Longing for Shadows Part IX

**Continued from Part VIII**

The Necropolis was the most crowded city Rowan had ever been in.  Had it been a painting, the artist would have had to use their smallest brushes to painstakingly assemble each bit of black, gray, indigo, and green.  Some parts seem to glow with a light that she could not identify the source of, while others were lost in shadows.  She had to give up wondering where the shadows came from if there was no light for the buildings to block.  This was the world of the dead, after all, and things were not likely to make sense to her.

The place seemed impossibly ancient.  People had been dying since time immemorial, she knew.  The buildings looked as old as civilization, each layer built upon an older one, newer bricks set in with older, more worn, bricks.  Some of them were think with moss– or at least some sort of green slime– other precariously balanced.  They hardly even seemed like the sort of places that a being could dwell in, no matter how much the place looked like a crowded castle town from the Dark Ages.

“Peter…” Rowan began as they got to the bottom or a narrow, steep set of stairs.

He paused and turned around to look at her; she was still three stairs up.  “You have questions.”

She nodded, wanting to utter the words ‘of course,’ but refusing to risk showing disrespect.  “What… what is the purpose of this place?”

“This street?” he asked her. “Or the entire city?”

Rowan shrugged, moving slowly down the last few stairs.  “All of it,” she said, her voice breaking.  She was starting to feel cold; colder than what made sense for a place without any wind or snow.  “Is this supposed to be Limbo?”

Peter scoffed. “Heaven, Hell, Limbo. They’re all wrong.”

“Well, I that’s what I thought,” Rowan said.  “I mean, I had always felt lied to when I heard all the promises and warnings…”

He shook his head, then took her arm; it was ice cold.  “You have to keep moving.  We can talk while we walk.”  Once they were moving again, Peter told her, “They’re not lies so much as misunderstandings.  Even ideas like Hades, Yomi, Duat, and Hel aren’t exactly accurate.”

Rowan thought for a while as they kept walking along a narrow street, where the cobbles were worn and somewhat uneven.  “But this clearly isn’t Elysium or Tir Na Nog either.”

“Look,” Peter said after a while of thinking, “this place is none of those things and all of them.  It even has a few things in common with Purgatory.  Still, I don’t even know if this is what there actually is after we die, of if it’s just something that my mind is constructing out of what it senses.”

“But your brain is–”

“I didn’t say ‘brain,’ did I?” he corrected her.  Then he pulled her away from a puddle just before her foot came down into it.  “Watch out for those.  They’re nastier than you think.”

“Ummm, thanks,” she said, her mind working too hard for her to think of better words.

They walked on for a while before Peter spoke again.  “There are some things that show up in a lot of cultures and belief systems; they’re all here in the Necropolis… somewhere or other.  Rivers, gardens, layers that descend ever-deeper.  There are spirits– or whatever they want to be called– in charge of something or other.  If your friend hasn’t moved on to be reborn yet, we’ll find someone who can tell us where she is.”

**Continued on Part X**

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Longing for Shadows Part VIII

**Continued from Part VII**

There were two armored guards standing just outside the gates. They were tall, taller even than Peter, which seemed pretty rare. Their faces were hidden in the shadows of their helmets, and all that she could see of them was the glow of their eyes, that ghostly sort of white. They seemed human in shape, but entirely other-wordly in every other aspect.

Peter warned her not to stare at them.

“Who approaches the gates?” the guards asked in unison. Their voices were impossibly deep, and Rowan tried to hide a shudder.

“It’s just me,” Peter told them in a voice laden with boredom.

“You have a bright one with you,” one of them noted, as if correcting him.

“I found her out on the fields,” Peter explained.

“The living do not belong here,” the other added.

“She won’t be long,” Peter told them.  “I can make sure that she doesn’t cause any trouble.”

The guards looked down at her as examining her all the way down to her soul.  Rowan held perfectly still, trying not to seem afraid.  It felt like forever before they turned back to Peter.

“You know that we guarantee nobody’s safety,” one of the guards said.

“The Necropolis is a place for the dead,” the other went on, “and its laws exist only for the sake of its lord.”

“Like I said,” Peter told them, “I will be with her.”

The guards looked to one another, and a moment later the gates began to creak open.  They sounded half-rusted, like the battered gates She had seen on old Halloween specials. Peter  said nothing else to the guards– he didn’t even nod their way– and ushered Rowan through the gates.  Once they were through, the gates closed once again, leaving Rowan to stare at them.

“Make sure you don’t get lost,” Peter told Rowan. “The living might be one of the few who can leave the Necropolis, but it tries to get you to stay.”

“Y-yeah,” Rowan nodded, still staring at the gate and the design laid out on it in ancient wrought iron.  “Sure thing, Peter.”

**Continued in Part IX**

 

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Longing for Shadows Part VII

**Continued from Part VI**

“You have to be careful here,” Peter told her.  “You might still be living, but the world of the dead doesn’t care.  They’re just as willing to keep you here as they are anyone who’s actually dead.”

“So… what do you mean by that?” Rowan asked.

“I mean there are a thousand different things that could trap you and keep you here,” he explained.  “And I don’t even know what all of them are. Just be careful. Stay close, and don’t get distracted.”

Rowan felt like she had been told not to be distracted a thousand times before in her lifetime. She supposed that it applied here just as well as anywhere else.

“Were you scared when you first came here?” Rowan asked him.

“Was I scared? Peter repeated. “I suppose I was as terrified of being here as I was fearless.”

“You mean not at all?” Rowan asked him.

Peter shook his head.  “I mean a great deal,” he told her.  “I know people think I’m strong and fearless, but a place has me thinking otherwise.”

“I guess I should admit,” Roman said after a moment of thought, “I didn’t know much about you until a few days ago. But from what I’ve read, it didn’t sound like you had expected to…”

“To die?” Peter asked when she faltered.

Rowan nodded. “I mean, at the time that you did,” she explained, “you seem to have been trying to do better for yourself.”

Peter shrugged. “I guess that’s what you get from a lifetime of how I treated my body. But you didn’t come here to meet me, did you?” Peter reminded her. “You’re here for your friend.”

“But it’s interesting that I did meet you,” Rowan pointed out.

“You could meet thousands of interesting people here,” he told her. “And there’s a thousand more that you could never meet. So many have moved on from this place. Like I told you,” he reminded her, “don’t get distracted.”

He walked through the rest of the way to the gates without saying anything else to her.  The gates were impossibly tall, but the wall was impossibly taller. It was built stories and stories high, as though it was meant to keep in giants. Then again, the people who might have been in that city, the dead of so long ago, were not giants in a literal sense, but important figures from all of history. Rowan tried to remember what Peter had told her: there was no sense in wondering who had moved on to another life, and who still remained in the necropolis.

The wall was littered with carvings and statues, styles from all sorts of ancient cultures. Some of them looked like images from major cultures, mythologies that she had heard of time and again. Others were things that she did not recognize, but supposed contained symbols from distant cultures.

That was the one thing common to all humans, and it was probably one of the few things that was in all human cultures. The necropolis seemed to be partly a place that couldn’t decide which culture it was from, and partly a place for all cultures. It was somewhat overwhelming to look at.

**Continued in Part VIII**

 

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Longing for Shadows Part VI

**Continued from Part V**

The world of the dead had no sun to shine down on it.  Although it seemed as though it was always nighttime, it was not entirely dark.  The city of the dead had countless lights glowing within it, even up to the heights of the cathedral. Some of them were a ghostly color, not quite white, but like a ghost, or the color of old bones.  Others were the same eerie shade of green that Peter seemed to glow with.  Every now and then, she saw a faint blue glow, but those did not seem to last.

The city was a mass of tall buildings, like spires that pierced the darkness, lights glowing in windows here and there all the way up.  The air smelled rich and deep, like soil that had just been turn up from deep down.  Rowan also had the sense of something just of the edge of rot; it reminded her that the air might have smelled horrible there, but instead it somehow tolerable.

They walked on, the dirt crunching beneath their feet as they began to descend the hill towards the necropolis.  As still and silent as she had imagined the place to be, it was neither of those things.  There was a soft sort of wind blowing across them, and the noises of small things moving in the fields on either side of the path.  Rowan might have called it grass, but it was nothing like the lush green that filled her backyard.  It had faded and darkened ages ago, a mere husk of its former self.

The path carried them down towards a gate.  Peter slowed his pace as they approached it.

“There is a wall around the city,” Peter told her.  “And only a few gates allow passage through it.  The dead are not allowed to leave the city unless their next fate has been decided.”

“Do they enter the gate when they first arrive here?” Rowan asked him.  “Or do they find themselves in the city when they die?”

Peter stopped and looked down at her.  “This field around us,” he told here. “is as vast as it is dark.  The dead show up in the fields, and if they are able, they find their way to the city.”

“You mean some of them are unable?”

Peter sighed and looked out into the shadows of the field.  It became apparent that there was also no moon; there was not even starlight to guide their way.  “Some spirits are not in a state to come to the city.  They wander the fields for ages before…”

“Before what” Rowan pressed.

“You have seen movies, heard stories… sometimes the dead are restless or tormented.  In life, they suffered a great deal of pain, and in death…” He shook his head. “It takes them a lot longer to get to the city.”

Rowan to at the gate that they were approaching.  “Then what’s so important about this city?”

“Besides the fact that your friend is in it?” Peter asked.  “Everything, really.  You’ll never leave the realm of the dead without passing through the city first. …Not unless something very bad is going on.”

**Continued in Part VII**

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The House of the Seventh Minuet VIII

“Magic?” I asked him.  “That’s just the stuff of fairy tales and fantasy novels.”

He looked disappointed by my reply.  “You could not possibly be here, young lady, if you did not believe somewhere in your heart that magic was as real and alive on this earth as it is in books and stories.”

He was right.  I could hardly admit it, but I had never let go of that belief.  Besides, it’s easier to write fantasy when you have fewer doubts about magic.  I just didn’t talk about that fact much with other people.

I shook a lock of hair out of my face and said, “You seem to know a lot about me already, but I have no idea who you you are.  Nobody told me that I was inheriting a tenant with the house.”

“Ah, or course, introductions are in order!” he said, giving a low and sweeping bow.  I was still trying to figure out whether his mannerisms were authentic or just for dramatic flair.  “My name is Jean-Marc Durand.  I play the viola for His Lordship… on the days when he does not need my services elsewhere, at least.”

“You work for a nobleman?”

“A tiring way to live, at times,” he replied, as though admitting some sort of secret, “but it gives me a chance to play my music more often than anything else.  And what shall I call you, dear lady?”

I stared at him in disbelief before I could answer him.  I was too stuck on the idea that the peerage was outdated– along with the rest of him.  But he seemed eager to know, so I finally told him, “I’m Leila.”

“Leila…?”

So he wanted to know my last name as well.  I could hardly be mysterious, though, when he had already told me so much.  “Moss,” I added.

“Leila Moss,” he said, repeating my name like a breath of wind, turning it over in his mind.  “It is a true pleasure to meet you, Miss Moss.”

I almost chuckled at hearing my name said like that.  Thankfully, I managed to not be so rude.  “So tell me: do you play solo every night?”

“Not at all, milady,” Jean-Marc replied.  “There should be seven of us, but I doubt that you will ever hear all of us playing together.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“That, milady, is because our cellist, the most esteemed Brielle DeChanson, has gone missing.”

 

 

 

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The House of the Seventh Minuet VII

I walked the length of the rug, taking my time so that I could look over the art that adorned the walls.  Some of them were portraits, some were scenes of ancient battles.  A few were distant and whimsical landscapes.  No matter what, all of them were terribly old, probably older than the house itself.  I did not spend too much time on any one piece, but at least acknowledged each one.  I had to get to those doors, after all.

The handle, a silver lever just like the other one, was cold.  Not just hasn’t-been-used-in-a-while cold, but ice cold.  That didn’t stop me from opening it. though.  The hinges were quiet, thankfully, so that I could enter unnoticed.  The door was heavy.  It opened slowly.

Once I had it opened enough that I could pass through, I slid inside.  The room was long and wide, like a ballroom, with wooden floors and marble columns.  It was almost completely empty.  The room’s sole occupant was a person, alone up until the the moment that I arrived.

He was tall.  I am not especially tall myself, so most people are taller than me, but this man… He was easily over six feet tall.  Not only that, but he looked like he’d just come out of a different era in time.  The white hose and heeled shows gave it away, but then there were his navy blue trousers (to match his shoes, I noticed), and the crimson vest that he had over the pale silk shirt with the ruffly cravat.  Its buttonholes were lined in gold brocade, as were the edges of his greatcoat.  The coat itself was the color of the sky when the last of the daylight had gone, and night was upon us.

Eventually, I realized that he was staring at me just as I was staring at him.

“So you are a night owl as well,” he said.  His were were careful, pronounced just so.

It took me a while to say anything back to him.  I had been caught off guard by the vividness of his eyes, green like a field of grass on a midsummer’s day, such a stark contrast to the colors that he wore.

“You… You’re the one who’s been playing the violin?”

“Oh, no!  Certainly not,” he replied, even though I could see him setting down the auburn-colored stringed instrument.  I think that was when he realized what I had meant.  “This, milady, is a viola.  It creates a far more… resounding sound.”

He spoke as though he was from some sort of important class.  I wondered how offended he would be if he knew that I was not terribly impressed by class.

“Do you play it every night?”  Don’t ask me why I started with that instead of, ‘what are you doing in my house?’  I don’t have to be logical if I’m not in danger.

He though for a minute, scoffing as as he pushed a lock of golden hair back behind his ear as though it was entirely offensive that it was out of place.  “I suppose I do,” he finally told me.

“I didn’t hear you last night.”  Again, don’t judge me for not asking something else.

“Were you awake when the midnight bells called?” he asked in reply, his tone full of curiosity.

“No,” I admitted.  “I was tired from moving.  But… I think I would’ve woken up if there had been music in the middle of the night.

“Ah,” he said, giving me a wry grin, “but that is not how the magic works.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet VI

The doors opened to a small vestibule; it hardly held more than a line of hooks along one wall.  A single cloak hung on one of the hooks, dusty, as though it had hung there for a long time without being touched.  I dared not disturb the dust… probably because it was so incredible that this room was even here.

The strangest thing was that there was a staircase.  On the third floor.  It led upwards.  I couldn’t understand why there was a staircase going upwards on a three-story house; could it have led to an attic?  If so, why would there be such a fancy vestibule leading to an attic?  Moreover, the fact that the doors had not even been there before…

The violin– again, that was what I had assumed it was– was still playing.  It was a gentle song, thankfully; I had never cared much for the squealing sound that a violin could make when it was played too harshly.  That didn’t mean that is was a slow song though.  It was was a little upbeat, like something from a a few centuries ago that had to be reserved as well as playful.

It seemed to be coming from up those stairs.

Dare I go up there and find out what was going on?  I stood there for what felt like ages, wondering to myself what I should do.  Was this some sort of recording, or was somebody up there playing this instrument?  If I didn’t go find out what it was, what else was I going to do– go back to my computer and let these strange things carry on around me?  Could it be dangerous going up there?

“What else am I going to do with my life?” I eventually asked myself.  “If somebody is in my house, I should know about it.  Even if it’s just a recording, how is it playing now?”

Despite my reasoning, it took some effort to get my feet onto the first stair.  The wood creaked under my weight, and I nearly froze.  But I wasn’t trying to sneak up on anyone, so I pressed forward, climbing each step even though my heart was pounding in my chest.

The stairway curved as it went up.  It also darkened.  I could see light coming through the bottom of the door– there was only one this time– at the top of the stairs, so I could at least be relieved that I would not be passing into darkness.

The door’s handle felt ancient.  It was lever-style, heavy, and it felt ornately-carved in my hand.  I couldn’t see it well in the shadows.  Either way, it turned easily when I pressed on it, hardly making a click.  I was relieved that the door did not screech on its hinges as it opened.

There was a long and wide hallway, well-lit by old-fashioned lights.  This was definitely no attic.  The walls were lined with tapestries and paintings, and the floor had a long rug running the length of it.  I walked across that rug, trying not to thing too hard about what might lie beyond the doors at the other end of the hall.  They looked exactly like the glue doors that had suddenly appeared in the library, right down to the detailed carvings.

The music was definitely coming from the other side of those doors.

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