One shadow, darker than the rest.

Small shadow, fleeing from its nest.

It was a coward.

Young shadow, lost inside the dark.

Cold shadow, running from the heart.

It was a weakling.

Lost shadow, searching for the edge.

One shadow, climbing up the ledge.

It was a fool.

——

It had finally found it. After all this running and climbing, it could see a prick of light above. It almost wanted to scream in joy, as its journey was almost over.

A few hours later, it pulled its head over the edge.

Glorious light!

Fantastic color!

It ducked back under the edge.

After a few minutes, it slowly looked over the edge again. It saw a great plain of green grass, forests and mountains in the distance, the sounds and smells and beauty of early autumn. It saw a small white house, and a picket fence a few yards from the ledge.

It climbed up onto the ground to examine closer, but knew it could not cross the fence, for those were the ancient laws.

It saw a small girl, playing with a dog.

“Little creature,” It said, “come and trade.”

“Mama says I can’t trade with shadows.”

“I have traveled long and far to find my way here,” It continued, “but I cannot cross the fence.”

The girl sat down.

“What’s your name?” she asked, looking curious.

“My… name? I have none.”

“What do I call you if you have no name?”

The shadow pondered this question.

“You can call me Nide, for that was the star under which I was first cast.”

The girl laughed. “You talk funny, Nide. I’m Isabelle, nice to meet ya.” She picked up her dog and set him in her lap. “This here is Rufus.”

“Has your mother not said to never give your name to a shadow?”

“Mama says it’s ok as long as I have yours too.”

“Your mother is a mage, then. Few would give out their true names, even with reassurance.”

“Well, duh. Wait here, I have something to show you.” Isabelle ran off, behind the house.

Nide looked at Rufus.

Rufus looked back.

A mutual understanding was reached.

Isabelle returned, with something cupped in her hands. She brought it close to the fence, so that Nide could see. Her hands were full of earthworms.

They wriggled in her hands. Nide reached out to touch the worms, but found themself unable to reach past the fence. Isabelle looked at Nide, and, with a grin on her face, threw an earthworm at them.

Nide felt coldness and wetness. They took the worm off of their face and turned it around in their hands. It was a truly pathetic creature. Almost blind and almost deaf, it moved only in a desperate attempt to return to the ground. A sort of primal instinct which Nide could at least understand. They set the worm back onto the ground, near the fence.

They looked back up to see Isabelle leaning on the fence, watching them closely.

“You’re funny, Nide. I’ve never seen a shadow do that before.” She laughed a little, before turning more solemn. “I should tell mama about this.”

Before Nide could say anything, she had run back up to the house, with Rufus tailing behind her.

——

Isabelle ran back up to her house.

“Mama,” She called out into the old house, “Are you awake?”

“Yes, Isabelle,” came the response. “What have you found today, child?”

“I talked to a shadow, mama.”

“You didn’t trade anything, did you?”

“No, But-“

“All is well then.”

“I-“

“Don’t talk to the shadows again, Isabelle. You’re not old enough.”

“You’re not listening to me again.”

Her mother let out a sigh. “I apologize, Isabelle. What did you want to say?”

“I threw a worm at it, and it put the worm back in the ground.”

“Odd indeed. If I were younger,” she bitterly laughed a little to herself, “I would talk to it myself.”

“I’m old enough, mama. Tell me what to do.”

“You are still only a little fledgling, child. I-“

“I can’t stay here forever.”

The house grew quiet. They listened for a while to the autumn wind blowing between the eaves of the old house.

“I know,” her mother said, “I suppose it was folly for me to think we could continue like this forever, in a dream of my old life.”

Isabelle looked at the floor.

“Isabelle. Go upstairs and open the safe. You know the code. Inside is my tome, which contains my instructions to you. Use it well and heed its warnings, and you will live to grow old.”

Isabelle climbed up the stairs to her mother’s room. The doorknob was dusty from laying untouched. She took a deep breath, and opened the door.

The room was in disarray. Papers and trinkets were scattered across the desk and floor, and more were pinned to the walls. Bottles of oddities and herbs were scattered about the walls and shelves, and old, dusty, earmarked books were laid open across the desk and bed.

The safe was in a corner of the room, under some papers and a set of small knives and needles. Isabelle turned the combination lock to the first number she thought of, and it opened. Inside was a single thick book and a simple necklace. The book looked older than time, with bookmarks and notes in every page and scratches and dents in the cover. The necklace was an ornate iron chain with a tiny red gemstone in the pendant, as small as a single drop of water.

Isabelle gathered herself together and carried the contents of the safe downstairs.

“Isabelle. The necklace shall protect you, and the book shall teach you. Take them, use them, and bring the shadow to me.”

“But mama, you said-“

“What I need you to do has changed, Isabelle. If you can’t bring the shadow here safely, I doubt you will make it through the woods.”

Isabelle looked alarmed.

“Rest assured, I have full faith in you. Go, now.”

Isabelle put the necklace on and walked back outside.

——

Nide waited. If there was anything that their journey taught them, it was patience. It watched the bugs and the worms, and caught glimpses of birds and squirrels in the distant woods. They mused that this truly was a place of wonder, that it could seem so peaceful and yet have so much happening.

Isabelle walked back out of the house, holding a book.

“What did your mother tell you, little creature?”

Isabelle took a deep breath, and looked directly at Nide.

“I need you to come inside the house. You can cross the fence only under that condition.”

“A trade then. Didn’t your mother tell you not to trade with shadows?”

“She… she changed her mind.”

Nide made a soft humming noise.

“I accept your trade.”

Nide stepped up to the fence, and jumped over it. They looked back at the fence, as if to confirm that they had, indeed, passed over it.

The two children walked up to the old house.

——

The Grand Witch Maëlle des Falaises felt a presence in her Home. The presence of a shadow, albeit a small, weak, and pathetic shadow.

Maëlle spoke.

“Shadow, would you come to the border of our world for yourself… or for others?”

The shadow looked nervous. Afraid, even. It was to be expected. For such a simple creature, a voice from nowhere would be concerning. The shadow opened its mouth.

“For myself, mother of little creature. None have sent me, and none watch me now that I have left.”

“A satisfactory answer. What is your purpose in leaving the Dark?”

The shadow found itself answering without meaning to.

“Cowardice… what is this place, witch? This place that makes me say what I do not wish to disclose?”

“You fled the Dark? Why would you flee a place in which shadows are at their strongest?”

“I was a runt.”

“What is your Name?”

“My name, given to me less than a day ago, is Nide.”

“Nide. Are you willing to bind to Isabelle, and promise to protect her?”

Isabelle started to speak.

“Mama-“

“I asked Nide.”

Nide pondered for a moment.

“No.”

“If you refuse, I shall strike you down where you stand.”

“A trade made through violence is no trade at all. If Isabelle does not wish to bind, I shall not.”
Maëlle inwardly seethed for a moment. The shadow continued.

“Resorting to trickery is what I would expect of one of my kind, not of a creature of your status.”

“If you do not wish to bind, then I must destroy you utterly. Did you think I hadn’t noticed that your freedom from the fence is already assured?”

“I’LL DO IT.”
Nide and Maëlle were both startled by Isabelle.

“You would attempt to protect a shadow?”

“You would attempt to shelter one such as me?”

“Of course I would! Nide’s the only other person I’ve talked to in years that isn’t lying constantly!”

“Nide?”

“If the little one wills it,” Nide started, “and since I doubt I would survive should I refuse it, I accept.”

Maëlle stepped through the space between and fully into the home. Her form was faint, as if it was made of light dancing across a cloud of dust. Long hair fell across an aging face, and robes that seemed somehow both ornate and simple.

“Little creature, your mother is a spectre.”

“I know that, silly.”

Maëlle brought her heel down heavy against the floor. A spiderweb of runes and circles spread from her foot, creating a magus’ circle in the floor.

“I require a piece of yourself.”

Nide watched as Isabelle pricked herself with a needle, and smeared a drop of blood into the circle. They tried to imitate the gesture, smudging a piece of their own darkness across the opposite side. The three watched as the circle slowly grew brighter, before disappearing. Maëlle touched the arms of both children, leaving a small white mark on Nide, and a small black mark on Isabelle.

Maëlle silently gestured to the door, as she faded from view.

Nide and Isabelle walked from the house, and into the woods.

AN.
Trying something new, hopefully you enjoyed this.
-Matt.

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