Saoirse Goodbarrel sat in the tiny bed by the window, watching the pigeons hop merrily on the roof outside. She felt more rested than she had during the entire trip from Dobrigh to Malton but still hadn’t slept well. Every time she had closed her eyes, it seemed as though the great flood of darkness was washing over her once more. She thought she could still feel the coldness of it, like jumping in a shaded pond at the height of the summer. A shiver ran up her spine.
When the sun gave way to shadow outside the window, Saoirse didn’t think much of it. That was, of course, until she saw the same darkness from her hometown wash through the street outside. She jumped from her seat and put her hands against the glass as she watched the people below get swallowed up as they ran. Her heart slammed hard in her chest as her breath became ragged. She watched in horror as the blackness rolled over the roof and began swirling at the window until it formed something vaguely halfling shaped.
“Hello, Saoirse,” she thought it said. Its voice was as cold as the material it was made of, and its whisper spoke directly to her mind. “I’d like to speak with you if you’d allow it.”
“No,” she replied, backing away from the glass until she reached the footboard at the other end of the bed.
“I’m not going to hurt you, dear,” it said. “My master would like to make you an offer.”
“Make it from out there, then,” she shot back, dropping off the edge of the bed.
“Very well,” it said as it nodded. “My master would like very much for you to join him in his pursuits. You see, he saw you in Dobrigh. He saw the people leave you behind as they ran from him. He knows your heart.”
“What pursuits?” she asked, resting her hand on the bedpost.
“He only seeks to free his god,” he replied.
“Which god would that be?” she asked, thinking briefly about running, but hesitating when she remembered it would be downstairs by now.
“Myrkul, the god of death,” it replied, waving a hand.
“I don’t know who that is, but wouldn’t that make him evil?” she asked.
“Death is merely opposition to life. Both must exist for the other to thrive. The scales have been tipped unfairly for too long in the other direction. Life has made a mess of everything. Death is fair as it applies to everyone the same, where life can be cruel and unjust,” it said. “Your parents abandoned you, leaving you to the cruelties of the world, and life has made sure that you have had to fight for every meal and every warm night. Death would never treat you like that.”
“Death is bad, though,” she replied, her voice shaking as she spoke.
“Death is only misunderstood,” the shadow replied. “Death never takes what isn’t his, but death itself is inevitable.”
“Death is inevitable,” Saoirse whispered, finding herself nodding.
“Would you like to help my master make the world fair again? Make sure people are held accountable for their actions and can’t simply buy their way to near immortality. Be the real hero of the world,” it said.
Saoirse walked slowly toward the window. Her legs shook with each step, unsure of what would happen. She pictured all the people that had been unkind to her as long as she could remember. She thought of the old hag that ran the orphanage in Dudbuton. She thought of the merchant that had beaten her when she had been caught eating his unsold food. Each person that appeared in her mind brought her a step closer to the shadow outside.
“Open the window, Saoirse. Come with me to my master and, together, make the world fair again,” it whispered.
Saoirse’s hands were just gripping the window when Peyton, the owner of the inn, rushed in, “No!” he bellowed.
Saoirse saw his wild eyes and pulled up on the window. In an instant, the shadow flooded into the room past her. Its form gone, it washed over him, and he vanished. The fog-like movement turned back to face her and paused once more.
“Are you ready?” it asked.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she said.
Slower than it had taken the innkeeper, it wrapped itself around her and worked its way slowly up her legs. The cold bit into her skin, causing the hairs to stand on end. Just above where the shadow met her skin, she could see the color draining out of her legs. It reached her neck, the breath caught in her lungs, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
“Welcome,” a sad but warm voice said, “you can open your eyes, dear.”
Saoirse opened her eyes to a world of white with a single other person standing before her. He was tall, and his ears suggested that he had elven blood, though she wasn’t sure what kind of elf he could be. He stood nearly four times her height, and he looked as though he were made of only shades of color.
“W-who are you? W-where am I?” she asked.
“I am Edri Varver, and you’re in my shadow realm,” he replied, dropping to a knee and bowing his head slightly. In stark contrast to everything from his clothes to his skin and hair, his eyes looked at her with the most brilliant blue she had ever seen. He extended a hand as a charming smile spread across his face. She felt her heart slow just from seeing it. “Would you like to know more about my god, and what we are going to accomplish together?”
“Your eyes,” she said, stepping right up to him. Even now, she had to look up at his face. “How are they so blue?”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said, his voice rolling over her like a warm breeze in the bitter cold. “We will have plenty of time to discuss that. For now, we have work to do.”
In an instant, the world seemed to build itself around them. Buildings began popping up that she recognized, along with the walls of Malton. She looked at her hands and found that they had no color as well. Everything was just as gray as the stranger that had brought her here. People began to pop up between the buildings, stopping mid-sprint to look around.
Edri touched her forehead, and in an instant, she understood. The shadows would bring the souls to the great gate that bound Myrkul. The souls would make him strong enough to be free.
“Watch,” Edri said as he waved a hand.
Shadows began leaping between the dark places in the town. As they wrapped around people, she could hear their screams, but only for a second before they vanished along with the shadow. She watched as a shadow landed on one man that did not scream or disappear. He resisted the creature and reached up to pull it off him.
Edri snapped his fingers, and the man’s arms fell to his side as he marched toward them.
“A gift,” Edri said in Saoirse’s ear, “Your first commander. I can teach you these things if you allow it, and together Myrkul will be freed.”
“Teach me,” Saoirse said, looking at the commander, the screams still echoing through the streets around them.