This is a story about the character Alanthis Shadowmoon.
The fire crackled madly and acrid smoke burned the young girl’s nostrils as she shivered uncontrollably, hunched into a ball beneath her mother’s kitchen table. Through the veil of the tears that coursed down her soot-darkened face she could see the flames licking up the wooden walls in the room beyond, turning them slowly black.
Above the noise of the rising inferno she heard the guttural voices of orcs, shouting to each other in their broken tongue as the searched the house for anything valuable worth pillaging, or anything yet alive that they might kill. A few feet away from her the lifeless eyes of her mother seemed locked on her weeping visage, her broken body twisted at a curious angle, blood still running thickly from her nose and ears.
“You are not alone, Alanthis.”
The voice was no more than a whisper, and the girl’s eyes darted fearfully around, seeking its source. Her fingers reflexively tightened their white-knuckle grip on the hem of her dress.
“Oh come now my girl, you know me well enough. We have spoken many times before.”
Through the mists of fear Alanthis realised that she did indeed recognise the voice. It was a voice that she had heard many times in her short life, whenever she was hurt, alone or afraid. Always it had soothed her, its tender lilting caress driving away the darkness, dispelling the fear.
“Yes, I know you,” she whispered, her voice so low it was little more than a mumble. “Who are you?”
“I am your guardian, child. I have been there for you right from the start, from the moment you first drew breath in this world.” Alanthis imagined a smile lurking behind the soothing, hushed tones, a smile that held no warmth. Her mother’s smile had always been warm; now her face was caught forever in a rictus of death.
“Can you help me? They’re going to find me. They killed mother… I’m sure they’ve killed father too.” A fresh torrent of tears left white-washed streaks through the grime that coated her cheeks.
“Of course I can Alanthis. I have told you many times that the day would come when you would need more than just the comfort of my companionship, the succour of my words. And since you were but a babe you have known that you had only to call on me, only to ask. You are as my child, and I will let no ill befall you if you will only accept the gifts I offer.”
Alanthis knew this; there had been times before when the offer of help had been extended, and yet always she had shied from it. She had always felt a hesitance, as though she was standing on the edge of a precipice, and always she had refused. Even now, in this moment of dire need, something within her cowered at the notion, urged her to accept her inevitable doom, to ignore the persistent voice.
There was a loud stomping as steel-shod boots shook the kitchen’s wooden floor, raising dust about the legs of the orc to whom they belonged. Alanthis’ blood ran cold as the heavy footfalls approached, stopping before the table, beginning to turn. Try as she might to suppress it, the terrible fear rose within her and she could do nothing to stifle a sob. The orcish feet halted, slowly turned; she could hear the weight of a weapon being hefted in gauntleted hands. This time there was no alternative.
“I accept,” she murmured, with an eerie calm, her voice heavy with conviction. “Help me.”
For a moment, there was no response and her heart sank – her guardian had deserted her. Then all at once she felt the rush of shadow, as though a well had opened up within her, flooded her with a darkness she felt she could not contain. She felt it course through her veins, filling her up, seeping into every crevice within her, welling behind her eyes. Her vision of the room before her seemed to expand, as though she had walked from a lit room into darkness and her eyes had adjusted instantly. Her limbs felt cold, and yet strangely alive, and she involuntarily recalled plunging through the icy crust of the pond near her homestead the winter before, recalled the icy fire as the water touched her skin. Her breath felt like thick black smoke as she exhaled, and somewhere in the distance she imagined she heard the beating of dark wings, a leathery thrusting through air choked with night.
The table suddenly vanished from above her, crashing into the corner of the kitchen. The orc that had thrown it aside gave a grunt of satisfaction as he looked down at her tiny form with a toothy grin, his small cruel eyes glinting happily in the last rays of the day’s sunlight that streamed through the kitchen doorway, glimmering on his bloodied axe. It seemed to Alanthis that in that moment the world paused, held its breath for her. It felt as though she had a lifetime to take in every feature of her attacker, every detail of the room around them.
She spoke a name, an ancient secret name, a word that she had never heard and always known.
The orc’s face changed; glee was replaced with confusion, and then with a vague fear as he looked down into his prey’s eyes, tiny wells of utter blackness beneath an unruly mass of matted blonde hair. The room changed, as though all the light had been sucked from it, leaving only the memory of where it had fallen. The orc watched in horrid fascination as the little girl raised a hand towards him, slowly, as though reaching out for him, pleading with him. For one frozen moment he could not decide whether to shy from her or reach out to her. And then, abruptly, his life ended.
The orcs body, consumed by the sudden, enveloping cascade of whispering darkness that poured forth from Alanthis’ outstretched hand, clattered backwards into a pile of debris. When the shadows receded there was no mark upon his form, no wound that would explain his demise, or his calm, lifeless expression, eyes wide, mouth relaxed.
Still on her knees, Alanthis closed her eyes and smiled a weary smile.