A Dream of the Shadowlight
Also available in ePub format.
The young woman stepped out onto the copperwood stage slowing only long enough to share a glance with another woman at the edge of the stage. The many folds of the emerald and scarlet dress that she wore hampered her movement as she crossed the stage. When she reached the forward center of the stage, she pulled the swirled colors of her dress back over her shoulder and lifted her head high toward the audience.
The audience sat upon bronze folding chairs terraced so that each row could see above the heads of the row before them. Martin sat toward the back of the crowd, with the chairs around him having been left empty by the others. His eyes stayed upon the young woman's face and half-smile as she pulled upon the fold of her dress that had slid back off her shoulder.
"What do you think of this one?"
Martin glanced quickly at George who was seated in the row before him and to one side. He did not bother answering the question and returned his attention to the young woman who was awkwardly turning to show them the back of her dress. A feeling of warmth and courage he prepared and then sent toward her. He watched her complete the turn more gracefully and was pleased to think that she had received the mental aide.
An elbow struck Martin's knee and brought his attention back around to George. The young man seated before him met Martin's gaze and did not look away.
"What do you expect me to think?"
A gasp went up from the other members of the audience cutting off any reply from George. Martin looked toward the stage. The young woman had her back to the audience with her hands covering her mouth. A second woman was on the stage, dancing.
Her rumpled dirty blonde hair flew about her head as she spun about, and the oversized tie-dyed shirt that she wore did nothing to hinder her leaping movements. Her pants were black and fit tightly against her with netlike patterns upon the sides that exposed the skin beneath. The dance kept her away from the young woman at the front of the stage.
Martin made his hands into fists and brought them to rest against his lap as he watched the graceful liquid movements of the dancer. She made one final spinning movement and stopped. An arm stretched out before her. Their eyes met. Martin nodded his head once. The dancer vanished.
The young woman grabbed the folds of her dress, revealing her bare feet, and ran from the stage. A great roar went up from the audience as everyone spoke at once. The people rose from their chairs and began to move about the dais. Remaining in his seat, Martin bowed his head and covered his eyes with his hands.
"That was Willow," he heard George say, but if there were more, it was lost among the voices of the others.
"Attention! May I have your attention!" Another woman stood upon the stage, and the uproar of the audience began to settle down. "The rest of the Pageant has been canceled for today! Please return to your homes and campfires! The Pageant will be completed just as soon as the appearance of the Willow Spirit can be interpreted! Until then!" The woman glanced about the stage. "May your fires burn bright."
The members of the audience began to leave the Theater, speaking among themselves in subdued voices. Martin rubbed his temples with his hands and listened to the sounds of the people leaving. He looked up to find the stage empty, and the others gone except for George who was speaking quietly with Jeff, Robert, and Cynthia. Martin descended from among the chairs and walked past where the others stood without listening to them.
He climbed onto the low copperwood stage and crossed toward the back of it. The smell of pine needles filled the air, and he turned to face the front of the stage. He looked over the rows of seats to the wall behind them and pushed his awareness past the solid wall to the houses scattered outside.
"That is where she vanished?"
He blinked his eyes and looked across the stage to find Cynthia approaching him. The others had left the Theater.
"At least there are only a couple houses there," Martin said. He stretched out his arm and pointed at the wall. Cynthia moved to stand several paces before him and then took a deep breath.
"The smell. Beautiful. `Pine,' you call it?" she said and waited for Martin to nod his head. "Then, there is no doubt?"
"It was Willow."
Cynthia looked away toward the floor and shuffled her feet.
"Willow only appears to warn of the Umberaught."
"Please, girl! Don't speak the name of the Duskfire!"
They both turned to see the woman who had last addressed the audience rapidly approaching them.
"It's all right, Lady Emerson," Martin said. "There is still daylight, and the Theater is well lit. The Umber."
"Please!" Emerson raised her fists to the sides of her head. Martin smiled at her.
"The Shadowlight cannot fall upon us here."
Emerson breathed a sigh of relief.
"Well, you are the Storyteller, and you know best." She kept her eyes on Martin's feet. "But please don't speak that name here."
"This is your Theater, and I will do as you request."
Emerson lifted her eyes from the floor of the stage but was unable to meet his gaze.
"I know you have already traded some stories for lodging, but the appearance of the Willow Spirit will have many of the families concerned. Would you speak tonight?"
"My Lady Emerson, I will delightedly speak tonight."
Emerson curtsied and then turned with a smile on her face to make for backstage. Martin watched her leave, and as he started toward the exit of the Theater, Cynthia fell into step beside him.
"What are we going to do?"
"You are going to stay near the campfires with the others. The Umberaught has found a shard of darkness to grow in, and I need to find it."
"And why am I to be kept out of the way?"
Martin rolled his eyes and swept one hand in a jerking motion toward her.
"Do you understand the Power?"
"Until you do," he said interrupting her. "I am going to keep you as far away from the Umberaught as I can."
"When am I going to understand the Power? I know you've got it, but you refuse to give it to anyone else!"
Martin stopped and turned fully to face her.
"If you are very lucky, you will never have to carry such a burden."
When Cynthia made no indication that she would reply, Martin pushed the final door open and stepped out onto the field. There was a gentle roll and tilt to the land that was covered with a patchwork of purple, red, blue, pink, and silver grasses. Many tents were assembled upon the field made of a shaggy brown and florescent green fur-covered material. He walked around the half-dome and tower that composed the Theater until he could see a series of houses scattered about the field.
"Do you really want to help?" he asked Cynthia who had kept pace with him around the building.
"Willow was pointing at one of those two." He pointed at two of the houses that were settled close to each other. "Find out which family lives in the house on the left."
"And if they have children?"
"Yes, and I need to know if the children have been having nightmares recently."
"Yes, oh wise Storyteller."
Martin raised a hand threateningly toward her, but Cynthia jumped out of range with a grin upon her face. She turned and began walking in the direction of the two houses. Martin moved to fall into place beside her, but she would quicken her stride to stay ahead of him. As they drew closer to the house, Cynthia changed direction to make for the left most of the two houses.
The house that Martin approached had a narrow front with an elongated structure and stood perhaps four stories tall. He noticed a man and a woman making their way toward the house as well. Judging that they were walking toward a side entrance to the building, he increased his pace to intercept them.
"Excuse me," he called out to them, "but do you live here?"
"Yes." The man took a step toward him. "We do live here."
"I am the Storyteller, and I was wondering."
"The Storyteller!" The woman interrupted Martin and moved to stand beside the man placing a hand on his arm. "Our son Daniel was delighted with the story you told in the Theater last night."
"Why, thank you. And you are?"
"We are Aaron and Lady Baker, Sir," the man said. "Won't you come into our shop?"
"I would be delighted."
Aaron led the way around to the front of the house and opened the door. He passed into the room first, and his wife held the door open for Martin to follow him while a smile covered her face from ear to ear. Martin winked at her as he entered the house, causing the Lady to blush and look away. The room was filled with the smell of fresh-baked bread and many loaves still sat upon a shelf on the back wall of the room.
"We did not make much bread today, Sir," Aaron said, "not with the Pageant and all. This is not the best room to talk in. Would you step into our home?"
"Lead and I will follow."
Aaron stepped through a doorway next to the shelf of bread and led Martin up a flight of narrow winding stairs. The Lady followed behind them as they entered a room on the second floor. A chair carved from copperwood was offered for Martin to use while both Aaron and the Lady sat in less ornamental wooden chairs facing him.
"Were you at the Pageant today?" Martin asked after they were seated.
"My wife and I were there, Sir, but we don't feel that such things are appropriate for children."
"Of course. You mentioned that you have a son, Daniel. How old is he?"
"He is ten years, Sir." Aaron held his head up proudly.
"Please, do you ask because," the Lady said timidly, "because of Her?" She looked at the floor to avoid meeting their eyes.
"Yes, the Willow Spirit foretells danger. As the Storyteller, I thought I might make certain that the families know the stories to guard themselves."
"The Shadowlight can enter homes through open windows or doors left ajar," Aaron said. "Then, it will fester in the shadows of rooms below ground. When it has grown, it can steal the heart of any child who sleeps in the home."
"Leaving only blackness and despair in its wake," Martin said quietly. The Lady gripped Aaron's arm tightly. "If found, the Shadowlight can be driven from a home before harm is done."
"The ground floor and second story windows are never opened, Sir, and the doors are always securely shut at night."
"But the attic window is left open at night," the Lady said, "because of the heat from the oven. Is that wrong?"
"No." Martin smiled at her. "The attic is too high for it to seep into, and as long as there is light."
"The fire of the oven provides light for the basement, Sir," Aaron said, "but there are some shadows. We store our flour and yeast there."
"May I see the basement?"
"Of course, Sir." Aaron rose from his chair, and the Lady hurried quickly before them from the room.
Martin descended the stairs behind Aaron and was led to a door that was held open for him by the Lady. The room beyond was the basement and was filled with a bright red light. Martin climbed down the steps into the basement and looked to the large fire burning below the oven. The woven crates filled with flour cast meager shadows, and he soon returned to the doorway.
"The Shadowlight is not here."
The Lady almost released her hold on the door, and Aaron wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. He held the door for Martin to return to the shop, and the Lady followed quickly behind them.
"Thank you," Aaron said and shook Martin's hand. "Thank you more than you can know."
"Not at all," Martin said. "Perhaps I shall return tomorrow for some bread." He left the house through the front door and began to make his way back toward the Theater.
Walking around the bowl shape of the building, he approached the numerous tents that were assembled on the field. Several of the tents had been assembled to form one large structure containing a couple of chambers. Martin went to this tent and pushed the door flap open to find George, Jeff, Robert, and Cynthia, lounging on folding chairs in the first chamber.
"What did you find out?" he asked Cynthia as he crossed the chamber to stand before her.
"Their family name is March," Cynthia said listing the items on her fingers as she spoke. "Three generations of them live in the house. There are about five or six children with no indication of any having recurring nightmares. The windows and doors are firmly locked at night, and the basement is well lit with nothing in it to cast shadows."
"I didn't ask you to check their basement." He folded his arms across his chest.
"I know." She leaned slightly forward on her chair and rested her elbows against her legs. "The guys have decided they don't need to see the rest of the Pageant. We're going to visit the Cat now."
"I'm almost surprised you aren't there already."
"Cyn' insisted we wait for you," Jeff said.
"Because you are going with us," Cynthia said.
"No, I am not." Martin held his hands palms out toward her.
"Yes, you are." Cynthia rose from her chair and moved to stand close enough to him that their faces were almost touching. "You need to visit the Cat more than any of us."
"I won't go." He tried to back away, but she grabbed his arms.
"Why not? There must have been at least one pretty young beast that caught your eye at the Pageant."
"Hey, Cyn', why are you going?" one of the men asked. "There were no men in the Pageant."
Cynthia released her grip and turned toward them. Martin stumbled backward and almost fell.
"I don't need a man to have fun!"
The chamber resounded with the sound of the others laughing. Cynthia strode to the tent flap and flung it open.
"Follow me to the Cat!" she said and then left the tent.
Jeff and Robert piled through the opening behind her, still laughing loudly. George stopped at the door and turned back toward Martin.
"I don't understand you."
"There's nothing to understand," Martin said.
"No." George stepped away from the door. "How about Cyn'? I know she stays mostly with Jeff, but even I have made grabs for her at times. Yet, in all the time she has been with us, you have never even tried to lay a finger on her."
"So?" He let his hands change into fists at his sides.
"I mean I have never seen you with anyone. Why won't you come to the Cat?"
"Listen, I'm not interested in this right now. It's very important that I decipher Willow's clue."
"You would probably love to bang her!"
Martin felt his mouth slack open while his arms came to rest across his stomach. He closed his mouth, and as he turned away from George, he took a step farther into the confines of the tent.
"Hey, Martin? Oh, Hell!"
He heard the sound of footsteps and then of the tent flap falling into place. When he turned, he found the chamber empty and then walked to stand among the chairs where he could face the covered door.
He turned his head at the sound of the voice. Willow stood behind him. He spun away from her. His nose and mouth filled with the scent of pine trees.
"Why do you put up with them?"
Martin coughed and held a hand over his heart.
"They bring me information. Things I can't learn from the exchange of stories."
Willow crossed to the tent flap and held it open enough to look outside.
"Still, that one would treat you with more respect if he knew about the Power."
"No." He moved his arm down in an arc. "Cynthia knows I have Power, and the others suspect one thing or another. Which is more than I like."
Releasing the tent flap, Willow turned back toward him and crossed her arms over her chest.
"You don't even like them. You." She took a step away from the opening. "I wonder what they would think of our little talks."
"Have you come to speak of the Umberaught? Your last message wasn't terribly clear."
"You know if I intervene directly, the Umberaught would strike us down. I don't have the Power to fight it like that. Only you have the potential to truly defeat the Umberaught."
"So you said on the night you first found me. Remember that? It was before people started following me. Alone with my campfire. You surprised me that time as well."
Willow made her way around the inside of the chamber and stopped before one of the connections to another room.
"I have come to help you. The Umberaught may enter a dwelling through any door or window left open at night, and the basement is not the only unattended room where it may grow."
"I think I know what you mean."
"You think! You cannot think; you must know! Your Power is great, yet without faith, it goes unused! There is no room for doubt!"
"I in-t-tend to speak with the Baker's son, Daniel, later."
"Soon, for it will be dark later." Willow disappeared.
Martin stumbled to one of the chairs and sat on it. He held his arms tightly over his chest and closed his eyes. When he did reopen them, he brought a hand up to his cheek. Moving his hand before his eyes, he focused on a droplet of water perched on the tip of his finger.
He rose from the chair and crossed the room to the tent flap. Moving his hand slowly upward and to the side, the tent flap began to open. It fluttered halfway open as if on a breeze and then blocked the light from entering the room. His hand continued in its arc backwards and came to rest at his side. He stared at the closed tent flap in silence and then made his way to one of the secondary chambers of the tent. Two sleeping bags open and tied together lay discarded on the floor of the small room. Several garments were heaped together next to a half-empty pack and a redwood staff. Martin picked up the staff. Its bare surface had been worn smooth. He left the shaggy fur covered tent and retraced his steps back around the Theater toward the home of Aaron and Lady Baker.
The second and third stories of the building were larger than the ground floor; the wood curved outward to the final story that towered over him and was clouded gray with shadows. He noticed a small figure approaching the side of the house, and Martin moved from where he had been looking up at the building to reach the child.
"Excuse me, son, but could I speak with you?" he asked the child when he was closer.
"Only for a moment," the boy replied.
Martin noticed a streak of silver ran through the child's blonde hair and dark circles surrounded the child's eyes.
"You must be Daniel. I am Martin, the Storyteller."
"The Storyteller?" The child's red flecked eyes grew wide.
"Will you speak with me?"
Daniel nodded his head and allowed Martin to lead him away from the house.
"Daniel, could you tell me about your dreams?"
The child shivered, and Martin put a hand gently on his shoulder.
"I've been hearing voices in my sleep."
Martin knelt so that he could look directly into Daniel's eyes.
"Do the voices promise you things?"
Daniel nodded, and his lip began to tremble.
"You do not need to speak of what they promise."
Daniel stopped shivering, and his eyes filled with tears.
"Last night. The voices. Whispered. While I was still awake."
Martin closed his eyes and held them tightly shut. When he reopened them, he looked to where the sun drifted low in the sky.
"Daniel, the Shadowlight has found its way into your attic."
The child gasped and threw his arms about Martin's neck. Martin pulled Daniel away and held him at arms' length.
"I can teach you how to face the Shadowlight. Together we can drive it from your home. You need to tell the Shadowlight that it is not welcome in your house and must leave. I cannot tell it to go. I do not live in your house. Are you brave enough to do this?"
Daniel nodded his head slowly.
"Then let us go to your attic while there is still light."
Martin retrieved his staff from where he had dropped it and followed Daniel into the house. They climbed up many flights of stairs and avoided Aaron and Lady Baker. When they were on the fourth floor, Daniel stopped before a door.
"This room leads to the attic," he said. The child opened the door and let out a cry of surprise.
Willow stood in the small empty room next to the partly open window. Martin stepped around Daniel into the room and approached her.
"I knew you would understand the clue," Willow said as she put her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly. "The Shadowlight is strong here, and it is waiting for you. You must be ready. I. I'm not prepared to lose you."
"I'm ready," Martin said as he burrowed his face into her hair, which filled his senses with the smell of pine. "You've risked everything for this warning."
"The Power is great in you, but it can only be wielded through faith and innocence." She pulled away from him enough to look into his eyes. "Do you understand? Only a virgin can use the Power."
"Yes, I understand." Martin smiled, and she pulled him close, again.
His awareness flooded the room, and he remembered Daniel standing just inside the doorway. He turned in Willow's arms and pulled her toward the door.
"Daniel, this is Willow."
She knelt next to the child and held out a hand for him. Daniel took hold of the hand but did not say anything as she ran the fingers of her other hand along the silver streak in his hair.
"Are you the Willow Spirit?" the child was finally able to ask.
"Yes, I am."
Martin walked to the center of the room and put his hand against the trap door that opened onto the attic. The wood was cold to the touch, and he returned to where Daniel stood.
"Willow is correct. The Shadowlight has grown much more than I thought. It would be stupid for me to take you up there."
"But who will tell it to leave?"
"Don't worry. I will be able to drive it from your house."
Martin returned to the trap door and noticed the redwood staff lying where he had dropped it on the floor. Looking back to the ceiling, he released the latch and allowed the trap door to swing open. A gust of cold air swept out of the attic and escaped through the open window. With a gentle push against the floor, Martin floated up through the opening and into the attic.
The room was completely dark except for the square of the open trap door. He pictured a spark of light, and a tiny flame sprang to life in his open hand. He tossed the light into the air where it stayed and began to banish the darkness from the room. As the fire grew, only one patch of shadow remained in the light. The outline of the shadow wavered and appeared to move somewhat across the floor.
"Umberaught," he said, and the shadow shrank backward into a corner of the attic.
As he approached the shape, it began to grow and to take on a human form, and the shadow split into two halves. Martin rubbed his hands together and caused a second flame to spring into existence in his grasp. When he glanced back at the corner, he looked upon the faces of George and Cynthia cast in shadow, and both forms were naked.
Martin's hands came apart. The shadow of George leapt at him. He threw the new flame at it. The flame passed through the shadow and bounced off the floor. The shadow barreled into Martin. They hit the floor. Pinning him down, the shadow dug its fingers into his chest. Icicles of pain pierced his body. He freed one of his hands. The shadow of Cynthia grabbed his knees, and pain ran through his legs.
Martin's free hand locked on to the shadowy face of George. He shoved with his arm and mind throwing the shadow across the attic. He kicked at the second shadow. It pulled his legs apart, and the face of Cynthia moved toward him.
The shadow turned toward the sound of the voice.
"Begone!" Daniel yelled and struck the shadow with the redwood staff.
The shadow lost its grip. Martin brought his legs together and kicked striking it in the face. The shadow of Cynthia fell backward onto the floor. Martin scrambled to his feet.
"Get out of here!"
"No." Daniel held the large staff with both hands. "This is my house!"
Daniel swung the staff at the shadow of Cynthia. It rolled away from the blow. Martin turned toward the shadow of George. It was charging at him. A feeling of force weld up inside of Martin. He struck the shadow with the thought. It staggered onward and reached toward him. He met its hands with his own. Cold gripped his fingers and spread up his arms. He took a step backward and to the side forcing the shadow off balance. Martin swung his arms. The shadow lost its grip and tumbled to the floor. Martin made a slashing motion with his hand imagining his fingers stretched out like four swords. The shadow shivered and then regained its feet. He flailed his fist at the shadow. It ducked under his swing and hit him in the stomach. He doubled over with the cold and pain. Another blow fell on him, and he struck the floor. He looked into George's face grinning down at him. Martin pointed his first finger at the shadow with his thumb pointing into the air and brought his thumb down. Warmth rampaged down his arm.
"I just shot a hole in your chest," he said to the shadow of George. "You can't see it, but it is four inches around. You're beaten."
The shadowy grin faded, and the black pits of its eyes widened enough for Martin to glimpse a tiny spark deep within their depths. A hole brightened into view where Martin had pointed, and the shadow of George was shredded by the firelight. When only light remained, Martin released a low moan and sank fully onto the floor.
He shifted onto his side as his awareness focused in the direction he had heard Daniel shout from. The boy and the shadow of Cynthia had their hands on the redwood staff, which glistened with a thin layer of ice. The shadow was pushing Daniel toward a corner of the attic.
"I don't want your milk," he heard the boy say. "Get out of my house!"
Martin climbed unevenly to his feet and crossed the distance to where the two of them were locked together. He brought his hand under the shadow's arm to get a grip on its shoulder. The shadow changed its stance, and his fingers touched her uncovered breast. He felt the erect nipple in the palm of his hand. His hand pulled away from the flesh. The shadow began to turn toward him. Martin forced his hand back down, and through the cold flesh, he pushed the shadow away from Daniel. It stumbled and fell to the floor. Martin pointed his finger. A flood of warmth leaped between them.
"There is now a six-inch hole in your chest and part of your shoulder is gone." He felt something pop.
The shadow thrashed about on the floor of the attic as its shoulder began to fade away. Martin could not turn his eyes away from the unharmed breast, which he had touched, as the shadow of Cynthia was slowly devoured by the light. The sound of the redwood staff clattering to the floor brought Martin around to face Daniel.
"Is it over?"
Martin looked about the brightly-lit room, and his senses stretched into every corner of the attic.
"It's over." He moved to help the boy back to his feet. "Didn't I tell you to stay downstairs?"
"I had to face the Shadowlight. Besides, the Willow Spirit said that I could do it. Over and over and over again."
They walked to the trap door, and Martin lowered Daniel through the opening. The room below the attic was empty except for the smell of pine needles floating in the air.
"Now we can go to the Theater and tell everyone that the Shadowlight has left," Martin said.
"Does this mean that I have the Power? Like you?"
"Sort of. But not like me. Anyone can harm the Shadowlight the way you did."
"But all I did was tell it to go away. I don't. The Willow Spirit said something about faith and, and virgin?"
"Well, I don't completely agree with her. You can wield the Power through faith and innocence like Willow, or you can use it with confidence and wisdom."
"Like me; emphasis on the wisdom. Now get along! We have to be at the Theater, soon!"
Martin watched the boy turn toward the door and hurry from the room. Rubbing his hands together, Martin closed the door to the attic and then the window. He looked about the empty room and remembered that the redwood staff had been left in the attic. He held his arm out and pictured how the staff would look in his hand. He imagined the smooth surface of the staff against his skin, and the solid feeling it would have between his fingers.
The staff appeared in his hand. A wide grin spread across his face as he held the staff above his head. While his arm was upraised, he noticed the faint smell of pine lingering on his clothes. Martin left the empty room and closed the door quietly behind him.