The night at home was calm. Grandpa Raimund was no longer coughing and babbling, Pierre was settled into his bed after hours of taking care of him, and Marinette was outside in a rocking chair, listening to the wood creek as she swayed back and forth.
[It’s just us now.]
[You can’t take them from me..] It hissed in her ear as she held tight to Gerard’s hand. This first step in was the hardest, but she screamed back at it that Gerard would keep her safe and pressed forward until her hand found bones. Bones she’d pull up from the dirt and decay, broken. They cut her hand with their sharp edges as she was pulled out in a hurry. Her face impacted a rock on the way out, but out she came anyway. It followed her. She wanted to scream for Pierre when it grabbed her. She prepared to disappear then.
Henri grabbed it, instead. Gerard held her tight and would not let her go. She stumbled back as he pushed her behind him and the hammer struck down as she clutched broken bones to her body and shadows tried to pull her back into the black. The first of their family was cleaved free, circling his bones as she handed them to someone to take them to the crypt of her ancestors.
She wanted to fall over. She watched Isabel go in and the lyrics on her lips were as much for comfort of herself as they were for the ears of others. She was exhausted–she was tired–she was frightened. That thing.. it was part of her, and it was scared.. and she felt that fear in her bones. She looked around to all her family and friends around her. She watched Lysenna enter the crypt. Lysenna. Battered. Unable to fight. Lysenna. Bold and brave and unshaken. She took a deep breath and waited.
Isabel next. Henri and Gerard were escorting people in and out. Cadence was to her left. She was singing, but she couldn’t hear her own voice. She just heard the sound of her heartbeat in her ears like a drum.
Something swept around, its claws slamming into her arm and ripping it open.
Cadence rushed around her to defend. Teles stood over her as her legs buckled and she went down. Momentary, she told herself. This is momentary. Teles wanted to bandage her.
‘No. Those are for people who won’t stand back up. Not me. Just wait. Not me.’
She shook. She couldn’t even bring herself to sing. She trembled. Another was brought out with struggling slowness by .. Sophie? She couldn’t see past the blur in her eyes or hear past the sound of screams and whispers.
[Don’t betray us. You are us.]
Her vision cleared finally and she rose. Quilon Jovienne whispered into her ear of bravery and she felt… refreshed. She knew she had to do this. One arm now. She let Henri take her hand, though it hurt to allow it, and she pushed into the crypt’s small tunnel again. She remembered when she was 7. She was giggling while she snuck through with Miette. She remembered this–it was smaller then, when she had come in here. When she had let it out. When it had.. found them.
The darkness closed around her and she stopped. She couldn’t even hear Henri in that moment. She moved and sung and stepped on rote as she saw that moment fifteen years ago. He detached from her. She let him go. She was alone. To her knees she went and she dug, but she didn’t really want to find anything. She thought if she crawled in, maybe she wouldn’t be so lonely.
Isabel? Pierre…? Bretta…? Where are you? Are you in here? If I dig deep enough–if I crawl inside.. will I find you?
She was 7 again, scared and alone, suffocating. And then Henri’s hand grabbed her back to reality. She could hear him crying. Something had happened. She had to get him out of here. These bones–those ones. Grab them. The pain shot through her arm as she pushed rocks out of the way, but she grit her teeth and used them anyway. She was pulled out with Henri and a pile of a corpse in her hands, and the people of the town had grown so thin while she was in there. No Gerard. No Isabel. No Lysenna or Sophie.. No Bretta. Just Henri, crying, and Cadence at the door, comforting him. Marinette wanted to hug him. Her hands were so full. She only managed a thank you. What a useless gesture.
There was no time. It came for them again, grabbed at her and Lysenna rushed around the corner into sight with Sleepsong. She slammed into it as Henri pulled it forward. Another soul salvaged. Someone had to take these–she was tired, and useless. Someone had to take them. She started to walk away, as Cadence declared she would go inside for the next.
She walked not five feet before she was surrounded by Bretta and Gerard once more, with Teles leading ahead. They weren’t gone. She wasn’t alone. She kept walking forward–kept walking as they were ambushed on all sides, kept walking. She stepped ahead too far, and a claw whipped out–her arm that wasn’t harmed was grasped and crushed in its grip. She screamed and dropped the bones to the ground as Corbin rushed to her aid, along with Bretta. The creature was driven off, but she was useless again. They had to be taken.
She made someone take them–who was it? The ghost was so frightened, he couldn’t stay here–was it Corbin? Bretta walked with him. She was in the snow. Her heartbeat in her ears, slamming, over and over. Nothing else.
Focus, focus. You’ll get better.
She was starting to get her vision back when she was rushed, lifted like oh-so-much lace off the ground as the creature started to run with her. She screamed. A shot went off and she tumbled to the ground and rolled. The creature was rushed and taken down, as her vision cleared, skirts over her head. It knocked her back into her body. She slowly rose again–back to the Crypt. The walls had collapsed. Nobody could get through.
Marinette groaned with both her arms busted and pulled the pick out of the bag she carried. She started picking away, whining with each stroke. The rocks came out. One of them landed on her foot and she staggered backwards and nearly fell again. People were coming back to move the rocks away. She moved forward and continued.
The door opened again–slowly. So slowly. The black tunnel screamed at her.
[You can’t take them! They are with us! Our family! You belong here!]
In.. in again, and again. Henri held her hand and she winced.
Until finally, with Milo’s heroic effort, the last was ripped away, and they loaded the bones into Marinette’s broken arms, and she.. lead Rogier with a host of protectors. She paid more attention now. She didn’t walk ahead of her guards. Not this time. Slow. Every step was so much pain. Tiphaine would scold her for all the blood on her dress.
Until they were laid to rest. Isabel there, giving the last rites. They were done. She was free.
[Well…. It’s just us now.]
Marinette’s whole body shuddered and she stood in the dark, alone, again. The people who moved around her didn’t exist. She was isolated. She.. was the problem now.
Marinette swung the rocking chair. She could still hear it, whispering. The porchlight held off the darkness, and she searched for Sebastien for any level of safety. She couldn’t hear or see him, now. Cadence and Isabel had told her no. They had said they could fix this, but what if.. what if it started again because of her? What if she gave it power? What if… it hurt people.
Marinette had asked if they would kill her.
Cadence said only if her sword said so. Her sword, that Marinette could not appeal to.
Pierre would have been mad to know she asked such a thing, so she hadn’t told him. She didn’t know what to do, though. She pulled her knees up to her face and buried her head in her skirt. She sobbed.
She hated being alone.