It was shortly before sunrise when Noman returned to the Barrel. The tavern part of the establishment had closed some hours before, and the windows were dark. He went inside, shadows pouring in after him, reveling in the darkness of the hour. He wound his way through the tables, the chairs put up on them, on his way to the back stairs. But as he reached the back he stopped. Something was off... he could feel eyes watching him. It wasn't like when the felt the presence of the Voice... this was different. This was something alive, hidden and watching quietly as he stood motionless at the foot of the stairs.
The shadows felt his agitation. They swarmed around the room, searching for hidden dangers. Noman expected the worst. An ambush by the Watch, perhaps. An assassin. A Cleric brought in by the priests to hunt down their 'demon'. What the shadows found instead was a girl, lying on a bench in front of the cold embers of the communal fireplace. The shadows swarmed around her, clearly marking her presence for Noman. He took a step away from the stairs, frowning. He knew this girl...
"Daine?" he asked. What was the tavern's serving girl doing here at this hour? She remained silent. Slowly, he realized her wide eyes were watching the shadows that swirled around her. He raised a hand and waved them away. It seemed as if they hesitated for just a moment, and then they were gone - dispersed and hidden around the room. She watched them go, slowly sitting up only when she could no longer see them.
"What are they?" She asked quietly.
"I call them shadows," Noman told her. "Slivers of the night come alive." He moved away from the stairs and pulled a chair from atop a table, sitting on it so he faced Daine with his arms braced against it's back. "They won't hurt you," he reassured her, giving a sharp glance in the direction of the nearest shadow to make sure the point was clear. It hissed softly and withdrew to a different hiding spot.
Daine looked curiously at Noman. She glanced around the room, then back to him. "What are you?" she asked. The question took him by surprise. A dozen different answers jumped to mind. A pawn. A tool of the gods. A slave. Alone...
"I..." he started to answer, but couldn't settle on any of the options that sprung to mind. Instead he said, "I don't know."
Daine stood slowly, glancing nervously around the room. Looking for shadows, no doubt. He watched her, certain she would make a break for the door. She would run out into the street, find a priest or a Watchman... Instead she pulled a chair off of the same table that Noman sat at and settled in across from him. In the darkness he could almost hear the nervous pounding of her heart.
"Everything knows what it is," Daine told him. "Even a puppy knows it's a puppy, and not a duck or a rabbit." She spoke softly, a whispered conversation that wouldn't draw the attention of anybody upstairs.
Stupid girl, Noman thought. She thinks she's found a lost soul. A baby bird with a broken wing. It would be so easy to kill her... He stomped the thought flat, rejected it in a quick moment of near panic, surprised and frightened at the ease with which the notion had occurred. Was that you? He silently demanded, directing his thoughts at the Voice. You stay out of my head, damnit!
While he wrestled with his thoughts Daine sat across from him, watching quietly in the darkness. He didn't know what she interpreted his silence as, but eventually she spoke again. "I don't think you told me your name before," she suggested. "We can start with that."
"Noman," he rasped. "You can call me Noman."
"That's close enough, I guess," Daine said. He could barely make out the small smile that touched her lips. "What's a name anyway, but something people call you?"
He grunted and shook his head. The girl had no reason to know anything about him, let alone his name. "Why are you here?" He asked, the words coming out as a harsh demand.
The ghost of Daine's smile disappeared. She fidgeted, looking towards the door. "My sister... we live together, by the river. Sometimes she brings a guy home. She never tells me to leave, but... Mr. Welsh lets me stay the night here when I want." She shrugged, the cloth of her shirt rustling in the darkness.
Even as Noman wondered why Daine was telling him, he hoped she would keep talking. The conversation was making him realize how much he missed actual human contact. The blood, the killing, had left a yawning hole in him that he could feel being filled as he sat there in the dark with a girl who should know better than to talk with him. He searched for something to say, anything to keep the conversation going, but could think of nothing. He sat there, quiet, yelling at himself to say something. But it was Daine who kept the conversation going.
"I've heard the priests talk about you," she said. Noman's spine stiffened as he remembered the scene at the temple. He'd used the shadows there... of course word would have gotten around. "You don't seem like a soul devouring monster to me," she added, mostly serious but with a twist of humor.
"You have no idea what I'm like!" Noman hissed, anger boiling up from nowhere in an instant. Images of corpses flashed into his mind, and his hands itched as he remembered them covered in warm red blood, scrawling arcane symbols on the wall. "You don't... you can't..." he found himself breathing heavily as he fought to contain the rage he knew he shouldn't be directing at Daine. She was still sitting, eyes wide as she stared up at him in terror. No... not up at him. The clicking and hissing he heard behind him suddenly penetrated, and he turned to stare at the ceiling, knocking over his chair as he stood. The shadows had gathered there, right above him, green eyes fixed on the target of his wrath, on Daine. Chitinous claws gouged eagerly at the wood, mandibles clacked.
"NO!" He barked sharply, forgetting the whispers of before. But the shadows didn't disperse, didn't withdraw. Anger flared again, only this time Noman had a new target. He dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out the stone, jabbing it at the shadows. "I said NO!"
The stone flashed brilliantly, bathing the world in a bright green light and blowing out the every window on the Barrel's ground floor. The shadows shrieked in terror and pain before being swept away by the pulsing light of the stone. The green light receded, shrank back into the stone. It hissed and billowed steam as Noman clenched it. His arm shook as he stuffed the stone back in his pocket. He heard people moving upstairs. He looked at Daine, still frozen, eyes wide in her chair. "I'm sorry," he told her. Without another word he ran for the door.
As he reached the street, he thought he heard Daine's voice shout after him, "Noman!" He didn't turn to look back.