Standing holding the heart of Rachel’s professor, the Smiling Dark said, “Shhh. That’s enough information for my new bride.”
Rachel, Dowan, and Ronnie stood there mouths agape for longer than they should have. The Smiling Dark was exactly what it sounded like; a Cheshire smile and piercing grey eyes surrounded by a semi-transparent shadow in the shape of a man.
“Bride?” asked Rachel, still in shock.
“Yes. I’ve been following and guiding you your entire life. I made sure you found what you needed to be strong and what you needed to grow stronger. I forged you through pain and combat until you became the woman you are. Now you’re almost ready to take your place at my side.”
“No!” she said sounding more confident than she felt.
“You don’t have much choice. You’ll do it. If not for yourself but for your friends,” the shadow sneered.
In a smooth motion Rachel pulled out and threw her mystical dagger. It should have hit the shadow right in the face but instead went through it and stabbed several books in the cluttered office.
The shadow laughed. “You cannot hurt me. I’m not corporeal. I’m an idea, a fear, I don’t work on your plane of existence unless I want to.”
Something about its words made her think of Tim but she didn’t know why and didn’t have time to think about it.
“Must make having a bride difficult,” snarked Dowan. “I mean what’s the point?”
“I will transform her to be like me and we will rule the world.” The shadow’s arms lifted and both Ronnie and Dowan were pulled up by their necks by an invisible force. “Rachel. You will be my bride or I’ll destroy anyone and anything you’ve cared about. The last woman to refuse me was Atlantean.”
“Scary. Put them down.” Again her voice was calm while she was terrified.
“Kill one and you’ll be ready.” When she hesitated, he laughed and added, “I’m not without a heart. You can keep one as a toy.”
The Smiling Dark, literally dangled two men in front of her. She’d known she’d have to choose between them eventually, but not like this. She’d hoped the other would still be her friend, not dead.
“The trickster is quite handsome but he’ll age and get old. The vampire will offer you decades of play time. Both will scream prettily for you.”
“I think you have me confused with someone else. I don’t want to hear them scream… in pain.”
“Not yet. Once you kill one, you’ll feel differently.”
Part of her relished the idea and it sickened the rest of her. Had her bloodlust and love of the hunt been because of the Shadow? Is he the reason she liked to kill?
Her stomach churned. How could she fight something that wasn’t corporeal; that was more of a metaphor?
“I’m not killing them! They’re my friends.” she said, and thought about all her friends.
“If you don’t, I’ll destroy everything you care about.” There was ageless patience in its voice.
“Can you give me time to decide?” She couldn’t think of a way out of this, if she couldn’t hurt it than she was helpless.
“Of course, my bride. You have one hour to decide.” Both men fell at the same time and the shadow was gone.
“I can’t believe that worked,” she mumbled.
“Good job getting more time,” choked Dowan.
“What do we do now? How do we beat that thing?”
“We don’t,” she replied. “But I know who will.”
She had a plan, based off sketchy information and half thought out, but it was a better than no plan at all.
* * *
“What does this thing do?” asked Dowan confused.
Looking up at him from his wheelchair, Tim sighed, “It converts belief to reality.”
“Isn’t that impossible?” asked Ronnie.
They were all standing in Tim’s lab. He was doing something with the electronic parts and all the knobs. Rachel didn’t fully understand was he was doing. Only that it could move the Smiling Dark into phase with them so she could punch it.
Shaking her head, Ginny said, “If people believe in something strongly enough, that belief can fuel the creation of something. It’s why we have gremlins; they were dreamed up through a combination of altitude sickness, lack of oxygen, and human belief. Over just a few years, all the pilots in world war one believed in their existence. A lot of the mythical races owe their existence to belief.”
“It’s called Gaiman’s Hypothesis of Metaphysical Transfiguration,” Tim added.
“Normally it takes years, sometimes lifetimes, for the belief to become real,” Ginny rubbed Tim’s shoulders as she talked. “Tim’s research is about speeding up or slowing down this process. The Smiling Dark is part way through and has found some way to influence the world.”
Ronnie looked at Rachel and tilted his head towards his sister and Tim, wiggling his eyebrows. Rachel gave him a smile.
“Wait, we want to make this thing more real?” asked Dowan, rubbing his throat.
“Yes. If he’s real, he can feel pain.” Rachel actually growled. She impressed even herself with the viciousness of the statement.
“Just make sure he’s standing in the middle of the collider,” Tim pointed at a series of tubes set in a perfect circle on the ground. There were wires coming from various parts of the tubes and magical glyphs on every surface.
“Don’t get trapped inside with it.” ordered Ginny.
“Why?” Rachel asked, and both Ginny and Tim shrugged.
“Time’s up, my bride.” The shadow appeared behind them, smiling, always smiling.
She had to figure out how to get him into the giant, really obvious, trap. “Remind me why you need a bride?” she asked to buy time and sidle towards the right place.
“Once your innocence has been taken—” he was cut off by snickers from all of Rachel’s friends. “Once you kill one of those you love, you’ll be ready to be my bride. We’ll combine and become one.” He moved with her, shadowing her movements.
“First, I’m still trying to decide if I like them enough to do more than kissing. I wouldn’t say I love them. And when you say combine and become one, you mean figuratively right?”
“My essence shall invade your body and we shall meld into a being of great strength and darkness.” If it was possible, its smile grew wider.
She was standing in the middle of the circle and the Smiling Dark was moving towards her. She was ready to throw herself out when his arm, composed of shadows and fear, reached out and grabbed her by her throat.
“Which of them have you decided to kill?” it asked, moving its entire body towards her.
“You!” she choked out. “Tim, now!”