Doctor Miller had never been so exalted in all of his life. He was about to make waves. Today he would cross borders that others in his field could never even imagine, let alone dream of. He fumbled in his pocket for a small object, a smooth black crystal he had found whilst weeding his garden (he assumed it had left by the previous homeowners, they had seemed like hippy types to him, to protect the property from negativity, or some similar unscientific nonsense) and had decided to keep it as it was the perfect size and weight to fiddle with when he needed to calm his nerves, it had become something of a good luck charm to him. This was such a time since, as excited as he was to be making such scientific bounds, he was terribly afraid his marvellous invention, into which he had put his heart and soul, would fail and he would be back to where he began. He approached the control panel and switched on his machine. The scientist was almost unable to contain himself when he saw it begin to flicker to life.
This was a phenomenal achievement for, you see, Doctor Miller was trying to prove multiverse theory by creating a gateway to access other universes and now it seemed like he might really be the first man alive to ever enter another universe. He could already imagine the acclaim he would receive, he would be immortalised for his glory. He only lamented that his wife and children were not here to see him make history, they had left after his wife became concerned that the thing he knew would be his great triumph was becoming an obsession. She never had liked the idea of him having a private laboratory in their basement in the first place. He may have become a little too defensive after she tried to pull him away from his work to spend time with the family and that may have driven them away but that wasn’t his fault, they just didn’t understand. This was his destiny, his purpose, that was what his dreams had been telling him and he trusted those dreams, they were good to him. Then, just as quickly as it had started, the light in the machine flickered out, the hope and excitement the doctor felt swiftly following suit.
The disappointment was overwhelming. He didn’t understand what he could possibly have done wrong.
Sure the dreams he had been having recently, his muse, of a peculiar stone structure, the thing he had based the shape of his machine on, had been cryptic but he was sure he had managed to decipher them correctly. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. The faceless being in dreams had assured him that it was complete, that he had finally gotten it right, that all his efforts, his sacrifices, would be rewarded and he had believed it, as he rightfully should have. It was just how it should have been.
Yet, his failure was sowing seeds of doubt. Perhaps he had been wrong. More likely, his subconscious wasn’t as genius as he had believed, they were just dreams after all. He may have been letting his ego lead him on for longer than he should have. It may have been time to leave his secluded little lab and see his family again. This was it; he would abandon his delusions of grandeur and instead focus his attention on raising his children. Something in him wanted to refuse to give up but he fought against this as best as he could. How long had it been since he had sleep a full night? Too long, certainly. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in weeks. Perhaps sleep deprivation and isolation was driving him mad. He would stay at a hotel tonight, away from his lab and his machine, then try to contact his family in the morning.
He threw the small rock at the useless machine in a final act of frustration. It collided with the metal and gave off a brief spark. The doctor didn’t bother considering it and just opened the door to leave the building to be met with the sight of someone unfamiliar standing directly in front of him.
For a young witch, the night so far had been less than ideal. After discovering that a certain object she had managed to acquire- through less than amicable means- at the behest of her employer had mysteriously disappeared from her possession and being heavily scolded for her mishap, she had been tasked with retracing her steps from several weeks prior, when it had first been retrieved to find it. She was not too keen on the idea, considering what she’d had to go through then. Demonic hounds, drawn to the dark power the item emitted, had pursued her to try to take it for themselves. She assumed it must have fallen from her pocket during the chase. She had managed to get rid of the hounds at least (with a handful of pocket salt and a few hastily chanted words but had kept on running just in case. She must have lost it after they were gone, otherwise they would have stopped chasing her to seize the opportunity to take it. Hopefully they were gone for good. If anything had come from that fiasco, it was the confirmation that she was not suited to working out in the field. She was much more useful behind the scenes as a medium, clairvoyant, strategist and occasionally diplomat. However, sometimes all of the trained demon hunters and exorcists were too busy to take on more menial tasks like item retrieval and the agency would make do with whoever was around to handle it for them.
It was questionable how she would even find what she was looking for, it being the size of a six sided die.
She supposed she would just have to look out for its dark aura…at night…in the dark…
This was going to be a long night.
After searching fruitlessly in at least a dozen gardens she had escaped through and having to unsuccessfully stealth her way around about six outdoor lights she had managed to set off (thankfully, no one seemed to be awake), she was getting rather fed up and was close to calling it a night when she spotted a familiar acquaintance. A bird that, despite being a crow, not a raven, she would call Poe was perched on a fence separating two properties. She approached carefully to not spook him.
“Hello, my dear old friend. It’s been a while, how have you been?”
“Is that so? Well, send her my regards anyway. Say, you didn’t happen to have been around these parts a few weeks back, while I was running from some nasty black dogs, would you?”
“You were? Fantastic. Did you notice me drop anything while I was here?” she asked hopefully.
“Oh, you did! Wonderful. Did you see whereabouts that was?
“What do you mean you won’t help me? Why not?”
“I repaid you for that! You can’t still hold that against me!”
“Well, there’s no need for that kind of language- hey, where are you going?” The crow had begun flying away from her. She tried to catch up to him, ending up at the front of the property. He landed on the porch, taunting her. She tried to catch him “I’m not done talking to you.” But he flew out of reach. “Fine, fuck you too”. She kicked the ground defeatedly, mumbling “stupid bird”. Hopefully, the commotion hadn’t attracted any attention, she thought just before the front door to the property opened.
The doctor was surprised to see the young woman on his doorstep.
“Who are you?” He tried to ask casually through what remained of his paranoia that his work would be discovered by those who might try to steal it from him. “What are you doing here?” Who sent you?, he wanted to ask but he was trying not to obsess over the damned machine anymore so he suppressed those thoughts to the best of his ability.
She couldn’t think of a reasonable reply so all that came out was “It doesn’t matter” She hadn’t been prepared for human interaction to be a part of her current task- a lack of foresight on her part, one should reasonably be prepared for how to act after being caught behaving suspiciously- and currently appeared like a deer in headlights.
“It bloody well does matter. You’re on my property.”
She looked around then back at him. “It would certainly appear that way.”
“Why are you here?” he demanded more sternly.
“I don’t know?”
He stared at her incredulously “You don’t know?” This girl appears on his doorstep past midnight and has the audacity to claim she doesn’t know why she’s there? “I’m sure the police will be very interested to hear that.”
While the man’s soul did not have the prettiest combination of colours she had seen by a large margin, it was also far from the worst she had seen and was, like most souls, distracting enough for her to have been focusing on it instead of his face- not that he would notice, of course, it was still the same general direction- but the mention of police switched her focus immediately. She didn’t think he had any good reason to call them yet. Something in his eyes told her it was an empty threat to get her to leave faster and the way he started sweating as she stared intensely through them did not do him any favours. Her curiosity was now peaked so she bluntly asked “Are you hiding something?” Again, it was the eyes, how they widened, that told her he must be. A mischievous grin spread across her face. He no longer held the power here.
“Get off my property!” He exclaimed, attempting to slam the door on her and she would have let him, she’d had her fun provoking him and whatever was behind those doors was really none of her business. Except…
She stuck her foot in the door way, just in time to prevent him from closing it.
“What are you doing? Get out!” He was starting to seem a bit frightened for some reason. She couldn’t figure out why.
“Hush, you’re waking the neighbours.” Some of the windows had indeed begun to light up in the surrounding houses. “Where’s all that whispering coming from? It doesn’t seem normal.” She said as if she would even know what normal was. She just about forced her way inside, past the confused scientist.
He made a grab for her shoulder to stop her from going any further but relented when she pulled her ‘emergency’ switch blade out of her coat pocket. She didn’t like being touched. When she reached the source of the whispering, she noticed the familiar dark aura of the thing she had been searching for, lying discarded on the floor by a strange machine. She picked it up as the doctor entered after her in a panic. She had seen it.
“What’s that?” She asked, pointing to the machine with the knife she still held aloft.
Doctor Miller looked at his invention, then the knife and let out a defeated sigh. What was the point in hiding it? He had failed, after all, and it wasn’t as if anyone would believe it anyway so he didn’t have much
to lose by telling the truth.
“It was supposed to be a portal to other universes”
This certainly sparked her interest.
“Unfortunately,” he continued “I can’t get it to work.”
“That’s because you’re not listening”
“Shhh” The witch held the crystal up to her ear for optimal listening to the whispers that came from somewhere deep within it, occasionally nodding in acknowledgement. “Alright, seems pretty simple”
Dr Miller was becoming quite peeved. He had been working in seclusion for weeks, barely sleeping and had estranged himself from his family, all to work on his impossible project. All his devotion and intellect and he could not pull it off. There was nothing simple about it. Honestly, he felt insulted. “I think you should leave.”
“You need to make up your mind. Do you not want this portal to work?”
“Of course I do but it’s impossible!” A petulant stranger would be no help to him. Damn it, he thought he had a chance escape the intoxicating grasp of his obsession but now he was being tempted again with a success that couldn’t be.
“Then you need to follow the instructions. Listen.” She held the crystal up to his ear. He heard nothing.
“I’m not sure what kind of delusions you’re having, kid, but for the love of god, please leave.”
She frowned but it was no big deal, she was used to being able to hear things others couldn’t. Really she should be leaving anyway, she got what she was looking for and certainly shouldn’t be utilising it for anything, it being a potentially dangerous object of supernatural power and all.
Oh, but this could be so fun. In her (admittedly relatively short) life, she had been witness to many things she was probably not supposed to have seen. Living, dead, undead, demonic, ethereal, she had seen it all. Other universes, on the other hand? No. Never. This was new. This was exciting. She so badly wanted to see such a thing and it was unlikely she would ever get another opportunity to if she let this one slip away. This would, of course be a terrible idea, she had no idea what would happen, no one did. Would anyone with a shred of sense even consider taking such a risk for fun? Of course not! Unfortunately, sense was lost on the young witch as she decided based on nothing that it would be worth it.
“Well, if you can’t hear it, I suppose I’ll have to help you.” She put the crystal to her ear again. “We’ll need candles.”
“Help with what? My portal?”
“Yes, we’ll need candles.”
“What on Earth for?”
She grinned again, the doctor found it a bit menacing. “For the ritual.”
The scientist couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “This isn’t funny.”
“No one’s laughing”
Maybe she was serious. That was concerning, the child was even madder than he had thought.
“Whatever ridiculous magic you’re going to try won’t work. It doesn’t exist. Magic isn’t real. We believe in science around here. If you don’t like that, then get out. In fact, just get out in general.
“Oh boo.” She feigned disappointment. “Magic is science. There’s plenty of things you people can do now that would have had you burnt at the stake as witches back in the day, but now we understand it so it’s not considered magic anymore. Just because you don’t understand what I’m trying to do right now doesn’t mean nobody ever will. You know what? Don’t think of it as magic, think of it as future science!” She beamed, inadvertently waving the knife at him with her gestures.
He was still not keen on the idea, nor was he keen on scientists being referred to as ‘you people’ but had just been reminded that his intruder had a knife and it might be best to comply for his own sake, there was no telling what they may do otherwise. And the potential- *ahem*impossible chance that they might somehow get his machine to work was sickeningly tempting, as much as he no longer wished it to be so.
“It won’t involve any…um” He cleared his throat, “human…sacrifice will it?”
She was visibly caught off guard for a moment but laughed it off. “No. No, none of that. You’re safe, everyone’s safe.” As long as the portal doesn’t rip an irreparable hole in space time and kill them all, that was- and they had no proof that it wouldn’t- but she didn’t think he would benefit from hearing that. The doctor let out an audible sigh of relief and resigned himself to his task.
“Candles, was it?” At her nod, he started to search through the entire house, her following closely behind. Probably, he thought, to prevent him from trying to escape. In reality, she had no intention to keep him hostage, she was just following because she didn’t want to wait in a creepy basement laboratory alone. She would have just looked for them herself but thought it would be rude to root around in other people’s belongings.
“Here.” He tossed her the remains of a pack of birthday candles used on the cake for his son’s birthday party the previous week, the one he was too absorbed in his work to attend. They weren’t ideal but beggars can’t be choosers.
“I suppose these will have to do.” Fortunately, she didn’t need many. After attaching one candle to either end of the machine with duct tape and scribbling some strange symbols in a circle around it, produced a lighter from the same pocket she had the knife in and lit them. He wasn’t going to ask her why she had it. The doctor flinched at her touching his precious machine with her bare hands as she pulled the lever and began chanting the words the crystal was supposedly feeding her, gibberish obviously. The witch herself couldn’t pinpoint the language either, it didn’t resemble anything she had heard previously and she could barely pronounce it correctly but she persevered nonetheless. After what seemed like an eternity of magical nonsense to Doctor Miller, and to his great surprise, a portal formed.
“Oh, was I still holding this?” the witch asked, noticing the knife in her hand. She put it away. “Oops.” No wonder the scientist had felt threatened.
Doctor Miller paid no attention to her, he was too focused on the inky void in front of him. The portal. He had done it. At last. He was about to reach out to it, to touch it, to make sure it was a real, tangible thing but his hand instead made contact with something solid and cold that hadn’t been there before. He drew away as he noticed a figure that had begun to emerge from the portal. He built the machine with the intention of visiting other universes, it hadn’t occurred to him in the madness of his passion that he would be creating an access point for others to enter his own universe. He really should have considered that but hindsight was a funny thing.
The witch just watched as the figure loomed over the doctor, standing at over seven feet tall, although some of that could be attributed to the absurd heels on their footwear. They were mostly humanoid with four arms and wore armour so piercingly black that the doctor could feel his composure breaking apart and being pulled into its dark void as he began to shrink in fear. Still, this was a feat in itself, he reassured himself, making first contact with an otherworldly being. He truly would be the most renowned scientist in the world. Mustering up the few remaining fragments of his courage, he cleared his throat. The unknown being had been looking about the room in idle, unimpressed, contemplation and now seemed to notice the man in front of him for the first time. Doctor Miller could not see the being’s eyes behind the helm they wore, yet felt a primal fear welling up inside, knowing they were focused on him. Still, he attempted to communicate.
“I…um h-hello…” he stammered weakly. The strange being cocked their head to the side as if confused and began approaching the man. “I-I-I, um, I’m, my name is Doctor Charles Miller.” He backed away as the creature came closer. “I-I am… very, um, pleased to-to, er, welc-welcome, on behalf of the human race, welcome you to Earth…Milky Way galaxy…” He bumped into a cabinet behind him. “I, er, don’t- don’t think we’ve, um, named our universe yet but, er…well…” He trailed off, uncomfortable with having been backed against the wall but still held out a hand for a cordial hand shake.
The being made an unintelligible sound that would not be replicable through text, nor by human vocal chords, which the doctor assumed was an attempt to speak to him.
“I think we may have a slight language barrier here…” He muttered shakily. The figure did not understand what the human was saying but happened to have a similar thought so decided he would have to pick up the local language in the quickest, most efficient way possible for the time being. It would be inconvenient to not be able to communicate with the inhabitants of this world if they were ever to add it, along with the rest of the universe, to their empire.
The witch watched in equal parts horror and fascination as the being took the hand the doctor held out towards them with one of the four they were sporting, but not his physical hand. They reached into the ethereal plain, took the man’s soul by the hand and forcefully yanked it out of the man’s body, appearing to consume it.
The purpose of this was to temporarily use the skills stored in the man’s soul to have a temporary grasp of the language. It would only last until the soul energy was burnt up but it would be plenty of time for them to learn the language themselves. The doctor slumped to the ground, empty.
The witch just stood there, unsure how to proceed. She should probably still retrieve the item she had used to ‘accidentally’ summon this being but it was so close to them…Oh, they picked it up. Dammit, now what? The figure finally noticed her and approached. She continued standing there, frozen in fear and uncertainty, not knowing if a sudden escape attempt would offend the being in front of her. Would it do to her what it had just done to the doctor?
Fortunately for her, they got what they needed from the one soul and would have little to gain from devouring hers as well. Besides, she could be useful. Instead, they decided to test out the language.
“Hello,” they said in a disturbingly deep voice.
“Hi…” She almost whispered with a nervous wave.
“Sorry to trouble you,” it said, “but I’m a bit new here, as you can see”
“Yes.” She nodded. They were.
“I could do with a bit of a run-down of what to expect around here, if it isn’t too much of a bother, would you mind helping me out?”
Unable to come up with any better options, she nodded “Sure,” she said, swallowing her fear. “But I’ll be needing something in exchange...”
“And what might that be?”
She pointed to the small object in his hand. “That. That crystal thingy. That thing.”
They contemplated for a moment. They supposed if they were going to stick around for a while, which they would so that they could experience the people and the culture to see which parts of it they wanted to preserve when they inevitably took over, they would have time to pick up the energy signature of the place well enough to be able to travel between this and other universes freely without need for objects to aid them.
“I suppose I have no use for this anymore, here.” They handed it to her.
“Oh, thanks.” That was surprisingly easy.
“No need. Now, are you willing to assist me?”
“Oh. Yeah, um, I’m not sure this is the most comfortable place to have a chat. Maybe we should continue this at my flat or something...?”
They retracted two of the arms that had been part of the form they had used to emulate the population of the last universe they had invaded, they had only seen two members of the human species so far but from them, they assumed they only had two arms. They, in their intimidating full body armour and six inch heels, wouldn’t want to stand out too much now, would they? Thankfully, the basic body shape was relatively similar between the two species so they didn’t have to worry about that for now. “If that would make you more comfortable.”
It would, in fact, make her more comfortable to be in what she considered to be her own domain so to her flat they went.
Upon entering, she apologised for the mess as she hadn’t been expecting to have anyone over and immediately offered them a cup of tea, as is customary for all British people when receiving guests. The entity didn’t know what that meant but accepted anyway. She didn’t think someone who didn’t know what tea was would have a preference for how to take it so, after putting the crystal in a safe place in her bedroom where she falsely assumed she would be able to find it again without difficulty, she made them each a simple cup of black tea which she brought to the living room with half a pack of custard creams she had scrounged from the cupboard. They then proceeded to have a lengthy chat over tea and biscuits that lasted well into the morning wherein they discussed humans, society and English culture. She let the being- who, from what little they understood of the human concept of gender identity from their conversation seemed to identify as male- know that she couldn’t help him with information about other earthly cultures as she was limited to her own experiences but he was extremely grateful for the information she could provide.
Eventually, it was time for him to leave. They exchanged goodbyes and she showed him out. He didn’t want to adopt a human form until he had gathered enough references to understand what humans considered good looking (which was tactical, if you could choose you appearance, would you not want to be attractive, it had so many advantages in every species) so he would be going out in broad daylight in heavy alien armour, to be seen by many perturbed people harmlessly trying to go about their days as normal. The witch wasn’t too worried about that though as people these days would probably assume it was some kind of cosplay and the thought of people asking a confused creature from a different universe who they were supposed to be dressed up as was amusing to her.
“Ah!” He turned around as he was leaving. “I don’t believe I caught you name.”
“True,” was her only reply. She had never told him her name. Names hold power, power you can’t just hand off to anyone, especially not some otherworldly being she had just met last night. He seemed to understand that well as he had not told her his name either. He just chuckled and left. He liked her. He decided that when he takes over this universe, he’ll spare her.
She hoped he wouldn’t cause any trouble but that was always a risk you had to accept with summoning strange creatures in her experience. Maybe she should have regretted opening the portal and letting him through, what did she think was going to happen? It was impulsive and foolish but she couldn’t say she regretted it. She had warmed up to entity while he was in her home and found that she rather enjoyed his company, more so than most humans. He seemed nice enough despite what he did to Doctor Miller. Maybe she didn’t have to mention any of this when she returned to her employer, they would kill her if they found out about it anyway. It couldn’t be that important. What’s was worst that could possibly happen?
The crow was painted by English artist Sarah Louise Ewing. I thought it was a perfect image to illustrate Blade's story. The painting was first used as the cover for Big Big Train's album Folklore, and if you click on it you can see the band performing the title track of the album. If you want to know more about Sarah and see more examples of her incredible art work, click the link below to go straight to her website.
It was the once-yearly assembly, held in the open, under a big autumn moon. The gathering was arranged in concentric rings with the outermost ring populated by rats and birds - the most-prey, who could fly up, or who hovered near hidey-holes and crevices so that they could melt away in an instant. Next in were the wild omnivores, hedgehogs and squirrels, then a thick ring of still cats with a ragged section of the half- or unowned, and a smattering of foxes. In the centre were the dogs. As dogs were most-predator, there was an empty ring of space between them and the others. (Dogs could never be trusted not to forget it was the Muster, and charge off after someone, immense teeth dripping.) In the very centre of the dogs were four animals with living and dead memories of previous Musters – one cat, one rat, one ancient feral pigeon, and one dog.
Communication wasn’t via words as no one had mouths, beaks or tongues fit for complex language. Instead it was by movement, by heads and eyes, by tails, or by whiskers and feathers. The meeting began at the highest moon, and at first there was a moment of grief for the pigs, who used to come to this gathering.
Speaking without speaking the ancient pigeon cocked her head and steadily thanked each member of the collection for coming, creating a bond between each individual and herself. As prey she could look a predator in the eye with no rudeness, although several of the cats refused to meet her gaze and looked away. She then gave way to the rat, most-hated for centuries, to lead the Love Discussion. The rat asked each of the species to describe the level of love they had received and as usual it was hugely variable with the dogs and cats getting the most, but with some individuals in those groups getting none, and the rats getting the least, with torture, infanticide, and murder commonplace. The dog took over, and most unlike a dog, was able to provide an overview of the topic and the gravity of the task that had been given all those millennia ago, “to teach the apes to love”. With dog-like commitment he urged the congregation to continue their work, although the rats were silently weeping on the tattered circumference of the group.
The final word came from the cat. She had recently given birth and left her cosy nest and five kittens to come to this meeting. With old-school politeness she looked away from the more-prey although stared challengingly at the more-predator as cats do. She addressed the most-homeless and the most-hated letting them know that it was them and only them who could cause a sudden opening of the heart, the task that was needed, and counted. She thanked them all for coming, although there was already a fraying at the edges as prey disappeared before the spell broke, and by silent agreement, a corridor had opened up for the dogs, so they could leave without running amok.
Finally, all that were left were the four sages. Of these the pigeon and rat left first, which was protocol, and then the dog, leaving only the cat to walk in an unhurried saunter back to her nest of five kittens, and to wonder cool and cat-like, which of them would still be alive for next year’s assembly.
She was waiting for him.
She was not like the others he collected before. It seemed that this one somehow could see him. It was not her time, he knew as soon as he arrived. But here she sat looking straight at him, her soul having sent for him, the only call to a Shadow from the living, the call of a departing soul.
As she stood, she stared at him with black piercing eyes meeting his incredulous gaze. She could really see him. He found he was unable to mask his surprise.
“You came,” she said “I wasn’t sure you would hear me.”
He had never spoken to a human before; he had never needed to. He wasn’t sure he even knew the sound of his own voice. Could one spoken word harm her in this realm? He would collect her, but only when it was time. He could not take the risk to upset the balance; any interference in the human world could be disastrous and was forbidden.
So, he turned to leave, eager to take his semi-corporeal form back to its immaterial state, his cloak mimicking his move, when she spoke again. “Please, don’t leave, I am dying already…the pain is too much too bear. You can make it stop if you take me with you.”
She must be a Sensitive, he thought.
He had heard stories of course, anomalies so rare they had reached the status of legends – stories of Shadows disappearing during the transition of a departing soul, never to be heard from again. It happened more than his world cared to admit, but they were often Shadows who had exiled themselves, away from both worlds, stricken by grief over the many souls they carried, their weight suddenly becoming too much to bear.
The story of the Shadow who fell for his charge was also well known among his kind, because when they fled together, it sent ripples through both realms, nearly revealing the world of the Shadows to the living.
But centuries of learning the craft of harvesting souls had certainly not prepared him for this, a Sensitive. Still, rules were rules he would not take her before her time.
He closed his eyes to communicate the only safe way he knew how, speaking directly to her soul. She felt her body vibrate through his words when she heard him speak. “I cannot take you. You may be ready to part with this world but it is not ready to part with you. It is not your time.”
And before she could say anything, he vanished, leaving her with her sorrow.
She had done it! She had succeeded in calling a Shadow. She knew about her connection to their realm, through her ancestry, but did not believe she could reach them, until now.
A small step, she thought.
It might take time but she was convinced she could persuade the Shadow to take to her before her illness consumed her. She decided she would call again soon.
Rattled by the experience, on his way to help his next charge he stopped a moment to collect his thoughts. He didn’t want to admit it, but the temptation to collect her there and then was so great that walking away had been difficult.
Shadows fill with life only when a soul transits away from the living, when the energy is at its purest and freed from its human vessel. The Shadow then, escorts the soul to the next world. A sweet curse really, for the last moments of the living bring such grief to the ones left behind, that the Shadows can feel it all. The transfer can sometimes be traumatic for the departing, especially for the unprepared, but it is only in that moment that a Shadow, for lack of a better word is, alive.
Some, who could not help themselves paid the price for taking souls they should not have, addicted to being filled with life and not wanting it to stop. Deep down, he knew extracting her would have filled him up to the brim but he had to resist or suffer eternal wandering.
Months had passed. He had escorted many souls during that time when he heard her soul call again. He fought the urge to go to her; he knew it was not her time. But still he had to see her.
He got there and she asked him again, even begged him to take her, but he refused and left again.
Wanting to understand why her death wish was so determined, he decided to stay close to find out everything he could about her. Due to ill health, she had quit a successful career as a ballerina, and was now teaching children her love of classical performance. He felt deeply sad for her, but was pleased to see that despite her illness, she was doing some good around her. He was now even more certain, that her time would be long to come.
A third call came. He went to her again, pleased he would see her.
“Why do you keep calling?” he asked.
“Why do you keep coming?” she replied with a smirk. He left again, but smiling this time.
He had not seen it coming. Totally unprepared for the bond that comes with attachment, but it was unmistakably there. He could feel it. He was falling for her, so much so that one night, he went to her without her calling.
He found her crying heavy tears. She was inconsolable.
Her illness she explained was eating away at her, slowly killing her.
“Have you come to taunt me again?” she sobbed. “Collecting other souls while you leave me here to suffer?”
“I can no longer do the things I love. My legs will not lift me to dance and soon my arms will be as heavy as lead. I will be trapped in my own body unable to move. Did you know, I taught the children for the last time today, did you?” she said, crying some more.
Again, he left, silent and unable to watch her pain, knowing he could not take it away, not yet anyway.
More months passed. They repeated their routine like a rehearsal. Her soul would call, he’d come, she’d plead and he’d leave again. The wait for both was becoming torture. He would watch her deteriorate, bedridden now. The end was coming, and although he would be with her in her last moments, the idea of extracting her soul was now becoming unbearable. It would be all over. He would escort her and never see her again, and this saddened him.
When her last day came he just knew. He didn’t need her call, didn’t get one in any case. He could just feel it.
Nothing could have prepared him for the unfolding scene he was about to witness when he arrived. To his horror, another Shadow was present with her transition well underway. His distress reached a depth he did not know. To see another like him being filled with her life, one he had no right to, filled him with a despair he felt would have no end.
How could this be so? He was the one who came every time she called. He followed the rules, didn’t interfere. He watched her deteriorate unable to help. He had promised her he’d be there when the time came, trusted it would be so. But her last moments, got snatched away.
As the transition ended, he watched her glorious soul pass through the other Shadow and elevate to the ether. When it all ended, a deafening silence fell until the other Shadow spoke. “She called, and didn’t want you to carry the pain of taking her last moment. You can let her go now, she is at peace.”
He looked at the other Shadow, feeling ashamed while he continued to speak.
“You may not have broken any rules, but the realm cannot ignore your attachment to this human. You could have been compromised. You will be called to stand before the Fold. Until then, you will escort no charge and use that time for reflection”.
Time was the only thing he had. With no charge to escort, it felt never ending, but then he was called to the Fold.
He was certain, he would be sentenced to suffer eternal wandering, a fitting punishment he felt he would happily endure now she was gone.
The Fold was full, with the Ancient presiding over the session. Strangely, the atmosphere felt more like one of celebration that of punishment.
He would understand soon enough.
“May the accused Shadow stand,” the Ancient spoke.
As he stood, he took on the crowds that had gathered all around, feeling rather nervous.
The Ancient continued addressing him. “You cannot recall your life before this one for it was necessary to take away the memories of your past. It is easier for our kind. But you had another life. Just like your late charge, you used to be a Sensitive and just like her you called.
“Sensitives, have a connection to our realm while they live they human lives. They have an understanding of life and death that makes them particularly adept at harvesting souls. So, just like we did with you, all those centuries ago, we made her one of us.
“Please come forward”, the Ancient called.
The Shadow turned as The Ancient’s words reached the back of the assembly and he watched while her familiar face unveiled from under her cloak, walking towards him, now as semi corporeal as he was.
He smiled, when he saw her, a smile that she returned. It wasn’t life, but happiness that now filled him up to the brim.
The Ancient silenced the Fold which noise levels had reached heights in line with the surprising denouement to say one last thing. “All the memories of her past had to be removed, I am sure you understand this was necessary, but one will always remain,” he said. “The memory of you.”
And with those words his hand reached for hers.
Now they could finally begin.