Shadowed

Eden and the Sage both flinched at that most particular of knocks on the door. It was the one that the pair had come to know well, the restrained desperation of someone keen to be heard but not to sound panicked. Eden and the Sage heard Derek walking to the door from the kitchen where he had been preparing their dinners. Eden could also hear Derek wiping his hands off on his apron, readying himself to greet whatever or whomever was at the door.

The Sage returned to his reading, glaring at the computer screen, trying to act as if he had not noticed the interruption. He knew that any sense of alarm on his face could make whatever he was about to face even more difficult. It had taken him many a moon to perfect his “concerned sage” look. Outwardly he may have looked like he was reading, but, as the seconds ticked by, he cringed with anticipation and a tiny bit of dread.

The uncomfortable silence was finally broken by Derek’s voice. “Good late afternoon sir,” he paused, “may I help you?”

A rather quivering voice echoed in the house. “Um, sorry to trouble you…but is this the Sage of Wale’s house? I was told he lived here.”

“Well, so much for keeping a low profile…” said Derek to himself. “Yes it is…is he expecting you?” He paused, “would you mind telling me who told you that the Sage lives here?’

“Actually, I asked at the local tourist board…’

“Bloody hell,” Derek grimaced in his head, “will have to have a word.”

Derek then spoke aloud and invited the man in, figuring if this bloke were dodgy, Eden would have been raising hades by now.

“If you don’t mind, please stay there while I ask the Sage if he is accepting visitors.” Derek closed the door.

The Sage rose and walked towards Derek.

“Any idea who he is?” asked the Sage.

“No, but he has the look of a desperate soul…”

“And I gather his soul is not the type that can be saved in the local parish church?”

Derek snickered, “probably not…he has that “running from something fishy” look about him,” It was a bit silly to use the code word in person instead of on the phone, but it was force of habit for him after so many years.

“Better let him in, then, Eden does not seem to object all that much.”

Derek went to the front door, and the Sage sat down in his chair attempting to look “sage-like”, not that he ever knew what that meant.

Derek noticed immediately that the view out to sea looked angrier than normal. A gale was certainly on the way. Of course, considering the condition of the man, he probably would be asked to spend the night, anyway.

As he closed the door behind the man who entered, Derek spoke: “looks like a gale is coming Sage, I had better batten down the hatches and call the wife and tell her I won’t be home this evening.”

The obviously shaken man made his way to the couch in the front room and quietly sat down.

Derek did not even bother to offer anything as he scuttled off to the kitchen to make some tea. He knew the man would take one come what may.

An uneasy silence drifted over the room as Eden inspected the stranger to make sure he was harmless. The man did not show any sign of upset as he was sniffed and glared at by the large dog. Of course, he could have been frozen in abject terror, but he didn’t show it.

The Sage finally broke the uneasy silence. “So what brings you to my front door on this threatening night?”

The man began to speak in a whisper but, as he progressed, his voice slowly rose in volume. “Sir I am being followed…er stalked…by someone…no…..something evil…it’s there all the time…” He then went silent again.

“Do go on, please. Who is chasing you and why?’

“No, it’s what. It chases me both when I am awake and asleep…it reaches out to me and claims to have a right to take me. It does not speak in English, but I know what it means…I haven’t slept for weeks..…can’t even go out.”

Derek arrived with the tea, and the man politely grabbed the cup that was handed to him.

The Sage motioned for Derek to put his tea on the table nearby. He rose and headed to his office but not before speaking to the man cringing on his couch.

“Stay here and drink your tea…Eden will make sure nothing happens to you. I will be back in a second as I have a matter to deal with, urgently.”

Mumbled voices could be heard in the office.

“I doubt we are going to get any sense out of this man tonight. We must make sure he gets a well deserved rest tonight. I think a combination of a stiff shot of strong whisky and placing him in the safe room downstairs will help matters.”

“Yes, I will make sure the bed is set up down there. Will you require me to sit watch over him?”

“No, I think he will be well protected. I am sure Eden will make sure to let me know if anything happens with him. We should close the door but let him know the door is not locked. Make sure it’s warded properly, as well.”

“Yes, Sage. Shall we spike his tea or give him a large measure straight?”

“I really don’t think he will care, but let’s try a large measure straight, at first.”

The Sage returned to the man and made calming noises. “You are safe here, friend. We can protect you from whoever or whatever is chasing you…”

The man mumbled: “you mean you believe me?’

“Yes, of course I do. Now drink your tea and try to relax. I am going to give you a large shot of whisky to help you sleep.’

“Um, oh, thank you,” The man looked weary but did not dare protest.

While Derek made the man’s bed and got the glass of whisky from the drinks cabinet, the Sage attempted to make small talk with the man to distract him. Finally right before Derek arrived with the drink, the Sage managed to get a name out of him. His said his name was Hendron. The Sage was not sure whether that was a first one or last, but at least he had something.

The Sage sat trying to suss the man without looking obvious. In the end he was fairly convinced that the individual was genuine. He didn’t have to be 100% percent sure however, since, if the man were tainted, he would not be able to leave the room at all. The runes and wards were of such a powerful nature that only a full-blown warlock could hope to escape them. The howls of pain caused would be loud enough to raise the entire house, even the heavy sleeper that was the Sage.

The Sage reflected on the future flak he was going to get from Claire and Rupert for letting this bloke into the house with only Derek, Eden, and he there. It was amusing how both Claire and Rupert seemed to completely forget that he survived long before they arrived on the scene. They were off investigating and handling some rather odd goings on in the Rhonda Valley. The less water-addled minions of the Great Old Ones seem to seek out grotty valleys in the world. There were things far worse than rabid Plaid members down those valleys, that is to be sure. The darkness that hangs over those parts is not necessarily always just rain clouds.

It was not long before the man in question, Hendron, was ready to be taken to his room. Derek was strong enough to help him down the stairs into his lodgings for the night. Fortunately, either from booze or lack of sleep, the man did not seem to care that his room was underground and without windows of any kind.

What would make things for difficult for the Sage was the fact that Hendron was not sent to him by anyone. He knew nothing of the man or what ailed him. With no information, it would be difficult for him to find anything out via research. He did give the appearance and sense of being of a certain background, though, as if very well raised. So it was to be a case of wait and see, something that the Sage was not keen on in any way.

After visiting a few more sites and checking his email once more, the Sage decided to call it a night as well. He hoped and prayed that all in the house would sleep well.

Sleep they did, not exactly restful for all, but there was sleep involved. Despite all efforts to counter it, Hendron’s dreams were not as pleasant as they could be. He was coherent when Derek came to retrieve him and showed no signs of having attempted to have left the room. Derek offered him some clean clothes and showed him the bathroom where he could clean himself up. Derek had learned long ago that he was meant, in an unspoken sort of way, to soften up any “guests” that stayed at the Sage’s house. He was a sort of warm-up man for the Sage or whomever would be doing the serious chat. While the Sage had stern eyes and serious mannerisms, Derek was more gregarious and helpful.

Derek and Hendron were well ensconced in the kitchen by the time the Sage and Eden appeared. Eden immediately rushed out the back door and returned looking refreshed.

Hendron, as many do in these types of situations, made it look as if the most important thing in his life was the breakfast before him. He did not look around and seemed unwilling to encounter the gaze of the Sage. The Sage chatted to Derek, realising that Hendron would not be forthcoming. That was until the breakfast dishes were cleared and the last mug of tea was served.

“Well, then, young man, what brought you in such a state to my door? I must say it’s rather usual for someone to turn up totally unannounced in my doorway in this rather remote part of the Welsh coast. Normally I at least get an email or a phone call from someone.’

“Sorry sir…” mumbled Hendron, who quickly began to resemble a trapped mouse.

“No problem, just a wee bit unusual. And a cause for concern as you no doubt understand. Please explain your tale of woe and do not leave out any detail if you don’t mind.”

“Very well sir…”

The Sage saw Derek motion the man to raise his head and speak directly to the Sage.,

He started out rather stuttering, so the Sage feigned hearing loss to get him to speak up.

“Well um…you see. I was on holiday on the coast of Portugal in this small fishing village. I wanted to get away from it all so I found the most isolated place possible.”

“Yes, I well understand wanting to stay away from the hordes of English tourists in Portugal at this time of year,“ reassured the Sage.

“Well, yes. I found this nice little hotel over a bar by the sea. No outsiders but me and a Scotty. The hotel resembled a mini fortress, standing on a hill above the sea with parapets and thick walls. The view from all but a few rooms was really nice. It was the perfect place to relax, enjoy the sea air, and contemplate my future…” He paused, and his mood swiftly changed, “not that I have one, anymore,” he lamented.

“Why would you say that? You are young and strong…rather doubt death is around the corner for you. What could possibly have gotten you so shaken?”

“They, they are chasing me and won’t stop until I am theirs….” He turned pale.

“Who is after you?”

“THEM…the ones I saw by the water.”

“When did you see these…men?” He was desperately trying to be patient. “And why are they after you..”

As the man spoke, his voice became weaker and his demeanor more strained. It was if whomever was after him was physically preventing him from doing so.

“The figures on the beach…”

“Look, you must tell me all of what you saw. You are safe now. We can protect you, but we need to know what we are up against to be prepared.”

“I had a large dinner and a bottle of wine one night, and, as it was rather hot, I decided to take a walk. It was a relatively clear night, and you could see quite a ways out to sea…”

“Why did you go down to the sea, it was a quite a ways away wasn’t it?”

“Well yes, but there were these interesting lights on the sea, several different colours. I thought it might be some sort of celebration by the locals.” He paused, “it wasn’t very late at night.”

“Oh I see,” said the Sage with a furrowed brow.

“Was there any suggestion anywhere there was a sea festival coming up? Did you ask the bar-tender before you went down to the sea?” The Sage was desperately trying not to sound like a patronising parent.

“I didn’t think to ask…it was not as if you could really miss the lights.” He paused and shook briefly. “Did I do anything wrong?”

“No, of course not, curiosity is natural. So what colour were these lights you saw, and how far off the coast were they?’

“The lights were all different…green, white and red, I think. They looked at first like fireworks that were shot too low. I remember…I was…sort of drawn to see what…I couldn’t help but get a closer look.”

“Yes, that is understandable…” The Sage paused and said to himself, “unless you know what you are getting yourself into, that is…” He continued aloud, “so you went down to see and tried to find a good spot to look, right?”

“Well no, I saw some figures on the beach closest to the lights, they looked excited….I thought it was a party or something.”

“And you, of course, assumed that they would be happy to have an Englishman show up uninvited!” Derek said to himself grimacing.

“You keep saying figures…where they not people? Were they animals…”

“Well not exactly…they were on two legs, that I am sure of…but the rest of them did not seem very human…”

“So, animal-like; were they apes or large monkeys?”

“No they were…” He shuddered at the thought of it,”um fish-like….Large horrid eyes, webbed fingers, and a slouch. At least the one that got close to me looked that way…”

“Oh dear…” said the Sage to himself, “so what exactly did you do when you saw this creature?”

“I ran like I had a bunch of Millwall fans after me…” He was now really shaking. “I don’t know how I got to my room but I woke up covered in sweat in the corner of my room away from the windows. The maid discovered me…”

“And you immediately left the area and came here?”

“No I stayed another night…the owner of the hotel said I had a dodgy meal and it was food poisoning. He told me that I never left the hotel, just collapsed after dinner…”

“But you don’t believe him…” The Sage was interrupted.

“No, I saw it I tell you,” he was now shrill, sounding like an agitated Australian woman. “They were fish creatures, and they are after me…”

“So what happened the next night? Did they come after you?”

“No…not exactly…but the room was filled with odd music and sounds…I slept, I think, but my dreams were filled with fish-men and some tentacled thing kept trying to grab me.”

“This hotel must have been protected…” The Sage said to himself. “And then you left…”

“Yes, I checked out and headed straight for Faroh airport…I must have broken every speed law going…”

“Not a problem in Portugal…” quipped Derek.

“So they were chasing you when you went to the airport?”

“No, no, I was just terrified…” he paused and took a deep breath. “I thought they stopped after that…then the dreams began again, every thing I touched smelt like old fish…I saw shadows…couldn’t sleep…”

“How long ago did this start up again?”

“The night after I got back…it gets worse every night…”

“Yes, I understand…” He was cut short.

“THEY’RE HERE!” Hendron pointed at the door!

“I can assure you you are fine…” The Sage turned to see Rupert storm into the room and bellow, “so who is this, then?”

The Sage and Derek spun as they heard the chair hit the ground. Rupert, recovering from his faux pas, rushed around the table to the fallen man.

As if he knew, Rupert reached down and checked the man’s pulse…”oh shit, Sage.”

“Rupert, watch the swearing…” Countered Claire.

“Sorry, but I think he is dead.”

“Damn…”

Claire rushed around to see, “are you sure?”

Rupert responded, “you check…”

“Oh bugger…” She knelt down beside him and gently checked for vital signs.

The Sage looked scornfully at Rupert, knowing full well he didn’t kill the man but merely hastened his demise. Rupert continued his descent into a hole it would take him weeks to dig himself out of it, for real, and even longer to get past the gentle teasing from Derek and Claire. “Did you lot have some dodgy fish last night?

He was right; the room really smelt of dead fish…and it would last and linger for quite a few days to come.


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