“Where did you go last night?” Davs’ voice was even and mild as he said it, but he didn’t look up from the porridge he was cooking them for breakfast. Possibly not the best sign.
Zie tapped his claws on his knees, uncertain how much to say and annoyed that he wasn’t nearly as sneaky as he thought. “The fortress is…” Packed with ghosts. You slept through an entire battle. “Quite haunted. It makes me restless.”
“Oh.” Davs glanced up, his brow furrowed in concern. “Is it worse when you have magic? I see a ghost or two here from time to time, but I have the feeling you saw more than two.”
“It can make one more sensitive.” Zie shrugged and pulled his knees up to his chest. “Sometimes I need to concentrate, but hauntings that occur at a scene of great violence are simply there.”
“If you need to wake me up, any time at all, don’t hesitate.” Davs was kind enough not to say if you’re scared, but Zie thought the implication was clear enough.
He leaned over and gave Davs a quick kiss on the cheek. “Ghosts are only frightening if they hate you. Happily, these have no idea I’m even there.” At least so far.
They spent the day foraging and fishing—Davs with a pole he fashioned from a willow branch and a vine, and Zie with his hands, which Davs found fascinating. Zie even allowed himself to feel a little smug that he’d caught three nice lake smee to Davs one shadehopper. They had sex on the floor of their tower after dinner with Zie riding Davs’ cock. This was lovely, but they both confessed that they missed Ess.
Davs held him tenderly, stroking his hair until he fell into the wonderful, dreamless sleep he was able to achieve in Davs’ arms. He woke several hours later to Davs shaking him gently.
“Your watch. Are you awake?”
“Mostly.” For a moment, Zie entertained the thought of putting his head in Davs’ lap and going back to sleep. That would’ve been unfair, though. Davs looked so tired. He wrapped his arms around Davs’ neck for a quick hug. “Go to sleep. I have this.”
Soon enough, Davs’ breathing settled into sleep and Zie spread a blanket over him before heading down the tower. A fog had come up over the lake bringing a damp chill with it. The half-moon struggled to shine through the mist, its glow diffused and tattered. He’d left it a little later that night, wanting to wait until the battle had fully commenced.
He’d timed it well, the battle already raging in the courtyard when he reached it, the doors shattered, the defenders dying. He skirted the edges along the courtyard wall heading for the partially ruined tower on the other side and waited near the doorway where he’d seen the specter in robes. It would be soon. Nearby, the taur combatants crashed into each other, one who would soon gore the other.
Even though Zie expected it, he still gave a start when the glowing figure appeared in the doorway. They were so much clearer, so much more present than the other ghosts, the fine details all present down to the delicate silver earrings of dangling stars.
The tragedy of their beloved soldier played out again, and again they vanished from the courtyard. Zie hurried up the stairs.
He found them at the third turning of the stairs on a wide landing with a window overlooking the courtyard. The ghost searched the night even though the ghostly battle had faded, spectral tears streaming down their face. A beautiful face. Selak, though Zie found himself unable to estimate their age.
The ghost’s image shivered and jumped, reappearing directly in front of Zie to address him directly. “Have you seen my ishai? Tell me! Any of them?”
There could be a wrong or right answer to that, or it might make no difference. If Zie chose incorrectly, he might have to try again the following evening. He had seen one of their ishai, he suspected, but they’d already seen him fall. That wasn’t what they were asking, and to lie to them felt cruel.
“No, honored. I haven’t seen them.”
The selak spirit stood frozen for two heartbeats, then flickered back to the window. “Someone will return to me. They have not all fallen. All seven cannot have fallen. I will wait.”
Oh, honored, you’ve waited so long. Again, he debated, and again concluded that the crueler option would be to tell them that all their beloveds had died centuries ago. “I wondered if I might ask you a question.”
They sighed and answered without turning toward Zie. “You may ask, though I am not well-traveled. I may not have your answer.”
Odd thing to say. “Can you advise me on banishing summoned Shadows?”
“They summoned Shadows for the siege?” Now the spirit turned to him with a horrified expression.
“Not here, honored. Elsewhere. They were summoned far away.”
They leaned against the window casement, expression thoughtful. How ghosts thought without a physical brain, Zie had no idea, but this one apparently did. “Summonings require a cycle. And Shadows must be fed.”
Zie took a breath before he spoke so he wouldn’t convey his frustration. “They’ve fed until they should have burst from it. I can’t—” Zie’s voice broke and he had to clear his throat. “I can’t allow them to feed any more.”
“Complete the cycle or they will never cease.” The selak spirit turned back to the window and faded away.
“Wait! What cycle? What do you mean?” But they wouldn’t be called back.
Zie stood in the empty tower, shivering and gnawing on his claws, envisioning the Shadows devouring every sylvas in the entire world. Never cease. Once done, they would begin to feed on every other living thing until nothing remained. A barren world in which nothing moved but the horrible chittering Shadows.
With a nearly audible snap, his nerve broke. He raced down the uneven steps and across the courtyard, moon shadows chasing his steps and taunting him. Faster and faster he ran, over tumbled blocks and ancient bones, and finally up the steps to the undamaged tower to dive under the blankets with Davs.
The big man grunted and cracked an eye open. “Managed to scare yourself, after all?”
“Perhaps a touch.”
“All clear still?”
Zie nodded against his shoulder. “I’ll know when they’re close, believe me.”
“All right. Come here. You’re ice cold.” Davs wrapped his strong arms around Zie and pulled him close. “No more ghost viewing for you.”
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.