If I could change one thing, it would be sharpening that knife. I had never needed it that sharp before, but then again, the shadows were becoming bolder too.
Dusk was settling into dark, when I handed it to Terra. I barely knew her. She looked maybe twelve. But I sensed the same magic in her as I had.
She was all arms and legs and not much else. Her hollow cheeks were nothing compared to the protruding rib cage beneath her paper thin shirt. She survived, it seemed, for years on the streets. I’m sure she had a sad story to tell, but I was more interested in how she endured. And how the shadows had not taken her.
I took her to Marnie’s Diner. The dulled street sign let out a cantankerous hum, challenging whatever electric god it served. Marnie stood behind the counter in the empty restaurant, her hands hidden under the benchtop, probably holding the shotgun I’d given her.
Marnie’s shoulders relaxed, “Boy, am I glad to see you today, Fox! We gotta lotta activity in tha street this evenin’.”
I wondered if Terra was to blame for that.
“Good health to you, Marn,” I smiled at her. “This is Terra.”
“Hey there, sweetpea,” she said.
I led Terra to my normal spot and let Marnie feed her.
Marnie’s Diner sat on a crossroads. Most businesses closed before this hour, but today, the florist looked open. His robust frame stood motionless in the doorway.
I leaned over at Terra and whispered. “This place is safe, but it has its limits. Keep that blade close.”
Her eyes gave away no terror, only understanding. She glanced at the bar and back at me.
“She’s good,” I explained. “Marnie and her husband were clients of mine.”
“You help people,” she said, stating a fact. I wondered how long she had watched me before asking for my help.
“Magic,” I whispered.
Movement caught my eye. Four more shadows appeared at the florist.
I pushed myself out of the seat.
“Listen, kid. There’s no time. The shadows. They want you. They want you because you’re like me, only you don’t know it yet.”
I could see the gargoyles now. From above, they controlled the shadowmen with puppet-strings.
“I can protect you, but you have to do exactly as I say, okay?”
A sixth man dropped in the middle of the street. His hunched form and deformed hands told me he was the leader, and the human-puppet he handled had been his for decades.
Terra used her arms and legs to frog-jump off the diner sofa onto the floor in response to my question.
“If you see the strings, cut them. It will sever the link. The shadows’ power comes from the control.”
I didn’t bother to check if she understood. I stepped forward, but before we walked into the street, they transported us to a desert wasteland.
I wondered what game the shadows were playing. There was nowhere for them to hide.
I clapped my hands, sending a shockwave of blue and white energy towards our pursuers. I knocked most back. With my left hand, I summoned an astral blade and prepared for combat.
The earth cracked beneath our feet.
“Stay with me, kid,” I commanded.
Terra grabbed my arm. Before I could push her away, our minds melded. Flashes of memories told me of a life I hadn’t lived, and I wished she hadn’t. In the darkness, voices seduced me. No! Her.
“I know what you are,” she said to me. “And I know who I am.”
By then, it was too late.
I shouldn’t have sharpened that knife. I shouldn’t have given it to someone I thought was innocent.
Darkness enveloped me. I hoped for – embraced – death.
Only death did not come.
I woke in the desert, surrounded by shadows, unable to move even my head.
“You will teach me all I need to know,” Terra said.
“No,” I whispered, grateful to have control of my mouth.
“I think you’ll change your mind.”
“My conviction is stronger than yours,” I said.
But my broken body had other plans. Without want or warning, I stood up, spun, and bowed to her. She clapped. “Actions speak louder than words, Fox.”
That’s when I saw puppet strings on my arms and legs and the body of the previous shadow leader lying in a crumpled heap before me.
It was at that moment I lost all hope.
Prompt for this week’s fiction grid included the first line and the attached picture. Check out other stories at the link above. 🙂