Shadow Run - Episode 9
“I thought he was a wind worker.” Essenin took Davs’ coat when he handed it over, tucking it around a semi-conscious, shivering Zie.
Davs gave a one-shouldered shrug as he went back to rowing. “Well, he is. But some of your family has more than one talent, even if you only do water work.”
“Davs.” Essenin shot him a flat glare. “That’s wind and water. Those...well, they go together. That? Back there? A powerful light spell like that?”
“He’s not selak. He’s not human.” Davs glanced over his shoulder, presumably to judge how much farther to the ship. “Magic must be different for sylvas.”
Essenin chewed on their bottom lip to stop the rest of their skittering thoughts from falling out. I’m sure it is different. But I’ll still have a hundred and seven questions as soon as he can speak to us sensibly.
The launch scraped as Davs brought them alongside the Golden Runner, his arms trembling. Essenin took pity on his exhaustion, hailing the ship in a voice mother would’ve said stirred bones from the sea bottom. Not genteel at all, but it worked and within minutes, sailors had manned winches to bring the launch aboard. Essenin cringed when the solid thunk-thunk-thunk of sturdy boots hurried toward them across the deck.
“I don’t recall asking you to drown my new sail impeller,” Captain Unav snapped as she joined them at the rail.
Essenin offered her an apologetic smile. “Tiny mishap rowing out. Apparently sylvas small craft have different hull shapes. Balance isn’t quite the same.”
At least part of that was true. Sylvas boats were an odd shape. Davs gave them a hard side glance, but kept his mouth shut and concentrated on lifting Zie out of the boat. Truth was all well and good. Trying to explain what they’d just seen when they didn’t understand it themself? No. Such a hillside of no.
She snorted and shouldered past him. “He is alive, I trust?”
A short bout of coughing answered her, then Zie sketched a salute from the cradle of Davitts’ arms. “Reporting as requested, Captain. Do you need me now?”
“No. Thank the mother for that. The oarsmen will get us past the shoals and we should catch a good wind this morning.” Captain Unav shook her head, but her thunderous expression had calmed. “Go below. Rence will take you. Get warm and dry before you contract a lung ailment. I most likely won’t need you for a day or two.”
Ah, Rence. I remember her. Another half-selak like Essenin, the last time they’d seen her, she’d been just another sailor, a young rigging rat. Now, by the uniform, she was a junior officer, though her webbed feet were still bare. Essenin tried not to be jealous that she’d gotten fin-feet as part of her selak inheritance since at least he could wear all manner of boots.
She gestured to them to follow and hurried them off the deck, apparently too busy to indulge in normal selak greetings. Fine. The how’s-your-mother-aunt-cousins-and-so-on could go on for a bit, Essenin had to admit. At least their quarters would be a cabin rather than bunking belowdecks with the crew, and it was a nice one with two roomy bunks and a chest for each.
Rence hurried off without a word and Davs deposited his sylvas burden on the nearer bunk, his movements gentle, but his expression full of thunder.
“You have questions,” Zie murmured as he pulled his knees up under his chin.
“Several dozen of them, starting with what in all blue hells was that?” Davs waved his arms expansively, as close to losing his temper as Essenin had ever seen him. “But no. First--before the ship gets underway and it’s too bloody late—are those things going to attack the town?”
“No.” Zie pulled himself into an even smaller ball. “Truly. No. They have no interest in or some odd aversion to humans. The town is safe.”
Davs started pacing, which in the small cabin became a threat to Essenin’s feet. “No interest in humans? Why were they calling to me?”
“Were they?” Zie hid his face in his arms, shuddering violently. “As I understand it, you’re not entirely human.”
“That’s… All right. True.” Davs whirled and smacked the back of his hand against Essenin’s chest. “Were they calling you?”
“Not, hmm, calling. No.” Essenin moved Davs so they could reach Zie and coax him out of his dripping shirt. “There was a moment where I couldn’t move. Like my limbs were suddenly full of sand.”
“They did?” Zie’s words barely made it through chattering teeth.
“Davs. My love, my own.” Essenin squinted at him. “Either help me get him warm or go stomp around somewhere else.”
Grumbling, Davs worked to unlace Zie’s boots and between the two of them, they soon had him stripped, wrapped in blankets, and propped up between them for extra warmth. Essenin did hope the blue leather coat would be all right after its dip in salt water. Time will tell, I suppose, and not the important thing here. Focus.
When the violent shivers had calmed to an occasional shudder, Essenin nudged Zie. “So now tell us. Everything you can. And why you didn’t warn us.”
“I didn’t think… I had hoped…” Zie sighed and leaned his head on Essenin’s shoulder, maybe because Davs had yelled at him. “They should have been a few days behind me. So I thought. It takes them time to cross running water since they need an actual way across. They’ve become better at it, which is disturbing. I thought I’d never need to tell you. That we would be gone.”
Davs’ fists were clenched in his thighs. “That’s a pretty terrible excuse for the last bit. But still doesn’t explain a storm cursed thing. What the fuck was that? Those? Whatever it was.”
“They’re shadows.” Zie cringed when Davs pulled in a sharp breath. “Truly. I have no better word for them other than what they are. Living, hungry summoned shadows. They are what devastated the north country and they are what has hunted me since.”
“Summoned?” Essenin put the terrible pieces together. “It was magic that got away from someone?”
Zie gave another hard shudder. “Yes. They killed my family. Everyone in my compound. Everyone in all the compounds, as far as I know.”
“Your brother. Hest.” Davs put a hand on Zie’s thigh, his voice gentler now.
“Yes. I don’t know how to stop them. Slow them, yes. Temporarily confound them like I did tonight. But not how to unmake them.”
Essenin wrapped both arms around him. “I’m so sorry. What a terrible thing.” A few moments of rocking Zie made another thought resurface. “And you think you should be able to. Because you… I don’t understand it, but you can reach into more than one sort of magic.”
“Your southern magic is, ah, I beg your pardon, limited.” Zie shifted back on the bed so he could face them, his hands peeking out from his blanket nest to gesticulate. “We call it the disciplines, the paired sets of magic every sylvan child learns from an early age. A child might be able to access, for instance, air and vacuum as a paired discipline early in life and learn another later. They may only have one. In certain families, though… Certain families tend to breed mahk.”
Davs’ forehead crinkled. “The what now?”
“Someone who can access and possibly master all five disciplines.”
“And that’s you,” Essenin guessed. “And you managed to hold them off just enough to escape, but you couldn’t stop them.”
Zie nodded miserably, his eyes glinting with tears waiting to fall.
“I know you’re scared. And I know tonight was rough.” Davs shook him by the knee. “But I have to ask. Was the goal just to get away or was there a plan?”
“It’s difficult to plan when all you’re doing is running.” Zie heaved a shuddering breath and wiped at his eyes. “But they can’t follow me now. There are no bridges across the sea. I hope that they’ll pace the shoreline forever in a futile search for me, but it’s more likely they’ll return north to search for any survivors. I have nothing as grand as a plan. It’s merely a thought.”
Essenin rolled a hand. “Which is?”
“I hear there are sylvas compounds across the waves. If there is an older mahk, someone with more experience, maybe even someone who has met something like the shadows… Well. Probably an empty hope. But better than none.”
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Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.