Thursday already, Readers! And I’m back with another excerpt of Stella and Griffin’s adventure. Did you enjoy the change of perspective in yesterday’s story, “Three’s A Crowd“? Today we might just see those elusive and dangerous Devil Men. Are you ready?
Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt word is Someday.
More Than Shadow
The night after being attacked by the bandits, we saw them.
They were just shadows in the corner of our eyes at first. I felt them before I truly saw them. I was riding next to Griffin, with Bart following with our pack mule. Conversation had long since died, and we were eager to find a place to rest for the night. Though it was late summer, the air had the chill one expected to come with frost. The back of my neck prickled as though invisible fingers were brushing across it and I whipped my head towards the woods.
I sucked in a sharp breath and my hand shot out to grip Griffin’s arm. I tried to speak but couldn’t. Our horses halted but I didn’t hear anyone give the order. Shadows were becoming solid in the woods around us. They had a human shape but no features were distinct. Only their eyes stood out, a bright, filmy white.
Our horses pawed the ground and whinnied nervously. My heart was beating so loud and fast I almost missed Griffin’s quiet words. “Stay calm. Nobody move.”
There was no worry of that. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. Remaining calm, however, was a more difficult task.
We stood there, as if frozen, watching the shadows move slowly through the woods on either side of us. My only relief was that they were not moving towards us. Yet.
All of the sudden the silence which had become thick and heavy in the chill air was rent by a piercing shriek. Red flashed across my vision and pain bloomed in my head. I released my grip on Griffin’s arm and my reins and covered my ears, but that did nothing to quiet the keening now coming from the shadow people all around us.
The horses were going mad beneath us, and through my blurred vision – there were tears in my eyes – I saw Griffin grab my fallen reins to keep my horse from bolting. All the sorrow I had carried before suddenly crashed over me again, filling me inside and out. The keening seemed louder in my ears. I looked to the woods again, watching the shadow people hunch over in their misery. I wanted to join them. Dimly I heard someone calling my name and for a second I thought it was Roy, calling me across the void.
Someone gripped my shoulders and realized I had slipped down from my horse and was making my way towards the woods. The hands spun me around but I turned my head over my shoulder, back towards the woods, towards the shadows. They were moving away now, disappearing into the trees. I belonged with them. I needed to follow. The wailing got louder.
“Stella!” the hands shook me then, forcing me to face him, and when I did, Griffin crushed me to his chest, his large arms surrounding me and his voice a rumble in his chest. “It’s going to be okay,” he repeated over and over. “Calm down.”
Suddenly I realized the loud wailing was coming from me and my cheeks were wet with tears. I tried to pull away but Griffin held me fast. My wails stopped, dissolving into sobs. When I finally stopped crying, Griffin released me and I pushed away, my cheeks heating with embarrassment over my display. I hiccuped. “I-I’m sorry,” I stuttered, not meeting his eyes. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“It’s okay Miss Stella,” Bart pipped up. He was standing not far away, holding onto all the horses and the mule. They seemed calmer now as well. “It was horrible for all of us when they came. Never heard anything so terrible in my life.”
“But I don’t know why I was so affected,” I said miserably. I looked up at Griffin. He was watching me with a grim expression. “I suppose I really am just an encumbrance to you. You could have been pursuing them if not for me. You could have even now been capturing one of the Devil Men.”
Griffin was silent, and I looked down at my feet. “Those were not Devil Men,” he said finally.
My head snapped up. “What? Then what were they?”
If possible, Griffin’s gaze became even more grim. Instead of answering my question, he asked a question of his own. “Do you recall me telling the bandits that I received my sword from the king after I defeated the beast of Fellforough Woods?”
“Yes,” I said, not seeing how this was connected to the shadow men we had just seen. I looked to Bart for some sort of explanation, but he was looking at Griffin, horrified recognition on his face.
“You don’t think…” he started, but trailed off.
“Yes Bart,” said Griffin. Bart blanched. My curiosity was burning now. I didn’t know much about the Fellforough Woods. They were located far away in the northern part of the kingdom. My village was located in the south, and we only received travelers from the north maybe once a year.
“Well, what is it? What do you think?” I asked. Some of the despair that had been clinging to me since the arrival of the shadow men fell away.
“I believe what we just saw – the shadow people – are the victims of the Devil Men, as you call them.”
My mouth fell open and I immediately looked to the place where they had disappeared. Roy.
“But how?” I asked, jerking my head back towards Griffin. “And what do you mean by as we call them? What happened in Fellforough Woods?”
Griffin sighed. “You speak of the Devil Men as a pack of demons. I do not think it is so. I think what plagues you is the same type of beast that dwelt in FellForough. A beast of shadow and darkness. A Soul-Eater.”
“A Soul-Eater…” Cold gripped me. “But then the victims…”
“They’re called the Taken,” Griffin said. “They wander as we saw them because their souls are gone. They are neither dead nor alive. They are lost, part shadow and part human. Eventually they will be nothing but a wail in the wind.”
My knees could no longer support me. I fell to the ground, the despair that had been receding rushing forth again. “Then there is no hope,” I said, my hands clenching into fists in my lap.
“Don’t say that, Miss Stella,” Bart said consolingly.
“There was never much hope for the Taken,” Griffin said. Bart shot him a dirty look. Griffin returned it with a stern glance. “False hope helps no one, least of all the Taken.” He turned his stern gaze towards me and it softened ever so slightly. “But not much is still a little. I could not save the Taken in Fellforough. But perhaps with your help I will find a way here.” He held out a hand for me. I took it slowly and he pulled me to my feet with surprising gentleness.
“You promise to do everything in your power to help me save Roy and the rest of the Taken?” My eyes locked on his, searching for sincerity. I found it.
“I will,” he said. “And I promise you, you will see Roy again.”
I released the breath I had been holding. A smile spread across my face and I threw my arms around him. “Thank you.”
Bart looked positively alarmed by this turn of events. He mouthed something to Griffin that I didn’t catch and whether or not Griffin answered him, I couldn’t tell. But I didn’t care. At last I had real hope. I would see Roy. We would save him. All would be as it should be.
I released Griffin and went to my horse, taking my reins back from Bart with a smile. He weakly returned it and stepped over to where Griffin stood. They whispered quietly, appearing to have some sort of argument. That was unusual, especially for Bart, but I couldn’t focus on it. My mind was too full of everything I had just seen and learned. There were dark roads ahead, but I would face them.
For Roy, I would face anything.