12.6 Night Time

by Matt P.

Lightning flashed high up on the hills. It illuminated a green land in the middle of a rain, powerful but not strong enough to put out the house that was on fire. The flames licked up in defiance of the precipitation, proclaiming their existence to heaven and proclaiming the tragedy within.

The house had been lovely once. Small but well tended, on a little bit of farm, it could have been from a painting. That made the blackened timbers and increasingly gutted look even more of a mockery, a beautiful thing ruined with darkness and smoke. He wondered why he was there for a moment, until he noticed the small framed young woman dragging another young woman out of it. He began to run forward on instinct, reaching to shed some of his gear to go help, but his steps didn’t seem to take him any closer too the scene.

Not my nightmare,” Walter muttered. He blinked as his voice was now doing the resonant, slightly out of place effects that the member of the Seven he had spoken to had used. Maybe it wasn’t to try to impress, but was just a result of being out place, he thought. The moment he stopped trying to go forward to help, he was drawn in to the scene as if he was walking at speed. He grimaced, because no part of this looked like it was going to be pleasant.

As he drew closer he could tell that the young woman was probably a middle teen, dressed in plain but fine looking clothing in shades of blue. She had strawberry blond hair down to her waist that had clearly been singed by the fire, and she dropped the young woman she was carrying with a grunt. She looked at the body with a shake of her head, grumbling. “You are supposed to be Summer!” Her voice was angry, high pitched and panicked and processing it with sarcasm—Walter instantly liked her spirit. With that the young woman turned and began running back in to the house. She was barefoot, and her hair streamed behind her like a flaming flag.

Walter was drawn closer, and now he could see the features of the unconscious young woman on the grass. She had fine, almost elfin features, and for a moment Walter was absolutely shocked. While there was much different he could see in her face much of what would apparently become Antigone and Siobhan many generations hence. “Oh shit, Tanya…” he said in shock. He would have stumbled back, but he still wasn’t in control of his own movements. He did find that he could kneel down and wait, watching in growing tension to see what happened next. The fire on the house burned bright and hot, a beacon of sorrow in the night. It spread to the last bits of the house that hadn’t been burning or scorched and began to eat away at them with crimson tongues.

The young woman emerged from the building carrying an obviously older, if not much taller, woman just as one of the walls started to give with a crack. The young woman screamed, almost choking on a sob as she dragged the other woman out. The young woman didn’t set the older woman down as much as collapse, ending down on her knees and holding the woman by the shoulders. Walter could see now the older woman couldn’t be much more than 32 or 33, and she wasn’t breathing. Deep burns were visible on her skin where her clothing had burned away, and the hair on her head that remained matched that of the two young women.

“Mama…” Morgan cried out, sobbing and holding her tightly. “No Mama please!” Tears ran down Morgan’s cheeks as she looked at the form, her slender frame racked with helpless sobs. But even as she begged for her mother not to leave she knew that it wouldn’t help, and a look of very Morgan-like determination crossed her features.

“Aoife…” Tania sputtered, gasping and groaning as she sat up. She was dressed similar to her sister, except she had been wearing a dress of dark green.

“Oh thank God, Niamh,” Morgan breathed a sigh of relief as she saw her sister was still alive. Their accents had a lyrical quality to Walter, and he got the feeling that if he hadn’t been in Nightmare they either would have had incomprehensible accents or would be speaking in another language. Their accents sounded Irish to him, but he had no idea what a medieval Irish accent actually would have sounded like. “I thought you were dead.”

“I saw Mama fall,” Niamh—Tania—said with a sob as she saw the body. Now it was Tania’s turn to sob, pulling her knees up to sob against them and rock herself back and forth. It was distressing for Walter to watch as a father who wanted to comfort the stricken teenagers, as a human watching other humans suffer, but also as someone who knew how strong and ever confident Tania was in the future to see her so vulnerable now.

“Who…” Niamh began, before she was racked by crying again. But she didn’t need to finish the question.

“Someone who hated father,” Aoife—Morgan—said with a hollow emptiness to her voice. “Just like Mama wanted for us to avoid.” She looked down at her mother’s body, rivers of tears making tracks down her cheeks that she didn’t bother to wipe away.

“So what do we know?” Niamh asked, and the brokenness in her voice made Walter’s heart hurt. She sounded lost and afraid, a ship lost at sea without a hope of finding the way back to shore. Morgan looked down at her dress and her sister and everything that they didn’t have. Everything that had been consumed by flame and was now gone forever.

“I don’t know,” Aoife told her, sobs threatening to choke off her words again as she tried to force them down. Both of them began to cry then, holding one another as the night grew dark with only the fire providing a hellish illumination.

I’m so sorry, Morgan…” Walter said with a sigh and a shake of his head. “I can’t even imagine what you had to go through.”

The scene seemed to pause, and the young woman pulled herself away from her sister to pad over to Walter. She sat down next to him, looking down at her body and wiggling her toes. “You know it took me two years to be able to afford another pair of shoes,” she offered conversationally. “I was so happy when I got another pair.”

What did you do?” Walter asked in response, considering her and her sister for a moment. “It doesn’t look like it can have been terribly easy.”

Aoife snorted at that, sighing. “No, it wasn’t easy. We begged, worked, and stole. We were trying to find a way to Faerie, and with the little magic we had and knew how to use we couldn’t just open a portal. The good news was we saw a lot more of Europe than we normally would have, and did find our way to the courts eventually, although we were filthy moppets by the time we did.” She laughed at that, and motioned; an image of her looking no older but filthy and ragged appeared in front of them.

I thought you said you found shoes?” Walter offered in response to the picture. “Also…if it was a couple of years, why don’t you look any older?”

“I had to give them to Nieve. Older sister’s duties,” Aoife explained. “Blight, it’s been so many years since I thought of her as Nieve, except in dreams. And it’s been every bit as long since I’ve thought of myself as Aoife.” She sighed, reaching up to look at her sooty but still bright hair, along with the dress, and her skinny legs. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been Aoife. We’re half-blooded Sidhe, Walter…we don’t age like you do. Half-bloods age normally until they look like teenagers, then it slows down some. It slows down much more when you look adult, by which time most have learned to use magic to make themselves appear to be whatever they want anyway.”

Walter nodded at that. “I’d like to see how you look sometime, without the magic,” he said sincerely. “But I also recognize this might not be the time to talk about that. We need to get going, probably find Ryan and the not-psychic.”

“I do admire your practicality, Walter,” Morgan said honestly, smiling warmly at him. “I’m not going to kiss you because I look like I did when I was 13, and that would be creepier than hell. But I will owe you one. And I’ll consider showing you Aoife, although she’s not far off from Morgan…in appearance, at least.” She moved to stand up, reaching down to brush some of the soot off of her dress.

She held out a hand to him, and gave him a small smile. “If I had entered this realm in the full glory of the Winter Queen then I could have resisted it—beings of great power do not have to bend to the rules of realms they visit. In these circumstances, I don’t know if I could have brought myself out of it. Your voice, your presence, took me back to myself. Thank you.”

Nothing changed physically about her, but as she stood up and set her shoulders Walter suddenly stopped thinking of her as Aoife. There was just something about the way she held herself, the way she faced the oncoming nightmares and whatever would come that made her who she was now. Aoife had been frightened about the weight of terror and responsibility that she knew would come; Morgan had been carrying it for so long she did not notice the weight on her shoulders any more, did not notice how it weighed on them.

It made Walter proud and hopeful and unspeakably sad, as he took her hand and the two of them walked towards whatever nightmare came next.