Shadow Cursed by May Sage
Shadow of Tenebris
Once, the fae woods were alive with malice, laughter, and schemes, but gone are the days of the folk. Trolls and boggarts no longer hunt shadows of the night. No hag wanders the darkness, lying in wait to ensnare a maiden and eat her heart whole. The goblins returned to their hills, and the aven hide in burrows.
Tenebris is a land of men.
The bodies of the four mortals at my feet incite no feeling in me. No excitement, no contentment. I remember I used to enjoy causing pain to those I deemed deserving of it. I loved the hunt. I even loved the kill. Such is the nature of the blood running through my veins; beneath layers of sophistication, we unseelie will always be instruments of chaos and destruction.
Now there’s nothing but a void. An emptiness. I killed these mortals because they were in my way. I killed them because I had to, without feeling a hum of pleasure or desire.
One of the most inconvenient human qualities is that they tend to swarm like locusts. Destroy a handful, and a dozen pop up in their place. Before I have time to wipe the blood off my sword, I sense company nearing. I curse under my breath, unhooking my bow from my back to shoot the mortals approaching from a distance.
“Look up!” Iola yells behind me.
I don’t bother. The day I can’t feel an oncoming gunshot is the day I’m no longer Rystan Drusk. The gunpowder humans use stinks of charred metal, and the air around it vibrates in an unnatural way.
I don’t know where most of my heritage comes from. What I do know is that Mysts are the children of the air. As its master, I am one with the night.
Before the human weapon finds its way into whichever piece of my flesh it would have lodged, I disappear into the shadows.
I reappear next to Iola and Erdun, a few hundred paces ahead of where I was. “Do you have it?” I demand.
My companion nods, pointing to the satchel on her hip.
“Go, then,” I say. “I’ll delay them.”
Iola frowns, and then shakes her head. “We can’t. Lesson one: no one is ever left behind. Remember?”
The thing I forgot is that today is her first mission outside of the walls of Whitecroft.
Erdun laughs, tugging on Iola’s sleeve. “That rule applies to everyone except him. Come on, greenie. He’s Shadow. He’ll be fine. The faster we are, the sooner he can join us.”
Shadow. That name almost manages to get a reaction out of me, but I ignore the chill running along my skin.
Iola lets the other ranger tug her forward, and they start their run to the southeast, only looking back once.
I’m glad I included her in today’s rescue. She may be greener than some, but she’s ready. And the gods of heaven and hell know we need as many rangers venturing beyond our sanctuary as possible, if we’re ever to reclaim what’s ours.
Ten years ago, when Tenebris was invaded by human scum led by a traitorous usurper, I volunteered to train those who wanted to help. Our army was all but decimated in the attack preceding our retreat. While naturally agile and stronger than any mortal, the folk weren’t fighters, per se, and they knew nothing of discipline. I used to be a soldier, in another life. I figured my training should be passed on.
Almost a thousand folk have suffered through my lessons. They hate me, curse my name. One or two have begged me to kill them when I work on their endurance. But unlike the hotheads who believed they didn’t need any training, unlike the few soldiers who came with us, every single one of them is still alive today.
I haven’t taught them obedience or any such things the armies used to require of me. I taught them to survive.
They’re each a bit of hope for our kingdom. For our race. If I can do nothing else, I’ll endeavor to keep hope alive for those who still have some.
My actions don’t matter; I realize that. There are a hundred thousand humans in our lands. More arrive every day. They’ve cut down woods and built settlements through our home. They’ve claimed it. They even renamed it. No trickery, no spell, no curse can will that many mortals into nothingness, and those are the true weapons of the folk.
It’d take a miracle to claim it back, with so few warriors among us.
I’ve long since ceased to believe in