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Archaic

Oyoko couldn’t read what was written on the yellow-aged paper. Still, she stared at the unknown symbols scribbled in her grandmother’s grimoire — The Clan History, the old woman had called it. Her granny had died only an hour ago. Or was it longer? Oyoko had lost all sense of time with the loss of Granny.

Granny had spent her final years living in a hut in the wilds. Oyoko had just seen her twelfth spring but instead of gamboling with her peers, she utilized her free time with Granny: sitting by the hearth and sewing, cleaning and organizing Granny’s myriad collection of herbs and jarred concoctions, assisting Granny in work and learning all that Granny had to teach her.

Oyoko thought she had learned most of it, but Granny had never taught her how to read the symbols stroked in perfect calligraphy in the old grimoire. The paper was ancient, but the ink looked fresh — from front to back, the ink was bold and dark and not faded as was the paper they marked. Oyoko had seen and heard Granny read from the book, but she never caught her writing in it.

Granny lived as if there was always time. She had gone about life in such a leisurely and methodical manner that Oyoko believed Granny had somehow spooked Death into giving her all the time in the world. But man was not afraid of Granny.

A mob of village folk, including some middle aged women and boys, caught Granny while she was in the market shopping for supplies she couldn’t find or grow in the wilds. About 20 of them surrounded the stall where Granny was inspecting some grains, the leader — a large rustic man — accused Granny of witchcraft and sentenced her right there.

Oyoko was at the other side of the market, fingering some soft fabric, when she heard the commotion. She sprinted towards the noise, a deep sense of foreboding carried her along on ebony wings. Oyoko arrived in time to watch the mob leader drag Granny by a tuft of her white hair through the market streets and hurl her against the Killing Tree.

There was a moment between the man and Granny. He glared at her, his eyes smoldering coals. She stared back, icy fierceness in her eyes. And then she began humming a soft tune, low and deep, before bursting into full song — a sonorous chorus that brought the crowds to the tree quicker than the hubbub from the mob did.

The rustic man grunted, said something that got lost in Granny’s song. The man’s eyes went wild; he took his spear and rammed its point just about Granny’s saggy, wrinkly breast, pinning her to the tree. Granny’s song became stuck in her throat as her lifeblood soaked into the ground around the Killing Tree.

From the middle of the crowd, Oyoko saw it all. Her jaw fell open but she made no sound. She wanted to lunge at the man who had killed Granny, wanted to scream, but shock sapped her voice and strength.

The man pulled on his spear’s shaft. It wouldn’t budge, as if it had fused to become one with Granny and the Killing Tree. Granny’s limp corpse hung there, blood flowing from the fatal wound. The man tried one more jerk, failed, and grunted. He mumbled, What’s done in the dark shall be brought to light. And then he turned and walked away, to go about his day as if this lynching had never happened.

When he moved, so did Oyoko. She pushed though the thinning crowd — not towards Granny, but towards Granny’s home. Oyoko went to gather and secure her grandmother’s important possessions before the mob decided to burn her hut down to ashes. The hut was still standing, fully intact, as if the mob had decided that killing Granny would sate their superstitious desire to kill magic (even fools know that magic can’t die). That’s when Oyoko found the tome, the Clan History, the history and wisdom of their lineage. The book was passed down from mother to daughter — or grandmother to granddaughter in this case — and held mysteries and lore only the initiated could comprehend.

Granny had never taught Oyoko how to read or write the archaic language. She never even mentioned that there was such a thing. Whenever Oyoko saw Granny flipping or reading through the grimoire, she asked if she could look at it (Granny made sure she held the book so that Oyoko could not read over her shoulder or even glance at the pages). Granny’s answer had always been, You’ll get to read from this book when its time.

Now that time had passed.

Granny had taught Oyoko many other things, so not all was lost. From her lessons, Oyoko knew how to coax pain from the body with song, which plants and herbs treated which illness, which ones were poisonous and which were edible and how to gather them in the wilds, how to dance with spirits and not sink into madness. Granny also taught Oyoko possibly the most important lesson: how to love and protect others, how to cherish lore and history.

That’s why Oyoko was there, to preserve her heritage. Oyoko flipped through the grimoire, staring at the indecipherable symbols, remembering her granny. She sniffled and blinked away tears.

One drop landed on the yellowed paper, right on one of those strange symbols. The page exploded with illumination. Oyoko shielded her eyes. When she opened them again, she could read the words. They hadn’t changed, but she could translate and understand the archaic language. Oyoko grinned. Granny had left one last bit of magic in the world.