In the Shadow of Leaves 4: That Ain’t Raat.

“It was like some oily fingers were all fiddlin’ right under mah skin,” he said with a frown. “You know when yer workin’ da skin off a lapine, an ya slide a finger up der ta loosen da pelt? Felt like dat.”

The room slanted room was cold in the winter air, and the small fire in the hearth did little to banish the chill from the drafty room. Noémie sat with her wide, glittering eyes watching him from her perch by the fire. She wasn’t her usual chatty self, but the family got sedate this time of year. It was hard to shake the oppressive darkness of the woods when the days were so short. The friar understood and continued on, trying to fill the space with his warmth and words.

“Ain’t never felt nothin’ like it,” he said again, brows furrowed. “Like all the beautiful tings on God’s green earth went squirrely all at once. Da preacher man says it something called annie-croix. Gots ta do wit dem wizard folk. Can’t square it in mah brain.”

Reflecting, he could clearly visualize the multi-armed monstrosity. As if a spider had merged with a person, but also weapons, the wall, and the ornery temperament of a bear with a sore tooth. When it had touched him, that oily not rightness had swept through him. Like his bones were trying to shift under his muscle against his designs. It had hurt and caused a strange distress to his stomach he’d never felt before either. It was as if the lunch he’d eaten had wanted to climb out of him. Unsettling and uncomfortable.

“Dun tink Imma go back,” he continued quietly. “Felt… wrong. Da most wrong I ever feel, down der in dat lab. Cadence an dem said it was some sorta body er some tin. Corpse of a witchking? I dunno, didn’t make no right sense ta me.”

A shiver crept up his powerful shoulders. And then when the moss covered mage had ‘corrected’ the problem in his bizarre way.

“The doc say dat it weren’t nothin’. Dat mah body could take reams more before, but I ain’t so sure,” he said doubtfully. “Felt like mah skin was peelin’ off and bones was crackin’. Didn’t hurt so much as felt real… wrong. An’ his boss-man, dat one ain’t all der, I dun tink. Askin’ after my mind. Doc said I was a functional lunatic. Ain’t sure what he mean by dat. Seems rude as hell, honestly.”

With a glance at the pale girl, he blushed slightly.

“Forgive ole uncle Henri, cher,” he said. “I dun mean ta use the vulgars. Anyway. Dat boss wizard did somefin wit his fingers an my body twisted up and smoothed out right. So I guess it all fine in the end. Just… dun wanna go back der.”

It was a strange sensation, when he reflected on the cave. He wasn’t afraid. That wasn’t a thing he’d felt in a long time, if he really thought on it. It wasn’t fear, just a deep abiding wariness. The feeling of being entirely unprepared for a situation and going in there anyway. It just felt wrong was all.

He let out a long sigh and straightened up, dusting the dried and frozen mud from the white of her clergy clothes. Then he walked to Noémie and scooped her up.

“Duncha worry yer pretty head about it, cher,” he said. “Past yer bedtime, and Uncle Henri be jess fine. Dun cha worry none.”

He carried her up to bed, the room cold and quiet, just the occasional sound of shifting bodies to let him know his family was present.

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