Chapter Thirty-Three - Within the Shadows

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THE NIGHT WITCH JOINED THE REST OF THE PARTY in the confines of the narrow alleyway on the other side of the wall. She could feel the tugging of the winds from the swirling vortex behind her. Mallt withdrew most of the Shadow Magic she had fused with that of the Amulet of Hidden Ways. The little she left would hopefully be enough to strengthen the tunnel and keep it open until they needed to return.

'Where is Holt?' the youngest girl asked, a hint of suspicion edged her voice.

'I am afraid Bredock is feeling a little under the weather,' she answered. 'We decided it would be better if he remained behind to guard the portal.'

'I hope so,' the girl replied. Again her tone was one of distrust.

She tempered her anger at her questioning. 'Do not worry. I have not harmed him in any way. He will be waiting when we return.'

In the gloom of the alley, she could make out very little of her surroundings. The city wall arch away into shadow on one side and vast bleak edifices towered ominously on the other. High above she could just discern a patch of half-light against the all invading darkness. Underfoot appeared to be littered with the vast cities decaying detritus which gave off a smell of damp and decay.

Mallt thought she would feel at home in a world of darkness and shadow but something about the city made her uneasy. It was a far darker, more alien place than back in the Fairy Realms. Cold and dead, the shadows here had lain dormant for countless aeons. That time had allowed whatever evil resided within this sunless tomb to fester and grow. A sensation of being watched by something unseen crawled across her skin. She felt it reaching out for her, its touch unpleasant even to one borne with the ability to manipulate the world of shadows. An icy embrace that sent a shiver through her body driving away what little warmth she felt. She fought against it, feeling a deep sense of relief when the sensation seemed to pass. Mallt cleared her mind and reached out with her magic, casting it about to find any trace of the spark she had become aware of back on the beach. It was there. An almost indiscernible trail that stretched off along the alleyway. It was intertwined with another form of magic she had not encountered before.

Daemon magic, she thought.

She pointed in the direction of the magical pathway and called out to Orin Cerne.

'This way,' she stated. 'But be on your guard, we do not know what lurks within these dark passageways.'

'Nothing good, I'll wager,' Orin replied warily. He signalled to the Sha-Hotha with a low whistle and with a string of nervous grunts the reptilian hunters wheeled away into the murk.

Picking their way through the debris and waste they were making fairly good time. Mallt dropped back to join the children.

'Are you all well?' she asked.

'What do you care?' Jessica replied angrily. 'You've already tried to kill me once.'

'No child, I did not,' the Witch hissed, dark shadows momentarily clouding her pale skin. 'While the Wild Hunt may have a somewhat tarnished reputation for carrying out certain activities. Killing children is not one of them.'

Jessica glanced at the Elf, disbelief showed on her face. 'But you put that collar around my neck, threatened to strangle me if we didn't do what you wanted.'

Mallt nodded in agreement. 'Yes child, I did, and I am sorry for that. The Gnome is stubborn and needed a little persuasion to carry out the task.'

'That may be.' Danielle countered. 'But you will excuse us if we don't trust you.'

Before the Witch could reply they heard urgent grunts and coughs from up ahead. Orin listened for a moment then moved swiftly towards the noise.

'They have discovered something,' he shouted, effortlessly keeping his balance among the debris that littered the floor.

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