Father always loved me the best. Hadrian may have been the eldest and Father’s heir to our family’s council, and Kaylee may have been the baby and exceptionally skilled in shaping the aether, but I was always the favourite. I was born on the day of The Whisperer’s Wake, a fateful birthday signified my special destiny. My blessed birth elevated me to a status that I could have been stupid, ugly and cruel and I still would have been the most popular child in the village of Flüsternkirchen, as stands, I am none of those things.
My village is deep in The Black Forest, technically we exist within the lands of The Union, Volkesland. In reality our only loyalty is to The Whisperer, for the forest belongs to it, and all who live here, likewise. The Whisperer is a secret god, the way in which we know it is private for each of us. It protects us from the predation of monsters and the lost people, in return it asks for very little from the community as a whole, one of the only things it demands is for the newborn who are born on the day of The Whisperer’s Wake on their coming of age day.
Today is my coming of age day, for every other child in the village the day would be a celebration, in my case it is a sad day, but a proud one. My Father and older brother were my honour guard, my mother, my guide. Only my baby sister could not accompany me on my pilgrimage, she cried all night after hiding all of yesterday. I’m happy that she came home for my last dinner at home. I had to be proud of her when she saw us off this morning.
We had left an hour before dawn to make the sacred grove by first light, and so the others could be gone before the whisperers start. I could hardly bare to see my Father’s pain, he would have gone in my place if he could have. I kissed my Mother and my Father for the last time, I hugged Hadrian tightly and told him to take care of them. Watching them go was hard, I held a wide smile and proud stance until long after they were gone. Then, only when I was definitely alone, did I allow myself to weaken and cry. I sat in the grove and wept bitterly for hours, I was so afraid of what was to come. The Whisperer is jealous of only secrets, what happened to the Wake sacrifices is just one of many secrets. The children of the village had their theories, they didn’t talk about them in front of me if they could help it, but I had heard a number of them. Mostly they believed that I was to be eaten, that the Whispererer’s Wake refers to the waking of some giant monster that could only be sated with human flesh.
When the well of my tears finally dried, I saw that it was light. The morning sun shone brightly through the trees and I hadn’t been eaten by any great monster yet. I was beginning to feel the first touches of hunger, hours had passed since I had left the village and we had not thought I would have needed food. I stood hesitantly, the only thing I knew was that the sacrifices never returned to the village, not that I was forbidden from returning, it was simply understood to be part of The Whisperer’s secret purpose. In truth, the only duty I knew of was to be here, alone, at dawn. Dawn had come and gone, and I was hungry.
“Do not fear, I am with you,” a genderless voice whispers to me from no particular direction, almost seeming like one of my own thoughts but for its alien nature. It is The Whisperer I realise, some of the grown ups claim to have heard the whispers, but more remain silent on the subject, and all keep the contents of its message secret. I instinctively look for a source of the voice, despite knowing I will not find it, and I whisper back, so quietly I may not have spoken at all, “What must I do, my Lord?”
“Walk into the forest, I will guide you.”
I listen to the whispers, making my way ahead, my whole body shaking with an uncertain mixture of excitement and fear. If I was going to be eaten, surely The Whisperer wouldn’t need to guide me through the forest, I reason.
The air is heavy with mist, and the foliage is uniform and confusing, if it weren’t for the occasional single words directing my progress I could never have found where it was leading me. I knew I stood no chance of finding my way back even if I dared disobey, but I did not dare disobey.
“Enter the cave ahead and follow the path downwards.”
Deep within the cave I found the stone formed the shape of a door. Not like an archway, but a door like one would find on any house, but made of the earths own rock. This was not a door carved by the hands of the people, but like the earth had simply grown into the shape of its own accord. As I reached it, the door slid open with a hiss of air and with no obvious means to explain its movement.
Within the doorway is an utterly bizarre room carved into the earth, a pale bone-like rock, or metal, seems to make up most of the room. I note a bed embedded in the wall, a large living space furnished with something like a households furnishings, but following a completely alien design I have never seen the like of, and in the centre of it all, seated on one of the strange stairs is a remarkably spry looking but undeniably ancient looking woman. She stands to greet me, and gestures towards one of the chairs near her, “Welcome. I am Brigitta, I was the Wake sacrifice before you. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, so come and join me and I’ll explain everything I know. Though I expect I shall disappoint you with how little that is”