It seemed almost ethereal; the pale cloud that manifested in the chilled night air with each breath. There was a tension to that cold, filled with confusion and a trembling fear of the darkening gloom of starless night. Yet against this chill, there was something warm wrapped about his hand. It felt familiar and welcoming, and alive! He turned and stared into the deep pleading eyes now piercing his gaze; a young girl. She was fair; a lovely blonde youth adorned in fine clothing, her hair twisted into carefully tended curls that shimmered in the ghost light of the moor as a cruel and empty jewel. Yet, even in that pallid world, there was warmth to the site of her that seemed to swell within the body.
Then he saw the tears; those hopelessly sad tears running rivers down her white cheeks, circling the rim of her paling lips as they mouthed voicelessly a single word. Was she calling to him? He couldn’t tell, and it seemed to him that she was slowly drifting away from him, her fingers slipping from his outstretched hand.
Then came the hoof beats. From the mist emerged what seemed a horse and rider, if only as a shadow and suggestion of such a thing existing solely in mockery. More like a well it was, an endless pit manifest as animal and man, and he could feel the very breath of life drawn from his lips and sucked endlessly into its void. It drew on growing louder, echoing in his ears, bearing down with malice upon the girl. He saw the arm rise, it was holding something! He was upon the girl! Her eyes shrank in terror, her voiceless lips screaming the word in agony! Down came the arm!
A light flashed red, and then everything became cold and completely black. He turned around again, and to his shock there was the girl, at least most of her. She had no head!
Her arm reached out as she advanced toward him. No longer did the site of her warm him, now he felt as terrified as a hare sought by a predator. He ran, and stumbled. Falling to the ground he came face to face with the missing head, her eyes still flooded with watery grief.
“Don’t leave me! Why did you leave me?!”
A shadow passed over her eyes, conjuring a suggestion of a skull, and it seemed to him the head leaped forward with a hiss. He stumbled backwards, and again he was in darkness. Alone, cold, there was nothing left. From whence was this emptiness derived he knew not, but now it seemed to consume him utterly.
Then before him in the gloom he saw something; a small table, or perhaps a desk, it was hard to make out in the blackness. Upon its surface though, he caught the pale sheen of the sole shard of brightness and light amidst this gathering shroud of endless sorrow. There, upon the polished amber wood, was a knife.
His arms seemed to move without thought as they reached toward the metallic light. Slowly the fingers wrapped about the ebony handle, trembling with some anxiousness brought by a reason he neither knew nor cared about; all attention was on that blade and the light it had in this void of despair. Slowly the blade traced up the contours of his chest and to his neck. There it hovered, the tip grazing the skin drawing a red droplet as he sat trembling, tears boiling from his eyes!
This was goodbye.
Then a jolt came as the arms were thrown down and the blackness evaporated. He sat staring into his own moist and terrified eyes, was he before a mirror? No, it wasn’t a mirror, it was Armand. Wait, wasn’t he Armand? No, now she recalled. She was Chai. Why had she thought she was Armand? Why was she holding a knife to her throat? Why was Armand now holding her hands trembling?
The window suddenly flung wide and the sound of fluttering black wings was heard echoing about the cottage. Armand turned toward the sound of the wings with a terrible glare and, taking hold of the fallen knife, bounded toward the open window with almost unnatural agility.
“Armand!” Chai cried out trying to follow after, but still trembling from the terrors she had witnessed, she found her legs collapsing beneath her. Master Grey suddenly bound from the adjacent room having heard her cry out.
“Chai, what is it? What’s wrong!?”
Unable to find the words, Chai merely pointed to the open window and muttered “Armand.” Master Grey needed nothing more to be said. Something sinister had occurred and the boy had foolishly had run out onto the moor as a result. Muttering a curse under his breath, he quickly grabbed some device from a nearby table and bounded out the door in his own pursuit, leaving Chai alone with her thoughts.
Many things were now racing through her baffled mind. Firstly, why had she thought that she was Armand? Had it been all a horrible dream? Who was that girl? Who was the rider? Why had she seemed so sad and scared? Why had Armand felt so warm when he saw her? Why had there been the knife in the dark?
She shook her head and slapped her cheeks a few times. “Get it together Chai”, she thought, “you’re too smart to be so sad!”
Now she began to assemble the pieces of this puzzle. Assuming she had been Armand and assuming it had been a dream, than all of this must have been his memories. Chai wrapped her arms tightly around herself feeling a tear swell again. What horrible memories, it was no wonder all that sorrow felt so real and overwhelming. He must have really cared for that girl, whoever she was; and what she saw, what else could it be but his own regret. The knife must have been his desire to die, even she, the one Master Grey had once called a bottomless cup of optimism, had been consumed by the pain and despair that had flooded his thoughts. Had the knife she was holding been a result of acting out that dream? No wonder Armand seemed so disturbed and scared when he woke her. He must have recognized what she was seeing by how she was acting.
Then that would mean, she was almost ready to kill herself, and it was Armand who had saved her life. She grabbed hold of the towel she’d been using as a blanket and wrapped it tightly around her. The notion of almost dying while sleeping at your own hand sent horrible shivers across her whole body.
No, she would not let this trouble her. She had been saved, by the very person those memories and that despair had belonged to. He didn’t want to die, no matter what that dagger would portend. There was something else twisting those memories for some malicious end, and Armand and Master Grey had gone after it. She was certain they would find it, and whatever it was they would defeat it!
Warmed by her newly won motivation, Chai sprang from the blanket and marched to the window. A crawling mist had swallowed the expanse of the Dartmoor the old cottage stood adjacent to, and a shiver crept again over Chai. She again crawled down from the window trembling, but still putting on a brave and encouraged face. She glanced about the room as if searching for something, then with a smile lept into a bundled pile of fabric and thread. She emerged later from the mass, adorned with a thimble upon her head like a makeshift helmet. It was held on by a bit of thread tied about her chin and over the tiny piece of metal, apparently too small to fit her properly. About her shoulders she had tied a small red shred of leftover fabric from the hurried outfit Master Grey had quickly sewn for her, sporting it like a cape. In her right hand like a great spear she held a large metal spoon, and in her left was a match.
Now comfortably armed against the night terrors of the moor she again climbed upon the windowsill and, striking the match, lit the lamp seated next to her. There she stood, a lone sentry guarding the beacon to light the way home for her Master and friend, now hidden deep in the hazy horror before her eyes.