Swords and Shadows

Chapter One

A New Companion

"Well, don't you just look downright frustrated now?" I said, addressing the boy.

My voice sounded cheery, almost mocking, as I floated beside the boy. For the first time in nearly a thousand years, I was free. Free to speak, free to interact, and, most of all, free to torment. Why would I torment, you may ask? Because I was still not truly free. Yes, I could move about the land as I please, but only to where this boy would go. So, instead of drowning my rare joy of finally being able to stretch my arms once again (or I would, if I had limbs) in a mood of spite, I would instead take the moment to my advantage and please myself as much as possible. And if that included degrading a young man, so be it.

He only appeared to be sixteen, maybe seventeen if you wished to go out on a limb, but still a boy in my own honest opinion. He had reddish hair in a tangled mess on his head, his body skinny and appearing somewhat malnourished (still had some meat on those bones) but carried himself as though he were high and mighty, despite the heavy bucket of water gripped in his hand. Oh, and he was glaring at me with those brown eyes of his. As usual.

"Quiet you," he grunted, staggering along, water sloshing around a bit.

"Hm, I'd rather not," I replied, deciding to skim over his shoulder and begin moving before him in a backwards motion, facing him. Such things were easy when your body only consisted of wisps of gray smoke.

"Why can't you just leave?!" growled the boy, giving me yet another of his trademark glares. A thing like that would probably earn the boy a returning glower from any other person, but I was no person (nor had any facial features to speak of either).

"Haven't I explained this once or twice to you, you… um… boy?"

"See?" said the boy. "You don't even remember my name! You have no reason, and especially no interest, in following me around!"

"William! That's it!"

"Are you even listening to me?!"

I would have smirked at that comment if I could, any emotion that would have been expressed hidden within my own mind.

"Admittingly, no," I said. "Because it seems you yourself do not wish to listen, so until we are on equal terms of communication, I don't believe I need to repeat myself."

"I should have never taken that sword…" he muttered, his eyes now fixated onto the ground. Now he decided to recall why I was his permanent companion now. Oh, how this boy confused me…

I could not really blame him, though. Yes, stealing that sword from the dungeons of the castle surely wasn't very smart for him, but neither him nor I requested for me to be tied to that weapon, or how I would be committed to follow the holder to the ends of the earth. Unless the person died, of course, but surely I'm not that cruel to think such thoughts. Maybe.

Oh, but the expression on his face when I suddenly appeared as he grabbed the hilt of the blade, just appearing to be a puff of smoke at first, only to begin to follow him. Now that had instilled some fear into his heart as I rushed after him as he made his escape from the lower floors of the castle, me jabbering away all along the way.

"I was expecting the sword to choose someone much grander. Are you the son of a king? No, no, that can't be right. You're far too scruffy. Are you, by chance, related to a very royal town drunk? Hm… might be…"

Yet now I was here, one night and morning afterward, watching William drag along his water for the day, the path through the forest worn and used. The trees around us were pretty quiet; I only had to presume this place was not recognized for its abundance in wildlife.

Having not replied to the boy's woes, he seemed to dismiss his previous words, glancing towards me as my attention was directed toward my surroundings, but I still saw his look.

"You never told me your name," he said.

I turned to him, or turned as best as a being as myself could.

"Well, many people call me a demon. Some others an evil spirit. Then there are the ones who think they're all grand, referring to me as an unholy follower of Satan…"

"Seriously, now," interrupted William. "What really is your name?"

I gave out what one could interpret as a small chuckle. "I truly have no name. I am what I am. That is all. People call me what they like. My kind doesn't require names."

"Then what is your kind?"

"So full of questions," I stated.

"There'd be less if you bothered to explain…"

"And you require more patience."

"Fine, take your time," said William unwillingly, frowning now. "Since you seem to have all of it in the world."

"Being rude won't solve this issue either," I answered.

"And you aren't?"

"Hm… good point," I said, thinking it over for a moment, only to return to the subject at hand. "Anyway, back to my kind. Species. Group of beings. Whatever you wish to go with."

"Just get on with it!"

"Fine, fine," I muttered, swirling around in the air a bit as I collected my thoughts. "There truly aren't many of us. I have only come across a few others. Just like our own personal selves, we do not have a specific name to clarify who we are, even though others have done so. We are essentially beings caught between worlds, not really here and not really there."

"…I'm lost here," said William in confusion.

"Of course you are. We are rare, and even then, we were barely known, and going by what I've seen, we have been entirely erased from history from the looks of things. Bet a few are living within a few towns, hidden amongst everyone else."

"Wait, hidden? How can a ball of smoke be hidden?"

"Simple, really. We're impersonators," I said with a little bit of pride. "An unneeded skill in general, though. Only used to fool others, typically. It can come quite in handy at times, as I've known from experience."

"What do you mean 'impersonators'?" questioned the boy.

I thought it over for a moment. "It just means that we… actually, let me just show you-"

Yet before I could even attempt to do so, a sudden snap of wood and a fairly loud whinny of a horse came from the trees, William stopping in his tracks. I watched him slowly place the bucket onto the path and then scrambled off into the trees, surprisingly not making a noise as he traversed through the brush. I followed in his steed, gliding behind him, suddenly curious as to what caused the noise.

Soon, we came to a new path, much wider and more traveled on; a road, essentially. On it trotted along three horses, one in lead, the other two side by side behind it. The two riders following behind were garbed in simple wear; a basic uniform I had seen on a guard the night before, both having swords at their hips. The one in front, though, wore a near full suit of shining armor (seeming to be more for show then a necessity at the moment), its silver glinting in the morning light. With no matching helmet to go with the suit, his black hair fell to his shoulders, a thin, neat beard gracing his face.

"That's Sir Spradlin…" muttered William beside me, peering from around the tree while I hung there in the air in plain sight.

Without a word, I suddenly wooshed forward, gliding right up to the armored man upon the horse, floating before him. I could hear what sounded like a noise of discouragement and anger come from behind me, but I still did it, only floating there, examining him.

"He sure looks unhappy!" I called out to the boy, the man before me, Spradlin, not even seeming to give me any acknowledgement at all. It was as if though I was invisible and completely nonexistent to him (which, truly, I was).

William, looking to be in great discomfort at my current position, hurriedly motioned for me to return as his eyes darting back and forth between me and Spradlin. With a sigh, I glided right back to his hiding spot within the trees, lowering myself to his level.

"What?" I asked.

"…didn't he see you?" whispered William, now appearing more confused then nervous.

"Don't you think he'd be screaming some lunacy about demons by this point?"

"I guess," answered the boy, glancing to Spradlin again. "I didn't know I only could see you."

"Oh, do not worry," I said. "You've only fallen into a deep delirium."

"I've what? I'm not crazy!"

"Do you think I would lie about my own existence?"

"And how am I supposed to know you're not a creation of my mind?"

"Guess you'll just have to figure that out yourself, Will," I stated, circling around him a bit. "By the way, aren't you going to follow that man? He seems to be heading to your home."

William looked at me for a moment before his expression turned into one of a small realization, turning to see where Spradlin was, but he had long left the vicinity, only the sound of the clip-clopping horses in the distance.

"The sword. He'll be after the sword!" he exclaimed, now starting to once again dart through the trees in haste.

"Now why would that be?" I queried, following him with ease.

"Because, he's the one who leads the order of guards at Solomon," answered the boy quickly, referencing the castle we had fled from the night before.

"And I presume he dislikes little boys sneaking in and stealing his possessions?"

"One, I'm not a little boy," William growled. "And two, it's not his possession. Lord Caldwell owns everything in those walls, even though Spradlin fancies the idea he truly does."

"Ah, I see. One of those types who thinks he's in control?"

"He is in control," he replied. "Caldwell has exceeded the time he should have had on this world, and not only that, he's nearly lost his sanity as well. Spradlin just took advantage of that."

"And this is general knowledge?" I asked, now interested in this black-haired man.

"No, actually," said William in a matter of fact tone. "I used to have a job at the castle; just a cleaner. But when you're there, you hear things, and when you go out of your way, you see things. Not too obvious at first, but after looking into it…"

"Hm, quite the investigator you are."

William shrugged in mid-jog. "I hate Spradlin, and he hates me. Know your enemy, right?"

Before I had the chance to answer, the boy slowed, having moved out of the trees earlier to run on the small path we had been on before this situation. Crouching low, he stopped just before the path led into a clearing in the trees, a small, dilapidated shack sitting within its center. This was the boy's home, I having mocked him last night for such a rundown place.

Before I had a chance to give a similar comment now, Spradlin appeared to our left, having detoured off the road to arrive to William's home. Slowing his horse, he lowered himself from the saddle, motioning for his men to follow.

"I hope you at least hid the sword somewhere," I said.

"In fact, I did." I was relieved at the answer, but the boy was biting his lip. "But if he discovers I'm not in there, he'll rip the place to pieces looking for it."

"I'll take care of that."

"Wait, what?"

I had already left the boy, though, rushing forward to the shack. I knew there was no possible way for William to enter the home without being seen, but I had the perfect resolution to this problem.

Circling around the shack (without even a glance in my direction, of course), I found a small window, slipping in. I found myself in William's bedroom, only a mere thin mattress, dirtied and tattered, laying on the dusty wooden floor. A door led to the rest of the home, which only consisted of one other room of similar size. I questioned where the boy had hidden the blade, but didn't delve into the query any further, hearing a loud knocking coming from the front door.

Ignoring the noise for a moment, I floated over to a substantially large mirror, its glass cracked and dirty, but I was still capable to see myself in its reflection; just a clump of smoke. Yet my body began to expand and swirl, all due to my control, of course, starting to form into a different shape. A human one.

Soon, I was formed into a body, yet still an indescribable mass. With some concentration, features began to appear, the gray smoke slowly being replaced with skin and clothing. Finally, with a few more things changing across my new body, William faced me in the mirror.

I was now a spitting image of the boy, even wearing the same ragged clothes. Smirking (since I could finally do so), I moved the body around a bit, flexing fingers and stretching limbs, becoming familiar with the form. It had been quite awhile since I'd done such a thing, but actually having a recognizable figure was always strangely satisfying.

Seeming to have ignored the knocking for too long, I suddenly heard the door burst open, glancing over with William's eyes. Spradlin didn't appear to be a man of respect.

Before I even had a chance to take a step, Spradlin was there in the doorway, the other two behind him. He glared at me while I stood there, my new hands stuck into the pockets of the trousers William had been wearing that day, now completely visible to the man before me..

"May I ask why you're bursting into my home uninvited?" I asked in a perfect imitation of William's voice. "You could have at least forewarned me. I may have been able to warm up some tea."

"Don't be clever with me, boy," replied Spradlin, still giving me that glare. "Where did you put the sword?"

"Whatever are you talking about?" I asked, stifling a small chuckle.

"I have reports from at least three different men swearing they saw you fleeing the castle with a sword last night."

"I don't recall taking any sword."

"But I have witnesses."

"Are you sure they saw that it was truly me?"

Spradlin began to look annoyed. "What are you trying to say, boy?"

I took a moment to cross my arms. "Well, if you can remember, last night there just so happened to be much cloud cover. Any light the moon would have given was blotted out due to that, and you and I both know there are no torches lit around the castle or within the town. If anyone had happened to run through the town, a person would only have seen a dark figure, nothing more." Fortunately, none of this explanation required any real knowledge of the past or the town itself. Attention to detail and a good memory can go quite a ways.

"And your point is?" asked Spradlin, frowning now. I couldn't tell if he was oblivious or just not wanting to accept any of my, or in better terms, William's, words.

"Meaning if I had taken this sword you keep mentioning and if I had been running around, there is no way your men would have pinpointed me as the thief."

"Hmph. That is quite thought out in such a short time, especially for one who believes he is innocent."

I shrugged. "I guess I'm just that smart."

"I don't appreciate it when people lie to me, William," said Spradlin, his hand reaching to his hip where his sword hung. "Especially ones who have given me trouble before…"

I watched the action indifferently. "You seem pretty restless to get your hands on that weapon of yours. Has it been awhile since your last innocent civilian kill?"

I must have hit a nerve at that comment, Spradlin giving an anger induced growl. "You've stolen my possessions, corrupted the castle, and now give outrageous claims! I have never spilled blood of an innocent… but you, William, are a criminal, and I will give punishment as needed!"

With his speech now done (one that didn't give me a drop of fear), Spradlin drew his sword, steel sliding out of steel in a smooth motion. Then, without a moment of hesitation, he gave one large slice, directly aimed at my neck, the man intending to kill.

Yet the blade just swung me through me, the spot where the weapon should have made contact only parting in a layer of smoke, immediately reforming into plain skin. Looking bewildered, Spradlin repeated the action, the same affect happening. I couldn't help but laugh then, the sound almost evil.

"What… what is this sorcery?!" yelled Spradlin, jabbing the sword straight through my waist, only causing the area to part, just like before. He held the weapon there for a moment this time, a neat circle of smoke surrounding the sword. Spradlin's eyes widened, stepping back in what appeared to be horror, almost losing his grip on the sword.

"Don't worry," I said with a cheerful look on my face. "Due to your attempted slaying, I'll only start a slow, painful torture to you and your fellow men's bodies. If you happen to feel a great pressure on your chest that only means it is working."

The result of what I said was what I expected; all three men fled from the room, Spradlin taking the lead, the other two nearly tripping over their own feet. As they disappeared from the room, I heard one large crash occur in the conjoining one, and only moments later, the rapid sounds of three horses galloping away.

Walking through the door, I discovered the crash had simply been one of the three falling onto a wooden table, now flattened on the ground below. Stepping over the wreckage of the furniture, I stood within the entrance of the shack, looking outside to the road, the only remnants of the group of men being a thin cloud of dust thrown up from the horses. I crossed my arms and chuckled then, relishing the small victory.

Hearing padded footsteps, I turned to find William standing there, mouth agape. His eyes continuously looked be over, seeming completely baffled.

"How… did you…"

"As I said, I am an impersonator," I said. "An impressionist. I mimic, copy, transform into what I can imagine. Do you wish for anymore synonyms?"

William rubbed his eyes, shaking his head. "No, I don't." He sighed, looking over to the road, quickly changing the subject. "How did you make them leave?"

"Simple, really," I began. "Just wound up that Spradlin fellow enough to have him try to kill me, that's all."

William looked at me reproachfully. "You didn't."

"I did."

"Why did you think that would work?"

"Because I cannot be harmed, that is why."

"And you still thought that was a good idea? If Spradlin sees me, he'll try to kill me!"

"But, he does not know that he was speaking with a completely different being, did he?" I asked, grinning. "He would only think the next time he faces you, it would be useless to try to kill you. Unless, of course, he tries his luck again. Besides, he thinks you are some sorcerer or demon now. You'll only have every person within a twenty mile radius wanting your blood now."

William groaned, rubbing his temples. "Why? Why me?"

"A word from the wise, Will. Don't steal ancient swords from castles. It gets you into loads of trouble."

"Oh, just be quiet!" said the boy, but with a tired tone of voice. "Lets… lets just get the sword and plan this out. Spradlin will come back eventually, and I don't want to be here when he does." He glanced to me then before walking to the door. "And could you stop whatever it is you're doing? Copying me, right? Please?"

"Oh, very well," I said with a sigh, my body swirling back into smoke, skin and clothing disappearing in a second. I was instantly back to my regular self, floating in the air by the boy.

Having watched my little transformation without looking too impressed, William turned and walked into the home. I guess he didn't care much about my abilities at the moment, even if I myself believed they would be quite the spectacle for anyone else. Everyone is different, I suppose.

At least things could be a bit calmer now-

"What happened to my table?!?"