Talia, p. 100

One was waiting for me again as I returned to the city.  Fool that I was, I confronted him alone.  He won’t bother me again, but I may have barely escaped with my life.  I’m not sure it was worth the risk, but should they find him the message will be clear:  to take me they will trade more than one life.  I only hope they reconsider rather than double their efforts.  I must remain on my guard.  To slip now could mean the end.

Last night I overheard another speak of dreams and visions.  I tried to approach him but he disappeared into the crowd.  I tried to send for him and received no response.  Perhaps she has become active again.  If that is true, why has she not reached out to me?  I am open at night, but receive only silence.  Could she be waiting for me to gather others?  Perhaps next time he will be ready to talk.

Talia, p. 99

One came to me again, asking for wands.  I thought it might have been her again, but the man was insistent.  He was otherwise polite.  Soon after, a couple approached him upsetting him greatly until he fled.  They followed.  I followed as well, keeping to the shadows.  It was apparent that more was going on than on the surface.  The connection, hers and mine, and now these others, I began to see the webs again, strands reaching out.  I learned little before one turned on me, asking that I leave. I must be more cautious next time.

A few days passed and I was surprised in the market.  Jhavier spoke of the hall of shadows.  It still remained.  He had visited it that night.  But when I asked of the woman in red, he stared, confused.  No, she had not called to him.  The shadows tuned on him, he was not allowed to pass.  She must still be there.  Her silence disturbs me, as much as the appearance of the others.  I will find a way, though the path is not clear.  I will reach those I must, as indirectly as I must.  The shadows embrace the night.

Nischa, pt. 4

Nischa sat in the dark, gripping the bars in the corner. The Large Ones had not been seen in two days. The first day they were absent she had investigated her cage. The bars were thick, nearly the size of her slender wrists, but they were not as regular as she had first thought. The metal bulged and thinned in places, and it was in the corner that she found several together that were half the thickness of the others. When the Large Ones had not returned that night, Nischa began her work on the bars. Taking one in trembling hands, she stilled her mind and thought of the snow capped peaks of the northern mountains. The bar began to frost. Crystals traveled from where her fingers rested, slowly spreading until the ice ran the full length of the pole. Nischa released it, stepped back and threw her tiny body against it. Her shoulder slammed into the bar, frost shook loose like snow, but the bar held. She tried again and again, until finally there was a satisfying snap of metal. The bar had broken clean through, but was still attached, top and bottom. She began work on a second bar. By morning on the third day, Nischa had snapped three bars. She pressed against them, shoulder, hands and feet. They gave very little, but it would have to be enough. As the gap slowly widened, Nischa pushed through. She had done it. She was outside the cage! She flew in a quick circle, stretching her wings. “Help me. Don’t leave me here.” A quiet voice from the other side of the room called to her. Nischa flew over to the cage and grabbed the bars. “Don’t worry, we’ll all be out of here soon.” She took a deep breath and frost began to form at her fingers. Nischa got no further. There was a thud from above, and the sound of slurred voices. The Large Ones had returned. Awkward steps could be heard moving closer, and the thump thump thump of a heavy form on the stairs. She looked around. She needed a place to hide. In the corner, by the door, she saw it. There was a large pack and bed roll. She shuddered at the thought of entering a bag again. Motioning for the other to remain quiet, she flew across the room as fast as her wings would take her. She reached the pack just as the door opened. The pack was closed, so Nischa dove for the bedroll, slipping in between the loosely tied folds. She heard the Large One stepping closer. Had she been seen? Her world shifted, bounced and she heard the clump clump clump as the Large One, the pack and the bedroll she hid in moved up the stairs.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

When the pack finally settled, Nischa braved to peak out. There were voices coming from the other room. She flew cautiously to the edge of the door, and listened. It sounded like a crowd. Some of the slurred voices sounded angry, others tired, and a few pleasant. Looking past the edge of the door she saw what must have been the inside of a huge wood and stone structure. There were several Large Ones. On the far side, she saw another door, and three Large Ones stood blocking it. Each wore shiny metal armor. A tall one spoke to them. “Errr… if ’tis not t’dangerous, why d’we need t’be locked in, then?” She ignored them and flitted quietly over to a flaming lamp on hung on the wall. She was cold. She saw no sign of her captor here. As she warmed her hands she vowed to herself that she would find the others and free any that still survived.

Into the cave, again (Talia, p. 98)

The air was still, crisp and cold.  The snow had stopped falling hours ago leaving the world blanketed in silence.  The only sounds were the crunch crunch of her boots.  Her path, though unseen, was familiar to her.  She had walked this many times before, sometimes further than others, never stopping at the mouth of the cave.  Until tonight.  She could sense it, waiting for her as always, but tonight it felt different.  It was not alone.  Another waited as well.  There had never been another, and that is what caused her to stop.

The darkness of the cave had no end, its depth unfathomable.  She stepped inside, away from the stillness of the snow and into the silence of death.  The air was frigid, making the snow seem warm by comparison.  She felt the warmth being leeched from her body, and with it life.  A deep breath, a resolve of will, and she stopped the current.  The cave would not claim her, she would not allow it. Calmed, she stepped forward, further into the darkness. Leaving the moonlight above behind.

She walked slowly, further down, following the narrowing passages she had walked only once before.  They turned and twisted, leading finally to a great hall.  The yellow light of torches still burned on the walls, but they offered no heat.  Ahead, in the center of the hall was the dais, the throne tall and ominous.  He waited, as he did once so long ago.  She stepped forward, crossed the hall and stopped at the foot of the dais, looking up.  The figure had changed.  The dry, brown wrappings were still visible, but now they were covered with tattered blue and yellow silks.  His eyes glowed blue as well.  The flesh of his face was stiff, but she could sense the smugness of a smile.

“You have returned to me.”  His voice came out as a dry rasp.  “Come, sit with me.”  The bones of his arm creaked beneath the dry wrappings that bound it as he extended it towards her.  The silk sleeve shifted and dangled from his arm at the elbow.

She took a deep breath and attempted to keep her voice level as she spoke.  “Why are you dressed as such?  You have no claim to those colors.”

“No claim?”  His laugh was a rustling and he let his arm fall to his side.  “Everything that is buried belongs to me.  Everything that turns to dust becomes a part of me.”  He lifted his other arm, out to his side, motioning behind the dais.  “Everything that falls… falls here.”

She followed his hand with her eyes as another figure stepped from behind the throne.  The woman, moved slowly, uncertain.  She was dressed in white, in elegant silks, but they were torn.  Blood had stained the white, trailing from neck and shoulder, smeared across breast and waist.  Her arm dangled, motionless, rivulets of blood ran down her fingers, dripping as she walked.  The woman’s eyes were vacant, unfocused.

“She does not belong here!”  She balled her hands into fists at her side.  “She is not yours!”

“Everyone belongs here!”  He slammed his hand down into the arm of the throne.  “Everyone belongs to me, eventually.”  He rose. Blue and yellow silks tore away, falling to the floor.  He stood at the top of the steps looking down at her.  “And those that I have chosen…”  he lifted a wrapped, bony hand, extending a finger towards her.  “…I will claim when I wish.  You have no choice.”

She dropped to her knees, on the first step of the dais.  “Spare her!  Give her time.  I beg of you.”

“You?  How touching.”  He crossed the steps to stand just above her.  “ But, you have nothing to offer me.  You are already marked.  You are already mine.”

She met that glowing blue gaze, her mouth moved soundlessly.  It was true.  In death, she had nothing to offer.  Nothing he could not already take away from her.  She looked away and swallowed, eyes growing moist.  She shook her head, glanced up at the forlorn figure of white and red, and spoke in a hesitant voice.  “Then command me.  Spare her and I will act freely as your agent above.”  Her shoulders slumped in defeat and she waited in silence.

A bony hand rested on her head, gently, and the calm, raspy voice spoke again.  “So be it. I have sent someone to you already.  You know who I speak of.  Find him again.  Find him, and follow.”

She closed her eyes and felt the darkness closing around her.  Not a cold, cruel darkness, but the inviting darkness of shadows.  She welcomed it.