Shadows of Blood Carvesh
For long moments after Carvesh had finished his tale, the healer Quelana remained silent, her green, skeptic eyes locked with his own. She played absently with a single strand of hair as she wrestled with everything she had just heard.
“It sounds impossible,” she muttered at last.
“Every word of it is true,” he insisted.
“It can’t be. You may believe what you’re saying, Carvesh, and its obvious that something attacked you last night—Trent’s wounds were quite obviously inflicted by some sort of animal—but let’s be realistic. A beast made of shadow? You’re almost starting to sound like Ferron.”
“I never said it was made of shadow. Only that it moved through the shadows in a way I’ve never seen before. And when I killed it, it just turned to dust.”
“Animals don’t just disintegrate when they die! The world doesn’t work that way.”
“I know,” snapped Carvesh. “The remains of my slaughtered bulls are testament enough to that! But whatever this thing was, it was like no animal I’ve even encountered. I don’t even know if it’s of this world.”
“What then? Was some sort of devil? A demon from the Neyther?”
“Ashes and embers, woman, I don’t know! All I can tell you is that I saw something last night, something big and dark that killed four of my best bulls and almost killed Trent too.” Why can’t she just believe me? He knew the answer to that, of course. He could hardly believe it himself. Even as he had recounted the events of the nightmarish ordeal, his own words sounded more like those of traveling bard than a man speaking the plain, simple truth. Moreover, the entire story rang with the faint echoes of a broken mind. And why not? There was already madness in his family. Could it not be running in his blood too?
No! I’m not crazy, he told himself for what felt like the hundredth time that morning. I know what I saw. Somehow, he had to make Quelana understand, to make her believe. He just was about to resume the argument when his wife spoke up.
“We have a saying in Mesinia,” said Anya quietly. Her voice was soft, her words slow and carefully chosen, “If God reveals himself in the light, then beware of that which lurks in the shadows. My people believe that there is a power in the darkness, one that must not be taken lightly. Perhaps it is this darkness that my husband has seen.”
“Black magic?” asked the healer. There was a hardness to her voice, a steely edge that she may not have even known was there.
For all the peace that existed with the distant Mesinia Empire, there remained a strong distrust of their god throughout Relen’kar. Many of the priests and chaplains openly taught about the Imperial deity as a false god. Some even went so far as to brand it a blasphemous lie, fabricated by the either Soulless One, the hated Iria or perhaps even both. Carvesh—who had lived twelve years across the Yeartide and seen both the horrid atrocities and selfless sacrifices committed in the name of the Sun God—felt differently. When he had returned to the land of his birth, he had come trusting in his young wife’s kind-hearted nature to overcome the prejudicial tendencies of the remote, rural areas like Kervale. For the most part, it had done just that, but occasionally she was still forced to endue moments of unfair harshness.
“There are some who might call it that,” Anya replied graciously.
“Then you think this was some sort of Iria trick?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
“How could that be? We all know the histories. The armies of King Terramore drove the Fey Folk back centuries ago. And they’ve remained there, locked away beyond the veil of the Shimmering. What would they be doing here? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Nor does the notion that my husband would tell anything but the truth.”
“I’ll grant you that, Anya. But…”
Whatever the healer was about to say, it was cut off by a sudden shriek. Carvesh’s eyes locked with his wife’s for one terrifying instant. Then he was on the move. Leaping from Quletha’s porch, he sprinted across the village, to where they had left Alek and Jayne playing with a group of local children. Another terrified scream only spurred him on. Fearing the worst, he ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
He bounded into the open field where the children had been playing. They had all scattered, each running in a different direction. Only Jayne remained in the middle of the field, kneeling beside a young boy whom Carvesh recognized as Dane Rasmas, the youngest child of Hendrick and Connie. The boy’s cheeks were wet with still-flowing tears and his clothes were drenched in blood, though none of it appeared to be his own. His little hands were shaking visibly. As Carvesh approached, the boy looked up at him with a vacant gaze that hinted at a terrible trauma.
“By the Nine!” he said, coming to kneel beside Jayne and the boy. “Go get Alek and find your mother,” he commanded his daughter. “She was at the healer’s house. Stay there until I come for you.”
“Don’t argue with me, Jayne. I’ll take care of this. Now go!” He did not wait to see if she complied. Instead, he took the boy’s head gently between his hands and looked straight into his haunted, grey eyes. “Dane, I need you to tell me what happened.”
“They’re dead…” the boy whispered. His voice was hoarse and his jaw trembled.
“What do you mean? Who’s dead?”
“Mamma. Pappa. Ellie, Kip and Minnie. They’re all gone. There was so much blood. So much blood.”
“Dane,” said Carvesh very slowly. “I need you to focus. Are you’re telling me your whole family is dead?” The boy nodded, still muttering to himself. “How? What happened?”
Suddenly, the boy went so completely still that even his breathing became imperceptible. For one, terrible moment, the vacant expression faded from his eyes, replaced by a flicker of recognition and an inner torment beyond anything any child should have to suffer. He leaned forward and whispered, ever so softly, in Carvesh’s ear.
“The shadow came and it killed them all.”