My knuckles are white as I grip the blankets beneath my chin. I clench my jaw and stare at the curtains swaying over the end of my bed, the moonlight casting eerie shadows over the wall and floor.
The rapid thump, thump of my heartbeat seems to echo as I strain my ears to listen in the stillness around me. In his bed to my right, Thad stirs in his sleep; his heavy exhale causes me to twist the blanket harder in my clenched fists as I try to steady my breathing.
With a deep breath, I swing my legs over the edge of the bed, pausing to listen before I slowly stand up. I tiptoe over to Thad’s sleeping form and grip his shoulder, shaking him awake.
His eyelids are heavy, and he sighs, turning to me with a loud yawn that causes my stomach to twist as I peer over my shoulder. “Shhh, you need to get up. Quietly.”
He blinks at me, and I spare another glance over my shoulder at the curtain flapping in an odd way. “Er? Why are – what are you looking at?” He props himself up on his elbow as he rubs his eyes with the back of his fist, his next yawn so big his jaw pops with an echo that makes me wince.
Instead of answering, I shake my head and motion with my hand as I creep back towards the window, careful to avoid the creaky spots in the worn floorboards.
I turn back to see Thad close behind me, his footsteps silent as his wide eyes scan all around us, blinking rapidly. We slip beneath the swaying curtains – crouched beneath the open window as I take shallow breaths, my heart thumping faster, and I motion to Thad again. He nods his head, and we both raise our heads slowly, just enough to see over the window sill and into the moonlit courtyard below.
At first, there’s nothing but silence and the swaying shadows falling from the tree branches. I breathe a sigh of mixed relief and disappointment and turn to Thad, but his mouth drops open, his pupils expanding as he points back out the window. Jerking back to the window, I’m just in time to see a dark shadow elongate from the swaying branches and break off to flit across the courtyard – disappearing into the denser shadows right below us.
We both jerk back from the window and stumble into one another as we scramble to our feet. I lunge for the dagger underneath my pillow when my foot catches on the bedpost, and I fall to the floor with a loud BANG! as I take the desktop lamp with me – the glass shattering around me as the smell of oil burns my nose.
There’s suddenly so much noise and confusion as the whole room wakes up at once, screaming and shouting as they jump from their beds with wide, startled eyes. Eyes that settle on me and my broken lamp just as several Chetera burst into the room with daggers drawn.
Their eyes flash dangerously as they look me over and sheath their daggers, their mouths tightening into thin lines and the furrows on their foreheads deepening.
I’ve done it now.
My teeth chatter, almost echoing in the deafening silence of the courtyard where the Chetera left me to spend the rest of the night in prayer. Come morning, I’ll have to scrub the stones, again, but that is the least of my problems.
I know what I saw, and that thing could be spending the night with me.
I shake my head and straighten my shoulders, looking all around the gloomy courtyard. Thad would be calm if he were here, he would have some idea to get us out of here in one piece, but the Chetera have decided that I’m a bad influence on him. So, here I am, alone.
A creaking sound to my left causes me to jump, and I whirl around. There’s nothing to see but the tree swaying in a light breeze. At least, I hope I’m alone.
I jerk awake with a start, my heart leaping to my throat. There’s a rapid pat-pat across the tiles as something runs across the stones – toward the east wing, where Thad is.
Jumping to my feet, I run after it as fast as my legs can carry me. My short breaths and gasps are causing puffs of smoke to curl out around my face in the cool morning air. It can’t get to Thad – I won’t let it.
I can make out the blur – the shadow – as it hugs the stone wall beneath the bedroom window. I don’t stop to think or give myself the chance to second-guess it as I spring forward, colliding with the shadow and crashing to the ground. There’s a loud oomph! as the impact forces the air out of my lungs in an instant.
The shadow, er, thing – that’s something solid beneath me – lets out a gasp and then a moan. My skin goes cold, and I resist the urge to shiver when the reality of my situation sinks in. Someone that can move through shadows… takes physical form… My stomach plummets to the deepest oblivion with a sharp twang. No, no. To all that is light, please no.
“Get. Off. Me.”
“W-what?” My brain stutters to a stop, and it tries to shift out from under me. Are you supposed to talk to a Tirips?
“You’re suffocating me! Get off!”
There’s something reassuring about how irritated the voice is; I don’t think a Tirips would be that easily frustrated. I roll to my side and hop to my feet, watching as the form stretches and then stands. He whirls to face me, a frown on his face and fists raised.
“What. Is. Wrong. With. You. You could have killed me!”
“You’re just a child. A Faye.” My face might split from the idiotic grin I can feel stretching over it as I exhale in relief.
His eyes narrow, and he takes a step back. “So are you. What of it?”
Now that I’ve had a moment to breathe and my heart rate is steadying back to a normal pace, I tilt my head and really look at him. He seems to be about my age and is ever so slightly taller than me, but he’s dark – darker than I’ve ever seen anyone. In fact, I’ve never seen him before.
“Who are you?” I grip his arm before he can turn and run.
He glares at my hand and tries to shrug it off, but I tighten my grip. “As you said, a Faye child, like you. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen one of those in a monastery before?” His tone would usually make me bristle, but I’m still more curious than irritated.
“I’ve never met you before.”
He scoffs. “And you know every child in the monastery? Aren’t you a little busy scrubbing the courtyard most days?”
Please. I scrub it every day. I grin. “Anyone watching the monastery would know that. So tell me: what’s my name?”
There’s an almost imperceptible flash of panic across his eyes before his expression blanks. He shrugs. “What makes you think anyone cares?”
“Everyone here knows my name. It’s impossible to miss if you’ve ever gone to school, the dining hall, the kitchens -”
He tugs at my hand again and sighs. “I didn’t say that I don’t know your name, just that I don’t care.”
“No,” I shake my head, “you don’t know my name.” I raise my free hand to stop him as he opens his mouth. “That’s not important though. What is important is whether or not I tell the Chetera about you.” His face pales, so I hurry to continue. “Look, I can keep a secret, okay? But first, you’ve got to give me something. What’s your name?”
“Yes, your name.” I let go of his arm and extend my hand. “My name is Eran. What’s yours?”
He stares at me, blinks, and then stares at my hand. “I don’t have one.” He shifts his feet before straightening, shrugging his shoulders as if he doesn’t care.
I push my hand closer and grab his. “Well, it’s nice to meet you anyway, Wodahs.”
“Wodahs?” He shakes my hand and tilts his head like he’s trying to understand me better. Then his face scrunches into a grin, and his eyes sparkle. “Like a shadow?”
I grin back. “I’ll get you something to eat, Wodahs. If you’re hungry?”
He nods but hesitates, glancing at the opposite wall of the courtyard. “Why are you helping me, Eran? You must know what I am, where I come from.” He gestures toward the world beyond the walls of my prison. “Nobody trusts the dark Faye, nor their children.”
I shrug. “You can’t help who you’re born to. I’ve got a feeling about you, Wodahs,” I nod at him and motion toward the kitchens, “we’re going to be good friends if you want one.”
He laughs, looking almost surprised by the sound coming out of his mouth, but he walks up to me and clasps my shoulder. “Friends. I’d like that, Eran.”
I chuckle and pat him on the back. “Well then, let’s hurry before the cooks wake up. I know where all the best hiding places are.”