For what seemed like an eternity, I stared at the peaceful clouds that hung above, basking in the wonders of the deep blue sky. How serene would it be if I were a cloud? In the company of birds and the cool morning air, could I find content?
Sighing, I shook aside my pleasant reverie, directing my gaze to the actual sky that hovered above. The tranquil sky I dreamt of was but a sloppy counterfeit compared to the genuine article, a toothpick pretending to be Excalibur.
Enveloped by darkness, the real sky loomed ominously over the horizon, obscuring the passage of the sun. No light penetrated from the thick cover of clouds, save for a few discarded scraps idly gliding down.
I focused, struggling to absorb the faint specters of light that remained. As a practitioner of the sun arts, the dreadful sky was not doing me any favours. Without the full might of the sun to draw from, my strength would continue to dull. I was like a lion gnawing on dandelions for dinner, thirsting for zebra flesh.
Still, it'd have to do.
For the sake of stopping King Terence, I must persevere. Armies the size of continents were fighting for salvation, and here I was, accomplishing nothing. For Firenze, I had to try.
Terence must never merge with a shadow, that I swore.
Rumoured to be the emissaries of death, shadows used to stalk the lands of Todaria, bringing waste to all that they touched. "Impossible to describe", the mere mention of these foul beasts inspired terror, or so claimed the ancient texts. On a lucky day, a village could be ravaged by a swarm of vicious shadows. On a luckier day, a few orphans might somehow survive.
So feared were these malevolent beings that every man and every child dared not leave home without a weapon; Suicide was infinitely preferable to death by shadow.
Without a doubt, the age of shadows was the worst century to be born, discounting King Terence's present reign. But one day, everything changed.
On that fateful day, a very evil man gathered all the shadows under his command and threatened to destroy Todaria. As tales like these tend to go, a very good man appeared and saved the day. All the shadows were vanquished and everyone lived happily ever after.
That 'very good man' was the progenitor of the sun arts, the original wielder of my sword - Amaterasu. Ever so cautious, my predecessor devised a tracking spell to hunt down rogue shadows, the same tracking spell sealed in Amaterasu to this date.
His act of genocide was revered for decades to come.
On his deathbed, the venerable hero was said to have passed with a smile on his face, content with having played his part in protecting the future of mankind. He must not have known that a great dragon would raze the lands shortly after his demise, nor would he have known that King Terence would revive the existence of shadows a thousand years in the future.
In time, the hero's name was lost to the wind, so fickle was the memory of man. All that remained of him was a single chapter in a dusty tome, vandalised by some kid's drawing of a stick giraffe.
Even his legacy - his prized sun arts - sank into the sands of time. My former master, Oba-chan, only coined the term "sun arts" after she rediscovered the lost technique forty years back. Similarly, "Amaterasu" only served as a substitute name.
Applying the same logic, the shadow created by King Terence could also be seen as a substitute shadow. In a way, fate conspired to re-enact the tale from long ago. I was a substitute hero, destined to follow the footsteps of my predecessor. Unlike my predecessor, however, my journey was not as smooth sailing.
Six weeks had passed since the shadow escaped from King Terence's castle and I was no closer to slaying it. Always slipping out of my reach, the sneaky fiend appeared to delight in our game of cat and mouse, taunting me from afar. Every time I located the shadow, it would scuttle to another mousehole, prolonging my tedious pursuit.
This time was no different.
After I lost track of the shadow, I had to consult an old seer. Much to my chagrin, Amaterasu's tracking spell was limited by range. If my ancestor had found a way to extend the spell's range, he didn't divulge it in his writings. Perhaps his aura was so potent that it enhanced the strength of the tracking spell. In any case, I couldn't replicate his absurd shadow-slaying feats. I needed to find the elusive hellspawn first for goodness' sake. Ergo, I needed to pay a seer to do it for me.
With the seer's costly aid, I finally pinpointed my foe's location; Nihil, the desolate lands.
Home to a melange of eldritch abominations, Nihil was the textbook definition of hell. In the past week alone, I had to face the likes of man-bats, lion-fish and lion-fish with man-bat wings. They looked as unpleasant as they tasted, to the irritation of my stomach. I almost missed Oba-chan's spiderpig stew.
Juxtaposed with its hideous residents, the environment looked friendlier by comparison. Tall, ugly and purple, the trees of Nihil shot up to the clouds, blanketing the morning sky. Sitting by the cliffside, I peered at the forest below, revulsed by the dismal sight. Thick, bulging roots emerged from the ground everywhere I looked, crawling across the terrain like cancerous veins.
For days, I wandered within the labyrinth of roots, searching for the shadow. Every time I rounded a corner, a salivating beast would pounce at me, only to be impaled by my golden sword. How I wished that it was the shadow that I had slain, instead of some random lion-fish dead in my mouth.
Eventually, I decided to take out my frustration on the ghastly roots that impeded me. Coiled around rock walls and motionless corpses, the roots made traversal difficult, incurring the wrath of Amaterasu. A low hum would echo through the forest whenever I chopped down one of them, disturbing the slumber of resting beasts. Predictably, they lunged towards me, only to be impaled again. There was no escaping the routine, it seemed.
I preferred to stay on the high ground, where prettier, less purple trees resided. Predators were still abundant, but at least minimal roots blocked my way. Hopefully, the shadow shared my preference. All things considered, the trees above were an adequate replacement for a lush, green forest, so deprived of scenery was I.
In that regard, the weather fared no better.
Mirroring the vile trees below, the sporadic weather was just as loathsome. Streaks of blue lightning crashed from the skies at irregular intervals, scarring the very earth itself. Occasionally, a bolt of lightning struck an unsuspecting tree, leaving a small dent on its bark. The beasts weren't as lucky.
I imagined lightning striking the shadow, vaporising it in one swift blow. Oba-chan would lecture me for 'having unrealistic thoughts', but hey, one could dream. My dream of slaying the shadow gave me strength to brave cold gales, even when I thought of hot springs back home.
As if on cue, the tempest returned with a vengeance, Oba-chan's lecture personified. Frigid winds assaulted me, biting into my skin. Before the storm could consume me, however, yellow aura flared to life around my body. A barrier of light surrounded me, repelling the jaws of the tempest. Dissatisfied, the ravenous storm howled even louder, threatening to rival the roar of thunder. Its efforts were to no avail.
My barrier held firm, protecting me from the violent winds. Scratches healed as soon as they formed, keeping my barrier healthy. Unwilling to test the limits of my defence, the storm abated. The weather, on the other hand, continued to wreak mayhem. From afar, the shrieks of a dying beast resounded, the unfortunate winner of the lightning lottery.
Having served its purpose, my barrier dissolved. I was safe, though my surroundings were not.
Nearby, sudden gusts of wind had torn neighbouring gravestones apart, scattering their remains into the distance.
I winced as I watched my handiwork float away, the past hour I spent on erecting gravestones gone with the wind. The bodies that I buried beneath belonged to a group of warriors - members of King Terence's elite squad to be precise.
I was roasting lion-fish by a fire when they stumbled upon me, the eagle crest on their breastplates giving their identities away. The five of them were on a quest to retrieve the shadow, they explained in mouthfuls, the taste of lion-fish sliding down their throats.
"A kind old seer directed us here." One of the warriors said, in between bites of lion-fish meat. "Though the map he gave us was a little sketchy..."
"On the bright side, we were only charged one gold coin!" His companion chimed in, tossing aside scraps of bone.
I cringed inwardly, bemoaning about the old seer's preferential treatment. Although there were many who opposed King Terence's rule, there were nearly thrice as many who revered him. The old seer simply happened to favour King Terence, and by extension the lackeys who toiled under him too.
For all the flak that came with being associated with the tyrant king, his servants were well regarded by the general populace. Not that I cared, since most of them fell to my blade anyways.
Nevertheless, I wasn't about to reject company after weeks of travelling alone. I just missed my three gold coins...
After we devoured the poor lion-fish, we sat by the fire, griping about the monstrous horrors we faced along the way. I claimed that I was on a hunt for the legendary phoenix, which was last sighted in Nihil. A foul beast wounded my wife, I exclaimed, and I needed the restorative powers of the phoenix to save her. Tearing up, the five warriors wept on the behalf of my imaginary wife, urging me to expedite my quest.
"You'll find the phoenix in no time flat!"
"Don't worry, love will always prevail!"
"Good luck, friend."
"After we find the shadow, we'll definitely swing by to help you hunt the phoenix!"
"It will all be alright!"
I scratched my cheek, thanking them for their well wishes. They really were a soft hearted bunch. With their androgynous charms, they could have passed off as shrine maidens. In fact, they could have been flat chested women the entire time - not that I defiled their corpses to check. I could almost picture them as flawless paragons of justice, if not for the scars that ran across their fair skin.
These men had seen the ugliness of war, the chinks on their armor testament to their experience. No doubt were they forced to commit unspeakable acts in the name of survival, the same as I. Still, they regaled me with tales of King Terence's exploits, worshipping his cruel deeds.
In their eyes, the bastard king could do no wrong. They spoke of his noble goals fervently, eating up his hogwash. The rebels don't understand! After killing everyone, King Terrence will don the Yellow Crown and create an utopia for the dead! There is no need to fear death. Blood must be shed for peaceful ends.
Their devotion sickened me. King Terence didn't deserve loyal followers like them - good men fooled by his deceit.
While we conversed, I realised that one of the warriors was glancing at me, his brows furrowed in consternation. I ignored his behaviour, dismissing it as a weird quirk. My sword slept snugly in my scabbard, reluctant to stir.
I liked these people, despite their bullshit. Human company was a rarity in the hellholes of Nihil. I wasn't about to have a tea party with the shadow and its pals anytime soon.
Suppressing my feelings of unease, I continued to talk. If things went south, I had my strength to fall back on. Above all else, my sun arts reigned supreme.
The next thing I knew, I was attacked. Regrettably, my inner suspicions were proven correct. The wary warrior must have recognised me from an earlier skirmish, for I had the same sense of Deja Vu. Without wasting a beat, the other four warriors joined in the offence. If they had secretly communicated with each other, I didn't notice.
Synchronised, the five warriors stabbed at me with their blades, their friendly demeanour replaced with an icy stare. For their messiah, they would exterminate any threat that stood in their way, even if it meant betraying their morals. I pitied them.
Our fight ended in an instant. My sword danced in the air, unleashing a wave of carnage. Bodies collapsed one after another like falling dominos, never to rise again.
Were their last thoughts about their ungrateful King? I hoped they weren't.
A twinge of guilt welled up within me, only to dissipate. I wondered when I stopped feeling remorse. Somewhere along the line, I lost part of my humanity, a long forgotten emotion I took for granted. In that sense, I was a hypocrite like the worst of my enemies.
All that seperated King Terence and I was our sense of humour.
Deep down, we espoused the same values, the two of us monsters, camouflaged by human skin. At the very least, I had the decency to make amends. Terence would just sprout a bunch of sophistry and frolic on his merry way.
On account of our brief acquaintance, I felt that it was only right to give the warriors a proper burial. Shoddy tombstones stood over their graves, the result of an hour spent on sculpting stone.
Too bad the tempest ruined my efforts. Maybe it was for the best.
Now, the warriors departed the mortal realm, guided by the wind. The straps of my scabbard accompanied them, the singular item they damaged. In the embrace of death, would they find solace?
I couldn't know.
To be honest, I could have spared the lives of my five acquaintances. But what for? What if one of them was charging a secret technique? What if they had a healing spell? What if?
There was no place for uncertainty in combat, as much as Firenze disagreed.
My naive disciple stuck to his moralist principles, heedless of my warnings. Just to prove his point, he even discarded his weapon in the midst of a deadly duel, refusing to kill. Upholding the sanctity of life was more important than his own survival.
Unfortunately, the world disagreed.
Good men died in this harsh world; Firenze would be no exception. Only the death of King Terence would set things right - that was the drivel I subscribed to.
In reality, the roots of evil could never be expunged. Under our shadows, they grew, nourished by our despair. We sought comfort in light, only for our shadows to deepen. The death of a single dictator was negligible.
As long as there was light, there was shadow. And where there was shadow, evil grew. Why bother?
Lost in thought, I laid on my back, too exhausted from thinking. Fatigue seized me, luring me to the realm of sleep. Soon, my eyes gave way to darkness. I slept, dreaming of undreamt dreams. I dreamt of peaceful clouds...
Part 1 of 2. This took two-three weeks to rewrite - I'm a very slow writer. Even then, I rushed out the ending because I got impatient. I'll have a better summary up/proper edits by the end of the week, but I'm just uploading part 1 so that I can actually progress in my writing. Rereading everything to write a single sentence sucks.
I realize that the long winded section about the shadow could be cut to improve the pacing. In fact, I wanted to shift it into the second chapter instead. Alas, I felt that the second chapter needed a tighter pacing. I'm thinking about making it a mini chapter on its own - but I think that'll kill the pacing even further. I might just remove this section altogether in my final edit, but maybe my sarcastic narration is tolerable enough to keep the reader invested. Personally, I think this section is vital to some of the themes of this 'oneshot' (and not just because I like the vandalised giraffe line) but... Buts, buts, butts. We'll see.
Why mention lion-fish? - To make a joke at the Merlion's expense. While a lion-fish chimera might be impractical in a fantasy setting, I'm not one to bother about realism. If you have difficulty imaging the lion-fish, just think of it as a lion with a fish for its head; Every moment it suffers, craving for oblivion. Only blood can satiate its eternal hunger.
Why man-bats? - No reason.
why spiderpigs? - Spiderpigs don't sound edible, do they?
Why not give Oba-chan an English name? - As I mentioned in my summary, blame Katsurou Shimizu. After reading passages about Oba-chan (or Oba-san, whatever) in his stories, I kind of wanted to type a few Oba-chans too. He's inactive now so I can get away with this comment - not that he'll read my story anyways.
Why is this oneshot elaborating about a fictional world that doesn't exist? - This oneshot is supposed to tie into chapter 5 of copyrights, which is the setting this oneshot takes place in.
Why do you call this a oneshot if you have two chapters? - I screwed up with the pacing and I had to write in a sleep sequence. The finality of a chapter just seemed to fit better than a horizontal line.
26/12/2021 Edit: I changed a few sentences and added in a few more lines for chapter 2 to work better