A sequel to "Shadow Boy", written for Nanowrimo.
Good triumphs over evil, light vanquishes darkness-- at least, that's what we're taught to believe. However, Aido knows better. In his shadowless world of Inaar, he alone has a shadow. His shadow appears to him in his dreams as a young woman named Momo and she teaches Aido about darkness, death, and the line between good and evil. Will he cross that line as he tries to save the world from an eternal day?
“My liege, there is some bad news from Dinérva. It concerns the Spirit of the Lake…”
The general bowed low before Emperor Litorel and wished that he wasn’t the bringer of such bad tidings. To his surprise, however, the Emperor did not react with anger. He simply laughed.
“What bad news could this be?”
“Captain Rest has defected from the army— he abandoned his post and it is presumed that he helped release the Spirit of the Lake from where we trapped him.”
The Emperor looked into the distance thoughtfully for a moment, his weathered old hands stroking the ancient book on his lap. It was nearly in pieces and the pages were almost dust, but the cover clearly read Anth-Aranjien ier anj Kailorké ak anj Laieké.
“How can that be?”
“We are uncertain, your Highness. Though, the guards report seeing a kitsu in the city around that time that attacked Captain Rest before he abandoned his post. This kitsu was accompanied by a woman and a boy.”
“So perhaps they have something to do with it,” the Emperor commented quietly, continuing to stroke the book. “Very well; dispatch your guards and send them to investigate the Spirit of the Wing. Who knows if our old Captain is off to free them, as well?”
The general blinked, surprised that the Emperor had taken the news so well. It was unnerving.
“Forgive me if it’s not my place to say, but isn’t it… a bad thing? That the Spirit of the Lake has been released? He may realize our plans and tell the other Spirits.”
The Emperor let out a small chuckle. He was an old man, but not an invalid. His white hair formed a crown around a shiny bald head, and his eyes, though a murky hazel, were bright. Wrinkles had taken their toll on him, but in a way that gave him character, not age. One might even mistake him for a kindly old grandfather, not the Emperor of Inaar.
“I am not concerned,” he stated firmly. “The Spirits cannot simply wander from place to place. They would need a vessel, a human perhaps, to wander around to find the other Spirits. And the other Spirits, I must say, are not as kind as the Spirit of the Lake.”
“But what of Captain Rest?”
“What, if he is their vessel?” Emperor Litorel laughed. “He could not reach all of the Spirits in time. We are moving quickly; we’ve already begun to attack the dragon riders. The Spirit of Time should be drawn out soon enough.
“I do, however, pity Captain Rest. His loyalty must have been questioned. It’s unfortunate that my actions have led to his undoing.” He sighed sadly and caressed the book fondly. “I truly don’t like how I have to kill people to get this all to work, but I have no choice. I simply have no choice. It’s for the good of Inaar.”
“And the world,” the general replied in a somber tone. The Emperor smiled.
“It’s good to be able to trust you, General Ain,” he remarked. “It’s taken fifteen years for people to understand my plight and agree with it. But you were with me from the moment I told you, weren’t you?”
“Of course, your Highness.”
“Why, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this book with me today. You are a strong soldier and a stronger general.”
“Thank you, your Highness,” General Ain replied, inclining his head slightly. Though it wasn’t pleasant to move his neck like that in his stiff red uniform, being complimented by the Emperor was no small matter. Indeed, the day he had retrieved Anth-Aranjien ier anj Kailorké ak anj Laieké was the day that had led to his promotion to general.
The Emperor rose slowly from his throne and set the book down in his place. “Why is it that the night continues to come?” he murmured, walking toward the window and peering out at the sunset. “I have caught two Spirits. One may be released now, but why is the night able to return?”
He had noticed that, for the past month, the nights were beginning to get longer. Was it because one of the Spirits had been set free? It shouldn’t be the case; holding the Spirits captive would make their powers weaker and therefore have them unable to fight this new age. The magic of getting rid of the night was supposed to last, with or without the Spirits. So why was the night stronger?
“I am not sure, your Highness.”
Emperor Litorel smiled wanly. “I do not expect you to know, General Ain. Perhaps the magic of my inaarans is weakening. I’d like you to check in on them, as well. Make sure that they’re not doing anything to destroy the daytime. You know how this has been my lifelong dream. I would hate to see it end so abruptly.”
“As you wish, my liege,” General Ain murmured. He put his right hand over his heart and bowed, turning from the throne room to do his emperor’s bidding.
“As I wish,” Emperor Litorel repeated, still staring out the window. “It’s not just what I wish, but what’s best for Inaar. Shadows and death are evil.”
The dark. The one thing the Emperor of Inaar feared.
“Ah, Koven, you have a letter today,” the master of the post office told the old farmer as they crossed paths in the street. Koven frowned. A letter? He knew very few outside of Sage’s Toll Village, and even fewer that would write to him.
“Don’t know. There’s no name on the envelope. Just reads ‘Koven and Grien, Sage’s Toll Village’. Knew it was you, because you’re the only couple I know with those names.” The post master grinned toothily and fished the letter out of his sack. He handed it to the surprised farmer.
Sure enough, that was his and his wife’s name on the envelope, Koven thought with surprise. He didn’t recognize the handwriting; it looked like it was done shakily and was slightly smudged. Without a second thought, Koven opened the envelope.
The letter was in the same messy handwriting, but when Koven scanned its contents, his heart skipped a beat.
As fast as the old man could, he ran down the path through the trees that led to his cottage in the woods. His joints acted up often, so his sprint gradually became a limp, but he couldn’t stop. This was far too important. His wife needed to read this letter for herself.
“What are you doing home so soon, love?” Grien asked, stepping out of their cottage. “It doesn’t look like you’ve bought a single thing that we needed!”
“You have to read this!” Koven replied breathlessly, shoving the letter at her. With a frown, she began to read.
Dear Ma and Pa,
I’m sorry that you must be worried now. I thought I would be able to come home as soon as I found Dr. Tarr, but it turns out that she was a fraud. But I did meet a friend. Her name is Shmee and she is taking me around on her travels. I also met a kitsu, can you believe it? Her name is Sarita and she isn’t scary at all, except when people are rude to her. Then she can be mean, but then I just step on her feet.
Right now, we’re all in Dinérva. It’s absolutely beautiful here, but I can’t really go out much, since I have a shadow. The guards here are pretty tough, even tougher than at home! So Shmee is going to mail this letter for me, and she tells me to write “Hi” to you.
Oh, I forgot to say, my shadow isn’t really bad after all. I don’t really want to get rid of it anymore— in fact, my shadow talks to me in my dreams, and says her name is Momo. She’s very nice. I probably shouldn’t say more, though. We’re on an important mission, and I don’t want to put to much in this letter. I don’t know if the post masters read it or anything.
So please try not to worry. I’m safe. I’ll come home as soon as I can.
Love, your Aido
Grien let out a keening sound and tears began to stream down her face. “Oh, my darling Aido! He’s alive!”
The two had given up hope that their only son would return to Sage’s Toll. It had been about two months ago since they all discovered that Aido had a shadow in their world of no darkness. The last they had seen him, Aido had been trekking off to Sunnyshore Village to talk to Dr. Tarr to get rid of his shadow. He never came back.
“Dinérva?!” Grien exclaimed. Dinérva struck her as one of those far-away aristocratic cities; what in the world was Aido doing so far away and in such a place?! Grien reread the letter, taking in every detail that her old eyes could capture. A look of puzzlement crossed her face. “Momo?”
“Momo,” Koren repeated, unsure. They looked at each other. They both felt as though they should know that name. Why couldn’t they recall it?
As Grien tried to think of where they had heard that name before, Koren started pondering. Aido hadn’t gotten rid of his shadow, but didn’t seem to want to. He was rather concerned about that— since the days of the Shadow Cult, the Emperor had preached that darkness was a great evil and must be destroyed, including night, death, and anything else dark. It made so much sense… but Aido didn’t seem to believe it. And the name Momo wasn’t a name that invoked fear; it was a name that, for one reason or another, brought up love and sadness. Why couldn’t he remember this Momo?
“I wish we could write back to him,” Grien commented sadly. “I would love to be able to tell him one more time that I love him.”
“He knows it,” Koren replied, confident in his answer. “He wouldn’t have written this letter otherwise, would he?”
Grien nodded slowly, as if trying to convince herself to believe it all. “I suppose,” she commented, her voice hardly louder than a whisper. Koren smiled, and squeezed her shoulder encouragingly.
She racked her brains again. Where could she have ever heard of the name Momo?