When the Geisterdamen first showed up, riding out across the Wastelands on their pale mounts, whispers followed them. Some were true. Some were not.
But, well, beautiful, pale, ghostly women. Sometimes they spoke, and their words were obeyed without question, not out of fear, but out of an innate need to do as told.
Vila, the people whispered when the Geisters moved on. They hadn’t sung and danced people to death, but wasn’t what they had done proof enough?
The actual Vila didn’t take kindly to that, funnily enough.
In life, Mirjana had been a spark. She had hidden it, funneled it into her weaving, and earned more for her pieces than most girls her age did. Her father had tried to convince her to marry a young man from up the road, and she had said no.
The young man had come to find her one night, tried to convince her, tried to use all his sweetest words, and when she had still said no, he had attacked her.
When she fought back, he had killed her.
Mirjana had taken three years to settle into her new form. Her death had been violent, and she had died refusing to bend to the will of a man who would control her. She had been born to the lands that had always had Vila, and had died in them.
So, three years after she died, she was a fully-fledged Vila. She was new, and she was weak, and she was still learning.
She knew enough to kill the man that had killed her, though. She’d sung her sweetest words, and he’d danced until he died.
It had been a pleasure to watch.
By the time the Other War hit, Mirjana had been a Vila for four hundred years. She’d guided new girls from death to power, had flitted her sisters across the Serbian territories, and flirted with more on the way. She’d danced men to death and scared jealous women into not harming the girls they’d found ire in knowing. She’d sung storms into being and screamed a torrent a time or two. She’d even caused a flood once, when she and Jelena had had a little too much… excitement.
They’d all done what they could against the Other. There were limits to what they would allow, after all, and the Other was crossing most of those lines. They had sung their storms, destroyed what hive engines they could and swept as many swarms off course as they could.
They hadn’t been able to stop everything, but they’d been able to stop some of it.
They’d held what lines they could, and then the war had ended.
Then the Geisterdamen came.
Mirjana heard the screaming from kilometers away. The wind carried all things to a Vila’s ear, and she was the nearest. There was plenty of people who screamed. Anger, happiness, pain. Sparks were all over the place, and their victims screamed plenty.
They investigated, when they could. The world was large, and they were few, and they weren’t heroes. They had their own interests and their own vendettas and their own fights.
Sometimes, more often than not, those interests had them fighting the good fight, though.
This time, the screaming was coming from just outside a small village, and was muffled almost as soon as it started, and Mirjana spotted pitchforks and torches when she stopped in a thicket a few dozen meters off.
“Vila,” one whispered, though he hadn’t seen her. “Ghost women. One of them threw Dejan clear across the field, and then she killed Adrijana with a word.”
“She just told Adrijana to die, and… she did. Just dropped to the floor.”
“Maybe something else,” one of the others said. “They’ve never taken children before, right? None of the stories—”
“Damn the stories, we need to go save Joca!”
Not one of mine, Mirjana thought with spite. Not any of the Vila. Their voices held power, yes, but not that.
She followed along at a distance as the search party set off. They tramped along for ages, and Mirjana grew impatient. She wanted to find the missing girl herself. She wanted to move ahead alone. Her tracking skills were terrible, though, and the winds were turned in the wrong direction.
She hissed out a breath of frustration.
“I heard something,” one of the women said, staring back at where Mirjana was hidden behind some trees.
She stepped back further, putting more leaves between them, and then thought better of it.
This was taking too long. There was every chance the kidnappers were getting further away. Someone was being mistaken for a vila, and while she had no qualms with being accused of crimes she and hers had committed, she wasn’t happy with accusations of crimes that had been committed by someone else entirely.
She flowed forward, slipping past the trees and before the gathered group in the space of a single breath.
They stepped back almost as one, raising weapons and staring with fear. Was that a death ray? Interesting. That could be dangerous, actually.
“One of your children was stolen,” she said, smiling dispassionately. “I hear you think that a vila is to blame.”
“And you are…”
“A true vila,” Mirjana said, eyeing the man critically. “I heard some of what you said. No vila I have met could kill someone with just a word.”
“You would if you could,” Katica muttered.
“Yes,” Mirjana said. “If I thought it deserved. You’re moving too slow to catch up to whoever it was. Why did you think they were vila?”
The group shifted uncomfortably, and one of the men finally spoke. “They looked like the stories. Pale. Blonde. Inhuman. They were too strong, and their voices held power.”
“I see,” Mirjana said. “How many?”
“Two,” one of the men said. “Ah… they rode giant spiders.”
Mirjana turned to stare at him. “How large?”
“…three or four times taller than a horse, I’d wager,” he said, rubbing the back of his head with the hand that didn’t have a torch in it. “Spindly things, though.”
“Who did they take?”
“Why should we tell you anything?” One of the other men snapped, seeming to have finally found his bravery. “You might well have—”
The rest of his words were torn away by the wind, a simple hum from Mirjana ripping through the air and forcing all but the Vila in the midst to close their eyes until she calmed it down again.
“Because you have no hope of fighting me,” she said. “You have no hope of catching up. I will aid you, if you let me. Irritate me enough, and I shall save the girl from her captors… but it will be up to her if she wishes to return. I may well leave her elsewhere.”
“Her name is Jovana,” Katica said. “She’s… we think she may be a spark.”
“Why would you tell her th—”
“The Vila like girl sparks,” Katica snapped. She paused, expression changing a few times, and then hesitantly turned to Mirjana. “Right?”
Mirjana smiled. It was not a nice smile. “Many of us were sparks in life. We are… protective, shall we say.”
Mirjana got what information she could, and then took off.
She went high, kept an eye out for the massive white splotches that were the spiders, and started singing.
The sun crept over the horizon as she headed east, and she was grateful for it. The winds followed her voice, the clouds gathered, and the rain began to pour. Her storm would have impeded visibility far too much had it stayed dark, but as it was…
Leagues away, another song started, adding to hers. Sanja, it sounded like. She’d picked up the notes of help in Mirjana’s and added her own.
Just minutes later, Slavica, even further off and hiding away in that mountaintop cave she usually kept to, joined in.
The storm crested and raged, a downpour and gale that was probably going to cause more problems than it solved, but it did what Mirjana had planned: it slowed the spiders.
She saw them, targeted, and dropped.
The villagers had been right. The two women were beautiful, pale, and inhuman. White eyes, white hair, and white clothes, and skin so pale that it hardly seemed any different in the pale light of a thundering early morning. They were identical, to her glance, and she rather wanted to throttle them barehanded.
Given that the villagers had been rather insistent that the women were as dangerously strong as any true Vila, this was probably not the best course of action.
Instead, she screamed.
She screamed and screamed and screamed, landing dead smack between the two spiders. The beasts scuttled away from her, and both of the pale women were clutching at their ears. The wind screamed as Mirjana did, whipping the fabric of her dress before her and throwing the spiders into the wall of trees.
Mirjana grabbed Jovana and took once more to the skies.
She passed Biljana on her way back to the village, the girl unconscious in her arms.
“Kill the spiders and their riders,” she said. “They are trouble, and people believe them to be us. Then… I will call a meeting, if I can. All the Vila we can manage.”
“In case it happens again?” Biljana asked. “You managed well enough.”
Mirjana hesitated, and then shook her head. “There may be more. Find out. If there are, we need to be aware. One of them killed a woman simply by ordering her to die.”
Biljana stared at her, and then nodded sharply. “Right. A meeting, then.”
Mirjana dropped Jovana off with her village, and then disappeared before anyone could ask her any questions. The search party hadn’t even returned yet, but the skies were clearing. Her storm was no longer necessary, and had dissipated without the songs to keep it going.
She headed to the top of the nearest mountain, and sang again.
Not a storm.
Not a trap.
A warning and a message.
A call for a meeting.
The wind carried her words, and her sisters answered.
For the next twenty years, the Vila chased the Geisterdamen out of their lands at every opportunity. So many of them were young spark girls themselves, once. These ghost spiders rode out and were called Vila by the wary, but they were not of the dancing spirits that had roamed these lands for centuries. They were nothing of the sort, and the undead women of these mountains, rivers, and forests were going to keep them out by any means necessary.
(Stories were told.)
(Some still mistook the Geisterdamen for Vila.)
(Some saw the clashes that eventually took place, a handful of Vila singing a storm into being and battling an invading Geister until she either left the area, with or without her life.)
(They were vicious. They were violent. They were very protective.)
(The Vila were not kind, but they had their interests.)
(More often than not, those interests led them to fight the good fight.)
(That included this one.)