The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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14. The Crack in the Mirror

 

-12-

The Crack in the Mirror

The words tumbled out of his mouth and splattered on the ground with a resounding thump. Avis didn’t listen to that, if she strained her eyes hard enough that they would water, she could just about the weaves of the tale. Story telling was an art all of its own; weaving the lines of time with words and sentences. She found his story enticing, something that was weighed down with emotion and memories.

Eyes. It was all about the eyes. Windows to the soul, they say. Beck’s eyes were those of endless, free falling caves where Avis fell through and through never reaching the bottom. She felt like she was drowning yet still remained alive.

When it was over there was an awed silence.

“Did your mother teach you that?” Crevan asked bored yet with a smile on his face. Beck did all that he could to restrain himself, his muscles tensing and his instincts constrained in his best chains. The wolf inside of his chest was clawing at his ribcage, howling and snarling at him to be free.

His mother always used to say that anger was like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone; you were going to be burned first. He couldn’t give in to the wolf. But he couldn’t let the comment slide either. He could feel his eyes turn colour, the claws lengthening out of his fingertips.

He could briefly hear and smell Avis’s fear.

Beck snarled but it was extinguished after moments, the sickly taste of fear was so much that in order to stick with his own morals he would have to be calm.

His morals were to never turn into the monster that the stories foretold him to be.

The fox laughed.

“Very good. I think that it payment enough to grant you passage to the house on the hill.”

Beck was unsure whether the all mighty fox would still be alive by the end of the mission.

His wolf agreed full heartedly.

*

Easier said than done.

If you’ve ever tried to follow a fox through a dense forest filled with bushes and tangled undergrowth you’ll know how difficult it was. It was especially difficult when the fox found it funny to disappear by the means of magic even, when Avis and Beck could see him.

For a few times Avis lost Crevan and mentally spent a few moments trying to gain her bearings in this messed up situation, it was only that Beck was there that saved her from the blinding panic.

“What even is he?” Avis asked as Beck navigated her through a thick patch of briars.

“He’s a shifter of a sort, a legend that has never been solved among peers,” Beck answered as he unleashed his claws to hack at some weeds and vines obstructing their path, “I think that he does possess a human form but chooses to remain in his fox body for some reason or another. Not much is known about him except that he knows practically everything about this place.”

“So much so that I know when you’re talking about me,” The fox said from Avis’s shoulder. Jumping in fear, she managed to dislodge the prying animal and skitter to the other side of Beck. She shouldn’t be this scared. It was a sign of weakness.

The omniscient fox then disappeared again.

Damn, I’m going to put a bell around that stupid creature’s neck if he doesn’t stop doing that, Avis thought. It had been a long day, she could do without this stupid charade. Up ahead the brushes rustled which was surprising since the journey had been made in silence from the fox.

“Human!” whispered a familiar voice somewhere from above, “Hide!”

“What?” Avis muttered before Beck was grabbing her arms and pushing her into the thick vines at the side of the area they occupied. From within the small spaces in between the vines Avis could see what the trouble was. Twigs snapped, the bushes rustled some more and a slew of creatures spilled into her splintered view.

They were short, ugly things standing two to three feet in height and their ears were large and pointed. They wore tattered clothing and carried bone-tipped spears in yellowed claws. And who could forget that they were ugly with knobby, yellow-green skin and bulbous noses.

“What do you think you’re doing?” One of them said to Beck,

“Minding my own business as I go on a stroll,” Beck answered and pretended to sharpen his claws on a nearby rock. He was trying to look intimidating and an enemy for the trolls rather than a potential target. Avis tuned off, listening to the background noises rather than the discussion going on between the wolf and the ugly creatures. It was agreed that as long the wolf was on his own then he could cross their domain. So it was so that Avis had to remain hidden and find an opportune moment in order to come out of hiding and run for her life.

It was clear to see that maybe these grotesque little creatures didn’t like humans.

Crawling around on her stomach through the vine was easy enough and shortly she and Beck emerged onto a high plateau. Ahead of them lay a great and daunting chasm which was hundreds of feet deep and a quarter of a mile wide. From her vantage point near the edge Avis could see a river wounding through it, as thin as a thread of silver wire, and she could hear what sounded like birds. But they were definitely not birds. They were a lot bigger and were half human with wings and cruel, cruel faces. Avis found that they had a female form with scales instead of skin that overlapped in different colours ranging from hue to hue. They had bare, almost human legs, although the toes were graced with elongated talons. Their white hair flowed in the wind and it almost sounded as if they were whispering. So many whispers on top of each other made the words seem louder in the echoing chasm.

“Why don’t you fall from the ledge and into our mouths?”

Avis didn’t fancy that. She would much rather being alive and up here, thank you very much. The bird like things were circling and circling, descending further and further into the chasm nearly touching the water with their feet.

The only way across the gorge and safe from the bird things was to walk across a single bridge. It was this bridge that the trolls owned. The bridge was made from rope, with uneven slats of wood for a base, and it didn’t look at all safe.

“What’s the catch?” Beck asked as if clearly knowing that the trolls were slightly devious.

One of them was about to deny that there ever was such a catch but the leader, the tallest of the group, slapped him in the chest and opened his mouth.

“To cross safely you must solve a riddle:

I'm teary-eyed but never cry.
Silver-tongued, but never lie.
Double-winged, but never fly.
Air-cooled, but never dry.

What am I?”

Upon the riddle being read the other trolls leaped to be in the conversation, “We will only accept your first answer, however, we won’t tell you if it’s right or wrong. If you prove intelligent you will cross safely, if not then you will meet your end.” Another one of them said.

Dramatic much?

The trolls then lined up on either side of the bridge as if awaiting an answer, their small beady red eyes bloodthirsty in the low light. From beside her Avis felt fur tickle her arm, she was about to jump but remembered that any sudden movement would cause a rustle that would alert the human hating trolls to her presence.

“You know that their eyes are keen as a bats, you’re not getting out of these vines without a distraction,” Crevan mused from beside her.

“What do you want in return?” Avis whispered.

“I one day want you to show me where you live,” Crevan replied and Avis, despite knowing how near impossible that actually was, agreed to it knowing that she didn’t have any other ideas.

As Beck stood in front of the trolls contemplating the answer Crevan once again disappeared. Then as if a light bulb had turned on inside his head Beck replied with an answer.

“Mercury. The answer is mercury.” The trolls stepped aside to allow him passage and Avis held her breath as if awaiting the bird creatures below to eat her friend whole. She didn’t want that. As the wolf made his way across the bridge there were strange lights pinging into existence around the trolls.

Almost like the Distractor lights back at the dome, they held little voices of their own as they danced among the ugly creatures. The trolls of course were astonished at these lights, some of them almost drunk with the song and others batting at them as if they were flies.

Avis took her chance and ran. She could see Beck from the other side and that gave her courage. She was still not half way across the bridge when it swung sickeningly with every move that she made. Sensing that the movement was caused by something else she looked behind her. She gulped as she found that one of the bird creatures had landed at the beginning of the bridge, waddling towards her as the trolls shouted about traitors and humans.

This creature had saliva dripping from its jaws that it licked at with its leathery tongue – it must have been anticipating its next meal, which unfortunately could be her. “Run,” it said, in a voice that was almost girlish and young, “for all the good that it will do you.” It snapped at the air “you’ll taste just as good on the other side of this bridge.” Avis’s arms ached from holding onto the ropes so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. The bird creature was nearly level with her. Chances of her reaching the other side of the bridge alive and intact were slim at this point.

And then some of the slats of wood on the bridge collapsed and the creature plunged through the resultant hole. There was a split second where the creature fell before it used its wings to hover in the air. Avis had to be quick. Running for all that she was worth, she almost leaped into Beck’s arms when she reached the other side of the chasm.

But she knew that the wolf wouldn’t be powerful enough to take on a whole hoard of creatures. The taste of fear was bitter on her tongue, her panic palpable enough that she could smell its tangy edge in the air. And she didn’t even have super senses – she counted that as a win.

Beck withdrew his claws and slashed at the ropes holding the bridge to the side of the gorge. The rope shot away, causing the bridge to topple to the far right and knock the two other creatures on it into the air. They were disoriented but otherwise unharmed.

“What about Crevan?” Avis gasped as she lowered herself away from Beck and shivered in her fear. The bird creatures were flying into the air, waiting up ahead to strike at their heads from their high vantage point. This was not good. A dead fox would be even worse.

“Right here Human,” the voice trilled from her head, this time she didn’t even shake herself to dislodge him, “We need you to be gone so that they don’t expect you,”

Avis didn’t know what the fox meant. If he was going to kill her now, he may have well left her for the bird things to pluck apart. With a twitch of a claw Avis felt a rather peculiar sensation. At first she thought that everything around her was growing bigger and bigger, as if the very world was being stretched by its seams. But then she realised that she was getting smaller. Down. Down. Down she went until she found that Beck’s boot was the size of nearly that of a mountain. She was only ten inches tall and the world was beyond that of her tiny, tiny reach. She was quite small in height anyways but this was just over kill of the situation. Everything was louder down here, normal voices sounded like shouts and whispers sounded normal. It was strange and Avis didn’t like it.

Beck picked her up in a hand that was the size of an elephant and placed her in one of his pockets. It was quite boring being in a pocket, encased in a room of denim with nothing to do. She could feel that Beck was running but it didn’t feel like anything she had ever imagined it to be. It was so that she was immensely bored that she napped for a time. She didn’t know how long that time was but she was soon awoken by a chuckle that sounded like that of a trumpet. It had only felt like she had slept for seconds but when she peeled her eyes opened she found that she was in Beck’s hand and curled up like a fetus. From this height his eyes looked like a pair of twin pools, which was disconcerting.

After a couple of moments she was deposited on a leaf and Crevan twitched a claw once more. She felt herself shoot up like that of a plant gravitating towards the sun and she was almost afraid that she would grow too tall and become a giant. Avis didn’t much like being like a cramped person in a very tiny room, what if she stepped on people? Eventually she stopped and she found that she was back to normal, she took her height too much for granted at times.

Turning to Crevan, who was now visible, she crossed her arms “That wasn’t nice.” She rumbled, her voice no longer having a tint of squeak like it had when she had been small.

“Would you have rather been eaten by the harpies?” Crevan replied to her with a flick of his ginger tail. Now that she noticed, it wasn’t just ginger but more like that of a flame. But that wasn’t at all important at that time.

“Those were harpies?” She asked,

“Yeah. Normally docile creatures towards those who please the trolls but those who don’t…” Beck’s suggestion was heavily proven in what had happened back on the bridge.

“So what now?” Avis again questions, it unnerved her how ignorant she was in this world but she had no other choice but to be.

“We find a place to settle down,” the fox implied as his amber eyes turned to the dying sun light in the forest. Due to the thick trees light here was sparse even if outside there wasn’t much of it to go around anyhow.

It seemed that Crevan even knew where to find a home in a place that not even Beck knew about.

Although it wasn’t the best place.

The old house seemed to have collapsed inwardly on itself somewhat, like a loaf of bread taken out of the oven too soon. The roof sagged and the cedar shingles stuck up in places like wonky teeth. The windows had no glass in them now and they seemed not to be quite rectangular anymore. The lean-to shed on the side hung downwards as if the fight had left it and it could no longer bring itself to stand up against the elements. In the high winds of the season the old house could be heard to creak as if in its final death throes. The grass grew long and unkempt around it and in that grass were tracks made by the local, and possibly long gone, children who dared each other to go there in the twilight to search for ghosts.

It didn’t look safe and Avis told the fox that. He shrugged his animal shoulders as if to say that there was no pleasing her. Avis had seen some of the shelters that the early inhibitors of her dome had had, barely there things that didn’t even survive the night. She silently hoped that the inside of the house was better than the outside.

Alas, she was sorely mistaken.

Draughty corridors, cold air seeped under the doors like the tide on a frigid desolate beach. Icy and bitter wind rattled the condensation covered single paned windows, water lazily drips to the rotting sill with its dirty cream cracked paint. Spiders scurried in to dark corners, their old webs flapped in dusty silence, clinging to the wall with their ghostly fingers. After an hour or so cleaning and gathering firewood in order for warmth, the house was somewhat better and the group sat down for a meal and then to sleep.

What was strange about the house that on the walls were strange paintings, portraits of every being imaginable ranging from posh and poor humans, to wolves and strange hybrids with the heads of tigers and the legs of a man. The other two weren’t even bothered about this, not even looking at the windows and the faces with their tight smiles and broad grimaces.

Avis put it down to nerves and lack of sleep. She wasn’t even disappointed when she was the first to lay down and close her eyes, letting the crackle of the fire and the low murmurings of her companions to lull her asleep.

Her journey outside the dome hadn’t been as disastrous as she had thought it would have been.

In doing so she had actually got a chance to save the world.

With that thought in mind she didn’t realise that that night was the first night that she didn’t pull out a letter to read before going to bed. She didn’t even notice that she didn’t need the comforting words of Casimir to be taken away by the sand man.

*

Avis awoke to the image of herself. Opening her eyes, she was consulted with the bedraggled appearance of herself in the dreary morning light. In front of her was a mirror, in fact on most of the walls were mirrors and not paintings. She had to imprison a gasp so that she wouldn’t wake up her companions. But she was curious, she was full to the brim of that. Avis stumbled up from her sleeping bag swiftly examining these mirrors carefully.

All of the mirrors looked normal and proper. The mirror, in front of her, was large and square, with a wide, thick gold frame carved with beautiful designs of leaves and flowers. Avis imagined that everyone that had saw the mirror admired it, but everyone had also noticed that it was imperfect. On one of the corners, you see, the silver backing had been scraped off so that this part of the mirror was plain glass. She imagined that people would wonder why someone would damage such a perfection or how it got damaged in the first place, admitting that it was a spoil on a treasure. Avis was curious too, reaching a hand to touch this imperfection. Touching the plain glass backing was like touching electricity. The zap racing up her arm and racing down her back like it was running through her body to her heart.

Pulling her hand back she noticed that each mirror in the room reflected her image back to itself, with each mirror sharing a slight imperfection in some way or another.

“Why so curious, Human?” Crevan asked from behind her and she could see from the mirror that the words were accompanied by a lazy yet amused smile.

“Last night I would have sworn that these were paintings filled with people and creatures of everything imaginable,” Avis whispered running her hand over another metal frame. The previous night she had had a quiet thought that the artist was very talented yet morbid for having painted his characters so grim. But the realization that they were in fact mirrors and not paintings meant that something had been there with them to be reflected. Avis was more afraid than coming into the house and felt unsafe among its walls.

“I’m sure that you have heard that some mirrors can contain souls by trapping and capturing them.” Crevan murmured closer to her this time “In Serbo-Croatian cultures mirrors were often buried with the dead to trap the deceased soul to prevent it from wandering the Earth. Similar customs were also practiced in Bulgaria. Some cultures reportedly even cover mirrors during sleep or illness to prevent souls from becoming trapped in them if it would leave the body and roam.”

The fox had only proved her suspicions. There was something else with them in this house the night before. Something supernatural and perhaps foreboding and malicious. 

“So there were ghosts with us last night?” Avis asked yet when she turned back to face the fox he was not there having disappeared once more. She and her reflection had been left alone with the still sleeping wolf. Beck was dead to the world and couldn’t comfort Avis when she tried to withdraw within herself.

After a time Avis got bored of the mirrors and set about turning them all around, taking them off of the walls and propping them up with the backs facing her. If she couldn’t see her reflection, she wouldn’t be reminded of the night before with the ghosts.

When she finally awoke Beck he didn’t even mention this change and went around with his daily business, preparing breakfast without the fox to eat. Avis proposed that it was his own fault because he disappeared again but then Beck said that the animal had probably went out to hunt for live food anyway.

Nevertheless, Avis was glad to be back on the road again and away from the house with the creepy mirrors.

Beck had said something about seeing your own reflection too many times could cause insanity which is why he slept. He gave no direction about if he had saw the faces.

This got Avis thinking that she was the only one that had truly seem them. She had never felt more alone or strange because of something out of her control. She had never been more filled with questions than she had been in that moment. 

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