The Curse of the Silver (Short Story)


The Curse of the Silver

Except from Secret Histories of Raem II by Nate Inglebur, page 402

 “It is well known today that stealing from the tomb of Raem II risks you being cursed with the same Silver Infection that plagued Raem II’s reign.”

x-x-x

Iona stared at the statue in the centre of the room which was illuminated by her magelight.

The statue was small, only the size of her hand. Iona guess it was probably from the Middle Era, maybe earlier – the silver leaf clothing that covered the statute was in the Regalia style of that period.

It would cost thousands now for that much silver to cover the statue from head to toe. About the same as her Bounty that kept her in these Tunnels.

“Who found the body?” Iona barked. She had to maintain the illusion that she was here because she cared about the team, and not just for Raneq.

Wish I could have dragged Tarq down here, Iona thought. Shame that he was already dead. Maybe down here he would have understood where he had put Raneq.

Fredik, the most imposing of the group, raised his hand.

“When?” Iona asked.

“This morning,” Fredik whispered.

“And who stole it?”

She didn’t specify the it. They all knew what she was talking about. No one would admit it, but the small statute at their feet terrified them all.

They were right to be scared. It was a statute of Raem II.

Some idiot had consigned them all to death because they wanted to pay off their Bounty by stealing from the Cursed Queen’s tomb.

Iona let her anger slide across her face.

 “We’re all going to cursing die,” Iona spat. Natrim’s bloodied corpse stated up at them with sightless eyes. She was here to work out what happened to Raneq, not to have her brains bludgeoned out of her skull by one of her own team. Even having her left hand bandaged and in a sling across her chest was bad enough.

“I want a quarantine on the Barracks. And no one touch that damn statute. Got it?”

Iona stared at the team. Everyone nodded.

Good.

Maybe, they still might get out of this hell alive.

x-x-x

Except from Secret Histories of Raem II by Nate Inglebur, page 379

“It began with a few localised Infections, all of whom had gone into the Tunnel of Tombs seeking their own fortunes. Most were captured and killed before they left the tunnels.

One, however, escaped for one week.

In that time, that one Infected had killed seventy-eight people – all enemies of Raem II”.

x-x-x

There were forty-five people, including Iona, in the Barracks when the quarantine had been activated.

The only way you got assigned to explore the Tunnel of Tombs was if the State deemed your life inconsequential and no one would care if you died. Which meant those working the Tunnels were all criminals of various flavours. Iona wouldn’t have been surprised if, like her, at least half of her team had murdered someone Up Top before being sent here.

When you came down here, you got a Bounty. Pay off the Bounty, and you get to go Up Top again and see sunlight.

Iona hummed in the corner of the eating room. She could smell the fear in the air – Natrim had been one of their best fighters.

The rumours would say, if he had been murdered, there was no hope for the rest of them.

Iona looked towards the small group huddled in the corner of the room. The murderer had to be one of Natrim’s second wave digging team. They were reclusive bunch, the very reason Iona had taken them down herself three weeks ago. No dumb talking, no questions, just get the treasure and get out.

Aside from Iona, that group had the highest Bounties in the Barracks. They too were the most desperate to pay off their Bounty. Most because they wanted revenge once they went Up Top, a few because they wanted to see their families once more.

If only, Iona thought. There were days that even the memory of Raneq did not sustain the gruelling task of finding more treasure for the monthly Weigh-In.

Iona flexed her left hand in her sling. Her wrist still ached dully, but it was improving. However, Iona still felt her stomach churn thinking about it. She couldn’t remember getting it, she just remembered waking up in the caves, hand hanging limp off her arm.

And I have no proof of any curse, she thought. A small comfort, even if the facts suggested otherwise.

Iona shivered. There were dangers in the Tunnels, and she had been here for long enough to know most of them. She wouldn’t have been that stupid.

Would she?

x-x-x

Except from Secret Histories of Raem II by Nate Inglebur, page 403

“When she died, her heir Itre IV, buried his aunt in a coffin made out of silver. Rumour has it was that it was because the lore at the time said that pure silver could contain the Silver Infection.

Which, one would deduce, meant that Raem II was also an Infected.

Some say she even haunts the Tunnels to this day.”

x-x-x

 “Was it you?” Iona hissed at the quivering form of Bentrack Ole. He was a wreck of a man, especially after the spells that Iona had used on him.

But still not the truth.

Each day, another body. Iona couldn’t risk any more bodies. She needed to stay in charge, that meant a bigger cut of the Weigh-In.

But the number of deaths in the Barracks could mean an increase in her Bounty. Which would mean, once she had found out about Raneq, it would be even longer until she saw sunlight again.

“I didn’t take it,” Bentrack wept onto the floor

Cursed, Iona swore, kicking Bentrack in the ribs. Everyone she interviewed said the same thing – they weren’t the killer.

Bentrack was number twenty-nine that Iona had interviewed. The process was relentless, and because of the circumstances, Iona did all the interviews herself.

She couldn’t trust anyone else – they might have been the one to steal the statute.

“Get out of here,” Iona hissed, gesturing with her good hand at the chains, opening the lock. Bentrack scrambled to his feet, fleeing the room in seconds. Iona watched the blood drip down his back from the whipping lines.

If only I had my left hand, she thought. Then her spells would be more precise so that much blood wouldn’t be drawn-

Don’t think on it, Iona thought, looking down at her left wrist.

There was nothing to worry about. She just had to keep telling herself that.

x-x-x

Except from Secret Histories of Raem II by Nate Inglebur, page 134

“We only have one record describing Raem II’s corpse. The record states that Raem II’s body shone like silver in torchlight. Even though the mummification process, the Silver Infection in her skin was still visible.”

x-x-x

Iona lay down on her bed.

Another day. Another body. The killer struck at night, bludgeoning the victim on the head with the statute of Raem II. Each time the statute was found next to the body, facing west to greet the rising sun.

It didn’t matter what protections or wards were put on the room. It didn’t matter how many guards were posted on doorways or in corridors.

Someone always died.

Iona turned on her bed, unable to sleep.

In the magelight, she could still see the slight shimmer through the bandages wrapping her left wrist.

x-x-x

Except from Secret Histories of Raem II by Nate Inglebur, page 10

“You must remember, the worst part of the Silver Infection is not just the fact it compels you to kill, but that you cannot remember that you even did it.”

x-x-x

Iona carefully unwrapped her arm from its sling. Most thought that her left wrist had been broken, which is why she kept it in a sling.

No one could know the truth. Not now, ten days in.

To reveal it would be to be flung into the melting pits.

She carefully slid her arm out of the sling and placed her hand on the table. Even through the bandage she could see the glimmer of the Infection bleeding across her skin.

“Raneq bless me,” Iona whispered as she began to undo the bandage. The white bandage shined as she unwrapped it.

She’d burn it later, like the rest of her dressings. To stop the Infection from spreading further.

To hide the truth.

Iona peeled off the last of the bandage. Her skin glimmered in the magelight that hung above her head. Soon, her skin would no longer be a natural olive colour.

Iona carefully applied the ointment along her left wrist and forearm. She had to find out who had brought in Raem II’s statue before she succumbed to the worst of the Infection.

She had to find out who the killer was.

Maybe it’s not them you should be looking for, a voice, the same voice that haunted Iona’s dreams, whispered in a quiet corner of her mind.

Iona ignored it.

x-x-x

Except from Secret Histories of Raem II by Nate Inglebur, page 568

“The Massacre of 354 p.e was one of the worst Silver Infections in the history of the Tunnel explorations. In total, Forty-four people died in that incident.

At the time, they had blamed a statute of Raem II. Even after the incident, they thought that it was the Raem II statue which caused the chaos.

We know now that it had not been the statute. The deaths had been caused by an Infected.”

x-x-x

The first thing when Iona woke up was that she surrounded by bodies.

Battered, bloodied, bodies.

The second thing she noticed was that her hand was out of its sling.

“No,” Iona moaned. The Silver of her arm glimmered in the dying torchlight, sparkling like a diamond.

In her hand, she held the bloodied statute of Raem II.

The third thing Iona noticed was another figure standing in front of her, dressed head to toe in a silver Regelina style outfit that belonged in the Middle Era.

“Iona,” the woman said, smiling sweetly, “You have done well, do you remember our deal?”

“Our deal?” Iona asked. What deal? She couldn’t remember-

“Iona,”

Another voice spoke. Raneq’ voice. Iona would recognise it anywhere.

Iona turned towards the doorway, gasping in delight. There stood her Raneq, hair long and flowing, her skin shining silver.

“Raneq,” Iona breathed.

“You know that you were never going to leave with this,” the woman said, waving the statute at Iona, “you knew that when you stole it.”

The woman knelt in front of Iona. This close, Iona recognised the features of the woman through her drunken vision. Sharp cheekbones, high piled hair.

Silver skin.

Raem II was here before her.

“You remember our deal right?” Raem said, gently stroking Iona’s cheek, “if you did this, if you killed those who trespassed in my tomb, you could see Raneq again.”

Iona’s heart fluttered.

“You remember,” Raem said, pointing at the doorway.

And Iona did. She remembered seeing the statute lying on the floor of the Tomb. She remembered a fleeting moment when she had saw Raneq, smiling at her, gesturing at the statute, encouraging her to pick it up.

Now Iona knew what had happened to Raneq, she had been Infected too, by the Cursed Queen herself.

And now, it seemed, Raneq wanted Iona to join her.

“Pledge yourself to me and you can be with Raneq again,” Raem said.

How poetic, Iona supposed, if she killed to find out what happened to Raneq, only to kill again down here so she could stay with Raneq once more.

“Do you pledge?” Raem said.

Iona looked over towards Raneq, beautiful, alive Raneq. Iona had waited so long to find Raneq, she wouldn’t leave her again.

 “Yes,” Iona replied.


Photo Credit: Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Unsplash


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