Anas kissed the top of her head, smiling down at her as he always did. His mate, Mehe, squeezed her hand and moved to take Anas’s instead. They said their goodbyes and stepped out the door, Mehe’s long tendril flipping the sign of their shop to closed before latching it with a soft click.
Gathering up the sketchbooks, she placed them out neatly in the counter for the next day. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied a bit of red fabric, neatly folded at the far end of the room. On top lay a piece of paper, a note in Anas’s handwriting. A request to design a dress to match the embroidery design on the end of it.
She set the note aside and unfolded the delicate sash. The ends were woven and stitched in an undulating pattern, deep blue and purples that drew in the eye. Niqi studied it, thinking she might likely be helping him replicate it, when it seemed to her the curls and waves began to move. The more she watched, the more hypnotic it became.
In her mind, she saw Anas and Mehe, smiling at her, but the expression was wrong somehow. There was a sinister edge to it that she had not known from her two chosen brothers. The slender Kal’dorei began to laugh, but her mind warped it. His mirth was directed at her, a darkness that was not present in him in the past. Mehe’s hand reached out as though to grab at her.
You can keep trying to make them happy, but they will betray you. Hurt you. Stop wasting your energy on the ones who don’t care. The whispers twisted in her mind, warping everything she tried to focus on. Her tendrils writhed across her shoulders. She sank to the floor, tears rolling down her cheeks.
She squeezed her eyes shut, murmuring the mantra. “The Shade speaks the lies we tell ourselves. The Shade speaks the lies we tell ourselves…” over and over. She took deep breaths, hoping to calm herself, but each breath brought and even deeper level of terror. “The Shade speaks the lies we tell ourselves. It can be quieted through careful diligence and focus.” She kept at it, rocking in place on the floor of the work area.
“Tiny?” Heavy footsteps moved to her side. She looked up to see her husband, his lip curled up in a sneer. Large hands grasped her shoulders and she cried out. Her eyes rolled back, her whole body going limp.
“Niqi! What’s wrong?” Ælithil gathered his tiny wife up into his arms and left the shop, kicking the door closed. Her constantly evolving wardrobe caused the sash that wrapped her waist to go completely unnoticed. Along her pale skin, hidden beneath her dress, flowing curls of darkness began to creep. They danced and flickered, the color shifting from the deeper black of night, to vibrant, rapturous purples creating a design that perfectly matched one she had seen just a little while earlier.
Ælithil pulled them up onto his saber and held her close. “Come on, Tiny. Stay with me.” He took to the air, heading for help.