Here’s the thing about shadows: they’re freaking awesome. Think about it, you’re never in a place where there are absolutely no shadows. You could be standing in the sun and there’d still be a shadow creeping up behind you or lingering beneath the branches of a tree. Shadows are everywhere. They reach every corner of every room across the globe and do it all at once. And guess who has access to every one of these shadows? Yours truly.
That, you might conclude, makes me one of the most powerful beings on planet earth. You’d be right. My powers would blow your mind. Not that blowing your mind would be very difficult; humans have a remarkably small mental capacity. But that’s not the point. The point is, I’m freaking awesome. But more on that later. For now, what matters is the fact that all I need to do in order to sense what my shadows are sensing is to take a little trip down into the Nether.
The Nether, you could say, is like a demon’s playground. However, me being the only demon of suitable skill and power, it’s like my playground. Heaven and Hell don’t exist, at least not to my considerable knowledge. They’re merely bedtime stories made up to manipulate children. The Nether is the closest it gets to Hell, but it’s not really that either. It’s simply an alternate dimension, a shadow realm, if you will, that lives to serve me. If that’s not concrete proof that I’m awesome, then I don’t know what is.
I surveyed my closet. After all, if I was going out on a stalking expedition with possible elements of intimidation or forceful persuasion, I had to look the part. Flipping through the hangers, I began to realize that I had a definite color scheme going here. What can I say, black really makes the red of my skin pop. I almost reached for the leather biker jacket - because who said being a demon had to mean I didn’t have a sense of style? - but then changed my mind, figuring that for first impressions I couldn’t go wrong with a flowing black cloak. Underneath, though, I chose a sensible v-neck sweater and black jeans. There was a chill to the night air this time of year, and I liked to be warm. Sue me.
Looking in the mirror, I straightened my cloak and smoothed down my hair. I had to admit, I cut a strikingly handsome figure. I was ready.
The moment I closed my eyes, I could feel every shadow in the vicinity. I could feel the ones in the bedroom, the ones outside in the crevices of the sidewalk, the ones in the bathroom of the old lady across the street - Actually, no. We’re not going there. The point was, I could feel them all around me. Pulling at the ones closest, I willed them to envelope me entirely, to obscure me from the light of the outside world and to condense, squeezing me into nothingness and taking me with them to their place of origin - the Nether.
As I allowed the shadows to dissipate, I examined my new surroundings, breathing in the stale air like it was the most refreshing thing in the world. Perhaps it was. Everything about the Nether was familiar, comforting, and stagnant. It was glorious. I took a few steps in a random direction, feeling the coarse gray sand crunch like shards of broken glass beneath my shoes. A wind blew at my face, washing over my skin like razors until I summoned a wall of shadows to protect me. Some part of me found even that comforting.
Shaking off whatever nostalgic feelings were gaining on me, I closed my eyes again. From here, I could feel every shadow on the planet earth. I could sense the top of Mount Everest or the bottom of the ocean in the blink of an eye; all I had to know was where to focus. In this case, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. The headquarters of the GITS.
I felt for the shadows around the building I had been to on multiple occasions, sensing their familiar presence lingering in the hallways, in the air vents, and, most notably, in the office of one particular woman with whom I had a long standing feud. The reasons behind our feud are complicated, so I won’t get into them now, but the point is, I never passed up an opportunity to mess with her. With the shadows as my second eyes, I saw that her office was empty and grinned.
Before I left the Nether, however, I noticed two outstanding rooms in the headquarters - rooms that were blank to my senses. Either they had no shadows, or their magical warding was so advanced that it blocked even me from perceiving them. I frowned. That had to be where the information on the ring, or - dare I hope - the ring itself, was located. But that was an operation for another time. For now, I had some havoc to wreak and threats to impose.
The shadows condensed around me, then released and I was standing in the office, all alone in a room presumably full of all kinds of sensitive information that I didn’t care about. Hillary the Humorless (as I had dubbed her long ago) wasn’t high enough on the totem pole to have the sorts of intel that I was interested in anyway. What I was interested in was making her life a little more, shall we say, exciting.
I snapped my fingers and shadows snaked out from beneath her filing cabinet, under her desk, and behind her bookshelf. With their help, a minute later everything in Hillary’s office had been flipped upside down. Literally everything. The pictures on the walls, her desk, every single book on the bookshelf or plant in its pot. It was glorious. The cup of coffee sitting neglected on the filing cabinet was now upside down, its contents filtering down through the drawers, which were now full of upside down folders. I grinned.
Stay on task, my inner voice chastised me. Right. My task. I thanked my inner voice, then closed my eyes again, feeling around the training area of the building and searching for the boy in the picture. It took a little while, but just as I found him, the shattering of glass disrupted my concentration and he slipped from my mind. I opened my eyes, annoyed, and shot a glare at Hillary. She stood in the doorway, her stupid pencil skirt stained with coffee from the mug she’d just dropped. A stack of papers were cradled in the nook of her arm, but she dropped them in favor of raising both hands, presumably for some spell that was hardly a threat to me.
“Security!” she shrieked, just as a ball of blue light exploded from her palms, hurtling towards me. The shadows intercepted it lazily, swallowing it whole.
“Hello to you too, Hillary,” I said, smiling my charming smile. “It’s been a while. How’ve you been?”
Hillary’s eyes were wide with adrenaline behind her rectangular spectacles. “How did you get in here? You’re not escaping this time. This time, we’re going to-“
“Hillary, Hillary, Hillary,” I drawled, cutting her off. “I didn’t come here to get caught. I just came to have a little fun with you, that’s all. We both know you can’t catch me.” I winked. It was true. They knew I was a creature of the dark, but they had no idea how essential the shadows were to my movements. Instead, they thought the haze of darkness was more a dramatic flair. Until they figured out how my powers worked, they couldn’t keep me out, and she knew it.“Now, I’ve got important demon business to do, so if you’ll excuse me…”
“No!” she yelled, shooting something else at me. It was futile; my shadows were more than a match for her. Despite her protests, I was already on my way to the Nether, from which I could teleport to the boy. This time, though, I sensed someone with him. This should be interesting.
I materialized in a corridor, right in front of the boy from the picture. A shrill alarm was going off, and I scowled at it. “That’s really annoying,” I commented, just before sending a spike of shadows through the nearest bell. The noise dimmed and grew distant. The alarm didn’t worry me; I knew everyone with any level of distinction would be running to Hillary’s aid, but there was no way they would allow teenagers still in training to assist. That left me alone with these two. Perfect. “That’s marginally better,” I commented, surveying the broken pieces on the hallway floor, then turned back to find a knife at my throat. “You people really need to work on your manners. Particularly how you say ‘hello,’” I said pointedly.
“Get behind me, Taryn,” the boy said, his voice low and urgent.
Taryn scowled in annoyance. “Damian, I-“
“I said, get behind me,” Damian insisted authoritatively. She didn’t argue anymore. My eyes flicked between them, and I could see the resemblance. The same straight dark hair, the same fiery eyes with the type of hardened look that only comes from having parents who are dead. Interesting.
“Okay, seriously though,” I began, and felt the tip of the knife press a little harder against my throat, “why do you instantly assume I’m the bad guy here? Is it because of my skin color? Is this a race thing?”
Damian scowled. “It’s more because of the creepy ass cloak you’re wearing. That’s kind of a dead giveaway, but if you want to make this about race, sure. I’d say ‘demon’ is enough reason to be biased.”
I had to give him that. His voice was dripping with contempt, and I had to say, I was liking his sass.“How do you know I’m a demon? And this cloak really completes the outfit; I object to you calling it creepy. It cheapens the effect.”
“I’m not an idiot. If we had a most wanted list, you’d be at the top of it.”
“Aw, I feel so valued,” I cooed, but as I shifted, the knife pressed harder. Really, I didn’t know what he thought a knife was going to do against me, but hey, if he wanted to feel powerful for once in his sad mortal life, I wasn’t going to take it away from him. Turning his head ever so slightly, Damian said over the alarms, “Taryn, call security.”
Taryn nodded, about to take off in the other direction, when I ordered, “Taryn, don’t call security.”
She shot a glare my way and spun on her heel, loose black hair whipping over her shoulder. I sighed. No respect. Snapping my fingers at my side, I sent a trail of shadows to wrap around her ankle mid-step. Taryn fell with a cry of pain, her momentum sending her crashing hard against the marble floor. Damian twisted in her direction, and in his moment of distraction, I seized his wrist and twisted hard.
The dagger clattered to the floor from Damian’s open grip, and he winced in pain. “I really didn’t want it to come to this, but you had to go and judge me before you got to know me. I swear, I really am a likable guy.” Damian spat at my feet. I sighed. “What, don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.”
Using the shadows again, I pulled Taryn over by her injured ankle, eliciting a hiss of pain, which I ignored. When she was close enough, the shadows formed a cocoon of darkness around us and compressed. They released, and I let go of Damian’s arm so I could gesture grandly at the landscape around us.
“Welcome to the Nether.”