The Witching Hour: Part One
The last minute till midnight seemed to pass slower that particular evening. Ana the Shadow Usul stared up at the bleak, star-studded sky, waiting anxiously for the time when she would begin to fade into the colour of her surroundings, until her very existence became disguised by the shadows. She knew that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop the Witching hour from taking control of her, let alone all the other ghastly creatures which were soon to flood Neovia.
A sigh slipped between Ana’s teeth and sounded in the open, chilly air. She knew she was feared by many, and with good reason. She was comfortable with the fact because it was the only thing she truly understood about herself, but in the darkest recesses of her mind, it made her feel troubled, like she wasn’t quite seeing the world clearly enough through her saffron eyes.
Finally, midnight settled in, and Ana could feel the change before it even started. Gradually, her paws began to fade until they were invisible, and a strange greenish tint rimmed her eyes. All coherent thought was emptied from her mind, to be replaced with one driving intention. Be one with the night. She could also sense the presence of the other creatures, stalking through the streets seeking to cause mayhem in Neovia. Now, she was one of them, a night creature of the Witching hour.
Rosaline, the shopkeeper at the Neovian Printing Press waved the last of her customers out the door, a book as usual tucked under her wing. She had plastered a bright, cheery smile on her face while on business, but for some reason, fear gripped her as soon as she was alone, and her wings shook slightly as she fished an old-fashioned key from her left pocket with the intent of locking up for the night. However, just as she touched the handle on the door, she let her wing fall from the knob as the reason behind her sudden fear came back to her.
“I suppose I can stay a little while longer without fainting in fear,” she muttered to herself, striding back across the room to the bookshelves just right of her desk. Tapping a particularly book titled Faerieland Gazette three times revealed a secret passageway to her personal library, and with one last fleeting glance around the shop, she descended the stairs, flicking a light switch to brighten up the room.
She quickly surveyed the room, making sure she was indeed alone, before walking over to a lone bookshelf standing in the corner. A number of things were on her mind, but a few stray thoughts bounced free from the rest, holding her attention. With these in mind, she began her search.
For some time, she struggled to find the book she was looking for as numerous books fell to the tiled floor with a clatter. Murmuring here and there, she was getting decidedly more cross by the minute, until she pulled out a very old tome which had a spine riddled with cobwebs.
“Of course,” Rosaline said, shaking her head. “Now I remember what’s making me feel unease. Right now, it’s supposed to be the Witching hour in the Haunted Woods.” Tensely, she began to leaf through the book...
Ana watched cautiously from the stone steps leading into the secret library as the shopkeeper thumbed through the book, muttering all the while. Of course, she couldn’t see Ana, for after all, she was invisible. Ana smiled to herself as her eyes followed the scene playing out in front of her. The door of the shop had been no trouble for her as she’d just floated through it, and it was still unlocked anyway.
So the shopkeeper knew about the Witching hour. Although this tiny detail didn’t matter, Ana still felt confusion swirling through her. There was something different about this particular shopkeeper which separated her from all the rest she had encountered. Although this did not scare her, it did put an edge on her thoughts which were once always so secure. She wracked her brain and watched on, trying to figure out the change.
Suddenly, the shopkeeper looked up from her book and turned around, eyeing the exact place the Shadow Usul was staring from. Very quietly, so that only Ana could hear, she said, “I know you’re there. Show yourself.”
Shocked beyond imagining, Ana closed her eyes. She knew that she could only be seen if she wanted to be seen, and at that moment she wasn’t so sure. You mustn’t betray our identity, the core of who we are, one voice in her mind reasoned. Another one countered, She knows something beyond the ordinary. After all, she could sense you were here, though she was not one of us.
Indecision coursed through her, and in anguish she looked up at the shopkeeper, trying to decipher what she was thinking. Her gaze was met by intense green eyes which were blazing with determination and only a hint of fear. A warm sensation tingled in Ana’s paws, and in that moment, she knew what needed to be done.
Rosaline reeled back briefly in astonishment before composing herself as a beautiful creature revealed itself on the stone steps of the private library. Her glossy black fur glinted with a subtle sheen of its own, and the eyes were the colour of light butterscotch, tinted slightly by a jade green hue.
“Wh-what are you?” she stammered, her mouth agape as she took in the features of the alien creature in front of her whose beauty was like no other. She took a tiny step forward, keeping her expression guarded.
The strange creature mirrored her move and said slowly, “I’m a Shadow Usul, one of the many beings of the night who go unnoticed during the Witching hour.” She raised a paw and pointed to the ancient book under Rosaline’s wing. “I suppose you already know all about it.”
“Not really,” Rosaline said cautiously. “I don’t even know how I could possibly sense you in the library, even though you were completely invisible.” She twirled her chocolate brown hair around in a circular motion, trying to piece everything together.
“You’re scared,” the Shadow Usul said softly. It wasn’t a question. “Not of me or the other creatures, but of yourself.” Rosaline nodded slowly. She’s very perceptive, she thought amazedly. Perhaps she could help me find more about myself...
She jerked her head, trying to clear the nagging thought from her mind, before turning back to the patient Shadow Usul.
“Perhaps you could tell me more about the Witching hour, or about the others you know of,” she suggested, watching the creature with appraising eyes. For a moment, there was silence, before the Shadow Usul decided, rather reluctantly to answer her.
“I don’t know about that,” she said uncertainly. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.” In response to her anxiety, her paws began to fade ever so faintly, and the familiar tingle returned. Rosaline, however, realised that she had struck a sensitive subject and amended, “That was just an errant thought. Don’t worry about it. I was just curious, I guess.” But she did not sound sure of herself anymore. As she expected, this didn’t convince the Usul.
“I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you,” she said, her voice betraying none of the hurt she felt inside her heart. “Not many really know who or what we are, and those who do aren’t willing to accept us for who we’ve come to be.” Rosaline started shaking with protest, but the Shadow Usul wasn’t done with her speech.
“Maybe you’re not like those people, but I think it’s best if we keep to ourselves, and stick to what we know. After all, we’ve tried to come out the shadows, tried to be accepted, but in the end, we’ve resorted to this.” She gestured out the shop’s door which was still visible from the library, indicating the mayhem going on in the streets. But Rosaline had had enough. Wings trembling, she stepped right up to the Usul. As she spoke, the anger she felt drained away her fear.
“No--you’re wrong! We can appreciate who you are. You of all of us should know that you are not a monster, no matter how it may look to the outside world.” She was practically shouting now. The Shadow Usul looked taken aback, but when she replied her voice remained bleak.
“Second chances,” she murmured. “What do they even mean anymore? Even if they did hold any value, any at all, it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy that need to fit in.” With these last words, she continued to disappear and turned to leave the shop and never come back.
“Wait!” Rosaline called out frantically. “I’ve seen who you are. I’ve seen who you can be. You’re not alone, and you’re not a monster either!”
“Aren’t I?” the Shadow Usul whispered, indecisive. But she spun back around, revealing herself again with a new thought blooming in her mind...
To be continued...