The room was dark -- the kind of dark reserved for the deepest of caves and the blackest of minds, the kind that might drive lesser men insane if left too long within its clutches. It was nearly a living thing, this darkness: swallowing, devouring, greedy in its reach… but not for her. She commanded it with a grace and indifference that was otherworldly, a grace that led some to believe that she had given life itself to the thick blackness that cloaked her regal form like an ermine cape of royalty. The mother of shades, they whispered. The mother of night, of gloom, of creeping things that slunk between shadows in the witching hour.
He knew better than those who spread the rumors. Knew better, but still felt the hairs on his neck prick up every time he was summoned. Facing her was no easy task, even for the most fearless of men.
A metallic clicking punctured the heavy atmosphere surrounding him, and though he had heard the sound countless times before, it remained as sinister and spine-tingling as ever. Spindly legs skittered along the floor, daring him to search out the source. His gaze did not waver, for he already knew what he would find near his feet. She liked to play these games with those in her employ, liked to weed out the weak and the unworthy. He was not unworthy.
“Have you found it?” Her voice was like a lover’s whisper.
“No, my lady,” he answered. He was not apologetic, did not make excuses. Those who did were often never found.
“I am counting on you,” she reminded him. “They are counting on you.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“You will not fail me.” Her words were bitten off, though her voice did not lose its husky timbre. Unspoken was the promise of what would happen if he did.
“No, my lady.” His jaw was set in determination. He had not failed her in the years he had served her; his record would not be tarnished for a task as important as this.
“Go.” The shadows shuddered with her final command.
As the door clicked shut, she extended her hand. A soft weight lowered itself into her palm and rested there, delicate metal pulsing faintly with heat. She stroked it gently, running her fingers across wickedly sharp mandibles.
“Soon, my dears,” she breathed. “It is almost time.”