Conclusion of chapter 7
The Color and Shape of a World
by Julian Lawler
“Come,” he urged softly, extending a hand out for her to take. “We’ll give you food and water.” He leaned in a little. The room was hot. “We will help you find your parents.”
She looked up at him instantly. He could see her large eyes regarding him through strands of brown hair. “You can help me find my... mommy?” Her voice was a tiny whisper.
“Of course,” he whispered back. “Come, little one. Let’s go get you some food. I have some friends that will take care of you. Come on, it’s safe. My name is Palance, and yours?’
She hesitated a bit, not willing to completely trust in him. She shook her head and withdrew again into the corner. He searched his pockets and took out a coin. He held it up for her to see.
“Do you like dresses?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
She nodded that she did. “My mommy used to like dresses.”
“Did she?” he replied. At least he had her talking. Maybe he could bring her some food. He turned to look up at Larson. “Go bring some food. I’m sure she is starving. Hurry.” The guard left without another word.
“I’ll go tell the men everything is all right,” said Eliath. Palance nodded absently. He heard the commander leave.
“Sir,” said Soulcryst. The broad man loomed over Palance, his gaze still flickering over the other room. “I’m going to finish going through this house. Maybe we can find clues as to what happened here.”
“Yes, do that. Have the others help you. It’s a big house.” Palance looked up to watch the man leave.
He was alone with the little girl. “What was your mommy’s name?” he asked.
“That’s a beautiful name. And yours?” With any luck, he could get her to leave the confines of the room soon enough. It was hot.
She stood up and looked over Palance’s head. She wasn’t taller than his waist. “Are those men gone?” Her voice sounded like a pleasant stream. It soothed and calmed Palance, such innocence was lost to people too soon.
“Yes,” he answered. “They’re gone. They went to bring you some food. Come. Let’s get you out of here.”
“But what about my mommy?” she asked. “You said you would help me find my mommy.”
“I will. I promise.” He stepped back so that she had room to get out. “My friends will help me find your mommy.”
He extended a hand and she took it. Her soft delicate hands felt so fragile in his palm. He imagined this little girl being his and Andian’s daughter. How must the mother feel to be away from such a precious girl?
If she’s still alive, he thought. He looked around the room and for the first time noticed the claw marks on the walls. He could see gash marks cut into the wood around the room’s window. When the windows had been broken, they had been shattered from the outside in. A well of trepidation rose in Palance’s chest. What had done such a thing?
He crunched glass under foot and he realized something. The little girl wasn’t wearing any shoes! He turned to her and knelt before her. He took a small foot and inspected it. Her feet were scratched and bruised. Some cuts had healed with glass still imbedded in the skin. She put a steady hand on his shoulder to keep her balance.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized. No child deserved this.
“For what?” she asked. Her voice was sweet and innocent.
“What’s your name?” he asked again.
She looked at him puzzled. “I... don’t know. I know my mommy used to call me something but I don’t remember. I’m sorry.”
Palance shook his head. “You are a very brave girl. Let’s get you some food. Once you eat we can find a place to buy you a new dress. I promised, remember?”
She smiled at him. It was like a rainbow after a storm. It lit her grimy face and her eyes sparkled. She was a cute little girl. Palance hoped his children with Andina would be as beautiful. Creation was a beautiful thing. How this mom must miss her daughter.
He stooped to pick her up when she jerked back violently. She pulled away from his grasp. Her eyes were wide with shock and tears glistened at the corner of her eyes. She shook her head at him. She made no move to get near him again. Palance stood confused and dumbfounded.
“Come, I won’t hurt you,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You must leave. Hurry!” she yelled. Her eyes took on an angry look. Hate filled those eyes.
“Go!” she yelled again like a little girl having a tantrum. “Go! Please, go.” Her voice grew deep and sharp. Her face contorted and a visible struggle occurred. She shook and gritted her teeth. She looked up at him angrily, yet mercifully. It was an odd sight to see such expressions on a child. She stumbled back a step and fell back on her butt. She looked like a doll that had been thrown to the floor.
What in the light is going on? he thought. He moved to pick her up. He couldn’t leave a little girl behind because she feared his men. He would take her to another home, at least to a place where she would be warm. Then he could rest assured she was safe and taken cared of. If he left her, he would never forgive himself.
Eshleny would never forgive him.
He went down to a knee. She lay on her back with her eyes closed. He moved to pick her up when her arm shot out to stop him. It stopped him cold. There was strength in that arm that wasn’t natural. He moved back.
“Go and find my mommy,” she said in her innocent voice. “You promised to find my mommy. Now keep that promise and go.”
Palance felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He started to rise when her eyes shot open. There were tears in those eyes. It belied her actions. With blurring speed her small fist shot out and struck him in the face. The force of the blow threw him flat on his back. He felt the sharp sting of glass pierce his back.
He rolled over and was coming to his knees when he saw her rise. She regarded him coldly with baleful red eyes. He tried drawing his sword as he clutched his cheek, but she was on him within a blink of an eye.
She grabbed him by the throat with one of her clawed hands and slammed him against the wall. He felt his lungs explode with the impact. He slid on the floor trying to hold on to his consciousness.
That sweet, beautiful girl was killing him.
She grabbed his face in both hands and rammed his head against the wall. He struggled to get free of her but her grasp was firm. He kicked out wildly and struck her in the stomach. She lurched back, releasing him momentarily, and he rose to his wobbly feet.
“Help!” he yelled out. Soulcryst was there instantly. The man had a pike in his hands.
She paid no mind to the bodyguard. “Palance Demondread must die!” With a terrifying yell, she lunged at him.
Palance felt himself flinch as she drew near, but Soulcryst was there. With a mighty swing, his pike punched a whole into the little girl’s chest the size of his fist. The momentum of the blow brought her to a halt and she slammed against the floor, crushing the wooden floorboards beneath her.
Soulcryst stepped over her and rammed his pike into her chest again.
“That’s enough,” ordered Palance. How could this have happened? She was just a little girl! He was going to help her find her mommy. He put a hand to his throat where she had grabbed him. Claws. This wasn’t a little girl. It was something that knew who he was.
Soulcryst came over to him. “Are you all right, my lord? I was almost too late. I was coming here to tell you that this place was ruined by dremions.”
“Dremions?” The prince felt his breath catch. “Are you sure?” He knew the man was positive... but maybe he was wrong.
Soulcryst shook his head. “I’m sure, my lord. There are claw marks all along the house. Most horrid of all, they are all on the inside. When the dremions came here they were hunting. This farm was a place of massacre that night.”
Palance looked down at the corpse of the little girl. Blood was splattered across the room and entrails and muscle tissue littered the room. He tried hard not to heave. Only after great struggle did he keep himself from gagging. Men came in from the hallway.
Nobody said a word. They stared in shock at the sight. The little girl’s hand was transmuted into a claw. The flesh was gray with long, sharp, black talons. Her other arm was in a grisly state. The fingers had receded and blended to form what looked like a blade. The tissue was pink and oozing pus. Large welts appeared under the arm where something else had started to take shape.
Her eyes, which were still opened, were blood red. They were red like the fires of hell. Palance gazed down at the small body. He shrieked in terror when her hand moved. All the men of the Iinnin Lodar jumped back. The news was taken to the end of the ranks like gossip in a city. They were stunned and terrorized.
He saw her torn chest rise. Palance had to get a grip of himself before madness claimed him. None of the other soldiers noticed the small intake of breath.
“Thank you,” she gurgled. It was the sweet innocent voice of a child.
Palance couldn’t contain himself. He ran. With shouts of terror, he lunged at the backs of his men. They couldn’t get out of his way fast enough. A panic frenzy took over him and he tried clawing his way through the flesh of his own men. His men were already moving back through the house, though.
“Run!” someone yelled when they didn’t move fast enough.
Behind the soldiers, the voice of the little girl was shrieking. Eliath grabbed the prince and flung him through a window. Palance broke through the remaining shards of glass, landed in a roll, and came up running from the house. The commander of the Iinnin Lodar was right behind him. Both men looked ashen white, their eyes bulging with terror.
Behind them came the voice of the little girl. It was a wail of damnation. It careened through the air as if taunting the men. Palance felt its presence right behind him, reaching for him, trying to catch him with its icy claws. Even with her wails, Palance knew she would be dead soon. He couldn’t understand why she still spoke. It went against natural law.
“My name is Davina!” came the wail again.
Palance didn’t stop to see if the wails would cease. His heart pounded in his ears and his breath hurt. He and Eliath ran away from the house. They didn’t care in what direction they went. They had confidence in their men to track and find them.
After what seemed like they were running for miles, they finally brought themselves to a halt. Eliath stood with his hands to his knees. Palance let himself drop. His mind whirled with crazy thoughts. The Rune Man’s words came to mind again and again. They spun him into darkness and the void grew deeper and deeper by the second. He realized he might not get out of this alive.
With that realization came the acceptance that Andina was going to die. The thought saved his sanity. It cut across the emptiness of despair and brought him out of his spiraling prison. It made him angry. This was the price of living in the Nations, he thought.
Then he heard the sound of thunder in the distance.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler