Falls the Shadow
by Eildon Rhymer
Sequel to Walking Shadow. Will, Bran and Jane have sworn to stand together, but the enemy is growing stronger, and newly-rediscovered friendships can be fragile things.
Jane sat like a prisoner awaiting judgement. The echo of her closing words faded in her head, and still Simon had not spoken.
"And that's it," she prompted. "The end. Er... You can ask questions... I mean, if you want."
She had never known her older brother be silent for so long. "Simon? Please say something."
He stood up, and went to the mantlepiece, his back towards her. He ran his finger over a picture frame containing a photograph of himself and his blonde fiancee, smiling proudly at some important dinner.
Jane shifted on the immaculate couch. She almost prompted him again, but bit her lip, and said nothing.
At last Simon spoke. "Are you going to tell Barney?"
"I already have."
She wondered how much of it tell. "He... didn't believe me. Or he couldn't. It was too much, too soon. He thought it contradicted his faith, though Will said..." She stopped.
She swallowed. "Will said that Barney was wrong to think that, but he understood why he did. He said that to me afterwards, though. He wouldn't let me go back and tell Barney. He said we had to respect Barney's right not to believe, and let him come to things in his own time."
"This Will sounds like a sensible chap," Simon said.
Did she dare to hope? She clasped her hands together in her lap, and trembled.
"But perhaps not a courageous one," Simon said, as Jane's shoulders slumped. "Let people come to beliefs in their own time... It's all very liberal, but it doesn't get things done. Sometimes you have to confront people with the truth and drag them kicking and screaming into doing what needs to be done. That's what I believe now. That's what drives me."
"Oh," Jane said. For a moment, Simon had sounded like a speaker on a podium, trying to win over an audience of voters, not like a brother talking to his sister, who had come to him with incredible news.
Perhaps even Simon realised it, for his voice was quieter when he asked, "So Barney won't be joining you on this... crusade?"
Jane shook her head. "It's just Will and Bran and me." She tried to say it with finality, to not let Simon know how strongly she hoped that he would join them, too.
"So where are Will and Bran?" Simon asked. "Am I right in thinking that they went with you to Barney's?"
"They're on their way to Wales," Jane said. "There was some... unfinished business from when we were there last week. And, besides, Will thought it had been counter-productive, him being there when I was talking to Barney."
"Will said," Simon said with surprisingly vehemence. "Will thought. How much of what you just told me came direct from him?"
"Some of it," she had to admit. "The bit about the Light and the Dark I only know because he told me. Other bits I worked out for myself, and he confirmed it."
"That's standard tactics," Simon said. "Carefully judge the amount of information you give, so your listeners end up believing what you want to believe, but they think it was their own idea and had nothing to do with you."
"It wasn't like that!" Jane cried. "He really didn't want to tell us. If only you'd seen him, Simon. There was nothing calculated in it. And, besides, I saw things with my own eyes. I saw ghosts, and... and when he told us the truth, it felt as if a hole inside me was finally being filled - a hole I've lived with for twenty years. I know it's the truth, Simon. I know it, and I believe it with all my heart."
"That's all right, then," Simon said.
He still had his back to her. "Turn round and face me, please," she begged him, unable to stop herself. "I came here, and it wasn't easy. I was terrified. I still am. And you're... You're not telling me anything. I still don't know if..."
He picked up an ornament, bounced it in his hand. "If what?"
"If you believe a word of it."
Simon placed the ornament back on the mantelpiece. "I have a meeting in an hour."
"Simon!" She all but shouted it.
Simon walked over to the wooden table, and sat on a high-backed chair. He rested his chin on his hand, and his face was once more turned away from her. It looked as if he was staring out of the window, at the grey sky and rooftops of northern London.
"Perhaps I believe it," he said. "I don't know. It seems less... impossible than it ought to seem."
"I felt like that, too," she assured him. "So did Bran. It's because we knew all of this once, but forgot it. A part of us remembers, even if our conscious mind doesn't. It's easier to relearn something you once knew, than to learn something for the first time."
"But I will need to think about it." Simon continued as if she had not spoken. "I was a doctor for three years, Jane. Where would I have got if I'd just rashly jumped at the first diagnosis that came into my mind, without weighing up the evidence, and considering the consequences? Now I'm in politics, and I hope to go far. But, again, where would I be if I just jumped one way or the other, committing myself to a belief or a course of action without thinking things through first, and deciding if it was politic?"
Jane jumped to her feet. "It shouldn't be an issue of whether it's politic or not, just if it's true."
Simon raised his head, and she was struck suddenly at how old his eyes looked, almost as old as Will's. "That's not how life is, Jane."
She curled her hand into a fist. "Then that's one of the many things wrong with the world."
"I don't think it is, Jane." His voice was gentle, almost sympathetic. "Think about it. There's people who rush into a cause - people who chain themselves to railings, or wave placards around, or whatever. They have their idea of what is true, and they sacrifice everything to that belief, but what, really, does it obtain?"
"It draws attention..."
"Maybe." Simon interrupted her. He gave a wry smile. "As you know, I joined all sorts of pressure groups when I was a student. I've been on my share of marches. I wrote angry letters to the papers when I was a doctor, complaining about this and that, shouting that someone else should get their act together and set the world to rights."
Despite herself, Jane smiled. She remembered some of those letters. She remembered how proud she had been of him. Simon had sometimes been something of a self-important prig when young, but he had changed markedly as he had grown up. Now, of course, she knew that the change must have started after that holiday in Wales, when an Old One called Merriman had urged them to change the world.
"Look at me now," Simon said. "No, don't say it. You're looking at this nice, new apartment, full of nice, expensive things, and you're thinking I've sold out. I'm marrying someone who's not only rich but titled, too. I'm becoming a devious politician with no principles. I'll do anything to get ahead."
His gaze was searching. It was Jane's turn to look away. She seldom saw Simon nowadays, and she had, indeed, thought some of these things.
"But maybe," Simon said, "one day I just started to wonder if there was a different way of doing things. Instead of standing outside, perhaps I could find a way to get in. Learn to speak the language of the people who hold the reins of power. Learn to play their own game. Compromise a little, perhaps, but only because it's better to make a small change to the state of things, than to dream of changing everything, but fail to change a single thing."
"Compromise," Jane echoed.
Simon stood up. "And that's why I cannot join you, Jane." He held up a hand to forestall her objection, but she was speechless, hollow. "It's just that, if what you say is true... If it's true... What can I do about it?"
"Help Will," she rasped. "Just so he knows we're with him."
"Side-kick to a wizard." Simon laughed harshly, and shook his head. "What good would that do for anyone? Now, you're telling me that there's some all-powerful enemy that preys on man's baser nature and encourages him to act upon it...?"
She nodded mutely, waiting for the laugh.
"Jane," Simon said firmly, touching her arm, "it seems obvious that I can do most good staying exactly where I am, doing exactly what I've been doing. If I drop everything now and come with you, I'd be saying goodbye to any possible future career in politics. It's a critical time right now for me."
"It's all right," Jane said dully. "I understand."
"No, you don't." Once again he reminded her of Will, with that simple statement of fact, devoid of emotion. "You think I'm being selfish, putting my ambitions before my duty. You're wrong, though."
"It doesn't matter," Jane said. "I don't want us to argue."
"Jane," he cried, but he looked at his watch as he said it, and that ruined it all. "Think about it. You say you're trying to fight something that makes people do bad things. Where's better for me to be? Twiddling my thumbs with this Will of yours, wondering what to do, or standing up on television, speaking to millions, planting seeds of tolerance and moderation and common sense?"
A dim part of her thought he was probably right, but she hurt too much to say so.
"I'd better go," she said. "You've got a meeting..."
He took her hand. "I'm sorry, Jane. Phone me tomorrow night, or something. It's a lot to come to terms with, all in one go. You must know that."
She remembered how she had reacted. She had worked out the truth by herself, gradually, and that must surely have made it easier to accept. Even so, it had been hard, and she had not behaved well. She supposed it had to be harder for Simon and Barney, who had had no inkling of the truth before she turned up on their doorsteps with her extraordinary tale.
"I'm sorry." She tried to smile. "I've not been fair on you. It's just that... I hoped..."
"Of course you did," he said gently. "But you have to see that this is the best place for me, if all of this is true."
"But you believe it?" She could not stop herself from asking it.
He smiled, and showed her to the door, but did not commit himself. It was enough, though. It had to be enough.
It was almost dark when they arrived, almost the end of day.
"Is that you, Bran?" Owen Davies called.
"Yes." Bran closed the door behind him. Will stood in the hallway, wondering whether to move further in to the house, or to wait until he was invited. When Bran headed towards the kitchen without a word, Will followed.
Owen Davies was nursing a mug of tea. "You're back, then. And that Englishman with you." He looked at the dim hallway behind Will. "Not the girl this time, then?"
Bran shook his head, and went to fill the kettle without a word.
Will did not know where to look. He felt that Owen Davies had things he wanted to say to Bran, but would not say them while a stranger was there, listening. Bran seemed oblivious, though, or else he just did not care.
It felt almost like a prison, Bran's house. It was dark and old-fashioned, and although it was not dirty, it did not look loved. It lacked a heart. It did not feel like Bran's house, Will thought. He had only been inside once before, when the three of them had staggered down together out of the storm, and Will had been hurt and wrung-out, and hardly aware of anything at all. Now he could see it clearer, it felt like the house of a stranger.
Owen turned the mug round and round in his hands. "Are you back for good, then?"
"No." Bran shook his head. "There are things to do."
No steam came from the tea. It was probably cold, Will realised. Owen had been hunched over it for hours. "You didn't say how long you were going to be," he said, "or where you were going." He glanced at Will, hostile, but defeated. He was a proud man, showing his hurt in front of a stranger. Oh, Bran, Will thought.
"I didn't know," Bran said placidly. "Now, do you want some more tea?" When Owen didn't answer, he said, "I could have left years ago, and I didn't. I'm allowed a bit of freedom now."
Oh, Bran, Will thought again. Don't. Owen Davies had given up a lot to bring Bran up as his own son, and he did not deserve this. It had been Bran's own choice to stay, and Owen had never pressurised him, or put him under any obligation.
"How long are you staying?" Owen asked.
Bran put a mug of tea on the table, and passed another to Will. "No idea," he said, with a glance at Will. "Not long, I expect."
He was a stranger, of course. Will had to remember that. This was not the twelve year old boy he had been friends with so long ago, or the Pendragon, the prince who had driven away the dark with a sword. This was a grown man who had spent twenty years living alone Owen Davies, bound by a decision he could not remember making. If he was prickly, hostile and solitary, there was no use Will wailing, "This isn't Bran! Bran isn't like this!" This was Bran. Bran was the person he had become. Will had to get to know this new person, and not forever see him through eyes coloured by memories the old.
Still, he could not let a good man be needlessly hurt. He stepped forward. "I must apologise, Mr Davies. Something urgent came up, and Bran offered to help me. It isn't over yet, but there's something that we need to do here, as part of it."
Owen looked at him with dislike. Will had expected that from Bran, but what he saw in Bran's eyes was amusement. As if that's going to win him over, the look seemed to say. You really couldn't sound more like English Establishment if you tried, Stanton.
Still, he could not back down. Owen Davies knew more than he had ever admitted, Will was sure of it. Perhaps, once, he had known almost as much as John Rowlands, although he had not been the sort of man to talk about it.
"Something is stirring on the mountains," Will said quietly. He did not try to veil his true nature as he met Owen Davies' glare. "Have you see it?"
Owen started, but hid it in a long breath. "Perhaps I have seen something," he said, "but what would an Englishman like you know about the... things I have seen?"
"I know about them," Will told him. "And we have come, Bran and I, to end them."
"Ah." Owen took a swig of the cold tea, and put it down with a grimace. "It would be good," he said, "to have the mountain... cleansed. Things have been... bad. Strange. Though there are some who would shrug it off and deny it. There are some, though, who have seen too much to deny." He took another swig. "We are losing sheep, Bran, in ways that I..." Another swig. He wiped his mouth with his hand. "John says he can only pray that he never comes face to face with the... with whoever it was that did it."
Will sensed that it was a long speech for Owen Davies. He knew that Bran and Owen lived a quiet life, exchanging few words with each other, but at least they had the comfort of someone else around. Owen Davies had been forced to spend the last few nights alone in the fragile fortress of an old cottage, on a hill where things ancient and dreadful walked, and killed.
"Well," Bran said, "hard as it is to believe, Will is the one who can deal with them. He doesn't look much, but he... He can do things." He shook his head. "Stop fretting, da."
Will felt ridiculously touched by Bran's statement of faith, but he could not give false assurances. "I think it would be better if no-one's alone tonight," he said. "Can you stay with John Rowlands tonight, Mr Davies? Or perhaps he can come..."
"I will not be driven from my own house," Owen stated.
Will was about to argue, but Bran silenced him with a look. "But, da, you still think of this as Caradog Pritchard's house anyway, so what harm will it do?" His look turned almost tender as he said, "Better be safe, than die because of too much pride. Please, da?"
Owen stuck his chin out mutinously, then subsided. "These have not been nights for being alone." It was almost a whisper.
"I'll take him to John's," Bran said, looking at Will. "And then..."
Will gave a grim smile. "And then."
"Well, that's done," Bran said, when John Rowlands closed his front door. "What now, great leader?"
"Face them," Will said. "Call them. Challenge them."
Will had waited for Bran just outside John's house, saying he outright forbade Bran to walk home alone on this night of all nights. Bran had wanted to argue, but the memory of his attack was too recent, and still too raw.
Still, he did not have to like it. It made it worse, that he wanted it.
"And how do you propose we do that?" Bran said. "You've been very quiet on small details like that."
"I know." Will's voice seemed to smile. "But this at least should be easy. They bathed themselves in my blood. They drew on my power. That gives me a link to them, and them to me. If I summon them, they will come."
The summer evening felt immensely cold. Bran looked at Will beside him, solid and reassuring, a powerful wizard who would fight for his friends. He still did not entirely like him, but for this moment, at least, he was comforting. Then he tried to imagine this same man lying bleeding and abandoned, while dead things stole his blood and his essence, feeding on him. Bran shivered.
Will must have seen it, for he said, "Are you sure...?"
"Of course I am," Bran said vehemently. "These are my hills."
They walked a bit further, both silent. Bran tried to listen for screams in the distance, for signs that another night of slaughter had begun, but all he heard was the natural pulse of life that was the mountain. Will also seemed to be listening for something, but if he heard what it was he was looking for, he did not say.
"Why are we doing it at night?" Bran blurted out.
"We're here," Will said. "We're… psyched up, as people might say. Would you like to spend the night waiting, knowing we had this to do in the morning? Do you think you'd get any sleep at all?"
Bran grabbed his arm. "Stop it."
"What…?" Will began, but Bran interrupted him, his voice cold. "Protecting me. Lying to me. I'm not a child, Stanton. I don't need protecting."
Will did not apologise. He withdrew slightly from Bran's grip, and looked him full in the eye, in the failing light. "You are right to question it," he said. "They are most powerful in the night, yes, and I am… not weaker, no, but more… blind. More prey to… other things."
"Then for God's sake why…?"
"They are stronger," Will continued, "which means they will come. They'll scent my blood and they'll come confident and rejoicing, wanting more. In daylight they'd be cautious. It would be harder to draw them."
"So we're fighting an enemy precisely where he's strongest." Bran laughed. "Remind me again why I said I'd help you."
"It could go wrong, yes," Will said, "but I cannot die, and you… I'll make sure no harm comes to you."
"Don't talk like that," Bran said, "so formal-like, like a wizard in a film. And don't protect me. I don't need protecting."
"From things like this, all men do," Will said. "And, besides, I promised."
"I didn't ask for your promise."
"No." Will started walking again. "But it wasn't you I made the promise to."
Bran caught him up. They walked in silence again, until, once again, Bran found the silence uncomfortable. "So, wizard, how are you going to keep me safe?" he asked, trying to laugh. "A magical cloak? A mystic escape pod."
"No." Will did not smile. "I was just planning on sending you into tomorrow."
Bran stopped. "Can you do that?" Will said nothing. "Can you?" He shook his head. "You're joking, aren't you?"
Will laughed, which told Bran nothing. Beyond him, darkness descended on the mountain like a shroud, black and featureless, but far from empty.
"Just like this?" Bran asked. "No weapons, or anything?"
"Guns or knives won't make a difference," Will said. Of course, there had been a sword, once, that could have changed everything, and a shining prince to wield it, but one was gone, and one was… transmuted.
"Magical weapons, I mean." Bran frowned, looking irritated. "Look, I've never fought the walking dead before. How am I supposed to know? I'm just thinking about books and things, when people always take a lot of… stuff."
Will smiled. "I don't use weapons, not since the things of power departed."
Bran shook his head. "Not even a magic wand?"
Will led him to towards the door. They were both wrapped up well against the cold, and had food and water, but nothing else. A slow hour had passed in the getting ready, and there was no going back.
Bran closed the door to the house. A cat wandered past, sleek in the darkness, and dogs fretted noisily in the barn. There was no moon. Even the distant lights of John Rowlands' house looked muted, a hundred miles away.
"Shall I bring a dog?" Bran asked.
Will bit his lip, remembering Cafall, and the crippling grief his friend had suffered through helping the Light. "Dogs sometimes have an instinct for these sort of things," he said at last. "It could help us. But any dog you took would be at risk. I can't guarantee…"
"Can't send dogs into tomorrow, then, only people." Bran gave a grim laugh. "You fret too much, Stanton. It's annoying. No-one alive can guarantee anything." He left Will's side for a few minutes, and a dog was trotting at his side when he came back.
Will did not comment. They went through the gate, where Jane had seen a long-ago murder unfold in front of her, only days before. Now that murder was locked in its own time, invisible to those in the here and now. It had only been awakened by the proximity of the enemy in his assumed physical form. Now he had left that body, this particular manifestation of his power was silent again. The dead kings and ancient chieftains still walked, though, fuelled by Will's own blood.
They started to climb. "Should have brought a torch," Bran said.
Will created a haze of pale white light, just enough to light their path, but not enough to be a beacon to anyone who watched.
"Show-off," Bran muttered. In the old Bran, it would have been fond teasing, but in the new Bran, Will thought it might be genuine resentment. He set his jaw, and continued. The light was needed, however it made Bran feel.
Higher, they went, and further away from man. Ahead of them, the mountain was a great cloud of silence, with none of the usual sounds of the countryside in night. There were no sounds of dying, either, but there were many creatures that could kill silently, either because they were swift, or because they could stifle sound.
"Do you actually have a destination in mind?" Bran asked, when they were both panting from the climb.
"Where I saw my ghosts," Will told him. "That was where it happened." He could feel the tug of the place already, like a hook that had taken hold of the core of him, and was trying to drag it out.
Bran did not ask questions. Was it indifference, or trust?
They were almost there. There, just ahead, he had crouched down and watched an ancient murder unfold, then, unthinking, had gone back in time to try to stop it. In that same place, hundreds of years before, he had been wounded, and he had lain there, barely conscious, through a confusion of time. In a way, he had lain there bleeding for hundreds of years, and it was there that the walking dead had found him, there that he had bled blood and power into the earth, there that he had almost been broken.
Will stopped walking. "We are here."
"Oh." Bran pressed his hand to his chest as he struggled to get his breath back. Neither of them were entirely recovered from physical injury. "So what now?" He sucked in a breath to get enough to talk. "I've said that a lot. I don't like it."
Will ran his hand over the rough surface of the boulder, and couched to press his hand onto the grass. His skin tingled, and his heart ached, but he sensed no opening doors of power. His blood, shed here, had gone somewhere very deep, where it was a wrenching cry to him, but nothing more.
Bran tapped him roughly on the shoulder. "Will? You're… calling them now?"
Will stood up, clenching his hands at his side, readying himself. "I'm about to, yes. The dog will tell you when they're coming, even if I… cannot."
Bran's hand moved down to pat the dog on its head. "What can I do?" He looked like someone who had committed himself to a course of action, but was only now realising that there was nothing he could do to help.
Will tried to smile at him. "Anchor me. Hold on to me with words. They will try to take me, I think, and to keep me. That's why I couldn't try this last week, you see. Because I would have just let them."
Bran caressed the dog's ears. "You haven't told us even a tenth of it, have you?" he burst out with vehemence.
"No time," Will said, as he raised his hands, and called them.
end of chapter two