Darkness lay over the mountains. It was the darkest hour of night, illuminated only by the numerous stars that glittered in the sky. Each of them cast a faint light on the rocky landscape of this part of Elysia, and together with the full moon they enveloped the mountains into a mystical half-darkness.
Undoubtedly, any traveler to wander by that night would have been fascinated by their surroundings and pause to admire the beauty of nature - but there was not an elm or elmen in sight. The inhabitants of Elysia knew that at this time one simply did not traipse outside, and better yet, wasn't awake at all.
For the night was the time of the Shadows.
Only few had ever seen a Shadow, and even so, all the elves had stories. Khya knew them all, from the brutal legends of shadow-conquerors to the spectacle stories told to children. And she knew they were all true.
As a Shadow, one knew that much.
Here, at the foot of the mountains, she blended in with her surroundings. She was really a shadow, a creature without a true physical form, invisible to the world. But that would soon change: she was not here without reason. For several nights she had watched the cave entrance, before which she now remained. She had been looking for a victim, and she had found one. A victim that would bring her goal much, much closer.
No, she amended. It was not about them. The existence of all Shadows was at stake. With this act she would be a great service to her tribe. They would at last avenge themselves against all those who had oppressed them since the beginning of time. They would -
A sound interrupted her thoughts. Steps. From the cave entrance. The time had come.
"I can't believe I have to do it again. Three times in a row, night watchmen, they spin. As if I had not already enough sleep!"
A man, Khya knew. The one she had been waiting for next. An adult, but not too old. And he was also irritated, that much was obvious. She grinned. It couldn't have been better.
She waited until she could see him in the cave entrance. The man was in about his mid-twenties and belonged to the ore tribe; Elmen, who lived in caves under the mountains. Hardly anyone knew about them, but that was what fascinated Khya. With the aid of considerable stealth, she had found them, observing them from the security of her lack of a bodily form, searching for whatever they might be hiding from the world.
She had found him, and who could help her better than an arch-elm herself?
The man was like the other elms of his tribe Khya had seen in the last days. His skin was grey, as was his uniform, and two gem-like horns ornamenting his head, which in his case glimmered blue.
Could be sapphire, thought Khya, wondering the likelihood of gaining a valuable mineral from this encounter. Then again, she had a very limited knowledge of stones. But whoever, whatever it was, she could manipulate the shadows for a beautiful piece of jewelry, only a small bauble... but she was not to risk anything. She needed the man the way he was.
As she speculated, he had clenched his fists so as that his knuckles were white, and his frustration was painted clearly on his face. She could hardly have found someone who was more suited than he was.
It was time to step out of the shadows. To take a visible form.
"It doesn't seem as if your tribe cares much for you," Khya commented, slowly opening and closing her fists as she regained the sense of her body.
The man's anger turned to horror as he turned to the source of the voice. His eyes widened and he winced, but then seemed to remember that he had to defend his tribe. And that he was really angry. "Who are you? And what do you want, child of Hell?"
She grinned. It was always interesting, the insulting remarks each victim chose to throw at her. Each of her victims had been able to talk with her so far. She took another step toward the man, but was slightly surprised when he did not shrink back. At least he had courage. Or was an idiot. "The question is, what do you want?"
"What does that mean?" He inquired confused, but irritated nevertheless. That would benefit her.
"That means I've heard what you just said. Your tribe uses you, you know just as well as I do. I mean, three nights in a row? There are certainly others who could do it."
"Sure," the man nodded, taking no trouble to conceal his rage, now that this stranger seemed to understand him. "Dozens! But they can't stand me. They realize that when I retire to sleep they won't have to interact with me."
Khya stepped closer and closer to him, as compassionate as she could as a Shadow. "Sounds like they're going to get rid of you."
"Of course they want that! They think I'm good-for-nothing, so they're hoping that some monster of the upper world will get me." He paused as he remembered who he was talking to.
She looked directly into his deep blue eyes and did not sound angry or hostile, not at all. Rather like a good friend. "We're not monsters, you know? On the contrary: I'm pretty sure that you would be better off with us than with these useless fools. I can make them respect you. I can make it that your whole tribe knows how important you are."
"... Why would you do that?" He was not stupid, she had to leave him. There was mistrust in his voice, and yet Khya knew that he was playing with the idea of accepting her proposal.
"Because I despise when someone does not get what he deserves. And we both know that you are going to do more than to guard the caves."
"Then I can finally wipe out the other one ..." His hatred was not to be ousted, and in his mind he was already contemplating his revenge- and over something as insignificant as working shifts. However, she should be only right- after all she had had stranger previous encounters. He nodded. "What do I have to do?"
"Wait," Khya said, smiling. With her claws on her fingers, she ripped open his uniform in seconds to place her hands on the naked skin of his shoulders.
"Let me go," the man growled, and made as if to shake her off, but caught her intent gaze.
"Do you want to be strong now or not? Your friends would not have performed such an act."
"You are not my friends!" He replied with anger. Suddenly, Khya felt a tingling sensation in her fingers. The moment had come to use her powers. It was now or never.
Concentrating deeply, she closed her eyes. Seconds later the tingling became a true flow of energy, which passed from her body into his and slowly but surely changed it.
He could not scream; he was paralyzed. He staggered, but she held him fast. Only when she let him go he fell instantly to the ground where he was trembling. Khya handed him his hand to help him, and looked at her work.
The gray skin of the man had given way to a pitch black, and his white facial mark was now deep red. Where there had been horns of blue stone before, small and curved ones were now emerging from his head, which had lost their colored glimmer. His fingers and toes were clawed, and the rest of his upper body was now torn. The reason for this was, at the same time, the most striking characteristic of his new form: two gigantic leathery wings had grown from his back. Of course he would not be able to fly with it for a long time, but that was not important either. She had other plans with him.
"How do you feel?" Khya asked, looking into his eyes, the blue color of which remained.
"You ... you made me a monster," he replied, as he sat up and looked at his new figure as if he could not believe his once innocent fingers now had murderous claws.
Khya did not conceal her pride. She had once again succeeded in transforming an Elm. Another step in the fight against the light. "Yes. You are now one of us - but do not forget; we are not monsters, we are shadows. A not very small difference. "
The man stretched his new wings a little awkwardly. "Now they'll be afraid of me, won't they?" He sounded more excited than frightened, which showed Khya that he had just not listened to her a bit.
"Definitely," she agreed. She'd let him believe what he wanted. As long as her plan worked, Khya was right. "But before you can let your hate on them, I need your help-"
She paused. She almost forgot him, the important moment that made the change. "You are now one of us," she repeated, "your former self is history, and you will be known as a shadow under a new name, for with your new form your old name has lost its value?"
The answer came without hesitation. "Alastor," said the man, showing an exceedingly malicious grin. "I will be called Alastor."
"I like it," Khya nodded. And that was not a lie: the name sounded frightening. They did not want to be monsters, but Khya could not deny that this name would still serve him well. "And now come, we still have a lot to do." She gestured to the cave entrance. "I'll explain the rest to you."
And together they disappeared under the earth.
|Sky of Stone Chapters|
|One: Earth||1: Summer Solstice • 2: Riders of the Wind • 3: Light and Shadow • 4: Opposites • 5: A Strange Encounter • 6: Across the River|
|Two: Ore||7: Dark Omens • 8: Underground • 9: His Radiance • 10: The Forbidden • 11: A Boy and His Goat • 12: The Story of a Tribe • 13: Keeper of Earth • 14: At the Bottom • 15: Changes|
|Three: Sky||16: Back to the Start • 17: Against the Darkness • 18: Old Acquaintances • 19: Change of Plans • 20: Unexpected • 21: Sky Holes • 22: Wind and Water|