Shaper Shadow is a fantasy story that has dwelled in my mind for some time. It follows Deacon - a convicted slave, Nithil - the shadowy Rider that dwells in his mind, and their savior Erent - a man with the ability to Shape the earth to his will. The story details their adventures and travels throughout the land of Taress.
Four walls. A ceiling. A floor. No door. No light. No way to measure the passage of time save pile of filth that would undoubtedly grow in one of the cell's corners. It was quiet. That loud kind of silence that ring in the ear, accompanied only by the beating of Deacon's heart and his dragging, deep breaths. He'd die down here, he knew. He'd die beneath the weight of the entire magnate city.
There was some amount of comfort in the thought. The unavoidable finality that such a room presented.
The last light that Deacon would ever know had disappeared only moments before, and the vastness of his dying hours finally presented itself to him. He extended an arm into the darkness and took several small steps until his palm came to rest against the cold, perfectly smooth surface of what he assumed was the eastern wall. There were two ways out - starvation or suffocation. He was hoping for the latter, it'd probably hurt less than hunger and dehydration. He pressed his back against the wall and slid down it to a seated position. He'd been born in the east, and he tried now to lean on the idea of his family and his home. It'd be like the kids that he'd had to dig out of collapsed mines in order for work to resume back at the plantation. He'd run out of breathable air, and peacefully enter the final sleep.
You'll probably last longer than that. Came a voice from the darkness. Suddenly the room seemed to bathed in twilight and Deacon could see the other plain walls.
He held out his hand and examined the bruises and scabs on it. When he made a fist and tightened he could feel the scabs popping open and see fresh thin slivers of red. "So now you decide to speak." His eyes glazed over with frustration.
Deacon allowed a heavy breath to make its way from his nostrils and closed his eyes.
I'm just saying. It'll take you while longer to die than normal people.
"Great." Another sigh.
Ordinarily it'd be a few days til starvation, maybe a few hours til suffocation. My hosts don't die that way though.
It was unfortunate that Nithil's voice was inside of Deacon's head. There was no way to tune him out. "So how many times have you died in here?"
Hmm. Four. No . . . Five times?
Of course he'd lose count. "How long did they last." It was a question he knew he'd regret asking.
Just depends. Griff was gone by week two. On the other hand, Lucan held on for a few years.
"A few years?"
Yeah. Like fourteen or so. . . The thought of his family sustained that one, I think.
Deacon sighed again. He wanted to fall asleep and die and be done with it all.
You can always do like some of the others and beat your head against the wall until you give out.
"Please be quiet."
The cell was the most recent addition to the prison in the spiraling tunnels beneath the Magnate palace. They'd explained it to Deacon when they were dragging him down here - the wall that the tunnel terminated at was also the wall to the cell they'd sealed their last prisoner in. It was the perfect way to contain magical and political threats to the nation. Miles below a mountain, sealed away from the light, in complete solitude. As far as Deacon was aware Nithil was the only entity that had managed to escape, and he'd said it took decades to do.
Presumably there was a corpse a few feet beyond one of the walls. Someone like Deacon maybe. Innocent. Torn from their home. Left to rot in pitch black solitude.
And somewhere beyond them, another one. And another beyond that. Seven centuries worth of people. The Weak and the powerful, some victims and some criminals. All equalized by death and dark and lonely.
Deacon slept. In his dreams he danced with Rosalyn.
The great grandchildren of the men who carved these tunnels were long buried. Probably, the last one had gone back into the earth and succumb to the soil and minerals three dusty centuries before this day.
How long would it take then for the bodies of the men laying around the corner behind Erent to share that state? Thirty, forty years without a coffin? That seemed accurate. Did soldiers get burials in this country? Or were they treated like society men and committed to the fire?
Ashes would join with soil almost immediately surely.
There were only two noises now. The rapid, tapping collisions of Erent's boots with the stone floor, and the flicker of the torch in his hand as it rushed toward the terminus of tunnel. He could feel it looming ahead, just beyond the cast of the firelight.
And then he saw it, an empty, flat wall. And then he was upon it. The torch fell from his hand, which was shaking now. He touched both palms lightly to the stone surface, and felt the chamber behind it, and the one behind that, and all the hundreds and thousands beyond and below. Pockets of the lonely dead each one, surely.
He realized he'd stopped breathing and sucked in a sharp breath. Shouts echoed from the tunnels behind him, accompanied by the growls and barks of dogs. He couldn't understand them, but from the sound of it they'd found the last set of corpses he'd created on his dash down here.
Erent wasn't a killer. The men had probably been innocent and had families and lovers, he knew. But they'd stood in his way. Rivers, mountains, not even tradition and duty had been allowed to stand in his way. And he did regret the decisions that had brought him here.
He was here now.
He pressed his hands harder to the wall. His fingers sank into the stone as if it were mud. "I made it Melanie. I came." The wall melted before him.
Melanie was not in this chamber. The light of torch scarcely pierced the darkness of chamber. In fact it seemed as if the shadows were pushing back against it. Erent scowled and took a step forward. The shadow retreated a pocket in the corner, and then it gave way entirely. The starved body of a young man sat there, feet flat to the ground, forearms resting atop his knees. It stank of shit, but not death. And he knew this skeleton of a man was not dead. It confirmed his suspicion when it's chest expanded with a deep breath.
A voice came from somewhere other than the boys mouth. I told you something was coming didn't I?
The figure in the corner climbed to his feet, and Erent readied himself to kill again.
"I guess so." Spoke the boy in a surprisingly deep voice. He was shirtless. His neck, and the upper portion of his chest were ringed with an intricate tattoo. His flesh was pull taut over his ribs, and clavicles, his neck looked too thin to carry the weight of his head without snapping. His eyes, squinting at the sudden light of the fire, were sunken, surrounded with the dark purple of insomnia, locked with Erent's. "Thank you."
The barking of the dogs grew louder behind him. He moved beyond the boy and brought the next wall down. He picked the torch up off the ground and moved into the next chamber. The soil smell if old excrement mixed with the heavy scent of decay.
There was a body on the floor.
The braided red hair had to be Melanie's. He fell over the body, turning her head. Her eyes were still open, glassy hazel. She had wasted away less than the boy behind him before she'd succumb to death.
There was body on the floor. And it was his wife.
The barking kept getting closer.
He glared into the darkness the cacophony of his pursues emanated from, and started walking toward it.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to make them pay for what they did to her."
He turned his gaze on the skeleton man, "What?"
"We need to get out of here! You can't dangle a man's freedom in front of him only to get yourself killed immediately after. Leave them be and let's go."
Erent blinked, he looked at the skeleton man from some place far inside himself. He scowled, and a new wall slammed into existence where the first had been. "Fine."
He lifted Melanie's corpse gingerly off the ground and took a step towards one of the walls, it began to open in front him, forming a new tunnel that grew longer with each step forward.
"We go north."
Some part of Deacon hated this. It wasn’t the fact that physically hurt to move after such a long period of stomach clutching, utterly silent stillness. Or that they’d been walking for close to an hour, and his knees continued to click with each step forward the way that joints are apt to do after long periods of inactivity. He was honestly surprised his limbs could move at all after the atrophy his muscles had suffered in that indeterminate amount of time he’d spent in the gnawing dark.
One of the benefits of hosting a Rider he supposed. One of the things Nithil would have told him if Nithil had asked permission before irrevocably latching himself onto Deacon’s being.
The Rider had been silent for most of the journey from the cell, aside from answer Deacon’s questions about their savior’s abilities.
A Shaper, he’d said, They exist in the only country south of the Greybacks and east of the Shadewalk that managed to resist the expansion of the Magnates’ grip. They call themselves the Society. A lot of their population can exert their will over the earth and manipulate it in subtle ways. Helping the soil become more fertile, or more readily irrigatable. Which is probably why they’ve maintained their independence. Their crops are well maintained, their people are well fed, their government is conscious of the needs and well being of its people. This one though - . . .
“What?” He’d pressed. The words echoed passed the Shaper who turn around and cocked an eyebrow.
“Huh?” The man asked.
Shit. “N-nothing. Sorry.”
“ . . . alright.”
“What?” He asked inside his head.
This one. He’s strong. There haven’t been Shapers in the Magnatium for hundreds of years. There haven’t been any with this much force since they helped the first Magnates dig those tunnels, and build their palace at the beginning of the empire.
“How do you know that? I thought you were only a couple hundred years old.”
I’ve read a lot of books, and met a lot of people.
Nithil didn’t say anything after that. The only other speech for the rest of the journey was whatever quiet words the Shaper mumbled to the corpse he was carrying. The man came across as a hard man, but there was a sadness and a defeat clearly weighing upon him.
Three hours of knee clicking, necrophonic muttering silence. Three hours for the idea of life, of freedom, to settle back over him. It was the biggest question mark he’d ever face he knew.
He didn’t notice when the man stopped walking, he was so absorbed in his thoughts, and he ran into his back. The man barely shifted with the impact. Deacon stumbled back in surprise. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Stairs up began forming into the wall before them, and before he could prepare himself for it, sunlight was pouring in from the ceiling. He gasped. The Shaper disappeared through the opening he’d created, fading into the intense white of the day.
Deacon lingered in the shadows. His entire frame shook. He took a wobbly step forward. Then another. And another. Until he was at the first stair. He sprinted up the short flight and into the warm arms of the sun.