Shadow Run - Episode 18
Zie wasn’t heavy, no. But he was still an adult male whose relative lightness became less…light with each passing step. Especially after he, mother of the deeps only knew how, fell asleep riding on Essenin’s back. Astonishingly, neither his thighs gripping Essenin’s waist nor his arms looped around their shoulders eased one bit.
Maybe this is what small sylvas children learn to do. Cling tight even through naps and let the adult carrying them have their hands free. Maybe it’s easier that way when you’re living on the ice for much of the year. Right. I have no sandburned idea. Zie might be the oddest sylvas ever and not at all like any other for all I know.
When they turned onto the Old Nersa Road, about an hour from the inn, Zie woke with a sharp gasp and slid off Essenin’s back so quickly they were certain he must’ve fallen. When Essenin turned though, there he was on his feet, hands half up as if readying to call the winds, blinking in confusion.
“We’re almost there. To the inn. To Davs.” Essenin stayed still and extended a hand, waiting for Zie to reorient
“I slept. While you were walking.” His soft voice was full of wonder, but he took the offered hand.
“You were bone tired. Ready to walk a bit?
Stiffly at first, Zie walked beside Essenin, much to the relief of their back and legs. The air softened with the sun no longer blazing overhead, a warm breeze carrying the scents of wildflowers Essenin couldn’t name, reminding him of other trips, other years. A tumble off an edlak. Davs there before Essenin could catch his breath. The near-panic in Davs’ honey eyes. That sudden, ferocious kiss when he determined Essenin hadn’t broken his neck.
A smile tugged at their lips and they let it. That had been an interesting year. A wonderful year full of bright memories. Zie caught the smile, but didn’t pry. He limped along holding tight to Essenin’s hand until the first farmhouse came in sight, then he only let go long enough to get his hat out of his pack and jam it on his head.
Old habits, though Essenin could hardly blame him. Humans in rural places didn’t always react well to someone different. The light was fading to a cloudless twilight when the lanterns at the crossroads were lit and the Brightwarre Inn became visible in the scattered patchwork of its own lamps and lanterns. Crossroads inn, messenger relay, it was larger than the inns they had back home with the three-sided building of the inn proper, five stories on a side, and a separate three-sided stable. They liked threes in this part of the world. They kept a doctor and a farrier on staff if one needed them. Housekeeping and service in the common room were never understaffed. Almost a small village.
They picked up their pace and Zie kept up, both of them eager to be there within the rectangles and circles of light, and with every step, the thought echoed in Essenin’s head--please be there, Davs. Please be there.
It took a moment once they’d shouldered open the door into the common room for their eyes to adjust to the light, but there he was, gorgeous and anxious at a table near the fire, drink sitting untouched as he drummed his fingers on the table.
The word was barely a whisper and Essenin was jogging across the room before they realized they’d abandoned Zie by the door. Apologies would come later. Right then, they could only speed up as Davs spotted him and rose from his seat, relief flooding his face as he opened his arms and caught Essenin as they barrelled into him with a soft oof.
Strong arms closed tight around them, making their ribs creak, as Davs sighed into Essenin’s neck. “You idiot. You do that to me again, ever, and I’ll… I don’t know what.”
Davs sounded more anguished than angry. That was good. Sort of. Essenin drew back to grin at him and waggle their eyebrows. “You could spank me.”
That got him a snort. “Not much of a deterrent if you like it.”
A rustle of cloth and a soft distressed sound turned their attention to Zie, standing a few feet away, twisting the strap of his pack with both hands. Davs nudged Essenin to the side far enough to glower.
“I’m still angry with you.”
Zie hunched into his coat, staring at the floor. “I’m sorry.”
“Ech. Don’t look so pitiful.” Davs sighed and stepped around Essenin with his arms held out. “Come here.”
The wind must’ve helped since Zie flew into Davs’ arms so fast, shivering and whispering incoherent apologies that were most likely also arguments in his defense. The murmurs of warm sense that Davs was so good at calmed Zie within a few heartbeats and everyone moved to the table where they soon all had excellent kelver and chocka stew.
“He saved the ship.” Essenin pointed a spoon at Zie. “You can’t be too angry with him.”
Davs grumbled at his bowl, then sighed and sat back. “Yes. Absolutely mad and not something you should’ve done alone, but you did save the ship. And both crews, when it was all done.”
“We saw the ship break up.” Essenin put his spoon down to mime scurrying things. “And the shadows flee to dry land. We didn’t stay to watch after. You going to say what happened or make us drag it out of you sentence by sandblasted sentence?”
“Not too much to tell. But some important things.” Davs dragged his mug over and sipped, a line of concern between his thick eyebrows. “Captain Unav sent out the launches to retrieve the Sandskipper’s crew. Selak ship. Most of the crew were selak, swimming but exhausted. Underfed. Dehydrated. Dragging their few human crew with them.”
He stopped and sipped for a bit, staring at the far wall. Essenin gave him a moment to gather before pushing against his knee. “And? What in the Mother’s name happened on that ship?”
“The selak crew didn’t recall much.” Davs sipped again, shaking his head. “Just strange dreams. A feeling of sinking. The humans…they remember it all. The ones that were sane enough to talk about it. They think…they guess the Shadows came aboard in Pellienport. Hid in the holds. They’re shadows, so I guess it wasn’t hard.”
“So they didn’t—” Zie cut off and curled in on himself, pulling his feet up onto the seat of the chair.
Davs reaches over to put a hand on his knee. “They didn’t slaughter the crew. Maybe ‘cause they needed them? No idea. But the human crew talk about dark tendrils reaching through the decking one night and climbing up each and every selak crewmember until the darkness sank inside them. And then the selak turned into hissing, lurching monsters. They overpowered the few humans, threw them into the bilges, and locked them in. A couple deaths during the fighting, no more.”
“And then?” Essenin leaned forward, riveted.
“And that’s all any of them know until the ship ran onto the rocks. The selak don’t remember. The humans were shut away.”
“They don’t like humans,” Zie whispered. Shook his head. “No. That’s not right. Humans don’t seem to matter? They can’t sense humans in some way? It doesn’t make sense. Not—”
“You knew about this before,” Essenin interrupted. “You told us.”
“I did. It still doesn’t make sense.”
“Enough for now.” Davs pushed the stew toward Zie. “We’re all here. I don’t see any blood or missing limbs. We’re all right for now. Eat. Then up to bed.”
Essenin couldn’t help a little grin. “You got us a room already? So efficient.” Davs grunted into his kelver which just made them smile wider and elbow Zie. “I think our Davs is still a little aggravated with us. I think we probably owe him more than apologies.”
Startled out of his thoughts, Zie twitched, but followed it with a solemn nod, some of the despair fading from his eyes. “Oh. Yes. We certainly do.”
Leave a Reply.
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.