The following is an all new story — a Lost Tale of sorts — set in the world of the Watchers of the Light that was first revealed in Among the Shadows. Readers of AtS will have met Milena before (and this story takes place after the events of AtS). Those who have not crossed paths with this Arc Maiden are about to learn why the Darkness fears her. Enjoy…
“Are you ready for Christmas?” asked the cashier. The woman’s grayish, curled hair still hinted red from her youth. It also sparkled with red and green glitter. Milena had never seen her before, but she didn’t often venture to the chaotic department store. The lady was probably working the holiday season for some extra cash. Yet something felt strangely familiar about her. Perhaps she had the signature? No, not quite, but the veil was thin with no discernible reason. A disconcerting feeling at best.
“You don’t get ready for Christmas,” Milena replied, “you let it surround you.” She noticed the woman’s name tag. “And how about you, Ashling, are you ready?”
“Yes, all of the family is coming over, which I love, but the days of cleaning and cooking aren’t something I relish.” Ashling scanned the winter boots that Milena was buying. Black and fur-lined, the thick treads and heal no doubt would serve their purpose in the snow. “Very nice, these look warm.”
“I hope so. I wore out my last pair.” Then, with a laugh, she added, “A girl can never have too many boots, though my husband might disagree.” Ethan said it was her one bad trait. Or was it two with the whole purse issue? Milena handed the woman cash for the boots.
“Here you go.” The cashier gave the change and receipt to Milena. “Have a Merry Christmas.” Milena noticed a faint accent. Irish. Now the origin of the woman’s unusual name became clear.
“You, too, Ashling, have a Merry Christmas.”
Ashling handed Milena the box, and held on for a moment before letting go. Her eyes widened, her voice dropped.
“Be careful. An odd snow is falling. Strangeness is about,” she said.
“Okay…I will,” Milena said, not sure what to make of the woman’s sudden change. “I didn’t know it was supposed to snow.” The cashier let go of the box and smiled. The shift in her demeanor vanished and she attended to the next customer.
Milena walked outside into snow that slowly drifted out of the sky. As she pulled on her hood, her long black hair fell along her face and over her coat. For a moment she let the world fade and watched the snow fall from above. Was this the kind of snow that blanketed everything in quietness, and for a moment, transformed the world?
No, this was something else entirely.
At the edge of perception, the veil shifted and snow dumped out of the dark clouds. Winds tore through the parking lot, engulfing Milena in a cauldron of whiteness. She covered her face and knelt to the ground. Then, after an impossibly long minute, the wind ceased. She opened her eyes as the last flakes floated to the ground. She stood, leaving her box in the snow.
“Well, this can’t be good.” Only Milena could be so calm in seeing what lay before her. The cars had vanished; the land the store had occupied was thick with trees. She had crossed through the veil into the distant past, to the same location. A timeslip. But why?
Milena had used portals to travel through time, but never without one like Kyra had done. Nor was she overly sensitive to the tesseracts, the thin places, to the point she could see through them as her friend Conrad was so gifted. Milena had certainly experienced much as a Watcher, but this was new even for her.
Dreadful darkness lurked among the leafless trees and the moonlit shadows that tangled over the snow. The oppression weighed heavy on her mind. No doubt this darkness had caused the rift. Most people would have paid it no attention, if they perceived it at all, but she wasn’t most people. She sensed it for what it was and could pass through an opening in the stream of time. She wished she would have recognized it earlier and not allowed it to pull her through.
A twig snapped. Chatterings of a foul language spread through the frigid air.
“Strengthen me with the Light,” Milena whispered. She had no weapons. A small pile of rocks poked through the snow at the base of a tree. “Those will have to do.”
Into the light, walking on its hands and feet, crept a spawn of the Dark One. Leathery, vaguely greenish skin, stretched tight over its skeletal frame. Black saliva oozed from fangs, leaving a dark spray on the snow as it hissed. Bulbous, yellow eyes with dark slits stared at Milena, rarely blinking. She remembered the ancient word for an ancient terror.
In her rapid train of thoughts, she wondered if this evil was on its way to the Misty Valley. Ethan had mentioned no goblins among the combatants there. Maybe that was to be decided here at this time, maybe it always had. Maybe this had nothing to do with that at all. No matter.
With the speed only a Watcher could attain, she ran to the rock pile, grabbing one in each hand, and spun to face the orc. It cried out, leaping through the air towards Milena. The first rock she threw smashed its left eye, obliterating the yellow orb in a spray of black fluid. The creature shrieked and fell to the ground, clawing at its face. The second rock hit it square in the forehead. The snap of its neck was certainly heard deep in the woods.
Milena found two more projectiles, but the goblin twitched twice and died. Her brown eyes swirled and glowed green, the energy of her soul and the Light cascaded through her body. An Arc Maiden wasn’t so easily defeated. She calmed and walked towards the corpse.
“’You throw like a girl,’ my gym teacher used to say. So much for that theory.” Disturbed screams emerged from within the forest. Her heart raced again. More orcs. Lots of them. “I’m going to need some help.” She closed her eyes and controlled her breath.
Come to me.
In a few moments she heard soft padding on the snow. She opened her eyes. Twelve wolves crept slowly out of he underbrush towards her. She knelt down on one knee as they approached and allowed her to pet their faces. “Beautiful creatures, will you help me?” Tame as dogs in her hands, she had learned of her gift as a child. Few animals could ignore Milena’s mind. They were creations born out of the Light, not the Darkness.
To her left, a cougar sat silently, and to the right, three stags came near. They snorted and shook their deadly antlers, far more massive than she had ever seen. “Now I have an army. See that disgusting horror? More are coming.” The wolves circled the dead orc, barking and howling. The orcs had killed many of their packs. Their attention shifted as goblins rushed through the woods, screeching in their obscene tongue. Seven of them skidded to a stop in the snow at the sight of the animals. The blood of their dead comrade blackened the snow. They hesitated; Milena stood.
“You picked a fight with the wrong woman. That will be your first and final mistake.” She looked around her.
“My friends, send these filth back to the Dark One.”
A unison of howls, the roar of the cougar, and the stamping of hooves, exploded into a stampede rushing into the orcs. Before one could move, the closest was impaled by the stag’s antlers and crushed against a tree. Another flailed wildly as the cougar landed on its back and sunk its teeth into the orc’s neck, tearing out a chunk of flesh, leaving a gaping hole in its place. The wolves rabidly bit and tore into the horrors, covering the snow with the splatter of death.
The forest didn’t have to endure the maelstrom of screams and yelps, the fury of fang and claw, for very long. Quiet soon returned and Milena approached the carnage.
The orcs lay dead in crimson streaked and blackened snow. Not all of her animals avoided the razor-edged claws and fangs of the orcs. Four wolves had died and a stag had been torn open. As it breathed its last, Milena stroked its face.
“Thank you.” Her eyes teared. The animals came to her. “Thank you all. I am sorry that this occurred, but the Darkness has fled. I no longer sense oppression in your land. You are safe now.”
As Milena walked among the dead, the snow began to brighten, the Moon chased away the shadows, and snow swirled around her. When it cleared, she stood in the parking lot once more. Her box lay on the ground. Hundreds hurriedly walked through the lot every day, completely unaware of the horrors that had once hunted in this land.
Unaware that, long ago, in this very spot buried under the asphalt, the Darkness and Light clashed. Lost to history, buried in myth, the world had been a very different place. She knew, though, that the Darkness still conspired in the shadows for the day of their return.
When that day came, the Watchers would be ready, as they had for many millennia, to turn them back to the Abyss.