Light in the Moon's Shadow
When No One woke up, she wondered if this was death. She remembered feeling cold and hungry, and fading away as she fell asleep. And now she was here. And here was…
It wasn’t cold dirt. She was lying on something soft, softer than rags or crumpled parchment, even softer than animal hides. And it wasn’t just soft, it was warm, too, a familiar warmth from long ago, wrapped around her and holding her tight.
But she was still so hungry. It was burning a hole in her stomach, and it forced her out of her warm softness. She sat up and looked around, not sure where she was.
She was inside. And inside was BIG. It was so bright, she had to shield her eyes, she’d never seen this much light before! There were big rocks embedded in the walls, glowing like fire. Was this what inside was? Where was she?
No One looked down and saw she was sitting in something soft and warm. It was another new thing, a big flat soft bundle that wrapped over her legs. As she was poking the soft shape, she heard something.
Footsteps! Footsteps meant hiding, because No One could never be sure whose feet they were. But they were coming closer, and that meant she was in trouble. She pulled the soft tarp-like cover over her and curled up into as small a ball as she could, and pretended she was a dirt beetle or a piece of trash. She hoped the footsteps would go away.
But No One was never lucky. The next thing she heard was a creaking sound, like a door opening, and the footsteps getting closer.
“Is she still asleep?” A woman’s voice asked.
“It would appear,” another woman said.
“Why did Luci bring her, anyway? Just ‘cause she’s human?”
“You would have to ask her.”
The other woman’s voice dropped to a whisper.
“You don’t think… she isn’t a… evangeline right?”
What was that she’d said? Eban jelly?
“That is not our concern.”
No One closed her eyes tight. She could feel them, standing near her. They were demons, she just knew it. Demons always felt so… demon-y. If she remained really still and quiet, then maybe they would-
Her stomach finally had enough and began making rumbly sounds to remind her it was hungry. No One gasped. Then, the dark cover was torn off of her, and light flooded the room.
No One squinted, shielding herself from the attack she expected. But no blows came. What she saw instead were green eyes, staring curiously at her.
It was a girl. She was colorful, wearing clothes of green patterned like scales, matching the scaled patches on her skin. Even her hair was green.
“Hello there,” the girl said. She reached towards No One, who scooted back, afraid. Who was this girl? What did she want with No One?
The green girl blinked, and turned towards the other woman, who was very tall. No One found her the scarier of the two, because her eyes were dark and her face was mean-looking. She had long black hair tied behind her back and a black and white dress, and at her waist she wore…
No One gulped. Real swords, and there were two of them. They looked big enough to cut her in half.
“Maybe she doesn’t understand us?” The green girl asked. The sword woman shook her head.
“She understands,” she coldly said. She walked towards No One and held her hand over her chest. “Hello there, young miss. My name is Bell. How are you?”
No One was afraid to talk. She kept pretending like she didn’t know what they were saying, hoping they would get the message.
“Bell, you’re frightening her!” The other girl cried. She climbed onto the soft mat and reached for No One. Startled, No One scrambled back and kicked at the other girl, knocking her hand away. She fell off the bed and jumped to her feet, looking around for a way out.
She saw a door, and ran through it, the green girl calling after her.
No One wanted to get away, but her legs weren’t listening. She was so hungry she barely had the strength to get a few steps down the candlelit inside street.
Food… her mouth was wet and spit rolled from her lips as she yearned for something to fill her belly. Moldy bread, rotten fruit, it was all so-
No One froze. She smelled… well, she didn’t know what it was, but it smelled like the most wonderful smell ever. She forgot about the need to get away from here as the strength returned, her small legs carrying her towards whatever it was she was smelling.
When she got there, she saw it. It was hard to miss. It was…
Well, it was brown. Large round disks sat on top of each other in layers, covered with something brown and shiny-looking. No One licked her lips, taking another step closer. The towering treat was so alluring she didn’t even realize that she wasn’t alone in the room.
No One flinched, turning to see another woman sitting at a table, blowing smoke out of a long black tube. She had even brighter hair than No One, but it was weird, tied up in a strange twisty shape and wrapped around the back of her head. She wore some of the fanciest clothes that No One had ever seen, a black dress with gold and red that seemed to shine.
No One had heard of these people before. Nobles. Demons with such power and authority in Tartarus that they ruled over other demons, wearing the finest outfits they could. No One… No One wasn’t fit to stand in the company of someone like this.
“A… A…” No One fumbled for the right words to apologize, but didn’t know them. The woman blew another cloud of smoke, and suddenly they came to her.
“Sore-y,” No One blurted out. “I sore-y.”
The woman raised an eyebrow, bringing the tube to her lips.
“…You’re ‘sorry’?” She asked. That was the word! No One nodded quickly.
“Yes! I sorry.”
“You are sorry,” a sharp voice said from behind her. No One tumbled forward, looking up at the scary woman. She dressed all in white, with the longest black hair No One had seen. It looked as smooth as the other lady’s dress! No One wanted to apologize to her, as well, but the words didn’t come any easier this time. “I sorry,” she tried, and the woman made a face that frightened No One.
“Such imprecision,” the white woman scoffed. “I am sorry.”
No One blinked. The woman was saying she was sorry? Why?
“Say it,” the white woman snapped, and No One quickly repeated what she was told.
“Iyam sorry!” She cried. But that just seemed to make the other woman mad.
“No, I am sorry! Say-“
“Luci, I think that’s enough,” the noble woman said.
“Mami, you stay out of this,” the white woman snarled. No One couldn’t believe she would be so rude to a noble!
“You’re going to frighten the poor thing even more. She doesn’t understand what you want from her, can’t you see that?”
The white woman scowled, and that’s when No One recognized her. “Ah-Ah!” She gasped, pointing at the white woman. She was one of the people from her dream!
“It seems you remember me, that should be expected,” the woman said, and No One could swear she got even taller. “Now. When you meet someone, it is important to make a proper introduction. Shall we?”
Holding the sides of her white dress, the woman lowered her head. “Greetings. My name is Luci, the Demon Queen of Pride. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Her cold eyes were staring at No One, and she didn’t know what she was supposed to do. She looked at the other woman in the fancy dress, who had helped her before.
“Do what Luci did,” the noble lady said, pointing her long tube at the woman. No One nodded timidly, turning to the white woman. She pinched the sides of her rag dress and lifted them, lowering herself down.
“Greet-ings. My… nay-m is Luci, the Demon K-K-Kween of Puride. It is a pleasure to make your… ack… ackwait, um…” She had no idea what that last word was, and could only remember part of it. The woman’s cold glare was making it harder, too, and she looked down at the floor.
The woman sighed. “That’s not your name, that’s my name. What’s your name, child?”
What was a name? No One squinted, trying to remember all the words she’d heard. “Name” was one of them, but she still didn’t know.
She shook her head, and the mean woman sighed.
“My name,” she said slowly, placing her hand over her chest, “is Luci.” She turned to the other woman. “Her name,” she said, waving her hand towards her, “Is Mami.” The noble lady waved.
Next, the white woman turned her hand towards No One.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
No One didn’t know what to say. “Mami?” She guessed. Niether woman looked particularly happy with this answer. “Luci?” She tried again.
“I told you, she doesn’t even know what a name is,” the noble lady whispered to the other one. She turned to No One with a smile, and pointed at the sweet-smelling brown shape. “Forget Luci for now, little one. Are you hungry?”
No One nodded, she was very hungry!
“Well, then would you like a slice of cake?” She asked.
Cake. So the tasty-looking thing was called a cake. No One drooled, and nodded harder.
“Well, I’d like to share, but I can’t give it away for nothing, you know! cake is only for the good little girls who can tell us their names,” the noble lady giggled. “Let’s start with me.” She pointed her finger at her chest. “Mami. Call me Mami.”
No One pointed at her. So this was called a Mami? “Mami.”
The woman called Mami brightened up. “Exactly!” She said, and No One didn’t know if that was good or bad.
The lady pointed at herself. “Mami.” No One pointed at her too.
Mami pointed to the other woman next. “Luci.”
No One pointed at the white woman too. “Luci.”
“Yes! I’m Mami, she’s Luci!” She pointed at herself again, then at the other woman. “Mami, Luci.”
“Mami,” No One confirmed, pointing at the woman who called herself Mami. “Luci.”
“Yes, I think she’s got it!” Mami clapped. “Right, Luci?”
“Ridiculous. This has taken far too long,” the woman called Luci said. “What is your name, child?”
No One still didn’t know what a name was. “Na… me?”
Mami laughed, breathing out smoke, as Luci’s face twitched.
“My name is Mami,” Mami said, pointing at herself. “Her name is Luci.” Then she pointed at No One. “What’s your name? What are you called?”
No One finally understood what a name was! “I’m ‘trash’!” She said, looking eagerly at the two women. She didn’t like being called that, but that was what people called her, so that was her name, right?
They glanced at each other. “Any thing else?” Mami asked.
“Urchin? Gutter rat?” No One asked, telling them all the other things she’d been called.
“No, those aren’t names, sweetie,” Mami said. “A name is something given to you by… well, your parents, or maybe someone special.”
No One shook her head. She didn’t have anything like that. “I’m not special. I’m no one.”
Mami put the long thing to her lips and blew more smoke, staring at No One. Her eyes dimmed and she sighed. “Well, I give up. I was hoping she’d be a good investment, but apparently she’s really just some human trash.”
No One squirmed, she didn’t like being called trash. The noble lady seemed not so nice now.
“Mami! Luci! Have you seen a- oh!” No One turned to see the green girl from earlier run into the room. “Bell! She’s in here!”
“Just in time, Levi.” Mami called the green girl Levi, so No One guessed that was her name. And the tall one who entered, that was Bell.
“What are you two doing, wasting time here?” Bell asked sharply.
“Mami had the inane idea to bake a cake for our guest, in the hopes of currying favor,” Luci said with a sniff. “And I couldn’t rightly leave her alone with the child.”
“It was a waste, the girl’s nothing special,” Mami sighed. “If you want her, take her.”
“Before that, Bell, I have a question.” Luci walked up to the other woman. “Why did you allow her to escape? Did I not say that the master would want to see her? You should have brought her there immediately.”
“I don’t follow your orders, sister, only the master,” Bell said. “Unless he gives his explicit instructions to do something, I see no need to do it.”
The two black-haired women glared at each other. No One stepped back in fear when she felt someone tug on the sleeve of her raggedy dress. It was the green girl, Levi. The look in her eyes… No One had seen it before, on other hungry kids like her.
“Are you… gonna have any of that cake?” Levi asked. “Mami made a whole cake for you, can I have some?”
She pointed at the sweet-smelling mountain, and No One felt her hunger returning. She reached for the cake, but a chain of smoke curled around the girls and yanked them back. “Eh?!”
“That isn’t yours anymore,” Mami said coldly, blowing more smoke. “I don’t waste my treats on some nobody.”
“Mami! Come on, I want cake too!” Levi wailed, kicking and screaming.
“You don’t even like cake, you only want it because it’s mine,” Mami said. “But fine, if you want cake, then make me an offer.”
“Mami, the girl is starving,” Luci said, turning from Bell to glare at the golden-haired lady. “Give her some cake before she passes out again.”
Mami muttered something under her breath, glaring back at Luci. “…I’ll be adding this to your tab.”
“You do that.”
With a snap of Mami’s fingers the smoke wrapped around No One faded. She looked warily at the rich lady. She’d never been given this much food before, and didn’t know if it was okay to eat it.
“Eat it,” Mami muttered, turning away from her. That was all No One needed. She lunged forward and buried herself in the mountain, grabbing fistfuls of the squishy brown cake and shoveling it into her mouth.
It was the tastiest thing she’d ever eaten. It was better than all the foods she had ever imagined, and there was SO MUCH of it! She forgot about the other ladies, and the green girl who was eating right next to her. The only thing that mattered was this “cake”.
No One didn’t know what “revolting” meant, but the way Luci was staring at her told her it probably wasn’t very good. Her hands were stained in brown (the green girl had called it “chocolate”) and so was her face, and she looked sheepishly at the puddle she’d just thrown up. No One had barfed before, usually when eating foods that were particularly green or moldy. But this was the first time she had thrown up because she had EATEN too much!
“I can’t imagine you’re thinking of taking this messy child to meet the master in her condition?” Luci said, staring at No One. The look in her eyes was a look No One had seen many times, from people who saw her as trash.
“I have no interest in such activities. If you desire her clean, clean her yourself,” Bell replied.
“You would expect someone of my standing to dirty myself with a girl like this?!” Luci exclaimed.
“I can!” Levi raised her hands, which were likewise stained with chocolate. Luci gave her a look, and scowled.
“I’ll stain my dress,” Mami scoffed.
“If you do not wish to do the work, then you can take him to the master at your leisure,” Bell informed Luci.
The other woman made a face like No One had seen on people when they ate mud.
“I’ll come!” Levi said, her chocolate-smeared face shining brightly.
No One felt like she was going to throw up again. This person they called “master”… She was scared to meet him but she had to, right?
She nodded, and followed the woman out.
No One couldn’t believe how big this… house(?) was. With how much she’d walked, No One had to imagine it was bigger than anything she’d ever seen!
“The master will see you,” Luci said, standing in front of a large pair of doors made out of carved wood. “At least, I hope that he will…”
She pushed the doors open and stepped aside. No One stepped in, looking around to make sure it was safe.
She couldn’t believe what she saw.
Books. The walls were covered with books! The shelves of the big room were filled with them! Books were such a rarity in Dusk’s End. Treasures locked away in shops, only owned by the richest and most powerful of mages and demons. And there were so many of them! Of different sizes and colors, more than No One could count.
No One walked further into the room. The far wall had a big window to let in something that seemed so strange the No One thought she was dreaming.
Sunlight, it had to be. No One had heard about sunlight, but had never felt it before. It was so warm and soothing.
Sunlight and books and chocolate cake. So many new things for No One!
And seated in the center of the room was a man. He wore a black robe and sat in the comfiest-looking chair No One had seen.
No One was a little surprised by him, honestly. She expected the master to look scarier or fancier, like the woman with golden hair, or like a demon lord. But he looked like someone she’d see rotting in Dusk’s End. He had a beard that was all twisted and fuzzy, and his hair was a mess of knots and tangles as bad as hers, if not worse.
No One wondered for a moment if he was dead. His eyes were faded and glassy, and he stared out the window like he was looking at nothing at all.
“Ex-coose me?” No One asked, walking around to look at him. She was tense and afraid, but at the same time she was curious about the man who was master of this place. “You… um, are you the master?” She tried to choose her words carefully.
The man shifted in his seat, his eyes turning towards her. “Master…” he mused. His voice was a hollow whisper. “Yes, I have been called that…”
“I-I jus' wanna say tank you, mister master sir,” No One said, lowering her head the way she’d seen people do for their betters. “Letten' me stay here.”
The man grunted.
No One looked around. She still couldn’t believe it. “Your house so… so big and… 'mazing! It… wow! Books!”
She skipped over to one of the shelves. She reached out to grab one, before realizing her hands were still sticky.
“I-I never… seen so many books,” she said. She didn’t feel scared, she felt warm and excited. She’d never had this much energy, maybe it was the sunlight, or the chocolate cake. “Who you? A mage? What do you do with all the books?”
The man took a long time to answer.
“No one,” he finally said. “I do nothing.”