Light in the Moon's Shadow
Children didn’t live long in Dusk’s End. There were so many, and they died so quickly that most of them didn’t even have names. Among the nameless was a small child whose meals were more dirt than food, who called herself No One. Another meaningless existence, wasting away to nothing. Another set of bones wasting away in an alley, a snack for some wild beast, the plaything of a particularly perverse demon…
At six years of age it seemed impossible for her path to take her anywhere better than where she was now, rotting in a gutter and waiting for whatever scraps she could scavenge from the wastes of those slightly less worse-off.
Dusk’s End may have been No One’s home, but she knew the world didn’t end there. Not when the stars in the sky were darkened by the world over her head, close enough to see but always out of her reach.
A world filled with light and warmth. A world with the promise of life.
But here, down below where the sun barely touched, the Shadowlands had a life of their own, harsh and miserable.
No One rotted her days away in alleys and gutters, watching as travelers passed through the main road. No One had never seen these places herself, but she knew they existed. People were always coming to Dusk’s End or preparing to leave it. The only ones who stayed were those like her, with nowhere else to go. Like the other miserable wretches, she had somehow found her way here, and when she left it would not be as the travelers did, walking off into the horizon, but as people like her always left.
The nights in the Shadowlands were harsh. No One stole clothes and rags to bundle up in the winters, but they never lasted long. Dusk’s End was a world where everyone took what they could from anyone they could, and No One couldn’t take much of anything away from anyone. Bigger, tougher scavengers would take from her, and with no strength to resist she could only survive off what she could secret away to small holes in the dirt.
No One was a weak human. She had seen weak ones before. Frail children and elderly even weaker than her. She had seen so many of them finally leave Dusk’s End the way she expected to someday, their bodies giving out in some alley or gutter, where they would be picked clean by things hungrier than they were.
That was the fate she awaited as the night’s chill froze her down to her bones, leaving her breathless in the dirt. She was so hungry, but she had nothing to eat. No one to steal from and nowhere to hide, nothing to do but wait for the cold to sink in and take her away from Dusk’s End for good. Weak as No One was, it was astounding she had not left months before. She closed her eyes and waited for the end.
When No One dreamed, it was of faint memories she had from before Dusk’s End. A warm hand on her head from a man with a bright smile. The tight grip of a woman holding her so close she could barely breathe. Laughter ringing in her ears. So many more slivers of memory, they had been what kept her going.
But she couldn’t eat a mother’s hug. A father’s smile wouldn’t push away the cold. Her memories were all that remained, and in the end they had proven useless to her.
“You can’t be serious.”
The words of travelers were a common company to No One’s ears, and so often gone ignored that she did not perceive the woman’s voice at first. Just as a traveler pays no mind to a bit of rubbish on the side of the road, neither would the rubbish pay them a second thought. Rubbish and traveler, they had no business with one another.
“What? I’m hungry! And that one looks fresh!”
“Look at that filthy thing. It must certainly be riddled with disease.”
“Food is food Luci. You’re too picky.”
“You would do to remember your standing. To think that one of the Seven Queens of Tartarus would lower herself to eating a worm-eaten corpse in the street, it’s sickening.”
“More for me then!”
No One felt something lift her out of the gutter, her body rolling through the dirt. But she didn’t have the energy to even let out a gasp. The dark sky filled her vision, countless stars glittering in the distance, their patterns warped by the darkened figures of the islands above.
“Whoa! It’s a human, yum!”
“A human? Don’t be ridiculous. Humans have no place in the Shadowlands. It must be a vampire child or an immature succubus or some other demon.”
“I’m telling you it’s a human! You think I don’t know the scent of human?! Come on, take a look!”
No One found herself being lifted from the dirt, the night chill swirling around her.
“Get that revolting thing away from me!”
“Take a look, see? It’s a human!” For a second time the was swung through the air, hanging in the grip of whatever it was that held her so tightly.
“Fine, fine, it’s a human, now get rid of it! Throw it away, or eat it if you must, but I want no part of it!”
No One felt something sharp pierce her arm, and the searing pain was enough to make her body forget its urge to die. She gave a scream that came out as a choking cough.
“What?! But you just said I could-“
“Take a closer look, you fool, and clean out those worthless holes you call ears. That human is still alive.”
The sharp things sticking into No One pulled away, and she felt the hands holding her shift to… be more gentle?
“Oh, hey, yeah. It is alive. I didn’t notice because it looks as dead as everything else around here. …So, can I finish eating it?”
“Absolutely not. A human, in the Shadowlands, and a living, breathing human at that? Our master may be interested in it. We’ll take it with us.”
“Master hasn’t been interested in anything in a long time.”
“Perhaps not. But at the very least it is still of more use to us alive than in your stomach. Come.”
“But what am I going to eat now?!”
“There’s a whole town here. Pick something.”
“…Can I eat all of it?”
No One felt the darkness of sleep consume her, and she left Dusk’s End for good.