Chapter One

A bedtime story you shouldn't tell your kids.

She sat alone on her front porch swing, as she did almost every night in the summer.  Dusk fell about her as the night approached.  The street lamps were just turning on as the cicadas’ humming enveloped the city.  

The gentle swaying of the old, unpainted swing comforted her, as did the soft creaking of the chains that held the chair over the porch with chipping blue paint.  

She was not bored watching the traffic, or the oblivious pedestrians chattering loudly as they passed, or the glowing, green fireflies that flashed in and out of existence.  One moment they were there, the next, they vanished.  

Slowly, the orange glow in the west, so typical of a sunset, retreated beneath the horizon, fading away with the sun.  The moon was up, pale and almost full.  She wondered idly if the rest of the moon was actually there, invisible, like her science text book said, or if it went somewhere else, like in the bedtime stories she was told as a young girl.  She thought sadly back to a distant time when she still believed in magic.  

Back then, her mother would tuck her in every night.  Once upon a time, she'd begin, sitting on the side of the bed.  And in a place far, far away, there was a realm where people lived in harmony with Mother Earth, and with the magic roaming freely throughout the land.  For a long time, there was peace and prosperity - where a kind smile was free and easy, and everyone was equal.  It was not by any means a perfect world, but it was safe and happy.  

That is, until extreme misfortune fell upon one soul.  A woman died giving birth to her son, leaving him grievously disfigured.  Though no one would go so far as to abandon him to his fate, they found it hard to look upon him, and to find love for such a hideous creature--for that was what he was.  His name was Ružan.

Ružan grew up never knowing what it felt like to be loved or held.  His lack of beauty and perfection left him without friends, and this made him empty inside.  As he grew older, he began to understand just why it was, exactly, that people feared him.  Even the magic, so free upon the land, would not bless him.  

As he grew into a broken man, he was consumed with the thought that if he could just fix his face, people would love him.  He sought a darker magic, and mastered powers unknown to anyone else.  This darker magic corrupted him.  

Eventually, he found a spell to fix his horrible, ugly face.  And fix it he did.  But the process was gruesome, and violent.  It required the death of another soul and the theft of that life and it's body, and so it was that murder came to the realm.  

Though the people no longer saw Ružan as ugly on the outside, they could feel his ugliness within.  And still they shunned him.  Furious, Ružan cursed the people, and so came to the realm poverty, and disease.

 Lonely, and his heart hollow, Ružan tried to compensate for the emptiness he felt by marrying a young woman.  But she would not love him properly, and so he killed her and tried to forget her.  Then he tried to buy friends, but materials meant nothing to the people, and so they could not be bought.  Eventually, he enslaved the realm and built himself an empire.  

Ružan was a ruthless ruler, and the dark magic made him cold, bitter, and capricious.  He was subject to violent mood swings, and his blood lust was insatiable.  He ordered the deaths of innocents, seeing anyone who did not claim to love him as an enemy.  The people, to survive, learned to say anything Ružan wanted to hear.

Ružan’s darkness swept through the realm, now more like a graveyard rather than a kingdom.  The sun was forbidden to shine too brightly, and the land was dying.  Ružan’s shadows were everywhere—a silent pair of eyes and ears.  Sometimes they took shape, doing his bidding whenever they were told to.  The Shadow Kids they were called—children could never be trusted with secrets.

The girl shuttered, remembering the dark shadows in her own bedroom, always watching, always listening.  Their silence expanded, consuming everything, until she was afraid to breathe, in case they heard her.  She tried sleeping with a nightlight, but that only made it worse.  They grew angry, and where the light did not touch, the shadows only deepened.  She found that the only way she could sleep easy was with her head under the covers--a habit she has never outgrown, even though the Shadow Kids no longer scare her.  

The End

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