Shadows and It

It was a thing made of shadows, but you wouldn't know just by looking at it. Its appearance was in the eye of the beholder, though if you looked at it full-on and for perhaps a little too long, you would notice something wasn't quite right -- you just wouldn't know that it was because your brain was creating its appearance more or less before your very eyes.

How it looked to the beings around it never really mattered since the shadows only knew one thing: how to do its job. Things needed doing, so it did them. Plain and simple, easy as that. This particular job pulled it toward a particularly seedy bar, but the shadows didn't notice that sort of thing. It could walk alone through every "bad section of town" without so much as a flinch, armed with only the knowledge that it could not and would not be harmed, so nothing really mattered -- save, that is, for being in specific places at specific times and handling business as directed.

Had someone ever explained to the shadows what a machine was at a very core level, it would have nodded and understood. Its sole purpose was to do as it was told in the most simple and direct way possible. Were it capable of enjoying its work, it would have, though it probably wouldn't know why.

The bar was crowded and loud, and had the shadows been paying attention, it would've noticed the place was full of locals, some talking, some dancing, and almost all of them drowning something in alcohol, be it sorrows or perhaps their standards. Its mark was in the far corner, a scrawny young thing chatting with a significantly older gentleman who kept plying him with drinks. The shadows paid attention for a moment, a brief flicker of doubt crossing its mind.

The young man? it wondered, while everything around it throbbed a silent yes. Honing in on him again, the shadows saw his being as a flimsy wrap-job around copious amounts of flailing darkness. If the shadows smiled, it would've managed a smirk. But the truth was, it didn't exactly have a mouth, therefore never actually having a reason to learn how to smile, which was almost a shame. If it ate, this would end with the perfect meal -- but it didn't eat, and would therefore miss out on the likeness completely.

It crossed the room without much notice, until it stood beside the mess of a young man who had recently drained his drink. His old-man companion found himself heading to the bar to refill his drink for some unknown reason, leaving the scrawny boy alone with it. The shadows knew he was talking, most likely having a conversation with it that it was not actually participating in, but this was how it worked. Within minutes, it was drawing the young man outside and down the nearest alley by some pretense that only the young man himself would know.

There was no one near, this much it knew. It didn't care, but a lack of witnesses was far simpler and much more productive and safe. (Why clean up the universe if it would cause more messes in the process?) The boy stood in the alleyway, only half-gazing at the shadows, just inebriated enough to know something was wrong. He kept fumbling with his clothes, starting to unbutton his sweater and then stopping, beginning to take down the zipper of his pants and then pulling the tag up again. It would've been amused, were that even a possibility. But now, it was on.

The shadows leaned toward the young man and knew his darkness was being jostled under the boy's thin casing. He probably believed this person had just pushed a few fingers against his chest, which wasn't exactly the case.

The scrawny man shuddered for a moment, his eyes now wet and wide. "I've done bad things," he squeaked, his voice suddenly shaky. "Please..." 

Consent was neither given nor taken away by the time the shadows were upon him. Had someone been watching, the boy would've appeared consumed, almost blinked out of existance. But in reality, he was more or less being ripped open and emptied into the void that made up the shadows, not unlike a crab pulling a coconut apart to get at the fleshy bits inside.

In the end, his darkness was destroyed, as was the thin veneer keeping his chaotic inner self intact for small amounts of time. His memory would remain for a while, but like all memories, he would fade. The shadows didn't judge, but not because of any sort of feeling about judging in the first place. It just had better things to do, and more places to go -- more darkness to track down and destroy before the darkness would unleash itself fully and do more damage to others.

Without a word or even a moment's thought, it was gone and away on another job. It would always have work to do, and since shadows never sleep, it had no reason to wait in between.

On Warrior Women

(Inspired by this post and subsequent link-reading)

 

The call had gone out nearly an hour earlier, and he could see the warriors beginning to arrive, decked out to the best of their ability in their best gear -- which, unfortunately, in the case of some lesser citizens, amounted to only a shovel and their best boots, both fresh from the fields. But there were many of them, and many more coming. At the end of the day, it was likely they would successfully defend their lands, no matter how badly the advancing enemy challenged their attempts.

He found himself in the midst of many of his childhood friends, and the friends of his younger siblings. They had grown tall during summers spent pretending to be great warriors like their fathers and grandfathers before them, never quite realizing how likely it was they would find themselves in this very position one day. But what child truly knows of war until war takes its place at their hearth? Even now, ready as they were, nothing seemed real.

Across the sea of people, he saw her -- the chieftain's daughter, her head brazenly uncovered, her eyes wide and intense. He felt his heart stop for a moment, trying to find the right angle to make its way out of his body by way of his throat. He had loved her since they were children, and at this moment, with his hand on his sword, he could think of nothing else but her.

She was shorter than he, but that wasn't difficult. He would always be stronger and better at defending himself, but she proved skillful with smaller blades than he and was certainly faster. For someone so small, she was fierce and intimidating, too, which she used to her advantage. When she smiled -- as she was now, across the horde of defenders -- she bared her teeth and laughed madly. She was as terrifying as she was lovely, at least in his eyes, and when this was all over, he hoped to have proven himself in battle well enough to be given a chance at winning her hand and heart.

The sound coming toward their throng was deafening, all footstomps and the rhythmic noise of weapons beating against shields. It was an intimidation tactic, they knew, but it was still hard for most to not to feel fear despite the knowledge. The more battle-hardened warriors in the group raised a throaty yell, waving their weapons in the air until everyone next to and behind them took up the same cry. He looked across and saw his love screaming intensely, adding her voice to the harsh snarl being thrown against the beats from the opposing side.

It all washed away when the two groups finally collided and was replaced with individual screams and the sound of weapon meeting weapon, or worse: weapon meeting flesh. Despite the horror raging on all sides, he fought valiently, and knew that she did as well. He intended to count how many he slayed -- how many he kept from ruining their home! -- but the number would be gone in an instant when he looked up to find her in the crowd. Within seconds his eyes would come upon her joyfully skipping from combatant to combatant, her face and hair and coverings completely soaked in blood and sweat. She seemed not to notice, even managing to save him once or twice when he lost himself in finding her.

"Thank you," he called to her back as she returned to the hunt, her warrior mind refusing to stop until every invader was stopped and put down. It wasn't only her homeland at stake -- her family and her family's honor needed defending, and she was up to the task. The chieftain, no doubt, would be endlessly proud of his blood-covered daughter whom he had taught with his own hands. 

How sad it would be then when they would find her later, hidden among the dead and dying on the battlefield. She didn't cry out, her insides slowly becoming outsides as she watched, her eyes no longer intense but hardened to the reality of her predicament. 

"You'll make it," he stated, knowing he was wrong.

"Unlikely." She wiped off her brow with the back of her hand and left a fresh trail of blood in its wake.

"Let me at least get the healer."

She slowly raised her hand. "This is the way I have wanted to die my entire life. Do not disrespect me so badly by getting in the way."

"Shall I stay?"

In an instant, tears rose to her eyes. "Please." Her throat caught and the tears fled her eyes as her wounds gushed. She passed with her hands tucked in his and his name on her lips. Days later she was placed on a small ship with her father's sword in her arms, the fire burning well beyond the citizens' ability to see her. Neither he nor her father was quite the same after that, but no one really expected them to be any other way. Death and war have that effect on people.