Read Nightlord: Shadows Online

Authors: Garon Whited

Tags: #Parody, #Fiction, #Fantasy

Nightlord: Shadows

BOOK: Nightlord: Shadows
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Nightlord

Shadows

This one’s for Kay

Disclaimer

It was never my intention to be a storyteller.

Originally, I needed a way to come to grips with my thoughts during a period of, shall we say, intense disorganization. While this diary has served its purpose very well, it is somewhat difficult to make sense of my life—or unlife—by simply observing it. I should know.

As a result, for the convenience of the hypothetical reader, I have included a few entries that deal not with my perceptions and thoughts at the time, but with things I learned afterward, deduced, or inferred. Hindsight is remarkably useful for telling one where things went wrong. Rather than add them at the end, I have interspersed them among the original, unedited entries to give them the benefit of context.

Please bear in mind that I did not, at that time, have the advantage of such insights. Obviously, had I known then what I know now, the thread of my destiny would have been woven differently.

Or would it? Is there a destiny, unavoidable and true, that each of us moves inexorably toward, struggle how we may? Are we fish on a line, drawn by an unseen hand toward our ends? If so, can we break that line, pull away from the hook, and dart away to swim free?

I wonder.

Still, despite the failings, shortcomings, and misgivings of this particular work, I can take solace in the fact that it is still purely a work of imagination, as easily dismissed as Alice dismisses a pack of cards. None of it really happened. Each and every one of us, including myself, is merely a fictional character. Who would weep for injustice done to people who do not truly exist?

Then again, in all the alternate universes, all the possible realities… do they exist? Is there another me, somewhere, who does not bluff and obfuscate, but actually does know what he is doing? If I wish hard enough—if I clap hard enough, and get enough people to clap with me, and
believe
—does that universe become more real? Do all our tears water the seeds of realities that exist only in our hearts and imaginations?

I hope so. After all, I am nothing but a work of fiction.

First Movement

Something about this is new.

I have walked these halls for longer than I can remember, because I have no idea how I got here. Why am I here? Why this place? A living mountain, peopled by the ghosts of an ancient city. It was hollowed out—no, it hollowed itself out—as a home for the silent thousands that babble ceaselessly, echolessly, within the throats of stone that are my halls. I speak to them and they kneel before me and I am both exalted and humbled, though I know not why.

I look at the spirits in my wake for faces I know. I see the teeming thousands and tens of thousands, but I only want a few faces. There is no Sasha, she of the laughing eyes and iron will. There is no Tamara, she of the fiery hair and warm heart. There is no Shada, she of the gentle hands and bright mind. There are only the multitudes, and I am alone.

They move about this world of stone without touching the floor, lapping and overlapping each other, and I look through them even as I pass through them, shadows passing through shadows, and they ripple in my wake like reflections on water.

Where is Shada? Gone, gone, gone, never to return, for her ghost roams other halls of dust and darkness. And Sasha? No, her spirit is lost, long ago, like a home I will never again see. Also no Tamara, but perhaps her spirit still resides within the flesh.

Lonely amid the teeming thousands, I search for someone, anyone, that I may know. There are only faint images, transparent, fading. Yet, the dragons-head throne looks back at me and its eyes glitter with the colors of lightning and fire. I do not know it, but the weight of its gaze is familiar.

I see these spirits clearly, yet I cannot see myself, not when I look down at where my body should be, nor in the polished walls of the throne room. It comes to me: My spirit wanders while my body is hidden away: In darkness, there is no reflection.

Wait. How do I know that my body is hidden? What is it that tells me this? I know something, but do not know how I know it. Is it the whisper in the darkness that calls my name? Is it something I remember? There has been a long wait and great pain. I remember. I remember…

I can feel something within me moving toward greater awareness.

Rooms of ruin. The halls of the dead. A house of dust and darkness through which my spirit wanders, thoughtful and alone, yet surrounded by the faded multitudes.

Welcome to the underworld. The place is a mess, but I call it home.

I touch the stone with invisible hands, trailing my fingers over it as though across the fingers of a lover. It touches me in return, and we are one, though apart; touching and touched, mingling, like colored sands in a shaken bottle, mixed together, yet never joined. My spirit moves within the stone like a lone thought in a sleeping mind, lightning-quick in the emptiness, trailing afterimages of consciousness like a comet’s tail.

It is cold, here, although I can feel a heart like a furnace. Is that inside me, or inside the stone? Is there a difference? There must be, for I am cold and no fire warms me. How long have I known I am cold? It comes and goes, like the seasons, but when the cold is gone, there is nothing at all.

During the times the chill comes over me, I feel I could be dreaming. I feel smaller, somehow, as though something goes missing, and takes away the sensation of being just myself. No, that is not quite right. I am not gone; I feel hidden within myself like deeper shadows hidden in a cave.

Then the thought occurs to me: What happens to me when the cold goes away? Do I become more than just myself, or do I lose a part of me? Which one is real? Is one of them real, or is everything part of a dream?

This thought disturbs me, somewhere deep inside, and I stir even more, restless. My perspective shifts, the halls slide by in a blur, and blackness flows over my gaze leaving only the darkness.

Something is moving again, something nearby. Something physical. I can feel a change in the mountain as it notices, again; this has happened before. I can hear voices in my flesh, feel footsteps upon my skin.

Someone is here, and that fills me with both elation and alarm. I move toward greater wakefulness, realizing that I have slept long, dreamed much, and still must do more. What do I have to do? What calls to me that I must rise and take action? Is it the call of things outside, summoning me? Or is it something inside me, urging me on? What is this that drives me, suddenly, to movement, to action, to
do
?

In the end, does it matter?

I realize I am hungry.

Day One

I jerked upright in total darkness. Or almost upright; I banged my head on something low and flopped back down again, groaning. There was an awkward moment while I came to grips with where I was and what I was wearing. A helmet, yes; very good. Armor, yes; probably good. Thing stuck in my mouth? What the hell is this?

I tried to look at the thing in my mouth couldn’t. Being blind in the dark is embarrassing for a part-time undead monster. I settled for pulling the thing out, mouthpiece and all. In my hands, it felt like some sort of funnel.

I paused to take a breath, calm down, and take stock. A little more Braille exploration and some gentle shifting about told me a lot about my situation.

I’ve awakened in a stone box about the size of a large coffin. I’m in full armor and there’s a sword belted to my hip, but the hilt doesn’t feel like Firebrand. I just took a metal funnel out of my mouth. Directly above my face, there’s some sort of hole, presumably for pouring something into the funnel. I’m guessing someone pours blood in it every so often. There is a very slight movement of air, so I’m not going to suffocate. I’m filthy, everything aches, and, by the various so-called gods, I smell
awful
.

I’ve woken up in worse places.

Hmm. What does that say about my life choices?

On the theory my container could be some sort of sarcophagus, I pressed against what I hoped was the lid. When that didn’t work, I tried the sides. What got me moving was pushing with my feet; the slab under me shifted, possibly on rollers. I pushed some more, used my hands against the sides to drag myself and my slab laboriously forward. It and I slid out into a much larger and equally dark chamber. The extra space was very welcome, as was the fresh air.

The darkness was still a problem. It seems silly for a nightlord to be blind in the dark, but that’s the way it is during the day. Without moving from my slab, I raised a gauntleted hand, extended two fingers, muttered a couple of words, and an arc of light formed between my fingertips like a piece of the Sun. Instantly, I closed my eyes and turned my head away. The blaze of light was like a searchlight in the face. I dismissed the line of light by making a fist and blinked tears of pain from my eyes.

Obviously, I overdid it.

With the utmost nicety, I carefully drew the lines of a light spell between two fingertips, barely whispering the words. Then, with exacting care, I trickled only the barest bit of power into the spell structure.

The line blazed like a naked filament. Better, but still bright enough to blind.

I held the light over my head and shielded my eyes with my other hand. Blinking rapidly, my eyes streamed tears and slowly adjusted to the glare. With a wristflip, I joined the ends and sent the now-ring-shaped bit of brightness to take up station “above” my helmet, out of direct view.

I looked up at me. I was sitting on a big, squarish throne, looking over me at the chamber. This was disconcerting.

Perspective shifted. I lay at the feet of a statue. A statue of
me
.

Admittedly, the statue was very well done, if somewhat over-sized. It was carved right out of the rock wall and it looked eerily like me, enough to be disturbing. Someone had even painted it. It was, if you’ll pardon the expression, incredibly lifelike. My slab was part of some sort of hidden drawer built into the base of the statue, made to slide under the altar-like portion in front of the feet.

Sitting up hurt too much—come to that, moving at all hurt—so I rolled over on my side. I promptly fell off the slab and hit the floor with a muffled thud/clank sound. I didn’t bother to move, although a groan did manage to creep out of me. I lay there for several seconds while my body got used to the idea of universal circulation.

How long have I been on that slab?
I wondered.
Do undead get bed sores? Or do those just regenerate after sunset?

I tried stretching, and it hurt. Internal bits creaked and popped. Still, I hurt less after stretching, so I continued, slowly working everything.

Why is it that waking up hurts so often? Should I just not go to sleep? Is that the secret?

I tried some range-of-motion movements, continued to stretch, and slowly persuaded my body that, yes, movement was going to be required. It argued. I overruled it and it sulked. At least it didn’t scream and throw a tantrum.

I’m in a cave, I’m greasy and filthy, and I stink like an unlimed outhouse.

I want to go home. I want a hot shower, some anti-inflammatories, a stack of pancakes with extra bacon, and the day off to watch some TV with my feet up. Is that too much to ask?

First, though, where am I? Going home is hard when you don’t know where you are.

I rolled over, pushed up from the floor, and used my slab as a support. Eventually, I made it upright. I felt I could walk if I was careful; I definitely didn’t want to have to defend myself immediately, nor do anything else remotely strenuous—such as, say, negotiating stairs.

The clank against my left hip reminded me I was armed. I carefully drew and examined the weapon. It reminded me of a cavalry saber with a full bell guard. The blade’s curve was mild; I could thrust with it. It was sharp all along the outer edge and about a third of the way from the tip along the inner edge. I could see an enchantment in the metal to strengthen it and keep it sharp. The thing was heavy enough to chop, if only just, and certainly sharp enough to shave. My first guess was that someone borrowed Firebrand, hopefully with Firebrand’s permission, and left this one as a temporary replacement.

At least
, I reflected,
it had
better
be temporary
.

Compared to the four-foot monster of Firebrand, three feet of saber felt awfully light and fragile. Still, it was a good weapon for some fighting styles. It was more of a fencer’s weapon, not a girder designed to cleave armor. What I didn’t like was the one-handed grip. It forced me to fence with it, rather than hack. I suppose that’s a good thing, in a way; if I could two-hand the thing, I might break it. But I disliked being unable to step up to the plate and take a power swing at my target. Some of the things I’ve hit needed to be hit
hard
.

I adjusted the belt and baldric; I had to tighten the belt several notches. Well, I hadn’t eaten in a while. My armor felt loose on my frame, too. I took off a gauntlet—very nice; leather with metal scales. Everything about my outfit was quality, which meant money—and saw my hands were downright skeletal.

My fingernails looked manicured: sharp-edged and slightly pointed. My fingers were covered in grey dust. Frowning, I shook out a gauntlet. Quite a lot of dust poured out. I looked into the gauntlet and noted someone had gone to the trouble of putting a spell inside it to keep my nails trimmed. Thoughtful of them; I might have cut through the leather without it. I shook out both gauntlets to empty them, then thought to check my helmet. Yes, someone had included a shave-and-a-haircut spell. I ran a hand through my oily, sticky hair, and decided there was a bright side to being filthy; the avalanche of hair clippings didn’t add too terribly to my disgusting state.

Someone expected me to be in this armor for long enough that nails and hair might become an issue. Or, at least, they prepared for that contingency. Someone went to a fair amount of trouble. Who? Raeth? Tamara? T’yl?

Despite my odor, my midsection reminded me of more pressing questions; I was more than a little hungry. My stomach rumbled slightly, then tied itself into a knot and sat there like a six-year-old denied another slice of cake. I looked around the rest of the room. Nothing leaped out as immediately edible. Stone isn’t generally known for gourmet appeal.

All right, things on my to-do list. Food, certainly. Answers, when convenient. And something definitely needs to be done about the smell…

Well, the smell I could do something about immediately. I scratched a circle on the floor and stood inside it. After a few words and the proper gestures, the fine mesh of a spell formed around me. I pushed a trifle of power into it and allowed it to wrap around me like a blanket. This settled down through armor and padding, all the way down to my skin, covering me completely. Then it slowly oozed its way down, parting at the crown of my head and slithering lower and lower. It took with it everything that wasn’t skin, cloth, metal, or simply attached. It felt something like layer after layer of sticky tape being peeled away from me, taking filth with it, trying to take skin. In moments, there was a nasty pile of grime, dust, and hair between my boots, but I was clean. I felt raw all over, almost peeled.

I still wanted a bath. I might be clean enough to eat off of, but I didn’t
feel
clean.

I stepped out of the circle and completed the spell, incinerating the pile of grime. Then I went looking for a bathroom.

The door was a little hard to find. It was a stone slab that resembled the rest of the wall, balanced to pivot in the middle. It barely made a grinding sound as I pushed it open. My hovering ring of light drifted along with me, keeping its place above me as we went into the corridor.

Dust and stone. At least the air was fresh; I could even feel a warm breeze. No signs of life, though.

Am I alone in a gigantic tomb? Am I dead and buried? Well, not dead, obviously… well, not dead
at the moment
, obviously.

Where is everyone? There’s no sign of life, not even the smell of something dead.

How long have I been in here?

I should have felt completely alone, but I didn’t. Somewhere, somehow, I was with a friend. The mountain itself? Possibly. Probably. It knows me; it likes me. It’s the only pet rock I’ve ever had.

All right. I paused for a moment, thinking about how to get out. I didn’t want to spend the next hour getting in touch with the geologically-slow thought processes of a mountain, but maybe I could communicate just a simple concept? I concentrated on… what should I concentrate on? Concentrate on springing lightly out,
ding!
¸ and being somewhere else. Good image.

Strangely enough, that gave me the impulse to work my way
down
into the mountain. Still, that’s not unreasonable. If the door is lower down the mountain than I am—and I have no way to tell—then down I go. I went.

There were a number of false turns, but every time I took a wrong one, I gradually lost confidence in that route and backtracked. It was like having a compass in my head, pointing me toward my destination, or a turn-by-turn satellite navigation system that updated really, really slowly. I was further slowed by pivot-doors. These blocked the corridors at fairly regular intervals. They weren’t locked in any way—I didn’t see a way to lock them, short of driving wedges under them—and they opened easily, if slowly, and stayed open.

Why are these here?
I wondered.
As fire safety? Traffic control? Ventilation guides? Pick any or all of these, then come up with a few more.

The cavern—the room—I finally found was not an obvious exit. I shoved another pivot-door open and stepped inside. The room was almost a hemisphere. A conventional, albeit oversized, arched doorway set in one wall distorted the hemisphere shape a bit. It didn’t go anywhere; it was just set in the wall like a decoration. There was also a large, circular pool of water in the center of the room. None of it glowed in my wizard-sight, so there were no spells involved. How did this get me… out…

Hmm
.

The archway reminded me of the Great Arch in Zirafel. The circular pool reminded me of the reflecting pool I built in my backyard. Why they reminded me of these things, I can’t say. But at one time, I’d walked through both of those to travel instantly from one place to another. Well, not the ones in front of me, obviously. Still, if I was going to go somewhere far away and suddenly, these would make excellent starting points.

I wondered. Can I generate enough power to open a portal and go home? No, definitely not; travel to other universes is not a small undertaking. How about enough to just get outside? Maybe, yes, if I were better fed. Even if I was in shape for that, I had no idea how far to go, or where to aim for. At that moment, the Shoe Leather Express was my only real mode of transportation. I really needed to find a way out that didn’t tax my emaciated and hungry condition any further.

Since it seemed difficult to give my pet rock a clear idea of what I wanted, I decided to try some exploring on my own. The place did seem remarkably familiar; there was an almost-constant feeling of déjà vu as I walked the halls. I dreamed of this place; I was sure of it. With that familiarity, I thought I might be able to find my way. There was airflow, after all.

So, follow the breeze to its source, or to its destination? Upstream or down? Since I didn’t smell anything terribly edible on the breeze, I followed the air current upward again.

Logic. How helpful. Not that it did me any good. The air currents consistently led me to holes, about four inches across, angled up. Part of the ventilation system, no doubt, and not getting me any closer to breakfast.

I leaned against the wall and contemplated my situation. If I couldn’t smell dinner, maybe I could hear it. I took slow breaths as I removed my helmet and listened. My ears adjusted to the silence, then to the sound of my breathing, the thud of my heartbeat, the hissing of my blood sliding through arteries…

BOOK: Nightlord: Shadows
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