A DISCOVERY IN DUSK
They entered the shadows, seeking a missing child.
Torin swallowed, clutched the hilt of his sword, and gazed around with darting eyes. The trees still grew densely here—mossy oaks with trunks like melting candles, pines heavy with needles and cones, and birches with peeling white bark. Yet this was not the forest Torin had always known. The light was wrong, a strange ocher that bronzed the trees and kindled floating pollen. The shadows were too long, and the sun hung low in the sky, hiding behind branches like a shy maiden peering between her window shutters. Torin had never seen the sun shine from anywhere but overhead, and this place sent cold sweat trickling down his back.
"This is wrong," he said. "Why would she come this far?"
Bailey walked at his side, holding her bow, her quiver of arrows slung across her back. Her two braids, normally a bright gold, seemed eerily metallic in this place. The dusk glimmered against her breastplate—not the shine they knew from home, but a glow like candles in a dungeon.
"I don't know," she said. "Yana has been strange since her parents died in the plague. Maybe she thought it would be an adventure."
Despite himself, Torin shivered. "An adventure? In the dusk? In this cursed place no sensible person should ever enter?"
Bailey raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Why not? Aren't you feeling adventurous now?"
"No." He shook his head vehemently. "Adventure means sneaking out to Old Garin's farm to steal beets, mixing rye with ale, or climbing the old maple tree in the village square." He looked around at the shadowy forest, and his hand felt clammy around his hilt. "Not this place. Not the dusk."
They kept walking, heading farther east, deeper into the shadows. Torin knew what the elders said. Thousands of years ago, the world used to turn. The sun rose and fell, and night followed day in an endless dance. Men woke at dawn, worked until the sunset, and slept through the darkness.
Torin shivered. He didn't know if he believed those stories. In any case, those days were long gone. The dance had ended. The world had fallen still. Torin was a child of eternal sunlight, of a day that never ended. Yet now . . . now they were wandering the borderlands, the dusky strip—a league wide—that was neither day nor night, claimed by neither his people nor the others . . . those who dwelled in the dark.
A shadow darted ahead.
Torin leaped and drew his sword.
A rabbit raced across the forest and disappeared into a burrow.
Bailey stared at his drawn sword, eyes wide, then burst into laughter.
"Protect me, brave Sir Torin Greenmoat!" she said, doubling over. "Will you defend me from the evil Bunny of the Night?"
Torin grumbled and sheathed his blade, cursing himself. He had come of age last autumn, turning eighteen, and he had joined the Village Guard, yet it seemed Bailey would forever mock him.
"Hush," he said. "It could have been them."
She rolled her eyes. "They don't walk this far dayside, if they even exist."
"How do you know?"
Bailey groaned. "Everybody knows that. It's still too bright here. The nightfolk only live in the deep darkness." She lowered her voice. "It's dark as the deepest cave there, Torin. It's darker than the soul of a killer, darker than toast burnt in dragonfire, darker than the empty spaces inside your skull. So dark you can't see your own feet. That's where they lurk . . . scuttling, whispering, sharpening their claws . . ." She inched closer to him and smiled wickedly, the orange light reflecting in her eyes. "When all light is gone, that is where they'll . . . leap at you."
YOU ARE READING
They say the world used to turn. They say that night would follow day in an endless dance. They say that dawn rose, dusk fell, and we worshiped both sun and stars. That was a long time ago. The dance has died. The world has fallen still. We float...