Under A Shadowed Moon
The air is burning around him.
His robes billow out behind him, like angel's wings.
The feeling wells up in him.
This is good. This is _right_. He _deserves_ to fall.
He wakes up, trembling.
The hall of the church. His church.
He walks up the central aisle, towards the altar.
To each side of the altar are two stained-glass windows.
The seal emblazoned on them... once it meant something. Once, there was a Lord, and a Barony, who bore this into battle. Who held it as the symbol of all they held dear.
Now, they are forgotten. The world has moved on. The symbol means... nothing, now.
And neither does he. Neither does this church. Neither does his _God_, anymore.
He looks up at the cross mounted between the two windows, searching for...
Searching for what, he wonders? A sign? Hope? Redemption?
But there is no redemption for him. For any of them.
We offered redemption once, he thinks. We said: The God o' the Cross can save you from Hell. Can protect you from its foul snares and traps. Can cast down its Lords...
Then its Lords came. And we? We did nothing. We ran. Pleaded for mercy. Begged them to spare our lives.
Some of us fought. They died.
And now, now...
He knows the voice. He knows what it means.
The 'Lord' of this land has made his choice. And then...
'Isabelle. I am ready.'
He turns around.
Standing behind the 'Lord's' herald are two of his.. 'knights'. His _thugs_, he thinks. It is time, then.
The 'Lord's' herald steps forward. Light shines off her hair, giving her the appearance of a dark angel, the dark ginger haloing the pale blonde streaks.
Dark angel. Arch angel.
He remembers a child's laughter at an off-hand joke. The 'little sister' who always looked to him...
And now he can save none of them. Not even himself.
She nods in response. 'I know. But... he wants the formalities observed.'
Respect or fear? he wonders. But deep down, he knows why. Has known ever since-
'Father Michael Kreiner,' she begins formally. 'On this day, the Barony of Mondas charges you with demon-worship, pacts with the Lords of Hell, and treason. The sentence for any of these is death. How do you plead?'
He bows his head. 'Milady, I offer no defence. I plead guilty to all charges. Do what you will.'
The two 'knights' step forwards. Isabelle raises her hand. 'No. Not here. Bring him to the Hall.'
He nods, acknowledging this small respect. She looks away. 'Bring him.'
And then, he hears her gasp. Hears the knights stop. He looks up.
They are looking... behind him.
He turns around.
The seals on the windows - the figures-of-eight that have adorned them for as long as he remembers - the seals are changing. Swirling into-
He knows the symbol. Not one of the Great Letters, but always found with them. Always.
The mark of a Question.
A sign, he thinks insanely. A sign, at last.
The windows explode outward.
The world moves on.
She sits there, alone in her shack. Always alone.
But... ever' so often, one o' those high-and mighties from the town will come out here, to the witch's shack, and beg her for knowledge.
Beg. Her. The beggar witch. Beg her for an ans'er, a way out of their little tanglements.
She tell them. Oh yes, she tell them.
And then they go back.
And try to forget.
And, alone in her shack, she laughs. A high-pitched, rattley sound
They don't kill her. Need her too much, they do. Too scared of what she know, too.
Take this one. Stood outside, too scared to come in, too worried to go back.
Well, the witch know how to deal with that. Always has.
'Come in, gel. Angeline don't bite...'
She hears the shocked intake of breath. And smiles.
'Well?' she says. 'You goin' to stay in the col' till Hell freeze?'
The door (what pass for it) opens.
She don't know this one. A hood thrown o'er her face, in a clumsy attempt at disguise. But the witch can see the outline o' well-fed cheeks, and the glint of red hair. Well-up, this one, the witch thinks. Well and enou'. They all pay, in the end.
The girl (for that what she is, she know...) stands at the door, shivering. And steps in nervous-like.
'Sit doun, gel.' the witch says. 'What you want wit' Angeline, hey?'
The girl manages to get her gaze off the floor (not that _that_ was ever the bes' of sites...). And again, the witch hears that shocked breath. Oh yeah, the witch thinks, this gonna be _easy_. Her mouth crinkles into a smile.
So easy to shock, the lords o' the town. Clothes reduced now to rags by the years. Straggly, dirty blonde hair. A young face, so young... And the marks of her witchcraft. Pointed ears poking through what hair she lets fall o'er 'em. Cat-slitted eyes. Most eerie o' all, the patches of shiny, too-perfect
skin that seem to glow in the darkness.
Simple. So simple.
'So,' she says again. 'what you wan' wit' a witch like me, hey?'
'I.. I..' the girl stammers. 'I...Tell me my fortune. Please.'
'It gonna cost.'
'I have money...'
'Oh, you be paying more than that,' says the witch. Smiling, she looks into the girl's eyes.
And she is-
She stands on a precipice.
All around her, the void refracts, reflects, the burning multi-coloured light, folding and reforming for ever.
And she knows, looking on it, that the void is sick. _Dying_.
Behind her, she hears a voice. Sad. Ageless. And so very tired.
'Even the damned love. Even the dead love. The monsters do not.'
'But you do.'
'Why?' she asks, plaintive as a child.
'The Hag watches. Soon, she will swoop down on you. On the people.'
'What can I do?' she whispers, looking on the void.
There is a shove in her back, and-
She hears herself gasp.
And opens her eyes.
The girl is looking at her, terrified.
'_Go_, Laura Tobin. *Go.* _NOW!_'
Shaking, the girl practically runs out.
The witch settles back on her seat.
And she knows the girl will be back. Oh yeah, the girl will be back.
When she does - oh when she does - the witch fears for them.
For all of them.
She begins to laugh, the hollow laughter of one who's found the joke turning on them.
First, certain as the winter, will come the devastation. Then the terror.
Then the Hag will come for them.
If they're lucky, they'll die.
...Hell would be a mercy.
The world moves on.
The girl's gone to sleep.
The Kapoor sighs.
It's hard, sometimes. So very hard.
But she was the only one ready, or willing, to do it.
We fear the mad, she thinks. We say they are demon-haunted, their souls already lost.
But their own Book says 'Give charity to the mad'.
And what else could I do?
'What else...' she whispers to the girl in the bed.
Where else could I go? What else could I do?
She has not, as yet, found an answer.
So alone. Strangers, both of them.
This land is strange to both of them.
But she was not born here. It's easier on her than on Charlotte.
Oh, how she wishes it were not. She wishes so hard, sometimes.
Wish in one hand, shit in the other, she thinks. The phrase they use.
Charlotte's father is a power here. What they call a lord. And none will gainsay him.
To his face, at least.
They will not call his daughter mad. Will not condemn the Kapoor as a spy.
To their faces, at least.
The Kapoor shivers. She has seen what these people do to the mad.
And the smell of burning lingers in her nostrils, sometimes.
Charlotte tosses and turns in her sleep.
Bad dreams, the Kapoor thinks. If only it were bad dreams.
The hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
No. Please, not again. Not now.
She _feels_, rather than sees, the figure behind her. The shadow, half again as tall as hers.
The demon. _Her_ demon.
The giant stands over her, its figure a reptilian mockery of the human form, green scale mail around its body, bearing a sword no mortal man could lift. Not without tearing their own arms out.
'Is it time?' she asks bitterly.
The giant shakes its head. No. It is not.
She understands. She always does.
'Then what?' she spits at the demon.
The giant's expression is unreadable behind its visor.
Something has broken free from the prison. It searches for you.
'Why tell me?'
I cannot protect you. No-one can. It comes. It needs you.
'Why?' she whispers.
You imprisoned it, and you ask why.
It loves you.
Then the demon is gone.
The Kapoor looks back at Charlotte.
Run again. Run from what has escaped. Maybe find safety that little longer.
Or stay. Stay, make a stand. Die, and see all that she has made die too.
She passes her hand over Charlotte's sleeping face. And makes her choice.
The world moves on.
The figure in black vaults over the wall, and races towards the waiting mule.
Except there's someone else waiting there, too.
The figure backs off, but too late.
'Sade. Nice night, isn't it?'
Sade doesn't speak.
The waiting woman tips her hat up. 'Nice weather, too. Good and cloudy.'
'What do you want?'
The woman shrugs. 'Usual. Haul you in the lockup for a day or two, wait for the pursuit to die down, then take back whatever it was you stole this time.'
'This time,' she adds, 'Looks like I'll actually get to do it...'
Sade doesn't move.
'What was it this time?' the woman muses. 'Biggest storehouse in the town... looks to me like someone needed last-minute provisions. What do you think?'
Sade stays silent. Unobtrusively, she moves a step back
'Could be someone.looking for bullets...' the woman continues.
Sade adopts a shocked look. 'I'm disappointed, Sherriff Townsend. I thought you, of all people, would know me better than that...'
Townsend nods. Sade keeps an eye on Townsend's gun hand.
In the courtyard behind, the hounds begin to bark.
'Well enough to know where you'd head for, once I knew you were back...' Townsend replies.
Sade raises an eyebrow. So _that's_ how she knew...
She decides to punish whoever let her whereabouts leak. When she gets out of
'Why?' she asks.
The Sheriff looks startled. 'What?'
'Why go after a little thief, when you _know_ that the owner of this storehouse is a bigger thief than I could ever be?' The Sheriff's eyes widen in surprise and rage. Sade smiles. Her guess hits close to home.
'In fact... why go after _any_ lawbreaker in this town? _You_ don't enforce the law anymore. Never have, have you...?'
Sade takes a step forward, a tiny smile touching her lips. 'No... Leighton is the real law in this town, isn't he? He makes it, he enforces it, he breaks it... You simply weren't needed, were you? Just left enough power to think you _had_ power...'
The hounds' barking is almost unbearable.
The Sheriff reaches for her gun.
Sade sees the movement, and dives. The Sheriff's no Paladin of Gallifrey, not even one of the fabled gunslingers, but she's fast enough.
There is the sound of glass shattering. Too much for a single window.
Both women's eyes turn to the church.
Both of them start to run.
In the same direction.
In the square outside the church, a young woman is staring at the church, open-eyed. Sade briefly takes in red hair, and cheeks that have seen far too many meals, and the faint drift of breath that tells her the girl has been running, and stores it for later use.
Then she runs into the church, and stops dead.
The priest - Crane? Krayner? Something of the sort - is utterly still, his withered arm limp by his side. The stillness of shock, not death. Sade has seen enough of both in her life to recognise them.
Two dead men lie at his feet.
In the corner, crumpled like a rag doll, is a girl. Sade notes the multi-coloured hair that marks her as a product of the Badlands.
But dominating the scene is the shadow. Or what a shadow would be, were it given form and substance.
Its presence seems to flow into every corner of the hall.
It raises its great head.
=SHE COMES. SHE COMES.=
'Yeah? Well, _I'm_ already here, pit-spawn...' The Sheriff fires a bullet into the thing.
Sade could have told her that it wouldn't work. But the Sheriff finds out for herself.
The thing waves a hand. The Sheriff crashes into a pillar.
In the silence that follows, there is the quiet whisper of fabric and flesh being laid on wood. Sade spares a quick glance for the newcomer.
Black hair frames a dark, haunted face, surrounded by an elegant hooded cape.
Then she speaks. 'Grandfather.'
=GRANDDAUGHTER. KAPOOR. THE TIME IS NOW.=
'Yes.' the newcomer whispers. 'It is.'
The shadow steps away from the priest. It seems to cover the newcomer's face.
There is a whining sound.
For a moment, Sade thinks it's coming from the newcomer.
But she is absolutely silent.
And as she watches, the shadow breaks into gobbets and globs, sliding away into the shadowed corners.
The newcomer seems almost to fold in on herself, the 'wand' she holds almost falling from her hand.
Sade supports her. And as she helps her arm around Sade's shoulders, she hears the woman whisper 'Won't work. Won't work. Only short-term. I hoped... He'll...'
Sade freezes. In the corner, the shadows are darkening.
'MOVE!!' she yells at the woman and the priest. 'MOVE!!', almost throwing the woman out of the church. 'MOVE!!', rushing back in for the Sheriff, hoping, hoping...
The priest, shocked out of his daze, races for the girl with multi-coloured hair, picks her up as if she were a feather, and hurls himself out of the church.
Sade manages to drag the heavy (heavier than she looks, she thinks) Sheriff outside.
Then she looks around. The girl she saw on her way in is gone. The 'wand' woman is sagging. She helps her up.
And then her desperate whisper sinks into Sade's mind. 'Charlotte. I left Charlotte. In there...'
Sade turns. No time, no time, no _hope_...
The roof of the church *bulges*.
Something *hurls* itself out of the church. It smashes into Sade.
The roof of the church explodes.
The earth tears itself apart around them.
The world goes black.
Angeline sits outside the door of her shack.
From here, she can see the devastated town, slowly trying to pick itself up.
She knows what comes next.
First will come the terror, as every shadow turns into a threat, becomes a nightmare. One made by the people themselves.
Somewhere out there, Grandfather still waits.
Then will come something much, much worse.
In the distance, she sees.a bedraggled group of people coming towards the shack. She sees the glint of metal from the Sheriff's gun. Sees the hooded girl who came to her, earlier. Sees a man in the robes of a priest, who yet casts no shadow on a shadowed night. Others she's never seen.
Finally, the figure in black arrives.
Angeline stands up. She's spent all her life knowing what would happen. Knowing the future.
'Hey. You know anywhere we can go?'
Angeline nods. 'Yeah.'
'What'll it cost?'
'Lemme come wit' you.'
The figure in black nods.
Angeline steps down from the shack's doorway.
...now, she will make the future.
They all will.
They have nothing else.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat