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The Shadow


by havittaa

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October 10

      I’ve been here now for two days, quite alone. I feel that it is imperative I write down an accurate record of what I have witnessed should I meet any unfortunate circumstances.

      I received a letter from Dr. Unter one week ago requesting my presence at the home of a former colleague of his. Dr. Unter, a stout Skeith who always prided himself on his availability to friend and foe alike, had business in Brightvale and recommended me for the task. It seemed simple enough: an old colleague, Professor Velnias, was seeking to diagnose a prolonged illness of one of his housekeepers. I had made routine house calls before and Dr. Unter trusted my opinion on matters close to his professional position as a doctor. After all, medicine is our mutual vocation.

     On October 8, I set out for Neovia. I had heard many odd tales about this town beyond the grounds of the Haunted Woods. Passing through the gypsy camp, an Aisha approached my carriage as my coach fought a wheel out of the mud. She dangled a coin on a thin string from her neck and caught my eye. She mouthed something quickly and repeatedly. I want to say now that I didn’t feel anything apart from annoyance at the delay but her muttering and intensity seem truly disturbed. I broke eye contact after my coach freed the muddy wheel, dirtying his already dark frock. I drew the curtain of the carriage window shut but I could still see the glint of the coin through the muslin.

     “Nothing to worry about, doctor,” my coach grumbled from atop the carriage. “The old gal just wants some coin to add to her collection.”

     We proceeded through the camp swiftly through a dense haze that only cleared after we passed through the open wooden gate of the town. From my window, I could see a wide canal that curved through the heart of Neovia. It seemed as if darkness was the hallmark of this grim square. As we passed through its interior, a Techo surveyed newly arrived furniture outside of an antique shop. Aside from this quiet delivery, not a single soul walked the cobblestone streets.

     Some minutes later, the carriage came to a halt outside of a fairly small cottage. Its beams looked worn beside two much larger estate homes which cramped the cottage on both sides. My coach jumped down from the carriage and flung open the door, his hair still wild from the delay in the gypsy camp.

     “Well, this is the house, Dr. Kern,” the coach said, untying my suitcase and placing it gently on the cobbled walkway. “There should be a key somewhere…”

     My coach wandered off, holding my suitcase in both hands as if using it to protect himself from the compounding darkness of Neovia. I jumped from the carriage, taking in my new surroundings.

     The cottage was low and appeared to only have one floor and a single double-paned window for a small attic. It was unusual, for sure, but I had expected nothing less than to enter this home and see the ailing housekeeper and return back to bright civility. Nothing more. I shudder now to think…

     But I am getting ahead of myself.

     My coach found the key and pushed open the front door. I followed him inside the cottage. To my surprise, there were several candles lit in the foyer. To the left, a large living room opened to show stacks of books and a dusky chaise lounge before a small fire. To the right, a small dining room showed off a brilliant chandelier.

     “Hello?” My coach called out before setting down my suitcase, his shoulders still arching toward his neck.

     A creak from the dining room and there appeared a young Acara, her hair cropped close and her apron dangling from her arm.

     “Oh, you must be the doctor?” she said.

     “Yes, I am Tobias Kern. I am here at Dr. Unter’s request but the professor agrees that this is the best course of action for the patient. May I see him?”

     The Acara nodded slowly but kept her eyes on my coach. I found it strange that my coach did not acknowledge the young Acara but waited for my directions.

     “You may leave. There are lodgings in the heart of this town. You may be back on the 14th.”

     With that, my coach turned to leave and I followed the young Acara toward the back hall. There were three more rooms down the hall but none as large as the living room. The Acara knocked gently on the door farthest from the entrance of the hall. I could see a scar running along her neck that she clearly had been trying to cover with the neck ties of her apron.

     As she pushed the door open, my nose tickled with the smell of rot. Not overwhelming, but altogether unpleasant. At first, I didn’t see the still body lying in the bed until the young Acara pointed to another Acara, lying sideways, eyes opened toward a dim window.

     “My brother,” the young Acara said softly. “Professor Velnias has been tending to him daily but he is not well.”

     I approached the brother with caution. He didn’t seem to recognize any presence in the room which indicated lethargy and a comatose state. Suddenly, the young male Acara sat up straight in the cot and inhaled a breath with such vigor that I lurched back into the wall of the small room, bumping into a wardrobe. His eyes travelled to his sister and eventually found my own. His cheeks were ruddy, his eyes were filled with preternatural terror.

     “It was all a lie,” he said, now staring at the wardrobe behind me.

     “A lie? Oh, my name is Dr. Kern, I am here to see how well you are tod-”

     “There is no hope.”

     The brother shifted back down into the cot to face the window again.

     “How long has he been this way? Speaking erratically?”

     I turned to the young Acara and, to my surprise, there was no one standing behind me. I called out into the hallway and received no reply.

      *

     Four hours had passed. I sat, uncomfortably, on the living room chaise, unsure of my next step. I had not expected Professor Velnias to be missing from his own cottage as I tended to his housekeeper. I had not anticipated fending for myself in the house of a wealthy man.

     The patient dozed off shortly after his bizarre speech and I wandered into the remaining rooms. The first housed another empty cot and spare wardrobe. The second room was totally bare, aside from a gilded birdcage hanging in the center of the room. The kitchens were stocked with fresh bread, milk, cheeses, and fruit, as if in anticipation of my arrival.

     My mind was preoccupied with the disappearance of the young female Acara. Had she gone off to find Velnias? Had any harm befallen her? It was dark beyond the cottage door and I knew any effort to find her at this advanced hour would be a fruitless endeavor. I could hear a soft wind playing on the branches outside as the cloudy dusk wrapped itself tightly on the rooftop.

     I decided to visit the patient one last time before dressing for bed in the room beside him. The young patient breathed softly and I thought it would be best to let him rest until the morning light could make sense of this unfortunate scene.

     As I placed a clean undershirt into the small wardrobe in the second room I now called my lodgings, that was when I heard it. A faint, unmistakable sound from the floorboards above the room I stood in. I held my breath, unconsciously, and wished that my ears might be deceiving me. Again, a creak and a hollow thud. I rushed to the door of my room and called out, but silence was the only respondent.

      *

     Morning arrived, but morning in Neovia is not the usual affair of sweet sunlight playing on your nose and cheeks, but a mist of sunlight, as if the holes in the atmosphere could only handle so much light.

     I broke my fast with haste and returned to the room of the patient. To my surprise, the room was empty. A dark trail crawled from the cot to the floor like a wild brushstroke.

     After this discovery, I ventured out of the cottage. Not a single soul wandered the streets. I briefly considered returning to town and finding my coach but Dr. Unter was counting on me to be a professional, to prove myself as a doctor.

     The path leading to the porch of the cottage was the only bright spot of this fetid house, this dank friendless neighborhood. The cobblestones glowed. I turned back into the cottage.

      *

     Here I write now, exhausted from thought. I can only think that this all was a horrible trick Professor Velnias hoped to play on Dr. Unter but here I am.

     After my trek outside the cottage, I returned to my room to find the gilded birdcage placed by my cot. Its door was swung open. In my confusion, I tripped over the door frame and landed on my back. I lay there for a moment, staring up at the ceiling of the hallway and suddenly, a dart of white light pierced through the ceiling. I recognized the existence of the attic because of the exterior window but now I aimed to find it.

     There were no visible stairs in the home to climb to a secret entrance so I scoured the walls for any trap stairs or false walls. Finding none, I walked to the kitchen pantry and tapped on the walls and pounded the floorboards. Suddenly, the thought came to me: the dark stain in the young brother’s room.

     I ran down the hall and opened the farthest door to the smallest room. The covers to the cot were still thrown back and the trail led to the wardrobe. Carefully, I opened it and discovered a large hole in the wall. The air pouring from the hole was cool.

     “Hello?” I called, hoping to hear something beyond my own voice.

     “Doctor?”

      October 13

      I endeavor to write this all down and pray my coach shall find this record and return it to Doctor Unter.

      The voice calling for the doctor startled me again as I tripped back out of the wardrobe and into the room. There, I saw him for the first time.

      He was taller than me by a few inches but appeared larger because of his dark waistcoat. His spectacles sat precariously on his nose which sat above a thin moustache. His eyes twitched darkly but curiously at my position on the ground. Rings played on his fingers. The Kyrii before me removed his hat and placed it on the cot.

      “Professor Velnias?”

      “That is what they call me.”

      I shuffled up from the floor and stared at the professor. I knew I looked wild, having crawled out from a wardrobe back into the natural world.

      “It appears you have a hole in the wall of your home.”

      The Kyrii walked toward the closet and, upon opening it, revealed nothing but the dense wall.

      It was then that my ears began ringing. Was I going mad? Was I seeing openings that didn’t exist? Portals in my mind’s eye?

      “Would you please join me in my den?”

      Professor Velnias briskly walked out of the room and I followed, bewitched by my lack of sense. My eyes were unfocused, the air smelled metallic.

      As I entered the living room, the Kyrii stood at the mantle, poking a log that shortly burst into a contained flame. I could see now how dark his countenance was, how the crest on his overcoat glittered. He watched me enter and pointed at the chaise with the poker.

      “So, you’ve come to fix my housekeeper.”

      “At the behest of Dr. Unter but it appears the young man has disappeared as well as the young girl that greeted me and my coach.”

      “What young girl?”

      The professor’s expression forced me not to question his question but my mouth dried.

      “She - well, I -”

      “It is just Orin and myself. He has been unwell for the past month. It bothers me so much to think that I cannot help him but I am not trained in the medical arts. And I know that you can no more fix the broken wing of a fly.”

      The Kyrii moved across the room, poker in hand, and grabbed a book off of a shelf. My muscles were tense now, aching with desperation and confusion.

      “Three hundred years ago, I traveled across the Lost Desert in search of this dusty tome. I was promised some sort of salvation from my own affliction but here I am, the Shadow Man still.”

     “I’m sorry, three hundred what?”

     “Orin was the perfect subject in my experiment but I think I pushed him too hard this time.”

     I couldn’t make sense of his rambling. I wanted to turn and run but I was stopped by the thought of travelling alone through desolate streets.

     “I am here to help Orin. Dr. Unter asked me to help him.”

     “Too late for that, I’m afraid. But you…”

     Velnias crossed the room with imperceptible speed, like a flash of lightning, and grabbed my wrist. I writhed free and recoiled to the Kyrii’s confusion.

     “Doctor, what do you fear the most?”

     I felt myself falling deeply onto the chaise as if I was becoming one with it and my thoughts vanished with my consciousness.

      *

     I awoke, gasping for breath on the cot of the young Acara. My throat was dry and stinging and my legs were shaking but I swiftly jumped from the cot and walked toward the wardrobe. Flinging open its doors, I once again found the wide hole in the wall and began to crawl through.

     After a long and dark maze of turns, I arrived at a small opening that forced me to enter legs first. With the first step, the floorboards groaned and I recognized the sound. But I knew I had not crawled upward - how had I arrived at the attic?

     The room was bright as the white light I had noticed earlier the day before. It was spare like the other rooms downstairs except the gilded birdcage was once again before me. I wished myself miniature so I could crawl inside and escape these fantastic scenes of the past few days.

     When I turned to leave, the hole in the wall was replaced with a framed portrait. As I stumbled back, my eyes roamed over the pained expression of the young patient in oil on the canvas. He looked frozen, alive yet not, less terrified than when I last saw him in the flesh. Now, I could not tell if this was an optical illusion or truly the new reality of my situation. Behind the patient on the canvas, I could see the young female Acara and another figure, short in stature.

     As I gained my footing, my left foot was caught in the floorboard. I felt my foot and leg push down from the solid wood as I began a freefall from the attic to -

     And there I was, again, in the den, Velnias before me, scratching the inside of his right palm.

     “So, you can move between time and space fairly casually. Fascinating.”

     I couldn’t breathe but I managed to sputter out sounds of confusion.

     “Every century or so, I find a particularly fascinating creature whose stunning power I can use. Unter said you were brilliant, not as a medicine man, but for your extraordinary gift to fix time.”

     “I know not what you speak of,” I managed to blurt. “I am a doctor from Meridell and I am here to see my patient.”

     “I wish you would stop saying that.”

     Professor Velnias crossed the den again and pressed his palm to my neck.

     “I’m sure you know the blood which travels now from your heart around your body beats as fast as your anxiety and fear will allow. Now again I ask: what do you fear, Doctor?”

     I could only stare at his eyes, almost black now. I wasn’t sure of an honest answer for this dreadful man-beast, creature, I know not what he is - and I refused to lie for I feared he could read my thoughts, smell my intuition as it seeped out of my sweating skin.

     “I fear Orin is in danger.”

     After the words left my lips, the room went dark. I felt my body propelled through the space of the room and my lungs emptied. Every fiber in my body cried out for this to end. As it did, I landed roughly on my shoulder outside of the patient’s room. I rushed to my feet and flung open the door and there - the patient lay sleeping, soundly.

     I fell against the door and stifled a cry and a tear. What was happening to me?

     Now, I have returned to my room and I endeavor to write this down if I am unable to return to society. The patient must be cared for at all costs if I am to make sure my success is known in all circles, medical or otherwise.

     I believe I hear the patient now walking toward the door. Perhaps he is stronger, perhaps his diagnosis will come soon enough, perhaps -

      *

     From HAUNTED WOODS READER, October 22

      ‘Today enters the second week of questioning regarding the mysterious disappearance of a Meridell doctor, Tobias Kern. Dr. Kern was last seen at his estate in Neovia, having been escorted by Remus Unter, a famed doctor to Neopia’s elite. Dr. Unter tells the READER that he was told her return to escort Dr. Kern back to Meridell after a short leave of absence due to what we understand as a period of ill health. Unter was met with an empty home, the contents of Dr. Kern’s suitcase having been discarded. There were letters found in one of the rooms but officials have said that they mostly consisted of unintelligible handwriting, with one page consisting of nothing but “There is no hope” in red ink.

      ‘Unter hopes that any information about his colleague can be presented to officials.’

     The End.

 
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