For Gabby, I miss you and our storytelling sleepovers!
How funny it seemed, that 12 years later he was still wearing that dirty blue hat.
Violet looked him over. Everything about him was the same. The same grey eyes, the same curly brown hair, the same brown jacket and snake-skin boots. It should have made her uncomfortable, invoking memories that should remain in the past, but she was pleased to see him. He sat at the table in the very back of the tavern, hands cupped around the tankard, staring into it as if held the answers to life.
As if he felt her eyes on him, he looked up, and a slow smile curved up his mouth. It was the same smile, though now it was accompanied by a few more lines at the corners of his eyes. He nodded to the other seat at the table. Violet made her way through the tables, her purple skirt swaying, her pale skin glowing against the cream cotton of her blouse, and sat across from him.
The way her name slid out on the mellow tones of his voice made her feel the same way now as she did then – safe, like Fate was a protective aunt who would bring her little cakes and she could face all the evil in the world without flinching – and she couldn’t help smiling in return.
“Weston. I can’t say I expected to see you again. Certainly not here. But you’ve managed to find me.”
“As always.” He smiled. “I see you got my message.”
Violet nodded. “You wanted to meet to discuss something…something about what happened…” The memories floated up again, “…what happened in the Grindlevale those many years ago.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure you would come.”
“Why not?” She blinked in surprise.
“You never answered any of my letters.”
“I never got any of your letters,” she countered. “What did they say?”
He chuckled, the same wry, self-reproving laugh that warmed her when life got cold. “It has to do with what you saw, but it’s a bit more complicated than can be easily covered over a single drink.”
“Then we’ll have dinner,” she said. “I haven’t eaten, and I’m famished.”
He nodded, and Violet turned in her chair, searching for the barman. As her gaze traveled over the patrons, trying to pick out the rotund man with wispy hair and the stained apron who could bring them food, her eyes lit on a figure standing in the shadows beside the door, and her heart leapt to her throat. No, it can’t be. Not here. Not now.
Lurking under the pale skin and dark cloak was the harsh, deformed face of a darkling, stuttering in red flashes like the world illuminated in the brief glare of lightening, replaced by the visage of a normal face, only to reappear again, making her insides cold and her eyes burn. Violet’s hand tightened in her lap, and she turned back to Weston, her face drawn.
“I’m not as hungry as I thought,” she said, barely moving her lips.
“You see something?” he said, and took a casual drink from the tankard.
She nodded, and fought the urge to squirm in her seat. She itched to know where the darkling was now, what it was doing, but she couldn’t look, couldn’t draw its attention to them. “It’s a darkling. In here. By the door.”
Weston put down his ale, and took a pocketwatch from his jacket. The ticking of the hands sounded like thunder in the room, the voices of the patrons echoing dully in the void of impending doom.
Weston stood, and offered her his arm. She stood and took it, fearing to look up. He left a silver on the table, and started to walk away. Violet thought he was planning to waltz straight out the front, so she stumbled slightly when he turned to the back and led her down a narrow passage way, to small door behind the kitchens.
It opened into a small yard. Chickens strutted about the dirt and pebbles, and two pigs nosed in the slop pile, watched over by the lordly gaze of a ginger cat stretched out on the low wall. Weston peered around before stepping through the door and pulling Violet after him.
“Where are we going?” she whispered, trying to see over his shoulder, but his brawn blocked her view.
“To meet someone.”
A figure stepped out of the shadows and glided towards them. Violet’s insides clenched in an icy mass. The face was horrible to look upon, the eyes black and menacing. Violet tried to speak, but her voice was caught in her throat.
Weston held his hand up, and the darkling paused at his voice. “You’re late.”
A voice issued from the creature, though it had no mouth, and it resumed its approach. “We are running out of time.”
“Remember our deal?” Weston called out, and the creature stopped.
Slowly, it nodded and pulled up its hood, concealing its features, and Violet’s body relaxed. The figure stood there, silent. Its shoulders rose and fell as though it drew breath, but Violet didn’t think darklings breathed.
“Weston, what’s happening?” Violet whispered, forcing her still-frozen voice from her lips. “Why are you talking to it?”
“Violet, this is who I want you to meet.”
She stared at him, sure she couldn’t be hearing correctly. He grabbed her shoulders and turned her so she was facing him, and looked down at her with an earnest intensity that frightened her more than the darkling did. “You remember what you saw?”
The memories bubbled up again. The dark night. The silver pool. The reflection of the stars. The old woman who had the same blue eyes as Violet, the same scar on her chin, but white hair instead of blonde, the face weathered, not smooth. The apparition fading as the cold from the presence of the advancing darklings grew.
“You remember what you saw?” Weston pressed, his fingers squeezing painfully but not unkindly.
Violet nodded, because it was the only thing she could do. One day you will have to make a choice. This choice will determine the destiny of many. “What choice? What must I choose?” Violet had asked. You must choose only what your heart and your mind tells you is right. No one can tell you what you must choose. To do so will bring the darkness upon all.
“Do you remember?” Weston repeated.
“I have to choose,” Violet whispered. “I’m the only one who can choose.”
“And that makes you important,” Weston said. “More important than you can imagine.”
“You’ve figured out what it means?” Violet said, her eyes widening.
“I didn’t figure it out, someone explained it to me.”
When Weston’s eyes went to the darkling, Violet shuddered.
“His name is La’reque,” Weston said, his voice deliberately low and soothing. “He told me that the darklings are after you, but not for the reason you think. La’reque has been watching out for you, since you got here.”
“It’s…it’s been watching me?” Violet managed to get past the faintness rising in her head. “Why?”
“To protect you, of course,” Weston said. “While we put some plans into action, gathered some missing pieces, figured out what we have to do.”
“Who’s we? And what do we have to do?” Violet said, struggling to make sense of all this new, vague information.
“All in good time,” Weston said. “What you have to do is stay here.”
“Stay here!” Violet exclaimed, indignation pulling her face into a tight glare. “What did you think I was doing before you showed up?”
“Remember, La’reque has been watching you,” Weston said. “He can tell when you’re getting antsy.”
“I would’ve felt him,” Violet said.
“Only if you saw his face,” Weston smiled. “Do you still trust me?”
“I don’t know,” Violet told him. “I never thought you’d be working with a darkling.”
“La’reque,” Weston admonished. “If we’re going to pull this off, we’re going to have to be friends and work together.”
“And yet you won’t tell me what this is.”
“All it good time,” Weston said. “Right now, La’reque is going to take you some place a little more difficult to find, while I go fetch the others.”
Violet didn’t bother asking who the others were, because Weston wouldn’t deign to answer. Instead she glanced at the darkling, thoughts and feelings warring inside her. Weston’s warm presence beside her stilled the tumult. She still did trust him, even if what he was saying was counter to everything she knew. The darkling stood silent, and after several deep breaths, Violet nodded.
“Lead on then, La’reque.”