August 4th 2014 – Molly
At first it was just one man’s quiet moaning. Then a second, younger, voice joined in. The third voice was a little girl, giggling at a joke only she could hear. With each new voice, a shadow flickered across the tent in front of me. In one moment, the shadow of a man the size of a bear loomed over the entire tent. The next, the silhouette of a young girl with pigtails stood facing me. With every rise and fall of the shadow’s chest, I could feel a cold wind, her breath, on my neck. A cold breath coming from behind me. I swung around, bringing the tiny little flame between us, but she was already gone. She giggled again, at me this time.
More and more shadows poured into the crowded little tent. They came from all walks of life. Some spoke English, others Gaelic, and still others languages I couldn’t hope to identify. They clamored, desperate for attention.
“Why do you hide little girl?”
“Nil me saille.”
“Don’t be afraid, I love you.”
With each new voice, the world around me seemed to get darker and colder. The cozy little tent seemed to grow as more and more spirits poured in. The shadowy corners of the tent loomed in the distance, and the door seemed impossibly far out of reach. Even though the walls were far out of the reach of the lighter’s little flame, they were still illuminated by the warm light. And more and more shadows danced across them by the moment.
“Swear fealty to Connacht!”
“Don’t trust them, they’re all liars!”
“Tawm ngra leat.”
“What did you do to Seamus!”
“I won’t hurt you little one.”
The voices shouted over each other trying to be heard. The noise was deafening, and the warped world within the tent had grown large enough that their cries had begun to echo. I shut my eyes, I didn’t know what to do. The voices just got louder.
“Feall ar tu an laochra de na Fianna!”
“I loved you like a brother!”
“How dare you! Do you know who I am?”
“Don’t worry, you can trust me.”
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Shut Up!” I screamed. And they did.
I could hear my voice echoing through the vast expanse my cozy little tent had been transformed into. The shadows vanished from the walls. After a moment, even the echoes of my voice faded. In the vast space, the silence was oppressive. The tent was freezing now, I could see my breath in front of me. My lighter flickered, struggling to stay lit in the darkness. I bolstered it with magic, feeding the tiny flame scraps of mana through my fingertips. I didn’t know what would happen if it went out, but I had never been so terrified of the dark as I was in that moment. I huddled naked beneath my blanket, holding the fire close to my chest. I felt like a little girl, but the monsters weren’t under my bed anymore. They were all around me, circling, even if I couldn’t see them anymore. The light on the walls began to fade, the darkness closing in all around me. The massive space became a void, even if I had dared to move, I could no longer see the floor more than an inch in front of me.
When they spoke again, they spoke in unison. I heard, loudest among them, my own voice.
“We won’t hurt you little one. Join us, cast off your chains. Run the nights with us. You will never be cold and hungry again. Forget what you were, forget where you came from. We will be your family, we will defend you, we will avenge you against the world.” The chorus of voices said. And it pissed me off.
“If you think I want to forget who I am, you clearly don’t understand me half as well as you think you do. I went through Hell to get here, and I’m not about to give up my identity to run around this backward-ass country with a bunch of ghosts who lack the fucking decency to haunt a single place! You think I’m cold and hungry? I’ve got cookies, something you idiots will never have again. As for the cold…” I gave the fire more power. In a moment, it had grown too large for the lighter. I transferred the nascent fireball into my right hand. “Why don’t I show you just how hot I can make it!”
I threw the fireball down onto the ground in front of me. The fire surged into a circle around me, following the lines of power I laid out for it. Then I let loose.
I poured every drop of power I had on tap into next burst of mana. The circle didn’t just expand, it exploded outward in a storm of flames. The massive warped space around me was thrown into lurid relief by the light of the fire. The canvas on the floor twisted and melted where the flames burned hottest, the impossibly high ceiling sagged under the heat. I kicked the flaming blanket by my feet into the fire. I twirled around for effect, the reflected light from the fire coloring my pale skin.
“Is this the best you can do? I’ll burn your pathetic little world to ashes!” I shouted. Then I gave them my best insane cackle. It wasn’t half bad, I’ve had a lot of practice.
Unfortunately, the world didn’t collapse. I really hoped that the Slaugh wasn’t actually reshaping the world or pulling me into a demesne. I probably couldn’t break the latter, and I shouldn’t even be trying to break the former. At this point, I was committed to the committed to my initial plan though. I drew more power in from the space around me. I started to sweat, and not just from the heat. My eyes began to water from the strain, and I began to lose feeling in the tips of my fingers. The human body wasn’t meant to draw in power this quickly.
I fed the fire every scrap of magic I could find, the flames climbing to impossible heights. The tent had to be an illusion, no pack of scavenging ghosts had the kind of raw power it took to remake the world like that. And there was only one way to beat an illusion, to deny it. I’d burn it to the ground, or knock myself out trying.
I could feel my body giving out under the strain of channeling this kind of power. There was no longer a world beyond the circle of ground I kept clear of the flames. Scraps of the impossibly massive tent crackled and twisted all around me. I couldn’t see anything other than the fire, there was no longer a tent, there had never been a world outside the tent.
Black crept in around the edges of my vision. I didn’t know if it meant that the illusion was breaking or if it meant my body was. The pleas and whispers of the ghostly host had devolved into a cacophony of screams. I didn’t have the energy left to think anymore. I fell forward, and the last thing I saw before my vision went black was the fire blackening my numb flesh.
With a jarring snap, everything changed. I was back in my tent, which was no longer large enough to fit an entire circus. Nothing was burned, I wasn’t utterly drained of magic. In short, it was like nothing had happened. Well, not quite.
I sat in the middle of my tent, the unburnt blanket around my shoulders, cookie crumbs in my lap. I still held my lighter in my hand. My shadow flickered on the wall before me. It was cast in the wrong direction. I remained sitting. It stood up.
“If you will not join us, you will feed us.” The shadow spoke with my voice. Even in the tiny, real, tent, it’s voice echoed. This was no ordinary swarm of wandering ghosts. It had ignored the runes on my tent as if they didn’t exist. It had created an entire separate world that had nearly killed me.
This wasn’t over yet, not by a long shot. Round two was coming, and I might just be in over my head. I scrambled through my bags, looking for something, anything, that might help me fend off the Slaugh.
My shadow laughed at me. Behind it, a host of silhouettes gathered. And I had a sinking feeling that these shadows were cast by some very real bodies.