Havok Publishing

The Light Smuggler

By Zachary Holbrook

Ral stumbled into the smoky tavern and allowed himself the indulgence of sitting next to one of the blazing torches mounted along the walls. Dangerous, perhaps, but at this point he didn’t care. He needed to get away from the presence of the Shadow.

A barmaid brought him a glass, but he didn’t drink, instead watching the firelight play on the liquid surface. He thought he saw the shape of a young girl among the shadows, pale-skinned, wide-eyed, dancing across a barren field by the light of a skeletal moon.

Ral cursed and shoved the glass away. I shouldn’t be here. If the Thralgard knew that a minister of the Shadow had sulked back to an unscrupulous neighborhood like this, he’d be demoted so fast he’d— he’d—

Be free from work so I could watch Riley die.

Ral poured the beer down his throat and called for more. He should be at home, where he could hold his daughter’s hand, listen to her fading breaths even if the light allotted him by the Shadow was insufficient for him to see her withered face. But if Ral had been the sort of man to do what he should do, he would’ve joined Eric on his quest for the unknown. Probably would’ve died, but maybe it was better to die looking for light than to survive in submission to the Shadow.

“Hello, Ral.” A man with bronzen skin and a beaming smile sat down on the other side of the table. “A wise woman told me I’d find you here.”

Ral squinted. “Eric? I’m not that drunk, am I?”

Eric chuckled. “That would make convincing you easier. Come, I’ve rented a place to talk in private.”

Eric grabbed Ral by the arm and led him down the stairs to a pitch black room.

Ral felt for the wall. “You realize the only people who rent these rooms are whores and Thralgard, right?”

“Listen, Ral,” Eric said. “The legends are true. There is a place beyond the Shadow. I found it.”

Ral froze. “What?”

“Look. I brought proof.”

The room exploded with light. Ral cried out, shielding his eyes with his hand. Slowly, he peeled his fingers away. He could see. Every corner of the room, Eric’s jubilant face, all by the glorious luminescence flooding from the open box in Eric’s hand.

Ral reached forward and withdrew one of the six shining spheres with a trembling hand. This… this was a treasure worth cities, a legend spoken of in hushed tones far from the Thralgard’s ears. This was power, beauty, life.

And this would get them both killed the moment the Thralgard knew about it.

Ral replaced the sphere and slammed the box shut. Darkness reclaimed his surroundings. “Put it back. I don’t care where you got it, just put it back!”

“I risked my life smuggling these across the border,” Eric said. “But with a government minister to cover for me, I could bring in thousands more. We could bring hope, Ral!”

“No!”

Silence filled the darkness, then…

“You could heal Riley.”

The old weight of darkness settled over Ral once more. “How did you know she’s sick?”

“I looked for you at your home first. You should have been there.”

Ral gritted his teeth. “The Shadow takes whoever it wants. There’s nothing I could do for her.”

“Wrong. I’ve seen healing with my own eyes. Fugitives half-dead from the wasting disease spend a day in the light and emerge more vibrant than ever.”

Hope flickered in Ral’s heart.

No. The Shadow would kill them all if it knew about this.

Better to die looking for light…

“Save my daughter.” Ral reached through the darkness for Eric. “I’ll shelter you in my home. But no promises about protecting smugglers, understand?”

“You’re a good friend, Ral.”

They left the tavern and prowled along shadowed streets toward a more respectable part of town. Ral’s heart beat faster with every step, but he resisted the urge to run and draw undue attention.

Despite their caution, only the faint hiss of leathery wings warned them of the Thralgard’s approach. The bulbous-eyed creature plummeted into Eric’s chest, sending him crashing to the ground.

The Thralgard laughed. “Stranger. What have we got here, mmm?”

Ral bowed, panic clawing at his chest. “O great dark one, this is my friend, a fellow servant of the Shadow visiting from a faraway town.”

“Away? Then we has to inspect him, mmm, right away!” The Thralgard chittered and patted Eric’s side, stopping when it felt the box underneath his cloak.

Eric punched it in the face. “Gerroff me!”

The Thralgard ripped the box free, cracked it over Eric’s head, then opened it. A horrific scream shattered the night. “Poison! Stranger has poiiisssooon! Kill it! Now!”

The Thralgard hurled the box aside, then drew its scimitar.

Ral dove after the box. That’s life. Riley’s life.

Eric groaned, the Thralgard’s blade above his throat. Ral glanced at his friend’s face, then opened the box and shoved a luminescent sphere in the Thralgard’s face. The creature screamed and shied away, its sword going wide and scraping against the street.

Ral kicked the Thralgard, wrenched its scimitar away, then ran the monster through.

Eric stood, a pained grin on his face. “Thanks, friend.”

Another screech. Ral glanced overhead to see the circling forms of more Thralgard, drawn by their comrade’s cry and the hated light from below.

Resolve stronger than any he’d ever known filled him. He clenched the scimitar’s handle. “Go.”

“What?”

“Heal Riley. You know what to do. Then get her and my wife out of here. Away from the Shadow. The Thralgard think I’m the only one. I’ll hold them off as long as possible. Go!”

Eric reached for the scimitar. “No, I’ll stay.”

“Only you know the way to the light-filled lands. Get my family there.”

Eric saluted. “Riley will know of her father’s heroism.”

Ral took a deep breath and shoved the light toward the sky.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zachary Holbrook reads voraciously and writes implacably. His grandest conception is the Domidium, a vast interconnected universe whose story spans one hundred years and a planned eighteen novels. He is currently outlining the second draft of The Lore of Yore, an epic fantasy with a reverse origin story at its core, as well as writing more flash fiction for Havok. When not writing, he enjoys teaching his younger siblings and designing and playing board games. 


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  • “He thought he saw the shape of a young girl among the shadows, pale-skinned, wide-eyed, dancing across a barren field by the light of a skeletal moon.”
    This was so beautiful! I absolutely love the imagery! 😍 And the theme of the shadows and light is a subject very close to my heart ❤️ thank you for writing this awesome story!

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