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Shadows

Josh Davis

 

         Silently and patiently, he waited, waited for the perfect time of the night when the shadows are the darkest and fear of the unseen lurks in everyone’s thoughts. It had been hours since the sun had set, and still he sat there, an unobserved observer. When the wind blew, he swayed with the branch he perched upon. When the wind grew still, so did he.

         None but the keenest observer would ever know of his presence. That was why they had sent him. Lok was the most gifted of the Shadow Elite, the highest ranking in the Assassin’s Guild, and he was the youngest. He had passed every test of stealth, subtlety, and assassination with ease. His ability to blend into the shadows was legendary, something he owed to the ancient tome he had found in his master’s room, a strange archaic book filled with the teachings on how to call forth and manipulate the shadows.

         His master was not at all pleased that Lok had been prying about his quarters, and even more displeased when he discovered that Lok happened upon that particular tome. Lok remembered it well, as if it had happened just the other day. His master leapt for him knocking the ancient text to the floor then made to strike him across the face, but Lok proved to be the quicker. In one fluid movement, he drew a dagger hidden in his sleeve and buried it to the hilt in his master’s heart. Blood began to flow over his hand as his eyes met those of his former mentor. Slowly the light within began to fade, and his body slumped to the floor. Carefully, Lok reached for the old tome, wiped the blood gingerly off the cover, and carried it back to his own room where he could begin to study the secrets that the book held within. He did not fear retribution for his actions; deaths were commonplace in the Assassin’s Guild.

         Several years passed as he trained relentlessly and studied religiously, and when he could repeat the tome word for word without an error, without stumbling, when it became apart of his very soul, he burned it. The knowledge was his and his alone.

         The time had finally come, the time when the shadows seemed to have a life of their own. Lok took in his surrounding once again, committing them to memory: the courtyard opened out before him, the cobble stone path that led toward the main entrance, the statues that lined the walkway, the bushes, the trees, the guards, the window. All this was fully mapped out in his mind. It was time.

         He filled his lungs deeply with the chill night air and closed his eyes. In his mind, he began to chant the incantations etched into his being. He soon began to feel the effects of the spell: the cold, so very cold, tingling, creeping over his body as the shadows of the night began to come to life and cover him completely. His breath grew shallower and faster as the spell took hold of him, his heart racing, every bit of his body trying to fight back against this intruding cold, this intruding darkness.

         He ceased his mental-chanting and opened his eyes. The courtyard now seemed a vision of a black and white haze, a sight he had become accustomed to. He no longer saw through human eyes, but through the eyes of the shadow.

         Lok leapt from the tree and landed without the slightest sound, for shadows make no sound when they move. A sharp pain shot through his body, a warning to remind him that time was of the essence. He knew he must hurry, that to stay too long in shadow form was inviting a fate worse than death; he could feel the hungry shadows already reaching for his soul.

         Swift as an arrow, he raced along the outer wall of the courtyard, the black and white scenery flowing past him in streaks. The guards were up ahead, oblivious to the shadowy silhouette coming up beside them. In one quick motion, Lok drew two long needles and buried each one in the base of the skull of each guard as he ran past; he was already at the main entrance before they fell lifeless to the ground.

         Now the complicated part was upon him. He knew he did not have the time to navigate the castle to find his prey. The shortest way to his intended victim was the window three floors up that overlooked the courtyard. He closed his eyes once again; another cold pain stabbed through him; uncertainty crept its way into his mind. The shadows were clawing their way toward his spirit faster than usual tonight; perhaps he had not let enough time pass since the last time he invoked this power.

         Pushing those thoughts out of his mind, he concentrated on the task at hand. Eyes still closed, he began to summon the shadows’ power again, this time focusing the energy on his hands and feet. He placed the palm of one hand against the wall of the castle and felt the energy take hold of the stone. He smiled a cold smile.

         Quickly he raced up the wall, ignoring the stabbing cold sensations piercing his body. Soon, Lok was at the window, a minor obstacle for one of his caliber. Staring straight into the room, he saw his goal sitting at a desk that was covered in parchment with a quill in his hand. Lok willed his body to become incorporeal and phased through the wood and glass as if he were passing through pure air.

         Once inside, he willed himself back to his original shadowy form. The candles in the room began to flicker wildly as if a gust of wind had swept through the room. This caught the attention of his prey. The man abruptly got to his feet and cast his gaze throughout the room trying to decipher the disturbance he obviously felt. Lok smiled; this was his favorite part of the hunt.

         Fear could be seen creeping into the aged man’s eyes as he began to slowly rub his arms to ward off the mysterious growing cold. Soon the old man’s breath was a visible fog coming out of his mouth in shallow, fast rhythms. Suddenly, the candles went out casting the room into complete darkness.

         Lok drew forth a long, slender dagger and crept up behind the old man placing the blade’s tip against the old man’s back precisely where his heart would be. Leaning in close he whispered into the man’s ear, “I am the reaper, and I have come for you.” Then he slid the blade slowly into the man’s back between bones, through muscle, and into his heart. He heard the man gasp, felt his body tense, then relax as he fell to the floor.

         Smiling to himself, that cold smile, Lok made to leave the way he had come in. He reached the window; once again he willed himself through becoming more solid as he came onto the outer ledge. A sharp, cold pain shot through his body again, the pain more intense than he had felt before; another pain stabbed at him, and then another. He felt his body growing weak; the shadows had reached his soul and had begun to claw at it furiously. Desperately, he tried to dismiss the enchantment, repeating the words over and over, but the incantation failed. Again the pains pierced his body, and this time they were not stopping. His head began to reel with pain; the world began to spin violently; he felt something cold take hold of something inside him and pull with wild fury. A sensation of falling came over him, but felt more and more distant. Everything was becoming black; darkness began to cloud his mind as his body struck the stone walkway with a sickly thud. He felt his soul dragged out and into an abyss as dark as it was eternal.

         As the moon cast its light upon the still courtyard, moments passed into minutes. Those minutes turned into an hour, and something began to stir. One of the guards began to climb to his feet, his movements unsteady, unnatural, but slowly he was standing. A clumsy hand groped about the back of his head until it found the long needled buried there. Fingers tightened around the slender thing and in one fluid movement pulled it free. The small wound began to close up, and the guard’s movements became more natural and steady. He cracked his neck and stretched the slightly stiff joints, regaining their prior flexibility.

         “Next time I need to be more careful,” he whispered as he began to make his way to a familiar tree. He stopped, turned around, and looked up to the third floor window that overlooked the courtyard. He smiled to himself, that cold smile.