Blake trained his senses as hard as he could, trying desperately to figure out where the girl or the shadows had gone. He only felt an odd and unsettling pressure, however, but it wasn't what he searched for, not after he'd already resolved to finding and protecting the young girl.
Calm down, just calm down......
Blake crept further along the side of the building, keeping behind some shrubs and looking out into the yard as it slowly turned into a grav-
Some nearby bushes rustled beside him. Blake raised the scythe with a jolt.
For a moment he froze, and held his breath. Something popped up from within the shaggy leaves in an instant. Blake lifted his scythe in the same moment.
"God, you startled me!" he then hissed as the little spirit looked around, evidently worrisome. He also scanned the area with caution.
"Where did those Shadows go, the ones that chased you? Any idea?" he asked quietly.
She did not respond with words, but instead emanated a confusion that entangled Blake's own thoughts. He could see the dark creatures in a field of grass, then the church, and then no shadows amongst the grass. He understood her bewilderment now. It's as if they'd just vanished for no reason.
But he was not convinced.
"Stay hidden for just a little longer." She dropped back down into the bush and Blake continued creeping towards the corner of the church. He paused there, and peeked around the corner with both caution and curiosity. A small graveyard lay ahead, housing no more than maybe seventy tombstones, most very simple and quite small.
Wait, who's that?
A lone figure stood there, towering above the graves as he slowly paced around the rows of gravestones. Blake got this unsettling feeling coursing throughout his body, though in the same instance he observed a couple of small Shadows approaching the figure from the distance. A strange noise behind him made his head spin with a jolt, and at the sidewalk near the church entrance, a few more Shadows appeared. It seemed as though they searched for something what with their heads swinging about. But none of them looked very closely in his direction, so for now he might have gone unnoticed.
He groaned as he tried working around all the variables in play. He needed a decent plan at least. He had a thought, a half-baked plan really, but something was better than nothing.
"Look," he said quietly, turning to the young spirit. "I need to talk to that guy over there, make sure he's not in danger. Can you, wait, are you able to hold this?" Carefully, he held out the scythe, and offered the staff to her. She jumped with a start, startled, but she nonetheless reached out and set a ghostly hand on the very dark staff.
Both froze in surprise when the weapon was slowly lifted out of Blake's hands. His jaw dropped a little.
He had to focus up, however, and so gently pushed the scythe into the hands of the small transparent figure. Blake turned around, but did not yet leave until he gave her some parting words. "Use it to protect yourself if more of those shadowy things come around." The young girl shuffled about with unease, so he reassured her. "I've been dealing with them a lot longer and I can barely use that thing. Just swing it hard like a baseball bat if one notices you or gets too close."
Blake did not look at her again but at least he felt no waves of emotion that particularly concerned him. He remained near the bush for only a couple more seconds before standing, and made his way towards the strange man. He kept up a mental note of his surroundings in an effort to remain calm. Two Shadows? No, three now. But further from the graveyard at least. Blake quickly scolded himself silently; sure, he may have given the young spirit a means of defense, but now he had none. And how was he supposed to convince this stranger to leave the area? He knew the shadowy creatures could affect the real world, but he hadn't a clue if they could do something to people as well. They could touch and make contact with him, though he was very different from everyone else in Jordan Heights....
Stop. Overthinking. As long as he got this guy out if here, things would turn out okay. Right?
At this point Blake stood close enough and stepped loud enough that the man should have noticed his presence, made a comment, moved, anything really. One of the nearby Shadows continued its approach. Moments later the creature was now closer than Blake to the man. Its silvery eyes were full of menace as they glared back and forth between him and the stranger.
Come on, think of something, now!
In the same instance the Shadow leaped onto the man's shoulder and hissed a guttural tune right at his face. The man did not move, and Blake was frozen in place out of horror as the man reached up as if to scratch his own head.....but he did not expect what happened next.
The man didn't reach for his hair. His hand instead touched the back of the dark creature, a few gentle strokes that still made the Shadow flinch and grumble. Initially the man turned his head to eye the creature on his shoulder, but slowly his neck twisted the other way. Blake did everything in his power to calm his rapidly-beating heart and keep the fear off his face.
At last their eyes met, Blake's very dark brown with the stranger's haze-.....actually, they almost looked a little golden at that moment. And when the man opened his mouth to speak, the voice that arose bore a deep sound and smoothness about it that brought upon Blake's spine a very unnerved tingle.
"You seem a little lost, boy."
Such a calm tone....why did it disturb Blake so much? He couldn't help but stutter in response.
"I...I-I live here..."
He could not read the man's expression. Whether out of confusion, curiosity, intimidation, or something wildly different, the man turning to gaze upon the little church gave Blake a brief moment to look the stranger up and down. His physical appearance seemed relatively normal in size and stature. He looked just the tiniest bit taller than most of the men in Jordan Heights. His cheeks and chin looked well-defined, and he bore not a single strand of facial hair.
That stare in his eyes garnered the most attention from Blake though: they conveyed experience, awareness...and something like a hardened coldness that made Blake use all his wit to cover up a desire to tremble. There was something else, another kind of emotion that he couldn't identify. Whatever it was twisted his stomach around though. Particularly when the man set his sights back on Blake.
"You live in this pitiful and accursed dwelling?" he asked.
Wait, what the hell? While incorrect, the very implication of the insult sent irritation coursing through Blake as nearly all his fear dissipated. How dare this rude stranger say such a thing about the little church for his neighborhood; clearly the man did not live here.
"What do you mean by that?" Blake retorted at last. "You have a problem with our churches? If you don't live here, you shouldn't judge it so harshly."
He bit his tongue as soon as the words erupted from his mouth. Idiot! Where did that bluntness come from? If Cameron were here he would clapped for Blake even with a gaped jaw. Amelia and June? They would have stared, dumbfounded. He knew how out of character his forwardness was, but he could not take back his words now. And interestingly enough the stranger said nothing. He did not even appear annoyed. Instead, he cocked his head ever so slightly to one side.
"A place of worship can be this small? Laughable. What a lack of faith in anything this community must hold if they show so little devotion with such a pathetic display as this."
Blake could feel himself tensing more and more with anger every second that passed, especially given this man's lack of emotion and mockingly insulting tone.
"And yet the path led to this tiny parcel. How intriguing."
This guy is making no sense at all. He used such fancy words that Blake could more or less understand, but he still had no idea what was said or why.
"Of what value could such a measly town hold that the passage should end here? What importance does it carry? Why does it seem as though a protective barrier once lay its claim here?"
The man seemed lost in his own thoughts. Yet the more he talked, the more the Shadow on the stranger's shoulder stared at Blake. It hissed quietly but it grew louder after a moment. It looked ready to leap, pierce its fangs and claws right into his skin. Blake clenched a fist in response, and swallowed while he stared right back.
The stranger again eyed Blake. When he did Blake took his gaze off the Shadow to lock gazes with the man. A glint of interest crossed the stranger's eyes, before he looked directly at the Shadow still slinking on his shoulder. When the man's gaze returned to Blake, something changed. The very air around him became marked with a maliciousness that sent fear crawling up Blake's spine. The boy instinctively took a step back, and his heart pounded a fiercely unnerving tone.
"Perhaps I should have inquired more on the importance of who, and not a what."
The stranger barely finished the sentence before a massive pressure suddenly overcame Blake's neck. His mind spun about frantically, and it took what felt like hours to realize the man had grabbed him by the neck, and lifted him high off the ground. Blake struggled to take in breaths of air as a muscled hand retained a firm grip over his airway. He attempted to grab onto the man's arm and pull or push it away, but to no avail. In a panic he began wriggling and kicking the air.
"You can see them also," he heard the stranger say in a low voice wreathed in malevolence. "It seems you've been marked. How far in your ancestry has that lingered?"
The man's hand was so tight on his throat that he could barely expel a full sentence. "What are...you...talking...about?"
"Let me try again, put simply then." The stranger almost sounded annoyed as he pulled Blake closer to his face, and asked another question through gritted teeth. "Who in your lineage was marked by the darkness? You? A mother, father? Further back?"
"I....I don't know...what you're......" Blake wished he could put any words together as the air drained out of him. What was the darkness? Did that have anything to do with the Shadows that were appearing recently? What about the spirits? The scythe? He had no idea what was going on or what any of these threats or questions meant. He desperately wanted answers that made sense, but he couldn't even ask for them hard as he tried.
His arms weakened, barely able to grasp the arm reaching for his neck, and his vision blurred more and more with each passing second. A horrible ringing echoed in his ears as he felt his own consciousness begin to slip away......
As soon as his entire body fell to the ground, Blake gasped for air and coughed relentlessly for at least ten seconds. His throat felt sore and raw, but at least his vision and hearing were returning. After a few seconds he finally lifted his chin and looked up. His heart raced as the man loomed over him, staring him down with cold and almost soulless eyes.
"Whether you truly know or not, it hardly matters," he hissed with his quiet yet smooth voice. "You have a predecessor who will know. You will deliver a message to our warden, make no mistake: whatever his reason for protecting this town, we will destroy it from the inside out, and vanquish his empire even if the entire world must fall. He will pay for his crimes against us."
Blake could barely move, but backed away as the menacing figure leaned over. With one last hiss the stranger proclaimed, "You will tell him, or I will not hesitate to kill all who you hold dear."
Without another word, the stranger walked right past Blake, striding in the direction of the church. Still catching his breath, Blake turned his head ever so slightly, and noticed the grave the man initially stood before.
His heart all but stopped. The image of a girl spitting blood on June in the school hallway flashed through his mind in a split second. Without hesitation he spun around to face the stranger. The man had already reached the side of the little church, at least twenty-five yards away. Slowly he turned, set his hand on the wall while his gaze fixated on Blake, and spoke once more.
"To give you incentive, I will start with them. Those already bound by the infliction will come next."
Blake at last managed to stand despite hearing those ominous words, but before he could ask anything something changed. As though it radiated from the man's hand, an eerie, dark grey coat began to shroud the walls of the church, and in little time it expanded and covered the entire building. The church glowed a disturbing and faint reddish color, but moments later the shroud disappeared.
And with that the man walked away.
An uneasy tremble rose in his stomach. Without a second thought Blake raced towards the church and moments later he skidded to a halt in front of one of its windows. The sight before him sent a horrified chill coursing throughout his body.
Minutes ago the dozen or so people in there had simply been in the benches or on their knees in prayer. Now, almost every one of them was coughing and convulsing. He immediately noticed two spitting up something eerily dark before subsequently collapsed. Within seconds a few more followed suite.
In a panicked frenzy, Blake bolted for the entrance but immediately tripped on some bushes. He scrambled to his feet but instead of running he spun around, searching.
The young spirit had vanished. And so had the scythe.