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Rebecca L. Fearnley

The Darkling Thief: A Nowhere Chronicles Short Story (Ebook)

The Darkling Thief: A Nowhere Chronicles Short Story (Ebook)

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Scared of your own shadow? You should be ...

Annie has been living in Nowhere for three years. She might have defeated the Oraqua, but her anger isn't completely gone, and lives alongside her in the form of a little winged snake. She's able to control it most of the time.

But when a strange monster made of smoke and darkness attacks the home she shares with Sheb and Bartok, Annie's anger wakes up and the little snake starts to grow. Annie knows if she can't contain it, it'll become the Oraqua again and she's not sure she can defeat that monster again. She and Sheb have to find a way to catch the strange shadow-thing that's terrorising them, before Annie loses control altogether.

Set two years before the events of The Shadow and the Scream, this short story is full of magical mayhem, dark powers and friendship. If you love the characters from the Nowhere Chronicles, then you'll love this short story!

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Read the First Chapter!

Trigger Warning

This short story contains references to domestic violence. If you find this causes you undue stress, please stop reading and seek help.

You matter, and your recovery matters.


I’m down by the river when I hear Sheb yell. I ignore it. He’s always yelling. Usually, at Bartok. The daft creature will’ve knocked something over or jumped in something he shouldn’t. It’s normal.

I shove my dark hair outta my face and put my head back, listening to the thunderous birdsong from the colorful branches overhead. It’s midday and the sun comes through those leaves at the loveliest angle. They shine purple and red and silver and green. It’s like looking through the stained-glass window of a worship house back in my own world. Only without the guilt.

I wiggle my toes in the water, which gushes in rainbow droplets over my feet. I ain’t never got used to the things that live in the river—shark-like beasts with lizard legs that cling to the rocks—but they’re useful. They pick all the grit outta my feet so I don’t get infected. They love glass and shiny things for their nests, see. And it’s great for me’n Sheb ‘cos we got a thorough anti-infection service.

I know it’s good for me. It’s why I come down here every few days. But I still don’t look when the massive shark thing opens its jaws and shoots its tongue into whatever abrasion I need it to clean. It don’t hurt. It just looks gross.

“Annie! Annie!”

I open my eyes, scowling. Sheb’s still yelling and his voice sounds frantic this time. It don’t sound like it’s Bartok making a mess. What’s happening now?

I sigh and pull my feet outta the rainbow water, drying them on my trousers and pulling on my leather shoes. This place we live—Nowhere—is harsh. When I arrived, running from my dead Daddy and the memory of my lost Mum, I weren’t wearing nothing but a slip of a dress. Well that weren’t no good for living here, and I knew as soon as I got here there weren’t no way I was going home. It was Sheb who saved me. He saved me in more ways than one, but over the last three years, he’s made me these clothes. Shoes made of vine leather. Trousers from tower-tree leaves and a shirt of woven root fibre. I got a cloak, too, made from some animal fur, but that’s back at the tree-cave.

Back where Sheb’s yelling his head off.

“Annie! Where are you?”

I roll my eyes. I love Sheb, but he’s an idiot most of the time. He’s been here far longer’n me but he’s always poking things that don’t wanna be poked.

What happens when I do this? He’s always asking, right before we’re running for our lives. Nowhere might be a place we can hide from our pasts, but it’s still chock full’a things that want to crush us, gobble us or poison us.

Sheb saved my life when I first got here. But I reckon I’ve repaid the favor at least five times over since then.


Holy Oak, he’s going for it! Those lungs’a his can pack a punch. And now I’m worried. I head up the incline, through the rustling trees, breaking into a jog as our tree-cave comes into view.

It’s a Soother Tree. The last in the forest, with spreading boughs that give plenty of shade, and plump, orange and green leaves. Vines hang from its branches, making a curtain in front of the cave where Sheb and I live. It’s not a cave really, it’s like a burrow under the tree’s roots. But the tree’s our friend. It shifted its roots for us over the years so now there’s enough room to stand under there, and we put in a little round door to keep out the cold.

Now, though, that door’s thrown open and there’s all this crashing coming from inside. The tree’s agitated, thrashing its vines, smacking at some non-existent enemy.

“Annie! Oak’s sake, where are you?” comes Sheb’s voice from inside. Another crash. The sound of something shattering.

And something I ain’t never heard before. A kind of cold, wicked laugh. The skin on the back’a my neck prickles. I reach to my belt where I keep my throwing knives and flick one into my hand.

There’s a piercing shriek and something bursts outta the tree-cave in a frenzy of purple and blue. I catch a glimpse of rabbit-like thumper feet, tawny eyes and a squirrel’s tail before Bartok’s collided with my face and my mouth is full of purple and blue fur.

“Dammit!” I splutter, shoving him off. The little owl-squirrel clicks his beak and burrows under my hair to hide. I feel his wings trembling against my neck.

“Not helpful,” I grumble, creeping towards the cave again. Sheb’s still yelling, but this time it ain’t at me.

“No, you don’t!” he snaps. “Come here, you—get off that! Hey! Ouch!

That’s it. Sheb might be a pain in my ass, but no-one hurts my best friend. I roar and charge into the cave.

I skid through the entrance, coming to a stop in the middle where the lantern hanging from the ceiling gives the most light. There’s Sheb, shirt torn, lips bloody, jaw-length mop of grimy hair sticking out at all angles. His brown eyes are wide with and he’s swinging his harpoon round like he don’t know which way to aim.

And once I see the state’a the cave, I don’t blame him.

Chaos. Sheb’s stacked glass bottles, containing all sorts’a meticulously gathered samples, are smashed across the cave floor. The rug we wove in the summer is torn to shreds. The copper pots and pans are tumbled everywhere and our basin of water lies upturned. There are massive chunks gouged outta the walls and everything within reach is shredded, crushed or torn. I gape.

“What the—”

That strange cackle comes again. I whirl to face the sound, brandishing my knife, but there ain’t nothing except shadows within shadows.

“We need more light,” I growl. “Can’t face this thing in the dark.”

“Light won’t help,” Sheb says, thumbing his bloody lip as he peers into the dark. “It’s made of shadow.”

I frown at him. “It’s made—what?”

A rush of air and a shout of laughter. The clay bottle holding our lantern oil explodes and me’n Sheb duck just in time.

Something flies outta the shadows … or, the shadows fly at us. An onrush of darkness that dims the lantern. I feel a whisper of something—like silk so soft you can barely feel it—and then whatever-it-is has disappeared out the door and vanished among the trees, its cackles echoing back to us.

Outside, the Soother Tree flicks its vines in good riddance before sending some creepers into the cave to check we’re ok. We pat it in thanks and reassure it we’re fine. The tree relaxes. Calm restored.

Except calm ain’t restored.

I stare in dismay at the shards of a clay oil bottle. “Took me months to gather that,” I say. “And those flowers won’t be back for another season.”

Sheb puts right our now-empty water basin and gazes at his spilled samples. “I’d nearly finished analyzing them all,” he says, shaking his head. “How am I supposed to study this place if it keeps destroying everything I gather?”

I scowl at him. Typical Sheb, to worry about his precious samples when we don’t have anything to light our home with. Still, he did work hard finding them. I head over and squeeze his hand. Bartok takes the opportunity to scamper along my arm and take up his customary perch on Sheb’s shoulder. He ruffles his wings and tucks them over his back, shooting me a mean glare.

We got an understanding, Bartok and me. He keeps his distance and I keep mine. It’s not me he don’t like. Not really. It’s Wriggler. Can’t say I blame him much. I don’t like Wriggler, neither, but I can’t get rid of him.

(Where is that damn winged-snake, anyway?)

Bartok saved me once. He’n Sheb saved me a lot back then. But Bartok is Sheb’s owl-squirrel. No doubt about that. I’m tolerated. End of.

I turn my attention back to the spilled samples as Sheb kneels, separating his treasures from the glass.

“Careful,” I say. Sheb shakes his head.

“We’ll need to clear all this out before we sleep,” he says. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on waking up with glass in my fingers and toes.”

I crouch to help him.

“What was that thing?” I ask. Sheb shrugs.

“I have no idea,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Well that’s never a good sign. I frown out the open door, where the midday sun makes pretty patterns on the forest floor. The cacophony of birdsong sounds like thunder and drumbeats, punctuated by the barks of the electric deer that migrate through at this time of year, and the tree mammals that hunt in the branches.

The forest sounds calm. The trees shift and mutter of their own accord. The rainbow river rushes by in the distance.


Only it ain’t normal. Our home was smashed by something made of darkness.

And based on past experience, monsters like that tend to keep coming back.

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Customer Reviews

Based on 2 reviews
A great tale of friendship, being true to oneself, and grief

I adored this short story expanding on the Nowhere series. It was so great to see more of Annie and Sheb and Bartok. Seeing more of Annie's healing was so nice. Sheb is such a trooper and is there for Annie through so much. Without spoiling the crux of the story, I will share my favorite quote, which does come near the end: "You gotta make yourself whole. You gotta accept all'a yourself." I can't wait to see more of Annie and the gange and to see further adventures and monsters.

Kerry Taylor-Gorman
A gripping short adventure

The Darkling Thief is a short adventure full of mystery and excitement, and continues the journey of Annie and Sheb and their lives in Nowhere.
As they continue to survive the harsh surroundings, a dark Shadow emerges. Annie must embrace her anger and work together with Wriggler, otherwise the Shadow might consume them all.
This short adventure is full of action and intrigue and was a fun and enjoyable read.