WORDCOUNT: 690 words (with more later, I think ^_^)
TOTAL: 5458+690 = 6148
There’s a trick to pretending the dead don’t bother you, but Nahyl’s never gotten the hang of it. You’d think after all these years that it would be less startling, somehow. Although she’s not sure how or when the abrupt appearance of the dead will ever seem normal.
Her own ghosts have learned to work around her, like cats with khail, always gauging her nervousness. It’s not that she’s scared of them, just very very wary. The dead aren’t meant to live again, and even though Listeners are a dime a dozen, all things considered, it’s never something that sat well with her.
The first shard, first ghost, was one that had been passed down to her. Listeners didn’t run in families, but somewhere in her bloodline someone had thought to keep the bit of bone. Maybe he’d told them to, back when there had been a listener to talk to, ghosts were odd things. They could see what was coming, sometimes, and what had been, but only with the vagueness of dreams. Foretelling the future through fog and fire, and half of the time they were wrong.
But he was her oldest ghost, hundreds of years dead and gone, but still he hung on for some reason he wasn’t willing to share. She had a feeling he’d been waiting for her specifically, but she had nothing to hang it on. He didn’t have a name, or a past, but he talked to her sometimes about things that made no sense. She wondered, every so often, if ghosts went mad.
He’d woken something in her, that first time he spoke, and from then on she’d been privy to conversations she would rather not have had. Most ghosts had not interest in nine year olds, preferring to talk to older listeners, or not to talk at all. The dead moved on, for the most part, leaving the living for some distant shore. None of them talked about it, they just left, and none had ever returned.
The second shard she found when she was fourteen, just old enough to start learning a real trade, but still too young to be taken seriously when she told them she could hear the ghosts. That shard was Mahilka, who remembered her name and her life, but not what had happened or how she had ended up on the rocky beaches of the Smaller Sea.
She was the one who finally helped Nahyl convince the others to take her to a real listener, to prove her stories were true. It wasn’t that they weren’t around, there was always a listener passing through on their way to the larger towns, it just wasn’t worth it to waste their time. There were plenty of kids seeking attention who said they talked to ghosts.
But Mahilka and the old man were more than voices in her head, and the Listener finally confirmed it. But the first thing he tried to do was take her shards away, because she was too young, and untrained, and a thousand other excuses that grownups loved to uses on children.
Which was when she learned that old man was a different kind of spirit.
After that she was sent away to apprentice with a distant cousin, far away from listeners and magistrates, and everyone who knew who she was and what old man could do when you threatened his kin.
She found the third shard when she was twenty-nine, well past the age where she’d wanted to be a listener. She’d ignored ghosts and listeners, learned how to be elsewhere when they came around without ever looking like it was on purpose. But when she stumbled across Eva she was alone, and she couldn’t leave her there and she couldn’t pass her on… because Eva was too young to understand why there were some people she couldn’t tell secrets too.
Because of Eva she had her listener’s patch, but she was careful, very careful, and managed somehow to still keep to herself and out of the way of anyone who could match a fourteen year old girl to a thirty year old face.