacia’s first time running the Melee after her mother passed on, leaving her the successor to Rixh territory. We were hoping for Palmeria to choose us, but we knew we needed something to get us in her good graces.
I spotted him during the Melee. It was some sort of monster-slash-battle royale, and the ground was broken up by white water aqueducts that threatened to drown you in seconds. The floor was unstable, to put it mildly.
Some shrimpy guy had just felled a fighter twice his size, but a particularly strong wave had nearly knocked him over. I didn’t think, just grabbed his hand before he could plummet into the rapids. I barely got a second to pull him upright before he spun around and erected a wall of bones behind me, just narrowly blocking an enemy axe.
A necromancer. They’re rare, and I could feel Palmeria’s glare on him, even from this far away. She wanted him.
We teamed up. The three of us, with our brute strength and his magic, were able to be the last group standing. Palmeria snatched us all up immediately, we signed, the whole deal, I’m sure you remember it.
We introduced ourselves. His name was Ivers McDay. Everything about him, besides his magic, was average. A relatively young Pelyle man who had wallowed in obscurity, never given any trust or control over anything in his life. His parents died shortly after he was born, some plague that had ransacked the peninsula, so he wound up living with a distant relative until he was old enough to venture out on his own. He wasn’t clear about why he was in the Melee with us, but, well, that wasn’t our problem.
He was an annoying little shit. At the time, I didn’t realize how quickly he’d become infatuated with me, or how broken his sense of self-preservation was. For the next decade, he would constantly be hounding me to go out with him, ignoring the fact that I was already married to your father. He never persisted past a “no”, though, I’ll give him that much credit. Only once did he ever ignore my wishes, but…we’ll get there.
Palmeria gave us a task. Aranacia’s first order once she came into power had been to jack up the price of moonstone in both territories, meaning that Pelyle territory was suffering from a scarcity of a crucial import. As such, she had just opened a new mine on the Isle, in a town called Rembrant.
…Why are you all looking at me like that?
A-anyway, our job was to set up, operate, and report on the mining operation there. Simple enough. Friggus and I had more than enough experience running a town—we’d done our fair share in the settlement. We made sure that everything moved smoothly, and that the people were safe and working without getting too hurt.
Ivers was…different. It was obvious he liked being in charge. He would push people way further than either Friggus or I thought was fair. Maybe it’s the thing with necromancy? Supposedly it uses pieces of your soul to bring people back to life, but it didn’t ever seem to have an effect on him. He just viewed people as an expendable, yet renewable resource. One time he actually resurrected someone that had died working, on the fucking spot. It was sick.
But the real breaking point came a little after I got pregnant with Mori. Ivers was always pestering me, making these pathetic, pointless advances, and at some point I was bound to snap. So when he finally quit beating around the bush and just told me that he’d be better for me than Friggus ever was, that was it. I finally told him to fuck off and quit it, but it didn’t seem to get through his skull.
I got angry, went and told Friggus the whole thing. I’d never told him about the advances before, because they’d been harmless, but I decided to, this time. He made me stay inside and ran outside to confront Ivers for me. I shouldn’t have let him go alone.
I wish I knew what happened.
Ivers jolts upright, seeing the hulking man barreling at him. Ah, fuck. She told him.
Ivers yelps as Friggus grabs him by the collar of his shirt, easily lifting him over a foot off the ground.
“You are aware that you’ve been making advances on my wife, right?! Did the ‘wife’ part slip your mind??”
Ivers barely stammers out a response before Friggus’ fist collides with his jaw.
“I don’t wanna hear another word from your slimy fucking mouth. How dare you!”
Friggus continues yelling, defending the honor of his beloved warrior wife, not giving Ivers a second to get a word in edgewise as he continues pummeling the necromancer.
“She’s not a fucking PRIZE to be won, you asshole! People aren’t objects to own, they’re not disposable, they are ALIVE. I am just sick of your bullshit!”
Friggus throws Ivers to the ground in a rage. Through the blood dripping over his eyes, Ivers notes just how close Friggus is standing to the edge of Rembrant’s deepest mine.
A twitch of his fingers summons a bony hand at Friggus’ feet, clasping around the man’s ankle. Ivers pulls himself up and dusts off his now bloodied robes, as the hand casually pulls Friggus just the tiniest bit off-balance.
“I dunno,” he mutters, looking up at Friggus. “You seem pretty disposable to me.”
Ivers shoves with all his might, and Friggus topples into the pit. There’s a sickening thud as he hits the bottom.
Ivers feels nothing.
I came outside to see Ivers, at the side of the main mine, staring down into it. He looked awful. When I asked what happened, he simply pointed down, and mumbled, “He fell.”
I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it—believe him.
I left. I went home, tried to figure out what was going on. I took my beloved’s body with me, to cremate him and remember him among his people. Ivers was not invited.
But I had a job to do. I was a Champion, and we’d all signed a Contract.
I stayed in the settlement until you were ready to be born, Mori. I didn’t want you anywhere near the monster. Then I returned to the mines, and worked with Ivers for another five years. He got over the death of my husband fairly quickly, and he tried to go back to normal. But I couldn’t ever forget what he’d done.
When the time for our Wishes came, I went first. Ivers tried to confess again, and again, I snapped. Told him in no uncertain terms to fuck off and die. He didn’t take it well, but when he was gone, I figured that was the last I’d ever see of him.
I found out after the fact that, by killing Mori’s father, he’d voided the clause in his Contract guaranteeing his wish. You’re not supposed to kill other Champions, if you can believe it.
Also found out that he’d died by, ironically, falling into the mines in Rembrant. The same way he’d killed my husband. Karma’s a bitch, yeah?
Ivers gasps awake, a desperate sound clawing out of his lungs. He—he doesn’t feel real. Like the air within and around him, every nerve ending, every molecule is caustic and frayed.
What he saw, what he felt, it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. It’s…is that the secret of this world? Is that why he’s here? Why they’re all here?
Is that Deal?
A woman leans over him, and he recognizes her. Sees her from a million minds, every person who knew her in life and death, but one voice is louder than the rest.
“Your words are no more law than mine, beloved wife.”
Ivers doesn’t realize he’s said the words aloud until the woman—Lili, how do I know her name is Lili—grabs his shoulders, begging him to explain what he means, what he saw.
His eyes finally land on Lili’s face, and he sees everything she is thinking, has ever thought, will ever think, all at once. And the foreign repulsion that takes over him—this repulsion from her husband, he realizes—moves his body of its own accord.
An inky black claw swipes out and carves a deep gash into Lili’s chest. She staggers back, but he doesn’t wait around to see if his traitorous wife will die from the wound. He already knows she won’t.
The air around him vibrates, sizzling, dangerous, buzzing with energies he can’t understand yet understands perfectly.
And suddenly Ivers is somewhere else.
Friggus and I had planned to share our Wish, to relocate the Sukdena to Pelyle territory for safety. She would have granted it, I’m sure. But around the time that I returned to our village, I found out that the dragon attacks had slowed significantly, and that most of them didn’t even notice our little village in those days. There wasn’t even a point to our Wish anymore.
So instead, I asked Palmeria to let me travel around Oterro unhindered. All I needed was enough money to find supplies, shelter, and food. She graciously supplied me with everything I needed, and I went on my way.
I know I should have gone home. I…I fucked up. But some part of me was desperate for an adventure. And I couldn’t be sure that Ivers wouldn’t follow me and find you, Mori. I couldn’t take that chance.
I explored Oterro—what I thought was the whole world at the time. I visited every corner, met hundreds, thousands of people. I started to get a picture of the way this world truly works. And it left me, well, more than a little hopeless.
After more than a decade of travel, I decided to settle down somewhere. Despite the obvious risks of being there, I decided on Treble Town. I was there throughout the horrible events that led to the old Muse Troupe leader’s grizzly murder. And I wisely decided to leave F district, moving to A before the new “leaders” took over. Frankly, it was just nice to live somewhere where things…changed. I wouldn’t say for the better, but the world sure changed when those kids turned Treble Town upside down. It was the only change I ever saw anymore.
I didn’t cause trouble. Entertained kids in the streets—I didn’t need much money, so I gave away what I could, and worked to repair instruments sometimes on the side. I’d always try to wow kids with the stories I could remember.
“Gala Gala Gala Gala can I—“
Gala shoves her twin roughly to the side, pouting. “NO! It’s MY turn to pick the story, Granny said so!”
“You’re a butt!”
“Girls, girls, please!” Pruina laughs, settling the struggling twins. “There’s more than enough stories to go around, and I’ve got nothing but time. Now, what should we start with today?”
I lived there for a while before—well, I don’t really remember how it happened. But I lived in Treble Town before I died.
The only thing I remember was a client stabbing me. They’d given me some little lyre to fix, and before I could promise it to them, they were gone, and I…well, I guess I was gone too.
“Dead,” Fariid repeats, sounding tired. “You’re not a moron, you know what I meant. She’s dead. Someone killed her.”
“But…” Fariid watches as his boss unwittingly goes through three different forms in his panic before settling back on some iteration of his usual. “She’s strong. Too strong to die from—from a—what was it?”
“Stabbing, apparently. Some kids found her body in the street. One of your more…successful zombies spotted the commotion.”
“A stabbing,” Ivers echoes. Fariid takes no small amount of joy from the desolate tone the necromancer takes. He wills himself not to openly preen at the man’s misery.
Still…he can’t resist getting in a last little jab.
“Shame your little stalking thing didn’t pan out. I swear—one more rejection and she would have fallen for you, head over heels into that mineshaft.”
“She’s too strong,” Ivers says, as if he no longer hears Fariid at all. Damn. Waste of an excellent burn. Instead Ivers keeps mumbling to himself, over and over, “she’s too strong”.
He looks to Fariid suddenly, his manic glare and smile freezing the phoenix on the spot.
“Don’t you get it? She’s strong.”
I…don’t really want to talk about how it felt to wake up, alive. I don’t remember what came after my death either—I just know that it was peaceful. I was ready to spend my time in the afterlife, and eventually reincarnate. Instead, I woke up in front of him.
I was furious. I tried to kill him, but it was like he was a fucking ghost. Everything I tried phased right fucking through him! I tried to kill myself, will myself to go back to the afterlife, but something stopped me every time. I just…couldn’t. At the last second, I’d always change my mind.
He’d ruined my death by somehow taking me out of the cycle of reincarnation. I could never join my people again. And he’d taken a relatively happy life and brought me back into a nightmare.
So I ran. And that was when the problems started.
I wasn’t hungry. I went to an inn and got kicked out when my body started turning see-through. A few miles further on the trek, my skin was all but gone. A day later and whatever magic was keeping me together failed. And I still couldn’t die.
He found me after a while. I could tell he was getting closer because my agency would slowly come back to me, then my body would come quickly after. It was infuriating. There was no point in running again. So I waited.
I tried to kill him again. Still didn’t work. I’ll give him the bit of credit that he never physically hurt me or fought back, but by the ancestors did I want him to do it. I was praying for him to end me.
And then he…well, ‘apologized’ isn’t exactly the word.
He explained what had happened to him. I knew he was crazy, but the current him was…it was like he wasn’t real. His apathy towards mortal suffering had gone well past sociopathic. He said that someone called Lili had turned him into a changeling, and allowed him to do…well, he said it had something to do with the mind. But I have no clue what he actually meant by that. Also, he mentioned that the tradeoff for making him stronger was that he couldn’t resurrect people properly anymore. That’s what linked all of us to him. It never should have.
And he told me about the outside. He never gave it a name, but he said that where we are, where we live, is just a fraction of this world, and he’s only able to escape because of his “changeling nature”, whatever that meant.
He talked about the world outside with such desperation, I think I…I couldn’t help myself. I was hooked the moment he talked about adventure. It was the only thing I’d ever had in common with him.
He seemed to finally realize he’d overstepped with me—finally. So he offered a trade. If I helped him, he’d spend as much of his power as he could, and he wouldn’t rest until he found a way to unlink us. Then I’d be free to truly explore all the rest of the world that was left.
Fariid told me his story once Ivers and I agreed to a STRICTLY PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP. He got suckered into working for the bastard. Loser.
The desert sun is unbearable in the Dead Zone. So to see a man gasping in the throes of death on the ground, scrabbling for purchase in the sand, immediately sets off the monk’s alarms.
He lands on the ground, careful to keep his bright shawl covering his pitch black plumage. He’s filled with unease as he sees the man. A Pelyle…maybe. He barely even seems to be a single entity.
“Sir!” he calls, getting no response. “A-are you alright? Here, let me help you.”
Fariid can hear the wordless whispers of his patron, the great god Ides, saying something the closer he gets to the man. He outstretches a wing to the man, Ides a solid melody in his ears.
The man turns and locks a pale blue eye on him.
If he’d been a bit more devout, perhaps Fariid could have recognized his god’s warning.
We wandered for a while, and we did what Ivers needed. We got bodies. We found corpses, graves, fresh and ancient. Anyone and everyone, and he never brought back a single one correctly. He was right, his powers really were broken. We did everything we could, and he got stronger. One day in the desert we stumbled upon a Triton caravan. That’s how we got Eirik.
Eirik punches upwards instinctively, as if shaking out the rigor mortis. His fist collides with the lid of his coffin and it flies off its hinges, slamming into the desert sand.
“Whoof!” a short, scrawny humanoid says. Eirik immediately focuses on him as he sits up. “You’re a strong sonofabitch, aren't you.”
Yet again, instinctively, Eirik’s gills flare, and he hops to his feet on top of what he can only assume is his coffin. “I am no son of any bitch, you son of a bitch! And I’ll have you know that not a single creature alive has yet bested me in combat! Save for—“
Eirik comes to himself again to find himself in a completely different position, held prone underneath a large, glowing animal of some sort. He flails indignantly, spouting every insult at the creature that he knows, and realizes he may have blacked out for a bit there.
He wonders why he doesn’t care more about that.
Eirik liked Ivers’ way of doing things waay too much. It always unnerved me. So when Ivers started sending Eirik on solo murder missions, and his power rose considerably, I figured, yeah, that was the new low.
And then we visited Lake Azolie.
Lave, do you…want to hear this part? I don’t want you to suffer any more today.
Okay. Just. Let me know, okay?
“I’m telling you, there’s a body in the lake!”
“No shit.” Pruina has to keep from maiming the man yet again. “It’s right next to the Den, you idiot. How many people do you think dump bodies in lakes to hide evidence? I’ll tell you. Too many!”
“You don’t get it,” Ivers whines. He turns suddenly on his heel and stretches his staff out towards the water. “It’s not like a—a body body, it’s—gah, here. I’ll just show you.”
“Boss, NO!” Fariid and Pruina yell, but it’s too late.
I made sure to take care of Vale. She was the most broken of all of us. Resurrecting someone from their cremated, scattered remains…urgh. It disgusts me that he could desecrate something so sacred just to prove a point. I was furious for her. She deserved to rest.
Like I’ve told you, Vale was a different person depending on the tides. She truly was linked to the sea. At high tide, she’d be a blank slate, spouting an occasional quip or reply. And at low tide, she’d be a scared, lonely girl. I tried to take care of her as best as I could. My hope was that what Ivers wanted to do for me, he would do for her too.
We continued on until a few months ago, when Fariid ran into all of you in Wick City. Ivers acted weird around then. I mean, weirder than usual. He would usually spew shit about hearing voices, but around that time they all seem to come from the same person. He never said their name, but he would talk about Lili way more. And then he told us to loot the bodies.
Momo is all wrong.
Momo remembers...wind. A laugh on the breeze. Hers? Someone else’s?
Momo feels her way out of her grave, glasses askance on the bridge of her nose. The sun doesn’t hurt. Why doesn’t it hurt?
Her fingers brush roots, unfeeling. She shoves them aside.
She pulls herself into the sand, the cherry sapling crushed beneath her palms.
Momo has a job to do.
They’re here, by the way. The corpses from Wick City. We hid them in the forest to the east, on standby. Fariid figured that you’d all grown attached to the city, since you’d even bothered to fight him over the well at all. It was bait, to lure you five here.
Ivers knew you would come. And somehow he knew we’d be enough to distract you. And…well, you guys were here for the rest.
I can’t thank you enough for returning my freedom to me. And for letting the rest of us rest. They may have all been misfits, but if it wasn’t for Ivers, we could have all been decent friends. I really thank you for all that you’ve done. My axe, my knowledge, and most importantly, my trust, is at your disposal.
I’ve told my story. Who wants to go next?