It had frightened her at first, when the shadows had come to her.
The first time, she’d been unpacking her bags, having newly been moved into the town house. The shadowsinger — Azriel — had offered her his arm and valiantly led her into the garden, not balking from her presence, even though his discomfort once she’d made a remark about his hands was palpable.
But they were beautiful. Once Elain looked past the scars marring the surface, she saw a gentle strength in them. Hands which could wield a blade and yet delicately brushed against her own with all the tenderness in the world.
She wished someone could see past her scars to the Elain hiding within. She’d heard what they’d all been saying about her in the weeks past — how empty she seemed, how they couldn’t quite make sense of her musings, how Feyre thought they needed to fix her. Whatever that meant.
And yet none of them had truly made the effort to look past the exterior shell she’d been contained in, at the fact that she was still here — traumatized by those hours she’d spent in the Cauldron and endlessly mourning her old life — but she was still Elain, their sister.
The thoughts were a whirlwind eddying through her head as, arm-in-arm, they descended the handful of steps into the town house garden.
Elain could tell that someone had been periodically tending to it, as evidenced by the fact that most of the flowers were blooming beautifully, but it still echoed with a twinge of loneliness and neglect. A few rose bushes whose thorns hadn’t been trimmed back in too long. A patch of zinnias which were completely shaded beneath a tree and were beginning to wilt without enough direct sunlight. Patches where plants were spaced way too far apart, and Elain could practically see the excess weeds ready to shoot out of the ground between them.
She could see it right now, like a foggy glass had been placed over the garden around her, the image pasted on top of it. They were growing out of control, and would engulf the whole flower bed, but nobody was doing anything to halt their progress...
Azriel halted his quiet tour of the grounds as she jerked to a stop, stepping in front of her and looking her up and down, the sight of his sturdy hands on her arms pulling her out of her trance. Shaking her head quickly, she realized that the odd vision was already gone as she peeked around his broad shoulders.
“Is anything wrong, my lady?” His voice was careful, measured as she lifted her chin until she was melting under the assessing gaze of his hazel eyes. The silky, honeyed tones drew her in until she felt laid bare beneath him.
“N-no. I’m fine,” she stuttered, weakly.
This was far from the truth, but everyone here already thought she was crazy. She didn’t need to reveal to them that ever since she’d been made, she’d been seeing these images. Sometimes in her dreams and sometimes transposed over reality as had happened just now, making it hard for her to differentiate between the two states most of the time. Elain had no idea what they meant, but she knew better than to confide in the others.
The look on his face conveyed that he could tell she was anything but, yet he returned to her side, once again offering her his arm so they could loop back to the town house.
As they ambled on, Elain still enjoying the joyous warmth that the summer sun was radiating, she had to bite back the words on the tip of her tongue — swallow the urge to tell him everything, regardless. In the moment that he’d stared into her eyes, she’d known that he’d recognized her.
She took a seat at one of the wrought iron tables which was near the back door yet still hadn’t been eclipsed by the shadow of the town house which was growing due to the gradually setting sun. Without even her even having to lift a finger, Nuala was at her side with a cup of hot tea.
She blushed at Azriel, who had certainly been the one who sent for the tea meant to sooth her nerves, but the shadowsinger had already perched himself in a lawn chair and was sunning his wings while reading some official-looking documents.
He didn’t react to her stare — she was certain he was actively ignoring the gaze — but she was pleased that he didn’t make a fuss about it.
Finally there was someone who was content to sit in silence with her and didn’t force her to acknowledge the neverending turmoil which wouldn’t leave her private thoughts alone.
Well after the sun had set and they’d spent hours in companionable silence in which Elain had planned at least six improvements she could quickly make to the garden with the supplies she’d spotted in the gardening shed, Azriel appeared at her side and took her arm again, claiming that it was almost time for him to leave.
Of course. The rest of the circle was making a trip to the Court of Nightmares tonight.
After dropping her off at the foot of the stairs, he’d left to join his brothers in the sitting room as they prepared for their visit while Feyre showed her to the quaint little room she’d be calling her own for — she didn’t want to contemplate the permanence of her situation right now.
Once she was sure Feyre was well away from the door Elain had shut behind her, she finally allowed herself to pause her unpacking to sink into the mattress which was too plush, too tastefully appointed, and let the tears begin to fall.
She didn’t know how long she’d been laying there when she felt it. The cool tickling lashing against her ear. She jumped, biting back the yelp that would surely send her sister running in only to discover Elain’s distressed state, kohl already rubbing off onto her hands from where she’d been attempting to dry her eyes.
She turned towards the source of the sensation only to find the tail of the shadowy wisp peeking out from the side of her head. It slowly unfurled itself, making a show of twirling around her arms before returning to the nape of her neck and whispering in her ear.
The shadowsinger worries about you. He can sense your sorrow.
“Well you can tell him to mind his own business.” She was defensive now, not liking that he’d somehow invaded on this most personal of moments. Gods, if these shadows could report back to him about what she’d sounded like as she sobbed, about how her messy, tear-streaked cheeks appeared when she’d thought herself alone, she’d be mortified.
The shadow flitted around her head lazily. Obviously she hadn’t commanded it correctly. Or perhaps its master had forbade it from leaving before it received a satisfying answer from her.
She decided to ignore that thought for the moment. “Why are you speaking to me?” she whispered, suddenly very aware of all the sets of heightened, Fae ears in this cozy household.
You intrigue us, lady. You were born into the light, but ever since you’ve been brought into the fae realm, you’ve been emitting darkness.
Elain let out a gasp, and the shadow paused before continuing.
We see you spending your days in the sunlight, trying to soak in its radiance, but it’s never quite enough for you, is it? We too know what it is to spend all our time in the light only to be a shroud of darkness weighing on others. Yes, we know that it’s been weighing on you — that you fret over your past life and the effect you’re now having on your family.
“Why did he send you?” She wasn’t quite ready to have this particular conversation, didn’t appreciate the fact that someone had noticed her trying to flood her lifeless husk with warmth and light.
He didn’t...explicitly. But his worry is unmistakable. He pretends to drink and laugh with the Illyrians, yet his focus is locked on this very bedroom. He listens for signs of distress. He sends patrols out to sense when you might emerge.
“And you chose to address me?”
We wish to titter in his ear what he really wants to hear, with your permission of course. As we mentioned, you captivate us, lady.
“I am no lady. Not anymore.”
We beg to differ. Are you not the sister of nobility, a Cauldron-blessed fae in your own right?
Elain couldn’t quite argue with that. It had been drilled into her that not all had survived the Cauldron, that she and Nesta were so lucky to have emerged whole — if you could call it that.
Are you not mated to one of the strongest males in Prythian? Are you not deemed the equal of the heir to a High Lord?
That she wouldn’t take lying down. “I don’t give a damn that he’s my mate,” she hissed. “He is nothing to me, a reminder of the fact that I will never see my fiance, the man I truly love ever again. I’m not interested in Fae males.”
The shadows were silent, contemplative for a moment. She took that pause to swat at them, utterly done with this conversation and ready to get back to her sulking. Her tears had dried though, distracted as she had been by the initial fear and then annoyance.
I see we’ve overstayed our welcome. Farewell, shrouded lady.
“Wait!” The words came out louder than she intended, and she immediately clamped a hand over her mouth, freezing for a few breaths, until it was apparent that no one was coming to check on her.
“Give him — give Azriel — a message for me. Please,” she amended. “You can do that, right?”
“Tell him thank you for this afternoon. I may not have...adjusted yet, but he’s the only one who seems like he might understand. That’s all.” She gestured toward the closed doorway, keen on observing how this would work.
The shadows darted towards the thin crevice beneath the doorframe, seeming to dissolve before her eyes before they even reached it.
Elain took a moment to center herself once again, finding that she really was feeling quite a bit better. She returned to hanging her clothes in the new wardrobe and had almost forgotten the strange conversation she’d just had when she felt another caress next to her earlobe.
She was shocked when Azriel’s serene voice murmured, You’re welcome, my lady. I’m sorry to hear you’re still struggling, but feel free to complain to me if you ever need an outlet. The busybodies in this house can’t detect these shadows.
She shivered at the hint of a slight chuckle which accompanied his final words.
Elain blushed and realized she didn’t quite know how to answer him the same way, pausing for a moment before wondering if she should just summon and talk to them again.
As if anticipating her exact thoughts, she heard an additional, Don’t fret. My shadows seem to flock to you — I’m sure they’ll carry your messages too. Just try to direct the thoughts you want to send back towards them. It may help to whisper them aloud for the first few times until you’re used to it.
Elain scrunched her face, concentrating on forcing just one simple word through the shadows, but at the lack of a reply, she knew she must be failing miserably. Closing her eyes and picturing Azriel’s face in her mind, she whispered, “Really?” as she felt the presence at her ear vanish and return only moments later.
Seems I was correct. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening, Elain. Be glad you don’t have to step foot under this insidious mountain. — How did he know to address all her insecurities about not being included, not being considered a functioning member of the Circle? — I sure am envious of the much better night’s sleep you’re sure to get tonight.
“Good luck,” she chuckled. “And goodnight, Azriel.”
Goodnight, Elain. The last shadow flitted away from her ear, and an overwhelming silence she’d never known before enveloped her. Not only had the shadows left her, but the house was noticeably empty for the first time since she’d arrived in Prythian.
Elain spent a long while bathing and preparing herself for bed before sinking into a silent slumber.
Elain jolted upright at the nightmare, about the woman who’d been changed against her will, just as Elain had been. She had been sobbing, lamenting her fiery new form, the fact that nobody knew who she was, what she was after the transformation.
She tried to sink back into the comfort of her mattress but found herself tossing and turning, unable to let go of the images burned into the forefront of her mind. She decided that a nice glass of tea should soothe her nerves. It had worked well enough for her earlier in the evening.
As she padded down the stairs, she marveled at the fact that they were all still in the Court of Nightmares. It had to be well into the middle of the night...but the lights were on in the foyer, and as she turned the corner on the stairs, she saw everybody crowded into the small space, confrontationally facing Amren.
Perhaps she was seeing things again. She shook her head as if to clear it with no luck.
“Oh,” she murmured.
Instantly, as if a veil had been lifted, she was assaulted with tiny sounds. The shuffling as they moved about the room, the fluttering beats of their hearts, their breath racing as everyone seemed to try to figure out what to say to her, the outcast, the only one not invited to their secret little party.
She chose to ignore the small buzzing in her ear and the worried look on his face.
Elain quickly covered herself and dealt with the hovering natures of her sisters. When she began to tell them about her dream and nobody offered any input other than more questions, she began to get a headache and turned to head back upstairs to her room. They wouldn’t miss her anyways.
What she wasn’t expecting was, “What did you see?” Azriel. She paused, turned.
He’d silently appeared at Feyre’s side, closing the distance between them, and he looked genuinely concerned — perhaps even interested in what she had to say.
“I saw young hands wither with age. I saw a box of black stone. I saw a feather of fire land on snow and melt it. It was angry. It was so, so angry that something was taken. So it took something from them as punishment.”
She somehow couldn’t help herself from divulging not only tonight’s dream but all the strange dreams she’d had this week, her fists clenching and unclenching as she remembered the sheer rage she’d felt in that strange place between sleeping and waking that she seemed to straddle these days.
Feyre turned to Azriel and asked, “What does that mean?”
His eyes never left Elain though, his stony gaze devouring her as he reached out to her again.
What did you really see this afternoon in the garden?
She should’ve given him more credit, realized that he wouldn’t have just blown off the incident.
This was it, time to find out if she could do this silently. It took her a few attempts to respond to him successfully, but eventually she felt the familiar kiss of the shadow leave her ear’s orbit.
Just some weeds. I saw them erratically growing and spreading throughout the flower bed. One second I was thinking about them. The next I could see them projected over the garden and view how they would take over if left unchecked. The next moment they disappeared.
Does this happen often?
At least a few times a week. Sometimes I feel like I’m sleepwalking, caught in an eternal dream. I’m never quite sure what’s real and what’s not anymore.
Not today. Other than the dream. And the others dreams I’ve had this week. The angry ones.
I’ll look into this. If you need me, I’ll be in the library.
Thank you, Azriel.
Without even bothering to answer her sisters question, she felt him vanish into the shadows and winnow away.
Nobody stopped her as she continued the march back to her bedroom and shut them out.