Hinote had never handled irritation well.
Even to this day, she wondered sometimes how she tolerated the nigh-constant stream of borderline idiocy that flowed from some of the other Roses. It helped, of course, that she’d had several years now to become accustomed to their particular brand of silliness. It helped even more that she knew they were capable when and where it mattered, despite all their strangeness. She felt a little out of place sometimes, but they understood each other.
The people of Stormwind were…less understanding.
Which was a little ironic, she thought, considering the holiday. But then, for many people – perhaps even most people – Winter’s Veil was less about showing kindness and goodwill, and more about having an excuse to engage in rampant consumerism. And anything that might disrupt that, well…
In fairness, she supposed, it was a little hard to ignore someone whose shadow was lewdly accosting every other silhouette in sight. But there wasn’t exactly anything she could do about it, and, hell, it wasn’t as if she looked like she was enjoying it herself. Just the opposite, actually.
“Hey, get that shit outta the street, lady!”
To hell with you, Hinote thought to herself in response.
“Haha, I didn’t know the Order of the Rose employed Goldshire workers.”
And especially you.
She hefted her gift-wrapped parcel under her arm and kept on walking. Through the crowds, through all the pointing and laughing and jeering. You prepared for this, she reminded herself. It was true, but she’d been preparing primarily for something a little more…physically torturous. Something like what happened to Aely or the Thornwood woman would’ve been fine; she’d gone without magic before, painful though it had been sometimes. What happened to Tirith would’ve been downright easy. This…this just reminded her of going to school as a child.
And she hated going to school as a child.
Whoever said “words can never hurt me” was a fool. A naive, optimistic fool, and a liar as well. They were the words of someone who’d never been harassed for their entire childhood. Hinote knew the truth.
The truth was, words were about the only thing left in the world that could hurt her.
Her sister’s house wasn’t far into the Mage District, thankfully. It was nestled along the outer edge of the district, near one of the tailoring shops. Hinote hefted her parcel under one arm and moved to knock, but the door opened before she had a chance. In retrospect, she wasn’t sure why she bothered in the first place. After all, when your sister’s a psychic, there’s really no such thing as a surprise visit.
A thin, frail figure clad in robes of silver and white and gold stood in the doorway, regarding Hinote with a pleasant, serene smile. “Merry Winter’s Veil, Sister,” Sumizome greeted her affably. She motioned with her free hand for the warlock to come inside. “Please, come in.”
“I can’t stay,” Hinote replied neutrally. She held out the parcel for her sister to take. “Your gift’s a little too big for me to carry through the street, but…I got something for the other you.”
“Ah,” the priestess said simply. She eyed the gift for a few seconds, seemingly distracted by something, but before long the expression faded and she smiled again. “Thank you, Sister.” She reached out to carefully accept the package with both hands, though as she looked down at it again, her eyes seemed to catch on something as before.
Hinote followed her gaze, then sighed. The something in question was her shadow acting up again, this time making advances on her sister’s. “Yeah, I…meant to talk to you about that, actually,” the warlock said absently, still staring downward. “Can’t figure out what’s causing it…”
Sumi stared for a few moments as well. “Ah,” she said again. “Kari, would you…?”
As if in answer, the priestess’ own shadow darkened just slightly, and two bright red pinpoints of light appeared where eyes would be on a more tangible creature. The silhouette broke away from Hinote’s abruptly, quickly returning afterwards to assault it back in a much more literal sense: its arms whipped in and out of Hinote’s shadow, each time tearing away pieces of it and scattering them in every direction so that they faded away under the nearby lights.
The warlock watched silently, not sure whether to be amused, impressed, or a little unnerved. “Thanks,” she offered simply, looking back up at her sister. “That reminds me…I don’t have time now, but I need to talk to both of you about something I saw the other night.” Hinote’s eyes drifted back down to the creature lurking in her sister’s shadow. She shook her head. “Later though. I need to get back home for now.”
“Of course,” Sumi returned with another pleasant smile. “Thank you for the gift, Sister.”
The priestess nudged the door shut with- well, actually, the door just shut of its own accord, apparently. Hinote turned away and started back towards the Trade District. As soon as her eyes reached the grassy pathway, she let out an involuntary sigh.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
On the ground in front of her, right before her eyes, her disfigured shadow was beginning to regrow itself.
The trip home, like the trip out, was full of unwanted attention. It grated on her nerves, but she let it slide again; the mocking jeers of common idiots were beneath her attention, at least while the holiday lasted. After that…well, she’d deal with that time when it came.
Hinote would’ve liked to have been pleasantly surprised to open the door to her house and find all of her sisters waiting for her, but it was…difficult. She managed a little bit of a smile, and didn’t have to force it, even, but after that had to come the explanation: the shadow, the trouble it was causing, the girl Norma had caught, the dark parasite that had been controlling her, the fact that it got away… It was tiring, to say the least, and not at all the sort of thing she wanted to be talking about with her family at Winter’s Veil. Granted, she wasn’t sure what she did want to talk about, or even if she wanted to talk at all, but this was definitely not a topic that was on the list.
Still, she managed to have a good time. All things considered, they handled it rather well; Sarah was still a bit unnerved by the display – as a child of fourteen ought to be, and doubly so considering it had been afflicting her first – but the rest of them were more than used to Azeroth’s stranger side, and either tried to make light of it, politely ignore it, or, in Sumi’s case, force it into submission whenever it acted up. Which was an impressive feat, really, considering she was in the kitchen making dinner for much of the evening. Having a shadowy alter ego of your own helped a great deal with multi-tasking, it seemed.
Opening presents helped lighten the mood a bit. Hinote had never been one for gift-giving, or, for that matter, gift-receiving, but seeing Sarah happy was…nice. It didn’t make her smile or gush adoringly or any of the other things mothers frequently did with their children – even adoptive mothers with adopted children – but it made her feel good. Just a little bit. And it made her feel even better to know that she’d gotten gifts from more than just Hinote and her family: Shaila and some of the other Roses – even some of the ones Hinote didn’t know very well – had sent some as well. Everybody had a good time.
And for a few hours, she forgot about the damn shadow.
But, as with all good things, it didn’t last. Eventually, her sisters all went home, and with them went Hinote’s protection from her own obnoxious silhouette. As soon as Sumi was out the door it sprang up again, as if on cue, and set to grinding itself against every other shadow it could reach. It was less annoying when there was nobody around to make a scene about it, but it was still annoying.
Watching her sister deal with it had given her an idea, though.
“Chargak, come up here,” Hinote called down into the basement from the living room landing. A pair of indigo lights greeted her in the darkness and slowly made their way up the stairs towards her, and as they did, the voidwalker’s wide but wispy frame coalesced into view beneath them.
The demon drifted off the stairs and into the living room, its head craning about as if in search of something. “No…threat…” it remarked neutrally before looking to Hinote for directions.
“This isn’t about your usual directives,” Hinote responded flatly. “Voidwalkers consume darkness to sustain their physical bodies, right? Shadows?”
The creature nodded its head slowly.
The warlock pointed to her shadow, presently spread out across the wall near the stairs. “Can you consume that?”
In response, Chargak floated over towards the wall, extending its head out towards Hinote’s silhouette. It opened its maw and the shadow began to – somewhat reluctantly – drift off the wall and through the air, forming a smoky trail that disappeared into the blackness of the voidwalker’s form. Within a few moments, her shadow was gone, much as it had been when Sumi dealt with it. And, of course, within a few more moments, it was back again. Much like the woman it belong to, it seemed reluctant to die for long.
“Source…beyond…reach…” Chargak remarked musingly. Or at least as musingly as a creature that didn’t usually speak was able to sound.
So it’s coming from somewhere else, Hinote thought to herself. If I can just figure out where… She waved Chargak away. “That’s all. Go back to your usual duties.”
The voidwalker gave no verbal reply, instead just wordlessly gliding back down into the darkness of the basement. It wasn’t a solution, the warlock knew, but it was something. A treatment, of sorts. One she didn’t have to inconvenience anyone else for, or at least anyone that mattered. There probably wouldn’t be any escaping the notice of the crowds, but at this point she’d rather listen to complaints about having a voidwalker with her than having a shadow that made inappropriate passes at everything in sight. It was a step up. Assuming, that is, that the people of Stormwind liked demons in public at least slightly more than they liked lewd displays in public.
She’d have to find out.