The Shadows Know

I sat in cold darkness, the bare basement concrete replacing the cave where I first made contact. The single candle's light like water on the walls. The knife had been consecrated under the new moon and wrapped in black silk for 28 days. The cut on my arm burned but they called for sacrifice. The burning was but my life leaving, being transformed, offered. And the words I'd found. A language of smoke and steam, of cracking ice and glaciers sliding across continents. Speaking the words, if you can call it speaking, in the cold dark over a basin of my own blood, inside the carefully drawn symbols, I called upon the Shadows. The walls glistened and danced. And pushed into the room. My ears popped and began to ring. My teeth hurt. I smelled the sweet rot of organic compost. The air whistled and hummed. “Wise Umbral,” I asked, “Have I called you properly?” “You have,” the darkness answered. “Have I erred,” I asked. “You have not,” the shimmering shadows said. I felt a sting on my arm, where the bandaged cut was throbbing. “Does my offering please you?” I asked. The floor vibrates beneath me, like a tremor. “Yes,” the air replies. “Does my offering satisfy you?” I ask. Something like wet sand brushes against my injured arm. Wet. Cold. Siphoning heat. “For now,” it whispers. “For now,” even quieter. “I would know how to end the collapse of our nation into authoritarian fascism.” A breeze twirls around me, sniffing me, “Why do you care, little magician? You are protected.” “I made my offering, Great Umbral,” I say, swallowing hard. “I have performed the appropriate ritual,” I added. It is not a question. I feel a thump in my chest as if the density of the air itself was changed. “So you did,” the walls shake with the voice. “So you did,” it repeats in a conversational tone, adding, “I will tell you the truth.” A brief wave of nausea and dizziness wash over me. The thud of a great mass impacts in front of me. I cannot see it in the sparse light but the candle reflects off its oily surface shaped like nothing living. It squats before me. I can feel its icy gaze, the pull of its almost gravitational force against my soul. A sound like flutes, like bells. “I will tell you,” it says, in a voice like a man's. “You can do nothing but survive like the cockroach you are,” it begins, relishing the chance to remind me of my place. “Every course of action you can imagine will make no difference, even killing every single one of them. In fact, you'd only make things worse with your righteous fury. Worse, but not in a way that pleases us. We serve suffering and some things must simply be allowed to transpire.” I know they cannot lie, but they can mislead. But this I have never felt. It is not taunting me or challenging me. It is not teasing at answers just out of reach. It is not hinting a greater sacrifice might persuade it to divulge more. It has “sat” in front of me and addressed in a man's voice. Is it smiling? I can feel its contentment. Its relief. I understand. Our plays at subterfuge, hoarding knowledge and truth, self-preserving power, blackmail, secrets. Answering our calls and asking only for blood. None of it matters to them. For they play a much longer game and we are less than pawns.

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