Shadow Run - Episode 14
Davitts frowned at the bunk where Essenin had gathered Zie’s feet into his lap. He wanted to be sympathetic. He wanted to be kind. But his imagination had been left to its own devices and there were too many things gathering there.
Essenin gave him big, sad eyes as Zie began to stir. “Davs…”
“No. It’s high time he explained some things. It’s our necks on the line, too.”
Zie’s lovely purple eyes fluttered open and his instinct for reading the room apparently hadn’t deserted him as he drew his knees up under his chin and pressed back into the corner. Though as Davitts watched, he was certain the fear radiating off Zie had little to do with him and Ess, who cocked his head to one side and waited.
After a few uneven breaths, Zie finally spat out, “It should have been safe. The ocean should’ve been gods-cursed safe!”
“What does that mean?” Davitts leaned against the cabin door, arms crossed over his chest. He had more than a guess, but Zie would have to say it.
“The shadows,” Zie said to his knees. “Somehow...it doesn’t bear thinking…”
“They shouldn’t be thinking creatures. They shouldn’t. But they’ve worked out how to take a ship. They’ve killed everyone aboard and somehow managed to sail it or they’ve...taken the people on board and are using them.”
“Taken how?” Essenin asked gently.
“I don’t know!” Zie cut off on a strangled shout, pulling into a tighter ball. “I don’t know. Possession? Controlling them like puppets? I don’t know. This has never happened. It should never—”
Davitts kept the rest of his suspicions to himself. The details would come out eventually and weren’t important now. “You think they’ve changed their hunting tactics? They’re after other prey?”
“No.” Still shaking, Zie uncurled far enough to look at him. “No, I don’t think so. This ghost ship hasn’t attacked anyone. If they wanted other prey, it sounds as if they could have had it. No, they’re still coming for me.”
Essenin shot over a speaking glance and they all shifted in uncomfortable silence for several fraught moments. Finally, Ess asked the question Davitts had been thinking. “Zie, where did the shadows come from?”
“They were summoned.”
“So you said.” Ess persisted, poking at Zie’s knee. “But who would summon such things? Why?”
“We’re talking about now, though,” Davitts interrupted.
“Yes.” Zie let go of a shuddering sigh. “But southerners know nothing about us. Not the slightest thing. It’s easier to start farther back.” A tiny bit of acerbity crept into his words. “May I?”
Davitts waved a hand for him to continue.
“The clans were small family groups long ago, We lived semi-nomadic lives and survived partly by raiding. Food, pelts, edlak, and mates. New bloodlines from raids were essential to prevent the diseases and infirmities of interbreeding. We began to settle at some point. In stone enclaves, jealously guarded. The meeting of the zerl every year codifies the laws. But raiding was still in our blood.”
Zie gave a half-hearted shrug. “To some extent. Some clans took to raiding outsiders’ river boats. This the zerl refuses to consider. Clan raids were still permitted in a ritual sense between enclaves, again, a question of bloodlines, but those are carefully negotiated beforehand. But in certain cases of wrongdoing, blood raids are still within the law, as well.”
Essenin’s dark eyebrows had slowly crept toward the ceiling, and Davitts wondered whether this was due to Zie’s explanation or his inability to choose between speaking in the past or present.
“Sometimes the blood raids became retaliatory.” Zie went on in a broken whisper. “Sometimes the mahk of this clan or that resorted to weapons beyond knife and claw. The shadows that devoured the clans and still hunt me are...they are one of those weapons.”
Davitts sat hard on the opposite bunk as the consequences of those words sank in. Someone had summoned those monstrous shadows to use in a clan feud, someone who obviously didn’t understand what they had summoned or how to control them. Someone who hadn’t known how to un-summon them when the cursed things turned on every sylvas in reach. “Zie…”
“There has to be a way.” Zie’s whisper had turned fierce. “There is no magic that can’t be undone. I just need...time. Peace. I needed them to leave me alone for a while.”
“You need help.” Ess gave him a quick hug. “Doing this alone hasn’t been working, so finding older mahk to advise you is the best idea.”
Zie shrugged him off, the misery clear on his face. “But now they’ve followed me and I might endanger another entire sylvas network of clan enclaves.”
“You don’t know that,” Davitts said, more sharply than he’d intended. “We have no idea if those ghost stories are even true.”
“There are enough tellings that the stories spring from somewhere.” Zie’s ears flattened against his head in obvious misery. “Enough eye witnesses who carry actual fear away with them, not storytelling fear. They’ve hunted me long enough. I know when I hear stories of them. But now…now they have learned. Changed. Taken away my last hope of refuge. Don’t believe me if you like. All of my instincts scream that they’ve followed me onto the waves.”
“It’s a terrible thing to suspect.” Ess gathered him close and this time Zie leaned into the embrace. “I can’t imagine living with this fear as long as you have.”
Zie sighed and let himself be soothed for a moment before he shoved away again. “When we reach shore, I’ll run. You both need to stay with the ship and sail back home as soon as possible.”
“Absolutely not.” Ess’s mouth had set in a stubborn line.
“You must! Please. Promise me you will.” Tears welled in Zie’s eyes. “I can’t… I can’t watch them kill you both.”
Davitts joined them on the bed, one hand on Ess’s thigh, the other hand taking Zie’s gently. “We just won’t die, then. We’re not abandoning you when we land. You can beg and plead all you like, but you need us with you.”
“I… Davs…” Zie flung himself against Davitts’ chest and burst into tears. At least he wasn’t arguing anymore.
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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.