The Eater is a pseudo medieval fantasy Novel, which tells the story of Marah Burach's life inside the Capitals Castle; a young woman who has special abilities surrounding poison.
At her trial she inadvertently becomes the Eater for the Royal princess. In time she learns that there is more than grace under the princess's flawless skin, as she struggles to contain her odd skill set, the changes in her lifestyle and her new duties as Eater, while trying to keep her dark past from catching up to her.
Marah stumbles down the path laid out for her by fate, hand in hand with her old friend Death; who is closer than she ever realised
“It’s time” a male voice spoke from the shadow that had appeared at her door, framed by the dim light of the torch burning in the bracket behind him. But to her eyes that light was blinding. It seemed to scorch at her face, as her cracked lips moved to utter soundless words.
A qualim was meant to be ruthless. A qualim was meant to love death, they were meant to savour the stench of it, they were meant to love to see other suffer; relish the contortions of another, as they screamed for nothing but the end of everything. Under this description she should never have been seen as a true Qualim, but there she was, locked in the darkest cell, in the deepest part of the castle; Hidden from the bright world, as a monster of the night.
“Move” he pulled her to her feet, which slipped on the dirty floor of her cell, she hadn’t stood in what felt like years.
Half carrying her, half leading her, the man removed her from her cell, but then it wasn’t hers any more. The last thing that had vaguely belonged to her was now being ripped away, she didn’t want to go.
She didn’t want to return to the world above; the world full of light and laughter, the world that she would never be able to be a part of.
She clawed at his hands that were wrapped around her arm, but her fingers came back bloody -They had thought of this; her refusal to re-enter a world that she no longer belonged to – he was wearing metal plated gloves.
She stared down at the scarlet smudges that were her fingertips, somehow mesmerised by them. She hadn’t been able to see herself in the pitch black they had thrown her into.
“Walk” the man’s voice broke her trance. He pulled roughly on her arm, then let her go.
She toppled to the stone floor, with a whimper.
The pain spread through her body like wild fire.
“Walk” he commanded, standing before her in cruel contempt.
Suppressing her desire to scream with pain, she dragged her feet from under her and with the help of the rough stone wall beside her, she slowly pulled herself to her feet.
But no sooner had she found her feet, they slid from under her again.
“Walk” he bellowed down at her.
Once again she suppressed the pain and pulled herself to her feet. This time she managed to raise her foot to take a step before falling again.
He watched her, his eyes indifferent to her struggle, as he commanded her to ‘walk’ over and over again.
She tried three more time and each time she fell the pain grew. She could feel a dampness spreading from her hands, knees and feet, but she ignored it. She ignored herself and tried again.
This time she managed to take a few steps. Leaning heavily against the wall, which scraped and broke her skin, she followed the guard, guided by his brilliantly bright torch. She could hardly see anything, just a bright flicker far ahead of her.
The sound of her own skin tearing rippled in her ears and every now and then, he would turn and bellow abuse at her, irritated by how slow she was going, but she dare not move any faster, believing that if she fell again, she would not be able to get back up.
'Surrender to the Void' she thought. A mantra stolen from another’s lips, the last token of a life she believed would soon come to an end.
After what felt like miles the passageway ended.
The man stood to one side of the final doorway, holding the door open for her. She couldn’t see what was inside, there was too much light for her eye, which were so accustomed to the dark.
“Hurry up and get in, you filthy…” the man began, but he was cut off.
“Now, now, no need for all that. She hasn’t eaten in… days, I would guess. Let her take her time” the voice that interrupted him, sounded neither male nor female, but a mix of the both.
She could hardly wrap her mind around the idea, as she half fell through the doorway.
With a sound of discontent, as if he had wanted her to fall, the man pushed her out of the way and closed the door, leaving her alone in the room, with his interrupter.
“So you’re the one? Hmm, not much to you” the strange voiced person spoke from somewhere before her.
She squinted into the brightness, but could only make out a shadowy shape.
“Please take a seat” the disembodied voice said, followed by the sound of a chair scrapping against the floor.
She tried to say some form of thanks, but the words wouldn’t leave her throat, so wincing, she bowed her head. She would have curtsied, but she felt completely unstable.
“Ah, don’t worry. Here” a hand took hold of her own, making her flinch and almost fall again.
A sturdy arm was wrapped around her waist and then she was sitting on a small wooden chair. She couldn’t help but relax into the sturdy wooden back. She hadn’t sat in a chair since before she had been thrown into her cell.
She had never thought that she would miss sitting in uncomfortable wooden chairs, but she did. She missed a great many things, now.
“Now, you just sit still and be good and all this will be over before you know it. We have to make you look right” they said.
A shadow flitted across her vision, giving her temporary relief from the light and in that moment she saw a piece of blue silk.
“Open your eyes as wide as you can” Came the voice, after a few moments of inaudible muttering and movement around her.
She fluttered her eyes and then opened them an inch or two.
“Now, now, that won’t do. You need to open them wider than that. Here”
Sudden her eyelids were pulled apart and light flooded into her eyes. She couldn’t help it, she screamed, as pain shot through her skull.
She clawed at the hands that held her eyes open, flicking her head from side to side in an attempt to throw them off.
“Hold her down” came a shout from somewhere to her right.
A pair of strong hands wrapped around her wrists forcing them to her sides, as another pair clamped around her head holding it still.
She continued to scream, drowning out the words that came next.
Then the pain stopped.
Something was being put in her eye; some sort of liquid. But no sooner had the pain stopped did it start again. This happened five more times, before they let her go.
She crumpled forwards, whimpered, her hands pressed firmly to her eyes, as if she was trying to push the pain away.
“You did well” came a voice, a soothing tone that did nothing to sooth her. “When they stop hurting you’ll understand” the voice continued. “Now sit up straight for me”.
She didn’t obey; she stayed in her crumpled position.
“Come on, sit up” they tried again, an edge coming into their voice and when she continued to ignore them, they commanded the others to make her sit up.
The strong hands leapt back into action, pulling her upright in her chair and back against it.
“Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” the soothing tone was back, but something about it, made her shiver. “Somehow I thought a Qualim would be a bit harder to hurt. From what I’ve heard of them, it just seemed natural that they would have a high tolerance to pain” she could hear the smile in their voice and suddenly she wished for nothing more than to be away from them, away from the brightness and the pain; back in her cell, were she had thought she would rot.
“It goes without saying, but this is going to hurt. Although it shouldn’t be as bad as that last bit”. A slight pinch in her arm alerted her to the fact that they were injecting her with something. They injected whatever it was into her arms and legs in four different places, then her sides and her neck and finally one in each temple.
She bite her tongue to stop herself from screaming and felt herself relax, once they had finished, but it wasn’t over. A couple minutes after they had done the last injection, a heat began to rise from the injection points, it spread through her body.
It felt as if the blood in her veins was on fire, pushed ever more quickly around her body, by her racing heart. She bit down hard on her tongue and held her body ridged, the strong hands had let go again.
But when finally she felt as if, she was being boiled alive from the inside out, she began to scream again, she body jerking and convulsing uncontrollable, sending her toppling to the floor. She didn’t have time to catch herself and she hit the stone floor hard, only adding to her pain.
Through her own wails she heard voices; conversing above her.
“… can’t you… something… pain?” it was a new voice and through her pain fogged mind she thought that it may belong to one of the pairs of strong hands.
“… will subside… you know… law…” the strange voice answered.
Slowly, much more slowly than it had happened, the pain receded from her body. She curled into herself, shivering as her body became deadly cold. Her skin felt tight, as if it was an ill fitting shirt, several sizes too small for the wearer.
“Get her back on the chair. We are almost done” they sounded almost bored.
The strong hands lifted her easily back into the chair and she braced herself for whatever they had planned for her next, but nothing happened.
Slowly she unscrewed her eyes and suddenly realised they didn’t hurt any more and it was dark. Very gently she opened her eyes. It took a moment but her eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room. It was blurry and she couldn’t really see anything, but it no longer hurt to open her eyes, the light didn’t seem as bright any more.
Someone stood before her in light blue silken robes, when they spoke she realised who they were. “Now do you understand” their voice still baffling her, as they appearance didn’t seem to be male nor female. They wore what looked like a dress with trousers underneath. Little trinkets of gold and silver sparkled in the lamp light. The light blue complimented their long blonde hair and their eyes, lined with brown, shone bright blue from under long lashes. Painted pink lips smiled down at her. They twiddled with one long silver earring, which was studded with blue gems and almost hit their shoulders.
“Who..?” her throat cracked under the strain of trying to talk and she tasted blood.
“Who am I?” they smiled. “My my, what a question. Simply I am an artist and we do not have time for the more complicated answer to that particular question” they smile prevailed and widened, as they lent back. “But you shouldn’t try to talk for at least ten more minutes, if not longer. Although the colour sure has come back to your cheeks. We’ll have you looking proper in no time. But first things first, undress”
She stared at them.
“Did you not understand me, take off your clothes” they spoke these last words slowly, as if talking to someone that could not understand the language they were speaking and when she did not move, they made a gesture to someone behind her and the strong hands were back.
They lifted her to her feet and began to strip off what was left of her tattered clothing. She grabbed at the bits of fabric, but they tore in her hands and slipped through her finger.
A cold breeze brushed against her bare skin and she quickly crumpled to the floor in an attempt to cover herself.
“No need for that. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before” they half laughed, as the strong hands pulled her back onto the chair.
She was beginning to hate that room and everyone in it.
She continued to try and cover herself, squinting out of her lashes, as they moved out of sight.
The sound of water caught in her ears and she slowly turned her head to see them approaching with a large bucket.
“You’re going to have to stand up, so you can be washed properly” they said, placing the bucket on the floor next to her. “Come on, no need for all that” they gestured to her hands. But she refused to move; to uncover herself. So the strong hands made her.
They held her hands over her head, as the strange voice person commanded them to wash every inch of her body.
She felt utterly humiliated. Keeping her eyes on the floor, which was slowly becoming drenching in mucky brown water, piece of straw and other things she didn’t want to think about, floated around in it.
They washed her till she felt raw with it and them dried her off with a luxuriously soft towel. The strange voiced man let her keep the towel to cover herself, but they rolled their eyes at her, as she curled back onto the chair, the slightly damp towel wrapped tightly around her.
“Well I’ve done all I can do for now. Put this on” they said, holding out a simple off white shirt.
She quickly slipped it over her head. It came down to just below her knees and was ever so slightly see through. Her hands twitched with the urge to cover herself again, but something inside her decided she didn’t want to give them the satisfaction. Trying hard not to think about it, she concentrated on the floor between her feet.
The door opened behind her and the man re-entered, she knew it was him by the sound of his heavy footsteps.
“She done?” he asked. She held back a blush, as his eyes ran over her thin frame.
“Yes, take her up. I’ll be along in a moment” they answered, turning away and moving out of her sight.
She turned her eyes downwards again and followed the guard back out of the room, realising that she didn’t feel as weak as before and nothing hurt the way it had before, a soft throb emanating from where she had hurt herself, but nothing more.
She could now walk without leaning against the wall, although she still couldn’t keep up with the man and as he lead her through another door, down passageways and up staircases, he reminded her of how slow she was going. He also made some nasty and inappropriate comments about her body, but then again now she was branded a Qualim she supposed that these comments weren’t inappropriate at all.
“Get in and sit down in front of the mirror” he commanded opening a door to her. They were above ground again, perhaps three floors up, she wasn’t sure, she just knew they had passed windows with sunlight streaming through the dark curtains.
Her vision was still blurry and she tripped, as her feet met with something unexpected; carpet.
She blundered around until she found what seemed to be a chair in front of a dressing table, she assumed there should be a mirror there and sat down. As her vision cleared a little more, she noticed that a black veil had been placed over the mirror, but before she could wonder why, a familiar voice stopped her train of thought.
They were back, with that baffling voice of theirs.
“Good you got here alright”
She shivered what terrible thing were they going to do to her now?
“Aw, don’t worry little Qualim, most people enjoy this part. But then again some of them find it more painful, than the last stage” they whispered into her ear, she jerked away from them. Their breath smelt sweet and thick, like smoke. “Well I’ll get to work; just sit still for me now”.
Twirling away, they re-appeared a moment later, pushing a silver cart, laden with things she didn’t recognize. She stared down at the silver pots, brushes, glass bottles, brushes of all different shapes and sizes and what looked like small handled sponges.
They picked one of the sponge like things up and open one of the pots. It was filled with a strange substance, which was the colour of skin. Dripped the sponge into the pot, they pushed her chair around with ease, so that she was facing them and began to smear the substance onto her face.
It felt strangely light, she expected it to feel heavy, like that time Jarek had smeared mud across her face. The memory almost brought tears to her eyes, but she pushed them down.
They continued to smear the substance onto her, until it completely cover her face, ears and part of her neck. Next they picked up one of the brushes and dabbed her cheeks, like a pinkish red powder.
“Close your eyes” they commanded.
Slowly she obeyed, there was no point in resisting plus they hadn’t done anything too bad, perhaps it wasn’t going to be so bad.
She listen intently, but couldn’t really understand what she was hearing.
As she felt something touch her eyelid, she flinched.
“Stay still or I’ll have to start over”
She tried her hardest not to flinch again, as they pressed something to her eyelid again. After a moment she decided it was a brush. They couldn’t do much damage with that, could they?
“Hmm, maybe…” they muttered to themselves as they worked. “Alright open”.
She obeyed and was met with the sight of a thin brush inches away from her right eye.
“Right now stay still, very still or it might hurt” they gave her small smile, then pressed the brush to the inside of her eye. She fort back the urge to blink, but once they had removed the brush, she blinking profusely. Then they started on the other eye.
Leaning back they admired their work. “Now, let’s do something about those lips” they seemed to talking more to themselves than her. Almost unconsciously she licked her dry lips. They were cracked open in several places and the skin felt rough and uneven under her tongue. “It looks like you’ve been biting them here” they pressed a finger to her now ever so slightly damp bottom lips. “I’ll have to use the thickest stuff” they sighed, turning back to the cart and picking up a small glass bottle. Pulling out the stopper they slipped a brush into the liquid below, well she thought it was liquid, but when the brush came back out, a sap like substance clung to it.
Gently they brushed the stuff over her lips. It felt thick and heavy, like chalk mixed with milk.
“Open your mouth a little” she did so. “Now keep it open”.
She could feel her mouth getting even drier than it already was, as they pushed the cart away again.
“Your sight should be almost back by now” they muttered, lifting the veil from the mirror and placing it, neatly folded, onto a nearby table. “Well I think I out did myself, won’t you say?” they asked, placing a hand on either of her shoulder and smiling at her in the mirror.
She stared at her own reflection; a thing she thought she would never see again.
She was thin very thin, but then that was to be expected. Although somehow they had made her look, well, beautiful.
Her eyes looked deep and mysterious; they were lined with black and soft brown powder was smudged on her lids. She didn’t look pale and ghostly – she had always been pale, as pale as the Northerns – as she had expected, her cheeks were rosy and her skin glowed slightly.
‘Of course it was that weird stuff they put on my face and the rosiness is from that red powder’ she thought.
Her lips were bright red and you couldn’t tell that they were cracked, under the thick layer that covered them.
“Well?” they asked, after she had stared at herself for a long while. “What do you think?”
“I look… I…” she didn’t know how to finish.
“Beautiful?” they supplied. “Of course you do. I told you did I not? I am an artist and you, my little Qualim, have been my canvas” they squeezed her shoulders gently. “Now, put this on and we’ll be off. You have an important date to keep” they draped a deep blue piece of material over her lap as they spoke.
Quickly as she could, which wasn’t very quickly at all. She stripped off the white shirt and pulled the new clothes on. It was similar to what she had just been wearing, but it came down to the floor and pooled a little there, as it was too long for her. The sleeves were full length and when she put her hands by her sides, they covered them, so that only the tips of her finger peeked out from behind the material. The collar wasn’t as high as she would have hoped; it scooped down and showed off her collar bones and a bit of bosom, but she dared not say anything.
“Alright go out that door and there will be someone waiting to show you the way” they said, as they moved towards a different door on the other side of the room.
She wasn't sure what to say, a part of her wanted to thank them. Thank them for getting her out of the cell, but then of course she realised they probably had nothing to do with that. So silently she headed towards the door they had gestured to. Her eyes flickering around the room, as she took in the beautiful tapestries of young men and women around the walls. On one side of the room there was an ornately carved wardrobe that covered nearly the whole wall, she assumed that this was where her dress had come from and for a moment she considered going to search for one with a higher neck, but after realising that they were still watching her, she reconsidered and just headed straight for the door instead.
“Hello” another baffling person stood outside the door. They were wearing a light brown dress like top, with white trousers underneath and she couldn't tell if they were a male or female either. Their light brown hair was tied into a high pony tail and their bright blue eyes sparkled in the soft sunlight.
“Hello” she was surprised at how strong her voice sounded and that it no longer hurt to speak.
“Please call me Shay. If you would follow me, you are expected in the grand hall” Shay said in their sing song voice. She just stared, then nodded slowly. Shay looked at her for a moment before heading down the corridor. She trailed behind them, her stomach doing somersault.
Who was expecting her and why were they meeting in the grand hall, instead of just coming down to her cell?
She pondered on the idea that the Order had come to get her and that she would be allowed to return to her old life, but she shook that thought off the moment it had popped into her head, there was no way any of them would consider putting the Order in danger just for her.
She sighed heavily; a thing she hadn't been able to do in months, without pain.
Shay turned to look over their shoulder at her. “Don't worry” they said with a small smile “they're not going to put you back in the cell Marah”
She shuddered at the sound of her own name. It felt wrong to hear it spoken by some strange person, in the heart of the Capitals castle, with smooth stone covered by soft carpet under her feet. The only normal thing about this was the danger, the feeling of the unknown lurking in her future.
But she tried her best to smile back at Shay, even though she guessed it looked more like a grimace than a smile.
Shay turned back and picked up the pace. Scampering along, swinging open doors and bouncing up and down staircases, until Marah was well and truly lost.