Back to Contests
TitleGifts of the Night
UserIllyria
RankingWinner
Post Date (Visible)October 2021
Content
Deep within an ancient forest, buried within the shadow of the darkest
mountains in the world, lived a faceless child. All alone, the child had
been cast out from their village by those who did not understand him,
taunting and mocking and throwing stones. They did not care that the
child was young, nor innocent, not likely to die alone in the
wilderness. They only cared that he was different, and strange, and made
them feel uncomfortable when they looked upon him. It made them angry to
feel that way, and they turned that anger against him, blaming him for
the feelings that they felt.
Spurned by those he cared for, but cared nothing for him, the child fled
deep into the teeth of the mountains on fleet feet, beset by danger each
step of the way. The hot noon sky singed and sucked at the moisture of
his skin, deadly pitfalls in the loam called and beckoned. But his feet
continued onward, unerring in their instinct. Night fell, but the child
had no eyes, and therefore could not see it. But he felt it. The
coolness of the dark upon his brow soothed away the burn of the sun, and
the shadows gathered around him like a cloak. Since no one had bothered
to tell the child it was impossible, he took up the shadows and shaped
them into a blanket, and curled up to sleep.
Sheltered by the dark nest, the faceless child slept through the next
day, awakening at twilight to an intense but familiar hunger within his
belly. Feeling the cold breeze upon the bare parts of his skin, he
snatched the sharp chill from the air and made it into a wicked spear.
The lengthening shadows leaped to his outstretched hand, and he fitted
them upon his feet first, to hide his footfalls, then into a cloak that
shrouded him as he crept silently through the forest.
Searching, hunting, but for what? The child was uncertain. He knew only
his hunger and the inner urge of something primal. At length, he came
upon something that sounded like life- it snarled, a bear. No one had
bothered to tell the child he couldn't do it, so he stabbed the bear
clean through and killed it, eating the flesh raw and curling sated
beside it. Sustained by the meat and sheltered by the Night, he felt
something new. Happiness. Something novel flooding his limbs with a
heady sort of lightness, as if he might just float away. Deciding that
was an excellent idea indeed, he did just that, finding himself a nest
among the trees.
As he slept through the days and hunted through the nights, the faceless
child grew, slowly armoring himself with impossible things. Of all of
them, though, his favorites were the garments he had wrought from the
shadows. They kept him silent, warm, and safe. They felt like family, to
one who had none. The embrace of the Night was as a mother succoring
him, the silence as a father teaching him. And so through the years the
child became youth, and youth became man, and man came across a lonely
village in the forest one day, hauntingly familiar.
Like a wraith, the faceless man stalked through the village, feeling the
strange vertical walls and smelling the rancid scents of civilization.
He did not understand the purpose of this place. It burnt his feet with
bitter arguments and warmed his skin with strange affection, both
together in a dizzying and overwhelming flood. Baffled, he walked on
until he reached a spot behind a hovel that smelled like memories and
tasted like misery. It tasted like himself.
Frowning- an impressive feat with no face- the man remembered. The
village, the cruelty he had suffered at their hands. The emotions that
weighed upon his senses like the water fifty feet beneath an icy lake
suddenly made sense, and stirred a response in kind. Swirling his shroud
of shadows around himself and clutching his band of secrets, the
faceless man hardened his heart and stepped into the first
home.
The home was empty.
'Perhaps,' the faceless man thought, 'no one dwells here anymore.'
His words were not words, of course, but rather the whisper of moth
wings along a midnight breeze, the jagged anger of a nocturnal hunter
denied its prey. The next house, the same. The wind shifted as he exited
the next home, and his songbird woven from captured tears brought him
the sound of an angry crowd in a nearby clearing. As silent as the space
between stars, the faceless man slipped away toward its source, not
certain why, but certain he must.
As the man grew nearer and nearer, the discontent murmur of a multitude
of voices became a roar of a vindictive crowd. Irritated at the
necessity of the delay, he paused to sew himself ear coverings from the
susurrations of blackthorn petals brushing against another as they
danced in the wind. Onward he went, then, until he came to the edge of
the illuminated clearing. Not seeing, but clearly feeling the heat of a
hundred torches- so cool compared to the heat of anger that singed his
skin pink- he wove a spider's web above the scene to make sense of it.
There, in the center, surrounded by the entirety of the furious village,
was a faceless girl-child.
The girl was no older than he himself was when he was cast out. He did
not know where her face had gone, or if it had even been there at all,
but what he did know was the taste of killing intent exuded by the
crowd. It was the taste the air laced onto his tongue when the crows
picked apart a songbird, or a wolf pack devoured a wayward hound pup.
Clutching his spear of chill tighter, he opened his arms and let Night
consume him, knowing in his heart that he must act.
Little more than a suggestion of reality now, the faceless man paced his
way along the outskirts of the crowd. No one had told him it was
impossible, so he began to reach effortlessly through chests and twist
out the hearts of the furious villagers, dropping them into the snow as
he went.
Silently they fell, unnoticed by the others in their rage and blinded by
the subtle misdirection of the moonbeam veil that preceded his passing.
The faceless man felt himself dissolving into shadows as he went, bits
and pieces offered freely to his Mother and taken willingly. But none
noticed him, and they all fell, one by oblivious one. And then, there
were none. As the final villager crumpled silently into the
crimson-stained snow, the only thing left of the faceless man was a
slightly darker spot against the night, a hint of a sentient silhouette.
The faceless girl looked up, though she of course could not see. Leaning
down, he draped onto her shoulders his cloak of shadows and whispered
into her ear three words- to her, a distant idea of a voice on the
winter breeze.
"Live. Do. Become."
And then, the faceless man was no more, a rich memory of possibility
fulfilled.
Holding the edges of a cloak of shadows- invisible to her eyes, but
solid to her hands, the faceless child stood. Because no one had
bothered to tell her she couldn't, she reached into the frozen blood of
the villagers and shaped herself a steed. Atop its back, she flew into
the dark of the mountains, never to be seen again by any who lived to
tell the tale, or allowed themself to share the secret.
But on the deepest, moonless nights, one can still hear her singing a
song of three words, because no one remembered to tell her you needed a
mouth to sing.
And if you follow that song into the mountains, you might just stop
remembering what's supposed to be possible, and dance with her in a gown
of shadows atop the snow.