A veil of darkness hid the world from the bright sun that once breathed life onto the creatures of Earth. Birds were the only free creatures, for they were able to soar above the suffocating sickness that was compelled to sentence the beings that roamed the world freely, to death. One by one, they fell, and one by one panic arose throughout the continent. Sick children would become orphaned, outsiders would be blamed, the dead would be left in empty houses, and burials would be neglected. As the sickness invaded the countries of Europe, carried by a warm summer breeze, the name, Black Death became infamous. --- The world was grey despite the mid-day toll of the church bells. Humidity rolled through the narrow streets and sickness became unavoidable, regardless of the effort made to cover one's face or find self-healing cures. Death was looming over heads and taunting those who wanted to live the most. Though, none of this misery stopped bare feet from padding quickly along the dirt roads, weaving in and out of alleyways to avoid 'death houses' and to spare herself from seeing the black lesions that cover the sick or the welts that turned a painful shade of pink; the violent coughing that turned to vomiting, and the desperation in dying eyes. It was foolish of her to think that she could avoid the sickness so easy yet, in vain, she attempted to with fierce stubbornness. Despite keeping her pale blue eyes trained on the dirt road beneath her filthy bare feet, the sound of retching echoed through the buildings, the stench of death rolled off the sticky summer gales, and the moans and pleads for help made her heart pang with a shadow of sympathy. The world smelled of death and decay. The memory of sweet smelling flowers in the spring, the fresh ocean breeze during the summer, the smell of autumn rain, and the bone-chilling wind of winter had faded long ago. Happy memories were sacrificed in order to pursue the sole goal of living. There was no room for sympathy or other emotions, for those emotions would be the ones to drag her down to the depths of Hell; she was bound by a facade of bitter and scorn, of contempt and self-interest. If she allowed the world to see any other side of her than her fierceness, then death would surly seize her soul, leaving the only thing she learned to care about in the condemned world she lived in; her brother. Between buildings, she ran. Her movements were swift and experienced. She had navigated this path before, and she would again, in time. The path she chose stole her precisely away from the worst cases of the Black Death. Before the plague had created mass hysteria as it spread, the world was blind to the caution one had to take and the longevity of the virus. Those who were sick were helpless, and those who were healthy both feared and desired to aid the sick. In doing so, they, too, became victims of the Black Death. Selflessness was a dangerous thing, and her parents both possessed it. As doctors began to refuse to see patients and priests declined those who wished to have their last rites administered, the girl's parents sought solutions and cures. Futile, as it was, they used their medical practices to try to rid the disease from the affected. Though, no matter how pure their intentions were, becoming infected was inevitable. Black lesions and boils appeared all over their bodies as they became bedridden with fevers and terrible pains. Her brothers and sisters tended to them as much as they could, but within days their parents were dead and the children found that the plague had spread to them, as well. Months had passed since the death of her parents and siblings. Out of five brothers and sisters, only her youngest brother survived. After the death of the rest of her family, the young girl abandoned the house with her deceased family members, she took her brother and ran. Death had surrounded her as she ran away from what it had meant to be compassionate. The truth had taken away her innocence, and though she had her innocence stolen, she vowed to herself and her deceased parents that she would protect her brother and the blithe world he lived in. However, her vows became broken. It was only a matter of time, she knew, until she or her brother would catch the virus. Lungs cried for air as her heart pounded with every hard stride she took. The tattered piece of cloth she had covered her lower face with began to slip, but she didn't care; the church bells had just finished ringing in the hour, and yet the girl was still racing through the narrow streets. The girl lifted her pale eyes from the dirt road to the grey afternoon, her eyes spotted the rotting wooden house that appeared small in the distance. Almost, she was almost there. Her brother wouldn't have to wait long, she had gotten their sparse lunch in the forest nearby, though she had spent more time searching for berries than she wanted to. "Leola!" A voice rang, hoarse and drenched in pain. The words made Leola cringe as she barged though the door. Unhappy memories she thought she had forgotten months ago came flooding back with the simple call of her name. The pain was unbearable to hear coming out of the mouth of a six year old. But once the door shut behind her, Leola untied the cloth that hid her lower face and forced a smile on her face and willed worry out of her eyebrows that were drawn together. "Happy birthday," she said softly to the child who was laying on the bed in the corner of the house, though she didn't make eye contact and instead, looked down, "and sorry I am late, it took longer than usual." Leola calmed her breathing and waltzed over to the table in the opposite corner of the house and reached for berries, mushrooms, and nuts that she had stored in her pockets. As always, their meals were sparse, and there was never any meat. Leola sighed and brushed a strand of her dull brown hair behind her ear, though, due to the length of her hair, it fell around her face again. She was young, not yet out of her teens, yet misery has drowned the world and it's inhabitants. Hopelessness settle into the hearts of many and people feared that this was the end of the world. Perhaps it was, but if it was, Leola wondered what she should do, how she should spend the rest of her days. Between a wheeze and a cough, a strained voice interrupted her busy thoughts, "Thank you, Leola." A sad smile crept on the girls face and tears clouded her vision. Though her back was turned to her brother, she was glad that her hair veiled the sides of her face. She wanted to give into the hopelessness that ate at her conscious. She wanted to let fate decide her path and relent her responsibility, but she knew she couldn't. Choking down her tears, she cleared her throat, separated the food into unequal proportions and turned to her brother, meeting his glazed eyes and smiled. "For the birthday boy!" She said, as chippy as distress would let her. She held up her cupped hands so he could see that lunch was ready. In response, all he did was smile weakly. Leola knew that it was dangerous to be in the same vicinity as her brother, but she took the risk because, if the world was to end, she didn't want to end it alone. Placing the mix of berries, mushrooms, and nuts in the tiny hands of her brother, she stood above him, watching him attempt to enjoy his meal. Worry worked its way back between Leola's brow. Her brother's condition was getting worse. The boils seemed to multiply, the lesions grew larger and darker, and his fever hasn't broken for days. Leola thought. Medicine didn't seem to work, for every cure someone would create would turn into failure. The popular act of blood letting seemed to, also, be a bunch of false hopes and promises. Leola wondered about the art of mysticism. Ancient mystery cults were whispered about and stories used to be spun about them, however, none were proven to actually exist. She pondered on what to do and where else to turn, but Leola knew what she was going to do. Nodding to herself, she snapped back to reality and met her brother's eyes, once again. He was staring at her, his pale blue eyes that was void of life held confusion in them. She had been thinking and pondering longer than she had realized. Leola forced a smile onto her thin lips, "You know what? I actually have a present for you today." Through her teeth she told a truth she wasn't certain wouldn't become a lie. But as she spoke those words, a glimmer of life passed through her brother's eyes and her determination was fueled. "I'll be back," she promised her brother before shoving her helping of lunch into his tiny hands. "Save this for later in case you get hungry." Leola petted her brother's head, "I'll be back, I promise!" Without turning around, she headed back out the door, tying her mask around her face once more before setting off. The Ritual of the Old was what she was looking for, and if her memory served her correctly, she wouldn't break her promise to her brother, and she would be back before nightfall.