"The Sweep of All Souls"
by Anonymouse

There are those who think that the gift of Scribing means a posh life. Well, it might to some, but not to this Mouse, although I would not give up my literacy for anything, mind you! It's only that I have no wish to be part of a sideshow for the amusement of those who think Mice should be gawked at if they show the least bit of intelligence.

After a brief visit to the islands, in which I narrowly escaped being added to a carnival (with a flea circus no less!), I held some hopes that things might quiet a little as fall weather headed into a dark and stormy winter. Even Sorrow seemed to hibernate, although restlessly.

Pockets got restless as well. He took to staying out late, leaving me at the Inn asleep in his vest pocket, blissful in my ignorance. Hence his nickname, to protect the innocent. Well, he's not innocent, how could any bard be that, but I digress. Shows what a few rum-soaked cookie crumbs can do to the most curious of Mice.

However, even the most curious of Mice tire of hangover grade headaches when they wake in the morning and, one day just before New Year's, I refused his offering hand, my whiskers ruffling. The reek of rum, although of excellent quality, wafted up my nostrils.

Pockets raised an eyebrow. Unlike his silvery hair, his brows are coal black, accenting a handsome elven face. He was dressed, I noticed, in performance finery. "Not hungry, Anon?"

"You are a master of the obvious," I responded.

"Alas, but ye have such a sharp tongue, I thought it needed practice." He held the food out again. "These are but dull crumbs." I crossed my arms, and looked up at him. He had the grace to flush slightly. "I am only singing," Pockets explained. "It's a grand affair on New Year's Eve."

"I thought we were partners."

"Indeed we are, but, hrmmmm." He seemed at a loss for words.

"You've got a girl."

"Och, lad, whatever gave ye that idea?" He emptied his hand of the rum enhanced crumbs, washed and put his empty palm up. "Up with ye, then, and into my coat pocket."

"No vest?"

"Nae, nae, tis a bit worn and tonight demands my finest!"

I quickly washed up my face and whiskers and climbed aboard. After a quiet walk to the wedding site, Pockets warmed up. Snow stopped falling and it became a clear, though black and ice cold night.

Sure, and it was a fine celebration. So fine that I hardly remember any of it, except in a haze of champagne and chocolate and vanilla cakes, and singing and dancing and…well, I awoke in the dark of night, shivering, having tumbled out of my warm pocket.

It was icy cold and very dark. That there was wood under my belly, I could tell, and a soft deep breathing near me, that I could also tell. I crept towards it quietly, my head still abuzz with good drink and cheer. My paws found a bit of cloth and then the familiar recesses of a pocket. I climbed in quickly, nested, and sank back into a very welcome sleep.

My poor pounding head came awake in a fragrant nest of jadice and riolur and lavender. I sat up amidst the flowers and leaves and herbs, and pondered my surroundings. I poked my nose out upon hearing a loud groan, ready to share sympathy with Pockets who, no doubt, was even more hungover than I.

What a sight met my eyes! Bodies, everywhere. Empaths and clerics and paladins working feverishly. And as I stared in complete astonishment, another was dragged in and plopped down under my very whiskers!

"Asketi Rides still" was all the dwarf said, before he left his dead brethren and strode back out the door.

Slender fingers dipped into my comfortable haven, grabbed a jadice flower and pulped it quickly, feeding it to the unfortunate dead and wounded about us. I looked up…and up…to see the most perfect, arched and slender neck I'd ever seen on a woman, sad grey eyes and a tumble of hair tucked back…and a face scarred by some of the most awful wounds I have ever beheld.

She stared down in surprise as well. "Goodness! What have we here?"

"A..a Mouse," I answered, still somewhat in shock.

"And a fine fellow of one, too, I see." Her thumb stroked my head and instantly the dull thud of a headache went away. She had no time to remark further on my obvious intelligence or manners as a tall paladin strode in.

"Who needs a glyph?" he said, surveying the dead. Ghostly voices answered him by the dozen. He bowed his head and worked quickly. The empath thanked him fervently, and took one of his wounds as he stood. "What news?"

"Asketi is merciless today. The Hag rides her dark mount down the Northern Trade Route, felling any in her path. The Undead are walking in every shadow." The paladin took a breath. "It will be a long day, I fear." His deeds done, he left, saying only, "Stay safe."

Bards came and went to play the refreshing Lilt, but their songs were grim and my Pockets was not among them. Where he'd gone to, I had no idea.

Those who thought to fight Asketi's fateful appearance seemed to thin out. Then one excitable halfling burst in. "My sister," he gasped and flailed. "Dying near the Green! Please, can you come?"

The empath stood wearily. "Is there no one else?" she asked softly, binding a wound on her arm. He shook his head. "She is dying and has no favors! Please, please help."

She slipped her hand into his. "Take me there," she said quietly. And so he did.

The merry lass lay in a forgotten corner of the green, her life ebbing away onto the frost-covered ground. Without a thought for herself, the empath knelt and put her hands out to begin to heal. And she worked quickly, for we had come through dangerous streets, still filled with the stalking servants of the Hag Asketi. She had no sooner finished than the lass bounced to her feet, gave the empath a hug and bolted for safety, her brother nagging to her ear.

The empath rose a great deal slower, hampered by all her wounds. She looked about and said wearily, "It's been many an anlas. I think I will go home and rest a bit." She staggered and wove her way to a small neighborhood filled with flowers and herb gardens, and then, with a tiny gasp of astonishment, fell dead.

I flew out of her apron pocket, and went rolling. Her sightless eyes, scarred and gashed, stared at the winter sky. Her soul stayed close. "Help me? Somehow?"

I stood on my haunches. "Indeed I will!" But how? How? I pondered a bit and then dashed off.

The Green was filled with Undead and fighters. Nonetheless I reared up, and called out loudly, 'Help! Help! My mistress has fallen and is lying dead in the empath garden of bellflowers and daisies.'

The barbarian nearest me, a tall red-haired lass, paused with her sword held high. "A mouse familiar…how cute."

"Dinna listen! There's boxes to be taken off these Death Spirits!" and a well-aimed boot came my way. I narrowly escaped it and dashed in another direction.

My speech elicited much the same response in other places. Gasping and panting, I ran to the empath guild itself, where I gave up all pretense of being a familiar and merely cried out a need for help.

An exhausted healer looked at me and sadly shook his head. "I dare not take another wound, even if I could find a cleric. Tell her she will have to depart. There's no one else around."

"And leave her Soul for Asketi to collect?" I threw my paws about in dismay. Then I returned to the Crossing streets in hope of finding help from yet another source.

In a darkened alley I thought I heard the clang of a sword and eagerly bolted that way, praying I would not let that kindly healer down. Dashing in, I gave my familiar's spiel and waited. But the clang I heard was not of armor and I froze as the hideous shadow reared in front of me! A monstrous Adder coiled at the black unicorn's feet and then struck at me as the Hag laughed and cackled. "And where is your dead one, o mouse who is not a familiar? I am Harvesting this day!" Her voice clanged brazenly in my ears. I darted to and fro as her Adder did its best to capture me.

I squeaked aloud to every god I had ever heard mentioned on the Crossing Streets. There must have been a good dozen or two names that poured across my lips as I beseeched the heavens for help, when, as if in an answer to my prayers, in strode a paladin.

Candidus Custos gravely saluted the Hag and then proceeded to dispatch the Adder and a North Wind Banshee who'd come to watch the fun. I thought he was going to dare Asketi herself when the goddess clucked to her unicorn, swept her scythe across the streets, narrowly missing me, and left.

He leaned upon his sword, gravely picked up the scattered gems the Banshee had strewn about to distract him.

"He- help," I got out. "My mistress is dead in the empath gardens of bellflowers and daisies, please come..." and keeled over.

To the paladin's credit, he picked me up and carried me to the fair streets as night grew close, and he did not stop searching till he found the empath's fallen body. There he bowed his helmed head and recited the blessing of Glyph over her and told her to wait but a moment, he would try to find a cleric.

A cleric did come, though a young one, and though he could restore and strengthen her Soul, she did depart, and returned by the grace of Truffenyi and the others, to her ward and was made whole again. Pockets found us just as she was thanking Candidus, and he immediately began the Lilt to strengthen her spirit.

She kissed him on the nose. He frowned as he learned of Asketi's Ride and the trials of the day. She hooked an arm through his as the paladin bowed and left for other duties, and the good cleric with him. "What would you have done," she said teasingly. "I thought I would let you sleep in. You were, after all, up all night."

"I could have fought like any fighter, and sung to help healing as well!" Pockets returned. He quieted a bit as she kissed his brow, murmuring something about having already done magnificently.

I climbed up his pants leg while he was occupied and slipped into his coat. It was then he noticed me. I cleaned my whiskers with some dignity, finally recovered from the scare of all my souls.

"What I want to know," I said, "is how I fell out of your pocket and found my way into hers.."

The empath looked at me and blushed faintly.

"Hush," counseled Pockets. "Dinna ye think ye've been in enough trouble today?"

Prudent, as well as educated, I hushed.



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