“Walter!” Jeremy shouted as he rose from the frigid pool. As he grabbed a towel the sound of footsteps pounded toward the bath room door, which flew open to reveal Walter. His eyes were wide with fear as he scanned the room. Behind his form Jeremy could make out the figure of Ama.
“What is it lad? What’s… why is it so cold in here?”
Jeremy’s jaw was shaking with a mixture of cold and fear. He hadn’t noticed it in of the shadow’s appearance, but it wasn’t only the water which had become cold. The bath room itself had dropped it’s temperature to the point where he could see his breath. Ice had even formed on the edges of the tub.
“I w-w-was t-t-t-aking a b-b-bath and,” he paused, remembering the sudden arrival of darkness.
“Yes, Jeremy. And what happened?”
He swallowed and willed his teeth to stop chattering. “A shadow spoke to me.”
“What? Here?” Ama and Walter burst into the room. Walter grabbed Jeremy’s clothes while Ama took his hand and pulled him out of the room. Walter then slammed the door shut behind them as they exited.
“I don’t think they are beholden to doors, Old Fox.”
“Well, then, maybe they’ll get the hint and stay away from Jeremy!”
“Jeremy, you’re shivering terribly. Go with Walter and get on some dry clothes before you become ill.”
He nodded dumbly and followed Walter into their sleeping chamber. He dressed in silence as Walter kept a wary watch over him. Slowly, he felt warmth come back to his body. When he was dressed Walter placed a hand on his shoulder, and flashed a sad smile, “Lad, I don’t know why these shadows so interested in ya, but we’ll figure it out.”
Jeremy nodded in response as Walter opened the door. “Well, Meddle, we’ve certainly got swept up a watermelon.”
“That, Old Fox, is certainly true.” She patted the seat next to her on the couch she and Walter had sat in just a few minutes prior. “Come and sit, Jeremy.” He shuffled over to the sofa and collapsed on to it. As he sat back Ama put an arm around him and drew him close, he immediately felt warmth and comfort flow into his body. This close to Ama he noticed her breath shorten even as he began to feel stronger. Walter seemed to notice the change as well.
“They certainly did a number on him, didn’t they?”
Ama nodded weakly. “Yes. Manifesting in Shelter like that must have been quite a strain. It’s a wonder Jeremy could talk at all after that encounter.”
Walter struck the arm of the lounge in which he was sitting. “What are they thinkin’? They’re breakin’ every rule of th’treaty!”
“Walter, they don’t think like we do. Who knows what their motivations are.”
“I think I might.”
Ama sat Jeremy up so she could look at him. “You do, Jeremy?”
He nodded. “In the bath the shadow asked me a question.”
“‘It,’ not ‘they?’ You don’t think there was more than one, as in the tunnel?”
“Forget that for a moment, Meddle! What was the question, lad?”
“It asked me if I wanted to save this place. I said yes.”
“And what did it say then, Jeremy?”
“It told me to seek truth.”
Walter raised his volume above conversation level and searched the room with his eyes, “Well, that was helpful!”
“And then it said something else.”
“What did it say, Jeremy?”
“It warned me not to remember.”
Walter’s gaze fell back upon Jeremy. “What?”
“Really, Jeremy, it warned you not to remember? Even though it told you to seek truth?”
He nodded in affirmation even as he shrugged his shoulders.
“That doesn’t make any sense, lad. Are you sure that’s what it said?”
“Was there anything else you noticed, Jeremy?”
Jeremy scanned back through his memory of the encounter, trying to peel through the layers of fear which were clouding his recollection. After a moment he looked up at Ama, expression changing from frustration to sudden understanding. “There was a sense of urgency to it.”
“Well, Jeremy, it probably couldn’t manifest itself long. Actually, if it had, it could have harmed you.”
“No, Ama, that’s not it. It was in a hurry, yes, but it really wanted to hear my answer to it’s question. That’s what the urgency was about.”
“Hmm.” Ama regarded Jeremy for a moment, as if searching for her next words.
“What is it, Ama?”
“Jeremy, as you know, we’ve had many encounters with the Shadestalkers over the years.” Jeremy couldn’t be certain, but he thought he saw a dark streak race across an evertorch at the mention of ‘Shadestalkers,’ but Ama continued before he could mention it. “When we encounter them we experience impressions of thought, some people can both hear and converse with them. Can you guess what type of people are able to hold conversations with the shadows?”
Jeremy considered for a moment, but the answer quickly became obvious, “Pathfinders.”
Ama nodded. “That’s right, mostly. As I’ve said, I’ve encountered them before. I’m one of the rare few who can at least ‘hear’ them speak, though they don’t typically respond to my voice. There are some non-pathfinders who are able to converse with the shadows in The Valleys, though.”
“OK. What does this have to do with me?”
“Well, lad, you seem to be different. I can’t remember the Shadestalkers…” there was no question this time, at the word “Shadestalkers” the honey glow of the evertorches darkened somewhat. Ama and Walter shared a worried exchange with their eyes, which Walter broke, “Fine, we’ll just call you ‘shadows’, then. Is that ok by you?” The evertorches remained at their normal brightness, which Walter apparently took as affirmation. “I can’t remember the Shadows ever showing an interest in only one person before. It’s usually groups of them, speaking to groups of us. You’re changin’ the rules, Lad.”
“It’s even more than that, Jeremy. As I said, we who have encountered the Shadows have gotten impressions of thoughts. You, however, seem to be sensing something of their emotions. Frankly, we weren’t even sure they had emotions like ours.”
“But what about it’s warning? It doesn’t want me to remember. Why?”
“I don’t know, Jeremy. I’ve never seen the shadows act this way. And their behavior towards the evertorches is truly alarming.”
“That’s an understatement, Meddle. Why on earth was the bath room so cold? Ain’t a story about ‘em that ever describes that happening.”
“I don’t know, but I think we’ll have to make a stop on the way to The Ravine. There’s an Um healer in Meadowrun with whom I want to consult. He might be able to explain it.”
Walter frowned. “I’m not sure how many people we want to bring into this, Meddle. Besides, which Um healer lives in Meadowrun? I thought the nearest Um healers were in The Ravine.”
“Not any more, Talum moved there two years ago.”
Walter snorted. “That mad-scientist? I thought he would have gotten gobbled up chasing the dark by now!”
“Ama,” Jeremy interrupted. “Who is Talum?”
“Well, as I said, he is an Um healer – one who specializes in studying the shade…” the evertorches dimmed. “…shadows. He may be able to explain something about what’s going on. Or help us learn the right questions to ask, at any rate.”
Jeremy nodded. “Right, I want to see him.” He surprised himself with his own resolve. Ama’s calming influence was certainly having an effect on him, but there was a deeper certainty in his conviction.
“Lad, far be it from me to contradict Ama, but lettin’ more folks know about you might not be in your best interest, if ya understand my meaning. Meadowrun’s deep in the Inner Valleys, a wrong word there and who know’s what’ll happen to ya.”
“I understand, Walter, but I don’t think I can help it. I’m supposed to seek truth. If this healer, Talum, might have any answer as to why the Shadestalkers have such an interest in me I need to start there.”
Jeremy’s use of “Shadestalker” caused the full set of evertorches in the room to dim significantly, and the room’s temperature chilled. Walter and Ama exchanged a worried glance but Jeremy, much to his own surprise, felt nothing but anger.
“That’s enough! You want to hang around me, fine. You want to give me cryptic warnings about what to do and what not to do fine. But until you stop trying to scare me half to death ever other hour and give me some real answers, I’ll call you whatever I want!” The darkness retreated before his outburst, and warmth returned to the room. The two adults turned to Jeremy with amazed expressions, Walter broke the silence first.”
“I don’t know, and I’m tired of not knowing. But at least I’m sure of one thing.”
“What’s that Jeremy?”
“That Shadestalker,” he paused, almost daring for a reaction. When none came, he continued, “Thinks I’m here for one reason, and one reason only.”
“Which is, lad?”
“I’m here to save The Valleys.” As he spoke the three companions noticed the light of the evertorches in the room brightened, casting aside it’s typical honey-glow in favor of a whiter light. Each felt something in the bright light which they had not expected.
They felt joy.