By Gareth Johnson
Saranbaatar hated being called by his full name, insisting on just “Saran” in any but the most formal of settings. He fumed in silence as he strolled through the quiet streets of Islus at dusk. His meeting with the council did not go as well as hoped. He was an outsider of course, and they would not waste their time or resources to help him. He counted himself lucky they even agreed to hear him out.
He let out a sigh. Back to the docks to wring some words out of drunken sailors, I suppose.
Passing another shop, Saran paused long enough to inspect one of the street lamps gradually growing brighter as the sun set. Magic. Why is everything magic with these people? He smirked to himself. For all their magic, doubtful if any of those educated dung-herder council members could figure out how to fire a simple crossbow, let alone Windstriker. He rested a hand on his masterpiece crossbow, confident that no one in the entire city could outshoot him.
Something moved in the corner of his eye.
Saran jumped and spun, pulling Windstriker out of its holster in one fluid movement.
He chuckled aloud to himself. “These fancy magic lamps are making me jump at my own shadow.”
He took a few more steps. Then stopped. There it was again, but this time he didn’t turn. Someone, or something, was following him closely. Must be good to get so close to me without being seen.
He spun again, this time firing Windstriker without hesitation. Ka-chunk! The bolt stuck more than halfway into the clay wall of a building.
“Come out! Are you thief or assassin?” Saran turned around slowly and deliberately, his gaze darting from alcove to rooftop and back again. “I’ve killed my share of both, so I think I’ll spare your life if you tell me who hired you.”
The sun was just shining its final rays upon the island metropolis. Saran was unconcerned. Unlike most mortals, his people see equally well in the light and the dark, an even larger advantage at night than his dark-brown skin.
The shadows cast by the magical street lamps were bothering him though, so he stalked along the street, looking for his pursuer and a dark alley to corner him in.
This whole gods-damned city is covered in these lights! Every time he moved, he could have sworn something was moving with him, shadowing him. His…shadow?
He glanced again. There was something off about his shadow and the way it moved with him. Almost like…no that’s ridiculous.
He fired Windstriker at his shadow. It flinched. He saw it flinch.
His shadow seemed to know it had been caught. It moved toward him. Saran couldn’t tell if the shadow was moving, or if the lights were changing.
He didn’t stop to wonder. He dodged, tumbling to his left. Not quite quickly enough. His leg began to bleed from a cut on his thigh.
But, when he moved, his shadow moved.
He fired Windstriker again. The bolt struck where the heart of his shadow should be, but to no effect. That was his third shot. He’d have to reload, and there wasn’t time for that. He discarded Windstriker and pulled his dagger. Unlike Windstriker, his dagger was magically enhanced; its razor edge could cut through almost anything. It was one of the few magical items he’d seen in his travels that he respected enough to keep.
He dodged to the right and struck out with the dagger to his left. He judged where his shadow should be at that moment based on the location of the nearest street lamp.
He cut nothing but air.
This is crazy. I’m fighting my own damned shadow!
Then, Saran had an idea. He dodged and bolted toward the nearest magical lamp. Using his dagger, he cut it clean off its fixture. A sharp cold pain stabbed into his back. His shadow had caught up to him as quickly as he had moved.
Saran turned, closed his eyes, and with all the force he could muster, smashed the lamp onto the ground.
Even with his eyes closed, he was temporarily blinded by the ensuing flash of light. Blinking, he looked around. The remaining nearby street lamps had gone dark, but were already beginning to glow again. They must react to the light in the area. His shadow was gone, but he moved quickly to the next nearest lamp, cut it from its fixture, and waited.
As the light gradually grew, he grew relieved, then suddenly concerned. It’s gone.
Saran’s shadow was not there at all.
He waited another minute, just to be sure. Tested it by moving around in the lights. Still no sign of his shadow.
He retrieved Windstriker, loaded three bolts in it, and then quietly slipped back towards the council building. At least one of those self-important dung-herders knows about this…and I’ll wager it has something to do with my missing brother.