The Traveler and Her Three Shadows

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When the world was made, every person was given one and only one shadow, but one of the beings who were assigned to be caretakers of the world decided that he would give a gift to his people.  Their lands were rich with life and their songs to him were sweet.  So he decided that he would give each of them an extra shadow.

In those days, all people had the power to send their shadows off to explore the world around them, but those shadows could only travel in one direction, the direction in which they were cast by the sun.  But these people with two shadows, they could send one shadow in one direction and the other shadow in the opposite direction.  In this way, they could explore and gather knowledge far more quickly than the people of other lands.  These people came to be called the amphiscians, the two-shadowed people.

Many caretakers had given extravagant gifts to the mortal people they looked after, gifts that gave those people great advantage over their fellows on the earth.  But every other gift found some way to spread to other realms.  Mortal people could be rather kind and generous when given the chance.  Most shared their gifts, like the gift of fire, the gift of bread, and the gift of circles.

But the gift of two shadows was one that the people could not share. 

The other caretakers, judging this gift to be too extravagant, conspired together to devise some way to make the gift useless. 

There are no shadows without light.  So they planned to convince the sun not to shine upon this realm of two-shadowed people.  And to convince the stars not to twinkle upon this realm.  And to convince the moon not to glow upon this realm. 

Empress Sun was easiest to convince.  She did not like how the shadows of the amphiscians tricked and troubled her light.  And the Court of Stars always followed the Sun’s edicts.  But Emperor Moon was friends with the caretaker of this realm, and he liked the people of the realm too.  He did not want to forsake them.  He also relished any chance to do the opposite of what his rival the sun was doing.  But after some convincing by each of the other caretakers, even the reluctant moon agreed.

So the land of the amphiscians was cast into true darkness.

***

Without the light of the sun, the realm of the amphiscians would soon wither and freeze.  The people knew this, so those who could flee did flee, only to find another punishment waiting for them outside of their realm. They were given two shadows by the favor of their caretaker.  Through no fault of their own, they had angered the other caretakers.  And those other caretakers had decreed that if an amphiscian should step foot in any realm other than their own, they would lose that second shadow…and they would lose their first. 

In those days, being without a shadow was an unspeakable thing. 

“Who has no shadow has no soul,” it was said.

These shadowless ones became like living ghosts, shuffling about through the world, vulnerable to all harm, hearts and souls bare and barren.  Without even one shadow to contain their light, they lost that light, little by little.  They grew pale.  Their bodies grew thin.  And they came to crave only one kind of food, the flesh of living people. 

Some of the shadowless remained in the rest of the mortal world, but some returned to their native realm.  Perhaps these hoped that returning to their native realm would restore their shadows.  But without a steadfast light to see by, they could not tell.  And so they haunted their own realm.

Then there were those who prayed to their caretaker to guide them through the darkness, for they would stay in their own land.  The caretaker lamented.  He had only meant to exalt his people, but he had brought them low instead.  He could think of only one way to keep those who prayed to him safe from harm while he tried to convince the other caretakers to restore the light of the sun, moon, and stars.  He put all his supplicants into an enchanted slumber and housed them in a great hall that they had once built in his honor.  Once they were asleep, he intended to see to the shadowless.  And to those still in the realm who had not prayed to him, some who had even cursed him.  They were still his people, and he aimed to look after them. 

But before he could do anything for the wanderers and the shadowless, the caretaker was swept up into the heavens to answer for the misery he had brought upon his own poor people. 

Once again the other caretakers tried to coerce him into telling them the secret of shadow-making.  But the caretaker claimed that he himself had forgotten it.  It was such a great power that he feared keeping it within himself.  After making the shadows for his people, he removed the knowledge from his mind, and the skill and craft from his hands, and he locked them all away. 

When the other caretakers demanded that he recover this secret and put it back into his mind, he said that he would happily comply, if they would restore light to the amphiscians.  The other caretakers agreed to this bargain, but when they asked him to take them to the secret of shadow-making, he brought them to the edge of his realm.  The cursed realm.  The realm drowned in darkness.

The realm of the amphiscians. 

“It is in there,” he said, “in the heart of my beloved realm.”

If Empress Sun would just shine her light on his realm, he would be able to show them exactly where he hid the box containing his skill and knowledge of shadow-making.

The other caretakers grew angry.  They believed this to be a trick.  They refused.  So the caretaker of the amphiscians offered to make another bargain with his fellow caretakers.  He would chose a hero from among his people.  One who never prayed to him.  One who chose to stay or did not have the means to leave.

To this hero he would give a map to the heart of the realm, where he hid the box.  And he would task the hero with bringing the secret to the borders of the amphiscian realm. 

The other caretakers accepted this new bargain, with one condition.  They would pick the one who would recover the secret of shadow-making.  For they doubted the honesty of the amphiscians’ caretaker.  They worried that he would pick someone who would carry forward his deception somehow.

They could not see into the realm of the amphiscians, so they consulted their records of mortal beings and spent many days and many months perusing the entries until one of them found a fitting candidate.

When the caretaker of the amphiscians was told who was chosen, he was much troubled.

***

Were the realm still blessed by sunlight, the quest would have been an easy one.  The roads that the chosen resident would travel were not winding.  The destination was not hidden.  The lands, as they had been under sunlight and starlight, were not rough. 

But utter darkness had made a simple quest into a near impossible one.  The land was now filled with the shuffling shadowless.  Natural things had died.  And to replace them, strange things had begun to grow. 

The odd storm brought light through lightning.  But most of the only bright light left in the realm was cast by the fire demons, who had been born from the rageful burning of cottages and towns by those left behind in the realm.  These demons cast light, but they were also dangerous.  In some villages, the leaders had struck bargains with some of the more intelligent demons, to provide offerings in return for light and warmth.  Sometimes the offerings seemed reasonable, like cattle.  Other times the demons sought different meat, and villages gave offerings from among their own people.

The caretakers’ chosen traveler was an ordinary resident of an ordinary town.  She went by the name of Pettifog. 

One of the lesser caretakers of a tiny realm suggested that he take mortal form and accompany Pettifog, to ensure that there was no trickery at play, and to show the mercy of the caretakers.  For if her cause was honest, he would assist Pettifog.  The volunteer was already ready to descend, his heavenly face concealed with a black hood. 

The caretakers had chosen Pettifog for good reason.  When they sent their messenger to present the task and ask if she would do it, she did not ask after grand rewards or for the secret of the afterlife or some other extravagant reward.  She asked questions about the rules of the quest, and whether or not there was a code of dress, how many rests she was allotted, and if she took overlong on one rest should she skip another.  After a day of asking questions and receiving answers, which the messenger carried back and forth between Pettifog and the caretakers, the caretakers asked if she would refuse the quest. But Pettifog did not refuse.  She said she still had questions.  After a few days of bearing her questions, the caretakers came to hope that she would refuse the quest.  They could not admit to a mistake, but nor could they offer the quest to another until Pettifog refused. 

But she did not refuse.  And at last all her questions were answered.  And she accepted the quest.  The messenger told her that she must accept one companion chosen by the caretakers.  They expected another slew of questions and arguments.  But Pettifog accepted this particular announcement with no resistance.  And she met her first companion, a black-hooded fellow who didn’t speak much. 

“What is your name, companion?” she asked him.

He answered, “You have just spoken it.”

***

The caretakers did not believe that the secret to shadow-making was in the center of the amphiscian’s realm.  They believed what lay in wait there was some trick or trap.  They had made the bargain because there was the slightest chance that it was not a trap.  And at first, they were going to choose a great hero from among the amphiscians.  But a hero seemed too obvious a choice.  They grew uncertain in their convictions.  So they chose Pettifog, believing that she would never reach the center of the realm because she was so disagreeable.  She spent too much time fussing with the details and arguing with others, or sometimes even with herself.  Or she had, when there was still light in the realm.

Pettifog wanted two other companions on the journey. 

One was a great hero of her people who gained many times his natural strength from the light of the sun.  Without sunlight, he had lost all that strength.  But he was still stronger than most men.  And Pettifog found that he needed the quest as well as the quest needed him, for his true purpose was heroing, and he had not had a quest since darkness fell. 

To replace the power he once had in sunlight, he had been practicing moving over snow, for their realm was now covered in snow that never melted, but only fell and deepened.  And he had taken a new name for the new lightless realm in which he now lived, Glissade.

“I care not for this ‘caretaker,’” said Glissade when Pettifog asked for his help.  “I care only for my own people.  If helping him will help them, then I will help you help him.” 

The second companion that Pettifog recruited was a nummarian, a counter of coins.  As was characteristic of Pettifog, she wanted to make sure they kept an accurate record of their accounts on the journey, even though the hero, Glissade, and the black-hooded companion both questioned why it was necessary.  They wanted to bring along another hero, or someone who was a more accomplished traveler. 

But Pettifog insisted, and she was the chosen traveler of their quest.  Marian was the name of the nummarian, though she preferred to be called “the nummarian.”

Half my companions have no names, Pettifog thought, shaking her head as they set out upon the frozen road.  Horses were so rare that they could not afford to hire any.  The travelers would have to walk all the way.

As they set out, Pettifog strode a small distance before the others.  They each held a candle, but the light of four candles had little power to dispel utter darkness. 

Pettifog gave a go at lifting their spirits.  It was only the beginning of their quest, after all.  “I’m not certain what the fuss is about having more than one shadow,” she said.  “For I now have three.”

She glanced behind herself to find Glissade shaking his head, but smiling, and the nummarian mimicking her stride.  Her black-hooded companion uttered a guffaw.

“A wise insight indeed,” he said.

But no one spoke again until they came to their first rest.

“If your feet grow tired or cold, nummarian, you may ride upon my shoulders,” the great hero Glissade offered as they took their rest.

The nummarian uttered a noncommittal grunt and continued on in her accountings under the light of a single candle.  But Pettifog gave a nod of appreciation to the hero.

***

Along the way, the companions discovered each other’s unique talents.  The nummarian had keen eyes and could see farther than most in complete darkness.  She claimed it was from looking so closely for hidden coins in the accounts of her patrons.  So for the parts of the journey where they expect to be waylaid by demons or bandits, the nummarian stayed in the lead, with Glissade beside her, and Pettifog and the black-hooded companion following the sound of her footsteps.

Glissade had indeed developed a talent for moving over snow and ice.  They one day encountered a steep and snowy slope down which they would have spent days walking.  But Glissade found a wide plank of wood and asked his companions to sit upon it.  To either end he tied a rope.  He placed this makeshift harness around himself.  Then he sat down in the snow, his legs outstretched.  His companions looked between themselves, wondering, until Glissade began to pull them forward. 

Soon they were sailing down the mountainside, Glissade controlling their descent. 

When they reached the bottom, all three of his companions rushed to Glissade and asked if he was all right, and if his backside were frostburned.

But Glissade was laughing, for he had never come down such a high mountain in that way before.

The sound, though merry, was an eerie one to hear in complete darkness.  Any candles they had burning had been extinguished by the time they reached the mountain’s bottom. 

It did not take long for the hero’s mood to dampen.  By evening he grew bothered by the sound of the clinking coins in the nummarian’s purse.

“Coins do not matter in this cursed realm,” the hero said.  “Why do you still count them?”

“A thousand heroes could not save this realm” the nummarian answered.  “Why do you still seek to save it?”

The hero scratched his head, not quite sure about the soundness or even the meaning of the nummarian’s argument.

“I believe I understand,” Pettifog said.  “She means that we mostly decent folk must continue to do as we did when we were still blessed with light and shadow, else we are lost.”  She took a deep breath and exhaled it heavily.  “Darkness has fallen upon our realm, but it has not completely fallen upon our people…not yet.”

“We face four terrible obstacles on our journey,” the black-hooded companion said.  “Demons of fire, mountains of snow, scorched and shifting earth, and screeching winds.” 

The last was the worst.  For when darkness fell, all the winds in the realm became lost.  Some found their way out by chance, but those who never did went mad, and in the darkness, they transformed into great flying beasts, whom none ever saw, but all feared.

***

The companions did indeed encounter more mountains of snow.  They managed to avoid the demons of fire, thanks to the keen eyes of the nummarian, and even of the black-hooded companion.  He also helped them move past patches of shifting earth, where fire and lightning had turned to sand what was once rich soil.  Pettifog still managed to step into such a patch, sinking to her shoulders before the others could reach her and pull her safely out.  That was when they learned the black-hooded companion’s special talent, or rather his special tool.  His walking staff could be set on fire but would not burn to ash.  He could not sustain the fire for long, for he was but a minor mage.  His staff was the most powerful magic he owned.  So whenever it was safe to light a fire, they would light his staff.

The screeching winds that they feared most of all, these they heard in the distance every now and then.  But they never came closer. 

***

At last, they reached the center of their realm, at which stood the ruined temple built for their caretaker.  It was now haunted by the ghosts of the people who came to entreat their caretaker.  Some of them lay in enchanted slumber so long that their spirits left their bodies and wandered the halls of the temple.  Some went without food or drink and perished within the bounds of the temple.  Their weeping echoed down vast corridors.  Their forms wandered without aim or purpose. 

Then there were those who were angry, and would tear limb from limb any who still served the caretaker whom they believed had betrayed them.  Even the fire demons feared the angry ghosts and would come nowhere near the temple. 

“Four dangers,” the nummarian whispered, as the company stood before the temple grounds.  “You told us there were four, black-hood.  I count five.  Ghosts make five.”

“I’ll wager it has been a long while since any ghost in this place has seen even a flicker of light,” Glissade said.  “I will draw them to me, while the rest of you recover the secret.  They will not harm me, for I will curse the name of the caretaker.”

“Do you not fear that your caretaker will hear you and take offense?” the black-hooded companion said.

The nummarian scoffed.  “The same caretaker who has forsaken us?”

“And whom you have forsaken,” Pettifog said, peering at her black-hooded companion.  “Did you not mean to say ‘our caretaker’?”

“Will you always bicker over trifles, dear companion?” the black-hooded companion said.

As they spoke, they did not notice that Glissade had made his way up the steps of the temple.  He lit a torch and began to yell and carry on.

“I’ve traveled a great distance to meet you, caretaker.  Ha!  You take care only of yourself and leave us be.  Come and face me!”

He cried out and kicked at one of the scorched temple columns, bringing it tumbling down in a cascade of rubble.  He stomped into the temple’s antechamber.  The other three companions made their way up the steps. 

In the light of Glissade’s torch, they watched him wreck another column, and they watched the wispy forms of ghosts begin to gather around him.  Some of the ghosts spoke to him.

“You journey was for naught, traveler, for the cowardly caretaker fled long ago.”  The ghost’s voice sounded like a husk of corn scraped against dry tree bark, and it was touched with an edge of malice.  This was one of the angry ghosts that the black-hooded companion had warned them of.

Glissade stopped toppling columns and asked the ghosts if his destroying the temple was hurting them, for he did not wish to hurt his own people.  As the ghosts began to answer him, his three companions lit a single dim candle and made their way into the temple.

Pettifog had feared they would have to travel through mazes or solve puzzles or face some fierce guardian.  She had asked, of course, if they would have to face such.  And the caretakers had said “no.”  She had not trusted their answer.  But she discovered that they had answered truly. 

She found the box with the symbol of their caretaker on the lid in an unguarded chamber.  She was given a sigil to place upon the box to ensure it was not a counterfeit.  The sigil glowed slightly in the dark.  The box was truly the treasure they sought.

Pettifog lifted the box from the alcove in which it was set, and just like that, she recovered the secret of shadow-making. 

***

The three companions made their way back to the temple’s antechamber, where they were dismayed to find that even more ghosts were gathered around Glissade, who was still loudly conversing—or perhaps debating—with several angry ghosts.  There were so many ghosts that the three companions had to douse their candlelight, lest they be seen.

We might get past them,” the nummarian whispered.  “But how will we recover our hero?  He is right in the middle of them.”

“We must make haste,” the black-hooded companion agreed. “He cannot keep this up much longer.  And we must now travel all the way back to the edge of the realm to deliver the secret to its rightful owner.” 

“Indeed,” Pettifog said.  She turned and offered the box to her black-hooded companion.  “Take it, as is your right, Emperor Moon.”

Pettifog’s black-hooded companion spun around.  “What?”

Pettifog stretched her arm further forward.  “I was chosen to carry and to deliver, and I deliver this secret to you, my lord.” 

“We haven’t time for delays,” the black-hooded companion said.  “The hero’s distraction will not work forever.”

“This is no delay.  This is the moment of our salvation.  It is you, not our caretaker, who has come with us through danger and darkness.  Who knows what the caretaker would do with this secret?  But I know what you would do.  This secret that will save us, it belongs to you, good Emperor Moon.”

“Pettifog, what is this madness?  You call me an emperor?  We must go.”

“The nummarian claims to have sharp vision in the night,” Pettifog said, “and she does when compared to Glissade or to me.  But there were times when she could not see ahead, but you could.  You claimed it was some mage’s trick, that you were tasting the air.  That made me notice that you never seemed to take any food or any drink.  You took the plate, of course.  And you carried a waterskin.  But none could tell in the dark that you never took a bite or a sip.  I would never have noticed if we did not have the nummarian keeping a tally of our food.  I am certain that you would have poured out the water and tossed the food, save that you knew it might be needed later, by your three companions.  The nummarian also said that she could see better in the dark when you were asleep.  She reckoned it was because you made her nervous.  I’ll reckon that it is because even covered under black cloth, the light from your eyes seeped through and dulled her vision.  The light of the moon is cool and soft.  You never shivered in the snow, and when we had light enough to see our breaths, I noted that your breath made no mist.  At first, I feared that you were one of the caretakers, come to hinder us perhaps.  Or perhaps to help, though that notion seems to me farfetched.”

The black-hooded companion stared at her a moment.  Then his posture straightened.  He seemed to grow a bit taller.

“The nummarian has keen eyes,” he said.  “But you have a keen attention, Pettifog.”

Pettifog peered at her companion.  “Then I am right.”

The black-hooded companion threw back his hood.  From his face shone a powdery luminescence.  Moonlight.

In the cool glow, Pettifog saw the faint and flickering forms of the ghosts.  Drawn by the sudden light, so much more radiant than the light of Glissade’s one torch, they turned their attention upon Emperor Moon.

One of the ghosts raised his spectral hands to the air and said, “I am at peace.”  And he vanished.

“I am at peace,” another ghost said, and she too vanished.  And so it went.

“I am at peace.”

“I am at peace.”

One after the other, in unison, in discord, the same words were uttered by the ghosts who gazed upon the light of the moon.  For many of the ghosts only lingered for one reason.  They wished that a heavenly light would shine upon them just one more time.  The light of the sun, or the light of the stars.  Or the light of the moon.

But not all of the ghosts were at peace at the sight of Emperor Moon.  The angry ghosts who had gathered about Glissade in solidarity with his rage at the caretaker, their attention too was seized by the sudden appearance of moonglow. 

All they saw was a celestial being.  They cared not if he were for them or against them.  They were against him.  They turned away from Glissade and surged toward the emperor.

“Flee, companions!” Emperor Moon said, as he turned to face the angry ghosts.  He tapped his walking staff on the ground.  “I will hold them off.”

Pettifog hooked her right arm around the emperor’s left.  The nummarian hooked her left arm around the emperor’s right.  They turned the emperor away from the ghosts and began to run, dragging him at first, until he too relented and fled with them.

“Glissade!” Pettifog called, and the hero too joined them. 

They clambered down the temple stairs, knowing the ghosts could still follow them all the way to the edge of the temple grounds.

The nummarian jumped onto Glissade’s shoulders, for once they reached the ground, the hero was the fastest runner on the snow.  Indeed, he was now the second fastest, for the black-hooded companion, now that he was revealed, glided just as easily over the snow.

Pettifog flagged behind the rest, for Glissade could not carry two without slowing too much, and the emperor could not carry any at all.  Now that they knew who he truly was, he was beginning to lose his solid form.  He stopped and turned, intending to shine his light as brightly as he could, the light of full moon, to startle the angry ghosts, and give Pettifog time to escape them.

But Pettifog stumbled and fell, landing in the soft snow.  She knew she must rise and keep running.  But that was when she heard a screeching cry in the air that curdled her blood.  It was the ghosts, she tried to tell herself, as another cry rent the still dark air.  There was no doubt of what it was.

The monstrous winds were coming.

***

Pettifog could not move.  She stared ahead to where Emperor Moon stood glowing brighter.  But she was not heartened by the sight.  She was frightened.  She feared for herself and her companions, for none of them were yet beyond the temple grounds.  And even once they reached them, even once they were safe from the angry ghosts, they would not survive the wicked winds.

They must have been drawn by the commotion in the temple.  Pettifog blinked.  It did not matter.

Emperor Moon was calling out to her.  She listened and heard his words.

“The secret!” he cried.  And he grew brighter still.

Pettifog believed she understood.  The light of the moon cast only faint shadows.  She had seen her own for the first time in many months, but it was only a whisper of a shadow.  Only a shadow cast by sunlight would have been strong enough to contend with a ghost. 

But perhaps many weak shadows could equal one strong shadow.

Pettifog pulled the box containing the caretaker’s secret to shadow-making.  She opened the box and peered inside. 

And it was as simple as that. 

The secret of shadow-making entered her mind.  Pettifog dropped the now-empty box.  She sat up and she peered at her faint and wavering shadows in the snow, one facing north and the other facing south.  She put her hands together palm against palm, then pulled them apart abruptly.  And as her hands came apart, so did her shadows.  They each split into two, and now she had four shadows. 

These she split again and now she had eight shadows.  And she split these again and now she had sixteen.  Then thirty-two.  Then sixty-four. 

Perhaps ghosts could move faster than mortals, but if they could, these ghosts did not seem to know it.  They only ran and shambled as fast as a sick and tired but determined mortal person could run.  But the ghosts were close enough now that Pettifog dare not try another split.

She sent back sixty shadows to intercept the angry ghosts.  She sent forth three to guard her companions.  And she kept only one behind herself. 

Another shriek rent the air as Pettifog rose to her feet.

She began to run toward her companions.  As she did, she felt the dying of her many shadows.  As each one was cut down by an angry ghost, a tiny scratch appeared on Pettifog’s skin.  She was still only halfway to the edge of the temple grounds, when she stopped.  Her companions were now beyond the grounds.  They called for her to keep running.  But only a dozen of her shadows remained.  So she turned.

And she gazed at her one shadow, a pale shadow in pale moonlight.

Her one she split into two.  And she split the two again until she had four.  And she split the four again until she had eight.  Again and again, she split her shadows, and this time, she was able to make one-hundred-and-twenty-eight and send them forth, all but one. 

She turned and ran.

By the time Pettifog reached the border of the temple grounds, her skin was criss-crossed with tiny scratches.  She collapsed into the nummarian’s arms.   

“Shadows return,” Pettifog breathed.  And her shadows disengaged from their battle with the angry ghosts and flew toward her.  She would need to make more, to fight the winds.

Her companions carried her well outside of the temple grounds, where the angry ghosts could not reach.  They tended to her wounds.  And Pettifog’s shadows returned to her.  The nummarian counted them.  Seventy-seven had survived the battle with the angry ghosts. 

Emperor Moon said, “I have drawn the winds to us.  I will draw them away.”

He tapped his staff on the ground and the moonglow ascended and flew off.  As the emperor departed so departed his light and all of Pettifog’s shadows.  They had no defense.

But the next time they heard the screeching of the winds, it was farther away from them.  And it moved farther and farther still, until at last, when they listened, they did not hear it at all.

***

The three remaining companions traveled back the way they had come, meaning to return home.  Their first quest to save their people had failed, but they all agreed that they would try another.  And having lost a powerful companion, they would seek more.

One morning, Pettifog felt herself being roughly shaken.  And she heard the excited voice of the nummarian uttering a single word.

“Light!”  The nummarian shook her again.  “Light!  Do you see?”

Pettifog blinked away the drowse of sleep.  She did not see anything.  They were on a suspicious stretch of road and had lit no fires that night. 

She wanted to go back to sleep, but the nummarian would not let her.  She went to go wake Glissade, leaving Pettifog to lie back down.  But when Pettifog blinked, she thought she caught sight of the nummarian’s form moving about. 

My imagination, surely, she thought.

But her eyes perceived rough forms around her.  She raised her hands to her face and swore she could see them.  She sat up, then, and woke herself. 

As the companions waited, the sky turned from black to gray, and a color began to filter into the gray. 

Blue.

It was not quite familiar.  There were no stars.  But the dark sky was being overcome by light, and as they cast their gazes eastward, they spotted that light glinting just over the distant mountains.  And they recognized that light.

The sun was rising upon their realm.

***

By mid-morning the sun was above them, sitting amidst a clear blue sky.  The companions traveled in quiet.  There were no demons of fire, no bandits to trouble them.  They passed by scorched earth and burned down villages, and felled trees.  But some enchantment seemed to be at work as they walked further and further along.  Grass began to grow before their eyes.  Saplings rose from the remains of lightning-struck forbears.  Burned and broken structures built by the hands of people remained unchanged.  But nature seemed to be restoring itself. 

And their shadows had returned.

The companions looked behind themselves and found that they each had two shadows.  Holding her breath, Pettifog summoned the shadows who had survived the battle with the angry ghosts.  She gasped when her two shadows were joined by a dozen more, fanning out behind her, and a dozen more behind those shadows, and on and one, until the nummarian counted seventy-seven.

“We are once again amphiscians, my friends,” Pettifog said.

The nummarian smiled.  “You possess a multitude of shadows.  You are a…plithoscian.”

“We have Emperor Moon to thank,” Glissade said.

“You have yourselves to thank,” a voice spoke from behind them.

The companions turned and saw their fellow companion standing under the shade of a giant oak.

Where did that come from? Pettifog wondered about the oak.

Even under the shade, Emperor Moon’s glow was too subtle to overcome the bright dazzle of Empress Sun.

“But we failed to deliver the secret of shadow-making to our caretaker,” Pettifog said. 

Emperor Moon smiled.  And his eyes seemed to glow.  “No, you delivered the secret to someone better, one who is more likely to spread that secret among the rest of her fellows than a caretaker would.”

Pettifog raised her brows.  “Then…I am to teach this secret to others?”

“You may teach it to whomever you wish, whomever asks.  And you may make shadows for whomever asks.  So long as you receive proper payment.”  He glanced at the nummarian who bowed her head.

“I suspect however,” the emperor said, “that not many will come to learn.  The memory of what happened to your people for having even one shadow too many is fresh in the minds of other peoples.  And once people learn the price of having many shadows—that what happens to one’s shadows may happen to one’s self—then even fewer may seek to learn.”

Pettifog stepped forth.  She dropped to her knees and prostrated herself.  She heard the steps of her companions and knew they too had done the same. 

She straightened, and she knew she should have spoken the traditional thanks for the emperor’s protection and favor. 

But she simply said, “Thank you, Emperor Moon, for being our companion.”

Emperor Moon beamed.  “What will you do, plithoscian, with your seventy-seven shadows?”

The companions rose to their feet.

“My shadows are strong under the light of the sun,” Pettifog said.  “They will help me and my people rebuild our township.”

Emperor Moon raised a brow.  “And under the light of the moon?”

Pettifog thought a moment.  She glanced between Glissade and the nummarian.

“They will do as I will do.  They will rest and delight in the company of their companions…all of their companions.”

 

Copyright © 2019  Nila L. Patel

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