Sadjil was a Shadow Dancer. We met – if met is the right word – one night back in the Year of the Green Death. I was walking the streets unable to sleep. I’d lost my ability to dream after a bout of the sickness that bought the Green Death. Without my dreams to sell I had no money left to buy a place to sleep, and since the Green Death had taken my wife and children I had no wish to call any place home.
I walked both the days and the nights in that part of the city that never sleeps, even when the Green Death stalks the streets. Life has to go on, they say. Although, by then I couldn’t think of any reason it should.
I glanced down an alleyway between tumbledown shops. There was rubbish piled up down there, the squeak and squeals of vermin. I saw the shadows dance, shift and alter and there she stood. The air around her twisted and a knife flew past my ear.
I heard a solid thunk and a gurgle.
By the time I turned the man behind me was already dead, the knife still vibrating in his neck.
‘That’s a stupid place to stand and gawp,’ Sadjil said. Although at the time, I did not know her name.
‘I… I was just passing.’ I pointed to my left. ‘I saw nothing,’ I added hastily when I saw her pull the knife from the corpse’s neck, weighing it in her hand.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘No-one has paid for you to die.’ The knife disappeared into her Shadow Dancer robes.
‘Pity,’ I said.
‘Pity?’ She turned back to look at me, her one hand already reaching out to drape the alleyway’s shadows back over her. ‘Life is precious,’ she said. ‘Why else would I charge so much to end it?’
I shrugged, not caring. I was already half out of the alleyway. I looked across the street, then back to the Shadow Dancer as she pulled the shadow back down over herself.
‘Wait,’ I called. ‘This man,’ I pointed down to the corpse in the pool of blood.’ ‘Is… was he important?’
She undraped the shadow from around her shoulders. ‘Of course, why else would someone pay me to kill him? Why do you ask?’
‘There are soldiers.’ I pointed back to the street at the end of the alleyway. Already we could hear the chink and clank of their armour and weapons.
She grabbed my wrist. ‘Come.’
‘Shhh.’ She pulled me to her. I could smell summer fruits on her calm breath and feel the warmth of her lithe body against mine. It was the closest I’d been to a living person since the Green Death had taken everything from me.
She pulled the shadow down over both of us.
I held my breath, standing next to her as the soldiers discovered the body. Yelling out to their comrades and drawing their swords as they watched the shadows for movement.
Sadjil took my hand and we stepped sideways through the shadows, merging into the darkness until we too were darkness and together in the darkness as the soldiers surrounded us.
It was then, so close to death, I knew that I wanted to live to dream again.