Shadows and Sprites

Here’s a story I wrote for our short story group. The theme was children’s story. I’m not sure how much I like the actual story, but I do enjoy the lands in it.

In lands far away from ones familiar to you and me, there exist two great cities, each extraordinary in its own right, but each vastly different from the other. They are known in our language as Luxia and Umborea, though their native names are very different.

First let me tell you about the land of Luxia, and about its citizens. It is a place unmatched by any other I have visited, and though I will try to describe it to you, no words can do that magnificent place justice. In Luxia night never comes. There is no darkness, no dimness. Instead there is only light. The very stones themselves seems to glow, leaving no shade in all the land.

You may think this that such luminance would hurt the eyes — but I can tell you that this is not the case. It is not a harsh light, but an ever-present glow that warms the heart and the soul.

Luxia is inhabited by light-sprites, beings that do not know, have never known, darkness. The sprites are great artists, producing sculptures, paintings and engravings of such detail and beauty that they dazzle the eyes.

The sprites themselves are works of art, their skin covered in beautiful designs and colourful tattoos. Many dyes and inks are used to colour the hair, the eyes, and the skin. Luxians do not wear clothes, instead becoming mosaics and canvases for art.

The language of the sprites is entirely visual, for Luxians possess no ears, and can hear no sounds. The sprites communicate with intricate gestures and motions, and have a complex and rich written language.

Now let us depart for a moment from Luxia, before you become too caught up in the dazzling beauty of the place. You see, there is another city, one not too distant from Luxia, that is exceptional in its own right.

Umborea is a land draped in darkness, a place that never sees a single ray of light. But the city is not as bleak as you might think. For it is not the sight of Umborea that fascinates (to this day, I know not what it looks like), but the sound.

Umboreans live for sound. The music they produce is unparalleled; I cannot hope to describe it to you. The buildings are built with chimes that tinkle and sing with every gust of wind, producing melodies as varied and pure as they are beautiful.

The shadows that inhabit Umborea are the most talented musicians in all the world. Once you hear an Umborean symphony no other music will satisfy. Umboreans themselves are instruments — they cover themselves with beads and charms that produce marvellous sounds as they sway and dance in intricate patterns.

Umboreans communicate through an amazingly complex variety of sounds. Understanding Umborean is difficult, speaking it is impossible. We simply do not posses the vast array of mechanisms to reproduce Umborian language. But one does not need to understand Umborean to appreciate the language, for it too is a thing of wonder.

Now, let me tell you a story. It’s a story that is hummed, sung and played in Umborea. The story begins long ago, when contact between Umborea and Luxia rarely occured. Our story starts with a shadow, let us call him Eren, though that is not his real name — there is no written way to describe an Umborean’s name.

It is difficult to put yourself into the world of an Umborean, but I will do my best to help you along. I would say ‘Picture yourself in a world without light’, but that is not right. Umboreans do not — can not — think in pictures. They think in sounds.

Umboreans make their way around their world through sound and touch. They build their houses and palaces as instruments, not only for the beauty of the sound, but so they can navigate their streets. So to think like an Umborean, try and hear the sounds of all those buildings, the music of all the other Umboreans, and you must do your utmost to not form an image in your mind.

Now back to Eren — an unremarkable shadow for the most part except for one thing: he had an irresistible curiosity about the world. Eren was a musician and a maker of fine Umborean instruments (most shadows are). Most Umboreans chose never to leave the vast caverns that sheltered their homes. They had many reasons for this: The outside world was dangerous; they had everything they needed below; the sounds of the outside were terrible to hear; those were the excuses the Umboreans used.

But not every shadow heeded these warnings, there were always some willing to explore the world outside. And so it was with Eren, who longed to hear new sounds, new songs, new music. He set out on a sunny morning, though Eren himself had no concept of sunlight, and couldn’t know what a sunny morning was.

I take you away from Umborea for a moment to say this: There is a legend that is written of in Luxia. The sprites there make paintings of it, it is featured in murals around the city, and intricate dances tell the tale in a most beautiful and fascinating way.

The story in Luxia starts with a young sprite who we will call Jiji, though that is not her actual name, for Luxian names are written in pictures, not letters. She was an artist, a painter and engraver, who was always looking for things to inspire her. It was on a fine sunny day (though it was always sunny in Luxia) that Jiji set out beyond the boundary of her city.

It was on this lovely morning that our two stories collide — as well as the futures of both Umborea and Luxia. As you’ve probably guessed, our two characters left their homes on the same day, and as fate would have it, the two met each other.

You must understand that this was not the first time Luxians and Umboreans had encountered one another. The two civilizations had met on a number of occasions, but little good had come from the interactions.

The general opinion in Luxia was that Umboreans were a savage, ugly people, with little culture and knowledge. Frankly, they considered Umboreans to be barbaric, almost animals. To the Luxians, Umboreans were deformed, terrible beings that scrabbled around in a world without light or beauty. They were hideous, disgusting creatures.

The Umboreans viewed Luxians in much they same way. The sounds produced by Luxians — for they do produce sounds, even if they cannot hear them — are without harmony, and are dissonant rackets to the fine Umborean ear. Umboreans tend to avoid Luxians, as the noises made by the sprites are almost painful to the shadows’ ears.

So when our young shadow crossed paths on that sunny morning with a bright and happy sprite, the first thing he felt was fear, followed closely by a wave of disgust. It should be said that the sprite felt the exact same thing upon meeting the shadow. Both, however, were very curious creatures, and so each stayed to study the other.

Eren began to compose a melancholy tune on the instrument he carried, of traditional Umborean design somewhat resembling a lute, but with five strings. Jiji started to draw the strange creature before her, painting the shadow in lines of beautiful colour. In time, the two began to work in a sinuous rhythm, with the plucks of Eren’s strings matching the sounds of Jiji’s brush, while Jiji’s strokes followed the vibrations from Eren’s instrument. This went on for quite some time, until the two tired, and returned to their respective homes.

The next day Eren set out once more, hoping to again meet the sprite he had strummed about they before. When he arrived, Eren was disappointed to find it deserted of all sound but the soft blowing of the wind and his own breathing. He started to play – a mournful lament, on a small, flute-like instrument  – when the sound of footsteps captured his attention.

Jiji sat next to Eren, softly swaying at the feel of his music. Again they stayed together for the whole day. Eventually, Eren handed her the small flute, and Jiji put to her lips and started to play. The sounds were dissonant and random, making Eren roll around in laughter. Jiji glared at Eren (something that was completely lost on him), and grabbed a brush and gave it to him. The resulting art was a mess of colours and shapes (if you could call them that), which made Jiji grin and dance in mirth.

From that day onward, the two met every day. Eren taught Jiji how to play on a xylophone-like instrument, and found that the sprite had a naturally good rhythm. Jiji presented Eren with etchings she had made, running his fingers along the art so he could feel the grooves in the wood. She taught him to carve, and wondered at the strange shapes he made, which were tactile representations of the sounds he could hear.

When the two shared their adventures with the sprites and shadows of their homes, the citizens of Luxia and Umborea laughed at them, and scorned the idea that the two races could get along. But when Eren played the symphony that had been inspired by the sounds of Jiji, and when Jiji showed Luxia that paintings and etchings she had done of Eren, the people’s minds began to change. For what Eren and Jiji had created were of unquestionable magnificence.

Soon artists from both cities were meeting to share and create unique art which became the fascination of their peoples. In time, it became not uncommon to see an Umborean wandering the streets of Luxia, listening to the fascinating sounds which had no rhythm, no purpose, but which were not wholly abhorrent. And it was soon after that Luxians were seen attending grand Umborean symphonies, swaying back and forth to the vibrations of the song.

It is well known that instruments produced from Luxian and Umborean artisans are without rival. But what is often forgotten when collectors and musicians spend millions of dollars to own one, is that the instruments, with their pure melodious sound, and exquisite engravings, would not exist had two enterprising young folk not pushed past the boundaries of communication to bring two peoples together.

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