The Shadow Lands
A Tale of the Wold
It had turned midnight as the ancient elf Chirac stopped to rest. The two humans that followed him seemed relieved that he had done so, after all he had walked them through the forest for most of the day.
He turned and gave them a smile.
"Here is good," he offered, gesturing to a patch of clear ground. "We can make a fire, and then I can show you the way."
The man nodded and walked off to find fuel. His female companion rubbed her arms in the chill of night, and her eyes followed the man's confident stride until it disappeared into darkness.
Such beautiful eyes, thought Chirac. Did he see fear in them just now? Perhaps he did.
"What is it like?" she asked abruptly after a long period of silence, "to walk in shadow?"
The elf raised an eyebrow.
"It is, how shall I say -- interesting," he answered. "The Shadow Lands are well named. Their links to the Wold are tenuous at best, and become weaker as you travel further inward."
"Are there ghosts?"
This was the man's voice, and Chirac saw him reappear from the trees with an armful of sticks.
"Better that we light the fire, hmm?" he answered. "Then I will tell you both what I know."
A short while later, the elf sat cross-legged in front of the flames, facing the two he had brought along with him.
He studied their faces, lit by the dancing fire. Had he made the right choice? He hoped so, for his sake. They both watched him -- curious, and intent on knowing the unknown.
And so, Chirac began to weave his web.
"In the very beginning," he said after clearing his throat. "You will see two worlds, or so it will seem, and the sight of your own bodies -- here, safe, in repose. Everything you see around you now will appear veiled, and their solidity will start to fade. You will walk through walls, hedges and trees. Of course, you are no longer in the living world, but in the Shadow Lands.
"As for that which dwells in the land of shadow, all will be illuminated by the Woldsblood that flows within it. Life -- in all of its forms may be visible here."
"On occasion, beneath your feet, you will see the rivulets of red Woldsblood -- the source of all life. You must take care with Woldsblood. In the Shadow Lands its function is to carry the souls of the dead to their final destination. You might even see a death -- witness what happens as a soul is drawn from the living world and into the streams of crimson, joining the dance of souls as the rivulets flow toward the lands of Haven Far.
"But beware -- it will see you as no different, and will attempt to take you.
"If you keep to the paths in between, then all will be well."
The man leaned forward slightly.
"What about ghouls, ghosts, undead -- I heard there are things to fear other than rivers of Woldsblood?"
"Yes -- such things exist there, things that should have passed to the Isle of the Divine long ago. Why they choose to stay in the Shadow Lands I do not know. It is not a pleasant place."
"Have you been there?" asked the woman.
"No, but I have... looked upon it," Chirac replied. "Many times."
"But never walked there?" asked the man, incredulously. "How do we know for sure what you say is true, or that you can even take us there?"
Chirac wrinkled his brow. Patience, patience, he counseled himself.
"I know enough. More than you, eh?" he added with a mirthless chuckle.
He continued. "It is said that some see things differently than others. That perhaps the mind's perception of the Shadow Lands is colored by beliefs and assumptions."
He shrugged. "In the end -- you will see, what you will see."
"Tell us more," said the man, his tone laced with an urgency Chirac found annoying. But, the elf indulged him nevertheless.
"Well, lets see now. As you walk on, this land will fade, and everything will become truly in shadow -- black on black, gray on gray, laced with the red rivers that glow with the life and power of Woldsblood. Perhaps now you will catch a glimpse of a spark of life -- bright as a star as it flies toward it's destiny as a newborn, or in a rare instance as part of a resurrection ritual."
"And you have seen all this?" Asked the woman, her voice rich and pleasant, like velvet. Oh yes, he had chosen her well.
"Yes, yes -- all this I have seen," answered Chirac, with an attempt at bringing warmth to his smile. He failed, of course. Miserably.
"Don't interrupt," said the man. "Let him continue."
Chirac gave a sigh.
"Very well. Where were we? Ah yes, the sparks of life. If you are close enough -- you will be able to feel them, like the static from a spell. They might set your teeth on edge, or make your hair stand on end."
"That's impossible, surely," asserted the man, " to feel this way. We won't have teeth, or hair. Our bodies will be here, won't they?"
Chirac smiled and nodded.
"Very true, but it is said that you take along with you some vestige of yourself, a residual image. Depending on how strong that is, it may feel as though your body has accompanied you. The mind does not care to be away from the body, and so will cling to what it remembers. Some have even felt acute pain there."
"Is it possible to take our bodies with us?" asked the female.
"Yes..." he ventured. "That is an alternate way of traveling through the Shadow Lands, but -- it is not the safest."
Oh, lies, lies, the lies he told.
"Has anyone died, while traveling?" asked the woman, eyes wide.
"I couldn't really say."
For a moment, there was silence, except for the snap, crackle of the fire. Time to change the subject. Quickly.
"Of course, on your journey," he said, injecting a touch of eagerness, "the rivulets will become much larger, their passage more urgent, taking the souls of the dead to the River of Blood.
"Eventually you will come upon a wondrous sight, as all the rivers and streams -- teeming with the souls of the dead -- fall into the immense River of Blood, or River of Souls as some prefer to call it.
"Here is the gateway to the Isle of the Divine and Haven Far."
He saw the woman touch the man's arm, and noted as one of the man's hands reached out to give her a squeeze of reassurance.
It was time for the big sell.
"Here is where you will see magnificent sights -- streams of new life, like stars, will fly over your heads, from the tall spires on the island, on their way to life.
"Here is where the mighty Gargul and his minions hold sway. Here it is decided where the final resting place of all those dead souls shall be. Shall it be Haven Far? Or the Tormented Lands?"
The man leaned forward, toward the fire.
"We want to see it! Are we able to get across? To the Isle of the Divine?"
Now the lies began in earnest.
"Oh yes. There are vessels that will take you. Have a care that your hearts be true, however. Pity the ones who are sent to the Tormented Lands. Have you both led good lives?"
He leaned forward, and then smiled as they both nodded and blinked at him like owls.
"And you still wish to travel?"
Once again they nodded.
The man said -- "What about our bodies? You promised they will be safe."
"Yes. Have no fear, I will watch safely over them here. Remember however -- stay no longer than two days. The longer you stay, the more difficult is the return journey. I would not like to see you lose your way."
The woman gave a nervous smile.
"I do not wish to stay for too long," she said.
Chirac reached over and pressed his wizened hand against her own.
"You'll be fine," he said reassuringly.
You will wander, and forget, he thought dryly -- and without a guide, you will become lost.
He asked for silence then, while he began his spell. Turning away, he hid the ritual from them, and began the incantations.
Suddenly, he saw the overlay. The grayness that told him his eyes could see the Shadow Lands.
Turning to the couple opposite, he saw images of them, their spirits -- stand up, and look down in amazement at their physical forms sat before the fire as they rested, dormant.
Chirac gave them a gesture -- the Shadow Lands await, the sweep of his arm seemed to say.
They held hands, and waved at him. Oh, how sweet that was.
He waved back, and watched them as they turned, walked, and faded from view.
They would never be seen again, he was sure of that. For out there -- the hungry awaited, and few paths led back to safety.
Then -- as soon as they had faded completely from sight, He began a new incantation. This one was longer, and much more complicated. It also carried a threat if he failed.
Once done, he sat and waited once more, his only company -- the two bodies by the fire, apparently asleep.
The grayness of the Shadow Lands wrapped about him like a heavy cloak, as though it admonished him for what he had just done.
He didn't have to wait long.
Two shambling forms appeared, walking toward him from the gray and black depths.
He hid his shock quickly, for what now stood before him looked like two fetid, rotting corpses. It was hard to tell who was male, who was female, they had changed so much, and the glow of Woldsblood within them was extremely faint.
Of course the Shadow Lands did that to you after a while, and these two had been imprisoned there for nearly a thousand years.
The voice made his hair stand on end.
Quickly, he completed the second stage of the ritual, closing the veil, after allowing those beyond to step through and join the living. There was no time to lose.
The man opened his eyes first, and looked critically down at himself before nodding, satisfied.
"You have done well, Chirac," said the voice, steady now, much like that of the man who owned the body before him.
An audible gasp, and the woman also came to life.
She too seemed pleased, running her long fingers through hair the color of a raven.
Chirac blew a sigh of relief.
The man and woman stood and embraced one another, reveling in the new bodies he had stolen for them -- his glorious master and mistress, and quickly he got to his knees and bowed forward reverently, his forehead touching the ground.
There was no sign of the Shadow Lands now.
"Come," said the man impatiently, "there is no time for groveling. We mean to seek revenge. I will show those who dwell here the true meaning of terror. There will be no mercy."
The woman merely smiled. As Chirac scrambled to his feet, he caught a glimpse of it, and it was as cold as he remembered -- colder perhaps.
As he stamped out the fire, he wondered vaguely about the couple's spirits he had imprisoned in the Shadow Lands.
What was to become of them?
Chirac merely gave a shrug.
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