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By Megan Johnson

I hate shadows. It always feels like something is watching me.

More than shadows, I hate these new street lights. The city thinks they’re saving money by replacing all of the old style bulbs with new, bright white LEDs.  Maybe they are, but that doesn’t make me hate them any less. Sure, the old bulbs left everything bathed in a sickly yellow glow and didn’t illuminate much, but the light crept. It worked its way into the nooks and crannies of the world, and drove away the shadows that hid there. This blinding brightness may be better for drivers but it doesn’t creep, and now the shadows are darker than ever.

After midnight, I should not be able to count every single blade of grass in my front lawn while sitting on my porch. I don’t care how much money the city is supposedly saving on their electricity bill.  My little corner lot is surrounded on three sides by these brilliantly hateful LEDs, and no matter how much I glare at them, it does nothing to dim their brightness.

“Now the question is, is all of that unabashed hatred for me, or has someone else vexed you this night?” said a smooth voice from somewhere in front of me. His accent was unidentifiable, but his words carried an air of smugness that set my teeth on edge.

“Step out of the shadows and find out,” I replied.  My voice was surprisingly calm, even to my ears, but my body tensed and my hand drifted toward the small blade concealed at the small of my back.

“As my lady wishes,” the voice said.  A tall, dark haired figure stepped into the white circle of light that the street lamp cast on the street. He was dressed all in black and could almost have passed for human, if it weren’t for the sharp points at the tips of both his ears.

My grip tightened on the hilt of my blade.

“What in the nine hells are you doing here, sluagh?” I asked, desperately trying to maintain a modicum of the calm decorum I had crafted a few moments before.

“I could ask you the same thing, my lady.”

“Stop calling me that,” I snapped.

“AS you wish,” he replied, inclining his head slightly in my direction. “What should I call you then?”

“Nothing,” I said sharply. “You have no reason to be here.”

“I have been sent, my lady, to verify your location and ensure that you are…safe,” he said, lingering on the last word in a way that made me violently uncomfortable.

“Don’t you dare like to me, sluagh,” I hissed.  If my sudden anger startled him, he did not show it.  “Even without my mantle, you do not possess the power to lie to me.”

A flicker of nervousness crossed his otherwise implacable features, and his eyes darted around quickly; first to my face, and then to the empty air above my right shoulder.  

A soft whisper of wind was the only warning I had. In a smooth movement, I dropped to the ground, spun, and drew my blade.  Behind me, holding a great sword where my head had been a moment before stood another sluagh, this one taller and more bestial than his more eloquent counterpart. There was no way this one could have ever passed as human.

Fear flickered through the eyes of the pale elf-kin behind me. “My lady, be reasonable,” he began, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.  Standing, I drew my blade up the length of the bestial fae’s torso, spilling hot black ichor and what passed for his guts over my hands. He gasped and stumbled back, dropping his sword in a desperate attempt to keep his internal organs in their proper place.  I snatched his sword from the air before it could even graze the tips of the grass beneath my feet.

“So this is what she wants, then?” I asked, turning back to the elf that had first appeared. As I watched, four more sluagh stepped from the shadows, two flanking him on each side.  Each one carried a sword similar to the great blade that I now held in my hands. “I’ve abandonded my mantle and abdicated my throne, but still she seeks my blood?” I raised an eyebrow at the elf.  “What is your name, then, so that I may know who she has sent to end my life?”

“Tywyllich,” he responded, almost apologetically.

“Tywyllich,” I repeated.  “They named you well, shadow walker, but you stand no chance against me.”

Letting the tip of the sword fall to the ground, I reached out and drew the night’s shadows to me. The bright white glow of the streetlamp shrank to a dim pinprick, until only Tywyllich was illuminated.  His four companions vanished into the darkness, and began screaming.

The light returned almost as suddenly as it had vanished, and the screams of the four sluagh echoed away into the night. Tywyllich, glancing around for his compatriots, dropped to his knees and began shaking in terror.

“M…my…my lady Cysgood,” he stammered, pressing his forehead into the dark asphalt. “I am so sorry, my lady.  My life is forfeit, if you choose to take it. “

“I have no desire to kill you, shadow walker,” I said, sighing with the exhaustion which comes from tapping into powers long neglected.  “Take your wounded friend and go.”

I dragged the limp form of the wounded sluagh over to Tywyllich’s shaking body. “And tell my damnable bitch of a sister that I am no threat to her throne, but if she keeps sending her minions after me, she’s going to run out of subjects to rule.”

Tywyllich stood abruptly and stumbled over the limp body of his cohort. Scrambling unsteadily to his feet, he gathered a handful of the big beast’s coat in his hands, dragged him into the shadows, and vanished. A dark streak across the asphalt was the only sign that they had ever stepped into my life.

“Go well, Tywyllich of the shadow walkers, and prey you never cross my path again,”

Reaching into the shadows one last time, I quenched the ultra bright lamp that cast its glow over the spot that the shadow walker had just vacated.  The darkness fell around me, a comforting blanket that remained untouched by the immovable white light from the remaining lamps.

I hate shadows.  I can never get them to leave me alone.

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