Soon the Unthings became a regular part of a routine. So much so that the shadows would appear in Count Wolfram’s dreams.
Each time they did, Maximilian Wolfram would wake in order to rid himself from their sick, suffocating touch. He would wake, his back slick with sweat and his body cold with remembered pain. He would turn over and then try to return to sleep.
But on this particular night, they would not leave him. He sat up violently, frustrated by their persistence. His movements disturbed the rest of the woman beside him.
Selva reached across the bed to comfort him, but her hand found only a discarded blanket. Her lover had already slipped out of the bed and gone to open the window.
He rested his palms on the window sill while he looked outside for reassurance. He found it in the form of the lions, circling the grounds below, and in his men at the watchtower.
But his eyes drifted past them, looking west where all trouble seemed to originate. When they moved past the road to where the forest truly began, he saw something flicker. Water from the creek appeared to be rising — sparkling invitingly to those who might see it from the distance.
His companion joined him at the window. She placed a robe over his shoulders before she pressed against his back to offer him additional warmth.
Normally her presence could chase away that nightmarish sensation of cold that dogged him. But still he shivered.
She continued to hold him close. “What is it? What do you see?”
His body tensed as his attention turned south. The water was spreading slowly towards the bridge and to the road, for as far as his eyes could fathom. His nose found that same smell he had detected upon the young man the lions had retrieved. But this was an overpowering stench — not of hundreds but hundreds of thousands of Unthings, arriving at the road. His stomach turned. The appearance of water was an illusion, hiding a terrifying truth. “They have arrived.”
She uttered an exclamation as she slammed the windows shut. “Don’t just stare! Get dressed!” She ran about quickly, pulling all sort of manner of clothing on. Occasionally she would throw a garment in his direction. “The lions, why didn’t they raise the alarm?”
As if on cue, they began to roar.
They hurried out of the room, each heading in different directions. There were many people to wake and to instruct. Once both of them had arrived outside the front entry, they found the beasts to be utterly, deathly quiet.
The lord surveyed all who assembled. The Wolframs had gathered in great numbers — far more than ought to be present on a normal patrol night. Marrok was there to tell him what he did not wish to hear. “They will overwhelm everyone in this area,” the man concluded.
Count Wolfram knew this was so. “We must hope that the guardian holds long enough for us to at least save a few of those lives. Have the servants been alerted?”
“Yes.” Selva’s response was muted, resigned. “They have been given their instructions. Hastings wished us well.”
Wolfram nodded tightly, regretting that there would not be time to say goodbye to them. Defending this place would take precedence. Doing as much damage as they could against the enemies would be the other. “And the guildmaster?”
“He is waiting inside as you asked.”
The guildmaster would have to wait longer.
Wolfram turned his attention to the young couple standing near the hazelwood door. The lions were scattered around them – quiet and unusually somber. They greeted the Count as he approached.
Wolfram’s mouth quirked upwards as he inspected their rustic attire. The girl was oddly dressed in castoffs from Lady Tala. She might have been unidentifiable to him save for her coat. “Will you be warm enough, Miss Redley?”
She fingered her red cloak for a moment before she considered how to respond. “I know I should have taken one of the wraps from your cousins, but I felt compelled to wear this instead.”
Her reasons for picking it were either sentimental or superstitious. After all, she had worn that cloak the night she first encountered the Unthings and survived. It would have been interesting to probe her reasons but instead he spoke of practical things. “You know when to begin, correct?”
Miss Redley was calm and easy as she responded. “When they are halfway across. Edmund and I will do what we can.”
He was pleased by her attitude. His mouth curled up when he turned to Edmund, holding the sword he had been gifted by Selva at his side. The young man looked equally unphased. “Remind the lions to think. Instinct can serve them well but not if it weakens the overall defense. As long as you both stand firm, they will keep their composure as well.” Quietly he reminded the young man to not allow Elanore to drift away. Her effectiveness was greatest at this place where the stones were most strongly concentrated. He reminded him where it would be well-lit and the safest place to take refuge.
The young man’s expression proved he understood. Edmund Ormond was sober but not afraid. In spite of the bleak situation, he and the girl seemed relaxed. The Count realized that their innocence afforded them confidence. He felt almost envious of their youth. And he admired the calm and patient manner with which they began to speak to the lions.
Soon the lions scattered, moving across the courtyard and filling it and the space beyond it. The Wolframs lagged behind. They did not venture far into the courtyard. Instead they fanned out beyond the steps, forming a large half-circle around the party by the door. Marrok redirected the outside watchguards to new positions at lookouts within safer, lighted parts of the estate.
Maximilian watched the preparations for a few minutes before he spied Giles at the door waiting to see him. Wolfram did not let slip how glad he was to see the younger man. “Well?”
“They’ve gathered, sir.” The coachman frowned at him, still upset over the job he had been ordered to do. But he continued, “And I’ve spoken to the guildmaster.”
With this statement, he knew Giles, too, would be taking his leave. Wolfram spoke sternly. “Then off with you, but be wary of Lady Tala. She was under orders to wait in the caverns. But she is wily as are her young ones. Do not let them out of your sight lest they sneak back.”
The younger man nodded stiffly. “Sir–”
Wolfram placed his hand on Giles’ shoulder. “Thank you.”
Giles bowed hurriedly before disappearing down the hallway. Wolfram knew that the younger cousin might have wanted to ask to stay. But he would not allow it. Giles would be the one to lead them once he and Marrok were gone. In a new era, it would be best to leave the clan to the one who best understand the people of this land. Wolfram would be selfish to the end in making sure that he got his way.
“My lord,” Selva’s desperate tone forced the lord to snap out of his thoughts. “The lions!”
The lions had begun to growl. They paced back and forth uneasily as they spoke of the creatures that had begun to swarm the guardian. Off in the distance where the bridge stood, they saw a faint light reach for the sky. The great lion was trying to fulfill its purpose, giving off energy that repelled and destroyed the invaders
And its little brothers held firm in the courtyard, waiting. They knew they must not go out, but stay to keep things from coming in. They waited for the clear voice of Edmund Ormond to tell them to move. But they whispered in small voices amongst themselves, noting the changing intensity of the light from the bridge. “The guardian drowns.”
“It’s too much,” their shepherd choked out a statement. Edmund appeared to apologize. “He’s sorry, but he’s gone to sleep.”
And then the light was gone.
For a moment, no one spoke. The idea that the guardian could fail was something they always knew possible, but a great many of them believed it would not.
“Edmund!” Elanore was the first to rouse, the first to see exactly what needed to be done. And in this moment, she showed no fear. She reached for her love’s hand. “It’s time!”
Her words woke them all. The Wolframs resumed their positions around the young couple who would begin performing the ritual of magic.
With a deep breath the lady in red closed her eyes. Her fingers cradled stones as she prepared herself for the use of magic. She hummed a small tune, one that made the expression on the young man’s face soften as he held her hand.
Her song continued while the others watched the wall. Each wolf counted to themselves, imagining the number of seconds it would take for the Unthings to spill over the guardian and onto the bridge. They waited for the shouts of the watchguards to inform them of what they could not see. The guards told them of the split amongst the movement of the creatures. Some meandered south, others had passed on the road going north. But a great many had come to quiver near their estate’s walls.
The dark rivers began to reach up with their inky tendrils — stretching and expanding experimentally along the rocky surface of the wall. Eventually enough figured out how high to go, how high to aim before finding themselves dripping back down along the wall’s other side.
The Unthings fell to the ground with a wet slap. Perhaps they were surprised to still find themselves in one piece after such a bold move. But they encountered a problem — the ground was full of painful things that felt loathsome to the touch.
The lions stared, waiting to see what the things might do next.
Selva’s fingers moved to her lord’s arm. “Now,” she reminded him.
Wolfram turned his cane about in his hand and used the technique he had tried before. The metal part of the handle snapped a sharp, blue lightning strike at the twisted frames. The metal accepted the magic and flames shot up, evaporating the shadowy invaders that came too close to the artifacts. The Unthings that wished to survive began to shift directions.
He maintained his position, pouring magic into these artifacts and heard the young man call out to the lions to advance.
They had waited so long to move. And now the lions roared as they danced, tearing and stamping at what they saw.
They thinned the numbers of this first wave before the young girl changed her song. She opened her eyes, seeing the invisible patterns of the stones that ran along the ground. She commanded them to listen to the stones in her hand, pulsing with light.
The light that resonated with her stones spread gracefully through the loops of a pattern. They spread in branches, the ends trying to find one another in the strange woven circle the lions had created. The formed a light that would disintegrate any shadow that touched it.
But while the light moved, the lions could not keep up with the volume of creatures that were drawn to this place. Wolfram’s eyes briefly tracked the entirety of the scene — and an increasing number of Unthings appeared to be able to slip past them, coming close to the boundary of the protective circle.
The white lady touched his arm. “We must help them,” she said before she moved back to the girl. Her hand reached out to steady the girl’s arm as she gripped the stones.
They stood in this safe area created by this combined power but watched uneasily as Unthings continued to advance over the wall.
Selva called to him. “My lord, forget the artifacts. The enemies avoid them now. Come instead and help.”
He gave up his cane to place one hand upon Miss Redley’s arm. Immediately he felt her power’s difference. She had the power to draw energy from other things as well as other people. The lights responded to her, but with Edmund she had learned how to elaborate upon and amplify their properties further. She was doing the same with Selva and with him.
His efforts to aide them resulted in a small cheer from his men. Blue ether began to form above the ground’s surface. It intensified in brightness before it scattered erratically, vaporizing all the Unthings in its path.
They were ecstatic at what they could do. Those that fought exchanged brief smiles of triumph as they began to understand the kind of power they possessed.
But those cheers fell silent once they saw that the light had not gone far enough. They watched as the walls began to turn black once more.
Doubt flickered through the users of magic and the light began to waiver. Around them, the lions began to sound the alarm. “The bond! It breaks! It cancels!”
The wave analogy Wolfram had first taught Miss Redley began to literally crash in around them. Wolfram knew the young lady was not to blame. While he had neglected her training, Selva had stepped in and done admirably. But magic was a finicky thing. Beyond those initial encounters, he had done little to change the attitude of the young lady towards him. Nor had he improved his standing with the others.
Miss Redley now could only rely on the young hunter to recover that light. But with her concentration undone, the situation appeared to be hopeless.
Wolfram recalled the guildmaster still waited at the door. He glanced that way, but his eyes moved first to the door. He saw the shadow figures that dominated the images carved into the doorframe. The man who stood under the door saw them too. Both knew that now, the power of the wolves was not enough.
Wolfram raged silently at his impotence and shoved the two young people back towards the guildmaster.
Both of the young persons stumbled that way. When they recovered, they looked at Wolfram with utter shock. But Wilhelm Cadeyrn grasped their shoulders and would not indulge discussion. “He is saying you can do nothing more. We must go!” He turned them over to several of his men who were waiting to guide the young ones away.
The guildmaster glanced back, bowing his head at the lord. He offered one last gesture of respect to the wolves who would stay behind. And then he shut the door.
The sound reverberated in the courtyard, taunting them all. And yet, Selva reached out to reassure him. “It’s for the best,” she said to them all. “Their path is not our path. The lions said so.”
He knew what she had heard. He knew what the lions had tried to tell them all. If the world were to end here, the girl and boy were meant to escape and repopulate the land that would emerge from this purge. Unlike the wolves that lingered here, they still had many years to live.
While the shadows advanced, Maximilian clasped his companion’s hand. He thought of her courage in staying by his side and wished he could reward her. So he reached for a memory – a pleasant one that they had once shared — one strong enough to help him summon enough light that would shine long enough for the children to flee.
She rewarded him with a fierce smile.
A group of howls told him that the Wolframs had finally shifted. With the humans gone, they shed their forms and embraced the shapes of their distant ancestors. The Wolves of the Northernlands were a mass of beasts, agile and light on their feet. They weaved among the lions and distracted the Unthings. They tricked and led the creatures to the lions who would render each powerless.
Pride in them allowed the Count access to magic. That pride allowed him to reach out and punish the Unthings that dared get in his way. But it was not enough. He was not enough.
Selva shifted her weight to support him when he lowered his arms. Around them, the battle had shifted in favor of the dark things.
He heard a glassy tinkling of sound as the treetops began to sway about. A wind descended upon them, its warm breeze caressing her hair as it greeted them both. It moved away, trailing the scent of spring behind it.
He felt a sudden warning, a premonition of trouble. He pulled her to him, demanding her to stop what she was doing.
She grew angry at him, as she always did when he tried to tell her what to do. “They fear open water. It seems that they might fear any water. I’m buying you and everyone time!”
There would be no waiting for him to protest. Immediately, a fierce rain began to fall, weeping as it trailed down his skin.
His mind whirled, calculating the weight of the effort required to do all this. “Selva,” he tried to ignore the sound of the lions’ triumph. He looked into her eyes, trying to will her to stop.
But she did not listen.
The sound of water rushed in the nearby creeks, caused by the snow melting around them. His heart clenched as he understood this to be her doing. He worried as he saw how far she was going. This wasn’t just for them but for everyone. She had wanted to save everyone.
When she fell against him, cold and limp, he tried to revive her with magic. Again and again, he tried while wolves and lions circled around desperately fighting the shadows. But nothing would come forth, nothing save a scream.
Around him, the wolves and lions chased around the Unthings. The shadows had begun to dissipate under the weight of rain. Those that remained trembled quietly as the man’s cries skimmed across their liquid surface. The lions were poised to stamp them out, to rout out these hated enemies. But then they began to swiftly move, rolling quickly towards a familiar soul now desperately in pain.
They recognized the one who screamed, for they had embraced him once before and dragged him into their dark world. If not for the spirit of the wolves that had intervened, that soul would not have escaped.
But he was here again, not only afraid but full of hatred towards himself. He was a walking shadow just like them. And this time, they would succeed in taking his soul with them into the void.
The man shifted as they approached. The screams turned to howls as a large black wolf exulted at finding itself freed of its form.
The Wolframs called back to that lonely voice. They howled that they would go to him once the fight was done.
“No.” The lions shouted. “Don’t go!” And they pulled the wolves back, drawing their ire.
“Why,” the wolves snarled. “Why do you keep us from going to him?”
But then they saw the truth — the form of the wolf was only an illusion. Their king’s shape melted into a formless shadow that grew as it swallowed what was left of the Unthings.
Over and over the lions cried in apology. “He’s no longer your lord.”
* * *
Elanore stumbled as she hurried after the others. If it were not for Edmund, who threw himself in her direction to catch her hand, she might have fallen into the water that ran alongside their path.
Edmund held her fast, his heart pounding as he realized she had almost slipped through his fingers. He did not wish to lose her to some hole in the underground catacombs.
The other men passed them on the path while the two took a moment to catch their breath. As the young maiden’s hands clung to his coat, he could feel her pulse –erratic and wild — as she tried to calm herself. She looked up at him, trembling. “What is it?” He asked her.
“They’re crying,” she whispered.
He did not have to ask who. “Elanore – we were sent away because we can’t be of help. I know it looked bad, but he was trying to spare us.”
In the dimly lit passage, she bowed her head for a moment.
He set her upon her feet while trying to fill the silence. “The lions wished it as well. We need to respect that decision and keep going.”
She stopped him with one word. “Wait.”
Edmund obeyed and found her arms wrapped around his neck. She was still trembling.
“Wait.” She pressed her lips insistently against his, breathing in his strength.
He kept himself rooted to the ground, cradling her against him. As he tangled his fingers in her hair and let his mouth linger over her lips, he pondered what she was feeling. But he felt her relax slowly as she found whatever answers she had wanted in his embrace. He heard her breaths slow and her hands begin to let him go.
The sound of Giles’ irritated voice floated back to them from somewhere far away. “You two lovebirds done yet? The entire group is grumbling about how far you fall behind!”
Edmund let go of Elanore and called to the other man. “Look, she tripped. She’s not going to be as fast.”
“Then carry her or be left behind,” the man snapped back.
Edmund turned back to reach for Elanore’s hand but grasped only air.
The sound of light footfalls moved away from him, signaling that the young woman had fled back up the passageway.
A few curses followed, first from Giles and then the guildmaster as they realized Elanore’s intent.
But it was Edmund who took off first after her in a panic now understanding that she had been saying her goodbyes. He shouted after her, calling her name until his voice grew hoarse.
She was deceptively quick, much more fleet-footed than he had realized. She had an advantage in that she appeared to know which turns and which paths to take. Edmund had to use his skills as a hunter to track her. And he had to hope for luck that neither would fall down and break their neck.
Eventually he caught up with her in a small, brightly lit room and cornered her between a table and shelf. His eyes flashed in anger as he grabbed hold of her arms. “Good god, Elanore Redley, you will be the early death of me.”
“I have to go,” she sobbed as she pushed against him. She begged him to let her leave. “Edmund, they need me. They have no one to connect to. They’re crying and I can make it stop.”
He held her tightly to his chest and understood. She could feel their pain and through her he could sense it as well. But he willed her tears to stop and for her to listen. “Did I say I was going to stop you? I’m coming with you!”
She rewarded him a look so tender that he felt nearly invincible as they pushed their way out of the room into a brightly lit passage. They moved swiftly through the lighted hallways eerily devoid of activity, stopping only when they reached the door that would lead them outside.
A strange mix of sounds on the door’s other side unsettled them.
“I will go first,” she told him.
“But–” he had started to tell her that he ought to be first. But she kissed him and then stepped back.
“Keep your sword ready,” she told him as she flung the door open.
The door groaned as it was forced to reveal the outside.
Elanore stepped beyond the wooden door now covered with twisted, grotesque faces. The stones in her hand sprang to life and painted the courtyard with a soft light.
They did not see the pools of shadows. Instead, four-legged creatures roamed about, several of them with bright, glowing eyes.
“Wolves,” she gasped.
Edmund stiffened automatically but he called out. “Are you friend or foe?”
They answered with familiar voices. “It is not the Unthings or us you should worry about. We are your comrades. However, beware the shadow.”
Edmund looked beyond where her light could reach. He sucked in a breath as he contemplated the luminescent eyes that burned from somewhere within a large hazy cloud. He kept an eye upon it as Elanore rushed to a muddied form that had fallen near the steps.
Several lions had assembled there. Others approached, watching as Elanore tried to revive Selva.
“She exhausted her magic to bring the water,” one lion openly grieved. “She killed a great many. But our lord could not help her and went mad. The Unthings that remained went to him to survive.”
“She is not dead,” Elanore insisted. The lions, however, whimpered.
When she raised her light, she understood what they spoke of. Edmund had drawn closer to her, intent on standing between Elanore and the thing that had once been the Count. Both were horrified by the sight of the monster shifting back and forth between shadow and wolf.
Edmund’s fingers gripped the sword at his side. “Is he now one of them?”
“Somewhere in between,” Gawain offered. His tail switched around, betraying his anxiety. “We do not know for how long before he succumbs to them.”
The creature shrieked as it spotted them. Its sound betrayed its fear and its loneliness.
“We must wake her,” Edmund urged Elanore. “What she did for Pip might be able to help him.”
The young woman called the lions to her, asking them to lend her their assistance. Edmund gave Elanore his hand, the only power he could offer her. She clung to it tightly as she drew magic through him from the lions who supported him. She drew it also from the earth underneath them, pouring magic in offering to the fallen lady. Elanore praised the creatures under her breath for their selflessness and their strength as if to encourage them to stand with her.
Edmund did not understand how the transference of magic truly worked. But he knew that whatever passed through him was not of his own creation or done under his own power.
The magic of the lions and this place began to act. Selva’s skin began to lose its deathly pallor. Slowly, her eyes fluttered open, only to find two ecstatic but anxious faces looking back. Elanore and Edmund wasted little time in telling Selva what had happened, speaking in hushed whispers of what had become of the lord.
They helped her sit up so she might see her master. The lions and wolves had kept him confused as he flitted in and out of different forms. But the cornered monster was losing both patience and shape.
The Countess dropped her eyes to her lap, eyes filling with tears at his condition. “He must be in such pain. He cannot stay or go.”
“He must wish to stay,” Edmund offered somberly. “His power or his will must be allowing him to hold on.”
“You can heal him,” Elanore said eagerly. “He will surely respond to you.”
Selva’s shoulders dropped, hinting that she did not share the younger woman’s enthusiasm or belief.
“Your love is powerful enough,” the girl in red knew this look, for she had seen it before. Elanore argued with the woman. “It has done so much already. You must not give up now like this and let this simply be. If you love him, you must try to do something!”
Selva did not understand this human who so passionately believed in her. But she squeezed Elanore’s hand. “Help me,” she said plainly.
The two young people did so, supporting her as she stood and began her walk to the crowd of creatures that surrounded the monstrous beast.
“Hold on!” A panting Giles emerged from the house, clearly annoyed and limping. “What the hell are you all doing! What the–” His voice trailed off as he looked up at the beast in the courtyard. Then he swore a few dozen more times. “Not again!”
“Don’t stop us,” Edmund called back in warning, sending a few lions to block the man’s way if needed.
Giles mumbled while dropping to his hands and knees in the mud. He grabbed at the ground, as if he were grieving.
Several of the wolves trotted to their cousin’s way but Edmund and Elanore paid them little attention as they supported the Countess through the ruined grounds. Their eyes were trained upon the great monster, worried that it might snap at them or suddenly run away.
But the large shadow had gone inert. Or perhaps it simply watched.
The wolves suddenly turned their way to pursue them. The trio was forced to stop and plead with them to turn back. Giles shambled after them, muttering to himself about chasing young ones everywhere. But when he raised his head, his eyes blazed with purpose.”Turn back, you two. I’ll take her from here. The beast clearly recognizes our cousins. He won’t attack them.”
Selva protested weakly as she saw the muddied object the man held in his hands. “His sword — why?”
“It’s his father’s sword,” Giles grimaced. “It was cured with a rare blood and can subdue almost anything. Even him. He cannot ignore it – it will keep him from running and give you time to do what you need.”
The lady fell silent, contemplating the options. “If it will not cause him to die, I will not prevent you from using it. The others have agreed it will work this way?”
“They say it will help.”
With her agreement, the young couple left her in Giles’ care and carefully backed away out of the monster’s line of sight. To the relief of everyone, the beast paid Elanore and Edmund no attention.
Instead, its attention fell upon Giles.
The wet ground exploded as the wolf reached down to snap its jaws at the dashing younger man who had come to stand too closely to the woman next to him. Giles evaded the mouth of the creature but did not escape the limb of the shadow-beast that solidified long enough to punish him. The man and weapon flew into the air.
The sword fell to the earth with a distinct ping, its tip piercing the ground. Edmund strained to reach it, to pick it up before the wolf would go after Giles, who had fled into a pile of bushes. The hunter grasped the handle of the weapon and ran towards the monster. The lions aided him, some meddling with the monster’s movements while others guided him around its side.
Their cries told Edmund to hurry. With a decisive movement, he raised his arm and plunged the sword into the shadow.
The beast screamed as the sword pierced its back. Its strange magic properties affixed him in place. No longer able to move from his spot, the monster began to thrash around, throwing mud and water everywhere.
Selva pushed herself up from the ground with Elanore’s assistance. Muddied and wet, they were both a terrible and almost unrecognizable sight. But together, they approached the monster.
Certain that the monster couldn’t move, Selva approached the beast and slowly brought her fingers to his side. Her touch caused the shadow’s surface to ripple like water, her magic tried to wrap around him. She fought hard to tame and cleanse the blazing black fire that tormented the beast. She wrestled with the shadows that did not wish to leave, forcing them to shrink before her. And above his shrieks, she shouted at him. “My lord! You don’t have permission to leave this world. Not when you haven’t kept your promise to me or to them!”
The creature turned its misshapen head to look at them. It did not know who might be “the lord” and “them” the woman referred to. Its gaze fell upon the light-haired man and the woman in the cloak. His form abruptly shifted, showing sharp teeth of a wolf that could easily and swiftly swallow the red-hooded girl and her protector.
The lady raised her hand and slapped him, hearing the curse the beast whispered. “No!” she told the beast. “Don’t let the shadows confuse you! We are all your friends and family. Those two are not who you think!”
She struggled to keep the beast’s thoughts and memories together. She knew that the shadows confused him, told him of other lives and stories. The monster watched her, a mouth opening and closing at the thought of how she might taste. But her smell of fresh earth and pine bade him to shut his mouth. He did not bite her as her thoughts continued to wash over him like a warm wind upon a vast, cold lake. She would keep sending him images of pleasant things until finally a name rippled across his consciousness.
“Selva,” the beast groaned.
Feelings of joy flowed from her fingers, reaching the beast. “Maximilian! My lord. Do you hear me?”
Her voice was one of many that poured over the monster, confusing him. The Unthings drowned out the woman, speaking to him that it was the end of time and an end to his pain. His frustration took hold and the shadow began to grow.
Above the din, a younger voice called out. Another woman spoke – this one a red-cloaked woman whose magic shed light that silenced the dark voices. She called out to the other woman. “I can stop them! Tell him your story, my lady. Before he forgets who he is.”
Selva’s eyes widened at the strange command. But she kept her hold upon the misshapen monster and spoke, patiently and calmly. “Once upon a time,” she began. “A man lived in a large castle by himself… until one day the woods sent him a maiden.”
The monster listened for a long time while this Selva continued to speak through tears. Her words began to weave together threads that had become scattered in the darkness. Soon the threads began to form a small patch of light.
The monster became aware of the dark space that otherwise surrounded him. It was between the dark and the light, he hovered– not going one way or the other. Eventually a hand entered his space, reaching blindly through the air.
The shadow looked at those fingers. He tried to mimic the shape of what he saw. A small blue light danced about as fingers formed to catch hers.
A shape began to come together and the shadows fell away as the light pushed them aside. The cast-aside shadows dripped away, only to be set aflame by magic summoned by the young healer in red. A blue light blazed about her until all of the shadows’ remains floated to the sky.
A man fell forward, draping himself upon the muddied woman who had bravely approached the monster. She covered his nakedness with the red cloak the young girl herself had offered.
They covered up the scar that had appeared on his back. The lions told them it was the remnant of a mark the creatures had placed upon him long ago. Soon, they said, it would fade away.
If there was pain, the man did not speak of it. Instead the man hungrily kissed the mud-spattered woman, ignoring the rush of wolves splashing around him and the sound of lions pertly commenting on his nakedness.
When he finished wiping all the mud and tears from the face of the woman who held him, he roughly scolded them for interrupting him with such frivolous concerns.
After all, he was their lord and was free to do as he pleased.