Contemplations In Shadow
Chapter 6 of Uninvited Guests
In a remote, high mountain castle, miles
away from any civilization, an aura of evil pervaded, weaving its way
among the ice-covered turrets with the fog that covered the place in a
perpetual gloom. The wind howled and moaned almost with a life of its
own, driving swirls of heavy snow before it in relentless fury.
Within, the dark halls echoed with the sound of heavy footsteps hurrying toward a chamber at the castle's heart. Dim, smoking torches set at far intervals along the walls did little to illuminate the countenance of the one drawing near, and only served to make his vision of the pathway more difficult. Out of the irregular shadows, a dark, scarred face could be discerned, a sharp nose casting pointed shadows on his marred cheek whenever he passed a smoking torch.
He nodded to the two guards outside the master's chamber who snapped to attention as he drew near the heavy, oaken door. His outstretched forefinger drew a quick, intricate design in the air, instantly stilling the guards' budding resistance. The man fidgeted slightly under his heavy cloak as the taller of the two guards quietly opened the door for him.
He entered into a stark room about the size of a study. The contents of the room, however, proclaimed this no study. No actual furniture broke the great expanse of floor, although several rugs covered it in places, and one shadowy corner harbored a pile of large pillows. The walls, faced with stone so black it seemed to soak up any available light, were bare save for the seven banners set at intervals about the perimeter, proudly displaying dark magical symbols that none but the Master could dare to display publicly.
The room was chillingly cold, despite the fire blazing in a far corner. Even the fire seemed to have something wrong with it, though; it hissed and belched black smoke. A shape was silhouetted in the flames; a figure that made the man swallow in fear and almost dart back out into the hallway. But even though his heartbeat was pounding in his ears, he stood his ground, waiting for the Master to acknowledge his presence.
The man before the fire sat cross-legged on a pillow, gazing into the flames. His back was ramrod-straight, his hands held loosely, palms upward, on his splayed knees. Deep in concentration, he ignored the man at his door for several long minutes. He knew better than to do anything more to disturb his master in his meditation. Finally he turned toward the intruder, amber eyes flashing with thinly veiled power and anger at the intrusion. Gold rings set with darkest black diamonds glittered at nostril and eyebrow.
he said, voice silky, and hinting that this had better be important if his guest did not want to become a part of the smoky fire. With another secret gesture, the underling made a deep bow to his lord.
he reported, eyes downcast in respect and fear,
The man before the fire nodded wearily and shook his long, tangled black hair out of his eyes, a hint of a scowl still on his face. He turned toward his servant and flipped him a coin.
he murmured, unable to mask his pleasure at the initial success of his plan.
Falk bowed again, head almost to the floor, and backed hurriedly out of the room before the Master grew too angry at the intrusion. Clutching his prize, a silver eighth-crown, to his chest, he hurried back the way he had come. His previous fright at being the one sent to disturb the Master was receding, with him now safely away, and he allowed himself a smile at the news he had delivered. Soon, if all went according to the Master's plan, both Gwynedd and Torenth would be within their grasp.
Prince Payne Haldane froze in his tracks, eyes wide as he stared into the dimness before him, trying to discern the identity of the shadow before them. Brendan and Liam failed to notice him stop, and bumped into him from behind. Brendan let out a stifled sob at the impact despite his brave attempts to hide his worry for mother and stepfather and -sister. Payne whirled and hushed him, hoping the stranger hadn't heard them.
he ordered in what he hoped was a commanding whisper. His heart was thumping.
All the boys fell silent, straining to hear anything in the darkness beyond the circle of their torch. It was just then, however, that the torch -- a stub stolen from a discard pile -- chose to sputter and die, plunging them into blackness.
All three let out a gasp at that -- one that sounded all-too-loud to Payne's ears, who had to stifle a sob of his own at the stab of fear the darkness sent through him. He stepped closer to Liam and Brendan, and they huddled together.
Brendan asked, his voice trembling.
Payne suggested, too scared to care what the occupants of that study would think of them.
Liam shushed him.
he whispered, suddenly sounding much older than his companions.
protested Payne, yearning toward the light and safety of the study.
Liam said, taking charge. Then he raised his voice, calling out into the darkness.