Every Light Has a Shadow
At the edge of the city, there was a hill that gave a perfect view of the surrounding area. During times of war, it had saved Eguzkia by allowing the city’s soldiers to see their enemies coming, but for the rest of the year it was a nice place to go and get away from the crowds and stress of daily life. It was the only place where you could get an uninterrupted view of the sunset, and could see its golden-red glow spill out over the grasslands and forests below as the warm sea winds from the south blew over the landscape.
It was also the place to go if you wanted to find Iku.
Iku was always a bit of a town oddity, but his friendly nature and easy smiles had won over most people’s hearts despite that fact. That didn’t mean that he had many friends - most were willing to interact with him the way one would an amusing toddler, but not much more than that. In fact, I think I might have been his only true friend, no matter how many people were fond of him. Their fondness only stretched so far.
Every day without fail, no matter the time of day, Iku could be found at the top of that hill staring out into the distance at something only he seemed to see. After several weeks of running into him every day after my discovery of the view there, I took it upon myself to bring him dinner whenever I visited, seeing as nobody ever saw him leave, and it became a habit for us to spend our time on the hill together as we became friends.
“Why are you always up here, anyway? Is there something that you’re seeing that I’m not? I mean, yeah, the view is great from up here, but it’s not good enough to stay up here forever.” The question had come one evening after several hours of getting responses only a sentence long at most. It was one of Iku’s less talkative days, but even more so than usual.
It took Iku long enough to respond that I thought he was just going to ignore me at first. I resisted the urge to shiver as the wind picked up. It was getting colder out as the season shifted. Winter was only a few weeks away, and with the change in weather, the seas winds had turned from lazy warmth to a biting sharpness that would only get worse from here on. When Iku finally dragged his eyes slowly away from the horizon, I was struck by the unusual solemnity contained within them.
“They’re out there,” he told me. “Fields and fields of them. As far as the eye can see.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He pointed to the horizon, and I looked, but all I could see was the same shadowed grasslands that slowly turned to the forests that disappeared into the valley. I looked a little longer, trying to see what he saw, but nothing about the scene changed, and it was as tranquil and ordinary as ever.
“What exactly am I supposed to be looking at again?” I tried to make my tone light so he wouldn’t think that I was trying to make fun of him. I had heard the whispers in the city, the ones about Cukoo Iku, the man on the hill who stared at nothing all day long and saw things that weren’t there. Even the people who liked Iku had speculated at one point or another, their good-intentioned busybody natures meaning well but being unintentionally hurtful. I had no doubt that Iku knew about the rumors and jokes made at his expense.
“The Shadows. I think today will be the day they wake up again, now that it’s gotten colder again. They do it every year, come winter, and by spring they come back and sleep for the rest of the year.” His eyes had gone back to looking out, this time fixed on a specific point.
I followed his gaze and realized that he was staring directly at the valley’s entrance. A shiver that had nothing to do with the wind crept down my spine. Perhaps there was more to his stories than the rest of us had realized. On a map, the valley was called Tenzu Pass, but around these parts it was known as the Ghost’s Den. There was only one small village in the entirety of the Valley, and the villagers’ expressions on the rare occasion that they managed to stumble into Eguzkia in the middle of winter . . . Well, there was a reason the name existed.
The time passed, filled with slightly more tension than there had been at the start of our conversation. The sky blazed with colors spectacularly, but for the first time I was too uneasy to appreciate it. It was only when the last drops of light were spilling over the edge of the world that Iku suddenly straightened, extending a hand to point in the direction of the valley.
At first it seemed like nothing was happening, but then I saw a shift in the air, a ripple as if something was just out of sight. As the movement continued, something in the air darkened, becoming more discernible against the golds of the fields that it was rising from. My eyes widened as the darkness took on individual forms and began to move, leaving behind dull streaks of brown in the previously golden grass. After a while, I also noticed the distinct white glint of frost in the trails that they left behind.
They drifted across the fields towards the forest, creating one long trail that spread to the Ghost’s Den where they disappeared from sight. I watched, unsettled and rather horror-struck as the large mass of shapes dwindled, until it was just the stragglers left. I turned to ask Iku about exactly what had I just witnessed, when I was met by the intensely tired expression that he wore.
I stayed quiet, mulling over the expression as I glanced back at the Pass. If that was what existed in the valley every winter, then I thought that I could understand the looks of the villagers who made their way into the city a little better. After all, they were the ones who had to live with them, and not just the stories.As the light disappeared completely, the darkness of the night that had previously felt comforting now felt like mourning.