"Frogspawn, lemongrass, redcap, and... orc's blood?"
"No, no, try again," a voice croaked.
"Ah, right. It's goblin's blood."
"There ya go. Seems all that studying's paid off."
A girl sat on the floor of a smoky, candlelit room, hunched over a bubbling cauldron full of a foul-smelling semi-liquid. She leaned to the side and flipped through a weathered tome.
"Ludwig, do we have any goblin's blood?"
A night-black raven perched on a nearby stool responded, "How would I know? Ask yer mother."
The girl rolled her eyes and brushed messy black hair from her face. "You know Mom would just say no." She lowered her voice comically, "No cursing other children, Cammy. Go clean your room, Cammy. No fun allowed, Cammy. Blah blah blah."
With a creak, the door to the room opened, spilling blinding sunlight into the isolated chamber. "What's that about cleaning your room?"
The girl shielded her eyes. "Mom! At least knock first! I'm trying to work on some potions in privacy!"
In the doorframe stood Chai Mesmera, a woman in her late 30's. Her black hair billowed over her shoulders, which were covered by a black witch's robe. She stood with her hand on her hip, giving her daughter a bemused look. "You can work on your curse potions later, honey. Right now I need your help."
The girl gave an exasperated sigh as she extinguished the fire beneath her cauldron and rose to her feet, dusting her heavily bepocketed black dress and adjusting her matching witch's hat. "I'm kinda busy, Mom."
Chai narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. "Chamomile Hazel, you're almost a grown woman. It's time you started pulling your weight around here." She only used Cammy's middle name when she was laying down the law, which was not all that uncommon.
The raven croaked and flapped to Cammy's shoulder.
"I don't wanna hear any lip out of you, either, Ludwig," Chai said, giving the bird a playful look. It turned its head to the side and didn't respond.
"Alright, let's get this over with," Cammy groaned as she trudged out of the room. Chai gave a silent chuckle at her daughter's attitude. She was just like Chamomile when she was her age.
The front room of the Mesmera residence acted as a storefront for the witches' potion-selling business. The room was furnished with a few plants that had started off as unassuming shrubbery, but had been warped by some sort of arcane influence into fantastical shapes. Various magical paraphernalia littered the room. A decorative cauldron sat in the middle of the floor, and tapestries and scrolls with vaguely occult symbols hung on the walls. A wide window in the front wall let in the sunlight from outside, and gave a good view of the road beyond. Herbs, dried mushrooms, and other common ingredients sat in containers behind the counter, giving the room an earthy scent. Chai walked behind the counter and leaned over on it to speak to Cammy.
"Now Cammy, I've got two things I need you to do." Cammy gave her mother a deadpan look and fiddled with something in one of her pockets. "First, I have an order I need you to deliver to the Tremonts. Do you remember where they live?" She set a package wrapped in paper on the counter which clinked softly as it settled.
"Yeah, they're down by the river. Their son is a little shit."
"Language! But I don't exactly disagree. At any rate, they've paid in advance, so you just need to drop off their potions. And actually make sure someone receives them this time. Don't just leave them sitting on the doorstep."
"Then on your way back, I need you to see if you can find some widegill mushrooms. I have an order for a Potion of Water Breathing, and I can't complete it without a few of those."
"Why don't you tell me? You've been keeping up with your studies, right?"
"Uhhhhh... well probably by the forest, right?"
"That's right. They tend to grow on the forest's edge. I only need a few, so don't go crazy."
Without a word, Cammy turned to leave the shop. Her mother called after her. "And don't dawdle! I want to get this potion done today, you hear me?" Cammy didn't respond.
The Mesmera family lived in the village of Accordia, a small farming town on the edge of the Vesper forest in the Vesperin Empire. Despite the war that raged elsewhere in the world, the village was just as quiet and boring as ever. The town was a few days' ride from pretty much any major city, so travelers were scarce. The town was largely self-sufficient, though most farmers would take their goods to market in Iron Falls, Vallea, or Lindhollow. Cammy's house was on the edge of town, and her destination was down by the river on the opposite end. She clutched her package to her chest and sighed.
"What a hassle."
Ludwig croaked on Cammy's shoulder. "Oh relax. All we have to do is drop off a package and pick some mushrooms. How hard could it be?"
"Ughhh... requires effort."
"C'mon, girl. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can find some goblin's blood to finish our potion."
A few blocks over, Cammy passed through the town center. The main attractions here were the inn that lit up the street with light and noise during the night, the general store, at which Cammy was a regular, and a temple to the god Aldir. It was mostly quiet during the middle of the day, however a group of children were playing by the well. It seemed a group of boys and girls were huddled in a circle, and the wails of a small girl could be heard.
"What's going on over there?" Ludwig lifted off from Cammy's shoulder and glided over the square.
"Who cares," Cammy grumbled.
The cries of the little girl rang out once more. "Stoppit! Please! Give Dolly back!"
Cammy felt a twinge of sadness in her gut. She was familiar with the situation all too well. Ludwig coasted in for a landing on the ground in front of her. "They're trying to throw the girl's doll down the well."
"What a bunch of assholes."
"Someone oughta do something about it."
"Cammy, that someone is you."
"I know, Luddy, I know." She began to stomp towards the crowd of children. "You're not my damn mom, birdbrain."
The raven gave an exasperated squawk and took off again. "Birdbrain, am I? We'll see about that."
The group of children consisted of around 5 boys and girls of roughly 13 years of age. As Cammy neared, she could see a younger girl, maybe 6, standing beside the well. An older boy was dangling what looked like a roughshod doll over the lip of the well, taunting the girl.
The boy gave a menacing laugh. "Look at this shitty excuse for a toy! I'm surprised your poor-ass family can even afford clothes!" The crowd laughed with the boy. "I should just do the world a favor and throw this piece'a trash away. Whaddaya say, guys?"
"Do it, Brett!"
"Teach that baby a lesson!"
The little girl fell to her knees in the dirt and began to wail openly.
"Hey!" Cammy yelled, trying to make herself seem intimidating. Despite being 17, she was about the same height as most of these children. "Give the toy back, you bully!"
The crowd of children whispered to themselves. Cammy caught some of it.
"It's that weird girl!"
"She's a witch!"
"Look out, she might turn you into a toad!"
Cammy was used to this kind of torment and ignored it.
The bully walked forward to face her, his hands on his hips in a condescending manner. He was tall for his age, and stood a few inches taller than Cammy.
"Whaddaya gonna do about it, freak? Cast a hex on me?"
The crowd chortled as Brett gave them a shit-eating grin. "Yeah, okay. Why don't your run on home to your whore mother?"
Brett barely had time to finish his sentence as the air was knocked from his lungs. Cammy had drawn her foot back and kicked as hard as she could in Brett's groin. He dropped to his knees, clutching his damaged pride. His crowd of supporters grew silent, a few gasping in surprise.
"Y... you bitch" Brett stammered out.
"I don't think you've quite learned your lesson," Cammy said. At her words, a small rock fell from the sky and struck Brett square on the top of his head. He fell on his side and curled in a fetal position, clutching his aching head. Ludwig landed on Cammy's shoulder. "Right on time, my dear," she said to him. "Now, to teach this little boy not to mess with others."
Cammy crouched down to where Brett lay. She muttered an incantation under her breath and waved her hand over the boy's forehead. Slowly, writing began to appear on his skin. The word "LOSER" was inscribed in black letters on Brett's forehead. A kid in the crowd screamed and the congregation began to flee in panic. Brett staggered to his feet, tears in his eyes.
"I'll get you for this, you freak!" His voice cracked slightly around the lump in his throat. He then fled, his gait hampered by his sore nether regions.
Cammy picked up the doll from the road and dusted it off as best as she could. The little girl remained sitting by the well, but had stopped crying, though she was still hiccuping slightly as she looked up at her savior. Cammy handed the doll back to the girl.
"Thankya for helping me, big sis."
"Don't mention it. What's your name?"
"Alright, Ellia, listen up. Getting bullied sucks, but this won't be the last time it'll happen to you. If you let these creeps walk all over you, they're just gonna keep doing it."
"W-whaddo I do?"
Cammy offered her hand to the girl and pulled her to her feet. "Stand up strong and say no. Stand up for yourself if they won't respect you. Fight if you have to. That's what I had to do."
"B-but I get scared..."
"Doesn't matter. Everyone gets scared, even me. You gotta do it anyway."
"Okay... I'll try."
Cammy turned on her heel and began to walk off. Ellia hugged her doll to her chest and ran down the street towards her home. When they were a good distance away, Ludwig cackled. "That was a good thing you did there, though your lesson to the girl was a bit heavy-handed."
"Thanks for the advice. I'll file that away somewhere."
The Tremont house lay a little ways outside of the town. A dirt path led through the meadow to a stone house with a thatch roof that was built beside the river that flowed past Accordia. A water wheel creaked in the current and the smell of grain filled the air. A few chickens clucked about in the long grass around the house, and trotted away from Cammy as she approached. She was fiddling with some wildflowers that she had picked on the walk over, and was contemplating putting them in her hair. She was trying to arrange her hat in such a way that it left enough hair to adorn without falling off, but wasn't having much luck. The hat was just too unwieldy, so she gave up as she approached the house.
The door was made of heavy wood, and thudded loudly at Cammy's knock. She waited for a minute with no response, nonchalantly examining her nails. "Can we go already? Nobody's probably home."
"Patience, Cammy," Ludwig chided.
A few moments more and footsteps could be heard from within the abode. The door opened to reveal a large man with thinning hair but a long blonde beard. He wore a work apron over his clothes, and leather gloves.
"Oh, sorry 'ere" the man said. "I was in 'he back an' I dinnit 'ear ye"
"I have a potion delivery for the Tremont residence," Cammy said, pulling the package from a large pocket and handing it up to the man.
"Right ye are." The man took the package and handed Cammy a few silver pieces.
"My mom said you paid in advance..."
"'hat's fer ye trouble. Don' spen' it all in one ploice now, ye hear?"
"Thank you, sir."
As the door began to close, a boy ran past the door, caught a glimpse of Cammy and yelped.
"Pa, 'hat's 'hat witch girl I tol' ye abou' what put a curse on ol' Brett Matthews!"
"Run along, Danny. Ain't none o' ye business," the man barked to his son. He then turned back to Cammy. "Sorry 'bout Danny. He's a bi' ov a troublemaker, ya? Oh, an boi th' way..." Mr. Tremont leaned in close to Cammy, who could smell the sweat and grease on the man. "... troi an' stay away from the ol' manor roun' the sou' soide a town, alroit? Danny wen' roun' 'ere 'he other day an' go' a roight scare, 'e did. Place's 'aunted, 'hey say."
"Sure," Cammy said, eager to get away.
"Now ye run along now. Tell ye mum thanks fer the potions. I'll be seein' her again soon."
"Goodbye, Mr. Tremont."
When she was a ways away from the house, Ludwig leaned down to look Cammy in the face. "The old mansion? That place has been abandoned for years. Why would Danny wanna play there?"
"I wanna play there, but Mom would be furious. She keeps saying it's 'dangerous' and 'a bad idea'."
"Yeah, what does she know, anyway?"
"Still, if it's haunted, that could be fun..."
Ludwig squawked loudly and shuffled his wings. "Don't get any dumb ideas, Cammy. I know you, and I can tell what's going through your mind right now. There's no telling what could be in that house."
"Look, we'll just go by and look in. It should be on the way if we're looking for mushrooms. If it seems dangerous, we'll leave right away, deal?"
The raven ruffled his feathers and sulked on Cammy's shoulder. "Ooh, we're gonna get in trouble, I can tell."
Following the river clockwise around the town, Cammy eventually hit the treeline of the Vesper Forest. The forest itself was massive, spanning hundreds of miles all the way to the southern shore of the continent of Draydar. Somewhere in its midst was the fabled Hush Lake, harboring the floating elfin capital of Vesper City. She dreamed of going there one day to study magic at the Eccoh University. As she traipsed along the fringes of the woods, absentmindedly looking for mushrooms, she imagined herself browsing through an immense library, brewing potions in a huge black cauldron, and maybe even falling in love with an elf. She had never actually seen an elf in person, however, and her mental image of them was pieced together from illustrations in books and anecdotal descriptions from townsfolk who traveled outside Accordia. Admittedly, her approximation was a bit exaggerated, but she was immensely curious to meet one someday.
After an hour or so of searching, Cammy had only been able to find one serviceable widegill mushroom, though her search had not been particularly rigorous. She was searching through an outcropping of stone when she found herself up against an old iron fence. Through the trees and tall grass on the other side of the fence, she could see a dilapidated building on top of a small rise.
"Luddy! It's the manor."
Ludwig, who had been flying near Cammy all the while, swooped past. "Nope, nope nope nope."
"Don't be such a chicken! I'm going to go get a closer look."
"Oh ha ha. Bird jokes. So funny." The raven glided from tree to tree, attempting to simultaneously keep his distance from the house and stay close to Cammy.
Despite her familiar's trepidation, Chamomile pushed her way through a spot in the fence where the bars had fallen apart. If she was any bigger, she wouldn't have fit. Step by step she crept up to the manor in the distance. The landscape was quiet, save for the soft rustling of tree branches in the blowing wind. The sun was starting to set, and a hazy cloud cover blanketed the sky, casting the scene in an orange-ish gray light. The grounds of the house were completely overrun with grasses, saplings, and other natural growth. It looked like there may have been a neat garden on this side of the house once, but had long since grown wild and unkempt. Cracked and broken statues could be seen at varying intervals, looking weathered and beaten by the elements. As Cammy encroached upon the derelict dwelling, she could get a better view of its construction. The house had a wood panel exterior on top of a brick foundation. Various gables protruded from the shingled roof, like empty eyes gazing sorrowfully upon the sleepy town below. A tower jutted upward from the western wing of the building, culminating in a spire bearing a broken weathervane that gave a pitiful creak in the spring breeze.
A flash of movement drew Cammy's attention to the top window of the tower, but it had vanished. She could have sworn she saw a figure in the window out of the corner of her eye.
"Luddy, I think someone's in there."
The bird silently landed on her shoulder. "Then let them stay in there! You don't know what kind of monster could be hiding in there. You know goblins like to make bases in abandoned buildings and ambush pretty little girls like you who wander inside."
"I could handle a few goblins," Cammy lied.
"They're tougher than those kids from earlier, you know."
"Oh yeah, and what do you know? Have you ever seen a goblin?"
"Maybe I have! You don't know my story!"
"Whatever. I still wanna get a peek inside."
"I'm going with you."
"I thought you were afraid?"
"Of course I'm afraid!" Ludwig croaked into her ear. "I'm a small bird and you're a small girl. No offense. You can use a bit of minor magic, but you can't defend yourself against monsters."
"Oh c'mon, I've almost got the hang of this Burning Hands spell."
"Oh no, not that again. My tail feathers are still singed from the last time you tried that. You don't even have any Hexes of your own yet, either. When are you finally going to pick one up?"
"When Mom decides to teach me, I guess," Cammy grumbled.
"Ah, she is a master of the Evil Eye, that one."
As the two bickered, Cammy made her way around to the front of the house. It faced north, looking down over the town. It was a solid mile from the outskirts of the town to the manor grounds, but she could see the faint glow of lights from the town pierce the vegetation on the path betwixt. Night was swiftly approaching, and Cammy knew she should get home soon. She was already later than her mom probably expected, but she had a little bit of time before dinner. Besides, she was only going to take a quick peek inside.
The front of the house had a veranda that stretched around to the west side of the house. The wooden stairs up to the front door groaned under Cammy's boots, and she could hear dust and dirt falling between the cracks in the floorboards at her every step. The front door looked like it had once been very beautiful with all sorts of engravings in the wood along its border. However now it hung loosely in its hinges, the doorknob broken. Likely people had already forced their way inside. Brimming with curiosity, she pushed the door with her fingertips and it creaked open, revealing a darkened foyer beyond.
A grandfather clock languidly tolled out the top of the hour, the sheer volume of its bell causing Cammy to jump and Ludwig to poop a little on the dusty wooden floor.
The foyer itself was a narrow affair, with a staircase leading upward to the right of a hallway leading further back into the mansion. Various rooms extended off to the left and right, the furniture all covered in white cloth, and then a layer of dust and cobwebs. The air was oppressively still and dusty, and the only sounds came from the nervous clunk of Cammy's boots on the hardwood floor. She was afraid, but also extremely excited. She had heard stories about this place, but never got around to exploring it.
"I like it here" she whispered to her familiar.
"What's there to like? There's nothing here."
"It's the atmosphere, Luddy. It's so mysterious!"
"Yeah, it's such a mystery as to what might jump out and kill you."
She ignored the bird and slowly walked through the rooms. Most seemed to be sitting rooms or parlors of some sort, though Cammy wasn't very familiar with noble buildings, so there were some rooms she couldn't identify at all. At one point, she pushed through a swinging door into what seemed to be a dining room. The long table was still set, and a candelabra sat unused in the middle.
Ludwig hopped off Cammy's shoulder and glided over to the table. He examined the plates, twitching his head to get a better view. Seeing that the silverware was shinier, he tried to pick up a fork with his foot.
"Who are you?"
Ludwig dropped the fork with a clang. "Did you say something, Cammy?"
Ludwig hopped in a half circle to look at his master. "Don't play games with me, Cammy. This place is spooky enough without you asking me weird questions."
"I swear, it wasn't me!"
The voice came again. "W-who are you?!"
There was silence for about three seconds, then Ludwig started bellowing. "Out! Out! I want out! I've had enough of this haunted house. Get me outta here!" He started flapping his wings and flew around the room looking for an exit.
"Shut up, you dumb bird!" Cammy yelled.
"G-get out of my house!" Cammy heard the voice better this time. It seemed young and female, but with an angry and sorrowful tone. It sounded like it was coming from everywhere at once.
"Who are you?" Cammy called out, looking for a source of the voice.
"Leave! Just leave me alone! Stay away from my house!"
"Are you sure? You sound sad. Maybe I could help you."
"GET OUT!" With this disembodied shriek, all the windows in the house began to rattle and the floor began to shake.
"I think we should do what she says!" Ludwig said as he darted through the door through which they had entered the room.
Cammy bolted back out the way she came as bits of ceiling plaster snowed down on her and the whole house quaked. A plank of wood dropped from somewhere above as she approached the front door, and she dodged out of the way just in time. As soon as she had left the house and closed the door behind her, the shaking stopped as if it had never begun. The wind whispered across the forest as Cammy stopped to catch her breath.
"Well, Ludwig, I think that's one mystery solved."
"And what's that?"
"This place is definitely haunted."
On the way back to town, Cammy was able to find a few more usable widegill mushrooms, which she tucked into a back pocket. By the time she got back to town, the sun had set almost completely, though the last vestiges of light still illuminated the horizon. The town inn was in full swing, and sounds of music and merriment could be heard echoing throughout the town. The bell at the temple chimed 7:00 and Cammy dashed the last few blocks to her house.
Reaching the bright window of her house, she opened the door and walked inside quietly, trying to avoid the ire of her mother. It didn't work. As soon as the door opened, Bechamel, her mother's fox familiar, darted out of the kitchen and into the front room. He paused with a front paw in the air, staring down Cammy.
"The jig is up," Croaked Ludwig.
Sure enough, Chai came out of the same back room and gave her daughter a tired look. "Well, look what the fox dragged in. I can't believe it took you this long to run a few simple errands, but better late than never I guess."
"Sorry, I had trouble finding the mushrooms."
"Uh huh. Did you get them, at least?"
Cammy produced the collected fungi from her pocket and handed them to her mother.
"Thank you, baby. These should do nicely. Now listen, we need to talk."
"What is it, Mom?"
"I heard about what you did today. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Cammy's heart raced. Did her mother know about her visiting the manor?
"Um, I'm sorry, Mom."
"Don't 'Um, I'm sorry' me, young lady. I got an earful from Mrs. Matthews about what you did to her boy."
A wave of relief washed over Cammy. She had entirely forgotten her run-in with the bullies from earlier. This, she could handle.
"Mom, he had a whole gang harassing a little girl. I had to do something."
Chai sighed loudly and walked back into the kitchen. Cammy followed, keeping her distance. Chai was heating a kettle above their stove. It began to whistle as Cammy entered the room, and her mother poured the boiling water into two cups.
"Sweetheart, I'm proud of you for stepping in and doing what's right, but you have a habit of taking things too far."
Cammy didn't respond, instead looking down at her feet. Ludwig hopped down from her shoulder and played lightheartedly with Bechamel.
"You've always been a rowdy girl. I don't argue that the boy had it coming, but you shouldn't fight, especially with children. What I'm really mad about is you used magic on him!"
"It was just an Arcane Mark cantrip. It'll fade eventually."
"I don't care if it was a 9th-level spell. You still used magic on another person. I've told you time and time again that our magic is only to be used to help our fellow townsfolk. Do you know what this makes us look like if you go around jinxing anyone who crosses you? I've had to work so hard just to get us as far as we are now. Do you know what it was like when I first came here when you were a baby?"
"You've mentioned it before."
Chai ignored her daughter's sarcasm. "All I'm saying is that it's been a balancing act just getting the people here to not openly despise us. I don't want what little reputation we have ruined. I had to use a Dispel Magic spell to remove the mark from the boy's head. I know that doesn't sound like much, but I was so embarrassed doing it."
Cammy felt tears welling up as she did whenever her mother was mad at her, but she bit the inside of her cheeks, determined not to show her emotions.
Chai sat down at their small kitchen table with a the cups of tea. Cammy remained standing, avoiding her mother's glance.
Chai's tone softened. "Chamomile, I'm just trying to look out for you. I want to give you the best future I can. I'm sorry if I'm tough on you."
Cammy sat down at the table and clutched the warm cup without drinking. "It's okay, Mom. I know I overreacted with Brett. I lost my temper when he starting saying mean things about you."
"I don't care what some stupid little boy says about me."
"I know, but... I love you, Mom, and I'm tired of us being looked down on by people." Cammy had never known her father, so Chai was the only parent she ever had. She sincerely cared for her mother, even if the two got on each other's nerves, and even if she wasn't good at showing it.
Chai took Cammy's hand. "I love you too, baby. But you gotta remember that no matter how many people put you down, they can't take your dignity. Only you can give that away. And things will get better, in fact, they already are. You're almost a grown woman soon, and you can start taking over more of the business."
Cammy wasn't sure if she wanted that, exactly.
"I know it's not the future you've always dreamed of, but we don't have the luxury of moving somewhere else. We've built a home in Accordia, and maybe someday you'll find a future for yourself here. Perhaps you'll find a man you want to marry and settle down with."
Cammy gave a cold laugh. "There are no men here, only boys, and they're disgusting."
"Well, what can you do? I'm sure something will come along."
Thoughts of the mansion still fluttered through Cammy's mind. There was a strange longing she felt in that place, and she couldn't exactly place it.
"Hey, Mom? What do you know about that old mansion?"
Chai's demeanor changed to one of suspicion. "Why do you want to know about that?"
"Some of the kids today were talking about it," Cammy half-lied. "I know you've always said to stay away from it, but why? What is that old house, anyway?"
Her mother sipped from her cup and leaned back in her chair. "I don't know too much about it, really. It was already abandoned when I moved here, so all I know is rumor and hearsay. Apparently back in the day, the house belonged to the Accordia family. They were a noble family that founded the town when they built their house here. For a while they governed the town, but eventually they abandoned the house. Nobody really knows why, and everyone has their own theory. It's been empty ever since. I don't believe the rumors that it's haunted, though. Some people will believe anything. I just think that there's no telling what could be in there, and it's best to stay away. That whole place could collapse any day now, too. If you want to know more, you'll have to ask Father Imadeus at the temple. He knows all about the town's history."
Cammy didn't care much for Father Imadeus. He was a deadly combination of long-winded and slow-talking, meaning a simple conversation with him could stretch out forever.
"You can ask him tomorrow. I expect he'll be getting ready for bed soon. Now come help me get dinner ready, sweetie."
The next day, Cammy rose earlier than usual, finishing her morning chores and leaving to go consult Father Imadeus. She could tell her mother was suspicious about her motives, but not enough to stop her. As she walked through the streets, she noticed that any kids she saw made sure to avoid her. Word must have spread about her walloping of Brett Matthews, and she was amused by the fear she had sown among the whelps.
The temple of Aldir was a very old building, likely the oldest in the town. It was a mass of stone masonry with a tall bell tower at its front where the daylight hours were chimed out to the town. Inside was a modest chapel with a number of pews facing an altar. A middle-aged man in brown robes was lighting a set of candles beside the altar. He had thin white hair and a stubbly white beard. Small glasses adorned his nose, and they looked a bit dirty. He observed Cammy entering with a knowing grin, but made airs of ignoring her. She walked right up to him and cleared her throat. Ludwig croaked raucously.
"Please, no animals in the temple, my dear" Father Imadeus said without looking up.
"He's a service animal."
Father Imadeus looked up with feigned surprise. "Oh, Miss Chamomile Hazel Mesmera. How nice of you to drop by. I'm glad to hear you finally got Ludwig certified. I suppose he's your seeing-eye bird?" He chuckled to himself, his joke utterly failing to elicit a reaction in the girl in front of him. "So have you come to pay your respects to the Allfather?"
"No way," Cammy blurted out, then remembered why she was there and changed her tone. "Er... do you think you could tell me about the Accordia family? And about their mansion?"
Imadeus gave her a quizzical eyebrow over his glasses and put away his tinderbox. "Hmm? Now why would you want to know about that old business?"
"Well, you see, I went to go look at the house yesterday, and I think it might be haunted. I just wanted to know if you knew anything about that."
"Have a seat, my child. I will be with you shortly."
Imadeus walked through a door at the back of the chapel and Cammy seated herself at one of the front pews. She was never crazy about being in a religious establishment, preferring the occult and arcane, herself. She always felt like she had to be on her best behavior, and it made her squirm. Before too long, the priest emerged once more, carrying a leather-bound book. He walked over and sat down beside Cammy, opening the book.
"Ah yes," he began in his infamously slow voice. "The Accordia family was a wealthy group of nobles in the Vesperin government. They primarily ruled over the plains areas, but this was generations ago when the land was ruled by nobles and fiefdoms. Nowadays all the power is in the capitol. Can't tell if it's better this way..." He seemed to zone out for a few seconds. "Anyway, as I was saying, Rutherford Accordia was a human noble in a government full of elves, and he decided he wanted to build his estate somewhere away from the high-brow society. So he traveled around the empire searching for the most beautiful piece of land he could find. And wouldn't you know, he settled here. The house was built in a number of years, and the village sprang up soon after. After about ten years, Rutherford had turned this middle-of-nowhere bit of land into a thriving community.
"However, before long, things started to change. With the reformation of the empire, the Accordia family was no longer nobility and were now just simple commoners, albeit much much richer than your average family, mind you. Without support from the government, the Accordia family had to resort to running a trading business in order to keep themselves afloat in the lifestyle they were used to. It was then that tragedy struck. Rutherford's only daughter came down with a horrible illness. Some would even say it was a curse, but the details are scarce. She unfortunately succumbed to the disease the day after her 18th birthday. In mourning, Rutherford and his wife left the town of Accordia, and never returned."
"That's so sad..."
"It is, but such is history, I'm afraid."
"How long ago was this?"
"Well, it was long before my time. I learned of it through the annuls of the temple, which I hold before me. Let's take a look." Imadeus began flipping through the pages, stopping at one that piqued his interest. "Hmm, looks like construction on the manor began 100 years ago. That would mean the house has been abandoned for about 90 years."
Cammy nodded. "And what about this daughter? What do we know about her?"
"Not much. It seems she was a shy girl who rarely left her estate. We know her name was Viola, and her portrait is likely to be found somewhere in the manor, but little has survived from that age. Unfortunately, not much else is known about her."
Cammy stood up from the pew. "Thank you for your help."
"Going so soon?"
"Yeah, I've got errands to run for my Mom." Cammy held out her hand and gave the priest the silver pieces that Mr. Tremont had given her the previous day. "Here, this is... for your trouble. Consider it a donation to the temple or whatever."
"You are most generous, young miss. You have lightened up an old man's day. Please feel free to return here whenever you wish."
Cammy decided that she didn't dislike Father Imadeus after all.
After running a few deliveries for her mother, Cammy was free around mid-afternoon. As soon as she was able, she headed off to the manor, careful to keep an eye out for Bechamel. There was no telling when her mom would send that fox to spy on her. However, there was no sight of a bushy red tail, and she soon found herself in front of the manor gates.
"Why are we back here?" whined Ludwig. "Didn't we almost get killed here yesterday?"
"Look, if I'm right, which I usually am, there's a ghost of Viola Accordia in that house. Didn't you hear her voice? She's lonely and needs our help."
"I think you're just lonely."
Cammy chose not to respond to that comment. She pushed open the rusty gate and made her way into the house once more. Her boot kicked into the board that had almost brained her the day before and it spun across the dusty wooden floor. The atmosphere in the house was just as eerie and oppressive as ever, but Cammy wasn't afraid anymore. She was here with a purpose.
"Hello?" she called out. "Is anyone here?"
"See? Nobody's home. Let's get out of here!" cawed Ludwig.
"If you're so scared, go wait outside."
Ludwig shifted his gaze between his master and the door, then crouched down against her shoulder in resignation. "I go where you go."
Searching through the rooms of the house, it looked like there had once been paintings hung on many of the walls. There were spots on the walls that were slightly less faded than their surroundings, with nails protruding, indicating that something had hung there. Very little of value remained, and it seemed that in the 90 years that the house remained empty, anything with monetary value was stolen and anything else organic had been eaten away by time and the elements.
Cammy then decided to try the upstairs. She had been unconsciously avoiding it up until now, but she remembered the figure she thought she saw in the west tower. That must account for something. The wooden stairs creaked and groaned under her weight as she ascended. It was even darker in the upstairs hall with no windows to light it. There were many doors here that led to abandoned bedrooms. Through the silence, Cammy could hear what sounded like music coming from one of the rooms. She slowly approached and looked through the empty doorframe. In the room was a single end table sitting alone, an antique music box sitting open, playing its soothing tune. She approached slowly, step by step. As she neared, the clockwork began to slowly wind down and the figure of a dancer on top spun slower and slower.
The music stopped. Silence returned to the room. Cammy could hear a very faint sound of creaking wood coming from behind.
The ceiling of the room erupted downward, and a heavy figure slammed into the floor and Cammy tripped over backward, landing on her rear on the dusty floor. She screamed as the figure reared up on eight hairy legs and let off a shrill screech. The giant spider was about the size of a dog, and it lunged forward towards her. Instinctively, Cammy held out her hand and started reciting a mantra. With a flash of light and heat, the spider was repelled backwards, flying out the door of the room. Cammy looked at her hand in disbelief, it was still smoking from the 15-foot blast of fire she had thrown from it.
"Holy hell!" squawked Ludwig. "That was Burning Hands! You did it!"
Cammy gasped for breath, allowing her heartbeat to return to normal. The enlarged arachnid lay on its back in the hallway, sizzling with heat, its legs curled up in the universal position of dead spider.
"I guess this place is dangerous after all," Cammy said under her breath.
"I'll save the 'I told ya so's' for later, kiddo." Ludwig hopped nervously on her shoulder. "What are we gonna do now?"
"I'm not leaving until I accomplish my mission."
If a crow could roll its eyes, Ludwig would have. "You're the boss."
Up another flight of stairs was another bedroom and a locked door that looked like it led to another set of stairs. Cammy entered the bedroom to find that it was largely untouched. It had aged like the rest of the house, but it looked like nothing had been disturbed since it was abandoned. A white bed took up the center of the room, with a deteriorated canopy above. Beside the bed was the first intact painting that had been seen in the house. It was faded and worn, but it very clearly depicted a young woman in a white dress, posing in a three-quarters perspective. She had white-blonde hair done up in a fancy hairdo and jewelry around her neck. Unfortunately, the painting was damaged to the point where any facial features could not be discerned.
"You think this is her?" Ludwig asked, cocking his head at the painting. "She looks kinda snooty to me."
"Why have you returned?"
Ludwig pooped on the floor again in shock as the same ghostly voice addressed the two. Again, the voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, but Cammy decided to address the painting. It seemed the most natural thing to do.
"We want to help you."
"You can't help me! Go away!"
"But we haven't even tried yet. You sound so lonely..."
"No! I hate people! All they do is take from me! Leave me alone!"
The house began to rumble once more in response to the fury in the voice.
"We haven't come here to take anything. We're here to help you, Viola!"
The rumbling ceased instantly.
"Y-you know my name?"
"You're Viola Accordia, right?"
There was silence for about ten seconds. Ludwig sat wide-eyed with feathers ruffled on Cammy's shoulder, not moving a muscle. Like a relieving exhale, a cool breeze filled the room, and gradually a figure began to appear on the bed. The figure was female, wearing a white dress, and with fancy white-blonde hair like the painting. She sat with her knees to her chest, with her arms wrapped around and her face on her knees. Her face could not be seen from this angle, however she had pointed ears that stuck out from beneath her hair. She appeared as a pale specter, her whole body transparent and tinted white.
She spoke without lifting her face. "My name is Lady Viola Prisma Augusta Glissandra Von Niefdel Accordia. Who are you? You claim you came here for me? Speak your true purpose."
"My name is Chamomile Hazel Mesmera. I'm a witch from the village of Accordia. It's true, I came here because I was worried about you. You seemed so lonely... is there anything I can do to help?"
"I do not know if you who still breathe can help me, who does not."
"Well... at the very least, we can talk, right?"
The specter sat silently for a moment before responding. "Very well, Chamomile Hazel Mesmera . I will speak with you."
"You can just call me Cammy. Can I call you Viola?"
"If it so pleases you. I find it hard to care about formalities. Now ask what you will."
"Hmm, okay. So tell me about yourself, Viola. What was your life like?"
"My memories are hazy in this form, but I will relate what I remember. I was the daughter of a proud nobleman. My father founded this town, and was grooming me to be his replacement in the nobility. My life was pretty, but shallow. I spent most of my days learning manners, history, politics, and other skills a Lady might need. I had no time for fun or frivolities. I cannot help but feel that my years in this world were wasted."
"That's so sad... Maybe I could teach you how to have fun?"
“What do you mean?”
Cammy sat down on the bed. The ghostly figure remained locked in the same position in which she appeared, seeming to float on top of the bed.
“Well, what can you do in that form?”
“I… don’t know. I’ve spent most of my time since my death just trying to block everything out and fade away. I have completely lost track of the passage of time. I do not know if it has been one year or a hundred since my passing.”
“Closer to a hundred. About ninety, really.”
The ghost was silent for a moment. “I understand. Everyone I know has surely perished by now. I should just fade away into oblivion. Thank you for talking to me.”
The form begin to fade away into thin air.
“Wait, Viola! Don’t go! We could be friends!”
The specter had already vanished, however the voice spoke. “...Friends, you say? I will ponder. Please come back tomorrow, Miss Chamomile.”
“What a stiff,” Ludwig scoffed.
“Don’t be a jerk! She’s been dead for ninety years! You’d be a bit depressed if you’d been alone for that long.”
“I can’t believe you offered to be friends with a ghost.”
“What’s wrong with that? Ghosts are people, too. And she’s easily a hundred times more interesting than anyone in the village.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
Cammy affected a noble accent. “Come now, Sir Ludwig, let us respect Lady Viola’s wishes and return on the morrow.”
Ludwig gave another wan look at Cammy, but did not object.
Over the next week, Cammy spent her days blazing through her chores and errands to spend as much of her free time as possible at the Accordia manor with Viola. The two spoke of a wide assortment of matters, including Viola’s memories of being a noblewoman almost a century ago to Cammy’s training as a witch and the current state of the outside world. All the while, Viola would appear in that upstairs bedroom in the same position.
At the end of the week, Cammy brought a basket full of food as well as some potions that she had brewed.
“I know you can’t eat, Viola, but I figured you might wanna see some food. Maybe just the sight of it could cheer you up a little.”
“I appreciate your thought, Miss Chamomile, but I feel it would only depress me further.”
“Oh! I’m sorry. That was probably a bit dumb of me. Uh, I also brought some of the potions I’ve made, if you want to see those.” She pulled a few glass vials from her basket. “I don’t really know how to show these to you. Can you see these?”
“Yes, I can see them. Please tell me about them.”
“Okay. This purple one is a Potion of Stabilize, which like, if you’re injured and dying, it helps you stay alive. Um… this red one is a Potion of Cure Light Wounds. My mom did the actual enchanting on this one, since I’m not powerful enough to cast that spell yet, but I did all the brewing myself! I just hope I didn’t mess these up.”
“Please, Viola, just call me Cammy.”
“Very well. Miss Cammy-”
“Just Cammy. The Miss makes me feel too formal. Let loose a little!”
A soft giggle sounded from the incorporeal girl. “I’m afraid I do not quite know how to ‘let loose’, but I will attempt to follow your lead.”
“That’s a good start, yeah.”
“What I meant to ask you, M- ...Cammy, is this. What would you like to do with your future? You have your whole life ahead of you, and the whole world in which to live it. I could only dream of such a luxury, even when I was alive.”
Cammy sighed. Ludwig flapped past the door to the bedroom, attempting to catch moths mid-flight. He was always dreadfully bored during these visits, but he would tolerate it for Cammy’s happiness.
“Well, it’s not really that simple. Not everyone has the opportunity to do what they want, ya know? I mean, what I want to do is visit Vesper City and learn more about magic at the Eccoh University, but I know there’s no way I could even get there, let alone get accepted. I’m just some backwoods nobody…”
“Cammy, that’s absolutely not true! You are the most wonderful person I have ever met!”
Cammy blushed, looking up at the ghostly form, which seemed different than usual. While before the ghost had remained locked in a weeping position, it now seemed to move freely. For the first time, Viola was looking up at Cammy, and her face was now visible. Cammy was taken aback not only by Viola’s looks, but at the fact that she seemed to be smiling.
“Y-you’re so gorgeous…”
Viola looked surprised and covered her face with her hands. “Oh! You’re too kind.”
“Please, don’t hide your face. You should smile more.”
“You’re right, Cammy. I now have something to truly smile about, for the first time ever.”
“You’re a good friend, Viola. I’m glad I came to talk to you.”
“And you as well, Cammy. You know, I’ve actually been to Vesper City before.”
Cammy leaned forward onto her hands in excitement. “Really? You have?”
“Yes! My father took me there once when I was but a girl. I barely remember it, but I’ll never forget the beautiful gleam of the sunlight upon Hush Lake.”
“It sounds amazing. I’ve wanted to see it my entire life. I’ve also always wanted to meet an elf before.”
“I am only half-elf, sadly. My mother was elfin, my father human. Perhaps she still lives, but who can say.”
“Hey, Viola… what about you? What are your dreams?”
“Well… I suppose I don’t really know. I never had any ambitions when I was alive. My entire life was dictated to me by my father. I do not harbor any ill will towards him, but I wish I had the kind of life you have.”
“That’s so crazy. Anyone I know would kill to have your life. I suppose you want what you can’t have, right?”
“Perhaps. For most of my death, I have likewise been drifting listlessly, but now I believe I finally have ambitions. For one, I would one day like to return to Vesper City and see it again. Furthermore, I would like to spend as much time with you as possible, Cammy.”
Cammy looked away, flustered. “And I’d like to spend more time with you, as well.”
There was an awkward silence for a while, before Cammy piped up again.
“H-hey, Viola? I’m sorry if this question is too personal, but would you ever want to come back to life?”
Viola cocked her head, considering the question.
“If you had asked me a week ago, I would have declined. However now that I have found reason to exist, I believe that I could give it another shot. Oh, but who am I kidding? There is no way.”
“Actually, there is!”
“What? Is there?”
“Yeah, I’ve been talking to the priest in the town, and he says that powerful clerics can use a spell called Resurrection that can bring the dead back to life. All it needs is an expensive diamond and a part of your body.”
“You… would do that for me?”
“Of course. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Ludwig cawed angrily from the next room.
“Well, aside from Ludwig, of course.”
“I am truly flattered… but how will you find someone able to perform this incantation?”
Cammy’s face fell. “Well… I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’d… have to leave the village. I’d have to leave you… But only for a while!”
Viola was silent for a moment, her face indecipherable. “I do not know what to say. I’m truly flattered, but I don’t know that I would be worth the effort…”
“Nonsense. Viola, you’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.”
“Cammy, I… I require time to think about this. Will you leave me be for now and return tomorrow? I will have an answer for you then.”
That night, Cammy returned home with a smile on her face. She entered her house to her mother sitting on a cushioned bench in the front room of their home.
“You look happy. Did you meet someone special?”
“No, Mom,” Cammy said, trying to adopt a neutral expression.
Chai laughed. “You can’t fool your mother. Did you finally fall for a boy?”
“Nope!” said Cammy, sincerely.
“Hmm, a girl, then?”
Cammy didn’t reply, but Chai laughed in good humor.
“Oh, sweetie. You are so transparent to me. Tell me about her! I wanna know all about my baby’s first crush.”
“Ok, but you gotta promise not to freak out.”
Cammy relayed the story of her meeting with Viola to her mother. Chai’s face went on a journey from shock to joy to affection and back to shock.
“You want to do what?”
“I said I want to find a cleric that can bring Viola back to life.”
“But… where would you even look?”
“Everywhere I can.”
“Honey… Gosh, that’s so dangerous. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable with you doing that. Can’t you wait a few years before leaving home? It’s a cruel world out there, especially for a beautiful young girl.”
“Mom, I’ve made up my mind. This is something I want more than I’ve ever wanted anything before.”
“Well, I guess I can’t argue with young love. Please just promise me you’ll be safe out there. Don’t stay out late, travel with a group, don’t lend or borrow money, don’t talk to orcs…”
“Mom, I’ll be okay, but do you think you could help me finish my witch training first? Having a few spells and hexes would go a long way to helping me defend myself.”
“Of course, honey. Step into the back room and I’ll teach you the rest of what I know.”
For the rest of the night and much of the following day, Chai taught her daughter a number of helpful spells, from curing wounds to injuring foes. The training session ended with Chai passing her signature technique down to her daughter: the Evil Eye, an ability to cause creeping doubt in a person to weaken their natural abilities. During the day, the two spoke to a group of local farmers who were looking to sell some of their spring crops in Iron Falls. They agreed to take Cammy along with them, on the condition that she be ready to leave the following morning. The village seemed rather quiet throughout the whole exchange, however, which struck Cammy as odd. Normally the streets were bustling with townsfolk throughout the day.
It was late afternoon by the time Cammy was able to make her way to the manor to speak with Viola one last time. It was unnaturally quiet on the walk, but something didn't seem right.
"It's too quiet, Cam," Ludwig muttered, shifting his gaze around the road.
"Hey, do you smell that?" Cammy sniffed the air.
The realization hit Cammy like a brick and she bolted towards the house as fast as she could run. The scent grew stronger on approach, catching in Cammy's lungs, and causing Ludwig to cough slightly.
"Smoke! It's smoke! Something's on fire, Cam! You don't think-"
"Don't say it!"
The mansion then came into view through the trees. The smell of wood smoke was stronger now, like standing near a flaming bonfire. The gate to the grounds was broken down, like a stampede had burst through. Further in, a crowd of villagers stood bearing torches near the Accordia estate, which was now visibly on fire.
"Stop it! What are you doing!" Cammy screamed, slamming into the wall of people. All sorts of vaguely familiar faces from the town were here, many she recognized as parents of children she knew, their visages all stern. Cammy felt strong hands grab her.
A woman emerged from the crowd to face Cammy, who was now being restrained by a man she couldn't see.
"Don't get any closer. It's dangerous," the woman said to Cammy.
"No! You can't do this!"
"This rotting corpse of a house is not only an eyesore to our community, but it's a place of evil. We're demolishing it for the good of the town." The woman seemed familiar, and Cammy recognized her as Agatha Matthews, Brett's mother. He seemed to have inherited her attitude.
Cammy struggled to break free from the man's grasp, but he held firm.
"You don't understand! Someone's in there!"
"There isn't. We checked the place top to bottom. All we saw were spiders."
"Viola's in there, and you can't keep me from her!" Cammy's voice was hoarse from screaming and she pulled with all her might. "Luddy, help me!"
At her command, Ludwig jumped from her shoulder and fluttered into the man's face. He shouted in surprise and his grip weakened momentarily. Seizing her chance, Cammy gave one final push and broke free.
"Grab her!" Agatha yelled, but Cammy was too quick. She kept low to the ground, and the adults around her couldn't lean down far enough in time to grab her. Right as she broke through the crowd, she felt a tug as someone gripped the tail of her cloak. Acting quickly, she let her arms go limp behind her, and she burst free from the cloak, leaving only her tunic and pants beneath.
The house may have been unstable before, but it was now actively falling apart from the flames. Luckily for Cammy, the fire had not yet fully engulfed the interior. As she burst through the front door, Ludwig following, she let out a scream.
"Viola! Where are you?"
"Lady Chamomile!" the familiar voice called from upstairs, barely audible above the licking and crackling of the flames. Cammy charged up the staircase, ducking under a falling beam. To her dismay, the stairs to the third floor were blocked by fire.
"I can't get to you!"
In response, a rush of cold air blew down from the landing above, and the fire on the stairs extinguished. In their place stood the translucent form of Viola Accordia. Cammy ran forward to meet her, but tripped on her way up the damaged stairs, falling painfully to her knees at Viola's feet.
Viola crouched down to meet her at eye level.
Cammy choked back tears as she looked up into Viola's eyes.
"Viola! What can I do? This house is going to fall apart!"
Viola's voice was calm despite the urgency of the situation. "My dear, it's alright. This house has been my prison for nearly a century. I shall not mourn its destruction."
"But what about you? Won't you disappear if the house is destroyed?"
"My spirit will fade from this world, yes."
"No! You can't go! There's so much I haven't told you about yet!"
Viola raised a ghostly hand to Cammy's face. There was no contact, but it felt like arctic air had touched her cheek. "My love, you have given me joy in a time when I had only despair. You've shown me that life is worth living and that there is so much more outside of these walls. We shall meet again someday in better terms, however that may be."
"How do you know?" The tears were flowing now, like a sorrowful river down Cammy's face.
"Because you are the most wonderful person I have ever met. I am certain you will find a way." Viola leaned in and touched her lips to Cammy's. The kiss was cold and incorporeal, but it felt real enough to Cammy. Viola pulled away and Cammy sobbed openly at her feet.
"Now go, my love. I'll hold this place together with the last of my power for you to escape, but you must be quick."
With shaking fists and clenched teeth, Cammy rose to her feet and began to descend the stairs. She turned back to Viola once more. "I'll find a way to revive you! I'll bring you back, and we can see the world together!"
Viola smiled warmly as her ghostly form faded away. "I know you will. Until our hearts meet again, Cammy."
Cammy had no sooner emerged through the front porch than the house began to collapse behind her. The roof fell into the third floor, starting a chain reaction as the once proud manor fell into smoldering ruin. The crowd had mostly dispersed at this point, and only a few members remained to gaze worriedly on Cammy as she fell to her knees and wept in the dirt. Agatha Matthews remained, gazing cross-armed at the smoking pile of ash and memories.
"You foolish girl," she said, gazing down her nose at Cammy. "I don't know what would be worth all that trouble in that dump heap. You nearly got yourself killed for nothing. My son was right about you."
A great anger welled up in Cammy's chest, bursting upward and out through her mouth. "Shut up, you bitch! How could you hope to understand?" Cammy felt a surge of power and felt a strange sensation in her eyes. Agatha seemed visibly shaken, stepping backwards before turning and trotting off.
Cammy remained by the house until the embers had sufficiently died down. It was well into the evening by that point, but there was still enough light to see by. Ludwig hopped around on the ground in front of her, turning his head to gaze up into her eyes.
"Cammy... we need to get going. There's nothing left here."
She sniffled, wiping her running nose on the previously discarded cloak she had since reclaimed. "I... I know." She staggered to her feet, wrapped the cloak around her shoulders once more. Something felt odd about it, though. One side was slightly heavier than she remembered. "Luddy, did you put something in my pockets?"
"No way. Those things are a mess."
Checking a few of the pockets on the left side of the cloak, Cammy eventually found an item that she had not placed there. It seemed to be a small finger bone. Despite the heat from the fire, the bone was ice cold. It was the same chill as Viola's kiss. Cammy clenched the bone to her chest before putting it in an inner pocket.
"So this is your answer, Viola? Don't worry, I'll bring you back. I'll make good on my promise."