To Walk With Shadows

by Xepher


At the end of the world, past the third of the great oceans, there is a
land called Tre'coth. A land of baking sun, and of stone. There is a
valley there that is called Renor, meaning "where the gods give haven."
It sits between the land's two rivers, Marlor, the refresher and Trenor,
the calmer. Renor once held the throne of the Kershann, Tre'coth's
ruler. Renor also holds the only living forest in Tre'coth.

Stories are told of this land, and of it's people. Some say the people
there are possessed, working day and night without rest, their endless
toil barely sustaining them in the harsh heat and unforgiving land.
Other stories are told, stories of Renor, and how it's forest has
managed to survive the heat that has baked all of Tre'coth since time
unknown. This is one such story.

In ancient days, Tre'coth was a land of plenty. Green valleys and fresh
streams covered the land. Fruit trees grew abundantly, the inhabitants
needing only to pick their meals from the branches. It was truly a
promised land, its people in need of nothing. But need and want are so
separate in the hearts of men.

And so it came to pass, that in time the people wanted more. They took
more and more from the land, taking in reckless abandon, assuming
eternal supply. In this way did they deplete the land, causing it to dry
up. Forests shrank, and rivers dwindled. The dry lands encroached upon
the land, forcing the people further and further from their borders. War
came, and it was brutal. Half the lands were ravaged by death, the other
by pillage. Few survived.

Those that did survive were tough, ruthless and cruel. The laws of
nature took hold, and one gained power. The first Kershann was called
Baleth, meaning "victor." He ruled with the same lack of mercy that had
won him his position. He used his power to amass his own wealth, and his
own slaves. He took tithes from every village, and built himself a
palace in the dark center of the forest. He forbade anyone to enter,
save by his leave. He took a harem from the poorest villages, their
people unable to pay their tithe in crops or treasures.

And so it was for many years. Eventually Baleth died, as even kings
could not cheat death. But he left a son, and that son left a son, on to
the 17th generation. This Kershann was called "Renath" for "the gods
will it," and like his fathers before him, he ruled harshly.

His harem consisted of 144 concubines, twelve from each province. His
vizier knew this to be a holy number, and warned him not to break it.
Renath was afraid of little, but still had some fear for the gods. Thus,
he ordered that no children were to be born to his harem. After he
availed himself of one of his concubines, she was to be watched, and if
she became heavy with child, it was to be taken care of. Renath was
picky, and availed himself of only a select few.

One of those few was called Ashrani. She had been taken from her village
just before her 15th birthday and had been in the service of the
Kershann for nine years when Renath began to fancy her. Every time she
was taken, she lived in fear until the coming of her next cycle. The
blood brought relief. No child meant no child to be lost to the knife.
The blood was also proof, and a month of constant watchfulness could
end, she could again have some privacy. At least until the next time
Renath got an itch.

Renath was picky, but also tired easily. He took to new women, calling
upon Ashrani less and less with time. Ashrani gained more freedom within
the palace grounds, as it was less likely she'd be called upon. She
began to take walks. She enjoyed the breath of the trees, the breeze
that blows through the forest in the cool of the night. The walks became
longer, but no one questioned it. All the concubines dealt with their
pain in their own ways. The desire for solace was understood.

One evening though, changed it all. The Kershann, perhaps due to
nostalgia, called for Ashrani. The servants went to her chamber and
called upon her, but she was not there. They questioned everyone, but
alas, no one knew her whereabouts. Fearing for their lives, the servants
prepared to tell Renath that they could not find her. As they were
preparing for their fate, Ashrani returned. "Merely a walk," She said.
She was brought to the Kershann, and he availed himself of her.

This time, the blood did not come. After the fourth week, she knew she
would be found out. In the night, still under the watchful gave of the
guards, she began her lie. Using a piece of jewelry, she cut her inner
thigh, staining the bed with her blood, and soaking some of it up with
her undergarments. She presented this the next day as the return of her
cycle, and was left alone.

Blood is one thing to fake, an empty womb is another. As she grew heavy
with child, Ashrani did what she could to disguise her growing bulk.
Loose clothing, bending forward, remaining sitting, all of these she
used. There is a point though, where all of these fail. A fellow
concubine noticed it first. Ashrani tried to pretend she was acting
foolish, but to no avail. The truth was discovered.

By this point, Ashrani was well into her fifth month, and while many of
the harem had lost children to the vizier's decrees, none had lost one
so far along. They took pity on Ashrani, and helped her hide. Many times
they came close to failure, but the gods of chance looked favorably upon

In her eighth month, Ashrani could wait no longer. As the pains came,
she struggled to remain silent. Waking the guards would only end her
life as well as her child's. The pains grew stronger, and more frequent,
and Ashrani knew she would not make it through the night. She ran. She
ran into the forest, for the comfort of the glade. She ran, doubling
over in pain every few minutes, before catching her breath and running
again. Finally, she could go no further. She fell to the ground,
screaming in agony.

Kira was born in the 357th year of Drineth, the Lord of Stone. Her amber
eyes entering the world in the shadowless night, witnessed only by the
trees. Ashrani wrapped her in a torn piece of her own clothing, and
carried her back to the palace. There she cradled her baby, knowing it
would be the last time she ever held her. She cried herself to sleep.

In the morning, she was awakened by another of the harem. She sees the
baby and nods, telling of a plan. This woman had taken a lover, a true
lover, among the guards. She offered Ashrani this favor, that she could
smuggle the child out of the palace to be raised as an orphan. Ashrani
was loath to lose her child, but knew it was better than watching her
death. She agreed.

That night, the viziers approached Renath, telling of a new star that
had been born in the constellation of Nimar, God of Life. They informed
him that the new star was brighter than any in the sky, in the womb of
Nimar. They offered the prophecy that this would mean new life for the
kingdom, expansion. Renath was pleased with this, as the viziers knew
would be the case. They did not tell him of the star that had died, the
star in the center of the constellation Brenor, The King's Heart.

Kira was wrapped in blankets and taken from the palace that night. The
guard offered her to a family he knew in the village of Optet, "Where
the rivers meet." The mother had recently had a child of her own, and
was still nursing. Kira was raised as their own child.

Several years passed, and the Kershann's lands did grow. His borders
expanded to all sides, and enemies fell before him. He was pleased with
himself, and his position. His greed grew, and he took more. Tithes were
increased, as well as territory.

Kira grew and became strong. Though the village was poor, the family
made due. It was never a posh life, but nor did they ever want for

Ashrani never forgot her child who had been secreted away, though with
time, the loss did become less hurtful. Renath never called upon her
again, and she lived in relative peace.

And so in this way did many years pass. The seasons coming and going,
barely noticed in the land of Tre'coth. Life was in no hurry.

In the 378th year of Drineth, Ashrani became ill. The palace surgeons
had never seen anything like it. She lost strength, and slowly died, but
never felt any pain. They could not cure her. After the third week of
the disease, the end came. As she died, Ashrani whispered to her close
friend, "Tell my daughter I loved her."

With the death of Ashrani, Renath went to seek a new concubine. If the
void was not filled by the new moon, the viziers warned, there would be
consequences. Thus did Renath journey to Optet, seeking beauty and service.

Renath demanded his tithes, knowing they would not be paid. Afterwards,
he demanded that the women of the village be assembled before him. After
inspecting the many women, Renath choose the most appealing. She was not
the most beautiful, nor the tallest, yet somehow, he was drawn to her.

Kira's tears began to flow when the Kershann paused before her, his
decision obvious. She was given one hour to gather her things, and say
her goodbyes. She was still crying as the caravan left for the palace.

Her arrival was heralded with some celebration, but behind it, the
would-be celebrants knew they were merely welcoming a new captive. She
would join them, and suffer as they had, not quite slaves, but never
free. Her first night in the palace, Kira cried herself to sleep. Her
sobs reminding the other concubines of their own initiations into the
harem, and breaking down the walls they had built against their fate.

The next day Kira began her training. There was not much to learn, as
the Kershann took whatever he wished, but none the less, Kira was
instructed in her boundaries and what was expected of her. She was bound
to the palace, and the grounds. She was bound to her master, not allowed
to be beyond reach. She was bound to the service of Renath.

Kira learned her place, and with time, her pain dulled. After a while,
she began to take walks, long walks, into the glade. After a while, it
was accepted, Kira was a walker, and that is how she survived.

Kira knew the woods well. She knew of the smell of the trees and plants,
of the various animals and their tracks, and of the breezes. She also
knew she was being watched. One night, after many months of walking, the
watcher came to her, a woman.

"Who are you?" Kira asked.

"I am your mother, Ashrani." The woman declared, "I gave birth to you
and hid you, sending you away so that you would be safe from the
Kershann's decrees, but fate has brought you back. My time is short, and
I must go, but there is one here you must meet. She is Nimar." Ashrani
pointed towards the woods, and a wolf that emerged from the lush
undergrowth. "Do not fear her, for she comes to aid you. I love you, my
sweet, sweet child."

Kira turned around, but Ashrani was gone. Looking back towards the
woods, she found another woman standing where the wolf had been. A woman
with green eyes much as her own.

"I am Nimar." The woman said, "Your mother was a friend of mine, and
communed with me often, coming to these very woods as she could. I gave
you to her to bear, and when her time was done, I took her."

"I understand." As she said it, Kira knew it was true.

And so, Kira communed with Nimar, much as her mother had before her. Her
understanding grew each day, as she learned more of the forest and its

Eventually though, her walks became noticed. One concubine in particular
seemed to take great interest in Kira, always watching her from the
periphery. One night, late, as Kira returned from her time with Nimar,
the woman stopped her.

"I know who you are." She said, "And I must give you a message from your
mother. As death approached her, I was there. She asked for nothing save
one thing, that you be told she loved you."

"She has told me herself, but thank you, it means much to me." Kira said.

Rumors began to spread among the harem, rumors of the newcomer, the
strange one. Some said she saw the dead, others, that she walked with
the shadows. Her eyes were said to glow at night, and it was said she
could disappear without being seen.

Rumors grew and eventually found their way to the Kershann. He interest
was piqued, and so he called for Kira, that this strange girl be brought
before him. She was, and he was pleased. The same strange lure that had
caused him to pick her from the crowd at Optet returned, and he was
taken with her.

That night she was brought to his chamber. He ordered her into his bed,
and she complied, but when he tried to avail himself, she resisted. She
was young, much younger than his more recent services, and fought hard.
Renath found this enticing, for very few of the women fought, and he
enjoyed the struggle. Renath took pleasure with the same methods he used
for war, and he was victorious.

Kira returned to the harem, her tears flowing, her clothes torn, and her
body battered and bruised. The others tried to console her, but she
would not be touched. She ran into the woods.

In the morning, she was found in her own bed. Her wounds were less
noticeable in the daylight, and she was in new clothes. Her eyes no
longer held the bright green of before, but looked as if they were
staring into the distance. Her determination was evidenced in the way
she walked, and the way she acted. The other concubines discussed it,
she was a fighter, not one to be broken, and not one to give up.

When next called upon, she went without tears. She was taken to Renath's
chamber, and Renath called upon her to join him in bed. Solemnly she
complied. He provoked her, wanting her to struggle, as he had found the
novelty of it to be very pleasing. She obliged him, struggling, kicking,
scratching him. He did the same, tearing at her clothes, and pulling at
her hair. When he had been pleased, Kira excused herself to clean up.

Renath waited for her to return, but instead heard noise. He wrapped a
sheet around himself and went to find where his novelty girl had run off
to. He found her in the chamber of the viziers.

She was standing at the far side of the dark room. Her green eyes
turning yellow as he watched. Her hand was over a censer, both of which
were glowing with blue-green fire. Her shirt was torn open, but she
seemed not to care.

"So you wish to conquer? Do you wish to overcome me?" Kira said, her
voice, dark, haunting.

"What are you doing?" Renath breathed, taken aback by the sight before
him. "Stop it!" He demanded as her fingernails grew into claws, and her
eyes began to glow.

"You are the one who desires conquest, and so you shall have it. Your
greed has brought this upon you." Kira continued, "You have forsaken the
gods of justice and balance. You kill your enemies without mercy and you
take me in the same way."

"Stop this at once!" Renath again demanded, though his voice was less
sure. He gasped as her jaw stretched out and her ears slowly rose to the
top of her head.

"Did you stop when the peasants pleaded for mercy? When your enemies lay
at your feet, did you stop?"

"I... I will not answer to a..." He lost his thought as he watched
Kira's head snap back at an impossible angle, her hair turning gray.

Still holding her hand in the ever-growing flames of the censer, she
continued her inquisition. "Did you? No, you did not. You have ruled for
many years, yet you have never shown mercy. You have never shown
kindness. You take from the land and from its people. You take their
money, and you take their children. You do not know the meaning of
mercy. Your greed knows no bounds, and for that, your time has come to
an end."

The Kershann recovered his resolve, declaring "I will not be questioned
by the likes of you. You will leave this room now and return to your
chamber or I will be forced too..." Kira leapt at him, and before he
noticed what was happening, her hand was gripping his throat tightly,
claws denting the tender flesh of his neck.

"Or you'll be forced to do what? Take me from my family? Force yourself
upon me? Lock me away in a palace chamber?" Kira laughed, a rough
guffaw, as though it were made of sand. "You cannot take anything more.
You have taken the trees and cut them down. You have taken the fields
and dried them up. Even Drinoth looks upon you in disgust."

"I... I... Guards! Guar..." Kira cut off his cry as she squeezed harder,
her now massive paw easily able to wrap around his neck. Her skin was
now covered in a gray fur, and her jaw evidenced a massive set of canines.

"You enjoy the conquest? The struggle and the fight, yes? Well, now let
us continue."

And with that, Kira carried him by his neck and returned to his chamber.
There she threw him on the bed and asked. "Do you wish me to join you
sire? Do you wish to avail yourself of me?" The Kershann was speechless.
"Have you no answer? No? Well, I shall assume you wish to continue."

With that, Kira proceed to duplicated upon Renath's body every would she
had herself received at his hand. When the palace staff awoke in the
morning, they found Kira asleep, untouched, next to the Kershann. Most
of the bed was soaked in blood, and one of his eyes was swollen shut.
Kira was sent back, under guard, to the harem, while the surgeons
attended Renath.

When the viziers tried to determine what happened, they begin to suspect
that Renath had a disease upon his brain, for he kept muttering about
Garou. When he finally came fully awake he explained what had happened.
Though they did not believe him, none of the viziers would say so to
their master.

Renath called for Kira to be brought to the main hall. There he
assembled his viziers and his guards. Kira was brought and he demanded
of her an explanation.

"Your greed has brought this upon you," She said, "I am but the
messenger. Turn from your ways of hatred or you will perish."

"You are a djinn and an agent of shadows." Renath insisted.

"Perhaps, but what you call shadow might only be shade from something
you cannot comprehend."

"Insolent creature! Do you see what you have done to me?" Renath said,
pointing variously to his bruises and swollen eye.

"As I have said, it is your greed that has done these things. I am, as
you said, merely an agent."

"Enough of this! Kill her."

Kira hung her head, for she had feared that Renath would not turn. His
heart was too hard, she had explained to Nimar. Nimar had insisted
though, "Everyone deserves a second chance," she said, "You have been
given one, so must he."

Those words rung in Kira's head as one more time she offered, "Give up
your violence and your hatred Renath, this is your last chance."

"Look! See that she calls her master by his given name! Disgusting

"Nimar lok teri. Nimar kar shoth. Nimar lok teri. Nimar vak soon." Kira
began chanting as the guards took hold of her arms.

"Silence her!" Renath ordered. A guard struck her across the face, but
she only began again louder. "Nimar lok teri. Nimar kar shoth. Nimar lok
teri..." Again she was struck, "Nimar vak soon." Again, this time
knocking loose a tooth. "Nimar lok teri. Nimar kar shoth." Again, again,
and again. But it was too late.

Kira's eyes turned yellow and her hair became gray. Claws sprouted from
her fingers and teeth grew from her jaw. She grew in size, tearing from
her clothes, covered now in fur.

The guards tried to fight, but had no luck. Kira swiped at one of them,
killing two in the process. Another guard maneuvered behind her, but she
was quick. She grabbed him by the neck, picking him up and preparing to
throw him at the wall. She paused though, when she saw his eyes. "You
are not to die," she said, "you must leave now, with my eternal thanks
and that of Nimar. Your friends still welcome you in Optet." Kira placed
him on the ground and turned to face the remaining guards, her wolfen
form reaching almost to the ceiling, obscuring most of the hall. The
guard ran as she approached the last Kershann.

When news reached Optet of the demise of the Kershann there were many
variations. Some said that a great warrior had risen up from the guards,
slaying the evil ruler. Others insisted that a beautiful young girl had
poisoned him as he took her in bed. Others told of conspiracies of
viziers and generals. Very few believed the stories of the Garou, of the
friend of Nimar. Very few believed that a concubine of tender years was
able to slay an entire palace full of guards and overthrow an empire.

To this very day though, stories are told, stories of the Kira'nath,
just rulers of Tre'coth, how at night, in the ancient palace of Optet
you can see their wolfen forms silhouetted against the moonlight.
Stories of how, if you are lucky, you can watch as the Garou swim in
Trenor and in Marlor beneath the palace walls. Sometimes, they say, you
can watch as the wolves talk to women in the forests of Ashrani and
Nimar. Very few believe these stories, but then again, very few ever
believe what they only see in shadow.



Final Score: 45.5 out of 50

Raven's Comments:

Very cool story, Xepher! (Please note that I have finally learned how to
spell your name, too. ;) Your skills have improved greatly from last
year's entry.

The writing was a little uneven in tone -- some of your word choices were
a little too modern, and didn't seem to fit with the overall mythic
flavor of the tale. The comments I made about the shortcomings of the
mythic style in "The Myth of Arial" are applicable in some places here,
particularly near the beginning. On the whole, though, I think you
managed to infuse quite a lot of texture and character development into
the story, especially considering how much time it covers in a relatively
small amount of space. There were some spelling errors and typos
scattered throughout, but on the whole the Technical side of the story
held up well.

In sum, in spite of a few minor flaws, the story was nicely constructed,
with an entertainingly complex plot, a well-crafted back story, and a
good, sharp climax and resolution. Well done!


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