Reporter Jaime Allison looked forward at the figure before him. The man was short of stature, and his silhouette left much to the imagination. He sighed. “Another mystery interview from the man in black, is it?”
The man drenched in shadows laughed. “Yes. You know how it is. I remember something worthy of therapy, and I come to you. You write it out, your readers piss themselves over the mystery, because you aren’t a creative man, and the world moves on, a little more entertained than it was before.”
“You’re a very jaded man, aren’t you?”
“It comes with the territory.”
Jaime sighed. “Well, let’s get on with it, Shadow Man. I’m ready.” He flicked on a light that faced away from the shadowed man, then pulled a notebook from his desk. He dipped his pen, then looked up. Shadow was gone from sight, but Jaime could still hear him breathing. “What story do you have to tell tonight?”
Shadow chuckled. “This one glosses over a little bit of everything. I hope you have enough paper.”
“I’m fairly certain that I do.”
“Good.” He paused, presumably to collect his thoughts into something coherent. “Very well. To begin, I was born. I am certain beyond any doubt that this was my biggest mistake. Notice that I blame neither my father, nor my mother. They were two fools in love. Father has never been wise, and mother was just entering spinsterhood.”
“Wait. You’re a bastard?” Jaime blinked in surprise. Bastards were fairly uncommon in this day and age.
“Yes. That isn’t the point, however. The point is my biggest mistake lies in being born. My mother could not marry after that, and father became a bit of a monster, trying to groom me to become his heir.”
Keen ears picked up on that. “Heir? Was he a merchant? Perhaps a noble?”
“Later.” Shadow urged, his voice carrying a slight warning. “Unless you want to lose the story.” He was silent a few moments, then began to speak again. “Of course, I was never aware of this until the joyous days of my childhood were over, and I began to hear whispers of marrying me off to some tart I’d never met before. Do try to keep your conclusions to yourself about this, will you?” He snorted. “Regardless, I heard Mother’s comments about how the girl I was to marry was lucky. She would wear someone’s ring. I believe she was trying to convince Father to wed her finally. The man either did not catch her meaning, or ignored the request. What an ass, yes?
“Eventually, after three years of bitter resistance, I moved in with mother. Father eventually caught on after only two years, and began to visit every night.” He shifted. “This went on for another two years before I finally arranged a courtship between a local widower and my mother. They got on well, save one thing: she had a bastard son. I solved the problem by telling the man a lie. I told him that she was not my mother, that she simply called me her son because my true mother had died. He believed it, and I told mother to stand by the lie, then left to find something distracting in the capital. While there, I found several distractions. I found Lucia, Julie, Antoinette, and Jacob.”
Shadow sighed. “Finally, after I almost fathered a bastard of my own, I realized that I was only making my first mistake– birth– worse. I threw aside my lovers, save Lucia, and paid for sickly Julie’s medical care. I ran out of money at that point, and entered a tournament, hosted by the king himself. In the final round, I was left smacking my opponent with a book. Thankfully for my pride, the match was called off just before my opponent won. The king had bad news, and I was taken to the castle to help once I got some rest. From there, I fought goblins, slimes, and much more for the sake of the kingdom.”
The man’s tone changed. He sounded like a man in pain. “When I arrived home to visit my mother after years of helping the king, I found her home inhabited by strangers. Mother and her new husband were gone. They died during my travels. Some local disease that most people had during childhood. I did not return to my Father. I knew that even with all of my work, I was still unable to atone for the biggest mistake in my life.” The chair Shadow rested on creaked as he rose. “I still am, as well. It is too late to atone for my crime. I stole away a young woman’s life, and I destroyed a man’s strength, merely by my birth.” With those words, he suddenly disappeared. The room smelled faintly of garlic and the sickly-sweet scent of rot.
Jaime sighed. That was heavier than usual. He finished writing, then read his notes.
He paused as realization smacked him. He threw his notebook onto his desk and jumped away, as though the thing was cursed. He threw aside his chair and ran from the room. “Editor!” he squawked, his voice high with panic. “Editor!”
A man’s snort came from nearby, followed by a thud. “What’sit, Jaime?” a gruff voice demanded.
“I can’t publish the newest Shadow Man interview! I can’t, I can’t!” He began to breathe heavily in panic. “I can’t because he just told the story of the Hero of Light! Hero of Light’s dead, right? Dead and disappeared?” He rubbed at his arms, frightened beyond anything he’d seen so far. Even the explosion that demolished part of the Coliseum and killed hundreds felt like nothing next to hearing a man he did not know tell the story of the Hero of Light as though the man was a person– and not just a person, but a person who regretted being born.
“Calm yourself, Jaime. Show me the notes, and we can edit them or something. That’s my job, ain’t it?” He laughed. “Stop panicking so much.”
“He’ll come back if we don’t publish the whole thing! He will! I don’t want him to come back anymore!”
“We’ll publish it. We’ll just change a few minor details.” He laughed, then stood and began to walk to the interview room.