Dark Shadowwalker

Dark Shadowwalker

Status: In Progress

Genre: Fantasy

Houses:

Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: Fantasy

Houses:

Summary

When her foster father the shadow walker Haidar dies seventeen year old Mashu goes in search of her twin brother who left two years earlier. Her brother Sinanna is also a shadow walker though she is not a shadow walker. Through demons and giants and trolls and a white wolf she finds her brother and learns that he needs her help to save the world.
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Summary

When her foster father the shadow walker Haidar dies seventeen year old Mashu goes in search of her twin brother who left two years earlier. Her brother Sinanna is also a shadow walker though she is not a shadow walker. Through demons and giants and trolls and a white wolf she finds her brother and learns that he needs her help to save the world.

Chapter1 (v.1) - The Journey Begins

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 28, 2017

Reads: 165

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 28, 2017

A A A

A A A

 

 

Chapter 1

 

The old man was dead.  Mashu sat for a few moments not quite believing it.  She had expected it to hit her harder, but then she had been grieving for him the last few months as Haidar’s health had slowly failed.  He was not related to her by blood, but he had been the only parent she had ever known.  She looked at his face, which now seemed peaceful.  It was hard to tell how old he was.  His hair was white.  But it had been that color all his life, as his skin had been white and his eyes light blue.  Only the wrinkles on his face indicated his age, and even they seemed to have relaxed with his death.  It was the lack of color in his skin and hair that identified him as a shadow walker, like her brother.  The thought of her brother made her wonder where Sinnanna was now.

The wooden bucket creaked outside the window.  A spy stood on the bucket, so he could see through the high window of the cottage.  She quickly sorted through the things that she needed to do in her mind before she performed any action.  Slowly she reached out and pulled the blanket over the old man’s face.  She could hear the spy stepping off the bucket to go tell his master about the death.  She knew she only had a few minutes to act.

She quickly removed the necklace and the ring from the old man and replaced them with copies she had been carrying around for almost a year.  She slipped the originals into a pouch and carried them to the trap door in the floor by the fireplace.  The trap door would have been invisible to most, but she knew it was there.  She opened it to reveal a ladder that led down into darkness.  She hung the pouch on the top of the ladder and closed the trap door securely.  Moving to the chest by the front door, she visually made sure that the money urn was sitting on the mantle and the loose stone in the fireplace was visible.  From the chest, she removed the funeral gown that she had made for the old man.

Hearing footsteps coming up the path to the house, she prepared herself with the proper look of surprise when Burgher burst through the door.  Burgher was the mayor of the town.  He was shorter than she was, his rotund body making him look almost comical.  He would have been a comical figure if it had not been for the gang of bullies that followed him around.  Not doing or saying anything, she waited to see how he was going to react.

“What are you trying to steal?” he yelled, looking at the funeral gown in her hands.  Without answer, she simply let the gown unfold in her hands so he could see what it was.  Recognizing the gown for what it was, he didn’t apologize or even acknowledge that he had accused her falsely.  He merely grunted and looked around the small cottage.

“Where is the money?” he demanded.  Mashu pointed to the urn sitting on the mantle.  One of the men behind Burgher walked over and picked it up.  He shook it to hear the satisfying sound of coins.  He removed the top and dumped out the contents, onto the small table that stood next to the old man’s deathbed.  Out came the money, quite a few copper pieces and even some silver pieces.  Mashu knew that it would not be enough to satisfy Burgher’s greed.

“Where is the rest?” he asked in a quiet voice, while picking up the coins and putting them in his pouch, “He had to have more than this.”

Mashu still didn’t speak; she merely shook her head to indicate she didn’t know.  His attitude was beginning to work on her nerves and she had to fight hard to keep from losing her temper.

“Then we will just have to search for it,” he said, a strange smile on his face.  He signaled his gang of bullies with a nod.  They moved through the room, knocking things over and breaking anything they could.  After a few minutes of mayhem, Burgher nodded to one of the men.  The man walked straight over to the fireplace and removed the loose stone.  Reaching into the cavity behind it, he pulled out a leather pouch.  He set the small table back up and poured out the contents of the pouch.  Everyone's eyes were on the table as more coins came out.  Along with quite a few gold and silver coins were several gems of various colors.  Mashu pretended to be surprised.  Seeing her reaction, Burgher laughed.

“So,” he said with glee, eying the treasure, “he didn’t even trust you.  He should have known that nothing can be hidden from me.”

Mashu was relieved.  She had talked with Haidar for a long time before they decided how much money it would take to satisfy Burgher's greed without giving him any more than was necessary.  Many of these discussions had involved sign language and written notes while they carried on a completely different conversation for the benefit of the person listening at the window.  She was glad it appeared they had guessed right.  Her relief quickly disappeared as she saw how Burgher was looking at her.

“Now that the money is taken care of,” he said smiling at her, “the only thing left to do is to decide what to do with you.”

Mashu could barely hide the shiver that ran down her spine at the tone of his voice.  She knew she was not a pretty girl. A late bloomer, she had only filled out in the last year.  She was seventeen, and most of the girls in the town were married and had children by her age.  Her brown hair was cut short to keep it out of her way.  Her hands were calloused from the hard work she did keeping the cottage up.  Not only was she a late bloomer, but she was tall for a woman.  She looked down on Burgher, who was shorter than most men.  But she knew it was not her looks that he craved, but the power he thought he could have over her.  He seemed always to want more power.  And the way he liked to show his power was to force people to do things that he knew they didn’t want to do.  She didn’t want to fall under his control.  She had no doubt she could kill him, but she would never escape his gang of bullyboys.  She had to stall him until she could carry out her plan of escape.

“Go down to the town hall and wait for me,” he told her with an evil grin. “I will be there after we have checked out the rest of the cottage.  I will take care of you when I get there.”

Mashu bowed her head submissively, more to hide her hatred of him than to play her part.  She laid the funeral gown on the bed and started for the door, and then she stopped, as if a thought had just reached her.  Without looking up, she spoke to him.

“Then you will take care of his burial?” she asked.

“The Tenders of the Dead will take care of the body,” he said in a slow voice as if he was talking to a half-wit.

“He said the Tenders would not touch him.”  She looked at the old man. “He said I would have to bury him.”  She referred to Haidar, so it wouldn’t seem as though she was contradicting Burgher.  Again, she turned to go, knowing that anything she did without a direct order from him would make him want to stop her.

“Wait here,” he told her.  He spoke softly with one of his bullies and the man left quickly.  She stood looking down while the other bullies wandered around and broke anything that they had missed earlier.  She noticed that no one went near the body.  She looked at the floor, forcing herself to control her temper.  She wanted to take a stick and chase all of them out of the cottage.  There was something about the presence of Burgher, which always seemed to bring her anger to an edge.

Burgher had become the mayor a few years before when his father, the previous mayor, had died.  He had quickly surrounded himself with a gang of bullies, and had begun terrorizing the town.  He raised taxes and began to act as though he was part of the royal family.  He could not tax a shadow walker, though he tried to find a way around that law.  Since he couldn’t get any money from Haidar, he began to ignore the shadow walker.  The old man had always been welcome in his father’s house.  The former mayor had made sure that no one cheated the old man, and the cottage was always kept in good repair.  Under Burgher, the cottage fell into disrepair, and people began to show disrespect for the old man.  When they paid with moldy grain, or did not pay at all, for the old man’s potions and spells, Burgher did nothing.  When things were stolen from the old man, nothing was done.She was sure that the neglect had brought about the decline in the old man’s health and his eventual death.  She knew it was what had driven her brother away two years earlier.

At first, she had done her best to keep the cottage up.  She had done the repairs and gathered firewood.  She had hunted and gathered wild food to feed Haidar and herself, and if some grain would disappear from the fields of the farmers who refused to pay the shadow walker for what he had done, well, strange things happen when a town neglects its shadow walker.  When the people and the mayor had respected and taken care of the old man, crops had been good every year, rain came when it was needed but never enough to drown the land.  However, in those days, people would often stop to visit with Haidar, bringing presents and food even if they owed him nothing. 

Since Burgher had taken over, the respect had ended and the neglect had begun.  With Haidar ill, the weather no longer cooperated, and less crops were harvested each year.  Many people had died of hunger the last winter.  Others had abandoned the town and moved to find somewhere where things were better.  The ones who had stayed had not been able pay the high taxes that Burgher demanded, so his funds went down and he had raised taxes even more.  Things were bad now, but she could see that they were going to get worse.  She did not want to be around when that happened.  But if she was going to get away, it would mean playing the game with Burgher just right, and that meant making him think that the things she wanted him to do were his own idea.

The man Burgher had sent to the Tenders returned.  Mashu pretended not to pay any attention to what was being said, but she listened intently so she could decide on her next course of action.

“It is as she said.” the man reported. “The Tenders will not even touch him.  Instead of being burnt in the glory of the sun they say he must be buried in shadows like all demons.”

“It is not fair,” Mashu said. “I cannot bury him alone.”  She knew that if Burgher thought she wanted to bury him, he would not allow it just to show his power over her.

“He was your master,” Burgher said with a cruel smile. “It is your duty to bury him.”

“But surely some of your strong men can dig a hole better and faster than me,” she said, knowing that any suggestion she came up with would be rejected.

“It is not their job to bury your master.  It is your job,” Burgher said. “How long do you think it will take you?”

She stood for a few moments trying to look as if she was thinking about it even though she already knew what she was going to say.  “I must find a shady spot, dig the hole, carry the shadow walker to the hole, fill it in, say the proper prayers, then mourn for three days and nights.  I believe that is everything the old man told me.  It will be at least ten days.”

“Three days,” Burgher told her, “you can mourn while you dig.  You can dig faster or not as deep.  On the morning of the fourth day I expect to see you at the town hall ready to do my bidding.”

“Yes, my lord,” she said in a submissive voice.  She did not want to show her happiness in getting three days.  It would be more than enough for her plan.

“Come on,” Burgher told his men. “We can search the cottage better after she has removed the body.  You had better get to work, girl, you are wasting time.”

Mashu followed the men out of the cottage.  She had to stop for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight.  As Burgher and his men headed for the town hall, she went to the shed on the side of the cottage and picked up a shovel.  She then started through town to the woods beyond.  On her way through town, she spotted the baker’s wife.  Mashu angled her walk so she would pass close to the woman.

“Girl,” the baker’s wife called to her as she passed. “Where do you go on this fine day?”

“The shadow walker is dead,” Mashu told her in a solemn voice. “Now I must bury him.”

“I guess you will be moving out of the shed and into the cottage now,” the woman said.  Even though Mashu had lived in the cottage for most of her life, she had moved out to the shed behind the cottage for privacy reasons as she had begun to fill out as a woman.

“No,” Mashu said, her eyes getting big, and her voice trembling.  “After the things that have gone on in that house I do not want to be in it alone in daylight, you could not make me go in there at night.”

She watched with satisfaction as a look of fear crossed the woman’s face.  Putting the shovel over her shoulder, she hurried off, before the woman could ask any questions.  She let the woman think about what she just said.  She knew that word of her conversation would soon be all over town.  That should keep nosy people out of the cottage until she could get out of town.  Once she entered the woods, she could tell how different it was from the town. 

She sometimes forgot how bad the village smelled until she was away from it.  The fresh spring smells of the plants around her were refreshing.  Mashu had not been in the woods very long, when she noticed that someone was following her.  It was not hard to get a look at the man and realize that it was one of Burgher’s boys.  He must have thought she would run away instead of burying the old man.  Since she knew these woods very well, and she doubted her follower had ever been deeper than the edge, she could have lost the man very easily.  But that would have raised an alarm, and it was too early for that.  She knew she could not afford to have him follow her either.

Mashu began to sing a song loud enough for the man to hear.  It was a strange tune, with words in a language he would not understand.  Living seventeen years with a shadow walker, it was not surprising she had learned a little magic along the way.  She had learned years before that music made magic stronger for her, so she sang as she concentrated on the spell.  The shadow walker never sang his spells; he would chant, or sometimes only mutter, but for her, music brought the magic out.  The man was no longer following her.  Stopping for a few moments, and giving the man a chance to catch up, she continued to sing.  Slowly making her way back to the last place she had seen the man, she continued to sing.  The man sat with his back against a tree sound asleep.  Singing a few more verses, she made sure he would not wake up soon.

Starting through the woods again, she kept an eye out to see if anyone else was following her.  Once she was sure she was alone, she changed her direction and headed for the lake.  She followed the edge of the lake until she found the stream she was looking for.  Half a mile up the stream, she turned up a little hill on the right and found the cave. 

Covered by bushes and vines, the entrance to the cave would not have been noticed by anyone who didn’t know it was there.  Slipping easily through the brush into the cave, she entered without disturbing anything.  The shovel was put down just inside the entrance.  Some torches, left on a stone shelf near the entrance, provided her with a source of light.  Near the torches was a tinderbox.  It took a few moments to get a torch lit. The light it gave off did not show much of the interior of the cave, but it was enough to let her pick up a second torch and walk deeper into the cavern. 

In a few minutes, she reached what appeared to be a dead end.  Quickly finding a small hole in the wall, the unlit torch was pushed in until it met resistance.  Pushing harder, the resistance slowly gave way.  With the lock undone, the rock wall pivoted easily with a push.  Pulling the unlit torch from the hole, she walked through the opening left by the pivoting wall. 

She used the torch to light four candles that were on a table in the center of the room.  Putting out the torch, she pushed the wall back into its original position.  She then reset the lock from the inside.  The candles on the table in the center of the room gave off more light than the torch had.  She looked around the room that had been carved from the rock by centuries of slow movement of water through it.  The water was long gone, but the room remained.  It was larger than any room in the cottage; it was almost as large as the cottage itself.  Wooden chests lined the walls around the room.  A ladder in the back of the room led to the ceiling. 

Climbing the ladder, she found the pouch with the necklace and ring she had left earlier in the day.  She listened carefully at the trapdoor above her.  Hearing nothing, she climbed down and placed the pouch on the table.  She picked up a dummy made of cloth and stuffed with straw that was lying on top of one of the chest, near the ladder.  Picking up a rope, she once again climbed the ladder, carrying the dummy and the rope.  Listening once more, before she carefully opened the trap door. 

It was strange knowing that when she went through the door that she would be coming up miles away in the cottage.  The shadow walker had explained to her the theory of folding spatial dimension and even though she could do it a little, she still did not feel she understood it completely.  Looking around carefully, she climbed into the room with the straw dummy.Once alone in the cottage, she went to the window and peeked out. 

No one was around so she went to where the shadow walker lay.  Looking him over, she could see that the fake necklace and ring were gone.  Burgher must have had one of his men come for it as soon as she was out of town.  This was good because now she did not have to worry about someone coming back to get the jewelry.  Removing the blanket that covered the old man, she set it aside and gently folded the sheet beneath him so that it formed a cocoon around the body.  Taking her time, she tied the rope around the body before gently lifting it and carried the shadow walker over to the trap door.  It was surprising how light he was; in the last few months, he had lost a lot of weight.  Taking her time, she lowered the body to the cavern below.

Pulling another sheet from the chest by the door, she put it on the bed and placed the dummy on it.  Picking up the blanket, she covered the dummy, so it looked the same as when the old man was there, as long as no one lifted the blanket.  Making sure the funeral gown was folded on the end of the bed properly, she looked the room over carefully.  Satisfied, she picked up a few items of food before she returned to the trap door.  Stepping down onto the ladder, she carefully closed the trap door.  Reaching the floor, she carefully picked the old man up and placed him gently on one of the chests.  She stopped long enough to eat a little bread and cheese before she continued. 

The food finished, she lit the torch again and put the candles out.  Opening the wall, she carefully carried the shadow walker out into the cave.  Closing the wall, she locked it again using the unlit torch.  She carried the old man to the opening of the cave.  Putting out the torch, she placed it near the tinderbox.  She carefully peeked out through the brush to make sure no one was waiting outside the cave. 

Gently lifting the old man, she carefully made her way through the brush into the sunshine.  Cradling the body in her arms, she started through the woods.  Her destination was over a mile away, uphill most of the way.  Even though the old man was light, it still should have been a struggle.  She did not even notice.  The woods were beautiful, the birds were singing, spring was just beginning to show itself.She did not notice.  Her mind was on other things.  The old man was the only parent she had ever known.  She had been brought to him with her twin brother when they were only days old.  It had been many years before she discovered the reason why. 

They were outcast for the sin of being twins.  The belief was that only one human was born naturally.  If two babies were born at the same time, then one of them was a demon and the other human.  Sometimes the demon succeeded in destroying the human child, then only one child would be born and the demon would not be discovered until years later.  Sometimes the human child was strong enough to resist the demon and twins were born, the problem, which then arose, was how to decide, which was the human child and which was the demon. 

Sometimes it was easy.  If a girl and a boy were born together, obviously the girl was the demon because no mere girl could stand up to a male demon and survive.  If one child was noticeably smaller or weaker than the other child, it was the demon, because only strong humans could survive against a demon.  If nothing stood out about one child to identify it as the demon, sometimes both children were allowed to live until the demon showed its true nature.  More often, both children were killed to avoid any problems.

Being a girl born with a male, Mashu should have been killed right away.  She would have been except for one thing; her brother was a shadow walker.  Shadow walkers, those of the pale skin and white hair, were not people.  They were demons, good demons sent to earth to help people.  Since her brother was a demon, she had to be human.  But what type of girl could stand up to a male demon, especially a shadow walker?  Her parents did not know what to do with her, so when her brother was sent to Haidar, the shadow walker to be trained, she was sent with him. 

She did not know who her real parents were, nor did she care.  They had given her up in fear, and now the only family she knew and cared about was her brother and the old shadow walker.  Now the old man was gone.

Still, she had her memories. There had been a wet nurse in the early years, but she only knew about her from what the old man had told her.  But Haidar she remembered.  She remembered him as a teacher.  Though it was her brother that he was supposed to be training, if she showed any interest in something, he would find the time and the patience to teach her.  If it were something that the old man couldn’t teach, he would find someone to teach her.  There was the blacksmith who taught her to use a bow and sling, the traveling minstrel who taught her music, and the hermit who taught her woodcraft.  Though the old man had not shown much emotion over the years, he had always been there when she needed him, if only to listen.  When it had dawned on her a few years earlier that because of her unique situation there was little chance of her ever marrying or leading a normal life, he could not comfort her.  So, he had taken the time to listen to her over the few weeks it took her to work it out herself.

She finally came to the spot she was looking for.  A large oak tree dominated a small hill.Between its roots was a grave she had dug months before. She had been back to clean it out a few times since then.  Now it waited for the old man’s body.  Gently she lowered him into the hole.  As she stood there, she could hear the sound of the wind pushing its way through the leaves of the tree above her. 

Standing there, looking at the body that lay in the bottom of the hole, tears began to fill her eyes.  She tried, but could not stop them.  She stood there crying like a child.  She had thought that she had gotten all the grief out of her system over the last year, as she had tended to the old man as his condition became worse.  Sobs racked her body.  She didn’t know how long the crying went on, but finally the tears dried up leaving her feeling empty, but somehow better.  She looked down at the small body wrapped in the sheet at the bottom of the grave.  She knew that the old man was no longer in that body. He had gone on to another place.  All that was left was the vessel he had traveled in on his journey through this world.

She said the words that needed to be said, the prayers and chants that were just for shadow walkers, demons who walked in human form.  But she knew that the old man was not a demon; he was very human, with all the frailties and shortcomings that being human entailed.  When the ceremonial duties were complete, she looked down at the body at the bottom of the hole and quietly said her own goodbye to the only parent she had known.  She took a deep breath and began to sing.  As the song rose from her lips, a pile of dirt near the hole began to move. Slowly, bit by bit, it began to fill the hole.  It did not take long before the hole was full and the dirt settled. 

Continuing to sing, she changed the song, both in words and music.  Seeds that were in the soil that had filled the hole began to sprout and grow.  Little blades of grass and sprouts of other plants began to force themselves up through the loose soil.  She had to stop before she wanted to, because the magic had taken so much out of her.  She stood there, trying to gain back some energy.  The growth wasn’t as far along as she wanted, but she could do no more.  In a few weeks, nature would finish it; no one would be able to tell that a grave stood at this place.  The old man’s body would return to the earth from where it had come. 

Looking at the sun and realizing it was late afternoon, she knew that she needed to get back to the village.  She took a deep breath and forced herself to move.  Her body was drained from the magic, but she knew she did not have enough time to rest.  She walked slowly back to the cave.  Picking up the shovel, she made her way through the woods toward the village.  When she neared the spot where she had left the man sleeping, she slowed down.  She moved to a spot where she could see if he was still where she had left him.  He had slipped from his spot against the tree, and was curled up on the ground, but he was still sound asleep.  She began singing loudly.  She stayed out of sight but in a place where she could watch him.

The man woke suddenly.  She watched as he quickly climbed to his feet and looked around.  She kept singing as she watched him from a distance.  She could see the confusion on his face.  The confusion was replaced with fear.  He must have been thinking about Burgher.  Finally, relief came as he realized that he could still hear her singing.  She waited until he pinpointed the direction of her voice and confusion again reigned on his face.  The singing was on the wrong side of him.  She started walking back to town, it wouldn’t take him long to figure out he had slept all day.  If Burgher found out the man would be in trouble. She doubted he would tell Burgher.

When Mashu reached the village, she headed straight back to the cottage.  She didn’t go inside.  Instead, she went to the shed in the back, where she had slept since she had started becoming a woman.  She didn’t know if she was being watched, but she acted as if she was.  She prepared herself a small meal over the hearth at the end of the shed.  Opening the door, she let in some daylight, as there were no windows in the shed.  Using the light, she mended some clothes.  As darkness began to cover the village, she decided not to light a candle so she went to bed early, as if she was tired from digging all day.  It wasn’t hard, because the magic had drained all the energy out of her.

She woke at midnight.  Lying quietly in bed, she listened carefully before she moved, just as the hermit had taught her to do in the woods.  Slowly removing the blanket that she had slept under, she felt the chill of the spring night, even though she was fully dressed.  She rolled quietly out of bed and crawled over to a small door that was hidden in the wall of her shed.  She didn’t light a candle, even though she doubted anyone else would be awake this late.  Once she reached the door, she stopped and listened again.  Hearing nothing, she slipped through.  Once outside, she could feel the wind that added to the cold.  She stopped next to the woodpile she had kept full during the winter.  Without a sound, she worked her way along the woodpile by the light of the quarter moon.  When she reached the back door of the cottage, she again stopped and listened.  Hearing no sound on the other side, she opened the door, and slipped into the darkness.  She eased the door shut and crawled through the back room to the trapdoor.  Opening the trapdoor quietly she climbed onto the ladder and closed it behind her. 

When she reached the bottom of the ladder, she felt along the wall until her hand closed upon a candle.  She didn’t bother to look for the flint and steel she knew was nearby.  Instead, she held the candle up and sang softly.  She could smell the wick of the candle smoldering before she could see it.  Slowly it began to glow red and then it burst into flame.  Though it had been one of the first spells she had learned, it still fascinated her each time it worked.  She took the lit candle and easily found a few more, which she carried over to the table and lit with the candle she was holding. 

She then began to pack.  She would be able to take only a few things with her, just what she could carry on her back while walking all day.  She was a strong woman who worked hard every day, but she could only carry a few important items.  She would have liked to take all the books but she chose two small ones.  The rest she carefully wrapped and placed them in a large wooden chest.  She packed a few cooking items and as much food as she thought she could carry.  Finally, two changes of clothing went into the pack, one set of her own clothes, and a set of boys clothes, that she had collected for this trip.  She tied a bedroll up so she could carry it over her shoulder. 

For protection, she would carry the old man’s staff, which also had a sentimental attachment.  Her sling would be wrapped around her waist like a belt. Her bow was put in a leather case, to protect it from moisture.  She went through the herbs and minerals that were stored in the chest that sat in the corner of the cave.  Carefully selecting some for healing, others for magical applications, and some for cooking, she placed each herb or mineral in individual leather pouches, each one marked with the appropriate symbol, which would let her know what the pouch contained.  Some of the pouches were put in her pack and some in the inside pockets of her cloak.  She also placed a small purse containing a few copper and silver coins in her cloak.  The bulk of her money and the gems she would carry were placed in a long narrow pouch that would be worn around her waist beneath her clothes. 

The items she couldn’t take were carefully wrapped in oilskin and packed away.  She hoped to return for them someday.  Finally, everything was packed, either to go with her or to stay in the cave.  The candles were burning low, and she knew she needed to get back to her bed.  Extinguishing all but one of the candles, she walked over to the ladder.  Blowing the candle out, she placed it on a shelf nearby.  In the dark, she carefully climbed the ladder to the trapdoor above.  When she reached the door, she stopped and listened.  She froze.  She could hear someone moving around in the cottage.  She put her head close to the trapdoor to listen, trying to figure out who it was.

“Whata we doin’ here?” a man’s voice asked.  She immediately recognized the dialect of Burgher’s bullies.  They spoke very different from the farmers.

“We gotta search the place before the girl gets up,” another voice said.

“Why?” asked the first voice.  “She can’t do nothin’ to stop us.”

“Burgher thinks if she sees where we look she might put somethin’ there after we look there,” the second man said.

“Well, I don’ like it,” the first man told him. “The ol’ man’s ghost mightn’t like us pokin’ aroun’ his place, ‘specially at night.”

Mashu was thinking.  She needed to distract the men long enough for her to get through the cottage and back to her shed before they discovered that she was gone.  If they found her missing, she was sure that Burgher would send out searchers looking for her.  She wanted to be a long way from the village before any search started.  The man’s fear of the shadow walker’s ghost gave her an idea.

In a soft voice, she began to sing, hoping that the men above were making enough noise that they wouldn’t hear her.  She formed a picture of the shadow walker in her mind as she sang.  She remembered him when she had disobeyed him, the scowl on his face, and the anger in his eyes.  Concentrating on the image, she sang her spell softly.  She wondered if her spell was working. 

Suddenly she heard a yelp from one of the men, followed by the sound of running feet on the floor above her.  She heard the cottage door banging open.  Knowing that time was short, she stopped singing and pushed the trapdoor open a little.  She peeked around the room and saw no one.  Climbing through the door, she looked around again. She saw what had frightened the men.  It was a translucent image of the shadow walker floating on the wall behind the trap door.  The image was fading since she no longer sang, but it was still clear enough for her to tell it was the one she had pictured in her mind. 

She quickly fastened the trap door and made her way to the back door of the cottage.  She peeked out to see if anyone waited out back.  Seeing no one, she slipped through the door into the cold gray dawn.  She reached the shed and was about to go in when she heard approaching footsteps.  Realizing that there was no way she could get inside without being seen she turned to face the approaching people.  It was two of Burgher’s men carrying torches. 

“What are you doing out here?” one of the men asked.

“I heard some noise, and I came out to see what it was,” she told him.

“Were you in the house?” he asked.

“In the house?” she said in a frightened voice.  “In the dark?  With his body still in there?  Not me.  Maybe in the day.  Never at night.  Especially after what he said before he died.”

“Huh, what did he say?” the man asked, trying to conceal a shake in his voice and not doing a very good job of it.  Burgher had been telling them that the shadow walker was just a man like anyone else, but old beliefs die hard.

“He said he would need my help on the other side,” she said, putting as much fear in her voice that she could. “He said he would come back and get me when he reached the other side.  I’m not going in there again until it is time to get his body to put it in the ground.  And I am never going in there after that, and I feel sorry for anyone who does.  If he cannot find me, he might take whoever he can.”

She turned and went into the shed, before he had a chance to ask any more questions, like why she was fully dressed if she was awakened by the noise.  The day was starting, and she made herself a small breakfast and packed herself a lunch before she went out into the crisp, spring air.  Picking up the shovel, she started out of town.  As she walked she spotted the baker’s wife, the woman seemed to be waiting for her.

“Hello,” Mashu said.

“Still digging?” the woman asked.

“It is much harder than I thought it would be,” Mashu told her. “I hope I can complete it in time.”

“In time?” the woman asked though Mashu could tell that she was impatient to get on to other subjects.

“Yes,” Mashu told her, “Burgher has only given me three days to complete the burial.

“I heard there was quite a commotion at the cottage last night,” the woman got to the subject that she really wanted to hear about.  “Did you see the ghost?”

“Ghost?” Mashu said, letting her voice tremble for effect. “I heard a noise, and came out to see what was going on.  Some men were there with torches.  I didn’t know there was a ghost.  I will be glad when the old man is in his grave.”

“Are you looking forward to working for Burgher?”

“The old man said he would come back for me,” Mashu whispered. “The sooner I can get away from the cottage the safer I will feel, though I don’t know if there is anyplace I will be safe from him.”

It was all she could do to keep from smiling as she turned and walked away from the baker’s wife.  Hopefully, with the events of the night before and the rumors that would be going around town, the cottage would be safe until she left.  No one was following her as she made her way through the woods that day, so she went straight to the cave.  Once inside she lit a candle and made herself a pallet so she could get some rest after being up most of the night.  It didn’t take her long to fall asleep.

When she woke, she found that the candle was burning low.  It was a slow burning candle, so she knew that many hours had passed.  Gathering up the food she had brought for lunch, she left the cave and went down to the banks of the stream.  It was still early enough in the spring so the bugs were not too bad yet.  After she ate, she found a spot with plenty of open dirt and made sure her clothes looked like she had been digging a grave all day.  She spent a little while just looking at the water flowing through the pebbles and let herself relax.  She then picked up the shovel, put it over her shoulder, and headed toward town.  By the time she reached the village, the sun was nearing the horizon.  Suspecting that she was being watched, she went straight to her shed. There she ate a little meal, did some mending, inconspicuously packed a small bag and went to bed.  When she lay down she was fully dressed, but she lay down on top of her sleeping gown so when she rose the gown would appear as if she had disappeared from it in her sleep.

When it was dark, she rose.  She didn’t light a candle, she simply collected her small bag and made her way to the secret door of the shed.  It wasn’t long before she found herself in the cottage.  She carefully crawled over to the trapdoor and quietly opened it.  She then crawled along the floor to the bed.  Pulling back the blanket, she took the straw dummy from the bed.  She laid the funeral gown on the bed as if someone had disappeared while wearing it.  She then covered it with the blanket.  Next, she dragged the dummy over to the trapdoor where she dropped it into the opening.  Her bag went down next.  She climbed onto the ladder and shut the trapdoor behind her.  She made sure that it was closed securely, and climbed down to the floor.  Before she lit a candle, she began to sing the words the old man had taught her.  About the third time through, she could feel that the job was done.  She also had no energy left.  She found the tinderbox and used it to light a candle, because she didn’t feel up to using magic.  Once it was lit, she looked up only to see a stone ceiling above her.  She knew that if the trapdoor in the cottage was opened, only dirt would be found beneath.  She put her small bag into her travel pack she had set up the night before.  She was fatigued from the magic, but she knew she had to make the best use of the time she had.  With one last look, she left the cave.  Once outside, she followed the trails she knew, toward the river.  She thought about visiting the shadow walker’s grave, but a voice in the wind told her to keep moving.  Moving along the river in the fresh night air seemed to give her energy; she was glad to be leaving the village behind her.  The only two things in the village she had ever cared about, her brother and the old man were gone.  Nothing was left to keep her from leaving, except her fear of the unknown world before her.


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Dark Shadowwalker

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