“He will bring doom to us all if he stays,” Aido heard the village elder say through the closed door to the kitchen. “I, for one, will not allow all of us to die because of your attachment to a filthy shadow-bringer.” Aido flinched at the harsh words that were directed at him.
“He may be filthy to you, but he’s our son!” Aido heard his father reply, with anger lacing his tone. Even though Aido was glad his father was fighting for him, it frightened him to hear this normally soft-spoken man become so infuriated.
“Do you not remember what His Highness has told us?” he heard the elder reply coldly. “Shadows are proven to bring death with them. If we banish shadows, we can protect the world. That boy is a detriment to society, and the rest of the village will surely become a mob when they find out! If he doesn’t leave, not only will our whole village be doomed, but you will all be lynched! This is for everyone’s protection.”
There was a moment of silence before the elder continued. “Do you not remember the teachings of our Emperor?”
“We remember full well,” his father replied evenly.
“Shadows were proven to be the bringers of doom and destruction. Since Emperor Litorel got rid of the shadows, nobody has died of old age. Then, once he gets rid of the night completely, we will be blessed with eternal sunshine, peace, and life,” the elder told them firmly.
“We don’t care. We’re willing to die for Aido,” he heard his mother say with a trembling voice. Guilt washed over the boy. He couldn’t put his parents through this trouble. Ever since he was little, he had been raised with the morals of the Spirits and the One True God. One of the responsibilities that he had as a human was to accept anything that came his way without thrusting the problem onto others. His parents couldn’t suffer his shame. They were old, and shouldn’t die defending him if he was attacked by a mob. He needed to take responsibility.
“No, Ma, Pa,” Aido said loudly, pushing the door open. “I won’t let you risk yourselves for my sake.”
His mother’s eyes widened, and his father stared dumbly. The elder nodded in approval.
“I see the boy, at least, has some sense,” he commented. Aido looked at him and glared.
“I’m not doing it because you’re telling me to. It’s risking my family. I was raised to do the right thing.”
Though his mother was beginning to tear up, she smiled proudly. Even though the thought of leaving the village terrified him, being able to see his mother with such pride in her face was enough to make him forget the terror—almost. He gulped.
“Besides, I’m sure someone with magic can get rid of it. All I have to do is find an inaaran somewhere and get them to cast a spell,” he added with a shaky laugh. “And isn’t the doctor in Sunnyshore Village an inaaran?”
His mother brightened, and his father smiled hesitantly. “That’s true,” he replied thoughtfully. “It doesn’t take more than a day to get to Sunnyshore.”
Encouraged, Aido turned to face the elder. “See? Easy as pie!” he said, trying to force himself to sound more confident. It wasn’t scary at all, he told himself. He’d been to Sunnyshore plenty of times with his father to trade crops for fish—he knew the path well. And the doctor could definitely help him. Dr. Tarr did magic shows for the children sometimes, and Aido had seen one of her shows once. He grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back in a couple of days,” he reassured his mother.
“Regardless,” the elder said, interrupting the family, “He needs to be gone by noon. I heard a rumor floating around even this morning about the boy with a shadow. Everyone needs to be reassured that he’ll be gone.”
Aido’s father shot a glare at the elder. “Don’t worry, he will be,” he replied angrily. “Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve got to prepare Aido for his journey.”
With a shrug, the elder walked out of the room, giving the small family their privacy. “Aido, I’ll give you some food, a canteen, a change of clothes…” Still looking lost, his mother bustled over to the cupboards, pulling out various food for traveling. Aido watched her prepare with a blank expression until his father interrupted the silence.
“Aido, we’ll give you money to get you to Sunnyshore. Don’t spend it on stupid trinkets like you do with your allowance. This is to be used to speak with Dr. Tarr, food, and emergencies,” he instructed sternly, taking out his coin pouch and giving Aido the whole thing. Aido flushed.
“Pa, you don’t need to give me the whole thing!” he protested.
“Aido, me and your Ma have our savings we can use. Just make sure to bring back whatever change you have, all right?” his father added in a lighter tone. Aido nodded, feeling like he was on the verge of tears. It was stupid. He would be back in a couple of days… It was dumb to be so emotional.
“Yep!” he replied, determined to sound strong for their sake. His mother smiled.
“Don’t let anyone try to say you’re evil because of your shadow,” she told him firmly, even though Aido could see that her eyes were filling with tears. “You’re not. Just think of your shadow as a blessing. A good sign. A sign that you’re someone good enough that the Spirit of Grave thinks you’re special.”
“But the Spirit of the Grave is evil!” Aido protested. His mother shook her head.
“Always, always remember that there is no such thing as an evil Spirit. It is only the things they have created that can become evil.” With that, his mother turned back to her packing.
“Like shadows,” Aido murmured. He was so confused. If he was considered special by the Spirit of the Grave, why would he give Aido something so evil?
“All right, here’s a bag with food and clothes,” she said after a few minutes, taking a moment to outfit her son with a strap-on bag. “There’s a sweater in case it gets cold, and you can also use it as a blanket. The nights are warm, so you shouldn’t need anything heavier. If you need to go any further, buy a blanket in Sunnyshore. There should be enough food in there to last a few days…” Suddenly, the old woman broke down into more tears. Aido could only watch helplessly as his father rushed to her side to comfort her.
“I’ll be back in a few days!” he said meekly. His mother nodded amidst her shaking.
“I know, I know,” she replied brokenly.
Hesitantly, Aido embraced his mother, thinking all the while of how awkward it was for a boy his age to be hugging his mother. It was so bad of him to think of that, because he was leaving them. Still, he couldn’t help the thought from appearing in his head.
After a moment, she released him. “Make sure to eat all your vegetables, you hear?” she asked in a faux-stern voice, clearly trying to cover up her emotions. Aido nodded frantically, just wanting her to stop acting like this. A quick goodbye would have been so much easier.
“Yes, Ma,” he replied quietly.
“And don’t get lost. It’s easy to do in the dark,” his father warned. “It’s a tricky trail. Just stick to the main path and you’ll be fine. And beware the shadows.”
Aido winced. Rumor had it that shadows wandered the woods at night, killing everything they came across. “What about werewolves and kitsus?” he asked nervously.
His father chuckled, and rested a hand on Aido’s shoulder. “Werewolves and kitsus only live in their territories. Shadows are the only things there are to fear.”
“And bears,” Aido added, chuckling nervously. Both of his parents laughed.
“And bears,” his father repeated, leading the boy out to the door. Aido looked at his mother, who was wringing her hands.
“Don’t worry, Ma,” Aido told her softly. “I’ll be fine.”
“Just be careful, Aido,” she replied, her voice feeble. It struck Aido just how old his mother looked. Wrinkles lines her sagging face, something that Aido had never truly paid attention to; how low her cheeks fells, how frail she looked… She had given birth to him at an older age, so she was older than all of his friends’ parents. But he had never truly realized her age until now.
“I love you,” she added, gazing at him with watery eyes. Aido could feel his own blue eyes prickle with the beginning of tears.
“I love you, too,” he replied, flushing with embarrassment at saying that. But he had to, he felt. He couldn’t help but feel that if something went wrong, he would want to say it now. He wanted to make sure that she knew that he loved her.
Aido was better able to compose himself once he set to walking down the road. After a final wave to his parents, he concentrated on taking deep, steady breaths to calm himself down. It was easier to see how simple this was. It was nothing, really. He just had to walk over to Sunnyshore Village, visit Dr. Tarr, maybe buy a present for his parents, and then go home.
He breathed in the humid air of the late morning. It was a beautiful day—they always were. Even rainy days were beautiful. In fact, rain was his favorite kind of weather. It was always sunny through the fluffy white clouds, and there were always rainbows. Today, however, was a very sunny day. It was nice that he wouldn’t have to trek through the mud, he thought with determined cheer.
But walking sure gets boring without anyone to talk to, he thought not too long after his musings about the weather. If his friends were around, he could talk with them, or else he could get them to carry his pack for him. It was getting heavy—just like his mood. He found himself grumbling out loud to himself.
“Stupid shadow. Why couldn’t you have picked someone else?”
He stopped where he stood in the road, staring down at the black mass attached to his feet. To think that shadows used to be everywhere when his mother was a little girl! Aido couldn’t comprehend just living with those things all the time. Didn’t people used to worry that the shadows would kill everyone in their sleep? They were so strange, so intimidating. They were creepy black things that were attached to you all the time, and seemed to feed off of you. And how could they not be real solid things? They were like ghosts, only darker. Scarier than ghosts.
Sighing, he continued along down the road. It seemed to be taking forever. He didn’t even know how long he had been walking. It could have been minutes, or it could have been hours.
This lack of knowing the time ceased abruptly as Aido saw a small creek. He paused, gazing at it with a frown. It was familiar. Suddenly, it hit him: This was where his father and he had camped out once on their trip to Sunnyshore Village a few months earlier. He smiled slowly. He knew where he was, and he knew that this was a good place to camp out—there was water, and he knew that there was a nice level place where he could sleep. It also meant that he must be almost halfway to the village! He must have been walking for a long time. He was relieved that, for the first time, he knew where he was.
Darting over to the creek, he found himself drowning in self-comfort as he settled down to the spot where he and his father had camped out last time. They had roasted some chicken over the fire for dinner, and Aido had fallen asleep before the sun had set. He could relive that moment! He could make himself some dinner, fall asleep before sunset, and be awake long after sunrise.
Hungrily opening his sack, he grabbed one of the sandwiches his mother had made. This journey certainly wasn’t as bad as he had thought it was going to be, he thought as he chomped into his food. He felt a sudden rush of optimism. Things were really going to be just fine.
So it was with pleasant thoughts that he curled up to sleep at the base of a wizened old tree. Even though the sun was high in the sky, his body knew that it was almost time to bed. However, his eyes had barely shut when he heard a faint chuckle coming from beside him. He froze, and squeezed his eyes shut. He was positive it was just the wind.
That is, until he heard it again. Only this time, it was followed by, “You know, I’m not going to hurt you. I may follow, but I don’t hurt.”
Aido shot up, turning around abruptly to come face-to-face with Momo’s translucent face. Her pale lips grinned, and Aido leaped back in alarm. “What are you doing here?!” he demanded in a whisper, though he knew there was no need. He blinked. He suddenly realized that it was night—had he fallen asleep after all? Was he dreaming again? He shivered.
Momo, however, chuckled again. “I’ve been following you, Aido. Maybe not physically, but let’s just say I’ve been snapping at your heels.” She winked.
Aido frowned, and automatically looked at his heels. He didn’t get it. Momo sighed, clearly frustrated.
“I mean at your feet. I’m attached,” she told him lazily, gesturing a long, ghostly hand to Aido’s legs.
His eyes widened. “Like my shadow?”
“Now you’re getting it. I am your shadow, kid,” she told him cheerfully. He stared. “So, how do you like having a shadow? Nifty, aren’t they? Believe it or not, when I was alive—”
“Go away!” Aido begged, trying to back away from her haunting stare. She shook her head. This was what his shadow was? She was a… parasite! She used his body for herself!
“Nope,” she replied comfortably, settling down beside him and sitting cross-legged. She ran a hand through her short blonde hair. “I’m afraid not. I come as a warning.”
“About the Emperor’s plan,” she explained, her tone taking a serious quality. “How he plans to eradicate the night, including death and darkness.”
“Yeah, so? Nothing wrong with that,” he replied uncomfortably. Maybe he was just dreaming. He was so sleepy that he was positive it had to be a dream—everything just seemed too surreal to be real life. Momo, however, continued to stare at him.
"Really, Aido? Don’t you see the drawbacks?"
"Drawbacks to having day be forever? Not really. The dark is evil, so what the Emperor is doing is good." Doubt suddenly gripped him. Had he been living a lie?
“Yes, Aido, you have been living a lie,” Momo replied easily. Aido stared.
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
Momo smiled. “I live inside you, Aido. I hear your thoughts in me, just as you hear my thoughts in you. I’ve been seeing the world through your eyes. The world has changed so much. It’s disgusting.”
“Look. There’s nothing to fear from shadows, or night, or darkness, or even death. Believe me, I know, death isn’t scary. I’ve been there, done that. In fact, the only reason I came back from the dead is to help you bring back the night.”
Aido was silent as he tried to piece everything together in his groggy head. Momo was his shadow, but at the same time, he was dreaming her up. He had to be dreaming her up. How else could she read his mind? Plus, if she was dead, how could she come back as a shadow? This seemed to put Aido at peace. He began to sink back down to the ground. “You’re just a dream. Tomorrow, I’m going to get rid of you, shadow.”
Momo sighed in exasperation. “You’ll understand soon why I’m a shadow, sooner or later. But I won’t leave, and no spell can make me do that. The Spirit of the Grave is watching you, kid. However, I won’t appear to you again until you’re ready to accept your mission of bringing back the night.”
“Good,” Aido grumbled, closing his eyes. “Good night, shadow.”
Even though his eyes were closed, he still heard Momo’s amused laugh, and quiet reply, “Good night, kid.”
When Aido woke up the next morning, he felt he hardly slept at all. He groaned, and rolled over onto his other side. He was sore from sleeping on the ground, too. He closed his eyes firmly, wishing he could just go back to sleep. Except he had to get to Sunnyshore Village and get rid of his shadow. Sighing, he grudgingly got up, brushing the dirt off of his brown shirt.
Thoughts of Momo crept into his head again. However, he berated himself. Why did he keep obsessing over his dreams? Tentatively, he looked down at his shadow again. Thinking of Momo made him think about his shadow again. Doubt took over. Was she really his shadow? Cautiously, he lifted one of his feet, watching the shadow change shape. It was truly a peculiar thing. Oddly, he wasn’t as scared of it today as he had been the previous day. It felt like an almost playful thing.
Without realizing it, Aido began to smile. He swung his foot shyly, watching the shadow rock back and forth.
Abruptly, he stopped, planting his foot firmly back onto the ground. He was being stupid. Momo wasn’t a shadow, and his shadow was something evil. He scowled, and fished a small breakfast out of his pack. It was because of this shadow that he had to leave his family and his village. It was no laughing matter.
The walking seemed to go even more quickly today, Aido thought with relief as he passed tree after tree. He began to see signs on the side of the road, signaling just how close he was to Sunnyshore and other nearby villages. If only his pack was lighter, he thought, he would have run the rest of the way to the village. But no matter.
Absently, Aido began to sing to himself, hoping it would pass the time more quickly. It was always more fun when he sang with others, but he once again came to terms with the fact that he was on his own.
“Kitsu, kitsu, dance for me,
Teach me how to spin and move!
Always dancing, always swirling,
Milara-lar staj kitiema, kitsu!”
It was only a children’s song, but it was a good traveling song. It was also a really old classic—his mother once told him that it was even older than she was. It dated all the way back to the times when the Dal-Lorhien was the only language that was spoken, before the modern language existed.
However, singing the song make his mind wander even more, and he began to think about his earlier fears of werewolves and kitsus. On the bright road, it was easier to think of those monsters as creatures that lived only in their territories. To Aido, they were the most frightening of the sacred Spirit-creatures. The kitsus, the demonic foxes, were the spawn of the Spirit of the Volcano, and the werewolves, the monstrous wolves, were the spawn of the Spirit of the Hills. He probably wouldn’t have minded meeting the more mild mermaids, nymphs, dragon riders, or graces. And he had already met a shadow.
Aido wrinkled his nose, and he stopped his singing. Of all the creatures he had met, why did he have to be stuck with a shadow? Even kitsus and werewolves were less evil!
Suddenly, through the trees, he saw the dirt road slowly form into a stone road. A grin spread across Aido’s face. From the minute he put his feet onto the first stone block, he would be within the town limits of Sunnyshore Village.
Happily, he began to run. Even his pack felt lighter now that the end of his journey was within his reach! Any doubt he had about the doctor left his mind. His worries were completely stupid, he thought. Dr. Tarr could help him get rid of the shadow, and he would be back home in no time.
The jog into the village was a very quick one. The simple cottages where people lived were sprawled into the grassy edges of town. Being a more densely populated town than Aido’s hometown of Sage’s Toll Village, the cottages were much closer to each other than the cottages back home. He could see children about his own age playing in the tall grass, jumping out to surprise at other kids that Aido assumed were neighbors.
“Deldie! Stop scaring the other children!” he heard a mother yelling at some of the kids. Sheepishly, a boy looked up at his mother.
“I’m not scaring!”
“Yes you are!” a small chorus of other children hollered back.
Aido grinned. How he wished he could play with his own friends right now! As he passed, he watched them longingly. No matter—he would be back soon.
Yet another little inkling of doubt began to wiggle itself into Aido’s mind. It was as if Momo was laughing at his thoughts of being able to be normal again. At least, that was what the inkling felt like. Determinedly, he pushed it out of his mind. Dreams shouldn’t have control over people.
As he continued to walk down the road, the cottages came closer and closer together, and as shops began to emerge, Aido could tell that he was entering the truly urban part of the village. He curiously looked at the signs for various shops: signs of vibrant colors read “Khorda’s Smithery” and “Uldo and Sons Tannery.” He had forgotten how much he loved being in Sunnyshore Village. His favorite store was the “Foreign Goods Store”, where they sold different things from all over Inaar.
He stopped to stare at the windows of the store. They had figurines of the weather dragons in the window, different varieties and colors for sale. Aido wrinkled his nose. He would so love to have one. Oddly, though, his eyes were drawn to the thunder dragon. That dragon must be sleeping, he thought. Because of life without shadows and darkness, dark clouds that bore thunder didn’t exist. The only explanation was that the dragon of thunder had to be sleeping.
As he gazed at the odd-looking figurine, he heard the footsteps of small boy approaching him, licking a lolly. “I love them dragon figurines,” he told Aido with a sticky grin. “I gots meself a collection right now. I’m savin’ my coins for a fog-dragon now. Are ye a dragon collector, too?”
“No, but I would love to have one,” Aido replied enviously. The boy laughed, and gave his lolly another lick.
“Did ye know that they’re made by them dragon riders theyselves?” the little boy asked.
“Aye! I wish I was a dragon rider. When I grow up, I’m a-gonna go to their island and see them real dragons for meself! Even if I can’t be ridin’ them dragons, I sure would like to make them figurines and still get to see them when they be done workin’!” the boy added with a dreamy sigh.
Aido nodded slowly, gazing the rows of them lining the window. “I hope you get to see them,” he said.
The boy grinned, showing off one of his missing teeth. “Thank’ee, mister. Everyone tells me to quit me dreamin’, but dreams are too important to just ignore!”
Why did Aido feel that Momo would be laughing right now if she were here? Again, Aido pushed thoughts of her out of his mind. She didn’t even exist, and was unimportant, despite what this boy was saying.
“…are ye listening, mister?”
Aido blinked, not realizing that the boy was talking. “What? Sorry.”
“I said, what be yer name?”
“Oh, it’s Aido.”
“Ohhh. Me name’s Kitaj,” the boy replied cheerfully as he licked his lolly, sticking out his other hand for Aido to shake. Reluctantly, Aido shook it. It was covered in a sticky candy mess.
“I have a friend at home named Kitaj,” Aido told him. Kitaj nodded.
“I know, right, it’s a real common name,” he replied with a shrug. “So why’re ye here?”
“Um, I have a problem, and need to see Dr. Tarr,” Aido said slowly. Kitaj frowned his little brow.
“What’s it be?”
“Well… I can’t tell you, or else you’ll be scared,” he replied uncomfortably. Kitaj glared.
“Look, I may be li’l, but I ain’t scared o’ nothin’. Don’t be forgettin’, I’m a-gonna live with them dragons someday,” he pointed out. Aido laughed nervously.
“Well… I have a shadow,” he explained slowly. To his surprise, Kitaj didn’t bat an eye. He merely looked down curiously at Aido’s feet.
“Well, I ain’t never seen none of them before,” he commented. “I think it’s all good luck, though. That means that the Spirit o’ the Grave likes ye.” Aido frowned.
“They’re bad luck though!” he protested, forgetting for a moment that he was arguing a little boy. Kitaj giggled, and sucked on his lolly for another moment.
“How can somethin’ like a god be bad luck?” he asked innocently. Aido shook his blonde head.
“No, you don’t understand. What kind of school did you go to that tells you that there’s nothing wrong with shadows?” he demanded. Aido’s own schooling discussed shadows quite often, and how horrible they were. Kitaj smirked his candied smirk.
“I don’t be goin’ to school. My gran teaches me all I be needin’ to know. She’s got so many years on her that she remembers them shadows. They ain’t be evil. She calls it ‘Emperor’s durnin’ properganda.’”
Aido looked horrified. “She could be arrested for treason!” Kitaj rolled his eyes.
“No soldiers ever be a-comin’ here, ye know. They don’t be likin’ us countryfolks,” he replied cheerily. He took another long lick of his lolly.
“Well, anyway,” Aido said forcefully, “Where is Dr. Tarr? I need her to use magic to get rid of my shadow. Even if it isn’t evil, I’m not allowed home until it’s gone!”
Kitaj stared at him for a moment. “Dr. Tarr?”
The boy sighed, and finished off what little was left of this lolly with a sickening crunch. “Ye see, that there’s a problem,” Kitaj replied slowly. “Ye see, Dr. Tarr be an ole loony. She rips people off, ye see.” Aido’s heart sank.
"She be sayin’ that she be knowin’ all the Dal-Lorhien an’ magic, but she ain’t be knowin’. She just makes it all up and has people be payin’ loads o’ coins. Be believin’, my gran knows more’n that stupid,” Kitaj explained, scraping the little bits of lolly off of the stick with his yellow teeth. “She always said that things like shadows and kitsus can’t be destroyed by magic. So if ye wanna be after gettin’ rid of that there shadow, ye should be talkin’ to the Spirit of the Grave hisself!”
Aido stared. Oh, how he was so tempted to not believe the words of this street urchin! But he remembered what Momo had told him last night. “I won’t leave, and no spell will make me do that,” she had said. Chasing after Dr. Tarr would be absolute foolishness. This child’s words, oddly, suddenly made Aido accept the fact that Momo, his shadow, was a real girl. A real, dead girl who truly wanted him to save the world from an eternal day. Until now, he hadn’t thought of Momo as a real person. But now… he knew that she was.
“That’s right, kid,” he heard Momo whisper in his ear. He jumped, and looked over his shoulder, but nobody was there. Kitaj looked at him curiously.
“Ye all right?” he asked curiously. Aido felt the blood drain from his face.
“I… I have to go,” Aido mumbled. He could feel his blue eyes beginning to leak with tears.
“Aw, mister Aido, don’t be a-cryin’! Shadows are bein’ good!” Kitaj pleaded, his own little brown eyes filling up at Aido’s worry.
“No! I just want to be able to go home!” he whimpered, sinking to the ground. He was relieved that there were no passersby to witness this humiliating loss of control.
“No, but mister, yer shadow is a good thing! The Spirits are watching you!” Kitaj tried to tell Aido in a comforting tone, rummaging through his pockets, searching for something. He pulled out a sucker candy. “Here, have this, it’ll make you feel better! Please, be seein’ yer shadow as a good thing, mister!”
Still whimpering, Aido took the small, slightly dirty, sucker candy, and put it in his mouth. “Thanks,” he mumbled, wiping his still-streaming eyes.
“If ye want, I be bettin’ my gran would let you live with us, if ye can’t go home,” Kitaj offered. Still sucking on his candy, Aido found himself shaking his head, despite the kind offer.
“I… I can’t. My shadow wanted me to do something for her,” he said in a trembling voice. Strangely enough, Kitaj grinned.
“See? You are important! Shadows ain’t stupid. They know what they be needin’ from ye, and they knew ye’d give it to ‘em! Be strong, mister Aido!”
“Yes, mister Aido.” Momo was whispering in his ear. “Be strong.”