RPG Bloggers NaNoWriMo – Short Story Part 4

First part here. Second part here. Third part here.  Conclusion below.

Shalla reached out for the dagger, then drew her hand back. “What’s the dagger for?”

“It’ll help you see what you need to. Wouldn’t do us any good if all you could see was the monster and not what to do about it, right?”

“I guess….”

“What’s wrong?”

What wasn’t wrong? Every child knew that falling asleep around strangers was a bad idea, particularly this close to dark, and there were four granny-tales in Shalla’s village alone about accepting knives from strange men. But then again, they were walking towards the village even knowing that the things were too big for them, and the dwarf hadn’t just said “I’m being chased by something that’s going to eat me, so keep running.” Clearly, expecting these people to understand what was wrong with this picture would be a bad idea. Besides, what a story this would make!

Smiling but acutely aware of how tight her shoulders were, Shalla nodded and took the hilt of the dagger in both hands. “It’ll be safe?”

“It’ll be safe,” the two agreed as the wizard let go of the dagger.

Shalla nodded, tucked the dagger into her sash, and darted off the trail.

“What do you think you’re doing, lass?” the dwarf asked, beginning to run behind her.

“Hiding!” Ooze-brain. “There’s a hollow pepper near here. You don’t expect me to just fall asleep out in the open, do you? Everyone knows you can’t play hide and seek when all you’ve got are six-inch trees!”

At least they didn’t find anything else to complain about. Shalla reached the tree, pulled herself up into the branches, located the top of the hollow and lowered herself in. It would be hard to get out, but at least it would be just as hard to come in after her.

It was only as she dozed off, the dagger clutched in both hands, that Shalla realized that she hadn’t been told what she was looking for.

The leaves were in shadow, the sky was cloudy, and the world was gray; the only spot of true color was the handle of the dagger Shalla held. She chimney-climbed her way out of the tree, and retraced her steps back through the forest, towards the place where she had originally seen the gray woman.

She was particularly alert as she crept through the forest, both to her surroundings and to how she moved. All the woods-lore talked about how important hearing was; unable to hear another’s approach, or even to tell how much noise she was making, she was particularly vulnerable, and she knew that the ghost-woman could see her in this form. What else might be able to? Could she herself be heard? It was best to take the extra precautions—belt and suspenders, as Old John would have said. At least these visions didn’t seem to care if it was day or night; the rapidly growing shadows only served as cover, and didn’t seem to keep her from seeing where she was going.

Twice she stopped, ducking into the bushes as something went by. One time it was minor, just a fox darting by as fast as its legs could take it in the direction opposite hers. Needless to say, it didn’t notice her. The second time, though, the something felt much more—wrong. At first glance it was only a hound, but there was almost true color to it, even in her shaded world—almost green, to boot—and while it didn’t seem to actually notice her, it did pause a moment and sniff the air. But it moved on, and Shalla moved on, and soon enough she came to the rift.

There was no shadow about the rift; everything about it was color. Green in the sky and violet on the ground—if such were ground and sky at all—peeked through a rent in the world, and the air around it was distorted as if by heat. The portals edges flapped, almost liquid, like fat from a

What am I supposed to do here? Shalla wondered. She crept closer, always on the alert for the gray woman.

Closer… closer. The edges were still flopping; a rather distracting sight, honestly. Shalla found herself wishing she could just pinch them shut.

Could she?

Still silent. Of course it was silent. No sign of anything approaching. Nothing to do but try. Would they go straight together? Probably not. Old Lucetta’s clay wouldn’t just pinch together, after all. But…. strike and slip, maybe. Was it moist enough? Trying to start it would tell her if she could fix this.

She raised the dagger and brought it up to one of the flapping edges, then sliced at it. It cut a thin line through it.

It worked?

She set to work as quickly as she could, scoring both sides with the blade of the dagger. The lower portions were easy; the harder ones she had a harder time reaching. It ended up requiring climbing up the edge of the rent in the world so she could reach, and that took all her attention.

A moment of shadow, a feeling like being brushed against, was the only warning she had when the woman returned. She looked over her shoulder—the woman right next to her, but also running up to her, moving forward—

Forward towards the gate….

And Shalla did as the leaves of autumn did when buffeted by an early winter wind, and pulled herself upward. With a rush of chill air, the woman hurtled past her into the hole. Shalla’s hands at the top of the rift pulled the sides together, and they merged with a satisfying wet-clay splortch—the one sound she had heard since her dream began. And she slid down the rift, bringing the sides together all the way, until they closed, and it was only gray and shadows again.

And she woke up before she hit the ground, and climbed out of the tree.

In front of her stretched the mangled, burned body of the hound-thing; nearby, the dwarf was cleaning blood from his axe. The wizard was looking irritated, the trees nearby were singed, and the air smelled like the Smiths’ attic had the winter the bats took up residence.

“I fixed it. You’re coming back to explain this to my mother. You owe me.”

And without another word, still holding the dagger, Shalla began to walk home.

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