Friday Fiction: What the Shadows Hide (part two)

By | June 19, 2009

Kyree Stonemantle (and to a lesser extent, her brother Jessen) have been on my mind a lot lately.  This is the next part of “What the Shadows Hide”.

Jessen edged down the hall, a candle held out in front of him, Kyree crowding him from behind, Thrall keeping pace at his side. The flame threw long shadows that danced and leapt with every step he took. The polished wooden walls gathered in the light, though, too, its grain glowing as they passed. Jessen was fascinated by elven craftsmanship. He thought someday he might like to be apprenticed to one of their carpenters, to see how things were made. But now wasn’t the time to think about that.

Thrall tensed and let out a soft growl as they reached Auntie Davien’s door. Jessen put a hand on his back to calm him, but the worg was a knot of muscle. “Auntie Davien?”

Kyree had left the door open, and even though the candlelight didn’t shine far into the room, the moonlight was bright enough to show a woman’s form on the bed. The blankets lay in a heap on the floor, where Davien had kicked them off. She’d let Kyree braid her long black hair after dinner; pieces of it had come loose in her thrashing, and sweat slicked them to her face. While Jessen watched (and Kyree peeped out from behind him), she flailed, trying to push some dream away.

“She’s all right, Kyree,” he said, even though he didn’t truly believe it himself. “She’s just having a nightmare.” He took a step into the room, ignoring his sister’s gasp and the restraining tug on his arm.

The shadows stopped leaping.

Now, they loomed.

Stop it. Kyree’s the one with the overactive imagination, not me. He swallowed hard and tried not to look at the dark places, intent instead on the circle of candlelight, and the patch of moonlight that made his dead aunt’s already-too-pale skin glow white. They shuffled toward the bed in a cluster.

“Careful, Jessy,” Kyree whispered, and pointed to the floor close to the nightstand where shards of glass glittered. “She broke her bottle of medicine.”

Jessen had read the label aloud to Davien only hours ago, sounding out the words written on the tag. Elixir of the Basilisk.

“T’cure blindness, ‘Bada says,” she’d chuckled. “Well, anythin’s worth a try.” She’d pulled out the stopper and drained the vial, making a face as it went down. “Dreamfoil, or purple lotus,” she said, sniffing the empty bottle. “T’knock me out in case there’s pain?” Her hand flew to the stone at her throat as she spoke, some sudden fear coming over her. She unclasped it and held it out to her nephew. “Listen, sweetling. If anything happens, this will call out t’friends. Kerbada can get here fastest, and y’ll remember Pill. Call t’them if ‘ee get scared, aye? Y’r orcish is good; they’ll come.”

She’d stood slowly and made her way to Kyree’s room, the glow of mana surrounding her as she checked in on the sleeping girl. The children had grown used to their aunt’s peculiar way of “seeing” over the past few months. Sometimes, Kyree said, she could feel what Davien was doing, and would close her eyes and toddle around the house, hands outstretched, pretending to navigate by reading the arcane currents in the air like Auntie Davien. Jessen said she just knew her way around the house because they’d lived there nearly a year; Davien only smiled and held her tongue.

Satisfied that her niece was asleep, she’d ruffled Jessen’s hair. “I’m goin’ t’lay down a while, love. Will ‘ee be all right?”

He nodded, then asked the question he’d been holding in. “Is the medicine working?”

“I don’t think so.” Davien let go of her magic. “No, nothin’.” She knelt before him and took his face in her hands. “Now, now. I can hear ‘ee frownin’, Jess. It’s all right. I didn’t expect anythin’ t’happen, but ‘Bada’d be upset if I didn’t try.”

“Maybe it just takes time.” He’d been hoping so hard that it would work.

Davien shook her head. “No. The problem isn’t really with my eyes, love. Much as I wish it was. All this is doin’ is makin’ me tired.” She opened her arms, and he let her hug him. “Go finish y’r book, and then go t’bed. And if anythin’ happens that scares ‘ee’, use the stone.”

“Do you think something’s going to happen?”

“No. But last time I tried a miracle cure, something did. Though I think it would have started by now, if anythin’ was going to. I’ll probably just sleep through the night.” She didn’t quite smooth out the furrow in her brow as she voiced that thought, and she turned her face just slightly away.

Papa used to say Auntie Davien was bad at lying. He was right. Jessen decided not to chase it, instead helping his aunt to her feet and guiding her to her bedroom. “I’ll look in before I go to bed.”

She took the empty vial from a pocket in her dress and set it on the nightstand. “I’ll leave this here, just in case. ‘Bada’s a druid, and Pill knows the mixin’ of potions. Light forbid I need an antidote, but if I do, mayhaps they’ll need this t’study.” For a moment, she turned her back and stood looking out the window. If he didn’t know her eyes were dark, he’d have thought she was looking for something. Then she turned around to face him, and kissed him on the forehead. “Don’t worry, sweetling. Go read, and in the mornin’ I’ll go t’Silvermoon and see what new books ‘ee might like.”

He’d left her, then, and when he looked in an hour later, on his way to bed, she’d been sleeping peacefully – that faint crease was back on her brow, but nothing that alarmed him enough to use the stone.

Now, though, he thought maybe he should go back to his room and retrieve it. It was late, and he might be waking up her friends. It’s just a nightmare she’s having. He didn’t want to call them all the way to Moonglade for a boy’s fright.

But what if it wasn’t that? So we shake her, and shout, and make Thrall bark if we need to. And if she still doesn’t wake up, I’ll use the stone. “Come on, Kyree,” he said, tugging on his sister’s hand and pulling her around to his side. “We’re going to get up on the bed and try waking her up. Ready?”

She nodded up at him, holding her arms out so he could lift her. Before he could pick her up, her eyes went wide, locking onto a spot just over his shoulder. “Jessy,” she whispered, “there’s a…a man…”

He spun and shoved Kyree firmly behind him. Thrall growled; his hackles rose and his lips curled into a sneer that showed a snoutful of sharp teeth. The worg pushed his way in front of Jessen, crowding him back a step the way he’d just done to Kyree.

Kyree was only half right. The thing that towered over them had the shape of a man – a very, very tall one. Yet Jessen couldn’t see any feet at the ends of its legs. They ended in a pool of darkness. It had no features – not because it had its back to the window and its face was in shadow; because it’s face was made of shadow. The arms were long and thin – too long for a man – and ended in fingers whose tips left trails of black mist as they moved through the air. “Kyree,” Jessen whispered, reaching behind his back for her hand. “When I tell you to, run.”

He opened his mouth to shout, tensing his muscles to spring to his left, and yank his sister with him…and found himself unable to move or yell. Run, Kyree, he thought, hoping she’d feel that something was wrong. Run, run, runrunrun.

But she only pressed closer to him, starting to cry. “What about you, Jessy? What about you? You’ll run, too, won’t you?”

The shadow reached for them.

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