Part 2: Another Version of the Truth
We travel on in silence for a while.
I have this bad, bad feeling in my gut. Both of us have been marked by The Shadows. He probably wants me around so that when they come, he has something to throw in front of them.
There are things that I don't know about The Shadows. But after last night, any doubts I had that they exist and are malevolent are gone. I pissed Naros off, too. He claimed he was keeping the worst of the night's terrors away from me so I could be his errand boy. It was easier not to believe him then.
Now? I need to know more about what I'm up against. Facts, not superstition.
"You have me at a disadvantage." I say, breaking the silence. "I never caught your name."
"I never tossed it out to you." He replies.
"Well, I have to figure that whatever you're running from, it already knows who you are. What harm is there in telling me? I'm no demon."
"Only the mad, possessed, or desperate chose Exile. You don't seem crazy and you weren't facing death. Which does that leave?"
Nice. "Ignorance." I reply. "You know I'm not a native. We don't have a battery full of evil spirits looking to eat souls in the city I'm from."
He stops, and looks at me. "Is that what you think the Shadows are? Evil spirits?"
"That's what I was told." I say.
"The Shadows are evil, right enough. But they aren't any outside force. They are born from the darkness within people's hearts."
“Right. So the Shadows are ghosts, then. Same difference.”
He glares at me. “No. You still don't understand. Perhaps I can enlighten you before you make a tragic mistake. When our first lord, Naros of Miir, wanted to unite the tribes to defend our lands from the empire, he had to overcome the other tribes. He built a device of potent magic, and then turned it on the squabbling chiefs, stripping them of their fears and hates and darkness. To keep the tribes united, he built the tower to hold the device, and lock away the evil that split hearts in two and poisoned allegiance."
"But the evil in man's heart is a reservoir that can never be fully drained. It fills, over and over, and the tower drinks it all up. And, when the evil grows too great for device to contain, it spills back out. It does this at night, when God no longer watches his works."
Great. Another, totally different story for how the Shadow came to be and what they are. "And what happens to this leaky evil?" I ask.
"It seeps into the streets, pooling there until it can return back to the hearts of pure men, tainting them with greed and corruption."
Lovely images. Right up there with that dragondung about demons watching from the tower.
"So why worry? It doesn't sound like The Shadows can really *do* anything."
He glares at me. "The Shadows have power. Terrible power. The darkness attracts other darkness. Murders! Thefts! Rape! And it calls to monsters, fills them with hate, and encourages them to prey. The only way to save your soul from the shadows is to keep yourself pure." His faces falls. "And I, to my sorrow, have failed in that. Perhaps it is not too late for you, though...”
Oh wonderful. I'd better stop him before he tries to convert me or something. “As interesting as all this is," I respond, "I don't really see how it stops you from telling me your name."
He sighs."What does it matter?"
"Mostly it's because I don't feel like shouting, 'Hey! You!' if I need to get your attention." I say.
"Very well. If you must call me something, call me Eric. I deserve no other titles." Eric, huh? That name sounds familiar somehow.
This sewer is a lot cleaner than I'd expected. No filth, just mold growing in the damp.
I ask Eric about it.
"These are reservoir channels for clean water. Mixing clean water and dirty would sicken everyone in Miir." He says. Makes sense.
He puts up a hand. "Wait here. I'm going to scout ahead. We're near an entryway to the Pen, and the guards might be looking for us now."
Fine with me. We've been crawling through these tunnels a while, and I could use the rest. I watch his light bounce down the tunnel. Alone. I listen to the drip of water echo through the tunnels, and try to ignore the musk of mildew. There's a clink, like a silver chain.
I whirl into a standing position, holding the fireglass blade at the ready. Sure enough, there he is, there at the edge of the light.
"Good evening, Gaven." He says. Calm, pale bastard.
"Should I stab you now and get it over with? Or let you promise false things?" I ask.
"Peace, Gaven. I am not here to harm you. I should, after you let her escape. But I am a generous sort, and again I find you useful."
"Right. I thought I made my intentions clear this morning. I'm not doing your dirty work. Oh, and I have the knife on you now, so no coercion."
"Ah, but it is such a simple task that I ask, and the rewards will be well worth the tiny effort." I think he smiles. I don't like that.
"Apparently I'm foolish enough to listen. What the fuck do you want, Naros? What are you offering me?" Why am I listening to his garbage again?
"Very simply, my offer is that I forget about last night's disobedience. I will return to keeping the worst of the Shadows away from you."
"That's it? Your offer is that you do nothing important? I faced the Shadows last night, Naros. I didn't do to badly." I say, ignoring my wounds.
"Indeed? Then, if you do not value my generous offer to keep the true horrors of Miir away, then I again offer you the chance for legend."
"Tell me what you want me to do, and I'll consider it."
The light from the dagger sparkles off of his teeth as he grins. "Why, nothing." What dragondung is this? "You've made it clear you won't act in my name. So I offer you the chance for inaction, when the time comes."
"And what time will that be?" I hate it when he grins like that.
"Why, when The Shadows come to collect your companion's debt, of course."
"No deal, Naros. I don't have a problem denying your spirit friends their fun with the poor guy, and I'm not handing him over to you."
"You may feel differently later, once you learn why The Shadows want him. I'll give you some time to consider. You know how to summon me."
He turns, and walks back into the darkness. Great. Just sodding great. As if we didn't have enough to worry about. I don't like this. Naros has changed his tactics. He came at me as an equal, instead of threatening me with doom. Something has changed in this game. But what?
I don't have time to ponder long. I see Eric's light heading back this way. Hmm. It's moving rather fast, and I can hear his footfalls. And not just his. Dragondung. There's more lights. It seems the guards have found us! Time to go. Down the intersection...down and away!