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Plot Summary/Details

As best I can remember, the setting for this one was contemporary Earth, or a human off-world colony with contemporary technology. Whatever the exact location, there are creatures of shadow that present a threat to the world. I can't remember if they are undead creatures, or alien beings, or if their true nature is unknown. I also can't remember exactly what harm they can do to people. What I do remember for certain is that the protagonist is of a particular occupation/class that fights these shadows to protect the rest of society.

The method by which the protagonist and his fellows battle the shadows is something of a psychic duel. The protagonist enters a house, and reaches out mentally against the shadow. The two entities become locked in a mental struggle, with the task of the protagonist to be able to out-darkness the creature of darkness. Something like that. If successful, the shadow is dispelled, and the weary shadow fighter emerges victorious. The cost of victory, however, is quite high. The protagonist talks at length the strain of going into the darkness, and the toll fighting shadows takes on a human being. He and his kind age and become "burned out" far sooner than a human being otherwise would. Eventually, a shadow-fighter becomes too weak to fight on against the darkness. I think the protagonist is nearing the end of his ability to fight, but is not quite finished yet.

About mid-story, the protagonist encounters a man and several followers. They claim to have found a new way to destroy the shadows. The protagonist wearily dismisses the man and his group. For generations, alternative approaches have been proposed and tried. Some come from well-meaning fools, while others are snake-oil propositions from con-men. All, however, have failed. There is only one way to destroy a shadow, and that is the grueling, debilitating method the protagonist uses.

The story's final act comes when the new man and his followers join hands in a circle. I believe they do so around and infested house. They channel positive emotions or something like that. There is a flash of light, and the darkness from this infested house is gone. The new method worked, and it did so without any harm or ill-effect to the man or his followers.

The story closes with the protagonist realizing that his entire life has been spent sacrificing himself, his youth, and his vitality. And now, he and his ways are completely obsolete.

Timeframe of Publication

Not really sure. I'd say 1980's or earlier. I think I read it in a sci-fi mag, rather than an anthology of some sort.

5

This definitely sounds like a short story by Timothy Zahn called "The Shadows of Evening". It was published in the book Cascade Point in 1987.

The story (and it's equal "Not Always the Strong", also in Cascade Point) is about a Shadow Warrior named Turek. It's set on a human colony that's stuck at a pre-industrial technology because the Shadows are attracted to any kind of technology.

Humans can't really see the Shadows (although the Warriors have tricks to get a quick afterimage of them), but entering an area with Shadows is described as

... it started as a vaguely uncomfortable feeling, a sort of exaggerated nervousness. But as..it increased, and Turek could feel sweat popping out as his skin began to creep uncontrollably. A feeling of nausea get steadily in the pit of his stomach; his heart was already pounding loudly. His eyes felt like they were being squeezed into his skull.

In order to fight the Shadows, Turek:

... set his teeth and focused his mind just so... For a moment he felt nothing but the sickness in his body. Then, abruptly, something seemed to click. And he was in union with the Shadow. The darkness came like a wave, threatening to overwhelm him, to drag him into some nameless place where light never pierced. With practiced ease he deflected the assault and launched his counterattack. Be destroyed! Scatter to the winds! It resisted his blow, and for an instant Turek seemed to hear something: like voices, but faint and wordless and inhuman. And then he felt the resistance break, and he was back in the jewelry shop. Clearly the Shadow still existed; he hadn't expected to destroy it completely with a single assault. But his body told him it had reached its limit, and he knew better than to push Shadow-contact past that point.

Turek meets a man named Javan and his followers when he hears they've gone to the old ship (that brought the colonists to this planet) that is surrounded by the 8 mile diameter Shadow. Turek thinks they must be charlatans. He issues a challenge, and they go back to the shop that Turek knew would take days to clear of the Shadow. And Javan's technique works.

Javan walked forward, slowly, stoping at the end of the Shadow. For a moment he stood quietly, and Turek saw use what seemed to be a slight modification of the Shadow Warrior afterimage technique. He raised his right hand, open palm just touching the Shadow, and the faint murmuring of the crowd cut off into an expectant silence. Turek watched his closely, ever sense alert for whatever trickery he was about to use. -- And suddenly Javan blazed with light!

The single encounter destroyed the Shadow (and knocked out Turek).

Javan pleads with Turek to realize that the new method was better, would be good for everyone. Turek knows this, but the story ends with him going off on his own.

He'd given his entire life to battle...but now Javan had proved that the sacrifice hadn't been necessary, that an easier way was possible. And Turek had wasted his life for nothing.

  • That's the one. I remember now the point about technology attracting the shadows, thanks to your very detailed answer. Poor Turek... – Helbent IV Mar 14 '17 at 3:46

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