Exalted: In A Mirror Darkly
A noise woke the little girl from her slumber. Her room was dark, the house still. Outside, the night air whipped in a mad frenzy that prophesied a summer storm. She could hear it swishing in the tall grass outside, and whistling when it found some small crack or crevice in the wooden frame of the house. The haze of sleep argued that she had heard either some noise of the storm, or perhaps had dreamed a noise. She was about to nod off again, when she heard a thump from inside the house. Her eyes did not snap open in alarm. Rather, they slowly resigned themselves to being awake a while longer.
The little girl was not a little girl anymore, she thought to herself. She was ten years old, and she was not afraid in her own house. The noise she had heard was a window that had been left open, and it’s shutter was blowing about in the wind. Or a door, pulled shut by the breeze. As if taking it’s cue from her thoughts, the night breathed again. It sent cold fingers of air through the frame of her window and the spaces between logs, and on to her skin. But she was not afraid of the dark. She was not a little girl.
And besides, her father would protect her.
Still, she felt a need to leave her room and investigate the noise, if only to stop further interruptions of sleep. So she slipped out from under her covers, threw her bare feet off the side of the bed, and placed them on smooth wooden floor. It was colder than she had expected. She padded to the door that separated her room from the rest of the house, silent as a mouse. Little girls (even ones that are not little anymore) make very little noise when they want not to. She put her hand up to the knob, but did not turn it immediately. Instead, she listened a moment, cocking her head to the side like a wolf.
Nothing but the wind.
That should have been comforting. After all, she was certain the noise she had heard had been caused by the wind. But she was not reassured. In a tiny corner of her mind, the part of her that was still a little girl doubted that silence, suspected it of trickery. Of lying to her. She slowly turned the knob, and stepped through the threshold.
The room she entered into was the large, main room of the house, that contained the area where she and her father entered the house, cooked, and ate. There was no window that faced the direction of the moon, so it was darker in here that in her room. Her eyes had not fully adjusted, but she knew the house well enough that she could navigate it in total darkness. As it was, she saw what she was looking for right away.
The front door was open. It must have blown open during a particularly powerful gust. Beyond it, the night sky was filled with dark purple clouds, the color of a powerful storm. She moved forward into the room, intending to close it and latch it. She had progressed no more than four steps from her room, when she stopped.
Some part of her mind, deep down, had told her to stop moving. Be perfectly still. It seemed very insistent, so she obeyed. She listened, and still heard nothing but the wind. She realized then, that while the wind still blew, no matter how hard the gust, the heavy wooden door did not move a centimeter. It did not move, or creek, or sway in the slightest. It was the only still thing in the room.
She thought to call out for her father, the door to his room was still between her and the front door. But the inner voice that advised stillness also demanded silence. It was the voice of instinct and fear, and as much as she wanted to be a brave girl of ten years, she listened to it. She tried to will her eyes to adjust quicker to the dark, but to no avail. At last, she settled on moving to her fathers door, and opening it. Gathering her courage, she stepped forward… and into something wet.
It was all she could do not to cry out. She pulled her foot back and tried to (very quietly) wipe the sticky wetness off on the floor. The little girl looked down to see what she had stepped in, but she couldn’t make anything out. Her eyes were still searching the floor when the first bolt of lightning split the sky.
In that instant of illumination, was she saw caused the little girl’s breath to catch in her throat and her heart to break. The puddle she had stepped in was blood. The blood belonged to her father, and both lie cold on the floor. The flash that came from the open door was quick, but not quick enough. She saw his mangled and mutilated body, and her mind committed all the details to memory. He had been practically shredded, black pool of blood taking the place of his eyes. His guts lay on the floor, ropey and tangled up with his legs. Great gashes exposed his bones and flesh to the night air. Blood lay all around, splattered in some places, pooling in others. But by far, the most terrible detail was the shadow of a man cast from the doorway, which spilled over her father’s corpse and stopped just at her feet.
She looked up, eyes wide with horror, but the light from the bolt faded before she could see anything. She stood in the dark again, shaking with shock and fear. Her eyes darted around in vain for some sign of movement or form, but she saw nothing. Again, the doorway filled with light. A second bolt of lightning came from behind the thing, illuminating the room, but revealing it only in silhouette.
It was almost a man, but some of the details were wrong. It was far to thin, almost skeletal, like a victim of famine. The thing was naked, it’s skin an oily black. It’s bald head, misshapen and seemingly too large of it’s neck and body to support. The thin, spidery arms dropped down almost to it’s ankles, ending in large clawed hands. Adding to it’s spidery appearance was the stillness of the thing. It just stood in her doorway, silent and unmoving. Her eyes had almost acclimated to the dark, and now that she knew where it was, she could see the thing more clearly, even without the lightning. It’s dark body stood out starkly against the purple sky and blowing wheat lit by the moon. She stood, totally still, wondering if it had even seen her. Perhaps it was looking outside. Her inner voice screamed for escape, saying, “run! now, before it turns and sees you!”
But in the few seconds it took for her to plan her flight back through her room and out her window, her vision resolved yet again, and she could see it’s white, blank eyes, barely reflecting what little light there was. It was facing her. She couldn’t tell if it was looking right at her, but she was afraid it was. She looked straight into it’s eyes…
and it’s black face split at the bottom, revealing a white crescent. It mouth was filled with teeth, some the size and shape of knives, others of needles, but all razor sharp, and so white they almost glowed. It was smiling at her.