"My liege… we've had reports from Arid Point. It seems that our Captain Rest has been spotted there." This was the first time that the young captain had ever reported to the Emperor directly, and he was relieved that it was good news… somewhat.
"Really?" Emperor Litorel said. "What would he be doing out in Arid Point, so far from his post?"
"It seems he truly has deserted, my liege," the captain replied, perhaps a bit too eagerly. The Emperor simply laughed.
"It seems so. Perhaps he is trying to go home… any other news of him?"
"Well, he was with three other people," the captain said slowly. Now here came the part he wasn't as excited to tell the Emperor about. "One of them… had a shadow."
The Emperor's sickly blue eyes flashed a hidden anger. "A shadow?!"
"Yes, my liege." The captain no longer sounded eager; his voice quivered.
"That is impossible. Shadows no longer exist in this world!" The Emperor sounded truly furious.
"I'm afraid that my sources tell me otherwise. The innkeeper said that the boy with the shadow, Captain Rest, and two others stayed at his inn and left in the dead of night. He was quite positive about the shadow. The only reason he let them stay was so that he could report to the town guards.
The Emperor sank in his throne and put his wrinkled hands over his face. "What devilry is this?!"
"The innkeeper also reported that he heard the four of them were coming out of the Ievai Hills," the captain added, squirming a little. "Is it possible that the events with the Spirit of the Lake and the Ievai Hills have anything to do with this? Ievai is rather out of the way for travelers…"
"Of course!" Feverishly, the Emperor opened the ancient book on his lap, flipping through the pages. "The fools… They must be trying to gather the Spirits."
"The Spirits wouldn't want to be captured… Of course there is some idiot out there who feels some kind of loyalty to those… shadows." The Emperor shuddered. "Perhaps they are trying to warn the Spirits before the get caught…"
He stopped on one page and quickly skimmed the elaborate letters of the written Dal-Lorhien. "If I am guessing correctly, the Circle of Heaven is the one place the Spirits feel safe. Fortunately, this book provides a way to pull them out of their little nest." A grin slowly spilled across his old face. "Not the most pleasant way to capture them, of course, but it will stop their interference."
"So you're going to perform another spell?"
"Not yet." The Emperor closed his book. At last, peace seemed to have settled on his features. "We need to make sure that those four have been stopped first. Where would be the most logical place for them to be next?"
"Since they started off in Dinérva, and now they're in Ievai…" the captain pondered, "they probably would have stopped at the western Spirits first— the Volcano and the Forest. It would be an annoying trek for them to go back and forth, so perhaps they're on their way to the Spirit of the Wing."
"The Grace Mountains." The Emperor smiled. "Send our fastest soldiers to the Fallen Valley to meet them before they get through it. Then it will be safe to perform the spell and pull those Spirits out of Heaven and back onto Inaar where they belong. Then they'll be tidy and in one place… perhaps these children have done us a favor!" The Emperor let out a booming laugh that did not seem to fit his age. Any fear he may have had about this situation dissipated abruptly.
"Also send more soldiers to Blossom City and the Town of Spiders, to see if any of them have been there already," the Emperor added. "Then we can see for sure just how many Spirits they've found."
The captain nodded and scurried off, perhaps afraid if the Emperor had another mood swing. But he needn't have worried, for the Emperor seemed quite pleased with himself. Nothing could go wrong. A platoon of his soldiers would be more than enough to stop a rowdy gang of children. It wouldn't matter if they had to kill them; the obstacle would be taken care of quite easily in that case.
The only matter that concerned the Emperor now, however, was just how the young boy had a shadow. Shadows should no longer exist. The Emperor's own magic had made sure of that! He thought long and hard about shadows, trying to come up with a rational explanation. Even folklore would be useful at this point!
And yet… The Emperor's eyes widened. There was folklore about shadows, how the souls of the dead could come back and attach themselves to a human close to them. Was this what the boy had? If that was the case, how could a dead person possibly know anything about what he, the great Emperor of Inaar, was doing?
He looked out his window, a scowl forming on his face. He looked over Inaar City, his home, at the peasants selling their wares in the streets and the peaceful sunrise. Yet the sunrise was far from peaceful. The sun should be high in the sky by now. What was his perfect world coming to? He ushered one of his heralds to him.
"I need to speak to my people."
With a curt nod, the herald hurried away to tell the others that they needed to alert the people of Inaar City that the Emperor was going to talk. Within moments, the heralds were in the city, blowing their horns to alert the crowd.
"His Highness the Emperor Litorel will speak!"
The crowd didn't take long to assemble; missing a word from the Emperor was like missing a word from the One True God itself. After all, the Emperor saved them from a world of darkness and terror, and would now enjoy a long life of prosperity and peace because of it. If it hadn't been for the Emperor, the dark cults would have overwhelmed Inaar and killed them all.
Slowly, the Emperor walked out onto the balcony where he overlooked the people. He was a sweet-looking old man, and very easy to sympathize with, so the crowd hung on his every word.
"Something terrible has happened in our beautiful country," Emperor Litorel said, his voice said. "There has been word that a shadow has been seen outside of the Ievai Hills." Anxious chatter took up the space where the Emperor paused. A shadow?
"It has been… speculated, that this shadow is trying to return this wicked darkness to our peaceful land." The chatter gained frequency as the crowd began to discuss it amongst themselves. It made no sense to these common folk. There was no reason, in their eyes, that anyone would want to bring back the dark. It made sense to them that they could live a prosperous life for eternity, without worrying about dying or night.
"We have good reason to believe that the cults are trying to awaken. Therefore, for your protection, I would like any suspicious activity reported directly to my guards. If anyone has been found guilty of working for the powers of darkness, they will be executed. I cannot let my beautiful people in Inaar come to grief. It pains me to see that some people still see my duty as a threat. All I ever wanted for you is your protection and happiness."
Someone in the crowd shouted, "Long live the Emperor!", and everyone raised their voices to whoop in assent. The Emperor smiled sadly as he gazed upon his people.
"Ah, bless you all, my children. I will make sure this problem is ended as soon as possible. My one wish is to protect your well-being. If that is gone, my own life will have been meaningless. I will protect you all."
"And we'll protect you, your highness!" another young voice in the crowd yelled. Another cheer of assent, and the Emperor smiled humbly.
"Bless you, my child, bless you," he replied in a grandfatherly tone.
At an event like this, it was pretty easy to see how the Emperor was so popular. People were willing to lay down their lives for the Emperor, who also seemed to be willing to do whatever he could to protect his people. He reminded everyone of their own fathers and grandfathers and at the same time, he had a way of looking at individual people in the crowd to make them seem special. Important.
"Stay strong, my children," he finally said, concluding his short proclamation. Cheers of support erupted from the crowd and the Emperor raised a hand in grateful acknowledgement. "Thank you, thank you."
Now that was taken care of. The word would spread, both through the laws he was passing and through the grapevine that if that shadow boy was found, he'd have to answer to someone. He was no longer a friend his empire.
"Have you sent out my soldiers to track down these children?" the Emperor asked the captain who approached him. The captain nodded.
"They are saddling up as we speak."
"Most excellent." The Emperor smiled. This was going to be no threat, after all. He had the army and his loyal subjects on his side. The day's long hours would return. The falling of night would stand no chance against his magic now. Why, even the One True God would stand no chance against him!
"Would you like Captain Rest and the shadow-boy killed on the spot?" the captain asked. The Emperor thought for a moment.
"The shadow boy… yes. Kill him at once," the Emperor instructed. "As for the rest of them, bring them to Inaar City for questioning. We will determine their threat from there. I would prefer not to cause suffering, but if they do not see the error of their ways, I'm afraid we will have to execute them."
The captain nodded. "Let's hope, for their sakes, they are able to see the truth."
"Indeed. I hate to kill needlessly," Emperor Litorel added sadly. "But if it's to protect this beautiful country, I will do what I must."
"Yes, your highness," the captain replied, and he backed away from his ruler respectfully to pass the command on to the army. The shadow-boy was to be killed, but the rest would be spared… for now.
The Emperor sighed and looked out the window. The sun was setting at its earlier time, and it greatly disturbed him. He would make sure to fix it. He had to fix it. The night could no longer be allowed to descend. And soon enough, it would be gone for good.
The Emperor approached his throne and lifted up Anth-Aranjien ier anj Kailorké ak anj Laieké. His work was certainly cut out for him.

The End

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